Into the Void Ref’s Notes 17

This was the first session in which I really tried to randomize things and play things a bit more sandbox style. I’ve never been very comfortable with doing things that way, but felt like I needed to stretch myself and see where things went.

I created a few different tables, all rolled on 1d6. The tables were (or are, since I’m still using them)…

  • Potential landing sites
  • Animal encounters
  • Alien nemesis encounters
  • Planetary features of interest

I had the players roll to determine which possible landing sites they found, and I used the others to create the story. Pretty much the way one would use some of the tables in the Little Black Books, but I’m not fast enough with those and it would take too long.

One benefit of doing things this way (for me) is that I feel less like I’m railroading the players. It also tests my ability to think on my feet, which I’m not super happy with. I need practice. I made a few mistakes I’m going to correct in the next session. Yet another benefit of short sessions — this one was two hours. Beside fixing things I’ve messed up, since this was a short session the actions of the players and the way things developed have given me some ideas for the next game. So cool.

Challenges .  In this case, the party decided that several player characters would stay at the ship while the rest went off exploring. This is fine, but it isn’t easy to engage players that are simply at the ship doing Jump drive maintenance.  So I had to come up with some things to get them engaged. Not easy. However, I think the exploration party is in a big enough mess now that the characters at the ship are going to need to help out.

I don’t know what the PCs are going to do in the next session. They could do anything. But in this game their actions helped me figure out a few things about this planet,  so I think I can have plenty of ways to react no matter what they decide. What I need to do is plan a couple of jumps ahead. For all I know they may decide to take off and risk a no-maintenance jump just to get out of this system. So I need to be prepared.

 

ITV Session 17: the Blasted World

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The team begins in orbit of a planet just outside the Great Nebula of the Void, having met three apparently robotic defense drone ships as they entered the system, on their way to a gas giant to refuel.

The plant is small, size 4, and readings from orbit reveal a thin but breathable atmosphere. From space they see massive cratering, but no radiation. They assume this indicates some intentional asteroid bombardment in the distant past. No signs of prior civilization are apparent from orbit.

Given the 50% hydro rating of the planet, the team decides to scoop water from the ocean to get fuel, then find a sheltered place to land and do drive maintenance. They skim the coastline. Flint and Joe look for possible good tactical landing spots for the ship. Flint spots a deep canyon with a river that empties into the ocean, while Joe spots a massive crater that extends from the coast in the the water, guessing it is the previous site of a city.

Zal and the Baroness express interest in the crater site, thinking they might do some exploration and perhaps find something of archaeological significance. The team decides to land near the crater, where they find a rocky overhang that will hide the ship from orbital surveillance and provide protection from the weather. They land.

Barney begins drive and ship maintenance, along with Roger, Art, and Joe, while Flint, Lucky, Fardt, Zal, and the the Baroness take the air raft to go exploring.

Barney discovers the water they skimmed, and thus the fuel, was tainted. He makes an Engineering roll and is able to purify it enough for use. Joe makes a tactics roll, and uses his mechanic skill to set up some scanners outside the overhang, to monitor anything in the atmosphere.

Over the course of a couple of hours, the exploration team finds an unnatural source of radiation. Nothing dangerous, but above the planet’s normal background. What’s more, it is emitting in a repeating pattern. Conferring with the ship, Barney says it sounds like a decaying reactor core that has been breached.  The team sends their drone down, and they find what looks like a tunnel in the sloped wall of the deep crater. They find a place to land the air raft about 50′ from the opening and get out to explore.

Back at the ship, Roger and Joe see two objects on the sensors enter the atmosphere. One seems to be heading toward the location of the exploration team. They notify the team.

Venturing into the ruined corridor, the team sees lot of rubble as well as a slightly glowing slime in patches on the walls and floor. They are going to try to get back to the ship now, knowing about the incoming object, but Flint takes a minute to gather a sample of the slime. When he touches it, the slime expels a puff of sports into his face. Luckily he is wearing his respirator. No harm done. As the team gets back to the entrance they see a cube-shaped probe hovering about 20′ away from the entrance, 6′ off the ground. Lucky and Flint take shots at it, hitting its power cells and blowing it up. They exit the corridor to find the air raft disabled, apparently by a laser from the now destroyed probe.

End of session

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Elapsed game time: 217 days

Into the Void Ref’s Notes 15

Well, this was an interesting session for me. I had a conversation with on my players, David, in email after the session. There is nothing private or personal in the email, so I’m going to reproduce it here, as it contains many of my thoughts about the session and our campaign in general.

 I don’t know how much harder it is to run with 5 players., but it sure is fun!  Especially with Jeff Lee purposely trying to throw a monkey wrench into all your plans.  I was initially feeling bad for hogging the show there in the beginning.  When Jeff and William went off in the corners, I didn’t want them to feel like me and Randy were cutting them out.  I didn’t get to use my sword,  but I’m glad the other guys got to do some combat.  Williams sniper position to cover the entire bar was a good move and his one shot really turned the tide on what could have been a very bad situation.  We were expecting something, but the second assassin singer was pretty impressive if it was improvised because the first assassin went down too quickly.

And here’s my response…

Running 5 is a bit harder. I try real hard to give every player a chance to shine in each session. More players makes this harder in short sessions. It’s not like D&D at that game everyone can pretty easily do their thing, in a dungeon crawl. Or Champions, where it is mostly fightly. So it is a lot more challenging at GM.

Another thing I struggle with is not railroading the game. There is a fine line between giving plot hooks and “forcing” the PCs to do stuff. My goal is to have a game with some purpose, but not completely dictate what happens. Related to that is the fact that I want to provide atmosphere, but I don’t want to just narrate the whole thing. So for instance I tried to use the parade to provide some context for the game and the campaign, but didn’t want to just talk for 30 minutes and not let y’all do anything. So I tried to cut it short but still have it be effective.

Really, I thought it went OK yesterday. You and Randy got to do some roleplaying with the whole negotiation and card game thing, William and Jeff got to shoot someone, and Jeff Lee got to tackle the second sniper and act crazy. So everyone, I felt, was engaged. I was really wanting to engage Jeff Lee, and had expected to have him see the first assassin move and he would be the one acted on it, but the PCs were all over the bar. So I adapted since Barney was on the balcony it made sense he would see that. The second assassin  was in fact planned.  2 assassins planned — I just didn’t know which PCs would be in a position to act.  I’ll reveal more about the assassins next game. What y’all didn’t discover was that the dagger was poisoned, and the mic-stand gun shot poison darts. Make an END save or die in 2-6 minutes without medical intervention. So the possibility was there for something real bad to happen. William got off a good shot, which was lucky.

I’m trying to create good NPCs. I always think back in the old days that is something I ignored. Maybe if I’d reffed Traveller it would have been different.

Having those maps is fun. Really useful.

Anyway, my players seem to enjoy this campaign, and I enjoy running it. I think it is the best campaign I’ve ever run, using any system. In a Facebook chat with the other players, I told them they didn’t have to stick to the threads there are obviously my “planned adventures.”  They can do what they want, and I have modular stuff that can be used and woven into the fabric of the campaign. William made the comment that it is the players obligation to engage with the game world. I agree. And it is the GMs obligation to create a rich setting full of possibilities.

Into the Void Ref’s Notes 14

This was a short session due to challenges getting everyone sorted to use Roll20. One of the guys had mic problems, and we spent a good 30 minutes figuring out the issue. In the end he dropped out of the session, which was a bummer, but we needed to play. Later that week one of the other guys helped him get everything working.

Overall I like the Roll20 system. I’ve had no problems with my Mac computers using Chrome or Firefox. My PC-using friends sometimes have issues.

Into the Void Ref’s Notes 13

Like most of my Traveller sessions, this one was long in the making. Jeff #2 was joining us, finally. He’s a regular member of our gaming group, who due to other gaming commitments had never been able to make the Traveller game. So I had the challenge of working his PC into the game in an interesting way. I came up with several ideas but didn’t like the flow of most of them. Too much idle time for him. I settled on starting him 56 years in the past, and putting him in cold sleep for the PCs to discover floating in space. This worked out quite well. It was fun, and it surprised everyone involved.

Without going into details (they are in the previous post), the PCs decided to have some modifications done to their ship, so I got them started on an adventure on that same planet while they wait for their ship. Coming up with non-combat challenges is fun, but you really have to work at it. After the game last night I was watching a Netflix documentary series about the astronaut Scott Kelly’s preparation and 1-year stay on the International Space Station. In reality, everything one does in space is difficult and super dangerous. In a science fiction game perhaps EVAs are easier, but they should still be dangerous with little room for error. Which is all to say that having Vac Suit skill can really get the PCs into some entertaining trouble.

I felt like in this game, especially setting them up for the on-planet adventure, there were some spans in which I just telling them what happened a bit too much. This can help move things along, but in the future I’d like to have them roleplay through some of those parts a bit more.

Once they got down into the undersea cavern, I changed things up quite a lot from the plan I had typed out last week. Weird how sometimes better ideas present themselves during play, and the resources you have prepared need to be altered during the course of play.

Regarding the ship mods. The group agreed to just have Jeff K and I work out the modifications and cost outside of the game. This kind of thing can eat up a lot of actual playing time if you let it. They had hoped to upgrade the ships drives, but in Classic Traveller the fuel requirements and volume of the faster drives would leave almost zero cargo space. They opted for reducing the number of cold berths by half and decreasing the extra Jump-2 fuel to only an extra Jump-1, thus gaining some cargo space. I had reasoned that the Type-A Freetrader would not be equipped with the variety and quality of sensors available on a typical Scout ship, and as this is a very exploratory campaign, they agreed to spend some credits for a massive sensor upgrade.

Into the Void Ref’s Notes 12

Atlas class freighter from Independence Games (link)

Session 12 was short and challenging to come up with and run. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how best to bring an “occasional” player character into the game for one session and make it feel organic. I’ve decided this coming year to have two or three guest players for sessions, and toward the end of the year bring everyone together for a big blowout. I can’t really deal with more than four regular players — it all just gets too complicated, and it is harder to get everyone together. BUT, having some guest players is a good thing.

So, our guest player was running the character Reginald Stormbringer, an ex-army badass. I spent a week making notes of game ideas and not liking any of them. Since it was a guest player session, it needed to be kind of a one-shot. It needed to have some action. BUT – I also wanted this game to set up a return to the unknown of the Void.  So I decided to put their old friend Zal Twist, the Exo-archaeologist, in harms way onboard a hijacked freighter, and have him meet Reggie onboard.

The trick to this session, and the mentally exhausting part, was keeping the flow moving with Reggie on the freighter and the players on the planet, whilst moving them toward a meeting point. It wall worked out, we got them all together, they saved Zal and the rest of the ship (though the freighter crew was all dead), and had a pretty good game.

A few notes:

  • Reggie got hit once by a submachine gun. They really hurt. Nearly took him out. Lesson learned, I think. Don’t get shot.
  • I think non-combat skills are really fun, and very necessary, in my game. They might be more helpful, in fact. On populated worlds it helps if each player has some kind of social skill. Gambling, carousing, admin, streetwise, bribery, whatever. Gives them some nice options.
  • I need to encourage my players to really explore crazy options that make use of all their skills. I had Flint make a Tactics roll and gave him some suggestions that resulted in Barney using his Vacc Suit skill to gain them access to the freighter.
  • It was fun to bring the Fast drug into this game, and to use Basic (the nutrient drink from the Dumarest novels) to revive Reggie after cold sleep.
  • Most of my players are long-time veterans of D&D and Champions. They are very much used to knowing their character sheets really well, and knowing how to use their skills and spells to greatest effect. I think because the Traveller PCs are so simple looking on the surface my players are not sure how to really take advantage of their skills and gear. They are still doing well, but I think they might have more fun if they were a bit more familiar with their characters and gear. I’ll help them develop this by putting them in difficult situations and let ’em depend on their own creativity to resolve things.
  • I still need to start bringing the character histories into the game more.

Into the Void Ref’s Notes 10

This last session was really fun but didn’t really go the way I intended, which is fine. The players did some unexpected things, to which I responded by planning variations to the planned encounters, which they then didn’t encounter for very logical reasons. Lots of fun stuff prepared and not used. No big deal. I’ll repurpose that stuff for future games.

That battle with the megabeetles went much longer than I expected. Giving the beasts a non-lethal but incapacitating chemical spray attack worked really well for making the encounter more interesting. A bit of flavor. Kind of a vomit flavor, of course, but flavor none the less. One thing to consider for the future is that giving a creature or character the equivalent of combat armor protection makes them really hard to hit. So if they have such protection, they don’t need that many characteristic points to obliterate. A total of 25 hits to be destroyed, if the PCs are using autopistols and autorifles, is plenty. That’s tough. It will take them two or three hits to kill the thing, at least. Likewise, having the character Flint wearing actual combat armor essentially made it impossible for the creatures mandibles to hurt him. This was good, since two of the rest of the group were down on the ground barfing, but could make it too easy for him to deal with adversaries in the future. Need to keep this in mind. As it turns out, the fight with the megabeetles was probably the most danger the PCs have been in thus far.

When we got to the big battle at the end (or potentially a big battle), the players had been smart enough to bargain with the rebels and repair the wrecked ship’s laser turret. I had planned to have the troops and the rebels have a big fight, but I was going to “storytell” most of that, and keep the action and die rolling at the PC level and maybe detail the actions of a couple of the important rebels. As it turned out, by blowing up the Grav Carrier with the ship’s laser, they were able to demoralize the bad guys and end the fight with no rebel casualties. More smart play from my players. They are really good at using their heads and solving problems without risking their necks too much.

Soooo…now the players are still on planet Uetonah. They realize the person they were seeking is there of his own free will. They will certainly be able to salvage that working dual pulse laser turret, so that’s going to provide some nice income. The issue of whether the Pachyderms are sentient and can be proved so is unresolved. An NPC that is involved is still unknown the the PCs. Lots of stuff they could discover, but should they? How much railroading do I do? I’m thinking none.  I still have some encounters ready on Uetonah, but these can be reassigned to new game sessions. I’ll prepare for the next game assuming that the PCs will salvage that turret and get off the planet. I expect the next session may involve a lot of bookkeeping and and logistics for the players.

This was game session 10. I’m very happy to have been running this campaign this long.  I think the story is developing nicely. We all seem to be enjoying it. Once of the nice things about Traveller is there is no monster manual. While there are standard ship  designs and weapons, it’s much less cookie cutter than D&D.  This makes it a lot easier for the referee to keep the game surprising for the players. What fun is exploring the unknown if all is known? The players have been to just a hand full of planets thus far, all near the frontier.

An issue that Jeff Koenig and I have discussed is the nature of money and banking in an interstellar setting with no FTL communication. I asked for advice on the Traveller RPG Facebook page and got some really good advice and ideas, kind of in line with what we were already thinking.

A combination of encrypted “debit cards” – unhackable and super secure – that can be “charged up” with credits at an appropriate bank where the PCs have their funds stored. Funds can be added directly to the cards themselves at points of transactions or even card to card, and then stored in a secure bank at first opportunity, or sent there directly via x-boat. The imperial x-boats, in addition to mail, carry banking and financial data that is updated at each stop.

Because “commerce is the glue that holds the Imperium together”, there are incredibly harsh punishments for financial crime, and super effective detection systems for such crime. All this makes the system work well. Because no one want to get in trouble for jacking with the electronic system, card robbery is also very rare. Crooks may steal currency, but not cards. They’ll not even force a card to card transaction, as these are super traceable. Local currencies must conform to Imperials standards. Actual physical currency can be carried. Some ships carry commodities that can be traded in a pinch, precious metals, etc.

This is all “background” info. All our PCs will need to determine is how many credits do they keep on their personal cards at any one time, and if they have other commodities they can trade aboard their ship. So – each PC needs to keep a total for credits in the bank and credits on their card. If a card is lost or destroyed, the money is gone. Players will probably want to keep some actual Imperial currency on their person.

 

Into the Void Ref’s Notes 6

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.

Painting

Started painting one of the miniatures. Just one. I have a duplicate of this one, so if I mess this up it’s no big deal. Been a looooong time since I’ve painted one of these and I need to develop some skills and strategy.

This looks like crap right now, but they always do at this point. You have to be patient and just keep working on it.

Prepping for Game

I’m getting ready for another session of my Traveller campaign. The game has some good momentum now. Regardless the game or campaign, my gaming group seems to take 45 minutes to 1 hour for each encounter or scene.  So three scenes will be good. Nice and easy to handle. Just need to remember a good piece of GMing advice I saw on Twitter – the basis of a good game is a good encounter. Make good encounters and scenes, and the rest flows. 

So far my group seems to be enjoying this campaign, even with the lack of a serious character advancement system in Traveller. I’ve always assumed that without that kind of reward players would get bored, but it hasn’t happened yet. 

I’ve been reading a lot of science fiction over the last couple of months. I’m currently in the middle of a large collection of short stories, which is just full of great ideas I could slap into game sessions.  Since returning from vacation I’ve not very little time to read. Need to get back on that after this game.