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*Freelance Traveller

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Designer’s Notes: Virtual Traveller: A Weekend of Virus-free Online Roleplaying

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2020 issue.

When TravellerCON/USA (TCUSA) was forced to cancel in June due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic sweeping America, a few long-time sponsors and participants of that venerable convention “conveniently” located in rural Pennsylvania simply could not stand the idea of a Traveller-free autumn.

“We look forward to playing but more importantly we look forward to getting together with old friends we only see at TCUSA,” said Ken Patterson, who immediately conceived of the idea to organize a virtual convention. “But before we did anything, we wanted to make sure Keith and Megan would approve.”

Keith and Megan Frye are the organizers of the (usually) annual TCUSA event. From the Con’s Facebook page: “We are a boutique convention which caters to seasoned Traveller fans and newcomers alike. Launched in 2006, (with permission from Marc Miller) on the 30th anniversary of Traveller, we meet every October in…Pennsylvania for a weekend of Traveller, and Traveller-based, gaming.”

Megan often says TCUSA was born from Keith’s interest in playing Traveller, because “it was easier to organize a convention, than to find 5 local players” – a line that always gets a laugh because it is true.

On the 40th Anniversary of Traveller, in 2017, Mr. Miller attended TCUSA, to the great delight of the attendees. Prior to TCUSA 2020’s cancellation, he was expected to attend again. In addition to the “Emperor” himself, Greg Lee, another well-known Traveller contributor, regularly attended TCUSA until his passing in April 2017. Greg is famous as the author of Lee’s Guide to Interstellar Adventure (1982) as well as Cirque (2014), for T5, as well as sponsoring TCUSA’s traditional Friday Night Pizza party.

After nearly a decade and a half of existence, TCUSA casts a long-shadow across the Traveller community’s landscape. Its cancellation – amid so many other disruptions to our lives – is unfortunate but understandable. But it leaves a hole in the heart of many a Traveller fan.

To help “scratch the itch” Ken pulsed a few fellow Traveller players to gauge their interest in an online convention; as some Traveller is better than no Traveller, they signaled their support. But before Ken would move forward, he wanted Keith and Megan’s blessing.

Their requirements were few and simple: your event is not TCUSA Online. It is not to be described or branded as such. And you must make sure that people understand that TCUSA will resume live, in-person, in rural Pennsylvania next year once COVID-19 has passed.

With a clear understanding of the do’s and don’ts, Ken initiated the development of what would become “Virtual Traveller: A Weekend of Virus-free Online Roleplaying,” scheduled for the weekend of 16-18 October 2020.

“I probably considered and rejected about 50 different ideas just to create the title of the event,” Ken said. “Because I want to also be a player, not administer a convention, I wanted its organization to be as simple as possible.”

As a result, Virtual Traveller uses Facebook as its primary means of organizing and marketing the event. Like TCUSA, Virtual Traveller has a Facebook page and also a private group and listing on Facebook’s event page. “We would have preferred a public group, but because the group also includes the specific game dates and times, Facebook locks that down for participant privacy and safety.”

Traveller has a tremendous following on Facebook – there are more than a dozen public groups dedicated to all editions of the game as well as its spin-offs like the collectible card game. The biggest group has more than 7,000 members. An entire Freelance Traveller article could be written on the subject. It is a center of gravity for the Traveller community.

Because Virtual Traveller will be free to attend, there is no money to pay for online convention organizing tools like Tabletop Events, although the convention does have a free listing on Warhorn, another convention organizing tool. “While it may be imperfect, we figure several dozen adults should be able schedule, promote and play a number of Traveller games online without too much adult supervision,” Ken said.

Despite these limitations, GMs and players will have a number of online tools they can use to actually play Traveller. “Roll20 seems to be most popular, but GMs can also use Fantasy Grounds or Foundry VTT. Discord, for voice communication and text chat, is also popular,” Ken added.

Because many players will be new to online playing – imposed by the pandemic – Virtual Traveller plans to organize some workshops in advance of the convention to help them navigate these tools.

During the three-day “weekend,” Virtual Traveller games are scheduled throughout the day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday – each with three time slots per day: morning, afternoon and evening. There are also “Happy Hours” scheduled between the afternoon and evening games so players can socialize away from the game tables.

All variants of the game are welcome, but so far Classic and MegaTraveller seem to be the most popular. As of this writing, there is at least one game being offered during each time slot during each of the three days. However, GMs are still sought and volunteers are welcome.

“While it can’t, won’t and isn’t supposed to replace TCUSA, it will satisfy some amount of need many people have to play Traveller with old and new friends,” Ken said.

More information about Virtual Traveller 2020 can be found at https://www.facebook.com/VirtualTraveller2020/ [Editor's note: As the event will have passed by the time this appears on the website, the page may no longer be available].