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TravellerCON/USA 2022 After-Action Report

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue.

TravellerCON/USA 2022 happened the weekend of 14-16 October 2022 at the DoubleTree by Hilton of Lancaster PA, the same site as last year. Short summary: Fun was had!

The Trip To

I got started a little later than I’d intended, but the upside of that was that I wasn’t hitting the end-of-rush-hour traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway. The approach to the George Washington Bridge was, as usual, slow, but not painfully so, and it was a fairly easy trip into New Jersey.

I-80 had a bit of rubbernecking delay westbound (the direction I was travelling) around mile marker 47; the eastbound lanes were the site of a box truck going sideways through the barrier on the shoulder, and it looked like there might have been some debris in the right lane – at any rate, there were police and a large tow truck on the scene, and eastbound traffic was being forced into the left lane to pass the scene. Once past the westbound clot of rubbernecking, traffic was moving well on I-80, I-287, and I-78 well into Pennsylvania.

US-222 was pretty good, too, until about a mile and a half north of the PA-100 exit. From there to the Maxatawny Township border, it was slower than even the Cross Bronx Expressway normally is, and tractor-trailer rigs were lined up as far as the eye could see. Once through Maxatawny, it freed up back to normal speeds on that road, and the rest of the run to the DoubleTree was uneventful; I arrived a little after 15:00.

Session 1: Friday afternoon, 13:00-17:00

Games for that session were already well in progress when I arrived, so for me, it was time to look at the vendors and say hello to both Marc Miller and Charles Gannon – both of whom were present, not virtual – and put my stuff in my room. I also took the opportunity to give Marc the set of printed Freelance Traveller I’d printed for the 2020 convention (which didn’t happen) and updated to the current issue. I also scored a set of Droyne Coyns from Books of Holding; these came with a carry bag and a set of cards describing how they can be used and how to interpret them in a casting ceremony. I wasn’t able to learn at the time what the coyns are made of, but it’s a decently tough metal – I was told that they wouldn’t bend even under normal deliberate attempts. Once I got home, the vendor emailed me with the information that they’re a zinc alloy. They’re the size of a US half-dollar coin, and the same weight. In addition to having the symbols for each of the coyns on the obverse (and a stylized drawing of a Droyne on the reverse), the obverse also has a number of dots on a circle drawn around the coyn symbol, making it possible to use the coyns as ‘dice’.

Dinner was scheduled for 17:00 to 19:00; as usual, Megan (Keith wasn’t able to attend this year) arranged for pizza to be brought in.

Session 2: Friday Evening, 19:00-23:00

I signed up for Greg Caires’ Stranger Things, an adventure using homebrew psionics rules grafted on to Classic Traveller with modified chargen, since the player-characters were all below 18 and had some psionic abilities. Rather than using a separate psionic stat, psi was usable ‘freely’, with stat penalties based on fatigue – for example, Teleportation was ruled to be a DEX-based talent, so if you accumulated fatigue due to using Teleportation, it was taken from your DEX. As long as you had sufficient points in the relevant stat(s) to perform a psionic action, you could perform that action. Greg’s psi rules also included a boosting drug whose effects were ‘permanent’ until ‘used up’ through fatigue; the boost from the first dose was 4D6 stat points, with each subsequent dose being less effective. Players were permitted to distribute the stat points across all stats except SOC; a boosted stat was capped at 18.

Players were advised to look over the (partial) character cards before play started; Greg then allocated the characters to the players through a ‘draft’: Each player rolled 2D, then Greg rolled 2D. Players that rolled higher than Greg’s roll picked last; the others chose their characters in order, highest roll to lowest. There were no UPPs for the characters, but skills and some personality and background notes were provided; the UPP and the character’s psionic talents were filled in using a quick chargen process designed to produce UPPs that were plausible for characters in the age 12 to 17 range.

The battlemap for Stranger Things

The premise is that the characters are on a lab ship that acts more-or-less as a psionics institute (Greg described it as ‘Hogwarts in Space’), when the ship’s boat, returning from what was supposed to have been a supply run, instead disgorges Imperial assassin androids. The lab ship’s operational crew turn into redshirts, and are eliminated from the scenario right at the start, leaving the player-characters and a few of the adult researchers (NPCs) to deal with the situation. The scenario is designed to make using psionics attractive, in the sense that psionic actions can achieve results with lower risk than going mano-a-mano with the enemy. We finished the scenario using some ingenious moves, and had an hour for post-mortem debriefing; Greg told us about some other runs of the scenario and how they were ‘solved’, and asked for critique.

The allocation of psionic talents was such that the characters seen as a team had a good mix, but no two characters would necessarily have the same combination of talents, so no two runs of the game would have the same outcome or the same ‘script’. While there were no moments worthy of either the SEH or the PFI convention awards, tension was consistently fairly high, and everyone ‘got into’ the play pretty well.

Session 3: Saturday morning, 08:00-12:00

Jeff Billings, creator of Traveller: Ascension – Imperial Warrant, is protoyping another game; this one doesn’t have a name yet, but will be an ‘adventure level’ game, where the players control a party of characters and each player ‘writes’ his own adventure. Characters have skills and equipment; these can affect the player’s ability to complete ‘chapters’ (turns) successfully. The players’ goals are symbolized by requiring a number of ‘story points’; story points are gained and lost by succeeding or failing at the goals of the various chapters. The prototype only gave the titles of the chapters, with no storyboard text; the mechanic is roll xD for [strictly] less than a target number; having specific skills or equipment (or not having them) may affect how many dice you roll. In addition to gaining or losing story points, you might also have an encounter (leading to combat), or gain or lose a companion (member of the party) or equipment. Once you gain the story points you need to complete your story, you need to complete two more episodes (Climax and Epilogue) to finish and win. Your climax is a ‘boss battle’ confrontation (which may not be a physical fight); if you win, your Epilogue is getting off the world to go home – which isn’t necessarily going to be just going to the starport and booking passage. The game can be played solo; if it’s not, each player acts as the Villain for another in encounters and in the Climax.

Jeff Billings’ new (unnamed) Traveller adventure-level game in playtest. Left, a view of the table, right, a closeup of one player’s setup

There were some bobbles during the playtest, but the basic mechanism is sound, and it’s not going to be difficult to learn in its final release – in fact, it’s likely that a player with only a few games’ worth of experience will be able to teach complete novices the game, and bring them up to ‘functionally competent’ at the mechanics. This is going to get a ‘buy’ recommendation when it ‘goes live’, just as Ascension did.

Session 4: Saturday afternoon, 13:00-17:00

Well, actually, 13:00-15:00 – I signed up for Nicole Beach’s To Honor Grandfather, another prototype game. Nicole and her team scheduled two playtest/demos for each session, and the game really can be played in under two hours. The premise is that the players are Droyne who are honoring Grandfather (you may read that in a religious sense; it’s pretty close) in their explorations. Players roll dice and move about between and on worlds; while moving about on worlds, encounters can occur. Different die rolls can gain or lose honor (including being able to steal honor from another player) and succeeding at an encounter can also gain honor (and also benefits toward completing other encounters). The game mechanics are quite simple; it took less than ten minutes to fully grasp the basic rules, and not a lot longer to understand the less-used special rules.

The prototype used dice that were marked with the symbols for Droyne coyns, just like the ones from the set of coyns I scored as swag Friday. If you wouldn’t mind the ‘die rolls’ taking longer, you could do a ‘coyn ceremony’ with the coyns instead.

The current rules have some weaknesses; it’s really a little too easy for someone rolling well – or with good pattern-matching skills – to gain honor without having to go through encounters. I pointed this out to Nicole and suggested some minor tweaks to encourage more playing for encounters; she was quite receptive, and I’m looking forward to the kickstarter announcement – like Jeff’s new game, I’m giving this a solid ‘buy’ recommendation just on the strength of the prototype.

(The rest of the session I spent wandering around and writing this AAR; I also decided that even though all I had was my phone’s built-in camera, I’d try to do more pictures for this AAR than I have for past AARs.)

Saturday break, 17:00-19:00

The second half of the break had some stuff scheduled, unlike previous TravellerCONs. So, a quick dinner, and adding a bit more to this AAR, and then Marc Miller gave a little talk-and-Q&A largely on psionics, but he was willing to take questions on anything Traveller. We also got the annual everyone-together pic, and then it was time to start the games.

Saturday evening, 19:00-23:00

Regrettably, there wasn’t really anything that grabbed me, so the first part of this session was basically wandering around seeing what was up, and finishing up this AAR. Among the games that were run this year was one based on the first book in the Dumarest of Terra series, The Winds of Gath; Marc ran his ‘Can You Survive’ quick-chargen workshop; Timothy Salisbury ran a Classic Traveller game where the PCs were Zhodani aboard a ship maintaining an interdiction patrol around a TL2 world, when suddenly a radio signal is detected from the surface…; David Thomas turns the canonical Imperium somewhat on its head in an adventure where the PCs are playing Vargr ‘good guys’ in an attempt to persecute the celebrated Imperial psions out of existence; Bill Potter ran a game based on Greg Caires’s Traveller: 1700 rules/setting (see the July/August 2020 issue of Freelance Traveller); Bill White ran a session of Mustering Out Blues – I’ve played in this before and it’s never the same twice; Bob McAndrews ran a Zhodani Psionic Olympiad. This year, many games incorporated psionic elements, which Megan and I were definitely happy to see – the whole idea of setting a theme was to inspire referees (and players) to think about the theme and incorporate it into their Traveller, and that was a lot easier with this year’s theme than with last year’s Hiver theme. We’re looking forward to next year and the Free Trader theme…

The Trip From

I decided to skip the Sunday session and get on the road relatively early; when I got home I had laundry and grocery shopping to do. Megan was still up in her room; between the stress of running the convention almost single-handedly and losing her voice, and worrying about Keith (medical issues, not mine to tell)… she probably could have used any additional sleep she could get. So, I sadly missed out on goodbys to her, but I did spread some around to friends who were at the early session, and I got out onto the road at about 09:45. Traffic was good, just a slight slowdown over the same segment that caused problems Friday coming down, so I reached the Arby’s in Kutztown at 11:00, just as they were opening for the lunch trade. Half an hour later, happily full of beef-and-cheddar and curly fries, I was back on the road heading for New York. Traffic was smooth and remarkable only in that there were no delays until I was practically in Fort Lee, NJ, where traffic always clots up a bit across the George Washington Bridge and on the Cross Bronx Expressway. I made it home a bit after 14:00 and dropped my bags, and took care of the needed chores, then had dinner, and finished up this AAR. Once again, the short summary is “fun was had”, and I’m looking forward to next year!