Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Learning to Referee Traveller By Trial and Error…

We got together last night for the second installment of our Spinward Marches: 1111 campaign.  Last time we had travelled from Bowman to Flexos.  The players had helped a Darrian merchant out of a little scrape and so were offered positions helping to crew his far trader.  On Flexos, a small adventure seed spun out of control as the players ventured into the unknown.  Tensions ran high as they were sure they were all going to die for nearly every moment.

Going into the second session, I was perhaps a bit overconfident: things had gone well the first time mainly because I was lucky.  I made several mistakes this time around– or at the very least, several sub-optimal choices.  The overall narrative was forwarded somewhat, I learned a few things, and we did have our moments, so it wasn’t a total loss by any stretch.  A weekly Traveller game session is actually pretty demanding, though.

I have a lot of conflicting goals as a referee.  I want the players to have significant choices and I want the narrative to remain coherent.  I want every stat on the character sheets and world listings to impact the game.  I want failure to have real consequences… and yet I don’t want to ruin an adventure just because of a die roll.  I want to emphasize travel across many star systems as the backdrop, but I also want each world to be individualized and recognizable.  I want to balance all of these factors, but I also want everything to flow naturally with a sense of inevitability.  I want to run a good game, but I want the players to be able to take center stage.

Walston and Datrillion were very similar worlds.  The players had two brief stops on both of them and I even got them mixed up myself during the heat of the game.  I need to have a better cheat sheet next time….  One thing that threw me was that a bit part I had planned for Walston was thrown when the medic failed the roll to revive an NPC from Low Berth.  If Doc had only been Medic-2….

Another thing that hampered the session was that I was using Kenneth Bearden’s T4 task system with CT generated characters.  It was all rigged up for people with skill levels between 2 and 5 or so, I think.  Using it with the CT characters left the 2d6 “Average” task rolls too easy and the 3d6 “Difficult” task rolls too hard.  After a valiant effort, I gradually slipped back into roll-your-attribute-or-less on two dice with healthy modifers based on the situation.  I really have to come up with a better system for the next time.  What I really want is to have several possible outcomes with a single roll and  I want to avoid using multiple die rolls to determine a contest or to figure out how long it takes to accomplish something.

Another thing that seemed to drag was that the players would get to a world and then they wouldn’t really know what to do.  On Walston, my planned adventure seed just didn’t seem to fit the narrative when we got there.  On Datrillion, I felt like I set up the seed too overtly.  On both worlds I wanted to show several of the world details instead of just reciting the facts, but I just didn’t seem to pull this off.

Next time, I want to have some sort of play aid that shows a few options for them when they arrive.  This might be somewhat like the map of the town from Ultima I.  The players can decide to go to the bar, find out about tours, look for odd jobs, etc.  The options should vary from world to world, of course, and I should have some NPC’s or scenes worked out the communicate something of the culture of the world.  I want to try to use the old rumor technique to allow the players to investigate what interests them so that I don’t always have to bonk them over the head with an obvious crisis or cliché.

Let’s see what we can come up with for next time….

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One response to “Learning to Referee Traveller By Trial and Error…

  1. Karl Gallagher April 3, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    Yep, juggling act. But it’s okay to drop some balls as long as they keep enjoying themselves. On planets, I try to keep it at one main adjective for each one–that tells me what to emphasize. If the players skip past one I’ll probably recycle the details onto a later planet.

    You might want to contemplate the PCs and see if you can pull out a metaplot motive for them as a group, that way you can have something attractive to them at the next stop (Robin’s Laws is good for that kind of analysis).

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