Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Traveller Further Thoughts – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series I talked a bit about the background of the campaign and what roles the player characters should fill.  (I also attributed the Stainless Steel Rat to the wrong author – my fault entirely as I looked at the Wikipedia page for the SSR for the correct title name and should have noticed the different author.  Mea culpa.)  I this part I want to discuss some of the in-game rules, some of the meta-game rules, and what ship types the players will have to choose from.

In-game Rules
The in-game rules I want to lay out are just that: in-game.  These are rules the player characters should operate under, not the players.  These rules are designed to safeguard the most valuable thing the PCs will own: their ship.  The three basic rules are:
  1. Don’t bring danger to the ship.
  2. No weapons on the bridge.
  3. The Captain runs the ship.

Rule 1 means that if members of the crew get into danger on their own time, they will not endanger the ship by leading that danger back to the ship.  Or stated another way: “don’t go picking fights you can’t handle and then draw everyone else into the problem.”  Player characters on away teams should, if at all possible, solve what ever problems they run into before returning to the ship and should never flee to the ship with and angry posse at their heels.  Now player characters being player characters may ignore or bend this rule, but if the ship gets damaged, everyone else will blame the offending PC(s) and likely want them kicked off the ship.

Rule 2 is a safety precaution.  The bridge contains too many critical portions of the ship, both mechanical and personnel, for there to ever be weapons hanging around there.

Rule 3 is to keep those without knowledge of ship systems and procedures from ordering things be done that will damage or destroy the ship and/or the crew.  It also establishes the clear chain of command onboard the ship: everyone answers to the Captain only.  While the player characters, as the Company men, can tell the Captain where to fly the ship, the Captain will decide how it is done and who does what.  At some point, I would expect the player characters to work out their own hierarchy/command structure, but I really expect that to me an emergent thing that develops during play – my players are like that.

I also expect that as the game goes on, a list of standing orders and standard operating procedures will develop.  I’d hope that one of the early ones (if not the first) is “Don’t leave crew behind if at all possible.”  I’d rather the players develop these, but if they don’t, the Captain (meaning me through the NPC) will likely establish some.

Metagame Rules
Right now, the only metagame rule I have is that between sessions, one month of in-game time will pass.  This allows PC healing to happen if anyone was injured during the last session, so everyone should start each session at full health or close to it.  In a fantasy game, this can be shortened to a week or even a day due to healing spells, but sci-fi requires a bit more time for that.  This time passage also assumes that some trading is happening off-screen, once the players have explored enough for that to be reasonable.  I want to keep the adminis-trivia to a manageable level and not force the players to haggle for every little credit they make.

Available Ship Types
I’d like the first session to be character generation followed by a small roleplay session where the PCs explore the starship boneyard and select their ship.  As the background states that Start World (not its final name, just a working reference) made custom luxury spaceships.  Think of a world whose primary industries consisted of Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A., Orange County Choppers, and any custom-build luxury specialty company you can think of.  The shipyards were all orbital with supplier fabrication plants being a mix of orbital and planet-side.  There was some planet-side manufacture of parts, but a lot of the raw materials were ordered in a just-in-time fashion from nearby worlds.  When the Virus started to hit, its initial actions were not always fatal.  Faced with what appeared to be malfunctioning equipment, ship owners had their ships taken back to the manufacturers to be fixed, which also allowed the Virus to spread further. 

As a result of the above, the Start World system has a selection of abandoned luxury craft in various parking orbits.  It also has limited resources for the construction of new ships as some of the materials necessary are not native to this system (I’ll get more into that in the next post).  So the first half-session will be the newly minted PCs in a small system boat looking through the boneyard for a ship to call their own.  The basic choices will be:
  • A Cigarette Boat-equivalent, good for racing or hauling tiny (and usually illegal) hyper-valuable cargo at very high speed
  • A Quick Freighter-equivalent, good for small (usually legal) cargoes at high speed
  • A Medium Freighter-equivalent, good for carrying a variety of cargoes, including the possibility of passengers with moderate standards at a good speed
  • A Fat merchant-equivalent, good for carrying large amounts of cargo at a slow, steady pace

I’ll also accept player input if they want something different and design that.  The goal is to provide a ship the players feel comfortable with for the campaign as it will likely be the only ship they own for a while.

That’s it for this time.  In the next part I’ll discuss potential scenarios for the PCs to run into and some thoughts on starting tech and tech levels.


  1. I would assume that if a session ends in a fight, negotiation, etc. one month has not passed when they return? It's a bit unclear at the moment.

  2. Assuming they finished what they were doing, a month will pass. If they are in the middle of a series of actions, I'll be a little more flexible.

    In my fantasy sandbox game, I regularly have a week pass between session to keep the calendar moving. Sometimes more time goes by, like if the PCs are crafting items, and once no time went by (when the PCs were stuck in the Shadowed Obelisk). I just want the PCs to know that, generally, they will not start a session with injuries gathered during the previous session.

  3. I have to say that you’re take on the Traveller campaign intrigues me. I would be so much more likely to design a Firefly/Millennium Falcon style game, but I can really see the advantages of making the PCs agents and keeping them separate from the ships operation. It would definitely shift the focus of a campaign. A large enough ship could also allow for rotation of players and characters, as not everyone need participate in every adventure.

    I also like your rules, and the metarule. It’ll definitely keep things moving in the game world. Given the options you’ve listed I would be most inclined to pick either the medium freighter or the fat merchant. I think either of those would really allow for the type of game you seem to want to run.

  4. @David:
    Thank you for your feedback!

    This campaign is an experiment in running a West Marches-style campaign in a science fiction setting. One of the baseline assumptions/rules of such a campaign is that each session ends with the PCs back in town. The goal is to allow maximum flexibility for the following session if the mix of players is not the same.

    For a Traveller game, requiring the players to return to Start World at the end of each session would seem to be a much larger burden and lacking a certain amount of verisimilitude. My solution was to change the requirement to "everyone has to be back at the ship by the end of the session". With a larger ship, as you point out, the rotation of players becomes an option. This avoids the issue of what to do if Mal's player fails to make the Firefly game, a situation I've essentially had crop up in my monthly game.

  5. Some of the Traveller Medical Slow drugs allowed for some fairly rapid healing - TravHero has it listed as 1 Body Regen/4 hours. You could fully heal pretty much anybody in 1 week or less - and as a Jump to another system takes a week, that is another common increment of time. Even failing using Medical drugs, Natural healing is on the order of REC / week of Body restored - that should average about 4-5 Body/week, so most minor/medium wounds would be healed up within a week naturally.

    That being said - running a limited span game of 12-15 sessions would make the timespan about a year with the "month between sessions" approach. That would be about right for a "Corporate Contract" crew