#RPGThursday – Balancing Act: Interstellar Relations in the Clement Sector (@GKGames, 2019) #TravellerRPG #CepheusEngine

It has been a long while since I bought any new RPG material. In early May, John Watts of Gypsy Night Games held a sale and I took advantage of to pick up a couple The Clement Sector products I had missed out on.

Balancing Act: Interstellar Relations in the Clement Sector is a 135-page sourcebook and new game subsystem. As the publisher’s blurb puts it:

Can you relate?

This book concerns the relationships which have been established, broken, strained, and improved between the worlds of Clement Sector over the time between their establishment during the 2200s and the current situation in Clement Sector as of 2342. It will take each world, one at a time, and detail how well or how poorly each world government gets along with its neighbors.

It also includes a game within a game called “The Balancing Act”. This game will allow you to take on the role of a head of state in Clement Sector and go up against other leaders as you attempt to push your world ahead of your competition. These rules can easily be used in other settings and games where one might wish to become a leader of a world.

Now you can rule your own world!

The first 92 pages are the sourcebook. Here, John Watts really excels at doing what all his The Clement Sector books do best; provide hooks. There is lots of information here about all the different worlds and their relationships with one another, but at no point does it feel directive to the reader. Instead, what I find are many plot seeds ready to be explored by the players without a preset conclusion. As vast and expansive as The Clement Sector is, John Watts make sure it still if YOUR universe.

The second part of the book details the game, The Balancing Act. I have read the rules, created a few Leaders and Agents, and played with the mechanics so this is still a very preliminary reaction.

Each turn in The Balancing Act (hereafter BA) is one standard week long. Each turn is further divided into phases. Each Leader starts out with two Agents and each gets two tasks (actions) in each week.

My first reaction it that BA is…interesting. Leaders and Agents each have four Attributes but it is unclear if these are connected in a meaningful way to the Universal Personality Profile (UPP) of a character. Two of the four Attributes, Intelligence and Education, would seemingly be the same but I don’t see an explicit rules connection. If one is playing BA as a separate game it’s not needed, but if one is adding BA to a campaign the question arises. Worlds have Planetary Attributes and again the connection to the Universal World Profile (UWP) is unclear.

Projects are large-scale tasks taking multiple turns to complete. Some projects may take years (i.e hundreds of turns) to complete. This is where I feel the time scale of BA breaks down. Weekly turns is very tactical but Projects can be very strategic. Mixing the two of them together makes for some interesting (unrealistic?) situations. For instance, look a the project Upgrading a Starport from C to B (p. 111). This is a Difficult (-2) task that takes from 52-312 turns (1-6 YEARS). It costs 1bln HFCredits; spending 10 billion cuts the time in half. Let’s look at the Success/Failure spread:

  • Exceptional Success: The starport is upgraded to B-class in half of the time.
  • Success: The starport is upgraded to B-class.
  • Failure: The starport is not upgraded. The task can be attempted again in 52 turns.
  • Exceptional Failure: The starport is not upgraded. The task can be attempted again in 108 turns.

Does it seem right to “know” the result of a failure at the beginning? If I know the upgrade is an Exceptional Failure and I am going to have to wait two years to try again, I have 108 turns of different investment coming since I know it’s not worth investing in that new fleet or factories because the starport ain’t happening! Maybe the answer is to make this a hidden roll with the result only known to a GM who can then release the result when appropriate. However, the rules of BA are silent on a GM leading me to believe a GM is not used. Hmm….

Five scenarios are provided in the book with times ranging from 20 weeks to as many as the players want. Maybe BA is scaled best for scenarios of five years or less? Will have to try a scenario or two to see for myself.

As I read and experimented with BA, I found myself making inevitable comparisons to Classic Traveller Trillion Credit Squadron and Dynasty from the Mongoose Traveller collection. I’ll just say that in TCS the players are the head of the military whereas in BA they are leaders of worlds. Dynasty, being focused on generations, is a totally different timescale and approach to long-term changes. I can eventually see TCS integrating with BA (same timescale); Dynasty is best forgotten.

On balance (heh heh), The Balancing Act is a very useful sourcebook and inspiration for campaigns. I am going to reserve further opinion on BA until I experiment more with the game; I think it has potential but am unsure about parts.


Feature image Gypsy Knights Games via DriveThruRPG

RPG Thursday – Traveller Dynasty

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Traveller Supplement 12: Dynasty is very much unlike other Traveller publications. In the words of Mongoose themselves:

A complete guide on founding, growing and running your own world in Traveller, this book enables the creation of sociologically diverse solar systems or even empires. Covering a wide range of aspects involving governments, infrastructure, trade, military defences and even religion, it also allows the development of these unique polities over time; investments, conflicts and random events driving their growth – or indeed, possible collapse!

Whether you are a band of adventurers colonising or conquering their own planet, or seeking to play out a generational game of developing sector-wide dominions, Dynasty will add depth and colour to any Traveller campaign.

Dynasty is a cross between a “dynasty” chargen system and a metagame for fleshing out background. Say your favorite character is a spy. A spy for who? What does that agency want? Why does that Megacorporation oppose you at every turn? With Dynasty all those questions can be answered. Using Dynasty, a GM can create “a succession of rulers from the same family or line; also a family or group that maintains power for several generations” (p. 2).

Dynasty can be viewed as having two parts. The first part is Dynasty Generation. Dynasties are described using characteristics (Cleverness, Greed, Loyalty, Militarism, Popularity, Scheming, Tenacity and Tradition) as well as traits, aptitudes, values, boons and hindrances. Like Traveller chargen itself, a dynasty can be created using a mini-game (alternatively, a point-buy option is provided).

After creating the core characteristics, each dynasty much chose a power base which gives trait and attribute modifiers. At this point, a dynasty archtype is chosen which determines base traits and attributes. To get the dynasty started, the First Generation (actually the first 100 years) is covered, which is also where boons and hindrances are developed. The management (or leadership) of the dynasty is also created. Basic dynasty creation ends with the calculation of First Generation values as well as determining background and historic events in the first 100 years of a dynasty.

Now that the core dynasty is created, the layers or GM can work through the generations. Each generation is 30 years long. For each generation, a goal must be chosen. There are ten goals given and for each there is a checklist of aptitude checks or defined checks or end-of-generation factors that must be met. Every five years the dynasty must check for Threats and Obstacles, and every 10 years there can be decade events. Finally, at the end of every generation there is an accounting step to determine how the dynasty grows – or if it fails to survive.

The generations “game” is where Dynasty begins to fall apart. For each generation, the dynasty must complete Aptitude Checks to meet goals. The Aptitude Checks in the book are not all inclusive; indeed they represent only a very limited selection meaning a GM will have to be very creative. Some checks are opposed, meaning you have to have more than one dynasty being created. This is fine with multiple players but hard to solo – a past hallmark of Traveller games.

The second part of Dynasty focuses on when dynasties clash. Five mini-games are introduced, each replacing the regular generation process. Rules are also provided for dynastic influence on Traveller chargen. The book concludes with a GM guide to role-playing with dynasties and sample dynasties.

The process of creating a dynasty works fine through the creation of the core dynasty (the first 10 years). In the generation process, the Aptitude Checks provided are limited and the GM will have to create may of their own, but very guidance on how to do this is provided. When dynasties clash is also a bit confusing, because there are prerequisites to starting each mini-game and their relationship to the regular generational Aptitude Checks seems unclear.

I don’t really want to declare that the generational development game and the clashes mini-games are broken, but in the (few) dynasties I have tried creating it seems difficult to get the requisite accumulated effects (anywhere from 50-80 or so) each generation. Odds are if you spend an entire generation on Aptitude Checks you may meet your goal, but no clashes would be possible. Indeed, clashes early in the life of a dynasty appear deadly.

Since I am still working on creating dynasties I have not had the chance to play around with heroes and villains of dynasties. I worry that the changes to chargen may upset player character balance. Will have to keep an eye on that.

In conclusion, Dynasty is interesting but not without its issues. Rules could be clearer; the format Mongoose uses for books is difficult to follow. That said, Dynasty is interesting because it allows creation of background and backstory. It is integrated with chargen, but it is not very clearly interchangable with other Traveller mini-games such as Mercenary or High Guard; nor is it intuitively obvious how to relate to Classic Traveller games like Striker or Trillion-Credit Squadron (which just screams dynasty!).