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Chamax Escape: Design Notes

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2024 issue. You can download Chamax Escape in either US Letter or A4 format.

Greg’s notes: Sometime in the last year I must have gone down a rabbit hole one day while exercising my Google-fu, and I began to discover the wonderful world of solitaire games. While these games are sometimes quite complex, I like the simplicity of these games – I only need myself to play them.

While wasting an afternoon clicking links and typing key words, I happened upon a solo game called 1972: The Lost Phantom by Mike Heiman. He has created a number of games, but this one spoke to me because it’s a first person “shooter.” It’s about a downed aviator trying to escape from behind the lines. To me, it felt close enough to an RPG that I could be exported into my Traveller library of adventures. I legally printed a free copy he made available and filed it in my “think I hope one day to return to” folder.

Then about a month ago I was on Citizens of the Imperium when I spied a posting offering people the chance to playtest an adventure – I jumped at the chance. It was Yellow Ribbon by username Ekofisk. It’s a solo game somewhat like Across the Bright Face but you are a squad of militia trying to escape the Chamax invasion on Raschev. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my addled brain two synapses fired, making a connection.

Inspired by both sources, I set out to create something similar but unique.

Now let me say this about that – I’m a writer, not an artist. I can draw a straight line if you give me two rulers taped together with space in between for the pencil. Anything creative that I might want to pursue I run screaming from the moment I realize art might be involved. I’ve played with some AI art generators, but I take what I’m given, and I don’t ask for much – megacorp logos, noble house coat of arms, attractive female spacers taking off vacc suits – but I digress.

Surprisingly, I overcame my fear of creating art by creating…something…let’s just call it “graphical” so as not to antagonize any true artists reading this.

I posted the prototype to my Virtual Traveller Facebook group as well as CotI and invited game testers to provide feedback; I appreciate all the constructive criticism that was provided, and I believe the final game addresses those comments, suggestions and concerns.

From the start I knew two things – I wanted this to be published by Freelance Traveller, and I needed a graphic artist to make what I’ve created much, much better. Fortunately, I know a guy but, unfortunately, he’s a very busy guy. Much like the A-Team: if you have problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him, maybe you can hire…Tom Price.

Many of you know Tom’s work in collaboration with Ian Stead. He’s one of the luckiest people in the world – a professional game developer and artist. Tom makes the deck plans I almost exclusively use for my online and real-world games. Nothing seems to freak my players our more than the random chemical stains Tom punctuates his illustrations with. Via Facebook Messenger I sent him the prototype and practically within hours had not only greatly improved the draft but also extensively game-tested it, providing numerous improvements to the rules as well.

I’m grateful that Tom has been willing and able to so tremendously improve Chamax Escape. I also greatly appreciate and have enjoyed our previous collaborations, which include: in 2022 we won the Hyperspace Jam for Run for Your Lives – which has been run a few times virtually and in meatspace…it’s the one that involves about 5000 yellow Lego studs; and in 2021 we scored well but didn’t win the One Page Derelict Jam with Tarakona: Secret from the Stars, a Rendezvous with Rama-type adventure I’ve run online with the PCs as space- but not yet star-faring Ziadd.

As for Chamax Escape – always take the path of least resistance, even if that temporarily moves you way from the ideal direction of travel. Your player is more likely to die from being eaten by the Horde while resting to overcome exhaustion (END equals zero) than from wounds you receive along the way. Be patient. Don’t move too fast. At least until you get a few of the helpful items. Remember to use those +1 DMs at the right time (e.g. Mountains). Lastly, good luck and remember, you’re on your own.

Tom’s notes: I like Greg – his view of the world and way of thinking is very different to mine, and that leads to more original thinking and avoiding assumptions in descriptions! The UK and USA – “two countries separated by a common language… ”.

I took one look at Greg’s prototype and immediately I wanted to give it a go – and I hate solo games. I am an educator and use games in my current job quite a lot – but in education it is essential to supervise and guide the game, and crucially carry out a post-game discussion, to make sure the learning objectives have been brought out. So, I never use solo games at work, and I never play them for entertainment (although a lot of them are really useful for their random event tables).

Well, almost never…

The Chamax Plague is a classic Traveller adventure, and the idea of a lone survival game against the ravening horde is a wonderful trope. I have an original copy of Double Adventure 5, so it made great logical sense to me, and I wanted to have a go.

Tweaking the artwork was trivial, and I really didn’t do much – mostly put it on two separate pages, so it would be easy to include in Freelance Traveller (and allow folks to print out one copy of the rules, and perhaps a few copies of the map for their attempts to escape).

The problem I have though, is that I teach simulation, modelling and wargaming (yeah – I love my job!). This means that I understand probability distributions and small sample sizes. Greg was using a 2D6 distribution (which I heartily approve of – linear distributions (in most cases) don’t reflect what happens in nature and approximate to a normal distribution (so the numbers in the middle (6, 7 and 8) are much more likely to happen than the numbers at the extremes (you are approximately twice as like to roll a “natural 20” in D&D, than a double 6 in Traveller) (5% to 2.8%).

This means that the terrain hexes in the game are randomly distributed, but the events that happen are not – they are skewed to favour the events in the middle of the table.

The events at 6, 7 and 8 are all benign – so 44.5% of the time you are probably going to be reasonably well off. High ground lets you see ahead and spot a farm where you can go to; Farm will give you a scythe half the time and food the other half. Path allows you to enter terrain without having to “roll to enter” (with the penalty of getting lost (losing both Endurance and Proximity (the Horde draws near!)), as well as move fast (increasing Endurance and Proximity).

So, if you are careful and only a little lucky, you will be fine. But, of course, if you are unlucky, things can go wrong really quickly, and you will be in trouble…

All this took quite a lot of playtesting, and a clear understanding when someone was “really unlucky”, and when they “made good decisions”… The rest was tweaking some of the words (and trying to keep the game to two pages (and making 2 versions to cope with US Letter format, vs the rest of the world A4 format!)).

It was fun, and I thought I might do a generic “crashed in the wilderness – survive for long enough for help to arrive” game to have in my back pocket, just in case my party end up scattered across the landscape… So – I might end up designing one of my own solo adventures (or even a few of them for different environments…).

Oh hell, Greg, what have you done?

My advice is – stick to the woods where you can (83.3% chance of entry), follow a Path to the Mountain (automatic entry) (where you can scout out the terrain and find that Farm to go to next). And only head to a Port if you are desperate…