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.
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.
Finally getting serious about writing up CyberTex Episode 4. I’ve got this nice notebook and a nice pen, and I’ve spend a lot of time noting ideas for this game, so tonight I started typing it up. I’m doing it, once again, in scenes. This may be a much more free-ranging game. A lot less certainty about what actions the PCs will take, which is fine, it just means I’ll have to be thinking a bit faster. This is intended to be a one-session game. I have some encounter scenarios I can drop in when appropriate. They are flexible that way. I’m working on a contingency tree for the game as well — if they do this, then this, but if they do this, then this other thing, etc etc. I’ve used this before and it helps me guide the game a bit without railroading the players. And finally, I’m working on some interesting NPCs to encounter, as well as weaving the character backgrounds into the game. Will probably throw in a few hooks for future games as well. Fun!
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.