End Game

Posted: 15 May 2013 in Rules

In the absence of any players, I find myself re-reading my oldest Traveller rulebooks – the 1977 Little Black Books. To my current eye, Book 1 – Characters and Combat – is the most dated of the three original LBBs.

But, the thing about character generation in the 1977 edition of Classic Traveller is this: It’s the end game.

Fresh out of character generation, the typical PC is in his late 30s or early 40s. He’s the same age as Conan was when he seized the throne of Aquilonia. He’s done the spacefaring equivalent of all that dungeon-crawling crap, served his time in the trenches, and now he is ready to concoct "daring schemes for the acquisition of wealth and power", as Book 3 put it.

Comparing the weapons skills statistically to the other game we all played at the time, Original D&D, we see against an unarmoured target at optimum range, the hit probability for expertise level 1-2 (which covers most characters) is roughly equivalent to a D&D fighter of 4th to 6th level. Expertise level 3 is about the same as a 7th to 9th level fighter, level 4 to 10th-12th level, and level 5 to 13th-15th level.

9th level for an OD&D fighter (Traveller expertise level 3) is when he builds his castle and starts playing the Game of Thrones. In this regard, CT is more like contemporary FATE-based games like Spirit of the Century and Diaspora, in which the PC begins the game as good as he will ever be as far as skills go, and improves in other ways – power, wealth, influence.


Conan is about 5th level ("he had already taken wounds which would have killed any four normal men"), so in CT terms would have Sword-1. Given his Strength of 12 (at least), he’d get another +1. Against an unarmoured opponent at optimum range, he hits on a 2; that’s every single time. He’d hit a stock NPC with Sword-1 and Mesh ("the mailed chief of Akif") on a 6, 72% of the time; untrained NPCs (-5 to hit and +3 to be hit) are as grass before his blade, he can carry on hitting them every time, indefinitely, even when fatigued.

A character with Dexterity 8 and a telescopic sight already has +3 to hit at very long range (over 500 metres). He only needs to roll an 8 to hit an unarmoured target, so expertise level 3 or better guarantees a hit every time – there are no automatic failures in CT. If the target is in Cloth armour, that drops to hitting on a 4+, or a mere 92% of the time. Note that with 3D damage and the first shot rule, if he hits the average NPC, they are incapacitated, no ifs, ands or buts. There’s your world class sniper, right there, and interestingly he corresponds to the 7th level D&D fighter I’d use as a template for Olympic-level archers in that game.


So, in the 1977 flavour of Classic Traveller, expertise-1 is Conan. Expertise-3 is more like Jason Bourne or the Batman.

I wish I’d understood that at the time, and been able to convey it to my players through exciting descriptions. Oh well.

  1. David says:

    Given default Skill-0 in most other areas for CT characters, one begins to see why the whole “leveling up” thing was relatively unimportant. CT characters were meant to go out and explore strange new worlds and get filthy rich in spec trading, not worry about getting their Pistol-1 skill to Pistol-2.

    If you look at the novels that were the reading matter behind Traveller – H. Beam Piper, Doc Smith, Niven and Pornelle, Norton, E.C. Tubb, Poul Anderson – the characters were problem solvers and explorers. Tangible rewards are, at best, of secondary concern.

  2. andyslack says:

    That was explained right at the start of the Experience chapter, I just didn’t get it when I was a 20-something D&D player. It said:

    “As characters travel through the universe, they already know their basic physical and mental parameters; their basic education and physical development have already occurred, and further improvement can only happen by dedicated endeavour. The experience which is gained as the individual character travels and adventures is, in a very real sense, an increased ability to play the role which he has assumed.” – Traveller, Book 2.

    It was right there in front of me the whole time, I just didn’t get it. In Classic Traveller, the character doesn’t improve; the player gets better at playing him.

  3. thetailrace says:

    I recall playing a Scout (of course) in the Traveller 4 milieu 0. He had ended up with Pilot-5. A situation arose when one of our options was to land an unstreamlined subsidized liner that had misjumped to a world with an atmosphere but no starport. A Npc asked my character how good a pilot he was. I replied that ‘I am the best starship pilot you will ever meet and I am good enough for this course of action to succeed rather than being a death sentence’. 🙂

    • finbikkifin says:

      Of course, he could do that with Pilot-4, but with Pilot-5 he could come up with a good reply to the worried NPC.

      At Pilot-6. he could simultaneously explain exactly how he was performing the landing. With puppets, or toy dinosaurs.

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