Scientific Research for T4


Let's face it, the main activity in a RPG session is usually combat. Less violent campaigns can perhaps give more space to exploration (which often means a thinly disguised dungeon crawl... pardon me, I meant Ancient Site investigation) or interaction with NPCs, but another potentially interesting activity is often neglect. I'm talking about scientific research, which often is the basis for interesting novels and even movies, but which is rarely seen in an RPG adventure.

In a SF game like Traveller this ideas should be addressed in a way or the other, otherwise who would bother rolling up a Scholar, when ex-Marines are the only ones to get some fun?

One of the main problems is that scientific research is something which is usually not addressed by the game mechanics, or perhaps is just glossed over with a couple of rolls. I'd favour a slightly more detailed approach. What I'm proposing is not really a fully defined set of rules for playing out inventions and research; it should be regarded as a kind of guide on how to organize this kind of activities in rpg terms, hoping that this will give the referee more ideas and hooks for his campaign.

I lifted many ideas, concepts and mechanics from the relevant portion of the Ringworld RPG.

For convenience any complex task should be subdivided in a sequence of smaller tasks which must be completed by the partecipants. The actual subdivision should be decided by the Referee, but some input from the players could be helpful, especially when some of the players actually have some real-world knowledge which may be relevant to the task.

The referee should prepare a list of the steps required to complete a given project, noting how long they will take, the step type (see below), task difficulty and any equipment required (if any). Time to complete the task is described as an amount of hours dedicated to the task. This is elapsed time, and will not vary with adding more people to it (except through exceptional success, or during lab research see below for more).
People who take part in the project must work on it for periods of no less than 2 and no more then 10 hours in a given 24 hours period. The time for each step will be secretly generated and recorded by the referee. The referee may roll again and give the new result to the players as an extimate time for the task.

For each step in the project, the Referee will briefly describe what the step requires and will ask a task roll for every character taking part in the project.
If at least one of the partecipants obtains a success, the task is successful and the step ends after the time originally defined. If no one succeeds, the next step will not begin. The current step may be repeated (the Referee will roll again to determine how long it will take the next time).
If one or more of the partecipants roll a special success, the time required is shortened by 10% or (at referee's discretion) the difficulty, cost or other parameters of the following step(s) are reduced. If one or more of the partecipants roll a special failure, the step is invalidated and must be repeated (optionally with a different degree of difficulty), time or cost is doubled, or the difficulty of the next step is increased.
This way, is generally a bad idea to use a lot of poorly skilled assistants, because you risk to obtain disastrous results (remember that anyone taking part rolls, and *all* the effects are cumulative: your chief researcher may roll a special success and reduce time to complete the step and *then* a goofy assistant may invalidate the process by rolling a special failure).
The referee should organize things in a way which somehow disguises the actual mechanics. Dont just say "three days have passed. Every one roll for task resolution... hmmm. A special, Bob. Congratulations. Then let's say that just two and a half days passed, ok?"
If more than a character takes part in the same experiment, try having them roll in different moments, and give a short description of how things seem to go during the day.

Different types of research.

Theoretical Research
This represent the creation of new theories, formulation of laws or corollaries, or the application of techniques and knowledge from another branch of science.
Time to complete a step: 3d6 x 20 hours.
Prerequisite: none. A computer may reduce the time by 1d3 x 10%.
Task difficulty: Difficult to Impossible. For this kind of research apply the rules for Uncertain Tasks.

Field Research
Collection of first hand data on a given subject. This may vary from interviewing subjects for sociological data to collecting samples from soil or simple observation and recording of natural phenomenons. If at all possible this kind of research should be played out in full, allowing for chance encounters, low-key equipment failures and other interesting scenes.
Time to complete a step: Depends on the type of data to collect. Varies from 3d6 x 20 hours for simpler data collection or full time observation up to 3d6 x 60 hours for biological or sociological sampling.
Prerequisites: minimal data collecting tools suitable for the task (i.e. anything from pen and paper to cameras and/or probes or samplers). Access to a computer may help organizing, indexing and classifying the results and will result in a time reduction of 1d2 x 10%.
Task Difficulty: From Easy to Difficult.

Laboratory Research
Either controlled experiments to prove a theory or extensive analysis of some subject.
Time to complete a step: Varies a lot with the kind of experiments involved. Routine analysis of a soil sample, for example, should require no more then 1d6 hours, while cloning experiments could require 1d6 months while the clone develops. In less extreme cases use 3d6 x 20 hours as a general guideline.
Labs may be "used" for 20 hours in any 24 hours period (the rest of the time is taken by general maintenance of the equipment), so more then a group of people may work in shifts on the same problem.
Prerequisites: An appropriate lab for the experiments.
Task Difficulty: From Easy to Impossible.

Library Research
Extraction of already existing knowledge from the body of works on a given subject. In an extensively computerized environment time to find relevant texts may be quite short, but you still need to read the stuff which you consider vital for the task at hand.
Time to complete a step: With computer indexed stuff, 3d6 x 10 hours. Libraries without electronical indexing systems will require double the time.
Prerequisites: Access to an appropriate library; either a physical place or an electronic reference for the problem at hand.
Task Difficulty: From Easy to Difficult.

Labs cost 200000 cr plus 100000 cr per project that can be performed over the first one, plus 50000 cr per researcher over the first one. Each lab may be used for tasks requiring a skill from the Sciences or Technical clusters. Any additional skill requires an additional cost of 20000 cr.
Example: Regina Janus wants to equip a new lab for Archeology and Geology research. The lab will be able to host three independent sets of experiments, each conducted by a different scientist.
Cost: 200000(base) + 200000(two extra experiments) + 100000(2 extra researchers) + 20000 (for Geological tests). Final result: 520000 credits.

Sample research project.

In the Mercy Mission adventure, a team of scientists must discover the cause for an odd disease which has recently struck a village of TL-2 primitives on a Red Zone planet. Here is an example on how to organize the research according to the guidelines given before.
  1. Field Research
    General aerial recognition of the village and surrounding area. Time: 4 hours. Roleplay it and require Average Air Raft and Sensor rolls from the PCs.
  2. Field Research
    Sampling of soil and biomass in areas distant from the village. Time 3d6 x 2 hours. Average, Biology.
  3. Field Research
    Sampling near the village. To be conducted at night, without the primitives permission. Roleplay it.
  4. Field Research
    Getting actual blood and biological samples from the primitives. Roleplay it, considering that PCs must make friendly contact with the primitives and giving something for the samples, or perhaps offering medical care to the village inhabitants and getting the samples during the medical examination.
  5. Lab Research
    Integration and extensive analysis of the samples. Difficult. 3d6x6 hours. Biology and Chemistry.
  6. Theoretical Research
    Formulation of a theory about the disease. Impossible Medical or Biology roll.

In the meantime another group of scientists can study the primitives in order to discover more about their social structure and gain hints which will prove useful for the main research.

  1. Field Research
    Prolonged study of the village with remotely operated drones, long distance microphones and cameras. Time: 3d6 x 10 hours. Average, History / Education.
  2. Field Research
    Examination of the totems and other sacred places of the village (Roleplay it). Requires Perception and other skill rolls.
  3. Library Research
    Comparing the totem shape with various technical data in order to discover its original shape and function. Difficult, Engineering. 3d6x10 hours. If succesfull, step 5 of the biological project becomes Difficult instead of Impossible.

Larry Niven's Ringworld RPG
by John Hewitt, Sherman Kahn and others, ((C) Chaosium, 1984)

The Highest Wisdom; A look at science and scientists in Traveller
by Marcus Rowland (Imagine Issue 18, Sept. 84)

Mercy Mission
by Simon Lewis, (White Dwarf Issue 82)

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