A Perpetual Traveller - Marc Miller

A Perpetual Traveller - Marc Miller

Allen Varney interviews Marc Miller, the man behind the Traveller games.

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Reading this made me wish I hadn't lost all my Traveller books (except for the T20 main book) and actually wish I was playing in a campaign. <wipes tear from eye>.

That said I have never been a fan of "prequels" in general, and I am a bit disappointed Marc is going in that direction with his planned "relaunch".

I will also say this much:

When it comes to RPGs, I think the enduring success of "Dungeons and Dragons" in all of it's various forms has been the "Adventure Module". An adventure that a GM can pick up and run with moderate preparation. Writing a good adventure that anyone can use, that isn't a simple exercise in storytelling (shunting PCs from encounter to encounter, with at most a few "choose your own adventure" like choices) is a very difficult thing to do. D&D probably saw hundreds of them produced of mixed quality from "Encounter to encounter" runs to entire islands you could explore freeform ("The Isle Of Dread"). In comparison writing sourcebooks full of rules, characterer types, and monsters for people to use in their compaigns, and guidebooks to regions of a campaign setting is a comparitive cakewalk.

I think the downside of a lot of RPGs has always been whether or not it can produce adventures at a steady enough pace. While not universally true, I think a lot of RPGs have failed even after a strong start because while they might provide an interesting engine and/or some awesome story backround people wind up at a loss with what to actually do with them.

The simple "plot points" idea for adventure outlines like mentioned above, or currently used by Jolly Blackburn/Palladium in the "Hook, Line, Sinker" format aren't the same thing. They still put most of the work/details on the GM (GMs rarely are short for ideas, but mostly on proper implementation, documentaion, and most importantly time). It was things like "Against The Giants", "Desert Of Desolation", "Keep On The Borderlands", and of course "Temple Of Elemental Evil" (to name only a few) that kept D&D strong IMO. If you think about it everyone played those adventures, and still do in some form.

When it comes to Traveller I think the last couple of editions suffered from the lack of adventures, which I think the earlier editions had. Judges Guild for example produced some adventure on a luxury liner, and you had various booklets and such that I remember in addition to the whole "Patrons" thing. As time went on I noticed more world development and less in the way of adventures, putting more on the hands of the GM. The whole "New Era" thing seemed to die years ago because while the concepts were good, I don't remember anything your typical GM could just pick up and toss out there. You either had to have someone who was really good at making adventures (or ad libbing them), or to try and recycle old material which was lacking the whole "Super virus" concept that made the setting unique.

Ah well, I guess what I'm saying is that as much as I don't care for prequels, I think his success or failure is going to be contingent on releasing a steady stream of quality adventures which is *NOT* easy.

Ironically one of GDW's last projects "Dark Conspiricy" (which had some truely awesome tie in novels) had some great adventures, but I think they were underproduced and they should have focused on that direction rather than going into obtuse sourcebooks like "Proto Dimensions" and the like.

Generally RPG adventure modules sell less well than a sourcebook or campaign book of the same size. (The only exceptions I know are Call of Cthulhu and PARANOIA.) So for small publishers it is more cost-effective to neglect adventures in favor of reusable source material.

Therumancer:
Reading this made me wish I hadn't lost all my Traveller books (except for the T20 main book)

Still have mine. Including all the characters that died during training.

But this:
image
made me well up.

Such a beautiful game.

BTW, Cobra Mk 1 top left, Mamba to the right and a Cobra Mark 3 bottom left. ;)

Great article. Traveller was my 3rd RPG (after D&D and Empire of the Petal Throne). It's still my favorite Sci Fi RPG. I've collected pretty much every edition, including Mongoose. MegaTraveller is my favorite edition, the task resolution system was a great improvement. And you could kill vast stretches of time designing starships... I always felt like I actually built them :D *sigh* Of course, I don't have vast stretches of time any more :(

An excellent read, Allen! But one gripe:

Though jocular commentators have always derided Classic Trav's char-gen for allowing a small chance the character could die even before starting play, this alleged flaw (removed in all later editions) highlights one of the game's neglected virtues.

SMALL chance? SMALL? I have lost count of the number of poor souls who died, stillborn, their character sheets not fully finished. There would be no "Mustering Out" for them...

(On the other hand, I wouldn't have it any other way.)

Another great article, Allen!

Therumancer, I think you have hit on an absolute truth. The key to a successful rules set is a steady flow of adventure modules for the Gamemaster. I actually did an extensive post-mortem of several of my own campaigns and I found a direct correlation between the length of the campaign and the availability of pre-written adventure modules. I generally run most campaigns interspersing custom and pre-written modules. In general, once I ran out of pre-written material, the campaign died in 6-12 sessions. It's simply too much time and energy to create custom material every week.

As Allen says, modules don't sell well - largely because they only sell to 1 player (the GM) while supplements can sell to all the players. This is why D&D 3.5 and 4e are all about splat-books. Unfortunately splat-books don't make the GM's job easier, they make it harder.

 

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