Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Traveller: Things I'd Change

Mongoose Traveller is a fine game, but it's still rooted in the assumptions of the 70s.  Things that could do with some updating:
  • The whole computer technology progression is charmingly quaint.  You never have enough RAM to run all the things you want to run.  VR goggles are like TL12 or something ridiculous.  You get the idea.
  • Cybernetics. As has been noted elsewhere, transdermal cybernetics are practically impossible to keep clean and free of sepsis.  Nope, cybernetics ought to be internal-only, wirelessly-charged (or glucose-driven at higher TLs), and communicating either via nerves or over a bluetooth-style wireless personal area network (careful around the Comms jammers...).
    • This model also has the convenient side effect of eliminating the ridiculous implanted weapons and wolverine claws and crap...  I guess you could still get claws as wetware, tailor-grown for your immune system and grafted at substantial expense, but less common is better.
  • Drones.  At the very least they ought to replace space fighters, since comms are a lot less massy than pilots and life support.  Gives the guy with Remote Ops something to do during starship combat, puts small, cheap, extra craft in the hands of PCs (don't need tens of MCr for a drone), and again some advantages to the Comms guys for jamming.  Miniaturized drones for planetside use are already in civilian hands IRL, too.  For all that Eclipse Phase does, this is one thing I don't recall seeing.  Shadowrun is moderately infamous for this; I suppose I ought to study its mistakes.  The first rule, I would guess, is that if the rigger thinks he's invincible hiding back in the ship or the getaway car, it's time for the customs inspectors or other unwelcome visitors to come a'knocking, or for signals to get traced by the local spectrum-allocation goons.  There may (almost certainly) be legal consequences for having killbots, which might limit the combat utility of a drone operator and push him back towards a utility / reconnaisance role.
  • Economics.  The Golden Pair is a persistent problem in travonomics.  Also, the trade system as it exists is fairly boring a lot of the time.  Needs work both from realism and gameplay experience sides.  Suns of Gold may be helpful in this respect.
  • Training.  Perpetual sticky in many craws.  L0 skills ought to be easy to pick up; they're basic familiarity.  L4 skills ought to be nearly-impossible to pick up; they're world-champion grade.  The training system does not do a good job of this.  It also seems that a possible balance point might be to alter the difficulty of learning new skills, so that rather than scaling with skills known, it scales with age.  This provides an incentive to stop character generation before the end of the 4th term (the traditional stopping point, when stat-aging kicks in), and would also prevent any one-term-Navy-PDev-only hacks that could otherwise learn an ungodly number of L0 skills very very rapidly (while still providing a reason to play younger PCs).  There is also the inconsistency of one point of a skill being about four years of experience; for character generation to be consistent with play as well as something that actually happens in the course of a regular game, we either need to drastically expand timescales (perhaps Pendragon-style, with large gaps between adventures, or ooh we could make jump take a really long time?  But you don't earn a whole lot of experience in cryostasis, or under relativistic time dilation), or change the assumptions about skill acquisition rate present in chargen.  One might argue that operating freelance brings more opportunities for learning and improvement, and I think that's sort of true but 1) shouldn't Drifters or other freelance backgrounds have a higher rate of skill acquisition during chargen then?, and 2) the opportunities to learn presented by freelancing seem typically circumstantial / of immediate necessity rather than directed, specialized training like one might encounter in a military or corporate setting.  I do not know the proper solution to this problem.
    • Lest anyone suggest it, I am fairly certain the proper solution is not reversion to SWN / D&D-style XP mechanics and levels.  Although a "skill point"-based XP system with varying time and point cost to boost a skill based on age and its rating might not be the worst of all evils, honestly.
  • Armor penetration continues to bug me.  Something like Classic Traveller's weapon vs armor tables would work, but they're clunky.
  • SOC continues to bug me.  I think Eclipse Phase got group standing right in this regard.  It's not quite a skill, and not quite an ability score.
  • Wafer Jacks / The Exocortex Problem.  How many people do you know who are basically incapable of navigating without a GPS?  (Certainly many people my age seem this way)  How many programmers rely heavily on stackoverflow to do their jobs?  (...  I don't know anyone like that.  No sir.  Actually though, but only because the stuff I'm doing is so bizarre that it isn't on SO yet, rather than for lack of googling)  Who remembers all of their appointments, deadlines, and scheduled phone calls anymore, or even their friends' birthdays?  I can barely spell without a computer anymore; it's embarrassing, really.  Traveller did not consider this outsourcing of brainpower to personal electronics and The ButtCloud.  There's some thought to be put into making this gameable.  The wafer jack is not a perfect solution (it's transdermal, for one thing!), but it's a start in the right direction maybe.  Also notable is that I don't need a wafer jack to look stuff up on WebMD and have it be way better than guessing blindly.  This is sort of true in Traveller as well, except expert programs live only on local machines, rather than being available on distant servers for public use.  On the flip side, variations in local custom regarding data is potentially a really interesting area to add to the law / government tables (along with drones).  Presumeably you're not running IP Over X-Boat, so you're going to have a lot of fragmented one-planet networks with their own rules (common protocol stacks if you're lucky...).
  • Speaking of which, Governments.  What is up with all these Feudal Technocracies, and what does that even mean?  This table needs reworked.
  • Psionics. Mind over matter and placebo are one thing, but these are another.
  • AI.  AI is hard for many reasons.  SWN did an OK job of it; perhaps I could borrow from there.


  1. John, while I recognize you're talking about MgT, a good bit of what you say counts for CT as well, as MgT was trying to reflect CT.
    The computer thing is absurd, as you say, given the computing power of 21st century systems. However, I've kept it in place as I find that it makes the resource management challenge makes PC-level space combat more interesting. But I know many referees want to change it.
    About the drone fighter point you made. I listened to a lecture once by Frank Chadwick, one of the authors of much of the CT Canon (Mercenary & Striker in particular). His view was that yes, space fighters were an impractical idea given the advances in remotely piloted vehicles. The idea sticks, he said, because of cultural artifacts like Star Wars, and the romanticized idea of the fighter pilot, from WWI on through today. There's a lot less drama when the RPV operator is completely safe from harm even if the drone fighter gets atomized.
    I haven't run into the Golden Pair problem that you point out. Could not that be handled by the referee including NPC competition into the route? News of a Golden pair would likely spread quickly, and could provide lots of adventure possibilities as PCs try to defend 'their' route.
    I like the way CT makes skill training a long slow process. I think the D&D leveling-up process has made too much of an impression on the gaming community, such that the metagame XP-quest has become more important than in-game quests.
    How does MgT handle SOC? CT did not define that stat very well, but it can be made useful as an Encounters & Reactions modifier.
    It's just my 2 centi-credits, but I see a Feudal Technocracy as a government by experts, in a network rather than a hierarchy. Each expert is responsible only for his own area, and overlap of responsibilities has to be sorted by the overlapping experts. Definitely one that appears more in advanced tech societies. FT's are the most meritocratic type of government.

    1. Hey, sorry about the delay.

      Mongoose's ship combat really drops the computer resource management on the floor compared to CT. Our impressions of ship computer programs in MgT were that they were just too expensive to actually buy, and with minimal combat mechanics regarding program-swapping we just left them alone. So that's an area I don't feel bad about overhauling.

      I agree that the space-ace is quite romanticized and does carry some cachet. My interest in adding secondary PC craft is balanced by a desire to make them usable; in the Scout/Seeker case, carrying an extra 10 dTons of fighter for exactly one PC to enjoy just isn't viable. We also usually have too many pilots and not enough gunners; the ROV approach could conceivably allow for a hotseat control-switch; "OK I got you a decent vector for the attack run, but the rest is up to you." Finally, party cohesion and alignment of shared interests suggests that keeping the PCs together is often more advantageous than splitting off one-or-two-man elements.

      Yes, as a DM I could take fiat actions to address particular issues of the Golden Pair... but it would be a lot easier if the economics rules didn't generate the problem in the first place.

      Yeah... I agree that slow-skill is realistic, does clearly differentiate Trav from D&D, and makes it clear that the main means of character advancement is through gear acquisition. But it's a hard sell, and I still don't think MgT has hit the right balance.

      MgT leaves SOC rather vague as well, but having removed reaction rolls, it's basically just a modifier to some social skills and a source of living expenses. Not all it could be.

      Hmm. Will consider.