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*Freelance Traveller

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#31: Off Piste

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue.

Editor’s Note: The term ‘off-piste’, for those unfamiliar with it, is used here to mean ‘deviating from what is expected’.

I wrote last time about that ‘dead time’ when, for whatever reason, you find you’ve not played, read, noodled, written or perhaps even thought about Traveller for a while. But I don’t worry about those moments because, as I said, ideas will stew and “emerge when they’re ready”.

For those who’ve been following my once-every-other-month running of The Traveller Adventure may also recall that we’ve been spending a couple of days on Carsten, between the chapters ‘First Call at Zila’ and ‘Wolf at the Door’. At first, I was just going to spend one evening on some lightweight events to show what a backwater it was, but there was such an outcry about missing Day Two when I proposed at the end to skip on to Aramanx, that I promised them another evening on planet.

However, what with holidays and the dead time, I’d given it no thought at all beyond the fact that it would it involve a mine and archaeological dig site they’d expressed some interest in when touring the thrill-a-minute Museum of Geology. So, the weekend before our Thursday in the pub, I’d intended to hatch some kind of plan. Nothing came; I had other things to do; displacement activities leapt out at me. I went to work on Monday and began thinking about it on the bus but still with no real idea. Then in the small hours of Tuesday morning an idea came and I knew I was on to something.

Fortunately, I no longer work on Wednesdays, so I had all of that day to come up with a local area map, a diagram of the underground mine workings, a key NPC and to study how to put on a faux-Russian accent (for said NPC). I cobbled together a couple of pages of notes which I was printing out on Thursday morning and by lunchtime actually felt I was ready for the evening in the pub. Better yet, it seemed to go reasonably well (I’m never quite sure!) despite the fact that two of our number were missing including one playing the archaeologist for who whom the dig site had been part of the draw. (I scaled that segment right back and it possibly made the whole two days considered as a whole that much better.)

Perhaps it was the pressure of the deadline, perhaps it was the couple of months ‘off’, perhaps it was just well-timed inspiration, but my worries over having nothing to run and my fears about overshadowing the main plot of The Traveller Adventure proved groundless. The players seemed content, I felt I’d played my best NPC ever (not a high bar, admittedly) and I’ve come away inspired enough to send the missing players (and the Traveller Mailing List) a detailed write up, as well as turning the whole sideshow into its very own 12,000 word adventure (if I can use the word adventure so loosely).

In short, going off piste from the written text has been well worth it!