Improvised Radio Theatre - With Dice

Improvised Radio Theatre - With Dice! is a podcast by Roger Bell_West and Michael Cule, in which we pontificate on role-playing games.

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It All Comes Down to Fire In the End 01 August 2017


This month, Roger and Mike give advice to the GM of a new time travel game, and consider the thousands of worlds of a Traveller-style setting: what makes them interesting? How can this work?

We mentioned TimeWatch, that one exception, Timemaster, Wikihistory, GURPS Infinite Worlds, Continuum, The Travellers, bull running, Rite of Passage, Captain Blood, James White, the starmap of clichés, and Brett Evill's list of starfaring campaign frames.

Music by Kevin MacLeod at

See also:
I Feel Myself Fading Away And/Or Turning Into a Lizard

  1. Posted by Douglas Sundseth at 05:35am on 03 August 2017

    I think you overestimate the extent to which easy communication and travel will result in homogenization. If you look at online communities of interest, you'll see vast differences in culture (and language, come to that).

    People who speak 4Chan don't necessarily speak Creationist fluently, for instance. I don't necessarily see why physical communities with some weird obsession wouldn't work. At some level, this might end up rather like the worlds in Star Trek: TOS.

    The interesting thing for me, then, would be to examine the experiences of people who don't fit into these narrowly defined communities. This could be star travelers (the PCs, probably) reacting to the weirdness of the week, but it could also be members of the societies in question.

    In the current world, the Amish, for instance, have a fairly well-defined process for giving their young people a chance to try something different. But 4Chan is notoriously nasty to anyone who doesn't fit into their ... unique ... society.

  2. Posted by Shim at 10:23pm on 03 August 2017

    The discussion on travel methods and isolation caught my attention. I addressed this in a game I'm sporadically writing by having a safety threshold in the science: you can build FTL ships, and you can make them fast, non-fatal or cost less than the lifetime output of your star system, pick two. There's a loophole in the safety clause though: creatures with poikilothermic metabolisms can tolerate trips that would kill mammals outright. They don't breed fast, though, so they aren't great colonisers. The end result is sprawling mammalian, avian and insectoid empires policed by a UN-like body of elite reptile agents, who are of course the PCs.

  3. Posted by Shim at 10:46pm on 03 August 2017

    Whoops, two comments in a row...

    In terms of keeping spacefaring worlds a bit of a mystery, I think you could do good work with bureaucracy. The Astrogational Survey is the only body licenced to produce galactic gazeteers and encyclopaedias. Due to the enormous dangers caused by slipshod mappers*, nobody within the Spraw'Ling Space Empire is permitted to publish such a thing. Of course, producing a new edition is a vast work whose duration is exceeded only by the time needed to edit and censor it, which means there's typically a gap of 5-20 decades between a world being surveyed and you being able to obtain a copy of the updated edition... Travellers are left to get by on obsolete data, the rumours and drunken ramblings of spacers in the next system, straight-up lies spread by braggarts and con artists, and whatever black market knock-offs are circulating.

    *entire cruisers popping in to scoop hydrogen what turns out to be an asteroid belt and starving to death, tourists wandering onto forbidden death-plague worlds before heading home for the great system-wide festival, convoys being lured directly into pirate strongholds, etc.

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 08:51am on 04 August 2017

    Douglas - I won't say you're wrong, but I think it depends on what you mean by "easy communication" and particularly whether a community is a full-time commitment or not. The more I consider this, the more I think that in a Traveller-style setting every starport will look much the same, and if you're the sort of person who just wants to eat at McImperial's and sleep in the MegaHilton you can get by that way for years; those are the places that are exposed most to travellers, and indeed may be staffed by them at least at high levels. (But why is the robot that cleans my room wearing a veil over its sensors?) It's when you cross into the planet proper that things get suddenly weird.

    Shim - I love that FTL system!

    Another approach to getting bad data would be crowdsourcing. I know of one organisation which publishes a list of pubs and relies entirely on its members' reports - so if a particular pub doesn't give the local group lots of free drinks after hours, it may not get into the list even if it's wonderful. So the local starport manager gets an Imperial Survey form to fill in, and it's one of the fifty things he has to do this morning, and surely things can't have changed that much since last time…

  5. Posted by Phil Masters at 05:44pm on 12 August 2017

    I think that cool time bikes originated in Poul Anderson's "Time Patrol" stories, didn't they?

  6. Posted by Phil Masters at 03:50pm on 13 August 2017

    Another significant and quite openly acknowledged influence on the original Traveller wax E.C.Tubb's "Dumarest" stories. Now largely (and not necessarily unjustly) forgotten, but their slow-FTL plot device tech (trips tend to take months) was the origin of the terminology of high, middle, and low passage, among other things.

    I also think that the weird thing about Traveller is that it tends to involve settings in eras of empire - rising, falling, clashing, whatever. I reckon that the Traveller future history's mostly-ignored Long Night would be a fine basis for a Jack Vance-style campaign, with a few weirdoes, obsessives, and planetary governments operating racketty old starships, lots of worlds all going their own bizarre ways, and no bloated Star Wars-style interstellar dreadnoughts showing up to spoil the fun. It's not like the Terran Dark Ages, which were a bit sordid and depressing; planetary-level civilisation did survive, just not much interstellar governance.

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