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Traveller 1977: Fifty Points

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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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.

Traveller 1977: All Your Bases Are Belong To Us

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.

Traveller 1977: How Many Ships?

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.

Traveller 1977: The Psionics Institute

“At the time in which Traveller occurs, however, universal psionic training does not exist; accurate information and quality training are available only through branches of the Psionics Institute, which is wholly devoted to the study of mental powers. Unfortunately, some prejudice exists, and the Institute maintains an extremely low profile.” – Traveller, Book 3

If the Travellers’ Aid Society is a mixture of the Youth Hostels’ Association, American Express and the Continental Hotel from the John Wick movies, the Psionics Institute is a combination of the Bavarian Illuminati, Columbian drug cartels and the KGB.

Why do I advance that theory? Read on…

From Book 3, we know the following about the Psionics Institute:

  • The Institute is a single organisation (it is always referred to in the singular, and its facilities are called “branches”).
  • It is devoted to the study of mental powers, but is very secretive due to widespread public prejudice. (Why do people hate psionics enough to lynch them? In the 1977 rules, that’s just how it is, but the reasons always seemed obvious to me; psions are different, many of them are telepaths who could easily find out your deepest, darkest secrets, and anybody could be one – you’d never know.)
  • It has branches on some high-population worlds which exist to test for, and train, psionic abilities. (Depending on world density, a subsector has roughly a 20-30% chance of having an Institute.) However, these may not be the only facilities; psionics can be found anywhere, and branches are vulnerable as they have to interact with mundanes, so might well be isolated by cut-outs.
  • 97% of people, thus 97% of psionics, come from worlds with population level 9 or 10, but only about one such world in six has an Institute branch. Therefore, psionics must travel widely to find training, which may explain why a disproportionate number of those who can afford training are spacers.
  • New members have either a high psionic strength (in which case they are no older than 30 as untrained strength degrades with age), or at least Cr 105,000 in disposable assets (which suggests a high social standing, or possibly a combination of determination and resourcefulness). Statistically (you can check this in Supplement 1: 1001 Characters), about 1 PC in 36 musters out with enough money to pay for testing and training – although a member of the TAS who lived frugally could raise that much in about two years – and about 75% of those made their money in a spacefaring career.
  • About 1 NPC in 36 encountered by PCs is psionic, and a like number are informants. So, either psionics are relatively common, or for some reason PCs bump into them a lot – possibly because a lot of them are career spacers, possibly because you need to travel widely to find a branch to train you. (Since being a psionic and being an informant are separate rolls for an NPC, there are some psionics who are also informants.)
  • Psi-drugs must be located and bargained for, and in many cases are illegal; however, they too can be found on any world. No other use for psi-drugs is mentioned, so one could assume they are made specifically for psionics, implying a link between the Institute and illegal drug manufacturing.

So: The Institute wants to study psionic abilities. It needs sources of new talent and money, because every organisation does, and testing and training psionic wannabees helps with both. Its members would prefer not to be lynched by the mundanes, so are likely to set up escape routes and safe houses. Access to (illegal) psionic drugs is a bonus, and presumably so is the ability to exchange research data and findings with fellow psionics on other planets.

Some of those who find the Institute and can pay for testing won’t have the money for training – and how could they know how much they need without finding the Institute first? Some of these will turn to crime to fund their training.

Meanwhile, those with power, money, and flexible morals long for the edge that the generally-despised psionics can offer; spies, crimelords, drug kingpins cultivating the market for their Psi-Double, nobles on the make. The drug kingpins in particular must know about the Institute before they start making psi-drugs, or why bother doing it? Some Institute branches are no doubt seduced by the offers of funding, pharmaceuticals and protection, and once you’re working for such a boss, why not become the power behind the throne or even take over their outfit? You can read their minds, after all.

Thus, any world with an Institute branch also probably has an ongoing covert struggle, in which the Institute, criminal organisations, noble families and local counter-intelligence apparats try to infiltrate and control each other, the Institute to get early warning of (and protection from) crackdowns and pogroms, and the others to gain access to their unique abilities. Potentially, other worlds have this sort of fun and games underway as well. At an interstellar level, the Institute benefits by manipulating governments in much the same way that the TAS manipulates the stock market.

If you want to be seriously paranoid, some TAS members are also psionic. Maybe they’re all in it together and have decided to divide up human space between them. Maybe the TAS is really a front for the Psionics Institute.

Working for the Institute

The Psionics Institute operates much like – and may even be – an organised crime cartel or a spy network. It needs a number of services PCs can provide, even if they’re not psionic themselves; actual psionics are too valuable to risk on minor errands. PCs are, of course, expendable, deniable, kept completely in the dark, and on their own if they get caught. Dust off your conspiracy theories for commission inspirations.

While the TAS hires military veterans for covert ops that steer the stock market in the direction they prefer, the Psionics Institute hires deniable, expendable mules, bagmen, drug manufacturers and other low-level assets, and perhaps, occasionally, more capable adventurers for more daring schemes.

Lesser Known Aspects of Psionics

How do you lie to a telepath? You don’t. You lie to somebody else and let the telepath read their mind.

How do you find a telepath? Use another telepath. If you can see someone with your eyes, and they are not wearing a psionic shield helmet, but they don’t show up on Life Detection, then they are a telepath. (You might want to wear a psionic shield helmet as a disguise; it’s no use just letting your Shield down, because then a telepath could read your mind and find out that you’re one as well.)

One randomly encountered NPC in 1,296 is a psionic who might also inform on the PCs to the authorities. Why would they do this? Well…

  • Psionic abilities are an edge that no criminal or intelligence organisation can afford to ignore. Maybe they are recruiting, and you work for them now – or if you prefer, you can be lobotomised; brain-dead men tell no tales.
  • Maybe the reward money is too tempting.
  • Maybe the informant is being hunted himself, and wants to divert the authorities’ attention elsewhere.
  • Maybe your Institute branch and his don’t get along. This is especially likely if you’re using the Freemasons as an analogue, see below.
  • Maybe the informant is just a jerk.

Maybe There’s Another Way…

If you don’t like the galactic domination conspiracy version of the Institute, probably the closest historical analogue is Freemasonry and the various similar organisations which grew up around it, in particular the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. If you go down that route, branches are much like Masonic Lodges, and the Institute as a whole has the following attributes:

  • Members have to find the Institute’s branches, ask to join, and pass certain tests. We know this is true.
  • Members must keep the Institute’s secrets, aid each other where practical, and contribute to charity. We might reasonably infer these are true, especially the first one.
  • While nearby branches might coordinate their activities, there is no overall “grand branch” which directs the Institute as a whole; branches may have different interests, secrets, training methods and so on, and need not necessarily recognise each other as legitimate. If they do, however, the implication of the duty to aid each other where practical is that visiting members of recognised Institutes could count on some help from the locals. If they can find them.
  • It’s still reasonable to infer the Institute is linked with positions of power. In the real world, a large proportion of British police and judges are Freemasons, and roughly one-third of US Presidents to date are known to have been Freemasons.
  • The question with this approach is, why do Institutes on different worlds communicate? Sharing research data and training methods is possible, but with the next nearest Institute three subsectors away (and potentially compromised) is it worth the cost and risk?

That last point is what tipped me towards a galactic conspiracy, but hey, it’s a big galaxy; why not have both kinds of Institute?

Traveller 1977: The Travellers’ Aid Society

“The Travellers’ Aid Society is a private organisation which maintains hostels and facilities at all class A and B starports in human space. Such facilities are available (at reasonable cost) to members and their guests.” – Traveller, Book 1

From page 22 of Book 1, we also learn the following about the TAS:

  • It awards membership to deserving Player Characters “which may be construed as a reward for heroism or extraordinary service to the society.”
  • One can buy lifetime membership for a flat payment of one million Credits.
  • The TAS invests this money and uses it to operate its facilities and give each member a High Passage (worth Cr 10,000) every other month. (Given the number they buy, they probably have some sort of volume discount, but I’ll ignore that for the moment. Note also the implication that any High Passage is good for any trip, which I will return to in a later post.)

Let’s pause for a moment to look at the economics of membership, because the closest thing Traveller has to a Prime Directive is the statement “everything is driven by economics”. I’ll assume that most people buy their membership, and PCs with free membership are the exception rather than the rule. This means the TAS gets a one-time payment of a million Credits, and uses that to pay each member the equivalent of Cr 60,000 per annum, a 6% return, for the rest of the member’s life. Therefore, the TAS itself must make more than 6% per annum on its investments, as it does give away some memberships for free.

It’s a lot easier to check this stuff out now than it was in 1977, thanks chiefly to the internet, but it looks like over the long term the stock market returns something like 7% after inflation – I am not going to mess with inflation and taxes – so it’s barely possible that the TAS is a non-profit organisation which returns everything to its members. (Government bonds are safer, but just about hold their own against inflation, and savings accounts don’t even manage that; so I’ll assume the TAS is playing the stock market.)

The only organisations mentioned in the rules that might have influence on multiple worlds are whoever controls navy and scout bases, the Psionics Institute, and the TAS – and the TAS is the only one explicitly stated to have facilities throughout human space, on roughly 40% of worlds in fact.

If you’re looking for a shadowy organisation, hiring PCs to manipulate events from behind the scenes and hiding in plain sight, the TAS is a very good candidate. It has vast wealth, vast expenditure, agents everywhere, (probably) no allegiance to any specific world – and, we may assume, a definite interest in favourable stock markets.

When I started playing Traveller, I imagined the TAS as a cross between American Express and the Youth Hostels Association. Now, I think of it as being more like the Continental Hotel in the John Wick movies, using High Passages instead of “coins”, and discreetly intervening in the affairs of worlds when that will shift stock prices in its favour.

Ex-military PCs given free membership for “heroism” or “services rendered”? I think I know what is going on there…

Traveller 1977: Subsector Maps

“The referee has the responsibility for mapping the universe before actual game play begins. The entire universe is not necessary immediately, however, as only a small portion can be used at any one time.” – Traveller, Book 3

You don’t often see subsector maps created using the 1977 rules; and if you look at the map below, you’ll see why. The space lanes (pale blue lines) restricting commercial travel between worlds disappeared starting with Adventure 1: The Kinunir in 1979, about the same time that travel zones were added, and had completely vanished by the time the revised rules appeared in 1981. Mongoose Traveller has added trade routes, which link worlds with complementary trade classifications within 4 hexes of each other, an interesting idea which we shall not consider further here – maybe later.

“Here’s one I prepared earlier…”

Space Lanes

Space lanes restrict travel in two ways. First, you can only buy course tapes for routes that follow space lanes; this means PCs with a ship need to spend Cr 800,000 on the Generate programme for their ship’s computer before they can stray off the space lanes. (Course tapes have no cost listed in the 1977 rules, but in the 1981 rules cost Cr 10,000 per parsec.) Second, civilian NPC ships only travel along space lanes, so if the PCs don’t have a ship, they can only travel to worlds on space lanes.

This is largely a complex and time-consuming way of identifying a couple of worlds in the subsector that see very little traffic, leaving the referee to ponder why that might be; that function is served by travel zones in later editions of the rules, and eventually guidelines emerged for the referee on which worlds should have amber or red zones. Sometimes, a high-jump route goes through a hex without stopping at the world in it – the dotted line in the picture above is one of those, nobody goes to Krasny Lutch.

Where there are many space lanes converging on a planet, like Siran on the map above, you may reasonably infer it’s a trade hub of some kind. In the real world, such ports tend to be nodes where passengers and cargo switch from one route to another, so they might not necessarily have anything of interest beyond their strategic location.

Creating the Map

Classic Traveller allows you to create your subsector in phases. The map above took about two hours to create (most of it spent checking for space lanes), including rendering it in Hexographer, and is enough to do simple missions (“Okay, you’re on Siran and the scout has been reactivated to carry a close-mouthed courier and a ton of cargo under diplomatic seal to Alajuelita, stat.”). I usually roll for the world presence, starport type, bases and gas giants at the same time, using different-coloured dice for each feature, and mark them on the map as I go; this edition just says you should mark world presence, but I find the other features really useful and have always done it this way. I’ve tried various ways of rolling up space lanes; it’s a pain however you do it, and it usually messes up the map somehow, which is one reason I started using Hexographer – editing the space lanes is easier.

The second phase is when you determine world profiles and trade classifications. If there’s room I put those on the map as well, especially the latter as it helps PC merchant captains decide where to go next, and they also act as a primitive form of the world tags which are the best feature of Stars Without Number. Now you have enough to run pretty much any kind of adventure; you can flesh out the world description on the fly in play.

The third phase is when you look at things like animal encounter tables (which I usually ignore entirely) and the narrative aspects of the world. What kind of planet is a waterworld with a population of ten billion and a religious dictatorship for a government? That kind of thing. Be warned though, the more effort you put into lovingly detailed descriptions of your world, the more it stings when the PCs set fire to it and run off to somewhere you didn’t think they’d ever go and haven’t prepared.

In Mongoose Traveller, you need to do the first two phases together, because the starport class is affected by the rest of the world profile; and in phase three you might want to work out local political factions as well, although Mongoose haven’t done that themselves in any of their products I’ve bought.

Decisions, Decisions

Before you start, it’s worth asking yourself how your PCs are going to travel – since that one time when the group rolled up a free trader and three scoutships, I don’t leave that to chance anymore; I decide if they’re getting a ship, and what kind.

If a world is present on a 3+, you get a subsector map full of worlds with a few holes it in; I find maps like this too busy visually and generally unattractive. They also have very few points of strategic importance – the PCs can always go a different way.

With worlds present on a 4+, you get chains of adjacent worlds meeting at junction nodes, with a few isolated worlds only accessible to jump-2 ships. This favours jump-1 traffic like Free Traders, and if using the space lanes rules you get a cobweb of trade routes obscuring the map. If your PCs don’t have a ship, or have a Type A, this is probably the best fit.

On a 5+, you get clusters of worlds, mutually accessible by jump-1 ships, but separated from each other by jump-2 gaps. This favours scoutships and far traders, so it’s the way to go if you expect the PCs to have one of those – or if they have a free trader but you want to confine them to a small number of worlds to begin with. Judging by the numbers of worlds, most published materials have used this frequency.

One thing that used to slow me down enormously was selecting names for worlds; now I skip gaily along to the list of all the world’s cities maintained by the UN and pick some obscure city names from the bottom of their data table. That’s where the world names in the example above came from.

I prefer to roll subsectors by hand, which I think gives me a better ‘feel’ for them; but there are several generators online, of which I’d say the Zhodani Base has the best one.

Interstellar Powers

I think these deserve separate posts of their own, which they will have shortly. Although Book 3 says the title Emperor is reserved for the ruler of “an empire of several worlds”, there are no large interstellar states by default in these rules – they are first hinted at in 1978 in Book 4, Mercenary, which states “Traveller assumes a remote centralised government (referred to in this volume as the Imperium)”, and more detail appears from 1979 on, starting with Adventure 1: The Kinunir and Supplement 3: The Spinward Marches.

In the average 40-world subsector, you might have 4-5 worlds with government type 6, “a colony or conquered area”, but an interstellar state under the 1977 rules would likely be a loose confederation, with individual worlds being almost completely independent both of each other and the larger state – something like the contemporary United Nations.

As a teaser, in this version of Traveller, the factions projecting power across interstellar distances include some you might not expect, using unusual methods; I refer, of course, to the Psionics Institute – and the Travellers’ Aid Society…

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