Wednesday, February 27, 2013

World of Samardan: Our Goals...

Good Afternoon, Everyone:

Today, we begin our exploration of the World of Samardan, a Planetary Romance campaign setting built for Old School sandbox playability. Before we get too far along, I suggest that you refresh yourself on the basic tropes of the genre, so that I can set some appropriate expectations about my goals along the way.

I believe that the overall goals for developing this campaign setting should include:
  • Contain recognizable tropes or elements inspired by the source material for the genre.
  • Developed with the same focus on playability and sandbox development that I've been using for the last few years.
  • Focus more on setting and less on mechanics (except where mechanics are necessary).
  • Needs a complete bestiary inspired by source material, similar in size and scope to the Basic D&D books or the 1st Edition AD&D Monster Manual.
  • Special abilities must not rely on magic, but rather physical or psionic effects, or possibly super-science and other remnants of ancient civilizations.
  • Using a home-brewed naming language (a type of Conlang) when naming places, people and things, so as to bring a specific flavor and consistency to the setting.

Looking at the Planetary Romance tropes, I imagine I will want to make sure I include the following elements:
  • Exotic Locations: The setting should be based on a "Points of Light" style campaign, each city-state being an isolated area of civilization separated by major regions of wilderness.
  • Alien Interactions: The city-states of the setting are generally divided between two different cultures, an empire of despots and an alliance of confederated city-states that has united for mutual protection. Add in a few independent cities and some savage tribal types, and there's plenty of cultural interaction for building stories.
  • Hostile Savages: I definitely want to see three major tribes in the region, to allow conflict and intrigue between different tribes. See Alien Interactions for more details.
  • Decadent Monarchies: The empire of despots described under Alien Interactions will be our decadent monarchy.
  • Lost Technology: There are ruins and signs of an ancient civilization all over the place. Those ancient people have disappeared long ago, and no one knows how to maintain or repair the lost technology.

In addition, an element I enjoyed from both the Kregen and Gor series involved aliens that secretly watched over the people of the setting, and their enemies. The original species artificially keeps humanity from evolving in certain directions (thus enforcing the primitive weapons meme that is pervasive in the genre), acting as custodians for the lesser species inhabiting their world. Their enemies are outsiders seeking to establish a foothold from which to launch their conquest efforts. In classic examples of the genre, the preservers/custodians are often viewed as Gods or God-like beings (the Everoinye of Kregen or the Priest-Kings of Gor), and little is known of the machinations of the destroyers/invaders (the Curshin or the Others of Kregen or the Kurii of Gor). I'll note that here:
  • Classic Trope: "The Gods": There are at least two "alien" forces operating behind the scenes, related to the ancient civilization. One protects and preserves the status quo of current Samardan life; while the other seeks to invade and destroy it.

I think that this should be enough to help inform the creation of the World of Samardan setting. In my next post, I'll outline the basic flow of development events that I'll follow. It should prove to be rather similar to the Traveller Sandbox Experiment in basic flow, which makes sense, because the original method was used to develop fantasy campaign settings. The flavors may be different, but there's enough similarities that a planetary romance campaign setting should benefit from similar development techniques.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Next Project: World of Samardan...

Good Afternoon, Everyone:

On Friday, I asked people to vote on what my next blog project should be. Here are the results as they currently stand:
  • Sword & Planet Setting: 4
  • Traveller: 2
  • Other (MyD20 Lite GM's Guide): 1

I think it's safe to assume that the Sword And Planet setting wins by a 2:1 margin, unless a mad rush of voting comes in at the last minute, after I've written this but before it has been posted. I am actually pleased to hear that there's interest in the MyD20 Lite GM's Guide, and I'll put that on my to-do list for 2013. I have also slated at least two Traveller products for publication this year. This should be a very interesting year, I think, assuming I can get even half of my publication wishlist completed.

Over the next few posts, we'll discuss the development of a planetary romance campaign setting. I'll be developing it loosely on my first Sword and Planet campaign, but there will be some major revisions and I'll be creating a ton of new material along the way. I have to admit that I'm pretty excited about the prospects of sharing the World of Samardan with everyone, and using it as a vehicle for discussing planetary romance as a gaming experience.

For those of you that participated in the informal survey, thank you very much for making your opinion known. For everyone, I definitely hope that you guys enjoy the new development that will be unfolding here. I'm sure that there will be material you might be able to alter and use for your own games, even if you prefer a more standard fantasy or Traveller gaming experience. And if you use the final setting as a planetary romance campaign, that's even better.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Your Vote Counts: Choose My Next Blog Project...

Good Afternoon, All:

Now that I've reached the end of one project, I'm looking for another to begin. I'm torn between two different projects that I'd like to do, and so I'm putting it to a vote among the readers as to what I hit next. Here are the options:

  1. Create A Sword & Planet Campaign Setting: Last year, I wrote a nice little rules set for running Planetary Romance campaigns, which I've made available for free. It's called Sword & Planet, for lack of a better name, and I wrote it for the love of the genre. It needs a setting, I think, and one of my project ideas is to actually build out that setting.
  2. Create More Traveller Material: The Traveller random charts in my last project received a lot of attention. I could continue to create gaming aids for Referees to support them at the gaming table. This one may not take up as much time, because it depends on my inspirations. However, I do know that it appears to be something that would be appreciated.

And of course, there's always other options, based on popular suggestions. I'm going to watch the comments on this post for a few days, and see what the readers would like to see done. Here's your chance, guys!

With Regards,

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Traveller Sandbox Experiment: What I Learned...

Good Afternoon, All:

The last few months have been focused on what I've called the Traveller Sandbox Experiment. With this project, I turned my attention to developing a Traveller campaign setting using the same techniques that I have been using here for various fantasy and cross-genre settings. All told, I feel like it was quite successful, but I did learn a few things along the way.

Generating A Sector: This took surprising longer than I originally expected, and the biggest part of that challenge was in naming all of the worlds. I think good world names add a lot of flavor to a setting; while I could have randomly generated my world names, I feel that my efforts were better served by being deliberate in most of my choices.

Choosing A Quadrant: If I'd just generated a Quadrant instead of a Sector, these two parts would have proceeded faster. However, the part I liked about generating a Sector and then choosing the Quadrant was that I had context for elements outside the Quadrant that could impact play inside the Quadrant. I think it led to a more developed sense of the setting being part of a bigger picture, even if that bigger picture never gets explored over the course of the campaign. I wonder if I could have handled that with a few random tables, though.

Cultural Hubs: Creating cultural hubs made me aware of the big population centers that could influence the setting, and the impact they have on the setting itself. I think this particular step, and the tables I created to support it, served me very well. This is also where I learned that the readers of this blog REALLY love random tables. Those posts have my highest number of views, in some cases double the views of non-random table posts.

Resource Worlds: Creating resource worlds added a lot of extra flavor that will make merchant campaigns all the more interesting, simply because it defines details about desirable goods. Here's where we get to tell the gamers what the setting thinks is important. If I were to redo this experiment, though, I might combine both the Cultural Hubs and Resource Worlds into a single process that more greatly defines the "civilized" worlds of the setting.

Exploration Sites: I had a lot of fun choosing backwater worlds that contained ruins, abandoned colonies, and similar adventure locations. This is where most of the fun will be, in terms of the action-oriented elements of the setting. I like having choices right off the bat, ready to present to the players who are looking for this kind of action-adventure. This step also made me look at the "uncivilized" areas of the campaign setting.

Interstellar Threats: This was, in my opinion, one of the weaker areas of applying this approach to Traveller campaign setting development. I liked setting these up, and it gave me a lot of interesting material to work with. Still, I think the isolated nature of worlds, given that interstellar travel requires Jump drive, limits the nature of these threats to a certain degree.

Hall of Infamy: I actually loved this part, because it gave me something to focus on in terms of overarching plot lines. I have to say that having a manageable number of Bad Guys makes planning a lot easier, and having more than one means that the campaign is not one-dimensional.

Filling in the Holes: This was the catch-all category, and helped me identify that there are a number of worlds that fell between the cracks. It also pointed out that it is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data you can generate, so going through the process of identify Cultural Hubs, Resource Worlds, etc., really helps make that manageable.

Game Mechanics: I like this step because this is where I create the tools that will help me manage the setting, as it were. However, honestly, at this point in the process, I was a little worn out. If I weren't doing it on a time table for putting up blog posts, I imagine that section would be a little easier, because I could take a break if I needed to.

Overall: I feel that the resulting setting is a bit more fully developed than I might have created otherwise. The details are all aimed at encouraging investment in the setting and facilitating a good roleplaying experience, so I feel it is all imminently usable. This process kept me focused on creating useful content, and as a Referee and a gamer, that's the important thing for me. For that reason, I'm going to call Traveller Sandbox Experiment a success.

So, what do you think? Do you think this process can create a setting worth playing in? What did you think about it as we walked through the process?

With Regards,

Monday, February 18, 2013

Traveller Sandbox Patron Encounter: Crisis Station...

Good Afternoon, All:

Here is another example of a Patron Encounter developed for the Traveller Sandbox Experiment. This one focuses on the Five Families, and provides some potential insight into some of their less-than-legal methods. As this particular "bad guy" isn't your standard "Big Evil Bad Guy," having a way to start looking behind the curtain seems like a good idea.

Kathleen Napier, Free Trader
Required: Investigative Skills, Stealth; Space Transportation
Reward: Cr10,000 or free passage out of the system.

Players' Information
Kathleen Napier is a Free Trader carrying shipments between interstellar markets. A little over a week ago, an outpost on one of the outlying planets of the local system suffered a catastrophic life support failure. Many of the privately-owned ships in the system were pressed into emergency service under the administration of the local Five Families chapter. Kathleen's particular job was to ferry medical supplies to the emergency base established on the moon not far from the original outpost. However, the Five Families administration is now reporting that her shipments didn't make it to the station, and Kathleen's vessel has been locked down pending a full investigation. Kathleen knows that she's delivered them, and wants to hire some investigators to dig into the matter so she can clear her name and get back to the business of making money.

Referee's Information
A cursory search for information verifies that Kathleen Napier's situation is as she has described it. Further research will show that two other ships are being held on similar charges. It appears that the local chapter of the Five Families is overwhelmed with the recent emergency effort and have not begun their own investigations, as yet. They will not take kindly to outside investigators, and will accuse Kathleen of trying to interfere with their internal investigation if the party is caught. In all of the options presented below, further development is left to the discretion of the Referee.

1. All is as it appears. The processing of the supplies was simply mishandled in the emergency, and a new inventory will ultimately clear Kathleen Napier of any wrong-doing. However, astute characters might notice that the amount of supplies moved from the main world of the system to the outpost is far more than the emergency called for.
2. A deeper investigation will reveal that much more than three ships' worth of supplies went missing, and that the only discrepancies being publicized are those belonging to non-Family vessels. If the party is successful, they should be able to track down the missing supplies to a warehouse owned and operated by the Five Families, where the supplies await secret shipment off-world for unknown purposes.
3. As Option 2 above, except that the warehouse is not owned by the Five Families, but by a local smuggling ring. The party will also discover that the Five Families have a crack team of mercenaries secretly hunting for the same cache of supplies, with no apparent interest in making its recovery public knowledge.
4. With enough investigation, the party will discover that the original emergency was caused by sabotage, which is information that is being suppressed. The supplies that Kathleen Napier carried to the moon were not medical supplies, but communication equipment that technicians secretly installed in the station while it was evacuated.
5. As Option 4 above, except that the players discover that the emergency base will continue to be maintained by the Five Families after this emergency is over and the evacuees return to their original outpost. The more astute might notice that the location of the base could provide for a great smuggler's base, so long as the sensor equipment at the outpost did not pick up the presence of ships flying in or out of the base.
6. Through underground contacts, the team will discover that goods are being sold on the black market in a secret auction. Further digging will reveal that Max Gainer, the current director of the local Five Families chapter, has been indicted before on charges of embezzlement and fraud, but was exonerated by lawyers serving the Five Families. If the team reveals the director's involvement with this fraudulent effort, the Five Families will fire him, and then escort him off-world to be tried back on Zinsu (Segin 2308 A621533-B). He may or may not make it back to Zinsu safely, at the discretion of the Referee.

In this case, I wanted to create a number of possibilities. The first presents an innocent situation that could clue characters in to a bigger problem. The second and third options focus on the supplies themselves, making them the focus of the encounter. The fourth and fifth paint a darker picture, in which the Five Families have instigated an emergency in order to further much bigger plans. The final option simply shows that even big organizations can have a few bad eggs among their management, and further illustrates that the Five Families take care of their own problems, when such things happen. All of them build on the big picture that something isn't right with the Five Families, an element that should become more and more obvious should the player-characters continue to deal with them over the course of the campaign.

With Regards,

Friday, February 15, 2013

Traveller Sandbox Patron Encounter: Race Against The Factor...

Good Afternoon, All:

Here is an example of a Patron Encounter developed for the Traveller Sandbox Experiment. Ultimately, I'd suggest that you develop at least six of these to help create hooks that lead into your campaign setting. I'm probably only going to do two or three as examples, but these are fairly straightforward, and I think writing them up will help any Referee when inspiration is not striking on a particular evening.

With that in mind, I'm going to start with a patron encounter that emphasizes a sector-wide element, namely the Factor of Malsumis:

Jamie Engstrom, Starship Pilot
Required: Social Sciences, Sensors; Scientific Equipment
Reward: Cr3,000 per person, or a small percentage of any profits from the venture.

Players' Information
Jamie Engstrom is a pilot for hire. His most recent contract involved chartering his scout ship and his services to agents of the Factor of Malsumis, who performed a number of sensor scans of specific moons in a nearby system. As the Factor is known for her interest in Progenitor sites, Jamie ran his own scans of the various satellites, in hopes of discovering a previous unknown site and staking a claim on it. Sadly, he isn't sure what he should be looking for, and has hopes of hiring a skilled archeologist to help him interpret the data and then stake a claim on the site, should there be one. Jamie would prefer to offer a small percentage, definitely no more than 10%, in case this doesn't pan out. A skillful negotiator could talk him up to 20%, but anything above that and he'll walk.

Referee's Information
Jamie Engstrom is in a race with the Factor's agents to return to any site that might have shown up on sensor scans. He's signed a non-disclosure contract, but feels confident that a good attorney could nullify it if there's an actual discovery. Jamie hasn't thought through all of the legal ramifications, and tends to be a "get rich quick" idealist. One of the sensor scan results look promising, and upon hearing the news, Jamie will want to quickly be underway, in order to check it out. In all of the options presented below, further development is left to the discretion of the Referee.

1. All is as it appears. The moon in question does appear to hold the remains of a Progenitor site that was utterly destroyed in an ancient battle. Nonetheless, it is an important discovery, and will bring in some money. The Factor's Agents arrive 1d6 days after the team gets there, which further complicates matters.
2. As above, but the Factor's Agents have already arrived, and are searching the surface for the actual site when Jamie's scout ship arrives in high orbit.
3. Upon investigation, the player-characters will discover a secret military research facility operating on the surface near the target site. Jamie immediately suspects the base as investigating a Progenitor site. He'll want to search nearby moons and planets for other sites, all while avoiding challenges from military ships launched from the secret base.
4. The Factor's Agents were actually attempting to locate mineral resources needed for her future plans. Although the deposits are of considerable value, Jamie has become obsessed with the belief that there's a Progenitor site somewhere in the system, and will become increasingly difficult to deal with. The Factor's Agents arrive 1d6 days after the team gets there, and further complications arise.
5. As Option 4 above, except that the Factor's Agents arrive with significant military backup. It is their intention that the site of the deposits will be taken by force, if necessary, and aggressively defended against any potential violators or claim-jumpers until the mining ships arrive to begin recovering and processing the raw ore.
6. The team will discover that there is indeed a small Progenitor outpost which has now fallen into ruin, but some portion of it remains intact for exploration. Shortly after the team starts investigating the site, they will activate the outpost's internal defenses. Should the team overcome the internal defenses, the site will set itself to self-destruct with the intention of taking "the Enemy" with it. If the team escapes with anything, it would only consist of what they could carry with them, and would not likely operate once the limited internal power reserves has been consumed. The Factor's Agents arrive 1d6 days later.

Hopefully, this provides an interesting adventure for players to pursue. A third of the options point to natural resources, one to a military site (think Area 51), two to nothing except the right to claim they found a Progenitor site, and one to a small "dungeon crawl" with the classic Collapsing Lair trope, so as to avoid contaminating the campaign with an endless supply of mysterious TL-18 technology that soon won't be so mysterious with that kind of availability. I only put the last one in because I know my players would love the chance to explore such a site. However, for the purposes of setting continuity, the other options are simply better choices.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Traveller Sandbox: My Thoughts on Patron Encounter Design...

Good Afternoon, All:

Today, I'd like to talk a little bit about my thoughts on Patron Encounter design for Traveller. I practice these myself in the materials that I publish, and I have had good feedback on my patron encounter write-ups, even when I used them in the Hammersong's Legacy fantasy campaign setting for Swords & Wizardry.

If you are not familiar with patron encounters, these are a common way of capturing the beginning of an open-ended adventure idea in older Traveller products. Each one describes a basic mission or goal, as presented by a patron (aka the guy that hires you). It then offers you a list of up to six different options about how it could play out. These options provide inspiration, re-usability and options. If you can't decide on a particular option, then you can roll a d6 and choose one. Per the Traveller System Reference Document, each patron encounter write-up should list:

  • The patron’s name and role.
  • The skills and resources required to complete the mission.
  • The suggested reward for the mission.
  • The mission as described to the characters.
  • What’s really going on. Several possible variants will be presented – either pick or roll for which is the real situation.

For example:

Jefri haut-Oschem, Planetologist
Required: Life Sciences, Survival; Spacecraft
Reward: Cr. 2,000/day plus expenses.

Players' Information
His Excellency haut-Oschem is a respected Planetologist, specialising in worlds that are nearly habitable. A planet might be a little too cold, or too dry, or be infested with a lethal native species. Haut-Oschem’s genius is in making tiny changes to a planet’s ecosystem or climate. All too often, a change can ripple out through the complex balances of a planetary environment and have unforeseen consequences.
Haut-Oschem requires a spacecraft and a crew trained in the sciences for a brief period of research – no more than a few weeks, possibly a month or two. While haut-Oschem has worked with the Scout Service in the past, this mission is entirely under the aegis of private research. The ship will be visiting worlds outside settled space.

Referee's Information
Any character with contacts in the Scout service can find out that haut-Oschem has quarreled with the Survey section, and that his once-stellar career has dark clouds hanging over it. Something has gone wrong…

1. Haut-Oschem has been replaced in the eyes of the Scout service by a younger researcher, Harad Leish. Old haut-Oschem wants to prove that his theories and methodologies are still valid. Leish and a laboratory ship from the Scout Service are currently surveying a jungle world inhabited by numerous hostile species. To prove his worth, haut-Oschem needs to find a way for humans to live safely on the world before the Scout service do.
2. As above, but haut-Oschem is bitter, and his real plan is to sabotage Leish’s survey team.
3. Haut-Oschem has discovered that he made a terrible mistake at the start of his career. He approved the settlement of a world before he fully understood the ecosystem. Every few centuries, a species of carnivorous locusts hatches in vast swarms and devours everything in their path. The characters need to find a way to stop the insects from hatching.
4. As above, but haut-Oschem wants to preserve his reputation above all else. The characters need to stop the insects without revealing what they’re doing to the settlers.
5. Haut-Oschem discovered something very valuable on his most recent survey, such as a massive deposit of precious metals or alien technology. He wants the characters to help him recover it.
6. As above, but haut-Oschem is in a race with the Scout service. He’s not the only one to have read between the lines in his latest survey.

Let's talk about each component in turn.

Patron's Name and Role
This is an excellent opportunity to capture some of the background flavor for your setting. The name and role should include something that empowers further investment in the setting.

Required Skills and Resources
This is pretty self-explanatory. Choose at least two different skills that you know will be used to resolve the matter, and list those here. Not all patron encounters should require a ship, but if so, list that here.

Suggested Reward
In general, I try to use a month's Standard of Living expenses (found on Traveller core rulebook, pg 87) or the monthly salary of a position (found on Traveller core rulebook, pg 137) as the basis for my suggested rewards. If the mission is of short-duration, I halve that base value. If the mission is dangerous, I double the base value. If the mission is extremely dangerous, I use five times the base value. That way, things don't get too far out of hand. If the players try to get more, the patron makes them cover expenses. Sometimes the patron offers alternate services or non-monetary rewards, depending on his position.

Players' Information
This is the basic layout of the mission. Essentially, in a five-act story arc, this would encompass the first arc, which I've called The Hook in my One Shot Adventure Creation series, when the offer is extended to the player-characters. If the party chooses to accept it, then the Referee dives into the Referee's Information for further adventure development. If not, then the Referee moves on and offers them their next opportunity or encounter. This section shouldn't be less than three sentences, and typically no more than seven sentences in length.

Referee's Information
This section lays out the basics for developing an adventure that fits the mission described above. This should include notes on supporting data, opposition, challenges, potential locations, etc. This section shouldn't be less than three sentences, and typically no more than seven sentences in length.

Notice that, in the example above, there are six distinct options. In past Traveller products, you might see an option taking up two or even three spaces in the d6 roll. I personally think that's a cop-out for a lack of creativity, and it induces bias should you attempt to select an option randomly. In my opinion, every patron encounter write-up should have six distinct options. Anything less, and such a write-up isn't meeting the needs of Referees as well as it possibly could.

Generally speaking, one of the options should be that the situation is exactly as it is described. The other five often involve complications or plot twists that change the story up from that which was described to the player-characters. Common alternatives include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • A third party has an interest in the events that opposes the party's goal.
  • A third party has an interest in the patron and attempts to subvert the player-characters into pursuing a new goal related to the original patron.
  • In the case of a rescue mission, the target doesn't want to leave and must be taken by force.
  • The entire situation as presented is a lie to set up the party to take the fall for another crime.
  • The patron is really the bad guy.
  • The target of the mission is more dangerous than it was originally portrayed.
  • There's one or more significant challenges that the party is initially unaware of, usually of a legal or physical variety.
  • This scenario may be a combination of two or more of the above.

Hopefully, the notes I've provided above should help you in writing your own Patron Encounters for your campaigns (or even for your own future publications, should you be so inclined.) Even if you don't use them, I hope that you've at least considered the points I've offered, in the hopes that it helps round out your own skills in this arena. In the next few posts, I'll provide some examples based in the Beta Quadrant, to show you different ways that you can work to present some of your setting material within the context of these small adventure scenarios.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Traveller Sandbox Game Mechanics: Rumors for the Beta Quadrant...

Good Afternoon, All:

Today, I am going to do something relatively Old School with the Traveller Sandbox Experiment campaign setting. I'm going to build a Rumor Table. Basically, I'm going to create a list of thirty-six rumors that are designed to disperse information about adventure opportunities in small bite-sized servings. Toward that end, I'll be reviewing the data of the different worlds we've already detailed, and try to come up with rumors that could lead player-characters into one or more adventures involving these worlds.

As a Referee, I use tables like this when people go out looking for the word on the street, because it takes advantage of the classic gaming cliche that characters expect to learn about the next adventure you've prepared through rumors or meeting in a bar. Players then take the tidbits they gather, decide what they want to pursue, and then they are off for adventure! Tables like this work best when they are localized, but for the sake of brevity, I'm going to create one for the entire setting to serve as an example.

Below are my thoughts on the Beta Quadrant Rumor table:

Table: Rumors Table (Beta Quadrant)
Gleti Subsector
11My cousin saw one of them "Star Vultures" from Loko rooting about at the starport, looking for something. It isn't parts he was seeking, but something specific. You know, it could mean a scavenger raid is coming if he doesn't find what he's looking for.
12A friend of mine knows someone who's looking for some big game hunters willing to go off-world to Tefnut. Seems there's a medical facility somewhere with an abandoned load of military-grade cybernetics just waiting to be picked up, but I hear the lab animals went crazy and killed everyone.
13I've heard that some guys claiming to be from the Sutekh Freedom Alliance, those crazy secessionists from Qetesh, have been asking around the bars lately about black market arms and military equipment.
14There's some rich scientist on the local boards looking for a few brave souls that might be interested in acquiring a live Zumbi plant direct from the jungles of Nyame. Sure, it's a natural anagathic, but nobody would be so stupid as to try and steal it, right?
15Ever heard of Admiral Pasha's Personal Navy, out of Bastet? Well, I just saw one of their ships out at the docks, and a friend told me they're looking to hire some "special talent". What do you think?
16Yeah, times have been tough ever since the ship that brings in our pay misjumped, and we had to wait a month for the cash to come in. No one knows where it went, and all the money on board, but a friend of mine working at the starport has been reading sensor reports, and thinks it ended up in the same system as that prison planet, Thoth. He's trying to find a starship willing to go into interdicted space to find it, but he hasn't been very lucky lately.
21Some scientists from the University of Sutekh got stranded out here, and are looking for a ship to carry them home. They've got some hazardous cargo, I hear, and none of the bigger companies will touch it.
Koyane Subsector
22There's some guy hitting the bars in Startown, claiming to be a bounty hunter after one of those fancy Brothers of Sakari he thought was hiding here. Why would one of those psionic terrorists want to hide here, of all places?
23If you want my opinion, asking to find a member of the Koga Clan is just asking for death. There's some business guy at the Explorer's Society trying to find one of those bloody assassins, but he isn't saying why. I bet the guy's dead by tomorrow.
24A friend of mine swears that there's a Slaver from Fujin here, trying to sell pleasure slaves on the black market to the highest bidder. What I wouldn't give to see one of them live and up close! The girls, I mean, not the Slaver. Jeesh!
25Have you ever heard of the ruins of Mirasen? Neither had I, but if you think you can parley with a bunch of crazy cannibals, there's a guy looking to recover some artifacts or something from there.
26Word on the street is that those guys from Amida are having some problems with their food supplies. They are looking for some troubleshooters to investigate and deal with the problem, and are willing to pay well for it.
31I'm not fond of those furry little Thulians, but it's amazing how much they'll pay to go to that Ksitigarbha Institute on Jizo. Strange thing is, there's a group of them now at the starport that want to charter a starship for parts unknown.
32Those Emishi Faction reps are looking for another team to hit Prishiboro for some secret project of theirs. I don't know what happened to the last team they sent in, but the money just keeps getting better.
Litha Subsector
33According to my friend, there was some CEO-type living it up at the Explorer's Society Club, dropping money like mad looking to find someone who'd go to Pakhet and recover a stolen starship for him.
34You aren't going to believe this! Some old spacer, claiming to be one of the Pirate King Mudhava's original crew, has an honest-to-goodness treasure map, and is looking for some treasure hunters to go in with him in search of Captain Mudhava's Lost Treasure near that old pirate base on Mudhava. What a hoot!
35The Sadyra Syndicate looks to be investigating locations, maybe to put up a new casino in this system. Think you can find out what they're doing here? Might be a job in it for me, if you catch my drift.
36Sad what happened on Mawu. Ever since that reactor started leaking near the starport, they've been losing a lot of business to their system, and they can't figure out why it keeps breaking down after repairs. I hear they're looking for only the best Engineers to fix it once and for all.
41I hear that there's been some Moldandan Holy Crusaders sighted in the system. They say that they're here to negotiate for life support supplies, but they've been known to take what they want by force if they don't get their way.
42I've got a lead on a hot-shot noble here who wants himself some live Uturusk calves to be shipped in from Desa, probably for one of his "big social events." Know anybody who doesn't mind working in sandstorms?
43It amazes me that unemployment is so high on Litha, and yet there's a recruiter over at the starport looking to hire talented engineers in the field of gravitics. Why don't they just hire locally, since there are so many specialists that are already there?
Tabaldak Subsector
44Looks like a reconnaissance scout belonging to the Star Emperor of Djinn docked this morning, and is meeting with the planetary leaders here. Maybe they're offering them a chance to surrender before attacking. Either way, I think I need to get off this rock.
45One of those Abubakar Complex "privateers" from Mantis just brought in a "salvaged" ship to sell. I'd suggest you be careful if you are planning on heading off-world any time soon, in case they're waiting to "salvage" another ship.
46One of the mining companies from Gamab has tracked raiders to this system, and is looking to hire some brave souls to recover their stolen gold. Interested?
51Someone's looking to charter a ship to grab a few cargo containers of wine and other luxury foods from Tesla. Sounds potentially lucrative, as the guy wants it to be an "unofficial" visit.
52Seems like there's a corporate exec interviewing "special investigators" interested in work on Umikeo. My guess is that someone's trying to find a way in with one of the governments there, to get a bite of the radioactive exports market they got going on.
53Be careful with your lives, as well as your credits, around that merchant from Lutasas. He's looking for some new crew, and I hear that the Trade Union there turns a blind eye to press-ganging.
54Ah, the famous spices of Milamapar! That reminds me. There's a guy trying to set up a new trade route to bring those spices here, and he's looking for some help to get it set up.
Beta Quadrant
55I hear that the Five Families on Zinsu are looking for mercenaries to protect their humanitarian operations when they go into war zones. They're hiring almost everyone who can handle a gun, they say.
56Looks like the Factor of Malsumis is hiring more guns. They're building up quite an army and I hear the pay is pretty damn good.
61I've heard that the Navy's seen some of those Star Raiders from Haligan in the system, but doesn't want anyone to know so as to not incite panic. Still, there's an old Captain who has heard the same, and he's out for vengeance. He's trying to gather up some mercs and starships to go hit them hard.
62You didn't hear this from me, but I hear there's an agent of the Factor of Malsumis in Startown hiring a ship and crew. I hear that she's interested in Progenitor sites. Do you think she's coming here to try and find one?
63There's a Haligan trader in port today, and he's holding an auction to sell goods to the highest bidder. I bet you that some of that, if not all, was stolen by the Star Raiders.
64There's an investigative reporter looking into the Five Families, and I hear he's needing someone with, ummm, "technical" expertise. Know anyone I can recommend?
65I hear there's a trader from way rimward, maybe even the Heremod Unity, over in Startown buying drinks for starship crews. All he wants is interesting trading tips on local worlds in exchange. You coming?
66Oh my! Someone's gone far afield, now. Seems there's a bounty hunter in port seeking a war criminal from the Asuran Hegemony, and he's offering a reward for anyone with information that leads to the guy's capture.

Each one of the above should contain the seed of an adventure that you can use to take adventurers off into all kinds of trouble in the Beta Quadrant. Even if they don't pursue the rumor, there's still information about worlds that will sink in. It helps to create a fuller conception of the campaign setting, which increases immersion.

Next on the list of activities, I will create the next piece of supporting game mechanics: a Beta Quadrant Patron Encounter. However, before I do that, I probably should go into my thoughts on how Traveller Patron Encounters should be written.


Friday, February 08, 2013

Blast From The Past: How To Write Your Own Fanzine...

Good Afternoon, All:

I've been dealing with a sick child this week, and the rumors are taking a little longer to come up with than I anticipated. When I'm done, there's going to be a very cool table (I hope), but I'm not quite there yet. Still, I didn't want to leave my readers without something to enjoy. That's when I remembered an article I posted on the Citizens of the Imperium board back in the early days of the Stellar Reaches fanzine. The article was on what I considered would be necessary to write your own Traveller fanzine, but I'm sure it could be useful for considering other genres as well. Remember, this was written probably four or five years ago, so some of the tech references are quite dated. (Honestly, some of them were dated even then.) With that in mind, I present to you the following:

How To Write Your Own Fanzine
by Jason "Flynn" Kemp

The process of creating and producing your own fanzine can be very rewarding, in a creative sense. You won't make money off of it, but you'll discover a lot of new skills and make a few new friends along the way.

Below are a collection of thoughts on the subject of creating your own fanzine, based on my own personal experiences with Stellar Reaches.

First, and most importantly, keep things in perspective. The fanzine is not your life, and it shouldn't get in the way of your family or your job. If you are concerned about the time it takes, then either look to the long-term or find people that can help you out. Perspective is very important, because if you don't keep it, you'll end up like most people out there, with great intentions and no follow-through because Life is guaranteed to get in your way once you start a project like this.

Out of the four efforts I've seen announced in the last three years or so, only Stellar Reaches actually produced a first issue. I attribute my success in those regards to one thing and one thing only: I didn't tell anyone what I was doing until I was ready to release the first issue. That way, I wouldn't be another false hope. For those of you with aspirations of producing a fanzine, this may be something to consider.

Now that you are ready to begin, pick a concept to center your fanzine around. For me, I aimed for general support for the fans of CT and T20 primarily, and wanted to capture the feel of the old 80's fanzines as a type of nostalgia production. Other than that, I had no other goals or themes. On the other hand, DGP produced the Traveller Digest, an excellent themed fanzine focusing on developing the Imperium over the course of a Grand Tour from Regina to Capital to Terra to Kusyu and back to Regina. In a similar vein, a 1248 fanzine could focus on the Great Rescue (as has been suggested elsewhere).

For Stellar Reaches, I looked at what I considered to be good examples of fanzines from the period: Third Imperium, High Passage, Far Traveller and Security Leak, for example. I looked for similarities, for things that interested me, and things that I thought would contribute to the Traveller fanbase in general. Here's a brief list of the things I figured would be in most issues, give or take a bit:

  • Editor's Note
  • An interesting article
  • An astrography article
  • An Adventure
  • A second interesting article
  • Something starship related (like a new ship or system additions)
  • A Patron Encounter
  • A Wildlife Encounter

There were a lot of other things that could be added, but I figured the above would be something I could continue if I had to do all the work myself. That leads us to the Second Rule: don't do anything that you can't pick up the slack for if others suddenly have Real Life (tm) moments and can't deliver. In the end, it's your magazine, so if you want it to succeed, you shouldn't plan on anything you can't do yourself, just in case.

Fortunately, there are some great people out there with a drive and willingness to contribute to such ventures, and Stellar Reaches became a community project long before I had to do all the work to carry it. Still, if need be, I know that I can write enough to deliver at least 20 pages per issue, though I like it better when it's a bit of everyone's contributions.

Okay, so you've got some ideas and some material. What next? Well, you actually have to create the product. There are several ways to do it, either using a word processor or a desktop layout publisher. You can get acceptable results with a word processor, so long as you are careful with it, but you'll get better results (IMO) with a desktop layout publisher. Issues #1-3 of Stellar Reaches were done in MS Publisher. Issue #4 was done in MS Word as an experiment. Both work well, but there are other options that will make for a more professional document, if you have the cash to pick it up and the time to learn how to use it. (Also, the layout skills may serve you well with the small D20 publishers out there, who are looking for people to pay a small pittance in order to get a nice product to sell. It'll at least pay for your gaming book habit, if you can build up a reputation for good work.)

Once you have a master document, you'll need to practice on your PDF creation abilities. Usually, that's pretty easy. I use Adobe Acrobat 5 (and I'd love to move up to AA7, but that's more money than I have right now.) However, you can use free solutions like PDF995 or OpenOffice and get good results, with practice. There are a lot of websites out there to help with learning how to do layout, and include good advice on fonts, margins, artwork, etc.

Speaking of artwork, you should try to get at least one good piece an issue, for your cover. There are plenty of volunteers, so long as you give credit where credit is due, and if all else fails, there's public domain or royalty free imagery out there if you dig hard enough. (See Wikipedia for some great, and not so great, examples.)

In the end, though, it'll be your own personal drive that really makes or breaks your fanzine. If this is something you want to do, make a realistic plan and go for it. Start small, take it a step at a time, seek help when you need it, and you'll be amazed at how well things come together.

I hope this helps, and if nothing else, maybe it might give you some insight into the level of work that goes into making a fanzine. In the end, you have to be a writer, a layout designer, an artist (of sorts), an editor, a salesman, a spokesman, a dreamer and a diehard fan with realistic perceptions. Remember, in the long run, you're doing it for the dream, not just yours, but everyone else's, too.

I wrote the article above because someone asked me yesterday for pointers, as they were thinking of creating their own fanzine. The question inspired me to write the above. There's a lot more to add here, but this was what first came out as I started writing.

Obviously, SR has taken on a life beyond what I posted above, with the Empty Quarter Echo and the Alternate Universes column, as well as the CT system enhancements and such. I am very thankful for the contributions of other Traveller fans, and I honestly think that the fanzine wouldn't have made it this far without their support. In that way, it is as much their baby as it is mine.

Another good thing I forgot to point out above is that I would encourage any prospective fanzine editor to check out the various forums on PDF publications, whether for D20 or non-D20 systems. There's a lot of basic information that can be gleaned from those, if you take the time to read and ask questions of those with more experience. I've learned a lot about what to do and what not to do from those boards, and I admit I'm just an amateur compared to many of these guys.

Honestly, I don't know if anyone else will find this of use, but I figure that if one person asks, there may be more that want to know.


I hope that you enjoyed this brief trip down memory lane. On Monday, I'll have the Rumor Table put together for your review. Until then, enjoy your weekend.

In Service,

Monday, February 04, 2013

Traveller Sandbox Game Mechanics: Random Encounters, Beta Quadrant...

Good Afternoon, All:

Before we dive into Random Encounter Tables for the Traveller Sandbox Experiment, I just wanted to take a moment to honor this as the 550th post of this blog. Given the average lifespan of gaming blogs, I take a small amount of personal pride in the fact that I've kept this going so long. Yes, I've faltered a few times over the years, but so far, I've always pulled myself back up and go back to writing. My thanks to those readers who have read and enjoyed the posts here. Honestly, it's the thought that you might find value in this sharing that drives my posting.

When I talk about Random Encounter Tables, I honestly tend to think specifically of the Random Patron Table on pg 81 of the Traveller core rulebook. The rest of the tables can remain, as they generate a classic Traveller experience, which I think is vital to the flavor of the rules. When deciding which table to use for determining random patrons, I would roll 1d6, and on a 4-6, I'd use the campaign-specific table, while on 1-3, I'd use the ones out of the book. That way, we get a nice mix of classic adventures and those specifically tailored to the setting, and we're not shoving the setting down the players' throats. You can adjust this to better fit your specific desires, if you wish.

Table: Setting Vs Core Table Selection
1d6Table Selection
1-3Use table from Core rules
4-6Use table from Beta Quadrant setting

In terms of content, you could design tables for each subsector, if you wanted to do that. While I might consider that over the long haul, I'd prefer to start with just a single table encompassing the setting. The Patron table is broken down in the core rules by specific categories, so I'll probably follow that same pattern as I make my selections for the setting table, too. Below are my thoughts on the Patron table:

Table: Random Patron Table (Beta Quadrant)
11Koga Clan Assassin
12Loko Procurement Professional
13Holy Crusader of the Moldandan Universal Church
14Sadyra Syndicate Embezzler
15Mudhavan Privateer
16Brother of Sakari
Local Leader
21Outpost Director
22Settlement Administrator
23Colonial Governor
24System Overlord
25Jengu Medical Technician
26Tribal Leader
High Society
31Litha League Diplomatic Corp Representative
32Ksitigarbha Institute Regional Research Director
33University of Sutekh Professor
34Factor of Malsumis Agent
35Koyane Clan Daimyo
36Five Families Security Director
41TransStar Interstellar Transport Captain
42Lutasas Trade Union (LTU) Trader
43Clan Emishi Trade Broker
44Five Families Executive Officer
45Sukesh Trade Alliance Representative
46Interstellar Bank of Abrakos (IBA) Financial Advisor
51Rastrine Deep Space Prospector
52Ksitigarbha Institute Field Archivist
53Star Emperor's Navy Commander
54Explorer's Society Sanctioned Pilot
55Haligani Star Raider
56Star Admiral Mahmoud Pasha's Navy Officer
61Thulian Pilgrim
62Koyane Shogunate Imperial Guard
63Tajimamori Researcher
64Asuran Bounty Hunter
65Avalon Commonwealth Merchant
66Heremod Unity Agent

I hope the above helps to stimulate setting-based adventure ideas in your head. I find them to be particularly inspiring for getting things into a Beta Quadrant mood, as it were. If I don't feel a particular entry is appropriate for the area, then I can always look at the original Patron table in the core rulebook, and go with that result instead.

With that done, I turn my eyes toward the next goal: a Beta Quadrant Rumor Table. Next time, I'll discuss thirty-six rumors that can fuel a campaign in the setting I've created here as part of my Traveller Sandbox Experiment.


Friday, February 01, 2013

Traveller Sandbox Game Mechanics: Homeworld Tables, Beta Quadrant...

Good Afternoon, All:

In creating additional game mechanics for the Traveller Sandbox Experiment, I wanted to provide a few tables to help players create characters based in the Beta Quadrant. The rules suggest that you pick a homeworld when creating your character. I'm going to create a few tables to help make that easier.

First, I am going to design homeworld tables based on subsectors, because that seems pretty easy for me. That way, the Referee can localize the origins of characters based on where the campaign is starting. In addition, I'm going to create a single table to choose the subsector table, in the event the Referee says a character can come from anywhere in Beta Quadrant. In fact, creating the Subsector Table should be pretty easy, so let's start there.

In order to weigh each of the subsectors in the Subsector Selection Table, I did some quick calculations to determine population totals per subsector. (Okay, the reality is that I have an application that does this for me, but that's beside the point.) I was able to determine the following total population figures: Gleti Subsector (11,126,755,870); Koyane Subsector (21,545,110,370); Litha Subsector (26,492,220,590) and Tabaldak Subsector (17,849,376,160). Looking at some very rough percentages, I came up with a table that looks like this:

Table: Subsector Selection
2d6Subsector Table
2-4Gleti Subsector Table
5-6Tabaldak Subsector Table
7-8Litha Subsector Table
9-12Koyane Subsector Table

I started thinking about the fact that I have all of this world data for Cultural Hubs, Resource Worlds, Exploration Sites and Interstellar Threats, and I realized that I can take advantage of the work I've already done if I create reasons for the player-characters to be attached to those sites. So, I decided to make sure that all of the worlds that are appropriate for raising children are covered in the list of Homeworld options. When I don't have enough options, I'll pull in some fairly generic Homeworld candidates to fill in the gaps.

Table: Gleti Subsector
2Tefnut (Segin 2005 D410204-8)
3Qetesh (Segin 2003 C100348-B)
4Bastet (Segin 1908 C558534-5)
5Sutekh (Segin 1707 AADA846-B)
6Seshat (Segin 1907 B69A8A8-9)
7GLETI (Segin 2205 C664976-6)
8Abrakos (Segin 2108 A66879B-9)
9Jengu (Segin 2407 A79A89C-B Amber Zone)
10Nyame (Segin 2202 B887797-8)
11Zinsu (Segin 2308 A621533-B)
12Loko (Segin 2207 C69A316-B)

Table: Koyane Subsector
2Fujin (Segin 3103 D410200-8 Amber Zone)
3Amida (Segin 2606 B8B7402-D Amber Zone)
4Idaten (Segin 2604 B610565-A)
5Jizo (Segin 2901 A7978AA-A Amber Zone)
6KANGITEN (Segin 3001 C664AFD-7 Amber Zone)
7KOYANE (Segin 2706 A5699EF-B Amber Zone)
8Suijin (Segin 2806 C688672-6)
9Prishiboro (Segin 2810 E596568-5)
10Chedenoman (Segin 3201 A300569-C)
11Kannon (Segin 2603 B410400-B Amber Zone)
12Mirasen (Segin 3201 3209 E540337-5)

Table: Litha Subsector
2Pakhet (Segin 2111 C620300-B Amber Zone)
3Aseramachi (Segin 2214 C300678-8)
4Melody (Segin 2119 B767565-7)
5Beltane (Segin 2115 BA9A532-A)
6Ghandi (Segin 2113 BA67879-6 Amber Zone)
7Litha (Segin 2016 A7678A9-A Amber Zone)
8Mami Wata (Segin 2311 B784879-6 Amber Zone)
9Desa (Segin 2120 B561877-6)
10Mawu (Segin 2211 B520420-A)
11Sadyra (Segin 2319 C9B9300-9 Amber Zone)
12Mudhava (Segin 2414 E526330-6)

Table: Tabaldak Subsector
2Mantis (Segin 2712 C500343-8)
3Gamab (Segin 2611 B410431-C)
4Mingert (Segin 2719 B410783-8)
5Malen (Segin 3018 C983773-5)
6Lutasas (Segin 3118 C759848-8)
7Tabaldak (Segin 2813 A6878CE-9 Amber Zone)
8Milamapar (Segin 3113 B569879-6 Amber Zone)
9Umikeo (Segin 2919 C969776-6)
10Tesla (Segin 2517 C685634-4)
11Onora (Segin 3011 B7A7523-B)
12Djinn (Segin 3212 C658311-9)

Obviously, not all of the possible homeworlds are included in the tables above. I've pulled the best worlds from those available (best, meaning we have data on them), and filled in gaps with Class B starports. The tables are generally weighted in preference of High Population worlds, followed by better starports, because that's where the traffic goes. Now, we have tables that will immerse characters into the setting, attaching them to worlds that are likely to be sources of adventure. Should characters in a gaming group find themselves sharing a common homeworld, then that's even better.

While my list of game mechanics to develop would have Patron Encounters next, I think it would be better to save those for a few posts. Instead, I'm going to focus next on the Random Encounter tables, followed by the Rumor tables. These should make it easier for me to create Patron Encounters that are relevant to the setting and to the results generated by these tables.