[TITLJ] Not Completely Dead...
I haven't posted in a long time. I haven't had too much to write about, hobbywise. I still have no home, no room for any games or miniatures or a workbench. I suppose I could have talked about my reaction to Rogue One, but it hurt too much. Another reason I haven't posted is that I can't figure out how to change the blog name to reflect my new real name.

The one geeky thing I have been doing is improving my Trigedasleng. At this point I'm pretty fluent. I can't always speak off the cuff without taking a moment to compose what I want to say, but I've been able to hold actual conversations with the other members of Slakgedakru. And I continue to make contributions to the language as well. There've been more Slak brainstorming sessions with David J. Peterson (or slengheda, as we call him). One of my words has since been used on air in an actual episode of the show.

Hopefully I'll find some stability soon, and can get back to having an actual life. In the meantime, ge smak daun, gyon op nodotaim.

[TITLJ] Life Is Really Sucking Today
I try not to talk about non-hobby stuff here, but I'm in a really bad place today.

So, my gofundme camaign to stop being homeless and get into an apartment has been not going too well. I'm starting to feel really desparate. I can't go home, I don't have a family anymore. And I can't stay here much longer, and the three local womens' shelters are swamped. And apparenly my food stamps have been cut off, and I have no idea why. After the ordeal I went through to get them, the thought of plunging back into that bureaucreatic nightmare fills me with despair. And of course now is the time for my chronic injury to flare up, with the pain and the bleeding and the inability to sit up for long, and the reminder that I’m going to be maimed and mutilated and neutered for the rest of my life.

Please, if you can help, even just a little bit, please donate. And if you can't--gods know a lot of people are having a hard time these days--can you at least reblog this? Every little bit helps.


[Traveller OOB] Player Characters

While Out-of-the-Box Traveller leaves a lot open in terms of technology and setting detail, it does make a particular kind of player character. Traveller PCs are not first-level characters. They're experienced, grizzled, been around the block a few times. They put in one or more tours of duty with a spacegoing service and then were forced out or mustered out, or maybe chose to leave for reasons of their own. It's not a game for playing the wide-eyed new kid.

Traveller chargen is almost completely random. As mentioned, one of the game's themes is "playing the hand you're dealt". Normally this isn't what we want in a roleplaying game. We want to choose who our characters are. But I think that Traveller's "random lifepath" approach can make an interesting change of pace. There'll always be a next game where you can go back to the usual way of doing things, right?

Players should bring no preconceived ideas of what kind of character they want to play. Let the dice fall where they may, and then figure out who the character is from the results. Instead of hoping for a hotshot pilot and being disappointed when you roll Streetwise instead, don't bring any expectations until you're done, and then ask yourself, "What kind of person spends four years in the Navy and comes out a black market wheeler-dealer?"

Also, you'll have more than one character. One old-school touch of OOB is having multiple characters per player. Right now I'm thinking four PCs per player--including the ones that die during chargen. (I don't need to tell you that PCs can die during chargen, right? Traveller is famous for it.) Combined with the structure of a West Marches campaign, there'll be maybe 30-50 PCs, 4-8 of whom will go on a particular session's adventure.

In the way of a West Marches campaign, some players will say, "Let's explore the ruins on Planet X this weekend". Everyone who's going to be available that weekend picks which one of their two or three surviving PCs they'll play, and shows up for the session. Adventure happens, and afterward they go make in-character posts to the campaign's email list, in which their PCs show up at the spaceport bar and brag about their exploits to those who missed that adventure (or toast a fallen comrade, depending on how things went).

In the Traveller RPG, "travellers" are an actual group within the fictional setting. Like shadowrunners in Shadowrun, they're part of a community, composed of people who have chosen (or fallen into) a particular lifestyle. They mostly know each other, at least professionally or by reputation, and there's a sense of camraderie. To quote from another of the Traveller OOB blog entries, the PCs "might well have known each other (either in the same service, or in some operation involving several branches), or know someone who knows someone. They have skills. And, most importantly, they have each decided to head off into a subsector beyond the reaches of the civilized sphere of space. Going back home and settling down isn’t for them. They’ve got a spark of the wanderlust, of a desire to make more of themselves, of not fitting in where you just sit around with a job. The PCs spot these qualities on each other. They sniff them out. They know, 'You’re one of us'." My idea to have frequent space travel result in travellers aging differently from the planet-bound would only further reinforce that sense of community and shared experience.

Another principle is that there shouldn't be NPC adventurers, because the spotlight should be on the PCs. Combining that with the large West Marches player pool and the mulitple PCs per player, and we get a rough idea of the size of the traveller community in the Trailing Marches region: about 30-50.

I imagine these 30-50 kindred spirits hanging out together at the spaceport bar between missions, buying each other drinks or playing darts, or having cookouts on the tarmac between two parked ships, where everyone shows up with a folding chair and some booze and food and just shoots the shit for an evening.

Aerodynamic Spaceship
I found this piece of art apparently commissioned for the Clement Sector RPG. It's pretty representative of what I was picturing in my head when I wrote "Atmospheric shuttles and atmo-capable startships are usually shaped like lifting bodies" in the previous post. (Artist: Ian Stead)


[Traveller OOB] Setting & Technology Assumptions II

Aliens: I'm leaning toward not having alien PCs or aliens as an everday part of the PCs' home society. In one of the Traveller Out of the Box blog posts, CK! quoted the following passage from a Grognardia post about the literary antecedents of D&D:

The world is generally humanocentric, with non-humans relegated to the margins, which is why the protagonists often interact with them.

James Maliszewski was talking about the sword & sorcery underpinnings of Dungeons & Dragons, but the same thing applies to the sci fi pulp Traveller grew out of, and for the same reason: it makes aliens alien. Something unusual and not everyday.

(Both posts are worth reading in their entirety, for other insights into the thinking behind this kind of game. Especially the comparisons between pulp adventure and the picaresque novel.)

Weapons: for the same reason, Traveller tends to minimize sci-fi energy weapons in favor of mundane guns. That way the contrast is heightened when the PCs actually encounter them. I think, for my Trailing Marches setting, I'm going to have only conventional firearms be common.

Spaceship-scale lasers are well-established (because sandcasters are about the coolest thing Traveller ever did, so I want to include them), but engineering an energy weapon down to the size of a man-portable firearm is pushing the envelope of existing tech. They don't get smaller than a large rifle or light MG (think M60, or those harness-mounted things from Aliens), and even those are rare. Like Jump 3+ ships, they can usually only be afforded by militaries and big corporates. Bad guys. When a Player Character obtains one, it'll feel like a big deal.

Blade Weapons & Spacebuckling: Space opera often features characters using swords and bladed weapons. Various ideas have been put forward to justify this, from Dune's personal shields to Star Wars' laser swords. There's been more than one thread at RPG.net on the subject. Here's the most recent, from which I lifted the justifications I'm going to use:

  1. It's cool. ^_^  I may not need any more justification that that, but....

  2. Starships are full of explode-y things like coolant pipes and pressurized O2 tanks and liquid hydrogen, not to mention the risk of depressurization and everybody getting blown out into space.

  3. As mentioned, the setting is a frontier region away from the nice parts of civilization. There will only be a few places that sell guns and ammunition, and the PCs may have to make a Streetwise roll instead of buying them legally. The PCs will have guns, but they may need to be very stingy wth their ammunition.

I'm tempted to include some science ficiton-y blade types, like the vibro-weapons from Star Frontiers, the neon-lighted crystal katanas from Cyberpunk 2020, etc.

Artificial Gravity & Antigravity: I want to limit gravity tech in some way. If an air raft can just float all the way up to orbit, then why would a starship ever land on a planet? I want starships to land, dammit. And need to be streamlined. Or carry streamlined shuttles. Those cylindrical boats and cutters are hereby space-only, they can't land on a planet.

Let's say grav vehicles have a maximum ceiling, and it's pretty low, maybe 10 meters or so. They can't go higher under their own power, and if airdropped by a starship (or if they drive over a cliff or something) they slowly sink to their ceiling altitude. They work by projecting a downward anti-tractor beam that pushes them up off the ground, so they do exert ground pressure, but it's spread over an area as wide as the vehicle, so there's less ground pressure per square inch than a comparable wheeled vehicle. Maybe equal to a tracked vehicle.

Atmospheric shuttles and atmo-capable startships are usually shaped like lifting bodies or a cross between a cargo plane and the NASA space shuttle (I wish my Tigers of Terra comics weren't in storage; I'd scan a picture of a Goliath). They have wheeled landing gear and make conventional runway landings and takeoffs as often as possible, to save wear and tear on the antigrav. Perhaps VTOL takeoffs and landings risk a breakdown in the same way as using unrefined fuel.

Also, I'm tickled by the idea of ships only having internal gravity in some sections, because it's expensive or uses up mass or something. So, like, you have gravity in the crew quarters and lounge, because sleeping and eating in zero-g is such a pain. But you don't really need gravity on the flight deck, right? I mean, you're strapped into a chair anyway....


[Traveller OOB] Setting & Technology Assumptions

One of the points made by the "Traveller out of the box" blog series is that there isn't actually all that much science fiction present in the original traveller rulebooks. There's FTL travel, one of the skills implies the existence of anti-gravity tech, and there's a "laser carbine" mixed in among the revolvers and shotguns on the short list of personal weapons. And that's it. No aliens, no robots, no cybernetics, and even the method of FTL travel is crude, slow and short-legged.

CK! argues that this is deliberate, and the reason is that the game doesn't want to get in the way of the players' own worldbuilding. Like OD&D and other first-generation RPGs from the 70s, Traveller originally assumed players would want to create their own settings. It offered a baseline upon which each group could build whatever they wanted.

In this post, I want to begin doing that for my own campaign's setting. And I invite readers to join in in the comments--if you were playing in this campaign, what would you like to include? What would you exclude?

Rule Zero: one of the other principles of OOB Traveller is that the game is set in a frontier region far from the center of interstellar civilization. Just because something isn't available in the setting, it doesn't mean it's impossible or doesn't exist back in the nice parts of the galaxy. Rather like how the latest conveniences of Victorian London wouldn't be found at a trading outpost in the Australian outback.

Jump Drive: let's begin with the one tech assumption baked into the rules. FTL travel is slow and short-legged, the need to refuel after every jump forces traffic along specific routes (in contrast to the go-any-direction nature of Star Trek's warp drive), and there is no FTL communication. The goal of these design choices is to justify a setting where planets can have wildly different cultures, environments, and even tech levels, and little in the way of interstellar law enforcement or higher authority to limit the PCs' actions. I'll keep the following baseline details:

  • jump range is equal to the jump drive's rating in hexes (although a hex will no longer equal one parsec; see below)

  • no change to fuel costs, port fees and maintenance costs

  • refined fuel is only available at A and B starports; unrefined fuel can be skimmed for free from gas giants or planets with water but run the usual risks of misjump or drive damage

  • no onboard fuel purification

  • a jump takes one week regardless of the distance traveled (but see below)

And I'll make the following additions & changes:

  • jump rating 4 is the maximum possible with current technology. Furthermore, J3 and 4 ships are only affordable to government, military, and megacorporate buyers back in civilization, and are very rare in the local region.

  • one hex on the map no longer equals one parsec exactly. Linear distance in sidereal space is abstracted (this takes care of the 2D map problem). I'm going to steal a nice bit from the otherwise mediocre libiot-milSF novel The Disinherited: the curve of spacetime inplies a circle. Instead of traveling in a straight line from the origin world to the destination, starships "jump" to a point around the curve.

  • While jumps still take one week in the sidereal universe, from the perspective of those aboard ship a jump is instantaneous. This leads to tension between frequent space travelers and planet-dwellers, who seem to age at different rates.

  • Because jumps no longer involve linear travel, jump masking does not exist.

  • Ships must orient themselves relative to the particular arc they are going to jump, therefore an outside observer can determine their destination.

  • Ships carry their velocity across a jump; they arrive traveling at the same speed as when they jumped.

  • I'm stealing this one from RPG.net user wapa: ships lose waste heat in a jump, so an arriving ship does not have any infrared signature. The PCs can arrive undetected, and likewise cannot detect other arrivals (unless the observer is within radar range of the arriving ship).

  • Sublight drives DO produce a detectable heat signature, but because velocity is carried across a jump, ships can do their acceleration before jumping (or behind a planet/moon/asteroid or against the backdrop of a sun) and then shut down their drive to coast undetected.

To expand on the instantaneous jump idea: one of the recurring themes of OOB Traveler is how the setting serves the game. Setting elements should be chosen based on what's more gameable, not what makes the setting cool, or a nice place to live. As mentioned above, this is the thinking that underlines the rules for FTL travel--the faster travel and communication are, the more homogenized a society is.

Tensions and iniquities also make a setting more gameable. After all, if society was prosperous and justly governed, then why are the PCs adventurers instead of living in a nice home somewhere? They need an unequal, unfair society and a lack of other nicer, more respectable life choices to explain what they're doing. This is why OOB Traveller (and the stories it drew from, like Dumarest of Terra, Dune, etc) has stratified social classes, rule by feuding nobles, a high mortality rate for travel via low passage, and other crapsack setting elements.

I originally toyed with the idea of instantaneous jumps during an earlier Traveller kick, but at the time I was tied to the official Third Imperium setting and didn't want to mess with the canon that much. But now I have no canon to worry about, and the added bonus that different aging rates add another tension to the setting. From the planet-dwellers' perspective, travellers seem unfairly long-lived. "They stay young while we get old." That's bound to breed some resentment. But it's unfair for the travellers too, because they aren't actually living any longer. They age at the same rate, they just keep taking one-week time travel trips to the future. And the more someone travels and the more their sidereal and elapsed age diverge, the more it takes a toll on friendships, romantic relationships, and professional ties.

I orginally meant to tackle other elements in this post as well, including aliens, communications tech and cybernetics. But it's already a long post and I've already spent three days on it, so I'll add those later.

Traveller and the West Marches Campaign

I found a really evocative series of blog posts by RPG.net user CK! (and an accompanying thread at RPG.net) about running Traveller using only the rules, implied  playstyle, and (almost complete lack of) setting from the original 1977 box set. It has me geeking out about the Traveller RPG, and for once NOT using the usual Third Imperium setting.

Some features include:

  • civilization is far away off the map. The game is intended to take place in a liminal "frontier" regiion

  • exploration, weird locales and strange creatures

  • sandbox play

  • a recurring emphasis on limits and "playing the hand you're dealt"

  • GMs and players are expected to build on the framework, rather than assume the existing creatures/weapons/technology are all that exist in the setting

  • seeming contradictions produced by the random world generation tables (how can there be a culture of primitive barbarians on an airless asteroid? How can a tech level 1 culture have airlocks?) should be viewed as a springboard for creating weird and interesting locales, not written off as "unrealistic"

"Sandbox play" might need a little unpacking, especially since it's used slightly differently in tabletop RPGs than in video games. A sandbox campaign is defined by the absence of any plot or story. There is a setting for the campaign, and the players decide where to go and what to do within that environment. The PCs can go to planet X or not, investigate rumor Y or not, accept patron Z's job offer, or not. There is no prearranged narrative, no attempt to act out a scripted story.

Which brings me to the West Marches Campaign, which is a specific kind of sandbox. The original West Marches was a D&D 3.0 game from the early 2000s, first blogged about here. It went on to spawn a number of imitators. In adition to the qualities of sandbox campaigns in general, West Marches had some unique features.

The most interesting to me is the approach to group composition and game scheduling, which was partly in answer to that great killer of modern RPGs, the tremendous difficulty of actually getting multiple adults with diverse schedules together at the same time.

Instead of the usual setup of one group of players with their one party of PCs, a West Marches campaign has a large pool of players who do not participate in all sessions. A given night's play would involve those players who could make it, and wrap up the adventure that night. The next session would be a new adventure featuring the characters of whoever could make it that night, and so on.

To prevent the group from splintering, there are both in-universe and out-of-universe linking devices. In the original game it was an email list for the players, and a particular tavern backroom for the characters. Players were encouraged to share their anecdotes and accounts of adventures, mirroring the tavern-talk of the charactes as they recounted their experiences to those who hadn't been on that particular expedition. This not only kept the group cohesive, but also kept the game on players' minds between sessions and whetted the appetites of those who had missed a particular adventure, keeping enthusiasm and participation high.


Life of a Gamer, Part...Let's Say 12
It's after midnight, but I can't sleep. Because I had to google German roads to see what shade of gray the asphalt is and figure out exactly how wide a lane would be in 1/285th scale.

Despite my housing and economic situation making it impossble to actually do any hobbycraft stuff for at least several months.

Big Eyes, Small Mouth...
... is the best-NAMED roleplaying game of all time. And I like anime. I feel bad that I've never been able to get into the Tri-stat system.

I'm going to give it another shot, because my awesome friend koopafanatic likes it a lot.

Speaking of RPGs and Exacting Detail...
...I was noodling around with AD&D the other day, and came up some example lists of equipment for four starting PCs. Because I'm a big fan of AD&D encumbrance. It's a necessary part of the old-school dungeon crawl, and not for its own sake, or "realism", but because it actually breaks the system if you ignore it.

Besides, I like the little details. But other people don't, because I'm weird. ^_^ So I've done the work for you.

I think I've managed to cover all the bases. Assuming the fighter and cleric both have a strength of 12 or higher, the party movement rate will be 9', the second-best category (and really, there's no getting up to 12' without magic armor and lots of hirelings). The M-U has the 10' pole and mapping supplies, the thief has the rope and a mirror for dealing with medusae and other stone-gaze threats, while the cleric has the holy water and herbs. The fighter has a spear which can double as a second pole and has many other benefits. There's 8 iron spikes and a spare hammer (although if it were me, I'd have the hirelings carry additional spikes). Everyone has torches.

Note that if you're using this setup for hirelings and supplies there's some overlap. That setup pays for the iron rations and already has enough torches.

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