Posts Tagged ‘Traveller’

Arion, 014-3401: Dromedary

Posted: 11 November 2017 in Dark Nebula
Tags: , ,

“How canst thou say, I am not polluted, I have not gone after Baalim? see thy way in the valley, know what thou hast done; thou art a swift dromedary traversing her ways.” – King James Bible, Jeremiah 2:23

Aboard the Dromedary.

I roll for in-game reactions (Solo pp. 19-20) and an onboard event (Solo, p. 56): There’s only one active PC yet – Arion – who rolls a 6 and therefore fails to avoid a bad reaction; a further roll of 4 shows that a choice is made and he doesn’t like it. The onboard event is 43 – a power failure.

The Captain’s day cabin is spacious, by shipboard standards, and Captain Anderson sits at a small desk, interviewing Arion, who is dressed in an ill-fitting pair of Combine overalls and perched awkwardly on a folding chair. The scene is dimly lit by emergency lights, and the air conditioning is off.

“Our sensors confirm there’s wreckage from an Archive Surveyor, and the origin of your trajectory matches where it would have been when you left. So your story checks out. But tell me, why would pirates blow your ship up? First, they’re breaking no laws by being here; second, there’s no-one to enforce them if they were; third, a ship with an Archive transponder has nothing worth stealing – no offence – and fourth, the Archive is too powerful to upset for no reason.”

“None taken. I saw too much. I saw who they were meeting out here. Hierate scouts.”

“You sure?”

“Hraye III class with a fuel slab, squawking a clan recognition code. Unmistakable.”

“Pfft. Half the pirates out here are from the Hierate.”

“True, but they don’t squawk clan codes. And honour dictates that anyone using those codes be a member of the right clan, and vice versa. The code tells you who it was. No room for error.”

“Hmm.”

“Hmm indeed. So Captain, thank you for picking me up, but I need to impose on you further – I need to report back to Mizah right away.”

“Surveyor, the law is clear. I grant you’re a distressed spacefarer, and the Archive is good for your transport costs. But I can’t turn 600 tons of ship around and break my Bond to get you home three weeks sooner. Do you have any idea how much that would cost?”

“Don’t you see how important this is? The Hierate and Confed have been rattling sabres at each other for years, this could be the start of outright war – and if the Hierate barrels through here fangs out and hair on fire, they’re going to hit Mizah first.”

“But they might not.”

“But…” Before Arion can argue any more, Anderson interrupts, the steel any trader captain must have at his core being displayed for the first time.

“But me no buts, Surveyor. The law says I drop you at the next port of call and submit an invoice the next time I’m at an Archive facility. I have no obligation to deadhead you halfway across the sector first, and no obligation to reroute my ship for your convenience. Unless you have written authority from the Great Archive to pay the penalty clauses for breaking my Bond, which I know you do not because we searched you for contraband and weapons when we brought you aboard.”

The lights flicker back on and the air conditioning starts up again. “Finally!” Anderson mutters, then continues in a louder voice.

“Now that power has been restored, we can jump. And we will. You can either keep out of the way, or help with running the ship, but any more complaints about the route and you’ll find yourself in cryosleep in a low berth. Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal, Captain.” Arion leaves the office. He is seething inside, but if he’s put into cryosleep, who knows where – or when – he’ll wake up?

GM NOTES

This story thread came about as I thought it was time we found out how Arion met Anderson, how the pirates were involved, and why Arion started working for him. I have no idea what happened, but the dice will tell us soon enough.

For this campaign, I’m determined that each post should have part of the story in it, so I’ll keep the commentary on rules and setting design in the GM Notes section, rather than in separate posts as I’ve done in the past. This time, as Arion is in jumpspace, let’s look at FTL travel, and the implications for the rules and the campaign. I expect that will make more sense if we have the map in front of us, so here it is.

The Dark Nebula boardgame makes several assumptions about hyperspace jumps. First, you can only move along the routes on the map (at least until you uncover the secrets of the Nebula itself). Second, you can’t leave a tertiary system unless there is a tanker present to refuel you with hydrogen harvested from the star. Third, in a two-year turn you can go anywhere on the map, stopping only for enemy units, tertiary systems without a tanker, or uncharted jump routes; since there are about 80 routes on the map and each side has three movement phases per turn, the theoretical minimum jump time is roughly three days, and is probably more than that. Finally, you can’t bypass any star system on your route (otherwise the tactic of blocking fleets with a sacrificial scoutship wouldn’t work).

Savage Worlds itself is silent on the topic, but the Sci Fi Companion says that a ship can jump to any system regardless of distance, potentially in zero time if it’s prepared to expend enough fuel, and The Last Parsec adds the idea that the jump is faster and less risky if the system has a hyperspace beacon. To match Dark Nebula I could say that astrogation beacons communicate with each other faster-than-light (explaining how each player in the boardgame has perfect knowledge of the enemy’s movements), that beacons only allow travel along specific routes; and that tertiary systems have no beacons. In that case, tanker units would be a kind of self-propelled beacon.

Traveller limits ship movement by the amount of fuel carried and the rating of the jump drive installed, rather than by specific jump routes; refuelling at a planet is still needed, but you can bypass systems as long as you have the fuel and drive rating to do it. Aligning Traveller with the Dark Nebula is straightforward; I usually rationalise the jump routes by saying that the map is a 2-D representation of 3-D space, and systems that appear to be next to each other may be too far apart vertically to allow a jump. Saying that the boardgame’s ships have jump-3 gives a close enough match for strategic mobility – Bors, Daanarni and Taida Na remain impassable without some means of refuelling, and while you shouldn’t be able to access Ria, Osa or Karpos I can live with that – I want Arion to visit Ria and Karpos. As the map is drawn, J-1 pretty much limits you to Mizah and its neighbours, J-2 is good for exploring either subsector but won’t get you from one to the other, J-3 lets you travel between subsectors, and J-4 lets you leave the map. That progression has a certain elegance to it, don’t you think?

(If running multiple campaigns a generation or more apart on the timeline, I could argue that the drives in the various games are the same kind of hyperspace motor at different technology levels; first the DN drive, then the Traveller one, and finally the SW version. But ain’t nobody got time for dat.)

TL, DR: Traveller jump drive wins. There’s a good campaign to be played using the official Savage Worlds hyperdrive, but it’s not this one. Maybe next time.

Advertisements

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

1514 Daanarni E000000-0 Ni.

Daanarni is blindingly bright; a blue-white supergiant. You can read by it in the next star system but one, that’s how bright it is. So look away into the blackness, and after your eyes or your screen filters have adjusted, you may be able to make out a small, bright dot. Zoom in on that, and keep zooming, and eventually you’ll see a human figure in a deep space pressure suit, solar panels cranked out of the backpack like wings. It was the light glancing off those that caught your eye. It doesn’t look like he’s going to run out of power any time soon, whatever else he’s short of.

One of the panels reels in, just a little, and after a while extends back out again. You realise he’s using the radiation pressure and the solar wind to tack across the system, quite possibly just to keep his mind off wondering how long he’s got left before the air and water recyclers break down or he starves to death. Or whether he could open the faceplate just a crack, just long enough to scratch that God-damned ITCH on his nose.

You’re just starting to get bored with watching his glacial progress when the familiar disk-and-slab shape of a subsidised liner winks into existence, not too far away from him and on an intercept course, or nearly so. Its turrets swivel to align lasers on him, the ship’s computer having registered him as a potential threat; after a few seconds it picks up the suit’s transponder and moves the ship itself elegantly aside instead. You scan through the appropriate radio frequencies, and shortly pick up traffic between suit and ship.

“…I say again, this is Surveyor Arion Metaxas of the GAS Bozcaada out of Mizah. Well, technically I suppose it’s not so much a ship, more an expanding ball of gas fluorescing in the far ultraviolet, but… Sorry, I’ve been out here quite a while. Permission to come aboard? I’ll be good, I promise, and the Archive would be ever so grateful, I’m sure. I certainly will. Oh, and there were some pirates in the system a while ago, you might want to keep an eye out for those.”

“Hang tight, Surveyor, this is the Combine liner Dromedary, Captain Anderson commanding. Give us a few minutes and we’ll reel you in.”

At length, a hatch opens in the Dromedary and a pair of suited figures appears. They tether themselves to the ship, then jet across to intercept Arion on manoeuvring thrusters while he reels in the solar panels. Catching him easily, they escort him back to the ship, and all three disappear inside.

To be continued…

-o0o-

Fade up theme music (Joe Satriani: The Traveler). Roll credits…

DARK NEBULA SEASON 1: THE TRAVELLER

Starring Andy Slack as Arion Metaxas

Also starring…

  • Karen Gillan as Coriander
  • Vin Diesel as Dmitri
  • John Lithgow as Perry Anderson

Produced and directed by Andy Slack

Written by a bunch of dice and large quantities of single malt.

Music by Joe Satriani.

Based on the boardgame by GDW, Solo by Zozer Games, and Savage Worlds by Pinnacle Entertainment.

With additional material from Classic Traveller by GDW and Stars Without Number by Sine Nomine Publications.

Review: Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition

Posted: 30 September 2017 in Reviews
Tags:

“This is my family. I found it all on my own. It’s little, and broken, but still good. Yeah – still good.” – Lilo and Stitch.

In a Nutshell: Second edition of Mongoose Traveller, 240 page hardback. Still channelling Classic Traveller. Some bits you might expect are missing, but it’s still good. £24 on Amazon, RPGNow PDF version a tiny bit cheaper.

CONTENTS

Introduction (5 pages): There’s not much about what a roleplaying game is; that section is no longer necessary, because your mom plays RPGs on her tablet now. It does touch on the default setting – the Third Imperium – and campaign types: Free traders, mercs, explorers, travellers (a little bit of all the others). It plugs other books in the line and explains game conventions. It lists tech levels. It expands on the usual Rule Zero (“what the GM says trumps what the rulebook says”) by reminding GMs that they can overrule random results (such as random encounters) if this will improve the story.

Traveller Creation (49 pages): It’s all about the player characters; you’d expect that in a roleplaying game. The basic lifepath sequences will be familiar to anyone who has played Classic Traveller, MegaTraveller or Mongoose Traveller first edition; generate six characteristics, join a career (there are 12, plus the chance to go to jail, and an event that can switch you onto the psionic track), work around a cycle of survival, commission/promotion (sorry, advancement), re-enlistment until you have what you want or get invalided out, roll for benefits and so on. Unlike early versions of the game, you also generate mishaps and events as you go; these may result in acquiring NPC friends or foes, or (if you can link them to other PCs) extra skills; the assumption is that the group generate characters together, allowing for these links and also for skills package selection – the group as a whole selects one skills package suitable for the chosen campaign type, and individual characters select skills from it in turn, ensuring that between them, the PCs have suitable skills for the campaign.

Three playable races are included: Humans (the default), aslan (samurai cat people), and vargr (piratical canines). This chapter also includes the rules for character advancement; study a skill for a set number of weeks, make a characteristic check, increase your skill level if you succeed.

Skills and Tasks (14 pages): Tasks are basically skill checks; roll 2d6, and skill level and characteristice modifier, meet or beat a target number to succeed. Boons and banes look new to me; like D&D advantage and disadvantage, these mean you roll an extra die and take either the best two (boon) or the worst two (bane) – they are applied for circumstances such as dim lighting or unusually good tools. Sometimes how much you succeed or fail by matters, sometimes it doesn’t.

There are about 40 skills, many of which have multiple specialities. If the skill has at least two possible specialities, level 0 in the main skill gives you level-0 in all specialities, and you advance them separately after that. Another way to look at this is that expertise in some skills gives you basic knowledge in a group of closely related skills. This is a viable but somewhat sneaky way of getting another 70-80 skills into character generation – but at least you avoid the untrained penalties for a lot of them.

Combat (6 pages): This can be relatively short because it’s resolved as a series of tasks. I am delighted to see that dynamic initiative has been disposed of, since that was the single biggest thing stopping me playing Mongoose Traveller or the Cepheus Engine, but you still need to track the number of dodges/parries each PC or NPC makes, as that is a direct modifier on all their rolls for that round. Tactics – which I’m used to thinking of as a roving modifier – now boosts allied initiative. The combat round is the usual initiative, move, act, roll to hit, roll for damage; if you have ever played Traveller, you’ll be right at home. Damage directly reduces physical characteristics; unlike Classic Traveller, you need two of those reduced to zero to knock someone out, but the third zeroed characteristic kills them.

Encounters and Dangers (15 pages): The usual suspects here; disease, poison, falling off things, radiation, suffocation, hostile environments. Then come the healing rules, followed by encounters, rules for creating animals (and half a dozen examples), random person and patron encounters, missions, and so forth. The animal generation rules are the simplest I’ve seen in any edition of Traveller, but they look like they would do the job. The random encounter and mission tables are, I think, my favourite part of the book – very well done.

Equipment (39 pages): Tons of equipment, much of it weapons and armour; you’d expect that in a science fiction RPG. The publishers have tried to do this as a sort of combination magazine and catalogue; I would prefer something more straightforward, but at least it gives you a picture of everything. Armour is much as it has always been, with the exception of Battle Dress, which now has lots of modular add-ons. Next come augments – cybernetic implants, mostly focused on improving characteristics. Then we get sections on communications, computers and software, medical gear and drugs, sensors, survival gear; melee and ranged weapons, grenades, explosives, heavy weapons, weapon options. Again, if you’re played Traveller before, you will recognise them all, and if you’re a grognard like me, you’ll think of the weapons in particular as Book 1 plus Book 4 personal and squad support weapons.

Vehicles (12 pages): Vehicular combat rules, optional extras, and half a dozen example vehicles. No design sequence – I expect that will come in a later book. The rules are an extension of personal combat, adding critical hit tables but otherwise broadly similar.

Spacecraft Operations (12 pages): How your ship is operated, how much that costs, what you might meet in space, typical travel times, that kind of thing.

Space Combat (10 pages): This has longer combat rounds and a different turn sequence than personal or vehicle combat, but it is still resolved using initiative, skills and tasks. This chapter limits itself to the standard turret weapons (lasers, missiles, sandcasters) and does not introduce military-grade weapons such as particle accelerators and meson guns – I assume they follow in a later book. The authors have tried hard to give all the bridge crew a useful role in combat; without playing it, my gut feeling is that they’ve expanded the fun roles from pilot and gunner to include engineer, but I’m not sure that sensor ops or marines will enjoy space combat much. Passengers, sitting patiently in their staterooms, can only wait for it to be over.

Interestingly, if spacecraft close to within 10 km of each other, they shift into a dogfight mode, effectively a modified form of personal combat. This intrigues me, and I don’t remember it from any previous version of Traveller, but I’m not sure I’ve understood it properly – an example would be useful.

Closer still, within a thousand metres, and boarding actions can occur. There’s an abstract system for this, and the option to shift into personal combat on deck plans depending on the outcome of the abstract dice rolls.

Common Spacecraft (32 pages): Here we find stats and deck plans for the sort of ships Travellers might encounter, or hope to acquire; all the usual suspects – for grognards, types A, A2, C, J, K, L, M, R, S, T, Y, and the small craft that have been standard since 1981. The deck plans are an isometric view, which I dislike because I find the more traditional top-down plans easier to read and to use; however, they are more legible than the ones in first edition, and I approve of that.

Psionics (10 pages): The expected five psionic talents; telepathy, clairvoyance, telekinesis, awareness, teleportation. In line with the skill and task system elsewhere, each of these is a skill, and the various powers are tasks with variable difficulties – life detection is an easy task (4+ to succeed), while psionic assault is formidable (14+). There are drugs to enhance or suppress your powers, psionic shielding to protect you from psions, and a teleport suit which rapidly warms or cools you to reduce damage from the sudden changes in temperature caused by vertical teleportation. Hidden away at the back of the chapter is the 14th career, psion, which you can only access if you roll a suitable event in your normal career.

Trade (8 pages): While Starship Operations and Space Combat focus on what it costs to run a ship, this section is about how ships make money, by transporting freight or passengers, and perhaps indulging in speculative trading – buying goods on a planet where they are cheap, and selling them where they are expensive. It has a suggestion I haven’t tried in all the years I’ve run Traveller, namely to give the players the Trade chapter and a subsector map, and let them get on with it while the GM prepares for the next scene. That bears thinking about.

World and Universe Creation (16 pages): This hasn’t changed a lot since 1977, but then it does the job and does it well, so there’s no need for change. Roll to see which of the 80 hexes in a subsector have worlds present, roll for each world’s starport type, size, atmosphere, hydrographics, population, government, law level, tech level, and other features such as bases; some of these affect others. In this edition, there are rules for factions within a government, and what the penalties are for breaching the law level. As usual, there are travel codes (how safe is it) and trade codes (dependent on the world stats, and influencing the price of goods there).

The Sindal Subsector (10 pages): It’s a Traveller subsector, following the Zhodani Base’s advice to have lots of lawless backwater worlds sandwiched between two large offmap powers (the Third Imperium and the Aslan). I do like the extra page showing where it is in the sector (Trojan Reach, immediately rimward of the Spinward Marches), Known Space, and Milky Way Galaxy – nice touch, and good use of colour. Each of the 18 worlds has stats, a brief description, an a patron with a mission for the Travellers.

And that’s it. No ship or vehicle design rules, no character sheet, no blank subsector map, no index. None of those are things I use much anyway, so I’m cool with that.

FORMAT

Two column black text on patterned grey background, full colour pictures every few pages, glossy paper. From a visual perspective alone, this is a big improvement on the first edition. It remains to be seen whether Mongoose has figured out how to do PDF files yet, I am reluctant to buy the PDF rulebook to find out after the issues I had with earlier products, most notably the quickstart rules.

The book doesn’t use the so-called perfect binding method (far from perfect if you ask me), but I’m not sure how well the stitching would hold up under heavy use.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

I would like a point-buy option for character creation. I didn’t notice one as I read through, but maybe I missed it.

If space encounters in bold cannot be ignored, it would be useful if some of them were in bold text (pages 145-146).

Ship deck plans in a more traditional format please, isometric ones don’t appeal to me.

CONCLUSIONS

You could pick this up, generate characters, and start playing in the Sindal subsector right away, whereas with previous editions you’d have to have either bought or generated a subsector as well.

The rules system is an improvement on the first edition, especially the removal of dynamic initiative (huzzah!). I suspect that there is some skills bloat compared to Classic Traveller, as each PC is going to have 3-4 extra skills from connections and the group’s package; but to an extent this is mandated by the 120+ skills and specialisations available.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5. It’s good, but I’m a Savage now. Maybe someday I’ll come back to Traveller proper, and if so, I could do a lot worse than this. But not today.

Tuco at the Gun Shop

Posted: 27 September 2017 in Rules
Tags: ,

 

This is how I like to think of myself when mashing up games.

The next mashup is for a solitaire campaign using Savage Worlds, Solo, and the Dark Nebula. Solo assumes Cepheus Engine or some other flavour of Traveller in the background, so it’s helpful to have some conversion guidelines for Savage Worlds. This is something I’ve thought about quite a bit over the years, so it’s easy to document.

Classic Traveller’s Little Black Books split the rules into Characters and Combat, Starships, and Worlds and Adventures. Let’s take each in turn.

Characters and Combat

Essentially, I’m replacing this book entirely with Savage Worlds.

Equivalent attribute and skill names are easy to see. For attributes, call the SW die type the CT attribute level (Agility d8 = Dexterity 8, for example); for skills, CT expertise 0 (or 1/2 if you’re really old school) is d4, with the die type increasing one step per extra skill level – so expertise level 4 translates to skill d12.

CT doesn’t really have Edges or Hindrances, and I’m starting in SW so I don’t need to worry about conversion; but if it were something I needed, I would treat TAS membership as a trapping of Rich, and weapon benefits as Trademark Weapon (implying the Born a Hero setting rule is in force). Ship ownership could be treated as any one of Poverty, Rich, Noble or Filthy Rich, depending on the rest of the PC’s stats and background – but in actual play I would just give the party a ship and get on with it.

With regards to gear and money, I don’t want to spend time tracking either, because I spend far too much of my life doing that at work already; so the solitaire PCs have whatever I think is reasonable, and their standard of living depends on their financial Edges and Hindrances – for example, Subsistence level upkeep if you have the Poverty Hindrance, or High Living if you have the Rich or Noble Edges.

Go on, live dangerously. Tell the players “Pick a figure; you’ve got whatever the figure has.”

Starships

Savage Worlds has faster and simpler ship combat rules than Classic Traveller, but to use it, we do have to rate CT ships in SW terms. Top Speed is not relevant for spacecraft; but we can use the ship’s Manoeuvre drive rating as its Climb. Ship’s Toughness can use the rules on page 66 of SWDEE; 100-200 ton craft have Toughness 19-22 (let’s say 20 and 22 respectively), adding 3-5 per extra 100 tons (let’s say +4). Weapons can be covered by the Hellfire missile and the 100MW laser (pp. 64-65). Sandcasters can be treated as a kind of AMCM (p. 66) which affects lasers rather than missiles. I’m not going to bother with the differences between pulse and beam lasers – I mean, have you ever seen anyone actually use a pulse laser in play? I thought not.

CT rules for ship construction and drugs will do fine as they stand; interstellar trade could be handled as a skill check using the conversions above, although I’ll probably use Edges and Hindrances rather than tracking spending; and training is superceded by the SW experience rules. Although I rarely given Arion & Co. any experience anyway; it’s not about the levelling up, it’s about the story.

Worlds and Adventures

Savage Worlds only overlaps with this in the Bestiary, and Solo effectively replaces the Adventures components, leaving the Worlds elements in play as they stand. I don’t feel the need for conversion guidelines here; the only things that might need them are animal encounters, and I haven’t used those since the late 1970s anyway; but I might add some world tags from Stars Without Number, because they’re the best bit.

Case closed, I think; anything else I will handle on the fly as and when necessary.

Gordon is sitting in a room with late 1990s decor, watching the TV – which displays Arion’s current activities – and eating popcorn. Another figure suddenly materialises.

“Oh hi, Alex,” says Gordon. “You’re female today, I see; it suits you. Popcorn?”

“Thanks. How are you getting on with the latest Arion fork?” Alex dips a hand into the offered popcorn bucket and scoops up a fistful, then begins to eat, slowly.

“To be honest, I don’t think this one’s going anywhere,” Gordon says. “It’s in phase one – you know, before the ‘turtles all the way down‘ speech – so I have a sub-partial running things. I just drop in occasionally to check up on it.”

“How many have you got active in phase two?”

“One hundred and nineteen. About a third of them choose to remember that they’re simulations, and think they’re in the real world; the rest have no idea what’s going on. I haven’t figured out how they make that choice yet. Although I have noticed something interesting; whatever the initial conditions for the run, if Coriander’s in the simulation at all, Arion always finds her eventually. It’s quite romantic, really.”

“Any of them made it to phase three yet?”

“What, this reality? No, not yet. I’m waiting for one of the ones in phase two to figure out he’s still in a simulation.”

“How long do you let them run?”

“I give them ten good years in their timeline. The more complex runs take almost a millisecond.”

“Wow. I wouldn’t have the patience for that. Even as a partial rather than a full instantiation.”

“Yeah, well, it keeps me occupied. And you’d be surprised how popular he is; I run the more exciting ones on Pay Per View to fund the project. Here, let me show you one of those…” The channel changes, and we see a new Arion, floating in deep space in an environment suit, apparently alone.

“But what about you?” Gordon continues. “Getting anywhere with the timing channel attack?”

“Nothing conclusive yet, but I’m pretty certain we’re in a simulation as well. Here, let me show you…”

When I started the Arioniad in 2009, it was purely an experiment; the idea was to try out new rules and ideas in solitaire play before unleashing them on my players, and also keep my hand in with Savage Worlds at a time when sessions were months apart. Since then, Arion has become one of my favourite characters ever; solo play has become a major part of the blog, completely separate from what happens in group campaigns; and I’ve found better ways of experimenting than reboots and retcons within an existing campaign, notably the Tryouts category.

28 Months Later and Talomir Nights have worked better as campaigns than the Arioniad. I think this is because they stick to one setting and (largely) one rulebook, exploring new possibilities by introducing new characters and storylines; they avoid retcons and reboots; and blog posts use in-game dates rather than episode numbers.

If I were starting the Arioniad today, it would be a very different campaign; one that didn’t laugh in the face of series continuity, one that didn’t hop gleefully from rulebook to rulebook, one that didn’t reboot more or less at random. Maybe I enjoy it so much because of those quirks, rather than in spite of them; certainly I was very pleased with myself when I worked out an in-game reason for it – ‘turtles all the way down‘.

So far, I’ve tried various combinations of Savage Worlds, Classic Traveller, Mythic, 5150 (both New Beginnings and Fringe Space), Larger Than Life, and Solo in at least four different settings – 5150, and three homebrew. There are several others I could try, but ain’t nobody got time for dat. Moving forward, I need to choose an RPG, a solitaire game engine, and a setting, and stick to them for a while. Note that Fringe Space is all three, while Solo and Mythic are each only one leg of the tripod.

  • Solitaire Engine: Solo wins here; playing at a higher level of abstraction gives it a real edge in terms of speed, simplicity, and ability to ensure specific elements appear in the story. Its roots in Traveller also make it easy for me to use.
  • RPG: It’ll take explosives to shift me from Savage Worlds at this point; although the simplicity of Fringe Space is admittedly attractive, 40 years of Traveller and 10 years of Savage Worlds give me an instinctive fluency with the rules that I simply don’t have with Fringe Space. Maybe later.
  • Setting: This was by far the hardest choice, but of the various SF settings I’ve tried here, I like the Dark Nebula the best, mostly because of the map, so it wins. Solo doesn’t really need a starmap, mind you, just some world stats and the idea that worlds are one jump apart.

Let’s try that combination, and see what happens. However, learning from the lessons of 28 Months Later and Warrior Heroes, I’m going to make this a hard reboot, possibly with a different category. But I have some other things to post about first, so expect that reboot in a few weeks.

Arion, Episode 23: Ouidah

Posted: 9 September 2017 in Arioniad
Tags: , ,

In which we continue to explore Solo as a solitaire game engine, and venture into Hishen space in search of the kidnappees…

ROLLS AND RULES

Slow and didactic this time to be sure I don’t miss anything; I’m working from the checklist on page 53, and we begin by jumping to a new world. This looks in turn at leaving the current world, time in jump, and arrival at the destination. We start with some ‘pre-flight checks’…

  • Roll d66 for Starport Encounter (page 39): 5, 1 = meet a fellow traveller.
  • Roll 2d6 for NPC’s reaction (page 38): 8, Neutral. This is enough to make him/her a friendly contact if met again.
  • Roll d66 on Patron table (page 59) to determine NPC’s identity: 4, 2 = Scientist.

OK, so we now know a friendly scientist on Tortuga. I don’t plan on coming back this way so I don’t work up any more details. There is no cargo as the last time Arion thought about it was on Fermanagh, when he intended to buy whiskey – let’s assume he did – and I can’t be bothered with costs and fees (too much like the day job).

  • Roll 2d for Ship Encounter (page 40, assume no modifiers): 7 – no encounter.

At this point we leave Tortuga, and enter jumpspace. Let’s call the slavers’ trading world Ouidah, and give it the same 5150 stats as Tortuga – the salient point is law level 2. We need to roll for a shipboard event while in jump, and there is the chance of a bad reaction from a crewmember.

  • d66 for Onboard Event (page 56): 4, 4 = bridge sensors suggest a stowaway.
  • Tell Me, d6 (page 37): Is there one? 5. Why, yes. This is a good chance to introduce Dmitri, in this setting a Hegemony spy on the run from pirates.
  • Tell Me, d6: What kind of person is he? 6 = honest, good, dependable. Right, that settles it, it’s Dmitri.
  • Bad Reaction – random character affected (odd Arion, even Osheen): 3, Arion.
  • 8+ to avoid a bad reaction: Dice roll 6, so Arion reacts badly.
  • 1d6 to determine reaction: 2 – panic/anxiety. A stowaway picked up in a pirate haven sounds like a good reason to be anxious, until we realise he is friendly.

Now we arrive at Ouidah.

  • 2d for Ship Encounter: 4 – no encounter.
  • d66 for Starport Encounter: 5, 3 = another potential contact. This one has a reaction roll of 7 though, not enough to qualify, so no need to work out who they are.

Next, a week onplanet during which we will try to rescue the slavers’ victims. That calls for a Plan. I decide the easiest option is to buy them, trading the current cargo of Fermanagh whiskey for them. That seems like a Solid plan (8+ to succeed) but anything involving pirates, slavers and Hishen is Dangerous. First, though, as per page 53, a World Encounter.

  • d66 for World Encounter (page 58): 2, 1 = invited to a posh function. Well, that makes sense, this is obviously a party thrown by the slavers for potential buyers, which will no doubt culminate in an auction. Let’s add a security check to represent the bouncers on the door asking Osheen to hand in his guns at the door.
  • 2d6 vs law level: 9, no problems. If a Grath wants to bring a squad support weapon to the party, the bouncers are good with that. One wonders what armour they’re wearing if this doesn’t worry them.

The Plan. 8+ to succeed, no obvious modifiers. 2d6 = 12, success. Excellent – that could have gone badly wrong. 2d6 for Consequences; 6, which is under the 8 required – this means a Bad Consequence, and as the Plan is dangerous I decide to apply a -2 to the dice roll. The result is a 10, which would normally antagonise an NPC, but the houseruled modifier drops it to an 8 – partial failure (let’s say odds on 1d6) or incriminating evidence (let’s say evens). 1d6 = 3, so partial failure; since the objective was to recover all the kidnap victims, we only get Coriander, most likely because Arion fancies her more than the others and so is focussed on recovering her.

At this point we cycle back to another jump, but you’ve seen how those work already.

NARRATIVE

This post is long enough already, and its purpose is to explore the rules, so none of that this time. As a general rule, though, that would be the focus.

GM NOTES

Ship encounter rolls are influenced by world population and starport class, but I have assumed frontier routes and no modifiers to save having to generate worlds. I’ve also assumed the Dolphin is not a passenger ship (they have different onboard events).

As Anzon observed in the comments last time, there’s a lot of page flipping to get at tables. The way they are organized helps the internal logic when reading through the first time, so I understand why it’s that way, but in play it slows things down a bit. I will probably wind up printing out the relevant pages and shuffling them into a more usable order. Old school hardcopy users could stick tags on the relevant pages.

Anzon also observed that Dangerous Plans appear to have no mechanical effect. So my current house rule is to apply a -2 to any rolls for Bad Consequences, making injury or death more likely. I could infer from the text that injury or death only occur if the Plan is Dangerous, and roll 1d6+6 on the Bad Consequence table if it is Safe, or any number of other alternatives, but a flat -2 modifier is in the Traveller spirit and easy to remember.

Overall, I find this flows very smoothly and easily for me; no doubt that is partly due to it being based on Traveller, as I have spent most of my adult life playing that on and off. Blog posts would work better if I ran them as one per week, alternating time in jumpspace with time on planetary surfaces; that has come up so often over the years that I can take it as read now.

So, after eight years experimenting, I think I can move to an actual decision now. More of that in a future post, but for now, Hearts of Stone is restarting…

Arion, Episode 22: Tortuga

Posted: 2 September 2017 in Arioniad
Tags: , ,

We left Arion and Osheen doing combat simulations in practice for their forthcoming rescue operation. For this next session I intend to use a mixture of 5150 Fringe Space and Solo, as I want to try out Solo and check if it really is as flexible as I think. I’ll put Rep on hold while I do that, as tracking lifetime and current Rep is almost as much work as tracking a bank balance in Credits. (I dislike tracking money in games, because a huge amount of my day job is about tracking money, and I don’t want to spend my leisure time doing it as well.)

“A place I know in Ring 5”, as Arion put it, is clearly relaxed about both selling heavy weapons to Grath and dealing with slavers and pirates. The only planetary data I think I need for Solo is a law level, so I pick the lowest law level planet available in Ring 5; Class 3, Law Level 2, Independent Alien world. It’s tempting to double that law level, which would bring law levels better into alignment with Traveller, but law level 2 feels more like a rough and tumble pirate hangout than law level 4. So 2 it is.

I’ll test-drive the Travellers campaign type; it’s the simplest. I’m comfortable with the life events, relationships and backstory for both characters so I skip over those. We are already In Media Res, so no need to roll for that.

As Arion outlined the plan, the Dolphin will jump to somewhere in Ring 5 – let’s call it Tortuga – then the crew will tool up and try to get a lead on the slavers. Looking at the checklist on page 53, we’re starting in the Jumping from World to World section, which is unusual but seems not to cause any problems.

The first applicable step in Solo is on p. 19, therefore, when I roll to avoid a bad reaction in jump. (If I were using Savage Worlds, I might replace this check with an Interlude.) I determine randomly who is affected (Arion, as it turns out) and roll 2d6, looking for 8+ as one generally does in Traveller-ish rules. I roll an 11; all good.

Second, as we’re now moving into On-Planet Activity, I roll on the World Encounters table (p. 58) and get 3, 5 – a patron offers a courier job, roll on tables S1 and S3. The World Encounters table is supposed to direct me to one of Patrons, Enemies, Cargoes or Colourful Locals but I can’t see how. In this case it points me to S1 (which I eventually work out is the patron table; I roll 6, 3 and get an engineer) and S3, which could be the cargoes table (which would be in the Traveller rules) because it’s third in the list, or might be the Mission Targets table because it’s the third table if you count patrons as the first. It’s a courier job to the next destination so logic dictates the latter; I roll 2d6 and get 4,1 – a remote base. Let’s resort to the Tell Me, D6 method (p. 37); on a scale of 1-6, high meaning more, how much is this job related to the current rescue mission? 1d6 =2; hardly at all. I decide this is a lead in to the next adventure, and park it for the moment, noting that the next destination would logically be the world the kidnap victims came from, which if I recall correctly is Fermanagh.

This takes me to page 22 and The Plan.

“What’s the plan, Captain?”

“First we go shopping and get all those guns you recommended.”

“And a large industrial blender.”

“Very well, and a blender. Then we ask around the local bars looking for slavers with people to sell. I think we should pose as agents for an anonymous buyer.”

I assess the plan for difficulty and danger level. Shopping isn’t worth rolling for; I note that the crew has tooled up, and move on. Trying to find slavers could go wrong in a number of ways, so the plan qualifies as ‘Shaky’ with 10+ needed to succeed. A lot of those bad outcomes involve violence, so it’s ‘Dangerous’. Does the crew have any PCs with skills that are particularly well, or badly, suited to the task? Does it have any crucial equipment or assets? Well, the Grath are the 5150 universe’s unstoppable killing machines, so I’ll give them a +1 for that. They’re now tooled up, but then so is everyone else, so no particular advantage there.

A security roll (2d6 vs law level) seems called for, a daily routine while onworld for Travellerish games; 6 is greater than the law level whether I doubled it or not, so the locals are not bothered by a human and a Grath walking among them.

How about the plan? I roll 9 on 2d6, add one for Mr Osheen’s boyish charm (and selection of weaponry), and get a 10 – success, if barely. So far so good, now I roll against the same target number to see if there was a good or bad consequence; it’s not completely clear to me whether or not I should apply the same modifiers, so I decide not to, for simplicity. I roll a 12 (huzzah!) and since this is higher than the target number, there is a good consequence; 2d6 = 10 (I’m on fire today) and the Good Consequence table tells me the crew finds a useful or valuable piece of kit. I decide the patron encounter would logically happen during that sequence of events.

A montage follows Arion and Osheen from shop to shop, bar to bar. Many people look them up and down, assessing whether they can kill Our Heroes and take their stuff. On observing the Grath, however, they decide there are easier ways to make a living.

At some point, there is a brief conversation in a bar with a guy in overalls; he offers Arion a package and an envelope, Arion nods and accepts.

At length, in a pawnshop near the docking bays, Arion picks up a locket he recognises. Flashback to him studying the kidnap victim dossiers; in one picture, the same locket is around the neck of the victim. We can’t see her full name, but “Coriander” is clearly visible above and to the right of the portrait, which shows an attractive woman with red hair…

GM NOTES

Solo’s author, Paul Elliot, rightly says that the narrative explaining the die rolls is the point of the exercise rather than an optional extra; but I have restrained myself here, the better to focus on evaluating the mechanics. Novelisation isn’t required, just some sort of story about what happened – examples in the rulebook generally limit the narrative to a few lines or paragraphs, some very straightforward and others more flowery. The style and length of your writeup is up to you.

As you see above, this is very fast and easy to run, and I haven’t gone anyway near Traveller or the Cepheus Engine; as it turned out, I didn’t need the Fringe Space rules, just a general understanding of the situation and the characters, a pair of six-sided dice, and Solo itself. I would expect to memorise the key rolls within a couple of sessions, but I would continue to need the more complex tables throughout an extended campaign.

As I haven’t referred to any rules other than Solo in this exercise, I still think this could be used with any RPG of the player’s choice, or indeed none at all if you have a clear picture of your characters and setting.

At this point it seems quite likely that Solo is the way forward for me in solitaire SF gaming, but let’s give it a couple more laps round the block before reaching a decision.