Categories
Tabletop RPGs Traveller

Deepnight Revelation campaign: half-formed thoughts and notes (no spoilers)

I stumbled across the epic Mongoose 2e Traveller campaign Deepnight Revelation [paid link] in an RPGnet thread about the campaign. It sounded amazing: a 20-year mission into unexplored space at the helm of one of the most powerful starships in the galaxy, with the players running the command crew.

Deepnight Revelation box set

So much of this is like catnip to me: The multi-year mission, 10 years out and 10 years back; the amazing name, which is both the campaign and the titular starship; the epic scope, which involves confronting an existential threat; the Star Trek-like conceit that the players are almost certainly in charge of the mission (though they don’t have to be, and the box set accounts for that in multiple places); and the subversion of the typical “you’re in debt up to your eyeballs and have a half-busted freighter, go make your way in the universe” Trav premise. I’ve also nursed a lifelong desire — thus far unfulfilled — to play at least one published mega-campaign, so there’s that.

What other folks did

I did some homework before buying the box set, Googling and looking for more info about the campaign. That turned up an excellent review on Reddit — which hides its spoilers so you can read it without encountering them — that covered pros, cons, and ways this campaign actually played out for the author’s group. A second thread also proved useful, especially in seeing some of the tweaks and behind-the-scenes work required for an undertaking this massive.

Taken together, these two threads convinced me that despite loathing game prep this prep-heavy campaign was worth picking up. It’s perhaps fairer to say that I loathe most game prep, and am just fine with games like tremulus where a couple hours of prep will cover an entire campaign. The work-to-payoff ratio makes sense there — and it seems like it could make sense here, too, with a campaign designed to take roughly 50-60 four-hour game sessions to complete needing a correspondingly larger one-off prep investment. (And, notably, some prep along the way as well.)

Railroading

I also loathe railroading, but buying into a campaign concept — “we’re journeying from point A to face the danger at point Z” — isn’t the same as railroading. I’ve looked at some tentpole published campaigns and felt like there was no way to avoid railroading the players, but this didn’t sound like one of those.

After a full skim of the Deepnight Revelation core box [paid link], I’ve concluded to my own satisfaction that that first impression was accurate. The endpoint will always be the same, but how the journey plays out matters.

Sometimes you want to make decisions that affect the fate of the entire crew and the future of their years-long mission, but sometimes you want to take the shuttle into the irradiated asteroid belt yourself and see what happens next (without torpedoing the campaign in the process…). I played a lengthy Ars Magica campaign with a huge pool of characters, and it was one of my all-time favorites; that approach is solid gold.

Shared tracking resources

Just a cursory skim of the box set makes it clear that some sort of multifaceted, group-accessible tracking solution would be needed for this campaign. Maybe that’s a Google Docs spreadsheet or two, or a giant whiteboard, or a small whiteboard and a wiki — and so on, you get the idea.

I love the idea of a whiteboard for the most important frequently-changing values — stuff like the Crew Effectiveness Index, which is the modifier for rolls made to resolve events at fairly high levels of abstraction (e.g., “How did the refueling mission go?”), and the available store of supplies.

CEI, CEIM, DEI, CFI, OMGWTFBBQ

I’m still digesting the box set’s mechanics for resolving the many large-scale and abstracted elements of the Deepnight Revelation‘s journey — something multiple folks on Reddit noted as needing extensive reworking in their groups — and so far they don’t look like a mess. But one, I’m not done reading yet, and two, they’ve lived and breathed and run the campaign, and I’m just noodling over it at my desk. So we shall see!

That’s what’s rattling around in my brain at the moment. Now I’m going to tuck back into the handbook and poke things a bit harder.

Categories
Tabletop RPGs Traveller

Traveller generators: worlds, systems, sectors, subsectors, and Mongoose 2e characters

I’ve posted about Traveller generators before here on Yore, but I’ve also used one or two I’ve never posted about — and recently found a great Reddit list of even more generators that were new to me. Time for a round-up!

My brain is in Mongoose Traveller 2e [paid link] mode at the moment, but given the broad compatibility of the various editions of Traveller — especially in terms of setting creation — these generators should be useful no matter which flavor/fork appeals to you. The only exception is the last one on the list, which specifically creates Mongoose 2e NPCs.

Mongoose Traveller 2e core book (sitting atop High Guard on my paint-spattered desk)

Sectors and subsectors you can revisit, with maps

The inimitable Alex Schroeder offers a triple threat for Traveller GMs, with some really cool features. The main Traveller generator page features links to generate random sectors and subsectors; those output on a new page, with a unique URL. (To generate a new one, you have to hit the link on the main page. Refreshing your generated page, logically enough, changes nothing.)

You can also paste in your own list of UWPs (and the list the page itself generates is preformatted to work perfectly here), or the URL of a page you just generated, and then hit the “Submit” button, and the site will also generate your subsector or sector map. (The map needs to be saved locally for future use.)

Systems, sectors, and subsectors, with options (rift, spiral arm, etc.)

If you want some options when it comes to type of sector/subsector, neuzd’s awesome Mongoose 1e generator is a one-stop shop, and includes options for rift, sparse, spiral arm, and densely populated sectors and subsectors. Those options are what make this one so cool. Do note that you can’t bookmark the results; you’ll need to export or paste them for future use.

Best of all, you can select the type of sector/subsector with this generator, copy the resulting list, paste it into Alex Schroeder’s generator (above), and the latter will create your map for you. The best of both worlds!

Systems and worlds with bells and whistles

One of my go-to sites for generators of all stripes, donjon, offers an amazing system generator that includes planetary images, a breakdown of the system, and a full work-up of the core world that includes a randomly generated world map. For a new system, just hit refresh. The simplest way I’ve found to preserve its output is to take a screenshot.

Worlds you can revisit

The PBE Games world generator is fantastic. It will spit out random worlds, of course, but you can also provide your own UWPs and it will expand them into full write-ups. Best of all, the generator provides a seed for every world it creates — just save that seed (a short string of characters), and you can plug it back into the generator anytime to re-create that world.

Worlds based on milieu, with extras

Not only can you specify the milieu and other details before generation, Traveller Tools will also tell you fun stats like refuel time, travel times and distances, and available trade goods. This one appears to be Mongoose 2e-specific (to the extent that that matters). A permalink is available for every world you create.

Mongoose 2e Traveller character generator

Traveller Tools also features a great Mongoose 2e Traveller character generator, and there’s a permalink for any character you create. You can specify age and careers or just let the randomizer do its work; either way, it’s intended for NPCs and, as the page notes, takes a few liberties with the rules to enable random generation.

Mongoose 2e characters aren’t quite as simple as OG Trav characters (which generally fit into a line or two of text), so I was thrilled to find this one.

Want more?

The Zhodani Base offers a beefy list of Traveller generators covering everything from sectors to counters to magazine covers. There’s plenty here that should be handy for any Trav GM.

Categories
Tabletop RPGs Traveller

Space Pirates of Drinax: a gorgeous Traveller sandbox

Space pirates!

I buy 99% of my RPGs only in PDF these days, but when a product as special as the Pirates of Drinax (paid link) ) campaign for Mongoose Traveller (paid link) comes along, my heart goes pitter-patter and I have to make an exception.

It’s a sandbox campaign with a fantastic hook: The ruler of once-great Drinax, now a stellar backwater between two great powers, gives the PCs an old ship and a letter of marque, and asks that they secure the allegiance of the nearby worlds.

But, you know, they’re motherfucking space pirates: They can do whatever the hell they want, and the campaign supports it. There’s a neat system for tracking (and changing) how every important planet feels about the PCs, with real consequences waiting in the wings.

Need a bit more structure? The core is 10 adventures that can be run more or less in any order, anywhere. Some are opportunities signalled by rumors, while others are driven by outside forces. All adjustable to your game, of course, with copious notes about how to do just that.

Plus all the great tools I expect in an old school space sandbox: NPCs with motivations and roleplaying tips, ships, planets, deck plans, a gorgeous poster map, tons of info about the Aslan (who are key players in the region) and more. Its roughly 600 pages of material.

From what I’ve read so far, this is a stellar campaign.

Categories
Tabletop RPGs Traveller

Mongoose Traveller system and sector generator

neuzd offers a dandy Traveller system generator for 1st edition Mongoose Traveller (paid link), and it’s free.

What makes it so dandy? For starters, it’s dead simple: click link, get system. The abbreviations for bases and trade codes appear on every output screen (you’ll have to reference the rules, or the web, for the UWP and other codes).

It also hits all my high notes for a random generator: just the right amount of inspiration, quirky without going too far off the rails, and never boring. As an example, here’s the first system I generated while writing this post:

The Bbj Iisog System

“Bbj Iisog” is a great name, weird and not at all one I’d have thought up on my own. There’s a scout base here, and the trade codes signify garden, high population, industrial, and low tech.

Unpacking the UWP stats, there’s a rundown starport on a medium-size wet world with a tainted atmosphere. That world has a high population (1-10 billion) and is governed by a charismatic dictator; the law level is moderate. Its tech level of 4 puts it at the level of atomic science and internal combustion engines.

So, a garden world — that has a tainted atmosphere — with a huge population, one shitty starbase, a dictator, and not much in the way of advanced technology. My brain goes straight to an atmosphere that has a low-level soporific effect on the population, keeping them alert enough to work but docile enough not to rebel — which is handy for the planetary dictator, since there are a lot of people to control. That same atmosphere is what makes this world so fertile: They grow stuff here that can’t be grown anywhere else, and in abundance.

What will the PCs do when they arrive? If they’re in bad shape, they might be stuck for a little while (not much in the way of services at that starport). The planet is ripe for a revolution, but how do you foment one when the very air fights against you? (Sure, everyone has filters, but they probably don’t work all the time — and I bet the dictatorship has a hand in that.) It’s also ripe for stealing some of the weird plants they grow, or running tests to try to find a way to synthesize their growing conditions elsewhere — or a host of other possibilities.

Sectors and sub-sectors, too

But wait, there’s more! This generator also does sub-sectors and sectors, and you can toggle settings for population density and sector location. And on top of that, it can also just spit out name lists for you to use as needed.

Want a ton of systems all at once, with hexes (ready for you to hand-populate your game map)? This generator delivers. And again, I love the names — here are a few from a sample system I generated:

  • VHS-592
  • Garcia’s Field
  • Silva’s Dead
  • Concentrate XCVIII
  • Activity Glamorous
  • Chdydmbahk

Maybe “Activity Glamorous” doesn’t work for your game, and that’s cool: Just hit the link again, and it’ll generate a whole new sector.

The only thing I wish it did was produce a permanent URL for whatever you generate, but for such an otherwise robust (and free) tool that’s more of a quibble than a complaint. This generator is excellent.

Pair the neuzd Traveller system and sector generator with a character generator (like Frank Filz’s generator, or Devil Ghost’s generator[1]), and you’ve reduced the handling time needed to make stuff in Traveller — without reducing the fun factor.

[1] I like these both so much that I wrote Yore posts about them: Filz, Ghost

Categories
Tabletop RPGs Traveller

A new appreciation for the 1977 version of Traveller

Earlier this month, at Go Play Northwest, I played a game of Traveller Carcosa run by Alex Mayo that really made me want to play more Traveller. It also reminded me to prod my long-simmering, largely unrequited interest in Traveller and see if Mongoose Traveller was still my favorite iteration.

I then bumped into this post by Alex Schroeder about the nuances of sector generation in Classic Traveller (paid link; from The Traveller Book) and Mongoose Traveller (paid link) 1e, and that led me down a rabbit warren of Classic Traveller exploration.

What I learned was that there is at least as much meaningful variation in the nuances, presentation, expression, and philosophy of different versions of the Classic Traveller rules as there is in versions of old-school D&D.[1] I had no idea!

I love exploring this kind of stuff (and I’ve written about a bit of it myself; for example, my posts about B/X D&D), and just as it did with D&D, delving deeply into the seemingly innocuous variations in Traveller has led me to the realization that it’s the very first presentation, the 1977 versions of Books 1-3 that interests me the most, supplemented by The Traveller Book (paid link) for specific areas (like its tidy summary of the encounter rolls that form the basic structure of a campaign).

Interestingly, the only source for the 1977 version of Traveller that I’m aware of also happens to be one of the best deals in gaming: the Classic Traveller CD-ROM from Far Future Entertainment, which also includes the entire CT canon for just $35. Apart from that lone source, the later revisions of the original rules, notably the 1983 Traveller Book, have “taken over” and supplanted the 1977 version. The FFE CD, though, includes the original 1977 booklets, the 1981 revision, and The Traveller Book.

Classic Traveller love

Here are some of the branches in that rabbit warren, all great reads:

Collectively, all of the above gave me a newfound appreciation for the original 1977 iteration of Traveller, as well as for the many parallels between Traveller Books 1-3 and OD&D’s original three LBBs, which embody a similar freewheeling, DIY, make-your-own-fun ethos.

When I — eventually! — get to run Classic Traveller, it’ll be with the 1977 rules (Books 1-3), The Traveller Book for some handy clarifications, and possibly, though only possibly, Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium (paid link) for alternate careers (but minus the Imperium stuff).

[1] And that’s not even considering all of the other full-on different editions, like MegaTraveller (paid link) and whatnot.

Categories
Books Tabletop RPGs Traveller

Traveller’s literary sources

Thanks to the inimitable Alex Schroeder, I followed a link to this excellent 2005 essay by Michael Andre-Driussi: Deciphering the Text Foundations of Traveller.

Here’s Driussi’s thesis:

The creators of CT wanted the anarchic, amoral, and violent adventure of fantasy role playing translated into a science fiction setting. They also wanted a kind of science fiction that used more “hard SF” than even Niven’s work. They categorically rejected New Wave SF, which made them allied to the Old Wave, except that GDW wanted a gritty, noir setting (where the Old Wave is characterized as upbeat and moral).

Traveller as noir is something I’d never considered, but it makes perfect sense. There’s a lot more to unpack, even in just that excerpt — the whole essay is a damned fine read.

Here’s another concise snippet:

What the creators of CT were after was science fiction adventure, featuring freelance “adventurers” (with all the connotations of gold hunters, mercenaries, and trail blazers that this term implies) who could live or die in the course of pick-up games.

One of the sources Driussi cites is the Dumarest Saga, by E.C. Tubb (which I’d never heard of, but boy does it sound like it’d fit right into Appendix N). Here’s the skinny:

E. C. Tubb’s Dumarest of Terra series (1967 onward) portrays its titular hero as a far future Odysseus trying to find his way home across a galaxy that has forgotten Earth completely. Each novel is slim and action-packed: Earl Dumarest arrives penniless at a new planet where he must use his wits and his reflexes, not only to survive but also to make enough money for passage to the next planet. From this series, already 17 books long in 1977, CT got such details as: low passage (a deadly hibernation system); mesh armor; the drugs fast, slow, medical slow, and combat (i.e., two-thirds of the drugs in CT); the weapon “blade”” and perhaps the psionics.

I could quote this puppy all day. It’s so good!

Driussi’s essay gave me a new perspective on, and a deeper understanding of, Classic Traveller (paid link). It’s fascinating to see what shaped the nature and quirks of Traveller’s premise and presentation.

Categories
Tabletop RPGs Traveller

Frank Filz’s excellent Classic Traveller character generator

After I posted about Devil Ghost’s character generator for Classic Traveller, Frank Filz mentioned that he hosts the same generator on his site — and that he’s made it user-configurable. I tried it out, and it rocks.

To get a character, just open the generator page. For a new one, just refresh the page. Easy peasy (just like the Devil Ghost generator).

By default, this generator shows quite a bit of detail. Here’s a partial screenshot of Brom Tanaka, a 7-term general I rolled up:

But you can also tweak the generator in a variety of ways by altering the URL, and Frank explains all of the settings on his site. Want to see the die rolls? Toggle the “verbose” setting. Want less history, just the results? You can change that. Need a Navy character? Specify the service branch in the URL.

If I needed a character fast, with minimal output — just the facts, ma’am — I’d go the Devil Ghost route. If I needed more control, or wanted to see the details of how my character got where they landed, I’d hit up Frank’s version. Two great flavors to enjoy!

Categories
Tabletop RPGs Traveller

A spiffy online Classic Traveller character generator

This Classic Traveller character generator on Devil Ghost is a hoot. The visuals are a perfect match for Traveller, and it couldn’t be easier to use: just refresh to get a new character.[1]

Here’s my favorite character I’ve rolled up so far:

Just look at this dude: he spent five terms — 20 years — in the military, working his way steadily up to the rank of colonel, and has the mustering-out benefits of someone who was a very successful soldier. But what interests me most is one skill in particular: Dagger-3.

Dagger-1 is a professional knife fighter, or equivalent. Like if there’s a job that involves knifey stuff, you can get hired to do that job with Dagger-1.

Dagger-2 is an elite knife fighter. This is someone with special skills, who stands out even among skilled knife fighters.

But Dagger-3? Dagger-3 is a fucking ninja assassin. And in his 20 years in the service, that must be what Colonel Wang spent the most time doing.

Why? What kinds of missions did he undertake? How did they shape him as a person? Who is he today, mustering out at 38 with the means to travel the galaxy?

I had some ideas the moment I scanned his character sheet, and I bet you did too. That’s why I love Classic Traveller‘s (paid link) minimalist characters and delightfully random character creation.

[1] I do wish there was a permalink for each character, but I don’t know enough about programming to know if that might be difficult to produce.