Posts Tagged ‘Traveller’

Arion, Episode 23: Ouidah

Posted: 9 September 2017 in Arioniad
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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…

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Arion, Episode 22: Tortuga

Posted: 2 September 2017 in Arioniad
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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.

Review: Cepheus Engine SRD

Posted: 19 April 2017 in Reviews
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Solo uses the Cepheus Engine. The Zhodani Base speaks highly of it. And so I decided to check it out…

In a Nutshell: Traveller retroclone – old-school style SF RPG. The System Reference Document is a 208 page PDF by Samardan Press Publications released in 2016. Pay What You Want on RPGNow and DriveThruRPG.

The core mechanic is as it was in Classic Traveller: Roll 2d6, apply modifiers (notably a relevant skill level), meet or beat a score of 8 to succeed.

CONTENTS

Introduction (9 pages): Overviews of roleplaying in general, the Cepheus Engine itself, common campaign themes, glossary.

Book One: Character Creation (83 pages): This will be familiar to anyone who has played Traveller. You roll 2d6 for each of six characteristics, roll to enter your chosen career, then cycle through various stages of the lifepath, gaining ranks, skills, and material or cash benefits as you go. There are 24 careers (basically the ones from Classic Traveller Book 1 and Supplement 4), and roughly 60 skills. Some items have been renamed, most likely to avoid using terms copyrighted elsewhere.

The Cepheus implementation of this addresses my dislike of the decades-long trend of skills bloat in Traveller; you wind up with roughly two skill levels per term served, and a smattering of skills at level 0, based on your homeworld’s trade codes and your career’s service skills. There are basic rules for gaining new skill levels in play, which explain how long that takes but not what it costs – the GM has to rule on that.

Although humans are as usual the baseline species, there are rules for creating alien races, and a few examples – avians, insectans, reptilians and some human variants: espers and merfolk.

Psionic powers remain an option, with whether they’re available at all, and if so how easy it is to get training, left to the GM. There’s a long equipment chapter with weapons, armour, survival gear, communications and computer gear, drugs, robots and drones, vehicles etc.

Personal combat is focussed on the use of a square grid; unusually compared to most games, but as one might expect for Traveller, the chance of scoring a hit degrades whether you’re long or short of optimal range for the weapon. Whatever damage isn’t absorbed by your armour is temporarily deducted from characteristics, and your status varies with how many of them have been zapped and which ones have reached zero – clunky, but it has worked for decades.

Book Two: Starships and Interstellar Travel (59 pages): How interplanetary and interstellar travel work, building and operating ships, starship combat, interstellar trade, travel on worlds, law enforcement encounters, bribery and punishment for crimes committed (I would’ve covered the legal topics in the next book but it matters little), a goodly number of example ships which are similar, but not identical, to the usual Traveller suspects. Space combat looks a lot more complex than I remember, but I hardly ever use that.

Book Three: Referees (43 pages): The effects of hostile environments, disease, poison, fire and so on; subsector and world generation using familiar Traveller methods; encounters – animals, NPCs, patrons, rumours, starships; rules for creating alien animal life; advice on refereeing the game and creating adventures.

This is following by assorted legal notices.

FORMAT

Colour cover; single-column black text on white, no internal illustrations (this is a System Reference Document, so you’d expect that), lots and lots of tables.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

I’d like to see a point-buy character generation option included; this is useful for players with a detailed character concept, and also for play via email, forum or VTT. However, a random method is still useful for new players.

I really don’t like dynamic initiative. It requires me to track both the default initiative score for each character for a given combat as well as the current score as modified by surprise, dodging etc, and remember when it resets to the default. Ain’t nobody got time for dat.

CONCLUSIONS

This is an excellent retroclone, which integrates and streamlines parts of several editions of Traveller; I recognised elements of Classic Traveller, Megatraveller and Mongoose Traveller, and there may have been components from other editions which I didn’t recognise – I am an inveterate CT fan and haven’t played that much of the others.

All the topics I would expect are here, in familiar forms but with some well thought out expansions.

I keep thinking about dipping my toe in Traveller waters again, and if I do that, this is the edition I’d use. However, it’s not quite enough to tempt me away from Savage Worlds just yet.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review: Solo

Posted: 5 April 2017 in Reviews
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Just as I started to feel a yen for some solo SF gaming again, along comes Solo…

In a Nutshell: Solo RPG campaigns for the Cepheus Engine (actually, any version of Traveller). 153 page PDF from Zozer Games, written by Paul Elliot, $10 or so at time of writing. This is a much expanded version of the earlier Star Trader, which I reviewed here.

KEY FEATURES

Solo games often drown in dice-rolling, and Solo handles this by abstracting the equivalent of encounters or sessions into a single dice roll; see The Plan for details.

The player also has a small troupe, two or more characters, rather than just one. This allows for the character interactions one would get in group play.

The overall principle is that the few dice rolls tell you what happened, and you as the player explain how.

CONTENTS

Why Solo? (1 page): Why would you want to do this? Basically because you can’t get the players, or you want to test something before introducing it to them.

The Solo Approach (3 pages): These are designer’s notes, explaining why the author chose to abstract things to the group/session level rather than the character/skill check level – essentially to stop the game drowning in dice rolls. This approach means that you first find out the situation, then make a plan to deal with it, make no more than a couple of dice rolls to determine what the outcome was, and then go back and fill in the narrative explaining what happened. It also summarises the four campaign types detailed in later sections, and lists the required resources.

Player Characters (10 pages): The player is advised to make a small group of PCs, how many exactly depends on the type of campaign envisaged. The main benefit of this is that the random interactions between them inject more drama and plot into the game; a secondary advantage is that it gives the player a broader range of skills to apply to problems. There are also a couple of modifications to the normal character generation sequence; the chief one is that each PC should have three Life Events, which can be inferred from extreme rolls during the character’s creation or diced for separately on a d66 table provided.

Character Reactions (4 pages): Another d66 table is used to give each PC a relationship with one of the others, such as “secretly in love with” or “knows a dark secret”. At various times during the game, a PC checks whether or not they’ve had a bad reaction to something, and if so rolls for what they do about it; recent events, the Life Events and the PC’s relationship are used as inspiration by the player to weave a narrative around the dice rolls. Reactions and relationships essentially inspire the player’s narrative explanation of the dice-mandated outcomes.

The Plan (6 pages): Here’s the guts of the system; a scene, or encounter, resolution mechanic. In other solo game engines, the player controls one of the PCs and is (say) part of the team infiltrating the Big Bad’s remote island base. In Solo, the player is more like the “guy in the van”, watching things over a video link and issuing general orders, trusting the team to resolve individual problems as they arise. So, play throws up a situation – a reason to storm the island base, in this case – and the player comes up with a plan, 3-4 sentences long; perhaps swimming ashore at night to sneak inside and steal the McGuffin, heavily armed in case things go south and equipped with night vision gear and other goodies. The player now looks at his plan as dispassionately as he can: Is it shaky, solid or foolproof? Is it safe or dangerous? The answer to the first question defines the roll required for success on 2d6, with a couple of modifiers applied depending on how well-suited the characters and their gear are for the plan. A second roll against the same target number then determines the unforeseen consequences, which are good if the roll succeeds, and bad if it doesn’t – note that this is independent of whether the plan succeeded or not. Bad consequences include injury or death for one of the PCs, goods ones include making a contact or discovering valuable information.

Write it Down (3 pages): The player is encouraged to keep a written record of what happened, for two reasons; first, to declare actions – once you’ve written something down, it happened or is now an established fact in the setting, no do-overs. Second, to help you pick up where you left off at the start of the next session. The author recommends using a notebook, with an unstructured diary for the events of the game, and lists of friends, foes, neutral NPCs, starships encountered, and storylines (see below). An example page from one of the author’s own games is shown for clarification.

NPCs: Contacts and Enemies (2 pages): These are acquired in play, as the PCs interact with NPCs encountered as they go; the player decides, based on events, which NPCs will become recurring allies or villains, and who is encountered when. The purpose of contacts and enemies is to connect events; when it is suitably dramatic, a freshly-rolled NPC encounter is replaced by someone the PCs already know.

Storylines (3 pages): As with NPCs, these connect random events and characters’ Life Events into a plot. In that sense they are like Mythic’s “plot threads”, although while Mythic has no limit on concurrent plot threads, Solo recommends limiting yourself to one or two at a time. Storylines are optional, though.

Random Rolls (11 pages): A selection of tables to generate random encounters and events, thus introducing new ideas and plots into the session; NPC and ship reactions, colourful locals, starport and ship encounters, and so forth.

Example of Play 1 (6 pages): Exactly what it says on the tin; four randomly-generated PCs hop across a handful of worlds, making Plans and executing them, encountering random NPCs and commissions.

So far, everything has been applicable to any campaign. The book now moves to consider four principal types of game, each of which has additional random encounter and event tables and specific rules.

Campaign: Travellers (8 pages): The default game; a mixed group of travellers, moving from world to world causing (or resolving) problems. This campaign starts In Media Res with a randomly generated event. New random tables here include patrons, missions and their targets.

Campaign: Star Traders (17 pages): This is basically the previous iteration of the system, which I reviewed here, with what looks like a few minor tweaks. The PCs are the crew of a small merchant ship, trading across a subsector; an example showing 5 weeks in the life of such a group is included.

Campaign: Naval Officers (24 pages): In this campaign, the PCs are the officers and senior ratings on a small patrol vessel, pounding a beat around the subsector or a specific world, rooting out pirates and assisting law-abiding merchants. Which is which? Well, you have to get right up close to tell. This section has a lot of exposition on why and how patrol squadrons are organised, and what they do. Character generation is modified to ensure the characters will fit their assigned roles aboard ship. The campaign begins in a pre-launch briefing; the dice identify likely trouble spots, and the player plots his course accordingly. This section has modified ship encounter tables and rules for fast-play space combat.

Campaign: Survey Scouts (38 pages): Unlike the other campaigns, which rely on the player previously selecting or creating a subsector, the scout campaign begins with a partly-generated subsector, with only the size, atmosphere and hydrographics of the worlds known, except for one world which is the PCs’ base of operations. On arrival in a new system, the PCs scan it and identify places and phenomena of interest, called survey targets; there is a problem to overcome at each site, and progress overall is measured in “survey points”. Character generation is modified much as in the Naval Officers game, and like the patrol ship, the scouts plot a route for their ship. This section has modified system generation rules, the usual focussed encounter and event tables, and tables for things to survey; The Plan isn’t used much in this game, it’s more about the PCs reacting to randomly-generated dangers.

Example of Play 2 (5 pages): This is focussed on a team of four scouts surveying an unknown system.

…and we conclude with assorted legal information and blank forms.

FORMAT

Green and black cover wrapped around single-column black text on white, occasional black and white illustrations. Simple, effective, easy on the eye and the printer.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

The one classic type of Traveller campaign not covered in detail is the small mercenary unit; maybe in the next expansion? In many ways it would be a mixture of the Travellers and Naval Officers campaign types, but the number of allied characters the player would need to keep track of would require a further level of abstraction.

A minor nitpick: I’m not sure why deckplans are a required resource, given that play doesn’t seem to require them.

CONCLUSIONS

Although aimed at the various editions of Traveller, Solo is so loosely connected with them that you could easily use another RPG instead; my thoughts immediately went to Savage Worlds, because that’s what I usually play, but I’ve decided to take a look at the Cepheus Engine itself first. With suitable changes to the random tables, Solo could be used for other genres as well; the core mechanic, The Plan, would work with any game.

I’m very impressed with this product, and see it as the probable next evolution in my solo SF gaming – which has moved from playing with the rules as written, to adding Mythic, to Two Hour Wargames (which have gradually increased their own level of abstraction) to Solo. Full marks, Mr Elliot.

This will get used, though not right away; first I want to look at a couple of other things, including Cepheus, and second, I want to select, or generate, a subsector in which play of the various campaign types above can occur. It’s tempting to begin with a Survey Scouts campaign, then jump forward a few centuries and use the other campaign types. That might be better done in flashback, methinks.

Oh, and third, there’s a busy couple of months coming up, with the Pawns of Destiny, Team Robot and Team Dragon each lined up for several sessions. I haven’t played this much since the ’70s!

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5.

“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” – Carl Bard

Actually, I kind of can make a brand new start, and I will. For new readers: The Arioniad was a solo campaign I ran from 2009 to the cliffhanger ending in 2013; it was one of the campaigns deleted in the Great Blog Purge of 2015, but I miss the characters and would like to play with them again. I considered reconstructing the previous game from such offline notes as remain, but on rereading those, I discovered that the game was much better in my memory than it was in reality; so I’m moving to a re-imagining of the game, a gritty reboot if you will – if it was good enough for Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek, it’s good enough for me. This is the second attempt at that, and by the time you read this the first attempt will also have been purged from the blog – it really wasn’t working, I think because I was trying to railroad it into repeating the earlier adventures.

Beyond simply being fun, the campaign is a way for me to experiment with different rules and setting elements before tormenting my players with them; the characters stay the same, but the rules and setting change around them – the reason for this was explained in the 2013 cliffhanger, and will come out again in due course; it also conveniently explains the periodic reboots, as you will see later.

ARION

Arion is the story’s protagonist, and he will appear in multiple formats as we go along. He will pick up sidekicks as we go. Like all my PCs, he has a theme tune, in this case The Traveler by Joe Satriani.

Savage Worlds: The basic version of Arion from which the others are converted. After several reworkings, he stabilised as a Pilot Archetype from p. 19 of Savage Worlds Deluxe, with his spare skill point used to buy Knowledge: Astrogation d4; his Hindrances are Heroic, Loyal: Friends, and Outsider. He has a Glock, a knife, a kevlar vest, and $25 in cash. He also has constructive possession of a small starship called the Dolphin.

THW: In THW games such as Larger Than Life, 5150 and so on, Arion is a Rep 5 Star pilot with the Steely Eyes and White Knight attributes, which means he uses the LWC reaction tables and moves in Exotic circles. His skills are Savvy 5, Fitness 4 and People 3. His items are a starship, body armour, a commlink, a pistol and a knife. He lives in the dock district of a Metropolis, for easy access to his ship. The conversion uses Steely Eyes to represent Alertness, and White Knight to represent Heroic; THW Stars are typically Rep 5, and looking at his SW traits, Arion looks like he is best at job-related skills like Piloting (thus Savvy 5), average in terms of physical attributes (Fitness 4) and worst at interpersonal skills (People 3).

Classic Traveller: UPP: 686777. Skills: Navigation-0, Pilot-3, Mechanical-1, Auto Pistol-1. Equipment: Cloth, auto pistol, knife, scoutship. Based on those, and using the 1977 edition of the rules, Arion would be a three-term scout. This conversion assumes that characteristic scores match the attribute die type where there is an obvious equivalence, and are 7 otherwise, while for skills d4 is expertise level 0 or 1/2 (depending on the rules edition in use), d6 is expertise-1, d8 expertise-2, and so on. CT doesn’t use Hindrances, and has only ship ownership or Travellers’ Aid membership as Edges, so none of those elements from SW really converts.

Stars Without Number: Attributes: Strength 10, Intelligence 10, Wisdom 10, Dexterity 14 (+1), Constitution 10, Charisma 10. Skills: Combat/Gunnery-1, Culture/Spacer-0, Culture/World-0, Exosuit-0, Navigation-1, Tech/Astronautics-0, Tech/Postech-0, Vehicle/Air-0, Vehicle/Space-1. Equipment: Woven body armour, knife, semi-automatic pistol, Cr 20. This incarnation of Arion is a level 1 Expert, using the Transport Specialist background and Pilot training package, which probably means he comes from a spacer family and is as close as I can get to the skillset of the original. We’ll pick the World whose culture he knows later. This conversion assumes attributes that match SW ones are the die type plus four, others are 10, and the character’s free 14 goes into the attribute with the highest score (unless it is already higher than that). Again, there are no Edges or Hindrances, it’s all in how you play.

DOLPHIN

I don’t expect much in the way of space combat or interstellar trade, so none of the statblocks are likely to see action anytime soon; this means I can be fairly relaxed in converting them. In any event, the key to conversion is to convert the feel of the thing accurately and not worry about the stats too much.

Savage Worlds: The Dolphin is a stock Light Freighter from p. 49 of the Science Fiction Companion. The onboard AI uses fist-sized metal spiders as effectors for repairs and so forth; these are collectively known as the Repair Swarm, and use the swarm rules in combat. One of the swarm typically rides on Arion’s shoulder, acting as a commlink.

THW: I haven’t got any THW rules for which this matters; I expect Fringe Space will have something, so I will come back and retrofit it later.

Classic Traveller: A Type S scoutship, obviously, but to match the SW version it has picked up a brace of pulse lasers from somewhere. Arion probably sold the air/raft to pay for them.

Stars Without Number: A Free Merchant from p. 198 of the free edition rulebook, because that’s the closest I can get without designing something from scratch.

THE SETTING

Initially, there isn’t one! It will emerge in play – but this time around there is not going to be a star map. Place names will be convenient for filing NPCs, so those will appear, and calendars may or may not be needed, depending on which rules I’m using at the time. Since the 1970s I have habitually set my homebrew SF campaigns in a volume of space centred on Antares, Alpha Scorpii, which I call the Antares Sector, with a starting date one thousand years in the future; there is no reason to change that for this campaign.

THE RULES

Since it’s the one that worked best last time, let’s begin this experimental run using straight Larger Than Life. Next up: The Opening Scene.

In Stars Without Number (and other games), one thing that intrigues me is the minimum population level needed for particular capabilities to be present on a world. Does a world with a quarter of a million people have its own intelligence apparat? Can it build its own gravsleds?

I decided to look at real-world nations of the contemporary world as a guide to the possible, and spent several weeks’ worth of lunch hours surfing and winnowing data to collate something a GM could use. I’ve split the SWN bracket of Millions along Classic Traveller lines, to make the output more broadly usable.

What else would you like to see? Let me know please, and if I can find it, I’ll add it.

FAILED COLONY

These haven’t got anything as such. There are a surprising number of these on contemporary Earth, but for game purposes I think you’re best served by rolling for what its population was, and using that as a guide to what’s in the ruins.

OUTPOSTS

  • Almost always a dependency of a larger state (Vatican City excepted).
  • Some states as small as a single family or person, but these are rarely recognised officially.

TENS OF THOUSANDS

  • Independent states appear at this level. My inference from the Rules As Written is that in the Stars Without Number universe, this is the smallest sustainable population.
  • Armies appear (Seychelles, Tonga).

HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS

  • Espionage agencies appear (Barbados Financial Intelligence Unit).
  • Navies appear (Bahamas, Brunei). At this level they are brown-water navies, focussed on local defence.
  • Military special forces appear (Brunei Special Forces Regiment and Special Combat Squadron).

MILLIONS

Millions

  • Vehicle manufacturing appears – AFVs, aircraft, cars (e.g. Bulgaria, Latvia, Lebanon respectively) – although typically designs are bought in from outside.
  • Merchant marine shipping appears (Slovenia)
  • Mechanised and armoured units appear in the army (Estonia, Laos)
  • Air forces appear (Lebanon)

Tens of Millions

  • Top tier economic or military powers are at this level and up (G20 members, top ten military nations).
  • Blue-water navies appear, able to project power sustainably at a distance and maintain bases outside their state’s territory  – Regional Hegemon tag becomes credible.
  • Significant shipbuilding capabilities emerge – Major Spaceyard tag becomes credible.

Hundreds of Millions

  • Manned space programmes appear on TL 3 worlds.

BILLIONS

Billions

This is present-day Earth as a whole, so if you can find it in the real world, a planet with this population could have it.

Tens of Billions

We have no data for this yet, I’m afraid. I expect it would be like billions, only more so.

ALIEN CIVILISATION

As for Failed Colonies, I think you’re best served by determining a population and working from there; at the time humanity discovered agriculture, the total human population seems to have been about 15 million, so a viable alien civilisation is probably in the millions and up.

REFLECTIONS

The more I look into this, the more surprised I am by two things: First, how small a population is when a given capability first appears, and second, how large nations can get without having specific capabilities – I haven’t recorded the second, because the first seems more useful.

The take-away is that any system with a population in the hundreds of thousands and up could conceivably have any capability you might be interested in, given the political will; but that major powers need populations that are at least in the tens of millions.

We got the bubble-headed bleached blonde comes on at five
She can tell you ‘bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye
It’s interesting when people die, give us dirty laundry.
– Don Henley, Dirty Laundry

Sometimes, I think I take this stuff too seriously.

In a setting like the Dark Nebula where news travels at the speed of a starship, news items from nearby systems arrive earlier than those from distant ones, so if you expect players to use this intelligence to inform their actions in the sandbox, it is important to know what they learn when. It’s bad enough when you only have one party, but in the Nebula I will have several, and some of the news items are triggered by things other parties are doing.

So I built a spreadsheet and entered the news items to date into it, and with a bit of not-terribly-clever calculation I can now extract the following three views…

MAIN VIEW: EVENTS BY DATE AND LOCATION

Only the GM will ever see this; it’s what really happened.

main

Column A shows where the event happens, column B shows when, columns C to J show when the news of that event reaches the primary systems, and column K is the actual news item for reading to players.

I considered tracking news arrival dates for every system on the map, and allowing different arrival dates depending on the spike rating of the ship carrying the news, but decided the extra complexity wasn’t worth it. So I’ve limited myself to the primary systems, and assumed that news moves along the charted routes on the map at one week per system.

I also considered a slightly more elegant approach with a lookup table of travel times so that I could select a system and have the dates automatically calculated from that, but decided on a quick-and-dirty prototype to see how much use this actually is before I do anything clever with it.

LOCAL NEWS VIEW

By filtering on column A, you can see what happens on a particular world in sequence. Not sure how useful this is, but it’s easy to do. Here we see what happens on Enjiwa, month by month.

enjiwa

PLAYER NEWS VIEW

By filtering on one of the primary worlds and then re-sorting the items in the order that the news arrives, you get what is playing on the holo set in the corner of the bar while your PCs are drinking the profits of their latest mission. Here we see what a party on Valka between late February and early April would learn; notice the difference between when things happen (column B) and when Valka knows about them (column I).

valka

This is likely the most useful view during a session. The jury is still out on how useful that actually is.