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.
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.