Monday, May 26, 2014

The End of Star Jumper

Memorial Day in the States, so I expect to see less people around today.

I'd like to write something positive.  It's summer, it's a beautiful day where I am, I finally figured out what was wrong with the ebook publishing, the book is thumping along (I'm about halfway through the third and last draft now) and on the whole I'm feeling as if there's an end.  Matt gave me some good news about things we can offer or give as a door prize for the fundraiser in Calgary, I have people in Toronto anxious to see me and I'm looking forward to it being a great year.  So I'm in a good mood.

I was going to include a passage on why I love D&D in the book, but the feel of the book was wrong for it so I decided not.  It's a difficult question anyway.  Too, it should address the issue of why I love D&D and not, say, Pathfinder, or Traveller, or Top Secret that I used to play.

Traveller had some great qualities, and I ran a Traveller world for nearly a decade.  Towards the end, I meshed Traveller and Top Secret together, as I really liked the Top Secret combat system (and very little else about the game).  That took some tweaking, but in fact the games merge pretty well - in the end I called the composite 'Star Jumper.'  Until I got out of university, it was a popular game.

There were two faults, I think.  The first was that a realistic game set into the future is just too deadly.  The weapons are profoundly kill-friendly, there are many, many opportunities for death and the character improvement system didn't really compensate for the weapons, the physics of losing your grip on something at high speed or the whole death in space thing.  If you're going to play shoot 'em up games in the present or the future, there's simply more likelihood that the character is going to die. That makes it harder for the players to invest, and it makes it harder for them to willingly enter conflict.  I used to say that the point of D&D was to find combat; the point of Star Jumper was to escape it.

The other fault was largely due to money.  Money is a very important aspect of a future game, more important than it is in D&D, as very large sums of money are necessary to buy the toys and gadgets that keep you alive.  And those things are expensive.  Plus, there's just no fun in the game without a ship, and your ship can't be big without a lot of money, so there was always that to consider.  The problem wasn't, however, in having too little money, it was that inevitably, what with trade and economics, a party would eventually acquire all they needed to fight with, and more money than that, until ultimately money just became meaningless.  The game sort of churned down once that point was reached.  The players would want to start another set of characters, which we would, running them until that natural limit was reached.

I was trying an experiment at the end of those games that had begun to prove itself, but never reached fruition because the commitment ran out and people went off around the world to start their lives (literally - I had a friend move to Vietnam, another to Montreal, a third to California and so on).  Being '92, there was no internet, so that was that.

For those familiar with Traveller, the character generation system works sort of thusly (it's been awhile, I don't have the books with me, though I still own them, so I'm going on memory):

Basically, your character goes through cycles that represent 4 years of training.  The character applies for training, it is determined which branch the training occurs in (I'm thinking of the more complicated Navy track now), the character rolls for skills, and the character rolls to see if they survived the four years.  If the character fails to enter, then the character musters out and is finished.  If the character dies, then a new character is started.  It is the weirdest character creation scheme ever made, I think, but it is oddly appealing.

Towards the end of playing Star Jumper, I had conceived of starting the characters as new recruits in the Navy, and role-playing the above cycle.  In other words, your character accepts that they are in the Navy.  They don't want out, they want the training.  First, as before, the branch is rolled, and all the characters are assigned to that branch.  They meet their commander.  The commander gives them a 'mission.'  They are given a base level of training in order to accomplish the mission.  Remember, the original character system presumed the characters would get "blaster-1" in four years, so this base training is "blaster-0.1."  The mission was fairly simple, these were raw recruits.  They were sent into a combat zone, they had one brief skirmish, survival was fairly likely and the mission was over.  Back to base, and if they got really lucky during the skirmish, they'd have another 0.1 added to their blaster skill.  Then they'd be paid, left on their own to explore around on their leave, before returning and getting another mission.

Meanwhile, there'd be role-play.  A lot of shipboard stuff like Starship Troopers, other naval conscripts they had to contend with, girls they'd meet, officers to impress and so on, building up an operational framework.  Between missions they could roam about, push around a few people, try not to get killed or worse, expelled from the Navy, and so on.

I had a group of sharp players and this was working very well.  We'd gone through two years of missions, they were getting to know people, racking up skills, making a little money on the side, and not too much so as to spoil the game.  One was thinking of getting married, another was considering officer candidate school (I would have run the missions so the party still worked together, or encouraged them all to try OCS), and in general they were feeling the role-play.

I never went back to it, however.  I don't know.  It just didn't feel worth it after the game broke up.  I doubt I'd have a host of players like that again.  I got to feeling like I just wanted to play D&D.

So, I'll continue in this thread tomorrow.  Enjoy your holiday.


Maxwell Joslyn said...

Please check my understanding.

I am somewhat familiar with Traveller. Normally, the players roll through several of these four-year cycles in the Navy or what have you. They get various skills and eventually they muster out and the real game begins.

Am I correct in saying that what you created was a separate game entirely, which was about playing out the events of military life, using the Traveler lifepaths as a guide for how skills, etc accrued over time? That is to say: was the intent for the "real game" (as above) to ever take place after the eventual muster-outs, or was the game you describe here a separate beast, a military-life game unto itself? It seems like it would take ages to reach the "real game" if the former is the case, so I assume it to be the latter. In either case it sounds like a damn good time.

Alexis Smolensk said...

You're right in every aspect, Maxwell, except in making a division between the real game and the not. If the players wanted their skills, they had to stay in the military (or transfer to the Scouts or Merchants or what have you). But they could muster out at any time (and get as much mustering out pay/benefits as they'd earned). Like the creation of the character in Traveller, the future wasn't predetermined. All I did was make gritty those cycles, and role-play them.

Maxwell Joslyn said...

Got it. Thanks.

I'm working through that 1921 Colliers now, by the way. Any tips for keeping it all straight?

So far my game plan is as follows:

I'm noting each "new" reference as I find it, to form a master list of all the different types of references.

Obviously I'm tracking each city and its references.

I'm also tracking regional references as best I can, in order to do some kind of divvying-up at the end of things.

If I can knock out 10 pages a day I'll have all the data extracted in two months, and 10 pages isn't even that much since some pages don't have a single city on them.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Must be shorter than mine. My set has 19 volumes at about 650 pages per volume, so it would take 3.38 years at 10 pages a day. As well, for a single region, there are usually between 50 and 100 references.

I haven't done everywhere. When I started, there was no internet, and I actually felt there would be a benefit in having the city descriptions in word format ... so I copied them out by hand for about a quarter of my world. Since, I just keep the references. I could probably finish up the world from where I am in about three months, but it would be doing nothing but that and I find it is a tiresome job. Good luck!

Alexis Smolensk said...

"region" = France, England, Italy, Russia, India, North Carolina, that sort of thing.

Maxwell Joslyn said...

Oh shit! Somehow I overlooked the fact that this was just the first volume (yes, about 600 pages). Uh, gonna have to revise my estimates. Found an online version of the whole thing so at least I don't have to download any more massive files.

This is suddenly a much bigger project! Wow! But I'm not daunted.

Hm. I think I can safely leave out the New World. And it might be worthwhile to just total up some places, e.g. Africa and Russia, as big giant single "cities" for now. Wish I had a way to OCR these PDFs and some way to scan through them for keywords "produce" and "manufacture" and "harvest" and similar keywords to help me along. Oh well, I guess this is one thing that's difficult whether or not it's computer aided.

Alexis Smolensk said...

You never said it was online. May I see it?

Maxwell Joslyn said...

Yes. I found two. The first is a hyperlinked version, which I suspect to be incomplete because it lacks articles on such prominent places as London.

The second, which I will use, is version composed of 10 PDFs, one for each volume, each about 600 pages. I'll link you to volume 01; the others can be found thru a search on the same site.

Maxwell Joslyn said...

The scans of the cover pages are very dark, but I've found all the content pages to be very readable so far.

Alexis Smolensk said...

You realize what a horror this is for me - now I have to go through this one ALSO, to see if it has entries my later version does not have.

Maxwell Joslyn said...

Remember to come up for air now and then!

Alexis Smolensk said...

I can already confirm it has different information from my 1952 Encyclopedia . . . which I can promise I know very, very well:

"ABAKANSK, a range of mouontains in the government of Tomsk, in Siberia, extending from the river Tom to the Yenisei, parallel to the Altai mountains. Also the name of a fortified town of Siberia, in the government of Tomsk, on the river Abakan. This is considered the mildest and most salubrious place in Siberia."

Number of times this mountain range is mentioned on the wikipedia entry for the Tomsk Oblast ('government of' Tomsk)? Zero. Number of times the mountain range is mentioned on wikipedia? Zero.

>The town mentioned on wikipedia is the one in the Khakass, or Minusinsk Basin, far from the one mentioned in the 1921 Colliers Encyclopedia.

Isn't that interesting?

Haha haha hhaha hahaa haaha hahha

Maxwell Joslyn said...

Is it this one?

Alexis Smolensk said...

Well damn, what a pity. Yet it is. Spoil an effort to find a use for a 1921 encyclopedia, why don't you?

Matt said...

How could the party ever accumulate enough wealth to keep a starship running inevitably? Especially a big one.

There is an adage about boats, that a boat is a hole in the water into which you pour your money. A starship is a continually exploding nuclear reaction in space where you watch your money burn.

Fuel alone should be a huge factor, especially if the craft uses conventional rockets, and exponentially so if the ship makes planetfall, (or rather, to account for the reaction mass needed to put the ship back into space.) Non-convention engines (ion engines, fission reactors, etc) would need incredibly thorough maintenance. The hull would need continual maintenance to account for micrometorite impacts and the effects of other detritus. This is before considering docking fees, registration fees, taxes, and insurance.

I ran a futuristic sci-fi space game that attempted to take these things into account. My goal was to introduce a realistic financial system that accounted for fees, taxes, loans, interest rates, and so on. It was a pretty fun time, but also fell apart due mostly to the fact that the party wasn't really united in any particular goal.

It was great seeing the sorts of tension that debt could cause though. Looking at my charts and then looking at the player and saying "Sorry, but you've made a few bad choices to get the skills and expertise you currently have. Those bad choices amount to about $300,000.00 in debt."

Unfortunately we never got to see the lengths that player would go to clear himself of the debt.

Alexis Smolensk said...

To buy ships, we always began from the premise that a corporation had to be created. By the time my players were 22, they understood that this required organizing a cadre of agents on individual planets who would find and obtain cargos, that would then be waiting for us when we arrived, cheaply purchased and ready to go, or shipped out on other ships. Because no one was interested in luxury, all the profit was ploughed into more trading, more agents, more distribution, and eventually into product development and sales, all of which ran more or less automatically - because it is a modern world, and even if factories burn down and unions form, the money will just pile up and pile up, as it does for the big boys all around us. Since there were no rules for controlling trade listed in the game, and we were too young to make them, the campaigns that I ran in, and the campaign that I ran, because a means for organizing cash flow from place to place and then ultimately into the bucket with a hole.

That hole may run the water out, but when the spigot pouring into the bucket is a waterfall, who notices?

Alexis Smolensk said...

"became a means . . ." that is.

Matt said...

I tried to incentivize luxury by tying it to character advancement. Basically, the more money the characters spent on luxury goods in a given month the more hit-points they would have. Basically, standard of living decided the size of their hitdice, and how disciplined they were decided how many hitdice they had.

I also had it so that things other than combat could do hitpoint damage. It was more of a measure of stress than of blood.

The whole system was a bit of a mess though because I was pretty much creating it from whole cloth, save for some basics cribbed from D&D.

We have been happier since going back to D&D though.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I really like the stress idea, Matt. Imagine a hit point loss resulting from every jump, followed by a slow drain for every day in space. Then having to land, recoup the lost on shore leave . . . that is really a very good concept. Shame I never thought of that in the 80s.

Matt said...

And not just that!

Imagine hit point loss for missing a mortgage payment, or for seeing the "Check Fusion Engine" light come on. And regaining hitpoints by going to bars or eating at restaurants or buying the latest VR simulation.

It was fun, I just think I was under-prepared. I owe you a lot of credit for the idea though. Your work on maps and world-building and trade systems got me to think about why there was a surprising lack of banks in every modern or future RPG. Where are the rules for car loans and mortgages?