Keith Frye started TravellerCon-USA over fifteen years ago as a love letter to his wife Megan. Megan had heard about the sci-fi table-top roleplaying game Traveller but had never found a group to play with. It was 2007. While Traveller had gained new players since its inception in 1977, it was a sleeper hit compared to the ubiquity of Dungeons & Dragons.
They decided to choose Lancaster County, Pennsylvania as the site of their convention even though they were from nearby New Jersey. Lancaster had been the site of the long successful Historicon, a wargaming convention that was famous for its miniatures and the scope of its games. Indeed, Dungeons & Dragons, the first of the role-playing games, had grown out of the miniature warfare gaming community.
Lancaster County is a bucolic setting with Amish farms, rolling hills and old brick towns. Not being in a metropolis, the parking is abundant and prices reasonable. Seeing the success of Historicon, the Fryes then started a convention that has grown in size and scope along with Traveller’s reintroduction to the ttrpg community.
The Hotel Brunswick in Lancaster City was the site of the first TravellerCon-USA. In an interview by phone, Keith and Megan Frye mentioned how one wing of this hotel had later been closed by Lancaster City health inspectors. While the hotel had not been ideal, the host had been really accommodating.
I looked up an old google review of the Brunswick by J LeBlanc that read, “We stayed there last week. Where do I start? Room phone didn’t work. Missing one-half the curtain on window. Missing hair dryer. Missing carafe in coffee maker. Bathroom sink didn’t drain. Toilet didn’t work properly. Black mold on the vent in shower. Pool not available (thank goodness!) Smelled like cigarettes. Dirty…Do not stay at this hotel!”
Like two Travellers, Keith and Megan got into their spaceship of the imagination and moved onto a better location, where the host of the now closed Brunswick had gone. The convention grew and grew over the next fifteen years, gathering more attendees and forming a circle of found friends who ran it.
This, as it turns out, is also the perfect beginning story for Traveller and its slowly successful renaissance. Traveller, in 2007, was considered a groundbreaking game that most within the TTRPG hobby had heard about rather than played. Stories about how your character could die during character creation was an urban legend founded in fact.
It was believed that people who played Traveller were hardier souls than most. Players would first gamble on different career choices and let the roll of a dice determine their characters’ successes and failures over a number of four-year chunks of time. Then, if they didn’t die, they would go into debt buying a spaceship that took weeks to get to exotic and dangerous destinations. This, all before the first adventure!
And what adventures! Travellers lived in a universe filled with mercenaries and merchants, not transporters and free food from magical replicators. It had a combat system that rewarded strategic surprise and tactical retreat while lethally punishing over-the-top-heroics. The rules were in three spartan digest sized books in a box that proclaimed, “This is the Free Trader Beowulf…calling anyone. Mayday, Mayday…we are under attack…main drive is gone…turret number one is not responding…Mayday…losing cabin pressure fast…calling anyone…please help…this is Free Trader Beowulf…Mayday…”
Since 2007, the Traveller Gaming license has been granted to companies like Mongoose who have had great success marketing a newer, streamlined lifepath system with full color books and a choice at a less lethal character creation, with the option to go old school “Ironman” if you so choose. There are also more career choices. When the first books came out initially, the different careers available for a Traveller were Navy, Marines, Army, Scouts, Merchants and Other. Mongooseoffers these classic careers and has added many more. They have made new campaigns like “The Pirates of Drinax” and engaged YouTube star Seth Skorkowsky to revamp the classic Murder on Arcturus Station.
The present core staff of TravellerCon-USA is a group of five people with many ancillary volunteers. Megan, a contract manager in real life, and Keith, with his background in theater, retail and marketing, make up the founders. In a very Traveller like roster, two ex-Navy men are on the team with Ken Patterson acting as a project manager, and Greg Caires running the social media side like their Facebook presence. Rob Fedick does much of the IT with Casey O’Donovan and Bob McAndrews rounding out the team with cross disciplinary duties.
The 2022 TravellerCon/USA coincided with the 30th anniversary of Traveller. It was held at the DoubleTree Resort in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, not far from its first time offering. Travellercon/USA 2023 is being held in the same location on October 20-22. The 50th anniversary of Traveller (20th anniversary of Travellercon/USA) is in 2027!
One of the original designers of Traveller, Marc Miller, was in attendance this year. Miller had been a founding partner in the famous Game Designers Workshop, the first publisher of Traveller.
Miller, an Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War and an avid reader of science fiction, used much of his past military experience to inform the Lifepath concept of character creation. It also makes Traveller a very veteran friendly RPG.
When Keith approached Marc Miller about making this event, Miller responded with, “I heartily endorse this venture!”
He hosted a great question and answer session while also representing his gaming company Far Future Enterprises.
Another attendee was the operator of the famous on-line Travellermap.com, Joshua Bell. The map is a critical resource for anyone who plays the game these days.
Sadly, the one person who was not in attendance was Keith Frye.
Keith has been dealing with cancer and his partner, Megan, made the trip to the convention without him. She helped run the gathering and supported others as they raised money for some of Keith’s medical bills. Art was sold in silent auctions. And a GoFundMe page to help pay Keith’s medical bills was also unveiled at the convention. The GoFundMe page is being run by organizer Casey O’Donovan.
There will also be a charity livestream game for Keith Frye. The event is scheduled to take place on Saturday, December 3rd, 2022, from 12:00pm noon to 4:00pm Eastern time.
Editor’s Note: Colin Flanigan will be a guest on the livestream game for Keith Frye. Several people here at GiN play in a weekly Traveller game with Colin, and he is a wonderful game master. We encourage everyone to enjoy the livestream game because we know it will be a good one. And we wish Keith Frye the best and for a speedy recovery.