#44: Rabbit Holes
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue.
I don’t know if there were more of them this year, or whether I noticed more, but we had no shortage of ‘rabbit holes’ in the games I was playing or refereeing at TravCon this year. You know the kind of thing, a moment when the actual adventure pauses for a moment and some abstruse bit of rules are discussed, or a ‘what if’ alternative universe version of what events are transpiring around the table is considered, or as often as not, something entirely unrelated to the game or even to Traveller.
I’m sure there are purists who feel they shouldn’t happen, that they break the fourth wall, that they destroy the flow of the game. I suspect there are others who enjoy a bit of a mental break in a four hour game which can involve a lot of concentration and creativity. I’m pretty certain there are referees who appreciate a moment or two of down-time and an opportunity to think if they’ve been caught on the hop by some unexpected development.
I know the latter is true because I’m one of them. While I wouldn’t want them to get out of hand and sometimes find myself drawing time on them aware of the clock and the amount of ‘plot’ remaining, I’m not averse to the change of tack that they can bring. Indeed, as anyone who has played in one of my games will know, I’m not immune from introducing them myself: sometimes by accident, sometimes by over-enthusiasm, maybe once to give myself time to think.
This year at TravCon I found myself getting a little bit side-tracked by my rant about the Itzeny Church and the missing staircase, enjoyed a discursion into ethics, and teasingly prodded a debate on the actual tech level of the Rule of Man. Fortunately, no one bit at that one, perhaps unaware of the rancour it’s raised on the Traveller Mailing List in times past.
One rabbit hole seemed to have a life of its own as it moved between games and kept popping up in the most unlikely of places. I missed its origins but in one game I was refereeing there was suddenly a discussion of paper sizes. Did the Third Imperium use Imperial (of course!) or metric sizes? Slightly frustratingly from my point of view of wanting to be in on a joke, I had to have it explained to me why on earth we were discussing it. I can’t even remember why it came up in my game – although it might have been the clerk doing a stock take in the Governor’s Mansion near Tavanix in Wolf at the Door.
I hope players will kick me if I stray too far from the fun at hand and I certainly hope that referees would kick me if I was distracting them or players, but just occasionally it can bring lots of humour and shared experience to a convention game and may well be worth tripping over for a moment.