Wednesday, July 10, 2019

More Traveller Literary Inspiration - The TAS

As I browsed through old issues of Planet Stories (in particular Vol 2 #7, Summer 1944) to my great delight I found this:

A welcome sight at Class-C and better Starports everywhere!

I never knew that the TAS could have been modeled on a real wartime organization, but it's not too hard to imagine that the writers of Traveller came across these ads while reading old sci-fi tales. 

Has anyone else seen advertisements like these in pulp magazines or other sources? How long did this TAS last?

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Clubs and Cudgels - What's the Difference?

From the beginning of my time playing Traveller (circa 1983) I found it odd that the combat rules included club and cudgel as two different weapons. I decided that I would look closer and see why that was. This is, I recognize, not a burning issue among Traveller players. My words will have little effect on how anyone plays the game. Well, this is my blog, and if I want to write about this, I will. I hope you enjoy my observations anyway.

There is not a lot in the official rules to go on.

Clubs are not purpose built weapons. They are, by TTB p. 38, found to hand in the brawl location. So a PC can ask the referee if there is anything lying about that can be used as a club. Bar stools, chairs, crowbars, briefcases, table legs, long handled flashlights, lamps, etc.

Looking at the combat tables, a club requires STR of 5 or faces a -4 DM. That's pretty severe, on par with the broadsword. STR of 8+ gives a DM of +2. My explanation is a club is a temporary expedient - it is not balanced or formed exactly to use as a weapon. If you haven't the strength to lob it in hard, the table leg will work against you.

The club can be abandoned at the end of the combat. It may not be, if it was originally a tool. The club base weight is 1 kg, as heavy as a sword. The referee can decide that the object the PC is using is not heavy enough and assign a -DM to the club. A pencil is not an effective club.
Nice try, bub. No DM for you.
Or it might be too heavy, and it can't really be used at all, except to drop down on someone. Clubs have the lightest penalty for weakened blows. This means a club wielder can keep going past his END score without too much worry. But I've never seen or heard of a Traveller combat that lasted that long.

Referees, have you ever had a mass brawl with enough combatants that a PC might have to fight to and beyond his END limit?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Crashing Suns

The Fantastic Technology of Crashing Suns

Last night I finished reading Crashing Suns by Edmond Hamilton, (AKA the World Wrecker) published in the August & September 1928 issues of Weird Tales.
Random Chance or just Carelessness? You Decide.

The story is set in our solar system some time in the future when the EIGHT planets are inhabited. [Pluto's discovery was still two years away.] The solar system is threatened by a rogue star hurtling on a collision course with Sol. This would result in annihilation of the human race and all its works.

The protagonist, Jan Tor, is a pilot of the Interstellar patrol. He is tasked with leading the expedition to the approaching star to find if there is a way to avert this disaster.

Space Opera, indeed.

The story is actually a straightforward affair of exploration, discovery, capture, escape, conflict and a last minute rescue. By now, this is a by-the-numbers tale of not great impact. We've seen it before. In 1928, though? This might have been hot stuff. Hamilton's reputation among space opera/sci-fi writers is outstanding, even if he's less well known today than during his lifetime.

The story's structure is heavy on exposition and description (needs to be, set in another solar system), light on dialogue and character development. Beyond their names, I saw only the scantest details to differentiate the hero and his companions.

But that's not what I found interesting about this story.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Traveller Meme Fun ATV edition

There is a Facebook group called Traveller RPG Memes. Go check it out.

These are two that I've done myself. The Facebook page has more. Enjoy.

Friday, May 31, 2019

The Most Dangerous Skill - Bribery

From Faoladh, in the comments section on an earlier post:
"I suspect that the reason most players don't use Bribery is simply because most aren't used to thinking of it as a way of doing business, but instead think of it as a form of corruption first. Perhaps it is, but that isn't the way that everyone in the world thinks of it. Referees, too, have to leave room for bribery to be just part of the cost of doing business instead of setting off alarm bells every time that a player leaves a stack of Cr100 notes in the middle of their passport."

Nothing to see here. Move along, citizen.

How It Works

Bribery is a Basic Skill from Book 1, and can be acquired by Merchants and Others. In Supp-4, Rogues can also get this skill. It makes sense to me that at least Diplomats, Bureaucrats and Pirates or even Sailors should be able to have this skill as well, but it is not there. The block quote here is from Starter Travller's Rule Book.

Let's break this down.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

House Rules on Hand to Hand

First I had an idea. A question, rather. Why can't a trained fighter (Brawling-1) knock out an 'average' NPC [UPP 777777] in one round? Hands do 1D damage per hit, so the maximum is 6. This is one short of reducing a stat to zero via the First Blood rule and getting a knockout. For Rule of Cool reasons, I want my PCs to be able to do this.

Then I shared the idea on the Citizens of the Imperium forum, and Classic TravellerFacebook group.

Then I sat back and listened.

I came away with this, which will now be the Way We Do It in my games.
Any skilled character engaging in hand-to-hand combat, either armed or unarmed, has two possible DMs. The first is the Advantageous Strength DM, found in the combat charts, and the second is the character's skill level with the weapon chosen.

In the past I have taken both of these and applied them to the throw To Hit. The New Rule is this: the player (or referee) can choose to apply these DMs to either the To Hit throw, or the Damage throw on a successful hit. So now my trained fighter can roll 1D+1 for damage, and has at least a chance of getting a knockout blow. If the fighter has STR 9+, there is an additional +1 that can be added to the damage throw. If the fighter has STR 13+, it is +2.

This represents a sacrifice of accuracy to put more power behind the blow.

+1 Damage. Sparkle optional.

This new rule does not change the existing rule that a skilled fighter can apply his skill level as a Defensive DM, to make it harder for his opponent to hit.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Not Human at all: Ursas!

What would your PCs do, if they arrived at a Class-E port on some frozen dead end world, and discovered that this character:

"Stan", E7D776  Army, 2 terms Lieutenant
was the Port Authority? The Ursas appeared several hundred years ago; and other than the fact that they came from Earth, their origins are more legend than fact. The Ursas themselves cannot say who uplifted them. They don't think about it that much. They are here, deal with it.

Ursas are intelligent to a level comparable with humans, and some are quite smart. It is unwise to think of them as large, furry humans.  Ursas's motivations are hunger, desire for territory (see point 1), self-preservation or reproduction. Ursas that live in human society have chosen to adopt human means of sating these desires. Working for pay to buy food negates hunger and the need for territory.  Cooperation with humans provides security and the opportunity to find other Ursas to address that last drive.

Ursas are not aggressive, unless they sense a threat. They know that they can intimidate humans with their size and will do so if it helps their goals.  They will fight if facing a threat to themselves, their territory, their cubs, or any character the Ursa considers important to protect. Ursas in the Army can wear armor and carry heavy weapons. Think about that for a minute.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Around My TU - Brocadia

In other posts I have shared my Holtzmann's Corridor subsector, where my monthly game group is playing. Here's a planet from another part of my TU, the Weitzlar subsector. Weitzlar is where I'm trying out some concepts and running some characters solo, without it having an impact on the main gaming group. 

Here I present Brocadia, a world of that subsector, that has a few interesting features and I hope a number of adventure possibilities. Enjoy.

0108 Brocadia B-772639-10
Kingdom of Brocadia. Current monarch: Wilhelm XI. Maintains control through a large and effective secret police service.

Tags: police state, freak geology

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Crew of the Bonaventure

May is cleanup time here at the AF3 blog. I'm perusing my files for post drafts, finishing them, and putting them up. It's going to be a mixed bag, I suspect. 

To start off, here is the Merchant ship Bonaventure, and its crew. I created these years ago with the idea of using them as the cast of short stories, but the stories never materialized. Maybe they'll show up in my monthly game as NPCs. Maybe they'll show up in your game as NPCs! If they do, please leave me a comment and tell us about it.

"Parking orbit, please Mr. Hammilton." "Aye, Sir."

The US Merchant Marine ship Bonaventure is registered in New Maryland.

Owner/Navigator Jason Hammilton 7A5D98 Age 42 Merchant 3rd Officer
Navigation-4, Leader-2, Vaccsuit-1, Electronics-1, Mechanical-1, Gun Combat-0, Broker-2, Trader-2, Administration-2

Captain Hammilton has dreamed of running his own starship since he was a child. He was level-headed enough to see that more than dreaming was required. He took every opportunity he could to learn about merchant operations and taught himself how to be successful. Once he felt he was ready, he left his job and bought his own ship. He is very aware of the debt burden he’s put himself under but it keeps him focused on succeeding.

Quote: “You have two choices. One, realize that I’m in command here and get in line. Two, get your sorry ass off my ship. You have one minute to decide.”

Pilot Derek T Hammilton 7998A8 Age 38 Navy Commander
Pilot-4, Leader-1, Pistol-2, Computer-2, Ship Tactics-2, Vaccsuit-1

Derek has been piloting since he was 18. He has piloted everything from yard tugs to heavy cruisers. Bonaventure is an easy assignment for him. Mostly he took the job to work with his cousin Jason. He is orderly, efficient and confident. He reads a lot and always is looking for new ship types & classes to add to the catalog he is writing.

Quote: “This crate is easy. You should have seen the panel on this one destroyer I was on. Talk about inefficient.”

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Great and Holy Pascha 2019

Today the Orthodox Church across the world celebrates Great and Holy Pascha, the Feast of Feasts, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. To Him be Glory Forever!

Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee from before his face! As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish; as wax melts before the fire,So the sinners will perish before the face of God; but let the righteous be glad.This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death,and on those in the grave bestowing life!
May the Blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be with you always.

For those who will, I share here a link to the famous Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom.

And if the Lord tarry until we reach the stars, then we will celebrate Pascha in the Far Future. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Portal Gun in Traveller

Not long into my current Traveller campaign, I concluded that there wasn’t enough sci-fi "stuff" in it. It seemed too generic. All the standard technology is very familiar to me. None of it evokes a sense of wonder or the fantastic. I sensed the same from the players.

I try to describe the setting and especially the not-earth-like-at-all planets they visit; to give that sense of being in another place, another time. Mind you, they've not complained; it was me who wanted to give it more, to give them a "Wow!" moment or experience.

One session I explained to the players the concept of Tech Level Change Factor (TLCF) and making gradual improvements to devices. They then had a fun time for most of that session designing and purchasing upgraded weapons on a TL-12 planet. One player now has a very dangerous boarding axe (halberd) which doubles as a cutting torch! I explain some of the TLCF here.

The Tales to Astound blog also talks about the lack of sci-fi in Traveller, as leaving it up to the referee to add in whatever bits of fun tech goodies will make the game more exciting for the players.

I felt the need to remedy this situation. While they were exploring a space station parked way out in the outer reaches of a system, I decided to give them a fun surprise:

A Portal Gun 

Even in the future they appreciate the retro aesthetic

Friday, March 15, 2019

More about High Level Play

I knew that there was more to be said about High Level Play than I said in my first post.

I spent some time reading through the introductory material in The Traveller Book, and I found not an explicit pattern, but many indicators that High Level Play was anticipated, maybe even intended.

The introduction section gives lots of hints, starting with the mention of "star spanning empires, huge star fleets, Larger-Than-Life heroes". (emphasis mine)

And how about this?
Traveller is open-ended, which means that there are no set conditions for winning. Each player sets his or her own goal, and has a lifetime (in game terms) to achieve it. Traveller can continue for as long as the referee and the players desire. Like the universe, Traveller has no limits.”
The characters have an opportunity to undertake genuine adventures as they search for their own self appointed goals.”
"The typical methods used in life by 20th century Terrans (thrift, dedication, and hard work) do not work in Traveller; instead, travellers must boldly plan and execute daring schemes for the acquisition of wealth and power."

The expectation, then, is that players will have goals beyond the wishes of their current patron, or the referee.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

More on Careers - One Rogue Too Many

I have not played any of the versions of that other RPG from the 1970's, where they re-named the Thief class to the Rogue class. Why, I wonder, did GDW feel it was necessary to use the vague and dissembling nomenclature 'Rogue' when 'Criminal' would have been more accurate? Or would it have been?

Something shady is going on here.

The text description of the Rogues reads as follows: "Criminal elements familiar with the rougher or more illegal methods of accomplishing tasks." I guess it would be more accurate, then. But wait. The word rogue is defined as: 1) a vagrant or tramp, 2: a dishonest or worthless person, a scoundrel. There are a few more connotations, but none are specifically criminal in nature. So, many Traveller PCs could be characterized as Rogues, regardless of what career they went through.

Let us speak truth, a great many Traveller PCs from back in the day were essentially criminals regardless of their chosen background career. They were smugglers, bandits, thieves, hired guns, burglars, and so on. Why the need for a separate career to breed them? Most player, myself included assumed that if you wanted a criminal PC, you went with the Other service. So this ground has been covered already.

Most of the skills the Rogues career offers (discussed later) are not specifically criminal, and with the random skill allocation process, there's no guarantee a PC will come away with a criminal CV. The free Service Skill is Streetwise, not a necessarily criminal skill. This would have been the time to introduce some new skills for the criminal class, but Supp4 does not do this. 

Later editions of Traveller introduced more criminal skills like Intrusion or Lockpicking. I suggested elsewhere that espionage activities (criminals on a payroll) could be handled with Basic skills and attributes. That way any PC could try their hand at clandestine activity

I actually have the chronology backwards. Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium, in which the Rogue career made its appearance, was first published in 1979. This is several years before that other game made the change. So why did they go along with GDW?

Let's have a look at the Rogue career, shall we?

Sunday, March 3, 2019

More Stellagama Goodness

Now I've got the Trio: Light, Pocket Light and Faster than Light!

Three versions
The good folks at Stellagama Publishing have provided me with physical copies of all three versions of their streamlined Cepheus Engine rules. I gave CL & CL:PE to my boys, and they've begun building their own worlds, characters creatures and adventures. 

You can get yours at DriveThruRPG.

Join the Fun!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Implications of "Slow" FTL in Traveller

FTL in Traveller takes one week, more or less, whenever you want to go from one star system to another. Whether it's a wimpy Jump-1 or a once in a lifefime Jump-6, the time to get there is still 168 hours +/- a bit. Many of Traveller's literary antecedents (most notably to my mind is H. Beam Piper's Terro-human future history) depicted interstellar travel as taking a long time. For fans of more modern SF media, this can seem odd.

In other SF settings, FTL travel is accomplished instantly. Now, in visual media (Trek/Wars) this is necessary to not drag down the flow of the plot. Rogue One would not have worked if Traveller's jump drive limitations were in effect. The plot required everything to move quickly. That's fine, and it is not for me to say that one method is better/worse than another.

A Youtube character known as the Complex Games Apologist has a number of videos discussing Traveller in different aspects. Here's the CGA explaining the setting implications of the way FTL works in Traveller.

Faster Than Light

The rules of a game build its setting.

Many folks over the decades have noted that "speed of travel is speed of communication" defines the setting of Traveller, whether the OTU or an alternate like my Church & Empire setting. Decentralized governments and local control are the accepted methods when it takes weeks to get reports to and from the borders. It is also this reason that I've focused on the Corridor, a region removed from the Talaveran Empire, but still one where Imperial influence can be felt. PCs have a greater latitude for independent action when the Imperial bureaucracy is too far away to directly monitor everything.

If you want to change the rules of FTL to make it more what you want, that's fine, but remember that you will have to redesign the setting as well, to reflect the internal reality of that setting. 'Fast' FTL will mean more direct control from the home office, as information can be transferred in hours rather than weeks. This in turn means less agency for the players, as their PCs who do sneaky things will be fretting about news of their doings getting back to the Government, which will probably try to stop them. 

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Not Quite Human - The Headless Hunters

There is an article from the old Dragon Magazine titled "Make your own Aliens" which was a supplement or variant for Traveller. One of the criticisms of the original game was that it had no aliens, robots or clones, and no rules for including them. Fair point, all three non-human types are common in classic sci-fi. A worthy inclusion into my favorite game.

In my Church & Empire setting, I have made the decision to not include non-terrestrial sentient life forms. However, there's more than one way to introduce the strange, abnormal or weird into Traveller. My avenue is postulating the mis-use of gene sequencing, which is already real science here on earth, to create near-human or partially-human beings. 

I have used the article's method to roll up some genetically modified humans (GMH's). This is one of the stranger types I've created. They are very secretive, but may pop up anywhere. They are known to work as contract assassins, hence their popular nickname,

"The Headless Hunters"

Thursday, February 7, 2019

More on Space Combat - The Select Programs

"The drive signature looks familiar - like a Suleiman-class scout . . . "

The 'Selective' group of Offensive programs have long confused me as to how the results should be applied. I have just now noted the following text from Starter Traveller Rules booklet, page 41. It does not appear in Book 2 (1977) but it does in The Traveller Book, on page 77. I've just never noticed it before. As I have stated elsewhere, TTB is my rules book of reference for my games.
"If a Select program is being used to influence attacks, the firing player rolls one die for each hit inflicted. On a 1 or 2, he picks the hit location, specifying one of the following: Maneuver drive, Power Plant, Jump drive, fuel, hull, hold, computer or turret. If the roll is 3+ roll hit location normally."
I have written before about how I see Classic Traveller starship combat as a Resource Management Game. This program is a great example of what I mean.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Cepheus Light Pocket Edition

Look what came in the mail!

Actual size 8.5 by 5.5 inches
This is not a new version of the Cepheus Engine rules, it is the C-Light rules in a digest sized book. I really like this format and size. It's super portable and handy. 190 pages of rules, and they still find room for some dandy illustrations.

Haven't got the time to do an in-depth review of C-Light at this time, but it's in the pipeline. 

Thanks as always to my pal Omer Golan-Joel

Monday, January 14, 2019

Leaving the Starport might be harder than you think

Please have your TAS documentation ready. All bags will be searched.

From the US State Department's Travel Advisory website:

Exercise increased caution in China due to arbitrary enforcement of local laws as well as special restrictions on dual U.S.-Chinese nationals.Chinese authorities have asserted broad authority to prohibit U.S. citizens from leaving China by using ‘exit bans,’ sometimes keeping U.S. citizens in China for years. China uses exit bans coercively:
  • to compel U.S. citizens to participate in Chinese government investigations,
  • to lure individuals back to China from abroad, and
  • to aid Chinese authorities in resolving civil disputes in favor of Chinese parties.
In most cases, U.S. citizens only become aware of the exit ban when they attempt to depart China, and there is no method to find out how long the ban may continue. U.S. citizens under exit bans have been harassed and threatened.
U.S. citizens may be detained without access to U.S. consular services or information about their alleged crime. U.S. citizens may be subjected to prolonged interrogations and extended detention for reasons related to “state security.” Security personnel may detain and/or deport U.S. citizens for sending private electronic messages critical of the Chinese government.
Extra security measures, such as security checks and increased levels of police presence, are common in the Xinjiang Uighur and Tibet Autonomous Regions. Authorities may impose curfews and travel restrictions on short notice.
China does not recognize dual nationality. U.S.-Chinese citizens and U.S. citizens of Chinese heritage may be subject to additional scrutiny and harassment, and China may prevent the U.S. Embassy from providing consular services.

Hmm. If the Chinese on Earth would do this to foreign nationals in their country, why would not sovereign planetary governments do this to Travellers?

Here are some simple rules for adjudicating the PC's entry or exit into a world.

In the OTU, this may be handled differently. I wrote these rules for my ATU, in particular for Holtzmann's Corridor, where there is no Imperial government sitting atop the locals telling them what to do.