Inspired by the launch of the Traveller5 Kickstarter project last weekend, I found myself rather impetuously rocking up to the after-school gaming club clutching my copy of Mongoose Traveller and starting to run a game. In short, the guys loved it and there are a couple of really interesting reasons why...
The players in the group are all between 12 and 14 years of age. They have grown up in a world in which ""Sci-Fi" (yes, I know... I had to tell them that it's "SF", but ho hum) means a combination of Games Workshop's 40K, Japanese anime, games like Halo, and recent SF movies. All of these provide rich settings with cool imagery which appeals to their creativity.
Traveller's "Third Imperium" setting, rather unexpectedly I have to admit, appealed to them on two main counts:
- It's massive, spanning a couple of hundred parsecs of Known Universe.
- It's old... a setting that has developed over 35 years.
Size isn't everything, but the guys were impressed by the sheer scope of the setting. In giving them the 5-minute lowdown they got a sense of the vast interstellar Imperium and the challenges of living within such a huge and diverse culture. Comments included how "cool" it was to be able to do simple things like choose a homeworld off a single subsector map, knowing that it was part of a 16-subsector sector map which, itself, was part of a huge Imperial region of "Known Space". This was, frankly, an unexpected reaction.
The history of Traveller, both as a game and as a setting, was also something which elicited pleasure from the chaps. All of them loved the story of how the Terrans, after developing the Jump Drive, arrived at Barnard Star only to discover an alien science station... crewed by Humans from a different world. The mystery of that immediately drew a series of speculations and fueled a five minute round the table discussion, which I had to curtail so that we could get on with character creation.
One of the enduring things that attracts me to Traveller is the character generation system in which the players tell an evolving story as they play a mini-game of careers. This was also a major hit with the guys at the club.
The problem with previous character-making sessions is that, essentially, they are not very communal. As much as you might try to get everyone discussing their ideas it always boils down to a bunch of players waiting for their turn to look up whichever bits they need to find in the sole copy of the rulebook... or poring over their own copy in the richer groups.
Mongoose Traveller has a little genius extra rule which allows players to form a connection between their character and another based upon one of the events that arises from the character generation process. If the two players agree on the story of how their heroes were involved together then they both get a bonus skill level of their choice. The rule allows players to collectively get involved in each other's character stories and create reasons why their heroes might know each other.
This connections rule, combined with the "cool" nature of Traveller's character career system, won approval with the group. They really liked the fact that they were creating heroes with a backstory. They also liked the fact that their heroes would have relationships with one-another established, however loosely, before play-proper began.
One lad commented that, "This game is much more realistic because my character feels more like a real person with a life story."
Finally, the guys really liked the way that Traveller offers up little hooks to your imagination. Every time some life event or action took place in the session, and I read out the outcome, the guys got to paint in the details. They loved this element of the game because they were engaged, as a group, all of the time.
Here's an example: one player, with a Naval character, discovered that his hero had suffered from a criminal event of some kind. After a moment of thought his face lit up and he pointed at the player whose hero was currently working as a criminal gang's Enforcer.
"Maybe," he said, "maybe his character was involved in a break-in to my quarters, meaning that we met." From this a short and entertaining tale was woven of how the other player's hero, seeking to expose a criminal plot by rivals, decided to make contact with the Naval guy and helped him to bring the thief to justice.
As Referee, my job was simply to keep the process moving along and to smile and wait as the players filled in the details. Frankly, it was a joy to watch and not one single idea wasn't worthy of a nod, smile and "yes, ok, sounds good" from me.
Having been impetuous I now have to find a good starting story to run... but that's not a big worry. I have plenty of adventures and hooks from the countless Traveller products, across five iterations of the game, to draw upon.
Next session the guys have decided to curtail their 40K game and asked to complete the characters for Traveller. (The session was so lively that, in 1.5 hours, we only managed to complete half of player's "Term 2"). They also said that, maybe, we could play this three times this month and only do one session of tabletop. Enthusiasm exposed, methinks... and that is an awesome enthusiasm to get infected by too.
What have I learned? Mostly not to be afraid to present something you love and see where it takes you. All I really need is a nice, high-paced first adventure and the willingness to keep the game going.
It seems that, after all these years, I have a shot of playing Traveller again... and that feels good.
Labels: news, SF, Traveller