Tuesday 29 March 2022

Real-Time and Solo Traveller: Some RPG ruminations

 Many years ago, when I was but a wee nipper*, I read a short article in The Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society issue 13 (1982) on running a real-time Traveller game. The article was only two pages long, but it fired my imagination. I set to and began playing a Traveller game in real time, and writing the diary of my character. It was real Mary Sue stuff that saw my character heroically using high technology on low tech planets to his own advantage, and drew on the worst of the bad sci fi I had read as a teenager. Still, the memory remains with me, and there is some appeal in the idea of returning to it but using my blog instead of a physical diary, especially after a recent discussion with Shaun Travers about playing Traveller solo.

(*Not actually a wee nipper at the time! Looking at the publication date, it turns out I was older than I remember being. That seems to happen a lot these days!)

Oh dear! TPK!

How it works

The idea of a real-time RPG is that you write a diary each day, describing what your character has done that day. In Traveller, you would spend a week jumping between systems plus time travelling to and from the jump points you are jumping between. Much of what happens is automated, so your character(s) will have a fair bit of downtime between the action. What do they do in that time? Maybe you spend the day watching bad movies from the ship's library, or gambling with the rest of the crew. Maybe you put in some time learning a new language or training a skill. There are various options, and you should dice to see if your character sticks to their training regime or slacks off.

When not travelling between planets, you have more options, like looking for adventure or trading, or any of the other things that characters get up to in these games. For these, you can use the tables in the rules, follow a system like that described on the Freelance Traveller site, or maybe use something like Zozer's Solo or Star Trader systems.

Whatever system you use, be it a formal one or just making it up as you go along, you write a diary entry/blog post each day about what has happened. Many entries will be very short, so it is not a high burden on you, and it really does not matter if you miss a few days every so often. If you don't have the energy to write the diary, your character is probably drunk in their cabin and not training or doing much of anything else! The biggest burden will be writing up encounters and adventures, but even these can be summarised if you want.

So, that is the gist of it. It's a lot like a creative writing exercise. You can use as many or as few tables as you wish to help with decision making. There are a lot of aids to help you such as the Mythic Engine or Story Cubes or borrowing whole chunks from solo engines in other games. The key thing is that you will experience your character's life in real time. Suddenly, Traveller got full of 'hurry up and wait'! That said, it could be a fun way to develop your game background and give you more time to put thought into what is going on wherever your character goes.

Other thoughts

I have a real yen to run a game set in the Traveller universe ca. Third Imperium and have had for some time, so basically Classic Traveller as played in my youth. It could be a very rich environment for a character to adventure in, what with all the news and events going on in the background. The release of Five Parsecs from Home 3E reignited the desire to run a semi-RPG game where the classic adventures get reduced to component episodes and played out on the tabletop with figures. The rules are clearly written with Traveller-like games in mind.

Some of the original adventures will lend themselves to this kind of adaptation better than others, because they are more combat focused. Others, not so readily. I am not sure quite how something like Murder on Arcturus Station would adapt, for example. It sees the players investigating a murder and looking for clues. That said, I could take a leaf out of the 18th-century imagi-nations blogs and just stage vignettes, while dicing to see the outcome of the investigation. Did the character spot the clues? Did they draw the right conclusion? What consequences will this have? There is plenty of room for imaginative role-playing in the character diary when not describing tabletop action, and you still get  to roll dice, so it is all cool.

The Traveller arms race just got ridiculous!

There is also the option of involving your character in bigger events. What happens if they get caught up in a local war? Even if the character would not affect the big battle, you can tie in a larger miniatures game to the campaign and have the character describe hearing about the battle you just fought or perhaps taking part and dicing for their own survival. If they die, maybe your next character chances upon their body and finds their diary in their comms unit. This is where my megalomania creeps in. Suddenly, from a single character diary, my campaign expands to a universe of opportunities using the Pocket Empires and Dynasty supplements to generate star-spanning space battles, assaults on besieged worlds and all the rest, with a tonne of different wargames rules sets employed and a background like a game of Fifth Frontier War but with the possibility of the character jumping into a newly contested system and having to cope with that. At this point, I need to go and lie down in a darkened room until the megalomania passes.

Another thought is that this could just as easily be applied to other genres and games. I imagine keeping a character diary from a fantasy game is likely to wind up being mostly like The Two Towers with epic descriptions of marching through forests and nothing happening other than the character getting fed up of waybread:

'Dear Diary, I am sick of waybread. Failed to catch anything to eat today and the local vegetation is edible but tedious. Lots of trees. They have leaves on, just like the ones I saw yesterday. So boring!'

And a final, final thought would be to coordinate this type of diary writing with one or more other players all using the same source material and holding to the same timeline. Could you occasionally get together via t'interwebs and run the occasional scenario for each other? Could you work together to adjudicate what happens,so that you get different input on what can happen? I know from comments on this blog that other people have different ideas about what my Scarlet Heroes character could have done at times, things I never even thought of. How would their character's actions affect your own? Would the characters ever actually meet? Might they just hear about each other's successes? Involving other players would open up different possibilities without necessarily being reliant on them doing anything other than posting their own diaries to build more background and depth in the worldbuilding.


As with many of my other plans, projects and ideas, this one must remain shelved for the time being. I'd be more tempted if I got my 15mm sci-fi figures out here to join me for the occasional game. At least with the opening up of countries, that is now a possibility and I could drive a car-load of figures and terrain over here for me to use, but it's still a project for the future. Perhaps I can fit it in after the Scarlet Heroes game has reached a natural conclusion.

Saturday 26 March 2022

4-28 Yarthmont - Interlude

 The return to Auriga was uneventful, for which Broneslav was grateful. The mage was very pleased at the havoc Broneslav had caused and let Broneslav stay long enough to heal all his wounds. As a reward for his heroics, Auriga identified the various items Broneslav had found along the way. After five days, Broneslav was fully healed and ready to leave. The Cynidiceans filled his pack with food and water for him, and he left the pyramid with instructions on how to find his way back to settlements where he could get further aid.

For two blazing hot days, and two freezing cold nights, Broneslav followed the directions given by Auriga. On the third day, he caught sight of a small dot in the distance moving at speed in his direction. Soon it was close enough to identify that it was a person on what appeared to be a carpet. He was not going to outrun it, so Broneslav drew his sword and readied himself.

Soon the carpet and its rider were upon him. Its rider hailed Broneslav and he relaxed. It was Arnulf who appeared to have bought a very expensive carpet from his share of the profits on the last trading caravan. The two caught up as they travelled together. By the end of the day they were at Selenica and Arnulf had persuaded Broneslav to return to Specularum with him, where he was going to meet Sindar. Broneslav begged Arnulf to let him rest a day in Selenica before they travelled on. He needed time to buy some new clothes. Arnulf agreed.

Broneslav went shopping. He did not have time to get properly tailored clothes, but he dressed himself as well as he could and soon he looked like the scion of a major trading family should look, though rather more battered than the average pampered 16 year old of those families. Arnulf approved of the change, and especially of the bath that Broneslav took.

The next day was a very early start and a late finish as they pushed hard to reach the fortified town of Penhaligon. Another long day and they were at Specularum. Arnulf set Broneslav down outside the gates and then headed to his own country house a short distance outside the city. Broneslav was familiar with the routine here. He approached the gates, bound his weapons as the guards dictated and paid the 8 Crona tax to enter the city. The streets were bustling and noisy, as Broneslav remembered, but he ignored the temptations of the taverns and returned home.

His family were pleased to see him, especially as he was obviously making something of himself. He had passed the test of the Shearing Ceremony and had clearly matured in just the few months he had been away. He was no longer quite so taken with Milka's rose red lips or pale skin either. Suddenly she seemed soft by comparison with the life he was now leading.

He reflected on the Shearing Ceremony too. Many families paid only lip service to the tradition. They sent their children away to camp out for the night, and then to return in the morning as if they had achieved something great. He knew that poorer Traladaran families often relied on those children to work alongside the adults, so a full quest was not an option. His own family could have done the same, and many wealthier families did. He was quite glad that his family had sent him off in this manner though. It had been painful but he had learned. He had a better idea of what he wanted to do now, and it did not involve sitting around the fire drinking ale and telling tall stories.

The next day, he banked much of his wealth and called for the tailors to measure him properly for new clothes. He would need them to fit in with those around him. Then he set about finding buyers for some of the more exotic items he had found. A week later, he had sold all the items he wanted to sell. It turned out that mercenaries and adventurers had a lot of use for this type of thing, although he did not get great prices for the scrolls. Even with the cut that the Duke's tax collectors would take, he was quite wealthy in his own right now.

With his shopping done, Broneslav decided to wait until after the Festival of Lucor before he rode out again. It would be a chance to relax, and he needed the time to chase up some leads. There were opportunities within the family, which traded all over Karameikos and beyond, but there might be something more exciting available too. Anything that would help him be financially independent. He loved his immediate family, but the politics of the wider Torenescu family and its rivals was a snake pit that he did not wish to enter, so any amount of independence was to be valued. But first he would help out with the business in town and then the Festival of Lucor.

Saturday 19 March 2022

Fighting like Cats and Rats: A Warriors of the Four Circles test game

 I've been watching the reboot of Kung Fu. The only way in which it resembles the original with David Carradine is the title and the martial arts action. So what? I'm enjoying it just the same, and it has inspired me to dig out Warriors of the Four Circles by Avalon Games and finally try it.

I have had the game for ages but never played it. I don't know why, but print-and-play games never  really feel quite right or as exciting as games with nice, professionally produced components. One issue with all of the Avalon Games titles is the artwork. I don't like it. There are also issues with the proofreading at times. Despite this, when I have played their games, like Future Wars and Arcanum, I have enjoyed them. It has just been a case of being willing to find my own solutions to things that were not spelt out in the rules. I can live with that.

So, time for some kung fu fighting. The rules are 17 pages long. They outline a basic skirmish system and are easy to read. There are only a couple of typos, which was nice. The basic system is designed to work on a grid. Characters have Attack, Defence, Strength, Speed, Move, Adrenal, Will and Health stats as well as and Special Abilities.

  • You add your Attack to your opponent's Defence and try to equal or exceed that to hit them. A successful hit reduces your opponent's Health.
  • Strength is primarily used to pick up things and throw them or hit people with them. These things can include other figures, if you can successfully grab them.
  • Speed determines when in the turn sequence you move. Some figures will activate only once. Others will have multiple Speed numbers, indicating that they activate at various times during the turn.
  • Move indicates how many squares you may move.
  • Adrenal is the number of points you have for using Special Abilities. Some abilities cost 1 point, others cost more, while a small number are permanent effects. You can rest to recover Adrenal points in the battle if you are lucky.
  • I did not use the Will stat in my test game, and it is not specified where else it might be used in the rule book so I assume it relates to some Special Abilities.

The download also includes a number of characters, most of which are elementals of some type or another. I set up a fight between Cat and Rat, two of the characters in the book. These two hate each other and may not be in the same warband. Cat is characterised by leaping abilities (leaping kick, pouncing attacks) while Rat is characterised by speed and stealth. As I am not keen on the Avalon Games artwork, I bought some standees from Okumarts Games on DriveThruRPG and I printed out the Japanese Garden from Dramascape, which I already had. With a couple of standees printed out and built and the battle area defined, it was time to set things up.

The Battle

Cat was napping under the bushes in the garden again when something disturbed her. It was that infernal Rat, scuttling along down the wall. She hated him and he hated her. It was like they had been born to oppose each other.

Here comes rat scuttling along
Cat began the game using her Stealth skill. That meant that Rat could not see her until she attacked. Both figures have Stealth so I diced to see which of them would get to use it. Cat won the dice roll and used 1 Adrenal point to start the game near Rat's starting location but hidden.

The prey is on the move and Cat must follow
Cat used her bouncing move to race after Rat whose sneaky scuttling annoyed her so much. (And, yes, I also bought Sound Effect standees when I bought the Kung Fu standees. I like them.) Cat pounced, performing a Leaping Kick that missed (1 Adrenal point again).

Rat responds
Rat was taken unawares but his scuttling, sneaky, twitchy nature meant that he was not taken totally unawares. He turned on Cat in a blinding flurry of below-the-belt blows, and spending 2 Adrenal points in his turn. First blood to Rat.

Cat gets the claws out
Cat responded by slashing Rat with her claws several times while Rat failed to land another blow. The two combatants circled round each other, each trying to get the other off balance while also seeking to strike their opponent. They then broke apart to catch their breath and recover an Adrenal point each.

Cat strikes again
Unfortunately for Rat, this only benefited Cat, whose claws were well and truly out, while Rat seemed to be spending all his time looking for an opening that never came.

Cat struck another couple of successful blows and that was it. Rat was out for the count. She licked her wounds and returned to her nap under the bushes.


This game was a simple test with little tactical subtlety. My goal was to try the system out and see what I thought. I particularly wanted to see if it felt right for Kung Fu or was too generic. So, I had picked two low level characters for a quick game. The game was fairly quick but not as quick as I had intended. Being low level characters, both of them needed 9+ on 2d6 to hit, which meant that there were a few turns where the figures scored no hits once their Adrenal points were all spent, and they had to break away from each other to rest.

One interesting effect of the game system was the way figures circled each other in the fight. You can move one square around your enemy as part of your attack. This meant, once I realised I could do this and what the effect would be, that a figure with two actions on its activation can move to the side of its opponent and attack from there, before moving behind them and attacking with an extra die. That kind of feels right for how things go back and forth in this sort of movie. I imagine this tactic would not work as well with multiple combatants though.

The Special Abilities felt right for the genre and were fun to imagine in my head. I'm going to experiment a bit more with this game to see what higher level characters are like, and I shall have to dig out the two supplements for it that I bought ages ago. I seem to recall one of those had Monkey in it. I loved that TV series and really enjoyed the book too, so it would be fun to use those characters.

I'm not sure that the game works for Kung Fu though. It's much more historical fantasy, unless there is a character builder somewhere that would let me create my poorly dubbed action heroes. At the moment, I am limited to the characters that come with the game and cannot be bothered working out how to cost figures myself. That said, my initial impression is of a solid game that will be worth digging out occasionally and playing. It's not hard to learn and plays relatively quickly, so perfect for those times when you just want something easy.

For the price, Warriors of the Four Circles is a fun game if you are willing to do the prep work or already have a gridded battlemat and some suitable figures. It will be interesting to see how it compares to A Fistful of Kung Fu.

Final note: The system used in this game is substantially the same as Avalon Games' Steel and Glory system as far as I can tell. The main differentiator is the Special Abilities, although a quick look at Steel and Glory shows that it has a basic morale system too, which is more appropriate to pseudo-medieval fantasy combat than it is to martial arts. I shall have to try this out at some point, as I have owned it for quite some time too.

4 Yarthmont - It's the pits

 Having caught his breath, Broneslav left the storeroom and followed the corridor south. Halfway down, he found a branching corridor. At its end was a room with bunk beds in, clearly someone's quarters. It was empty, so he carried on. The corridor turned eastwards and shortly came to a crossroads. Broneslav decided to check left first. As he stepped into the junction, the floor gave out from under him and he plunged 10 feet into a pit filled with spikes. Twisting to try to avoid the spikes, he still hit the ground hard (2 DAM). He cursed. Getting to his feet, he leapt as high as he could and tried to grab the edge of the pit. His powerful legs drove him upwards and his fingers closed on the lip of the pit. Scrabbling for purchase with his feet and drawing himself up slowly with his arms, he managed to roll out of the pit, effectively if not elegantly.

He continued northwards as he had originally intended. The door at the end of this corridor opened into the large chapel, so he returned to the pit and turned left, leaping easily over the corner of the pit now that he knew it was there. The corridor ended in a T-junction. Left led to the secret door that still stood ajar. Right led to a door. The room revealed by opening the door seemed oddly damp and appeared to shimmer slightly, as if seen through water. The room itself contained nothing of interest: a bed, some chairs and a table. Suddenly the room seemed to move towards Broneslav. He ducked as a clear, jelly-like pseudopod slapped the air where his head had been and backed up fast. A huge cube of translucent gelatinous material was oozing slowly towards him.

Seeing no reason to fight this thing for the rewards this room almost certainly did not contain, Broneslav backed up faster and headed towards the pit. If the creature did catch up with him fast enough to attack, he reasoned that it would struggle to cross the pit. His route then took him back to the consultation room.

Puzzled, Broneslav looked around. The place looked like there had been a fight and there were bodies on the floor, but he had no recollection of creating those bodies. Was someone else here? This thought worried him. Carefully, he searched the room in case they had not been as thorough as he was wont to be. He was rewarded by finding 3 gems which he immediately pocketed.

In the next room, he saw that the door on the other side was wedged open. He moved quickly through this room to investigate what lay beyond. His newly found potential adversary must have wedged the door open, but he had no clue why or who they were. In the next room, he found the bodies of two large snakes. The human body that lay in this room had not been looted, and Broneslav pocketed the necklace around her neck. He wondered if this was his mysterious adversary. Had she fought and defeated the snakes but succumbed to her wounds?

He recognised the next room. This was where his last memories before coming to surrounded by bodies were from. He remembered feeling like he had been struck when he picked up the white cloak he was now wearing. He was astounded to find all his possessions here too. Gratefully, he shrugged into his pack and belted his sword at his side once more. The mace was relegated to his pack too, having done its duty.

He searched the room in case he had missed something. He found a secret door. Beyond it was a small room with a tapestry on the wall and a large treasure chest. Nice. He moved to the chest to check it. Suddenly the tapestry lashed out at him (2 DAM). He fell backwards in the face of this attack but rallied himself quickly. His sword flashed and pieces of 'tapestry' fell to the floor. Undeterred, it lashed out at him again (1 DAM). Once more his sword lashed out and more of the creature fell unmoving to the floor but it cut slices from his arm just the same (2 DAM). Desperately, Broneslav sliced again at the creature but it still seemed tattered but undeterred and cut him again (3 DAM). Broneslav's wounds were bleeding freely. He knew he could not take much more. He gritted his teeth and focused a mighty blow at the creature ... and missed. But the follow up backslash tore it in two. The whole thing fluttered to the floor oozing black ichor.

He fell to his knees and gulped in huge breaths until he had recovered enough to bandage his wounds. Then he shifted the creature's body where it had fallen on the chest, and examined the wooden box before discovering that it was unlocked. Clearly the creature had been the primary defence for the treasure within. This treasure comprised a large number of gold coins and a full potion bottle. He recognised the potion as being a Potion of Invisibility like the one he already had. He filled his pack and returned to Auriga on the level above.

Saturday 12 March 2022

4 Yarthmont - A pain in the side

 Broneslav left the corpses of the rat people and wondered what the pyramid would throw at him next. WereToads? WerePetunias? He chuckled slightly to himself as he stalked the corridors of the pyramid westward, and then turning north. As he approached the next door, he could clearly hear noises from within. Banging and growling noises and the occasional shouted word, usually followed by more banging. The door was already ajar, so he peered in.

Within he could see three bestial human-like creatures. Each of them towered over him by a good way. They appeared to be eating candles! What he could see of the room suggested it was a storeroom of some kind. He decided to sneak away and leave them to it. There was little in the room that suggested it was of interest to him. Unfortunately, just as he was about to sneak away, one of the creatures turned around, perhaps tipped off by the light of his shield which he was trying to cover with his cloak.

Broneslav braced himself for the inevitable attack. At least by remaining in the corridor only one or two of the creatures could attack him directly. That might even the odds, for it looked like their mighty thews could crush his bones with just one blow. As he ducked back, he swung desperately with his mace and wounded one of the ogres. Then they were upon him. A huge fist slammed into him and made his head ring (1 DAM). He ducked a second blow and riposted. His mace crushed the chest of one ogre and it collapsed to the floor dead. He reversed the swing and wounded a second. The two remaining ogres redoubled their efforts and Broneslav had to duck quickly to avoid having his head taken off by one fist, but that led to another hitting him in the side, crushing his ribs (4 DAM). The pain was agonising, but he still managed to knock one more ogre senseless, shaking the corridor floor, and wounding the third. Ducking further back into the corridor, he avoided its enraged blows but failed to land a hit himself. As he rolled under another blow, he managed to break the monster's arm causing a grievous wound before finishing the thing off as he dived to one side to avoid its clublike fists. The monster staggered a step and died.

Broneslav cursed at the pain and bandaged his wounds. Then he searched the room and the ogres. His haul included a ring and 200 gold coins. Little enough to show for such a fight. His search of the room also proved his initial assessment to be correct. It was a storeroom for what looked like cheap religious symbols and paraphernalia. Nothing her for him. He rested a moment to let the pain in his side subside and then set off again.

Saturday 5 March 2022

4 Yarthmont - Rats as big as cats?

 With the sour taste of the wine still in his mouth, Broneslav headed back into the big chapel and out of the opposite door. A short way up the corridor he was now in, there was a junction to the left. Pausing to look around at the junction and wary of ambush, he suddenly noticed a difference in the wear patterns on the floor. Further investigation revealed a secret door that took him little time to open. Being a secret door, Broneslav assumed that it hid something of interest to him, so he went through and followed the corridor.

The door at the end opened into a room that looked like it had once been a guardroom at the top of some stairs but was now repurposed as living quarters. Four beds were arranged along the walls. A table occupied the centre of the room. One of the tables hit the floor as Broneslav stepped in. It's occupant was a person dressed in red robes and wearing a rat mask. The other three people in the room were also dressed in like fashion.

The people looked at each other just as Broneslav began to greet them tentatively. Then they leapt for him, transforming into human-sized rats as they did so. Broneslav was borne back under the onslaught but still managed to fend off all bar one of the wererats (1 DAM). His response was to crush the skull of one of the rats. He followed that up by slaying another of the monstrous rats and badly wounding a third. Furiously using his shield to block them, he then cut and smashed at the creatures who died quickly in succession.

Broneslav bandaged his wound and searched the room, finding what he presumed was a reasonable hoard of ill-gotten gains: 350 silver coins and 4 gems worth about 100 royals each. He then checked the stairs, but found them blocked by rubble just a short way down. Nothing for it but to head back out and along the other corridor.

Broneslav has now gained enough experience to go up a level. He gains +1 Attack, 4 HPs and 1 trait point. I am tempted to give him a point in 'connections in Cynidicea' or even Cynidicean as a language to memorialise this adventure, but I decided to increase his Keen Vision trait because he has done moderately well at spotting secret doors in this dungeon. I assume he has learned from this and will be even better at spotting them in the future.