A Traveller (2e) of the Stars
FGC’s Year of Alt Rulesets meets Inside the DM’s Screen!
Writer’s/Editor’s Note: The following is a paraphrased transcript from an interview by FGC and G-Rex. Intention and meaning has been verified by the interviewee, though specific word choice is solely the actions of the writer.
“This is Free Trader Beowulf calling anyone… Mayday, Mayday… we are under attack …main drive is gone… turret #1 not responding…Mayday… losing cabin pressure…fast…calling anyone…please help… This is Free Trader Beowulf…”
— GURPS Traveller RPG Rulebook Cover Quote, Game Designer’s Workshop
“Inside the DM’s Screen” meets the Fantasy Grounds College’s “Year of Alternative Rulesets”—nearly 12 months of featuring anything but the norm! We started off in November 2020 with Pathfinder First Edition and D&D 3.x, are taking a well-deserved break for December, and jumping into the hyperdrive slipstream* in January 2021 with Traveller 2e.
To do this, FGC interviewed our very own G-Rex, Adventure League superstar, but soon-to-be Captain of the Starship… wait… I’ve mixed up my notes… but expert in the FG implementation of Mongoose’s Traveller 2e.
Commodore G-Rex met me in the officer’s deck, brilliant nebulae whizzing by through the observation portals in front and above us. I rubbed a bit of spice on my gums, and confidently strode in. We shook hands, and I began to set my Sonic Screwdriver, Zat’nik’tel, Lightsaber and finished Voight-Kampff test on the table.
After a few pregnant pauses, he finally gave me an exasperated look and said none of this was necessary.
Abashedly, I stuffed everything back into my backpack, accidentally zatted someone in a red shirt (dunno why he was standing there), and began the interview:
FGC: So, first thing’s first. Tell me about yourself: the usuals. What got you into Tabletop RPGs? What about Fantasy Grounds? GR: It was middle school. I grew up in Wisconsin, near TSR’s Headquarters. A friend of mine’s dad had an absolute cache of D&D materials; every time I got the chance to go over, it was as if some new piece of the world… well, another’s world was unveiled to me. I got bit by the bug—hard.
I initially found Fantasy Grounds as I wanted to make one of those custom, TV-inlaid game tables, and was looking for the right software to use…now that I think about it, I still haven’t finished that table.
FGC: D&D has a place in your heart then? GR: It does. Fifth edition, especially Adventurer’s League (D&D’s Organized Play), is my primary squeeze.
When I have the time, and the world isn’t ending, I play a lot of tabletop war games: Warhammer 40k and WH: Age of Sigmar are two that I’ve played competitively.
FGC: Getting to the actual entrée of the interview, what is Traveller? How did you get into it? GR: During the pandemic, I looked at the Fantasy Grounds store to see if any other rulesets jumped out at me. I spent the night with Cthulhu, tried to be a Vampire, but eventually I found Mongoose’s Traveller Second Edition (“Traveller 2e”).
There weren’t many space/Sci-Fi rulesets out there, and I was judging between Starfinder and Traveller 2e. When it came down to it, while Starfinder is a great system, there are sometimes where it just becomes “‘d20-game-of-choice’-in-space.”
FGC: You were looking for Hard Science Fiction, and not a Space Opera? GR: Exactly; I also wanted to get away from a d20 system. Science Fiction generally falls into two holes, either your “Space Opera” or “Hard Sci-Fi.” I was looking for the latter.
Author’s Note: As an extremely broad definition, Space Operas may relate more toward “softer sciences” such as psychology and sociology in the future, rather than Hard Sci-Fi which may relate more toward the hard science and nitty-gritty of existence in the future.
“This isn’t ‘D&D-in-Space!’, this is more like Star Trek, and you could find yourself wearing a red shirt.
FGC: You’ve mentioned Traveller is a d6 system, which means everything is centered around a six-sided die, how does that compare with a d20 system, such as any edition of Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder? GR: Whereas in D&D or Pathfinder, you would roll a twenty-sided die and adjust as needed, a d6 system focuses on a six-sided die. The process is exactly the same: roll a die or dice, add or subtract stuff to it: you just use 14 fewer numbers.
Most everything is 2d6, or “2d.” The referee (name for the “Dungeon Master” in Traveller) will set a difficulty check value, like any other game, and you will roll for it. If you roll boxcars (two sixes), then it’s an auto-success; the opposite for “Snake Eyes” (two ones).
Generally, the DCs look something like:DC ValueDifficulty Level4Easy10Hard12Near Impossible16Impossible
FGC: I see a 16 on there… my math isn’t great… but 6+6 is 12… GR: Much in the way some DMs use the optional rule about crit fails and crit successes for skill checks, that rule isn’t as optional in Traveller 2e. This represents your “one in a million shot” option.
FGC: I’ll ask this to just about everyone–Elevator Pitch Time: In 5e, I can be a warlock who moonlights as a cleric, in PF1e, I can stare so hard at someone I disappear from their sight, in PF2e, I can multiclass via feat, and in Starfinder, I can fire against two different armor classes: Why should someone jump to Traveller? GR: Hrm. Good question. I guess my answer would be, “You get to play a normal person!” *Laughter*
No, seriously. This goes back to the versions of Sci-Fi thing. In other games you could use magic or take 40 phaser shots and still survive—this is very much Star Trek, and you could be wearing a red shirt.
I learned most of what I know from a YouTuber named Seth Skorkowsky, who goes over the system in detail.
With that, if you do want to go into that area, there are optional rules for Psionics and other races.
FGC: So then do players not find themselves in as, “Deadly Situations” as the other systems mentioned above? GR: Not entirely. Rather than D&D or Starfinder where you might be asked to infiltrate a Borg ship and slaughtering your way to the command deck, you may end up talking and trying to outsmart your foe like Picard via communicator screens. Combat is deadly, and there are other ways to get past an obstacle than “blowing a hole in it”.
This is a bit of a culture shock to other gamers, in one group I had, two NPCs were captured by pirates, and I had to stress to them that their rinky-dink scout ship is going to be going up against thousands of pirates and their flotillas.
FGC: So with this information they then… GR: Figured out that pirates must have loot. What’s the counter to a pirate? Mercs/privateers. They’re currently actively recruiting, you know…
FGC: I’ll decline. I got a bad feeling about that…
FGC: This may be a loaded question, but I’ll ask it: If you took the Squish/Splat/Min-Maxing/”Neckbeardyness” out of all rulesets, would you say that Traveller 2e fosters more Roleplay? GR: Can I choose to answer your question, but not that version?
Combat is deadly, you don’t get XP to level up, and you must spend downtime to train if you want to learn a new skill. There is such a focus on problem-solving as opposed to brute force that it scratches a completely separate itch in my mind.
There is no worry about, “Ugh. Okay: Who is going to play the healer tonight?” when you play Traveller. Of course, you may have a captain and a navigator and an engineer and a “face,” but you aren’t really forced into any of those boxes. Anyone can learn any skill, and while the system leans a little into the usual way of class = skill, it does so as lightly as possible.
FGC: I’ve read that Traveller is described as, “adventure-friendly” compared to other Sci-Fi based systems. This is done chiefly due to: No Faster-Than-Light (“FTL”) communication, and a generally “hands-off” central intergalactic environment, thoughts? GR: This is probably an intentional design choice on the designers. If these were allowed, then you’d have the equivalent of the Mass Effect C-Sec or the Emperor’s Sardaukar flitting about and putting a stop to your plans.
Without these items in-play, it gives both the player and Referee the chance to flex their problem-solving skills and RP. You can broadcast to the local area that you want to hire mercs, but you can come in and get the job done before the Imperium can come along.
FGC: Then, how do you treat an extended playthrough of Traveller? Are they Stargate/Doctor Who-esque “Monster of the Week” episodes, or are they more a Firefly “continued survival” game? GR: There are published adventures for Traveller, but you can also wade into their pre-published world and make a version of it, just like you would Eberron or the Forgotten Realms.
FGC: Let’s get this out of the way first and foremost: Traveller has a rep of, “You may not survive character creation.” GR: Hah! Sort of. Taking a step back. The original version was infamous for this.
“If you wanted to take as many terms as you could to get training in every skill, you could, but remember you still have to roll for learning it and that each term ages you…”
Character Generation is a beast of a session, BUT (and I say this emphatically), you will never be as invested or involved with another player’s rolls as a Traveller character generation session…
FGC: …Is this what they mean when some have said Traveller was the first, if not one of the first, rulesets to divorce “class” and “skill?” GR: Precisely.
When you start, you begin as a fresh-faced adolescent, ready to go into University, Military Academy or jump into the Workforce. This is your first “term” …and you have to roll for it…
FGC: …So, a “term” isn’t a literal meaning of a measured period of time at school? And wait, roll for schooling…? GR: Have you ever taken a test on a bad day?
FGC: I see your point. GR: Yes, term represents a span of time during character generation. It can depend on what your players are doing.
FGC: So, I roll to pass Uni, then what? GR: You will get whatever skills you rolled well for. It could be whatever you’ve chosen, or whatever you ended up being “good at” (rolled highest). Same thing goes if you go into a Military Academy or the workforce, you have a chance to learn whatever relevant skills.
In addition, you end up creating NPC and PC connections. I had two people that never met, but one ended up being absolutely charismatic/sociable, and the other ended up being incredibly logistical and involved into technology, they ended up pairing up as Musician and Sound Engineer/Roadie, and after that connection was made, you couldn’t tell they didn’t know the other from Adam.
At the end of each term, you roll to see how you did. In previous versions, you could have joined the Military Academy, and suffered an unfortunate grenade training exercise and lost a body part.
Case in point, another player went to be a crack fighter-pilot. She went to the Academy, then failed her roll to pass, ended up crashing a test craft, losing points of physical stats, dropped out and spent another term drifting and learning new skills. She got a connection to a scout ship for the group, among other skills.
FGC: What are your average ability scores when you play? GR: Usually 7 (1d6 = 3.5)
FGC: Normally we’re all used to a few physical attributes corresponding to how strong you are, how quick you are, and how much you can take a hit. These are largely the same in Traveller. The “Social Ability Scores” look much different. There is no “Wisdom” or “Street Smart” score, and the corresponding “Charisma” score is much broader. GR: Correct. Any “common sense” or “intelligence” check is usually done with your Intelligence score unless you’re training. That boils down to your education score.
Social does represent what we’d think of as charisma, but it can also mean social standing or structural social standing or even fame, rather than just “force of personality.”
FGC: So “Wolf of Wall Street,” “Catch Me If You Can,” and any other Leo DiCaprio movie? GR: Pretty much.
Playing the Game
FGC: Given how much import there is on session one, with character generation, what does a session two look like? How does it differ from your 5e games? GR: A session two will introduce the hook or patron, “get the band together” –normally the same sort of things you would in D&D.
FGC: What does space combat look like? GR: Space combat takes place on a two-dimensional plane (sorry, purists), and it has recently been added into FG by the ruleset creator. However, remember, you generally spend very little time in or on battlemaps.
“You will never be as invested or involved with another player’s rolls as a Traveller character generation session.”
FGC: Are there any fan-favorite locales? GR: There are two different locations in Traveller, the “Trojan Reach,” where the longest pre-published adventure is, and the Spinward Marches, which is more designed as the “unknown.” There is one pre-written adventure, but it is only two books as of right now.
FGC: Is there anything in particular that you like out of what Traveller does, or what does it do better? GR: Given that there’s really no magic or otherworldly things, you have to plot things out. This “Task Chaining” resembles the old 4e Skill Checks, but in a linear fashion. If you wanted to jump to another planet then you need:
A Navigation Roll
An Engineering Roll to reroute power to FTL engines
A Piloting Roll to navigate when you get in and out of FTL.
While this may sound a bit formulaic, there isn’t an auto-fail per se. Your rolls carry a penalty/bonus to the next person’s rolls.
So yes, Luke could blind himself with a light saber and put in a wonky course, but Han could pull out boxcars on a roll to slingshot him into the area he needs to be.
Running the Game
FGC: Various other TTRPGs have the DM/GM/Rolemaster in a variety of roles. Whether they are arbiter of rules, researcher of lore or just plan, “Everyone Else In The World”. Do Referees have any different roles than normal? How easy is it to jump in and run a game? GR: I generally sit back and adjudicate dice rolls and describe what happens. That’s a bit of the beauty of something with little combat. You can nudge your players in one direction or another, get totally shocked when they find a roundabout way, and then fully give them that surprise or other as that NPC.
“There is such a focus on problem-solving as opposed to brute force that it scratches a completely separate itch in my mind than D&D does.”
FGC: You’ve mentioned the YouTube channel before, are there any other resources that burgeoning Referees should look for? GR: There are two:
https://www.travellermap.com – is a google maps-style layout of the galaxy, and you can plot routes to give to your navigator.
https://travellertools.azurewebsites.net – Is a series of generators, but I primarily use it for trade generation and calculation.
A Couple of Quick-Fire Questions:
What is your hands-down, “I’m going to play this no matter what” system?
5e AL, purely due to the general quality and quantity of the adventures out there. I travel a lot for work, and can being my iPad to jump in. It’s come a long way from 3.X; but Traveller is competitive also, and it satisfies my player itch in ways that 5e can’t. Traveller relates to my creative and problem-solving sides, while 5e is more streamlined and “come and go as you please.”
What are the usual d20 systems like D&D and Pathfinder missing?
I don’t think they’re missing anything, but they don’t encourage certain types of play–Wilderness Survival is something that is usually never done, 70% of what we’re going to do is a dungeon crawl, and it can look like a dungeon or an overland, but it’s still “All Aboard!”
Crit Success/Fumble tables: Yes or no?
For Campaigns? Yes.
For One-Shots? Never.
Favorite Skill? (This is defined as any “An out-of-combat roll done as a PC.”)
I really like my guys make performance checks, making the roll in a tower, then RP it out, and see how it works. While CHA is usually a dump stat, it throws an extra bit of lulz in. Sometimes I say that he’s going to crit fail this, if I know the player is a good enough RPer.
Ranged or Melee?
Can I borrow that Zat Gun?
Magic or Martial?
If you teach me how to do The Voice, I’ll show you how to use The Force, deal?
Prepared Caster or Spontaneous?
Divine, Psionic or Arcane?
Arcane. I like generally having a solution to any problem.
I actually took the Lost Mines of Phandelver’s Iarno Albrek (“Glasstaff”) and made him into a campaign-sprawling “Blofeld”-esque baddie. I think we called that campaign off at level 18, rather than the five LMoP stops at.
You have the chance to get a perfectly balanced D20. You can put any word instead of the number one. What is that word?
“Oh, God.” — though that’s two words; Without using any swear words, that’s usually what comes out of my mouth.
“Valeria One to Valeria Two, increase thrust… Nail Beowulf before he leaves the gravity well and jumps… Good shot! Target’s main drive is hit, acceleration has ceased… Prepare boarding party. Tell them to watch out for any heroes… Matching velocity and rotation. This is going to be a good payday…”
— Traveller 2e Starter Set Cover Quote, Mongoose Publishing
* The author knows that it is rather difficult to slipstream in a place with no air, but when one leans into Sci-Fi, one must lean so hard the walls come down and you are ejected into the void.
Or, if you prefer, “Dammit, Jim! I’m a journalist, not a scientist!”
Be sure to check out our index page for the “Year of Alternate Rulesets: Traveller” for info on classes, games, our two Symposiums and contests for January 2021. http://fantasygroundscollege.net/a-year-of-alternate-rulesets-mongoose-traveller-2e/