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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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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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Old April 13th, 2018, 12:39 PM
Ahmad Romanov Ahmad Romanov is offline
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(Continued from last post.)

The End Result
I consistently had fun every session. But right from the start, the players seemed disinterested (which is strange, because we've all had fun in other previous campaigns). Sometimes a player would seem befuddled at the rules (particularly during character creation). More often than not, though, they seemed to find the game to be too dry. Even though everyone rolled dice every session, the rules seemed to be somewhat utilitarian on their side of the screen... few choices to make, rules that simply told you if you passed or not (with occasional qualifiers for mishaps or exceptional successes). I tried to give meaningful opportunities for the players to make decisions about cautious or hasty attempts, or to keep them informed whether the action they were planning was safe or hazardous. But while I had a lot of terrific tools at my disposal, the players mostly just rolled two dice and added them up. The only thing I wasn't enjoying about the campaign was the apparent disinterest of the players. We tried to talk through it several times, I did a poll mid-campaign to see what changes they might have desired... nothing really obvious came back, but just a general malaise. I know MegaTraveller is an old system... it's as old as AD&D 2nd Edition but never got the benefit of a mid-90’s revision. The rulebook is now over 30 years old. I personally think it has aged well, if you like traditional roleplaying games that are really just about task resolution mechanics. The setting has so much to explore and the game mechanics hum along beautifully, at least for the GM. I enjoyed it greatly and would love to play it again. I just don't see that happening, since my group simply wasn't impressed.

Last edited by Ahmad Romanov; April 13th, 2018 at 12:52 PM..
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Old April 13th, 2018, 01:53 PM
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Rather than game mechanics, you may want to look back on your recent adventure from a more "story" perspective.

Did the players have an interesting location?

Was there an obvious conflict for them to get involved with?

Did they meet and interact with people that mattered to the story plot?

Did their actions make a difference?


I have no idea, this is just a suggestion to help look at it from a new perspective.
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Old April 13th, 2018, 02:07 PM
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Sometimes, a GM is into a game more than the players. I've been there before. Star Trek is a good example. I love Trek, and I love the old FASA rules for the game. But, my players are D&D minded. They don't embrace Starfleet the way they should. So, they're not really interested in playing "Captain Kirk" or anyone like him. They'd much rather be playing a down on his luck thief, skirth through some old dark, dank dungeon.

Maybe your players just aren't into Traveller.




Now, I have successfully taken a group that wasn't into a particular game, but once they started playing, they ended up loving the game.

I remember doing this with a D&D group and introducing them to D6 Star Wars. Nobody really wanted to play Star Wars, but I kept saying, "Trust me."

They did. And, I worked hard to make a great game for them. It was, and they loved it.

I did the same with Traveller and with Top Secret. Always coming from D&D, it was hard to get them to switch. But, I finally did, and they liked the game.

I've had my failures, too. I had a James Bond game go bust. And, then there's the Star Trek that I told you about.

Sometimes, gamers just aren't into what the GM wants to play.

It sucks when that happens, but it happens.



It's like being in the mood for Star Wars but you end up reading a book on a true crime case. Even though you love true crime, you're not quite in the mood for it right now.

That happens with gamers and GMs. Getting them on the same page is sometime not that easy.
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Old April 13th, 2018, 02:55 PM
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The above replies might cut to the heart of the matter.

But I know that reading your post what struck was I would probably be bored with the MT task system for perhaps the same reason you state your players were bored with it.

Now, keep in mind I know there are plenty of people who love the Task Resoltion system. For many people it fixes the problem of Classic Traveller's ad hoc, seat of the pants system. (Or what many people perceive to a problem. For the record: I see the ad hoc system as a feature, not a bug.)

The thing is... Like your players, I get frustrated because it cuts me to of play. I encounter a problem, and instead of me coming up with an imaginative solution or going back and forth with you (the Referee) to see how I might get past the problem with role playing/brainstorming ideas/creative troubleshooting... I simply pick up the dice and roll to see if my character solves the problem.

This often means not only do I, as a player, not get to exercise my imagination and problem solving skills (which is one of the reasons we play these games) but I lose all the "color" of the fictional details being built out. For example, how heavy is the jammed iris valve, what does it feel like when I put my hands on it and try to turn it? Is it totally stuck, or does it give a bit? Is there anything I might be able to use nearby to use as a crowbar?

Instead what can happen is:
1. The Referee calls for a roll at the iris valve
2. The Player rolls
3. The roll succeeds or fails

I'll admit: I find this kind of dry. The player experiences the game as a series of "Push Button A To Roll Dice" to see if you get through the next task. Repeatedly. Again and again. I think we can agree, that for some people at least, repeatedly pushing a die-rolling button to see what happens is going to get boring after a while.

Many people play RPGs to imagine interacting with the environment in a tactile manner. They want to be creative in how they solve problems. They want to get that rush of coming up with something that works.

This is part of why, I think, Marc Miller never had players rolling lots of dice when he ran his Classic Traveller games in years past -- and why he doesn't have them make lots of rolls today. It is the conversation between the Referee and the players that matters most for some people, with the Referee adjudicating a situation even before a roll is made.

If this is the case with your players, I would really think about pulling back on the number of task rolls that get made. Save them for moments of really crisis, or when a situation has been building with lots of back and forth between you and the players and lots of ideas have been generated. Then either allow the PCs to succeed without a roll or give them a roll with some DMs for their clever ideas.

But I think the key might be e players might want to engage more with the fiction and the problem solving as players first, not simply feeling like (perhaps) passengers riding along their PCs as the PCs do all the work.
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Old April 13th, 2018, 05:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by creativehum View Post
The thing is... Like your players, I get frustrated because it cuts me to of play. I encounter a problem, and instead of me coming up with an imaginative solution or going back and forth with you (the Referee) to see how I might get past the problem with role playing/brainstorming ideas/creative troubleshooting... I simply pick up the dice and roll to see if my character solves the problem.
You're a roleplayer. You're old school. Like me.

The newer games have skills for everything. To use a D&D example, they don't want to poke along the floor with a ten foot pole, then, when that didn't work, poor water from the skin to see if it sinks between the stones, in order to find a trap. Instead, these newer games--and newer players--just want to roll dice. I've got Find Traps X. I roll. I succeeded. Is there a trap?





The problem I have with most of Traveller's systems, and this includes Classic Traveller's combat roll, the UTP task system, even the system used in T4 and the system used in T5, is that the player knows the target number.

Once the target number is known, all the drama is gone.

In D&D, fights become addicting because the player rolls his dice and knows his total, but he doesn't know the AC of his foe. He doesn't know what number he needs to hit.

In my games, I never reveal target numbers when I can avoid it. That way, the player rolls, and then he's right back, mentally, living through his character's eyes because I'm taking him there. I describe what happens. The player learns if he hits or misses through my description.

I've learned that my description becomes hollow and not near as exciting if the player already knows what the outcome will be because he knows if he succeeded on the task already.

Not knowing the target leads to more roleplaying, not dice rolling, and the player can feel the hatch levers in his hands, as you say.
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Old April 13th, 2018, 09:07 PM
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creativehum's and S4's posts immediately before mine sum up the reason I look at MT a lot for inspiration, then turn away dispirited: there is less inspiritus in MT than CT, and it all boils down to the degree of human interaction between Ref and players.

Your excitement about MT seems to be based on your understanding of its mechanics and setting, both of which require much upfront time, as you even noted. Change one of those (mechanics or setting) to something more familiar to your players and see how different their reactions might be. Or ask them to read the same material you have and see if their interest increases.
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Old April 13th, 2018, 11:12 PM
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I have traditional wargamers, who have created their own games only we play, with the design credo of intentionally rolling as many dice as possible.

So die rolls aren't a problem for them.

They also love telling the stories of outrageous critical 20 and equivalent ridiculous rolls they made to make something improbable happen and flummox other players and refs alike.

But they do balk at too much die rolling for everything.

I think I can clarify the break.

Die rolling only is just like computer games, actions on rails that are coded in and can't be changed or adjudicated except by hacks.

Tabletop games are about the ref/player interaction, who can play the game and change it on the fly. Computer games, and RPGs run like computer games, don't, you are prisoners of the system and end up being more like a stat tank then a character.

I've never felt like playing any RPG on a computer game, ever, because it was ultimately a stat/twitch fest and not the trip I signed up for.

Younger players, having been steeped in computer gaming before ever touching an RPG book, expect that and might have trouble with open-ended approaches.

The other thing that strikes me is that you have to give them a sense of place and time, so they really feel they are not in generic action movie sets but a description that says Heck YES We Are In Space.

So 'feeling' that valve in hand isn't just that, but also that it's a plasma feed conduit hooked to the biomaker churning out all those Awful Green Things.

As to target number, that does feed into the stat tank approach, but at the same time a skilled person would intuitively know their chances. I guess I would look at the skill of the character doing whatever and get more granular and precise with denoting the chances the more expert they are.
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Old April 13th, 2018, 11:18 PM
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Oh, one other thought-

people LOVE toys.

Fireball wands or PGMPs, invisible armor or Battle Dress, it's all good.

Did you put em into a Firefly world without any major toys? That might be an issue.

Or the opportunity to get major toy and use em.

Even minor cool toys, like say a walk up the side of the building pair of molecular bonding gripboots, will scratch this itch.
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Old April 13th, 2018, 11:59 PM
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This is the passage I was focusing on in my reply. My gut is telling me this is the nub of the matter. But I might be wrong!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ahmad Romanov View Post
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.
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