Monday, March 09, 2009

Tweaking the Campaign

So I'm thinking about doing a reboot of the Traveller game. The last session was kind of painful and stressful in places, and I still haven't done the session re-cap for it. I don't want to make any serious changes, mind. I'm just not quite happy with the pattern that we're settling into, and I need to do something about it before running the game becomes a major drag.

The problem I've identified, in my thinking about this over the last week, is that I'm not putting enough pressure on the crew. Traveller itself provides pressure, in the mortgage payments they have to make, and the potential for mis-jump and all the trouble that causes. But all that's lead to so far is "we go out looking for leads," or, "we ask the passengers we picked up if they have any problems." Which is something that I want to change how I'm handling; in the next session I'm going to see if I can make them work a little harder for that. I'd rather that they actually go out to specific places and talk to specific people, rather than just getting a list.

Anyway. Beyond "we need to make some money," they don't have any serious problems. The money motivation still just brings everything back to me; I still have to drive events in the session, or nothing happens. One of the players is a Duke, and as cool as that is in some ways, it's meant that they kind of ignore a lot of the "problems with the law" that the Traveller book seems to assume they'll have. That generates a certain amount of adventure in and of itself ("Hey! Let's negotiate a peace settlement between these two warring nations! They'll listen to us!") but it removes a default problem, and thus makes my life harder.

Oh, and the group has a tendency to split up. Which so far I've been sort of encouraging, but it really needs to stop, or at least get scaled way back. There's a lot of "I'm going to sit around and watch the other players doing stuff," and that's not good. So part of my motivation in making their lives harder is to give them a reason to stick together, and stop making me manage three different scenes at once.

None of this is to say that I'm not enjoying the game. The players are (for the most part) enthusiastic and involved, and while last session was rough in spots it also featured a religion based on Marvel Comic books and the cult of Wolverine, "the religion of what I was going to do anyway." It's still fun. But it's a brand new group, and it's a much more picaresque style of game than I'm used to, so I'm still tweaking the mix.

I have a pretty specific plan for what I'm going to do next session; I'd say more, but a few of my players read this blog, if only sporadically, so I'll wait until I've seen how it goes down. I'm not going to back off from the "no particular plot, just sutff happening on different planets" thing that I've got going in the game, but they have pissed off several people without really paying attention to it. So I'm going to cash in on that.


  1. Sadism is a valuable trait in authors. Just when things look bad, just when the situation is at its most dire, you drop a rabid badger in your main character’s lap and watch the fun ensue. - J. Brian Murphy

    I've not been a good example of this in our Labyrinth Lord game. Mostly because I want you to get used to the new style, but also because I don't want to drive the party one way or another. "Ninjas attack!" works, but then the players want to know why, and how you answer that question could send the entire campaign in directions nobody wants to go.

    However, now that your players have a few enemies and made a few waves, it gets easier to nudge them without driving them headlong one way or another. The annoying truth is, Bilbo won't leave his home until Gandalf gives him that nudge out the door, and Luke won't leave the 'vaporator farm until his aunt and uncle are blasted by storm troopers. The refusal of the call to adventure is a classic trope for a reason. Even Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser had a tendency toward indolence when the living was good.

    - Brian

  2. I used to wrestle with this a great deal early on with Traveller. I loved the system (still do!) and the setting, but what I found difficult is essentially what you're struggling with right now.

    Like Brian stated, you've already got the means to push the party towards an adventure if you want. But, even if they're in a mindset of "we need money," you can still drop them into all kinds of nasty situations while they're actually working for money. This is why 76 Patrons (Classic) and 760 Patrons (Mongoose) have always been hot sellers; it's a common Traveller problem, but one that's not too hard to overcome with a little practice.

    Not to mention, with the Mongoose edition of Traveller, you now have built in contacts and past events that can be used to trigger adventures. I was particularly pleased to see that as it gives an instant "patron" who will likely be listened to regardless of what they're pitching.

  3. Y'know, I hadn't been thinking of it in terms of there not being any "adventure," but now that you mention it, that's exactly what's been going on. They've been doing jobs, picking up cargo and investigating things and rounding up prisoners, and it's been fun as far as it goes, but there hasn't been any adventure. Wow. That problem makes a lot more sense now.

    And I have been using the Mongoose-generated backgrounds to drop in little details here and there. (And I only just now realized that there's now two kidnapped/held hostage guys, connected to two different characters.) Time to cash in some of those chips.

  4. I wish I could find a link to the actual quote, but a few years ago a Japanese computer game designer described the difference between American and Japanese video game markets thusly.

    A Japanese gamer goes out on a deer hunt. Suddenly, a bear charges out from the underbrush, jaws wide in a savage roar. The Japanese gamer lifts his rifle, snaps off a quick shot, and kills the bear. The Japanese gamer is traumatized. He may never go deer hunting again.

    An American gamer goes out on a deer hunt. Suddenly, a bear charges out from the underbrush, jaws wide in a savage roar. The American gamer lifts his rifle, snaps off a quick shot, and kills the bear. The American gamer is elated. This is the greatest day of his life.

    Adventure is the unexpected, thrilling complication that suddenly derails life-as-normal. Sounds like you've defined their daily existence pretty well. Time to turn it up to 11.

    Best of luck and let us know how it goes. :)

    UPDATE: Found the quote.