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.

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The Oak — Player Characters for a School for Young Wizards (Powered by the Apocalypse)

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I wrote about how I wanted to do a couple of sessions about young kids at a wizard’s school for my Monday Night Group. I dug around, came across Simple World, a smartly stripped down version of PbtA, and decided to run with it.

This past Monday the Players made characters and I “followed them around” when they were getting ready for bed in the giant tree that houses the school. We learned a lot about the kids (they are adorable) and then a crisis struck…

In order to make the characters I gave them the blank character sheet I had made and the basic rules as well as a list of names from the Story Games Names Project to help focus everyone in on the setting. I gave them a list of Welsh names from a portion of the Arthurian List. (I’m going for a Black Cauldron/ The Chronicles of PrydainI vibe.)

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Here are the characters:

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Eheubryd is the daughter of a local Duke who ran away to the Oak to learn magic. She’s a tomboy and brave and adventurous and she’s going to be the best wizard ever.

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Avagdu is a 2-year resident and ward of the Oak after The Skull Faced Man depopulated his village but missed him. He does most of his chores before bed, keeps quiet, and stays attentive. The Oak’s wards keep the night from whispering to him.

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March is an 8-year-old boy whose father is a shapeshifter who likes to take the form of a shark. Essentially March is the innocent son of a Lucius Malfoy type. March is placed into The Oak one morning after dad had an exceptionally violent half-shark night where he hunted down March to eat him.
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Bryony is a 9 year old who was stolen as an infant by the Fay. She has been at the Oak for a year after being returned from service in the Unseelie Court.
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Slapping Together a One-shot for an RPG About Young Wizards Learning Magic

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This week Ursula K. Le Guin died. A fantastic writer; a creator of unexpected and original worlds; a feisty and prickly champion of decency.

Hearing the news this week I kept thinking about her work. Specifically about A Wizard of Earthsea and the original Earthsea Trilogy.

At the same time we have a two-week slot available for a quick game in my Monday night group. (We are in the middle of an Edge of the Empire game, but the guy running it needs to head off to the Superbowl for two weeks for work.)

So I sent off an email to the gang asking if anyone would like to set up a quick game about kids in a school for magic. I’ve been itching to play something more character driven than many of the mission-based sessions we’ve been playing and this seemed a perfect fit.

I hopped around the Internet looking for a rules set that might serve me well for a couple of weeks of apprentice wizards.

Countless games can be hacked into creating Earthsea, of course. But I knew I didn’t want a system that was going to get into the weeds for the magic. I’d really rather have an abstracted system so we could focus on the notions of story and character — which is what I think about when I think of Le Guin and Earthsea. I wanted to be something to apply as needed for solid moments of story–not something we were going to spend six weeks trying to figure out how to model on a character sheet with die rolls. If the magic worked within the logic of the setting and story I’d be a happy man. Fortunately, I have players I trust to use such a system to those ends.


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The first game I found was Archipelago.

It is a true “story game” in which everyone at the table adds details to scenes for characters belonging to different players.

The rules begin like this:

ABOUT ARCHIPELAGO
Archipelago is a story/role-playing game where each player controls a major character. Player take turns directing and playing out a part of their character’s story, leading them towards their selected point of destiny, while other players interact with and influence that story.

Who is this game for?
If you like the story-telling part of games, and enjoy the creative challenge and inspiration that comes from working with others, this game is for you. If you like tactical mechanics, resource management, or player-vs-player competition, there are other games that might work better for you.

The vibe I’m aiming for
I wrote this game trying to capture the feeling of Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea books. I wanted a game of grand destinies, that at the same time had time to dwell on the details of plants, words, everyday lives. I wanted a game that was about great conflicts, but at the same time treated its characters’ stories with respect. I wanted not a steel framework, but a spider web of thin threads creating subtler stories.

This game works best if you play it slow. Sometimes, the best thing to do is wait a little and see how things unfold. Ged stayed with Ogion for years, learning about the old language, the names of flower petals and bugs. There’s time to let the characters evolve.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Take your time.

Each player character has a destiny (or destinies, for longer play). Not a motivation, but a destiny. The characters make their way toward their destinies.

The characters don’t need to have a relationship to each other at the start and there is no “group.” And they might never meet. But each player character must have at least one “indirect relationship” to another player character. An indirect relationship means both characters are emotionally tied to a third character, event, place or other element in a strong and meaningful way.

The rules are only 17 pages of text in a 6″x9″ format. (And you already read the first page above.) The rest of the PDF’s page count is art and Fate Cards that can be drawn for inspiration if a player wishes.

If you are looking for a solid story game I really recommend Archipelago.

So I sent out an email with the PDF and talked a bit about the game. The notion of playing in a school of magic for kids seemed to strike a chord. But I realized the loosey-goosey nature of the game might not hit the sweet spot for everyone in the group.

 


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I thought, “You know, a Powered by the Apocalypse game might do the trick if someone has already done the hack. The effects of magic would be abstracted to someone either pulling off a spell in a moment crisis or conflict… or not. But the game really hangs on the qualities of the stats. What sort of person are you?

So I dug around and came across Simple World, which is a smartly stripped down version of PbtA.

The moment I saw the blank character sheet — shazam — everything fell into place. I whipped up my “Young Wizards” hack immediately. I whipped up an email for my players describing the basic setting (as seen below) as well as the blank character sheet and the basic rules


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THE OAK

In the center of a great forest is a mighty oak tree, wider than most houses, taller than most castles.

Inside a wizard (perhaps two? three?) gathers students in the magical arts and teaches them. Some of the children he finds. Some find their way to him. Others are dumped on his doorstep. They are his apprentices, his wards, and his staff. Each child carries the responsibility of caring for the magical home where they live and study.

The children range in age from 8 to 14, each with their own temperaments and abilities. It is world similar to a dark ages Britain, with faerie courts and demonic dangers, but also joy and love and a strong friendship between the students.

They live apart from the world, but also live in it. The troubles of those who do not dabble in magic seem very far away–but those troubles sometime rush right up to the heavy steel door built into the base of The Oak

The characteristics for the Player Characters are Innocence, Magic, Ferocity, Clever, and Unnatural. The stats are elastic and open-ended, so one can confront the Horned-King or whatever with Innocence, Ferocity, Magic, Cleverness, or Unnatural. One can use them for action or perceiving or research. What interests me about the PbtA system is how the stats are about how a character approaches a problem in a given moment. I’m happy to lose the Basic Moves and really focus on the players stating action and going directly from what is described to the appropriate stat.

Magic is the point between Mankind and the Unnatural. Magic will handle any magical disciplines the players come up with. If it is something standard, like a wizard wanting to sail using weather control with no impediments, he just does it. But if he’s trying something complicated or under stress, he makes a roll. Why I like this for Earthsea is that people are overreacting in Earthsea all the time — and there is always fallout from it.

Tapping Unnatural means tapping the stuff wiser people never go near, almost no one understands, and often leads to grave danger. It is also where the greatest power lies and the mysteries of magic revealed.)

Friendship is the relationship stat. It goes up and down based on how the characters treat each other. Friendship is used to help other characters do something. If you successfully make your Friendship roll then you offer a +2 bonus to the person you are helping. Since PbtA games use a coarse 2d6 bell curve a +2 bonus is a big deal! Characters are better served working together and helping each other on focused moves rather than making a bunch of scattershot actions on their own.

You assign the values to your characteristics and create three Character Moves for your character based on a list of templates. I didn’t have any Character Moves involving XP because I don’t feel like taking the time to sort that out for a one shot. Also, there are no playbooks. (My players can whip up interesting characters on their own.)

You’ll notice on the character sheet that if a character runs out life in the game the character doesn’t die (which would be in appropriate I think, genre-wise) but can come back from the injuries weakened or fucked up.

That’s my take on a quick PbtA hack. Which is based on what I’ve taken from the Earthsea books. I’m sure other people will see something else in them and would build it a different way.

Interest in this peaked because of the Friendship stat.

So now I have two low prep to zero-prep games to bring on Monday night. I’ll expect we’ll be playing one of them. We’ll see how it goes!

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.

TRAVELLER: Out of the Box is Driven by ADVENTURE, not Hard Science

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In a discussion about Classic Traveller at G+, someone wrote:

I’ve always wanted to run original traveler but I’ve been reticent because of the verisimilitude of the system – and the fact I know precious little of the sciences. (To run the game well, I believe you’d have to be well versed in the sciences…)

I know this is a common fear for some people. I also know that many people believe the notion that “To run the game well… you have to be well versed in the science.”

I really, strongly, disagree with this sentiment, though I can see why some people might think it. So here’s post about it.

Traveller, at least as originally written, was never about Hard Science Fiction as we know it today. It was about ADVENTURE. It was inspired by the works like the Dumarest series by E.C. Tubb, the Demon Princes series by Jack Vance, the Nicholas van Rijn tales by Poul Anderson, among other SF tales from the 40s to the 70s.

That Traveller could become a playground for gearheads has nothing to with what it has to be.

If you go read the Dumarest books or the Demon Prince books you see tales of adventure in an SF setting… but the focus is not calculating heat exhaust issues, but on skullduggery, theft, assassination, political corruption, fighting abusive power, protecting the weak, revenge, ambition, and more.

The point of the “science fiction” element is to put these tales in the context of exotic setting with strange creatures, alien races, and peculiar technology to heighten the novelty of the adventure and provide mysterious situations the protagonists have to deal with. The stories seldom rely on “real science”–but are self-consistent within themselves, allowing the protagonists to puzzle out anomalies and solve problems that make sense within the tale.

As for translating all this to the table of a Roleplaying Game session: No one at the table will know how a Jump Drive works–which is why die rolls can be made to see if it can be fixed.

This is why I think the procedures for determining Throw values in The Traveller Adventure are so interesting and valuable: The book suggests rolling 2D6 to determine the Throw value! This means the Referee is not responsible for knowing how difficult it is to repair a Jump Drive. His job is to determine a random value of difficulty and adjudicating the results of efforts on the part of the PCs.

The point being that if the Throw to repair the Jump Drive fails (or the Player Characters don’t have the skill required to even make a Mechanical roll), the Referee says, “Yeah, you can’t repair the ship. And you don’t have enough money to get a repair part. But you know how much one costs so you can earn the money. And you know where you can steal one…”

That’s not about science. That’s about adventure.

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.

Fallen World Campaign [LotFP]–Twenty-Fourth Session

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We picked up the game with the Player Characters leaving earth via a magical ship and heading off the shore of the Qelong Valley on an alternate earth. As the approached the city of Qompang on the mouth of the Qelong River they saw other three masted ships, each flying flags of nations they knew from Europe.

But each flag was slightly altered: The flag of England, for example, had the red cross on white field that they knew, but in its center was the silhouette of a knight jamming a lance though the neck of a dragon. The flag of France had the flowers on a field of blue, but each appears to be in a crystal ball. The flag of the Holy Roman empire showed the double-headed eagle, but its talons held a bleeding serpent.

They anchored in Qelong Bay and took one squad of ten men (out of their company of ten squads) by rowboat to investigate the city. They saw fisherman around them in sampans, men and women of dark to peach colored skin, and saw before them the city was built of stonework with spires and odd towers. The Southeastern feel of the land came quickly into focus.

They arrived at the Factory — the section of town controlled by European merchants — and began doing research in the town, looking for clues about the valley beyond the city walls.

They befriended several merchants (one from Germany, one from France) as well as an Elf who had joined the French entourage. (The elves of this world live apart from men… but a few are curious about the way of humankind, adopt their customs, and live among them).

The elf gave them a look to suggest he knew they were more than travelers from Europe and might suspect they were from another world. He later confronted them, not out of aggression but from curiosity, and they exchanged a few theories about the nature of alternate realities. (Whether or not he has another agenda regarding them, the Lamplighters (which is what the Player Characters call themselves) do not know.)

They also explored the overcrowd city beyond the walls of the Factory. Ending up in a teahouse they met a slave in her early twenties who had one of her hands cut cleanly off a few years earlier. (All of this was clear from observing the stump.) They wanted to talk to her about it, but she said she could not. So they bought her from her owner, and she joined the group. She explained that sometimes, out in the Qelong Valley, people can get sick and the only way to stop the sickness from spreading is to cut off the left hand.

As they encountered and spoke with NPCs I rolled on the rumor table included in the Qelong book and they learned about The Mine of the Elephant, the fact that the land seems to be poisoned (from the slave, for example), that another wizard was looking for the same canister they were looking for, that the capital city of Xam had not been heard from for decades, and that a company of mercenaries from the lands of the Holy Roman Empire had taken over a town up river.

This led to a discussion between the Players about what options to pursue.

Armed with this information they headed out on a riverboat, traveling up the Qelong River to investigate the mercenaries. Their slave traveled with them along with a German who had been up and down the river for years and would serve as a guide.