Tales to Astound!

TRAVELLER: Out of the Box–The Rules are Not Your Friend


There is no comfort to be had in the Basic Traveller rules as written.

For years people have pointed out that making a profit with a freight hauler in Traveller is hard if not impossible. They claim the rules are broken since people should be able to regularly and safely make a profit.

Here’s a thought: What if that isn’t true? What if given the setting implied by the rules found int Books 1-3 making a profit is supposed to be very hard, if not impossible? What would happen then?

Lots of things!

For example, a crew of Player Characters might end up with a ship. The ship might have a mortgage. There are rules for paying the mortgage. But if the crew isn’t making a profit, they can’t pay that mortgage. Does this mean the rules for trade are broken?

Not if we remember that this passage has been part of the game since 1977:

Skipping: Most starships are purchased against a mortgage or loan, and the monthly payments required against the multi-million credit debt are staggering. The owner or captain may decide to steal the ship himself instead of remaining under that load. Passengers have no way themselves of determining if a specific ship is in such a status. The referee should throw 12 exactly to determine that a commercial ship is of this type.

Ships which have skipped are subject to repossession attempts if they are detected by the authorities or by collection agencies. Such attempts may range from the formal service of papers through legal injunctions to armed boarding parties. A repossession attempt will occur under the following conditions: On each world landing, throw 12+ to avoid such an attempt, apply a DM of +1 per 5 hexes distance from the ship’s home planet, to a maximum of +9. If the ship has called on the same world twice within the last two months, apply a DM of –2. This procedure also applies to ships owned by player characters who have skipped.

See, the underlying assumption of the Basic Traveller rules is that things go wrong. The rules for skipping make this assumption explicit. Your business venture as a tramp freighter crew might well go south. Why else have rules devoted to skipping out on your mortgage?

But this is only part of the pain the rules offer.

The rules of Books 1-3 dwell on combat, animal encounters, run-ins with the law, hijackings, pirates, hostile encounters in space and on planets, ship holds that don’t fill up, jump drive failure because of being unable to find refined fuel, and the fact that many worlds lack the parts or technology to repair anything from firearms to starships.

This doesn’t mean that any given setting has to be like this. Everyone should make the setting they want. If you want a setting where everything is clean and shiny, refined fuel is plentiful, and ever ship leaves port with a full cargo hold… go for it!

But the implied setting found in the actual rules of original Traveller assumes that things fail, that things go bad, and that things are always on the cusp of turning into the next disaster.

The implied setting of play assumes that travellers deal with trouble regularly. Traveller by definition put themselves in harms way, go to extraordinary places, and live lives most people would not risk. The rules make this clear.

When it comes to starship economics, the rules assume play will take place in a patch of space defined by depressed population levels and worlds with sub-starship technology. Profit margins will be narrow if not nonexistent. All of this is by design.

So, yes… if the crew of a ship can make their mortgage payments that’s great. It will be one less source of trouble if they don’t have people after them to repossess their ship. On the other hand, the rules take the time to explain how one bolts from the responsibility of paying that mortgage. The rules then explain how one can get into trouble for this choice and avoid that same trouble.

The soil of the Basic Traveller rules is science-fiction adventure fiction. The rules of the game are designed to create stress, conflict, and trouble. This helps drive the player characters to bold choices. It means taking high risk/high reward jobs. It means coming up with bold schemes to get contracts or find treasures. It means doing deeds for powerful patrons to get hold of better resources. The PCs might even skip the mortgage payments or become pirates. This is all part and parcel of the implied environment of the game fostered by the rules themselves.

No interpretation of the rules demands that trade in the implied section of space created by the rules works efficiently. In fact, if one looks at the expectations of the rules one finds the opposite.

Please note there is a discussion of these ideas taking place in the comments. Make sure to check them out. The points you want to make might already be under discussion!