Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Traveller Tuesday: Damage & Healing

Warning:  Sacred cows slaughtered in this post.

People familiar with the various incarnations of Traveller understand just how lethal combat can be. It is entirely possible for a character to die after being shot once. This is generally regarded as A Good Thing, since Traveller at least nods its head in the direction of realism, and this kind of thing happens all the time in the great MMORPG we call Real Life.

So my beef isn't with the damage system. I do, however, take issue with how easy it is for someone in Traveller to be healed of damage. Let me illustrate via anecdote:

Several game sessions back, several my intrepid murderhobos were involved in an an air/raft crash. The damage involved was such that it blew through their Endurance stat completely and into a second physical stat.  They were, needless to say, not in a good way. I described this as broken limbs, concussions, and compression to the spine.

However, one of the PCs had a medikit built into his vacc suit, and the other was on the receiving end of a good Medic roll, both of which restored most, if not all, of their Endurance.  By a strict reading of the rules, these people -- who had just been involved in a serious accident, the kind of thing that requires an ambulance and paramedics and probably emergency surgery -- would be able to stand up and walk away just because they had been splinted, bandaged and received an injection of painkiller.

I take issue with this. "Instantly better" medicines are the province of Star Trek, which is around Tech Level 20 in Traveller terms, versus the Third Imperium's maximum of TL 15. This is even worse when you consider that during character generation it is quite easy to suffer an accident that results in the loss of characteristic points, but once out of chargen and into play, there are no rules for being maimed and crippled.

These rules -- which I am sure will be revisited and revised, based upon discussion in the comments and the cries of my players -- aim to change that.

Let the howling commence. 

Taking Damage

First let me detail the various Traveller characteristics and how they relate to damage:

  • Endurance measures resistance to pain and strength of immune system. Unless there is a very good reason why not, damage always applies to Endurance first.
  • Strength represents a character's musculature and skeletel integrity. Anything that would affect a PC's overall bodily structure, such as gross physical trauma, applies. 
  • Dexterity represents a character's nervous system. Anything which causes neurological damage, such a poison or radiation, applies here. Specific damage against precision organs like fingers and toes also applies. 
  • Intelligence only takes damage in specific circumstances where brain damage would apply: asphyxiation, cranial trauma, and psionic attacks. 
  • Education is similar, but represents loss of memory rather than physical damage to the brain. Psychological disorders would cause this, as well as the aforementioned psionic and cranial trauma. 
  • Social Standing is damaged only if the wounds are disgustingly disfiguring, such as burns over large portions of the body, or if they reduce an ability to interact with others (such as losing a tongue, or being a blind, deaf, and mute). Given the nature of reconstructive surgery within the Imperium, this is not the handicap it would be in today's era, so damage to the Social stat should be considered an "easy out" and to be avoided. 
  • Psionic damage is damage taken directly to the psionic portion of the brain. This occurs mainly during psionic battles, but it could also occur from cranial trauma (bad enough concussion, a gunshot wound, a lobotomy) or from tailored anti-psi poisons. 
So now that we know what takes damage and when, we can discuss the actual procedure. 
  1. The character takes damage, which reduces his Endurance stat. 
  2. When Endurance hits zero, damage is applied to the relevant stat according to damage type. (See above.) If the GM permits, this damage could be spread out:  a bad car accident could result in damage to Strength, Intelligence and Education, if a concussion could plausibly occur. 
  3. When a secondary stat hits zero, unconsciousness occurs.  
  4. This is where significant rules changes occur.  After the second stat reaches zero, permanent characteristic loss starts to occur. The GM chooses, or may allow the PC to choose, which stat or stats are so affected.
  5. When any stat other than Psionic strength reaches zero, that PC is dead (but might be revived with the right medical technology if applied quickly enough, or placed in an emergency low berth). If Psi strength is permanently reduced to zero, that PC has lost all psionic aptitude due to brain damage. 
I think you will find that these rules are not more lethal than the rules as written. They do, however, have nastier long-term effects in terms of characteristic loss -- but I feel that suits the system and the setting. 

This also gives the GM greater flexibility:  instead of saying "Well, you're dead now," a GM might instead say "You survived, but you are horribly crippled with a wrecked immune system and significant memory loss."  A  total party kill ruins a campaign, but a viciously mangled party desperately seeking medical attention is a side-quest all its own. 


First aid is effective any time before permanent characteristic loss, and restores lost Endurance points as per normal. First aid does NOT restore other lost characteristic points, but it halts their loss and, by restoring Endurance, creates a buffer that must be gone through before more are lost. 

Natural healing restores characteristic points that first aid cannot, as does surgery and medical care. 

Medical care is required to restore permanently lost characteristics, and costs 5,000 Cr per point restored in a TL12 medical facility. As TL goes down, prices go up. Characteristic restoration is not possible below TL9. 

(See Traveller core book, p. 75, for defintions of First Aid, Natural Healing, Surgery and Medical Care.)

In Conclusion

I am certain that I have missed something, be it an arcane rule or a piece of medical technology in one of the books. If you spot something, please mention it in the comments below and I will incorporate it into my revised rules.

I understand these rules will annoy purists. That's okay; I'm making a career out of doing just that.  What I like about this system is that simulates a more realistic version of damage and gives the GM more dramatic   options, all without over-complicating the rules.


  1. Well, I now have confirmation that you sit around and think up new ways to hurt us.

  2. LOL, stirring the pot again eh??? :-D

  3. Oh I like this. :)

  4. Okay, so when you take damage it first hits your Endurance stat (even it it was more say dexterity based)?

    And so permanently lost damage is damage that medical care can take care off (if you have the credits and TL)? In that case permanent might be the wrong word

  5. Yes, because Endurance measures resistance to pain. You go "ow" and your hand starts to hurt long before you suffer permanent damage to your digits.

    And by permanent, I mean "natural healing and rest won't return the points." It's permanent unless you receive medical care. Given the TL of the Trav universe, where limbs can be regrown, "permanent" isn't all that permanent....

  6. That is one thing that got me in char gen. Not only are more serious injuries smaller, but they are more "permanent".

    Other than that the rules look good.

    I suppose there's also the effects of "stabilization" and first aid but those are pretty well covered in the core rules.

  7. I'm gonna have to say that I like the rules. Does this affect the way the medikits installed in our armors work?

  8. The GM, she is evil. Lovably evil, but evil nonetheless.

  9. Right. Doing first aid and restoring Endurance points is, essentially, stabilization as that prevents loss of characteristics.

  10. Only inasmuch as I've changed First Aid to affect Endurance only. Other than that, medikits apply First Aid at Endurance 0, just like the rules say.

  11. I liked being able to buy clones and train them back when i was playing Car Wars a lot.
    Die -- activate clone -- lose most recent skills and xp -- carry on.

  12. How lethal is Traveller? Let's just say you might not even survive the character creation process.

  13. As usual, MegaTraveller (and CT) does it better than other editions.

    Let me see, in CT, a Serious Wound of that sort would require at least 5d6 days to recover (with treatment by Medical-3 in a medical facility). In MT, it would require 1dx10 days of total inactivity for a Major Wound like that. There are other complexities, but those are the basic recovery times.


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