Fallen World Campaign [LotFP]–Twenty-Fourth Session


We picked up the game with the Player Characters leaving earth via a magical ship and heading off the shore of the Qelong Valley on an alternate earth. As the approached the city of Qompang on the mouth of the Qelong River they saw other three masted ships, each flying flags of nations they knew from Europe.

But each flag was slightly altered: The flag of England, for example, had the red cross on white field that they knew, but in its center was the silhouette of a knight jamming a lance though the neck of a dragon. The flag of France had the flowers on a field of blue, but each appears to be in a crystal ball. The flag of the Holy Roman empire showed the double-headed eagle, but its talons held a bleeding serpent.

They anchored in Qelong Bay and took one squad of ten men (out of their company of ten squads) by rowboat to investigate the city. They saw fisherman around them in sampans, men and women of dark to peach colored skin, and saw before them the city was built of stonework with spires and odd towers. The Southeastern feel of the land came quickly into focus.

They arrived at the Factory — the section of town controlled by European merchants — and began doing research in the town, looking for clues about the valley beyond the city walls.

They befriended several merchants (one from Germany, one from France) as well as an Elf who had joined the French entourage. (The elves of this world live apart from men… but a few are curious about the way of humankind, adopt their customs, and live among them).

The elf gave them a look to suggest he knew they were more than travelers from Europe and might suspect they were from another world. He later confronted them, not out of aggression but from curiosity, and they exchanged a few theories about the nature of alternate realities. (Whether or not he has another agenda regarding them, the Lamplighters (which is what the Player Characters call themselves) do not know.)

They also explored the overcrowd city beyond the walls of the Factory. Ending up in a teahouse they met a slave in her early twenties who had one of her hands cut cleanly off a few years earlier. (All of this was clear from observing the stump.) They wanted to talk to her about it, but she said she could not. So they bought her from her owner, and she joined the group. She explained that sometimes, out in the Qelong Valley, people can get sick and the only way to stop the sickness from spreading is to cut off the left hand.

As they encountered and spoke with NPCs I rolled on the rumor table included in the Qelong book and they learned about The Mine of the Elephant, the fact that the land seems to be poisoned (from the slave, for example), that another wizard was looking for the same canister they were looking for, that the capital city of Xam had not been heard from for decades, and that a company of mercenaries from the lands of the Holy Roman Empire had taken over a town up river.

This led to a discussion between the Players about what options to pursue.

Armed with this information they headed out on a riverboat, traveling up the Qelong River to investigate the mercenaries. Their slave traveled with them along with a German who had been up and down the river for years and would serve as a guide.


The Heart of the Classic Traveller Rules — For Me

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 11.07.55 AMart: Jaime Jones

Different people focus on different things in Classic Traveller.

For a lot of people Classic Traveler is:

  1. Generating Characters
  2. Generating Subsectors and Main Worlds
  3. Making Starships

That’s where the fun is for a lot of people and for a lot of people it’s enough.

This makes sense. The three actives listed above are, in of themselves, fun. It’s also stuff a person can do on his or her own without needing to gather a group. I think the fact that those three activities are fun and can be done alone is one of the reasons Classic Traveller has stirred the imaginations of those in the hobby for so long.

But here’s the thing. For me those three elements are not what Classic Traveller is about. In fact, what I think Classic Traveller is about is something that I a lot of people who love Classic Traveller even think much about.

For me characters having adventures is what the Traveller rules are really about. That is, characters, in motion, in play, doing things. You can generate lots of player characters and never get around to putting them in motion. You can generate lots of worlds and a player character will never set foot on them. You can build ships and a player character will never travel in it.

Now there’s nothing wrong with focusing on the enjoyable aspects that have nothing to do with putting characters into motion. But, again, my focus is player characters caught up in adventures. That is, my interest is to getting characters into motion in exotic worlds having great adventures. That is, my focus is on playing the game as an RPG.

This is why so many of the TRAVELLER: Out of the Box posts have been about Referee driven play and how to handle Throws. Because when characters are doing things in play the Referee and the dice will be stepping up to see things moving.

Now for a lot of people the rules of Classic Traveller are either broken or nonexistent when it comes to how to adjudicate situations or handle Throws. It is why The Traveller’s Digest #1 invented a new way of handling skills in 1984, and why many people focus on the character creation, the building of subsectors, the designing of ships.

In my view however, as discussed in many of my posts, the rules work fine. In fact, more than fine. They are the strength of the game.

With all that in mind, my view these days is that those three systems above take a back seat to getting around to playing the game.

And what is the rule for playing the game?

2D6 +/- DM ≥ Throw Value equals success

If you made me choose between that formula and the character creation system found in Classic Traveller, I can tell you right now I’m choosing the formula.

Because what matters to me most about creating a character in Traveller is that the character has six characteristics, skills, a prior occupation of some kind, and an age. With those four qualities I can use the flexible, on the fly system found in Classic Traveller to adjudicate any situation and keep the game moving along quickly.

I posted an example of this approach a couple of weeks ago. Because of time constraints (it was a convention game with a four hour slot, and I wanted to try the rules in a non-SF setting as an experiment) I bypassed the standard character creation system. As I wrote:

I handed out an index card to each player for characters: “Assign the values 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 to STR, DEX, END, INT, EDU, and Social Status. Add +2 to two of those, or a single +4 to one. Give yourself a profession and write that on the top of the card. You character can do all thing things that that profession can do. Then add three more skills, the things you are really good at, which might tie to your profession or be something else. Assign a +1, a +2, and a +3, respectively to each of the skills as you see fit. Tell me who your character cares about in the village. Tell me about the god your character pays homage to. Give your character a name.”

Although we didn’t use the character creation system per the rules, what I did have was characters with the numbers I need to adjudicate situations on the fly and handle Throws as needed. Because how we made the characters is not the priority for me. The player characters in motion in an adventure is the priority for me.

Strangely, some people said I had gutted the game by blowing past Classic Traveller’s character creation rules — which they consider the “heart of the game.”

To which I say, “No, playing the game is the heart of the game. And that heart is found in the Players doing things with their PCs and the Referee adjudicating and moving things forward to the next things the Players want to have their characters do.”

To sum up then, the heart of the game is this:

2D6 +/- DM ≥ Throw Value equals success

All the pieces of the game lead to this simple formula for creating Throws. Character Creation, Law Levels, Animal Encounters, the Reaction Table, the Personal Combat System, the Starship Combat System… all of it. This is the heart of the game, the brilliance of Classic Traveller. Because it lets you play the game. If you have this, the Referee can keep adjudicating, the adventurers can keep adventuring, and the game keeps moving.

Using Original TRAVELLER Out of the Box — Rick Stump’s The Clash of Stars


The premise of the Traveller: Out of the Box series is that the original Traveller rules were a framework to allow a Referee to create his or her own settings to share with friends. Here’s an example of this in action:

Classic Traveller Campaign the Clash of Stars: Setting Details

Over at Don’t Split the Party Rick Stump is setting up a setting for play with the Classic Traveller rules.

Here are notes on the general setting. A sample:

General Setting

  • The Terran Confederation is so long collapsed no one in the sectors of space near the game setting is certain in which *direction* Man’s homeworld may be found.
  • No intelligent aliens, at all.
  • 80% or so of inhabited worlds are ‘stand alone’ and have no interstellar government
  • Interstellar trade is almost ubiquitous and mainly of three sorts
    • run by local planets out 1-3 parsecs
    • trade guilds and co-ops on runs between 3-8 worlds
    • independent freighters running either their own routes or wandering about
  • General tech level for independent worlds  is 7-9 with 9 a pretty hard ceiling and 7 a soft floor
  • There are scattered interstellar nations of 2-7 inhabited worlds. Almost all are Tech 9
    Although most planets have a Dorsai universe median (meaning that while some worlds are heavy into farming, others into manufacturing, some into arts and soft science, etc. they all are still close enough to each other culturally for it to not interfere with communications and trade) some worlds have gotten very strange.

Then Player Characters will start in the Lanxing Comity…

… an alliance of 3 inhabited worlds all within Jump 1 of each other. The worlds have a mixed Chinese/Spanish heritage with a relatively strong class structure and their economy and culture based upon a Manorial system. The blending of Catholic religion and Confucian social ideas led to them weathering the long centuries the Cycles of Collapse with a strong social cohesion, positive outlook, and a commitment to charity and justice.

This post drills down into greater detail about the Lanxing Comity:

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The Lanxing Comity
The Lanxing Comity is centered around 3 worlds that all have TL9 and the capacity to build and maintain FTL craft. These planets are ruled by a single King (Catalan) and a web of nobles spread over the 14 worlds of the Comity. Alongside the nobility is the Interstellar Bureaucracy which ensures that the far-flung worlds run smoothly despite such things as communications lag, death of a noble, invasion, etc.

Beyond the Comity is the Twelve Moons Trade Cooperative that operates among 5 TL6-TL8 planets nearby and uses their wealth to purchase FTL craft from the Comity (and have them repaired). The various worlds of the TMTC have a variety of governments and cultures, have no truly coherent “outside diplomacy”, but act as a trading bloc.

There are also independent worlds beyond the Comity and outside the TMTC. TL4-TL8 with a wide range of governments and cultures the ones closest to the Comity often have trade with independent merchants from the Comity.

Lanxing Itself
The core worlds of Catalan, Biscay, and Fujian appear to have originally been settled by groups intent on ‘recreation’, a term for those elements of the Terran Diaspora that wanted to emulate specific periods of Terran history and territory in space. In this case, Late Medieval Spain, the Spain of the Age of Sail, and a stylized Classical China. The interaction of these three forces over time developed into the Lanxing Comity.

The primary language is Spatha which is Spanish with a number of Mandarin loan words (pronounced in the Spanish manner). The primary religion is Catholic (using Ecclesial Latin), although a number of Chinese holidays are secular festivals. The currency is the real.

The government is feudal technocratic with a blending of Spanish nobility, Imperial Chinese bureaucracy, and European civil service.

People use Spanish conventions for personal names with a tradition of “translating” non-Spanish names into Spanish (Rob Roy would become Roberto Rojo or even Roberto Ruiz; Tom Swift would become Tomas Vencejo; etc.). Initial introductions tend to use the full name so that if you met Tom Swift for the first time he would introduce himself as ‘Tomas Alberto Vencejo y Nestor’.

Through religious traditions almost all adults have 2 given names – one granted at birth and a second at confirmation. By cultural tradition a person receives more given names as their social status increases beyond a certain point so for each level of SOC above 8 the character will have an additional name (increases to SOC as an adult do not count!) so a character that begins with a SOC score of A will have 4 given names (their ‘first name’ plus 2 given names for social status, plus a Confirmation. There is also a tradition of using the names and titles of Saints as given names leading to people of high status among the Lanxing Comity having names that appear stunningly long to people used to Anglo-saxon names, such as ‘Pedro Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Martyr Patricio Clito Ruíz y Rodriguez’.

Rick then breaks down the noble structure in the Comity.

Following the ranking scheme of traditional Spanish nobility there are both titles or nobility and the three levels of Grandes de Lanxing, or Grandees.

The titles and their SOCs:
Don/Dona*………………..SOC 9 +
Senor/Senora**………..SOC B

Baron/Baronesa***….SOC C
Conde/Condesa………..SOC D
Marques/Marquesa…SOC E
Duque/Duquesa……….SOC F

*’Don’ or ‘Dona’ can be applied as an honorific to anyone above SOC 8 except the royal family.
** While courteously applied to almost everyone as titles of nobility roughly equal to ‘Lord’ in English they are not omitted when speaking to nobles.
***The titles of Vizconde/Vizcondesa are usually (but not always) used by the children of Condes and above and are equivalent to Baron in precedence.

The levels of Grandee are simply third (lowest) through first (highest). Only about 60% of Lanxing nobles are also Grandees; of Grandees 70% are Third rank, 25% are Second rank and only 5% are First rank.

Within levels of Grandees (none, third, etc.) noble rank determines authority but levels of Grandee are more important. For example, Duque de la Cruz has no grandee rank, Conde Ruiz is of Third rank, Baron Rodriguez is of Second rank, and Senor (the lowest rank that can be a Grandee) Diego is of First rank.  In social precedence (seating, introductions, entrance into a room, who bows to whom, etc.) de la Cruz is top. But in matters of political and military decision making Senor Diego has the greatest level of authority.

Not only am I fond of this in Real Life it really works with Traveller, doesn’t it?

“Bob, my character started with a SOC of C and I got a +1 from service and another +1 from mustering out, so I am a Count. Shouldn’t I be rich and rule, like, a solar system?”

“Frank, you have a high SOC but you aren’t a grandee. So you get invited to all the parties, the end.”

On a related note, in my campaign if a character with a high SOC score takes the Noble profession and gets a Promotion (pretty rare) if they are already SOC B or better they can shoose to stay the same SOC but become a Grandee!!

And then Rick goes into more details about the function of government in the setting.

The Lanxing Bureaucracy originated in the recreated Confucian bureaucracy of the founders of Fujian modified by their exposure to European and other civil services. Entrance into the lower levels of the bureaucracy are based upon education and performance on standardized entrance exams. Promotion is based on passing more advanced exams, performance evaluations, and job performance. The Bureaucracy is a complex maze of departments, committees, boards, projects, and independent managers and overseers with an interplay of jurisdiction, precedence, rank, and mandates that makes the complexity of noble and Grandee titles appear dead simple.

How Governance Works
The King has ultimate authority, although this is rather limited by tradition. The Stellar Navy and the standing Army answer only to the King, for example, while local militias are raised by Nobles. Grandees control specific territory and are responsible for administering those territories in accordance with Royal Law but can also pass their own territorial laws if they do no clash with Royal Law.  Local police report to the local grandee but each police force has a senior officer (usually not the commander) appointed by the King in charge of oversight. Tax collection, regulatory enforcement, etc. are all also local with one or two royal appointees as oversight.

The Bureaucracy has three levels; local, regional, and royal. Each department monitors for graft, corruption, criminal activity, gross incompetence, etc. Grandees have a senior Bureaucrat appointed to their staff that exists to both provide advice on things like royal law and regulatory compliance and to watch for corruption and treason.

Other departments of the Bureaucracy watch the Bureaucracy itself for collusion, corruption, graft, etc. and those departments are, in turn, monitored by Grandees appointed specifically to check the power of the Bureaucracy.

In order to prevent this from turning into a massive war of intelligence agencies and secret police the ultimate authority (the King and Royal Family, the Royal Guard, and the Royal Advisors, collectively called the Crown) have two strict policies in place; transparency and transition.   Transparency means that the results of all investigations must be made public, no transaction that do not involve Intelligence can be kept from the public, and that the jurisdiction, background, etc. of all Bureaucrats be accessible. There are exceptions for undercover work, intelligence agents, etc. but these have their own oversight.

Transition means that no bureaucrat can remain in a particular position for too long. The average tenure is 3 years but can be as short at 4 months but no longer than 5 years. Bureaucrats are generally prohibited from working on their hometowns/districts, with family members, etc., and usually do not work with the same team more than once. Bureaucrat Tom, currently in charge of oversight on Joe, may find himself working for, or under oversight by, Joe in just a year or two. Combined transparency and transition are meant to prevent the creation of ‘bureaucratic fiefdoms’ and networks of influence.

Lastly, all payroll costs of the Bureaucracy are paid directly from only the King’s accounts, meaning the more Bureaucrats the bigger the personal expense to the King. At the same time, the King is usually held responsible for graft and corruption among his subordinates. As a result the King is very invested in making sure the Bureaucracy is as small, agile, and efficient as possible while still eradicating graft and corruption.

With Grandees performing local leadership and the Bureaucracy providing oversight the Comity functions fairly smoothly despite having an administrative class only a fraction the size of those familiar with 21st Century Europe.

Trade and Diplomacy
To Lanxing trade and diplomacy are intimately connect to each other and to the nobility. Members of the diplomatic corps are often of high social status, even including non-Grandee nobles. Trade from outside the Comity usually faces stiff tariffs and other customs fees but with sponsorship by a grandee or the Crown these fees can be reduced significantly. Since non-Grandee nobles are themselves subject to reduced customs fees a fair number of them go into interstellar trade. Also, very successful merchants can be elevated to the nobility because of the wealth their trade brings to the Comity.

Some nobles (usually not Grandees) also use their wealth, personal training, etc. to work for the Crown as unofficial diplomats (this is a fair amount of the Noble profession) within and without the Comity. They may travel with merchants, in their own yachts, as leader of a small mercenary company, or otherwise as they ‘Tour’ outside the Comity, but their underlying goal is to improve the reputation of the Comity and its King. A nobleman with his own merchant ship may very well be pursuing the multiple goals of corporate commerce, interstellar diplomacy, personal wealth, and family advancement all at once.

Culturally and politically the Comity is dedicated to service. While their trade with nearby systems does seek overall profit to the Comity and the Crown diplomats, nobles, and even merchants also strive to help the sick, the poor, and the lost wherever they go.

Please note that all of the above is for only a section of the subsector mapped above! Other portions of the subsector will have their own cultures and governments.

I quoted the description of the Lanxing Comity at length to make two points:

First, look at how Rick has made is own setting. He is clearly using the Classic Traveller rules, but he is working from the rules to make his own setting. Which is exactly what the Classic Traveller rules are there to do: help you to create a cool setting you wanted to share with your friends. (Or, in Rick’s case, his sons.)

Second, one of the things I really liked about what he’s posted is his section on nobility. Keep in mind that if you look on line you’ll find lots of people dithering about the Social Status rules in Classic Traveller and saying, “Oh, my gosh, the rules don’t tell me what Social Status means!”

But Rick doesn’t do that. Instead, he looked at the rules, saw there was a thing called Social Status, and said, “Oh, there’s a thing called Social Status and I get to decide that that’s going to mean for my setting.”

And, again, I believe that’s what the Classic Traveller rules were designed to do! The three original Traveller Books (1, 2, and 3) offer a collection of “playing pieces” the Referee gets to pick up and use as he sees fit to build the kind of environment he wants to share with his friends.

The same holds true, in my view, of how to define the various definition of government type, what jumpspace is, what psionic powers are, exactly how the Traveller Aid Society works. All if it is mentioned in passing in the rules, but grist for the mill for any Referee to use as he sees fit for his or her setting.

When I asked Rick about this he replied:

Yeah! I remember when I joined the Traveller Mailing List about 20 years ago and there was a long argument about “What does Feudal technocracy’ mean?” And all I could think was “Make it up, change it, remove it, or whatever, why the fighting?”


TRAVELLER: Out of the Box–You are Not Your Numbers

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art: Lazar Kacarevic

A while back, David McGrogan (author of the excellent Soon-Yuinposted at his blog:

Whether Sartre was right about the real world, in the world of D&D, existence precedes essence. Your character sheet is really just numbers. You are free to do with your character what you wish. You can choose to be good, bad, cruel, kind, friendly, cold, brave or cowardly. A D&D PC is defined by himself and his actions (well, those of the strange demigod, known as the “player”, who inhabits him).

Do you want to be a reckless wizard? A cowardly fighter? A profane cleric? Do you want to kill orc babies or try to reform them? Do you want to amass personal wealth or give it all away? It’s your decision. Nobody else’s.

In this and many ways, RPGs are – perhaps uniquely among games – an exercise in freedom. In any other game you can think of, be it cricket or chess, your field of action is restricted and limited by rules. In an RPG there are really no such restrictions (or at least, there don’t have to be). Your freedom is constrained by the other players and social convention, of course; you can’t just sit at the table and openly masturbate, or eat the dice, or whatever, but that’s true of all other games as well. Where it matters, in an RPG there are no constraints.

Does this mean anything? I’m not sure, but I’ll hazard this: playing an RPG gives you an interesting insight into agency. It may be that we are all just bundles of neurons who go around reacting to things and then rationalising our decisions after the fact, as it now seems fashionable for neuroscientists to argue. But playing an RPG you get a relatively unfiltered understanding of what agency is and means: the power to make decisions and choices and then act on them.

I post this in reference to the original Traveller rules, because for some people the rules seem too light. “Who is my guy?” they might ask. Or, “My character only has six characteristics and two skills. Who is she?”

David’s point is that who your character is is what your character does. Using the characteristics of Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education, Social Standing, and your skills, as well as age and career branch, as a springboard for understanding your Player Character, you get to create your character based on what they want, what actions they’ll take to get what they want, and how they’ll go about getting what they want.

Modern RPGs are insistent that all these matters should be on one’s character sheet. (And certainly I love games that record matters of character, like King Arthur Pendragon.) But there is a wisdom as well in letting the rules sit back a little, offering the Players characteristics and skills that affect the odds of die rolls but letting the Players fill out the rest. This allows the Player Characters to be discovered as play rolls on, and change in significant ways, without bogging down the game with excess rules and die rolls that move the game away from choosing to do things and seeing how they turn out.

Always remember the example of character creation found in Traveller Book 1. Marc Miller invests the character with all sorts of details from the process that go well beyond the mechanical die rolls of rolling up skills.

JAMISON: Having just finished school, Jamison sets out to win his fortune in the world. Taking stock in himself and his personal qualities [generate all six characteristics; he rolls, consecutively 6, 8, 8, 12, 8, 9] he soon decides that his UPP of 688C89 adapts him best for the Merchant service. He visits the local starport, checks out the situation [required roll of 7+ to enlist, with a DM of +2 allowed for his intelligence of greater than 6; he rolls 5 (+2=7)] and just barely manages to convince the captain to let him sign on.

During his first term of service [survival roll required is 5+, with a DM of +2 allowed for intelligence; he rolls 11 (+2=13)] he faces no great dangers, merely ordinary day-to-day events. His application for a commission [required roll of 4+, DM of +7 allowed for intelligence; he rolls 7 (+1=8)] is a mere formality. As a 4th Officer, he proves hard working and efficient, [promotion roll required of 10+, with a DM of +1 for intelligence; he rolls 10 (+1=11)] and quickly receives a promotion to 3rd Officer. Jamison clearly feels he has found his place in life, and decides that he would like to continue in service [reenlistment roll of 4+ required, no DMs; he rolls 7] and reenlists. He has become eligible for four skills during this term of service (two for initial term of service, one for obtaining a commission, and one for being promoted): the work as 4th Officer was, at times, strenuous [Table 1, roll 1= +1 Strength] but he certainly developed his muscles. While learning the ropes of his job and of dealing with people [Table 1, roll 5= blade combat] he learns to handle a dagger. Routine operations [Table 2, roll 2= vacc suit] require that he learn to handle himself in a vacuum suit. Finally, [Table 2, roll 5= electronics] he takes an elementary course in electronics.

In his second term of service, the rapidly maturing Jamison finds himself faced with some danger [survival throw required is 5+, with a DM of +2 allowed for intelligence; he rolls 3, which is the lowest possible and still survive (3+2=5)] possibly a pirate raid, but does stay alive. His continued efficiency [promotion throw of 10+ with a DM of+1 for intelligence allowed; he rolls 12 (+1=13)] gains him his desired promotion to 2nd Officer. He signs up for a third term of service [reenlistment throw of 4+ required, no DMs, he throws 6] and is accepted. He is eligible for two skills this term (one for service, one for his promotion): He goes on a physical fitness kick [Table 1, roll 3= +1 endurance] and learns to better defend himself [Table 2, roll 4 =gun combat] using the small body pistol.

Jamison’s third term is rather uneventful [survival roll of 5+, DM of +2 for intelligence; he rolls 9 (+2=11)]. Unfortunately [promotion roll of 10+ required, DM of +1 for intelligence allowed; he rolls 8 (+1=9)] he fails the examination for 1st Officer by two points, and does not receive a promotion. Determined to succeed, he reenlists [reenlistment roll of 4+ required, no DMs; he rolls 10], He is eligible for one skill: [Table 2, roll 5= electronics] and studies electronics to increase his knowledge.

The fourth term begins easily enough [survival throw of 5+ required, DM of +2 for intelligence; he rolls 7 (+2=9)]. This time he passes the 1st Officer exam [promotion throw of 10+ required, DM +1 for intelligence; he throws 12 (+1=13)] easily, receiving his promotion and his master’s papers (including automatic pilot-1 expertise). Reenlisting again, he signs the papers to allow a fifth term of service [reenlistment roll of 4+ required, no DMs; he throws 10]. He is eligible for two skills this term (one for service and one for his promotion): he trains himself in the martial arts [Table 7, roll 5 = blade combat] choosing the cutlass and [Table 2, roll 4= gun combat] and, of all things, the submachine gun.

Beginning term of service number five, [survival roll of 5+ required, DM of +2 for intelligence; he rolls 7 (+2=9)], he stands for promotion [required promotion roll of 10+, DM +1 for intelligence; he rolls 11 (+1=12)] and is so promoted. At this point firmly entrenched in the merchant service [reenlistment throw of 4+ required, no DMs; he rolls 3] the service falls upon hard times, and in a cut-back, notifies Captain Jamison that it will no longer require his services after the end of this term. Because he has served five terms, he is eligible to retire (at CR 4000 per year). His service entitles him to two final skills: [Table 4, roll 5=pilot] He studies to improve his piloting skill, and [Table 3, roll 3= electronics] he continues his interest in electronics. Jamison now musters out of the service after 20 years of active duty. Because he is a Merchant Captain (of rank 5 on the scale of ranks), he is entitled to two extra rolls on the mustering out tables, in addition to the 5 rolls (for 5 terms of service) he has coming. He also is allowed, by virtue of his rank, +1 on all rolls on Table 1. Jamison elects to make one roll on Table 2 [he rolls 4= CR 20,000] and six rolls on Table 2 [he rolls 5 (+1=6) = +1 education; 6 (+1=7) = merchant ship; 2 (+1=3) = one middle passage; 6 (+1=7) = merchant ship; 6 (+1=7) =merchant ship; 6 (+1=7) = merchant ship]. His rolls indicate that Jamison has probably been participating in a long term purchase arrangement for the ship he has been serving on; at this point he has possession of the ship and 30 years of payments have already been made. Jamison is 38 years old, and is subject to 2 rounds of aging (one round should have been made at the end of term of service 4, but is instead being resolved at this time for simplicity; the other round is due to the end of term of service 5). He rolls twice (once for each round of aging being resolved) for strength reduction [saving throw is 8+; he rolls 12 and 9], twice for dexterity [saving throw of 7+; he rolls 7 and 6] and loses one point, reducing his dexterity from 8 to 7, and twice for endurance [saving throw 8+; he rolls 9 and 11].

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To recapitulate, Captain Jamison is now a 38 year old retired merchant captain, UPP 779C99. His skills are shown in the inset. He owns a Type A merchant ship (30 years old) and he owes 10 years (120 months) of payments before he will have clear title. He also has one middle passage, worth about CR 8,000. He has a re-tirement income of CR 4,000 yearly, and has already collected the first year’s bene-fit, which, when added to his other monies, gives him a balance of CR 24,000.

It might well be assumed that Jamison also has some slight resentment toward the Merchant service because he was denied reenlistment at the peak of his career.

Notice how much life Miller imagines for Jamison as the character makes his way through the character creation process. Notice how much attitude and point of view about himself and the world around him Miller invests in Jamison based off the rolls.

Jamison sets out to win his fortune in the world…

…and just barely manages to convince the captain to let him sign on…

While learning the ropes of his job and of dealing with people he learns to handle a dagger…

It might well be assumed that Jamison also has some slight resentment toward the Merchant service because he was denied reenlistment at the peak of his career…

…are only some of the examples. None of these qualities of character or bits of history are dictated by the numbers or written on the character sheet. But the Player had decided that for his character “dealing with people” requires a dagger!

A different person might come up with a completely different set of assumptions about who Jamison is, what his attitude toward life is, what the rolls meant, and what his history with the Merchant Marines was like.

This is the gift that a system life the original Traveller rules offers. It is less specific in nailing down the character on the character sheet… but thus much more open ended in terms of letting the Player inform the life of the character as his own imagination sees fit.

Empire of the Petal Throne: Observations about the Setting Material Within the Book


Following up on the new print-on-demand version of Empire of the Petal Throne, here’s a link to a post Dyson Logos made about the game on his blog two and a half years ago after he bought the PDF, printed it, had it bound, and began reading it…

I’m also struck by the whole “too weird and detailed to be playable” thing. The material in the EPT book is definitely no weirder than anything Jodo has written (and there’s an RPG of that), and definitely less detailed than anything published for the Forgotten Realms. It feels incredibly accessible to me, and the very familiar yet slightly weird mechanics just make it more appealing.

I think the fear of its weirdness is an artifact of the era of its release. When it was released the common frame of reference was Conan and Middle Earth and everyone was fairly comfortable with the tech level and cultural framework of those settings and all you had to do was infer various things and the rest was handled by the mass knowledge base. This setting was different. And different is scary.

EPT Statue

Today, we have tons of “different” settings and games out there. If we can embrace transhumanist themes in our sci-fi and play games that cross over into lucid dreaming and fairy tales on a regular basis, we can definitely cope with a bit of alien detail like Tékumel.

The presentation in the 1975 EPT is far from dense. It lays out a foundation sketch of the setting that is way less dense than say the descriptions of the various nations and regions in the Forgotten Realms 3e hardcover.

If anything, it’s this sketchiness that I like. It (like the best settings I’ve read) gives you enough information to run on and to make up your own games from without burying you in data.


The significance of this for this blog is that the Empire of the Petal Throne gives a Referee and players an entry point into a strange and exotic world… but doesn’t bury them under a ton of material as if they’re getting their Ph. D. in the study of some nonexistent world.

Instead, there is enough to inspire the Referee and Players, to send them off in an unexpected direction that they never would have come up with on their own, not to master the fictional details of the world but to expand them from their own imagination and invention.

Using Original TRAVELLER Out of the Box — E. Tage Larsen’s Alien Legion Inspired Setting

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The premise of the Traveller: Out of the Box series is that the original Traveller rules were a framework to allow a Referee to create his or her own settings to share with friends. Here’s an example of this in action:

Over at G+ E. Tage Larsen wrote up some notes about a Traveller game he ran. The picture above shows a collection of items and notes he used for the game.

He wrote:

Reffed my first Traveller (in a few decades) game on Saturday night and had a great time! Used my own universe, rolled up a subsector, stuck to the ’77 books and went with an ‘Alien Legion’ comic book theme.


For those of you note familiar with Alien Legion, here’s a description from Wikipedia:

“The original concept was the ‘Foreign Legion in space’ and all the legionnaires were human. … Then I created the humanoid/serpentine design that later became Sarigar and decided that the Legion should include a wide variety of species. This was in the early ’70s. By the time I got around to developing the idea further in the early ’80s, Star Wars obviously became an influence. The Alien Legion universe is a giant extrapolation of the American democratic melting-pot society where different races and cultures work together for the common good while dealing with the pluses and problems that the nation’s diversity creates.”[1]

Larsen continues…

I had the players all roll from “The Metamorphica” to create aliens. The +Johnstone Metzger book is wonderful and I’d been itchign to use it. It’s pricey though even on sale at Lulu. I almost went with the generative tables from Maze Rats which would have worked really well too. Also, tons of love on this coast for the TRAVELLER: Out of the Box Weapon Cards… I’m not the only one. I almost flagged you in this post but wanted to keep the fan boy to a minimum.

The Metzger book is enormous. So, first i had to sort of put the brakes on the tables and decide how much stuff i wanted to leak into play. I settled on letting them roll if they were mutations or more animal type creatures. Gave each player two body mutations and I think one additional physical and mental modifiier. I was running an additional Corruption mechanic that modified the Saves so they could buy into addl mutations for added Corruption.

The Metamorphica can be used in countless ways, but Larsen used it to build out aliens from countless species. Here is a sample table…

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And here is a couple of tables devoted specifically creating aliens…

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You can find a thorough video review of The Metamorphica here.

Larsen continues…

Character 1 rolled up: Birthmark, Bug Eyes, Super Charisma. Character 2: Big; Gaseous; Long legs: Multiple Personalities. Character Three: One eye; Cilia; speech impediment.

These were all friends and hardcore Story Gamers for a one-shot. Mostly we just used the Alien factor for color. Though the gaseous form and multiple personalities of Character 2 had a lot of show time. If I’d been doing a campaign or thought this through better, I’d have given them some sort of auto-success or something 1x per game on their powers. One time the charisma came up and I gave the player a dice modifier but it wasn’t a very successful resolution.

The second character had no problem losing the final conflict and narrated losing a contest as getting a hole in his vacc suit and his gaseous form being vented out into space.

Larsen pulled his game together using G+’s RPG Roulette.

So, in the tradition of the early days of the hobby, Larsen started with the kind of setting he wanted, then kit-bashed the rules to create rules that would support what he wanted. He didn’t limit himself to Traveller Books 1, 2, and 3, but grabbed material that was even outside the Traveller line to help inspire and support the kind of setting he wanted.


The New Yorker Magazine Covers Dungeons & Dragons

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As a long time New Yorker Magazine reader I was startled and surprised today to find a lengthy article about Dungeons & Dragons and its enduring, if even currently surging, popularity.

This passage sums up much of what I’ve been talking about on this blog in terms of play style…

A decade ago, when developers attempted to bring Dungeons & Dragons into the twenty-first century by stuffing it with rules so that it might better resemble a video game, the glue of the game, the narrative aspect that drew so many in, melted away. Players hacked monsters to death, picked up treasure, collected experience points, and coolly moved through preset challenges. The plotters of the game’s fifth edition seemed to remember that D. & D.’s strength lay in creating indulgent spaces (get lost in your gnomish identity, quest or don’t, spend time flirting in the tavern) and opposing whatever modes of human industry prevailed among the broader public. D. & D. now has vastly simpler rules than those found in an iTunes terms-and-conditions agreement. The structures the designers made are also simpler and more subjective. If a player thinks of something clever, you don’t have to thumb through a handbook for a strictly defined bonus. The Dungeon Master can ponder the idea for a moment—could a dwarf with low charisma, with a few well-chosen compliments, really convince a city of elves to love him?—and then decide to reward the player with an extra chance to succeed.

TRAVELLER: Out of the Box–The Expectations of a Traveller Referee at the Start of the Hobby

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On another site I read a discussion about the rules for original Dungeons & Dragons. The conversation was about Hit Points and what they “mean.”

At some point the conversation turned on the matter of killing a character if the character was tied up and helpless.

One person wrote:

Tell me there aren’t really players and refs out there who have a bound, unconscious enemy who still has 10 hit points so they have to keep rolling hits and damage with their dagger when slitting a throat to inflict enough hit points to kill the poor sucker…

Someone who had played Dungeon & Dragons with Gary Gygax at the start of the hobby replied:

Gary had to write elaborate “coup de grace” rules because the vast majority of buyers were too fucking stupid to figure out implications.

This got me thinking about a shift in the hobby that had taken place from its start until today. Reading that Gygax had to add the “coup de grace” rules meant they hadn’t been there at the beginning of the hobby. But I was well aware I could open up almost most RPGs published since the early 80s and find rules explaining in clear detail that if a PC wanted to kill a helpless opponent he could do it without having to make a roll.

Why the shift?

In a previous posts I discussed how early RPGs grew out of the tradition of Referee driven war-games such as Free Kriegspiel. By “Referee driven” I mean that the Referee makes judgment calls based on his own intuition and knowledge to adjudicate moments of uncertainty and conflict instead of constantly turning the rules. This allowed the game to move along more swiftly, as rules and calculations of odds did not have to be made for every encounter, conflict, and situations. If the Referee is not certain how to make a decision, dice would be rolled to determine outcomes randomly, often using rules and calculations to determine the odds.

The Referee did this in the role of impartial adjudicator of circumstances. At this time in the hobby he wasn’t trying to use the ruling toward and sort of “story.” He wasn’t trying to make ruling to lead the adventure to any sort of climax. His job was to provide opportunities and threats to the Players, allow them to describe their actions and responses to specific situations, make rulings that made the most sense given the imagined details at hand, and turn to the dice when needed.

So, for example, if a group of six Level 8 Player Characters came upon three 1 HD goblins, the Referee might well not bother to roll and simply describe how the PCs slaughter the goblins. If there were forces nearby that might hear the combat he might roll a d6 and determine the odds for those forces becoming alerted. He would decide the odds on the spot and make a roll.

That’s how a Referee ran an RPG in the early years of the hobby. There would be no need for special “coup de grace” rules–because if a Player wanted to kill a helpless opponent the first thing the Referee would do, before turning to the rules, would be to imagine the circumstances of the situation and make a ruling if possible.

“Hmmm…” the Referee might think, “the Lord Belanor is tied up, unable to defend himself, his neck exposed–and one of the PCs wants to slit his throat.” And then he would turn to the Player and say, “Your blade digs into Belanor’s neck as you slide it across. He tries to curse you with his final breath… but already blood is gushing out. He stares at you in shock, until his eyes become glassy and lifeless.”

Boom. No need for checking the rules. Because the Referee is there to figure this stuff out. It is assumed he is capable of making such decisions. It is, in fact, his job.

This got me thinking about the original Traveller rules. So I cracked open the books.

Here is a passage from the 1981 edition of Traveller: Book 1 in the “Special Consideration” section, which covers things like “Full Automatic Fire” and “Group Hits by Shotgun”:

Coup De Grace: Any gun or blade may be used to administer a coup de grace and kill an unconscious or unstruggling individual (person or animal) at close range in one combat round if the character using the weapon so states. Ammunition is expended, but no die rolls are necessary. A coup de grace may be administered with hands or brawling weapons using special blows, but die rolls must be made.

But if you open up the 1977 edition of Traveller: Book 1 you know what you find about “coup de grace”?


Everything else is there about Full Automatic Fire and Group Hits by Shotgun. But nothing about how you can kill an immobilized, unarmed target. Because, of course, the answer is obvious and it was assumed the Referee would make a ruling and the game would move on.

Apparently, just as Gary Gygax felt compelled to add “coup de grace” rules in later editions of D&D, so the gang at GDW felt compelled to add rules that would have seemed utterly pointless only four years earlier.

Now, there might be good reasons for layering more and more rules into an RPG text to shift the load from Referee rulings to the rules.

The most common reasons would be Referees who are really bad at the job. They made poor adjudications that made little sense. Or, worse, they behave not as an impartial judge to make rulings on fictional circumstances but to abuse or beat up the players. By making the text as explicit as possible about as many circumstances as possible the game is protecting the Players from crappy Referees.

Or, at least, that’s the theory.

The fact remains in countless cases judgments have to be made on the part of the Referee in any RPG. Now, there are two paths here: One is to encourage people to become better Referees through advice and practice. The other is to take the responsibilities of being a capable Referee away from Referees and shift those responsibilities to the text of the roleplaying game itself.

For the most part the hobby followed the second path. The rules and text changed (and have continued to change) to move the Referee away from being the impartial arbiter of actions and situations during play and into the role of applying rules from the rulebook. And this has become the default assumption of the RPG hobby.

This is why when people look to the rules of Traveller Books 1, 2, and 3 they often become boggled. “It makes no sense!” they say. “There’s no skill system!” they say. Everyone knows how to roll up a character, everyone knows how to roll up a subsector… but the actual application of playing the game with the Player Characters going on adventures and doing things is a kind of mystery.

Other details of “rules” become added in each successive edition of Classic Traveller as well. The original rules offer no Dice Modifiers for Concealment or Cover, for example. I would offer that is because the rules as printed could not anticipate with the same clarity each specific situation as well as a Referee at the table could. How much cover? What is the quality of the cover? While the rules for Cover and Concealment found in The Traveller Book are certainly useful as guidelines, to assume that Cover and Concealment would be impossible in a game of Classic Traveller before they were written into the rules would be weird.

And yet, for many people today, if the rules don’t cover something all sorts of confusion breaks out. For some people the original Traveller rules are missing so much. And I offer this is because our expectations of RPGs, and what we expect a Referee to do, has changed so much.

Because of the expectation brought from later games people assume the original Classic Traveller rules do not work. Such people can’t see the rules functioning the way they were designed to be used, because they don’t even know such a style of play is possible.

If, as a Referee, one thinks, “The Player Characters want to kill an unarmed and defenseless opponent,” and then tells they Players, “You succeed,” without even thinking to check the rules but simply because the circumstances dictate that is the ruling that makes the most sense in that moment… one is on the way to playing the game in the tradition and style it was originally intended.

This isn’t the “right” way to play an RPG, of course. But it is certainly one way. And it certainly the way the original Traveller rules were designed to be played out of the box.

Classic Traveller Rules In Action, But Not In Space

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One of the main themes of my posts about Classic Traveller is to look at the rules found in the box and to focus on how to play the game. (This is in contrast to not looking at the rules and how to play, and focusing instead on years of yammering about a setting and how it doesn’t make sense but could make sense if only everyone argued about it for another 40 years.) It is has been my belief that Classic Traveller has an excellent system for running loose and fun RPG sessions–independent of anything to do with starships or the implied setting found in the basic rules.

Recently, at a local convention, I had a chance to give this notion a test drive.

I decided to run an RPG session one evening on the fly. I hadn’t planned to run Classic Traveller but two of my friends and one of their friends who had never played an RPG all wanted a game and I volunteered to run something. I had a dice bag, index cards, and whatever PDF I had posted on this blog.

I decided to use the Classic Traveller rules as my framework. They are simple, flexible, and crazy easy to run if Old School Referee-driven-adjudication is your thing.

I established a setting: A mythic kind of place in Eternal Winter and Eternal Night. The Sun had been taken away generations ago. The PCs would be from a village along the coast where fishing still took place. A few scattered communities existed across dark, snow-covered lands. Trade existed, as well as marriages across communities.


I handed out an index card to each player for characters: “Assign the values 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 to STR, DEX, END, INT, EDU, and Social Status. Add +2 to two of those, or a single +4 to one. Give yourself a profession and write that on the top of the card. You character can do all thing things that that profession can do. Then add three more skills, the things you are really good at, which might tie to your profession or be something else. Assign a +1, a +2, and a +3, respectively to each of the skills as you see fit. Tell me who your character cares about in the village. Tell me about the god your character pays homage to. Give your character a name.”

We ended up with the chieftain’s bard, the chieftain’s thane, a whaler who loved his sons, and a witch who lived outside the walls of the town with her ailing sister.


I came up with a situation: There had been a kin-killing on the seas when two clans fought over the kill of a whale and The God of the Deep had stopped sending fish up to the surface from the ocean’s bottom. The village would die.

The PCs ended up going to the underworld to find the dead man who had not been given proper burial and returning him to the mortal world. While they were in the land of the dead the PCs saw the sun in the sky (for it, too, had died long ago) and brought back new hope to their village that the sun might return.

I ran the game a little bit like HeroQuest in that a single roll generally handle a full conflict and then we moved on to fallout and new choices. (We had only four hours and had spent some time creating the setting. I wanted to keep things moving along.

I didn’t use a single rule book or reference anything but some notes I scribbled while the Players made characters.

It was kind of RPG Convention Gold. We had a blast.

In essence, I approached resolving situations as I’ve outlined in two posts I wrote a while back. As I discovered while running my Improvised Classic Traveller Convention Game at the previous convention, my assumptions about how robust and effective the Classic Traveller are seems to be paying off for fun times at the gaming table.

Empire of the Petal Throne is Back in Print

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For those of you interested in Old School gaming, the Tékumel Foundation just announced the release of new new hardcover and softcover editions of Empire of the Petal Throne(Here is the link directly to the the books on DriveThruRPG.)

From Wikipedia:

Empire of the Petal Throne is a fantasy role-playing game designed by M. A. R. Barker, based on his Tékumel fictional universe, which was self-published in 1974, then published by TSR, Inc. in 1975. It was one of the first tabletop role-playing games, along with Dungeons & Dragons. Over the subsequent thirty years, several new games were published based on the Tékumel setting, but to date none have met with commercial success. While published as fantasy, the game is sometimes classified as science fantasy or, debatably, as science fiction.

James Maliszewski posted about Empire of the Petal Throne on his Grognardia blog:

Of course, very few gamers love Tékumel for its rules. It’s the fabulous pulp fantasy world that makes this game stand head and shoulders above its contemporaries…

I never ever saw a copy of the original rules until the late 90s. I knew of the setting, naturally, at least in broad outline — a colony world in the far future gets mysteriously shunted into its own pocket dimension where magic works. That the setting’s creator, M.A.R. Barker, was a professor of linguistics with firsthand experience of India and Pakistan, as well as a lifelong love for the pulp greats, Egyptology, and ancient American civilizations pretty much ensure that it’d be like nothing anyone had ever seen — and it is.

Tékumel is amazingly cool: a brilliant cross between a sword-and-planet and dying earth setting that evokes writers like Burroughs, Howard, Smith, and Vance without being a pastiche of any one of them. Far moreso than OD&D, Empire of the Petal Throne is a game that wears its pulp fantasy roots on its sleeve, provided you’re willing to look beneath its baroque surface. Like many things about Tékumel, its literary origins are hidden, sometimes in plain sight. It’s also the only game I’ve ever encountered that includes culturally sophisticated rationales for dungeon crawling that enables expeditions into the Underworld to serve as the axis around which a larger campaign could be structured. But then this is an old school RPG of the first rank, so this should come as no surprise.

Both the hardcover and softcover versions have the following:

  • The full text of the original TSR edition of Empire of the Petal Throne as published in a boxed set in 1975
  • Errata for the original TSR edition
  • A Citizenship Document and translation
  • A map of Jakálla – The City Half As Old As the World
  • A B&W map of the Five Empires
  • Reference Charts from the original TSR boxed set

$19.95 for the softcover and $24.95 for the hardcover version.  The Foundation has also updated the PDF version of the rules; it is still a picture scan of the rules, but it is precisely the same as the text included with the print-on-demand edition.  They intend to make a text-searchable version available free to customers who have bought the PDF, as they move ahead with other projects.