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!

TRAVELLER: Out of the Box–Notes on the Personal Combat System (II)

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Here’s a fact about the Combat Rules for Classic Traveller:

If your Player Character fires a shotgun at a target wearing no armor who is standing 3 meters away from your character, you need to roll 2 or better on 2D6 to do effective damage. This means you don’t need to bother rolling to see if you do effective damage. You can simply pick up the damage dice and roll and find out what the damage is.

For a lot of people this is a problem. “How can there not be a chance of a miss?” they ask. “I automatically hit?” It really rankles a lot of people.

But I have come to believe this view is overstated as a problem. Not overstated as a fact, but as a problem.

The fact is, the game rules suggest that yes, if you are trained in weaponry, and if you fire an automatic rifle, shotgun, or submachine gun at an unarmored target who is standing still 1-5 meters from you, you will, in fact, hit that target and deal damage.

For some reason that doesn’t strike me as strange. Here are some of the reasons why:


EXPERTISE
The person doing the shooting has been trained in the weapon. Characters who have no training in a weapon have a DM -5 to their Throw. Many NPCs will have training in one weapon, but suffer the DM -5 in other weapons. Per the rules, however, all Player Characters get an expertise of 0 in all weapons due to their training.

PCs are the exception in this regard. Which means that the odds are not just a matter of weapon and armor. The skill-0 in all weapons means the PCs know what they are doing when handling a firearm to a much greater degree when compared to most other people.

In my view, I assume that the skill levels of weapons are not simply going to the range and shooting at targets. The people who have skill-0 or above in weapons are people who are used to combat situations, know how to fire under stress and when bullets are flying, and have muscle memory that goes far beyond anything to do with shooting ranges or hunting. Anyone who does not suffer that DM -5 knows what they are doing in a gunfight.

Thus, if a trained combatant fires at an unarmored opponent who is standing still at a range of 3 meters I believe it is reasonable to assume the target will suffer horrible damage.

Of course, the target has options to counter this…


EVADE
The base matrix values assume the target is standing still.

May I suggest boldly that if you are at short range and unarmored and someone is shooting at you not do this?

The rules provide the option of Evade:

A combatant, at any range, may state evade as a status. The person may
not make any attack. He or she receives an advantageous DM in the defense, based on range from the attacker

  • -1 if at short or close range
  • -2 if at medium range
  • -4 if at long or very long range

I am well aware that the DM -1 on the attack might not help at all. But here’s the fact: If you try to avoid someone firing at you with a shotgun or submachine gun at three meters, trying to rush out of the way might not help.

In other case it will help… but just a little. The odds of the automatic rifle against an unarmored target at 1-5 meters moves from 100% to 97.2% to deal effective damage. Still horrible, of course. But what for goodness sake are you doing standing 3 meters from a man with an automatic rifle pointed out you who wants to kill you? At some point this is your fault.

Meanwhile, if you are unarmored and out in the open at medium range (6-50 meters) even if you are evading, unless other circumstances intervene, you will be take damage from a man who knows what he’s doing with an automatic rifle.

Because of this, might I suggest…


COVER AND CONCEALMENT
The Traveller Book introduced rules for Cover and Concealment. Note that even in the rules found in Traveller Book 1 the Referee could (and should) apply DMs for cover and concealment if he sees fit. The rules are now part of the errata for Traveller Books 1. They rules state:

Cover and Concealment: Cover is any solid object between an attacker and defender capable of protecting the defender from a weapon attack. Concealment is any object that prevents viewing or sighting of the defender. Cover may also be concealment, concealment is not necessarily cover. 
 Targets are considered under cover if they are behind a solid object which a shot cannot penetrate (such as a wall, rock, or heavy bulkhead).

An individual under cover cannot be attacked; an individual in concealment cannot be attacked unless the attacker has some reason to shoot into the area. A target may be partially concealed by walls, objects, atmospheric conditions, or darkness. Targets are considered concealed if they cannot be viewed by an attacker. If fully concealed, a target cannot be attacked.

Individuals who attack from cover become visible and may themselves be attacked; because they retain partial cover they are eligible for a defending DM of –4. Individuals who attack from concealment provide reason to believe they are present, and may be attacked; because they remain partially concealed, they are allowed a defending DM of –1.

If you must shoot back from cover, sort out the best range you can. For example, with the DM -4 for anyone shooting at you as you shoot from cover, if you attack someone with an automatic rifle his odds of his doing effective damage against you drop from 100% to 72.2%. Still terrible you say? Guess what? You’re in a gunfight. Horrible things happen to people in close quarter gunfights.

If I may be bold: If you are unmarred and someone is hunting you with a powerful firearm, I would recommend getting to cover or hiding as quickly as possible. This encourages characters of all stripes to not stand out in the open, to seek covered, to move from cover to cover, to depend on distractions and suppression fire from friends, running around a piece of cover while being chased, trying to close on an enemy using a long weapon to defeat him in hand-to-hand combat, and so on. All of this builds more compelling fights

Might I suggest, if these odds are still aren’t working for you…


BE CLEVER
It’s a roleplaying game. The rules are designed to put the squeeze on anyone in a fight. The Classic Traveller rules are not design to be a tabletop milsim where were move little men around knowing some might be sacrificed for the greater good. We care about the guy we are playing. And if he’s unarmored and someone is coming after him with an automatic rifle it would behoove him to come up with some idea or plan which will let him get the hell out of there, get the drop on his assailant somehow, or otherwise turn the tables and increase his odds of survival.

The point is that the Player or Players better come up with something to shift the situation around. Not because this is the way the world really works… but because this is the way science fiction adventure fiction (which is what Classic Traveller was built to emulate) works: The protagonist is in a really tight spot, the odds are against him, and he has to come up with something interesting to turn things around. That interesting part? That’s what makes the memorable moments. That’s what makes memorable game sessions. You want the screws turning against the characters to make them sweat and come up with something smart.

Now, you might be saying, “I’m not talking about getting shot at. I think it’s weird that I can take all these unarmored men down with one attack and never miss.”

Well, first, you’re playing an awesome dude who knows how to handle a weapon and handle it well. And second, you’re firing against unarmored men. Which begs the question…


WHY ARE YOU SHOOTING AT UNARMORED MEN?
Do you need to kill them? (Because the system is going to let you kill them very easily. You are awesome after all.) But will they have friends or family who will come after you. Is killing actually the best plan forward? What do you need from them? From the situation?

Instead of spending 35 minutes or more of typical RPG combat where were constantly grind each other’s Hit Points or whatever down, the Classic Traveller system lets you move on. You want these sad sacks dead? They’re dead. There. You did it. Tossing dice back and forth till one side finally drops isn’t interesting. What’s interesting is the fallout from the death. Or imprisoning them after you get them to surrender. Or negotiating with them after you don’t kill them. Or whatever.

After all why spend a lot of time going back and forth rolling dice when ultimately one side is going to loose or not. Let’s get to that. And then see, based on the choices the PCs made, what the fallout is.

Because for me, that’s where (along with clever ideas and tactics and the genuine need to come up with plans for survival as describe above) things get interesting.

I know that may not be what some people focus on. But I’m talking about what’s in the rules as applied. I completely understand someone might want something else.


ARMOR AND RANGE
In Classic Traveller the throw required for doing effective damage with a shotgun against a target in no armor at short range is 2 or better, while the same weapon used at the same range against someone wearing mesh is 8 or better. The issue isn’t whether or not the attacker hits the target in either case (the odds of hitting the target with shotgun pellets would presumably be the same in either case). The issue is whether or not the attack does effective damage to the target.

This means that in Classic Traveller a failed combat throw doesn’t necessarily mean the bullet did not strike the target. The bullet might well have struck the target but the armor protected the character, or the bullet only did a grazing blow, and so on.

When a weapon used at a certain range against a target wearing a certain kind of armor gets an automatic success it means that that a trained man or women firing the weapon will manage to not only hit but hit effectively.

An important point from this: Long weapons are dramatically less effective at Close range. If you can manage to close on an assailant with a rifle, shotgun, carbine, or submachine gun and engage him in hand-to-hand or melee combat you drop his odds of doing effective damage with his firearms than they are at Short or Medium range.

I’m not saying it is easy to close on an assailant armed with a long weapon. I’m not saying it’s safe. But if you can come up with a clever scheme (see above) to distract the assailant or otherwise approach the assailant from a direction that isn’t straight toward a blast from his weapon you’ll stand much better odds of survival in the long run.


HOW DAMAGE WORKS
With the First Blood rules the character may or may not die when effective damage is applied. The Damage dice might be enough to drive the three physical characteristic to 0… or not.

It’s a random roll. If the Player Character has STR 8, DEX 5, and END 7 and an attacker automatically hits with 3D6 for 11 points of damage the character will be wounded… but not dead. And this is where traveling with people you can count on comes in. You might get shot at. Someone might get hit and suffer wounds or be knocked unconscious. But as long as you’ve got other people at your back you might come out of this alive.

And since we’re talking about teams, never forget about…


SURPRISE & RANGE
People often forget about the Surprise rules in Classic Traveller, as well as the Range rules. But they are there, and they are there for a reason. (All the the rules in Classic Traveller are there for a reason. They interlock with each other in very important ways.)

When an encounter occurs it isn’t always a straight up fight out of the gate. Even if you are unarmored the edge of surprise gives you options that will help you survive. Military experience, Leadership, and Tactical expertise all offer DM +1 to the Surprise die roll. (Roll one die for for either party: if one party has a die roll of three or more greater than the other party, the higher rolling party has achieved surprise.)

A party with surprise can try to avoid the encounter before it takes place. A party with surprise gets a free rounds of attacks before the enemy can counter attack. (And if they can do so without raising alarms of any kind they keep their surprise and can do it again.) A party that is under attack can try to escape the conflict.

These are important parts of the game to keep in mind because they remind us the personal combat system isn’t about two lines of people standing in an open field shooting at each other.

The elements of Surprise and Range expand the fictional details we can focus on: sneaking, shelter, terrain, maneuvering for silent attacks, and so on. All of these element can downgrade or eliminate the threat of automatically taking shotgun pellets to the gut even if one is unarmored.

Keep in mind that the Surprise roll and DMs are based on a particular circumstance–two parties being either aware of potential danger or both unaware and about to bump into each other. But if one side or another has set up an ambush, for example, they might get extra DMs in their favor. Thus, if the Players/PCs are clever (see above) and set up circumstances in their favor with roleplaying and tactics, the Referee might hand them them surprise over their opponents.


As far as I can tell, then, the Classic Traveller personal combat system is designed to encourage the following then engaged with firearms:

  • Gain the element of surprise
  • Strike from an advantageous position
  • Wear armor
  • Seek cover during a firefight
  • Be clever
  • Defeat the advantage of the firearms by moving to Close or Longer ranges

All of this seems not only perfectly reasonable, but awesome, to me.


If you wish you can check out the Weapon Cards I created that combine the distance and armor matrixes weapon by weapon, and it offer a clear view on the odds per weapon.

Here is the post Notes on the Personal Combat System (I).

And here is the an important post on the distinction between Combat as Sport vs. Combat as War in RPGs. (Hint: Classic Traveller’s combat system is built as Combat as War.)

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.

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.