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*Freelance Traveller

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After-Action Report: TravellerCON/USA 2018

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue.

(Sorry about no pictures; I took the camera with me, and promptly forgot to actually USE it...)

Executive Summary: Traveller was played, fun was had!

The Trip Out

I decided to get on the road early this year; the week leading up to TravellerCON/USA saw long delays on the New Jersey-bound George Washington Bridge during and just after the morning rush (opposite the main flow of traffic), so 0700 saw me pushing the Start button on my Prius. A quick stop at the ATM, and a slightly longer one for breakfast at the deli I usually stop at on my way to the train in the morning, and then it’s on to I-95 toward the Bridge. I still have a few options for changing my mind and crossing at the Tappan Zee (no, it will never be the “Mario Cuomo Bridge” in my vocabulary), but other than a couple of accidents causing congestion on the Cross Bronx Expressway, it was smooth sailing to the GWB, and I was pretty much able to stay on cruise control from the I-80/I-95 split to the site—the Lancaster Host, same as last year (more on that later)—except where US-222 and US-30 were ‘main drags’ through various towns. I pulled in to the lot at about 1130, checked in, got lucky—the room was ready—and dropped Stuff, and headed down to the con room for chatting and maybe a pickup game.

In the room, we were getting set up to play Traveller; outside, in the rest of the hotel, it bore a passing resemblance to Twilight: 2018. There were a lot of areas where wallboard had been put up, and hard-hat areas declared; there were other areas with visible signs of construction, and the front atrium and a section of parking lot were gone. We’d been warned, though, shortly before the con, so the only real surprise was the sheer extent of the postapocalypticization (no, it’s not in the dictionary; deal with it).

In chatting with KF (the Con Co÷rdinator) and MH (the Con Queen), I learned that this was the “real” renovation—apparently, the past two years were mostly cosmetic, until they started discovering serious structural issues—and the harder they looked, the more they found. We’re hypothesizing that the sale three years ago was a bit rushed, and the new owners were perhaps less diligent about inspections and walkthroughs than would have been optimal. And the old owners less diligent about maintenance than about revenue extraction. Net result is what we were seeing, plus the additional information that the renovations are a year behind schedule, and $30 million over budget. It was also revealed that this was to be our last year at the Lancaster Host; next year’s TravellerCON/USA will be at the Holiday Inn Morgantown, about a half-hour from the present site, and a half-hour faster to get to except if coming from the south. KF showed me pictures; I was favorably impressed.

During this “free” time, Gypsy Knights Games and RPGSuite arrived and set up; I chatted briefly with Noah (RPGSuite) about changes to the program—there’s some interesting stuff coming down the pike that will rate updating my review, and there were a couple of add-ons that were on special, so I made a note to grab the add-ons before leaving the Con. I then caught up with John (GKG), and compared my list of GKG items with his, and gave him enough money to make sure they matched. I then helped MH set things up; a surprising number of attendees were showing up early, and she wasn’t quite ready to process check-ins. That brought us to 1700-ish, so I ducked out in search of dinner, as lunch had been reduced to some snacks, and forgetting about the traditional pizza that would be brought in later.

Session 1: Friday Evening

It turned out that a few planned attendees weren’t going to make it, mostly due to illness. Some of them were referees, and that meant that my planned Session 1 game wasn’t happening - and there weren’t any other open slots. Part way through, HA offered to run a “pickup” game, a bit of an experiment—he was using the Scum and Villainy rules with a Third Imperium setting; the mission was a “personnel acquisition” job on Collace/District 268. I’ve asked HA to explore the rules a bit more and perhaps write an article for Freelance Traveller; I will say that it really needs some “home gaming group” play before being brought to a con. It’s strongly Narrativist, and strikes me as having some philosophical similarities to FATE—but it also definitely seems more complex than FATE. In spite of the fact that nobody really had a ‘handle’ on the system, fun was had.

I rolled into bed around midnight, looking forward to the following day.

Saturday Morning, before Session 2

The restaurant and dining rooms were casualties of the postapocalypticization, but KF and MH had (barely) sufficient notice to make arrangements for a limited number of con-goers to breakfast with them in the Con Hospitality Suite—they had a couple of food-service trays of bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, waffles, and pancakes brought in, along with a few containers of apple and orange juice, some biscuits, and some fresh fruit. Decent food and some pleasant chat, and down to the playroom!

Session 2: Saturday Morning

JD, who had been supposed to run my Friday game, arrived late—car trouble—so I signed up for the Saturday morning session of his game (he was running the same game in all sessions). “One Crowded Hour in the Casino” started out with the players participating in a high-stakes Sekhoma tournament—JD actually had us playing Sekhoma, not just rolling dice—and then being overcome by a release of anti-hijack gas. The characters then wake up separated, and at a severe disadvantage in both numbers and power, and have to deal with the situation. We’d played Sekhoma a bit longer than planned, so we didn’t actually finish the adventure, but fun was had. I’ll note that Sekhoma as a game works well, but it really takes a bit of work to set up a good deck. JD had found a six-suit deck, but the two extra suits were relatively easy to confuse with Hearts and Spades, and we only had the one thirteen-rank deck, instead of 1-6 twice. As a result, it made it a little difficult and error-prone to evaluate hands.

The absence of the restaurant wasn't a problem; there is a wide range of food in the neighborhood, from a buffet place across the street to family dining and fast food a short distance up or down the road. Lunch was found, and enjoyed.

Session 3: Saturday Afternoon

I returned from lunch slightly later than I had intended, and with the reduced number of referees available, all the games were filled. So, I wandered around carefully not kibitzing. Although this year’s “theme” was supposed to be Solomani and the Rule of Man, one might be excused for thinking that it was ‘600-ton subsidized liner’; more than one game was using it as the ship of choice. Technology was in evidence as well, at least two tables had laptops with external monitors as display aids, and one of them appeared to be using the very large external monitor as a battle mat. Five years ago, the popular IT press (as contrasted with the industry professional press) was saying we’d have roll-up OLED screens; as near as I can figure, they’re still about five years off. In any case, I can just imagine what Traveller referees (not notably technophobic as a group) will do with them when/if they become reality.

The miniatures table had an interesting setup; it appeared to be a series of wooden boxes of different sizes with plastic snap-together dungeon pieces laying out the interior. A bit of contemplation revealed that the boxes would actually stack into a pyramid, and a quick check of the Con Book confirmed it. It’s good to see that people are willing to put the time and effort (and money) into elaborate setups to try to enhance the player experience!

The session broke at 1700; dinner was sought and found.

Session 4: Saturday Evening

Nobody signed up for JD’s game this session, so he was at loose ends—and he had an ‘alpha’ copy of the board game Traveller Ascension: Imperial Warrant that he was interested in exploring. Opening the box showed material of good production value—some plastic tokens representing ships and agents, and heavy cardboard pieces (3mm thick) making up the board. The board pieces were in full color, and looked to have excellent registration, and the plastic tokens were well-designed. What was lacking in this example, however, were rules and faction charts; a beta of the rules was found on the web and downloaded, but they really need to be completed and reorganized. So, that was a bust from the point of view of playtesting, but interesting, nevertheless. I look forward to seeing the final product (I’m not a Kickstarter backer for this product, more’s the pity). After giving up on Traveller Ascension, we started setting up for the next morning’s session of “One Crowded Hour at the Casino”, and discussed the shortcomings of Sekhoma as revealed in the Saturday Morning session. We ended up agreeing to disagree—I’ll admit to possible bias on my part, as the article on Sekhoma carries my own by-line, but I really don’t think it’s as unplayable as JD seemed to imply he thinks it is.

Session 5: Sunday Morning

A number of people had packed up and departed late Saturday night, and with no restaurant there was no breakfast Sunday morning unless you ran out to McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts or the like. I didn’t. The final session started at about 0830, and just for the heck of it, I played JD's game again. This time, we used modified draw poker instead of Sekhoma; with the six-suit-thirteen-rank deck, it worked a little better. This time, the poker was kept under control, and we got to the breakup of the group and the anti-hijack gas a bit quicker. This time, though, it wasn’t a straight-up fight with Vargr highjackers; Something Happened, and we ended up in a Strange Place. To tell any more would be spoily, and JD may want to use that part of the plot again, so leave it at “it builds on some information that is in the Classic Traveller canon, though somewhat obscure” and “we had fun playing it”. Although we had until 1230ish, nominally, we brought things to a conclusion slightly before 1200, and I then decided to check out and get on the road—it being Sunday, and football (gridiron rugby, not Association/FIFA, which I call ‘soccer’) season had started, I knew I was going to hit traffic approaching the George Washington Bridge.

The Trip Home

Usually, I start out and get on the highway quickly, and then stop at an Arby’s along US-222 for lunch and perhaps a nap, depending on whether I managed to get enough sleep. This time, I stopped at the Arby’s a short distance away on US-30, and then struck for home. It was smooth sailing right through Pennsylvania and onto I-287 in New Jersey, and even I-80 wasn’t bad until the I-80/I-95 split approaching the George Washington Bridge. From there, traffic was heavy but moving to about a mile west of the tolls; from there, it was stop-and-go right across the bridge and onto the Cross Bronx Expressway. The problem turned out to be halfway across the Bronx, on the westbound side; apparently there was a bad accident (which had been mostly cleared by the time I got there), and eastbound traffic was caused by mouth-breathing rubberneckers trying to see what was going on across multiple lanes of traffic. That added an hour to my trip, for a stretch that should have taken maybe ten minutes at most. Once I got past the brain clot, it was once again smooth sailing, and I pulled into my parking space at home shortly after 1700—plenty of time to unload and do laundry, and still have dinner and get to bed at a reasonable hour. Which I did.

And thus was another TravellerCON/USA put in the books.