Sunday, December 25, 2016

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Motivated Villain #4 The Dreadful Doctor

Here is the next entry in my irregular series of NPCs who can confound, obstruct and annoy the heck out of the PCs.

Doctor Hiram Califrax 787789 Age 38 Doctors, 5 terms
Medical-3, Liaison-1, Carousing-1, Computer-1

Dr. Califrax is the chief/only physician on the colony world of Somerset, [F-353393-9] a subordinate world of Mavramorn (Holtzmanns Corridor 0605).

Dr. Califrax has delusions of grandeur. He believes that he is wise, intelligent, super-competent and generous. The community around him tells him so. His medical skill is accurate; he is a competent physician. The problem is that he needs everyone to recognize it, and needs constant affirmation of his self-image. His clinic staff consists of several nurses (Medical-2) and orderlies (Medical-1) chosen more for their adoration of the doctor than for medical competence.
He is unaware that he over-diagnoses patients, claiming they are far more ill than they actually are. He then persuades the patient that only he can save them. He prescribes expensive medications and surgeries. He owns the only pharmacy so he makes quite a tidy profit, twice. The money also contributes to his delusion.

People of the settlement either adore or dislike him. With so little other medical advice at hand, he remains accepted. Those who like him come near to worshiping him. Those who are skeptics have learned to keep it to themselves.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Traveller is not a Power Fantasy

Omer the Lizard King has written another post elaborating what skills mean in Traveller. We've both talked about this in multiple places. Traveller PCs can be powerful, yes, but it doesn't look that way from the character sheet
A commenter on his post sums it up well:
"I think the problem (to the extent that one can say a game with so many fans has problems) is that a certain segment of players *wants* granularity, *wants* special powers, and *wants* character advancement.

In a sense, Classic Traveller still offers the sort of characters that OD&D offers - lean, streamlined, not very differentiated mechanically. To a gamer who is used to 3.5E, 4E, or 5E, the old OD&D characters feel bland, like they are missing something."

In Traveller power comes from player ingenuity, and an understanding of how the Traveller universe works.  Traveller does not provide the power fantasy of easily overcoming enormous obstacles and defeating large & powerful enemies.

Let's face it. When you compare a 'competent' Traveller character to a character from most other RPGs, especially D&D in its later editions, the Traveller comes off looking, well, lame.

Yes, we know that my 4-term Marine with UPP 9998A8 and Cbt. Rifleman-3 is a tough hombre in a fight, but even so he can still get capped by a thug with an auto-pistol. A Barsoomian White Ape will make dinner out of him quickly, unless the PC is lucky and the player is smart. 

Compare this to a Pathfinder character with his feats and bonuses and class abilities, and huge hit points pools. Plus those games have more dramatic interior artwork. Behold:
I always assumed this was Battle Dress. It is not.

TL-3 version of Battle Dress. Probably magical.
See what I mean?

The power creep in D&D and in video games has left Traveller behind. I wonder if even John Carter could keep up with the dizzying spiral of power-ups that define a lot of action/adventure games. There's also the trend in first person shooters and action/adventure movies where the protagonist mows down waves of mook opponents - like the main characters in Star Wars, or Jason Bourne. Traveller is not set up to produce those kinds of scenes. It is very hard to produce on the tabletop the visuals currently popular in other media. Traveller was never meant to do that (but there are lots of games which are); it was meant to bring the worlds of classic/pulp sci-fi literature to life.

Video games also have 'save game' functions that make character death merely a pause in the game play. In Traveller, there is no 'raise dead' spell; once you're gone, you're gone. Combine that with all of the things in the Traveller universe that can kill you, and merely surviving should be considered a major accomplishment. Survival in other media is assumed, but not in Traveller.

What is to be done about this? I say: Nothing. Nothing at all. Let Classic Traveller be what it is.

Acknowledge up front that Traveller is not a video game, or an adolescent power fantasy. What it might be is an adult power fantasy. Let me explain.

I know I'm not cut from the mythic cloth of John Carter or Dominic Flandry, and my alter ego/PC is also normal guy. With just a few skills and some moxie, this normal guy can go out into the TU and (with determination and luck) make a big fortune, or get a peerage, or control a fleet of ships, or any number of other accomplishments. Successful Travellers are those who use their brains more than their brawn, who out-think and out-maneuver their opponents. But it takes planning and careful play, because Traveller doesn't offer power-ups as shortcuts. All it offers is a universe in which to make your plans. It's up to you to make those plans as big as possible.

Traveller not-BD image credit David R. Dietrick, taken from Starter Traveller rules booklet. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

I found Jump Torpedoes!

Many Classic Traveller fans are familiar with a little item that appeared in Adventure 4, Leviathan and Bk2('77) and has caused a great deal of controversy over whether it should be allowed. I'm talking about Jump Torpedoes - about the size of standard turret missiles, but with the ability to make a Jump, carrying data or objects.

I'm not so much interested in arguing whether they work, or should work. I'm just happy that I found their literary inspiration. Or one of them, at least.  

I have parts of a multi-volume set of Poul Anderson, the great sci-fi/fantasy writer. It includes "The White King's War", a Dominc Flandry story. Flandry finds himself shipwrecked on an inhospitable planet (i.e. no booze & no nightclubs to be found) so he tries to contact the Empire for a rescue. He uses these:

"The gadgets, four in number, were built as simple as possible. Inside a torpedo shape - a hundred and twenty centimeters long but light enough for a man to life under Terran gravity - were packed the absolute minimum of hyper-drive and grav-drive machinery; sensors and navigational computer to home on a pre-set destination. radio to beep advance notice when it neared; accumulators for power and  a tiny space for the payload, which could be a document, a tape or whatever else would fit.*" 

Standard CT turret missiles are 50 kg, which while heavy could be moved by one man. TTB does not say how long a missile is, but 120 cm seems reasonable. So, this might also be where the designers of Traveller got the specs for 'normal' missiles.
  I do not know if this is the only time in the Flandry stories that these gadgets make an appearance. It turns out that the message torpedo does not make it even to open space, so it fails to communicate the SOS, and Flandry has to find another way out of his predicament. Taking that unreliability into account, I'm not sure that having them would upset the balance of Traveller. No one uses them as regular communication channels, they are meant as a last-chance call for help.

To program a message torpedo to summon help: 8+, DM +Navigation 1-2 hours. Referee makes the throw in secret, the PCs will not know if the torpedo has gone off-course or not.

To re-purpose a turret missile for sensor or drone operation: 8+, DM +Electronics or Mechanical; 3 hours. A failed roll either takes longer (miss by 1-2) or ruins the missile (miss by 3+)

* The White King's War, from The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 5: Door to Anywhere. p 180.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

More on Skills - Gambling Skill

The Gambling skill is part of the Technical Skills group, which I covered briefly here. Here I'm going to examine it more closely and see what we can get out of it. 

The rules say a PC with Gambling skill is "well informed on games of chance and wise in their play. He has an advantage over non-experts and is generally capable of winning when he plays." The skill description is the same in TTB, BK1 and ST. 

Gambling skill is offered in only three of the services, the Marines, the Army, and the Other. Gambling provides a one-time DM on getting Mustering Out cash, which especially in the Other can be very lucrative. 

Mechanically, the skill's employment is broken down into simple die throws, one for Organized/casino games and the other for private games. Stake limits are also provided. That's all. Any other details are left to the player and referee. Sweet!

Friday, November 11, 2016

"Drat. It's armored with collapsium."

From H. Beam Piper's The Cosmic Computer:
"The armor was only a couple of micromicrons thick, but it would stop anything. It was collapsed matter, the electron shells of the atoms collapsed upon the nuclei, the atoms in actual contact. That plating made eighth-inch sheet steel as heavy as twelve-inch armor plate, and in texture and shielding properties, lead was like sponge by comparison."
That, fellow Travellers, is collapsium. None of the Classic Traveller rules sets describe what starship hulls or vehicle armor is made of. That's fine, referees can make stuff up that works for them. But why not use a substance that has some SF pedigree, like Piper's super-strong metallic shielding? It's the sort of stuff you encase your ship's fusion power plant or jump drive in.

The only reference to this type of material I could find was in Striker, as shown here:

Taken from the Design Sequence Tables in FFE 005: The Classic Games

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Freelance Traveller #77 is out!

I am a long-time reader and occasional contributor to Freelance Traveller, "the electronic fan-supported Traveller resource".  Imagine my surprise when, upon opening up the current issue (available HERE) I discovered that I got a very positive nod from Timothy Collinson, author of the "Confessions of a Newbie Referee" column about my blog! Thank you Timothy.

His column this month dealt with the question of incorporating religion into a Traveller universe, and he referred by name to my site. He appreciated my Orthodox perspective, and how "religion is thoroughly embedded in the setting and becomes a driver for much of what goes on even if the characters aren’t necessarily religious types."

He also highlighted the long-running Stellar Reaches site, whose output, in quantity and quality, puts me in the bush leagues. Really, if you're not reading Freelance Traveller & Stellar Reaches, you're missing out. Both are listed in my Other Traveller Sites list and Gaming Blogs list.

Game On!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Animal Encounter - White Apes of Barsoom

John Carter - ruling Barsoom like a Boss.
 I am having a heckuva good time reading the John Carter novels. I'm into the fourth book (Thuvia, Maid of Mars) now, and ERB has not disappointed.

Barsoom is vividly described and each book has introduced new and strange people, places and things. Today I'd like to share one of the creatures of Mars as a Traveller animal encounter. This is how John Carter describes them upon his first meeting, in A Princess of Mars:

“The creatures were about ten or fifteen feet tall, standing erect, and had,  like the green Martians, an intermediary set of arms or legs, midway between their upper and lower limbs. Their eyes were close together and non protruding; their ears were high set, but more laterally located than those of the Martians, while their snouts and teeth were strikingly like those of our African gorilla. Altogether they were not unlovely when viewed in comparison with the green Martians.”  (chapter  6)
Here he describes them at the opening of The Gods of Mars:
"They stand fifteen feet in height and walk erect upon their hind feet. Like the green Martians, they have an intermediary set of arms midway between their upper and lower limbs. Their eyes are very close set, but do not protrude as do those of the green men of Mars; their ears are high set, but more laterally located than are the green men's, while their snouts and teeth are much like those of our African gorilla. Upon their heads grows an enormous shock of bristly hair". (chapter 2).
They are, of course, the great White Apes of Barsoom.

Making a few assumptions, I take their Traveller animal stats to be as follows:

Carnivore Killer 

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

They are big,(1600 kg) they are aggressive,(Attack 2+) and they are fast (Speed: 3). Even Travellers armed with guns should have a difficult time with these beasties. When they attack, they will move at best speed to Close range and use their claws, which are more deadly than shotguns or laser rifles. PCs with melee weapons can use their skill to parry (-DM) but the apes massive size & strength gives them a big advantage. Carter, who probably has Sword-5 plus the strength bonus was able to fend them off, but most PCs won't be that capable.
At the beginning of GoM, Carter and Tars Tarkas (who's 15 feet tall) are chased by a big gang of white apes, and can't outrun them. This leads to one of my favorite quotable exchanges from the whole series so far, which I shared here.

Go read A Princess of Mars, available from Project Gutenberg and as an audio book from Librivox.

Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Photos are in the public domain.