What CT ‘77 Got Right

Posted: 13 May 2013 in Rules

Holidays, babies and exam revision have removed my regular group from play for a few weeks, so today you get another rant instead of the usual Monday evening game report.

I’ve already mentioned that I prefer the subsector generation rules in the 1977 edition of Classic Traveller to anything written since. The same is true for several other areas:


These grew increasingly complex as the rules developed over time; that’s especially true of ship encounters. I have never felt the need to move on from the originals.


The concept of generating critters by ecological niche was brilliant. The rules created beasts which worked the same mechanically whatever they looked like, with appearance and habits assigned by the referee. If he (or she) didn’t feel like doing that, the game lost much of its atmosphere but you could still play.

I still remember the PCs hunting 30-ton pouncers in AFVs. Man, that was nuts.


You have the basic stock designs, and a very simple system for building variants. Initially I spent a lot of time designing ships and house-ruling new ship systems, which was fun, but eventually I came around to the viewpoint one of my players put forward: The ship is only there to transport the PCs to the next scenario. Starship design grew increasingly complex for the next few editions of the rules, and for me at least, it stopped being fun.

As the number of stock designs increased, the ship encounter tables grew more complex too. See comments above.


There aren’t any. Nor do you need them.

At first I felt they were necessary to explain who was handing out thirty million Credit starships to retired scouts of good character, but consider this: A population 8 world with an average per capita GDP of Cr 50,000 (about the same as the contemporary USA), which spends 2% of its GDP on its armed forces (unusually low in the modern world), has a total defence budget of about a hundred billion Credits per annum. If half of that went on starships, and was spent so that an even amount of money (somewhere around 9 billion) was spent on each of the six types of standard starships, that one planet would could buy roughly 250 scout ships per year, and assuming upkeep is 10% of purchase price, the total scout fleet could be over 2,500 Type S for that one planet alone. If you say that one person per annum qualifies for the constructive possession of a ship, and that person just happens to be in the party, it seems plausible. Perhaps originally the President’s daughter wanted a ship, he signed it into law to get her one, and the bureaucracy never got around to repealing that law…

What about all those scout and naval bases? Well, if the planet has the technology and population to operate them – say TL 10+ and Population 7+ for the sake of argument – then they belong to local forces; otherwise, they belong to the nearest planet with those capabilities which already has bases (if it doesn’t have a base itself, it probably doesn’t project power abroad either). It’s easy to envision some sort of subsector-wide agreement for scout services allowing them to refuel at each other’s bases; that actually amplifies the argument for some scouts being spies, as you now need to spy on each other’s scout bases as well.


There were only the vaguest of guidelines for this, but there were also enough random tables that it could be done, hanging a campaign off the spine of interstellar commerce – keep dicing up characters until you get one with a ship, use the others as crew and other NPCs, then take your ship and crew around the subsector trading and dodging pirates.


Of course, it wasn’t perfect; but then, the expectation in the 1970s was that you would use the rules as a starting point, and tinker with them.

There was no point-buy option for character creation. Players, including me, often had a specific character concept which the dice disagreed with. If I want my dreams crushed by random events outside my control, I don’t need to play a game for that, thank you, the real world is more than adequate. To be fair, in 1977 no other RPG really had that option, and you could always house-rule it in.

Combat was clunky; actually, it was OK except for the separate range and armour die modifiers. That was in line with the way D&D theoretically worked at the time, although I never played with a group that used the armour modifiers; but RPGs now have moved towards using range as a modifier on "to hit" rolls and armour absorbing damage. That is much better in my opinion, but again, no RPG in 1977 really did that. Traveller didn’t really catch on until Mongoose Traveller came out in 2008, although obviously the GURPS and Hero versions had that option.

Ship combat should have used range bands like personal combat. Starter Traveller adopted this idea after a few years. That bugs me less now, as space combat doesn’t appear very often in my games.


I really wish I had worked all this stuff out in the ‘70s, you know; my games would have been very different, and cooler. Still, we all had fun, so close enough.

  1. thetailrace says:

    Scouts are not well suited for ‘Espionage’ but I do think they are excellent in an ‘Intelligence Gathering’ role, in other words a ‘Scouting’ role. To take the example of the detached duty scout that has been given use of a ship, here we have someone who wanders about the star systems of the area, keeping ears and eyes open plus sensor and communication logs up do date and who returns annually to have the ship undergo annual maintenance and to be debriefed. The debrief will doubtless come up with lots of items of interest. For example, how much does a world’s starport charge for services? What services does it supply? Have those services improved?Declined? got cheaper? What traffic does it handle, what companies are active? If there’s a naval or scout base, does it form part of the starport complex or is it/ are they elsewhere?
    Then the debriefing organisation will have reports from other scouts, if the figures you quote are used as a guide, there could be many other reports that could be cross referenced, that could give a quite detailed (if somewhat out of date) picture of what’s happening in an area.
    The upshot of this could be a scenario outline. Say scout a] noted that a local government sent out a squadron of six corvettes out on an anti piracy patrol. Scout b] duly reports the squadron’s return just as she is leaving that system. More cross referencing reveals that the patrol’s strength was five ships on an intermediate system as reported by scout c]. Rechecking scout b]’s logs indicate that one of the returning ship’s may have been in combat. The ‘powers that be’ put ths and other information together and decide to send a small team to investigate whether one of the corvettes has been sent off on a little piracy expedition by its government. Who to send? Well there is that reactivation clause in a scouts contract of course plus all those crewmembers that they’ve acquires on the way that can be drafted…..

    • andyslack says:

      Nicely argued; I believe the intelligence community refers to this as “the jigsaw effect”. For the CT-77 subsector, with no empires and some sort of postal authority type scheme tying together the scout bases on different planets, the debate also includes “Do we learn more from their scouts landing here to refuel than they do?”

      Of course, there is no reason why the scouts have to be a government service; think of the trade pioneers from Poul Anderson’s Van Rijn stories, or Murray Leinster’s Med Ship and the “scouts” disseminating medical knowledge for altruistic reasons.

  2. Hi, Andy. I don’t have a specific comment on this entry. Rather, I just wanted to say, “Thank you,” for such a great blog. I discovered Halfway Station over the weekend, and I’ve since gone through most of your posts. I have thoroughly enjoyed your solo experiments with Savage Worlds and other systems, and I’ve also learned quite a bit from your posts on the D&D –> Savage Worlds mindset. I play in two D&D games (one 4e, one 3.5e) with the same group, but when I run games at cons I use Savage Worlds, Stars Without Number, and Apocalypse World. My SWD rulebook is currently on loan to our D&D 4e DM, who is thinking about switching over to either D&D Next or Savage Worlds. Either would be an improvement over 4e! Anyway, thanks so much. Keep up the great work!

  3. Charles F. Blakely says:

    I appreciate everyone’s nostalgia for Classic Traveller. It has many things going for it, of which the greatest is that it was the first Science Fiction RPG. I rolled up lots of characters and worlds using that system. One friend even used the D&D Monster Manual for alien animals and went on a hunting expedition! I preferred the Megatraveller rule set to the original rules for a number of reasons. I liked the one roll does all – hit and damage. The task system made adventuring on the fly much easier. I also preferred rolling over the target number rather than under the number. It always bothered me to have to subtract numbers off of three of my stats. One referee even created a hybrid of Classic Traveller and RuneQuest with hit locations. This made combat more survivable, although we became cyborgs immediately!

    Through your blog, you introduced me to Stars Without Number which gives more options to the SF game. Much appreciated!

    I just received Traveller 5. I’m not sure if I like it or not. At first I thought I had received a book on statistics! It also uses Flux dice – two dice of darker and lighter colors to create a flux for the modifier. I need to play with it until I understand it. Andy, did you do the Quick Start for Traveller 5? If so, what do you think of it?

    • andyslack says:

      No. I did get an earlier version on CD a few years back; I didn’t think that was playable, but then it wasn’t finished at that point – as I recall, there was no equipment, but rules for building your own equipment were there. I didn’t like the half dice either; I could see what Marc was trying to do statistically there, but it wasn’t for me.

      I have to say, I can’t see myself playing anything with a 650-page core rulebook these days. I might get it at some point to round out the collection or maybe use as a source of inspiration, but actually play it? Unlikely.

  4. raikenclw says:

    “I can’t see myself playing anything with a 650-page core rulebook these days.” Same here; it’s the spirit of Traveller that counts for me, much more than the rules. I’ve actually Savaged my Starter Traveller box into a travelling game kit.

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