Prepping for my Classic Traveller Convention Game–Weapon Cards

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 2.45.51 PMThis is another post in a series of tools I’m building to make running Classic Traveller easier for me. Although an upcoming convention has put a deadline on these tools, I’ve been meaning to do them for a while as I would use them in any Traveller play.

This third installment is perhaps, for people who really love Classic Traveller, the boldest and most interesting.

As we all know, when attacking with a weapon, one makes a Throw for an 8 or higher on 2D6. This roll is modified by several factors:

  1. The character’s weapon expertise
  2. Modifiers due to the character’s Strength or Dexterity not being high enough to handle the weapon properly
  3. Modifiers due to the character’s Strength or Dexterity being high enough to provide an advantageous DM
  4. A DM produced by cross-referencing the weapon with the armor the weapon is being used against
  5. A DM produced by cross-referencing the range of the particular weapon to the target
  6. A character may use his expertise level in his brawling or blade weapon weapon as a negative DM when engaged in brawling or blade combat
  7. Characters suffer a DM when the number of rounds they’ve used a Brawling or Bladed Weapon exceeds the value of their Endurance
  8. DMs based on conditions (darkness; shooting at a target firing from cover) and so on.
  9. Any other DMs the Referee chooses to apply.

That’s a lot of modifiers to add up!

It’s especially tricky in regard to the Weapon/Armor matrix and the Weapon/Distance matrix. There’s two tables, lots of rows and columns, and even though the DMs might not change very much in a given combat, lots of people end up checking them on each roll because there’s no clever place to log combat DMs for a given combat.

A while back I read a post from a poster named Supplement Four at Citizens of the Imperium in which he described how he wrote out the DMs for a weapon on an index card. If a character picked up a new weapon, he got a new card. If a character handed off a weapon to a compatriot, the player handed that card over.

I loved that idea.

I also know that dealing with the Weapon/Range Matrixes and the Weapon/Armor Matrixes can be a bear and slow down combat. I know that the the old Judges Guild Traveller Referee Screen did a great job of combining these two matrixes into one table to get a throw number, like this:

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Which seemed like a great idea, but still was a pain in the neck in terms of lookup, as the table was so big. (The section above only covers Blade weapons and animals weapons. The whole table includes firearms and three more ranges.)

So I decided to combine Supplement Four’s idea with the Judges Guild screen. I went in whole hog and made up a complete set of Classic Traveller Weapon Cards. That link will lead you a PDF with every weapon from Traveller Book 1, as well as the bows and crossbow weapons from Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium.

If you look at the card, you’ll find the information to determine:

a) the Throw required for the weapon based on target armor and distance
b) the DMs for the weapon based on the character’s Strength or Dexterity.
c) a space for the Player to write in his character’s “Personal DM.” (Personal DM is the DM based on the PC’s weapon expertise added to the DM for Strength or Dex.) See the handwritten element in the upper left cell as an example.

[Note that while the DMs for minimum and advantageous characteristics are listed at the top right, you don’t need to calculate them for every Throw. They are already added into the Personal DM. They are there for reference if characteristics drop from combat or rise due to training. For this reason, the Personal DM cell should be marked in pencil. It can rise and fall because of characteristics.]

This is an example card for a Player Character called Mattos, one of my convention pre-gens. Mattos has an expertise of Blade-5.

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If he gets near you, he is going to manhandle you and drive that thing right up into any soft spots in your armor. (Soft spots he has studied and knows quite well.)

When it comes to the brawling and bladed weapons, a PC can use his weapon expertise as a -DM to parry the attackers blows, so the expertise should be placed after a slash in the Personal DM cell. (See example above.)

So, to do damage to an opponent
1. The Player rolls 2D6
2. Addes the DM from the Personal DM cell
3. Sees if the total value is equal to or greater than the value found by cross-referencing the armor and range.

There might be situational DMs (cover, darkness), DMs due to exceeding Endurance for the number of Blows, or DMs the Referee adds. But certainly having the cards above makes even these additional elements much easier to sort out.

The PDF has four of the same weapon per page, with most weapons repeated across two pages (for a total of eight cards per weapon). I did this so I can print them out in one printing and have enough for the whole group if everyone is carrying the same weapon, and have one for the Referee as well.

I know many people prefer coming up with news systems or using Striker or Snapshot for their rules. I am intrigued, however, with the notion that different weapons are better against different types of armor and that you want the right tools for the job. I also like the fact that certain weapons drop dramatically in effectiveness at different ranges. (If someone gets right in your face while you’re carrying a Rifle, that Rifle is not as effective as his dagger, for example.)

There’s lots of info I could have added to the cards: Ammo capacity, weight, and so on. I tried all of this, in different permutations. I even tried placing the information on the back. Ultimately each of these designs became too unwieldy. I opted to keep it streamlined and simple. If you need to know what you need to roll with the base DMs, this is what you look at.

To track ammo, I suggest a scrap of scratch paper or index card. I also suggest using something like the Gear Sheets I linked to in this thread. In this way, all the book keeping of weight and ammo is on one sheet, and you look at that when that’s what you want to check. And you look at the Weapon Card when you want to find out what you need to hit.

Other people will design such tools in different ways. This is how I decided to make these.

So, if these are of use to you, print them, cut them into quarters, and you’re good to go!

The idea is that if the Player has this:

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And this:

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And this:

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In front of the player he should be able to have any information he needs for play at the tips of fingers at a moment’s notice.

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Prepping for my Classic Traveller Convention Game–Gear Sheets

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The other day I posted the character sheets I’ll be using for the game this weekend. The idea is to strip the game down and keep things clear. Because of the limited time for the convention, I want to have as many of the tools of play ready to go and easy to read for the players. But if I were starting a new Traveller campaign I’d probably do the same thing.

Classic Traveller uses old sensibilities and tools, which lots of people might not be familiar with. It is, for example, a game of limitations. Different weapons are more or less effective against different types of weapons. Do you have the rights weapons for the enemy at hand? If not, what are you going to do about that? Do you have the right tools for the problem at hand? If not, what are you going to do about that?

Encumbrance rules, which are not features in many contemporary games, are part of the sensibility and tools of the game.

  • Characters can only carry a weight in kilograms equal to the value of the Player Character’s Strength before they become encumbered. A Strength of 7 allows the character to carry 7kg.)
  • A character can carry up to double the value of his Strength in kilograms, but lose 1 point off of his three physical attributes while carrying the extra weight.
  • A character who is part of a military force (mercenary unit; combat unit; troop unit) may carry up to triple his or her strength in kilograms, subject to a reduction of 2 in strength, dexterity, and endurance.

Keep in mind that the values of Strength and Dexterity affect how effective a character is with blade weapons and firearms, respectively. So, as these values go down, the character might lose Advantageous DMs for weapons, or might even suffer penalties for falling below the required value to handle a weapon efficiently. The penalties will also affect how well a character handles himself in combat, allowing an effective shot to take a character down more quickly.

Notice that Traveller provides choices. It is not that there is an absolute limit the character is working with. A character can carry a heavier load, but at consequence. These kinds of choices are, I think, very much part of the feel of the game. You don’t always get everything you want in Traveller, but you are given choices about what you need the most.


The gear sheets are set up to match the pregens I posted, with one card per Player Character. (See the name at the top of each.)

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The gear sheets are already filled in with the weapons the character starts with, along with the weight of the weapon, weight of the ammo.

The table also includes what I call the “Personal DM” of any particular weapon. I’ve defined Personal DM as the value of any Skill the Player Character might possess added to whatever value should be factored in from the Minimum or Advantageous values for Strength or Dexterity for a particular weapon.

So, for example, in the gear sheet above:

  • Moynahan has a Revolver-2
  • With his Dexterity 7 he has the minimum to use the Revolver without a penalty DM, but not enough to gain and advantageous DM.
  • Thus, we add the DM of +2 from his skill, and a DM of 0 due to his Dexterity and end up with a Personal DM of +2. (I hope I got all the values correct! There were lots of little numbers!)

By adding this pre-calculated value to the Weapon Cards I’ve made we get a Throw value very quickly.

The idea is to have these as many values percolated so the Players don’t have to worry about this stuff at the start of play. And if they pick up new weapons there is a template in place for theme to sort out the calculations and fill in the blanks with a little bit of instruction.

Note, too, that if the characters take damage, the values for the personal DMs might drop (either losing the advantageous DM, or acquiring a -DM for failing to have the minimum value require to use the weapon efficiently.)


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I created the second table with the same agenda of making place simple and efficient for the convention game.

The logic of the setup is that the Player Characters are at the end of their ropes in a mining colony at the end of a series of jumps. They have no money left and little of person value. Simply to get back to an A or B port in the hub of commerce and trade would cost Cr16,000 to Cr24,000  (depending on the Jump Drive of the ship for two or four jumps). And that is not money they have.

I’ll be handing out a list of things like communication gear, electric torches and stuff that the players can draw from for routine gear. If they want it, they can have it. Bu it will start adding to their load out. But no weapons, no armor, no expensive stuff. So the gearing up phase at the start of the session won’t be about shopping. It will be, “How much stuff do I want to have vs. how effective do I want to be?” That’s an interesting choice.


If I were to start a campaign I would probably make each of the tables longer for each list. But I think having these details worked out as part of each Player Character’s load out helps the Players get in the minds of their characters and makes the minutia of Traveller gear–which is crucial part of the game–easy to track and reference as needed.

Here are the gear sheet sets that matches the Player Character pregens I previously posted. You’ll find the blank sheets at the end of the doc.

 

Prepping for my Classic Traveller Convention Game–A Character Sheet and 24 Pregen Characters

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This Labor Weekend I’ll be running two sessions of Classic Traveller. To get ready, I’m not only planning out the adventure (based off material I found in Chris Crawford’s Hard Light setting for Stars Without Numbers).

To prep for the game, I wanted to create Pre-Generated Characters for the Players. I love the character creation process for Classic Traveller, but it can take time for new players and in a four hour slot, time is precious.

I thought about going an easy route and writing up the characters on index cards–the way it used to be done! But I wanted something a bit fancier to pull the Players into the game. I also wanted clear labels for the “pieces” of the Player Characters, so the Players could know what each one was easily. (Simply running the six characteristics into a string wasn’t going to do. I’d have to keep telling them what each number meant.)

So I decided to build something similar to the Character Sheets that GDW created to look like TAS Forms. However, I wanted something simpler and stripped down.

Here’s the original character sheet from GDW:

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The sheet fits on a single page of the digest sized pages of the original Traveller books.

There are a lot of boxes on that sheet that we would not be dealing with: Birthworld, Dischargewold, Psionics, and the deeper military histories available through the advanced character generation rules of the later Traveller books. Moreover, in the style of play I like for older RPGs, I don’t want too deep a backstory or too much information about the Player Character’s past. The focus of play is the adventure in front of the Player Characters. Their “back story” is the first sessions of play. (I write more about this here.)

My thinking was, “Even if I leave the boxes empty, there’s just all this stuff lying around that character sheet that will beg questions from the Players.” I wanted something streamlined and to the point, so that the Players would have an idea of what they needed to focus on for the next few hours. To that end, I ended up making this character sheet:

And here’s what I ended up making:

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It has more breathing room and a little more clarity on what pieces are needed for play than the original sheet.

You’ll notice I did keep a couple of the bells and whistles: Noble Title and Retirement Pay. These elements probably won’t come into play proper. But they are par to both the setting and the background of the adventure for the characters for the following reason:

In the scenario I’m building, the Player Characters are all formers members of various branches of the military. They’ve struck out on their own (for whatever reasons) and ended up at a dead end star system where a small mining station collects and processes dense metals from a massive asteroid belt. As the scenario begins the Player Characters are just scraping by. Whatever dreams they have had about finding a fortune or settling into a more comfortable life have come to a close. But each one of them has picked up clues about a possible ruin of an ancient civilization within the asteroid built. Recognizing each other as men and women of capable qualities, they have set up a side project on the space station, comparing notes, doing more research, and building a plan. Securing an spacecraft used for repairing drones in the asteroid belt under false pretense, they head off for the location they think a fortune might wait…

So, for me, the fact that there is a noble society–but they are not part of it, that there are people with comfortable lives living on retirement–but they are not part of it… I wanted these elements on the character sheets, staring at the Player Characters the whole time. Because it is part of why the adventure is happening.

Finally, I created 24 pre-generated characters, six each from the branches of the Marines, Navy, Army, and Scouts. I took them from Traveller Supplement 1: 1001 Characters and wrote them on the character sheet. I’ll set them in four groups on the table and say, “Which branch do you want your character to have served in? Pick one from the respective pile.”

Here’s what one of the character sheets looks like filled in.

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For my convention game, I’m assuming the Player Characters are down on their luck, have no cash, posses a weapon corresponding to any specific weapon skill they have, and tool sets corresponding to any specific skill they have. Other than that, I don’t want a lot of footing with buying gear. What they have is what they have. That’s why they’re going on an adventure. (Think of Bogart at the start of The Treasure of Sierra Madre, and you’re all set!)

I think (I hope!) the sheet will be easy to read, allowing the Players to glance down at the sheet and find whatever information they need easily and quickly. The idea was to build a character sheet that lets the Player think, “I’m this kind of guy. How do I see the world though the qualities of my guy. How does this guy choose to solve problem?”

For me, the Classic Traveller system is less about a hard and fast skill system than it is a collection of pieces for the Referee and the Players to end up making rulings (often without die rolls) based on the character concept and the information on the character sheet. This weekend I’ll be taking this view of the game out for a spin!

If you’re interested you can find the PDF with the blank character sheets and all the Pre-generated Characters here. (The blank sheets are on the last page of the document).

 

Referee Screen Sheets for Classic Traveller and a Smart Referee Screen

Over Labor Day I’ll be running two sessions of a Classic Traveller at the Gateway game convention in Los Angeles.

As is my way, I’m putting together the tables for the Referee Screen. I’ve always found that building a screen helps me learn the overall rules and see now little details fit together in ways I hadn’t noticed before.

For my Lamentations of the Flame Princess game, I got myself a Savage Worlds Customizable GM Screen from Pinnacle Entertainment. (Currently on sale at Amazon for 20% off!)

I think the Savage Worlds Screen is brilliant. It’s trifold, black vinyl landscape job, with six pockets (three in the front, and three in the back) that let you insert sheets of paper. Although it’s more expensive than a single cardstock screen, I can use it again and again for different games. Also, to repeat, they’re landscape… so I don’t feel like I’m barricading myself against my players. But I do get to hide secret things for them to find–which I think is important for the style of play I’m playing. It’s part of the magic show.

For the front pockets, I made a collage of images from LotFP products and ended up with this:

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(I no longer see the value of putting tables on the front of the screen toward the players. They’re always too far away and can’t reference the information easily.)

Then in the back I placed one reference sheet of rules tables in the left pocket.

The rules tables are things for reaction rolls, combat, and movement… the stuff that I always have to look up because it’s all little wrigley numbers that I can never remember and never want to look up because that stuff is always used when things are most interesting, intense, and exciting. (“Why not make it up?” someone is asking from the back. “Well,” I reply, “because this is the stuff that puts constraints on both myself and the Players. By using specific and set rules and numbers everyone knows what the risks and advantages are of different choices. And I like that.”)

The other two  pockets facing me are notes for the specific adventures I’m running. Again, things that I want to just be able to glance at and move on without having to pick up a book and flip through pages of material: names of NPCs, random encounter tables, and so on.

Here’s what the back looked like for The God That Crawls:

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And here’s what it looked like for Better Than Any Man:

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You can click on either of the above images for a better look at the information on each sheet.

So, for example, that Better Than Any Man has seven key NPCs, each with a name, a nickname, a key spell, and a familiar. I had read through the material several times, but the entire scenario swirls around them and I new I’d never keep them all straight. The PCs can visit or confront them in the town of Karlstadt in any order. They can try to dig up dirt on them, cast spells to learn more about them, and so on, bouncing back and forth between them. So having that central sheet in front of me meant I had the key details ready to roll at a moment’s notice.

Meanwhile, the second page covers the vital timeline of the adventure so I don’t lose track of that. And I’ve got the random encounter table in front of me, which is checked once a day as the PCs travel the landscape.

Also, I have a picture of my dog Coco ready to rock the house from behind the screen just before game time, so now you have to look at that.

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NOW FOR THE TRAVELLER STUFF

Below are the two sheets I made, pulling information from The Traveller Book. (I did a little bit of reformatting and condensing.) On these two pages I’ve got everything I need to handle rolls for Surprise, Random Encounter rolls,  Encounter Ranges, Combat details, Morale, Ranges, and more.

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Again, this is the stuff I want right in front of me when I’m running the game so I don’t have to stop and look something up just as the PCs are on the verge of getting into a dustup with some outlaws looking for the same treasure they’re after.

You’ll notice this is all Player Characters on straightforward adventure stuff. There’s nothing about Trade rolls, nothing about Starship battles. That’s because I’m not going to be dealing with that stuff next weekend. This is me getting my bearings on a game that I’ve been taking apart for a year, but haven’t really dug into in play.

If and when I get my Traveller campaign going (work and lots of other games already in progress might keep that at bay for a little bit), I’ll start with these sheets and some straightforward PC adventures to get things rolling. Then, if it looks like we’re heading into directions that will require rolls for Trade or Starship combat, I’ll make up those sheets and slip them in as needed. I’ll be able to switch back and forth to have at hand whatever kind of information I want to focus on for a given night.

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If you like what you see, here’s the link to the PDF version of the two sheets above.

And if you catch any errors, please let me know!

 

TRAVELLER: Out of the Box–More On the Value of Tables, Improvisation, and Lack of Plot

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In this post I discussed what “Encounters” meant in 1970s RPGs.

I later came across this post at Dispatches from Kickassistan called Dynamic Hexcrawl Required Reading: Yoon-Suin & Philosophy.

While the post is primarily about Yoon-Suin‘s amazing tables and design philosophy for presenting an RPG setting, it also addresses the value of randomization and tables in general.

I believe that such syntactical weight should be given to the improvisation, innovation and creation processes. Charts and tables can give you elements to play with, but it is through a conscious, creative action of building interrelations between those elements that details become facts and that facts are given life at the game table. We must interpret the data given to us and it is in that act of interpretation that data-gathering becomes synthesis, where we create something new out of the raw “A, B, C” of our data source.

This is why I love tables.

The best things that tables can be are (a) inventive (introducing new things I might not have thought about otherwise) and (b) useful. Yoon-Suin’s tables do these things on nearly every page. The book focuses more on creating interesting and useful social structures than stuff like terrain and lairs because, let’s face it, there’s enough stuff out there in other resources (or already in our brains) that reinventing the wheel isn’t always the most practical thing an author can do. But what is practical? Taking the “here, make it yourself” a few steps further than I’ve seen it done before and instead of telling me “this kingdom is like this, this other kingdom is like that,” author David McGrogan gives us different series of tables to let us figure out for ourselves what each place is like. In essence, he provides an aesthetic, you and I fill in the blanks when set about using the material. He provides the words, you and I supply the syntax.

One only has to keep the logic of this post in mind and see the value of Classic Traveller’s Main World Generation system and the use of its Random Encounter Tables. (Traveller‘s random encounter tables range from NPCs, to Patrons, to Starship Encounters, to Legal Encounters, to Animals.)

I should add that the Kickassistan post and posts like it are a corrective to folks who say, “I don’t like the crazy worlds Traveller‘s Main World Generation system offers.”

Tk Ben fair, the people who complain about the results of the Main World Generation System are  usually the folks trying to map entire an Traveller sector. That’s 16 subsectors, which averages 560 worlds! And sometimes they are trying to map multiple sectors(!), so drilling down for imaginative gold for so many planets might well prove frustrating if not impossible.

But if one remembers that in original Traveller one was supposed to develop one, maybe two, subsectors, the use of randomly generated Main Worlds as “a prod to the imagination” makes perfect sense. The system produces results that demand extraordinary justifications–and thus settings worthy of pulp adventure science-fiction.


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I think expanding the Random Patron table in Classic Traveller with some lessons from Yoon-Suin might be interesting.

Here are example tables from Yoon-Suin. In these tables the Referee determines what group the Player Characters encounter or know:

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One of the results is 6. Noble House.

Here is the table for Noble House:

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One could create such tables for a world, a cluster of stars or a subsector, to create a specific feel of culture and place. Many elements on the tables could be design as “open sets,” so instead of “Nobility” it might be “Ruling Class”–a term translatable to any kind of government system or world culture.

For something far less involved one could expand on the Traveller Patron Encounter table, modeling it on this table from Yoon-Suin:

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In this case, one would roll on the Patron Encounter from Classic Traveller, then roll on the middle column above, and then once more on the Classic Traveller Patron Encounter table. In this way the Referee doesn’t find himself simply staring at a noun (“Arsonist”). Instead, the table helps prompt action and situation in the Referee’s imagination.

Also note that in this method which NPC is looking to hire the PCs is not specified. The Referee, once he brainstorms up the situation, is free to have any of the NPCs he concocts wth this method approach the NPCs. An Arsonist might be the first NPC rolled, but it might be the Noble who hires the NPCs, knowing their is an Arsonist on his tail.


APPLYING THIS TO TRAVELLER

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Over at Citizens of the Imperium (membership required to read threads past the first post), Mike Wightman wrote up another interesting method of using the Patron Encounter table to help generate interesting results:

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…

By making several rolls on the Patron Encounter table, and letting his brain mull how they might be connected, he creates situations (not a linear adventure) for the Player Characters to wander into.

This kind of thinking–create situations for the Player Characters to wander into through the use of random tables–is often poo-pooed these days. But it was the bread-and-butter of RPG play in the 1970s.

The shift occurred when the model of publishing changed. At first, games were self-contained, with tables offering Referees and players a toolset method for creating situation, setting, and play. When you bought OD&D or Original Traveller, you really didn’t need anything else to have countless hours of play.

But, of course, that led the creators of these games with nothing else to sell. Moreover, consumers, being consumers, wanted to buy more things. Publishers obliged the consumers  by creating detailed setting and pre-built adventures.


cropped-big_thumb_5cd94fac8a576ffacd5c650d9754f745.jpgBACK IN THE OLD DAYS: SITUATIONS, NOT PRE-PLOTTED STORIES

A distinction has to be made here. The early adventures of Dungeons & Dragons were environments. That is, they had no plot and were not linear in their expectation of play. They were situations scattered around a map. What the Player Characters chose to pursue, in what order, whether to fight them, outsmart them, avoid them, exploit them, were all matters left to the Players to decide for their Player Characters.

So, as a modern example, I ran the module Death Frost Doom from Lamentations of the Flame Princess. (You can read all about my LotFP campaign if you are so interested.)

[SOME SPOILERS ABOUT DFD FOLLOW BELOW!!!]

The module is a terrific dungeon scenario. But it is structured in an interesting way:

The quest-item the PCs seek is at a “chock-point” in the geography of the dungeon, which basically divides the dungeon in half, and thus the adventure. The Players, upon having their characters find the quest object, can elect to grab the object and get the hell out of the creepy place. Or they can continue on, dealing deeper into the weirdness.

Importantly, the second half of the dungeon is where things get particularly bat-shit crazy. Even more importantly, there are events waiting in that back-back have what can have a cataclysmic, apocalyptic effect on the game’s campaign setting.

I ran the scenario knowing of two things would happen: An undead priest ruling an army of thousand of undead would rise and march on 17th Century Europe — or he would not. That, clearly, is a big fork in the road for any campaign. And I played it without any concern or expectation as to which way it would go. The Players would make choices and take actions on behalf of their PCs… and the fallout of those choices would dictate the direction of the campaign. I had no big plot, no agenda, no “right way” I wanted the “story” to go. I had no story, I had no expectations for the campaign. The campaign would, in fact, be exactly what it turned out to be, found through play, not in planning.


BACK TO TRAVELLER

If one reads the Adventure 1: The Kinunir for Classic Traveller one finds four situations, not a “story” or a campaign of any kind. The book is basically a list of suggestions for scenarios that the Referee will have to flesh out.  Adventure 1 does not assume any sort of straightforward plot. Rather, Adventure 1 assumes the Referee will be using both the material contained within its pages and all the Random Encounters Tables found in Traveller Books 1-3. These tables would be used to flesh out situations and an evening of play, adding unexpected details and situations and filling out the environment in unexpected ways.

But module design would change drastically within the first few years of the hobby.

By 1980 what I think of as “Old School” was already shifting and becoming lost. The needs of publishers are in many ways the antithetical to the promise of the early years of the hobby. Call of Cthulhu, for example, published in 1981, was firmly in the camp of very linear, very “Your Players Will Experience This” modules.

I don’t think the folks first playing D&D from 1974 to, say, 1978 would ever have imagined such a structure as the Dragonlance modules. And, I would argue, the folks first playing Traveller would have looked at The Traveller Adventure and not quite known what to make of it.

Many people enjoy these very plotted adventures–and I would never begrudge those people their pleasure. My only point is that such designs gut the original spirit of play of early RPGs.

Tightly structured adventure scenarios fall apart with too much randomness or too much freewheeling agency on the part of the PCs. Rather than find out where the campaign goes based on the mix of the PCs actions and randomly rolled details, later RPG design expected PCs to follow the paths of the adventure “correctly”–or render the investment of the module useless. Whether such play is better or worse, it is certainly different.

One of the joys of the OSR is bringing back a trust and expectation of randomness, and a love of discovering where the campaign will go through play.

“Monday Night We Awake in Yoon-Suin”

Following up on last night’s post, I sent my gaming group the following email this morning.

I gathered up the images from the Monsters and Manuals blog, which is where you can find links for Yoon-Suin in both PDF and Print form.


MONDAY NIGHT WE AWAKE IN YOON-SUIN

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 10.11.45 PMThe people of the Yellow City are many and varied, but they are united in their love for three things: opium, knowledge, and tea…

The city at the mouth of the God River has many names. The City of Topaz, the City of Gold, the City of Gods, the City of Whores. The Old City, the First City, the One City. The Grand Lady. The Great Stink. But this humble author will call it the Yellow City, which is what the people of his home call it, because of the way it glows in the light of hot sunny days…

First, the inhabitants. It never fails to impress a visitor to the Yellow City that its citizens are by turns the wealthiest, most refined, and most educated people in all the world, yet at the same time capable of the most malicious cruelties and licentious depravities. Like all those whose societies are ancient and rich, they are also cynical and filled with ennui. 

The most singular feature of their life, which strikes any visitor the moment he arrives, is their strict hierarchical stratification, which all inhabitants obey without question. In the highest strata are the slug-people, the race who built the city’s first buildings, founded its great civilisation, and who have lived there since, they say, the dawn of time. They alone are permitted to own fixed property, to import and export goods, and to attend many of the city’s libraries, archives and madrassas. They are a pompous and effete people, fascinated by clothes and fashions and the decoration of their own appearances, though they love learning and study and pursuits scientific, aesthetic and sorcerous.

Below the slug-people are human beings, who are themselves separated into castes. Some are warriors in private employ (for there is no public military in the Yellow City), others are shopkeepers or sailors, while others fight for money or sell their love (the whores in the Yellow City being notable for their beauty and skill). Their lowest rank is called the ulufo, the people who herd giant cockroaches in the darkest alleyways. These cockroaches eat the city’s litter and are in turn eaten by their herders, a sight which can be seen on any street corner around the docks and the river side. The scent of the roasting insects seemed to the humble author to resemble chestnut, though he did not eat the meat.

Lowest of all are the crab-people, who live outside the city in the mangroves and the rocks called the Topaz Islands, and are not permitted to enter the city proper except in servitude. They are unintelligent things, but strong and tough, and they are sometimes forced to do manual labour or simple tasks, on pain of death or torture and for scant reward. They are undoubtedly unfortunate and pathetic beings, very meek of character, though the people of the city think of them as the reincarnated souls of criminals and breakers of taboo, and deserving of their miserable lot. They do not generally have names, though those in employment are often daubed with paint to signify who is their master.

The humble author saw one goaded into executing a criminal: it severed the man’s head from his neck with one movement of its claw, without showing any emotion on its arthropod countenance…

I’ve been getting my notes together for the resumption of our LotFP FALLEN WORLDS campaign.

But as I’m knee deep in that tone (and we’ll be in it for a while once we start up again) I’ve decided to switch things up on Monday nigh for my own enjoyment. (Like I said I’ve got so much I want to share with you all!)

So, Monday, we’ll be in the lands of of Yoon-Suin
Inspirational Images of the Landscape…

Some thoughts on Player Characters…
A Warrior
A Magician
A Clever Thief
A Holy Man

Yoon-Suin–The Purple Land

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Am I prepping a campaign for Yoon-Suin?

Why, yes, yes I am.

There’s so much to write about this marvelous book. But for now, I’m just so thrilled to be using it–and so happy with the results so far, I’m posting just to say, “Yay!”

My Lamentations of the Flame Princes campaign is still on hiatus for a few more weeks.

We’re currently playing Unknown Armies, 3rd edition, being Refereed by another player in the group. But he’s out of town this week. So I offered to run something Monday night.

I had thought to run something like The Pale Lady as a one shot. (Which looks great, by the way.) But I realized I’d soon be neck-deep in Weird Fantasy 17th-Century nightmares once my campaign was back up and running and wanted to offer my players something with a different tone.

And since I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Yoon-Suin since I read it…

I had originally thought I’d be using Whitehack to run the setting. But time will be tight (one night, that’s it) and didn’t want to have to ease the Players into a whole new rules set. Moreover, I remembered something Geoffrey McKinney said during a podcast interview when talking about Carcosa: “The best system to play Carcosa with is the one you’re used to.” And since I’ve been running Lamentations of the Flame Princess, that’s what I’ll use.

If you’re interested, I’ve created a booklet for creating Players Characters using the rules for LotFP in the setting of Yoon-Suin. You can find it here. It’s my hope I can send it out tomorrow (Sunday) and have the Players have characters ready before the game on Monday night. Probably won’t happen, but we’ll see.

If you read the booklet, you’ll notice I’m futzing with the magic. For Magicians (which is what Magic-Users are called in Yoon-Suin), I’m switching out the typical level-based spell lists and replacing them with Wonder & Wickedness from Lost Pages. (Print + PDF copy of W&W here. PDF only copy here.) Wonder & Wickedness rebuilds the cancan magic system into seven disciplines (Diabolism, Elementalism, and so on.) The trick is, spells are not split up by level. Any Magician can cast any of the spells… but each spell becomes more powerful the more powerful the Magician becomes.

For Yoon-Suin, I want the magic to feel fresh and strange. This seems a way into doing that.

As for Holy Men (which is what Clerics are called in Yoon-Suin) different gods have different aspects (appearance) and spheres of influence (sex, the sun, love, disease, and so on). There are countless gods in the setting, and I want the fact a Holy Man chooses one god instead of another to matter. Now, again, I had planned on using Whitehack, which has a luscious improvisatory magic system. But, again, I didn’t wan to overload players with new system details and an utterly novel setting all in a one shot.

So, the variation for Holy Men is that if you cast a spell while in a situation within the sphere of influence of your god, you don’t burn your spell. And, if it’s an edge case, the Player makes a Save vs. Magic for his spell, and if he succeeds, it isn’t burned off. Note that this isn’t the sphere of influence of the spell. What is at stake is the context within which the spell is cast. Thus, I’m not limiting the spells a Holy Man can cast because of his god. But I’m encouraging him to see the world through the lens of his god’s sphere of influence. He can choose what he wants his limits and risks to be.

I’ll post more as I go. There is so much to discuss about how the book is formatted, how it reveals the setting to the Referee, how useful it is to helping create situation and adventures, how the whole thing is built not to dump a lot of data about a fictional world on me, but always keep me focused on delivering the goods to my Players so they can engage the world through their characters… but that can wait.

I’m posting right now because I’m already very happy with the ideas and campaign details the well thought out tables of Yoon-Suin is helping me generate.

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Print version of Yoon-Suin.

PDF version of Yoon-Suin.

Traveller: Out of the Box–The Tools Are Not The Setting

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This quote is from the first volume of the original Dungeons & Dragons:

DUNGEONS and DRAGONS will provide a basically complete, nearly endless campaign of all levels of fantastic-medieval wargame play. Actually, the scope need not be restricted to the medieval; it can stretch from the prehistoric to the imagined future…
–Dungeons and Dragons: Book 1 Men & Magic 
Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax

Please note how extraordinary this quote is in the context of what people came to think of Dungeons & Dragons as over time. What was originally designed to being a framework to play any setting ended up a vaguely Tolkienesque default setting in the imaginations of most people.

Some thoughts:

As noted elsewhere, Traveller grew distinctly out of the roots of Dungeons & Dragons.

Here are the opening sentences from the last page of Traveller Book 3 (1981) under the heading A Final Word:

Traveller is necessarily a framework describing the barest of essentials for an infinite universe; obviously rules which could cover every aspect of every possible action would be far larger than these three booklets. A group involved in playing a scenario or campaign can make their adventures more elaborate, more detailed, more interesting, with the input of a great deal of imagination.

The greatest burden, of course, falls on the referee, who must create entire worlds and societies through which the players will roam. One very interesting source of assistance for this task is the existing science-fiction literature. Virtually anything mentioned in a story or article can be transferred to the Traveller environment. Orbital cities, nuclear war, alien societies, puzzles, enigmas, absolutely anything can occur, with imagination being the only limit.

Please note the echo of the sensibility in this quote to the quote from Dungeons & Dragons above.

Note now this observation from Geoffrey McKinney in a post at the Lamentations of the Flame Princess site.

Ever since the 1970s, people have typically failed to distinguish between A) the D&D game and B) the sample playing pieces included with the game. Just about every D&D product is full of monsters from the standard lists, magic items from the standard lists, spells from the standard lists, and etc. I think that shows a reticence to really unleash the imagination.

I would say this observation is accurate. And I would say it is just as accurate as an observation of what happened with Traveller over the years.


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Traveller has been called an RPG Toolkit, an assessment I agree with.

You can open up Traveller Books 1-3 and construct from simple, flexible rules the setting and game you want.

Yes, there are implied setting elements. For example, communication only moves at the speed of travel. There is a military of some sort which trains the PCs before they launch their life of adventure. There is trade between the stars. Interstellar travel is dangerous in the portions of space where the game establishes play. And so on…

But even with these details questions must be asked and answer: What is on those worlds? Are there aliens? Is there high tech? Are they primitive? How closely aligned politically are worlds that are near each other? Are they at war with each other? In different to each other? How much travel takes place between them? Is the area relatively at peace? What sorts of technology astounds the average space-farer? How big are the starships? And so on.

And as the quote from Miller above states clearly, that was the original concept from the beginning. You were expected to make your own setting, since no setting was provided in Traveller Books 1-3. This means there is no Third Imperium, no Official Traveller Universe.

That GDW developed the Third Imperium over the following years, and that Traveller the game became conflated with the Third Imperium the setting over time is another matter entirely. Please note that this series of posts is all about what is found if one uses Traveller Books 1-3 as the bedrock for play, and ignores any concerns for GDW’s official setting. Note that this premise is founded on all of the quotes found above.

As Marc Miller said in an interview at Citizens of the Imperium:

Remember that the original concept for Traveller was very GURPS-ish: a generic system that could emulate every possible part of SF. And in the first year, we did very little support beyond the basic rules. It was only after we started writing adventures that the Imperium started taking shape as a real background.

This post, and the other posts in this series, works from the point of view of the original concept of Traveller, as Miller describes above.


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Traveller, then, is a framework of rules as tools to build the science fiction setting you want. It has suggestions for the implied setting in some of the rules, but even these rules can be discarded to use the “rules as tools” to build the setting you want.

From the post just linked in the previous paragraph, here at the “sample playing pieces” (as McKinney refers to them) from Books 1-3:

Traveller Tools of Play

  • Character creation
  • Personal combat rules
  • Space combat rules
  • A skill system with a specific and limited list of skills*
  • Random Rumor Tables
  • Random person encounter tables
  • Encounter range tables
  • Reaction tables
  • Random animal encounter table
  • Patron encounter table
  • Starship encounter table
  • Generating a Subsector
  • Generating system Main Worlds (UWP)
  • The various values of the UWP
  • Generating space lanes (1977 Edition)
  • Starship expenses tables
  • Starship income tables
  • Experience rules
  • Psyonic rules
  • Drugs and their effects on other rules
  • Weapons, vehicles, and equipment with effects on other rules
  • Ship component/construction tables

But here are the questions (or some of them):

What are psionics in your setting? Does there have to be a Psionics Institute per Book 3? (A rhetorical question. The answer is: no.) Could you rebuild the “playing pieces” to build a mystical religion like the Bene Gesserit from Dune? The Force from Star Wars?

The answers are: Yes.

How does Jump Technology work? Could you meld Jump Technology with psionic training? Yes, yes you could. Could you make the fuel much more difficult to find? Yes, yes you could. Could you make the Jump technology more efficient? Yes. Can you set the upper limit on Tech Levels in your setting, so that Jump-2, Jump-3, or Jump-4, respectively, are the max jumps allowed in your setting. Yes.

Free Traders are supposed to have mortgage payments. Is that the only way to use financing and get the PCs into ships? Could a noble give a patent to the PCs, allowing them access to a ship as long as they are doing his bidding of espionage or piracy while plying the stars? Absolutely. Could nobility, and not banks, be the institution that controls ship building and finance? Yes… if that’s what you wanted.

Do you need to roll all Universal World Profiles randomly? (No. And the rules state this explicitly.) You could, if you wished, create the worlds as you wished, using the UWP as a notation as you go.

Are you able to come up with your own starship designs? New weapons? New technologies? Alien races? And so on…

Absolutely. You should. That was the point of the game.

All of this is a reminder that what is in Books 1-3 is there as a framework of play, to get things going for the Referee and Players. But that over time the group should be reworking and tweaking to their hearts content. The “playing pieces” of psionics and jump drives and Tech Levels and ship sizes and the Universal Personality Profiles and so on are there to be manipulated as you wish to make the setting and play experience you wanted. You can leave mortgages on ships out if you wish. You can dispense with patrons and only use rumor tables.

I want to make it clear that something wonderful happened to RPGs over the last decade and a half: they became clearer and more complete.

But there was a different way of publishing an RPG from the ’70s…. a method that was not at all complete, but equally valid, that allowed you create what you wanted with a simple set of rules as tools. I encourage everyone approaching Traveller Books 1-3 to approach them with his point of view.

Do not let these tools define your setting. Use the tools to build your setting.

 

Fallen World Campaign [LotFP] – Seventh Session Report

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At the end of the last session, the Players decided their Character would head for the strange bug marking they had found on a map inside the skin of a dying Knight of the Order Medicinal. This meant they were heading toward Karlstadt! This meant we would soon be playing Better Than Any Man!

I created the inserts for the center and right panels of my Referee screen to help me with running the massive book. In the middle panel are ilustrations of the The Seven, their names, their nicknames, images of their familiars, a listing of their spells, the locations of their homes in Karlstadt. In the right panel is a timeline of the events in the region, the random encounter list, and the rumors found with Karlstatdt. (The left panel are tables from the LotFP rule books (reaction tables, morale table, movement table, and so on.)

Well… I never got to use any of it. Because a funny thing happened on the way to Karlstadt…

On their way from the small village at the base of the Alps beneath the shrine of the Duvan’Ku (DFD), the Player Characters decided to stop in Munich to resupply and let the magic users share spells.

So while the magic users were busy with their homework, the specialist and the fighter went off to pursue more information about the rumors they picked up during play over the last few sessions.

The fighter was curious about the rumors of a man who lived in the mountains and said to be possessed. Digging around Munich for a week and a half (and paying 20 silver pieces as his expenses, per the rules for rumors from Qelong) he found out details of the man who had a base in the Alps.

Apparently this man claimed to travelled to different worlds and come back with treasures. (These rumors will lead the PCs to the Isle of the Unknown if they choose to track this adventurer to his home. The home is abandoned and the man is long gone. But there is a rigged sailing ship in an underground lake that can travel back and forth between the lake and the waters around the Isle.)

Meanwhile, the specialist (who is reading The Million Violations, by the way, which he took from the Duvan’Ku shrine!) wanted to ask around Munich for more information about the Duvan’Ku.

I remembered that in the book in the cabin of Death Frost Doom the players could learn that the Duvan’Ku have been based in Munich 500 years earlier. So I figured, “Sure, why not! There’s something to find!”

I rolled for a random NPC Encounter from Vornheim (after the PC payed his silver.). I got an MU who sold familiars. That didn’t really fit in with setting, so I decided he was a crazy old guy who thought he was an MU who sold mice he claimed were familiars. He also had actual rumors about the Duvan’Ku in Munich at the beginning of the city’s history.

He found a man who claimed to know a bit about the Duvan’Ku having been wiped out 500 years earlier.

At first, thinking fast, I thought I’d drop Stonehall under Munich. But I realized it would be too weird for the immediate locale. It also wouldn’t fit with the Duvan’Ku.

Instead, I decided to fold The God That Crawls into the earth beneath Munich.

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As the PCs puzzled out rumors, Googled the history of Munich, and decided how they would track down tales from 500 years ago from a barely literate time, I decided the Duvan’Ku base had been cleared out, but the potent magic remained. A monastery built in Munich 500 years earlier (when Munich was first founded) had been razed during the destruction of the Duvan’Ku base. It later became the site of a church.(People didn’t know about the Duvan’Ku connection 300 years later (it’s all hush-hush stuff, after all.), but new the monetary had once been there.).

And that latent power of the site ultimately allowed a holy man to become the crawling God beneath the streets of Munich..

The PCs went to orphanages looking for tales of bogeyman stretching back hundreds of years. They figured that since the Duvan’Ku  leave no monuments and keep their deeds secret they were looking for tales of people vanishing in the early years of Munich’s founding.

(This line of investigation began when one of the players declared, “We’ve noy going to find anything looking for clues left by the Duvan’Ku. We need to see this from the point of view of the people the Duvan’Ku affected.” Which is how I had already decided the situation would play out. And then they decided to track down tales of Boogey Men passed down through the centuries. I love my players!)

They finally found tales of Brother Death from the days of Munich’s beginning, connected to the original monastery. They followed those rumors to a closed up church near the southeast corner of the city’s wall built 200 years ago where the monastery had been.

They made their way in to the church at night. (Father Karl  and the parishioners of the neighborhood and watching them, waiting for them to get deep enough inside to force them into the pit.)

The PCs examined the paintings and got far enough into the church to find the pit, and there we stopped.

Not only is a good cliffhanger but to the party members were not present this evening and I don’t want to move for without everyone who might be involved In any decision or action that leads the party going down that picked.

Oh, and the fighter bought a mouse from the man who claims to be a sorcerer. He bought the “familiars” for 25 silver pieces. It should be noted that’s when one of the party magic users cast detect magic on the mouse it was indeed magical.

I am really determined to be as open as I can in letting the characters make the decisions about which way they want to go and what they want to do.

I’m also determined to stitch together the campaign with callbacks and clues and ideas that the players form, letting their curiosity and what they care about become the focus of the game. Between all the LotFP material I have and a let’s-d-this attitude about improvising character details and situations on-the-fly I’m excited to see where we will end up by the time it is all done.

I should also note that the players were fascinated by the snow globes in DFD, so the theme I’ve been building in the campaign (since the start) of many alternate worlds and dimensions is going to pay off in spades.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess — Character Creation Pamphlet

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I hate having to repeat myself constantly when explaining character creation to players new to a game. One player is always 14 seconds behind someone else, then you go back, and someone is getting ahead… its just a  mess.

To avoid this misery,  I whipped up this character creation pamphlet for the game of LotFP I started last Monday. (Making characters for LotFP is fast, but there are fiddly bits that have to be explained and calculated along the way. I wanted to make this as smooth as possible for my six players that are all new to the game.)

The pages are formatted A5. However, since I’m in the States, I printed them on 8 x 11.5 sheets (close enough!). I printed two pages per side, double-sided, using booklet printing format. Then I folded them up, stapled them in the middle, and handed them out. But you could also just print them and hand them out as several sheets.

If a player has this pamphlet and a well designed LotFP character sheet, figuring things out and getting them transferred to the character sheet should work well. (It worked well last Monday night, at least!)

Note that the text is focused on the default setting of the LotFP products: 17th Century Europe (or thereabouts). Thus, no Elves or Dwarves as classes.

Also, the notes about Clerics are modified slightly from the text in Rules & Magic. But nothing too strange. Everything else is straight up by the book.