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An Interview with Gregory P. Lee, author of “Lee’s Guide to Interstellar Adventure”

Gregory P. Lee is developing a campaign adventure for the new fifth edition of Traveller. Set in the Spinward Marches just after the Fifth Frontier War, the player characters join a circus and travel to twenty different worlds. Hijinks of all sorts ensue. Greg has kindly agreed to join us at Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog to talk about it.

Jeffro: In some sense, this Kickstarter really is a follow-up project to your classic Gamelords supplement, “Lee’s Guide to Interstellar Adventure.” You got a positive review in Space Gamer #72, you managed to stand out in the midst of several products by the brothers Keith, and the product was a handy “little black book” sized affair. Altogether, you really made what turned out to be a fairly significant work of old school gaming.

Gregory P. Lee: To be very honest, I had no idea that my original Lee’s Guide had impacted so many players and referees. I lost touch with Gamelords as a result of some disagreements about the process and production of the second Lee’s Guide.  That’s why there’s no Volume 2, though I wrote a few letters for a ‘zine in the nineties. (Family and novels and law practice have kept me busy.) I know that at the time I insisted that the format be the same size as the original Traveller booklets. That was a standard for a good Traveller product up until the MegaTraveller edition. Most of the larger-sized products were printed on rather poor quality paper and just seemed cheap, whether they were good or bad.

Jeffro: As a Traveller referee… I’ve got to say… coming up with adventure ideas that leverage a world’s local color is my greatest challenge. And worse, my ideal is that the players have free range to go anywhere and do anything, so I can get particular stressed when I look at a sector map.

Gregory P. Lee: That’s one thing I insisted upon with Gamelords, and to a degree against GDW’s desires, was to divorce the product as much as possible from the growing “official settings.” I had created my own background when I started playing the game, because I didn’t at the time have access to the supplements. In my beginning work, the local space hadn’t been fully settled. I later found ways to convert that into something more like the existing Traveller setting, but it was still a very independent setting. I felt then, and still feel, that referees should be afforded that independence.

Jeffro: I have to say that I really like that you included a list of worlds in both the Marches and the Rim where these situations would be a good fit.

The Barbarian Knife Thrower, concept art by Tim Osborne.

Gregory P. Lee: Actually, Game Designers’ Workshop insisted on connections to their settings, so the compromise was to look for worlds on which these adventurers could be placed in both the Spinward Marches and the Solomoni Rim.  That was pre-computer.  I did all the searching by eyeball.

Jeffro: It looks to me that with Lee’s Guide, you really bridged the gap between the totally generic patron encounters of Supplement 6 and and the more detailed adventures set on specific worlds.

Gregory P. Lee: I will honestly say that the “patron driven adventure” leaves me rather cold. It amounts to, “You are a bunch of mercenaries. Go kill this guy and capture that guy and rescue this princess and recover that jewel.”  That shouldn’t be a staple.  It’s bad writing to use that too often, and creating scenarios is writing.

Jeffro: Traveller without patrons?! That’s almost sacrilege!

Gregory P. Lee: I think a better way would be one which requires the characters to learn something to get the hell out of the trouble they have gotten themselves sucked into. And, frankly, they didn’t get much chance to prepare in advance for the trouble they’re in. We see this in much of the original Star Trek. It’s a staple of Dr. Who.  It’s the “unintentional adventure.”  It’s certainly found in most of Heinlein’s better works, because the main character rarely originally intends to follow the path upon which he or she is placed. The early juveniles are particularly good examples of that: “solve the mystery to free yourself and succeed.”

Jeffro: Okay… you’re doing a campaign adventure set in the marches. You’re obviously standing in the shadow of the The Traveller Adventure here. Given how seminal that particular work is, how on earth do you get the nerve to tackle something like this? Traveller fans are some of pickiest and most exacting gamers around!

Concept sketch of the Zhodani Mind Reader act by Tim Osborne.

Gregory P. Lee: Really, I set this adventure in the Marches because they’re familiar and well-supported with data. I also thought that I would have more source material available to me to help me give local color. One of the great surprises of working with Don McKinney on this project  is that I ask him in e-mails about a particular world and he says there is nothing “canon” whatsoever about it. So, what I have been allowed to do, is actually detail a number of worlds that have not previously been detailed, whether in The Traveller Adventure, GURPS or elsewhere.

Jeffro: The basic structure of the campaign sounds very similar to John Ford’s “Roadshow” from the Journal of the Traveller’s Aid Society #23. The premise was that the player characters were roadies for an insanely popular amp-rock band that was touring a series of twelve worlds on the Solomani Rim.

Gregory P. Lee: I cannot honestly say that I recall John Ford’s article, though there is a very good chance I must have seen it thirty years ago.

Jeffro: We’ll chalk it up to parallel evolution, then. It seems that with that type of frame, you’ve really struck a good compromise between having total wide open play and having a campaign limited to only one or two worlds visited.

Gregory P. Lee: Cirque traverses twenty worlds at Jump-3. This Campaign will require at least twenty game sessions to complete if each planet is actually used. This lets the players go from the Fifth Frontier War “target” of Rhylanor all the way to Regina, the growing center of power in the Marches. Along the way they will stop at primarily Imperial worlds, but also a couple of Border Worlds (formerly Sword Worlds). As I think I’ve hinted, they will in fact attract the interest of Zhodani and Sword Worlders. However, problems they face will also have a basis in the systems they visit.  And they have a contract, mind you, to get all the way to Regina. It’s a scenario that gives the players a lot. They have a Jump-3 vessel, they have a purpose in life, and they will have many things to do that have nothing to do with setting up tents and serving popcorn.

Jeffro: I have to ask… why did you chose to use a circus as the core premise of the campaign?

Gregory P. Lee: Well, traveling circuses travel. They have colorful, interesting characters with unusual skills. They have a schedule to meet which means that solutions to each problem must be found on a reasonably timely basis. They come with animals which can be used by the referee for players. Although I have veteran of the Fifth Frontier War set up as the leader of this whole outfit, I decided that there needed to be a primary performing Ringmaster. I made the ringmaster a Vargr because it was twisted a little to the left– a dog introducing animal acts…! Similarly, I decided that some of the performers would be a troupe of Aslan. I also have some relatively standard humans, like the Barbarian Knife Thrower.

Jeffro: With all the worlds you’re covering, it sounds like there’ll be plenty of room for the usual suspects to butt in, too.

Gregory P. Lee: Have no doubt, there are undercurrents. Zhodani are interested in Cirque des Sirkas. A group of Vargr pirates are interested. Even Duke Norris gets involved.

Jeffro: Alright, Greg… that’s about all we have time for on this installment of Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog. Thanks so much for dropping by to fill us in on the finer points of your Kickstarter campaign!

Gregory P. Lee: Thank you, Jeff.

“Lee’s Guide to Interstellar Adventure” is available in PDF Format from RPGNow and on CD-ROM from Far Future Enterprises. “Cirque: Touring the Spinward Marches in Traveller5“is currently on Kickstarter. Finally, Gregory P. Lee has also written three novels: “All Shall Go to Wrack,” “Demand the Debt that’s Owing,” and “Long-Remembering Harpers.”

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2 responses to “An Interview with Gregory P. Lee, author of “Lee’s Guide to Interstellar Adventure”

    • Greg Lee March 11, 2013 at 1:31 pm

      Thank you for re-blogging. Please visit the Kickstarter and help make this science-fiction role-playing project…a reality. yes, the pun was intended.

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