Tag Archives: Traveller role-playing game

World Building

Part of being both an RPG gamer and a science fiction writer is the need to put together entire worlds and cultures that don’t exist anywhere in the universe outside of my own imagination.  It is a big and complicated process.  I used to create entire illustrated information pages to capture the world in simple form for future use.

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If you can read the small print, you will find that much of the detail about Planet Dionysus and it’s associated planets is very complex.  The planet was a home base for the Evil Dr. Nathir, a geneticist who experimented on people and animals to give them chloroplasts and other plant-like organs to remove the need to eat food and add the ability to regrow themselves from cuttings  and regrow any missing parts.  His evil plant people with a taste for violence and mindless destruction permeated the entire jungle society.

Many of the people are of Arabic Earth descent and have deep ties to the use of psionic mind skills.  Shtaraqatl, seen above as a young adult and as a boy, is a good example of that.

Dionysus was also one of the planets involved in the invasion of a negative alternate dimension.  The portal opened to invade the other dimension was a two-way doorway that yielded more invaders from the other side than the evil Nathirites sent to take over and exploit the Scion Dimension.

Another important pair of planets were the worlds of Mantua, in the Classical Worlds, and Jargoon, home of the Perfect Knights.

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You can see that I not only established the worlds and their cultures, but I had to lay out the entire planetary solar system, including moons, gas giants, orbiting out stations, and anything else going around the system’s sun (or suns).

One of the results of the work I did planning out all these game worlds in the 1980’s is the ease with which I enabled myself to write science fiction stories later in life.  I had notebooks full of entire planets, their people, their governments, and a cornucopia of worked-out details to use as settings.  I hope to live long enough to make use of them all.

 

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Teachers in Space

This is another in my continuing series of Saturday night D&D posts, though it was written on Saturday morning and contains no Dungeons and Dragons information whatsoever.

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The Space Bear was a travelling space ship/school.

You see, in the early 1980’s, I got in trouble with Baptists for playing Dungeons and Dragons with kids from school because… well, demons and dragons are evil, right?  Apparently even the imaginary ones in games and illustrations. So I turned my attention to science fiction games.  Traveller was my rule system, and all science fiction was my campaign.  And then in 1986 Ronald Reagan and NASA decided to blow up the first teacher in space aboard the Challenger shuttle mission.  So, my Traveller game became less about “explore and conquer” and more about “teachers in space”.

gaijin1234aGed Aero was the player character of one of my favorite kids.  He was a psionic shape-changer who could transform into other animals, space creatures, and alien beings.  He became so powerful that he naturally inherited the job of leader of the Psionics Institute, a criminal teachers’ union that taught psionic skills to psionically talented kids. It was a criminal organization because the semi-fascist government of the Third Imperium had made psionics illegal.  He gathered students and taught them to use their powers for good.  The students were all non-player characters to start with, but as new kids from school wanted to play the game too, and player characters were needed, the students of Ged’s psionics dojo became player characters.

Junior Aero, a former student and the adopted son of Ged’s deceased brother Hamfast, grew up and became a player character himself. He taught psionics, being a telepath who could talk to computers and robots that were self-aware.  His wife, Sarah Smith Aero, also became a teacher.  She and Junior had twins, a boy and a girl, both genetically Nebulons, and both destined to be students aboard the Space Bear.

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Of course, you may have noticed a K’ung Fu sort of thing going on in the illustrations I am showing you.  That was because one time as Ged was in dinosaur form and fighting with a ninja swordmaster, he won the fight by eating the ninja.  His shape-changing power then absorbed all the muscle memories and martial arts training of the ninja he ate.  So, his students would not only become psionic masters of mind manipulations, but ninja warriors as well.

 

So, whether they liked it or not, my Traveller players had to learn to teach their skills to others, lead students through complex adventures and problem=solving situations, and basically do themselves a lot of the same things they saw me doing in school all as part of a role-playing game.  You see, that was one of the main dangers of playing role-playing games on Saturdays with that kooky English teacher in South Texas. The danger was, you might actually have to learn something.  Although, most of them probably didn’t realize that that was precisely what they were doing.  They thought we were just playing games, or junk like that.

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Home Base

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When you play role-playing games in outer space, like Traveller, it really helps to have a home base.  For my players in the 80’s and early 90’s, that was the planet Gaijin.  Gaijin was an Earth-like planet with numerous archipelagos and far more ocean than found on Earth.  It was also given to much more tropical weather, never really growing colder than temperate zones in Fall.

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The population of Gaijin was made up of a blended race descended from both Japanese explorers from Earth and the very human-like lemon-yellow-skinned people known as the Sylvani.  The Oriental/Alien culture made it very easy for player characters to find training in martial arts and ninja skills, as well as well as the mind and body skills of Psionics that were illegal within the Third Imperium.  The original group of player characters found shelter and training in the Palace of a Thousand Years, the place destined to produce the White Spider of Prophecy.

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It was, of course, the leader of the adventuring party, Ged Aero, who became the White Spider.   He was born in the Imperium, but together with his brother, Ham Aero,  and the rogue Trav “Goofy” Dalgoda, they settled in Gaijin’s capitol, Kiro, and established a school for psionic ninjas.

Ged was himself a gifted psionic shape-changer, able to become any creature or person whose DNA he had tasted or absorbed through his skin.

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Ged’s biological daughter, Amanda would later succeed him in his role as Master of the White Spider Dojo for Psionics.  She was herself a quite gifted telepath and ninja warrior.

Many different player characters arrived on Gaijin to let their players experience the life of a space ninja.  These are just a few of them.

As I am sure you can tell by this, a lot of different kids played the game with me over the course of a little more than a decade.  Some of them weren’t terribly creative (Luke Bloodstone was going to be Skywalker until I talked him out of using that name).  Some of them liked other things immensely too (Vince Niel was the captain of the Rock and Roll Starship and had to have a crewman named Nikki Sixx).  Some characters like the idea of massive wealth on a planetary scale (hence the fact that the Marchioness was a noble and owned an entire planet that was not Gaijin).

But this particular home=base planet would become a center for adventure and eventually the inspiration for my novel Aeroquest.

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Time Travellers

In role playing games I was always willing to go where no other game master has gone before.  Such was the case with the role-playing game Traveller and the matter of time travel.  No rules existed in the rule book to cover time travel.  But I didn’t let that stop me. I made them up as we went along.

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I got a boost when one of my players wanted to create a character based on Dr.Who.   The British series played on Friday nights on PBS in the 1980’s.  But that particular player, though very creative, was not a precisely cerebral type of kid.  He spelled it “W-H-O-E”.  So, forever after, we referred to the character as Doctor Hooey.

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Good old Hooey was always getting the group into impossible situations that took a great deal of thinking to get out of again. He had a penchant for crashing time machines.  And when he got the destination right, he would get the time wrong on the year, century, or millennia.  And when he got the time right, well, what do you know?  He got the place wrong.  The players never seemed to realize that I was taking them to planned adventures no matter what the dice rolls supposedly said.

Many such adventures would encounter weird and wild characters who would inevitably also become time travelers, whether fellow travelers for the sake of goodness and light, or as recurring villains.

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For example, Brech was a student space ninja traveling through space and time with the teacher characters among the players.  And by time traveling, they ran afoul of the Revenant, a time-traveling cyborg assassin who stalked the players for accusations of serious “time crimes”.  The cyborg turned out to be young Brech’s future self.  Which proved lucky.  Brech was able to establish a psychic link with his future self just as the cyborg was about to execute everybody, and Brech thereby turned a deadly enemy into an ally.

We tended to adapt movie characters who were time travelers into important NPC’s, and they did not all come from the Dr. Who show.  The characters shown above were Doc Brown from Back to the Future and Professor H. G. Wells.

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When I stole characters from Dr. Who, like I did with Lady Romana here, I tended to adapt them totally to my own game universe.  Romana was nothing like her TV counterpart.  In fact, only the name was the same.

We soon had so many time-traveling characters in their different time machines that we had to organize it all.  This we did by founding the organization known as the Time Knights of Gallegos.

And we needed a leader to coordinate the various initiatives through time and space.  For this we chose a specific NPC, the boy super genius, Ryan Beowulf.  He was a charming super-brained perpetual ten-year-old who worked with his own future self, the thousand-year-old Time King Beowulf.

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Traveller, it seemed,  was never more fun than when we were free to go rock and rolling through both space and time.  We had some harrowing adventures and even made use of my own vast storehouse of useless historical knowledge that can wow ’em in the moment and make them wonder why they needed to know about that upon further reflection.  Time traveling, like fez’s and bow ties, is cool.

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Making Characters for Traveller

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When I started playing the role-playing game Traveller with a group of middle school students, one of the first challenges to overcome was the creation of original characters and interesting new stories.  You can only play for so long with characters named Solo, Skywalker, and Vader.  Then, you must get creative.

What I am going to show you today are a passel of characters so creative, lame, and craptastic, that you will probably forever after have pity on those poor kids who chose to play the game with me.

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Harry Scipio Strontium 90 was a space detective.  He and his assistant, the dwarf Quark, were necessary to the game because player characters had a tendency to kill people, aliens, and destroy planets, routinely misusing the biggest and baddest weapons in the equipment handbook.  He relentlessly pursued player characters and villains across space and time.

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The Geomancer was a deep space explorer who mysteriously never took off his space suit.  He bailed characters out of trouble when they invariably got marooned on airless asteroids, lost in dead space with no fuel for the starship, or imprisoned by cannibal plant people on an unexplored world.  In the end, it turned out that his mysterious space suit was actually empty, containing only gas and radiation, and possibly an alien spirit-entity.

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Mantis was actually a player character.    The son of the high school science teacher was one of my most dedicated game players.  He decided that he had to have an evil player character.  He said to me, “Mr. B, we will make him secretly evil so that he does things that take the party into danger and betray them without their knowing.  It will be fun as they try to figure out how to save themselves.”  Now, Mantis was an alien super-scientist who had a very big head and small body, so he removed his own head and connected it to a large robotic body.  He stood imposingly taller than all the other characters at eight and a half feet tall.  His evil plots were initially rather lame and easily defeated.  It didn’t take the players long to figure out that he was working against them, and he spent a considerable amount of time as a detached living head on the starship’s auxiliary control panel.  He went through various penances and punishments, ultimately avoiding being flushed into space through the space toilet.

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Susano initially started out as Mantis’ evil experiment.  He was an enhanced clone with super powers and wings.  He was super charming and likeable, but supposed to further Mantis’ evil agenda.  They began to plot the take-over of entire planets like Djinnistan and Vilis.  But the longer the game went on, the more he became a son to Mantis, and the more he influenced his scientist father to use his abilities for good.  They would eventually help a band of rogues create a New Star League out of the ashes of the Third Imperium.  Teacher’s kids are often the biggest pains in a classroom, but that tends to be because they know all the teacher tricks already and are invariably more creative than the average classroom clown.  The last I heard from Mantis’ creator, he was an electrical engineer in Austin, Texas, and probably busy secretly planning to take over the world.  Though hopefully he didn’t remove his own head as a first step.

That is only a small sampling of the characters we created for Traveller, but at more than 500 words already, I need to be saving the rest for another day.

 

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Nebulons

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Part of the Traveller Role-Playing Game is dealing with alien races.  So, as a game master for the Traveller Adventures back in the 1980’s, I had the opportunity to create alien races of my own.  Truthfully, the alien Telleron race that I created for the novel Catch a Falling Star already existed in my cartoons and fiction stories before I began playing the role-playing game.  The Nebulon Race, however, was invented entirely for the game.  Only later did they become a part of my fiction.

Space Cowboys3  So, what are Nebulons?  Gyro Sinjarac on the left in the picture is an example from Aeroquest of a Nebulon.  They are aliens who are human in every respect except for their blue skin.  Interestingly they can even successfully interbreed with Earther humans.  This is apparently due to either the evolution of Nebulons from Earther explorers, or, more likely, the galaxy being seeded with Earth humans and Earther DNA by the mysterious alien race known only as “the Ancients”.  What is not debatable is that Nebulons have unique skin.  The blue skin with high levels of natural copper sulfate in it has evolved as a protection from interstellar nebula radiation.  No one who has learned their language and studied their culture has ever identified a planet of origin.  Instead, the Nebulons have been a space-born race since humans first encountered them, travelling in  their symbiotic space-whale space cruisers.  They are a mysterious deep-space race of alien beings who use organic symbiotes,  in other words, living creatures, as their pervasive technology.

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Junior Aero makes an excellent example to use to explain what Nebulons are.  You can see by this picture that not only does he possess the Nebulon blue skin, but also the bright yellow hair, the red heat-transfer cheek organs, and the small stature that makes them easily satirized as “Space Smurfs” in honor of Peyo’s beloved blue comic characters.

The Nebulons as a race are often cited as evidence of the evolutionary trend of intelligent races towards neoteny, the retention of childlike features into maturity and adulthood.  Even the oldest and the most physically fit of the adult Nebulon population resemble children and young teenagers rather than Arnold-Schwarzenegger-like humans.   But believing them to be soft and weak like children is a mistake that often yields tragedy for those who contend against them, especially in battle.  The Nebulons have often fought in space wars like the 5th Unification War, both for and against the human-led Imperium.

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But the Nebulons are not automatically at odds with humanoid races in any way.  They are generally happy in demeanor and temperament,  easily befriending other races, even the snake-eyed Galtorrian humans that tend to dominate the Imperium.  They seem to be particularly fond of Pan-Galactican Space Cowboys, having helped them during the border conflicts with the mysterious race known as the Faceless Horde.

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So, there is a glop of information about an alien race from my science-fiction comedy writing that you can sort out as you like, and can probably learn from as a science fiction writer yourself.  They are probably an excellent example of what not to do when creating a science-fiction-style alien race of your own.

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Starships

One of the things I discovered by relentlessly playing outer-space D & D is the unique setting for fiction presented by the basic interstellar starship.  Here you have a cookie-cutter setting with a basic set of requirements that can’t really change.  It takes the crew as the primary cast from one possible site of adventure to the next, offering a complete barrier to carry-over conflicts and interactions, and also providing a setting for forced internal conflicts that can have profound story consequences.

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Starships are an enclosed environment where you cannot simply run away from your troubles.  Especially when you are alone aboard with a hungry flesh-eating alien and surrounded by empty, airless, interstellar space.  You have to confront both inner and outer demons face to face.  There is no mileage available to put between you.

It has a certain set of requirements for who is on board and available to be hero friends or friends turned adversary.  There must be a pilot.  Somebody has to know how to drive the thing.  There must be an engineer.  Somebody needs to be able to fix things and keep things running.  Somebody needs to know how to manage food and drinking water and the general odor of this enclosed place.  That last is a position that is too often overlooked in movies and science fiction novels.  Scotty cannot be expected to clean the toilets on the Enterprise.  And somebody needs to be in charge.

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Express boats in Traveller are one-man-crew affairs, basically in the service of carrying information between the stars, an interstellar postal truck of sorts.  These can be the setting of man-versus-himself  sorts of conflicts.  If starships are in our future, and it is obvious with global warming we don’t have a future without them, then we are going to have to confront the concept of living with boredom.  Boredom can become mindless or it can become raving insanity.  This is why, in my Traveller games the X-boats all carried the current favorites among episodes of I Love Lucy reruns.  Aliens have been watching that stuff for years now in real life.  It will one day be a galaxy favorite.

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Starships are also filled with a fascinating complexity.  There will be times when there is no gravity so up and down can become irrelevant.  If the heat goes out, deep space can freeze you solid.  If you go outside, you need a space suit so you don’t blow up from your own internal pressure suddenly released in a pressure-free environment.  And you have no air outside the spaceship.  James Holden’s favorite coffee maker could malfunction and foul the air with poisons from burned plastic, causing a serious problem-solving situation that could result in you needing to get really, really, a thousand times really good at holding your breath.

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And, of course, there is the obvious conflict of meeting another starship with lasers and meson cannons and nuclear missiles all controlled by a captain who is a homicidal maniac and knows your sister and really, really wants to get revenge on her whole family for what she said about his zilfinbarger back on Metebelius III.

So, as a role-playing gamer, and as a creator of science fiction, I really, really love starships.  I will probably talk about them a time or too more until it gets really, really annoying… almost as annoying as the whole “really, really” thing.

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