My friend Jeff and I made a trip to Reaper Miniatures Store, in Denton, Texas this morning. We’re lucky to have it so close – only about a 30 minute drive. They make over 4000 miniatures. We were looking for science fiction minis, suitable for our Traveller game.

There’s an awesome display room with hundreds of expertly painted miniatures in the store. Like many modern stores, they have their own gaming space and host events all the time.  The shop is attached to their factory. So cool.

Anyway, here’s some of the miniatures I bought today. I’ll be taking my time and trying to do a nice job on all of them. Then I’ll buy more. I’ll post picks of them at various stages of completion.

Into the Void Ref’s Notes 5

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.

The “Into the Void” Classic Traveller gaming group, last weekend at Madness Games & Comics, in Plano, Texas. The best store in the world.

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.

Our ships, thus far. More on the way. Learning to paint all over again.

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.




ITV Session 5: To Kill a God

This image is the work of Charles Chi — great stuff.

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The players pick up exactly where they left off from session 4. They are standing before an animated 3-d construct of an insectoid alien’s head, who has said “I was one of the ancients, and I’ve brought you here…to kill me.”  The insect-like Protectors surround the players and the 3d-printing pedestal. The image communicates via the universal translator held by the Protector Chief.

The group questions the alien. It explains that this world is its prison. “Why do you want to be killed? Can we simply take you to another planet.” No, says the alien, who goes on to explain that thousands of years before he was a political dissident in the highly oppressive society of the Ancients, known to Zal as the Precursors. Their civilization had grown to a very high tech level, but had become controlled by a “death cult” at its upper echelons. They wished to destroy all intelligent life outside their own culture. This ancient, apparently a person of some influence, sought to change this as well as return a sense of positive purpose to the Precursor society. For this, his mind was stripped from his body, transferred to an artificial matrix, and he was imprisoned on this world on the outskirts of Precursor space, to exist in a state of limbo, alone and going mad, for eternity.

Now the alien wishes for the players to destroy his disembodied consciousness. He reveals that the “Heart of the Gods” worshipped by the Protectors, is in fact simply a minor broadcast power outlet of the true Heart of the Gods – a contained singularity power source, housed hundreds of feet below in a chamber in the bedrock of this planet. He reveals further that his mind is actually stored in the very structure of that singularity. He tells them that they must not allow that level of technology to infect their society, and that by helping him — by killing him – they’ll be serving their own civilization. When they revealed that they understood the true, disruptive potential of the Heart of the Gods (at the end of the last session), he knew he could reveal himself to them.

In talking to the alien, they discover that the weird “cells in space” they have seen on the Precursor star maps represent a planet-killing weapon apparently unleashed after this being’s imprisonment. Not good, as it is headed for Imperial space (at sublight it’s a long way away).

The players voice their concerns that destroying this device, containing a singularity, might destroy the planet and thus annihilate the Protectors.  The alien voices some disdain for the Protectors, but also admiration for the groups ethics. He suggests that they might first relocate the Protectors. They decide to move them to Zal’s World – the moon in this system which they first visited. The Protectors, it is determined, could survive there. The Precursor agrees to command the Protectors to cooperate. They believe him to be a god. He tells them that the PCs are the Messengers of the Gods.

The 3d printing pedestal slides sideways, revealing an elevator platform. The team takes it hundreds of feet down, and find themselves in a massive chamber. In the chamber is a circular 200 foot deep pit – smooth metal sides, 90 feet across. The chamber is bathed in shifting blue-green glowing light that shifts eerily on the walls.

Halfway down (100 feet) is a 15 glowing translucent globe suspended in the very middle of the pit, held in place by four 5′ wide metal spokes extending from the walls of the pit. The Heart of the Gods, and the container of the alien dissident’s consciousness. The walls of the chamber and the pit are featureless. Not visible controls or technology. Silent.

The team examines the room, and decides the best way to destroy the machine would be to put a high explosive charge against it.  Back up in the main chamber, the Alien agrees, stating the spinning singularity is held in place in the middle of the globe be a complex matrix of artificial gravity fields. Disrupting those fields violently, even for a moment, should destroy the system.

Now – logistics. They need to move the Protectors and they have no explosives. The team decides to return to Mylor and get the much larger Type-A Merchant ship. While there, the team acquires explosives from a mining supply company, a timer and detonator, and some rope to lower a team member down 100 feet to one of the beams holding up the Heart of the Gods.  A week there to maintain the ship, and another week in jump and they find themselves back on the Precursor system. They spend a couple of days moving the Protectors to Zal’s World. They then return to the Precursor “prison”. As a show of gratitude, the alien uses the 3d printer to create a data module for Zal, containing cultural info on the Precursor society. For the rest of the team, it creates a smooth black sphere the size of a softball — a universal translator.

The team descends down to the power source. Lucky repels down, with the rest of the team and the robot securing him. He plants the bomb next to the globe, sets the timer for 5 hours.

Then they get the hell off that planet.

From 200 planetary diameters they turn the ship, train the sensors on the rocky little world, and watch the planet disappear into the singularity, releasing a burst of radiation — the last trace of dead god.

Back on Zal’s World, the small red humanoid aliens meet their new Protectors.


Elapsed game time: 58 days.
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Game postponed

I had to postpone last week’s installment of our Into the Void campaign. Had a family funeral to attend over in Louisiana.

I got some cool spaceship miniatures to paint a couple of weeks ago. Waiting on some good stands/bases for them before I paint. Need to be able to properly manipulate them. I haven’t painted a miniature since about 1993. Are my hands still steady enough? We – shall – see.

Anyway, I have a couple of weeks to prepare for the next Traveller session. Going to try to wrap up the current story arc. But no guarantees.

Interwebs Treasures #19

It’s been a while since I did one of these post, but there’s still a lot of great stuff to discover out there.

  • RPG Knights — a good blog about RPGs. Caught my attention when I was looking for Traveller blogs.
  • Monkey House Games – home of Jeff Dee’s Mighty Protectors: Villains & Vigilantes 3.0.
  • Dicehaven – another blog. They just started a podcast. As of this day, the link unfortunately just takes you to their RSS feed, but you can find the podcast on iTunes. One actual play episode thus far, but it’s actually listenable. I generally find actual play podcasts excruciating, even if the game is good. Not so in this case. The podcast is good.
  • Tenkar’s Tavern – a blog with an almost-daily podcast. The podcast is short, which is actually pretty nice. The site and podcast tend to focus on the OSR stuff (Old School Revival, or whatever). I’m never blown away by the podcast, but I do enjoy it. Kind of a nice little daily gaming injection. Short enough to listen to on my way to work!
  • Traveller Roleplaying Game Community on G+: I’ve become a big fan of Google Plus. It seems like it is better-focussed and less prone to bullshit than Facebook. Sure, a shitstorm can erupt, but it seems less common. The Traveller players in the group are great to interact with. Some talented GMs and content creators there.
  • Coretex System Roleplaying on G+: One of best and oldest friends has done a brilliant hack of the Coretex system to do a Wuxia campaign. I honestly don’t understand the system at this point, but it is interesting.
  • North Texas RPG Con: The site is already updated with the 2019 dates. Looking forward to taking time off and really spending some hours at this con next year.

Into the Void Ref’s Notes 4

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.

Cover from “Nor Crystal Tears”, but Alan Dean Foster.

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.


ITV Session 4: The Heart of the Gods

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When we left the Travellers, they had just left the moon we’ll call Zal’s World. Having made repairs to their ship, the Rambler, and the ship formerly owned by Croyd, they begin making their way with both ships to a safe jump distance. The survivors of Croyd’s crew all in cold sleep about the merchant ship, Roger calculates Nav routes for both ships back to Mylor, where they intend to return Zal and collect the other half of their pay.

As they make their way to the jump point, about the Rambler, Zal continues to frantically study information he’s able to extract from the Precursor data module acquired in the alien Ziggurat. The ships sync up for simultaneous jumps, and just as they hit the JUMP button Zal exclaims “Wait! Don’t jump!” It’s too late, jump has been initiated and the ships leave the system.

It seems that Zal has uncovered evidence of another Precursor site within that same system, on a rocky planet in the inner solar system. Too late. The ships are in jump space on their way back to Mylor.

During jump, the team each works on the long process of upgrading their skills. Roger begins learning proper operation of the Vacc suit. Lucky begins studying navigation. Barney begins studying Computer. Zal spends his time reading texts on Galactic Folklore. Fardt, having watched the Scouts pilot the ship, says “I think I can do that! I’m going to become a pilot!”, and begins studying ship piloting. Iron Balls McGinty just watches movies.

They arrive in the Mylor system and must decide what to do with the merchant ship and it hibernating crew. They land. They want to sell the Type A Merchant as-is, but fail to find a cash buyer on Mylor. After some discussion, Fardt makes a Streetwise roll – succeeds – and says “ I know a guy.” He leaves, and a couple of hours later come back with another Gluck named Rawlph whom they apprise of the situation. “For 15K I can make this problem go away, he says.” They agree. Rawlph sees about changing the ship’s transponder and registration. When asked what company name it should be registered under, the team tells him “Super Adventure Friends Co.” (SAFCO). They go about making complete quality repairs to both ships.

They still have a number of the Scumbags in cold sleep. They check all for criminal records/rewards. Two have records on Mylor. They wake them and turn them in for the rewards. They wake Ronda the Pilot and just turn her loose, as they do the remaining Scumbags.

Finally, they decide to cut Iron Balls McGinty loose. He’s been a pretty good crew member, but the scout ship Rambler is crowded, and he really doesn’t have any skills they don’t have. Still, he’s was true to his word when he joined the crew. They give him 10,000 credits – enough for high passage to another world. He thanks them, saying “I’ll have ten times that much once I get to the casino!”. They get contact info should they need him again, and they part ways with him.

They consider what to do with the Merchant ship. They don’t want to be flying a fleet around the sector. They are now the “legal” owners of the Merchant ship. However, it might prove useful in the future, at least until they can sell it. They pay to keep it at the Mylor spaceport.

Zal, of course, is anxious to return to Precursor system in the Void. He agrees to pay them the same fee as before, though he admits that will nearly exhaust his research budget for the time. At least until the University on Planet Zapata can see the value of the Precursor artifact and research he’s accomplished.

A week on Mylor. Maintenance is done on the ship. New gear and provisions are purchased, and they set off of the Precursor system. No jump mishaps. A week in jump. On the way, Lucky installs new heavier plating on the robot, making it a bit more resistant to damage.

They arrive in the system and locate the smaller, rocky inner planet. First they go to the gas giant to refuel, Roger skillfully avoiding the dangerous radiation bursts. Arriving at the smaller rocky world, they find it to be size 3, with a thin tainted atmosphere. No water – no large liquid bodies at all. From orbit the planet appears to be blasted. The surface is covered by massive craters. They scan the surface, but detect no abnormal radiation. Spending some time in orbit, taking turns searching for signs of Precursor civilization, Roger detects an obviously artificial radio signal. They trace it to its approximate point of origin. Having taken the “covered” air raft from the Merchant vessel, they leave the Rambler in orbit and take the air raft to the surface. As they descend, more surface features come into view. They see some volcanic activity. The surface is covered by some alien flora – clearly based on a completely different biology. Still no radiation.

Following the radio signal to its source, they see the ruins of an installation far below on the edge of one of the massive craters, next to a dry river bed which runs along the side of a cliff.

The examine the area from the air. The alien forest surrounding the small ruins is thick. They can see that something large — some things — seem to be moving in there. They find a landing spot in the compound far away from the movement. They decide that Roger and Fardt will stay in the air raft, keep it floating above the compound, watching for trouble, while the others investigate.

Donning protective suits and respirators, the landing party investigates the ruins. They notice what is apparently a collapsed bridge, leading across the dry river bed. On the other side appears to be the entrance to a natural cavern. Reporting to Roger, he brings the air raft down to get closer, confirming the opening and seeing that it’s big enough for a human to go through.

The robot reports something is approaching from the other side of the compound – audio sensors indicate something big. The team turns to investigate, to see 3 giant insect-like creatures approaching. The things are about twice the size of the air raft, 8 legs, and seem aggressive. Roger quickly brings in the air raft, they landing party gets on board, and he takes it up high in a nick of time. The beast stand below trying in vain to reach the air raft, opening their jaws and extending powerful 20’ “strikers”. The teams determines from their behavior that they are probably not sentient, and they are impeding the team’s mission. Opening a hatch, Lucky uses an auto rifle to test the creatures toughness. They are easy to hit, but 8 shots simply deflect from the monsters armor before one strikes a relatively soft spot. The monster barely notices. This will be a problem, as they have no more powerful weapons.

About this time, one of the monsters, then the others, seem to back down and begin retreating. From across the dry river bed, a new group of creatures has advanced. Insectoid — resembling a cross between a man-sized grasshopper and preying mantis, these creatures each old a circular device between manipulative limbs. While the team can’t see what is affecting the monsters, it is clear that the new creatures are using a technological weapon. They drive the beasts back into the forrest.

The team lands the air raft and meets the creatures. Zal attempts to communicate. The creatures seem friendly. They motion for the team to follow them, leading them into the cave entrance at the foot of the cliff.

The interior is of a regular shape. Clearly not natural, and opens into a large, square chamber. It is lit. There are openings all over the walls, which are 40’ high, in which the team can see many more of the insectoids.

There are two features in the room. First is a stone column extending to the ceiling, with a glass window displaying a technological system. In front of that is a small black stone pedestal. The leader of the insectoids again attempts to communicate, as more of the creatures some out front the walls. The team finds itself in the midst of an entire tribe. They can see that floating in the middle of the chamber in the column is some kind of slightly glowing metal ball.

The insectoid leader turns to the pedestal, bows, and on top of the surface a device is quickly materialized. The leader picks it up, clicks out some of it’s language, and the devices translates. “We are the Protectors. Are you the ancients?”

Zal responds. “No, we are not, we are simply seekers of knowledge. What do you protect?”

“We protect the Heart of the Gods”, replies the being, gesturing toward the floating ball in the column. “For Millenia we have served this function, awaiting the return of our creators.”

“May we look upon the Heart of the Gods?” asks the team?

“Yes, of course.”

The team sees, on display through the glass, a glowing metal ball floating in what is obviously a magnetic levitation/containment system”.

Zal looks astonished. “Boys, we have just discovered something of incredible danger. From my research of the last few weeks using the precursor data module, as well as folk tales, I had thought this might be possible. I believe this is a confined singularity power generator. Should this technology become known, it would change the balance of power in the entire Empire. Our civilization is not prepared to handle this power. We can’t allow this power to be taken — it will be misused.”

“I agree”, say Barney and Lucky. Roger nods.

The black pedestal becomes active again, as thousands of tiny black cubes form the 3-D image of an insectoid head and face, vaguely similar to the Protectors.

It speaks, the voice emanating from the spherical translation device.

“Greetings. I was one of the Ancients, and I’ve brought you here…to kill me.”

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Elapsed game time: 38 days

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. 

Into the Void – Ref’s Notes 3.

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.