Grand Census (1987)

Grand Census (1987) is one of Digest Group Publications’ most important approved third-party Traveller supplements. It is certainly one that clearly displays their design chops — flipping through this, it’s no wonder that GDW would want to bring them in on future Traveller design work. DGP understood Traveller in a way few outside designers ever managed (compare to the pap produced by Judges Guild, for instance). There is a wealth of well thought out material here.

Contrary to the name, this isn’t a catalog of planets. Rather, its a book to help catalog planets. The first half is concerned with exploration and the initial contact of sentient alien species, complete with methodology, ethic and helpful equipment (and a lot of very nice, clean technical art by Rob Caswell. It is a guide for both how to run and how to play this sort of encounter and it is great for any science fiction game, I think, if only for the section on defining and determining sentience, which is a heck of a deep think.

The second half of the book is a replacement for and massive expansion of the Traveller world generator. Table after table allows you define a world’s culture, their laws, their taboos, their unusual behaviors. If I had this in 1987, I would have played with and tinkered with it constantly. The compulsion to do so in 2022 as I write this is strong, too, I gotta say. And again, this is tacitly aimed at Traveller, but the tools are essentially system agnostic. You could probably use it for fantasy games too. Honestly, it’s impossible for me to not see this book as somehow anticipating or influencing the abundance of tables that make up Stars Without Number.

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