My 2022 #TTRPG Chargen Challenge – The Lost Traveller 4 (Imperium Games, Inc., 1996) #TravellerRPG

“I started playing the Traveller roleplaying game in 1979…”

I’m sure you’re very tired of hearing me tell you that Traveller RPG story, so let me tell you another. It’s about another version of Traveller, specifically Marc Miller’s Traveller 4th Edition aka Traveller 4. This “new” version of Traveller was much the same but also very different. The same was character generation. The (very) different was the Task Code.

From 1st to 4th

I missed out on MegaTraveller (aka “Traveller 2”) and Traveller: The New Era (aka “Traveller 3”) so in many ways the character generation system in Traveller 4 looked to be an extremely well organized, cleaned up, and streamlined version of the expanded character generation systems that I encountered in Book 4 Mercenary, Book 5 High Guard, Book 6 Scouts, and Book 7 Merchant Prince in the older Classic Traveller system. Even today, I love the simple character generation tables laid out in Traveller 4.

So what’s the problem?

3.5D

That’s not a reference to yet another edition of Traveller, that’s the Task Difficulty for a Staggering task. The code is telling the players they need to roll three and one-half dice for the task.

Wait a minute…Traveller RPG is a 2d6 game system, right? What’s this more-than-two dice? What in the heck is a “half dice?”

Every task in Traveller 4 is given a Task Difficulty. This is the sum of the character’s characteristic and skill level. So shooting a gun (Gun Combat) relies on Dexterity. If a character has a Dexterity characteristic of 7 and a Gun Combat Skill of 1, the Target Number is 8. The referee then looks at the task and determines the Difficulty. Taking a shot at Short range is a Difficult Task rated at 2.5D. This means the player rolls 2d6, sums the result, then rolls another d6 and divides the result in half (rounding up) and then sums the result again. If the die roll is LESS THAN the Target Number the task is a success. For example: With a Target Number of 8 I roll 2d6 (6+3=9) and adds a “half die” (roll 3…divided by 2 and rounded up to 2) for a total of 11 which far exceeds the 8 needed—FAIL!

For the longest time I simply could not grok the Task Code system in Traveller 4. The whole idea of a “half die” appeared ridiculous. I have to admit that decades later and after having expereince with many other RPG systems the half-die in Traveller 4 isn’t as off-putting as it once was. I still don’t like it, but I understand it better these days.

1st of the 3rd in the 4th

One other part of Traveller 4 that I never really grasped was the default setting. Traveller 4 was set in the “First Milieu” of the Third Imperium, a century before the Classic Traveller Third Imperium setting. Given at the time I was having difficulty buying into the Traveller 4 task system, is it any surprise that I resisted “investing” in the setting? Recalling that the 1977 Traveller books were actually setting-less, I think I also longed for some of those “good ole days.”

Fourth Generation Traveller

When it comes to creating a character in Traveller 4 the process is actually quite familiar and simple. Recalling that I skipped T2 and T3, reading the three ways to generate a character’s primary characteristics was (finally) affirmation that my preferred “Best Order” method—roll 2d6 six times and assign each roll to characteristics as desired—was not just a house rule. I also liked the more formalized homeworld, early life background skills that were at least acknowledged here. Some later systems would create far more detailed routines for youth or teen years, but I find those too excessive for my taste. A few (two?) background skills based on homeworld environment and tech level seems enough.

Traveller 4 uses the advanced education options in character development. The ability for character to go to college or a service academy was in the later Classic Traveller little black books but here I saw the process applied more universally. Looking at the process today, it seems that one of the assumptions behind character generation in Traveller 4 was that players wanted to have more educated characters and used advanced education to get there. I don’t feel this was an assumption in Classic Traveller and it was a bit jarring at first.

Traveller 4 also did away with the chance of “death in chargen” that is a hallmark of Classic Traveller. Instead, there was Injury and Honorable Discharge. Given the relatively simple chargen process in T4, having to “start all over” is not that onerous a task, but I understand how some people get…uh…”offended” by losing a character in chargen.

Pursuing a career in Traveller 4 is very easy thanks to the simple tables. The hardest part is (again) getting used to the “roll under” requirements and terminology. Specifically, I’m talking about “Die Modifiers (DM)” in chargen. When the table states, “Injury: 8-; DM+2 if Edu 8+” that means the die roll to avoid injury becomes roll under 10 (8+2) if the die modifier applies. This confuses me because when I see DM I automatically assume the modification applies to the die roll I make, meaning if I rolled a 5 it becomes a 7 (DM+2).

J’hnn K’ry

Meet J’hnn K’ry, a young man from the capital of the Bradii Reach in my B’rron Subsector. His primary characteristics are UPP 798773 (Strength-Dexterity-Endurance-Intelligence-Education-Social Status). J’hnn had a relatively normal teen life, and knows how to drive a Grav Craft (Grav Craft-1) and his way around computers (Computers-1).

Although J’hnn comes from a relatively poor background (Soc-3) he has average intelligence and education and tries to get into college. Alas, he is rejected, so he seeks out an Army recruiter and joins that service (Service Skill Gun Combat (Rifle) -1).

J’hnn’s first term is a bit scary as he (barely) avoids injury. He learns how to handle himself in unarmed combat (Brawling-1) and how to fly a helicopter (Aircraft (Helo)-1). His real heart is as a grav tank driver (Grav Craft-2) and he also enjoys his barracks time (Carousing-1). Maybe he enjoys that barracks life a bit too much; he does not commission nor promote but is allowed to continue his career.

The second term for J’hnn is a bit better. He doesn’t commission but is promoted to E-2. He picks up some more fighting skills (Brawling-1) as well as rifle marksmanship (Gun Combat (Rifle)-2). He obviously really enjoys being a driver as he gains yet more skill in grav tanks (Grav Craft-3) and some formal skill in ground vehicles (Ground Craft-1). He also gains some skill as an instructor (Instruction-1). Yet, for all he has achieved, the Army decides in their infinite wisdom that J’hnn does not have a future in the service and lets him go.

Now on the outside, J’hnn finds he has 10,000Cr and a Low Passage ticket. He is seeking out a mechanized mercenary unit where he can keep going as a grav tank driver.

J‘hnn K’ry, Age 26, former Army E-2 / UPP 799773 / Aircraft (Helo)-1 , Brawling-1, Carousing-1, Computer-1, Grav Craft-3, Ground Craft-1, Gun Combat (Rifle)-2, Instruction-1 / 10,000Cr / Low Passage Ticket (1)

Unfortunately, I never invested in other sourcebooks for Traveller 4 beyond the Starships book so I don’t have the T4 version of Mercenary.

Like I said, a lost Traveller era.


Feature image: “Grav Tank Patrol” by Andrew Boulton

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#RPG Thursday – #TravellerRPG in Foundation

Geeks on Twitter have commented that the new Apple TV series Foundation has more than a bit of a Traveller Role Playing Gamevibe to it.

I have to say I heartily agree, especially with the “most Traveller thing.” Which is funny in a way because if you ask me to point to what Traveller looks like I’m probably going to show you this—the Little Black Books of 1977-1980.

The (Classic) Traveller Little Black Books

Thumbing through the books I challenge you to find artwork. There is a single black and white drawing of a persons head on page 25 of Book 1 and nothing in Book 2 or Book 3. Even the box back only has a single, somewhat abstract, image of a soldier firing a weapon. The next picture is that of a “Mercenary Striker” in the front of Book 4 Mercenary. Even Book 5 High Guard has no images. Those iconic Traveller ships like the Free Trader (which I swear I saw in Foundation Season 1 Episode 1) don’t appear until Supplement 7 Traders and Gunboats in 1980.

For a while it looked like Traveller was going to be a Star Wars knockoff. Look at the box art for the 1981 wargame Invasion: Earth with what looks something like an Imperial Star Destroyer on the cover. Fortunately, Traveller never became a Star Wars or Star Trek RPG, both of which have their own distinctive and iconic visions.

Since the 1980’s, and especially with the rise of the internet, there has been moreTraveller RPG artwork. Much of it revolves around starships. In the early 1980’s it was black & white artwork in the pages of new supplements or adventures or the pages of The Journal of the Travellers’ Aide Society or Challenge magazine. Marc Miller’s Traveller (Traveller 4) used Chris Foss artwork with little success.

Another ship that looks like one found in Foundation?

The computer graphics artwork of Andrew Boulton, though primitive compared to today’s computer graphics, was “right” in the vibe it communicated.So sad he left us so early…

The modern work of Ian Stead has graced the pages of many Traveller products in recent years and more than a few feel he has captured the vibe of Traveller the best since those early days. But, like so much of that early art, it is almost exclusively focused on the ships.

Marc Miller himself has two more recent visions of Traveller. The first is expressed in Traveller 5 which is sparsely illustrated using mostly recycled artwork from previous editions. Then there is his book, Agent of the Imperium, which has no illustrations at all and cover art that is…questionable.

It’s in your head…

Such is the power of the Traveller RPG— the game creates in many minds a vast, sweeping vision with relatively sparse artwork. What I’m hearing is that Traveller RPG created, in many minds, the vision of a vast empire spanning from a long dynastic center to a very unsettled frontier. This despite a majority of artwork that is of ships—not imperial palaces or emperors or harsh frontiers.

What’s most incredible is that very “in-your-head” vision is being “found” onscreen in the Foundation TV series. Take note that starships are NOT a prominent feature of the first three episodes of Foundation; they appear but are very much “background” whereas Traveller RPG tends to put starships in front. Traveller RPG delivers a vision of an entire universe without the need for lots of artwork because it stimulates the mind. That many seem to find Traveller in Foundation is in reality incredible praise for the Marc Miller and his vision expressed in plain text over 40 years ago..