2021-05-18 The Traveller campaign after 8 sessions

I sent the following email to my players:

Hi all!

We’ve played eight sessions. Yay us! When I’m playing with people at the same table, I usually imagine myself being able to read how people feel about the game. Online, I’m not so sure. I think we’re having a good time, but there’s never any “meta” talk. Perhaps that’s a good sign, who knows. I’d still like to offer a channel for feedback, so the questions that follow are simply a list of the things I’ve been asking myself. Feel free to answer whatever you like, or something different altogether, or simply reply with “I’m happy exactly as it is.” 🙂

Cheers
Alex

If you’re in a Traveller campaign, I’d be happy to hear from you!

Comments

My own answers, for the Tau Subsector campaign:

Campaign tech level, law level, and similar details: does the weird Traveller retro-future work for you? Would you like more emphasis on technology and tech-levels and gadgets? Would you like less thinking about what sort of weapons are available on what system?

I think the tech level works just fine. The system takes some getting used to. My current thinking is that all the blueprints are available everywhere, inside computers. Tech level is not about knowledge and research but about production and economics. If your tech level is low, you don’t have the factories, the raw materials, the customers. Therefore, rich people can still have equipment above the local tech level, no problem. And people know about high tech worlds, just like these days anybody with a TV has a sense of how the modern tech world “is” – as in: you know what ads and movies and series tell you about “beautiful people” owning mobile phones but not much else. A devious glamour hides the supply chains required, the cobalt mines, the lithium mines, the limits of the app store, the surveillance built into the infrastructure, the manipulation, the leaks, the programming languages, the pollution, and on and on.

I don’t need more emphasis on technology and gadgets. The inventory of Classic Traveller is enough for me.

Buying equipment, trade: does the simple inventory work for you? Would you like do more Elite-style trading? Do we spend too much time buying equipment?

When I ran Traveller for the first time many years ago, I thought that trading was an important element of the game but it ended up being boring and none of the players wanted to spend time on it. Player characters owning a handful of items and no more works for me: a weapon or two, some armour, a communicator, another thing or two you found on the equipment lists, and that’s it. No custom-made guns with special properties, no cyber-limbs, no body-enhancements.

NPCs: are there too many of them? Are their names too weird? Are they interesting enough in their ambitions and their personalities? What about the organisations, the navy, the crime orgs, the local governments?

Currently the names use long name lists from a small number of sources: English names, Japanese names, Chinese names, names from various African languages, and names from various Native American languages (source). It provides just the right sort of challenge for me. For most of the names, I don’t know how gender appropriate they are. I just do a quick search and go with what I find.

As for their ambitions and personalities, I must admit that they aren’t complex. Then again, I also don’t think that complex characters are per se something to aim for. Interesting interactions need a conflict of interest, ways to get leverage, ways to build empathy, that kind of thing. My idea is that this grows naturally the more we interact with characters. Therefore, it’s fine for a pharmacist looking for drug couriers to be cautious or jovial and not much else until we meet them more often. Then perhaps we’ll see that they have a crude humour, or don’t value the lives of their clients, or worry about their daughter, and it’ll add depth to the character.

Setting: What would you add to the setting to make it more interesting?

I’ve been wondering about this. There are some elements that are part of the expanded Traveller universe, namely aliens and PSI powers, and there are well known elements like searching for the ancestors or progenitors. The problem is that I don’t much care for the story potential of these elements. With aliens we can explore racism without race, which is something I don’t really want in my game; or we can explore the consequences of strange biology, which is hard to make exciting in a tabletop game, I think; with PSI powers we can explore witchcraft, the treatment of people with special abilities, and I guess I’d rather leave that to Fantasy games, or watch Avatar, Korra, or any other of the many shows talking about the subject.

I guess I’m basing my ideas of the far future on images from Dune: it’s all about humans. Yes, the navigators are weird, but that’s it. The houses, their soldiers, the natives, they’re all human.

I’ve added a rebellion to the setting, and crime organisations, and I’m interested in the various governments as ways of organising the system, of exploring politics and economics: capitalism, fascism, theocracies, technocracies, oligarchies, democracies, this is stuff that I always find interesting. Not interesting enough to be in the foreground, but as interesting colour to add to the background.

Anyway, the short answer is that I already added all the things I felt were interesting and that I don’t feel like adding aliens, PSI powers, or a search for the ancestors.

Mechanics: Would you like to make more skill rolls, have more fights, roll more dice?

I’m still fascinated by Traveller as a set of rules where the player characters have a lot of skills to solve problems with violence in a world where violence is dangerous and thus this escalation is something to be avoided. What remains is a few “throws” here and there, not necessarily involving any skills or attributes – just “dice as oracles”.

I wrote a longer commentary on Traveller and dice rolling a few months ago (blog post from 2021-03-27). Feel free to revisit it. I didn’t want to just copy four or five whole paragraphs from there, but they’re all relevant now: skills as professions; not having many skills; having no skills for social interactions; and yet: more talking than shooting; the importance of ambushing; the joy of planning; the decision of when to fight being more interesting than the decision of how to fight; the improvisation nature of Traveller; how the honest life doesn’t pay in Traveller… good stuff!

Organisation: Does video chat work for you? Does date voting work for you? Do the times work for you? Not enough, or too many sessions?

It took me a year to accept video chat for my games, but I think it works, now. I’m liking games with two or three players plus referee the best, I think. It no longer reminds me of work and the home office all that much. We’re living in the pandemic and I’m starting to realise that I need to socialise via video chat if I’m going to socialise at all.

As for the sessions: we’re currently doing a session every one or two weeks, which works well enough with my other two games: I’m also a player in two D&D 5 games, one with similarly irregular sessions every one or two weeks, and one with regular sessions every two weeks. I’ve even gotten used to the date voting (which is what the other D&D 5 game uses).

What about campaign length: how many sessions do you think will we play in this campaign?

I don’t know. I wonder how the campaign is going to take summer, once it arrives. The only effect so far is that we’re starting at 20:15 instead of 19:30 because “dice only get rolled after sundown” or something like that. What a lovely idea! 😄

I can also see myself doing more stuff outside and feeling like I don’t want to be in so many campaigns at the same time. My long summer break is coming up. I might want to do hikes and other things where I can’t be sure I’ll be back home in time for a game.

Then again, with a lot of free time I generally want to game more, so it’s not entirely clear to me how this will turn out.

The other thing I’m wondering is what the end of the pandemic is going to do to our social lives. Will be spending time in coffee houses and parks again, in restaurants and with friends? That might mean less games as well.

In short, I’m suspecting that this is not going to be a campaign of fifty sessions. I we play around three sessions per month, for the summer, that’d be another ten or twelve sessions? Enough to change our mind, but also not something where we say to each other: that’s something for us to do once we reach level nine, or whatever one says when using rules with power tiers due to spell levels or the like.

I’m looking forward to the next game, in any case! 😁

– Alex


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