This article originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue.
I struggle with remembering the details of the basic Traveller rules. So at TravCon, with so many options to choose from, I was initially uncertain about “Barbarians at the Gate” (see AAR, Freelance Traveller #075, May/June 2016). It was being run by, let’s call him DM. That was an immediate draw; I’ve never played in a game he’s run that I’ve not loved. It was set, rather unusually for TravCon at least, in the Interstellar War period (which was another draw). But it was announced as being a hybrid of Traveller and Uncharted Worlds. So I was rather dubious about the value of trying to learn a new rule system when time is so short.
I should firstly say that the adventure was absolutely great. We were trader/spies on the edge of Terran/Vilani space able to make a real difference through our actions or inaction. But to be honest much of what DM was doing (really well!) with the Uncharted Worlds rules went over my head. Partly due to my ignorance of gaming ‘systems’, mainly due to my utter exhaustion by that point in the weekend. (And not helped by the brief distraction of Andy dragging me into the corridor mid-game to persuade me to run a game immediately after. Sorry about that.)
However, there was a standout flash of insight that made up for any difficulty. If I got nothing else out of the game I utterly fell in love with the idea of getting the players to Make Stuff Up. Other referees probably eat that for breakfast, find it blindingly obvious, or have been doing it for years. Excuse my ignorance, but I've not seen it before and just that bit was, for me, worth the price of admission.
I can’t, now, remember anything about my character; I can remember little about the plot in detail; but I can still vividly picture the view from the 67th floor of the office block that DM had me describe as we met our patron near the start!
Of course, that was only a small thing and relatively easy for DM to fold into events, but there were other examples which of course could be abused by players not willing to enter into the spirit of the thing. But with a confident referee and mature players I could really see the advantages for engagement and investment in character and story.
On the way home in the car I said I’d have to try it out myself when next running a game, but T pointed out that I already had. He’d been lurking by the (impromptu) game I was running later that evening and noticed that a couple of times I’d got the players to tell me why they faced a problem in what they wanted to do. On reflection I had and it had worked well. I was clearly subconsciously channelling pure DM and what he’d just shown me. So even without Unknown Worlds rules, I think I will try and adopt more of that in ‘regular’ Traveller.