ON THE TABLE: Pure Unadulterated Traveller

Sunday , 3, September 2017 5 Comments

I’ve been terrified to run this game my entire life. But I tell you… that first time I stumbled across those beautiful “little black books”, I just had to play it. I never got over it. I had my doubts that there were even people that existed that could make it work, sure. But people that fall for Traveller really don’t ever get over it. You can’t do it.

Now I did eventually run a Traveller campaign. I ran a short one for a few sessions that leaned heavily on Martin J Dougherty’s stuff. I didn’t really hit my stride until I ran a GURPS Prime Directive Humanx mashup campaign that was set in a universe that had the Star Fleet Battles starships and the weirder stuff from the original series stuff like Greek Gods, mobster planet, and plenty of hot space princess types.

But all that stuff? Hey, we had some good times. We through some dice. We had adventures. It was cool. But it wasn’t the game you’d get if you were j. random referee picking up the original three booklets and making something out of it during the tail end of the seventies.

Where does that lead…? Well hey, I couldn’t tell now. At least… not until I fell into a game of “celebrity Traveller” with Castalia House contributor Brian Renninger, pulp revival superstar Sky Hernstrom, and die hard gaming junkie Neal Durando.

Man, I play this game for hours on end and I still don’t know how it works. It shouldn’t work. The players all have different play styles. They characters are just whatever happened to get kicked out of the byzantine Traveller character generation process. We have some truly atrocious stats, too. In any other game we would have been classified as being “hopeless characters.” We’re stomping around in a randomly generated universe whose map just so happens to fit on a single digest-sized page. Heck, I ask the ref a question about whether or not I could even get to a particular world that lies just off the map edge… and he couldn’t even tell me…!

Everything the me of ten years ago was sure would ruin a campaign…? Well it doesn’t seem to cramp Brian’s style in any way.

This last session I blow in pushing everyone to head to some world we’ve never been to in order to redeem a voucher I could exchange for a shiny new turret for my battered Type S. But is it safe? We check for rumors. We find out that the coup instigated by the Psionics Institute had failed in the spinward section of the empire. This sounded great! We could move away from the freaky big brained Second Foundation types that were hounding us and toward something a little safer. A safe place to dump off a big ticket passenger. A fully armed and operational scout ship for me. A little less heat to boot…? A no-brainer here!

We get there and come out of jump space in a debris field from a recent space battle. We witness some patrol cruisers and mercenary cruisers heading out to shore up a bottle neck in the stellar topography. (Yep. This is a small ship universe.) We land and I close the deal on my turret. (Worth millions of credits, wah!) Neal and Sky go off to look for trouble. The very quickly end up in a firefight when a woman offering to pay them big bucks to go rescue her brother is hustled away from them by an official with a couple of police goons.

Turns out the official was a psi that was mind controlling the police dudes.

By the time I had refreshed my memory regarding which computer programs I should hunt for next in order to get maximum utility from my new turret, Neal and Sky had organized a modest resistance movement.

At this point, I’m not so sure if I’m even going to be able to get out of here with a turret. Heck, this might even be the last stop we ever make in this campaign…!

So how do you make intelligent decisions in a large science fiction setting where you have no idea what’s really going on…? It’s tough! But man… that rumor fit exactly what I wanted to hear, it was entirely consistent with everything we’d seen, and it even made sense. But the “reality” we were walking into makes even more sense.

Now, here’s where I’m going to hurt your feelings.

The thing that makes this game work…? The thing that makes it playable…? The thing that makes it exciting and engaging and compelling and immersive…? It’s the unknown. It’s the discrepancy between what we think is happening and what is actually happening.

Now, I’m not going to say that nobody got any fun out of the later Traveller supplements and variants and editions. But I will say that a lot of the stuff that a whole lot of people wanted to add to the game…? The stuff that people take for granted as being the game outside of a very small “old school” circle…?

All of that stuff works against the thing that really electrifies the game that we are playing right now.

Think about it.

  • Brian Renninger says:

    “Celebrity Traveller” now those are strong words.

    But, I strongly doubt it’ll be the last stop in the campaign. Though, it might be for those characters. Who knows?

    There are still tons of stuff left to do. I have yet to roll an encounter with pirates. And, we do have to get back to the Freetrader branch when the other players are available.

    I really want to see where the Freetrader branch goes as I think there are interesting things for them to do. And, also, this is another unappreciated strength of Traveller. You can split the party and it’s not the end of the world. Taking up where the Freetrader left off will be a thing in its own right, and illuminate other aspects of the subsector. Now, you can do this on other RPGs but, Traveller seems particularly suited for swapping between multiple sets of characters hopping among star systems. I think it has something to do with those 1 week jump times.

  • John E. Boyle says:

    “Neal and Sky had organized a modest resistance movement.”

    Good Heavens, what is this place going to look like if these two maniacs succeed? It could wind up being a sleek combination of Las Vegas and the Browning Firearms Co. or the local galactic arm’s version of Natchez Under the Hill on a bad Friday night (or anything in between).

    Maybe the reason why the GM hasn’t rolled an encounter with pirates is because the PARTY are the pirates and they just don’t know it yet.

  • Frank Filz says:

    And another cool session report…

    Hmm, do I recognize one of the 76 Patrons?

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