The third act of Andy Slack's gaming blog

There are a few things I would change about the 1977 edition of Traveller, and chief among them is to add a point-buy character generation option.

In the 1970s, the received wisdom was that you played the character the dice gave you, and were grateful for it. (Published adventures – which were largely intended to be run at conventions – often provided pregenerated characters, which also have their place and may get their own post later.)

However, point-buy allows players to create balanced characters offline by themselves, which avoids burning your first session or two creating characters using the game’s lifepath-based character generation system, and simplifies things if you’re playing by mail, email, or forum posts. (One thing I haven’t grasped about Mongoose Traveller is how connections between PCs work if you don’t know in advance how old your character will be when mustering out; but that’s not important right now.)

Point-buy also allows you to start with a character concept, rather than a set of random dice rolls, and build your PC around that. (As I often say, if I want my dreams destroyed by random events, I have real life for that.)

One thing that random generation does do is remove the need to understand the rules while generating your PC. But, I am not saying we should get rid of the random character generation in the Rules As Written, just proposing a house rule to supplement it. (That’s another 70s thing; the GM was expected, and encouraged, to add house rules to tailor the game to the group – that began to change as we moved into the 1980s, with the rise of tournament play, which required standardised rules so that you could play with a different set of complete strangers every four hours and know how the game worked whoever the GM was.)

Lots of people have created point buy systems for Traveller, which are generally too complex for my taste. Analysing characters my players and I have generated, and those in Supplement 1: 1001 Characters, I noticed that the average beginning character has 6 expertise levels – most often one skill at expertise-2 and four at expertise-1. Add that to six characteristics at 7 points each and you get 48 points, and I rounded that up to 50 both for aesthetic reasons and to give PCs a bit of an edge. So:

  • First choose a career.
  • You have 50 points to divide between characteristics and skills as you see fit; no characteristic may be less than 1 or more than 15. Remember that you need Education 8 to access some skills, you can use your mustering out benefits to boost Intelligence and Education, and you have to be quite old to explain a characteristic of 1.
  • You can have any rank or terms of service that a character with those characteristics and skills could have achieved in the chosen career, but by default you are assumed to have the youngest, highest-ranking PC possible.
  • You can choose your mustering out benefits, so long as the die rolls you would have made to get them do not exceed 3.5 points per benefit roll you would have had, rounded down. Example: With two terms and rank 1, you have 10.5 pips, rounded down to 10; you might select benefit rolls of 6, 3, and 1.
  • Aging is subsumed in your points expenditure, so don’t roll for it.
  • If you want to be psionic, you have to find the Institute on your own, as normal. (Otherwise you’d effectively get Cr 100K of training free, and more importantly we’d miss out on a potential adventure.)

Examples

Here’s the crew of the Dolphin as they would have started out in Traveller, reverse-engineered from the Savage Worlds PCs in the Arioniad using my normal conversion guidelines, which I think I have already posted somewhere on the blog but may reprise later.

Arion: 797787. Scout 3 terms. Auto Pistol-1, Mechanical-1, Pilot-3. Cr 40K, Scoutship.

Arion is straightforward, and the Dolphin is his scoutship. Notice that under 1977 rules, scouts only get one skill roll per term after the first, not two.

Coriander: 77778A-5. Merchant 2 terms, 4th Officer. Admin-3, Streetwise-1; Awareness-5, Special, Telepathy-4. Cr 51K.

Cori needs to be a Merchant to get the right skills, which is a surprise. It’s been established in play that she’s a psionic, can read minds, can boost characteristics, and can heal by laying on of hands, so she must have at least Awareness-5, Telepathy-4 and a special ability, heal others – this uses the rules for Regeneration under the Awareness ability. The rules recommend that a special ability requires a focus, and I thought it would be entertaining to make this “a man she loves” rather than a talisman of some sort. So she can only use this power if Arion or her father are within touching distance – notice that in play she has only ever used this power while touching Arion. She can’t heal herself, as that would duplicate the Regeneration power at a much lower level. I rolled up her psionic strength randomly; she can’t actually kill people with her brain, as she has joked in the past. Although her psi levels are almost maxed out against her psi strength, it’s still worth rolling to advance as she might find some psi-boosting drugs. We know Cori’s father is a high-ranking member of the Psionics Institute, and an archaeologist, but he hasn’t become important in the game yet. I picture the Institute using Cori as a courier to carry sensitive information between the Institute and psions on other planets, using her position in the Merchant service as a cover. Brush passes get very easy and hard to prove when you just have to think about the message.

Dmitri: 777977. Merchant 3 terms, 3rd Officer. Auto Pistol-1, Brawling-1, Gunnery-1, Jack-of-Trades-1, Streetwise-2. Cr 81K, Low Passage.

Dima is unexpectedly also an ex-Merchant; this is because in Savage Worlds Shooting qualifies you to operate ship’s weapons as well as personal ones, and we have seen Arion asking him to man the turret. I picture him having a Low Passage and some money in a secret stash, in case he needs to make a quick getaway. Usually, it’s the scout in the party who has Jack-of-Trades, but it’s actually Dmitri we have seen using it (to defuse a bomb in season 1).

Two ex-Merchants and an ex-Scout might very well know each other from encounters at starports during prior service – that hasn’t surfaced as an option in any of the other game systems I’ve used for the Arioniad.

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“Listen: A Hishen slaver gang has the Anderson girl with a bunch of other people they kidnapped in a godown at the starport. They’re being shipped offworld before dawn, so you’d better get moving.”

Our Heroes burst into the Godown

New Hope City, September ’01

“That’s the godown,” says Arion, pointing at it as they approach. “You’ve all seen pictures of the target and the blueprints. Remember that’s how it was built, they could have remodelled and we haven’t got time to check that. There are other hostages, we don’t know how many or who they are. Try not to kill them. Anyone with a weapon is fair game; take them out, fast. Everyone ready?”

For a moment, all is quiet, save for the sound of fire selectors flicking to rock’n’roll.

“Alright then. Let’s go.”

Scenario 13 of the published campaign, and I see from page 63 and a couple of dice rolls that we are up against five NPCs; two Rep 4 Hishen with P1s, a Rep 4 Grath merc with an A3, a Rep 4 Basic merc with an A3, and a Rep 3 Hishen ganger with an A3. You can see Team Dolphin’s stats in the Character Updates section, below. This is a stand-up fight so we go straight to it.

Turn 1: The slavers go first. The Grath forces Osheen to duck back and misses Cori; she returns fire and forces the enemy Grath and two of the Hishen to duck back. Hishen 3 (with the automatic weapon) forces Arion to duck back, but misses Dmitri, and he returns fire with his BAP, killing H3. The Basic merc can only see Dmitri and Cori, and Cori has an assault rifle, so he pushes one bullet at Dima and two at Cori. Dima ducks back and Cori returns fire, incapacitating the merc.

Both sides now take a Will to Fight check, and Arion uses Extraordinary Effort to keep his team on the board. The opposition don’t have this option and the two Hishen slavers, currently both ducked back, leave the board.

End of Turn One: Team Dolphin 3, Slavers 0

Turn 2: Team Dolphin goes first, and everyone recovers from duck back – everyone except Cori, who didn’t duck back and has been waiting for the enemy Grath to pop up. At the first sign of movement she hoses it down, and it ducks back again. Fighting over, another will to fight check; the Grath decides discretion is the better part of valour now it’s outnumbered four to one, and leaves the table.

Team Dolphin is Victorious

Checking the warehouse, the team finds the missing girl and three other hostages. Mr Osheen absorbs the incapacitated merc’s bodily fluids for nourishment, and given his involvement with slavers, the others turn a blind eye; but I decide killing helpless prisoners is not worth an Increasing Rep d6.

Character Updates

Arion (Star): Rep 8 Joe Spaceship Crew, Quick Reflexes, Resilient. B2, P1, melee, SBA. Lifetime Rep: 20. Rep this month: -3 (ship), -3 (Star Power usage), -3 (paying wages), +3 (fights), +8 (mission complete), +8 (hostage rescue – some very lucky rolls there). Total, +10. Rep increases from 7 to 8.

Coriander: Rep 5 Shaker Doctor, Free Spirit. A3, melee, SBA. Lifetime Rep: 12. Rep this month: +2 (Interactions), +1 (combat), +1 (wages). No Rep increase.

Dmitri: Rep 5 Exotic Investigator, Smooth. B2, P1, melee, SBA. Lifetime Rep: 7. Rep this month: +1 (combat), +1 (wages). Rep increases from 4 to 5.

Mr Osheen: Rep 4 Grath Mercenary, Rage, A3, melee, SBA. Lifetime Rep: -2. Rep this month: +1 (wages). Rep increases from 3 to 4.

GM Notes

That was a surprisingly good outcome all round. The morale test (sorry, Will to Fight test) for both sides at the end of each combat round keeps fights very short, even with the high incidence of duck backs.

I’ve found it necessary to note whether the characters are Joes, Exotics etc. because it influences how they respond when shot at.

Credits: Battlemat – Laboratory by Smiley Bomb Productions. Counters – from 5150 by Two Hour Wargames.

Solo Turn Sequence

I don’t think I’ve posted this before, so I’ll do it now to give me a chance of finding it if I lose my offline notes before I play Zozer Games’ Solo again.

This is the order of events I settled on after playing Solo for some months in “adventurer” mode – it would likely be different in “navy” or “scout” mode, but I haven’t played those yet.

The usual drumbeat for a ship’s crew in Traveller is one week in jumpspace travelling between worlds, followed by one week onworld trading and carrying out missions for patrons, so those alternate weeks need different sequences.

When Between Worlds

  • Starport Encounter leaving (p. 39)
  • Starship Encounter leaving (pp. 40-46)
  • Onboard Events in jump (p. 56)
  • PC Reaction Tables in jump (pp. 19-20)
  • Starship Encounter arriving (pp. 40-46)
  • Piracy warning arriving (p. 40)
  • Starport Encounter arriving (p. 39)

When On Worlds

  • World encounter (pp. 58-60)
  • Plan (p. 23)

If I were running a free trader rather than a scout, I’d add steps for trading and whatnot, but such activities are too much like the day job to be fun for me. I suppose that the starport encounters could be seen as part of the on-world sequence.

I would like authors of solitaire games to include a turn sequence such as this, or maybe a flowchart; but for some reason they don’t – I suspect that by the time you’ve playtested it to death, it’s so obvious to you that you don’t see the need for it, but as a Bear of Very Little Brain who opens the rulebook once every week or two, I’m afraid I do need it – notice the way you jump backwards and forwards through the rulebook to execute a “strategic turn”, and Solo is more forgiving than most solitaire games I’ve tried in this regard, as the sequences are presented more-or-less in order in the rulebook, and have very little recursion.

Notice that Solo inverts the usual run of events in Traveller; in my experience of that game, most of the action and dice rolls occur on planets, and interstellar travel is glossed over.

In Solo however, potentially a lot more happens aboard ship than off it.

Bird Island Research Station: A Typical Scout Base?

We calculated earlier that in an average subsector, there are 40 worlds (assuming a 50% chance of one per hex). Of these, 7 have class A starports, 10 class B, 12 class C, 4 class D, 6 class E, and 1 class X.

On average luck, then, the subsector has 7 naval bases (3 at class A and 4 at class B starports), and 12 scout bases (one at class A, 3 at class B, 5 at class C and 3 at class D starports).

On a typical day, there are 7 starships grounded at a class A starport, 6 at a class B, 4 at a class C, 3 at a class D, maybe one at a class E if you’re lucky, and none at a class X. It seems reasonable that the patrol ships are at naval bases if Type C cruisers, and at scout bases if Type S scout/couriers. Running the numbers:

  • Class A or B: Naval base has about a 50% chance of having one patrol cruiser present, scout base has about a 25% change of having one patrol scoutship present. (Remember the cruiser is not streamlined, so you are more likely to see its pinnaces landed at the base than the ship itself.) One of either turns up every few days.
  • Class C: Scout base has about an 8% chance of having a patrol scoutship present. One appears every few weeks.
  • Class D: No chance of having a patrol scoutship present, but there is about a 16% chance of a pirate scoutship landed somewhere on the planet, so why not at the scout base?

Again, the 1977 Traveller universe is one with small numbers of small starships. A naval or scout base only needs to cope with a single scout/courier or a couple of pinnaces from a lone cruiser at any given time, and will have appropriate levels of staff and facilities.

So, when we say “naval base” in these rules, we’re not talking about the US Navy’s Naval Station Norfolk, with 75 ships and 150,000 personnel; we’re talking about Ammunition Depot Indian Island, with a permanent staff of 12. When we say “scout base”, we mean something like the British Antarctic Survey’s Bird Island Research Station, with a complement of 4-10 depending on the time of year. These are the kind of bases that don’t need a massive effort at power projection from a star-spanning empire; they’re the kind of bases that any wannabee dictator could set up on the next planet along for PR purposes, and a bunch of tooled-up PCs could reasonably knock over with a half-decent plan.

If one power controls all the bases, scoutships and cruisers in the subsector, including the pirate vessels, it would have 34 of each and a total of 30,600 displacement tons of shipping. Throw in the 13 yachts as well, why not; 47 ships, 33,200 tons. That is the total amount of military and paramilitary shipping in the subsector, and if you limit it to patrol vessels, that drops to 32 ships.

In the real world, the Australian navy has 47 ships, the Dominican Republic has 33, and Estonia has four. Australia’s population is 25 million, that of the Dominican Republic is roughly 11 million, and Estonia is a bit over one million. So we can infer that any world with a population level of 7 could control all the patrol ships in the subsector; that a world with population 6 could control a few of them; and that with a class A starport and a tech level of 9 (for scoutships) or 12 (for cruisers) such a world is building its own ships. Note, however, that a lot of real-world navies buy ships from other nations, often second-hand; those which do build their own craft often use imported designs, which in Traveller you see as the standard ship types.

So, a naval or scout base could belong to any world with a population level of 6 or higher, including the world it’s on. Those 32,000 starmen and scouts – almost all of whom work groundside – have to be somewhere, and they are probably parked at the bases on those worlds with the highest population levels, most likely 7 and up; these bases you do not knock over with a couple of retired marines and a shotgun. In this edition of the rules, starport class and population level are not connected, though, so we can’t predict where the big bases are, beyond saying they are likely to have a class A or B starport so they can build or overhaul ships, a high(ish) population level, and a good enough tech level to support the ships. You may have one such world (which would be what Stars Without Number calls a “regional hegemon”), or many (probably rivals); you may have none at all, which is easiest to explain by invoking an off-map empire.

You could argue that bigger bases should have more ships present; in the real world, about 40% of a western-style navy’s ships are at sea at any one time, and therefore 60% in port – soviet-pattern navies run closer to 85% of ships in port. In my opinion, that’s already reflected in the encounter tables, because at A and B starports you have a better chance of encountering a patrol vessel. However, I’d note in passing that the average ship of whatever type spends 48% of its time in jumpspace, 38% on the ground, and 14% shuttling between the surface and the 100 diameter limit; that’s approaching 85% of the time in flight, so the average crewman has a lot of flight experience for his age.

Next, we need to make a choice about scout bases, and ruleswise it’s driven by retired scouts with constructive possession of a Type S. These characters can get free fuel at any scout base, and free overhauls at class B starports with scout bases, so the bases clearly co-operate. Is this because of a subsector-wide agreement between multiple planets (and possibly corporations) operating independent scout services – I’ll fix yours if you fix mine? Is it because a single planet or corporation in the subsector has established scout bases far and wide? Or is it because the scout service is actually operated by a much larger empire, off-map?

Traditionally, Traveller has assumed the last of these three; there is nothing in Books 1-3 which rules out either of the others, but starting with Book 4, the third option is clearly the designers’ intention…

“Traveller assumes a remote centralised government (referred to in this volume as the Imperium), possessed of great industrial and technological might, but unable, due to the sheer distances and travel times involved, to exert total control at all levels everywhere within its star-spanning realm. On the frontiers, extensive home rule provisions allow planetary populations to choose their own forms of government, raise and maintain armed forces for local security, pass and enforce laws governing local conduct, and regulate (within limits) commerce. Defence of the frontier is mostly provided by local indigenous forces, stiffened by scattered Imperial naval bases manned by small but extremely sophisticated forces. Conflicting local interests often settle their differences by force of arms, with Imperial forces looking quietly the other way, unable to effectively intervene as a police force in any but the most wide-spread of conflicts without jeopardising their primary mission of the defence of the realm. Only when local conflicts threaten either the security or the economy of the area do Imperial forces take an active hand, and then it is with speed and overwhelming force.” – Book 4: Mercenary

Since it came out only a year after the core rules, this probably reflects GDW’s home campaigns at the time – if I recall correctly, one of the authors set his game on and around a world in the no-man’s-land between two empires, and that is still an excellent choice for a setting. Notice that:

  • The 1978 game is set on the frontier of a large empire, which would like to exert more control than it does, but makes a virtue of necessity by allowing the frontier subsectors a lot of leeway.
  • There’s Something Out There, something big enough to worry the Imperium; almost certainly another empire.
  • The subsector’s naval bases, and by extension its scout bases, are set up and manned by the Imperium. The bases and forces are still small, but could be larger than the Books 1-3 analyses indicate, since the forces can’t leave their bases without jeopardising their main mission and thus don’t generate random encounters.

So from Book 4 onward, you can have your big bases and your big fleets, but without affecting the existing encounter tables – the big battleships stay in Scapa Flow, waiting for the other guy’s big battleships to try something.

“Honey, you killed a cop.”

“Hello again, Arion, it looks like we’re having dinner together after all.”

New Hope City, September ’01

“Well, that was interesting,” Coriander muses as they leave the Anderson place.

“Yes, I thought the meat in fish sauce was especially good.”

Coriander sighs.

“Oh. Oh, right. I have to wonder at this point whether Mr Anderson actually knows anything about what is going on. And Muhsteyjen didn’t tell us anything helpful, she spent the whole meal trying to turn my head with that slinky dress and its contents.”

“And succeeding. I’m not leaving you two alone, ever. And we will have a serious conversation later about how weak-willed you are. But for now, we need to focus on getting that girl back. I know who she is now; she’s one of the waitresses at Berengei’s.” In answer to Arion’s quizzical look, she explains. “I read Muhsteyjen’s mind while you were undressing her with your eyes. What is it with men and blue skin?”

“It’s not so much the colour, more how much of it you can see… Why is the Anderson girl working at Berengei’s?” asks Arion, realising belatedly that he is in a hole so he should stop digging and change the subject.

“We’ll have to ask her later. I can only read people’s minds if they’re in range at the time. More importantly, Muhsteyjen said she has also hired a private eye to look for the girl – I think you missed that bit, I suppose you had a lot on your mind. Maybe the PI knows something.”

“Are we the fall guys here? Because there’s a dead cop outside her apartment. Ooh, look at all the flashing lights, it looks like Kang woke up and called for backup.”

“No, I don’t think so. She’s got a lot of money, I think she’s just running multiple ops in parallel, that way if one of us fails, one of the others might still succeed.”

They walk on in silence for a while, before Arion says: “We should probably change guns next time we get a chance.”

“Let’s leave it a bit, you might kill another cop tonight and there’s no point doing it twice.”

PEF 2: Nighttime Confrontation with 2 Hishen Criminals, followed by Interaction with a Private Eye. I reuse the Hishen criminals in the table on page 62 rather than dice up more; two Rep 3 Hishen with A-3s, They’re Cruel, because Hishen always are, which means they can intimidate people with lower Rep. Not gonna work on our two.

Arion checks his smart glasses as he and Coriander approach a diner.

“The guy you want is in there,” the Dolphin says in both their commlink earpieces, and briefly pops up a picture of the man in the smart glasses.

As the couple move to cross the street, a pair of Hishen gangers step out of the shadows and accost them in Gaea Speak.

“That girl looks like she’d be worth a lot on Hisha,” one says. “Hand her over and we might let you go.” They indulge in the Hishen equivalent of laughter.

The Hishen gain advantage, but pass 0d6 on the action table to Arion’s 2d6. One Hishen gets a score of 6 – Obviously Dead – for damage on Arion, and he is forced to resort to Star Power to save himself. Coriander is forced to Duck Back. Arion rolls 1d6 per point of Rep, and gets 3345556; each result of 1-3 reduces the damage one level, so the Obviously Dead is reduced to Out of the Fight and then that is in turn reduced to Duck Back. The 4s and 5s have no effect, but the 6 is removed from his total for the rest of the encounter. The fact that he has used Star Power gives him 3 DRD; cheating death is bad on your Rep.

Arion has just killed a cop, admittedly not on purpose, and has no compunctions left for Hishen gangers, especially ones who diss Cori. He draws without thinking and opens up. However, it’s dark and Arion misses both targets. They return fire; Arion is hit, and both he and Cori duck back around a corner.

Arion holds one hand to a grazed temple. “Damn,” he says. “That stings.”

“Here,” says Cori, laying a cool hand on his head and summoning her psionic powers. “Let me.” The graze heals in seconds.

“Thanks hon,” Arion says.

“You’re welcome. I haven’t forgiven you for Muhsteyjen, though.”

As we’ve ducked back, we can’t shoot again until our next activation, and both sides’ leaders need to take a Will To Fight test. Arion passes 2d6 and is raring to go, while the Rep 3 Hishen pass 1d6, which as they are criminals means two figures leave the board. Since there are only two, the fight is over.

By the time Arion and Coriander pop up from behind cover, the Hishen are nowhere to be seen. Once they’re satisfied it’s safe to do so, they cross the street to the diner. The private eye watches them approach, thoughtfully sipping a cup of Green.

I’m reusing the PI from encounter 6, and he is a Rep 4 Basic with a P1. As his attribute may affect the interaction, I dice for it and get Initiative, which won’t affect it. Cori steps up; she’s rolling 3d6 vs Rep 5, and he’s rolling 2d6 vs Rep 4. Cori passes 2d6 to his 1d6, +1 IRD, and goes for a Further Interaction to get a clue, which succeeds and gets her another +1 IRD. Cori rolls 1d3 to see how much this helps; a “1” is less than or equal to the number of clues we currently have, which means she learns enough to figure out where our target is, so we don’t need the third PEF – this means we can bypass it, which is just as well since I don’t fancy taking on two Razors.

“Hi,” the PI says. “Arion and Cori, right? Muhsteyjen called, said I was to share what I had with you.”

“And you are?” asks Cori.

“No-one of consequence,” he replies, easily. “Listen: A Hishen slaver gang has the Anderson girl with a bunch of other people they kidnapped in a godown at the starport. They’re being shipped offworld before dawn, so you’d better get moving. Here’s the address.” He scribbles quickly on a menu.

“One more thing: This gang has a grath and automatic weapons. Go armed. Heavily armed.”

“You want to come with us?” asks Cori.

“No thanks,” he says, not unkindly. “I was hired to find her; I’ve done that. You’re hired to get her back; your turn, now. Good luck.” He drains his cup of Green, swipes his credstick in the reader, and leaves.

Character Updates

  • Arion (Star): Rep 7 Spaceship Crew, Quick Reflexes, Resilient. B2, P1, melee, SBA. Lifetime Rep: 10. Rep this month: -3 (ship), -3 (crew wages), -3 (Star Power usage), +3 (fights).
  • Coriander: Rep 5 Doctor, Free Spirit. A3, melee, SBA. Lifetime Rep: 8. Rep this month: +1 (wages), +2 (Interactions).
  • Dmitri: Rep 4 Investigator, Smooth. B2, P1, melee, SBA. Lifetime Rep: 5. Rep this month: +1 (wages).
  • Mr Osheen: Rep 3 Grath Mercenary, Rage, A3, melee, SBA. Lifetime Rep: -3. Rep this month: +1 (wages).

GM Notes

As I work through this encounter, it looks like I should keep resolving PEFs until I find a clue or run out of PEFs, in which case I would need to play another Find encounter until I got a clue.

I could have recruited the PI, but that would increase both the opposition numbers in the next encounter and the drain on Arion’s IRD, so I decided not to.

I’m all excited about Classic Traveller again now, but this is still a lot of fun, so I’ll leave it rolling for a while. Probably not the whole ten year campaign though, that would be a couple of hundred encounters and we still have CT and SWADE to try out yet.

Before we address the question of who owns all those naval and scout bases, how many starships are in the subsector? The 1977 edition of Traveller is a game of small, standardised starships, up to 5,000 tons. We’ll talk about why that is later, but how many starships are there?

Let’s conduct a thought experiment. In an average subsector, there are 40 worlds (assuming a 50% chance of one per hex). Of these, 7 have class A starports, 10 class B, 12 class C, 4 class D, 6 class E, and 1 class X.

Imagine that our PCs’ ship arrived simultaneously at each world. Based on the 1977 Book 2 encounter table, how many ships of each kind would it encounter? For example, there’s a 9/36 chance of encountering a free trader at each of the 6.67 class A starports, so on average there are 1.67 free traders in space near class A ports that day. Repeating this calculation for all ports and encounter types gives the number of ships available for encounters on that day – it takes 20 hours to reach the jump limit, and presumably a similar time to land, so these figures are probably not far off the number of ships that are between the ground and the 100 diametre limit on any given day.

A hyperspace jump takes a week, and on average ships stay in port for a week, so the vessels available for encounter in space represent roughly 1/14th of those in the subsector.

Total shipping by type in an average subsector, then:

  • 180 Type A Free Traders. You can find these anywhere except class X starports, and they are the only ships that visit class E. They’re the starfaring equivalent of a bush pilot in a DC-3 Dakota.
  • 50 Pirate ships, of which 21 are Type S Scout/Couriers. 21 are Type C Cruisers, and 8 are armed Type Y Yachts. These spend most of their time at class A or B starports, presumably because that’s where their prey is, but are sometimes found at class C or D.
  • 60 Subsidised Merchants, which are a mixture of Type R and Type M; the Type R vessels roam around clusters of worlds, while the Type M shuttle between those clusters. I suspect there are more Type R than Type M, but the optimum ratio will depend on the density of worlds in the subsector.
  • 17 Type Y Yachts which are not pirates or patrols. These are only found at class A and B starports. However, they must travel to other classes of starport because they only have jump-1 drives, so when they are out in the boonies they either act as patrol vessels or pirates, suggesting that yachts are routinely issued letters of marque.
  • 32 patrol vessels, of which 5 are armed Yachts, 13 each Scout/Couriers and Cruisers, and the remaining one could be any of them. These are mostly found in the same places as pirates, and for the same reason – that’s where their prey is (pirates). However for some reason they don’t care about class D starports enough to show the flag.
  • Total, 340 vessels; 53% are Type A, 18% mixed Type R and Type M, and there are roughly 10% each of the other types. This is enough to make it credible you have never heard of a specific ship before, but not so many that it’s unlikely.

Implications:

  • There’s a good reason the Type A is the iconic Traveller starship; there are more of them than all the other types put together.
  • On an average day, there are 7 starships grounded at a class A starport, 6 at a class B, 4 at a class C, 3 at a class D, maybe one at a class E if you’re lucky, and none at a class X. So starports are probably smaller than you thought.
  • Class D starports are probably pirate havens, because pirates go there but patrols don’t. They are also the most likely to have a scout base, but any Type S you meet there is a pirate. This is the point where you start to wonder if the scout service and the pirates are connected somehow.
  • You are roughly twice as likely to meet a pirate as a patrol, except at class A starports where there are roughly even numbers of both. This is no doubt why most starships are armed.
  • 60% of scout/couriers are acting as pirates at any given time, and the rest are on patrol.
  • Yachts act as pirates or patrols when they are not in systems with class A or B starports.

The 1981 edition of the rules has a different and more complex encounter table. Amongst other changes, pirates never appear at class A or B starports from 1981 onwards, and they are much less common in general. I prefer the 1977 table.

Coda

Spreadsheets make this much easier to do now than in the 1970s, when I relied on calculators, mental arithmetic and a login script to harvest passwords from students in other departments who weren’t using all their computer time allocation… pity to waste it…

The 1977 edition of the rules paints me a picture of a subsector where ships turn pirate at the drop of a hat if they think they can get away with it, which means other crews are a lot like the PCs. Anybody in a Type C, S or Y is not to be trusted; even if they’re not pirates (and are you sure you can tell?) the rules explicitly say that patrols may be legalised pirates demanding tolls from incoming traffic. Also, starships are rare items; there are only a handful at the starport, and only a few hundred in the subsector as a whole.

Is this the game universe Marc Miller intended? Probably not; published discussions with him suggest a referee more interested in the spirit of the game than in following the Rules As Written to the letter, and a setting which in 1977 was a frontier region just beyond the boundaries of a large empire.

Is it the game universe that the Rules As Written imply? Yes, I think it is, and I think it’s an interesting one. So let’s roll with it a bit further and see where that takes us.

“The silence of the dead says, Goodbye. The silence of the missing says, Find me.” – Dennis Lehane, Gone Baby Gone

New Hope City, September ’01

“Do you understand completely what my client wants?” the Xeog Attorney asks. “Find his little sister, and return her to him, unharmed?”

“Yes; completely. And your client accepts my terms?” Arion replies.

“Correct,” the Xeog nods in confirmation. “You come highly recommended. When can you start?”

“Tomorrow morning.”

The Xeog pushes the credit marker across the table and Arion scans it to his account. He thanks her and gets up to leave.

“Mr. Metaxas. One more thing if I may?”

“Yes, Ms Muhsteyjen?”

The Xeog smiles. “Can you join me for dinner tonight?”

“No,” Coriander grinds out. “No, he cannot.”

“I was talking to him,” Muhsteyjeng points out. “Mr. Metaxas? Are you going to let her decide for you?” She leans across the table sinuously, showing off eye-catching curves to full effect.

“Yes. Yes, I am. She’s the brains of the outfit,” Arion explains, spreading his hands apologetically.

Encounter 12 of the Maiden Voyage campaign. If I understand the rules correctly, I can chain a Chillin’ encounter, a Job Offer, a Find and a Raid together and execute them all in one month. As I can bypass any PEFs I don’t want to meet in the Chillin’ encounter, and we already know the Job Offer triggers a Find encounter and that will trigger a Raid (it says so in the rulebook), I think that’s OK. Anyway, that’s what I’m doing; but as you’ll see, this is the biggest and most complex encounter to date, so I’m splitting it over a few posts.

I’m inherently lazy, so I reuse NPCs whenever possible, so the Xeog Attorney is Muhsteyjen. The rulebook says the job is worth 8 IRD, payable at the end of the Raid encounter, and who am I to argue? Following the instructions on p. 40, I see we need to resolve three PEFs, and successful Further Interactions with them yield Clues, although we may need to win a Confrontation to get the chance to Interact.

“Just the two of us, then?” asks Coriander.

“Yes,” Arion confirms. “We’re just asking a few questions, a tooled-up grath with a blender would give the wrong impression.”

“Who do you want to start with?”

“The Trophy Wife.”

“Is the kid hers?”

“Don’t know, but if not, that makes her a suspect in my book.”

PEF 1: Nighttime Confrontation with 2 Police, followed by Interaction with a Trophy Wife. We’ve encountered police NPCs before (rulebook p. 57) so let’s reuse those; Kang and Carlzen. A Confrontation means we go straight to a fight, so something weird is going on; why are there two detectives outside a Mover’s apartment, and why do the cops start a fight right off the bat?

A quick check on the Packing table on p. 29 shows Carlzen (Rep 5 Smooth) has a P1, Kang (Rep 4 Zhuh Zhuh) has an A3. The cops have advantage, but Arion passes more d6 on the action table so goes first. It’s night, so everyone is in cover.

“Stop right there!” a voice calls out. Arion thinks he recognises it.

“Detective Carlzen? Is that you?”

“Gun!” yells Kang, and swings up his assault rifle. Arion figures things have already gone south, draws and fires. Following his lead, Cori pulls out her own A3 and opens up.

I hadn’t intended to do a blow by blow for this gunfight – you’ve seen them before after all – but this one got tense, complex and interesting. It shows I got the combat sequence wrong when I reviewed the game, and I’m not 100% sure I got it right now, but it was a lot of fun.

Arion’s first shot at Carlzen misses (pass 1d6 in darkness, target returns fire) and Carlzen draws his own piece and fires back, but also misses (pass 0d6, target returns fire) so Arion sends another couple of rounds his way (pass 2d6 and damage below target Rep both times) and Carlzen ducks back into cover. (This is all part of Arion’s first activation so he has a round left for Kang; as an old programmer, I think of these interrupts as nested subroutine calls.) Arion fires at Kang and he drops, out of the fight, before he can fire on Cori (+1 IRD for Arion). Cori has no targets, as Kang is down and Carlzen has ducked back.

Both sides pass 2d6 on the Will To Fight table so carry on. Now Carlzen activates and we go back to the Action table, where Carlzen has advantage but Arion passes more d6 – Carlzen is still ducked back so there are no targets. Arion opts to hold in place, as charging into melee would give Carlzen another shot at him, and that could sting.

“Now why did you go and do that?” asks Arion.

“You shot a cop! You’re going down!” Carlzen calls from behind a dumpster.

“He drew first! Better judged by twelve than carried by six!”

Back we go to the action table again. Carlzen still has advantage, passes more d6, goes first and recovers from ducked back status. That takes his whole activation and he is now visible, but still in cover, so Arion and Cori activate and open fire.

Arion catches a glimpse of Carlzen moving and plugs him right between the eyes (pass 2d6 to hit, 6 for damage and Carlzen is Obviously Dead, another +1 IRD for Arion).

“Oops,” says Arion.

“Honey,” Cori says, shaking a little as the adrenalin wears off, “You killed a cop.”

“Yes. Yes, it looks as if I did. This is going to complicate things.”

A figure leans out of a window high above them.

“What’s going on down there?”

“Ms Anderson?” Arion calls. “I’m sorry if we’ve come at a bad time, but we’re trying to find your missing girl. Can we ask you a few questions? Ms Muhsteyjen will vouch for us, if you call her.”

“You’d better come in, and wait in the lobby.”

Now we Interact with the Trophy Wife – we haven’t seen Perry Anderson yet in this setting, so of course he is the Mover behind this job. Oh my, when I look up the Trophy Wife on p. 55 she is a Rep 4 Xeog – by the Principle of Reusing NPCs this has to be Muhsteyjen. Cori is the team’s Face so she handles the interaction; she is Rep 5 and a Free Spirit, so rolls 3d6. Muhsteyjen is a Xeog Mover, as it turns out, so she is automatically Smooth and rolls an extra die for her status; she is rolling 3d6 and can reroll one of them.

Cori rolls 113 and passes 3d6. Muhsteyjen rolls 623, doesn’t like the 6 so rerolls and gets a 5, and also passes 3d6. No clues for us tonight.

The lift door opens and delivers Arion and Coriander to the penthouse suite.

“Of course,” says Coriander. “Arion, pick your jaw up off the floor and stop drooling please, it reflects badly on me.”

“Hello again, Arion,” says Muysteyjen, pointedly ignoring Coriander. “It looks like we’re having dinner together, after all.”

Character Updates

Arion has 3 DRD (ship maintenance) and 3 IRD for besting foes; current total for the month, 0. The others will each get one IRD as wages from Arion’s total at the end of the month, if he can afford it, so he needs to score at least 3 more IRD before then or start losing Grunts.

  • Arion (Star): Rep 7 Spaceship Crew, Quick Reflexes, Resilient. B2, P1, melee, SBA. Lifetime Rep: 10.
  • Coriander: Rep 5 Doctor, Free Spirit. A3, melee, SBA. Lifetime Rep: 8.
  • Dmitri: Rep 4 Investigator, Smooth. B2, P1, melee, SBA. Lifetime Rep: 5.
  • Mr Osheen: Rep 3 Grath Mercenary, Rage, A3, melee, SBA. Lifetime Rep: -3.

GM Notes

No clues for us from meeting the Trophy Wife! We needed to successfully interact twice to gain one. Better luck next time, I hope.

Maiden Voyage has some missing encounters if you treat it as a campaign proper, but really it’s a tutorial, and in this case it alerted me to the fact that the Confrontations in a Find mission are not necessarily with the people you are trying to question, which I hadn’t understood from reading the archetypical Find encounter.

Reusing NPCs is not only less work, especially when the rulebook has statted them up for you in advance, but is also better at driving the story forward. I suppose it’s now clear why Anderson is going to dislike Arion in this setting; his Trophy Wife has adulterous plans for Our Hero…

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