Wednesday, January 25, 2017

My Favorite Posts at AF3

It's a new year, and I thought that I'd take a little time to look back at the last three years of AF3. Take stock of what I've presented here, and how it holds up.
These are the posts that I'm most pleased with, in terms of my writing style, or humor, or the point I was trying to make. These are personal choices, rather than ones that were most popular with my readers (but thank you for all the +1's, comments, and shares!) They are in no particular order.

1 Of Robots and Clones
A very philosophical post. Much more concerned with whether there should be robots & clones than with the game mechanics of same. The concepts are regular features of sci-fi, but how often is the ethics of artificial beings considered?  Doctor Who touched on it with the Ood in series 2 & 4, and I touch on it here. 

2 How to Create Striker maps
My most practical instructional post. Striker is a complicated game system to learn and play, which explains why there's so little on the web about it. My hope is that this quick run-down will encourage more folks to try it.

3 Exterminate!
Daleks in Traveller. It might be a great idea, it might be a terrible mistake.

4 The Creatures of Little Fuzzy
Building and describing the fauna of Zarathustra was just fun. Remember, not all animal encounters are dinner, or target practice.

5 Fenton Tukachevski
Fenton was one of my first NPC characters - I'd never intended to play him. He was all about demonstrating the versatility of the CT stat block and of characters that don't have a laundry list of skills. Fenton is a playable character or a worthwhile NPC for the players to encounter. Knowledge is power, and he's got it in spades. 
6 Armed Groups 
I like this one because it was the product of actual research. Gaming has long motivated me to learn more about the real world, so I could apply it in my imaginary one.  

7 But I Don't Like That Rule!  
Rules are necessary to have a game, but sometimes they can get in the way. Writing this blog has led me to re-read and examine the rules of Traveller, and try to understand why things were set up that way. Traveller is trying to do one thing, which is model the free-wheeling far future sci-fi of the 40's-60's. That requires certain limitations on the characters and what they can do.

Did you enjoy these posts?  Have you read them?  Please leave a comment with your favorite post from AF3.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Planet of Dread! and Traveller World-Building

Last night I read a fun short story from the pulp era: "Planet of Dread" by R.F. Starzl, in Astounding Stories of Super-Science (August 1930), which I got from Project Gutenberg.
Our heroes are attacked by a space-frog while climbing a spider web inside a mountain. Yes, it makes no sense.

I picked it at random from the several issues available. Is the plot original?  No. Are the characters vivid, dynamic and engaging?  No. Does the dialogue crackle and sparkle?  No. It's also a good thing the Martian sidekick was an alien and not a Terrestrial, because his dialogue would be excoriated today for its stereotyped pidgin English. Was the conclusion dramatic and satisfying?  Not really. 

So why was it a fun story?  Because it was a great setting, and just the sort of planet that could and should appear in Traveller.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Motivated Villain #4 The Dreadful Doctor

Here is the next entry in my irregular series of NPCs who can confound, obstruct and annoy the heck out of the PCs.

Doctor Hiram Califrax 787789 Age 38 Doctors, 5 terms
Medical-3, Liaison-1, Carousing-1, Computer-1

Dr. Califrax is the chief/only physician on the colony world of Somerset, [F-353393-9] a subordinate world of Mavramorn (Holtzmanns Corridor 0605).

Dr. Califrax has delusions of grandeur. He believes that he is wise, intelligent, super-competent and generous. The community around him tells him so. His medical skill is accurate; he is a competent physician. The problem is that he needs everyone to recognize it, and needs constant affirmation of his self-image. His clinic staff consists of several nurses (Medical-2) and orderlies (Medical-1) chosen more for their adoration of the doctor than for medical competence.
He is unaware that he over-diagnoses patients, claiming they are far more ill than they actually are. He then persuades the patient that only he can save them. He prescribes expensive medications and surgeries. He owns the only pharmacy so he makes quite a tidy profit, twice. The money also contributes to his delusion.

People of the settlement either adore or dislike him. With so little other medical advice at hand, he remains accepted. Those who like him come near to worshiping him. Those who are skeptics have learned to keep it to themselves.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Traveller is not a Power Fantasy

Omer the Lizard King has written another post elaborating what skills mean in Traveller. We've both talked about this in multiple places. Traveller PCs can be powerful, yes, but it doesn't look that way from the character sheet
A commenter on his post sums it up well:
"I think the problem (to the extent that one can say a game with so many fans has problems) is that a certain segment of players *wants* granularity, *wants* special powers, and *wants* character advancement.

In a sense, Classic Traveller still offers the sort of characters that OD&D offers - lean, streamlined, not very differentiated mechanically. To a gamer who is used to 3.5E, 4E, or 5E, the old OD&D characters feel bland, like they are missing something."

In Traveller power comes from player ingenuity, and an understanding of how the Traveller universe works.  Traveller does not provide the power fantasy of easily overcoming enormous obstacles and defeating large & powerful enemies.

Let's face it. When you compare a 'competent' Traveller character to a character from most other RPGs, especially D&D in its later editions, the Traveller comes off looking, well, lame.

Yes, we know that my 4-term Marine with UPP 9998A8 and Cbt. Rifleman-3 is a tough hombre in a fight, but even so he can still get capped by a thug with an auto-pistol. A Barsoomian White Ape will make dinner out of him quickly, unless the PC is lucky and the player is smart. 

Compare this to a Pathfinder character with his feats and bonuses and class abilities, and huge hit points pools. Plus those games have more dramatic interior artwork. Behold:
I always thought this was Battle Dress. It is not.
TL-3 version of Battle Dress. Probably magical.
See what I mean?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

I found Jump Torpedoes!

Many Classic Traveller fans are familiar with a little item that appeared in Adventure 4, Leviathan and Bk2('77) and has caused a great deal of controversy over whether it should be allowed. I'm talking about Jump Torpedoes - about the size of standard turret missiles, but with the ability to make a Jump, carrying data or objects.

I'm not so much interested in arguing whether they work, or should work. I'm just happy that I found their literary inspiration. Or one of them, at least.  

I have parts of a multi-volume set of Poul Anderson, the great sci-fi/fantasy writer. It includes "The White King's War", a Dominc Flandry story. Flandry finds himself shipwrecked on an inhospitable planet (i.e. no booze & no nightclubs to be found) so he tries to contact the Empire for a rescue. He uses these:

"The gadgets, four in number, were built as simple as possible. Inside a torpedo shape - a hundred and twenty centimeters long but light enough for a man to life under Terran gravity - were packed the absolute minimum of hyper-drive and grav-drive machinery; sensors and navigational computer to home on a pre-set destination. radio to beep advance notice when it neared; accumulators for power and  a tiny space for the payload, which could be a document, a tape or whatever else would fit.*" 

Standard CT turret missiles are 50 kg, which while heavy could be moved by one man. TTB does not say how long a missile is, but 120 cm seems reasonable. So, this might also be where the designers of Traveller got the specs for 'normal' missiles.
  I do not know if this is the only time in the Flandry stories that these gadgets make an appearance. It turns out that the message torpedo does not make it even to open space, so it fails to communicate the SOS, and Flandry has to find another way out of his predicament. Taking that unreliability into account, I'm not sure that having them would upset the balance of Traveller. No one uses them as regular communication channels, they are meant as a last-chance call for help.

To program a message torpedo to summon help: 8+, DM +Navigation 1-2 hours. Referee makes the throw in secret, the PCs will not know if the torpedo has gone off-course or not.

To re-purpose a turret missile for sensor or drone operation: 8+, DM +Electronics or Mechanical; 3 hours. A failed roll either takes longer (miss by 1-2) or ruins the missile (miss by 3+)

* The White King's War, from The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 5: Door to Anywhere. p 180.