No real firsts over the last week. Summer classes have started, so much of my time was in getting my teaching stuff in order.
However, NecronBob and I did manage to get a game of De Bellis Antiquitatis in this week before our regular RPG time. We’ve played about 4-5 times before this, and each game we understand the rules a bit more and realize how woefully inadequate our tactics currently are. This battle was between my Polybian Romans and Robert’s Parthians. (One of the great things about DBA is finding out groups that existed in history that you had never heard of before, like the Parthians.) In any case, Robert tried to outflank my units with his fast horsemen, but I managed to bog him down in a corner with my horses to keep him from my camp. However, once his knights arrived on the scene, my blades were never able to do the kind of damage they needed to stop the Parthian advance, and he got four of my units to win the game, while I only got three of his. While I’m finally getting the hang of how to stack my units so they can provide bonuses to each other, I didn’t use terrain at all like I should. A good rule of thumb for ancient generals was probably to NOT meet the charging hordes of knights in the open field. I definitely should have tried to force the fight into the forest or hills. (And I should have chosen denser terrain in the first place.) Overall though, it was fun. My first game of 2011 was a loss, but it’s the first loss for the Romans since we started playing, so I can’t complain too much. (We have a running joke that the first couple of games were fought by the idiot brothers of the real generals as we did really stupid things like getting forced back into the river we came on or letting our elephants run amok on our infantry.)
After DBA, the rest of the night was our first Traveller game. I’m the GM for this game, and I’ve been trying a different approach. I’ve been calling it a sandbox game (a la video games like Grand Theft Auto, where the characters can do what they want instead of following a pre-planned plot line). However, in my prep, and in discussions with my players, I’ve realized that I’m not planning on really running a sandbox game. I’m coining the term a “Train Station” game.
In a sandbox game, the players could do whatever they want, whenever they want, and by doing so create their own plot. This type of game might work in a really confined area. (I ran an Aces and Eights game a few years ago that was closer to this style of play.) In a railroad game, the players follow the plot and can’t really diverge from it. (I ran a War of the Burning Sky campaign that was like this.) So, a Train Station game is a game where the players have the choice of multiple railroads that they can take. There are plots out there, but the players get more choice about which ones to follow. (I tend to agree with Robert that players and GMs naturally gravitate toward plot anyway, and it cuts out some of the aimless wandering for the GM to have a plot in mind.) What I have to avoid is “save the world” plots because our experience has been that the players will always try to save the world over any other plot lines. In a sense, I’m letting the players pick what kind of rail station they are at, and once they decide on a railroad, I’ll build it.
In any case, the first session went pretty well. Robert’s character (Renn) inherited a ship from an old mentor, but it happens to be on another planet, deep in the territory of the Empire Renn betrayed. So, most of this session involved everyone getting together and finding a way off planet. They hired a captain to make the jump to the Avalon system. Along the trip, they were confronted with some would-be hijackers, who were defeated using good old fisticuffs and fire extinguishers. They evaded a pirate attack set up by the hijackers and Paul’s character (Jim) told his life story to a reporter–which will probably come back to bite him since Jim is a wanted pirate himself (retired). The session ended with the ship touching down on Avalon.
All in all, I like the rules for Traveller. Coming out of playing 4e D&D, I keep feeling like there should be more rules. When Robert decided his character would try to disarm the pirate by hitting his hand with a fire extinguisher, I immediately went into “rules-hunting” mode where I thought there must be rules for called shots and disarming somewhere. Then I realized that part of the beauty of Traveller is the lack of rules. So I just threw a -2 modifier on the roll and let it go. It’s a little scary to be playing without rules for every situation again. But liberating, too. The Initiative system for Traveller is a little odd, and I’m going to have to do some thinking about how to track it more effectively. Writing down a list of the initiative order was kind of unwieldy.
Now I just wait for the players to tell me which train they want to get on.