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*Freelance Traveller

The Electronic Fan-Supported Traveller® Resource

#27: Still a Newbie

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2017 issue.

Mr Zeitlin has kindly encouraged me to drop the ‘newbie’ title of these confessions. He cites various pieces of evidence that suggest my skills are developing. It’s generous of him, but occasionally I’m reminded that really I’m very new to this. You can still reasonably count my refereeing experience in hours and the number of different adventures I’ve actually refereed only makes double figures if you count Ashfall as three parts not one larger story in three sections.

There are still moments when I can’t find vital notes very quickly, or I fail to play an NPC adequately, or I’m flummoxed by a player’s question, or I have no clue what the rules say. I’m sure there are long established referees, however, who face similar moments but have learned to sail past them.

On the other hand, there are whole sections of rules I’ve not yet really mastered and so they’ve not, yet, featured in any of my adventures. Trade rules I’m just getting to grips with; we’ll kind of need them in The Traveller Adventure very soon, and ship combat I must have a go at at some point (but should I skip Mongoose 1st edition and go straight to learning the 2nd edition rules?).

But my worst moment recently was in the third session of The Traveller Adventure. We’d spent a couple of game evenings in Leedor and successfully fled Aramis with Gvoudzon and the brooch and without getting caught. The Captain was nursing a troubled heart having not found the love he was hoping for in the sister of one of the PCs.

I’d worked out that in three hours or so we could cover the next two chapters which are short. ‘In Search of Longer Legs’ deals with getting hold of demountable fuel tanks so the March Harrier can leave the Aramis Trace. It’s really just a pair of interactions with two brokers and I worked at making them different. I added possible sightseeing trips to flesh out the visit to the planet. That part went well enough but as I predicted only took half the time. ‘Patinir Belt’ involves rescuing a prospector who is on the verge of death.

I really really should have seen that this chapter had tons of potential for excitement, character actions and derring-do. Perhaps it was tiredness, or feeling a bit under the weather, or being a tad pressed for time as we’d started tardily and I didn’t want to overstay my welcome keeping people late, but sadly I more narrated this than played it out. I know it left us finishing rather flat and feeling a bit unsatisfactory. I kicked and berated myself for days afterwards I was so cross with myself. It was obvious. With hindsight.

I’m not sure there’s any solution but it did leave me with an overwhelming desire to do better next time. Try and think it through more. Find the engagement for the PCs and players. My cardinal rule is that it should be fun!

The Editor replies: I don’t generally feel the need to reply to an article that I print here in Freelance Traveller, and when I do, I normally restrain myself—in fact, I think this is the first time I haven’t refrained from commenting.

I’m perfectly willing to continue with Mr Collinson’s column under the same title essentially indefinitely, and if I’ve given him any other impression, I apologise. However, in my view, it’s not wholly hours-of-experience that determines the “newbie”; in fact, hours-of-experience may be the least important factor. Rather more important, to me, is the answer to the question “Can you run multiple sessions—whether full short adventures or segments of larger ones—and consistently end up having a fun session?” If you’ve run enough sessions that you can answer that question in the affirmative, I would hold that not only aren’t you a “newbie” any more, you’re showing the signs of being a good referee. Mr Collinson, in his after-action reports from TravCon/UK and his musings in this column, has certainly provided some good evidence that he’s a good referee.

The next questions I would ask are “Can you plan an adventure—short or long form—and successfully run it later? Can you keep it from going completely off the rails, or recover and get it back on if it does? And can you do it while keeping it fun for everyone involved?” Again, Mr Collinson has provided evidence in his after-action reports and his musings in this column that he can, and has. This marks him not merely as a good referee, but as a likely master of the art.

Anyone can make mistakes during a gaming session, and realize that maybe it would have been better—in the sense of it being more fun in the end—to not have made the mistake. Anyone can have an “off” day from lack of sufficient sleep, or being mildly ill, or having made less-than-wise choices in earlier meals. Anyone can be slightly disorganized. Those don’t count against you, in the long run. If your players had fun, they may not even count against you in the short run.

Any time I’ve played, whether in a gaming group or at a con, there’s been “post-mortem” discussion of the session. I’d love to “be a fly on the wall” at a post-mortem of one of Mr Collinson’s games; I suspect I would hear a lot of euphoric enthusiasm about it. And, if UK players are anything like the US players I’ve encountered, probably quite a few “thank yous” or offers of a beer or semantic equivalent directed to Mr Collinson.

Mr Collinson, hindsight is always 20/20. All you can do is what you’ve resolved to do: try not to make the same mistake next time. Making the mistake is not a sign of “newbie-hood”; it’s a sign that you’re human. You clearly have a “knack” or a “talent” for refereeing Traveller. I’m envious, because I know that I don’t have that knack.

You’ve been asked to referee. Not only by the gaming group made up of your work colleagues, but by the organizers of TravCon/UK. Several times. Including at least once “at the last minute” to fill in an unexpected hole in the schedule. And you did it, and everyone had fun. That says, to me and to them, that you’re doing something right. And coming back to do it right again. To me, that is the single most telling sign that calling you a “newbie” is perhaps … less than entirely appropriate.

No, Mr Collinson, I can’t agree that you’re still a “newbie”. I can’t even agree with the proposition that you’re still occasionally making “newbie” mistakes. You are a skilled and experienced referee, and recognized as such. You have been sharing your experience and your skill in your games, and in your musings in this column. You have, single-handedly, brought more people into our mutual hobby than I have—admittedly not hard to do, given the low number of people I can claim to have brought in. You are not a “newbie”, but a respected and valued member of the Traveller community, one who is worth listening to, for the wisdom that your experience can impart when shared. Thank you for that.