Classic Traveller - played a session today


We played a session of Classic Traveller today. I'll sblock some lengthy play accounts before offering some thoughts as referee.

[sblock]Prior session context
The PCs had defeated their enemies by first tricking their way onto the latter's starship, then taking it over, then using it to assault the enemies' bioweapons base on the relatively remote planet Olyx. (Some backstory here.)

In the course of all this the PCs' own starship had been rendered inoperable; but in good sci-fi style, the owner PCs gambled with one of the lead NPCs for the NPCs' starship and won. So the PCs left Olyx with a starshp upgrade as well as some new crew members (NPCs, including the former starship owner, who joined them).

The PCs had then recovered the orbital laboratory that detaches from theirnew starship, which had been left in data-collection orbit about the world of Enlil, the source of the pathogen that had been the focus of the NPCs' bioweapons research. In the course of doing this they had also rescued some Enlilians taken prisoner for research purposes. Unfortunately, two of the PCs were infected with the virus, and when the PCs returned to the planet that had been their base for a while - Byron - to report on their efforts and hand over prisoners, only one of the sick PCs could be cured.

So the well PCs put the other one into cold sleep and travelled to the world of Ashar. They did not know a great deal about Ashar, except that it is a high tech world - TL 16, with TL 15 being the upper level of Imperium technology - which also seems to have some connection to aliens and an ancient religion. (One of the PCs in particular wants to discover pisonicists so she can try and train in the psychic arts.)

Events of the session
The session started with the PCs taking their injured friend to a temple/hospital, where he was treated with TL 16 cellular rejuvenation technology before being treated with rapid healing drug ("medical slow drug" in Traveller terminology) for 5 days. While he was undergoing medical treatment, three of the other PCs (one per player) went off to do their own things.

The diplomat/spy tried to find out what word of the PCs' doings and of the bioweapons conspiracy had reached Ashar. But all he managed to find out (failed Liaison check) was that there seemed to be some sort of "blackout" on news coming from the Imperium, although he couldn't determine whether the blackout was imposed by the Imperium itself, or by the dictatorial religious government of Ashar itself.

The starship owner went out to meet up with a new patron. Successful checks (boosted by Carousing-1) led to contact with a government official (rolled by the player on the random patron table), who paid 55,000 credits upfront to hire the orbital lab for a fortnight's surveillance of a neighbouring, enemy nation (the world of Ashar having "balkanised" government, 6 different nations distinguished by differences of religious doctrine). The government had reports of some offworld pathfinder elements having entered the neighbouring country (Suliman), and wanted to know their numbers and capabilities (and immediate warning if their numbers exceed 100 and/or if they are about to cross the border). Additional payments of 10,000 to 100,000 credits would be paid depending on the degree of information provided.

The PC with psionic ambitions set out to learn about ancient artefacts and technologies. Unfortunately here only skills are her 4 ranks in cutlass fighting, Tactics-1, plus high DEX and INT. The player's check to find things was a bust, but an encounter roll came up positive for a riotous mob - and the PC found herself at the scene of an attack on a shop being carried out by a religious mob, with the authorities watching on in their grav vehicles but not interfering. The player made a successful check to run into the burning shop unseen - and inside saw a dead or dying body, stabbed, as well as the stabber downloading information onto a hand computer.

The player made a DEX check to grab the knife from the robber's belt, and took the computer from him - but it was only downloading electronic money, not digital texts that the PC (and player) had been hoping for. (The initial roll was still a bust.)

The PC did see what looked like a door to a strongroom: an attempt to force it failed, but by 1 only - so as a weak GM I allowed the player to have a success if the PC waited for the heat to weaken the frame, taking smoke inhalation damage. Inside were books and artefacts - I allowed the player a roll to try and take good stuff, but that check was a bust too, so no good stuff was taken. At that point the PC ran from the burning shop, taking the body with him. (The robber had already run off.)

The player declared that the PC took the body to the hospital, which triggered a check against law level for interaction with officials. That check failed too, and so the PC found herself arrested on suspicion of robbery, arson and murder. She gave as her contact/"next of kin" the hospitalised PC (for reasons that were a bit unclear - the player probably made a mistake about which PC to name, but the Ashar police don't allow a do-over for this stuff).

When the hospitalised PC regained consciousness on his last day in hospital, having healed and come out from under the influence of slow drug, he noticed something irritating him in his bed - a holocrystal for a text reader, apparently left or dropped there by a past patient. It turned out (via GM fiat) to be a copy of the rather specialised journal "Quantum Archaeologist", discussing the possibility of adapting the jump drive principle so that, instead of bridging space, one would bridge time and therefore be able to view the past. This was of interest to this PC, who has a PhD in xeno-archaeology and is travelling the universe trying to find signs of alien life or artefacts.

He was still reading when a police officer turned up, wanting to enquire about the imprisoned PC. Unfortunately, a series of rolls led to the hospitalised PC also being arrested for possessing an unlawful publication, but (assisted by his Admin-1) he was able to get off with a 7,000 credit fine. Checks by the player of the other arrested PC were less successful, however.

The other PCs wanted the imprisoned PC to be part of their forward observer team to help carry out their surveillance mission, and so the diplomat/spy who has Streetwise-1, plus another member of the crew who also has Streetwise-1, decided to try and make contact with the hiring patron to see if anything could be done to free her. The Streetwise check succeeded, and the diplomat/spy made contact. But the best the patron could offer (again, GM fiat) was an expedited trial and the supply of a defence lawyer (who had to be inquisition-approved, given the religious heresy that attended the alleged crimes). The player of the imprisoned PC made a roll for a successful trial outcome, needing 6+ on 2D6 (base throw required 8+, +9 for law level making it 17+, with a bonus equal to Social Standing of 9 bringing it back to 8+, and +2 for the legal representation making it 6+). Unfortunately the player's roll missed by 1, so the PC was convicted - but with a penalty of banishment (rather than, say, death or a longer term of imprisonment). The player was fairly happy with that, suggesting it as an outcome even as I was declaring it to be the outcome.

I decided that banishment took the form of being taken at night to a border post, and then being sent out into the no-man's land between the Ashar and Suliman - there being no diplomatic relations between the two nations, the banished party would need to get lucky to avoid being shot by the Suliman border guards. The prisoner was permitted to receive her protective clothing (it's a very cold world), respirator and night-vision goggle, and the other PCs decided that they would try and hide her cutlass and a communicator inside the protective suit, by building it in disguised as a splint for a (notional) leg injury. Unfortunately the roll for that was only a 3 on two dice, which even with +6 for the Jack-of-all-Trades-4 on the part of the "handyman" PC and Forgery-1 plus a disguise kit on the part of the diplomat/spy, didn't make the 13 that I had established as the required check for this somewhat mad plan. But the player of the handyman did suggest that the roll was so low it would mean the failure was obvious at the workshop stage, and I allowed that - so no one got in trouble for trying to smuggle contraband to a prisoner. A second check was made to hide a concealed message in the protective suit, directing the PC on how to make contact with the other PCs - by setting up a signal of heated rocks that they would be able to detect while doing their surveillance - and that was successful.

The moment of banishment I resolved using the surprise rules - if the banished PC got surprise on the border patrol then automatic evasion would be possible, and that check was a success on the part of the player (boosted by her Tactics-1) and so the PC didn't get shot or captured by the guards and made it into the cold borderlands. I set some fairly high DCs for finding shelter, but lucky rolls were made and so the PC was able to take shelter at night in caves and so avoid freezing to death.

The other PCs, meanwhile, had refuelled their vessel (including for jump as well as orbital capability, in case of the need for an emergency escape) and started the surveillance process. I decided the base check for intercepting signals or otherwise finding signs of the "pathfinders' was 12 on 2d6, rolled once per day, but with a +1 for the Communications-1 skill being dedicated to the task. The second roll was an 11, and so they intercepted communications in what some of the former naval personnel among them recognised as an imperial code, although a couple of unsuccessful Education checks told us that none of the PCs knew how to decode it. But the players were intrigued to learn that the pathfinder team were not simply from off-world but had Imperial connections.

On her second morning, the banished PC saw a group of three people coming towards her cave. With no weapons she had no chance to fight them, and so decided to greet them. And rolled quite a good reaction roll. So these people (as it happened, a group of fugitives rolled as a random encounter) were ready to talk to her, and the two sides worked out that both were questing for knowledge of how to improve themselves via mental powers. After some discussion, the player decided to make his roll for learning about the presence of the Psionics Institute on this world (I'd already made my own referee's roll for its actual presence on the world as part of my world design process), taking the view that it was "now or never" - and it came up successful. So his new companions were able to tell him that they had heard there was a place where they could study on the neighbouring gas giant Yanna. They also indicated that the research institute they had heard off was affiliated with the *truth* as taught in Ashar, rather than the false doctrines of Suliman (hence their fugitive status). The PC told them that if they could send a signal using heated rocks or similar, he had a means to get them all offworld. The NPC fugitives had the means to send a heat signal, and so the signal was sent.

The PCs in orbit, scanning for that signal as well as for signs of the pathfinders and their doings, picked up the signal (no check required) and decided to implement the next stage of their surveillance - sending their ship's boat down with an ATV and a crew of three (an ex-army forward observer, another ex-army bruiser, and an ex-pirate recon guy), the idea being that this would enable gathering more intelligence and hence getting better post-mission payment from the patron. The banished PC - with her tactics and skill at stealthy close combat - would be the fourth member of this team.

There was a bit of a collision of aspirations when the ship's boat landed and the banished PC and her new friends learned that they weren't going to be taken offworld straight away - but the ship's boat pilot, with his Leader-2, was able to tell the NPCs that this was how it was going to be, and so if they wanted to be taken off world they first had to travel in the ATV with the recon crew. They accepted this (no roll required), and the session ended with the shuttle dropping the ATV plus crew of 7 a safe distance from the pathfinders' location, ready to infiltrate.[/sblock]

Referee reflection
This is a group of four players with 8 "core" PCs (2 per player), another 4 "secondary" PCs ( 2 each for 2 of the players), and 4 "NPCs" broadly under player control (1 with one of the same 2 players, 3 with the other as part of the ship's crew) - the distinction between core and secondary PCs, and player-controlled NPCs, reflects the context (both at the table and in the fiction) of the character's introduction into the group. So there is the potential for quite a bit to be going on.

In today's session most of the characters got a chance to do something, although the main focus was on one each of the players' core PCs (the arrested/banished PC, the hospitalised archaeologist PC, the ship owner, and the diplomat/spy).

I was happy with the amount of action we got through in about 3 hours of play. I was also generally happy with how the system handled things - most of the resolution systems we use are taken from the core 3 books, although I'm working from my own rules document that tries to overcome some editing limitations in those books and group all the related subsystems together to make them easier to apply. In some cases I've adapted ideas from Andy Slack's "Expanded Universe" articles in early numbers of White Dwarf (eg that was where I got the mechanics for resolving a trial of a PC); and in some cases I had to make up the rolls required (eg the rules for Survival, which came into play for the banished PC, simply say that the referee will set appropriate throws and that Survival skill will give a bonus to those checks).

Still, I think the system held up pretty well, and we've ended up in a pretty interesting situation. I'm also happy with how the system holds up to contemporary play expectations: the random elements (encounters, patron checks etc) aren't something I typically use in other RPGs, but in Traveller they are working to introduce novel elements that still lend themselves to incorporation into the unfolding, situation-driven fiction. I think this is a reflection of the relative coherence of the implied backstory of the Traveller universe, plus the strength of some fairly central SF tropes.

I'm keen to find out where this all goes: I'm not sure if the players are really planning to take on the Imperium or not - of course the player of the psionics-hungry PC is itching to start a Force-led rebellion, but I'm less sure about the rest of them - but it's seems likely that something interesting will result from the current circumstances.
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I have them start with one, and then let them build from there, some want hirelings, I have them roll those up and run them, some just get bored, and want another, I'll let them do that too. Right now, one player has a Droyne Technician caste, chief engineer of the Wandering Star, and they want a warbot to use in battle, so it's just a matter of them finding parts or getting the credits together.

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