Traveller 5 - Why So Serious?

Traveller 5 - Why So Serious?

The other day I delved deeper into the T5 rules by showing how to develop a character. Yes, it came out complicated. Or is it?

Let's step back a bit.

The original classic Traveller character rules came from the era of Moldvay Basic and AD&D, but they had a different focus. D&D is class-based: you rolled your stats, chose a class compatible with those stats, and noted down the associated bonuses. You only had a few significant choices - mostly class and equipment - and there were only a few points of randomization: your base stats, gold, spells, and hit points. That said, especially in AD&D, you literally had an entire player guide, with dozens of pages detailing the special abilities and exceptions of each class, the saving throws of each class, the attack throws of each class, and had to carefully note down the possibly relevent bonuses from each character trait, such as strength, or intelligence, that could affect anything.

It really wasn't that hard.

Classic Traveller (CT) had a different aim. Even without the Third Imperium bolted onto it, it was a generic space universe with a few tech assumptions baked in to give players room to, well, travel. And make choices. Where D&D relied on archetypes born out of old fantasy, pulp, and miniatures wargames, SF&F had a rich history of military, bureaucrats, and spies to draw on. Being skill based, there had to be a way to allocate and choose those skills. As a result, a system was cobbled together where the career path you entered determined the availability of skills from a pool of skills that overlapped to different degrees with other tracks.  Much like modern life and joining the military, you got a say in what you wanted to attempt, but in the end, you may not be accepted by the recruiters and drafted elsewhere, or not get the type of deployment you wished for, and thus acquire different personal skills than the ideal for a min-max player.  Going through the process generated not only what personal resources (strength, education, social standing) you could draw on, as well as what skills you had acquired at a professional level, but also gave you the skeleton of a backstory that allowed you figure out just why Johann Rees, or whoever, managed to get a certain shady skill while ostensibly a merchant trader.

And despite seeming more complicated, it was actually as fast, and sometimes faster, than all the cross-referencing in AD&D of the age. My friends and I would sometimes roll up several to see how many died before being forced out of retirement.

So is T5 complicated?

Yes.

But is ot too complicated?

No.

The first thing is - compared to what? Take Pathfinder. Please. Look at the image below:

Hero Lab

Lone Wolf development makes a very pretty penny selling their Hero Lab product, and a lot of people I knew playing Pathfinder regularly either bought it, or had friends who bought it help them, because it literally made the difference between spending minutes, vs spending hours, making up a character. Just check out the character sheets:

Remember the complete character listing for Tanner, sans equipment? It would get lost in there. Let's say I want to create a fairly basic fighter - and don't even get me started on the multitude of near-figher classes, various archetypes you can aim for at later levels, but realistically only if you took the right feats and skills along the way, and so on.

So, you roll your stats, or alternately use a point-buy system, especially if in society play. Just like D&D, each of those base stats give you a bonus for various things like hit points per hit die, armor class, damage from melee weapons, and so on. So look up the relevant value (thank God PF is actually sensibly consistent in that the majority of bonuses all line up so that 13 is usually +1 for the affected skills/damage/whatever). Don't forget to note down extra languages or skills allowed. Then pick a compatible class.

So far, not so bad. I also don't balk at teh pre-calculation of various things like your "touch" armor class, or flat-footed AC as well.  The fun has only started.

Note down, for each class, what possible skills - out of a list not that much shorter than T5 - are actually class skills, and thus get a larger bonus when your pool of skill points are applied. Now apply ranks in your desired skills. For each skill, calculate the current value based on the relevant Dex/Str/etc mod, and the "ranks" you put into it (with the "class" skills getting extra weight/a higher bonus) to get an overall bonus you get every time you make a roll for that particular skill.

But wait, there's more. Dex-baseed skills have a penalty whenever you are encumbered, or based on the AC of your armor. So half a dozen of them, you have to note down two values, one for when you are armoreed, and when you are not. On top of that, there's a "misc" modifier table. This could be to account for various spell or curse/poison/etc. induced states, but it's also useed to account for "feats" and abilities.

You see, every character has a whole slew of possible special moves/abilities associated with them that you can choose from. Some are based on your home town / province, some from your presumed background, and others are based on the list available to each class. Some are pretty cool - precise shot allows you to shoot into melee with ranged weapons. Others are standard - noting that a class can wear armor with reduced penalties, or a certain type of armor outright, that may not be available to other classes - in short, a roundabot way of saying "fighters can wear plate, magic users cannot". Others though, get pretty obnoxious.  A number of feats simply give a boost to certain skills, such as interrogation. Not too complicated - note the modifier down and go on your merry way. Others give a bonus to skills, or AC, under certain circumstances. And so now you have to note down the possible combinations of AC, skills, etc, under what circumstances. Worse - because AC and skills are dependent on root stats, there are feats that require you to go through and recalculate a significant chunk of your character sheet much like modifying certain cells in a spreadsheet can affect large portions of the sheet that depend on it for their calculations.

Even with the help of a tool like Hero lab, it rapidly becomes a case of analysis paralysis, as you check the possible effects of different feats, and all of the follow-on effects. Is that the combination you wanted? Perhaps you'd rather have an easier time healing than doing more damage, or an easier time climbing walls? How does being able to cast spells without having to speak or move, or having an initiative bonus in combat, help, compared to other options?

Aside: Yes, ACKs also has feats - but not as many as PF. Nevermind the multiple class expansion books above and beyond the core rules that PF has available with even more feats and options.

The point is that while the system in T5 is somewhat complicated, the effects of every roll and decision are straightforward. There are few "special circumstances" that require you to go back and check what the second or third-order effect of a feat is as you bounce around the rules. T5 is merely different, but I would not hesitate to roll up a character as I could do it fairly quickly, even doing so manually.

Pathfinder? No such luck.

About Last Redoubt

Ex nuke mechanic, jack of all trades.