Monday, March 23, 2009

Minor Perils of a Combat Light Game

No Traveller on Friday, which was both fortunate and unfortunate. It's been three weeks now since we played, but we were missing two players, I wasn't totally prepped, and it was the finale of Battlestar Galactica. (I don't watch it, but one of my players does.)

I feel bad about cancelling a session like that, especially since it's been so long since we played, but I wasn't feeling totally confident about running that night, and there were enough other factors that I had a decent excuse. The fact that I was kind of glad that we didn't play worries me, but I think things should be okay once I've put my evil plan into action.

One thing that's been throwing me off is that the tempo of this game has been different from what I'm used to. Part of this is just that there's the whole trading aspect of the game, and so it's got it's own rhythm, apart from anything else that's going on, and that's taking some time for me to learn how to manage it. But I've also been noticing that the game moves a lot faster than I'm used to; they get a lot more done, and "getting things done" a lot of times means leaving for a whole other planet.

Some of this is just that I haven't (cranked up the adventure) yet, but there's also just been a lot less combat. They avoid combat, and when combat does start I tend to just wing it rather than break out the books and risk getting a bunch of bored looks because I don't have the rules totally down yet. In D&D, and in most of the games I've run so far, if things are dragging a bit or if I need time to think it's totally permissable to bust out the Monster Manual and ambush the players with a bunch of monsters to get some breathing time, or fill space until the end of the session.

Not so much in this game. Partially it's because it's Traveller, and there's a different paradigm. Partially because the game's a lot more social. Partially because we don't all know the combat rules by heart a million times over. (At one point, I even had the 3.5 grappling rules memorized. I have an unwholesome love for those grappling rules. I don't see why everyone hates them.) Whatever the reason, though, it's hard for me to adjust to not having that buffer.


  1. Once I noticed that combats are not a necessary part of gaming much more actual content started fitting inside each session. It is great, if a bit scary to start with.

  2. Combats can be necessary as a shot in the arm to get the adrenaline going. That's why I think even non-combat games need to have some sort of combat-esque system, like Dogs in the Vineyard or Burning Wheel with their "this is really just an argument but it's run as if it is a combat" ideas.

  3. Traveller does indeed have it's own vibe, especially if the players have their own starship. One night they might be content to bounce from planet to planet, trying to turn a profit with the trade rules. Other nights they want 'an adventure', and you better have one ready for them. Running Traveller became a lot easier for me once I accepted that the players were going to do their own damned thing, and it was my job to react to them, sandbox-style.

  4. I actually had a player who got to be sort of an expert on the trading aspect of Traveller. Not only earned enough to keep his ship in the black, but actually turned enough of a profit he was able to buy and crew a second Free Trader and start on the road to having his own Corp.
    Just curious, but do you use the original books or the reprint. I got started on Traveller back in the late 70's. Went from that into MegaTraveller. Got most of the original rulebooks, supplements, and the Traveller Journals GDW put out. Good times with a great game.

  5. Wow, did I really miss replying to comments for two freakin' weeks? My bad.

    thanuir: I'm starting to feel more that way now, now that I've got the "gah, can't think, something has to happen now what do I do now?" problem I was having ironed out. We get stuff done in this game. Although trade has kind of replaced combat as our "let the GM stop thinking for a few minutes" back up plan.

    noisms: I need to play those games. And yeah. It's important to be have something that can involve everyone and gets people throwing down dice -- good for getting players attention when their minds start wandering.

    Knightsky: I'm getting better at it. "Sandbox," I'm discovering, has its own particular feel to it. It's more complicated than just saying "I'm going to plan an environment rather than a timeline."

    Underminer: Nice. One of my players is on that road too, I think -- his character has a ludicrous Social Standing, and he's very good at math.

    I'm running Mongoose Traveller -- or rather, something close to it, because my answer to rules questions is generally "Pffsh. Don't feel like looking it up. Roll some dice." I want to pick up the originals at some point, but Mongoose gave my players some great stuff to latch on to in character creation so I'm happy with it for now.

  6. I flipped through the Mongoose edition at the Barnes and Noble locally. Didn't see any differences worth noting, but in any event, since I have most of the original stuff, I really wasn't planning on purchasing it anyway. Big advantage of being in this hobby for some 36 years. What is "Retro" for most is what I cut my RPG teeth one.
    Where exactly is your game based? I actually had mine set in the Spinward Marches setting that GDW published. One thing about the early days of this hobby. Stuff came out in a torrent.