House Rules and Background
This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of the downloadable magazine.
Think Hudson and Hicks. Think Dekkard. Do not think Skywalker (though Solo is almost O.K.). Think Sean Connery in Outlands. Think of the crew of Serenity or, if you like the Cyberpunk genre, then think Robocop or Kusunagi or even Benten, Gogl and Sengoku.
I like science fiction. I like SciFi films, TV shows, and RPGs, and the best ones, to my mind at least, are the grubby ones, the ones where starship interiors are grimy places filled with machinery and pipes and planets are dark and hostile or bone dry under a pitiless sun. So, for me, Firefly beats Star Trek, Aliens beats Star Wars and Cyberpunk (R. Talsorian Games) beats Traveller. Sort of.
So, why am I writing an article about Traveller? Well, it’s because Traveller (and at this point I should say that Traveller, to me, means Classic Traveller and nothing else …) has some of the best supporting material available to any game system and I am genuinely fond of it. The character generation system is fun in itself, the starship design system, if you move to High Guard, is complex enough to be interesting whilst being simple enough to be usable and there is an entire empire of star systems already there for you to travel around—usually whilst indulging in a little speculative trading as you go, thanks to the extensive trading tables so helpfully provided. On the down side, the skills system, although extensive in scope, is seriously underdeveloped and the experience system is basically nonexistent. The solution is to take what you like, rewrite what you don’t and, above all, to enjoy it as you do.
The last Traveller game I played was set on the Solomani Rim and involved no aliens other than animals. This is because most players have difficulty role-playing a human without trying to work out what a Droyne Sport would do in a given situation. Aliens always end up as humans with fur or wings or pointy ears and are often played by those players trying for an edge via an aliens enhanced (over human) physical or mental abilities. It’s better to just ban them—or better still, don’t tell your players that they exist within Traveller. This works very well with players unfamiliar with the game and science fiction doesn’t need aliens. Firefly gets by without them as does Battletech. Let’s face it, humans are diverse enough in outlook to keep any but the most dedicated role-player happy…
There were also no psionics. Because I hate them. I hate mind reading characters in films and I hate having to constantly think ahead about how my psionic-wielding players are going to behave. Again, I just ban them. I’m the referee. I can do these things.
Finally, I pegged the maximum Tech Level to 12 for most things. I did this mainly to remove some of the more extreme military equipment from the game whilst still allowing the available tech to be pretty impressive in comparison to 21st century earth.
In this particular game, there was no Imperium, and mankind had spread from Earth and the galaxy was a dangerous place. Like a spaghetti western but with the addition of everyone’s favourite villains, The MegaCorporations. Justice and government were highly variable and only sure at a local level. A starship captain or outpost administrator was in sole charge of his vessel or post. In theory all corporate outposts and independent planets were subject to Terran Law. In reality almost anything went in the quest for greater profit. While some planets were high-tech bastions of wealth and privilege many more are poor, underdeveloped backwaters or corporate fiefdoms. Corruption was endemic with nearly everyone out for what he or she could get (I find this is the attitude of most PCs anyway). The galaxy is full of scavengers, mercenaries, bounty hunters and corporate hitmen (and women…)
Characters were generated using the following standard Traveller career paths: All options in Traveller Book 4 (Mercenary), Book 5 (High Guard), Book 6 (Scouts), Basic Traveller and Supplement 4 (Citizens of the Imperium) are available for character generation but characters without the possibility of promotion were all given two skills per term in a similar way to basic Scout characters.
Skills System changes
The skills system in Classic Traveller is underdeveloped and, in the case of Combat, unrealistic in many ways. The following guidelines may be used if required.
As in basic Traveller, a character is successful when attempting a task on a roll of 8+ on 2d6. This is fine for tasks that take place instantly, or over a period of a few seconds (such as shooting a gun), but is not really suitable for tasks that take time (such as climbing a cliff, performing surgery, or plotting a course between stars). For these complex tasks a total must be assigned for completion of the task. Tools or equipment may be needed for the operation as specified by the referee. The first roll of a complex task must exceed 8+ otherwise the whole task fails and must be attempted again by that character. Any unmodified roll of 2 after the initial roll causes the task to fail, though the character can go back and start again.
Example: To plot a course to Barnard’s Star from the Sirius system the referee decides that the ship’s navigator must roll a total of 25. The referee states that a functioning ship’s computer, running the Navigation Program is required. The character navigating has the navigation skill at level 2. The first roll turns up a 4 on one die and a 1 on the other, giving a total of 7 (4+1+2=7), and the task fails. Scratching his head, the navigator consults the computer again, rolling 3 and 5. The task begins with the total so far rolled standing at 10 (3+5+2=10). The next roll is 7 (plus the navigator’s skill of 2), yielding a total so far of 19. The character need only roll 4+ on 2D to complete the task and set the ship’s course. Of course, if he rolls double one, then he makes a mistake, screws up the job so far, and must start all over again.
Think M41a Pulse Rifle. Think Cobra Assault Cannon. Do not think blasters. Don’t even contemplate phasers.
Some people asked why I didn’t just lift a combat system out of another RPG and use that instead but I felt compelled to make use of as much Traveller material as possible. The system that emerged was adequate but no more.
Hitting a target
A roll of 8+ is required to hit a target. All the normal Traveller range modifiers apply, and the SemiAuto line is always used if the weapon has one. Ignore the Armor modifiers when it comes to the ‘to-hit’ roll. A character’s skill modifier is also applicable. Semi-automatic weapons may fire twice per round; bolt action or other manual repeaters have a ROF of 1. Full auto fire allows a character to fire as many times as the weapons ROF in a round (usually 5). However, each shot after the first applies a -2 DM for the second shot and a further -1 for each subsequent shot due to recoil pushing the weapon off target. Some weapons may be designed to be low recoil and the negative modifier for subsequent shots can be ignored or reduced at the referee’s whim. In a similar vein, high recoil weapons can have the modifiers increased. In general, the larger caliber and heavier a projectile, the bigger the recoil penalty should be unless there is some form of mitigation (muzzle brake or similar) built into the weapon.
Example: An SMG (3d damage) fires a burst of five rounds. The first round is unmodified for recoil, the second is at -2, the third at -3 and so on until the last, which suffers a -5 modifier. It can be seen that firing full auto at long range is a pointless exercise.
There is a major change to standard Traveller combat. Armour absorbs or deflects damage—it doesn’t affect the chance to hit a target. Weapon damage stays the same for all weapons except the shotgun, which counts each hit as four separate strikes, each doing 1d6 damage—this reflects a shotgun’s high damage and low armour penetration potential. When a hit has been scored, the weapons armour modifier, as given in the Traveller rules, is applied to the damage. Always use the SemiAuto line of the armour modifiers if the weapon has one.
Damage for a rifle against a cloth-armoured individual would now be 3d-2 (3d for a rifle, as usual, with a modifier of -2 for cloth as per the regular Classic Traveller armour table)
To find out how much damage results in what type of wound, average the character’s STR and DEX, rounding up. If a character takes double this figure in damage then he is killed instantly. Equal or greater damage means he’s down and dying. Two-thirds is a serious wound and one-third a minor wound. Round all fractions up.
So, for example, a character with a UPP 777777 would have wound thresholds of 3, 5, 7 and 14 equating to the usual Traveller wound thresholds of 1, 2 and 3 characteristics reduced to zero plus an overkill, instant death, vaporised result.
All damage is cumulative.
Due to the new damage rules, numeric values must now be assigned to armour types. Use the following table as a guide.
|6 (x2 against lasers)
|12 (x0 against all except lasers)
The difference between Cloth and Combat doesn’t seem much until you remember the modifiers in the Traveller Weapon tables. A Rifle, as we have already seen, does 3d-2 against Cloth Armour but it does 3d-4 against Combat Armour. On an average roll, a Rifle will damage a cloth armoured adversary but will leave one in combat armour unscathed. The observant will notice that laser weapons suddenly become very deadly against targets not wearing Reflec, Ablat or Combat armour.
Battledress ratings can vary according to just what battledress is in your game. If it’s powered combat armour then leave it as it is. If, however, your powered armour is more like a Landmate (Appleseed) or a Marauder Suit (Starship Troopers) then you’ll want to up the protection rating.
Example: Corporal Aziz of the Colonial Marine Corps fires his ACR at a fleeing terrorist. The terrorist is at medium range and evading. Aziz fires a burst of 5 rounds requiring 8+ to hit. Aziz has a skill level of 3. His first shot rolls a 4 plus his skill, 3, minus 2 for evading at medium range, and plus 1 for firing an ACR at medium range with HE rounds for a total of 6. His first round misses. The second rolls 11+3(skill)-2(evasion)+1(range)-2(recoil)=11. A hit! The third shot misses (roll: 4+3-2+1-3=3), as does the fourth (7+3-2+1-4=5); the fifth (11+3-2+1-5=8) by a small miracle also hits. The terrorist is wearing a ballistic cloth flak jacket (cloth+1 in Classic Traveller terms) that stops 8 points of damage. Checking the HE ammo against cloth armour, we find a modifier of -3 which, as it’s Cloth+1, becomes -2. Aziz rolls his 4d6 damage and gets 15-2(ACR HE cloth modifier)-8(armour rating for cloth)=5 points of damage. Consulting the Terrorist’s UPP, the Referee finds that the terrorists is built like Rambo (UPP A8C) with thresholds of 4/8/11/22; the ACR’s HE round has caused a minor wound. The second round that hit rolls only 7 on 4d6 and bounces off the flak jacket even as the terrorist stumbles and falls…
A few thoughts on Traveller weaponry.
The Light Assault Gun is described in Book 4: Mercenary as “essentially a heavy rifle”. This made me think of the old Boys Anti-tank Rifle (.55 cal) and Barret Light (.50 cal) weapons, but on a more considered reading of the text I noticed that it only weighs 4.5kg (loaded)—about 10lbs in US non-metric measurement—while being, without a bullpup configuration, a quite handy 900mm long (35.5"-ish). Comparing it with an M1 Garand which Wikipedia puts at 5.3kg and over 1100mm long, we can see that the Traveller LAG isn’t an anti-material rifle. Comparing its muzzle velocity and projectile weights with other Traveller weapons, we find that it’s actually similar to a high velocity, rifled, magazine fed shotgun. In 20th century terms it’s closest cousins would be the CAWS project or the Franchi SPAS 15—a comparison made all the more relevent with the recent creation of the 12-bore FRAG-12 HE round.
Shotguns with tubular magazines, as described in Traveller, are usually reloaded with individual rounds, one at a time rather than with a complete tube of eight rounds. In reality, the Traveller shotgun magazine is unlikely to be successful being too long and delicate to be practical.
Gauss rifle rounds as described could not be spin stabilised. Any projectile with a length/width ratio greater than about 3 will not be stable if spun. A gauss rifle’s needle bullet would have to be fin-stabilised. This can cause lots of fun if fired in a vacuum or very thin atmospheres. A spin-stabilised 4mm round would be, about, 12mm long and weigh something less than 2 grammes.
Body pistols do how much damage? In Book 1, damage is listed as 2d on page 17 and 3d in the tables on page 47. Book 6: Scouts, page 14 lists damage as 2d. The Charts and Tables book of the Traveller Starter Set lists damage as 3d. . .
Due to the large negative modifiers on the armour penetration tables with the new damage system, I went with 3d.