Today I went to the 2019 Lone Star Game Expo, in Grapevine, Texas. I took the day off (today was a friday), got up at a reasonable hour, printed some stuff out for the Traveller game I was running at 1pm, did some final tweeking to it, but mostly I thought about the game, the different permutations it might experience, and considered that I’d not even scratched the surface of the unpredictable creativity of five good roleplaying gamers. And that was fine. I knew my scenario, I had plenty of good nonplayer characters for them to encounter, and figured if I just keep calm and think about things the game would be OK.
My goal, of course, is for the players to enjoy themselves. This is the second time I’ve run a game at a convention. Not knowing any of your players is a challenge because you have no idea how they will play. Will they play fast? Will they take forever to make decisions. I had four hours to fill, max. I wanted the session to last about 2.5 to 3 hours. Beyond that I start getting tired as gamemaster. It takes a lot of mental energy to run a game. Again, I was ready. I had a flexible adventure, with some encounters to drop in if things were moving too fast.
I had three players who were very experienced with Traveller. Much more experienced both as players and referees than me. That’s actually a relief. The other two players had not played Traveller before, but were experience gamers, so no problem. Traveller is easy to teach.
Turns out the group was really nice. All really great gamers. Much like my normal gaming group, they were very deliberative and played it smart, and thus avoided a lot of conflict. I don’t throw a bunch monsters or enemies at my players just so they lose some blood. I like everything to make sense. A little excitement, a lot of problem solving and roleplaying, and conflict when it makes sense. Oh, and of course I love to present my players with a moral dilemma, and this game was no exception.
The session lasted 2.5 hours. It would have gone a bit longer if they’d not played it smart up front, when they chose to negotiate with a potential adversary and turn him into an ally. They did fight some alien jungle monsters, but again they used their resources and good tactics, realizing that killing the monsters wasn’t part of the mission, and managed to avoid serious injury. Games that don’t reward the PCs for doing unnecessary violence encourage that kind of gaming, which I like.
So thanks to John, James, Jonny, Cindy, and Greg. Y’all are great players, and it was a pleasure to game with you!
Afterward we had a discussion about Traveller and gaming in general, reviewed the game and their choices, talked about their own campaigns, and bid each other farewell for the day. Looking forward to seeing them over the next two days of the con. Then I headed home.
Tomorrow is my “big day”. My friend Jeff, one of the members of SAFCO, is playing in a Dungeon Crawl Classics game with me, to be DMed by Jonny, who was one of my players today. Then later we’re hanging at the con, and going to some seminars, including one at 7pm by Traveller creator Marc Miller.
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.
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.
Just set the date to start a Classic Traveller campaign. Kind of excited about this. Also, playing on weekend afternoons for just 2-3 hours will make it easier to prepare games, easier to get together, and allow weekend evenings for doing fun stuff with family and spouses. I think it’s a win for everyone. Amazingly, none of our group has any children, so Saturday afternoons are not full of soccer games, birthday parties, or other activities designed to oppress poor gamers.
Planning to use a homebrew setting/universe/subsector-or-two rather than the published Traveller setting. I love the published stuff, but I really enjoy creating my own stuff. That’s a lot of the fun of running a campaign for me.