Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I got sidetracked

In my post yesterday, I got sidetracked.

I was going to say how whenever I open any of the Traveller books, I get sidetracked.

And then, while posting about it, I got sidetracked.

The thing is, I've really spent much more time wanting to play Traveller than ever actually playing it. And while I'm sitting there, all by my lonesome, wanting to play, I'll tinker with some of the utterly nifty systems the game provides. Character creation. Ship design. World design.

I played a little, back in the early 80's. That's when I grew to dislike books 4 and 5.

Y'see, I had picked up the basic set (books 1-3) and loved it. Everything one needed was there, and it all worked.

Plus, I immediately fell in love with the Scout service. Any character I created, I tried to get into the Scouts.

And, predictably, most of them died.

But when I went to create a character for another guy's game, the one game going on at the time, they started to put me through some big thing that I'd never heard of. I said I wanted to be a Scout, but they didn't have rules for such a thing.

They did, however, have rules for weapons that would vaporize you. They had rules for starships so big they made the Enterprise look small.

But no rules for Scouts, other than Book 1. Well, hey, at least I can get a ship as a mustering out benefit. So I ended up playing my Scout, and it was okay. The Ref wasn't that big on people making skill rolls to do routine tasks. He was more interested in people playing the game, getting into their character, trying to figure out the puzzle inherent in the scenario.

(And, finally, when Book 6 came out, Scouts couldn't automatically get a ship. But that's okay, because they didn't all automatically get Pilot-1, either. Say what?)

Fighting was deadly, so we didn't fight. Space Combat was not only deadly but expensive as well, do we didn't do that either.

We did trade an awful lot.

In a six hour session, we'd have about two hours of an adventure, followed by four hours of speculation. Seriously, half a game year could go by in one evening.

This so traumatized one of the players that, many years later when I wanted to run T4, I had to reassure him many, many times that the whole trade thing wouldn't happen.)

I wanted to get away from the whole Military/Navy thing everyone else seemed to be doing.

I ran the original game once, for about 3-4 players (this was about 25 years ago, the memory isn't so good). They were hired on to crew a Safari ship, with the specific mission of rounding up exotic animals for the Subsector Capital zoo. The zookeeper wanted to outdo the Imperial capital zoo.

Did I mention that the ship was unarmed?

Another player, hearing about this, got quite incensed and stated that anyone taking off in an unarmed ship was an idiot and deserved to get killed.

So, hang on -- let me do the math here. I'm in a 200 ton safari ship. You want me to mount triple turrets with missile launchers, beam lasers and sandcasters, plus hire and feed two gunners.

All so that, when I'm out and about, a 20,000 ton warship can show up and say "stop", and I -- what, fight back? I think not. It's better to not have weapons and just run away. Or sit there and let them board you. And then unleash the perilous beastie you have in the no. 2 hold...

But the bottom line is that Traveller, even when you're not actively involved in a game, is still loads of fun to tinker with. So even if I never get a game going, I'll still have fun with it.

It just sidetracks me, is all.

Monday, July 28, 2008


So, the usual thing happened.

I wanted to do something with Traveller (the original game, I mean; I still refuse to call it "Classic". It's not Coke, you know.) I've loved this game for years. It was the first boxed rpg I bought that wasn't from TSR (which actually makes it only the second boxed rpg I bought, after Top Secret; when I got Moldvay and Cook I just got the rulebooks, shrinkwrapped.)

I didn't want to do something with D&D, because I don't really grasp "adventures" with D&D. You don't have "adventures", you have a dungeon.

But Traveller, I thought, would have something.

The result?

Weeks later, and I now have more supplements, more rulebooks (I got The Traveller Book and the Starter Traveller boxed set, both sadly long out of print). I found lots of good stuff online.

I created characters.

I created starships.

I created 3 different spreadsheets to use in designing starships.

I created (using software found online) two entire subsectors and a bunch of animal encounter tables for some of those worlds.

And it all adds up to nothing.

So, last night, I sat down with Book 3 and a pair of dice, and created a world.

C342444-8 NI, Po. No bases, no Gas Giant.

Not much of a world, you might say.

I haven't placed it yet, but it must be along a trade route of some sort, or it would just never be visited. There's really nothing to do there.

It has a thin, tainted atmosphere. Can I do something with that? If so, what?

It has a representative democracy for a government. Can I do something with that? Why yes, I believe I can.

There is an election coming up. For as long as people can remember, these elections were great fun, with the majority party imposing its will on the minority party until they got too fed up with it and rebelled, overthrowing the incumbents and voting in their own scoundrels. And then the cycle repeats.

But this time, things are getting bad. In addition to the usual political tricks, there is an undercurrent of genuine violence. People are getting hurt, and people are getting angry.

The Port Captain suspects offworld influence, but can't prove anything; he's busy shoring up the entrances to the Starport in case full blown riots break out.

...and that's as far as I've gotten.

Any comments gratefully accepted. I may not get this done by the end of the month (Three days? No sweat! Yeah, right!) but at least I'm trying.

Fight On! Number Two now available!

I ordered mine! Have you ordered yours yet?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Getting started

Further pursuant to yesterday's post...

Okay, so I'm getting started on my Traveller/Freedom in the Galaxy game. The GDW resources I have are:

* the Original Traveller three-book set,
* Supplement Four: Citizens of the Imperium, and
* Alien Module One: Aslan.

(I am awaiting a copy of The Traveller Book from Amazon; God knows what happened to my old copy.)

In addition, I have the boxed set of Freedom in the Galaxy, from SPI. (I could have gotten the Avalon Hill edition, but I'm just as happy with the original.)

I also have some supplementary material created by other fans that I found on boardgamegeek.

As is usual with SPI games (and wargames in general), there is a wealth of information in there. I just need to coax it out into the light so I can convert it into Traveller terms.

Really, all I need to do is:

* convert the planets,
* write up the characters, to use as pre-gens,
* convert the alien races, for those players who insist on creating their own characters,
* convert the spaceships,
* write up the "possessions" as special equipment (and one of the variants has possessions for the Imperials...), and
* modify the "mission" system inherent in the rules into an adventure generator, so that I can streamline production of individual adventures.

I have the feeling that I would actually run this as an episodic "tv series", rather than as scenes in a movie. Each "mission" would be an episode would be a play session. (This would also allow for players who couldn't make every session, a not inconsiderable factor these days.)

It's starting to look overwhelming, so I'm starting with the Kayns. These are doglike beings, who only have four worlds.

Oh, hey, speaking of worlds, this project will also be cool because of the way the map is laid out. There are 25 stars but 51 worlds, so some stars have more than one world (1-3, averaging almost exactly 2). This allows me to use the space travel rules (as opposed to the star travel rules) of the game. (Those equations impressed the hell out of me when I first read them, back in the early 80's...)

Anyway, so I may not be able to get something done this month, but I'm sure gonna try!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Creating Campaigns

It seems to me that there are two different (one could say mutually exclusive, but not always) ways of going about setting up a roleplaying campaign.

One, and this is the one I've always used, is to select a rules system and create a campaign for it. This can be as simple as saying "Here you are; what do you do?" and creating from there. It can be as elaborate as spending months dreaming up every last detail, every bit of local color, every NPC's middle name, and then unleashing this mass on your unsuspecting players.

But there is another way, which I have considered in the past but never actually employed.

You can come up with an idea, a storyline if you will, a central point of your campaign. Bad thing X is going to happen to innocent people Y, unless the players Z intervene. That sort of thing.

And then you go looking for your rules system.

Now, I've come out publicly for the anti-background camp, but now I think I was wrong. (I reserve the right to grow and change.) I still don't think the average player (or me, if I'm the player) wants to sit through a hefty book describing all the crap he has to learn before he can even create his character, much less play. That's more like homework than like gaming. Some enjoy it; that's fine for them. I would never say otherwise. But I don't want to have to sit through it.

I also don't like rules-heavy, gearhead systems that require intense planning to, y'know, cross the street.

I enjoy tinkering. I want to be able to fiddle with the rules and the setting both. I want the players to feel good about suggesting changes.

Am I crazy, or does this sound even more old-school than I would have thought?

The designers of the old school games didn't just select a rules set. They had to write it. They created their game and then provided rules for it.

Dave Arneson started with Chainmail, but as I understand it he had already modified those rules by the time the players first entered the dungeon beneath Blackmoor.

Gary Gygax (may he rest in peace) started with the notes Dave sent him (and the one game he'd played in that Dave had run for him) and went from there, picking and choosing and filling in what he felt was needed to run the game he wanted.

What this boils down to (hard as this is for me to grasp, given my background) is that he game comes first, and the rules come second.

That kind of floored me when I first thought of it. May seem old hat to some of you, but it was a new thought to me.

It's incredibly liberating. You don't need to use the ruleset you have. You can change it, use another, or make your own.

You can even change types of games, as I'll explain in a bit.

Once you have your purpose, the rest derives from there.

I gotta say, I feel energized. I'm halfway through the month of July, which is National Adventure Writing Month, and I haven't written a single word of an adventure. But I feel like I'm about to. I have a Purpose, and I have a Plan.

I'm gonna change the type of game and I'm gonna adapt the background for it.

In 1979, two years after Star Wars (and no, I'm not going to dignify it with the stupid-ass title that was retrofitted to it; it was Star Wars when I first saw it and it will be Star Wars to my dying day) opened in theaters, a saucy little company in New York called Simulations Publications, Inc. (aka SPI) released a science fiction wargame called Freedom in the Galaxy.

This game has been described as the best Star Wars boardgame ever, despite the fact that it doesn't even acknowledge Star Wars or Mr. George Lucas (most likely owing to not being licensed...) The boys at SPI put thier heads together and came up with a star map and rules for both armies and characters to move about the map. One player is the rebellion, and needs to foment dissent on the various worlds. The other is the empire, and needs to seek out and crush the rebellion.

Now, while there are shorter scenarios, the meat of the game is in the full campaign. Since this is estimated at taking at least 20 hours, I really don't think I'm going to find somebody who is willing to play this (potentially) awesome game with me.

But. But I might find players who will be willing to play a roleplaying game, as part of the rebellion. I just need to adapt it to a roleplaying rules system, and I'm off.

Now, Wizards of the Coast have the license to make Star Wars. They seem to have slipped out another edition of the game, although whether that's because of D&D 4th or not, I don't know.

All I know is I have their first effort, and I really hate it.

Movies don't really map well to RPGs. The main story has been told. Sure, there may be side stories, but they are never as satisfying. And retracing the steps of, say, Han Solo just doesn't seem to be worth the effort -- by the time you've created your character, I'm already enjoying the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back on DVD. Not worth the effort.

But a whole new galaxy, a whole new enemy, whole new good guys -- now *that* has some potential!

I'm planning on using the original Traveller game for this one. (I'm not going to call it Classic Traveller, like others do, because that's not it's name. In a similar vein, I don't refer to Star Trek as "The Original Series," even to differentiate it from the others. Why? Because it was *first*, and the others can bloody well change THEIR names, WHICH THEY DID. But that's another rant.)

I've found the perfect expression of these rules to be somewhere between the original three books and the Traveller Book. So that's what I'll be using. No book 4; that's for people who just want to blow stuff up. No book 5; that's for large navy gearheads who would really rather be playing Trillion Credit Squadron. And so on.

And who knows? I might just end up with an actual scenario for this month's efforts.

Anyway, that's where I'm at right now.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Back from the Con II

Okay, so there was this kid and my character kicked his character in the ass.

He didn't want to write down the damage, but the DM insisted, so the kid grabbed his stuff and stormed out.

Couple of things I want to mention before going on:

1) The DM. He didn't take any sides in this matter; he was completely impartial. But I think he kinda got what was going on and approved of it. He's not the kind of DM to ever try to tell people how to play their character, but I know he gets frustrated when nobody listens to him.

2) The kid's brother. Another player in the game, and a few years older, this guy rides the kid frequently. He has him get him food, tells him to shut up, rags on him, etc. Fairly standard older brother behavior, but this kid is extending this to everybody, including me.

Hey, if you wanna hate me for something, make it for something I did, okay? And not because I remind you of somebody else.

So, if the kid wants to hate me for kicking his character in the ass, fine. But only for that.

Now, about half an hour, forty-five minutes later, the kid comes slinking back into the room, sets up his stuff, continues on like nothing happened.

Okay; it's that kind of game. He can do that.

The following day, the kid is talking but nobody's listening, so he calls out "Guys!" Okay, so now I'm listening -- and he stops talking. So I told him to go ahead.

He didn't, so I called him on it. You were talking, but you didn't get our attention, so I was ignoring you. Then you get our attention, but stop talking.

And then I said: "I say this as a friend."

Boy, he didn't know what to think of that!

"But you hate me!"

"No, I don't hate you. I was pissed off for something you did, so I dealt with it. But that's that. It's over."

I went on to explain that he had some good ideas, and was potentially a very good player. But he had to get his act together, and stop pissing people off, or they'd never find out if he was any good becasue they wouldn't want to play in the same game as him.

I'm not saying I single-handedly reformed the guy, but he was doing a lot better, socially, on the last day of the con. I think I really got him to think about what he was doing.

And the game was fun, too. Overall, I had a good con.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Back from the Con

I didn't spend the whole con at the game I mentioned in my last post. But I was there for all but about 4 hours of it (by Saturday night I really needed sleep. And then when I tried to sleep, I couldn't.)

I had fun, made 4th level, and kicked a kid in the ass who desperately needed it.

Now, I want to be clear here: I didn't kick a child. My character kicked his character in the ass.

Like a lot of today's younger gamers (and, sadly, some of the older ones), this kid didn't have the social skills one would expect of a normal human being. He interrupted, he ignored, he babbled, he complained.

He carried a tower shield everywhere, then attacked with his two-handed weapons and/or moved farther than he should. And that was just part of it.

I don't even remember what it was that specifically set me off, but at one point I had simply Had. Enough.

So I grabbed my d20 and told the DM "Alright, I'm kicking him in the ass. I'm rolling to hit!"

And I hit.

And I did 4 points of damage.

3 points were subdual damage, but the fourth was real; this is the way of these things.

Boy, was that kid pissed!

(Heading out from work now; I'll finish this later.)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Here's the deal...

Okay, those of you who know me, even if only on the internet, know that I'm an old-school kind of guy.

But I do have one weakness...

There's this guy at my friendly not-so-local game store who runs a game at conventions (such as the one I'm at right now). It's a D&D 3.5 game and he is just running a series of modules. But I have so much fun at it!

Mostly, I like it when there are just a few other players and me. That's because many of those other players are kids.

I find myself in a position to pass on hard-fought wisdom from over 25 years of gaming.

(Also, back when I was first level, there was this Wizard who wanted to leave me for dead. I still give him crap about that...)

Plus, I'm playing a Bard, which gives me an excuse to make whatever lame-ass joke or pun I feel like, right there and then.

(As an aside, I used to play a bard named Jann in a 2nd ed game which became a 3rd ed game when that system was released. I had fun, but I didn't think that I was too overbearing. Well, one night I couldn't be there. The rest of the gang played, and they got along fine. The next week, they told me how they coped with my absence: Every 20 minutes or so, one or the other of them would say "Shut up, Jann!" and they'd get on with the game.

To this day, I'm not sure how to take that...)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

So, here it is, the second of the month, and I still have diddly squat for the World Adventure Writing Month.

But there's something floating around in the back of my brain...

I call it the back burner. I put the idea on to "simmer" back there, and sooner or later, it comes out done.

(I did papers that way back in school, too.)

I have the rest of the month.

But, on the other hand, I only have a few more days for the contest. Hope I can kill two birds with one stone!