Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Traveller: Status Report As Of Session 4

A minimalist cover style that's easy to duplicate

Traveller has now ran for four sessions, with a few more sessions planned before we wrap up and move onto our next game in the schedule.  I briefly summarized the previous sessions before in which the group bounty hunted, traded, delivered cargo and generally bummed about space making money,  Week four saw a hunt across a swampy planet for a renegade noble's ship, an armed confrontation as said ship was hijacked for repossession to the bank who financed the now-defaulted mortgage, an attempt to convince a prostitute to turn her life around and the enlistment of the Noble's Chef as part of the player character's crew.

The game has been something of a qualified success.  Certainly my big fear that the group would stumble in a sandbox game and find the whole thing pointless hasn't quite manifested, with some fairly enjoyable moments. The "automatic campaign" play style is maybe a pinch too sandbox for their tastes, with too much reliance on random tables leading to rather bitty sessions - I think slightly more scripted plot scattered throughout to tie the segments together would probably help.  While the random tables do make the game feel like a world that trundles on without them, it does mean the sessions lack a certain narrative punch.

A lot of bounty hunting, not much chat

There's perhaps been a lack of character scenes, with the players tending to focus on business rather than have many of the "two or three players in a room talking " scenes that allow you to develop much personality.  Sister Superior and Molly have probably done the most attempts at this so far and the end of the last session saw the hiring of a chef for their ship mostly a characterful choice than a practical one - yes, someone with Steward 2 is nice to have around for High Passengers, but mainly Sister Superior's Vargr wanted to be able to eat fresh meat onboard rather than freeze-dried rations while Molly's voidborn pilot can't abide all that moist planet-side food.

Cat sees nothing wrong with surviving on these.

Amongst the others, there's some good natured ribbing of the game as "space accountancy" - there's been a couple of punches and stabs but not a single gun has fired as yet - but at the same time the players do seem to be focusing on dice rolling for profit percentages and working out efficient trade routes that rather than gabbing current events with passengers or arguing politics with each other.

Perhaps part of that focus was the worry of the mortgage that was looming over their heads from character generation?  Certainly I was skeptical at the start of the game that the economics of keeping up their ship repayments was taxing, albeit with the proviso that it seemed a good incentive to look for adventure in search of money.  I even doubled the payments for randomly generated Bounties and Ship Repossessions, since the by-the-book figures seemed awfully low compared to what one could earn slowly but safely shipping freight.

Cargo: not glamorous but it pays the bills

In practice, after a months worth of adventuring they have paid their mortgage and have a comfortable nest egg that would keep the bank happy for the next two months without breaking a sweat.  A mixture of shrew trading choices and lucky dice rolls play a factor here - they've made profit on all their speculative cargos so far, though sooner or later the dice may rebel and see money vanish into the pit.  Bounties haven't actually been the major source of income for them, though it remains something they possess a good skill set for.  For now, at least, trading means cash has stopped being an immediate worry.

As a GM it's been an interesting challenge with so much of my content being generated on the fly.  I tweak and interpret results but I don't have a grand plan in the same way that, say, in Justice League Beyond I had a much firmer idea of what each session was going to focus on and what season finale I was building towards.  As I said earlier, when it works best the result is a game world that feels like it exists beyond the player characters - if they vanished tomorrow, all this stuff would keep on ticking and even I as the GM can be pleasantly surprised with how events develop.

One of Traveller's many adventure seeds
Sample plot hooks, for example, usually come with a D6 table of tweaks to the premise.  On one of their first sessions they were met by two people willing to pay over the odds for passage off-world, no questions asked - these people were prostitutes fleeing their pimp and after they accepted I rolled the D6 table to see if the pimp didn't notice them leaving in time, tried to intimidate the girls, tried to intimidate the crew, just set fire to their ship or whatever.  I as a GM knew the rough shape of the plot hook but that dice roll kept even me in suspense.

Do any of my readers have any experience with Traveller?  I'd be interested in the kind of games you've played or ran in the system.

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