Many players and referees find the GDW universe to restrictive of certain types of adventures. These people find the Third Imperium (and its neighbors) too settled, too civilized, too...familiar. They yearn for the thrill of landing on a world for the first time...of being the first to describe a world...of making first contact with an alien race. All of these things are difficult (but not impossible) if you want to stick with GDW's official universe. To be sure, there are frontier regions, but these are the static frontiers of a long-established, stable government, not the growing borders of a dynamic, expanding culture. Many others find the high tech level of the Third Imperium a problem. It is too easy for the players to use equipment instead of thinking to get them out of tight spots, too easy to just blast whatever bothers you. However, few referees (and few players, for that matter) care to abandon our maps and our background history. I have a simple solution to this dilemma: Backdate your Traveller campaign.
The whole thing is very simple. Instead of setting your campaign in 1110 (the "present"), set it in some previous time period, when the Imperium was smaller (or non-existent), when tech levels were lower, when there was a universe to explore. By picking the proper era, referees can make use of most of the same materials as before (the maps especially). There is no problem with the rules if this is done -- the rules are not universe specific, indeed, they were designed to allow considerable freedom in background choice.
Backdating will require some work on the part of the referee (there's no such thing as a free lunch), but it isn't too bad if you plan ahead. In fact, it is no more difficult (it can be a good deal less difficult than the work many referees already do to create a campaign.
If you set the campaign in an unpublished sector, you need merely generate worlds normally, setting a ceiling on tech levels (what this ceiling is depends on when the campaign is set). What interstellar government there is (if there is any at all) depends on where and when the campaign is set. Most worlds before the coming of the Third Imperium were either independent, or members of small confederations or petty empires. Very little material on the pre-Imperial governments of most sectors have appeared, so referees have a free hand most ofthe time.
Tech level ceilings for various worlds will have to be extrapolated from information available. It is known for instance, that the Imperium was at tech level 14 during the Solomani Rim War, and that the Solomani was able to get some tech 14 equipment, but was equipped mostly with tech 13 (Invasion Earth. Likewise, Terra developed jump-3 drives between -2400 and -2235 (Library Data N-Z) and probably managed to retain at least tech level 9 throughout most of the Long Night (see Solomani Rim) Exactly who gets what tech level when is a very complex issue. Some worlds may be artificially high because of their own efforts. Some will be raised by trade with other worlds. Some may remain technological backwaters because of their location. Settlement patterns are also of great importance. A world which was settled 500 years before another has a jump on technology, all other things being equal. Worlds with native races may be a leg up on technological development. Some worlds may luck onto the remains of a dead civilization several levels higher than they are, and advance by studying the remains.
In published sectors (such as the Spinward Marches or the Solomani Rim) more of the pre-Imperial history has been described, but much has yet to be detailed. I'll talk about these sectors later.
There are, however, a few problems connected with backdating (or with starting any new campaign while an old one is in progress).
The first is player resistance. Players (naturally enough) will be reluctant to abandon their characters and those characters' possessions and skills. The obvious solution is to wait until a campaign has run its course, and start a new one, in a new time. Most campaigns eventually reach a stage where they become over-familiar, and can be abandoned without too many regrets on the part of the players.
A second solution to player resistance is to run two campaigns. This way the players get to keep their "old" characters and get the thrill of "new" characters at the same time.
Doing two campaigns at the same time is a rough go, however, and most referees would be well advised to alternate adventures from one to the other. Run the "modern" campaign for a few sessions, then (when a natural break comes in the action) switch to the "historical" campaign.
The second problem is, what if the players do somthing in their previous "incarnation" that radically changes the nature of the "present." The simple solution to this problem is to declare that the two time periods belong to seperate, parallel universes, and what is done in one has no effect upon the other. All of this assumes, of course, that the referee is concerned about being able to use the GDW material on the present.
The Spinward Marches is, in many ways, the best suited for his sort of treatment. The settlement patterns and dates of colonization of the Spinward Marches are given in the History of the Spinward Marches essay in Supplement 11, Library Data N-Z.
Little information is available on tech level progression in the Marches. The Darrians (see The Darrians, Journal #14) are known to have achieved TL 3 by the time of their contact by Terran traders in -1511, and had achieved the ability to construct jump drives by -1137. They reached TL 16 for a time, but their civilization was wiped out by a disastrous series of solar flares in -924 and it was -271 before they regained the ability to construct interstellar vessels.
The Sworld Worlds were colonized by Solomani exiles, and must have had jump drives when they arrived, therefore they begin at 0 or 10 in -400. Further details of their history can be found in the Contact article covering them in Journal 14. Bear in mind that their technological development has advanced and receded at various times because of the almost incessant wars in the region.
The Traveller Adventure gives a basic history of the Aramis subsector, Tarsus and BeltStrike detail District 268.
An obvious temptation is to game out the expansion from earth in the late twentieth century. There are a few problems connected with this, however. The tech level of the Earth at the time is not hard to determine (TL 9, in fact), but the schedule of settlement of the worlds of the Solomani Rim has not yet been worked out in detail. If you're willing to work around this little ambiguity, by all means, proceed. I would prefer to set a campaign a little later, around the time of the interstellar wars, during one of the "lulls" between the fighting, when the plucky Terrans are building hegemony in the stars, taking over deserted Vilani outposts, and so on.
Supplement 8, Library Data N-Z, Supplement 10, The Solomani Rim, and Supplement 11, Library Data, N-Z will provide much of the necessary data.
Another exciting period (involving the Solomani Sphere, but not necessarily limited to the Solomani Rim) is the period of the Solomani Rim War (990-1002). Those of you who are unreconstructed Solomani sympathizers might wish to try your hand at keeping the home of mankind free from Imperial domination (in a parallel universe, of course). GDW's game Invasion Earth contains enough material to provide the basics of this campaign background (also consult the references given for the Solomani Rim).
Whatever you do, Have fun!
Loren K. Wiseman