Into the Void Ref’s Notes 4

We’re now four games into the campaign, which seems to have acquired some momentum. My players keep coming back, at least. I’ve found an alternate system of character improvement in Classic Traveller on one of the Traveller portal websites, and I may start using it. It’s not that much more generous than the very stingy one in the books, but any improvement would be welcome. Personally, I like that the players in this game aren’t always fretting about experience points and advancement, but still I think it would be nice to give ’em a little something.

This last game the PCs did a lot of “housekeeping” work from the previous session. Stuff they needed to deal with. Ship repairs, turning in scumbags for bounties, etc. Then they set right back out to the same system they’d just left. I’d designed a pretty good encounter for them, and as usual my players used their equipment to great advantage. They understand that combat in this system is deadly. This ain’t D&D 5e. They really use their heads, which I appreciate because I try to give them plenty of opportunity to do so. In the upcoming games I want to put them in situation in which they can use from of their lesser-used skills. There’s a lot that can go wrong on a space ship. Or a planet with a thin, toxic atmosphere.

Cover from “Nor Crystal Tears”, but Alan Dean Foster.

I’m finding this game a lot easier to write for than my cyberpunk campaign. The PCs in this game have at least got some logical rationale for working together. Still, when our forth player can get back to the table, I need to be ready to get our cyberpunk on again. But for now, I’m loving the oldschool Traveller.

I follow several Traveller groups on Google+ and Facebook. There are some fantastic Refs and writers out there. I read some of their material, and it’s just mind blowing. So, so good. And yet, as good as their background material and ships plans and whatnot are, I’m honestly not sure I could use their settings. I’ve started our campaign on the frontier, near the true unknown of the Deep Dark, specifically so I’d not have to worry about Traveller cannon. It’s very freeing to be able to just make shit up. It’s fun. I need to make some notes from the SF short story anthology I’ve been reading too. It’s full of great ideas I may be able to adapt to our game.

Into the Void is at a very fun point right now. The last cliffhanger, I’ll admit, I’m kind of proud of. I can’t wait to continue the story and see what the players do. So much fun. Wish a couple of other old friends were here to play in it — maybe some day.

 

Into the Void, Episode 1, part 4.

When we left the Travellers, they had just left the moon we’ll call Zal’s World. Having made repairs to their ship, the Rambler, and the ship formerly owned by Croyd, they begin making their way with both ships to a safe jump distance. The survivors of Croyd’s crew all in cold sleep about the merchant ship, Roger calculates Nav routes for both ships back to Mylor, where they intend to return Zal and collect the other half of their pay.

As they make their way to the jump point, about the Rambler, Zal continues to frantically study information he’s able to extract from the Precursor data module acquired in the alien Ziggurat. The ships sync up for simultaneous jumps, and just as they hit the JUMP button Zal exclaims “Wait! Don’t jump!” It’s too late, jump has been initiated and the ships leave the system.

It seems that Zal has uncovered evidence of another Precursor site within that same system, on a rocky planet in the inner solar system. Too late. The ships are in jump space on their way back to Mylor.

During jump, the team each works on the long process of upgrading their skills. Roger begins learning proper operation of the Vacc suit. Lucky begins studying navigation. Barney begins studying Computer. Zal spends his time reading texts on Galactic Folklore. Fardt, having watched the Scouts pilot the ship, says “I think I can do that! I’m going to become a pilot!”, and begins studying ship piloting. Iron Balls McGinty just watches movies.

They arrive in the Mylor system and must decide what to do with the merchant ship and it hibernating crew. They land. They want to sell the Type A Merchant as-is, but fail to find a cash buyer on Mylor. After some discussion, Fardt makes a Streetwise roll – succeeds – and says “ I know a guy.” He leaves, and a couple of hours later come back with another Gluck named Rawlph whom they apprise of the situation. “For 15K I can make this problem go away, he says.” They agree. Rawlph sees about changing the ship’s transponder and registration. When asked what company name it should be registered under, the team tells him “Super Adventure Friends Co.” (SAFCO). They go about making complete quality repairs to both ships.

They still have a number of the Scumbags in cold sleep. They check all for criminal records/rewards. Two have records on Mylor. They wake them and turn them in for the rewards. They wake Ronda the Pilot and just turn her loose, as they do the remaining Scumbags.

Finally, they decide to cut Iron Balls McGinty loose. He’s been a pretty good crew member, but the scout ship Rambler is crowded, and he really doesn’t have any skills they don’t have. Still, he’s was true to his word when he joined the crew. They give him 10,000 credits – enough for high passage to another world. He thanks them, saying “I’ll have ten times that much once I get to the casino!”. They get contact info should they need him again, and they part ways with him.

They consider what to do with the Merchant ship. They don’t want to be flying a fleet around the sector. They are now the “legal” owners of the Merchant ship. However, it might prove useful in the future, at least until they can sell it. They pay to keep it at the Mylor spaceport.

Zal, of course, is anxious to return to Precursor system in the Void. He agrees to pay them the same fee as before, though he admits that will nearly exhaust his research budget for the time. At least until the University on Planet Zapata can see the value of the Precursor artifact and research he’s accomplished.

A week on Mylor. Maintenance is done on the ship. New gear and provisions are purchased, and they set off of the Precursor system. No jump mishaps. A week in jump. On the way, Lucky installs new heavier plating on the robot, making it a bit more resistant to damage.

They arrive in the system and locate the smaller, rocky inner planet. First they go to the gas giant to refuel, Roger skillfully avoiding the dangerous radiation bursts. Arriving at the smaller rocky world, they find it to be size 3, with a thin toxic atmosphere. No water – no large liquid bodies at all. From orbit the planet appears to be blasted. The surface is covered by massive craters. They scan the surface, but detect no abnormal radiation. Spending some time in orbit, taking turns searching for signs of Precursor civilization, Roger detects an obviously artificial radio signal. They trace it to its approximate point of origin. Having taken the “covered” air raft from the Merchant vessel, they leave the Rambler in orbit and take the air raft to the surface. As they descend, more surface features come into view. They see some volcanic activity. The surface is covered by some alien flora – clearly based on a completely different biology. Still no radiation.

Following the radio signal to its source, they see the ruins of an installation far below on the edge of one of the massive craters, next to a dry river bed which runs along the side of a cliff.

The examine the area from the air. The alien forest surrounding the small ruins is thick. They can see that something large — some things — seem to be moving in there. They find a landing spot in the compound far away from the movement. They decide that Roger and Fardt will stay in the air raft, keep it floating above the compound, watching for trouble, while the others investigate.

Donning protective suits and respirators, the landing party investigates the ruins. They notice what is apparently a collapsed bridge, leading across the dry river bed. On the other side appears to be the entrance to a natural cavern. Reporting to Roger, he brings the air raft down to get closer, confirming the opening and seeing that it’s big enough for a human to go through.

The robot reports something is approaching from the other side of the compound – audio sensors indicate something big. The team turns to investigate, to see 3 giant insect-like creatures approaching. The things are about twice the size of the air raft, 8 legs, and seem aggressive. Roger quickly brings in the air raft, they landing party gets on board, and he takes it up high in a nick of time. The beast stand below trying in vain to reach the air raft, opening their jaws and extending powerful 20’ “strikers”. The teams determines from their behavior that they are probably not sentient, and they are impeding the team’s mission. Opening a hatch, Lucky uses an auto rifle to test the creatures toughness. They are easy to hit, but 8 shots simply deflect from the monsters armor before one strikes a relatively soft spot. The monster barely notices. This will be a problem, as they have no more powerful weapons.

About this time, one of the monsters, then the others, seem to back down and begin retreating. From across the dry river bed, a new group of creatures has advanced. Insectoid — resembling a cross between a man-sized grasshopper and preying mantis, these creatures each old a circular device between manipulative limbs. While the team can’t see what is affecting the monsters, it is clear that the new creatures are using a technological weapon. They drive the beasts back into the forrest.

The team lands the air raft and meets the creatures. Zal attempts to communicate. The creatures seem friendly. They motion for the team to follow them, leading them into the cave entrance at the foot of the cliff.

The interior is of a regular shape. Clearly not natural, and opens into a large, square chamber. It is lit. There are openings all over the walls, which are 40’ high, in which the team can see many more of the insectoids.

There are two features in the room. First is a stone column extending to the ceiling, with a glass window displaying a technological system. In front of that is a small black stone pedestal. The leader of the insectoids again attempts to communicate, as more of the creatures some out front the walls. The team finds itself in the midst of an entire tribe. They can see that floating in the middle of the chamber in the column is some kind of slightly glowing metal ball.

The insectoid leader turns to the pedestal, bows, and on top of the surface a device is quickly materialized. The leader picks it up, clicks out some of it’s language, and the devices translates. “We are the Protectors. Are you the ancients?”

Zal responds. “No, we are not, we are simply seekers of knowledge. What do you protect?”

“We protect the Heart of the Gods”, replies the being, gesturing toward the floating ball in the column. “For Millenia we have served this function, awaiting the return of our creators.”

“May we look upon the Heart of the Gods?” asks the team?

“Yes, of course.”

The team sees, on display through the glass, a glowing metal ball floating in what is obviously a magnetic levitation/containment system”.

Zal looks astonished. “Boys, we have just discovered something of incredible danger. From my research of the last few weeks using the precursor data module, as well as folk tales, I had thought this might be possible. I believe this is a confined singularity power generator. Should this technology become known, it would change the balance of power in the entire Empire. Our civilization is not prepared to handle this power. We can’t allow this power to be taken — it will be misused.”

“I agree”, say Barney and Lucky. Roger nods.

The black pedestal becomes active again, as thousands of tiny black cubes form the 3-D image of an insectoid head and face, vaguely similar to the Protectors.

It speaks, the voice emanating from the spherical translation device.

“Greetings. I was one of the Ancients, and I’ve brought you here…to kill me.”

Total elapsed game time: 4.7 weeks.

Prepping for Game

I’m getting ready for another session of my Traveller campaign. The game has some good momentum now. Regardless the game or campaign, my gaming group seems to take 45 minutes to 1 hour for each encounter or scene.  So three scenes will be good. Nice and easy to handle. Just need to remember a good piece of GMing advice I saw on Twitter – the basis of a good game is a good encounter. Make good encounters and scenes, and the rest flows. 

So far my group seems to be enjoying this campaign, even with the lack of a serious character advancement system in Traveller. I’ve always assumed that without that kind of reward players would get bored, but it hasn’t happened yet. 

I’ve been reading a lot of science fiction over the last couple of months. I’m currently in the middle of a large collection of short stories, which is just full of great ideas I could slap into game sessions.  Since returning from vacation I’ve not very little time to read. Need to get back on that after this game. 

Into the Void – Ref’s Notes 3.

We’ve now played three sessions of my classic Traveller campaign, “Into the Void.” I really should say “our” campaign, because at this point the players are starting to make it their own as well.

A few thoughts.

  • It’s pretty damned amazing how much fun you can have with those three little black books. In some ways they are the barest outline of a game system. Nowhere in them is there even an example of play! And yet they are amazingly complete and flexible. Back in the old days when my friends and I played Traveller one a week, I don’t think we had the experience to appreciate just how well the rules work. Frankly, there weren’t really many complex, “crunchy” systems out there to compare it to.
  • The ship combat system is actually really good. It seems like a ship combat system from a war game, that’s been simplified to fit into a roleplaying game. With small ships at least, combat is something to avoid. In our most recent session (#3), the PCs ship got into a skirmish with a slightly larger ship. We had one round of combat, resulting in the PCs hull taking a hit and depressurizing and the enemy ship having it’s maneuver drive disabled, putting it dead in space. That’s in one round of combat. We didn’t even get to draw the movement vectors on my game mat!
  • The time scales are way different between ship combat and personal combat, so with PCs running around inside the enemy craft during the ship combat, we first did some personal level stuff inside the enemy ship, then the ship combat round, then more inside the enemy ship. The effect was actually really good – very cinematic. I think we all liked it. As Ref, I thought it all fell together well.
  • I’m trying hard not to turn these sessions into dungeon crawls. Now, I think that can be fun sometimes, but it seems too lazy. But I’ll admit — it is tempting. When I’m sitting there, writing, working on ideas, I do sometimes thing “man, it would be easy to have them explore a complex building.” But that’s not the direction I want to go with this. It needs to be about action, ideas, drama, conflict, and story.

Into the Void, Episode 1, part 3. Showdown in Space

The scouts begin this game on the surface of the moon, on which they have investigated the Ziggurat temple and its observatory upper level, obtained the robot, and taken a data storage module.  They attempt first aid to the Scumbags from whom they saved the natives. Roger uses his Medic skill – failing his roll on Croyd, the leader. Croyd will bleed out and die. He makes the roll on the others. They keep the Scumbags restrained.

They know that Croyd’s ship is still in orbit, and is likely bigger than theirs. Iron Balls McGinty confirms this, noting that they are dealing with a modified Type A Trader, with 2 double laser turrets. However, most of the crew is here on the ground, leaving Ronda, the pilot, and 3 crewmen in the ship. The PCs need to get Zal Twist back to Mylor to complete their job, but realize that with the enemy craft in orbit they may not make it to the jump point. They devise a plan.

Roger realizes that the Scumbags’ ship must be parked in orbit, using the moon as a shield against the periodic radiation bursts from the planet.

Having bribed Iron Balls to join their crew, Lucky and Barney take him, the Robot, and Fardt up in the Scumbags’ landing craft. Iron Balls reports that he’s returning with the injured Croyd — that the “marks” were tougher than they looked — the rest of the crew is dead. Ronda believes him and sends him coordinates for the current location of the ship. The landing craft leaves the atmosphere and after some time approaches the ship. Ronda opens the bay doors for the lander, and they touch down in the small hanger.

As this is happening, Roger has taken the Scout ship (the Rambler) just beyond the horizon of the small moon. When he gets word that they are about to board the other ship, he pops out of the atmosphere by surprise, with Zal manning the laser turret. Now, Zal isn’t trained on the turret, but the goal isn’t to hit the trader, but only to cause a distraction for the pilot. Zal screws up and hits the enemy anyway, disabling the traders’ maneuver drive. Ronda, using the automated turret, scores a laser hit on the Ramber, hitting the hull. The ship begins to depressurize. Roger and Zal put on their vacc suits. Roger continues to use the maneuver/evade program to avoid further damage, no knowing that the trader is now incapable of maneuvering.

Back on board the Scumbag’s ship, the boarding party guns down two of the remaining crew members in the shuttle bay (“I never liked you anyways, Jonesy”, says Iron Balls, as he blast his former crewmate). Iron Balls leads them to the hatch down to the main crew deck, which is guarded by “the Crab” an alien crewman resembling a huge crustacean. The crab is, sadly, outnumbered and outgunned, and is quickly rendered unconscious. They open the hatch and go down the ladder, finding themselves right in front of the door to the bridge. The door is locked. They need to get in there. They know they are in a damaged ship, but have no idea what the damage is. They need to end this before either of the ships is further damaged or destroyed. Iron Balls voices concern that Ronda might depressurize the rest of the ship, in which case they are screwed. They order the Robot to use its immense strength to open the door, but as the Robot moves to do this, the door opens…

Ronda, the pilot, is standing in front of them, hands up. “I surrender. This ship is dead in space. If it takes one more hit we’re all dead. Call off your attack before it’s too late.” The Scouts contact Roger, who tells Zal to stand down. Disaster averted.

Now — what to do? Both ships damaged. While Roger lands the Rambler back at their original landing site on the moon’s surface to make repairs to the hull and take on more atmosphere, Barney uses his Engineer-3 skill to get the trader’s maneuver drive working again. It won’t last forever, but should hold until they get to a proper space port. They land that ship on the surface too.

So, they have two ships available, but also a bunch of captured Scumbags. They are able to keep all of them from bleeding out. They can’t leave the Scumbags on the moon. They may get loose and cause problems for the natives. They don’t want to kill them, or take them into orbit and space ’em. Scouts — good scouts — don’t do that kind of thing. So they take them all onboard the trader and put them to sleep in that ship’s cold berths. They keep Ronda awake, locked in a state room. They’ll have to deal with her at some point. They recognize her as former Scout who was kicked out of the service years ago for a breach of ethics.

Both ships leave the surface. They spend a day in orbit, as the trader carefully avoids radiation bursts and skims fuel from the gas giant.  Zal connects the alien data module to his mobile computer, interfaces it with the ship’s mainframe, and continues investigating its mysteries. Together the ships begin the journey out to the jump point, at which point they plan to jump back to Mylor, deposit Zal there, collect their pay, make proper repairs to both ships, and go underground to change the traders’ registration and transponder so that they own it. They may need a company name.

That’s the plan, anyway…

Elapsed game time: 1.7 weeks

Into the Void Ref’s Notes 2

I had some time today, so I started working on the plans for session 3 of Into the Void, my classic Traveller campaign.

As I’ve noted before, playing 2-3 hours, rather than longer games, is helping me come up with good ideas without getting overwhelmed. It also helps me produce about the right amount of content for the session, rather than feeling like I have to have absurd amounts of prep done.

I was talking with my gaming group tonight, and thinking about how the old Traveller games I played as a kid were all “murder hobos in space” kind of games. Then I thought about the rule books. The books are not only very dry, but they don’t give a single example of play! Of course, there were a lot of adventure supplements, but let’s face it, they were dry as hell too, and also contained no examples of play. So it’s no wonder a bunch of 15-year olds could only think of going berserk with plasma guns. In fairness, our Ref did do some sessions based on some science fiction novels. Jack Chalker’s “Well of Souls” novels come to mind. Those were fun games. But as players, we were not very helpful in collaboratively creating an interesting universe.

Well, I’ve got a fair amount of prep to do, but at least Traveller characters are easy to generate. The work is mostly thinking of scenarios, possible contingencies, clues, encounters, rather than a lot of mechanics building NPCs and whatnot.

Oh, here’s a cool picture someone did of a standard Traveller Air Raft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First V&V Character – Gran Montaña

Here’s a character I cobbled up over the last few days. I had no idea when I was writing this up just how tough he could be to take down. The combination of armor and invulnerability, plus having a pretty high Power with which to roll with incoming attacks that hit, would make him a fairly difficult to wear down. At least by starting Standard power level PCs.

This is a pretty simple character build. I just thought of an easy concept to play with.

Oh yeah, he weighs over 16,000 pounds. I like the idea of this guy having to be transported in some heavy truck, and cracking the concrete when he moves. I like the idea of a telekinetic ally lifting him up and dropping him on opponents.

Just a quick sketch of what he might look like.

A V&V Update

I’ve been digging deeper into The Mighty Protectors – Villains & Vigilantes 3.0 over the last few days. I created my first character. I’ve been looking at the excellent Marvel Comics character write ups at MP Writeups.

I never thought I’d say this, but I think this game may be a superior superhero RPG to Champions. It’s at least just as good. I think that with regard to game balance it is superior. The combination of limits on the point totals of basic characteristics and abilities helps, but I think the real genius is limiting the average damage of attacks based on the total point value of the character. Keeps things in line.

 

the Mighty Protectors – V&V 3.0. First Impressions.

I’ve had the new Villians & Vigilantes 3.0 game, the Mighty Protectors, for about a week now. I have not played it yet, but I’m tossing around campaign ideas. Here are a few first impressions.

  • I got the soft cover book. It’s nice. Well put together, good illustrations, as one would expect from Jeff Dee and Jack Herman.
  • Random character generation and point-buy system. The old V&V editions were random generation. This resulted in some pretty crazy characters, and it could be a challenge to make the stuff you rolled make any sense or fit into a coherent character. I was always amazed that the characters published in the material, which seemed to be randomly created, were all really cool. I think it is just testimony to the game designers’ creativity. Now, at 53, I kind of appreciate that about the original game. I’d say this point-buy system is workable, but the random part is really cool and fun. The writers sort of say “do what you want”, which is nice. It’s a nice balance.
  • Speaking of balance, the point system is really useful to creating characters that are appropriate for the balance of the game. Starting point values are given for low, standard, and high powered games. There’s also a table that set maximum characteristic and ability values based on the total point level of the characters. For example, a “standard” campaign starts with 150 point characters. Based on that 150 points, there is a maximum value a power can have. Because of the mechanics of powers, it would be a lot harder to create a power-gaming abomination like you might in Champions. So the point system looks very effective for maintaining game balance.
  • Initially I thought this game didn’t really cover skills.  It doesn’t have anything called “skills”, but there is a Knowledge ability that can be assigned to specific kinds of knowledge or tasks. Science knowledge, acrobatic tasks, etc. It isn’t as well developed as some systems, but after looking it over I don’t consider it a massive problem.
  • Martial arts. If you want to simulate detailed martials arts, this is not the game for you. It is all covered under the ability “Natural Weapondry.” Looking at this, some of the other abilities, and the various modifiers you can apply to abilities, I think you could design some different martial arts techniques. But the system doesn’t do it for you. Would be interesting to see what I can come up with.
  • If you ever played or read through older editions of V&V, you will recognize the imprint of Jeff Dee and Jack Herman. The book contains lots of background info on their game universe. It is very cool.  What I’m not seeing is a lot of character examples. That would be nice. You could easily take some of the characters from previous editions and convert them, but I’d like to see some supplements with characters for this system. All the characters from previous editions were incredibly cool. I’d like to see some new ones!
  • I found this site, which converts a lot of Marvel characters to this game system. There are a few things I think the guy got slightly wrong, but overall he did a great job writing up these characters. Check it out.

I’m sure I’ll introduce my group to this game at some point. Honestly, I could always just use Champions, but there are some aspects of this game that I’m really interested in using. I have been brainstorming a darker game world to use, but the rest of my campaigns tend to be kind of dark and/or serious, so something a bit more lighthearted might be fun. Not sure what direction I want to go. I would be really easy to drop the PCs into the Dee/Herman universe though, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

 

Traveller at NTRPG Con

This morning and early afternoon I played in Mike Kelly’s “Millennium Girl” game of classic Traveller. I won’t blow any surprises or details of this game, since I feel sure Mike will be running it again in the future. I’ll just say it was really fun. Mike’s obviously been running classic Traveller for a long time. It was a very unique adventure, at least in my experience.

Our group consisted of me, another guy my age (middle aged dude), an adult woman, a young woman just graduated from highschool, and a young woman I’d say about 14 years old, and a young man about 15 years old. By far the most diverse group I’ve ever gamed with. Really fun. A lot of fun to see how people outside my usual gaming group approach roleplaying.

Anyway, tons of fun. Play in one of Mike’s games if you get the chance.