Using Original TRAVELLER Out of the Box–Symera Subsector at Dragon’s Breakfast

Screen Shot 2017-11-10 at 3.45.00 PM

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:


From the blog Dragon’s Breakfast Chris S. has posted information Symera, a Classic Traveller subsector.

There is more information on the post. But here is a sample:

BACKGROUND

The “Edge of Night” sector includes over 400 star systems and marks the furthest spinward expansion of humanity from The Earth Before. The name refers to “The Night”; a vast of rift of dust and gas, devoid of star systems, and much too wide to cross with existing jump technology. No one knows what lies beyond “The Night”; likewise, many of the sectors’ inhabited systems are largely unknown to those in more civilized space.

The Symera subsector sits near the centre of the sector. Its 32 systems exhibit a technological and population pattern typical of those regions of space devastated by the Nanite Epidemic. The high tech planets tend to be depopulated and struggle to maintain existing technology levels, while lower technology worlds have higher populations, as they were either unaffected by the epidemic and/or absorbed a great number of refugees fleeing it’s devastation. Even 400 years later, this pattern is evident. Although, as always, some individual systems are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Politically, the subsector is roughly divided between a mix of independent systems and the allied worlds of the Triple Concordance (which lies completely within the subsector).  In addition, polities from outside the subsector intrude to trailing (Hegemony of Aeo), while to spinward in the Xiaochen subsector are the worlds of the Technocratic Union.

POLITICS

Hegemony of Aeo
“The Hemegeny has no need for fanaticism; cold practicality and logic will guide us to our destiny.”
— Special Inquisitor Sivara Tizen

In the aftermath of the Fourth Interstellar war, several new and radical polities arose among the shattered remnants of the old republics.  Spinward of the old core of civilized space, the theocratic and militaristic  Hegemony of Aeo became the dominant state. In the century since the rule of “The One” began, the Hegemony has gradually but relentlessly expanded outward, swallowing independent systems and pocket empires alike. The Hegmony first appeared in the Symera subsector 30 years ago, absorbing several independent planets on the trailing border of the subsector. Though not actively expansionistic in the subsector at the moment, it continues to push its influence and policies when prudent.

The Triple Concordance
“From many comes one; though the one must never forget who comes first.”
— Chief Executive Administrator Galvin of Antigone

Faced with the threat of the Hegemony of Aeo to the trailing and the Technocratic Union systems to the spinward, several of the previously independent worlds at the core of the Symera subsector grudgingly accepted cooperation over capitulation. The three most advanced systems  (Rastafar [0207], Tortuga [0506] and Antigone [0606]) initially joined in an alliance, and then dragged in the adjacent  lower tech and less powerful systems to provide resources and buffer zones against the threats surrounding them.  The three founding worlds rule as the Tri-Council, while the other ten systems sit on a General Council which can provide advice and feedback, but has little say in decision making. The Concordance has held up well when there is a clear and immediate threat, but in less hazardous times, relations are shaky and worlds act more in their independent self interest.

Technocratic Union
“Those who rule their technology need not fear it, but may rule by it.”
— Councillor Gaius Ralu

A very loosely confederated group of high technology worlds, the Technocratic Union uses its technological advantages to gain influence over less advanced systems. It is surrounded by a loose network of client systems which gain advantages in high technology and trade from the Union. In the Symera subsector, both Vordenhaven (0104) and Symera (0205) have close ties with the Union.

Notice that three major political players are all in one subsector. Remember that in 1977 edition of Traveller Book 3 the game assumed that one subsector would be enough to keep a game going for months, if not years. (The term “sector” does not appear at all in the 1977 rules.)

Is this true? Well, looking at the power struggle sketched in just a few paragraphs it seems to me that countless schemes and conflicts are already in motion–plenty of grist for any RPG session. The first few sessions, if not months of play, could take place on one to three worlds depending on what the Player Characters focus on.

Moreover, look at the clever conceit Chris has concocted for the subsector: The Nanite Epidemic. As the text says, “The high tech planets tend to be depopulated and struggle to maintain existing technology levels, while lower technology worlds have higher populations.” This offers unexpected situations, needs, and conflicts in the Symera subsector. He has a central conceit tied to a past that could possibly be a threat in the future. (I honestly don’t know.) But it feels like something science-fiction-y is going on here.

As the high tech worlds struggle to regain power they possessed pre-Epidemic, it seems to me there will be deep motives for lots of conflict and adventure. Even in one subsector with 32 worlds there is going to be plenty for the Player Characters to do!

Remember, you don’t need a whole empire’s worth of material to engage Players in game of Classic Traveller. Build an interesting subsector worth digging into and they’ll have a fine time right there.

Advertisements

Fallen World Campaign [LotFP]–Twenty-Fourth Session

IMGP1176

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

lanxing

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:

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 4.21.09 PM

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.

Nobles
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.

Bureaucrats
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?”

Exactly.

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

pic_swampfolk

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.

ef8288e4b358f2ff06dd85fca084d9d5--art-cards-.jpg

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.

The New Yorker Magazine Covers Dungeons & Dragons

Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 7.29.03 AM

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.

Classic Traveller Rules In Action, But Not In Space

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 6.48.40 AM

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

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 11.23.33 PM.png

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.

TRAVELLER: Out of the Box–The Use of Planetary Government in Traveller

scifi-fantasy-art-artwork-science-fiction-futuristic-original-adventure-fantasy-wallpaper-1

Following up on the post about building a system from the Universal World Profile:

In the original Traveller rules (Traveller Books 1, 2, and 3) the UWP is a tool for the Referee to help create compelling worlds for the Player Characters to encounter and adventure in. The UWP, in these early rules, are not created by the Imperial Interstellar Scout Service (there is no IISS in Books 1, 2, and 3). It is not an “in-fiction” piece of information to be handed to the Player Character via Library Data. Because it doesn’t exist in the fiction. Again, it is a tool for tracking certain rules elements — Law Level, for example, or the effect the world’s diameter will have on the gear that can be carried. And it is a spur to the imagination, providing a shorthand of key details in the broadest strokes… but it is not a literal description of the world itself.

We know it is not a literal description of the world based on an essay Marc Miller wrote in 1982 for High Passage called Planetary Governments in Traveller.

The essay begins:

One of the social factors in the Universal World Profile is called government type, and it purports to indicate the style by which the local government rules itself (or is ruled by others). The list of government types is long and spans the available options from the simple participating democracy to the esoteric charismatic oligarchy. Most notable, however, is the absence of some routinely expected government types; types such as empire, presidency, or monarchy. Similarly, breakdowns such as aristocracy, plutocracy, or matriarchy are also omitted.

The reason, in reality, is that they are not omitted or absent; the many varied types of government which can be imagined all fit into the basic scheme given in the Traveller government tables. To understand this, 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.

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.

The big take away from the quote above (emphasis added) is that the government factor is built to create elements for the Player Characters to interact with. The totality of what a planet’s government is or might be is not described in the UWP.

Thus, the UWP isn’t trying to be a taxonomy of “reality.” It is establishing details that will push at the Player Characters and which the Player Characters will interact with directly.

As Miller explains above, “Monarchy” can be many of the Government types, because what matters is whether the Monarchy interacts with the public (which means the PCs) through the interface of an Impersonal Bureaucracy, Religious Dictatorship, and so on.

The text in the 1977 edition of Book 3 is clearer about these matters in its description of government types. Examples:

GOVERNMENTAL TYPE

0       No government structure. In many cases, family bonds will predominate.

1       Company/Corporation. Ruling functions are assumed by a company managerial elite, and most citizenry are company employees or dependents.

2      Participating Democracy. Ruling function decisions are reached by the advice and consent of the citizenry directly.

3     Self-Perpetuating Oligarchy. Ruling functions are performed by a restricted minority, with little or no input from the mass of citizenry.

4     Representative Democracy. Ruling functions are performed by elected representatives.

5     Feudal Technocracy. Ruling functions are performed by specific individuals for persons who agree to be ruled by them. Relationships are based on the performance of technical activities which are mutually beneficial.

6     Captive Government. Ruling functions are performed by an imposed leadership answerable to an outside group. A colony or conquered area.

7     Balkanization. No central ruling authority exists; rival governments compete for control. Law level refers to government nearest the starport.

8     Civil Service Bureaucracy. Ruling functions are performed by government agencies employing individuals selected for their expertise.

9     Impersonal Bureaucracy. Ruling functions are performed by agencies which have become insulated from the governed citizens.

A    Charismatic Dictator. Ruling functions are performed by agencies directed by a single leader who enjoys the overwhelming confidence of the citizens.

B     Non-Charismatic Leader. A previous charismatic dictator has been replaced by a leader through normal channels.

C     Charismatic Oligarchy. Ruling functions are performed by a select group of members of an organization or class which enjoys the overwhelming confidence of the citizenry.

D     Religious Dictatorship. Ruling functions are performed by a religious organization without regard to the specific individual needs of the citizenry.

The focus is on the term “ruling functions” in each definition of each government type.

This term does not appear in later editions of the rules when describing government type and the whole idea of the UWP begins to shift. Thus, the 1981 edition of the game removed the words “ruling functions” from the description of Government Types. And in time the UWP would become a creation of the IISS to be handed to the Player Characters… even though the UWP is there as a prod to the imagination, to be as elastic and useful to the Referee in creating a world but not any sort of literal description of the world.

And once we add on the details that really flesh the world out as we daydream about the UWP then the UWP will tell us almost nothing about the world in many respects. (See the link at the top of this post for an example of what I’m talking about.) The UWP will barely scratch the surface of how interesting a world is once the Referee starts working up notes.

That is, if we are willing to use the UWP as a jumping off point rather than a limit to what the world can be.