Arioniad Season 3 Retrospective

Classic Traveller in the Spinward Marches, how old school was that?

The Good

As I expected, Traveller works well for solitaire gaming as a whole, because it is designed for sandbox play with random encounters. I still want point-buy character generation, which I added, and it would be helpful to have some way of determining what commission a patron is offering, which I work around in my usual clunky way.

Character statblocks are short and to the point, and because experience isn’t really a thing in Traveller, they don’t change much over the course of a campaign. However, the fact that there is really no other measure of a character’s success than his wealth encourages tracking it in detail, which is too much like the day job – as I often say, there comes a point in every corporate career where you have to decide whether you’re going to be an accountant or a salesman, because above a certain level there isn’t anything else; and I am not a good salesman.

I am pleasantly surprised by how well Traveller’s personal combat system works for solitaire play. It abstracts and subsumes tactical manoeuvre into something that is very fast and easy to use, and almost perfectly suited for this kind of gaming.

Also, it’s nowhere near as lethal as I remember it being from the last time I played. In ten episodes, there have been three instances of personal combat, and in none of them has any of the PCs been injured, let alone killed. NPCs aren’t lasting well, but they have been outgunned throughout.

Now that I’ve put in some detailed thought about the implied setting of the game, I have a much better idea of what the frontier is like than before; and it’s remarkably wild, woolly and interesting.

The Bad

The system does tend to get bogged down in a few areas, notably the frequency of random encounters and detailed tracking of inventory and accounts. In future, I will handwave most of the accounting and dial back the dirtside encounters to one per week; but for that to work, every encounter needs to contribute to the story – many of them don’t in CT, but since you have so many, you can count on at least one piece of grist to the narrative mill per week, so in the Rules As Written that balances out. However, while the one cool encounter per week is interesting, the other three or four are at best anticlimactic, and at worst a boring slog. (That probably says more about my imagination than it does about the rules themselves.)

Animal encounters are not as interesting as person encounters, at least for me, and though the continuous small herds of xenogoats wandering about low-class starports do lend a frontier feel to the game, I think those can be dropped as well; they can just be added as part of describing the background, without bothering with encounter rolls or combat. Most things on Earth that encounter the bipeds with sticks learn to run away from us.

Range and armour DMs in combat are still clunky; game design has moved on over the last 42 years. However, it works, it gets the job done, and it’s not as bad as I remembered. The rest of personal combat is as good as any system, and simultaneous initiative fits into it seamlessly.

The Ugly

Fun though it was, this mini-campaign has surfaced some small regrets; mainly, I wish I had played more Traveller with my children while they were still at home, and I wish I’d kept playing it with my friends over recent decades. However, those ships have sailed, and who knows whether doing those things would have been more or less fun than what we actually did? Certainly most of my friends wouldn’t have been interested anytime after the early eighties, because their tastes have changed over the years.

The day may come when age, infirmity and isolation deprive me of other forms of roleplaying, and if that day does come, it would be fitting to close out my gaming career by returning to the Spinward Marches and Classic Traveller for a final solitaire campaign. That would not be so bad.

Not so bad at all.

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Remind me, were you using 'Solo' by Paul Elliott? That handles Traveller/ Cepheus really well and the encounter/ Plan mechanism goes a long way to addressing your encounters problem,