Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Avenger’s Flexos Guide: After Action Report

I ran a Traveller game last night set in District 268 in the year 1111.  This gritty no-man’s-land is the perfect locale for pulse pounding pulpy adventure, so I knew I wouldn’t have any trouble getting the players into sticky situations.

We had one new player and one that had played some during the early eighties.  The old timer brought his character with him: an old army guy with lots of combat skills and a useless title.  (He also had original copies of the hardback Traveller Book and some classic Supplements.  Cool!) 

The new guy was forced to roll up a new one from scratch with no idea of the other guy’s skills, which was vaguely amusing: he couldn’t attempt to cover contrasting abilities in order to round out the team!  In rolling up attributes, he rolled a 2 for endurance.  This is one of those cases where getting killed in character generation is a good thing.  He went into the Scout Service and after his second term rolled another 2 for reenlistment.  Heh heh.  No death for you!

I noticed that the original classic Traveller skills are all either combat, vehicle, management, or shipboard-professional.  These do not cover thief/spy/investigation type skills in much resolution.  In practice, and especially given the narrativistic approach I was using, I ended up calling for a lot of “attribute checks” during the game based on off-the-cuff characterizations of a character’s career and background.  Skills only became relevant in a couple of instances– and if I thought a plan was particularly good, or if it was role played well, then I wouldn’t ask for a roll at all.  One technique I noticed emerging was skill rolls being called for even when a task was mostly certain in order to give one character or another the chance to make a decision.  I didn’t have anyone hogging the game or anything, but it seemed to me to effectively break things up and keep things moving.

I opened the game in the Bowman system at a grungy spacer-bar.  Much grungier than the one on your keyboard….  (Sorry.)  We actually had to spend about ten or fifteen minutes covering the core premises of the Traveller setting: jump drive, the Imperium, multiple human races, surrounding alien empires, the 5th Frontier War, outlawed psi, restricted robotics, no weird tech, no near-c rocks….  There was ample opportunity to geek out here.  After that we spent another ten minutes or so doing armchair theorizations about what the Bowman system was really like based on its Universal World Profile.

The guy that had played Traveller before actually got really into this, throwing lots of facts around.  I was worried at first that I’d have trouble with a player that knows more than me, but in most cases I could work everything he said into my plans with only minimal corrections/nudges.  We’re all grown up enough to separate characters’ opinions from facts, so I really don’t see this as a problem: in fact, I want to encourage my players to help create background and setting specific “color” as much as possible.

The opening vignette was a simple TV-show style opener.  The characters meet a Darrian merchant and try to convince him to hire them to help crew his ship.  He brushes them off… and one of the PC’s notice some goons trailing him as he leaves.  The players follow and intervene in an awkward scene being played out in a back ally.  They rescue the Darrian, dispatch the thugs, and quickly find themselves on the ship heading out system.  Not quite as elegant as Joss Whedon, buy hey– might as well start with a bang.

As the characters traveled to Flexos, we engaged in another round of setting description.  As we picked apart the UWP, I was surprised at just how much the players wanted to know.  Just about everything: climate, flora, fauna, politics, and even history.  The information from the Flexos System Guide was essential, but I also found myself throwing out bits of things I’d remembered from Alien Races II and III.  I did feel a bit compelled as an armchair sci-fi story teller to “show it not tell it.”  But on the other hand, the players did not seem to see a fifteen minute discussion of all of this background as being ‘just’ for setting things up.  The questions and answers and theories all seemed to be as much a part of playing the game as rolling dice in combat or role playing an exchange.

My players went crazy when they saw the map, though.  (It really is beautifully done.)  They asked about locations of things I’d mentioned in passing and made plan for exploring an area as I gradually introduced an adventure seed taken from the Flexos book.  It surprised me.  I had no location maps or skill check data or anything, but just one little specific fact pulled from the System Guide could give the players 5 minutes or more of time spent discussing, planning, and worrying.  All of the facts that I needed were very concise and easily transferred to a game situation.  My role as a referee was simply to synthesize the facts as I knew them with the actions of the players.  Of course, I did have to improvise a lot of details– and the players would obsess over these things the most!– but it was easy to do so with the setting and background so clearly laid out.

There is easily enough material in the Flexos book to keep my players busy for several game sessions.  I can keep them there for an entire campaign or introduce something new every time they pass through.  For years I’ve stressed out about the daunting task of taking up the reigns of a Traveller campaign, but material such as that in the Avenger System Guides and Cluster Books really make it easy.  Most importantly, I think these materials demonstrate a best practice for fleshing out an area in Traveller– that way as I begin working on my own material I have a very practical model to work by. 


One response to “Avenger’s Flexos Guide: After Action Report

  1. Pingback: Guest Post: Setting Out for the Lost City « Jeffro’s Car Wars Blog

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