Wednesday, October 28, 2020

What Kills Travellers?

I've treated bullet holes, knife wounds, laser burns . . .” - a frustrated ship's Medic to his Captain.

Some of our jobs are more interesting than others,” - the Captain.

The Universe of Traveller is full of danger. The mini-game that is character generation (rather than character creation) emphasizes the fact that a Traveller universe can be deadly. But what particular things are likely to kill a Traveller?


Simple answer: bullets. Most fights in Traveller are gun fights, and it takes only 2-3 bullets to end a Traveller. So avoid those. But how, you ask?

I considered this question after reading Rick Stump's blog post on Low Level Encounters in D&D. In that game, PCs at lower levels are fragile and not powerful. They tend to die a lot. Traveller PCs are not “first level”, but their experience does not make them more resistant to damage, unlike D&D. TTB has no guidance at all about how difficult any type of encounter may be. The Referee can put any obstacle in the PCs' way.

Rick identified four factors that the Referee must keep in mind to avoid creating Killer Encounters resulting in a TPK. I have nowhere near Rick's amount of experience as a Referee, so I take his ideas as a guide. Looking at the rules, these four things are what players, rather than Referees, should watch out for.

Four Things

Failure to read the terrain of the encounter

PCs who stand up in the open during a firefight die. PCs who don't use their brains in a fight die. Enemies with surprise get at least one round to attack unopposed, and that might be all they need to take out the PCs.

How to avoid this: Mitigate surprise attacks with Leader, Tactics skill (I also include Recon). Utilize cover – it is a life saver. Control the range of the encounter by movement, don't just go to ground. Use Escape & Avoidance to not even have the fights you don't want to have. Use the Reaction table to Negotiate with opponents before the shooting starts.

Bringing a knife to a gunfight

A group with all handguns and blades is at the mercy of enemies with longer-ranged weapons. Blades are useless at Medium range. Laser weapons do very poorly against Reflec and Ablat. Most weapons do poorly against Battle Dress.

How to avoid this: All PCs should have some weapon, and prefer the weapons they have skill in. Remember the Weapon Mastery ability means they can use anything, and PCs should take the trade-off of expertise for tactical application. Have a mix of weapons available, and plan to bring the weapons best suited for the fight you're about to face. Position PCs to support long range shooters. Everyone carry a backup/close-in weapon.

Facing multiple attacks

The more enemy fighters you face, the more attacks there are incoming. Many NPCs will be just as skilled as the PCs in their primary weapon. Every enemy fighter with a weapon is a threat. The rule on automatic fire says the firer gets two to-hit throws per attack. This is twice the damage potential. Plus there is the group hits by auto-fire rule, that auto-fire can affect several PCs at once. Shotguns can also do this. Lots of animals are capable of speeds greater than humans (3+) which increases their threat, as they can move to Close range in 1-2 rounds. Pack animals multiply this threat. Animals can easily be larger than humans, and as such harder to bring down.

How to avoid this: Use teamwork to protect each other, and aid downed comrades. Spread out. Have some auto-fire weapons on your side too. Avoid fights at worse than 1:1 odds.

Facing armored enemies

Heavy armor (Cloth, Combat Armor/Battle Dress) is resistant to light weapons like blades and handguns. The longer it takes to get damaging attacks against an enemy, the longer that enemy can get damaging attacks against the PCs.

How to avoid this: well, you can't. But you can prioritize attacks to put your biggest guns against the heaviest armor. Lasers against anything, shotguns against reflec. Again, consider escape and negotiation to resolve the encounter.

My analysis is aimed at the players rather than at the Referee, as Rick's was. Yes, the Ref should not pit an Exploration team of PCs against a platoon of Marines in Battle Dress. That's just unfair. PCs should have a chance to survive. Unless they''re stupid. Traveller is unforgiving of players who expect to wear Plot Armor.

Image courtesy of Pixabay


  1. Also, ensure they players have an idea about what kind of adventure they're getting into. Not every encounter needs to be combat. Some can be just as well served by running away.

    That was what happened when the scout in a T5 campaign met a Corsair while riding a grav bike. He ran away, and we later shot it down while in our heavily modified Fat Trader.

  2. This guy had some good thoughts on CT combat, too.