Getting to know Traveller 5

A simple Brawl

So, I recently got the Three Big Black Books on ebay. The precious package arrived last week and I’m slowly starting to get a grip on the huge amount of information and the organization of these three mighty tomes – together they’re almost 700 pages of Sci-Fi goodness.

So to get a feeling for the system, lets quickly whip up two characters and have them face off in a brawl. I spared the regular character creation system for now and just rolled up two Universal Personality Profiles or UPPs and gave equal skills in unarmed combat to both contestants.

Here’s Roy Red: 37A578, Unarmed-2, Fighter-0

Roy’s pretty weak with a Strength of only 3, but then he’s quite tough with an Endurance of 10 (that’s the “A” in his UPP). Interesting … maybe he suffered some kind of handicap during his prior career but thereby learned how to live through adversities.

Gary Green: 755B59, Unarmed-2, Fighter-0 is of average Strength, but much less enduring then Roy (Endurance is 5 versus Roy’s A). Also Gary is somewhat less dexterous than Roy (Dexterity 5 vs. Roy’s 7).

Let’s see how this will work out in the fight. Note, that I’ll not take into account any of the other stats. Just for the sake of an example, I assume that Gary and Roy got into an argument, and finally Gary started to attack Roy physically.

Unarmed combat uses the melee rules found on page 203 of Book 1 “Characters and Combat”. First thing to do is figure out each characters “melee number”, shortened “MN”.

Roy’s MN is Stregth 3 + Figther-0 + Unarmed-2 = 5, whereas Gary’s MN is Strength 7 + Fighter-0 + Unarmed-2 = 9.

Now in order to effectively attack an opponent each of the two needs to roll two dice (2D) under a target number derived as attackers MN (or AMN) minus defenders MN (or DMN). So Gary would need to roll 9 – 5 = 4 or less on 2D to hit Roy, while Roy would need to roll 5 – 9 = -4 on 2D to hit Gary. Obviously the latter is not even possible.

But now consider this little gem of gaming rules: the target number can be modified by Dexterity, which can be spent as bonus points until it is used up. So Roy still can have a chance to hit Gary if he spends Dexterity Points to increase his chances to successfully hit Gary. Also each combatant can only engage in a number of combat rounds equal to his Endurance. After that he’ll only be able to continue attacks at a significant penalty (with regard to this penalty, there unfortunately seems to be an error in the rules, so let’s skip this for now).

But let’s see how this brawl will play out:

RoundGary 755B59 MN 9Roy 37A578 MN 5
1– starts the brawl punching Roy: AMN 9 – DMN 5 = 4. The Target number gets bumped up by using up 2 Dexterity Points thus making it a 6. Gary rolls a 4 and lands a blow causing 7 points of damage (that is damage equal to Gary’s Strength of 7)
– Roys blows do no harm
– takes 7 points of damage, his Endurance is now down to 3.
– Roy is panicking and invests all his 7 Dexterity Points into his attack. Also, since Gary started the brawl, Roy gets a +1 to hit back: AMN 5 – DMN 9 + 7 +1 = 4. But alas, he rolls a 6 and thus fails to retaliate.
2– Gary, now even more angry at Roy tries to punch him again: AMN 9 – DMN 5 = 4. He almost seems to go berserk and invests his remaining 3 Dexterity Points. So he’d need to roll a 7 or less on 2D. But he rolls an 8 and fails to hit Roy this time.– Roy, having spent all his Dexterity Points in the first round can’t do anything but try to avoid Gary’s incoming punches. No roll needed or possible.
3– Gary, tries to hit again but now he rolls a 7 against his target number which is now an unmodified 4.– Roy evades Gary’s attacks. No roll needed or possible.
4– Once more, Gary tries to land a blow, but again rolls a 7 against a 4.– Roy evades, but his Endurance, which was lowered from A to 3 in the first round, is now spent. He staggers. No roll needed or possible.
5– Finally, before Gary is exhausted, he tries to head butt Roy, but again fails his roll with a 6 versus 4.– Roy can hardly keep to his feet, but dodges once more. No roll needed or possible.
6– Gary is exhausted just as Roy is, the fight stops.– Roy slumps onto a bench, wiping his bloody nose.

Now, while it felt somewhat odd, that Roy could only effectively roll dice in the first round, I find this little experience quite interesting and a refreshing change from your usual D&D roll down the hit points fights.

First, there is this unique strategy option with allocating Dexterity Points to individual attacks. Do you spent them all at once? little by little? Only as things seem to turn against your favour?

Second, I very much like the exhaustion rules. This inhibits fights becoming endless non-sensical dicing duels.

Third, and I think that’s the one I like best: This fight is technically over after 5 rounds without anyone beeing killed, not even unconscious.

Obviously violence just can’t settle this conflict: time for role playing!

Also, as a finishing note for this post, I love how those utterly frugal stat blocks of the two characters are used to maximum effect. And I can totally see how some Traveller enthusiasts have put it: Traveller 5 comes round full circle to it’s Classic Traveller roots!

PS: in fact on page 127 of book 1 there is a rule on “Spectacularly Stupid” rolls when the target number is lower then the number of dice to be rolled: Roy’s player could have decided to try to roll a 3 on 3D every round after the first (that is a one on each of the three dice). Thus fishing for “Spectacular Success” would be highly unlikely with a probability of < 1%, but I’d surely add to the fun. I also like the witful diction …

Hanse Agents Inc.

Idee für eine Classic TRAVELLER Open-Table Kampagne

Hintergrund: Die Hanse Agents Inc. ist eine Agentur für Privatdetektive die alleine oder in kleinen Teams im Dienste diverser Auftraggeber arbeiten. Typische Tätigkeitsfelder sind Kurierdienste, Aufträge von Geschäftsleuten zur Beobachtung von Konkurrenten, oder z.B. Schutz von Betriebsgeheimnissen, Bereitstellung von Personenschutz und Eskorten für Adelige, aber auch gelegentliche kriminalistische Nachforschungen im Auftrag imperialer Stellen. Oberstes Gebot ist absolute Diskretion.

Lucio Persson, 58 Jahre (687BC9), Geschäftsführer der Hanse Agents, zahlt seinen Leuten ein Grundgehalt von 2000 Credits im Monat, zuzüglich einer Provision und Spesen je nach Auftrag.

Spielercharaktere: Charaktere werden nach den Standard-Regeln von Classic Traveller (Book 1, Characters and Combat bzw. deutsches Traveller Regelbuch) erschaffen. Es handelt sich also um Veteranen des imperialen Scout-Dienstes, der Interstellaren Marine, der Handelsmarine, ehemalige Soldaten, sowie vielleicht auch ehemalige Kriminelle und sonstige Lebenskünstler, die sich nun bei den Hanse Agents in „ruhigere Fahrwasser“ begeben haben.

Startdatum: 001-1105 (entspricht dem 1. Januar 5625 AD alter terranischer Zeitrechnung)

Hauptquartier: AECO Hiport, eine mächtige geostationäre Raumstation über Nordafrika, Terra, Sol Subsector, Solomani Rim, rund ein Jahr Reisezeit randwärts von Zentral, dem Sitz des Imperators entfernt.

Der Solomani Rim ist insgesamt technologisch hoch entwickelt, es gibt jedoch auch abgelegene Welten mit niedrigem technischem Stand, etwa vergleichbar mit dem irdischen Mittelalter. Nanotechnologie, und die offiziell verbotene Psionik, ermöglichen „Wunder“ die Hinterweltler an Magie glauben lassen. Die wissenschaftlichen Grundlagen dieser Phänomene sind jedoch seit langem geklärt. Während der Solomani Rim ganz überwiegend von Menschen bevölkert wird, trifft man gelegentlich auch auf fremde Sophonten wie Weganer, Hiver und die gefürchteten Aslan.

Kampagnen-Regeln: Open-Table, am Ende jeder Sitzung sollte der jeweilige „Auftrag“ abgeschlossen sein, zumindest sollten die Charaktere einen sicheren Raumhafen erreichen. Die Kampagnenzeit verläuft in Echtzeit.

Lucio Persson fungiert fürs erste als Standard-Auftraggeber. Die Charaktere sollten aber eine eigene Agenda entwickeln, und ihre eigenen Ziele verfolgen.

Es gibt keinen vorgegebenen Plot. Die Geschichte entwickelt sich aus den Aufhängern in Verbindung mit Zufallsbegegnungen, Gerüchten und eigenen Zielen der Charaktere.

PS: Starter Traveller gibts als kostenlosen Download.

2d6 – the original tabletop role playing dice mechanic

Is 2d6 a hype? I see it everywhere. It’s in games Powered by the Apocalypse like Dungeon World, it’s in Maze Rats and Stars without Number.

Powered by the Apocalypse games introduce three possible outcomes to a roll of 2d6:

10 or more: you succeed

7 to 9: you succeed, but there’s a problem

6 or less: the game master gets to make a move, probably introducing even more complication.

That’s cool, it drives the story forward.

The B/X edition of Dungeons & Dragons (1981), which has become sort of lingua franca in the OSR scene, has morale and reaction rolls based on 2d6. In the lack of persuasion skill rolls like deception, fast-talk or savoir-faire, reaction rolls are an important, and actually quite universal mechanic to adjucate non-combat encounters. It goes like this:

2d6monster reactionretainer reaction
2 or lessimmediate attackoffer refused;
reaction -1 on the next roll
3 – 5hostile, possible attackoffer refused
6 – 8uncertain, monster confusedroll again
9 – 11no attack, monster leaves
or considers offers
offer accepted
12 or moreenthusiastic friendshipoffer accepted; morale +1

Quite a lot of role playing opportunity stuffed into this table. Especially the 6 – 8 range should prompt for some interesting social interaction. Of course the GM can liberally count in charisma modifiers and bonus points for good role playing, bribes offered, or penalties because of overall bad behaviour.

Then 2d6 is the principal die roll in many iterations of the Traveller rules up to Mongoose Traveller and Traveller 5. Classic Traveller was released in 1977. And by the way, there is also the Cepheus Engine, an OGL’ed science fiction system based on Mongoose Traveller 1st edition. There are many supplements for Cepheus, also for non-sci-fi genres, turning it into something like generic universal 2d6 based role playing game system.

But it goes further back. Just look at Chainmail, D&Ds supposed predecessor, published in 1971. The man-to-man combat table uses 2d6 against armor class, just like Classic Traveller.

Blackmoor obviously was the first ever tabletop role playing fantasy campaign. Some time ago, I discovered a post on the gaming experience in Blackmoor. Guess what kind of die rolls were done most of the time? Some character sheets from the Blackmoor campaign have been preserved. Isn’t it suggestive, that attributes and skills had numbers mostly in the range of 2 – 12? The Secrets of Blackmoor documentary released recently is well worth a look if you’re interested in the history of geek culture.

Now I find this quite intriguing. Most people think of a d20 when it comes to role playing and iconic images of dice, but rather likely the original role playing dice were 2d6. In one of my recent posts on reddit I asked how the Classic Traveller rules might be related to the Blackmoor campaign. An interesting discussion ensued and of course the answer is obvious. The designers of Blackmoor, Chainmail, D&D and Traveller knew each other, probably exchanged ideas on game mechanics, 2d6 was commonly used in war games, even before Blackmoor, and after all, d6s were much easier to get at then those funky dice D&D demanded.

Just as a reminder, 2d6 result in a simple bell curve (well, more of a roof top curve actually). Here are the odds:

2d6absoluteat least
22.78 %100 %
35.56 %97.22 %
48.33 %91.67 %
511.11 %83.33 %
613.89 %72.22 %
716.67 %58.33 %
813.89 %41.67 %
911.11 %27.78 %
108.33 %16.67 %
115.56 %8.33 %
122.78 %2.78 %

Finally let my cite this awesome catch all 2d6 based roll playing mechanic found on Norbert G. Matauschs blog, the post is called Back to really simple role playing:

we both roll 2d6; if I’m higher, I say what happens, if you’re higher, you say what happens; if we’re close, we negotiate

What more do you need?