Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The Place of and Importance of Gear

I was tinkering over the weekend with an old project of mine. It's an equipment list, things that either I've pulled from published CT stuff, or seen in other games, or invented on my own. 

I realized that most everything there could be useful, if (and only if) the PCs were in a specific situation and needed one of my widgets. 

The Equipment List in TTB is frankly sparse. Yet much of Traveller adventuring does not require much gear apart from weapons and armor. 

Until you start exploring. 

In the session a few weeks ago, the PCs were exploring a closed-down facility on an asteroid, at the request of a patron. I described the facility to the players, mentioning that the power was off, and had been for a decade, and the asteroid was tiny, so the interior was effectively at 0.0G. This detail, it seems, went over their heads, as no one brought anything along to help mitigate the zero-G experience. Also missing from the shopping list were light sources, and any medical kits or expertise. At least they had a PC with Jack-of-all-Trades. 

All that was left of the cargo bay was containers and scrap

They discovered upon arrival that the facility had no stairs. When in use, it had lift shafts to move people between the five levels. When the power was turned off, the lifts locked in place. One of them was at the top/entrance level, so that shaft was totally unusable. The other lift was at the bottom floor, so that shaft was a five-story drop. Even in near-zero-G, velocity builds up so there was no guarantee of a safe landing, making the jump down (and don't forget the absence of a medical kit) a dangerous option. This was important, as the Patron had informed them that the power plant was on the bottom level. If they could get to it and re-start it, then the lifts would work.

What resulted was a lot of improvisation and a fair bit of luck. As in: Chucking a mattress down the lift shaft and Geronimo-ing after it. That could have ended badly, but didn't. The players discussed afterwards how they could have packed to be better prepared. And in the end, it's player skill that enables the correct packing list for the job. Lesson learned.

For a different perspective:

I will remind them about the gear lists in the next session.

Photo credit: Pixabay

Saturday, August 26, 2023

What Are the Assumptions of Traveller?

Bradford C Walker has written some interesting things about the point or goal of RPGs, hearkening back to the roots in wargames. He asked in one post, in relation to games, one of which was Traveller: “Make obvious what is hidden. Make explicit what is implicit.”

Okay, challenge accepted.

Some of what follows is quotes from The Traveller Book. TTB has the most extensive Introduction section of the three rules editions of CT. (TTB, LBBs 1-3, and Starter Traveller) Much of it is my read & interpretation of what I’ve found there.

Some say the one core assumption of Traveller is that communication moves at the speed of travel. The implications of that I touched on in this post.

An implicit assumption of Traveller is that the players are familiar with space adventure literature. There are references to different adventure novels throughout the rulebooks, and the Official 3I setting. 

Encounters are central to Traveller. In space, you have starship encounters. On uninhabited worlds there are animals and events to encounter. On inhabited worlds, there are legal, random and patron encounters. These are tools for the Referee to provide challenge and opportunity for the players. 

“The use of non-player characters is one of the most important things for a Referee to learn.” (TTB, p.13) "A large part of a Referee's job is the administration of encounters." (TTB, p.11) 

There are four types of NPCs. Spear carriers, informants, patrons, and trouble-makers. All can help or hinder the Travellers in their adventures. 

PCs also encounter Information. The Referee should keep information in four categories. One, what the PCs know because they exist in the world (common knowledge). Two what will cost the PCs little to learn. Three, what will cost them much to learn, and four, that which they cannot learn by themselves. 

Marc Miller (the author) states that conventional means like thrift and hard work do not work in Traveller. Bold, daring plans do, or might, work.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Actual Play report - Random Encounter

 Best thing to come out of the game today:

The PCs have a license for salvaging on a restricted planet. The Navy uses the world for exercises, and there’s a lot of military material laying about. Vehicles, munitions and other recoverable goods dot the surface.

During their explorations, I rolled for a Random Encounter, and got a Religious Group. Okay, why not? I never said the PCs were the only ones on the planet.  The group was travelling in ground vehicles, marked with the symbol of their religion.

I asked the player with the highest Education to tell us who this group was.

Everyone else jumped in with their ideas, so in the end what we got was:

 The Adepts of the Machine

This fringe cult group’s beliefs focus on the spiritual dimension of starships. Ships must be built by hand, with proper ceremonies, to avoid offending the space gods. Ships assembled at shipyards by unbelievers do harm to the fabric of space, and the gods punish the spacers by causing misjumps and drive failures.  Also, the Whisperers are the servants of the space gods, haunting the unbelievers.  

The Adepts build spacecraft by hand; they were on the salvage planet looking for materials with which to build, or like the PCs, good they can sell to buy components.

The PCs decided to not interact with the Adepts, and flew on.

This game is so much fun.

Image Credit: Pixabay

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Implications of Jump Drive

 The Jump Drive is the technology in Traveller that allows for FTL travel. We play Traveller, We know this. But have you thought about what that means?

The Jump Drive moves the PCs from hex to hex, yes. But how?  You look at the jump rating, which is a cross-reference of the size of the ship and the letter code, A to Z, of the drive. These give us the ratings from 1 to 6. Still telling you things you already know.

The point is this: a jump drive is not rated by how fast it can go. Any jump “takes about one week” (TTB, p. 49) whether you have a tiny type-A in your Free Trader or a mammoth type-Z in your super-cargo freighter. 

A jump drive rating tells you how far it can go in that one week. A jump-2 drive is not twice as fast  as a jump-1 drive; it has twice the range of the jump-1 drive.

There is no real-world comparison for this distinction. We rate vehicles, from bicycles to Blackbirds in rate of distance per unit of time. Faster vehicles cover the distance in less time. Not so in Traveller. A jump-1 drive takes as long as a jump-6 drive to do a one-hex transit. End of story. 

The difference is of vital importance to Travellers. Why? Because of a hard-wired fact of the Traveller setting, whether the 3rd Imperium or my own Church and Empire setting. Information, in order to propagate, must be carried. In ships, that all take a week to jump. 

From Supp 8, Library Data: Another central fact of interstellar travel is that no method of information transfer faster than jump drive transmission has been discovered. Ships can carry messages, but radio still lags at mere light speed. Communication is always restricted to the speed of interstellar transportation.

The distances between worlds is a fixed and unchanging quantity. If you want information about a world 6 hexes away, how long will it take for that information to reach you? Answer: either six weeks, or one. If you get your information delivered express, you get to act a month and a half before the other guy does, who’s waiting on a jump-1 courier to bring it.

The same goes when Travellers decide to, well, travel. A ship with Jump-4 can get a Traveller from Holtzmann to Stavanger in one week. A Jump-2 ship will take 3 weeks to make the same trip. Look at the map to figure out why. If your PC and his competition have a goal to reach on Stavanger, what is the essential play?  Securing the ship with long enough legs to get you there in one week.

Add to that this complication. Not all planets have the same access to the information delivery network. TTB page 89 says: 

Within the subsector, local governments will have established communications or trade routes connecting some (but not all) worlds.


Communications routes should be carefully drawn so as to avoid making all parts of the subsector accessible; a subsector should reserve some areas as backwaters for exploration and adventure.

Depending on where you are, it may take even longer for the Big News to reach you.

The Traveller who wants to do big things and make a name for himself needs information, and needs it faster than his competition. Knowledge is Power. The Jump drive is the key to that power. 

Image credit: Pixabay

Friday, July 14, 2023

Play Report - Prospecting!

 Not all of our regular players were at game this week, but it is quick and easy to roll up Traveller characters. Graham Clark and C-418, along with their new friend Chuck Norris (his player is a gal with a sense of humor) found themselves with some leave time from the service of Count Murietta. Hoping to make some fast cash, they decided to try prospecting in the wilderness of Holtzmann. 

A pencil sketch map of Holtzmann's inhabited region.

They did some research, and chose an area between two of the rivers flowing south out of the mountains. After hiring an ATV and equipping for a fortnight in the wild, they set off for what they hoped would be a small fortune. 

The way I decided to handle the prospecting part was to secretly dice for the number of 6-hour work periods that they would have to put in before discovering the resource, in this case some type of precious metal. During the multiple days it takes to work through those periods, I diced for random and animal encounters. 

The prospecting work itself was in the background. Traveller has a Prospecting skill, introduced in the Supplement 4 Citizens of the Imperium with the Belter career. None of the C3 group had it, so I fell back on the Education stat. The group made an initial throw to determine a likely spot to prospect in, with DMs for high EDU and JOT skill. I left the results uncertain to them. This was so that they had to decide how long to 'keep digging away' before deciding that they were looking in a wrong spot.

Supplement 2 Animal Encounters gave them a number of curious critters to encounter. At least one was hostile, and Clark was slightly wounded trying to put it down. 

A group of tourists from Dekalb wandered by the prospecting camp in their contra-grav 'bus' and took some pictures. That's just what the Random Encounter table said. Fortunately, their reaction throw was a 7. I can imagine the mess if the tourists had decided to attack the PCs!

Right at the end of the session, the random encounter table gave up the result of Ambushing Brigands. We left it as a cliffhanger for next time how they would resolve that encounter.

Each group of players at my table has an Imperial Calendar page. By comparing it to my official events calendar, I can keep up with multiple parties pursuing multiple ends. The C3 Group is on day 084, about ten days behind the main group. 

If they make it to the end of their prospecting trip, they may return to the city a lot richer. In that case others might get the same prospecting bug and start a gold rush. Who knows?  We'll find out next session.


The following session, I had the players who were prospecting on one 'team' and the rest of the players formed the Brigand's team. There was a brief but spirited combat between the prospector's ATV and the brigand's off-road trucks. While the prospectors got away with the ATV and their skins intact, they were driven off the dig area before they found any of the resources they sought. Such is the nature of adventuring. 

Second update:

In the most recent session, the main group of PCs kitted out an expedition to Holtzmann Gamma, a world restricted by the Imperial Navy, as they use it for combat practice such as orbital artillery and hot landings. 

This map shows H/Gamma's surface. The black hexes are the No-Go zones, either due to active Navy missions, or [CLASSIFIED]. The PC's went to the hex marked with a red plus sign. This time they found some recoverable ordnance and a cache of Marine cutlasses, which they were able to sell for a tidy profit!