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

C589632-8   Ni

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.

SAFCOcast 19: More Random Planets!

In this episode we are focusing on two more of the random planets submitted during our Random Planet event a few months ago, this time from Dwayne “Hiverlord” Walstrom and Jonathan Daylett (check out his Desert World RPG – a great adaptation of a Mad Max style setting).

Before that we dig into a couple of items from X-Boat Transmissions, and end with a recap or our own last gaming session from our Into the Void campaign.

Here are the planet/system writeups…

From Hiverlord
Planet/System: Not Assigned
Rolled with T5 rules.
FV main star (no companions). Standard orbit. Temperate climate.

B735BDG-9 Hi In

GG=0 PB=3 No bases.
Importance (Ix)=2 Ranks worlds within a region
Economics (Ex)=BA9(-2)
Culture (Cx)=6D68
Population= 102 Billion
Hi=Hi population
In=industrial

With an extremely high population level and poor atmosphere, this overwhelmed planet is run by an accepting, yet overbearing and stern, Religious Dictatorship. The religion itself promotes, perhaps even encourages, Free Love, and has strict rules against contraceptives and most forms of abortion. Birth (and survival) rates are high, given the planet’s TL of 9. Combined with longer lifespans associated with higher technology, the world quickly reached and exceeded its purported capacity.

Several nearby Agricultural worlds have a ready-made market with this extremely overpopulated system.

This world is located in a ‘Dumarest’-style setting, with no significant interstellar powers. The reasons why this world hadn’t begun expanding (aggressively or otherwise) is simple to deduce: with over 100 Billion citizens to support, it doesn’t have any resources to spare for expansionist activities.

From Jonathan Daylett

Planet/System: Aristodma
Rolled with combination of Mongoose Traveller 1e and 2e
CAB2654-9 R Ni

Large, extremely hot planet with a corrosive atmosphere and scant water. Rich in phosgene and hydrogen chloride, very valuable chemical compounds used in plastics and technology manufacturing. Due to the high gravity, the densest parts of the atmosphere are much lower to the ground, allowing for research stations, collection facilities and refineries to be built on the highest points of elevation.

The primary authority is a feudal technocracy. What began countless rotations ago as a corporately owned resource, Aristodma is now home to millions of people who live in ports, research stations, and other dense plastic fortresses. They are governed by those with the highest level of understanding of the environmental hazards present. People came here for the high risk, high reward lifestyle of gas-farming. Over the years, however, it became apparent that there were those more suited to the dangers involved, and they soon became leaders among the people. Generation by generation, the highly profitable gas-farmers have gained a reputation of shrewd but fair governance.

It has worked well enough, until recent years as a few other factions started to see the cracks in the system and decided to try and make their own ways of life beyond the confines of primitive feudalism. Now those in command have to contend with not only an environment that is actively trying to kill them every second of every day, but with a contentious minority group that steals technology and parts for building new facilities as well as a political faction that seeks to upend the centuries-long reign of those who see themselves as de facto rulers of Aristodma.

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.

ITV Session 18: more on the Blasted World

IY6026.153

SAFCO and associates  start where they left off, on a blasted planet several parsecs into the Void. The away team of Flint, Lucky, Zal, Fardt, and the Baroness are at the ruined alien installation they discovered last session, on the edge of an impact crater. They are outside the entrance to the corridor they had only begun to explore, looking at the disabled air-raft that was shot by an alien robotic drone’s laser. Flint, having air-raft skill, examines the vehicle and finds a laser shot has gone right through the power source. The vehicle might be repairable. Lucky and Flint examine the wreckage of the drone, finding somewhat high tech level electronics and technology, but incompatible with their own systems for various reasons.

Back on the ship, Barney has repaired minor electrical damage done by Joe’s jury-rigging of an external sensor array to give them some vision outside the rocky overhang currently sheltering the ship. Joe and Roger alert the away team that one of the two large objects that were descending from space appears to be landing very near the alien installation.  The away team spots it, high above their position and slightly back toward the ship, Flint using his rifle scope and Fwd Observer skill to estimate its size. Looks to be about the same size as the ones encountered in space — about the same volume as their ship..  Joe keeps watch for any drones that might approach the ship’s location.

Back with the away team, the group shelters in the first few feet of the damaged corridor in the side of the crater wall. Flint stays outside and attempts to use his Forward Observer skill to tell where the thing is going to land, but it land back over the crater wall — obscuring his view. Still based on his last sighting, he estimates it has landeded between 1/4 and 1/2 a mile away, which would put it back in the woods. He grabs some supplies (including a grenade launcher and some grenades) and stealthily climbs the up to the top, and proceeds out to find the cube.

Lucky and Fardt cover the air-raft with brush to camouflage it from the air. They then move back into the corridor. Inside the corridor, Lucky feels someone tap him on the shoulder. It’s Fardt, who then points down the dark corridor to the Baroness, who is moving past some rubble, further down the hall. Lucky calls out to her, but she doesn’t answer. Eventually he hears her exclaim “amazing.” The group follows her, dodging patches of glowing green slime, emerging into a larger and rubble-strewn chamber.

The crew at the ship decides on a course of action. Joe has spotted one of the smaller 4′ cube drones moving over the canopy of trees, some distance away. It must be destroyed. They decide that Art, the newest member of SAFCO, will use his Grav-Vehicle skill to take the mining pod and attempt to destroy that drone before it finds the ship. The pod is quick and maneuverable, has 2 grasping arms, one of which includes a mining laser usable at short range for 5d6 damage. He’ll have to get in close. Joe moves out in the forest, finds a line of site to the cube drone, and fires at it at extreme long range to distract it. It takes notices and begins moving toward him and away from the ship. Art takes off in the mining pod, quickly seeing it in the distance.

Using his Forward Observer skill, Flint creeps through the woods and finds the larger cube landed in a clearing. It is quiet. He waits and watches, debating further action and conferring with the team via communicator.

Art makes his Grav-Vehicle skill roll and is able to execute a fancy evasive maneuver that allows him to get to close range on the cube drone without it noticing. However, when he finally gets in laser range, the cube makes it’s target roll. It twirls about in mid-air, the muzzle of its laser cannon facing the mining pod. Simultaneous action — the mining pod hits it doing enough damage to severely disable it, while the cube misses the quickly darting pod. The cube is wobbling in the air.

The Rambler-II has meanwhile taken to the air to assist the pod. Roger makes an absurdly high Pilot roll and performs some crazy evasive maneuvers in case anything decides to shoot at them.  Barney is in the top dual laser turret, and trains the sites on the cube. However, the pod and the cube are very close together. A miss might result and the loss of the pod and the loss of good navigator. Barney decides not to fire.  Art fires the mining pod’s laser again, destroying the cube.

Hearing all this on the radio, and knowing that Lucky is having trouble keeping the Baroness and Zal under control, Flint starts back toward the installation. The mother cube is just sitting there.

Inside the alien installation, the away team discovers a large chamber with 3 large vats. the vat’s all have a pipe running into the north way, and each has a pipe running south, converging with the other two, and leading down another passageway.

Roger and Barney decide, for the meantime, to return the ship to its shelter. Art follows them in the mining pod, and they meet back up with Joe.

As Flint makes his way back to the installation, the away team continues to explore the facility. Like the entryway, there are patches of glowing green slime on the floor and walls, and the dust of dead slime all over. The Baroness discovers a thick glass window on the far side of the chamber, and uses a rag to clean it off enough to shine a light inside. She tells the team it looks like some sort of control room, but there is no obvious entrance. Lucky and Fardt explore the rest of the chamber, finding another corridor that was obscured by rubble. Fardt goes in and reports that there is a lot of rubble inside, and some slime, but it is passable. Lucky follows him and goes further, finding that he corridor moves diagonally and left, and there are a number of doors and openings down there.  The team discusses what to do next.

End of Session
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Elapsed game time: 217 days

 

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

IY6026.152

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

SAFCOcast 18: Classic Traveller Combat, Mailbag, and other Stuff

Our main topic, inspired by one of our SAFCO Mail Bag submissions, is a discussion of the combat procedure from Classic Traveller.

We also go through some great mailbag submissions, discuss the Central Supply Catalog supplement for Classic Traveller, Timothy Collinson’s Generation-X Traveller book, and Internet Finds!

Thanks to everyone for listening.

Relevant links:

SAFCOcast 17: interview with Ken Patterson, about the upcoming Virtual Traveller event

This episode is an interview with Ken Patterson, regarding the event he and Greg Caires are organizing for October 2020 — Virtual Traveller: a Weekend of Virus-Free Roleplaying.

The event can be found here, on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1205944649744350/

Jeff and I had a good time talking with Ken! We appreciate him coming on, and hope you enjoy the interview.

Into the Void Ref’s Notes 16

Well, after talking about the challenge of running five PCs rather than four, we added a sixth PC this game. A close friend of mine, who I’ve wanted in the campaign for a long time joined. He lives out of state, so going to Roll20 simplified this whole thing a lot as far as getting him involved.

I have come to pride myself on adding PCs to the game in creative ways. Or at least not just going “you meet this guy” and expecting the rest to invite him in. That isn’t really logical from an in-game perspective. It’s easy, but not graceful. So after the last session, in which the PCs got somewhat on the bad side of some dubious characters they’ve had dealings with, I realized I could use the new guy’s Streetwise skill to have him step in and help them in a late-night ambush by some thugs. That would 1)demonstrate his goodwill toward the team and 2)demonstrate some competence, and 3)give him a chance to meet the team on a positive note and give them his credentials. We didn’t do a massive roleplay of that first interaction, but it was sufficient to make things fall into place in a logical way. I feel that as the Ref, I need to provide some rationale for things like this to happen, and the players need to sometimes throw me a bone and go with the flow so everyone can have a good time. And my players do this, so I’m lucky.

It was fun to use the Whisper function in Roll20’s chat to communicate with the new guy on the sly, so he could be doing things while the others were doing their thing, and everything could be a surprise.

Once the fighting was over, the team took off in their ship for an expedition into unknown space. This was a good chance for the players with relevant skills to actually use those skills. Navigation became important, especially going into the unknown, so it was nice that the new PC rolled up Nav-2. They now have a good navigator, and two people on the team with Nav, so there’s a backup. The ship has been outfitted with new Scout-class scanning gear, so during the 3 week/2 jump trip to their first destination I had them make some computer rolls to search for useful gas giants. I let the one guy with Comp-1 make his skill roll, and then they could use his +1 when doing scanning rolls. The problem of navigating unknown space, and not wanting to be stranded with no source of fuel within a lifetime’s journey, is a real problem they had to contend with.  I knew I wanted them to have to think through this, but what I didn’t expect was that, in retrospect, it was a nice counterbalance to the typical RPG violence we started the game with. It also served to emphasize that yes, this is a science fiction space game, with the associated challenges.

I need to write up a standard process for scanning a parsec for gas giants, as I was coming up with that process on the fly. It worked OK, but I’d like to make sure it is fair and logical.

Toward the end of the session, when the ship went into combat with some unknown aggressive ships or probes, I ran that very cinematically, the battle happening in the ring system of an earthlike planet. We did some laser shots, the pilot’s skill and the one of the other guy’s tactical skill came into play, gunnery skill was in use, so most of the players were engaged somehow. I didn’t worry about the vector movement rules. I just rolled on the hit location chart when they shot the bad guys and applied some fairly cinematic results that were more or less consistent with the charts. A hit on the enemy’s maneuver drive resulted in that craft’s inability to change direction, and a couple of them went careening into large rocks in the planet’s rings.  I think that adding those kinds of details is important, and makes the game a lot more fun for everyone to visualize.

After the game, even though everyone had fun, I was a bit put off by the initial fight. I don’t want this campaign to just devolve into fighting and violence. We really don’t need that. While the fight served its purpose, and the PCs have certainly not gone all murder-hobo, it did get me to raise my awareness of where things are going and the need to keep being creative with problems and scenarios.