Referee Tools


Banded Mongoose
I wasn't quite sure how to title this...

I've been messing around with Traveller for about six months now. I never thought I would find such enjoyment from a game system that truly is geared towards adventure and not just being a super-powerful hero. There's no local groups and I've not had the pleasure of playing with a group, so I've had to do double-duty as ref and player with my boys or alone (and I've never done any DMing before.) The core rulebook is okay for this, but our games got much better once I was able to start pulling information from other source materials and tools which a lot of people use for solo gaming. (Mainly an oracle system, a few house rules and a whole host of tables. I had to put in tremendous work to convert all of the fantasy stuff.) Much of the pressure of having to figure out everything is now left up to rolls during play. It's not as fast, but I get to live in the world, not direct it. As we smooth out the rough edges and add/remove tables and rolls to streamline the process, I've come to notice a trend in recent books which has me... nervous?

I've pulled a ton of material from Cepheus Engine and 1st Edition MGT, and sites which have a lot of information on classic Traveller. When it comes to 2nd edition, I've noticed the amount of content-generation in the books seems to be less and there is a much greater reliance on the Referee to "fill in" the story. Mercenary saw a large shift, and system generation from the Scout book to the 2nd edition Deep-Space Exploration Handbook was different. 1st book places planets according to roll results, 2nd book relies on the referee to decide where the zones are and what planets go where. It's a bit more vague. I want to get the World Builder book, but am a bit nervous to. There's other changes across what I've seen as well.

I couldn't put my finger on what was the issue until this last week. I bought Star Trek Adventures D20 Captain's Log last week. It's whole design is supposed to be a solo book for Star Trek Adventures. Here was a book which adds many matrices for content, but strips down the actual gameplay rules so far that my character's rolls (to me) felt almost pointless. Long story short, my character has a 92% chance at succeeding almost any task, and with the way the "game" is set up, it leans heavily on creative writing. It felt more like a creative writing tool and much less like a "game." I was bored. I didn't want to write a story, I wanted a story to emerge. I'm concerned Mongoose is trending towards leaving out referee tools and using phrases which mirror thematically what I saw in STACL.

I realize this is probably a unique situation and most referees do come up with their own content, but having those tools available has allowed me to play Traveller when otherwise I would have just given up. I implore Mongoose to not go down the road of taking away tools. Most everything is already optional for a referee that wants to do their own thing, but for those of us that need the assistance, they are invaluable assets. Also, if Mongoose ever decides to release a solo toolset for Traveller, please do NOT change the core gameplay (such as Captain's Log.) Just give us tools, not a different game.

Also, this is not a knock at 2nd edition. I love the system and do not regret buying the core rulebook or large amount of pdfs (except for the new Mercenary box set, but I have a whole other post on that one.) If they were to release a solo or even a referee toolset (such as the D&D Game Mastery Guide) I would probably gobble it up, provided it does what Traveller does best and let's the story happen organically.) Thoughts?
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Yeah, fair enough.

I got introduced to Traveller as a player before I GMed, so I had that as a model. Plus I happened to start when the OSR blogosphere was bigger, so I had some theory converted from that, plus a few blogs that were Traveller specific. Then my rulebooks were 1e, but I reached back to Classic sometimes for adventures and reference. Then Stars Without Number hit, and a group I played in tried it, and I found I don't actually like class-and-level for sci fi but I liked some of the back of the book tables for the GM. So I never had to learn GMing Traveller only from the books and nothing else, it was a more holistic experience.
At risk of hijacking your thread by not listening to what you're really asking for, here are a couple more tools not found in the core book. I found both useful way back in the day, though both now are shorter and might have "less there" than I remember them as being.

Then a third I've probably posted before, but I think not recently. A tool for the GM in any campaign: Start a spreadsheet, or just a big paper grid, and write down all PC names, all NPC ally/contact/rival/enemies generated, any patrons, villains or other major NPCs you already have generated, along the side and top of the grid. Now at each intersection of names write in how they're related. Some of it's already generated (ally/contact/rival/enemy); some can be left blank, especially another PC's contacts. But, fill in more of them as connected somehow than you would think. Start connecting NPCs to each other as allies/contacts/rivals/enemies. Or the connection can be not that they all coincidentally know each other, but that two have some goal that's going to come into conflict, or some goal they might both be working towards unknowingly. Consult and update this occasionally and it will sometimes suggest new adventure seeds, or just add complications to existing ones.
In the end, running Traveller is a creative processes and of course no amount of tables can compete with the imagination, But sometimes having something as a basis to kickstart that creative process, like a random table, can be welcome.

I agree with you: a lot of the adventure books out there are little more than a list of events or information that the referee has to connect. More often than not, it feels like work to me to study these booklets and then find out how to wedge them into my campaign, and especially challenging to match them to what my players tend to do. Herding players through these products can start to feel very contrived, no matter the level of subtlety used in explaining yet another coincidence. My players seem to always choose a route that such writers do not consider, very often smashing the basic premise of the book, as my players simply might not care about the motivations of Character A or give a hoot about saving her from Monster X.

I think the best sources or approaches are those from the world of creative writing, as its the same process as its heart.
Example: transpose a story from a different game/movie or era into your campaign. This could be as simple as using a news story - current affairs are an endless source of ideas, especially nowadays.

If you are stuck for ideas, AI chatbots are of use at a pinch, as accuracy is not a factor here.
I was talking about problems with going off-script in pre-designed scenarios/modules. It is the writer who assumes or defines the motives and often structures the scenes around that. As referee or player, those preconceived plans can breakdown very quickly.
I'm late to the party as usual, but wanted to also suggest using a tool like for tracking the details of your campaign as they emerge or are generated. The scale of Traveller would make it (at least for me) VERY easy to forget details about each world. Notion will allow you to create a database of NPCs, Locations, etc that will all be linked. If I recall, I began using the Lazy GM's excellent Campaign Template for - I was going to link to his docs using it but my account is new enough that it doesn't seem to allow that. :(