Classic Traveller Editions–A Section-by-Section Comparison

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Frank Filz has done an amazing thing for those of us who are very, very obsessed with digging into the rules of Classic Traveller: He has created a section-by-section comparison of the text found in the 1977 edition of Traveller Books 1-3, the 1981 edition of Traveller Books 1-3, and the Starter Traveller and The Traveller Book editions of the game.

Some of the changes are small. Some are significant. Some will matter to you, but not another person. And some will make you go, “Oh, hey, that’s really interesting. I never noticed that before, but I prefer [insert your preference here] this version of the rules over the one I was familiar with.”

It’s often the kind of minutia I’m fascinated by as I piece together how the game played back in the 1970s–and how it began to shift as the RPG game design and publishing models shifted in the 1980s.

TRAVELLER: Out of the Box–Start Small

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One Planet Can Be a Whole Lot of Adventure

Traveller presents a specific, terrifying possibility for the Referee based on two facts.

The two facts are:

  1. Space is big
  2. The Player Characters can go anywhere

The terrifying possibility is that the Referee will be responsible for creating literally hundreds of worlds before proper play can begin.

I would offer something else: Start small.

“But,” you might say, “space is big. The Third Imperium is big. How can you be playing Traveller if you start with something small?”

Since the Third Imperium is big we’ll use that setting as an example. I’m not saying this is the only way to set up a Traveller setting. But I do think is both efficient and sanity preserving for any Referee who wants to get a game of Traveller up and running.

THE ORIGINAL DESGIN OF THE GAME
Part of the lure of the Official Traveller Universe is its immense size.

It stretches across countless subsectors. Contains 11,000 worlds. Has politics back at the Core as well as on the frontier of the Zhodani borders. There are 16 subsectors in the Spinward Marches alone. It’s vastness and immense scope is part of its glittering appeal.

And yet, I am going to suggest you don’t get lured by all that glitter. The key is to ask, “How much do I need to get going?”

Here is what the 1977 edition of Traveller Book 3 said about the matter:

Initially, one or two sub-sectors should be quite enough for years of adventure (each sub-sector has, on the average, 40 worlds), but ultimately, travellers will venture into unknown areas and additional subsectors will have to be charted.

The text above was written two years before GDW published any material abut the Third Imperium.

Let’s assume for now that the text is valid even if we are setting a game in the Third Imperium. Let’s assume further that the rules and text and the implied setting details of Books 1-3 and why a starting in a setting of limited scope makes perfect sense.

TRAVEL
It is possible to start the game without a ship. Not only might the Players not end up with a character with a ship, but also you as Referee might simply declare that the PCs can’t start with a ship.

There are several good reasons for this. First, getting a ship serves as a terrific carrot for the PCs. They might get one for services rendered on the behalf of a noble, a planetary government, a corporation, and so on after several adventures.

Second, it keeps the movement of the PCs somewhat limited at first. Not because you are forcing them or railroading them into particular situations and trapping them… but simply because in the implied setting of early Traveller makes traveling between the stars a big deal.

For example traveling between the stars is expensive.

If we look at the average expenses per Book 3 we find…
Ordinary Living thus costs Cr4,800 year.
High Living is Cr10,800 per year.

Meanwhile, this is how much it costs per jump to travel…
High Passage: Cr10,000
Middle Passage: Cr8,000
Low Passage: Cr1,000

Most people can’t afford to travel, and for those who do it will each up an incredible amount of the resources. And, again, those travel rates are per jump. If you are planning on traveling three or more jumps then you are spending years of living expenses.

This means that if the PCs don’t have a ship yet and want to travel, they’ll need to earn money on high risk/big payoff adventures. (This is one reason why they’ll want to get a ship of their own!)

Second, the ships available to PCs at first will be Jump-1 ships. This means that even if they can Travel they won’t be able to shoot all over the galaxy at first. Moreover, most ships in Book 2 have jump capabilities of Jump-1, Jump-2, or Jump-3. Even getting across a subsector is a big deal.

Moreover, the quality of fuel limits the ease and safety of travel as well. Ships can only acquire refined fuel at A and B class starports. And those are not that frequent. Unrefined fuel can be skimmed from gas giants. But using unrefined fuel means there is a 3% chance of both drive failures and misjump for each jump. To go too far and too long from the well established A and B-class starports means risking those failures time and time again… and that is not a risk most captains or crews are willing to take.

Which brings us to…

GEOGRAPHY
Once upon a time someone had Traveller Books 1-3 (and maybe Book 4), Supplements 1 (1001 Characters), 2 (Animal Encounters), and 3 (The Spinward Marches)… and that was it. And it was fine. People played the game and it was fun.

In Supplement 3: The Spinward Marches one found several about eight pages worth of text describing the background of the Third Imperium and the sixteen subsectors of the Spinward Marches. I would suggest going smaller than that.

Pick one subsector to start with. Let’s look at the Regina subsector:

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The 1977 edition of Book 3 said one or two subsectors would be enough for years of adventure

Let’s assume, as the book itself suggests, that you start on the world of Regina, where the PCs have gathered and meet after arriving in the Spinward Marches.

Notice that there are several worlds clustered around Regina within Jump-1 of each other. (Other worlds, while nearby, are two parsecs away… out of reach for J-1 ships at 2 parsecs.)

This is by design. The game is built for a Referee to sketch out a subsector and have that subsector be useful for many sessions of play because of the mix of ship types and jump drives available. (The 1977 edition of the rules stated: “Initially, one or two sub-sectors should be quite enough for years of adventure (each sub-sector has, on the average, 40 worlds), but ultimately, travellers will venture into unknown areas and additional subsectors will have to be charted.”)

So I would recommend zooming in on a subsector rather than the whole of the Imperium.

And I would recommend zooming in even further… to Regina and the cluster of worlds around it:

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The Regina Cluster: A Solid Start for Your Traveller Campaign

Imagine this is the map for the start of your campaign.

Notice how this map seems manageable. (As opposed to the map of The Third Imperium.) But see also how much potential is there. Fourteen worlds, all of which can be reached by a Jump-1 ships. Yet traveling from one end to the other (Knorbes to Yori) will take five months… and longer if adventures take place along the way. (And adventures should take place along the way!)

Moreover, the area is full of hotspots: three Amber Zones and one Red Zone.

Still, a single world (let alone fourteen!) can be daunting. Which brings us to…

STARK AND SIMPLE
In Stars Without Numbers* Kevin Crawford suggests that a Referee should never prepare more than he needs for the next session, or if more, only things he’s having fun preparing.

I think that’s a good benchmark. Which means we’ll be doing a lot less prep for the setting than we might at first think we have to.

For example, yes, we need details of politics four our world. But how much politics? After all, I can watch the first season of 24, an adventure-driven tale of a Counter-Terrorism agent trying to protect a Presidential candidate… but I’m going to learn very little about the United States government during those 24 hours of television!

In his article on Planetary Governments in Traveller, Marc Miller wrote this about the interpreting the Government number in a Universal World Profile:

It is important to remember just what purpose the government factor is meant to serve. Traveller players and characters are rarely involved with governments on the international and interplanetary level. That is to say, they do not deal with kings or presidents or heads of state; they deal with individual members of broad government mechanisms , they deal with office holders and employees whose attitudes and actions are shaped by the type of government they serve. As a result, travellers are rarely interested in the upper reaches of government; they want to know what they can expect from the governmental structure at their own level. For example, if a group of travellers were to journey across the United States from coast to coast, they would be interested in the degree of responsiveness they could expect from local governments, in how easy the local court clerk would respond to information requests, or in the degree of difficulty that could be expected in obtaining certain licenses. As they moved through Nebraska, the fact that that state has a unicameral legislature would be of little or no importance….

I think in this quote Miller is warning against becoming obsessed with details beyond the scope of the concerns of the Player Characters. Yes, we want context for our worlds. We want consistency. But those qualities serve our needs for an adventure-driven evening of roleplaying.

Miller later writes in the same article:

For this reason, among others, labels such as monarchy have been eliminated. Calling a government type “monarchy” would conjure up images of a king and his retinue, but still leaves a lot of information unrelated. Within the Traveller system, such a government could be classified as a self-perpetuating oligarchy (hereditary monarchy), representative democracy (constitutional monarchy), feudal technocracy (enlightened feudal monarchy), captive government (puppet monarchy), civil service bureaucracy, or any of several others. The simple term monarchy becomes nonsense when one attempts to apply it to a widespread classification system.

Another reason for the labels that are provided in the government classification system is as an aid to imagination. The unaided imagination of even the most inventive referee can go dry after generating a few simple worlds. Using die rolls to create the individual factors for planets jogs the imagination, forcing the referee to think of rationales for the combinations that occur. The use of too familiar terms (such as monarchy) can stifle imagination by allowing the referee to settle into old lines of thought.

Notice here what Miller is making clear: The UWP system was never meant to be comprehensive as a tool of categorizing a planet. Moreover he is making it clear the UWP is not about the fictional “reality” of a world. Instead, the UWP is a game tool for the Referee to prod his imagination into unexpected results.

The text of Book 3 also makes it clear the Referee should not be beholden to the results of the UWP and, in fact, he should not even bother rolling them up if he knows that a specific world to be.

Extending this logic to the Official Traveller Setting I would offer the following:

Scratch things out. Re-write the UWPs as you see fit. Don’t get trapped by the details as published. If you know what you want don’t let the UWP get in the way. Come up with what you can’t wait to share with your players and then make your worlds that.

And what do you want? You want details the Player character can interact with.

Which bring me to…

PLAYER FACING

I think of the term “Player Facing” when I’m thinking about this stuff. Player Facing is all the stuff (the places, the objects, the people, the organizations) the PCs can interact with. The merchant who wants them dead. The secret organization that is trying to steal the thingamabob. The patron who wants them to find his daughter.

Think about the images and factions and characters you want to present to the Players. (Remember what I wrote about using index cards in a previous post.) Make the images and ideas bold and strong. Make them things that the PCs can interact with.

This city has clothing woven by strange spiders in amazing patterns that glitter as the large red sun sets. The spider factories are at the north end of the city and compete in an annual festival. There’s an industrial haze in the distance where massive mining vehicles cut their way across the landscape and often stop as troops battle swarming creatures. At night the prayers of the religious faithful echo across the city’s towers — sung by members of religious people who settled here centuries ago and are now a smaller and smaller percentage of the population and seem are rumored to be growing in anger at their loss of power.

Okay. I have enough there to make things happen. All of that is stuff the Player Characters can interact with.

Do something like that for fourteen worlds and you’re good to go.

THE SETTING AND THE SETTING OF PLAY
In a post called The Setting and the Setting of Play I wrote in part:

I have two phrases I use for Traveller now:

The Setting and The Setting of Play.

The “Setting” might involve an 11,000-world empire that has existed a thousand years. But none of that matters.

What matters is “the Setting of Play” — where the PCs are, where the game is set.

The “Setting” involves all the things that happen “back that way,” toward the remote, centralized government the Player Characters came from.

The “Setting of Play” is the focus of the campaign, especially at the start of play. The Setting of Play might expand. But no matter what remains focused on the locals the Player Characters might adventure in.

An example:

Tolkien’s Middle-earth is a whole world, with many peoples and many lands. That is “The Setting.”

But in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings we see only see a portion of that world. That portion that we see is “The Setting of Play.”

So yes, the Third Imperium extends in all directions from the Regina system. But where we will be playing, are those fourteen worlds. That is our setting of play.

We might well move beyond those fourteen worlds. But with those fourteen worlds we can get going with the game. We will have weeks (if not months) within those closer of worlds. We’ll get our sea legs for the game. We’ll come to understand what the Players want to pursue, which in turn will let the Referee set out opportunities and obstacles in alignment with those interests.

And how do we help stay focused on those fourteen worlds at the start of the campaign?

PATRONS AND RUMORS
The original Traveller rules contain rules for Patrons. As the rules state “When a band of adventurers meets an appropriate patron, they have a person who can give them direction in their activities, and who can reward them for success.”

Patrons also focus the attention of the Players on star systems that you want them focused on. That is, when a Patron approaches the Player Characters with a job, that job will be on one of the worlds in the zoomed in section of space you have decided to start in. In our example, the first dozen or so Patrons will have work on Regina or the thirteen nearby system.

Remember, this isn’t railroading the Players. The Players can always refuse a job. It’s simply that because the Player Characters are starting on Regina, most of the jobs they find on Regina or the surrounding worlds will involve Regina and the surrounding system. After all, most people on Regina or the surrounding systems will have concerns on these worlds. (Remember: most people apart from Travellers don’t travel between worlds that often. The things a Patron cares about (a loved one, a business venture, an enemy, a political complication and so on) will usually be on the same world he or she is standing on, or a few systems away at most.)

Second, we have the option of Rumor Tables.

Here is a Rumor Table from The Traveller Book.

The idea is that each Letter corresponds to a specific Rumor you have established for specific worlds, or for a general cluster of stars, or the subsector you are starting in.

I give each character starting play one randomly rolled rumor. And if the party spends a week on a planet trying to find rumors, another (single) roll is made.

Rumors feed the Players things you are already interested in (the Rumors, of course, lead to situations, NPCs, and places you already care about and what the PCs to encounter). But more importantly they give the Players focus and choice (just like Patrons).

Here is the big thing about Rumors:

A large sandbox like Traveller can be overwhelming–even if we are focusing on only fourteen worlds at the beginning.

When the Players are told in the first minutes of play “You have arrived on Regina…” they have no clear direction and not enough information at the start to make any valid choices.

By giving the Players a selection of Rumors about the planets and systems off the bat, you are offering them a selection of items to prioritize and pursue as they wish. You are winnowing down the massive amount of possible pursuits (that they don’t even know about yet!) into something they can mull and manage.

Moreover, your Rumors can create mystery and agendas. If the Rumors don’t just provide facts, but tantalize with being somewhat incomplete, it can lure the Players toward those things because they want to know more.

All of this is great stuff as it tells you what (off the list you created) they are most interested in, and thus what you should begin prepping as a priority. In other words, from the list you offer, what do they care about? What do they want to pursue? What intrigues them?

Instead of you trying to jam them into one scenario or another, or having NPCs rushing upon to them with missions, the PCs are now in the driver’s seat. There’s no railroading, just opportunities. (The Players are free to blow off the Rumors as they wish!)

Here’s an example of the rumor table I used to kick of the fantasy game I’m running. Not only did it establish lots of mysteries and intrigue for the Players to pursue, it also did a lot to establish the kind of setting we’re playing in.

Rumors will inform the PCs/Players as to what the political situation is, who the players are, what the mysteries that people talk about on their down time. The Rumor Table is the buzz of “what everyone is talking about” and so can establish the setting without a huge info dump on the Players.

  • Remember that the mechanics and implied setting details are your friend. They limit the mobility of the PCs at the start of play.
  • Feel free to focus in on one patch of geography of a cluster of worlds rather than thinking you are responsible for mastering all sort of information scattered across countless books written over forty years.
  • Focus on what you need to play: The people, places, organization, creatures, environments that you can’t wait to share with your players that the PCs can interact with.
  • Make it yours. The early materials of Classic Traveller were there for you to have a good time with as you made them your own. You own nothing to the setting. The setting material is there for you.
  • Use Patrons and Rumors to impart information to the Players about the setting without depending on huge info dumps, as well to as to keep the Players and adventures focused on this patch of space you are ready to play in.
  • Finally, remember a patch of interstellar space seven parsecs across and containing fourteen star system isNOT SMALL.
    Fourteen worlds is fourteen entire worlds, full of society, economics, politics, opportunity and obstacles. And then there might also be mysteries and adventures on other worlds beside the Main Worlds.
    Ultimately, this is a matter of perspective. If you look at a map of the Third Imperium, then fourteen worlds will look small. But if you look at the that map showing Regina the stars clustered around it and really imagine the gulfs of space between those systems and imagine each world as its own stunning spot for adventure, then those fourteen worlds take on a huge significance.
    Found as they are at the edges of the Imperium, they are beyond the reaches of civilization proper. They are, by definition, places of mystery, intrigue, and adventure, with parts not yet expired, societies not yet stabilized, and opportunities still waiting.

* Stars Without Numbers is a sandbox SF game set among the stars and very much like Traveller. The book has really solid Refereeing advice for running sandbox style games. The link above leads to a free PDF version of the game.

 

The Sandbox vs the Railroad… or Spontaneous Story Creation vs. Pre-Plotted Story

Elsewhere I’ve talked about the casual, improvisational nature of early Traveller play, the value of random rolls and random encounters in Old School play, and what we mean by “encounters” in Old School play.

I’ve also touched on how the nature of modules and adventure design changed from the early days of the hobby to what publishers produces in the 1990s. (In short, adventures were once more situational and lightly sketched (as in the early Classic Traveller Adventures) and later became more focused on pre-plotted stories (The Traveller Adventure, the Dragonlance modules). In the first random rolls and random encounters are the Referee’s friend because they offer more opportunity for the Players to make choices and create more adventure material on the fly. In the second they random encounters are a problem because they distract players from “what the story is supposed to be.”

Someone pointed me to this lovely video which does a bang-up job of giving examples of two different kinds of play. In one campaign found as the Referee responses to the interests and desires of the Players and makes up material as needed. In the other the Referee knows exactly how he wants things to go and forces the Players along certain paths to make sure the story is awesome.

I really think it is worth a look…

TRAVELLER: Out of the Box–An Invitation to Invention

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Over at Facebook Traveller Group, someone linked to my post “TRAVELLER and ‘Hard Science Fiction’–I don’t think so…

As it also does, the post started a conversation about the nature of science and science fiction in Traveller play.

Someone pointed out that the title seemed to imply that I was against Hard SF in someone’s Traveller campaign. This is not the case at all.

I wrote the post as an argument against the assumption that Traveller, by definition, is built with the diamond hardness that would please engineers who want their SF real-real-real.

I pointed out the stories that had inspired Marc Miller to create the game in the first place. If you read the tales from Poul Anderson, Jack Vance, E.C. Tubb, and many others, you’ll find that while there is a patina of hard SF to make the stories grounded, they are, first and foremost, adventure stories in a pulp-SF tradition.

The primary concern of these stories is a rousing yarn, with the SF elements there to create complication and drama for the protagonists. The SF elements are consistent within the story, allowing the protagonists to solve problems to their own advantage.

But if you tried to learn something about actual science from these tales you’d be in big trouble. And not only because the science has changed from 40 years ago. Even for their time most of the science in the tales ranged from speculative at best to nonsensical at the other end. I won’t say “worst” at the other end, because the point of the tales wasn’t to teach science. The wild and wooly nature of the SF details helped build colorful environment and problems for the protagonists–which means the SF details were great across the board.

For the most part, these tales use far-flung space elements, strange aliens, and exotic environments to create an environment where frontiers, bold action, and spectacular adventures have enough room to take place. That they possess an element of science to justify the wonders they present does not make them scientific.

But to be clear: I want people to play the kind of game that people want to be playing at their tables. If someone really wants to drill down in the contemporary scientific principles and theories to build the RPG setting more power to them.

That’s why I started the TRAVELLER: Out of the Box series, after all. Two years ago, when I went online to ask questions about Classic Traveller I was continuously told, “That’s not how The Third Imperium works,” or “The trade rules in Classic Traveller are broken, because the GDP of a world with a Population 9 would produce more ships than the system allows…” I decided to go back and re-read the original three Traveller Books and see if there was a good game in there or not. Because so many people seemed to think the game was “broken” and kept having to be fixed.

So, this series has always been a pushback who assume that because the rules of Traveller don’t make sense because the rules in Books 1-3 don’t make the kind of setting they want. Instead, I looked at the rules and said, “What kind of setting does this produce?”

And not surprisingly, it produced and encouraged the kinds of settings found in the pulp-SF stories that inspired Marc Miller to write the game.

Still, if one read the post I linked to above without context, one might assume I was telling people they could not or should not play Traveller with one of the dials turned all the way to “HARD SF.” And when asked about this on that Facebook thread, I replied:

I wrote: “If I were to retitle it now, it might be: TRAVELLER: Hard SF — sometimes, sometimes not”

And then Cam Kirmser asked: “What is an example of ‘sometimes not.'”

I replied to Kirmser, “I will use a title you mentioned above: Ringworld.”

Kirmser had written:

Ringworld comes close to smacking of Science Fantasy. Some species are so bloody advanced their tech seems magical. But, even those species have limitations that bring them back into the realm of hard SciFi. Yes, a GP hull is impervious to anything – well, except antimatter – because it’s one big molecule. The property is rather ‘soft,’ but the explanation, though out there, returns it to ‘hard.’

But, the CoDominum books – Falkenberg’s Legion books, the Sparta books, Mote – seem to have been written from a Traveller campaign. I mean, take out the instantaneous Jump, replace it with a week’s time in Jump space, add in some grav plates and you’ve almost got textbook Traveller, even to the dispersed empire based upon the remains of an earlier, greater society aspect.

I guess it might be just me, but I see Pournelle’s Future History as the glove that fits Traveller’s hand.

I replied:

I absolutely believe that see Pournelle’s Future History as the glove that fits Traveller’s hand… if one looks at the text of Books 1-3 a certain way.

The point I would add is *all those blank rows at the bottom of the Tech Level chart*!

In my view, those blank rows are there to be filled in by the Referee as he wishes. One you start filling those in, you can easily make Ringworld a possibility.

And it was assumed the Referee might well do that. That’s why all those blank rows are there. Not that a Referee had to! That’s my point.

In fact, I think this is one of the major splits in how one approaches the original rules of Traveller in creating a setting:

1. The items, tech, and concepts in Books 1-3 are what the Referee are the building blocks of any Traveller setting.

2. The items, tech, and concepts in Books 1-3 are a baseline for setting for the PCs to be from a fairly conservative culture, and the Referee adds extraordinary concepts as he wishes, per the blank rows at the bottom of the Tech Level chart. Those blank rows are an *invitation* to the Referee to add more!

Keep in mind as well that in Book 2, in the experience section, we find this:

“Such methods could include RNA intelligence or education implants, surgical alteration, military or mercenary training, and other systems. Alternatives to the above methods must be administered by the referee.”

There are a lot of ideas packed into the first sentence that the rules never address in any way. And the second sentence says, “And more!”

So, for me, “…sometimes not…” is when the Referee takes advantage of any SF ideas and concepts that he wants to pursue and adds them at the bottom of the Tech Level chart to make things unexpected, strange, alien, and beyond the baseline scope of ideas, tech, and concepts found in Books 1-3.

As an example, Ringworld. There is no reason the Referee couldn’t use Ringworld as a setting using the oringal Traveller rules, having the PCs land on it and explore it.

The bottom 25% of the Tech Index table found in Book 3:

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I think the point I made about the blank rows at the bottom of the Traveller Tech Level chart is an important one. And I think it speaks to a great division in how people see the game and approach making settings in the game.

For some people what is Traveller Books 1-3 is where the science starts and ends for a Traveller campaign. For others of us what is in Traveller Books 1-3 is just the beginning…

King Arthur Pendragon 1st Edition–Currently Free on DriveThruRPG

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As I’ve noted elsewhere King Arthur Pendragon is one of my favorite roleplaying games ever. I first encountered it in the 3rd edition and was blown away by the mechanics, the layout, and Lisa Free’s gorgeous art.

James Maliszewski wrote a lovely tribute to the 1st edition back in 2010. And lo and behold, DriveThruRPG currently has a PDF of the 1st edition available for FREE until January 31st, 2017. All the contents of the original game are included in a single PDF.

While the editions haven’t changed that much over the years (apart from the 4th edition which added magic and expanded the “classes” of characters from knights to many other folks) I’m curious to see how the original version of the game reads.

Below is the copy from the DriveThruRPG page:


Chivalric Roleplaying in Arthur’s Britain.

Relive the glory of King Arthur’s court. Uphold the chivalric ideals of fair play, courage, honesty, and justice as your caliant knight-character undertakes perilous quests and risks monstrous dangers in legendary Britain. He’ll smite bloodthirsty giants and crush treacherous invaders for King Arthur and his own glory.

To play the Pendragon roleplaying game, you create and take on the role of squite, knight, or noble of the realm. Armed and armored, you overcome life and death struggles, impossible frustration, and ruthless enemies to join the Fellowship of the Round Table

The gamemaster leads the other players in interpreting the Pendragon rules and is central in bringing the adventures to l ife. He commands the magic of Merlin and Morgan le Fay, the actions of King Arthut and Queen Guenever, and the schemes of Mordred and Agravaine.

Game Features:

Roleplaying – innovative game mechanics awaken passionate love, hate, and loyalty in your characters, leading them to acts of mercy, cruelty, lust, piety, valor, and cowardice.

Campaign Play – customs, manners, and weapons change during teh phases of Arthur’s long reign. Over these years your character-knight begets a family whose reputation depends on the glory he achieves. He passes his hard-won inheritance and grudges to his sons. Up to four generations of knights will live and die during Arthur’s reign.

Game System – Easily remembered, simple-to-play mechanics feature a single die roll to determine combat, to settle personality encounters, and to resolve skill use.

Character Generation – create a squire, knight, noble, or fair damsel, of Roman Saxon, Cymric, Pictish, or Irish heritage. Select between the Christian, Wotonic, or pagan religions.

Background – Includes a 22″ by 30″ map of Britain complete with kingdoms, cities, castles, keeps, forests, Roman roads, abbeys, rivers, mountains, fortified walls, and battle sites. A bestiary of natural and mythical creatures includes avancs, barguests, dwarfs, elves, giants, kelpies, spriggans, unicorns, yales, and the Questing Beast among many others. You are provided character statistics for major personalities such as Arthur, Guenever, and Lancelot. Also enclosed are lesser-knowns such as Balin le Sauvage, Breuse sans Pitie, Saint Cadoc, King Mark, Nimue, Percivale and Ulfius. A chronology includes wars, adventures, customs, campaigh escalation, and characters of note. An extensive bibliography provides further sources of information, all to support campaign play.

The Game of Quest, Romance & Adventure

Der Entdecker: An alternate-reality sailing ship found by the Player Characters in my Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign

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My game is on hiatus right now, allowing me time to sort through some bookkeeping and prep for further adventures.

As noted previously, my players tracked down a sailing ship that can travel between alternate earths. Here’s a writeup for the Players, using the rules from Rules & Magic and the ACKS Guns of War.

I built the sheet above to hand the players so they’ll have a sense of ownership of this piece of equipment. They’ll be tracking supplies and more.

When we left off they had used the ship for the first time, using the ship’s wheel to steer a course for an alternate world where two arch-mages fight a decades long battle and the the peaceful Qelong Valley has been shattered by the fallout.

TRAVELLER: Out of the Box-An Approach to Refereeing and Throws in Original Traveller (Part I)

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This is kind of esoteric, and I’m not quite sure how to articulate this in a concise way. For some of you this might be stone-cold obvious. For others it might seem like the dumbest thing ever.

But here we go:

I was chatting with some friends online about how I’m beginning to see how Refereeing Traveller (and original D&D) required a different kind of approach than that used by roleplaying games that came after it.

I’ve tried several times to clean top the ideas contained below. But I have failed. So I’m gong to post the original comments in their raw form. They might be of interest to some, but not to others!

I wrote the following:

A THOUGHT I’VE HAD THAT I HAVE NOWHERE ELSE TO PUT

I’ve discussed on one of these threads the idea of Refereeing I work with taken from Free Kriegsspiel and Braunstien… That the Referee is the impartial adjudicator of events, making decisions sometimes without even referring to rules.

Rolls are made when the Referee is uncertain, but the idea really is a REFEREE. He provides opportunities and obstacles to the Players, sits back, lets them make decisions and take actions, and then says, “Ummm…. here’s the call.”

It goes without saying that this entire system of play is dependent on the Players TRUSTING the Referee. Whether this is a GOOD idea, is beyond the scope of these posts. But that’s what we’re talking about.

So… skill rolls in Traveller and skill rolls in other games, and rolls in general.

It occurred to me that given the above framework, I really do, when I roll, hand off the power of fate to the oracles. I really have no agenda. I’m just looking to see what happens along with the Players.

It is an impartial act to find out what happened so we might find out what the Player Characters do next.

An Implication for Traveller Throws:

Keep in mind that I don’t think Classic Traveller has a Skill System. It has a Throw system (throw 2D6, equal or beat a number, add DMs from a variety of sources (skills, characteristics, and circumstances). Not everything Throw has a Skill DM. THAT IS IMPORTANT!

Because it we have a system for Referee saying, “I don’t know what’s going to happen here. Roll these 2D6 and we’ll find out what happened.” All sorts of modifiers can come into play depending on what the roll is about. It is a universal system that looks like it has not system! (Every later edition of Traveller has a skill system, tying all rolls to skills.)

So, I’m thinking about this, and thinking about how I see this as different than I see, let’s say, skills in Cyberpunk 2020. (I’m using CP2020 as an example, but really it’s a stand in for all RPGs after 1980, and some before 1980.)

Because in CP2020 the roll doesn’t seem impartial at all. As a Player, that skill roll is my skill roll. If I hit it, it’s not because we’re turning to the oracles to find out what happened. It’s because my guy was That Fucking Awesome.

The distinction I am trying to express is strange and subtle. I don’t even have words to describe it yet.

In the case of Traveller we are making an impartial roll to discover a result that my PC’s skill can influence. In all later RPG skill systems, the roll is about my skill.

That is all. Like, I don’t know where to go with that, exactly. But I do know this shift in understanding (clearly seeing what I’ve been thinking about the Traveller rules) makes perfect sense to me.

And I don’t see it squaring with other RPGs. (But I might be missing something. Like I said, it’s all new and kind of weird.)

This ties into the early RPG ideas where the Referee made all or many of the rolls. Maybe it wasn’t because he was fudging, but because the rolls weren’t about the Players making the roll or about “The Characters succeeding or failing.”

Maybe because it was part and parcel of the impartial nature of the revelation of events, offering a new set of obstacles and opportunities for the Players to deal with.

I think communicating this idea is important for how I’d like to play Traveller.

We could play the Lamentations of the Flame Princess I’m running the same way, with an understanding the hiding in shadows is not about whether “You are good enough to hide in shadow” but about “Whether you are seen.” There’s a distinction here, right? It is using the dice in completely different ways. The effect is the same, perhaps, but it is a distinctly different point of view about how one approaches the dice and the game. And, in turn, I think this shift changes a great deal about how one sees play working out. It really reinforces the nature of the Referee as impartial judge, the dice as oracles, and the rolls not as “skill rolls” but as impartial tools to determine outcomes. The point of the roll is not to see “How well the character did,” but to see what happened when the character did something, which in turn leads to the character having to do the next thing, based on the outcome of the roll.

But I also think I might melt the brains of people used to thinking along lines built out during the last 35 years of the hobby.

My friend Jesse then commented:

I’m reminded of a discussion I had with Raggi. A situation came up in my D&D 5e that involved the players trying to turn a congregation against their spiritual leader using illusions and other magic. It was a pretty good idea. I had the player who had concocted the play make a Deception skill check.

But it got me thinking. How do you adjudicate that in LotFP? I know Raggi is against using stat resolution (i.e. roll d20 get under CHA). It bugged me so much I just decided to ask him.

He told me that he’d just make an NPC reaction roll. And at first I thought, “Ah! Okay makes sense.”

But the longer I thought about it the more it bugged me because a flat NPC reaction roll in no way takes into account who the characters ARE.

And I think that ties into what you were saying. “Throws” center the situation as a whole. Stuff is happening. Could go lots of ways. We throw to see what branch we go down. Skills center the characters. This one is better at X and that one is better at Y.

And I think that represents the drift over time. We start out with a war game. Players are units. It’s a pretty birds eye view. Hell we have a “Caller” who speaks for everyone. But over time, people start wanting who there character *is* to matter more and more.

And I replied to Jesse:

And what I would add to Raggi’s note is a DM for the Awesomeness of the Magic. A Reaction +3 … or whatever … based, as you say, off the situation at hand, with the roll to determine where we go next.

You wrote: “But over time, people start wanting who there character is to matter more and more.”

Exactly… because this is also the shift away from Player focused play, to Character focused play. (“Player Skill, Not Character Abilities” in the parlance of the “Quick Primer for Old School Gaming.”)


HISTORICAL CONTEXT

That was the exchange. What follows below are a notes for context.

I’ve discussed before how I see Refereeing Traveller in the context of how Referees work when playing Free Kriegsspiel (a Referee driven war game).

Here is the passage on Free Kriegsspiel from the Wikipedia entry on Kriegsspiel:

“Free” Kriegsspiel

Kriegsspiel in its original form was not particularly popular among the Prussian officer corps. The rules were cumbersome and games took much longer than the battles that they were supposed to represent. It was not until 1876 that General Julius von Verdy du Vernois had the idea of placing more power in the hands of the gamemaster in order to speed up the game and reduce the number of rules. von Verdy’s “Free” Kriegsspiel did away with many of the movement and combat rules in order to save time, giving the duty of deciding the effects of orders and combat to the gamemaster. This allowed players to play a game in real time, giving the players a better feel for the tension of actual combat. To retain military accuracy, von Verdy emphasized the necessity of using military experts as gamemasters. The new “Free” Kriegsspiel soon gained more popularity than its predecessor (now known as “Strict” Kriegsspiel”); The Prussian (later German) General Staff used it both for its internal exercises and as a training tool.

In my research into the gaming culture and kinds of games surrounding the creation of Roleplaying Games in the 1970s I also looked and Braunstiena Referee driven precursor to Dungeons & Dragons.

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Barons of Braunstein is a historical role-playing game, but one incorporating ideas and inspiration from the original Braunstein by David Wesley in the 1960s. (You can see the character sheet for the game above. I want you to really pay attention to how much information isn’t on that character sheet.)

The following sample character demonstrates what a finished hero might look like:

NAME: Mite
SEX: female
LITERACY: illiterate (+2 LUCK)
LUCK: 12
SOCIAL CLASS: commoner
BACKGROUND: Mite is a young street urchin with no knowledge of her birth name. Although willing to steal, she is protective of the weak and helpless.
EQUIPMENT: backpack, bedroll, knife, picks and tools, rations
EXPERIENCE: 0
TREASURE: 12 SP

Here is the important part: the Referee is supposed to use those few scattered elements to decide on the fly what the character can and cannot do in different circumstances.

For example, there are three “Social Classes” in Barons of Braunstien: Clergy, Commoners, and Nobles. Based on those three classes alone, the Judge must often decide what sort of skills or abilities a character might possess, what he might be able to do or not do at all, how difficult certain acts might be, and so on.

Here is the passage from the rules of Barons of Braunstien about “Doing Things”:

DOING THINGS 

Some actions are easy. The player does not roll dice because their character is automatically successful. Other things are simply impossible and never succeed under any circumstances, although judges can always intervene (a matter of common sense and good judgment). Everything else requires the roll of 2d6, based on conditions:

 TASK  SUCCESS  NOTES 
Simple  —  ordinary walking/talking 
Easy  7 or better  elementary/little interference 
Moderate  9 or better  harder/distractions present 
Difficult  12+  daunting/dangerous conditions 

Notice that it is up to the Judge (the Referee) to decide if an action is automatic, impossible, or possible but requiring a roll. Note, too, the Judge decides what the difficulty will be. These matters will be influenced by  who the character is (background, history, social class and so on, as originally described by the Player).

Someone who is “willing to steal” (as in the example above) might have an easier time picking a pocket than a parish priest. It is up to the Judge to decide how difficult it might be for either the street urchin or the parish priest to pick a pocket based on nothing more than his own common sense and interpretation of the world.

One might say that this kind of rules system is kind of loosey-goosey! YES! And I suggest this sort of loosey-goosiness was part and parcel, and expectation, of playing both original Dungeons & Dragons and original Traveller.

I bring all this up because I believe if one reads the rules for original Dungeons & Dragons or original Traveller and it seems they are “broken,” “incomplete,” or “need to be fixed” it is because the person reading them is lacking the context of how the Referee worked in games like Free Kriegsspiel or Braunstien. (And we all know how much effort has been spent trying to “fix” the “Task System” for Classic Traveller over the years!)

This doesn’t mean this method of play is better, or should be played at your table. (Current RPG design certainly works to avoid this kind of play!) But it is a viable method of play.

Moreover, I believe it is an excellent approach for playing Original Traveller. In the next post I’ll talk about the practical applications of this point of view when Refereeing and playing Traveller.