Classic Traveller actual play

pemerton

Legend
Over the past month or so my group has been able to play two sessions of Classic Traveller.

The PCs had travelled to the icy world of Zinion looking for the ruins or relics of an ancient alien civilisation. They knew that the aliens had lived on the world around 2 billion years ago, and had identified the site where they thought the ruins might be found.

***********************

The October session began with honing in on the location of the ruins. The PCs had conjectured a location based on a combination of 2 billion year old information with trance-produced maps of Zinion's surface that allowed them to develop a working theory of the planet's tectonic movements. Looking up information about the earth's Antarctic ice sheets led us to conclude that the depth of the ice at this particular point was 4 km.

The PCs also performed a telepathic scan using Life Detection. This confirmed the presence of life beneath the ice where they were expecting to find the ruins. It also revealed some life entering the orbit of Zinion, which the PCs were not expecting. And it also produced a psionic backlash that knocked Methwit, the PCs' telepath, unconscious. The PCs sent their ship's boat up to the vessel Annic Nova (where Methwit was overseeing communications) to recover him and bring him back to Zinion, where he was treated by the PCs' surgeon, Leila Lo, using medical slow drug to speed his recovery.

A different character was sent up to the Annic Nova (Blaster "the Brain" McMillan) to oversee communications at that end of the PCs' operations, and once Methwit had recovered the PCs travelled in the St Christopher (their other starship) to their intended exploration site. They planned to use their triple beam laser to cut through the ice.

When they arrived, they found they had been gazumped! A group of NPCs, led by the Baroness Toru von Taxiwan, had set up a drilling rig and were starting to cut through the ice. This was the group which had been detected in orbit, now landed in their pinnace and having set up their camp and started their operation. (In system terms, I had rolled up a laboratory ship as a random starship encounter, and this was the working out of that encounter; the laboratory ship itself, having a considerably slower acceleration than the pinnace, was still making its way through the star system towards Zinion.) The PCs landed their 400 ton starship with its triple beam laser turret not far from the NPCs' 40 ton pinnace in order to express their view as to who was really in charge of the situation.

A discussion about claim priorities ensued, complicated by the fact that the settlement on Zinion is not an authorised Imperial settlement but is a self-established participatory democracy with Law Level zero. In the end, their was an agreement to settle the matter via a duel. Toru put up her champion, Xian, while the PCs' leader Vincenzo von Hallucida put up his champion, the ex-marine Alissa who has only two skill: Cutlass-4 and Tactics-1. It was agreed that the duel would take place in the cargo hold of the PCs's vessel the St Christopher - Xian came on board together with Baroness Toru and her bodyguard Declan (armed with an automatic).

The duel didn't last very long: while Xian had Sword-3, and so a real chance of winning with a lucky roll or two, she had very vulnerable states - Str 10 but Dex 1 and End 2 - and so when Alissa got the first blow in, and it landed against Dex (as randomly determined), Xian was knocked down. But then further complexity ensued (I can't remember now whether this followed on a reaction check, or was a development just stipulated by me as GM): Alissa had borrowed von Jerrel's heirloom cutlass (von Jerrel being another PC controlled by the same player) and this led Baroness Toru's bodyguard to allege that Alissa was really von Jerrel's champion, not Vincenzo's, and hence the duel didn't count. The PCs decided to end this argument via practical rather than intellectual means: they had the St Christopher take off and fly a couple of thousand miles away from the camp and drilling site. The NPCs realised what had happened (with antigrav drives and grav plates in the vessel, those on board can't just feel the motion) when they went to depart through the cargo bay airlock. This led Declan to get angry, drawing his pistol and threatening Vincenzo. Vincenzo reacted by escaping through the airlock himself - but he immediately started to freeze in the extremely sub-zero temperature outside. The PC enforcer-type Xander (an ex-pirate who specialises in being tough) rushed down into the cargo hold and shot Declan (with an assault rifle, but set to semi-automatic so as not to injure Baroness Toru) while Vincenzo's player's other main PC, Tony, quickly donned his vacc suit (he has Vacc Suit-2) and went out to rescue Vincenzo.

Vincenzo was already below maximum Endurance as a result of damage to his lungs from inhaling spores on the Annic Nova and now was taking damage from the cold - I set a throw (I can't now remember what it was) for Tony to rescue him, and was inflicting 1D of damage per roll required for Tony to succeed. So Vincenzo ended up at zero in two stats and 1 in his Endurance before Tony took him back onboard the St Christopher.

That's where the October session ended.

***********************

Yesterday's session, 4 weeks later, started right where we had left off. The PCs used their last dose of medical slow drug to accelerate Vincenzo's recovery: his Str and Dex returned to full in a bit less than a day, but his Endurance only returned to 3 (of 7), as he needs more extensive rest and treatment for his lungs to fully heal.

The PCs also negotiated an agreement with Baroness Toru - she would accept that Vincenzo had won the duel, and hence had the principal claim over the excavation, but the Taxiwan team would assist in return for a modest share of whatever benefits might result. I had already indicated, and reinforced at this point, that Baroness Toru is not all that bright - Int 4 and Education 3 - and so the PCs sought more information from other members of the NPC team once they returned to their camp - Oogota, the pinnace pilot, is Int 8 and Edu 11 while Bwuzes, a roustabout also in charge of the NPCs' comms, is Int 11 and Edu 6.

From these two, the PCs (and players) learned that the NPC expedition was being led by Milo, a computer training franchise entrepreneur from Taxiwan (in mechanical terms I had rolled up Milo as a 46 year old Tech character whose main skills are Instruction-2 and Computer-1 and Jack-o-T-1, and who had a Type L laboratory ship under his control). Milo had long had an interest in exploring Zinion, the ice world on the edge of a local interstellar rift. Taxiwan is Jump-1 from Novus, the world where the PCs found the Annic Nova, and word of the PCs' exploits had travelled across the local region: when they jumped away from Novus with a "kidnapped" Imperial Naval officer (seduced by von Jerrel) Milo inferred they must be heading for Zinion, especially as there were also rumours (largely true ones, as the PCs and their players knew) that before arriving in the vicinity of Novus the PCs had last been seen on the fringes of the strange events at Ashar, on the other side of the rift, where an Imperial force had invaded that strange ice planet dominated by ultra-high-tech religious mystics.

What the players (and their PCs) wanted to know, however, was how had the NPCs known where to drill? They had been assuming that the NPCs had some sort of psionic ability, which had both (i) enabled them to find the spot, and (ii) had caused the assault on Methwit when he performed his scan. But that was not the case: Bwuzes explained that the NPCs had intercepted the PCs' communications (between the St Christopher on the surface of Zinion, and the Annic Nova in orbit) and hence had known where to go! (Bwuzes has Commo-3, as does Hapi on board the Taxiwan lab ship, whereas the best the PCs have is Commo-1). This bit of GM-narrated backstory and context was the source of much outrage and amusement!

With the (fictional) context now fully clear, it was time to start the excavation. We did some Googling (of ice-melting with lasers) and decided that it would take 4 days to cut through 3 km of ice with a triple beam laser. During this first (laser) stage of the excavation the NPCs' laboratory vessel arrived: it is a standard Type L and so not streamlined, but Milo and the engineer and technician Hapi came down to the surface in the pinnace, while the vessel itself - supplied by the SIT (Scientific Institute of Taxiwan) - stayed in orbit with just its pilot onboard. The PCs also encountered some of the local fauna, large (rhino-to-elephant sized) furred herd animals "grazing" on small crustaceans living in the ice, attracted to the excavation site because of all the crustaceans being released from the ice with the blasting.

As well, the blasting would periodically cause vegetable spores trapped in the ice to warm up and sprout, only to quickly wither due to the cold. The question was asked do these seem deliberately planted? I answered no - they seemed more to be randomly distributed, as if covering a surface like dust but spread out through the growing ice. A sample was taken up to the laboratory ship for examination, by Roland the xeno-archaeologist (Edu 13, and Medical-2) and Zeno Doxa the maths guy (Int 13, Edu 10, Computer-4, Medical-1). The PCs (and players) wanted to know whether these plants resembled the ones found on the Annic Nova, and/or whether they had any genetic relationship to the alien life forms on the planet Enlil. Given the skills and experience of this team, I set a throw of 3+ on two dice for success in this analysis. But Roland's player rolled snakes eyes - so no success. (In other words, I as GM retained my narrative flexibility in relation to these spores!)

In exchange for use of the laboratory, Milo insisted that the SIT enjoy joint branding rights on any documentaries and exhibitions resulting from the excavation.

After blasting to 3 km depth, it took another two weeks (calculated after doing some more Googling, this time ice-drilling) to carefully drill and blast through the last 1 km using more conventional methods (led by the NPC Zef, a former Belter with Prospecting-1, Mechanical-1 and Demolitions-1, as well as the PC Tony with his Mechanical-1 and Jack-o-T-4). I called for a check to make sure nothing went wrong with the drilling, which was successful. As the drilling approached the much-anticipated 4 km depth, the PCs established an armed watch (Xander in his powered armour) to make sure nothing unexpected came out of the alien structure to attack them.

I had decided to use the module Shadows, which is the complement to Annic Nova in Classic Traveller Double Adventure 1 (published 1980). In the module as presented, the PCs' ship is shot out of the sky by a laser mounted on a pyramid. In our case, the pyramid - or, rather, group of three pyramids - was the structure revealed via excavation. (The Bob Dylan song Isis has the memorable line "We came to the pyramids all embedded in ice" - I've tried to use that once before in a RPG, over 20 years ago, but this time was much more successful.) Another two weeks was spent carefully excavating around the pyramid once its presence beneath the ice became clear (another successful check avoided any damage to the structure). I also read the players the Library Data entry on pyramids that is provided in the module:

Traditional construction form for developing cultures; considered to be the simplest form of large scale architecture because of its load-bearing strength and ease of assembly. TL 1.​
Pyramids have been constructed on most worlds where the local culture has passed through TL 1. Many examples remain due to the massive strength of the structure.​
Pyramid structures of all sizes have been believed to serve as focuses for psionic (or cosmic) power, and are claimed to sharpen dulled edges, cure diseases, and generally work miracles.​

In the module as originally presented that last line of information has no real significance; but in our game it clearly did, given the known psionic inclination of the alien civilisation. I also explained that the pyramid blocks were not stone but rather a high-tech ceramic (which had therefore been able to survive 2 billion years under the ice).

As the pyramid was being uncovered, Xander's player made a successful Int check to notice that ice over one of the smaller pyramids was melting - a pulse laser had become active and was blasting up through the ice. Meanwhile, exploration of a statute over the other of the two small pyramids revealed hinges, and an entrance shaft into the pyramid's interior. The PCs used the beam lasers to blast ice down on top of the small pyramid to block its laser, then prepared their expedition and entered the pyramid.

I announced the NPCs first - Baroness Toru and Zef. Vincenzo's player decided that if the Baroness was going then he had better go to, to represent Hallucida. The rest of the PC team consisted of Tony, Alissa, von Jerrel and his friend the naval officer Commander Lady Askol (the latter with vacc suit-1), Xander in his powered armour, and the xeno-archaeologist Roland. Vincenzo (via his player) suggested that Roland would enjoy first-named author rights for any scientific publications resulting from exploration of the pyramid; but Roland's player (himself an academic) said that Roland doesn't want that sort of recognition.

The initial exploration consisted of me narrating the relevant material from the module (which is not very well organised - a recurrent problem with old modules) and the players forming conjectures which we tossed around in establishing the details of the situation. This included power being disseminated through the structure via electromagnetic waves rather than along wires; finding one room with vegetable spores in it; and finding a great pendulum, hanging at the centre of the large pyramid on a 90+ metre long cable, and moving in some complex pattern over a complicated pattern inscribed on the floor beneath it. In the module it's not very clear what this is for, but in our case it strongly reinforced the mystical/cosmic nature of the structure.

There were two other noteworthy events that occurred during the exploration of the pyramid. At one point the PCs found a door they couldn't open. Von Jerrel's player, knowing (in character) that the aliens had been psionically inclined, and with having been awakened by interaction with the time-travel mechanism on the Annic Nova, decided that von Jerrel would attempt to open the door by thinking about it really hard. I called for a check, having in mind the classic PbtA 6-, 7-9, 10+ spread of results - the player rolled a 7, I narrated the door opening, and also rolled a d6 to apply the result - 6, as it happened - as a drain both to his psionic strength total and his Endurance. The door opened! (The module assumes the use of brute strength to open the door, but the PCs didn't want to risk damage to the ancient archaeological site; the psionic approach came from the players, and the adjudication straight from Apocalypse World).

But Vincenzo's player was conscious of the general hostility to psionics that is common across the Imperium - and so even as I rolled for the NPCs' response on the reaction-to-psionics table, Vincenzo started taking steps to calm Toru down. I rolled a 3, and even adding 1 for the likeable von Jerrel's Liasion-1 didn't take it out of the 3-4 band, which is "vigilante execution". So Baroness Toru started calling for von Jerrel to be killed as a psionic danger to the rest of them. Vincenzo's attempt to calm her was not all that persuasive at the table - he simply reiterated von Jerrel's backstory, as a religious mystic and refugee from Ashar - and the corresponding reaction roll was a 5, which is "hostile, may attack". Roland then intervened, suggesting that the environment of the pyramid might be distorting their sense of things, and that they needed to work together for the moment to explore it. His player's roll was an 8, "interested', which I took to mean that for the moment Toru would refrain from actually attacking von Jerrel - she would prosecute the matter once they left the pyramid.

Vincenzo - who also has latent psionic ability - was able to open another door, and luckily lost only 1 point of psionic strength and End, which meant not only did he not collapse but he was able to keep the method of opening the door secret from the NPCs. And before the exploration of the pendulum room was undertaken, Vincenzo took it upon himself to keep Baroness Toru, von Jerrel and Lady Askol busy in the vegetable room so that they would not see any signs of psionic ability either from the aliens or from the PCs (in particular Alissa, who is clairvoyant).

It was in the room with the pendulum that the second noteworthy event occurred. Tony discovered a wall panel that - with the application of his considerable strength - he was able to open. It revealed a tunnel that had warm air in it, and living creatures - 8 bat-like things about 60 cm long and with 1 metre wingspans flew out! They did not damage to Tony, and I applied a -1 DM to their rolls to hit the other characters in the room as they felt the shock of the cold. But nevertheless Roland took 2 points of damage, and while Alissa took only 1 point she failed the throw to avoid vacc suit rupture.

That's where we ended the session.

***********************

I enjoyed both these sessions, but enjoyed yesterday's more. The pace was fairly relaxed, and it was exploration-heavy, especially for our RPGing. But the fiction that was established was very satisfying - the interaction between the players (as their PCs) and the NPCs helped build up a sense of both cooperation and rivalry, and the scientific institution and archaeological exploration dimension provides a nice change from the military/espionage cloak-and-dagger flavour that the campaign began with. And the development of the psionic aspects of the situation, a joint endeavour between referee and players, is also very interesting.

And there are still matters to be resolved: the nature of the flying creatures (this one I'll largely take from the module); their relationship, if any, to the aliens (Aliens) on the Annic Nova; the vegetable spores; the pyramid and pendulum; and why the aliens built this. The players were speculating that it might have been a construction to focus psionic power, or alternatively a defensive construction to defend the aliens against anti-psionic prejudice 2 billion years ago. And also that it may have succumbed to the Aliens in some way.

I would expect some answers to at least some of these questions to emerge in our next session.
 
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dragoner

solisrpg.com
@dragoner, I know you're a bit of a Traveller veteran. Have you ever used these old modules - Annic Nova and/or Shadows?
Originally I was a player, but I have used them multiple times, the early double adventures, Kinunir and Leviathan (early Games Workshop material), I have used a bunch. I also bought all the CT stuff on disc from Marc Miller a few years ago.

Looks like you had fun, nice job with that; I do very much like the nature of having adventures more focused on themselves, and not woven into the setting, so that way one can slip them in anywhere.

I like the way you used psi - it always seemed a struggle as it was either too powerful or too weak, with little in between.
 

Nobby-W

Far more clumsy and random than a blaster
@dragoner, I know you're a bit of a Traveller veteran. Have you ever used these old modules - Annic Nova and/or Shadows?
You can get them all in electronic format from Far Future Enterprises.

Of those published in the CT era, the good ones are:

A2: Research Station Gamma
A3: Twilight's Peak
A8: Prison Planet
A10: Safari Ship
A11: Murder on Arcturus Station
DA1: Annic Nova/Shadows
DA2: Across The Bright Face
DA3: Death Station
DA5: Horde/The Chamax plague
The Traveller Adventure

Also worth checking out:
S3: The Spinward Marches
S4: Citizens Of The Imperium
S6: 76 Patrons
S7: Traders and Gunboats
S8: Library Data (A-M)
S11: Library Data (N-Z)

There are also some decent adventures published in the JTAS. Check Out Rescue On Ruie, Salvage on Sharmum, Homesteader's Stand, Pride of Lions, Night of the Glow, The Werewolf Disease, Thoughtwaves, Chill, Foodrunner and a few others from the early JTAS era.
 

pemerton

Legend
dragoner said:
I like the way you used psi - it always seemed a struggle as it was either too powerful or too weak, with little in between.
Thanks. In my previous Traveller experiences - which is a long time ago now - I never really engaged with the psionics subsystem.

This time around it became a focus because one of the players had a very young, low skill PC - Alissa - whom he therefore saw as ripe for psionic potential! One of the initial worlds I created - Enlil - was low tech, with a virus-ridden atmosphere and governed by a religious dictatorship. As part of the virus "plotline", the idea of alien origins on Enlil was introduced; and the PCs (especially Alissa) vigorously sought out possible connections between the Enlilian religion and psionic abilities (full recount here).

Subsequent play, including the trip to von Jerrel's homeworld Ashar, allowed psionics to go from aspiration to reality. But three of the characters who underwent training (costing Cr 100,000 each) failed to actually manifest any powers.

The current aliens-Aliens-psionics "plotline" is providing an opportunity to throw them a bone without just end-running around the initial set of outcomes!

EDIT: It might be better to say that Alissa is narrow rather than low in her skills. She entered play with Cutlass-4 and nothing else. During play she acquired Tactics-1 through training (under the instruction of a former officer of the Byron army).
 
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aramis erak

Legend
If you want PDF... your cheapest option is the CT CD. It includes Books 0-8, Supps 1-13, Adventures 0 to 13, Modules 1-4, all the double-adventures (including one that didn't get printed), and all the CT era games (Imperium, Dark Nebula, 5FW, Snapshot, AHL, and Striker) for a mere $35... It also includes both the 77 and 81 versions of books 1-3 and the TTB version, and Starter version. Plus The Traveller Adventure (which is a long campaign.) CT CD2 is 3rd party expansions...
 

pemerton

Legend
Originally I was a player, but I have used them multiple times, the early double adventures, Kinunir and Leviathan (early Games Workshop material), I have used a bunch. I also bought all the CT stuff on disc from Marc Miller a few years ago.

<snip>

I do very much like the nature of having adventures more focused on themselves, and not woven into the setting, so that way one can slip them in anywhere.
You can get them all in electronic format from Far Future Enterprises.
If you want PDF... your cheapest option is the CT CD.
I have the first two Double Adventures - Shadows/Annic Nova and Across the Bright Face/Mission on Mithril - in hard copy. I picked them up second hand some time in the last two decades or thereabouts (my memory is no more precise than that).

I also have a copy of Supplement 6 76 Patrons, second hand and acquired sometime in that same time period.

When I got back into Traveller a few years ago I picked up some PDFs online - I would guess through Drive-Thru:

Books 1-3 (1981 version; my hard copies are 1977 version, and I also have a second-hand hard copy of The Traveller Book which is pretty close to the 1981 version and also reprints Shadows);​
Inroductory Adventure - The Imperial Fringe​
Adventure 1 - The Kinunir​
Adventure 2 - Research Station Gamma​
Adventure 3 - Twilight's Peak​
Adventure 4 - Leviathan​
Adventure 8 - Prison Planet​
Adventure 11 - Murder on Arcturus Station​

I also picked up a complete JTAS collection, which has some adventures that I haven't looked at; and have a MegaTraveller version of the Travellers' Digest Early Adventures (about a journalist, scout, scientist and his robot travelling across the galaxy).

My old Best of White Dwarfs also have a few adventures: The Sable Rose Affair, Weed War Vinorian, and Amber to Red are the ones I remember. I took the St Chrisophter research laboratory vessel from that last one.

My impression of these adventures is pretty mixed. It's not practical to go through each of them, but a few points of explanation: the most interesting idea in The Sable Rose Affair is that the PCs might infiltrate the club disguised as a band, but there is no suggestion at all as to how - in mechanical terms - this might be accomplished; the DA2 adventures lean super-heavily into a hex-crawl approach to resolving an overland journey, which would seem to have a very high chance of undermining the implicit tension in those adventures (especially Across the Bright Face); Prison Planet has an interesting premise, but is incredibly procedural rather than narrative-oriented approach to the challenges of being imprisoned.

With the ones I've used to date - Annic Nova and Shadows - I've used the maps and basic exploration information (with some tweaking in the former case) but have introduced all the narrative drivers - Aliens, psionics, time-jumps by 2 billion year old alien civilisations, etc - myself. This gets harder with something like (say) Prison Planet which has less of that exploration information but doesn't quite seem to have the infrastructure to support a dramatic play experience.
 
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dragoner

solisrpg.com
Thanks. In my previous Traveller experiences - which is a long time ago now - I never really engaged with the psionics subsystem.

This time around it became a focus because one of the players had a very young, low skill PC - Alissa - whom he therefore saw as ripe for psionic potential! One of the initial worlds I created - Enlil - was low tech, with a virus-ridden atmosphere and governed by a religious dictatorship. As part of the virus "plotline", the idea of alien origins on Enlil was introduced; and the PCs (especially Alissa) vigorously sought out possible connections between the Enlilian religion and psionic abilities (full recount here).

Subsequent play, including the trip to von Jerrel's homeworld Ashar, allowed psionics to go from aspiration to reality. But three of the characters who underwent training (costing Cr 100,000 each) failed to actually manifest any powers.

The current aliens-Aliens-psionics "plotline" is providing an opportunity to throw them a bone without just end-running around the initial set of outcomes!

EDIT: It might be better to say that Alissa is narrow rather than low in her skills. She entered play with Cutlass-4 and nothing else. During play she acquired Tactics-1 through training (under the instruction of a former officer of the Byron army).
Re electronic versions - Marc Miller's Four for the price of three deal at his company Far Future Enterprises - FFE- Far Future Enterprises: RPGs Role-Playing Games from GDW, IGI, and FFE
I bought the CT, JTAS, Apocrypha 1, and 2 disks for $114 and got iirc 683 pdf's plus a bunch of extra jpg's and all that, fairly mind blowing that there was even that much material published for CT back then. Shipping to Australian could be nightmarish though, I have heard he will load stuff on a USB and send that too.

Re: psi; you are doing it right to mix the modern indie games sensibilities with CT, as I think that is more naturally how it was supposed to be played. It's the later versions that became rules heavy, a rule for everything, which it can be difficult trying to drag players that learned those versions back, or forward (depending on how you look at it), to the more interpretative style. I like reading your game reports, and I think they can be useful as a guide to a lot of different games.
 

pemerton

Legend
dragoner said:
Re: psi; you are doing it right to mix the modern indie games sensibilities with CT, as I think that is more naturally how it was supposed to be played.

<snip>

I like reading your game reports, and I think they can be useful as a guide to a lot of different games.
Thanks on both counts!
 
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