Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Monday 1 May 2023

Mayday: The Travellers’ Digest #1

The gaming magazine is dead. After all, when was the last time that you were able to purchase a gaming magazine at your nearest newsagent? Games Workshop’s White Dwarf is of course the exception, but it has been over a decade since Dragon appeared in print. However, in more recent times, the hobby has found other means to bring the magazine format to the market. Digitally, of course, but publishers have also created their own in-house titles and sold them direct or through distribution. Another vehicle has been Kickststarter.com, which has allowed amateurs to write, create, fund, and publish titles of their own, much like the fanzines of Kickstarter’s ZineQuest. The resulting titles are not fanzines though, being longer, tackling broader subject matters, and more professional in terms of their layout and design.


The Travellers’ Digest #1
was published in 1985. It marked the entry of Digest Group Publications into the hobby and from this small, but ambitious beginnings would stem a complete campaign and numerous highly-regarded supplements for Game Designers Workshop’s Traveller and MegaTraveller, as well as a long running magazine. That magazine was The Travellers’ Digest and it would really begin as a fanzine before developing into a full magazine that together would run for twenty-one issues between 1985 and 1990. The conceit was that The Travellers’ Digest was a magazine within the setting of the Third Imperium, its offices based on Deneb in the Deneb Sector, and that it awarded the Traveller’s Digest Touring Award. This award would be won by one of the Player Characters and thus the stage is set for ‘The Grand Tour’, the long-running campaign in the pages of The Travellers’ Digest. In classic fashion, as with Europe of the eighteenth century, this would take the Player Characters on a tour of the major capitals of known space. These include Vland, Capitol, Terra, the Aslan Hierate, and even across the Great Rift. The meat of this first issue, as well as subsequent issues, would be dedicated to an adventure, each a stop-off on the ‘The Grand Tour’, along with support for it. The date for the first issue of The Traveller’s Digest and thus when the campaign begins is 152-1111, the 152nd day of the 1111th years of the Imperium.

To best run ‘The Grand Tour’, the Referee will need access to The Atlas of the Imperium, Supplement 8: Library Data (A-M), Supplement 11: Library Data (N-Z), Supplement 7: Traders and Gunboats (or alternatively, Supplement 5: Azhanti High Lightning), as well as the core rules. In addition, the supplement, The Undersea Environment, and adventure, The Drenslaar Quest, published by Gamelords, Ltd., are both useful for running underwater adventures—though they are really only useful if the Referee develops adventuring content beyond that presented in the issue. Alien Module 4: Zhodani may also be useful. Of course, that was in 1985, and much, if not all, of the rules or background necessary have been updated since.

The set-up for ‘The Grand Tour’ begins with descriptions of the pre-generated Player Characters. There are four. They consist of Akidda Laagiir, the journalist who won the Traveller’s Digest Touring Award; Dur Telemon, a scout and his nephew; Doctor Theodor Krenstein, a gifted-scientist and roboticist; and Doctor Krenstein’s valet, ‘Aybee’, or rather, ‘AB-101’. The fact is, AB-101 is a pseudo-biological robot, both protégé and prototype. Consequently, the mix of Player Characters are surprisingly non-traditional and not all of them are easily created used the means offered in Traveller or MegaTraveller.

The Feature adventure in The Travellers’ Digest #1 ‘Of Xboats and Friends’, its opening fiction, ‘It’s a Small Galaxy!’, setting the scene for the scenario as the four characters meet up on a passenger liner bound for the world of Jode in the Pretoria subsector. The primary motivations are to locate Neric Andor, a fellow Scout and friend of Dur Telemon, and for Doctor Krenstein, to test out a theory he has about the extinct sentient species on Jode. The Player Characters begin by looking for Neric Andor, searching high and low in the bars and casinos on Jode Orbital, but without any success, although they do pick up plenty of rumours—sabotage of a surface processing plant, a missing Vargr starship, and slowed outsystem mail being the least of them. When the Player Characters do find information about their missing friend, that he frequented a casino, they are warned off by a couple of Scouts—or are they? It turns out that they are actually part of a Zhodani spy operation on Jode and AB-101 has the means to detect their origins via their speech patterns.

In the second part of the adventure, the Player Characters manage to get aboard the Express Boat Tender Albany, where Neric is stationed and has just returned to. The Albany is detailed and deck plans are included as the Player Characters quickly discover that the Neric stationed there is an imposter. The plot quickly wraps up and should reveal the extent of Zhodani espionage operations in the system. The Player Characters are well rewarded, including the robot.

The adventure includes some roleplaying notes for each of the Player Characters, both the Referee and the players. It is noticeable that as a journalist, Akidda Laagiir, has an incredible skill of ‘Interview-5’! (The Journalist Career would appear in The Traveller’s Digest #2.) However, the roleplaying notes mix and match the information, so they contain information for both the Referee and the players, so there is information present that the players should not read as well as stuff they should know. Which is a problem which runs throughout the scenario, mixing information the players and their characters should know with information they should not. Consequently, the fairly linear and often direct adventure does need to be pulled apart and quite heavily prepared for the players, especially in terms of handouts.

The world of Jode is described in some detail. This includes its UUP—both past and present, its toxic, chlorine-tainted atmosphere, limited landmasses, and importance as a source of pharmaceuticals and the fact that it was once home to a sentient, land-dwelling species prior to a geological disaster. Options for further adventures are included. The Player Characters can go sea hunting or mining—details of a submersible are provided—and there is the suggestion that the scientist Player Character is interested in the archaeology of Jode.

There is some further library data in The Travellers’ Digest #1, divided into two strands. One covers some nineteen worlds of the Deneb sector, plus of a map of the Xboat routes across the Deneb sector. The other is a more general, covering the Shudusham Accords (by which armaments carried by robots are limited), the Vilani supremacist group known as the Rachele Society and its associated revolt which took place on Pretoria in the Pretoria subsector, and more. All of it is relevant to the main adventure to some degree. The Pretoria subsector is detailed, including both subsector map and the UPPs for all of its worlds.

The last three articles in The Travellers’ Digest #1 all have a technical bent. ‘Robot Design Revisited, Part 1’ expands on the ‘Ref’s Notes’ article, ‘Robots’ which appeared in The Best of the Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society. The article provides a new seven-step robot design system, from chassis and power plant through to sensors/devices and programming. It includes a fully worked (and costed!) example, which fittingly, is for the Player Character, AB-101. Of course, the article would be superseded the year following the publication of The Travellers’ Digest #1 with the release of Book 8: Robots from Game Designer Workshop. ‘Using Skills Effectively’ provides the Referee with a more consistent set of mechanics than is necessarily found in Traveller at the time, whilst ‘Orbital Complexes’ provides guidance for creating such facilities using Book 5: High Guard. The trio is well thought out and certainly would have been appreciated by the Traveller Referee at the time.

Physically, The Travellers’ Digest #1 is very obviously created using early layout software. However, that layout is surprisingly tidy and if some of the artwork is created using a computer too, it is not actually that bad.

The Travellers’ Digest #1 contains a lot of information that the prospective Traveller Referee would have found useful, whether that is ‘Robot Design Revisited, Part 1’, the ‘Library Data’, or ‘Using Skills Effectively’. However, the scenario in the first issue, ‘Of Xboats and Friends’, is both a highlight and a missed opportunity. Of course, it sets up ‘The Grand Tour’ and it is direct and likely fun to play. However, it needs a lot of work to pull apart and prepare, particularly with handouts and library data and the downside to being direct is that it does direct the players at certain points. The missed opportunity is what else to do on Jode. For example, Doctor Krenstein has a theory that the extinct sentient species on the planet was more advanced than is currently believed, but he never gets to test out that theory. There is not enough information given about this aspect of Jode and if the Referee had wanted to do anything with it because Doctor Krenstein’s player was interested, she would have to develop it herself. (Subsequent supplements have further developed the sentient species, known as Serpents.)

Overall, The Travellers’ Digest #1 is a good first issue, if flawed. Despite it leaving a lot for the Referee to do, The Travellers’ Digest #1 does lay the groundwork for ‘The Grand Tour’, a lost campaign that has disappointingly never been revisited.


  1. It actually was the first RPG product, ever, to be produced solely on a computer, in this case the MAC. In 85 this was a quantum leap. I worked with FanPro (German Traveller licence) and we really marveled at it.

    1. Peter, thanks for reading the review and confirming my suspicions. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.