CT Character Experience & Improvement Revisited

Post originally appeared here 28 December, 2014. 
Reposted for edits and to restore proper authorship.

For many players, especially those who came to the hobby after the golden age of the late 70s to early 80s, the biggest "flaw" in CT's design is the lack of a proper experience system for character advancement and improvement. "I have to take 4 years of game time off and then I get to make a die roll check to see if the training stuck? -F- that!!!" Although the CT arrangement didn't bother me back in the early days, even I now tend to agree that there needs to be an easier way to improve the characters through play without allowing them to build latter day D&D style supercharacters.

I reviewed the various incarnations of the improvement rules in Traveller's editions (except GURPS and T20, which operate within the paradigms of their base systems) and was generally sad to see that the status quo from CT is basically maintained, with even more complexity added here and there. While I don't begrudge the designers and their probably quest for "realism" in the game mechanics, I wasn't totally satisfied with any of the "canon" systems, although, TNE's system came close, and seems the most workable and satisfying to the player who wants to see somewhat regular improvement in their character. Based on that, I present the custom experience and improvement rules I've been using for a while now, based loosely on the TNE system.

Alternate CT Experience & Improvement Rules

Earning Experience
At the conclusion of each episode of the campaign(1), the referee will award each PC a couple of Experience Points (XP), based on the following:

  • Survival of the episode: 1xp
  • Player went above and beyond to enhance the fun of the episode for the group: 1xp
  • PC made a major self sacrifice to aid the team or another PC: 1xp
    Peer MVP award (the players, not the referee, mark a secret ballot voting for their pick for the most valuable PC for the episode. They cannot vote for themselves unless they have a solid, exceptional reason.1xp
With the referee's approval(2), XP may then be spent to improve a character's attributes or skills. There are a couple steps to this process:

Acquiring New Skills
If a character wishes to add a new skill to his talents, he must spend 3xp and succeed at a 2d throw of 8+ (DM+1 if EDU 8+, DM+2 if EDU 12+). If the throw fails, the xp are not lost unless the unmodified throw of the dice resulted in a total of 2 (in other words, two 1s, "snake eyes", whatever your group calls a "fumble".), in which case 1xp is permanently lost. In either case, a failed throw to acquire a new skill results in that skill being unavailable to that character for 6 months of game time

A success on the acquisition throw means that the desired skill is added to the character at a level of (Skill-1). In addition, a natural, unmodified roll of 12 (two 6s, a "critical" success) on the acquisition check signifies that the new skill came naturally to the character and only cost him 2xp instead of 3.

The Inspiration DM rules, below, apply to new skill attempts.

Improving An Existing Skill
Most characters will not be satisfied long with skills of level 1, and will want to improve their ratings once they have the XP to do so. The method is similar to that for gaining a new skill. The xp cost for raising a skill one level is equal to the target level (Princess Vespa wants to raise her Vacc Suit-2 to Vacc Suit-3, this improvement would cost her 3XP). Then, as with gaining a new skill, the player must succeed at a 2d throw of 8+ (DM+1 if EDU 8+, DM+2 if EDU 12+). If the throw fails, the xp are not lost, but a failed throw to improve a skill results in that skill being closed to improvement for 6 months of game time.

A success on the acquisition throw means that the desired skill is added to the character at a level of (Skill-1).

The Inspiration DM rules, below, apply to new skill attempts.
Skill Inspiration
It is very likely that a character will want a skill that someone else, PC or NPC, has used recently and proven to be useful. It is therefore logical to assume that a character who has studied under another person, or even simply observed that person's regular performance of a skill will have a slightly easier time learning that skill himself.

Any time a character decides to forgo his actions for the duration of another character's performance of skill, doing nothing but observing, taking notes, memorizing, etc, he may make a 2d throw against 6+ to gain an Inspiration point in that skill. The observer receives a DM of +2 to that roll if his mentor is taking the time to actually demonstrate and teach the skill, which doubles the time it takes to perform the skill task.

A character may accumulate up to 4 Inspiration points for any given skill at a time, and these points may be applied 1 for 1 as positive DMs to the throw to acquire or improve a skill.

Inspiration points may also be awarded upon completion of a formal training class, self study holo-vid or computer program, or other means of education, at the referee's discretion in terms of cost, time required and Inspiration points gained, but the 4 point total still applies.

Improving A Character Attribute
Although costly in terms of xp, this process is fairly simple.

The xp cost is the attribute's target score multiplied by 1.5 (rounded UP)
(Our friend Princess Vespa wishes to improve her DEX score from 8 to 9. This costs 9 + 4.5=13.5 rounded up to 14xp).

The character must then make a 2d throw against the attribute's target score. Success means the xp are spent and the attribute is raised to the target score. Failure means the xp are not spent, but the character must wait 1 year of game time before attempting to raise that score again.

Inspiration points, in the form of tutoring, physical coaching, etc, apply, using the same guidelines as for skills, about.

XP do not need to be spent immediately, and the character will in fact often have to save up for a few episodes to afford the improvement he wishes to purchase.

There is one more thing you can do with an earned XP, though in the long term, it's kind of foolish unless it's a life or death situation.

Tempting Fate:
Once per game session, a PC with saved XP may spend one point to add a one die booster to any failed roll.
For example, First Mate Piggy needs to make a mechanical skill check to quickly (and temporarily) repair gunfire damage to the ships life support system after an attempted hijacking that got out of control in the engine rooms. If she fails, the crew is doomed, so she rolls against the referee's stated target of 9, and gets a total of 7. She decides to tempt fate and rolls one additional d6 to boost her chance of success and gets a 3. 7+3 gives her 10, enough to make the required difficulty of the task, and manages to patch things together enough to quickly head for a starport to get real repairs.

Tempting fate can also be used to lessen damage rolled against a PC, again rolling 1d, but this time subtracting the result from the enemies damage roll. In this case, but not the former, tempting fate can be used on another PCs (or ally or otherwise important non-hostile NPCs) behalf. First Mate Piggie can either roll to lower damage rolled against her, or she can attempt to save Capn. Hogthrob by rolling to reduce damage rolled against him. At the referee's discretion, the successful sacrifice of an XP to aid another character can qualify as "self sacrifice to aid the team or another PC" and earn the PC another XP at the end of the episode, but I'd be careful to make sure the player's dont abuse it. The attempt to save another PC must be genuine and self sacrificing, not just an attempt to milk the XP system knowing you'll get that XP point restored at session's end.

(1) For our games, one episode is usually the completion of one 4 to 6 hour game session. A shorter or uneventful session may be rolled into the next session to count as an episode, and conversely, an exceptionally long, grueling or action packed session might count as 2 episodes. The individual referee is responsible for deciding how often XP are awarded.

(2)Most of the time, we just apply the time honored concept of handwavium and allow the player to, if they wish, purchase the improvements they desire right when they get enough XP to do so, assuming that their character has been training, studying, observing a mentor's actions, etc and is ready to gain the benefits of a new or improved skill or attribute as soon as they can afford it. In exceptional cases (learning a rather difficult skill, for example) or for referee's wishing for a little more realistic improvements, the character may be required to return to a proper resting place, or library, or gymnasium, whatever in order to practice for a short time before applying their newly purchased improvements. I do not recommend further monetary costs to the character beyond those mentioned in the Inspiration points section, and we prefer to keep any training "downtime" to a few weeks at most (maybe a throw of 1d to decide how many weeks of study or training is needed?)


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