Planetographic vs. Astronomic Classifications? (2017)
Traveller's trade classifications (TC's) are one of its most innovative and charming features, but, at the same time, one of its most confusing features. Why is that?
It is this author's opinion that it is because they grew organically in an unplanned way. The original Traveller authors made certain assumption in designing the TC's that later became contradicted by later writing. the original writers made the very logical assumption that a planet's bioplanetological (life-bearing) characteristics would also indicate its socioeconomic (wealth & prosperity) possibilities. It's a pretty safe assumption. After all, if a planet's requires intense resource investments just to survive, how could it later prosper economically? It makes for good logic.
But at that point in time, in the late 1970's and early 980's in the realworld, astronomy was far less advanced than it is today. Terraforming was pretty vague as to ideas about application, even if what could later turn out to be the fundamentals might already be well understood. The recycling movement was young and Earth Day wasn't yet well established. In other words, the authors of Traveller probably didn't have a masterful understanding of terraforming or how that might affect an economy. Even nearly four decades later in 2017, the environment and climate are still not yet well understood, let alone how to significantly affect or manipulate them (terraforming).
So, what are the TC's, are they primarily hard science evaluations of bioplanetological data or socioeconomic ratings of possible sophontigraphic wealth? And the answer isn't simple. It's both and neither. Each TC tends towards predominating one of those two measures without excluding the either. The LBB's were written with many of these assumptions, whether intentionally or not.
What happens when the cost of terraforming becomes an enabling factor in the interstellar economy of Traveller? When terraforming is no longer such a high cost activity so as to require huge levels of investment? Just as practical matter transporters will likely transform future and sci-fi universes, so will practical terraforming. Many of the TC's will then have their meaning changed.
For instance, two of the TC's, Po and Ri have potentially deceptive meanings. Ri (rich) is primarily a socioeconomic code indicating sophontigraphic wealth. They're rich or prosperous in plainer language. Po (poor) is primarily astronomic in nature. It measures an environment that is not conducive to conventional life. At the same time, Po also indicates poor wealth or potentially abject poverty. Tricky, eh?
Such characteristics give Traveller a real, human level of complexity, but they can be heck and a half when it comes to trying to decipher what they might mean. This could be to Traveller's advantage since it leaves much room for a bright referee to build out a game to his or her own preference. It's certainly something to think about...
Safe travelling, fellow gentlesophont!