Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Traveller⁵’s Social Interaction Rules

This massive book that is Traveller⁵ has just been sitting on the shelf lately. I admit… the combination of a learning curve with the not entirely unexpected errata was enough to get me to shy away from it for a while. And like a lot of other people, I think that the utility of the original three little black books is hard to beat. I could really master those books to the same degree that I’ve gotten a handle on Moldvay Basic D&D or even Car Wars. How much of an investment would it take to get T5 to that point…? Maybe it isn’t as bad as I think, but that book sure is intimidating….

At any rate, I found myself with a peaceful half hour last night and decided to take it down and look for something I’d actually use. I mean, people that otherwise despise MegaTraveller’s meta-plot still use its task system and cleaned up character generation rules. People that were left cold by T4 still use its psionics rules for some reason. It’s the nature of the beast that no one’s ever going to be able to make an “ultimate” edition of this game. Traveller referees are all cannibals when it comes to rules systems….

So I’m looking through this gigantic tome… thumbing past the “maker” systems… the charts for the trade rules… the really cool world maps…. I’m sort of daring this big book to grab my attention. Then… somehow I end up at the “personals” section. And that right there gave me pause. I mean, what’s the fluff text going to read here? “Do you like pina coladas… and getting caught in the rain?” The tone of the book is just delightfully and unselfconsciously earnest.

But I’m sitting there reading that section on the social rules for the game… and I suddenly realize, there are no social skills in this game. I couldn’t believe it. I went back to the skill section to make sure… and then I reread the social rules. In the almost child-like excess with which everything is addressed in this game, every possible permutation of interaction is nailed down here. The four purposes determine the number of dice rolled and each one has five strategies that give you your target to roll equal to or under…. A multiplier for that target number depends on the exact tactic that is being used here. (There are scads of them.) Additional modifiers depend entirely on the social context of the two people interacting: the five laws of social interaction indicate about how much of a mod you can expect to get for each of the four purposes.

This is a clinical breakdown of social interactions that could have been devised by an idiot savant, but I’ll be doggone if it doesn’t actually seem to model this sort of thing pretty well. And this whole idea of carousing which I’ve always been pretty sketchy on both in real life and in games– here it can be used to establish rapport and gain modifiers for subsequent rolls. And just like in real life, one false step and the conversation is over.

I have to admit, the implied scenario for these rules is solid. Rumors were always a key part of Traveller’s sprawling sandbox play… and trying to find a patron is an essential part of any planetfall. (It has to be– you’ll go broke trying to make your starship payments with just the earnings pulled down from trade!) This is definitely an area of the game that could have used a little more help. And yeah, I’m fully capable of ignoring this or any other reaction system if I know the NPC’s well enough. But something like this gives me a framework for figuring out what’s going on when I’m not entirely sure. The fact that these rules are not dependent on any sort of stat or skill level is a darn good idea, though. That puts these sorts of exchanges entirely within the domain of player skill.

Do I have to repeat that…? These rules put the social interactions of the game entirely within the domain of player skill. Stats alone cannot be used to short-circuit a social challenge. The players are going to have to use some common sense to get around! So… if you’re looking for something that you can drop into your preferred version of Traveller– or even any role playing game, really– then take a look at this. With just six pages of material on this topic, it’s not going to put William H. Stoddard’s Social Engineering book out of business anytime soon… but this is an interesting take on something that is usually handled with either a flat reaction roll or else a throwaway skill check.

The fact that this social model is completely decoupled from the character generation rules and skill system is a significant innovation. Consider these rules stolen.

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4 responses to “Traveller⁵’s Social Interaction Rules

  1. Jason Packer July 16, 2013 at 9:36 am

    “These rules put the social interactions of the game entirely within the domain of player skill.”

    I was already going to call this sentence out before you repeated it for emphasis. I’ve yet to see a compelling argument for why this is a good thing – you wouldn’t adjudicate a gunfight based on player skill, so why should social interactions be any different?

    Glad that a game that’s getting such a savage beating from fans and foes alike has some stealable elements worthy of stealing, though.

  2. JSpace April 14, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    Personals are one of my favourite parts of Traveller 5. A great tool for game mastering. My preparation is minimalist (lazy?), so it’s very useful. I also like the behind-the-screen-damage rule and have used flux dice for a lot of different applications. Occaisional random environmental and situational modifiers, instant npc’s fighting tasks (10 +/- flux), et cetera. Anything to speed play.

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