Sunday, 15 June 2014

Traveller Gunfight Analysis

(This is from Traveller 2nd Edition, Book 1, Characters and Combat 1981.)

1. Determine if either party has the element of surprise.
2. Determine the initial range which separates the parties.
3. Determine if escape or avoidance for either party is possible or warranted.
4. Resolve actual combat using a series of combat throws.
A. Each character indicates his or her movement status.
B. Each character indicates his or her attack and target.

Well thanks for clearing that up Traveller,  seems simple but let’s check later.

A Round lasts 15 seconds.



The surprise rules here specifically state that if you get surprise then you can avoid contact. This is an old-school touch compared to Only War and even Cyberpunk. Those games tend to assume that Surprise is used in-combat and not to avoid combat.

Gunshots and screams end the surprise but 'laser weapons and guns in vacumn do not make any noise when fired'.

'Surprise continues until it is lost, and may thus continue indefinitely.' That is very old school and actually more ruthless than any other game so far.

Ranges are Close, Short, Medium, Long and Very Long. Encounter range is decided by a single roll with modifiers for terrain type.

There is a lot more stuff about the actions of the opponent and their reaction baked into the encounter rules compared to other games. With the rules as written, it’s possible to encounter a small party that you outnumber at long range, they get surprise, see you and roll a 9+ to escape. So the encounter 'never happens', this is never even considered in other games.

Before each round, state your 'movement status' there are four of these. Evade, get closer, get further away, or don't move. All movement is assumed to be simultaneous.

The Attack.
Combat resolution. Select a member of the opposite team and roll an 8+ to hit. Nice and simple RIGHT???


"The basic throw of 8+ is subject to a variety of applicable die modifiers, including armour/weapons relation, range, strength of attack (combat or weakened blows), movement status, attacking and defending expertise, and other aspects." So no, more calculation.

Being untrained with a weapon means a -5 when attacking. All PC's automatically have an expertise at Zero (0) with all weapons shown in the book. This zero value is sufficient to avoid the non-expertise penalty but not enough to provide a positive DM. SO WHY DOES THE UNTRAINED -5 MOD EXIST???

In case a monkey or a cavemen picks up a gun? Or you find a supergun you don't understand?

You hit, so.. 'Consult the Wound Column on the Range Matrix' oh old-school games, your simplicity is but an illusion. There is an armour/weapon matrix where each type of armour reacts differently with Each. Particular. Weapon. Want to fire your Laser Carbine at someone wearing Reflec armour while they fire their Shotgun at a group wearing  combat armour? Have fun with that one.

But you should have this info because you know what weapons you have and what crap you added to them and kept a record of it.

Wounds are applied straight to Stats. On a temporary basis. Each of the die rolled is applied to a different stat. So if you have a 4d weapon and you hit, you apply those dice to Strength, dexterity, endurance and maybe strength again?

The first wound is applied randomly and can daze or even kill. This infers (it is never directly stated) that for other hits the Defending player assigns damage die where they want them to go.

If one Stat hits zero you are unconscious, two and you are seriously wounded, three and you are dead.

There are rules for waking up and they are the same regardless of how you suffered the damage. Bear trap or grenade, it doesn’t matter, you are back up in three hours.

There are Morale rules for PC's so you don't get to decide when you run away.

To Move and fire once;

- Declare your movement status. Easy.
- Pick a target.
- Work out your modifiers. You will need, on your side; Weapons qualities, your attribute bonuses and how that combines with your stats. From the DM; range, but that’s decided at the beginning of the round. And how the targets armour combines with your *particular* weapon.
Add and subtract a bunch of stuff.
This gives you a single mod.
- Roll 2d6 and get 8+ to hit.
You hit.
- Roll your damage die.
- Is it the first wound for that Target? If so, I *think* you add the total of all the damage die you rolled to one random stat. If not I *think* they apply the damage from each individual die to each stat.

Ok so traveller is some radical shit. There is NO initiative roll mentioned that I can see. This is either next-gen genius or madness. Everything happens at once so everyone can shoot everyone and no-one is safe. So it doesn’t matter in what order you go. If you are killed with the first shot of a round you can still kill with the last shot of a round. I kind-of like this. It feels like you are bi-located in time, looking down on your characters gunshot-riddled body and simultaniously preparing to fire one-last-shot at the guy you already know killed you. Of course your condition can change during a round, if you get hit and lose agility your ability to-hit can go down, do you use your old pre-gunshot agility? or the new ive-been-shot agility? probably the old one, but good luck remembering that.

Having a solid simple to-hit number sounds good, but as usual it just leads to hidden complexities elsewhere and strange cryptic negotiations.

Info design is generally better in old-school books compared to FFG but not as much better as you might think. There is still a lot of complexity hidden and squirreled away in odd places. RPG books are themselves like Minotaur Mazes, you must prove you are able to find the hidden vital information to play the game optimally.

Gunfire is an insoluble problem in RPGs and there are only two answers.

Answer A - Be a teenager (probably male) who doesn't mind rooting through huge books and obsessively learning complex systems so you can chew through the conflicting rulesets at the speed of a computer


Answer B - Be in your late 20's - early 30's (or probably female) and have enough emotional RAM that you can face the possible loss of a PC you care about in complex and inconsistent circumstances while negotiating rationally and not having a freakout.


Answer C - Be a hippy and blah blah bah narrative blah blah hard to die from gunshots easy to hurt your emotions, I have tried this and it worked ok for me, when running it at least.

Also generic systems dont focus enough psychic energy to make them good games. They can be good games but not good Games. It is like a car without fuel, or maybe just with nowhere to go.


  1. If you want to have nightmares this evening, try Shadowrun. The quick reference sheet for ranged combat has 19 steps. Admittedly at least half of them are about assembling dice pools for specific weapons types, but still...

    Aside from that, all modern games have to deal with the idea that the weapons will kill quickly. I have to admit that after years of GMing CP2020, 3e DnD was almost liberating - I suddenly felt like I could inflict all sorts of murderous tactics on the PC team without ending the campaign!

  2. Classic lines there Patrick.

    "Bear trap or grenade, it doesn’t matter, you are back up in three hours."

    Sounds about right. I remember dimly a lethal firefight from a Traveller game in the day but my mind has blocked any recollection of how combat worked.

    "RPG books are themselves like Minotaur Mazes, you must prove you are able to find the hidden vital information to play the game optimally. "

    THIS is a line that should good into some OSR wisdom repository, and is on par with Rients' quote about how making a D&D clone is like a Jedi making his first lightsaber...