Wednesday 7 October 2015

When nothing is on the table, everything is

One of the problems of not playing for any length of time, as has happened as a result of our house move, is that my normal Gamer ADD, constrained by actual play, is unleashed. With no campaign on the table, any campaign is on the table. In any genre, in any setting, using any system.

But I think that I have narrowed the next game down to a 'space game'. But which one?!

Despite owning quite a few different 'space games', I have boiled it down to the classic choice; Traveller or Stars Without Number. Other systems that I own have been set aside as these two, in my opinion, support a 'traditional' sandbox campaign without the kind of heavy crunch that, when GM-facing, inhibits the facilitation of PC freedom of action, and when player-facing, intimidates the non-'gamer' players with whom I play.

Stars Without Number is a thing of beauty. Truly. The GM advice is worth the price of the book alone - though the book is free - and the sector generation tools knock those of Traveller (any version) into a cocked hat when it comes to producing 'adventuresome' situations. SWN has a lovely simple faction system that allows the players to impact on the 'big politics' of the setting, the rules for AI and mechs are straightforward, and the supplements are... yadda yadda yadda. SWN is cool, and will only get cooler when Starvation Cheap, a supplement for military campaigns, is released.

So Traveller would seem undone, as far as my preferences go. But Traveller has one big advantage, when it comes to an open-ended sandbox campaign, and that it the way the PCs are built. No, I don't mean the minigame - which I love, and Kevin Crawford as 'sorta-kinda' replicated that for SWN in Sandbox #2. I mean the fact that PCs roll out of the gate fully formed, at least as far as skills and so on goes. They don't 'level up'. And this means two things.

1 - With 'fully formed' PCs, the 'adventures' out there don't need to be scaled for 'level'. If a danger or hazard out there is too much for the PCs, it is because they haven't accumulated enough in-game-setting resources to tackle it, not because they haven't spent long enough accumulating in-game-system points.

2 - With 'fully formed' PCs, PC death and new or intermittent players can be incorporated much more easily. Starting PCs are as competent as they are going to get (more or less). Though the 'party' might grow in strength, this is often due to the accumulation of (nominally) shared resources; wealth, hardware, contacts, etc. 

So I've got my Traveller Book, my Mongoose Traveller, and my Stars Without Number, and really, as in all cases of Gamer ADD, I just need to get playing, and if that doesn't solve it, get playing more. Analysis paralysis is resolved, by necessity, at the table.


  1. Just curious if you've ever played Universe? I have a copy from way, way back when I was a kid, but have never actually played it.

    The world generation system caught my eye, but have no idea how it matches up to SWN or Traveller.

    1. I'd never even heard of it. The wikipedia article suggests that it might not be my cup of tea:

      "Universe co-developer Klug (an experienced Traveller referee) set out "to 'fix' all the ill written and illogical rules [he] felt had been perpetrated on the science fiction role-playing community".[4] Consequently, Universe includes particularly methodical rules for such sci-fi RPG concerns as creating worlds, applying character skills to in-game situations, and resolving the initial moments of alien encounters. Reviewers[5][6][7][8] praised Universe for its innovative, well thought-out mechanics presented in a highly organized rules reference. However, they also criticized its cumbersome encounter/combat system".

      Sounds like it might be one of those 1980s RPGs that pursued realism. Hell, my eyes glaze over when I see the equations in The Traveller Book, and that is a pretty light system, all things considered.

      World generation in Traveller and SWN is superficially similar, but while Traveller produces a 'realistic' sub-sector, leaving the Referee with the task of putting in the 'adventure', the SWN system is built to produce adventure locales right from the start.

    2. Ack, more from Wikipedia.

      "The rulebook entry for each Skill lays out every task for which the Skill may be used, along with the exact Base Chance of success for each task. For example, the Geology Skill lists 6 tasks, including scanning a sample to find abundant minerals (70% base chance) or trace minerals (30%), and scanning an area to find all 3 m-wide tunnels and fissures (50%) or all tunnels and fissures of any size (20%). This degree of specificity is in deliberate contrast to previous RPGs such as Traveller, whose vague Skill descriptions and GM-improvised situational die modifiers were (according to the Universe designers) a hardship for the Gamemaster (GM).[4]"

      It's a taste thing, but I have found Classic Traveller's lack of a formal task resolution system and broad skills a boon, but then, despite my love of some 'skill-based' games (BRP, WFRP, etc.) I am pretty used to coming up with a 'reasonable' 'ruling' on player character actions at the table in D&D.

  2. It sounds like your preference for Traveler is at least in part a style thing... no leveling and fully formed characters. Why not just treat SWN in the same way, and have characters "come out" at level 3 and just stick with that?

    1. That sounds like a pretty good idea. I can't think of a way that would 'break' any of the systems, it'd just take a few adjustments when it came to building NPCs.

      Another option is to allow SWN PCs to increase their skills, or even their stats (inc. HP?) - perhaps along the Traveller extended training lines, or maybe just abstract that into a levelling system, without the HP inflation.

      Dragon Warriors - the British D&Dish game - suggests that if the group wanted a 'grittier' game they limit/eliminate HP increases, while allowing other abilities to increase by level.

  3. I think that is the fundamental difference between the two. I love SWN but low level characters suck enormous chunks. Do the Epic 6 thing - start at level 6 and stay there. The only think that improves is skills. Alternatively, there is MegaTraveller, my favourite Traveller version, which does have a proper task system.