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Following Matt Wilson 's musings on Google+ on Star Frontiers vs Traveller... and this is almost entirely tangential.
See, Matt says that SF had lots of unexplored space, whereas the Traveller 3rd Imperium was well settled for millennia, crowded and no longer frontier.
It's only in prepping for my (much delayed) campaign for my son that I've realised that this just ain't so, and that the Imperial Scout service will never go out of business.
And it comes from looking at the system generation... system (Wait, what?)
Okay, the basic PLANET generation system generates the main world in a solar system . Since it's skewed to produce systems somewhat similar to ours, they've got a loooot of surface area (mainworlds tend to be averaged around earth sized), somewhat non-hostile atmospheres, and some reasonable amount of surface water.
And the average population of these worlds?
500,000. About that of Akron, Ohio. Or Sheffield.*
On a whole planet.
And the other planetary bodies in the system are likely inhabited, but even more sparsely.
So population densities are very, very low.
So that's the mechanical basis for there being an awful lot of "uninhabited" planetary areas, especially considering that in a technological (but not post-singularity) society, urban dwelling is going to be the norm. So even the few people on each planet are likely to be concentrated together.
So what's the in game reason for this?
Cheap, long established space travel.
In economic terms, once you've gone 500 miles, you may as well go two parsecs. The marginal cost is negligible above a certain tech level**
So human occupation of space is very wide, but very, very shallow. Even after 3000 years of human occupation, a planet could be barely explored outside the "civilized" areas.
I mean, we're still finding "lost" tribes, unknown species, etc. on Earth after, what, 5,000 years of civilization, and we've got nowhere else to go.
It's a very widely distributed civilization with a lot of nearby frontier. Not only could anything be out there from pre-human occupation, but any number of humans could have gone into the black and got lost... and never even needed to go into jumpspace to enter "the black".
Then there's the "uncharted" areas in the underworld of those tight concentrations of the cities, but we're already in Joseph Conrad territory enough here.
*/I was going to say "Liverpool", but then found that if you include the Wirral, over the water, this would be closer to 900,000, but that's still within "population; 5" for Traveller./
**And to an extent, at lower tech levels interstellar trade is CHEAPER than planetary trade: pre fusion plants, you've at the mercy of local fuel costs....
FINALLY we got through character creation last night, having settled on Mongoose Traveller... well, not finished, there's still the nifty end of creation goober that mongoose have tacked on.
Jacob Reynolds, Pilot, formerly of one of the interface lines on the border. A cold war got hot and his employers got caught with cargoes for interdicted worlds that they couldn't offload, taking the company down. He schlepped back to his homeworld Regina, where his reputation as a pilot got him noticed by a certain Baron...
Smarter than he lets on.
Lady Sandra Nythur, notorious heiress, socialite and bon viveuse. A minor celebrity thanks to a reality holovid series, the success of which she levered with charitable works to gain elevation to a knighthood, much to chagrin of other social climbers.
Petite and elegant, she has worked on her charisma, and can drink a shocking amount for someone so small.
Claire Savina, the sniper. Ever since she was little, this punky kid from the dregs of Regina Startown was raised on family legends of the snipers of Russia. It's all she ever wanted to be.
Seems the universe wanted to make it hard for her. Cashiered from the Marines before her first term was out, her first attempts at a life of crime kept her on the run from Regina, into the ground army of a desperate world that asked few questions. Never seeking commission or promotion, she concentrated on learning how not to be seen and how to kill people from a very long way away. It wasn't enough to keep the army from being overrun, and she hitched back to Regina with a pilot taking his company's reposessed trader back to the bank.
Steve Jod*, ex-police sergeant, until recently staff writer for a holovid reality show. Steve was on track to a solid, if undistinguished career in the Regina Police until a scuffle in a bust led to him being injured and placed on long term sick leave. A period aimlessly drifting the subsector led to him coming to the notice of Baron Nythur, who offered him a job as a writer for his news and reality holovid channel.
Working on the long running series about the Baron's daughter, along with in depth behind the scenes articles digging up dirt on the Baron's political rivals, made his name as a celebrity in his own right, though of a more underground kind than Sandra.
And now the Baron has provided his daughter with a down payment on a Yacht, but given shares to the pilot and the writer to stick with her... and turning them all loose on Regina.
Heaven help the subsector
*Yes, I got my wish, my son created a journalist.
Wed May 25, 2011 10:21 am
Check the title of the Blog. That's where.
Oh, you want to know WHY the Spinward Marches, and its semi-permanent gaming hub of Regina?
Well, there's the vast amounts of gaming material available set in and around Regina, but mostly it was a realisation that came to me recently...
The Spinward Marches are to the Imperium what Florida is to the US.
And to that end check out this job advert.
For those unaware of Florida’s reputation, it’s arguably the best news state in the country and not just because of the great public records laws. We have all kinds of corruption, violence and scumbaggery. The 9/11 terrorists trained here. Bush read My Pet Goat here. Our elections are colossal clusterfucks. Our new governor once ran a health care company that got hit with a record fine because of rampant Medicare fraud. We have hurricanes, wildfires, tar balls, bedbugs, diseased citrus trees and an entire town overrun by giant roaches (only one of those things is made up). And we have Disney World and beaches, so bring the whole family.
The Spinward Marches has Ine Givar terrorists (whom the Zhodani ambassador is shocked, SHOCKED to hear are still being funded from somewhere), invasions that end before Capital has heard about them, a Duke who, on hearing of the death of the Emperor three months before the populace, declared himself Archduke in the dead Emperor's name (and is a local hero for it), two intermittently land hungry alien races on the doorstep, a few nearby client states of dubious alliance, one of which has a device that blows up stars... oh, and has long lost ancient sites like the average Western 21st century city has Starbucks.
In fact, it's a mix of 21st Century Florida, 3rd Century Britain and late Empire India.
Like all of those, it's where people end up. This is the edge of the dominant culture and "our civilization". It's where disgraced nobles go in hopes of keeping them as far away from the Moot as possible. Cashiered Marine Commanders abound. At the ends of the British Empire, the further reaches of what was becoming the commonwealth became a haven for the civil servants and army officers who couldn't be trusted closer to home. There's a dollop of that in the Marches.
Equally, it's where young guns can make a name for themselves before returning to the core.
As has been repeatedly pointed out, look at where the weirdness gathers in the US: The NorthWest, the SouthEast, and everywhere outside the lower 48.
Because that's as far as you can run without a passport.
So there's that.
When I posted "Spinward Marches are Florida", one of my friends replied "So, are the Sword Worlds Cuba then?"... well, up to a point.I mean, I can't see the Sword Worlders exporting passionate dances to the Imperium, but the Border Worlds and the Spinward subsectors hosting SW refugees? Oh, and shedloads of guns? Certainly.
And it makes the Darrians Puerto Rican. When you're a solar jet, you're a solar jet all the way.*
So there's a Burn Notice mix of international politics and espionage too.
So apart from the usual sources for Traveller, I'm reading up on my Carl Hiaasen. It just makes sense.
Hell, I want someone else to run this campaign just so that I can play the Traveller version of the journalist who got the job from that ad at the top of this post.
(*Yeah I know the Sharks were the Puerto Rican gang. Sue me.)
Fri Mar 25, 2011 11:48 am
.. of why Traveller is a good match for me and the primary offspring.
We were chatting about how tech levels vary throughout space ("The future is here, just not equally distributed", to misquote William Gibson).
He asked "So... what happens if your ship breaks down on a planet with a lower tech level than your ship?"
Firstly a) you can very easily find canonical answers, and the background and systems are robust enough that you can extrapolate a number of options just from the basic books.
b) Yeah son. Now you're thinking like a Traveller player.
And the answer is "It's not good, but may not be disastrous. You may have a long wait for parts, which you probably have to fit yourself. Or you can pay even more to a local who has had the foresight to import the bits. But it's going to cost either way, and the ship won't be earning while you wait. Gosh, looks like it's time to find a local patron..."
Robust settings = more story potential.
Fri Mar 25, 2011 10:21 am
So after many discussions about setting up an RPG campaign for my son, we've finally settled on Traveller.
To kick off the blog, I just wanted to run through a few of the reasons we decided on this amongst my hundreds of RPG rule sets.
1) My familiarity: the deluxe black book set was my first ever RPG purchase, way back when I was, dear lord, a year younger than my son is now. Currently, I have the Traveller Book from the early 80's, the Megratraveller box set from the mid eighties, a fair few bits of (mostly MT) support stuff, and access to a copy of the Mongoose rules.
2) Simplicity of characters; in classic and megatraveller, all the nuances of character are implied. The dynamic of the interplay between UPP, barebones of randomly generated service history and whatever "benefits" you've managed to squeeze out of your ex-employers, explicitly states little but can imply volumes of characterisation. A young retired general with below average social standing. A ships purser who made it out of the merchant marine with a few credits and a snub pistol. A frontier scout with more aptitude in gambling than shipboard skills. All with the bare minimum of details.
Obviously, Gurps Traveller turns this concept on it's head and Mongoose Traveller includes "life events" in the career paths (and multiple careers! GET OFF MY LAWN!), but the core of generating interesting story engine characters out of simple systems is very interesting to me.
Furthermore, being somewhat geographically limited, we don't know if we'll get a regular group available, but my son wants to run a crew campaign. Traveller (classic, MT or Mongoose) with their barebones characters facilitate him running half a dozen characters at once without getting bogged down.
3) Accessibly rich setting. The original Traveller started with an implied setting, which, with early supplements and the Deluxe set, gained the default setting of the fractious borders of an interstellar empire (with hundreds of worlds!), which then expanded into what must be now, what, ten thousand statted worlds, four detailed eras of campaigning spread across a thousand or more years and a backstory reaching back into the dawn of humanity.
And still the traditional point of entry to this is a group of down at heel ex-service folks trying to stay one step ahead of the mortgage payments on their tramp freighter.
(In fact, the disconnect here is, according to some, what led to the "failure" of the rebellion setting for Megatraveller, that GDW didn't manage to make the relevance of the fracture of the Empire big enough for the "average player group". Up to a point, lord copper, but it's always easy to diagnose why something was a "bad idea" when you're at the other end of history).
What I'm trying to say is that there's a LOT of material available, both free on the internet*, cheaply in pdf reprints and still being produced. But also, any given base rule set (with the possible exception of T4) is robust enough to get years of campaigning out of. In this latter regard, the original Traveller was a trailblazer, giving a set of toolboxes (ship design, world generation, trade rules, animal encounter generation...) that just did not exist in earlier games. Monster creation, for example, had very very few guidelines in D&D for decades. The idea of adventures beyond "Dungeon, wilderness between dungeons, occasional town for re-stocking" was barely given credit at the time, and the idea of the world in which the adventures took place having at least a functioning economy? Outrageous!
Marc Miller and the rest of the Traveller crew understood this: a more functional world means more story possibilities.
But I'm getting away from the point (and these lessons have been well learnt 30 years down the line), but leads me to
4) No bad guys. Traveller is Space Opera... without the operatics. There are no cardboard villains. The Zhodani are mind-scanning autarchs... for whom dishonesty is literally unthinkable. The Empire has ruled semi-feudally for over a thousand years... but no-one's starving, and planets are pretty autonomous. The Vargr are raiding... but many of the worlds they're raiding have happy Vargr Imperial populations. The Aslan are pushing into Imperial space and... well, grabbing uninhabited land and the females running the show are trying to work out how to make the local businesses run more efficiently.
No evil overlords. No thinly veiled fear of dusky races masquerading under the name "orc" or "klingon"**.
But plenty of people trying to get what they want, sometimes by any means necessary. Neat.
5) My son wanted to play a Firefly inspired game. The reasons above outweighed a) the difficulty of me learning the Firefly RPG system and b) the problem of running a game in a universe where he already knows the big secrets baked in. And honestly, who didn't see Firefly and think "This is the closest thing we'll ever get to Traveller; the TV series"?
6) My son wants to design his own ships, G-cars, swoop bikes... knock yourself out, kid.
* And I'd be remiss not to mention the Traveller Wikia, which perfectly balances which information to give out as publicly available and is pretty much what I imagined the in game "Library Data" to consist of when I first read about it many, many years ago.
**But yeah, we will talk later about the continued "Welcome to to the Causasian Space Empire" vibe of a lot of the art...