The Challenge

“In games where there are no thieves, everyone’s a thief.” – Tony Prior.

I read through Swords & Wizardry, and I wondered why there is no thief class. I would have put that in the core rules, myself, along with a few other classics – they’re all available on the internet already if you Google for them.

That got me thinking about the lowest-impact way to add one, and I came up with the idea of a list of things the character could do, like Climb, Pick Pockets etc, and a saving throw to see whether he succeeds or not. Then I thought, any character could do those things anyway using the same mechanic.

Next, the chain of thought led me to using the challenge rules from Two Hour Wargames, which appears in almost all their rules. (One of the beauties of rules-light systems is that you can mash them up like this without any trouble.) The character rolls two dice against his Rep; if both results are his Rep or less, he succeeds; if only one is his Rep or less, he can back away without suffering any consequences or get some kind of partial success; if both are over his Rep, he fails and suffers whatever heinous consequences are appropriate.

Statistically, the Reps, equivalent saving throws, and approximate character levels for this approach are as follows; these give very poor chances for low level characters, so maybe it would be better just to treat character level as if it were Rep, especially if the game stays low-level and gritty as most of mine do.

    Saving  Rough Level of...     HD of
Rep Throw   Cleric  Fighter  M-U  Monster
 1    17       -       -      -      1
 2    15       1      ~1      1     2-3
 3    11       5       4      5      6
 4     8       8       7      8      8
 5     4     ~11      11    ~11     11
 6+    1       -       -      -      -

The logical conclusion is that I could use this technique with the reaction charts from Warrior Heroes or Swordplay to run solo games of S&W. Now that, I have to try…

The Arioniad – Scene 8

Imagine a montage sequence at this stage, following Arion, Dmitri and their guide hacking their way through the jungle to the Cyrene Pyramid.

This is a story advancing scene, so we first check if the Big Bad is here. 1d6 vs 1: 5, so no. Daytime or nighttime? 1d6 vs 3: 5, so night has fallen. Difficulty of finding the person? 2d6 and take lower result: 4, 3 so difficulty 3. 2d6 vs Rep 4: 1, 2, so pass 2d6. 2d6 vs Difficulty 3: 5, 6 so pass 0d6. Arion passes 2d6 more than the target, so finds his quarry without incident.

Who is the quarry? I roll randomly on the Jungle list on p.18, then on the Slaver subtable on p. 20, and so determine that Arion has encountered a brace of Rep 4 musketeers.

Arion now makes one opposed task challenge to retrieve the info. Musketeers have the Shooting skill, and so does Arion, so we’ll make that the focus of the challenge. I stray a bit from the rules here, but so what? I imagine a shooting contest with the information Arion needs wagered against some supplies. The Musketeers will have Shooting at their Rep, namely 4; Arion has it at half his Rep, i.e. 2, but adds one to that because it is an opposed task and he is Strong Willed. First round: The musketeers roll 1, 1, 2, 6 and score 3 successes. Arion rolls 5, 3, 6 and scores one.

Round two, and each side now rerolls those dice which succeeded last time. Arion rolls only 1d6, a 4, which is no successes. The musketeers roll 3d6, getting 5, 6, and 2 for one success. For round three, only the musketeers have a die left, so they win with one more success. Consulting the table on p. 26 we see that Arion suffers complications, and loses 1d6, but otherwise he may try again. Both sides recover their dice, and we go again.

Round four, and the musketeers roll 3, 5, 2, 6 for two successes. Arion rolls 4, 4 for no successes. Arion fails to complete the task and may not try again, so he does not get a clue this time.

I now roll on the advance the story table on p. 30: 1d6 + Rep (4) + clues solved (1) = 5 + 5 = 10, so we must find someone and get info from them.

Where to next? 1d6 on the table on p. 31 shows our next destination is still in the Jungle, which makes sense. We just didn’t get to the Pyramid yet. We carry on, on foot. There is no encounter (1d6 vs 1: 3, no encounter.)

I must confess, this scene didn’t really fire my imagination. That may be a problem with LTL going forwards, as reading the rules suggests it will be a common pattern; or it may just be symptomatic of the current long hours at work, which do drain the creative juices somewhat.

Send in the Retroclones

I’ve recently become interested in D&D retroclones, and I was going to write a post comparing, contrasting and extolling their praises – but Rockjaw already has, so I’ll just link to his explanation, as it’s better than mine would have been.

My personal preference is Swords & Wizardry, with a side order of the OSRIC random dungeon generator. As someone said when AD&D came out – yes, Virginia, there were flamewars about RPG editions even then, albeit in the letters columns of magazines – OD&D “stimulates, rather than surrogates, the imagination”.

The Arioniad – Scene 7

I roll on the Advance the Story table (p. 30): 1d6 + 4 (Rep) + 2 (Clues solved), 5 + 4 + 2 = 11, so I need to get more info from someone. I’ve already decided the next scene will be a travel scene, taking Arion, Dmitri and Galen into the jungle on foot. There is a 1 in 6 chance of an encounter, I roll 6 so we don’t get one.

So, not much going on in this scene. I riffle through the character sheets and note that I wrote “Fighting” rather than “Shooting” for one of Arion’s skills, and that his Strong-willed advantage should give him +1d6 in opposed task rolls – I did that wrong last scene. Still, we learn and move on.

Meanwhile, here is a picture of the Attica Subsector as it currently stands. This is a blank Traveller subsector form I found on the internet, edited using Microsoft Paint.

The Attica Subsector - Take 1

The Attica Subsector - Take 1

The Arioniad – Scene 6

This is a story advancing scene and takes place in Cyrene Downport, a Jungle location, using the rules on LTL p. 34.

Is the Big Bad here? 1d6 vs 1: 5, so no.

Time of day? 1d6 vs 3: 2, daytime.

Get info from someone – difficulty: 2d6 and take lower – 1, 6 so 1. Arion rolls 2d6 vs 4 (Rep): 1, 3 = pass 2d6. Quarry rolls 2d6 vs 1 (Difficulty): 4, 5 so passes 0d6. Arion has passed 2d6 more than the Quarry, so finds him without incident and may attempt to retrieve info.

There’s no traffic control to speak of, so the Dolphin parks at random on a large flat piece of rock. Cyrene Downport appears to consist of a ramshackle hut, partly covered in vines, on a slapdash concrete base. Dmitri and Arion descend and make for the hut. A figure in overalls emerges, wiping his hands on a rag.

“Morning,” he says. “Name’s Galen. What can I do for you?”

This leads to an Opposed Challenge Roll (p. 24). Arion has no interpersonal skills, which is proving more of a hindrance than I expected; he can either use a default skill level of 1, or ask Dmitri to take over, as Dmitri has Interrogate 4. What kind of person is the guide? I consult the People Lists on p. 18 and see there is an entry for Guides, who count as Adventurers and have the Tracking skill. OK, so he won’t have any interpersonal skills either. I’ll experiment by having Arion try to persuade the Guide to help. I note the Guide is under the White Explorers table on p. 20, and has Rep 5 and Star Power 2, should those become important.

Both sides now roll 1d6 vs 4 (as explained on p. 25), as they have the default skill level of 1. Arion rolls a 5 and fails; the guide rolls a 4 and fails.

“Arion,” says Arion, pointing at himself. He jerks a thumb at his companion, but before he can open his mouth, Dmitri says “I’m Percival.” Arion looks at him for a moment, but then decides to press on. “We’re looking for a guide to the Cyrene Pyramid. You know where we can find one?”

“Oho,” says Galen. “You want to see the Pyramid, eh? Well, I might know somebody, if the price is right.”

“And what sort of price would be the right price?”

“Five hundred Credits.”

“You get a lot of visitors?” asks Arion, who is not very good at this sort of thing. Galen snorts and gestures around the empty bedrock landing field. “What do you think? You going to pay, or what?”

Since both scored zero successes, the table on p. 26 shows the task fails but Arion can try again. Arion rolls a 5 and fails; the guide rolls a 1 and succeeds. Arion fails and suffers complications, but may try again; however, he will now always fail. Since I can’t see any way to break the deadlock, Dmitri enters the fray and Interrogates the Quarry; since he only has one skill, I decide he has it at his full Rep. Dmitri rolls 1, 4, 3, 2 and scores 3 successes; the Quarry rolls 5 and fails. Dmitri succeeds in getting the next clue.

Dmitri fishes some bills out of his pocket, and says: “Two hundred up front, three hundred when we get back. Also; an extra hundred if you can tell us something useful about anyone else who’s been to the Pyramid in the last few months.”

Galen pockets the bills. “You get your hiking gear on and meet me back here in a couple of hours.”

“You’re the guide?” asks Arion. Galen spits.

“Yeah, I’m the guide. And the traffic controller. And the mechanic. And the janitor. How many people you think this starport can support, eh?”

“About those visitors,” says Dmitri.

“Well, there was this one guy came through here about six weeks ago. Gimirri ear-rings, but he didn’t look Gimirri; too pale for them. And he had a cat with him; took it everywhere, even into the jungle. You could see the cat hated that…”

The obvious next step is to stay on Cyrene and visit the Pyramid, so I bypass the location table for the next travel scene and decide this is one of slogging through the jungle on foot. I’ll check for events when I run the scene.

Reflections: Classic Traveller skills and skill levels would work very well as replacements for the LTL skills. Maybe I will switch to using those at some point, that would mean I could use CT characters pretty much as they are. Or, I could stick with my current favourite, Savage Worlds, and use some ruling like success = pass 1d6, raise = pass 2d6, with Rep based on half the die sized for the relevant trait – e.g. Rep 5 = d10. Or, I could convert my face to face and PBEM campaigns to the THW reaction system. For further thought.

Meanwhile, I’ve decided to allocate location types by starport. Class A starports will be Metropolitan areas, B Civilised, C or D Exotic, E Jungle, X Lost Worlds. That might give me too many Exotic locations, we’ll see. Next up, another transport scene; it’s been a long time since you saw a picture here, so I’ll share the starmap as it currently stands in that post.

The Arioniad – Scene 5

I’ve decided to use the travel scenes to build background, with the cunning plan of only working out planets as they become necessary; the subsector map will thus be a work in progress, like the timeline. This goes to the overall scheme of gaming on the run, namely using free time for playing as much as possible, and preparation only when essential.

Having used the map of St Paul’s journeys to locate planets on a subsector map, and decided to use his journeys on that map as the trade routes, I now move on to individual worlds. I could work out a complex algorithm for generating world profiles from real-world data, but given I’m only working on one planet at a time, what I’m actually doing is reading entries for the present-day equivalent of that area in the CIA World Factbook and on Wikipedia, and just making stuff up. Cyrene is the next port of call, and by this method I determine its profile to be 0204-E453366-6 Ni G Na.

Dmitri and Arion are sitting in the bridge of the Dolphin, watching the jump clock count down to the point where they emerge back into realspace. It’s a big number, and ticking away slowly.

“I get why we went back from Delphi to Tainaron, and why you rammed a gas giant for fuel instead of heading insystem and landing,” says Dmitri, “but you still haven’t told me anything about Cyrene.”

“Not much to tell,” Arion replies. “About four years ago there was a famine on Thera, and they dealt with it by exporting a few thousand of their surplus population to Cyrene.”

“Did that work?”

“Depends what you mean by work. Did it have any impact on the famine, or the cause of the famine? No. Did it make it look like the government was decisive and in control? Absolutely. Did they rid themselves of a faction they didn’t want causing trouble at home? Oh yes.” Arion looks at Dmitri askance. “I would’ve expected a spy to know about that sort of thing.” Dmitri dismisses this comment with a wave. Arion summons a standard display of the world to the inside of the main viewscreen, currently opaque to shield their eyes and minds from the insanity of jumpspace.

“So, let me translate those numbers for you: The starport is a flat piece of bedrock with a hut on it. The planet is about 6,500 km across, atmosphere thin but breathable, 30% water – pretty dry by most people’s standards – and the population is still only a few thousand. Technically, the colonial governor is answerable to Thera, but to be honest Thera doesn’t much care what he does, and if they did, they’re a couple of weeks away in jumpspace and don’t have any power to project. Hunting weapons are legal, so I can pack the knife and gun, but military ones aren’t, in case you managed to sneak something aboard. Tech level 6 if that means anything to you, not that it matters because they don’t have the population to support a manufacturing base.”

“Sounds like a real dump. Why would Schrodinger be interested?” For answer, Arion zooms in on an area near the starport.

“Most of the water and vegetation on the planet is concentrated around the starport, or rather, the starport was built near where the water is. And just outside the starport is this…” The view continues expanding until a vine-covered stepped pyramid appears.

“The Cyrene Pyramid. Nobody knows who built it, or why; people argue a lot about when. My guess is that Schrodinger wants something inside it. And I also think he would have hired a local guide to take him there. We find the guide, we find out what he’s up to.”

Reflections: Working out the background is fun, but it’s taking up a lot of time. Once I get to the end of the current adventure I’ll review whether to shift Arion into a pre-generated subsector so I have more playing time – all it would need is a misjump.

The Arioniad – Scene 4

Arriving at Delphi, Arion and Dmitri need to get information from someone. I roll to check if the Big Bad is here: 1d6 vs: 3, so no. I roll for the time of day: 1, daytime. I roll 2d6 for the difficulty level of finding the quarry and get 5, 5. As I take the lower one, this is 5, which is reduced by one because Delphi is an Exotic location. I now roll 2d6 vs 4 (Star’s Rep): 1, 2 and pass 2d6, which means we find the quarry without incident.

Interior, day: The bridge of the Dolphin. Arion flips off a variety of overhead switches and the hum of the drives fades. Outside, we see a starport with little in the way of traffic, but what there is uses antigrav propulsion rather than wheels or tracks. The sun is shining, and all seems well with Delphi.

“Here we are,” says Arion. “Delphi Downport. So who is this guy you know here, and how exactly is he going to help?”

LTL doesn’t seem to have a means of defining the quarry, so I decide to use the CT Patron Encounter table again: 4, 6 gives me an √©migr√©. I roll for his reaction on the CT reaction table and get 7, non-committal. I decide there is a 50% chance the quarry is male, which it turns out he is, and use the random name selector in MetaCreator (it’s right there on my desktop, so why not) to determine that he is called Timon. None of this has no game impact but does stimulate my imagination for the writeup.

Voiceover from Dmitri as the pair make their way through a narrow alleyway towards a staircase leading to an upper-floor apartment…

“His name is Timon, at least these days. I don’t know what it was before. I recognised the earrings on the muscle on Tainaron; they’re a Gimirri warrior clan. Timon had a falling out with the Gimirri leadership at the start of the war and moved here; maybe he can help.”

The pair knock on a door, and Timon opens it cautiously. He tries to slam it closed when he sees who is outside, but Dmitri is too fast for him and barges inside. Arion follows.

“What do you want?” Timon asks, with no great enthusiasm. “If the Gimirri find out I’ve been talking to you they’ll cut my throat. My continued survival depends on not drawing attention to myself.”

“Then you’ll want us gone quickly and quietly,” says Dmitri. “Listen: I was on Tainaron a week ago, and a pair of Gimirri warriors tried to kill me. I’m wondering why they might want to do that, and I think you can tell me.”

“You remember the last time you crossed swords with the Gimirri?”

“Schrodinger? How is he involved?”

“I hear things – a piece here, a piece there. I don’t have much to do these days but put the pieces together and sell the completed picture to people like you.” Wordlessly, Dmitri takes out his wallet, and starts counting high-denomination Credit bills into Timon’s hand. Timon beckons for more. Dmitri grasps him gently by the throat. “Okay, okay. We’ll call that a down payment.”

“We’ll call that done, or I’ll take it back and call the local enforcers.” Timon sighs.

“All right. You know Schrodinger is… ambitious. As an outsider, he’ll need something to give him leverage with the Council. He must think you know something. If he’s trying to kill you, it must be something he doesn’t want anyone else to know. What could that be?”

“I haven’t a clue. What else can you tell me?”

“How many more Credits have you got?”

“None. But my friend here has a large knife and a pistol for when that isn’t sufficiently persuasive.” Arion does his best to look tough. Timon gives under the implied threat.

“Schrodinger chartered a Free Trader on Tainaron last month. He’s fitting it with inflatable fuel tanks. I don’t know how or why.”

Now I roll to solve the clue. Again I first roll 2d6 for the difficulty factor: 3, 4 – taking the lower one gives a 3. The Star now rolls as many dice as his Rep – 4d6, getting 4, 4, 4, 6 and passing 0d6. The quarry rolls as many dice as the difficulty – 3d6, getting 4, 4, 5 and passing 0d6. Since we have the same number of successes, Arion rolls 1d6 vs 2 (his Star Power): 2, a success, so the clue is solved.

I now roll on the Advancing the Story Table: 1d6 + Rep (4) + number of clues solved (1) and get 6 + 4 + 1 = 11. I must get more information from another person. This will mean a travel scene to get to the next clue. A die roll of 6 and a starting location type of Exotic means I am headed for a jungle, desert, or icesheet of some kind – let’s go with jungle, I like the idea of a ruined Mayan-style pyramid in a jungle somewhere. How will we get there? A roll of 6 on the relevant table gives Tramp Steamer, and I have already classed the Dolphin as a Tramp Steamer for rules purposes, so let’s go with that. Is there an encounter en route? 1d6 vs 1: A 3, so no. And off we go to the next scene.

Arion chimes in.

“He must be planning to make an extended jump.” His eyes close for a moment as he visualises the starmap. “He wouldn’t need to charter a ship for most places, there are regular routes. It has to be more than one parsec away or he wouldn’t need the extra fuel tankage. He must be going to Cyrene. We’re faster than him in Jumpspace, if we hurry we can beat him to it.”

“Pleasure doing business with you,” says Timon. But Arion and Dmitri have already left.

Total elapsed time, including chewing the pencil and writing dialogue around the dice results, about an hour. Reflections: The theme of the game has shifted away from “Where will Arion get the money to pay his maintenance bills?” towards “What is the Eye of the Cat, and where is it?” I’m happy with that, actually, as resource management is the main component of my day job, and a game focussed on it wouldn’t be relaxing. Also, I need to finish the subsector map, as it is starting to play a major role in events.