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#12: My Rules, Part Three: Dramatic Flourishes

Editor’s note: The initial Fifth Imperium column was published on the RPG.Net website in July 2009, and appeared in Freelance Traveller’s initial issue in November 2009. This column originally appeared on the RPG.Net website in August 2010, and in the Freelance Traveller downloadable PDF magazine issue #009 in September, 2010.

In the previous articles in this series, I talked about some of the changes and additions that I’ve made to the crunchy rule systems of Mongoose’s Traveller. This week, I plan to talk about the other side of things: how I've tried to improve the dramatic/storytelling side of the game, largely with ideas that originated in one way or another on the 2d6 Feet in a Random Direction podcast.

The RP Mechanics

Out of necessity, anything here is clearly bolted on, because Mongoose’s Traveller is a 33-year old game system, with the polish and mechanics updated a few years ago, but which has never underwent any core changes in how it actually tells stories.

Everything here is pretty simple too, largely intended to push things slightly in the other direction. Don’t expect anything big or amazing.

Drama Dice. Traditional games like Traveller don’t account for the fact that it’s sometimes crucial to be able to succeed at a very important task—or at least to have a considerably improved chance at succeeding.

Enter Drama Dice.

Players earn Drama Dice when they do something that’s good for the RP of the game. Often it’s something stupid (or at least disadvantageous to the character), but in character. Sometimes it might be something particularly clever or funny or just cool. When a Drama Die is earned a physical die is handed to the player. I like to use very mottled Chessex dice for the purpose, because they look unlike most anything else at the table.

A player may add a Drama Die in to any task roll he’s making, allowing him to roll 3d6 instead of 2d6. I’d probably allow Drama Dice to be added to damage too. One a Drama Die is used, it comes back to me.

I usually give out a couple of Drama Dice during each game session, meaning that there are usually a few opportunities for players to succeed at something really important.

Next Time On ... I have a few different RP tools that I sometimes use to close up sessions. One of these is “Next Time On …” I go around the table and ask players to give me a simple hook that might be used in the next session.

The general idea is that they’re supposed to tell me things that would be important or interesting to their characters, but more often I get hooks or vignettes that they think are generally cool.

My most memorable “next time” occurred over in my D&D game, where one of the players said, “A giant wheel of cheese rolling down the street.” That led to an entire fun fracas in a marketplace, where at one point the opponents tried to flatten the PCs by rolling a giant wheel of cheese at them.

Returning to Traveller, I've sometimes had “Next Times …” suggest a good portion of an adventure, such as when a player suggested “Mind Flayer-like aliens” and I came up with a plot thread for Farewell to Nexine that involved the players trying to hunt down an unknown alien race on the planet.

You just have to take everything as suggestions and make sure the players won’t be upset when you only use half of their suggestions.

Character Goals: This is another tool that I sometimes use to close up sessions. Basically, I go around the table and ask each player, “What’s your character’s more important, immediate goal at this point?”

It serves three purposes. First, it gets players thinking about their characters beyond the immediate moment of gameplay. Second, it gives me pretty good hooks for thinking about future adventure design. Third, it makes sure those adventure impact those characters.

Sometimes what I get isn’t very helpful, as when a player says they really want to get a skill up to level-0. But sometimes it suggests an adventure. Last time I asked, Dave W. said that he really wanted to recover the lost cargo that they learned about on Nexine. So, when I return to Nexine two adventures hence, I should build that in.

(Though it’s quite possible Dave W. won’t be there for the session, it’ll be great if he is, and if not he’ll be able to move his character forward when he does finally return.)

Next Time On ...

My goal in this column has always been to translate some of the real work I’m doing with Mongoose Traveller—whether it be cataloging articles in the rpg.net Game Index or preparing and running adventures for my home campaign—into specific advice. However, I’ve decided that my Traveller campaign is coming to at least a temporary end, after two more sessions, as I’ve been feeling increasingly burned out with it.

Hence, I’ll be bringing this column to an end too. However, before I do that I do want to finish the many topics that I’ve talked on. So in coming months expect to see some discussions of more genres, a few more plot hooks, some notes on setting campaigns in the Spinward Marches themselves, maybe a look at Traveller fiction, and definitely an index of everything that’s been written.

So, keep watching this space through at least the end of the year.