Friday, June 10, 2022

About Dying in Character Creation

If you’ve read this blog, then you have some familiarity with Traveller. If that’s the case then you are also familiar with the well-worn criticism of the Classic rules whereby a character can die before the creation process is finished. "Oh, how quaint and old-timey. Ha, ha, modern games made sure to avoid that mechanical fault, didn’t they?" (Can you tell I’m tired of this attitude?)

Or maybe you’re looking at it the wrong way ‘round.

In most RPGs, classic or modern, character creation is something that is done above or prior to the game beginning. You determine your attributes, get your skills and otherwise fill out your character sheet, acquire your gear and then your PC is ready to have his first adventure.

Traveller does not work like that.

Roll the six attributes for the UPP and you have a playable character, right there. For an example, I refer you to Dane Buckminster. As soon as you decide on the career your PC will pursue, you are playing Traveller. Don’t believe me? Consider this:

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

More Vehicles: Spy-class Armored Car

 Swiss MOWAG Spy Armored Car (TL-8, with some TL-9 bits)

Chassis: Light Ground Vehicle

Spaces: 10 (13,750Cr)

Crew: 3 (3 spaces)

Agility: +1

Speed (Speed Band/kph): Medium (109kph)/Slow (80kph)

Range: 435km (653km)

Hull: 20

Armor: 20/20/20 (1 space)

Traits: ATV (DM+2 to off-road drive checks)

Armament: Automated Ring Mount (750Cr) w/ One HMG (Rng-1km, Dmg-4D, Cost-4500Cr, Mag-100, Mag Cost-400Cr, Auto-3)


Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Advice from the early years of role-playing

Traveller Procedures: a wealth of advice from The Traveller Book

TTB has been my rules edition of record ever since I got it about ten years ago. I have played Traveller since the early 1980’s, so I am pretty familiar with the rules. Recently I realized that I’d not given much attention to the beginning of TTB, the Introduction. There’s more content in those pages than I long suspected.

The Introduction chapter of TTB presents the basic facts about what Traveller is, and how to play. Lots of RPG books have a section on “how to role-play”. TTB provides several pages of How to Traveller –aimed at the Referee. TTB also gives a view of role-playing from the early years of the hobby. 

The essay Procedures offers advice to the new Referee on the meta-elements of running Traveller. This essay appears only in TTB; neither the '77 or '81 LBB1 has it, and Starter Traveller has selections from the Introduction chapter, but not this section.

"The basic rules deal only with the major aspects of the way the universe works, allowing the referee to fashion details to suit individual preferences." Traveller is not a one-size-fits-all approach to science fiction gaming. It is presented as a framework, around which the Referee (and players) customize the universe in which they will have adventures!

"Referees can adjust the complexities of their universes to their own and their players' abilities, gradually moving upward in complexity as more expertise with the various systems is gained. Playing Traveller can be a challenge to all ages, all intellects, and all levels of role-playing experience." It's true! My sons began play while in the early double-digits, and as they grew and learned, we added more complexity as they explored the TU I've built.

“viewing the players / . .  as “the enemy” . . .  spoils the entertainment value of Traveller.” The Referee is there to provide challenges and structure, not to defeat the other players. “A referee’s fun in Traveller is different from a player’s fun.” I enjoy it when the players surprise me with their creative (or insane) solutions to the challenges I set for them.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

From Travellers to Rival Lords - more on owning land

In an earlier post I talked about the possibilities of Travellers owning land. Land ownership is definitely a route to High Level Play. Here I want to move that idea forward by discussing the adventure potential of owning a lot of land. Also, what happens when the PC's activity comes to the attention of the planetary government. 

Someday, Traveller, all this shall be yours.

I use the term sub-state to refer to any organized territory that is not part of or obedient to the planetary government (hereafter I use the abbreviation PG). For those who are interested, here is a summary list of what any state actually does.

Ten Functions of the State

1. The Rule of Law
2. Monopoly on the legitimate means of violence
3. Administrative control
4. Sound management of public finances
5. Investments in human capital
6. Creation of citizenship rights through social policy
7. Provision of infrastructure services
8. Formation of a market
9. Management of public assets
10. Effective public borrowing

 taken from Fixing Failed States by Ghani & Lockhart

Why do sub-states exist? And why should Travellers get involved?

I have said to my sons many times “everything is complicated”. The factors that allow ungoverned spaces to exist are many and varied. In simple summary, any PG has limited resources. Those resources have to enable the governance of all the PG’s territory - the carrying out of the ten functions listed above. Sometimes there’s not enough to go around. The PG combines reasons of 'can't spend resources’ and 'won't spend resources’. The Referee has to decide how effective is the PG at running its own territories.

Sub-states are quite common in Hotlzmann's Corridor, given the low world populations and lower Tech Levels than in the Empire.

How will a PG respond to the presence of a sub-state? It will depend a great deal on the activity of the sub-state. Is it competing with the PG for resources or off-world trade? Is it seeking cooperation or alliance? Is the sub-state engaging in or supporting rebellion against the PG?

The PG has three general categories of response:

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Game Conclusion - Shadows, with observations

 Our Friday night game sessions have taken a back seat recently to church events (Feast of the Annunciation among others) but we were able to complete the Shadows adventure last weekend. Here I'd like to share a few thoughts about the adventure as presented, and the changes I made for our group.

If there is anyone who plays Traveller but does not know Shadows, I will try to not disclose too much about the adventure as written. Read on at your discretion. 

Shadows is reminiscent of "dungeon crawl" adventures, so even players unfamiliar with Traveller immediately had a sense of what to do. I think it's a solid if unspectacular introductory adventure. Like many published Traveller adventures it is easy to drop into a pre-existing setting. If the PCs are not operating in the vicinity of Yorbund in the OTU it would be hard to get them there. Game play was linear; there are not many alternative approaches to the puzzle/problem of the pyramid complex. I switched out a few things to connect Shadows to my TU and to put my own stamp on it.

First, I situated the pyramid structure in Holtzmann's Corridor, in my TU. I invited the players to choose a home planet either in the Empire or the Corridor. And it came to pass that one of the players chose Mavramorn, the planet where I chose to place the pyramid. So she had an 'in' for asking lots of detail questions. Her PC's Education score was 12, so I answered accurately just about every question she asked.

Second, I replaced the chief obstacle inside the pyramid with a group of Genetically Modified Humans. GMH's or "Jimmies" are human, but humans who were altered in utero to improve or add to their bodies. Any kind of modification is possible; the Bree are a type that I've included in adventures before. Not everyone is okay with such modifications. On some planets, like Mavramorn, Jimmies are discriminated against, relegated to second-class citizens or worse. The group in the pyramid were driven there by cultural pressure and were naturally suspicious of the PC's intrusion.

For some role-playing, I had each player make a reaction throw when they encountered the Jimmies. What would their level of prejudice be?  Two PCs came from planets which I had predetermined were unfavorable to Jimmies, so they had a -DM to the throw. None came out with very strong opinions, but it did add complexity to the decisions they had to make about how to handle things.

Along with the location change the atmosphere of Mavramorn is not as dangerous as that of Yorbund. I admit it is inconsistent that I disliked the danger of "oops your vacc suit broke, you dissolve in the local atmosphere" but kept in place the danger of "oops, you missed your throw while climbing the rope down the shaft. You're dead when you hit the floor five seconds later." No one needed this, but I planned for a one-chance saving throw if anyone fell in, or lost their grip on the rope. But a fall would have been fatal, and I mentally committed to enforcing that.

I enforced the encumbrance rule, which did have an effect on play. The PCs were away from ship and vehicle that could carry lots of extra gear, and they all took the limitation in stride. It did help that I also enforced the Gravity rule - Mavramorn's surface gravity is only 0.4G. So a PC with STR 8 could carry 13 kilos without penalty. The same gravity rule made climbing up & down ropes easier.

We went into this adventure as a one-shot, as our regular Referee had some heavy weeks at work and didn't have prep time. Several players had never tried Traveller before, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Perhaps in future a regular game will develop. The ground work is laid.

Have you ever run or played Shadows? Tell about it in the comments.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Game Report - Shadows

For the last few months, I have been playing in a Friday night game (not Traveller) group with friends. Last night, since our regular Referee was wiped out with a grueling week at work, he relinquished the chair. I stepped in and offered a Classic Traveller one-shot: Double Adventure # 1, Shadows. It has turned into a two-shot, as the crew of the Alexandria-class Free Trader Normandy have not yet made it inside the pyramid structure. We hope to finish it next Friday. 

I've made a few changes, of course. The setting moved to Holtzmann's Corridor, on the planet Mavramorn. Mavramorn does not have a corrosive atmosphere; rather a thin and tainted one. The PCs need breather masks, but not full vacc suits. The other changes I can't reveal until after the adventure is concluded.

Mavramorn's national symbol

To save time (not enough, apparently) I consulted both Supplement 1 and Supplement 4 for pre-gen characters. We have:

  • Scout Pilot Shepherd 9A8687  Pilot-1, Mechanical-3, Medical-1, Vacc Suit-2, Computer-1
  • Baroness Chao 2 term Noble 89788C  Engineering-1, Computer-1, Laser rifle-1
  • Marine Corporal Fractin  998667  Electronics-2, Cutlass-1, Revolver-1, Brawling-0
  • Army Major "Snake"  B85695  Leader-2, Mechanical-3, Cutlass-1, Rifle-1, SMG-1
  • Merchant Officer Suzette A5A7CA  Steward-2, Medical-1, Navigation-1, Brawling-0
  • (NPC) Proper Dave  A3AA9A  Engineering-3, Medical-2, Admin-1
While waiting in orbit to be granted permission to land, Suzette detected a strange energy emission on the surface, far away from the inhabited parts of Mavramorn (population 50 million). They descended to investigate it since they were just waiting around anyway, and nearly got shot down as they approached the pyramid structure. 

They geared up and explored the outside of the pyramid, and finally found the hidden entrance located [redacted]. Next week we'll explore the interior and hopefully locate the energy weapon controls. 

Thursday, March 10, 2022

O Give Me a Home - Acquiring land in Traveller

I was wondering recently. What does it cost in Traveller to own land? The concept is not addressed in The Traveller Book. The underlying assumption of PCs forever on the move explains this absence. When the Third Imperium came along, the galaxy gained a social structure, and introduced the possibility of PCs owning land.

Land ownership can integrate with the concept of Traveller. It means that the wandering PCs are not aimless. They have a place to return to. Everyone is from somewhere. For most folk, where someone comes from is a major factor in their identity and sense of self. Where do I belong? is not a frivolous question. 

I've mentioned before in Character Experience and Development that PCs might gain land as a reward. If the PCs do some thrilling heroics and save the town/city/planet, that piece of prime real estate makes sense. You've endeared yourself to the local populace. They want you to feel that you're a part of them now, by owning part of where they live.

Welcome home!
Once the homestead is official, if the PCs get involved with that, the property should start paying for itself. Land is a resource for making money. Grow food, extract resources and then sell it, or rent it out to someone who does those things. Or rent it out as living space. Referees can make adventures out of any of these options.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

World Mapping

I enjoy making maps, and have made Traveller world maps for years, for many worlds of my TU. But within the game universe, how do the characters and governments make these maps?  I think the common answer to that question is by using survey/scout ships and orbiting satellites. I have read recently a few things about real-world satellites and their capabilities that prod me to consider them in more detail for gaming.

It is simply impractical to park a Donosev survey ship and its crew in orbit around a planet for a few years while it does the surveying. Unmanned satellites are the more economical and reasonable option. However, sat surveys have limitations too. At high altitudes, a sat with optical or visible light cameras can see a lot, but not in any useful detail. The standard Traveller world map is a good representation of the problem.

Look at the map of Earth as presented in the game Invasion:Earth. The area of the continental United States is covered in four hexes. Three thousand miles in four hexes?  Each hex is 713 miles in width. There is, for all practical purposes, NO detail of the surface available from that map. Even the hex that represents the Rocky Mountains is so vague as to be almost useless. Humans don’t live and act at that scale. The continental US has almost every type of terrain found on this planet, from swamps to river deltas to deserts to mountains, foothills and coastal plains. None of that is depicted on the I:E map.

See what I mean about lack of detail? Can you tell where the Appalachian mountains are from this photo?

That is the kind of representation that a high orbital satellite provides. It’s quick and easy to do but provides the most meager information.

The reverse is true as well. A camera sat might focus on a single square kilometer, or 10 meter square of the surface, and produce a very detailed image. But only for that one square. What is adjacent to it?  What terrain must be crossed to get to it? How long did the sat take to find that one spot – a week, a month, years?  Satellites orbit, and for this reason, are able to look at any one spot for a limited time each time it goes around. Maybe not much changes from one orbit to the next, but maybe something does.