This is Traveller, in one of its early-early publications: 1981, Game Design Workshop, which as far as I can tell is about the same as the original 1977 publication. A quick point: this isn’t anything like Traveller as stamped iconically into gaming culture. There is no setting, no Imperium, no canonical starmaps, no campaign-planning, nothing but the presumption that you’ve read a few Dumarest of Terra books. Even including a GM is actually optional. It may also help to recall that nearly all the modern reference points for science fiction were either barely-introduced (not yet a franchise) or did not yet exist.
The videos begin with our second meeting. The first went through most of character creation, then we finished it and began to play as shown here. We’re having some fun about the quirks or phrasings, but even during the first session we’d fallen in love with the process.
The two characters differed profoundly and productively: Jones served seven terms and was never commissioned, whereas Mike served a single term which promoted him to captain and showed him to be a brillant administrator – then was dropped from the service right away. As both turned out to be from wretched backwater planets and also well-eduated, all of us found it inescapable that they were buddies via disgruntlement and inclined to screw the military back if they got the chance.
I worked up the subsector for this session, which is rolled through a detailed sequence. I took the option in the rules to adjust the likelihood of a system in a hex, as 50% struck me as a little dense, and used the standard of 5-6 on d6. I expected the rules to result in some sort of pattern or clustering that would strike my imagination much as the character creation had struck us collectively, and that’s exactly what happened. [A minor point: I messed up some of the rolls, which became clear when the results stopped making any sense. Going back to do it right showed me how well-tuned the sequences of rolls are to prior results.]
The planetary and solar-system details provide immense content to work with as long as you point it all “toward one another.” For example, Abraxus and its associated worlds.
- Starport type B, no base; system includes a gas giant
- 4000 miles diameter, thin atmosphere, 40% water
- Population: 10s of millions, government: charismatic dictator, Law 9
- Tech 9, agricultural
It’s near two other systems/worlds, each with type C starports. One of them, Vargas, has a captive government and is quite livable and wealthy, and the other, Nimbos, is also agricultural with a civil service bureaucratic government. All three came together in my mind as a fine combination: a tinpot teapot very-mini-empire, which I decided was rated Amber (caution to travelers) as they are prone to “admitting applicants” out of anyone who goes here.
That’s just one detail of realizing “what was in front of me.” The bigger scale version was deciding upon the lanes for star-travel, and even bigger, the notion of the subsector as an edge-region, with the sectors to the left, right, and bottom of the page being almost absent solar systems. One of the reasons is that the system-conglomerate you can see near the bottom is a terrible hellhole, full of wretched planets and lawless corporate development and brutal environments. I developed a strong unifying concept for the whole subsector which unfortunately I can’t share except through play, and it’s why the map you’re seeing is the one for players. Mine might be a little different.
As an example for this coming up in play, the whole patron concept and what Taggart says and wants, are grounded in this preparation. I don’t think I role-played it very well, but that’s not improvising you’re seeing – I’m working with known material, merely not as readily as I will be able to after another session or two.
I had arrived prepared with a list of the rolls which were required in merely getting along there. Upon seeing that, I also prepared some “if” material, e.g., if there were an encounter, what was in it (the two fugitives); if they found a patron, who was it (Taggart). Merely knowing these things helped a lot as well, to establish the sense of a moving world and available content, even if they didn’t happen – although, in fact, they both did.
The lesson for me was how quickly things can move. Playing this game requires adjusting to what just happened and running with it as a new mini-situation (scene) with its own required rolls, and the shifts can be extreme. For example, we established that Mike had Administration 3 (which is +6 to the roll!) during this session, and that juxtaposed directly with the super-law dictatorship-society processing at the base on Abraxus, popping him and his chosen friend into a much more institutionally privileged status than the “lone potential mercs” default. As we continue, I won’t know if or when they might find themselves in the outback having monster-encounters, or in jail due to some legal crisis, or in space on their way in the patron’s cause, or captured by rebels, or what.
I also learned, upon this “touch it and try” play, about what sort of additional preparation is involved, or at least, what would work best for me. For example, I found myself a bit off in playing the encounter. Knowing that it would be these fugitives, I should have thought a bit more about their priorities and their larger circumstances, so I’d think more clearly in the moment about what they might do. I already have certain prevailing concepts about the society and why there are fugitives, but some more little anchors, like a Trollbabe-like list of names, will be just right for me.