Travelleverage: Roles and Random Notes

I've been thinking about Traveller [1]. And after @atminn pointed me to this thread on the Leverage Hacks board, I knew I needed to revisit my role selection and make sure my roles cover all the bases. This is a work in progress [2]. Like all RPGs, no decisions are final until after a game is actually run, and even then the next game is open to interpretation and change.

What Happens in a Traveller Game?
In my experience, a Traveller adventure usually runs through 5 stages:
  1. Get the job, research the task, other prep tasks.
  2. Do the job. Multiple scenes as needed. Success optional.
  3. Expect to finish the job, but somehow get royally screwed.
  4. Survive, then research how to fix the situation.
  5. Revenge/resolution.
This already fits with the 5-Act structure of Leverage as written, so I think we're in good shape here. More structural exposition will be in future posts as I get down to that level of detail.

Classic Traveller: Books 0-8How Are Traveller Characters Built?
Traveller's character creation system covers your character's previous service, usually in a branch of the military. Each term of service (4 years) nets you a single skill or stat increase, randomly rolled. Different services favor different skills. Marines will usually get Vacc Suit and combat skills, Merchants will almost certainly get Bureaucracy and negotiation skills, and if you can't pilot a ship you can't be a Scout.

At first, I thought about mapping each service branch to a Leverage role. That gets tricky in a hurry. For example there's definite overlap in the Hitter role between Army, Marines, and Mercenaries. They hit either on the ground, in space, or for money; but they all essentially hit. I thought about changing the role name to fit the service name while keeping the mechanics the same, but that gets costly in terms of bookkeeping. So scratch that and head back to Idea Fountain.

What Do the Characters Do in a Traveller Game?
I started thinking about my play experience. Most Traveller games center around doing jobs on some sort of tramp freighter in space. It's fairly easy to get a ship as a reward when you muster out of the Merchant Corps, so most groups have one.

You can't do much without a way to fly the group's ship, so I think Pilot needs to be there. I'd round out Pilot by adding Navigator duties as well - someone needs to steer, figure out what planet should be the next hop, and work all the computer control systems. You need to keep the bucket of bolts in the sky, so an Engineer role would work. Navigators would hack information systems, and Engineers would hack more mechanical systems, so I think this mirrors the potential Hacker/Thief overlap in Leverage. Hitters are hitters, but maybe we call them Grunts in Traveller. I'm open to calling them GroPos as well, but that's Babylon 5-specific.

If you've got a ship, you can always try to make a little money speculating cargo. Most groups pay for fuel by speculative trading, and if you're going to a new system anyway you might as well fill your empty hold, right? Merchants handle the face-to-face bargaining and negotiation situations, and they tend to be the social mavens of a Traveller group. A Trader role dovetails nicely with the Grifter role from Leverage.

In Traveller, there's usually a clear leader of the group in my experience. Either the ranking officer (I had a retired Admiral once), or the character who owns the ship calls the shots. They get the crew together and make sure everyone plays nice, plus they are usually the first ones to smell the impending screwing in the early acts of the adventure. Many times the leader doubles a role already covered above, and that's OK, but for Travelleverage I think we need to call out a Leader or Captain role to keep the group together.

So the working list of roles in Travelleverage consists of Captain, Engineer, Grunt, Pilot, Trader. Everyone will get a chance in the spotlight, and I don't think there will be too much overlap between these roles. I think non-specialists will need to roll in each of these categories at some point during the game, so that covers both of craggle's questions on the Leverage Hacks board. I welcome further discussion in the comments.

What About Your Random Notes?
Traveller has a few quirky things that I want to capture. These are things that I love from the game and want to maintain in Travelleverage. Whether or not they'll fit the system or even work remains to be seen, but I want to capture them somewhere before they fall by the wayside.

Traveller lets you travel between worlds faster than light. A jump takes a week in jumpspace, and then you roll you Navigator skill to see if you've hit the system you aimed at. One of the big points of the system is to travel between the stars. I think Leverage can deal with this easily by treating the interstellar jump as a single beat, resolve any actions in addition to the Pilot roll, and move on. Or if you want to run something in jumpspace, expand the focus and add beats as needed.

There may be some other oddities to deal with here. The Low Passage Lottery comes to mind, and it may or may not make sense. If you book a journey, Low Passage means you get cryogenically frozen, shipped as cargo, and revived at your destination. In Traveller, there's a non-zero chance you can't be revived. Not tremendously useful as a dramatic tool if your PCs make a random roll to survive, but could drive a plot if all the enemies of the story's Mark start turning up dead in Low Passage berths.

Jack of All Trades Skill
One of the most powerful skills in Traveller is Jack of All Trades, abbreviated JoT. If you don't already have a skill, take a shot and add your JoT skill as a bonus. This allows you to attempt anything with a small bonus, and it's easily the most abused skill in Traveller.

I think this could work really well in Travelleverage as a bonus die that you can apply at your discretion, maybe once a scene. I'll tinker with specifics later, but it sounds like a good candidate for a Talent that lets you treat your diverse training as a built in d6 Asset.

Random Tech Levels
Traveller maintains a Tech Level scale which tells you generally how advanced a planet is. So it's possible you could get dumped in the middle of a redlisted Bronze Age planet to find a Maguffin and find a way off-world. This opens up a universe full of possibilities and new ways to apply roles and talents. An Engineer can jury-rig a chariot, while a Pilot would have a much easier time driving the horses in a straight line.

High Tech Level is a factor in the story, but it shouldn't take over the game. This could get sticky since the game covers everything from throwing rocks to the Wave Motion Gun, but the play needs to come first and everything else is just window dressing. Yes, it's all well and good that you've upgraded to TL14 Battle Dress, but it's still only going to give you a d8 in combat.

Also, robots and AIs should not become literal Deus Ex Machinae, but I'd be OK with running a ship's AI as a Pilot PC. That opens some interesting plots and challenges to work around.

Traveller has a Psionic Institute which allows a character to develop psionic powers. It felt like an add-on since it was tacked at the back of the character creation book, but it opens the door to some interesting Talents and Distinctions. I'm leaning toward keeping psionics as an option. Not everyone will use them, but mysterious and powerful characters like Psi Corps or the Technomages from Babylon 5 or River Tan from Firefly/Serenity are part of the fabric of the interstellar setting.

Aslan (Traveller Alien Module 1)
Sentient Aliens
Any space setting worth its salt has some sort of alien life to deal with. Friend or foe doesn't really matter except in the scope of the story, but the case of Alien PCs needs some mechanics thinking. Most game effects can fit into Talents, possibly with d4 kicker dice or continual "always active" complication dice. Just as a random example, an Aslan character may get a bonus d8 with hand-to-hand combat, but he also has a d6 "At war with the Imperium" complication that the GM can use at will, especially in social situations involving humans. Working through every little alien quirk will eat design time if I let it, so I may just do some simple guidelines and leave it up to the GM to tweak and extend as needed to fit the background of their universe.

Odd Traveller Stats
Traveller's Strength, Agility, Vitality, and Intelligence stats all match to Leverage stats easily, but Traveller has a couple of interesting "soft" character stats: Education and Social Standing. Education exists beside Intelligence, but it measures book learning as opposed to raw figure-it-out-ness. I'm not sure Education fits in Travelleverage since the PCs are The Proverbial Shiznit compared to everybody else in the galaxy.

Social standing will need some thought. The Imperium can award land grants and status, up to and including entire planets or systems, and you can use the influence of your rank (social or military) if you desire. I'll need to work out a system to deal with that, even if it's just a Talent or better yet a Distinction. Having the Distinction "Admiral-Baron" would let the character throw their weight around but the GM can pick up the die when he's recognized while travelling incognito. I like that idea.

Also, military rank is an easy way to generate story Assets. "He fought under my command during Operation Iago" is all you need to pop a handy ex-Marine Asset out of the background and into the story. This could be abused, or at least overused, but I'm not sure it needs to be dealt with until it becomes a problem in play.

What's Next?
There's plenty of decisions to be made, and I'm still finishing my first reading of the Leverage rules. I think I got the mechanics, though Assets and Complications will take some practice to use effectively, I'm sure.

Expect more ramblings in the coming weeks. If you've got ideas or if you just want to see more on Travelleverage, I'd love to hear from you. Add a comment below, and if we need to find another forum to keep up the conversation, we will.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

[1] Caveat: I'm especially partial to the original Little Black Book (LBB) version of Traveller, released in 1977. I have a soft spot for folio-sized game books since they're much more portable. The system is very stripped down, and I think that lends itself well to a Leverage hack. If what I'm talking about in this article doesn't fit your experience with MegaTraveller or T20 or other flavors of Traveller, understand that I'm talking about the LBBs.

[2] Legal Caveat: Travelleverage is a working title at best, but it sounds cool so I'm going with it until challenged. I have no legal claim to Traveller, which is Marc Miller's creation and has been for 35 years. Since Leverage encourages hacking, I think I'm safe on that front. I'm just a fan who wants to game in Traveller-flavored deep space using Leverage as a template ruleset. No other intent should be read into anything I post about Travelleverage.

Edited to add content. 4/22/11 2:35 PM.

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