Monthly Archives: January 2012

Review of Mongoose Traveller, Part 1

On Friday night, I got to run a one-shot of one of my favorite systems: Traveller. Or more specifically, the Mongoose Publishing version of Traveller (usually shortened to Mongoose Traveller or MGT). You see, there are quite a few versions of Traveller, the oldest of which was released in 1977. Mongoose Traveller is an updated version of the original Traveller with more modern mechanics. The result: pure awesomeness!

The most ingenious part about Traveller in all its forms is character creation, which is basically a game in and of itself. Most RPGs have you create characters as they are in the present and any thought about their past is usually an afterthought relegated to a character’s backstory. Traveller works the other way. Your character’s statistics are a direct result of their past life events, which are randomly determined to some extent. Although you will likely wind up with a different character than you envisioned, the result is a character with greater depth and history.

The first thing you do is roll 2d6 to determine your six basic characteristics. There’s the standard RPG attributes like Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, and Intellect, but there are also two more: Education and Social Standing. Just like the PSAs tell you, a better education means that you have more career choices. But being famous helps too.

You start your character as a teenager on a planet somewhere out in space. You get a few skills based on your homeworld and upbringing, then you get to apply for your first career. If you make it, then you’re off to good start. If not, you can either let the military draft you or you can become a Drifter (or as we like to call it, a Hobo).

After that, you advance your life in four year stretches of time. You get training in a skill to indicate your learning on the job. Then you have to make a roll to see if you “survive.” In old versions of Traveller, failure meant you died. Time to make a new character! But in Mongoose Traveller, failure just means that you were ejected from your career for some reason. You roll on a mishap table to figure out why. Perhaps your journalist got arrested and sent to prison because of something they wrote. Or your marine led a blunderous assault and was severely wounded, resulting in his discharge. Either way, it’s time to find a new career.

If you succeeded in your survival roll, you get to roll on an events table to determine what notable thing happened to you in the last four years. Perhaps your scout managed to get in contact with a previously undiscovered alien species. Or your noble had some political squabbles and gained an enemy. After this, you roll to see if your character gets a promotion of some sort in their career. Then you can repeat the cycle again for the next four years of life.

If you decide that your character is getting too old, then you can end character creation and decide to start the game at whatever age you stopped at. There is a tradeoff to aging: you become more skilled, but the physical toll of aging starts to catch up to you. I think that this is a really brilliant mechanic because it makes it so a 26 year old and a 62 year old are both on about equal terms in the entourage while still having very different talents.

Another important part about character creation is that you gather contacts, allies, rivals, and enemies. These add more depth to the character (and give lots of great plot hooks to the GM). Contacts and allies can also be another player character, reflecting your shared history. I even had one player made another player character into a contact, then roll a life event saying that their character became romantically involved with one of their contacts. So the characters wound up marrying! I can’t say that I’ve seen that happen in any other system.

To sum it all up, character creation is a blast and is definitely a unique system! Next week, I’ll be reviewing Mongoose Traveller for the actual gameplay.

A Gamemaster Manifesto

While reading another gaming blog, I came across the Gamemaster Manifesto on Reddit. It’s a series of 14 points that a certain GM promises in his game. I’ve decided to create a similar list with the things that I promise in a game I GM:

  1. I pledge to create a game that is fun for both myself and all players at the table.
  2. I pledge to provide an immersive setting, created either by myself or by other imaginative people.
  3. I pledge to allow you to help personalize the setting for the group.
  4. I pledge to have an end in mind when starting any campaign so that it will be an engaging story with a suitable beginning, middle, and end.
  5. I pledge to use a gaming system that allows for your character to be awesome.
  6. I pledge to follow the rules of the gaming system so that you know exactly what you are able to do. I reserve the right to modify or eliminate any rules found in the system (possibly by request) and will notify you ahead of time of these changes.
  7. I pledge to help you understand the rules and will happily make suggestions about tactics, character options, and other elements of the system that you may not be familiar with.
  8. I pledge that I will respond to ideas with “yes,” “yes, but…,” or “no, but…” rather than a flat “no.”
  9. I pledge to allow you to create the character that you want to play, so long as it fits with the setting and contributes to the fun of all players at the table.
  10. I pledge to give you a challenge and odds to overcome. Victory will often be difficult and require both planning and luck, but it will never be utterly impossible.
  11. I pledge to avoid content that makes anyone feel uncomfortable to be playing the game. I will ask a player to change their behavior or leave if they are encouraging content that makes other players feel uncomfortable to be playing the game.
  12. I pledge to provide open and thoughtful conversation to address any issues that you may have about the game.

This list may not be exhaustive, but it should make it clear the sort of game I want to run. I think it all boils down to the first pledge:

I pledge to create a game that is fun for both myself and all players at the table.

I also promise never to have a game as ridiculous as this one.

The Next Iteration of D&D

In October I made predictions about D&D 5e. Not two weeks ago I predicted that Dungeons & Dragons 5e would be announced sometime soon. Honestly, I didn’t imagine that it would be this soon. If you’ve read other gaming blogs, you no doubt already know that Wizards of the Coast made an announcement that they are indeed “developing the next iteration of D&D, and will be looking to the legions of D&D fans to help shape the future of the game along with us.”

Before I give my opinion, I’d like to say that there are two things that strike me about this. One is that they are calling it “the next iteration of D&D,” rather than “D&D 5th Edition.” This suggests to me that it will have some new name. Later in the press release, Mike Mearls states:

We want a game that rises above differences of play styles, campaign settings, and editions, one that takes the fundamental essence of D&D and brings it to the forefront of the game…We seek to reach as many people as possible, from the gamer who just started with D&D last week to the gaming group that has been together since the early-1970s. For this process to work, we want to give a voice to all D&D fans and players of all previous editions of the game.

Given this goal, it makes sense that they would be hesitant to name it D&D 5e, since it would imply that it is next in a serial line of progression that’s one more step removed from your favorite edition. From a psychology standpoint, I think this makes sense because it’s dissociating this next iteration from that serial progression. The only trouble is that we don’t have a definitive name for it yet, although “D&D Next” seems to be the predominant term. The Platinum Warlock has predicted that it will wind up being “D&D Anniversary Edition” because 2014 is the 40th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons, but I suppose time will tell.

The second thing is that Wizards of the Coast is getting feedback from the players about the new edition and you can even sign up to get prerelease materials this spring for your home campaign. Moreover, they’re trying to get feedback from players of all editions. I see this as a double-edge sword. It’ll be a good thing because Wizards will get a lot of feedback and be able to fix a lot of issues and complaints before the final product is released. They did this with the hybrid classes that appeared in D&D 4e’s Player’s Handbook 3 and I think that process worked out well.

The trouble is that there are going to be a lot of passionate players with a lot of strong opinions about the best rules for Dungeons & Dragons. There will no doubt be long and heated discussions and rants on the internet. Heck, there already are just based on the initial announcement alone! Still, it’s my sincere hope that the majority of players will be civil about the process and will able to constructively give suggestions.

So what do I think about it all? I’m optimistic. I think that this “best of D&D” mentality combined with crowd feedback will result in a product that will appeal to the majority of D&D players. And let’s not forget that a successful version of D&D and a united D&D playerbase benefits the role-playing game industry as a whole. After all, more D&D players encourages more people to get into the hobby itself, after which many will try different systems. So here’s to an improved next iteration of Dungeons & Dragons!

The Quick and Easy Character Background

Characters aren’t just people who suddenly poofed into existence at the start of the campaign. They have a past, secrets, and dreams. A good GM will try to incorporate these aspects of a character into the campaign, usually by asking for the players to write up a character backstory which they will use to develop character-specific plot hooks. Sometimes that doesn’t work so well though. Either a player doesn’t know what to write about or the player writes a short novella about the character’s past which, while interesting, doesn’t always provide the GM with useful information to create plot hooks for the character’s future in the campaign.

So I’ve developed “The Quick and Easy Character Background,” a system-neutral, double-sided paper with five steps to help a player create a character backstory that makes it easy to create good adventure hooks that the GM can use. You can download the complete PDF here. The questions are simple and ask about:

  • The character’s background and concept
  • A goal the character has and the goal the player has for the character
  • Two secrets about the character: one the character knows and one that involves the character, but they do not know (and there’s a note that the GM may be creating a third secret that neither the player nor the character know)
  • Three people tied to the character, two friendly, one unfriendly, and an optional nemesis
  • Three memories that the character has in order to provide some context and flavor

I’ve had my players use this for several campaigns, especially Savage Worlds and Dungeons & Dragons campaigns and I’ve had good results with it. For instance, I once ran an Indiana-Jones style pulp campaign and one of the players had written that they had a mother was traveling the world. So I had a session where his mother guest starred as a companion character. Momma Laros didn’t have any combat skills, but she could taunt and intimidate like only an old lady can and she instantly became a hit among the players.

The “secrets” section is especially fun for the GM. In a Star Wars game I ran, a player wrote that his character’s secret was that his character was a Jedi. He also wrote that the character didn’t know that his father, who was a Jedi too, was killed by Darth Vader. So the secret that I created that neither the character nor the player knew was that Darth Vader had recruited his father as a potential apprentice. The player’s reaction when it was revealed was priceless!

This handout is useful for any setting, but sometimes you need one that is more focused. Last spring I ran Daring Entertainment’s War of the Dead, a zombie apocalypse campaign, and created a simplified version for that campaign, which you can download here. This one removes the “secrets” section because there wasn’t much opportunity to explore them in the premade campaign, and I asked questions that were more specific to a zombie apocalypse, like who your character would miss.

I’d like to give credit where it’s due and say that this handout was based off of questions created by D&D forums user “The_Stray” in this topic, which in turn was adapted from the Minimus RPG. To keep the sharing going, I’m releasing both documents under the Creative Commons Share-Alike License 3.0, which allows you to freely distribute and adapt them, so long as you make it clear that any revision is based on my work and those who came before it.

I hope you all find this useful. Please let me know well it works for you and your campaigns!

Here are the file links again:

2011 in Review

Happy New Year! The Gregorian calendar may have ended, but the world didn’t. And you know what? I predict that we’ll have the same outcome when the Mayan one ends. To celebrate the world not ending, I’d like to reflect a bit on what happened this past year, both in the role-playing game industry and my blog.

The Blog

First of all, this was the year that I finally created The Journeyman GM and wrote weekly posts on a variety of topics. According to WordPress’ spiffy year end statistics, I had a total of 2,900 views this past year, which is fantastic for a blog just starting! The most popular post was my Predictions About D&D 5e, thanks largely to a cross-post on Reddit. One of my favorite posts, which seemed to have gotten lost in the shuffle, was this one in which I got some really solid RPG advice for climactic battles based on the last Harry Potter movie.

I’m really thankful for all of you who read this blog. The site got several visitors from users searching for “D&D 5e”, “Journeyman GM”, “River Song”, and interestingly, “dynamite explosion.” To my surprise there were a number of international visitors to my site as well. All in all, I just want to thank you for the support you’ve given my blog. You deserve a cookie!

The Industry

This year seemed like a fairly mellow year for the role-playing game industry. Wizards of the Coast had a pretty light release schedule, which some have seen as evidence that they are starting to end-of-life D&D 4e. Pinnacle Entertainment also had a pretty light year with their biggest release being a Deluxe Edition of the core rules (which I reviewed here and here) and a reprint of their 50 Fathoms setting. Cubicle 7 released The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the Wild (reviewed here), but didn’t have any big releases for Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. Mongoose Publishing wrote in its year State of the Mongoose that it was tough year for them and, from what they could tell, the rest of the industry. I don’t recall anything ground-shaking being released from any company at Origins and GenCon. All in all, it was a fairly mild year.

The Industry in 2012 and Beyond

The Wasted West, Now Reloaded!

I think that 2012 will be a much better year for at least some companies! Pinnacle Entertainment has already announced that they have about 20 products in the pipeline, much of which is new content and the majority of which is Deadlands-related (a complete fan-compiled list can be found here, which rumor has it was compiled by your’s truly). Of particular note is Deadlands: Hell on Earth Reloaded, which is the Savage Worlds version of the sequel setting to Deadlands in which the year is 2094 and the world got nuked. No matter what you think of it, you have to admit that having a post-apocalyptic Western setting is pretty original. And although Pinnacle has historically been very tight-lipped about release dates, Shane Lacy Hensley has definitively said that after the many delays that have come, it will be released in Spring 2012.

I’m betting that other companies are going to be making big announcements, but they will be for products that will be released in 2013. You can see from this fan-compiled list (not by me) that Wizards of the Coast has announced four books, a few map items, and some miniatures. All but one is going to be released before GenCon. Since this is uncharacteristically quiet for Wizards, my guess is that there will be an announcement for D&D 5e sometime soon. Mongoose Publishing even openly stated that in 2013 “the stars will be right” for D&D 5e, and I suspect that they have some insider info as a company that has published D&D supplements in the past.

And let’s not forget that Fantasy Flight Games now owns the Star Wars license. They have already announced two new games for this coming Spring (Star Wars: X-wing and the creatively titled Star Wars: The Card Game), which I got to demo at GenCon. But ultimately, I bet that there will be an announcement this year of a Star Wars RPG with a 2013 release date. If you’re curious, I already made predictions about it here.

The Blog in 2012

Expect more posts on a roughly weekly basis throughout next year. Like this past year, I’ll largely be switching between reviews, general role-playing game thoughts, gameplay summaries, and whatever else I feel like. If you’d like to see more of a certain type, please leave a comment and I’ll be sure to consider it.

One Final Note

There’s a project that I’ve been working on for some time now that I’m (hopefully) going to be releasing later this year as an officially licensed Savage Worlds product! There should be an official announcement by this summer, but at the end of the day, it’ll be done when it’s done!

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