This article originally appeared in the January/February 2014 issue.
I don’t know if I should admit this in public, but I’m not terribly into combat in Traveller. I was initially drawn to the creative aspects of world building and character generation. It’s not that I’m opposed to role playing combat in principle, I just find that it tends to slow down the game and can detract from the story telling if not handled well. Of course, I’m aware that some players live for the planning and the weapons stats and the die rolling and the miniatures; and I’ll admit that it can be intensely exciting in context and at the right moment. But I don’t live for it and am quite happy if a game doesn’t involve very much combat at all.
One of the fears I mentioned in my first Confession was whether the absence of combat in the game I was running would detract from the experience. In fact, the game included one encounter with one animal with only one of the PCs armed. I seem to recall the critter was dispatched in one game with two shots and in the other with three shots. Five die rolls in eight hours with such limited possibilities of weapon/armour/range etc, I can manage. The reception the game received – from both sets of players – suggested that the absence of more really wasn’t a problem.
However, for a second convention game, I thought I really ought to give it a go and allow the scenario to climax with a bit of derring-do for the players. That meant getting to grips with Mongoose’s rules and understanding not just the details of how it worked, but also understanding where it gets bogged down and creates longueurs for those not directly involved. With the PCs as nobles there was only one weapon of choice – rapiers, and I set it up so their opponents would have stunsticks. I could dispense with armour and too many options and variations.
With virtually no inexperienced at it, I spent several weekends over a few months running the proposed scene over and over. Trying to get a feel for how the die rolls worked, what happened to the UPP stats, what variations might crop-up. One concern I had was not knowing much about tactics so would players throw curve balls in their actions and were my baddies acting reasonably optimally? That’s when I sent a couple of examples of my simulations to a respected Traveller referee for comment. (Thanks, D!) One of the first things I’d discovered and he pointed out was that stunsticks would probably make the fight too one-sided so I reduced the baddies to simple club type weapons and a couple of the leaders kept the stun variety. I naturally wanted the PCs to be able to win, but for it not to be a walkover. In just one simulation the PCs managed to win without receiving a scratch between them, but mostly it was a close run thing with varying injury levels.
When it came to it, in the convention, my hours of practice at that specific situation paid off in keeping the whole thing moving briskly – it perhaps took the last half hour or so of each game and made a fitting climax. I failed to ask the players how it had gone, but the overall reaction to the game was positive. So who knows? Perhaps another time I’ll advance to more serious weapons. And, hopefully, with more of an appreciation for the detail, I’ll enjoy combat sessions in other games much more.