Why is Traveller a classic? Part 2

30 Sep

For the second time I sat down to create a LBB Traveller character. This character was:

Ms. Olivia Dougherty – 675994 Recently 3rd Officer of the merchant starship Solar Peony, Age 40, 5 terms 51,000 Cr
Streetwise-2 Bribery-1 Jack-o-t-1 Blade-1 Pistol-1 Vacc suit-1, 4000 Cr/ year pension

Now this character looks more like a character I would recognize from a modern point of view. This character has six skills, as many skills as she has attributes, and one of them is even a level 2 skill. Oooooh, fancy. As usual, thank Seventh Sanctum for her name, and this time, thank Donjon for the name of the starship she served on. After a little math I figured out that a 5-term pension in Traveller is enough to retire on, if your living alone with no dependents, and you have no extravagant hobbies. (4000 / 12 = 333 – 180 acceptable lodging – 120 reasonable food = 33 Cr left over for monthly incidentals) So I have created a second character that does not need to adventure and probably shouldn’t have any desire to adventure.

Because she failed her survival throw in her 6th term, this time around I got to make aging rolls, and considering I’m in the 5th term of my pre-adventuring career (mendicant hipster), I really appreciated them. She failed her strength roll twice (it is unlikely to succeed at it) lowering her strength from 8 (slightly above average) to 6 (just below average). She failed her dexterity throw once, but brought it back up with her next personal development roll. Perhaps she felt like she was getting slow or stiff in her old age so she started doing yoga or kick-boxing or something. And once she failed her endurance aging roll, lowering it to 5. After all the ravages of time, all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that I have been suffering, I liked seeing my character age, realistically rather than well.

But her aging brings up a question that bothers me about Traveller. Why don’t people age better in the future? Why hasn’t medical science and technology advanced to the point where people don’t feel the affects of aging until they are much older? Think of this one example from less than a century ago. My old dentist was so old that he was involved in research about the effectiveness of water fluoridation. He remembers what it was like before water fluoridation. Someone my age (in my 5th term) would have already lost several of his teeth. (Incidentally I have lost one, other than my wisdom teeth, and that was more as a result of a deformity of my jaw. My wife, who is also in her 5th term, but doesn’t possess any jaw deformity or the shade of skin that might get one mugged on the street by bandits, has excellent teeth. She has been warned by dentists that she has receding gums so she must brush more carefully, with a softer toothbrush, but her teeth have never given her problems.) I like reading old old fantasy and sci-fi stories so I will occasionally run across mentions of people dying from an infected tooth, if it is not removed quickly enough. But that doesn’t happen most places now-a-days.

Her skills also bring up another question. She has Streetwise-2. With that skill she stands a good chance of finding a psionic institute. (Only 1 in 144 inhabited planets has such an institute, but if it is there, she has a better than even chance of finding it.) Should she make one of her goals, the discovery of a psionic institute, so that she can train her mind to her full psychic potential? She’s old to begin psionic training. It is likely she will only ever develop the most rudimentary telepathic or clairvoyant abilities.

Remember that Little Black Book Traveller was published without any setting information. There were certain basic assumptions in the rules. Space Opera in Traveller is a metaphor for Age of Exploration sailing voyages. This is why there is no ansible in the equipment section. And the rules even advise against adding such a device to the game. No real reasons are given, but my real reason is just that technological levels make little or no sense in a setting in which information may be freely transferred anywhere in inhabited space. But all the setting information that people associate with Traveller, the Emperium, The Vilani, The Solomani, The Zhodani, The Vargr, The Aslan, The Hivers, The K’Kree, etc. All of it is absent. In fact it clearly states in LBB Traveller, “The basic three books of Traveller (LBB 1, 2, & 3: Characters, Starships, and Worlds) are flexible enough to allow almost any science-fiction mythos to be recreated without significantly disturbing the balance of play.”

Indeed. If you want to recreate Star Wars, a few tweaks to the psionics section and a new career, Jedi, and you could do it. In an hour you would have changed Traveller into a Star Wars RPG. To create a Star Trek RPG, all you’d really need to do would be to create some special rules for aliens, something like Klingons get double bonuses on the Personal Development table, but they lose a point of social standing for every level in Admin, Medical, or Streetwise skills. Vulcans are trained in Telepathy before the age of 18, (and no other psionics exist at all) but they forfeit any roll that comes up Gambling, Forgery, Bribery, or Streetwise. In each of those settings, FTL communication exists so things like tech levels would have to be evened out, to account for the fact that all worlds would have access to the same databases. Perhaps simply change tech level to be the best out of two or three d6 throws when coming up with worlds?

So. I can do anything I want with the sci-fi world Olivia inhabits. Why do people grow old at the same rate we do today? Could she hunt for a psionic institute? Would I like to make up some rules for aliens? And I decide…

Humanity has never encountered a sentient alien. They find ruins sometimes. Psionic powers and psionic institutes do not exist. People grow old because they decided as a society that people should grow old. The disdain and public mistrust that people in Basic Traveller hold for psionics is instead held for other types of human evolution and transhumanism. (In transumanist terms they are Deathist rather than Immortalist, Venturist, or Longevist. They find that being human is special and worth it despite the pain and health problems and genes determined almost through random lottery, and yes most especially despite death. They believe that old age and death define a human life, make it special and precious. They believe that a rose that does not wither is not a real rose, and is less special for it.) So colonists settled throughout space, each colony adopting a way of life it found most suitable, everything from a world where fishermen throw nets from reed boats into alien seas, to a world where anti-gravity cities float above corrosive oceans containing rare and precious crystals. There is no FTL communication, but the delivery of mail is pretty reliable and fast. (Players would have to be pretty determined to outrun their reputation or the announcement of a bounty on their heads.) Some worlds have accepted transformative technology, but those worlds are the equivalent of red status worlds, forbidden destinations. Tech level on these worlds does not signify their actual technological achievements, what would be possible for them, but rather their technological compatibility with the rest of the Interstellar Technological Ecumen (ITE). Transhuman areas on the starcharts are the places marked with, “Here, there be dragons.” These are places of which people tell fairy stories of someone who landed on the planet and was changed by nanotech in the food so they had to stay on that world for 100 standard Terran years, as a servant to incomprehensible intellects.

I also decide that the ITE is a technological and economic standard, not a political one. One planet or a small group of planets would be enough to support an interstellar navy or “marine” force. Scouts are not employed by the Emperium, but by planetary universities. There are several East India Company style merchant leagues. I decide that the company Olivia worked for was called Perseus Spinward. The head offices are on a world called Sicyl IV, almost 7 light years distant from where Olivia wakes up from her coma. The world she finds herself on is called Xin Guan Da (Donjon gave me the name New Gwandana, and I hated saying or even thinking it clearly, so I shortened and Sinofied it). This world’s only inhabitants are 50 – 100 families of gas miners who all live on a gas mining station, held aloft in the atmosphere by anti-gravity generators to collect rare and valuable gases from the planets atmosphere. She wakes up from her coma, over one standard Terran year after being injured in a deep space accident. Her crew brought her to the Xin Guan Da medical center, and at the time she was too injured to be moved. Eventually the ship had to continue on it’s course, so she was left with all her money and the right to collect a modest pension from the Perseus Spinward company.

The doctor checks her out and releases her to walk around the medical center for the time being. She’d never been a very fancy person (social stat = 4 out of 15). At the hospital cafe she wasn’t interested in hydroponic coffee or carrot latkas. Fortunately, at one of the tables there is a tall, well-dressed man working at a computer, putting the contents of his hip flask into his coffee. She sits down near him and complements him on his taste in beverages, and before long he invites her to sit with him and share his hip flask. And that is how Lief James met Olivia Dougherty. Lief has been here for a little over a month, so he knows a bit about the station, and helps Olivia get on her feet.

OK. So Olivia Dougherty is a more adventurous character. I could easily see her curious about the accident that landed her in the hospital. Was it sabotage? Her pension doesn’t exactly pay for a life of luxury and certainly not a life of travel and adventure. If she has 950,000 more credits she could join the Travelers’ Aid Society and that would make her more content with her life, I would imagine. So she has goals she could work towards, motivation. She has a reason to take that high risk job. Perhaps she could work towards owning a ship. 7 million credits would be just under the down payment for a a free trader class starship. A subsidised merchant ship would require a 20 million credit down payment. But even with only her 50,000 Cr she could engage in speculative trade, buying cargo on one world, and selling it in another market. Cargo costs 1000 Cr to ship and her person costs at least 8000 credits to get to another star system, so if she were going to engage in speculative trade she’d have to take into account the high costs of doing business, but it might be worth it if she can find the right cargo and the right place to ship it to.

Now I’m starting to see why Traveller is a classic.

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