Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Retrospective: Kinunir

Over the course of its original version, GDW produced thirteen adventure booklets for Traveller, the first of which was published in 1979. Adventure 1: The Kinunir consisted of 44-pages and is another example of old school adventure design, being a location-based adventure. Of course, in this case, the location in question is a starship of the Kinunir class, a 1200-ton battle cruiser with a full crew of 45 (plus marines).

Adventure 1
thus includes maps for all five decks of the starship, along with descriptions of every room and area on aboard. Also included are full stats for every crew member, from the captain all the way down to a cargo clerk (and the full complement of 35 marines). The booklet provides information on the Kinunir class: its general specifications, the current dispositions of these vessels, and other stats. Taken together, Adventure 1 gives you everything you need in order to use this starship in your Traveller campaign -- everything, that is, except a fully-fleshed out adventure.

What's interesting about this booklet is that it provides four short outlines (plus rumors and library data) for adventures but each of these outlines takes up no more than a single 8½" x 5½" page of text. Most of the details are left to the referee to determine and each of them has quite different assumptions from the others, which enables the Kinunir-class vessel to be reused multiple times -- once as a prison ship, once as a derelict, etc. Like a lot of early Traveller products, Adventure 1 is an efficient little product, packing a great deal of utility between its few pages.

But make no mistake: this is not a "ready-to-go" product. Though it labels itself an "adventure," it is, as I say, more of an adventuring locale with some suggestions and resources for using it as part of an adventure. That's probably why I got so much use out of the booklet back in the day and, judging from its sales figures -- close to 40,000 copies over 13 print runs -- it was one of the most popular Traveller products ever produced. For me, Adventure 1 functioned much like a supplement, providing me with ideas I worked into my ongoing campaign. It's from these details that I formed a lasting impression of the Third Imperium as a decadent, corrupt government. One of the adventure outlines involves the characters being hired to rescue a dissident noble and senator from a Kinunir-class starship turned into an orbital prison for political prisoners; that was one of the first scenarios I ever ran in Traveller and it colored my presentation of the Imperium for years afterwards.

I often wonder whether an adventure like The Kinunir would meet with much success today. On the whole, Traveller adventures were a lot less structured in their contents in presentation than were many other adventures at the time. GDW mostly ignored the Hickman Revolution and, once it ceased to do so, the results were disastrous for the once-solid game line. Part of the appeal of even the official Third Imperium setting was the very broad way in which it was drawn, allowing for a wide variety of individual interpretation and approaches. That's why I could continue to maintain my vision of the Imperium as a corrupt regime even while continuing to use many of GDW's own products. Those products were amazingly "agnostic" on a lot of big questions until fairly late in the game's lifetime and I think that made for better and more useful products. It's a model I continue to admire, especially nowadays, when selling a world and a prefab story seem far more important than giving gamers the tools and raw materials from which to construct their own.

27 comments:

  1. I am a big fan of 76 Patrons. That book was a lot like the "Adventure Hooks" that are published on the Wizards site only slightly more detailed.

    Adventure 4: Leviathan was another great book. It basically out the PC's in charge of a large multi-deck Merchant Cruiser and sent them into uncharted space a-la star trek only with a ruthless mercantile theme. The book gives the Referee (GM) lots of info to work with but leaves the fine details up to him.

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  2. It's interesting, given Grognardia's dissection of what parts of D&D were Gygax vs. later designers, how rarely these retrospective posts ever credit a writer or designer. (I believe not one single post about the Marvel Star Wars comics has listed a writer or artist.) This kind of omission is graceless.

    "Kinunir" was written by Traveller designer Marc W. Miller.

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  3. Allen, while your point about gracelessness is well-taken, you overstate the case. James did credit Carmen Infantino in at least one post on the Marvel Star Wars comic.

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  4. James, what on earth do you mean by the following?
    "GDW mostly ignored the Hickman Revolution and, once I did so, the results were disastrous for the once-solid game line."

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  5. It's interesting, given Grognardia's dissection of what parts of D&D were Gygax vs. later designers, how rarely these retrospective posts ever credit a writer or designer.

    Perhaps because these posts are about the product in question and not the designer. When I first encountered most of these games and adventures, I rarely, outside of Gary Gygax, knew or cared about who created them.

    This kind of omission is graceless.

    Given that I am regularly pilloried in other quarters for being too devoted to the memories and contributions of past designers, I'll take this criticism in perspective.

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  6. James, what on earth do you mean by the following?
    "GDW mostly ignored the Hickman Revolution and, once I did so, the results were disastrous for the once-solid game line."


    That's what happens when I write too quickly and hit "post" before checking the text.

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  7. For what it's worth, Adventure #11: Murder on Arcturus Station is my all-time favorite adventure. I've run / played it at least 6 times. I'd be curious to hear your opinion on it.

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  8. Given that I am regularly pilloried in other quarters for being too devoted to the memories and contributions of past designers, I'll take this criticism in perspective.

    Therefore, I take it, the prudent course is to consciously omit mentioning designers' names altogether? Check.

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  9. Kinunir was a landmark product for me because it was the first one to actually feature a brief glimpse of the Third Imperium that was eventually to take over the entire Traveller line.

    Before then, anything went, as there was no doctrinaire Traveller universe. Afterwards, you are less and less likely to find people running the game in their own universe (or in an SF universe borrowed from other media). [Although it was still a while yet before people started claiming that it wasn't Traveller if it wasn't set in the Third Imperium. Which did actually happen.]

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  10. @Allen Varney: Gosh, I guess when somebody is bound and determined to be snide, it doesn't really matter what the post is about.

    Back to the post... when I was first getting into Traveller as a kid, I admit to not really "getting" The Kinunir. It was much too loose and unspecific for me at the time. I was more gaga over adventures like Secret of the Ancients, which seemed like a "proper" scenario to me. Older now, I definitely see the usefulness of the open-ended style of The Kinunir and others like it. Almost as if "old-school" gaming is something I grew into more as I got older, as opposed to something I used to do back in the old days.

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  11. The deck plans and crew list in this book is what got me to pick up Introduction to Traveller which is what got me to ask for Traveller for my birthday which is what started me role playing.

    Ran the adventures several times. One bunch nearly got the Kinunir out and back into working order. Nearly.

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  12. "@Allen Varney: Gosh, I guess when somebody is bound and determined to be snide, it doesn't really matter what the post is about.

    Haha - I thought the same thing. Isn't it weird how the Internet brings out that side of people? It's like people will say things in a manner online that they would never say in person. (At least, I would hope that wouldn't be like that in person - it's considered VERY rude). But, if you call someone out for their rude behavior like that online, you get attacked and told that you have a "thin skin" and that you're allowed to talk like that online.

    I don't get it. There's a way of making a point without being rude about it.

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  13. Like Mr. Varney, I noticed the lack of attributing the author in the Star Wars comic retrospective, though rather than note that I simply added that people should have looked up Archie Goodwin as the writer.

    I do think it's a good idea to indicate the primary authors of any product reviewed, simply because the writer's own personal style tends to be part of the whole product.

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  14. I always loved the open-endedness of the "adventure seeds" in Traveller, and wondered why so few other games seemed to pick up on this way of designing supplements.

    It gives much more freedom, and if you are good at winging your games, they are even more useful than a normal module - because you can read the seed in a few minutes and get going.

    So, I tried to do the same thing in my (free to download) Dark Dungeon supplement Samaris. Okay, that's fantasy, but hey, why not use the same ideas there?

    darkdungeon2.blogspot.com

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  15. I liked Adventure 3 Twilight's Peak a lot. It had a maze and a dungeon crawl, but it was the layers that you can go through with levels of backstory and misdirection from place to book to mock epic poem to library to bar that took me a while to appreciate. I didn't really know what to do with this great backstory material back in the day. Used effectively it makes the end dungeon crawl several levels of meaningful. I think it's one of the best adventures I've ever read: loose and tight at the same time. Designed by Mark W. Miller.

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  16. Therefore, I take it, the prudent course is to consciously omit mentioning designers' names altogether? Check.

    Yes, that's exactly the meaning of my reply to your comment!

    Seriously, if you look at the 100+ retrospectives I've done over nearly-three years, I suspect you'll find that I don't generally leave out the names of the writers/designers associated with them. And when I do, it's not done consciously, let alone maliciously.

    In the case of The Kinunir, I didn't include Marc Miller's name because the copy I have of it doesn't explicitly include it in the credits, a practice that appears to have been commonplace at GDW in the early days of Traveller, if you look at other supplements/adventures from the same time period.

    More to the point, though, there was no slight intended to Mr Miller or to any other writer/designer whose name I might have forgotten in a post. I think anyone who's read this blog for any length of time would know that, so why phrase the comment this way? I try very hard not to read rancor into comments meant sincerely but perhaps phrased unnecessarily stridently, but I can't deny I'm having difficulty in this case.

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  17. I do think it's a good idea to indicate the primary authors of any product reviewed, simply because the writer's own personal style tends to be part of the whole product.

    These are not reviews. They are reminiscences and recollections -- my reminiscences and recollections. That's why I don't always give detailed summaries or exacting lists of the contents of these products. I write about what I remember of these products and, often, what I remember about first encountering or using them.

    So maybe that's the problem here: some people are seeing these as formal reviews; they're not and they're not intended to be. Expecting them all to follow some precise model of academic research is absurd.

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  18. I loved Kinunir and Leviathan both. I agree that they are more settings than adventure modules. They include ideas and suggestions for stories that can be taking place in and around them, for your players to participate in.

    I'd note that these serve as good examples of a more middle-of-the-road take on gaming, the spectrum perhaps going from mindless dungeon-crawl at one end, to railroaded scripted story at the other. I'm sure everyone has their own sweet spot on the continuum.

    In any case, I'd happily play either product today, or most any of the other Traveller adventures. 3rd Imperium, Spinward Marches, pre- Fifth Frontier War, if you please.

    I love this game!

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  19. The first time I read this book I felt it was junk. This was not an adventure, it was a starship description.

    The fact that Jim and so many other Traveller fans seem to have gotten enormous amount of use out of it is just testament to my suspicion that I just don't get Traveller.

    Last time I looked at this it still felt like a cop out when they could have sold me an "adventure".

    I never found much use for the rest of the books in this line. Go figure.

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  20. Is it just me, or is coming up with the "plot" of the adventure the hardest part? I'm not familiar with traveller at all, so I'm not sure what "Adventure location" means in this instance. I don't like railroad, but "adventure seeds" are easy enough for me to come up with on my own. What's not easy is figuring out which seeds will actually grow and how. So an adventure setting feels like a cop-out, the equivalent to someone saying, "Hey, let me tell you this great idea for a movie and then you go make it."

    For me, the sweet spot is something like village of hommelet. There's a well-developed locale, but there's also a clear "objective" to get things started.

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  21. so, I wouldn't get to this for, say, a year, but if I were to outline an 18th century ship for sailing on the high seas in similar style to The Kinunir, and provided some skeletal adventure seeds and mods supporting its use as an East Indiaman, a warship, a prison, a fire ship and a Marie Celeste derelict, would anyone be interested?

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  22. ...of course I should've added pirate ship to the list. And captured Chinese treasure ship.

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  23. I'd say the 'plot' is ideally generated by the players and DM as the campaign develops, but to kick things off you do need to be a bit more prescriptive until the PCs find their feet in the campaign world. Village of Hommlet is a great place to start a campaign because it has that plot point to drag in the PCs, and they get to nose round the village along the way and find out a bit more about the surrounding area. In RQ Apple Lane fulfils the same function, a couple of initial scenarios to kick things off, after which the PCs should know enough about Dragon Pass to have their own ideas of where to go next.

    The best campaigns I have GMed and played in have been a combination of sandbox and story - if the players start losing their way and being inert, drop a quest on them from a local personality, dangle some rumours of loot to be had in a far off place, of wrongs to righted, or dupes to be exploited as appropriate.

    I've not played Kinunir, but I did GM Twilight's Peak which had a sufficient combination of plot to keep the players moving, and sufficient sandbox elements to stop them getting there too quickly and to make the journey interesting. They lost interest in the loot at Twilight's Peak at one point as they had more fun and profit trading on the Spinward Main, but a near fatal drive malfunction got them back on the main quest. When I GMed Griffin Mountain for Runequest no one could be bothered looking for the Windsword after a while as the conflict between the Lunars and Balazarings was too interesting to let lie. IMO this is easier to do in a reasonably detailed world like the Third Imperium or Glorantha, the vanilla fantasy of Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms just didn't feel real enough to be more than backdrops for yet another dungeon bash.

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  24. I haven't run Kinunir, as I haven't run that much Traveller, but I like it still - it shows what a good location is.

    I used the Twilight's Peak (somewhat modified) and it was a good adventure, though my players' characters were young nobles doing their Grand Tour of the Spinward Marches. I think only their bodyguard had any weapons, and ISTR even they were confiscated before the characters discovered the tunnels.

    It was a good dungeon crawl even when the participants couldn't prepare properly. They had to run from the monsters but that was a good thing.

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