Hard Times (1991)

So, as good as Rebellion is as a sourcebook, MegaTraveller never really did anything with the potential energy it contained. The metaplot doesn’t progress in a meaningful way, every new product just adds more and more details to the opening act and never moves on.

When sales started to drop off, GDW attempted to reinvigorate MegaTraveller with Hard Times, which advances the calendar six years in the future. The rebellion is dying down and, in fact, is a utter failure, because no single faction has triumphed. The Imperium is dead, replaced by many splintered, warring states. Because of this, the galaxy is rapidly decaying. Interstellar trade has collapsed, pirates are everywhere and many planets have been poisoned by the war and are slowly dying. Crime, poverty and violence are now a way of life.

I think this is deeply fascinating. It is just a total unraveling of the Traveller universe. It is shocking and sad and unnervingly plausible — leave it to a bunch of wargame nerds and military history buffs to simulate one of the most compelling portrayals of a civilization in collapse you can find in RPGs.

Which is not to say I want to play in that doomed universe! While Hard Times is fascinating and well done, it also removes all the shiny optimism that defined Traveller. True, the Rebellion threw all that into doubt, but there was still hope of a return to better days. Hard Times smashes that hope into a million tiny pieces. Is that narratively brave? Certainly! And I admire it for going so enthusiastically in that direction. But no, I don’t want to play there. We’ve got Fading Suns and Warhammer and all manner of other dark futures, so I prefer to keep my Traveller bright.

Folks felt that way at the time, too. MegaTraveller dwindled on another year. In 1993, GDW launched Traveller: The New Era, which is an even bigger misstep and basically the end of GDW, but that’s a tale for another time.

Should note, I really love Dave Dorman’s cover. Some serious Star Wars vibes.

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