Diehard fan of 46-year-old RPG explains why it's so important to Starfield, and I'm sold

 Starfield screenshot
Starfield screenshot

According to Todd Howard, Starfield was in part inspired by a '70s tabletop RPG called Traveller, and fans of both Bethesda and classic pen-and-paper games have finally started breaking down what that means for the upcoming game.

Back in October last year, a brief official Q&A with creative director Todd Howard broke down some of Starfield's biggest influences. Howard went very old school, citing a 1984 Apple II game called SunDog: Frozen Legacy, as well as Traveller, a tabletop sci-fi RPG originally published in 1977 in the wake of the rising popularity of early Dungeons & Dragons. There've been many editions of Traveller since then, but Howard said he was inspired by the original to start programming an adaptation that was sadly never finished.

As an occasional tabletop fan with basically no familiarity with anything that landed prior to D&D 3.5, I've been immensely curious what Traveller's influence really means for Starfield, but digging into a new TTRPG is a time investment I haven't been able to make. Luckily, an experienced game master who goes by pheanox and has "been running non-stop Traveller games for over three years now" has given the rest of the community a lesson in its potential influence.

The full Reddit post is well worth your time, but to start summarizing the highlights, Traveller is built on skills rather than classes, and you power up those skills by using them. It certainly seems likely that's been an influence on Bethesda for years, since it's exactly how skills have worked through much of the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series. Starfield skills appear to be using a combination of this leveling system and challenges to guide your improvement.

Traveller also has you choose a career at character creation which determines your starting skills. That seems to have been directly picked up by the Starfield backgrounds system, which has you pick a past career like diplomat, medic, or chef to determine your starting skills.

This is pretty familiar stuff across a wide array of RPGs, but the specifics of starship customization are much more particular to what we're seeing in Starfield. "In Traveller, starships were completely build-able from scratch," pheanox explains. "You could make whatever ship you want, as long as you followed the simple rules laid out. You could have a ship as large or small as you want, with mixed and matched gun emplacements, different fusion plants, computers, drives, etc." That sounds pretty similar to what we've seen from Starfield ship customization, which will let you fully mix and match different parts like engines, cockpits, and weapons to build whatever kind of ship you want.

That's the stuff we know Starfield has taken influence from, but what about the features we haven't seen yet? Traveller emphasizes sandbox character freedom, and while that's been the core appeal of Bethesda games for decades, the studio has increasingly pushed more directed narratives into the heart of games like Fallout 4. "If they are taking influence from Traveller here, this means the game's narrative structure may be closer to Morrowind rather than later releases," pheanox speculates.

Here's the part I find most interesting, though: "The tone of the standard Traveller game is that of merchants on the edges of the law that need to do what they have to to make ends meet." There are comparisons to Firefly, with groups of people who have unique skills partnering to crew a ship and take jobs on both sides of the law. Starfield hasn't really shown us that explicitly twangy space western aesthetic, but seeing the idea of a lawless - or law-light - frontier on the edges of a more hard sci-fi world sounds very exciting.

Starfield is due to launch on September 6. An in-depth gameplay showcase will arrive on June 11 with the Starfield Direct.

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