This week I read:
The Black Company by Glen Cook
This is it, the story that popularised the military fantasy subgenre. It’s surprisingly short, at least compared to the modern fantasy epics like Malazan, being only 274 pages long. Can fantasy really be so concise? Apparently so.
I enjoyed it, though it definitely feels a bit rough in parts. Authors like Steven Erikson have refined the concept, and so the original is weak in comparison. But it’s certainly not bad, it tells the story it means to tell, does so competently, and it didn’t feel like it was abbreviated at all. It’s also the first book in a series, the rest of which I will definitely be checking out.
It’s no Malazan, but without the Black Company, Malazan wouldn’t be either.
Session 3 this week, and I think I’m getting the hang of the rules. This time I handed off narration of actions to the players entirely: after their roll I summarised the mechanical result and asked them to describe the whole thing (“ok, you’re going to hurt him, but he also hurts you, what does that look like?”), which I found easier than the suggested approach of the player starting to describe the outcome, then taking over the narration at the point it goes bad. There were a couple of times where the player narrated a pretty weak version of the consequence, so I had to take over and adjust that, but on the whole it worked.
I think the next thing I need to get a hang of is dealing out stress. It’s a pretty important mechanic, which drives a lot of other things, but I think the players only took two points all session. Which is pretty bad given that stress resets every downtime, and downtime happens roughly once a session too. I think ideally on average one player will fill up their stress clock, which is 6 points of stress, every cycle. So two points across four players isn’t going to cut it.
Looking back at my previous campaign, and thinking forward to the next one, I’ve identified a change I want to make. Previously, I ran the game in “real-time”: there were only a couple of time-skips between sessions, all other time was played out at the table. This was largely because time is important in Traveller: ships need to have maintenance done monthly, and bills (like mortgage payments and crew wages) are also usually monthly.
I felt like if I skipped time without giving the players the opportunity to earn money during that time, I was just imposing consequences on them unfairly.
But actually… playing out all that time was worse! If the players wanted to travel from one world to a distant one, rather than taking a few minutes to roll for a mishap and otherwise hand-waving the journey, instead they wanted to pick up cargo and passengers at every stop along the way, and so travel took a lot of time at the table. And by starting each session where the previous one left off, I couldn’t skip straight to the action: no starting the session in the middle of a job, at the point at which it turned exciting; no, we’d play through acquiring the job and doing the non-exciting prologue too. And if the players didn’t take the job, that prep was wasted.
So for the next campaign, I’m going to propose in session 0 that I be a lot freer with time-skips. Sure, if we end a session in the middle of something, we’ll start the next session immediately afterwards. But otherwise I’ll start the next session possibly weeks later, with whatever adventure I have prepared. At the moment I’m thinking of just pausing the financials during any time skip. Bills get paid, maintenance gets done, and so on, and we resume with exactly the same money that we left off with: they’ve just so happened to make that money back during the skip.
I started watching The Rings of Power, Amazon’s new series about the second age, which they’re making without owning the rights to any second age material (The Silmarillion, The Unfinished Tales).
It’s good so far, albeit very slow. Five episodes in and it all feels like prologue. At this rate we’ll end the first season without getting to the action. That’s not bad necessarily, but it will get frustrating if it feels like the tension keeps building and building but never actually reaches a climax.
We’ve had a lot of big names show up: Galadriel, Elrond (young Elrond looks very different to old Elrond, clearly he ages a lot over the next few centuries, they must be quite stressful), Gil-galad, Celebrimbor, Sauron, Pharazon, Elendil, Isildur, two of the many Durins, Gandalf (I assume), and a race of proto-Hobbits. It seems like they’re trying to cover all the major events of the time: the rise of Sauron, the fall of Numenor, the forging of the rings of power, the arrival of the Istari… there’s a lot!