Several months ago Mike Wightman pointed me to pages 28 and 29 of The Traveller Adventure (1983). On these pages the writers lay out how to use the “playing pieces” including in Traveller to resolve situations.
Two years later DPG would publish their Traveller Task System in the first issue of the Travellers Digest. But this passage assumes the Traveller rules don’t need to be “fixed.” It uses the rules found in Traveller Books 1-3 as is and explains clearly how the Referee can use them to keep the game interesting and moving along with several applications.
THE USES OF DIE ROLLS
As players in a Traveller game venture out into the universe, they immediately face a wide variety of circumstances and situations. Many times, procedures already exist for the resolution of a situation (for example, combat, animal encounters, or patrons), but if not, the referee is thrown back on his or her own resources in handling the problem.
There are several reasonable and efficient methods of dealing with unexpected situations. These include use of personal characteristics, situation throws, and reaction throws.
Personal Characteristics: Many cases can be resolved by looking at the character’s personal characteristics (strength, dexterity, endurance, intelligence, and so on) which are appropriate to the situation. For example, in lifting or forcing large objects, strength might be most appropriate; a more delicate situation could depend on dexterity.
The referee should instruct the player character to throw the characteristic or less on two dice. The higher the characteristic, the greater the chance of accomplishing the goal. Relatively easy situations might call for rolling the sum of two characteristics or less; harder situations might have a positive DM to reduce the chance of success.
Reaction Throws: Any non-player character can make a reaction throw to determine relative disposition and reaction to the adventuters (see Reactions, The Traveller Book, page 102). This reaction number can also be used as the required throw or less for the individual to assist or help the group. DMs for appropriate skills are allowed, or for common background (such as both non-player character and player character having served in the same service).
In addition, the referee can rarely go wrong implementing a DM of + 1 or – 1 for some miscellaneous item which the players suggest, such as friendliness or appearance of affluence. For example, if the adventurers are encountering an express boat pilot and one player character comments that she has always admired the efficiency of the xboat service, then the referee can easily allow a DM + 1 for the exchange. Too many such DMs can easily ruin a game, so moderation is advised.
Situation Throws: In the absence of any other guidance, the referee may always resort to the situation throw. When an incident first occurs, throw two dice to determine its relative severity. A low roll means that it is easy, a high roll means comparative difficulty. The number achieved is now the situation number. The player characters involved, when they attempt to deal with the situation, must roll the situation number or higher on two dice. They are, of course, allowed DMs based on any appropriate skills. Tools, assistance, and equipment may also provide beneficial DMs; weather, haste, adverse environment, or other handicaps may impose negative DMs. It is even possible for a referee to make the situation number greater than 12, thus making success impossible unless the players can provide necessary skills or tools with DMs to get their throw also above 12.
Example of Throws: An adventurer (46797A) has experienced a malfunction in the drive room of her vessel. The situation seems hopeless at the moment and she is forced to abandon ship. The air lock hatch, however, is warped shut. A quick resolution to the problem is to state that she must roll strength or less to force it open. After several unsuccessful rolls, she casts about for a pry bar to help her. The referee arbitrarily rulas that the bar allows – 4 on the die roll (the referee could guess or roll one die for the result).
On the next roll, the adventurer is successful; then she makes her way to the ship’s locker for her vacc suit. Grabbing a survival pack, she proceeds to abandon ship. She knows that the drives cannot stand the strain much longer, and that she must get out immediately.
The referee decides that the drives will explode on 9+ in the current turn, 8+ in the next turn, and so on, The referee decides that the character’s last minute repair attempts have been partially successful, and he increases the needed roll by her level of engineering skill (2) to 11+ . The adventurer needs to find a survival kit before she leaves the ship, but one extra turn will be needed to gather it up. The referee rolls to see if the ship explodes this turn (11+). It does not, and she grabs the survival kit. On the second turn, she cycles through the ajr lock while the referee checks for an explosion again (10+ this time); once more the ship remains intact. On the third turn, while the character is drifting away from the ship, the referee rolls 11 and the drives explode (9+ was needed).
The distress call from her radio attracts a local asteroid miner. He is required by custom and law to pick her up, but may not like being diverted to an unprofitable rescue mission. The referee rolls two dice for his reaction: the result is 4.
She must now convince him to take her to the local starport so that she can arrange salvage of her ship. She may add any applicable skills, such as streetwise, bribery, even -1 for intelligence 9+ if the referee thinks this appropriate. Obviously, in a situation such as this, repeated requests will not be possible (or they may be allowed, at- 1 per additional request). Probably she only gets to try once. Even with DMs totalling – 3, she rolls an 8, which does not convince the miner to go out of his way to help her. She is stuck on his ship until he finishes his prospecting run of (the referee rolls one die) 4 months. Judging by his reaction roll to her, he’ll probably make her pay for room and board as well.
Some of the above I love, and some I’m not fond of. So there’s a lot to unpack here… and I will in future posts.
In this post, however, I want to throw attention on this one passage:
Situation Throws: In the absence of any other guidance, the referee may always resort to the situation throw. When an incident first occurs… determine its relative severity. The number achieved is now the situation number. The player characters involved, when they attempt to deal with the situation, must roll the situation number or higher on two dice. They are, of course, allowed DMs based on any appropriate skills. Tools, assistance, and equipment may also provide beneficial DMs; weather, haste, adverse environment, or other handicaps may impose negative DMs. It is even possible for a referee to make the situation number greater than 12, thus making success impossible unless the players can provide necessary skills or tools with DMs to get their throw also above 12.
After rooting about Traveller Books 1-3, it became clear to me, even before reading the passage above, that this is exactly how Miller assumed a Referee should use the Traveller rules.
That there are people on Traveller focused sites convinced I’m simply making up nonsense procedures (and there are a few) has always startled me. It seems so obvious once you look at the text of the three books holistically. The improvised adjudication of situation is part and parcel of the game culture of the mid-70s.
Now, this doesn’t mean people should run the game this way. I want people to run the game the way they want to run it. I’m only hoping that this passage from The Traveller Adventure will make it clear I’ve only been saying what the folks at GDW would have said as well.
When Megatraveller came out I switched almost straight away and I actually forgot how to play this way. Thank you for reminding me.
Such an elegant way to play.
As I posted elsewhere:
To me, the original point of the MT Task system was to make deciding on a Situation number easier. When you have a limited set of numbers to pick from based on a described difficulty set (Simple, Routine, Difficult, etc), then it’s easier for the Referee to pick a number on the fly – it’s pretty easy to pick between a base target of 7+ and 11+, where picking between 7+ and 8+ or maybe even between 7+ and 9+ might require the Referee to think things through. Unfortunately, that game then fell into the trap of limiting what a character could do to the things on the character sheet, but I don’t think that’s inherent to the Task system, or at least not to the intention behind it.
The beginnings of the MegaTraveller Task Resolution system was, I believe, introduced in Issue #1 of The Travellers Digest, in an article called Using Skills Effectively.
Early in the article we are told:
“In this issue’s Gaming Digest we discuss an alternative to the ‘seat of the pants’ method of generating rolls for tasks. The system herein provides the Traveller referee with a consistent, easy to remember rule of thumb for determining the chance of any given character succeeding at any task. In the absence for specific rules for accomplishing tasks, this can be a lifesaver.”
When I read this (and the rest of the article) what I see is an attempt to take out as much of the “seat of the pants” as possible — which included things like being very specific about skills and needing them to get things done. (The system does not work if there isn’t a skill to be used.) And so we are headed in the direction of the MegaTraveller system.
I don’t see the limitations and focus on skill use MegaTraveller nailed down as an extraneous function of the Task System. I see it as part of the Task System’s reason for existence: To remove as much adjudication on the part of the Referee as possible.
I disagree that the system doesn’t work without a skill. It can call on any assets the Referee likes whether those are skills or otherwise, it includes the modifier to make if there is no skill or similar asset at level 0 or above (and an exception to eliminate that unskilled modifier), and so on. I also still maintain that the wording involved that you quote shows that it was intended not to eliminate Referee adjudication (which would be impossible), but to make adjudication easier. It provides some basic procedures to fit any check to the specific situation so that the Referee doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel every time there’s a more complex check to be made than just rolling to hit a target, such as opposed tests and so on. Importantly, it reduces the number of basic target numbers to make choosing an appropriate one easier (and in MT at least, it gives the opportunity to adjust those targets to any specific number if the Referee really needs it to be something else).
At this point, I have developed the opinion that the MT task system (I still haven’t seen the article in TD1) has only a few flaws that moved the system too far away from CT. First and foremost among them is the assumption that a typically competent character will have a total DM of +4, usually from skill and characteristic. That is obviously not in line with CT numbers, and I would argue not even in line with MT numbers as they actually existed.
“First and foremost among them is the assumption that a typically competent character will have a total DM of +4, usually from skill and characteristic.”
This reasoning is precisely the point I was making when I said the system doesn’t work for Tasks that don’t involve a clear skill. The odds get thrown out of whack for Situations where a skill might not be applicable.
You might interpret the fallout of your point differently than I do, but that’s the logic I was using.
Also, I didn’t write it was there to *eliminate* Referee adjudication. I wrote, “remove as much adjudication on the part of the Referee *as possible.*”
Finally, I want people to use the rules people want to use. I’m not knocking the MegaTraveller Task System (even if it is not for me).
But I want to reinvent the wheel every time there is a more complex Situation to Throw. I want the players and the referee to have a discussion, so we really determine, in the fiction, which characteristic, skill, and tools are in use, to really describe how they are being applied, so we get a tactile and visceral sense of what is happening in the moment of fictional crisis.
That’s my taste, and my preferred way of bringing it about. But I make no claim it is *the* way to do it or that anyone else should like it.
Fair enough. I don’t think that assumption is intrinsic to the Task system, but I can definitely see the argument. Anyway, yeah, I understand that you’re trying to present the oldest Traveller method, which doesn’t get enough love.
Thanks for this other reminder of how traveller rules were explained in the past. And the fact that many interesting and varied mechanics were suggested as being legitimate and viable choices. Applicability, effectiveness and seeming suited to the situation at hand seems as much as consistency with other mechanics. I used to be a big fan of the DGP task system. Still am a fan – but that doesn’t mean other mechanics aren’t suitable – at least for some people. Which your articles make clear. Also I never found fault with your previous explanations of Traveller. I think part of the problem is that peoples thoughts and opinions have evolved and been molded by the fashions of the time. You can argue well for completely different ways of running with the rules. And there is an assumption that the newer rules replace the old. The example you post reminds us of other choices in terms of mechanics, and provides guidance on how to adjudicate a situation, i.e. how to *use* those rules in play. I think this example is brilliant as it provides a several really flexible mechanics that can handle a lot: adding two stats together and rolling under on 2d6. Its an obvious extrapolation to say 3 or 4d6 for more complex tasks. If you want to do that. Or you may work out your 2d6 save to achieve the same thing. The original rules (and their most immediate successor add ons) were really much more of a tool kit. And if read carefully, they had a lot of advice on *how* to play and cope with all the stuff not covered by the rules.
Another valuable post. I’ll have to dig out The Traveller Adventure and take a look as I recall none of this.
Oops. Should read “Applicability, effectiveness and seeming suited to the situation at hand seems as much VALUED as consistency with other mechanics”
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