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Classic Traveller - a dice-driven game

pemerton

Legend
Our Classic Traveller campaign continued last weekend. My main take home was the really big effect that the dice have on the play of Traveller.

I'll sblock the (long) session report, before saying a little bit about what I mean by this.

[sblock]Before the session I'd done a reasonable amount of prep.

First, I wrote up a list of established facts - that is, information that had emerged over the course of the first three sessions and so was settled truth for the campaign:

* Lt Li (the PCs' original patron, who got them involved in her bioweapons operation) had a team on Ardour-3 (the starting world for the campaign) who had flown hi-tech medical equipment to Byron (the world the PCs currently are on);

* Those NPCs lost their spaceship to the PC noble Vincenzo in a gambling game (hence Vincenzo started the game with a Type Y starship);

* Hence Li had to recruit the PCs - including one whom she knew from his time in the service, the naval enlistee Roland - to fly a further load of equipment to Byron;

* Li had recruited a bunch of NPCs (whom the PCs captured and interrogated in the previous session) at the naval base on Shelley, a world in the general vicinity of Byron;

* The PC Alissa had been in the naval hospital on Shelley (forcibly mustered out of the Marines due to failing her first term survival check by 1), but had then - about the same time that Li was travelling to Ardour-3 to meet the other PCs in the first session - found herself in a cold sleep berth in a warehouse in Byron, infected with the Enlil virus (before being found and cured by the other PCs in a previous session);

* Li was the one who had brought Alissa in a cold sleep berth from Shelley to Byron, and the other NPCs on Byron didn't know that Alissa was infected with the virus (this came out under interrogation of said NPCs);

* The operation on Byron involved experimenting on bodies (both live and dead) acquired by some NPC rogues (who were among the NPCs the PCs captured), using samples that had been brought from Enlil (the world where the virus is endemic) to Byron by another team headed by the retired merchant first officer Leila Lo (who, we had decided last session, had a backstory with Tony, a PC retired merchant third officer), and with hi-tech medical gear integrated into the cold sleep berths;

* Materials had also been taken by Leila's team from Byron to a Scout base on the world of Olyx;

* The Byron-based group (ie the NPCs the PCs had captured and interrogated) had decided to break away from Li's operation and try to set up their own independent bioweapons franchise, which was why they had taken the hi-tech gear the PCs had flown to Byron to the out-of-dome decommissioned army outpost that the PCs had assaulted in the previous session.​

That's a reasonable amount of backstory for three sessions of play (at least it feels to me like it is), but it still leaves a lot of questions unanswered, like What is Li's agenda? Who is she working for? How did Alissa get infected on Shelley? Etc?

Second, therefore, I wrote a list of possibilities/conjectures, reflecting both player speculation from the previous session and some of my own ideas:

* Alissa has expertise of 4 in cutlass, whereas the ambitious Lt Li has only expertise 2 - maybe they were fencing rivals, and Li infected Alissa both to (i) get an experimental subject and (ii) get rid of an unwanted rival! She could have done that, and taken Alissa to Byron, right before she then flew on to Ardour-3 and recruited the PCs;

* How did Alissa escape from the warehouse on Byron? Most likely just carelessness and/or malfunction, with the cold sleep unit having stopped working (perhaps damaged by the corrosive atmosphere of the world);

* Is Li working for (some branch of) the Imperium? Or is one of the players correct in speculating that she is running an entirely private operation, with the Scout base on Olyx having become - in effect - her own fiefdom.​

Third, I had read up on the laboratory starship St Christopher, described in the scenario Amber to Red in an early White Dwarf magazine - as written in that module it's not quite clear how it fits into the ship building rules, but I rebuilt it using those rules - it's a 490 ton custom hull starship, with a 90-ton custom small craft orbital laboratory. I decided that this was the vessel Leila Lo had used to bring samples from Enlil and to carry material to Olyx.

Fourth, and following on from that, I rolled up some NPCs to be Leila Lo's team. At least some of these had to be the NPCs who were running the warehouse in Byron's domed city, and so who had been captured when the PCs revealed the location of that warehouse to the Byron authorities. I decided that, while the PCs (in the previous session) were outside the Byron dome raiding the outpost, Leila Lo had been able to bail her arrested crew members. Altogether, including Leila Lo, I had 14 crew members who were able to fill all the positions on the St Christopher, plus had the technical expertise to have been plausible (but less than top-notch) operators of a bioweapons storage/experimentation facility. (None had very good mechanical or medical skills, which helped explain Alissa's escape.)

The final bit of prep took place on the bus I caught to my friend's house where we were playing. The St Christopher has 15 staterooms, so on the bus I rolled up a final NPC crewmember to pass the time. This ended up being a naval enlistee with skill in Ship's Boat, Communications, Vacc Suit and Forward Observer. Which gave me an idea for how to I might start the session.

The last session had ended with the PCs capturing the outpost and interrogating the NPCs. But they had been debating what to do with them. So when we started, I first clarified a few things about the what equipment the PCs had loaded onto their own and the NPCs' ATVs (this was being done by some of the PCs while the others had interrogated); and then raised the question of the fate of the NPCs.

Two of the PCs (the nobles Vincenzo and Sir Glaxon) wanted to hand the NPCs over to the authorities on Byron. Three (Methwit the spy, Roland, and maybe Alissa?) were worried that this would alert Li and her co-conspirators to the PCs' actions in thwarting the bioweapons operation, and hence (a) get them into trouble, and (b) make it harder to infiltrate further. The other PCs were indifferent. Sir Glaxon has Leader-2, and none of the others have Leader skill, so I thought that probably balanced out the numbers; and Methwit has a high social standing (A) which meant I thought the nobles didn't have too much of an advantage in that respect; and so the debate was resolved by simple opposed throws - Vincenzo's player vs Methwit's player (who also is the player of Sir Glaxon, and so was rolling against as well as for himself). The nobles won, and so it was agreed to hand the NPCs over.

I then announced that I was rolling for the day's random encounter, with a 5 or 6 indicating something. I rolled a 5, and so announced that they heard a loud blast not far from the outpost. A quick scan with the periscope and video equipment revealed that they were under fire from an orbital triple beam laser. I also explained the game's directed fire rules, which require a forward observer for this sort of thing; with corrections happening in intervals of two-minute turns. (I had used Oslem, my bus-generated naval character, as my random encounter.)

This had the expected effect of triggering a degree of panic and mass exodus for the ATVs. I got the players to write up a list of who was on which vehicle, and then they headed off, trying to avoid being blown up by the starship firing on them. Max Attack - who has ATV skill (ie applicable to both wheeled and tracked vehicles) - drove the NPCs' ATV (which is tracked), while Methwit (who has wheeled vehicle skill) drove the PCs' (wheeled) ATV.

The resolution of the ensuing pursuit had two components.

One involved communications - the PCs used their access to two different communicators in moving vehicles to triangulate the position of the spotter (who they worked out was in a small craft several km above the surface), and tried to jam her communications to the main vessel. This didn't work out (failure in an opposed check), and so they then shifted to a different strategy of making radio contact with the Byron air force (Max Attack, as a former Byron Army colonel, knew who to call), (i) calling for assistance against an unlawful orbital assault, and (ii) passing on all their information about the illicit bioweapons activities. (This required skill checks to further adapt the communicator they had modified in the previous session.)

The NPC in turn tried to jam this communication, but the players succeeded at that opposed check, and so their message go through. At one point one of the NPCs in the tracked vehicle tried to break out of custody and take control of the communicator, to radio in a surrender, but Xander - the rather tough ex-pirate PC - was able to stop this insurrection (our first hand-to-hand fighting in the campaign). And the NPC spotter made an offer to the PCs - that if they all stopped their vehicles and disembarked, they would be taken into custody on the St Christopher - but the PCs declined that offer, fearing that in these circumstances surrender would be tantamount to death. They therefore continued their attempt at escape.

The vehicular escape was the other component of this episode, and resolution of it was a bit ad hoc: I used a combination of the rules for directed fire, the general rules for using land vehicles, and also the single-roll resolution rolls for small craft encounters with starships trying to blow them up (but using vehicle skill rather than Ship's Boat skill). One player complained that it was "roll until you fail", but with the small craft rules it was more like "roll until you succeed" - which another player pointed out. The sequence of rolls under that system is - roll to evade; then roll to escape; if the former fails, you're blown up; if the latter fails, go back to the start and roll to escape again. The wheeled vehicle succeeded on both rolls first time round, but the tracked vehicle failed the first escape roll and so had to make another evade roll before successfully escaping (on the rugged terrain of Byron, escaping meant finding your way into a chasm or similar protective overhang (where the spotter can't spot you, and so the vessel in orbit can't fire on you).

Given that Byron's atmosphere is some combination of unbreathable corrosive gases, we had already established that its (tech level 7) air force uses propeller-driven rather than jet planes. When I suggested 300 kph as the rough speed of such planes, that was accepted by the table (a quick Google now reveals that to be something of an underestimate, but the techie-types and military history buff at the table didn't query it!). So it was clear that they had to hid out for a while before the air force would come to their rescue. We resolved the hiding until nightfall, and then the subsequent drive back to Byron, via simple narration.

When it came time to re-enter the dome, the players debated a bit what story they should tell. In the end they decided to go with the story that they were undercover Imperial operatives - with Max Attack as their local contact - who had been sent to uncover the bioweapons operations. Methwit forged some Imperial documents to this effect, and a successful Admin check meant that their story was accepted without the papers being scrutinised too closely. They forfeited their prisoners, the NPCs' ATV, and the NPCs' firearms, except for a laser rifle which Alissa retained for her personal use!

The rest of the session was mostly downtime - at first Alissa (who needed hospitalisation to recover from having been shot) was denied entry to any hospital (the hospitals being busy trying to deal with the outbreak of Enlil virus which she had precipitated), but after they insisted that she was an Imperial hero who had helped saved Byron from further bioweapon-caused outbreaks she was admitted and treated at public expense.

The players then decided that they wanted to find a new patron, so they hung out at the Travellers' Aid Society (both Roland and Sir Glaxon are members) and made a roll (with the +1 for Methwit's Carousing-1, they needed 4 or better on 1D). The roll succeeded, and then I let them make the roll on the random patron chart to see what sort of patron they encountered. They rolled a diplomat, and after the initial interaction got a good enough reaction roll to be offered the mission.

The diplomat approached them on the basis that they were agents of the Planetary Rescue Systems Inspectorate, which is an Imperial agency introduced in the old White Dwarf adventure The Sable Rose affair, and which I had determined was part of the Imperial Interstellar Scout Service. (My one-and-a-half page write up of the Scouts, which I did after our first session when I thought it might come in handy, incorporates ideas from Andy Slack's old Traveller article on the Scouts, plus some of what is in Book 6 on the Scouts, plus other stuff like the PRSI.) It was left ambiguous whether he really thinks this is the case, or is instead playing along with the cover story the PCs gave to the Byron authorities.

As I explained to the players - but the characters Methwit and Roland already knew this - the PRSI is an inspectorate responsible for inspecting and making recommendations on measures taken by planetary governments in finding and aiding survivors of crash landings, and thus has a more general information-gathering and oversight role in relation to planetary systems monitoring of take-offs and landings, entry and exit of crewmembers, etc. It is also a cover for various covert intelligence squads.

The patron diplomat - who presented himself as a civilian Imperial agent - explained that there were concerns about whether a number of Naval, Marine and Scout personnel had gone missing on Olyx. In respect of some of these personnel, and also some Scout vessels associated with them, there were irregularities in records being maintained by the various bureaucracies (including the Scout's Detached Duty Office). This, as he explained, generated concerns about whether Olyx was properly monitoring the arrival and departure of vessels and personnel to its Scout base, so that - if required - planetary rescue functions might be properly performed. Hence the need for a PRSI team to make an inspection, and the PCs were clearly the team for the job!

The players didn't really indicate what their PCs guesses were as to exactly how much this NPC knew about Lt Li's bioweapons program and scheming in relation to Olyx, but I think they recognised that the description of the mission had a strong euphemistic aspect to it. This was probably confirmed when the NPC inquired whether or not their starship had weaponry fitted, and - when they answered that it didn't - he then arranged for a twin pulse laser turret to be shipped to Byron and fitted to Vincenzo's yacht. The turret, plus the software necessary to operate it (both the Target and the Gunner Interact programs), cost Cr 3.5 million (1.5 m for the hardware, 2 m for the software - computing in the Traveller universe is very expensive and not very efficient) - but we all agree that that, plus a Cr 490,000 payment, bringing the total to MCr 3.99 - was still cheaper than risking an Imperial Scout ship being shot down over Olyx, and hence made some sense within the context of the fiction (while also constituting the throwing of some buffs by the GM to the players!). While waiting for the turret to arrive and be fitted - about six weeks - most of the PCs paid to do some training with friendly instructors (much of this was organised by Max with his old army contacts), and so Alissa developed Tactics skill, Xander Recon, Tony Mechanical and Vincenzo Carousing.

The 490,000 on top of the money for weaponry was 400,000 to help Vincenzo meet mortgage payments on his ship (a bit more than 200,000 per month, and the escapades so far plus waiting for the arrival and fitting of the turret took the overall period of his ownership to the third month, which he hasn't paid yet); and 10,000 per head for 9 members of the team. The ninth member - in addition to the 8 PCs - was the NPC Zeno Doxa, a computer expert whom the PCs had captured in the outpost, and whom they now helped successfully defend against his initial charges to be released on bail. Computer skill was the one area of expertise that the PCs didn't fill, and they thought that they would need someone with that skill to hack the computer systems should they manage to land on Olyx.

Zeno also passed on an interesting bit of information to Roland, in an effort to ingratiate himself into the group - when studying subjects from Enlil in the cold berth equipment that was part of the bioweapons experiments, he had discovered that their DNA was not fully human. This was exciting to Roland, because his main goal in travelling the universe is to learn about alien artefacts and activities. And Enlil is on the way to Olyx.

The session ended with everyone reconciling their finances after gear purchases and training and upkeep costs, and the party ready to take off for Olyx.[/sblock]

So why do I say that the dice have a big effect on Traveller play?

First, PC building is dice-driven. PCs are randomly generated. You have to roll to enlist in an occupation. If you fail, you have to roll for the draft (the PCs Alissa wanted to be a doctor but found herself drafted into the Imperial Marines). And improvement is also dice-based: the self-improvement rules require rolling 8+ to succeed, and if you fail that roll you can't try again for one (in game) year. At our table the player of Methwit and Glaxon succeeded on a roll for both his PCs; the player of Tony and Vincenzo succeeded for Tony only; and the other two players both failed for both their characters. (Though the player of Max and Alissa subsequently succeeded on a roll for Zeno Doxa.) And when undergoing instruction, a check is also needed to see if the character actually learned what the teacher is teaching. (As well as the instruction mentioned in the session report, Roland paid for a medical course, but the player failed the required roll, and so Roland didn't pick up anything new.)

Second, many of the setting elements are dice-driven. The default is for worlds to be randomly generated - and that is the process I used to create Ardour-3, Lyto-7, Byron, Enlil, Shelly and Olyx, which are the worlds that have figured in our game so far. (Although I have not generated their locations via the random process that Book 3 suggests - I've placed them in relation to one another as has seemed appropriate to support the unfolding action.) The two patrons have also been randomly generated; and while I think it's pretty likely that nearly any patron they rolled up might have been able to be given some link to the bioweapons/Olyx affair, the particular flavour that has taken on - building on the players' early cover story about being Imperial agents to get them to mount a surprise inspection on Olyx - is a function of them rolling a diplomat as a patron rather than, say, an arsonist.

Third, action resolution involves a lot of dice rolls, some of which are pretty crucial. The players were rather tense when making their checks for the characters to escape in their ATVs, as they were pretty sure that a hit from the lasers on an ATV would be game over. (I don't know if I would have been that brutal; or perhaps instead have had the lasers blow up the ground right in front of the ATV so they fell in, or perhaps blow off the back and so kill the prisoner NPCs but let the PCs in the front survive. As it turned out, I didn't have to decide.) If the PCs had failed in their cover story, then they would probably have been detained on Byron and things would be developing in a different direction.

This effect of the dice rolls is on top of the normal stuff that follows from player choices (eg they could have chosen to surrender to the St Christopher and tried to ingratiate themselves back into Lt Li's and Leila Lo's schemes). I know other systems use dice too, but the effect seems particularly marked in this system. Compared to 4e the dice matter more, because there's no capacity for managing randomness via metagame resource deployment. And compared to Burning Wheel there's less of a "say yes" element to action resolution, and so dice come into play even when the dramatic stakes aren't quite so high; and there is not as much control by either players or GM over outcomes (eg in BW looking for a patron would be a circles check, and so wouldn't have the same degree of randomness relative to earlier established elements of the fiction as does rolling on the Traveller random patron table).

It's quite an interesting RPG experience.
 

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pemerton

Legend
Classic game. Wish I had gotten to play it more, but I could never find enough sci-fi RPGers.
If you've still got your books - or can afford to buy PDFs from DriveThru (I picked up some modules and stuff when we started this campaign to have a look at them - they're pretty cheap) - I'd recommend giving it a go. It really does stand up pretty well even 40 years later.
 

chaochou

Adventurer
Couple of questions...

Classic Traveller is interesting in that a lot of outcomes are specifically defined in the book: roll this, if you get 8+, that specific thing happens. Like you mentioned looking for a patron. Spend a week hanging out, roll one die, on a 5 or 6 you find one.

Are your players aware of the specifics and are driving things by using these defined game mechanics to generate new content, or do you feel you're doing the heavy lifting? Or an equal share?

Also CT assumed, like a lot of games of the era, that the players either already knew how to roleplay (or would magically intuit it somehow from a game with no instructions). The 'how to play this game' text is pretty thin, borderline non-existent. I don't even remember a solid example of play, just creation of Commander Jamison.

So I felt it was hard game to run back in the early 80s: not mechanically, but because importing play assumptions from other games of the era (AD&D & Runequest) produced pretty terrible results. I guess you're 'filling in the blanks' somehow - but from which games or experiences? Not Rolemaster! But maybe Burning Wheel... or 4e? Any thoughts?
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
A couple observations... Having played many games of Traveller over the years and plenty of versions..

Iirc the advancenent rolls of 8+ were modified by the EDU and this was a way of offsetting the obvious values of the more physical skills in combat. Higher EDU would let you advance more skills more frequently but not serve you as directly as say AGI or END or even SOC.

Second 8+ on 2d6 with zero modifier is 42%. With +1 its 58% and with +2 its in the neighborhood of 75% and those dont seem out of whack odds compared to many modern diced games.

The other thing i recall was that while there were mechanics for all sorts of random planets, random sectors, random patrons, random encounters all linked in together... Those were not mandatory. In some cases though they did provide certain linksges that were intended to makecsense.


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pemerton

Legend
Couple of questions
And good ones! Thanks for asking them.

Classic Traveller is interesting in that a lot of outcomes are specifically defined in the book: roll this, if you get 8+, that specific thing happens. Like you mentioned looking for a patron. Spend a week hanging out, roll one die, on a 5 or 6 you find one.

Are your players aware of the specifics and are driving things by using these defined game mechanics to generate new content, or do you feel you're doing the heavy lifting? Or an equal share?
Fiirst, a little bit of personal backstory - I have a half-hour train commute to and from work every day, and when I'm too bored/tired/frustrated to mark student work or read/edit curriculum documentation, I write up RPG stuff instead. So when something earlier this year prompted me to have a look at my old Traveller stuff (I can't remember now what that prompt was!), I started writing up notes in an attempt to be more systematic than the original rulebooks are (eg combining everything I could find about vacc suit use into one "Using Vacc Suits" entry).

With further development since we started playing, that document is now about 50 pages - broken into sectins on character generation, world generation, animal generation, encounter generatin, action resolution, and a psionics appendix. (Which Alissa's player is very interested in, because she is young and has few skills, ie exactly the sort of Traveller character meant to have a chance at getting a boost from psionics.) The players have all seen it, and one or two might even have read it, and so they have a general sense of how the system works. At least two of them also played a bit of Traveller back in the day, and so have some retained sense of some of the mechanics (eg everyone remembers survival rolls as part of PC generation!).

So I would say that, as far as actual mechanics go, I am doing the heavy lifting. But the players are aware that there are systems at work, which in principle are knowable by them, and that I'm using for those mechanical resolutions. I'll give a couple of examples to try and give a sense

When the PC Alissa was introduced, we needed some backstory to make sense of the sudden appearance in Byron City of a young, penniless Marine who had been injured and forcibly mustered out (ie failed survival roll by 1) in her first term of service. Because she was a draftee, the player had already decided that she had faked the injury to get out of the Marines. But why was she on Byron, which is a low-ish tech level world with no Naval base and no obvious significance to the Imperium? That was when I suggested that her last memories, before waking in a cold sleep berth in the warehouse on Byron, were of being in a hospital in a Naval base on another world. So I rolled up a world using the world gen rules (I can't remember now if I fudged the Starport/Naval base rolls to make sure those came up positive, or if I started again until they came out right: maybe the first try yielded a Naval base and so I didn't need to think about it). Thus Shelley was created. I then made a single die roll to determine its jump distance from Byron, which came up 2.

So on that occasion, collective decision-making about the fiction, but with referee oversight (I would think of this as something like the BW model, although for my group it's a model that goes back in our play before we encountered BW), estabishes some more detailed context about the Imperium, about the backstory of this PC, and about the existence of some other world. And then the players can see that the actual world itself is generated using a defined procedure - and while I as GM have the ultimate role in making sense of the outcomes, the raw materials of the setting have this significant procedural, dice-driven aspect to them.

Secone example: in the most recent session, when the PCs had returned to the domed city and Alissa had been hospitalised for recovery, and we were doing the standard "downtime" stuff like taking stock of upkeep costs, checking out gear lists, etc, Vincenzo's player said that he wanted to find an employer. I can't remember if it was him or me who linked this into the patron rules, but he clearly had a sense that there is a mechanic whereby you can spend time/effort trying to get a job. I told him that it would take a week, and suggested that - as a couple of PCs are TAS members - it would make sense to hang out at that TAS lounge in the starport to try and meet someone. He was happy with that. When I said that the roll it 5+, with a +1 for Carousing, he decided (or maybe Methwit's player suggested) that Methwit come along, as Methwit is the only PC with Carousing.

I can't remember who actually rolled the die - me or one of the players - but I would say this is another example of the players having a sense that there are procedures that they can hook onto, and then I take the lead in channelling their action declarations and expressions of intent into mechanical terms.

We've always been a table that is very comfortable framing action in mechanical terms, and moving very flexibly back-and-forth between fiction and mechanics (that would be an old Rolemaster habit!), so this is a very natural way for us to operate.

When I have to set checks that aren't specified in the rules, I also try to make it clear how I'm doing that. For stuff that seems like it should be fairly hard (in the fiction, based on causal rather than narrative logic) I tend to default to a required throw of 10+ (I can't remember where I got this from, but maybe one of the discussions of the tech-type skills, or a repair/maintenance subsystem?), with DMs for skill, INT, EDU, etc. Generally, I tell the players what the base throw is, and then what DMs apply based on their relevant abilitities (which sometimes I remember, and sometimes check with them), to establish a final throw required. The idea here is to help them navigate their PCs and the system, but to also help establish a sense that required throws aren't arbitrary. It's a different approach from BW - where I generally place a bigger onus on the player to nominate FoRKs, fish for advantage dice, etc, because that's a big part of playing BW and also feeds directly into the advancement rules; and a different approach from 4e, where players are meant to know the mechanics of their PC, and forgetting to use some crucial resource and suffering for it is part of the vicissitude of play.

To elaborate on that last couple of sentences: in 4e a character might be a really skilled fighter on paper, but in play turn out to be rather ineffectual because the player doesn't know how to leverage the intricate mechanics, makes bad calls about when to use a limited-use abiity, etc. And I would see that as the game working as intended - there's a strong tactical boardgame-type aspect to 4e play, at least in combat. (NB: I'm not saying that 4e is a boardgame - that boardgame aspect to play also, at least in my experience, invovles leveraging the fiction also. But there's no disputing that there's a lot of mechanically complex moving parts.)

Whereas in Traveller I think the choices are meant to be at a slightly more strategic or at least operational level. So if a player forgets that his/her PC has Electronics skill, and so doesn't think of trying to turn a communicator into a satellite uplink, that's on the player. (I use this example because it's one that came up in our game - Max's player didn't forget his Electronics, and so they did create the uplink that they needed.) But once the player has decided to try and tinker with the communicator, I don't think there is meant to be tactical element in remembering which PC abilities to bring to bear. It's the referee's job, as I see it, to make sure that the resolution of that attempt properly reflects the PC's skill training, INT, EDU etc. In (re-)reading late 70s/early 80s discussions of the difference between D&D and Traveller, I think this is one that doesn't quite get spelled out but is lurking behind a lot of what is said. I would say that, in this respect, Traveller resembles RQ or CoC.

Also CT assumed, like a lot of games of the era, that the players either already knew how to roleplay (or would magically intuit it somehow from a game with no instructions). The 'how to play this game' text is pretty thin, borderline non-existent. I don't even remember a solid example of play, just creation of Commander Jamison.

So I felt it was hard game to run back in the early 80s: not mechanically, but because importing play assumptions from other games of the era (AD&D & Runequest) produced pretty terrible results.
There is no example of play other than creating that Merchant PC (who, by the way, gets a long sequence of absurdly lucky rolls!). Some of the individual mechanical subsystems get an illustrative example, but that's it.

I found the game really hard to run back in the day. When I first was given Traveller (maybe 1978? or 79?), I hadn't even heard of D&D and so had no play assumtions to import, and just didn't get how the game was meant to work: even before one gets to the player side of things, there just wasn't enough discussion of how the referee was expected to establish and manage ingame situations. Reading it now, I can see how the patron encounter system, the random encounter rules, etc are meant to support this, but as written they're too thin to communicate effectively to someone with no prior experience of RPGing.

Once I got Moldvay Basic, I was able to go back to Traveller and make more sense of it. But I still didn't have a good handle on what sort of action it might involve, how the players were meant to engage via their PCs, etc. And this wasn't helped by the White Dwarf scenarios of the time (which I'd also got hold of in the early-to-mid-80s) being pretty combat heavy (like D&D) yet the combat rules being obviously super-brutal. To be fair, The Sable Rose Affair does contemplate the PCs infiltrating the establishment disguised as a band whose members they have kidnapped beforehand (shades of the Blues Brothers); but the rule books give no advice on how to resolve such an attempt, and nor does the module. (I can now say that I would use the encounter reaction rolls modified by Carousing, Liaison and (perhaps) Streetwise; but I don't think a new referee could be expected to work that out from the material provided.)

I guess you're 'filling in the blanks' somehow - but from which games or experiences? Not Rolemaster! But maybe Burning Wheel... or 4e? Any thoughts?
Some of what I've already posted above will have helped answer this, I think.

I would say - despite your excalamation mark - that RM is actually a big source for filling in the blanks. Becuase - outside of spellcasting, which is more like D&D's emphasis on clever use of player resources - RM is also a system where the resolution, once the player has chosen a way to tackle a situation, is meant to reflect the ingame "reality" of the player rather than the player's clever tactical choices. (In Forge terms, I would say this is where both Traveller and RM show their purist-for-system colours.)

In 4e, if I know a player has an ability that s/he should be using but isn't (say, a free action self-buff that would help with a crucial roll, which the player has forgotten about), I won't remind the player. Rather, when they make the roll, if they fail I will taunt; and if they succeed I'll comment on their luck. Only if I'm feeling really generous will I remind them of the ability, and that probably triggers some taunting too, that they needed the GM to help them out. This is the tactical/gamist aspect of 4e play. In AD&D, and in RM, a similar dynamic applies in relation to spellcasting. (Or using limited-use magic items.)

But in RM when it comes to skill checks, and in Traveller, I feel that I have a duty to work with the players to make sure that all the relevant stuff that would affect a check (eg similar skills, appropriate stats, etc) are factored into resolution. That's not the GM throwing a player a bone, but just being a referee whose job includes making sure the fiction is fully expressed and realised in play.

Another angle on what I think is the same point:

In AD&D, when a player debates with the GM whether a particular spell can achieve a particular outcome in the fiction ("creative casting"), the GM has to keep in mind the threat of the game breaking. Adverserial play is always lurking in the wings.

In 4e, when a player wants to do something funky with a power, the GM and player are meant to work together to make sense of it in the fiction, and then the GM applies p 42 to resolve it - which means, most of the time, the game can't break.

In RM or Traveller, I see the players and GM working together to make sense of the fiction, and work out what the true modifier is for this particular resolution, given this particular character's suite of stats and skills - and the non-breaking of the game is dependent upon the designers having discharged their "purist-for-sysmte" duties of making sure theren't aren't so many DMs available that the dice system fails. So far, it's working.

As far as the players and their PCs are concerned, they have established character motivations based on a mixture of what the dice served up, plus personal inclination (eg Roland, the ex-Navy PC, has high EDU and is a member of the TAS - the player has decided that he wants to travel the stars learning about alien life and artefacts); and I think expect me as GM to provide them with appropriate opportunities to explore/play out those motivations in the manner that is fairly standard for our table.

Those turned out to be long answers!
 

pemerton

Legend
Iirc the advancenent rolls of 8+ were modified by the EDU
No. (Maybe this is a rule in MegaTraveller?)

The roll to learn from an Instructor is modified by high INT. The roll to do physical self-improvement is modified by low INT (which one of my players, who has a PhD but also enjoys physical activity, was a bit outraged by). The other rolls are unmodified in the rules, though I have introduced DMs similar to those for Instruction to apply for a sabbatical success roll.

But none of my players tried for sabbatical (it costs too much and takes too long, at least at this stage of the campaign), and none tried for physical improvement either, deciding (based on a few sessions' experience) it was better to try and pump skills.

Second 8+ on 2d6 with zero modifier is 42%. With +1 its 58% and with +2 its in the neighborhood of 75% and those dont seem out of whack odds compared to many modern diced games.
I don't have any issue with the probabilities. I just find it very striking compared to other systems. (I can't remember how training in RQ works - does it require making a roll over the skill bonus?)

while there were mechanics for all sorts of random planets, random sectors, random patrons, random encounters all linked in together... Those were not mandatory.
Like I posted, I haven't used the random sector rules - I'm placing my random planets in a way that (I think/hope) supports the unfolding action.

I also have written up two non-random planets (one actually a huge space station), adapted from two Space Master modules, and have provisionally placed them on my emerging star chart, but they haven't come up in play yet and so their existence and location are not yet established as part of the campaign backstory.

But I think using those random processes is a big part of what makes Traveller the game that it is!

Ron Edwards wrote this about Traveller, under the heading "Setting-creation and universe-play mechanisms":

Another derivation of the Purist for System approach brings the Setting creation process directly into play itself. The System-driven elements of the Setting are as "active" as any particular character might be, during play as well as during preparation. Basically, the setting is played, even created, as a part of regular play.

Boink! I just realized that the original Traveller, or at least one way to play it, represents an example of this approach. Star system and planet creation are written right into the process of play, such that adventures and missions become not only a means of enjoying and improving characters, but also a means of enjoying and basically mapping the game-space. This is very distinct from later versions of Traveller, which were emphatically High Concept with a Setting emphasis. . . .

This mode of play is not merely creating more setting through preparation as play progresses. It relies on doing so in a system-driven fashion much like character creation, carried out as an overt or near-overt part of actual play.

It's a pretty rare form of play and design, probably because the economics of splat-book publishing overwhelmed the hobby, and Traveller itself, from the mid-1980s onwards.​

In my Traveller game, my non-random, non-procedural placement of the worlds is a departure from the pure form of what Edwards describes, but the game is still a lot closer to that pure form than any other system I've run. (I guess some people run AD&D a bit like this - that's in part what "Gygaxian naturalism" is meant to be about - but personally I can't see how it would work. I ran some random dungeon generation AD&D about a year ago, and it doesn't have anything like the same robustness in content-generation as Traveller has shown over the course of four sessions so far.)
 
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5ekyu

Adventurer
Perhaps this is a recollection of the Advanced Education Table accessible if the character has Educ 8+ ?
its entirely possible We started with the little black books, did play mega traveller, TNE, T20, wherever it was Striker got into the mix that got added too and likely other flavors in between. i think we actually had at least one campaign with every flavor of T we ever found. Even started with the earliest styles of DIE during CHARGEN options.

Was all fun.

That said, while it was all fun and the Gms often used the random system generations in their pre and such, I don't think any of us every got into worrying about the "pure design and intent" or went in for the joy of rolling a new system when it was found kind of thing that i believe is being described here.

Although, on an unusual or ironic aside, i actually use a flavor of the random scenario design in my own current 5e driven games. For each session, the players deal me a card from typical 52 card deck face down, i use those cards to determine the "drivers" for that session. Low cards (2-6), High Cards (7-10) and face cards (J-A) of each suit determine a magnitude and a theme behind things like events occurring, NPC attitudes, types of treasure etc while the overall arc of the set remains intact. HEARTS = compassion, mercy or helpful (treat wounded, feed hungry, reunite missing, help woo) DIAMONDS = greed or loot ("I gotta plan that can make us rich", stealing back from rich, finding missing treasure), SPADES = Environmental threats (storms, disease, quakes, poisonous frogs, tainted shipment of wine) and of course CLUBS = Hostile active BGS ready to do very bad things. The players find it fun to see the cards flipped at end of session and then fill in for themselves how that "drove" or even "flavored" the scenario they just finished.

The beautiful part of this approach *in practice* is that it has led me to build my sets differently and IMO a little more robustly. in addition to the BIG STORY parts of the set, i build in for "the cards" a face card, midcard and low card element for each suit. Obviously many will not play an active role in any given scenario/session but having to put them in gives me lots of little bits that i want to foreshadow which adds to a very robust set when the players guide their characters through it. They overhear rumblings of another raid last night as they walk through town and when they walk into the merchants guild they hear the magister being briefed on the latest flood reports from the mines, etc etc etc. Any one of those may "get played" as a major (or minor) element along the way and also of course the players' characters can decide to "look into this flooding thing" even though its not their main focus all on their own.

So, really, planning for this "random introductions" end sup helping me build and employ better sets for my players to explore through their characters and give them a variety of "things we choose to do" along the way that augment or maybe even at times supplant the "BIG QUEST" i had in mind.

So, i do kind of see how a "rolling development" approach can have its benefits and appeal to some/many (and drawbacks of course.) This is not at all a whole all on my own idea and i fully admit it draws a lot of inspiration from many types of setups presented in and around traveller where you would have "patrons" or "scenario" snippets with 1-6 different flavors presented from "all is as it appears" to "its a trap" to "its a trap but not for you your are the bait" to etc etc etc.

PS same approach can also be employed for a "search through blah blah" type scene using the cards to flavor the find while the player's choices and character abilities guide who finds how much. ("Hey guys look what i found. What do you think this is?"... low trembling in the ground... ...ground erupts with big red angry eyes gleaming from the dust cloud...Player responds "i think you found the ace of clubs") possibly with me revealing the card in question at that very moment and if i am in a particularly inspired evil moment, the king of diamonds too. "Wait, no, we cant run. That's the freakin' king of diamonds there... aw come on... guys its not that big... look at those teeth... its a veggiesaurus... crap... this is why i can never have nice things")

:)



:)
 

It is a very old-school design from when RPGs were new, so high randomness and reliance on tables shouldn't be surprising.

I do regard the random character generation system as a feature, not a bug, since it does a great job of developing a character's backstory -- assuming you survive!

Much of the random universe elements can be ignored if you like, though they can be helpful if the campaign is about galactic scouts exploring or rogue traders rogue-trading.
 

pemerton

Legend
[MENTION=6919838]5ekyu[/MENTION], your random scenario element system reminds me a bit of icon rolls in 13th Age.

"Hey guys look what i found. What do you think this is?"... low trembling in the ground... ...ground erupts with big red angry eyes gleaming from the dust cloud...Player responds "i think you found the ace of clubs") possibly with me revealing the card in question at that very moment and if i am in a particularly inspired evil moment, the king of diamonds too. "Wait, no, we cant run. That's the freakin' king of diamonds there... aw come on... guys its not that big... look at those teeth... its a veggiesaurus... crap... this is why i can never have nice things"
I think this sort of taunting/prompting/poking is a really important GM tool that doesn't get discussed much on these boards.

Rather than make the players guess about what the fictional content is that their PCs have access to, let them know, and then watch them struggle to get it!

In my Traveller game I'm very relaxed about given the players stats for planets, NPCs, etc. (The original rule books leave it unclear how much the GM was expected to share with the players.) Keeping that stuff secret just doesn't seem to add very much - whereas letting the players know makes it easier for them to engage with the situation and try and do something with or about it.
 

pemerton

Legend
It is a very old-school design from when RPGs were new, so high randomness and reliance on tables shouldn't be surprising.
One of my favourite systems is Burning Wheel, and it has a lot of dice rolls determine content mechanics - Wises checks to establish backstory, Circles checks to meet contacts and NPCs, adverse content introduced as part of "fail forward" outcomes narration, etc.

What struck me about Traveller is that the random systems aren't connected to player/PC drives/purposes in the same way. So they're more random.

I guess that's what makes it old school? (When I think old school, the first thing I think is semi-arbitrary content used to set up puzzles for the players to unravel. Traveller doesn't seem to have much of that.)

I do regard the random character generation system as a feature, not a bug, since it does a great job of developing a character's backstory -- assuming you survive!
It does generate backstory, but there are other options for that. (Eg BW's non-random lifepath system.)

I don't see Traveller's system as a bug, or as a feature in general - but it is a feature of Traveller, with the survival check probaby the most remembered thing about the system!

Much of the random universe elements can be ignored if you like, though they can be helpful if the campaign is about galactic scouts exploring or rogue traders rogue-trading.
We're not doing an exploration or rogue trader campaign, but the random world generation and random patron generation have both been central to setting/backstory creation. To me, these are nearly as distinctive as the PC-gen system. They're part of what makes the game what it is!
 

chaochou

Adventurer
I can't remember who actually rolled the die - me or one of the players - but I would say this is another example of the players having a sense that there are procedures that they can hook onto, and then I take the lead in channelling their action declarations and expressions of intent into mechanical terms.

We've always been a table that is very comfortable framing action in mechanical terms, and moving very flexibly back-and-forth between fiction and mechanics (that would be an old Rolemaster habit!), so this is a very natural way for us to operate.
That's cool. I find it interesting how close this is - both in spirit and in mechanics - to the Apocalypse World Engine.

For example, a player may say "I want to dash across the courtyard to get to the dune buggy" and the MC says "With all the gun-fire that's a defy danger... you sure? It's gonna hurt if that goes wrong." And the player can look at the defy danger move and see the roll (+cool) and the specific outcomes, and you can freely discuss the stakes. So you go from fiction into transparent conflict resolution and back into fiction.

And Traveller is often doing the same thing; eg. Administration - a throw of 7+ will successfully resolve normal interactions without further problems; Leader - Leader 3 or better will allow soldiers to obey orders without hesitation; Vacc Suit - A 10+ to avoid dangerous situations applies whenever a non-ordinary maneouvre is attempted. All conflict resolution, all completely transparent!

What this doesn't do is give guidance on failure:
i) Does a failed vacc suit roll lead to drama? How do we create dramatic fiction from these rolls?
ii) Or does it lead to death - with the threat of death supposed to make the roll dramatic for the participants, even if the resulting fiction is mundane?
iii) Or do we try and convince the player there is the threat of death, even though we as GM know there isn't, to give the illusion of danger, an ersatz tension?

I think a lot (most / all) of early rpgs were supposed to work on (ii). But in practice it isn't very effective: neither success nor a dead PC are interesting drama, and a plausible threat of death results in very high casualty rates, which contradicts another stated goal of creating long-running campaigns.

As a result, many games were drifted very quickly towards (iii) - although sim rpgs with lethal combat and little healing (RQ, Traveller, later WHFRP) were much more resistant to drift.

Later designs said that the way to create a dramatic experience for the players was to create dramatic fiction, and then started creating processes for doing (i). I think Traveller's higher level mechanics ('more operational' as you put it) lend themselves to that very well, but you're required to put together the final piece of the puzzle yourself...

Sorry - your post was long and there are other bits I could pick up on, but Traveller's resolution system - and the very clear attempts at transparency with the players - always appealed to me. I'm picking my way around why.
 
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5ekyu

Adventurer
That's cool. I find it interesting how close this is - both in spirit and in mechanics - to the Apocalypse World Engine.

For example, a player may say "I want to dash across the courtyard to get to the dune buggy" and the MC says "With all the gun-fire that's a defy danger... you sure? It's gonna hurt if that goes wrong." And the player can look at the defy danger move and see the roll (+cool) and the specific outcomes, and you can freely discuss the stakes. So you go from fiction into transparent conflict resolution and back into fiction.

And Traveller is often doing the same thing; eg. Administration - a throw of 7+ will successfully resolve normal interactions without further problems; Leader - Leader 3 or better will allow soldiers to obey orders without hesitation; Vacc Suit - A 10+ to avoid dangerous situations applies whenever a non-ordinary maneouvre is attempted. All conflict resolution, all completely transparent!

What this doesn't do is give guidance on failure:
i) Does a failed vacc suit roll lead to drama? How do we create dramatic fiction from these rolls?
ii) Or does it lead to death - with the threat of death supposed to make the roll dramatic for the participants, even if the resulting fiction is mundane?
iii) Or do we try and convince the player there is the threat of death, even though we as GM know there isn't, to give the illusion of danger, an ersatz tension?

I think a lot (most / all) of early rpgs were supposed to work on (ii). But in practice it isn't very effective: neither success nor a dead PC are interesting drama, and a plausible threat of death results in very high casualty rates, which contradicts another stated goal of creating long-running campaigns.

As a result, many games were drifted very quickly towards (iii) - although sim rpgs with lethal combat and little healing (RQ, Traveller, later WHFRP) were much more resistant to drift.

Later designs said that the way to create a dramatic experience for the players was to create dramatic fiction, and then started creating processes for doing (i). I think Traveller's higher level mechanics ('more operational' as you put it) lend themselves to that very well, but you're required to put together the final piece of the puzzle yourself...

Sorry - your post was long and there are other bits I could pick up on, but Traveller's resolution system - and the very clear attempts at transparency with the players - always appealed to me. I'm picking my way around why.
To me its 1 with a dash os w and 3.

Failure vacc leads to leak, tear, blown reserve followed by need to fix which i usally do by three win chechs... Get three success fixed, get three failure lose - race to see which happens.

So dead would be many 3 fail first outcomes. There, rare and after drama not just after dice.

Sent from my [device_name] using EN World mobile app
 

pemerton

Legend
That's cool. I find it interesting how close this is - both in spirit and in mechanics - to the Apocalypse World Engine.

For example, a player may say "I want to dash across the courtyard to get to the dune buggy" and the MC says "With all the gun-fire that's a defy danger... you sure? It's gonna hurt if that goes wrong." And the player can look at the defy danger move and see the roll (+cool) and the specific outcomes, and you can freely discuss the stakes. So you go from fiction into transparent conflict resolution and back into fiction.

And Traveller is often doing the same thing; eg. Administration - a throw of 7+ will successfully resolve normal interactions without further problems; Leader - Leader 3 or better will allow soldiers to obey orders without hesitation; Vacc Suit - A 10+ to avoid dangerous situations applies whenever a non-ordinary maneouvre is attempted. All conflict resolution, all completely transparent!

What this doesn't do is give guidance on failure:
i) Does a failed vacc suit roll lead to drama? How do we create dramatic fiction from these rolls?
ii) Or does it lead to death - with the threat of death supposed to make the roll dramatic for the participants, even if the resulting fiction is mundane?
iii) Or do we try and convince the player there is the threat of death, even though we as GM know there isn't, to give the illusion of danger, an ersatz tension?
Good post.

Your (i)/(ii)/(iii) schema has come into play in our game on two occasions that I can think of. (Other checks, like Admin checks to deal with Byron's impersonal bureaucracy, Electronics checks to modify communicators, etc, have been easily adjudicated with non-fatal consequences implicit in the framing.)

The first is the escape-in-ATVs episode described in the first post upthread. As I said, I never had to decide between (i) and (ii) (hopefully not (iii)!) because the players ended up not failing on both checks.

The other involved protective suits, which we resolved using the vacc suit rules - as per the second post here, Vincenzo failed his 10+ check crawling into the pillbox and so got stuck in his suit, and then failed the follow-up check (specified by the rules, with only +1 per level of skill rather than +4) to resolve the difficulty, and so his suit tore as he crawled through, exposing him to the corrosive atmosphere of Byron. That was a version of (i), but it relies on sim resolution plus the fictional circumstances, rather than BW or PbtA-style fortune-in-the-middle with looser narration of consequences. I think this system is vulnerable to collapse if the atmosphere is (say) hydrogen cyanide rather than a more "benign" corrosive atmosphere - I'm not sure how I will handle that if it happens.
 

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