At Dreamation, my friend Cat Ramen (Aviatrix around here, I believe) gave me a copy of her Traveller-shaped World of Dungeons hack, Rovers. A bunch of us got together locally to play it: my friend Andrea, her husband Ron, my brother Mel, my girlfriend Michelle, and me. We’re all late 40/early 50ish types, with a range of experience: Mel and I have played a lot of both PBTA and Traveller, Andrea is getting into indie games, Ron seems to have a long history of traditional D&D as well as online gaming, and Michelle is pretty new to the whole scene.
The only prep I’d done was to generate an 8- by 10-parsec subsector map. Cat’s rules for system placement (“Scatter 10 to 12 worlds around the map and then randomly place other worlds around them”) weren’t an improvement over the original Traveller rules, so I just used those: each hex has a 50% chance of having a world in it. Each world was then defined by four d6 rolls; I rolled the dice but didn’t interpret them until later, though I did look over the map cursorily for interesting worlds.
The four stats for worlds (Planet Type, Market, Government, and Tech Level) augmented by quirks were ample information for figuring out what a world was like. With respect to subsector maps and world placement, I think you could do more to file off the Traveller serial numbers. I’d go with a 5 x 5 hex grid with a 50/50 chance per hex of there being a world in it. Make the hexes bigger so that there is more room for world names and notes. That would really aid on-the-fly GMing.
Rovers gives you a checklist to figure out what kind of Space Empire your characters are Rovers in. We went around the table and let one player decide among the options for each question, e.g., “What is the biggest threat to the Empire?” except for the two “check all that apply” questions about (1) why people in the Empire use swords, and (b) what’s the deal with psychic powers. For those, each player would in turn answer yes or no to the various options, e.g. “Are psychic powers dangerous to the user?” We wound up with a decaying Empire threatened by aliens and ruled by an Empress with an omnipresent secret service. Also, there was cheap and ubiquitous FTL commo, but we decided that it worked like e-mail: it was asynchronous, and you couldn’t be sure that your message would go through.
The players then created their characters; while they did this I figured out which world on the map they wound up on by rolling randomly. It turned out to be a vacuum mining world with divided loyalties and space age (i.e., pre-Stellar) technology. I gave it a name inspired by the list of world names in Cat’s rules: Planet Andalus. I drew a map of the planet: basically a circle with lava fields and craters marked on it, as well as a starport, mining zones, and an array of gigantic mass driver space catapults near the starport. I think I was remembering Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.
I also used Cat’s rules to generate two potential patrons: a corporate VP who wanted to steal a unique item from another world in order to avoid disaster, and a desperate civilian who wanted to find a unique item in a wreck or ruin in order to avoid disaster. In my head I thought these should clearly be the same unique item (and the same disaster) but it didn’t work out that way. Nonetheless, the patrons gave me good hooks in play.
Meanwhile, the players were finishing up their characters. A few of them found character creation a little hard to parse at first, but we worked through those issues. Luckily for me Mel was there to read closely and explain things to the other players while I was working on other things.
The players found the notion of “the Empress” really engaging, so three of them had some connection to her: her former sparring partner, her bodyguard, and I think maybe her psychic assassin. The fourth player wanted to be a Bene Gesserit, which we called a Preceptress Orthodocta. The bodyguard took a ship as a mustering out benefit, a gift from the Empress, but the psychic assassin was the pilot.
At one point, I think Mel was like, “We’re a little off premise,” because rovers are supposed to be down-on-their-luck adventurer types, like Traveller PCs, but I thought it was working out fine.