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Episode 1948: Lovas in the Air Strike

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Back in the day, when Dungeons & Dragons was the only game in town (i.e. the mid-1970s), it was just kind of assumed that when you start a game with new characters, they are all young people right at the very beginnings of their careers.

A first level fighter might be a farmer's child who has been practising with a sword for a while against straw dummies, and decides to leave the farm in search of adventure. The thief would be a young street urchin who has maybe picked a few pockets and stolen some bread for meals, and now seeks greater riches and rewards. The magic-user would be a young apprentice to the town wizard or witch, who has just learnt their very first magic spell. And the cleric was a newly recruited acolyte on the very lowest rung of the church hierarchy. (In fact, in Basic D&D, first level clerics could not cast any clerical spells at all, since it was assumed they had not proven their devotion to their god sufficiently yet.) The first encounter of the adventure, with a pair of giant rats, might the first time anyone in this group has fought a real, living opponent.

Playing a game of make believe in a fantasy world was all well and good, but naturally it led some people to consider different sorts of settings. One of the most obvious ideas is to have a game set in a science fiction setting, with characters zooming through space and exploring strange new worlds. TSR, the publishers of Dungeons & Dragons, released Metamorphosis Alpha in 1976 - although this was a very restricted setting, being based entirely within an interstellar colony ship, and could in fact be played as a "fantasy" setting until the players realise that they're on a ship, not a planet, and the fantastical creatures they meet are actually radioactive mutants and robots.

A guy named Marc Miller took up the challenge of writing a more open and expansive space adventure game. In 1977, Game Designers' Workshop released his Traveller. The setting was originally free-form, but developed quickly with official material establishing an enormous galactic Imperium of thousands of worlds, dominated by humans, but with plenty of aliens for variety.

But one of the novel features of Traveller was the character background system. Adventuring parties in Traveller were often free-spirited groups of people who had their own ship, and would fly from planet to planet seeking adventure and fortune. But to get to the beginning point of this phase of their lives, the characters were given background careers. A newly minted adventurer ready for the first session of a game might be, for example, an ex-military officer, or have served in a diplomatic corps, or have had a career in medicine, or scientific research, or local law enforcement.

To decide what this background was for each new character, Traveller provided a series of tables, with which you would choose various options or roll dice to determine what sorts of experiences you have had and what skills you have picked up. Notably and infamously, there were some entries that stated that your character had died at some point during their career. So it was entirely possible to go through the following process:

  1. Let's play a new game, with new starting characters!
  2. I'm going to make a new character.
  3. Let me determine my character's background.
  4. Oooh, I was in the military.
  5. Neat, I picked up some medical skills as a field medic.
  6. Oh. I got killed in action...
  7. Okay. So much for that character. I'll start making another new character to begin this game with.

For early Traveller players, "being killed during character generation" became something of a badge of honour.

More modern games have adopted the idea that characters should have some sort of background, rather than be created with blank slate histories. The latest (5th) edition of Dungeons & Dragons includes a section on backgrounds - basically what you did before you turned to a life of adventuring. The suggested backgrounds include actual careers such as having been a sailor or a soldier, as well as life paths that don't really qualify as "careers" as such: for example hermit, or street urchin.

However you do it and whatever sort of game rules there are to assist, it's always a nice idea to have at least some sort of idea what your character's background is.

Commentary by memnarch (who has not seen the movie)

Not sure why you're complaining Sally; you remember C-3P0 and Yoda right? And Leia and Darth Vader? It's just Ben's turn to be two characters. If you reeeally don't like it, you can just kill Ben's character again, but I think that would be extremely rude. I wonder if any of the other players will point out the previous "playing multiple characters" instances. Maybe that will happen when Poe eventually turns up again from his crash landing. Though now that we're not on Tatooine anymore, that seems much less likely, even with the "Never Found the Body" trait in play.

And hah! That is quite the record for character death. The comment about prepwork for adventurer notes has a whole new twist on it now. That definitely explains why there was so much tilted towards stranding the Falcon. New characters do need to be introduced somehow. The excessive planning and mostly open world method didn't work, so railroading does look like it would have been the fastest method to get everyone engaged with the game again. For all the side comments that Jim made after Captain Antilles died, he was still working on his next character at the time. Maybe Sally will get another character again as well, and the group will all be in the same place, even if they're not on the same side.

Commentary by Keybounce (who has not seen the movie)

This comic floored me so much when it came into my inbox that I was laughing too hard to continue writing, and in fact was coughing. DMM, it hurts when I laugh this much.

Traveller is very much a different style of game. The jokes about it were rampant in the RPG player industry - every other person seemed to have a story about it. But how many of them have actually played it? Sir Poley wrote a 4 piece blog about Traveller. And, surprise surprise, all the strangities of it... go away when you actually use the rules as written.

I wish I could say that what follows is accurate. But thanks to some peer review and fact checking I can actually say that Traveller has a very large variety in what it can play. But one thing is very clear: Traveller is not D&D in space. If you think that way, you will be way, way off. No, Traveller can make an RPG group that looks like Cowboy Bebop, or Firefly. At least one person says that the campaign of Firefly is more accurate than the campaign of Bebop; Bebop is more of a "themed" world where the GM says "This is what we are playing", and the players make something that fits, possible by altering the dice to get a character to fit the setting.

Traveller generally (1st Edition) makes a group that is highly in debt, has to constantly bring in big bucks just to stay afloat, and is constantly short on money. Most characters will wind up with a massively complicated backstory from the character creation, and this backstory provides the NPCs that you'll encounter. Generally. Apparently it is possible to fully own outright a 40+ year old ship... and Rey apparently owns the Falcon outright? Or, at least, is "borrowing" it from someone borrowing it from Lando?

What do we see in Bebop? Spike with his background in the syndicate, and that group constantly getting involved in the now. Jet with an artificial arm, a history as a cop, etc. Feye with a history defined by debt, cryogenic suspension, and a massive blank, unknown truth. And Edward, who is a child, with no backstory, no debt, and no real issues other than "hack hack hack". Except for Edward, who would need some GM-approved special tweaks, these are perfect examples of what can come out of the Traveller character generation.

I do not know Firefly. But apparently, that is a case of the captain owning the ship outright, and (apparently every episode?) Mal going out of his way to find a job, usually moving cargo, often illegally. So trade runs to pay the monthly payments, is only the iconic, defining(*) characteristic of Traveller. The constant need of money to keep repairing the ship and pay the bills.

Yes, it's possible for characters to die in generation. No, it's not that common. Certainly not as common as the number of RPG players who talked about it at conventions in the past. As long as you are willing to go deeper and deeper into debt, you can heal yourself and keep on going. And being in debt is what this game is about. Well, to clarify: the crew being in debt, having to worry about the next month's payment, is the iconic, defining(*) aspect of the game.

Now, dying in character creation. That's more like a way of saying "I don't like what I've rolled, let me start over". Even in D&D type games, if you roll for your character, you might not like what you get. This is why you have point allocations, or "roll dice, and assign to characteristics", etc - any number of ways to guarantee that you'll like what you get.

(*) This means it is as accurate as saying that D&D adventures are given in the back of an inn by a mysterious cloaked figure. It does happen, and it's the obvious image, but it's not 100% of the time.(**)

(**) Now, if you said you refilled your party back up to full by stopping in an inn and recruiting, that would be different :-)

Now, back in Episode 1930, we were told that they missed the chance to find an ally. At the time, I asked,

Meanwhile, the "you missed an ally" - did this ally have information that the players would need? (Yes). What sort of information?

[deleted paragraph]

But could this person have provided information about the Galactic level issues on other planets, or was it strictly a small-town operation that didn't amount to a hill of beans in this big galaxy? (Ok, that might not be an exact quote, sorry.)

Well, it turns out that this ally would have been someone that could travel with them, and now that I think about it, probably provide them with money. You know, something that they are dangerously short on right now? Maybe they need to do some cargo runs, perhaps illegal ones, to get money to pay their bills? When did we last hear about a Star Wars, err, Darths & Droids character getting into trouble on a trade run betting tip gone bad?

Since they don't have money, will they wind up having to rob something to get the supplies that they need? And why am I so certain that with Greedo Han Vittorio Xasha around, they will in fact be robbing something.

Now, for some more questions:

Back in #1867, I reacted to "Rey Solo". I said, "... and would permit Luke and Princess to be Force users by genetics. And if Han and Princess had a child, Princess's midis would be in the child. Which would be how Rey Solo could be a Force user. I'm clueless as to how Pete will gain enough disadvantages to pay for that prestige class, but I'm sure we can see something show up." I am still curious, especially since we just got confirmation of the family.

Soo many questions.

And, if "The Search for Skywalker" means they are trying to find Luke, and we have Luke's niece, that family connection has to be how it happens. It wouldn't be the first time that family connections were Force-traced, although I don't recall where (VI I think?) this was used.

As much as I want to believe that "dad" is something the Comic Irregulars came up with, what we see on-screen is Han going directly to the hidden compartment, and the people interacting like they know each other, so... I'm starting to think that this is actually what happens in-movie.

I know, you're not going to tell me. But I just imagine the spoiler thread going crazy after this one.

Transcript

Kylo Ren: You’re letting Jim bring Han back?
GM: Of all the characters Jim’s played, he’s the only one who hasn’t died relatively quickly.
Kylo Ren: And Ben gets to play General Hux and Chewbacca?
Chewbacca: Well, Han is my sidekick.
BB-8: But you were saying you were making a new character.
Xasha: I did! I was going to be Rikard Lovas, the banker who staged a heist in Niima!
Xasha: But I was stuck in jail and got killed by the air strike before I could even meet you.
GM: See what I mean?
Chewbacca: I think that’s a personal record.
GM: At least until we play Traveller.


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Published: Sunday, 24 January, 2021; 01:11:05 PST.
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