Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Science Skills in Traveller

As a handful of my friends and classmates graduate this winter, I am reminded of how specific research areas are at the graduate level.  It's no good to go to a grad school with a strong general CS program; they need to have a strong programming languages faculty, or a strong computational linguistics faculty, or so forth.  And it got me thinking about one of our recurring issues with Traveller, namely that the Science skills always seemed painfully and uselessly specific.  Going into their first term, a character might have a Science or two at level 0 from their background; this makes sense as some sort of primary education, which is very general but not all that useful (though in its defense, I deduced the principles of operation of metal detectors from highschool physics while standing in a TSA line this weekend, so...).  After their first four-year term, they might be expected to know as much as a college graduate.  It's not unreasonable to expect a fresh grad to have one level of skill in a more general discipline; physics, mathematics, computer use, or so forth.  These are about on par with the specialties listed for the science skills in the Mongoose Core.  However, it seems, at least in my experience with undergraduate science curricula, that majors in the sciences are liable to suffer exposure to other, similar sciences incidentally.  In the first term of grad school, they start working on specialties, and by their second have hopefully completed a thesis in a particular subfield.

This structure of increasing specificity leads me to a proposal.  When you get Level 0 in Any Science, you get Science 0.  When you get another rank, you pick one of the individual Science skills, like Space Science, and then have Science 0 and Space Science 1.  When you get another level, you can pick up another skill at 1 (Physical Sciences, say), or you can pick a specialty and have level 2 in that (and a PhD on that specialty).  Further levels can be used to gain additional specialties or more general skills as desired.  This approach lends a significantly broader scope to scientist characters; rather than choosing a specialty initially, you start with broad knowledge and work your way toward the specifics, just as science education tends to actually operate.  I might be OK with setting the bar for a PhD a little higher, at Specialty 3, since it's possible with good rolls to pull multiple Science (Anys) in a single term of Academic, but I believe the rule is that Medic 2 counts as being a trained and licensed doctor, so Science 2 works as a nice parallel for a doctorate in another subject.

4 comments:

  1. The Classic Traveller rules don't have any provision for Science skills until JTAS 22 ("The Imperial Academy of Science & Medicine") so I house-ruled in a Science cascade skill into several of the basic character generation tables. The player would specify what field in which they wanted to specialize, with skill-3 being the equivalent to a PhD. I'm still working on designing adventures that employ or hinge on the scientist's skill.

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    1. Yeah, adventure design is a large part of the issue too. We keep having scientists and they keep being sad. I have a suspicion that making their abilities more general will help make them useful in more situations.

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  2. Knowledge skills in adventure design are tough. You don't want the player to feel like they got an answer without working for it, but you also don't want to force them to guess if it's important.

    I'd recommend doing something with yes or no questions. I'd be up for hacking together a proposal for that if you'd be up for testing it. (kinda getting a hankering to play Traveller myself).

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    1. Or you remove science skills entirely, rejigger the class tables (honestly, who gets science skills? Scholars and maybe scouts and I'm not thinking of anyone else off the top of my head), and assume that someone with Engineer can do calculus and has a good understanding of physics, someone with Sensors has a basic working knowledge of signal processing, the Comms guy has some theoretical cryptography background, your professional actor groks psychology...

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