Thursday 27 January 2022


This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

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Since last week's first dip into Classic Traveller I've gone through the rest of the book pretty much cover to cover.

The Blog Tales to Astound has written the definite series of posts exploring these books in isolation from the rest of the Traveller series. In particular there's a lot of content supporting the fact that the designer, Marc Miller, mostly played a stripped back and improvisational version of the game. 

I think the fact that I'd heard about that before going into the book set me up with a false sense of security. 

I wasn't ready for the Matrices.

Precise travel times, often down to the second, for 6 measures of acceleration across 22 distances. I can live with that. It's over the top detail but it's useful to know how long these things take.

Jump potential, mass, and build time for 24 classes of jump drive. I mean, the whole ship building system is pretty crunchy, so I feel like this isn't a massive intrusion here.

But the personal combat section is the one that turned me off. At first I see that promising  mechanic that always seems to be lurking in the background here. Roll 2d6, add your modifiers, and aim for 8+.

Add your skill points in your weapon, obviously.

And make sure you apply the right modifiers for having a high enough STR/DEX to make the most of this weapon. The score required and modifier granted depending on weapon, of course. 

Then check the modifier for your weapon at the current range

Then go to a separate table to get a modifier for your weapon against the specific type of armour the target is wearing. 

Oh and subtract 4 if the target is in cover, or 1 if they're in concealment, but only if they've already attacked and revealed themselves. And 3 if you drew your weapon this turn.

Also subtract the target's Blade skill if they're parrying, or a different number for different ranges if they declare they're evading.

It reaches such levels of stacking that I totally understand why so many people run Traveller with "roll 2d6 plus some modifiers based on what the Referee decides". But there's no escaping that this book, rules as written, is one that's going to send you deep into some table to find a precise answer time after time. 

I'm sure it's not that difficult once you've acclimatised to it, and gone through a few combats to get used to things, but it definitely doesn't appeal to me. 

It reminds me of one of my regular design goals of distillation, one of the mantras of which is "Replace rules requiring referencing with principles to internalise". 

I would have much preferred a page of guidance for how to apply referee-adjudicated modifiers in combat. Maybe a checklist of elements to consider when making that ruling?

In spite of all this Matrix-bashing, I can't bring myself to hate on Traveller. Something still draws me in. Maybe next week I'll know what I'm planning to do about that. 


  1. Last year I managed to convince a couple of friends and my youngest son to start playing a game of Classic Traveller, rules-as-written. We've had a lot of fun, and many a laugh trying to navigate our way through the books as we look for answers to play situations. There are some really good things about CT, but there's no doubt that the rule books can be infuriating. It's almost as if it was designed to encourage FKR.

  2. Maybe simply capping the modifiers at +/- 3 could also help? On 2D6 that's a sensible range, mathematically speaking. The list of potential modifiers can stay, but you just stop counting once you reach the limit of 3. I agree though, more important than an extensive list is a good explanation of how various things are supposed to work in the game world. GM & players would still have to internalize that then :-)

    1. Yeah, I have a rough idea of what I'd do if I were to try and run it without entirely starting the system from scratch. Hopefully be part of a post next week.

  3. Crikey, don't look at The New Era then; that had rules for the effects of different atmospheres on the power of laser rifles!

    1. See, stuff like that fills me with equal amounts of intrigue and revulsion.

  4. Yeah, the Matrices are not... great. Although, it's a bit time and place too.

    Anyway. Some thoughts:

    1. I believe having matrices, and the whole weapon v armour effects chance to hit, was inspired by ODnD, which was a direct inspiration for Traveller. It's also a bit tied up with Traveller having some wargaming roots like ODnD.

    2. I really don't want to be using Matrices at the table - but that said, they do look pretty cool in the book. Traveller is a Sci-Fi game, with this patina of "hard sci-fi", and I think the style of the book with its minimalist art and computer read out style tables kinda reinforces that.

    3. Leaving aside the look, there is some very cool world building going on in that table. The amount of lines given over to ways animals could attack you (horns, hooves) and primitive weapons, really says something about the kinds of things you're going to encounter as you freeboot around the universe.

    4. The idea that certain weapons do better against certain armour, meaning that there's not really any "always good" weapon or armour, i.e. it's always situational, is kinda interesting. I don't think the implementation here is great given it relies on matrices, but I do think there's something worth exploring if it could force characters to look more critically at what tools they use or carry. The whole weapon / armour variability thing also maybe goes to your earlier point about why wouldn't characters just equip the best weapon they can with their STR or DEX score - well, the reason is that the "best" weapon depends on the situation.

    Original Traveller RAW certainly has its issues. I don't mean to be an apologist for that, but I do think it's a time and place thing given we're talking about one of the very first RPGs ever. But, personally, I keep coming back to Original Traveller and some of the other earlier editions, just because there are a lot of great ideas buried in the games .

    1. I've run my own hack of Classic Traveller for about a year now (with a lot of borrowing from Stars Without Number) - I actually chose to make these tables *more* complex rather than less, by allowing layering of armor and making half/full/super-coverage sets of armor. Whether this has been a success at all I have no idea. My players, on being told at the beginning of the game that a shootout had a roughly 25% chance of dropping someone in the first shot (and about 50% chance of survival from there), have completely avoided combat. (Though, they did just buy concealable body armor a week ago. We'll see if they try their luck soon.) Overall, I've got an idea of mechanics as a signpost for danger. If something has a lot of mechanics around it, it's a sign that there's something in the middle that can really hurt you. I've largely liked the results so far, but I think it will be time to ask my players soon what's been working for them, and what hasn't.

    2. All good points. I definitely agree that there's a strange appeal to seeing those tables in Traveller's very stark visuals.

    3. Consider also: "Do we really want to fight this guy? Have you *seen* what the combat rules are like? It'll take ages! Let's try a bribe first..."

  5. I think that T4 had some interesting ideas about how to handle combat (especially armor) and those could probably be retrofitted to CT without too much of a hassle.
    But yeah ... I do remember an article on Space Traveller (early 80s) where they went throught all possible combat modifiers in Traveller and it was a bit daunting, to say the least.

    (I believe it was this: )

    1. Interesting, might have to check out some of those old magazines.

  6. When I get the urge to play Classic Traveller I pull out Offworlders and play that instead. Or I spend an hour putting something like this together: