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An Alternate Task System for Traveller

This article was originally posted to the pre-magazine website in 2000, and reprinted in the May/June 2019 issue.

Ken Bearden and Glen Grant point out similar problems in Traveller’s task resolution system. They note that ability scores affect task probabilities far more than skills do, so that a high-ability, low-skill character can beat a low-ability, high-skill one. They also note that the half-dice in T4’s task system are clumsy and inelegant.

I agree with Ken and Glen on both counts, but I’m not completely happy with their solutions to these problems. Both require a fair amount of math before play, and neither of them are as simple as the original T4 task system.

Here I offer my own alternate task system. It does away with the half-dice in 4th edition Traveller, and it makes the chance of spectacular success and failure directly dependent on skill levels, rather than ability scores, ensuring that skills are much more important in task resolution.

The Target Number

The target number is equal to the sum of the appropriate characteristic and the appropriate skill level. If the character is unskilled, treat his skill as zero; the target number is exactly equal to the characteristic. (Don’t divide by 2 as in the published rules; we’ll adjust for this later.) A character will succeed if his die roll is less than or equal to his target number; otherwise, he will fail.

The Dice Code

The number of dice you roll depends on the difficulty of the task; check the Task Difficulty table below. Unskilled characters roll 1 extra die (or 2D if the task is Easy), but only if the skill has a “default”; otherwise the attempt automatically fails. (Optionally, the referee can add an extra die to the “unskilled” column for a non-default skill, so an Easy task for a character without e.g., Medical skill would call for a 3D roll against Intelligence.)

Task Difficulty Dice Codes
Rating Skilled Unskilled
Easy (EAS) Auto 2D
Average (AVG) 2D 3D
Difficult (DIF) 3D 4D
Formidable (FOR) 4D 5D
Staggering (STA) 5D 6D
Impossible (IMP) 6D 7D

[As you can see, I've done away with half-dice. Dice codes are slightly higher than in the published rules, but we'll adjust for this by changing the rules for Spectacular Results, as shown below.]

Spectacular Results

Spectacular Success: A task succeeds spectacularly whenever all die results are less than or equal to half the character’s skill rating (fractions rounded up). For example, a character with a skill of 4 attempting a Staggering task (5D) would succeed spectacularly if he rolled a 1, 1, 2, 2 and 2, because all dice rolls were 2 or less. Optional rule: The referee may change a spectacular success to an ordinary success if the total of all dice is above the Target Number.

Spectacular Failure: Attempts fail spectacularly when the number of sixes rolled is greater than the half the character's skill rating (fractions rounded up). Thus a skill 3 character attempting a Difficult task (3D) would fail spectacularly if he rolled sixes on all three dice; an unskilled character would fail spectacularly if he rolled a six on any of the three dice.

The probabilities of spectacular success and spectacular failure are shown in the following tables:

Probability of Spectacular Success
0 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
1-2 16.67% 2.78% 0.46% 0.08% 0.01% 0.00%
3-4 33.33% 11.11% 3.70% 1.23% 0.41% 0.14%
5-6 50.00% 25.00% 12.50% 6.25% 3.13% 1.56%
7-8 66.67% 44.44% 29.63% 19.75% 13.17% 8.78%
9-10 83.33% 69.44% 57.87% 48.23% 40.19% 33.49%

Note that spectacular success is impossible for unskilled characters. I admit this is a flaw in the system, but I think it’s minor enough to overlook for now.

Probability of Spectacular Failure
0 30.56% 42.13% 51.77% 59.81% 66.51% 72.09%
1-2 0.00% 2.78% 7.41% 13.19% 19.62% 26.32%
3-4 0.00% 0.00% 0.46% 1.62% 3.55% 6.23%
5-6 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.08% 0.33% 0.87%
7-8 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.01% 0.07%
9-10 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%

Characters with skill levels over 4 will almost never roll spectacular failures, while unskilled characters will roll them all the time.

Additional Rules

The following rules are optional additions to the task system presented here.

Jack of All Trades

According to the 4th edition rulebook, unskilled characters can add one-half of their Jack of Trades skills to their ability scores when they aren’t trained in the standard skill for the task. Under these rules, the Jack of All Trades skill can be used in a different way. Instead of adding half of JoT skill, add the whole skill, but assume the character has a skill rating of zero when determining spectacular successes and failures. The Jack of Trades has a good chance of barely succeeding at a task—but there’s also a good chance he’ll completely foul things up.

Skill Pools

If you feel that this task system still undervalues skills, here’s one fix. Every character gets a “skill pool” equal to his highest skill rating (if more than one skill qualifies as “highest”, the player can choose one). When the character is using that skill in a task, he can reroll one die for every point spent from his pool. For example, a doctor with Medicine-3 rolls 3 sixes on a skill attempt, a Spectacular Failure. If the character spent one point from his skill pool, he could reroll one of these sixes, probably changing the result to an ordinary failure (if not an outright success). Once spent, the points in this pool are lost until the end of the session.