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Old December 22nd, 2016, 01:11 PM
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Default THE EXPANSE and Classic Traveller Play

As I noted down in Random Static, I just started watching this series. (It just became free on Amazon Prime. I plowed through four episodes last night. It was kind of pokey at first, but I love how the tension and plot is driving forward right now.)

Two things stood out for me immediately about the setting in terms of how I envision Traveller play working out

[Note: There are SPOILERS in this post]
[Note: This is my interpretation of how I'd Referee the game. I'm not challenging how you should play.]

1. Death. One of the things I'm seeing is that this show may or may not keep everyone alive by the time it is all over. And that's fine! A character who is a lead ends up dead... and then a new featured character shows up. Clearly, this is the new PC the Player just rolled up!

2. Quick thinking crisis-solving. There were several times during the show when a character had to come up with a solution on the fly. (I'm thinking of a character with a broken 02 system.) This is the sort of stuff I'd be looking to offer the Players as a Referee if it makes sense: a tense crisis which demands a solution that I as the Referee do not know the answer to.

I would be looking to the Players come up with an answer, and the possibilities are infinite, really. This is why I am not concerned about the limited skill list in Classic Traveller. The list of skills does not limit the list of solutions possible for the Players. And, specifically, as I see Classic Traveller as part of the mid-70s RPG play, I expect the Player skill to be doing a lot of the heavy lifting as opposed to a roll against character abilities to be doing all the work.

So, a Player says, "I'm going to share my oxygen supply off my vacc suit with this guy so he doesn't go brain dead."

a) Awesome. That's a compelling and cool solution. We didn't need to make a roll to see if the PC figured out an idea. The Player came up with an idea. That's great. Now lets see what happens using the rules. In some cases we might not even need a roll. But this seems tricky.

b) Is that a vacc suit roll? A medical roll? Does either skill apply? Who knows? That's why I see the CT rules not focus on skills, but on Throws. Sometimes the Throw has a DM from a skill, sometimes it doesn't. That's the looseness of the system for me, a feature not a bug:
The Classic Traveller Throw System:
2D6 +/- DM ≥ Throw Set by the Referee
The DMs could come from almost any source, as per the text: skill expertise rating, available tools, situation, pertinent characteristics, as well as established background, previous details of play that inform the PC, and so on.

Also, what would the roll be about? Whether or not the PC jams the tube properly ins't that interesting to me. I thin the scene illustrated the more interesting crisis point: Will the PC be able to modulate the shared air flow well enough to keep them both alive?

A roll then, with a Throw of 8. As Referee I'd say either Medical or Vacc Suit expertise would serve as +DMs. Failure means one or both men end up suffering hypoxia (roll randomly to determine this result if the Throw fails.)

I use this moment as an example of "play" to illustrate as to why I don't think Players don't need countless skill in order to come up solutions to problems in play. Again, a) Player Skill over Character Ability, and b) a loose Throw system that can handle any situation that the Player and Referee want to determine.

As another example, let's say the Player Characters come across a fragment of poetry from an alien civilization that might lead them the ruins they seek.

There is no expertise for "Real Language" in Classic Traveller. This is great! This means that the bread crumb clue in front of them can't be solved with a blunt die roll. It means the Players need to make choices, take action, do things.
  • They could see if there are any texts that are available to help them translate the language. (Probably not, as an easy translation guide would rob the poem of the exotic alien quality it is supposed to possess.)
  • They could go to a university and work for several weeks in the library to sort out the clues. (A safe choice, but it will take time for both time and travel. We'd make a roll to see how long it took based off collective INT and EDU.)
  • They could track down a linguist who has studied the language.
  • They might have to track down the linguist who has been captured by their competitors. (Cool, adventure!)
  • They could seek out a cult based on the traditions of the alien race and see if they could enlist the cult's help. (Maybe! There will be a price! What will the cult ask in return.)

The list could go on -- in part because I have no idea what the Players might come up with as a plan.

But the important thing is that at no point does the lack of a skill become a gatekeeper in any way. The Player Characters can keep moving forward in countless ways. As a Referee my job is to serve as an impartial adjudicator of the world, translating their actions and choices to the world, and translating back the world's response.

Sometime I will know what the response is without needing to roll. ("You insert the tube from your suit into his breathing hose.")

And sometimes I'm not sure what the response will be and a Throw of the dice is made (not a skill roll, but an indifferent Throw of the dice influenced by any particular DMs, including, sometimes, the PC's expertise) to determine the outcome of the choice or action. ("You now have to see how well you handle alternating the flow of O2 between the two of you by squeezing and releasing the tube...")
TRAVELLER: Out of the Box. Lots of blog posts about original Traveller and playing with Traveller Books 1-3.
"The beauty of Classic Traveller Book 1, 2, and 3 is that the ref is free to make such decisions for themselves." -- Mike Wightman
"The beauty of Classic Traveller Book 1, 2, and is that the ref must make most of the decisions himself." -- flykiller
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