The last couple-three days I've been ditzing around with Classic Traveller (i.e. the original Little Black Books), a game I haven't played since...hmm, high school? Probably. This is one of those games I played with my buddy, Rob, who really wasn't into AD&D.
[ugh...Blogger's acting wonky today...hopefully, this post will stick]
I picked up the original three books (as PDFs) off Drive-Thru RPG as well as Book 4 Mercenary because A) I wanted to own these classic books, B) I wanted to take a look at how they were put together (their design and format and whatnot), C) I wanted to "explore the nostalgia," and D) I wanted to see if I could make them work for me...either on their own or as the basis for another project of mine. The "ditzing" (which I'll come back to in a moment) has actually been in lieu of working on the design for the new game...I just had to take a break and a breather.
[yes, it's a "space" game; no, I'm not ready to talk about it yet; yes, I like how it's developing and will hopefully get down to some serious work on it starting next week. Except that I might be doing this United Nations presentation thang (in English) for the Paraguayan government...we'll see if that happens and how much time THAT ends up taking]
SO...as sometimes happens when I need a breather, my mind starts wandering to the Space Wolves.
For those who aren't familiar with the game WH40K, the Space Wolves are one of the traditional space marine chapters that have been a part of the game "fluff" since its inception. They're kind of "space vikings" in power armor (you can see how that kind of thing would appeal to Yours Truly). While my own 40K armies have, for the most part, been on the side of Chaos (usually Khorne, sometimes Nurgle), in recent years my stance on the Wolves has softened. They're a lot less prone to cheesiness (army-wise) than they were back in the 2nd edition days.
Anyway, even though I stopped playing 40K back around 4th (3rd?) edition, I still have a couple codices for the Space Wolves lying around, both of which I took to Paraguay in the thought that there may be a fun little game to make out of a squad of "battle brethren." But I've been busy, and while my mind has often turned to the idea, it was only the last couple days I started considering possible systems as a starting point for a scratch side-project. And Classic Traveller was one of them.
[this really would be a lark, folks. I've written before that it would be difficult to do this kind of thing as a long-term RPG. More on the subject later]
|I personally love the LBB format.|
Welp, I spent a couple days reading the rules in Book 1 and Book 3 (not yet terribly interested in the starship thing) and was really liking what I saw. Seemed pretty clear, pretty well thought-out, pretty easy to use. Sometimes, first edition games are designed better and work better than later editions (I say this as someone who own Mongoose Traveller and thinks its pretty well done). So today, I started ditzing around with the random tables creating characters and systems/planets.
What an exercise in frustration!
Wow. I don't know how I managed to get such a competent character with Mongoose when the systems are so similar. That guy didn't exactly match my "concept" expectations, but he didn't suck rocks either. The dudes I've been creating using CT...even the ones with the expanded chargen system of Book 4...just aren't even in the same realm. It's not even like they're dying (well, my scout died...but that's the scout service for you)...they're just getting kicked from service long before they've developed into anything resembling competence.
I don't actually have a copy of Mongoose with me (back in Seattle), but if memory serves, the wild discrepancy between the chargen systems comes down to two main points:
#1 if you fail to reenlist in Mongoose you have the option of going into a different career (and possibly reinventing yourself. Kind of like real life (at least in the 21st century). Fifty years ago (perhaps), people might have changed jobs during their lives, but perhaps not careers (at least, not as frequently). To be fair, CT career paths are limited to "adventuring" types: armed forces, scouts, space merchants, and "other" (which seems to be the catch-all for criminal elements). I would hardly expect the marines to accept my enlistment at the ripe young age of 41 either! But in a universe of anti-aging drugs and technological enhancements, shouldn't there be a little less age discrimination?
[on the other hand, in a universe with trillions of inhabitants, perhaps Classic Traveller envisions a more disposable society where warm bodies are exceptionally easy to replace]
#2 in Mongoose, your character receives a number of bonus skills from a variety of sources. PCs receive skills from both their home world and from the GM depending on the style of campaign they intend to play. Also, random "life events" hep develop characters in a number of different ways (I believe both good and bad, but my memory is a bit hazy).
The half dozen characters I rolled up this morning could have benefitted greatly from either of these Mongoose additions. My "criminal" character (from the Other category) ended up with two terms of service, most of UPP under 7, and a single skill (Bribery 1) to show for his career. Blah! That was the point I decided to stop, after half a dozen likewise disappointing PCs.
The planets (I created a random "home world" for each of my PC attempts) were equally disappointing. For whatever reason, I ended up with a lot of low tech water worlds sporting small populations and a conspicuous lack of star ports, and where a population of hundreds ends up with "rival competing governments" (the neighborhood watch groups are drawing up sides!). I don't know...there's some sort of weird, cascading effect when creating planets where a particular number rolled for one planetary stat skews the roll for the next...and yet the modifiers for tech levels are strangely affected.
[my criminal's planet? It was yet another water world with a dense, tainted atmosphere. Its population was smaller than Asuncion, had a law level of 0 ("no prohibitions"), a government level of 0 ("no government structures; family bonds predominate") and a tech level of 13. Grav craft, powered battle armor, maxed out computers, etc. -- all on a tiny barbarian planet of floating "tribes." Not sure which hut-raft they're using to manufacture the star drives]
If you can't tell from the tenor of the post, I'm disappointed. The system...which seems perfectly set-up to help players/GMs and even facilitate "solo play" (something you really don't see much of anymore)...leaves more than a bit to be desired. It's own randomness, while intriguing, seems to beg for "fudging," both to help develop characters for play and to develop a setting worth playing in.
Yes, yes...some folks will say I'm terribly unimaginative regarding the setting stuff, and others will point out that Miller points out Referees are free to use these tables as an aid, retaining the freedom to invent one's own worlds as desired. Got it. That still doesn't help with the lousy character creation. I can understand that it may certainly fit with the setting that my 22 year old marine was kicked to the curb with nothing but skill level 1 in gun combat and "recruiting." Fine. Let's start our adventuring career now...my character is young, ambitious, and full of fire. Unfortunately, there are no rules in CT for my 22 year old to acquire any more skills or abilities. I maxed out my career at 22? Okay...but I maxed out my LIFE, too? Give me a break!
[maybe this is the reason for the prevalence of psionics in CT's human population?]
I was quite at ease with Mongoose Traveller's lack of progression/advancement for characters (it has a couple spot rules about studying or something with a bunch of time and money), mainly because the ease of staying in the chargen process made it easy to develop a competent character. The real restriction was age limits (how old and decrepit do you want to allow yourself to get before striking off in your Free Trader?). But Classic Traveller is a hard one. It really is. Playing it "as written" would be at least on par with some of those Old School games that are classically considered to be "tough" on new players: like 1st edition Stormbringer and Holmes Basic D&D or (Revised) Heroes Unlimited with random power type determination. It's interesting, and challenging (which is good) but has the potential to be really frustrating, too.
I was frustrated just playing around with it.