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Monday, December 5, 2016

Traveller Skills

Today is a bit of a digression, but when I was in middle school, I had picked up at the local hobby shop a black rulebook with a painted sleeve cover showing a group of people exiting a spaceship parked on (apparently) a vacuum plain via  pressurized corridor, with guns. It was for a science fiction RPG system called "Traveller", and took over for me from D&D as my primary RPG of choice. I'd spent hours in middle school running ship designs to get the best possible combination of weight/cost/distance for different roles, plotting out combat scenarios in the vector-based system, and rolling up (and often killing in the process) characters.

One thing that has flummoxed a lot of people is the skills system. Old school D&D didn't really have much of one - it was basically "try whatever you want / can describe" with the GM taking into account the few proficiencies for weapons and armor, etc., and your physical stats to determine, sometimes with a die roll, how it works out.

Later editions of D&D, 3.5 and Pathfinder in particular, took this granularity too far, and GURPS was built on granularity from the ground up.

GURPS though, had something explicitly baked in that was mostly implied in Traveller - that many "skills" that would require a roll were things any normal human could try, they just weren't explicitly trained.

It is that "mostly implied" that this most recent post gets into:
The first thing to remember is that Traveller characters are competent. Skill-1 is employable - you are good enough with it to get a paying job using this skill. Skill-3 is a professional - typically enough to get you a license in one of the Professions, such as being a Medical Doctor or a licensed Engineer. In ordinary situations, they do their jobs competently. Under CT rules, for example, First Aid and even Surgery for Severe Wounds do not require a roll - you got the paramedic (First Aid) or the surgeon (Surgery), you get results. They only need to roll dice when there is a significant chance of failure even for a professional, and when failure will have dire consequences. For example, if a doctor character would try to perform the above-mentioned surgery in some colonial hellhole when only the local TL-3 tools are available, and not in the default TL8+ Medlab.

Again- Skill-1 is enough to work at an actual, skilled job. Most people, both in real life and in Traveller, do not have too many such employable skills.
Further down:
Skills are a Big Deal in Classic Traveller. Pilot-1 alone can land you in a 6KCr/month job - very well-paying for a 22-years-old character. Medic-3 alone is enough for being a licensed physician, and with DEX 8+ you are actually a surgeon! Most people - even sci-fi heroes - will not have too many skills. The game mechanics also reflect this - on a 2d6 curve, DM +3 is a Big Deal, and skews things very far in your favor. Add to that Characteristics DMs, and a talented, skilled professional can be a highly successful expert.

But what about all the other adventuring stuff? you ask, If my character only has Vacc Suit-2 and Computer-1, what about combat skills? Driving a vehicle? Well, my friends, for this you have the Skill-0 rules. For starters, all Traveller adventures have Skill-0 in all common small arms. With a good gun at good range, especially with good Characteristics, they'll make very decent combatants even with Skill-0. With Vacc Suit-1, you can wear Combat Armor, and with Vacc Suit-2, you can wear a Battledress! As a Referee, I'd also assume Vacc Suit-0 and a Skill-0 in one Vehicle skill for the typical character. Most "passive" knowledge skills are subsumed in the EDU Characteristic. Finally, this is Old School - your character can do a whole load of "adventuring" stuff without having a specific skill listed on their character sheet.
He uses some interesting examples, including Ripley from Alien and Aliens.

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