#42: Write What You Know
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue.
One piece of advice often given to new writers is to “write what you know”. That can be easier said than done when it comes to Traveller. When was the last time I crossed a heavily volcanic landscape in a vacc suit, traded from planet to planet with psionic crewmates, uncovered ‘blind’ stowaways, or met Emperor Strephon1?
So, when our glorious2 Editor proposed a theme issue for Freelance Traveller around the idea of a compassion corps, I just knew I was going to get sucked into contributing something. Having spent a year as a volunteer teacher in Nigeria and then two years on a bookship in South East Asia, New Zealand and Australia, this was right up my alleyway. That Jeff also hit a sweet spot of my having a weekend or two to put pen to paper, stylus to screen and carpal to keyboard (depending on where I was at the time and what I was writing), was a bonus3.
I’ve actually long thought that I really ought to turn some of my experiences on Operation Mobilisation’s m/v Doulos into something for Traveller, but it’s been one of those round tuits that I’ve never quite gotten to.4 Jeff’s proposal reminded me of all the options there are and started sparking ideas. I’m only sorry I’ve not had time to put together an adventure as I’d have liked to; perhaps I can save that for another day.
My years as a volunteer may have set me back a half decade or so in terms of a career and salary/pension earning potential, (returning from Doulos it was a further couple of years before I managed to find more than a part time or temporary job), but I have never regretted any of it for a moment. Even taking into account the giardia, bilharzia/schistosomiasis and malaria5 I brought back from Africa which almost certainly has left me with long term and debilitating health issues. The people I met, the cultures I learned from, the languages I fell in love with, the places I saw, the friends I made, were not only worth it in themselves, but are so much a part of who I am now that I can’t separate them.
In writing these contributions – thank you, Jeff, for the kick! – I hope they’re interesting to read. Maybe there’s some small fun to be had in working out what’s biographical, what is ‘inspired by’ and what’s simply made up whole cloth. I hope they inspire you to introduce such ideas to your own games: whether as background atmosphere or central feature there’s a lot of fun and interest to be had. Finally I hope, no, I pray that this theme issue might inspire you to seek out the real world examples of volunteering opportunities, compassion organizations, and mercy ships that exist. Find out about them; get involved even. Perhaps giving financially to support their work; perhaps in going and making a difference. Along the way you might even have as near a Traveller adventure as you’re likely to find on Terra!