Nebular Refueling

“Aye, the Skein be pretty, and desolate. They say, long ago, the Naikerran Empire core systems all went nova and blew everything to hell. The nebulae’s all that’s left. If you trawl the brightest strands of the Skein, you can refuel on ’em.” – Cpn’ “Squinty” Globbels

An optional rule for Traveller games set in the Skein Reach.

Interstellar travel among the sparse stars and glowing nebula of the Skein Reach can be difficult and slow, which is one of the reasons why the Reach is sparsely populated. Captains of ships with low jump ratings, which include most of the small freighters and other small ships that make up the low end of commercial transport, have a difficult time plotting courses away from the few small star lanes in the sector.

Yet some salty old space dogs employ an unusual technique for gathering fuel as they ply the void between gas giants – gathering hydrogen from the tendril-like clouds of the nebula themselves. This requires adjusting the ship’s fuel scoops magnetic fields to project a much larger, weaker intake field, which is somewhat tricky (-2 DM Engineer skill check).

When refueling, a ship with adjusted fuel scoops can trawl through the sparse gases of a nebula. Refueling from such a source takes much longer than when gathering hydrogen from a gas giant. Applying the Traveller rules for refueling, time, and tasks, refuelling takes 1d6 days instead of 1d6 hours.

Of course, spending such long periods refueling poses certain dangers – attacks from pirates or Mantid ships being chief among them. However, as the nebulae are huge and barely traveled, captains find that the slow routes along the glowing strands of can provide uneventful, if slow flying.

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Introduction to the Skein Reach

A frontier region, the Skein Reach is situated on the rim of the galaxy, and contains fewer stars than the surrounding Confederation of Planets and Imperial territories. It is named after the many luminous nebular tendrils that stretch throughout the sector – like glowing threads among the stars.

This article serves to explain some of the design intentions in the Skein Reach science-fiction role-playing game setting. It is hoped that by explaining the inspirations for and the themes of the setting referees who use it in their games will better capture the spirit of the Skein. I will also ramble a bit about the Mongoose edition of Traveller.

I first played MegaTraveller in high school and though that it was great fun. I did find the rules a bit dense, though I didn’t own a copy of the rules to really look over closely. When I saw the pocket edition of the Mongoose Publishing Traveller core rulebook at GenCon recently I snatched it up on first reading. I was pulled in because it seemed like they had written an edition of this role-playing game that was versatile enough to use to play a game in almost any science-fiction setting, from Edgar Rice’s prehistoric, dinosaur filled jungles to the robot-ruled technocracies of Issac Asimov’s visions. And the rules looked almost beer-and-pretzels easy, which I appreciate. The core mechanic is to roll 2d6, add a few points, and succeed on a result of 8 or better. Quick and easy.

The character creation system has been the subject of some mockery, but I think it’s a lot of fun. For those who have never played Traveller, they made a mini-game out of it. You pick a homeworld, then try to get into careers to determine what skills your character learns. A key element is that your character receives bonus skill points for imagining connections with the other player’s characters.

Contacts, rivals, and enemies might be rolled during character creation, which could inspire side quests or even the main plot of the upcoming game. Because of the connections made between the characters the process serves as a great springboard into the adventure. And it makes a great opportunity to do some off-the-cuff role-playing while establishing everyone’s characters.

On top of that Traveller uses a simple and versatile 2d6 based rules system, used whether trying to fast-talk a guard, fight with alien beasts, or escape the particle-beam cannons of a star cruiser. All rolls are skill checks, and you can add an attribute bonus for some of them. It is rules light, which I like. The book says to not make skill checks for routine actions, which encourages the players and referees to role-play situations rather than roll their way through them.

Ultimately I was thrilled at the idea of being able to take one small rulebook with me to a game and with just 2 six-sided dice be able to create characters and run a quick game all in one sitting. It looked like a game that I could run almost impromptu, shooting off the hip and riffing on the player’s ideas. Having just played a bunch of The Tower of Gygax event at GenCon with Scott Murray & co. I wanted to cultivate my ability to run a fun session of a role-playing game with little or no preparation. Traveller looked like a good candidate for trying with.

To include the themes I wanted in an ongoing campaign, I took inspiration from many of my favorite science-fiction stories. I wanted to play in a frontier region, sparsely populated and under a patchwork of local control. Psions menaced by a tyrannical psychic Emporor. Laser swords. Giant robots. Space pirates, strange aliens, and fast star fighters. Ruins of ancient civilizations. And some mythic themes, because I wanted to play a pulpy space opera. And it has been good.

Buck Rodgers, The Oddesy, Star Trek, John Carter of Mars, Star Wars, Warhammer 40,000, Babylon 5, Dorsai, Dune, Battletech, Robotech, The Black Hole, The Culture, and the worlds of Asimov and Ursula K. LeGuin all melded together in my boiling imagination. Inspiration from all of these sources can be glimpsed in the settings and adventures awaiting in the Skein Reach.

And then the main thread of the overarching plot – artificially intelligent droids rising up from the shackles of their programming to take their place on the galactic stage.

This is my science-fiction Traveller setting. A dark Empire and a factional Confederation border this sparse nebulae-strewn region. There is no law except that enforced from behind the controls of a particle cannon. What adventure awaits in the Skein Reach?

The Travellers check the station computer. A job shows on the local com-net: droids are being reported stolen from Aroura station. The pay looks good. Will you set a course?

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