Archive for September, 2009


Difficult Players II!

Previously we looked at a couple of the worst instances of difficult players that can invade your gaming group and ruin your best-planned campaign. I’ll continue on with some other of the more common and well-known problem gamers.

For this round, we’ll start with the girlfriend. This difficult gamer has probably been written and spoken of more than any other. She is the running joke of many a gaming group. The iconic image of a GM introducing his girlfriend to the group and then proceeding to either allow her to dominate the game with gear or just creepily throw innuendo her way whilst his players stare on in horror is one I’ve seen repeated time and again.

Personally, those of my girlfriends who were involved in gaming were always involved beforehand. I never tried to introduce a girl to gaming who didn’t seem genuinely interested. Why live through that train wreck? I’ve also seen successful cases where the women turned out to be really good gamers and played really well in the group, but they are truly the exception to the rule.

And of course those gamers who started dating each other (all opposite sex couples in my personal experience, although I’m sure there have been same sex hookups…it’s a big planet) usually turned out ok since both were already gaming. In these cases, though, the “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” issue popped up when they inevitably split. Then the rest of us had to take sides and usually we lost a player as a result, not always the girl. I always hated those scenarios.

I remember one girl who rather uniquely fit this image. She was not completely the stereotype, but she was a super-prep and as such was not wholly cut-out for gaming. Still, one of my best friends of the time was dating her and he wanted her to be a gamer. Ok, I says. You know the potential problems here right? He says he does.

Not only did she eventually leave him for another (and certainly more unusual individual of a) gamer, causing that problem, but she was a stuck-up witch wholly concerned for those who would give her attention and doing her level best to ensure that geeks worshipped her at every turn (most of course did not…usually after hearing her harpy screeching voice). She was a lingering girlfriend, even worse than the one who shows up once and then bails. She stayed behind to cause as much collateral damage as possible. I think there’s a festival day among geeks commemorating the day she moved out of our immediate area and thus could cause no further local damage.

Sadly there’s a small category of square peg/round hole types as well. I feel pity for them more than anything, and I don’t judge them harshly for who they are. These are not bad gamers or difficult gamers because of any significant social flaw, not in the sense that they want to be. They’re not deliberate. Some people just don’t socialize well with others through no fault of their own. These poor individuals I wish I could help, but I’m just not a tolerant man. It’s one of my many shortcomings.

I will provide this one example. One of my friends advertised at the FNGS for a new player and we got one. I was against this, had I known, but it wasn’t my call to make. My warnings are rarely heeded in such matters, because I’m seen as too much of a cold bugger to always be taken seriously. Maybe I am. This fellow arrived and seemed amiable enough. Our first warning should have been the veggie tray. Honestly? To a gaming session you bring a veggie tray? But a veggie tray amongst guys? No meat or even crackers. Well, there it was.

This poor individuals’ flaw, in addition to having some abilities socially adjusting to our presence (and I would reiterate that I hold NONE of that against him. We are all geeks and we all have our shortcomings. I am no different, but some tics are worse than others). That we could largely stand. What was impossible to tolerate was his saliva. See, he was a spitter…big time. He spat when he talked. Yes, yes I KNOW there was nothing he could do about it, but think of the people sitting in our few seats who were in the spray zone.

My poor friend Craig, who has a bit of a germ issue anyway, had one leg up in the air seemingly in an attempt to shield his abdomen and his character held wall-like protecting his face between the saliva cannon and himself. The individual in question did not catch on. A mix of the rest of us laughing uncontrollably and poor Craig begging Ben (the one who’d put up the ad) to do something about it through a period of very evil glares brought it to a head. We took a break and Ben sent the poor individual packing as only he could. He fired him. At least, the way I heard it sounded like the poor guy was being fired…from a gaming group. “It’s just not going to work out. We’re going to go in a different direction…No..I don’t think it’ll work.” Something to that effect. I felt really bad, and at the same time relieved, especially when he took his damnable veggie tray with him in a huff.

Sorry again to that person should he read this. Please consider a spit guard or shield or something. Please.

I would be remiss without a discussion of the Con gamer. Oh Sweet Holy Moses the Con gamer. This breed is the reason I won’t play in a Con RPG anymore unless I know and have previous played with every player. I’m a bit set in my ways, if you have not by now surmised. This interesting character is guaranteed to ruin any game you dare try to play at a table amidst 5 to 30 other tables of boisterous, loud gamers.

What does he do? What doesn’t he do? Again so far for me it’s always been a he. Usually he is a power gamer, rules lawyer or equally odious personage. He’d be a stealth jerk/jackass, but he hasn’t the time you see. He only has 4 hours in which to ruin that which the GM has labored over and the players have paid to participate in in some cases.

I have seen all kinds. There were the mild ones who ended adventures on their own terms throwing the adventure to the winds and running off to completely destroy all you created 2 hours shy of the time limit for your session. There was what I can only describe as the Robotech MegaDork who felt smug and assured the he could pilot a Beta mecha (REALLY pilot) better than anyone could pilot any other mecha and that his superior military tactics were guaranteed to win the day over anything some evil GM could come up with. Oh. My. God. For those present, the memory of the sentence “I fire all 60 missles” followed by an actual gesture of his hands to show an exaggerated fake button push (there was, you see, no mecha for him to actually demonstrate this on present) will forever be etched in their brain.

Now, how do you deal with these characters? I will attempt in my next post to finally address this issue, although my solutions may be no better than yours. In fact, this may be something you really want to personalize for each individual. More later.

It’s been suggested to me that I do a short series on players that make it difficult for others to enjoy the game. I might do the same for GM’s if there’s enough material (and there probably is). Suffice to say, I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings here, but this sort of thing happens. It’s not like others aren’t talking about it. We’re gamers. We’re not all movie actors, politicians and other highly charismatic people. There are some poorly adjusted souls among our brethren.

The real issue comes in when you have to decide if those of our ilk who are not as socially adjusted interact with us, usually in situations where we can’t so easily walk away. To keep this probably well-discussed topic fresh, my plan is to speak mostly to my experience in this area.

I have played in many groups over the years and run a few others through various games. The conclusion I personally have arrived at, especially at my present age, is that I can only game with friends who are gamers. There are a host of odd personalities amongst my gaming friends, but they all fall within the tolerable norms I’ve come to expect from people. Through trial and error, I have encountered many that fell well beyond the pale of acceptability.

I was going to add that I wasn’t some snob when it came to gaming, but basically I guess I am. The experience is meant to be enjoyed and if you’re around someone who irritates you to the point of nausea, how exactly are you going to fulfill that whole “fun” goal?

It is easiest to discuss the first and most obvious problem gamer for most of us and that’s the “friend of a friend“. This could also be a relative of one of your group. These people were brought in, mostly when I was younger, as someone who “wanted to try gaming out”. Blessedly most of these gamers were one shots. They’d come in, make their character and play ineptly, then leave. Of course I’m not saying this was always the case. Many successful new gamers got their start in just this fashion, but a substantial number were crash n’ burns.

A most notable example for me, and I have to be careful because some of my friends who brought those people read this blog, was very early in my gaming days. One of my players brought a friend who completely wasn’t in to gaming, but he wanted to hang out with his friend. So…he came. Even rolled up a character. Then he promptly proceeded to trash the whole endeavor for the next couple of hours, calling it about anything negative he could think of and ultimately pissing me and the other players off in the process. We ended early, then reconvened later without our now pariah of a friend and finished that module, but it would always color my unease about adding new players.

Then there’s the stealth jerk. Oh wow. I have no problem talking about these morons. They join your group either through association or routing through your FNGS (friendly neighborhood gaming store) like on a bulletin board. They seem a little “odd”, but who isn’t? They are a little extra geeky, but we are playing games right? Then not long into your association with them, the stealth jackass lets loose his volleys. It’s yet to be a her in my experience.

The volleys can have multiple warheads. These could be closet rules lawyers, have serious personal hygiene issues, grating personality disorders or machinations on one of the other players’ significant others or wives. YES, I’ve seen all those. In each case the condition was inoperable and if left unchecked fatal to that individual campaign.

The worst of my experiences were combos of these. One was a wonderful fellow who reveled in his lack of hygiene. He would take off his socks at some point during play and throw them at the wall. They’d stick. He bent rules to the point of bending them over, creating ridiculous characters that made it difficult for anyone else to actually enjoy the adventure. Oh, and he macked on every single damn girl in the group trying to lure them away from their current significant others. He eventually got one, only because of issues in her primary relationship, but I’m still at a loss as to why she picked him. Things must’ve been worse than any of us could have imagined for her to leave her sometimes dick of a husband for this gem. The only bright spot of that issue was…it finally got him to leave the group and move out of state. This was one of my early steps on the path back to believing that there was indeed a God.

And with that small bit of anonymous libel, I’ll cut this post to continue it in Part II, where we will discuss the girlfriend gamers, oddballs and the most dreaded fiends of all…Con gamers. I hope to even discusss a bit more in depth how to survive these “individuals”. Stay tuned!

You can’t really have been in the gaming scene these days without having noticed that much of the newest content is available as an Ebook. Whether it is available as a supplemental release with a purchased paper book or as a stand-alone product, ebooks are now a part of the industry and they join us right along with their pros and cons.

I have mixed feelings regarding ebook RPG’s. On the one hand, I like the convenience and “at your fingertips one-click” ability to purchase any game available in that format. On the other, if there’s only an ebook format, then there is no “used” market, is there?

Let’s first focus on the pros. There are many situations where an electronic format comes in handy. Any publication can now be viewed as needed online (admittedly where I’d suspect a lot of gamers spend most of their time) and just as easily printed. In fact, you can print pages as often as you’d like, although any color plates or the like would obviously require color ink and good paper. Printing character sheets or equipments sheets, any kind of handout becomes a breeze with just the click of a button.

It has made old books new again. Go to the big E-RPG sites like RPGNow or DriveThruRPG. You’ll find quite a selection of books, not all of them still in print. Consider their massive catalog for Game Designer’s Workshop, a company that’s been out of business for over 15 years, but who have some of the highest demand amongst the used RPG paper market.

These books can be had in brand new condition with all inserts and pages intact. No worries. No shipping charges. You want it. You get it. There’s also no preservation worries. An electronic file holds up in the short-term much better than a paper book, and if pages you print from the book get damaged…you simply print a replacement.

Newer books are just as available and with the loss of many old neighborhood gaming stores, that’s become a bigger issue than ever before. Since companies are quick to put new stock up for sale as ebooks, it’s a quick and dirty way to find out if there’s new product about without having to keep visiting company web sites or hoping to catch a designer at a convention. In today’s instant gratification culture, who really wants to wait for their book?

Lastly, it’s cheap. All you have to do is produce and then pdf your product. Distribution is electronic so the rest of the costs are next to nothing. And let’s not forget saving on the cost of paper, a material that is closing on being worth its weight in gold.

Of course, there’s a downside to ebooks as well. The most notable one is, no paper copy survives or transfers in the purchase. Sure you can print it out, but there’s no real physical product until you do, and can we all print all our ebooks to have backup paper copies or would we even want to?

A key problem for me with ebooks, where the ebook format is the sole format available, is when companies that produce a product under license lose that license. When the license is gone, all remaining product is usually, by contract, not available for sale. I offer two test cases, one with and one without ebooks.

Think of Last Unicorn Games’ license to produce the Dune RPG. LUG was bought shortly after they’d prepared the print run by WOTC and the initial run sold out at GenCon under WOTC’s banner. After the Herbert estate found out about the sale, they revoked the license, since it was not contractually transferrable. The original book run proved to be the last and became ridiculously collectible; a magnificent addition to the used RPG’s market. Had this been available only in ebook, it would have been available currently only through your local downloading engine (such as Torrent).

For more obscure titles, those published solely in pdf as well as on limited license come and then go. They leave no legacy paper material. If you’re a late comer to collecting that book, good luck. You’re almost back to pre-internet unless you have friends or acquaintances on discussion forums and the like willing to violate copyright and send you a pdf copy.

Such books are often lost to the ether; all their worthwhile material lost except on some few people’s hard drives. These are worse than limited paper print runs. These are true vaporware at that point. *Poof* It’s gone.

All told, the electronic books industry has been a good thing for the RPG market. It’s provided greater access and exposure of product while preserving older materials that might not have readily survived their paper wearing out. The same format limits, though, and has shortfalls consistent with anything stored in electronic format.

Bane or boon, it’s our new baby and we have to live with it.

Traveller: T20, T5 and Beyond

What will the future look like in the future? That seems to describe Traveller more than anything. Traveller has gone through a d20 revision *shudder* and now the revised T5 system, which seeks to pull some of the best of the previous systems and fuse them together. In each case, there was the feeling that it was just “reinventing the wheel”, trying to find a way to stay relevant amongst the latest generation of RPG’s.

T20 definitely felt that way. Of course, everyone was doing OGL stuff. For some time after its inception, the Open Gaming License was seen as the quickest way to introduce or entice gamers who only had eyes for D&D over to whatever supplement or system you were selling. There’s not much to say about this unusual historical footnote.

T5 is most unusual in that it actually appears to have new content, instead of just rewritten old material and seems to be a genuine attempt at a refined game system; one that takes from several of its predecessors and tries to meld them into a working more efficient system.

The book layout and adventures for it remind me of a healthy system. Originally, I felt like Marc was once again just reprinting and rehashing old material. There seems to be more creative control and talent on these books, though than T4 had. Of course, that’s not saying much. The difference between the two is night and day. Another factor in T5’s favor is that Marc is working with Mongoose Publishing to get these books out. Of all the remaining gaming companies, I dare say Mongoose puts out the highest quality books (ok, maybe WOTC does better but not by much). My ownership of the B5 and Conan games attests to my confidence in that statement.

To date, I’ve had no interest in owning any of these books, for reasons I’ve previously mentioned. It is possible though that enough years have gone by that I might actually break down and buy T5’s material. It’s more and in some cases new material about a universe I’ve been a voracious fan of for decades now. That alone makes the material valuable.

The biggest oddball in all of this current crop of Traveller is not so current, but the most interesting at least as far as I’m concerned. I’ve spoken at length about Traveller: The New Era and how it fell short of its stated goals, not necessarily due to any faults of its own, but because its parent company was doomed to not survive it.

Those fans, I said, were orphans. Many rely on the parent company of any game to drive the story and to provide background material. The older RP gamers get, the less time we have to create things out of whole cloth and move the timeline forward in some systems. When this is done for us, by and large we are very greatful.

Case in point, a fellow named Martin J. Dougherty through a small publisher, Comstar Games (and Avenger Enterprises), gained the rights for a couple of years of book production via Marc Miller for Traveller: New Era wrap-up material.

Martin produced a whole ream of new material on the New Era’s aftermath, appropriately titled Traveller 1248. As the TNE setting originated in 1201, the point had always been to know how all the myriad plot points would pan out at the end of any logical campaign setting. Well, now we were to know.

Tragically, this series was cut short by the end of the license window and now these products are themselves in limbo. I’ve been able to find the first two sourcebooks, but the rest of the material (apparently mostly PDF format) remains ridiculously elusive. I still find myself practically giddy at the notion of being able to see even a small glimpse of the material. I do hope MJD is able to get these materials available again at some point. Quite frankly, waiting over 10 years only to find out you overshot by a year or two is more maddening that I’d care to consider.

On the upside to T5, Martin, who’s been producing quality material for a long time, looks to be doing a considerable amount of writing for the new Traveller 1105 setting. One thing (with the exception of much of T4) Traveller always had was access through one company or another to monumentally talented writers who were quite able to weave a satisfying story. Hell even T4 had its moments in this regard.

I for one am curious to see what the old girl still has in her, and I expect Traveller will be around for many years to come. She might be around till the stars fade and they come and turn out the lights on the RPG industry; fitting that she should be there at the end as she was at the beginning.

GURPS Traveller – Amnesiac Rebirth

For the longest time after Imperium Games folded, I more or less forgot about Traveller. I read some of the books and occasionally visited the web sites in the Traveller web ring, but I had more or less written off that there’d be anything new of interest regarding the venerable old game. It was now truly an orphaned system, I thought.

Then there was a rumbling in the industry gossip that Steve Jackson Games was going to print some new material for Traveller in the GURPS system. I was a fairly recent convert to GURPS, but I had grown to like the system rather quickly. Put simply, I liked the detail and character development.

There was a downside to the new printing, though (isn’t there always?). This version would completely exclude the concept of the Rebellion from MT and Virus from Traveller. It was a reset, set in 1116 where the Emperor was not killed and there was no war. As a fan of both those settings, this was disheartening. I felt like all the work put into those settings by fans since GDW’s collapse and all their hope that we’d see more “official” material from some corner were dashed. Nothing, it seemed, would be forthcoming.

I admit I wasn’t pleased. I went to DragonCon that year, where Loren Wiseman himself was hosting a Q&A on the GURPS release. I sat there fuming as he talked about the new setting and stated that there had been a general consensus (it was felt mostly be agreement between Steve Jackson and Marc Miller) that the Rebellion and especially Virus were hoakey and not really worth revisiting. They wanted what many of the classic Traveller fans had wanted since the release of MegaTraveller…a do-over.

It took awhile for me to actually pick up the GURPS Traveller book. It didn’t take me as long to pick up the second book. There were many reasons, not the least being the high quality of the material and solid SJG production values. I was still not happy that the history rewrite was considered the new “canon”, but there was no denying these books were good. There was a selection of art, mixed along with extreme detail that hadn’t been seen since the old Digest Group Productions (DGP) books for MT all those years previous.

Any Traveller fan could find something worthwhile in the books and about every angle, career and race of consequence would eventually be covered by the series of Traveller books. It is often said that more material was published for GT than for Classic Traveller, and that might in fact be the case, volume-wise. Each book was packed with information, some rewritten and some new.

The best thing for me was that, being GURPS, the information was so malleable that you could if you wanted to modify it for use with another setting, like MT or TNE’s settings. There was still no new information for those eras (would there ever be?), but at the very least there was new Traveller material and a creative GM could make do. Like many others, I did just that.

I have to give credit to Loren Wiseman. He had no small task. He had to resurrect Traveller’s prestige and get people to buy an alternate timeline, all from a fan base that was more rabid and more unforgiving than any other game’s (I personally believe). The end result along with the resurrection of the Journal of the Traveller’s Aid Society was, for lack of a better word, miraculous.

This product line renewed my faith in Traveller in general and the belief that it could be a viable system with new and innovative material for a sci-fi RPG setting still. It’s also the reason I’m even contemplating buying some T5 books, so thank Loren for that one, Marc. 🙂

I was perusing my collection, trying to single out one book that I thought was better than most and one that really exemplified the praise I’d heaped upon it above. The latest it turns out is probably the one I liked best, although it’s due to a little personal bias.

GURPS Traveller: Interstellar Wars was produced as a bridge product to help convert over to the new 4th Edition GURPS rules. It was also produced to highlight a fan-favorite period in Traveller history: First Contact. The quality of the material in the book was excellent and the storyline was about as thorough as could be hoped for, with a myriad of ideas for role playing mixed in.

Where did the personal bias come in? Short story long, years before a very talented fellow named Chris Griffen and myself, both Traveller fanatics, came up with an idea to pitch to Marc Miller a supplemnt for his T4 series on the Interstellar Wars era of the First Imperium. We created an outline, fleshed out some basics for the book and brainstormed to an incredible degree on what the book would look like. We even spoke to Marc, who was receptive of an idea assuming we could produce a good treatment for his review. We never really got the opportunity. T4 folded soon after and by the time GT came out with its Rebellion and Virus-killing storyline Chris and I had largely become disenchanted and shelved the idea.

Imagine my surprise to see the book written some years later for GURPS. First was shock, quickly followed by a pleasant feeling that someone had done the work for me. If any of you harbor notions that it’s glamorous or fun to write role playing games, you likely should check yourself in to the local nut house. It’s tiresome, often thankless work. Labor of love describes it more perfectly than any other discipline, I believe. So to see someone had already done it was quite a thrill. All that remained was to see how they had treated the idea.

The work was impressive. There was no denying that. Interstellar Wars may be one of the best books ever put out for Traveller, and it’s not even set in the “classic” period. And it also helps define GURPS as the gold standard for quality in the Traveller line. Never was it so better produced and with such a wide array of new and veteran talent as under the GURPS umbrella. Hats off to Loren, the writing crew and even Marc. Smart play on that one.

After the collapse of GDW and the concurrent cessation of its product lines, (especially Traveller: New Era), I have mentioned that those of us who were Traveller fans felt rudderless. There were rumors of course that another company might pick up the line or that Marc Miller himself would print some new material, but the industry as a whole was in a depression.

As you can imagine, it was hard for any of us to believe in miracles in a climate like that. Then came the announcement that Marc Miller had indeed secured a source of funding and some staff to do the impossible. Traveller would be restarted.

Marc had been out of Traveller for awhile, mostly through the TNE days. He had left for other pursuits or been unable to really participate much in the last days of GDW. Still, he had a love for Traveller as he had been its principle creator (and rights holder). So, new books would come out under Marc’s new company, Imperium Games, bearing the moniker of Marc Miller’s Traveller.

The money and marketing people behind Imperium Games were a ridiculously savy lot and they new how to play Traveller fans. They advocated returning to the “classic” feel of Traveller with updated art and story lines set at the founding of the Imperium. There was even an exceedingly strong push on the part of IG to get people to subscribe to basically any book they printed in a pre-order fashion (much like Time/Life and some companies did) so that they’d have the money before the books were even out. In hindsight, all the glitz and marketing should have been a warning.

I tried T4 out on my veteran group of players almost as soon as it was released. Most had played the original Traveller and some had even played MT or TNE. The response was universally negative. There was a sense that the new rules took a step back than forward and that everything from the skill system to combat system were not playable. We sacked the system for a hybrid MT/TNE system almost immediately after the first session, but I like the true addict I am couldn’t stop collecting the books.

I hoped follow-up books might at least have some useful, salvageable material. After all, the MT and TNE sourcebooks had all been gold mines of material for campaigns even when their systems had been lacking. The same should have been true of T4, right? Only somewhat was the sad answer.

Some will say those books were completely unsalvageable, but there were a few diamonds in the rough. Some plot ideas, mostly to do with operating at the founding of the Imperium, The general feeling by many I spoke with, though, and my own opinion as well was that this was not really Traveller. Gone were the familiar ships, races, and polities. Ok, this was supposed to be over 1000 years before the previous setting. We got that. But there was NOTHING that made us think of Traveller other than the title of Imperium and that was used sparingly. The art was interesting and was even used to help sell the books, but it wasn’t Traveller either. Not much about these books could even be used in that sort of setting.

It is widely considered among Trav fans I know for this system to be a wash and yet I own most if not all of its books. Why would I do something so ridiculous if I felt so negatively for it? Call it brand loyalty, gullibility, stupidity or simple nostalgia, I wanted to see Traveller succeed and I held out hope that if Marc got to create enough of these Milleu 0 books, he’d eventually produce some of the later Milleus, possibly even revisiting the eras and stories most Trav fans had grown to love.

Sadly, it was not to be. We were all disappointed to one degree or another when the line faltered, no more books were forthcoming and all we had was the bitter taste in our mouths of being taken for a ride by a company we trusted to produce a product befitting of the Traveller legacy. Is it any wonder to this day that I have not bought another new Traveller product outside of the GURPS license? That’s how long it has taken me to forgive Marc for what he allowed to happen with Imperium Games and that he can blame solely on the lack of quality of his “Imperium Games” product line.

If there were a book series I wish I could take back buying, it would be this one.

Traveller: The New Era (for some)

Once the powers-that-be at GDW had made up their mind that a new edition of Traveller was needed, a complete makeover was attempted on the Trav system. Most importantly, the new edition was brought in line with the new GDW “House Rules”, back when companies were trying to mimc SJG and a couple other companies and create common rules for all their systems. The other was to figure out the answer to the question from MegaTraveller of “so who won?”.

Their answer was…nobody. An AI Virus, a modified silicon life form that had been driven insane in a weapons lab was accidentally released on warring fleets and those warring fleets spread it throughout the Imperium, its surrounding neighbors and every Traveller mailing list and bulletin board apparently. Almost immediately there were divided camps on the subject. Some loved the new idea, solidified in the great compilation/teaser product Survival Margin. Others flat out hated it.

I was safely in the “love it” category. I did. Everything about it seemed like a good idea to me. I admit I was a little bummed to see the factions I was cheering on take one up the tail pipe, but ultimately without GDW “declaring a winner”, and even if they did, there would never be resolution and the Imperium wouldn’t be the same. We couldn’t have the “Bobby in the Shower” do-over a la Dallas. We had to live with the setting GDW had provided, and it was pretty damn bleak.

Traveller New Era was wonderful for several reasons. For one, you could actually play it again, after the errata-ridden monster that was MegaTraveller’s rule set. This, sadly had the effect of also over-simplifying certain things including character creation (still “built” characters, but less detail).

I was a big fan of the big ships from the earlier additions of Traveller as well. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the latent Star Wars fan in me that I like the big capital ships, but TNE originally didn’t have any, putting them either beyond the scope of the game or as “Vampires” to be avoided, Virus-ridden old warships that were all death-trap and no fun. I can see the reason for this. Small ships make for easier player control, but still. Arrival Vengeance, which I’ve previously mentioned, had already proven that “big ship” campaigns were possible and in some cases more interesting than “small ship” campaigns. Why not have the big ships?

The addition of material for the Regency brought some of these back and I got the feeling they intended to bring back even more before the “Great Fall” when the company sadly had to close its doors.

When I say this was a game that some loved and some didn’t, I’m really not giving the “situation” its due. The love was and is strongly apparent in a core group. We all helped chip in to create the BARD pages for goodness’ sake; a collection of information intended to enhance and color the universe left behind as vacuum by the departing GDW. A new mailing list (the tne-rces list) was set up just for TNE fans, away from the flame wars and badgering of the old TML and Xboat lists.

I have yet to see a game bring forth such hate from such adoring fans of the overall system. To this day I’m not sure why. The “ivory tower” Imperium suddenly became this harmonious standard everyone had liked to play in until GDW f’ed it up with MegaTrav and TNE. I would often remind people with such opinions that the “idealized” Imperium was rife with corruption, disenfranchisement and evil, just as much as the later stage systems. It was all point of view, but the damage caused by the destructive forces in the game existed at different levels. At the very least, I had no idea some Traveller fans were so virulently monarchist. 🙂

I loved the TNE settings because they allowed for exploration and starting fresh in a ruined Imperium. There was an actual “Wilds” that was unexplored and full of dangers and loot (pretty much what gamers love the most). The old Imperium, even the war setting had been so consumed by static behavior or engagement that it became stifling to have players really make a difference and thrive in the campaign setting. TNE gave me a chance to exercise my favorite plot devices in a game…that one small group can make a big difference in the lives of others in the game.

I also really enjoyed the new races that were now more heavily explored than ever before. The Schalli, dolphin-like, were interesting and a nice addition since Dolphins were not as popular in the RC’s part of the Old Expanses. Hivers had never had such a prominent role, nor had their Ithklur warriors. I thought their addition was outstanding. You could even do something with the K’Kree if you really wanted to. After all, they were supposed to be the cause of the Puppeteer strain developed and sent out from the “Black Curtain”. After reading David Nilsen’s comments on GDW’s plans of where they wanted to go with the setting, it sounded like it was going to be an incredible amount of fun.

Again and alas, GDW wouldn’t survive to see it happen. TNE was a system orphaned before its time. Its untimely demise and many of our personal devotions to the game caused us to feel orphaned too as game owners, not the least for all the plots and ideas left half-developed or on the drawing board. A real shame.

The worst of it was that sadly this would set the stage for many of us to buy into a system that few of us under normal circumstances would’ve given a plug nickel to had we known better and in advance, the infamous Traveller 4 or T4.

Traveller: The Rise of MegaTraveller

You know I’m not sure why they chose _Mega_ for MegaTraveller. It does sound impressive, doesn’t it? Regardless of their motivation, GDW by the time of the mid-80’s seemed to feel Traveller needed an overhaul.

A staple now of many successful gaming systems with elaborate campaign settings is the standard of the dynamic setting. In such cases, a setting can and often does change. The timeline advances and with it there are often unforseen changes for those who enjoy that setting. A case in point was Traveller’s morphing into MegaTraveller. A decision was made, never mind the reason, to shake things up a bit. Classic Traveller had as its principle setting the everlasting and rarely changing Imperium. Someone somewhere decided that was too monolithic. Players couldn’t affect change beyond say a system-wide issue. Interstellar changes as a result of their actions were only to be rare and highly unusual events.

MegaTraveller, which postulated the dissolution of the Imperium into several warring factions, changed all that. At no time is there greater chance for players to screw the whole pooch than when there’s lots of chaos, death and mayhem. An 11,000 world conflict, you could imagine, would be quite the setting to drive this point home.

It was at this stage that I actually started collecting Traveller for the first time; in its second incarnation. The initial books were complete enough that you could run the game from them and they were nicely packaged in a set. Also, every supplement that came after either advanced the storyline or helped develop some small part of it.

The quality in art and layout compared to the LBB’s was night and day. This was a true ’80’s game with all the new talent emerging in the field to fuel a really impressive product. Traveller had also used a means of proliferation and expansion that MegaTraveller continued, which I didn’t like. It used licensed producers of the product. In fan circles and from GDW alumni it is regarded as fact that GDW produced a new product every 22 days for 22 years. Imagine the scale of that. Try to find a modern RPG company that could match it. You can’t. Still, they found the need to license out to other companies the production of Traveller merchandise.

In the original classic Traveller, the most impressive notable subcontractors for Trav were RPG legends in their own right: FASA and Judge’s Guild. Their material was good, but also a lot harder to find than the straight-GDW material, hence my disdain overall for the idea.

MegaTrav made it worse. GDW contracted out some of their products to Digest Group Productions (DGP). These products were incredible and are considered some of the best to be produced for Traveller in detail and overall quality of layout. The Starship Operator’s Manual, Vilani & Vargr and Solomani & Aslan remain some of the hardest to find and most expensive of the old Trav products. Thus, I hate them. It’s a love-hate thing. I have ’em, but it took forever to acquire them. They were never offered by my local game store, which outside of the parent company was the only way to get a new game back in the ’80’s. You had no internet to get you by.

All the same, MegaTrav and the accompanying new setting won me over and I started collecting books for this series. The enhanced character creation, in my opinion even more detailed and impressive than that of Classic Trav, was a real winner. The clunky game system was not. Vehicle and starship combat rules, well, let’s just say if you honestly spent time trying to learn them you would need therapy afterwards. They were far too complex, even for gamers. Certainly it wasn’t the worst mechanics I’d ever run across (*COUGH* Fantasy Games Unlimited *COUGH*) but it was up there.

It was with MegaTrav that I finally fell for this particular GDW system and what got me on the road to collecting, in some cases, far more Traveller products than I should have.

If you played this, which faction did you back? I went for the Brotherhood of Varian first, but when they went straight terrorist I contemplated either Margaret or the “real” Strephon. I ended up thinking the “real” Strephon was the right horse to back and it turns out I was right.

One of my all time favorite supplements for any system also came from my initial foray into MegaTrav, Arrival Vengeance. This was a module centered around a grand tour of the Shattered Imperium in an absolute classic of a Traveller starship, the Azhanti High Lightning-class Arrival Vengeance. Read the review. There’s a reason why I liked it and it’s obvious. This was Star Trek in a war zone. Who could beat it?

The problem came late in the line when the uber-geniuses (and I use that as a term of endearment) at GDW were scratching their heads trying to figure out how to advance the timeline further. After you’ve bashed the Imperium into little bitty sheriff meatballs, how do you declare a winner? They apparently wrestled quite a bit with that question, but I (as one of a very few) genuinely liked the answer they ultimately arrived at.

New Era…here we come.

Anyone who’s been in the gaming industry a long time, be they game makers, GM’s or just players, has at least heard of Traveller. Traveller, originally developed in 1977 was arguably the first science fiction role-playing game ever developed. In its long and storied history, this game has seen more makeovers than…well, insert your Hollywood celebrity of choice. Anyone I could think of just seemed too cliched.

There are complete descriptions and dates of new product listings as well as encyclopedic entries on wikipedia to tell you most of what you’d ever want to know about the game. My intention isn’t necessarily to give you a history lesson on the product. Several other people have already done that and quite well I might add. My intention is to review the development of Traveller from the standpoint of a long-time fan (yours truly) who came to it somewhat after the starting gun, but not by much.

As I’ve stated before, my role-playing began in earnest in 1983. Traveller was already out and well-established by then. By the time I first heard of it in 1985 or so, the old classic Traveller already had a considerable library of Little Black Books (I believe it’s a state or federal law those be capitalized) or LBB’s as the were known. One of my older friends owned many of them and ran me through a first campaign of Traveller. I played a Vargr corsair, as I recall. My impression of the system covered two avenues.

First, whenever I’m introduced to a new system, as a collector I evaluate if it’s a system I would like to own and if so how much of it. In the case of Traveller, I liked it, but it had a fatal flaw. This is a collector’s nightmare. If a game system is already well-established, with a lot of out of print products, how do you effectively collect it or get to running it yourself? Trav was such a product. Many of the LBB’s out that point were already hard to find and without an effective product guide a new owner could have no idea which books were essential and which were not.

Part of the problem with such a system was that the original Trav, Classic Traveller as it is now referred, was only haltingly and tepidly developed into an effective campaign setting. It was begun, as most games of the time were, as a generic game system. Still, one cannot fault Game Designer’s Workshop (GDW) for that. These were wargamers developing a scifi RPG. For what they were and what they had, the end product of the original Traveller was nothing short of miraculous. It was the disjointed and diverse nature of the LBB’s that ultimately discouraged me from purchasing it in its original form.

Marc Miller has since remedied that problem for people like me by re-releasing all the original books in reprinted, bound volumes that put lots of the LBB’s into one all-encompassing tome. That in my opinion is one of the smartest things he could’ve done and it finally allowed me to own all those old books without the concern for condition and the time it would take to track them all down. For Trav, my concern was more for completeness of the material than it was to have “originals”.

The second thing I had to consider about this game I’ve already touched upon. I liked it, but I had to know that for certain before I even entertained the idea of acquiring it. This was the first character creation process in which I actually “grew” the character. I got to see what he did as he aged, what experience he’d had, the skills he’d acquired and it all seemed terribly logical and orderly. Although this is a matter of personal preference, I fricking loved that about this game. I obtained the skeleton information with which to frame my Vargr’s background for a universe I knew absolutely nothing about and I did it in an enjoyable way building that character.

The important thing for me was, I started that adventure already invested in that character. I have never been so readily attached to characters you just roll up or spend points on. Those take a lot more time to grow and understand.

For its first incarnation, Traveller was a hit with me and it’s for these reasons I always recommend it to people trying to broaden their libraries or game bases. That and all the original books are so easily available now in reprint. It’s one of the easiest systems to pick up and play anymore.

Sure it didn’t have the glitzy art or the fancy paper that a lot of books have now, but it had old school charm, and you’ll forgive me if I’m partial to such systems.

What I didn’t know, and what I’ll explore over the next few posts, was how Traveller would change and my interest in it would change right along with that, over the next decade or two.

Ok, you know you want to be a collector. You even have a half-way decent idea of where to collect them. Now what? Where do you possibly expect to find these games?

The difficulty level of this task is entirely dependent on whether or not what you want to acquire is still in print or relatedly had a very large print run. If either is the case, you’re on easy street.

At that point, it’s just a matter of money and an internet connection. Direct order is the simplest way or if you are lucky enough to be one of the few who still has a neighborhood gaming store he or she can buy from, you can just waltz in there and pick up your gaming crack.

If, more realistically, what you want hasn’t been in print for years, possibly longer than you’ve been alive, then you have a problem. By the way, older gamers let that sink in. There are games you played that are older than most of the youngest current crop of gamers. *Shudder*

Still, the neighborhood game store might not be the worst idea in the world. Many of them have strong and often restocked used sections, especially if they buy collections (and most have through my memory). Generally speaking, unless you’re dealing with a real jerk, the games won’t be marked up terribly high. They’ll be sold at used prices and that works to your advantage.

As an aside, an important lesson I’ve learned over the years is, when you’re collecting, always have a list not terribly out of reach to go over exactly what it is you still need. It’ll save you buying duplicates of things you already own. Believe me when I say this. If your collection gets big enough, this will become a genuine concern.

Ok, so you’ve raided the local stores and still there’s no information on a missing supplement or magazine. What next? The obvious place most people will think of is Ebay. There’s reasons why you should think that and reasons why you shouldn’t.

First, Ebay is far too vast for it to be used as a genuinely effective tool to search for games, unless they are extremely common ones. The nature of its search engine is that unless the seller was exceptionally clever at naming and categorizing the item in question, it may not be readily found by those that want it. Second, it is the rare Ebay auction that tells you much about a given product or its condition when you buy it. So, if you don’t know exactly what you need, you may not notice that maps, handouts or counters that were supposed to come with that product are no longer with the one you’re bidding on. Setting aside the simple lack of ability to get steady and assured quality ratings from most sellers, not being for certain if the object is complete or even knowing what you’d need to know that the object wasn’t complete is something that should keep most novices away from Ebay. Go there only if you know what you want and where it typically gets posted.

An expected source would also be on-line game outlets. While their prices tend towards the higher sides, you’ll at least be assured of quality (something Ebay lacks). Titan Games (now owned by Noble Knight), Crazy Egor (recently closing up I think or at least restructuring), Noble Knight and Dragonstrove are all companies I would readily recommend, any single day of the week. Naturally, I get nary a dime for endorsing them, but at one time or another (and through one owner or another) I’ve done business with all of them. These companies live and die by their reputation and these I consider to be the Big Two (formerly Four). A lot of online retailers have come and gone. These guys have stood the test of time. You will be able to find what you’re looking for at least at one of them, and although its price might be a bit higher than you’d like, if they say it’s Near Mint…it’s Near Mint.

Oh, and those things I said about Ebay, the one area they don’t necessarily hold true all the time is when the online retailers put some inventory up there, but that’s not necessarily everything they have nor what you’re looking for. Still, it’s an exception to my general Ebay rule.

There are some other retailers who are “online”, but I personally haven’t dealt with them. The new GenCon Auction boss, Troll & Toad, I haven’t personally dealt with outside of Auction. I can say with a great deal of certainty they were buying up everything in site on the RPG sessions, but I can’t say why other than they saw this as a great “cheap game buyback” opportunity. I really can’t fault them for that considering that’s what everyone thinks of it.

Speaking of the Godfather of all used game sales, the GenCon Auction is THE place to pick up some great collectibles. Conventions in general that exhibit RPG retailers or 3rd party distributors are decent, if erratic sources of used books. The GenCon Auction is itself a little erratic, but due to the sheer volume, you can usually find most anything you’re looking for if you’re diligent enough. You do have to really hit the store at the right times to be certain about that. You’ll always come out with a good price at Auction (almost always), but quality is mixed. At least in these cases you can see before you buy and if you’re buying direct in the Auction and not in the store you can get the barkers’ evaluation of the product perhaps along with some choice info on it.

As another aside, if D&D/AD&D is your collection crack of choice, you have another, critically important resource. Where almost no web sites exist independently for the average expected pricing and product descriptions of used and out of print games other than D&D, D&D has the best and most thorough I’ve yet encountered and it is the Acaeum. This site has scans of module and box set covers, some basic description information, version and printing information as well as condition and general pricing data. Want to know what a copy of the RPGA tournament module of Bigby’s Tomb went for recently? They have it (incidentally $600 NM at the GenCon ’04 Auction). This is the Kelly Blue Book of the TSR gaming world.

The Acaeum even has a solid user forum with some of the best experts in the gaming world on collectibles (mostly focusing on D&D obviously) as well as helpful tips on the proper care and preservation of your books. Any true collector will care about that.

These are just the primary resources for you to tap. There are others and you’ll learn them as you begin your search. Given the “cottage industry” nature of much of RPG’s, it’s not unheard of to track down writers or owners of old gaming companies and buy old stock off them. I’ve seen it happen, but I wouldn’t expect every such person to be as “receptive” to communication for such a purpose.

Remaining sources would be everyone from Steve Jackson Games’ online store (which carries a lot of material these days) to peripheral stores that carry a handful of RPG products here and there. In most cases, these will not have much, but occasionally a gem can be found.

Armed with this information, any new collector could easily get started and get to gathering all the items for his or her new treasure trove without near the effort as those of us who started from scratch often without any indirect or direct input from other collectors.

Should you start, I guarantee it won’t be easy to start, but consider by paying to keep and gather these books, you’re playing your small part in ensuring a system or two survives the ages and that RPG’s will be around for, hopefully, another generation.