Update: I have produced my own version of a Classic Traveller character sheet. It is a stripped down version of the TAS form, simpler to read and more focus on in-game play information.
Also, I have move the DMs for weapons off the character sheet and have created Classic Traveller Weapon Cards which combine the DMs matrixes for range and armor for each weapon on a specific card.
Above is a lovely Classic Traveller Character Sheet.
Back in the 70s I picked up a copy of the boxed set of the Little Black Books for Traveller from the Compleat Strategist in Manhattan. I fell in love with the look of the game, the promise of tense personal and starship combat, and the promise of traveling from world to world in search of adventure.
But the game also baffled me. I would turn to it time and time again over the years, trying to sort out the modifiers, trying to figure out how to make characters who could accomplish anything given the meager number of skills the left a service with.
I assumed at the time that I simply wasn’t grown up enough or sophisticated enough to play such a sparse laid out game. (No art for Traveller! We we sitting down to get this shit done!)
Last year I really dug into the game, sorting through the rules, looking at different editions, reading blogs of those who had done the same.
I discovered a few things. For example, in the rules for starship combat a ship can launch canisters of sand-like material that can refract incoming laser fire and reduce the effectiveness of said laser fire. Here’s the thing: The rules never describe how the sand works in the midst of the tactical game. At all. You can buy them. you can fire them. But how to integrate the canisters into the vector based combat are never described.
And here’s another thing: The 1977 rules, the rules I first bought, along with the revised 1981 edition, never covered rules for cover or concealment in personal combat. Given the tactical nature of the personal combat, this is a crazy oversight. It wasn’t until The Traveller Adventure that these rules were added.
So, it wasn’t all just me. The rules were laid out strangely. The Experience chapter really would have been a better fit in Book 1 (Characters and Combat) rather than crammed into the end of Book 2 (Starships). I understand why it was done this way: I’m sure it came down to a matter of layout and page counts per book. But in my imagination, the layout implied that character improvement began after adventures had begun and the characters were already rushing around on spaceships. (Given that I was comparing the game to Dungeons & Dragons at the time, this expectation sort of made sense. In that game, Experience only comes into play once adventuring has begun.)
But here’s a fact: Characters can begin using the Experience system as soon as they are created. Even before the first adventure the characters can improve a base stat, a given skill, or a couple of combat skills. In a 2D6 bell curve system where a +1 Die Modifier means a great deal, this is really important! Traveller never gives you exactly the character you want. But here’s a chance, buried at the back of the Starships book, that lets you adjust your character in that one number on the sheet that’s really bugging you. This is important. But it was sort of buried.
Here’s something else that got buried. After digging through several great blogs about the Classic Traveller skill system, I read that Player Character in Traveller can often make a roll even if they lack the skill. There may by a -DM for using a skill without any training. But the roll can be made. And in the 1981 edition of the game several of the skills offered Skill-0 for any Player Character. These skills include: airlraft, ATV, forward observer, steward, and vacc suit. In fact, there are only three skills a Player Character can’t use without a -DM: Administration, Bribery, and Streetwise.
But this rule was never clearly stated in the 1981 rules. (It was stated clearly in The Traveller Book and Starter Traveller.) When creating a character it sure seemed as if the skills you got during terms of service were the skills you could use, and only those skills.
More importantly, the layout for the character sheet GDW created for the game reinforced this perception. There were two boxes for “Primary Skill” and “Secondary Skill” — and then a small box for additional skill. It encourages the notion that you’ll only be using what you were trained in. But the fact is, any Player Character can use any Skill in Traveller.
To be fair: The layout of the Character Sheet made it look like an official resume for your character, so of course you would only list what you were trained in. This is very sexy. But it is not particularly useful as a tool for a roleplaying game. But I do think it aided the confusion about the notion that a Player Character can only perform the skills he has.
Since reading through writings about the OSR over the last couple of years, I beginning to see the simple elegance of how this system actually works. The Player Characters say what they want to do. The Referee comes up with a ruling on a) if dice need to be rolled at all; and b) if they need to be rolled and what they roll might be. He uses the available elements on the character sheets (skills, characteristics, and so on) to help him determine both a) and b). The skills are not there to limit what a PC can try, but to aid the Referee in determining these things, adding color and rules procedures into the final ruling.
This fact can be used to advantage if you use degrees of success or fail rather than just success or fail e.g. if you say failing by 3 is a critical fail and by 6 is a catastrophic fail then trying to fly the ship with no skill is more of an issue because you can catastrophic fail on a 5 or less whereas if you have skill-1 then the lowest you can roll is 3 which is fail by 5.
Also if you make failing by less than 3 just mean the task takes a little longer or uses more of a resource or some other complication on a similar scale then a skill-3 will only fail completely on a 2. This counters the relatively low amount of CT skills.
Another useful article in Traveller ’77. Keep em coming!
This is a great, thought-provoking post. One thing is I couldn’t find the rules for cover and concealment in the Traveller Adventure, but the rule about assigning some Level-0 skills was tucked into the Vargr character generation rules. Cover and concealment is pretty simple. If you are behind cover and elect to remain concealed you can’t be targeted directly (I imagine you can still be affected by explosions). If you attack then you expose yourself but are at a -4 to be hit.
The blog post you linked to is now private, but I found the PDF version of the TAS Form 2 Revised via archive.org: it is currently at http://www.gonensworld.com/seann/tas-form2-revised.pdf and I added it to archive.org and so it is now also at https://web.archive.org/web/20200316034554/http://www.gonensworld.com/seann/tas-form2-revised.pdf
I’ve found your Traveller articles to be very useful!
Very nice to see people that still care about the classics. Growing up playing RPG, I only played Dark Heresy I & II and Star Wars EotE as Scifi systems. Classic Traveller is such a breath of fresh air. I’m currently the referee of a campaign and your articles are so helpful, literally cannot thank you enough.
The notion that the skills listed on a sheet are more a highlight than a limitation is something I never thought about. Very nice.
Keep up the awesome work!
Thanks so much!