Tales to Astound!

TRAVELLER: Out of the Box–Another Difference Between the 1977 Edition and the 1981 Edition

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I’ve posted before about the differences between the 1977 edition of Books 1-3 and the 1981 edition of books 1-3.

Here’s another difference! The nature of the Starship Encounters Table produces very different results.

Here are the rules from 1977:

SHIP ENCOUNTER RULES
When a ship enters a star system, there is a chance that any one of a variety of ships will be encountered. The ship encounter table is used to determine the specific type of vessel which is met. This result may, and should, be superseded by the referee in specific situations, especially if a newly entered system is in military or civil turmoil, or involves other circumstances.

Throw two dice; apply a DM based on the starport of the primary world of the system (A +6, B +4, C +2, D +1, E –2, X –4). The result indicates the ship type encountered. If necessary, exact specifications for the ship should be generated. Both Patrol and Pirate Ships will generally be Type S Scout/Couriers (throw 6–) or Type C Cruisers (throw 8+), with the chance that they are Armed Type Y Yachts (throw 7).

Ship Encounters Table
Die……….Ship Encountered
8 or less…No encounter
9………….Free Trader
10 ………..Free Trader
11 ………..Free Trader
12 ………..Pirate
13 ………..Subsidized Merchant
14 ………..Patrol
15 ………..Subsidized Merchant
16 ………..Yacht
17 ………..Yacht
18 ………..Patrol

Free Traders, if friendly, may serve as a source of information about other circumstances in the system; Subsidized Merchants may also provide such information. Patrols may be simple border pickets, or may be a form of pirate, exacting tolls or penalties.

And here the Starship Encounter rules from 1981:

STARSHIP ENCOUNTERS

When a starship enters a system, there is a chance that it will encounter any one of a number of different ships going about their business. Very often, the exact encounter is the responsibility of the referee; for routine encounters, or for inspiration, the accompanying starship encounter table is provided.

The table classifies each system by the starport within it. Two dice are rolled and modified by the presence of scout or naval bases in the system. If a dash is shown on the table, then there is no encounter. The letter codes indicate the various types’ of standard design ships described earlier in this book. The referee should examine the specific type of ship involved and determine the precise nature of the encounter. Free traders may want to swap rumors and gossip; scouts may want information; patrol cruisers may want to inspect for smugglers.

The suffix P on any ship type can be construed as pirate; such a ship will probably attack, or at least try to achieve a position where it can make the attempt.

It is also possible to encounter a variety of small craft in a system. If an asterisk appears on the table entry, a small craft has also been encountered. Roll one die and consult the standard small craft table to determine type. This encounter occurs either before or after the large ship encounter.

The referee may want to use the reaction table from the encounter section of Book 3 to determine the precise reaction of any type of ship and crew.

Let’s leave aside for the moment that the 1981 edition of the rules contain a larger range of ships. What interests me is a table that Aramis put together over at the Citizens of the Imperium which compared the odds of encounter a Patrol vs. Pirates in the 1977 edition and the odds of encountering a Patrol vs. Pirates in the 1981 edition. [The notions N, S, and B stand for the presence of a Naval Base, a Scout Base, or a base of both kinds in a given system.)

Look at the difference. Out of 36 Throws for encounters when entering a system, the difference could not be more stark.

I’ll let Aramis sum it up:

In 77, pirates are the bane of populated systems, but are absent in the backwaters. The mains are dangerous for lack of services, not hostiles…

In 81, pirates are the scourge in the fringes – desperate men choking the lifeblood out of minor trade. Meanwhile, the major ports have no pirates, but plenty of law. And patrols are EVERYWHERE.

The “empire” of 81 leaves E and X alone, and to the pirates, but patrols the A and B systems, and the pirates only match with them in the C-ports.

The “empire” of 77 patrols everywhere, but is outgunned by pirates in the systems with good ports…

One is effective, the other not…

Carlobrand, another poster at CotI added:

’77 and ’81 paint starkly different trade pictures, if you think about the meaning behind the numbers.

Where there’s big money involved, that money will try to protect itself, and that clearly is not happening in the ’77 universe. ’77 is a universe of little trade between planets, with what trade occurs being the result of adventurous souls willing to take big chances to score that big hit. As Aramis points out, it’s not a universe where the interstellar forces of goodness and niceness are very effective. Maybe they are more effective somewhere else, but they’re not very effective where the players are. It’s a universe where anarchy has the upper hand out in the airless void …

… and as such, it is a small-ship universe. Big ships in trade mean big money and, as I noted, big money tries to protect itself.

By the ’81 universe, it seems they’re giving thought to an Imperium, or at least some organized effort to protect the trade lanes. There’s enough economic activity going on up there to justify a planet putting up enough force to push piracy out to the hinterlands. Could be big ship, could be lots of small ships, but there’s enough to warrant a real effective effort, at least where the bulk of traffic is.

I concur with the statements of aramis and Carlobrand.

Here are a few more differences between the 1977 rules and text and the 1981 rules and text:

When we look at the 1977 rules, we also find that there are Charted Space Lanes rather than Communication Routes in setting up a subsector.

Space Lanes are pre-plotted Jump plans that can be bought on cassettes that self-erase after one use. A ship with the Generate Program does not need them. But a ship without a Generate program needs them if it is going to get from one system to another. And if a Space Lane between two systems has not yet been charted at all, then the Generate program is required for a ship to get to it.

Also: The 1977 rules have no Travel Zones (Amber or Red). As one can see from the quotes above, it seems unlikely that governments that is constantly trying to swat away pirates from A starport systems (and not succeeding) will be able to interdict an entire system. Instead, all worlds, no matter how dangerous, are open to Player Character travellers if that’s where they want to go. They could, of course, encounter resistance from any number of factions. But there is nothing on the books advising or warning them not to go.

Also: while digging into this I came across this first paragraph from the section on Starship Encounters on p. 36 of the 1977 edition of Book 2:

When a ship enters a star system, there is a chance that any one of a variety of ships will be encountered. The ship encounter table is used to determine the specific type of vessel which is met. This result may, and should, be superseded by the referee in specific situations, especially if a newly entered system is in military or civil turmoil, or involves other circumstances.

This assumes a setting that will have “military or civil turmoil” in the space between worlds. Not that there has to be turmoil. That is up to the Referee and the worlds he or she builds. But it is certainly implied there can be such turmoil, and the text encourages the Referee to think in terms of offering up such turmoil. But this sensibility is in contrast to the rules of the OTU’s Third Imperium which allows conflicts on worlds, but not in the space between them.

These elements alone are enough to bring me peace of mind. This is the sort of rough-and-tumble setting that I always imagined for Traveller because, of course, I bought the 1977 edition in my youth.

During the game line’s development the rules changed, the OTU was developed, and the game and the setting became one thing. My view of what sort of environment the Traveller rules originally implied became erased. When I would say, “The Spinward Marches seems safer and more civilized than I want,” I would be met with the reply, “How can you say that? It’s on the edge of the Imperium. There’s all sorts of adventure.”

Which is true, by the way. There is all sorts of adventure in The Spinward Marches. Nonetheless, to me, with all its mega corporations with tendrils to the smallest and off the beaten path worlds, its empire capable of interdicting entire star systems, its vast fleet of enormous startups that utterly dwarfed the ships of the player characters, its all seemed a much different environment than those I remembered reading about when I first bought the rules. Overall, the Third Imperium enforced a law and order across the stars that wasn’t in alignment with my sensibility for Science-Fiction Adventure in the Far Future. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Traveller was always about the Referee making the setting he or she wanted to share with is players. GDW made the setting they wanted from the core rules — and that is awesome.)

Now, I’m not saying playing with the 1977 rules is the “right” way to play, or that the setting implied by the rules is the right kind of setting to use.

I bring this up, as I always do, to open up the possibilities of play. The Third Imperium is a an awesome application of the Traveller rules to make a specific setting. It is the setting the guys at GDW wanted to make–and make it they did. But the Third Imperium is not the only setting–or even kind of setting–that works well with the Traveller rules.

And we know this because when we look back at the 1977 rules we see an utterly different kind of setting than we would see in later years as the the game line added more rules, ignored other rules, and built a setting that actually is at odds with the rules in Books 1-3.


A thought experiment:

Let’s use the rules and observations of aramis and Carlobrand above, along with rules shared with the 1981 edition:

Costs of Living per Book 3
– Ordinary food and housing is Cr4,800 per year (estimate Cr12,000 annual income)
– High food and housing is Cr10,800 per year (estimate Cr27,000 annual income)
Costs of Space Travel Passage per Book 2
– High Passage: Cr10,000
– Middle Passage: Cr8,000
– Low Passage: Cr1,000

(And remember, those passage prices are per jump)

First: are there any other differences between the 1977 and 1981 rules that provide interesting contrasts in terms of setting?

Second: what sort of assumptions can be made about the setting? What are the implications? What do we think the settings would be like drawn from these rules and bits of text?

 

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