I really enjoyed today's Classic Traveller session . . .


. . . and so thought I would post about it. Yesterday I watched both Star Wars (Episode IV) and Gravity with my girls, in preparation for GMing Traveller today, and as things played out I think both helped me.

Last session, the PCs were in three groups: the majority in the scientific research vessel St Christopher, in high orbit about the planet Ashar; a smaller group in low orbit about Ashar in the research laboratory satellite that detaches from the St Christopher, monitoring a base in the nation of Suliman to find out its intentions against its neighbouring nation Ashar (the leading nation of the planet of the same name); and a group of four (plus 3 NPC fugitives) on-world in an ATV, scoping out the base.

The action of the session went back and forth between those in orbit (focusing mostly on the St Christopher) and those on-world - as GM I was relatively relaxed about precise time taken, and tried to make the pacing/unfolding of events work for dramatic purposes, as the events in orbit and on-world were bouncing off one another.

The on-world events started with the scouting of the base: the group left their ATV and spied on the base - two had Recon skill, one Tactics skill, and the fourth was an experienced Army officer with superlative physical stats, so they were able to sneak up without getting caught or noticed (a fairly simple check succeeded). They observed a small facility with at least one ATV and probably supporting half-a-dozen to a dozen personnel (I'd prepped a list of 7 NPCs prior to the session, four mercenaries and three Marines). The player of the Imperial Marine in the group failed the Education check I called for, and so at that point got no extra information (though of course the players - who already knew from last session that there was an Imperial connection, guessed what an affirmative roll would have revealed).

In orbit, a merchant vessel came out of jump in the vicinity of Ashar. The St Christopher has high-grade sensors, and so was able to notice it before being noticed. And was also able to notice an orbital shuttle coming through the ring that orbits close to Ashar, as if to meet the merchant. And was able to intercept (and with a successful Computer check, to decode) a transmission from the merchant to the shuttle: prior to its jump from [the neighbouring world] Tara, the merchant had seen an Imperial Carrier and Troop Transport in orbit and taking on fuel. The players (and their PCs receiving this information) had a hunch as to what the Imperials were intending, namely, to jump to Ashar and launch some sort of assault. For which the base in Suliman would be some sort of staging/forward observation post. This information and hunch was all transmitted back to the PCs' patron, triggering a bonus payment of 70,000 credits as per their agreement.

As the merchant approached, it came close enough to pick up the St Christopher on its scanners and made contact. Introducing itself as the merchant vessel Jezebel, it asked after the St Christopher's identity and mission. The PCs introduced themselves truthfully, as the scientific research vessel St Christopher, and provided some non-committal description of their reason for hanging about above Ashar. There was some further friendly banter (a good reaction roll was made) and it was established that the St Christopher did not intend to interfere with the (obviously somewhat irregular) transfer of goods from the Jezebel to the shuttle.

Back on-world, the group had got back to their ATV and started driving back towards their rendezvous point with the ship's boat from the St Christopher, when they spotted an ATV pursuing them. Surprise checks were made and yielded no surprise; a range check indicated Long range (ie approx 250 metres). The pursuing vehicle was now easily recognised as an Imperial Marines ATV, with a Laser Cannon. A shot was fired, and hit the PCs' vehicle but the hit location indicated a gun hit - and as their vehicle already had no gun, this didn't bother them! But equally they could tell they were outmatched, especially when a figure wearing battle dress with an integrated high-energy weapon (PGMP-13, = Plasma Gun, Marine Portable, Tech Level 13) popped her head and gun out through the pursuing vehicle's top hatch.

So the PCs signalled their surrender. They sent a short transmission up to the St Christopher, intended to both let them know of the capture and to create a cover story - our people smuggling operation has been intercepted, and then got out of their ATV. (Their fugitives needed some persuading, but also came out in the end.) The group was taken in the Marine ATV back to the base they had been spying on. I think only one of the players made the concrete connection between the orbital shuttle and the base being alerted to the possible presence of a ground team, but that connection was cemented when I narrated the shuttle landing and off-loading a large cargo, which one of the PCs was able to recognise (from the manufacturer's stamp, no check required given his Education 9) as assault rifles manufactured on Tara.

In orbit, the transmission from the on-world group was received by both the St Christopher and the Jezebel. The St Christopher crew knew that the on-world group had picked up some refugees (from last sesision's activities) and so realised this was some sort of cover story. As GM, I decided to build on the earlier good reaction check between the two ships, and so the Jezebel inquired whether it could offer any help for the "disabled ground crew". The offer of assistance was happily accepted, although it wasn't entirely clear what form it might take (other than maybe the captain of the Jezebel putting in a good word), but in any event I cut back to the on-world events.

At the base in Suliman, it was time for interrogation (of PCs by NPCs), and this turned out to be a bigger focus of the action, and far more amusing, than I had anticipated. Reaction rolls for the lead NPC guarding the PCs (Rada, armed with a SMG) vis-a-vis the two military PCs (Johnny, a former captain and Max, a meathead former colonel) established a good rapport with Johnny but an intense dislike of the rather boneheaded Max, and so the latter got sent in to be the first interrogated by Mitch - who turned out to be a woman in her early 30s who was doing the questioning while a middle-aged Marine called Denisha had the job of injecting the Truth Drug. Max insisted that he didn't like needles, and punched Denisha to prove the point - the latter then drew her cutlass (the Marines were wearing their cutlasses as a proud Imperial Marine should) and laid into him until he was knocked out. Max's player was rather pleased with himself for making sure that the low-INT Max wasn't in a position to betray any secrets.

Next up was Xander, another muscled guy but quite a bit brighter (INT 9 rather than INT 3) but (until today) definitely that player's secondary character and so not really in touch with the subtleties of the plot. He and Mitch hit it off, but he wasn't able to answer her questions, simply indicating that he was a bruiser who pointed his gun in the direction his hirers (the other PCs) told him to. So he was sent back to the other prisoners, though with Mitch suggesting that she would offer him "500 credits and a bowl of warm soup" to recruit him as her bodyguard.

Alissa, the other PC of Max's player and a Marine who was discharged wounded in her first term and found herself a victim of a rival Marine's bio-weapons plot, was the next sent in to answer questions. She impressed the Marine in charge, von Jerrel, whom - it turned out - was a noble from Suliman who had joined the Imperial Marines and was now back as part of the Imperial liaison/pathfinder mission; and who also happened to be the older brother of one of the fugitives (this was all backstory that I injected about these NPCs). von Jerrel recognised her Marine-like bearing (the PC has DEX 12), and when she explained that she was primarily a fencer he asked her to show off her swordplay skills (using Denisha's sword, not his hereditary blade which - as he had put to Max - has been in my family for more generations than you can count!).

Unfortunately Alissa - who was fudging a bit with her answers to Mitch - refused to be injected with truth serum, having developed an allergy to needles from her past bioweapons experimentation experiences. So she tried to draw Denisha's sword from the latter's hip and fight her way out, but narrowly missed the required check and so found herself on the receiving end instead! Another unconscious PC.

Reluctantly, therefore, Rada sent in Johnny to be questioned. Johnny tried to give only name, rank and serial number but realised - given he was acting as a spy rather than a soldier - that this was not going to work. But he too refused to answer questions, and was beaten into unconsciousness by Denisha.

This left Xander the only PC still under Rada's guard. Xander's player discussed with the other players, should I go kinetic? He decided that he should - especially as Xander has Vacc Suit skill, and so would be able to use the battle dress should he be able to find it. So he jumped Rada and tried to wrestle his SMG away from him.

Classic Traveller has no grappling or disarming rules, so I improvised this, giving advantages to Xander for greater Strength and Brawling skill, but also allowing that whoever already has the gun has an advantage to retain it - so it was opposed checks on two dice, with Xander having a +1 to grab from Rada and a +2 to retain against Rada. In the ensuing fight Xander got shot (but not seriously) before grabbing the gun, shooting Rada - who also was able to take it - before Rada grabbed it back and got in another shot at Xander, before Xander grabbed it again and killed Rada with a final burst. There were two interesting things about this. One concerned the system for wounds in Classic Traveller, where the first set of hits is taken off a random physical stat (the "first strike" rule), but subsequent wounds are allocated on a die-by-die basis as the victim chooses - this meant that (as GM) I was able to keep Rada up rather than unconscious, by spreading the damage dice across his stats, but when the final burst came in I had no way of avoiding all three stats dropping to zero (= death). The other was how cinematic it was, which isn't something I expect from Traveller combat. The time taken at the table to resolve it was probably ten minutes or so, and there was this real sense of the tables turning, and turning again, as the gun changed hands, attempts to grab it back failed but then succeeded, shots were discharged, and Xander finally was able to grab the gun and shoot Rada dead.

Xander then went on a hunt for the battle dress. The first person he saw was Mitch (a GM decision, as best I recall), whose response upon seeing a bloody, SMG-armed Xander in the base corridor was "What the f***?" - Xander asked her to be quiet and cooperative, and tell him where the battle dress wearing Marine was. Mitch answered that Chuthri was taking a shower after the ATV trip (this one was definitely a GM decision).

There was then a call from down the corridor - Denisha calling out "Mitch, are you OK? Where are you?". Directed by Xander (in a low voice) to respond "I'm OK", Mitch called back "I'm OK, just going to powder my nose." I then narrated that Xander (and Mitch) could hear a door opening from what must have been the bathroom module in the base, and Mitch called out "Chuthri, can you grab my heat rub for me?" leading to the door being traversed again the other way.

Xander duly went into Chuthri's quarters to grab the battle dress, and I asked his player to make a check (on two dice) - 10+ and it all goes perfectly, 7+ and it's not too bad for him. The roll was in the middle range and so he was still putting on the battle dress when a Marine in her bath robe came into the room, saw him putting on the battle dress, said much the same as Mitch had and went running out and down the corridor. As Xander came out after her, wearing the battle dress, he saw the Marine von Jerrel at the other end of the corridor climbing out of the hatch that (Xander was confident) led to the ATV garage.

At about this time - as I narrated it - the unconscious PCs (Max, Alissa and Johnny) regained consciousness strapped to beds in a sick bay, with Denisha there. Johnny felt very calm and lucid - ie had been injected with truth serum. But then they heard the call One of the prisoners has the battle dress and saw a woman in a bath robe running past the open sick bay door, followed by Xander in battle dress. Denisha unleashed a burst of SMG fire as Xander ran past, but (due to bad rolls from me as GM) the bullets bounced of his body armour.

Johnny tried to break his straps, but failed. Likewise Max. (Both failed Strength checks.) Alissa slipped out of hers, though. (Successful Dexterity check against a slightly higher DC.) And then loosened Max's. Meanwhile, Xander followed Chuthri up the hatch to find her at the ATV with von Jerrel, who was directing a further NPC - the mechanic Vadis - to get the ATV started. Xander's player decided to find out what a PGMP can do - the answer, in this case, was to hit automatically for 12 dice of damage, which left von Jerrel little more than a blast shadow on the side of the ATV. That was also my cue to introduce the players to the rules for using integrated energy weapons without Battle Dress skill - a roll of 8+ is required to avoid a mishap (eg torn arm ligaments) from the tremendous recoil. Xander's player succeeded on the roll.

At Xander's direction, the other NPCs raised their hands in surrender. But I made a morale check for them, applying the penalty for von Jerrel having just been vaporised, and they passed it. So Chuthri, while acknowledging Xander's force advantage, insisted that he would be obliterated by the forces opposing him, and that she would let him live if he left in the ATV but dropped the battle dress not far from the base.

Back in the sickbay, the now-unleashed Max charged Denisha. Denisha emptied her SMG magazine, giving her 3 shots against Max that would hit on a 5+ (or thereabouts). All three hit (normally a SMG only allows two rolls to hit, but as per the emptying the magazine rule I've adapted from Book 4, an extra roll was allowed here), and Max - already injured from his previous beating - died in a hail of bullets. This is the first PC death in the campaign - and was also surprisingly cinematic.

Alissa tried to hurl her bed into Denisha - an improvised Brawling attack - but with Strength 3 was ineffective, and so decided to run instead. Across the corridor from the sick bay was another door - an NPC opened it, saw the chaos unfolding, and slammed it shut again, and Alissa's player guessed (correctly) it was the comms room. She opened the door but saw the NPC inside had grabbed his carbine and so this time she shut the door and scrambled up through the hatch to the ATV garage.

Once up there, Alissa was handed the SMG (taken from Rada) by Xander, who went back down to be confronted by a cutlass-wielding Denisha. Denisha took a swing, but it's hard to hit battle dress with a cutlass and she missed. Xander then punched her, and I decided that a punch from battle dress can be treated as a club attack. He knocked her out.

He then entered the comms room and took the last NPC prisoner. But too late to stop a signal being transmitted - Xander directed the NPC to retract the last communication, but the NPC (Mecum) smugly replied that it was a transmission to an imperial satellite in orbit - the same satellite that had received a transmission in Imperial code in the previous session.

By this time Johnny was able to free himself (a GM's concession), and to take stock of the situation. There were two dead NPCs (Rada and von Jerrel), one unconscious (Denisha), three prisoners (Chuthri, Vadis and Mecum) and one apparently turned to the PCs' side (Mitch). A signal had been sent to the imperial satellite, reporting the events at the base. There was still a large supply of assault rifles there, more than the PCs could take with them via ATV or ship's boat. And there was Chuthri's threat of obliteration.

Johnny sent a signal to the St Christopher and orbital satellite, reporting the basic situation and indicating the urgent need for (1) picking up the on-world crew, and (2) taking out the Imperial satellite. Up in orbit, the St Christopher now let the Jezebel know that their disabled ground crew were OK, but that the situation was likely to get hot and so it might be best for everyone to disperse. The Jezebel requested a payment of 25,000 credits for "quick refuelling", and the player of Vincenzo von Hallucida, the St Christopher's captain and owner, thought this was fair enough and so transferred the funds (to avoid electronic traceability, the Jezebel requested a pouch with the money be dropped in space between them and had a crewmember spacewalk out to get it).

We ended things there. Exfiltration and anti-satellite activities will probably be the starting point for our next session. And Max's player will need a new PC - it seems likely that he will take up von Jerrel the younger, the younger brother of the dead Marine officer who was among the fugitives from Suliman whom Alissa met in the previous session. They didn't play any significant role in today's session, but will likely become more prominent if Alissa continues with her attempt to make contact with the Psionics Institute.

One interesting thing about our Traveller campaign is how prominent prisoner/escape scenarios have been. I don't know if that's a result of sci-fi, or the quasi-military theme that underpins a lot of the default backstory for Traveller. But despite a lack of explicit mechanics for handling such situations, the system seems to cope with it pretty well. When the players decided that their on-world PCs surrendered I didn't know where things were going to go: I had my list of NPCs at the base, and the general vibe of a pending Imperial assault of some sort, and that was it. But Xander's decision to "go kinetic" paid off, both in fiction (or mostly so - oh poor Max, we hardly knew ye!) and at the table, with some high quality modern-RPG action scenes! (And I was pretty happy with how my cutting from situation to situation worked out in this respect, too.)

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Thanks for posting this, it is a fun read, and seems like everyone else had fun, which is a win.

One interesting thing about our Traveller campaign is how prominent prisoner/escape scenarios have been. I don't know if that's a result of sci-fi, or the quasi-military theme that underpins a lot of the default backstory for Traveller.

I think a big part of it is that Traveller doesn't have weaker adversaries, it is more just dealing with NPC sophonts, as well as the morale rules. Surrender seems realistic, on both sides, I can't see a motivation for fighting to the death usually.


[MENTION=6943731]dragoner[/MENTION], thanks for another reply to one of my Traveller threads!

I think what you say about the logic of surrender, supported by morale rules, makes sense.


These actual plays of yours are interesting to read and, knowing it's Traveller, I like to see them thru a nice filter of retro-futurism imagery.
I have a question: how is your prep work for a session of Traveller? Does most of it come from the Char Gen/Pc background tables and then improvised? The Npcs/opposition are pre-gen in the setting, or you made'em up? Thanks


These actual plays of yours are interesting to read and, knowing it's Traveller, I like to see them thru a nice filter of retro-futurism imagery.
Thanks! The players in my Traveller game like making fun of its massive and low-performance computing and communications tech.

I like to think of it as an alternative future for a society that devoted all its intellectual and engineering resources to quantum gravity and spaceflight development, rather than computing and info tech.

I have a question: how is your prep work for a session of Traveller? Does most of it come from the Char Gen/Pc background tables and then improvised? The Npcs/opposition are pre-gen in the setting, or you made'em up? Thanks
Prep work is building ships (Book 2), NPCs (Book 1) and worlds (Book 3).

I started the campaign with a few already-generated worlds, and rolled the starting world for the campaign after the players generated their PCs. Since then I've generated some more worlds - I think a bit over a dozen overall - and after three or so session I drew up a star chart to indicate how they all related to one another. (The official rules are to check each subsector hex for the presence of a world; but I'm instead rolling to see how many worlds are within jump-1 of each world, which makes it easier to work it out as we go along.)

For the session I wrote up in this thread I'd generated seven NPCs. And over the past several months I've written up about half-a-dozen Imperial warships which will probably come into play soon, though perhaps as backdrop as much as anything. (But designing ships for Traveller is fun.)

The bigger setting and backstory is something we work out as we go along, driven by a combination of patron rolls, world characteristics, and the implied setting of Traveller itself (an Imperial Navy and Marines; nobles with lots of spare time and interstellar yachts; etc).

I've never run Dungeon World or other Apocalypse game - I think the way we're playing Traveller is about as close as I've come in my RPGing to a PbtA-like approach.

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