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Referee's Lounge Discussion of how to (and not to) Referee Traveller and Cepheus Engine games. No edition warring allowed.

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Old July 20th, 2017, 12:52 AM
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Default Rails vs. Sandbox/Freeform

Let's get this forum party started with a basic question.

To do some real prep, one would likely design something like an Adventure with facility/planet maps, NPCs, plots, etc.

But players are given to carving out their own paths, which seem to steer straight away from set scenarios.

One can wing it, which has its own charms not the least of which is determining by play action what the player entertainment biome is, quite independent of the referee's prior conceptions.

I'm thinking the 'right' mix is something like Taurus, more a play environment then rails adventure. Perhaps we should design more system play enviornments and less adventures.

Unless one creates facility/adventures that get a whitewash and placed wherever it is convenient, with alterations specific to the system milieu one calls it upon.

This impinges directly upon how a referee prepares for session content.

Opinions? Philosophy?

Edit- the Prefix is understandable, but there are universal all-versions issues, perhaps an additional prefix that handles such questions?
YUMV- Your Universe May Vary.
YOMD- Your Opinion May Differ.
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Old July 20th, 2017, 07:20 AM
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I'm predominantly in the "wing-it" camp, and have been using the old FASA "Sky Raiders" trilogy of adventures over the past year or so (yeah, we don't play that often). They're a mix of site-based and scripted (the former due to "here's the situation in this episode, how it gets solved is up to the PCs", the latter due to some heavy-handed "the PCs will be forced to do X to get to the site", or "ensure NPC so-and-so survives for the next episode"). I mostly ignore the scripted parts, which lead to the PCs solving in unexpected fashion, or in one case short-circuiting completely, significant situations in the script. But since they were interested in the overall situation (solve the Sky Raiders mystery), it didn't derail anything.

My goal was to use the trilogy as an extended introduction to CT, which worked: they all have a much better understanding of MTU, their characters, the rules, etc.

Now the group has just mis-jumped out of the Saulente system, in an old Sky Raiders scout ship, and I have no idea where they're going to go: I'm going to present them with a subsector map and some library data on it and see what happens.
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Old July 20th, 2017, 10:00 AM
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To paraphrase: no plan survives contact with the players (

I do a lot of world planning and building, mostly because it is fun, but also to present a lot of possible adventure/leisure/exploration situations. Sadly my two current players are much more passive, so for them, railroading is almost required.

As per the previous comments, you need to strike a balance between what you want and what the players want. If I ref a game again, I'll start with asking what sort of game they really want to play and then tailor the worlds in that direction. It all boils down to the player mix to me: I've had games in the past that had a couple of very active players that drive the entire game, to the last game where I have to almost lead them by the nose. I think the last game, if we had 1 more player who was more of an active leader, it would have been an entirely different game.

But at least we had fun, or at least I know I did
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Old July 20th, 2017, 01:12 PM
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referees play with traveller - designing pretty scenery with fantastic creatures, imagining engaging cultures with thousand-year histories, growing interesting non-player characters with epic motivations. but players want action.

One can wing it
"winging it", combined with crude off-the-cuff dice-driven determinations, allows instant and detailed response to a given game situation.

Perhaps we should design more system play enviornments and less adventures.
players frequently are not interested in environments.

Last edited by flykiller; July 20th, 2017 at 02:57 PM..
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Old July 20th, 2017, 01:27 PM
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I'm currently refereeing our second weekly campaign of Traveller (MgT 2E rules). Our first campaign was based on the Linkworlds Cluster T20 campaign setting book (in the 993 era), along with Mongoose's The Calixcuel Incident adventure throw in near the end, and some making things up along the way.

I liked the Linkworlds Cluster book a lot because it provided a sense of space, background info, and nice outlines for who and what is going on in the worlds of that cluster. For all but one of my players this was our first time playing Traveller so I appreciated a written reference of tone for the universe.

The players seemed to enjoy the various scenarios that were on each planet. Some we played fairly close to the book, others changed significantly based on the player choices. At the end of the campaign everyone made positive comments about the experience overall.

Before starting this second campaign (continuing into 994, and a cluster trailing over in the Matarishan subsector) I asked my players what each of them enjoyed about the previous campaign. I was somewhat surprised to learn that all of them liked a different thing, with nearly no crossover. Some liked exploring derelicts, others liked battling a huge mob heckbent on putting them in the ground, still others liked thinking through the political maneuvering of a world.

Since no Linkworlds-esque text exists for the worlds we're visiting now (Daggar's Edge and it's J1 compatriots) I've had to collect more info on my own. I've created a new strategy to deal with what my four (sometimes five) players are interested in.

I've looked at the UWP for each system and written up a short description paragraph for each, to remind myself what's there, and to have as library data when the players ask me What's The Word. I've collected a bunch of one-page, or small pre-written adventures and assigned them to each system. I also have a few free-floating adventures that happen In Space, so I can use those whenever the players are not on-world.

I'm comfortable using adventures and ideas from everywhere, for example, Daggar's Edge seemed like a neat place to have Night City from Cyberpunk 2020 set, so I domed the whole thing and now it sits on a tidally-locked vacuum world in the perpetual twilight of it's habitable area. I'm running a tweaked system-less adventure set in Las Vegas in my version of Night City, that all boils down to a tale of noir-flavored intrigue and adventure.

We're only three sessions in so I haven't had a chance to run any of my single adventures but I think they'll fit in well. Since I have two or three per planet, I feel like I can guide the players into these stories while still letting them make choices about where to go or what to do. I'm more or less prepared for wherever they want to go in the cluster, and have a few B-plot adventure ideas to push them along. Hopefully I'll have enough to suit the interests of all the players. Time will tell!

Wow this is long and ramble-y and I apologize.
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Old July 20th, 2017, 02:56 PM
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Originally Posted by flykiller View Post
referees spend much time playing with traveller - designing pretty scenery with fantastic creatures, imagining engaging cultures with thousand-year histories, growing interesting non-player characters with epic motivations. but players are interested in action.
Everyone has their own anecdote, here's mine.

Ref prepped a small civilization with a TED essentially worshiping a computer. When the ships computer had a problem the task for the party was to worm their way in and essentially convince/steal the "God" from the society to get their ship on line.

Instead, the players realized, and the ref let them, that the computer on the small craft was "enough" to solve the problem of the ship, and bypass all of the planning, thought, and design the ref had gone through.

The final line from the party: "Oh, and Chris, we're going to nuke your city from orbit."

And a good time was had by all.

As had been said, no pre-planned adventure survives first contact.
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Old July 20th, 2017, 09:28 PM
Keklas Rekobah Keklas Rekobah is offline
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I ran a campaign based on the Stargate franchise, and that used Traveller rules - mostly CT, but with some influence from MT, TNE, MgT, and lots of "Winging It". Some important things that I learned include . . .

Players want action. Give them something to do - something that involves taking risks, resolving conflicts, making profit, or simply saving their hides. Just remember than for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Negotiate a trade deal, and trigger a labor strike. Deliver the medical supplies, and offend the religious order. Save the princess, and precipitate a socialist revolt. Run away from the howling mob, and leave behind any hope of getting paid. Ask too many questions, and attract the too much attention. Operative Quote: "The distraction they've been ignoring is really the main action they've been avoiding."

Players want information. Give them maps. Give them descriptions. Give them photo-shopped images. Give them what they want, but don't give them everything they ask for. You have the UWP to a world with an an Ancients' site; but where is it? The man in the yellow hat is your contact; but these people have fifteen words for 'yellow', and each one means something different. You have the key; but where is the lock that it fits? Give the players the information they need in bits and pieces, and then leave it up to them to put all the pieces together in the right order, and to figure out what the missing pieces mean. Operative quote: "Too much knowledge is a dangerous thing."

Players want rewards. Unless your name is "Monty Haul", promise them anything, but make them work for it - and I mean blood, toil, sweat, and tears. They saved the world and earned a far trader? Sure. All they gotta do now is pay off a years' worth of storage fees, update their licenses, have the title transferred, and obtain an exit visa . . . or figure out a way to bypass all of these silly 'legalities' and take possession immediately, thus acquiring a bounty on their heads and a warrant for their arrest. One way or another, the player must pay for what they receive, so make them pay. Operative quote: "Make them pay; and if possible, make them pay again."

Players want choices. Choices have consequences. Cause-and-Effect is in play. Accept the Baron's offer to get paid for a little discrete burglary, fall for the waif's plea to return him to his family, or do another pick-up and delivery job for the going rate? One could get the PCs framed for murder, one could get them framed for kidnapping, and one could get them framed for smuggling - of course, each of these comes with a promise of tens of thousands of credits when the job is done, as well; and who's to say that the worst might actually happen? Besides, even if they do happen, give the PCs (just barely) enough time to find the real murderer, expose the kid's accomplices, and find out who the real smugglers are. Operative Quote: "Anything they do can bring them both rewards and penalties: Doing the Right Thing, Doing the Wrong Thing, Doing the Smart Thing, Doing the Stupid Thing, Doing Everything They Could Possibly Do, and even Doing Nothing At All."

And finally . . .

Shameless Shill for My Favorite Author: If you haven't yet read Howard Taylor's "The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries", I strongly recommend that you do. It contains valuable wisdom for players and referees alike.
"Keklas! What is your payoff in playing the role of Referee?"
"To challenge my friends, to see them playing before me, and to hear the lamentations of their characters."

Last edited by Keklas Rekobah; July 20th, 2017 at 09:31 PM.. Reason: Correcting spelling an punctuation errors.
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Old July 20th, 2017, 10:35 PM
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Originally Posted by Keklas Rekobah View Post
Smart stuff...
I particularly like what you mean by "action." By that word you don't mean "mindless violence" (which is where cynical minds tend to go) but the ability to do things with consequence. Your list of examples go well beyond gunshots, but inspire countless possible actions the PCs can take.

Growing from this concept are the other concepts you list: Information, Reward, and, most importantly, CHOICES. Action without those three elements will quickly become dull.

This is where sketched details of environment -- mentioned in the first post -- do matter. The Traveller rules encourage specific, unique environments. And these help the Referee offer the Player Characters choices. Do they need to bring oxygen with them when they leave their ship? This will affect how long they can be gone for, whether they want to get into a gunfight or avoid it, and so on.

Environment in and of itself isn't particularly compelling to players if it has no impact on their actions, information, rewards, and choices, and if they can have no impact on the environment. ("There's a damn? We blow up the damn.")

It is possible for the Referee to read out a long details description of "environment" that they Players, via their PCs, cannot actually interact with. This can be a stress point between players and Referees, when a Referee has created lots of background detail that he wants the Players to hear about, but offers no expectation or method for the Players, via their PCs, to grab hold of the information, interact with it, or do anything with it.

Example: Years ago at GenCon a Traveller Referee read to us us (I kid you not) a forty minute introduction of the politics of the Imperium and the current state of the Rebellion, naming all the big players in the nobility and so forth. We then started play. We were supposed to move from our ship and board another ship. We went to the second ship's airlock and... for 30 minutes tried to guess the method for opening the airlock. Which to the Referee's delight and amusement we could not sort out because. Judging by his smiles and smirks we should have been able to sort the matter out quickly.

Now, there's a lot that clearly went wrong in that session. (I left at the 90 minute mark.) But off the top: All the political stuff had very little bearing on the need to open an airlock. Clearly the preamble went on too long given the nature of the starting events. And finally, he offered us a ton of information about setting... but decided that we, playing space-faring travellers, should be stymied by an airlock.

This incident taught me a lot about about how not to ever run an RPG for anyone.

Now, to bring it back around to Rails vs. Freeform... I offered above the term "sketched environment." The fact is, if one spends too much time working up details about a planet's environment one might well find that all that work goes to waste.

I think it is best if the Referee has a a few key details (specific bits of environment he finds compelling, novel, and unique; ideas about how the culture works; some key NPCs) and lets the world grow as play progresses.

It is also important to remember that time between sessions is a great asset. As you build out details on the fly you can't possibly be figuring out all the ideas and implications you were making up. But you take some time to mull matters as they grew between sessions and you'll see opportunities you didn't see in the session that you'll be able to pop next session.
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Old July 21st, 2017, 12:53 AM
LeperColony LeperColony is offline
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In my opinion, it's dangerous to make pronouncements about what players want. Even statements that seem universal, like "players want choices" actually are not.

There's an entire class of passive player who is happy to be along for the ride, and not only isn't interested in choices, but would actively prefer to make as few as necessary.

For me, understanding expectations about the kind of game people want is the first step. At the same time, I believe it is almost axiomatic that GMs run the kinds of games they would have most liked to play, and there may be a tension between those two elements.

For instance, there may be players who are new to the setting, or who perhaps are indifferent to the setting. But the GM may love the universe and want to explore it in detail.

Personally, I feel the more the players and the GM are in tune with the sort of game it should be, the better experience for everyone
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Old July 21st, 2017, 01:15 AM
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An excellent point.

What an RPG is can be any number of things to any number of people. Whenever I speak about Refereeing I am speaking about the kinds of sessions and games I like to play. I'll make sure to state that I further posts.

In this subforum we will ultimately be offering best practices for the kind of game we like to play or run. Trying to find consensus or trying to prove someone is wrong for wanting to run the game a certain way can only lead to comstant and useless bickering.
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