Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Alternate Traveller Campaign Frames: Minor Campaign Frames From Classic Traveller

Tana Salm from Perry Rhodan,
just because. From here, which gives
the copyright information.
We've already covered the three or four main campaign frames that were developed in classic Traveller, along with a few from later editions, but there were a couple of others that were sketched out in various publications during the classic Traveller era. None of them was particularly well-detailed, but enough was given in most cases to allow an enterprising Referee to develop them into a campaign.

First was the Belter campaign. This was presented in an early issue of the Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society (JTAS) magazine, and reprinted in the first volume of the "Best of" collection. This is the campaign frame in which players prospect in an asteroid belt, looking for a big strike that will make them rich. The frame is given as a flowchart involving bureaucracy (to get permits and such) and actual prospecting in the belt. The primary weakness of the frame is that there are few meaningful decisions that the players can make, and so it quickly becomes an exercise in dice rolling and the occasional wild complication thrown in by the Referee. There is a reason that not many people play this one for very long. It can be an interesting diversion from more typical Traveller activities for a time, though. This frame was given more support by the inclusion of a Belter career with Prospecting skill in Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium, but the career was not a very viable one (it had a worse survival rate than Scouts).

A number of the careers in Supplement 4 brought an implied campaign frame along with them.

The existence of Doctors implied the possibility of a "Sector General" style campaign, in which the players would be the staff of a hospital ship or station. This was never explored in CT, though. MegaTraveller saw the introduction of detailed task chains related to medical treatment for injury, disease, and radiation, not to mention mental health, which along with the interpersonal tasks in the Referee's Manual comprise the main resources necessary for such a campaign frame. There was a hospital ship presented in a third-party supplement, but that was more or less it until Library Bob over at Ancient Faith in the Far Future decided to resuscitate the idea recently with his Mercy Ships campaign frame, providing the necessary detail for such a campaign.

Pirates of the Space variety, of course, are a standard of SF going back to the early days in the pulps. The subject is hotly debated, but Traveller gave a career for pirates and so implied that they must exist in some fashion in the Imperium setting at least. An article in JTAS described the necessary conditions for piracy and suggested some possible pirate bases in the Spinward Marches, but the subject was quietly dropped (other than the paramilitary Corsairs of the Vargr). Later on, some people raised objections based on physics and thermodynamics (it's impossible to sneak up on someone in space is the basic thrust of the argument), but others, such as Rob Garitta at Twilight of the GM, have returned to the subject in the hopes of salvaging it. In any case, the Space Pirate campaign frame wouldn't be that dissimilar to the default game, which is somewhat amusing in itself.

Nobles will be discussed elsewhere because the main successful presentations of a nobility-based campaign are found in other editions of Traveller than the classic one. Suffice it to say that CT provided little support for the idea of a Noble campaign frame other than the existence of the titles and the career in Supplement 4. A couple of magazine articles attempted to address the issue with limited success, notably "Robe & Blaster: Upgrading Aristocracy in Traveller" in White Dwarf magazine issue 22 and "Relief for Traveller Nobility" in Dragon magazine issue 73. Those articles mainly gave special benefits to noble characters, rather than pursuing an entire campaign frame dedicated to them. Library Bob at Ancient Faith in the Far Future also provided an interesting expansion when he discussed generating noble houses, then followed it up with some more articles on nobility in Traveller, which he ultimately linked in this article. David Billinghurst provided this expansion to Traveller nobility at Brett Kruger's Reavers' Deep site (and originally at his own blog, Waystar High Port, ultimately collecting a couple of articles together here), based on several sources, and others have presented similar articles. The most complete exploration of the issues involved with such a campaign frame is found elsewhere, however, and I will return to that in a future article.

The existence of the Hunter career in Supplement 4 seems to indicate a possible campaign frame of "Big Game Hunter", either as expeditions with guns to take down alien animals by killing them or capturing them, or with recording devices. This wasn't pursued in any official materials much at all, but the "Environment" series from Gamelords, Ltd., written by the Keith brothers, began to cover many of the issues that would be important to such a campaign frame. Some of the adventures that the Keiths wrote to support that series also supported variations of the idea. Well, OK, it was just Ascent to Anekthor, which detailed a mountain-climbing expedition with the players as expedition members under a noble patron. That pretty much outlines the way that such a campaign might work, making it a variation of the basic campaign frame with a special emphasis on patrons looking for an expedition guide. In fact, any number of specialty campaigns can be produced by taking that idea and running with it. Itinerant engineers might focus on patrons that are looking for repairs and maintenance in adventurous situations, for example. The Referee simply needs to ensure that any patrons encountered are aware of the specific qualities, or at least reputations for those qualities, of the players' characters.

Many other campaign frames that can be developed for Traveller are like that last, focusing the nature of any patrons encountered so that their required tasks are related to the campaign intended. This could apply to just about any profession, from bounty hunters and skip tracers (though that is a frame that really deserves its own approach) to salvage crews to private detectives to paranormal investigators*, and whatever else besides. These aren't major changes to the game, unlike some of the other campaign frames (even some of the other minor frames mentioned in this article). That underlines the flexibility of the basic Traveller campaign frame, while the other frames out there show off the flexibility of the game as a whole.


*While not seeming to be a part of a SF setting, I don't see why a universe that includes psionics wouldn't have a reason for this sort of thing. In addition to legitimate psionic and psionic-related activities, there's every opening for fraud as well, as the article "Just Like Magic" from Challenge magazine issue 46 outlined.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Alternate Traveller Campaign Frames: Strange New Worlds

I've discussed a couple of alternate campaign frames previously, covering the Mercenary campaign along with the Squadron and Active Duty campaign frames. Though the last was only presented in terms of Navy games (and so incorporating Marines by default), it would have been easily converted for use with other active duty military games involving the Army. I'm going to start skipping around, because the other campaign frames from the classic Traveller era are either minor and not well detailed, or ones that I am not very familiar with at this time (I will be discussing the frame implied in The Traveller Adventure later on, which is related to the "default" Traveller campaign frame that I've also described previously, but includes some new concepts that are very important).

Unfortunately, the classic Traveller expansion for the Scout service, Book 6 Scouts, did not incorporate a specific campaign framework. It included only a set of tools for the Referee to detail whole systems instead of the main worlds that were rolled up in the basic world generation system along with an expanded character generation system for Scout characters that followed on the same lines as the military services presented in the previous two books. Paranoia Press, who presented an expanded Scouts character generation system a little earlier in their supplement Scouts and Assassins, also did not expand on the sorts of activities that a Scout might perform as part of actual play. The supplements for MegaTraveller titled Grand Survey, Grand Census, and World Builder's Handbook started to cover the sorts of things a Scout might do, but as I have never actually seen the first two of those supplements I can't comment on them. World Builder's Handbook did include some very useful tasks related to surveying a world, but didn't go much further toward detailing a campaign frame related to exploration - though an enterprising and interested Referee could easily turn the notes presented into such a campaign. Instead of discussing those, then, I will skip ahead to the two editions of Traveller that presented Scout campaign frames at least reasonably well.

EDIT: Re-reading some of the World Builder's Handbook, I see that it includes more detail toward an exploration and contact game than I remembered. I may return to that supplement later.

First, Traveller: The New Era got in on the action. In its extensive rewrite and reimagining of the MegaTraveller supplement called World Builder's Handbook, titled World Tamer's Handbook, GDW presented detailed descriptions of the tasks necessary to survey a new world in the wilds ravaged by Virus. Those tasks were generic, of course, and so not limited to the New Era setting. Highly detailed looks at the environment of a world were presented, along with methods for generating them beforehand. Information down to the amount of extractable wind and hydro energy, soil fertility, and so on in a 10km hex was presented in a usable and efficient manner. Scouts could go in, find out the details of a world, and return to provide the results of their survey to whatever home base they served.

The supplement didn't stop there, though. The other side of the Scout coin in SF is colonization, and World Tamer's Handbook presented a campaign frame of colonists, a first in SF gaming generally, and for Traveller specifically. A model was provided that allowed players to determine the economic output of their colony based on decisions they made about allocating resources both infrastructure- and human-related, which they could then direct toward various improvements and maintenance - a true domain-level game at last. This also saw the return of the sandbox format for a Traveller campaign, which had largely dropped by the wayside during the late Traveller and most of the MegaTraveller eras in favor of the then-popular story-based format. In addition to whatever the Referee chose to throw at them to further the story, colonial administrators (the PCs, the rules assume) would experience various random events that provided story hooks related to administering a group of people in a colony. Sadly, this wasn't well implemented, as the events mostly were defined in terms of a single task roll to resolve them ("Crime Wave, succeed in a Difficult Investigation roll" or suffer some penalty, for example). Nonetheless, this was a great idea, but didn't see much support from the community of players, something that can really be said about most of Traveller: The New Era, unfortunately. Some general notes toward scaling the colonial model up to cover entire world governments were included, but the system becomes unwieldy at the higher end. This would lead to a different system for world-spanning empires later on, and I will probably discuss that campaign frame next time.

When Steve Jackson Games picked up a license to produce a Traveller edition using their GURPS rules, one of the supplementary books they produced was GURPS Traveller: First In. First In gave the GT version of Scout activities, including, in addition to the expected detailed world generation system, a set of rules for surveying a system. As is the case with most of the GT materials, though, these tools were provided with no real guidance as to what to do with them. A decent GM could certainly take them and turn them into tools for adventurous games or even campaigns, of course, but no such framework was explicitly provided. In a nice turn, there were a number of optional rules included, ranging from minor to as radical for the Traveller game as incorporating 3D star mapping instead of the traditional parsec-wide-hex based 2D sector/subsector system. The designer's notes for that supplement, available for free on the SJG site, give more detail still toward a game using 3D star maps, including discussion of possible changes to the Jump Drive and so on. I should add at this point that if you have any interest in the GURPS Traveller line at all, you should hurry up and get the PDFs, as SJG's license to sell that edition expires at the end of this year, and they will not be renewing it. After that point, they will not be selling GT materials, not even the PDFs.