Saturday, April 13, 2013

Remembering Shandar

My first gaming experiences were at Marshall-U, in 7th grade. Mike wasn't there yet, but he started in the next year, as close as I can remember. We played AD&D and Traveller, mostly. D&D was great, because fantasy is great. But there was always something special about Traveller. For one thing, it was science fiction, and if there's one thing that's better than Fantasy, it's SF.

For another, Star Wars had brought SF to the big screen in 1977, when I was 11 and Mike 10.

And for another, Traveller had the best character generation system ever. Unlike D&D, where you'd roll your character's stats and then start them on their adventuring career, Traveller had you roll dice to take your character through a pre-adventuring career, with terms of service in the military, or as a diplomat, or whatever you chose. Depending on how long you stayed in, what choices you made and how the dice fell, you could wind up with medals honoring your service, a membership in the fabled Travellers Aid Society or even a starship of your own. You could also wind up dead.

Yes, you could get killed before you started playing. It was, in a word, awe-inspiring. Here was a game where getting ready to play was a game in and of itself. We loved it.

One of Mike's characters from these early Traveller games stayed with him over the years. Shandar was a recurring character for Mike, someone he brought into other games and into short stories that he wrote. Shandar was a starship captain, a free trader and sometime mercenary, familiar with firearms and willing to use them. He was from a strange icy planet, where the night was twice as long as the day. And he had the most amazing name:  Shandar Ben Bransvik Fen Snar Snar Fen Grog. The first time I heard that name I knew I'd remember it forever, and to this day I love it.

There's a new edition of Traveller out now, from its original creator Marc Miller. When I found out about the project on Kickstarter, Mike was still alive, and I told him about it. He was excited that Traveller was still around, but I think he knew he wouldn't live to see it. I pitched in for the Kickstarter, hoping that I'd get a chance to show it to Mike.

I didn't, of course.

Patent of Nobility and Travellers' Aid Society cards for Shandar Ben Bransvik
But when I got the email from Marc Miller asking me to choose the name I wanted on my rewards for the Kickstarter project, the choice was obvious. Traveller 5 arrived today. It's a grand thing, and in the box were two cards proudly bearing the name of Shandar Ben Bransvik.

Tonight, I'll sit down with a handful of dice and a copy of Traveller. And I'll raise a glass in memory of Mike, and of Shandar. And I'll see what the future holds.


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