Old Empire: The General Setting

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I’m using the name “The Third Imperium”–because who doesn’t love the name Third Imperium! I love the idea of layers of civilization rising and falling.

But my setting has nothing to do with GDW’s Official Traveller Universe.

Instead, we get this:


FROM THE ASHES

A thousand years ago the Long Night fell, leaving many worlds in ruins. Many worlds survived as well, but did so without the ability of space travel or communication with other worlds. 

Tales of the Old Empire remained, bolstered by ancient cities and space stations floating in the sky over head and seen at night.

But for the most part survival took precedence. Over time the artifacts of the past—those few that remained—became an unnoticed part of landscapes across a dozen worlds.

The world of Bavraa, however, though crippled by the Long Night, never stopped thinking and dreaming about the past glories of the Old Empire. The nobles houses of the Bavraa worked tirelessly to repair its fallen technology and reclaim the glories of previous generations.

Bavraa began a renaissance of the Old Empire 200 years when it began construction of its own Jump Drives.

Merchants and diplomats traveled to nearby worlds, announcing the rebirth of the Old Empire (or The Empire). In the time since it has expanded its reach, heading out across the Bavraa Subsection.

The nobles of Bavraa do not see themselves as starting a new Empire, but rather that they are building a seamless continuation of the Second Imperium. Or, as it is often called, The Old Empire.


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THE OLD EMPIRE (BAVRAA)

Bavraa culture demands loyalty to the bloodlines going back to the Old Empire. Social status along genetic lines is a given and noble houses are intertwined in both family and loyalty. (Proper mates from outside the royal families are sometimes brought into the fold to ensure healthy gene pools—often without consent.)

The Bavraa noble houses are certain that they, and all the people of Bavraa, are the true heirs of the Old Empire and rulers of the worlds around them. And currently they are the only source of any interstellar technology in the region.


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THE ARRIVAL OF THE THIRD IMPERIUM

One hundred years ago the first scouts arrived from the Third Imperium. The scouts kept their distance, stunned to find several worlds had survived the Long Night and were rebuilding their interstellar technology independant of the Third Imperium.  Fifty years later the first envoys from the Third Imperium made contact with the leaders of various worlds.

Some contacts went better than others. 

The ruling houses of Bavraa declared as one that all worlds for twenty parsecs around Bavraa were off limits to all Imperial ships and troops. Any ships or troops bearing the Imperial Sunburst within those boundaries would be seen as declarations of war.


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A NOBLE HOUSE OF THE THIRD IMPERIUM ON DAVRAS

The native T’Kenkar of Davras, which had weathered their ice world’s hostile environment with ease and helped protect millions of humans over the centuries of the Long Night, invited the Third Imperium to establish a base on their world. They did this even though Davris falls within the boundaries Barvaa declared off-limits for the Third Imperium.

Most people believe the T’Kenkar did this to slow the advance of the Bavraa noble houses in their efforts to rule the subsection. But others note that the T’Kenkar are alien and mysterious and might have reasons no one can quite understand.

Emperor Gildun of the Third Imperium accepted this offer and awarded House Djaout a charter to establish a starport and trading base on the ice world.

Conflict—both hot and cold—broke out between Bavraa and Davras immediately. Duke Djaout keeps his troops on Davras. And no ships bearing the Imperial Sunburst are allowed to ply the space lanes. Instead, House Djaout keeps a low profile, using subsidized merchants and private contractors to carry out acts of espionage, trade, piracy, and covert war.

House Djaout has kept a low profile within the cluster, sponsoring ships that sail without the Imperial Sun and keeping his troops on Davras. Bavraa cannot–yet–prevent all trade and commerce between nearby worlds and the “Thirders” (as citizens of the Imperium are called). Over the past three decades more travellers and ships have arrived in Old Empire from beyond the Dead Worlds.

They are outsiders, sometimes welcome and sometimes not.  The rules are not always clear as to where Thirders fit into the social fabric in the Old Empire–and so danger arrives without warning on occasion. All of them know it is better to hide any symbols from the Third Imperium, and ships are repainted to remove markings of Third Imperium culture.

Such travellers work as merchants and soldiers of fortune as they make their way through the stars and across the worlds Bavraa hopes to rule one day.

But this does not mean the tension between Bavraa and the Third Imperium does not get hot. A year ago a ship activated its Jump Drive while docked at the B-Class starport House Djaout had built, causing a terrible explosion that shattered the starport and killed hundreds of people. The damage knocked the starport down to a C-class rating and it is now being rebuilt. No one claimed responsibility for the attack (if it was an attack), and while most people assume it was the work of House Itzcoatl of Bavraa, Duke Djaout has declared he has no proof to determine who was responsible and is still seeking leads. The noble houses of Bavraa offered to send aid. The duke refused it.

House Djaout has been tasked with destabilizing and delaying the efforts of Bavraa to unify the worlds around it under its rule. The Third Imperium is playing a long game. A full invasion would leave their home forces depleted and their troops months away. Instead, they want to build slowly, cripple the growth of the Old Empire where they can, and keep expanding at their own pace back home.

The noble houses of Bavraa, led by House Itzcoatl, know the Third Imperium is far away. They do not want to be so overt that they draw the attention and military might of their distant neighbor. If the noble houses of Bavraa can let the conflict remain calm and low key for enough time, they believe they can build a defense that will keep the Third Imperium at bay when they finally arrive in force.

And so piracy is sanctioned by both sides. Cover operations are always underway. Each side tries to curry favor and win the friendship of worlds within the subsection.

Old Empire: The Bavraa Subsector

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Here we go. Rolled up subsector in a patch of space which I have called the Bavraa Subsector.

The data:

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Taking my own advice I will start small, focusing on the Bavraa Cluster, which gets turned into this:

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I Pitch Classic Traveller to My Group

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My Monday Night Group is in a bit of flux. One player we have been holding a spot for after she finished getting her Legal Librarian degree ended up getting her first job in another city. Another Player has left the country for a few months to shoot a show.

We had just finished up another wonderful campaign of Unknown Armies 3rd edition, tried out Forbidden Lands (a blast!) before these two players bid farewell.

I wanted to keep going with my Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign, but decided to wait until the Player currently in Budapest gets back.

With that in mind I pitched the four remaining Players in the group three games to keep us happy for the next few months. The games were:

  • King Arthur Pendragon
  • Classic Traveller
  • Sorcerer & Sword (the supplement for Ron Edward’s Sorcerer)

The Players all chose Traveller as the first of their choices. So we’re playing Classic Traveller.

I had sent out an email with a description of each game. Here is the game I sent out for Traveller:


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Traveller is Old School/Rules Light. Mostly conversation between Referee and Players, the Referee adjudicating rolls and outcomes on the fly. A lot like Lamentations in that most of what you end up doing is not covered on your character sheet.

The premise is that each of you have served in an mustered out of services of the Third Imperium, which is currently expanding outward and reclaiming worlds after The Long Night.

Many, many light years away, beyond countless parsecs of dead worlds, news has come of another area of civilization, lost for hundreds of years to your people. A new frontier not yet touched by the Third Imperium, and still holding lost wonders and treasures of the Old Empire.

A few expeditions have been launched, a few diplomatic missions, and a noble house has been sent to establish contact. But the peoples of the Old Empire have their own agendas and fights.

Each of you are men and women who have decided that you don’t quite fit in at home in the Third Imperium. And either from wanderlust, a need to know more about the universe, greed, a need to cause trouble, a desire to find a patch of space to rule, a path of vengeance that leads across lights years, or any other strong, emotionally grounded reason, you have decided to travel to this distant patch of space and see what there is to see.

I should make this clear now: Traveller does not have an experience system. You define the goals you want. I provided obstacles and opportunities and we find out what happens. The only thing that is going to matter at the table is what interests you in terms of what you want to get done. You make up a person who

a) feels like a real person and

b) is someone who chooses the life of exploration as established above.

Think in terms of the Western Territories after the Civil War or the Indian Subcontinent during the British Empire. (And all the problematic Colonialism that entails!) Mix this with a mix of worlds, some broken and poor, others still technologically advanced, along with politics, trade disputes, and you’re kind of on track.

Look to movies (and characters from the movies) like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, The Wild Bunch, Gunga Din, The Man Who Would Be King, as well as the series Firefly, and others for inspiration about the types of people we’re talking about. Where the characters fall on the moral spectrum is up to you all. We can have hard-bitten mercs or romantics searching for lost mysteries of the ancient past… and a mix of types. You decide this.

Fallen World Campaign [LotFP]–Twenty-Fifth Session

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My Lamentations of the Flame Princess Fallen Worlds campaign is still going… but with long breaks on and off. One of the members of the Monday Night Group is in another city at school. And since the pleasure of the game is built from the weird alchemy of the players at the table, I’m content to wait until we’re all gathered. (We got in a few sessions in December when she was back in town on break.)

We keep playing games. All sorts of games! I’ve Refereed a few games along the way as well. (We just wrapped up several months of 5e which was a lot of fun. A lot of heavy mechanical lifting… which was fun! But I’m looking forward to mechanical simplicity again. More on that in posts to come.)

I started typing this post months and months ago, catching up on the Lamplighters as they began their foray into Qelong Valley.

There was a lot of ground to cover. In particular I want to look back at what worked and did not work as I sat myself behind the screen again. Several session have occurred since this post. But I wanted to get this up on the blog!


The Lamplighters made their way up the Qelong River in a boat they bought. They kept two squads of mercenaries they brought with them from earth (or, rather, their earth) and left the rest of them guard the Das Forscher. They reached a poverty stricken village and sought out information about the fortress further upriver they had heard about. But the village was under the control of cannibals who sprang out from hiding when the group was scattered. The combat ranged across the village as the PCs worked to regroup. They ended up losing some of their mercenaries. The found out that the land seemed poisoned by the aakom that powered the magical weapons lobbed over the mountains by the arch-mages fighting their war beyond the Qelong Valley.

I wasn’t particularly happy with this session. It was the second session I had really prepped out a fight and tried to have a set piece of action. (The first was the fight in the village of Bergenzel (aka Scenic Dunnsmouth) and that one went gangbusters.) I think the key is that in this fight they were fighting only for survival after being ambushed (that is, they were only fighting), whereas in Bergenzel they had an actual agenda (find and destroy the Spider Cult). In the Bergenzel fight they had chosen to go after the danger, could decide to press on with things got crazy (and they got crazy) or choose to abandon their goals, they found themselves in the face of multiple factions and had to sort out what was going on in the middle of combat. All in all there was more going on than the fight itself.

So, pro tip to me: A fight for the sake of a fight in and of itself (in other words, survival) is actually kind of boring in an RPG, but a fight where something beyond fighting for survival will be interesting–or at least have a  better shot at being interesting.


The Lamplighters continued upriver, but setting their boat ashore and working their way up through some marshland in order to avoid being seen by patrols from Fort Hawk. They saw villagers tending to crops a few hundred yards away. And then they saw Naga-kin (though they had never seen such beasts before so I did not name them) rise up from the waters and attack the villagers.

So, in contrast to the previous fight, the Players/PCs now had a choice about what to do. (Several, really.) They could try to sneak past the Naga-kin. They could engage directly to protect the villagers. They could head back to their boat and try to slip past the Naga-kin on the water. They could retreat from the entire situation. All-in-all, more possibilities and choices. 

Also, and I just realized this, the situation was not static as it has been in the village. In the village the the villagers were just going about their business waiting for an opportunity to attack someone. Nothing was in motion, and this cut down on the tactical and strategic elements the PCs could engage with (physically or intellectually) until the trap was sprung. And when it was sprung, the only thing to do was fight for survival. There were no moving part but their own skins.

But in this encounter, the PCs saw first the villagers, then second the Naga-kin attacking them. This meant that right off the bat something was happening that had nothing to do with them. The world was alive with its own energy and motion, and the PCs now had choices to make about getting involved or not.

This is an important lesson I want to carry forward in my own Refereeing: An encounter with a monster (cannibals, for example) is not interesting. An encounter with a situation is interesting.

I’ll point everyone to this post on encounters, particularly the point where Mike Wightman talks about rolling three times on the Classic Traveller Patron table and a final time on the Encounter table. He then lets his imagination cobble together a larger situation using these elements. As he wrote on another website:

Easiest way is with an example (note that this is using the 81 version of LBB3 – Starter Edition and The Traveller Book actually have much more comprehensive tables)

I roll on the patron table and get:

rumour, avenger, army

next I roll on random person encounter

workers, animal encounter (a roll of 6,n I take as animal or alien) and ambushing brigands.

I pick the starting encounter:

Lets say the players encounter some workers who are obviously agitated, discussion with them reveals that the industrial plant they have been operating has been closed due to rumours of some violent native beast, and that some hotheads are thinking of going to hunt the animals down. There is a rumour that the animals in question have highly valuable (insert whatever you want here – anagathic glands, valuable fur, expensive blubber – whatever).

Players may or may not join the hunt, but they have been seen talking to the workers.

Next encounter depends – if they go on the animal hunt then they may encounter the ambushing brigands who are also after the animals, or they may encounter the army patrol guarding the industrial site and containing the animals.

If they don’t go on the hunt they are approached by the avenger who has lost (family member, best friend, whatever will pull players in) and offers to guide the players past the workers/army guards to get to the animals.

If they went along with the workers they may still encounter the avenger being attacked by the brigands/army patrol.

It’s fairly organic – I may decide to change the encounter order in response to player actions, and reaction rolls may make things more tense than they need to be.

And at some point I have to generate the animal stats…

This method reminds me of the terrific work in Hot Springs Island, a rather extraordinary system-neutral OSR setting. (There are no stats in the setting, allowing the Referee to both choose what rules system to use, but to create the difficulty for the party as needed.)

Hot Springs Island is a point crawl of an island of several dozen hexes, as well as several specific sites mapped out in detail (cavern systems, abandoned observatories and so on). The setting has several recursive encounter tables the Referee uses to create encounters either ahead of time or on the fly. But significantly the encounter involve not a single creature or group of creatures, but members of several factions that live on the island in conflict with each other or encountering each other. You don’t just come across an ogre, you come across an ogre battling to take hold a treasure from lizard men.

Note that this makes, again, the environment feel alive. The Players learn about the conflicts between the factions on the island not because the Referee reads them a text box but because they encounter the factions in conflict right before their PCs’ eyes. They can choose to step into the fight on behalf of one side or another in order to gain allies, or to try to wipe everyone out.

Like Wightman’s method quoted above, the setting is not about creatures waiting for the PCs to come along and fight them, but creatures and characters with their own agendas and concerns. By finding them in the middle of their own actions and motivations the world opens up, giving “hand holds” both for information about the world and for the PCs to engage in these lives in motion if they so choose to. This means the game can spin out into unexpected directions.


The fight itself was fun for several reasons:

First, because the Player Characters had chosen to engage the Naga-kin in order to protect the villagers. They want to earn the trust of the villagers to get more information about Fort Hawk, and so they had their own reason to fight. (Instead of fighting only because some random monster wanted to fight.)

Second, the fight was rough. The PCs are now fifth level and had gotten used to their hit points keeping them fairly safe during combat. But the Naga-kin are tough (their high HD gives them bonuses to hit) and they gouged hit points left and right from the party. They were damaging the Naga-kin, but not at a rate fast enough to guarantee they’d survive.

Characters were close to death, some going unconscious, until the magic-user was one of the few characters with full Hit Points. But she had acquired the spell Time Stop back in the village of Bergenzel. She cast it, successfully stopping time in the universe for five rounds just as a Naga-kin was about to pierce here with a trident.

In those five rounds she managed to: Draw and drive her dagger into the neck of the Naga-kin in front of her (killing it), draw a pistol from the Cleric’s brace and fire at another Naga-kin (killing it), and fire Magic Missile at a third (killing it). All in all it was an awesome moment of D&D play.

It also proves my theory that the Referee shouldn’t be too worried about giving out cool candy to the Players Characters. Yes, there will be moments when they are really powerful (Time Stop is powerful!) but the Magic-User can’t cast it all the time and there will be times when pulling out the stops with an extraordinary power not only keeps the party from being wiped out, but allows for a fantastic, cinematic moment to take hold at the table.

Using Original TRAVELLER Out of the Box — Tales of the Wizard Nebula

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Over at Tales of the Wizard Nebula, John Miskimen is putting together an original setting using Starter Traveller, along with Mayday, Snapshot, and Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium.

He’s well on his way to nailing down most of the conceits. You can go check out what he’s already done. He’s a portion of what you’ll find on the page, as he lists his agenda for the setting:

Things I want out of this game setting:

  • Slower FTL Travel. 
  • AI created Jump Gates that even out to six months per parsec Jump.
  • Cold Sleep pods replace Staterooms on intersteller vessels
  • AI is very much a part of the setting.  The very first AIs developed in The Deep Web almost a century ago, where they could develop and grow with controlled (by the AI) human interaction. When they emerged, they were more advanced than their designers and have lent limited aid to their creators, that which aids the AIs themselves as some would contend.
  • The AI developed robotic servants to maintain their digital existences in the so called ‘real world.’ There is very little direct interactions with humans
  • Mankind has developed various technological breakthroughs with AI assistance, such as cloning, android creation, and improved robotics. Some speculate that this has only happened to better affect the merging of AI and biological life.
  • Meanwhile, with the development of Jump Gates, various Mega-corporations have sponsored  travel to the stars and created several colonies. Naturally, the Military has mirrored this endeavor, but in reality, it was the corporate world that conquered space travel.
  • Private space travel is a luxury and not particularly commonplace. Star travel is dominated by majority trade operations and military applications.

The Oak — Player Characters for a School for Young Wizards (Powered by the Apocalypse)

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I wrote about how I wanted to do a couple of sessions about young kids at a wizard’s school for my Monday Night Group. I dug around, came across Simple World, a smartly stripped down version of PbtA, and decided to run with it.

This past Monday the Players made characters and I “followed them around” when they were getting ready for bed in the giant tree that houses the school. We learned a lot about the kids (they are adorable) and then a crisis struck…

In order to make the characters I gave them the blank character sheet I had made and the basic rules as well as a list of names from the Story Games Names Project to help focus everyone in on the setting. I gave them a list of Welsh names from a portion of the Arthurian List. (I’m going for a Black Cauldron/ The Chronicles of PrydainI vibe.)

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Here are the characters:

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Eheubryd is the daughter of a local Duke who ran away to the Oak to learn magic. She’s a tomboy and brave and adventurous and she’s going to be the best wizard ever.

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Avagdu is a 2-year resident and ward of the Oak after The Skull Faced Man depopulated his village but missed him. He does most of his chores before bed, keeps quiet, and stays attentive. The Oak’s wards keep the night from whispering to him.

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March is an 8-year-old boy whose father is a shapeshifter who likes to take the form of a shark. Essentially March is the innocent son of a Lucius Malfoy type. March is placed into The Oak one morning after dad had an exceptionally violent half-shark night where he hunted down March to eat him.
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Bryony is a 9 year old who was stolen as an infant by the Fay. She has been at the Oak for a year after being returned from service in the Unseelie Court.
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Using Original TRAVELLER Out of the Box–Symera Subsector at Dragon’s Breakfast

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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:


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.

Fallen World Campaign [LotFP]–Twenty-Fourth Session

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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.

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

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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:


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.

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.