Monday, August 29, 2016

Why are there no Ranks in the Scout Service?

Chris over at Tales to Astound has been recently exploring the literary inspirations for Traveller. I wish to add a small discovery to that effort. 
An abandoned alien city and an object that appears to made of Absolute Zero.

I've known for some time that the fantasy & sci-fi great Poul Anderson is counted among the inspirational authors for Traveller. Just yesterday I ran across a story of his that provides an answer to my question. His short story "The Entity", with John Gergen, appearing in the June 1, 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction gives us a look at the life of the Scout Service.  Also, it's a good story of an encounter with alien technology.

“Civilization could not expand blindly into the stars. Someone had to go ahead of even the explorers and give a vague idea of what to expect. Only Earth’s finest, the most ultimately sane of all mankind, could endure being cooped in a metal bubble floating through darkness and void for years on end and even they sometimes broke.” 

Perhaps this explains the higher Survival throw for Scouts?

But here's the paragraph that has me convinced (emphasis mine):

"He [the expedition's captain] felt a loneliness as he stood facing the men. They were more than his subordinates; they were his friends. Only those with the highest congeniality indexes could ever have survived a survey trip, so rank and formal discipline were unnecessary and unknown. The captain was only the coordinator of a band of specialists."
Scouts that are really scouting the uncharted regions have to endure long stretches of isolation with a small group. You'd better be able to 'play well with others' in such circumstances. The astronaut Mann in the film Interstellar is an example of the Scout type that 'sometimes broke.'

While the 'laconic scout' trope is popular, if we take this story as source material, the key personality trait for Scouts should be a willingness to collaborate - maybe Liaison skill should be retrofitted into the Scout's skill tables?


  1. Exactly. You are stuck with a tiny group of people, for a very long time, out of contact with anything else. Military formality makes sense in a submarine with its (relatively) large and complex crew, but not on a scout vessel with less than ten people aboard.

  2. Interesting...I really like the idea of retrofitting liaison.

    @Omer: in my experience (about six years on three different boats) submarine crews are much more informal than the surface Navy. Not one where the officers become "first among equals" but certainly one where petty officers are much less awed by JOs. Of course, in the nuclear divisions given most of the POs are college dropouts and at least as smart and knowledgeable as their JOs they map nicely to Poul's "band of specialists".

    1. So just think how informal things would be in a 4-man crew stuck together in a metal can between the stars for very long months...