More On Pointcrawls — and Thoughts on Pointcrawls for Traveller

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A few weeks ago I posted a link to a very smart post about pointcrawls from Anne at DIY & Dragons.

As Anne explained in her first post on the matter:

At its most basic, pointcrawling is a way of depicting space that maps a set of known locations as “nodes” that are connected by a limited number of “paths.” Depending on a judge’s time and artistic talent, this diagram could consist of little more than numbered circles connected by straight lines (something similar to the early Scorpion Swamp pointcrawl introduced in the Fighting Fantasy books, seen in Figure 1 below.)

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Figure 1. Scorpion Swamp from Fighting Fantasy 8

Alternatively, it could be much more detailed, either an artistic rendering or an information-encoding scheme to visually depict the location at each “node,” and likewise some method of giving more information about each “path.” In Figures 2 and 3 below, Hill Cantons shows a scheme for color-coding and labeling square nodes to show information about each location at a glance, while using different kinds of lines to instantly communicate information about the types of paths. (Really, his whole series of articles on this is an excellent read.)

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Fig. 2 – Horizontal Undercity from Hill Cantons

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Fig. 3 – Vertical Undercity from Hill Cantons


The post goes into a lot more detail. But I think the value of pointcrawls might not be immediately obvious because we are trained to expect full terrain maps and full deck plans.

But the fact is, a full deck plan of a starship might not be required for an evening of play for Traveller. Consider this: a pointcrawl could be made of a starship, showing all the chambers on board and the routes might be able to take from one chamber to another. There’s really no need to draw up full deck plans. And if one is focused on a “theater of the mind” presentation of the ship and onboard action to the Player rather than miniatures, a pointcrawl might actually make a lot more sense. One need only glance down at the nodes and connections to see where the Player Character is in relation to other elements of the ship. Notes can be marked up next to the nodes (or within them) or however you want to roll.

The point being that sometimes we get so caught up in “the way things are supposed to be done” we don’t think through, “What exactly is the most useful way to record and impart this information?” or “What do I really need to run the encounter on this starship?”

Here’s the pointcrawl of a 200 ton Type A Free Trader I just whipped up for this post.

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Notice that it tells me almost anything I’m going to need to describe what is happening on a ship. Most rooms are not going to be more than 8 meters across, which means that most combats will be at Close or Short range and sometimes stretch to Medium if the combats really make sure they’re firing at each other from one end of a longer room to another. Notice that cargo hold, even from end to end, falls within Medium range. (Notice too, that at certain points, where I thought it might matter, I noted the length or dimension of a room or corridor. One could do that with every room if one wanted to.

Now, listen. We all have access to the deck plans of a 200 ton Free Trader. This illustration isn’t that big a deal, in part because we all have those plans and in part because the lower deck of a Free Trader isn’t really that complicated or big.

But let’s say you needed to whip up a Corsair or any other kind of ship. The question is how much work do you really need to put into whipping up a new ship? Do you really need detailed deck plans to scale? Will your players ever notice if you don’t?

But let’s think about bigger locations:

  • space stations
  • underground mining operations
  • cities of a billion people
  • the continent of an alien world
  • and so on…

Do you really need a details map of all the locations?

My guess is no, you really don’t. You do need to know major locations. You do need to know how one place connects to another. (Is there a monorail between the two locations? Or do you have to walk? Use different colors for each type of movement and name travel times and your pointcrawl becomes both useful and efficient!) Entire continents can be mapped out this way, with key points of interested written down as nodes and notes about traversing the distances between the nodes right on the sheet. (Here’s a link to a post at Hill Cantons about replacing wilderness hex-maps with wilderness pointcrawls. Really worth checking out!)

Traveller is a tricky game in that the Player Characters can (and should) travel from world to world to world. This is, I think, one of the reasons the game can seem daunting to Referees (or would be Referees). If you’ve been raised on RPGs thinking you need full color maps of cities and continents draw to scale, the thought of having to create, say, 20 planets, along with all the cities, colonies, bases, and ancient ruins might seem overwhelming. And let’s be clear–IT IS OVERWHELMING!!! A given subector might have 20 planets. The idea that you, as the Referee will have all the details of those worlds mapped out and ready to go because the Players decide to have their characters pick up stakes and light out for another planet on a whim would drive anyone mad. This is supposed to be a fun hobby… not a full time job!

And keep in mind: When I write all of this, I am assuming that the original Traveller rules were designed for improvised playnot railroaded plots. The Player Characters should be able to pick up stakes and head off to a new world on a whim, and new troubles should arrive on a whim as well. That’s what the game is about.

Also keep in mind that the abstract range band system from the original Traveller rules. Marc Miller provided a solid, abstract system that could keep things moving along without getting bogged down in measuring every foot minutia. “Mapping” as we know it from early Dungeons & Dragons makes sense if you are underground, in an ill-lit environment, wondering if you’ll remember how to get out, while checking the map for empty gaps that might suggest there is a secret door you passed and missed earlier. You don’t need that level of mapping detail if you’re hangout out on a space station or taking a monorail from one city to another. The notion of pointcrawls fits right into the design philosophy of the original Traveller rules.

So, is it worth it to you to relive yourself of the responsibility of having to map out entire continents and space stations in order to give your players plenty of freedom, cut down on your prep time, and give yourself the confined to know you can handle whipping up whatever environment your players go to?


Finally, Anne has promised to get to a post about “mini-crawls” very soon. But in the meantime she has a new post up with more examples of pointcrawling.

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Comments and Conversations about the Previous Post on Classic Traveller Personal Combat

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This post on personal combat in Traveller Book 1 generated some great comments both in the comments section, but on several other sites across the Internet.

Over at the G+ Classic Traveller community a solid conversation took place inspired by the post. Because we covered so many ideas and topics, and the nature of the conversation revealed people sorting out ideas (including myself) I thought I’d share the thread directly, allowing people to see how the ideas flowed.

Also the group is great. And if you are interested in Classic Traveller you should check it out.


Michael Thompson
Close combat with someone who has a clue with a firearm should be deadly in short order. I was part of the security response force aboard a submarine, and we stressed the importance of finding cover and concealment, and gaining surprise.


Christopher Kubasik
+Michael Thompson I think something that can throw people off about the original Traveller combat rules is that they want RPG combat to feel like … well, RPG combat. They want lots of rounds, a slow ablative decay of hit points, and durable PCs that have time to take stock of a battle that is going south and change tactics accordingly.

Marc Miller was a captain in the army and, believe, served in Nam. He wrote the rules to reflect how he saw a firefight would go. And so the game has rules that are brutal, quick, and dependent on the Players/PCs being smart long before the bullets start flying.


Jeff R.
Another excellent post. Something to consider is that, RAW, movement is normally completed before combat throws, so it would be possible (subject to Ref judgment) for the PC under fire to “evade into cover” before the combat throw is adjudicated, or maybe even “close range” from Short to Close. In the end I find CT combat fast, furious and fun, to steal a tag-line from another game.


Christopher Kubasik
+Jeff R. Yes! I implied that in the post, but didn’t spell it out. I should probably fix that.


Daniel M
At a past GenCon I ran a session in which a player, armed with a dagger, attacked a Stormtrooper in combat armor. After the dagger attack failed the trooper opened up on the player with his laser rifle and scored a hit. Everyone at the table knew that character was a goner. I picked up 5 dice, shook them, and dropped them in the middle of the table for everyone to see. 1, 1, 1, 1 and a 2. The player barely noticed the injury and the rest of his party toasted the trooper with their own weapons.

Hitting your target is only the first part of the story.


Jeff R.
+Daniel M Ha! I had something similar happen in my home game, where a foil-wielding Marquis charged an Auto-Pistol armed kidnapper and not only didn’t get hurt, but disarmed the cad…


Alistair Langsford
+Christopher Kubasik You’ve written a lot of good stuff on CT, but I think this might be the best article so far. CT and its combat always seemed to be a stumbling block with various groups when I was just getting into RPGs. But not the group I started with, of whom I and one other person out of about 8 were the only ones who didn’t have military and/or wargames experience. They had quite a different view from the rest of the roleplayers I gamed with.

I think one of the key reminders you make is that PCs are awesome when it comes to firefights. A fact many forget. But, to steal a quote from one of my favourite action movies, they’re still ‘Touchable’.


Jeff R.
Another excellent post. Something to consider is that, RAW, movement is normally completed before combat throws, so it would be possible (subject to Ref judgment) for the PC under fire to “evade into cover” before the combat throw is adjudicated, or maybe even “close range” from Short to Close. In the end I find CT combat fast, furious and fun, to steal a tag-line from another game.


Christopher Kubasik
+Jeff R. Yes! I implied that in the post, but didn’t spell it out. I should probably fix that.


Daniel M
At a past GenCon I ran a session in which a player, armed with a dagger, attacked a Stormtrooper in combat armor. After the dagger attack failed the trooper opened up on the player with his laser rifle and scored a hit. Everyone at the table knew that character was a goner. I picked up 5 dice, shook them, and dropped them in the middle of the table for everyone to see. 1, 1, 1, 1 and a 2. The player barely noticed the injury and the rest of his party toasted the trooper with their own weapons.

Hitting your target is only the first part of the story.


Jeff R.
+Daniel M Ha! I had something similar happen in my home game, where a foil-wielding Marquis charged an Auto-Pistol armed kidnapper and not only didn’t get hurt, but disarmed the cad…


Frank Filz
Great post. There’s a reason in Daniel M’s game when we were intercepting a ship, I had my character who had Vacc Suit-2 and Shotgun-3 EVA and come in through a different airlock (and note that a standard Traveller vacc suit counts as cloth armor). It should also be noted that the shotgun lets you hit multiple targets also… And it’s allowable at a higher law level than any other firearm…

Oh, and that Shotgun-3 skill, two of those skill levels came from mustering out…


Christopher Kubasik
+Alistair Langsford, this is a really solid point — which I made in the post but I think is worth reiterating here:

“AWESOME only in the sense of having that zero level Often people seem to complain that CT characters are limited and can’t do much and are somewhat fragile in fights. Not quite so. ON the other hand PC choices are sometimes less than awesome.”

The fact is once you add in the DMs for range, armor, and bonus or penalties for high or low characteristics, the skill level often becomes a relatively insignificant part of the calculation to hit that 8+.

Of course, most people in the world of Traveller have no combat training (not firing range training, but combat training) and so suffer the – 5 DM when using a weapon. In this regard, the PCs (with a default expertise of 0 or even skill levels) are definitely better than most folks — and so are awesome by comparison.

That most people pick up the rules, focus only on the skill rankings of a PC, and miss all those DMs for range, armor, and characteristics is caused by many reasons.

I suspect that one of them is that the combat DM matrixes split up the DMs for combat and thus makes it hard to see how the DMs will play out in a clear manner. A person sees those two matrixes, kind of gets hypnotized by all those numbers swimming around on the page that combine into something but it’s hard to see clearly unless you write it all out.

This is one of the reasons I made the weapon cards: I wanted to be able to see clearly what each weapons was going to be able to do in different circumstances. And I wanted my players to be able to see it clearly, too.


Christopher Kubasik
+Jeff R. This is an important point:

“Another excellent post. Something to consider is that, RAW, movement is normally completed before combat throws, so it would be possible (subject to Ref judgment) for the PC under fire to “evade into cover” before the combat throw is adjudicated, or maybe even “close range” from Short to Close. In the end I find CT combat fast, furious and fun, to steal a tag-line from another game.”

I want to think more about this because, of course, the NPC can move at the same time as well. He can be trying to cut the PC running for cover off, or try to get to a better flanking position if he sees the PC might try to evade into cover.

This matters because of something I have never thought about before, but I’m going to give it some thought: Since all movement is simultaneous and all firing is simultaneous, when does the Referee decide what the PCs will do? How does he decide it?

Does he write it down on paper before the PCs/Players declare movements? Does he let the PCs/Players declare first and then roll a die with two or three possibilities and randomly determine which action he takes, with different odds, perhaps for different actions?

Again, I’ve never thought this through, but I do think it is worth thinking about, as it will determine how the Player feel the combat system works, if they’re enjoying it, and can help layer tension and excitement depending on how choices and actions are revealed.


Frank Filz
Back in the day, when playing RPG systems with simultaneous action in combat, I always had the players make their declarations. I would have some idea what the NPCs/monsters would do before they made their statements. Reasonable reaction to other statements was acceptable (like changing where you moved if an NPC or other player made a movement that might impact what you were doing). While I did not have exposure at that time to Free Kriegspiel, I think the way I handled simultaneous action fits well with that philosophy. I rarely had complaints from players so it must have felt natural to players (even ones with no previous wargaming experience).

In fact, watching some play of Metagaming’s Melee turned me off of initiative systems (a fast enough character could move behind an opponent and strike from behind, without the opponent having any ability to turn as the guy was circling around him).

This issue also made me wary of explicit facing (and in college, the Cold Iron game a friend developed that we played a lot had a further issue with facing and such. We usually used a hex grid for combat, but only 4 people could attack one opponent, so how do you resolve things when 6 opponents can fit around you on the board… In the end, I had written up a house rules document that laid out combat in more detail as our play developed more in the “board game” direction in the same vein as D&D 3.x.

And with all of that in mind, for my Classic Traveller play, I will allow myself to be informed by Snapshot but I won’t directly use it, keeping combat more free form (but not entirely theater of the mind – I’m ok with using a map and a grid, but we won’t always count squares or hexes).


Daniel M
+Christopher Kubasik I have to disagree with your statement “the skill level often becomes a relatively insignificant part of the calculation”. With the bell curve of two six sided dice being so short a single +1 DM from skill level can make all the difference. See my previous posting “The Power of ‘1’”.


Jeff R.
+Christopher Kubasik I don’t use a methodical decision tree, I just have an idea what the NPCs will do, go around the table asking for actions (e.g., “I dive for cover, shooting the nearest kidnapper”, “I spray my gauss rifle across the largest cluster of thugs”, etc.). The players don’t always use the “evade, close range, open range, stand” options when stating movement, though usually it’s obvious, or I ask for clarification. When it comes to combat throws I’ll sometimes decide, sometimes roll to see if shots went off before someone reached cover, depending on circumstances. I’ve resisted trying to add anything more formal, and so far it has worked just fine.


Christopher Kubasik
Hi +Daniel M, I don’t think we are disagreeing. Please note that I’ve been banging the drum to get people to understand that a skill-1 is actually a big deal in Classic Traveller 2D6 bell curve for some time now.

What I think we need to focus on in the statement you quoted is the word “relatively.” For example, someone shooting at a unarmored target at short range with an SMG is going to get a DM +5 for firing at target not wearing armor and a DM +3 for firing at a target at Short range.

For armor and range DMs alone the shooter has racked up a DM +8. Obviously on a 2D6 bell curve this is an enormous advantage. So much so that on a Throw for an 8+ to hit the PC cannot miss.

I’m not saying the SMG-1 rating the shooter poseses doesn’t matter. I’m saying that in the situation described above it matters relatively less than other DMs. In this case a PC is going to have the same odds of an effective hit whether they have SMG-1 or SMG-0.

Which was the only point I was making. Skills matter, but they are not all that matters. But people, for whatever reason, really focus on the skills and their levels when reading the Classic Traveller rules.


Christopher Kubasik
+Jeff R. Do the players find out what the NPCs are doing before or after they declare actions? (Or is it a mix of some kind?) That’s what I’m curious about.

Because if you close range to get to melee and I open range with a firearm while you charge me you might get caught out in the open at short range and I get a shot off on you. That’s going to matter!

And I agree with pretty much everything you and +Frank Filz have written about keeping it simple.


Frank Filz
So if you declare backing off to open range, and my guy is trying to close with you, then we look at relative movement rates (they may be the same) and you probably get a nice shot off. It’s also hard to judge these things in abstract scenario, once in play, we have more information to make an adjudication with.


Todd Zircher
True, true, and backing up probably means that your opponent has been flushed from cover and is open to all kinds of other hurt. 🙂


Christopher Kubasik
Yes. The part about relative movement rates I understand.

I am trying to figure out the best order to decide/reveal the NPC’s choice to open range.

If i’m the Referee it might not occur to me to have the NPC back up until the Player announces his character is going to charge. But if actions are simultaneous should I be making decisions based on foreknowledge of the PCs’ movements?

If I’m the Player I might decide I don’t want to charge if the NPC is going to back up and leave me exposed to a shotgun blast at short range.

It seems to me that a) when actions are announced and b) when characters are committed to actions matter. And I’m thinking that through.


Jeff R.
I see the issue: I run a loose game where the PCs are of heroic stamp, and they always get the benefit of the doubt. But I do decide what the NPCs are doing before asking the players, and if the NPC actions might change what the player wants to do I generally give them a chance (Saving Throw) to change, as long as the change isn’t too drastic. The NPCs never get that chance, since the story isn’t about them.


Frank Filz
+Christopher Kubasik Yea, totally. Players can make their statements of intent conditional which helps. If the player was trying to decide whether to break cover to close and the NPC was going to open range, I think either the NPC’s intent would be clear to the PC before breaking cover, or it would be more the case of the NPC backing up in reaction to the PC breaking cover.

If it really became an issue, I’d possibly call for some kind of random throw to determine who gets to react to whom (note that many initiative systems actually leave the more reactive character committing first which can seem backwards – another reason to use common sense rather than a strict procedure).

Again, I think in the moment of play, there would be more information than our cooked up scenario to help decide what happens. That doesn’t mean talking and theorizing isn’t helpful in opening our eyes to different ways to interpret the situations we face in play.


Christopher Kubasik
+Frank Filz That all seems reasonable to me. I’m a big believer in “Let the fiction sort it out.” And my first post on this issue above suggests exactly what you suggest — if I’m not sure which way an NPC will go, I’d come up with a random die roll to determine a course of action.

Whether this is “theorizing” I have no idea. (Well, that’s not true. I certainly wouldn’t consider it “theorizing.”) The rules offer no instruction on how to handle this stuff. And my thesis for the Out of the Box posts has been that many of us have been “trained” to play a certain way — and that Classic Traveller works from assumptions counter to most other RPGs. By naming specific issues at hand in apply the Classic Traveller rules the would-be Referee can visual and imagine ahead of time how the application of rules might work out.

(As a side note: I think that in many ways Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World is closest in spirit and application to games like Original D&D and original Traveller. One will note there is no initiative in AW as well, and the fiction finds a way…)


Alistair Langsford
+Frank Filz When I think about the rules, I think I have many of the same issues as +Christopher Kubasik mentioned when it comes to “simultaneous”. Mainly because of my experience from other games where you have to write your moves so the declarations as well as resolutions are simultaneous. When I’m gaming it I realise it often has come down to more of what you and +Jeff R. describe: order often becomes obvious. And we’ve forgotten to “roll for initiative” because tho’ we initially started with Mongoose Traveller we seem to have ended up running pretty much CT. I think I’ve been overthinking it. And, this isn’t a war game. I think you’ve all helped me get a better idea on how to run CT combat. Thanks.


Victor Raymond
Generally speaking, that’s why initiative has mattered in other game systems. Not that it allows someone to go first, it’s a matter of “are you acting, or reacting?” In a wargame, if you win the initiative, you have two choices:
1. Move and act first, attempting to gain an advantage before your opponent can stop you, or
2. Wait to see what your opponent does, and then act.

In either case, rules about movement and engagement model the consequences of your actions, and depending on your resources, your decision could affect the rest of the battle. A lot of this may seem abstract, but even on the 1:1 scale of CT, that’s what those bonuses for Tactics, Leader, and prior military experience model in the surprise roll.

A Marc Miller Interview at Gary Con X

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James from the James the Geek blog had the good fortune to play Traveller with Marc Miller at Gary Con X last weekend.  After the game he sat and chat with the group of players, and with James individually for a bit as well. As a fan of Traveller James had a lot of questions about the game and put them to the man himself. He has posted the results of his impromptu interview.

The conversation covered a lot of ground, but here are some answers from Miller I wanted to highlight:

  1. When Mr. Miller designed Traveller, he intended it to be a generic sci-fi roleplaying game system, in which we could play any science fiction game we wanted.  The Third Imperium setting came later.

  2. The rules, or systems, he included are there as an aid for when your imagination fails. He shared the example of world creation. “Think of a world. Now think of another one. And another. After a while you run out of imagination or things get a little boring.” That’s where the world generation system steps in and helps you by creating worlds that you now have to creatively explain. Why would millions of people choose to live on a desert world with a tainted atmosphere, for example? The more I learned about his play style, and his original ideas for the game, the more it became apparent that the systems, while there to aid us, could be completely ignored (and should be) in order to simply play the game

  3. While playing Traveller, Marc role-plays.  Very little rules. Traveller is truly a rules-light game system once you start playing.  For our scenario, we generated characters by only rolling up stats. No skills. Just stats and pick your service.  All rolls were made against those stats, but you couldn’t roll against the same stat again, until you had used them all.  Oh, and you had to support your decision on which stat to use. After that, it was all role playing. Creating a communal story. He made it up as he went along, allowed us to build the story, and acted as “referee” just as intended. After we were through, he said “There. Now you know how I play Traveller.”

  4. Originally, there was no intention to publish anything except rules.  He wanted players to use their imaginations and play in whatever world they wanted.

    The Imperium became the setting after a reviewer made a comment that he wouldn’t play a game that did not include a pre-defined setting. Marc implied that he didn’t want to play in one in which there was one. He said he had even written an article about it.

    I thought I recalled seeing it, but could only find a comment made in “Challenge/JTAS” Issue 29. Marc writes, “In our own naive way, we thought that the basic rule set was enough. It was a review in a fanzine run by Tony Watson that changed my mind. The reviewer, talking about Traveller, complained that there was not enough background and detail for the Traveller rules: each player had to make up his own. And Tony (as the editor) inserted a comment that he would never play a system that imposed a background on him. … it was my responsibility, as a game designer, and our responsibility, as a game publisher, to provide support for the role-playing system.”

    I believe that the ‘fanzine’ may have been “Space Gamer”.

  5. Money. It’s come up here a couple of times, so I asked Miller how he envisioned money would work in Traveller. He said he never thought people would really be transporting money, like credit or even cash. Instead, he gave the example that on one world you would buy a cargo load of pigs.  You would go to the next world and sell the pigs for a cargo load of turkeys and, hopefully, enough local currency to get supplies, fuel and repairs, and then move on, repeating the process. Personally, I think “Firefly” does a great job of demonstrating this in action. Of course, that still doesn’t answer how a ship gets paid off, and I didn’t ask.

  6. Traveller was most influenced by the “Dumarest Saga” books…

  7. His favorite version of the game is still Classic Traveller. Yeah us!

  8. He loves the character creation system because the dice rolls give you interesting characters to play. He pointed out how, during the weekend, he had several PCs that were really just dumb, and it was fun to see how the players handled playing those characters. He mentioned that this is what made the game interesting, and gave exciting results.

    During the game our rolls mostly consisted of “roll under the attribute”.

  9. While he doesn’t play Traveller using lots of rules, he does like to play with systems. Just like many of us here who play with building starships, or worlds, or the merchant system. T5 is this way. He said “I always wanted a system that would make interesting aliens with 5 arms and stuff and I couldn’t figure out how to do it. Finally I did.” I haven’t read T5, but given how much fun I have personally had playing the games within the Traveller game, I may have to pick it up some time, just because.

Now, there is little in the above that will surprise to the readers of the blog. I’ve been flogging these matters since the fall of 2015.

The weird thing is how many people did not believe me when I pointed out that there was no Third Imperium in the original rules sets, how the game was designed for everyone to create their own settings, how the game is designed to mostly be a conversation between the Referee and the Players and the Referee falling back on the rules when required.

On this blog I’ve talked about the improvisatory nature of running Traveller assumed in the original rules. The need for Referee to be adjudicating on the fly. The fact that a Player Character is not defined by his skills and he can do many things without skills. I’ve talked about the original inspirations for Traveller and how the notion that you must do it as “Hard Science Fiction” or you are doing it wrong is nonsensical. (Read the Dumarest books and tell me how much they teach you about science.)

Now, Miller has been making many of the statements above for decades–pointing out since 1981 that he assumed the rules found in the original boxed set would be the last Traveller material he would ever (or ever need to) publish. But despite actual interviews with the actual man who was actually there, the pushback against these bland facts was often crazy-fierce. In particular, the notion that Traveller is the Third Imperium and that if I wanted to address the rules and how to play the game I was somehow missing out on what Traveller actually is.

Which leads to the most interesting point about Millers comments above.

Miller states that Classic Traveller is his preferred version of Traveller. And the fact this is the edition he chooses to play at conventions gives lie to the notion that each iteration of Traveller is somehow an improvement or “advancement.” I bring this up because I have had had interactions with several people who consider Classic Traveller to be some sort of “introduction to Traveller” and really not worth much time when Traveller5 is around the corner.

I have stated from the start of Traveller: Out of the Box series that I believe Classic Traveller works–and works great–as is and without needing to be “fixed” or “improved.” Later editions add more and more complex rules or endless efforts to simulate reality–and if that is what someone wants more power to them. But as an RPG game used in the playstyle of the 1970s I don’t think the game can be beat.

Which brings to Miller’s point that while he likes the challenge of game design, he doesn’t use the complex game designs he creates. He doesn’t use rules that have rules for everything. He instead uses the simple, straightforward, Referee-driven rules of Classic Traveller.

I have a theory: Back in the 1970s GDW created a wonderful, light RPG rules set for playing Science-Fiction adventures in the far future. It provided a straightforward framework a Referee and Players could to play out countless kinds of settings and situations. For some settings and situations the Referee would have add rules, subtract rules, or simply ignore some rules–but that was part and parcel of the spirit and the letter of play in the mid-70s. After all, one could play a terrific and long campaign of Traveller on a single planet. If you never got around to using the cargo and passenger rules, that would be fine. The key is this: it was a framework for you to go do things with. The reason Miller didn’t think there would be need or demand for more Traveller products is because he assumed everyone would take the framework and go do what they wanted with it.

But something unexpected happened. Rather than taking the framework and doing what they wanted with it, people who bought the little boxed set of Traveller rules wanted answers. GDW assumed you would provide the answers you wanted for your game, but in short time it became clear the people who bought the game wanted GDW to provide answers for them. And this was completely contrary to how GDW thought you would use the game–and should use the game.

This tension of expectations between the designers of the game and the consumers was best illustrated in issue #2 of The Journal of the Travellers Aid Society. James Maliszewski sums up the matter here:

In issue #2 of JTAS, editor Loren Wiseman has a column where he takes exception to a review of Traveller Book 4, Mercenary, which appeared in issue #26 (June 1979) of Dragon. Among the complaints made in the review (by Mark S. Day) is “Laser pistols were missing from hardware.” Now, as any old Traveller hand can tell you, laser pistols weren’t originally included in the game. I’m not certain I can recall when they finally did appear (MegaTraveller in 1986?), but their absence was a common knock against the game, especially by fans of other SF RPGs.What’s interesting is the way that Wiseman dismisses the reviewer’s criticism:

Take, for example, the laser pistol. Although it does not specifically mention them, Traveller provides all the information needed to enable a referee to create them, with a little mental effort. Since, as referee, we are running the world, we declare that a laser pistol should be to a laser carbine as a conventional pistol is to a conventional carbine.

He then goes on at some length showing how he’d extrapolate the game stats of a laser pistol, concluding his efforts with the following:

The above example indicates how the Traveller rules can be used to create something not present in the rules. We don’t have room to describe everything. With a little imagination, a little research, and a lot of thought, almost anything can be made compatible with Traveller.

On some level, Wiseman’s reply to the review comes across as a little tetchy. On another, though, I find it reminiscent of the afterward [sic] of OD&D, where Gygax and Arneson ask the question “why have us do any more of your imagining for you?” That’s a sentiment that makes more and more sense to me as the years wear on, so it delighted me to see it expressed in the pages of JTAS so long ago.

It is my guess that the questions never stopped coming. Starting with laser pistols, the questions moved on to how “What, exactly, is Jump Space?” (when, in fact, it can be any of number of different things in any number of different settings), to “Please explain how an interstellar empire of 11,000 worlds would work.”

The questions never stopped coming. A great and vocal chorus demanded a half-dozen guys running a game company to nail down every possible application of the rules for Traveller as well as how an interstellar empire would work. All this despite the fact the game was designed for the Referee and Players to come up with their own setting and details for their own table.

It is my belief then, that Miller has spent the last four decades, on and off, trying to come up with a rules set the will satisfy this choir of questions. A game so broad in its application (in other words: everything) that it could provide and answer to everything with the text of the rule book, whether it be about having a roll defined of every situation or a method of answering any question about the settings.

And so we have Traveller5. Now, there are people who want games like Traveller5–and so I’m glad Miller is making this game for them. There is a need and desire for this product, and Miller is doing his damndest to deliver.

But here is the important thing: Marc Miller doesn’t play Traveller5. He plays Classic Traveller. Traveller5 is for all the people who want a game that will provide all the answers for them, an audience that Miller wants to please, but he himself is not that audience. He built the game he wanted to play 40 years ago. He’s still enjoying it.

 

A Smart Blog Post from DIY & Dragons: Sub-Hex Crawling Mechanics – Part 1, Pointcrawling

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I’m beginning to piece together the city of Xam in the Qelong Valley for when I pick up my Lamentations of the Flame Princess game. (A member of the group is currently running Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. Pew-Pew!)

For context:

Two barely conceivable beings have fought a war for a generation over Sajavedra. They wish to claim its rich harvests of souls and fields, its intricate networks of ley lines and temples, for their own. They use weapons of unspeakable magic, and sometimes their weapons target the province of the Qelong Valley. Xam was once the capital of Qelong. Missiles filled with magical energy called Aakom struck the city four generations ago. Because of the magical nature of the city the weapons not only did horrible damage, but raised the city onto a sheer mesa 1,000 feet high and corrupted it with all sorts of magical energies. (Think Area X from The Southern Reach Trilogy, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

My mind, however, has been somewhat boggled: How, exactly, do I map out a ruined city that is about 6 miles across and about 18 miles in length?

Not, “How do I make a map?” But what is the best procedure for building a useful diagram for my Players and I to interact with to produced the most fun. I want my Xam to be a mini-hex crawl of sorts, with each hex about 2 miles across. I want to have at least three interesting locations per hex (even if it just a magic fountain) and a few of these locations should be mini-dungeons or full dungeons. The place should be full of ruins covered in a strange jungle, with countless weird environmental issues as well as the ruins of survivors and the dead who harnessed the strange magical energies that have cut their city off from the rest of the world. (Some have succeeded, some have failed.)

I wasn’t satisfied with the hex crawl component of Qelong we played last year. It was fine… but I felt like I was missing some sort of fun that had lured me to the notion of hex crawling. (All my efforts to ask folks about hex crawls on forums had let to answers like: “It’s a hex crawl. You know… with hexes!” Which might be enough of an answer for some folks, but I’m always on the lookout for procedures and techniques that will help the game run smoothly and maximize the fun.)

I’ve been recently inspired by a recently released hex-crawl called Hot Springs Island. It, too, works at a scale of 2 miles per hex. A reviewer referred to it more as a “pointcrawl than a hexcrawl.” And in this technique I saw a way to help me map out Xam for best effect. That said, I wasn’t that sure of what a “pointcrawl” was either.

Imagine my delight, then, in coming across this blog post by Anne at DIY & Dragons: Sub-Hex Crawling Mechanics – Part 1 from a few days ago. In it she does a deep dive into pointcrawls, using examples from many games and blogs. (The illustration above is one of the examples she uses. It is the city of Cörpathium from over at Last Gasp, built from a series of tables that you should really check out if you’re into this sort of thing. It’s already given me some ideas of how I want to build tables for Xam. Also, Last Gasp is great, and I suspect I’ll be using a lot of material from the site to flesh out Xam. It has the perfect mix of weird and usable.)

At the top of the blog Ann writes:

Beyond Formalhaut recently wrote about wilderness exploration, and it got me thinking about a pair of posts I’ve been wanting to write for awhile now, comparing the two major ways I know of to explore adventuring sites within the wilderness: pointcrawls and mini-hex-crawls.

By “adventuring sites” I mean spaces that call for a new scale for mapping. They’re larger than dungeons, too large for 10′ squares, but smaller than the overland wilderness, too small for 6 mile hexes. The ruined city is perhaps the archetypal “adventuring site” that seems to demand a new scale for mapping, but it could be any (probably outdoor) location that the characters can explore directly, rather than having the encounter hand-waved or abstracted – the exterior surrounding a dungeon, a cemetery or graveyard, a garden, a battleground, perhaps even the characters’ own campsite. Adventuring sites call for a new kind of mapping to put them on paper, and a new kind of procedure to bring them into play.

Pointcrawls and minicrawls are two different ways of mapping these new spaces, two different procedures for tracking and running the characters’ movement through the space.

These are referee-facing mechanics. For the most part, the only person who will be directly affected by the choice will be the judge running the game, not the players.

There may be some effect on the players. In my opinion, pointcrawls seem to lend themselves to running adventuring sites where all (or almost all) the sub-locations are known, the paths between those locations are limited, and travel along those paths is uneventful. Minicrawls seem to lend themselves to running adventuring sites where there are few (if any) scripted locations, where most content is procedurally generated, where movement is essentially unrestricted, and where travel and discovery are themselves the primary activities within the site. In short, I think pointcrawls work best for more dungeon-like locations (and locations with more keyed encounters), while minicrawls work best for more wilderness-like locations (and locations with more procedural generation.)

Part I of Ann’s posts is about pointcrawls. I’m looking forward to Part II about mini-hexcrawls.

Traveller Out of the Box: Weapon Cards, 1977 Edition

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Some of you may know I made a set of weapon cards for the 1981 Classic Traveller. Each card lists a specific weapon, the +/-DMs for Strength or Dexterity, and a matrix that combines the DMs for range and armor from Book 1 into a single Throw number.

Here is an example of how the matrix works:

1. The DM for SMG against No Armor is +5.
2. The DM for SMG against the five ranges (as you note) are -4 +3 +3 -3 -9
3. When we combine these two DMs (which is what the Weapon Card matrix does) for No Armor at the five ranges, we get +1 +8 +8 +2 -4
4. We then applied these five DMs (which combine the DMs for range and armor) to the required hit roll of 8+
5. The final numbers printed on the card represent what the Player needs to roll or better on 2D6. So: No armor, close range is DM +1, meaning the PC needs to roll a 7+.

In this way, the Player only has to look down at the card and read the Throw number required.


I now have a set of the cards for the 1977 edition of Traveller. The big difference is the damage values. In the 1981 edition of the game all damage values are whole dice (xD6). In the 1977 edition of the game some of the damage rolls are modified by a +/-DM (xD6 +/-y).

Here’s an example of the card in action:

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The character needs to Throw the number in the matrix or higher to hit (excluding other DMs of course.)

In the notation above the character has a Blade-5 expertise and a DM +1 because of his Strength of 9+, and so he has a DM +6 when using blade. A character with melee weapon expertise can apply that expertise as a -DM to incoming melee attacks, thus the parry value of 5, for a DM -5 if someone attacks him with a melee weapon while he is defending with his Blade.

You can print the cards out, cut them pages into quarters, and hand a card to any Player with a PC carrying a given weapon. (I printed them on a heavier card stock, using pre-perforated sheets used for name tags. Each weapon card sheet divides neatly into equal quarters.)

As always, if you spot any errors let me know!

CLASSIC TRAVELLER: What “The Traveller Adventure” had to Say About Situation Throws–Randomized Situation Numbers

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In this post I quoted in full a passage from The Traveller Adventure, which describes how to handle Situation Throws in Classic Traveller.

I’m following up with a few more posts addressing specific portions of that passage. None of this is any sort of declaration about how people are “supposed” to play the game. This is my approach, based my thinking after digging into the original Traveller rules.

In this post I’m addressing this portion:

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.

Now, this is fascinating to me for several reasons. The text suggests that if you don’t know what the difficulty should be for a Throw, you should generate the Throw randomly.

I think this is brilliant.

First, it relieves the Referee of the burden of determining how hard something is.

After all, if a fictional airlock gets stuck on a fictional ship during the circumstances of a fictional starship battle, how hard would it be to force that airlock open? Do you know? I know I don’t know. We don’t have enough information–and we never will–to truly know exactly what forces, what damage, what materials, and so and so on should factor into the difficulty of forcing the door open.

Many RPGs use a mechanic where the Referee must determine the difficulty of a task. Examples include Burning Wheel, MegaTraveller, HeroQuest and so many games it wouldn’t be worth trying to name any more. And yet, despite it being a common feature in RPG design, when I’m asked to apply it such rule rubs me the wrong way. Especially in a game like Traveller which assumes a certain level of technical level-headedness and a sense that physics and science as we know them will apply. But, again, even if everyone at the game table was a MIT doctoral candidate, there’s no way to know how difficult certain things are going to be since the reality of the situation cannot be tested and measured.

So, for this one reason I love this idea of randomly rolling to determine the Throw required for success.

And this folds into the second reason why I think this is so smart:

As I’ve written here, here, and here I think the role of the Referee in Classic Traveller is that of an impartial adjudicator of actions and choices of the Player Characters, and the cause-and-effect results on the fictional world around the Player Character and the reaction of that world back at the Player Characters. In such a style of play I am not trying to lead the characters toward any sort of result, I am not trying to stymie their efforts with any agenda on my part, I have not plot I am trying to steer them toward.

But here’s the thing: As a Referee I might set the difficulty high for a roll if I want the Player Characters to fail. Or might set the difficulty low if that leads the path I want the Player Characters to follow. In either case I am not being an impartial adjudicator, but using the rules to nudge the players to certain results, choices, or actions.  But since I want to Referee Traveller as an impartial adjudicator, I don’t need a tool like that.

In fact, what I really need is an impartial method of determining difficulty when I have no other information or rules to fall back on. And this method–rolling 2D6 to randomly determine the difficulty of a Throw offers me exactly this.

This doesn’t mean the Referee has no say in the relative value of a Throw’s difficulty. For example, if the situation seems like it should be difficult or challenging the Referee can choose to roll D6+6 rather than the default bell curve of 2D6.


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The passage above in The Traveller Adventure continues on with more interesting ideas.

First, this sentence:

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.

So the Referee could choose to roll D6+8 for a Throw’s difficulty (providing a range of 9-14 for the Throw) or any other weighted roll he wishes.

In other case the Referee is not deciding how difficult the situation at hand will be. Even if he weights the roll (which he should do if he has a sense of whether the situation is relatively easy or hard) the actual result is still random and impartial.


Second, this text is found in every edition of the Basic Traveller rules:

Rolls by the referee may be kept secret, or partially concealed depending on their effects. In situations where the players would not actually know the results of the roll, or would not know the exact roll made, the referee would make the roll in secret.

That passage is expanded upon on page 29 of The Traveller Adventure:

SECRECY
Die rolls may be performed either secretly, by the referee, or openly, by the players. Sometimes, the adventure of the scenario is reflected in the die rolling and the characters really need to be able to throw the dice themselves. Other times, the referee and the scenario are better served if the players are not aware of the exact rolls to be made. Sometimes the purpose or even the existence of die rolls should be concealed.

An important principle to remember is that die roils should not be allowed to get in the way of the game. If the players are thinking about their die rolls rather than about what is “really happening” in the game, the referee should consider increasing the number of secret die rolls.

Open Die Rolls: The referee should generally allow the players to perform their own combat die rolls and rolls for other simple actions in which success or failure is immediately visible.

Secret Die Rolls: The referee should keep secret all die rolls whose outcomes are not immediately visible and those whose chances of success, if known, would reveal things the characters should not know. For example, the referee should perform all rolls if the characters are gambling at a casino, in order to allow the possibility of the house having rigged the tables.

I think this is a useful tool for the Referee to keep in mind when using the rules mentioned above. Thus, if the Player Character with Engineering wants to force the airlock and the Referee decides to randomly determine the difficulty, he might have the Player roll one D6 and he himself roll the second D6 in secret. In this way the Player Character might end upon with a sense of difficult the situation is. In other cases the Referee might want to keep the Throw value a secret. And in other situations again the Referee might want to present the difficulty of the Throw.

I personally prefer to let the Players know the odds of a situation. This helps the process of making a decision more interesting in my view. More information means their decisions are more meaningful, whereas decisions without information are merely guesses. But I think there is something value in this approach of keeping rolls or portions of rolls secret and it is something I want to think about.

That said there are plenty of times where the Players don’t need to know at all about what is being rolled and keeping those rolls a secret will definitely help the Players stay in the fictional space of the game.

CLASSIC TRAVELLER: What “The Traveller Adventure” Says About the Need to Make Situation Throws

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In this post I quoted in full a passage from The Traveller Adventure, which describes how to handle Situation Throws in Classic Traveller.

I’m following up with a few more posts addressing specific portions of that passage. None of this is any sort of declaration about how people are “supposed” to play the game. This is my approach, based my thinking after digging into the original Traveller rules.

In this post I’m addressing this portion:

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.

And, in particular, I’m referring to this quote:

“In the absence of any other guidance, the referee may always resort to the situation throw.”

The text assumes that there will be plenty of times when a Throw is not required. This is something I addressed in this post, in which I posit that the RPG play of the early years of the hobby (essentially the 1970s) expected a strong Referee to make adjurations without the need for constant die rolling or reference to rules. Throws were required when the Referee isn’t sure how a situation should play out.

If the Referee believes he has enough information to adjudicate the situation based on the fictional elements at hand he simply makes the call and there is no need for a roll. For example, if a Player Character is sneaking up on an encampment to steal some documents. His companions are firing at the camp from a position from a nearby ridge. The NPCs in the camp are distracted by the gunfire and are returning fire.

The question is: The players have cleverly provided a distraction for the Player Character sneaking into the camp; the NPCs are fully engaged in the firefight and assume the opposition is at a distance and not about to sneak into their camp. Does the Player Character sneaking into the camp need to make a Situation Throw to get into the camp undiscovered? After all, the Referee could decide that the distraction draws enough attention that no will notice the Player Character if he is moving in a particularly stealthy manner.

Depending on all the fictional details at hand the Referee can simply state, “The gunfire from up the ridge draws the attention of your adversaries, and as you move in from the edge of the camp you can see them rushing for cover against the incoming gun fire. For the next few seconds you have a clear shot to make it to some crates at the edge of the camp.”

The Referee could also have the Player make situation throw at very good odds. For example, “Given the gunfire from up the ridge that is distracting everyone, you’ve got a good shot to make it into the camp without being noticed if you move really fast. Make a roll of 4 or better and you’re safe.” In this example, the distraction is definitely working. Bu the roll acknowledges someone might look back or around the camp to see if other enemies are nearby.

Another example:

Traveller Book 2 states in the section on Drive Failure: ”

Throw 10+ per day of repair attempt with DM +Engineering skill of the attending engineers to fix them temporarily. More complete repairs must be made at a starport by qualified personnel.

So, someone with Engineering can jury-rig repairs on damage starship components until the ship can reach port. But a “more complete repair” requires personal and equipment at a starport.

But which starports will have such facilities?

Traveller Book 3 states:

Starport Type A Excellent quality installation. Refined fuel available. Annual maintenance overhaul available. Shipyard capable of constructing starships and non-starships present. Naval base and/or scout base may be present.

Starport Type B Good quality installation. Refined fuel available. Annual maintenance overhaul available. Shipyard capable of constructing non-starships present. Naval base and/or scout base may be present.

Starport Type C Routine quality installation. Only unrefined fuel available. Reasonable repair facilities present. Scout base may be present.

Starport Type D Poor quality installation. Only unrefined fuel available. No repair or shipyard facilities present. Scout base may be present.

Starport Type E Frontier installation. Essentially a marked spot of bedrock with no fuel, facilities, or bases present.

Starport Type X No starport. No provision is made for any ship landings.

Given these descriptions, the Referee can assume quickly that given standard situations, Type A and B starports will be able to handle repairs to damaged drives on a starship, and Types D, E, and X will not. Given standard situations, the Referee doesn’t have to make a roll of any sort to see if repairs on the starship can be made. Clearly, at Types A or B the repairs can be made, and a Types D, E, and X there is no chance the repairs can be made.

But what of Type C? The description states: “Reasonable repair facilities present,” which clearly defines it as different in quality than Types A and B, but still being able to do repairs. Does such a facility have what the PCs’ ship needs for repairs? Or is there a chance the starport might be lacking the specific equipment or personal to repair the ship drives?

In this situation, as noted above in the quote from The Traveller Adventure, the Referee first determines if there is any guidance that would resolve the issue without a roll. Has the Referee determined anything in his notes about the starport and the world? Is it a wealthy world? Is there a lot of trade traffic through the system? Both of these possible situations imply the facility might be on the better end of a Type C. Given these possible situations (and there are many more that might apply) the Referee checking his notes might thing, “Sure. No need to roll. They have what the PCs need.”

Further, if the PCs have already traveled to a particular Type C starport and the Referee had already established it is a very well-stocked starport with a capable repair staff, then the PCs would have every reason to expect that they would easily get the repairs.

But let us say that the Referee doesn’t have such situations noted about the planet or starport that might lead him to think no roll is required. He might simply have the notation: “Type C starport” and no more. Will such a facility be ready to handle repairs on damaged drives? At this point the Referee might decide, lacking “any other guidance,” that a Throw is required. The first roll might simply be to determine the odds of such equipment being available. He might say, “On a Throw of 8 or better the facility can handle the repairs.” Or he might decide, “Yes, the facility can handle the repairs, but the resources are tight. The PCs will have to make Situation Throws to get ahead on a waiting list or get equipment needed for repairs diverted to their ship.” Such rolls might involve DMs from skills such as Admin, Bribery, and so on.

The situation can get complicated even for a Type A starport. Let us say that the Referee has established that a world with a Type A starport is at war with another world and acts of sabotage have been committed against the starport. The facility is damaged, perhaps even downgraded to a Type B starport for the time being. In such circumstances, what repairs the starport can make might shift week to week. In this cases, once again, the Referee can either make an adjudication on the fly. Or he can make a roll on his own to determine if such equipment is readily available. Or he can put the PCs in the position of struggling with actions and situation throws to find their way forward.

Examples of cases where the Referee might or might not decide a roll is not required, or be uncertain if a roll is required, are endless.

The point is that a roll is not required for every action or every situation. The game actually can move along quite well without lots of rolls, with the fictional details created by the Referee and the Players providing enough context for the Referee to adjudicate on the fly. Where the Situation Throws come into play is when the Referee doesn’t have enough guidance to make a call off the top of his head. (“Would someone look back as this firefight starts and notice the Player Character sneaking into the camp?”). If he’s not sure what the call would be, the Referee asks for the Player to make a Situation Throw.

CLASSIC TRAVELLER: What “The Traveller” Adventure had to Say About Situation Throws–Personal Characteristics

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In this post I quoted in full a passage from The Traveller Adventure, which describes how to handle Situation Throws in Classic Traveller. I’m following up with a few more addressing specific portions of that passage. None of this is any sort of declaration about how people are “supposed” to play the game. This is my approach, based my thinking after digging into the original Traveller rules.

In this post I’m addressing this portion:

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.

I can see the ease of rolling 2D6 under a Player Characteristic’s characteristic. However, as I outline in this post I am not fond of using characteristic rolls. There are several reasons, each explained at length. The short version is:

  • I don’t like systems where you roll under a target sometimes, and roll over a target other times. It means positive DMs are sometimes added, and other times subtracted, while negative DMs are sometimes subtracted or added, depending on whether or not one is trying to roll high or low. I find all of this inelegant and honestly can get confusing at the table as one has to keep remembering if the roll is high or low and if positive or negative DMs or added or subtracted.
  • I want a system where the odds of a success vary based on the situation at hand and are not on a fixed characteristic. For example, if one rolls against characteristics, the odds of solving a situation based on Intelligence is the same for a given character in every situation. Yes, one can apply DMs. But as stated above, that can produce roll high/roll low special cases and confusion.

However, characteristics should apply to a given situation. We know this because the rules as written in Traveller Books 1, 2, and 3 make it clear they should. The skill descriptions make it clear that characteristics should often affect Throws. We also know that certain high or low characteristics trigger positive or negative DMs for weapons.

What I want, then, is a set of procedures grown from the examples already set out in the original rules. I want this because the original rules are strong and it keeps the game consistent.

One possibility is to have the Referee create specific DMs based on characteristics situation by situation. This is perfectly viable. The problem, as I’ve seen it in practice, is that the Players want a more consistent sense of how their character’s characteristics will affect gameplay.

After thinking about it a long while I came up with my own solution. I offer the following procedure. It is built from the original Traveller rules, but makes sense for the kind of game I want.

  1. We start with our basic formula of Situation Throws
    2D6 +/- DM ≥ Throw Value equals success
  2. If an applicable characteristic is 9+ and higher than the Throw value, the character receives a DM +1 to the roll
  3. For every two points the characteristic exceeds the Throw value, the character receives and additional DM +1 to the roll
  4. If the Throw value is 15 or higher, any applicable characteristic of F will receive a DM +1
  5. If an applicable characteristic is 4- the character receives a DM -1 to the roll
  6. If an applicable characteristic is 2- the character receives a DM -2 to the roll
  7. The determination of what, if any, characteristics are applicable is determined on a situation-by-situation basis.

Notice what this gets us:

  • Players have a consistent sense of what their characteristics offer
  • Higher characteristics offer better +DMs, and exceptional characteristics (in the 12-15 range) might end up offering exceptional benefits
  • Sometimes the Referee will want a Throw value that requires exceptional DMs. As the passage in The Traveller Adventure states: “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.” With the method above, a character caught up in a situation with a Throw Value of 13 or higher will receive at least a DM +1. This means rolls that might otherwise be impossible might be possible–though other DMs wrangled from other fictional details and circumstances might be required as well.
  • Low characteristic provide -DMs in a consistent manner, so the character’s handicaps can come into play but not feel arbitrary.
  • Unlike the later Task systems introduced to Traveller, a characteristic is not a presumed or required part of a Throw. If the characteristic is applicable, if applies. If it does not, it does not. This feeds into my general philosophy of original Traveller Throws: They are not a “skill check” testing the character, but rather an impartial, random resolution in which the character’s abilities are only a part of the situation’s outcome.
  • The system also means that even if you have a high or exceptional characteristic you can still be outclassed by the problem. If the PC has a strength of B, but the Throw value is 12, then the PC can’t depend on his strength to change the situation for the better. I understand this might be non-intuitive to many people (“If I’m really strong, why doesn’t the quality of my strength help every time strength can help?”) But we’re looking at those times when the airlock is jammed so much you would need an even higher strength of it to help. In a 2D6 bell curve a +1 to the roll is a really big deal. I want those DMs for when a characteristic can help crush a problem. In other circumstances, the PC will need to find other methods of getting DMs if he or she wants to change the odds. For gameplay, I really like how this works out.

I completely understand that the methods above might not work for other people. And once I put them into practice I might well make adjustments. But given the premise I started with in my Traveller: Out of the Box series (that the rules in Traveller Books 1, 2, and 3 do work; my job was to start with that premise rather than assume they needed to be fixed; and to extrapolate any further applications of the rules from the text in those books) I’m very happy with where I’ve landed.

Using Original TRAVELLER Out of the Box–Symera Subsector at Dragon’s Breakfast

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The premise of the Traveller: Out of the Box series is that the original Traveller rules were a framework to allow a Referee to create his or her own settings to share with friends. Here’s an example of this in action:


From the blog Dragon’s Breakfast Chris S. has posted information Symera, a Classic Traveller subsector.

There is more information on the post. But here is a sample:

BACKGROUND

The “Edge of Night” sector includes over 400 star systems and marks the furthest spinward expansion of humanity from The Earth Before. The name refers to “The Night”; a vast of rift of dust and gas, devoid of star systems, and much too wide to cross with existing jump technology. No one knows what lies beyond “The Night”; likewise, many of the sectors’ inhabited systems are largely unknown to those in more civilized space.

The Symera subsector sits near the centre of the sector. Its 32 systems exhibit a technological and population pattern typical of those regions of space devastated by the Nanite Epidemic. The high tech planets tend to be depopulated and struggle to maintain existing technology levels, while lower technology worlds have higher populations, as they were either unaffected by the epidemic and/or absorbed a great number of refugees fleeing it’s devastation. Even 400 years later, this pattern is evident. Although, as always, some individual systems are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Politically, the subsector is roughly divided between a mix of independent systems and the allied worlds of the Triple Concordance (which lies completely within the subsector).  In addition, polities from outside the subsector intrude to trailing (Hegemony of Aeo), while to spinward in the Xiaochen subsector are the worlds of the Technocratic Union.

POLITICS

Hegemony of Aeo
“The Hemegeny has no need for fanaticism; cold practicality and logic will guide us to our destiny.”
— Special Inquisitor Sivara Tizen

In the aftermath of the Fourth Interstellar war, several new and radical polities arose among the shattered remnants of the old republics.  Spinward of the old core of civilized space, the theocratic and militaristic  Hegemony of Aeo became the dominant state. In the century since the rule of “The One” began, the Hegemony has gradually but relentlessly expanded outward, swallowing independent systems and pocket empires alike. The Hegmony first appeared in the Symera subsector 30 years ago, absorbing several independent planets on the trailing border of the subsector. Though not actively expansionistic in the subsector at the moment, it continues to push its influence and policies when prudent.

The Triple Concordance
“From many comes one; though the one must never forget who comes first.”
— Chief Executive Administrator Galvin of Antigone

Faced with the threat of the Hegemony of Aeo to the trailing and the Technocratic Union systems to the spinward, several of the previously independent worlds at the core of the Symera subsector grudgingly accepted cooperation over capitulation. The three most advanced systems  (Rastafar [0207], Tortuga [0506] and Antigone [0606]) initially joined in an alliance, and then dragged in the adjacent  lower tech and less powerful systems to provide resources and buffer zones against the threats surrounding them.  The three founding worlds rule as the Tri-Council, while the other ten systems sit on a General Council which can provide advice and feedback, but has little say in decision making. The Concordance has held up well when there is a clear and immediate threat, but in less hazardous times, relations are shaky and worlds act more in their independent self interest.

Technocratic Union
“Those who rule their technology need not fear it, but may rule by it.”
— Councillor Gaius Ralu

A very loosely confederated group of high technology worlds, the Technocratic Union uses its technological advantages to gain influence over less advanced systems. It is surrounded by a loose network of client systems which gain advantages in high technology and trade from the Union. In the Symera subsector, both Vordenhaven (0104) and Symera (0205) have close ties with the Union.

Notice that three major political players are all in one subsector. Remember that in 1977 edition of Traveller Book 3 the game assumed that one subsector would be enough to keep a game going for months, if not years. (The term “sector” does not appear at all in the 1977 rules.)

Is this true? Well, looking at the power struggle sketched in just a few paragraphs it seems to me that countless schemes and conflicts are already in motion–plenty of grist for any RPG session. The first few sessions, if not months of play, could take place on one to three worlds depending on what the Player Characters focus on.

Moreover, look at the clever conceit Chris has concocted for the subsector: The Nanite Epidemic. As the text says, “The high tech planets tend to be depopulated and struggle to maintain existing technology levels, while lower technology worlds have higher populations.” This offers unexpected situations, needs, and conflicts in the Symera subsector. He has a central conceit tied to a past that could possibly be a threat in the future. (I honestly don’t know.) But it feels like something science-fiction-y is going on here.

As the high tech worlds struggle to regain power they possessed pre-Epidemic, it seems to me there will be deep motives for lots of conflict and adventure. Even in one subsector with 32 worlds there is going to be plenty for the Player Characters to do!

Remember, you don’t need a whole empire’s worth of material to engage Players in game of Classic Traveller. Build an interesting subsector worth digging into and they’ll have a fine time right there.

CLASSIC TRAVELLER: What “The Traveller” Adventure had to Say About Situation Throws

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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.