After-Action Report: TravellerCON/USA 2021
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2021 issue.
TravellerCON/USA returned this year after losing the 2020 TCUSA to the pandemic. It was something of a relief; even though it’s an occasion that can easily hit all my buttons – unlike Mr Collinson, I am not normally a gregarious person – I have to admit that I missed it last year.
I usually chronicle my trip in semi-excruciating detail; I’m going to
skip that this year. Suffice it to say that the Cross Bronx
Distressway Expressway was up to it’s usual speed (is there an
emoji for irony?) and US 222 was slower than it has been in the past – I
could swear that every traffic construction diversion device in the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was somewhere between I-78 and US 30.
Traffic in general was heavier than I expected, too, and construction
wasn’t the excuse for all of it. A 9:00 departure from New Rochelle got
me where I wanted to be by 15:00, with my usual brief stop at the
Pennsylvania Welcome Center on I-78 and a somewhat longer stop (not made
in previous trips out) at Arby’s on US 222 for lunch.
This year was a new site: Last
year’s TCUSA’s site
was problematical in several ways, so this year, we were at the
Doubletree Lancaster. Doubletree is a Hilton brand, but it’s not a
lap-of-luxury location; it’s very comparable with the best of the sites
of past TCUSAs. It’s also about five miles south of US 30 where US 222
joins it, mostly through streets in downtown Lancaster and out the other
Session Ia: Friday Night
New at TCUSA this year were slots for ‘panel discussions’. Charles E. “Chuck” Gannon was a special guest this year, and he talked to us about the influence of Traveller on his science fiction (and that of several other authors with name recognition). It was eye-opening learning how many of my favorite modern SF authors have played Traveller (and clearly had their writing influenced by it), and seeing how worldbuilding principles in Classic Traveller influenced authorial worldbuilding was fascinating. The video will eventually be posted on-line; watch the RSS feed for the URL.
Session Ib: Friday Night
After that discussion, it was time to pull out the dice and character sheets and start playing Traveller. I played in DT’s “A Handful of Seamen”.
The premise of the adventure was that the PCs were a team sent by the Hive Federation Development Agency to an unexplored world on the fringes of the Hive Federation, near the border with the Solomani Confederation, with the remit of determining whether the world had any useful resources and what it would likely require to set up a self-sustaining colony at the lowest viable tech level. We were doing this in a dhow-like craft, with an associated airship and submersible.
The party consisted of two Hivers, an Ithklur, a Gurvin (yours truly), and two humans from Federation worlds – an interesting mix. A few watch cycles in, things started getting interesting. We represented one of three groups involved in the mission, so that the mission could run on a full-time continuous basis while ensuring that everyone got adequate ‘down time’.
We weren’t finding much, although we did encounter an unfamiliar life-form that could best be described as a three-meter-thick soccer-field-sized blanket. And that’s all we ever found out about it – we never managed to get a sample or to determine its life cycle, feeding habits, et cetera; it’s almost as though its discovery was a signal to Loki, “Hey, now’s a good time to start playing with these folks!…”
The other two groups each in turn made … questionable … exploratory decisions that resulted in their loss (and the loss of the airship and submersible), leaving us alone in the dhow to carry on and complete the mission. Then, something – we weren’t sure what, because it snuck up on us – clamped our ship in its teeth, and we were in danger of being crushed. We hit the panic button and … I think I’ll drop the narrative here; more would be spoily, and some of you, my readers, may want to play this one the next time DT decides to run it…
I will say that Mr Gannon added to the fun in the way he played one of the Hivers, which fit in perfectly with the eventual denouement.
Session II: Saturday Morning
After a pleasant breakfast at the breakfast buffet, it was time for more Traveller. BP was running ‘Is That A Lamura Gav On Your Jacket?’, which turned out to be a locked-room murder mystery in the tradition of Murder on the Orient Express. The party were the only passengers on a small luxury liner plying a route between two worlds in the Hinterworlds sector, crossing the border between the Cytrialian Unity and the Annubian Trade Coalition. A Hiver negotiating on behalf of the Coalition and a Lamura negotiating on behalf of the Unity both wanted to get a deal done, so it looked like the week in jump would allow the deal to be finalized and announced when the ship landed in the Coalition. The first night out, however, saw the Lamura Teg murdered, by poison, and it was now time to figure out who and why. We ran out of our four hour session before we ran out of jump, and got a good start on an approach to solving the crime – although there were pieces of several different puzzles all jumbled together. You don’t get the denouement, because we never did solve it, and while BP explained all the pieces, he’s undoubtedly going to run this again someday and deserves it not to be spoiled. Fun was had, and this could easily be adapted into one of those “How to Host a Murder” games, where even the murderer doesn’t know whodunnit until all the pieces are put together.
Session IIIa: Saturday Afternoon
After a quick lunch with some other participants at a nearby fast food chain, we gathered for the second panel discussion. Marc Miller had decided that it was safer for his family if he didn’t attend in person this year, so he chose to join via Zoom. Dave Thomas was present in person, though, and the discussion was about the Hivers and their place in Traveller. The video will eventually be posted on-line; watch the RSS feed for the URL.
Session IIIb: Saturday Afternoon.
JB and his wife were here again this year, selling Traveller Ascension: Imperial Warrant and their other games. I decided to renew my acquaintance with the game, and a lot of it came back quickly. I’m still impressed with the simplicity of the rules and the complexity of the resulting interactions; this is definitely a game that has staying power – you’re not going to play it once or twice and then put it away with fond memories but still never really feel ready to drag it out again.
Session IVa: Saturday Evening
After dinner, we gathered back in the panel area for Marc on Zoom and Chuck in person discussing the early history of Traveller and GDW. There was a lot of interesting history, and I was surprised to learn for just how much of that time Traveller development was essentially an afterthought, even though it had been selling well. The video will eventually be posted on-line; watch the RSS feed for the URL.
Session IVb: Saturday Evening
As I did two years ago, I brought a game that I had been working on for playtesting, and got good feedback. I think my next step needs to be to consult with an IP lawyer; I’d love to be able to get this out there more widely for testing and eventually salable product, but there are things I Must Get Clear. Thank you to everyone who has playtested and given me feedback.
Session V: Sunday Morning
I wasn’t signed up for any games, so I was just wandering around socializing. MF (She Who Is The Queen of the Con) got us all together for a group photo, after which I socialized a bit more, and then said my goodbyes; I didn’t want to get started too late in the day, because if the NY Jets or NY Giants football (US gridiron) teams were playing at home, I’d hit the after-game traffic about two hours from the George Washington Bridge.
… And Back Again
I actually got on the road around 11:00, a couple of hours later than I’d originally thought to (but didn’t really plan for). Going north on US 222 from the site to US 30 was actually easier than the other direction; the intersection for US 222 along US 30 when coming from the south isn’t a full interchange (you can’t get between the two roads in all combinations of directions). I figured I’d reach the Arby’s on US 222 in Kutztown around lunchtime, and I did – after somehow missing a turn and ending up on PA (Pennsylvania State Route) 12 instead of US 222. When I finally figured out that that’s what happened, I asked my trusty GPS (which I don’t actually normally use for routes I’m [supposedly] familiar with) to get me back home from wherever it was I’d managed to get myself to, and it figured that the shortest route would be to get me back to US 222 and onto my normal route home. A few minutes through some backwoods roads later, and I was back on US 222 – and about three minutes from the Arby’s I’d intended to stop at; I’d actually expected that I’d be past it and skipping lunch.
About 45 minutes later, with some beef-and-cheddar, curly fries, and Diet Dr. Pepper in my satisfied belly, I’m back on the road and heading home. Just as I get on to I-78, the sky clouds up, and either I’m chasing the rain, or the rain is chasing me, all the way to where the traffic for the George Washington Bridge comes to a near standstill. No, I didn’t get stuck in the game traffic I’d hoped to avoid (the Jets were playing in London, England, and the Giants in Dallas); it turns out that you just can’t cross the bridge without hitting traffic – the only other crossings into NYC either dump you out into Manhattan streets (the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels), or don’t have connections with I-80 (the Goethals and Outerbridge crossings into Staten Island) and require you to pay additional tolls to get from the respective crossings to where I need to be.
Once onto the bridge, about 45 minutes after hitting the traffic (on a hypothetical clear road, it should have taken only about ten minutes) the remainder of the trip home was smooth, and I walked in to the apartment at a little after 16:00 – so even the unanticipated diversion onto PA 12 didn’t really cost me any time.
(I had a really nice DSLR camera this year. Of course, being me, I completely forgot to use it, so I don’t have any pictures for you. Maybe I’ll remember next year…)
Getting back to TCUSA in person after over a year of covidiocy was an absolute pleasure, and I’m looking forward to doing it again – hopefully without additional covidiocy intervening – next year.