Into the Void Ref’s Notes Session 22

Well, Session 22 was a lot of fun. I think my players had a good time.

As always, I feel like I could have been a bit more descriptive with the settings and all, but I’ll give myself a break. When you are GMing there’s a lot to keep track of.

So this game was intended to be the likely culmination of a story seed I planted in session 5, about 3 years ago. Yes, I sat on it that long. I say “intended” because while I had it set up, you can’t control what players do, and I was not going to force it. But it all worked out. The players of course didn’t do everything I expected, but I’ve come to expect that, so my expectations were met.

I go on and on about this, but my group is really good. They are great gamers. They are playing a system that punishes stupid actions. They are adventurous, but they use their head. Their characters use their tech to their advantage. They don’t walk into a situation unprepared, at least voluntarily. So while this session had many chance for grave bodily harm to be inflicted on the PCs, they managed to avoid it.

I knew this was going to be an important session in the campaign. I knew there was greater than normal chance a PC would die, so I wanted it to be very good. I struggled with the design of this session for a long time, writing stuff online, in notebooks, etc. I had a general idea of things, but just couldn’t really bring it together. So I tried something new.

I wrote a 4-page short story of the adventure. I envisioned it like a novel or movie, and I wrote it out. This helped me immerse myself in it and really think Was that fun? Yes, it was fun. Does it make sense? Yes, it does.” So I used that short story as an outline of what could happen. It also gave me some nice, prepared, descriptive text to read or at least use somewhat to provide atmosphere. I’ll often to that anyway, but typically I write my adventures in “scenes” so when they PCs arrive at a new location, if it is one I’ve considered, I’ll have some nice information about the atmosphere.

Overall it was a good way to do things. I don’t know if I’d do it in every adventure, but for this one it worked.

After we finished the session we had a talk, and I had considered resuming the campaign with the team back in civilized space, and not role play the journey home. But we have always resumed exactly from where we left off, and I think it is best to continue this practice. It is fun that way.

Game ideas, a short hiatus, etc

I put our Traveller campaign on hiatus until June. Just a short two month hold. I’m just so tired of being at my computer, in my home office, all the time these days I need a break. The idea of spending 3 or 4 hours pretty much “working” for fun at GM was making me sort of anxious. I love being the game master (or Referee in Traveller), but let’s face it. GMing is intense. It is performance. You have to really be “on”, and to do a good job you have to not only be prepared with your game materials, but you have to be physically and emotionally geared up as well. The last 14 months have taken their toll. I just need a short break. I’m glad my gaming group is all so cool and understanding. It helps that we’ve known each other since we were kids.

Image credit: ESA/Garrelt Mellema (Leiden University, the Netherlands) – Hubble Image

This break, however, is giving me a good chance to write new material for our campaign. I’m trying to spend 30 minutes to an hour a day working on stuff. I find that for each session I come up with an idea, and then over the course of development it changes tremendously. The team is currently on an ice planet, exploring a wrecked freighter, waaaaaay out in unexplored space. How did it get there? What happened to the crew? How long has it been there? So many questions to be answered. I watched a really interesting documentary last week. After we play the session I’ll discuss the documentary here and how it has influenced the session, but tonight I came up with what I think will be a very fun, super weird trajectory for this next session to take, all based on stuff from this documentary. Had nothing to do with space.  I’m enjoying coming up with the rest of this stuff.

A challenge for me, now, is to make sure the session has things for each PC to really be engaged in during the session. It can’t all be about “my great idea.” That idea is to provide the challenges for the players, so I need to make sure each PC has a chance to shine. Since players are unpredictable, I need to make sure I have two or three chances for each PC to do his thing and have his time of greatness!

Tomorrow, officially, is Mayday!, a special day in the life of Traveller players. This year Jeff (my podcasting partner on SAFCOcast) and I are playing in an online game as part of the online Traveller celebration organized by Virtual Traveller, Cyborg Prime, and Two Brothers Gaming. Beside the games, there are online talks and interviews all day. Looking forward to all of it!

Speaking of SAFCOcast, yes, Jeff and I will be creating a new episode after this game. We’ll be reporting on the online Mayday activities, and of course will have some internet finds and other Traveller talk. With the pause in our campaign, and each of us starting new jobs, we’ve been a bit preoccupied with “life” recently, but rest assured the podcast shall go on. We both love doing it.

I’ve been fantasizing about running two groups in our campaign. Christopher Rice, GURPS-master and Lord of Ravens N’ Pennies, does that. There are other people I really want to have in the game. My old college roommate for one. He’s the best GM ever, and he needs to be in our game. Since we went virtual it’s totally possible now. And there are a couple more players I’d like to involve. The problem is once a group gets over three or four players I don’t feel like I can give each PC the attention they deserve. I really like to shine the spotlight on each player, during each game, and once I pass four players in a session it gets tough. Right now we have 5 players in the came, and one occasional player. That’s about as many as I can handle. So running teams A and B would be really fun. The reality is that it will be tough to do that until I’m retired. I just can’t put enough time into gaming right now to make this happen. But…I might try anyway. Having teams A and B would open up some really fascinating possibilities to see how each’s actions might affect the other. Would they ever meet? Would they be allies? I need to do this.

Finally, I bought more 99 cent one-page adventures by Michael Brown. I love his work. So, so good.

 

ITV Session 20: Ice Planet in the Void

I didn’t write this one up right after the game, but here are Jeff’s notes. Pretty complete…

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Traveller Session 20 Writeup (from Jeff’s notes, probably a bit “noisy”)

Into The Void – Session #20

9 Jan 2021 (Sat)  Start 1:00PM.

Bob Loftin, GM. Players: Randy (Roger), William (Barney), David (Flint), Jeremy (Art), Jeff (Lucky)

We exit the complex, board ship.  We are at point #1 on Bob’s star map.

Our air raft is damaged.  Jeremy (+3) is the best suited (mech and air raft) to attempt repair.  Jeremy rolls, great success, air raft is fixed.

Roger (+4) pilots ship, rolls for Jump 1, success.

We are now in system #2.  There is a gas giant here.  We have enough fuel to jump to #3, if we want.  We scan – 20 planets, 1 gas giant, couple of icy worlds, no signs of signals.

Nebula – glowy gas.  We can scan one hex ahead.  Art (+2 navigator) rolls, does not detect anyhing in “empty” hex between #2 and #3.

We make it to point #3.  There is a gas giant in this system.  We scan, art rolls 6+2 = 8.  There is a star ahead with 9 planets, we can’t tell if there is a gas giant here. (target scanned = #4).

Zal – Would like to find an actual Precursor city or outpost.  Care needed, they could have sophisticated defense systems.

Roger rolls for jump – rolls 11, successful jump to #4.

ARRIVAL AT ICE PLANET:

We arrive at #4, one gas giant, 9 planets.  Barney (+3 computer) scans.  Barney finds one planet with a lot of water, scanning as we go.  Ass we get close, we find it is ice.  It is planet number 4 in this system.  80% water, frozen, 20% land.  One fairly large continent on southern hemisphere.  No moons.  We pick up a radio signal beacon – standard Imperial, very weak.

LIFE FORMS AND CRASHED CARGO SHIP:

Appears to be life on this planet.  In distance, a herd of creatures stomping through snow and ice.  Flying beings, as well.  We approach the radio signal, a distress beacon.  We see the wreckage of a large cargo ship, a crash site.  Looks like the back section just fell off.  Front is mostly under snow and ice.  Terrain is frozen.  200 foot cliff goes up to mesa above.  The ship is much, much larger than ours, maybe 300 feet long.

Two large holes in front part of ship, open to air.  The back of the ship has a large hole.

We each arm ourselves with 5 grenades.

We land.  I (Lucky) fly drone to survey the crashed ship.  Ship is three decks high, catwalk visible from hole in back.  We see cargo containers, hole at left of ship, destroyed cargo area.  Northwest hole at front of ship is the crew quarters.  No bodies seen anywhere.

ICE APES:

From hole in side of ship, we see four heat signatures.  Moving closer, we see that they are twice the size of humans, look like gorillas or apes.  Bringing drone closer, we see that they are not moving, appear to be asleep or perhaps in hibernation. They look like predators. Zal does not know anything about these life forms.

CRATES:

The crates look like they contained prefab building materials.  

PLAN:

Outside of ship – snow and ice.  No markings evident.  Our plan – Fardt will stay on our ship.  I will stay as nearby our ship as possible, will keep tabs on sleeping lifeforms with drones.  Everyone else will form a team to enter the crew area and explore through the NW hole in the crew section.

EXPLORATION:

The away team enters the crew compartment.  Art knows the general ship layout.  Crew compartment is on three levels.  The party is trying to make their way to the control bridge.  They encounter a hatch, frozen closed.  Flint, strength 10, tries to open it.

— END OF SESSION #20 —

End Session
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Elapsed game time: 241

SAFCOcast 24: Interview with Ken Patterson and Greg Caires about the 2021 MayDay! online Traveller event!

In this episode we interview Ken Patterson and Greg Caires about the upcoming Mayday! event.

The first day of May – May Day – has special meaning to Traveller players due to the infamous Mayday call from the Free Trader Beowulf that has appeared on box and book covers of various variants of the game since its earliest years.

In 2021, May Day will be a Saturday – an ideal time to play Traveller.

To help the global Traveller community celebrate May Day, three groups of players have teamed up to create a unique day of Traveller-related programming.

Operating from its home base on Facebook, the Virtual Traveller group – the same people who organized the weekend-long online “non-convention” last October – will organize “MayDay! a Celebration of Traveller through online roleplaying.” GMs from across the globe will be invited to run Traveller games online using whatever communications tools they prefer and during any suitable time period based on their locale. The only requests are:

  • All games must begin and be run during May 1st in the GM’s local time-zone;
  • All games must conclude by 7 pm Saturday night Central US Time on May 1st to “clear the decks” for a charity game that will be broadcast live on Twitch (more about this below).

Based on lessons-learned from the Virtual Traveller weekend, MayDay! will be organized using Tabletop Events for simplicity game submission, player registration and communication. To cover the expense of using Tabletop, a nominal fee (likely $3) will be charged. That fee buys players their convention badges, and they can then join and play as many games as their schedules will allow.

More about MayDay!:

Tabletop Events:
https://tabletop.events/conventions/mayday-celebration
Facebook Virtual Traveller Group:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/virtualtraveller
Discord Virtual Traveller server:
https://discord.gg/3WRUjXk

Both GMs and players are sought. Questions can be submitted via the links above.

If online gaming isn’t your thing, CyborgPrime is organizing the 3rd annual “Mayday! Mayday!” event, which consists of live interviews of Traveller authors and others who contribute to keeping the game popular and replenished with fresh material. Last year, CP interviewed both Matthew Sprange and Marc Miller, and generous prizes were awarded to members of the audience.

This year, CP intends to interview a variety of new voices, giveaway more and better prizes, give a platform to Ken Burnside of AdAstra Games to host some Traveller Squadron Strike vector combat simulations. The marquee event will be – like last year – the live broadcast of Patrick Kanouse’s Traveller game to benefit his charity The Carcinoid Cancer Foundation (https://www.carcinoid.org/).

Joining him as players are Two Brothers Gaming, High Shelf Gaming, and The Death Die Club. They will be playing Michael Brown’s Angle of Incidence: “A routine cargo run leads to a station orbiting a black hole and one man’s world of obsession, secrets, and madness. As the heroes help an intelligence agent investigate the mad scientist’s activities, they come to realize that they may bear witness to the ultimate adventure…or become just more bits of matter crushed by the black hole’s gravity.”

The Carcinoid Cancer Foundation’s mission is to increase awareness and educate the general public and healthcare professionals regarding carcinoid and related neuroendocrine tumors (NETs), to support NET cancer patients and their families, and to serve as patient advocates. We’ll be giving away a bunch of things, and you can even have an effect on the game.
The game will stream on High Shelf Gaming’s Twitch channel (https://twitch.tv/highshelfgaming/profile) at 8:00 pm Eastern. The game will include giveaways and opportunities to influence the game.

SAFCOcast 23: To Violence Or To Not Violence

First, thanks to all our listeners for sticking with us! It has been two months since the last episode, which of course is not our goal, but life got in the way!

In this episode, besides the usual sections, our main topic deals with non-violent/non-combat Traveller (and other RPGs) sessions. Not arguing against a good shoot-em-up, but just using other kinds of challenges to create a good game.

We also mention Jeff’s table of 2d6 outcome probabilities, so here it is!

Relevant Links

SAFCOcast 21: Mailbag, Rules and Internet Finds, and Session Discussion

This first light image from the Callisto telescope at the SPECULOOS Southern Observatory (SSO) shows the famous Horsehead Nebula . First light for a newly commissioned telescope is a tremendously exciting time, and usually well-known astronomical objects such as this are captured to celebrate a new telescope commencing operations. The SSO is installed at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in the vast Atacama Desert, Chile, and consists of four 1-metre planet-hunting telescopes. The project’s telescopes are named after Jupiter’s Galilean moons, and are neighbours of ESO’s Very Large Telescope and VISTA . SPECULOOS will focus on detecting Earth-sized planets orbiting nearby ultra-cool stars and brown dwarfs.

In this episode we read some great email’s from listeners! Lots to think about! We also cover Internet Finds and Rules Finds, and discuss the latest session of our Into the Void Classic Traveller campaign!

Relevant links:

 

Into the Void Ref’s Notes 19

Once again we played for about 2.5 hours on Roll20, using Discord for our audio. Everything worked pretty well. We spent a little time before we started getting everyone’s audio levels set to be compatible, which was a good idea.

The session was a continuation of the last one. I was pretty happy with it. While the team did have a little ship-to-robot combat, most of this game was decision making, problem solving, and exploration. The two more combat-oriented characters were able to stay engaged, which was great.

When the team is exploring the unknown, the more “social” skills are not as useful (generally). At least when they are not in the midst of some kind of culture. If they are just on a wild planet, bribery, streetwise, etc., aren’t very useful. So I’m kind of looking forward to the team returning to known space again so I can work them into some city-based adventures, or even stuff on a big space station.

 

ITV Session 19: the Alien Complex

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Session starts where we left off. Half the team is investigating the remains of an alien complex they have discovered, and half is on the way in the ship.

In the complex, Flint and Lucky use the drone to scout down the corridors of the complex. They encounter no dangers other than the green slime in various places, and once they get into corridor leading up to the previously discovered control room there is none. Lucky uses the universal translator to try to find out of the green slime is sentient. A smart move. No sign of intelligence of any kind is detected It’s just slime.

As they explore, Roger, Art, Barney, and Joe are on their way in the ship. Art and Joe pick up another drone heading toward them. Roger makes his Pilot roll, and throws the ship into a corkscrew flight path. As the drone approaches and fires, Barney fires one dual pulse laser turret and Art fires the automated one. They score hits, while the drone misses. Its control computer damaged, the drone flies out of control and is destroyed. They continue toward the complex. Arriving, they see the disabled air-raft. Roger lands the ship, and with the assistance of the mining pod and the robot are able to get the vehicle on board. Barney enters the complex to assist with evaluating it and powering up the alien computers.

Roger takes the ship and finds the big cube ship that has landed in the forest nearby. The crew onboard the ship is able to destroy it before it can launch additional drones.  The return to the complex site and enter.

Barney evaluates what he sees. It appears to be an engineering and power station. Three vats empty into pipes which disappear down another corridor. He says they are like intended to supply injectants to some kind of reactor.

Inside the control room, the team has had Zal use the universal translator artifact to evaluate the control panels. He’s not an engineer and can’t tell much, but he is able to read the notations of the panels and confirm it is some kind of power regulation system. Barney arrives, and they decide to try to power up the panels. The take the power supply out of the robot, and Barney is able to using his massive Engineering skill to make things work.

While the team works on that project, Flint uses the drone to explore the chamber containing the reactor. Using the multispectral scanners of the drone, he can tell that there is a tiny fissure on the containment vessel and describes if to Barney via radio. Barney says there is probably some kind of spinning core in there, still emitting some radiation, and when it passes that fissure it is creating the signal they picked up that lead them here.  The chamber is full of the green slime, and Art deduces the slime must be feeding on the radiation. At this point there isn’t enough radiation to harm the team.

Barney manages to power up the computers, and is able to use the universal translator to gain some info about the installation. He finds that this planet was inhabited by a race called the Drysti, who were descended from avian stock. They attained TL-11, explored space, and attracted the attention of the Enemy. The never saw the Enemy, and lacked the technology to defend themselves. The Enemy destroyed their outposts in the subsector, and finally bombarded this planet with asteroids, scrubbing it. This was a power station on the outskirts of a large military base, which was destroyed by an asteroid strike. While there is no navigation info on the remains of this computer system, they do find some cultural info on the Drysti, which they download for Zal. Barney also finds a stand-down code with which the team can power down the robotic security forces they’ve encountered — still functioning and self-maintaining for many centuries.

The planet now relatively safe, the team returns the ship to the shelter they had previously discovered, and begin pre-jump maintenance.

End Session
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Elapsed game time: 217 days

 

SAFCOcast 20: the Elements of a Traveller Game!

In this episode Jeff and Bob discuss the basic elements of a Traveller game, as detailed by Marc Miller in the Traveller Book.

Before that Bob does a short correction from the previous episode,  we do Internet Finds, and some fun Rules Finds, as well as present the last of the planets submitted in our Random Planet Generation Smackdown! (that system appears below, under the relevant links).

Relevant links:

 

Random Planet #9!

Faddle – from Pete Burke

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Faddle is a cold, icy world with most of the surface covered in permafrost.  

There is a band approximately 400 miles wide around the equator that is comfortable and is actually considered pleasantly tropical.  The atmosphere is dense which helps create the effect Faddle is famous for – the floating “Udrassi” mats. 

Udrassi is a native organic lifeform that straddles the line between fungus, plant and animal life.  The udrassi combine into large circular floating mats that organize around a central hub.  On each hub,  three pools of amino acids are arranged in a triangular pattern – early colonists to the planet were able to quickly determine that by adding saline water of specific concentrations to the pools in certain sequuences, the mats could be raised, lowered or steered and also directed to attract or repel other floating mats. 

The mats are extremely strong – some colonists built houses and larger buildings anchoring into the mats themselves.  It wasn’t long until early colonial families created resort hotel compounds for tourists by assembling larger mats together – and by manipulating the hub pools on the mats, small towns developed by combining mats together.
  

The planet is mostly a recreation destination – the floating lifestyle of the permanent residents is very laid back .  Some floating resorts stay in the tropics all year round, while others float to a mountain range south of the equator in the permafrost region where a ski resort has been set up.

Into the Void Ref’s Notes 18

Session 18 was a continuation of the adventure from the previous session, and I suppose part 3 o4 4 in series of games related to an expedition into the Void (unexplored space beyond the Imperial border, going coreward).

As our gaming group has expanded from three players to six, running the game and keeping everyone engaged has become more challenging. This is a good thing. As a Traveller Referee, and gamemaster in general, I think it’s important for me to keep challenging myself. Otherwise, things get stale for all of us. This means that sometimes a session, like the previous one, might not be action-packed. Sometimes it is necessary to set the stage. That is not to say that in session 17 no one did anything. It’s just that they aren’t making constant die rolls and skill checks. A lot of our games are just the players discussing possible actions, and doing things that don’t require a skill roll. I feel like this is kind of different than a lot of games. I’ve never been in a D&D game where there wasn’t a lot of die rolling, a lot of combat, etc. Superhero games of course tend to be constant combat. The trick is to keep players engaged with the game without cramming it full of die rolls and violence. In Traveller, violence will get you dead.

Anyway, in this session the pace picked up a bit. Eventually the party had split into 3 groups (though one group was a group of one). We’ve done enough of this kind of thing that it no longer phases me. They can do whatever they want. I can make it work. Split the party? Sure, go ahead. This works just fine IF your players don’t insist on super accurate timelines. If they are good with letting the GM manage the timing of everything, you can have create a nice flow without railroading the players. I do think it’s important to move back and forth between the groups and the players fairly quickly when running a session like this. I don’t like any player going more than a few minutes without getting to make some decision, do some roleplaying, or being active in some way. They are there to play, not be spectators.

One thing I really considered about the current adventure, on the current planet, is whether or not is would be too tired and expected for them to find what they have found there.  However, I think I’ve planted enough clues and knowledge to be gained on that world that if the players choose to investigate, it will not just a planet where they blew up robots.

But there is nothing wrong with blowing up robots. That can be really good too. As my podcasting partner Jeff K says, an adventure needs ups and downs.

Ooooooo! I just thought of something great to put in there!

Now, all this being said, I have reiterated to the players that they can proceed however they want! If they think this planet is taking too much of a toll on their resources, not on-task, or whatever, they can try jumping to the next system (skipping the standard week of maintenance and risking miss-jump, of course). Hell, they could tell Zal and the Baroness they are done and just return to Mylor. I, as referee, will keep up with them. I have encounters and ideas to throw at them regardless. I want them to really feel free to pursue whatever they want.

One thing I need to do next session is increase my description of the alien environment. That is very important. This time I was so focussed on keeping the game running that I feel like I let that slide a bit.