Monthly Archives: April 2014

Unique Tech Development

How would tech develop? I think it would depend on the setting.

Option 1)

If your setting has a lot of species on lots of planets that all uniquely developed high tech up to space faring then they should all have their own – potentially uniquely weird – tech tree and tech levels.


Option 2)

On the other hand assuming most sentient species were pre sentient for c. 80% of their total history and pre spacefaring for 99.99% of it and even pre-agriculture for 99% then the first jump-capable species are likely to have a massive head start in their part of the universe with up to 80% of the other species they encounter on other planets still at an animal level of development and maybe another 19% stone age and only 1% agricultural and above.

So if in your setting you roll for each hex on your map with 4-6 meaning the hex contains a system and say 4 = uninhabitable world, 5 = inhabitable impaired and 6 = inhabitable world and specify that sentient species only naturally arise (usually) in the habitable planets then you have 1 in 3 systems times 1 in a hundred or 1 in 300 systems where the sentient species is post stone age and even then most of them would be pre-industrial – say another 2D6 roll with 2-10 pre-industrial 10-11 industrial and 12 space faring – so basically there’ll be very few worlds in the vicinity of the first species to get jump who will have started on a unique tech tree yet (even if there were plenty in the universe as a whole).

So in total that would be 1 in 6 hexes with a habitable system with a 100:1 chance of agriculture per habitable system and 1 in 6 chance of industrial+ so c. 3600:1 chance per hex of unique post industrial tech. In Traveller terms of 80 hexes per sub sector that’s about 45 sub sectors so roughly one partially unique alien tech tree per three sectors. So a species with unique tech might expand across multiple sectors, meeting hundreds of other pre-industrial species before they met one who were industrial.

If so you’d only need to know the tech tree and level of the first species because their tech would short-circuit the other species’ development. The other species would learn the first species’ tech tree not develop their own – at least not unless they surpassed the first species in some field or maybe in some tech specific to their world’s environment. The tech tree of the non core planets would be the same as the core civ’s tech tree and each planet’s tech level tech level would be what each planet can produce or maintain locally – plus assume they can maintain equipment one or two tech levels higher with imported spare parts and thirdly assume they can maintain imported tech of the primary civ’s default tech level if they import technicians as well as spare parts e.g. the President has TL12 vehicles on a TL7 world.


Option 3)

Then you have a third option of there being a primary civ in a particular part of space which eventually collapses and their various subject species and colonies revert back. In that case do they revert back far enough to develop their own tech tree or does one or more of them just eventually relearn the first species’ tech again? If on one of the planets a corrupted Ancient’s database survives and the species on that planet eventually relearn part of the same Ancients tech tree and become the new dominant species we’re back at option (2) – single tech tree (although maybe with gaps in it.)

This scenario does allow room for a second roll for uniqueness. If tech reverts and then rebuilds there’s a second chance of uniqueness so one of the original colonies might develop in a unique way the second time. So say a single ancients tech tree expands across 3-4 sectors, 40-60 sub sectors encountering only one at least partially unique tech tree but after the collapse and rebirth there may be another 1-2 other unique trees spawned by the rebirth.



So it depends imo – although as even in option (2) and (3) there will be some species / colonies who undergo some unique development I’d say the best solution is the usual best solution – random tables!!

The tech tree could be split into broad categories and each category rolled separately to see if they followed the default pattern or not. Then if option (1) you use the tables for each species and in option (2) or (3) you pick out one or two species / reverted colonies per sector and use the tables. In the latter case you might first roll 2D6: 2-8 = one. 9 = two, 10 = three, 11 = four, 12 = all five, unique categories. A universal tech profile might then be a TL followed by “R” for regular or “U” for unique in each of the categories e.g. TL03-RRRRU.

You wouldn’t need to specify it until the players bumped into the planet.

Example: you might have a primitive herding planet with very advanced tech priests who discard everything they think might destabilize society except melee weapons so they have TL18 antimatter swords but nothing else.


Early Vilani: Campaign

An alternative to the early 3rd Imperium idea is to take the time back even further to the early Vilani expanding out of Vland.


Say the basic tech sequence is fusion -> grav -> jump drive

(Assuming jump drive is somehow connected to manipulating gravity.)

Seeing as humans (and earlier pre sapiens hominids) have supposedly been around for 500,000 years (or whatever the actual number is) and only had agriculture and everything that spawned from that for 10,000 years or so and before sentient stone age humans there were supposedly chimps for however long we’ve only been at like TL1 for 1% of our total history or less so it seems to me the species who got to jump drive first would likely expand dramatically while most other species were either pre sapient or stone age sapient. The Traveller setting has that with the Ancients.

So you have your “angels” (or demons) from the skies, responsible for uplifting some species e.g. maybe even chimps to human, maybe keeping them as pets, maybe enslaving, maybe eating who knows. Then they collapse for some reason – maybe a virus, maybe they develop AI and it turns on them. Their AI fleets take over space and destroy all the Ancient’s planets that have any industrial capacity leaving surviving Ancients trapped on backwater planets where they revert in various ways – immortal space vampires, brain in a box, whatever. That provides a say TL15 to TL18 layer scattered and buried across thousands of planets. Then one of the uplifted species develop (Vilani in this example) and reach the fusion / grav / J1 spot and expand out.

This way you can have the players in a say TL10 to TL12 setting on the frontier of an expanding civ – say the Vilani drive tech only does J1 to maintain the frontier feel with deep space stations to cross gaps and lots of unexplored planets with weird ancient’s tech, occasional working ancient’s killer battle droids, maybe a working TL15 ship somewhere with a defective AI (i.e. it only occasionally tries to kill the crew), mostly low tech aliens, individual Vargr / Aslan planets but not space-faring yet, ancients ruins etc.


I watch youtube game videos for ideas and sometimes make comments but as the point of getting the ideas is to jot them down for future reference it makes sense to put it here as well so here’s another sparked by:

I think a useful first step with fantasy races is why?

The why could be evolution if the races were all on isolated continents for a long time and / or their evolution artificially manipulated through magical forces but in a fantasy setting I prefer races to be the expression of particular gods / magical forces.


For example say the creation myth of your fantasy setting is that when the world was first created it was so full of magic races spawned out of principles and elements e.g.

– Dwarfs spawned out of the mountains

– Wood Elves from light woodland

– Satyrs and Dryads from darker woods

– High Elves from sea cliffs and tall peaks in rolling plains

– Orcs from shadows and darkness

– creatures/races could be spawned from any principle/element you could think of: greed, lust, love, hate, fear, kindness etc

basically animism made flesh.


The traits of the race could then follow their spawning e.g. High Elves, tall and far-seeing, not just in terms of physical distance but seeing into the future, perception of what lies inside a person etc. Dwarfs would be solid, unbending, obstinate, majestic.

And a race might change accordingly

– Wood Elves pushed deeper into a forest away from the light might get wilder the deeper they go

-Dwarfs looking for gold who dig too deep into the dark places under the mountains might become as shadowed as the creatures that dwell there

Animism made flesh.


In the Traveller setting there was an earlier human Empire which collapsed. The current Imperium was rebuilt over the top of the previous from the same core. So imagining the situation 200 years after the collapse what kind of planetary options would there be?

1. Core worlds – as before

2. Colonized worlds where the colonists die out during the collapse – hostile mining worlds, planetoids etc – so lots of ruins.

3. Colonized worlds with a native prestellar species where the colonists might have died out or been killed by the natives or become like the natives or enslaved by the natives.

4. Colonized worlds where the colonists reverted in technology.

5. Colonized worlds with a prestellar native species where the colonists reverted in technology – maybe to the same level as the native species or still above (see Jorune or Tekumel).

6. Non-colonized worlds – maybe with a science base or two – with a prestellar species.

7. Other non-colonized worlds.

This setting could take one of the existing Imperium sub-sectors near the core with their exisitng planetary profiles, ignore the government, tech level, starport stuff and just keep the physical characteristics: size, atmosphere etc with the players operating at the edge of the expanding Imperial frontier whether for some official part of the Imperium , a commercial org or as freelance antique hunters looking for Vilani artifacts.


Dividing the planets into three categories: habitable, habitable impaired, uninhabitable and assuming the original subsector capital was the best planet some random tables might be:

sentient alien species: habitable 8+, habitable impaired 10+ uninhabitable 12+ (these last would generally be very weird e.g. lava creatures.

previous colony: habitable 8+, habitable impaired 10+ uninhabitable 12+.

If previous colony and no sentient species, colony survived: habitable 8+, habitable impaired 10+, uninhabitable 12+ (a surviving colony on an uninhabitable planet may have survived in a strange form e.g. tunnel dwelling cannibals)

If previous colony and a sentient species: hostile relationship 2-5 neutral relationship 6-8, friendly relationship 9+

colony survival?

hostile relationship: habitable survived 10+, habitable impaired 11+, uninhabitable 12 (maybe in some strange brain in a jar type form)


Campaign Ideas


Journey Campaigns

The canon Traveller Imperium is vast.

Generally people set their campaigns in a corner of the 3I and forget the rest however another option is to set a campaign specifically around a long journey.


Core to Rim (or vice versa)

An epic journey between Core and Rim lasting years. Some possible back stories for this are

1. A new Baron has been ennobled and given a new fiefdom on the rim and needs escorting there.

2. A player in the core might get an inheritance on a remote planet on the rim.

3. A patron has a treasure map of some kind where the treasure is on a very distant planet.

4. Inside the Imperium the Imperial Scout Service are used as a secret service and Scout personnel with a ship get missions to check out what’s going on on remote planets off the main trade routes.


Space Janitors

The Scout Service has the job of maintaining hazard navigation satellites in backwoods systems.

Mission is to take a 200 dton maintenance ship on a four year contract (average c. month per system) along the J1 spinward main (as in Twilight’s Peak) checking on all the satellites.

Ship has small crew and large service bay so satellites can be physically retrieved and worked on if necessary.

(In my case two Scout players: pilot and engineer and a medical droid.)

Then conjure up a random number of episodic adventures along the way.

(could add Twilight’s Peak stuff if have that adventure)


Where’s My Ship?

Player musters out at a sub-sector capital with a ship’s deed but there’s been a mixup – the ship registered to them is waiting at an adjacent sub-sector capital.


Take any dungeon map, say from a generator like

or from an old module or off the web. As an example I’ll use

then treat the passages and rooms as flow chart.

1) So in this case the players starts the flow chart in (1) and say the mission requires something in (16). This makes the whole area from (2) to (7) a red herring. In the adventure you could either

– have some obstacle in (1)  which requires a key of some kind in (7)

– or if fail a skill check in (1) – maybe information gathering – the players follow a wrong clue to (7)

– the path to (7) is a dead end but it does contain some useful but optional item or information which will help defeat the obstacles in the correct path.

2) Rooms that the players have to pass by but don’t have to go through are optional encounters. If the players successfully complete some task – represented by the door – they avoid the encounter – represented by the room. Alternatively if the door is a secret door the room contains something optional but useful and failing the check means the players miss it.

3) Rooms that the players have to pass through represent an encounter that has to be defeated in some way to progress further.

4) Stairways are plot hooks to other adventures.

5) Two optional doors opposite each other represent a double strength optional encounter.

6) Multiple rooms behind an optional door imply a red herring / false lead.


Going back to our example

Stage 1

Say (1) is an obstacle that requires a key – in this case an NPC demands an item from (6) or (7) to give the players some needed information.

(2) is an optional encounter – say some guards that the players can potentially sneak past

(3) is a fixed encounter with an optional one (4) attached and a second fixed encounter (5) directly ahead. This could also be a stealth scenario again except in this case requiring the silent taking out of a guard in (4) or else other guards in (3) are alerted and come running (as do the possibly sneaked past guards in (2)). Also on a failure the obstacle in (5) is alerted.

(5) is another fixed encounter which may be alerted or not depending on what happens in (4).

(6) could be the location of the key being sought but a failed skill check of some kind may lead to the players going to (7) first.

Say it was a Cthulhu adventure. (1) could be a voodoo priest who wants a talisman off another priest. (2) could be some cultist guards who can be sneaked past. (3) could be a cultist lieutenant who can be taken out by stealth. If the players fail at this the zombie guards from (4) come and maybe the guards from (2) also. After raising the alarm the lieutenant runs into (5) and across a rope bridge over a chasm which he cuts after him trap leaving the players on the side with the zombies. After defeatign the zombies the players would still need to get over the chasm. (6) would be the priest – concealed somehow – and if the players somehow miss the priest the first time they end up at (7) which could be a pit where the cultists throw victims to the shoggoth below.


Stage 2

The players bring the NPC what he wants and he gives them the information they need to get to (16).

As (8) leads to another room and is guarded by a trap that implies a failed check leads the players to investigate something they didn’t need to, leading to encounter (8) and then (9).

(10) (12) (13) are all fixed encounters that have to be defeated.

(11) is a secret door room so the players need to succeed at something in encounter (10) to get access to something very useful for the final encounter.

(14)(15) being mirrored could represent a double strength obstacle – perhaps this is where the reward from (11) could be used.

(16) Final encounter.

So back to Cthulhu version, say (16) is a sorceror who has a lair in his own pocket plane beyond a gate and the NPC in (1) tells the players they need to find the path and gives them a book.

(8) could represent the players mistranslating the book or a clue / riddle given in the book. This leads them to investigate the lair of an unconnected swamp cult involving a trap and some inbred cultists. Surviving that leads to a temple guardian of some kind in (9). The players get something generally useful out of this but it’s not directly related to the main investigation.

Translating the clue from (1) correctly leads to (10) where they have to get some information from a ghoul. Say the ghoul carries the information so the players can get it by killing him but if they persuade him instead they get the information and a clue to some useful item for later.

The ghoul gives them the location of the wizard’s coffin (12) containing his spell book in a grave yard frequented by hostile ghouls.

Obstacle (13) could be successfully reading the wizard’s book and learning the location of the gate to the wizard’s lair and the spell that triggers it – avoiding the various curses and traps put on the book by the wizard.

(14)(15) are a further doubly dangerous trap. The gate doesn’t go to the wizard’s lair it goes to a place of wraiths trapped by the wizard as involuntary guard dogs. The wizard has a protective talisman. The item from behind the secret door in (11) is a spare. The exit gate to the actual lair is opposite the entrance gate. If the players have the talisman the wraiths are held back if not they have to run for the other gate.

(16) Wizard’s lair in the Dreamlands to encounter the sorceror.


Response to interesting youtube video from tetsubo57


I think there is an element of nostalgia in this but underlying that there are real distinctions also so I’ll just address those.

You’re right there are distinctions between the variations of simple, rules-lite, complex and incomplete.

The old school games were generally incomplete simple games.

Part of both the simplicity and the incompleteness was due to restricting the setting to a dungeon crawl but even with just that they were still mostly incomplete.

Later games became both more complete and more complex.

That led to
– simple and incomplete
– more complex and more complete

I think that does mean there is a gap for games which are less incomplete than the original ones while trying to remain as simple as possible and I think retro clones designed to fit that gap could work well particularly as an introductory game, particularly if it restricted itself to a single simple setting – whether that be a dungeon with fixed passages and rooms or a jungle with fixed paths and clearings.

So that’s the first point, yes there is a difference between simple and rules-lite, yes there is nostalgia muddying the picture, yes the old simple games were very incomplete – but that still means there is a niche for simpler faster complete (probably only within a restricted setting) games. These games would be the kind you could play with your kids as they grew up or give to a young nephew and would also be good for a evening nostalgia fest with old buddies: four specialist classes, levels, class skills, few spells etc – very simple, at least within a restricted setting.

Secondly there’s rules-lite games which as you say are only complete because a lot of it is decided on the fly. I like that personally but I think specifically rules-lite games – Barbs of Lemuria is one of the best examples imo – require at least an experienced GM, possibly experienced players as well and most importantly the same attitude towards the setting among the whole group i.e they all want to create a cool Conan-esque (in the case of BoL) story using the rules.

Anyway, very interesting video which helped crystalize my own thoughts on this subject.