This is Free Trader Beowulf, calling anyone…

Also, your character could die during character generation. Or so I am told.

As fortune would have it, I’ve read a number of (non-Dungeons & Dragons) novels lately that have contained clever references to D&D. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is chock full of them. Lev Grossman’s The Magicians has a good number as well. Nerd references are the cool thing these days. But The Magician King, the sequel to The Magicians, has officially one-upped it with an even more nerdy RPG reference in the name of an online mental-health support group one of the protagonists joins:

…the support group really was pretty dandy. It was something special. It was founded by a woman who’d worked successively at Apple, and then Microsoft, and then Google…. before she rolled neurochemical snake eyes and a bout of clinical depression knocked her out of the sky…. So she retired early and started Free Trader Beowulf.

Free Trader Beowulf—you had to be at least forty and a recovering pen-and-paper role-playing-gamer to get the reference, but it was apt. Google it.

It would’ve been even better if Grossman had not let on that it was an RPG reference, so that people like me could feel all superior for noticing it. It’s a shout-out to Traveller, a classic sci-fi RPG first published in the 70s. (It’s still around.)

If D&D references have become commonplace, then a Traveller reference is at least kicking it up a notch. Mark my words, next year it’s going to be Tékumel and Tunnels and Trolls references. You read it here first!

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7 Comments

  1. Ed Heil says:

    I don’t know Tékumel enough off the top of my head to make a suggestion, but for T&T, possibly “Take That, You Fiend!”

  2. Ed Heil says:

    Wondering how that message was sent. There was no FTL communication in Traveller. (Besides just using your jump drive to travel to the place you wanted to communicate with and delivering your message in person!)

    The battle must have taken place near enough to a populated planet or station that radio-ing for help made sense…

  3. Andy says:

    I knew a T&T reference would attract your attention, Ed 🙂 Is “Take That, You Fiend” the name of a spell or attack in T&T?

    And yes, I think w/r/t our friend Free Trader Beowulf, we’ll have to assume it’s being broadcast locally in a populated system, or near a heavily-trafficked trade route stopover, or something. I love settings that (attempt to) take seriously the ramifications of very limited FTL technologies. Old-school Battletech had elements of that too, although I don’t think they stuck to it quite as strongly as Traveller did. I know there was one faction that had a monopoly on FTL travel; but I don’t recall if they found some way to handwave FTL communications or not. I love the idea of a no-FTL-comms setting, where super-fast-moving couriers, messengers, blockade runners, etc. (i.e., player characters) would be in huge demand.

    Man, now I’m in the mood for some Traveller.

  4. N'drew says:

    I read that passage in “The Magician King” to my wife, who then asked me what that was in reference to. I had to think a moment, but then said “Its a standard class of Traveller space ship. Beowulf must be the name.” I had to take out the damn book (the hardbound) and leaf through to page 143 to find the Beowulf sample scenario, but I did. So this morning my daughter saw the UPP decoder I made for quick study of subsector maps and told me I had to redo it with cleaner handwriting. The academia of gaming continues down another generation. Mr. Gygax, you should be proud of what you wrought!

  5. Andy says:

    N’drew, that’s awesome 🙂

  6. Mark says:

    Lev Grossman also uses “Free Trader Beowulf” as the title of his website (you can see it if you google the phrase, or if you view source in his page).

  7. Andy says:

    I hadn’t noticed that, Mark–thanks for pointing it out!

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