Session 7 presented a couple of challenges. First among them, how to integrate a new PC into the game in a way that was fun, made sense, and enhanced the game. My friend David is the new player. He and I got together last week and rolled up his character. David wrote up a really nice character background and motivation, which helped a lot. Gave me some good motivations for the PC and a good way to drop him in.
Second, I wanted to have a cool ship battle. Starship combat in Traveller, run by the book, is quite boring. It’s like a tactical wargame, watered down, and really lacks the excitement of a dogfight. There are no rules in the basic set for close ship combat, at least not the kind you see in movies. And let’s face it, that’s the fun stuff.
So I made up my own very simple system. I assume a very abstract time frame. We go by turns, all action happening simultaneously as is the Traveller norm. But no defined time increments. Each ship can move as many units (squares or hexes) as its maneuver drive number. Any hard maneuvers require a pilot skill roll. A hit by lasers inflicts 1d6 damage points. When a ship takes 6 damage points, it has to roll on the normal damage tables in the books. The mining pods only have a total of 6 possible damage points, so when all 6 were gone, the pods exploded.
By thinking of the whole thing in more cinematic terms and using this very fast moving system I was able to let the players all be involved in the fight and use their relevant skills. While Roger was skimming the walls of the mine cavern walls, Barney was working to boost the slow Free Trader’s maneuver drive power to better deal with the very fast mining pods. Meanwhile, Flint and Lucky were manning the two laser turrets and blowing up the pods.
OK, sure. Not very detailed. Not a tactical wargame, but that wasn’t the point. My goal was to have a fun, fast moving ship combat that created some excitement and got all the PCs involved. I think it worked.
We’re playing our Classic Traveller campaign this weekend, and I’m very happy to be adding a new player to the mix, my friend David. My current group are guys I was friends with in highschool and I was an occasional participant in their games. Great dudes. This new guy was one of my main gaming group. He’s really excited to be gaming again, and I think it is going to work out really well. I’ve been meaning to invite him for a while, but as I am “the new guy” in this group, I wanted to run it past the lads and make sure they are good with it. They are, so it’s on.
Dave and I got together this last Sunday to roll up his character. He did a really nice background, which will allow me to drop him into the campaign immediately, and in a fun way. None of the old “this guy just shows up and wants to join your crew” sort of thing. Gotta make it cool. The background of his PC is also helping me delve into the nature of another subsector, which is fun.
More after the game. I’m just really happy about this.
Session 6 was the first one-shot I’ve run. It was tough. The game was fun, but really we need more than one session. I had to cut out a lot of stuff to squeeze this into one 3-hour session. My players are really good. They play hard, but they are thorough. They take advantage of roleplaying opportunities. They don’t rush. So I think one-shots will be rare.
Didn’t manage to work in any starship combat. That’s still on the agenda. We did get in a lot of gun shooting, which was on the agenda, so that’s a success. I also managed to drop the seed of the next series of games, so happy about that.
I’m getting more organized with the campaign. The customizable GM screen was useful. I did a reasonable job of giving each PC a chance to use their skills, considering this was really a combat-oriented session. I need to spend some time doing write-ups of weapons, especially non-standard stuff like the “big gun” machine gun I had one of the marines carrying. I made it a submachine gun with a +3 damage. I wanted to make it like the harness-mounted super gun the marines in Aliens used. So I want to work on that.
We used miniatures this time. It was fun, but we didn’t really use an accurate scale. I feel like agonizing over tactical movement slows the game down a lot. The minis were useful to knowing the marching order and general arrangement of the characters. I found that helpful.
I like leaving some loose ends. The PCs know now that there is this alien bug puppeteer species out there in the Void somewhere. It is something for them to worry about. The Void Bugs. Space is big and fully of scary stuff. Evil and dark stuff as much as wonderful and beautiful.
I think I could have done a better job being descriptive in this session. I need to remember that painting a great mental picture for my players is critical.
Well, Game 5 is over. We’ve done a pretty good job the last few months of playing once a month. This last game got delayed due to a death in the family and then again by my mom breaking her hip, but we got back on track.
I’m real happy with the way this campaign has turned out. My players seem to enjoy not being shot at. They are into the characters and the exploratory adventure theme of the setting. Sure, we’ll do more shooting soon, and some ship combat. After all, we have miniatures now!
Doing the 3 hour play sessions has been really good. I don’t know why that seems short. I guess because our GURPS sessions started out at 5 or 6 hours. I felt a lot of pressure to have a lot of stuff ready, and to really be able to think on my feet as ref. As I’ve said before, it’s easier to prepare for 3 hour session. Another benefit is that it allows me to have these nice breaks in which to really think about where the campaign should go. What could happen. What would be cool. You never really know what players will do. Usually they do the unexpected, which opens up even more possibilities.
So far in this game the players have only been on two worlds. Mylor, the planet they started on after mustering out of the Scout service, and two worlds in the Precursor system, the moon known as Zal’s World and the now destroyed-by-singularity Precursor Prison Planet. Five games. Three worlds. When you start with Traveller there’s this urge to map out several subsectors very completely. I find that overwhelming. I did map out a few in a very minimal way, but really haven’t fleshed out that much at all. I know a lot of refs enjoy the whole universe building aspect of Traveller, and dig coming up with all this background and details for all the systems. I don’t have that much time. I’d rather make things a bit looser, fill in details as I go, and go into great detail as the players actually encounter things. It’s just more efficient for me. Yes, this means my campaign isn’t as sandbox-style as some people like, but we seem to be doing alright.
The campaign is decidedly space opera-esque. I don’t think my players are very interested in trying to make money hauling cargo from one system to the other and speculating things. I don’t worry about doing hard science fiction. I’ve decided to make up crazy shit (the confined singularity power generator of the Precursor Prison Planet, with a mind embedded in the gravitational structure of the singularity – yes – this is gibberish – and we don’t care). We’re doing cool stuff and heroics and space epic kind of stuff. Adventure. It’s fun.
I love point-buy systems. I really do. But damn, it sure is easy to prepare for a Traveller game. In the time it takes me to create a really good NPC in a point-buy system I can pretty much create an entire 3 hour game in Classic Traveller. It would be easy to switch to GURPS Traveller, but I feel like it wouldn’t really be Traveller. It would just GURPS Space, since I don’t even use the standard Traveller universe of the 3rd Imperium. Nothing wrong with the GURPS Space. I just don’t think it would have the same flavor. I feel like Classic Traveller has just enough game mechanics to get by without just being people sitting around a table talking (which of course all these games are, but they need some structure).
A few things I want to do in upcoming games.
Make sure that in working up every session I give each PC a chance to use their skills – to shine. I think that in the last game I fell short in that area. Each character has stuff he is good at – better than everyone else. I need to make sure they always get a chance to be the hero.
Do some combat on a big ship. I mean — inside the ship. I want some adventure and danger in a great big starship.
Do some spaceship combat. It’s pretty deadly, but we can make it really fun. Each PC has skills that are critical to a good space battle — pilot, engineer, gunner.
Work in some of the PCs background elements. Family, enemies, etc. Give ’em something to worry about!
Better develop some of the alien cultures. The Glucks, Glee-Cheen, etc. Come up with some new ones.
Let the relationships with NPCs they’ve met have consequences. Ronda the Pilot, Zal Twist, Iron Balls McGinty, Rawlph the Gluck, etc, etc. Where the PCs have shown kindness, let it benefit them. Stuff like that. A good NPC from their past is always a good person to save their necks, or to get into trouble again and have the PCs save them! It’s a big universe, but hell, people run in similar circles out on the frontier.
I got a nice notebook to keep the campaign stuff in. Now I need to actually use it. Get organized.
Read more old science fiction, and new stuff, and steal lots of cool stuff.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.