Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Some People Call Me The Space Cowboy...

So what have I been doing lately, some might ask (since I certainly haven’t been posting much at all). This and that, is my admittedly cryptic answer. Anything fun (role-playing wise)?

Well…one of the “thats” I’ve been doing has been fiddling around with Traveller (Mongoose edition). I love this game. I know it’s playable (I’ve played it before). I know nothing about the whole "Imperium of Man" thing having only played/read the Classic books prior to picking up the Mongoose core book, so to me the game seems endlessly customizable…at least when it comes to creating the kind of RPG experience that interests ME.

Case in point: saw District Nine last week in the theater. LOVED it. Found it both disturbing and a vivid social commentary as well as highly intense…I was on the edge of my seat through much of it. Even with the aliens and hardware, this is not the type of thing that could be made into your average table-top RPG (though certainly a game like Shock would probably work well). At least for me, I am not interested in creating this kind of story IN PLAY with a role-playing game.

Case in point #2: Saw Sleep Dealers (recently rented…an excellent, cyber-punk type film out of Mexico). Also disturbing, depressing, socially relevant and yet sci-fi cool. This film could be perfectly replicated by Shock (gotta’ go pick that up one of these days), but again it’s not necessarily the game I want to play when I’m in the mood for Sci-Fi.

But Traveller, which would NOT work for either of these two pieces of fiction (see? System DOES matter!) is great for a whole slew of totally game-able ideas, generally of the ship-board variety and certainly for any type of story involving galactic or intergalactic empires: Dune, Warhammer 40K, Star Wars, Asimov’s Foundation, The Stainless Steel Rat, etc.

Me, though, I prefer something a little smaller scale: like a Firefly class trading vessel.

I am a late-come fan to the whole Firefly/Serenity hoopla, and not ashamed to admit it. I missed most of the series when it was on TV, skipped the film when it was in theaters, and only ended up watching the whole thing (rented) back-to-back about a year ago. I am now a HUGE fan (though not as much as the folks at the coffee shop down the street…hoo-boy! Ker-razy!).

Actually, I DID watch the 1st episode ever (actually Episode 2) on TV when it was first broadcast, but at the time I was pretty unimpressed with it. Now that I own the whole series (on BlueRay!) and have listened to the commentary I realize the series was broadcast out of chronological order, which helps to explain why the thing made so little sense to me at the time (and why I subsequently skipped later episodes).

Anyway, except for its intergalactic scale, Traveller is the perfect system for a pastiche of Firefly (or Cowboy Beebop, for that matter). Switching up the tech levels, and changing Jump drive to inter-planet travel rather than interstellar makes the Trav totally feasible to model the Firefly universe.

Now I realize that there is already a little game called Serenity on the market based on the show and the film, but to date I have refused to purchase it. My perusals of its pages (more than once) continues to leave me unimpressed and uninterested in it, save as a reference book. I mean, the list of Chinese is pretty helpful but does the game system reward players for using it? Not that I see anywhere in the text (contrast this with the Dying Earth role-playing game where character advancement is directly tied to the use of flowery Vancian prose in game play…talking about adding flavor!).

Traveller’s chargen system also makes it fairly easy to model all of the characters from the TV show, River Tam being a notable exception. Well, Inarra requires a little fudging, too…unless you want design a new profession for “Companions” (the Events and Mishaps table would be interesting!), you kind of have to choose between Entertainer and Noble. Rather than forcing things, it’d probably be easier to simply design one’s own stuff.

Of course, while one CAN create the Firefly crew/cast with Traveller, THAT’s not role-playing either!

Frustrating is what it is…’cause what I REALLY want is simply more Firefly episodes. Ah, well…as Jayne would say, “If wishes were horses we’d all be eating steak!”

Pastiche is generally not role-playing in my book (sorry), but Traveller certainly can be. It has the capability of producing a Dune-like universe (or a Firefly-like ‘verse) that allows role-playing without the original characters. Ha! Dune really deserves its own post…you’d have to get rid of all interstellar spacecraft!

Anyway, Firefly is pretty doable in Traveller (hell, even a the basic Free Trader spacecraft is of a comparable size to the Firefly ship based on its Wikipedia entry. The Serenity RPG multiples its tonnage by 12X the listed value!). AND Traveller's chargen system has plenty of randomness in it, while still allowing for some player choice (and its pretty fun to boot!). For whatever reason, I’ve been starting to get back into the Science Fiction genre (all these movies lately, and of course re-watching the Firefly series), picking up used paperback novels like David Drake (Hammer's Slammers), Asimov, Anne McCaffery. Maybe I had too much R.E. Howard overload the last couple weeks…who knows?


  1. I knew nothing about Traveller, bought the core rules from Mongoose, started a campaign -- tonight is going to be the fifth session, and we're loving it. Random characters to start with, fly around, make money, meet weird stuff, and start getting involved, slowly but surely.

  2. Some call me the gangster of love
    Some people call me Maurice
    Cause I speak with the pompitous of love

  3. I recently picked up the Far Future Enterprises / Quik Link Interactive reprint of the classic Traveller little black books.

    I too watched Firefly after in was cancelled. A shame. It would have scratched my Traveller on the small screen itch.

    I also feel the same way about Serenity RPG. I have picked it up, and put it back on the store shelf, several times. I would rather use the Traveller rules than the Serenity RPG rules.

    FFE/QLI sells electronic versions of the other classic Traveller little books. I highly recommend books 4-7 (Mercenary, High Guard, Scout, and Merchant Prince).

  4. @ Pal: Can't tell you how tempted I've been to purchase Mongoose's new versions of Merc, Scout, and High Guard. Shortness of funds has curbed my madness (thankfully), but also...I honestly think everything necessary to play Traveller is pretty much present in the core book. Other stuff is easily added on by a creative Referee (to taste, as usual).

    One thing about the Serenity RPG (a very pretty book, and I'm sure a fun reference/guide for fans of the show) that initially caught my eye was the little virtues/knacks (I'm not sure what the game calls 'em...they're the "feats" of the system), which might allow someone to, say, create a very young character with a knack for engineering (a la Kaylee from Firefly). But you know what? It's really not necessary. Back to the Kaylee example: I'd consider her a Civilian worker with an Int of 9 or so (+1 DM) and two terms boosting Engineering to Level 2 (specialties Maneuver Drive and Power). Truly I think that's about all you need.

  5. Hmmm... must be something in the air - I just picked up Mongoose's Traveller a few days ago. As a matter of fact, I just posted a home-brew character sheet on my blog.

    While I LOVE Firefly, the setting's too small for my tastes. (I prefer something a bit bigger - a la the Andromeda universe.) But I agree, the flexibility of the core Traveller system is such that it could easily do either.

  6. I wouldn't play firefly itself, just the gritty, low/high tech patchwork setting, which traveller allowed you to do so well, with the different tech levels applied to each world.

    The only thing I didn't envision in my old Traveller games was the western / far future synthesis.

    What I really wanted to do (once I got 2300) was to create a classic Traveller campaign, using the near-star map, and limiting the game to warp 1 (whatever the stutterwarp distance was).

    I foolishly sold my near-star map, but I still have the 2300 colonial atlas. I was checking out 2320 recently, but I couldn't find any reference to an updated near-star map.