Monday, August 8, 2016

Boiling Down Traveller: Really, Really Simple Worlds

Microlite20 is pretty amazing. Back during the heyday of D&D's 3rd edition, Robin V. Stacey accepted the permissions granted by the Open Game License to flense the D20 System Reference Document, pitilessly cutting away every bit of adornment until all that was left was the absolute naked minimum needed to play a game that was still recognizably D20-style D&D. M20 is cross-compatible with existing D20 resources, but is playable on it's own. Just two pages long in it's base form, even when expanded with plenty of added resources it's still under twenty pages. Scores of people took to M20, running it, expanding it and writing there own microlite games in turn.

So ... how about a Microlite take on Traveller, the classic game of science fiction adventure in the far future? I got this notion when looking through my venerable copy of The Traveller Book and realizing that despite the myriad rules and formula filling it's pages, there's explicitly a core list of clearly defined activities play is built around:

  • Character Generation
  • Personal Combat
  • Starship Design
  • Starship Operations
  • Starship Combat
  • Interstellar Trade
  • World Generation
  • World Exploration
  • Encounters (with subtypes of Social, Animal and Starship)
  • Psionics
Taking the original Traveller text as inspiration (without aiming to emulate it precisely) I can imagine writing a game where each of those activities is covered adequately by just one page of efficient guidelines. Budget in a couple extra pages for miscellaneous subjects like equipment, and that's a nice even total of a dozen pages, well within the succinct range of microlite systems. It won't be as comprehensive as full Traveller, but it'll support a recognizably Traveller-like play experience. Also, unlike Microlite20, cross-compatibility isn't a strong design goal, since Traveller doesn't have the same focus of meticulous character-builds, magic-item interactions and monster-abilities.

To give an idea what my take on this would look like, I doodled out the following terse system for generating worlds. Reviewing the UWP-generating process of original Traveller, I've tightened the focus down to the essentials needed to define a world, and tried to combine several different values into one (for instance, pushing atmosphere, size and hydrosphere all together into "Environment"):
  • A sector is a 6x6 grid. Check each coordinate on the grid by throwing a die. An a result of 5 or 6, note a world at that location.
  • For each world, throw a die and subtract 1 to get a value of 0-5* for each of the following qualities: Development, Stability, Environment and Resources. The higher the result, the better.
  • Development describes how heavily populated and technologically advanced the world is. 0 indicates no native population or industry, 5 indicates a thriving world with a sprawling starport and cutting edge technology.
  • Stability describes the presence of strife and social development. 0 indicates ongoing total warfare, 5 indicates a peaceful and equitable society.
  • Environment describes how hospitable the planetary surface is. 0 indicates a world that's too hostile even to survive in a vacc suit, 5 indicates a hospitable Earth-equivalent biosphere.
  • Resources describe how much surplus raw materials or valuable finished goods this world produces for the interstellar market. 0 indicates no surplus and a likely strong need for imports, 5 indicates a vast surplus and ample buyer opportunities.
  • Check each world for unusual circumstances by throwing a die. On a result of 5 or 6, throw another die, apply the result from this list and interpret what it means: 1 Aliens, 2 Artifacts, 3 Imperial Base, 4 Interdicted, 5 Guild Base, 6 Anomaly.
*The four qualities come out as 0-5 because I've some notion of using them as die modifiers for other systems.

I'm not promising I'll see this through, I'm notorious for conceiving projects that don't go anywhere, but it's still a compelling idea I'd like brought to fruition.