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.

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