Into the Void. Episode 1, part 1. New Beginnings, New Adventures

This session was dedicated to Eric Manuel, a friend from years past, who died recently from cancer. Smooth sailing old friend. 

This was the first game of my classic Traveller campaign. Been trying to get this started for some time, and today was the day. We decided that our gaming group would do these games in short, 2-3 hour sessions, to make it easier for everyone to get together and easier for me, the Ref, to prepare.

Into the Void takes place in the frontier area of known space, on the very outskirts of an Imperium vaguely similar that of the standard Classic Traveller universe. Space beyond the frontier border is known as “the Void.” I’m using the same organizations, but ignoring the history of and maps of that universe. Making my own alien races, etc.

Imperium Year 6045, Day 234.

Game one begins with the recently retired members of the Imperial Scout Service. They begin on planet Mylor, on the very edge of the Void, in an as-yet unnamed and incompletely explored subsector. Most of the subsector is in the Void.  A small world with standard atmosphere, Class B space port (no “high-port”), and one major city of about 12,000 sophonts. The ex-Scouts, Roger (the pilot), Fred (“Lucky” – due to his many missed survival rolls and maimings), and Barney (expert ship Engineer) are in the star port tavern, trying to decide what to do next. Roger had mustered out with a Scout ship, and the three have decided to seek their fortunes together.

While at the bar, a local Gluck tries to pick Roger’s pocket. Roger smacks the creature away, but doesn’t pay him much mind afterward. Glucks are a common species in this part of the Galaxy. Spheroid beings, with no obvious facial features, they have 6 arm/legs spaced evenly around their bodies. They move by kind of roll/walking. They can understand human speech, and communicate in Galactic Common by vibrating organs in their breathing orifices. While quite alien looking, they are psychologically and intellectually very much like humans, and thus integrate well into human culture. Anyway, the pickpocket Gluck backs up. The slight altercation gets the attention of table of young marines, on their way back to the inner-Imperium after long duty on the frontier. The Marines taunt the Scouts, who react by buying a round of drinks for them, avoiding trouble.

After the Scouts have been at their table for a bit, a tall, thin old human approaches their table and asks if he might join them. He introduces himself as Zall Twist, an exo-archaeologist from the university on planet Zapata, one sector rimward – the subsector capital of the Zapata subsector. He’s been in the frontier for several weeks, researching rumors of the Precursor civilization, the theorized interstellar society predating the Imperium by several million years. This is his area of specialization and main research interest. He’s met a group of merchants (he points them out in the tavern) who mentioned to him an interesting ruin they happened upon 2 parsecs into the Void, when their ship misjumped. They landed on the moon of a gas giant for repairs and refueling, and while in the air they spotted what looked like a tremendous ziggurat in the middle of the heavily forested equatorial region. Zall thinks this may indeed by related to the Precursor culture, and wishes to travel to that world in the Void to investigate. He asks if the PCs have a ship, and upon finding that they do, offers them 50K up front, and 50K upon completion and return to Mylor, if they will take him to that gas giant’s moon and mount an expedition with him. He says he can think of no better companions on such a voyage than three very able former Scouts.

The PCs agree to Zall’s terms, and agree to leave the next day. They spend the rest of the day buying gear and supplies for this, and future, missions.

The next morning they meet Zall at the Scout base, where their ship is landed. It’s been refueled and maintenance is done. Zall has some scientific gear to load. As they load the ship, Roger feels a gut on his pants leg. It’s the gluck from the Tavern, who introduces himself as “Fardt” — with a “D”. He thanks Roger for not beating him up in the tavern — that it was nothing personal, and asks if the crew needs a cook. Feeling sorry for Fardt, the crew hires him on for 100cr a week, and finds space in the cargo bay to make him a comfortable quarters.

The ship lifts off, travels several hours to 100 planetary diameters distance, and engages the jump drive. Roger rolls and the ship avoids mis-jump. They enter jump space uneventfully.

During the week in jump space they have a chance to get to know Zall and Fardt. They get a few more details about Zall’s mission plan (not much of a plan, as they are going into the unknown), and learn that Fardt is a good guy — a reasonable and generally good natured rogue.

The ship exits jump space on target, 100 pds from the gas giant. They immediately spend the first day in-system skimming the gas giant for fuel, in case a fast getaway is needed later. They then begin scanning the surface of the moon for the ziggurat. They quickly find that the gas giant is emitting random bursts of radiation into space. Remaining in orbit for an extended period is a bad idea. For each hour spend looking for the ziggurat in orbit they have a 2/6 chance of finding it, but a 1/6 chance of being affected by a radiation burst. In the first hour they do not find it AND they get hit by a minor burst. No structural damage to the ship, but some scalding of hull plating that will need to be replaced. In the second hour they locate the ziggurat and avoid further radiation bursts. They land in a clearing of the dense forest, 1/4 kilometer from the ziggurat.

Upon landing, they spend the first day doing ship maintenance, again preparing for fast exits if needed — a lesson learned during their 16 years as Scouts. Barney, the engineer, successfully maintains the J and M drives, finding no damage from the radiation burst.

The night sky of this moon is dominated the gas giant and the spectacle of occasional radiation bursts harmlessly lighting up the night sky and the distant Great Nebula of the Void, visible as a red haze in the sky, even from several parsecs away.

Day two they decide to take the air raft to the ziggurat. The entire group goes, including Fardt. They take the air raft high above the trees, surveying the area around the ziggurat from the air. This close, they see what appear to be old landing pads to one side of the structure, overgrown now with vegetation. On the other side, the ruined walls of smaller structures.

They land near what appears to be a big stone door on the base of the structure. Looking at the ruined building around them, they use their IR googles to scan the surrounding forest. They can see the heat signatures of small humanoid shapes out in the relative darkness of the woods. The shapes are not closing in. Just watching.

Clearing the heavy vine growth from the wall around the massive stone door, they discover a still-active electronic pad with a couple of blinking lights. They assume this is the doorbell or door actuator.  Lucky used his Electronics-2 skill and manages to hotwire the system.

The huge door slowly rises as the party stands at the entrance, the woods full of humanoids of undetermined friendliness, and the ziggurat itself inviting them inside to discover who-knows-what.

End of session 1. Game time elapsed 1.5 weeks.

I may have gotten a few details about time required for gas giant skimming and stuff like that wrong. I’ll look that stuff up before the next session. Since it was not critical to the game today I just assumed a day for stuff like that. I have a better idea how my group will play Traveller now, so I can tweek the upcoming stuff in this particular adventure, and make sure everyone has a chance to shine, and make sure there’s some exciting stuff in game 2. I could have really played up the radiation burst a lot more — the effects on the ship, a chance for the engineer to do this thing, etc. Live and learn. That would have been exciting though. Lesson learned.

North Texas RPG Con

I’ve signed up to attend the North Texas RPG Con in June. I had not really planned on going to this, as I though I was going to be involved in family stuff that weekend, but things changed, and what the hell.

It has been years since I’ve been to a gaming con. I’m also going to be running a GURPS Cyberpunk (CyberTex) session on Friday afternoon of the con. I’ve never run a game at a con before, but I have lots of source material to draw from in my campaign. I have four players signed up already, so I’m excited that someone thought it sounded cool enough to play! Looking forward to it.

I’ve also signed up to play two sessions of Call of Cthulhu, once session of Villains & Vigilantes, and one session of classic Traveller. So that’s a lot of gaming. I may still sign up for another Traveller session on the last morning of the con (Sunday). Depends on if I want to drive back out there again. Sunday morning should be nice and easy traffic though.

Trying to get my own gaming group together. Not easy. Hopefully we can play a bit.

New Traveller Campaign

Just set the date to start a Classic Traveller campaign. Kind of excited about this. Also, playing on weekend afternoons for just 2-3 hours will make it easier to prepare games, easier to get together, and allow weekend evenings for doing fun stuff with family and spouses. I think it’s a win for everyone. Amazingly, none of our group has any children, so Saturday afternoons are not full of soccer games, birthday parties, or other activities designed to oppress poor gamers.

Planning to use a homebrew setting/universe/subsector-or-two rather than the published Traveller setting. I love the published stuff, but I really enjoy creating my own stuff. That’s a lot of the fun of running a campaign for me.

North Texas RPG Con

I discovered the Save for Half Podcast last week, and through that podcast discovered the North Texas RPG Con — a gathering 100% devoted to tabletop RPGs. And it’s here in Dallas! So stoked! I bought a badge for the entire 2018 Con in June, and I’m working on a game session to submit – GURPS Cyberpunk, based on my CyberTex campaign.  

I’ve never run a game at a con before, but my players enjoyed my game and apparently my game mastering, so I figured what the hell, what’s the worst that can happen? Everyone has a bad time and hates me? Sure – but that’s fine. I’ll put together the best session I can, and let the chips fall!

I’m especially happy because it looks like this will be the first time GURPS has been played at this con since 2012, when a guy named Mike Kelly GMed a number of sessions.

Anyway, more as this develops.

Dry Spell?

I had intended to get a lot of GURPS game planning done on my trip to London/Europe in July. On the way over I did spend a lot of time brainstorming, writing and rewriting parts of Game 4 for my CyberTex campaign, and reading from a cyberpunk anthology (one that I’m not very impressed with). But frankly I was not happy with what I came up with. I was going to go with it and run the game the weekend after I got home, but I was so damned jetlagged and flat out exhausted that I had to once again cancel that game. It’s taken me a month to really get my mind right again. I just can’t do skateboarding trips like that anymore – no Henry Rollins red-eye flight endurance and coffee marathons. I was just depleted upon my return, though I had a really good time on the trip. I managed to get 3rd in the “Legends” freestyle division (ages 40+), which I think is good since 2nd place went to a guy who currently enters Pro at most contests, and 1st went to a former pro who is still really good. I managed to place above the other old guys, who were all really great to skate with.

Anyway, I am now feeling like thinking about RPGs again. I have one more skate trip planned for this coming weekend, and some filming to do for skate video project, but other than that my mind is on gaming. With the days getting shorter this is a good thing.

I’ve been listening to various episodes of the Gaming & BS Podcast, reading some good gaming blogs like DM David, and just essentially getting back into the right creative mind-space. I realized that perhaps some of the things I was trying to force into the CyberTex campaign just don’t need to be there. I think I’ve been trying to over-overcomplicate matters. I want things in the game to be somewhat complex, but the way I was going was just getting unmanagable. It is harder to write games that involve a lot of investigation and clue finding, but also cater to a certain amount of action and other stuff. And as I have probably noted before, the nature of Cyberpunk doesn’t really encourage long-term adventuring party formation. But I think I’ve come up with a reasonable way to bring the PCs back together — one that makes sense and that I’m happy with. I will have to diverge a bit from the hardcore cyberpunk every man for himself ethos, and blend in some more cooperative story elements, while maintaining the classic cyberpunk atmosphere.

Sooooo…I need to go through my many notes and versions of Game 4 and see what I want to keep, what to change, and what to throw out, add some stuff, and bring it all together. Yeah, I do kind of agonize over these games. If I didn’t we would have played a lot more, but I really take a lot of pride in these game sessions, and I want each one to be better than the previous, and I want to do better as a GM each time.

Also, I keep being out of town or having to work on the weekend our D&D group plays. That sucks. I miss playing my monk.


Travel Reading

Heading to Europe for a week of skateboarding. The plane travel of course is a great time to read and work on GURPS stuff. I’ve downloaded Cyberpunk: Stories of Hardware, Software, Wetware, Evolution, and Revolution for reading material to keep me in the right frame of mine for writing CyberTex stuff, and of course will have the Chromebook on the plane with me for doing the actual writing.



Gaming & BS

I started listening to the Gaming & BS Podcast a couple of weeks ago. Really fun gaming podcast. Frankly, it is the best one I’ve listened to. The dudes have a good time, but there’s not a lot of the constant snickering and whatnot that often detracts from podcasts.

Last night I listened to Episode 15, in which the guys talk about the difficulty of developing a good Sci Fi campaign. They express just how hard they find it. I have to admit that I find it hard too, for a number of reasons. Even with my own GURPS CyberTex campaign, which is very sporadically played (hell, we’re just getting ready to play game 4 in July), it isn’t easy, and we do have a setting and some game history. For me the thing that makes it hard is that most of the tropes by which a GM brings characters together don’t really exist in the cyberpunk context. Characters in cyberpunk tend to be loner types. They don’t “form a party” and go off on a quest or exploring, or if they do they don’t really continue as a party for years on end. I kind of forced them together in the first game. Now that the initial three game arc is done, and I’m making the game take place a year later, coming up with a rational for bringing them back together has been challenging. I say challenging – what I mean is that doing it in the style I want is challenging. Certainly there are plenty of reasons, based on the first three games, to get them together again. But I want to “up my game” every time as a GM, which means I want my shit to be clever. That’s part of the enjoyment of it for me.

So on the topic of other Sci Fi campaigns, yeah, not super easy. I suppose you can just say “make all your characters members of the same exploratory space corp” or something like that. That works. That’s fine.  I think it all just seems a bit harder than saying “you meet in a tavern and an old man you save from a ruffian gives you a treasure map.” Which of course is also totally fine and fun, but not terribly inventive.  The great possible range of science fiction means that defining the scope and tech level of your campaign is really important.

I recently read this tweet from Pink Dice GM that I really liked. It is an approach I’ve been using in CyberTex. A means of keeping my mind on the atmosphere of the campaign and really trying to give the players a place for their minds to inhabit, but I’ve not articulated it like this. I think this is right. And I think that even with a Sci Fi campaign, if you can start with some sort of interesting premise, limited in scope but with the possibility of expansion, and some good player characters to envision in that campaign, you can use this rule of thumb and build a very good campaign.









Rainy Day

Looks like a rainy day here. Stormed all night, and still a slow moving heavy downpour now. Heading to aikido practice, but looks like a great afternoon for working on gaming stuff. Playing D&D tomorrow afternoon. A lot of the group will not be able to attend, so if thing slow down I’ll get them to roll up some Traveller characters.