We recorded this episode in the same session as episode 2. This is not really a “versus” article as much as a discussion of the crazy variety and creativity of homebrew settings, with examples from the online GURPS community.
We recorded this episode in the same session as episode 2. This is not really a “versus” article as much as a discussion of the crazy variety and creativity of homebrew settings, with examples from the online GURPS community.
In episode 2 Jeff tells us about his recent experience at North Texas RPG Con, a great convention.
Once again it has been a while since I’ve done one of these. I could possibly repeat some stuff. We’ll see…
This is our first episode! It’s going to sound like two friends talking about tabletop roleplaying games, because that’s what it is.
Our goal for this episode is simply for listeners to know a little about who we are — just two regular guys talking about gaming.
We’ll discuss our history, the first campaign of our current group, a little about our Traveller campaign, and the upcoming North Texas RPG Con.
Upcoming episodes will be 25 – 30 minutes long, and have regular segments.
We invite you to submit comments to email@example.com or comment on this page. We’ll read and discuss interesting comments.
Here’s the RSS feed for the podcast: http://safcocast.com/rss
Wow, eight games! For some reason if feels like a milestone. It’s hard enough to make the time to game and to get the guys all together, but it is worth the effort. The Sunday afternoon game time seems to still be a good time to play. I would love to play more than once a month, but it’s rough. Weeknights are not good for most of us, and weekend time is at a premium.
This last session involved a lot of bookkeeping for the PCs, trying to decide how to split the loot and/or reward for the stuff they obtained in the last session. Lots of deliberation. I was worried they would be bored with it, but of course it was their decision to spend that time, so I just let it go for quite a while. They were in Jump Space, so they needed something to do.
Anyway, they are now at the beginning of a new series of sessions, and as usual their activity has given me lots of ideas for things to do in the next few games.
I was reflecting on the nature of Classic Traveller yesterday, as I often do, and was thinking about the benefits of a game that doesn’t really have experience levels or experience points. When I played this game nearly 40 years ago the lack of a substantial progression system seemed like such a bummer. Now I think it’s great. Really keeping track of the passage of time in the game allows the PCs to take advantage of the very long method of improving their skills, but doesn’t make it the focus of the game. It also means that you don’t have to begin a campaign by slowing getting the PCs “up” to a level where you can have the “real fun.” They don’t start out super-powered, but they aren’t weak either. This is always an issue with D&D. 1st-level characters are so easy to kill, and since the game is so combat-centric I think it’s a real problem.
So as the GM, I find it very liberating to not really need to consider the experience level of the PCs when designing or running a game. They are skilled humans. If they get shot with a plasma rifle they will probably die. After four years of play, they will probably still die if hit by a plasma rifle. It frees me up to do what I want with the game, and not focus on levels or experience points. It also allows us to take our time with the campaign. We’re not rushing through this. We play for about three hours, and when I think we’re at a stopping point, we stop. I go home and think up the next few encounters, problems, and challenges. It all just makes the game a lot better.
All of this, however, also forces me attempt a lot more creativity in the campaign. I swear, for each session I spend a week coming up with ideas, making notes, writing up the session only to start over, then on Sunday morning before the game I get up, sit at my desk in state of panic because I don’t like what I’ve got so far, and then it all comes together. I assemble the pieces I’ve got, come up with contingencies plans, think up some NPCs that might be memorable, and the game seems to be enjoyable to the players and to me.
I do think that in the future I want to give the players a little less accounting stuff to do. That tends to bog things down a bit. Once in a while it is alright, like last weekend, but certainly not every game, or even every four games. All four players need something to keep them engaged at all times, and I feel like this last game I dropped the ball on that a bit.
Oh, here’s something I found on one of the internet groups for gaming — an article about Lester Dent’s formula for writing an adventure novel. Dent is the author of the well over 100 Doc Savage novels. As an early teen I read about 70 of these books. They are formulaic but entertaining. I had read that Dent had a formula for writing these, but this is the first time I’ve seen it. I think there is some good advice for writing RPG sessions here. Granted, it won’t all work because the players will nearly always do something that you don’t expect, but I think the overall direction of this formula (as well as some of his other advice) might allow a GM to create a nice “filter” to run sessions through. A list of elements to make sure you include. I have made an effort since returning to gaming a few years ago to be a lot more descriptive of location and atmosphere in my cyberpunk and science fiction campaigns. I think I’m going to go through the Dent Formula and make a list of elements I want to be sure to include in every scene I write. It’s just too easy to get going and forget these things.
On a different topic! While preparing for our game Sunday at Madness Games & Comics, among all the Magic the Gathering and D&D players I noticed two guys setting up to play the Fantasy Trip, using the massive and super cool new boxed set from Steve Jackson Games. I was so happy to see someone playing this! I went over and met the two guys who were there, Bruce and Scott. Really nice guys. Bruce told me he’d played a lot of GURPS in years past, and we spent a bit of time talking about such things. He said he recognized my name from online stuff, which tells me what I already knew – I spend way too much time online – but it is nice to make a face-to-face connection!
So, we all connected on MeWe.com, where a lot of the old Google+ groups have migrated. Bruce is sharing writeups of his gaming session, and they are brilliantly written.
SAFCO, along with Flint Sideron and Ronda the Pilot begin the game on the freetrader, floating outside the asteroid complex they raided in game 7. They have already done ship maintenance, but have not yet skimmed the local gas giant for fuel. The set off to do just that, while discussing their next course of action. They have a hold full of military weapons that Sammy Oberon had stolen from the RCMP, but of course Sammy is dead so Flint can’t get his bounty. Mergatroyd and Reesus Peesus are waiting on Mylor for the team to return with the loot. The members of SAFCO confer amongst themselves regarding the best course of action. Should they return the loot to the dirtbags on Mylor as agreed, or return it to the RCMP, two jumps away on Planet Overon, just across the board of the Prometheus subsector. They decide it would be smarter to be friends with the RCMP, and simply give the scum on Mylor a cut of the reward to keep them happy. Ronda agrees to the new terms which will net her 30,000cr. They will eventually pay Mergatroyd and Reesus back for the fuel they spotted them, and whatever else will keep them relatively happy. After all, they didn’t risk their lives.
They make a Jump-1 to the unnamed system just one parsec rimward. That system, charted but unexplored, proves to have 6 planets, including a gas giant. One planet teeming with life but no signs of intelligent inhabitants. They do drive maintenance in that system and continue working on the drone (failing all their rolls, again).
They then make the Jump-2 to Overon, a rocky world of size 5, and home to a large RCMP mining operation. As they land, they see massive transport ships being loaded with refined and raw ore. A big operation. Flint was stationed on this planet for five years, and knows people. He suggests they visit Administrator Robert Tilton, in charge of security and law matters. The local Law Level is 6, so they leave their weapons on the ship. Barney stays on the ship to begin drive maintenance. He and Fardt keep an eye on Ronda, while Flint, Roger, and Lucky head out to see Tilton.
Legal administrator Tilton remembers Flint well. After some small talk, the team explains there can be no bounty on Sammy Oberon because he’s dead, but they have recovered a lot of RCMP military gear. Tilton agrees to pay them what it’s worth, a hefty sum of 470,000cr. (they keep a few things too – a set of combat armor, some gauss rifles, combat environmental suits). After paying Ronda her 30k and deducting 40K to repay the cost of their fuel of the job, they have 400K left, plus 10 good vacc suits worth 10,000cr each. They give Fardt a 22,000cr bonus, for which he is quite grateful. To celebrate they head to the local casino, where everyone places bets, no one has gambling skill, and everyone loses to the house. Fardt thinks gambling sucks now. They head to the a tavern recommended by Flint, the Mooch Mine. The tavern specializes in an alcoholic drink called Mooch, with mild hallucinogenic properties. Flint sees a number of familiar faces.
A women comes in who looks familiar to Flint. She’s missing a leg, and has a cheap prosthetic. She’s being treated shabbily by the other patrons. He recognizes her as Sergeant Nora Slimjack, who served with him on a few campaigns. Flint buys her a drink and invites her to sit with them. Eventually, Nora confides that she’s like to hire the team with the balance of her retirement account from the army. It seems her son, a biologist, was on the nearby world of Uetonah doing research, and was kidnapped rebels on the world fighting against the Samson Mining Company, who operate a mining colony on the planet. She has 200K. The planet is an amber zone world – serious caution required of anyone landing there as their is military conflict happening. The team considers it. Ronda says “You guys are really going to walk into a war zone to help this hag?” She seems to not want a piece of this action. However, she reconsiders. The team is glad to have her on the job – she is one more person an enemy might aim at during a firefight other than them. Looking at the star map, it is clear that going to Uetonah before heading back to Mylor will cost them only an extra week in jump space, and will of course net them some good money. They take the job. They complete preparations on the ship and take off of Uetonah. Successful jump roll made by Roger.
During their time in Jump Space, Barney assists in the drone construction, and they finally finish it.
They arrive in the Uetonah system, and as per their usual habit decide to skim the gas giant, but first they contact the local authorities, thinking this might be a good idea given the situation on the main world. The response “You are directed to land on Uetonah, at the spaceport, and submit your ship for inspection before you may refuel.” They learn that the locals insist on checking all incoming ships for weapons shipments to the rebels. While they don’t like this, they agree.
As they enter the atmosphere of Uetonah, they see a nearly global jungle. Heavy foliage, very tall trees. You can’t see the ground. As they approach the spaceport, they see a vast area where the jungle has been completely clear-cut. Decimated. Strip mining is occurring. They see lots of activity. Machines and large beasts of burden moving things around, hauling ore, etc. The spaceport and colony are 2km from the mine, also in a clear-cut area, with a 30′ tall stone wall surround the entire city.
They land. Immediately the local inspectors great them and insist on checking the ship. Barney stays onboard with Fardt and Ronda. The others are asked to speak to the head of security, Sergeant G. Gottfried. As they leave the ship, the crew sees raw ore being loaded by massive green elephant-like creatures ridden or directed by human and alien workers. The beasts are 12′ tall, have 4 tusks, and use their great strength and tusks to slowly and carefully pick up massive ore containers and carry them into cargo holds.
A small man with a grating voice, Gottfried asks Roger, Lucky, and Flint what they are doing on Uetonah. They explain they are looking for one Jason Slimjack. Gottfried has a record of his arrival, but nothing beyond that. He suggests that he might have checked into the local in. They explain that he was apparently kidnapped by rebels for a ransom. Gottfried explains that this is not uncommon, as the rebel scum do anything they can to raise money and pay for smuggled weapons. Barney asks what the rebels are upset about. Gottfried shows the crew a flyer, one of many that are distributed around the city, that say “Free the Pachyderms!”. He explains that Uetonah mines valuable minerals useful in high-efficiency fuel purification systems. Criminal elements in the subsector want Samson Mining to pay “protection” but the company refuses. So the criminals have convinced a small faction that the big animals seen working in the docks – the Pachyderms – are sentient, intelligent beings. These true-believers, though few in number, are causing a lot of grief to Samson Mining.
He tells them that if Jason has been kidnapped, it will be hard to find him (if he’s still alive). The rebels are constantly on the move. The jungle is dense and difficult to travel through. Barney asks of the Pachyderm ARE intelligent. Gottfried laughs. Look at them (pointing out the window). They was some of the creatures doing their work, occasionally defecating like a cow might as it lumbers around. “No, they certainly are not sentient. Watch them. They are just big, strong, dumb beasts, though useful.” He goes on to demonstrate his lack of respect for the biosphere in general. Clearly to Gottfried this is simply a world with resources to be exploited.
He writes the team permits to carry their weapons outside the walled city, as they clearly want to look for Jason. He tells them the jungle is very dangerous, but certainly they are free to explore.
The team regroups and goes to the Inn, where they ask about Jason. The innkeeper has not seen him, but offers the team lodgings. They politely decline.
5 weeks, 2 days have passed. 37 days.
Game time elapsed 169 days. 5.63 months.
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.
2 weeks have passed since the SAFCO team returned to Mylor after their Scout-Reactivation mission to Planet Trillos and the encounter with the Void Bug. They have been debriefed by Admin Billy Zoom of the Scout Service. The Type-A Free Trader has been maintained by Barney and is ready for action. Barney and Lucky have been working on a reconnaissance drone. To build it they need to make three electronics rolls and three mechanics rolls over the course of the two weeks. They fail all the electronics roll, and make two mechanics rolls. The project is giving them some trouble. Will take another two weeks, three electronics rolls, and one mechanics roll to succeed. They can roll a couple times during the next two jumps.
Onboard the jumpliner Nebula View, bound for Mylor, bounty hunter Flint Sideron is getting impatient. After a week in jump about the liner, he has not been able to locate what should be an easy quarry, a rotund and flamboyant trader in illegal arms. He has a description but no name, but believes this man to be the next step in the trail to gangster Sammy Oberon. the Ridley Consortium of Mining Planets, in the nearby Prometheus subsector, has a bounty on Oberon’s head. He stole a massive shipment of military grade weapons from them by colluding with a now-dead crooked corporate accountant. Flint wants the 100,000 credit from his former employer, and has been tracking Oberon for two months. Finally, as the ship is less than a day out from the Mylor system, the portly scumbag shows up in the vessel’s casino, making lots of noise, winning lots of money, women hanging all over him. Flint, dressed in a subdued suit, steps up to the table and places a bet that the big man will win again. He does. Flint let’s it ride. He wins again. The man bellows with victorious laughter, dabs the sweat from his brow with a fancy handkerchief, and declares that he’s now hungry (he’s been munching on candy the whole time). Clearly, this is the man Flint is looking for, who should lead him to Oberon.
On Mylor, SAFCO is once again contacted by Ronda the Pilot and the fixer Mergatroyd. They agree to meet that afternoon at the Happy Gluck the next day.
The Nebula View pops out of jump space in the Mylor system, a couple of hours from Planet Mylor. Flint is keeping an eye on the fat man. The massive ship lands at the spaceport and the passengers disembark. Flint has his gear stored in a locker and follows the man. Leaving the premises of the space port, they move into the busy market/bazaar outside. Flint keeps the man in view as he weaves through the crowd on the wide walk. He stops and speaks to a beggar sitting against a wall, his chubby bejeweled fingers drops a few credits into the beggars cup, then he smacks him across the cheek for no apparent reason and walks a bit farther, stopping to look at some intoxicants. Flint walks by the beggar. “You look like a man on a mission”, say the man. He’s old. Gray hair, scruffy gray beard, tattered brown cloak. Flint recognizes the man as a monk of the Galactic Brotherhood. He drops a few credits in the man’s cup. “Thank you, brother. May the galaxy’s blessing be yours!” “Why did he hit you? ” asks Flint. “I’ve no idea, I’ve never seen him before. He will have no blessings.” Flint sees that the man’s eyes are cloudy, like every brother he’s ever encountered. Another passerby drops some money in the cup. The monk looks toward him and the man’s face visibly calms, as if filled with peace. The monk directs Flint to the Happy Gluck, at which he might find information about good lodgings, as he see’s the fat man step into an expensive inn a few doors down.
Several hours later, SAFCO, including Fardt, assemble at the Happy Gluck. They are met by the 7′ tall, four-eyed, purple-skinned Mergatroyd, who leads them to a table to find Ronda the Pilot and a rotund man in a fancy jacket. They sit down. Ronda introduces the man as Resus Peesus. She explains the deal. Mergatroyd recently gained information that the criminal Sammy Oberon has been killed by a rival gangster. Months earlier, Oberon managed to illegally have a shipment of military grade arms stolen from the Ridley Consortium of Mining Planets, and diverted to a secret stash. He’d been waiting for the heat to die down before fencing the gear. The weapons are thought to be sitting unguarded somewhere. Hundreds of thousands of credits of gear, waiting to be found. Through his contacts, Mergatroyd found Peesus, who believes he knows the coordinates of the trove of goods. For a percentage of the take, Peesus will give them the location. After bargaining, the assembled group agrees to give SAFCO 35% of the take, since they are doing the legwork. As they bargain, Flint enters the tavern and manages to eavesdrop from an adjacent table. He gets enough info to tell him that he is on the right trail.
As SAFCO returns to their new HQ , Flint follows them. He uses the stealth inherent in his Forward Observer skill and they don’t notice him. Finally, he knocks on the door of their office and hands them his business card. He tells them that Ronda and Mergatroyd are planning to double cross them (a lie) and offers to split the loot with the 50/50 if he can join in on the trip, as he wants to capture Sammy Oberon. Fardt laughs. “Oberon is dead!” The others say it’s a rumor, but they believe Flint, and agree to take him on the trip.
They spend the next day preparing for the trip. The next morning they go to the spaceport, where they meet Ronda and Mergatroyd at the ship. Merg gives them a chip with the coordinates of a large asteroid in the Zerix system, the supposed location of the weapons stash, and wishes them well. They board with Ronda and set off.
One week in jump space takes the group to the Zerix system. The scouts are familiar with the system, having helped in the initial survey many years before. Roger pilots the ship to the asteroid belt, and successfully gets to the target asteroid without incident. The asteroid is about 1.5 miles long, 1 mile wide and thick. There is an opening on one end large enough for a very large ship to enter easily. The opening has some working lights around its edge. Barney runs a sensor sweep, detecting some power and heat generation from inside, but no radio emissions. Roger takes the ship into the opening.
Inside they find a huge cavern. The walls are scattered with abandoned mining equipment. The interior is still lit, though dimly. There are openings to very large tunnels that appear to be natural formations. They take the ship deeper, slowly exploring the interior of the asteroid. To be on the safe side, the crew dons their vacc suits.
The find another large chamber 1/2 mile per side and just as tall. At the “bottom” is a complex of modular structures that appear to be quarters from the old mining operation. Some lights are on. As they survey the area, the robot detects the electronic chatter of other robots – up to 20 – on the ships radio. Simultaneously, two mining pods fly into the chamber behind the ship. The pods are spherical, with powerful thrusters, 2 manipulator arms, and close range mining lasers. The pods are fast. Faster than the ship.
Roger takes the ship into an evasive course, skimming the walls of the cavern, as Lucky and Flint each take a gun turret. They destroy two of the robot-piloted pods and two more appear. In engineering, Barney uses his Engineering-3 skill to boost power to the maneuver drive temporarily, making the ship only slightly slower than the pods. They are still faster, but at least now SAFCO is 2/3 their speed, rather than 1/3. Barney bounces against the cavern wall, but the hull remains intact.The crew destroys the two pods and one other while Roger evades. Finally the pods stop coming.
The team lands the ship some distance from the buildings, with both turrets still manned and ready for action. As Barney, Fardt, and Ronda get out in the vacuum and microgravity to repair the hull damage, more robots exit one of the buildings, armed with military gear – guns, a grenade launcher, a laser cannon, and a plasma gun. Flint and Lucky blast them with the ships lasers before they can fire, exploding the plasma gun, grenades, and laser cannon and destroying the robots. SAFCO’s robot reports that there is no more robot chatter on the radio. Apparently they’ve destroyed all of them.
The team explores the buildings, eventually finding a number of large crates full of military gear intended for the corporate military of the Ridley Consortium of Mining Planets. Besides personal weapons, there is a very valuable Gauss gun turret meant to be mounted on some military vehicle.
They load the stuff into the ship’s cargo hold and take off. They intend, at this point, to return the stuff to RCMP, after perhaps taking a few items for themselves, and hopefully collect a nice bounty on the stuff (since Oberon is, apparently, dead). They will decide how to deal with Ronda, Resus Peesus, and Mergatroyd next session, and finalize plans on where to go and what to do with the goods.
Elapsed game time: 132 days (4.4 months)
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.
Going into session 4.2 I wasn’t sure I had enough for the game, but as usual I did. My players are great. They spend an appropriate amount of time roleplaying, planning, etc. Assuming each scene I write will take 45 minutes to an hour to play is a safe bet.
One of the goals today was to get the PC Joe the Sniper back with the team. Mission accomplished. It is fun to move back and forth between two groups of players. Takes a bit more effort, but if you are careful it can really make the game flow like a movie.
Each player had a chance to use their skills to good effect. There was some conflict without violence, and of course, some beautiful beautiful violence as well.
We may delve into some Tactical Combat in the coming sessions, though we’re in agreement that we don’t want it to take over. A short tactical combat would be fun.