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.