I was flicking through T4 aka Marc Miller’s Traveller this morning and it got me thinking about dice mechanics. If you aren’t slightly obsessive about different ways of combining Stat, Skill and 2d6, like I am, then please ignore me.
Classic Traveller really landed on something pretty special with its 2d6 rolls. I almost called it a core mechanic, it isn’t really, because it isn’t ever set in stone and it’s only as consistent as the GM wants it to be.
Still, 2d6+Stat+X where X is whatever the GM feels is appropriate right now. Oh, and also the GM sets the target. This is great because if the GM knows what they are doing they always have just the right mechanic to hand. If the GM isn’t great with numbers they might struggle a bit at first, but I’m confident that most GMs would get the hang of it within a few sessions.
Looking back on it now CT does look weird, it reads like they missed out the bit where they tell you how you make skill checks, and stat checks, and saving throws… It works fine, great even, without that guidance but that isn’t how people write RPGs any more. Well, except for Palladium.
MegaTraveller tried to standardise it, creating one of the first core mechanics in gaming (ironic considering it was replacing one of the least restrictive systems around). 2d6+Stat/5+Skill vs 3 or 7 or 11 or 15. They added in a time factor which doesn’t quite make sense and you can get Extreme Success and Extreme Failure if you roll 2 over or 2 under your target number.
This is fine, but it’s not very interesting, and it means that non-extreme failure will be very rare. Also stats give +0, +1 or +2; I’d have them give -1, 0, +1 and then your target numbers could be 4, 8, 12 and 16 which is way tidier! Overall I doubt you will find many people who feel that MT improved the dice mechanics of Traveller. 2d6 roll-high is quick and fun, this is functional but clunky and dull.
But then we come to T4 (I’m skipping Traveller The New Era because I haven’t been able to look at it for years). T4 is Marc Miller trying to return Traveller to it’s roots. Classic Traveller compatible and playable within every era of Traveller canon. This was a partial success, it feels like Classic Traveller, but it isn’t quite compatible and they only ever released content for Milleu 0 (the prequel era) and the 3rd Imperium of Classic Traveller.
In T4 Marc decided to make it a roll-under stat system. A standard test is 2d6 under stat+skill. A Difficult test is 2.5d6. Formidable is 3d6, then 3.5d6 and 4d6. No doubt you are wondering how you roll a half-dice, well that’s a d3. Which is just annoying. Especially in 1996 when no-one actually owned any d3s.
Reading it this morning though, I found some clever stuff buried in there. Using the whole stat makes the stat about 4x as important, but T4 also gives PCs a skill point for every year of background instead of one point per four year term, so that means PCs have about 4x as many skill points bringing it back in line with the stats. I had thought that it wouldn’t work because the random nature of character generation would mean that PCs would end up with a much more broad array of skills instead of getting higher skills, but marc thought of that too and gave groups much more freedom in how random they want their skills to be. Basically, the book is quite happy for you to keep taking Pilot if that’s what you want.
That d3 thing really is rubbish though.