The Premises of Traveller: 3. Most Worlds are Unimportant

Spirit of 1977

Banded Mongoose
Two things about this one: 1) There's math. Sorry. 2) While the rules clearly produce these results, they are never mentioned otherwise. So the implications are much more speculative, up to and including "I would never run my setting this way." With that out of the way...

From Traveller's beginning and to this day, the base population of a main world is determined by 2D-2 being an exponent of 10 to compute total population. Later rules clarified that you could multiple this by 1-9, so Pop 0 is 1-9 sophonts, and Pop A (10) is 10 to 90 billion, for example.

For a 2D-2 roll, both the median (exact center, 50th percentile) and mode (single most frequent outcome) is 5: hundreds of thousands. But the MEAN (average) population (using the actual population and not the Pop number) is 9: billions! This means that the large population planets contain nearly all of the population.

Here's a table:

If Pop is at least% of planets% of population
727.8%99.95%
816.7%99.6%
98.3%97.2%
102.8%81.0%



It's the 80/20 rule on steroids! A Star Empire could ignore over 97% of all planets and still attend to over 80% of the population. A cutoff of Pop 8 or 9 seems very reasonable decision to make. Now again, the rules don't discuss this at all, so why discuss it? Like the mechanics of jump and the rarity of travel, it imparts a feel just from the rules existing. In this case, it reinforces the "planets and characters are on their own" spirit of the game.

Some implications for adventures:

1) "Planet of Hats" might be the norm: "Planet of Hats" is a trope associated with arguably lazy storytelling, where all the sophonts of a world have some single defining feature, particularly if that world is never visited again. Sophonts can start off "hatty" and become well-rounded from sheer long-time development (think any major alien from Star Trek). But in a setting where most planets are simply unimportant to the Empire, and travel is rare, what might cause travel to happen? Sophonts who are desperate or fed up. And if you have a huge number of worlds to choose from, and you don't just want to be alone, why would you not seek out the like-minded? I suspect that the many low Pop worlds in Traveller would contain beings more similar than different, else why would they stay?

I saw a comment somewhere that Traveller high Pop/Gov/Law worlds look like hellscape dystopias, with all the authoritarian regimes and oppressive laws. But one thing a Traveller Star Empire would seem to want to encourage is travel and trade. We won't interfere with your world, but you can't impede movement. Under this assumption, most of the citizens of that Religious Dictatorship are totally cool with it! True believers, all. There might a few dissidents, but only a few.

2) Planet of Jasper, Missouris: For those of you who get the reference, sorry! If not, Jasper, Missouri was the setting for Road House, an over the top action flick starring the late Patrick Swayze playing a zen ("pain don't hurt") martial artist philosopher bouncer (sorry, "Cooler"). But the setting is a town essentially owned by a rural gangster who terrorizes the population while partying non-stop. In other words, a fabulous Traveller setting that would only work well on a small unimportant planet. Firefly did something like this as well, with "Heart of Gold". In fact, the entire Firefly 'Verse lives this idea of a few important worlds and the rest unimportant.

3) Fantastic Tech Xenophobes: Old Star Trek was loaded with these: Metrons, Organians, Melkorians, the Q. Super advanced aliens who did not seem to travel much and even tried to stay hidden. Perfect for Traveller encounters, and yet only making sense if the world can be overlooked by seeming unimportant. I always wondered why Traveller didn't publish more adventures like this. I think the answer is that, by fleshing out the Third Imperium so thoroughly, it gave the impression of being very settled. That might have been a mistake, and I think this math justifies keeping a large Star Empire less explored. a World being "in" an Empire is not the same as being "of" the Empire.

If this math has never occurred to you, does seeing it give you any new ideas? Should Traveller make this math more explicit, or having seen this, change the way Pop is computed so that it is better spread out?
 
Technical difficulties solved! Anyway, I'm very interested in commentary on this one, as I suspect some people might not realize these facts. And I may find that no one cares, but that's fine!
 
There's an 'experimental' setting on Travellermap that gives you a population view of Charted Space, with bigger circles for higher population (and another one for Importance, which to some extent overlaps). This shows what you are saying: A few big circles per sector.

One math thing that is not reflected, and I only did it accidently in WBH because I didn't want a straight distribution from 10-90 billion, but would rather have a giant skew towards 10 billion with very few being much above 30 billion, is something call Benford's law. I didn't actually run into the named concept until after I finished the book (it shows that at least accidently, I'm sometimes on to something), but it explains why low numbers are most prominent as the first digit in certain distributions such as population figures. It doesn't really in any way change anything you've pointed out, except to give a little less weight to the Pop 10 worlds - if you're computing that first digit.
 
Yeah, Benford's Law! My calculations do in fact use Benford's Law for the 1st digit and it is built into my world generation algorithm. Benford's Law shows up prominently in exponential processes, which Traveller Pop generation surely is. Also, thanks for the comment on Travellermap, that's a nice feature.
 
I admit I have not done the math, but intuitively, the logarithmic scale does produce population disparity heavily weighted to a small number of very high population systems.
To my mind, that does not necessarily make the lower population worlds unimportant since importance is a multi-dimensional attribute (military capability / artistic prominence / scholarship / economic might / astrographic significance / historical presence / religious focus / technological rank / maybe a few other factors). Many of those may be correlated with population, but they don't have to be, even from the perspective of the nice people back in Core.
 
Seffix, great points. I should have been clearer that my use of "importance" was mostly political: how many worlds should a Star Empire attend to so that they can credibly say that they care about the vast majority of the population. I know that T4 and now T5 define a value called Importance that gets at some of the dimensions you cite. And in my mind, "unimportant" does not equate to "leave you alone". Indeed, there might be a resource on that planet the Star Empire desires, and on an unimportant world they are less likely to ask permission. Another potential scenario for the players to encounter.
 
One math thing that is not reflected, and I only did it accidently in WBH because I didn't want a straight distribution from 10-90 billion, but would rather have a giant skew towards 10 billion with very few being much above 30 billion, is something call Benford's law.
Oh thank Yaskoydray I'm not the only one! (My own code generates a random float and maths it to compute the mantissa, rather than virtually rolling d6es and doing a table lookup. I have fallen from the path.)
 
The Traveller system generation rules are designed to create a good place for space opera adventures more than any attempt to be "realistic". So it skews towards frontiers, backwaters, and dystopias, where you can have pirates, smugglers, trade pioneers, explorers, and other adventurers of that ilk. It does not naturally lend itself to creating a core worlds sector or the like. This is why, imho, it clearly states to substitute in worlds of your own devising when and where desired.

Mindjammer Traveller classifies worlds as Superior Garden, Standard Garden, Inferior Garden, Marginal Garden, and various shades of 'may as well be living on a space station'. In the entire Islands double subsector, exactly 1 world counts as Standard Garden. None are Superior Garden. The rest are Inferior or worse. :p

I think that's fine, as long as you know that's what the rules do so you can adjust for when you want a different sort of region.
 
Vormaerin, really good summary. The comment about adjusting the random rules for developed core sectors is particularly insightful. I'd go so far as saying that heuristic could benefit from some official rules or guidance.
 
Here's the deal...
Worlds with a population of less than a billion ARE 'inconsequential'.
- They don't have the population to be a major producer or consumer of bulk goods.
- They don't have the tech levels to fundamentally contribute to the Imperium as a whole. A world with a TL of 15 and pop digit of 1 isn't a 'world', it's a research station. Once those supply ships stop coming, that Tech Level is gonna drop so hard they'll think they dropped it from orbit.
- Most are either resource worlds or worlds that were surveyed and the resources present were more easily acquired elsewhere. Then some damned fool dropped a colony on it. Remember folks, resource worlds are workplaces, not homes. Homes require things like agriculture, schools, industries and trade that has nothing to do with mining [et al] going on. You're not gonna get a healthy diversified economy in a backwater.
- And extreme care has to be taken to make sure they are not a net drain on the Imperial budget and effort.

The cold blunt fact that the Imperium works best for high population worlds with a TL of A or better. These worlds produce goods that lower TL societies need, consume goods that the High Pop High Tech jewels in crown produce, and provide the cosmopolitan educated population that the Imperial services prefer to recruit.

Obviously there will be outlier worlds. But I'm speaking the in the broadest of generalizations here, observing trends over 11000 worlds. A world like Yori/Regina [SM 2110] is simply not that big a deal even though it's just one J-2 from Regina itself.
 
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Vormaerin, really good summary. The comment about adjusting the random rules for developed core sectors is particularly insightful. I'd go so far as saying that heuristic could benefit from some official rules or guidance.
There is in LBB3 77

The referee may elect to alter the normal chances of worlds, making them more
frequent or less frequent to correspond to specific regions of the galaxy. This is easily
accomplished by imposing a DM of +1 or –1 on the whole subsector, or on broad
areas within a subsector

This world creation process applies only to the single inhabited world in a star
system; additional planets in a system should be generated as necessary.

the referee should always feel free to impose worlds which have been
deliberately (rather than randomly) generated. Often such planets will be devised
specifically to reward or torment players.
 
There's an 'experimental' setting on Travellermap that gives you a population view of Charted Space, with bigger circles for higher population (and another one for Importance, which to some extent overlaps). This shows what you are saying: A few big circles per sector.
Easy enough to do yourself:
Skärmavbild 2024-02-10 kl. 20.16.png
Imperium only.

Clearly shows what a backwater the Spinward Marches (top left) is...
 
Just as a quick aside (and not to derail the thread from the intent and scope of the initial poster), the way that nobles are assigned to worlds in the T5 ruleset for the OTU would suggest that Marc Miller has a similar viewpoint to what you are expressing above. High Population (Pop 9+) and Industrial worlds receive a Count to represent them in the Moot, whereas "Pre-High Population" (Pop=8) worlds receive a Viscount and "Pre-industrial" worlds (those with high potential to become industrial with the right oversight) receive a Marquis. Lesser Rich and Agricultual worlds (i.e. exporters and sources of trade) that don't have the population noted receive a Baron. Higher titles receive more weighted votes in the Moot. Other worlds (the majority, in fact) are typically assigned a simple Knight as an Imperial liaison or representative to the world, but the world does NOT get representation in the Moot. So in order for a world to have Moot representation, it needs to be important enough to the Imperium to merit it.
 
Expand or die.

You might witness that more closely within the Confederation, where system alliances try to increase their spheres of influence at the expense of their neighbours, but in the Imperium, this is actively curtailed, and confined to within planetary orbits, with the megacorporations only actively pursuing market share(s).

So, maybe America, with localities offering better tax incentives.
 
Here's a table:

If Pop is at least% of planets% of population
727.8%99.95%
816.7%99.6%
98.3%97.2%
102.8%81.0%
The published data isn't quite random.

78.7% of the Imperial population lives on 304 pop A worlds.
18.5% of the Imperial population lives on 641 pop 9 worlds.
_2.5% of the Imperial population lives on 906 pop 8 worlds.
_0.3% of the Imperial population lives on 1069 pop 7 worlds.
(data from TravellerMap about five years ago.)

The wast majority of the Imperium is 304 pop A worlds (and even some of those doesn't have the TL to matter).
641 pop 9 worlds have some influence.
The rest are a rounding error...
 
The published data isn't quite random.

78.7% of the Imperial population lives on 304 pop A worlds.
18.5% of the Imperial population lives on 641 pop 9 worlds.
_2.5% of the Imperial population lives on 906 pop 8 worlds.
_0.3% of the Imperial population lives on 1069 pop 7 worlds.
(data from TravellerMap about five years ago.)

The wast majority of the Imperium is 304 pop A worlds (and even some of those doesn't have the TL to matter).
641 pop 9 worlds have some influence.
The rest are a rounding error...
Great, thanks for this, nice to see the empirical data!
 
Another thing is when you have a small population it doesn’t take long for the population to develop its own racial traits. Also social identity for the planet develops easier with a smaller population. This will also encourage the lack of travel between systems
 
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