Category Archives: RPG

In My Traveller Universe: Near Space

One of my favorite sourcebooks for Traveller and the Cepheus System is definitely Stellagama Publishing’s Near Space. It’s a small booklet containing maps and stats for the stellar systems in the vicinity of our solar system based on current astronomical data. If you plan to run a game in the “near” future focused on exploring our stellar neighborhood, you can either do the heavy hauling yourself or just rely on the great work.

These days I am thinking a lot of the Traveller universe, games I’d love to run, and the Cepheus Engine especially in its “Light” variant. One of the campaign ideas I had was one about an early human star ships on a – let’s say – five year mission to explore the Milky Way. Starting from the solar system the ship and its crew would venture out into the unknown, finding strange new worlds, investigating mysteries, facing dangers, and all that jazz.

But if you want to rely on “Traveller-esque” rules and keep the “early space exploration” premise, you quickly run into issues. Even our nearest neighbor, Proxima Centauri, is more than one parsec away from our solar system which means that Jump-1 drives can’t reach it. The authors of Near Space solved these issues by introducing a number of objects from the “Hypothetical Star Chart”, which help fill these gaps. The objects on this chart are all hypothetical brown or red dwarfs which could plausibly exist in these places without us being able to easily detect them nowadays.

If you prefer to keep things scientifically accurate, you face the problem that you need Jump-2 capability before humanity wants to read its nearest neighbor. Of course one could easily replace the standard Jump drive with another FTL method, but that’s something I’d like to avoid at the moment.

For my campaign, I’d like to keep things as simple as possible. I intend to use the CE Light rules as written, without too many tweaks and hacks. In my version of the near future, humanity is mostly united (at least when it comes to space exploration) and has reached a tech level equivalent to 9 with some level 10 prototypes thrown in. I was considering replacing the Jump drive by something inspired by the Alcubierre drive, but decided against it. Instead I’ll make use of the hypothetical stellar objects proposed by Near Space.

The focus of the campaign should be exploration. But there should also be political intrigue, and some conflicts. Such a huge undertaking like a multi-year expedition to our stellar neighborhood is probably controversial. There might be groups on Earth who are vehemently against it out of numerous reasons. Such a group could – for example – try to sabotage the mission.

The huge question still unanswered is whether I want to introduce alien species or not. First contact could be extremely exciting with the player characters trying to figure out how to overcome the communication barrier. Alternatively the lack of alien life could be intriguing also. “Where is everyone?” could easily be the central question. Perhaps something or someone wiped out all technologically advanced species and humanity just shouted a loud “hello” into the void by developing their first jump drives. The best approach is probably to have both. There are some alien species, but there are also signs of extinct alien civilizations with planets littered with ruins, derelict fleets in space, but no indications what actually happened to them. Everyone loves a good mystery. In the end the player characters might be forced to find a way to protect Earth from a terrible threat!

One aspect of the campaign I want to mostly gloss over is a future history. Most players actually are not that interested in a fictitious history lesson anyway. It’s also extremely hard to extrapolate future events without relying on cliches. I’ll probably just describe the status quo and ignore what lead to this.

At this point I should probably ask a couple of friends what kind of campaign they are more interested in. Sure, I could prepare both, but since I regularly suffer from motivation issues, it’s more likely that I work only one of these campaigns at a time.

Kickstarter: Electric Bastionland

Into the Odd is one of the most unique and creative games I’ve played in the last years. It’s a weird mix between an ultra-light D&D clone and a unique, weird science meets fantasy setting. It is also a game focused on exploration and discovery – not combat. Combat is fast – and extremely lethal. I’ve run the “Iron Coral” adventure which comes with the game for various groups and everyone loved it.

Chris McDowall, the creator of Into The Odd, is currently raising money for Electric Bastionland, a standalone “sequel” to Into The Odd. The rules have been refined and expanded upon. A huge part of the book is devoted to 100 Failed Careers, which give your character their background and a reason for adventuring. Or do you think anyone with a proper career and a modicum of common sense would delve into the depths in search of treasures? I’ve followed the development of Electric Bastionland for a few years now, and I am extremely excited about it.

At the time of this writing the Kickstarter project has raised about 3600 € of a 13.926 € goal. The game itself is already written and even in layout, but Chris needs more money for artwork and eventually printed copies. So now’s your chance to contribute and help development of this exciting game along.

If you want to learn more about the game, I recommend you check out the official blog or the Electric Bastionlands Kickstarter project page. You can also check out the free version of Into The Odd to get a glimpse of what the world of Electric Bastionland is like.

UPDATE: A September 2017 playtest package of Electric Bastionland is also still available here. The game has probably changed quite a lot since then, but it might at least give you an idea on how the final product may look like.

UPDATE #2: Chris just let me know that there’s actually a free preview available on itch.io. Check it out!

Don’t Do As I Do – A Tale Of Depression, Anxiety And RPGs

Over the years I’ve posted a lot of GM advice here on the blog. I’ve also shared tips on how to be a better player. Unfortunately I sometimes get the impression that I am having a hard time following my own advice. Don’t get me wrong, I still think I am a reasonably good player, and when I am in the right mood, I am an accomplished game master. But more often than not, especially when I am running games, things quickly fall apart.

So why am I talking about this here? I want you to learn from my mistakes, and it also helps me putting my thoughts onto paper (or rather into a blog post). So let’s start at the beginning.

Even as a kid I was never really confident. I always questioned myself. I felt I wasn’t good enough. I was shy and for the most time I was an outsider at school. But even though I always had strong introverted tendencies, I also had things I wanted to say. The urge to express myself has always been quite strong, and in roleplaying games I found an outlet which worked great for me. As a player I could leave the doubts and confidence issues behind, and imagine – for at least a few hours – that I am someone else.

Sooner than later I wanted to run games myself. There were certain games I’d love to play, but no one in my circle of friends wanted to run them, so I eventually decided to become a GM. But the GM role is vastly different from being a player. Most of the time, players expect you to entertain them. Yes, I know that roleplaying is actually a group effort, but most players are happy to lean back and enjoy the show, while the GM does the heavy hauling.

As a GM I wasn’t that bad. I often sucked at learning rules, because I was more interested in cool stories than mechanics, but I quickly realized that I was quite good at improvising and making NPCs memorable. For quite some time I ran Shadowrun (mostly 1st and 2nd edition), later I switched to D&D 3.0/3.5 which we played for years. In the meantime I ran several other games which mixed success. But overall things were fine. At least during my university years.

Over the years it became increasingly harder to find people interested in playing. Friends who I have played with for years moved away, and while I made new friends, the number of prospective players dwindled. For a couple of years my financial situation was pretty bad, and stress at work was unbearable. Eventually I got a new job and things improved for a while, but then we had a change in leadership, and things went downhill again. It’s probably no surprise I struggled with mental health issues for years. Heck, I still do.

As you can imagine having anxiety and depression is not really helping when trying to be a GM. Roleplaying was one of the things that helped me to stay sane, but over the years, my anxiety attached itself to the GM-side of things. This led to a very strange situation. I still wanted to run games, and my head was full of ideas, but I also had (and still have) extreme doubts about my ability to pull it off. It would have made sense to put some effort into preparations in order to feel more confident, but for some reason I also dreaded doing any prep work. Usually I also kept rescheduling games since I didn’t feel confident enough to run something, or I just hadn’t done any preparations.

My players were very supportive at first, but slowly but surely they got annoyed. Or at least it looked like that to me. So I decided to make it up to them, promising them the next game would actually be better and not be cancelled after just a few sessions. If a player wanted to use a class, race, etc. I was unfamiliar with, I just let them, because I didn’t want to impose restrictions on them because of my short-comings. Of course I did all that while the core issue hadn’t been resolved yet.

Time and time again I set myself up for failure. Instead of taking things slow, I set myself up for failure – every single time. I took on more than I could chew, made promises I could not keep. To get out of what felt to me like a vicious circle, I took a DMing break. Oh boy, this felt great at first. It felt like a burden has been lifted. But if you have been following my blog, you know that this didn’t keep me from taking breaks from my break and stumbling again a few times.

So, is there a lesson in there somewhere? I hope so. The one thing you definitely should not do is bite off more than you can chew. If you’re fighting depression and anxiety, GMing may sometimes be a bit too much. In my case setting myself up for failure again and again was probably caused by my depression. My subconscious wanted to show me how much I suck. And the best way to do this is to destroy one of the things I love most. I know that I am a good GM, and I know I will be able to run great games again, but I also have to make sure, that I don’t fall into the same traps again.

Taking a break was probably a good decision. But if you are an avid GM, you eventually get the itch to run games again. If you feel that itch, feel free to scratch, BUT take things slow.

  • Use a rules system you are familiar with. Don’t try out new games while you’re still not fully back into the saddle.
  • Run one-shots, and avoid campaigns.
  • Run games for your friends, people you are feeling comfortable around. Don’t run games for strangers or at cons.
  • Ask your players if they are willing to run games for a change. Sometimes the best way to recharge your batteries is to be “just a player” for a while and let others take on the GM mantle.
  • Don’t overthink everything.

As you can imagine I am pretty bad at following my own advice. So do as I say, and please don’t do as I do! So, what about you, my dear reader? Have you struggled with similar issues? Do you have some further advice which might help DMs in the same situation? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!