Into the Void – Ref’s Notes 2.

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

Game Planning for Traveller – Ref’s Notes 1

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.

CyberTex at North Texas RPG Con

Just a quick note. I ran a session at North Texas RPG Con today, based on the first three CyberTex sessions. I’d never run at a Con before, and was actually a bit nervous. Turned out I had four really good players. Outgoing, fun, great people, who really got into the roleplaying and were frankly quite awesome. So Sasha, Sara, Dom, and Mike – thank you for a great first con GMing experience. Hope to see y’all again sometime soon.

This was the only GURPS session at the con. I was glad I did this.

CyberTex Episode 4.1

May 5, 2067. It’s been a year since the PCs saw each other. A year since collecting their money from the Pinky. A year since they encountered the cult. A year since things got weird.

It’s 9pm in CyberTex — Downtown Dallas. The sprawl of the DFW domes has gone transparent tonight, revealing a clear sky and stars beyond. A few satellites move overhead, noticed by few, most of them long dead. Despite the clear sky above the dome, the streets of Dallas are foggy (as usual). There’s a mist in the air, and it’s 85 degrees F. Typically weird.

Inuyama finds himself at a sushi bar. In another part of town, Hawk and Max sit, in the middle of an open, abandoned floor of an office building, facing each other across a table, their eyes, closed, ‘trodes on their head, jacked into the shared hallucination of cyberspace. Joe has been MIA for almost a year.

The 25K Inuyama made from his last job has taken some financial load off his back. For the last few months he’s been working as a bodyguard for a SimStim star, Rose Mexicali, who normally resides in DFW when not working. However, at the moment Rose is working on a shoot in El Grande, so Inuyama is unoccupied. Though he typically avoids Japanese crowds due to his reputation and history, a new sushi bar has opened in Downtown Dallas, Yoshihara’s House o’ Sushi, and he is unable to control his Gluttony — he is there. The sushi is the real thing – aquarium grown delicacies – expensive, and he’s blown through nearly his whole last paycheck. 

The place is nice. High quality decor and furnishings, quiet Japanese music. A throwback to the times before the domes – before the wars – when there was not a monitor on every wall. Not a dive at all. Lots of rich people hanging out, eating, drinking. Inyama sits at the bar, a large plate of various kinds of sushi in front of him. The sushi chef working in front of him appears unaugmented. As he sits quietly eating and enjoying some real saki, he watches the man’s hands skillfully prepare food.

Among the crowd Inuyama notices two young men in dark suits. Perfectly attired. Their body language marks them as yakuza, not usually seen in the Texas Megaregion. One of them sits next to Inuyama at the bar. Staring straight ahead, he quietly speaks. “Inuyama-San. I am Hiroto. Thank you for the many enjoyable fights. On behalf of the owners, we welcome you.” Inuyama notices an earpiece in the mans right ear. Someone else is listening. Clearly, Inuyama’s reputation is still a thing. He thanks the man. “Many would love to see you return to your true calling, but not in the sterile confines of tradition. While tradition must be honored, without change there can be no progress. Wouldn’t you agree?” says the yakuza.  “That depends on what the change entails,” responds Inuyama, who asks what is being proposed. The man, who introduces himself as Hiroto, and explains that that is a unique fighting league in Houston. “There is a weekly event in the Houston region. You may not be aware. It is not known to the general public. Should you be interested, I can assure you that your needs would be met.”

Meanwhile, in a gutted and abandoned floor of an old office building, Max and Hawk face each other across a plain folding table, only vaguely aware of their surroundings. Trodes on their heads, both are jacked into cyberspace decks. Max has been studying the occult for the last year, and Hawk has recently begun training him in basic cyberspace deck use. 

In their minds eyes, they float above a world of glowing geometric figures spreading out on an apparently infinite 3-dimensional plane. Directly below them is is the mental representation of Dallas, a consensual hallucination representing the data and energy of the megacity. Hawk is familiar with the basic data structures of the DFW grid. The Aztec Pyramid -like structure of the Hernandez Engineering data banks, the white cubes of various financial institutions (all protected by powerful ICE), the garish glowing towers of the entertainment industry.  The entire city is represented in some way. Not an exact geometric representation, but a data representation. Lots of data or power shows up BIG in cyberspace. But no matter how small, everything has data. Everything is there.

Below them they see what appears to be the data-form of the building where they encountered the cultists jacked into the massive cyberspace port and the cyberdogs a year ago. They see geometric forms moving around the ruined data-structure. Hawk decides to investigate. He leave Max up high, out of site, as Max’s deck has only rudimentary movement ability. Hawk activates his disguise program and moves in to observe. The geometric forms are moving about methodically, extending glowing tendrils into the shards of data that once represented the old data center. When the tendrils make contact, they slurp up the data remains. The forms are oblivious to Hawk, who makes his roll and guesses correctly that these are simply robots, harvesting that data for who knows what. He is unable to determine who or what is controlling them. 

Back at Yoshihara’s House o’ Sushi, as Inuyama and Hiroto the yakuza talk, Inuyama notices that the sushi chef suddenly stops preparing food. The man cocks his head and closes his eyes, as if listening intently. Hiroto leans in and speaks quietly with the man. Suddenly both turn to the back of the restaurant. Hiroto and the other yakuza begin drawing auto pistols, while the sushi chef pulls a sawed-off shotgun from under the counter. Three asian men in the back of the place stand up abruptly, knock over their table, and draw pistols, yelling “This is the Bamboo Circuit’s territory Yakuza scum!”  The shit hits the fan. Chaos ensues as restaurant patrons scramble and panic. Inuyama, in an amazing display of agility, dives over the sushi bar and gets cover behind the counter. Shots are fired. Inuyama draws his weapon and shoots one of the Vietnamerican gang members. Hiroto is hit but not taken out. After a brief shootout all three of the Bamboo Circuit men are dead. As Inuyama surveys the carnage his telephone pings. A message is coming in. It’s from Joe, the sniper, who he worked with last year and hasn’t seen since. “Need help – now…”

In Cyberspace, Max and Hawk debate what to do regarding the data harvesting ‘bots. They are both curious. Who would be harvesting this data? Is the cybercult reorganizing? Are things about to get weird again. The internal display in Hawk’s bionic eye flashes “Incoming message.”  They jack out of Cyberspace, and Hawk reads the message. It’s from Joe. “Need help – now.”

Luckily, Max is one of the few people who know where Joe lives. It was Max, through his contacts and knowledge of the seedier elements of the DFW world, who brought the team together last year to work for the Pinky. Inuyama contacts Max. They try to just call Joe back, but he’s gone dark. Max, Inuyama, and Hawk agree to meet at Joe’s apartment, on the 15th floor of a not-so-nice apartment tower.

When they arrive, they see bullet holes in the wall outside the door, in the hallway. The door to Joe’s apartment is cracked open. Knowing what Joe can do in a fight, they are somewhat terrified for their own lives should they make a mistake. Max makes his stealth roll and moves up to the door. Inside he can see the feet of a dead person laying on the floor. He listens. Hawk uses his enhanced parabolic hearing to listen. Nothing. No movement inside. No sound of a gun being cocked or a new magazine being popped in. Max nudges the door further open, and sees a dead cybergoth on the floor, face down. Most of the back of his head is missing. Hawk uses his eye’s bug detector and enhanced vision and see a tiny camera in the hallway. They move into the apartment. No booby traps, though they did search. The group searches the apartment. Inuyama uses a foot to roll the dead guy over. White male, leather jacket, facial tattoos, huge mohawk, chip slot on one side of his skull, cyberspace input jack on the other side. His defining feature is the bullet hole square between the eyes. Joe’s work, for sure.

There are a lot of bullet holes in the walls, The large plate glass window in the front room is shattered. Max looks out. They are 15 floors up. Two floors below, and about 10 feed out, is a mag-lev track for the elevated train. Far below on the ground are two dead cyberpunks. No sane person would try to escape by jumping down two floors on to a train. Joe almost certainly made his escape that way.

The team continues to search the apartment. They find Joes’s computer in the back room still on. The video feeds from his hallway security camera and the one in the front room are still on screen. Hawk is able to find the footage from the last hour. The hall camera shows a gang of cyberpunks coming down the hall. The interior camera shows the door being kicked in. The dead kid in the front room starts to run through, only to have his brains blown out the back of his head. More shots as punks rush into the apartment. Joe comes into view, shoots toward the window, and then runs toward the window and out of the frame. Two punks run after him. The rest run back out and down the hall.

They continue searching the apartment. Hawk finds a hidden compartment in the wall. He examines the wall for booby traps, and finding one, activates the panel. A drawer slides open containing a paper journal. Joe’s journal. The read the last couple of pages…

April 4, 2067. The nightmares continue. Feel like I’m  in hell.

April 7, 2067. Haven’t written in a few days. Finally got some sleep. The sleep of the damned, but sleep none the less. Can’t even describe what I see when I shut my eyes. Words fail.

April 8, 2067. Spent the day staring at code in this damned chip. Wish I’d never taken it, but then I don’t really wish that, do I? Have no idea what I’m looking at, yet I can’t put it away. Can’t throw it out. Can’t destroy it.

April 9, 2067. Contacted on ‘net today by someone wanted to buy the chip. The thought fills me with dread. I know it’s responsible for the terror I feel, but I’m like a simstim addict. Tried to end it all today. Autopistol in my mouth. Couldn’t finish it.

May 1, 2067. Spent the last few weeks drunk in a safehouse. Only thing that seems to help. I sense a war is coming. Need to be ready, but fear my mind is dissolving. Don’t know how much longer I can go on. Sometimes I’m not sure who I am. This all started when I took the chip from that lab with the monsters. I wonder if the other guys are having the same thing? I should contact them, but they’d just think I’m mad. I was a mental case already, before all this. Best to isolate myself…safer for others…keep them safe from what’s out there.

May 5, 2067. Contacted again today. Someone wants this chip. Well fuck them, they can’t have it. Someone on my monitor – they’re coming. They found me. They’ll be very, very sorry they did.

Given the dates that Joe was apparently in his safe house, Hawk is able to use cell records and computer traces to find the location. It’s another old building. This time the floor is abandoned except for, possibly, the safe house apartment. They approach the door and knock. No answer. They listen. No sound. Nothing.  They try calling Joe again. He’s still gone dark. No answer. No ringing phone inside. Inuyama backs up and runs toward the door, using his strength, speed, and power to break it down. Booby trapped. A bomb goes off. Their ballistic clothing saves them from serious injury.

Their ears still ringing from the blast, a figure in a trench coat steps out from the clearing smoke and dust. It’s not Joe.

“I can’t believe you guys did that. I’ve been wanting to meet your boys for a long time. My name…is Kolchak.”

End of session.

ITV Ref’s Notes #1

So we’ve had two play sessions of Classic Traveller in the Into the Void campaign. Both have gone well. I feel like the system is working as it should, even though I’ve had to guess on a few rules since I couldn’t find them on the fly. Honestly, the rule books are so short, and so simple, I need to sit down and really read every single word in them again. Today I answered one of my own questions simply by reading! Imagine that! Turns out all PCs have a skill level of 0 in every weapon. So yeah, your character with some other gun skill, like auto pistol-1, can pick up a shotgun and use it with no proficiency penalty. I’m sure there are a lot of other things I’m missing.

The campaign is starting to really take shape now. I have a few goals to accomplish before the next session. I need to spend a bit of time looking for good images of ships and common weapons to give the campaign more atmosphere and flavor. How is a tech level 13 auto pistol different from a modern day 9mm? I don’t know, because I’m not a gun guy, but I do know it should look really cool. Likewise, some nice images from the interwebs to illustrate the environments and places the PCs find themselves in would be good.

One issue with these kinds of games, at least for me, is that they are so open-ended that sometimes it seeks like the PCs don’t have clear goals or motivations. In a fantasy game, that never seems like an issue. Kill monsters, take their stuff. Right? In this campaign, as well as CyberTex, I want a more interesting story than that. Once I get my players to write up some brief character backgrounds I think we can make things a bit more personal. And then, of course, they can kill some monsters.

I also have some game mechanics topics I want to research in the old Journal of the Travellers Aid Society and other resources, like Freelance Traveller and the Zhodani Base. For example, I want to find some “minor” skills that are not included in the rulebooks, like language skills and a few other things. The trick will be adding things in that enhance the the game without blowing it up.

And of course I now need to do a better writeup of the Robot.