Thursday, August 3, 2017

More literary Traveller history

Many bytes have been committed to the discussion of what works influenced the development of Traveller. My little contribution here today is by no means ground-breaking or game-changing. I simply share with you a fun story I discovered yesterday, that has a few points in it that share common ground with Traveller's mechanics and setting. 

The story is Hide and Seek, by Arthur C. Clarke, published in "Astounding Science Fiction" v44 #1, September 1949. I found it in the Internet Archive. 
One man being chased by a starship should be out of luck, right?  Not so fast!


Monday, July 31, 2017

The Wreck in the Ring Now Available

I am super excited about this. I have played Traveller for 30+ years now, and for most of the time, I was making up my own adventures. Now I've got one published! New from Stellagama Publishing: 

The Wreck in the Ring


This adventure was written under the Cepheus Engine rules, which if anyone does not know, is the Open Game License version of Mongoose Publishing's First Edition of the licensed Traveller rules.  Now here at AF3, I'm a Classic Traveller guy, but getting a CT license to publish is harder to do. Plus, I have a great working relationship with the folks at Stellagama, doing reviews and indexing for these:

These Stars are Ours!
From the Ashes
The Bronze Case
The Space Patrol (my remarks forthcoming).

The adventure centers around the PCs exploring a wrecked starship. There are dangers to avoid and challenges to overcome, and puzzles to solve. The PCs might get rich, but if they're not careful all they'll get is a face full of hard vacuum.

The Brothers of St Cuthbert make an appearance too.

I'm happy to see my work in publication. Maybe in the future I will convert some of my home-brew universe into CE terms.

Game On!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Happy 40th Birthday to Traveller!

(so I'm a few days late. It happens.)

On July 22, 1977, the first edition of Traveller was published at Origins '77.
To the Stars!

I encountered Traveller in 1982 at the FLGS, and bought the Starter Traveller edition. I've been playing it ever since, with a brief foray into MegaTraveller in the early 1990's. Since 1996 or so, I've been back with the LBBs, until a friend gave me his copy of The Traveller Book a few years ago. 

I created my own Traveller Universe in 1997, and have played in it almost exclusively since then. 

Here are some links to help you celebrate:

Happy Birthday thread at Citizen of the Imperium.

Tales to Astound's birthday wishes

Omer Joel's elegy to the beauty of Classic Traveller.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Danger Aboard! Hazards of exploring derelict starships


Starships are a popular 'location' for adventures in Traveller. Probably every player and referee has drawn up at least one set of deck plans for a ship they've designed. Most of GDW's adventures had at least one starship in it, often with deck plans. Starships are an easy way to give the game a sci-fi feel.

Here's a question that the rules don't cover. What happens when a ship loses control?  Or is damaged by pirates/enemy navies? Or collides with an asteroid? Or fails a landing?

Crash!
But the engineer assured me the drives would last another month with an overhaul!
It is my hope that soon I will see my first written adventure for Traveller in publication. The adventure centers around a crashed starship, and the PCs are there to recover crash victims and valuable scrap. What kinds of dangers could intrepid explorers face when investigating a crashed starship?  These came to my mind:

  • Exposed electrical conduits are a shock & fire hazard.
  • Unsound floor plates can lead to falls through the decks.
  • Weakened support structures can lead to collapses or falls.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Expanded Rules for Military Skills from CT Book 4 Mercenary

You're in the Army now!
Your players want to run a military or mercenary campaign. Great, What do you do? The abstract battle system in book 4 works, but it is little more than rolling dice and consulting tables. This does not keep players engaged for long. And it's, well, abstract. A commando mission plays out exactly the same as a security contract.

The rules state that the Abstract system is “particularly valuable in resolving a mercenary mission involving large numbers of troops . . .in which player characters are not primary participants.” Even if the PCs are platoon or company leaders, there's not a lot for them to do that will affect the outcome of a battle.

Book 4, Mercenary, was a very popular rules expansion for Traveller. More guns! All those new weapons, though, were just more ways for the PCs to die. Large scale battles run very slowly when done at the PC level (no, Striker does not play quickly) and the chances are good the PCs will be taken out very quickly. This is not good roleplaying fun. What to do?

I recommend that you keep the PCs front and center of the action by diverting action from mass formation slug-outs to actions at the PC's level. Use the standard Traveller combat system while the PCs are performing their part, then resolve the rest with the abstract system.

What part do the PCs play? They're the mission specialists. In addition to all the fancy new guns introduced in book 4, there are several new skills that are directly applied to combat situations.

Specialist PCs can do lots of things to turn the tide of victory besides fight. To do so they must employ these new military skills. Let us consider the following skills:
  • Combat Engineering (CE)
  • Demolitions (DO)
  • Field Artillery (FA)
  • Reconnaissance (RA)
  • Forward Observer (FO) [from book 1]
which do not have much definition in the Bk4 rules. I thought about them for a while, and here are some expansions to the rules as stated, that can make this group of skills more valuable.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Casual Encounter - Dane Buckminster


Here's a Traveller character who never went into the Services. Will this work? Let's find out.

Dane Buckminster
4B78C2     Age 22     College     Homeworld: Dimitrov/Holtzmann's Corridor
Streetwise-2 Brawling-0, Auto Pistol-0, Air/Raft-0, Administration-0

The man with the plan.
Chris over at Tales to Astound! suggested this concept. Yes, he's 22. I rolled up characteristics then went straight to the 4-year Sabbatical for Education. The rules do not say you must enter a Service, only that you may enter a service.

He's got Cr 500, and Cr 70,000 worth of debt. He has a reason to go adventuring!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Joe & Jay's greatest mission ever!

Tuesday has become Game Night with my boys. We're going back and forth between Traveller and Lord of the Rings. For Traveller, my two boys have picked up two old characters, Joe Blasterson and Jay Maverick again. Read about their earlier adventures here

Most recently they have been on Kemasiik, in Holtzmann's Corridor. After finishing a job, they were contacted by an Imperial Embassy staffer, Sir Tolbert, with an offer of two High Passage vouchers off-world in return for a 'job'. The Empire would like to see Kemasiik shake off the influence of VanGoff's World (VGW), which has economic control of the planet. A famine decades ago had forced Kemasiik to mortgage a lot of territory to VGW to stay afloat.

Sir Tolbert explained that their job was to prevent a VanGoff businessman, Mr. VanHoffen, from making it to a meeting. VanHoffen was a big-wig who owned a lot of the local real estate. They could not kill him or directly attack him (as this would call for a legal inquiry and reschedule the meeting), he had to miss the meeting by 'accident'. Simple, right?
This man is hosed six ways from Sunday. He just doesn't know it yet.
The boys set to work concocting a list of ways to mess up VanHoffen's morning schedule. It included:

  1. Disable his contra-grav car
  2. Change his clocks to read the wrong time
  3. Kill power to his house
  4. slip him a Mickey to make him over-sleep

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Armor of St. Oswin

The Tale of Saint Oswin of Mavramorn, patron of non-combatant soldiers.
Fr. Oswin, wearing The Armor.
During the Stavanger-Mavramorn war, (100+ years ago) Fr. Oswin was a Mavramorn Army Chaplain. At the Battle of Five Hills, Fr. Oswin traversed the battlefield, praying and tending to the wounded. He went as always, unarmed, with his clerical stole over top of his light armor jacket. His actions and prayers saved many from death. As he knelt in prayer with a dying soldier, an enemy sharpshooter, an impious man, spotted him and targeted the chaplain. This despite both sides acknowledging chaplains as non-combatants, exempt from attack.

As the sniper fired, a bird startled from the brush ahead of him and took the bullet. The sniper tried to fire again, but his weapon hung fire. Finding no mechanical fault, he fired twice more, each time thinking he had a true shot, but Fr. Oswin appeared untouched. His fifth shot struck Fr. Oswin in the chest, but the chaplain continued his ministrations unharmed. At this sight, the sharpshooter threw away his weapon and made his way to the Mavramorn lines to surrender, asking only to meet the chaplain. When they met, the sniper explained what had happened.

Mavramorn soldiers inspected Fr. Oswin's armor, and found that it had not only a large hole in the chest, but another in the back. The bullet passed through Fr. Oswin without harming him. At this, the sniper fell at Fr. Oswin's feet and begged his forgiveness for his attempt to murder him. The priest forgave him, but the Mavramorn forces took him as prisoner. Fr. Oswin later baptized him into the faith.

The Army gave the Mesh jacket to a church on Mavramorn where it was venerated as a relic, the Armor of St. Oswin. After the war, both St. Oswin and the former sniper ended their days in peace in a monastery.

The weapon which failed to kill Fr. Oswin was recovered by Stavanger forces, but ever after it could not hit a living target. Time and again it was tested and new sights attached. It would hit practice targets, but when fired at a person it would always miss, or fail to fire. After the war it was decommissioned, and went to a church on Stavanger, and it also is now a relic of St Oswin.

Referee's Information:

Friday, March 17, 2017

Frightening Animal Encounters

Animal Encounters should be exciting. And when I say exciting, I also mean terrifying. It is the referee's job to make what happens in the game memorable, so storytelling and descriptiveness are key skills. It also helps to have critters that are imposing in their potential to do harm. Encountering a bunny rabbit is not exciting. Encountering something like this should be.

Take a look at what's on the cover of Planet Stories, Summer 1942. No, not the Amazon. She's fine. I mean, fine. I mean the thing grabbing her and being shot in the non-face for its trouble. Yes. Look at that.

Shoot that thing in it's non-face brave Amazon! Teach it some manners!
Imagine your players' reactions if a half dozen or so of these awfuls came tromping out of the mist or the trees while on some remote and forsaken backwater planet. Either they'll panic or think “thank God we recently restocked the rocket launchers!” In both cases, what ensues should be an epic fight.

800 kg Omnivore Hunters
25/12 Cloth-1, Claws (x2) dmg: 5D A3 F5 S2  # appearing: 3
A three-meter humaniform shape emerges from the undergrowth. It probably masses close on a ton. It's gray-skinned, hairless with a featureless lump atop its shoulders where its face should be. The arms end in 4-fingered frying pans with 10-cm claws. I suggest you run.”

I've been browsing through Supplement 2: Animal Encounters, and there are some doozies in here. I list the world profile and terrain type in case you want to look them up. The extra descriptions and the planets named are mine. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Fighting the White Apes - A Combat Example

I wrote a post a while back about the Great White Apes of Barsoom, and how dangerous they are. But was I right?  I decided to find out. 
Yeah, that guy's probably doomed.
Meet Graham Clark, a PC of mine. Age 30, UPP B98885. He's an ex-army recon specialist (Recon-4). I take Recon to be related to Hunting, so I'll give him Hunting-3. He's hunting White Apes, armed with a Gauss LAG, which I recall finding at Freelance Traveller.  The G-LAG does 6D damage. (Note: I ignore +DMs versus armor on the tables, reading them as 0).



White Apes:
1600kg 8D/3D [28/10]  Claws/teeth  (+4 to hit due to size) Dmg 6D+2 
Armor: Mesh  A2 F8 S3  2 attacks/round   Number appearing: 1D

Encounter 1: Range medium, no surprise. Graham fires, the ape charges. Graham hits, wounds but does not down the ape, the ape closes to short range (speed:3, remember?) and kills him with one blow. Stats down to 001. Graham is unconscious, and the ape will tear him apart in round 2.

Yikes!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

From Stellagama Publishing - These Stars are Ours!

Available now from DriveThruRPG, Stellagama Publishings new campaign setting, These Stars are Ours! This is not the Third Imperium, but a whole new setting with new alien enemies, new alien allies, and dozens of new worlds of adventure. TSAO is available as a .pdf, or in print under a soft or hard cover.

The bulk of the text deals with the new alien races, presented with enough detail for the referee to pick up and run with them as NPCs right away. There is also advice given for players who want to try out a Cicek or Ssesslessian as a PC. The humans get some new career options, and the 'standard six' are re-skinned to fit with the setting background.

While the book describes “Known Space” the setting as presented is smaller than the 3I, and smaller than Clement Sector. It's almost three subsectors worth of worlds, but as Chris Kubasik points out over at Tales to Astound!, small is good. Even so, there is still more than enough room for a player group to spend years of game time rocketing around without anywhere getting stale.

The book is rich with adventure hooks from the history, flavor text, and world descriptions. Find out what 'Nine Talons' is up to. Tangle with the Empress' Own Legion if you dare. PCs can avoid politics and get into a trade war with the Zhuzzh, or go on an archaeological expedition to learn more about the legendary Precursors!

The book goes into a good level of detail about the setting's history. The current situation between the various races/factions is clear, yet complex. At the same time, it is not so detailed that the referee will feel railroaded into running the game 'just so'. The history is set, but there's no grand narrative for the players to follow. The setting is wide open so they can pursue their own goals, whether they may be.

The book includes some new ship designs, with some excellent deckplans to go with them, and some variant rules for ships. There is little in the way of new equipment, and the setting TL is 11-12, with a sprinkling of TL13.

These Stars are Ours is written for the Cepheus Engine OGL rules set. For those who, like me, prefer Classic Traveller, the setting works with only the smallest of adjustments.

I have already seen TSAO up close, as I provided the index at the back of this 200 page book. Since I've already read it, I can say it is worth picking it up. Use the setting, or (like me) borrow bits to add to your own setting. These Stars are Ours is a great setting for Traveller, whatever edition you play with.

I know that nobody buys a book for the index, but it has been mentioned in a review: https://rockymountainnavy.wordpress.com/2017/03/11/tsao-these-stars-are-ours-a-setting-for-cephesusengine-or-travellerrpg/#comment-1114

"The last part of TSAO is an index. This is one of the best indexes I have ever seen in a book."

If you do buy it, take a moment to explore the index. I take this opportunity to say that I'm available to work on your next RPG product as a freelance indexer. You can reach me on G+, here at the blog, or by email if you have a project that I can help you with.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Random Encounters: The Rulers of Worlds

Have you ever noticed that John Carter, no matter where he goes, meets the rulers and leaders? Tars Tarkas, Dejah Thoris, Tal Hadjus, the prince of Zadonga, The chief priest of the White Martians, the Queen of the Black Martians, the displaced king of the Yellow Martians. Everywhere, he's encountering the Nobility. Why does this not happen in my games? Earl Dumarest, interstellar wanderer and Traveller also runs into the high & mighty regularly. Dominic Flandry rubs shoulders with the rich & powerful all the time. 

Working from memory, the adventure anthology 76 Patrons has several Noble patrons. None are world-rulers or Dukes, but still, the concept of a Noble patron is well established.

So why is it that in all the years I've been playing Traveller, my PCs have never once met a Duke or a Count or King?  I can't say that I'm 'doing it wrong' but I surely have been missing out on a lot of adventure possibilities.
There is no reason why this outfit could not appear in Traveller. TL-4, anyone?
"So your Majesty. We hear you've got a little revolution problem. We can fix that for you."

 From the Wikipedia entry on Traveller:
Sociological: Interstellar society is socially stratified (high, mid, and low passage; SOC [Social Status] is a primary character attribute). Affairs are often managed by independent nobility, who make use of classic titles such as Baron, Duke and Archduke. The typical game shows how being a traveller crosses classes and breaks stratification.
Look at the Patron Lists, from The Traveller Book. You've got your criminal types (swindler, smuggler, terrorist, spy) and your ordinary citizens (scholar, courier, police, tourist) but you also have people with real power and authority: Diplomats, Naval Officers, Government Officials, Playboys, Governors, Doctors. Many of these could reasonably be nobility as well.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

My Favorite Posts at AF3

It's a new year, and I thought that I'd take a little time to look back at the last three years of AF3. Take stock of what I've presented here, and how it holds up.
These are the posts that I'm most pleased with, in terms of my writing style, or humor, or the point I was trying to make. These are personal choices, rather than ones that were most popular with my readers (but thank you for all the +1's, comments, and shares!) They are in no particular order.

1 Of Robots and Clones
A very philosophical post. Much more concerned with whether there should be robots & clones than with the game mechanics of same. The concepts are regular features of sci-fi, but how often is the ethics of artificial beings considered?  Doctor Who touched on it with the Ood in series 2 & 4, and I touch on it here. 

2 How to Create Striker maps
My most practical instructional post. Striker is a complicated game system to learn and play, which explains why there's so little on the web about it. My hope is that this quick run-down will encourage more folks to try it.

3 Exterminate!
Daleks in Traveller. It might be a great idea, it might be a terrible mistake.

4 The Creatures of Little Fuzzy
Building and describing the fauna of Zarathustra was just fun. Remember, not all animal encounters are dinner, or target practice.

5 Fenton Tukachevski
Fenton was one of my first NPC characters - I'd never intended to play him. He was all about demonstrating the versatility of the CT stat block and of characters that don't have a laundry list of skills. Fenton is a playable character or a worthwhile NPC for the players to encounter. Knowledge is power, and he's got it in spades. 
 
6 Armed Groups 
I like this one because it was the product of actual research. Gaming has long motivated me to learn more about the real world, so I could apply it in my imaginary one.  

7 But I Don't Like That Rule!  
Rules are necessary to have a game, but sometimes they can get in the way. Writing this blog has led me to re-read and examine the rules of Traveller, and try to understand why things were set up that way. Traveller is trying to do one thing, which is model the free-wheeling far future sci-fi of the 40's-60's. That requires certain limitations on the characters and what they can do.

Did you enjoy these posts?  Have you read them?  Please leave a comment with your favorite post from AF3.
 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Planet of Dread! and Traveller World-Building

Last night I read a fun short story from the pulp era: "Planet of Dread" by R.F. Starzl, in Astounding Stories of Super-Science (August 1930), which I got from Project Gutenberg.
Our heroes are attacked by a space-frog while climbing a spider web inside a mountain. Yes, it makes no sense.

I picked it at random from the several issues available. Is the plot original?  No. Are the characters vivid, dynamic and engaging?  No. Does the dialogue crackle and sparkle?  No. It's also a good thing the Martian sidekick was an alien and not a Terrestrial, because his dialogue would be excoriated today for its stereotyped pidgin English. Was the conclusion dramatic and satisfying?  Not really. 


So why was it a fun story?  Because it was a great setting, and just the sort of planet that could and should appear in Traveller.