Sunday, March 29, 2015

Designer's Epiphany in MegaTraveller

I bought the basic "Player's Collection" of the MegaTraveller Bundle of Holding, because I can actually afford the $5.95 minimum price. This version of the bundle includes the three core rulebooks (Player's Manual, Referee's Manual, and Imperial Encyclopedia), plus the Rebellion Sourcebook supplement. It also contains something called the "Player's Guide to MegaTraveller," which seems to mostly be a compilation of pre-release advertisements for the game, with some information inserted by Far Future Enterprises, the company that currently holds the rights to the game.

The brief Player's Guide contains a summary of the vast changes Game Design's Workshop introduced to the default Traveller setting, the Third Imperium, when MegaTraveller was published in 1987. It also has a Designers' Notes section, which goes into detail about changes in the game mechanics. One of these is amusing to read today. As the author's put it:
As obvious as it seems now, the task system was not originally used for combat. Then in a playtest, a newer player, who didn't know the standard Traveller combat rules, asked what task roll was needed to shoot at an enemy. Lightning struck! The light bulbs went on over our heads, and we realized at once that we were really on to something.
And they had this epiphany only nine years after Runequest was using the percentile roll-under mechanic for combat and non-combat tasks. Of course, to be fair, Dungeons & Dragons didn't reach this state of enlightenment until the year 2000.

It's also hard to get self-righteous when I, as a player, wouldn't have thought about the desirability of a single mechanic for most of the 1990s, no matter how many late-night fatigued die rolls left me wondering whether 2e AD&D saving throws were rolled over or under the target number.

Monday, March 9, 2015

First Shadowrun Mission

I worked the admissions table for GloryCon, the small convention run by my alma mater's gaming club. Fortunately, they only needed me for half the day, so I got to wander around a bit and actually play a game.

I ended up in a Shadowrun Missions game. Missions is the organized play campaign run by Catalyst, the current publishers of Shadowrun. Because the first session of the day had run late due to the character creation process (apparently, the new priority + karma hybrid system doesn't speed things up), I had to pick a pregen to keep the second session on schedule to end when the con closed. I ended up with the combat adept, since the party had plenty of magic and tech people but was short on fighters. Unfortunately, the scenario we ended up playing was not very combat-heavy, so my character ended up being useless. I guess one problem with designing for these kinds of organized campaigns is coming up with scenarios to involve every different type of character.

Since I was also playing with people who knew much more of the setting canon than I did, I felt a little like the odd person out, having not read the 5th Edition core book for a couple of years. However, the plot of the scenario was interesting enough, even when only passively following it, that it conveyed why the setting inspires such devotion. I would play in another Shadowrun Missions game if I can find the time to create an actual character, perhaps my old 4e dwarven rigger from a brief campaign a few years back.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Behind-the-Scenes Story of the Known World

The Known World in question is the default setting of all the modules TSR released for the Basic D&D games of the 1980s. I was never a devotee of that setting, as some people became, but I remember it for its role in the beginning modules from the Basic and Expert sets, and from a 2e AD&D campaign set in Mystara, as the setting became known after it was converted to that game.

Laurence Schick, the co-creator of the Known World with Tom Moldvay, has an article about the development of the setting at The Black Gate. The most interesting insight to me was the fact that they began developing the Known World shortly after Moldvay acquired a White Box set of OD&D. This may make it the first fantasy world consciously created for Dungeons & Dragons. The World of Greyhawk, under the name The Great Kingdom, existed pre-D&D as a setting for wargames. The Forgotten Realms existed for years before 1973 as a setting for Ed Greenwood's unpublished fantasy fiction. But the Known World was created after exposure to D&D, specifically to serve as a setting for D&D adventures.

The article is also notable for demonstrating the design of a world for specific objectives. Schick and Moldvay originally designed the Known World to be a shared world for multiple DMs in northeastern Ohio. Thus, it includes a great many cultures, all of which are extensively detailed. Though this expansiveness and level of detail dovetails with the demands of a commercial game setting, it looks like TSR actually shrank the Known World for their official version. Unfortunately, the article doesn't mention why that decision was made or which countries were lost in the transition.

You can read the article here:


I've had a couple of blogs before, but I've always had trouble naming them. Then I remembered that there's a Thomas Covenant reference with my actual name in it. Duh!

Even though The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is no longer among my favorite works of fantasy, I still read a lot of fantasy and some science fiction. I also read some nonfiction and play tabletop roleplaying games. Currently, I'm playing my fifth or sixth character in a Pathfinder campaign in which I die a lot.

So I will probably share a lot of thoughts about genre fiction and roleplaying games, with maybe the occasional odd post about something else, including possibly my favorite Linux distribution of the moment.