So, I'm Flying a Spaceship...

Started by Christopher Kubasik, September 01, 2008, 01:40:21 PM

Previous topic - Next topic

Christopher Kubasik

My group finished up it's game of Sorcerer: The Brotherhood a while back.  We had a blast and I'm now kicking around in my head for another game.

I'm planning on bringing them Glorantha/Heroquest, but I have a feeling the color isn't going to groove for one of the players.  So I'll be offering up a choice.

The other choice is Traveller, simply because I loved it years ago and it still keeps calling me.

However, I know the rules simply won't deliver what I'm looking for. 

I've thought about using the Solar System a while back, but found that after a while it had more moving parts than I wanted. 

I'm tempted to use HeroQuest, but I agree with Ron that in most cases you want either detailed PCs or a detailed setting.  I'll be using the Third Imperium as a setting, but without the detailed canon.  I'll be using the "fill out the details as you go" framework from Sorcery & Sword -- having the Players help me define worlds as we roll up the UPP codes (Where I'd fill out the unknown details and surprises, but they'd have input as to what they wanted attached to the world.)  Since the Imperium is too big to nail down with all its details, I'd rather focus on the characters.  Which means that a lot of the coolness of Key Words form HeroQuest would be lost since we simply can't define all cultures and religions in an interesting way where they stand in contrast to each other.

Then I was thinking, "Hey.  We all know Sorcerer.  We all like Sorcerer.  Why not use Sorcerer?"  The conflict resolution system works gangbusters as far as I'm concerned.  It offers tension and reversals of fortune and encourages players to add color and draw from the core elements from their character sheet.  I love it.

As far as I can tell right now, I'd strip Lore and Demons out of the game. I have no idea what that would do to the game. though I know the idea has been kicked around on a few threads lately.  And I'll clarify quickly and say that the game's rules and feel would be much more in the spirit of Sorcerer & Sword than Sorcerer proper.  (I believe Past would become Social Standing, as one quick example of something that is different than Sorcerer & Sword, but still feels very much akin to the game.)

I'd like to keep Humanity, but I'm still not sure what I would do with it.  Again, as far as I can tell, the spirit of the game I want would be a kissing cousin' to the themes and feel of Sorcery & Sword.

Okay, so here are two posts of mine from other boards talking about the kind of Traveller game I'd like to have.

This is one is from RPG, from 2003:

I think the posts on this board nail really one of the unique features of this game: that in a sprawling universe of potential adventure, your character still had to get the bills paid; in a universe so big your character could never reach its end, your PCs bones were already getting creaky at the prime of his life; in a stellar empire of infinite possibilities the choices your character had made in his youth limited who he was in his 40's.

This, I think, is an amazing and unique tension for RPGs. It's a completely different set of concerns than found in most RPGs -- which cater to the delightful and high spirited point of view that "All I need to do is keep going and I'll get more powerful and powerful." Traveller was written from the point of a view of adulthood, and most RPGs (and this is neither good nor bad) work from the adolecent view that lacks an awareness of mortality death, decay or limits.

Does this mean there are no heroes in Traveller, by the way? No. The tales of Beowulf, The Lord of the Rings, Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur and other fantastic legends posit the tension between fantastic settings and heroic deads against the encroaching weakening of muscles, the end of ages and life. Star Wars, on the other hand, the model for a lot of RPG sensibility from the mid-seventies onward, possesses exactly that naive-kid-in-a-big-place-stretching-his-muscles-forever sensibility. It's significant, I think, that Traveller was on the way to the printer just as Star Wars hit the screen. It's a pre-Star Wars SF setting. This makes it not better or worse than all the would be "youth" tales -- just different.

So, first think Traveller. Now think, "Clint Eastwood." See? Easy as pie.

And this is from a Story-Games thread from last year:

When I first saw John Huston's The Man Who Would be King, I thought, "That's it! That's a Traveller game!"

It stars Sean Connery and Michael Caine as two British soldiers drummed out of the British Empire's Army while serving in India.

They scam some money, buy a ton of guns, and head into the mountains of Afghanistan to set themselves up as warlords. They've been serving everyone else all their lives, but now they're going to have people serve them!

They find this peaceful nation buried far out of the way and take it over. But then one of them is seen as a King by the natives, jealousy starts to creep in... it's great.

No, it's not about space. But it is about guys who have been part of an Imperial military who have to figure out what to do. It's set at the fringes of the empire -- and then beyond -- which is an easy set up for a Traveller game. All this is portable to a space setting -- and I think Marc Miller and others had this sort of set up in mind when coming up with the game.

And it has strong issues for the characters, and goals.

While the Firefly model is a good one for Traveller, I was always intrigued with spinning SF into situations like Captain Sir Richard Burton tracking down the source of the Nile and so on.... Men with ambition, like the characters in The Man Who Would be King who had failed to make impression in society that they wanted, and were driven to extreme measures to make that impression. (Which, also, is part of the Traveller set-up if you look at the Social Rank, the social climbing through the services, and so on...)

Ambition -- social ambition specifically, with the money and assets only there to serve that, strike me as an excellent way to go (among many) to Awesomize Black Box Traveller.

So, first, I'm curious: Is anything jumping out at people about Humanity from the writing above.  Because I've been thinking about this stuff so long I think I can't see it clearly.

Second, using tools.  Like space ships.  And guns.  Given that this isn't going to be a game about disfunctional relationships.  (Or, if it is, I'm not seeing it yet.)  But there should be battles between spaceships, and characters should be piloting or using turrets, and I'm not seeing how this all works with the rules as written.  I'm seeing now that Ron built a game that (as far as I can tell), really encourages the intimate and the direct in terms of combat and conflict.

So, if I'm Piloting, and trying an evasive maneuver, and the other guy does fires laser turrets at the ship, and we roll, and he gets Victories over me, what happens?  Is my guy damaged?  Is the ship damaged?  Would the ship be statted like a Demon and used as a tool this way -- though it has no agency of its own?  Or would this rules set be best served by having an AI ship that has agency -- shifting the tech slightly, so the PCs have a relationship with a ship?  (Much like R2D2 or HAL.)

I'm not sure exactly how to proceed here.  What I don't want to do is come up with a really involved hack that feels like I've added a whole new gob of gaming stuff on to the Sorcerer rules.  I like the Sorcerer rules as they are.  My guess is I'm not seeing something: Either that there's an obvious answer in front of me, or that I'm looking at ship-to-ship combat in the the context of Sorcerer the wrong way.

The meta-reason all this matters to me, of course, is that this exercise (thinking it all through and/or executing it in play) is going to teach me a lot about the under the hood elements of Sorcerer.  With this in mind, I might simply be barking up the wrong tree for the kind of story I'm after (as outlined in the posts above), and might be better served by another game all together.  But, again, learning why Sorcerer & Sword isn't the right game (if thi

Any thoughts, ideas, suggestions and warnings would be sweet!

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

Ron Edwards

Hi Christopher,

I'm thinking that Lore would remain, perhaps as "the Beyond" as in Jack Vance's novels which is as far as I can tell the same as "the Black" in Firefly. The point past which known values or law or social conventions are no longer reliable. The neat thing is that you might be playing a leather-vested two-gun unshaven human guy, and I might be playing a tentacular bouncy guy, but we'd both share that concept and have scores in dealing with it.

Applying it during play itself seems relatively easy to me, but I'm not sure whether it's immediately clear to anyone based on my personal description of it.

Anyway, regarding Humanity, it jumps right out at me from your sources: friendship. I agree that age, ambition, and limits of the past (successes as well as failure) upon the present are a big deal, but I think of those as the framework for the really trenchant outcomes for all those stories - which are about friends.

Is it friendship to sacrifice yourself for the friend? What if you do so to manipulate him?
Is it friendship to go ahead and save yourself when your friend stands in the breach so you can can do it?
Is it friendship to back up your friend when he's being stupid? Is it friendship to kick him in the ass, or in some cases, to kick his ass really bad?
How does shared experience and long history with shared duty, or with past success or failure, define friendship?

When I think of all your references, that's what sings out at me.

And not for internet answering, Christopher, but do you trust friendship? Does its dangers really outweigh its benefits, when we're not talking about George Lucas or Disney (in which friendship, success, duty, and reward always support one another)? And even if the danger does come home to roost sometimes, is friendship still worth it?

I don't know if these questions make you shudder a little when you consider them for real. If so, then I'm on the right track.

Best, Ron

Christopher Kubasik

Ooooohhhh.  That is it!  Humanity::Friendship.

And yes, I do shudder.  (You creepy, know-it-all mutherfucker.)

Strangely, I've just started a correspondence with with someone who I haven't spoken to in years -- and the minute I read your words, "Do you trust friendship?" the bolt of ambivalence I've been feeling as we catch up went up and down my spine.  I have no answers beyond that (internet or otherwise) right now, but certainly these questions are questions that have haunted me for years, and I've been thinking about them on the front burner of late.

As for Lore, still not sure yet... but I'll think on what you've offered.  But the game seems like a really good idea right now!

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

Christopher Kubasik

I'm supposed to be doing other stuff today -- but my brain is stuck, so I'm obsessed with this.

After thinking about it, I think I know what Lore is -- if only because I'm trying to map as closely to the GDW Third Imperium and default Classic Traveller setting as possible.

So, clearly Lore is Psionics.  I mean, it's sitting right there in front of me.  The Zhodani practice it, and although they take pride it in (it makes a person honest!) it also means that you no longer have Friendship -- you have a micro-managed police-states built one person at a time.

I think I will also utilize Psionics as the gateway to the technology of the Ancients.  (Again, I'm keeping the overall and general canon, but starting up a fresh subesector within the Spinward Marches).  Studying and applying Psionics allows one to understand/tap artifacts, documents and technology of the Ancients.  Yes, you get to understand and use something that is beyond human -- but how much human will you have left by using it!

I did a search on "the Beyond" and I dig it -- but I think this will be folded into Past: Social Standing -- a social environment where one comes from or has sunk to.  You carry yourself in a manner that marks you as a "Beyonder" -- a non-citizen of the Imperium, even if you've got the papers.  A Barbarian in the social conscious world of the Imperium.
"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

Ron Edwards

Hi Christopher,

That sounds like fun.

I thought a little bit about the technology, spaceships, and doot-doot-doot-swoosh! spaceship dogfighting, and this what I came up with.

Option 1: it ain't nothing but more vehicles and more gadgets, and so you use the same old Sorcerer scores as before - probably Past and either Stamina or Will. Use Stamina when the pilot is leaning and straining to hold the ship steady through a spin or whatever, and use Will when he has to stay cool and tap the keyboard rapidly with one hand, staring forward fixedly with a bead of sweat running down his brow. All this cinematography is old-school anyway, right? The dogfights from, well, dogfights, and the maneuvering from submarine combat, or in some cases, from 19th century warships.

So for option 1, the dice and scores and stuff are all there, and you treat damage as a new table of its own. Here's the surprise: treat small guns and large guns in ship terms relative to a ship taking damage (or same thing, treat the ship basically as a person and use the guns rules as written), with Armor turning it to Fists damage as usual. Damage taken to the ship means penalties to your ability to fight with it. So basically, when you die, it's because the ship is blown up or blown open and you die from that.

Um, now that I think of it, that's the only option.

Best, Ron

Christopher Kubasik

Right, exactly...

And if you get "knocked to your knees, guts spilling out," it might mean anything from your section of the ship having been heavily damaged to being adrift in space in a vacc suit after a hull breach.  The color is justified to match the specifics of the character's condition.  And, as always, there's really no way to know ahead of time what's going on outside the context of the fiction.

With Sorcerer, it's never about the gizmos, but the characters first.  The camera is on them: their reactions, their circumstances.

I like the idea of the new table... and per Traveller we could have several weapon types (missiles, lasers and so on...) and defense types that can be activated by characters.  Success with defensive (anti-missile systems, sandcasters against lasers) is what the role from the defender is.
"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

Christopher Kubasik

Can't Edit...

Let me clarify... If a character successfully uses the proper defense against a weapon, it would shift to a different row on the table to determine a different damage.  That's what I meant.

There's still some sorting out here, but the focus of sticking with the PC is the design principle I want to work with .
"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield


A little off topic, but at one point I think there was a lot of discussion about someone who was putting together a Sorcerer and Space supplement. It seems to me like there is enough literary source material to make this a really good book, and I'd certainly buy one if such a thing were to be written.

Seems like there must be a whole bunch of ideas out there for Humanity in a space setting, particularly if there are robots and androids and non-humans that migh totally re-define the meaning of "soul" for characters...
Marv (Finarvyn)
Sorcerer * Dresden Files RPG * Amber Diceless
Forge Member since 2004
OD&D Player since 1975

Christopher Kubasik


I've typed up some notes about the Traveller/Sorcerer translation.  Comments and suggestions welcome as work my way through it.  Some of it's still rough, but should be clear enough for comments.  For examples, the Descriptors aren't all defined, but I think the terms are clear enough.  But I want to see if they resonate with the team.

Keep in mind that the point of this is to do GDW's Imperium, as described above.

I'm especially curious about reactions to the Social Standing descriptors


Several assumptions exist for your characters:
Your character has recently mustered out of a military service
He is trained, experienced, and battle tested.  He might be in his 30s, 40s, or 50s after a distinguished or undistinguished military career.  Now that he has left the service, what will he do with his days?  What will he see as a worthy activity?  Given that your character is versed in combat, experienced in war, trained for battle – what will he choose to do now that his life is his own?

Your character has a wandering bug
By definition, your character is not ready to settle down.  Whatever compelled him to begin a life of motion, violence and risk is still in his system.  This might be a temperamental issue or an issue of circumstance.  Your character might have ambitions not yet met, debts to pay with blood, opportunities to seize, a problem with the law, a true love that can only be won with astonishing deeds, and so on...   All of this is tied to your character's PRICE; something marked your character as a victim of wanderlust – what is it?
You decide your character's relationship to the Imperium and society as a whole
Your character might be loyal to the Imperium – or bitter and resentful for a host of reasons.  You might be loyal to a local planet, or hunted by the husband of a woman you dishonored.  You might be an up-and-comer out to prove yourself worthy of ruling a subsector, or the daughter in too-large a royal family who has set out to carver her own role and identity.

Your characters are bound together through military service
Whatever ambitions or threats or unresolved business your character is focused on, you know you have each other's backs in a way no one else in the Imperium ever will. You know each other as brothers-and-sisters-in-arms, having fought, survived and protected each other.  The definition of HUMANITY for this game is FRIENDSHIP.  The friendship between the Player Characters is what the game is about. 

PCs are Solomani, Vargr or Aslan
Moreover, the game is set within the social and political framework of the Imperium.  Each PC, in one way or another, your character is a citizen of the Imperium.  If your character is Solomani, he or she was born as a citizen.  If Vargr or Aslan, he or she was either born as a ctizen, or migrated to the Imperium and for whatever reason now lives within the Imperium's political and social structure.

When creating a character, divide 10 points between STAMINA, WILL and PSIONICS.  The fourth Score, SOCIAL STANDING, is equal to either Stamina or Will, as determined by the Player. 

Stamina is both a physical and mental phenomenon. It is not "body."  Stamina is the impact on, and the influence over, physical motion and effect.  When your character calls upon memories of childhood abuse to draw up hate in order to heft a tire iron through a bad guy's face – that's Stamina.  By contrast, if a character looms large physically to intimidate someone, that Will.  Stamina draws on whatever physical and mental reserves are necessary for its effect.

Will is both a physical and mental phenomenon. It is not "mind."  Stamina is the impact on, and the influence over, personalities. When your character looms large physically to intimidate someone, that Will.  By contrast, when your character calls upon memories of childhood abuse to draw up hate in order to heft a tire iron through a bad guy's face – that's Stamina.    Will draws on whatever physical and mental reserves are necessary for its effect.

A psychic discipline practiced by the Zhodani and outlawed in the Imperium.  It requires intense concentration and a "turning inward."  All characters have a latent Psionics score of 1.  Using psionics allows the powers of telepathy, clairvoyance, telekinesis, awareness, and teleportation.  Psionics is also needed to use and manipulate the tools, artifacts, architecture and records of the Ancients.

Anyone with a psionics score of 2 or greater means that training has taken place and will have a TELL.  A Tell is a physical trait or behavior that gives someone else with a trained in psionics a chance to realize he is looking at a fellow student of the discipline.  If your character has studied psionics you should create and describe a tell for your character.

Psionic abilities are built using the Demon Ability rules from Sorcerer.  However, there is only one "power" per construction of Demon abilities.  Each psionic power has the Needs and Desires, just like Sorcerer Demons.  However, they are much more focused thematically, being based around notions of solitude, internal focus, meditation, quietude, isolation, focus on one's own goals or ambitions, and so on.  Psionics are described as, "building a world that extends to the edge of you cranium."  This builds a contrast to the game's definition of Humanity, which is Friendship.  The study and use of psionics puts the focus on the user's thoughts and well-being, and puts friendship in jeapordy.

Social Standing
Social Standing is a combination of your Character's background and how that background places you in the eyes of Imperium society.  This Score is a combination of things you know how to do, contacts you might have because of your past and Social Standing, your ability to secure funds or credit, your ability to make an impression upon different social strata of the Imperium and so on.

Note that a higher Social Standing Score does not mean a higher Social Standing. It is a value of how good you are and what effect you can generate at that Social Standing.

After you have assigned points in Stamina, Will and Psionics, choose descriptors from the lists below.  Any Scores with a value of 4 or higher may choose two descriptors.

Stamina Descriptors
Loves a good fight:
Discipline and detail: meticulous and neat, the PC is precise in his punches and accurate in his aim
No one loves to suffer like a soldier: Marine thinking: the worse it is, the better.
Big and vigorous:
Just healthy:

Will Descriptors
Zest for life:
Leader of men:
For your buddies:

Psionics Descriptors
Okay, they tell me I could do it, but I don't: 1
I was curious, but I really don't do it: 2
This is something we should be able to do: 3
I need some time alone, please: 4+

Social Standing Descriptors
I was in the service, and it broke me: You're the guy who came out worse for wear; you got the 1000 yard (or kilometer!) stare, and know the ins-and-outs of surviving the lowlife, never fitting in, and not knowing how you'll go on
I was in the service, and you respect me for it: stalwart and with a straight spine, you command respect and know the drill
Backwater hick: Never been out of system, but in-system folks love me
Family nobility: a history of belonging to a long line of power and authority -- either as an entitled asshole or noble who wields it well
Titled nobility: only recently knighted or given title, which means you don't carry yourself like one of them
Grease monkey: In one way or another, you're clearly someone who keeps things working.  In this society, that means you get disdain from folks who don't need you right then, and respect from folks who do
Intel or Psyops: there's a certain way you take in details and observe people that gives people the shudder -- but you size them up fast and know how to turn them to what you need. 
I know a guy: no one can every identify where you stand on the social ladder, and you slip easily up and down, borrowing the habits of whatever class you need

straight out of Sorcery & Sword

the Price is not tied to Psionics. It's tied to what prompted the PCs "wanderlust"

Yadda yadda

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

Christoph Boeckle

Hi Christopher

This sounds neat! I have two questions:

1) Is telepathy/clairvoyance different from what Ron suggests to steer away from in Sorcerer (if I recall correctly, he talks specifically about mind-reading)? How?

2) What score is used by a character when the damage penalties have rendered him unable to act? In Sorcerer, it's a Will test to act anways. But it's physical motion and effect, does that mean that you'll be using Stamina for that?


Christopher Kubasik

Hi Chris,

The Psionics description comes straight out of the GDW Psionics rules, and the experiment is to port directly, so I'm going to.  However, I'm filtering them through the Sorcerer rules -- in this case the demon ability rules.  As it stands, I could simply use Hint as the ability for mind reading and clairvoyance.  A much more limited version of these things, but it is a choice. 

However, in Jared's Schism mini-supplement for Sorcerer (based on the works of Cronenberg, and very SCANNERS in flavor) a full spectrum of psionic-type of abilities are available.  He simply came up with a list of telepathic abilities and bam -- you can read minds, you can shield against having your mind read -- and so on.  I could simply port his list in.  But I think I want to keep it straight up with the original Sorcerer rules as an exercise.

I have not decided which way to go!  I think I'm going to simply broaden Perception to allow mind reading -- which currently has the injunction about telepathy in its description.  (The Player would still have to specifically define what the ability does, just as the ability is currently written.)  I'd like to hear Ron's thoughts about this.

As for the bit about Will and Stamina, those bits are quoted from the Sorcerer randomwiki compilation, and are in turn pulled from a quote from Ron on this thread:

All Ron is talking about is the effect of the PC outward in those cases.  The Will test is, as Ron puts it, when the soundtrack rises and the PC pulls his shit together despite all the pain.  That's just Will. 

So, to be clear: I'm not changing anything with those descriptions of Will and Stamina.
"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

Ron Edwards


Clarification: my long-ago point concerned a specific form of mind control, as featured in many RPG rules and very few instances of fiction. Mind reading is no big deal - it's basically just a combination of a cell phone, an extension of sight (for scanning), intuition about others' intentions, and occasionally interrogation. As soon as it's acknowledged that blocking is possible, and nothing gained by mind reading is any surer than something gained through dialogue, then it's non-problematic.

Best, Ron

Christopher Kubasik

Hi Ron,

That's pretty much what I figured.  And the Classic Traveller Psionics has blocking as a feature and so on... So I think it's going to be easy on that front.

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

Christopher Kubasik

So.  The game character creation session is this Sunday.  Very excited... and yet something is bugging me.

While the Psionics as Lore fits neatly (maybe TOO neatly) part of me isn't buying it.

There's no need for psionics.  It's too easy dodge.  Certainly it might not be compelling.  (That all said, I kind of dig out it does all fit together.)

It seems to me that Social Standing is really the Lore I'm looking for.  This touches on Ron's suggestion of Lore as "The Beyond" from upthread.  But that seems too limited, since it deals with lawlessness.

We're looking for the thing that will put stress on freindship... and in the stratisfied society of the Third Imperium, we're in the same land as the class system of Britain during the Imperial Age.  What I'm looking for are those moments where the desire for better station, or responsibility to freinds and family in a station, or the games of social station say, "Do this!" and your buddy over there needs you to do something else.  (I'm thinking again of The Man Who Would Be King, of course... but I think this theme of status vs. freindship can move across many stories.)

Now, all this might be TOO focused.  I might be pushing the players down a too narrow path and blow the whole thing up.  But it's still on my mind.  And I wanted to see if this post might jar some more brainstorming from the folks at home.


"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

Ron Edwards

That would be "duty," wouldn't it? Not necessarily a good fit for Lore in direct translation, but if tarted up as some kind of officialdom, that's not so bad.

On the other hand, if Humanity is friendship, then anything that threatens it will do. Arguably the friendship in The Man Who Would Be King is threatened by barbarity rather than duty, for instance. I'm not bringing that up to derail your previous thoughts, but to support them.

I have the solution. It's based on the fact that Sorcerer wasn't written to model Traveller as a game. Lore is a game mechanic, not a thing that the mechanic models. The descriptors are how the thing is expressed in the SIS. Therefore you need only consider the variety of possible descriptors. As I see it, they would include the Beyond (including both savagery and uber-alienness, or maybe you can split these apart), the Law (for the duty stuff you're talking about), and possibly Psionics if you think that might still be a good fit.

Best, Ron