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MegaTraveller Discuss of the MegaTraveller ruleset and the Rebellion Milieu

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Old April 13th, 2018, 12:38 PM
Ahmad Romanov Ahmad Romanov is offline
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Default Campaign Postmortem: Help?

Ok, I just finished running my first short campaign of MegaTraveller. I got my box set about a month ago, read through the rules and we started a week later.

We ran the four-part Traveller's Digest adventure that starts with Ghost Ship in issue #14. I took the first part more or less whole cloth (except that I moved the adventure from the Deneb sector to the Hinterworlds in late 1117 and turned the Aslan colonists into the vanguard fleet of the Solomani Confederation as they expanded into the Hinterworlds to open up a new flanking corridor in their inexorable march to the core of the crumbling Imperium. The other parts of the adventure series were basically my creation... I looked at what the module did and just took the basic idea and did my own version of that (cutting out the parts that really didn't age well).

What did I think? I loved it: MegaTraveller is a ton of fun and easily my favorite version of Traveller or any other hard sci-fi game. It's a beautiful system with a setting that you could just get lost in. What did my players think? Eh, not so much... Let me break it down.

The System
I would give this 9 out of 10 stars. I ran the game on Roll20, which doesn't have a MT character sheet, so instead I created a bunch of really terrific macros and added them to their character tokens and journals. I explained how the rules worked and the players caught on to the macros pretty quickly. Everything was quick and automated, but the macros were also designed to show what they were doing so the process wouldn't be too abstract.

As a GM, I was very impressed with the system. It is definitely a "traditional" RPG in that the game mechanics basically just handle two things: rolling to see if you do something and rolling to see if you hurt someone. That might bother younger gamers who expect bennies and resource pools and genre-emulating rules like honor or social mechanics etc. However, my players are more traditional gamers so this wasn't a problem at all. On my side of the screen, I really enjoyed tinkering with uncertain rolls, task duration rolls and even confrontations. I loved figuring out what mishaps and exceptional successes and fumbles meant. I found the difficulty scale simple and intuitive to use. I loved the tremendous versatility in figuring out crucial skills and characteristics... at one point, a player was interrogating a pirate and I said "Ok, based on what you are trying to get out of him, I'd say that level of information is a difficult, persuasion, social standing roll" and the player replied "well I want to try to trick him into revealing something accidentally... he's just a dumb kid, could I roll persuasion and intelligence instead?" Absolutely brilliant, I love that you can customize rolls right on the spot based on what they are actually trying to do.

While there are a ton of powerful tools behind the GM screen for checking task duration, uncertain rolls, mishaps etc., the universal task system is a little more simplistic for the players... all they do is roll 2d6 and add in a modifier or two. While this kept things moving fast, I also got the sense that the players were getting a little bored with the task system... there was nothing for them to do, so to speak, other than roll the dice and add them up. There were never any choices to make (whereas for me, the GM, there were always a ton of choices and interpretations to make...). For the most part, this is simply the structure of the game mechanics. I am the one that provides the difficulty numbers, I am the one who decides how much to reveal on a "some truth" result of an uncertain task. When and wherever I could share or delegate the interpretive role of the GM, I did, but mostly the players seem to feel that they weren't invested in a lot of the neat mechanical effects of the game engine.

Combat had a few more choices for the players, but was in general short and deadly. Enemies went down in about one or two hits, players the same (with one player coming very close to death after one fight). The long healing times were not as much a pain as I thought... travelling from system to system gives you a LOT of downtime. The most important thing it seemed was getting the right medical care in a timely fashion. That said, combat would have probably dragged if not for the macros which automated the process and sped things up. I'd say each combat took around 15 minutes, which is incredibly quick in my long experience of different roleplaying games.

The Setting
I cannot say enough about the Shattered Imperium. If this was any other version of Traveller, I can honesty say that I would have largely ignored the Imperium and set my campaign off in the fringe of the Spinward Marches. With the Shattered Imperium, I felt like I could effortlessly move between grand, epic storylines and down-to-earth, local stories. At one point, the players were in a bar chatting with the bartender about how bad things had gotten. The next session they were rubbing elbows with a Margrave on a diplomatic mission from the soon-to-be announced pretender, Empress Margaret I. The massive disintegration of the Imperium allows you to tell many different kinds of stories consecutively or even simultaneously... it's the Game of Thrones effect. Both little and big characters matter, and can even impact and interact with each other directly.

That said, I think the sheer openness of the setting was a little much for my players to wrap their heads around, particularly in a short campaign. Only one player had any real experience with Traveller (Mongoose Traveller, to be specific) and he had mixed feelings about the idea of the Rebellion. At the end of the day, I can understand that as well. For a GM, it is the ultimate sandbox... the GM can take his story in any number of different directions, killing off important people or making new ones with ease. For the players, the heavy metaplot is both too well-defined (in that you can get by in other versions of Traveller without knowing anything at all about the setting) and yet too open (in that it really is so chaotic that it is ultimately up to the GM). My players that didn't want to do a lot of reading for a short campaign and so my efforts to bring in the "feel" of the Rebellion milieu were largely for nought.

How I Ran It
I did a ton of prep for this game and to be honest I probably over-prepared (it's amazing what you can do when you are excited to run something). I custom designed their ship, a 200-ton armed courier that was fast and had a good sensors package. That meant learning the design system and all the errata for it. I found some sci-fi musical tracks to play as mood music. I collected a ton of images to help visualize the different parts of the adventure and made tactical maps for every combat and their starship as well. I made macros for all manner of things. I wrote scripts for all the major scenes and NPC interactions and came up with names and events for things that might come up tangentially during roleplay. I made sure every character got to shine at least once each session. I packed every bit I could into the game to really demonstrate the rules... combat, roleplay (with military-types, impoverished refugees, aliens, aristocratic nobles, pirates etc.), politics, ship combat (which they skipped, sadly, with some clever thinking), exploration, healing and drugs, a little bit of trade, ship maintenance costs and repairs... even psionics!

There were a few things I changed, just because it fit my GMing style a little more. I used my own difficulty scale: Simple 5+, Routine 8+, Difficult 11+, Formidable 14+, Staggering 17+ and Impossible 20+. I liked the 5+ to 20+ range a little more and although it made rolls a pinch more difficult, I found the players rarely missed their rolls (since they net an average of at least +2 on their dice, so their routine rolls worked 72% of the time).

I also changed the penetration rules, making low pen results easier to get (to make combat a little more punchy). In my game, a zero pen result was when the Pen value was half armour or less. The high pen result remained as written (Pen is twice armour or more) and low pen was any other result. Making zero pen and high pen half and twice armour respectively was easy for me to keep in my head and do the math on the spot. It also made the super-common cloth armour less invincible to normal bullets.

Finally, I took the rulebook's advice and came up with my own melee combat rules. A normal melee attack was Routine, Weapon Skill, Str (confrontation), with the confrontation modifier equaling the target's Dex and Weapon Skill. If the target was unarmed or unaware or had a disadvantage or advantage, I would modify the difficulty and confrontation modifiers appropriately. Exceptional results could be used for different melee effects (like disarming, grappling or tripping) instead of damage, if the player wished.
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