Monday, April 28, 2014

Firefly and Classic Traveller with Andy Slack!

Over at the Halfway Station, Andy  shares the story of a Classic Traveller adventure that shares more than a little in common with Firefly (AKA the closest Traveller has ever gotten to the big screen).  Check it out!

Back in Black 

Foodrunner - Amber Zone Reviews #5

 Amber Zone: Foodrunner by Mike Metlay, from JTAS #5
Check out the series introduction here.
Location: Roup, Regina 0407 Spinward Marches (C-77A9A9-6)

Patron: A businessman and freight shipper (“a middle aged, rather vulgar person”)

Mission: The PCs are hired to crew an armed merchantman, delivering a special cargo to the Scout base, but not to the Scout service. The cargo is foodstuffs and wine. Once delivery is completed, they must return to the point of origin and deliver the cash that they receive for the food.

Complications: The ship is, well, substandard. It will need lots of work and money to get it into regulation trim. It will likely break down on the PCs during the trip. The group that the PCs are supposed to meet will not be the only ones trying to get their hands on the food. Multiple groups, all armed, will descend upon the landing field. The description presents a picture of a large, multi-sided brawl or more likely gunfight on the landing field – with no cover. If their contact does not deliver the payment, the PCs won't get paid either.

Payoff: the PCs will be given title & ownership of the merchantman as payment. This will be a mixed blessing, given the state the ship is in.

Strong Points: The ship is a modified Type A, with improved performance envelope, if it runs. The adventure can start more than one jump from the target, allowing for a lot of little adventures in emergency repair, or other space-based activities. The PCs have the option to take off into the wild blue yonder with a ship and a large sum of cash – starting a new campaign to avoid the repo men and bounty hunters. The big fight on the landing field will be a very exciting one.

Weak Points: The white elephant of a ship, unless the players want the challenge of constantly repairing their ship. Even repaired, the ship does not hold much cargo. Traveller's combat rules aren't really set up to handle a scrum involving possibly more than 100 people. If the PCs don't come armed, they are likely to get swamped. They can't just retreat to the ship and wait it out. If they do, the cash will vanish.

What I'd change: Nothing. I don't think this is a great scenario, but it is sound enough to work as it is.

In My Traveller Universe: The adventure could start anywhere, but the delivery should be to one of the Independent worlds. I'd substitute Mercera (Gelderon 0703) for Roup. It is simple to make Mercera's poor atmosphere the reason for food being in such demand, instead of overcrowding – everyone lives high in the mountains, because that's where the oxygen is.

Map of the landing field

Map scale is 30 meters/hex. The X is the meeting point with the contact. The building icon is the Scout shack, the circle/triangle is the PC's ship. The black lines are the fence around the field.

This map was created me, using Hexographer ( It can be used or modified without restriction.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Salvage on Sharmun - Amber Zone Reviews #4

Check out the series introduction here.
 Amber Zone: Salvage on Sharmun By Jeff May

Location: Sharmun (no known location in the 3rd Imperium) Classified as a Red Zone by the TAS

Patron: Kinson, a retired Scout

Mission: Kinson hires the PCs to assist him in recovering a strongbox which was aboard a ship on which he served long ago. The ship crashed on Sharmun and Kinson believes it has not been discovered by the locals. The ship would now be considered salvage.

Complications: Sharmun's two main societies are mutually antagonistic and rabidly xenophobic. Any contact with either one will be likely to trigger a nuclear war between them. Both sides will attack the PCs on sight. Both sides have rudimentary space craft and might detect the PCs' ship. The crash site is close to population centers. The ship is under water, submerged in a lake (where have I heard this before?) and the PCs will have to force their way into it. Proximity to the population center increases the risk of discovery, with the enormous consequences.

Payoff: Kinson is after the payroll which is in the strongbox. The box contains about 5 MCr in cash. The PCs will get a split of the total.

Strong Points: The big challenge in this is getting the job done without detection, as detection means starting a WAR. The PCs need to have stealth and espionage, combat, and technical skills available. The setting could be used to get up lots of other adventures, like signs that some of the ship's crew survived and are hiding out on Sharmun. The PCs will have the tech edge, but the locals have numbers, and this should be emphasized. Everyone they might encounter is likely to be armed, or can quickly summon those who are, and no one's going to be shy about opening a can o' firefight. I think it makes an adventure better when “mow down everyone with automatic fire” is not an available option – the players have to think their way out of problems. Hand to hand combat is more likely, as it is quieter and less likely to raise an alarm. Also, Kinson can be a one-off NPC, or be fleshed out into a recurring ally.

Weak Points: Who wants to have a nuclear war on their conscience? That's a severe repercussion. On the flip side, depending on the PC's equipment, this mission could be very easy. A group with access to Battle Dress and grav belts would be able to zip in and out under cover of darkness, without detection. Also, TL-7 weaponry is unlikely to be much of a threat to PCs in heavy armor.

What I'd change: I would reduce the severity of discovery to a conventional war. I might bring in some of the Victor's forces, or establish Collective patrols to increase the risk. There might be rebels against the Collective busting into the camp to the west, whom the PCs might help, quietly.

In My Traveller Universe: I actually lifted Sharmun whole, and imported it into my Traveller Universe, because I meant to play this Amber Zone myself. It is located in Gelderon subsector 0509. 


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Asteroid P-4836 - Amber Zone Reviews #3

Check out the series introduction here.
Amber Zone: Asteroid P-4836 by Loren K Wiseman

Location: The Rabwhar planetoid belt (Lunion Subsector, Spinward Marches), owned and operated by Sternmetal Horizons, LLC.

Patron: An anonymous business factor for an unnamed business that is in competition with Sternmetal Horizons

Mission: The PCs are to infiltrate Sternmetal's research facility situated on the planetoid identified as P-4836. Once inside the facility, they are to locate a specific computer and extract a specific packet of data. Then they must exit the facility without their actions being detected.

Complications: The biggest factors are the base security and the remoteness of the target. There is simply no way to approach this facility without being seen – it's a private asteroid housing highly secretive research. Objects in space have near unlimited line-of-sight in all directions. Lastly, the PCs must pull off the entire operation without ever being noticed. At all. The second they're spotted, they have failed.

Payoff: The factor offers MCr 1 for the data, provided that Sternmetal is unaware of its theft.

Strong Points: This is a mission to throw a PCs with lots of high skill levels; this is a very tough mission, which relies on stealth instead of firepower. It can work well as a solo adventure. There are plenty of challenges in pulling off a job like this.

Weak Points: The mission could fail at many points – as soon as the base personnel suspect the PCs of malfeasance, the game is up. The description specifically includes the possibility that the target data is not in fact on the station at all. Sternmetal cannot even suspect that they have been burgled, the steal has to be perfect, or it fails completely. The factor's company cannot use data that is known to be stolen against the company they stole it from without facing a huge legal action.

What I'd change: I would reduce the size and armament of the base security force, and possibly change the mission to destroying Sternmetal's computer to take the target data out of the big picture. That would be an easier objective to reach. I would also correct a number of obvious spelling and punctuation errors in the article as printed.

In My Traveller Universe: I would set this adventure in the Verrazano belt (Solaris-Litton 0409) part of the Republic of Tamarkand. The system government is listed as family/clan, so I'll say that means that the belt is worked by independent mining clans, and the research facility is on a rock the company owns. This may give players a few more options for how to approach the facility without arousing suspicion.

A Guide for the Social Climbing Traveller

     A character I rolled up, a while back, who we will call Max served honorably in the Army and mustered out as a Major after a long service. When he went home, though, he found that his rank and service did not matter and everyone still treated him as his social standing of 3 deserved. So he decided that he wanted to move up in the world. Now, how does he make that happen?

    As there are no rules statements at all in the experience section of LBB3/TTB concerning Social Standing [SOC], I assume that the writers had one of two intentions:
  1. No character's SOC would ever change outside of character generation.
  2. SOC change was not quantifiable and had to be handled all within the setting of the game.
  I prefer answer 2, as this means that a character has to interact with the setting in a way that is meaningful within the setting, and thus, is going to tell a story. 

Character Experience and Development in Traveller

  In this post I will discuss the topic of experience in Traveller, and ways to have characters grow in the absence of meta-game processes like XP and levels. I think that it is worthwhile for me to repeat what The Traveller Book says on the subject of experience. To paraphrase, the primary means of experience is the player's ability to play the role that they have assumed. That's right, Traveller experience is in the realm of the players, not the characters. 

     The format given in TTB for character improvement represents a major effort of study, akin to a tech school education which assumes, rather than states, that the character is out of circulation for four years to devote themselves to study. For simple skill progression, that route is slow but steady and preserves game balance. Still, there are ways to model in-game growth and development of the character that does not require the long term hiatus. I am going to discuss Education, Contacts, Reputation and Grants.
Image courtesy of Flickr
      I mentioned in my House Rules page that Education (EDU) is meant to model both formal and informal schooling. That is to say, if there isn't a specific skill to cover the situation, just about any knowledge task can default to EDU. Any time a player has to determine if his character knows some bit of in-universe information, roll 2D (or 3D) vs EDU, and apply modifiers based on the obscurity of the information sought.
This is what real experience looks like. PC's know about more things than just the skills listed on the character sheet. If a PC has been visiting planet Snog regularly for years, he is more likely to know about the local flora, fauna and society than someone who is visiting Snog for the first time. Therefore, positive dm's to the regular visitor. This kind of in-game knowledge can benefit EDU, SOC, Admin, Broker, Streetwise, or any other socially-related skill rolls. Here are some other examples: a Police character could more easily detect a swindle or con, or tell how local law enforcement are likely to react to the PC's activities. A Merchant Captain would be in a better position to know the economic condition of a planet or region, a Navy Captain would know about Naval Base security protocols, or recognize the class of ship the scanners just detected.
 Both the players and the referee should keep notes of the character's experiences and the types of information with which they come into contact. Anything could be useful again in the future, as the referee might employ them as plot points or hooks. The character sheet should have space on it to note the subjects with which the character is familiar. 
      There are at least two ways in which a character can be said to be familiar with a subject: background experience and current study. Background experience comes from character generation & prior careers. Use some common sense – what kinds of things would be likely experiences for a person in the Navy or the Scouts? This gives the players an opportunity to flesh out their character's back story – what happened during their time in their prior career? Tell stories about your character; anything that can be justified by story that won't be a stealth skill-level or otherwise game unbalancing should be allowed. A Navy veteran may have seen, served on or helped build the latest TL-15 Imperial Battlecruiser, but that may not mean they can scratch-build a Black Globe, or give them Naval Architect skill (see Book 6).
      While short-term reading programs (what better way to spend a week in jump-space?) will not lead to new skills or skill levels, studying a topic “just in case” or out of curiosity can add to the list of specific subjects known. The referee should set up some parameters for how much time is needed to grasp the subject matter, and can require some INT or EDU rolls to confirm that the character has really gotten it down. This should lead to the referee and the players doing some real-world research, and learning a few new things themselves! Of course, the referee is always free to decree that the character's information was wrong or out-of-date to keep things surprising, but this should be rare, or the players will feel cheated.
      Another advantage of this kind of detailed record keeping is that it gives the game setting more detail and depth, which always makes it more interesting to the players and the referee. A planet that has known social oddities, animal life and even a planetary history is a far more interesting setting for an adventure than a planet which is only a string of digits in the UPP. (See my post on planet-building for more on that topic).

      Characters interact with others (NPC's) all the time. Most encounters are routine and not memorable, but sometimes enough of an impression is made that one party or the other will remember it. Any time a very positive or very negative reaction is rolled on the reaction table, the referee should take note; maybe that character will appear again in another setting. Significant and powerful people with whom the PC's interact could call on them again, or be called upon by them. 

     Referees should let the players predetermine a number of contacts from their prior career; the number could be based on number of terms or rank or SOC. You can leave contact 'slots' blank, but that leave open the possibility of the player inventing a contact on the fly to have someone to get them out of a tight spot. Of course, this can be turned into another adventure hook, as the contact will some day want a return of the favor.

Social Reputation
      Your players know that they've arrived when the President of planet Eternia calls them up and asks them for their help. I've written another post about social standing as a campaign theme, but even if the PC are not actively social-climbing, there can be numerous social benefits from successful adventuring. Public honors, awards, buildings named after them can come from usually more honest endeavors, and can result in an improved SOC, or more practically, a reputation. Their names are out there, people (both private and governmental) know who they are. 

    Being well-known is no guarantee of an improved SOC, a well-known criminal is still a criminal. Reputation can be both a good thing and a bad; a PC with a good reputation will get more job offers, and the 'man on the street' may react more favorably to them, but they may also have to deal with the likes of tabloid journalists, or the supporters of the other side of the PC's last conflict.

      Money is always a good reward for adventuring, but not if it just accumulates as a number on the character sheet. The referee should not just offer the characters money as reward for services; sometimes the wealth should be in the form of something that can be used later as a story device: real estate, vehicles/vessels or even shares in the business the PC's have helped. There is an article in JTAS issue #6 describing how to model a planetary stock market. If the PC's own stock in a corporation, they will be interested in seeing that corporation succeed. Maybe that means doing criminal stuff to their competition, or defending the corporation from other criminals' stuff. PC stockholders are motivated troubleshooters. 
      Not everyone is going to be awarded a knighthood and a fief, but governments or private entities can grant land. In the Social Climbing post I mentioned some published articles that give guidelines for property ownership. A landowner PC is now involved with the culture of the world and its politics, and this opens a whole new avenue of adventure possibilities, just as business ownership does.
      Lots of players want their characters to buy a starship, and earning the money for one can be a great campaign, but even being granted one opens up all manner of new possibilities. Now that the PC's have one, why should they not try to raise a whole fleet?
      Real estate ownership, starship possession and business investments create associations with the planet from which the grants came, and make them more real. A more developed setting is one that the players are going to care more about, and this makes the story, and the whole game more fun. 
      In conclusion, people play Traveller to have fun, and have fun by telling stories. The player's experience at playing the role, combined with the character's in-game experience of the people, places and things in the game world combine to reinforce the storytelling. Meta-game processes like 'experience points' do not add to either the players' or the characters' experience and can become a distraction by making the accumulation of XP the goal instead of the story.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Prayers for those who Travel

     At every Matins (Morning Prayers) and Vespers (Evening Prayers) service at our parish at the time when we pray for various needs, along with prayers for "all the poor and the sick and suffering of our community", prayers are offered for "all travellers".  For my part as I pray, that includes all who enjoy my favorite RPG. 

     There is also this, a part of the Great Litany, a prayer office used during penitential seasons:
     That it may please Thee to preserve all who travel by land, by water, or by air, all women in child-birth, all sick persons, and young children; and to show Thy pity upon all prisoners and captives;   We beseech Thee to hear us, good Lord.

     From the Propers of the Mass for Pilgrims and Travelers:

O hold thou up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not: incline thine ear to me, and hearken unto my words: shew thy marvelous loving-kindness, thou that art the Savior of them which put their trust in thee, O Lord.
(from Psalm 17)

Who are the Whisperers?

an In-My-Traveller-Universe Phenomenon

    Drive hand Gionetti dropped his spanner into the tool box and sat down on the deck with a weary sigh. Finally the induction loop was back into spec. He had worked on it for more than two shifts, long after the rest of the drive crew had hit the rack. Drowsy enough to fall asleep right there in the drive room, Gionetti suddenly jerked upright. A voice had spoken softly in his ear. Twisting around expecting to see his supervisor, he saw no-one. The drive room was as brightly lit as ever, and he was clearly alone. He ducked his head to look under a relay assembly, for someone hiding behind it, but there was no one. He shook his head and got up, then bent to collect his tool box. The voice was suddenly there again, seemingly right in his ear, but he couldn't understand the words.  Startled, Gionetti ran from the drive room, leaving his tool box open on the deck plates. None of his mates were going to believe he had heard the Whisperers.
    Who or what are the Whisperers? Are they even real?  No one knows for sure, but the phenomenon of mysterious voices heard in noisy engine rooms, empty corridors and even in vacc-suits has been reported all over known space for centuries.

    Details vary; some people claim to have heard distinct words, while others hear only the sound of indistinct soft voices. Most times the people who hear the Whisperers are alone, but occasionally two or even three people hear the voices at the same time.

    Some claim that hearing the Whisperers is a portent of an ill-fated or doomed voyage. Others claim that the voices are not harbingers of doom, but protectors warning of danger. May ship captains have a 'whisper check', a set of diagnostics and sensor scans preset for when the Whisperers make themselves known. Some captains claim that the voices have led them to the source of the potential danger, which they otherwise would not have discovered in time. The argument goes on whether the voices are beneficial or baneful; many space disasters are catastrophic so no one can tell if the Whisperers were heard before the calamity or not.

    Many claim that the Whisperers are ghosts of those who died in space, and claim that they are seeking revenge against who or whatever killed them (this view tends to be more strongly held in Navy circles). Others say that the ghosts are lost and seeking a ride back to their homes where they can find rest (more commonly held among merchants and civilian liners).

    There are claims made that some have seen as well as heard the Whisperers, but very few believe this to be true. The great majority of people who claim to have heard the Whisperers attest that there was nothing and no one to be seen when the incident occurred. Still, recordings circulate from time to time on the data networks claiming to be captured images of the Whisperers, but most every one of them eventually is proven to be a forgery.

    So what can a Traveller referee do with the Whisperers? Decided how real the Whisperers are, and where they came from, and what they are trying to do. Scare the players, give them subtle warnings, give them something to chase or investigate, or add them as color in the background of your campaign. Are they Guardian Angels warning of danger? Demonic tricksters frightening the unwise? Are they auditory hallucinations or simply superstitions?  Whatever you decide, give the players just enough to get them interested and wanting to know more, then let them decide how to proceed.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Cool Medical Device for Your Game

     I came upon this article "College Student Invents Gel that Halts Bleeding" today while doing some reading on a higher education blog.  This is impressive, not only because of the results the inventor is getting, but because he is not even 21 years old yet. I have no idea if or when this substance will be commercially available in real life, but in a role playing game, whether science fiction (like Traveller) or modern (like Spycraft) there's no reason for it to not exist. 

     My first thoughts on how to apply the gel, from a rules/mechanics perspective: application of the gel stops bleeding (no medical skill required), so it halts hit point/vitality/wound level losses due to bleeding. The gel may even add back a small amount (~1 h.p.). In games with descriptive instead of quantitative measures of injury, use of the gel can add a bonus to any later attempts at healing, or shorten recovery periods as the body does not have to replace as much blood volume as it might have otherwise. The gel may also lower the chance for subsequent infection. 
 I think this gel should be on the expensive side, or it comes in one-use quantities, so that the system's damage & healing rules are not unbalanced. This gel is not "magical healing" but a helpful on-the-spot expedient when more competent medical care is not available. 

Prayers and Blessings for Travellers in space

  This week, as our parish priest was blessing two new Bibles we got ourselves for Christmas, he pointed out to me the following in his prayer book. Prepared (perhaps) against the day when Jump Drive is invented, the Church has already established a prayer blessing Travellers in space, and  a rite for the blessing of a space craft:

A blessing for space Travellers
     O God who has created the heavens and the earth; guide and preserve those who penetrate the vastness of outer space; and grant that we who learn from their explorations may come to perceive the majesty of thy creation and turn to thee for grace to use that knowledge for the good of all mankind. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Blessing of space craft
      O God the king and Lord of all, who hast created all things in the Universe: graciously hear our prayers and bless this craft now prepared for journeys of they servants in space. Be present with those charged with its navigation, protect them in all perils; prosper them in their course, and bring them to their destination; and at length, conduct them in safety to the haven where they would be. Through thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

     In my Traveller universe, Christian chapels are a common sight at most class A & B  starports. Priests, monks and nuns serve at these chapels to minister to the spiritual needs of travellers, and to serve as conduits of communication between the planetary diocese and the parent jurisdiction. Travellers may ask a blessing for themselves or the ships in which they travel.
The referee must determine based on government code and cultural factors how much autonomy the Church has on a world.

Startport  Chapel Present (2d)
A          3+
B          4+
C          7+
D          8+
E          9+

What Gamers need to know about Surveillance

     Most gamers at some point have found themselves involved in spying on someone, or breaking into a secured area to do something, or stopping NPC's from doing the same to the PC's interests. I certainly have, from Top Secret to Traveller to Twilight:2000. Yet upon some reflection on this subject I have realized that for the vast majority of my games, whether as a player or as a GM, my handling of reconnaissance and surveillance has been rather awful. My players and my characters have walked blindly into military bases and corporate buildings as casually as walking into the mall, without being detected or stopped. The level of ineptitude is completely unrealistic and has robbed many games of a dramatic tension that would have made for a much better story.

     So I've done some looking about in the RPG books that I have, trying to find the surveillance and reconnaissance rules I've been missing. To my surprise, it's not that I was ignoring them, there just weren't many to find.

  • GURPS book Espionage: almost no discussion of surveillance
  • Original Top Secret: has an Observation skill but no mechanics for using it
  • James Bond RPG: no rules for surveillance
  • Traveller: BK4/Mercenary has recon rules, but its use is limited to mostly a DM on surprise rolls prior to combat.
  • D&D: none that I could find.

I recently purchased a copy of the original Spycraft rules (a D20 system) from DriveThruRPG. Finally, a rules set that addresses surveillance, both in interpreting photo/video data, and eyes-on intelligence gathering. It would not be difficult to incorporate the following information into the rules for the surveillance skill in Spycraft.

      It may not be a surprise to my faithful readers that I got onto thinking about this subject as a result of some articles from STRATFOR that I've read. Http:// is one such article, if you want to read more, search their site on the terms “protective intelligence” “attack cycle” and “situational awareness” - all of these are concepts that anyone can put into practice in their own life for their own safety.

Here's another article from The Art of Manliness on Developing Situational Awareness, including a clip from The Bourne Identity. Jason Bourne could fit easily into a Traveller game as an NPC.

Without getting into game mechanics, here are some thoughts on how to incorporate information-gathering activities into a game. The Stratfor article puts it this way: "Surveillance can be defined as 'watching someone while attempting not to be caught doing so'".Countersurveillance (CS) is the reverse, attempting to catch others watching you or your things.

What is Surveillance and How do you do it?

Surveillance has two components, which I'll call the what and the how. The 'What' part is determining the appropriate target to be watched - you have to know where your opponents are before you can watch what they're doing. Beyond simply saying "that building over there" the agents need to know the target's significance, its strengths and weaknesses in resisting penetration, and what specific security measures are being employed. Another part of the 'what' is finding a good location from which to observe the target. This is known as a 'perch' in intelligence lingo. A good perch allows clear visual access to the target while being difficult to spot from the target. A car parked on an entrance road where there are no other cars present is not a good perch, but a car in the middle of a full parking lot can be one.

The 'how' part is getting your agent's eyes or detection gear on the target without being noticed. Two related concepts that are critical to the 'how' of setting up good surveillance are described by Stratfor and others as cover for action and cover for status. Cover for status addresses the question of the agent belonging in the environment. In other words, does the agent appear to observers to have a reason for being where he is? Is the agent dressed in a way that stands out or in a way that blends in? Think of plain-clothes detective work. Similarly, cover for action is the plausibility of the agent doing what he is doing. Someone sitting in a parked car, holding binoculars while looking at your building is going to draw attention unless there is some other good reason in that environment for the person to be doing that. An agent dressed as a delivery guy moving packages in and out of a delivery truck has both cover for status and cover for action. 
 If either of these are not thought out or done well, then the agent will stick out as being 'out of place' and the enemy will attempt to 'blow their cover' by challenging the agent's right to be there. Of course this could be a ploy to draw attention away from the spy who does have good cover. It should be hard for the agents to tell, at least initially, if their cover is blown. Keep in mind that surveillance & CS tasks are uncertain; the PCs should not automatically know whether their efforts are successful or when/if they have been spotted.

  A psychological phenomenon that comes into play while conducting surveillance is called “Burn Syndrome”. It is a reflex to 'break cover' as a result of the perception of being spotted. The GM can require some kind of determination task from the agent if he thinks he has been spotted. Failing this means that the agent did something that breaks his cover for status or action, and the enemy is alerted, whether or not the agent had been spotted previously.

Good surveillance takes time, so don't let the PC's sit for just ten minutes and then tell them everything they want to know. It could take hours or even days to properly evaluate a target - learning guard schedules or employee break times, identifying the guards who are slack or those who are super-vigilant, spotting all of the mechanical security devices.

Have lots of uncertain task rolls for Observation/Vision/Surveillance or however the skill is described in your game system. Never let them think they know everything, and make your own rolls for the NPCs conducting security & CS for the location. If you put some thought to a location's security measures and give a compelling reason why it is vital for the PC's to get into the location, a stakeout by itself can be a tense, interesting game session that may even challenge the player's nerves, let alone their PC's.

Image courtesy of Flickr

Why are there no Experience Points in Traveller?

     I have played Traveller for probably 30 years now, most of that time using the Classic Traveller rules set, so in this essay I am speaking specifically about CT. During that time I've also played lots of other games that use class/level systems and games that use point-buy systems. Traveller uses neither, and I think that is a good thing. Traveller's game philosophy is reflected in its experience rules. Traveller keeps the focus of the game on the story, and off the meta-gaming elements like XP.

     Marc Miller, the creator of the Traveller game, laid out the philosophical basis for the experience rules in The Traveller Book: “Experience gained as the character travels and adventures is, in a very real sense, an increased ability to play the role which he or she has assumed.” 

Several Travellers walk into a bar IMTU

Bar Fight

Bil Gunderson, Senior Purser of the Liner Sunset over Litton sat back in his chair and looked across the table at his new assistant Purser, Holden Cass.  Cass was gazing around the starport tavern, obviously much impressed with the buzz of activity around him.  "So, things don't get this exciting where you're from, do they, Cass?"
            Startled, Cass looked at him sheepishly.  "Well, I guess not.  Mostly I'm just trying to figure out where all these folks are from."  He gestured at the array of military and civilian uniforms to be seen around the room.
            "Oh, now, that's easy.  Pay attention and I'll point out a couple," Gunderson edged forward in his seat and pointed his mug at two men in tan jumpsuits standing by the bar.  “See those two?  They’re Corellian League traders.  The one on the left is wearing the League crest on his collar, and neither of them has spoken two words to anybody but themselves or an order to the bartender.  Leaguers keep to themselves.  As far as I can tell, it isn’t arrogance, they just don’t like to get involved.”
            “Over there, on the other hand, are some Dothan Alliance navy types.  Tall one seems to be a non-com from the way he’s acting.  Dothans can get really aggressive, and don’t mind invading your space.  Look ‘em in the eye and deal straight, and they’ll respect you.  Dothan space is a safe place to run cargoes, they deal with pirates really hard, and so they’re all right with me.”
            “Speaking of navies, here come some Kassiran Marines,” Bil indicated a troop of four men and two women in matching grey-and-green dress uniforms.  “They’re not a bad lot, just don’t talk politics.  Their gripe with the Stedhard Alliance goes way back, and you’re either with them or against them.  Just hope there aren’t any Stedmonts here too, or there may be a fight.”
            “What about that fellow there?” Holden asked.  “From the uniform, he’s Navy, but I’m not sure whose.”
            Bil glanced at the man, seated comfortably a few tables away.  “Why, that should be the easiest for you to remember.  He’s a Talaveran.  They’re the only ones who use gold on black, and that patch on his shoulder is another dead giveaway.  The Empire’s got the biggest navy in space, and they won’t let you forget it.  Imperials are easy to get along with, though.  And they’re just as tough on piracy as the Dothans, so we’ll be visiting the Empire quite often.”
            Just then another group of spacers arrived, pushing their way through the crowd.  They wore gray and blue uniforms, and scowls on their faces.  Cass watched in surprise as they appropriated at table in the middle of the room, physically removing the two people sitting there.  The leader of the gang shouted for a waiter over the rumble of conversation.
            Bil snorted in disgust.  “Lycoskys.  Now there are some folks you want to remember.  Remember to avoid, that is. The Lycosky Trade Protectorate is the biggest shipping outfit in space, and everybody knows it, especially them.  They seem to think that no one else knows has a right to ship cargo.  I’ve heard more stories than I could count of independents and other national shippers getting harassed, threatened and worse by LTP crews.  They’re just plain arrogant, and act like nobody can touch ‘em.  Which unfortunately is almost true.  Complain to the captain, and he defends the crew.  Complain to the LTP ambassador and he defends the captain.  These guys can just about get away with murder.  Just look at that.”  He pointed to the rowdy gang of men.  They had stopped a woman dressed in the uniform of the Morgenstern line.  Cass couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, but it was obviously derogatory.  The woman snapped a reply and started to walk away.  One of the crewmen jumped up and grabbed her by the arm.  She slapped him, and he wound up like he was going to hit her in return, when the man in the Talaveran navy uniform stopped him.  Cass hadn’t noticed him getting up, but he was boldly stepping between the two, pushing the crewman back.  The Talaveran said something Cass couldn’t hear, but the man’s arm pointing towards the door made it obvious. 
            The rest of the LTP crew was standing now, crowding around the lone Imperial, making threatening noises.  The Talaveran stood his ground, repeating his command for them to leave.  “Oh, this is going to get ugly,” Bil muttered.
            Suddenly the Kassiran Marines appeared behind the Talaveran.  The marine sergeant pushed one crewman back, and repeated the order for them to leave.  The crewman pushed back, making more threats, which were plainly audible.  Everyone else in the room seemed to have stopped talking to watch the fireworks. 
Cass turned back to his mentor. “Say, Bil, shouldn’t we call… “  He was talking to an empty chair.  Gunderson had already stood up and was marching resolutely to join the Talaveran officer.  Cass jumped up and hustled after him.  By the time he and Bil reached the Lycosky’s table the Dothan spacers had joined in as well.  All talk had ceased throughout the bar, as everyone waited to see what would happen.
The leader of the LTP gang flinched first. It dawned on his arrogant mind that the mix of uniforms arrayed against his crew had them outnumbered, and that most of the men and women were combat-trained. He spat a curse.  “Come on, guys.  Let’s find someplace else.  The service is too slow around here.”  With this weak excuse, he turned toward the exit and gave one of his men a shove towards the door.  The Dothans stepped aside and let the crewmen file out sullenly.  As soon as the last blue-and-gray uniform disappeared from sight, the bar erupted in cheers and laughter. 
Two hours later, Bil and Cass finally tore themselves free from their roomful of new friends.  At the door, they stopped and rendered salutes (as best they could in a somewhat drunken state) to the Talaveran officer.  Commander Bradford Norris smiled and returned the salute much more crisply.  Jeannie Thermopolis, the Morgenstern crewman, removed her arm from around his shoulders but simply waved good-bye.  Then she went back to smiling at Norris.

I wrote this probably ten years ago, to put some detail into my Traveller universe. It's just a snippet, but I've kept it unlike some other ideas that I've discarded over time.  Check out my Traveller map and see if you can find all the places that are referred to in the story.

A Failure of Diplomacy

Diplomacy Failure

The Lykosky Trade Protectorate ambassador to the Court of Talavera arrived at the Imperial Minister of Trade’s office, in response to an insistent summons to appear.

      Ambassador Langstrom strode confidently into the Minister’s office. He strode confidently everywhere he went; it was his considered opinion that it projected an aura of strength, both his own and that of the LTP.
      Trade Minister Lord Marcus Allerton, Count of Upper Columbia, Valadon stood up and waited unsmilingly as the ambassador settled himself into the comfortable chair on the other side of the desk. Ambassador Langstrom was not a very large man, and the arrogant smirk he usually wore (which the ambassador had made part of his ‘confident’ image) actually underscored his average size and appearance.
Once he was situated, Langstrom leaned forward resting one elbow on his knee, and asked with total innocence, “What can I do for you, Minister? I must admit I’m very surprised by your insisting to see me on such short notice.”
The Trade Minister’s face hardened. “For openers, Julius, you can drop that stupid smirk. There are no reporters here, and you do not impress me. What you can do is start explaining what your people have been up to.”
      If Langstrom was upset by Allerton’s presumptive use of his first name, his smirking face never showed it for a second. “Explain? I have no idea what you’re talking about, Marcus.”
      Allerton, ignoring the impolite use of his first name, opened a drawer in his desk and withdrew a stack of computer file chips. Then he pulled out another, and a third. “These,” he began, the tone of his voice going very flat, “are official complaint reports that have been coming in from ports all over the Empire. They are complaints about your company’s ships, their crews and their activities. Fourteen significant violations of the Restricted Materials Act, eleven cases of LTP ships jumping the docking queues resulting in five near-collisions, nineteen disturbances, no, fights involving LTP crewmen, several of which resulted in Imperial subjects or third party shippers requiring hospitalization.” Allerton’s voice began to rise. “Last but not least, twenty-three complaints of intimidation in word or actions directed against Imperial or third party shippers. Your boys have been seriously misbehaving and what I want you to explain is who the hell your people think they are and what your government is going to do to put a stop to this! Am I understood Mister Ambassador?”
Langstrom’s smirk began to fade as Allerton read the list, but he composed himself quickly. “Every organization has a few problem employees, Marcus and after all the time the LTP has been providing shipping service to the Empire, I’m sure that - "
      Allerton pounded on his desk, cutting him off mid-sentence. “This stack of complaints has appeared on my desk just in the last two weeks! If you’d like, we can pull out the records and see how much crap your people have been pulling all year! Or how about the last two years? Your shippers have never been well behaved but we were willing to pass it off as the occasional crank. But this looks like an almost intentional effort to set off an international incident.”
      “I can’t imagine what you think this is going to accomplish, but let me remind you that the LTP operates in our space by the consent of the Emperor, and that consent can be withdrawn at His Majesty’s leisure.” Allerton held up his hand in a rebuking gesture as Langstrom opened his mouth to complain. “And before you start sputtering about how much we need you for our economy, let me remind you of all the Imperial battle squadrons patrolling your space right now. We both know your government is terrified that the Unionists will swallow you whole. That’s why you invited our navy to maintain a presence in your space. Suppose we withdrew our naval forces? Nobody else has the capability to defend your systems. The Dothans would like to try but they don’t have the tonnage to stop the Unionists, and the Americans are your other major competition, so they’d probably be happy to see you get taken out of the market. I’d be really interested to see how cocky one of your Strassencruzer super carriers is when it gets radar-locked by a Unionist battleship. You may think we need you, Mister Ambassador, but the truth is that you need us. Do you know what percentage of your GNP comes from trade with or through the Empire? Twenty-two point six percent this year, and it’s been going up the last nine years running. If you lose that, where are you going to pick up that much business? The only other polity large enough to take up that volume of trade is the Union, and you don’t want to think about that.”
      Langstrom sat back, his mouth agape, and had absolutely nothing to say. Allerton sat back as well, lacing his fingers under his chin. “If you want to play hardball, Mr. Ambassador, we are the wrong people to play with. Now you go back to your embassy, and do whatever diplomatic thing you need to do to make it clearly understood that this adolescent behavior is not going to be tolerated any more.” With that, Allerton made a dismissive hand gesture, indicating that the meeting was over. Langstrom rose, collected his note case and left without saying a word, walking too quickly to radiate much confidence.

* Author's note to Traveller players- ways this story can be mined for adventure ideas. 

  • The PC group can be free traders harassed by LTP employees as they go about their business. 
  • The PC group can be an LTP crew, and see how much crap they can get away with. 
  • They could be Talaveran customs officers tasked with enforcing the rules with these jerks. 
  • The LTP is trying to provoke something, but what, and to what end?  
  • What if some third party is trying to cause friction between the Empire and the Protectorate?  
  • Espionage, revenge, law enforcement, cut-throat trade competition or just trying to get by without getting squashed.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Religion Index - a way to bring religion into the game

     In my post on the Religious landscape of my Traveller universe, I mentioned the Religion Index, which I now present here for consideration. My intent is to describe the social attitude towards religion (principally towards Christianity) on a given world. The separation of light-years from other worlds, even in the same star nation, means that each planet’s society is a mostly closed system; so each planet's society will have its own RI code, and codes could vary a lot across the star nation. 

While the explanations mention the force of law, I am not equating Law Level with religious tolerance. Even a militantly religious (or irreligious) society could have an otherwise low Law Level, however harsh the punishments might be for a religious infraction. 

I do not have a method for randomly determining the Religion Index; the referee can start every planet with a RI code 0 and develop from there, as it serves the needs of the campaign.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Ship in the Lake - Amber Zone # 2

Amber Zone: The Ship in the Lake by Loren Weisman

Location: Cocta, (Mowbrey 2414) Foreven Sector C-5677BA-A – this data gotten from the Traveller Wiki, no location or UPP is given in the Amber Zone.

Patron: Sternmetal Horizons, LLC

Mission: Locate a sunken wreck of a transport ship, sunk in a lake to the north of the settled area. Retrieve from the wreck a field report on the mineral assets of the planet. Sternmetal wants to know if there are resources worth developing on Cocta.

Payoff: CR 2 million for the report, CR 100,000 for the verified location of the wreck.

Complications: There is an active rebellion operating in the region of the wreck; the rebels are accused of causing the shipwreck. The government holds tight restrictions on the importation of weapons, so the patron has smuggled some on-planet for them, but they will run afoul of the government if this becomes known. The party is saddled with a local guide when outside the settled area, who will likely report the illegal weapons. The wreck is in deep water and will require special equipment to recover.

Strong Points: This is a straightforward mission, the PCs will not be thrown by any big surprises. The actual recovery operation will not be too complex; the threat level will come from the rebels; the referee can decide on the appropriate intensity of attacks to provide sufficient tension. This setting has potential for several follow-on adventures, such as protecting the mining operation and countering the rebels, or even aiding them with the goal of setting up a puppet government for Sternmetal to control.

Weak Points: The local guide has to be bought off (could be costly) or eliminated (a most disagreeable option) if the PCs want to avoid official trouble with the restricted weapons they have been given. The setup is a bit nonsensical; why hasn't Stermetal contacted the local government and worked directly with them? A positive report will mean an economic boost for the government (the introduction says the government wants this). Why then is the government not cooperating with Sternmetal, who will likely help them suppress the rebels as part of the deal?

What I'd change: The government's approach to the PC's and their weapons – eliminate the need for the guide, or give the PCs permission to bring their own guns with them. I would instead say that Sternmetal is prohibited by Imperial law from getting directly involved, so the PC's mission is skirting the law, which both Cocta and Sternmetal want to keep quiet from Imperial representatives on-planet. I might explore the reasons behind the rebel's actions. What are their goals? Maybe the Coctan government is corrupt or oppressive, or threatening the pristine wilderness with development.

In My Traveller Universe: I'd place this Amber Zone on Rogel (Dothan-Talavera 0106) D-553602-11 Pr 2 million people. Small and unimportant, but right next door to the Empire, so they're dependent upon Imperial tourism. It's a J-1 stop that can be easily skipped over by J-2 ships. 

This map was created by me,using Hexographer ( It may be used or modified without restriction.

Rescue on Ruie - Amber Zone # 1

Amber Zone: Rescue on Ruie by Jeffery May from JTAS # 1

Location: the country of Nebelthorn, a small dictatorship on
the planet Ruie (obviously). Ruie is a industrialized but pre-spaceflight balkanized world with a near Earth-normal conditions. The environment is not a factor in the scenario.

Patron: An Imperial corporation official, whose son is in trouble on Ruie.

Mission: The son's been arrested and sent to the cooler. The corporate man wants his son busted out. Nebelthorn is not under the Imperium so he's resorting to clandestine methods. The objective is simple – get into the prison and extract the son.

Payoff: the corporate man offers the group a used free trader (a 37 MCr value!) with which to make their escape.

Complications: The son is not being held at a county jail, he's in a maximum security prison doing hard time. Guards and active defenses are in use.

Strong Points: This scenario will appeal to those who like lots of action over puzzle-solving or social interacting. The goal is clear and the potential payoff is huge. This could be the start point for a mercenary campaign – the group establishes their cred by busting open the prison.

Weak Points: Did I mention that this is a maximum security prison they're breaking into? Unless they bring a huge gang they're going to be horribly outnumbered.  It will be a tough job for the Referee to provide a balanced adventure here that the PCs can survive. The guards will have no reason to hold back against the PC's and as this is a maximum security prison the guards should not be incompetent. There is also the fact that what the PCs are doing is a crime, possibly an Imperial crime. It is a blatant violation of their national sovereignty. There should be some kind of repercussion from this action, the Nebelthornian government is going to complain loudly to the Imperials. They'll know it was the Imperials because they know who the target is and target's father is. From there Imperial investigators can trace the PCs. The scenario states that the son was fairly convicted of a crime, and while the sentence might seem harsh, it is legal. This just makes the PCs' assault all the more criminal.

What I'd change: I'd make the prison a lesser security facility, and confirm that the son had faced a kangaroo court instead of a legitimate trial. I might change the payoff to a smaller ship, or travel vouchers, or a chunk of cash, depending on whether the PC group could actually crew a starship.

In My Traveller Universe, I'd put it on Latoria [Weitzlar subsector 0405]. Latoria is balkanized, TL 9 and near enough to either the United Planets or the Union to fit the general outline of the scenario.

Introducing the Amber Zone Reviews

What are Amber Zone Reviews?

      Amber Zones are adventure scenarios published in GDW's Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society, the official gaming support magazine for Traveller. JTAS, as it was known, was published between 1979 and 1985, for a total of 24 issues, then the title was absorbed into GDW's newer magazine, Challenge. Each Amber Zone gave the referee a basic layout for the adventure, but always left a lot of room for creative interpretation. Lots of Traveller players read JTAS, so this bare-bones approach allowed the referee to still surprise the players with the way he filled in the details.

      I plan to bring out an Amber Zone Review weekly until I run out of them. These reviews will be taken (roughly) in the order the scenarios were published. I will explain the basic situation, and consider the aspects of the scenario listed below. I will try to give enough detail so that the reader will know what the scenario is about, but I will also specifically not spoil all the surprises.

Amber Zone: The title of the adventure as it appeared in JTAS, and its author.

Location: planet name and text description (not UPP) of the local conditions

Patron: who brings the PCs into the Zone

Mission: what they're asked to do

Complications: who and what may stop them

Payoff: what motivates them to do it. Usually but not always this will be money.

Strong Points: What I see as being the 'good stuff' for the adventure; challenges, surprises, opportunities to develop campaigns

Weak Points: things like poor logic, railroading the characters into a certain action, assumption that the characters are criminals, setups for failure

What I'd change: how I would modify the adventure to amend weak points or expand upon strong points

In My Traveller Universe: Where I would place the adventure in My Traveller Universe, and what groups would be involved.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Another Career option for Classic Traveller - School

A new Prior Service career for the more intellectually inclined adventurer. I posted it on the Citizens of the Imperium discussion board a while back.

Classic Traveller
New Prior Career: School

      The School career represents the pursuit of higher education wit the goal of learning a specific skill or to enter a specific profession. Most people who follow this path go into normal careers, but every once in a while, a highly trained and education professional chooses a life of adventure rather than a normal career.

      I used the College rules from High Guard as the basis. The admission, success, honors and education rules are directly from Book Five. There are five skill tables, but unlike the other prior careers, in School everyone can use Table 1 and 2 but the player must decide what kind of school the character will go for at the time of the admission roll. Skills can only be rolled for on table 1, 2 or that school's table. The success roll if made gives the character +1 EDU, representing their overall studies. If the success roll is missed, do not roll for Honors. In subsequent terms, the character may transfer up (TS>C>PS) but this must be announced before making the success roll.

Skill acquisition goes as follows:
      Term 1 roll 1d on the Personal Development table and 1d on the appropriate school table. Receive Skill-2 in the skill rolled on the school table. Honors students get Skill-3 instead of Skill-2.
      Subsequent terms are resolved the same as term one, but the student gets only one skill roll, or two if they make the honors list. Instead of rolling, the player can choose +1 in an existing skill or they can roll and take Skill-1 in a new skill. Note also the increasing penalty towards retention in school after the second term.

Career: School
Admission – 9+ DM +2 if Edu 9+
Success – 7+ DM +2 if Int 8+
Honors – 9+ DM +1 if Edu 9+
Retention – 6+ DM -1 per term past 2

Skill Tables

Roll  Personal      Social      Trade School    College    Professional
      Development   Skills                                          School
1     +1 Edu        Forgery     Mechanical      Admin      Medical
2     Jack-o-T      Carousing   Gravitics       Broker     Engineering
3     Carousing     Gambling    Robotics        Trader     Science
4     +1 Int        Streetwise  Computer        Survey     Legal
5     +1 End        Vehicle     Electronics     Navigation Science
6     Brawling      +1 Soc      Liaison         Commo      Pilot

If any skill is 3+ already, you may choose Instruction instead of rolling.

Mustering Out Tables
Roll   Benefits         Cash
1      Low Passage   1000
2      Equipment      2000
3      +1 Int             2000
4      Credentials     3000
5      Credentials     4000
6      High Passage   5000
7      +1 Soc            5000
DM +1 if any skill at Skill-5

Notes on Skills
      All skills are from CT books 1-8 with the exception of Science. Science is a cascade skill which the player can select. Any branch of science not covered by another held skill can be specified.
Notes on Benefits
      Credentials means that the character is formally recognized by a relevant professional or trade organization. This includes formal degrees from an accredited institution and some recognized contribution to the field such as research or innovative practice. It has no cash value and cannot be transferred, but a Credentialed character can claim greater compensation from a patron and get a bonus (Referee's discretion) on reactions when operating within the character's chosen field.
      Equipment means the character has been given at no cost a set of standard tools (or other logical equipment) relevant to the area of highest skill. For example, a character with Mechanical-3 would receive a standard Mechanical tool kit. If the highest skill does not have standard tools, then the player can choose a set for another skill.

All at Sea (or in Space)

 We tend to think of land as belonging to someone. Everything around my house is either private property or “public land” which means it is owned by the local municipality. Land is valuable so we assume someone owns it. As Wil Rogers said, “buy land, they ain't makin' any more of it”. I recently read an article in Janes' Intelligence Review (sorry, subscription required) entitled All at Sea, which discusses the concept of Ungoverned Space (UGS). 

A Classic Traveller Guide to Planet-building

Planet-building with the Classic Traveller System

Traveller is about travel, about visiting new places, and this means planets. Whether in the Official Traveller Universe or in my own universe (see here) planets begin with the Universal Planetary Profile or UPP, which is a string of characters that indicate basic facts about a planet. But if you stop there, all you have is a skeleton. With a little imagination and a bit of math, you can take this framework and build compelling, interesting challenging planetary settings. My thesis in this essay is that the Classic Traveller (CT) basic planet building system is simple yet robust, allowing for great variety, and easily accepting of creative input from the referee. While the all-desert planet of Tatooine & the all-arctic planet of Hoth worked well as backdrop for the story that Star Wars was telling, that's all they were – backdrop. It is clear that the writers of Star Wars did not give the setting too much thought, as we are given no other information about the planets. Planets in Traveller are setting, and the PCs should interact with the environment that surrounds them. Since the planets can't really be seen, the referee has to describe the planet with enough detail that the players can imagine where they are. The CT system provides the referee with enough data to do this.

The CT planet building system codifies the world by starport size, planet size, atmospheric composition, extent of oceans (hydrosphere), population, government, law and technology levels. The first four are physical and the last four are social characteristics.

I suppose that Starports can be compared to modern-day airports, if by air was the only way to get from one country to the next. It's not on this planet, but in Traveller the starport is likely the first point of contact between the PCs and a new world. Starports get letter ratings, with higher letters indicating increasingly primitive facilities, with X as the worst meaning no landing facilities of any kind. What can the starport tell us about the planet's inhabitants? In the design sequence, starport rating has a big influence on technology rating, so planets with the best ports tend to have higher tech. Also, better starports have more trade and general contact with the rest of the universe. Remember, even though planets 1&2 are right next to each other on the subsector map, they are still 3 or more light years apart, and very effectively isolated without the presence of starships, and starports at which to land them.
Not that long ago, I discovered something new in the Traveller rules. I was reading Book 3, Worlds and Adventures, and in the section on world design, lo and behold, there was a chart I had never noticed before. I have checked The Traveller Book and Starter Traveller (yes, I own all three rule books – The Traveller Book was a gift from a friend and Starter Traveller I got for free from Drive-Thru RPG []) and it wasn't in either of them. The chart gives a semi-random method for determining the presence of trade routes, based on starport type. Trade routes can give your PCs a reason to visit a world – there will be cargo to buy or sell, patrons to find, or pirates to fight.
Somewhere (I'll remember at some point) I read a suggestion that a planet's population be multiplied by 4% (or less for lower-tech worlds) to determine the number of tons of shipping operating to and from that world. This can be modified based on the starport or tech level, or whatever. If we assume that this figure covers both freight and passenger shipping, now you have an idea of how busy the starport is, and how many ships may be in 'local space' around the planet. This should be conditional upon the quality of the starport. High levels of space traffic will necessitate more port facilities. Also, a planet (particularly balkanized ones, see Government) may have more than one port, but the one in the UPP rating is the highest/best/biggest one.

The next stat in the UPP string is Size. At first glance, all this tells us is the planet's diameter. Right away, this can tell us two things: the surface area, and the relative gravity. A few things can be made of these facts.
Planet Earth is listed in CT canon as being size 8, and we measure gravity from Earth's baseline of 1G. Larger planets (size 9+) will have higher gravity, and smaller worlds will have lower gravity. In the rules section on personal combat there is a table for gravitational effects, showing how different planet sizes affect carrying capacity. Gravity can either be a side-note or a significant plot element, depending on what the PCs will do there. In my short story Just Across Town, the planet's lower gravity becomes important as the protagonists find that they are the strongest people around.
Working from the assumption that all planets are (roughly) spherical, the formula [4*Pi*r^2] will give us the planet's surface area in square km. This will later be affected by the Hydrosphere stat. All other information about the planet's physical shape are left to the referee. Yes, I know later works, Book 6 Scouts and the World Builder's Handbook, go into greater detail, but I don't think that's needed in most cases, except for PCs on survey mission. A few questions you should answer are: how hot or cold is the planet, generally? Is it the only planet in the local system, or are there others? What kind of matter makes up the planet? Are there lots of metals, or few? Will plants grow in the soil, or not? Atmosphere and hydrosphere will influence local flora & fauna but physical composition can be whatever you want it to be.

Atmosphere plays a more significant role in the habitable-ness of a world than size does. Breathing is not optional, so it is important to know what there is to breathe and how much. The atmosphere table lists varying densities of atmosphere, interspersed with contaminants and some alternate compositions. The rules assume that the main components of the atmosphere are nitrogen and oxygen, unless otherwise specified. Thin, Standard and Dense atmospheres can be breathed without assistance, but tainted and exotic atmospheres will need life support gear of some kind. Consult any basic chemistry book and you'll find enough compounds to pollute the air and keep things interesting. If you want to go for the more exotic atmospheres, remember that such planets will have very different flora and fauna from earthlike planets. You can't have daffodils growing on a planet where it rains sulfuric acid.

At the extreme end of the atmosphere table are the non-breathable ones, including the insidious atmosphere which can eat through your protective gear, thereby ending the adventure and ruining the PC's day. The equipment lists give you all the gear your PCs will need to handle the atmosphere issues, but what will they do when the gear breaks or malfunctions? You've got instant adventure, just take away the oxygen. The absence of oxygen or the presence of toxic gases is of enormous importance to anyone spending time out in the open, and while it need not always be a major element of an adventure, the atmosphere should not be ignored. Both the Classic Traveller adventure Shadows and Lois M Bujold's novel Komarr (part of the Vorkosigan series) use the atmosphere as a significant device in moving the plot.

Humans and other carbon-based life forms need water to survive, so it is important to know how much water a planet has. Again, the rules assume that the liquid is water, rather than something else. The hydrosphere table is graduated percentages of the surface covered by water. This figure includes all oceans, lakes, rivers and ponds. Some of it, at the poles, will possibly be ice. Or if you've decided the world is cold enough, all of it can be ice. For each level, the specific percentage can be +/- 5% of the given value. If the atmosphere is unusual enough, it might be another liquid, if the atmosphere is tainted, expect the water to contain the same contaminant.

Any settled area is going to need access to water, so plan on having lots of beachfront property. It almost does not need to be said that the surface area of the planet will be effectively reduced by the presence of bodies of water. The nice thing is that when drawing maps of the planet, just about any arrangement will make sense, so no great cartographic skill is required. All the dry land can be in one large mass, or if it fits the adventure better, the planet can be dotted by volcanic islands. Something to keep in mind is that the extent of the hydrosphere affects the amount of rainfall, and the extensiveness of plant (and therefore animal) life.

There may be plenty of uninhabited planets/moons/asteroids in the universe, but sooner or later your PCs will want to make contact with other people. So let's talk about populations. The population table scales the population in exponentially increasing levels. As such, massively crowded worlds and frontier outposts with less than twenty people are all possible. In many cases, there doesn't need to be much explanation for why people live on this planet. Good starports, breathable air and decent technology are usually reason enough. On the other hand, it is quite possible to randomly generate a world the size of our moon, with almost no atmosphere and no water, that is never the less home to five hundred million people. THAT takes a little explaining. The question that instantly comes to mind when looking at such disagreeable environments is “why does anyone live there?” You as the referee have to give them a reason to do so. Alternately, you can just exercise referee fiat and change the numbers to make it less awful-sounding. I will give my answer to that question at the end of this essay. For now, the population is there, so what are they doing? Trade classification can help with this, and taking into consideration the physical factors of the planet, think of some Earth society that lives in similar conditions, and you've got ready-made society characteristics to work with. Cold weather but breathable air could be turned into Norwegians in space, densely packed domed cities could be likened to Hong Kong or any other big city. Let the physical stats guide your decision but don't be afraid to just make stuff up.
Ah, government. Where would we be without it? The Government table lists various government setups in no particular order, including anarchy, clan/tribe rule, traditional monarchies, straight democracies and even religious dictatorships. Some of the government descriptions may sound strange. I am told that Marc Miller, the main designer of Traveller, studied sociology in college, so his terminology for these types are technical. 'Charismatic' is the one that always threw me. To be brief, there are two general kinds of governments, rule by the one (few) and rule by the many. You can choose to include details of how the government is set up, division of powers, etc or you can just decide on how much the government gets itself involved in peoples everyday life. Here as with populations, we have a wealth of real-world examples to work with. Not every planet should be like 20th-century America, nor like 20th-century Soviet Russia, but those are two possibilities. Any type of government can be corrupt or honest, effective or incompetent, massively in debt or fiscally sound. Decide what will work best for your adventure, and go with it. Keep record of what the government is like, and decide what that means in terms of that planet's interaction with the rest of your universe.

Law level is where most PC groups will at least initially, interact with the government of a world, by breaking the local laws. The Traveller book suggests rolling Law Level or less on 2D to see if the PCs have a run-in with the law. Imagination should be used here as much as elsewhere. To what extent is law enforcement visible or obvious? Is enforcement of the stated Law Level strict or lax? What are the likely consequences of law-breaking? How much do you want this to be a part of the group's adventure? The threat of fines or imprisonment can keep rowdy PCs restrained, or alternately, despotic forces can be used as the 'villain' for the PCs to oppose.
Law Level descriptions focus on permitted weapons, which brings up an important point: if the PCs are allowed to carry guns, then so is everyone else. Don't be afraid to overpower the PCs with well-armed constabulary. Unlike other RPGs where PCs can get blasted with dragon fire and walk away with most of their hit points, in Traveller, even a handgun can be deadly.
Law level can also reflect that world's attitude towards the PCs. Worlds with low LL may be more open and welcoming, preferring to use social pressure (which can itself be quite harsh) rather than laws to keep the peace. However, once the PCs violate local norms, the response may be swift and direct. For an example of this, read H Beam Piper's Lone Star Planet, available from Librivox or Gutenberg. At the other end, worlds with high LL may rely on the presence of law enforcement to maintain the peace and as long as 'no law was broken', PCs can act as they wish. And of course, don't forget the ever-popular 'police state' setup where the government itself has become the enemy of the people.

For a game set in the “Far Future”, Traveller has always been pretty light on the high-tech goodies. For people who are very familiar with the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises, this can make Traveller seem very dated and, well, lame by comparison. Staples of those franchises like lightsabers, transporter beams (teleporters), instant communication across light years and simply gigantic space ships are absent from Traveller. Communication is limited to the speed of travel, ships have to actually land on planets, and most people are armed with projectile weapons. I have seen on the Citizens of the Imperium discussion board numerous discussions of “why do they still have metal swords in the far future?” and “Why are they still using projectile guns? “. Let me say again that Traveller and Star Wars both came out in 1977 – so the two had almost no direct influence on each other, quite apart from the fact that they are two different media, with two different purposes. Traveller gets it inspiration from lots of sources, mostly sci-fi writings from the 1950's through the 1970's. Just to name a few, there's Piper, (mentioned above), Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Andre Norton, E C Tubb, Poul Anderson, Robert Heinlien, and the list goes on. It seems to me that most of these writers didn't worry so much about fancy visually-appealing technological widgets (not so important for print media) and instead wrote about ordinary (and sometimes extraordinary) people and the problems they faced. By contrast, the Star Wars and Star Trek films had to put a lot into visual effects, because that's what films do. Plus the pace of story telling is much faster in films or TV shows than in books. That's why even a regular sized book gets made into a miniseries or gets large parts of the story cut out. While it may be visually appealing to watch some bit of technobabble resolve the conflict of the story (yes, Star Trek: The Next Generation, I'm looking at you), it's a lot more dull to read about some piece of equipment doing the hero's job for him. Accuse me of being unfair to films/TV if you will, I'm just saying that Traveller is a lot closer to sci-fi books than it is to sci-fi films.

Striker provides a rule for determining a planet's (or properly a government's) Gross Planetary Product. This is simply the Gross Domestic Product in space. This value can influence or be influenced by the presence or absence of a trade route – it also asks some useful questions. Why does this planet have all this cash? The Striker rule also has guidelines for determining the planet's military budget. I've compared the range in Striker with current real-world military budgets as a % of GDP [see CIA factbook table here:] and it seems to track well with the real world. Even without the use of the Striker formula, if you take a look at real-world countries and find one that you want to use as a model, you can give your players an illustration of how well-off or impoverished a planet is.
Once you have your planetary population figure, you can use this number to determine another feature, the inhabited area. Begin with assigning a population density to the world. For example, the average population density of the United States is about 32 ppl/km^2, but this figure varies widely on our planet. ( The pop density figure should reflect the conditions on the planet, so look at the atmosphere code. As a guide, the further your planet's atmosphere code is away from six (Standard) the higher the density is likely to be. If the air is breathable, the population can afford to spread out. On the other hand, if the population is confined to sealed or enclosed spaces, they're likely to be all together in a few cities, with few if any outlying villages. Decide if this settled area is all one contiguous blob, or if there are multiple settled areas with unsettled space in between. How long the planet has been settled? The longer a population has been there, the more likely they are to be spread out. Once you're satisfied with the pop density number, just divide the population figure by the density and you have the settled area in square kilometers. Most planets will have significant unsettled and possibly unexplored areas that are prime adventure locations. Off the radar, outside the comm-sat network, there could be partisans, pirates, refugees, almost anything.

Earlier on, I asked the question that comes up with less-than-Earth-like planets, to wit: Why do people live on such a crappy world? Because of the importance of place. George Friedman over at Strategic Forecasting ( wrote an essay entitled “The Love of One's Own and the Importance of Place” where he argues that people love what they know, without having to be taught to do so. One's family, one's language and culture, the familiar places where you've always lived, have a significance that defies cold logic. To sum up, and quote a character from Harry Harrison's Deathworld books, “Me born here, me stay here, me die here. Ugh.”
Sure, planet Zog has a poisonous atmosphere. But, darnit, we're Zoggians and proud of it! All that has to be explained is why someone came there originally. Just about any explanation will do, from mining the resources, to crash-landing there, to wanting to found a colony free from the oppression of whoever was formerly oppressing them.
In conclusion, I realize, that this can, when you look at it all in one go, seem like a lot of work. The great thing is that you don't have to go to this level of detail with every world, unless you want to. Creating UPP's is quick and easy, just a series of dice rolls and a few tables to consult. Most planets in your universe will just be the UPP string and a spot on the map. Once you are familiar with the how of fleshing out the skeleton, the what becomes much easier. As to the when, this level of detail is only needed when your PC group is going to spend an important amount of time on the planet, outside of the spaceport or their own ship. If you want them to have an adventure on this planet, give it as much detail as the adventure needs, and run with it. Feel free to borrow ideas & concepts from other media, or from real life! With practice, creating details based on the UPP can be done on the fly, for when the PC group goes somewhere unexpected. A little imagination can transform a boring string of characters into an exciting, unexpected, mysterious world for your PC group to explore.