The Topsy Turvy World of Traveller

I don’t normally do a follow up blog for my Traveller game because I figure it is an on air event and that those who want to know about it will watch the video.  But last nights game was one of the more enjoyable nights gaming I have had at the Traveller table so I have decided to do a post on my Traveller work in general which includes the game last night.

It’s life Jim but not as we know it…

Up to this point I am not sure where I would rate my effort with the Traveller game.  It is something I really enjoy doing but I think it is the social side of the game that I enjoy the most rather than my work on the story itself.  The game has had a lot of players over the (roughly) six months we have been playing.  Some drop out, some play for a little bit and some for only a game.  But the one constant with nearly all of these players is they are my kind of players!  We just get on really well and I appreciate the time that I get to spend every second Wednesday as I know it will be just like we are sitting around a table having a laugh and throwing some dice around.

When I started this game though I wanted more for it.  I wanted to really get into the Traveller ‘verse and create a well paced, thrilling, intriguing game centred around a merchant ship and its crew.  I know that some criticism is levelled at my game because it has a trading focus, but from my point of view that is how I see Traveller.  I come from the days of playing Elite on the Amstrad computer where you would fist pump if you made the right choice of goods between systems.  But it does not have to be all about the trade either.  If you did not notice, Firefly was a series based around a merchant ship and her crew.  Trade was there and so was adventure which is what I feel like it is with the Larksong in our own game.

I think some of the criticism that has been offered lays squarely on my shoulders and I have been feeling it over these last two games.  I have not been as prepared as I could have been and this has lead to some floundering and the story stalling.  I certainly don’t know the rules as well as I should and I have to address this issue as we have had two episodes almost completely stall due to rules issues.  I am taking all of this on board and have begun to build my plan to combat this.

Last night’s game was the first step in this as I want to build a more serious game for the players.  I am not talking about killing the light hearted banter around the table, what I am talking about is more directed at the story.  I want to make the story matter.  I want the players to come away from the game and say that was great and when someone asks them why they make it about something that happened in game, not just about how well we all get on.

There is a surprise coming on the horizon…

I also want to modernise my Traveller game.  I do not want to change the system but I want to add content.  A lot of the players are at my table because it is Classic Traveller.  They remember their little black books and sitting around a table as teenagers flying starships and fighting psionically enhanced humans.  But as I have mentioned in a recent post, sci-fi has moved on and the edition didn’t.  That is OK though, you just have to be brave and expand the canon of the game to include advanced sci-fi concepts.  I have done a lot of behind the scenes work this week to do just that.  Last night in game I even began to make some of the changes and I believe a couple of them picked up on it.

Tark, the ship pilot who looks exceptionally “Wash” like from Firefly tends to like a drink or two of Scout brew wherever he goes and he has a drinking problem.  I think the problem from his perspective is there is so much Scout brew in the universe and not enough anagathatics for him to be able to drink it all.  Anyway, on arriving at the safari resort prior to going on a hunting trip for a rare and vicious creature he hit the bar, pretty hard.  Before he embarrassed himself he decided that he should get at least a couple of hours shut eye.  He did and arriving at the table to meet their possible trading partner he feels fine which is a little strange for him.  Why was he not drunk?  The trading partner has been on the hunts before and knows that a weak link is a dangerous link so he had nanites pumped into his rooms environment to filter and destroy the alcohol from his system.

This is part of a plan to slowly introduce the modernisation into the game.  One of the players mentioned to me that he thought 70’s/80’s feel of the sci-fi in my game was a conscious decision.  It wasn’t and I want the players to feel that they are living through a modern style game, regardless of the system they are playing.  It is possible and I have started to make it move in that direction.

I also changed the tone of the game last night a little.  When we hit the serious negotiation scene across the dinner table I turned the tone serious.  My protagonist was a wealthy individual who did not get that way without doing his research.  He knew who he was dealing with and why.  He had done the research and when presented with what was a very reasonable offer from the Accountant ( +Justin Aquino‘s character) he went on the attack.  He knew that the character (a Baron) had been forced into the merchant brigade by his families own failure at trading.  The Accountant is struggling to maintain the dignity expected for one of royal blood so the protagonist (Lloyd Stencyl) attacked him at his weakest point with personal points on his families failure in this very area.

Ushtug getting his Ships Boat licence?

It worked like a treat.  There were a few startled reactions at the comments and the Baron tried to counter but was met by a cold hard logically reasoned man who could have easily handed over the pitiful 10 MCr that they had asked for.  But he is not successful because he is easy.  He then jumped on an opportunity provided by the security manager Jorune ( +Ron Anderson‘s character) who mentioned perhaps securing the goods (they were selling the location of a ruined secret pirate base that they left unsecured) for them to arrive.  The protagonist saw an opportunity to sidetrack and undermine and took the opportunity.

The group talked about the whys and why nots over the table.  They were talking about possibly jumping into space which was likely to have maybe one or two pirate ships present, armed to the teeth with experienced warriors.  The players had an armed Far Trader, one security personnel member and a good plan.  But even those odds were pretty long.  As they seemed to be waning from the idea Mr. Stencyl returned with a counter offer to them.  He would up his offer or 1.5 MCr to an extremely generous (yeah right!) 3 MCr if one of the Accountant’s crew killed the Wumpus before one of his.  The deal was accepted and the protagonist was exceptionally pleased.

The entire scene took quite some time to work through and it was a really good, tense bit of role playing.  I had introduced a few changes to the game subtly and the players responded well.  I feel that I am on track for turning around some of the criticisms of my game style although we still need some work.  I even rewarded the players with a skill point to add to their characters.  This is the first time that I have ever offered this in game and it will be an extremely rare thing but they deserved it last night.  One of the players at the end of the game said “But I haven’t rolled a dice yet!” and I turned it around and asked if he enjoyed the game to which I got an affirmative response.

I love a game where the drama and tension of a conversation can drive the plot just as much as a combat.  I am fairly certain that none of the players felt at ease meeting their potential trading partner and some great role playing was had.  We even introduced a new engineer (Konana +Matthew Williams‘ character) who seems to be a valuable addition to the team and he seemed to enjoy the game as well.  I was glad he joined on this game actually as I try to make it a more serious focus.

Heading into the future of Merchant’s Rising

As for my other Traveller work that I have started, I really want to get a trading computer system operational.  To do this I really need to get world profiles nailed down and I am happy to announce a lions share of that work came to fruition last night.  I now have an operational random world generator written in Java.  I do have ambitious plans for this project as I am going to expand on it over time and get it to handle the following:

  1. Character generation from any book that offers it (e.g the core book and all expansions)
  2. Combat modifier generator
  3. Trading system
  4. Equipment stores
    1. Modified from the core to include my own expansion equipment to the ‘verse
  5. Starships
    1. Modified from the core to include my own expansion equipment to the ‘verse
    2. Travel algorithms for resource consumption
    3. Combat?
  6. Robots
    1. Modified from the core to include my own expansion equipment to the ‘verse
And once we get to there, who knows what else?  Maybe a random NPC generator or even a random system generator.  The algorithms are relatively easy to code in this format and in reality it is the Strings (text) that is taking the most time to transfer.  I am glad that the PDF reader I use seems to have some kind of text identifier because the PDF’s are just scans of the original books.  It seems to be holding up well for now.

Once I make some more progress I will put up the versions of this tool for those that want to use it.  I however work on functionality of the core algorithms and then GUI, and I will not be putting anything up until it has a GUI.  The files will come in the form of an executable JAR file which essentially means you just need to double click it to run it.  I will likely licence the code as Open Source and under a Creative Commons situation so it can be added to as well, but that is a while off.

So, there you have it.  A bit of a review of where we have come from and where I hope to get to, not to mention some praise of the game last night.  If you have anything to offer to any part of this multi tiered post please hit me up in the comments.  Have something you would like me to consider how to modernise? let me know.  Want me to add something else to the tool?  I am all ears.  Want to offer a comment on the actual game?  I love feedback!  Until next time, keep rolling!  

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