Traveller actual play - an ambiguous success

pemerton

Legend
Around the same time as this session, I ran a brief session of Traveller for my other daughter. This weekend (so after a gap of almost 3 years), we played a little bit more of it.

From three years ago, I had three bits of paper. One was a PC sheet:

Bob Airrunner B29497, a 30-year old, 3 term drifter, with nearly 50,000 credits (given to him when he was abandoned on Hobson), and six skills all at rank 1 (Light blades, Shotgun, Forgery, Mechanical, Streetwise, Bribery).​
Equipment: jack (leather coat), dagger, watch, electric torch, long range communicator, mechanical tool set, attache case with forged documents (titles etc)​

The name reflects a pre-teen's naming conventions. "Drifter" is the label I use for the original Book 1 "Other" service.

A second bit of paper had some worlds on it, each a Jump-1 distance from the others:

Hobson: B-9D3-200-TL5-Lo (the 200-odd people live in a Hobson's Bay, a private (smuggling) facility with a hotel high in the mountains where the atmosphere is breathable)​
Roto: D-554-464-TL5-Lo,Ni (a pleasant world where the wealthy administrators of Kuros take their holidays- government type 6 indicates a colony or similar, in this case a colony of Kuros; approximately 4,400 people)​
Kuros, from the session with my other daughter linked to above.​
There is a space lane between Kuros and Hobson, but no space lanes to Roto.​

The final piece of paper had some session notes:

*2 weeks on Hobson to meet crewmember patron (Cr 1000 upfront, Cr 3000 on delivery of case of documents);​
*While waiting, 6 fugitives (jacks, blades) taken by patrol;​
*Travel to Roto on the Yorik (Type A free trader - the absence of space lanes means that this must have been a charter, though the notes said nothing about this);​
*On Roto, buy watch, get address, followed to house;​
*2 beggars (Cr 120), 1 unconscious;​
*Chased by police, outrunning police, Houss (Veh-1) and Llywelya.​

Bob's player and I did our best to dredge up memories of what had happened: Bob, hanging around in Hobson's Bay, had been approached to take a case of documents to Roto. At some stage, Bob had looked at the documents and recognised them as forgeries of title deeds and the like. On Roto, he had gone to the designated address but had been followed, and so the delivery didn't go as planned. Neither of us could remember much about the beggars, but we could remember that Bob had hotwired a car to get away from the police. Of the two passengers (Houss and Llywelya) we could recall that one (LLywelya, we thought) was the occupant of the delivery address, but we weren't sure about the other - Bob's player's tentative conjecture was that she must have thought the car was her Uber ride.

During the original session, and in comments since, Bob's player had conveyed two main concerns: (1) no one would tell Bob what was going on; and (2) why, in the far future, do people still drive cars and use walkie-talkies (communicators)? The second concern I explained away in my usual fashion: the far future of the Traveller universe is in an alternative timeline to our own, so whereas research in our world has produced communication technology and powerful, miniaturised computers, research in the Traveller universe has produced fission technology and jump drives.

But the first reflects something that I commented on after running the other father-daughter session:
I found it much harder to provoke an inexperienced player to action than I'm used to.

<snip>

with a pretty limited knowledge of political/spy genre fiction.
So what I intended to be invitations to action declaration and Le Carre- or Bourne-esque hijinks (fugitives being bundled off by security; a secret rendezvous; opportunities to bribe officials' chances to steal cars) were experienced by the player as sources of confusion. She wasn't able to seize control of the flow of events.

We started this current session with the car chase. I thought perhaps that Houss was driving (given her Vehicle skill) but Bob's player was pretty sure that Bob was - and he had definitely done the hotwiring - so we started with that. I called first for a throw to avoid mishaps during a chase (adapted and generalised from the Air/Raft rules in Book 1) - I rolled for the police's reaction, and they were not hostile yet, and so were not shooting, so there was no penalty for gunfire. The throw succeeded. I then called for a throw for evasion/escape. This failed, and so the chase continued; Bob really put the pedal to the metal.

A second reaction roll had the police getting angrier, and so they did shoot at the fleeing vehicle. This, together with the higher speed, made the throw to avoid mishaps harder, and it failed. I described the car as crashing, and called for checks to see if any injuries were suffered (to facilitate these, I also rolled up STR for Houss and Llywelya). Only Llywella was hurt, and not badly, so the crash was clearly a cinematic car roll rather than something more horrible.

The police were closing, and Bob decided to try and run. For reasons that I can't remember, this decision caused disagreement from Llywella, who tried to grab the case from Bob. I asked Bob's player whether the case was fastened to his wrist; the answer was that it was. I asked whether it was a leather strap, or a handcuff-type fastening, and got a complaint that I was meant to decide such things and so I rolled for it: a leather strap. This meant that it made sense for Llywelya to think she might snap or cut it, and so we rolled to see what happened (using a version of the wrestling sub-system I invented for my main Traveller game). After every exchange, I also made a roll to see if the police arrived (8+). When the police did arrive Llywelya and Bob both had hands on the case, each trying to pull it away from the other.

A chance comment from Bob's player, about someone called Phil, suggested the possibility that Bob might know one of the police officers. I set a target number and called for a Streetwise check, but it failed. None of the officers was Phil: all were strangers to Bob. Bob then tried to protest his innocence to them - I called for a reaction roll, and when it was not too bad I took this as an opportunity for the police to ask for a bribe (after the session, when I commented that Bob didn't seem all that proactive on the bribery side of things, Bob's player commented that she is not used to looking at the world through the lens of bribing officials). Bob paid the 3 police CR 100 each.

I remarked that this wasn't going to help Houss and Llywelya, who were being bundled into the police car. Bob was not too concerned by this, and thought that he would trudge back to town, and then potentially find the police station where they were being held. But first he would break into Llywelya's house to try and see what was going on there.

We hadn't established any particular distance that the chase had occurred over, but the low population suggested a small town, which in turn suggested that the cars had left the city. So Bob had a bit of a walk ahead. I made a throw to determine the rotational period for Roto and got 35 hours, and this provided some colour in narrating Bob having walked a rather long way by the time he got back to the town after sunset.

I made a roll to see if there was an encounter, and this came up positive, and then a throw on the table indicated "noble and retinue, 5 people, foils". I told Bob's player that as Bob was walking past a bar, 5 inebriated people wearing rapiers came out. The rapiers prompted some further disparaging remarks about the far future, but I explained that in the Traveller universe people have a real thing for swords. The NPCs tried to strike up conversation, and (given a reasonable reaction roll) when they hailed a taxi asked Bob if he wanted to join them. In my mind, these "nobles" were administrators from Kuros on a company-sponsored junket, dressing up with their rapiers, and I think I conveyed some of this to Bob's player. Bob declined the invitation, but as the taxi took off one of the NPCs threw four credits to Bob (who was looking a little worse for wear after his crash and his hike).

Bob still wanted to break into Llywelya's house. I set an INT throw as required for Bob to find his way back to the house in the dark. This failed, and so I said that I would roll for another encounter, to see if anyone noticed Bob peering at the street signs by the light of his electric torch. The roll came up positive again, and this time it was "soldiers, 5 people, with a vehicle, wearing mesh armour and carrying carbines". My immediate thought was that these "soldiers" were bodyguards of the administrators, who had been ditched by the people they were supposed to be looking after. The reaction roll was poor, and so they started hassling Bob - had he seen the NPCs etc? I can't remember the full sequence of events, but his attempt to brush them of only made them angrier (from memory, snake's eyes on the follow-up reaction roll) and they grabbed him and pulled him into their van.

They then intercepted the taxi broadcast frequency and thus located the administrators, at another bar on the other side of town, and drove there to pick them up. Toro, the administrator-in-charge, asked Bob about his attache case. His attempt to fob her off failed (poor reaction roll once again), and then so did his follow-up ("OK, you've got me, it's really my GoT fan-fic, and I'd be too embarrassed if anyone were to actually read it"). Petra, one of the bodyguards, opened the case and revealed its contents. Toro and friends were stunned - "What are you doing with company title documents?"

At this point, Bob's player asked about the prospects of escaping the van. I said the van was stationary - the driver was consulting a map, to work out which way they had to go to get back to their hotel - and there was a door he could open, but he would have to get past Petra. At this point I also picked Petra's stats of a list of thugs and assailants I had photocopied from some supplement. Bob's player rolled for brawling, using Bob's 20 kg mechanical tool kit as an improvised club, and hit despite Petra's mesh. But the damage landed on her best stat, and so she didn't go down. She then struck Bob and the damage landed on Bob's 2 DEX, and so Bob did go down.

When he regained consciousness about 10 minutes later, he was still in the van, and Toro and Rivera (another of the administrators) were discussing the prospect of taking Bob back to Kuros with them.

We finished the session at that point, the whole thing having lasted an hour or so. But later on I had two further ideas. One is that, given the absence of space lanes between Roto and anywhere else, the administrators are probably travelling in a Type Y yacht, which also carries enough fuel for a return jump without having to refuel at Roto's Class D starport. The second is that the administrators will want to finish their junket before going back to Kuros, and so Bob might get to go along with them on a hunting trip (and perhaps exercise some shotgun skill?).

So last night while cooking dinner I introduced my daughter to the animal generation system. She sensibly suggested that, if they're hunting, it would probably be for a herbivore. Her rolls generated the following animal:

Grazer, a 100 kg (5D/2D hits) land animal that lives by stream banks, often solitary; will flee on a 3+ but otherwise attacks; moves at double normal speed; unarmoured, but tail with sharp "blades" attacks as halberd​

My daughter found it amusing that every roll had produced the most bland result possible, until the special weapon => halberd result.

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

When I wrote up my experience running a session for my other daughter, I commented that "It wasn't as dice-driven as some of my Traveller play". This weekend's session, on the other hand, was very dice driven - chase rolls, reaction rolls, and encounter rolls. I call it an ambiguous success in the thread title because it's success was not unalloyed - there was still a bit of a sense of the player being swept along by the fictional events rather than putting her stamp on them - but some action declarations were made, and a bit of purpose and direction started to emerge.

If we play a third session, with the hunting trip, I expect that that trend might continue.
 
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Old Fezziwig

a man builds a city with banks and cathedrals
The rapiers prompted some further disparaging remarks about the far future, but I explained that in the Traveller universe people have a real thing for swords.
I like how that explains everything and also kind of explains nothing. (And also how different the Traveller future is from other roughly contemporary imagined futures, like Star Trek or even The Jetsons.)

I call it an ambiguous success in the thread title because it's success was not unalloyed - there was still a bit of a sense of the player being swept along by the fictional events rather than putting her stamp on them - but some action declarations were made, and a bit of purpose and direction started to emerge.
I can totally see why you would call it ambiguous. But the way that Bob, in turn, ended up swept up in events, gave this session, a bit of a 90s/00s indie caper film vibe, which I think can be a hard space to game in sometimes. Bob's in way over his head!
 

pemerton

Legend
I can totally see why you would call it ambiguous. But the way that Bob, in turn, ended up swept up in events, gave this session, a bit of a 90s/00s indie caper film vibe, which I think can be a hard space to game in sometimes. Bob's in way over his head!
True that he's in over his head!

I don't know if a clear play structure (PbtA) would make things easier than my attempt to use Classic Traveller as a soft/hard move system. I do feel a lot of it is down to the player not having generic RPG-player instincts - whereas when I play the same system with my regular group, we're drawing on a collective experience and instincts of 100+ years!
 

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