Saturday, August 26, 2023

What Are the Assumptions of Traveller?

Bradford C Walker has written some interesting things about the point or goal of RPGs, hearkening back to the roots in wargames. He asked in one post, in relation to games, one of which was Traveller: “Make obvious what is hidden. Make explicit what is implicit.”

Okay, challenge accepted.

Some of what follows is quotes from The Traveller Book. TTB has the most extensive Introduction section of the three rules editions of CT. (TTB, LBBs 1-3, and Starter Traveller) Much of it is my read & interpretation of what I’ve found there.

Some say the one core assumption of Traveller is that communication moves at the speed of travel. The implications of that I touched on in this post.

An implicit assumption of Traveller is that the players are familiar with space adventure literature. There are references to different adventure novels throughout the rulebooks, and the Official 3I setting. 

Encounters are central to Traveller. In space, you have starship encounters. On uninhabited worlds there are animals and events to encounter. On inhabited worlds, there are legal, random and patron encounters. These are tools for the Referee to provide challenge and opportunity for the players. 

“The use of non-player characters is one of the most important things for a Referee to learn.” (TTB, p.13) "A large part of a Referee's job is the administration of encounters." (TTB, p.11) 

There are four types of NPCs. Spear carriers, informants, patrons, and trouble-makers. All can help or hinder the Travellers in their adventures. 

PCs also encounter Information. The Referee should keep information in four categories. One, what the PCs know because they exist in the world (common knowledge). Two what will cost the PCs little to learn. Three, what will cost them much to learn, and four, that which they cannot learn by themselves. 

Marc Miller (the author) states that conventional means like thrift and hard work do not work in Traveller. Bold, daring plans do, or might, work.

There are a potentially astronomical (pun intended) number of worlds for Traveller to discover. We have, thanks to NASA, some excellent photography of what other worlds may look like. 

But Traveller assumes a different approach. Players should look to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Leigh Brackett and Poul Anderson to tell us what other planets will look like. Those kinds of planets are where adventures happen!

Supplement 2, Animal Encounters assumes that even worlds different from our own will be teeming with life that can challenge or threaten the Travellers. They can also be valuable resources.

Traveller assumes:

       A human-centric setting

       Character focus

       Experience is power

       There is NO setting in the original LBBs.

       Travellers will meet both high and low tech peoples

       There is freedom to DREAM BIG

       Ambition will get you further than playing it safe

       People in the Far Future are the same as people today

       Danger is never far away

       Travellers do NOT have plot armor

       Encounters are central

       Travellers mix with a cross-section of society

       Travellers improve their Social Standing only through play, not game mechanics.

       Player skill is of utmost importance, more than improvement of PC characteristics or skills

       The universe will always be able to up the challenge level

       Travellers are not demi-gods walking

       The Referee defines the setting

       PCs are veterans, not neophytes, right out of the gate

       Solitaire play in Traveller is possible, and correct.

       Campaign play is the expected norm

       Adventures provide money which provides gear/vehicles/NPCs which enable the pursuit of player’s goals. So go get rich!

       Players want the possibility of magic and mysterious abilities. Marc Miller has said that Psionics are in the game because D&D has magic, so Traveller should too.

       Living is cheap so down-time is easy to do, in monthly blocks even.

       Only Class-A ports can build or repair jump drives.

       Wildernesses are there to explore (why else animal encounters?)

       The necessity of fighting. There are more rules on weapons and combat than there are about interacting with NPCs.

       All the listed skills will, at some point, be useful.

This list is, of course, not exhaustive. Share your Traveller assumptions in the comments!

One last thought. Traveller is not a strict “hard science” game. Yes, there are math formulae for space travel times and planetary gravity and such, but the operative assumption is not correct/accurate science but believable science. People can (please don’t) argue all day about the size of starship computers, but we can all agree that a starship should have a computer. Believable, if not accurate.


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