The Great Traveller Make-Off
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue.
Few can have missed the success on television of programmes such as The Great British Bake Off (GBBO) and similar titles such as The Great British Sewing Bee and then translations to other countries from west (The Great American Baking Show) to east (The Great Kiwi Bake Off) with many in-between, such as Das große Backen [The Great Bake] in Germany, Hela Sverige bakar [All of Sweden Bakes] and the forthcoming Peče celá země [The Whole Country Bakes] in the Czech Republic. Similar programmes have centred around crafts from pottery to painting; from gardening to make up. In light of this – and who thought sewing would make would great TV?1 – why not something similar centred around Traveller? Traveller as a wide-open role playing game inspires creativity in both referees and players and in the games themselves, however scripted they may start out as. Why not embrace that and give an opportunity to show off something of that creativity?
This is probably not for everyone, but for keen referees particularly and those who’d like to show off both their creativity and their ability to work under pressure, the format would be ideal. While some of us like to spend an entire year writing an adventure for a convention, I know of others who don’t start sketching out their ideas on paper until they arrive at a convention and are running a game that evening. At the same time, it should be possible not to overly favour writers over those who have other artistic abilities – perhaps in producing a world map, thinking up a fascinating character, or designing the outline of a perfectly playable adventure in just a few words.
Having noticed, thanks to my wife’s enthrallment to such broadcasting, the similarity of the formats, it’s not a great leap of imagination to propose something along the lines of the following. You might wish to experiment with ingredients and method according to taste. Beware of imperial and metric measurement differences.
Duration: 4 hours (or may be split into different sessions). This would fit into a standard TravCon slot at the UK convention (also at TravellerCON/USA –ed.). Alternatively, it could be an after-hours event, possibly split in two over a couple of evenings – although creativity may not be at its peak late at night and after a long day of gaming.
For a standard convention slot, it would be fairly easy to accommodate six participants in the same way as a normal game; or two or three tables could be ‘run’ by multiple referees coordinating with each other. For larger numbers of participants, thought would have to be given to the logistics of running multiple tables, providing multiple rule sets (or expecting participants to bring their own), or arranging teams in an after-hours at-the-bar style event.
Theme: Choose a theme for the Make Off. Several may be needed if it is to be a serial event in the style of a television series with reducing numbers of participants in subsequent ‘episodes’ and a ‘semi-final’/’final’ structure. A theme isn’t absolutely necessary for a one-off event, but does help to give some focus.
Example themes might include:
- eve of war
- hi tech
or less concrete and more ambiguous themes such as:
- ‘merchants on the edge’ (the edge of space, the edge of bankruptcy, the edge of legality, the edge of insanity…)
- ancient regimes (with a deliberately lower case ‘a’)
- into the unknown
Rules: Choose a rule set that will be used for The Great Traveller Make Off. TravCon in the UK, for example, stipulates games should be run with the latest version of Traveller rules which means Mongoose 2nd Edition. Other rule sets may be preferred. Brave judges might allow the use of any rule set. Alternatively, sessions 1 and 3 could be decided purely on the textual descriptions and not rely on any rules at all. Session 2, the ‘technical’ challenge would need rethinking.
Judging: Decide on a judging format. This could be a guest judge or judges, perhaps at a convention; it could be the convention organizers doing the judging; it could be a ‘blind’ judging by other participants not knowing whose creation is whose or alternatively judging with named entries; or it could be a vote of all participants and observers (anonymous or not). With good preparation and logistics it could conceivably be a celebrity judge not on site if scans/photos of material can be made and emailed or communication via instant messaging maintained.
Judging can be carried out while the participants are proceeding to work on the next section, or, if being done by the participants themselves, accounted for in the timings as suggested below. Judging could be as simple as sticking entries to the walls of the venue for judges/observers to review; or as complicated as being compiled into PDFs to be circulated electronically.
Method: Split the Make Off into appropriate sessions. Below are a couple of suggestions, this could be arranged in many other ways.
1 hour: Signature Challenge
1 hour: Technical Challenge
2 hours: Show Starter
[The Great British Bake Off uses their ‘showstopper’ segment for a table-dominating bake of considerable proportions. We, of course, don’t want to stop the show but get going and launch into lots of adventure!]
45 minutes: Signature Challenge
15 minutes: participant judging
45 minutes: Technical Challenge
15 minutes: participant judging
90 minutes: Show Starter
25 minutes: participant judging
5 minutes: overall winner determination
Or, as an alternative again for a convention, the participant judging picks the two or three best in each session and those six or nine entries are posted for review and voting by all the convention delegates overnight; an overall winner is then determined on the final day after all votes have been tallied.
Session 1: Signature Challenge
There can hardly be a Traveller player who hasn’t created a character for themselves so this seems the obvious component of an introductory Great Traveller Make Off challenge. Other challenges could be used.
Instruction: Create a character which fits the theme. The character should be defined by a stat block, a list of skills and a description of no more than 300 words. Working should be shown on a term by term basis [this is to help check that they’re within the rules]. Judges should look for a balance between stats, skills and description and suitability as a player character.
Of course, other criteria could be given (description only; limits to characteristics or skills; inclusion of humour, etc).
Session 2: Technical Challenge
An obvious choice here might be a starship, although that might be a little hard to produce in the time available; perhaps a small one would be feasible. Other options might include a weapon, an animal or perhaps other items from the various makers of Traveller5. If one animal is too brief for the time available, it could be an entire terrain encounter table. If a series of Make Offs was being used, different options could be used for each ‘programme’. In any case, the idea is that strict limits are placed on the item in question (e.g. a non-lethal weapon suitable for zero-g, or a 40kg pouncer for a thin atmosphere). It might be interesting to generate certain limits by the organizer rolling dice in front of the participants. The idea of a technical challenge is to meet the brief precisely but also to show creativity and flair within those limits.
Instruction: Create a world which fits the theme. The world must have an atmosphere code of 5, 6 or 8; at least 30% hydrographics; a population code between 2 and 6 and a government type of 3. The description should not exceed 500 words and must minimally include notes on the main starport and two other locations. A blank world map is provided and should be marked with scale and key [a supply of coloured pencils may be desirable]. Judges should look for uniqueness and suitability within the criteria as well as opportunities for attracting PCs off their ship and further adventure.
Session 3: Show Starter
Here the aim is to outline a scenario for potential use at a convention or as part of a campaign with enough detail to allow an experienced referee to pick it up and run with it in a standard (four hour) slot. While some detailing is good, the time should generally be spent creating the components as an overall unit with thought given to playability and options for PCs and options for players.
Instruction: Create a short scenario using the given theme for six player characters with: 3 interesting locations, 2 NPCs and a plot pivot point.
Instruction: Choose one reason to travel between two locations, involve three memorable NPCs, four increasingly worrying setbacks and five unintended consequences; 6 potential PCs should be very briefly described.
The description should not exceed 1000 words – nugget format or mind maps are acceptable inclusions.Judges should look for thematic affinity, potential for fun2 and beware of possible railroading or player divergence holes.
One obvious point to note is a considerable difference between a bake off and this make off. Creating a physical item such as a delicious pastry requires both a knowledge of how to go about it and the actual production under time constraints. Creating an idea for The Great Traveller Make Off could of course be done prior to the session. For that reason, no attempt has been made to replicate the GBBO format of contestants being allowed to, for example, practice a showstopper before the actual filming of the relevant episode. Make Off participants might well want to brush up on their knowledge of certain rules so that they’re not spending large proportions of their time getting their heads round something new, but they should only be given the specific challenge at the time of the event. Rules should be available as reminders; this type of activity is not recommended for complete neophytes who don’t have some familiarity with the technical requirements. Of course, this would not be the case if a purely descriptive, non-rules based, approach to the Make Off was being used.
As noted at the start, it may be desirable to ensure that the Make Off is not overly emphasising writing ability – perhaps by making clear there is no penalty for spelling or grammar errors. It should be possible for those with a variety of creative bents to be able to participate and still see their ideas competing. This should be made clear in any advice to judges – whether a solo judge, or a participatory ‘everyone votes’ style of determining a ‘winner’. It is of course, not impossible to dispense with any kind of judgement or winner altogether.
In all events, the idea is to have fun rather than take this too seriously. Organizers might want to remind participants of this and ensure that if it’s being taken too seriously, then more light hearted challenges should be introduced. How much this would be a spectator sport without carefully edited filming, pieces-to-camera and interviews is left as an exercise for anyone trying this out. If, however, you do happen to have cameras and a film crew, I’ll look forward to seeing the results!