Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Traveller Tuesday: Air/Rafts & the Flyer Skill

According to the Core Rules, using an air/raft requires the Flyer skill. This is silly for several reasons:
  • Air/rafts are ubiquitous pieces of technology; not only are gravcars and landspeeders a staple of science fiction, damn near every starship in Traveller has an air/raft as it's ship's vehicle.
  • However, out of 12 careers in the Core book, only six of them offer an opportunity to learn the Flyer skill.
  • Of those careers, two of them only give the skill via a random-chance Life Event.
  • Worse, the air/raft is the ultimate all-terrain vehicle, and yet it isn't a skill that Scouts can learn in character generation.
  • Not even in the expanded Scout book.

As a GM, I find this unconscionable. Therefore, it's house rule time!

Let's look at the Flyer skill.

All right, so we've got Fixed Wing, Rotary Wing, and Gravity as specialties. Now, let's play "Which of these things is not like the other?"  Well, there are two choices:
  1. Grav is the odd duck out, because it uses antigravity to fly while the others use wing lift. 
  2. Fixed wing is the odd one, because it can't hover like the others. 
Combine that with my objection above, and we've a strong case for throwing this skill out completely. But what do we replace it with?

First of all, it's patently obvious to me that Fixed Wing needs to fall under Pilot. There's about as much difference between an atmospheric plane and a space fighter as there is difference between said fighter (a small craft in Traveller parlance) and a capital ship 

For grav vehicles, the answer is "it depends."
A lot of PCs use grav vehicles like hovercraft (cf. Luke Skywalker's landspeeder). This is the Drive skill, pure and simple, as it the craft only moves in the X and Y axes. It's really a high-tech hovercraft. So let's put most uses of grav vehicles there, especially since hovercraft are listed as a Drive specialty which states "For hovercraft and other ground-repulsion vehicles." Ground-repulsion... that sure sounds like anti-gravity, doesn't it?

However, some folks are going to want to use their air/rafts to fly. In movies that feature flying cars -- from Back to the Future 2 to Star Wars: Attack of the Clones -- we see cars flying along in nice, level traffic lanes. They're behaving like regular cars, only higher up. From that we can infer one of the following:
  1. The traffic lanes interface with the air/raft computer and automatically raise it to the proper elevation through operation. This makes driving through the air no more difficult than driving along a freeway -- if you want to land, take an exit lane.
  2. Traveling along the vertical axis requires a gear shift, just like going in reverse does. In this case, the air/raft is basically a helicopter with training wheels:
    • You get to where you want to go;
    • You stop your forward motion;
    • You shift into "down", and
    • You lower yourself to the ground. 
    Some lateral motion is allowed for precise maneuvering into a parking space, but only at about the speed a car goes with your foot off the brake.
  3. A combination of the two. Consider it the difference between an automatic transmission and a manual. 

And then there's Anakin, who flies his speeder like a proper aircraft, with lots of banking, diving, and changes along the Z-axis (and likely breaking many traffic rules in the process). He's actually flying his craft. Gee, if only we had a skill for that! Oh, right, we do; it's called Pilot
So what it comes down to is this:  If you're driving an air/raft like a car, no matter the altitude, it falls under Drive (Hovercraft). If you're flying it, it falls under Pilot (Small Craft).

That leaves us with Rotary Wing. It's halfway between grav (it can hover) and fixed wing (it uses aerodynamics). Where does it go?

I confess that my first thought is "Who cares?"  I have never seen this skill used in any Traveller game, ever. But I acknowledge that my games are not your games and you may very well have a place for it.

My suggestion, then, is to make a new specialty called "Exotic" and populate it with the following vehicles:
  • Helicopters
  • Plane-helicopter hybrids like the V-22 Osprey
  • Ornithopters
  • Hot-air balloons
  • Dirigibles/Zeppelins 
Actual flying, be it from wings (biological or artificial), grav belts, or glide suits, ought to fall under the Athletics skill -- and oh, look, they already have a specialty called "Flying"!

Well, there we go, then. 


  1. WHAT!?!?!?! Every single Type-S comes with a freaking Air-Raft! "Here take the ship, but don't touch the air-raft; you're not qualified to operate it and we don't offer training on it."

  2. When thinking about how an air/raft flies I likened it to a blimp more than any other real aircraft. It's not something you're doing much banking or rolling in. Some pitch control; but mostly steering and altitude control.

    So the wheel would be turned for left/right steering. Push/pull for nose down/up to add forward speed to the descent/climb. An accelerator pedal for go. A "brake" pedal to null the go. An up/down lever with a neutral center position to hold whatever altitude.

    What banking there is will be automatically put in by the computer controls to make the ride more comfortable.


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