Traveller RPG Week Day Seven: Patron Encounters

And so we come to Day Seven of this whistle-stop tour of one of the best (if not THE best) science fiction role-playing games ever made. We have looked at character generation, ship building, world creation and presented Hell Station, a mini-campaign setting ready for you to dive right in and play. I could easily fill another RPG Week with stuff we haven’t covered including Combat, Trade, Animal Encounters, Ship Economics, Psionics and more.

And that’s just from the core Classic Traveller Starker Kit books. Add in the multitude of (consistently excellent) Books & Supplements and we’d be able to to turn this into a whole RPG Year dedicated to Classic Traveller. The Books greatly expanded character generation details for Mercenaries, the Navy (High Guard), Scouts, Merchant Princes and Robots, while each Supplement brought more goodness to Traveller, either expanding and documenting the Imperium (Supplement 8 & 11, Library Data (A-M) and (N-Z)), expanding character generation (Supplement 4, Citizens of the Imperium) or giving cool new ships to fly and encounter (such as Supplement 7, Traders and Gunboats).

My favourite Supplements are the ones which packed a stunning amount of content in (by today’s glossy high page count standards) a miniscule amount of space. I’m taking about Supplement 1 and 6. The first one contains 1,001 Characters in just 44 pages and covered all of the services as well as entire hordes of Troopers, Policemen and Thugs. Any of these can be used as PCs or NPCs at the drop of a hat meaning this booklet serves double duty as both a Monster Manual and PC Roster. Supplement 1 ends on a high point with 9 full write-ups of characters from classic science fiction novels. Can you guess them all?

Supplement 6 gives us 76 Patrons. In Classic Traveller terms, a Patron Encounter is a brief outline of a job offer from a (hopefully wealthy) NPC along with a handful of potential plot twists the adventurers might confront along the way. In other words, each one is a scenario that any half-competent GM should be able to run with on the fly. Supplement 6 gives us a whopping 76 of the things ranging from the relatively simple (escort a married couple to a planet safe from their parents’ meddling) to the wonderfully over the top (prevent multiple elite assassination attempts against the leader of a failed military coup – good luck!). The Patron Encounters in 76 Patrons are organized by number of players – 2-6, 5-12, 9 or more, single player and Mercenary Companies. This should give you an idea of the sheer flexibility of the Traveller rules; it plays just as well whether you have one player, or a multitude.

Patron Encounters generally follow the same format – a single line detailing who the Patron is (Noble, Terrorist, Merchant, etc), and any Required Skills or Equipment needed to complete the task. That is followed by the Players’ Information which can be read out loud if you want to jump right into the scenario, or role-played out. After that we have the Referee’s Information which provides multiple possible plot twists that generally range from “All is as presented” to “OMG the Patron is a serial killer!" Run away!”. Pick one, or roll d6.

Here’s a quick example.

Marine Officer   Required Skills: none  Required Equipment: starship

Players’ Information:
Just before lifting off-planet the players are approached by a Marine in full dress uniform. He explains he has been dumped on this planet by his “friends” as a prank and is getting married in ten days time at the players’ destination. He will pay Cr3000 (all he has) if he can hitch a ride.

Referee’s Information:
1. All is as it seems. The Marine is a model passenger and keeps to himself throughout the trip. If they make the journey in time, they are invited to the wedding.
2. As above, except the Marine neglected to mention that he was not granted leave by his hard-ass Commanding Officer and the players’ ship will be ordered to hand him over on arrival.
3. He is a terrible passenger. He suffers Jump Sickness, trigger-happy, has severe pre-wedding nerves and demands constant care and attention. If that’s not bad enough, he considers himself something of an expert engineer and keeps “fiddling” with the ship’s systems. Note: spacing a passenger is severely frowned upon.
4. The Marine was dumped off-planet by his Best Man and rival love interest for his bride. He will do all he can to ensure he doesn’t get to the church on time.
5. He was dumped off-planet on orders from his bride-to-be who was trying to prevent an arranged marriage. She will do all she can to prevent him from getting to the church on time – including claiming it was the Best Man doing all along.
6. The “Marine” is really a wanted killer playing on the Traveller’s heartstrings in a bid to get off planet as quickly as possible.

What’s fun about Patron Encounters is that it’s easy to jot down any stupid idea that comes to you in this format for later use. If you want to note down possible plot twists, all the better. I suggest a minimum of three (on a d6 roll of 1-2, 3-4, 5-6) and that gives you three (or more) chances to re-run the same scenario with different outcomes.

Don’t under-estimate the “all is as presented” option. Most adventuring parties can get into quite enough trouble all on their own without further complications! After all, 90% of all D&D adventures lack plot twists – go in, kill stuff, take treasure and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I’ll end this week with a handful of Patron Encounters for adventurer’s based on and around Hell Station. They all assume the heroes are working at the station and either on their tour of duty or heading off-planet at its end. Expand or improvise the plot options as required.

1. Miner   Required Skills: none  Required Equipment: none

Players’ Information:

One of the Gas Miners who has befriended the adventurers approaches them and asks if they can find his brother. He was last seen working Deep Pocket Nine, a Restricted Access drop shaft attached to Hell Station.  If the party can find him and bring him back safely the Gas Miner will give them Cr2,500.

Referee’s Information:
1-2. The brother is trapped and has a broken leg but is otherwise safe and well. Rescuing him should be simple and earn a couple of firm friends on-base.
3-4. The brother is seriously injured and being held captive by strange demon-like creatures (UPP A88621, Brawling-2) who are working to turn Deep Pocket Nine into some kind of hellish portal.
5-6. There is no brother. The “Gas Miner” who has befriended them is really a Scientist who wants to dupe the adventurers into entering a Restricted Zone and trigger or disable the alarms for his own nefarious purposes.

2. Administrator   Required Skills: Admin-1 Required Equipment: none

Players’ Information:

The adventurers are heading to Caina on board the Minneapolis when when they are approached by a mask-wearing Cainite. He formally introduces himself as Tertiary Adjunct to the Manifest Replication Consumables Procurement Division – an essential role in the governmental process (he’s in charge of the man who is in charge of buying photocopier toner). He has been at Hell Station on the request of his government to examine work process there and wishes to employ the party as his advisors when they reach planetside. He offers Cr15,000 and excellent accommodation, all at the government’s expense.

Referee’s Information:
1. The Tertiary Adjunct is a little out of his depth, but otherwise all is as it seems. The heroes are wined and dined lavishly and all goes to plan (provided they don’t do anything stupid, of course).
2-3. The Tertiary Adjunct has a rival who will do anything to ensure his mission is seen as a failure by his superiors. This includes planting illicit weapons on his advisors (the party), inventing charges against them (but with Caina’s tortuously convoluted laws, who can tell?) and spreading rumours that they are spies for the Imperium. The food is good though.
4-5. The Secondary Adjunct (Tert’s boss) is keen to promote the boy – to a different division safely away from his own job. He appears excessively pleased with his report and suggests him for “promotion” to the Extra-Cainan Communication, Education and Dissemination Division (ie, talking to foreigners). This stirs up a hornet’s nest of ripples through the Administrative network resulting in the Tertiary Adjunct and his new friends being hunted by masked assassins wielding clipboards with deadly precision.
6. The Tertiary Adjunct is not the Tertiary Adjunct but merely the lowly Quarternary Adjunct (ie, the one who buys the photocopier toner) who killed his boss, faked his identity then jumped off planet under pretence of being on a diplomatic mission. He hopes to return with his new found friends and expertise to secure his position higher up the chain of command. Unfortunately, the real Tertiary Adjunct’s body has been found but not yet been identified. It’s just a matter of time…

3. Station Commander Required Skills: none  Required Equipment: Minneapolis, heavy weaponry

Players’ Information:
One of the Scientists has absconded with a valuable vial of Strontium-9000 and escaped to Judecca. The adventurers are asked by the Head of Hell Station to retrieve the vial as soon as possible. They are given full use of the Minneapolis, Cr30,000 for “expenses” and a one month deadline. After that time, the Head will have no choice but to notify the Imperial Navy of the theft, and that is guaranteed to be unpleasant for everyone (especially the adventurers).

Referee’s Information:
1. When they finally track him down, the Scientist is a coward who will hand over the vial if threatened or otherwise coerced. 
2-3. As above, but the Scientist is hiding with a local petty Warlord who isn’t such a pushover. The adventurers will likely need a large posse and larger weapons (or an excellent plan) to retrieve the vial safely.
4-6. The adventurers find the Scientist but the vial breaks, warping the surrounding area to a massive degree, immediately turning several square miles of land into something more appropriate for a Gamma World scenario, most likely including the adventurers themselves. Good luck.

Finally, I have to give another shout-out to The Dump Stat and Tower of the Archmage for enthusing and posting yet more greatness about Classic Traveller. You guys rock!

The Classic Traveller Starter Kit is currently available for free from RPGNow. It contains all you need to play Traveller including rules for character, world, sector, starship and encounter generation as well as two  complete classic adventures to kick start your own exploration among the stars. Go get it!

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9 Responses

  1. pdunwin says:

    Well, those all sound like interesting hooks, and I like the idea of the PCs causing their own complications. This format could really be used for any system.

    But I’m afraid it’s easier said than done. I want to run Traveller (because if I don’t no one around here is likely to) but I feel like I need to see it run first.

  2. tmoney says:

    Should have asked this 5 days ago, but I just got done reading the rules.

    It appears that both the “other” prior service as a result of having both no ranks or commission and no extra skill benefits (like the +1 skill per term that the scouts get) and limited mustering benefits really get the short end of the stick when it comes to skill development.

    Since it does’t appear there is a mechanic for learning skills as you go along (or maybe I missed it) why would you ever choose to enlist in the “other” service.

    Or is this one of those places where in coming up with a background story, you work out with the GM 2 or 3 additional skills that work for your character?

    • greywulf says:

      You’re right – the “Other” Service doesn’t get as many Skill or Mustering Out Benefits as any other Service. The get two Skills for their first term of service plus an additional one for each term after that, and one roll on the Mustering-Out Tables per term – and that’s it.

      The advantage to balance that is they have a very good chance of getting the Gambling skill multiple times as well as Forgery (which, if I recall, no other Service can get).

      I’ve known Traveller characters who have taken the Other Service and ended up with Cr400,000 in their back pockets thanks to having Gambling-3 :D

      Other is a great choice if you want to play a criminal or spying type, but you’re not going to have as many professional skills as any other Service.

      That doesn’t matter in Traveller though where characters with 1 Term of training can work alongside highly experienced old professionals.

      Character generation in Classic Traveller is non-existent. If a character can take four years to master Pilot-1, that’s likely to be longer than many campaigns :)

      • tmoney says:

        Gotcha. As long as you’re answering questions, do you mind answering a few more? In the skills rules it mentions that when you take say Gun Combat-1 you need to specify a particular sub catagory (like Auto-Pistols) which you can in future gain either take again (improving your auto pistol) or take a different sub category (like rifles). Later in the combat section, it mentions that skills are +1 modifiers for weapons. I’m I correct in taking this to mean that +1 only applies to the specifically trained weapon and that Gun Combat by itself does not impart any bonuses to every gun you might use?

        Also, are the Special Assignments, Awards and Qualified equipment sections from the provided character sheet supposed to be filled in by back story fluff or something specific from the rules?

        • greywulf says:

          That’s right, on both counts.

          Gun Combat, Blade, etc are catch-all headings for many different skills. When a character gets “Gun Combat” they choose the specific skill. If they get Gun Combat again they can choose another skill, or improve their existing one.

          It’s worth checking Page 12 of Book 1 (if you’re using the Starter Kit edition of Classic Traveller). It says a character’s skill with any other weapon (ie, one they’re not specifically trained in) defaults to their trained skill level, minus 1.

          For example, if your character has Auto-Pistol-2 he can use any other gun as if he was skill level 1 with it.

          Hope that makes sense!

          Special Assignments, Awards and Qualified equipment are pure fluff stuff for the character sheet. Some published adventures award PCs with Medals and all sorts of other goodies :)

          • tmoney says:

            Awesome. Can I get one last question out of you? In the charts, there are two sets of DMs associated with weapons, On page 3 (pdf 5) of the tables book, there are weapons listed and a +DM column and a -DM column, what in the heck do these apply to?

            Then on page 4 (pdf 6) there’s a required and advantageous DM which I assume mean the minimum stat required to use the weapon at all, and the associated DM and then the “optimal” stat for used and the assiciated DM. I presume these DMs are applied to the To-Hit roll?

            Looking at it again, are the DM markings on page 3 applicable to damage? That is, on an Auto Pistol, rolling a damage of 10+ gives some positive DM to something, and rolling a 6- gives a negative? If so, how much DM and to what?

            Ok, I lied, one last question. Do you have a good resource for getting these questions answered online somewhere? I’m asking so many here because all the online resources I’ve been able to find in regards to classic traveller appear to be out of date and unmaintained.

  3. Neil Ford says:

    Just wanted to say “Thank You” for a great series of articles reminding me of the great times had playing and refing Traveller.

    Definitely got the itch to generate characters and build a sub sector or two again.

    – Neil.

  4. BeRKA says:

    I liked the patrons. Traveller is based on adventure, and I am always looking for new adventure hooks.

    I hope you will write something for the The Zhodani Base 76 Patrons Writing Contest – 2012, that starts in July.

  5. Neil Macdonald says:

    Greywulf, thanks for the series, 4 years old but still a good read!

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