Traveller Books Are Here!

Well, thanks again to the Ebays, I now have the Traveller boxed set from 1979, as well as the High Guard, Citizens of the Imperium, Mercenary, and Spinward Marches supplements.

Of course the first thing I dug into was book 1, Characters and Combat.

The books are in amazingly good shape considering they are 38 years old.

It’s pretty weird going back into such an old gaming system. After many years of playing games that use point systems to create the character you want to play, Traveller seems like quite the throwback. The character generation process is a game in-itself — the PC can die before he/she gets out of generation! Then there’s situations like rolling up a character with a Strength of 12 (on a 1-12 scale), Dexterity of 12, and an Endurance of 4. It’s hard to make sense out of those sorts of stats, but you know, it can be done, and at age 52 (rather than 15), I can see the fun of doing it. How about, a big fat guy who is really strong, and has great hand eye coordination, but is just TOO HEAVY.  That works! And it might make the character kind of interesting as well.

Then there’s the skills. This isn’t like GURPS where there are dozens of skills and you decide how good your character will be at them. There are fewers skills, but they tend to be a bit broader in focus. Medic. Pilot. Engineer. Gun Combat (pick a particular gun). Jack of All Trades (I’ve always loved this one). So you don’t have the really detailed differences in PC stats that you might seen in GURPS or the Hero System. It’s more on the player to create an interesting backstory and give the PC some personality.

Looking at all the books together, it’s pretty clear why our games back in 1979-1981 always involved going to a planet, buying new guns, killing a lot of people, running to another planet, and repeat. We were young, immature, and really didn’t know that much about science fiction, and frankly we didn’t really do that much real roleplaying. The boxed set give you such a flexible framework within which to build a game that we just didn’t know what to do with it.

Finally (for now), I have to admit that the lack of a very workable improvement system for characters still kind of puts me off a bit. On the bright side, it encourages good storytelling and roleplaying. However, it does kind of suck to go through a lot of games and your character doesn’t really improve. A PC has to age four years, during which he/she studies like a maniac, to learn new skills or improve at old ones. I’m sure some of the newer versions of Traveller probably address this issue. I could see using the GURPS version of Traveller, and using the old books as source material and inspiration.

I’m thinking that after our next GURPS CyberTex game I may have my players roll up some old Traveller characters and see what we can do with this.

Next on the agenda

Saturday night’s game was really fun. Now I need to start brainstorming ideas for other games. Maybe a few standalone sessions and a two or three game series. That would probably be enough for this year. Given the sporadic nature of our game, some stand alone adventures (with hooks into other sessions or hooks into a longer subtext) might a good idea.

It was hard for me to get back into the exact flow of the first two games while creating session three. I didn’t really feel inspired until I was working on the final scene. I was thinking “what would be a fun environment for a fight?” For some reason the opening scene of the film “the Hunger” came to mind, so I modeled it after that — a super crowded CyberGoth club with Bauhaus playing Bela Lugosi’s Dead. THEN I was fully energized to make it all work.  Especially when I decided to actually play the song while the PCs were in the club. It helped me to then go back through the game again at that point, since my mind was more able to really start visualizing the scenes more cinematically, rather than just writing stuff down like a 15-year old filling a dungeon with monsters.


CyberTex Episode 3

After close to 2 years of family illnesses and other issues in our group, we finally played game 3 last night. I had originally planned this to be a 12 game story arch, but clearly that was a bad idea. Even without delays, I think that’s just too long for what is essentially the same adventure. So in writing last night’s game up, I decided to get some closure on this chapter of the campaign.

This was our first GURPS campaign. We were, and are still, just learning the system. The ability to start with simple rules and gradually add complexity as you see fit is a great feature of GURPS. Rather than a very tactical wargame style of play, I envisioned this campaign as more driven by the story, and less about technical combat rules. GURPS lends itself to this for a number of reason, some of which I will probably forget here, but including the following:

  • Deadly. GURPS combat tends to be a bit more lethal than many systems, especially when guns are involved. If you get into too many shoot-outs, you will not last long. This seems to really force a lot more role-playing, skill use, and problem solving in the game. It also mean the GM can’t just throw together a bunch of fights and call it a game.
  • [insert other reasons here — hahah — I guess the first one pretty much covers it]

I decided when I got into this that as a GM I wanted to raise my level of storytelling, and really treat adventure design and gamemastering as an “art” in itself. I know many people already do this, but I have to admit that most of my previous gamemastering tended toward just going from one fight to another. That’s just not a lot of fun, actually, and it makes each battle less important.

In the future I want to incorporate more of the PCs backstories into the game. The guys came up with some good stuff, and it will provide lots of opportunities for fun.

OK, Game 3…

The PCs begin where they left off, at the hacking lab of Reilly. The cranial chip they took from Jake the Painter successfully hacked, they discover the schematics and location of a building downtown — Childers Tower.

They go check out the building.  It’s about midnight. Light rain, The streets are crowded. It’s a highrise residential tower, with some retail in it too. There’s train station up on the 8th floor, and it is connected to other buildings in the area by many pedestrian bridges that span the street at high levels. The sides of the building, like most in this area, are covered by advertising and neon.  Information overload on steroids. They enter the building lobby and see a few lightly armed security guards, but there are many people around and the PCs are really not noticed. Joe and Max “stealth” over the known location of the express elevator to the 40th floor. It’s disguised as a freight elevator. They have no pass card. Hawk uses his enhanced senses and notices that one of the cleaning crew appears to have an access card. They tell the janitor that someone has puked in one of the common areas — a more secluded one. When he goes to clean it up, Inuyama grapples him and quickly chokes him out – unconscious – not dead. They hide him in a storage crate, get in the elevator, and go up.

Arriving on the 40th floor, guns drawn and expecting action, they find themselves in a long corridor apparently spanning much of the length of the building. Leaning against the wall, arms crossed casually, is a young man dressed like a futuristic cowboy, a gun on each hip, and cowboy hat tipped down. Remaining casual, he looks up and says “Mr. Childers has been expecting you.” The PCs notice a red reflection from one of his eyes. “Not very friendly to come up here with your guns drawn, friends. Y’all can put ’em away and follow me.” The PCs, realizing they are in no danger, comply. As the cowboy turns around they notice a hole the back of his hat allowing a cybernetic eye implant to keep an eye on them.

The cowboy leads them into a large room. Three walls are “monolith black”, with monitors at various points around the room. On each side of the room is an additional guard — a woman on one side dressed as a classic cyberpunk razor girl, and a burly man in fatigue pants, a Kevlar vest. Both are armed. Both look confident and relaxed, just like the cowboy.

“Here they are Mr. Childers.”

Behind the fourth wall — a wide and tall glass window — is the withered form of Lester Childers. He floats in a tube of nutrient fluids, tubes and wires protruding from his body, connected to machines above and below that maintain his bodily functions.

The PCs greet Childers and inquire about Dr. Salazar. Childers sounds like the actor Strother Martin. Childers says that Salazar once worked for him, trying to grow him a new cybernetically enhanced body to replace is failing natural body, but when Salazar got too involved in some “pervert shit” he fired him, and has not seen him since. He allows the PCs to search the lab. Hawk gets the woman’s phone number. She says “Nice eye”, to which he replies “I have an eye for beauty” (reference to his cybernetic eye). In the lab, they see 4 “grow tubes”, which containing a living, but mindless and misshapen human body, the failed attempts to create a new body for Childers. They discover an unusual computing system, that uses DNA to encode information into a living data matrix. Searching the rest of the lab, they find flyers of various occult oriented events — mostly bands — playing around town. Finally, amongst the many scientifically labeled vials of compounds, is a small jar of green goo labeled “R’leyh”. After much discussion, Hawk hacks into the computer and enters the word. A slot opens with a receptacle and a message appears on-screen that says “insert media”. He pours a bit of the goo into the slot, and an address appears on-screen. It matches the address of one of the clubs on a band flyer.

A little research reveals that the clubs is in the old Deep Ellum area of Dallas. It is called “the Hunger”. It’s a CyberGoth club. They go there and enter the club. It is shoulder to shoulder with people. The band plays Bauhaus’s “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”. Lots of flashing lights. People jacked into cyberspace terminals, tripping out to the music. Joe goes to a spot with good visibility on the balcony. The rest of the team begins to look around. Eventually, Hawk notices several people in the club that look much like the cult members the team has encountered. Same kind of clothing and facial tattoos. He sees via IR vision that there are two people in what is probably an office behind the bar. He counts 5 cult members in the club, and texts the info to the rest of the group. Joe sneaks down from the balcony, and quietly garrotes the cultist near the stage, drawing no attention in the crowd of stoned goths.

A person comes out of the office. Inuyama intentionally bumps into him. The man gets a good look at his face. He continues to a table with two cultists and leans down to speak to them. Hawk successfully using his parabolic hearing to listen in. He moves through the crowd. “That big guy is one of the ones the Master wants us to find”. The man begins to return to the office. Hawk notices that now the office is devoid of human heat signatures. The two cultists start moving toward Inuyama. Hawk taps one on the shoulder with his cybernetic hand, injecting a knock-out poison. He drops. By this time Joe is moving toward the bard and office door, a bit behind the others. He is able to see that the remaining cultist, having seen his companion drop, begins to pull a gun. Joe quickdraws and uses his gunslinger skill, blasting the cultist in the back of the head.

The place goes wild. Screaming and panicking goths in a fire-trap club. The PCs take advantage of the confusion to enter the office, in which they find a hidden stairwell down. They go down the stairs and find themselves in an occult library/shrine. There is a cyberspace portal station in the middle of the floor. The walls are covered with occult art. On the many monitors is a constant stream of video imagery — primitive occult ritual, scenes of human disaster and atrocities from history There is a door a the other side of the room, with a cyberspace jack next to it and an intercom panel. Hawk jacks in and successfully hacks the door opening it. In doing so, his mind is taken through cyberspace corridors he didn’t know existed, and feels his sanity slipping away. He makes a save vs. Will and retains his identity.

Click to see image in all its Lovecraftian glory!

Beyond the door is a large room. Toward the other end is an instrument panel and a man furiously working the controls. Beyond him is a massive window, beyond which the PCs can tell is some sort of huge vault. The turns to look at the group, and in panic returns to his controls. They see that it is Salazar. Joe quickdrawns and shoots him in the ass, dropping him before he can release the 2 mini-shoggoths he has engineered to guard this lab — protoplasmic monstrosities kept alive in chambers to either side of the controls panel. The PCs rush to capture Salazar, and see the monsters behind the two windows. Looking at the control panel, they see the constantly changing image of a tentacle-faced being staring out from a cyberspace monitor. Beyond the massive window they see Salazar’s project — an almost complete but as yet mindless colossal body — 100 feet long, tentacles faced, wings, claws, slimy green flesh — floating and twitching in a massive grow tube.

Hawk successfully deactivates all life support for the abominations Salazar has created, and as the mindless creatures begin to die, the Inuyama throws Salazar over his shoulder and the team makes it way back up the stairs and out of the club. The deliver Salazar to the Pinky, who pays them in cash, and as he leaves says “Mr. Childers appreciates your hard work.”

5xp per PC.

During post game wrap up, I told the players a few things that I wanted them to discover but couldn’t quite work it all in. In game 2, Jake the Painter was set up by the cultists. The info on Childers Tower was disinformation. They were hoping the PCs would kill Childers, and stop coming after Salazar. Salazar was indeed working for Childers, but over time had become a member of the Cthulhu cult, and engineered his own kidnapping so he could disappear and work for them full time, to create a corporeal body for the cyberspace entity they know as Leviathan, but in reality Cthulhu. Also, they never discovered the identity of the “evil man” they had seen in pictures, who they thought was the cult leader. There was some additional info encoded into the DNA in the R’leyh bottle of good, but they didn’t continue hacking it. No biggie – they found the main clue.  Also, the bodies of Salazar’s monsters are still down there.

Lots of plot holes, I’m sure, but GMing a game like this ain’t easy. Honestly, we played for 5 hours, and had done everything I had planned, it would have been a 10 hour game and I’m just not practiced enough at GMing right now to pull it off. Still, everyone seemed to have fun.

New Stuff

Well, today is the day I got my monthly spending money, so I spent some. Ordered and downloaded a PDF copy of GURPS Magic 4th Edition. Would love to have it in hardback or paperback, but it is going for over $100 new, so a PDF it will be.

Also got PDFs of Steve Jackson Games Pyramid Magazine — the Cyberpunk issue and Monster Hunters. So I have some lunchtime reading this week.

Love playing GURPS, running GURPS, and supporting SJ Games – a true grassroots RPG company from Texas.


CyberTex Episode 2

Prior to the game: Jeff K works on his character Max. We have discovered quite a few points unused, so Jeff buys some appropriate new skills.

We started episode 2 at the end point of episode 1 — the PCs in the basement of the old data center, with a bunch of cyber-cultist captured, among them the two women with Salazar the night he was abducted from Pearl’s Party Dome. They decide to return to Pearl’s, to collect their fee for retrieving the girls and to interrogate them.

15 - 1 (1)Morning has come to CyberTex. A light rain falls in the artificial ecosystem of DFW zone of the megacity.

Pearl is quite displeased with the girls’ activities. She pays $10,000 to the PCs, and allows them to interrogate the girls. Between Inuyama’s Intimidate skill, Joe’s threats, and Max’s Fast Talk skill, they are able to extract a little useful information from them. They find out that one of the accomplices was someone known as Jake the Painter. They reveal where Jake lives. Apparently after the abduction, Jake dropped the girls off and was to take Salazar to a safe location. They leave the girls with Pearl, who says she will “reprogram” them.

Hawk does online research into “Jake the Painter”, and succeeds in finding a little info on Jake’s art, but nothing else.

Jake the Painter lives in the Oak Lawn Arts section of Dallas, in the top floor of a 3 floor building. The team does a drive by to surveil the area. Seeing the large windows in what is apparently Jake’s flat, Joe climbs to the roof across the street to look into the apartment using the scope on his sniper rifle. He sees two people, both appear to be tripping on virtual reality sim-stim – both of their craniums jacked into a sim-stim deck. He sees lots of paintings and art materials in the room. He reports back to the rest of the group via cell.

On the ground, Inuyama uses his Breaking and Entering skill to smash down the front door. They scare the hell out of an old lady living on the first floor, but otherwise meet no opposition. They make their way to the 3rd floor, and Inuyama again breaks down the door. They find Jake and his girlfriend in the apartment, tripping out in virtual reality. Jake is dressed as a 1980s goth style. His girlfriend in a typical contemporary cyberpunk fashion. The apartment is indeed full of creepy occult style paintings. It is very “un-cyber”. Other than the sim-stim system, there are no electronics in the place. The team quickly locates Jake’s 9mm pistol before he can get to it. Jake comes off the VR and gets violent, but Inuyama easily grapples him and restrains him.  They zip-tie the girl to restrain her.

They find a chip in Jake’s cranial chip slot. They take it. They debate simply putting into Inuyama’s slot to check out it’s contents, but decide it is too dangerous.

While they do that, Hawk and Max search the rest of the room. Hawk finds a folder that looks very out of place — a folder containing a printout image of Salazar. On back of the printout is an address in Dallas.

As Joe watches all this from across the street on the roof, a Sky Car starts to land there, but turns around when the driver sees a man with a sniper rifle on the roof. Joe notes the make and model of the Sky Car.

Joe reports in via cell, and the team gathers on the street near the car, taking Jake, his chip, and his girlfriend with them. They intend to deliver them to the Pinky, at the RotGut Emporium. As they approach the car, 6 people in black hoodies pop out of alleys and doorways and attack them. They pull down their hoods, revealing each has an obvious chip slot, neural interface, and tattoo around their right eyes. They seem to be berserk. 2 go for Inuyman bare-handed. The other 4 go for the rest of the team. Joe uses his submachine gun to quickly kill 3 of them, but not before taking a few hitpoints of damage from a gun (his tactical vest saves him). Max kills one of them, and Inuyama kills one, and Hawk manages to run over the 6th with the car, killing him.  The battle lasts just a few seconds — body count 6. Joe has a flesh wound. Joe makes a successful roll to avoid going into Post Combat Shakes. Having killed all his opponents, his Blood Lust is quelled.

Because of the battle, the team is about 3 seconds late for their meeting with the Pinky. They report that while they have not yet found Salazar, they are on his trail. They have the chip from Jake the Painter, as well as cranial chips from the goons that attacked them. They need help and/or equipment to hack and analyze the chips. The Pinky refers them to a contact named Reilly.

They got to Reilly’s, the upper floor of a 10-story building. They get off the elevator to find a reinforced concrete wall with a repurposed bank vault door in the middle. They use the intercom panel next to door, and are admitted.

Inside they find a large space full of boxes of stolen goods. One side of the room is covered with mismatched monitors and TV screens displaying a variety of information. On the other side is a large hackers space, containing the equipment Hawk will need to crack the chips. Reilly sits with his back to them, behind a large wooden desk, in a leather swivel chair. On his desk is a small robotic device holding a cigar — “smoking” it. The room is full of smoke and reeks of cigar. “The Pinky told me you were on your way, aahaaa ha ha haaaaa…” he says, his back still turned. The voice and inflections sound like 20th century comedian Charles Nelson Reilly. When he turns, they see that Reilly’s jaw and lower face below his nose have been replaced by a primitive looking prosthetic, with a vocal synthesizer providing his voice. There is no working jaw or mouth. He reaches forward and puts a new cigar in his smoking device, allows it to light the new cigar, and the he takes a deep and satisfied inhale.

After being given various price-points for use of his hacking system, the team decides to pay him the full amount for his “no questions asked and no data left behind with him” service.

Hawk inserts Jake the Painter’s chip, and finds unencrypted files containing lots of information about the occult, similar to stuff they have seen in other cultists apartments. He also finds and encrypted file. He uses his hacking skill and succeeds in breaking in. He finds the schematics of a large office building in downtown Dallas — the same location indicated on back of the photo of Salazar they found in Jake’s apartment.  The schematics are very detailed, and indicate a private elevator to a 4oth floor penthouse, as well as security information.

The session ends with the PCs there at Reilly’s lab.

5 experience points awarded to each PC.

GM’s notes

  • I had one more scene prepared for today’s session, but we didn’t get to it. That’s fine – I can make it even better for the next session.
  • It is taking some time to learn how long each “scene” will take to play. This session was about 3.5 hours long. There was a lot of discussion of strategy, role playing, ideas discussed, and investigation.
  • There were some encounters I left out, as they didn’t seem to make sense given the flow of the session. They are pretty modular, and I can use them in future sessions.
  • The team is pretty good at finding clues.
  • Again, open-ended game worlds like this are a challenge to run. One very interesting planned event was blown by the actions of the PCs — good actions — but they simply made it impossible for one encounter to occur. Obviously it wasn’t critical.
  • I feel like the balance between action and investigation/roll play might need to be shifted slightly toward action. For one thing, we have some PCs with fun physical skills, and we need use them and learn the combat system a little better. I may need to run some mock combats by myself to get better with the rules.  I really need to get more proficient with the combat rules. They aren’t that difficult.

Game #2 on its way!

In two Sundays we’ll be playing session #2 of CyberTex. I’ve been doing a lot of reading of inspirational material. Currently I’m reading the second of Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy — Count Zero. Very cool and lots of fun.

I also have watched about half this old documentary about Cyberpunk. It’s got some nice interview segments with William Gibson, but is also about “real world cyberpunks”.  I used to read about these dudes back in the mid-1990s, and it always seem really adventurous and fun. It seems like that kind of thing is just really dangerous and illegal now.

I have a week to finish preparations for session 2, so I need to get into gear. I have done a lot already, but I have so many ideas.


Slow Session Prep

GMing once per month is turning out to be a really good thing. Rather than hammering out sessons and scenarios in rapid-fire mode, having several weeks to plan is fantastic.

neuromancer1After our first CyberTex game session, I decided to re-read William Gibson’s Neuromancer for inspiration. During this time I started working on game session #2, and had probably six false starts. Each false start, however, got me closer to a good outline for the next session. I want everything to make sense, and this becomes harder when you try to interweave the lives of four PCs into the overall arch of the campaign.

Anyway, I’ve been away from campaign planning for about 3 days, as I finished that book and did various other things. The book as been percolating around in my head a lot. Listening to the audiobook in the car helps too. It’s good to hear someone reading the novel dramatically, with a nice voice. It creates the atmosphere that I just don’t quite achieve reading silently. The more think about the novel, the more ideas I get for the game. Not stuff that will change the big-picture direction of the campaign, but cool stuff to add in and give it the right flavor.

So I will now revisit my session #2 notes and the campaign notes, and continue convoluting the story.


Adventure Design By Scenes

More thoughts on adventure design — probably been written about a lot in the last 40 years, but I just caught on. Here goes.

My current GURPS campaign isn’t a standard dungeon crawl. It’s CyberPunk, in an open-ended world. It isn’t 90% combat related. I want it to be about 80% skills and roll-playing. You know, mystery and problem solving stuff? These kinds of games can be challenging because the options for the PCs are endless. What if they don’t go where you want them to go? What if they don’t find the clue? How do you write an adventure that isn’t like the ones I played in and GMed when I was 15?

I feel like my first GURPS game (see previous post) went pretty well because after coming up with an overall goal for the session, I wrote it in “scenes”. This gave me a working organizational framework for the adventure. I sat on a plane, with my Chromebook, and wrote it like the plot and scenes of a short story, or maybe a couple of chapters from a book. I think some role-playing systems use this technique a lot, but I’ve never played any of them.

Working in scenes did a few nice things. For one, it got me in the frame of mind of really thinking about the atmosphere of the scene. I’m not saying I did a fantastic job conveying atmosphere to my players, but it’s a start. I think I can do better in the future. Next, by thinking in scenes, my job became moving the PCs from one scene to the next, or perhaps skipping a scene completely if the PCs somehow bypassed it  or I felt like it wasn’t needed. I packed each scene with clues to get them to the next scene, hoping they’d find at least one of them. They did. It worked. They didn’t find every single clue, but they found enough. I gave them chances to use a variety of skills to discover clues, rather than relying on one critical skill roll.

I’m sure this sounds very basic to experienced GMs, but in the past all my games have been D&D dungeon adventures, or Champions games where you just say “Dr. Destroyer attacks you in your HQ” and it’s on. Open ended games, or mysteries/investigations are just harder to write, but I think they are a lot more satisfying. At least that’s my impression now.

Once I had a scene’s location figured out and described, and I knew what the PCs goal was in that scene, it was time to fill it with clues, a memorable NPC or two, some challenges, traps, or just plain foolishness. Then I waited a day, came back and read the whole thing, and thought of more cool stuff to add. As it turns out, one of the NPCs I added as a “possibility” to Scene 1 turned out to be very fun and great for creating atmosphere. Without coming back for a good second look at the whole adventure, I wouldn’t have thought of that NPC.

I did actually drop one small scene right in the middle of play.  I combined it with the one to come after it. I made this decision on the fly, realizing during the game that the two scenes were very similar, and that doing two similar scenes back to back might be tedious. The game was running a bit long too. I told the players to give me a couple of minutes to think about the game — so I didn’t have to rush. My players gave me the time I need to keep some logic and flow in the story. Much appreciated.

All of this really helped me a lot. I’m fairly creative, but I’m not great at coming up with stuff on the fly. I like to try to make every game I’ve ever run the best it can be though, so some really good writing and prep work helped very much in this game. Hoping that Episode 2 goes as well. I think I have a good base to build from, and the PCs are developing really well.