Classic Traveller: The Nuances

I have spent over a year playing Classic Traveller now and yesterday I started going back through the rules as I was creating a possible player character for the game last night.  I had once been quoted a rule (in fact more than once) and because of my unfamiliarity with this particular version of the game I bowed to the knowledge of others and accepted it.  Well, this is kind of the story of Traveller as a whole and also what happened yesterday when I went looking for that rule.

You should know, if you are not familiar with Traveller, that there have been many different versions of the sci-fi game.  There was Classic Traveller initially which was followed by MegaTraveller.  After that came Traveller: The New Era, then Marc Miller’s Traveller.  GURPS then introduced their version of Traveller, then Traveller 20 appeared, Traveller Hero and Mongoose Traveller.  Finally, last year Traveller 5 arrived.  So you can say that it has been a long path in the Traveller journey.

LBB – Classic Traveller

Most of these systems have been wildly different so it was not a simple flow on effect from good old Classic Traveller to today.  In fact, in most cases it was really just the setting that was the common link.  As far as I can tell though the most common form of Traveller played today is Mongoose Traveller (MgT) with elements of Classic Traveller (CT) added as those systems are quite compatible.  There was great hope held for Traveller 5 but as I understand it the rules are confusing and illogically set out making it a difficult game to get under way.  I know there are people playing it and I do not own the game so I run with what I am told.

I chose CT to run because a player had asked on a G+ community for a person that could run a game specifically of the CT game (also known as the Little Black Book LBB version).  I had played MegaTraveller in my time (although heavily modified from the actual rules of MegaTraveller) and loved it so I talked myself into running the game.  I purchased the classic little black books and in the end got the CD from Far Future Enterprises (FFE) that contained every official book for the game and set to reading it.

The rules of this game are a bit dry to read but they are simple and complex all at the same time.  It is based on a simple mechanic but there are a lot of variations on how to handle certain rules in the books.  Still, away I went.  I was reading the rules as we went, so learning while I played.  A lot of the players that joined the game joined out of nostalgia and knew a lot more than I did at the time so when they offered me the benefit of their knowledge, I ran with it.  There were two rules in particular that I was told about that yesterday I went looking for and found out that even in the one edition of Traveller there are shades of grey.

I was making a character and he rolled some horrid mental stats.  He had an intelligence of 6 and an education of 2.  I had been told that a character was not allowed more skill points than they had in their intelligence and education statistics combined.  This sounds like a reasonable rule but I wanted to go back and find out where it was and what context it had been placed in.  So I spent an hour researching the books.  Reading through the first three little black books in any area that I could possibly think that it may arise and I was coming up blank everywhere.  I was confused.  Had I been told this incorrectly or was this a rule of MgT that had slipped into the game (it had happened before).

So I asked Mr. Google for his opinion and came apon a thread in a Traveller forum that asked the same question that I had been asking.  I read through the thread and began to appreciate just how rich the background of this game really is.  Apparently that rule is a CT rule that was first mentioned in the supplemental book on Robots as an aside comment, not necessarily making it a rule.  Then later in 1982 when they created the Traveller book as a compendium of the three revised little black books that were the core to Traveller in 1981 (the original little black books were 1977 I think) the rule was introduced.  So the Traveller book contains revised rules as well!

LBB – Iconic

Now, discussing this last night pre game and after the game with my players they all pretty much told me that they came to CT with the Traveller book rather than the LBBs.  One of them owned both but the Traveller book was the way to go because you did not need to swap between books to find out what was going on.  I explained to them though that when I took on CT that I really wanted it to be the heart and soul of that version which to me is the LBB version of CT.  Why is it the core to me when I never played it?  Well, I think it is because of the iconic covers of the LBBs that do it for me and that is the version I want to run!  I do run the 1981 version though to get the best of the revised rules in that set of LBB.  Also, those three books are free on the internet so it excludes no one from my game.

It had taken a while to get there but I had found out a bit of history and while the journey was bumpy I figured that I should begin to question every rule I had been told.  I had been told that if you use a skill untrained that you got a -3 DM (Die Modifier) to the roll.  I was also told that the use of Jack of all Trades skill rating offset that -3 modifier.  Neither of these things actually are not true in that version.  In fact, if you are unskilled in something the DM is specified in the skill or the skill can be used as if you have skill rank 0 in it.  Also, I found that Jack of all Trades simply gives you the ability to have a go at a skill at rank 0 with no DM if there is one mentioned and you do not have the skill.

I was then obviously intrigued by these differences and I found that I had been running some of the very core mechanic incorrectly!  I had been getting the players to roll the dice, add there skill rating to it and if they got 8 or above they succeeded.  Well, I found out that for some skills in CT that the skill rating may actually give you a bigger bonus than just the rating.  For example, the relatively common skill of Vacc-Suit actually offers a +2 DM for every rank of the skill!  So when my players were out in space and I asked for a Vacc-Suit roll and they failed by one with a skill rating of 2 they should have in fact been succeeding by 1!

Yes, this makes the game more complicated than it originally looks and I need to set myself up an aid to make sure I do not make these errors again but it is things like this that make the game for me.  What I am trying to do is remove the “campness” that is associated with the game.  The whole feel of it being like the old Lost in Space or Blakes 7 episodes which was good at the time because that was the state of sci-fi at the time.  It is not now though.  I am trying to deliver to my players a modern, story driven game with the same rules and it can be done.  In fact last night I think I did just that very well.

LBB – Still playable today

Modernising CT is more than just repainting descriptions and I have created some house rules to improve things like computers (although interestingly enough I found a mention of Synaptic computers in CT) and I have introduced Nanites and Personal AI structures that assist the players.  The one thing I do not want to override is that lethality and realism that CT has hard coded in it.  One of the players commented last night that they were playing a fantasy game and it had a realistic combat system so his player was hit by one crossbow bolt and it was a lethal blow.  He then said “Hey, this system is just like CT!”.  That is true.  CT is so lethal that your character can die in character generation!  Yesterday I needed four new characters and managed to get them after seven tries because three of them did not make it through the rigors.

So, the moral of my ramblings?  I think it is about how there can be many different interpretations of rules and that everyone might be playing a game right, although differently.  As a game ages there are tweaks to rules that occur and decisions need to be made about those tweaks to have everyone on the same page.  Playing the rules the way we have has not had a negative effect on the games in any way shape or form and it has definitely not broken any of the games.  It just means in future that we will be playing a more accurate version of the game that it was in 1981.  Not 1982 when the Traveller book came out but I do not see that book as obsolete either.  I allow it for players that own that version and just let them know about some of these changes.

I have found this very interesting and have decided that it is time for me again to revisit the rules and read through them.  I feel the second time of reading them cover to cover that a lot more will sink in than it did while I was madly trying to prepare games and learn the rules at the same time!  until next time, keep rolling!

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