Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Our story so far

As of the present, our group of Travellers are in Porozlo, on a desperate mission against the clock on behalf of his Imperial Majesty's secret service. The situation is alarming but not critical (although this is disputable). A short synopsis of the story so far has been ably summed up by one of my players:

"So the team finally made it to the planet surface where they were able to obtain material help from the Covert Team located at Kohang. Despite a few encounters from the local patrols there were no untoward incidences. With the aid of the local smugglers they were able to get their equipment aboard the monorail that will get them closer to their objective. A thousand kilometers away from the objective the rug was pulled out from under them as the monorail was derailed. Mushroom clouds were rising from the horizon. The city of Chu from which they had just passed through a more than a thousand kilometers behind them rising up in its own mushroom cloud. Making their way out of the wreckage the team notes the weather in the area is frosty with sleet falling."

By now, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the button was finally pushed and doomsday has arrived on the planet. The War to End All Wars has finally started between the Free Commerce and Private Ownership Blocs.

Stranded in the middle of nowhere, in a cold and wind-swept steppe, dressed in uniforms of troops from an Internal Security Special Unit, our Travellers, through one of my players have voiced these concerns:

"Here is the situation in a nutshell.

1.Mu is a thousand kilometers away.

2.We are on a wrecked monorail.

3.Our smuggled care package is in one of four trains.

4.Are any of the party injured?

5.Combat Environment Suits will provide limited nuclear protection. Which means in my mind that Bob has the discretion to tell us when we have reached the limit. It is not unrealistic to assume that the suits are considered disposable due to radiation exposure. They will protect from background radiation but not direct exposure. At this point we shelter in the train we are in and search it for useful items. Skills that should prove useful would be Survival, Navigation (Land), Recon, Medic and J-O-T.

6.Once we are suited up and armed then we make the decision as to where we are going. Mu where there is possibly a Scout Outpost with the artifacts or to the coast which I have no idea where or how far is on the map?

7.Additional resources will depend on what we will find on the way, (to where I have no idea!)."

Reading through the above, it dawned upon me that this is the first time I'll be testing the Combat Environment Suit in Mercenary for proof against radioactive fallout- something that it was always claimed to have been designed for. In some strange way, the present situation on Porozlo harkens to the wars which may well just qualify as the Mutant Past in a Mutant Future game.

I guess we'll be seeing how things will turn out on our next session on the 7th of August. I can't wait!

My intro to players for our current adventure

Here's the intro I wrote up for my players for our current Traveller adventure.

I'm still trying to get an after-action report of our last session set up, so by way of introduction, let me present this er, intro.

Since everyone requested to play active-service operatives for the Imperium (as opposed to mustered-out/retired adventurers/mercs), the premise here is that their characters are part of a special operations group 'answerable to the highest levels of government in the Spinward Marches'. Yes, it sounds cheesy but it gets the game going, neh?

Think Mission Impossible meets Aliens, or something to that effect.

Porozlo is a world taken from canonical GDW Traveller lore. It was mentioned in Book 4 (Mercenary) and the 76 Patrons supplement. Essentially, it is a highly populated, up-and-coming planet divided until recently between a liberal Free Commerce Alliance and a more inward-oriented Private Ownership Bloc. I also hand-drew a hex map of the world and colored it to boot using colored pencils I cribbed from my son's doodling supplies. Unfortunately, the map won't scan properly, so I won't be able to post it for now.

I normally always send out such intros for my players to chew on before running a game. In this case, I fed them this and left them alone as to how they will accomplish the mission. This includes coming in, getting to the mission area and going out.


Date: 1108 Imperial

Mission: Retrieval of Ancient Artifact

Area: Poroszlo [Rhylanor/Spinward Marches] (A867A74-A)

Intel briefing:

Poroszlo is a high tech, balkanized, high population planet in the Rhylanor subsector of the Spinward Marches. Its population, until recently, was divided mainly into two camps- the Free Commerce (FC) Bloc and the Private Ownership (PO) Bloc. The FC nations are concentrated mainly on the large western continent of San Miklos. Although controlling about 2/3s of Poroszlo's population of 9+ billion, the FC nations are the richest, most tech advanced countries on the planet. They adhere to a policy of close ties with off-world mega-corporations and business concerns.

The PO Bloc on the other hand controls the much of the remaining majority on the planet and are concentrated on the central supercontinent of Hoxha. This is further divided into two great states: the Greater People's Democratic Collective (DemoCol) and the Supreme Federated People's Union (SFPU). The PO adheres to a nationalistic, Poroszlo-first policy and are wary of off-world mega-corp 'imperialism'.

Tensions always remained high on the planet giving rise to brush fire wars and coups, the latest most serious being the counter-coup in Steposzhevac, on San Miklos, wherein numerous off-world mercenary contingents figured in forcibly unseating a pro-PO junta.

[note: refer to sample tickets in Book 4, Mercenary for more background]

Last year, the fragile situation was upset by hostilities between two ostensibly allied nations: the DemoCol and SPFU. Skirmishes along both authoritarian nations' shared border erupted into full-scale war. Most predicted a swift DemoCol victory in view of the latter's more sophisticated armed forces (stiffened liberally by higher TL imported military hardware). After swift gains deep into SFPU territory, the DemoCol forces were locked into a stalemate as the SFPU numbers slowed down the DemoCol advance. This Greater Hoxha Eastern Theater of Operations eventually became a meatgrinder which consumed division after division of conscripts from both sides.

Four months ago, a senior officer coup occured in the Republic of Morovic, on San Miklos, wherein the pro-FC national assembly was held hostage by air assault pathfinders commanded by conservative elements in the military. The pro-PO coup plotters appeared to have miscalculated as this led to a spontaneous popular uprsing by the pro-FC segment of the population. With fighting in the streets, the members of the national assembly still at large sent a formal request for FC Bloc military intervention. This was followed by a ultimatum by the DemoCol that any intervention will be considered a formal act of war against the PO. Curiously, the SFPU remained neutral on account of continuing aid and support from the FC Bloc.

48 hours later, air assault units of the FC Bloc landed in Morovic with armored brigades crossing the border from Steposzhevac to the south. Later that day, a state of war existed between the FC Bloc and the DemoCol.

Already under strain from the campaign against the sFPU, the DemoCol forces were pushed steadily eastwards into the home territories of the DemoCol constituencies as generally better-equipped and sophisticated FC Bloc forces went into the attack.

As of the present, FC Bloc forces have pushed as far as 2000 km into DemoCol territory.

So far, none of the combatants have used their stock of nuclear or biological weapons but reported use of chemical weapons has been reported.


The Scout Technical Services Branch (R&D office) along with the Liason branch (contact and liason Office) maintains a covert station in the northern territorial area of the SFPU. The existence of this station is highely classified - the decision to create and maintain this goes all the way up to the Office of Sector Archduke Norris. it appears that certain mysterious archeological sites were discovered in the far north of the eastern part of Hoxha - sites which appear to have yielded inexplicable artifacts of ultra-high TL. it is postulated that these could even be from the precursor race known as the Ancients.

The covert station is in the heart of a SFPU industrial settlement, which unfortunately is now an active warzone after the DemoCol opened its northeastern front in an attempt to deprive the SFPU of its source of strategic minerals and resources.

Your mission is to proceed immediately to Poroszlo and retrieve a list of items from the inventory of the station. Failing to do so, you are to completely destroy the whole inventory of the station.


1. Poroszlo is now an Amber Travel Zone. Travellers proceed with caution.

2. The Imperial Navy just imposed a blockade of all military activity in the system. All travel two and from the world is restricted to the main starport of Timosoara in the continent of San Miklos (FC Bloc territory) and the subsidiary spaceports in the SFPU and the DemoCol.

3. Space and air defenses remain very tight throughout the planet - a legacy of a prolonged state of political tension in the past. this contributes to a lot of emphasis in ground-based action.

4. We have solid imperial contacts in Timosoara. there is a small spy ring in the SFPU and DemoCol spaceport areas, respectively.

5. you are expected to find a way into the planet, arrange for mission-specific gear and to get to the mission site. you have to specify what support you need so we can assess if this is available.

6. The FC has, until recently, employed numerous off-world mercenary contingents. the SFPU may have a few (officially known as Offworld Military Advisers) and the DemoCol has a few also (officially termed as People's Democratic Volunteers).


If you do see any parellels between the events here and something you came across in a history or game book, chances are you're correct. I admit to cribbing something from both actual history and a game book to spruce this up. I just hoped I wasn't too obvious!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Giving life to characters, places and things

One vital point we Players of the Game should never forget is that our type of RPGs require a healthy dollop of imagination. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that you can never have too much imagination in a role playing game. I will be stating the obvious by asserting that the responsibility falls squarely upon us players and umpires to breathe life and otherwise animate the dry strings of statistics which, when read together comprise what we call the ‘character sheet’.

The dizzying variety of RPGs indicates a correspondingly dizzying variety of setting down the facts and figures which make up a player character. I recall dicing up characters in high school for Metamorphosis Alpha and writing up the stats on a torn-off sheet of notebook paper, and I’ve seen the same thing repeated recently with the Mutant Future characters of some of my players in my more recent campaign. On the other end of the spectrum, the sheer amount of data in ‘newer’ type games I’ve ran/played in would give an income tax return from our Bureau of Internal Revenue a run for its money. Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition and Gurps are two games that come to the top of my mind in this regard.

All these of course can be abbreviated, hence we have stat blocks or chopped up versions of the most important character stats in the character sheet.

In Classic Traveller (CT), what counts are the Universal Profiles. We have Universal Personality Profiles (UPPs) for player and non-player characters, Universal Ship Profiles (USPs) for starships and Universal World Profiles (UWPs) for er, worlds.

Traveller uses the hexadecimal system in encoding character attribute stats, such that values from one to nine are written normally but values from ten upwards are expressed in letters. Hence ten becomes A, eleven becomes B, twelve becomes C, and so on. A human character in CT can have an attribute score of two to fifteen. You roll two six-sided dice twice each for Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education and Social Standing, which are the attributes of every human character. This gives you an unmodified spread of two to twelve. You get a chance to raise attributes higher than twelve during the character generation process itself (then again, you can also lose points during character generation and end up with lower attributes than those you originally rolled).

The point I’m driving at here is the UPP of player and non-player characters in Traveller is, to my mind, an example of a succinct way of encoding the totality of a character’s stats to ensure that you get an idea of what she can do in one fast glance. Very much sort of like shorthand notation.

Take the example of Army Captain Sam Riley, one of the operatives running loose on Porozlo from last Saturday’s game. His UPP is Capt. Riley: ACC885. One glance tells me the Captain is stronger than average, with excellent reflexes and endurance. He’s quite smart too, with a decent education. A social standing of 5 would seems that he came from a middle-class background. All around, Captain Riley is a cut above the rest of the crowd- good stats for a smart, deadly survivor type in the service of the Imperium.

Putting this together with the incidents in Captain Riley’s career- which are played blocks of four year terms at a stretch in the basic rules- and you have what you need to flesh out a CT character. Unlike newer-type games, I don’t need advantages, disadvantages, quirks, doodads, shticks or other gimmicks to flesh out this character. Instead, I extrapolate from his UPP and my dice rolls during the character generation career cycle using a lot of imagination. This to me is another hallmark of the Old School way of gaming: letting your own imagination free in using the data in one’s character sheet and cobbling them up together to come up with something uniquely yours.

Although the UPP and the rest of Capt. Riley’s character sheet will look downright anemic by some of today’s gaming standards, I consider this a blessing, rather than a curse. This serves to free the player – remove the fetters and enable one to really stir up one’s grey matter and come up with an interpretation of the stats to flesh out the character.

The same principle works out with the UWP in CT’s Worlds and Adventure. This is where, as game master and umpire, I get a lot of gaming satisfaction. Each world’s UWP data string is shorthand detailing the basic stats of a planet. Starport type, size, atmosphere, hydrographic percentage, population, governmental type, law level and the ever-important tech level are learned by one glance at the profile. Hence, our current setting Porozlo has a UWP of A867A74-A.

At one glance this tells you our world has an Excellent Quality Starport, a Planetary Diameter of about 12,800 km (roughly comparable to Earth), a standard breathable atmosphere for Terra-humans, about 70% ocean cover, a population running to almost ten billion (crowded!), a balkanized political structure (meaning no central world government- something like what we have on Earth today), a rather liberal law level near the Starport and a technology level more advanced that what we have today (with developed non-FTL craft and primitive gravitics) but still only average by overall Imperial standards.

Not bad for one string of numbers.

Of course, this is just the jumping-off point for real world development. I took these facts and, together with some rather sparse canonical data published by GDW in Mercenary, ran with them and built up a current setting for our game.

Again, imagination is a key ingredient. Other systems can (and do have) more extensive world generation parameters, but to me, this is all I need. Perhaps it is this sparseness which lends itself to a lot of player/umpire creativity to bring the stats to life which really characterizes Old School gaming and differentiates it from the newer varieties which are in much use today.

In any case, whether you prefer the older-type rules sets or the more contemporary ones, you’ll never go wrong by investing a lot of imagination in your games.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

New Acquisition

Apart from RPG-ing, I'm trying to get some gaming time in for airsoft. I believe this is also called 'skirmish' in other countries. Airsoft guns (or automatic electric guns- AEGs) are replica-type battery powered airguns which fire 6mm plastic pellets. We form up in teams, put on our gear (and masks!) and take to the hills for a day of exercise and fun. My doctor says I need to exercise more so I'm going back to this old interest of mine.

Things got more interesting now as I joined up with some friends who are part of a world war II re-enactors' group. I thought this was impossible in Asia but was recently glad to be proven wrong. We have such a group here after all!

There's a big 'Axis vs. Allies' game set for this Sunday and I'm trying to assemble my kit to be able to join in. So far, I have the gun. The pictures I am posting are of my recent acqustion: a 1:1 scale converted airsoft PPSH 1941 submachinegun. As you may have guessed, I'm assembling a reenactor's kit for a Soviet infantryman, circa 1943.

This AEG started life as an all-China made (ACM) M14. My friend Jimmy is a master craftsman who, apart from reenacting also rebuilds and converts existing AEG models into world war II smallarms. He had the barrel shroud machined and fitted it into the weapon's forestock which he replaced. The drum magazine is a joy since I figure it holds about a thousand bbs. It is an integral drum so I'll just be pouring in the bbs instead of slapping a new mag or ammo drum into the gun.

I can't wait to get my uniform later this week. If the hobnail boots aren't ready by then, I'll have to stick to puttees and a pair of brown shoes. I'm not sure this will be good for trekking in the jungle....

Combat Drop

I just received a recent request from one of my players for a Combat Drop-themed adventure. When I say this, I mean aerospace orbital insertions in a hot landing zone by power-armored marines. Since we are all in our Traveller phase, this becomes a very appealing and real possibility in a coming game.

Traveller is known for its power armored troops in what is known as Battledress. For those of you who aren't into the military SF genre, think Iron Man. Imagine something like his armored suit with all the hydraulic power boosts, weapons packages and doo-dads. Imagine the 101st airborne going in for an assault drop somewhat like that in Normandy or Holland in '44 but kick up the tech level considerably and give them Iron Man's powersuits. Have them coming in from orbit while the Navy provides high guard cover and the Army's Close Orbital Aerospace Command flies interference on the deck. Traveller has a supplement called Mercenary which deals quite a lot with this.

The thing is, I can see another generational gap interposing itself here. My player is a younger fellow (most of them are!) weaned on Warhammer 40k novels. I believe he is presently reading about the Space Wolves and their drop pods from orbit, hence his request. Me, I'm very much game for this but chances are, the game will be resembling more of Heilein's Starship Troopers during the best times (read: when the mission turns out well) and Joe Haldeman's Forever War, as a default setting.

In any case, a game we'll be playing on this theme is bound to be interestingly fun to say the least...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Back to Gaming

It's been a very long time since I last posted in my blog. Work and real-worldly concerns finally caught up with me and I've had all I could to prevent me from updating my posts here. So far, things have eased up a little bit to allow a bit of gaming back in my life.

My Mutant Future game is on hold for the moment. A combination of lack of time and scheduling problems compounded by umpire burnout sort of doomed this game of mine to the archives for the moment.

What I've been playing lately is my other great old school rpg love: Classic Traveller. So far, I've been very lucky to be able to get a few Saturdays off in order to get a Traveller game running with a semblance of regularity. I also take my hat off to my players for being really patient and so willing to give my first SFRPG love a try. I've been running and playing games in the Traveller universe on an off since 1981 under a series of different game systems spanning the original Little Black Book (LBB) set from GDW, to the latest incarnation in GURPS 2nd edition. What I haven't done yet was to take Mongoose's Traveller version for a spin, even if I managed to buy a copy of the rulebook on PDF.

So far, I managed to walk my players through the basics of classic traveller after running them a pre-made adventure by GDW called Night of Conquest.

Traveller, in its earliest incarnation (being the 1977 version) consisted of three basic little black books. One for character generation and combat (unsurprisingly entitled Characters and Combat), one for space craft and space combat (entitled Starships - rather essential to a space operatic SF game) and a third one dealing with planets, systems, equipment and other rules (entitled Worlds and Adventure). Re-reading my dog-earned version of these rules (which are also referred to collectively as Classic Traveller or CT) just drove the point home to me how much these were more of a SF gaming toolkit which, when properly used, would allow an enterprising gaming group to create their own SF space opera game.

Without going into an extensive discussion of the influences of CT, the best way I found to describe the feel and nature of a Traveller game in more contemporary terms would be to say that playing in it would be more akin to Firefly or the remake of Battlestar Galactica rather than Star Wars (particularly the later Episodes One to Three).

The game does show its 1960s SF roots and the tech level of the seventies - what with an emphasis on safetech and the liberal persistence of slug throwers (ie. Bullet Firing Guns) in an age of faster than light drive and galactic-scale empires. Somehow, this has always resonated powerfully with me - or maybe it's just my advancing age showing through.

I do hope and expect to get more gaming and blogging in the next few weeks, what with the ever-present excigiencies of life always hanging above up there... While I have been following a lot of the posts of my friends and fellow gaming bloggers out there, I'd be lying if I didn't admit to wishing I had more available time to post and stay in touch with those in our great gaming community.

In any case, here's to more and fun gaming. We can always use more of this in our lives. :)