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Traveller Rule 1: Adventure

March 11, 2010

Show of hands – how many of you have seen a documentary featuring the life of an average truck driver that you would consider “epic?” As a young GM, I found myself running up against this very problem. Not that I was attempting to create an epic campaign about truck drivers, but using the default occupation of free traders/travelers made my games feel this way. Each of those early trials could be summed up with a simple formula:

[Find cargo] + [Haul cargo] + [Complication] + [Sell cargo] = [boring]

It’s important for me to mention at this point that the fault here was my own. The beauty of Classic Traveller is that it’s a simple box of rules that allow you to do whatever you want. I believe a lot of people who come over to the game from D&D make the same mistake. After years of attempts and abandoned games, it finally struck me why my games were so boring. I was letting the framework of the trader model, which can be used for exciting campaigns, dictate the entire game.

It wasn’t until I began to think in terms of Han Solo that things finally clicked. Han Solo was a freelance merchant who sat around spaceports looking for cargo. So why not make Traveller games off the same model?

This is what your game would look like if you did:

    The PC’s are sitting around a port looking for their next gig
    They owe a crime lord/corporate strongman/mother a bunch of money
    Two unsuspecting looking guys show up
    The new guys wind up in a fight with an unsavory character
    The PC’s can join in or avoid the entire confrontation
    Either way, the bartender sends the two over
    They want passage to system X
    They seem innocent enough and just have two droids (not even a change of clothes)
    The money’s good, the PC’s accept
    You meet at the docking bay where a thug comes to collect
    Shootout ensues as the party makes a mad dash into the ship and off planet

You’ve all seen the movie, right? You know how this comes out in the rinse. The point is this — the same idea is the key to creating adventures for Traveller.

What I learned from these early experiments in boredom is that Traveller is giving me the tools to put the characters in a position to fall into adventures.[1] Yes, the LBBs provide charts where I can roll up random encounters no matter what starport my PCs are stranded in; but those basic outcomes have to be built on, added to, and ultimately cultivated into something far bigger than the basic results they produce.

Regardless of what theme you’re using for your game — merchants, scouts, navy, rock band, belters, or merely tourists — you simply have to keep in mind that RPGs are about adventure and heroics. Each session should be filled with a variety of elements that challenge and inspire the players; but beyond that, it should create a story and theme that carries the campaign along.

My next entry tackles stories — which in my mind are the real meat of making Traveller games interesting — where I’ll talk about how to design adventures in an exciting and engaging way.

—–

[1] For greater inspiration on the free trader model, take a look at Firefly/Serenity. The entire show is built around this idea and yet each episode has almost nothing to do with the actual hauling of cargo. The act of being a merchant only puts the main characters in position for the “adventure.”

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