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RPG setting: a variant on "maps with blanks"

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I think Classic Traveller is interesting because the rules - written in 1977! - hint at possible approaches to world-building that are more often associated with "modern" RPGs. (I think some of those hints were diluted in later versions, especially the GMing advice in The Traveller Book which leans hard into the standard railroading approaches that were emerging in the early-to-mid 80s.)
I agree, some of the later books were more restrictive/didactic about what UPP codes meant and how much freedom there was to interpret them. I think some of that may have been because the OTU was developing and some of the writers were trying to ensure possible interpretations fitted into that specifically. Or at least that some of the other companies publishing Official material had a clear guide for how to develop material that would be consistent with GDW material.
In my current campaign I came to the first session with three worlds already rolled up (a hostile atmosphere domed-cities world; a water world (hyrdo 9 or A); and a low-TL world with a disease-tainted atmosphere (this was pre-pandemic, should it raise any questions about my good taste!)). I rolled up a starting world after the players had rolled their PCs, and together we helped make sense of it (which is something suggested in Book 3); and then rolled a patron encounter, and related that NPC to the PCs backstories that had been worked out in the course of rolling up PCs and world, and used my pre-prepared worlds to help frame her mission for the PCs.
The main reason I like to have a full subsector to start with is so I can see potentially interesting worlds that I think the PCs might interact with a lot, and start working on some ideas for them before the PCs get there. There are certainly published adventures where there's both a GM and Player map, and the latter is far sparser on information than the former; Leviathan is the most obcious (and rather good too).
Over the course of about 20 sessions more worlds have been generated, and I've had to locate them all on a star map (though I don't use the canonical sector/subsector arrangement) to keep track of them. I think this is inevitable (or at least hard to avoid) in any "leave blanks" game, especially one like Traveller that places a strong emphasis on the travel/explorative element of play - over time, those blanks get filled in.
Building things up as you go is one technique, whether it's adding new systems to the map or actually getting round to detailing them a little more. I admit, much of my own setting built up over nearly forty years of gradually adding more and more, either because players wanted to go somewhere new or because I wanted to run something that wouldn't work so well in the existing parts of my setting. Originally I started with a rough-and-tumble region outside the main empires (all I had for those was names) but when the players were interested in playing spoilt noble brats touring the frontiers of their realm and going into the outback beyond, well I had to develop an area on the fringe of the empire for that to really work.
I've never used any world maps. After an unhappy initial experience with the rules for onworld exploration, which are the one area I've found Classic Traveller to underpeform, onworld exploration hasn't been a bit part of our game. The PCs mostly travel from A to B on a world via their starship or ship's boat, and as far as ATV travel is concerned I've used encounter and evasion rules to manage the pacing rather than focusing on how many miles the PCs have travelled in what precise direction.
Something I'm doing more is making "maps" in the Fate style, with zones rather than a typical Traveller hex map. So a world with one major and one minor continent and 70% Hydro would have a Panthalassa region (isolated islands, aquaculture ships, musterious creatures), Pangaea (huge desert interior, huge mountains, coastal settlements) and sub-Polar continent (exiled criminals, animal herding, raiders). It's an easy way to get a rough idea of terrain types and add more details later rather than work them out at the start.
 

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Traveller is in a sort of a weird place. Suppose a player says "My PC sits down at the computer, starts the library program and does a search for a world in this sector that..." I mean, particularly in our modern Internet Age, such an action seems pretty fundamental, how could you NOT have that capability? Sure, some facts may be hidden, but STARS and PLANETS are not hidden! (certainly not normally, you might use that as a plot device once).

So, what happens when the player does that in a game run Pemerton's way? Well, obviously there's no objective answer. Traveller seems to WANT one, at times certainly, but yet doesn't give us a mechanism for it (how could it). I guess you could just always answer "well, the next planet over, UPP<whatever> is called Drexel and it..." Perhaps some pre-established fiction or background will provide an answer, etc.

Fantasy games don't really have this issue, though it will show up in most 'realistic' milieu that are modern. Seems like a BW-like approach, or a DW-like approach would differ a bit, wouldn't they? DW lets the player answer (the GM should ask them) and OTOH BW goes right to mechanics, and whether or not the player gets to invent some answer or not. Either way you would seem to need 'maps with blanks'. Seems like it is a pretty universally useful approach outside of strict OSR-like paradigms where you're in 'exploration mode' (but remember, 1e still has random generators, they still work).
 

In contrast, the BW advice emphasises that it is the elements that the players bring, via the stuff on their PC sheets (setting details like gear and relationships; PC orientations in the form of Beliefs; PC capabilities in the form of Circles; etc), that is at the centre of setting. Everything else relates to, and has a purpose in service of, that stuff.

There is a risk with the BW approach. Whenever I mention that risk I also mention @Campbell, because he's the poster who has articulated it most passionately. The risk is that the play of the game and the articulation of the fiction becomes "distorted" or even (to use a strong word) "corrupted" in service of player wish-fulfilment and pre-conceived character arcs. I think BW has devices to protect against this, most notably a very high incidence of failure for checks (compared to, say, any recent version of D&D). But it's still something to be aware of.
Indeed, BW has means to prevent players from preset arcs... but high failure rates isn't one of them.
The default difficulty is 2 successes; the typical competent starting skill is level 3, and rolls 3d6, each die of 4+ being a success. Primary skill will be 4, or rarely, 5.
the possible combinations: FFF, FFS, FSF, SFF, FSS, SFS, SSF, SSS. that's 4 of 8, 50%.
The next labeled difficulty is 3 successes needed. 12.5% for competent, but for the primary skills at 4, that's 4/16, or 25%.And that 4d on the Ob2 default difficulty? 11/16 success. or 68%...
doing the math; may as well leave it here FFFF FFFS FFSF FSFF SFFF FFSS FSFS FSSF SFFS SFSF SSFF FSSS SFSS SSFS SSSF SSSS
And that's before adding a die from a "Field of Related Knowledge" (aka FoRK) at 2-7, or 2d from FoRK at 8+. I've almost never seen a player not have relevant FoRKs for their areas of competence.

For comparison, the typical D&D 5E starting competent skill (or weapon proficiency) is +2 att and +2 proficiency, for +4 and the typical roll is for 15+, or, 50%. In focus area, that's +3 att, instead, for 55%. The next labeled difficulty is 20+... for 25% to 30%...

Burning Wheel's defense against planning is far more subtle...
1) Beliefs change. Being forced to change them is a potential failure outcome.
2) Attempting things hard enough that you cannot succeed is needed for advancement
3) Goals are encapsulated within beliefs, and thus can be forced to change.
4) what you raise is entirely based upon what you've used and how hard it was for your character.
4.1) skills under 4 require tests that are high failure rate without artha, and tests that are low failure rate.
4.2) skills going over four start requiring tests that cannot be passed without artha (needs more successes than you have dice from skill, help, FoRKs, and tools), and skil tests with high failure rates.
4.3) dice added by Artha don't count.
5) Artha (the three metacurrencies) are earned by use of your Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits.
5.1) some earns require changing the related Belief or Instinct.

The easiest way to foil a plan to become the Maestro de Fence is to simply not offer up occasions to fence competent opponents... because without competent opponents, you're not going to get those "can't pass" rolls very often. And if you don't want to lose on those? You have to spend Artha, and Artha isn't cheap. Every one earned has a price in terms of in-fiction actions to earn them: either a trait used limit your options, an instinct used by the GM to start you in a bit of a fix, a belief challenged and either you embraced the belief and took the costs of that, or gave in, played against it, and now have to alter it...
Also, if one spends enough Artha on a skill over time, there's an interesting side effect... at a certain number of each type spent, the skill "shifts shades"... it goes from being "Black" 4+ on d6 to being "Grey" 3+ on d6. Do it again, and it shifts to "White" 2+... the rules don't provide a further shifts. I've seen that happen once. I've seen several PCs start with a grey (S on 3+) skill.
BW characters can wind up with the concept being turned on end by things the other players have brought forth...

Mouse Guard, while simpler, has many of the same elements...

Oh, and the D***-move version of blocking the goal of becoming a maestro de fence? Sure, you find competent opponents... who opt not to roll all their dice. They go easy on you. You learn almost nothing.
On the other hand, the player can always use a circles roll to find a suitable opponent, then use a social skill to goad them into attacking in earnest... but that has other disadvantages... like wounds and death.
 

Traveller is in a sort of a weird place. Suppose a player says "My PC sits down at the computer, starts the library program and does a search for a world in this sector that..." I mean, particularly in our modern Internet Age, such an action seems pretty fundamental, how could you NOT have that capability? Sure, some facts may be hidden, but STARS and PLANETS are not hidden! (certainly not normally, you might use that as a plot device once).

So, what happens when the player does that in a game run Pemerton's way? Well, obviously there's no objective answer. Traveller seems to WANT one, at times certainly, but yet doesn't give us a mechanism for it (how could it). I guess you could just always answer "well, the next planet over, UPP<whatever> is called Drexel and it..." Perhaps some pre-established fiction or background will provide an answer, etc.
It's canonical for the 3E setting that the average library data entry gives you the UWP as an in-setting artefact, and a paragraph or two. Seldom a full page, unless it's a capitol (subsector, sector, domain, or Capitol)
The Generate program has a sector or so of astrometrics data -- size, mass, orbit shape, reference date location -- for anything bigger than about 1 km. But it doesn't include much else.
Many GMs ignore the one sector element. Others make updates for local areas part of what docking fees cover at A/B/C ports.
So, in my games, sitting down to look at the LD entry for a world makes Wikipedia look really in-depth. It's got at least 35 sectors worlds to cover... and not just the mainworlds, either. Each Asteroid Belt population likely has 5-20 entries...
And, like the hitch-hiker's guide to the galaxy, it's notoriously out of date....

So, when I run Traveller, Library data is only as useful as I want it to be, justifying by "it's not that big a database" and "The entry is 30+ years old"... And "someone at the update center deleted all the cross-references... have fun chasing the rabbit down that rabbit-hole"
 


@aramis erak

My experience with BW is that obstacles are often higher than 2 - and in the Adventure Burner the suggestion is for 3, if in doubt - and that's before we get to Beginner's Luck and/or not being able to afford or find tools.
I don't think I ever got AdBu. And I have run Mouse Guard more recently... But the point being, failure rates aren't how one prevents blind pursuit of a given goal, and there are lots of mechanics that punch players in other places than the chances of failure.
To be honest, tho', when I've run BW, about 3/4 of all rolls were opposed, rather than fixed Ob.
 

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