Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Generic Blues: Space Adventures from Avenger and Steve Jackson Games

I love maps.  Star maps are especially neat, but the restrained retro-cool look of a Traveller map is even better.  Combined with the austere UWP code that defines each world’s primary characteristics you have unlimited adventure potential.  But you also have a huge referee headache: how do you plan an adventure when your players can go just about anywhere?  You could spend days detailing a single world only to see the PC’s traipse off into a completely different subsector. 

This problem has led GURPS Traveller author Hans Rancke-Madsen to argue that Traveller campaigns– especially beginner campaigns– should start on a single world.  He’s criticized old-school Traveller adventures as being run from one cardboard cut-out starport to another.  I’m sure his recent JTAS articles detailing Regina’s starport at an unprecedented level of detail are up to his usual standards, but I feel he’s missing the whole point of the game.  I mean… it’s called Traveller, after all.  Travelling the stars is, uh, sort of the core premise of the game.

The classic approach to dealing with this problem was to introduce a patron.  Even as far back as the original Book 3 Worlds and Adventures, the patron was the “most important NPC” and “the key to adventure in Traveller.”  Avenger’s Special Supplement 3: Patron Encounters provides 34 such opportunities.  Each includes up to 6 variations to allow you to determine the complications of the situation randomly or to give you ideas on how to play it out.  They tend to be much meatier than the typical GURPS style half-paragraph adventure seed.  You get a detailed encounter or situation, usually a job or objective, and often a few supporting props and proper names.  Many of them are sufficiently well crafted to give you a premise sufficient to launch the rpg equivalent of a one-hour tv episode.  Sometimes its pretty easy to imagine the “big reveals,” the setbacks, and the turn-arounds.

Being Traveller, some of these might be a bit dry.  There’s no bizarre alien encounters or mind-numbing artifacts.  Just a lot of Firefly style material appropiate for a small band of spacers that are just trying to make ends meet.  If you want to get crazy, you’ve got to go check out the latest from long time GURPS Space author, Stefan Jones.  His MacGuffin Alphabet takes a completely different tact.

MacGuffins are artifacts whose qualities have a way of drawing their possessors into deep mysteries, unceasing action, and unstoppable chases.  If you’re not sure how to use such a thing in a game, then check out S. John Ross’s notes on using a “Dingus” in an rpg plot.  The implied setting of the MacGuffin collection is sort of a Alan Dean Foster meets Douglas Adams affair with nanotech and veiled Monty Python references thrown in.  His writing is clean and entertaining.  This is a very classy collection of ideas that would have to be reworked a bit in places in order fit into a Traveller campaign, but make no mistake: this PDF will inspire your awe with its unabashed weirdness.  While these are much more fleshed out, again, than the typical Adventure Seed, they still require some work on the part of the referee to work them into his game.  Quite a bit is left to the imagination… but there’s still quite a bit to fire the imagination as well.

Hopefully these two supplements will go a long way towards helping you stock your universe with adventure goodness… regardless of where the players decide to go.

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3 responses to “Generic Blues: Space Adventures from Avenger and Steve Jackson Games

  1. Hans Rancke-Madsen March 19, 2007 at 7:31 pm

    >This problem has led GURPS Traveller author Hans
    >Rancke-Madsen to argue that Traveller campaigns –
    >especially beginner campaigns – should start on a
    >single world.

    I think it’d be more accurate to say that I think that a campaign for beginners should concentrate on a single world to begin with. The Regina Startown campaign contains plenty of hooks to other places that the GM can send the PCs to on short controlled outings.

    >He’s criticized old-school Traveller adventures as
    >being run from one cardboard cut-out starport to
    >another.

    Not old-school Traveller adventures, but old-school Traveller campaigns (Free Trader campaigns, that is). Some of the old CT adventures were very decent. _Research Station Gamma_, _Safari Ship_, and _Nomads of the World Ocean_ give good descriptions of a single world each (though each of them (the descriptions) could easily be quintupled in size witout running out of interesting things to say). But note that they all deal with adventures that take place on single worlds. Try running _Twilight’s Peak_ and you’ll have to supply 99% of all planetary descriptions yourself. Or try running any Free Trader campaign. You’ll either end up with the players playing the Trading Game (which is a fun game, but isn’t a role-playing game (not until it provides you with goods that turn out to be shoddy and brokers who’re not as good as they claim to be or who’ll conspire to cheat you, it isn’t)) or you’ll provide those 99% of the required details yourself.

    _The Traveller Adventure_ is my idea of a Free Trader campaign that provides a decent amount of details about the local worlds. But it’s also quite a big bigger than an LBB. The Regina Startown runs to about 25,000 words; TTA was about eight times bigger.

    >I’m sure his recent JTAS articles detailing Regina’s
    >starport at an unprecedented level of detail are up
    >to his usual standards, but I feel he’s missing the
    >whole point of the game. I mean… it’s called
    >Traveller, after all. Travelling the stars is, uh,
    >sort of the core premise of the game.

    True, but that core premise misses a point of its own. To wit, that the Official Traveller Universe is a big place. There’s room for all sorts of adventures, and some of them don’t require people to travel.

    That said, if I had planned Regina Starport to run to 200,000 words rather than 25,000, I wouldn’t have set it all in just one place (And we wouldn’t have finished it this decade either ;-).

    Hans Rancke
    University of Copenhagen
    rancke@diku.dk
    ————

    The very act of writing a Traveller book closes the doors on possibilities. _Any_ game supplement does that, assuming the publisher cares about internal consistency.

    — Robert Prior

  2. jeffro March 20, 2007 at 8:38 am

    Thanks for the clarifications, Hans. I knew you could explain yourself better than I could.

    As much as I love Twilight’s Peak, I have to admit that I’m a little skittish about running it due to the huge number of blanks I’d have to fill in. While the “trading game” is not technically a role playing game, it certainly creates a framework for role playing. A good set of strategically placed patron encounters is, I believe, the missing link that makes the campaign possible.

  3. jeffro March 20, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    Of course, a complete set of Steve Jackson style “Planetary Surveys” or Avenger style “System Guides” would not be a bad thing.

    I promise to buy every single one that the cabal of Traveller authors put out!

    :)

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