My 2022 #TTRPG Chargen Challenge – The Lost Traveller 4 (Imperium Games, Inc., 1996) #TravellerRPG

“I started playing the Traveller roleplaying game in 1979…”

I’m sure you’re very tired of hearing me tell you that Traveller RPG story, so let me tell you another. It’s about another version of Traveller, specifically Marc Miller’s Traveller 4th Edition aka Traveller 4. This “new” version of Traveller was much the same but also very different. The same was character generation. The (very) different was the Task Code.

From 1st to 4th

I missed out on MegaTraveller (aka “Traveller 2”) and Traveller: The New Era (aka “Traveller 3”) so in many ways the character generation system in Traveller 4 looked to be an extremely well organized, cleaned up, and streamlined version of the expanded character generation systems that I encountered in Book 4 Mercenary, Book 5 High Guard, Book 6 Scouts, and Book 7 Merchant Prince in the older Classic Traveller system. Even today, I love the simple character generation tables laid out in Traveller 4.

So what’s the problem?

3.5D

That’s not a reference to yet another edition of Traveller, that’s the Task Difficulty for a Staggering task. The code is telling the players they need to roll three and one-half dice for the task.

Wait a minute…Traveller RPG is a 2d6 game system, right? What’s this more-than-two dice? What in the heck is a “half dice?”

Every task in Traveller 4 is given a Task Difficulty. This is the sum of the character’s characteristic and skill level. So shooting a gun (Gun Combat) relies on Dexterity. If a character has a Dexterity characteristic of 7 and a Gun Combat Skill of 1, the Target Number is 8. The referee then looks at the task and determines the Difficulty. Taking a shot at Short range is a Difficult Task rated at 2.5D. This means the player rolls 2d6, sums the result, then rolls another d6 and divides the result in half (rounding up) and then sums the result again. If the die roll is LESS THAN the Target Number the task is a success. For example: With a Target Number of 8 I roll 2d6 (6+3=9) and adds a “half die” (roll 3…divided by 2 and rounded up to 2) for a total of 11 which far exceeds the 8 needed—FAIL!

For the longest time I simply could not grok the Task Code system in Traveller 4. The whole idea of a “half die” appeared ridiculous. I have to admit that decades later and after having expereince with many other RPG systems the half-die in Traveller 4 isn’t as off-putting as it once was. I still don’t like it, but I understand it better these days.

1st of the 3rd in the 4th

One other part of Traveller 4 that I never really grasped was the default setting. Traveller 4 was set in the “First Milieu” of the Third Imperium, a century before the Classic Traveller Third Imperium setting. Given at the time I was having difficulty buying into the Traveller 4 task system, is it any surprise that I resisted “investing” in the setting? Recalling that the 1977 Traveller books were actually setting-less, I think I also longed for some of those “good ole days.”

Fourth Generation Traveller

When it comes to creating a character in Traveller 4 the process is actually quite familiar and simple. Recalling that I skipped T2 and T3, reading the three ways to generate a character’s primary characteristics was (finally) affirmation that my preferred “Best Order” method—roll 2d6 six times and assign each roll to characteristics as desired—was not just a house rule. I also liked the more formalized homeworld, early life background skills that were at least acknowledged here. Some later systems would create far more detailed routines for youth or teen years, but I find those too excessive for my taste. A few (two?) background skills based on homeworld environment and tech level seems enough.

Traveller 4 uses the advanced education options in character development. The ability for character to go to college or a service academy was in the later Classic Traveller little black books but here I saw the process applied more universally. Looking at the process today, it seems that one of the assumptions behind character generation in Traveller 4 was that players wanted to have more educated characters and used advanced education to get there. I don’t feel this was an assumption in Classic Traveller and it was a bit jarring at first.

Traveller 4 also did away with the chance of “death in chargen” that is a hallmark of Classic Traveller. Instead, there was Injury and Honorable Discharge. Given the relatively simple chargen process in T4, having to “start all over” is not that onerous a task, but I understand how some people get…uh…”offended” by losing a character in chargen.

Pursuing a career in Traveller 4 is very easy thanks to the simple tables. The hardest part is (again) getting used to the “roll under” requirements and terminology. Specifically, I’m talking about “Die Modifiers (DM)” in chargen. When the table states, “Injury: 8-; DM+2 if Edu 8+” that means the die roll to avoid injury becomes roll under 10 (8+2) if the die modifier applies. This confuses me because when I see DM I automatically assume the modification applies to the die roll I make, meaning if I rolled a 5 it becomes a 7 (DM+2).

J’hnn K’ry

Meet J’hnn K’ry, a young man from the capital of the Bradii Reach in my B’rron Subsector. His primary characteristics are UPP 798773 (Strength-Dexterity-Endurance-Intelligence-Education-Social Status). J’hnn had a relatively normal teen life, and knows how to drive a Grav Craft (Grav Craft-1) and his way around computers (Computers-1).

Although J’hnn comes from a relatively poor background (Soc-3) he has average intelligence and education and tries to get into college. Alas, he is rejected, so he seeks out an Army recruiter and joins that service (Service Skill Gun Combat (Rifle) -1).

J’hnn’s first term is a bit scary as he (barely) avoids injury. He learns how to handle himself in unarmed combat (Brawling-1) and how to fly a helicopter (Aircraft (Helo)-1). His real heart is as a grav tank driver (Grav Craft-2) and he also enjoys his barracks time (Carousing-1). Maybe he enjoys that barracks life a bit too much; he does not commission nor promote but is allowed to continue his career.

The second term for J’hnn is a bit better. He doesn’t commission but is promoted to E-2. He picks up some more fighting skills (Brawling-1) as well as rifle marksmanship (Gun Combat (Rifle)-2). He obviously really enjoys being a driver as he gains yet more skill in grav tanks (Grav Craft-3) and some formal skill in ground vehicles (Ground Craft-1). He also gains some skill as an instructor (Instruction-1). Yet, for all he has achieved, the Army decides in their infinite wisdom that J’hnn does not have a future in the service and lets him go.

Now on the outside, J’hnn finds he has 10,000Cr and a Low Passage ticket. He is seeking out a mechanized mercenary unit where he can keep going as a grav tank driver.

J‘hnn K’ry, Age 26, former Army E-2 / UPP 799773 / Aircraft (Helo)-1 , Brawling-1, Carousing-1, Computer-1, Grav Craft-3, Ground Craft-1, Gun Combat (Rifle)-2, Instruction-1 / 10,000Cr / Low Passage Ticket (1)

Unfortunately, I never invested in other sourcebooks for Traveller 4 beyond the Starships book so I don’t have the T4 version of Mercenary.

Like I said, a lost Traveller era.


Feature image: “Grav Tank Patrol” by Andrew Boulton

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#TravellerRPG Tuesday – Mercy Mercenary Me! – #TravellerRPG Mercenary Book 4 (GDW, 1978)

I started playing the Traveller roleplaying game in 1979 using the original 1977 Little Black Books (LBB). Very quickly I started picking up other expansions, the first of which was Traveller Book 4 Mercenary (GDW, 1978). For a wargamer (of which I was a nascent one at the time) this book was a digest-sized heaven. Here I had both wargame and roleplaying game coming together. Forty years later, my perspectives have changed, but Mercenary still remains an absolutely essential part of my Traveller gaming universe.

“Frank”-ly, A Wargamer’s RPG Expansion

Traveller Book 4 Mercenary was designed by Frank Chadwick. Yes, “designed” is how he is credited in the front matter of the book. It’s important to realize that Traveller is not just a set of core gaming mechanisms, but in many ways a collection of related game systems. Only years later would I come to understand just how lucky we are that Mr. Chadwick was not only a wargame designer, but a major creator in the Traveller RPG product line. Frank brought his wargame design chops to bear in important Traveller game systems, especially in combat. The Traveller Combat System in the LBB was his creation. The Abstract Combat rules in Mercenary are also his.

While some out there may want to deny that roleplaying games evolved from wargames, I hope none of them are ignorant enough not to realize the contributions wargame designers had in multiple products. Mercenary is an excellent example of the immense value-added wargame designers bring into the RPG hobby.

Vietnam in the Stars

Paging through Mercenary, the first real content one encounters is an illustration of a soldier. What always strikes me, as much now as it did then, is just how un-advanced the soldier looks. The soldier is wearing loose-fitting fatigues with a very Vietnam War-era flak jacket and helmet with a visor in front and an antenna-fed commo link on back. The most advanced piece of kit is the carbine attached to a power cord running to a pack on the back. In 1979 this was about as far from Heinlein’s concept of Starship Troopers as you could get, and seemed almost quaint in the years following Star Wars and white armored Storm Troopers.

Five centuries in the future but looking back to 1975…

Shadows of the (Third) Coming

Traveller ’77 is a setting-less set of rules. However, the popularity of Traveller was such that there was a clamor for a default setting. In Mercenary we get the first shadows of what would eventually become the Third Imperium:

Traveller assumes a remote centralized government (referred to in this volume as the Imperium), possessed of great industrial and technological might, but unable, due to the sheer distances and travel times involved, to exert total control at all levels everywhere within its star-spanning realm. On the frontiers, extensive home rule provisions allow planetary populations to choose their own forms of government, raise and maintain armed forces for local security, pass and enforce laws governing local conduct, and regulate (within limits) commerce. Defense of the frontier is mostly provided by local indigenous forces, stiffened by scattered lmperial naval bases manned by small but extremely sophisticated forces. Conflicting local interests often settle their differences by force of arms, with lmperial forces looking quietly the other way, unable to effectively intervene as a police force in any but the most wide-spread of conflicts without jeopardizing their primary mission of the defense of the realm. Only when local conflicts threaten either the security or the economy of the area do lmperial forces take an active hand, and then it is with speed and overwhelming force.

Mercenary, p. 1

Small local conflicts needing trained soldiers was perfect for—mercenaries:

Within this vast Imperium there is a role for mercenary combat units: The combat environment of the frontier, then is one of small, short, limited wars. Both sides must carefully balance the considerations of how much force is required to win a conflict with how much force is likely to trigger lmperial intervention. At the same time, both belligerents will generally be working with relatively small populations, with only a negligible number of combat experienced veterans. In this environment, the professional soldier will find constant employment. Small, poor states faced with invasion or encroachment will hire professional soldiers as cadres to drill and lead their citizen militias. Larger states will be able to afford to hire and equip complete mercenary contingents as strikers, or spearhead troops. Small commando units will be in demand as industrial espionage is waged between mega-corporations virtually nations unto themselves. In addition, the hired soldier will always be in demand as security or bodyguard troops, as force remains the only true protection against force. The Golden Age of the Mercenary will have arrived.

Mercenary, pp. 1-2

Many science fiction fans reading that passage today likely say, “Hammer’s Slammers!” You may not realize it, but in 1978 when Mercenary was published the entire Hammer’s Slammers universe consisted of only a small handful of short stories; the first book was not published until 1979! For myself, I didn’t get a copy of Hammer’s Slammers until after I had Mercenary in hand.

Even without Hammer’s Slammers I found the situation depicted in Mercenary very believable. The late 1970’s was still the Cold War and while the two superpowers didn’t trade blows, there were plenty of proxy wars fought. I could see the role of a Mercenary soldier in the real world which made imagining it in Traveller that much easier. More importantly, this was NOT Star Wars. This was NOT a large Empire chasing a small band of rag-tag rebels. Players were not constrained into a good-bad, light-dark binary conflict. Like the real world, there was plenty of room for ambiguity.

Soldier of Fortune

The character generation system in Mercenary was also my first encounter with the “expanded” character generation rules. Whereas Traveller used simple four-year terms, Mercenary dug a level deeper and followed characters in yearly increments. Looking back on the rules today, I certainly can see some rough edges, like the need to use both Book 1 and Book 4 together to make a character as not all the needed charts and tables were duplicated. That criticism sounds harsher than it really is as there was room in the LBB box to add Book 4 meaning it was easy to carry all you needed.

Ticket to Raid

The next section of Mercenary introduced “tickets.” These were legal contracts to hire mercenaries. To be honest, at first this part of adventuring was hard for me to understand because, once again, only a few example tickets were included. If you wanted more tickets the referee had to create them. I also didn’t understand why a junior officer leaving the Army would take a NCO position.

This is where eventually reading Hammer’s Slammers helped me understand Mercenary. The interludes in Hammer’s Slammers are prime setting background material for Mercenary. As I read one, I played the other. This perfect marriage of fiction and gaming is how Mercenary finally made sense to me.

[In the mid-1980s I finally was able to see the movie The Wild Geese (1978). After that Mercenary really made sense!]

Battle “Mass”-ter

I’ve written previously about the different combat systems in Traveller. As much as I wargamed I actually had lots of fun with the Abstract System in Mercenary. This was a combat game we could play at the lunchroom table throwing dice with one hand and stuffing a PB&J in our mouth with the other. Sure, we could set up a more hex & counter wargame but this was the original fast, fun, and furious Traveller combat game.

Looking at Mercenary 40 years later, I am very impressed how Frank Chadwick designed an absolutely barebones combat system. For a gent that has given us monster games like The Third World War (with a larger edition recently funded on Kickstarter) its amazing to see this very simple, highly abstracted combat model.

Ironmongery

Ironmongery was a word I had never heard before Mercenary; after this it became a part of my life. Starting a few years before finding Traveller I had been taken in by the many Jane’s type of weapons books. The ironmongery section of Mercenary showed me how to “cross-walk” a real-world weapon into my roleplaying games. That skill also enabled me to start creating my own weapons system in wargames. Many years later I finally realized that what was I was doing was creating models for use in a simulation. That skill has served me well over the years; though I was never a wargame designer that skill set has been essential to my career. Yet another influence Traveller had on my life.

You’re in the Army Now

Feeling a bit nostalgic, I decided to go back to Mercenary ’78 and create a character. Let me introduce you to Onche Sm’th (starting UPP: BAA885).

Onche joined the Cavalry Branch of the Army. After completing Basic Training as a Combat Rifleman (ACR-1) and a heavy weapons gunner (Hvy Wpns Autocannon-1), somebody thought this monster of a being would make a good medic as he was sent to Specialist School and picked up Medic-1. Year two saw Sm’th fight in a Counter Insurgency. Year three was a training assignment, but year four was a Police Action in which Onche received both the Meritorious Conduct Under Fire (MCUF) and a Wound Badge. In the last two years Sm’th also moved from gunner to driver, learning the intricacies of driving wheeled combat vehicles (Driver Wheeled Vehicle-2).

While Onche was in the hospital recovering from his wounds he heard about the mercenary life. Deciding that if he was going to get shot he wanted to be much better compensated, he got out after his first term seeking fame and fortune.

Onche Sm’th

  • Resume: BAB885, Army, One Term, Enlisted in Cavalry, Final Rank – Sergeant
  • Special Assignments: Specialist School
  • Awards & Decorations: Meritorious Conduct Under Fire (MCUF), 2x Combat Ribbon, Wound Badge
  • Equipment Qualified On: ACR, Autocannon, Wheeled Ground Vehicle
  • Skills: ACR-1, Autocannon-1, Ground Vehicle -2, Medical-1

Mercenary Ticket

Full of himself, Onche couldn’t wait to get out and immediately tried to get hired on. Alas, he quickly learned that a one-term Sergeant isn’t a high-demand person. In his first three weeks, Onche was rejected for a Security and two Commando tickets. As the month was ending Onche was getting rather worried, but finally he was able to hire onto a small Cadre ticket as a Squad Leader.

[I’m playing these “games” in my B’rron Subsector, the geopolitics of which I laid out in a previous post.]

Background: The Quinto Expanse has a problem. There are rumors that “The Heresy” has plans to expand, and the Quinto Expanse is the nearest star nation to face them and logical first target. The QDF needs to bolster their defense force and it needs experienced cadre.

Mission: The Quinto Defense Force has hired a small cadre force (not to exceed 12 personnel) at double standard salary to train and lead a particular company of the QDF. There are four junior officer commissions and nine NCO positions. The company and all three platoons are led by a mercenary officer with a QDF deputy. NCOs are seeded throughout leadership positions in the platoons. Normal salaries are paid to individual soldiers with additional salaries to the unit for profit and disbursement of shares.

Onche is quite happy to be a squad leader. His squad is carried in a TL-9 armored infantry fighting vehicle with a pintle-mounted autocannon.

Onche is not quite as happy when he finds out that his unit is being lifted—without their vehicles—to the almost-moon desert world of Castaway for “training.” Castaway has only .35g and a trace atmosphere. Onche is not trained in low-grav environments nor vacc suits. He tries to pay attention to the training he is given (Vacc Suit-0, avoid untrained penalty) but he is not so sure that this is better than three-squares a day in the Army…

Got some kick…

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#TravellerRPG Tuesday – My B’rron Subsector using #CepheusEngineDeluxe #ttrpg

After looking back at my Little Black Book Traveller ’77 tabletop roleplaying game—which doesn’t have a default setting—I set out to make my own subsector for adventure. I decided to use Cepheus Engine Deluxe for my core rules because it is the updated version of Traveller and closest to the 1977 version. Besides, many of the subsector generators online use algorithms that just weren’t there in 1977!

Spiritual successor to Traveller

For those not familiar with the Universal World Profile (UWP) below this is how you decode it:

  • World Name / hex / UWP / Bases / Trade Tags / Notes
  • UWP A123456-T
    • A= Starport
    • 1= World Diameter (Earth = 8)
    • 2= Atmosphere (Standard = 6)
    • 3= Hydrographics (% water covered)
    • 4= Population (order of magnitude)
    • 5= Government
    • 6= Law Level
    • T= Tech Level (TL)

You will see below that all my world names are generic tags. When I’m worldbuilding the names of worlds are one of the last things I do…if I get around to it. More often than not the tag suffices. One mark of a great adventure is when your players are leaving the planet and ask, “So, what was that place that nearly killed us?”

Setting Assumptions

Jump Drive

In the B’rron Subsector Jump-3 is the longest jump drive possible. To build Jump-1 drives takes TL9, Jump-2 is TL11, and Jump-3 is TL13. In combination with the starport rules for ship construction (only A-class starports can construct starships; B-class can construct system ships, and C-class can only do small craft) this means not every polity will actually be able to build starships. As you will see, building Jump-3 ships is actually limited to only two planets throughout the entire subsector.

Polities

I assumed that the B’rron Subsector was settled long ago and allegiances were established amongst worlds one parsec (1 hex) distant from each other. This created six major political entities.

Major Astrography

Here is the B’rron Subsector. [Subsector map generated using https://campaignwiki.org/traveller/edit…with hand drawn embellishments!] The subsector map shows three loose groupings. The Coreward Cluster with the two worlds of the Stra’zer Arm, the Bradii Reach, and Amiltin Reformation. The Central Worlds consist of the Dun’i’gan Federation, Dr’ke Arm, and Quinto Expanse. There are also four “independent” worlds without allegiances though one, a high population and high technology world ruled by a religious dictatorship, lies at the rimward edge of the subsector.

B’rron Subsector

Coreward Cluster

Stra’zer Arm (Green border)
  • SA-1 / 0101 / D665735-1 /Research Base / Agricultural, Garden, Low Tech, Rich
  • SA-2 / 0201 / B522A78-7 / Scout Base / Water World

Late in the design process I decided that the Sta’zer Arm is an alien empire. I haven’t defined the alien…yet. The worlds within B’rron Subsector appear rather poor. Why SA-1 is not a Red Zone is unknown. The jump-3 trade route between SA-1 and the Bradii capital is a very recent development and drawing interest as it is the only known jump-3 trade or communications route in the whole subsector.

Ship Construction – 0201 TL7 System Ships

Amiltin Reformation (Blue border)
  • AR-1 / 0104 /E9A7552-7 / Non-Water Fluid Ocean, Non-Industrial / Gas Giant
  • AR-2 / 0203 / X9A0348-7 / Research Base / Desert, Low Pop / Gas Giant / RED ZONE
  • AR-C / 0303 / B796ADA-A / Naval Base / High Pop, Industrial / Capital
  • AR-4 / 0403 / E635554-9 / Non-Industrial
  • AR-5 / 0503 / C443778-8 / Scout Base / Non-Industrial / Balkanized

Led by the religious dictatorship on AR-C, at TL10 the Amiltin Reformation has the technology but not the shipyards to build starships. There are rumors of a secret research project on AR-2 (Red Zone, and nobody believes there is only an X-Starport or that the tech level is 7).

The balkanized AR-5 has become a planet of intrigue. Lying two parsecs from both the Amiltin Reformation and Bradii Reach capitals, the planet nominally owes its allegiance to Amiltin. However, several groups on the planet openly advocate alignment with the impersonal bureaucracy of the Bradii Reach, which has the Amiltin religious dictatorship on edge.

Ship Construction – 0303 TL10 System Ships

Bradii Reach (Orange border)
  • BR-C / 0401 / A72AA98-F / Naval Base / High Pop, High Tech, Industrial, Water World / Gas Giant / Capital
  • BR-2 / 0501 / E454677-7 / Agricultural, Garden
  • BR-3 / 0601 / D595886-5 / Low Tech / Gas Giant / RED ZONE
  • BR-4 / 0701 / AAA59AA-D / Naval Base / Non-Water Fluid Oceans, High Pop, High Tech / Charismatic Dictator
  • BR-5 / 0801 / C31478A-8 / Scout Base / Ice-Capped

With the highest tech level planet in the subsector (BR-C TL15), Bradii Reach should easily dominate. The shipyards in BR-C and BR-4 are the only yards in the entire subsector capable of building Jump-2 or Jump-3 starships.

The charismatic dictatorship on BR-4, just a step behind in technology (TL13), believes they are the rightful leader of the Reach and is willing to fight for that recognition if necessary. This tends to keep the capital focused inward instead of outward, much to the relief of the Amiltin Reformation.

Ship Construction – 0401 TL15 Jump-3 Starships / 0701 TL13 Jump-3 Starships

Central Worlds

In the last few generations, more and more politicians talk about a Central Worlds Confederation.

Dun’i’gan Federation (Yellow border)
  • DF-1 / 0305 / X110400-6 / Scout Base / Non-Industrial
  • DF-2 / 0405 / X787446-3 / Garden, Low Tech, Non-Industrial / Gas Giant
  • DF-3 / 0406 / B466998-B / Naval Base / High Pop, High Tech 
  • DF-4 / 0505 / E596551-5 / Agricultural, Low Tech, Non-Industrial
  • DF-5 / 0506 / C537751-7
  • DF-C / 0507 / C996ACA-C / Naval Base / High Pop, High Tech, Industrial / Gas Giant/ Capital

By some measures, DF-3, with the B-Starport, could very well be the Federation capital. Maybe in a few generations, but for now the higher-tech DF-C—connected via communications route to the Quinto Expanse and Dr’ke Arm—remains the capital.

Like AR-5, planet DF-1 is another planet of intrigue. A member of the Federation, it lies two parsecs from the Amiltin Reformation capital and two parsecs from the high population and high technology DF-3. Amiltin sees it as a potential pathway into the Central Worlds while the Federation sees it as a defensive bulwark to prevent the spread of the Reformation.

The Dun’i’gan Federation is lukewarm to the idea of a Confederation. As they are dependent on others to build starships they fear they would be seen as the junior-most partner in any grouping.

Ship Construction – 0406 TL11 System Ships

Quinto Expanse (Red border)
  • QE-C / 0509 / A7648C9-9 / Naval Base / Agricultural, Garden / Gas Giant / Capital
  • QE-2 / 0608 / B4668C8-6 / Agricultural, Garden / Gas Giant
  • QE-3 / 0709 / D676477-8 / Low Pop

The Quinto Expanse is fiercely independent, but is at risk of being overwhelmed by the higher tech Dun’igan Federation and Dr’ke Arm. QE-2, with trade route connections to two other polities, is often referred to as “Kasablanka”—a reference with an origin lost in time.

The Quinto Expanse has mixed feelings about a confederation. As a relatively small empire they feel a bit threatened by the Dr’ke Arm, yet they also seek allies as they fear the “rise of the Heresy.”

Ship Construction – 0509 TL9 Jump-1 Starships

Dr’ke Arm (Black border)
  • DA-1 / 0803 / X492357-5 / Scout Base / Low Pop, Low Tech / Gas Giant
  • DA-2 / 0704 / X241463-0 / Low Pop, Low Tech, Non-Industrial / Captive Government of 0706
  • DA-3 / 0705 / D380200-5 / Desert, Low Pop, Low Tech, Poor
  • DA-4 / 0706 / A373CCA-9 / High Pop, Industrial / Gas Giant
  • DA-C / 0707 / B47AAA7-C / Naval Base / High Pop, Industrial / Gas Giant / Capital
  • DA-6 / 0807 / D000553-A / Naval Base / Asteroid, Vacuum

Te Dr’ke Arm has two faces; the rimward worlds are relatively high tech and populous but the coreward worlds are extremely poor. The Scout base in 0803 serves as a forward outpost against the Bradii Reach. DA-2 is an early colony set up by DA-4.

The Dr’ke Arm is the greatest proponent for confederation, mostly because they see themselves as the natural leader.

Ship Construction – 0706 TL9 Jump-1 Starships / 0707 TL12 System Ships

“Independent” Worlds
  • “Pirate” / 0107 / C200600-7 / Pirate Base / Non-Agricultural, Non-Industrial, Vacuum
  • “Corp” / 0109 / E100510-7 / Corporate / Vacuum
  • “Heresy” / 0210 / A565DDA-A / Naval Base? / High Pop, High Tech / Religious Dictatorship
  • “Castaway” / 0309 / X410100-3 / Low Tech

The planet in 0107 is a known pirate stronghold.

Corp is known as a corporately controlled world, though where the corporation comes from is unknown. Some think the corporation and pirates are aligned…

“The Heresy” is the nickname given to an unknown religious dictatorship. Ship Construction – TL10 Jump-1 Starships.

No, not that Heresy…

The few people living on Castaway are not some primitive race, but the crew of a ship lost that “went native” and refuse to leave. There are rumors that this may actually be an elite special forces team from the Quinto Expanse sent to man a secret listening post to defend against The Heresy and pirates. Who knows?

Adventure Seeds

The “intrigue” worlds at the crossroads of multiple polities are good locations for adventures. If the players want to trade, these are also good locations to work from. There is always great opportunity to get involved in the political or military machinations between various factions. There is also the rimward/spinward threats that seem very distant but…

Hmm…I wonder if a mercenary striker could find employment? Looks like Traveller Volume 4 – Mercenary is up next!

Traveller Book 4 Mercenary

Feature image courtesy rpgknights.com

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#TravellerRPG Tuesday – Adventuring the LBB Way in Traveller (Game Designers’ Workshop, 1977) #ttrpg

Believe it or not, there is a segment of Dungeon’s & Dragons roleplaying game players who proclaim that if you don’t follow the rules exactly as written then you are playing the game wrong. As much as I disagree with that position, I decided to go back to my tabletop roleplaying game roots and review the “Little Black Books” in my Traveller boxed set to see what is different and maybe play around with those rules a bit to see how they stand up after four decades. Along the way, I also (re?)discovered a gritty edge of Little Black Book Traveller.

No Third in ’77

Traveller, like every other RPG, has its own version of edition wars. Whether you like Classic Traveller or MegaTraveller or Traveller: New Era or Traveller 4 or Mongoose Traveller (1st and 2nd Editions) or Traveller 5 or HERO Traveller or GURPS Traveller, it’s all Traveller at heart. My three Little Black Books for Traveller are the 1977 edition. This means it truly is settingless—there is no Third Imperium between these covers. If I am tracking publication dates correctly, the Third Imperium didn’t appear until Book 4 Mercenary in 1978.

Here is how the “setting” for Traveller 1977 is introduced:

Traveller covers a unique facet of future society: the concept that expanding technology will enable man to reach the stars, and to populate the worlds which orbit them. Nonetheless, communication will be reduced to the level of the 18th Century, reduced to the speed of transportation. The result will be a large (bordering ultimately on the infinite) universe, ripe for bold adventurer’s travels. Using this three book set, players are capable of playing single scenarios or entire campaigns set in virtually any science fiction theme.

Traveller, Volume 1, p. 1

To me, the Third Imperium setting in Traveller is the definitive space opera tabletop roleplaying game setting. That said, I have always liked making my own space opera setting. For me, the lack of a defined setting in Traveller ’77 is actually quite refreshing, especially in today’s hyper-commercialized world where IP is the thing. Traveller ’77 is a relatively simple framework for adventure; the buy in requires only a few concessions (most notable, that communication at the speed of transportation). Beyond that is really is up to the imagination of the referee and players!

A subgenre of speculative fiction or science fiction that emphasizes space travel, romantic adventure, and larger-than-life characters often set against vast exotic settings. Used initially as a derogatory term.

“Space Opera,” Wordnik

Let’s step though the three Little Black Books and see what we find…

Book 1 Characters and Combat

PLAYING THE GAME (p. 2) – “Traveller may be played in any of three basic configurations: solitaire, scenario, or campaign.”

  • The Solitaire Game: “Solitaire is ideal for the player who is alone due to situation or geography.”
  • The Scenario: “Generally, a scenario is a one-time affair, and ends when the evening of play is over or the goal is achieved…Strangely enough, players generally become reluctant to dismiss an experienced character without good cause, and usually want to continue their “lives” in further adventures.”
  • The Campaign: “The referee should generate the basic facts of his universe before play begins…Traveller is primarily written with a view to a continuing campaign, and these books primarily deal with that end.”

Here is where my two primary modes of Traveller play, solitaire and campaign, come from. As much as I have played within the Third Imperium or other modern Alternate Traveller Universes like The Clement Sector from Independence Games or HOSTILE from Zozer Games I often find myself coming back to a single subsector for adventure—like I did at the very beginning.

DIE ROLL CONVENTIONS (p. 2 ) – “Routinely in the course of Traveller, dice must be thrown to determine an effectively random or unpredictable course of action. These dice throws may be made by players for their characters, or by the referee for the effects of nature, non-players, or unseen forces. Rolls by the referee may be kept secret or partially concealed depending on their effects. In situations where the players would not actually know the results of the roll, or would not know the exact roll made, the referee would make the dice roll.”

Ahh…the old argument of roll-in-the-open or roll-behind-the-screen. Also “players-roll” or “referee-rolls.” Thinking back, most of my early games were all rolls by the referee with players consulting their character sheet to add die modifiers. Later, we added “shared” rolls where players would roll one die and the referee secretly rolls a second and then narrates the result. This gave players some insight into the potential result (“Hmm…I think I need a 8+ for this to work, and I have a Skill Level DM of +2. I rolled a 3….odds are 2 in 3 that the other die is 3 or better for success but there is a 1 in 3 chance it’s not. Referee said it looks good but…”). To influence their luck, players would often bring their own dice and offer them up to the referee after appropriate blessings or incantations.

INITIAL CHARACTER GENERATION (p. 4) – “Obviously, it is possible for a player to generate a character with seemingly unsatisfactory values; nevertheless, each player should use his character as generated. The experience procedures and acquired skills table offer a genuine opportunity to enhance values, given only time and luck. Should a player consider his character to be so poor as to be beyond help, he should consider joining the accident-prone Scout Corps, with a subconscious view to suicide.”

I don’t think middle school me really understood that last part, but the first has driven so much of my RPG life. Generating a character in Traveller taught me to take what I had and try to make the best of it. There is no real min-maxing characters in Traveller. As I moved on to other RPG systems over the years, I always struggle with developing a character concept because I usually take the hand dealt, not the one tailored to me.

Survival (p. 5) – “Each term of service involves some danger; during the term, a character must successfully throw his service’s survival number to avoid death in the line of duty…Failure to successfully achieve the survival throw results in death; a new character must be generated.”

The character death rule has been in my Traveller since the beginning. To this day I look at other versions that avoid death and shake my head in disbelief for THIS IS Traveller.

OK…this is NOT Traveller but…

Skills and Training (p. 6) – I’ve always been amazed at how few skills a Traveller ’77 characters has. Two skills for first term and one for each subsequent. One skill for a commission and one skill each promotion. A character going out to five terms (early retirement) might have only 10 levels of skills.

AGING (p. 7) – “If, as a result of aging or combat, a characteristic is reduced to zero, the character is considered to be ill or wounded. A basic saving throw of 8+ applies (and may be modified by the expertise of attending medical personnel). If the character survives, his recovery is made immediately (under slow drug, which speeds up his body chemistry). The character ages (one die equals the number of months in added age) immediately, but also returns to play fully recovered. The characteristic which was reduced to zero automatically becomes one. This process occurs for each time (and for each characteristic) a characteristic is reduced to zero. In the event that medical care is not available, the character is incapacitated for the number of months indicated by the die roll.”

Another rule I don’t remember, likely because it is different from the Wounding and Death rules found on page 30 in COMBAT RESOLUTION:

When any one characteristic is reduced to zero by wounds, the character is rendered unconscious. When all three characteristics are reduced to zero, the character is dead…

Unconscious characters (with one characteristic reduced to zero) recover conciseness after 10 minutes, with all characteristics temporarily place at a value halfway between full strength and the wounded level…and remains so until recovered…Return to full strength requires medical attention, or three days of rest.

Unconscious characters (with two characteristics reduced to zero) are considered severely wounded, and recover consciousness after three hours. Their characteristics remain at the wounded level (or one, whichever is higher). Recovery is dependent on medical attention (recuperation without medical attention is not possible).

Wounding and Death, pp. 30-31

I remember the combat wounding/death rules but the one under aging seems more appropriate for out-of-combat situations, like basic illnesses or even falling.

THE UNIVERSAL PERSONALITY PROFILE (p. 8) – “…expresses the basic characteristics in a specific sequence, using hexadecimal (base 16) notation.”

How many of you can read the UPP, or USP (Universal Ship Profile) or UWP (Universal World Profile)? It’s amazing how much adventure can be inspired by just a string of alphanumeric text…

A NOTE ON GENDER AND RACE (p. 8) – “Nowhere in these rules is a specific requirement established that any character (player or non-player) be of a specific gender or race. Any character is potentially of any race or of either sex.”

There, no political theatrics or culture war needed. Been doing it since 1977.

Basic Skills / General Description / Specific Game Effects (p. 13 onward) – A close look at the Specific Game Effects give lots of rules for referee’s to use. They also show how flexible the game mechanisms are, mostly because they are few and leave much up to the imagination of the referee and players.

Computer (p. 17) – “Nonetheless, there is always the possibility that such a program will have a fatal error and not function when actually used in space combat (referee throw secretly 7 exactly for fatal error to be written in) or that such a program will have a negative DM when used (referee throw secretly 5- for a negative DM. Half chance that DM will be -1 or -2). Expertise will serve as a DM affecting program quality, +1 per level of expertise. Flaws generally remain hidden.”

While I remember the rules for writing a program, I had forgotten about the fatal flaw rules. Based on experience with MicroSoft over the years, I’m not sure that limiting a fatal flaw to a roll of exactly 7 is limited enough…

One “WOPR” of a programming error…

Ship’s Boat (pp. 17-18) – Often overlooked, there is a quick-resolution alternate ship combat system in the Specific Game Effects here. It is much more “narrative” than the set-piece combat sequence in Book 2.

Pilot (p. 19) – I often forget that while Ship’s Boat is useful for piloting small craft, a Pilot can also fly small craft, albeit at a -1 skill level.

Skills and the Referee (p. 20) – “It is impossible for any table of information to cover all aspects of every potential situation, and the above listing is by no means complete in its coverage of the effects of skills. This is where the referee becomes an important part of the game process. The above listing of skills and game effects must necessarily be taken as a guide, and followed, altered, or ignored as the actual situation dictates.

In some game situations, actual die roll results must be concealed from the players, at times allowing them to misconstrue the reasons for their success or failure. In other situations, the referee may feel it necessary to create his own throws and DMs to govern action, and may or may not make such information available to the players.”

“In order to be consistent (and a consistent universe makes the game both fun and interesting), the referee has a responsibility to record the throws and DMs he creates, and to note (perhaps by penciling in) any thrown he alters from those given in these books.”

THIS. IS. TRAVELLER. A game is a shared narrative created by the players and referee. The referee is charged with keeping the universe consistent.

COMBAT / MOVEMENT (p. 29) – “Because the effects of range are so important, and because the ranges between specific characters can vary greatly, it is suggested that the complex combats be mapped out on a line grid…Ordinary lined paper serves this purpose quite well.”

Another reason Classic Traveller was so easy for middle-schoolers—all we needed was a few note cards, looseleaf paper, pen/pencil and a d6.

MORALE (p. 33) – “A party of adventurers (players or non-players) which sustains casualties in an encounter will ultimately break or rout if it does not achieve victory.”

We always used this rule for NPC parties but for the players their Morale was up to them. Since combat in Traveller is actually quite deadly, my players tended to be careful when bullets were flying about.

Laser Carbine / Laser Rifle (pp 36-37) – These weapons were backpack-powered. In the post-Star Wars movie era this was laughable.

Book 2 Starships

Interstellar Travel (p. 1) – “Commercial starships usually make two trips per month, spending one week in travel time and one week for transit to the jump point, landing and take-off and time in port. In port, five or six days are allowed for the acquisition of cargo and passengers, and for crew recreation.”

This is the classic Traveller adventure timeline; one week jump followed by one week in system. It is also interesting to note how often in my adventures the one week in jump was “handwaved” away because nothing ever happens in jump, eh?

Hijacking (p. 3) – “The referee should roll three dice, with a result of 18 exactly indicating one or more passengers is making the attempt.”

Hmm…we never played this event in-jump but wouldn’t that be interesting?

Skipping (p. 3) – “A repossession attempt will occur under the following conditions: On each world landing, throw 12+ to avoid such an attempt, apply a DM of +1 per 5 hexes distance from the ship’s home planet, to a maximum of +9. If the ship has called on the same world twice in the last two months, apply a DM of -2.”

Wow, throw 12+ to AVOID repossession—means you need to get 30-35 parsecs (hexes) or something like two subsectors away to statistically avoid repossession. I can’t recall a time we ever played a repossession attempt which is very surprising given Repo Man was a popular movie in my gaming group…

Don’t ask, just watch

STARSHIP PURCHASE (p. 5) – Ahh, the starship mortgage. Here I was learning about buying a house while in middle school.

Mail (p. 8) – “Throw 9+ for a private message to be awaiting transmittal, and then determine randomly which crew member is approached to carry it. Serving as a carrier for private messages also serves as an introduction to the recipient as a dependable, trustworthy person.”

This is one of the several “encounters” that randomly can build an adventure.

Starship Construction (p. 9+) – I have arguably created more starships for Traveller over the years than characters. This simple sequence is still a favorite.

NON-STARSHIPS (p. 17) – “A non-starship…can support its passengers for up to 30 days in space. Beyond that time, air, food, and water begin to run out…At the end of 30 days, throw 9+ each day to prevent the recycling machinery from breaking down. If it does fail, it must be repaired on the same day (throw 9+ to repair; DM +1 per level of mechanical expertise, once per day) or the air is exhausted and the passengers will suffocate.”

I can’t ever recall seeing this rule before (even after 40 years). I double checked and there is no comparable rule for starships though you have to pay for Life Support.

Starship Combat (p. 22+) – A vector movement combat system. Another example of how Classic Traveller skews more towards hard sci-fi than space opera.

DATA CARD EXAMPLE (p. 24) – Another 3×5 notecard!

PLANETARY TEMPLATES (p. 26) – I still have mine created 40 years ago.

DETECTION (p. 33) – “Planetary masses and stars will completely conceal a ship from detection.”

When we all saw this in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan we looked at each other and said, “of course.”

Decompression (p. 34) – “Hull hits result in explosive decompression if pressure has not already been lowered. Explosive decompression kills all persons in that section unless a vacc suit is available and put on immediately. Throw 9+ to put on an available vacc suit; DM + level of vacc suit expertise, and DM + dexterity of the individual.”

Here is a rule worthy of The Expanse that I had totally forgotten. The + dexterity modifier is maybe a bit much; later rules would use the Characteristic Modifier which was not in Classic Traveller.

Abandon Ship (p. 35) – “individuals in vacc suits who are not picked up may attempt to land on a planet. The following notes apply…”

Say what?! I absolutely don’t remember this rule at all. Here are rules for vacc suit endurance, movement, foamed ablation reentry, oh my!

STARSHIP ENCOUNTERS (p. 36) – “When a ship enters a star system, there is a chance that any one of a variety of ships will be encountered…Roll two dice; apply a DM based on the starport of the primary world of the system (A +6, B +4, C +2, D +1, E -2, X -4).”

Another “standard” encounter. I do like the comment on how a “Patrol” might simply be a pirate looking to shakedown your crew…

Experience (p. 40) – One of the common criticisms of Traveller is that there is no character progression system. Granted, this is not an XP approach, but it is still part of the game.

Book 3 Worlds and Adventures

3. Route Determination (p. 2) – “The worlds of a subsector are connected by the charted space lanes, which marks the regular routes travelled by commercial starships. While it is possible for starships to travel without regard to the lanes charted, individuals who do not own or control starships are generally restricted to commercial travel on ships which ply routes which are mapped.”

To me, this always meant if you wanted to go “off the grid” (a phrase yet to be invented when I first played) you needed your own ship or a charter…which was costly. Often the adventure reward (payment) was enough to motivate characters to do so…

ROUTINE ENCOUNTERS (p. 19) – “Adventurers meet ordinary people in the course of ordinary activity…Personal reactions are rarely of importance…and the process usually continues without trouble.”

RANDOM ENCOUNTERS (p. 19) – “Adventurers…also have random encounters with an unpredictable variety of individuals or groups…which may complement, supplement, oppose, or irrelevant to, the goals of the adventurers themselves…Usually, a random encounter point with humans will occur once per day.”

PATRONS (p. 20) – “One specific, recurring goal for adventurers is to find a patron who will assist them in the pursuit of fortune and power…In a single week, a band of adventurers may elect to devote their time to encountering a patron.”

While I have always seen Traveller as a form of space opera, the “routine” of life is actually far more gritty. Life in the Traveller universe—whatever your setting—is tough. You can die in character generation. Combat is deadly. The environment is hazardous. You never have enough money. You always have to be on the hustle to your next “score.” This is reflected in encounters. Routine encounters rarely are harmful, but “random” encounters—which can occur daily—can help, hinder, or simply distract you. Patron encounters are very important in an ongoing campaign as they can lead to future adventure.

I’ll just note here that later versions of Traveller make Patron Encounters a weekly event. In early Traveller rules if the adventurers wanted a Patron Encounter they had to be pro-active.

NOBILITY (p. 22) – “The title emperor/empress is used by the ruler of an empire of several worlds”

This may be the closest we get to the Third Imperium in Traveller ’77.

Animal Encounters (p. 24+) – For a game all about space, I didn’t understand the extensive animal encounters section for many years. Only later did I get into “alien exploration” adventures, and finally realized that these rules are how you create alien creatures, not just “animals.”

ANIMAL DEFINITIONS (pp. 30-31) – Hidden here are rules for planetary hazards like a storm or precipices.

Psionics (p. 33) – “The powers of the mind are incredible, and some day the study of these powers will enable every individual to use them as a active part of his life. At the time which Traveller occurs, however, universal psionic training does not exist; accurate information and quality training are available only through branches of the Psionics Institute, which is wholly devoted to the study of mental powers. Unfortunately, some prejudice exists, and the Institute maintains an extremely low profile.”

Seeing how I started Traveller in 1979, or post-Star Wars, this version of psionics clashed with The Force seen in the movies. Not that it really mattered because we all wanted to be more Solo and less Luke! The result was that a few players in my group tried psionics, but mostly it was ignored. Forty years later, and with a better understanding how books like Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination influenced early Traveller, psionics often finds its way into adventures.

“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”

Han Solo (Harrison Ford)

(End Notes) (p. 44) – “Traveller is necessarily a framework, describing the barest of essentials for an infinite universe…care must be taken that the referee does not simply lay fortunes in the path of the players, but the situation is not primarily an adversary relationship. The referee simply administers rules in situations where the players themselves have incomplete understanding of the universe. The results should reflect a consistent reality.”

“Barest of essentials” which in the case of Traveller ’77 means no default setting. Referee and players working together to create a consistent reality.

Looking through Traveller ’77 that “consistent reality” is a bit more gritty sci-fi than I remember. Maybe exposure to 40 years of the highly space opera Third Imperium has softened Traveller.

The three Little Black Books of Traveller ’77 are rightfully a design triumph. Three 44-page books—132 pages in total—deliver a deep, flexible framework for consistent adventures. How many other RPGs do that?

This is the Traveller I started with. This is the Traveller I have always loved.

RIP Andrew…

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#SciFiFriday – Elder Race by @aptshadow as #TravellerRPG and #dungeonsanddragons #ttrpg inspiration (h/t to @AndrewLiptak)

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Arthur C. Clark

Arthur C. Clark’s famous quote comparing advanced technology to magic is the core of Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky. This novella makes an excellent Traveller and Dungeons & Dragons tabletop roleplaying game crossover adventure.

Courtesy Tordotcom

Lynesse is the lowly Fourth Daughter of the queen, and always getting in the way.

But a demon is terrorizing the land, and now she’s an adult (albeit barely) with responsibilities (she tells herself). Although she still gets in the way, she understands that the only way to save her people is to invoke the pact between her family and the Elder sorcerer who has inhabited the local tower for as long as her people have lived here (though none in living memory has approached it).

But Elder Nyr isn’t a sorcerer, and he is forbidden to help, and his knowledge of science tells him the threat cannot possibly be a demon…

Tordotcom

So starts a two-sided story. On one side is Lyn who has summoned a wizard to help defend her kingdom. On the other side is Nyr, an Earth Explorer Corps anthropologist, awakened from hibernation and with access to wondrous technology. One side told in fantasy, the other in science fiction.

Mysticism versus rationality.

Dungeons & Dragons versus Traveller

…the book works…

..so could a tabletop RPG adventure.


Shout out to Andrew Liptack at Transfer Orbit for the tip off on the book.

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Tuesday #TravellerRPG – “Give me a fast ship, for I intend to go in harm’s way” with The Anderson & Felix Guide to Naval Architecture (3rd Ed) fm @IndependenceG6 #CepheusEngine

One of the many reasons the Traveller RPG system keeps me coming back to it even after 40 years is the many “sub-games” that the system includes. Not only is character generation its own game, but other world building elements of the rules are games in their own right. One of the more important subgames in Traveller and the modern Cepheus Engine rules incarnations is ship design. The new third edition of The Anderson & Felix Guide to Naval Architecture from John Watts at Independence Games is the ship design and advanced rules compilation for The Clement Sector (TCS) Alternate Traveller Universe (ATU).

Clement-ready

The Anderson & Felix Guide to Naval Architecture, 3rd Edition (hereafter referred to a A&F) is a 252-page, full color pdf. Author John Watts describes it as thus:

This updated third edition of Anderson and Felix Guide to Naval Architecture has been written for use within the Clement Sector setting. Clement Sector is a small ship setting, with restrictions on the size of starships bought about by the Zimm drive, the setting’s only means of FTL interstellar travel. Further, Clement Sector has an overall maximum technology level of 12 though some technology, notably computers are higher.

Even with these restrictions, the Anderson and Felix Guide to Naval Architecture can be used in any setting with the referee or designer simply substituting back element of those settings requirements or for that matter, any type of alternative setting-based guidelines wished. There is plenty of information in A&F to interest any referee or designer, including the pre-gravitic module, which allows for more detailed designs. I do hope you enjoy the book.

A&F, “Authors Note,” p. 20

John brings up a great point here; though these books might be sold under The Clement Sector setting label, A&F, like so many Independence Games products, is really “universal” in that you can use the rules beyond the house setting.

Modular

A&F is arranged in seven “Modules.” Several are familiar, some are setting specific, and others not what one might expect to see.

Module 1 of A&F is the Clement Sector version of Spacecraft Design. To many Traveller RPG or Cepheus Engine veterans this module should be very familiar. Just note that because the Clement Sector is a small-ship setting that Adventure-class ships top out at 1,800 displacement Tons (dT) and Capital Ships are no larger than 20,000 dT.

Module 2 of A&F should likewise be familiar as it is for Small Ship Craft (less than 100 dTons). There is also a provision to make “Drones” which is not just a remote control craft, but an autonomous vehicle.

Module 3 of A&F covers pre-gravitic drive spacecraft. For all you fans of The Expanse this is how you get close to building Rochinante! More realistically, this is a great module to use to build something like Odyssey from 2001: A Space Odyssey or even USS Sulaco from Aliens (better yet, check out HOSTILE from Zozer Games).

The pre-gravitic drive Trent-class is maybe my favorite design…

Module 4 of A&F is “Zimm Drive Alternatives.” While you might be tempted to this this is where you will find the “standard” Jump Drive of Traveller RPG you should be (delightfully) surprised to find “alternate” drive technologies like the Alcubierre Drive instead.

Module 5 of A&F is Advanced Space Combat. These are the rules for capital ship combat in the Clement Sector. Again, nothing really new here (hello High Guard) but the setting specific adjustments of technology can be inspiration of how to “fit” the classic Traveller RPG approach to technology levels into your personal campaign design.

Module 6 of A&F provides six sample spacecraft. All of these have appeared in previous Clement Sector products but all here are brought up to third edition standards. Which is to say if you have the “outdated” versions you can still play with them as the changes are not necessarily major.

Module 7 of A&F is one I don’t recall seeing before. “Module 7 – A Primer of Creating Deck Plans” provides guidelines and tips for drawing your own deck plans. For myself, I’ve been drawing deckplans for almost 40 years so I thought I didn’t need this module. However, after reading it I see lots of ways I can step up my personal deckplan game and make them more interesting without necessarily more work.

Non-Naval Architecture

As much as I love A&F, it is not without a few (minor) issues. Personally, I like a complete table of contents but really wish the pages were hyperlinked. Also, the ToC might be a good place to use two-column the print as the single column format is 20(!) pages long. The index is double-column, but again not linked. I know; small quibbles and, after all, in the pdf you just use the search function anyway, eh?

“Second Star to the Right, Straight on ’til Morning”

The Anderson & Felix Guide to Naval Architecture is the “round-out” book for the Clement Sector Third Edition core rule book. Taken together, players, referees, or designers now have everything (and I mean everything) they might desire to make their own adventures in the Clement Sector—or any small ship ATU setting of their choice.

I should also mention that purchasers of the first or second edition of A&F were given a coupon for a substantially discounted copy. If you were a previous buyer and can’t find you coupon LOOK HARD because the price is well worth it!

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#SciFiFriday – Rediscovering @GerryAndersonTV Space: 1999 and thoughts of #TravellerRPG, #CepheusEngine, & other #TTRPG systems

This past Christmas, I gifted myself the new Moonbase Alpha: Technical Operations Manual (Post Breakaway Revised Edition) by Chris Thompson and Andrew Clements with illustrations by Chris Thompson. This nice coffee table book is published by Anderson Entertainment and is an “in-universe” book based on the 1970’s TV series Space: 1999.

I was but a wee lad, a bit less than 10 years old when Space: 1999 burst onto my TV screen (and it was a small screen, still black & white). Space: 1999 was cool—cool spaceships (Eagles forever!), cool uniforms, and cool science (not that it all made sense to young me). I took in the first season and remember being absolutely frightened out of my skin at the episode “Dragon’s Domain.”

Fan created trailer for “Dragon’s Domain”

I also remember being so confused at the second season of Space: 1999 with shapeshifting aliens and…well, better to forget that season.

So I did. Ever since then Space: 1999—Season 1 at least—continued to exist somewhere in my headspace. It helped that I had a few Space: 1999 toys like a die-cast Eagle and several models. In more recent years I “rediscovered” Space: 1999 and added UFO to the lore as well as the graphic novels. The RockyMountainNavy Boys helped me find new plastic models and kept my memories alive.

UFO Intro

Breaking Down the Breakaway Manual

It’s bigger on the inside (whoops, wrong British TV show…)

Moonbase Alpha: Technical Operations Manual is a 272-page book formatted in a 9.5″x12″ hardcover. The cover illustration is a faintly lined Eagle Transporter that I wish was a bit easier to see. Inside, the Manual is organized into seven major sections (chapters):

  1. History and External Layout – I finally have a good description of of what my MPC Moonbase Alpha plastic model kit depicts
  2. Internal Layout – Covered in 73 pages (~25% of the Manual) this is a great mix of set photos and illustrations; many details I never noticed in the series
  3. Nuclear Waste – At first I was like, “huh?” but after reading I better understand why this essential story element gets the attention it does
  4. The Eagle Transporter – In many ways I love the Eagle Transporter over Star Wars vehicles and this chapter reminds me why (it also gives me details to help me paint up my other MPC model of the Eagle Transporter)
  5. Supplementary Craft – Much more here than I remembered; give me the Hawk Mk IX for the win!
  6. Uniforms & Equipment – What good sci-fi fan of the 1970’s didn’t have a jacket that looked a bit like one from Moonbase Alpha?
  7. Current Command Roster – Only later did I learn about how the production company, ITV, used international stars; I always though that Moonbase Alpha was simply “international” much like Star Trek was.

There are also two major Addendums covering “Alien Technology” and “Emergency Evacuation Operation Exodus.” Buried within individual chapters are other addendum boxes of relevant subjects.

[Warning – Spoilers Ahead] Sometime in the past decade I became aware of the connection between the TV universe of UFO and Space: 1999. I was really excited to see some connections in the Technical Operations Manual. What I appreciate the most about the connections is the secrecy; there are little references to UFO in the Manual like “the Straker Doctrine” but as a whole UFO is treated as, well, a secret. There are other nods too but I’ll leave those for you to discover on your own.

Generally speaking, my personal experience with “in-universe” background books based on pop culture intellectual property (IP) is mixed. In order to enjoy many IP-based productions I have to really, and I mean really, suspend my disbelief. Books like Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Warfare (Jason Fry, Ballantine Books, 2012), which as a military veteran and wargamer I should have wholeheartedly embraced instead helped me realize that I am a science fiction fan that hems more towards “gritty” or “hard” sci-fi rather than “space fantasy” like Star Wars. All of which is a round-about way of saying the Moonbase Alpha: Technical Operations Manual is much more “believable”—and enjoyable—than I expected.

Roleplaying Space: 1999

As I also play science fiction roleplaying games (RPG), “in-universe” books like this Technical Operations Manual serve as a great source of gaming inspiration. I have played the Traveller RPG (Marc Miller, Game Designers’ Workshop, 1977) since 1979 and science fiction RPGs are definitely my thing. As I look across my science fiction RPG collection, there are several different game systems that are candidates for use in a Space: 1999 RPG. Generally speaking, I look at each set of rules from the perspective of character generation, technology, and narrative support (story generation) when looking at how they might be used to create a Space: 1999 game.

Characters – When creating a character, most systems I am familiar with use careers. Moonbase Alpha is staffed by departments which might be a good starting point. The Manual tell us the different compartments are Command, Main Mission, Services, Flight, Technical, Medical, Science, and Security (pp 209-210). We also can see in the series the Space Commission (Politician?). If we expand our “canon” to include the 2012 Archaia Entertainment graphic novel Space 1999: Aftershock and Awe we also find other “careers” like the United Nations Coastguard using Eagle Transporters.

Courtesy goodreads.com

Technology – Space: 1999 is a near (alternate) future heavily grounded in technology we would recognize as our own. The major handwaves I see are nuclear fusion rocket engines, artificial gravity, and a hyper-light drive.

Narrative Support (Story Generation) – Although Space: 1999 the TV series was of the “adventure of the week” kind, different episodes covered many different genres and adventure types. A Space: 1999 RPG needs to be able to handle a wide range of story lines, from military to exploration to horror and more.

Cepheus Engine (Samardan Press, Zozer Games, Stellagama Publishing, 2016+)

The easiest approach to making a Space: 1999 setting might be to go to a near-cousin setting. Orbital 2100 by Paul Elliott from Zozer Games is a sublight, near future setting using the Cepheus Engine rules. Of course, Cepheus Engine itself comes in a few flavors (“Standard,” Light, and Quantum) but using the latest Cepheus Deluxe version as a starting point seems like a good place to jump from. Cepheus Deluxe has the advantage of being the rules set I am most familiar with, seeing how it traces it’s lineage all the way back to my first role roleplaying game, Traveller by Marc Milller from Game Designers’ Workshop (1977) which I first found in 1979.

Characters – No single rules set has the right combination of careers to represent Moonbase Alpha staff, but by synthesizing careers from Cepheus Deluxe, The Clement Sector Third Edition, and Hostile a fairly representative collection of careers and skill could be assembled.

Technology – Using Cepheus Deluxe, the “average” Tech Level (TL) is 8 to 9. To create the spacecraft of Space: 1999 will likely be a kludge of Cepheus Deluxe and Orbital: 2100 rules for sublight craft.

Narrative Support (Story Generation)Cepheus Deluxe does not focus on a single genre of science fiction so it should be flexible enough to cover a diverse set of adventures.

Star Trek The Roleplaying Game (FASA, 1983)

Going way back in my collection, I have the first edition FASA Star Trek Roleplaying Game (FASA, 1983). Seeing how the characters in Star Trek are all academy grads (or at least Starfleet personnel) the similarities to the Space Commission Moonbase Alpha arrangements jump out.

Characters/TechnologyStar Trek assumes the characters are in the service after attending the academy and served prior terms to gain experience and rank. The various Departments in Star Trek map directly to Moonbase Alpha Departments though the skills will be different because of the different technology assumptions.

Narrative Support (Story Generation) – Like Space: 1999, episodes of Star Trek (The Original Series) were episodic. The game system is capable of handling most any genre, but is highly dependent on Game Master preparations.

The Babylon Project (Chameleon Eclectic, 1997)

Long forgotten, The Babylon Project (Chameleon Eclectic, 1997) is in many ways similar to Space: 1999. Overtly, both focus on characters on a “station” or “base.”

CharactersThe Babylon Project uses a concept-driven character generation system. Using the roster in the Manual, it’s possible to map most any character in terms of the Attributes/Skill/Characteristics which can be a good example of how to make a Moonbase Alpha character.

Technology/Narrative Support (Story Generation) – Technology takes a backseat in The Babylon Project. Instead, story comes to the front. Much like Babylon 5 was one of the first TV series to do a story arc, The Babylon Project gives advice on how to do the same for your adventures.

FATE Core (Evil Hat Publishing, 2013)

Another rules set that is a candidate for Space: 1999 is FATE Core from Evil Hat Productions (2013). FATE Core claims the game, “works best with any premise where the characters are proactive, capable people leading dramatic lives” (emphasis in original). Character generation in FATE Core is not a lifepath or point buy system, but rather “concept” driven which I find a bit harder to imagine. The core mechanic, using FATE dice, is also more suited to “pulp” gaming than gritty or hard sci-fi. Technology is what you make of it.

GENESYS (Fantasy Flight Games, 2017)

A more recent game system that might be useful is Genesys: Core Rulebook from Fantasy Flight Games (2017). Genesys powers FFG’s Star Wars Roleplaying Games series.

Characters – Character generation is a form of point-buy built around archetypes. The generic career list would have to be tailored, but there are many examples in the various Star Wars Roleplaying Game books to draw inspiration from.

Technology – Technology is again what you make of it. Unlike Cepheus Deluxe which tends to portray technology in “harder” sci-fi terms, in Genesys technology is there to aid the narrative.

Narrative Support (Story Generation)Genesys is a highly narrative game system that again is suitable for many different genres of play.

The Expanse Roleplaying Game (Green Ronin Publishing, 2019)

With some work, Green Ronin’s The Expanse Roleplaying Game (2019) may also be adapted.

Characters – The Professions list of The Expanse Roleplaying Game is not that far removed from Space: 1999.

Technology – Technology-wise the two settings are not all that far apart.

Narrative Support (Story Generation)Green Ronin’s Adventure Game Engine (AGE) system uses a three different encounter types—Action, Exploration, and Social—for games that in some ways is very suitable for a Space: 1999 setting.

CORTEX Prime (Fandom Tabletop, 2021)

Another “generic” system that may prove useful is the CORTEX: Game Handbook (Fandom Tabletop, 2021). CORTEX comes in several flavors and different versions have powered the Serenity Role Playing Game (2005), Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game (2007), Smallville Roleplaying Game (2010), Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game (2012), and Firefly Role-Playing Game (2014). The CORTEX Prime System described in the CORTEX: Game Handbook is highly modular and tailorable to genre and setting.

Characters – CORTEX Prime characters come with three Distinctions (Background, Personality, Role) and then a “Power Set.” Looking across the options, I feel a Power Set combining the Classic Attributes (Agility, Alertness, Intelligence, Strength, Vitality, Willpower) with “Roles” based on Department assignments may be a good starting point.

Technology – There are plenty of examples of how to define a piece of technology in the other CORTEX rule books.

Narrative Support (Story Generation) – The different flavors of CORTEX can support different genres of adventure; CORTEX Prime attempts to synthesize those different play types under one rules set.

Which one should I work on first?


RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#RPGThursday – Third times a charm with Clement Sector Third Edition fm @IndependenceGa6 #TravellerRPG

John Watts at Independence Games is a giant. His Clement Sector Alternate Traveller Universe (ATU) is composed of nearly 90 products. Maybe recognizing that the sprawling setting material is almost as expansive as the Clement Sector itself, the latest product, Clement Sector Third Edition (or Clement Sector v3) consolidates.

Some might say that a 675-page product scarcely qualifies as “consolidation.” Here is how Mr. Watts explains his intent:

This volume exists so that all the pertinent information concerning the Clement Sector could be found in one volume and would save newcomers to the system from having to purchase multiple books to have an understanding of the setting. Therefore, the first change from the second edition of Clement Sector is that this book contains the entirety of The Clement Sector Core Setting Book, Clement Sector: The Rules, and Ensemble Cast. The advanced space combat rules from Clement Sector: The Rules are now found in Anderson and Felix Guide to Naval Architecture.

Clement Sector v3, p. 657 “Changes”

John goes on to explain how Clement Sector v3 brings in key elements of no less than eight (8!) other major Clement Sector products. With so much consolidated under one cover, has the Clement Sector actually become too bloated?

I contend the answer is a resounding NO! Mechanically speaking, Clement Sector v3 remains wedded to the Cepheus Engine rules system with just a few changes. John states the “major change” in this edition is the “change from the Characteristic of Social or Social Standing to Charisma” because, “I have always felt that Social Standing really had no place in Clement Sector” (p. 657).

Let’s take a look at that major change. I refer you to page 140 of Clement Sector v3 and “Charisma (CHA)” where the rule—in its entirety—reads, “Charisma shows how well the character can influence, charm, or inspire other people.”

That’s it. That’s John Watts’ “major change” to the game mechanisms in this ATU setting.

Alright, alright. The Clement Sector ATU is an unabashedly different “small-ship ATU” with a different FTL handwave, that being the “Zimm Drive” versus the classic Jump Drive. In terms of Third Edition rules there are a few other changes that Mr. Watts makes. Like adding the skill “Draw.” Or removing the “Steward” skill and replacing it with “Chef” and “Etiquette.” Or removing the “Zero-G” skill and folding it into “Survival (Freefall).” Or how “Vacc Suit ” and “Battle Suit” are now covered under an umbrella “Suit” skill. Importantly, none of these changes lose the space opera focus of Clement Sector.

Sure, in some places I think Clement Sector v3 goes a bit overboard. Like in character generation where you have the choice of not only generating your own character, but also information on parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. In some ways Clement Sector v3 takes the random Traveller/Cepheus Engine life path character generation process to an extreme in an extensive “Character Origins” section that covers over 30 pages. But I note that much of the extra “fluff” is optional; a character is playable without it.

Personally, my OneBookShelf library has over 30 Clement Sector products in it. To be honest, finding what I wanted to use as a Referee was becoming a bit of a chore, in part because one can search within only a single product but not across the product line. By consolidating so much material in one product, I now have that “one stop reference” I can use to build and adventure with.

Good on you, Mr. Watts, for recognizing that the expanse of your product line may be a bit much and for bringing so much of it together under one cover.

If you have not played around in the Clement Sector ATU here is your chance. Take it! At $24.99 it is not the cheapest, but it is far more affordable than buying a $30 core rulebook “update” and then having to add a $29.99 setting book like some other publishers do…


RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2021 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

#SundaySummary – Holiday organizing the @Mountain_Navy #wargame and #boardgame collection and resetting Foundation (@LeeBWood @gmtgames @Hobiecat18 @MultiManPub @BlueOrangeGames #Foundation #TravellerRPG)

Not much actual gaming this week but plenty of organization.

Wargame

I recently acquired designer Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s Wing Leader: Supremacy 1943-1945 2nd Edition Upgrade Kit (GMT Games, 2021) and spent part of the week integrating the new components.

I also recently acquired Mike Bertucelli’s Tank Duel Expansion Nr. 1: North Africa and Tank Duel: Tank Pack #1 (both GMT Games, 2021) and spent some time integrating the new components and reviewing the rules. I played one solo game to help relearn the system. It’s still a great game!

Finally, I spent the week integrating the components of Jim Day’s Panzer: Game Expansion Set, Nr 1 – The Shape of Battle on the Eastern Front 1943-45 (GMT Games, Second Printing 2021) into my set. I now own all the published GMT Games Panzer series and am very eagerly awaiting Panzer: North Africa (currently on P500 and has “Made the Cut”).

After getting an older credit card straightened out my preorder for the Standard Combat Series game North Africa: Afrika Korps vs Desert Rats, 1940-42 from Multi-Man Publishing should be shipping this week. Merry Christmas to me!

Boardgame

Bruno Cathalla’s Kingdomino: Origins (Blue Orange Games, 2021) continues to be a great family hit. Several more plays and we all relish the simple new strategy challenges of the different game modes.

Role Playing Games

Unlike my wargames and boardgames, I’m kinda poor at tracking my RPG collection. So this week I worked on organizing what I took in this year.

Television

I finished watching the Apple TV series Foundation this week. Yes, I know Season 1 ended a few weeks ago but I needed to reset my approach to the show. I initially started watching the series expecting a story close to the books. When that wasn’t there I was a bit confused and, frankly, unaccepting. So I laid off watching for a few weeks and recalibrated my thinking. I decided I was going to watch Foundation “as-is” and try to set all my preconceived notions aside. It also helped that with all the episodes out now I could binge-watch the season. Much better this go around…am looking forward to Season 2. While I still think Foundation and the Traveller Role Playing Game are closely related, I am glad to see the Genetic Dynasty from Foundation which is very different from Traveller’s Third Imperium.

#SundaySummary – Turkey Day 2021 with @ADragoons @hexsides @hollandspiele @HuzzahHobbies #CepheusEngine #TravellerRPG @USNIBooks @compassgamesllc @Toadkillerdog @gmtgames

Happy Thanksgiving!

The week was a bit slow in Casa RockyMountainNavy. This is the first holiday we celebrated in our “new” nuclear family configuration since Eldest RMN Boy is in Tech School for the U.S. Air Farce. It also follows three months with the Mother-in-Law in town and a simultaneous major health challenge for Mrs. RMN (not COVID…but while the vaccine might of protected it appears it brought on other health issues). So we have much to be thankful for. For my part, much of the Christmas shopping is also complete, at least as the major presents for each RMN Boy and especially Mrs. RMN go.

Wargaming

I took some down time this week to work on a First Impressions piece on The Battle of the Bulge (Avalon Hill, 1965). If I get the photos together you’ll see that later this week. I also was inspired by D-Day at Omaha Beach from Decision Games (Fourth Printing, 2020) to look at wargame maps and data. I need to work up some photos and run it by Brant at Armchair Dragoons to see if it meets his standards. Finally, I owe designer Brad Smith a deep apology since I volunteered to playtest Warsaw Pact Air Commander (coming in the future from Hollandspiele) but am very delinquent in sending him anything. I made an effort this week to change that.

Boardgaming

Huzzah Hobbies, my FLGS, had a 50% off sale this weekend. I didn’t make it up there but the RMN Boys did and sent me a photo of the shelves and asked for suggestions. We’ll see if anything shows up under the tree this Christmas.

Role Playing Games

I messed around a bit with Cepheus Deluxe, the latest version of Cepheus Engine from Stellagama Publishing and the modern take on the Traveller RPG.

Books

A long-forgotten backorder from Naval Institute Press arrived this week. Fighting the Fleet: Operational Art and Modern Fleet Combat argues that naval concepts are often diluted or lost when too much jointness is introduced. It also talks about the use of Operations Research, which I see as adjacent to wargaming. I need to finish this book and then use it to consider wargames like John Gorkowski’s South China Sea and Indian Ocean Region from Compass Games as well as the naval modules for any of Mitchell Land’s Next War series from GMT Games.