Category Archives: Random musings

Traveller: No Hero’s Journey

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During the preparation of my upcoming Traveller campaign I realized something about Traveller: it’s different in one important aspect from most other roleplaying game. Characters don’t get new abilities over time. There’s no (mechanical) character advancement. The skill ratings you have at the end of character creation will be the skill rating your character will have at their demise. The only changes you can expect are because of aging.

In a way this actually makes sense. In Traveller (at least most of its editions) a skill rating of 1 is enough to get a job in that field. With a skill rating of 2 you might have a bachelor’s degree, with a rating of 3 your skill level is equal to someone with a master’s degree, and so on. In most other games a skill rating of one doesn’t mean much.

You acquired these skills during character creation which simulates several terms of service in one of the available careers. It often took 4, 8, 12, or more years to learn and practice those skill, so it doesn’t really make sense that you can easily improve on those skills during gameplay.

A lot of games, especially fantasy ones, tell the classic “hero’s journey”. Traveller doesn’t want to tell that story. In Traveller the character’s journey begins after they left their previous careers behind. Your character is not a spring chicken, but someone with perhaps 20 or more years of professional experience under their belt. You are also not playing superheroes, but common people.

I actually find it quite nice to play characters of my age from time to time. In games like D&D playing an older character always felt a bit weird. Even though your backstory said you’re an old veteran, your skills and abilities are basically on the same level as the ones of your 16-year-old comrades. Of course you could let older characters start at a higher level, but that opens another can of worms.

Aside from Traveller I don’t know that many games in which your characters don’t improve their skills and abilities during gameplay. It’s definitely one of the more common tropes in roleplaying games. Even games that boast “RPG elements” often just take the “levelling up” mechanics and disregards the other aspects.

In a game like Traveller not having skill advancement makes sense. It fits the kind of stories the game was designed to tell. What are your thoughts on the subject? Do you think mechanical character advancement is a must? Or can you live without it? Please share your thoughts below.

P.S.: The crew of the Nostromo (as seen in the image above), hasn’t been harmed during the making of this blog post. 😉

In My Traveller Universe

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The work on my version of the Traveller universe continues. Initially I planned to create a subsector from scratch and place it at the edges of an empire which was in the process of falling apart, but that turned out too much work. Why reinvent the wheel, when I can just use the Third Imperium and tweak it to my whims?

The Spinward Marches are IMHO a perfect place to set a classic Traveller game (regardless of which era and ruleset you choose) and I already own several sourcebooks about this region of space. In order to start small, I decided to focus on a single subsector first. I can always expand the scope of my campaign later if needed.

The Regina subsector makes a great starting place, since a lot of classic Traveller adventure modules are set there, BUT I wanted to explore a region I wasn’t really familiar with. Eventually I stumbled upon the District 268 subsector. The Imperial influence is minimal and many of its worlds are so close together, that even a Jump-1 ship can easily travel through the subsector. In other worlds: a perfect place for adventurers.

At the moment I favor starting the campaign during the civil war shortly after the First Frontier War. The Imperium is busy fighting with itself, while worlds like Trexalon work towards keeping Imperial influence out of the sector. Several factions will use the power vacuum to further their own agendas. Piracy becomes more common and smaller worlds struggle to survive. Since this is before the establishment of the X-Boat network, people don’t really know what’s going on, and rumors are abound…

Rules-wise I’ve settled on the Cepheus Engine. Why? Mostly because I want to try out how well it works at the game table. It’s also available for free, so I can share the rules with my players without breaking international copyright law which is another plus.

The campaign itself will probably follow the “classic” Traveller campaign. The player characters will be freelancers with a ship, lofty goals, and (since I know my players) low impulse control. The first session or two will be about how they acquire a ship. After that they are pretty much on their own. Do they want to do some trading? Missions for various patrons? Explore strange alien ruins (every good space opera game needs lots of those)?

At the moment I plan to use aliens sparingly (to keep them interesting). Most NPCs they encounter will probably be human. I might throw in a few Vargr for good measure (and because I have a soft spot for these guys). My Traveller universe will be way more humancentric than the OTU. I don’t want every spaceport bar feel like the cantina from Star Wars.

This week we will probably start with character creation and I might run an introductory adventure, so that the players can get their feet wet. Going full sandbox with a group of first-time Traveller players is probably not a good idea. And don’t forget, even though Traveller was the first RPG I ever bought (back in the early 90s), I didn’t run it that often (only once or twice), so I am pretty much a newbie myself, when it comes to Traveller.

Cepheus, Python & Me

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UPDATE: I just found an error in my code that was responsible for the ridiculously high populations on many worlds. Line 108 is pp = roll()-2+sz but instead it should be pp = roll()-2.

A friend asked me if I had an open spot in one of my roleplaying game groups, because she really would love to play more often. She is already playing in my RIFTS game, and the only other games I am more or less regularly playing in at the moment are a Star Trek and a Star Wars one. Unfortunately she’s not really into either setting.

So I offered to run a new game for her and my wife. We looked at a couple of games I could run, and to my surprise the choice fell on Traveller. Initially I thought it would be best just to use Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition and set the campaign into the Third Imperium. I own a couple of sourcebooks mostly focused on the Spinward Marches, so this should be quite easy. But easy is not necessarily the most fun way to do things.

So in the end, we settled on using the Cepheus Engine (which is basically CT with a healthy dose of MgT thrown in) and using a homebrew setting instead of the OTU. I will probably still use a lot of OTU material, but this approach allows me to throw out canon out of the window and create my own subsector to play in.

The easiest solution would have been using one of the countless Traveller subsector generators on the web, but I wanted to try the world generation from the Cepheus Engine. Since I always loved to write my own code, I decided to use this opportunity to learn some Python (which I have planned for quite some time).

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