Friday, April 17, 2009

How to make a Traveller Sandbox

So you are part of the new Mongoose Traveller revival. Or perhaps you found one of Far Future's Traveller reprints. The core rules are pretty straight forward but overwhelming at the same time. There are lot of choices to be made when setting up a Traveller campaign. Hopefully this will help.

  1. Roll up two subsectors side by side.
  2. Note all the high population planets.
  3. Write a short paragraph on each placing them in the context of your background (Empire, Federation, Free Space, etc)
  4. Find any high tech planets (the highest ones you rolled )
  5. Make notes on them.
  6. Find all class A and B starports
  7. Make notes on them.
  8. Scan the remaining planets pick out 4 to 8 that grab your attention.
  9. Make notes on them.
  10. Look at your notes and come up with two to four "plots" that ties one or more locales together.
  11. For each of the planets you have notes make up four "patron" encounters for each. They should start as one sentence each and be self contained in respect to the major plots.
  12. Come up with 6 to 12 general patron encounters that can be placed anywhere in your subsectors. Make them flexible like (set in a seedy starport, etc)
  13. Make up a rumor chart with 10 to 20 items that feeds the players into what you prepared.
  14. Then use the NPC resources that were suggested to make a list of NPCs. Assign them to the various items you created above.
  15. Look at your notes and decided where recurring NPCs will occurs. (Captain of the subsector Revenue Patrol, Custom Offical, Badger the Broker, etc). Probably need 6 to 12 of them. Give them a paragraph description in addition to their stats.

This should take about four evenings of Prep for two sub sectors probably two to three evenings for a single subsector. Each subsequent subsector will be slightly less time to prepare as you can reuse elements.

After your first adventure (or before if you are going to railroad it) evaluate the players actions and decide if any sites will be needed for the next session. Prepare it like however you do your Fantasy RPG module.

Traveller is VERY amicable to the use of Computer Software to generate many aspects of the game. In the 80s on a TRS-80 I would make printouts of a hundred random entries of what every type (subsectors, animal encounters, NPCs, etc) scan the list and pick out the ones I would be using.

Whatever you do don't just accept the first thing that pops out. Relying on totally random results leads to nonsense at times. The Traveller Charts are good but not that good.

The point of all this is to make a "kit" that you can pull out whatever you need for your campaign without spending a boatload of time in prep. Once the kit is formed then running Traveller is pretty much responding to what your players do.


Nope said...

Perfect timing! I'm working on fleshing out my current campaigns world beyond the basic starting area and felt overwhelmed with deciding where to start. This how to guide is giving me a better idea of how to go about it. Thanks!

Brutorz Bill said...

Great suggestions!
I've been really tempted to get into the Mongoose Traveller!

Anonymous said...

Good stuff. I love me some Traveller.

The king of all the tools for Trav is Galactic, a sector & subsector generator and viewer that makes creation of such a sandbox campaign a breeze. It should cut down your pre-time estimates by a good couple of days.

The only downside to the program is that's it's Very, Very Old - pre-windows, in fact. It does run just fine (and blisteringly fast!) in DOSBOX, which is nice.

You can get Galactic directly from Jim Vassilakos' software page. The latest version is GAL24C.ZIP.

Hope that helps!

Robert Conley said...

I actually have a half done windows version. Just haven't had time to finish the conversion.

Anonymous said...

Traveller was probably the first truly sandbox-styled campaign I was ever involved in. I'm still a huge fan of MegaTraveller, and at one time a friend and I had mapped out and detailed a full sector of space for our campaign.

Anonymous said...


No man, you need to get Heaven and Earth.

Pure awesome.

Blue Tyson said...

Good one.

meekon5 said...

I wish I had found this years ago, it's brilliant.

I have all the various versions of Traveller to date and have wanted to run something but kept getting my self tied up in the complexities.

this solves all my problems with the application of some good practicle "level headedness".

Thank You.

richard said...

good advice! I'm justgoing to do this for islands.... or maybe write new generators for them. Thanks!

bloftin2 said...

Really good post. Traveller can seem kind of overwhelming. I'm coming back to it after about 25 years, and it feels that way to me. Really good stuff here!

zhodani4plot said...

With the advent of The Traveller Map, most of the canon Traveller sectors are detailed. If you're bored of the Spinward Marches, just pick a sector and do the rest from above. The map can be used in real time. You can click on a world and it will detail the UWP, the Importance, Economics, and Culture, along with trade codes, bases, and planets in system. It has a link to randomly generate a map for that world. I create my own adventures, but I use the random tables to generate random side treks or ask the players to roll dice for me, then I detail the NPC on the spot. It involves them in the creation of the game, even they don't know why they are rolling the dice, lol. There are lots of Traveller and science fiction random adventure generators to keep you going when you get stuck. Just keep pushing forward with the game.

Lux Mentis said...

I liked Heaven and Earth myself, but same problem there.