On Rumors and Traveller

posted Mar 29, 2018, 6:17 PM by James Pearson

While I don’t really remember using them as a kid, rumors are discussed at length in Classic Traveller, and are considered a core part of the game’s design.  As I begin building a sandbox universe for my upcoming game, I’ve spent some time looking at rumors and how they are intended to work. Just reading the core rules in the LBBs or The Traveller Book, they appear kind of boring, poorly fleshed out, and hardly worthwhile.  I honestly had a hard time wrapping my head around their intended use, especially when the rumor matrix given lists vague terms such as “background information”, and “veiled clue”.  What the heck does that mean? In asking around on one of the Classic Traveller groups I belong to, I found that I was not alone in my feelings. Many people either didn’t use them, or put a significant homebrew twist on them.

It took me a while to really understand what this particular system was meant to accomplish; guide the players along, by giving them clues to follow, without it appearing that they were being railroaded.  However, it really took some digging to build a solid, working example of how to use rumors in my Traveller game.  Let’s have a look.

From The Traveller Book:

The term rumor is a catchword covering a wide variety of presentations of information. Rumors may be newspaper or broadcast information; they may be conversations overheard on public transport, or in local eating establishments; they may be bits and pieces brought together by the listener. In any case, the idea of the rumor allows the player characters to learn of new, exciting, and potentially rewarding (or potentially deadly) situations. In many Traveller situations, a rumor is simply information leading to a patron, a job, or a potential treasure; in Traveller adventures or campaigns, rumors serve to educate and direct the player characters toward the essential basis of the adventure.

The book then goes on to talk about throwing 7+ each week to encounter a rumor.  This seems to me a lot like standing around and waiting, or forcing the players to go out and look for them with the age old technique of the referee saying to the players, “ok guys, what do you want to do ….?”;  which I detest.

It isn’t until the release of the series of Adventure modules do we get some quality examples of how rumors should work, complete with detailed, fleshed-out rumors.  

From Adventure 1 The Kinnunir:

The actual adventure should then follow automatically. If they have difficulty in establishing a

direction, they should be presented with a rumor from the rumors section.

The term rumor actually applies to a wide variety of information, including (in addition to rumors) such concepts as leads, clues and hints. Rumors have three basic purposes: to direct characters toward profitable endeavor, to misdirect them away from such endeavor, and to assist them after they have established a goal for themselves. For example, a specific clue may be utterly incomprehensible to

those who find it, at the time. Later, however, they may encounter a situation where the data fits perfectly; there, the clue's nature may finally come to light. Rumors are encountered in a manner similar to that of patrons. The individuals involved determine that they are out mingling with the population, making the rounds of bars and spacers' taverns, the local Travellers' Aid Society facilities (if the person is a member), the local naval or scout base, and any other appropriate location. Per week, one throw is allowed for the entire party, with one person selected as their leader for the purpose. A party should not be allowed to split up to canvass an area for rumors; such a procedure will produce all rumors as information in too short a time. If a party insists on splitting up, the referee may roll for rumors for each, but should disclose only one rumor, ignoring the others.

Now we have some insight into some ways to actually present the rumors to our players.  Note we now have have human interaction and role playing possibilities, instead of dice rolls.

But, the real meat comes later in the adventure when we have examples of specific and general rumors that give us more of a clue ast how to handle them.

Here’s an example of a specific rumor, connected to a location:

An aged former scout (about age 50,433976) says that he encountered weak coded positional signals in the interdicted system of Shionthy (0706) as he passed though in 1089 on a mission. The signals, he is certain, were from a Kinunir class vessel. He remembers because he thought people were supposed to stay out of interdicted systems.

Here’s an example of a general rumor presented in the adventure:

Interdicted worlds are interdicted because the lmperium is trying to conceal its mistakes in social and political planning.

Let’s have a look at  what Adventure 2 Research Station Gamma has to say about rumors:

The specific rumor should be embellished by the referee, providing both a situation and setting, plus allowing the players to interact with the source. He or she may be a patron, or may require some mission be performed before disclosing the information.

It then goes on to give a sample rumor:

Local newspapers carry articles about the latest government attempts to transfer more chirpers to reservations on the barren fourth continent.

Now we really have some advice and examples of how to use the Traveller rumor system to create an interactive sandbox game that lets the players feel in control, and is more than just a set of dice rolls and “you hear a rumor that a shipment of valuable locally produced wines is leaving the planet tomorrow”.  

I have to point to the Bat in Attic ( blog about creating a matrix of rumors for each world in your sandbox.

Building on this idea then, and keeping in mind the sample rumor formats from the Adventure modules, we have some concrete plot hooks that can be used in a sandbox adventure.  When you look at it this way, the Rumor Encounter rules now become a system to assist the referee, by jogging his memory, in creating quality rumors that you can use. This now works like the World Creation rules (see my post, giving giving you, the referee, a system to assist in the creation of rumors, when your imagination may need a boost.

So, considering all the things that could happen in your universe, create a small set, labeled 2-12 or even 2-24 of rumors related to the travellers’ current location.  Create these rumors based on other nearby worlds, or exciting things you want them to do on this world. You can even work backwards and choose a couple of patrons, and build a rumor leading to that job or task.

Finally, reveal these rumors via NPCs, or simply relating the information to the players as they go about their business.   

I’ll discuss some other thoughts and considerations on utilizing rumors in my next blog post.  Word among the spacers at the Downport is that it will be an important post (but is really a coded message about an illegal weapons shipment due to arrive soon ….)

General Musings on Marc Miller and Traveller

posted Mar 14, 2018, 4:12 PM by James Pearson

I had the good fortune to play Traveller with Marc Miller at Gary Con X this past weekend.  He was gracious enough to sit and chat with our group for a while afterwards, and with me individually for a bit as well.  As Classic Traveller lovers, I thought I’d share some observations, gleaned from this experience.

  1. When Mr. Miller designed Traveller, he intended it to be a generic sci-fi roleplaying game system, in which we could play any science fiction game we wanted.  The Third Imperium setting, came later. More on that in a bit.

  2. The rules, or systems, he included are there as an aid for when your imagination fails.  He shared the example of world creation. “Think of a world. Now think of another one. And another. After a while you run out of imagination or things get a little boring.” That’s where the world generation system steps in and helps you by creating worlds that you now have to creatively explain.  Why would millions of people choose to live on a desert world with a tainted atmosphere, for example? The more I learned about his play style, and his original ideas for the game, the more it became apparent that the systems, while there to aid us, could be completely ignored (and should be) in order to simply play the game.

  3. While playing Traveller, Marc role-plays.  Very little rules. Traveller is truly a rules-light game system once you start playing.  For our scenario, we generated characters by only rolling up stats. No skills. Just stats and pick your service.  All rolls were made against those stats, but you couldn’t roll against the same stat again, until you had used them all.  Oh, and you had to support your decision on which stat to use. After that, it was all role playing. Creating a communal story.  He made it up as he went along, allowed us to build the story, and acted as “referee” just as intended. After we were through, he said “There. Now you know how I play Traveller.”

  4. Originally, there was no intention to publish anything except rules.  He wanted players to use their imaginations and play in whatever world they wanted.  

    The Imperium became the setting after a reviewer made a comment that he wouldn’t play a game that did not include a pre-defined setting. Marc implied that he didn’t want to play in one in which there was one.  He said he had even written an article about it.

    I thought I recalled seeing it, but could only find a comment made in “Challenge/JTAS” Issue 29.  Marc writes, “In our own naive way, we thought that the basic rule set was enough. It was a review in a fanzine run by Tony Watson that changed my mind.  The reviewer, talking about Traveller, complained that there was not enough background and detail for the Traveller rules: each player had to make up his own.  And Tony (as the editor) inserted a comment that he would never play a system that imposed a background on him. … it was my responsibility, as a game designer, and our responsibility, as a game publisher, to provide support for the role-playing system.”

    I believe that the ‘fanzine’ may have been “Space Gamer”.  

  5. Money.  It’s come up here a couple of times, so I asked Miller how he envisioned money would work in Traveller.  He said he never thought people would really be transporting money, like credit or even cash. Instead, he gave the example that on one world you would buy a cargo load of pigs.  You would go to the next world and sell the pigs for a cargo load of turkeys and, hopefully, enough local currency to get supplies, fuel and repairs, and then move on, repeating the process  Personally, I think “Firefly” does a great job of demonstrating this in action. Of course, that still doesn’t answer how a ship gets paid off, and I didn’t ask.

  6. Traveller was most influenced by the “Dumarest Saga” books, as has been discussed here (and which I apparently need to get my butt out and read asap).

  7. His favorite version of the game is still Classic Traveller.  Yeah us!

  8. He loves the character creation system because the dice rolls give you interesting characters to play.  He pointed out how, during the weekend, he had several PCs that were really just dumb, and it was fun to see how the players handled playing those characters.   He mentioned that this is what made the game interesting, and gave exciting results.

  9. During the game our rolls mostly consisted of “roll under the attribute”.  

  10. While he doesn’t play Traveller using lots of rules, he does like to play with systems.  Just like many of us here who play with building starships, or worlds, or the merchant system.   T5 is this way. He said “I always wanted a system that would make interesting aliens with 5 arms and stuff and I couldn’t figure out how to do it.  Finally I did.” I haven’t read T5, but given how much fun I have personally had playing the games within the Traveller game, I may have to pick it up some time, just because.

  11. He discussed TNE a couple of times.  He found the thought of introducing AIs as interesting because it allowed players to play AI characters.  However, he stated more than once, that ultimately the AIs had to play nice and be social beings. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be able to survive.  They couldn’t get repairs or fuel. Would we allow them to dock? Was an AI that killed millions to be trusted? If not, then how would it ultimately survive?  Although I’ve never really delved much into TNE, it is an interesting concept.

  12. With all the licensed products published, Mr. Miller stated that he now is confined to accepting those as reality in the Traveller universe.  He has to deal with them, and work within those parameters. I don’t get the feeling that this was a bad thing, just that this is the direction Traveller went, and is going, and so he follows the same rules as those who publish licensed material (canon).  If anything it seemed an interesting challenge to him. However, see #1.

My overall impression is that the way I (and many of you) view CT, and remember playing CT, and what has attracted us back to CT is NOT the depth of the published material, nor the Imperial setting.  Instead it is a vehicle, a set of rules that gives us a very basic framework of how the universe works, and then lets us go play in whatever universe our minds want to create. It doesn’t have to make sense, or be a hard science or space opera, or anything else, it just needs to be ours.   And, when we get stuck and need a way to do something, we use one of the built in systems to help move us along. And, if we bend the rules, or throw them out or tweak them, or whatever we want to do with them, as long as we are having fun, he has achieved his goal.

Thanks Mr. Miller.

September Settings at DriveThruRPG - D6xD6

posted Sep 20, 2017, 10:13 AM by James Pearson   [ updated Sep 20, 2017, 10:15 AM ]

So, apparently September is a "Settings" month at DriveThruRPG.  I've been playing around a lot with Lester Smith's D6xD6 system lately, and it's quickly becoming one of my favorites.  It is quick, easy, and really flexible.  There are two very cool things that Lester did with this system.  First, he worked with a bunch of authors to translate their fiction into ready-made settings for the book!  Thus the reason I'm talking about it here during September Settings.  Currently, all the settings are on sale at DriveThru.

The second, super cool thing that Lester did was to publish the base rules, and a couple of settings on the site for free!  Check them out at:

And, if you're at GameHoleCon this November, I'll be running 3 games using this system!

RPG a Day - Day 31: What do you anticipate most for gaming in 2018?

posted Aug 31, 2017, 3:36 AM by James Pearson

While I suspect the original intent of the question is about some upcoming project or new release, I'm approaching this from a more personal note.  For 2018, I'm looking forward to:
  • More gaming in general.  Now that my first child is off to college, and the other will be driving in 2018, this leaves me with more free time than I've had in many years.  The availability to game more frequently seems realistic.
  • More Cons.  GaryCon has become one of my favorite cons, and it's local (well, very close).  A close second is GameHole Con.  Finally, I hope that I can make it to Origins for the first time next year.
  • The start of a new ETU story arc.  We will finish up the Degrees of Horror story arc for East Texas University this year.  We've decided, if the characters survive, to continue the game.  My players thought it would be great stick around Pinebox and continue investigating, and protecting against the paranormal.  A sort of Buff/Angel slant.

RPG a Day - Day 30: What is an RPG genre-mashup you would most like to see?

posted Aug 30, 2017, 3:51 PM by James Pearson

Ok, so I couldn't really think of anything out there I'd want to see done, so I'm going to share with you a con-game mashup that I'm going to be doing at GameHole Con this November.  Honestly, it's not really a true genre mashup, as you will soon see.


That's right, play your favorite 80's horror film character, such as Freddy Krueger, Pinhead, Chucky, and more as they fight evil with evil!  You see, a small town in Nebraska has been experiencing some pretty odd things lately, and it just may be an invasion of Killer Klowns from outer space!

Tales from The Terror Tomb - Progress

posted Aug 29, 2017, 7:49 PM by James Pearson

I made a great deal of progress on my D6xD6 scenarios for GameHoleCon.  Two of the three scenarios for my Tales from the Terror Tomb are complete!

RPG a Day - Day 29 - What has been the best-run RPG Kickstarter you have backed?

posted Aug 29, 2017, 3:44 AM by James Pearson

I don't back a lot of Kickstarters.  But, I want to give a shout out to my friend Chris Spivey, who I had an opportunity to meet at GenCon a few years back!  Chris is one of those guys who really has a vision, and a mission, for his life and pours all his passion into seeing it come true.  He knows more about pop culture than I ever will, and has a deep love of Cthulhu.  Most importantly, Chris has started his own gaming company, in order to help our hobby become more diverse, and more inclusive.  A worthy, and necessary cause, if there ever was one!  And, he gets to do it with RPGs!

Chris ran a Kickstarter for one of his projects Harlem Unbound, which I highly recommend you pick up!  You can check out more at his site here:

RPG a Day - Day 28: What film/series is the biggest source of quotes in your group?

posted Aug 29, 2017, 3:33 AM by James Pearson

I doubt either of these will come as a surprise, but the two most quoted lines in our group are the following:  "...We are leaving" from Aliens, and Admiral Akbar's "It's a trap!"  After that, we often quote each other, or re-quote the stupid, silly stuff we've said before.   Often times, someone says something extra funny, or appropriate, and it becomes the quote of the night.

RPG a Day - Day 27: What are your essential tools for good gaming?

posted Aug 27, 2017, 11:06 AM by James Pearson

This one seems a little open for interpretation, so here's mine.  Today I'm going to talk about my "kit".  
My gaming kit is perfect for playing at the table, or on the road at Con's.  I took an old Backgammon game, which you can usually find at rummage sales or Goodwill for around $1.00, and I took out all the insides.  Next, I've lined one side with some felt.  This is the dice rolling side.  The other side has a dry erase board.  I purchased a very inexpensive dry-erase board from the dollar store, cut it to size, and glued it to the box.
My kit contains:
  • A blue Sharpie Pen (my favorite writing tool)
  • A Kuru Toga mechanical pencil.  By far the best pencil I've ever had
  • A dry erase marker, fine tip
  • My GameScience dice.  I have a real love for these dice right now and have abandoned all others.
Of course, at the gaming table I usually have a notebook, prep sheets, gaming books and the like.  

Someday, I'll figure out some cool way to decorate the Kit, but for now it's very functional and looks decent.

RPG a Day - Day 26: Which RPG provides the most useful resources?

posted Aug 26, 2017, 5:12 AM by James Pearson

When I first started playing RPGs again, after college, I found GURPS.  I honestly, even now, love a lot about GURPS.  One of my favorite things is the depth of its source materials.  There seems to be a GURPS book for just about every setting, time period, and geographical location imaginable.

At GenCon, years ago, I ran into a woman at the Steve Jackson Games booth.  We discussed how well written the books were and she stated that she used many of them in her classes because the research was so impressive.  I own, and continue to purchase, GURPS worldbooks solely for their detailed content, even if I'm using that content for another game system or setting.

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