TTRPG Roll 23-12: Off the cuff Traveller RPG

Though I’m not part of the older Dungeons & Dragons (er, D&D) crowd I still follow some of them for they can inspire adventures at times.

When I was younger, I was the “Forever Referee” in our Traveller roleplaying game crowd. In those days we were young middle or high school kids and we couldn’t afford all the adventures (even if they were only a few dollars each book). But that didn’t matter, because using the Little Black Books of Traveller provided everything we needed.

I recently purchased a softcover, digest-sized facsimile copy of Traveller: The Classic SF RPG Rules from Far Future Enterprises. The facsimile copy is the same size as the Little Black Books but this white-cover compilation is a (slightly) altered reprint of the Classic Traveller Little Black Books from 1981. After reading Blackmoor’s tweet above, I idly flipped through the book and was reminded how easy it is to run an adventure “off the cuff,” in no small part thanks to various encounters found in the Traveller rules.


The “formal” rules for Encounters are found in Book 3 Worlds and Adventures. The four pages of rules (two are mostly tables) lays out three general types of encounters: ordinary/routine, random, and patron. These rules, along with starship encounters (Book 2 Starships) and Animal Encounters (also Book 3) and several others interspersed in all three books makes running an adventure with little prep very easy.

Routine Encounters

Routine encounters are when the adventures, “meet ordinary people in the course of ordinary activity ” and where “reactions are rarely of importance.” Looking at the Basic Skills outlined in Book 1 Characters and Combat can lead to adventure in even these “routine” meetings:

  • Administration (dealing with bureaucratic agencies): “A basic throw of 7+ will successfully resolve normal interaction without further problems (such as avoidance of police harassment, insuring prompt issuance of licenses, approval of applications, avoidance of close inspection of papers, etc.).” What happens if the throw fails?
  • Bribery: “Petty officials can generally be bribed to ignore regulations or poor documentation, requiring a throw of the law level of the world in question or less (plus a cash offer) to do as asked.” The rules talk also talk about doubling the offer and non-player character (NPC) reactions. Hmm…
  • Streetwise: “Streetwise expertise allows contact for the purposes of obtaining information, hiring persons, purchasing or selling contraband or stolen goods, and other shady or borderline activities.” Ties in to Administration with, “After establishing throws for various activities desired by the characters (such as the name of an official willing to issue licenses without hassle: 5+…”

Another “routine” encounter can be found under the Law Level of the planet in world creation. “It is also the throw (law level +) to avoid being harassed or arrested by local authorities.” (Book 3, p. 9 & 11). Depending on the characters actions, as a referee I make this check weekly or even daily as the situation dictates.

Random Encounters

Random encounters are ones that, “may complement, supplement, oppose, or be irrelevant to the goals of the adventurers themselves.” (Book 3, p. 24). The rules specify that the referee is free to impose these random encounters as needed but they usually occur once per day. This is where the various encounter tables come in handy as they help the referee determine the composition, equipment, and armament of the group as well as their “disposition” (i.e. reactions).

Patron Encounters

Classic Traveller leans heavily into the trope of a patron hiring the crew for a task. “In a single week, a band of adventurers may elect to devote their time to encountering a patron. They may frequent bars, taverns, clubs, perhaps the Travellers’ Aid Building, or any other likely places.” One supplement I did own was Supplement 6 76 Patrons which gave further adventure seeds for the different patrons encountered. As a referee my favorite patron was “Rumor” which allowed me to “plant a seed” for an adventure and see if the crew would bite!

Starship Encounters

Book 2 Starships also has rules for encounters. Starships could be targeted for hijacking (Hijacking on page 5). Every time a ship jumps there is a chance of a misjump (Misjump on page 6). Finding passengers is also a chance for an encounter (Passengers, page 9).

Starship Encounters gets its own section in the rules. When entering a system there is a chance of an encounter. Some may be friendly but some may be pirates…

Trade and Commerce

The rules for trade in Book 2 are where another set of encounters are found. If speculating for cargo, the roll is made once per week. The players can engage Brokers or use their Bribery or Administration skills (many times Streetwise was useful too).

Animal Encounters

The final encounter type is Animal Encounters found in Book 3. I like to call Animal Encounters “Wilderness Encounters” as they don’t have to be animals that the adventurers find. By the rules, an animal encounter is rolled for twice a day; once while traveling and once when halted. Animal encounters can also occur at specific locations (such as a ruins). The rules make it a point by saying, “These are not subject to the normal random encounter tables.” (Book 3, p. 31).

Adventure by Encounters

If you are the referee and you find yourself unprepared for game night, the encounter system is a quick and easy way to get the adventurers moving. To summarize for Classic Traveller:

  • Daily Encounters: Law, Random, Animal (twice daily)
  • Weekly: Trade, booking passengers, Patrons
  • Entering a System: Starship
  • Situational (Routine?): Administration, Bribery, Streetwise

Every encounter—from routine to random to patron to ships to trade to animal and more—is a chance for the characters to advance their story. You don’t always need an expensive campaign book to guide you, just a few tables and an active imagination!

Feature image courtesy RMN © 2007-2023 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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