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I am about to run a Traveller rpg game using the Outer Veil setting by Spice publishing.

I am having the players be very much like the firefly crew, needing to work to keep their ship barely flying. This will involve lots of maintainence, cleaning etc. Especially if they are members of the crew on someone else's ship.

The question is: how do I handle these portions of the adventure?

Do I have it solely role playing? I say they have to do x tasks, they say okay etc.

Or do I do it by a roll. "Okay roll endurance for mopping the deck; I am giving you a -1 DM for the really tough stains" This approach doesn't feel right.

So how do I handle these mundane tasks, that would realistically take place but mechanically are not much fun?

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Sparingly.

You've said it yourself. These tasks are repetitive and, most of the time, boring.
They're still useful to pepper your narrative with, though, to establish background. This adds flavor and realism to the experience :

It's night shift aboard the Dragonfly. Boris is working on the starboard engine and Garry is calibrating the systems when suddenly, the proximity alert screams.

Another way to introduce them is by directly involving the players in the narration :

GM: It's the seventh day of the trip to Beta Sirii. Business as usual. What is Jade doing ?
Frank: I'm reading the latest gossip while charting the course from Station F7 for the second half of the trip.
GM: And Kal'no?
Jessica: I'm in the dorm, lifting weights to keep in shape.

This way, you're keeping the players' attention while still dealing with the daily routine of the party.

Whatever you do, I recommend only having rolls when there's something at stake. Daily engine maintenance is probably a breeze for the mechanic. Repairing it afer it's taken a burst of heavy laser cannon is another deal entirely.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure if Traveller has such a thing, but even if it doesn't, you can always house-rule in a "take 10" (or whatever Traveller uses to die roll) for mundane tasks during non-threatening situations, if you really feel like you need a number to go by. Or an equivalent Take 20 (Or whatever the highest possible roll is) if it's implied the character is putting in extraordinary persistent effort. \$\endgroup\$ – Zibbobz Feb 12 '15 at 17:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Nah, I disagree with Zibbobz here. You really don't need to 'roll' for everything or even put it within the framework of whatever skills system you are using. As this answer stresses, this kind of thing really should be used very little, and then only for flavour \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Feb 12 '15 at 17:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Zibbobz Traveller has an even simpler rule: For any "routine task" that you have the skill for, you don't even bother to roll. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Feb 13 '15 at 0:25
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Although usually D&D focused, the AngryDM has a great series of articles on running RPGs which are relevant to many different systems. One relevant excerpt from, Five Simple Rules for Dating My Teenaged Skill System is, "Only Roll When There is Chance of Success, A Chance of Failure, and A Risk or Cost of Failure". In other words, if there aren't any time or resource constraints, and these are tasks that the characters can reasonably be expected to accomplish without time or resource constraints (looking at you, mopping the deck), and there isn't a risk or cost to failure (again, looking at you, mopping the deck), then gloss over the tasks by making the them part of the narrative.

As you travel from point A to point B, you spend time doing general maintenance. At some point, one of you cleans up the mess in the galley. Additionally, your engines are fully tuned.

Making players roll for every single thing their characters attempt is a good way to make sure they occasionally fail at things they reasonably shouldn't, that you actually don't want them to fail at, or to get caught up in "boring everyday tasks".

But, maybe there is a time or resource constraint. Can the characters fix the weapons systems in the time it takes to travel between two points within the same adventure? Can they get all of the parts they need to fix the life support system with the current amount of money they have? Set the target number and have them roll.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Agreed, especially on the time constraint. In a setting like Firefly's the ship was constantly about to fly apart at the seams, so it wasn't a matter of "You finely tuned the engine during the trip," it was more like "You barely kept it operational and if you want to finely tune it you'll need to focus on that across several adventures at the expense of something else," at which point rolling for success can come into play to reduce the amount of time/effort/resources/etc. \$\endgroup\$ – thanby Feb 12 '15 at 18:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ I read that AngryDM article as well. If a person keeping at it is guaranteed success (whether it take 1, 2 or 8 die rolls), then it's stupid to roll at all, just flavor it with "after several attempts and while everyone else gets worried you'll all be caught, the thief finally manages to pick the lock" or if guaranteed failure "after several attempts and while everyone else gets worried you'll all be caught, the thief finally manages to BREAK the pick the lock" \$\endgroup\$ – Escoce Feb 12 '15 at 19:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ additionally, you could always roll a die anyway, not share the result and just say you succeed or failed (along with the story filler) \$\endgroup\$ – Escoce Feb 12 '15 at 19:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't agree with everything AngryDM says on skills, but on this particular point, I couldn't agree more: Rolling to see how well you did the laundry is pointless unless there's a uniform inspection that could make or break you career. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Feb 13 '15 at 0:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes - I would probably take one Roll for every interesting Part of overall Ship-Workings (Maintenance, Navigation,...) to represent the average outcome of the last days/weeks of working on everything. Depending on the successes they get bonuses in the upcoming encounter, or on fails, their systems will have malfunctions and they will have problems. So the players have a reason to increase their skills and will have the reward for successful rolls, but only one roll for the whole narrative. \$\endgroup\$ – Falco Feb 13 '15 at 9:30
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I'll start this with a caveat: I tend to agree with the other answers that rolling for the sake of rolling should generally be avoided; that either narrating or letting the players narrate are generally better options.

That said...

Assuming you want rolls

Assuming you want the players to roll to perform routine maintenance:

  • roll once per day (or week/month, depending on the frequency of encounters and length of average trips) per character
  • let each character use a relevant skill (eg., the mechanic would roll an engineering check, the pilot would roll a navigation check, etc.)
  • characters who don't need to maintain the ship (eg., Jayne or River) can roll a relevant skill to help with morale or maintain (or even train) in skills
  • the results of the checks affect the state of the ship the next time it's relevant

Some ways that maintenance rolls might affect the ship and the journey (note: I've never played/read Traveller, so I'm assuming that there's some concept of a crit fail/crit success:

Pilot

  • failing a pilot check adds a fraction of the trip length (if you roll weekly, each failed roll adds a day; daily rolls might add an hour)
  • critically failing a pilot check brings you into range of enemy sensors: evade or fight!
  • success means normal progress is made
  • critical success results in shaving some time off of the trip (or, if the pilot prefers, being better able to time their arrival; "we want to get there Tuesday afternoon" becomes "we want to show up Tuesday at 3:12 pm, from exactly this vector")

Engineering

  • failing a mechanic check adds time to the journey
  • critically failing a mechanic check might reduce the maneuverability of the ship for a few days while the engines aren't reacting quite right
  • success means normal progress is made
  • critical success increases the ship's maneuverability until the engines get damaged

Morale

  • crit fail: everyone has a (fairly minor; D&D equivalent of -1) penalty on all skills/attacks for the next time period
  • fail: everyone has a (fairly minor; D&D equivalent of -1) penalty on ship-board maintenance tasks for the next time period
  • success: status quo
  • crit success: minor (D&D +1) bonus on everything for the next time period

Skill Maintenance

... or, "Jayne plays with his guns"

  • crit failure means that the gun monkey's favorite is unavailable for the next time period
  • failure means that the favorite gun is operating at less than full potential (eg., -1 penalty) for the next time period
  • success is a success
  • crit success gives the favorite gun a bonus for the next combat (it's in peak working condition)

General notes

  • I'm assuming that it's in the player's favor to have a +1 on a roll; switch signs if you're in a "roll under" system.
  • I'm assuming that a bonus/penalty of 1 is meaningful (ie., that it maps relatively well to a 1 bonus/penalty in Pathfinder or D&D 3.5).
  • If the system requires skill usage to improve skills, this is a good chance to get some low-risk skill usages under the player's belt.
  • If a player has per-day abilities that affect particular skill rolls, let them use that ability on this check; if they're rolling less often than daily, they still only get to use it once.

Die Pools

thanby's comment reminded me of another option that I'd used in a Call of Cthulu campaign: dice pools.

In the CoC campaign, we had to stop a cult from summoning an Elder One (as per usual). As we succeeded at things, we added dice to a cup; when we failed, we added dice to the cult's cup. Right before the climactic battle, the cups rolled off: the power of our Elder Sign vs. the strength of their summoning.

Something like that could work, though figuring out who the "they" is might be tricky. So, just keep one cup of dice:

  • crit success: add 2 dice
  • success: add 1 die
  • failure: remove 1 die
  • crit fail: remove 2 dice

... then, use the dice either to augment rolls (Wash, landing Serenity near the end of the movie, used a lot of dice to augment his Pilot check) or for other bonuses (eg., "you got here faster than expected; you can get a 2% bonus for each of up to 5 dice").

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    \$\begingroup\$ Excellent way to do things if it's relevant to the adventures, but every category would have to have some sort of effect on the actual gameplay otherwise the penalty/bonus from some things would occasionally be moot. It would also have to mesh well with the character's skills or you'll end up with some categories where they almost always win and others where they almost always fail. It would be tricky to implement properly but if done right it could be awesome. \$\endgroup\$ – thanby Feb 12 '15 at 18:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ I like the Dice-pool mechanic, but you can also abstract it to tokens. The crew gets one Token for every success on these maintenance works and the DM gets a token for every failure. In the adventure they could use this tokens for relevant tests: "We have this tokens for the enginges, can we fly faster to get away, since the engines are so perfectly in shape?" - or as DM:"You try to flee through the lower decks from the enemy, but I have this failure-token in housekeeping, so there is a lot of stuff lying around, roll to not stumble and fall at -3 penalty" \$\endgroup\$ – Falco Feb 13 '15 at 9:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ In my experience, players typically prefer rolling dice over auto-succeeding, so having an extra die to roll would usually be their preference. That said, the vast majority of my experience is in 3.5/Pathfinder, so your milage may vary significantly. \$\endgroup\$ – minnmass Feb 13 '15 at 16:17
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Since you mentioned Firefly as your source material, handle it the same way that Firefly handles it. So... When was the last time you saw Jayne or Kaylee swabbing the deck? From memory, never.

Boring everyday tasks are boring - it's right there in your description of them! - so they're generally glossed over and ignored. We can assume that someone is doing them at some time even though we never actually see it happening. At most, for an RPG, I suppose you could make up a schedule of how the crew spends their time each day/week ("Alice tunes the engines from 0800-1300 on Tuesday and Thursday. Bob cooks from 0630-0700, 1230-1300, and 1830-1900 every day..."), but even that seems excessive to me.

The one time that these boring everyday tasks tend to be seen directly is when something out of the ordinary happens to make them not boring, in which case the boring everyday task is either a background detail or a framing device while the focus is on the unusual event which interrupts it. Not "Roll to swab the deck. OK, the deck is clean. Roll to make breakfast...", but rather "OK, so you're... I dunno... swabbing the deck, when the proximity detectors go off - you're going to collide with something in 90 seconds! What do you do after dropping the mop?"

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I like the idea of penalties or rewards... You're GOING to keep the ship flying between point A and point B... but we've all had days when the monotony was handled with grace and efficiency... and days when your chores went sideways at every turn.

The point is they still get done, your TASKS are never at risk... but if critically fail swabbing the deck, that is going to gnaw at you all day... some alien is trying to board the ship, and you're already pissed off that you dumped a bucket down the stairwell onto someones head, and you broke the mop handle, and bruised your elbow when you swung your arm too far back and crashed it into the bulkhead...

-1 to everything for the rest of the day...

Alternatively, you might slide right through your morning maintenance task... your favorite songs have been playing on the satellite feed all day, and you even got in a nap while the engine purred peacefully...

+1 to everything for the rest of the day...

In terms of storytelling it works because it is relatable, in game it keeps your players connected and alert...

Personally if a GM ever did this to me, I would throttle them (if I rolled a 1 [which I would])... but at the same time, I suspect I will do this to my players in every game I ever run from now on.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You dislike your own suggestion, but you're going to do it anyway? That sounds needlessly antagonistic towards the players. \$\endgroup\$ – PotatoEngineer Feb 13 '15 at 16:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ I wouldn't mind it used against me per se, I just have famously bad roll luck for this sort of thing. That could annoy me enough to damage the game experience for the rest of play. Honestly I'd likely never do it for that reason, it just seemed funny, mostly I prefer this sort of storytelling exist purely in narrative. It would have to be managed... maybe it only lasts a few roles, or you get an opportunity to throw a saving role each round to "shake it off". ...hmmm... that I like. \$\endgroup\$ – OhkaBaka Feb 13 '15 at 18:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ So have you tried this suggestion as a GM, or seen it as a player? On the RPG Stack Exchange, you should back up your answers with either rules or experience (either your own, or others'). That makes your answers more than just your opinion - it means your answer has been tested, and you know how well it works. \$\endgroup\$ – PotatoEngineer Feb 13 '15 at 22:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fair enough, but I didn't think this was abstract enough to warrant a use case: This is effectively a buff/debuff: poison, the Elf Queen's Blessing, a pebble in your shoe, 7 pints of stout, your pants are on fire... etc... we have ALL experienced these... In this case it is based on "trivial" interactions rather than "important" ones... but otherwise it is just another modifier. \$\endgroup\$ – OhkaBaka Feb 16 '15 at 22:27

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