#RPGThursday – Not Encountering Traveller5

Tales to Astound has a long-running series on Traveller: Out of the Box. If you are a true Classic Traveller RPG fan and have not seen that site – FULL STOP! Go read it now then come back (or maybe not – his site is admittedly much better than mine).

Courtesy FFE.com

As much as I love Classic Traveller (or CT), I have stated before that the latest Marc Miller version of Traveller, Traveller5 (or T5) is also one of my guilty pleasures. I really like the “makers” in the system and how they all work together for world building. I also must admit that many of the critics of T5 are correct; the game is hard to play. I keep asking myself why.

 

To me, the Core Mechanic (nD6 < Characteristic + Skill +/- Mods) stands up well. Character Generation is no more difficult than any other version of Traveller. Combat (except Melee) works well and there are all those Makers! So why is it difficult?

One moment of clarity in my Traveller RPG journey came late last year when I revisited Marc Miller’s Traveller (or T4). In the introduction, Mr. Miller lays out his viewpoint of three different Traveller RPG players:

Casual Players: Anybody can play Traveller. The concepts are intuitive: travel, exploration, interaction, negotiation, combat, and all kinds of action. Individuals can role-play diverse characters or they can play themselves. Casual players can be so casual that they know nothing about the game system at all.

Detailed Role-Players: Traveller provides dedicated gamers the opportunity to role-play complex characters with strong motivations and intricate backgrounds. The Traveller system can be as informal or rich as the participants want.

System Engineers: The Traveller system presents referees the materials necessary to explore [the] Traveller universe in detail. Aspects such as starship design, world generation, vehicle descriptions, trade and commerce, animal generation, and encounters, are designed to meet two specific goals; as a prod to the imagination, and for creating custom equipment or information. – p. 8

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Courtesy thealexandrian.net

As I look at myself critically, I see that when I play CT I am a Casual Player. However, there are times when I really like to explore the System Engineer I go to T5. Interestingly, if I am trying to be a Detailed Role-Player I don’t usually use a Traveller system, instead I gravitate towards a more Narrative-style RPG in Diaspora or Mindjammer (FATE Core 2nd Edition, not the horrible Mindjammer Traveller) or Firefly or Star Wars: Edge of the Empire.

I think another major reason player uses are so different between CT and T5 is because T5 lacks CT-like encounter rules. “Encounters” in this case are not fights but “situations” that lead to adventure. Real CT is actually built on encounters. In T5 there is a nod to this style (the Adventures chapter) but it lacks the Encounter Tables found in CT thru T4. Instead the focus in on EPIC Adventures (EPIC meaning Easy, Playable, Interactive,  Checklist).

I don’t like it.

Without encounters T5 loses a great amount of the “Traveller charm” that I love and enjoy playing. I certainly use T5 to build but not play. Maybe this is because at heart I rebel these days against a setting that I see as hamstringing my play. I realize I appear to be talking out of both sides of my mouth; I seemingly dislike settings but at the same time enjoy CT or Cepheus Engine settings like The Clement Sector or Orbital: 2100 or These Stars are Ours! Each of these settings use the encounter mechanic from CT. Certainly one can make an EPIC Adventure within the setting but its not my preference. CT (and these days CE) support my preferred encounter style of play.


Marc Miller’s Traveller, Copyright ©1996 by Imperium Games, Inc. Traveller is a registered trademark of Far Future Enterprises. Used under license by Imperium Games, Inc. 

Traveller5: Science Fiction Adventures in the Far Future, v5.09; Copyright ©2015 Far Future Enterprises.

“Traveller, Basic Traveller, Starter Traveller, Classic Traveller, MegaTraveller, Traveller: The New Era, Traveller4, Traveller5, Traveller8, The Spinward Marches, The Edge of the Empire, EPIC, The Galaxiad, and Journal of the Traveller’s Aid Society are trademarks of Far Future Enterprises.”

#SciFiFriday – Agent of the Imperium: A Story of the Traveller Universe (Marc Miller, 2015)

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Cover courtesy GoodReads

Within the Traveller RPG community, there is an acronym known as IMTU, or “In My Traveller Universe.” This usually denotes a setting that may draw from, or be different, from the OTU or “Official Traveller Universe.” When Marc Miller, the creator of the Traveller RPG writes, one would think that anything he publishes should be canon and part of the OTU. It was with this bias that I started reading Agent of the Imperium (AoI). By the time I was finished, I am not so sure that what I read is OTU, or Mr. Miller’s version of his own IMTU.

**WARNING – MINOR SPOILERS POSSIBLE**

To me, Traveller has always been about the little guy; average joes who did their time in the service and now are out wandering the spacelanes for adventure. As much as I played around in the Third Imperium setting, it really is the far frontiers adventure of the 1977-edition Little Black Books which had no real setting other than to travel. So when I started reading AoI I expected a character much like Captain Jamison, the Merchant Captain used in every character generation example since Classic Traveller.

Instead, we get Jonathan Bland, a Decider agent of the Quarantine Agency. He is brought to life for 30 days at  time with a wafer chip. He is not a lowly adventurer – he is/was a member of a powerful bureaucracy and now an agent of the Emperors themselves. This was one of many events that challenged my vision of the OTU; I had never really considered cyberpunk elements in the setting nor adventure at these higher levels of government. Indeed, if one looks at the starship computer rules with their immense size (measured in displacement Tons of 13.5 cubic meters) the idea of advanced brain chips seemed so foreign to the game!

It is through Jonathan Bland that we see the Third Imperium develop. Surprising me again, this story does not take place in the Golden Age of the Traveller RPG setting (around game year 1105) but rather starts in year 350, or almost 800 years before OTU adventures. More interesting was to see Mr. Miller’s view of the Third Imperium in this time. In this he used several tropes that I was familiar with – and expected – in a Traveller book but introduced others that I had not consciously associated with the Third Imperium. In this respect the book is highly successful; it challenged my pre-conceived notions and made me imagine more. But at the same time AoI made me think about what the Third Imperium setting means to me.

When trying to fit Agent of the Imperium into my view of the Traveller RPG universe, I have to designate this one as the “Marc Miller IMTU of the OTU.” It’s not that I don’t like the book (I do) but the story is loftier than I imagined the OTU to be. I find nothing wrong with the story of AoI, but as a game inspiration it is more an example of the awe and wonder of the Third Imperium rather than adventure seeds.

 

 

#RPGThursday – On the Road

Am on travel this week. Plenty of time to read. After reading Tales to Astound blog have become fascinated with the early Traveller RPG system. I found my 1977 Little Black Books before I left home.  Interesting that the FFE CD starts with the 1981 LBBs and then onto The Traveller Book and Starter Traveller.

Looking back, I evolved from the ’77 LBBs to ’81 without realizing it. I never used The Traveller Book or Starter Traveller. I missed MegaTraveller and Traveller New Era and came back in on Mongoose 1E. Now onto Cepheus Engine. That said, looking back at the original Classic Traveller is very intriguing! Unlike the 15 year old me that missed implied setting details I now hunt out and want to explore what they really mean.

#TSAO These Stars Are Ours! A setting for #CephesusEngine or #TravellerRPG

 

 

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Courtesy spacecockroach.blogspot.com
These Stars Are Ours!  (TSAO) is a tabletop RPG Sci-Fi setting for the Cepheus Engine or 2D6 OGL SCIFI (nee Traveller SRD). TSAO is a complete Alternate Traveller Universe (ATU) small-ship setting that offers rich background, interesting aliens, and many adventure seeds for the Referee. Though not without a few warts, TSAO shows the great potential of Cepheus Engine used in a setting beyond the classic Third Imperium.  TSAO may be the first setting to take full advantage of the Cepheus Engine rules from the ground up and joins Gypsy Knight Games The Clement Sector and Zozer Games Orbital 2100 as yet another example of the vibrant Cepheus Engine community of rules and settings.

 

 

The setting of TSAO is a logical outgrowth of 20th century UFO conspiracies:

Set in 2260 AD – two years after the Terrans took Keid and forced the Reticulan Empire to capitulate the book introduces the player characters to the immediate aftermath of the Terran victory in the Terran Liberation War against the mighty Reticulan Empire and its many thralls. For their part, the upstart Terrans, bolstered by their victory against their old masters, now move to become a power to be reckoned with in interstellar affairs. Against this background of espionage, maneuvering, and saber-rattling, and on the new interstellar frontiers, the player characters can forge a destiny of heroes or villains of the new United Terran Republic. (DriveThruRPG)

TSAO is delivered in a 209 page pdf (also now available in a POD option). This meaty setting is explained over six chapters and two appendixes.

 

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Courtesy spicapublishing.co.uk
Chapter 1 – The United Terran Republic provides much of the history and setting background. Included is not just a recap of events to date, but also many groups or factions or agencies that the player characters (PCs) could interact with. Psionics has a role in this setting. Given the assumed Tech Level (TL) of 11-12 (with some military at 13), TSAO (like Omer Golan-Joel’s earlier Outer Veil setting) is a high-tech but small-ship universe.

 

Chapter 2 – Aliens describes the humans neighbors, opponents, and allies(?). In the space of just a few pages many races are fully described and (again) are rich with adventure seeds and story hooks for development.

Chapter 3 – Characters and Careers is a great example of how to take the basic character generation system in Cepheus Engine and stretch it to showcase it’s full potential. PCs can be the default Humans or select from several alien races. Careers are taken from 13 civilian careers in Cephesus Engine or an from the 20 new ones in TSAO, including seven (7) alien “careers.”

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Courtesy spacecockroach.blogspot.com
Chapter 4 – Starships showcases alien saucers and Terra’s ships along with a few other alien constructs. Art is provided by the ever-dependable Ian Stead and others. Make sure to look at the 300-ton Terran Shaka-class Light Military Transport (and especially the Decommissioned Shaka-class Transport) for a not-to-subtle nod to Serenity and the Firefly-class.

Chapter 5 – Terran Borderlands is combination gazetteer and Referee’s Information. The worlds of Known Space is detailed, along with many story hooks and adventure seeds. The usual World Generation process from Cephesus Engine is expanded upon here with an Expanded Universal World Profile that adds a bit more detail but also a whole many more ideas that PCs or Referees can grab onto.

Chapter 6 – Patrons describes 12 Patrons that might engage the PCs. The chapter is not only a grouping of ready-made adventures, but also provides insight into the setting as viewed by the authors.

Appendix A – Terran News Agency Dispatches, February 2260 is a call back to the Traveller News Service snippets that were a staple of Classic Traveller and its successors. Again, these short news items can be the start of yet more adventures!

Appendix B – Sources of Inspiration, Literary and Otherwise is TSAO‘s Appendix N. I always look over these lists to see what inspirations the authors took and to see what I may want to add to my reading/viewing.

The last part of TSAO is an index. This is one of the best indexes I have ever seen in a book. However…the pdf is not cross-linked. This highlights some of my pet peeves with so many pdf products; page numbering and no linking. TSAO is paginated like most books, with page 1 being the interior title page. Unfortunately, this is “page 3” of the pdf, meaning if using your pdf page search you will always be three pages off from your target! The publisher could of avoided (or lessened the impact) of this issue if the Table of Contents (or even that great Index?) was linked.

Production quality is very good. Compared to Stellagama’s previous The Space Patrol I can see definite improvement. Get the linking and page numbering issues nailed and I will likely have nothing to complain about….

The authors call TSAO the first in the Visions of Empire (VoE) space opera settings. If TSAO is any indication, the VoE series will be settings rich in background using (and stretching) the Cepheus Engine rules to their finest.

 


These Stars Are Ours!  By Omer Golan-Joel, Richard Hazelwood, and Josh Peters. Stellagama Publishing, 2017.

#RPGThursday – Passing on Mindjammer Traveller

If you look at this blog, it should be apparent that the Traveller RPG is one of my favorite game systems. It should also be apparent that I have something of a love-hate relationship with Mongoose Publishing. Unfortunately, they are the current banner-carriers of the Traveller RPG system in the form of their Traveller Core Rulebook for Mongoose Traveller Second Edition.

To be clear, I don’t like it. Basically, I don’t see it as any real improvement over the original version and, when coupled with a more restrictive license that limits – even harms – third-party publishers, I am loathe to support it.

I also own Mindjammer: The Roleplaying Game (Second Edition) by Modiphius/Mindjammer Press. Mindjammer 2E uses the FATE Core rules. I am not a real fan of Transhuman adventure but I saw much good press about the game and tried it. I even liked it.

pic3340140_mdThis month, Modiphius released Mindjammer: Transhuman Adventure in the Second Age of Space using the Mongoose Traveller 2E rules. So I was challenged; I like Mindjammer but dislike Mongoose. What do I do? Do I invest in the Mindjammer: Traveller Edition for $22.49 (pdf) or not?

So I picked up the Dominion Quickstart for Mindjammer Traveller from DriveThruRPG. This is a free 48 page intro game with a few pages of rules changes from Mongoose Traveller 2E and then an adventure.

What I found was very few rules changes from Mongoose Traveller 2E and a lot of background. Background I already have in the FATE Core Mindjammer version. After careful consideration, I concluded that there is not enough new or attractive in the Mongoose Traveller 2E version of Mindjammer to purchase it.

So I’ll pass, and pause to ponder. Why do I find Mindjammer Traveller unattractive? It is the rules or setting? In this case, I don’t see a good marriage of rules to setting here. Maybe my experience with the FATE Mindjammer version has biased me, but I just don’t  feel the Mindjammer setting is best served by the Mongoose Traveller 2E rules. Indeed, I feel the story-telling or narrative basis of FATE is much better for Transhuman Adventure than the very mechanical Traveller engine. The possible results are much more wondrous – like a Transhuman setting should be.

Furthermore, I realize that my unbounded desire for anything Traveller has ended. These days, I appreciate a bounty of different RPG systems from the Cepheus Engine to Traveller 5 to FFG Star Wars to FATE games like Mindjammer or Atomic Robo to CORTEX Plus games like Firefly. Each of these games captures or compliments a setting in unique and positive ways – Mindjammer Traveller just doesn’t give me that same feeling.

 

#Wargame Retroactive – Mayday (Traveller Game 1, Series 120, GDW 1983)

pic900819_mdWhile I’m waiting for my Squadron Strike: Traveller Kickstarter to deliver, I went back to my first vector movement starship combat game. The game is Mayday from the Classic Traveller RPG-universe. I have the third edition GDW flat box, copyright 1983, with the Series 120 rulebook copyright 1978 and 1980. A Series 120 game was supposed to be playable in under two hours. The back of the box taught me what mayday means and why it may still matter in the future:

 

In the earliest days of radio, a standard distress call was established using the international language of the day. In French, the simple statement help me was expressed m’ai dez. English-speaking radio operators pronounced and spelled the word as mayday. Since then, the word has become as accepted as its Morse code predecessor S.O.S.

In the future, it is likely that monitoring stations will receive the same call from the depths of interplanetary space, faintly repeating a position and a single word, mayday.

Mayday is a science fiction game of small spacecraft in danger, distress, and ship-to-ship combat. The ships are out-fitted by each player with a variety of laser weapons, missiles, defensive systems, and computer packages. Using realistic vector movement, players maneuver their ships against each other on a hexagonal grid. Scenarios include The Grand Prix, The Attack, Piracy, Battle, and Smuggling.

Mayday is played “using realistic vector movement and intriguing combat systems….” Recently, I closely looked through the short (15 page), digest-size rulebook and was struck by both how simple the game was, and yet how much detail and universe-building was contained within.

A Small-Ship Universe

pic514041_mdMayday was also marketed as Traveller Game 1. Mayday took Traveller Book 2 Starships and brought it into a hex and counter setting. What struck me looking through the book is that Mayday is firmly in the “small ship Traveller universe.” Section 8. Ships provides the following starships:

  • Scout (100 ton)
  • Courier (100 ton)
  • Escort (100 ton)
  • Free Trader (200 ton)
  • Yacht (200 ton)
  • Transport (400 ton)
  • Armed Merchant (400 ton)
  • Destroyer (400 ton)
  • Colonial Cruiser (800 ton)
  • Corsair (400 ton)

Small craft are also fuel-limited in Mayday. The Fighter is rated “4G12” meaning it has a maximum acceleration of 4G in a turn, and cannot make more that a total of 12G of acceleration/deceleration before running out of fuel.

Vectoring About

Mayday is the game the taught me what vector movement is. Each starship, small craft, or missile has three counters; the past position, the present position, and the future position. The use of these three counters allows one to readily see the vector movement of the combatants. This easy vector movement system is what I had always focused upon and I didn’t really pay attention to the combat.

Lasers and Missiles Oh My!

In the Mayday version of the Traveller universe there are basically two offensive weapons; Lasers and Missiles. Of the two, the Laser is the most common starship and small craft weapon. However, a close analysis of the Attack Table and Damage Table reveals it is actually not the best weapon. Without consideration of any modifiers, a Laser will hit a starship 58% of the time, whereas a Missile will hit 83% of the time. Against small craft, the chances are 42% for Lasers and 58% for Missiles.

pic516813_mdLasers are also very close-range weapons realistically effective out to no more than 5 hexes (or 5 light seconds). This is because Laser Fire has a -1 Die Modifier (DM) for each hex of range. [Interestingly, Mayday page 12 references Traveller Book 5: High Guard and its fleet combat rules. The Mayday rules state that ships with matched courses (same hex, course, speed) are at “boarding range.” Short range is within 5 hexes (5 light seconds). Long range is beyond 5 hexes, but less than 15. Ships beyond 15 hexes/15 light seconds range are “out of range” and cannot fire.]

The damage potential of a Laser versus a Missile is also dramatically different. If a “hit” is achieved a Laser gets one roll on the Damage Table whereas a Missile gets two rolls if it has a proximity fuse or three rolls (!) if it uses contact detonation. This dramatic difference in damage potential finally brought home to me, more than any number of damage dice, the difference in the power of these two weapons systems in Traveller. It also vividly showed me why Missiles are the weapon of choice for starship combat at the mid-tech levels of Traveller.

Computing Power

Many people criticize the assumptions Traveller made when it came to computers. Marc Miller and company missed with their prediction of the computer revolution. For myself I tend to ignore the inconsistencies with our reality and try to play the game. In the case of starship combat, I think the problems are not as dire as some make them out to be. Instead, I try to play the game using the rules as written to see what the designers were trying to communicate.

In Mayday, like Book 2, computers are actually a key part of ship-to-ship combat. This is because Traveller computers are limited. For example, a Model/1 computer has a “CPU” of 2 and “Storage” of 4. What does this mean? It means that the ship can “load” programs taking up space equal to “Storage” and can “run” programs in a given phase of the turn with sizes the “CPU” can support.

Take a typical Free Trader with a Model/1 computer. According to the ship description, the available computer programs (and size) are:

  • Target 1, Launch 1, Gunner Interact 1, Auto/Evade 1, Return Fire 1, Anti-Missle 2, Maneuver 1,  Jump-1 1, Navigation 1.

No more than 6 “spaces” of programs can be loaded. As you can hopefully see, not all the programs can be “loaded” at once. Thus, the crew must make a decision.

  • Target is needed to shoot, unless one wants a -4 DM for “manual control”
  • Maneuver is needed to change course/speed.
  • Launch is needed to fire missiles…or a small craft
  • Gunner Interact allows characters to use their Gunnery skill (one of the few connections between Mayday and the Traveller RPG)
  • Auto/Evade makes you harder to hit, but cannot be run with the Maneuver program
  • Return Fire must be used with Target and allows ships to fire at ships/craft that fired at them first
  • Anti-Missile is used for point defense against impacting missiles
  • Jump is needed to activate the FTL (hyperspace) drive…useful to escape
  • Navigation is needed to compute the hyperspace jump

There are other programs available, such as Predict (positive DM to hit), Selective (ability to target specific systems), and Maneuver/Evade (harder to hit but less maneuver capability).

Making sure you have the right program available at the right time is crucial for combat in Mayday. For many years I ignored this section and just played with the Simplified Computer Rule:

Any activity may be performed, without regard  to computer program requirements. The size of the ship’s computer is used as an attack DM for lasers (computer model 1 gives a DM of +1) and as a defense DM when attacked by lasers. DMs for range, sand effects, manual control, and anti-missile fire still apply, but no others do. This simplified rule allows concentration on movement and basic combat. 6. Computer Programming (p. 9)

Simply Complex

Mayday is what I call a “simply complex” game. The rules are simple, from easy vector movement to a straight-forward combat system. Taking into account the computer rules really does make this game “intriguing” like the rulebook claims, and that makes it complex in that the choices one makes are relevant, interesting, and impactful. I also appreciate the insight this simple game gives me into the universe building that Marc Miller and friends started 40 years ago.

Mayday is currently rated 5.8 on BoardGameGeek. I personally rated it a 7 (Good – Usually willing to play) back in 2008 when I think I was updating my collection. Given my more recent appreciation for the game, I think it deserves a rating increase to 7.5.