Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Cold Booting a GURPS Traveller Convention Game

Running con games scares me half to death. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know who will come. I don’t know how to prepare. What if I stink? What if no one comes? What if someone gets so mad that they flip the table over? I’m panicking just thinking about it!!! But maybe I don’t need to.

Okay… let’s just lay down some basic constraints and see what we can do with them:

  • We’re using GURPS Basic Set Fourth Edition as a drop-in replacement for classic Traveller Book One, “Characters & Combat.”
  • World generation is by Traveller Book Three, “Worlds and Adventures.”
  • Space combat… if it comes up… is role played. We are not going to be playing any serious tactical space combat during this session, but if something like that turns up… I’ll improvise challenges, setbacks, situations, and tasks that will determine the outcome.
  • There are two target audiences for this session. One is the person that is new to both GURPS and Traveller and that wants to try it out… or any space themed role playing game for that matter. The other is the dedicated local fan that I would not know about except for the fact that they’ve found me on the convention schedule.

Okay, that is not so bad.

Next major issue: I am not making pre-gens for the session. It would take me hours to make a set of crappy characters that may not be what anyone wants to play anyway. I remember at Origins 2011 someone complaining about a GURPS game where they got stuck playing the medic and didn’t do anything except heal the combat monster that got to have all the fun. To heck with that! Why would you let someone into a GURPS session where they can’t play exactly the sort of character they want to play?! The system being what it is, it’d be crazy not let people play whatever they want. To everyone that has chaffed against nonsensical race, class, and level restrictions… I have your antidote right here!

Also: I am not handing people any character templates. In the first place, they are not GURPS; in some sense they’re even antithetical to GURPS. (Well… 2e GURPS, anyway.) I’m not using them. I will make a list of suggested advantages and skills based on what I can manage and what I can expect to teach, but that’s it. If someone shows up that knows what they’re doing, they’ll be welcome to dig through the book and get exactly what they want. If a new player has something very specific in mind for an ability, I’ll be happy to look it up on the spot if it won’t take too long. Under the extreme time pressure we’ll be facing, I’m liable to just mark down “40 points of Awesome” on the character sheet and then just make things up from there.

Okay… things are starting to fall in place now. Let’s talk setting:

  • This is in the far, far future of the Traveller setting. Its wealth of material is here for me to plunder… not for it to give me a headache. I am not even going to attempt to portray a strict canonical session… and if super duper hard science detail is your thing, then I hope you can play in such a way that your expertise explains my rulings after the fact. No, really… invest in the game in such a way that I can leverage your out-of-game knowledge. You can do that by speculating in character as to why something weird actually makes sense… and then letting me reframe the situation to account for that if it turns out to be possible. (Of course, I can’t explain this in a convention environment… but this is what I’d aim for normally in just about any role playing game I’m running.)
  • This will be a Galactic Empire setting. The central powers will have Jump-36 drives and warp gates connecting the largest population centers. Ring worlds, rosettes, and Dyson spheres will be commonplace. On the other hand, the frontiers will be more like old school Traveller with all the hoopla being far away and even Jump-6 vessels being prohibitively expensive.
  • This will be a massively cosmopolitan and heterogeneous setting. Any kind of alien character will be possible. (If we’re going to play GURPS, we might as well take advantage of it!)

If we budget one hour for character generation, then that leaves three hours for the game proper. We want to get to the action right away while showcasing the strengths of the system. We also want to tilt things towards the classic Traveller stereotypes. So, that narrows things down even further:

  • The basic format of the campaign is ex-military criminals taking on odd jobs from patrons.
  • There will be guns that fire bullets instead of funky laser beams.
  • There will be cutlasses.
  • There will be a bar brawl.
  • The authorities will be outwitted.
  • There will be a mysterious alien artifact involved.
  • There will be a showdown in a stupidly crazy high tech environment– giant machines and fans churning around, being all dangerous and stuff.

So really… I just need a list of skills and advantages, a patron, and a matte painting type world setting to serve as a backdrop. I need to brush up on the bottom 10% of the GURPS combat rules… and I’m mostly good to go.

If we’re going with a big show-down finale, then we are on the well worn ground of a Car Wars game. If playing out the end game will take an hour or so… then that leaves two hours for the players to investigate, plan, build, and find allies. The structure of the middle part of the game will be like the old Zork and Adventureland games: lots of things that can be interacted with and solved in whatever order the players want. All we have to do is ensure that something big is going to go down and then turn them loose to get ready for it.

Voila: instant con session.

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4 responses to “Cold Booting a GURPS Traveller Convention Game

  1. MishaBurnett February 27, 2014 at 6:52 am

    I wish I could go! It sounds like a blast.

  2. Chris Mata February 27, 2014 at 9:00 am

    Sounds like fun. You are a braver man than I allotting 1 hr for char gen time. It sounds like you are there more to showcase a GURPS experience than I would be. I am a pregen/template kinda man, but I cut my teeth on 3E GURPS Traveller.

    Good luck. I am sure your well placed effort to run and show them the whole nine yards of gaming GURPS wont go unnoticed or unrewarded.

    • Jason Packer February 27, 2014 at 9:33 am

      I suppose this would lead to a more holistic GURPS experience, but allowing character creation on the fly at a con is brave to the point of foolhardy, I worry. Con games, first ever exposures to GURPS and gaming with younger players (under 13 or so) are all situations where I’d feel compelled to use pre-gens.

      Where I chafe is at the very railroady nature of the scenario – but I suspect that’s another nod to it being a con, where you can’t just waffle about and eventually get somewhere interesting.

      Though it does make me wonder why you flaunt the standard con philosophy of pre-gens, while toeing the line on the standard set-piece scenario. Thoughts?

  3. Karl Gallagher February 27, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    GURPS character gen in a con one-shot. My favorite line from True Lies springs to mind: “Ballsy. Stupid, but ballsy.” :)

    That said, let me recommend using the Wildcard/Bang Skills to simplify things. Watch for wild collections of disads that won’t come up in play (ie, Secret and Enemy conflict with your straightforward scenario). Print out a copy of One-Page GURPS and put it on the back of the character sheet for players who’ve never played GURPS before. Have a couple of copies of GURPS Lite lying around as references. Make index cards for the weapons with their stats so you can pass them around instead of putting the info on the character sheet.

    Sounds like a fun scenario. I wish I could be there! I’m looking forward to hearing how it comes out.

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