"As characters travel through the universe, they already know their basic physical and mental parameters: their basic education and physical development have already occurred, and further improvement can happen only by dedicated endeavor. The experience which is gained as the individual character travels and adventures is, in a very real sense, an increased ability to play the role which he has assumed..."
Starships, page 40
Traveller, 1977 Edition
This section, much-maligned since Traveller's first appearance, is perhaps the biggest difference between Traveller and Original D&D. My original title for this post was "Experience - the Anti-D&D" simply to illustrate this very real divide. Instead of the bildungsroman aspect of D&D, in which player-characters are completely inexperienced and then develop over time, Traveller's designers assumed that characters would be capable and competent before the start of play. It's a natural result of the character creation system, but we did not fully understand that back in 1977, and judging by commentary on various Traveller-related forums and mailing list, still not properly understood to this day. Kenneth Bearden, however, has done some excellent work exploring this issue on the Citizens of the Imperium message boards.
Conceptually, it is fairly simple. The life-course development model, using terms of service, was an elegant way of encouraging players to roll up characters who were not too young and not too old. Too young and they would lack the skills necessary to adventure and travel. Too old, and they would be infirm and too fragile to adventure. But the deeper implication was that in-game development of skills and ability was very limited - and coming from D&D, that seemed a little strange to many Traveller players. However, there were options for improving Education as a stat, weapons expertise, skill improvement, and physical fitness.
I recall some attempts to use the Traveller experience system back in the late '70's, but most of the time it was taken as a cross between "on-the-job training" and "I wanna better character." I think this ended up skewing our understanding of the assumptions underlying Traveller, and made it more difficult to see how the system worked. In other words, the deeper assumptions implicit in the rules were more of a control than any stated background (e.g. educational institutions in the Third Imperium).
The above is the only ordinary method of self-improvement available to characters. Highly scientific or esoteric methods of improving personal skills and characteristics are logically, provided the characters search hard enough for them. Such methods could include RNA intelligence or education implants, surgical alteration, military or mercenary training, and other systems. Alternatives to the above methods must be administered by the referee.
Starships, page 41
Traveller, 1977 Edition
This quote from the end of the Experience section, taken with the one above, reveal just how different Traveller was in the beginning from what has developed since then. The idea that experience developed during game play improves player ability runs in parallel with more recent ideas about Old School game play. Additionally, the absence of a defined background setting for Traveller meant that referees had to come up with their own settings and universes - and the experience rules actually suggest ways in which a referee might develop something different. In this sense, Classic Traveller provided a blank canvas - and encouraged referees to make it their own - and the experience rules were no different than the rest of the game.
Next Tuesday: Worlds
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Previous: 1977 Edition Combat
Previous: 1977 Edition Characters
Previous: Our original inspiration
Previous: The influence of OD&D
Previous: The other "three little booklets"
Editorial note: something odd happened with my attempt to post this last night. It obviously wasn't there or went away. I've restored it, but let me know if you actually see this post - comments, as usual, are always welcome.