Getting to know Traveller 5 – Part II

Sir Rengwo bad-Jerzal gets in trouble

In an earlier post I tried a simple hand to hand melee between two characters. This time, I’ll try a melee fight between a competent fighter and a beast — a rather traditional situation when it gets to role playing games.

I’m presently reading The Queen of Zamba by Lyon Sprague de Camp, the first novel in his Krishna series. So, to flesh things out a bit, let’s say the short scenario I am about to play out happens on Planet Krishna.

The setup

Our Hero is Sir Rengwo bad-Jerzal (997ACB). He’s a highly educated, very intelligent noble of above average physical condition. His strength and dexterity are 9 each, and his endurance an average 7. Above all he’s very well trained with his rapier. His skill fighter-6 and his knowledge blades-6 reflect 12 years of experience with fencing weapons.

It’s a warm sunny day with few friendly clouds in Krishna’s beautiful emerald sky. Rengwo pensively strolls along some lightly wooded hills ahead of his squires, as he suddenly gets surprised and ambushed by a Yeki. Rengwo immediately draws his rapier, ready to defend himself since his jack, a lightly protective coat, won’t help him much.

Yekis are described as six legged minks the size of a tiger. They are fierce, dangerous pouncers, significantly larger and heavier then men — or krishnans for that matter.

So let’s try to define a Yeki in terms of Traveller 5 rules. I imagine a Yeki to be around 3 to 4 meters long, including the tail. That would be size 5 (large). It’s got typical strength for it’s size, and is a predator: 3D * size (the uppercase D is traditional Traveller shorthand for 1d6 — one six sided die). I roll a seven, so the final strength will be 45 … that’s a lot I think, but that’s just what the rules say. Let’s see how it works out. The Yeki fights with fangs and claws, doing 3D points of damage. It also has got a furry pelt, giving 2D-2 points of armor. I roll a 9, so the Yeki’s pelt provides armor=7. Because of it’s strength and lack of any defined skills, it’s melee number (MN) is 45. This melee number will become important in just a moment, bear with me.

To quickly recapitulate Rengwo’s stats, with his strength of 9, fighter-6 and blades-6 gives him a melee number (MN) of 9 + 6 + 6 = 21, his jack has armor=5, and his rapier does 2D of cutting damage.

The Fight

Now on to the fight. To attack in a close quarters hand-to-hand fight, one needs to subtract the defenders melee number (DMN) from the attackers melee number (AMN) and roll 2D under the resulting target number.

Round NumberYekiRengwo
1The Yeki attacks. It’s target number is AMN-DWM, so 45-21=24. The yeki needs to roll 2D under 24. Well, actually no roll is needed, since that’s an automatic success. I roll 3D for damage, and get a 12. Since 5 points of damage are absorbed by Rengwo’s armor, he suffers 7 points of damage.Rengwo suffers 7 points of damage and deducts them from his strength. He’s down to 2 points of strength, but still has got his full dexterity and endurance. He’s somewhat shaken but still up. Wisely he decides, that there’s just no point in trying to fence with this formidable foe, so he tries to climb a tree. He needs to roll his half dexterity: a 4 (rounded down from 9/2). He rolls a 5 and fails to climb out of reach at the first try.
2The yeki claws after Rengwo, does an automatic hit again, and causes 6 points of damage. Rengwo’s jack absorbes 5 points.Rengwo suffers another point of damage, and deducts it from his dexterity. He tries again to climb to safety, and rolls a lucky 3 this time. Let’s assume he’s out of reach for now.
3The yeki tries to get at Rengwo. It doesn’t even notice, how it gets hit by a crossbow bolt, for 9 points of damage. I treat the yeki as an NPC. 10 points of damage would take it out of action immediately, but anything less than that just get ignored.Alarmed by Rengwo’s shouting and the growls of the beast, one of his squires rushes to the rescue. He cocks a heavy crossbow and dares a shot at the yeki from 40 m distance. Assuming the squires dexterity at 7, and his skills fighter-4 and crossbow-3, the squires shooting number (SN) is 14. Forty meters of distance is range 2 in rules terms, so I need to roll 2D under SN 14 + 3 (thats size 5 of the yeki minus range 2), so 17. Again thats an automatic hit. I roll 3D for damage and get a 9. Considering the yekis protective pelt, that’s far from enough to take the yeki out of action.
4The yeki begins to climb up the tree, ripping and clawing at the trunk. It tries to get at Rengwo.Rengwo tries to climb higher yet, but now rolls a 5 on his half-dex check, and thus fails his climb. I decide that he tumbles down from the tree. Assuming that he’d impact on the ground with speed 2 (at least 10 kph) he would normally suffer 4D of damage (impact speed squared). But there’s a chance yet: to avoid falling damage altogether, a character is allowed to do a dex check with a number of dice corresponding to the falling height, and that’s 1D, since Rengwo’s falling height is within range 1. To roll 1D under Rengwo’s dexterity of 8 is once more an automatic success, so the fall will just stun Rengwo. All that remains to do, is roll 1D to determin the number of combat rounds Rengwo will be stunned. I roll a 6, so he will be out of commission for about six minutes.

The Aftermath

I assume that more of the knights men close in on the scene and do some more crossbowing at the yeki. So in order to focus on our heros fate, I decide to be done with the fight, and roll for some Behind the Screen Damage (BTSD). A roll on the BTSD table indicates only slight injury for the yeki, but since it has exhausted it’s endurance during the fight, I decide, that it will retreat, albeit with yet some fearsome growling.

Now, what happend to Rengwo? The rules say that damage suffered in combat is just a placeholder until after the fight. Now we’ll find out how bad things really got, by applying the Battle Damage rules.

The rolls for damage severity and diagnosis difficulty are modified by number of attacks after the first. I decide, that I’ll count the fall as another attack, so this modifier will be +2. For damage severity I roll a 3, +2 thats a staggering severity of 5D, and for diagnosis difficulty I roll a 2, adding +2 thats a formidable difficulty of 4D. So, what does this mean? Well, properly diagnosing Rengwa’s injury would be a formidable task, to be rolled with 4D under intelligence + medic skill. And to treat the injury would be a staggering task requiring a roll of 5D unter intelligence + medic skill.

Assuming one of the Rengwo’s retainers to be somewhat versed in first aid and of average intelligence I decide that the target number for those rolls would be a 9.

I fail the diagnosis roll with a 17 on 4D, the squire has no idea what’s wrong as he tends to the stunned and wounded Knight, and haphazardly patches him up. But there’s still hope: the Immediate Action Damage Control rule, allows a roll under “double medical” with 2D to lower the damage severity to “easy” (1D). Assuming a skill of medic-2 that would be a target number of 4. I roll 2D and get a lucky 3. What ever the squire did to help Rengwo, save him it did. Rengwo comes to and says “Thanks squire, it’s just a scratch, I’ll be fine”. He’ll recover within a days rest.

Lessons learned

Once again, Traveller 5 surprised me. This turned out to be a fun little solitaire adventure. I deliberately made this a borderline case with the opponent so much stronger than our hero. And I must admid, that I used rather high stats for Rengwo, to kind of get to a somewhat fair fight. Also the 3D damage for a crossbow might be a bit much. I just made it up, there is no crossbow in the Traveller 5 core rules. In the end however, this didn’t make much of a difference. After all it probably is ridiculous to try to melee with a six-legged tiger. Realistically, there’s just not much of a chance to succeed — and survive — at all.

It was interesting to note how quite a few rolls were automatic successes. The fight proper did take no more than 8 dice rolls, with quite a bit of action covered. Also, the BTSD rule and the Battle Damage rules help to focus on role playing an interesting story, and puts the focus on the characters. Every dice rolled seemed to make a difference in a sensical way. After beeing rendered out of action, it really does matter what any supporting characters choses to do. A well trained medic can be crucial to decide between quick recovery, severe injury with prolonged healing time or even death. The oracle of the dice guides the story as to how difficult diagonsis and treatment of an injury might be. Lot’s of prompts and opportunities for interesting role playing.

On the other hand it took quite some page flipping through the rules, to work the whole thing through. Something I would like to avoid at the table as much as possible. I feel just to recapitulate what was going on rules wise seems to be somewhat complicated, even at second glance. Traveller 5 uses some unusual mechanics, and I hope to develop some kind of intuitive feeling for when rolls are just not necessary. Be it because they would be automatic successes or simply wouldn’t matter much for a fun experience. After all Traveller 5 author Marc Miller advises his readers about the ROARN rule: Resolve Only As Really Necessary.

In Sprague de Camp‘s novell by the way, the yeki is caught and rendered out of action not by hand to hand combat, but by setting up a large net trap — by ingenuity rather than brute force. At the table, this kind of resolution would require planning and old school style negotiation in the first place, not some tedious dicing duell. And as in old-school games, in Traveller 5 one should try to avoid fights as much as possible, unless sound planning literally provides for automatic success. I like that!

I’d be happy to receive some comments by those experienced with Traveller 5 who might happen to read this post.