Thursday, May 27, 2021

Ten Years Of This Nonsense

 I've scheduled this post to go up at 12:01AM my time on the 27th of May, because that is the tenth year that this blog will have been in existence. Unlike at that time, I do have a regular game, but only the one right now. It's Call of Cthulhu, which I don't think of in the same terms as most other games.

The first actual RPG I talked about on this blog was Dungeon Crawl Classics. I didn't have a whole lot to say about it then, as I hadn't seen it and really knew little about it, other than it used some new funny dice and maybe that there was something about every magic spell having a table of varying effects in an attempt to keep magic from feeling drily mechanical.

I've been doing some prep work for a GURPS game that is inspired by the Malazan books, the Ōnin War at the beginning of the Sengoku Jidai in Japan, the Wars of the Roses at about the same time in England, the A Song of Ice and Fire series, Stephen King, Clive Barker, In/Spectre (aka Kyokō Suiri or Invented Inference), Princess Mononoke (aka Mononoke-hime), and some other things. Not sure who will be playing it, how I'll be running it, or a number of other logistical things, but I do know that I want to have it ready when I do get those things worked out.

As of two days ago, I am fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the two week period for the vaccine to get up to speed having finished up on the 25th. And you know what? I'm still going to wear a mask in public, regardless of what the CDC guidelines say I can do, because I have looked at the effects of the precautions against COVID have had on the flu, and how many lives that could save each year, and I care about the people who live around me. And yeah, I'll be judging people who don't wear a mask on that basis. Do the bare minimum for your neighbors, at the very least. What does this have to do with gaming, you ask? Gaming is fundamentally a social activity, which as we all should have learned over the last year-plus makes it a matter where the most unsanitary of us risks all of us. Unless we're doing it over the internet, in which case do whatcha like you filthy animal.

I've been gazing longingly at games set in the Solar System, with no FTL drives. Made for gaming settings that I have access to include Transhuman Space, Tales of the Solar Patrol, and GURPS Terradyne in the GURPS ecosphere, High Colonies (the original, not the newly-Kickstarted one), Rocket Age, Space 1889 (again, the original, not the recent reboot), and Jovian Chronicles. In addition to those, Schismatrix by Bruce Sterling provides an interesting setting for gaming. There's also Lowell Was Right!, but it's exhausting considering learning a new system, teaching it to the players, and also creating a setting. Learning and teaching or creating a new setting, not both thank you. Anyway, I'm more interested in something like The Expanse without the aliens.

My first project on the blog was the WRG Ancients-based game, inspired by a Jeff Rients challenge. I didn't get any further with that, which in the end is fine since it was mainly an exercise to see for myself why certain decisions were made in the early days of roleplaying games. I've gotten what I needed from that. It did provide me with some interesting ideas for future use.

I realize that the blog is currently creaking along, but I am trying to focus more on it. I'm afraid that I'll drop back into theorizing, and that does nobody any good. I need to be running something, playing in something less constrained than CoC, and maybe ideally playing in more than one genre of game. I'd especially like to be playing in an occult conspiracy sort of game, something like Majus or Nephilim. I'm afraid that I'd have to run such a thing if I really want to see it happen around me, though.

In summary, after ten years, I'm back more or less where I started. One game, thinking about a fantasy game, wishing for solar system and occult conspiracy games that I'd probably end up having to run. I have a 146-entry list of potential campaigns, which I've pared down to nine or so "high priority" possibilities, though I need to think through some things and adjust those lists since I haven't really updated them in the last month or more. If you've made it this far, I salute your fortitude in powering through my self-indulgent yammering. Here's to the next ten years, may they be better.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Traveller: Roads Not Taken

It's pretty well understood, I think, that Traveller started out without an explicit background setting, then developed one over time. There were some implicit setting assumptions, to be sure. In the 1977 edition, it was understood that there were shipping lanes along which it was easy to purchase a ticket or Jump navigation tapes to a destination, but outside of which travel was more difficult. There were Air/Rafts, which were some sort of anti-gravity sled, and in fact which were taken wholesale from the Dumarest of Terra series of pulp sci-fi novels (a while back, I discussed the structure of Traveller play; what I didn't note at the time was that basic structure was strongly rooted in the stereotypical Dumarest plot, in which the protagonist arrives on a world, broke and in need of passage to the next world to continue his lifelong quest, gets involved with some figure who can provide the necessary cash in exchange for some adventurous task, and then completes the mission*). This implied a system of such shipping lanes. Then there were things like the Travellers' Aid Society, membership in which would provide monthly tickets for travel. Some of these have been retained in the current canon of the Third Imperium, sometimes with subtle modifications, but others have been dropped quietly and ignored. Sometimes that is for good reason—the shipping lanes of the 1977 edition are great on paper, but I dare you to generate a subsector using the procedures given. Frankly, just the number of lines on the paper are unwieldy even if using a lower density of star systems, say 1 in 3 instead of the rule given of 1 in 2. Once the Referee expands their setting to more than one subsector, the space lanes become nearly impossible to manage (though I can imagine a computer-based system that might work, such things were not practical in the 1980s, and aren't even well-supported now).

Anyway, let's talk about some of the setting assumptions that were dropped from canon, why they were dropped, and what they could bring to a non-3I setting. I'm not going to rehash "death during character creation", since it isn't really a setting element, per se, and anyway it has been discussed repeatedly elsewhere. Maybe I'll discuss it another time.

For starters, there's a big one, Jump Message Torpedoes. First introduced in Adventure 4 Leviathan, I believe, these were communications torpedoes that a ship could send through Jumpspace to carry messages. These were never well defined, not even being given a Jump rating to indicate how far they could go, much less a cost, mass, or any other factor that might indicate their limitations. Presumably, like all Jumps, their travel would take a week. Given the Jump range of the starship at the center of the adventure, they probably were capable of at least Jump-3. Probably. However, in the end they ran up against two factors that did become canonical for the Third Imperium setting: a Jump drive could only be fitted in a hull of at least 100 tons (remembering that a hull "ton" is a measure of volume somewhere around the volume of 1 tonne of liquid hydrogen), and the implicit assumption that for some undefined reason a conscious, sapient being must be in control of a vehicle entering Jumpspace—though later canon did allow for computer artificial intelligence to be "sapient" in this way, but the robots and computers of the main Third Imperium setting are not sophisticated enough for this purpose; adding artificial intelligences to the setting was part of the long-term intention behind Virus in The New Era. If not for these factors, the Imperial network of X-Boat couriers wouldn't be necessary and the Navy would have limited use for its courier vessels.

Next is the association of Marines with Cutlasses. In classic Traveller and in MegaTraveller, a character wielding a Cutlass is capable of causing meaningful damage to a character wearing Combat Armor or even Battle Dress (powered armor). This was because the source material, pulp sci-fi stories, often depicted space marines fighting space pirates with melee weapons during boarding actions, and the game rules followed suit. This also resulted in the Marines career (and others) being likely to give a character melee weapon skills, and in the case of Marines, specifically Cutlass skill. Starting with Traveller: The New Era, this capability was reduced to match perceived reality, so that muscle-powered weapons simply weren't able to penetrate advanced armor being worn in a battlefield context. From TNE onward, Marines were no longer given skill in Cutlass as part of basic training, since it was no longer part of how the setting was understood, except that, for whatever reason, the first Mongoose edition of Traveller provided Marine recruits with the option of gaining Melee (Blade) skill, presumably in imitation of the Cutlass skill in the earliest editions, though the MgT system makes melee weapons useless against advanced armor like the other later editions. That lack of thinking things through is one of many, many reasons that I am not fond at all of the Mongoose edition, though to be fair I have not seen the second Mongoose edition.

I was going to discuss double-Jumping, the process by which some of a cargo hold is filled with liquid hydrogen in order to allow a second Jump without refuelling, usually done when a ship, due to distance limits of the Jump drive, has to Jump to empty space and then make a second Jump to reach a distant star. This is most often done when a Jump-1 ship needs to get across a 2 parsec distance. However, I'm pretty sure that this is canonical now. There was a time, a road not taken, when a Jump drive could not Jump to empty space in that manner. Jump-1 ships therefore weren't able to leave the so-called "Mains", stretches of star systems that can be reached with a 1-parsec Jump. I'm not sure that limitation was ever actually written into the game, but was instead a holdover from the board game Imperium that was a predecessor of Traveller, and was also, I think, related to the origin of the shipping lanes I mentioned toward the beginning.

What are some other roads not taken in Traveller as it developed, ideas that maybe seemed good at the time, but were dropped from the game as it became apaprent they didn't fit in with the setting as it was developing? Obviously, there's the "split timeline" phenomenon in which the official setting still includes the Rebellion and Virus, while some campaigns take place in timelines where the Rebellion never happened, or perhaps just that Virus never did, but I'm thinking less of story-oriented, "metaplot" concepts and more in terms of setting elements.

*In many of the more recent editions of Traveller, it has been an article of faith that adventuring groups should nearly automatically have access to a starship, and so mechanisms to enable this are presented such as "ship shares" or whatever, but this assumption was not present in earlier editions.