#46: Not So Easy Pieces
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2020 issue.
Those who have learned musical instruments will no doubt at one time have had to practice scales or rudiments and perhaps also come across those short, often very short, fragments with titles along the lines of “Five Easy Pieces”. At least that was my experience as a schoolboy learning the piano; often thinking, it’s all very well for you to call this easy. The ‘you’ was sometimes anonymous, sometimes an unheard of composer, and sometimes the name of a great I actually knew about. Presumably whoever had written the things had also gone through similar exercises in their musical development.
Of course, the pieces weren’t chosen by the teacher simply as a form of torture for the budding musician and any family or friends within earshot. I assume that in their brevity they focussed on, or at least included, a particular feature that was the subject of that particular lesson. Some I recall were quite fun to play; others, not so much. It probably depended on a combination of how straightforward or difficult they were and what they actually sounded like.
Under lockdown my daughter came up with a plan, along with two friends she’d be in gentle competition with, to craft a different hedgehog every day. Curls of paper; an earth and stick construction in the garden; a mosaic; a Lego model. As lockdown continues the inventiveness has to increase and it wasn’t long before I offered to create a Traveller hedgehog. Obscure, admittedly, but it might help her out for a day or give her a break. I doubted anyone else would ever really need a Travellerized hedgehog. A quick bit of investigation in the size and habits of the creatures and two Mongoose Traveller versions and a classic Traveller version were filling a page. Cepheus Engine was an obvious next step as a popular system and not that different to MgT1.
Then I thought I might take it a little further and perhaps try a GURPS Traveller version or maybe even Traveller5. By that time I might as well go the whole hog, as it were, and throw in MegaTraveller, Traveller: The New Era, Marc Miller’s Traveller (T4) and Traveller20 versions. Aren’t the animal rules some of the least changed between systems, I blithely thought? Well, yes and no. The basics are very similar throughout (well, except GURPS) but the detail can vary – sometimes obviously and sometimes in quite subtle ways.
Some of the rule sets I found fairly easy to handle – either because they’re straightforward or because they’re very familiar. Others were much harder; prickly, even, to handle. Either because I don’t know the rules well; or because they’re poorly explained; or both. Some assumed a huge knowledge of related rules that weren’t in the animal creation section, were scattered in several places, or were difficult to find at all. (T20 I’m looking at you although not the only offender.) Some I was surprised to discover, didn’t actually provide any examples of what an animal description or encounter table looked like (e.g. MegaTraveller which has two pages of ‘Designing an Animal Encounter’ table in the Referee’s Manual but no template except for a couple of brief examples in Hard Times, p.67, published four years later). One system I feared, Traveller5, was for once relatively straightforward although suffered from the usual irritation of description section not quite matching tables not quite matching examples.
Now, I’m not suggesting that every article and adventure in Freelance Traveller should cater for every rule set going – although I’d certainly vote for every article being labelled with what rules they do use. [I tried that for a while; it didn’t work too well because there were too many multi-system and generic articles –Ed.] But it was an interesting exercise to go through and see what had changed and how something as simple as a hedgehog might look in different rule sets. It not only gave little insights into the various Traveller editions and rules, it also on occasions uncovered additional facets of the creature being designed. MgT2 for example reveals the creature may be diseased; T5 offers both its taste and its trainability; in GURPS you find that hedgehogs can have a tendency to overeat.
Definitely ‘not so easy pieces’ but good mental exercise. I also learned a little about myself and my ignorance and patience levels!