Characters and Combat

posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

Traveller, Book 1 - Characters and Combat

Traveller is a game by Game Designers' Workshop, released in 1977. Its tagline is "Science-Fiction Adventure in the Far Future". I picked this up from a Bundle of Holding, since it seemed interesting and I've not really read many sci-fi RPGs.


The game talks about a common theme of sci-fi: that at some point humanity will have enough technology to travel across the stars and populate them, but at the same time that this expansion will cause communications to revert to the way they were during the 18th century. That is, news and messages would only go as fast as the ships carrying them.

The game has a boilerplate sidebar on required materials. Significantly, Traveller only requires d6 dice, and specifically only two per player. A calculator is mentioned as being an optional playing aid, alongside miniatures and other Traveller supplements.

The game talks about how you can play this solitaire: if you are "isolated by situation or geography" , you control the characters yourself, implement the rules yourself, and react to the situations by yourself. Alternatively, you can "play" by simply using the books to randomly generate characters, starships, worlds and sectors. Maybe one day day you'll even get to use them in a group scenario! However, it also says that the game plays best if you have a "referee" to generate uncertainty and flexibility.

A basic "scenario" is described as resembling a sci-fi novel: characters are introduced, a goal is stated, and the adventurers strive to achieve that goal by the end of the session or evening. An example is using this Book 1 to generate characters, Book 3 to look for a "patron", the patron suggesting an expedition to the world of Sirius to recover fist-sized diamonds, then overcoming whatever obstacles lie between the characters and the diamonds. Campaigns then are simply scenarios stringed together if and when players become attached to their characters.

The referee is the person that creates the universe. The patron, Sirius, the diamonds, and the obstacles to acquiring the diamonds are all things that the referee needs to generate before the scenario begins.

Character Generation

All characters begin at age 18 with no training and no experience. A series of 2d6 rolls are made to generate the various characteristics of a character, and the game mentions that while it's possible to end up with an unsatisfactory character, that the player should stick by them regardless.

Characteristics and the Universal Personality Profile

The game has six characteristics:
Social Standing

These are generally self-explanatory, but the unique thing is how the game uses a number called the Universal Personality Profile to describe characters at a glance. A 2d6 roll will generate values between 2 to 12, and then supposedly various modifications to that roll can make it as low as 1 or as high as 15, so you can summarize a character's characteristics as a string of six hexadecimal characters. That is, someone with a 10 in their characteristics can be described with AAAAAA.

There's also a sidebar on how any Social Standing characteristic higher than 10 gives the character a Noble title, starting with Knight/Knightess/Dame and ending with Duke/Duchess at Social Standing 15.


Characters can choose to serve in either the Navy, Marines, Army, Scouts, Merchants, or Other in order to pick up skills and experience.

Each service has an Enlistment Throw, or a certain number that the player must meet or beat on a 2d6 roll in order to gain entry into that service. This enlistment throw can get some bonuses if certain characteristics are high. For example, joining the Navy requires an 8+ on a 2d6, and you get a +1 bonus if your Intelligence is 8+ and you get a +2 bonus if your Education is 9+. Those two bonuses are cumulative if both are applicable.

If the character fails at trying to enlist, they get drafted instead. The player rolls 1d6, and they go to one of the six services randomly.

Once you've enlisted in or been drafted to a service, you get to serve out a 4-year term of service, so the character ages by 4 years.

During a term of service, the player can try to be commissioned as an officer: roll 2d6 and pass a Commission number in order to become a level 1 officer and receive additional benefits. They can attempt this once per term of service, with the exception of draftees during their first ever term of service.

If a character gets commissioned as an officer, they can also try to rise through the ranks by rolling 2d6 and passing a Promotion number. They can do this once per term of service, including the same term where they became a level 1 officer.

Skill Acquisition During Terms of Service

Each service has four 1d6 tables. To acquire skills, the player picks one of these tables, then rolls a 1d6, then gains the cross-referenced skill or characteristic increase. One of the four tables is always gated behind needing an Education of 8+.

The player gets to do this twice during their first term of service, then once per subsequent term of service. They get to do it again when they become an commissioned officer, and whenever they receive a promotion. One exception is the Scouts, which allow two skill rolls per term of service, since you cannot become an Scout officer.

There are also certain skills that are automatically gained simply for achieving certain ranks in a service, such gaining Rifle-1 just for joining the Army, and then SMG-1 for becoming a Level 1 Army officer.

Ending a term of service

At the end of every term of service, the player rolls 2d6 and must meet or beat the service's Survival number or else die. Some services are more dangerous than others: the Scouts need a 7+ on 2d6 to survive, while other services need only 5+. I guess this is the part I've vaguely heard about where Traveller can kill characters even during character creation. That said, there's an immediate follow-up optional rule where the failed Survival roll will only result in an injury and an early departure from the service rather than outright death.

At the end of every term of service, the player rolls 2d6 to try and meet or beat a Re-enlist number on a 2d6 roll. This is not the same as the Enlistment Throw, but tends to be easier than the initial enlistment. They need to do this even if they do not plan on re-enlisting, since a natural 12 results in them automatically re-enlisting based on the demands of the service.

Aging and Retirement

Since a term of service is 4 years, a character's age increases by 4 per term. After the fourth term of service, they're then 34 years old and aging effects start coming into play. This basically comes down to rolling 2d6 against a target number ranging from 7+ to 9+, or else suffering a reduction to Strength, Dexterity and/or Intelligence. As the character ages further, the target number becomes harder to beat.

If a characteristic is reduced to zero in this way, then another 2d6 roll is required, with a target number of 8+, or else the character dies due to age-related illness (yet another way to die before you ever get to play the game!)

Retirement and Mustering Out Benefits

A character can serve up to seven terms of service voluntarily, although they might end up serving even more if forced re-enlistment happens with natural 12's on the re-enlist roll.

Otherwise, a character is forcibly retired after their seventh term of service, and they can also voluntarily retire after a fifth term of service.

When a character leaves the service for whatever reason, they get to roll on Mustering Out tables. Similar to acquiring skills, you earn a certain number of rolls depending on your rank and number of terms served, then you either pick between a Benefits Table and a Cash Table to roll 1d6 on, and then you gain whatever the result is. Characters that retire also get an infusion of cash as retirement benefits.

Rather than try to go through each of the skills, I'm going to try my hand at generating a character and see what comes out.

2d6 roll for each of the characteristics

Strength: 4
Dexterity: 5
Endurance: 6
Intelligence: 5
Education: 7
Social Standing: 6

My endurance is good enough to give me a +2 bonus to Enlisting for the Army, so I try that

Enlistment roll: 2d6+2 from having high Endurance, need a 5+ to enlist = 7, success! Gain the Rifle-1 skill just for joining the army
Survival roll: 2d6+2 from having high Education, need a 5+ to survive = 13, success!
Commission roll: 2d6, need a 5+ to be commissioned = 6, success! Now a level 1 Army officer (Lieutenant), gain the SMG-1 skill for being a level 1 officer
Promotion roll: 2d6+2 from having high Education, need a 6+ to be promoted = 4, failure

Since this is my first term of service, I earn 2 skill rolls. Since I received a commission, I earn another skill roll, for a total of three. I don't have access to the fourth Advanced Education table, since I don't have an Education of 8+

I elect to roll once each on the Personal Development, Service Skills and third Advanced Education tables:

Personal Development: 1d6 = 4, Gambling
Service Skills: 1d6 = 1, Vehicle
Advanced Education: 1d6 = 2, Mechanical

End of term 1, age increases to 22.

Re-enlistment roll: 2d6, need a 7+ to re-enlist = 5, failed, forced to Muster Out

Since I completed 1 term of service and ended as a level 1 officer, I earn 2 rolls on the Mustering Out tables.

I elect to roll once each on the Benefits Table and Cash Table.

Benefits Table: 1d6 = 6, Middle Passage travel allowance
Cash Table: 1d6+1 from having the Gambling skill = 6, Cr 20 000

And so, on to the skills:

Weapon Skills

I'll get to combat at a later time, but essentially the basic idea is that you need to roll an 8+ on 2d6 to score a hit during combat, and one level of weapon skill acts as a +1 on that 2d6 roll.


If it's a casino game, you can bet up to Cr 5 000 and need to roll a 9+ on 2d6 to win
If it's a private game, you can bet between Cr 50 to Cr 5 000 and need to roll an 8+ on 2d6 to win
Characters that have the Gambling skill can add +1 to the 2d6 roll, but the house always wins on a natural 2

Games can also be crooked, requiring a roll of 10+ to win, but if the character has Gambling-3 and rolls a 7+ on 2d6, they can detect it.
If the character has Gambling-4 or higher and they start rolling 9+'es, they may be suspected of cheating and be thrown out, so players can choose to "use" a lower skill level.

The game advises the referee to keep these rolls secret.


This means that the character is skilled in the use, operation and repair of mechanical devices. There are no specific guidelines for target numbers to be used, only suggesting to the referee that "fabricating a new main drive bearing as a starship plunges into a sun" would be harder roll than repairing a broken air lock hatch while in port.


This skill has multiple subdivisions representing different kinds of craft: ground cars, water craft, winged craft, hover craft and grav belts. This means that the character can use drive and operate such vehicles, and can also repair them.

I also earned a Middle Passage travel , which is basically a second-class interplanetary ticket worth Cr 8 000 and allows for 100 kilos of baggage.

Using a random name generator, we can then come up with our final character sheet:

Lieutenant Gerry Ackson     456576     Age 22     1 terms     Cr 20 000
Rifle-1, SMG-1, Gambling-1, Mechanical-1, Vehicle-Ground Car-1
I went into this book almost completely blind - all I knew about Traveller was that it was a sci-fi game, it was old, and sometimes you could die during character creation. What I found was that this book is remarkable well-written and organized. While I did rephrase and re-order some of the statements for my own convenience, I had no trouble at all grasping the rules and the core mechanic, and the only rule that was really out of place was the retirement benefits showing up several pages after it being mentioned.

The near-total lack of control over what your character ends up being is what it is, a product of its time and an acquired taste, but at least it isn't particularly difficult to do, and a whole character itself can be summarized in a few lines. I can definitely see people just rolling up characters over and over and seeing what comes out.

The core resolution mechanic is charming. 2d6 is dead simple, and it seems like the designer understood averages and bell curves and set the target numbers accordingly. By my count, there are less than 30 skills, and as can be seen from Mechanical, they seem broad enough.

That ends Part 1. The latter half of Book 1 talks about Combat.

Characters and Combat, Part 2

posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

Traveller, Book 1 - Characters and Combat

I'd like to begin this part with A Note on Gender and Race

page 25 posted:

Nowhere in these rules is a specific requirement established that any character (player or non-player) be of a specific gender or race. Any character is potentially of any race and of either sex.

which is surprisingly respectful for a game written in 1977.

Combat Step 1: Surprise

Each side rolls 1d6. If one side rolls three higher than the other, the high-roller has achieved surprise. This 1d6 roll can be modified by things like having the Leadership skill, or having the Tactics skill, or having military training as bonuses, or being in a vehicle or being in a large party as penalties.

Surprise means the surprising party can decide to try and avoid combat altogether, or it can mean giving them free attacks. What's interesting here is that the game does not assume that surprise is lost after a single "surprise round", but rather that surprise is only lost if the surprising party makes lots of noise, like say an unsilenced gunshot, or if the surprised party manages to "raise the alarm" for whatever appropriate context.

Combat Step 2: Determine initial range

Combat is done at either Close, Short, Medium, Long or Very Long range. Close is within arm's reach, Short is between 1 to 5 meters, Medium is between 6 to 50 meters, Long is at 51 to 250 meters, and Very Long is as far out as 500 meters.

It's also refreshing to play a game where the measurements are in metric.

As the combat begins, the GM rolls 2d6, applies a terrain modifier and looks up a chart to see at what range the combat begins at. Since long ranges are at the high end of 2d6 and short ranges at the low, being in open terrain applies a +3 modifier to the roll, and being inside a building applies a -5 modifier.

Combat Step 3: Escape and avoidance

If a party has surprise, they can just escape by saying so. The referee has a guideline by which NPC parties that have surprise and are outnumbered will avoid contact on a roll of 7+ on 2d6.

If there's no surprise at play, then escape can be had at this stage on a roll of 9+ on 2d6, modified by being at longer ranges. After this step, the only way to escape is through movement.

Combat Step 4: Starting distance

The game suggests drawing up a foosball field, divided into horizontal "range bands", and using those to judge the relative distances of characters. A single band should represent 25 meters, so two characters with 1 to 2 bands between them would be at Close range to each other, while characters with 3 to 10 bands between them would be at Long range to each other.

Combat Step 5: Declaration of movement

Each character declares what they want to do for this round with regards to movement, which breaks down into the following actions:

Evade - no attack, no movement and no parrying/blocking with weapons, but any attacks made against this character take a penalty
Close Range - move one range band closer to a target, or run to close two range bands closer at the cost of some Endurance Points, which I've not yet discussed.
Open Range - move one range band farther from a target, or also run.
Stand - no movement at all

All movement is performed simultaneously, and a party/character needs to put more than 20 range bands of distance between their enemies to escape.

Combat Step 6: Combat Rounds

A combat round is the execution of movement, followed by an attack, then cycling again until one side has died, routed or surrendered. Each round lasts 15 seconds.

Basic Attack Roll

Roll 2d6, add modifiers, and get an 8+ to land a hit.

There are a lot of modifiers, though:

Melee attacks like swords take a penalty if your STR isn't above a certain level, but then gain a bonus if it's above a certain level

Ranged attacks like guns take a penalty if your DEX isn't above a certain level, but then gain a bonus if it's above a certain level

Endurance is another factor that I'll talk about separately below

Having a weapon skill counts as a bonus for every level, so our sample character would have a +1 to Rifles

If the enemy is engaged with a character in melee combat, and the defender has weapon skill, they can apply the weapon skill as a penalty to the attacker, to represent parrying. The game even mentions that you can do this with guns.

A holstered weapon takes a penalty when it's shot on the same round it's drawn, unless the player stated that the gun was already drawn prior to combat

Going full-auto on a gun lets you roll twice to attack, gives a higher attack bonus for high DEX characters, and lets you shoot at up to two other targets with a penalty

A shotgun lets you hit three targets at a time "provided they are in a group (herd, pack, band, etc) and are each human-sized or smaller." , and it even has a bonus to shooting flying creatures.

Finally, there's a matrix of different modifiers of weapon-versus-armor, and a matrix of different modifiers of weapon-versus-range-band. Combat armor is super-expensive at Cr 20 000, but it provides an attack roll penalty of at least -5, and even -7 to pistols

Damage, "Hit Points", Wounding and Death

For damage, each weapon has a stated number of dice rolled when it scores a hit. A punch rolls 1d6, a pistol rolls 3d6, all the way up to a laser rifle with 5d6. The result is totaled and called Wound Points, and they're applied to either Strength, Dexterity or Endurance. The game says that the characteristic to receive the first wound is determined randomly, but I don't know if that means any subsequent wounds are applied to characteristics by choice, and who makes that choice.

If one characteristic has been reduced to zero, the character is knocked unconscious.
If two characteristics have been reduced to zero, the character is seriously wounded.
If three characteristics have been reduced to zero, the character is dead.

An unconscious character regains consciousness after 10 minutes and suffers a penalty to their characteristics until they receive medical attention or take 3 days of rest.

A seriously wounded character regains consciousness after three hours and needs medical attention (such as a Medical-3) skill to get their characteristics above a 1.

This would seem to make combat an incredibly deadly affair! Getting hit by a broadsword for 4d6 when any of your three characteristics only rolls at 2d6 is going to reduce you to zero 93.92% of the time!


A character using melee weapons can only make as many attacks as their Endurance characteristic before they start taking heavy penalties. That broadsword's attack roll is going to take a -4 to the 2d6 attack roll after you swing it one too many times. And then running during movement also counts consuming one of your Endurance points, which you regain after 30 minutes of rest.

This is yet another advantage going to guns, since guns don't cost Endurance.

Morale Rules

When 20% or more of a party is unconscious or dead, they need to start making morale rolls. Roll a 7+ on 2d6 to not rout. Military training and the tactics and leadership skills can act as bonuses, but the death of the party's leader and casualties in excess of 50% are penalties.

Weight Rules

A character can carry a number of kilos equal to their Strength. This is considered a Normal Load.
A character that carries more than a Normal Load, but up to twice their Strength in kilos is under a Double Load and suffers a -1 penalty to their Strength, Dexterity and Endurance characteristics
A character that carries more than a Double Load, but up to thrice their Strength in kilos is under a Triple Load and suffers a -2 penalty to those characteristics. The game also specifically mentions that only characters with military training can do triple loads.


Load is calculated by totalling the weight of all relevant items. Clothing, personal armor, and minor items such as holsters, scabbards, and belts are not counted

This is super-sensible and I love it. Also, more metric system!


The weapon selection is a little eclectic. They have a selection of very standard fantasy melee weapons: daggers, blades, foils, cutlasses, swords, broadswords, and even three different polearms.

The guns though are mercifully simple: a body pistol, an automatic pistol, a revolver, a carbine, a rifle, a second set of stats for rifles under automatic fire, a shotgun, an SMG, a laser rifle, and a laser carbine.

There are telescopic sights to give rifles additional attack roll bonuses at long ranges, silencers to let you squeeze out more surprise rounds since your shots will be muffled, holsters so that guns don't count towards the weight load

The game tracks ammo weight, rounds-per-clip and the price of ammo for guns.

And that brings us to the end of Book 1. This part of the book was a bit more disorganized as far as the plain rules go, but the last 4 pages made up for it by summarizing all the tables and little modifiers.

While the modifier matrices feel like it'd be a bear to peruse in the middle of a combat until you got used to it, I can't help but like the system. The target number is constant, the "range band football field" system is a clever way to abstract combat without making it completely free-form, and barring the lack of terrestrial ranged weapons like bows, there's even a universalist feel to it, like you could run a whole gamut of combat scenarios outside of far-future sci-fi.

If I had to level one criticism against it, it'd be that I feel like armor could have been used to mitigate against the wound/damage rolls instead of acting as penalties on the attack roll. Combat armor is going make you really hard to hit, but you're still going to get knocked out when that one shot gets through. It's just the simulationist in me talking though, and the lethality of the combat isn't necessarily a knock against it.

I find the system fascinating, and I haven't even dug into the space rules yet!