The Eight Worlds -- Overview
     How it all began...

The Eight Worlds is a science fiction role-playing game, loosely based on the original three book Traveller rules set, that began at MIT in the early 1980s and has run continuously ever since. The original Traveller rules were innovative, imaginative, and a landmark in gaming -- arguably the first real playable science fiction role-playing game -- but they had several inadequacies. They contained a comprehensive set of rules for designing starships, but didn't really explain how those ships were to be flown or fought. The ground combat system was quite rudimentary, and had some odd features -- one example was laser rifles, which were incredibly powerful, but could be rendered almost entirely impotent by a simple layer of 'reflec' armor, which made one wonder why anyone would ever bother to buy them. And the society itself was a bit too high-tech for our tastes, with technology that was undeniably neat, but so advanced that it could be difficult to relate to guess how it would behave. Things like 'anti-gravity sleds' may be all well and good, but what happens if one anti-gravity sled flies above another, or lands on top of another. Do their 'anti-gravity fields' add together? Cancel each other out? What is the power consumption in hover? Do anti-gravity devices obey conservation of energy or could one use them to build perpetual motion machines?

Finally, the original Traveller rules seemed oriented towards passengers. This was reflected in the name of the game itself, which was Traveller rather than something like Pilot or Astronaut. We didn't want to play passengers! We wanted to play starcrew! After all, what's the point in having all those neat starships if you don't get to fly them, fight them, and blow them up?

For these reasons and others, we ended up developing our own rules, which diverged to the point where they could have been copyrighted as an entirely different game. If we'd been commercially minded, we might have made a few more changes, then published and marketed them. Instead, I've begun to scan and transcribe our old notes for others to use.

This is a huge project, for the notes fill several books and campaign logs, and were not always written with others in mind. To keep things moving, I plan to post new sections as soon as the basic tables are ready, before I've had a chance to add the necessary supporting text, figures, and examples. For the first few weeks or months, the layout and organization will be rudimentary, and may change in unpredicable ways. So please bear with me if some pages seem cryptic or incomplete. If you have any particular questions or requests, feel free to post them to the Traveller section of the Flying Cloud Forum or send me an email.


Eight Worlds Currency

The Eight Worlds uses an inflation-adjusted system of currrency adminstered by the Denominational Unification Council for the Advancement of Trade (DUCAT) -- one of the few multinational organizations the Eight Worlds possesses. A quick summary is provided below.

  • Sequin (s, pronounceed SEE-kwin) -- The approximate cost of a single video arcade game, equivalent to 0.50 USD in the currency of 2010 Earth.
  • Bezant (B, pronounced BEE-zant) -- 10s, the basic unit of currency. One B will buy you a cheap meal. Equivalent to roughly 5 USD in the currency of 2010 Earth.
  • Florin (F, pronounced FLO-rin) -- 1000B. The typical annual income for unskilled laborers, software engineers, middle managers, and other non-starcrew on undeveloped worlds. One F will pay for two months of high living on Sinclair -- the world where most player characters muster out -- or a month of training in weapons. Ordinary starcrew think in terms of Florins.
  • Ducat (D, pronounced DOO-kat) -- 1000F. The basic unit for large financial tranfers, these take their name from the DUCAT board itself. Light ships cost Ducats. Rich starcrew think in terms of Ducats. Very small numbers of Ducats.
  • Talent (T, pronounced TA-lent) -- 1000D. The unit of currency for extremely large financial transactions, significant government and military projects, large-scale public works, and major shipbuilding initiatives. Large capital ships cost Talents. Very small numbers of Talents.
  • Imperial (I, pronounced with considerable respect) -- 1000T. The wealthiest planetary governments need a unit larger than the Talent for accounting purposes. Imperials fill this role. A single Imperial is an unimaginable sum of money -- equivalent to the GDP of the entire Earth in 2010. Large capital ships cost a very small number of Imperials. No freelance starcrew is ever likely to approach the point where they will think in such terms.
  • 1000 Imperials. No member planet of the Eight Worlds will ever command such a titanic sum, but centuries ago, during the age of the Empire, Imperial commisioners and the governers of the wealthiest sectors occasionally dealt with transactions equivalent to 1000 I or more in the currency of their era. A sum of this magnitude represents an inconceivable amount of labor and resources, and is not to be regarded lightly. For this reason the ancient Imperium honered it with a name that reflected its unique status. 1000 I = 1 Bongo Buck. The mythical Imperial Star Fortress, if it ever existed, might have cost one Bongo Buck

Dice and Variation Schemes

Random outcomes on the Eight Worlds are determined by the roll of 6-sided die because these are easy to handle, more generally available than other shapes, and make a nice clattering nose when you roll them. For most quantities that vary over a fixed range -- things such as cost, age, or hit probabiity -- this is sufficient. But some qualities are open-ended and have no predetermined limits. These might include things such as how badly an jump drive malfunctions or how beautiful the exotic engineer who arrives to fix it is, and how long she lingers after the other crewmen are gone, waiting for... but I digress. To schemes are used to handle such situations: the Bueaty Scheme and the Demon Dice Scheme.

The 'Beauty' Scheme
The Beauty Scheme was originally devised for a set of D&D campaings at MIT during the 1980s to determine how beautiful or handsome a character might be. Under this scheme, one rolls a single d6 to determine basic beauty, which will range from 1 (cute) to 6 (ugly). If one rolls a '1', one rolls again to determine just how cute the character might be. This can range from '1-1' (hot) to '1-6' (merely cute). If the second roll was also a '1', one continues the process as long as necessary until one stops rolling ones. The record level of beauty was something like '1-1-1-3'. A morbid player who rolls a '6' can contunue the process in the other direction to determine just how ugly their character might be. The record level of ugliness was '6-6-6-6-6-6-5' -- a degree of loathsomeness achieved by only 50,000 people on Earth today. This scheme can be, and was, extended to other qualities that can vary in two directions, most notably sexiness. Taste forbids discussion of the results.

The 'Demon Die' Scheme
The 'Demon Die' scheme was originally developed for a D&D campaign at Caltech back in 1974 ("Gosh, 1974! Were there people then?") to determine power levels for demons. It generates a probabilty distribution that is roughly Poisson, with a maximum possible value of infinity and a mean value of 3.6. This scheme begins with the roll of a single d6 and proceeds as follows.

  • If the die roll is 1-4, the result is 1.
  • If the die roll is 5, the result is 2.
  • If the die roll is 6, roll again.
    • If the die roll is 1-4, the result is 3.
    • If the die roll is 5, the result is 4.
    • If the die roll is 6, roll again.
      • If the die roll is 1-4, the result is 5.
      • If the die roll is 5, the result is 6.
      • et cetera...

This can go on for quite some time. In the original Caltech campaign, it was used to determine size multipliers for monsters. The record was a hippogriff with a size multiplier of 42 (14 '6's in a row, followed by a '4'), which worked out to a 500 meter wingspan. It was an interesting encounter. In the Eight Worlds this system is commonly used to determine how bad something is -- how badly a drive malfuntions, how badly a character injures themselves if they roll snake-eyes on a skill check, etc. The most dramatic result -- though not the record -- was the crash that lead to the Great Allanlock Spaceport Fire of 3155 that destroyed 30% of the city.

The Skill System

Skill and training are basic to the Eight Worlds rule system. When a player wishes their character to use a weapon or perform a task that requires some skill, they roll 2d6 and add the character's skill. If the result is equal to or higher than the required value -- this can vary depending on the armor and cover of the targer or the difficulty and circumstances of the task -- they succeed. If it's lower, they fail.

To advance from skill N-1 to skill N requires N additional Skill Points. Thus, one Skill Point to go from Skill-0 to Skill-1, two additional Skill Points are required to advance from Skill-1 to Skill-2 (for a total of 3), three additional Skill Points are required to advance from Skill-2 to Skill-3 (for a total of 6), etc. Skill are represented by triplets of numbers such as 1-1-3, where the first number represents the current skill level, the second represents the number of additional Skill Points earned toward the next level, and the third represents the number of failure points -- a training aid that will be described below. Skill Points can be acquired in several ways:

Prior experience: Just as in Traveller, players may send their characters through miltary or civilian service and use the Prior Experience Tables to determine what they learn. Each 'skill' acquired via the Prior Experience Tables counts as two (2) skill points. Thus, one 'skill' will get you to Skill 1-1-0, two will get you to Skill 2-1-0, three will get you to Skill 3-0-0, four will get you to 3-2-0, five will get you to Skill 4-0-0, etc.

Training: A character can pay for training. Training costs range from 1 F/month for individual weapons skills to 10F/month for bridge crew skills such as Pilot or Nav (which also require a minimum Education of 8). In general, each training session requires one month of full-time effort and allows the player to make one training roll to acquire an additional Skill Point. The roll required is

8 + Target Skill Level - Number of Failure Points

Thus, to go from Skill 1-1-0 to Skill 2-0-0 requitres a roll of 8+2=11. Each time a character fails the roll, they acquire another Failure Point, which will make their next training attempt somewhat easier. Once a ttarining attempt succeeds, all the Failure Points go away. Thus, a character with Pilot 3-3-5 who rolls a 7 on their training roll will just barely squeak by (8+4-5=7) to reach Pilot 4-0-0. Failure Points for non-combat skills can also be acquired if one rolls a natural 12 (boxcars) while applying that skill. Note that some skills, such as Jack-of-all-Trades, cannot be acquired through training.

Shipboard Life: For every six months thta were not spent training, a character may take one training roll in any activity they could plausibly have been doing during that time period. This could include skills in which they ordinarly could not train due to insufficient Education and skills such as Jack-of-all-Trades in which training is not ordinarly possible. Shipboard Life is cool. Use it wisely

This skill system works incredibly well. It is simple, easy to remember, and has all the qualities one would expect. In particular, higher levels of skill are harder to acquire, but training gets easier with time.

Last modified: 2 February 2010