Monday, April 20, 2009

The Trouble with Traveller

Friday's session of Traveller was a little on the disappointing side. Not that it wasn't fun -- for me, and Duke Burrin's player. But the rest of them mostly sat around and watched, occasionally engineering their own antics.

This unhappy circumstance was theoretically a product of necessity: they'd misjumped at the end of last session, and were a good half a dozen parsecs away from where they wanted to be. That many jumps means a lot of trading and a lot of accounting. But I need a better way to handle these long stretches of dice rolling and calculation necessitated by so many jumps in a row. Especially since, in our current system, it takes much longer than I should because I'm constantly getting interrupted by other, more interesting things that one or two of the other players are doing -- which then just shifts the "me and one player are having fun" problem to a different part of the table.

One way to handle this would be to have some "interesting" things pop up along the way, and the last time they misjumped that's exactly what I did. But with the end of the semester fast approaching, carrying with it at the very least a significant campaign hiatus, I didn't want to distract too much from the multitude of goals they already have. More action would have been more interesting, but it also would have meant significantly delaying their arrival at the original destination (where they hope to pick up some clues as to the location of Athene's fiancé, and perhaps learn some more about the various KordCorp resistance movements they keep running into) -- perhaps even until next year.

It would also be possible to eliminate misjumps entirely, but I think it's important to have at least that possibility present. The crew has taken steps to reduce the probability of a misjump, and that's good, but I wouldn't want to eliminate them entirely. At the very least, they give them a reason to go off and see parts of the subsector, and surrounding subsectors, that they wouldn't otherwise go to, and I believe it's important to maintain an element of danger in space travel. Particularly considering that it's one of their main activities, it's helpful to have a bit of tension during that process.

Still. The current situation isn't acceptable. Burrin's player has suggested that he write an automated program to do most of the trade table stuff, which would help. I'm also thinking that next time this happens, I'll try to handle most of it by e-mail rather than taking up table time.


  1. Email is a great way to handle that sort of thing. So are automated systems that can minimize the "off on a tangent" time.

    This can be a huge problem in old school D&D as well. Critters like rust monsters or lycanthropes (or red slaadi) can send the party scurrying back to civilization to replace lost equipment or deal with curses/diseases/implanted eggs or other "time bombs" that they can't neutralize in the wilderness. Couple that with D&D's sometimes brutal random encounter tables and what should be a quick dash back to home base can turn into a grueling struggle for survival.

    I'm honestly of two minds on this issue. On the one hand, these sorts of troubles are part of what adventure is all about. The knights who wandered lost on the grail quest, Odysseus traipsing all over the map trying to get back home, The Fellowship having to detour around Caradhras and into Moria, Childe Roland's "whole world-wide wandering".

    On the other hand, it can be damned frustrating when you've got this great, player-driven plot singing along and suddenly the entire game is literally stuck in the Stinking Marshes dodging kobolds and hungry black dragon hatchlings. Sometimes I've rolled with it, and sometimes that worked. Sometimes I just glossed or avoided the issue entirely, and while this always works, I think it sucks a bit of life from the imaginary world I was sharing with my players.

  2. I can understand the frustration of something totally unplanned like a misjump. Had a few of those myself.

    I was fortunate when I ran Traveller to be in touch with some fellow GMs and we often swapped one shot scenario ideas back and forth quite a bit. In some cases they were practically fully developed adventures including NPCs and such. Everything but the maps.

    Don't know where your campaign is located (mine was in the Spinward Marches). Also ran a short campaign of MegaTraveller in the Solomani Rim Sector.

    I don't know if you game with a computer handy, but I've found the "Heaven and Earth" star system generator helpful. One handy item included with the planets generated is a list of available cargos and passengers. VERY handy.

  3. I have come to the realization that no one plays Traveller the way I do. I must have arrived here from some kind of negative, Earth-3/Anti-Universe or something.

    I love me some misjumps! Great way to explore an idea you've been working on that doesn't fit into the regular continutiy of your campaign story. Then the PCs have to find their way back, a series of adventures that can serve as a mini-campaign within the campaign. Finally, when the gang returns to the stars they call home, time has passed and the situation may be a bit different.

    Also, you're the GM, you control the frellin' universe! There's accounting and bookkeeping only when you need it or want it. The worlds are, as Underminer so correctly noted, imaginary. Why imagine it harder for yourself?

    Barking Alien

  4. trollsmyth: It definitely highlights the fact that both games are intended to have a significant strategic component to play. (And ha, ha. Red slaadi, indeed. *grumbles*)

    You've pretty much summed up my thoughts on the matter. On the one hand -- adventure! On the other -- they were already in the middle of an adventure! But I think once I've solved the time-sucking logistics issue, it won't be as big of a deal.

    Underminer: Y'know, I think I'd been meaning to drop you a note on my campaign's setting, but somehow never got around to it. My apologies. I'm not really using the the 3rd Imperium -- the noble titles and so on are pulled straight from there, but beyond that, I don't really know anything about the setting, so I have to make it up as I go along. Probably the biggest change is that I'm not using any of the classic Traveller aliens; while there are aliens in the setting I'm sort of working on, they don't regularly interact with humans.

    And did you mean ( That does look neat, and I use a laptop to run the game so that's not an issue. Might be a little more data than I need, though.

    Barking Alien: That's pretty much what we did with the first misjump we had, and that's probably what we'll do the next time around, but the PCs have some fairly specific goals at the moment and they're already on the forgetful side, so I didn't want four months of summer interfering with their ability to even remember what they were doing.

    That's really my only problem with this, once I've solved the (much simpler) "huge chunks of time where only one player is doing something" problem, which should be fairly simple to solve. If this wasn't a college game, and had a little more continuity to it, there wouldn't be an issue.

  5. There are a number of sites which either have it or link to it. And yeah, it does give way more info than is needed, though I've also been surprised how often that info is needed. Nice to whip up a sector when you need one quick though, and sometimes the info for the planets can inspire an adventure.