Friday, June 28, 2024

How to Total NonStop Braunstein your Traveler Campaign

"We have tried to make these rules as complete as possible, with provisions for both solitaire and unsupervised play".
- Traveler Core Book 1 "Characters and Combat", Page 1


Today on BDubs&Dragons we are going to try something a little different. Recently Jeffro Johnson of Jeffrogaxian Time and Appendix N and Battle Braunstein fame analyzed how to run the old 1978 scifi TTRPG "Traveler". His focus was how you can easily run Traveler without "modules" if you know how to use the random character generation system and the random charts to do a bit of what Alexander Macris of Adventurer Conqueror King System fame calls "abductive reasoning". Check this out!

The focus of my blog post is to take what Jeffro created and add my own Traveler PC to it. This Traveler PC, completely randomly rolled here, will be brought into Jeffro's simple campaign set up with an eye on Total NonStop Braunstein play (TNB). TNB means playing EVERY session of your TTRPG campaign as a Battle Braunstein. You can check out the links to explain what a Braunstein and Battle Braunstein are here.

What Did Jeffro Do?

Jeffro rolled up a starting planet called "Moonshine" which the charts told him was low tech, no government and no law. Check out his blog for exactly how he rolled this up but for my purposes lets say he created a "lonely outpost in the backwaters of space" in which "the only thing of interstellar relevance here is the scout base". He likens it to rural Kentucky so he named the place Moonshine. "Images of the Dukes of Hazzard running liquor across state lines come into our minds unbidden."

Thanks to low/no prep Jeffro's rolled up PC with a Vehicle skill result means he's a helicopter pilot from Moonshine come back after his retirement. Great no prep stuff!

I'm paraphrasing quickly because the point of this blog post is for me to create a PC to put on Moonshine in such a way that my PC is involved in a Braunstein against Jeffro's PC and/or NPCs. Does this mean full on PVP where I want to off Jeffro's PC? Maybe but not likely. I will be creating the PC live on this blog post then using abductive reasoning to set up a Braunstein on Moonshine. Can I pull it off? Well first we need to paraphrase Jeffro's adventure scenario.

Jeffro used the "76 Patrons" book for Traveler to randomly generate an NPC for his PC to interact with, to create the session adventure he imagined may be engaging (it is).

Upon rolling up a Patron (NPC) as "Scout" and the Random Encounter as "Vigilantes" Jeffro comes up with the following fantastic session scenario and worldbuilding:

"There is some sort of piracy operation going on in this world. The scout base is corrupt. Some of the locals are opposed to this. TC from Magnum P.I. is flying from island to island looking for clues in a weird Space translation of Hazzard, Kentucky. He immediately finds himself inside the plot of the classic movie Outland. Is first encounter is with this world’s counterpart to the Bookhouse Boys from Twin Peaks."

He mentions Twin Peaks so maybe you now realize why all this intrigued me.

Lastly he describes the following session scenario possibility:

"We can play for a while even in a zero prep session just with this. As referee, I might declare that things just go wrong with an initial investigative encounter and guns are immediately drawn. This is entirely consistent with both Raymond Chandler novels and Dumarest of Terra. Might as well lean into it! We do not need an elaborate scenario to begin play at all. We need relatively simple situations to serve as tutorials for the main rule systems of the classic Little Black Books. We not only have a campaign setting that took no effort to play, but we also have a game that is already running. It’s more important for our first steps within this space to get the players up to speed on how the rules work than it is for it to actually feel like a real game."

Point being Jeffros PC the "LT Colonel" has some vigilantes trying to get him in the Bookhouse Boys or telling him not to mess with the Bookhouse Boys or whatever. So finally, on to my PC!

My Traveler PC

Ability scores are rolled with 2d6 with 7 being average. Here we roll:

Strength 7 Dexterity 6 Endurance 7 Intelligence 6 Education 8 Social Standing 9

So, we've got an extremely average man here who has a bit of extra education and social standing. Seems the only way to acquire skills and training is to enlist.Should I enlist in Navy, Marines, Army, Scouts, Merchants or Other?

In Traveler you have to roll 2d6 +DM (dice modifier) to successfully enlist. Fail this and you're in the draft and your PC is probably going to suck. My best DMs are for the Army (need 5+) or Merchants (need 7+). My stats allow a +2 DM on both tries so we can assume Merchants are generally going to train better skills since it's harder to hit. BUT it looks like I'll get a DM for all of my other rolls if I go down army path. Giving it a shot!

I'm in the army with a terms of service of 4 years. Rolled a 9 to survive my TOS and an 11 to get my commission (add LEVEL 1 rank to Service). Nice. Am I promoted? Just barely thanks to the +1 DM for my high education. Woot! I now have 2 RANKS in Army and is a Captain.

The way this works is I get 2 random skills for a TOS and 2 more for the ranks I achieved. I can choose from the chart I'll screenshot to the side of this blog but I'm going to go with the Advanced Education Table for Army men since I have an Education of 8+. "Leader" "Computer 2 ranks" "Tactics"

Anyway this will continue on until I'm done. Realizing this is getting a bit long but you can see why Traveler is celebrated for it's outstanding character generation. I'll finish it on my own and post below.Feel free to skip as this is almost scratch paper which I'll meme up some ideas about just after.

TOS 1: Enlist in Army, Survive, Commission, Promotion. Achieve Captain. 4 skills: Leader, Computer 2, Tactics 22 years old
TOS 2: Re-enlist, Survive, Promotion to Major so 2 new skills. Keep with the Advanced Education: Computer 4 26 years old
TOS 3: Re-enlist success, promotion to Lt Colonel. Keep with advanced education: Admin, Tactics2 30 yo
TOS 4: Re-enlist, Survive, no promotion. Leader 2 34 yo
TOS 5 (aging gets me -1 to STR and END!) Re-Enlist successful. Survives. No promotion! Computer again! Age 38
TOS 6: (aging gets me -1 DEX and END) Re-enlistment is harder as I'm getting slower from too much time behind a desk with Computers. Barely survive! Promotion finally to Colonel. Admin, Tactics AGE 42
TOS 7: (aging gets me -1 STR) Barely re-enlist again. Survives TOS. NO PROMOTION. Leader. Age 46.
TOS 8: 7 terms is when you're forced out of Retirment unless you roll boxcars. I didn't so I'm forced out of retirment!

Retired Colonel Luther Stickell: 46 years old. Army Rank 5 Colonel. STR 4, DEX 5, END 6, INT 6, EDU 8, SS 9. Leader 2, Computer 4, Tactics 3, Admin 2. Gun 2 (body pistol), SMG 1, Rifle 1. Items: 2 High Passage Tickets, and 20,000 credits.

So based on the above you get a picture of a guy who started his Army career well and was promoted after leading men into battle. Over the years however his head for computers over fighting made him miss out on promotions. Since he achieved tactics 3 and Leader 2 you need to think he may be a bit of a coward... men listened to him but he wasn't promoted for his led battles. Higher ups saw him pull back and not lead from the front or focus too much on the 1s and zeros and not the boots on the ground.

When he was 42 he was promoted to Colonel but with no further promotion for 4 years despite leading another successful battle at 46 they pushed him out! This guy is a secret king who wants to prove he should have been promoted to General a decade ago. He is still trying to prove himself!

So, our Colonel has the cash and skills to prove himself but cowardice which always makes him come up short. He recalls a backwater planet called Moonshine he was stationed in at 42 (4 -6 years ago) where he was asked to get things organized at the Scout base. He failed to get law and order there but perfected his Admin skills and was promoted to Colonel as a sort of thank you for spending 4 years in such a thankless task. The higher ups figure his retirement funds was thanks enough.

But Moonshine seemed a place he could tame, a place to bring tech and the order that comes with it. With his 2 ranks in Leadership he hires on 12 men to be part of his crew to clean up the backwater planet. He's a bit of a desk jockey with 2 successful big battles on the outskirts of the quadrant (where he was successful but he was notably absent from the firefights) he figures he can make it happen. But he won't be hands on. He comes to Moonshine as "a new sheriff in town" with a dozen former military who retired over the years and never achieved his lofty ranks. They mostly know him from his Admin years so don't realize that if wetwork goes down the Colonel will be in the rear with the gear.

I've named him Colonel Luther Stickell based on the hacker guy played by Ving Rhames from the Mission Impossible film series. I can go ahead and then rip off his mob character from Pulp Fiction and make him an amalgam of both, but a colonel. This means his cronies are John Travolta, Samuel L Jackson and other lower tier thugs from that film (and Tarentinos other crime films bc why not?) but twisted to be former soldiers. Heck you can even add Uma as Colonel Stickell's "kept woman" like her storyline in Pulp Fiction where one of the PCs try to steal her away with charm and dance!

Now THIS is a cool faction!

My PC in Total NonStop Braunstein

The Braunstein aspect writes itself. Colonel Stickell has put himself up against the vigilantes Jeffro rolled up. So, in the session 1 that Jeffro laid out wherein the Vigilantes accost or attack his LT Colonel, I would have Colonel Luther try to meet up with Jeffro's LT Colonel and see if I can get him to spy on the vigilantes. "Hey man, we both know what war is like. Do you really want your home planet to be backwater rat's nest of hillbillies forever? I'm going to bring computers to this place! We're going to have tech. We're going to civilize this spot!"

Jeffro could then agree, betray me and run moonshine/guns and align with the Vigilantes, or whatever. If he's fully on Stickell's side he may learn that the Colonel takes half measures when guns are drawn. If he aligns with the Vigilantes he'll need to keep abreast of the surveillance equipment Colonel Stickell begins to ship into Moonshine for installation (Colonel Stickell thinks computers can solve any problem). Maybe he becomes like one of those UK Bladerunners knocking my equipment out as part of his session actions. Maybe Jeffro's guy just doesn't want the High Tech that Stickell wants brought to Moonshine. He's against it like old hillbillies were against the TVA?! Braunstein play is dynamic play!

All this based on some dumb random rolls and the combined imagination of just a few players. And not even real players but a couple of guys making blog posts and theorizing. How much better would all this be in real weekly session play?

But the trick is the focus on the Braunstein play within the session and game world. Traveler doesn't have dungeons for us to "get the ruby" from and but there's no need for us to all hope on a starship like Firefly, OG Star Trek, or Cowboy Bebop to be "Wagon Train to the stars!" Which seems to be a common approach to those poor TTRPG players brought up on conventional approaches to TTRPG in general and D&D in particular.

We have a much more interesting scenario on this planet of Moonshine! You just need to be creative enough to do it and brave enough to risk dying in PVP where they might lay their vengeance upon you. Are you bad enough to try?

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Analysis of Dubzaron session 120: “I hate everything and everyone”


Today is June 20th, 2024 and my name is BDubs. Below is the session report and relevant stats for Dubzaron session 120. I never released this report publicly because I was so confounded and unsatisfied by the whole event. At the time I wasn’t exactly sure why. But with almost a year of hindsight and the amazing success of Jeffro Johnson’s “Battle Braunstein concept and my own success with the Fishstein, I have a better idea of what went wrong here for myself as a dm and the (lack or) campaign excitement itself. 

I’m placing the session report as is directly below as it was written in July of 2023. Then after that I will have some analysis from where I stand today in June of 2024. 

Why do this? Well I was recently on a string of extremely successful podcasts where I publicly stated my thoughts on the Braunstein concept. I rated the other BROSR campaigns here and I discussed the concept itself with Jeffro here

Both streams had BIG FINDINGS and BIG CLAIMS which I realize now apply to this unfortunate session of Dubzaron. 
 Now here is what I wrote last year:

07/19/23 to 07/22/23. Rest 07/23/23. Actions 07/24/23


Dilly the Dwarven Fury, L1, Neutral

Edelweiss, lvl 8 mage Magical Scholar, Neutral [Mortal Wounds where she jumped back up and did some yoga]

George L4 Beastmaster, Lawful [mortal wounds where he's a superhero who got shot 36 times]

Gront Coldsky, Level 7 Neutral Barbarian Housecarl

Tuck Tenders You Death Level 6 Barbarian Pit Fighter with Ducky Level 4 Fighter (and a cast of thousands)

Marauder Barbarian Neutral (Group 2)

Standing Mountain L4 Elven Spellsword

Xanthos L7 Lawful Cleric(Mendicant)


Tuck: Ducky L4 Fighter


Frost Weaver, lvl 4 spellsword Captain, Neutral

Davian Cruise, lvl 5 Dwarven Machinist Artillerist, Neutral

Azalea, lvl 6 Shaman, Neutral

Lily, lvl 6 Bladedancer, Lawful

Gilford, lvl 6 Venturer, Neutral


Ulysses L1 Neutral Explorer(Mariner)

Koite & Potami L0 Dudes

(Not a hench but there) Fides III, Hunting Dog

George: Wolfie - Wolf

Gront:  Hafgrim, Level 3 Neutral Assassin Cutthroat. Bravis, Level 4 Lawful Mage Elementalist

Foray XP Pool: 11,660
Mass Combat Kills XP Pool: 1,200
Spoils from Defeated Troops: 14,760 (half to be paid to troops or Calamity) = 7,380
Foray Cuts: 25
Hench Foray Xp: 467
PC Foray Xp: 933

Session Report 
Edelweiss led a big army to sack the town of Fishton. There was a mass battle the dm was not prepared for between the Lawful forces and the Fishton kind of vaguely Cajun and Lovecraftian hybrid folk who live there. They had french napoleanic troops which were interesting for story but not particularly powerful in practice. The session only had time for one Heroic Foray and this itself took about 2.5 hours. It was a grind with essentially no chance of any players losing much of anything due to them be bedecked with many powerful magic items acquired primarily in solo or downtime play, and each having about 3 or 4 buff spells cast on them.

Said foray involved 4 dragons on the bad guy side which scared none of the PCs due to all the buffs, hundreds of musketeers and hussars on the Chaotic side, and like every single pc and hench. The chaotic side also had a warlock that was able to pop off a fireball before his next spell was fizzled and then a giant strength Standing Mountain threw a boulder crushing him into the dirt. There was a big robot there too fighting for the PCs hench, apparently. Who knows.

The whole thing was very unsatisfying and I wonder if there might be something to say for the overall #brosr preference for 1e AD&D.

During the battle a couple of Barbarian PCs were hiding out in fishton and stole away into the unguarded Huge Tower and grabbed a chest full of gold and platinum. That would have been ran better and been more fun if my mental capacities were not tied up making an army of thousands with their relevant leaders and such; just to get stepped on like roaches.

George and Edelweiss fell during the battle but Xanthos is a powerful cleric so they were healed back up.

Also I got a headache.

PC Grades:

Perfect on all cases. This is truly elite level play which will be celebrated across the cosmos for all time. Starring: that guy and The Pc who was buffed a lot. And super wizard. (dubs 2024 note: I was being sarcastic… in a way since they did kind of play their in session “get the ruby” role but didn’t go beyond that.)

DM Grade: D-. I played the Foray quite badly wherein I lost the use of a dragon breath due to not realizing a player had a particular item to mitigate it. Dragons are smarter than that but I’m not. I also should have focus fired more PCs with muskets & focused on missile fire more. Additionally, I added no story elements of any interest and nothing I said about the worldbuilding will be remembered. Except the jagermeister mist off the river; the only reason I didn’t get an F.

Analysis by BDubs 2024

I'd like to start by saying I don't hold any ill will to my players at that time. They were playing the game that was put in front of them. My annoyance with this session, and the subsequent splitting headache I got running it, was due to mine misunderstanding of what a real D&D campaign (at the time).

I was missing the axioms! But which ones? And what am I talking about?

Well on my recent podcast with Jeffro Johnson he made the bold claim that real D&D has a handful of axioms that, if changed, will result in a different (worse) game.

Some of the axioms are this:

1. Play your game RAW (rules as written) NOT with Rule Zero "due as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law".

2. D&D is appendix n focused. Reading these books/stories will make it easier to run real D&D which is a pulp fantasy simulator.

3. 1:1 time is foundational to real D&D.

4. Scaling up for mass combat is foundational to real D&D. (Example: 20 troops etc = 1 unit on the board)

5. D&D is a Braunstein!

So if you read the above report, and certainly if you were playing BROSR style in the summer of 2023 and before, you'll realize that I was failing to follow the 4th and 5th axiom!

Scaling up is not something I have tried much in my ACKS campaign because, well it's ACKS. Alexander Macris wrote what I believe is a pretty cool wargame called "Domains at War" which is built to work with ACKS perfectly. It uses a Battle Rating system. So, who needs to scale up, right? Wrong.

I'm going to start exploring scaling ACKS up to be like 50 men = 1 unit on the board or whatever. I have zero wargaming background so we'll see how that goes. But you can read above that the wargame and "heroic foray" took the bulk of the session time and had little to no interesting strategic or tactical elements. I was bored and had a headache the whole time despite (just look!) there being DRAGONS, and GIANT ROBOTS, and HUSSARS. Like... how could this be boring? How could this not be worth running? 

I'll tell you.

None of us had the fifth axiom in our mind, that real D&D is a Braunstein.

Let me take you back to 2023 Dubzaron and how the town of Fishton came about. I was on a break from DMing and playing due to irl concerns. And some great Co-DMs stepped up to fill the void and keep Dubzaron alive. Thank you all!

During some of these sessions the PCs went exploring the wilderness in search of a new city to buy and sell goods in. They wanted to pay less taxes, or not need to bow to Patron Drakon, or maybe DM Ambrose just wanted to try using Appendix B to generate random wilderness and see what would happen. (This was at the height of my "zero prep is best" rhetoric which had taken the BROSR memesphere by storm in the DesertSwamp.)

So Fishton was generated in session. Including it's crazy elements of having Napoleanoic troops, and a Taylor Swift Lovecraft monster named CThaylor and the cult of same. The PCs found the crazy town and were chased off. So they went back to the drawing board of 1:1 downtime to bide their time, lair smash, and get all the best buff spells and items to attack Fishton and take it for themselves.

I don't fault them for this. It's the game in front of them at the time. But it's become clear in June of 2024 that this was inferior gaming. Because this was NOT a Braunstein.

This was a name level Get Along Gang that was building up big numbers to come blanket me (the poor bedraggled DM) with huge numbers and spells and buffs that there is no way I'd be able to parse well enough to give them a real challenge. I missed that Edelweiss couldn't be hit by a breath attack because I was trying to run an army of thousands and parse the 4+ buffs that were on EACH of the PCs. Meanwhile my NPCs had bascially no buffs on them (and the PCs still whined that one of the NPCs could See Invisbility.)

In BROSR 2023 style I came to DM Ambrose to ask him what the troop numbers would look like in this town he created in a noprep session. Now firstly, his notes weren't great. That's just one of those things. My DM notes suck, as well; and I'd be loathe to try and communicate them to another DM to challenge me and my Get Along Gang army if I had to.

But if the sacking of Fishton was run like a Battle Braunstein (rather than a Get Along Gang beat down to the DM)... oh man I promise you DM Ambrose (now playing NPC CThaylor) notes on his army numbers would be impeccable! Because he has something to lose. He cares. He wants to beat the other PCs. He wants to hit them with his own "stupid PC plan".

Recall my last podcast where I joked how Jeffro's one player was broken and ragequit due to being faced with ONE "stupid PC plan"? Well DMs like me face these plans every week. And session 120 almost broke me.

This was compounded by the fact that Edelweiss the mage was playing solitaire every single day to smash lairs and get more cash and prizes preparing for this attack on Fishton. This, until recently, was celebrated as a sort of Elite level downtime play. It's similar to what Mandalf did. Except Mandalf generated many interesting sessions for PCs to enjoy during this downtime solitaire. Edelweiss had a few, but was overall just focused on stacking Gs, man.

Myself and the better BROSR DMs have had, since discovering the solitaire approach to 1:1 downtime play, an uneasy feeling about this. Something not quite right about PCs playing a solitaire game in which they can't really lose. But we couldn't put our finger on it beyond thinking it was probably just too easy.

I felt in 2023 as long as the Patron or Name Level PC was generating interesting session hooks that it was probably ok. They were doing their job as a sort of adjacent "co-DM". Smashing lairs for cash and prizes was kind of their reward for helping co-dm and create campaign hooks. While I still think this is BETTER than just playing solitaire for cash and prizes, it doesn't quite hit the mark.

Because the mark is the Braunstein. 

These players should be playing their role in a way that looks for contention. That looks for the faction based PVP. That generally ignores the NPC aspects of the campaign world because the DM honestly can't be bothered to figure all those out or create them in such a way to be challenging. Even if I made every NPC of Fishton perfectly, they wouldn't all be decked out in +3 Armor, shields, and swords. They wouldn't all have the best possible spells and troops they could find. But the PCs did when they attacked Fishton!

I would never, as a DM, try to hit the PCs with a totally unfair plan like PCs often hit a DM. There is a social element there, an unspoken agreement that PCs will think the DM is a real jerk if he did something like that; if CThaylor sent a sleep demon to eat them during 1:1 time before they could get their army in place. But if PCs did it to my NPCs? It's all good, man!

So as long as a DM is hemmed in by the Goldilocks theory of challenges not being too hard OR too easy, there's no way a PC vs NPC campaign can be as engaging as PVP.

So, as a I discussed on "This is DunderMoose", this is why approaching D&D as a Braunstein, and some sessions as a Battle Braunstein is key.

Doing so would have prevented Dubzaron Session 120 from being titled "I hate everything and everyone" and I wouldn't have needed to give the campaign world a do-over with the Fishstein. We'd have instead had a city sacking for the ages. A session we'd have all been buzzing and talking about forever. Instead, we had a session which I hid from the public for a year.

What a disaster.

How to Total NonStop Braunstein your Traveler Campaign

"We have tried to make these rules as complete as possible, with provisions for both solitaire and unsupervised play". - Traveler ...