Virtual Traveller 2020: An After Action Report
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2021 issue.
TravellerCON/USA 2020 (TCUSA, henceforth) was unfortunately another victim of coronavirus. I really felt for the organizers who had to make difficult decisions in uncertain times. Not to mention seeing their labours all to naught and quite possibly a pecuniary loss I’m not even aware of. I also felt for the referees who lost an opportunity to try out new (or old) material and players who couldn’t attend and not only lost the gaming aspect but the social side of things as well. It’s been in a tough year and the ‘escape’ that Traveller offers and the friendship as well are invaluable.
Into that gloom stepped Greg Caires and Ken Patterson, who, entirely separate from TCUSA, saw that while it might not be the same, some Traveller would be better than no Traveller and began to organize a Weekend of Virtual Traveller1 . This was to be a weekend in October held entirely online and guaranteed to be virus free. Though possibly not Virus free. (I meant to check, did anyone run a game in the TNE era? Or would that just have been too painful?)
Setting up a Facebook group to enable discussion and potential referees and players to join up, he gained the interest of over 500 people and over several months made it possible to offer nearly 40 odd games across the three days of the event. For those who couldn’t manage, or would rather not manage, Facebook, a Discord server was set up as well. Personally I found both difficult to keep up with one because I just don’t ‘get’ it and can never find anything or return to something I know exists and the other because it was yet another bit of software to learn. Not to mention the sheer amount of traffic generated in both places. Still, the latter was a good sign of strong interest and even Mr Miller himself provided an endorsement.
The following is not an attempt at a history of the event – that’s for others – but it might serve as notes on my experience of the run up to the convention and the weekend itself. It’s a personal view and I hope others will write from other angles2. Also, as with TravCon each year, I can only sample a fraction of what’s on offer. Until cloning is easy and cheap at least.
Every year I’ve looked at TCUSA and wondered about attending. But the Atlantic is a difficult – or at least expensive – barrier to cross, and even if I were to say combine it with a family holiday it’s at a difficult time of year as my wife is a teacher and can’t take time off in term time. It’s also my busiest period of the year at the university where I work with lectures and new students and lots more. This was doubly true this year as everything moved online and I was preparing lectures and teaching material and websites for the “blended learning” we were being expected to deliver. That meant not only learning new techniques and new skills, but also a fair number of new software packages.
Because of all that I seriously considered that trying to take part in the Virtual Traveller Weekend was unwise. Between being so busy at work that my (supposedly reduced to) four days a week was now more like a 40-hour week just trying to stay on top of things, and struggling to find my way round Facebook it was getting late in the day before I really started to engage. However it also felt like a one-time opportunity not to be missed, a chance to meet with Travellers from around the world but perhaps particularly from the USA, and at least get out of my system to some extent that ‘fear of missing out’ each year at this time of year.
When I did finally get my act together and take a look at the games on offer, a lot were already full. There were three slots on Saturday as well as three on Sunday: morning, afternoon, evening. With the six hour time difference between Greg’s MDT in Texas and the UK, that equated to afternoon, evening and early hours for me. I had to rule out any games in the early hours for my own sanity and health. On the other hand, I encountered Australians playing at 4 o’clock in the morning their time – so well done those brave souls! One of the games on offer was a crossover of Traveller with D&D and you had to bring your own character so I ruled that out on the grounds I would have no idea what I was doing. Not that that wasn’t true elsewhere – as you’ll see! Eventually I rather randomly picked a Sunday morning game and a Sunday afternoon game (my afternoon and evening) and left Saturday free. But I’d been half thinking about offering to run a game and figured it could fit in there.
If only I could summon the courage and if only I could decide on a game to run. I ran through lots of possibilities of what might work virtually. I could see a lot of games already listed were ‘classic’ adventures, so that was a possibility. I could recycle something from The Traveller Adventure as the material was prepared from my own campaign. I could write my own thing so it was new. I could find something obscure from my shelves that deserved the light of day being shone on it once again. There was too much choice.
But I was surprised to find that a bigger issue was fear. Brand new to online gaming just a month or three before in my own version of The Traveller Adventure and Greg Caires’ Ascent to Anekthor as reported previously, I wasn’t at all sure I really liked the experience, or at least, wasn’t at all sure I was confident about refereeing in such a new (for me) environment. Especially as I could see pretty much all the games were being run on Discord or Roll20 or both. The latter I knew nothing about and I was still so new at Discord that it was Tess, one of my players, who had set up the server we had tried for the first time in our last session. No one seemed to be playing with video turned on, as we do with The Traveller Adventure which was another turn off. How on earth do you judge the engagement of players and communicate with them successfully and help them enjoy a game if you can’t see them and their reactions? Especially when you don’t know the players at all. I have perhaps become too comfortable with my own small group and the friends made at TravCon. Perhaps I’m just showing my age and you know what they say about old Vargr and new tricks.
Eventually, however, I decided I’d regret it if I didn’t at least offer; I wanted to support Greg and Ken’s initiative and I felt it was one way of contributing rather than only signing up to play. I had finally decided that my own Ashfall might be the way to go and thought that it would work well for role playing if I couldn’t get tabletop software on my side and there was just enough roll playing if the ‘culture’ was different and more mechanistic type games were preferred (which certainly seemed to be the case in the ones I tried). I was finally pushed over the edge by Greg and Ken’s final call for a last tranche of game offerings and I found myself on the schedule. That final set of game offerings also released one more in a slot I could do on Friday, so I signed up for a fourth session and suddenly had rather a full weekend ahead of me.
What surprised me, was just how much I found the prospect of running a game quite terrifying once again. Perhaps I go through this at TravCon every year and just forget; or perhaps it’s ‘hidden’ in all the physical paraphernalia of preparing to go, travelling, and business of the weekend. Now, I found, that still cooped up at home after six months, I had too much time to brood and get anxious. And thanks to work being busy, busy, busy – busier than I’ve ever known – I didn’t really have much time to prepare. It was a good job I’d settled on something that was familiar, something that I’d run several times, and something I even had a printed out. I plucked it off my shelf to begin reminding myself of the detail but didn’t have a lot of time to look in detail.
What time I had I spent setting up a Discord server and some ‘handouts’. The “photos” from Spume, the world map, the character sheets. I discovered I could mark images with a ‘spoiler’ cover so at least a player would have to click on it to see it. I couldn’t work out a way of making an image invisible until I chose to reveal it. I think it’s possible but I figured I could just upload an image or two at the relevant time. I even managed to work out how to add a dice server which pleased me no end. Given my general technical incompetence and the fact that I’d relied on one of my players to take charge of the server I’d created for The Traveller Adventure, I was pleased I’d got this far. I kept reading that other games were taking place with Roll20 and thought I ought to have a go at that but I just had no spare capacity to try fitting that in learning to deal with that as well. I did notice however that the dice server I’d found can’t have been the same as the one were using for TTA as the commands were slightly different. <sigh>
Keen to at least try and have a face-to-face session until tech or bandwidth issues made it impossible, I was offering my game via WebEx as I was so familiar with it from work. It’s also worked well enough for the move of TTA from the pub to online so I was relatively confident about it. I knew Discord could handle video but had no idea of how robust it was. I was hearing that many games would be a mix of Roll20 for the game side but Discord for the voice chat due to audio issues; so I was a mite wary of it. Clearly these virtual tabletops and virtual meeting software packages aren’t quite perfect yet. Or at least, that was my excuse. Here’s to hoping that the whole Coronavirus event means that the next generation of software tools – for both gaming and work – are more agile and ready to do what we’re all trying to do. So, WebEx with a side order of Discord for handouts and perhaps dice. Not that I’m overly stressed about players rolling their own dice in front of them and reporting the outcomes.
Finally, the weekend was upon us. My brief – and somewhat confused – forays into Facebook suggested that no one had signed up for my game. Except Greg himself and I assumed that was just as ‘admin’ and not necessarily as a player. Ah well, that was good for my humility after the ‘instant sign ups’ I’ve experienced at TravCon when all the slots have been filled as soon as the sheets are put on the wall. I had no idea why this might be, however. My best guess was because I’d offered it so late in the day. But it could have been anything. Perhaps it was because it was being offered on the most likely unknown WebEx. Perhaps it was because I’ve got a really dull teaser. Or no one wants to play a bunch of scientists. Or maybe the Darrians aren’t well liked so no one wants to play them. Perhaps it was because it was Ashfall and it was ‘known’ from being published and not liked. Perhaps it was because it was myself running it! Or, alternatively, perhaps I was just too unknown a quantity and others were joining the games of friends or ‘bringing’ their players with them? Fortunately for my ego there were lots of possibilities and too many unknowns for me to take it personally. And to be honest, the anxiety hadn’t disappeared about the whole experience and I was actually rather relieved that it might not go ahead.
On the other hand, it did occur to me that maybe just one player would sign up before it started, or there’d be someone at the appointed hour looking for something and fall into it almost accidentally. So maybe it would just be myself and one other. As it happens, I’d long ago noted in the adventure that it could be run for one player and referee by focussing on one of the NPCs and turning things around. From a bunch of PCs as scientists to just one PC as the lead of the Special Arm team. As my current March Harrier Publishing project [There May be Troubles Ahead] is a collection of such adventures perhaps this would be a good opportunity to see how that really worked in practice in a virtual environment. The desperately busy work week, with lectures and teaching material preparation and enquiries and book ordering had allowed no time off so I’d not had a chance to sit down and make more detailed notes on this approach, but there was time on Saturday morning to write myself a timeline and turn the NPCs into PCs on Discord that I could offer in that eventuality. I figured that if no one played, the work wouldn’t be wasted as it could be turned into a Freelance Traveller article or an add-on to the Ashfall publication or both.
I’m getting a bit ahead of myself however. Friday, and the start of the convention arrived and as it happened other stresses meant I had completely lost sight of the first game I’d signed up for. Fortunately my calendar reminded me a few moments before and I was able to logon and join in just in time. Now that wouldn’t happen up at TravCon where you’re just itching for the first game to start. Well, I am at least. I had the usual slight hiatus where I had to get audio working.
I just don’t get how this can be difficult. I’m on a laptop with one microphone and one set of speakers. How can it be necessary to switch between three or four output options, two or three input options and to have to maybe do that in the software or maybe do it in the laptop’s system options or maybe both! Argh! I get this at work when switching between WebEx, Google Meet, Zoom and Microsoft Teams; it would be a feature of the Virtual Traveller Convention as well, switching between Roll20 and Discord. Still, at least months of this at work had given me some experience of all the places I have to look to change things and just working through all the combinations until I could both hear and be heard. <sigh> I can only hope that this at least is a feature of virtual meetings that gets much more user friendly in the next generations of such software. I’ll try not to rant about it again. I may fail.
WARNING: There are spoilers throughout the following game reports if you are likely to play any of these games on other occasions.
FRI AM (PM UK time), Cold & Wet run by Dave “Spacedog” Thomas
TEASER: The PCs are uplifted dolphin characters, members of the elite Special Dolphin Service, the Imperium's premier aquatic operations unit. Pre-gens based on the JTAS Dolphins article will be provided. Up to 8 players max. Game will use Classic Traveller rules supplemented by the Keiths' Undersea Environment.
This was one I had been particularly intrigued by as I’ve come across Dave and his Spacedogs! before at TravCon and knew his rambunctious adventure with Vargr jostling for charisma pecking order was a lot of fun.
Cold & Wet looked like it might be doing something similar for uplifted dolphins. Seven players found themselves as an elite team of dolphins investigating why the Imperial prison on Darkmoon has gone silent. Four watch change check-ins had been missed, computer access to the prison was proving difficult and floor plans were mostly irretrievable. What was the status of 5400 prisoners? Was it worth me making a note of the fact that the prisoner governor was interested in organic cooking and astrology? It would be up to us to find out.
The ‘us’ was none other than Greg, the organizer himself checking up on the first game of the convention; the only one running in this early slot. Alex who I’d met previously via email and in Ascent to Anekthor4 . Micki I only really knew as author of the wonderful Starport supplement which is free online and those of us on the Traveller Mailing List had been looking at recently. Mark, TM and James completed the seven although I have a note about a Jim as well, so possibly there were eight of us and I was already losing track. More on this later. Between getting to grips with software for the first time, or just the second or third time, adjusting to the virtual environment, trying to keep up with the game as it got going, I was finding it easy to lose track.
I was hugely grateful that on top of my small laptop screen I’d been able to bring home a work monitor and also repurpose a small household tv so that I had three screens in front of me. Even if the last of those was relatively poor resolution and didn’t bear looking at for long periods of time it meant that I could ‘spread out’ and have Roll20 visible, Discord open, a character sheet ready to refer to and maybe the convention schedule (for URLs to games etc) or additional handouts/images for atmosphere. I didn’t even get to thinking about maybe live tweeting or typing notes as I went. Instead of the latter, I used a work reMarkable tablet to take notes, rather too scribbled notes as I look at them now – though paper would have worked as well. As a backup I had a small Galaxy Book and my phone to hand in case I needed a Plan B.
For those interested in a bit more background and a flavour of the ‘handouts’, we were seeing images and the floor plan (of just one level) from the GURPS Traveller book Planetary Survey: Darkmoon. I had it on the shelves behind me but resisted the temptation to start reading it as we played. Fortunately it’s some two decades since I last looked at it in detail in order to create an entry for The Traveller Bibliography. My memory is terrible anyway and I had zero recollection of what the booklet contained. (Which is a large part of why I’ve created the bibliography!).
On with the game however, and in dealing with software and sound issues, people and characters I was already missing the introduction and set up. There was stuff about the prison being a sunken warship, cults, and fleet graveyards and I had to catch up with this as the session progressed. Fortunately the blurb on the convention schedule was pretty comprehensive and I could see fellow PCs asking good questions so it wasn’t too critical. Somewhere in the middle of all that – or perhaps more strictly at the end of the character assignments, I’d won Hobson’s choice of the leader character which no one else seemed to want. I always laugh at this as I’m always such a poor leader (and still remember one TravCon where every game I played over the weekend put me in this position) and while my character might have Tactics 2 or whatever, I personally have Tactics -3. Ah well, that’s never stopped a game being fun regardless of the extra pressure – real or assumed. The name I’m given for my dolphin is Akeakamai and for no very good reason save the vaguest of feelings from the skillset I’m looking at, I declare she’s a female. The short version of the mission was that we were an elite team of dolphins being sent into the prison on Darkmoon to find out what was going on and why we’d lost contact. We had a plan to get in via some underwater vents. So, we’d be swimming nap-of-the-seabed. If there was any doubts we were all going to embrace being cetaceans, they were soon dismissed as the plan was agreed, I gave a short motivational speech (rolling 11!), and the cry went up an hour in: Fins Up! which was echoed around the virtual screens and became our rallying cry for the rest of the session. In fact, it became such a theme that when I mentioned a possible write-up once the game was over, it was unanimously demanded that Fins Up! should be the title of this particular section.
As we travelled to Darkmoon there were lots of questions: would our pilot put us anywhere near the potential hot zone he wasn’t very keen on? Would we need to tether any inmates we might rescue? Would there be sufficient diving suits for 500 people? One good question was regarding whether there were weapons in the facility: no, aside from turret emplacements guarding the facility and guards with shock sticks. We considered all sorts of scenarios: mutiny, zombie apocalypse, cultic resurgence. With two squads of human troops under our command we gave them some general orders but we, the dolphins, would be first in and last out.
A 5km swim to the vent, under the radar as it were, and we could see the wreckage of ships on the sea bottom which were the hulls of the vessels sunk for a reason I meant to take a note of with the faintest signs of life in some of the low berths. It was then that we froze as we detected some human divers going through the wrecks and moving low berth ‘sarcophagi’ onto a sled. I suspect the word was very carefully chosen for the atmosphere it conjured up. We could see the Imperial Prison Darkmoon markings on their wet suits and the motto “Giving Back”. (A couple of weeks after the convention and I have no idea if this note was a line from the referee or a player being funny. Other notes may suffer from the same ambiguity, so take your pick.)
In one of my few moments of leadershipping I decided – but if I recall correctly there was lots of team input – that we wouldn’t try and go after one of these near-tomb raiders. We had a small diversion at that point to check that my ‘handle’ of tc was one I was happy for others to use. Yes. Top Cat, as I’ve often been called at school and elsewhere is at least a commonality between the UK and North America. Though here one wag quickly came up with Top Cetacean. Well, I’ve certainly been called worse so I didn’t mind that either.
We arrive at the vent and find it’s covered with a grill. The only sign of surveillance is an old camera that is covered in vent debris and corrosion. We’ve used 7 hours of the 8 we have in our tanks and leave a small, quiet (we were quite specific on both points) drone to keep watch. It moans at us that the water around the vent is quite acidic – but less so in the vent. I think that gave us a clue about something but I’ve entirely forgotten what.
Traversing the vent we arrive at Pump Maintenance Hatch B but struggle to get through the door as our tech fails us at that point. Eventually however we make progress and it will be half an hour to cycle everyone through; two at a time. I decide it’s best if I take point as leader so I can assess the situation inside and Mo’oh (TM), the technician, and I go through. Only to get shot at upon entry. Fortunately with a shotgun which against battledress isn’t really a problem. Mo’oh, not taking kindly to being shot, fires his laser and despite our aim to incapacitate rather than kill, takes out the attacker and stuffs him in the airlock before it cycles for the next pair. They can deal with the body outside – though the medic, Pua-tu-tati (James) does take a moment to declare him dead! We’re nothing if not thorough.
Inside, meanwhile, Mo’oh is faffing with a terminal to check on what sections have power and so on. Once the medic is inside the air is being checked for contaminants, Lona our brawler (Alex) is listening to the comms. We’re half way through the two hour session; it’s all going swimmingly. We order Bravo squad to take the corridor outside the engineering section we’ve entered and which we now command. I have a note here that says “The Dead Don’t Die”. Rather frustratingly I cannot now recall what that was about. I knew I should have written these notes more swiftly, but you know, life. On the other hand I also have a note about “battle lingerie” and I do seem to recollect we had a slight rabbit hole of a discussion about how our battledress was decorated; along with some embroidered tattoos. I suspect it would be a fearsome sight.
Looking into a central lobby with a lift shaft there are no guards stationed anywhere in sight, just a lot of walls with “employee of the month” signs and we float up the stairs behind one of our squads somehow tripping over a brief discussion about fathoms5a, poles/perches5b and chains5c. The latter I happen to know is the length of a cricket wicket (i.e., between the stumps) but I’m not sure that helped the Americans< much. We were shot at with small arms and used gas grenades to tranquilize the assailants thus ending up with five prisoners, a couple of whom were awake enough to interrogate, sorry, question.
We get a right one to start with. Tina, a tattooed female prisoner, who is apprehensive at first as it appears she’s been mistreated a lot by people around her, but under our gentle ministrations begins to open up. She admits to a “special brilliance” in that if she thinks hard enough, she can get what she wants.
Not knowing quite what to make of this except to dismiss it out of hand, we try one last tack in common sense. “So why are you still a prisoner if you can just think your way out?” someone asks in a triumphant display of logic. “Well, here you are to rescue me, aren’t you?” she came back as quick as a flash. You can’t argue with that. All she really wanted was assurance that we wouldn’t “do her in”.
Moving on. Another inmate was more helpful and wanted to report severe problems in the prison and very High crimes. “This prison is under the control of anti-Imperial agents,” we were told. “Could you narrow that down a bit?” we responded as we considered the wide range of possibilities Traveller offers for such groups.
“We were rescuing low berth survivors from the wrecked fleet outside the prison. One of the survivors was Shandi Pao, the leader of the cult. She’s in the control centre. She’s taken over. Her gang tattooed me. She wants to restore the prison to an operational state as a warship.”
Good luck with that, we were thinking. It’s long past its sell-by date. “Very decommissioned” was one comment.
We spend some time in consideration of whether and how to take control of the lift shaft. Our ever vigilant Romeo squad reports the lift coming down and we ready stun grenades. There’s a really loud clang followed by two smaller thumps and then two more thumps. The lift door opens and it’s filled with corpses of guards. Clearly the cables have been cut. The back wall is daubed with a “Go away!”
Maui (Mikki), our blade specialist, readies her weapon to take no chances with the bodies but ready for the grim task of checking them. She finds in their pockets lottery tickets and picture of relatives and the enormity of the cult’s determination hits home. On one corpse, identified in haste as #7, a broadcasting device is found with a video recorder stuck in “a cavity”. Playing it back reveals the prison governor’s family at play, a presentation the governor delivered and then some interviews with celebrity prisoners including Shandi “revived from the bottom of the sea”.
It’s 1100 (or 1700 in the UK) so we’ve an hour to go and we send a message via the drone back at the grill reporting on the situation in the prison. We discuss an assault on the command centre and eventually hatch a scheme whereby the marines will go in from the other side and we’ll use the antigrav in our battle dress to fit not just a couple of us dolphins in the other lift but all six of us at once; ‘horizontally’ and ready to fly in what becomes known as the Tinned Mackerel Manoeuvre.
Putting this into action, myself and Hiapo, our gunfighter (Mark), are first to act and we try to negotiate with Shandi Pao. She’s holding the governor with a 9mm pistol to her head. “I’m in charge” shouts Pao and we attempt to point out that no, she’s not as she has no way out and if she gives up now is currently just a citizen. (Presumably the lift shaft could have had an accidental catastrophic failure.)
Our medic takes a shot with a tranquiliser and Pao shouts “Take them my people!”
A general melee breaks out and unfortunately I’m first to act which means I can’t take my ‘lead’ from those with much more ability. I decide that perhaps a non-lethal approach might be to slide sideways into as many of the cultists as I can like some kind of elongated bowling ball. I’m not sure it’s very effective. Others try more sensible ‘fluke’ attacks, laser rifle shots and Elele (Greg) uses explosives skill to set a charge with a three second fuse – although in the confusion I’m not sure what effect that had either. Mo’oh has the presence of mind to instruct our pilot to “dust off and hover” in case it goes pear-shaped and the prisoners try to use it to escape.
With the cult leader down – although it’s unclear whether she’s been killed, tranqed, shot or fluked - Lona is quick with an offer to everyone still standing: “surrender now and you’ll be shown mercy”. The explosives have deafened everyone which isn’t helping, but never one to give up, Lona continues: “stay down, stay down; no one gets hurt if you stay down.”
Some with legs are trying to run down the staircase; some back the way they’d originally come.
Maui gets the marines to find the guards, free them and restore order.
We also want to check on the drugs being used on the prisoners. Apparently they’re of “pharmakinetic interest”. Or was that the tranqs we were using which if recall correctly used an anaesthetic gas which left victims awake but unable to move? As ever my note taking is inadequate. On the upside, the governor, it turns out, is somewhat traumatised but otherwise unhurt.
All that remains is for us to return to our ship and rate the marines on their performance. They did well was the general opinion. It’s nearly four hours in, 1800 in the UK at least, and time to end. Full marks to the referee for finishing in good time. For those wanting to get to other sessions (but needing breaks between times) or for those with real world life to deal with outside of the ‘schedule’, or for those such as myself pacing ourselves in energy management, I would rate this very highly as a requirement of referees that is as vital online as it is in a face-to-face convention. I just had the presence of mind to ask everyone before we signed off whether it’s ok if I use names/nicknames should I do a write-up for Freelance Traveller. I’m not expecting unanimity on this but apparently everyone’s fine with it. My apologies if I missed your favourite bit or have misattributed lines/action but I hope this acts as something of a reminder for those who played, an inspiration for referees looking for something a little different, and a bit of fun for other readers.
Ashfall – or Not
SAT AM (PM UK time), Ashfall run by Timothy Colllinson
TEASER: Six top Darrian university scientists are on an expedition to Spume to investigate the (top secret) properties of certain materials. A Special Arm scientist on the fringes of the Star Trigger project leads the expedition, a vulcanologist, a seismologist, two materials specialists, and a technician are in support and looking forward to the university paid trip. Have any of them actually read up on Spume? A Mongoose 2e game for up to six players, by one of the “giants” of this game! Pre-gens will be provided. Game will be played using WebEx provided by the GM.
Well, the above is what the programme said. As I noted previously having offered this I was surprised by just how apprehensive I was about running it. I’m still not very clear why. I’ve run lots of games at TravCon now, although there I’m a known quantity and I know most of the folks around the table. I’ve even run, what is it now four, virtual games of The Traveller Adventure so it can’t have purely the virtual nature of the thing. I can only assume that it was a combination of the usual pressure of wanting to do my best for any players, some uncertainty about the technology, and perhaps an additional frisson of almost certainly not knowing anyone around the table. However, I’d worked out that no one had signed up save for Greg who I assumed did that administratively.
Nevertheless, I spent Saturday morning writing myself an alternative outline of Ashfall from the perspective of the special arm agent(s) that arrive(s) a short way in; just in case there weren’t many takers. I prepared them as formal player characters and I rethought some bits of the adventure. My logic was that if only one or two dropped in ad hoc I would still run it but perhaps from the reverse angle; depending on what was preferred by any players. Of course, that somewhat added to my anxiety as I’ve never run Ashfall that way before, despite noting it as an option in the text. It seems like an obvious possibility and fitted neatly with my current project to try and finish the last of a bunch of one ref/one player adventures I’ve been cobbling together.
I needn’t have worried however. In the event, I had no last minute takers. I hung around in my virtual room just in case there was anyone astray or Greg had surplus people elsewhere he wanted to fit in but after fifteen or twenty minutes of flicking through my notes I was feeling more relieved than disappointed and beginning to think about all the things I could do with the afternoon instead. As it happens though, Greg posted a Discord message about waiting for his game to start around then and I had a sudden panic that maybe I was in the wrong room and there were people waiting but elsewhere! False alarm, turned out he was in another game entirely that hadn’t got going. However, it did alert him to the fact that I had had no takers and with a seat free in the game he was sitting in on, I thought about it briefly and decided I’d give it a go.
They’re Coming Through the Walls
SAT AM (PM UK time), Some Disassembly Required run by Ken Patterson
TEASER: That Safari Ship. You know…the one we, “legitimately salvaged”, after the prison break? Oh, never mind. It’s a long story. Well, we now find ourselves being salvaged, out of our “rightful salvage”, by a Vargr salvage vessel. They can’t take from us, what we legitimately stole. Can they? Maximum Number of Players: 6 This game will be played using Roll20 and Discord, (for audio). Presented by the: Dead Games Society (DGS)
OK, so I was arriving late into this and having the usual fun with audio, either hearing or being heard or both. Now I really did have to catch up but fortunately, as you can see from the blurb above, some of the intro was already there. I learned afterwards that this was taken from Ken’s own gaming group where previous sessions had indeed escaped from a prison using a safari ship, the Abyssal Hunter, and the PCs were now being hauled in by a Vargr crew intent on salvaging the vessel from the outside in.
I’m not quite sure where it began for the other players, but for me it began in media res as the Vargr salvagers – in a very nifty but overwhelmingly large deconstruction ship – were beginning to take us apart. We’d calculated we had three hours six minutes before we were being exposed to vacuum as drones and Vargr in exoskeletons came through the hull. This was gorgeously illustrated by Ken using a ship from another sf universe. I’m afraid I don’t have the details. I was given the character of Jarmaine Kastariis, a missionary from the Church of Stellar Divinity which sounded fun. “The stars are gods and have spiritual mass” I was quickly reminded. Just to make it interesting I also had a back story – which I never quite learned whether the other PCs knew or not – in that I was a former Ministry of Justice agent. Okay!
Other players were Ballz (Greg) playing pilot Alfred Campbell, Bill P playing banker Carter J. Burke, Klaes Ashford as belter Zak, Shiny Dwarf or Teddy Mahoney playing engineer Dorian Cook and TM again (Tiger Monkey I’d worked out by now and actually David Brew) playing Doc Hope, the medic, obviously.
Oh, and in one of the animal holds of the safari ship was a rather interesting critter which, as we’d escaped from the prison some six weeks previously, was nearly out of the food it needed: A shuynuka; 70-130kg carnivore. Aside from being a pretty deadly carnivore in its own right, it could attack psionically and even survive up to ten minutes in vacuum. We did not want to get in the pen with it. It was of course, immediately nicknamed by Greg, its primary ‘handler’ for want of a better word, Babu.
There was a complicated bit of briefing about the background of the Vargr which involved clans and groups and names which I couldn’t note fast enough but the practical upshot seemed to be that the Tsutzeg were salvagers-cum-hijackers.
All this had taken an hour already and we were just kitting out. With a segment I rather liked (and might adopt at some point) on picking a vacc suit and PLSS unit. The catch being that some of the PLSS units had 24 hours of air; some had 8. Nothing like that kind of thing to get the players arguing, sorry, discussing – in the light of seeing our hull integrity rapidly vanishing – who had more need of what and why. If I recall correctly an initiative roll eventually sorted things out.
Interestingly, Ken also had a couple of other mechanics (there’s probably a technical term I’m not familiar with) that he had introduced from his home campaign. He explained these more fully and how he used them in a short wash up at the end of the session but there were “Your Turn, My Turn”, Coupons and High/Low. I don’t recall seeing much of the first, if at all, but I think was a deal where the referee allowed a player to describe some (heroic?) action but with the knowledge that the referee would then get to act similarly against the players. The Coupons were a known set of a dozen or so one use items that could allow a dice reroll or force a roll of 12 (or 2) or choose a position in the initiative order. High/Low was a mini-game we used a lot to decide certain situations. A player would negotiate with the referee what s/he wanted to happen but the referee would state a penalty for failure. If this was agreed the player would have to say whether s/he would roll a number higher or lower than the referee’s roll. If successful, the player’s view of an event would take place; if not, the referee’s. I’d not come across any of the above before in Traveller gaming (which you may recall is all my gaming experience) so I found it interesting to watch them in action. Very tempted to pinch Coupons and High/Low for my own games. I’ll see what my players think.
Back in the adventure, we’d realized we’d couldn’t stay where we were and were hatching plans to move off our ship onto the Vargr vessel. The time pressure noted above not being sufficient, we also had bits of the ship failing around us. Ken had a Roll20 macro set up to deal a What’s Wrong With the Ship? card every half hour or so. That kept the pressure up. As a side note, I’ve got the WWWtS PDFs and am a great fan of inflicting them on the engineer in The Traveller Adventure although I don’t think she’s so impressed. So I was really interested to see them in use in this way and I was also seeing such Roll20 macros for the first time as well. It was also at this point (nearly two hours in) that I learned I could reduce the size of the character avatars on the screen so I could better see the handouts that we were being shown. I also learned to move the icon representing my character on, for example, the ship deck plans we were being shown. As a further aside, the deck plans were Tom Mouat’s version of the safari ship which look splendiferous and, Ken told us, had been specially prepared for this session.
Our plan was that most would EVA from our ship to the larger Vargr vessel “above” us and that some would use a docking tube with the wrinkle that we would herd Babu up the tube first to act as an advance guard. Well, an advance attack, more than guard.
Moving my icon, I followed the commander (Greg) to the bridge where I took a moment to worship at the view of the stars I could see on the screens. But before I could get too into character, Ken had me rolling for an unknown thing on first a d4 and then a d6 four times. Turned out the unknown thing was the number of pods and the initiative of four spider pods the Vargr were using which would be in a position to stop the EVA group. Having rolled a four on the d4 and then rolled high for their initiative, I of course, felt awful!
The remaining two hours of the session essentially amounted to the combat surrounding the EVA team crossing our hull opposed by the spider pods and myself and Greg manoeuvring Babu up the docking tube and following ourselves. It’s probably rather dull to try to replicate the details of that although I dutifully tried to keep track which helped follow what was going on rather than simply sitting back and waiting for my own turn to act. I’ll try and note some of the memorable moments:
- the EVA team, Carter I think, making use of a sealant tube he was carrying to attack a Vargr in his pod
- Doc Hope deflecting a pod which is trying to pierce him with one of its grapples being used as a lance
- Zak’s daring jump to the other hull
- the blinding of one of the Vargr pilots
- another jump going rather more askew
Meanwhile, inside the Commander had decided that he had a sympatico link with Babu despite the referee making it clear that that wasn’t the case and there was no such link. So amongst his actions was an attempt to convince the critter ‘telepathically’ that Vargr are food and not us humans. I’m detailed off to lay a trail of breadcrumbs to the docking tube. The Commander tells me to brace as we blow out a window overlooking its cage to get it to move the way we need it to go. “Daddy’s got you baby, I’m behind you.” We’re certainly not leaving the safety of the Bridge to herd it ourselves! We need Babu to ascend the tube but the referee, quite fairly thinks it would be more likely to roam about. Just the moment for a game of High/Low. Greg wins and thus his character is even more convinced that he has a psychic connection with the beast. Unable to move until the shuynuka is in the tube, I use an action to pray for the same action.
Outside, the melee is ongoing. Carter is ‘on’ a spider and pushes off in the Zero G to return to the ship’s hull; Zak makes a daring jump to the Vargr hull; Doc is trying to shoot a pod pilot but perhaps fortunately for any Hippocratic oath, misses.
The shuynuka starts moving up the tube and we use a coupon to make ensure the hatches at the end are unlocked although we do discover the other side is unpressurized. Alarms go off on the Bridge to tell us one of the spiders, trying to skewer a PC has missed, kept going, impacted some of our superstructure and is now immobile.
Dorian is heartbroken at the damage to the ship – although in the larger violence being inflicted on it I thought this care over a superstructure fin was rather sweet. Dorian is roped up and jumps off to get to the Vargr vessel but makes a terrible roll and then loses a game of High/Low to try to rectify it. Ken decrees that the jump has been rather more sideways and Dorian has hit a portion of our own hull further away.
The Commander is thinking once again about an attempt to psionically affect Babu. Well, when I say thinking, clearly the player is telling us out loud. It can all get a bit meta at time. The referee is still having none of it. “I just don’t believe there’s a psionic link.” We consider using the Chicken Dinner coupon (Automatically win a game of High/Low) to try to affect the outcome but in the end the decision is taken not to. (All players have to agree on using a coupon). Ken rolls 3, Greg rolls 3. In the case of a tie, we discover, the player wins! Yay for us. Zak is looking into the transparent tube is can’t believe his eyes as he sees the iris valve opening as Babu gets there. Shadows reveal Vargr on the other side coming through at exactly that moment. [I loved how this allowed the psionic/not psionic? question to remain open for still more time…] Zak sees some abstract shadow play and a red splatter on the tube as the carnivore goes to work.
One of the spiders turns and goes after Dorian. Carter manages to spray the canopy of another spider with the sealant which leaves a Vargr pilot flying completely blind. Zak wonders if he picked up the densitometer in the equipment grab and no one can recall. He wants to use it to determine what’s on the inside of the Vargr ship in the vicinity of where we’re trying to enter. Ken agrees that he has picked it up but has to win a game of High/Low for it to be working. Now we decide to use the Chicken Dinner coupon to ensure it is functioning. Doc Hope meanwhile is using some previous training to line up a very carefully aimed shot. He uses his commando breathing and zen focus and rolls a 12. My notes are rather unreadable at this point – all the excitement I’m sure – but look something like “surprised vein blind/blood Vargr”. Well, quite.
We’re three hours in and still the battle is raging. One of the spiders misses Carter and collides with another, skewering it to the fin support of the safari ship. Dorian is hanging on to the rope that attaches him to the tube as he picks himself up and gets to the tube.
Commander Campbell is in full ego mode as he announces: “This will make a great chapter in volume two of my autobiography, covering my early 30s. It’s called My Incredible Career.” He climbs the tube, noting the body parts as he goes, but we’re also noting that he’s now in a narrow cylindrical airlock with Babu in there. “I’m with you my spirit animal.” Rather more fearfully, I follow but my faith is strong and I am now so convinced by the Commander’s demonstration(s) of his psionic link I decide it can’t hurt to give it a go and as vividly as I can picture myself as a bright shining star that Babu wouldn’t want to approach.
Zak is using the densitometer to check behind the door he’s approached. It’s a functional loading door and he finds it’s locked. He cashes in the But It’s Not Locked coupon and finds that it is flashing locked/not locked every two seconds. [I like how these work, Ken! Well done!] He then makes a DEX roll to hit the button during the ‘not locked’ cycle. I say he makes a DEX roll. I was flummoxed for a moment because he was expected to roll under his DEX in classic Traveller style. I still find that odd having grown so used to rolling over a target number. No wonder I struggle with Traveller5. Part of the flummox was that I had vaguely thought this game was technically MegaTraveller rules and I remembered the task system as being roll over a number, but at an exciting critical point in the adventure it was hardly a critical point in following the game so I didn’t stop to ask. In any case, there’s a clunk, the mechanism winds up, the door opens and as the volume inside is under pressure out flies “paper and bolt”. What have I written? No idea.
40 minutes from the end of four hours I make another ‘environment’ discovery. A few times in the last hours I’ve been vaguely aware of some music coming, I thought from the next door room in the house; maybe my daughter playing something. I thought it odd as it wasn’t the kind of thing anyone in my family would likely be playing. Clicking on something or other in Roll20 I discovered that it was actually some VTT audio being piped in by the referee. Dark Matter by Tabletop Audio as it happens. Fortunately it hadn’t been loud enough to detract from hearing what was going on which has been mostly my experience of ‘atmosphere’ music in face-to-face games. (Moderate high frequency hearing loss is really exacerbated by background noise of any kind). But I was once again reminded of just how little I had any idea of what was going on in the two software environments I was learning to cope with.
Meanwhile, Doc Hope, living up to his name is lining up another really difficult shot. “Your shot would have to go through Carter,” announces Ken. “He’s expendable,” comes the inevitable reply.” Carter is more gracious than I might have been. “It’s an externality. I’m willing to make the sacrifice.” Over the comms we all hear: “Duck, Carter!” Another Vargr is out of it as his head falls to his chest.
Back in the airlock, it’s still two of us and a carnivore. See the screen clip right for one of my favourite moments of the whole thing. [I should also note that I had just learned I could post as myself or as my character and managed to be quick enough to do both in a timely fashion.] At this point Babu is given a roll of his own. 8+ and he sees the commander as his blood partner. He rolls a 4 and we learn that he’s in such a strange environment that he’s still processing what’s going on around him. Phew! We’ve a moment’s grace yet. The airlock cycles and there’s another round of High/Low to see how connected Babu is to Campbell. Another win! Just to be on the safe side, I’m still picturing a star for all I’m worth.
The others move up and into the ship after the final pod takes off and heads back to the supposed safety of its own mothership.
Babu is now facing us and clearly thinking about an attack. The Commander starts singing “Soft Kitty, Warm Kitty” and hits the airlock button so the inner airlock door opens behind the critter. Ken’s protests along the lines of “but the psi-link isn’t real!” were drowned out by the use of the Snake Charmer coupon at this point to have the referee’s roll in a High/Low turn into a 2. Even the referee is beginning to believe in this psionic connection between Campbell and his cat.
The shaynuku goes into the ship and into the hold that’s on the other side. We cautiously follow. We’re greeted by several guns pointing at us. The Vargr leader addresses us: “I am Tsutzeg, leader of the pack. You have caused much distress. There has been much death and restructuring thanks to that animal. You have cost us money and are supposed to just die. But you’ve shown yourselves to be brave enough to go after Tsutzeg corsairs. But I will let you live if you leave my ship. You can take this launch. There should be some reward for such bravery.”
Doc is hoping for more however: “A launch however, leaves us at this miserable planet. We need a Jump ship. Or how about we serve three missions and are dropped off in Imperial space?”
The Vargr leader is astonished. “I cannot believe you would counter my proposal. I will offer my original terms one more time. Or you can die.” With fifteen minutes left I find out that no one thinks it’s a good moment for me to try my Martial Arts 4. Though Ken says he would have liked to have seen how that might have gone. In that case, “take his offer and run”. Although I do query whether the offer should include respirators as it’s a Very Thin atmosphere TL5 planet we’re in orbit around.
Zak is quick with a “we accept your gracious offer”.
We had a few moments before the end of the session and in one of my highlights of the convention, Skinny Dwarf turned his video on to say ‘hi’ with his newborn in hand and partner bravely waving in the background. It was great to see them in ‘reality’ rather than just as an avatar and I reflected on how much more I’d enjoy it if all of, or at least more of, the experience was like that. Anyway, congratulations to Teddy and well done on managing to find time to game with the pressures very very little ones bring!
Safe as Houses; or Villas at Least
SUN AM (PM UK time), The Argon Gambit run by Tony Reynolds
TEASER: The PCs are the crew of a bankrupt free trader, and these are their efforts to acquire capital to finance a new venture. A Classic Traveller adventure for up to eight (8) players! Pre-gens to be provided. Roll20 tabletop and audio will be used
In the US they were starting early, in the UK it was the afternoon, and who knows where others might have been dialling in from. Once again, drawn by the few choices left when I got my act together but also the knowledge this was a ‘classic’ which once again I could remember nothing of, I’d ended up in this. Along with Greg (again!), Tiff, Steve, Craig, Victor, Alex J, Donald and Ronald. I think. Again, my notes are too spartan and I’ve left it too long after the event to be as clear as I’d like. There’s a lesson for another time. (And a reminder of why I take photos at TravCon.) It seems like a lot of players and I may be muddling nicknames with real people. As usual I had a bit of a faff with technology before I was fully ‘present’.
I was assigned the ‘Retired Merchant Captain’ and rather amused by a dexterity score of 1. Sometimes I feel as if that’s me in real life. My excuse is that I’m just in a universe a size too small for me. I wasn’t sure I could role play that clumsy, but I was certainly prepared to give it a go.
As you may know from the adventure it’s the typical set up of a merchant crew being rather strapped for cash and needing to make a few credits to be able to Jump onwards. Not helped by being gouged by locals and facing the ship being seized as a hazard if we don’t get the repairs sorted soon.
We’re in a waffle house, rather than your standard starport tavern which I thought a nice touch and encounter our smartly dressed patron in the wrong part of town with his offer of “interesting things and dangerous tasks”. Grant knows about our debt and wants us to help out a “public figure” who is being blackmailed. He wants us to help protect his principal’s privacy and the payment would cover our debt and a cargo to take away with us. With Brussels stripped of its Terran labelling and standing in for Argon City (which gave a wonderfully detailed map which I really liked and is a ploy Andy Lilly uses to good effect at TravCon), we find out that the blackmailer, Kashkanun, has documents in the safe of his villa and we’re being asked to break in and recover them. We’re not sure if the safe is mechanical or electronic.
Many long time Traveller fans will recognize the shady nature of adventures – particularly in the early days and may have their own views about expecting the players to get involved or not – but unless I failed to make a note of it, it certainly wasn’t stressing our motley crew. Although I have a note which suggests we did talk up the expenses Grant was offering us as we tooled up with non-lethal tranq grenades and darts. Or was that what the villa security and body guards had? Again, my notes are lacking.
We make arrangements to meet up with Grant, via his ‘burner cell phone’ (or presumably the Tech Level B equivalent on Janosz) although I seem to recall that we did something complicated in order to subvert any double-crossing schemes he might have. We look at what cleaners earn a month (in order to bribe them?) and do a walk by of the villa to get the lay of the land. Oh, and don’t forget the tooling up for the raid; the most important part of any Traveller game naturally. My notes at that point:
Shopping list so far: cloth armour ×9. gas masks ×9, lockpicks: electronic and mechanical, tranq guns, gas grenades, camera drone, 4 stationary cameras, 4 pinhole covert cameras, remote viewer for cameras, stun guns ×9, secure communication sets, spray paint cans (as low tech camera foils). AKA mission impossible.
Of course, it’s not a simple burglary and as time goes on and we conduct computer searches – starting with the power, water, security and other utility supplies to the villa – we begin to piece together that there’s a larger political picture that means things are not quite as straightforward as we might have hoped. “If everything goes smoothly…” was an optimistic line about this time from Steve.
Also about this time, not quite three hours in, I should confess that my head was splitting, I was finding it hard to concentrate, and I was really struggling with names given that I was trying to track so many PC names, player nicknames and player real names. Not helped by the players, on some occasions, being represented by real world avatars and I’ve on occasions written down those names. With (eight?) of us and at least four potential names I think I’ll bring a spreadsheet next time to manage 32 possibilities! (And that’s not even counting first and second names). My notes show an anguished scream in the margins as I got it wrong – either in my head, or publically, or both for the umpteenth time.
But we progressed and cut the power to the villa at 4 in the morning. Sophie goes to distract the guard and wows him while the rest of land on the roof in an air/raft. We enter the villa via a balcony and a library – though I manage to refrain from getting distracted by this – either as a character or a player. But it’s still quite exciting. On the upside, we manage to take them by surprise.
For the last hour of the game it’s fairly standard combat as we try to tranq the gate guard (and fail) or throw grenades into the west corridor (successfully) and I learn a new trick on (Roll20?) where you can just press the up arrow to make the same type of roll again. I also learn about weakened blows and combat blows which are new to me.
At one point, in the master bedroom where the blackmailer is asleep with his girlfriend, I manage to throw a grenade but stumble over a chair and career into a table. I knew my poor dexterity would come back to haunt me. Still, a rather keystone cop scene was conjured up out of this and fortunately I didn’t foul up the overall plan too much. Donald, back on the ship tracking comms, has his head in hands despairing of us as he monitors any electric company or security company response to our intrusion.
Greg meanwhile is heroically kicking away a grenade and slapping a guard to wake him up and pump him for information. He has dagger +4 or something and is advised to “put it in a little and just start turning it”. Meanwhile, I’m trying to pin the girlfriend in a corner. She has woken up and is fighting back; I think I’ve succeeded but she’s way more dextrous than I am. My attempts to tranquilize her fail as she kicks it away and I’m calling for help! Tiff, as Michael, manages to wrap the blackmailer up in a blanket and drag him off the bed. Meanwhile “Jones” (I think) has joined the interrogation of the guard and tries some intimidation to find out the safe’s whereabouts. “You’re not paid enough for losing your life.” It works. “I’ll tell you; I’ll tell you.”
Donald meanwhile has rebooted a computer (of the security company??) and managed to reroute them, giving us a bit more breathing space timewise. It’s a good job as I’m not the only one struggling; one of us is fighting off four opponents with no leverage but “the weight of my authority”. Steve, however, has managed to paint a camera or two and with Donald’s help at a distance we hack into the safe and get it open. Whereupon we discover our principal is a… dun dun durrrr… Vilani! That is not going to go down well in Solomani space. Grant will for sure pay us Cr1,000,000; others of us are dubious. With a stunning roll, Donald manages to delete all the security footage.
When we meet up with him again, Grant isn’t on the whole, happy with us, as we’ve kept things from him and not quite done what he asked. “You should have told me every detail,” he shouts at us later, “this is so screwed, this isn’t what I expected.” Well, that’s PCs for you. But livid as he is, he pays up. “This is not how it was supposed to go.” I wonder if that’s often the thought of a Referee at the end of a game; and not in character!
Don’t Forget the Sunblock
SUN PM (EVE UK time), Across the Bright Face “Jelly Roll”
TEASER: While accompanying the absentee owner of his mining operation on Dinom (Spinward Marches 0201), the PCs are caught in a worker's revolution and forced into a difficult trek across the blazing hot “bright face” of the planet to the safety of the local starport. They have lost their client; they may lose their lives as well! A Classic Traveller canon classic written by the Emperor himself. For up to 7 players - pre-gens will be provided.
Once again I can’t recall if I was drawn more by availability or the “classic” title I didn’t want to miss out on, but if nothing else Virtual Traveller Weekend has given me the opportunity to visit material I’ve had on my shelves for a long time and not recently visited which has been a delight.
This time I was playing alongside, according to my notes which I’d trust about as far as I could throw them, Alex T, Gerry M, Matthew K and Jim C – the latter from my very own The Traveller Adventure campaign. Four games in and I was already ‘recognizing’ faces round the virtual table; well, names and avatars at least. Inspired by the illustration of my avatar, I dared to name her after an old girlfriend!
It seems to be about standard taking half an hour or so to get people introduced, settled down and characters picked; this game was no exception. Again, it’s not worth me rehashing the plot of this adventure in detail as it’s so available and has been for a long time. Unless I missed something, John (or Jelly Roll) ran this pretty straight. I’ll just pick out some key points from my notes although as ever they’re barely adequate and by now I was pretty tired. I suppose on the upside at least I wasn’t facing the 4 hour drive home following the convention.
We’re bodyguards for businessman and that whole job went pear-shaped in the first few seconds of the adventure forcing us to take off across the forbidding ‘bright face’ of the tidally locked Dinom in three ATVs that have to have their power planet energy levels carefully managed. Traveller was only three years old when this was first played at Origins 80 and written by none other than Marc Miller himself. It’s an excellent example of those early procedurally driven, fairly mechanistic adventures. Like Ascent to Anekthor, it could be merely a die rolling exercise of maximising decision making within the parameters given. With a good referee and players looking to play their roles to the hilt, these can be so much more as well. Fortunately, we had both.
Off we went after some discussion about drivers and shifts and so on. We head north west for anyone who wants to follow on the map Double Adventure 2: Across the Bright Face gives, and we encounter the prospector huts and are then hit by an avalanche which leaves me unconscious for fifteen minutes. It takes an hour to dig ourselves out and I have to resort to giving a savage look at my driving ability being impugned. After a real world break 90 minutes in we find some tracks to follow which speeds things along a little but the rough terrain brings the comment that it “seems like the whole planet’s in upheaval”. We encounter glowing terrain which sends the Geiger counters off the chart and we manage to avoid crevasses of molten aluminium. No one fancies getting out to walk.
Picking up some radio chatter we discover we weren’t wrong about the planet’s upheaval as we learn Medianne is in full revolt, the starport is still under government control but everywhere else is under the control, if that’s the right word, of various factions. There’s a wry remark about the children’s book we’re getting much of our geographical information from:
“I would hope that even a kids’ book would be more accurate in the vicinity of the starport.”
“That’s a definition of ‘hope’ I’ve not heard before.”
Two ATVs appear that don’t like the look of us and combat ensues. We decide we don’t like the look of them either. Our green ATV rolls high and uses the laser on high power to hit one of our opponent’s lasers and they turn and run. (The attempt to also hit them with a flare misses, however.) Leaving them behind we approach the starport from the north and face a lake of frozen gas. It appears solid enough to support an ATV but I’m sent, or did I volunteer?, to walk across and check. It’s marginal but I make it and the ATVs follow very cautiously. It’s touch and go but we make it.
At the starport itself we have to get past the rebels to achieve the ‘safe’ ground held by the government. As an ATV comes towards us I manage to take out its lights with a flare (although reflecting on this, I’m not sure if that would have had any effect whatsoever under the ‘bright face’) but another of us hits the side of the other vehicle and we’re soon driving through those combatants who are on foot. They just manage to leap out of the way as we charge through the perimeter fence. Safely where we need to be we find the Imperial troops want us to rebuild or at least pay for the section of fence we’ve taken out and charge us a daily rate for remaining, but at least they let us stay. This is a bit too much like real life when a farmer charged me for the hedge I’d taken out after skidding off the road back in my youth. Although as the hedge almost certainly saved my life – the alternative was hitting an oncoming truck – it was cheap at half the price.
We finish a minute after time at 10.01pm UK time so once again I’m impressed with the Referee’s time keeping!
I had planned on not going on at length and not taking too much time over this. I fear I’ve failed on both counts so well done if you’re still reading and my apologies to both Greg C and Ken P, the organizers, and the Referees who may feel this is rather tardy in terms of a report on the convention and their games.
I can’t finish, however, without a couple of further comments. Firstly on breaks, perhaps it’s just me getting older, but a four hour game is quite a long stint. Particularly focused on small screens with even smaller representations of people you often can’t see. Having Refereed myself, I fully get how ‘into’ it you can get and how keen you can be to get on, and how aware you are of time whipping past when there’s so much to fit in. Although I felt a bit embarrassed in one game having to ask for a comfort break and/or a break from the screen, I simply had to. Fortunately, Referees in all the other games seemed to take this as read and it wasn’t a problem.
I should also add that one thing I haven’t mentioned is that Greg and Ken brilliantly scheduled in socials and Referee debriefs in various slots. I’d have loved to have attended but the timings just didn’t work out for me. From all accounts, however, these seemed to go well and were a great opportunity for Traveller fans from all over the world to meet with each other and chat casually or for Referees to learn lessons for next time or just swap experiences.
I should also credit the Referees who allowed time within their game slot for a short wash up or post-mortem of the game. I’m sure this provided them invaluable feedback, as well as giving the players an opportunity to see a little behind the scenes, as well as giving wannabe refs such as myself an insight into running adventures – particularly virtually. Well worth doing even at the expense of some precious game time. This is perhaps also a good moment to credit the Referees I encountered with finishing in good time. Particularly with virtual games which can be so demanding of attention on a limited screen, this was crucial in allowing breaks and food and time to gear up for the next session for those trying to fit in a weekend of games rather than just, say, turning up for one or two slots.
Finally, would I do it again? A part of me hopes it will never be necessary and that lockdowns around the world will ease and we’ll be able to return to face-to-face gaming. On the other hand, I’m aware that Greg – and others – continue to arrange virtual games at virtual conventions and as ‘stand alone’ events and this is to be commended. It’s a great way to be able to play if there are no other options, or if you’re at a distance, or… well, there are a multitude of reasons. But one of things I really missed was the social interaction of real people around a real table and the virtual didn’t quite replicate this sufficiently. That was perhaps exacerbated by the ‘video off’ nature of Virtual Traveller Weekend which I really struggled with. Perhaps I’m just a people-driven person; perhaps hearing difficulties make lip reading more valuable than I’d imagined; perhaps others really like and benefit from the opportunity to sit behind an anonymous avatar or rectangle; and I fully understand that some don’t have the tech (camera, internet bandwidth etc) to join in with video, but I find it telling that the one time I’ve used the word highlight in all the above was the moment, after a game, when we turned video on and got to see other people and feel as if you’d met them, albeit at a distance and all too briefly.
I don’t know if was just random chance that meant all the games I played were blanked out like that, I don’t know if there’s some etiquette about it for VTW or other events that I’m not aware of, but it was an aspect I really struggled with and will make me a little wary about enthusing too much about another such occasion. But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the experience and never say never again, as they say!
I certainly ought to thank Greg and Ken for organizing such a packed weekend, thank the Referees for putting on such varied, interesting and above all fun games, and to thank the other players in the games I took part in for putting up with my shouting because I think they can’t hear, talking over them because I can’t work when it’s time to speak or not speak, for my tactical inability, and for my tendency to fall down a rabbit hole at the drop of a hat. It was great to meet you and I can only apologize if, for either Referees or players, all the above doesn’t fairly represent all the fun we had. As ever this is a personal view and I can only hope, like the recently published A Decade of TravCon collecting up TravCon reminiscences that this might act as a memory for those who were there or an encouragement for those who weren’t that next time it might just be worth booking a slot!