I’ve decided to post every other week or so some advice for GMing Traveller. For the first few posts, there will be alot of skipping around to various areas that I am thinking about (or writing about) during that period of time. In the future I will probably do more serial advice on longer topics. But we’ll cross that bridge more when we come to it.
First up: How to include everyone in a mass combat. I’ve never been a minis gamer so I never did large scale Chainmail or Warhammer games. But I fell in love with mass combat right after I read the rules in the 2nd Edition of Exalted. Since then, I have held that no RPG can truly feel epic without proper mass combat rules. Traveller is no exception, and with Mech Tech ‘n’ bot: Mech Squadrons containing mass combat stats for 19 different mech units, it seems appropriate to start here.
The mass combat can put a group optimized for combat at the forefront of any major operation. Whether it is two armies colliding, tank on tank battles, street gangs vs riot police, or orbital battle station vs a small band of snub fighters, mass combats can make your combat-focused group feel alive and excited. The downside is that if your group is more well rounded, some players will be ready for some action while other players will feel left out. If your game revolves around a combination of sneaking around, gathering information, pulling heists, fighting when you have to and running all the other times, than mass combat might not be in your group’s main interests, but that does not mean you have to ignore those rules.
Say your campaign is on the war-torn planet Blanc and your players are independents that help out the underdog side. They get their side information, supplies, and other things players are notorious for getting their hands on. But then all that usefulness gets a quick wave of the Referee’s hand when the actual battle comes around. This is where your opportunity comes in. Let the players take command of units in the battle, even if their characters sit on the sidelines. If you have four players, give the underdog side Blanc’s civil war four units in any particular battle, assign each player a unit to command and let the chips fall where they may. It is okay to heavily skew the battle to one side or the other some of the time. Not every battle in history was fought on an equal playing field, and not every battle your players play in should be a hard struggle to win. There are, however, times when the battle is so lopsided against the armies commanded by the players that they are not going to win. Just make sure they understand that how the battle goes is important to how the story focused on their characters will proceed. Make new complications for the players based on the way the battle went. Let them see how the work they accomplished off the battlefield helped the armies on the battlefield.
What are your experiences with mass combat?