Category Archives: Traveller

Some Ramblings on the OSR, RIFTS, and more

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A couple of years back the OSR was a mystery to me. For me it was strange that people put so much work and effort into reviving such an old game as the original editions of D&D. Back then I was burned out on all things d20 System, and the only old edition of D&D I knew was AD&D 2nd Edition, which I didn’t really like.

Then I started looking into what the OSR actually stands for. I checked out games like Swords & Wizardry, White Box, Lamentations of the Flame Princess and I started to realize that the original D&D was a very different beast from a game like AD&D. Over the years I learned to appreciate the simple elegance of such games. Nowadays a lot of the games I am excited about are actually part of the OSR.

I also admire the creativity in the old-school scene. I am regularly amazed what awesome things you can create using a mechanical base about as old as myself. White Box (especially the version by Seattle Hill Games) has become my go-to game. Whenever I need to run a game without any prep, I can just pull the digest-sized book out of my bag and start running. I am really glad I eventually overcame my reservations for all things OSR.

Recently I had another look at RIFTS, a game which I had a weird love-hate relationship to. On the one hand I love the setting and I have very fond memories of the time when I played in a RIFTS campaign. On the other hand I always hated the rules. I found them confusing, I felt the system had way too many fiddly bits. For years I was looking for alternative rulesets to replace the dreaded Palladium System.

While I was pondering the idea of using one of the OSR games I learned to love over the past few years to run a RIFTS game, people actually reminded me that RIFTS was actually a D&D-based itself. The Palladium System was probably the first successful “heartbreaker”. It’s basically a set of house rules for D&D (or AD&D if I am not mistaken) that were turned into a new game.

So I gave RIFTS another read. While rereading the Ultimate Edition of the core rules I realized that RIFTS doesn’t actually have that many rules as I remembered. Basically it’s a pretty simple game and the fiddly bits (like thousands of small modifiers during combat etc.) can easily be handled by good book keeping. And in the heat of the moment hand waving a few things might work as well.

The rules in RIFTS are also meant as guidelines, you don’t need to follow slavishly. Use what you need and disregard the rest. Make up rulings if needed, and keep the game flowing. I guess this might actually be quite playable if you approach it like the OSR games I mentioned before. My mistake in the past was that I approached it like a more modern game, which it definitely isn’t.

The layout is still pretty pedestrian, the organization of most books is still confusing, but the mechanics aren’t actually that bad if you take the right approach. You just need to play it fast and loose, instead of worrying about the rules too much. But I guess I’ll know more after actually running it again.

Last but not least I want to talk about my ongoing quest to run a SF campaign. For basically forever I tried to come up with an awesome SF campaign which I could run for my friends. I think I already found the perfect system which I can use, but the hard part is making up my mind what kind of setting I actually want. Should it be near future, or rather far future? Is there FTL or is humanity restricted to just one solar system? Should I use our own stellar backyard or come up with stars of my own design? Hard science or space opera. The problem is that I love all the options and I have a hard time deciding what to use and what to throw out. Since a lot of options are mutually exclusive I can’t have both…

Normally I would ask my friends first, to find out what they would like best, BUT this time I decided to take a different approach. I want a setting I am happy with first and foremost and then find players interested in playing in this universe. Over the last years I too often tried to please everyone, which lead to campaigns I was not fully invested in. I don’t want to repeat this with my SF game. Do you guys have any advice how to solve that issue?

So, that were my ramblings for today. We’ll get back to our regular programme next week. Stay tuned. Zwinkerndes Smiley

Traveller: 3rd Party Settings

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Michael has already shed some light on the various incarnations of the Traveller rules. The sheer number of different versions can be somewhat overwhelming.
But once you settled for a given ruleset you face an even more daunting task: making yourself and your players familiar with the vast setting of Traveller.
To my experience this is one possible point of failure when the scope of the setting encounters the expecations of the players for the first time.

The official Traveller universe
The official “Third Imperium” setting for Traveller encompasses 11000 star systems, at least six major polities and a plethora of human and alien cultures. Most of those features are deeply rooted in classical science fiction literature of the 60ies to 80ies – but where this might be very rewarding to me – a SciFi nut for more than forty years – there is little to nothing to relate to for a younger prospective player.

Neither Star Wars features strongly in the original Traveller setting nor does Star Trek and those are probably the most popular SciFi franchises around. And who even remembers Firefly or Battlestar Galactica any more? Coming from the “mainstream of pop culture” the sheer bulk of background “stuff” of the Original Traveller Universe (OTU) without easily recognizable features like a mystical knightly order or a benevolent planetary federation often leads to dismissive reactions (tl;dr).

So how to make this game your own?
There is – as always – more than one answer to this question.
Michael asked me to take a look into a couple of Third Party Settings but there are also a couple of DIY approaches like “Proto-Traveller” (Michael already mentioned it before) to adapt Traveller for your own science fiction gaming needs.

The Traveller rules where originally meant to be generic RPG rules for contemporary or futuristic settings and Mongoose themselves willingly provided a handful.

One of the more successful attempts was 2300 AD (meaning it is still around in 2016) which is probably sufficiently known. But since 2300 AD is Mongoose’s in-house Alternate Traveller Universe (ATU) setting these days I won’t cover it here.

As mentioned above there are also a couple of DIY methods but those were not part of Michael’s request und would be beyond the scope of this post.
Then there are those by third party publishers (3PP) like Spica Publishing (Outer Veil), Terra/Sol Games (Twilight Sector), Zozer Games (Orbital 2100) and Gypsy Knights Games (Clement Sector).
This list is neither representative nor complete those are merely the settings that caught my eye one way or another while I was looking for something new since the Spinward Marches and the Solomani Rim as well as the classic era had somehow lost their appeal.

Except for Twilight Sector they all have in common that they are well below the techological level of the “Third Imperium” setting, that there are no (playable) aliens and that Earth and its neighbourhood feature more prominently.

Continue reading Traveller: 3rd Party Settings

A Look at the Cepheus Engine

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My current series of Traveller-related posts would not be complete without having a look at the Cepheus Engine SRD. Many people have called “Traveller with the serial numbers filed off” and from what I’ve seen this is pretty close to the truth. The Cepheus Engine was obviously born out of necessity. But let’s start at the beginning.

Mongoose, Traveller and the OGL
When Mongoose got the license to produce a new edition of the venerable scifi RPG Traveller they did something unexpected: they released the game under WotC’s Open Game License. There was also a Traveller Logo License, which allowed third party publishers to claim compatibility to Mongoose’s Traveller system. I guess Mongoose went that route in the hopes that many publishers would jump onto the bandwagon and produce settings for Traveller, which would all need their core rulebooks.

Then earlier this year, they released a new edition of Traveller and nixed the Traveller Logo License. This means that you can still use the OGL, but you can’t claim compatibility anymore. If you ever read something like “compatible with the 2d6 SF OGL game”, then it means it is probably compatible to MgT 1st Edition.
As you can imagine a lot of small publishers who have created Traveller supplements were not happy about this change.

Continue reading A Look at the Cepheus Engine