The cruelty of Classic Traveller's psionics acquisition system

pemerton

Legend
We played a session of Traveller yesterday. Following on from our previous session, the PCs all returned to their orbiting ship (some from another vessel in orbit; others from their on-world excursion); fired on and (thereby) degraded the computer of an an Imperial satellite that had stored transmissions concerning some of their on-world activities (but failed various checks to pick up transmissions it was sending); and returned to Ashar - the main country of the world in question - to report in person on what had transpired. The piloting and navigation checks to leave orbit and land at the starport undetected until the last minute succeeded.

The essence of their report was that the Imperium was preparing to aid Suliman - the neighbouring country - to invade Ashar, and/or to invade itself. After this debrief (in which the PCs were able to keep secret that they had taken prisoners (who were on board their ship) and also that a communication about their "covert" activities had been sent from on-world to the Imperial satellite), the three PCs involved returned to the ship, only for an announcement to be made that the starport was closed. Their was some back-and-forth debate - was this coming from the local government, or the Imperium? - but they decided to take off and make a run for the gas giant Yanna, the next orbit in the system. It was their destination because, two sessions ago, one of the PCs whose player had really wanted to acquire psionics had finally learned that Yanna was the location of a branch of the Psionics Institute. Indeed, the PCs had come to Ashar at least in part because they had learned that their might be some connection between Ashar's combination of ancient religion and high tech level, and psionic powers. (And their experiences with the Ashar inquisitors had not undermined these beliefs.)

Upon taking off, they saw two Imperial vessels - a battle cruiser and troop transport - heading for the world's moon. The battle cruiser fired on them with one turret, and this damaged their manoeuvre drive; but it did not pursue as they jury-rigged repairs and then fled for Yanna. And this was the last the PCs (and players) heard of the Imperial assault for the session. Because once they arrived on Yanna's larger moon, and discovered that there was nothing there but a temple with a spaceport, and announced themselves as pilgrims, they spent the rest of the session engaging with the cruelty that is Classic Traveller's system for acquiring psionic power.

The first step is to be tested for psionic strength. This costs Cr 5,000, and takes two game-weeks. 8 PCs and 2 NPCs (religious fugitives from Suliman who were searching for "the truth" and had been picked up by the PCs in the same session that the location of the Psionics Insttitue was established) paid the fee. Mechanically, this permitted a 2D6 roll, modified by a penalty ranging from -1 (for the 20 year olds) to -8 (for the 46 year old NPC). The roll result sets psionic strength, where at least 2 is needed to use even basic powers, and the best powers are rated at 9 or higher. The two best results (after modifications) were 8; the player who really wanted psionic PCs had results of 5 and 6 for his two characters, despite them being quite young and so having only low penalties.

Once tested, the second step is to be trained. This costs Cr 100,000, and takes 4 game-months. Two PCs had sufficient cash to pay for their training. A third was able to combine his own funds with money borrowed from others to make up the required 100,000. And the owner of the group's starship, which has an air/raft worth Cr 600,000 on board, was able to persuade the temple to accept it in return for training 3 more characters. (To give a sense of the economics of this: the PCs' payment from Ashar for their covert mission had been about Cr 200,000, and in the course of the mission Cr 25,000 was spent on bribes and Cr 10,000+ of fuel was needed for the orbital operations.)

Of the 10 characters tested, one had strength 0 and another strength 1, so they were never going to be trained. But the NPC with strength 5, and one of the PCs (but a "secondary" rather than "primary" character) with strength 6 also missed out.

The upshot of training is a series of rolls to see what psionic talent the character has. There are 6 talents, each with a roll on 2D6 required to learn: Awareness (= self-healing/buffing), 8+; Telepathy, 6+; Clairvoyance, 7+; TK, 7+; Teleportation, 10+; and Special (= GM's choice), 10+. The wrinkle is that the second of these checks that is made suffers a -1 penalty, the third a -2, and all the rest -4. So (for instance), if you don't check for Special or Teleport within your first 3 rolls you have no chance of having that talent.

The maths of this are moderately complex depending on the sequence in which a player chooses to roll for talents: but whatever the sequence, it's a relatively brutal form of gating. Of the six characters who underwent training, the rolls for three of them indicated NO TALENT. Cr 300,000 blown! And one of these was a strength 8 character!

Of the three characters who succeeded in training, one (strength 8) ended up with Telepathy; one (strength 5) ended up with Clairvoyance, although the player had really wanted TK; and the main character of the player who had been the driver of all this psionics stuff, whose strength was 5, ended up with Awareness, Clairvoyance, and a Special self-cloaking power.

While the pilgrims were training, the other PCs paid modest amounts of money to eat at the temple refectory for four-and-a-half months, and tried unsuccessfully (4 failed rolls, one per month) to repair the damaged drive using spare parts on the ship (the temple spaceport having no repair facilities).

I am curious to see what difference having psionic PCs makes to the game; and was struck by the cruelty of the psionics acquisition (or, rather, "gating") system in action!
 

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dragoner

solisrpg.com
My experience is that it creates really powerful, or most likely, very weak psi users. Which is ok tweaking it for a nemesis, which the 3I Zhodani sort of fit that.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
It's been so long since i've played Classic Traveller. Is character advancement mostly through money spent and time, or is it done with soem meta-currency like XP?

If it's the latter, it seems like this is a way to permanently improve your character outside the normal methods of advancement, and as such some level of uncertainty can be an interesting balance point.
 

pemerton

Legend
My experience is that it creates really powerful, or most likely, very weak psi users. Which is ok tweaking it for a nemesis, which the 3I Zhodani sort of fit that.
I don't have any of the old alien modules, but have heard rumours of the Zhodani.

I've done some free narration of "mystical" feats by the religious elite of Ashar, without trying to frame that within the technicalities of the psionics rules.

It's been so long since i've played Classic Traveller. Is character advancement mostly through money spent and time, or is it done with soem meta-currency like XP?

If it's the latter, it seems like this is a way to permanently improve your character outside the normal methods of advancement, and as such some level of uncertainty can be an interesting balance point.
There's no meta-currency in by-the-book Classic Traveller.

There are three modes of improving a PC's stats/inherent abilities:

* psionics (method described above, although in this thread I skipped over the world-creation parts of it - the GM has to make a high roll (9+, I think) for a world to have a branch of the Psionics Institute, and then a player has to succeed at a check (also 9+, I think) to discover that branch if searching for it);

* self-improvement, which is set out in Book 2, and can involve either making a roll (by default, 8+) to boost a couiple of abilities for 4 game years (and to lock in the boost requires a second roll at the end of those 4 years), or spending Cr 70,000 and 2 years to gain 1 skill at rank 2;

* the Instruction rules found in Book 4 (the Mercenary supplement), which require less time than either of the above 2 and allow a roll of 9+ (I think) to learn a new skill - there is no default pricing for Instruction, but in my game I've set it at a level to try and fit the self-improvement rules from Book 2.​

Every 4 years (once a PC is 34 or older) requires saving throws to avoid decreases in physical stats (and INT at, I think, 60+) - one of my players made the comment that getting worse rather than better with the passage of time makes the game too much like real life!

Of course the other aspect of improvement in Traveller is gear. Over the course of our current campaign, the ship-owning PC has upgraded from a (200 ton) yacht with a mortgage, to a 490 ton custom laboratory vessel owned free-and-clear. And one of the "bruiser" PCs has acquired a suit of battle dress and plasma gun. And they've upgraded their ATV, by torching the one they were using on-world in the last few sessions and taking the faster, laser-cannon-armed Imperial Marine ATV from the base that they took out.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
It's been so long since i've played Classic Traveller. Is character advancement mostly through money spent and time, or is it done with soem meta-currency like XP?

If it's the latter, it seems like this is a way to permanently improve your character outside the normal methods of advancement, and as such some level of uncertainty can be an interesting balance point.

Permanent improvement is almost unheard of. Outside psi, you can get a new skill with a couple of years downtime.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
I don't have any of the old alien modules, but have heard rumours of the Zhodani.

I've done some free narration of "mystical" feats by the religious elite of Ashar, without trying to frame that within the technicalities of the psionics rules.

Adventure 7 Broadsword, had the ultimate Zhodani nemesis, teleporting commandos in Battle Dress. The Zhodani are brought up in various adventures such as Expedition to Zhodane, and JTAS articles. I was just musing the other day is that the JTAS articles were only $2, and the booklets were the same size as the other LBB's.

The psionics rules can be fairly broad enough to cover a variety of mystical feats.
 

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