Saturday, June 02, 2012

Traveller campaign update numero dos

You know what's kind of a kick in the head?  Running Traveller with Tom in the group.  Tom was in the game store version of the Wessex campaign and acquitted himself admirably as Lankii the Elf.  GMing a sci-fi game with him at the table was interesting because of the following:

  • Dude helped build the particle accelerator at Fermilab.
  • His second career is as a sci-fi author.
  • He was among the original Traveller playtester and ran a campaign back in the seventies.
  • He's on a first-name basis with most of the principals involved at good ol' GDW.
Fortunately, he's also a cool cat who did not beat me over the head with his credentials.  He asked some very penetrating questions* prior to the start of the campaign and kept me on my astro-science toes through Wednesday's session.  But that's okay.  Why bother GMing if the players aren't willing to push back at my supposed omniscience?  Anyway, I gave him something to think about too, because I had held back the pregen captain for him.  It's session two, he's missed session one, and suddenly he's in charge of this zillion-credit vessel and the 60 people aboard.

So the BTS Leviathan visited two more solar systems and encountered one other starship.  The first planet they encountered was another slowship colony set down on a Marslike world with a a thin, tainted atmosphere.  The locals live a Road Warrior-like existence, raiding each other in custom dunebuggies and landcruisers and whatnot.  Peaceful contact was made with the dome city closest to the dilapidated starport, where they entered into a trade agreement with Boss Udag, the fat bastard running the dome.  At first Udag wasn't sure if he wanted to do business with these soft outworlders, but Jo's grunt PC Malachi turned him around.  Malachi ended up in a duel with one of Udag's warriors, over a misunderstanding at a banquet.  Not only did the starhopper trounce one of his best men, Malachi put a cherry on top of the affair by gratuitously beheading the mofo.  That's why the party decided to name the joint Vegas.  What happens there, stays there.

While the away team was enjoying this little scene, the bridge crew were dealing with an issue of their own, in the form of a bogey burning through space towards them at 4 or 5gs.  The vessel turns out to be the Shoji, another Levathan-class merchant explorer owned by rival corporation MacLellan Factors.  The Shoji hails them: "Marcucci, stand down and prepare to be boarded!"

At this point I almost started a third action sequence.  The shuttlecraft was at the northern polar region cutting ice for fuel (no gas giant in system and the poles are the only standing water on the surface).  With no stats prepared and no PCs present for this operation, I decided on the spot to roll a 7 or less on 2d6 for the shuttlecraft to be jumped by yetis.  That's not in the module, I was just being a dick.  But for most of the night my dice were going the way of the party.

Case in point: the Shoji incident.  The bridge crew did the smart and totally not-PC thing of not immediately going for the space combat rules.  They figured out that the Shoji had misidentified them as the Marcucci, a vessel of their same class that had been hijacked and turned pirate a few years back.  What neither party knew was that the boys back at MacLellan corporate HQ had altered the Identify Friend or Foe software on all their vessels in the subsector, intentionally misidentifying the Leviathan as the pirate vessel, in hopes of provoking an incident.  With the PC's catching me by surprise by actually exercising restraint, I gave Captain Zadek of the Shoji a 10+ to figure out what was going on.

Dice came up a five and a six, so instead of a shoot-out Tom's PC and Zadek talked things out like civilized men, over a bottle of wine.  Their gentleman's agreement included a non-aggression pact, respect for prior claims, and splitting part of the unexplored subsector between them.  As this was happening the party hothead was racking his brain as to how to get onboard the Shoji and seize the vessel, bomb them or at least steal their stardata, but this general belligerence never made it out of the planning stage.

So both vessels zoomed out of Vegas with no space shooting.  Boo hiss.  For their efforts the PCs come away with a trade agreement with a local tinpot, knowledge that at least one vessel in the subsector won't shoot them on site, some ornate hand-crafted lowtech weapons, and quite a bit of local booze, which the party has yet to discover is actually a byproduct of the dome's waste recycle system.  Good times.

The next system is a dense blue giant that captured a brown dwarf and one of its satellites during a close pass a few million years ago.  The brown dwarf got so close to the main star that all that is left of it nowadays is a spiral of gaseous material.  The one world is another Mars-type in an orbit highly eccentric to the star's plane of rotation.  This planet sports a series of wicked scars in the form of multiple parallel Valles Marineris style super-canyons.  Near the bottom of one of these mega-rifts, close to the canyon wall, is a beacon emitting a nav signal on an old imperial frequency.

The landing party puts the pinnace down on a small landing pad near the beacon, which is mounted atop a fairly large building of cheap corrugated prefab metal slabs leaning right up against canyon wall.  No one is out and about, so they hoof it to the front door and pull the rope, ringing some bell with a nice, satisfying low-register bong.  The front door opens and they are greeted by a human in a monk's robe, wearing a holy symbol-type amulet depicting a seven-pointed star.  End of session.

*"Are we playing the standard Traveller rules?" "Yeah, the original three books, roll 2d6 for most stuff and hope for a high number, etc." "No, I mean the jump drive and interstellar communication rules. Those are what make a game Traveller."  That dude is smart.


  1. Tom sounds like a fun guy to have there. Did he blend in or was he a spotlighty player?

  2. He can be a bit of a spotlight grabber, but I got people who can hold their own with him.

  3. Shouldn't the captain be a showboat?

    I'm getting my vicarious Traveller fix with these posts, so much appreciated.

  4. Good point, the Captain should get a little more screen-team (not because he's the captain, but because he needs to make all the important decisions -after listening to the crew of course). Except for scenario's developed with the background of a specific crew-member in mind. I usually assign the Captains slot either to the player who has the most reliable schedule and best record for turning up or else have him as a quasi-PC, with every player taking their turn to run him (or her) while their own character gets some downtime for personal projects, skill advancement (not in Traveller, admittedly) and similar stuff.

  5. Sorry, alos mean't to say I reckon you're onto a winner with Troupe Style play, each player havig a senior officer and some mooks. I ran the Darkstryder campaign years ago for Star Wars D6 and I used a similar style of play (3-5 PC's per player) for every starship based campaign since. One advnatage I find few folks consider is that you don't suddenly have to find a reason why crewman X suddenly appears to replace crewman Y in the middle of an interstellar wilderness.

  6. That was...awesome! Great write-up, Jeff. Now I'm longing to break out the little black books and run and old-school Traveller campaign.

  7. Planning to run a Traveller campaign myself when we end (a least temporarily) our Champions game in August. A little concerned about one particular 'real science' head in my group who tries to meticulously explain in advanced quantum physics terminologu practically every action and idea his Superhero does. I can only imagine what he'll be like in Traveller.

    "OK, dude, we land on the planet. It doesn't take three hours of REAL TIME to describe how you land a ship on a planet."


  8. In a past Travelleresque campaign, we had some enjoyable sessions of SF idea noodling/jamming. But that was with a group of players who were light-hearted about it, and everyone present was interested in the discussion. I think a good way to approach things is to have a group discussion (at least with core players if you are doing open gaming) so everyone is on the same page about what role real science knowledge will play in the campaign.


  9. Man i want to play traveler again. unfortunately way down here in Louisiana.

  10. real science is a BIG DEAL to Tom. It sort of makes me insane to think about how much he likes that stuff. I enjoy watching this from afar so I can "dodge science" if needed.

  11. Anonymous4:32 AM

    My MegaTraveller campaign that ultimately was about Psychohistoric manipulations prior to FFW saw as players:

    - bona fide gun-nut chimney-sweep and Ex-Army
    - bona fide Historian, PhD
    - bona fide Mathematician, PhD
    - bona fide Physics & CompSci guy, MSc
    - bona fide PR person

    I can tell, you, they kept young Settembrini on his toes. They still think I am the best GM ever, I feel honoured I could hold "against" their collective expertise and presenting them intellectual, military and scientific puzzles they had great fun intereacting with. All in all very stimulating.

    The physics guy only once lamented the absence of truly alien planets...the PR guys character is still out there trying to manipulate the Navy so he can become emperor.

  12. Hmm... Jeff, you and I really need to sit down and talk about T5.