Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Game That's On My Mind This Week: Traveller

I've been re-reading the Mongoose Traveller main book this week and it's amazing just how well the system hangs together. Traveller was probably the first non-D&D RPG I got into , around 1981, and the Mongoose version is very similar to that original set of little black books yet it feels very modern in many ways too.

Looking back on the multitude of sessions I've played and run with this game I can say that almost all of them were set in the Third Imperium and almost all of them eventually involved some illegal activity. Sad but true...maybe the game needs an alignment system...

One other thing that strikes me is that most of the time players want to operate at the higher end of the tech level scale - anything less than TL15 is weak and needs to be upgraded as soon as possible. I blame the setting info that the Imperium is TL15 as setting the bar a little higher than I would like. This has gotten me thinking about a different type of campaign - what if you held on to most of the basic Traveller assumptions but dropped the history and assumed that TL10 was common, TL11-12 was cutting edge, and TL9 was where most people operated, especially interstellar operations. Lowest common denominator means it's easier to find parts and crews and probably cheaper too.

This would keep the most common jump capabilities in the 1-2 range, keeps things in the sweet spot for a lot of gear (giving your mercenaries somewhere to climb to that doesn't involve fusion guns), and provides a better explanation for why so many spacers run around with shotguns and cutlasses instead of lasers and plasma guns.

Politically I see it as a region of individual systems with a few extrasystem colonies discovering and competing with each other in an economic and military sense but without open warfare just yet. I see it as a post-collapse recovery but with whatever interstellar empire once existed being a vague legend.

What would characters do? The traditional merchants and mercenaries campaigns are an option but so would a "Shadowrun" type game where the PC's move in between the major players as independent free agents. If someone is a scientist or academic then the discovery of ancient tech (TL15 maybe) could lead to a surge of interest in archaeology (and the men with guns who guard that work). The lack of knowledge of what's in every single system would make it much easier for pirates to operate and a campaign could go hard in a "Pirates of the Stellar Caribbean" way. Combine that with the ancient tech plotline and you have a lot of material to work with and a lot of directions to go. Merchants could be part of the regular supply run to a dig site. Agents might be infiltrators from a corporate entity or rival government that wants to keep an eye on things. Drifters might be hired for basic labor tasks like digging. I think having a solid outline for your initial adventure or starting situation makes it easy to include almost any character type - then let events run their course and see what the players do.

I guess that my point is that it would be refreshing to run and play Traveller in an area where everything isn't "known" but not where galactic society is in a total dark age with unrepairable declining tech ala 40K and early Battletech. I thnk there's a fertile middle ground that I know I have yet to explore where the tech is higher than our world today but not dramatically so and where some of the big picture is visible and the rest begs to be explored - preferably by player characters.

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