Tales to Astound!

Classic Traveller and the Structure of Play

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Chris Vermeers is doing a series of terrific posts on Classic Traveller over on his blog The Ongoing Campaign.

This post in particular caught my eye. The first half is about the often misunderstood Experience System for Classic Traveller.

The second half discusses the structure play that works best for Classic Traveller:

In the standard CT campaign, the characters will be pursuing ways of making money. Usually, this is through trade and commerce, which often does little more than pay for the ship the characters travel in, and frequently enough not even that. As a result, the players are on the lookout for Patron encounters, which can result in more adventurous activities and higher payouts compared to the time taken. Normally, Patron encounters occur once every three weeks on average (in port, as the weeks spent in Jump don’t count for such encounters). The other sort of encounter that can result in payouts is the Rumor. Rumors occur around seven times in every twelve weeks, but most are not useful for getting paid. The third sort of adventure is the sort pre-designed by the Referee, but those are dependent on the specific Referee’s campaign and not regular at all. I would suggest that most come about as a result of the Referee judiciously using regular Rumors and possibly Patrons in any case…

So, the basic structure of play in CT is based around random encounters, but the specifics of those encounters were designed to be the seeds of adventure – the Patron especially, but also the Rumor. Other encounters, such as Legal, Random, and Animal, were intended to be either color or a tax on time spent, or both. In some cases, Random encounters were apparently intended as a possible adventure hook (fugitives, for instance), which would require a flexible and improvising Referee.

In a typical CT session, the players would set their characters to doing the boring things that paid the bills – finding cargo, usually – but could find them embroiled in events involving bandits, fugitives, law enforcement (rightly or wrongly), or people looking for help (Patrons). They might also find Rumors that could lead them toward some sort of possible payout, like treasure maps in D&D. In any case, their intent to stay safe and paid could be overrun by events around them and the temptations of even greater paydays.

This points to a specific sort of adventure design, not based around plots and stories, that was set aside. Sadly, my favorite edition of Traveller was overrun by adventures that were not well-suited to the game, ones that tried to impose a story on the players. What CT (and MegaTraveller) really needs are Patrons, locations, and adventures that are the object of Rumors. It also needs deep background, so that the players can get their characters involved in wider situations – but those sorts of extended adventures work best when they arise out of the adventuring group interacting in their own particular ways with that wider background.

[Emphasis added.]

I agree totally with this assessment. The “Grand Tour”-“Let Me Show Off The Splendors Of The Imperium” adventures always struck me as wrong-headed. In its best play, the Referee presents options to the Players through Rumors, Patrons, and Encounters… and then responds as the Players have their PCs pursue whatever agenda they choose through their own efforts.

This is an older way of playing, of course… before metaplots, and thick setting books, and trying to drive characters through pre-plotted stories.

Instead, the Referee offers opportunities, threats, and information, the Players make choices for their PCs, those choices produce new opportunities, threats, and information… and it is this cycle that produces “story.”

Of course, this kind of cycle works best with a setting of some sort of constraint. Like only developing one or two subsectors… exactly as the original rules state.

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