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Old 08-26-2015, 11:35 PM   #1
Trixbat
 
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Default How did Marc Miller et al Play Traveller?

There is quite a large amount of literature in the form of magazine articles, memoirs and so on relating to Gary Gygax's personal Greyhawk campaign and to his style of GMing. Famous NPCs show up in various source books and dragon articles. Also a reasonable amount of material on the campaigns and gaming styles of other luminaries of old TSR period, e.g., Ed Greenwood, etc.

However, I've come across very little at all about how the Old Guard of GDW actually played Traveller. Did they run any ongoing campaigns, or just episodic adventures? Were there any storied NPCs, or were they disposable characters? Did any of the classic adventures have their genesis within a campaign narrative?

I expect some of this exists in various old interviews and the like - or possibly in one of Loren's editorials for JTAS that I missed - but I haven't yet found much, with the sole exception of Space Gamer #40, where Marc Miller recounts a playtest session featuring his "local group" of players playing the Leviathan adventure (all of which at least suggests an ongoing campaign existed c. 1981).

So, are there any others anyone can point me to? I'm interested in how Traveller's creators played the game....
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Old 08-27-2015, 03:53 AM   #2
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Default Re: How did Marc Miller et al Play Traveller?

You COULD ask Marc himself.
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Old 08-27-2015, 11:05 AM   #3
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Default Re: How did Marc Miller et al Play Traveller?

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You COULD ask Marc himself.
I'm sure other people have, but I was actually hoping there was actual published article I'd overlooked
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Old 08-29-2015, 05:56 PM   #4
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Default Re: How did Marc Miller et al Play Traveller?

I've been shown photos of all of the GDW crew playing in their warehouse, and at past Winter Wars.

I've been told about specific points, like when they were testing MegaTraveller, and a new player asked, What's the Combat task? They had not extended the task system to combat yet, because no one had thought of it...
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Old 08-30-2015, 03:47 PM   #5
Bill Cameron
 
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Default Re: How did Marc Miller et al Play Traveller?

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Originally Posted by Trixbat View Post
I'm interested in how Traveller's creators played the game....

If you bother read that Space Gamer article closely enough, you'll have your answers. (For those who haven't read the article, in it Mr. Miller recounts a session from A:4 Leviathan in which the players encounter a society of cannibalistic humans living underground on an airless world.)

More playing than prepping - Mr. Miller describes the session as being an almost a spur of the moment event. It's a holiday weekend, IIRC, and he puts together a group from friends and family in order to provide an evening's entertainment. He doesn't spend hundreds of hours putting together some seamless and uber-detailed setting, he just grabs an encounter out of a published adventure instead. His players don't spend hours putting together min-max munchkins either, they just grab characters from the published campaign. Everyone is there to play and have fun. The idea of "winning", "leveling up", or other metagame metrics for "success" isn't even mentioned. All they want to do is play.

More descriptions than spreadsheets - Rather than providing reams of documentation, Mr. Miller instead "verbally illustrates" the surface of the planet, the primitive "airlock" system, the underground caverns, the cannibals living there, and much more. He doesn't "design" the caverns using some construction supplement in order to figure out everything down to the number of rivets holding the handles to the night soil buckets, instead he describes what the PCs are seeing. He doesn't have a huge list stats/skills for every potential NPC either, he makes those up when and if they're needed. He doesn't bog down the session or his prep for the session with unnecessary trivia.

More role-ing than rolling - Granted, CT didn't have a task system yet and, apart from a few specific tasks/DMs scattered throughout the few books, there isn't much guidance regarding when to roll the dice. That being said, the session Mr. Miller recounts doesn't seem to have much rolling at all. He describes the situation, the players describe their actions, and the game moves on. The dice aren't picked up every time someone needs to inhale, talk to somebody, or look at something.

More talking than shooting - The session does feature some combat, but it occurs near the end when, after interacting with the natives for some time, the players finally realize that the natives are cannibals and see the PCs as a new source of protein. What the players don't do is waltz into the caverns with FGMPs, battledress, and itchy trigger fingers ready to slag anything that moves. Even when the encounter with the natives slowly deteriorates, the players prefer to Jaw, jaw, jaw rather than War, war, war. The guns - and the dice - only come out when the players need to secure their retreat to the surface and then, rather than burn the caverns to the ground, they only use enough force to escape.

The session described in the article was a "one-off" rather than part of an ongoing campaign. If it had been part of a campaign, there would have been more prep and more formal descriptions because a campaign requires those. However, the session shown the article is far more akin to the minimalist, "old school renaissance" type of play than sweating the details type of play. Just where to strike the balance between those two styles is, of course, up to the RPG group in question. It's telling, however, that Mr. Miller was able to gather a group and run a fun night's session on basically a whim.

We all might want to remember that when we can't get a group together on a regular basis for a lengthy, heavily detailed, campaign.
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Old 09-03-2015, 12:27 AM   #6
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Default Re: How did Marc Miller et al Play Traveller?

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If you bother read that Space Gamer article closely enough, you'll have your answers.
Hi Bill. I have read that article a number of times; it is why I mentioned it. Why would you suggest I didn't bother to read it carefully?

I'm sure your summary is valuable for those who don't have Space Gamer 40 (which is available from Warehouse 23, if anyone else wants to read it - it's definitely a useful insight as Bill says. There's also a nice article on Jack Vance's Planet of Adventure setting.).

It is, however, just one session, and Leviathan was unusual in being an"out of house" project that originated with its UK partners. (Mind you, I was rather interested, as Leviathan is something I ran myself.)

It does give a good sense of how Marc ran games - and that's definitely work reading. It gives very little sense, however, about what sort of campaign (if any) was run when not using a pre-generated adventure.

It also mentions other referees; whether they use same style or not is certainly not clear. I certainly agree it's a valuable insight - in fact, it's an article that I think should be a lot more widely distributed (it would have been nice to see something like that in, say, T5). I'd certainly like to see more.
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Old 09-03-2015, 06:57 PM   #7
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Default Re: How did Marc Miller et al Play Traveller?

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Originally Posted by Trixbat View Post
Why would you suggest I didn't bother to read it carefully?
Why? Because of the question you asked, that's why.

Quote:
It does give a good sense of how Marc ran games...
Seeing as he's one of the Old Ones, the article answers your question about how the Old Ones at GDW played Traveller, doesn't it?

Of course, you want more precise details about specific situations. A desire which is rather indicative in and of itself. Players today generally want more details and specifics. Players back then generally didn't need more details and specifics.

When you read GDW's materials, you can surmise how GDW played the game. Ditto DGP. Ditto everyone else. You write in the manner you play.

How we play has evolved - or changed if you prefer - over the last 35-plus years. Even the current OSR crowd doesn't play RPGs in the manner RPGs were played in 1977.

Anyway, just as you can determine a man's height from his footprints, you can infer how the game was played during a given period by actually bothering to closely read the materials produced for it during that period. What is left out of those materials is often more important than what is included.

Last edited by Bill Cameron; 09-03-2015 at 07:17 PM.
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Old 09-04-2015, 04:38 AM   #8
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Default Re: How did Marc Miller et al Play Traveller?

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During that period, however, the RPG "dial" pointed more towards playing then prepping, descriptions than spreadsheets, and role playing over dice rolling.
How would you know? Tabletop roleplaying is a time-intensive and intimate activity, so outside of conventions and the internet most gamers only get to know a dozen or so other tabletop roleplayers in their immediate neighbourhood. I figure that a lot of debates about the true nature of old school go back to communities in different towns or at different schools having worked out different ways to do things (with the fallibility of human memory doing the rest). Unless someone launches an oral history project alongside the Strong National Museum of Play's collection of old notes and maps and drawings, I doubt we will ever know what was most common.

Is there a timeline for things like the first published Traveller deckplans, or the first sector generated by marching bloody-minded through an algorithm regardless of any results which made the builder scratch their head? 1e AD&D already had its lovingly detailed chart of staff weapons and attack-modifiers-according-to-AC.
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Old 09-04-2015, 04:51 AM   #9
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Default Re: How did Marc Miller et al Play Traveller?

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Is there a timeline for things like the first published Traveller deckplans, or the first sector generated by marching bloody-minded through an algorithm regardless of any results which made the builder scratch their head?
That would be The Spinward Marches in 1079. Before that the first subsector had been generated by marching bloody-minded through an algorithm regardless of any results which made the builder scratch their head and published in The Kinunir, also in 1979.

(Though evidently the results didn't make anyone scratch their heads, more's the pity.)


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Old 09-04-2015, 08:36 AM   #10
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Default Re: How did Marc Miller et al Play Traveller?

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Yes, some early rules sets provided charts & tables for everything, but most didn't. Yes, some players and referees were busily counting rivets or mapping torch-lit dungeons to millimeter accuracy, but most weren't.

During that period, however, the RPG "dial" pointed more towards playing then prepping, descriptions than spreadsheets, and role playing over dice rolling.
I don't think your thesis stands up to scrutiny. If the first generation of games didn't have rules for everything, it was because they hadn't been developed yet, not because they weren't wanted.

Remember that original D&D was prominently subtitled, "Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargame Campaigns Playable with Pencil and Paper and Miniature Figures." It was a framework for skirmish-level miniatures battles, with fantasy elements (magic, non-human species, monsters) and figures that persisted and developed from one battle to the next. All of the identification and personification that we now consider central to role-playing was secondary to the concept, though they rapidly moved to the fore.

The history of the hobby also weighs against your assertions. Games overall became more complex and rules heavy through the 1980's, not less. This implies that this was what those "old school" gamers thought they wanted. It was only later, during the 1990's, that streamlined, simplified, rules-lite games were produced and sold. This was primarily in reaction to the previous rules-for-everything trend. As for preparation, I don't recall any game that advertised itself as a "pick-up" game, playable without preparation, before about 1998.

Classic Traveller was as rules-light as it was because there were just some things it hadn't considered. Knowledge skills -- sciences, languages -- were noticeably absent, in part (I think) because the authors hadn't yet looked at the consequences of player vs. character knowledge. The steady growth in the skill set (and associated rules) with each subsequent core book points to a sense that the treatment was not sufficient for some specialized sub-genres.

The early adventures don't bear out your assertions, either. Annic Nova, the earliest published adventure, was a bog-standard dungeon crawl, complete with detailed contents for every room and several fiddly riddles to solve. Shadows, Research Station Gamma, Twilight's Peak -- they can all be described as dungeon crawls in space, although by the last the "dungeon" map had expanded to include the surrounding wilderness.

For what it's worth, I participated in a role-playing session run by a GDW staff member at Origins in 1980. My recollection is hazy at this remove, but I remember being frustrated that the referee didn't allow more scope for innovation. I felt I had offered a clever way to solve one of the problems posed, but the referee was looking for a particular, predetermined answer. The scenario used was eventually published as an adventure, though I'd have to do some research to figure out which one.* The experience left a vaguely bad taste in my mouth for several years, and influenced my own refereeing.

*Pretty sure it was one of Chamax Plague/Horde.

Last edited by thrash; 09-04-2015 at 10:30 AM.
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