I’ve alluded a couple of times to a Traveller-ish campaign I’ve been working on. Please feel free to share comments and feedback, so that I’m not confined to the contents of my own head.
I had been searching for an evocative working title, and finally settled a few days ago on:
Picaresque: Science Fiction Adventure on Alternate Earths
Hence, my bemusement with finding the discussion of “picaresque” in another topic. The OED defines it:
picaresque, adj. 1. Originally: relating to or characteristic of a rogue or knave. Now chiefly: designating a genre of narrative fiction which deals episodically with the adventures of an individual, usually a roguish and dishonest but attractive hero (cf. picaro, picaroon). Also: having the attributes associated with this genre of narrative. 2. Of a lifestyle, etc.: wandering, drifting; transitory, impermanent.
The parallels to “traveller” and the Traveller rpg as it is often played should be self-evident. I was particularly drawn to the episodic nature of the genre, since I wanted to facilitate something like what Justin Alexander calls an Open Table play style.
My motivation for this effort has been the idiosyncratic, quixotic goal of “Traveller Done Right” – maintaining the essential core of a game that has served well for decades, while cleaning up some of the ancillary issues that I, personally, find irritating. If the result is simpler and more coherent into the bargain, so much the better. Of course, the things that bother me will be very different than what anyone else might choose, and therefore so will the result.
My approach is to firm up the science fiction of Traveller by reducing the applied phlebotium to a single substance: probability manipulation, including paratime travel or world jumping. Handwavium (things that are theoretically possible, but we don’t yet know how to do) like fusion power is acceptable, mostly to help maintain the pulpish feel of the original, but other forms of unobtanium (that flagrantly violate Reality As We Know It) are not. So no gravitics, no “meson” devices – no FTL.
Instead, the worlds that Our Heroes visit are alternate Earths. Traveller’s “jump” drive is replaced by parachronic transposition. Shifts take place on a 2-dimensional manifold orthogonal to our everyday 4-dimensional world, and are blind – there are no instruments to “see” that map besides the ships themselves, by trial and error. Shifts are instantaneous, but reducing sources of error (from differences between alternates) dictates moving some distance out away from the Earth and taking time to re-calibrate between attempts. The shift drive doesn’t require liquid hydrogen, but fusion rocket maneuver drives require reaction mass.
This set-up does several things I find beneficial:
- All worlds are habitable, besides a deliberate few with divergence points in the Archaean eon.
- All worlds have standard surface gravity and atmospheric pressure, which saves bookkeeping.
- On the other hand, a proper sense of scale is built in: no “it was raining on planet Mongo” issues.
- A wealth of divergent human cultures can exist side by side with characters from a recognizable, near-future version of our own.
So far, I am fairly comfortable with the campaign background and setting; I’ll share some of the details in other posts. I am debating, however, how far I want or need to diverge from classic Traveller game mechanics. My baseline assumption is old school Classic Traveller (sometimes called proto-Traveller): Books 1-3, Supplement 4, no Mercenary-style character generation, no High Guard shipbuilding, etc. Worldbuilding needs tweaking to better reflect the differences among alternate Earths, but how far do I want to go in customizing the shipbuilding (assuming I don’t simply forbid ships to players except as plot devices)? And so on.
At what point is it more confusing than useful to call this an alternate Traveller universe? Would it be more accurate to refer to it as a Traveller retroclone, or something else entirely? Let me hear your thoughts.