Let's Read “Traveller: Core Rulebook - Skills and Tasks”

Mechanics for Characters to Take Action

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A part of my Let’s Read “Traveller: Core Rulebook” series. Go grab your copy of Traveller: Core Rulebook and join in.

In this chapter we learn about the skills our characters gained and how the game system checks skills.

I’ve been reading through Tales to Astound’s “Traveller: Out of the Box” blog posts. I highly recommend reading this series. The author spends time comparing the original 1977 Traveller to current game design as well as the adjustments made for the 1981. Classic Traveller encourages rulings not rules by clearly identifying that you can never have rules to cover all situations. Instead you need some guidance and a referee to be as fair and impartial in determining outcome.

Introduction

Untrained skills, those skills without a 0 or positive number, have a DM -3. Ouch. In comparison, Stars without Number has a -1 penalty for untrained skills. Each skill rank gives a DM +1.

Some skills have specialties: Engineer, Science, and Gun Combat. Rank 0 in these skills means competence. Any further ranks go towards the specialty, Gun Combat has archaic, laser, and slugs.

Task Checks

The more I play and read games, the more I appreciate these sections. To paraphrase, don’t call for skill checks for routine actions. Call for skill checks when acting in danger or time is a concern or where failure is meaningful. I again look to Soft Horizon’s Risk for guidance. That section is one of the best.

Making Checks

By default, roll 2D6 and add modifiers. By default you need to get an 8+ on your modified roll.

The modifiers come from skill ranks (or -3 if you are untrained), an applicable characteristic, or situational modifiers.

This section provides a little guidance about the applicable characteristic:

Just generally carousing at a party might use Carouse on its own, without any particular characteristic. If the Traveller wants to beat someone in a drinking contest, then he might use Carouse and END; spotting who is out of place at a party would be Carouse and INT, and snubbing someone might use Carouse and SOC.

I like the flexibility of describing in fiction your approach, then when (and if) its time to throw the dice, you determine which characteristic is most accurate. Stars without Number uses this approach. Diaspora doesn’t have underlying characteristics, instead relying on your skill rank and aspects.
Something like Burning Empires, which builds on the Burning Wheel engine, determines initial rank based on root attributes. However, once you open a skill, that skill no longer tracks to your related attribute. You instead use other skills and help to build out your approach.

Task Difficulties

By default, you need to get an 8+ on your checks. That’s an average task. Below is a table mapping difficulty to target number. A referee could assign a situation dice modifier to simulate the relative difficulty. However, I find the difficulty table quite useful to help frame dice rolls. As a referee, the plain language of difficulty helps me establish the relative challenge. Then I can think about any situational modifiers. That two step separation helps me better frame checks in an impartial manner.

Table 198: Traveller Task Difficulty
Difficulty Target Number
Simple 2+
Easy 4+
Routine 6+
Average 8+
Average 8+
Difficult 10+
Very Difficult 12+
Formidable 14+

Boon and Bane

Here Traveller brings the now familiar Advantage and Disadvantage concept from 5th Edition. If you have a Boon, you roll 3D6 and pick the highest two dice. Similar, with Bane you roll 3d6 and pick the lowest two dice.

Hmm, the task difficulties section mentions other relevant DMs. Do you give a modifier for having tools? Or should that be a Boon? According to the Boon section, “good tools, competent aids or other beneficial circumstances” grant a boon.

One mechanical framing of Boon and Bane is that they don’t increase your success range. Whereas Dice Modifiers can increase or decrease your success range. If we look to some applications of Boon and Bane, we see that having good tools improves your chances, but to really do the tough stuff, you need skill and aptitude.ex

Effect

Determine the Effect by subtracting the task difficulty from the roll. I roll a 12 against a difficulty of 8. I get a 4 for effect.

Table 199: Traveller Effect Results Table
Effect Success or Failure
-6 or less Exceptional Failure
-2 to -5 Average Failure
-1 Marginal Failure
0 Marginal Success
1 to 5 Average Success
6 or more Exceptional Success

I definitely appreciate gradiant effects. It’s a bit surprising that meeting the task difficulty would be a marginal success. However, given the following marginal failure text, I can see why marginal success at 0 difference makes sense:

The Traveller has almost succeeded, and the referee may permit him[them] to scrape a success The Traveller has almost succeeded, and the referee may permit him[them] to scrape a success if he[they] take a significant consequence.

Traveller: Core Rulebook p59

Opposed checks are highest result wins.

Multiple Tasks

I find this brief section quite interesting, and it bares a direct quote.

A Traveller can try to do two or more things at once, like firing a spacecraft’s weapons while also flying, or disarming a bomb while hiding from guards. For every extra thing the Traveller is doing, the level of difficulty for each task is made one level harder. So, an Easy task becomes Routine, while a Very Difficult task becomes Formidable.

Several years ago I read Dominion Rules: Historical and Fantasy Roleplaying System and took a fancy to the rules for allowing multiple actions at an ever-increasing penalty.

Quite simple and elegant. With dice following the 2d6 bell curve, increasing the needed result by 2 points can is somewhat complicated. The quick mental calculus is if I need to roll an 8+ on the dice, the odds are no longer in my favor.

In other words, multitasking can be done, but you need to be skilled at what you’re multitasking.

Timeframes

In Traveller each task maps to a random time increment required for that task. For example, punching someone takes 1d6 seconds. Applying first aid takes 1d6 minutes. Each timeframe has a base increment.

Traveller has a time frame setup similar to the Time Track of Diaspora, though span a smaller time frame.

Table 200: Traveller Timeframes Table
Timeframe Increment Example Action
1D Seconds One second Shooting, punching, jumping
1D Combat Rounds Combat round (six seconds) Hurrying jump calculations
1D × 10 Seconds Ten seconds Rerouting power, opening a comms channel
1D Minutes One minute Applying first aid, basic technical tasks
1D × 10 Minutes Ten minutes More complex technical tasks, searching an area thoroughly
1D Hours One hour Building a shelter, moving through the wilderness
1D × 4 Hours Four hours Researching a problem
1D × 10 Hours Ten hours Repairing a damaged ship
1D Days One day Combing a city for a missing person

Very, very interesting! Overlay the increment rule with multiple tasks, and now you can be calculating a jump while fighting off an invader.

Oh but it gets even better and more interesting.

If you want to take your action faster (e.g. reduce the increment), you get a DM -2 per increment. If you go slower, you get DM +2 per increment.

Here in the rules you may use time to help your character have a better chance at success.

I freaking love this!

Players have mechanisms to do multiple things at once. They can choose to do things faster or choose to take their time and do things more carefully. That’s a lot of mechanical agency for players.

Task Chains

This rule is for interlinked tasks. Someone creates a distraction while another slips through the guarded perimeter and position themselves for spying on an interchange.

This reminds me of Burning Wheel’s linked tests.

Skill Descriptions

With all of the preamble of character creation and tasks, now we get to what all of these skills are about.

Each skill has two or three parts. All have a description and common checks, some have specialties.

The description gives a few uses and the common checks provide a few specific use cases, their difficulty, time, and associated characteristic.

Admin This skill covers bureaucracies and administration of all sorts, including the navigation of bureaucratic obstacles or disasters. It also covers tracking inventories, ship manifests and other records.

Avoiding Close Examination of Papers: Average (8+) Admin check (1D x 10 seconds, EDU or SOC). Dealing with Police Harassment: Difficult (10+) Admin check (1D x 10 minutes, EDU or SOC).

Skills with specialties are a bit different. Skill ranks you have in a specialty do not apply to other specialties for this skill. For example Art 0 means you have general training in Art. Art (Performer) 1 means you get a DM+1 to your performance checks. That DM+1 does not apply to writing or instrument.

Conclusion

The Skill Chapter packs some great ideas and approaches. I can definitely see this framework quite suited for my work.

Up next, Combat.