After-Action Report: TravCon 20 (UK)
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue.
[As ever, a very personal and idiosyncratic view of TravCon which may also give some glimpses into refereeing. As ever, referees called by their first names; players by an initial.]
Virus! A redolent word for Travellers however you feel about Traveller: The New Era. Two years ago TravCon was in jeopardy from the Beast from the East, a cold wave more formally called Anticyclone Hartmut which combined with Storm Emma and brought an unusual amount of snow and atrocious conditions to the United Kingdom. This year we were all carefully watching our newsfeeds as Coronavirus, more formally called Covid-19, was beginning to take its grip on Europe. Italy was in lockdown, sporting events were being cancelled, anxiety levels in almost anyone you spoke to were heightened. Until we were told otherwise, however, Travellers seem to be a hardy bunch and gathered as usual at Redwings Lodge near Sawtry on the weekend of 12th – 16th March 2020. I’m only aware of one cancellation, for reasons unrelated to the virus. That had the happy knock on effect that Dr A, planning on sleeping in the car park in his RV, could now have a room. But we missed you, J! Interestingly, one of our number was able to attend because of the virus. In hospital in Germany, N had been waiting on medical treatment for something entirely different, but his bed was needed and he was discharged. Quick flight to the UK, round up his son who was also attending and they could both join us which personally I was delighted to see as I’d been looking forward to chirping together once again.
Once again we filled the place, once again we were all excited to get going, and once again Andy Lilly – the convention organizer – had us starting on Thursday night. Last year’s extra day had been so successful that for a second year we had seven formal adventure slots instead of five across the weekend. I say ‘extra day’ but strictly Andy has only added two extra sessions on Friday: one morning slot; one afternoon slot. However, for anyone travelling any distance and not wanting to miss out, that means arriving Thursday. No prizes for guessing that several had had the same idea about a TNE-themed game. Indeed, Tess and I had even briefly started hatching a plan to run an impromptu game around Virus on the drive up. Fortunately, sanity prevailed. The real thing is sufficiently dreadful. As Marvin the Paranoid Android says: “life’s bad enough without wanting to invent any more of it”.
Once again, Tess and I coming up from the south coast took it gently and set off mid-morning on Thursday, stopped for a good lunch on the way after the rigours of the M25 orbital motorway, stopped again for sensibly priced fuel, and arrived late afternoon in time to help with unloading Andy’s gear and to try and help set up tables, chairs and other paraphernalia in the right rooms. It also gave me a chance to rest knowing the rigours of what was to come. A couple of months prior to TravCon I’d been seriously down about the whole thing and wondering about whether I should attend at all. Not because I don’t love it and certainly not because I don’t love meeting up with old friends, but because I was feeling so tired, so unable to prepare, so doubtful that at least two of my ‘offerings’ were of much value and so aware of how much I pay in energy costs for fitting approximately a year’s worth of gaming into 72 hours. Still, as usual, I’d booked the following Monday and Tuesday off work and could spend them abed dosed up with analgesics, tea for the sore throat from too much talking, and something decent on TV for odd moments when I was awake but unable to read or write. Fortunately, I’d run Annic Nova with my gaming group a couple of weeks before and that evening had gone so well that I was fired up with renewed enthusiasm for the whole event.
Also coming from the South coast were Jane and Dr A. Jane you may recall from previous write ups is a colleague from the University Library who was back for what we were astonished to work out was her fifth year! It seems like only yesterday she was a newbie. She was also, very bravely back to referee for a second time. More of that later but she clearly wasn’t put off by running something I’d written last year. Though I note she was running a “proper” GDW classic rather than one of my own efforts this year! Meanwhile, Dr A is a former work colleague who used to lecture in computing and now has a business as a book publisher. Readers of the Traveller Mailing List may connect the dots and remember he was one of two lecturers curious enough about my enthusiasm for Traveller that they both joined the little group that meets for The Traveller Adventure every other month in a Portsmouth pub. Unfortunately Dr C had to move to Vietnam and could no longer play, but Dr A has stayed with us and had now been persuaded to give the convention a go. I was curious to know what he’d make of it. His first gaming convention; his first opportunity to play Traveller with real referees! I was disappointed that I wouldn’t get to see his RV. With a last minute cancellation giving him a room, he chose to drive up in his rather more fuel efficient ground vehicle. Unfortunately, various logistical problems prevented us from doing a larger car share, but three piloting rolls were successfully made and we were ready to play. Thirty-three others were arriving as well giving us once again a full house, completely taking over Redwings Lodge.
Door to the Wolves
I said there are seven formal slots from Friday morning onwards, but with the extra evening you may recall that last year I attempted a ‘zero prep’ game which we essentially made up on the spot. An hour of character gen and then three hours of using random tables to get us going and then developing a story as we went. It actually worked really well. So well that when there was an unexpected empty game slot the following morning I gave it a second try. However, although the actual adventures had required zero prep, my preparation to actually be able to do that successfully had been way more than it would have been to simply sit down to write an adventure. I’d dug out all the Traveller adventure ‘generators’ that exist in various books; I’d prepared die drop tables made from LEGOŽ bricks to randomize locations, characters, eras and rule sets; I’d collected characters and adventure seeds and starting points; doubtful of my ability to corral dozens of PDFs I’d packed a crate full of books that would help me to be ready for anything; I’d printed blank forms galore; I’d even spent a few pennies on printing a giant Atlas of the Imperium(review). In short, my ‘zero prep’ games were anything but and quite stressful. Of course, having done all that once, it was theoretically possible to now use that work to do it all again, but I couldn’t face it.
One option, of course, would be just to chill out and relax in the bar as many were choosing to do. Or alternatively, to play smaller non-Traveller board games or card games that K, a game shop owner, had brought a stack of. But for me, and for others evidently, we were keen to get on. Having come all that way; having all too few opportunities to play Traveller; and perhaps wanting to avoid being tempted by the delights of the bar, I decided I would offer a game for those who were up for it and it turned out that seven others were indeed interested. Good job I had eight possible PCs rather than the usual six. For the really committed that meant you could play eight games across the weekend. Exhausting – as I found – but possible. It also explains why I had come up with an idea for a structured form for recording Traveller games at a convention and produced a booklet of 8 of them. I’d brought a dozen thinking there might be some interest and only took two home. Well, three if you count my own filled in one.
Also proving of interest as regards ‘handouts’ was my map of the Aramis subsector in the Spinward Marches. I see you your paltry black & white US Letter/A4 version from The Traveller Adventure or Aramis: The Traveller Adventure. I see you your nice A3 colour print out from travellermap.com. I even see you your snazzy 32” tablet screen (much though I love it!). I raise you a wonderful creation from my colleague Jane who has hand sewn a table-filling padded quilt of the sub-sector. It can be seen in the picture to the right. Also visible are three of this year’s convention freebie – a notebook styled as a crew log of the Angel’s Share which is the PC ship in In Search of Angels*. The toilet roll is clearly either someone hoarding against the dearth of it in the shops after panic buying or Fred, the Steward, having over-ordered again.
A week or three before the convention I’d had an idea to save myself a lot of work. Having offered Andy two more ‘Scenes from The Traveller Adventure’ as my formal contributions to the weekend, not to mention Annic Nova which was fresh in my head from my gaming group in case he had an emergency slot to fill, my folders were stuffed full of TTA material. Despite having left a folder worth of material that we wouldn’t need at home. What if, I thought, we took Roet Bannerji – a sort of ‘baddie’ that the PCs encounter – and make him and his crew the focus of an adventure that covers his actions from the ‘other side’ as it were? As it happened, in preparation for the chapter “Wolf at the Door” which we’d been playing in the pub a couple of years previously, I’d worked up a fully generated crew for the Wolblutn so that I could more easily run the final scene from that chapter when Bannerji betrays the PCs who’ve just helped him escape with his broken leg through the woods of Senled and Renitza. All I needed to do was print those up neatly, string together the scenes they’d appear in and let the players take it from there. I’d have all the necessary background, I’d have details of the March Harrier crew – now the antagonists – and I’d have a ready-made plot of sorts. My only doubts were whether the players would want to play morally compromised characters and whether knowledge of The Traveller Adventure might impact their actions. I needn’t have worried on either score. Yes to the first and yes to the second but it didn’t matter. I thought I’d call it “Door to the Wolves” or something as a ‘reflection’ of “Wolf at the Door”. Readers may be able to suggest something better.
SPOILER alert for TTA in this paragraph and the next four. Skip to ‘Next morning…’ if you’re not interested. For those who need a quick catch up, Bannerji (the only named figure and the captain of the Far Trader Wolblutn), and sometimes his crew, appear in three chapters. In “Leedor on Aramis” it’s his wallet the PCs find and return to him; they encounter his 4th Officer, meet Bannerji himself, get invited to a TAS dinner, are stood up by Bannerji who departs Aramis sharply, and finally they meet Eneri Giilaan who is willing to pay for information concerning the captain. In the chapter “Patinir Belt”, the PCs rescue a prospector from his ship which has been nuked by the Wolblutn trying to cover its tracks. In the chapter “Wolf at the Door” they run across Bannerji and rescue him from an attack by Vargr mercenaries, drag him with his broken leg through the woods and hills for several days, get him back to his ship so they can leave the planet as well, and finally get betrayed by him in the climatic final scene.
[If you don’t know TTA, you may wish to have it to hand to follow some of the detail referenced here.] So, for my purposes, I can run the adventure in three sections with a bit of trading along the way. [For notes on the trading, see the paragraph beginning “Like me, Nigel…”] First the ‘attractions of Leedor’ once again to set things up and get us introduced as well as letting me reprise the Marquis of Aramis’ New Year speech (after a big build up: very short), have a Sternmetal Horizons patron brief them on the lanthanum scam, and have them maybe meet the March Harrier crew if Bannerji loses his wallet. Second, in the Patinir Belt, hide their transit through the belt (thank you Ewan Q for that suggestion), load the lanthanum, encounter the prospector and decide what to do about him. Finally, have them hide at the mining camp on Aramanx, encounter the Sternmetal patron again who wants them to make up the Commission, and be filmed by a news crew in the rioting their presence sets off. Have the crew split up to check out various ‘economic assets’ so that Bannerji and patron are at the Governor’s mansion for the Vargr attack and rescue by the March Harrier crew; and the rest of the crew are back at the ship for when the Harrier crew arrive expecting to be taken off planet. (Naturally we elided over the walk in the woods so as not to leave most of the PCs out for a chunk of the evening). Events as the Wolblutn crew and the March Harrier crew meet up could be entirely up the players.
Way back when I’d been planning “Wolf at the Door” for the first time I ran it – we spent four evenings on it in the pub across eight months! – I’d named Bannerji’s Sternmetal companion as Loess Thingon, so that was easy. Just make her the patron at the start and then again on Aramanx. Job done. Maybe have her call it “Operation Doorway” to make sense of the title. Everything else went as smoothly as I could hope for and the players took to their characters like ducks to water. I’d given each a short back story – generally painting them as a bit useless, Bannerji’s was pretty much written for me, and also everyone had a line on how they related to each of the others. The players particularly seemed to like these. In addition, each PC had two ‘most likely to say’ quotes. Entirely inspired by the note in TTA that Bannerji is always whining. So one of his quotes was “it wasn’t my fault <xxx>, it was <yyy>”. Speaking them in character and in a reasonably relevant moment could earn them a ‘Benefit’ – i.e., a reroll of a dice throw. Up to a maximum of three. I pinched the idea, I think, from Dom Mooney in a game a few years back although unfortunately he wasn’t with us this year to thank personally. I also learned they were a real thing called Fate points from other games. I think I’ve said before my ignorance about role playing anything except Traveller knows no bounds. The quotes, such as “it wasn’t like this on my last ship”, “this <piece of equipment> is a steaming pile of Cleon’s droppings” or “let’s see how fast this can go” were immediately being thrown around left right and centre and soon a black market trade in the polished purple stones I was handing out was rife. It seemed to be a whole subgame so I might introduce the concept again. I’m not even sure anyone ever claimed a reroll!
Meanwhile, D was playing Bannerji himself and either unfortunately or in actual fact rather delightfully, knew TTA well enough to know all about losing the wallet. So it became a running gag that he was being super careful with his wallet and knew exactly where it was at all times (he claimed) and so on. He was determined, in his usual jocular way, to tease the referee who he saw as expecting and needing this to happen. Now for about half a second I’d “wanted” events to play out as they’re written in TTA – I’m a fan, after all; it’s “canon”; of course it has to happen, it’s written into the fabric of the universe. I was very tempted to have him make a really difficult task roll for not losing it. But a moment’s thought had me realize that of course there’s no actual need in this set up for that whole bit of business to happen at all. It’s only required for the March Harrier crew to get involved so that they get involved in the “Wolf at the Door” adventure. Providing I have the Harrier crew at the governor’s mansion/brigade HQ on Aramanx anyway (and I didn’t even need to come up with a reason), events would play out as expected. So I was able to have great fun pretending to really want Bannerji to lose his wallet and come up with ways he might do so, while D came up with increasingly inventive reasons why he wasn’t losing it. I’ve no idea what the new newcomers to TravCon made of it, but fun seemed to be being had.
It wasn’t dissimilar at the Patinir Belt. They were hiding their course, sneaking around the asteroids, loading the lanthanum and so on. However, to delay their timings I had the engineer rolling on the ever helpful What’s Wrong With the Ship? tables [available from DriveThruRPG] to come up with things she had to fix. When they encounter the poor old prospector, who just wants to be friendly out in the Dark, we have the gunner keen to unleash the nuclear missiles he’s been dribbling over and others backing him up; and still others not at all keen on doing something so illegal and immoral (despite their backgrounds). D of course knows full well that this is ‘what happens’ and is determined not to be that Captain. Once again, for my purposes, it didn’t really matter, so it was a nice moral quandary that I could let the players fight about. Sorry, discuss. Aramanx then played out much as I expected although it was getting late so there wasn’t scope for much more role playing of the Commission and so forth, but it wasn’t necessary. As it was midnight and we’d played for a standard four hour slot, the betrayal at the end (with the weapon in the console on the bridge coming into play of course) made a nice climax. I think this may be worth writing up more fully; it was certainly fun and I’m glad I bothered with it. The only warning I would give is that it can be really mind bending to be on the flipped side of a story you’ve come to know quite well. My brain hurt working out the implications and inter-relationships of some of the questions and actions of the players. I think they enjoyed watching the cogs turn as I tried to work out what mattered and what didn’t.
An Old Classic – Annic Nova
Next morning, following the usual breakfast in the bar of cereal, toast or anything you’d brought along yourself, it was time to get the convention going formally and hover over the whiteboard in the main room where Andy would put the sign-up sheets as usual. The five games in each slot format has worked well enough over the last few years that that was continuing. Gone are the days when I first attended when there were only four choices. Of course, so much choice can be bewildering and I heard afterwards that one newbie to the convention had thought he was expected to stand back at sign-up while veterans could have first crack at the options. Fortunately, a friend told him otherwise, and subsequently he could be seen, I’m told, elbowing in there with the best of them to get a prime pick. Fortunately, I had no choice to make and no elbows to crush. One snag with the five choices is that it requires an extra referee in each slot willing to run a game and sometimes, what with changes in travel plans, sickness, or other problems, that can be an issue. A few of us, however, come with something spare up our sleeves so as to be able to run something if required. Having, just a couple of weeks before, slotted Annic Nova into my group’s experience of The Traveller Adventure as something of a side adventure, it seemed obvious and easy to take that along and not have to prepare much or worry about remembering it. Just make sure I had an extra set of TTA character sheets. Andy grabbed at the offer and so, first thing, I was settling down to run that. Now, those who know it will know that it’s one of the very first adventures for Traveller from way back in the classic days. First appearing in The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society, no.1 (1979), republished as half of Double Adventure 1: Annic Nova/Shadows (1980), and finally (2011) reprinted in Compendium 2 with Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition rules (and new deck plans). Despite its heritage, it’s a very slight thing in many ways. Clearly coming out of the dungeon crawl tradition of Dungeons & Dragons, there is very little in the way of plot and much that is unexplained. If I had any fear of running it at TravCon it was that it was either too simple or too well-known and thus would either not fill a slot or not be of interest to anyone when there were other, better, options available. I shouldn’t have worried. D was keen to give it a go along with four others and we had enough to make a game of it. Fearing it running short and wanting a reason for Jumping into a system far out in the boonies for the encounter with the ‘ghost ship’, I pulled out the trusty What’s Wrong With the Ship? tables once again. [For those who may have missed it on The Traveller Mailing List, my attempt at a ‘rule’ for using the tables, can be seen in the box. Criticism welcome.] Although not specifically designed for Traveller, they’re close enough and with a bit of fudging on the fly if required they were just the thing. They are d66 tables with 36 options and there are six of them so I use them as one large d666 table to keep it fresh. (The March Harrier is a cranky old ship so periodically I use this when the engineer fails a maintenance roll.) All I really needed was an engineering breakdown that somehow affected the Jump drive and up popped the “central aft primary jumpspace power link is overheating intermittently, roll 1d6: 1-3 cannot Jump”. Perfect. A failed engineering roll meant a nice shudder and a bang and clearly something wrong.
Meanwhile, for my players back home, I’d used 1,000,001 Characters by Jonathan Sherlock to quickly generate the sixteen Middle passengers they’d taken on board so I whipped them out once again. The website produces Cepheus Engine skills, but it didn’t take too long to convert them to Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition. Not that it was likely to matter overly much. But I like to have it correct. What was nice is that having used them a couple of weeks before, I was familiar enough with several of them that they really popped into life in my head. Especially as I’d recently stumbled across four 25mm miniatures to start a little collection. Pre-painted for me which is even better as I wouldn’t know where to start. Step forward Claudia Winkelman playing naval Lieutenant Commander Bridey Takopa! (The miniature is female, has dark hair and quite a fringe. Look carefully and it’s the spitting image of Claudia – a distinctive TV presenter celebrity in the UK). We moved onto the moment of Jump and of course there’s a loud bang and it fails to engage. The intermittent fault is, well, being faulty. I didn’t think I’d made it particularly difficult to fix (I was just looking for an ‘excuse’ for the slight misJump into the outer system) but of course in the way of things, a hash was being made of repairing it. The engineer gets the pilot to come and help. The doctor looks in thinking his eye might diagnose something. Many of the WWWtS? items could be spread out to roles or skills other than the engineer which is great. Pilot, or comms, or computers, or even steward (“secondary hallway water dispenser” anyone?!). They’re all trying something and nothing’s really working. Finally they notice it’s the aft power link – I’d been dutifully reading out the whole rigmarole each time it was mentioned – and it clicks that therefore there must be a forward one; or a secondary one. Could they rig some sort of cross connection between the two to get things working again? Well, it turns out they could. Chalk one up to what Marc Miller calls the Rich Decision Making Environment and the wordy lines from WWWtS? to give a great gaming moment. The engineer (and her assistants) finally gets it fixed and off they Jump. Duct tape may have been involved. We had some interaction with the passengers just to get to know them. The steward thinks that Bridey is very fit, in both senses, so he spends time in the cargo hold exercising with her; a diplomat on his way to Yebab is being demanding; and so on. A week passes, they don’t emerge from Jump. Passengers start getting restless; quelling rolls and double talk calm them down. A couple of days later they finally emerge and of course the passengers are livid to learn they’re five days out from Yebab. More calming and more food and more double-talk. Great fun. All of that to give an excuse for the Annic Nova encounter and off we go to explore that. Though I think once again, there was some talk of not going anywhere near it. I think it was in character rather than players, but we could have quit for an early tea break if they’d so decided. Actually, even that wasn’t necessary. I had The Traveller Adventure’s exotic patron encounter “A Point of Law” ready to go if need be (an alien Ebokin on Yebab wants passage to Junidy with her retinue). Indeed, I’d also brought with me my own four little seeds from “A Helping Hand” in Compendium 2 in case extra bits were needed. Who am I kidding? When is there ever extra time to do everything?! Still, they might do for next year. Particularly if “Zilan Wine” goes pear-shaped in terms of interest. However, in the here and now, aboard the Annic Nova, the exploration ran much as it had with my gaming group although this lot were much less reticent to turn on the big power breaker. They dealt with the anola family in the same way my group had: shoot the parent when it first attacks and then when the juveniles wrap themselves round the PCs’ legs, put ’em all in a bag. They also had no worries about breaking down the door with the crayon drawing on – despite one of them having a compromised vacc suit from the anola attack and another having removed their helmet to listen at the door.
Hang on a moment, you say, anolas? On the Annic Nova? Yes, yes, I know they’re not in the text. But in order to spice up the adventure back in the Portsmouth pub, I’d thought they might be fun. They also had spiders and spiderwebs up on the hydroponics deck as it was near Halloween when they’d first been preparing to Jump to Yebab although we didn’t get to that deck in that session. The anolas also linked nicely back to Pysadi and all that rigmarole which no one had forgotten despite it being three and half years back, so it kind of linked this side adventure into the main plot. Of course, why the alien craft has a family of anolas as pets on board is a mystery yet to be fathomed. :) In short, it was a perfect fit for a four hour convention slot and seemed to go down well enough so I was glad I’d offered it even though I’d been thinking that this would be the first thing I’d drop if Andy looked askance at my offering four games. (He’s very kindly concerned about my energy levels and not overdoing it.) Had I not run the Bannerji thing the night before, I might well have run that instead of this as I was more interested in how it would work and at the same time didn’t want to waste the little effort I’d put into it.
You’re never far from an archaeologist
Having run two games already, it was now time for a bit of actual playing which was something of a relief. Andy’s not wrong about my energy levels. Now, of course, there were decisions to make and too many great looking options. There was the chance to play in my work colleague’s game Signal GK which was tempting, but she was also running it on Saturday when it wasn’t competing with one which I only had one chance at. I could have gone for Simon B’s grand miniatures game, This Means War, which was running all day across three slots in a continuing story that you could jump in and out of but I wasn’t quite ready to try my hand at disastrous tactical and strategic decision making again as I reported here from a couple of years ago.
Ed Quick was offering Duty Calls which was very tempting with its blurb: “professional head hunters face their greatest challenges as the past catches up with them”. I never did find out if the PCs were cannibals or human resource managers. In the end, though, I wanted to play in one of Nigel F’s games as I had so enjoyed one of his last year and we’d got on well together.
Tin Can Alley was a fun set up. Initially I was rather disappointed. I arrived dead on play time having crammed into the lunch break not only lunch but one of my supposedly three times a day half hour ‘stops’. The characters had been handed out and I had Hobson’s choice of what turned out to be the gunbunny. Never really my favourite, but I decided to make the most of it as best I could. I’d deliberately binge watched season 3 of The Expanse in the week before TravCon as preparation for TravCon and had Amos in my head which helped. As a group of PCs we were essentially trouble shooters and ‘deniable assets’ sent to investigate why an archaeological team from the University of Rhylanor are experiencing thefts, breakages and delays at their dig site in the Trojan Reach. To cut a long story short, made longer by one of our number finding a major clue and getting distracted from reporting it to the rest of us, we discovered a giant (90m high) robot from the Rule of Man period in an asteroid belt. Broken and without power it wasn’t much use but was obviously of massive interest to the nearby Aslan as well as some nearby Belgardians (for which, read pirates!), not to mention the Imperials as well. Perhaps it would have settled the argument about exactly what tech level the Rule of Man did attain. We steered clear of that particular rabbit hole. :) It turned out to be the remnants of long forgotten warfare between descendants of some Yakuza inspired clans. As the Aslan hunted us, we lived to tell the tale and got the Imperials involved, but I for one would have liked to have got the (45m?) combat rifle the robot was still holding powered up and firing. No, definitely no, I was told very firmly.
Just time for the curry house opposite again in the calm surroundings of a koi pond and an all you can eat buffet. Sadly my days of being able to make the most of such things are long past. But you can order poppadoms from the restaurant half of the building so all is not lost! One night I’m going to go over there and eat nothing else.
Last year you may recall I had a wonderful time in a chirper game run by Andy Lilly with Nigel and R. It had been so overwhelmingly fun it had rated as the highlight of the entire con for me. Nigel felt similarly so in pre-convention Facebook group messages we’d hatched plans to see if we could both get into the same chirper game this year. Once again Andy was running this year’s outing three times over and once again he was rewarding referees with the pick of a slot they wanted to play in per game they were running. I used two of mine to make sure Nigel and I were signed up for this as it was the only one of the three chirper sessions I could get into thanks to refereeing duties. Of course, lightning doesn’t necessarily strike twice and although we had a lot of fun, we were also both very tired and along with, perhaps, it being a different group of other players (and four others instead of one other), and therefore also less face time, it wasn’t quite the delight of last year. Having said that, however, I actually enjoyed the setting and plot of this one a little more than last year. In 2019 we were saving the day (quite by chance as is usually the case with these dim-witted trash collectors) on a liner that’s being hijacked. Here in 2020 we were helping retrieve some lost jewelry in a city sewer. And by-the-by saving the day from some terrorists planting a nuclear bomb under a palace. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the setting and plot of last year, but somehow both the sewers and the ‘big idea’ seemed much more characterful on this occasion. In any case, kudos to Andy Lilly for continuing the chirper series which has become a permanent and much loved fixture of TravCon in this year’s Cavey McCaveface. (Not sure about the title!) (I only learned afterward TravCon that apparently Andy changed the title the three times he ran the game. I completely missed that.)
Also of interest in this game was a newcomer to TravCon experiencing the madness that is a group of six grown men and women sitting around a table speaking in high pitched voices, chirruping for all they are worth, and generally causing mayhem in actions that are stupid, silly, done for comic effect or all three. B was initially in some shock I think but gamely, after a little trepidation, joined in and was soon getting the hang of it. His reaction reminded me why a couple of attendees – as it happens both in my gaming group – have an abject aversion to chirpers and anything to do with them. (See the chirper swatter Jane created for example.*) However, at one point in the game, being rewarded for deeds past, the little tyafelm of chirpers are essentially offered their pick of any reward they like from a very wealthy ruler whose daughter they’ve saved. Five players immediately buying into the spirit of these particular games, come up with the most ridiculously valueless rewards they could possibly ask for (but deeply relevant to their characters of course). Poor B is visibly torn between the natural desire to make the most of this in terms of monetary value as any role player would be ordinarily and the uncertainty that he really can just ask for something essentially silly and no one will think he’s letting the side down or wasting an opportunity. Of course there are double points – if any such things existed – for actually being able to use the silliness later in the game. I made a few brief notes on the game’s plot but irritatingly I failed to write down any of these choices. It would have been much more interesting than what I have got a note of! I asked for a management course as I was leader of the tyafelm and my character notes said I wanted to improve my comrades and my leadership of them, but this was easily the most sensible of the choices at this point so it isn’t a great example. I was playing the brightest of the bunch as leader Vax who I think I played last year. Intelligence 7!
With the Chirpers behind me, it was time for bed. It was midnight after all. Well past my normal bedtime. Straight upstairs. Do not pass Go. Do not get tempted by the bar or any small card/board games going on in there. A shame really but I was feeling absolutely wrecked. Just in passing, I don’t quite go into a news blackout at TravCon but it can feel that way. This year as well as the TV in the bar sometime showing news tickers across the bottom, I also had notifications from my phone which could attach to the internet for the first time. (Previously I’ve been dependent on wifi which usually falls over when a small hotel is hit by 35+ geeks all with a device or three.) One headline I had seen race past was that the Czech Republic had shut its borders to foreigners. Thank you virus. I was pretty certain that that spelled the end for the Erasmus week I was supposed to be spending in Ostrava in a couple of months. A pity because my two previous trips to that part of the world, one of them using no less than five trains, have been rich sources of material to mine for writing Traveller scenarios.
A Cry for Help
Next morning dawned bright and early. Well it dawned quite early enough thank you. I’ve no idea if it was bright. Indeed, I have no idea what the weather was like for either Friday or Saturday. I barely looked out of a window. There were games to play, games to run, food to grab in the interstices. Easy choice for the first session. Jane rerunning Signal GK in only her second outing as referee. From what I could gather at work in the weeks preceding nerves were being kept at bay. Not sure that was the case on Thursday evening and Friday morning however as there seemed to be difficulty she was concerned about with a character sheet or two. Oh, and after her experience of running it yesterday, could I bring along my tablet so she could have a world map for Ochre off travellermap.com rather than just pointing to the air? No problem. Although I was rather embarrassed about my 10” screen rather dwarfed on the table after we’d all seen Richard T’s magnificent 32” monster being used in his games!* I was keen to see how Jane did (after missing playing in her running of my own adventure last year so that others could have limited seats); I was keen to give her moral support of course, and practical help if required; and I was – of course – keen to see a classic Traveller adventure which I really could remember nothing about. Yes, I know I gather details and go through the books for The Traveller Bibliography. But firstly, that particular item was added many years ago now (a couple of decades or more actually) and secondly, ‘reading’ an adventure is nowhere near as engaging and memorable as playing or running an adventure as I’ve found with The Traveller Adventure. That used to be just sort of ‘there’ in my head as vaguely known; now I feel I know every nook and cranny; every delight and fault; every byway and railroad. It’s wonderful!
Off we went into a fairly typical adventure concerning a plausibly deniable team hired to extract a Solomani defector from across the border. We met the patron, did the traditional tooling up, set off to the Solomani Rim and met the contact. We hatched our extraction plan, tried to put it into action, encountered certain difficulties, switched to Plan B (or was it C, or maybe D?) and finally made good our departure with one Arnold Rushorin in tow. Now the one thing I could remember about the adventure is that the intelligent chips he is researching are the seed for Virus in the future of Traveller. Or one future at least. I wasn’t the only one that as a player was very dubious about Rushorin’s work. In character, however, we could only see the benefits that might accrue to the Imperials if they could have the technology and/or stop the Sols getting it. Jane very competently executed a four hour session that kept us engaged, interested and enjoying ourselves throughout. She even handled one of those two second meltdowns when mind to mouth communications seize up and although you know what you want to say, nothing is coming. I’m sure we’ve all had them at one time or another.
It wasn’t until I got home on Sunday and plucked Signal GK off the shelves that I came to appreciate the deeper excellence of what Jane had done. I’d not had time on the day to fully appreciate that the title hadn’t quite matched our activities and I had assumed that we’d covered probably not all but much of the adventure. Dating from 1985 it could reasonably be pretty straightforward. I’d completely forgotten about some extra stuff on Ochre, the whole trip to Cymbeline etc. and the Ad Astra. How could I forget that? The deck plans are a key part of the book even if you’re just flicking through it! I blame forgetfulness, tiredness and the capacity of TravCon to not give you time to connect half a synapse amidst all the fun. What became clear was that Jane had rather expertly extracted a key scene that had lots of dramatic potential and perfectly suited a four hour convention slot, and then layered onto that touches of her own such as secret identification signals consisting of whistling the theme tunes to Fireball XL5 and Thunderbirds, or a delightfully idiosyncratic portrayal of a slightly mad scientist, to make a memorable experience that really worked. Not only that, she has ready-made sequels for future years in the remaining material! Not bad for a ‘newbie’ referee!
Playing a Dream Character
No rest for the wicked as they say, which a recent devotional had reminded me was from Isaiah 48:22. A swiftly grabbed lunch and it was onto the next thing. Nigel once again running a game, so I thought perhaps, after yesterday, I should give something else a go. But at lunch he mentioned a detail that completely changed my thinking. Last year Nigel had revealed that he’s written some Traveller fiction and was brave enough to share it with me. I’d read it (a couple of times), rather enjoyed it, and had fallen in love with a delightful alien who appears in some of the stories called Jiraal Sul. When I heard before the game that she’d be one of the PCs, I couldn’t resist. I simply had to play and naturally wanted to play Jiraal Sul. It was a fascinating choice as it turned out. War Graves it was. Set in Nigel’s homebrew universe of Union Space. Lots of aliens, lots of conflict, lots of love.
Like me, Nigel wanted to try to introduce actual merchant trading into a game. Like me he’d found that Mongoose rules can be fun as a solo game but don’t really work as a shared enterprise with six variously interested people. Like me he’d found out that they occupy too much time for too little role playing. Like me he’d found that although not technically ‘broken’ they make it rather too easy to make money – particularly with a broker of any skill. (This latter can probably be most easily fixed by simply sliding the scale of profit/loss three or four points to the disadvantage of traders.) However, he had a plan. On the first night I’d tried to allow the Wolblutn crew to trade using the online Traveller Tools gizmo as I had a spangly new phone with a proper contract for the first time in my life and had enough monthly data to have no fear that I could use it all weekend without incurring any extra charges. Unfortunately, even with that assistance it took a bit too much time to convey the necessary info to players to make much of a decision. We did it for a couple of ports and then elided over it. Nigel had a different approach. He had pre-rolled the options for each world on one of two routes the players were expected to take. (We had to get a patron to where we’d be helping them retrieve a data core). With the prepared purchase sheets, the player with the cargomaster PC should easily be able to make choices to buy, then the ship Jumps and the sale sheets would reveal profit or loss. New set of purchase sheets, next Jump and so on. The first snag was that the player who ended up getting the cargomaster role, who bravely looked at the figures and started trying to work things out, quickly got bogged down in the numbers and choices. No problem. Given my specific interest in the subject and my two rather abortive attempts to make it work round the game table, not to mention being keen to help the game be a success, I offered to give it a go. Better yet I could do it in character as Jiraal Sul’s boyfriend/cabinmate, Craig, who was young, needed a reason to stay with his love interest and could be apprentice to the cargomaster. As he was an NPC I could simply play Jiraal Sul while I also did the trading calculations. Better yet, having spent the previous Saturday going through the rules and running some simulations to reacquaint myself with the rules, I felt like I had a clue what I was doing even when numbers aren’t my strong point. This was mostly just adding up with a smidgeon of subtraction, however, so what could go wrong?
Off we went and the other players were making decisions about routes across five Jumps as well as other things, and I, as Craig, was being handed purchase/sale sheets as fast as I could deal with them. Not fast enough though. I also had to factor in taxes and remember to subtract the ship’s running costs and crew salaries. The PCs were getting ahead and I was falling behind. Not to worry though, one of the goals of the adventure’s mission was to make at least Cr5,000,000 so we could all, as a crew, go back onto ship shares. In just the first Jump I’d made Cr7,000,000 and it only got better from there. Not every Jump was as lucrative but I think I’d made Cr17,000,000 or something by the time we arrived at the destination system. Look for the high ticket items with the biggest discount and fill as much cargo space as possible. Not enough goods? Find the next best and so on. IGNORE THE WOOD! It might be 50% off but it’s only Cr500. You’ll never make anything; even if you sell it for 150%. Take freight if you need to fill up (Cr1600). Craig would take a break from the figures by persuading the cargomaster he was doing a good job and enjoying Jiraal Sul showing her obvious pleasure at his money making ability in the privacy of her cabin. (Though when we all stopped to think about that for a moment, we realized it was a bit weird and onanistic.) Having been told by Nigel to ignore wood, which I’d already worked out, at one point I had one ton of cargo space that needed filling and I couldn’t resist putting it down just for fun. Which, when I reported it to the crew, gave someone a rude but funny joke about Craig that I hadn’t foreseen.
Anyway, I’m quite getting into it and listening to the PCs doing stuff the alien centipede patron wants them to do in a vast wrecked ship. I’m occasionally making decisions as Jiraal Sul who is with the PCs and chatting idly over the comms with Craig stuck back in the stateroom. And I’m really pleased with the profit I’m making and my helpful neighbour player is keeping an eye on my rather unorganized columns of figures and making sure I haven’t missed a decimal point or forgotten a ‘luxury’ tax or something. Thank you G! I sell the last cargo on the fifth world, admire the profit and share it with the crew. I look up blinking in the daylight ready to really join the fray, only to realize that the adventure has just finished, the mission has been successful and the patron is paying us off! Nigel’s plan for the adventure slot to consist of about half trade and travelling, half exploring and retrieving the data core, rather went to pot when essentially he was running two games side-by-side rather than inline. One a mini-trading game and one a normal adventure. We finished way earlier than expected – although by that time I was really grateful for an extended rest before running another game after supper.
The lessons Nigel and I learned (or had reinforced) is that Mongoose trade rules are not usable around the table unless you happen to have six interested people (unlikely) or unless you go the full spreadsheet and automation route. They’re also broken in terms of keeping ship finances marginal enough and needing adventure in order to really make ends meet. However, if you’re content to run a dual game as described above and have an interested player, then it’s just about feasible. Having said that, interested though I was for one occasion, I’m not sure I’d want to do it regularly. I did enjoy it in the context of this game however and will reread Nigel’s stories about Jiraal Sul and Union Space with renewed interest and personal attachment.
Two Days Getting to Carsten
As War Graves finished early, we had an unexpected bit of downtime before supper. No problem. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my time and went to my room to have a proper ‘stop’ before supper. Not a grabbed fifteen minutes that barely suffices, nor a ‘let’s just sit back from a game for a few minutes and zone out’. When I awoke many were off for a second (or third) time to the curry house next door, but I sought out those who didn’t fancy that, found that Dr A was happy to drive us into nearby Sawtry for some takeaway, and set off on a mini-expedition, the only time I stepped out of the building in the entire 72 hours. With the fish and chip shop we’d been hoping for closed for renovation, we found a Chinese takeaway and placed orders. Unfortunately, being pretty much all there was in Sawtry – several of us were not counting a kebab shop – and also doing excellent food, meant the wait was rather lengthy (35 minutes) and we were only barely back in time for the next gaming session. Which unfortunately was one I was refereeing. That meant handing out the character sheets and trying to stuff my very tasty but rapidly cooling chow mein down my throat while we played. Ah well.
This time I was running not a scene from The Traveller Adventure, but a scene from my Traveller Adventure. Those familiar with TTA may recall that between “First Call at Zila” and “Wolf at the Door”, the March Harrier calls at Carsten and the trip from Zila through Carsten to Aramanx is described as “uneventful”. The ship has to stop there for two days’ worth of fuel refining before hurrying on. Not convinced that dull stopovers should be completely ignored, when my players back home hit this section I had thought I’d have fun producing half a dozen really dull tourist attractions that were on offer. Certainly nothing “eventful”. I had thought it would be a half hour bit of fluff and on we would go to the main event: seeing Bannerji on the news broadcast on Aramanx and getting on with the next chapter. I should have known better. My players are really excellent at making much from the smallest of lines I feed them. An entire evening in the pub later we’ve had a huge amount of fun spending a day visiting several of said attractions and finding interest even in their dullness. At the end of the session, I announced moving on to Aramanx for the next session and was surprised when a chorus went up around the table, “what about day two?”. Well, the rest is history as they say. I had two months to think up an adventure for Day 2, without it being too eventful, and the result was what you can find on DriveThruRPG as Two Days on Carsten. The very first adventure “March Harrier Publishing” published under the Mongoose TAS licence. (Thank you to the many, many of you who’ve bought it!)
Now I know I worry a fair bit in the days prior to TravCon that something I’m offering is adequate, or that I’m fully prepared, or that there will be any player interest. 2DoC, as I fondly call it, was top of my worries in this regard. It feels like quite a slight thing and way more role playing than roll playing and really, the attractions are indeed, boring. I’ve worked hard at their tedium. All very well as a quick bit of fun, but would it really sustain an entire four hour convention slot? With experienced players? When there’s lots of other great things on offer? I could only see what happened and in an effort to make sure we weren’t too short, I thought I’d bung in First Call at Zila as a sort of prelude. Not enough in that chapter to make me think it should be an entire ‘Scene from The Traveller Adventure’, I’d be going to miss it out, but this seemed like its moment.
I really, really, really shouldn’t have worried. Between my perhaps overly long ‘back story’ introduction to cover the recent memories of the crew (nearly half an hour rather than five minutes as I’d thought but we did find a few rabbit holes to fall down and not forgetting my ever ready rant about the lack of a stairwell in the Church at Itzeny on Pysadi NOT just in the original GDW book but uncorrected in the Mongoose revision to the plans – arrrgh – sorry, I’m off again), between that and the players really taking on the PCs they’d been given, it was something like 2330 (from a 1930 start) when I finally opened my printed copy of 2DoC. Two days getting to Carsten, two players wryly called it.
We started by divvying up the character sheets. For the three March Harrier adventures I was running I thought it only fair as a thank you for their commitment that I should offer any of my home players first dibs on what character they took and in this session I had one. Jane took on her own Fred Squeaker which my poor muddled brain was grateful for. I might have snapped if she’d taken someone else. It’s weird enough seeing TravCon attendees taking on characters I “know” are faced by regulars! Second dibs were offered to anyone who had played in a previous instalment of ‘Scenes from…’ and on this occasion Nigel was joining us and fancied taking on Captain Loyd as he’d watched his son have a lot of fun with him last year. Long-time readers of TML and these After Action Reports may recall that in my home group Dr A plays Captain Loyd as a lovelorn lothario desperately seeking romance and always failing (the inevitable low rolls on reaction tables). Young Karl had played Captain Loyd last year and been just the opposite – a big hit with the women (with his very high rolls). My brain had just about accepted a parallel universe where both were true when Nigel, obviously looking to mix things up yet further, introduced us to yet another Loyd. The universes are multiplying. Indeed, one Loyd had a Schrodinger’s woman in his stateroom – was it the museum guard he’d taken from Leedor or was it the kitchen maid from Pysadi? We never opened the door to find out. Now, in this universe, we had the gay one. Fortunately my “Loyd’s Ladies” table was now revised to be fair to both genders and included “Lily’s Lads”. A bit of repurposing meant it was still good for this particular Loyd. Although that of course meant another rabbit hole to explain to those new to my version of TTA what that was all about (see TMLs passim). Not only was he gay, but Nigel latched on to the blurb about him hiring Lily Lee to do the Admin he doesn’t like. I’d mentioned Fred was learning to Steward because neither Gvoudzon, Egon or Loyd like using that skill either. Hence, this Captain was an expert at delegating absolutely everything to other members of the crew. By the end, Lily was even delivering his chat up lines for him…
Meanwhile G had taken on Lily Lee, the archaeologist with explosives skill (it’s a long story…, see also TMLs passim) and over the course of the evening G fell in love with her. So much so he signed up for Wolf at the Door the next day just to play her again. Also much loved was Adma the doctor who has learned his medical skills in a slightly unusual way – as a former enforcer with a mafia type gang. Better ways to inflict pain, you see. It certainly stopped my usual experience of medic PCs seeming a bit bland and underwritten. A veteran player took him on and really ran with it. P really warmed to this background and it was great to see the character come alive. I shouldn’t forget N and R giving great service as, respectively, engineer Shell (replacing our home game Tess, but not dissimilar) and gunner Egon. For once Gvoudzon was an NPC but for this particular adventure that was fine. It gave me a chance to play our garish cape wearing alien. Finally, E took on the “ex-Marine Captain” of TTA which was interesting because of the eight or nine players I have had at home across four years, plus now some 24 more at TravCon in four games no one has yet taken this character on. S/he has never had a name until now. So let me introduce you at last to Gil Banks. Having never met him before, E gave such a good performance of this former marine I doubt I’ll quickly forget him. He was constantly in the thick of things and saving the day or saving the dying person, but never receiving any recognition for his actions. It was always the doctor or the captain or anyone but him who got the credit. Then there was the respirator… we’ll get to that in a moment.
Anyway, after back story, character sorting and introductions, we’d probably spent an hour already but had had a lot of fun. We’d been introduced to the March Harrier and some of its ‘issues’ like the noisy life support system in Gvoudzon’s stateroom, the body of Fox Hogan in the low berth (another long story), and we’d have had more of the WWWtS? tables but N kept making such great rolls as engineer Shell there were never any breakdowns. Until she doesn’t and there’s a toilet blockage in one of the passenger cabins which she repeatedly fails to get to the bottom of. No problem, says Lily, itching to make an explosives roll. I’ll sort it with a cherry bomb. (A technical term evidently that was new to me). She’s persuaded to try a plunger first but like Shell has no joy. Marginally failing her roll I decree she’s unblocked the toilet but thanks to backflow(?) the adjoining staterooms on either side are now covered in grey water. Fred, the Steward, is livid and sets to cleaning up the mess with very bad grace. Jane plays the put-upon martyr so convincingly!*
Rum in the Dead Spacer
I think it was about now that G offered me a shot of rum. I’d been staying clear of the alcohol but this evening had decided to treat myself to a cider and then a second as my throat was getting sore, so I should have politely declined. I did try briefly. But G is something of a connoisseur so I knew it would be good and I thought it might help some of the muscle pain I’d reached by now. It was indeed good stuff. Highly recommended for CFS pain!
The characters buy their legal insurance and trek into town to visit the Dead Spacer. Someone, I forget who, is discouraged from taking along Fox as their very own dead spacer and as I produce a plan of the hostelry and do my descriptions of the ship pictures on the wall which they pick up on very quickly, the characters take up various positions at the bar, the tables and the casino. I’m not sure the rum was helping at this point as I was picked up on a sudden deterioration in my descriptive adjectives. “Lots of shippy ships in picturey pictures on the wall.”
Now I’d thought one player at least, perhaps more, might want to do some gambling at some point and Freelance Traveller had just been published with an article on the game of Dhe. So I’d learned the rules (not hard, even for me) and printed out a game board (very simple: just six boxes with large florid numbers 1-6). Several players got into this with one doing croupier duties for me and then we got into the probabilities and then I mentioned that my four page print out of the rules was actually just a few lines of rules and the rest was the Traveller Mailing List discussion of probabilities. So that was another rabbit hole we eventually had to escape from. The practical upshot was, after we stopped playing every round and abstracted an evening’s worth of rounds, was that a fair few credits were lost. Particularly by Gil who just couldn’t help himself. Meanwhile, out in the bar the whole bit of dialogue with the engineer and the bartender, whom I’d imaginatively named Rik, was taking place, the Oberlindes crew invite the characters to drink with them, the Tukera crew were poking their noses in and the Captain has slipped away for the evening with a likely lad from an SDB crew at one of the tables who was very, very taken with the Captain’s stripes! (Double 6 on the reaction roll). For all that I thought it might be hard to get the altercation started if the PCs are keen to avoid trouble, with Gil around it just wasn’t an issue. Bar fight!
Somewhere in there we had to sort out a mistake I made in saying there were two tables of six Tukera crew meaning there were six Tukera crew. The players had understood 2 (tables) × 6 (per table). Even so, as Gil and Shell had diverted a couple of them to the casino it wasn’t long before the March Harrier crew had four unconscious opponents at their feet while their own damage had been minimal. Save, curiously, for Fred. Every fight he ever gets into the big seven foot bald former infantry guy seems to be last for initiative, miss his own hits/blows and eventually gets hurt. He really does have a glass jaw. Jane just sighed with resignation once again and accepted that it was his lot in life. Or was it hers? One day he’ll throw a punch that connects. The enforcers arrive at just that moment and between the fact that none of the PCs except Fred are on the floor and the fact that Rik wants to keep his Tukera custom and is blaming the March Harrier crew for starting it, it’s impossible to persuade the enforcers that our heroes are innocent. So, off they get carted to the local lock up. That includes Lily who has stayed out of it by stepping backwards into the table the Oberlindes’ crew were sitting at and was ‘picked up’ by a very concerned trio of crew who never had to get into the fight really to help out but couldn’t resist going to the aid of a (very attractive) damsel in distress. Next morning, before the hired legal assistance get into the office to pick up the message their clients have left, Marc Miller, sorry old man Marc hault-Oberlindes himself, bails them out and employs them to take he and his Vargr PA to Aramanx.
You can see why it took us so long to get the ‘prelude’ over and done with. We Jumped to Carsten and again, like my home players, I inflicted the whole ‘relining the water tank’ task on them so that a) they could fight about who did the job, and b) want to get into town to find a spa or something to get rid of the smell. Fortunately we steered clear of the rabbit hole that was my actual experience of doing this on a one hundred year old ship out in South East Asia. But by now it was midnight. Now, perhaps it was the effect of a good rest before supper or maybe it was the effect of the rum, but at this point I was neither tired nor in pain from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as I often am if I overdo it – and boy was I overdoing it – and the players seemed to be really into it. So with one exception we decided to press on and I picked up the pace. A little. I ran through the tediously dull attractions that Carsten has to offer and much to my delight my favourite, the respirator collection of Teju Chishpish gets picked along with a visit to the birthplace of the first colonist. Hang on a minute cry Nigel and E simultaneously, that can’t be right. Birthplace of the first colonist? Now Tess had pointed out to me exactly the same error some three years previously so I wasn’t at all troubled by it. Exactly. The blue plaque on the wall is in error. Not me! It’s in the published adventure. It’s the birthplace of the first child born to a colonist. They’ve just never bothered to correct the glitch. But E was having none of it and teasing me mercilessly about the error. He was of course quite right. I wrote the formal adventure and the ‘explanation’ well after the original gaming session and knowing my mistake. :)
Meanwhile some went to the respirator collector’s home and got his full spiel which is a favourite scene and NPC. I had the impression this lot of players enjoyed it as well. So much so that even before Teju had got going two of them were admiring the <double talk make/model over there> and the <double talk make/model over here>. Just how it should be. Just Teju’s cup of tea. Gil took it a step further and was so inspired by the visit that he went shopping for his very own designer respirator and took to wearing it for the rest of the adventure. Which had implications…
Sadly they don’t choose to visit the Museum of Geology (another favourite scene) but I’m determined not to railroad anyone despite the fact that it’s at that location there is the hint about there being a possible Ancient site out near the Nadir mine. Fortunately I don’t have to worry about forcing the issue as Lily has picked up something I’d said in passing and wants to do some research. So I simply present the museum’s display as the results of her googling. Job done.
Next up is the Townswomen’s Guild dinner. I wasn’t even sure if the players would want to go but Oberlindes has wangled them invitations and off they went. All except Gvoudzon who has come down with a heavy cold. This was because originally Jane playing Fred had missed this particular session and we’d decided Fred was laid up in his cabin. Hence the whole bit the following morning with the Pretty Young Thing and her mother turning up with heart-warming broth. Hence, also perhaps, Jane’s desire to play 2DoC when she had already played two thirds of what we were doing. The dinner runs pretty much as written in the book with a couple of wrinkles. First, as Captain Loyd is now gay, my male/female seating plan doesn’t work quite as well. It never occurred to me to also produce an alternative. Not to worry. We just decide the Pretty Young Thing is a male Pretty Young Thing and carry on. Secondly, Gil decides, for reasons best known to himself, to wear his respirator mask as part of his ‘formal’ attire. This gets very sour looks from the Matriarch running the show but she’s too gracious and refined to say anything. However, Fred, playing to the hilt his longstanding ‘behave decently as your mother taught you’ drags Gil over to the Matriarch at the end of the meal to apologize. E gives a wonderful apology in character which is climaxed by him, still standing in front of the Matriarch, looking over to Fred with a thumbs up, a questioning look, and a barely under his breath ‘is that ok?’. Well, perhaps you had to be there, but it’s just a tiny representation of the fun we were having in a game and with a set of players who were really on a roll in terms of their characters, role playing and entertainment value.
Next day, the crew go out to the mine which Gil is very keen to tour with no pressure from me. This rather takes me aback and makes me laugh. Prior to the session, I’d worried about this bit – remember this section was only written after the original players have decided that’s what they want to do. Now I’m increasingly suspicious that there are parts of TTA that have been written in exactly that way (Pysadi comes to mind) but if you’re not running a railroad, how do you make the scene happen? So in chatting with Nigel after his game earlier in the day, and knowing he was signing up for 2DoC, I’d decided to cheat and asked him, without saying anything else, to be keen to go on a mine tour. Not a problem he said, and mentioned that one of the stories he’d written and for which he was offering the URLs to anyone who cared to read them, had a small adventure in a mine. Well, that was it, I immediately retired to my room for my rest and read all of that before I slept. Maybe, I thought, it will have some cool bits of description I could use in the evening. It did. And there was a thing about a rusty old pump in the mine.
As I say, however, none of my cheating was necessary. Without a word Gil already had it in his head to do the mine tour and after a false start with my faux-Russian accent for Piotr their guide, we do the tour and go through the meta commentary on the mine diagram with the ‘explosion’ marked looking like the referee’s handout not the player’s handout. No, no, I reassure them in character as Piotr, “it happened many years ago, no one killed in ten years, very safe, no problem”. I even put in a rusty old pump just for Nigel which raised a smile. The rest of the 2DoC adventure pretty much played out as written although this group of players didn’t seem to have quite the paranoia my group exhibited in planning exit routes and so on. The exception to keeping to the book quite closely was that following the flister fight, the PCs rather oddly didn’t take the stranded miners back to the mine but back to their own ship. No worries, by now it was half past one in the morning and time to wrap things up which we, reluctantly, did. A huge thank you to the players for the convention slot I most enjoyed this year. It went on ridiculously late, I knew I’d pay for it next day, but it was well worth it to see the PCs come to life, the “uneventful” stopover apparently really click with the players, and the feeling of chutzpah or more likely hubris I have about daring to ‘add’ my own contribution to The Traveller Adventure, receding in the distance. For the moment at least.
Wolf at the Door
Having seen in passing the news that President Trump had tested negative for the coronavirus, I paused for thought about alternative universes and then slept instantly and dreamlessly but it still wasn’t enough. Unsurprisingly I had no one to blame but myself when I awoke in some pain and knowing I’d utterly overdone it. Chronic Fatigue is not kind to this kind of stupidity. But I knew there was just one more slot to get through and then I could collapse for three days solid. Deliberately, I wasn’t due back at work till Thursday. (As it turned out I never went back. By Thursday, thanks to Covid-19, Faculty Librarians such as me were being instructed to work from home for the duration.) In any case, I was really looking forward to the last session as I was reasonably excited about running Wolf at the Door.
If I had a worry about this it was that my group had spent four sessions on this in the pub getting through it, so was there any chance of completing it in the Sunday session? In theory, fractionally longer, but only just. Well, I promised myself, I'd keep it tight, keep it moving and not mess about. I reckoned it was possible. It was fun to see G return to reprise Lily Lee and Nigel return to reprise the Captain. Except that his son K had also signed up to play. Both of whom had played Captain Loyd Kitman. How do we decide who plays Loyd if they both want to? Let them fight it out? Let them randomly choose? OR, it occurred to me, that perhaps for this session we could have the Kitman twins, both in the ‘captain’ role. Maybe one called Lloyd and one called Llloyd. (The home game Captain would of course be Loyd.) (Perhaps, somewhere there was a universe where the administrator filling his name into a form reallllllllly hated him.) We toyed with the idea for a moment, but finally common sense prevailed and Nigel took on the Captain and his son took on Gvoudzon. For Wolf at the Door it’s a bit more useful to have the Vargr as a PC rather than NPC (thanks the interaction with Kfouzorr and all that back story) so that was good. Now we had Andy’s daughter A joining us and playing the doctor Adma while her boyfriend D took on the engineer Shell, and her Mum, S, playing Egon. I noticed that none of the ex-military characters had been picked so I squirreled them away as NPCs in case of lots of combat. For those who know the chapter there’s lots of opportunities for combat. As it happened we barely had any, evidently concentrating on the role playing.
Well not quite. I knew that Wolf at the Door had quite a lot of detail and description about Aramanx that’s pretty much impossible to feed to the players in one large indigestible lump and certainly not doable in character. And besides, who on earth needs all the details about battalions and brigades and so on? I can only assume that’s in there because of the original five authors’ background in wargaming. I had summary notes on it in case I was asked but there was no way I was reading it all out. Even so, in the bits I did read out, for example in the backstories of Kfouzorr or Bannerji, there was material that really wouldn’t be said in character. One player pointed that out to me as a way of reducing the monologues and I took it as permission to cut to the chase. To the disappointment of another player, newer to Traveller, who was really enjoying the backstory. <sigh> Perhaps there were those who’d have loved the battalion details. Or maybe they were still gathered round the miniatures table next door. (I jest, that had gone on through Friday but had then been cleared up. To make way for Robin running his miniatures – or bigatures perhaps? – game on Saturday).
So they spot Bannerji on the news, go to investigate, rescue him from the collapsing mansion and head off into the woods. Just before the lunch break we do the whole bit of grabbing equipment and weapons from the battalion store under time pressure which worked well again. What was planned to be a quick lunch took rather longer as S made a sandwich run with G for several of us but there was quite a queue at the shop. We lost 45 minutes and instead of the Sunday session being the longest of the slots, it was actually a bit shorter. However, when we did reconvene I reduced some of the walk in the woods and the animal encounters and they reduced the whole messing about at a Renitzan guard hut on the river by virtually bypassing it. That was a shame I thought as we had previously really enjoyed the whole ‘what’s in the tin/sack/box’ bit as I had labels in Renitzan (well, Bulgarian actually).
Anyway, by getting a wiggle on and not trying to replicate everything my players had experienced we got to the mining camp and, eventually, the Wolblutn with just enough time for Bannerji’s crew to be suspicious and to be nicely detailed – thanks to my Thursday night extravaganza – and then for the captain to betray them on the bridge with his ‘autopistol in the console’ dodge. Some lovely gun moments and some lovely rolls from S and daughter to save the day and bring us to an end just three minutes from the recommended finish time. Phew!
The end of TravCon had arrived and after a moment or three waiting for a couple of other games to finish we had the wrap up. All gathered in the main room where there was no auction although I did get rid of a couple of handouts I no longer required to save me carrying them home, storing them in the attic, or just binning them which seemed a waste. Andy started going through the notes many had made during games on the back of the sign up sheets. People had suggested the usual PFI awards for disasters and SEH awards for heroism. Not every game had one, one or two had more than one. Scribbled up in a word or three on the white board we could run though the usual “explanations” and then voting. Eventually, with hands down winners, the SEH award went to Andy’s daughter A and the PFI award went to A’s boyfriend D attending for the second time I believe it was. Any suggestions of familial nepotism were wildly out of order. I don’t think Andy has the time or energy over the busy weekend to arrange something like that! The citations can be seen in the box. There was the usual round of thank yous, notes on next year, and it was time to say farewell. With virus so prevalent, Andy escaped his annual hug but we thanked him anyway.
Tess and I were on the road quickly as she had an evening event to get to back in Southampton. We didn’t stop, kept up the pace on slightly emptier than usual roads, and managed the entire trip in dead on three hours. As the country closed down around us over the next couple of days and the Prime Minister strongly advising against “unnecessary” travel, virus had come within an ace of striking Traveller; another act of God coming close to shutting down the event. TravCon was probably the last gaming weekend for the duration. Many of us were mightily relieved, for mental health reasons if nothing else, that we’d come in under the wire. Here’s hoping and praying there’s no calamity getting in the way next year.