Why is Traveller a classic? Part 3

4 Oct

Now that I had generated Olivia Dougherty, it suddenly became important to know about the world she inhabited. I started rolling up worlds according to the rules found in LBB Traveller, book 3, Worlds and Adventures. At first I thought I’d only do a few, and that I’d do them the old fashioned way, actually rolling dice rather than using fancy software that could do all the details for me in an instant, like Heaven and Earth. I started one afternoon, and got addicted. I had to generate an entire subsector. I wasn’t done until after my wife had fallen asleep next to me. When she turned out her light, and I couldn’t see the dice anymore I went to Random.org and asked them to roll dice for me, which was perfectly silent, could be seen in the dark and cool because I had the added novelty of having my dice rolled by thunderstorms! (or whatever other thingies were generating random atmospheric radio noise that night)

The names of the worlds came from Donjon, mostly. I changed a lot of them. Occasionally I would get a world name that had a number prefix. These number prefixes sounded very real-world-like and scientific, but they rolled off the tongue poorly. Sometimes I just translated the number prefix into Lojban and used that as the name of the world (Zemushivo, for example 7534), because I am such a weird language nerd that I know how to translate things into Lojban, and large complicated numbers are very quick and easy to say in Lojban. Other times I would translate the numbers into Lojban or part of the numbers, and prefix that to the constellation name. Thus 9057 Cygni became Sonomuse Cygni, and 7720 Sceptri became Reno Sceptri. Other times the Lojban number sounded like a word I knew from yet another language so I used that word instead. Paha, Lojban for 16, sounds like Paho, Hopi for prayer feather. So that’s where the names Paho Galli and Maha Shatabhisha came from.

Here is the complete subsector, as a PDF.

Now my imagination was really going. In my minds eye there was a scene in which Olivia stumbled out of the dorm where she’d found a room to find Lief who’d been sitting at a cafe for her entire sleep cycle, drinking coffee and whatever other stimulants they sold there, spiked with whatever he was carrying around in his hip flask that day, rum usually. He invariably chose cafes that had windows, so he could look out of the pressurized cloud city to see the exotic alien weather patterns that the locals harvested for rare gases. Sometimes a local animal could be seen outside the window, one of the giant indigenous birds, so large in the low gravity it was almost like a sky-whale.

They would sit together and drink while she made her plans, while he tediously wrote and rewrote every minute detail of his novel. Finally, she felt well enough to go out to investigate the reported site of her accident. They chartered a ship’s boat to go out to where she was injured, to see if everything was as reported to the medical center.

So I start rolling for some random encounters. I imagine that it’s kind of far, maybe two days there and two days back, at 6Gs (the maximum acceleration of a ship’s boat). For those four days I roll no random encounters. I roll one ship encounter, another ship’s boat. I do roll one patron encounter, a smuggler. Hmm, combining them, I could say that Olivia’s accident was listed as a belting mishap, an explosion which damaged her vacc suit, and she was vented into the vacuum. Olivia has no memory of the incident, like how it’s common to not remember a traffic accident. But when she returns, they see that the “mining colony” is actually a free trade zone, no questions asked. As they approach, a group of smugglers eager to make a deal offer to sell them some air rafts that “have fallen off the back of a freighter.” Neither Lief nor Olivia have enough money to pay even a fifth of what an air raft goes for. (From living in New Orleans, dealing with black marketeers, I know that it’s pretty ordinary for stolen goods to be sold at anywhere from 15 – 30% of their actual price.)

Olivia comes to the conclusion that since her shipmates lied about what they were doing when she got hurt, they may have also lied about why. In other words, it may have been intentional, rather than an accident. Olivia stays with the spacecraft while Lief goes aboard the main space station to ask around.

This time I don’t roll to see if Lief has a random encounter. He’s trying to meet people, so I just roll a random encounter. I got a noble and retinue. I roll for initial reaction and get “intrigued”. So… an aristocrat from one of the nations of Tale Drond is at the smuggler station to buy… (I roll on the trade goods table) polymers. (OK, this is a little hard to make sense of. What would make polymers contraband? What type of polymers are they? Why would an aristocrat want them? How about this.) The noble is here to buy mood silk, a psychoactive substance that changes color and opacity depending on the wearer’s state of mind. It’s contraband because it comes from Ahemiat II. Smugglers go to Ahemiat II to negotiate with the crystal spiders for their silk, and the spiders trap one of the smugglers in their webs and use the neural properties of their silk to copy the smuggler’s brain patterns and personality. In essence, they want another mind to torture and feed off of it’s passions. As long as you’re OK with it being another instance of your mind, you can walk away with some of their silk. The aristocrat is here to buy the silk, rather than be copied and tortured for it. That’s what you pay people for. You pay them to spend the rest of their lives creeped out that there is an instance of them being used by incomprehensible transhuman entities, always looking over their shoulders in case a transhuman version of themselves decides to come for some payback for the human version letting that happen.

But this guy doesn’t know what happened. He just got here himself. So I roll another random encounter, and get brigands. That seems like a meeting with locals. So I decide that the aristocrat is there to meet black marketeers, and the black marketeers were here when Olivia had her “accident”. But first I decide to roll for another initial reaction, with a +2 bonus because Lief is getting an introduction from someone who spends a lot of money with these guys. With the DM I get intrigued again, so I decide that these guys thought it was really cool, and like telling the story.

Olivia was in one of the loading docks with some sort of creatures that had been captured or “bought” on Ahemiat II. The dock was closed when some of the creatures got out. She was exposed to vacuum because she couldn’t reach her suit and she couldn’t get out of the loading bay, so she risked the vacuum of deep space rather than face certain death, or worse with those creatures. The way they tell it, she was a total badass, like gnawing off your own leg badass. Her shipmates were able to salvage some of the creatures and took them to buyers in the Anarian Expanse after they left their injured officer at the Xin Guan Da medical center, where she is in a coma to this day, although the other guy heard she died.

So Lief goes back to the spacecraft and tells Olivia what he found out, and they both agree there really isn’t anything for them to do at the black market station, so they return to Xin Guan Da. On the trip home, which lasts two days, Olivia tries to remember what happened. Having heard the story from Lief she thinks she can recall the creatures, pure white dogs, but they kept changing inside, as if their blood was retooling them as they stalked around the bay. She didn’t know if she was being hunted, but she knew the dogs were some sort of transhuman super weapon. Perhaps if they bit her she would turn into a dog, or some sort of were-dog creature. When they get back, Olivia’s bank account is at 47,400 Cr.

Now Olivia Dougherty knows something about what was going on with her shipmates, but she doesn’t have the money to go chasing them right away. She could seek a patron (look at the local Craig’s List) perhaps for private eye style jobs. But Olivia’s a merchant, so I decide she tries to buy cargo for speculative trade. Let’s assume that the first week out of the hospital, she was just getting back on her feet, adjusting to her new situation, getting to know Lief. Then the second week she tried to find some cargo, and I rolled, special alloys. That’s no good. She can’t buy a single ton of that. Then the third week she has to go see where she had her “accident” (which may have really be an accident. Maybe the nanotech creatures were the ones responsible. They can’t be easy to control). The fourth week I rolled meats. That’s no good. The profit on the sale of that cargo wouldn’t cover the cost of shipping and her stateroom. The fifth week I rolled meats again. And the sixth week I rolled blades. That seems good, affordable, yet profitable. There are four tons available and she buys them up and books passage on a liner headed for Este. The seventh week is spent in jumpspace. I roll twice to see if she has any “patron” encounters on her trip. Essentially I’m rolling to see if she finds any of the other liner passengers to be interesting. The answer, no. And the eighth week is spent finding a buyer and selling her cargo. After paying for her cabin (high passage) and the cost of transporting the goods, she makes 6,000 Cr. Now her bank account is up to 53,400 Cr.

Este is a cold mountainous world with a dim red sun and a much lower level of local technology than Xin Guan Da. The people here live in a town and a number of small villages nearby. The population is in the thousands, and its a welcome change for her to be in a town where she would find it difficult to know everybody. They grow bushy plants like quinoa and raise large yak-like creatures. They make a stew that she loves after spending more than a month eating hydroponically grown health food on Xin Guan Da. Olivia feels good about her profits and buys a breather mask (filter/respirator) and some new clothes, cold weather clothes to celebrate, and so she can get around. 53,050 Cr.

Wow this game is amazing. As a GM there would be almost nothing I would have to do. I could spend all my time populating worlds with interesting characters and problems. I didn’t have to GM at all for Olivia’s investigation. I just rolled dice and played solitaire.

Oh, I guess she just left Lief on Xin Guan Da. He wouldn’t buy a high passage to follow her on her trade expedition. I doubt she would wait for him. He is about to get another high passage from simply being a member of the Travelers’ Aid Society. If it’s Olivia’s ninth week, and he’d been on Xin Guan Da for 6 weeks before meeting her, then he’ll get another high passage in three weeks. Hmm. It looks like it would be very difficult for me to keep these two together. Maybe I should have had them fall in love. I’d rather not. I’ll try introducing another character.

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