More Travellering

We have our first foil for Chad Solo.

These guys seem nice.

He grew up, one of about a million and a half citizen-subject-subscribers to the BlackReef syndicate.  Dad was a lifelong logoman for the Syndic, and encouraged Chad to enlist fresh out of school.  That worked out well for a time, but Mom died and Dad retired and life got complicated in ways Dad didn’t expect.

Spent twelve years in a submersible with their logo on the side, patrolling what passes for coastal waters on the hunt for poachers, smugglers, and other freelancers a messing where they shouldn’t be a messing. He learned a few things about fusion power cores and even did a full tour doing EVAs as a water walker – both skills that translate directly to interstellar work. The old lady cheating on him hurt, but when she busted up his muscle sub driving under the influence he decided to blow ballast and get off this sodden rock. She was young and bored and restless and married him as one of the few eligible bachelors in their submersiburb, hoping to see more of the world.  When he was assigned to routine patrol duty with long deployments, her plan didn’t hook in, so she found adventure and companionship in the arms of other men.

Getting out of the marriage was easy, Corvinus being a planet on which the betrayal of duties and obligations rank among the worst offenses, but getting out of the Blackreef Navy took a couple more years. Leaving eight years shy of fulfilling his full twenty and declining to subscribe to the Blackreef Syndic for another ten gave him a lot of freedom, but no shelter and no prospects for gainful employment.

Free of obligations, Chad now ranked among the freelancers.  Men without a logo to pilot under swim among the seedy underbelly of Corvinus’ polite society.  As a feudal technocracy, the planet’s culture is dominated by the two-way duties and obligations.  Guys like Chad might get a bad reputation, but the authorities don’t hassle them too much.  Men like the freelancers provide a sort of  lubricant to the gears of society and commerce, as they are more flexible and one might say disposable, than the usual Logomen who serve within the legal confines of the Syndics.  This social caste also provide Corvinus with a limited form of punishment, a social exile in which men are at greater risk of exploitation by the Syndics but also have the potential for greater rewards.

The problem that Chad faces on his first day out of the Navy is that Corvinus is a backwater in every sense.  Ships that ply the stars are not uncommon, but most of them are the big freighters capable of making the two parsec jump to and from the nearest systems.  Ships that large generally have full crews and aren’t looking for wetboots from planets like Corvinus.  And when they do need to hire a spare hand or two, they generally offer berths to Syndic men as a way of currying favor with the powers that be.  It’s the age old paradox of the sea.  How to get a berth while owing service to a Syndic, but how to get a berth without a Syndic owing you a service?

And that’s when Joan Alice swims into the picture.

An Affiliate Subdirector for Blackreef’s Bioacquisitions Department, she has a job for a man like Chad Solo.  A quasi-legal assigment, short term you understand, that the Syndic would rather keep its fingerprints off of.  If he’d be willing to freelance under a handshake deal, she can twist the arm of a starfrieght captain that is due to arrive in Innsmouth Station in the next few weeks.  It’s the perfect partnership.  She gets a one-time gig out of Chad, and she knows that he’ll be off-planet and incapable of using what he learns to extort the Syndic.

I’m sure it’ll be fine.

And that’s where we left things.

Is she setting him up?  No idea.

What exactly is the job?  I put four possibilities to a poll on twitter, so only have a vague notion.  What we do know is that Joan Alice needs a man with Engineering and Vacc Suit skills, a man with some limited loyalty to his former syndicate but no formal ties to it.  It’ll be dangerous – he’ll have to watch out for the security men of the other Syndics – but lucrative if he can pull it off.

What’s really impressive about this situation is that despite how utterly random its genesis was, everything naturally flowed from what had come before.  Chad’s role in the story we’ve built so far is a natural progression of his career and experience.  The politics of the planet are natural and organic, and mesh well – or even arise from – the strange setting. Others have spoken at length about this in the past, but seeing and doing it for yourself really hammers the point home.  Even the jargon starts to flow naturally.  The meaning of the word “wetboot” above is obvious from context, but reinforces the culture of the planet, and it comes from asking the question, “What term would a fully submerged world use when ‘hayseed’ has no meaning?”

If you have any love of puzzles and mysteries and seeking out connections in the random noise of chance, then Traveller is a game worth trying on for size.  With a tighter focus and a streamlined character and combat system, it might even be a better fit for such players than AD&D.  Don’t get me wrong, AD&D is the king of the RPG ring, but the lighter cognitive load necessary to engage with Traveller’s core rules systems leaves a lot more brainpower for the narrative exercises like those you just read.

Or maybe it’s just that I’ve spent less time exploring the wilds of sci-fi RPGs.  With such untapped wilderness to experience, Traveller feels fresh and new and the possibilities more limitless than in any game I’ve played in a long time.