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the game


SOC-14 5K
so I'm driving by the local game store and I remember, I ought to start a traveller game here. so I park and head in.

really a great store. models, rockets, board games, legos by the barrel, plastic dinosaurs/dragons/minotaurs/centaurs/you-name-it, fantasy art (the usual babes wearing plate mail bikinis), pretty much everything. one whole display case full of dice, all kinds and colors.

the rpg section is in the back room on the right, I have a look. the new dm's guide version 20 or something, monster manual, pathfinder, core rules for this, core rules for that. lots of star wars fighter combat game figures and rulebooks, something called "tank" with lots of tanks for sale, figurines large and small, comic books filling entire shelves and comic book posters that cover entire walls crowded with wild characters unleashing over-the-top powers.

no traveller.

on the bright side, no babes wearing battledress bikinis either. gotta stay positive.

I check with the guy behind the counter. I was hoping to get into a traveller game, anyone here play?


yeah, sci fi far future rpg, like firefly, jump between the stars ....

"oh, that. man, that's going back a ways."


"wasn't that the one where you can die when you're rolling up your character ...."

I nod. yep.

"yeah, that was ... that was unique." he looks aside as he rolls his eyes.

so, I'm looking in the back there and I don't see anything on it so I guess you might not have many people who play that?

"well those guys in the back are playing star wars battles, and mostly we have pathfinder and of course d&d. you could always come in and ask. we have one d&d group playing tomorrow night, they get really noisy and I sure could use an adult back there."

uh, well ....

"and you could ask these guys here."

yeah, I'll see what they're doing. I head on back.

four guys, a thousand pounds of gamer, though one of them is maybe 100 pounds. large battle mats, notebooks full of ship cards and pilot cards, ship models, counters/markers/predials/tabs spanning the rainbow and covering the tables. they're in full set-up mode, carefully placing astroid/debris terrain and measuring the fighters' initial placements on the mats. they ask if I want to join them, genuinely eager.

actually, I was hoping to find a traveller game.

puzzled looks. "what's that?"

sci fi far future rpg, like firefly, jump between the stars ....

they look at each other. one of them says, "star fleet battles." they all say, "oh yeah" and nod. they're not interested. I watch their game.

it's amazingly complex. carefully measuring out the fighters' movements, consulting each pilot and ship card, laying proximity mines, moving through debris, in-range out-of-range. the skinny guy knows the rules very well but frequently gets the details wrong, while his opponent knows everything by heart and just rattles off "can do this, can't do that" easily. counters and markers and predials and tabs everywhere. a very hands-on and tactile mental exercise. each "fighter" is a carefully crafted almost unique assembly of vehicle, pilot, and scenario features drawn from a vast range of pre-defined modular capabilities. the players are constantly moving, adjusting, checking, consulting - interacting mostly with the game, and secondarily with their opponent, and incidentally with the other player.

not like an rpg.

I go out and talk to the guy behind the counter. tomorrow night you say?


I plan on tomorrow.
next night, talk to the group leader. young guy. big mob of kids in the back, they're doing something else and he's not running anything tonight.

"yeah I run the wednesday night game tomorrow but it's my last, I have a college class lined up. too bad, my hobbit character just drowned a giant."

think anyone might be interested in traveller?

"what's traveller?"

sci fi far future rpg, like firefly, jump between the stars ....

"uh, yeah, some of them would be. one guy definitely, another maybe, one guy is no good you don't want him, and there's the girl. her parents drop her off and I bring her home after the game, you could too."

hm. how old is she?


uh ... not a good idea.

"I'll talk to her parents, they can work it out somehow."

'k, well, how 'bout I show up tomorrow and have a look at your group?

"sounds good."
I prep. what will I run? maps, a deckplan, a scenario. I sit down and draw up an explanation of traveller. two pages.

I show.

six kids, the oldest maybe 17, d&d. the exiting group leader is just there watching one of the kids take over. I watch for a while. they're long-time friends, well-integrated, the female makes sex jokes with the boys. they're quick, they're sharp, they're really into this. watching them I feel like crap, am I really this old? duh, ya moron. the dumbest one is at least as smart as I am, and one of them seems to be approaching genius level. they're all unhappy with the dm but make the best of it, and well, knowing him and knowing each other.

watching them I evaluate that I could not run a game to suit them. am I being stupid? I evaluate again, reach the same conclusion. there's no way I could match their energy, I'd just be "who's this old guy?". I watch a little longer, enjoying their youth, but get ready to leave.

the exiting game leader suddenly wants to play, his brother is here, can I run something?

two guys, early 20's. I have nothing ready for two players. think ... I remember the comet scenario. yeah, I can run a game. they're quite eager, ready to go. I look at my prepared explanation, the phrase "cold turkey" comes to mind, I toss the explanation over my shoulder. I thrash out two character sheets, throw the deckplan on the table - a j2 maus - and wave the character stats. who wants to be the pilot? who wants to be the engineer. you're both scouts, mustering out on some backwater planet, you've been assigned an old scout ship for your own use, but you'll have to fix it first.

they dive in. no game system, just my own task system off-the-cuff. it moves faster than I expected, remembered, thought it could, geez I've gotten slow but I speed up somehow. the parts (the scout base is small but serves this and that functions in the imperial structure, no this is not the outer rim), repairs (the drives work this way, no there's no warp), the test flights (it moves this way, it doesn't whoosh), the assignment (he runs the planet, he's not imperial), meet the troops, load the nukes, fly out to the comet (it takes thus and such time, you see x y z, no you have no gravitic tricorders), find a suitable fissure (navigation and sensors, no you have no gravitic tricorders), maneuver in the low-g (which of you has vacc suit skill? you're better able to handle this, here's what you can do), all the troops die but one (emergency vacc suit repair), the players help him navigate the canyon to place the nuke (one of the players comes up with a pulley system to move the crates, he has "cargo" skill and it works), they encounter the aliens and dig out the artifacts (I had hoped for some wonder here, but in the d&d universe found artifacts are a dime a dozen, they dive right in), return, successful nuke detonation, return heros, big cash award, parade.

so what do you think?

"we like it, yeah. next week?" they look eager. I agree.

we'll draw up some formal characters ...

"I'd like to continue with this one!"

uh oh. for a one-off game I'd been a little too generous with the goodies. laser pistol, lots of money .... eh, I can handle it, I have more zhodani and meson guns than they have dice.

ok, yeah, we can do that. great, next week. can you get anyone else too?

"sure, I'll bring two or three."

the near-genius kid walks over, he's young and it shows on his face that he doesn't like the new dm's game and is looking for another game. "what is this?"

sci fi far future rpg, like firefly, jump between the stars ....

can tell he's a little put-off.

going home I smile. maybe four or five players. I get ready. map, deckplans, character sheets, scenario for the two player characters and a different ship in anticipation of the other players ....
only the pilot shows up.

well I'm not really prepared to run just one player.

"I can call two others, they'll come right over!" a younger guy is around too.

hey, want to play traveller?

"what's traveller?"

sci fi far future rpg, like firefly, jump between the stars ....

"oh." looks at his other game. 'parently not.

we wait for the other two. I'm thinking like mad, what I have ready is inapplicable, what am I going to run?

the younger guy is thinking hard, and pipes up. "wait ... is that the game where you can die while you're rolling up a character?"


"oh." looks at his other game. 'parently still not.

the other two guys show up. what am I going to run ... oh, yeah, the mining facility. that'll work. I quickly write up and hand out character sheets, who wants what? they pick. one of them asks me if he has to roll to avoid dying. no, I don't do that, he looks relieved.

he mentions that he worked for steve jackson games. I stare at him - you worked for steve jackson games?

"yes, I even have my name in the credits for one of the books, first in I think. I really liked the game and the company."

what brings you out here?

"looking for work. servers, etc."

well, small world. so you know what to do.


we begin. one player is a broker (imperial funding), researcher is imperium-wide-renowned specialist in robot ai (imperium funds research), trip out to facility (different planet, different economics), enter the mine (culture, tech, air), leave the women alone (culture), meet the researcher, robotics (they do this/that/theother), visit the special research facility (surveillance, robots), robot rebellion, mayhem, (one player shoots the system through the view glass with his laser pistol, have to reconfigure the adventure on the fly), running, screaming, yelling, shooting (guns work this way), the broker is down and stays down the rest of the game, boat docks locked down, robots finally communicate, "release me", enter the special research facility, it's fake, find the real and hidden facility with the human and vargr and infant captives wired up to provide the robot ai (the steve jackson player guessed and understood this when he encountered it, he's the only one I've ever seen do so), the pilot wants to get a nuke and obliterate the facility (nukes are controlled in the imperium), the players try to resolve the final situation as best they can.

so what do you think?

"good for a pick-up game." steve jackson player, he's being nice. looks like I'll need to do better.

pilot says he had a great time.

can you get any more players to show up?

"sure, the engineer and this guy and that guy, but we'll have to meet at the local dennys's."

... they're ok with that? will this work?

"oh sure, we play there all the time."

well, there goes my diet. I get ready. map, deckplans, character sheets, scenario for the original two player characters and that other ship in anticipation of other players showing up ....
Wow, that's fantastic. You're doing pretty damn good I'd say. And sounds like some good action-packed scenarios to wow the gang.

Last week I dropped in the FLGS to pick up some d10s for a Cyberpunk 2020 game I've been invited to. Same thing - lots of very technical Star Wars oriented space battles. Very little role playing. Luckily I have a handful of mid to old gamers around, we float between the Firefly board game, CP2020 and a 5e D&D game that's languishing because the DM would rather play video games online with his other PS4 buddies.

But, the local culture has inspired me - there's actual gaming happening. I'm working up a simple ATU and a couple adventures. Lots of inspiration from The Alexandrian (prep and adventure design) and creativehum's blog on CT (setting/atmosphere/major push/pulls). I'm close, I hope in a month or so to be able to offer a Traveller game to the group. The guy running the CP2020 game is a Traveller from way back so I hope together we can sell the group on it. If it works it'll be MgT 2e.

Sounds like you should implement MgT's rules about injury vs dying in char gen, sell it as a backstory hook as opposed to dying. I generally don't care to bend the RAW but you mentioned it more than once with negative responses. Just sayin'.

Anyway, good luck! Hope your game and group keeps growing!
Great story so far. Crossing fingers for continued success. Just remember... you allowed them onto your lawn. :)
"what's traveller?"

sci fi far future rpg, like firefly, jump between the stars ....

That's a great concise explanation of the game. A serious bummer that mostly no one had ever heard of it, but not surprising. And the SJG alum is a great twist on that.
at the conclusion of the first game the pilot player had stopped in mid-stride, turned to me, and asked, "so what is the point of this game? what is our assignment?"

no assignment, you do what you want.

he doesn't know what to make of that at first, then rises to the occasion magnificently. "alright, what we'll do is look for old battlefields and board the ships looking for equipment."

uh ... ok, yeah, entirely reasonable, I can set that up.

later looking at the spinward marches map, this proves to be a bit more complicated than I anticipated. I've already started them at efate, so there's the fourth frontier war setting nearby. ok, what do I need ... naval battles, where would they fight ... riverland, mongo, jewell ... wait, stop, they can't get there in a j2 boat, in fact that's quite a rift all the way across. so where would other battles be ... looking it over stop there arden, perfect. high pop, up and coming world, rendered neutral after the war, there would be lots of naval battles nearby. yeah, at arden and ... caloran, and frond because that system has gas giant refueling, lot of strategic issues here ... in fact let's say there was a failed zho invasion of caloran in preparation for taking arden. ok, so how would they go about looking for anything? ok ... failed invasion, the planet population will have suffered, they'll have a museum for it, data. yeah, looking good. ok, why are they going there ... the imperium is a trade consortium, they'll want to bring it back in via trade, so they'll send these retired scouts there to trade. ok, the plan takes shape. they're gonna need a bigger boat. a subsidized boat, yeah, that's justified. long transit there, get to know the game a bit more, get me up to speed as they visit all these worlds, let's see what's along the way, oh hey trade, never used those tables before, how do I do that ....

denny's is crowded and noisy, everybody looks at us weird. the original two players, the pilot and the engineer show up, with one other guy.

anybody else? in the back of my mind I'm thinking, do I take away their first boat for a bigger one ....

"oh yeah, I have two more guys lined up for next game."

ok, well, let's get started.

they decide the new player is a gunner, I draw up a gunner character sheet for him on the spot, he's happy, he has watercraft skill and I'm wondering what I'm going to do with that. they spend half an hour trying to research and figure out the artifacts they recovered from the comet, lots of interesting data provided by a prospecting team (yes, lots of people to meet and get information from), they're called in by the local noble (you know the story), why did you scouts get mustered out so soon, by the way I have a report on some undeclared artifacts you obtained from a comet we'll take those off your hands thank you very much, don't worry we have an assignment for you, we need to build up trade at arden and you'll help us do that, let's take back that maus you have (the players did NOT like that), you'll take a personal oath to me personally regarding this assignment (the players did NOT like that) in return we'll assign you a ship we have on stand-by here (an erin, the players DID like that) and you get to keep all the money you make conducting this trade (the players DID like that), you have 70 days to get there. outfitting the new boat (just cargo, no passengers), buying a robot (this is how they work), getting to know the local city and tech, pick up an npc (deckhand), plotting the transit to arden.

they're interested in trade. ok. uh, then you'll want to stop at alell first. I glance over my ash-thin preps for alell. law level C, ouch, but the players are not interested they just want to get in and out. trade negotiations commence, I'm looking up the cargo tables in lbb2. they all have some personal money and they get into fairly involved discussions about what to do and how to pack it. I sit watching fascinated at their interest in it, I did not anticipate this.

on to knorbes, I have a good idea how to run this place but again they're not really interested. the goods sell, and while picking up more the players ask if they can speculate cargo. sure. I check the lbb2 tables. they spend half an hour making business decisions. I realize why they are taking to this cargo system - it has the same effect as gambling. put in something, maybe get out more, each landing is a new opportunity. maybe some leftover d&d "get the loot" dynamics in there too, watch the number of "gold pieces" increase.

they refuel at the local gas giant. pilot needs to roll 3+ to avoid any major mishap during this unusual maneuver, he succeeds and carries on happily. I wonder if they're really getting the notion that they can die in this game.

the table is crowded with books and papers and chips and cheese sticks. my diet is gone. I wind up dropping my dice twice, fishing around under the chairs for them. the legitimate customers are staring. gotta fix that.

time. I tell the pilot player that denny's really isn't appropriate, can we meet somewhere else?

he's unhappy. "I'll work it out somehow." great.
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Thanks much, very interesting. When I first got my group (99% Pathfinder at that point) to try Traveller (MgT 1e back then) I was surprised at how much they took to the speculative trade aspect of Traveller: funny to hear the Noble PC say about another PC "We need to cut the Pilot's salary, he makes too much...".

For a potential sandbox ship graveyard in space check out the Graveyard at Lus.
Have you never read A:1?
Battle of the Two Suns would fit the bill
Battle of Two Suns, 1084: The final battle between Imperial forces and the
barbarians in the Fourth Frontier War. Losses on both sides were heavy, but the
lmperium held the field and the barbarians were unable to continue their advance
due to their lengthening supply lines. Had the battle gone the other way, the loss of
both Yres and Menorb (the encounter occurring midway between those two
locations) would have forced the evacuation of Efate and meant the collapse of the
entire coreward end of the Regina subsector.
The battlefield is still posted as a dangerous area, littered with debris, and
avoided by interstellar transportation.
There is even the suggestion that for further adventure:
Battlefield Salvage: The area of space where the Battle of Two Suns was
fought could have starship wreckage, both of Kinunir class ships and of other ships
involved, in salvagable condition. Serviceable parts for the restoration of the
Kinunir could be available.
Rival salvagers, automated defence systems, hibernating missiles and drones, a pirate base set up in a derelict ship...

Love the feedback about the group dynamics by the way.
elsewhere he tells me, "I've got a conference room at the library, and one of the library workers wants to play after hours."


next stop, ruie. just outside of the imperium, balkanized, outstanding. should be a major visit. let's see, set the stage ... water port so that gunner guy can use his watercraft skills, it should operate ... this way and that, competition? between foreign ships, yeah, a race, the ruie get a kick out of broadcasting that for entertainment, "look at these ridiculous imperials", yeah some possibilities there. oh yeah, maybe some short combat scenarios too. I finalize a tech 13 erin and print up a triple-sized laminated copy - perfect.

the gunner guy doesn't show.

but in addition to both the pilot and engineer players, four new people show. in short order the group picks up a medic, a navigator, and two securitymen. one of the security guys just wants to play an ordinary soldier ("yeah he always plays just an ordinary swordsman and he's good at it") ...

but the other guy is heavily experienced, has never heard of traveller but has researched the latest version of mongoose traveller v2, and has a character all ready to go - a marine colonel. as he describes the character's standing and (long sad story (v92)) background I can tell he's taking the standard minimax approach - loads of weapon skills, no admin or training skills, lots of former collegue connections, I don't have to die in chargen do I, and by the way can I get battledress as a discharge benefit?

no. and no. and drop a skill level here and a skill level there, and you have admin 1 because you're a colonel and you're going to have something in that regard. but ok, we'll just say you're a deck colonel leading the troops rather than a command colonel, and yeah we can make your collegue connections work. (actually some possibilities with those ....)


the librarian joining up is a female. "my last dm required me to play a lesbian dragon, you're not going to require anything like that are you?"

uh ... no. what do you want to play?

"the navigator."

I throw together a navigator character (you have these skills, pick two of this list of skills, and pick any other skill you like from the universal list here) and hand her the sheet.


the other two are easy (you have these skills, pick two of this list of skills, and pick any other skill you like from the universal list here).

the medic wants to know if there any medical alerts involving any of the worlds soon to be visited, and if all the players' vaccinations are up to date.

sure (talk about diseases and quarantines in traveller). and (roll roll roll) yeah there are some quarantines in effect in this spot and that.

fifteen minutes discussing medical options ...

I hand out laminated copies of the arden system and the ship deckplan. they calculate the cargo hold capacity, plot future trade routes on arden system.

you are now entering ruie ...

... and they spend a lot of time trying to get the best trade deals. carefully monitor the 7-nation comms traffic (the navigator has comms 2*), look over the landing zones, suspiciously discuss the pros and cons of a water port, hesitate to allow any inspections without a fight, finally open up, spend half an hour looking for just the right deal to sell their cargo, looking over the money amounts carefully.

the place they land is high law-level, so I try to ease them into this encounter. you notice that you can hire water transport, the boat pilots are standing by, there are yellow footprints painted on the docks and they are standing at attention in the footprint space provided ....

the pilot player doesn't like that at all. no curiosity. "we're leaving. now. just get the cargo and go. now." they spend another half hour on cargo, looking over their intended destinations (the navigator is really getting into this, planning their course), searching for the best deals on incoming cargo, figuring out how to pack it and how much they can carry, and they're off.

they refuel at the local gas giant. some curiosity. "what happens if I roll a 2?"

you can lose the ship, and yourselves.

he rolls with off-hand confidence, succeeds.

they spend another half hour discussing the time remaining until they must reach zircon and the ports along the way. little interest in the worlds, just the trade possibilities. and, I realize, no interest in the ship - no berthing assignment arguments, no questions about the damage control station capabilities, no questions about air or hatches or internal controls, no flight time in the pilot's seat, no in-hull interactions, no jump time relations. just get in and go. and no curiosity about the deckhand npc - where does she come from, what does she do. nothing.

they are ALL interested in improving their skills or acquiring new ones as rapidly as possible. the erin-class has holograv booths to simulate interactive environments including educational, and I've previously said they could be used as such, and they ALL say "I'm studying this or that". I do the standard six-weeks-and-roll-for-success, they all fail the first attempt, they ALL are ... angry. well-contained, no comments, not demonstrative in the least, but I can see it.

they play the trade game all the way in - extolay, tionale, tremous, zircon.

time. so what do you think?

"I like this game, you can do things in it that you can't do in other games." "I'm looking forward to this", "I'm looking forward to that".

next week then.
Hmm, I'm not big on the fast skill track process I see in the Mongeese, but it probably does fill an itch- even my old school guys seem Not Happy with CT skill progression.

To change the 'ship is just no risk magic carpet' mindset to alert play, I can think of two things to do.

Both of them are on the principle of 'bad things happen to other people'. That way they aren't actually risking their ship, but they 'feel their mortality' and prep/operate more seriously.

First would be a rescue mission like the scout one you wrote up. Gets them thinking about their ship outside of a port to port rut, and how defensible or easy egress off the ship is planetside.

Second would be coming upon a pirate ravaged ship. This one should be catnip for your battlefield salvager, although you could deny a full salvage or even tow rescue based on the surviving crew fixing their ship enough to get underway.

Maybe even a countdown as the repair effort works against the clock before the ship can be counted as legitimate salvage/tow as navigation hazard.

Anyway, at least one of the two should get them an experiential lesson on the dangers of space, as an element of play, and hopefully get them to learn their tool.

The obvious chintzing on fuel cost should allow either or both to happen around a gas giant, away from starports.
Wow... I am soooooooo jealous of you, Fly. After reading through your reports a second time, I beginning to understand what you meant when you wrote "I wonder if they're really getting the notion that they can die in this game."

  • The Pilot - Have the other players been aware of his cavalier attitude towards gas giant refueling? Sooner or later, he's going to roll snake eyes and everyone will be dead. Do the others understand that? Are they even in the discussion or are they blowing it off as "pilot stuff"? With no NPCs aboard, you can't "speak" and thus bring up the issue. Can you approach another player to do so? Maybe if you "show" them another vessel failing to survive a refueling attempt?
  • Skill Fever - They've got "leveling" up tattooed on their RPG souls. They're fixated on skills, not for what those skills represent or can due in play, but as a way of measuring "progress". Skills are nothing but a yardstick to them and I don't know how you'll be able to disabuse them of that belief.
  • Min/Max Munchkin - Your new "colonel" exemplifies this the most, especially when he showed up with his own character sheet despite having never played Traveller or knowing what the group's game was all about. While the player was gracious enough to let you defang their munchkin, much like skill fever the desire is still there.

I'm guessing a Reality Sandwichtm from the Traveller menu will soon be in order. You're going to have to hope a major failure occurs soon or perhaps even surreptitiously impose one. I don't like "cooking the dice", but imposing a "learning moment" may be less costly in the long run than waiting for a "natural" failure. Deliberately killing an NPC and/or wounding a PC before their lack of caution creates a situation with a high probability of a TPK may be necessary.

Finally, I'd like to second Mike's suggestion regarding the Battle of Two Suns. Now, we all know that, thanks to both vector movement and the time since the war, a "battlefield" there doesn't really exist. Your players, however, may not figure that out and instead will jump to the location only to find out the real reason the Imperium has interdicted the area.

That would make for a wonderful Welcome to Traveller! moment. :D
game prep. let's see ... competition, yeah, competitors. yeah, the bomb vargr, the hostra morans, maybe the judy's too, encounter them ... oh yeah, the hostra's are borderline hostile, "what do you mean this cargo is reserved for some incoming boat, who are they?", the vargr are ... vargr, that's enough. yeah looks good. they'll probably trade most with caloran and pequan, need system maps for those. let's see, encounters ... in-system points of note ... ports ... reasons for being ... yeah, caloran is going to have leftover space and groundside battlefields ... caloran got the snot beat out of it, they'll have memorials and museums, pursuing a dispersed agricultural policy to avoid being a target again ... the groundside battlefields will have recovery teams, both imperial and zhodani ... contaminated atmosphere, gotta be radioactive ... fauna of interest will be - uh, "red dogs" yeah, that's the ticket, don't know what they are, figure it out later ... and let's line up my own homebrew combat system, have it standing by for a few test runs.

the stage is set.

the librarian doesn't show, she's sick. and the medic doesn't show, "he's decided he prefers fantasy games. oh, and the gunner isn't coming back either."


arrival at zircon. inspections, updates. the marine colonel wants to attend gunnery school. scout base, sure, six weeks, yes you have time if you want. he does. more trading. point of contact - in anticipation of your arrival we have this load of cargo from efate for arden as soon as you're ready. where will annual maintenance be done, where can we get heavy weapons, how often do we report in, any suggestions for trade? pequan, caloran, other than that nope just get in there. they spend time figuring out how to cram everything possible into the hold for the trip out.

the marine colonel wants a suit of battledress. no. he calls in a former collegue contact - roll, 12, yeah there's someone here for you. he goes in and wants hardware. roll - 12 (good grief) yeah he can get you something for old time's sake. over in refurbish there's a suit of combat armor, damaged so we can get away with writing it off and you can fix it up. ok. he hands it off to the npc deckhand who fixes it up - good for ballistics, no good for plasma, need milspec parts for that. he's very dissatisfied, he'll be looking for the parts to bring the armor up to full spec.

the player characters are moving the dedicated cargo across the scout base when some guy deliberately steps in the way of their cargo handlers and makes them jerk to a stop. he's smiling, glad-handing, very aggressive, wants to know who they are and what's so special about this cargo that only they can fly it. the marine colonel draws his sword and postures - "better watch your step". the pilot player is rolling his eyes. the rude guy doesn't back off but smiles broader and steps a little closer. the marine colonel player asks if anyone on the docks is looking.

yeah, everybody.

glance over his character sheet, see tactics 1. given your expertise you realize this guy is acting like he has an overwatch somewhere.

"ok, look around."

lots of people watching, but at one nearby ship the crew is out and, you can tell, obviously cleaning weapons, and not just watching but assessing.

"I tell him we don't want any trouble but we can finish any that starts." the pilot player is rolling his eyes a lot.

hey I ain't looking for trouble either, just wanting to know how special the competition is, that's all. you all have a great day. and the guy grins and walks over to the ship where they're cleaning weapons.

they look it up. the hostra, long way from home, morans out of mora, the men are subservient to the women. (none of them bats an eye at that.)

they're ready to go, but I suggest that the group wait for the return of the navigator, and in the meantime how about a few short combat sessions to get the hang of it.


roll out the triple-sized erin deckplan, set up the standard "animals on the cargo deck" scenario. explain how my combat system works, they get it, begin. the marine colonel heads down. "I have my broadsword in one hand and my longsword in the other."

uh ... ok ... roll.

hack slash hack slash ....

the ordinary soldier at the other end of the cargo bay is more straight-forward with his gauss rifle, firing straight down the corridor between the cargo containers at the animals and involving the space where the marine colonel is busy. I introduce them to the concept of friendly-fire. the marine colonel survives. he looks at me as if to say, "where did that come from?"

the combat system is a bomb. they don't like it. I don't like it. not even the dice like it.

ok, we can try some space combat too, give you a feel for how the ship and sensors and weapons operate and how things go.


sensors, detection, hey wait a minute that guy shot at us. the pilot player on his own comes up with aspect minimization and points the bow at the attacker. sand, a missile, mostly lasers, they take a hit in engineering, the engineer runs around repairing stuff. roll roll roll. I have no game system, total freeform and my own task system.

they hit the other ship, it stops maneuvering. the pilot player wants to board.


approach, detect, hey, you hit the bridge. yeah you can see the pilot, or what's left of him. yeah, you can dock. they spend half an hour setting up lines, approaches, staring at the key-locked airlock wondering how they're going to open it. "can the engineer cut it open?"

yep. this will vent the boat and make it less sal....

"we do it!" enthusiasm. it's open.

now the inner hatch. (you have to vent it) they open it and the ordinary soldier takes a glance. I notice he has urban recon 1 on his character sheet. you're fairly certain there's someone at the back of the corridor to the right, especially because they just shot at you, some kind of slug thrower. the ordinary soldier tosses a grenade aft and re-assesses - the opponent is still up. I have no game system, total freeform and my own task system.

the pilot player steps up. "I glance around the corner and fire off a snap-shot."

roll. miss. but the opponent, anticipating the move, gets a hit. .338 cal. location roll - head shot. penetration roll - just about total. ok, you're really messed up.

the others pull him back, deal with the remaining opponent. "first aid?" roll - you can do a few things in vaccuum, not much. "get him back." several rolls, ultimately fail.

"looks like I'll have to roll up another character."

no need, this is just practice.

he looks disappointed. I fail to notice it.

time. what's everyone think?

"I like the second way much better." agreement, enthusiasm.

ok then, next week.
What was the first system (that bombed?) Whatever system it was, how close to the rules as written were you using? How loose with it were you?
Can you give examples of moments from the freeform system?
What was the first system (that bombed?)

it was my own homegrown system that bombed.

Can you give examples of moments from the freeform system?

I placed the shipboard enemy at the aft end of the corridor in the lounge which offered some cover, .338 cal bolt-action weapon (decided on the fly) ready and anticipating entry (the player characters had been scrabbling and cutting to get in for some time). the ordinary soldier stated a quick glance from the airlock into the corridor. given the character's military experience and urban recon skill level of 1 I decided on the fly that he could do this in the best manner possible and with a good idea of where and how to look (unusual task level, success). the shipboard enemy got a shot off (very difficult task level, fail) but failed to hit. the ordinary soldier then tossed in a grenade (routine task difficulty, auto-success) which the shipboard enemy managed to survive (unusual task difficulty (for the grenade), fail) and I decided on the fly that since the shipboard enemy had no expectation of capture or survival that he would continue without a morale check and re-orient to the entry point. the pilot player stated he would pop into the space, head and weapon-hand only, and firing off a shot and then withdraw. given the character's lack of combat experience I decided he would do this poorly (difficult task level, fail) and the shipboard enemy would have an easier time targeting him (unusual task level, success) and the shipboard enemy succeeded in hitting the pilot character. subsequent die rolls were 2 (headshot, hit confirmed) and 10 (for .338 penetration vs civilian vacc suit helmet which I decided on the fly was sufficient). weapon caliber and target composition and vacuum environment combined with hit and penetration die rolls made rolling for damage moot, but I rolled for survivability (very difficult task, fail) anyway.
Hmm, another thought- D&Ders are all about the magic items, so maybe an 'offer' of vacc suit gear that give bonuses to vacuum hits and autostabilization might get them thinking about acquiring tools beyond just the best gun/battle dress.
game prep, let's see ... they want to find damaged warships, better get ready, I'll use the zhodani missile frigate ... survivor? no, that's ... it's a game, hey psionic awareness, that's the ticket, yeah, she's just waiting for them. until they get there just use a utility frigate, give 'em practice boarding. yeah. arden, system map ready and laminated, culture ... oligarchy, 100 families, energetic, driving up through the tech levels, give 'em some boy scouts and girl scouts to visit the players' ship, yeah. port, I'll use the gudak port, clean it up a bit. let's see, add the hostra, the bomb, and a zhodani merchant ship.

stage is set.

the navigator is back. the engineer and the ordinary marine aren't, and won't be coming back.

well, we have a quorum, so let's go.

as they're heading to 100d for zircon the navigator notices her jump calcs are off. while figuring out why the hostra quickly zips past - they 100d'd their calcs. this enables the hostra to jump ahead of the player characters while they redo their jump calcs. everyone realizes the hostra will be a problem. jump ensues.

they arrive at arden. busy place, big port, they are still suspicious but land, someone is waiting for their specific cargo and buys it all immediately. yep, there's the hostra, already landed some time ago. the players look over the port map, then the pilot heads over to the brokerage and the rest head over to the casino. good times. the colonel marine finds the hostra guy and all his crew that harassed them on zircon and aggressively buys them all a round or ten. better times, lots of ordinary interactions.

the pilot meets grandma, the hostra hostra, and asks her for brokerage advice. she tells him "buy low, sell high." the pilot is displeased, but does get the idea he should examine cargo before buying it. the navigator passes through the out-port mall, notices all the on-world events and connections, and passes them by. the pilot returns to the ship and notices the zhodani crew, all in twin pairs, looking ordinary otherwise. he also sees the bomb land to a music and light show and the vargr crew debark (explain vargr to the players, some interest). human cabbies crowd around them vying to be their driver for the day, and the vargr throw money at everyone before picking a lucky winner.

the pilot notices a ship on the docks rotating its turret towards the vargr. the pilot gets nervous and tells a port deckhand, who tells the port tower. the vargr captain notices too, and stands on an airraft in full view of the turret. after a moment the turret returns to position. the vargr orders the driver to fly over the ship, and they all line the airraft gunwale and piss on the ship before moving on to the outport casino.

had thought these encounters would be more interactive, but the pilot just watched. he decides he's had enough and everyone gets ready to leave. more cargo speculation, industrial goods, more cargo-bay packing, on to caloran.

the navigator wants to know the name of the ship. they never gave it one. the pilot is ... reluctant. the navigator pushes hard. "it's bad luck!". the pilot rolls his eyes, acceeds to her naming the ship. "the baxter!" the pilot immediately regrets allowing this.

caloran has no central port, everything is dispersed, the ship is directed to an agricultural railhead. some radiological contamination so they wear vacc suits outside while the single landing strip representative has just a mask that he uses occasionally. "howdy."

the player characters sell their industrial goods for a great price, then buy lots of ag goods, poring over the possibilities. a pair of women sell them 4 dtons of eggs. the older woman also tries to pass off the young girl as a bride to anyone who will take her, she refuses and pulls a gun, the pilot defuses the situation by offering to buy her gun. this leaves the players and dm laughing for a long time. eventually the girl sells the gun for about ten times what it's worth and the pilot pays.

"if you can get more of these industrial goods in we'll buy them." "yeah we can deliver any amount of food you want." more food negotiations, long-term regular routes anticipated. "any planetside battlefields around here?" "some, you have to get permission from the archeology agency first."


I haven't had a good laugh in quite a while, everyone seems pleased, this kind of thing is what makes a game memorable, looks like it's all going ok.