Snapshot – A review and post mortem

March 6, 2011

Traveller came out in 1977. It was a break with D&D and other role playing games as a early and strong entry into the field of sci fi role play. The game reflected the gaming milieu of the time. The game rules were a framework and the referee was charged with the mission of creating a game world. The original book one combat rules reflected this expectation. In essence, you bought the combat mechanics with the rules and most everything else was your own.

The personal combat system was straight forward. Given a known range band and the targets armor, you looked up a roll to hit. If you hit, your weapon did harm. If not, then nothing. Simple enough.

The range band system was so simple that Traveller only included a single dimension distance-from-party-A-to-party-B movement system. I think that I considered using that system for about 15 minutes in 1978 before tossing it out. I adopted a grid based movement system based on the same 10ft squares we used for D&D combat.

Snapshot came out in 1979 and I bought a copy immediately. Snapshot introduced an overhauled combat movement system and simplified the range of values for damage. It included deck plans for a 100 T Scout and a 200 T Free Trader, lots of counters and a half dozen or so scenarios.

The real innovation is Snapshot was tying combat system actions to personal characteristics. Dexterity and Endurance each on a 2-15 scale were summed to create an action points pool ranging from 4-30 points. Your action points determined your play order and how many points were available each turn to spend.

When your turn came up, you had the chance to spend your whole set of action points while everyone else was in temporal stasis. An average character had about 15 action points and could run 11 meters and take an aimed shot in one turn. That might not sound like a lot but in the confines of a starship that is a long way.

If you were the last guy at the bottom of the initiative list, it could be a long time before you took any action. Players had a tendency to min/max their action points and a single turn could take a thoughtful player a long while to finish. That down time leads to disengagement on the part of the other players while they are “off duty” and generally detracted from the play of the game.

We tried an early house rule that assigned characters specific action phases in which they could act. There were 3o action phases and the average player with 15 AP would be able to spend one action point in the action phases 30, 28, 26 etc while a slower player with only 6 action points would act in 30, 25, 20, 15, 10, and 5. This system had the positive effect of interleaving actions and implying simultaneity while still preserving the difference between characters. It also meant that everyone was pretty much engaged all the time as the decision points were fewer when you could only spend one point.

The downside to the modification was that it took a long time for some of the actions to develop. This effect had a tendency to make those people shooting to appear to go into slow motion while those around them continued zipping around. It also meant that record keeping became a part of play and limited the number of characters would could be in play at one time. It was fine for a small shoot out on a scout ship. It was better than the out of the box set any way.

What really started to eat at us though was the fact that the slowest character with Dex 2 and End 2 would have 4 AP and the fastest characters with Dex 15 and End 15 would have 30 AP. That means that the fastest guy moved 7 1/2 times as fast as the slowest guy. In a more likely situation, a character slightly below average with Dex 5 and End 5 would have 10 AP and a slightly above average guy with with Dex 10 and End 10 would have 20 AP. The slighly above average guy moved twice as fast as the slightly below average guy. That just didn’t seem right.

We played this version for a long time as the canonical improved Traveller combat system.

As I look back though, I just don’t like the long turns or our house rule stop-motion split. I don’t like the range between above average and below average guys. I don’t like the practical upper limit on the number of models one can keep track of and I don’t like the absence of any morale. Also combat was fiddly with the matrix look ups. It took a long time to get to a result and the result was usually pretty simple after all was said and done.

Basically Snapshot was fine for it’s day but too much work for its value. I have no plans to go back to playing Snapshot. I might borrow some of the Snapshot action point costs for actions that were described there but not in the follow on Azhanti High Lightening but that’s it.

Snapshot, I love you man and I am sorry to see you go.


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