Saturday, May 17, 2008

My Traveller Pet Peeve

I originally described one of my biggest pet peeves with Traveller over the years as part of my mini-review in the previous post, but after consideration I decided that it didn't really fit with the rest of the post. Instead, I expanded on what I'd written a bit and turned it into this article.

A lot of Traveller fans are science geeks and approach the game from a hard sci-fi perspective. For example, in an errata list I was following (which, by the way, had a very small amount of actual errata so far) one of the suggested errata referred to a piece of fiction that described globs of blood floating in a cargo bay exposed to space. The complaint was that the blood would have frozen after the cargo bay was exposed to space, and that they should now be frozen crystals, not globs. This just goes to show that everyone has their own level of suspension of disbelief, as I would have never noticed the problem.

Personally, as a student of the softer sciences, it's the political and social aspects of a game that will throw me out of my suspension of disbelief if they aren't handled properly. A governmental structure that just doesn't make any sense won't get past my filters. Similarly, as a student of military history, I get thrown by certain elements of military organization or equipment that don't make sense.

This leads to a problem that I have had with most of the editions of the Traveller rules. I refer to this as the "Tech Level 13 cannon fodder problem" (ok, I didn't actually have a name for this problem until right now, but it's one of the first things I've looked at with every new set of Traveller rules). Way back in the original Book 4: Mercenary, there was a list of the common military equipment issued at various tech levels. At Tech Level 13 the common soldier is issued combat armor and a gauss rifle. The problem is that in most versions of the rules a gauss rifle does zero damage to a man in combat armor, or at best might do a single point with a critical hit (the equivalent of a scratch or bruise). This leaves most Tech 13 soldiers as literal cannon fodder as their issued weapon does absolutely nothing against an enemy equipped to the same level, which makes their only purpose on the battlefield to be meat shields for the crews of the heavier weapons.

In Mongoose Traveller, an average roll for damage using a gauss rifle on burst fire will at least wound a target wearing combat armor, and a higher than average roll could take a target out with a single burst. A lower than average roll can still leave the target completely unharmed, but that's fine. The result is that both weapon and armor prove to have a reasonable level of effectiveness, making sense for them to be issued together.

This consistency between the rules and the fluff are important to me in any game, and I'm glad to see they got it right in this set of rules.


BlackDiamond said...
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BlackDiamond said...

For a moment there I thought you were talking about 40K imperial guard, where we have millions of human inhabited worlds with billions of men that are referred to as "speed bumps" and "tar pits," their only role to slow down enemy advances while the important units do their job.

At least an imperial guardsman can kill another imperial guardsman, which is why commissars are so effective. ;)

As for Traveler, I wouldn't mind a little bit of dumbing down of the science if it provided broader appeal, kind of like how Starship Battles was dumbed down for for the likes of Federation Commander. I don't recall anything overly scientific in Traveler however, although.

Fulminata said...

The original Traveller tried to be a scientifically accurate as was reasonable. The sci-fi elements were almost all based on reasonable extrapolations of current (1970s) technology or scientific theory, with a handful of exceptions to allow for classic sci-fi tropes (such as anti-gravity and FTL travel).

The downside of this is that it ended up causing them to be way off base in many areas whithin a few years (for example, they failed to predict the PC, meaning that computers in the original product all weighed tons).

The upside is that it attracted a lot of people who appreciated the effort, even if it sometimes produced results that were way off-base. Those results could always be corrected in each individual GMs Traveller Universe.

In Mongoose Traveller (MT), they have dumbed the science down a bit. For example, space combat no longer requires you to learn vector calculation to run.

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