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Updated: 2 hours 28 min ago

Two Gems from Dumarest #13

Thu, 07/11/2024 - 23:12

Okay, this bit is just perfect:

Far future adventure starring… a guy with a bolt action rifle because it’s as effective as a laser if used with skill and far more reliable in the field.

Hey, though, Eye of the Zodiac is only just getting warmed up at that point.

This is such good information for the Traveller referee. It’s obvious once you think about it that there is terrain which is dangerous for the iconic Air/Raft, but all those trade goods you loaded up on it can suddenly become a very big problem.

Travellers, take heed!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Are You Waiting for Permission?

Wed, 07/10/2024 - 13:01

I know how you guys are. You look at all the players that are all completely whipped up over the excitement they get out of Braunstein play and you think to yourself, “gosh, that sounds cool and all, but I don’t know how I am going to pErSuAdE my players to get on board with this.” But that’s the neat part. You don’t have to. You can get people to help you create the Braunstein play dynamics that so consistently generate the feel of unpredictable NPC’s, volatile diplomatic balances, and an outright living tapestry of uneasy alliances and rivalries… and they don’t even know how or why it works to help make it happen.

Jon lays out your first play in his latest video: it all begins the moment you ask somebody, “hey…. there is this Baronial estate on this far future world. What do you think the guy that runs it would do in this situation?” If you have time for one watercooler conversation, then you are good to go. That’s all you need! You can follow this up with, “say… it’s been a few weeks in the game world now. Could you draw up a little map of what that estate looks like? I understand there is a starport that has been relocated to its grounds.”

Honestly, though, I get on just fine without any maps at all. Some people like that sort of thing, sure. But let’s be real here. The real value of Braunstein play emerges when players react to each others’ actions when they don’t quite have a full idea of what is going on. The web of dynamism comes from the reactions and the reactions to the reactions. And a cunning referee can get a sense of that across in a brief phone call where he briefly summarizes, say, what all the Baron would know of the other factions and characters that are in play in his vicinity.

The real intrigue, however, comes in via the diplomacy, the uneasy alliances, and the various prisoner’s dilemmas that develop over time. And to get that, you’re going to have to get the players to stop depending so much on the referee and instead start talking to each other. All it takes get a continuing Braunstein to heat up whatever rpg you are running is just one thing. Start a Direct Message group made up of the people you have been grooming into running these independent characters and factions. You say, “hey, I don’t have time to explain everything that is going on in the campaign to each of you individually. You all feel free to share rumors, make plans, and negotiate with each other however you like. Just send me an email by this Friday with instructions for what you group will be doing next week and I will let you know what shakes out of it.”

That’s where the real fun begins! Anybody can do this. Your players don’t even need to be all that special to make it work, either. All they need is someone in their life that quits waiting for someone to give them permission to run the campaign of their dreams.

Why shouldn’t it be you?

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Encounter on Madriguera Session 1

Tue, 07/09/2024 - 17:37

Contrary to every other Travaller referee in the history of the game, I am generating my subsector map on a just in time basis. So far, I haven’t even given a hex number to the two worlds that have been introduced to the game so far. Here is what we had about 15 minutes into the first Discord session of the campaign:

  • Moonshine — Starport C, Scout Base, 8,000-mile Diameter, Standard/Tainted atmosphere, Hydrographics 90%, Population in the thousands, NO GOVERNMENT, Law Level 1, Tech Level 6. Non-industrial.
  • Madriguera — Starport D, Gass Giant, 4,000-mile Diameter, Thin Atmosphere, Hydrographics 10%, Population in the tens of billions, Charismatic Oligarchy, Law Level 9, Tech Level 6.
  • Traveller News Service Amber Alert — A transport transferring the most dangerous criminals in the subsector to the Gash has misjumped and could be practically anywhere. It is suspected that the misjump was engineered by one of the fugitives and that the freighter is now operated by criminals that have successfully altered the vessel’s transponder code. A Kinunir-class colonial cruiser has been tasked with finding and neutralizing this exceedingly dangerous group of criminal masterminds.

My idea was to roll up the world at the start of the session in order to prove that the game was entirely run Zero-Prep. My other idea was that all of the adventures produced for Traveller were wrong because the only way a person could run a legitimate campaign was by being able to create adventures out of whatever strangeness the dice and the players handed to him. My dream was that this session would prove that I could handle this so well, that I could actually just go to a convention and run Total Authentic Seat of My Pants Traveller and everything would be awesome.

I was wrong.

We didn’t have a name for this world during the game. We didn’t have anything. Players were so excited about how Moonshine popped into existence out of nothing that a couple of days before we had set up a discussion group for developing more worlds for the game, but I completely checked out the moment Planet Soylent Green entered that chat. Somebody else in the group independently suggested the same thing for the “Population A” planet we introduced during the session. Abductive reasoning is currently the hottest thing in tabletop gaming, but for some reason I take a dim view of anyone else framing but my own. So, we went into the game with nothing.

Fortunately, the players entered the game by bringing something to the table. This is not D&D. We decided to actually address the age old rpg question of “who are these people and why are they adventuring together.” With eight players all eager to conquer the galaxy, this was not an easy question. One player was a retired scout with a ship that couldn’t carry half as many people as were in the group. The cream of this party of randomly generated characters got skimmed to produce a fairly decent crew. Not only did Group A suddenly congeal out of the chaos, but also the question of who would actually be leaving on this starship was introduced into the scenario.

  • [Fluid] Baron Percy von Slingsby. Ex-Scout 7957CC, Age 34, 4 terms, credits 30k (+Blade, Scout ship), Pilot 3, Jack-o-trades 2, vacc suit 1, shotgun 1, mechanical 1, electronics 1.
  • [Trash] Zebulon “Zeb” Beignet, Rank: Colonel , Branch: Army, UPP: 4D73C5, Age: 34, CR: 17,645, Electronics-1, Computer-1, Leadership-1, Gambling, Rifle-1, Revolver-1, SMG-3
  • [HG] Former Lieutenant Olga Carter C769B9 Leader-2 Air/Raft-1, rifle-1,smg-1 20,000cr age 26
  • [Dunder] Vance Rāmo — 586898 Grav Belt, Vacc Suit, Streetwise, Electronic, Navigation, Automatic Rifle + CR55k … 8,840

Dunder came in as “Zalegander Jascelles Lamison”. This really irritated me. How many times can you come into a game as the sample character from the rule book? Late in the game he was dubbed “Lame-o” by his peers. This got translated into Engrish by a samurai player. Now I am appending “Vance” to the collectively devised name to make it less obviously stupid. The Blacklodge Games people are watching. If something that can break immersion enters the campaign, I am finished!

And a side note here. This campaign has previously established standard text format for character descriptions. I guess it isn’t the end of the world that nobody quite follows it. But notice how terrible Dunder’s writeup is. I have no idea what is age, service, or number of terms is. Pathetic! This guy really wants his lame-o character to die!

At any rate, Baron Percy von Slingsby entered the campaign with a tight group. Vance Rāmo brought Navigation-1 to the table. Olga Carter could pilot the Air/Raft… which based on E. C. Tubb’s Eye of the Zodiac absolutely required a skilled person at the controls. Zeb meanwhile could program the computer and spray SMG fire like nobody else. This is the perfect adventuring group. It is absolutely remarkable. It’s too bad the players didn’t use the standard text format to write up their characters because anyone playing Traveller could print that block of text out and drop it into their own campaigns as a top tier NPC party to encounter.

Alas, as far as my game is concerned, it is already gone. This stupid party elected to go out searching for a patron alone mostly unarmed in order to comply with the local law level restrictions. (Zeb elected to bring an SMG concealed by his trench coat. I think he needed to roll a 10 or better to avoid getting hassled by the cops for this, but I didn’t know what I was doing yet.) Their first encounter with 13 ambushing brigands. The players maybe could have gotten a throw of 10+ to avoid, but I didn’t know what I was doing yet. There was no surprise and these hooligans had jumped them with autopistols at close range. We debated this for a while, but I finally concluded that gangs do not observe law level restrictions, though they were in this case liable to follow the tech level limitations. Per book three, the assailants all were assigned the same attributes: 4-7-4.

The party elected to run except for Zeb who fell back while spraying SMG fire. Full automatic fire gave him two attacks against one figure followed by two “group hits” spillover fire attacks each at a -3 penalty. This resulted in one kill and one combatant unconscious. However, Zeb was dropped. Much to my dismay, the party elected to fight on. Percy returned to pick up the SMG while the rest of the party did things that were completely futile. They were all dropped by autopistol fire except Percy who (insanely) elected to fight on. He no doubt dropped a couple more assailants, but due to his taking the combined attacks of this small army, he ate three autopistol hits and was completely obliterated.

As a referee I could not understand why the players wanted to all go down like this, but there was some kind of social dynamic thing involved. People that don’t know each other in these games who expect to be playing for more than a few sessions have a duty to stick by each other lest they get abandoned by the group later. This utterly stupid outcome was perhaps inevitable, though Percy could maybe have gotten out with his skin intact had he begged for mercy. But the baron was just too danged proud.

This was a disaster. Everything was in shambles. Worst of all we were two hours into the session and half of the players had not even had a chance to make any significant play decisions. Enter party B:

  • [Mandalf] Hamilton Lee Starque — Ex-navy Admiral 8A79AA Age 46, 7 Terms, Cr 150,000, Dagger-2, Auto rifle-1, Pilot-1, Jack of all Trades-1, Electronics-1, Engineering-1, Travellers’, Dagger
  • [Bdubs] Beat Takeshi – Former 2nd Officer: C66B48 . Age 38. 5 Terms with Merchants. CR 30,000. Bribery, Broadsword-2, Dagger-1, Vehicle (Car), Electronics, Gun (Rifle). Mysterious fighting man looking for men of honor to challenge to melee combat. Equip on person: 5 daggers, Broadsword, Rifle (20 ammo). Cloth armor.
  • [Gabe] John Evryman, jr. – Ex-Marine Lt., 577777, Age 38, 5 Terms, cr 100,000, Brawling 1, Cutlas 1, Dagger 2, Gambling 1, Mechanical 1, Revolver 1, High Passage, Low Passage, Travellers’ Aid
  • [Kes] Sir Samuel Harker. Ex-Army Draftee 96836B, Age 22, 1 term, credits 10k (+Education, Gun Cbt: Rifle), Respirator, Cloth Armor, Reflec Armor

I am told that the party split over a disagreement between the honor-bound Beat Takeshi and the extremely dishonourable (and stupid) Baron. Ironically, party B is now attempting to rescue the survivors of party A… even though Party A would not have done the same if the roles were reversed.

After pondering the meaning and intent behind the rules for skills like Bribery and Streetwise, it was determined that the players had contacted the leader of the brigands by dialing up the Baron’s communicator. In retrospect, the players could have gone out armed to the teeth with a chance of being stopped only on a roll of 9-. If they were stopped, Beat Taheshi’s Bribery-1 skill means that they could roll 8- in order to pay an ARBITRARY amount of credits to continue on. A non-commital reaction roll on the part of the leader of the brigands indicated that the players could pay yet another ARBITRARY amount of credits to get their associates back. However, these hapless player characters would be handed over stripped of their interesting high-tech gear. (Have to have SOME kind of consequences for ridiculous play.)

Who cares what the numbers are, this happy-go-lucky group of adventurers from all walks of life is burning through their funds at a prodigious rate. We now look at the encounter rules and realize that there is only a 1-in-3 chance that the players could even pick up a patron during a week of searching. Splitting the party in retrospect was maybe even the right move here.

We must have been two and a half hours into the session at this point just to deal with what seemed like a rather tedious bookkeeping issue. I was not particularly happy as a referee and worse, I was feeling completely uninspired. After informing the players that there were no chance for animal encounters unless the players were directly involved in wilderness travel, I rolled up encounters with a Mob, some Thugs, and some Soldiers for days 3, 4, and 5. Due to lack of time, the thugs and the soldiers never got dealt with, though the evasion rules mean that they wouldn’t necessarily have been that big of a deal anyway.

The mob, though– I knew exactly what that was without even thinking about it. They were chasing an attractive and very feminine alien creature that wore her hair wrapped up in a headscarf like some kind of gypsy women. The players naturally wanted to investigate and intervene. The party was informed that the creature was a Shambleau. Very dangerous! The mob agreed to let her live only if the party could be relied upon to transport it off-planet. Hamilton Lee Starque took charge of the creature and subsequently established that he was in fact every bit the gentleman. Olga Carter established that she was making an effort to befriend the alien.

The encounter tables would not relent during this session, however. The sixth day of adventuring brought on yet another group of Ambushing Brigands. If there was any doubt that the first group was absolutely in keeping with the nature of the place, this second batch established forever that that there was something to all this. Range was established as medium. The players mostly elected to close except for “Grav Man” who went to long range and “Grav Boy” who opted to flee. Everyone’s dice were hot and I ruled that the Shambleau went into close range on somebody and ripped their throat out. We took a lot of time to figure out that the people that were knocked unconscious in the first combat only had their “damaged” attributed brought back to halfway from their low point. Also, I reaffirmed for the new players that lowered attributes did not impact the weapon DM’s for required strength and dexterity.

Based on this battle, I have decided that I have calculated my last player to-hit target. Traveller players should have a matrix on their character sheet outlining the chance to hit that they have for every range/armor combination with each weapon that they are liable to use. The fact that no character sheet contains a space for this indicates that nobody has ever actually played the game. Going forward I want the players to just roll their own dice somehow and then post their specified target with the amount of damage done in the Discord chat for the session.

Anyway, six out of eight of the brigands were knocked unconscious during the first combat round. Beat Takeshi was the only player character to get shot and taken down. The brigands failed a morale check and started to run. Even without the other players on hand, I ruled that the Abominable Grav Man would easily be able to gun them down at his leisure. Now what? The debilitating number of random encounters had been dealt with. If the players did not successfully find a patron, I would cry as all of this was so boring I couldn’t stand it. I was embarrassed to be running this game and spending half of the session time sorting out rules questions that I wasn’t even sure I was doing right.

Fortunately, the patron die did come up as a positive. Everybody knows that the patron is the key to adventure in Traveller and I finally had one. I had no idea what they wanted, but I could immediately see what was going on here. The patron result was POLICE. The players firefights with AMBUSHING BRIGANDS had initially brought the players to the attention to the local authorities. The player characters would have been in deep trouble and probably jailed and fined… but it turns out there is a twist here. There is SOME KIND OF LOCAL TROUBLE afoot, and the players will now be DEPUTIZED to go take care of it. They will be awarded an ARIBTRARY AMOUT OF CASH if they are successful. No doubt enough money to BREAK EVEN after everything is paid for.

Ironically, this was precisely the course of action that Olga Carter was suggesting at the beginning of the game. Meanwhile, all of the Batman jokes in response to the emergence of Grav Man into the game meant that the players had all decided that Commissioner Gordon had just been instantiated into the campaign.

Exhausted, I bid everyone goodnight. In the morning, we hashed out how it was that I had been persuaded that control of the scout ship would somehow have been transferred to Hamilton Lee Starque. As a very irritated referee, I insisted that the ship was property of the scout service and that no one was taking command of it if I had anything to say about it.

Whew! That is a great deal to wade through. A few notes here:

  • I am out of town next Monday, so I will not be running then.
  • Player input into the game has been so consistently quixotic, I cannot delegate refereeing duties to anyone.
  • The next discord session will Monday night at 8PM on July 22nd.
  • Time will not be moving forward for the Madriguera next week. If we can play out two weeks of time when we resume, I would be happy with that, though.
  • I will be devising the adventure that last night’s session implies should exist here. However, this is not AD&D. The player characters are all stuck here due to being on the wrong side of the law. They get to play the adventure I work up whether they want to or not. They are stuck on this backwater planet until they satisfy the powers that be.
  • The table for the next session is closed. No new players will be admitted, and the player of the Baron may not even roll up a replacement character. He is out of play until this adventure is resolved.
  • If a player from last night’s session cannot make the next session, they can leave written orders to have their character operating independently during the upcoming game week.
  • We had too many players for a good session experience for all. Eight is really pushing it. If four players attend the next session we will resolve this adventure. If less than that show up then the session is canceled.
  • The surving characters on Moonshine are active in sessionless play and under the restrictions of strict 1:1 time. The first of their weekly orders are due on July 14th.

I know the game was kind of a slog, but I am really excited about this world now and I can’t stop thinking about it. I will take a lot of pleasure from rolling up NPC’s and constructing animal encounter tables and adventure scenarios in the days ahead!

Thanks for playing, y’all!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Better Roleplaying. Better Story. Better Immersion.

Mon, 07/08/2024 - 14:57

This is going to sound crazy because my chief interest in Braunsteins is due to their utility in creating modest wargame scenarios that people actually care about. Yet somehow, as far as the players are concerned it as if everything they experience feels like a story. Why is that?

The new playstyle we have developed forces us to deal with a gap between the intent of secret player orders, the somewhat arbitrarily designed scenario, and the scenario outcome. This style of play feels more like a story because there is more negative space for the players and the referee to interpolate one into existence. The thing we are creating as we make sense of all of these multisided conflicts are stories. Every time we attempt to express the game state to each other, we naturally resort to telling stories that capture the essence of what is happening.

Conventional and even Always On style play does not offer any moment for the campaign state to “breath” in this manner. I heard someone once say that AD&D did not produce something worth writing into a novel because the campaign just churned out this single long string of action. It would be tedious to read an account. But this new type of Braunstein play sets up these remarkable scenes that coud have been torn from the pages of just about any random Dumarest novel. That Luther Stickell death scene is unlike anything that our games produced over the past four years and it is because of the properties of this new type of play.

There really is something different about all this. And it’s true, we do roleplaying, story, and immersion better than the story gamers.

It’s all due to the remarkable properties of Braunstine.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Nobody Else Has Players That Are This Excited

Sun, 07/07/2024 - 16:49


But this thing ain’t over.

First off, if you can’t run a Traveller campaign on a combination of zero referee prep effort and total player autonomy, then you do not have a Traveller campaign at all. Secondly, not everyone was happy with this event. People that were eager to play were dismayed to be eliminated before the game had even really got going. Still others intent on forming a cooperative party to go out on a more conventional adventure were shocked when they were all betrayed and then shot in the face at close range with a revolver than never missed. And thirdly, we do not know how these techniques function in the context of either regular session play or a more stately weekly turn cycle.

Therefore, I suggest two things.

  • That the extraordinary world of Moonshine continues on with Roarke, Joe, and House Ariston submitting secret orders via email on a weekly basis. (Orders are due one week from now on Sunday the 14th at 8PM Eastern.)
  • That a new set of characters be introduced to the campaign at an entirely new world. In order to prove that the game really is run with zero prep, I will roll up the world that the players start on at the beginning of the session. This game will be run via Discord on Monday the 8th at 8PM Eastern.

Let’s see how this goes!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

An In Depth Q&A on Running a Traveller Braunstein

Sat, 07/06/2024 - 17:16

Mr Jeffro, I am trying to introduce Classic Traveller to my friends, but even I have no idea which books are considered its core, since there are so many. Which ones would I need?

Traveller was ruined first because GDW needed to publish a new product every 28 days. Second because none of the developers understood rpgs at all after the original edition. If you can’t make a great campaign out of Books 1-3 and Supplements 1 and 4, then you are playing wrong. You just do not need any rules or supplements beyond that. Pick up some Dumarest books by E. C. Tubb if you don’t know what to do with it. Maybe some Flandry by Poul Anderson. Space Viking by piper. Planet of Adventure and/or the Demon Princes series by Jack Vance. Traveller is not Star Wars or Star Trek. It’s not an action movie. Traveller is Raymond Chandler meets Sergio Leone. Traveller is a pile of science fiction novels you never heard of before. GET YOUR HEAD ON STRAIGHT!

Your players likely don’t have an imagination because that is just what happens now. They won’t know how to imagine the sort of milieu that Traveller takes for granted. You are going to have to bring things to life through abductive reasoning techniques right before their eyes. It works. We have a case study on how to do this up on my blog. (See links below.) Just do minimal prep for a randomly rolled world. Drop NPCs onto it from Supplements 1 and 4. Introduce Traveller characters generated from Book 1 into it. Open things up. Use the reaction table when people meet. Just that much should produce in your mind a remarkable scene, some kind of kinetic action the seizes your imagination. Do it with 10 people independently and you should have some neat stuff happening and know more about all the characters involved. IT’S FUN.

From there Book 1 combats should start breaking out. Look at what all is going on and “encourage” them to happen if you have to. Make them dangerous but give people a decent chance of winning… as long as they don’t sell each other out. Book 1 combat is a brilliantly designed rule set. The Braunstein play at the strategic level can generate large scale prisoner’s dilemmas… but then when you play out the battles with Book 1, uneasy alliances are forced to play out a prisoner’s dilemma game every single combat round.

It’s really fun. I can’t think of another game that has this property. YOU CAN’T GO WRONG WITH THIS!

Fantastic. I’m also trying to tell my players about Braunsteins, how should I explain it?

Never explain it. I can tell you from experience that no one wants to hear anyone talk about rpg esoterica. Just tell them that about the world and then ask them individually what they imagine their character would do in that situation. Pretend it is a background story thing. Remember not even David Wesely could persuade his friends to play in the original Braunstein. He had to trick them and pretend they were going to do the usual game night thing just with one minor little experimental pregame thing. Be like David Wesely. Be a cunning son of a gun!

I don’t think even I understand what a braunstein is. Is it patron play or faction play? I’ve been reading your posts for a while but I am a tiny bit confused.

Braunstein is independent action by several persons/parties/factions with a healthy fog of war element. See the Prisoner’s Dilemma as the simplest possible example. See Diplomacy for the prime inspiration of the genre. Imagine Diplomacy with roleplaying and you are very close to Braunstein.

Conventional rpg play tends to have one referee and one party of player characters. There tends to be a lot of pressure on everyone to have the players cooperate. There are some occasional notes that get passed to the referee and some conflict is possible, but most role-players take a very dim view of player vs. player conflict within an adventure scenario.

Braunsteins meanwhile have a fundamentally different structure. The referee meets with each player individually to determine what they are doing within the game. While this goes on, all the other players are free to negotiate, cut deals, scheme, plan, and figure out how to betray each other. In this type of roleplaying, the idea that the players should all be cooperating together goes out the window. Instead of the referee being saddled with developing adventure scenarios and NPC’s and other prep work, what ends up happening is that all of the players characters end up being the NPC’s and encounters for every other player character. With this one idea framing your very simple classic Traveller Books 1-3 rules pamphlets, you no longer need any supplements or adventure products at all. You can just start adjudicating whatever the players are doing to each other!

Oh, wow. Another question I would ask is, how do you “resolve” braunsteins? As far as I understand, from what I’ve seen, it’s a turn-based structure, but the mechanics of how these things are resolved elude me. Either I’m illiterate or I just can’t find the article lol

You will look at the orders that the players generated independently. Then you will have to imagine what the results should be. If you have played a lot of rpgs, you should know what rpg situations look like, feel like. They can be very simple, on the order of Barbarian Prince. Some of these situations will be complex because they will involve the secret orders of SEVERAL players. These are the best! These scenarios are so good, they are the reason we use Braunstein style play with rpgs.

Instead of running rpgs with a top-down enforced narrative and instead of running rpgs with a canned adventure scenario… you simply take the players’ orders and everything that has happened in the game so far and make up scenarios that are worth playing out of that! This is hands down the best way to make an rpg scenario. The action should take on a life of its own. You will need a lot of judgement and it will be impossible to be completely fair. So, err on the side of action, excitement, and conflict that is worth playing out. Everybody should get into trouble. Everyone should face the consequences of their choices. But also, everybody should have a reasonable chance at pulling off something incredible. The crazy thing is that people actually do it all the time!

I understand that part. Should I have a separate group of people for a braunstein from my regular session group?

You should be able to switch between play modes as needed and/or incorporate the activities of players who cannot attend sessions as it makes sense. The people who play in a Braunstein event one week can play a more conventional adventure together the following week. Use your judgement! We have tried to demonstrate a wide range of approaches to these ideas so that people can will know what to do in their own particular circumstances.

Can you give me a list of info I should give to people participating in the Braunstein?

You can see exactly what I handed to my players for The Barons of Moonstein scenario here. Note in the writeup I included a brief description of the world, outlined a few points of interest, described some of the main NPC’s, established the general scenario parameters, clarified some rules that players were most likely to misunderstand, and then explained precisely what I was looking for in their orders for turn one and when I expected to have them.

Can you give me a suggested time frame for 1 round (like how in 5e, 1 round is 6 seconds, even though no one keeps track of that)?

This is a little ironic, but I do not enforce any kind of strict timekeeping when I run a Braunstein. The turns are an abstraction. They do not have an explicit, defined length of time that they represent. Similar to that, you will note that I did not draw up a map of the world, either. Precise time and distance and space constraints do not matter in the context of a Braunstein. Everything is about the general intent of the player. If the intent is reasonable and it contributes the overall situation in an interesting way, then what will happen is that the nature of the world and environment will get nailed down after the resulting battle scenarios are played out.

This is a very subtle point and it is very important. I leave all of the things that wargame scenarios and adventure scenarios tend to take great pains to be very explicit about and I DON’T DO THAT AT ALL. Because I will make scenarios on the spot out of whatever the players are doing. It is a premise of the Braunstein that whatever the players decide to do, they WILL be interacting with each other and coming into conflict with each other and be involved with situations that will influence everybody else in subsequent turns. With a strict map and timekeeping regimen, someone is liable to be sitting out for a turn or two and in a Braunstein that is a complete disaster. That can easily end up being half or even all of the game.

I know this probably sounds insane, but I can tell you that you already do it. If you have ever made a character and decided to leave your language and weapon proficiency choices blank because you had no idea what kind of game your DM was running, then you should know exactly what I am talking about. You filled that part of your character sheet out only after you were several sessions into the game and you had a good idea of what kind of campaign you were playing in. I am doing the exact same thing except I flipped it. The referee is doing that with the world details and the maps because he has no idea what the world is really like until he can see what kind of game the players collectively want. The real nature of the world and its NPC’s will be defined after the fact explicitly to support what the players are most interested in and most excited about.

Can you give me a suggested way of doing “initiative” of whose orders get resolved first, and how long it takes for an order to get resolved?

The way I run Braunsteins, there is no order in which the turns are resolved. The referee looks at the totality of the orders and then devises a set of scenarios out of that complete mess. Initially, everything will look like complete chaos. But then something happens. Via a phenomenon called apophenia, the referee will somehow receive inspiration that ties everything together. If there is any way to interpret those orders such that two or more players end up in a scenario together, go with that. Early on in the game, though, it is more likely that things will be happening where the player characters are gathering information or else interacting with NPC’s instead. This is kind of dull, but it is maybe more interesting than simply getting blown away because your character forgot his sunglasses and returned to his stateroom in order to get them.

As far as the resolution goes, every character is only going to be involved in one scenario between turns and nobody can be in two places at once, so there is no need for there to be a strict order of events. The real governing factor in all of this is merely the need getting everything done quickly. If you are running the game remotely via Direct Messages, then all of the scenarios can be adjudicated concurrently. As soon as one person stops answering your queries, that scenario is in limbo until they come back. If you are running things in person, things are liable to be pretty boring for a lot of the players if you run each scenario in order. If there is any way to hand off a scenario to some kind of co-referee in order to get more people engaged between Braunstein turns, I would definitely do that.

Heap big thanks to Citard for being excited about this project and asking such great questions. No one has ever run a game quite like this. This is the first time that these ideas have ever been expressed. This type of gaming is BRAND NEW. Yes, Braunsteins have been run before. Wargame scenarios like the ones my game produced have been done. (Or maybe not. Even that one battle was unprecedented within both the wargaming and rpg spaces!) You have maybe even played in a LARP and have decided that Braunsteins are basically the same thing. I think you’re wrong! Something different happens when you use these techniques in the way that I have outlined here in order to create these kinds of game situations. People are excited because there really is something different about this!

For more details on this proof of concept of this completely NEW IDEA in tabletop rpg gaming, please see my extensive documentation and analysis in the following posts:

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Barons of Moonstein Campaign State at End of Turn 2

Fri, 07/05/2024 - 17:43

The cry of an Arglebird pierced the calm. Somewhere out of sight, a rodent-like prey creature froze, consumed with fear. The striking predator dived out of the sky and whisked it away as a mother reflexively gathered her brood to herself. The Arglebird is so cruel and vicious, they had been known to capture and eat small children.

Luther Stickell looked up in the sky and marveled at the colors of the plumage. Such a predator! Much like himself, he thought. He took a long drag off of his cigarette and flicked it away.

Then the rays of the evening sun glanced off of the hydrogen tanks. The large red letters on the signage by the hydrogen tankage leered out at him– NO SMOKING, it said. Luther couldn’t help but chuckle. This world. These hapless citizens of the Imperium! There is no one here to protect them from HIM. He shook his head at the very thought of these hapless land-bound rubes.

He glanced back at the detained laborers. He couldn’t figure it out. What had they shown up to start removing starport equipment from the vicinity of the scout base? He hadn’t gotten anything approaching a good answer. And why hadn’t the steward of Ariston returned his call? This was starting to get ridiculous. Luther wondered if he needed to make an example out of someone. Give these hicks a proper show of force so that would understand that they needed to get in line.

But this turned out not to be necessary. Luther had a volunteer! The truck driver that was trying to remove the defribulizer which was vital to the process of creating refined starship fuel from plain water was so anxious he finally lost his self-control. He made a breank for a gap in the fencing that marked out the precise point where the Star Emperors domain ended and the autonomous local zone began. Luthers thugs reacted immediately and dropped him with a barrage of shotgun fire.

Such needless violence, Luther thought. All because these yokels could not acknowledge his right to rule over them. What a waste!

He turned back and surveyed the remaining starport laborers. He said, “well, gentlemen. Do any of you intend to start anything with me? You can see it won’t go well for you!”

They never answered. One of Luther’s lackeys had rushed up to him and said he had gotten a message from House Ariston.

“Is he still on the line?” Luther demanded.

“No, he said he couldn’t wait for you. He said to just give you this.”

Luther heard the cry of the Arglebird one last time. The sunlight on the hydrogen tanks nearly blinded him as he took the note into his hands. He opened it up and was confused because it consisted of a single word. “Goodbye,” it said. What in the blazes could that mean, Luther wondered.

That’s when the hydrogen tanks exploded, instantly killing not only Luther and the remain starport workers, but also completely destroying the tramp freighter that had sat there on the landing pad. Thereafter, a message from the planetary beacon subsequently went out, repeating a message every five minutes to any starship that would have been in radio distance. “The Moonshine starport at coordinates 4217, has been relocated to coordinates 7699. Operations are otherwise normal.” The new coordinates were of course within boundaries of the Ariston Barony.

Somewhere an Arglebird took to the skies, a two-year-old human child clutched in its talons.

Well, I wanted one player character to be eliminated this round. It’s true. But the players really outdid themselves. They produced four kills, it was amazing. I mean just look at the initial roster. It’s been shattered!

What a game! Two PC’s killed by one guy that was caught red-handed breaking into staterooms. He subsequently betrayed the teams of adventurers that joined together in order to recover the missing scout they suspected was lost in the jungles, no doubt caught up in some thrilling and harrying situation.

One revolver. Four bullets. Four dead player characters. WHAT A RUN!

Alas, three players are not enough to sustain an ongoing Braunstein game, so this particular scenario is now called.

The three surviving player characters are welcome to continue the campaign however by issuing orders in a real-time Traveller campaign on a weekly basis. Who knows what will shake out as they continue to explore Moonshine and the interstellar space nearby. Will an adventuring party emerge and play out traditional rpg adventures? Will another Braunstein event be set up on Moonshine or some place else? Who knows!

It all depends on the actions of Jung, Roarke, and Joe in the weeks ahead. Whatever it is that they get into, I’m sure it will be obvious what kind of play mode should be shifted to then.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Rendezvous on Moonshine

Fri, 07/05/2024 - 03:05

Turn 2 of the Barons of Moonstein produced a phenomenal Battle Royale involving six out of the seven remaining players. Here is a complete rundown of the characters involved, the rulings I made, and the details of the scenario as it played out. Double blind play involving a half dozen characters operating as factions of one while being caught within multiple prisoner’s dilemmas created a unique and engaging scenario that will change the way you think about both rpgs and wargames.

Cast of Characters:

Joe Gelt-Waunder — Ex-merchant Captain 696BC9 Age 46, 7 Terms, Cr 50,000, Pilot-3, Laser Rifle-2, Bribery-2, Vehicle-1 (ground car), Jack of all Trades-1, Navigation-1, Free Trader, SMG.

Joe is in town hoping to run into Roarke Garnett. He does! Unfortunately, this puts him on the scene of a very bad situation. He will be placed randomly once the situation is set up.

Roarke Garnett — Ex-marine Force Commander, AA8898, age 26, 2 terms, Cr 20k, Laser Carbine-1, Revolver-1, Cutlass-1, Medical-2, Tactics-1, Mechanical-1. Auto Rifle with 100 round belt, Cloth Armor, Reflec Armor underneath, Revolver w/ 1 reload (4 in gun, 6 in reload), Filter Mask, Lockpick Kit.

Due to referee error, Roarke was aware of the strong chance that he would be betrayed by Holgar during this round when they had been previously planning on cooperating. Thus, he has elected to betray everyone in his ill-fated Getalong Gang of adventurers. He is not present for pickup by the accursed wheeled ATV which I think was required for what the group was originally planning for the turn. Roarke Garnett is positioned for the perfect Autorifle attack on Holgar if he should turn up at the agreed location. This however puts the life of his “friends” at stake. He is concealed at the start of the scenario.

5 Thugs armed with shotguns and wearing Cloth armor are on hand. As part of Roarke’s inevitable betrayal of Holgar, he snitched him out to the Baroness. The Baroness will risk none of her materiel on these troublesome lowlifes, so she contacts Luther Stickell who has dispatched his thugs to collect him for the reward money. The thugs are positioned for optimal shotgun attacks on Holgar in the event that he turns up as expected.

Cirrina Stauros — Ex-army Lt. Colonel, 3868B8, Age 34, 4 terms, cr50,000, Rifle-2, SMG-1, Forward Observer-1, Gambling-1, Winged Craft-1. Has an SMG, a dagger, and cloth armor.

Cirrina is totally naive, completely faithful, and eager to meet up with her new friends in order to set out on what is no doubt the greatest Traveller adventure ever devised– a really good one drawn from a half dozen old paperbacks. Man, it would have been great! Unfortunately, she picked the wrong friends.

Huck Portico — Retired Scout, B6B556, Age 26, 2 Terms, CR23, Pilot-1, Jack of All Trades-1, Vacc-1, Gunnery-1. Wields a cutlass and wears mesh armor.

Huck is also totally naive, completely faithful, and eager to meet up with his new friends. He wanted to play a nice little Traveller adventure, but the referee totally ruined it. Honestly, there would have been trouble in town even if Roarke had not sold him out.

Holger Anderson — Ex-Merchant 4th Officer, 956975, Age 22, 1 term, cr60,000, Bribery-1, Halberd-1, Wheeled Vehicle-1. Has body pistol and dagger and wears both reflec and cloth armor.

Holger is a wanted man. I have no idea why he thought carouse with a BBB689C baroness, but here we are. A reaction roll result of two on turn one has turned him into a magnet for all kinds of attention. He is rolling into the scene with a wheeled ATV which is evidently some kind of far future Big Foot style monster truck. Due to his very precise orders, we know that he is not going to be attempting to run over the odd man out of this weird prisoner’s dilemma that was set up.

Holger stops his ATV at the rendezvous point and opens the door with his dagger ready and within CLOSE range of Huck. Huck’s posture is very trusting, so he does not give any trouble. Neither party is liable to spaz out. However, a lot of other people are. This is the point when all hell breaks loose.

I have taken great pains to set this scenario up in accordance with the orders I was given, but it occurs to me that everything hinges on what type of armor rating I give to people that are inside the ATV. I must determine this before I begin taking combat orders. The rules state that the ATV may be “lightly armored” but does nothing to define what that means. What to do!

I was going to say shooting at the driver of an ATV was either a -2 or -3 penalty, but looking at this thing… it looks pretty sturdy. I am going to go with -3. Obviously, some kind of penetration rule would be in order… something like what you see in Azhanti High Lightning or maybe Striker or High Guard. GURPS would provide some kind of damage resistance value what would be relevant here. However, all of these rules are off the table due to our scenario’s book control order. We are going with a -3 penalty here mostly because the guy that was most likely to die from it was a good sport and agreed to it in order to help get the game going.

Another question is how much the ATV can move in the range band system during turn two. It looks like an oversized vehicle from Car Wars. The combat turn is 15 seconds. Given an acceleration of 2.5 mph up to speed 25 and then 5 mph thereafter, the speed of the ATV on a second-by-second basis would be 2.5, 5, 7.5, 10, 12.5, 15, 17.5, 20, 22.5, 25. For combat turn one, Holger will be spending 5 seconds getting into the driver’s seat. He would then have 10 seconds to accelerate. If we assume a Traveller range band is more or less equivalent to a Car Wars inch… then he will have moved .25 + .5 + .75 + 1 + 1.25 + 1.5 + 1.75 + 2 + 2.25 + 2.5 inches at the start of turn 2 where his enemies will likely be getting their parting shots. That is roughly 13 range bands.

The last question is whether the people inside the ATV can shoot at people. I think with the combat round being 15 seconds long and the thing looking like some kind of military vehicle, it makes sense that something like arrow slits are installed on the thing. “Pedestrians” firing from inside a moving vehicle would be penalized with a -2 modifier. Yes, I just made this up.

  1. Concealed Thing of Interest A
  2. ATV with Holger at the wheel and with Huck and Cirrina having just gotten inside.
  3. Concealed Thing of Interest B
  4. Joe Gelt-Waunder

This is a six-person scenario where everyone is a faction of one. My one rule as a referee is that the scenarios that come out of any kind of campaign play do not need to be fair. However, they do have to be worth playing out. Hopefully we got something here!

Actions for the first turn of combat.

  • Roarke Garnett breaks cover from point B and moves toward the ATV. He will end the combat round at range band #13.
  • Holger Anderson is accelerating the ATV in the direction of Joe Gelt-Waunder and will attempt to run him over if he reveals himself to be hostile during the combat round.
  • The thugs check the book for the chances of taking out Holger with shotguns at medium range with this -3 penalty on top. They are skill zero. They get a +1 bonus for DEX 9+ and a -1 penalty for DEX 3-. Cloth armor gives a -3 penalty. Range gives a +3 penalty. Their dexterity scores are 5, 7, 7, 9, and 3. So, one guy gets a -1 and another gets a +1. The to-hit penalties for nailing Holgar are -3, -3, -3, -2, and -4. The to-hit targets are 11+, 11+, 11+, 10+, and 12+. These are not great odds, but they are dramatic. They all miss.
  • Cirrina Stauros fires an SMG at the thugs at range of Medium. Range penalty is +3. Cloth armor is -3. Skill is +1. Attribute bonus is zero. To-hit roll is 7+. Hits with a 10. Randomly select thug #4 for damage. 12 points of damage. Thug is 899, so he unconscious.
  • Huck Portico had a cutlass when he got into the ATV. If he had fired a gun this round, he would have missed with a four. Next round he will have picked up any weapon that happens to be inside the ATV. Not sure what is there!
  • Joe Gelt-Waunder is heading towards his car and about to put groceries into the trunk of his car when he sees this disturbance. He throws the groceries in, starts the cars, accelerates in reverse, and then does a bootlegger reverse. He can potentially speed away from the scene during round 2 if he should desire. He is at range band #20 when round 2 begins.

Range band map for round 2:

  1. 5 Thugs
  2. ATV with Holger at the wheel and with Huck, Cirrina, and Roarke inside.
  3. Joe Gelt-Waunder in a car that has stopped. Speed 0 at start of round.

Combat actions for round 2:

  • Joe Gelt-Waunder fires a laser rifle at Holger. It penetrates the ATV and hits Holger, but Holger’s reflec armor stops the shot.
  • The thugs need to make a morale check at 7+. They do it! They move one range band toward the ATV and fire. Range is LONG, so this is futile.
  • Huck Portico is at LONG range firing at guys in cloth armor with a shotgun. This at -9 to-hit, so this is futile.
  • Cirrina Stauros needed 7+ with an SMG to shoot at the thugs last round. The shift to long range makes this shot futile.
  • Roarke points a revolver at Holgar and tells him to get out of the vehicle. Holgar hits the gas, giving a -2 penalty to Roarke’s shot. Revolver vs Cloth at Close Range is +2 and -3. His dexterity is 10 which gives him a +1. He has +1 for skill. He needs 9+ to hit but then rolls a 10. HOLGAR IS UNCONSCIOUS.

Range band map for round 3:

  1. Unconscious thug #4. 4 Thugs
  2. ATV with NOBODY at the wheel and with Huck, Cirrina, and Roarke inside.
  3. Joe Gelt-Waunder in a car that has stopped. Speed 0 at start of round.
  • Huck attempts to kill Roarke with his cutlass. He is at +2 for strength. Roarke is -3 for Cloth. Nobody declared that they were moving to CLOSE range, so I rule that this is SHORT. Cutlass is at +2. Skill is 0. Huck needs a 6+ to hit. HE HITS! He does 9 points of damage. Roarke is AA8. (!!) If the damage lands on the Endurance attribute, then he is unconscious. It lands on Strength, so he is still going.
  • Cirrina Stauros gets the dead body out of the driver’s seat and tries to wrap her head around the controls.
  • Roarke fires his revolver at Huck. Hucks mesh armor gives a -1 modifier. Revolver at SHORT is +2. Skill is +1. Dexterity DM is +1. Roarke needs a 5+. He rolls a 12! Damage is 15. HUCK IS UNCONSCIOUS.
  • Oh, those thugs! What is happening?! I rule that if a thug makes their to-hit roll, then on 1-2 they hit Roarke, on 3-4 they hit Cirrina, and on 5-6 they hit nothing. Everyone has cloth armor, so its 11+, 11+, 11+, and 12+. (Cirrina took out the best one previously.) All miss.
  • Joe is shooting his laser at a thug. Range is VERY LONG for +1. Electronic sights give +4. Cloth armor gives +2. Skill gives +2. I think this is an automatic hit. 19 damage, Thug #5 is B3A, Strength goes to zero. Endurance goes to 2, Thug #5 is unconscious.

Range band map for round 4:

  1. Unconscious thug #4 and #5. 3 thugs remaining.
  2. ATV with Cirrina at the wheel and with Huck looming over the dead bodies of both Holgar and Huck.
  3. Joe Gelt-Waunder in a car that has stopped. Speed 0 at start of round.
  • The thugs needs a morale check. (?) Either way, they made it. They hit on 11+. They got two hits. Using random hit targeting. I rule that if a thug makes their to-hit roll, then on 1-2 they hit Roarke, on 3-4 they hit Cirrina, and on 5-6 they hit nothing. One shot misses and the other hits Roarke. Shotgun is 4d. Damage is 13. Roarke is 1A8. The dice are 3-1-4-5. Roarke allocates the 4 and 3 to Endurance. He allocates the 1 and 5 to Dexterity. Roarke is 141. I don’t think he is unconscious!
  • Roarke shoots at the thugs with an Automatic Rifle. Medium range is +2. Cloth is -1. Skill is zero. A Dexterity of 10 gives a DM of +2. Roarke needs 5+. Roarke hits. Damage is 11. Thug #3 is 677 and is now unconcious.
  • Joe takes a laser shot at Cirrina. Range is LONG for +2. Electronic sights give +4. Cloth armor gives +2. Skill gives +2. The ATV gives -3. Damage is 21. Cirrina is 386. Cirrina is DEAD.
  • (Cirrina was going to move the ATV, but whatever.)

During round five, Joe discovers that Roark has reflec armor. The thugs shoot at the ATV uselessly. And then somehow Dunder rolls an 8- for his intelligence and just barely manages to drive away.

There is some question of what effect damage actally has on the attrubutes. Does damage to Strength actually cause you to be able to carry less stuff? Would the attribute penalty for being encumbered cause someone to fall unconscious? I argue that no it wouldn’t because the game design would be so terrible if everyone had to recalculate encumbrance and attribute modifiers for weapons every time they took damage.

So, Roarke Garnett wins the battle, leaves with the body of that the Baroness Anana is offering cr5,000 for.

Congratulations, Roarke. Well played!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Running Classic Traveller in the Braunstein Style

Wed, 07/03/2024 - 13:00

First off, Traveller was not explicitly designed for Braunstein play. This is evident from its description of a campaign given in Book 1:

Note here the image of the hardworking referee creating a vast backdrop for what sounds like a single group of players to wander around in. This isn’t how I would do it at all!

Now, my discovery of the open table adjudicated with strict one to one time does change the way one would conceivably run a more or less standard Traveller campaign. Assuming there were pretty much the same group of people showing up to regular sessions, the campaign would naturally develop two to four complete parties, each with their own starship. A session could involve running one group fairly far out into the timeline. The other parties could be played as the calendar catches up to them. If there is not time to play them all, it would be trivial to run the least interesting group in a more or less solitaire method between sessions– presuming that routine trade activity would be the bulk of the activity resolved.

How should you handle the new player that wants to sit in with these sessions? Well, this is one of the best parts of Traveller. Just have the new guy generate characters until one turns up that fits the situation. He may be a traveller that is currently stranded and looking for a way to earn passage off world. He may be a local that elects to ally with the players on a temporary basis. The character thus introduced into the game could be a de facto NPC delegated to the new player for the purposes of the session. Depending on his interests, he could try out another character type the next time he visits when another world and/or party is in play. If circumstances are agreeable, such characters could potentially become permanent elements of the campaign’s active continuing parties.

Now, something interesting opens up in the long-running campaign when it has a few casual players dropping in and out. Each consistent player in the campaign could have characters moving around different parts of the subsector map at the same time. Meanwhile the casual players could have several landbound NPC type characters that are spread around that same area of space. Whenever there is a convergence of these characters, the referee could contact the casual player to determine how he would react to whichever party has shown up to his particular world. Note that this is similar to the Adversary role outlined by Steve Jackson in the pages of the second edition GURPS Basic Set. However, this player need not attend the session for the referee to get a lot of mileage out of his participation– as I amply demonstrated last summer.

Note that with strict timekeeping, one could conceivably go further and integrate something like either Fifth Frontier War or a Trillion Credit Squadron type campaign within the same backdrop. Unfortunately, these sorts of games tend to collapse under the weight of their own bookkeeping. It is just so easy to dream up more campaign than anyone could want to actually play! The tendency to create essentially unplayable products such as Striker and Pocket Empires indicates that under the pressure to produce more and more content for rpgs, game designers very quickly lost sight of what actually works at the table for people running continuing campaigns.

In order to deal with this longstanding problem, I propose that Braunstein play be explicitly adopted, however I suggest adopting a couple of ideas in order to both make it more manageable and also to get the most out of the players’ attention while they are still excited about a particular scenario. Here they are:

  1. Everything in the campaign does not have to be active at all times.
  2. Not everything in a given scenario has to be derived from game elements that have been operated by a player on a continuing basis.
  3. Traveller scenarios involving lots of players operating independently does not NECESSARILY have to involve multiple interstellar factions butting heads across multiple subsectors of space
  4. Braunsteins in a campaign don’t have to be set up to run forever but can be set up and resolved as circumstances and interest allow.

Thus, it is possible to set up a Braunstein scenario where the action is focused on a single city or a single world or a single continent. Running this type of game with Classic Traveller has several appealing properties.

In the first place, it is I think well known that Traveller worlds and characters are particularly evocative. As my pal Bdubs has noted, a process called abductive reasoning just seems spur on the apophenia of everyone involved in the game. All kinds of ideas spontaneously emerge the moment you, for instance, take a particular character and a particular world and tell a player that this is their homeworld which they have returned to after mustering out. A similar process occurs when a character in a Braunstein scenario approaches a major NPC with a proposition. Even with nothing else prepped beyond the basic stats of the individuals involved, that reaction roll implies all kinds of things about the real nature of the NPC and what all else is going on.

Now, consider what happens when players in a Braunstein scenario play out a single scene during their turn within the game. Some will get positive reactions from NPCs and thus end up with key assets, allies, and assistance. Others will provoke the NPCs to violence, thus developing threats and/or scenes of intense violence as are typical within the pages of a Dumarest novel. Other player characters will come into direct conflict, creating action and continuing conflict that is particularly engrossing.

What this means is that referees have a type of gameplay mode that is easy to set up which will cause worlds which are little more than a string of UWP digits to blossom into an environment packed with action and excitement and vivid characters with very little work. That’s right, folks. The type of zero-prep gaming which you thought was only possible for people that were running games that could leverage the appendices to the classic 1979 Dungeon Masters Guide… that sort of play is now available to Traveller referees.

It is very easy to run. The first turn of action with eight players turned out to be quite an effort. However, things get much easier once the game is underway. I accept a new round of orders every 48 hours. With more players, a weekly regimen would be easily sustained.

The trick to making it work is to fight the temptation to lapse into the always on mode. You don’t have to give each player a full-fledged adventure every single turn. You don’t have to flesh anything out overmuch. All you need is a tiny nugget of an adventuring scene. They really don’t have to be much. If you need a reference, the old Dwarf Star game Barbarian Prince just about nails the level of effort you need to go for. It’s so minimal, you can easily whip up something like it on the spot regardless of where a player is acting or what he is doing or who he is involved with. It you want to be true to the Traveller rules, if you want to have an exciting game, if you want particularly vibrant worlds to spontaneously come into focus, just go out of your way to interpret ever single turn order through the lens of what could reasonably be expected to happen within a single chapter of a Dumarest story.

Of course, when you have eight people operating independently during the same 48-hour order window, you don’t have time as a referee to give anyone more than a small morsel of adventure. Even with a more leisurely week-long turn cycle you might not want to go beyond that, either. After all, there’s something particularly engaging about getting a group of friends together to play out an adventure. But here’s the thing about Braunstein play. You’re not married to it. The mark of a successful rpg campaign is not only that it will develop a range of contrasting play modes, but it will also move between them as circumstances dictate. So, when players in a Braunstein scenario get interested in an obvious adventure hook and form a cooperative party in order to go pursue it, you absolutely are free to call a game session and then play things out in the conventional way.

But here’s the genius of this method. In the same way that a battle in the context continuing campaign wargame is fundamentally different from a standalone skirmish, so too is an rpg session played out in the context of an ongoing Braunstein. Even though the players are working together, they will still be essentially a sort of faction of one when they do so. The party could be more of a team of rivals with each one walking a delicate line in a complex multisided prisoner’s dilemma. The state of the overall Braunstein scenario influences the details of how the adventure is played. The results of the adventure will have a direct impact on the continuing Braunstein situation. And finally, when the players come back from a visit to the polar ice caps, the ominous rainforest, or the forlorn ruins, they will find that the situation that they left behand has continued to develop without them.

If you wanted your rpg campaign to produce the feeling of an immersive, living world that takes on a life of it own and that inspires a great deal of excitement and ongoing engagement from a wide range of players… this is the answer. This has been demonstrated to work well with AD&D and its derivatives and antecedents. Now it has been shown that it can be done with Traveller as well.

“But… not everyone wants to play that way.”

No, they don’t. Not everyone wants to play an rpg session in the “Getalong Gang” cooperative party approach, either. With the setup like a describe here, players that either can’t or else don’t want to play in the traditional “conventional” rpg style don’t have to. They have a choice. And they are free even to make a different choice week to week as both mood and campaign circumstances dictate.

“But… these techniques are so hard core. Not everyone has time to play a game like this.”

The demo game I am running right now can be sustained indefinitely operating on little else than stolen moments that would normally be wasted scrolling on social media pages. All I would have to do is switch to weekly orders to reduce the burden on the referee. The players meanwhile would only have to commit a fraction of that time and need not attend sessions at all. Further, short sessions are a good fit for the continuing Braunstein style of play. Many people have lamented that they cannot play a “real” campaign because they only meet once a month for about two hours at a stretch. Weekly turn orders combined with occasional short sessions absolutely fits with that situation.

A word of warning, though. Playing rpgs in this manner is so compelling and so engaging, the people in your group are liable to find that they have more time for such activities than they had previously allotted. The buzz generated by a successful campaign is liable to attract more players as well. Face it, there’s a lot of people that have never experienced the rpg campaign that they game books suggested was possible. Turn your campaign into a total nonstop Braunstein and people are liable to come out of the woodwork to take part in yours.

It’s wild. It’s dangerous. It’s fun. And it could be you that is running the game that everyone is talking about it.

Do yourself a favor and try out these methods today.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Barons of Moonstein Campaign State at End of Turn 1

Tue, 07/02/2024 - 18:30

The scout base has been stormed by Luther Stickell and a heavily armed band of thugs. Barring any intervention by other high initiative actors, he essentially controls the C-class starport for the time being. The locals go through the motions of pretending to be nonplussed about this, but for a humble backwater world that had a large batch of travellers dumped on it arbitrarily, this is basically what we would just call “Tuesday”. Honestly, most people are content to sit back and allow the inevitable consequences of violence to run its course– as long as it is running its course on somebody else.

Luther’s audacious television broadcast claimed that corruption was known to be rampant at the scout base and that he has taken measures to put an end to it. He has declared that now that he has dealt with the bad actors that have no doubt been facilitating piracy in the broader stellar region, he has turned his sights on the Bookhouse Boys, a vigilante organization that no doubt stands in the way of the establishment of true law and order.

Luther Stickell’s missive has been answered by the following publicly broadcast statement:

The Estate of Baron Ariston, on behalf of the Barons of Moonshine, salutes the bravery of Luther Stickell and company, and now requests their immediate cooperation in order to receive Baronial sanction and aid for their noble plan to rid Moonshine of piracy.

The Ariston Estate requests that the recently deposed fort commander be released into Baronial custody, as a sign of goodwill on the part of Colonel Stickell and to ensure the commander receives a fair trial and official justice and is not subjected to any form of vigilante justice. The Ariston Estate will treat any accidental harm the young commander comes to as an act of lawless irresponsibility on the part of Mr. Stickell and company.

In other news, the Estate of Baroness Anana has offered a reward of cr5,000 to anyone that can bring her Holger Anderson dead or alive. This is evidently not uncommon occurrence on this world. The reward posting alludes to Holger’s rather astonishing lack of comeliness, his pronounced lack of class, and also alludes to his complete inability to dance well. “The fact that this man expects to move freely on planet Moonshine offends me. Someone please rid our idyllic preserve of this impudent miscreant!”

The Church of Universal Brotherhood has announced funeral services for Niccolò Gatti, Robert Pritchard, and unnamed NPC Scout #6 which will be held during Turn 2 of the Braunstein. All player characters in the game are cordially invited to drop by and pay their respects.

The Estate of Baroness Vala meanwhile has announced that she will be hosting a ball during Turn 3 of this Braunstein.

No ships arrived in system as of the start of turn 2.

Orders for turn 2 are due on Wednesday, June 3 at 8PM Eastern.

Referee Notes:

Processing the “bids” for the thug factions were the biggest thing I had to deal with. Allowing everyone to have an army of 6 to 12 thugs would have turned the scenario into a pile of grey goo while tripling the amount of bookkeeping required to run it. It was not entirely “fair”, but I ruled that a reaction roll was required to even hire the thugs. It made sense that hiring them on could result in a violent encounter. It also made sense that someone with Leader skill would have an advantage in this situation.

As far as interpreting the turn orders went, I opted to err on the side of “encouraging” action to develop that fit both with the Classic Traveller rules and also something that could be reasonably to occur in a chapter from just about any Dumarest novel. Players that did not attempt something audacious were given information about the world or broader situation in the hopes that they would use it to either find or avoid trouble during turn two.

Players showing up late with entries for the game had the most ridiculous characters that for some reason completely broke the outlines of this scenario. One had merchant ship. The other was a Duke. For the former I declared that his ship was the merchant encounter that could randomly turn up in the game. For the latter, I simply said “no”.

The Traveller combat system has proven to be perfect for resolving the encounters so far produced. It just works. It is fast enough that we can easily resolve several situations during a 24-hour period. Traveller Book 1 combat is, like the AD&D assassination rules, a very good match for Braunstein play. It is very flavorful and exciting. I regret wasting my time trying to learn Azhanti High Lightning and other such variant systems. Book 1 is just an all-around thing of beauty. Perhaps adding Mercenary to the game was a bad move for the line, I’m not sure.

I find it difficult to keep all the notes that I would like. I know I alluded to some kind of scoring system previously, but I think the game should culminate into some kind of decisive and dramatic violence rather than a few people dinking around trying to pick up credits doing odd jobs. I think we are on track for that. However, I can say that a thorough understanding of the Traveller combat system would have been in order for anyone that was serious about coming out on top in this game. Alas, I am the only person that has seen it put through its paces in a wide variety of situations.

People wanted to know what the Scout service in Traveller was. Just check out the first few pages of Jack Vance’s The City of Chasch and you will get it. We made sure to kill an NPC scout during turn one, so the death rate of the service has been maintained by our game so far, I am happy to say.

Final note, running this type of game on a weekly basis would be extremely easy even with more players. My choice to accept turn orders every other day has in fact put a bit of a burden on me. However, encouraging players to outright eliminate each other simplifies things greatly and I do hope for yet another PC death in the next round. If there is a way to interpret the turn orders such that such an event becomes likely, I will lean in that direction.

Players, these combat rules are designed to kill you. If you aren’t familiar with them, the ridiculous demise of your PC will be entirely your fault!

The DM bonuses for advantageous str/dex vs the DM penalties for required str/dex are the difference between life and death for you. Understand these rules or you will die pointlessly like an illiterate.

When you DM your attack order to me, be sure to state your movement option when you declare what weapon you are using and who you are attacking. This will be a life and death choice if you have the ability to read the combat charts and make an informed decision.

Playing a Braunstein without going in with any kind of serious system mastery is really dumb. As a referee, though, I don’t mind how players die as long as they do die. The more the better! Especially in a game where I am juggling eight threads at once and answering a lot of questions.

Remember, if a PC dies next turn, then this game will be called before you get bored with it. Be a bro and rig the turn such that someone gets voted off the island!

Update: Okay, I can’t believe that you morons don’t get this. This game is set up to explore PvP, “faction of one” type play. Players creating conflict for each other is the point. A dead PC every turn means we can have a decisive victory before you guys lose interest. Hint: someone getting “voted off the island” is a bad thing. Bad for the loser, but good for the game.

Getalong Gang vs. referee-controlled goons and NPCs? BORING!

Players unleashing their dumb plans on each other? SOARING!


In loving memory of Niccolò Gatti. He died because he forgot his sunglasses. R.I.P.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

It’s Okay to Talk to Jeffro Now

Mon, 07/01/2024 - 15:31

Well, I’ll tell you this latest installment of Inappropriate Characters was a doozy. And you might have wondered before about why there really isn’t any girls hanging around the Old School Renaissance scene. Seriously, though, watch the show and you’ll find out why. Just look at how these clowns acted! Pundit’s first impulse when asking Harmony Ginger about her phenomenal success right out of the gate with her YouTube channel is to suggest that her popularity is less for the quality of her work and more just about the fact that she is… a girl. Meanwhile one of his cohosts could not resist making a sexually explicit wisecrack every time he opened his mouth.

These guys are utterly repulsive. If you never meet a girl that has a deep abiding passion for classic rpgs– I am not exaggerating here– it’s because guys like Pundit are doing everything they can to be as odious as possible every time a woman dips her toes into the broader scene.

This shabby treatment did not end with the opening pleasantries, either. No, it got even tackier. After Pundit had suggested that Ginger is coasting into her success purely on the basis of her charm and feminine allure, she proceeded to make it clear that she had a great deal of substance to go along with those virtues. She did such a good job explaining her views, it quickly became evident that her hosts were quite out of their depth. This became undeniable when she was discussing her solution to a common tabletop rpg problem and Pundit’s cohost interjected that he couldn’t do it the way that Ginger did because his players were all so dumb.

It was nuts, it really was. But Ginger coming out looking this good while making these PDF Merchants look like total amateurs came at a steep cost. Pundit subsequently went out of his way to interrupt her by reading out two-dollar superchats. For the entire second half of the show even, he didn’t let her get a word in at all. Yeah, that’s right. After suggesting that Harmony Ginger’s success was due entirely to her being a girl, he consciously went out of his way to prevent her from articulating anything substantiative about her own work and activities in the area of tabletop rpgs. It was painful to watch; it really was. I wasn’t alone in thinking this either. The chat was pretty lively during the first half of the show. For the second half it was obvious that everyone had tuned out!

Honestly, though, the best thing about this show is what didn’t happen. Based on his previous behavior, one would think that Pundit was going to rake her over the coals for talking to me on one of these YouTube shows. Based on his Twitter antics, one would think that he was going to come down hard on her for not asking me mean/tough/rude questions about things that have nothing to do with rpgs when she did. Based on his comments on previous shows, one would think that he would belabor the point that the taint of her associating with me would somehow put a harsh limit on her rise to fame and notoriety within the ttrpg discussion space.

I know, it’s amazing to see it. Yes, it is evident that Pundit doesn’t have the faintest idea of how to comport himself in the presence of a woman. And yes, it is clear that Pundit is not particularly intelligent. Also evident is the fact that he has failed to attract both the winsome and the astute to be his close associates. Nevertheless, even someone so pedantic and cringe-inducing as Pundit has hard limits to how much of a heel he is willing to be.

So it is that, strangely enough, a long nightmare of mine has finally come to an end. For ten years this guy has dogged my steps. He has attempted to undercut my every success. He has challenged my every thesis. He has attacked me personally, called me names that cause the weakhearted to disassociate from me entirely and that cause my close friends to retire their social media accounts and come back under an assumed name and with a ridiculous profile people.

When it became clear that I really had discovered something extraordinary about early rpgs, a lot of people wanted to talk to me. Well, the ones that aren’t openly afraid of me or else in the process of plagiarizing my work did. But yeah, Pundit has been a very persistent nag for years now threatening and bullying anyone that would even think of speaking to me and running a preposterous guilt by association line on them in an attempt to scare them off. But that stuff is all over now. It really is. Pundit’s failure to hold Harmony Ginger’s feet to the fire for these utterly fake allegations means he can never bully another soul for giving me a platform or associating with me or my ideas.

I never thought I’d see the day, but here we are. It’s okay to talk to Jeffro now. Nothing bad will happen to you if you do. And heck, using my ideas at the table not only makes you smarter and better looking, it also will put you in touch with a better class of people. It’s true! And a lot more people are going to know about that now. And it’s clear that they are going to be able to find out without having to endure RpgPundit’s tedious campaign of slander and harassment. This is a big win for me and a massive loss for my most persistent enemy. And reflecting on the whole thing, I think it’s evident that this is the sort of fight that I would never have won on my own.

You know, it is hard for me to say this just given how I am. But I think this is such a nice turn of events for me it would actually be even more embarrassing to pretend not to have noticed. But yeah, I do think this is a rather extraordinary outcome for me and I am very pleased to see my arch-nemesis and one of the rpg space’s ugliest bad actors outright humiliated in this way. I mean, RpgPundit is not only far less competent in his own ridiculously male-dominated field than a girl, but he is even afraid to allow one to speak when he has personally invited her to come onto his show. What a putz! I don’t think he will ever truly recover from this.

So, thank you, Harmony. I really appreciate it. I am really happy with how this played out. I think it is clear you bring somewhat more to the table than what I had initially given you credit for. Good luck on your inevitable rise to the top!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Barons of Moonstein

Sun, 06/30/2024 - 20:32

We have planetfall.

Moonshine — Starport C, Scout Base, 8,000-mile Diameter, Standard/Tainted atmosphere, Hydrographics 90%, Population in the thousands, NO GOVERNMENT, Law Level 1, Tech Level 6. Non-industrial.

Moonshine is famous for its night sky which is lit up by hundreds of small moons. The bulk of its population is bound up in eight Baronial estates, each with a worker population in the range of two to three hundred people. The size of these estates is generous, and the incomes are modest. There is no military force save for a few bodyguards and a part-time militia. Most of the world’s land area is taken up with an imperial wilderness preserve. Park rangers and star port personnel comprise most of the world’s population outside of the estates.

A note on maps: This is not a hex crawl game. This is more of a social game. The raw intent of the characters from turn to turn is more important than where everyone is at any given moment of time. Time and space is somewhat amorphous. My hope is that the secret and simultaneous declarations will generate sufficient amounts of action to hold my interest and create additional conflict organically. The prisoner’s dilemma the players inflict upon each other is more interesting to me than any “adventure” I might impose on the players. That said, there are some general regions of interest that the locals are strangely incurious about:

  1. Sargasso Sea — A vast stretch of seaweed in a windless dead zone where all the currents come together.
  2. Sprawling Rainforest — A region so thick with dangerous alien life forms that not even the rangers of the Imperial Hunting Reserve venture into this place.
  3. Ruins — Remnants of a large human city which dates back to before the Long Night. Definitely nothing to see here.
  4. Alpine — The nobility only considers three things to be worthy pastimes of a proper gentlemen. Social dancing, thoat-riding, and mountaineering. This is the place to go for the latter.
  5. Desert — A particularly striking local featuring marvelous ridges of columnar basalt which jut out from the ground like the tines of a feather.
  6. Ice Caps — Totally not the location where the players will be forced to play out a scenario drawn from the events of John Carpenter’s The Thing.

Initial Campaign State and Hints/Rumors:

  1. The top officer from the Scout Base has been missing for several weeks. The ranking administrator is a college graduate serving his first term in the scouts on a Base assignment. He is incompetent and utterly terrified that he will fail his survival roll. This poltroon offers cr20,000 to anyone that can bring his chief back alive.
  2. A starship has misjumped to this planet which contains several travellers. There are so many ex-army colonels among them that the locals are quite alarmed at this incident and fear there may be plans for among these new arrivals to form a military junta to take over the planet. At the end of each turn of Braunstein action, I will roll 1d6 and add it to a running total. When this total reaches 20+, the ship is repaired and the survivors will have the option to call the game by leaving the planet. (Note: sabotage will increase the threshold required for the ship to be repaired.)
  3. Word on the street is that the local scout base is corrupt and has been resupplying pirate ships as a sideline for some time. Most people believe that there is a secret society of vigilantes that has intervened on behalf of the world to take the Scout Officer out of play.
  4. This is a lonely backwater. At the end of each “turn” of Braunstein action, I will roll 2d6. On an 11+ a ship has arrived. On a 1-4 it is a Scout ship, on a 5 it is a tramp freighter, and on a 6 roll again. On a 1-3 it is a Pirate intent on mayhem and on a 4-6 it is Ariston returning in his yacht. Player characters that believe this planet is too dangerous may secretly bid for passage off this world in the event that a ship passes through during the space of a game turn.
  5. Stats for the Barons and Travellers are given below so that players can know more or less what they are dealing with. Combat in this scenario is intended to be both small scale and gritty. I am secretly assigning henchmen to the Barons. The disposition of the Barons is not set at the start of the game but will be developed through play as reaction rolls are made. This world does not care if it eats Traveller PC’s alive. In fact, it is in its best interest to do so. Players have the option of “meme-ing” Baron behavior into existence by suggesting dumb plans to them, but the cost of this is a chance for a combat scenario. The attack will not tend to be immediate but can come later with the PC not even knowing who is responsible.
  6. Traveller vs. Traveller play: Every PC is a faction of one! Travellers may elect to cooperate or may even simply opt to fight and scheme among themselves. As long as this scenario produces one clear winner from among all of the player characters while developing a new and intriguing status quo for what was just a string of UWP digits just a few days ago, I don’t care what happens. Looking forward to laughing about the final rankings!

The Eight Barons of Moonshine:

  1. Theotormon [Noble #3] — Baron, 34398C, Age 46, 7 terms, cr300,000, Leader-1, Gun Cbt-1, Hunting-1, Carousing-2, Bribery-1, Travellers’.
  2. Jadawin [Noble #9] — Baron, B5976C, Age 34, 4 terms, cr100,000, Brawling-1, Pilot-1, Leader-1, Engineering-1, Admin-1, Travellers’.
  3. Vala [Noble #12] — Baroness, 48BB8C, Age 30, 3 terms, cr50,000, Blade Cbt-1, Leader-1, Computer-1, High Passage, Travellers’.
  4. Palamabron [Noble #15] — Baron, 49968C, Age 34, 4 terms, cr200,000, Pilot-1. Blade Cbt-2, Vehicle-1, Liason-1, Admin-1, two High Passage.
  5. Luva [Noble #17] — Baroness, 84798C, Age 26, 2 terms, cr200,000, Carousing-1, Admin-1, Leader-1, Travellers’.
  6. Anana [Noble #23] — Baroness, BB689C, Age 30, 3 terms, cr10,000, Pilot-3, Carousing-1.
  7. Enion [Noble #29] — Baron, 89788C, Age 26, 2 terms, cr100,000, Engineering-1, Computer-1, Gun Cbt-1, Travellers’.
  8. Ariston [Noble #31] — Baron, 89444C, Age 26, 2 terms, cr10,000, Ship’s Boat-2, Gun Cbt-1, yacht. (Note: Ariston is currently offworld and his estate is being managed by a steward.)

The Travellers:

  1. Luther Stickell — Ex-army Colonel, 456689, Age 46, 7 terms, cr20,000, Leader-2, Computer-4, Tactics-3, Admin-2, Body Pistol-2, SMG-1, Rifle-1, two High Passage.
  2. Robert Pritchard — Ex-army Captain 397753, Age 30, 3 terms, cr10,000, ATV-2, Air/Raft-1, Auto Rifle-1, Electronics-1, Low Passage, Rifle-1, SMG-1.
  3. Jung Junger — Ex-army Colonel, A897C8, Age 38, 5 terms, cr3000, Rifle-3, Bayonet-1, Tactics-1, Mechanical-1, Brawling-1.
  4. Holger Anderson — Ex-Merchant 4th Officer, 956975, Age 22, 1 term, cr60,000, Bribery-1, Halberd-1, Wheeled Vehicle-1.
  5. Niccolò Gatti — Ex-other, A7788A, Age 26, 2 terms, cr15,000, Bribery -1, Forgery-1, Sword-1.
  6. Huck Portico — Retired scout, B6B556, Age 26, 2 terms, cr0, Pilot-1, Jack of all trades-1, Vacc suit-1, Gunnery-1. Equipment: cutlass.
  7. Roarke Garnett — Ex-marine Force Commander, AA8898, age 26, 2 terms, Cr 20k, Laser Carbine-1, Revolver-1, Cutlass-1, Medical-2, Tactics-1, Mechanical-1.

“This party glows.” — Joshua Hiles

Book Control Notice: This game only uses the original Traveller “little black books” 1-3– specifically the 1981 edition. (Note: the latter is VERY important! The 1977 editions may be subtly different!) As a referee, I will only reference Supplements 1, 2, and 4. Note that none of the advanced character generation systems and none of the alien modules are in play. The “official” Traveller universe is not in play. The only part of this universe that has been developed at this point is this particular world.

Design notes: This is a Jeffro game experiment. If we knew what we were doing, we would not be doing it. The setting is the results of an extremely ancient random world generator. The main NPC’s are ripped off from a page of characters that were probably generated by an 8-bit computer in 1978. The premise of the scenario is ripped off from an old book that hopefully nobody has read. The adventure situation is extremely primitive and leans entirely on the player characters screwing each other over.

Some advice about Traveller combat: Traveller combat to hit rolls all have a base of 8+ on 2d6. There is a +2 bonus or -2 penalty due to Strength for melee weapons or Dexterity for ranged weapons. There are bonuses/penalties from weapon/armor matrix and from a weapon/range matrix. There is no initiative roll, but there is surprise. The rules for how damage is taken from the original Book 1 is ambiguous. The clarifying example from Starter Traveller is golden. Learn these rules. I am eager to eliminate PC’s from the scenario and will not be holding your hand through this! If you want to learn these rules, teach each other!

Anthropological Note: We know full well that Gary Gygax knew how Braunsteins worked based on the primary documents of the 1979 edition of Boot Hill game by itself. Likewise, we know that the guys at GDW knew precisely how the game I am proposing here would work. Consider this line from the game En Garde which was published in 1975.

For each week of the game, all players, after a short negotiation period, secretly note their personal actions for that week. The negotiation period is necessary to allow players to arrange for duels, toadying, or any other activity that must be arranged in advance. A player need not keep his word to the other players, but must do what is written on his calendar.

Last year I somehow managed to incorporate the spirit of the old Gamma World rules for exchanging artifacts for status. It is my hope that somehow, I can bring the spirit of the old En Garde rules into Traveller with this game.

A note on your first turn’s orders: You may purchase weapons and armor from your starting credits for BEFORE your arrival to this world. There are a limited number of thugs available for hire at the starport after you arrive. You may make a secret bid for these guys along with whatever other orders you issue on your first turn. I will divide up the thugs based on the relative proportions of the bids.

If you do not know what else to do for your orders, you can either opt to “search for clues” and maybe get a random encounter or else you can approach a Baron with some kind of proposal. You may do this independently or with a group. If you are cooperating with another PC in an activity, you can state that this is so, but they this only happens if they also state that they did this in their secret orders that they pass to the referee.

Clues are very important in this scenario. Who knows what and when and what they share with the other PC’s is what much of this game will be about– unless things go off the rails and something much more awesome than I anticipate transpires. I imagine that there will be different groups of PC’s cooperating each round and that only a subset of PC’s will be aware of a given clue when it is revealed.

You may speak with other people that are running PC’s in this game as much as you like UNLESS I have specifically ruled that you are out of pocket.

Assuming there is a way to get the reward, a subset of PC’s may elect to go get it. In the event that they split it equally, the player that spent the least number of credits on thugs and bribes and supplies, etc. is the winner. The bottom rankings are filled in the order in which a player character gets killed.

A word on adjudication: My plan is to have a deadline for new orders every 48 hours starting at 8PM eastern on Monday, July 1. Ideally, I can resolve all of the action within 24 hours of receiving the orders so that players will have a full 24 hours to negotiate with each other. The game will be run primarily from my blog and then probably by Twitter direct message. I will post the public game state here and announce/confirm deadlines for the next round’s orders each time I do so.

A word on referee meanness: If your orders are late or too confusing or dumb, I will rule that you are sitting around at the broken starship playing checkers or something. If all of you waste my time unnecessarily, you make running this game impossible. Someone among you will know what elite play is like. Find him and make him teach you how not to be a dummy. I will have my hands full resolving battles and such, and I have no problem keeping some of you guys in timeout until you learn how to be a player that enhances the game and that does not waste my time.

The last word: The deadline for the first turn’s orders is July 1 at 8PM Eastern. You will go back and forth with me on some of this stuff, but you will send me the following in a clean message with no confusing addendums or late breaking corrections. (It will be cut and pasted into Notepad where I will track everything.)

  1. A valid Traveller character including your initial credit total.
  2. A list of equipment that is stashed in your stateroom on the ship.
  3. A list of equipment that is carried on your person.
  4. Total weight carried along with a note of whether you are at double or triple load.
  5. Your remaining credit total AFTER you make your initial equipment purchases. [Note: this value you will NOT be deducted from your final score as long as your purchases look like something that could have been bought for another adventure scenario besides this specific one.]
  6. A credit value representing your bid on the initial pool of thugs that can serve as lackeys and additional muscle. [Note: this value WILL be deducted from your final score.]
  7. Some sort of action for the first turn. Yes, you can do anything. Note, you cannot approach all eight Barons on the first turn. YOU HAVE TO PICK JUST ONE. Feel free to brainstorm with me on this before settling on your final order as we are figuring this out as we go.

It is critical that you are explicit about WHO you are coordinating with when you perform an action. Note as well that the people you expect to go in with you on it can bail out on you and leave you to face tough situations without any support. If I know someone has left you high and dry, this may influence the details of any resulting combat action.

Thank you and good luck!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Turn Up the Dial on Better Rpg Play

Sat, 06/29/2024 - 14:57

My pal Bdubs has this great session report where he details the axioms of Real D&D. Here they are:

  1. Play your game RAW (rules as written) NOT with Rule Zero “due as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”.
  2. D&D is appendix n focused. Reading these books/stories will make it easier to run real D&D which is a pulp fantasy simulator.
  3. 1:1 time is foundational to real D&D.
  4. Scaling up for mass combat is foundational to real D&D. (Example: 20 troops etc = 1 unit on the board)
  5. D&D is a Braunstein!

Now, what is really interesting about that post is that he likens these ideas to a sort of dial. He looks back on an old session where things were kind of stale, but then he works out how cranking things up all the way would have made all the difference.

This is of course a very new way to think about rpgs. We have evidence that this is also a very old way to think about rpgs that has alas been forgotten. People like Diversity & Dragons watched me talking about this with Bdubs when we went on Dundermoose’s show recently, and they really struggle to get what we are talking about. They really should have a chance to hear about this stuff from somebody that is much more concise– somebody that is affable and charming and who doesn’t make long and hilarious digressions about who you are liable to meet at the soup aisle.

Well, that somebody exists, and he just cut a positively stellar video. Definitely give this one a listen, because it’s great!

Night Danger, meanwhile, has announced that the second Session Braunstein in his continuing campaign is set for July. You will recall that he ran the positively stellar Fortress Orkmerica session Braunstein that was turning heads back in May. Everybody had a blast back then, but you know… the concept can’t be that important if game groups aren’t insisting that they do it again. Also, it’s one thing to suggest that running a session Braunstein every few months will do wonders for keeping your players engaged and your campaign fresh. It’s another thing to be able to point to a pile of session reports that document what happened when somebody did precisely that.

Very helpfully, Night Danger has even taken the time to define just precisely what he is doing when he sets these things up:

The Battle Braunstein is a special type of session that emerges when the activities of factions and major players in the gameworld converge sufficiently that they can no longer be resolved as background activity. Instead of “DM Fiat” simply hand-waiving the activities of these major players, the Battle Braunstein brings people to the table in a session format similar to our regular adventuring, but now instead of controlling a character in a moment-to-moment adventure, you control a powerful figure or even a whole faction and dictate the activities therein on a turn-by-turn basis.

Frankly, this is the most exciting thing in gaming right now. But I’ll tell you. When you have friends like mine, they are not content to just take the ball and run with it. They will not settle for merely demonstrating that my ideas about rpgs are objectively correct. No! That is not enough!

It’s true. I would have been content to rest in my laurels. I would have been happy to leave everything right there with people running top notch D&D campaigns where they switch to a Braunstein sessions off and on and as needed. I would even have been content to explore old games like second edition GURPS Basic Set and Classic Traveller to try to pin down what makes these games work and what kind of design choices make it possible to get good campaigns off the ground and keep them going.

But then Bdubs– without my permission– has to show up and crash my party. Even worse, he inspired one of the most notorious roleplayers in gaming to do the same. Even worserer, somebody else ahead of m is kicking around the exact same ideas with the same old rpg even. What does Bdubs mean when he is talking about Total NonStop Braunstein? Is it possible to even run a game that way at all? We don’t know! We do know that it was possible to improve on my old approach of the Always On Campaign. Continuing campaigns with occasional session Braunsteins turned out to be both more fun and more sustainable– and also something that more people are capable of taking a stab at.

Can we turn up the dial of gaming awesome one more time? Is it possible? What would it look like? WE DON’T KNOW YET. Either way, giving it a shot is the most compelling thing happening in rpgs today. Now would be a great time to get on board and help us push the state of the art forward yet again.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Fleshing Out a Traveller World Without Endless, Tedious, and Ponderous Game Supplements

Fri, 06/28/2024 - 14:40

Okay, so I have this pile of random world data here leftover from a brief demo game:

  • Moonshine — Starport C, Scout Base, 8,000-mile Diameter, Standard/Tainted atmosphere, Hydrographics 90%, Population in the thousands, NO GOVERNMENT, Law Level 1, Tech Level 6. Non-industrial.

The first time I looked at it, the only thing that hit me was some images from TV and movies. I have felt bad about this since then. I am the author of Appendix N. I should have 47 science fiction short stories pop into my head immediately upon seeing this world profile. But no! I’ve got nothing.

I am not that creative of a person. Never have been. Other referees will gin up entire notebooks of unplayable data. Others will write computer programs to do the same. Still others will dig through shelves of rpg material looking for something to appropriate and adapt to their game. I think all of that stuff is stupid. Traveller was supposed to work back when it was just three little back books and not much else. I just don’t think it should be that big of a deal to make it work. And hey, if you’re not under time pressure to get a session together, this is not that bad. Just mulling over the problem this world presents for a few days ends up forcing my brain to come up with something. And the more I think about it, the more I warm up to the idea of this random world in the middle of nowhere.

Before we flesh this place out, we have a little bit of math to do in order to figure out just what we have to work with here. First, I want to get a better idea of what the exact population is on this planet. Note that there are a few ways to do that:

  • My method is to punch in 10^([Pop Value] + [1d1000 – 1]/1000) on a calculator.
  • The Jon Mollison method is to multiply the population value by 1d6.
  • Caleb Hines suggests using Benford’s Law to get the first digit of the population: 1-30: 1, 31-48: 2, 49-60: 3, 61-70: 4, 71-78: 5, 79-84: 6, 85-90: 7, 91-95: 8, 96-100: 9.

These are all good. Personally, I don’t care what you do as long as you don’t multiply the population value by 1d10. That offends me. It would surely ruin your game if you did that for an entire sector’s worth of worlds. Using my method, I get a precise population value of 2,449– i.e., about the size of Weyers Cave, Virginia. This is a good example of how referees will waste a great deal of time doing stuff that doesn’t really matter, but man, I have to have a good number for this.

Next up, I need to know about the land area on the world. This is going to be 10% * 4π(8,000 miles / 2)^2 which comes out to about 20 million square miles which is of course about a third of what we have here on earth. If we put North America and Africa together, we would have about as much land mass as this.

Now my first idea for this planet was sort of a Space Hawaii, but these continents are pretty big. So much in the original Classic Traveller little black books is left entirely to the referee’s discretion. Used to, I would have seen this as a flaw. I would go buy a yard of Traveller books and then just be utterly frustrated. I would dig through them trying to find some kind of rule in a magazine article to tell me how many continents are on this world. Then I would want some kind of great math principle to tell me what the range is on their sizes– I would get as hung up on the distribution here much in the same was that I obsessed over that one population digit. But no, I am past that now.

I’ve got a population of 2,449 people and a total land area of 20 million square miles. This is it. This is the moment where the spartan game rules give me just enough to go on that I have a prod for my imagination. YOU DON’T NEED MORE RULES AND SUPPLEMENTS. YOU NEED AN IMAGINATION. Right now… a clearer picture of what this world is like begins to form in my mind on its own.

Moonshine is famous for its night sky which is lit up by hundreds of small moons. The bulk of its population is bound up in eight Baronial estates, each with a worker population in the range of two to three hundred people. The size of these estates is generous, and the incomes are modest. There is no military force save for a few bodyguards and a part-time militia. Most of the world’s land area is taken up with an imperial wilderness preserve. Park rangers and star port personnel comprise most of the world’s population outside of the estates.

My first impulse is to make the barons decadent and scheming– weird freaks like from an Isaac Asimov planet. I look at Supplement 4 and see that I have enough Baron and Baroness characters there to round out the world. They are not mutants, hicks, or freaks. They are themselves travellers. They have responsibilities to maintain their estates, but they are not entirely stranded here. Other nobles pass this way as well, partly for the exotic hunting opportunities the native fauna affords and partly for the ongoing Pride & Prejudice style mating game that is the real preoccupation of the nobility.

The temptation to overprep is so great! I want to sit down and work out every last detail of this world after the fashion of Dave Sering’s Tancred supplement. But a rough sketch without even a proper icosahedral projection to draw it on is sufficient for now. I don’t know why it is, but right at this point I feel so much more confident about running this than I did recently when I was trying to set up a game with first edition GURPS Fantasy. Honestly, what I really need at this point is an adventure for an ex-army guy that has shown up on this world out of nowhere.

The best way to get one of those is steal one from an old book. For some reason now, after wading through all the math here, I can suddenly think of four books in particular that I am excited about. The wilderness preserve is responsible for one. The small estates surrounded by wilderness account for another. The nobility dipping in and out on a jetset lifestyle accounts for yet another. This is amazing! THIS GAME WILL ACTUALLY WORK IF YOU WORK IT. My only problem is deciding how much of that to use here and whether or not to save some of it back for other locations in the subsector.

You already know that Dungeons & Dragons was basically a supplement for Chainmail– an add-on to large, ongoing military campaigns. Traveller, meanwhile, is a supplement for a box of old paperbacks.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

GURPS Apologists Are Full of Dookie

Thu, 06/27/2024 - 16:05

GURPS fans are in complete denial about what roleplaying games even are and what referees actually need in order to run a successful campaign. There has to be some kind of weird brain damage going on with these people; I seriously don’t get it.

Consider this guy The_RyujinLP commenting on my positively stellar half-orc posse writeup:

Wait… why make full stats for NPC’s? Unless your publishing an official book, all you need are their HP, DR, and relevant skills (Using a variation of BAD is great here) and maybe an advantage or two if they really need. In fact I’m pretty sure that’s brought up in the Basic Set.

If it’s not something a player is gonna to be able to play as, don’t waste the effort.

This guy is insane.

I didn’t make that list of NPC’s for no reason. I sat down and cranked those guys out because when I tried to just run a typical combat encounter that could reasonably be expected to occur in a fantasy game, I realized that I could not just fake my way through a session in the same way that I could in other games. GURPS is built on top of a core of the old Melee and Wizard microgames. It is perfectly reasonable to want to play out a modest battle with it. In GURPS that means figuring up weapon damages from Strength and then working out how much their Basic Speed drops due to their encumbrance from their armor. You can’t handwave this stuff. IF YOU DON’T DO THIS YOU ARE NOT ACTUALLY PLAYING THE GAME.

The_RyujinLP acts like I am nuts for wanting to be determine in the exact details of a party of 1d6 half-orcs on the fly for a random encounter. What is their gear? Do they have more ranged weapons than average? Is the extra-strong one in the group? Do they have shields? Is the one with the decent armor in the group? With a one-page writeup formatted as a d12 table I am ready to go. I am prepared. I can answer all those questions in a fair way. Even better, the stats correspond to these iconic Denis Loubet illustrations. Combined with my prep, the counters are What You See is What You Get and everyone looking at the combat map can immediately grasp what is going on and make informed tactical decisions. This is something that GURPS does well and anyone that cares about what that rule system has to offer in comparison to classic D&D will want to explore how this impacts session play.

I am not the only person in gaming that ever thought that this sort of thing would be good to have on hand. I am far from alone here! Consider these stats for Starport Security that are laid out in Dave Sering’s superlative 1980 Judges Guild Traveller supplement Tancred:

If one of these guys is in the starport bar, you can roll a d8 and immediately know what his attributes and skills and background are. If you need to know if a random trooper can be dropped by a hit from a body pistol, you can answer that question instantly and fairly by randomly selecting one of these guys, picking a random physical attribute, and then checking to see if the weapon damage is equal to or greater than that.


But now I’m supposed to believe that the GURPS people have never needed to be able to answer questions like that in the heat of play. Really? Are you telling me that every single one of these situations is addressed by the Game Master handwaving the entirety of that foot of GURPS supplements on their shelves and just arbitrarily making a ruling to determine the outcome?

That’s stupid.

You’re not playing the game that you purchased. You’re not playing a game at all!

It’s just completely stupid even as a premise for an rpg. First GURPS takes away your Monster Manual and says you need to make one yourself when you set up your campaign. Then its design decisions are such that even making a healthy set of humanoid figures with melee weapons is a major chore. Then guys like The_RyujinLP roll up and give people the absolutely TERRIBLE advice that you shouldn’t even have this kind of a resource at all.

Are you telling me that GURPS referees are so brilliant, so utterly competent that they don’t even need little cards with NPC stats on them in order to play their rpg? Or are you saying that GURPS is so cumbersome and so poorly supported that in practice GURPS Game Masters do not bother using the rules contained within that yard of source books on their shelves to come up with NPCs for their games?

Either way, I think guys like The_RyujinLP are tacitly admitting that nobody runs games with this rule set at all.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Jeffro Johnson is the John Bender of Rpgs

Wed, 06/26/2024 - 22:04

Face it, I am the talk of the town. Rpg discussions will necessarily turn toward me and my work because what I say about rpg campaigns produces results while conventional methods consistently fail due to people only pretending to actually like games that are predicated on them.

You don’t have to just take my word for it either. Just look at Spudbox here from over on Twitter as just one of many testimonials:

And hey, I don’t mind sharing the credit on this one with Alexander Macris. For one thing, he is a standup guy and very smart about things I don’t really care about. And a successful campaign is still a successful campaign! You can fault the guy for not running a superior system like AD&D or Classic Traveller, but you still gotta respect his game’s staying power!

And you know, it’s not just that I am absolutely brilliant when it comes to running rpg campaigns myself. I am also extremely generous when it comes to crediting people that have helped me to develop these phenomenal gaming ideas that have been buried in the pages of a great many vintage rpg sets– lying fallow, unplayed and unremarked upon for decades! Consider my pal Rdubs here:

Man, that is really nice. I really am a great guy. My track record of citing people who have been extremely helpful to me dates all the way back to my first book where I both quoted and footnoted everyone in and around the OSR gaming scene which had been influential in my efforts to produce a successful continuing campaign.

SeriousDM takes this even further and states that the remarkable group of people that have ended up comparing notes with me on winning rpg techniques day to day has a unique quality all its own:

Superlative! And Serious DM is right on the money here. Back in 2020 I was telling people that they needed to go to the gym, go outside, and talk to a pretty girl BEFORE they attempt to run a real D&D campaign. To get the best possible game, they have to simply be a better quality of person.

But not everyone is happy about this. Rpg shock jock Diversity & Dragons is irritated that anyone has the capacity to say anything nice about me at all. The fact that I have friends and admirers is something he goes out of his way to put in a bad light. I mean he acts like it is a bad thing! And the idea that D&D could be cool or high-test or masculine is utterly absurd to him. To him, D&D necessarily lame and weak and effete. And you know, it probably is when he is running it! But hey, not everybody can get immersed in a D&D campaign with a city with the name of Doucheopolis.

What can you do?

I’ll tell you what sticks in my craw, though. It’s guys like this commenter on Diversity & Dragons’ most recent video:

I would love Harmony to create a supplement booklet that convincingly educates, based on FAQ, why One-To-One Time in TTRPGs is worthwhile and reasonable. Or Harmony can feature an article in Elven Maid Inn’s Magazine.

Seriously, what is up with this? There are plenty of articulate people that have put years into developing these ideas and testing them. Heck, the definitive 1:1 time video has already been created by Gelatinous Rube. It already addresses the most common Frequently Asked Questions! Why is it that people have a need to instead hear these ideas from some girl that’s only been experimenting with this stuff for a few months?! Am I really supposed to be so scary, such a monstrous boogeyman, so intrinsically unlikable that people can’t handle hearing about this stuff directly from the guy that pioneered these efforts, ran the proofs of concepts, and developed our understanding of both why these ideas work and how these gaming techniques came to be in the first place?

I wonder.

You know, maybe I really am the baddest of the bad boys of rpgs. Maybe people like this really are intimidated by me. Maybe the idea of someone talking to me in public is so titillating, people like Diversity & Dragons still want to gossip about it several weeks after the fact. Maybe I really am so compelling, so irrefutable, and so clearly correct that my detractors can’t stop thinking about me.

Personally, I think it’s kind of crazy. I would have argued against this myself even just a few months ago, but now one of Diversity & Dragons’s own cohosts couldn’t help but compare me to John Bender from the Breakfast Club after watching one of my recent YouTube show appearances. Honestly, I think rather highly of myself, but goes well beyond what even I myself would feel comfortable claiming. This is pretty wild, though. I mean, I know I am great and all. But could I possibly be as charismatic as one of the coolest figures in cinema history?

Maybe it really isn’t that too far-fetched. And hey, maybe everyone else in rpgs is as bad as guys like Jay Mac make them out to be. Maybe I really as awesome and as compelling as John Bender when you compare me to them. I know, I know! These guys are pretty critical of me. And I know we would be inclined to disagree with each other if it actually came to chance that we all sat down together to talk about rpgs. But you know… after mulling this over though, I have to say…. I think these guys are onto something!

I am 100% open to being persuaded to concede this one point to them!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Classic Traveller and the Zero Prep Campaign Setting

Wed, 06/26/2024 - 17:20

Everybody knows you can run D&D with zero prep. Do you have a prepared town and dungeon location a la Keep on the Borderlands? You are solid. You don’t need a session zero. You don’t need to know much about the “campaign world”. You don’t even need to know the finer points of the game. Everything can take shape over time as you roll on random tables during the heat of play. If you are unsure about inflicting this on real life players, a game like AD&D is so thoroughly proceduralized you can even play it completely solitaire until you get the hang of everything.

Classic Traveller has many of these same qualities, but not all. However, it has some remarkable qualities of its own. It’s a different sort of game. The scope is so much larger. While elements of the game such as space travel and trade are proceduralized, at some point the referee will be forced to concoct an adventure scenario that derives from whatever has happened and wherever it is that the players have gone.

This is daunting. Many people look at this as a problem to be solved. They write up the perfect starting planet. They load it with adventure hooks. They put all the work into making everything look pretty, professional, tight. This is absolutely the WRONG way to address this. You might have handed novice referees something they can just pick up and run. But look, if that campaign is going to get off the ground, that novice referee is going to have to become confident enough to handle quickly setting up an adventure no matter where the players go or what they elect to do.

I’m here to tell you that it is not as hard as you think. And facing this challenge head on is in fact the entire premise of the game. It’s right there in the title. With that in mind, let’s take a look at just how much the random tables of the original Classic Traveller rules booklets really give you.

First up is the character generation rules. My favorite thing about this is that rolling up a character is not preparing to play Traveller. It is playing Traveller. Traveller character generation is a game. And it does irritate me. Why don’t people supporting the Traveller game create MORE games like this? There was room for entire standalone games in the vein of Gregory M. Smith’s The Hunters all this time, but no! Everyone supporting the game wanted to just churn out the same sort of rpg crapola that has ruined every other rpg on the market!

But imagine you have one player brand new to this game and they sit down with you and you walk through this procedure with them. You immediately get a story emerging spontaneously out of nothing, it’s great! Consider:

  • Ex-army Lt. Colonel, 3868B8, Age 34, 4 terms, 50,000 cr, Rifle-2, SMG-1, Forward Observer-1, Gambling-1, Winged Craft-1 (includes helicopters)

I would never spontaneously pick a rank like this if I was creating a GURPS character from scratch. Heck, I would never think to pick out a template with the army background as being an particularly intriguing character type to play. But this guy is different. His low strength meant he got promoted into a desk job. He rose in the ranks consistently until he wanted to make general, but then got put out to pasture just as that first round of aging checks all went against him. And throughout the process, the education stat repeatedly comes up as being significant. This player started out with an education of 4, relentlessly took roles on the personal development table, rejoiced when they actually got it to the point where they would get that bonus for those promotion checks, despaired when they failed their reenlistment roll, and then picked up even more education when rolling on the benefits table.

This means something. This guy is compensating for something. And he is about to find out just how well his book learning stacks up in the face of a cold, hard universe.

Ah, but what if we are zero prepping a campaign? What if we haven’t even prepared a subsector map? It’s okay, we have a world generator. Even better, we have one that doesn’t take several hours to wade through. Let’s see what we get this time:

  • Moonshine — Starport C, Scout Base, 8,000-mile Diameter, Standard/Tainted atmosphere, Hydrographics 90%, Population in the thousands, NO GOVERNMENT, Law Level 1, Tech Level 6. Non-industrial.

Now, this is not much to go on. But I’ll tell you, some place is better than anyplace. And the place we got is a lonely outpost in the backwaters of space. The only thing of interstellar relevance here is the scout base. Initially we think of rural Kentucky and so name the place Moonshine. Images of the Dukes of Hazzard running liquor across state lines come into our minds unbidden. But then a minor convergence occurs here as we consider what to do with the Lt. Colonel’s Vehicle skill result. The fact that this is an Island World collides with this minor decision that we still needed to pin down. Yet again an image comes into our minds unbidden– this time it is T.C. from the show Magnum P.I. We decide that this is the Lt. Colonel’s home world and that he has returned from his career in the army. We have a vision of him flying around in a helicopter, going from island to island.

It should be noted here that all of this is playing out so far by design. Indeed, we are right now facing almost the exact same situation that Marc Miller did when he picked up Adventure 4: Leviathan many years ago. The spartan and concise game elements of the core Traveller rules are supposed to bring these sorts of images to mind. Heck, it’s all spelled out right there in Book 3:

  • The purpose of the world generation sequence can best be seen as a prod to the imagination. Even the most imaginative individual soon loses brilliance in the face of creating hundreds of individual worlds. The procedure substitutes die rolls for random imagination and then allows the referee to use that information to determine specific world data.

If I was bereft of random tables, everything would be ten times as much work. Classic Traveller’s tables are just the right size, too. They are concise enough that I can get something playable within minutes. They are sophisticated enough to give me something to work with. I don’t look at a blank canvas and get all worked up trying to come up with the coolest possible campaign concept which I can be assured will fail to impress anyone playing the game. I get just enough detail that not only my own imagination gets a nudge, but that of the players is as well. Even at this stage we are in precisely the same place as when a random wilderness encounter occurs in a D&D session. The referee is peering into the entrails of these game elements trying to divine some kind of adventure scenario out of them. The players meanwhile will reflexively collaborate in developing an explanation of what it all means. There is just enough energy here that a continuing campaign can leave the theoretical stage and actually get moving. And I must say, the most irritating and debilitating thing about GURPS products is that it will do anything except facilitate something like this ever occurring.

Ah, but though we have a character and a stage for him to operate on… we do not have an adventure. As good as the material is that we have so far, I have to say I haven’t the faintest idea of what to do with it. Many people before me have gotten to this exact point and then faltered. Or maybe they went nuts preparing stacks of campaign material that would never see play. Or maybe they would buy one rpg rule set after another, failing to get each one into play in succession. Or maybe they started a project of looting each of a half dozen Traveller rulesets with an eye towards developing the ultimate homebrew rules.

Not me!

I think the real answer here was always in the old game books all along. All I need to do is trust the random tables. I don’t have a copy of 76 Patrons. I don’t have a set of encounters prepared for this world. I don’t have an adventure scenario at all. So, let’s just see what the tables would give us if we were playing the core rules by the seat of our pants:

  • Patron: Scout
  • Random Person Encounter: Vigilantes

And now, I think something beautiful really happens. The world, the character, the situation… it all converges into something better than anything that can be planned. I immediately know what is going on and what I am doing– a feeling I never get when using a GURPS product.

The Lt. Colonel has retired from service and been dropped off on his home world. You can’t go home again. The player is free to offer ideas of what all is going on with his family and friends while he was away. But all is not well. People complain about player characters being completely irrelevant in sprawling space campaigns all the time, but that is not at all what we have in our little zero prep session here. Someone with the cash and abilities of a recently retired Lt. Colonel would be incredibly significant on a backwater world with a population of thousands. And someone on this Island World immediately recognizes this. And that person is… a patron.

The rules spell this out explicitly:

  • The key to adventure in Traveller is the patron. When a band of adventurers meets an appropriate patron, they have a person who can give them direction in their activities, and who can reward them for success. The patron is the single most important NPC there can be.

The inciting incident is obvious.

Someone fairly high up in the Scout Service has gone missing. The player’s contact there is elated that the player character has happened back on the scene right as this is occurring. He pulls some strings and suddenly our Lt. Colonel is in some kind of investigation scenario.

I still don’t have an idea of what is going on at this stage. I don’t have a world map. I don’t have a cast of NPC’s for the player to interact with. But then we roll just one random encounter to prime the pump and it comes up as Vigilantes. Suddenly everything makes sense!

There is some sort of piracy operation going on in this world. The scout base is corrupt. Some of the locals are opposed to this. TC from Magnum P.I. is flying from island to island looking for clues in a weird Space translation of Hazzard, Kentucky. He immediately finds himself inside the plot of the classic movie Outland. Is first encounter is with this world’s counterpart to the Bookhouse Boys from Twin Peaks. This is really good stuff.

We can play for a while even in a zero prep session just with this. As referee, I might declare that things just go wrong with an initial investigative encounter and guns are immediately drawn. This is entirely consistent with both Raymond Chandler novels and Dumarest of Terra. Might as well lean into it! We do not need an elaborate scenario to begin play at all. We need relatively simple situations to serve as tutorials for the main rule systems of the classic Little Black Books. We not only have a campaign setting that took no effort to play, but we also have a game that is already running. It’s more important for our first steps within this space to get the players up to speed on how the rules work than it is for it to actually feel like a real game.

Thanks to Supplement 1: 1001 Characters, I have a random thug armed with an autopistol. There is no surprise in this initial encounter and encounter distance comes out to Long Range. The idea of this guy pulling a pistol at long range seems ridiculous, so I arbitrarily reset the distance to short just to produce something that is worth playing out. The player character was talking to this NPC and something got taken the wrong way and violence ensured. Let’s go with that!

It takes just a little bit of time to determine that the player character will hit with his rifle on a 3+ and the thug will hit on a 7+. We do not have the system mastery to know what kind of armor people are likely to be wearing. Surprisingly, the PC’s low strength score is not an issue– armor does not count against encumbrance limits in Classic Traveller! Just for grins, we look how this fight would go if each character involved were wearing cloth. The PC would need 8+ to hit and the thug would need 11+. Given the notorious Classic Traveller “first blood” rule, the outcome of the player dropping this NPC with his rifle with a single round of combat is perfectly in line with the rules. With ten minutes of session play, everyone is now on notice. Classic Traveller is simply not a grid game in the way that either WOTC-era D&D or even classic GURPS is.

At this point I no longer feel comfortable winging it. This is a reasonable stopping point for an initial session even though only an hour or two has passed. And I feel like the general session deserves a bit more fleshing out. As an experienced referee, my gut instinct here is to time box prep to about three hours– i.e., you can expect to spend about as much time preparing as you would in playing the game. Over time I can see a new world being rolled up and embellished with just enough detail to provide adventure situations for whichever players are involved with the game. Once several worlds are established in this manner and a few key events have become “canon” to the campaign, my expectation is that there will be enough characters, factions, and entities in play that the campaign itself will start spontaneously generating adventure content without the referee needing to dedicate terribly much prep time at all.

This is a tremendous win for classic Traveller. Regardless of what characters your players roll up or what world they begin the game on, it is very reasonable to assume that a continuing campaign that fills up an entire Judges Guild Astrogators Chartbook is completely on the table.

All we need to make it happen is for people to just agree to keep showing up!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Lewis Pulsipher on 1:1 Time in 1978

Wed, 06/19/2024 - 22:07

Well, this one’s a doozy.

I have been told by countless people that nobody used the time rule from the original D&D booklets. I have been told that real “old school” play doesn’t need a timekeeping system that marries the game world calendar to the real world calendar. People that I would avoid if I saw them in the soup aisle at Walmart have sworn up and down that they knew Gary Gygax personally, that they played D&D with him frequently and that he never once– no way! no how! — played by the time rule that is in the rules manuals he wrote.

But none of that matters now. Because we finally have evidence that at least one person in the late seventies retained the ability to both read game rules and follow instructions when it came to the extraordinary game that is Dungeons & Dragons.

This is especially remarkable for two reasons. One is that Lewis Pulsipher is one of my most outspoken critics. Over the past four years, he has gone to great lengths to dismiss, challenge, and insult my efforts to uncover and elucidate the game that is described by the classic D&D rules manuals. Every single time that I announced some new application or development in regards to 1:1 time over the past four years, Lew Pulsipher has been on hand to denounce me as being a fool or a crackpot or worse. This is very odd given that we now have hard evidence that he not only knew precisely what that rule was for, but he also advised a great many people via the pages of a top tier gaming magazine to incorporate the rule in their campaigns.

The other interesting thing about this is that Lewis Pulsipher is among the most prolific authors of D&D articles among many of the top gaming magazines of the 1980s. It is VERY ODD that he knew good and well that the time rule was a significant component of the game, but then as far as I can tell he never elaborated on the matter again.

Why is that?

Well, I think we can get a pretty good idea of that just from looking at what he says about the rule in the pages of White Dwarf:

Look, if you elaborate on this rule AT ALL we will immediately know how deep your mastery of running D&D campaigns really goes. It’s inescapable. Consider:

  • Lew grasps the utility of having a clear consistent system for adjudicating downtime actions such as healing and spell research.
  • Lew runs the sort of game where dungeons and lairs will routinely have a week or more of time to recover and prepare for subsequent encounters with the players beyond their initial interactions. (The Dungeon Masters Guide would detail this facet of D&D’s intended gameplay on pages 104-105, though Lew would not yet have the benefit of such counsel.)
  • Lew gets weak in the knees at enforcing the time rule in cases where parties undertake long wilderness journeys. It is a safe bet that he does not associate this game rule as having any connection to what his friend Rick Stump terms as being jazz band adventuring. He may even go so far as to run a game that is hampered by the curse of the single party spotlight. Or rather, his conception of the time rule does not intrinsically preclude such as a possibility.
  • The AD&D Player’s Handbook may or may not have been out when Lew penned this treatise. Either way, there is nothing here that indicates (as Gygax did on page 7 of that volume) that 1:1 time will allow players to coordinate stronghold development and miniatures battles against players that are running characters they are cooperating with on conventional adventures on the other side of the campaign world.
  • Lew has not at this stage uncovered the fundamental theorem of rpgs, i.e. that 1:1 time strictly enforced will turn your D&D campaign into a Braunstein and thus convey all manner of wonderous properties to your campaign’s gameplay.

Lewis Pulsipher was one of the most prolific and insightful commentators on the D&D game system at a time when the vast majority of D&D players had completely failed to get it. He championed D&D as being a type of wargame when countless people that could barely grasp or heed the rules were turning it into a weird way to play out a bad fantasy novel. Much of what he says is both useful and directly applicable to people that still want to play the game as Gygax and Arneson originally intended. Nevertheless, his mastery of the game only went so far. And his understanding of the game only went so deep. To get the full story on what makes the D&D game so extraordinary and how to get the most successful campaigns possible with its rules, you’re going to have to come to me.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

RuneQuest: A Case Study in Why Time Is Not Enough

Tue, 06/18/2024 - 13:50

RuneQuest is trash.

In the first place, it fumbles right out of the gate with the utterly tacky and chunder-headed upfront declaration that it is not in fact a game:

  • “However it is played, the primary purpose is to have fun.
  • “Like any FRP system, these can only be guidelines. Use the as you will.”

California at this time was at the forefront of the normalization of openly gay behavior. This game is all the evidence you need to illustrate just how bad things were even as early as 1978.

And the audacity of it! It is not enough for these losers to make a nongame and then sell it to people. It’s not enough for these Goofus types to masquerade as a game designers and to encourage people sit around pretending to play a game when they aren’t. No! These people have to just so graciously speak up for every other game in the fantasy roleplaying space, both at that time and going on into the future as well. Not only can’t they not imagine anyone anywhere playing an rpg with actual rules, but they also insist that nobody else can do so either.

And that’s ugly.

“But Jeffro,” you say. “They don’t really mean it like that.”

They don’t, you say? Did you not catch the fact that they open this book with an explicit paraphrase of “do as thou wilt?” But okay, I can see that you’re skeptical and you need a little more evidence than mere “rule zero” boilerplate. And I’ve totally got you.

First up, feast your eyes on the exceedingly cool training rules you have in this game. A real beauty! You can improve not only a bunch of skills that don’t actually mean anything, but you can even upgrade your core attributes as well. I think even Tunnels & Trolls still had an experience points for levels system at this stage. This system takes what Ken St. Andre started and cuts out some pointless cruft. Instead of the “XP for gold” lynchpin of classic D&D here, you’ve got “gold for training for attributes.” Who wouldn’t want to play with that?!

Well, you can’t. Nobody can. You bought a non-game buddy. Behold:

The authors of this game dislike elaborate Encumbrance rules with lots of bookkeeping. Therefore we suggest that “a character should not be allowed to carry more than he is able to.” If questions arise about this rule players should try the situation out on themselves to see how much they can carry.

Maybe you guys could head some of those questions off if, you know, you actually wrote a rule so that people could actually have a clear understanding of how to deal with this stuff. Even worse, this fumble is in a game where the character advancement which is the only thing any player will actually care about hinges entirely on how much coin the characters can haul back from their adventures. THIS GAME IS A COMPLETE DISASTER.

But hey, they don’t call it the California school of rpg design for nothing!

“Oh, but Jeffro. This game has a time rule. You are big on timekeeping and you said that was a Pan-Ah-SEE-uh.”

Look, buddy, your table is not going to stand if it only has one leg. Timekeeping can’t save a game that doesn’t have rules.

And hey, I know you are innumerate in addition to being illiterate. The typical roleplayer will turn white as a sheet at the thought of having to do subtraction. You losers have made THAC0 into a byword for just that reason. You don’t know what an axiom is. You don’t know how geometry works. You are a culturally denuded baboon. If I even tried to explain this stuff to you, you would wine and kvetch and moan that this sort of digression and metaphor and analogy is even worse than my Lindy Hop talk. I know you! You would call me a cult leader if I even set my toe in these waters in an extemporaneous speaking situation.

But this isn’t just some kind of high-flown metaphor. Game rules are a kind of axiom. Gameplay dynamics derive from them in precisely the same way that entire systems of theorems derive from mathematical axioms. And you can see this in RuneQuest’s time rule.

First off, note how these chowder heads pull their punches even here. Holy cow! If there is any place in an rpg rule set where you need to go the full all-caps imperative, it is right here!

But why did these weak Californians make the shift from “one real day equals one game day” to “one real day equals one game week”? Simple. They wanted to eliminate the occurrence of time jail due to characters being out for training. Because they didn’t want to be running stables of characters anymore. Because they were more interested in openly homo and fake roleplaying than they were in setting up a model world with multiple independent actors that were operating against each other’s interests under a fog of war. Because they didn’t want to play a real game at all and instead just wanted to show up, play in an “adventure” that the referee had prepared for them and which they could sleepwalk through with little chance of getting their character killed so that they could just “get the ruby” and get paid for showing up and doing whatever the 1970s equivalent of zoning out and playing Bejeweled on your phone while some low-T referee elaborates on his completely boring world building efforts.

They changed the axiom in order to suit the sort of play dynamic they wanted to support. And the result is the extraordinarily boring Getalong Gang style anti-game where the referee is forced to come up with one fake challenge after another to baby low effort players that will whine the moment that anything goes against them. Suddenly, “balance” becomes this weird thing that the referee is responsible for providing. Instead of running a model world, the referee is now tasked with writing “adventures”. Instead of scenarios developing organically from the conflict that occurs between diverse parties and factions within the campaign, you’ve got people playacting through a story while they wait for the steady morphine drip of treasure which they miraculous win with their last hit point in session after brain damage inducing session.

Where does this fake, broken, and dumb gameplay hail from? It comes from people that picked up the original D&D rules booklets who had NO IDEA WHAT THEY WERE LOOKING AT WHEN THEY READ THEM. The tell is in everything they left out. Things like mass combat and naval battles aren’t just omitted from Tunnels & Trolls and RuneQuest because the designers did not understand how to set up wargame campaigns. They left them out because the players in their games would never be able to experience the kind of autonomy where they would have the chance to use such rule systems.

They omitted them because they were developing a new type of game that wasn’t a game at all.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

This Show Was a Total Banger!

Sat, 06/15/2024 - 17:17

Okay, we totally killed it. The response has been very, very good. It’s clear as we delve deeper into this extraordinary type of play that people genuinely want to unpack a broader range of rpg esoterica in order to help clarify both where we stand within rpg history in general and also to nail down just precisely what we are up against.

But seriously, dig this:

Rule of Thule: “PVP does not mean stabbing each other in the street! It means pursuing character goals (ROLEPLAYING) under fog of war (imperfect knowledge of char goals and resources). Sometimes goals align, and sometimes they don’t!”

AlchemicRaker: “They are roleplaying their parts in a story where they all get along. I want to roleplay characters in a world, not characters in a story.”

What if “playing your role” meant pursuing a set of objectives that necessarily set you at odds with the other players in your campaign? If that’s so, then 40 years of rpg history has been wasted delving into an approach to gaming that is intrinsically unfun.

Some people suggest we are blowing this Braunstein thing out of proportion. Citing Boot Hill is just not enough to persuade them. Vague recollections from people who were obviously high when they were playing D&D with Gary Gygax back in the day are supposed to be a completely iron clad counter.

It’s stupid.

The Assassin class from AD&D is designed from the ground up to operate during downtime and in Braunstein type interactions. At the upper character levels of Druid, Monk, and Assassin play, the RAW AD&D campaign incorporates an ongoing “king of the hill” scenario that is explicitly player versus player. The fighters that establish freeholds in the wilderness and attract a body of men-at-arms do not do so merely as a retirement plan. They expect there to be a game for them to play in when they get there. The modules you bought in the mid-eighties breaking down “adventures” for characters at the Expert, Companion, and Master levels of play weren’t it!

So, get with the program! Jump on the team and come on in for the big win! Acknowledge Tribal Chief Jeffro and Tribal Council Bdubs! WIN AT RPGS!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs