Monday, January 25, 2010

Thoughts about constructing a Traveller Universe

I've been thinking about what my Traveller universe might end up looking like.

I'm almost certain to use Paul Gazis's Eight Worlds rules for star ships (and perhaps more of his rules), though I might adjust some numbers depending on what assumptions I make for my universe.

One result of this is that ships aren't constrained to discrete jumps, nor are all jumps one week in duration. A jump 1 ship could take two weeks to travel as far as a jump 2 ship travels in one week (we don't yet know how the fuel costs change). So, rather than the universe being a hex map, each star will have coordinates to some precision (1 ly? .1 ly? .01 ly?). I'm still debating 2-d versus 3-d, and if I use real star locations or not, and if Sol/Earth is part of my universe (probably yes, but still up in the air, is it in the initial locale, or somewhere's distant).

As I have been thinking and processing the various systems for generating stars, and thinking about how to handle interstellar travel, I've come up with a few thoughts:

First, a science fiction universe with interstellar travel will have a bunch of "interesting" stars. These stars are where the main action takes place, or are home worlds, or whatever. These stars need not be occupied by earth-like worlds, but they probably have to have useful resources of some sort.

Now one could have a universe consisting just of those stars, and abstract space travel so those stars are the only ones that matter. Such a universe might even use an abstract map. But such a setup would diminish the importance of ships to the game (and one could even imagine a universe that virtually eliminates the importance of ships, to the point one might as well just have a teleporter network between the worlds of interest).

So then, to make ships and their operations interesting and important, we need to bring in other factors. A simple factor to bring in is to make logistics important. Now it matters how far apart the stars are. Additional stars might become important, not because they have an interesting world to have an adventure on, but because a ship needs to make a stopover for logistical reasons (for example, to re-fuel).

Of course, once such stars gain logistical relevance, they become a place for excitement to happen. During a war, a stopover might be blockaded. Or pirates might infest a stopover. Or some kind of natural event might take place, or there might be a systems failure in the ship.

Now it becomes interesting where you go, and what route you take.

Then the question arises of how many stopover locations are there? Too many, and they become meaningless. For example, say interesting stars are 10, 20, or even 30 light years apart, and ships can refuel by dipping into a star. Introduce hundreds or thousands of stopovers between any two interesting stars (or really even more than a few), and suddenly it becomes unlikely someone would be lying in wait for you. So probably stopovers have to be rare. So we probably can't refuel from a sun. Probably wilderness refueling has to be either slow, or unreliable. Now, we might have a refueling base at a star with nothing much more than a single icy planet where a plant can painstakingly extract hydrogen, perhaps, for a difficult route, just enough for a few small ships per week or two, and they probably charge a lot. But it might be worth it to shave off some time for a rich cargo, or important mission.

Of course, depending on how the logistics work out, tankers might be workable for refueling, but if that becomes too easy, we're back to hundreds of stopovers.

So lots to think about. And none of this particularly depends on what rules are used to generate the "interesting" systems, though they do depend on how one treats the "realistic" data.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Paul Gazis is starting to share his Eight Worlds system

Paul is starting to share his Traveller derived system, which he is calling Eight Worlds after his campaign:

Eight Worlds

Take a look and join the discussion on his forum.

Friday, January 08, 2010

My Traveller gaming history

I first played Traveller sometime around 1979-1980, my friend and I rolled up a few characters and played the merchant game and never went anywhere.

Sometime in 1981 or later (I can't find any solid reference as to when), I decided to run an SF game at MITSGS. I took the Rune Quest rules and wrote up a star ship creation and combat system, and added some SF weapons for personal combat. Unfortunately, I had not seen Nial Shapero's Other Suns at that point. We played one session, and then decided the system was over complex and the group collapsed. The star ship build system was sort of modular, with ideas borrowed from Task Force Game's Starfire boardgame. The star map was a bunch of dots penciled onto a blank sheet of 8.5"x11" paper, using a ruler to measure distances between stars.

A week or two later, I rebooted with Traveller, though I kept the star ship system and the campaign setting with several new players. Dave Tetreault was the most consistent player in the campaign, which lasted until 1988 or so. The campaign went through several rules mods, eventually being converted to Hero System. Another campaign in the same setting was run at RPI for several sessions. The groups only interaction was the MIT group visiting an airless planet the RPI group had explored, with the MIT group trying to make sense of the trails of ATV tracks going hither and thither.

This campaign was also my first venture into computer aided gaming at the table. I had use of a Compaq suit-case computer from work. I had a program to manage fuel consumption of the ships, and used Borland Sidekick to keep game notes at the same time. I also computerized my star map, which eventually expanded to some 40 or so sectors. The group even visited "Sol/Earth" (Alpha Centauri was the only other real star to make it onto the map).

That campaign was heavily inspired by Paul Gazis, and I used his experience rules and his "generic" "spare parts" for repairs (except I ended up categorizing spare parts into several categories).

Sometime in there I also tried out Mega-Traveller at RPI though the game didn't last long. I think I also had another start at RPI, not quite sure the rules, but I wrote a nifty star map program that worked on a square grid and used a custom printer font to make nice print maps.

Since then, I have essentially only played fantasy games.

Now I'm getting a solid SF itch...


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Traveller Campaign Brainstorming

I am thinking of starting a Traveller campaign soon. I thought I'd use this space to do a bit of a brain dump.

Chargen Rules: probably Classic Traveller as a basis, probably using Mercenary etc. extended character generation.

Starships: I am looking at using Paul Gazis's rules for star ships (no anti-grav is the big feature) and at least his star ship combat system. This would be a small ship universe. The one thing that might make me change my mind is using this system means not using the various deck plans out there.

Sector maps: I'm leaning towards a freeform map, not hexes. Gazis Traveller did not use such and in the past I have played with a freeform map.

World Generation: probably based on Book 3, however, recently I rolled up a bunch of systems, and the random results were rather limiting. I might jigger my own charts (but still use the standard UPP mechanism). I might generate a few systems using Book 6 level of detail.

Tech Level: keeping tech level lower, perhaps to 12 or so. Though I may end up with rather different lists of equipment since I am diverging on anti-grav and starship technology.

The following is a dump of elements I'd like to include, some of these are just names perhaps with a bit of detail. Names may be inspired by other source material but may not reflect the actual source.

Reavers Deep, Reavers. I like the name. I like the Reavers from Firefly.

Earth. I'm debating if Earth will be in my universe, if so, do I use any accuracy for nearby stars? If I start using accurate data, do I end up with a 3-D universe?

Rifts. I like them.

Vargr & Aslan. I've always been partial to kitties and dogs. I might not use Traveller stats.

Zhodane. I like psionic aliens (or not so alien), thought police, and all that.

Lizards. I like an intelligent lizard race.

Parsinians. Gazis cyborg aliens. They just sound cool and obnoxious.

That's all that crosses my mind right now.