#TravellerRPG Tuesday – Mercy Mercenary Me! – #TravellerRPG Mercenary Book 4 (GDW, 1978)

I started playing the Traveller roleplaying game in 1979 using the original 1977 Little Black Books (LBB). Very quickly I started picking up other expansions, the first of which was Traveller Book 4 Mercenary (GDW, 1978). For a wargamer (of which I was a nascent one at the time) this book was a digest-sized heaven. Here I had both wargame and roleplaying game coming together. Forty years later, my perspectives have changed, but Mercenary still remains an absolutely essential part of my Traveller gaming universe.

“Frank”-ly, A Wargamer’s RPG Expansion

Traveller Book 4 Mercenary was designed by Frank Chadwick. Yes, “designed” is how he is credited in the front matter of the book. It’s important to realize that Traveller is not just a set of core gaming mechanisms, but in many ways a collection of related game systems. Only years later would I come to understand just how lucky we are that Mr. Chadwick was not only a wargame designer, but a major creator in the Traveller RPG product line. Frank brought his wargame design chops to bear in important Traveller game systems, especially in combat. The Traveller Combat System in the LBB was his creation. The Abstract Combat rules in Mercenary are also his.

While some out there may want to deny that roleplaying games evolved from wargames, I hope none of them are ignorant enough not to realize the contributions wargame designers had in multiple products. Mercenary is an excellent example of the immense value-added wargame designers bring into the RPG hobby.

Vietnam in the Stars

Paging through Mercenary, the first real content one encounters is an illustration of a soldier. What always strikes me, as much now as it did then, is just how un-advanced the soldier looks. The soldier is wearing loose-fitting fatigues with a very Vietnam War-era flak jacket and helmet with a visor in front and an antenna-fed commo link on back. The most advanced piece of kit is the carbine attached to a power cord running to a pack on the back. In 1979 this was about as far from Heinlein’s concept of Starship Troopers as you could get, and seemed almost quaint in the years following Star Wars and white armored Storm Troopers.

Five centuries in the future but looking back to 1975…

Shadows of the (Third) Coming

Traveller ’77 is a setting-less set of rules. However, the popularity of Traveller was such that there was a clamor for a default setting. In Mercenary we get the first shadows of what would eventually become the Third Imperium:

Traveller assumes a remote centralized government (referred to in this volume as the Imperium), possessed of great industrial and technological might, but unable, due to the sheer distances and travel times involved, to exert total control at all levels everywhere within its star-spanning realm. On the frontiers, extensive home rule provisions allow planetary populations to choose their own forms of government, raise and maintain armed forces for local security, pass and enforce laws governing local conduct, and regulate (within limits) commerce. Defense of the frontier is mostly provided by local indigenous forces, stiffened by scattered lmperial naval bases manned by small but extremely sophisticated forces. Conflicting local interests often settle their differences by force of arms, with lmperial forces looking quietly the other way, unable to effectively intervene as a police force in any but the most wide-spread of conflicts without jeopardizing their primary mission of the defense of the realm. Only when local conflicts threaten either the security or the economy of the area do lmperial forces take an active hand, and then it is with speed and overwhelming force.

Mercenary, p. 1

Small local conflicts needing trained soldiers was perfect for—mercenaries:

Within this vast Imperium there is a role for mercenary combat units: The combat environment of the frontier, then is one of small, short, limited wars. Both sides must carefully balance the considerations of how much force is required to win a conflict with how much force is likely to trigger lmperial intervention. At the same time, both belligerents will generally be working with relatively small populations, with only a negligible number of combat experienced veterans. In this environment, the professional soldier will find constant employment. Small, poor states faced with invasion or encroachment will hire professional soldiers as cadres to drill and lead their citizen militias. Larger states will be able to afford to hire and equip complete mercenary contingents as strikers, or spearhead troops. Small commando units will be in demand as industrial espionage is waged between mega-corporations virtually nations unto themselves. In addition, the hired soldier will always be in demand as security or bodyguard troops, as force remains the only true protection against force. The Golden Age of the Mercenary will have arrived.

Mercenary, pp. 1-2

Many science fiction fans reading that passage today likely say, “Hammer’s Slammers!” You may not realize it, but in 1978 when Mercenary was published the entire Hammer’s Slammers universe consisted of only a small handful of short stories; the first book was not published until 1979! For myself, I didn’t get a copy of Hammer’s Slammers until after I had Mercenary in hand.

Even without Hammer’s Slammers I found the situation depicted in Mercenary very believable. The late 1970’s was still the Cold War and while the two superpowers didn’t trade blows, there were plenty of proxy wars fought. I could see the role of a Mercenary soldier in the real world which made imagining it in Traveller that much easier. More importantly, this was NOT Star Wars. This was NOT a large Empire chasing a small band of rag-tag rebels. Players were not constrained into a good-bad, light-dark binary conflict. Like the real world, there was plenty of room for ambiguity.

Soldier of Fortune

The character generation system in Mercenary was also my first encounter with the “expanded” character generation rules. Whereas Traveller used simple four-year terms, Mercenary dug a level deeper and followed characters in yearly increments. Looking back on the rules today, I certainly can see some rough edges, like the need to use both Book 1 and Book 4 together to make a character as not all the needed charts and tables were duplicated. That criticism sounds harsher than it really is as there was room in the LBB box to add Book 4 meaning it was easy to carry all you needed.

Ticket to Raid

The next section of Mercenary introduced “tickets.” These were legal contracts to hire mercenaries. To be honest, at first this part of adventuring was hard for me to understand because, once again, only a few example tickets were included. If you wanted more tickets the referee had to create them. I also didn’t understand why a junior officer leaving the Army would take a NCO position.

This is where eventually reading Hammer’s Slammers helped me understand Mercenary. The interludes in Hammer’s Slammers are prime setting background material for Mercenary. As I read one, I played the other. This perfect marriage of fiction and gaming is how Mercenary finally made sense to me.

[In the mid-1980s I finally was able to see the movie The Wild Geese (1978). After that Mercenary really made sense!]

Battle “Mass”-ter

I’ve written previously about the different combat systems in Traveller. As much as I wargamed I actually had lots of fun with the Abstract System in Mercenary. This was a combat game we could play at the lunchroom table throwing dice with one hand and stuffing a PB&J in our mouth with the other. Sure, we could set up a more hex & counter wargame but this was the original fast, fun, and furious Traveller combat game.

Looking at Mercenary 40 years later, I am very impressed how Frank Chadwick designed an absolutely barebones combat system. For a gent that has given us monster games like The Third World War (with a larger edition recently funded on Kickstarter) its amazing to see this very simple, highly abstracted combat model.

Ironmongery

Ironmongery was a word I had never heard before Mercenary; after this it became a part of my life. Starting a few years before finding Traveller I had been taken in by the many Jane’s type of weapons books. The ironmongery section of Mercenary showed me how to “cross-walk” a real-world weapon into my roleplaying games. That skill also enabled me to start creating my own weapons system in wargames. Many years later I finally realized that what was I was doing was creating models for use in a simulation. That skill has served me well over the years; though I was never a wargame designer that skill set has been essential to my career. Yet another influence Traveller had on my life.

You’re in the Army Now

Feeling a bit nostalgic, I decided to go back to Mercenary ’78 and create a character. Let me introduce you to Onche Sm’th (starting UPP: BAA885).

Onche joined the Cavalry Branch of the Army. After completing Basic Training as a Combat Rifleman (ACR-1) and a heavy weapons gunner (Hvy Wpns Autocannon-1), somebody thought this monster of a being would make a good medic as he was sent to Specialist School and picked up Medic-1. Year two saw Sm’th fight in a Counter Insurgency. Year three was a training assignment, but year four was a Police Action in which Onche received both the Meritorious Conduct Under Fire (MCUF) and a Wound Badge. In the last two years Sm’th also moved from gunner to driver, learning the intricacies of driving wheeled combat vehicles (Driver Wheeled Vehicle-2).

While Onche was in the hospital recovering from his wounds he heard about the mercenary life. Deciding that if he was going to get shot he wanted to be much better compensated, he got out after his first term seeking fame and fortune.

Onche Sm’th

  • Resume: BAB885, Army, One Term, Enlisted in Cavalry, Final Rank – Sergeant
  • Special Assignments: Specialist School
  • Awards & Decorations: Meritorious Conduct Under Fire (MCUF), 2x Combat Ribbon, Wound Badge
  • Equipment Qualified On: ACR, Autocannon, Wheeled Ground Vehicle
  • Skills: ACR-1, Autocannon-1, Ground Vehicle -2, Medical-1

Mercenary Ticket

Full of himself, Onche couldn’t wait to get out and immediately tried to get hired on. Alas, he quickly learned that a one-term Sergeant isn’t a high-demand person. In his first three weeks, Onche was rejected for a Security and two Commando tickets. As the month was ending Onche was getting rather worried, but finally he was able to hire onto a small Cadre ticket as a Squad Leader.

[I’m playing these “games” in my B’rron Subsector, the geopolitics of which I laid out in a previous post.]

Background: The Quinto Expanse has a problem. There are rumors that “The Heresy” has plans to expand, and the Quinto Expanse is the nearest star nation to face them and logical first target. The QDF needs to bolster their defense force and it needs experienced cadre.

Mission: The Quinto Defense Force has hired a small cadre force (not to exceed 12 personnel) at double standard salary to train and lead a particular company of the QDF. There are four junior officer commissions and nine NCO positions. The company and all three platoons are led by a mercenary officer with a QDF deputy. NCOs are seeded throughout leadership positions in the platoons. Normal salaries are paid to individual soldiers with additional salaries to the unit for profit and disbursement of shares.

Onche is quite happy to be a squad leader. His squad is carried in a TL-9 armored infantry fighting vehicle with a pintle-mounted autocannon.

Onche is not quite as happy when he finds out that his unit is being lifted—without their vehicles—to the almost-moon desert world of Castaway for “training.” Castaway has only .35g and a trace atmosphere. Onche is not trained in low-grav environments nor vacc suits. He tries to pay attention to the training he is given (Vacc Suit-0, avoid untrained penalty) but he is not so sure that this is better than three-squares a day in the Army…

Got some kick…

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#TravellerRPG Tuesday – My B’rron Subsector using #CepheusEngineDeluxe #ttrpg

After looking back at my Little Black Book Traveller ’77 tabletop roleplaying game—which doesn’t have a default setting—I set out to make my own subsector for adventure. I decided to use Cepheus Engine Deluxe for my core rules because it is the updated version of Traveller and closest to the 1977 version. Besides, many of the subsector generators online use algorithms that just weren’t there in 1977!

Spiritual successor to Traveller

For those not familiar with the Universal World Profile (UWP) below this is how you decode it:

  • World Name / hex / UWP / Bases / Trade Tags / Notes
  • UWP A123456-T
    • A= Starport
    • 1= World Diameter (Earth = 8)
    • 2= Atmosphere (Standard = 6)
    • 3= Hydrographics (% water covered)
    • 4= Population (order of magnitude)
    • 5= Government
    • 6= Law Level
    • T= Tech Level (TL)

You will see below that all my world names are generic tags. When I’m worldbuilding the names of worlds are one of the last things I do…if I get around to it. More often than not the tag suffices. One mark of a great adventure is when your players are leaving the planet and ask, “So, what was that place that nearly killed us?”

Setting Assumptions

Jump Drive

In the B’rron Subsector Jump-3 is the longest jump drive possible. To build Jump-1 drives takes TL9, Jump-2 is TL11, and Jump-3 is TL13. In combination with the starport rules for ship construction (only A-class starports can construct starships; B-class can construct system ships, and C-class can only do small craft) this means not every polity will actually be able to build starships. As you will see, building Jump-3 ships is actually limited to only two planets throughout the entire subsector.

Polities

I assumed that the B’rron Subsector was settled long ago and allegiances were established amongst worlds one parsec (1 hex) distant from each other. This created six major political entities.

Major Astrography

Here is the B’rron Subsector. [Subsector map generated using https://campaignwiki.org/traveller/edit…with hand drawn embellishments!] The subsector map shows three loose groupings. The Coreward Cluster with the two worlds of the Stra’zer Arm, the Bradii Reach, and Amiltin Reformation. The Central Worlds consist of the Dun’i’gan Federation, Dr’ke Arm, and Quinto Expanse. There are also four “independent” worlds without allegiances though one, a high population and high technology world ruled by a religious dictatorship, lies at the rimward edge of the subsector.

B’rron Subsector

Coreward Cluster

Stra’zer Arm (Green border)
  • SA-1 / 0101 / D665735-1 /Research Base / Agricultural, Garden, Low Tech, Rich
  • SA-2 / 0201 / B522A78-7 / Scout Base / Water World

Late in the design process I decided that the Sta’zer Arm is an alien empire. I haven’t defined the alien…yet. The worlds within B’rron Subsector appear rather poor. Why SA-1 is not a Red Zone is unknown. The jump-3 trade route between SA-1 and the Bradii capital is a very recent development and drawing interest as it is the only known jump-3 trade or communications route in the whole subsector.

Ship Construction – 0201 TL7 System Ships

Amiltin Reformation (Blue border)
  • AR-1 / 0104 /E9A7552-7 / Non-Water Fluid Ocean, Non-Industrial / Gas Giant
  • AR-2 / 0203 / X9A0348-7 / Research Base / Desert, Low Pop / Gas Giant / RED ZONE
  • AR-C / 0303 / B796ADA-A / Naval Base / High Pop, Industrial / Capital
  • AR-4 / 0403 / E635554-9 / Non-Industrial
  • AR-5 / 0503 / C443778-8 / Scout Base / Non-Industrial / Balkanized

Led by the religious dictatorship on AR-C, at TL10 the Amiltin Reformation has the technology but not the shipyards to build starships. There are rumors of a secret research project on AR-2 (Red Zone, and nobody believes there is only an X-Starport or that the tech level is 7).

The balkanized AR-5 has become a planet of intrigue. Lying two parsecs from both the Amiltin Reformation and Bradii Reach capitals, the planet nominally owes its allegiance to Amiltin. However, several groups on the planet openly advocate alignment with the impersonal bureaucracy of the Bradii Reach, which has the Amiltin religious dictatorship on edge.

Ship Construction – 0303 TL10 System Ships

Bradii Reach (Orange border)
  • BR-C / 0401 / A72AA98-F / Naval Base / High Pop, High Tech, Industrial, Water World / Gas Giant / Capital
  • BR-2 / 0501 / E454677-7 / Agricultural, Garden
  • BR-3 / 0601 / D595886-5 / Low Tech / Gas Giant / RED ZONE
  • BR-4 / 0701 / AAA59AA-D / Naval Base / Non-Water Fluid Oceans, High Pop, High Tech / Charismatic Dictator
  • BR-5 / 0801 / C31478A-8 / Scout Base / Ice-Capped

With the highest tech level planet in the subsector (BR-C TL15), Bradii Reach should easily dominate. The shipyards in BR-C and BR-4 are the only yards in the entire subsector capable of building Jump-2 or Jump-3 starships.

The charismatic dictatorship on BR-4, just a step behind in technology (TL13), believes they are the rightful leader of the Reach and is willing to fight for that recognition if necessary. This tends to keep the capital focused inward instead of outward, much to the relief of the Amiltin Reformation.

Ship Construction – 0401 TL15 Jump-3 Starships / 0701 TL13 Jump-3 Starships

Central Worlds

In the last few generations, more and more politicians talk about a Central Worlds Confederation.

Dun’i’gan Federation (Yellow border)
  • DF-1 / 0305 / X110400-6 / Scout Base / Non-Industrial
  • DF-2 / 0405 / X787446-3 / Garden, Low Tech, Non-Industrial / Gas Giant
  • DF-3 / 0406 / B466998-B / Naval Base / High Pop, High Tech 
  • DF-4 / 0505 / E596551-5 / Agricultural, Low Tech, Non-Industrial
  • DF-5 / 0506 / C537751-7
  • DF-C / 0507 / C996ACA-C / Naval Base / High Pop, High Tech, Industrial / Gas Giant/ Capital

By some measures, DF-3, with the B-Starport, could very well be the Federation capital. Maybe in a few generations, but for now the higher-tech DF-C—connected via communications route to the Quinto Expanse and Dr’ke Arm—remains the capital.

Like AR-5, planet DF-1 is another planet of intrigue. A member of the Federation, it lies two parsecs from the Amiltin Reformation capital and two parsecs from the high population and high technology DF-3. Amiltin sees it as a potential pathway into the Central Worlds while the Federation sees it as a defensive bulwark to prevent the spread of the Reformation.

The Dun’i’gan Federation is lukewarm to the idea of a Confederation. As they are dependent on others to build starships they fear they would be seen as the junior-most partner in any grouping.

Ship Construction – 0406 TL11 System Ships

Quinto Expanse (Red border)
  • QE-C / 0509 / A7648C9-9 / Naval Base / Agricultural, Garden / Gas Giant / Capital
  • QE-2 / 0608 / B4668C8-6 / Agricultural, Garden / Gas Giant
  • QE-3 / 0709 / D676477-8 / Low Pop

The Quinto Expanse is fiercely independent, but is at risk of being overwhelmed by the higher tech Dun’igan Federation and Dr’ke Arm. QE-2, with trade route connections to two other polities, is often referred to as “Kasablanka”—a reference with an origin lost in time.

The Quinto Expanse has mixed feelings about a confederation. As a relatively small empire they feel a bit threatened by the Dr’ke Arm, yet they also seek allies as they fear the “rise of the Heresy.”

Ship Construction – 0509 TL9 Jump-1 Starships

Dr’ke Arm (Black border)
  • DA-1 / 0803 / X492357-5 / Scout Base / Low Pop, Low Tech / Gas Giant
  • DA-2 / 0704 / X241463-0 / Low Pop, Low Tech, Non-Industrial / Captive Government of 0706
  • DA-3 / 0705 / D380200-5 / Desert, Low Pop, Low Tech, Poor
  • DA-4 / 0706 / A373CCA-9 / High Pop, Industrial / Gas Giant
  • DA-C / 0707 / B47AAA7-C / Naval Base / High Pop, Industrial / Gas Giant / Capital
  • DA-6 / 0807 / D000553-A / Naval Base / Asteroid, Vacuum

Te Dr’ke Arm has two faces; the rimward worlds are relatively high tech and populous but the coreward worlds are extremely poor. The Scout base in 0803 serves as a forward outpost against the Bradii Reach. DA-2 is an early colony set up by DA-4.

The Dr’ke Arm is the greatest proponent for confederation, mostly because they see themselves as the natural leader.

Ship Construction – 0706 TL9 Jump-1 Starships / 0707 TL12 System Ships

“Independent” Worlds
  • “Pirate” / 0107 / C200600-7 / Pirate Base / Non-Agricultural, Non-Industrial, Vacuum
  • “Corp” / 0109 / E100510-7 / Corporate / Vacuum
  • “Heresy” / 0210 / A565DDA-A / Naval Base? / High Pop, High Tech / Religious Dictatorship
  • “Castaway” / 0309 / X410100-3 / Low Tech

The planet in 0107 is a known pirate stronghold.

Corp is known as a corporately controlled world, though where the corporation comes from is unknown. Some think the corporation and pirates are aligned…

“The Heresy” is the nickname given to an unknown religious dictatorship. Ship Construction – TL10 Jump-1 Starships.

No, not that Heresy…

The few people living on Castaway are not some primitive race, but the crew of a ship lost that “went native” and refuse to leave. There are rumors that this may actually be an elite special forces team from the Quinto Expanse sent to man a secret listening post to defend against The Heresy and pirates. Who knows?

Adventure Seeds

The “intrigue” worlds at the crossroads of multiple polities are good locations for adventures. If the players want to trade, these are also good locations to work from. There is always great opportunity to get involved in the political or military machinations between various factions. There is also the rimward/spinward threats that seem very distant but…

Hmm…I wonder if a mercenary striker could find employment? Looks like Traveller Volume 4 – Mercenary is up next!

Traveller Book 4 Mercenary

Feature image courtesy rpgknights.com

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#TravellerRPG Tuesday – Adventuring the LBB Way in Traveller (Game Designers’ Workshop, 1977) #ttrpg

Believe it or not, there is a segment of Dungeon’s & Dragons roleplaying game players who proclaim that if you don’t follow the rules exactly as written then you are playing the game wrong. As much as I disagree with that position, I decided to go back to my tabletop roleplaying game roots and review the “Little Black Books” in my Traveller boxed set to see what is different and maybe play around with those rules a bit to see how they stand up after four decades. Along the way, I also (re?)discovered a gritty edge of Little Black Book Traveller.

No Third in ’77

Traveller, like every other RPG, has its own version of edition wars. Whether you like Classic Traveller or MegaTraveller or Traveller: New Era or Traveller 4 or Mongoose Traveller (1st and 2nd Editions) or Traveller 5 or HERO Traveller or GURPS Traveller, it’s all Traveller at heart. My three Little Black Books for Traveller are the 1977 edition. This means it truly is settingless—there is no Third Imperium between these covers. If I am tracking publication dates correctly, the Third Imperium didn’t appear until Book 4 Mercenary in 1978.

Here is how the “setting” for Traveller 1977 is introduced:

Traveller covers a unique facet of future society: the concept that expanding technology will enable man to reach the stars, and to populate the worlds which orbit them. Nonetheless, communication will be reduced to the level of the 18th Century, reduced to the speed of transportation. The result will be a large (bordering ultimately on the infinite) universe, ripe for bold adventurer’s travels. Using this three book set, players are capable of playing single scenarios or entire campaigns set in virtually any science fiction theme.

Traveller, Volume 1, p. 1

To me, the Third Imperium setting in Traveller is the definitive space opera tabletop roleplaying game setting. That said, I have always liked making my own space opera setting. For me, the lack of a defined setting in Traveller ’77 is actually quite refreshing, especially in today’s hyper-commercialized world where IP is the thing. Traveller ’77 is a relatively simple framework for adventure; the buy in requires only a few concessions (most notable, that communication at the speed of transportation). Beyond that is really is up to the imagination of the referee and players!

A subgenre of speculative fiction or science fiction that emphasizes space travel, romantic adventure, and larger-than-life characters often set against vast exotic settings. Used initially as a derogatory term.

“Space Opera,” Wordnik

Let’s step though the three Little Black Books and see what we find…

Book 1 Characters and Combat

PLAYING THE GAME (p. 2) – “Traveller may be played in any of three basic configurations: solitaire, scenario, or campaign.”

  • The Solitaire Game: “Solitaire is ideal for the player who is alone due to situation or geography.”
  • The Scenario: “Generally, a scenario is a one-time affair, and ends when the evening of play is over or the goal is achieved…Strangely enough, players generally become reluctant to dismiss an experienced character without good cause, and usually want to continue their “lives” in further adventures.”
  • The Campaign: “The referee should generate the basic facts of his universe before play begins…Traveller is primarily written with a view to a continuing campaign, and these books primarily deal with that end.”

Here is where my two primary modes of Traveller play, solitaire and campaign, come from. As much as I have played within the Third Imperium or other modern Alternate Traveller Universes like The Clement Sector from Independence Games or HOSTILE from Zozer Games I often find myself coming back to a single subsector for adventure—like I did at the very beginning.

DIE ROLL CONVENTIONS (p. 2 ) – “Routinely in the course of Traveller, dice must be thrown to determine an effectively random or unpredictable course of action. These dice throws may be made by players for their characters, or by the referee for the effects of nature, non-players, or unseen forces. Rolls by the referee may be kept secret or partially concealed depending on their effects. In situations where the players would not actually know the results of the roll, or would not know the exact roll made, the referee would make the dice roll.”

Ahh…the old argument of roll-in-the-open or roll-behind-the-screen. Also “players-roll” or “referee-rolls.” Thinking back, most of my early games were all rolls by the referee with players consulting their character sheet to add die modifiers. Later, we added “shared” rolls where players would roll one die and the referee secretly rolls a second and then narrates the result. This gave players some insight into the potential result (“Hmm…I think I need a 8+ for this to work, and I have a Skill Level DM of +2. I rolled a 3….odds are 2 in 3 that the other die is 3 or better for success but there is a 1 in 3 chance it’s not. Referee said it looks good but…”). To influence their luck, players would often bring their own dice and offer them up to the referee after appropriate blessings or incantations.

INITIAL CHARACTER GENERATION (p. 4) – “Obviously, it is possible for a player to generate a character with seemingly unsatisfactory values; nevertheless, each player should use his character as generated. The experience procedures and acquired skills table offer a genuine opportunity to enhance values, given only time and luck. Should a player consider his character to be so poor as to be beyond help, he should consider joining the accident-prone Scout Corps, with a subconscious view to suicide.”

I don’t think middle school me really understood that last part, but the first has driven so much of my RPG life. Generating a character in Traveller taught me to take what I had and try to make the best of it. There is no real min-maxing characters in Traveller. As I moved on to other RPG systems over the years, I always struggle with developing a character concept because I usually take the hand dealt, not the one tailored to me.

Survival (p. 5) – “Each term of service involves some danger; during the term, a character must successfully throw his service’s survival number to avoid death in the line of duty…Failure to successfully achieve the survival throw results in death; a new character must be generated.”

The character death rule has been in my Traveller since the beginning. To this day I look at other versions that avoid death and shake my head in disbelief for THIS IS Traveller.

OK…this is NOT Traveller but…

Skills and Training (p. 6) – I’ve always been amazed at how few skills a Traveller ’77 characters has. Two skills for first term and one for each subsequent. One skill for a commission and one skill each promotion. A character going out to five terms (early retirement) might have only 10 levels of skills.

AGING (p. 7) – “If, as a result of aging or combat, a characteristic is reduced to zero, the character is considered to be ill or wounded. A basic saving throw of 8+ applies (and may be modified by the expertise of attending medical personnel). If the character survives, his recovery is made immediately (under slow drug, which speeds up his body chemistry). The character ages (one die equals the number of months in added age) immediately, but also returns to play fully recovered. The characteristic which was reduced to zero automatically becomes one. This process occurs for each time (and for each characteristic) a characteristic is reduced to zero. In the event that medical care is not available, the character is incapacitated for the number of months indicated by the die roll.”

Another rule I don’t remember, likely because it is different from the Wounding and Death rules found on page 30 in COMBAT RESOLUTION:

When any one characteristic is reduced to zero by wounds, the character is rendered unconscious. When all three characteristics are reduced to zero, the character is dead…

Unconscious characters (with one characteristic reduced to zero) recover conciseness after 10 minutes, with all characteristics temporarily place at a value halfway between full strength and the wounded level…and remains so until recovered…Return to full strength requires medical attention, or three days of rest.

Unconscious characters (with two characteristics reduced to zero) are considered severely wounded, and recover consciousness after three hours. Their characteristics remain at the wounded level (or one, whichever is higher). Recovery is dependent on medical attention (recuperation without medical attention is not possible).

Wounding and Death, pp. 30-31

I remember the combat wounding/death rules but the one under aging seems more appropriate for out-of-combat situations, like basic illnesses or even falling.

THE UNIVERSAL PERSONALITY PROFILE (p. 8) – “…expresses the basic characteristics in a specific sequence, using hexadecimal (base 16) notation.”

How many of you can read the UPP, or USP (Universal Ship Profile) or UWP (Universal World Profile)? It’s amazing how much adventure can be inspired by just a string of alphanumeric text…

A NOTE ON GENDER AND RACE (p. 8) – “Nowhere in these rules is a specific requirement established that any character (player or non-player) be of a specific gender or race. Any character is potentially of any race or of either sex.”

There, no political theatrics or culture war needed. Been doing it since 1977.

Basic Skills / General Description / Specific Game Effects (p. 13 onward) – A close look at the Specific Game Effects give lots of rules for referee’s to use. They also show how flexible the game mechanisms are, mostly because they are few and leave much up to the imagination of the referee and players.

Computer (p. 17) – “Nonetheless, there is always the possibility that such a program will have a fatal error and not function when actually used in space combat (referee throw secretly 7 exactly for fatal error to be written in) or that such a program will have a negative DM when used (referee throw secretly 5- for a negative DM. Half chance that DM will be -1 or -2). Expertise will serve as a DM affecting program quality, +1 per level of expertise. Flaws generally remain hidden.”

While I remember the rules for writing a program, I had forgotten about the fatal flaw rules. Based on experience with MicroSoft over the years, I’m not sure that limiting a fatal flaw to a roll of exactly 7 is limited enough…

One “WOPR” of a programming error…

Ship’s Boat (pp. 17-18) – Often overlooked, there is a quick-resolution alternate ship combat system in the Specific Game Effects here. It is much more “narrative” than the set-piece combat sequence in Book 2.

Pilot (p. 19) – I often forget that while Ship’s Boat is useful for piloting small craft, a Pilot can also fly small craft, albeit at a -1 skill level.

Skills and the Referee (p. 20) – “It is impossible for any table of information to cover all aspects of every potential situation, and the above listing is by no means complete in its coverage of the effects of skills. This is where the referee becomes an important part of the game process. The above listing of skills and game effects must necessarily be taken as a guide, and followed, altered, or ignored as the actual situation dictates.

In some game situations, actual die roll results must be concealed from the players, at times allowing them to misconstrue the reasons for their success or failure. In other situations, the referee may feel it necessary to create his own throws and DMs to govern action, and may or may not make such information available to the players.”

“In order to be consistent (and a consistent universe makes the game both fun and interesting), the referee has a responsibility to record the throws and DMs he creates, and to note (perhaps by penciling in) any thrown he alters from those given in these books.”

THIS. IS. TRAVELLER. A game is a shared narrative created by the players and referee. The referee is charged with keeping the universe consistent.

COMBAT / MOVEMENT (p. 29) – “Because the effects of range are so important, and because the ranges between specific characters can vary greatly, it is suggested that the complex combats be mapped out on a line grid…Ordinary lined paper serves this purpose quite well.”

Another reason Classic Traveller was so easy for middle-schoolers—all we needed was a few note cards, looseleaf paper, pen/pencil and a d6.

MORALE (p. 33) – “A party of adventurers (players or non-players) which sustains casualties in an encounter will ultimately break or rout if it does not achieve victory.”

We always used this rule for NPC parties but for the players their Morale was up to them. Since combat in Traveller is actually quite deadly, my players tended to be careful when bullets were flying about.

Laser Carbine / Laser Rifle (pp 36-37) – These weapons were backpack-powered. In the post-Star Wars movie era this was laughable.

Book 2 Starships

Interstellar Travel (p. 1) – “Commercial starships usually make two trips per month, spending one week in travel time and one week for transit to the jump point, landing and take-off and time in port. In port, five or six days are allowed for the acquisition of cargo and passengers, and for crew recreation.”

This is the classic Traveller adventure timeline; one week jump followed by one week in system. It is also interesting to note how often in my adventures the one week in jump was “handwaved” away because nothing ever happens in jump, eh?

Hijacking (p. 3) – “The referee should roll three dice, with a result of 18 exactly indicating one or more passengers is making the attempt.”

Hmm…we never played this event in-jump but wouldn’t that be interesting?

Skipping (p. 3) – “A repossession attempt will occur under the following conditions: On each world landing, throw 12+ to avoid such an attempt, apply a DM of +1 per 5 hexes distance from the ship’s home planet, to a maximum of +9. If the ship has called on the same world twice in the last two months, apply a DM of -2.”

Wow, throw 12+ to AVOID repossession—means you need to get 30-35 parsecs (hexes) or something like two subsectors away to statistically avoid repossession. I can’t recall a time we ever played a repossession attempt which is very surprising given Repo Man was a popular movie in my gaming group…

Don’t ask, just watch

STARSHIP PURCHASE (p. 5) – Ahh, the starship mortgage. Here I was learning about buying a house while in middle school.

Mail (p. 8) – “Throw 9+ for a private message to be awaiting transmittal, and then determine randomly which crew member is approached to carry it. Serving as a carrier for private messages also serves as an introduction to the recipient as a dependable, trustworthy person.”

This is one of the several “encounters” that randomly can build an adventure.

Starship Construction (p. 9+) – I have arguably created more starships for Traveller over the years than characters. This simple sequence is still a favorite.

NON-STARSHIPS (p. 17) – “A non-starship…can support its passengers for up to 30 days in space. Beyond that time, air, food, and water begin to run out…At the end of 30 days, throw 9+ each day to prevent the recycling machinery from breaking down. If it does fail, it must be repaired on the same day (throw 9+ to repair; DM +1 per level of mechanical expertise, once per day) or the air is exhausted and the passengers will suffocate.”

I can’t ever recall seeing this rule before (even after 40 years). I double checked and there is no comparable rule for starships though you have to pay for Life Support.

Starship Combat (p. 22+) – A vector movement combat system. Another example of how Classic Traveller skews more towards hard sci-fi than space opera.

DATA CARD EXAMPLE (p. 24) – Another 3×5 notecard!

PLANETARY TEMPLATES (p. 26) – I still have mine created 40 years ago.

DETECTION (p. 33) – “Planetary masses and stars will completely conceal a ship from detection.”

When we all saw this in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan we looked at each other and said, “of course.”

Decompression (p. 34) – “Hull hits result in explosive decompression if pressure has not already been lowered. Explosive decompression kills all persons in that section unless a vacc suit is available and put on immediately. Throw 9+ to put on an available vacc suit; DM + level of vacc suit expertise, and DM + dexterity of the individual.”

Here is a rule worthy of The Expanse that I had totally forgotten. The + dexterity modifier is maybe a bit much; later rules would use the Characteristic Modifier which was not in Classic Traveller.

Abandon Ship (p. 35) – “individuals in vacc suits who are not picked up may attempt to land on a planet. The following notes apply…”

Say what?! I absolutely don’t remember this rule at all. Here are rules for vacc suit endurance, movement, foamed ablation reentry, oh my!

STARSHIP ENCOUNTERS (p. 36) – “When a ship enters a star system, there is a chance that any one of a variety of ships will be encountered…Roll two dice; apply a DM based on the starport of the primary world of the system (A +6, B +4, C +2, D +1, E -2, X -4).”

Another “standard” encounter. I do like the comment on how a “Patrol” might simply be a pirate looking to shakedown your crew…

Experience (p. 40) – One of the common criticisms of Traveller is that there is no character progression system. Granted, this is not an XP approach, but it is still part of the game.

Book 3 Worlds and Adventures

3. Route Determination (p. 2) – “The worlds of a subsector are connected by the charted space lanes, which marks the regular routes travelled by commercial starships. While it is possible for starships to travel without regard to the lanes charted, individuals who do not own or control starships are generally restricted to commercial travel on ships which ply routes which are mapped.”

To me, this always meant if you wanted to go “off the grid” (a phrase yet to be invented when I first played) you needed your own ship or a charter…which was costly. Often the adventure reward (payment) was enough to motivate characters to do so…

ROUTINE ENCOUNTERS (p. 19) – “Adventurers meet ordinary people in the course of ordinary activity…Personal reactions are rarely of importance…and the process usually continues without trouble.”

RANDOM ENCOUNTERS (p. 19) – “Adventurers…also have random encounters with an unpredictable variety of individuals or groups…which may complement, supplement, oppose, or irrelevant to, the goals of the adventurers themselves…Usually, a random encounter point with humans will occur once per day.”

PATRONS (p. 20) – “One specific, recurring goal for adventurers is to find a patron who will assist them in the pursuit of fortune and power…In a single week, a band of adventurers may elect to devote their time to encountering a patron.”

While I have always seen Traveller as a form of space opera, the “routine” of life is actually far more gritty. Life in the Traveller universe—whatever your setting—is tough. You can die in character generation. Combat is deadly. The environment is hazardous. You never have enough money. You always have to be on the hustle to your next “score.” This is reflected in encounters. Routine encounters rarely are harmful, but “random” encounters—which can occur daily—can help, hinder, or simply distract you. Patron encounters are very important in an ongoing campaign as they can lead to future adventure.

I’ll just note here that later versions of Traveller make Patron Encounters a weekly event. In early Traveller rules if the adventurers wanted a Patron Encounter they had to be pro-active.

NOBILITY (p. 22) – “The title emperor/empress is used by the ruler of an empire of several worlds”

This may be the closest we get to the Third Imperium in Traveller ’77.

Animal Encounters (p. 24+) – For a game all about space, I didn’t understand the extensive animal encounters section for many years. Only later did I get into “alien exploration” adventures, and finally realized that these rules are how you create alien creatures, not just “animals.”

ANIMAL DEFINITIONS (pp. 30-31) – Hidden here are rules for planetary hazards like a storm or precipices.

Psionics (p. 33) – “The powers of the mind are incredible, and some day the study of these powers will enable every individual to use them as a active part of his life. At the time which Traveller occurs, however, universal psionic training does not exist; accurate information and quality training are available only through branches of the Psionics Institute, which is wholly devoted to the study of mental powers. Unfortunately, some prejudice exists, and the Institute maintains an extremely low profile.”

Seeing how I started Traveller in 1979, or post-Star Wars, this version of psionics clashed with The Force seen in the movies. Not that it really mattered because we all wanted to be more Solo and less Luke! The result was that a few players in my group tried psionics, but mostly it was ignored. Forty years later, and with a better understanding how books like Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination influenced early Traveller, psionics often finds its way into adventures.

“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”

Han Solo (Harrison Ford)

(End Notes) (p. 44) – “Traveller is necessarily a framework, describing the barest of essentials for an infinite universe…care must be taken that the referee does not simply lay fortunes in the path of the players, but the situation is not primarily an adversary relationship. The referee simply administers rules in situations where the players themselves have incomplete understanding of the universe. The results should reflect a consistent reality.”

“Barest of essentials” which in the case of Traveller ’77 means no default setting. Referee and players working together to create a consistent reality.

Looking through Traveller ’77 that “consistent reality” is a bit more gritty sci-fi than I remember. Maybe exposure to 40 years of the highly space opera Third Imperium has softened Traveller.

The three Little Black Books of Traveller ’77 are rightfully a design triumph. Three 44-page books—132 pages in total—deliver a deep, flexible framework for consistent adventures. How many other RPGs do that?

This is the Traveller I started with. This is the Traveller I have always loved.

RIP Andrew…

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

2022 RPG CharGen Challenge – RPG roots with Traveller (Game Designers’ Workshop, 1977) #RPGThursday #TravellerRPG

Christmas 1979. While searching for presents I stumbled across a small store tucked away in the upper level of a now long-gone mall in the suburbs of Denver. The store—Fascination Corner. This little corner of heaven quickly became not only my fascination but my obsession. First it was wargaming, but then I found a small black box. My first RPG. My first RPG love. To this day my true RPG love.

How I love the simplicity of character generation in Classic Traveller. Quick and easy. Sure, most of the characters will be military veterans and combat will very likely be a way of life in their future, but what did we really expect from a wargame company when it made an RPG?

Do you know how to read the Universal Player Profile? The UPP was read using hexidecimal code from left-to-right; Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education, Social Status. A factor of 7 was dead-average, 0 often meant dead and 15 was the top of the scale. Skill levels rarely exceeded 4.


Cyris Ozcar

  • UPP 9776B9
  • Age: 34
  • Retired Army Lt Colonel
  • Skills: Air/Raft-1, Blade Cbt (Cutlass)-3, Fwd Obs-1, Gun Cbt (Auto Pistol)-1, Tactics-2

Ozcar (original UPP 887499) might not of seemed the brightest guy around but he worked hard (low INT, High EDU). Due to his good DEXTERITY and EDUCATION he successfully joined the Army (DM+3). He survived his first term and was both commissioned and promoted (Rank 2). In his first term he built up his strength (STR +1) and learned how to handle a Cutlass (Blade Cbt-1) and Tactics (-2).

Reenlisting for a second term, Ozcar survived and was again promoted. He learned how to fly an Air/Raft (Air/Raft-1) and more Cutlass skills (Blade Cbt (Cutlass)-2. In his third term he was promoted again (Rank 4) and finally became proficient with a firearm (Gun Cbt (Auto Pistol)-1) and how to act as a Forward Observer (Fwd Obs-1).

Ozcar’s fourth term was a bit of a disappointment. He failed to promote and found time only to refine his Cutlass skills (Blade Cbt (Cutlass)-3). He also found he had lost a step (Aging, Dexterity -1). Deciding to Muster Out, he now faces the universe with 25,000 Credits to his name and a final bit of some education (+2 INT, +2 EDU).

Looking around, Lt. Colonel Ozcar seeks employment with a mid-tech mercenary unit where he figures his Tactics skills can be beneficial.


Feature image courtesy of https://www.pinterest.com/pin/237846424043702509/

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#RPGThursday – Exploring the Traveller Explorer’s Edition from @MongoosePub #TravellerRPG

“Traveller for just $1!”

With an offer like that how could I not try this new Traveller role playing game core rule book? Here is the Mongoose Publishing ad copy:

Traveller is the science fiction roleplaying game of the far future. The Traveller Explorers’ Edition is an introduction to the game for newcomers that provides all of the tools you need to create adventures or even an entire campaign. Create bold scouts and intrepid scientists who travel into the unknown aboard their trusty Type-S Scout/Courier, a rugged exploration ship perfect for the job.

Dock your ship at advanced starports, visit strange worlds, encounter alien beings and animals, and take on the challenges that the galaxy sets before you.

The Explorer’s Edition provides all core game rules for Traveller, plus a universe creation system that allows referees to create new star systems on the fly for their players to visit and explore…

The universe awaits. Welcome to Traveller!

Traveller Explorer’s Edition

First challenge – making sure I get that dang apostrophe in the right place because Mongoose uses it both before and after the ‘s’.

I duly paid my single dollar and, after waiting for a day for the purchase to hit my Mongoose account (why not right away? I know…shoulda used my DriveThruRPG account…Sigh) I downloaded the 74-page, full color pdf.

The “Introduction” of the Traveller Explorer’s Edition sets out the modest goals of this book. To quote, “The Traveller Explorer’s Edition is designed to introduce new players to the game using just one of its many genres; the exploration campaign.”

Hold onto that thought…


Opening the Traveller Explorer’s Edition, the cover art is pretty much what I expect from Mongoose these days. To my eye I can see a Type-S Scout there but the perspective seems screwy.

Most people don’t pay any attention to the legal print on the contents page, but I have my reasons. I note that this game contains no Open Game Content. This has long been a problem I have with Mongoose Traveller; they play legal games. The “core rules” for Traveller are taken from the Traveller System Reference Document, which is covered by the Open Game License (OGL), yes? For the longest time I “understood” that the core rules are covered by the OGL but “setting” specific items (like the Third Imperium setting) are Product Identity. When Mongoose Publishing declares all their product is not subject to the OGL it means they can make legal claims on anything YOU make using their product.

This game product contains no Open Game Content. No portion of this work may be reproduced in any form without written permission.

Traveller Explorer’s Edition

The next page in the pdf is a full color “setting” image. Here I see (somewhat more) recognizable Type-S Scout ships.

The text is a quote from Carl Sagan spoken in Cosmos. As for a call to adventure…well, nothing has ever really come close to the original, “This is the Free Trader Beowulf, calling anyone…Mayday, Mayday…” I mean, I see what they are trying to do here here (“bold scouts and intrepid scientists”) but I’m just really not convinced this Carl Sagan quote delivers the message they want.

“This is the Free Trader Beowulf, calling anyone…Mayday, Mayday…we are under attack…main drive is gone…turret number one not responding…Mayday…losing cabin pressure fast…calling anyone…please help…This is the Free Trader Beowulf…Mayday…”

Traveller box cover, 1977

The next several chapters of Traveller Explorer’s Edition are “Traveller Creation,” “Skills and Tasks,” “Combat,” and “Encounters and Danger.” These are the core game rules:

  • There are two career fields available; Scholar and Scout.
  • Experienced Traveller players will note there is no chance of death in character generation.
  • Skill checks are bog-standard Mongoose Traveller with 2d=8+ for success or rolled against a Task Difficulty.
  • I note that the “Boom & Bane” game mechanism where you throw 3d6 and take the two best/worst from 2nd Edition is not here.
  • The skill list is also pretty standard, though a few Third Imperium setting examples creep in.
  • Combat is the same, as is the encounters and dangers section.

The “Equipment” chapter in Traveller Explore’s Edition goes out of its way to ensure you understand this is “The Core Collection.” What this practically means is that the equipment list is a cut-down version. This same “Core Collection” approach is used in “Space Combat” when it comes to ship armaments. That same philosophy delivers a single ship type in the book—a Type-S Scout/Courier.

“Spacecraft Operations” in Traveller Explorer’s Edition is again very, uh, standard for those familiar with the rules. Likewise, “World and Universe Creation” is (again) the standard star mapping and basic world creation system long used by Traveller. The star map uses the “standard” 1/2 chance of a world in any given subsector hex.


Let’s look again at the “intent” behind this Traveller Explorer’s Edition:

Create bold scouts and intrepid scientists who travel into the unknown aboard their trusty Type-S Scout/Courier, a rugged exploration ship perfect for the job.

Dock your ship at advanced starports, visit strange worlds, encounter alien beings and animals, and take on the challenges that the galaxy sets before you.

Ad copy

The Traveller Explorer’s Edition certainly meets the first part of the intent. Create scouts and scientists? CHECK! Travel aboard a Type-S Scout/Courier? CHECK! It’s the second part that becomes problematic:

  • “Dock you ship at advanced starports” – I guess so, but that’s not what I imagine as the edges of known space.
  • “Visit strange worlds” – The basic Universal World Profile can be a start but a Referee needs a good imagination; no help is found here.
  • “Encounter alien beings and animals” – Referee gonna have to totally make up aliens cause ain’t nothing in the book about ’em; at least some basic animal traits are defined in “Encounters and Dangers.”
  • “Take on the challenges the galaxy sets before you” – This needs a good Referee but this Explorer’s Edition has no help for Referees.

So just what is an “exploration campaign.” Let’s go back to Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition and see how they describe it in the “Introduction – Campaign Ideas”:

The Explorer Campaign: In a game of this type the player characters go beyond the borders of known space, looking for objects, planets, and civilizations of value or curiosity. The characters will have to be highly self-sufficient to survive away from known space for long stretches. For inspiration look no further than the original series of Star Trek.

Traveller Pocket Rulebook, p. 2

That’s a better explanation, though I still bristle at using high-tech, utopian Star Trek as inspiration for a Traveller campaign. Maybe it’s a personal preference but I always saw Traveller as having an element of desperate survival more like Firefly than the cleanliness of Star Trek.

Given that Traveller Explorer’s Edition is designed to be a simplified version of the game suitable as an introduction, perhaps the campaign should be simple too? I like the defintion of an exploration campaign that Paul Elliott gave in SOLO: Solo RPG Campaigns for the Cepheus Engine (Zozer Games, 2017):

Campaign: Survey Scouts – Exploration and adventure go hand in hand. In this campaign, the player characters are the crew of a survey ship – far from help or assistance, members of the scout service exploring new planets and sometimes making contact with alien races.

SOLO, p. 7

SOLO goes on to deliver a game system that can be used to create a Survey Scouts campaign. A similar campaign game system is missing in the Traveller Explorer’s Edition. This certainly is an introduction to the rules, but it is far short of being an introduction to a campaign—or even a one-off session for that matter.

The Traveller Explorer’s Edition can be used as an introduction for new players; think of it as something more akin to an extended player hand out. The core rules are there and the players can experiment with creating their own character. The book delivers basic familiarity with equipment and combat and space operations and even the rough outlines of worlds. But the Traveller Explorer’s Edition does not deliver a campaign, or even the basic seeds of a campaign.

Not bad for a single dollar…but not really great either.


RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2021 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. The author is not affiliated with either Mongoose Publishing or Far Future Enterprises, and makes no claim to or challenge to any trademarks held by either entity.

Cepheus Deluxe (Stellagama Publishing, 2021) – The new heroic #TravellerRPG

Cepheus Deluxe is the latest iteration of the Cepheus Engine roleplaying game rules for 2d6 science fiction adventures. These new rules are the latest refinement of a game system that traces its heritage back to Marc Miller’s Classic Traveller RPG from Game Designers’ Workshop in 1977. Cepheus Deluxe increases player agency in generation of larger-than-life characters and delivers more cinematic action but by doing so moves the Cepheus Engine away from play evocative of “ordinary” adventurers and closer to heroic science fiction characters and action taken from today’s pop culture.


Traveller, by Marc Miller and published by Game Designers’ Workshop in the late 1970s, was my first roleplaying game (RPG). I have played Traveller continuously since 1979—over 40 years. Through those years I played several different versions of Traveller, and missed many others too. In the mid-2000s, Mongoose Publishing licensed Traveller and published Mongoose Traveller, 1st Edition using an Open Game License (OGL). However, when Mongoose released a second edition in the mid-2010s, the license rules changed, and (in my opinion) not for the betterment of the Traveller community. Fortunately, there were enterprising publishers, led by Jason “Flynn” Kemp at Samardan Press who took the Traveller System Reference Document (SRD) and OGL and released a “generic” version of the rules called Cepheus Engine. The Cepheus Engine rules are the Traveller RPG rules sans the Third Imperium setting which both Mongoose Publishing and Far Future Enterprises (Marc Miller) designate as IP. The latest version of the Cepheus Engine rules are known as Cepheus Deluxe. written by a team led by Omer Golan-Joel from Stellagama Publishing.

Old is New or New is Old?

Cepheus Deluxe is simultaneously a spiritual successor to the original Traveller RPG (now commonly known as Classic Traveller) as well as a distinctly different game. The major differences (evolution?) in the rules systems are related to the core mechanic, character generation (chargen), and more cinematic combat. Some of the “new” rules were seen in previous versions of Traveller, such as Mongoose Traveller 1st and 2nd Editions, as well as earlier or variant versions of Cepheus Engine. However, their assembly in Cepheus Engine delivers a more “heroic” game.

Core Mechanic – 2d6…plus

The Classic Traveller core mechanic—roll 2d6 8+ for success—generally remains in Cepheus Deluxe but with more modifiers and task difficulty. Whereas in Classic Traveller the only die modifier (DM) to a skill check was from skill levels, in Cepheus Deluxe you have DMs for characteristics and skill levels. along with a host of other environmental and situational modifiers. These extra modifiers appeared in various Traveller and Cepheus Engine versions before now.

The major new addition to character generation in Cepheus Deluxe that heavily influences task throws is Traits. “Traits are unique features of competent and driven characters…each character typically has one Trait…” (p. 41). When using a Trait, players use Advantage, which means one rolls 3d6 and chooses the best two when making a task roll.

Although it is an optional rule, if used Hero Points can dramatically shift the style of play in Cepheus Deluxe. This rule is expressly designed to enable play of “larger-than-life science fiction heroes” (p. 12). Players start each session with 2 Hero Points and share a common pool of points equal to the number of players present. Each time a task throw results in an Effect (difference of roll and target number) of +6 or greater, the individual Hero Pool increases by 1. Each time a task throw has an Effect of -6 or greater, the group Hero Pool increases by 1. Hero Points are used to:

  • Reroll a single die throw
  • Force the Referee to reroll a non-player character die roll
  • Reroll a throw on Trauma Surgery.

It’s MY Character

One of the greatest features (not a bug) of Classic Traveller has always been character generation (chargen). In Classic Traveller, chargen is quite literally a game with lots of wristage; throw to generate stats, throw to enter careers, throw for skill during a term, throw for promotion, throw for survival, throw to reenlist, and throw when mustering out. Cepheus Deluxe attempts to keep the core lifepath development system of Traveller but updates it by giving the players a bit more agency while calling on less wristage. During chargen in Cepheus Deluxe players will:

  • Roll for characteristics but assign them as desired (long an optional rule)
  • Choose a Homeworld and associated skills (adopted from previous versions)
  • Select a career; no enlistment rolls
  • Pick your own skills during a term; no rolling on tables
    • Optionally, one can roll 1d6 for the number of years in a term vice using the “standard” 4-year
  • Promotions automatically occur in certain terms (subject to modification by Career Events)
  • During a term, one rolls on a Life Events Table and, if necessary, the Injury Table
  • Roll for aging effects at end of Term 4 (tied to terms, not a specific age)
  • Roll for Mustering Out Benefits, but a roll can be exchanged for a promotion
  • Select one Trait for every two terms served (rounded up)

Chargen in Cepheus Deluxe includes optional rules for switching careers. There is another optional rule called “Iron Man!” where one treats any injury as player death—a call-back to Classic Traveller and its famous “you can die in character generation.”

Another major change in Cepheus Deluxe during chargen is the calculation of two new character stats: Stamina and Lifeblood. These stats are used in combat. Stamina, representing “toughness,” is the sum of the player character’s (PC) Endurance characteristic plus Athletics skill. Lifeblood, or “resistance to injury,” is equal to twice their Stamina.

Action for Heroes

Classic Traveller, indeed most version of Traveller or Cepheus Engine, can be very deadly for player characters—after all, the combat system was developed with wargame designer Frank Chadwick! To illustrate both the similarities and differences let’s look at a combat situation. From Classic Traveller we will use the sample character Captain Jamison from pages 24-25 aboard his Type A merchant. Little does he know, pirate captain “Mad Jackie” Botrel from the combat example in Cepheus Deluxe page 93 has snuck aboard and is trying to take over his ship!

Early RPGs were just skirmish wargames, right? (Courtesy @licensedtodill)

Both Jamison and Jackie are waiting to go thru a door when it opens and both see one another. While both are surprised neither has “surprise” by the rules. Since Classic Traveller does not use Initiative rules like those found in Cepheus Deluxe, we will invoke the Cepheus Deluxe optional rule for Simultaneous Combat. As both characters are already at short range Jamison’s “move” is to draw his cutlass followed by an attack. At the same time, Jackie will charge and use her internal cyberblade to attack. So begins this Melee Combat:

  • Jamison must roll an 8+ to hit and has a DM+1 from his Cutlass-1 skill, a DM-2 for the Synthsilk (Mesh?) armor that Jackie is wearing, and a further DM+2 for short range making his roll 2d6+1.
  • Jackie charges into close range and must roll Melee Combat/STR 8+ with a DM+2 from the charge. Her strength of 6 grants no modifiers but her Melee Combat-3 skill gives her a DM+3. Usually armor reduces hits but since Jamison uses an older rules set without armor protection detailed, we invoke the optional rule Armor as a Penalty to Hit and give Jackie a further DM-1 for the Cloth Armor Jamison is wearing. Total DM is +5. Because she is using her Internal Cybernetic Blade, she can invoke her Signature Weapon Trait and roll 3d6 and use the best two die.
  • Jamison rolls a 7 which after DM is an 8—hit!
  • Jackie rolls 3-4-4 of which she uses 4-4 (8) and DM+5 for a modified roll of 13; hit with Effect +5.
  • Jamison’s cutlass is 2d6+4 damage; average rolls give it 11 wound points.
  • Jackie’s Internal Blade is 2d6; average 7 points plus the Effect+5 for 12 wound points.
  • The wounds to Jamison are randomly determined to hit his Endurance (9) first. This reduces his Endurance to 0 with three remaining points spread against Strength (-1) and Dexterity (-2);Jamison falls unconscious.
  • The 11 wound points against Jackie are reduced by 8 from her Synthsilk Armor. The remaining 3 points are applied to her Stamina (Endurance + Athletics = 8) which leaves her standing with “a mere flesh wound.”

Of note, in Cepheus Deluxe, once Stamina is exhausted wounds are then applied to Lifeblood (Stamina x2). Game effects from the loss of Lifeblood include:

  • When Lifeblood > half rating the PC has a Minor Wound and a DM-1 to all actions
  • When Lifeblood < half rating the PC has a Serious Wound with a DM-2 to all actions and must roll to remain conscious
  • When Lifeblood reaches zero the PC is Mortally Wounded and will die within an our unless they undergo Trauma Surgery.

Using the assumption that a character has average physical characteristics of 7, and assuming they have at least Combat and Athletics skills of 1 (“Employable”), in Cepheus Deluxe it likely takes something on the order of three or four hits—or more when wearing armor—to incapacitate a PC. While one certainly doesn’t want to hang around in a sustained firefight in Cepheus Deluxe, the combat potential of a PC is reduced at a cinematically slower pace than many previous versions of Traveller or Cepheus Engine (and certainly much slower than Classic Traveller).

“Holding Out for a Hero”

In Classic Traveller and so many later versions of Traveller and Cepheus Engine, character generation delivered what I call “everyday” characters using a somewhat random system. While one may start chargen with a basic character concept, the system sometimes (often times?) delivered a far different result. For myself, I enjoyed taking these “everyday” characters and trying to build a story and adventures around them. The increased player agency in Cepheus Deluxe challenges my basic assumptions at the start of chargen. The increased player agency in chargen from Cepheus Deluxe empowers players to take a character concept and flesh it out. While there is still some randomness and uncertainty it is limited and can challenge, but not derail, the making of a character. The ability to select your own skills and then acquire Traits with their powerful Advantage roll makes characters in Cepheus Engine more heroic than everyday. In some roleplaying games it is a conceit going into the game that players are “heroes” or extraordinary PCs. This was certainly not the conceit in Classic Traveller, but it is more popular in other systems. For example, The Expanse Roleplaying Game (Green Ronin, 2019) in “Character Creation, Step 2: Abilities” explicitly defines characters as “extraordinary” as compared to non-adventurous ordinary people:

AGE System characters are defined by nine abilities. They’re scored on a numeric scale from -2 (quite poor) to 4 (truly outstanding). A score of 1 is considered average for Player Characters and other extraordinary people. 0 is average for everyday individuals, the sort of folks who avoid having adventures.

The Expanse Roleplaying Game, p. 25

The core mechanic in Cepheus Deluxe, building upon character generation and taken in combination with more cinematic action and the optional Hero Points rules, certainly enables play of “larger-than-life science fiction heroes.” I am very likely in the minority here, but my preferred style of RPG play is decidedly “ordinary” vice “extraordinary.” Looking back over various rule sets in my collection I often enjoy taking an ordinary character and throwing them into extraordinary adventures:

  • Classic Traveller (GDW, 1977): “Everyday” characters usually living on the edge.
  • Behind Enemy Lines (FASA, 1982): Everyday GI Joe in combat.
  • Star Trek (FASA, 1982): While Star Fleet officers are highly trained, they often needed plenty of luck too.
  • James Bond 007 (Victory Games, 1983): Anybody can be spy, but a 00 has the best gadgets.
  • Paranoia (West End Games, 1984): Six decidedly average (if not slightly abnormal) clones were never enough.
  • Twilight: 2000 (GDW, 1984): In how many games can one stat themselves out?
  • Traveller: 2300 aka 2300 AD (GDW, 1986): Hard sci-fi Traveller in an unforgiving universe.
  • Battlestar Galactica (Margaret Weiss, 2007): Humans on the run from frakking Cylons!
  • Mongoose Traveller (Mongoose Publishing, 2008): Classic Traveller with an OGL
  • Serenity/Firefly (Margaret Weiss 2008/2014): “Find a crew, find a job, keep flying.”
  • Diaspora (Fate 3.0) (VSCA Publishing, 2009): Traveller using FATE 3.0 rules
  • Star Wars Roleplaying: Edge of the Empire (Fantasy Flight Games, 2013): “May the Force be with you”…but on low power.
  • Star Wars Roleplaying: Age of Rebellion (Fantasy Flight Games, 2014): Think Rogue One.
  • Cepheus Engine/The Clement Sector (Gypsy Knights Games (now Independence Games), 2014): Small-ship Classic Traveller alternate universe.
  • Cepheus Engine/Orbital 2100 (Zozer Games, 2016): Hard sublight sci-fi.
  • Cepheus Engine/Hostile (Zozer Games, 2017): “In space nobody can hear you scream.”
  • I hear there is a Cowboy Bebop RPG in development; looking forward to Cowboys just trying to catch a bounty to buy birthday presents for their kids and not be hungry for noodles like Spike.

In many ways I should not be surprised by the Cepheus Deluxe authors moving the rules towards a more heroic version of science fiction roleplaying. Thanks to corporate overlords like Marvel, superheroes seem everywhere. If you look at the RPG systems I enjoy, you will notice that most of those games are not superhero or high magic or space fantasy. My sources of inspiration for science fiction roleplaying overlap to some degree with those listed in Cepheus Deluxe, with a notable difference being my lack interest from computer games.

Does all this mean I dislike Cepheus Deluxe? Hardly. Rules like Hero Points are optional, and as you can see with the example above there is a high degree of backwards compatibility baked into the system. There are more than a few rules, like chases in combat or the entire Social Encounter chapter that are vey nice. More likely than not, I’ll probably use a character generation system tailored to a setting I prefer to play in like The Clement Sector or Orbital 2100 or Hostile but use the rules for Cepheus Deluxe in adventure play.

At the end of the day, I will certainly try to play Cepheus Deluxe. I am not sure I will add Hero Points. I feel that the RockyMountainNavy Boys would like the more heroic play. For myself…I just want ordinary PCs in extraordinary adventures. I’ll hold out for my heroes!


Postscript: There is one further discussion I feel need be mentiones and that is the inevitable comparisons of Cepheus Deluxe to Mongoose Traveller 2nd Ed. Yes, the two game systems are very similar, dare I say almost identical. The similarities are not only in the rules but in the layout of the rule books and even similar artwork. I see two major differences: price and licensing. For price one just cannot beat Cepheus Deluxe which at $9.99 for pdf and $16.99 for pdf+ B&W softcover is a real bargain. Mongoose Traveller will set you back $30 for the pdf alone, the most recent version which is an update to the 2nd Edition rules (although called an “update” Mongoose wants you to buy a whole new rulebook). Secondly, there is the licensing issues I alluded to before. Suffice it to say the Cepheus Engine community is open and very welcoming, whereas the MgT community must live with a publishing overlord that takes seizes individual IP just because you might happen to play in “their” sandbox.


Feature image courtesy Ian Stead

Sunday Summary – A colorful Slammers week of #wargame and #TravellerRPG fun mentioning @ADragoons @gmtgames

Short update follows…

Wargame

I will have another article coming to Armchair Dragoons this week talking about Rand Game Associates 1975 wargame Hitlers Last Gamble: The Battle of the Bulge by Dave Isby. “What,” you say, “another Bulge game?”

Commands & Colors Samurai from GMT Games is scheduled to arrive Monday, UPS says.

Traveller RPG

While my Wargame Wednesday looked at Hammer’s Slammers and wargames, this week I’m turning my attention to RPGs and Hammer’s Slammers.

Reading for Roleplaying…or #Wargame? – The Elusive Shift: How Role-Playing Games Forged Their Identity by Jon Peterson (@docetist) – or – I’m a Munchkin Grognard (#RPG #TravellerRPG)

My first role-playing game (RPG) was Traveller from game Designers’ Workshop back in 1979. In the same little store where I discovered my first wargame, Panzer by Jim Day from Yaquinto Publishing (1979), I found a small, very plain black box with three Little Black Books inside. So started my RPG adventures which would parallel my wargame experiences. As I was a solid military history reader and generally avoided fantasy science fiction in those days I never felt the urge to play Dungeons & Dragons like a few of my friends. But that was OK; we played the heck out of Traveller for RPGs and Star Fleet Battles (Task Force Games, 1979+) for wargaming back in those days. All of which means I entered the world of RPGs without realizing that I was amongst defining moments of the hobby. The Elusive Shift: How Role-Playing Games Forged Their Identity by Jon Peterson provides a “lost” history of how Dungeons & Dragons and other games came to define a new genre of gaming – the role-playing game.

As Peterson points out, Dungeons & Dragons (1974) did not call itself a role-playing game. Indeed, the cover stated it was, “rules for fantastic medieval wargames campaigns” (Peterson, 15). Starting from this observation, Peterson in The Elusive Shift takes the reader on a historical survey of how role-playing games came to be defined; or, as Mr. Peterson says:

It is not the ambition of this study to settle on a tidy dictionary defintion of role-playing game but instead to show historically how the game community came to grapple with agreeing on one.

Peterson, The Elusive Shift, p. 19

A Munchkin Grognard Traveller Perspective

Like I already stated, my first foray into RPGs was through Traveller, not D&D. At the same time I was entering the wargaming hobby. Forty years later I consider myself a wargame Grognard, that of an “Old Guard” of players who have been involved in the hobby a long time. So it was interesting to realize that in RPG terms of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s that I was a “munchkin.” As Peterson relates:

It was around this time that the pejorative term munchkin entered the role players’ vocabulary. The Wargamer’s Encyclopedic Dictionary (1981) defines a munchkin as “a young wargamer, generally under 14 or 16 years of age,” in contrast to a grognard, “a wargamer who has been in the hobby a very long time.”

Peterson, The Elusive Shift, p. 232

As I was 12 years old when I got my first wargame and RPG, I was actually a very young munchkin which is probably why I missed out on so much of the background fighting over what the RPG hobby was; I simply did not have the money to subscribe to all those newsletters or magazines where the discussion was taking place! Even if I did subscribe, as a sixth-grader the discussion may even had gone right over my head (figuratively and literally).

Through reading The Elusive Shift I also came to discover just how much of an influence Traveller has on my definition of an RPG. Peterson goes so far to call Traveller a “transcending design” (p. 173) and devotes an Intermezzo in his book to the game. Since Traveller was my first, and for several years my only, RPG* when I read the “rules” I accepted them as “the way” without question. Peterson points out that how one plays Traveller is a matter of player preference; “There are three basic ways to play Traveller: solitaire, scenario, and campaign. Any of these three may be unsupervised (that is, without a referee; the players themselves administer the rules and manipulate the situation” (Traveller Book 1, p. 3). To this day I have no problem playing an RPG solo; it has always been an option from the beginning. I also have no problem setting up a one-shot scenario or digging into a campaign. Again, that has always been “just the way it is.” I also was very happy to see Jon Peterson call Traveller, “perhaps one of the most adaptable of the designs of the 1970s” (p. 173) though he says that because the game exemplifies the extremes of both open-ended (with a Gamemaster) and close-ended (no referee) systems. Without trying to ignite an “Edition Wars” argument discussion here I’ll just say that these days I am very happy with the Cepheus Engine version of Traveller which is very similar to the original Little Black Books Classic Traveller from decades ago.

In The Elusive Shift Peterson shows how Dungeons & Dragons grew out of both the wargaming and science fiction fan communities. Again, as I entered both genres of hobby gaming at the same time I didn’t really see any “legacy” issues . All of which means I never really got into the whole “D&D is a wargame” controversy discussion because RPGs and wargames were always two related-yet-distinct facets of hobby gaming to me.

To this day, the wargame community constantly grapples with the age-old question “What is a wargame?” Heck, even I took a stab at answering that question in an episode of the Mentioned in Dispatches podcast for the Armchair Dragoons. Peterson’s The Elusive Shift shows us how a closely related community grappled with a very similar defining issue. This book won’t give wargamers an answer to their question but it certainly can promote understanding of how the RPG community came to some agreement.

Coming together. In agreement. What a novel concept!

Citation

Peterson, Jon, The Elusive Shift: How Role-Playing Games Forged Their Identity, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2021 (Apple Books electronic edition)


*I’m not sure what my second RPG was, but it may have been Commando by SPI (1979) which Peterson notes is both a wargame AND and RPG. I know my copy has marked up charts where we tried to convert Commando tables for use in our Traveller activities. Behind Enemy Lines (1st Edition, FASA 1982) is clearly my next RPG after Traveller, though some might argue that it is more a skirmish-level wargame adventure guide than a “true” RPG.

#Wargame Wednesday – Searching for My Strategic #TravellerRPG Wargame

In a recent post I discussed my search for a #TravellerRPG wargame for use in ground combat. In the course of that posting, I talked about several different wargames and what I liked, or didn’t like, about them. Since I started down that rabbit hole, I decided to dig a bit further by taking a deeper look back at the original combat systems from the Classic Traveller-era (1977-1981).

The Traveller Combat System

Along this voyage of (re)discovery I came to the realization that there is no one single “Traveller Combat System.” Between 1977 and 1981 Game Designers’ Workshop (GDW) gave us EIGHT (8) different ground combat systems “For Use with TRAVELLER.” Broadly speaking, I see the eight systems divided into two broad categories; Strategic and Personal/Tactical. The eight systems, many found within their own games, are:

  • Imperium, Classic Traveller Game 0, 1977 (Strategic)
  • Traveller Combat System, found in Classic Traveller Book 1: Characters and Combat, 1977 (Personal)
  • Mercenary, found in Classic Traveller Book 4: Mercenary, 1978 (Tactical?)
  • Snapshot, Classic Traveller Game 2, 1979 (Personal)
  • Azhanti High Lightning, Classic Traveller Game 3, 1980 (Personal)
  • Fifth Frontier War, Classic Traveller Game 4, 1981 (Strategic)
  • Invasion Earth, Classic Traveller Game 6, 1981 (Strategic)
  • Striker, Classic Traveller Game 7, 1981 (Tactical)

[Of note, Dark Nebula, Classic Traveller Game 5 (1980) is basically a reskinned Imperium and I don’t treat it as a separate game system.]

In this post I’m going to look at the Strategic combat systems for the Traveller roleplaying game. Let us begin by going back to the beginnings of the RPG hobby in the mid-1970’s and a little corner of Indiana with a group calling themselves Game Designers’ Workshop (and pay attention to where the apostrophe is placed).

Strategic Traveller Wargames

Imperium – Empires in Conflict: Worlds in Balance (1977)

Imperium (GDW 1990 Edition)

Imperium is known as Classic Traveller Game 0. The number reflects the fact the design predates release of the Traveller RPG system. As author Shannon Applecline tells us in Designers and Dragons: The ’70s

Meanwhile, GDW was still playing with science-fiction designs. In 1975 and 1976 they worked on the prototype of a wargame called Imperium (1977). They finally published it in 1977 in a very different form, but in its original incarnation Imperium imagined a war between humans and many alien races, among them the lion-like Aslan, the bee-like Hivers, the dog-like Vargr and the mercenary Dorsai. Imperium also provided rules for individual characters — the sons of the leaders of the war — who progressed through individual careers and provided bonuses to armies based on the careers selected.

Both the alien races and the careers would be incorporated into GDW’s second and most notable RPG: Traveller.

Shannon Applecline, Designers and Dragons: The 70’s, Evil Hat Productions, 2014, p. 158

Here is how Imperium introduces itself:

lmperium is a science-fiction game about interstellar war. Several hundred years from now, Terra reaches the stars, only to find that they are already owned by a vast, sprawling interstellar empire: the Ziru Sirka (the Grand Empire of Stars or Imperium). The heavy hand of the lmperium and the expansionism of Earth lead naturally and inexorably to interstellar war. lmperium is a boardgame of that conflict.

Imperium Rule Book, p. 2

Imperium is what I term a grand strategic wargame. The scale of the game is six-month turns and 1/2 parsec (1.67 light years) per hex. If you are a Traveller RPG aficionado, you probably recognize the map scale is different and not the usual 1-parsec per hex. In keeping with the grand strategy design, Imperium includes rules for economics and both space and planetary warfare. The game actually has three distinct combat subsystems; “Space Combat,” “Planetary Surface/Space Interactions,” and “Surface Combat.” In this post I am focusing on the ground warfare aspects of the design found in the rules for “Surface Combat” in the core Rule Book starting on page 8.

If one makes it past the Space Combat and Planetary Surface/Space Interactions phases of an Imperium game turn (representing the deep and close-space battles) then a Surface Combat action may be fought. The combat mechanic here is the very traditional “battleline” where opponents are paired up. There is a very Avalon Hill War at Sea-like vibe to this combat mechanic and given WaS was published in 1975 is it possible the GDW designers took some inspiration?

In Imperium, Surface Combat begins with both players taking their forces and “pairing them off” against each other. If the attacker is unable to pair-off against all the defenders, no planetary assault is possible. If all combatants have been paired, any excess combatants can be doubled or even tripled up against. Optionally, forces not engaged can be “screened” and will not participate in the battle.

[As I reread the Surface Combat rules closely, I realized I had missed an important element over the many years played. I always assumed that only Troops, Planetary Defense Markers, and Outposts participated in Surface Combat. However, ships also participate!]

Paired off Imperium combatants now fight a round of combat by first determining their combat differential and then rolling on the appropriate column of the Surface Combat Results table. Regular troops attacking jump troops are given a round of defensive fire before the jump troops fire back to simulate the lack of heavy firepower jump troops possess (i.e. jump troops are great on offense but poor on defense). Possible combat results are either “No Effect” or “Destroyed/Neutralized.” Surface combat continues in rounds until all committed troops of one side are eliminated.

Surface Combat in Imperium, indeed any combat in Imperium, does not factor in a tech level difference. In the history of the game, the combatants were actually balanced technologically (although they designed ships using different doctrines) until the advent of the Terran battleship which appears in an Optional Rule.

Fifth Frontier War: Battles for the Spinward Marches (1981)

Fifth Frontier War (GDW, 1981) Rule Book

The cover of the rule book for Fifth Frontier War (FFW) carries the tagline “For Use With TRAVELLER” above the title. Here is how the game introduces itself:

Poised just beyond the frontier of the Imperium stand the war fleets of the Zhodani Consulate. Four times in the past five hundred years, they have attacked in campaigns to wrest control of the vital resources and rich worlds of the Spinward Marches from the Third Imperium. Now they strike again, and the Fifth Frontier War begins in earnest.

Fifth Frontier War is a Traveller campaign game portraying the progress of a far-reaching interstellar war and its effects on the many worlds that are its battlefield. The game is playable independently as a tense, fast-moving simulation of interstellar war. Rules cover starship squadrons and space battles, troop units and worlds at war, and the details of long-range interstellar planning. Special rules cover the operation of ship fleets, the use of naval bases, troop carriers, and advanced technological levels. Special charts cover every aspect of combat during the game.

Fifth Frontier War includes a large, four-color map of part of the Spinward Marches, complete with planetary surface boxes detailing the many planets within the area. Three sheets totaling 720 die-cut counters provide starship squadrons, troop units, fleet markers, admirals, and other details essential to the game. The rules booklet details how to play the game, while charts provide reference information. Two dice are included to help generate random numbers for combat.

Fifth Frontier War is playable by itself, but familiarity with the Traveller science-fiction role-playing system will aid in understanding the background history. The game may be played in 4 to 6 hours, and can usually be finished in an evening of play. It is designed for two players, but up to four may be involved if desired.

Fifth Frontier War, Rule Book, p. 2

The line, “…familiarity with the Traveller science-fiction role-playing system will aid in understanding the background history” is very insightful. FFW is set in the Traveller universe, but it is not an essential part of the roleplaying game. Like Imperium before it, FFW is another grand strategic wargame. This time, however, the setting is more closely tied to the Traveller material.

Leveraging the closer ties to Traveller, the scale in FFW uses several for the roleplaying game’s conventions. Each turn in one week, the same as the time spent in jump space, and each hex is one parsec.

FFW, like Imperium before it, uses several different combat subsystems in play. “Surface Combat” comes after “Space Combat” and “Interface Combat” in the Combat Phase of each turn. “Surface Combat” specifically deals with troops present on a world engaging in combat.

Resolution of surface combat in FFW is again very simple. The combat factor of a unit can be split to attack multiple defenders or they may combine with other units. The total of attacking combat factors is compared to defending combat factors to derive attack odds. Using the Troop Combat Results Table both the attacker rolls 2d6 and cross-references the results. Combat results are applied after all battles are complete. The combat result is expressed as the percentage of the force destroyed with the results applied at the end of the phase.

Technology makes a difference in surface combat in FFW. The combat factor of armored units is doubled in surface combat. Elite units also have their combat factor doubled. (Mercenary units have their strength halved if currently at 50% or more casualties; their heart isn’t in it anymore.) Most importantly, after the combat odds are determined, but before any dice are rolled, the relative tech levels of the force are considered. The difference in tech level becomes a column shift on the Troop Combat Results Table. Of note, the atmosphere of the planet is also a consideration, but appears in the form of a die roll modifier, not a column shift like technology. Just as importantly, the tech level of the force is determined by the lowest tech level unit participating in the combat.

Let’s see how surface combat plays out using the example in the rule book from FFW. It’s a bit long and the numbers may look big but in reality it goes quick once you try it. Pay close attention to how dramatic the column shifts can be from different tech levels fighting each other:

The Zhodani player has landed two tech level 14, full strength 20-factor troop units on a tech level 10 Imperial world having a tech level 15, full strength 5-factor troop unit and a 150-factor defense unit at 20% losses (thus having a current strength of 120). The Zhodani player attacks the Imperial troop unit using 15 factors; the combat odds are 3:1 (15:5) and are shifted one column to the left (to 2:1 ) due to tech level difference (14 -15 = -1 ). The dice roll is 5 and is not modified, as the atmosphere of the world is normal. Thus, 40% losses are inflicted on the Imperial troop unit. The Zhodani player attacks the defense unit using his remaining 25 factors. The combat odds are 1:5 (25:120) and are shifted four columns to the right (to 1.5:1) due to tech level difference (14 – 10 = 4). A 6 is rolled, and the unit takes 20% losses, increasing its total losses to 40%. Losses to the Imperial units are not implemented until the end of the combat. The Imperial player attacks one of the Zhodani units with all 5 of his tech level 15 factors. The combat odds are 1:5 (5:20). He could have used some of the factors from the defense unit to raise the odds, but this would have meant an unfavorable tech level difference due to the defense unit’s lower tech level. The tech level difference is (15 -14 =) 1, which means the attack is resolved on the 1:3 column. The dice roll is 9, and thus the attack has no effect. The Imperial player attacks the other Zhodani unit with the 120 factors of the defense unit. The odds are 5:1 (120:20) and are shifted four columns to the left (to 1:1) due to tech level difference (10 -14 = -4). The dice roll is 7, resulting in 10% losses to the Zhodani unit. Surface combat resolution is now finished for this world, and the combat results are implemented: a 10 casualty marker is stacked under one of the Zhodani units, a 40 casualty marker is stacked under the Imperial troop unit, and the 20 casualty marker for the defense battalions is exchanged for a 40 casualty marker.

Fifth Frontier War, Rule Book, p. 15

Near the end of the rules for FFW the designers give some hints for using this wargame in a Traveller RPG campaign:

ROLE-PLAYING

Role-playing appears to Traveller players to be a simple series of adventures in which situations are presented, dealt with by the players, and resolved. The Traveller referee knows that there is a lot more to running a consistent, interesting Traveller campaign; preparation for each situation is required, contingencies must be foreseen, and background laid out. Fifth Frontier War is intended as a partial solution to the problems of presenting situations to Traveller players.

BASIC CONCEPT

Fifth Frontier War is a detailed adventure game of the progress of the current war between the Imperium and the Zhodani in the Spinward Marches. It progresses on weekly turns with forces representing squadrons of military starships and battalions or more of fighting troops. The game is intended to be played for enjoyment of and by itself. Indeed, in situations where no referee is available, or where only two Traveller players can get together, Fifth Frontier War allows them to play a form of Traveller without a referee.

Ultimately, the Traveller referee will have enough experience with the game and its rules to be able to use it in a Traveller campaign. At that point, Fifth Frontier War can be used to indicate the greater conditions that are happening in the Spinward Marches, often just beyond the knowledge of Traveller adventurers. Players can be idly exploring a world in the Spinward Marches and be suddenly confronted with a major space battle in the skies above them, or encounter major friendly or enemy troop units establishing bases. The point is that they cannot know ahead of time exactly what activity is taking place even one system away, and that activity could be deadly to them.

Fifth Frontier War, Rule Book, p. 19

Invasion: Earth – The Final Battle of the Solomani Rim War (1981)

Invasion: Earth (GDW, 1981)

Invasion: Earth (IE) was released in the same year as FFW but does not carry the “For Use With TRAVELLER” tag across the cover. Maybe this is because Invasion: Earth is a historical game in the Traveller setting, taking place some five years before the default start of the Traveller setting from the Little Black Books.

Once again, I’m going to let the introduction of Invasion: Earth explain itself:

INVASION: EARTH

Invasion: Earth is a two-player game of the assault on Terra by the forces of the Imperium; this battle was the last major campaign of the Solomani Rim War. (A section at the end of the rules gives a brief outline of this war.) One player represents the commander of the lmperial invasion force and controls all lmperial regular, colonial, and mercenary units in the game. The other player represents the commander of the Solomani forces assigned to the defense of Terra and controls all Solomani units in the game.

TRAVELLER

Invasion: Earth is a complete game, playable in itself. It may also be used in several ways to supplement or to provide a background for Traveller campaigns and adventures, as indicated in a section following the rules on the play of the game.

Invasion: Earth, Rule Book, p. 3

Invasion: Earth is a game that shows the strategic-level of warfare, but at a much smaller scale than either Imperium or FFW. One game of Invasion: Earth is a single planetary invasion; one complete round of surface combat at one planet in Imperium or Fifth Frontier War. Each turn in Invasion: Earth is two weeks. Here is how the rules describe surface units:

Troop units are the field formations which, through the use of manpower and firepower, are the ultimate defenders or attackers of a piece of terrain. Due to the high technological levels of the opposing forces, the basic transport vehicle is the anti-gravity vehicle; hence troop units are quite mobile. PD [Planetary Defense] units are collections of energy weapons and missiles capable of engaging naval units bombarding the surface of a world. Each has an intrinsic garrison assigned to it; hence, a PD unit is rated and treated similarly as a troop unit. Most PD units are large, static installations and are immobile, while a few small PD units are mounted on grav vehicles.

Invasion: Earth, Rule Book, p. 3

The combat system used in Invasion: Earth is near-identical to FFW. Adjustments for Armor, Elite, and Mercenary units are still here. Tech level differences shift columns on the Troop Combat Table. The major difference between Invasion: Earth and FFW is the introduction of movement rules.

Like FFW before, the rule book for Invasion: Earth includes extensive ideas for integrating the game with a Traveller RPG campaign. Additionally, though Invasion: Earth focuses on one (“historical”) planetary invasion, the end of the rule book also includes a section for taking the rules and using them for other campaigns, including troops not equipped with grav vehicles (the default in IE).

JTAS Articles

JTAS #9 Cover

A review of the first 24 issues of the Journal of the Traveller’s Aid Society reveals only a small handful of articles related to rules for these strategic wargames. Not surprising, in a way, given JTAS was intended to support the Traveller RPG game and not the wargame line of GDW.

JTAS 1 (1979)

This issue contained the article “Diplomacy in Imperium” which introduced a variant using Emissaries into the campaign. Meh.

JTAS 5 (1980)

This cover article in this issue is “Imperium: Ground Combat Module” by the same Roberto Camino that did the “Diplomacy” variant in Issue 1. The ground system he introduces is something between Imperium and Invasion: Earth with planets depicted on two hemispherical maps. This module is intended to replace the Surface Combat phase of Imperium.

JTAS 9 (1981)

This was a “special” Fifth Frontier War edition with lots of background material for the game (some of which was duplicative of the rule book).

What’s the Best Strategy?

As similar as two of these game are, all three of these strategic Traveller wargames offer very different approaches to the Traveller RPG universe. That said, all three of these games are clearly wargames-first and the integration with the Traveller RPG is difficult at best. This is very much unlike almost every Personal/Tactical combat game that is tightly tied to (even forming) the roleplaying game rules.

Imperium is by far the most abstract of the strategic models and unsurprisingly the easiest to learn and play. It also has no expressed technological aspect. Coming before the publication of Traveller, it is also probably the most difficult to “fit” into a Traveller RPG campaign setting as it uses many elements of the setting but in ways that are not directly relatable to the RPG.

Fifth Frontier War, regardless of the “For Use With TRAVELLER” tagline, is a separate wargame set in the Traveller RPG universe. FFW probably does the second-best job of capturing the technological difference of any Traveller wargame, either Personal/Tactical or Strategic. Although there are extensive notes describing how to use FFW in a Traveller RPG campaign, the truth to the matter is the two systems, though set in the same universe and sharing common foundations, are too different in scale to be combined.

Invasion: Earth is the best wargame/RPG system, either Personal/Tactical or Strategic, to capture the impact of technology on ground warfare in the Traveller universe. Like FFW, however, integrating Invasion: Earth into a Traveller RPG campaign is very challenging due once again to the differences in scale. Invasion: Earth is closer to an RPG than FFW, but fighting two weeks of battles between Regiments or Armies is far above the “personal view” that the Traveller RPG is built on.

Interestingly, even though there are more than few articles that discuss integrating the tactical-scale Striker (GDW, 1981) into Traveller campaign, I find no articles or rules about integrating Striker into Imperium, FFW, or Invasion: Earth. I realize Striker was published near-simultaneous to FFW and Invasion: Earth, but you would think even after the fact somebody might had made an attempt in JTAS. Guess not. Once again, the difference in scale is probably just too much to overcome.


*Interestingly, the Traveller Combat System was never called TCS. Within the Traveller rules system, TCS is the abbreviation for “Trillion Credit Squadron.”

#RPGThursday – Searching for My Personal/Tactical #TravellerRPG #Wargame

In a recent post I discussed my search for a #TravellerRPG wargame for use in ground combat. In the course of that posting, I talked about several different wargames and what I liked, or didn’t like, about them. Since I started down that rabbit hole, I decided to dig a bit further by taking a deeper look back at the original personal and vehicle combat systems for roleplaying games from the Classic Traveller-era (1977-1981). Along the way I discovered:

  • I didn’t remember as many things about early Traveller as I thought I did
  • There is more variety to the systems than I remember
  • Technology plays a much lesser mechanical role then I remember.

The Traveller Combat System

When I started my review, I immediately discovered there is not one single “Traveller Combat System” though, as you will see, there is a something called the Traveller Combat System. Indeed, between 1977 and 1981, Game Designers’ Workshop (GDW) gave us EIGHT (8) different ground combat systems. Broadly speaking, I see the eight systems divided into two broad categories; Strategic and Personal/Tactical. The eight systems, many found within their own game, are:

  • Imperium, Classic Traveller Game 0, 1977 (Strategic)
  • Traveller Combat System, found in Classic Traveller Book 1: Characters and Combat, 1977 (Personal)
  • Mercenary, or the Abstract System found in Classic Traveller Book 4: Mercenary, 1978 (Tactical?)
  • Snapshot, Classic Traveller Game 2, 1979 (Personal)
  • Azhanti High Lightning, Classic Traveller Game 3, 1980 (Personal)
  • Fifth Frontier War, Classic Traveller Game 4, 1981 (Strategic)
  • Invasion Earth, Classic Traveller Game 6, 1981 (Strategic)
  • Striker, Classic Traveller Game 7, 1981 (Tactical)

[Of note, Dark Nebula, Classic Traveller Game 5 (1980) is basically a reskinned Imperium and I don’t treat it as a separate game system.]

In this post I’m going to look at the five Personal/Tactical combat systems for the Traveller roleplaying game. A later post will look at the strategic systems. For now, let’s go back to the beginnings of the RPG hobby, and a little corner of Indiana with a group calling themselves Game Designers’ Workshop (and pay attention to where the apostrophe is placed).

Personal / Tactical Systems

The original Traveller

The Little Black Books (1977)

The original rules for the Traveller roleplaying game were laid out in the three Little Black Books first published by GDW in 1977. Book 1: Characters and Combat detailed the first iteration of what came to be known as the “Traveller Combat System.”*

The Traveller Combat System is a combat resolution model for personal combat or what many wargamers often refer to as “skirmish” scale. The system was designed to resolve combat actions between individuals or small groups (like a party of travellers). Each round of combat represented 15 seconds.

I term the Traveller Combat System “semi-abstracted.” The combat procedure in the Traveller Combat System is very simple and straightforward but lacks many usual wargame-like details. In every battle the players and referee step through a simple four-step process:

  • Determine surprise
  • Determine initial range
  • Determine escape/avoidance
  • Resolve combat wherein each character declares both a movement status and an attack.

The roll for surprise is subject to several modifiers. I was a bit surprised to see that three of the seven possible modifiers relate to military associated skills – which makes sense given the character generation rules that emphasize military experience. A further three modifiers relate to whether a vehicle is used and the size of the party. The last modifier is for Pouncer animals; very useful in wilderness encounters!

Terrain is a possible modifier for determining range. Encounter distances are broken down into five bands; Close (touching), Short (1-5m), Medium (pistol range, 6-50m), Long (rifle range, 51-250m), and Very Long (extreme range, 251-500m).

Rather than a square or hexagon-gridded map, the Traveller Combat System uses Range Bands. The rules recommend (and I clearly remember using) regular loose leaf lined paper. The number of lines away determines your range. Movement was by bands.

Combat in the Traveller Combat System is based on a simple “Roll 8+ on 2d6 to hit the target.” Die modifiers come in several flavors:

  • Melee Weapons require Strength with strong or weak characters gaining an advantageous or weakened blow modifier
  • Ranged Weapons require Dexterity, again with advantages for high Dexterity characters
  • Using the Weapons Matrix, cross reference the Attacker’s Weapon with the Defender’s Armor yields another DM
  • Using the Range Matrix, each different Attacker’s Weapon yields another DM; this is also where the damage (expressed in number of d6) is found.

Wounds in the Traveller Combat System are determined by different number of d6. The total of the first hit is applied to one personal characteristic and can be enough to render the character unconscious. After the first hit, the dice in subsequent attacks are spread out over the Strength-Dexterity-Endurance characteristics (i.e. if your attack scores 2d6 hits, the total of die #1 can be applied to one characteristic and the total of die #2 to another). When a single characteristic drops to zero the character is unconscious. When two are reduced the character is seriously wounded and if all three go to zero the character is killed. Bottom Line: The Traveller Combat System is DEADLY.

In keeping with the personal combat focus of the Traveller Combat System, the personal characteristics of strength, dexterity, and endurance are very important in combat. As already mentioned, strength and dexterity grant a bonus, or penalty, in combat. Endurance is essential in melee combat; every “blow” takes endurance. Once all your endurance is gone no more blows are possible until after a rest period.

Character skills also factor in the Traveller Combat System. Knowing how to use a weapon grants a bonus (with more skill granting a bigger bonus); untrained is a penalty. Expertise is also used to parry in brawling or blade combat.

One rule I did not remember in the Traveller Combat System is morale. Basically, when at least 20% of the party is unconscious or killed, you must start making morale throws. Failure means the party breaks and runs. I absolutely do not remember this rule; I think we ignored it because it took away player agency. Or maybe we just didn’t use it because the combat system is already deadly enough that we didn’t get into combat unless we were very sure of ourselves.

I also notice now that there is no vehicle combat rules in Book 1. A party can be in a vehicle at the start of combat, but there are no rules for fighting vehicle to vehicle.

Mercenary (1978)

In 1978, GDW published what nowadays we would call a splatbook for mercenary characters. Not only did Classic Traveller Book 4: Mercenary include expanded character generation rules, it also included new combat rules. Actually, it makes references to three different rules systems:

There are three means of resolving a mercenary mission: the standard Traveller adventure/combat system, the abstract system included later in this section, and a free-form system created by the referee. All three are discussed to a greater or lesser extent, but it should be born in mind that these are intended only as a general guide to the referee, not as a definitive miniatures rules set.

Book 4: Mercenary, “Battles”, p. 31

When introducing the Abstract System, the designers tell us, “The abstract mission resolution system is particularly valuable in resolving a mercenary mission involving large numbers of troops on one or both sides and in which player characters are not primary participants (serving as NCOs in an infantry battalion, for example).” It is telling that the Abstract System has no time or distance scale; it has all been abstracted out.

Combat resolution using the Abstract System in conducted in two broad parts: preparation and resolution. During preparation, the characteristics of the opposing forces is determined, to include the Mission, Tech Level, Size of the force, and Efficiency. This is accomplished through a series of die rolls. At this point the referee also needs to determine a preservation number for the force.

Once the two sides are prepared, the Abstract System moves to resolution. Once again, a series of die rolls determines the Element Engaged, the Encounter Type and then the actual Combat Resolution. Given the involvement of player characters, there is also a chance of Personal Casualties which is addressed at this point.

Although I call the Mercenary Abstract System a tactical-level battle system, the reality is a bit fuzzy. The size of the force and element engaged can range from a Fire Team nominally of four soldiers up to an entire Brigade of 1500 troops.

The Abstract System lives up to its name; it is highly abstracted to the point all the tables necessary for preparation and resolution are on one digest-sized page in Book 4. The combat results table is actually a Firing Matrix where the firing unit is cross-referenced with the Target Unit to get a die roll modifier (DM). At this point, the Tech Level difference of the two units is used as a +/- DM. Casualties are expressed in percentage of the force with personal casualties dependent upon how much of the force was put out of action. The battle continues in rounds until one side or the other reaches its preservation level and withdraws.

When it comes to vehicle combat, Mercenary is very silent on the issue. Like the Traveller Combat System, no vehicle combat rules are provided. The closest Book 4 comes is a discussion of military vehicles at different tech levels.

Snapshot (1979)

The next personal combat system in the Traveller universe is Snapshot: Close Combat Aboard Starships in the Far Future. The title alone should tell you the focus here; combat between individuals within the closed confines of starships. The rules even go so far as to state they are not intended for outdoor encounters or ranges greater than 50-60 meters.

In order to make Snapshot work, GDW uses the same 15 second rounds but instead of the range bands in the Traveller Combat System they introduce a square grid. Each grid square is 1.5m, conveniently the same scale used to draw starship deck plans. With the introduction of grid squares, many other wargame-like rules are introduced. There now are stacking limits and facing considerations.

Instead of the move/attack action in the Traveller Combat System, in Snapshot each character is allotted a number of Action Points (AP) equal to the sum of their Endurance and Dexterity (with a minimum of six). Every action has a different AP cost. This is where one of my favorite wargame rules, The Expletive, is found.

“Frak you!”

Combat resolution in Snapshot is virtually identical to the Traveller Combat System except the separate Weapons and Range Matrix tables is collapse into one table. Wounding is the same with hits being applied against personal characteristics.

Snapshot, being focused on close encounters aboard ships, has no vehicle combat rules.

Azhanti High Lightning

Azhanti High Lightning (1980)

The next combat system GDW gives us for Traveller is Azhanti High Lightning (AHL). AHL is both a sourcebook on a class of ships and a new combat game. It is a further progression of the Traveller Combat System and Snapshot. Like Snapshot, each combat round in AHL is 15 seconds and each square is the same 1.5m.

The major evolution of the AHL system is that each turn now consists of multiple action phases instead of the single action phase in Snapshot. In the Decision Phase the player secretly determines what the “strategy” of the turn will be: cover fire, aim, or move. Like Snapshot, players have AP to spend, but unlike Snapshot where the AP is determined by the sum of characteristics in AHL each character has a flat 6 AP in each of the five action phases.

The second major evolution in AHL is the combat system. The Weapons Table divides range into Effective, Long, and Extreme ranges each with its own base to-hit number. In many ways this new Weapons Table “builds in” many previous die roll modifiers. However, once a hit is made the resolution system from that point forward totally changes from pervious versions.

In AHL, once a hit is made you check the damage table. This die roll is modified by the Penetration Value of the weapon and any cover or armor for the target. Instead of applying damage to characteristics, wounds are described as Light, Serious, or Death with unconsciousness also possible. A new Melee combat system is also introduced using Melee Ratings of combatants.

Rules for integrating AHL with Traveller are provided. The formula for a Melee Rating is given, as well as other special rules about Danger Space for weapons. Interestingly, no skills are used as modifiers in AHL; here skill is subsumed into a single weapons skill rating on a counter. Morale and leadership bonuses are generated using the Mercenary system.

Again, I was very surprised to discover that AHL has no vehicle combat rules.

Striker (1981)

Striker (1981)

To understand what Striker represents to Traveller players, I think it is worth quoting the introduction at length:

Striker is a set of rules for science fiction ground combat using 15mm miniature figures. each player will command a force ranging from a platoon to several companies, consisting of a few dozen to over a hundred men, plus artillery, armored vehicles, and aircraft. The rules are intended to be easy for the beginning player to understand wile at the same time providing a comprehensive and detailed treatment of ground combat from the beginning of this century to the far future.

On important aspect in which Striker differs from previous miniatures rules is the role assigned to the player. In most games, a player simultaneously plays the role of every member of a military unit; no orders need to be given, and every man performs as the player likes. In Striker, realistic limitations have been put on the abilities of officers to command their units. Giving orders to subordinates is a time-consuming process; commanders will find it advisable to devise a simple plan and to give most orders in pre-battle briefings. Changes to this plan in the heat of action will be difficult except through on the spot leadership. For a more detailed discussion of this point, read Firefight, at the beginning of section II of this book.

The science fiction background of Striker is drawn from the universe of Traveller. All weapons and military technology described in Traveller (including Book 4, Mercenary) are included in Striker. These rules may be used in conjunction with Traveller or by themselves; no familiarity with Traveller is required.

In Striker, as in Traveller, technology is rated by tech levels; these rules cover weapons and equipment ranging from tech level 5 (about World War I) to tech level 15 (the level of Traveller’s Imperium). Present-day earth is about tech level 7.

Striker, Book 1: Basic Rules, “Introduction,” p. 4

Striker changed scales yet again, with each turn now representing 30 seconds and one millimeter on the table equaling 1 meter. Units are described principally by their morale (Recruit-Regular-Veteran-Elite) and an initiative rating. The sequence of play moved closer to a classic wargame with a Command Phase followed by First Player Movement – First Player Fire then Second Player Movement – Second Player Fire with a Panic Morale Check Phase at the end. As befits the core focus, command, communications, and morale all factor prominently in what a unit can, or cannot, do.

Instead of Action Points, units in Striker are assigned orders. The number of orders and how long it takes to communicate them are the heart of the command and communications rules. A single order can consist of three components: movement, fire, and a rally point. For example, an order might be, “Move to the crest of Hill 17, through the forest, at fastest speed. Fire at enemy units detected. Rally Point: Little Star crossroads.”

Fire combat in Striker is an evolution of the AHL system. Hits cause casualties (Light-Serious-Destroyed) like in AHL, but in Striker the impact to morale is also considered. Morale checks are made when proximate to an enemy, when taking casualties, or if a unit routed nearby (to avoid panic). Four different results of a failed morale check are possible: Suppressed, Fall Back, Forced Back, and Routed. Surrender is also possible.

I was absolutely dumbfounded to realize that it was not until the publication of Striker in 1981 that vehicle combat officially came to the Traveller RPG universe. The system is interesting; when shooting at a vehicle the firing player declares either a “high” (vs turret) or “low” (vs hull) shot. The angle of attack is also considered. After that the fire procedure is basically the same as any other combat in Striker.

[I went back and looked to see where vehicle combat may have had a start pre-Striker. I found the Judges Guild product Lazer Tank (1980) that has a very simple vehicle combat system but is unlike anything anywhere else in Traveller. I also identified vehicle rules in the Amber Zone article “Pursue and Destroy” from Issue 7 of the Journal of the Traveller’s Aid Society. This article, published in 1981 from Frank Chadwick, apparently still predates his Striker rules as it refers to using Mercenary and Azhanti High Lightning to resolve combat. A methodology for converting AHL wound levels to vehicle damage is provided. The first published adventure to feature the chance of vehicle combat is Adventure 7: Broadsword that was published in 1982 and recommends using Book 1, Mercenary, and Striker.]

Striker also includes sections describing Planetary Defenses (Book 2: Equipment, Rule 76: Planetary Defenses) as well as Rule 77: Jump Troops. Rule 79 is Integration with Mercenary while Rule 80 is Integration with Traveller. Both focus on skills or the impact of morale and changes necessary to move between different wound systems.

However, it is the Vehicle Design Sequence that truly sets Striker apart from its predecessors. This “game within a game” aimed squarely at Traveller “systems engineers” is the foundation of every vehicle design system used since in the Traveller universe. Here is a methodology to create a vehicle that is described in common game terms and comparable across multiple tech levels. Truly an astonishing achievement.

Which One Should I Use?

When I look back on the history of personal/tactical ground combat systems for Traveller, I don’t look at it pessimistically and see too many choices. Instead I am ever the optimist and see many good choices that as a referee I can mix and match to my hearts content.

I love the Traveller Combat System. It is the most pure and simple, and probably the most supportive of good narrative play. The rules are super light and easy.

The Abstract System from Mercenary is good for “background” action. It can also be the primary system for resolving mercenary tickets if the players are running a mercenary company.

Snapshot and Azhanti High Lightning are good at what their focus is; shipboard combat. Comparing them, Snapshot is more RPG-like whereas AHL is more “wargame-y.” What I mean here is Snapshot, with action points determined by characteristics, is closer to the RPG but Azhanti High Lightning is the more refined rules set.

Since forever, I always assumed that Striker was the miniatures rules set for the Traveller roleplaying game. Reading the introduction, Traveller does not get mentioned until paragraph three. Instead, what we actually have in our possession is a set of miniatures rules for 15mm figures suitable for playing out small scale/unit actions with a set of rules that allow one to simultaneously employ multiple levels of technology. As important a role technology plays, the true focus of the game is actually on Command and the ability of leaders to communicate and coordinate on the battlefield. This makes Striker the most “wargame-y” of the group. As I already mentioned, the vehicle design system is a truly foundational part of the Traveller universe. However, the focus on command and not characters makes Striker’s use in a Traveller campaign a bit questionable.

When I look back on the history of personal/tactical ground combat systems for Traveller, I don’t look at it pessimistically and see too many choices. Instead I am ever the optimist and see many good choices that as a referee I can mix and match to my hearts content.

RockyMountainNavy, Dec 2020

I also note that the vehicle combat rules found in the modern Cepheus Engine version of the Original 2d6 Science Fiction Roleplaying Game did not appear in the early years of the GDW era. The Striker -based rules were still in use through at least 1994 when Striker II: Miniatures Warfare in the Far Future was published as part of Traveller: The New Era. The modern rules for vehicle combat use the same “actions” approach of personal combat in Cepheus Engine where each crew member gets one significant and two minor actions in a combat round (six seconds of time). I’m not absolutely sure, but this mechanic may have first appeared in the Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition published in 2008.

JTAS 9

JTAS Journey

I also found it interesting to look at what happened to these games after publication. Looking through the first 24 issues of the Journal of the Traveller’s Aid Society (JTAS) brought some further enlightenment.

JTAS 2 (1979)

This issue contains a very interesting rebuttal to an article in the June 1979 issue of The Dragon. JTAS editor Loren K. Wiseman responds to criticism of Mercenary with the comment, “To criticize a set of rules or a game because it has omitted some vital aspect of its subject matter is one thing, but to downgrade rules because they do not cover something beyond their scope is a little like saying ‘Squad Leader is a fairly good game, but I would have liked to have more air-to-air combat in it.'”

JTAS 12 (1981)

This issue had two Striker-related articles; “Striker Errata” and “Strike it Rich” where author J. Andrew Keith talks about using Striker as a new combat system or as a valuable source book.

JTAS 14 (1982)

Articles include “Civilian Vehicles for Striker” and “Foxhound” by J.D Webster (later famous for his Fighting Wings series of air combat wargames). “Foxhound” is billed as a Striker variant but a close reading reveals this is really a system for fitting flying vehicles into the Traveller Combat System, especially since it uses the same range bands. That said, weapons fire uses Striker….

JTAS 16 (1983)

Contributor Michael Wharton serves up “Merging the Striker and Traveller Combat Systems.” He focuses on converting the Striker damage levels to the point system of Traveller and adjusting Striker “to hit” at short ranges. During the course of the article, he hits on the major difference between Striker and the Traveller Combat System:

By its own admission, Striker is designed to deal with fairly large scale actions fought at moderate-to-long ranges. At the short ranges of many Traveller firefights, however, confined as they often are within starships or barrooms, the Striker hit determination tables become somewhat unrealistic. That an 8+ is required to hit a target only two meters away seems unlikely. Also, the difficulty of using long arms at very short range is not addressed.

“Merging the Striker and Traveller Combat Systems,” JTAS 16, p. 43

JTAS 17 (1983)

Both feature articles in this issue are for ground-pounders (almost). “Air Strike: A Close Air Support Rules Module for Mercenary” by T. McInnes provides what I call a very loose set of rules for integrating air support into the Abstract System. The second article, “Hunting Bugs: Striker Meets Horde” by John Marshall explains how to use Striker when playing Double Adventure 5: The Chamax Plague/Horde. Hmm…

JTAS 21 (1984)

The feature article, “Striker Weapons Systems Analysis,” does not appear in the Table of Contents. Some useful design notes to consider here but nothing really in the way of combat rules mechanics.

JTAS 22 (1985)

Two feature articles are included. The first, “‘Til They Glow in the Dark: Nukes for Traveller/Striker Campaigns” seems out of place for the Traveller default setting when one considers the Imperial Rules of War that forbid the usage of nukes. I guess this article can support alternate Traveller universes. The second article, “Seastrike – Underwater Combat in Traveller” mixes Striker with the ship design system High Guard.

JTAS 23 (1985)

Whoops! Forgot to print the “Striker Expanded Nuclear Warheads List” in issue 22. Here it is!


*Interestingly, the Traveller Combat System was never called TCS. Within the Traveller rules system, TCS is the abbreviation for “Trillion Credit Squadron.”

Feature image courtesy Ian Stead