Tales to Astound!

TRAVELLER: Out of the Box–Making the Sister’s Reach Subsector [Removing Communication Routes]

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This is the second post on the setting I’m building for my Traveller game. The first post outlined the underlying design ethos for the setting. This post is going to build on the assumptions built in that post.


THE STARTING POINT

I’m using The Five Sisters Subsector (pictured above) from the Supplement 3: The Spinward Marches as my starting point.

The idea is to take the materials from the first couple of years of Traveller (1977-79), before GDW’s Official Traveller Universe got built out with lots of detail, and using them as a springboard for my own setting without the weight or concerns of the OTU on me at all. Which, of course, is how RPGs were played before they became heavy with official settings.

It is also important to note that if someone hands you a pre-generated Traveller subsector, it is, for all practical purposes, as random as if you had rolled it yourself. So, I feel no loss because I didn’t roll them. (I had been building a subsector built from scratch with no official materials. But I’m intrigued enough with this as an exercise I’m driving right in.)


A MAP FOR A PLAYER FACING GAME

The original 1977 rules of Traveller did not have Communication Routes. (They had Space Lanes instead, which we’ll get to a moment.)

If you look at the subsector map above, you’ll notice that the Communication Routes spread over the subsector make a system look very connected.

But I don’t want everything in the subsector to be connected. I want gulfs of space. I wanted isolated worlds. I want interstellar travel to be a big deal and to matter.

And even more important is this: I’m building a Player Character focused setting.

But who uses Communication Routes? The Imperium. Do the Player Characters use it? No. Do the lines on that map above have any use or meaning to the Player Characters? No. Will they be using the Communication Routes? No. Will there someday bit of news from subsectors away that might end up matting to the PCs? Sure. Maybe. But do we need to be staring at those Communication Routes on the map to have that happen? No.

Because here is the thing: Communication Routes are not “Player Facing Details.” What do I mean by Player Facing Details? I mean the details of setting that the Players can interact with directly via their PCs. These can be rumors, NPCs, Monsters, mysteries of space, strange environments on planets, unique cultures, and so on. In contrast to Player Facing Details are those kinds of things that the Referee must read to the players, explain, or otherwise impart directly from Referee to Player, instead of communicating details of the setting from the Referee to the Players via the experience of the PCs.

Note that there is almost no way of communicating details about Communication Routes to the Players via their Characters. (Apart from, of course, the ubiquitous “Intercept the X-boat Mission.”) The Player Characters will seldom be around to see an X-boat arrive or leave in-system, have any interaction which X-boat system, be affected by news coming into a subsector by X-boat, or be mentioned in news leaving the X-boat. (Note this doesn’t mean that the PCs might not be affected by events that might be mentioned in an X-boat report. But they will be affected whether the new arrives by X-boat or not!)

The Communication Routes were introduced in the 1981 edition of the rules. I believe this was because GDW was building an Official Setting that was so vast, so organized, and so well run that a focus on the workings of government would be vital to portraying how The Third Imperium worked–and communication would be part of this portrayal. Moreover, GDW would be using the setting as a bridge between a setting for an RPG (Traveller) and various strategic war games (Fifth Frontier War, Dark Nebula, Invasion Earth.) But this shifted the setting further and further from being Player Focused to

And so… let’s get rid of them.

Whether or not Communication Routes exist in the setting of a Player Facing game, they are a tool to help the Referee justify news coming into the subsector from great distances. But seldom will the routes themselves matter to the PCs, the Referee, or the Players. The point being that the Referee can determine the arrival of news from points far off whenever he wishes. He doesn’t need it all mapped out. He certainly doesn’t need that bit of detail mucking up his subsector map when the routes themselves will seldom come into play.


A MAP WITHOUT THE COMMUNICATION ROUTES

Here’s what happens if we take the Communication Routes out of the subsector:

Compare the first map from Supplement 3 with this new one. Look at how different they are graphically and in terms of information valuable to a Player Facing RPG. (At least I see a big difference.)

Look at the empty gulfs of space. Notice how the distances between worlds are no longer buried under the lines of the Communication Routes which seem to bind the subsector together. Notice that there is a topography revealed within the subsector map.

Look at the four clusters of star systems:

  1. the first cluster is to the top of the subsector stretching from Saxe to Rahle, which we’ll call The Sister’s Reach
  2. the second is the two systems of  Andor and Candory–which serve as a waypoint between the upper and lower halves of the subsector. We’ll call them The Middle Stars
  3. the third is to the right edge of the subsector, which we’ll call The Wonstar Cluster
  4. and the forth is to the lower left, which we’ll call The Raweh Thread

[We’ll call The Sister’s Reach “The Upper Cluster” and the other three “The Lower Clusters.”]

Notice how the Players and the Referee looking at the map can easily see what sort of Jump Drive is required to travel around the subsector.

Notice how the value and importance of different kinds of Jump Drives are clear. A Jump-1 or Jump-2 will get you around each of the clusters. But to get from the Sister’s Reach to the Lower Clusters–or vica versa–will require a Jump-3 or more. (Or travellers could take the long way around through District 268 in a Jump-1 or -2 ship.)

Notice that if the Referee were to start the campaign in The Sister’s Reach, he would have 10 worlds the Player Characters could reach with a Jump-1 ship and 11 they could reach with a Jump-2 ship. But that the other clusters would be beyond their reach.

Notice that this can set up goals for the Players. If they hear rumors about treasures or artifacts or valuable technology or whatever to be found in the Lower Clusters while traveling around The Sister’s Reach, they will want, eventually, to get to those clusters. But if they have a Free Trader (Jump-1), Scout ship (Jump-2), or no ship at all, getting to those worlds will be a series of problem solving exercises and adventures all within themselves. Will they take their ship through District 268 via a series of Jump-1 trips? Will they work to gain possession or use of a Cruiser capable of getting a Jump-3? Will they sign on as crew to a ship heading to the Lower Clusters? Will they be passengers on the ship, with little control over its journey and fate? The preparation and execution of each of these trips will provide countless session for the Referee if he’s will to provide plenty of obstacles and opportunities for the PCs along the way.

This is the kind of subsector map I want:

Mixed with the other design parameters listed in the previous post, I’m well on my way to creating the kind of setting I’d like to share with my friends as a setting for adventure on a weekly basis. But there’s more to be done!

Next up: Jump Lanes in the Sister’s Reach Subsector.

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