Yeah, another list of links to blog posts I liked, inspired by the read through of @jmettraux’s End of Week Links 13. Like John, I get my links from the RPG Planet. Please join us, if you haven’t already.
Since I’m running a Traveller campaign, I was interested in some Traveller-related blog posts.
Classic Traveller skills are more like professions at The Viking Hat GM: «An inclusive rather than exclusive view means shorter skill lists in a game - you don’t need to list every trivial thing humans can do when you can handwave most of it as basic life skills - and also on the character sheet. You will see too a difference in play at the table. When every possible skill is listed, as the GM says, “And what do you do?” everyone looks down to their character sheet … RPGs are a social way to be creative with friends, and shorter skill lists and briefer character sheets encourage more creativity among players, and more socialising. They talk to each-other rather than looking at their character sheets. Play becomes more interesting.»
I can see it working both ways: either you use as few skills as possible, specially not for social interactions. But I know this is a controversial area. In my blog post Role Play, not Wish Fulfilment I argue that if you’re not a charming player, I think it’s OK for you not to play a charming character. In other words, just like a fearful player who wishes to play a courageous hero by cannot bring themselves to put their character into the front rank cannot be the thing they wish because they are not acting their part, a monosyllabic player who wishes to be a socialite cannot be the thing they wish because they cannot bring themselves to play the role. In this way, the role-playing I like is a bit like an acting skill: over the years, I hope you’ll get better at it. I hope I get better at it. Of course, the line is drawn arbitrarily. There’s no reason for the fantasy to be sexist and cruel, and that is a kind of wish fulfilment, of course. There’s no reason for the player of a fighter to be a good fighter, and that’s a kind of wish fulfilment. The reason I think I’m OK with it is that first of all, most of us are not good fighters, and second, if their descriptions of fighting is lame, we can at least roll dice and move on. But if we do this for all interactions as well, then we’re going to roll more and more dice until I just don’t enjoy the game anymore. So yeah, that line is going to be different for everybody. I’m just saying where my line is. And just because I favour this kind of play doesn’t mean I’m opposed to all other kinds of play. I really liked Sean Nittner’s and Judd Karlman’s Actual Play podcast (see 2021-01-19 Listening to Burning Wheel Actual Play) where they use Burning Wheel. There, the Duel of Wits is a way to resolve social conflict using dice, and it works in the context of a game where every roll ties into advancement, into your beliefs, your traits, and so on. Here, immersion is achieved not by forgetting the rules and just talking at the table but by using the rules to suffer setbacks and defeats (and triumphs, eventually) in areas your characters care about.
The Viking Hat GM has more, though: “But as with so many game systems, the author got it more-or-less right the first time. And so we play Classic Traveller. Classic Traveller, most especially Books 1-3, like AD&D1e, RuneQuest 1e and the like, is a good system because not despite the fact that it is incomplete. You fill in the blanks.” – CT: Books 1-3 - You fill in the blanks!
Together, these two posts reminded me of something I had recently posted myself: the skills these Traveller characters have are based on their past careers: Electronics, Mechanics, Computers, and a ton of weapon training, and some obscure things like driving tracked vehicles or acting as a forward observer for orbital artillery, and then they are dropped into a world of crooks, smugglers, narcs, and they are absolutely unprepared for a life of crime in a deadly world where well aimed shots can take you out.
This is underscored by yet another post I liked by The Viking GM, Conflict: Surprise & Initiative: “The unfortunate truth is that there really only three kinds of combats: Ambush! - all of you live, all of them die. Ambushed! - all of you die, all of them live. Stand-up fight - everyone dies.” What a summary!
That, in turn, led me via The Wandering Gamist’s Truer Combat as War and Chocolate Hammer's Boot Hill Campaign to Rutskarn’s Boot Hill and the Fear of Dice: “You want players to be prudent, ambitious, ruthless, calculating, paranoid. You want them to respect their enemies and balance alliances carefully. Above all you want the constant, thrilling tension wrought by a high-stakes duel of wits: a deadly game where a single misstep in a dark alley could end an entire dynasty.” Isn’t that what it’s all about? If the game is deadly, and combat is a mistake unless you’ve rigged the stakes to favour you as much as possible, then that’s what I like: I like to make the decision of when to fight, now the minutiae of how to fight. As far as I’m concerned, I’m happy if combat ends in two rounds. Yeah, picking up old threads from 2021-03-10 Blogosphere, again.
At the same time, the end effect of that ends up being that the players talk to everybody and prefer not to shoot, and after a while you realise: they’re not fighting because everything is dangerous, they’re not rolling dice for talking because there are no social skills in the game, so that’s it. It’s all talking.
And that in turn reminded me of some older blog posts at the Tales to Astound blog, like Casual and Improvisatory Nature of Early Traveller Play: “More talking than shooting – The session does feature some combat, but it occurs near the end when, after interacting with the natives for some time, the players finally realize that the natives are cannibals and see the PCs as a new source of protein. What the players don’t do is waltz into the caverns with FGMPs, battledress, and itchy trigger fingers ready to slag anything that moves. Even when the encounter with the natives slowly deteriorates, the players prefer to Jaw, jaw, jaw rather than War, war, war. The guns – and the dice – only come out when the players need to secure their retreat to the surface and then, rather than burn the caverns to the ground, they only use enough force to escape.”
There’s more in this follow-up post from the same blog, An Improvised Classic Traveller Convention Game. This time it’s not about the need to avoid combat in a lethal system but in how improvised a lot of the game is. I guess that’s the direction I want my own gaming to move towards: my goal is to “daydream” about the setting, write down some notes, names, some forces ready to clash as soon as the player characters appear, and that’s it. Almost no prep is also almost no wasted prep. 😁
That “Classic Traveller Out of the Box” blog post series is great. Just recently, one of my players sent me a link to An Approach to Refereeing and Throws in Original Traveller (Part I). «Keep in mind that I don’t think Classic Traveller has a Skill System. It has a Throw system (throw 2D6, equal or beat a number, add DMs from a variety of sources (skills, characteristics, and circumstances). Not everything Throw has a Skill DM. … Because it we have a system for Referee saying, “I don’t know what’s going to happen here. Roll these 2D6 and we’ll find out what happened.” All sorts of modifiers can come into play depending on what the roll is about. It is a universal system that looks like it has not system!» Note that the blog post also discusses the “Free Kriegsspiel” idea. We’ll come back to that in a moment.
Anyway, all that Traveller talk reminded me of old blog posts in Richard’s Dystopian Pokeverse, like The implicit game in original Traveller’s ship loan rules: “the entry level offer for a high-performing merchant captain is a shipyard loan on a new-built Free Trader: capital cost 36-37 MegaCr at 6.2% interest, working out to a monthly payment of 150,000 Cr – roughly equivalent to room and board for 500 average Imperial citizens or 6 mail contracts to different systems, meaning you’d need a 6-week month to break even as a mail carrier.” Which is how you end up with a ton of mercenary work, narcotics, weapon smuggling, and so on. The honest way of life doesn’t pay in Traveller.
All of this then had me ready to think about other games. @jmettraux had me covered, linking to Links for Designing PbtA TTRPGs (where “PbtA” means “Powered by the Apocalypse”, usually referring to rolling something like 2d6 with very high results meaning a success, medium results meaning a complication, and low results meaning bad stuff heapens, and “TTRPG” meaning “Table Top Role-Playing Games”), which in turn linked to Simple World, which is a PDF that looks like a game but is actually a document telling you how to customise the basic rules to create a “Powered by the Apocalypse” game. It’s a super cool procedure to customise a procedural game! 😁
And John also has a post about Hnefatafl, and Freies Kriegsspiel in real life, and a link to cave maps, and a link to How the Germans Defined Auftragstaktik: What Mission Command is - AND - is Not in the Small Wars Journal, and a follow-up for readers of French, Ensemble tout devient plus lent, at La voie de l’épée, on ordering people around.
The Simple World post also reminded me of a super basic B/X document without spells, monsters, or classes – just people, if I understand it correctly. A foundation for your own game, perhaps. Quintessential BX, David Perry, at Lithyscaphe.
More cool links… Wow, this post is long.
“It is about characters’ inner struggles, and interpersonal struggles, and societal struggles, and that is broadly encoded in the Karma mechanic, but not by genre. It is about problem-solving, but less so in the sense of logic puzzles and resource management, and more in how you confront these weird and inexplicable circumstances- it’s more a creative challenge. I guess it’s more of a life challenge, if again I may be so pretentious.” It sounds weird. 🤔 Tabletop RPGs as Performance Art, at Weird & Wonderful Worlds.
Grymlorde quotes from Scientific American Supplement No. 586, 1887: “Torches consist of a bundle of loosely twisted threads which has been immersed in a mixture formed of two parts, by weight, of beeswax, eight of resin, and one of tallow. In warm, dry weather, these torches when lighted last for two hours when at rest, and for an hour and a quarter on a march. A good light is obtained by spacing them 20 or 30 yards apart.” – Torches through the editions & Real World
A blog post about reviews. I didn’t read it all, it was very wordy, but I found the comments very interesting: What's Broken: Reviews. As for myself, I stopped doing reviews when I realized that they were always hopelessly out of date as I wanted to run all the adventures before reviewing them. And people convinced me that talking about the things we don’t like is a waste of time. Life is short. Talk about the things you love. Do we need “a review culture to guide consumers”? Maybe not. But then again, I’m on the record with claiming that we also don’t need much of a market… For the controversial take, see 2020-02-14 Unprofessional.
Anyway, back to links…
«Everything can speak and understand Common. That’s Everything with a capital “E”, in the sense that everything a person could interact with (vegetable, animal, and mineral) can talk. Anything can have a discussion. … Caves of Qud, which allows you to attempt to talk and trade with most things, plants and pond fish included. They make poor traders and conversationalists. Still, being able to say: “Live and drink, aquafriend.” is a pretty significant bit of worldbuilding.» Everything Can Listen, But Nothing Wants to Talk, Goodberry Monthly.
“The game is well written and has a lot of charm. It has the level of complexity I was looking for. It is a great game to play with children and I think my children would also be able to play it on their own.” Playing Das Schwarze Auge after 37 Years, by Herr Zinnling. It’s what I started with! 😀
As an interesting tidbit circling back to social skills and my example with the fearful player and the courageous character: Das Schwarze Auge has a Courage attribute which might force your character to charge or accept a challenge even though the player might not want to. A bit like those traits in King Arthur Pendragon: knights have multiple traits that come in opposing pairs such as just vs. arbitrary and usually whenever you increase one, the other decreases; these traits sometimes get used to determine what the character does in spite of what the player might wish.