Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Playing In A Traveller Band

This past Saturday we played the 14th session of our (basically) monthly Traveller campaign.


The group's home base for the majority of the campaign has been this space station,
Bussard Reach, orbiting the cold, though terrestrial, planet of Leighton IV.
This is one of the best campaigns I've run in a long time and I must confess, it's also one of the most challenging.

Before getting into the nitty gritty of it, here's some background:

Traveller - Prelude to Foundation
Traveller - Foundation's Edge
Traveller - Foundation
Traveller - Foundation and Empire

Like most classic, 'Old School' RPGs, I'm sure when I run this I am running it wrong. Nonetheless, after a number of failed attempts to run this game in the not too distant past, I think I have finally found the correct chemistry between game, players and GM to run it wrong well.

The challenge here was getting a group of players who haven't all played with each other before, in a game they haven't played before (for the most part), to play in a format none of them were really used to.

Oh is that all? Pee-shaw.

Lemme break it down for you...

The campaign uses my Storybook philosophy of open-universe, sandbox style play, with a meta-plot, big picture story going on in the background whether the players know it or not or care or not. It is there if they want to address it or if they don't. People in this universe are doing things even if the PCs are not paying any attention to them.

Various other plots and subplots are going on here and there, scattered across a dozen, dozen worlds. PCs may uncover them. They may not. They may uncover and decide they're not interested.

Each PC has their own background story and/or motivations and things they want to do, avoid, accomplish, save, destroy, etc. They may pursue those plots and goals at anytime they like as long as they can find a way to address them. For example, if one PC is looking for her son, who just happened to sign up for an experimental farming project on a research colony, she needs a way to get to that planet if she doesn't have a ship and can't pilot one even if she did.

The universe is completely open and the PCs are free to go wherever they like, whenever they like and do whatever they want. Of course all actions have reprocussions so if you want to take out the Sector Duke or Duchess and claim the position by right of assassination, well, I hope you have help and a really good plan.

Given complete and total freedom, most players are do what they do in every game, go to a bar and look to see who's hiring. That is essentially what most of them did here, except for one who did the hiring.
We started the game with players: Ed, Jeff, Marcus, Ray and Will.
We added Dave in the second session and Andy in the third.
Time constraints and family obligations eventually forced Ed, Jeff and Dave to bow out. In the case of Ed this was really my fault. Ed had commited to our original schedule and from time to time I had to change it and he could only do what he could do. In addition, the players were really loving the game and wanted to me to run it longer and more often. Ed could only do what he could do. I came up with an alternative solution but he felt it was best if he left the group. I feel bad as I really like the guy and thought his character was awesome.
Ed, if you read this, we miss you man.

Andy is a bit sporadic but we gained another new player in Hans.

So our current crew is Hans, Marcus, Ray, Will and sometimes Andy.

Note that this is the same group that I have for Pendragon. Each game is run once a month for between 6-8 hours (though Traveller often goes over that).


A large portion of the reason this campaign rocks is Will. His playstyle is very proactive. His character makes stories happen. The team* meeting each other and getting into an adventure together began with his character. His PCs take charge attitude, fast talking approach and bureacratic nature are both an endless source of awesome in the game and a source of frustration for some of the other players who just want to shoot stuff and make money. OK, there is only really one player in that boat but the two are definitely at odds a lot of times.

Generally I think it makes for great TV as the saying goes, in our last session it kind of rubbed one of them the wrong way. It's one thing to lead and it's another thing to step on another players toes. Will realized he did this however, apologized and promised to be a bit more flexible and aware in the future.

While Will has adapted to this campaign's unusual style extremely well, it has taken some of the others a bit of time to find their legs.

Hans started slow but is getting into the swing of things pretty quickly. His latest set of ideas and weapon designs (using T4's version of 'Fire, Fusion and Steel') are outstanding and we are working on ways to incorporate a skill at weapon design into his character, a Female, Solomani who is a self described Imperial nationalist with an unspecified criminal background (the character was an Imperial Navy Pilot who left the service and got mixed up in...something).

Marcus is Marcus and what that generally means is that he sees things in short term, D&D mentality and misses the big picture sometimes. He wants to be his own man and his own boss. He doesn't want to work for anyone long term and won't sign his name to any contracts or paperwork, a major thorn to Will's character you is trying to legitimize what the team does.

Marcus is still thinking 'Hack and Slash', kill it and take its stuff. That's all well and good and he is the only reckless and adventurous guy we have, so having him means things stay off kilter. Left to their own devices, the rest of the group is too smart to get into trouble. Marcus makes sure there is trouble to be had. Unfortunately, he doesn't realize how much trouble he gets himself into and seems to think he is immune to consequences. We'll see soon enough...

Ray hasn't done a lot to make you go, "Wow! That character is awesome!', but Dr. Emil Fujikawa has been an excellent supporting character who is the only PC so far to tap into the campaign's overall story. In the most recent session he proved incredibly effective in our Virtual Realty Skirmish Tournament. Ray is known to play is too safe, often boxing his character into an unadventurous corner. He is trying to get out of that rut in Pendragon. We will see if his Traveller character can do the same.

Andy is fun to have around, if sometimes frustrating but always in a lovable way. He's young and sometimes a little unsure of himself but when he plays his character he does it well. He is the next most adventurous after Marcus (though Hans is rapidly moving up), but unlike Marcus, Andy is always very careful and tries to plan things out. He likes to take his time or at least have a good idea of what he's getting into. This not only serves him well, it makes perfect sense for his Scout/Hunter survivalist character.

I could go on and on about this campaign. At 14 sessions I feel like we've covered more ground and gotten more done than in 20 sessions of some previous campaigns and that's saying a lot. I pack a lot of stuff into my sessions and this campaign has seen some extra dense get-togethers.
In the near future I will try to do some play reports or at the very least, an overview of 'The Story Thus Far...'.
Iteresting side notes...
In the last 3-5 sessions most of the group has been involved in a Virtual Realty Skirmish match against three other teams. Imagine a cross between a 4-way Paintball game and a Holodeck adventure.
Outside of this and the actions of some NPCs, there has been absolutely no real combat of any kind directly involving the PCs. No fights other than a VR game.
Also, the team essentially lives on Fujikawa's Lab Ship but the Lab Ship has been docked at Bussard Reach Space Station (aka Leighton Highport) for the majority of the campaign.
No murderhobos. Score.
Barking Alien
*I use the word team very loosely here. Very loosely.


  1. I am very, very jealous.....running a Traveller and Pendragon campaign....at the same time. My group's natural inclination is to be murderhobos (even my 11yo daughter) but I'm currently running a Maze and Minotaurs (free OSR game) and the group is desperately trying to play their characters as epic heroes. I count on the fingers on one hand the number of individuals interested in either Traveller or Pendragon over the past few years.

    1. I have mentioned on this blog a number of times that most of my past groups shied away from the murderhobo approach. I actually thought of running Traveller so that I could give this group (far more prone to that style) a chance to go all 'Grand Theft Astro' if they so wished.

      To say I have been pleasantly surprised is an understatement.

      Sure it's only a matter of time before Marcus gets fed up with all the wheeling and dealing and just plugs some poor schmoe but so far its been a lot more interesting than that.

      Pitching a game with my current group was a problematic endeavor at first but now that I know them a little better I have figured out how to go about it.

      The players I have don't care so much what the rules are as long as there are rules, they are a little crunchy and the rules work with the genre. The genre is interesting to them but the setting can work against me.

      For example, Traveller works but Star Trek and Star Wars don't. It has nothing to do with the rules for those games, but rather that they are known IPs and only one or two of them are big fans of either. Traveller feels original and more like their own universe (a universe they can call their own as it were).

      Pendragon was an easy sell to most of them, but then they went ahead and made characters who are a bit atypical of Arthurian Legend. The one hold out who wasn't interested in playing in the realm of King Arthur so much, found something to latch onto by also making an atypical character. Now, do these characters not fit the folklore and myths of the Early Days of Britain? No, they fit. They are atypical but not inappropriate.

      The remaining players are playing Knights and reinforcing what the game is really about.

      I'm going to call it a win.

  2. Sounds like great fun. I am a huge Traveller fan though I have played very little over the years.

    1. That's a shame SoS. If you're ever heading to NYC on a Saturday let me know! :)