[Traveller Dynasty] Designing a play-by-post universe

edited June 2014 in Story Games
There's a Mongoose Traveller product called Dynasty (Supplement 12), which lets people play dynastic entities that scheme and build and shape the science-fiction universe in 30-year turns. It looks pretty cool. I'm thinking of running it and I want to brainstorm with y'all.

My design goals
  1. Entertain a half dozen or so players for a few months. The players won't all be local to me.
  2. If that works out, expand: more players, more months or years.
  3. Do all of that without a huge amount of GMing burden: a couple hours a week, tops.
  4. Use Dynasty to do some setting building for my "New Rome" SF setting, which I'll eventually use to run typical (non-Dynasty) games of Traveller.
My plan
Invite five players to start. Each will create a dynasty set in near-future Earth at the advent of the discovery of FTL travel. I'll use a wiki to record the basic rules and procedures. A player who wants to fine-tune the creation of her dynasty will need to purchase the rules, but a player without the rules can just give me parameters and I'll stat up the dynasty for her.

Collect orders from players. Players will submit orders via email once per week. I'll review orders and correspond to clear up issues. At the week's end, I'll interpret the orders and apply the Dynasty rules, and post the final orders and the resolution on a public wiki page. No secrets. (Nothing can be kept secret reliably for 30 years, anyway.)

Adjudicate orders simply, according to the Dynasty rules. The responses will be terse and simple, not storytelling. Each player is responsible for taking the GM responses and writing up history on the wiki. This will likely entail creating new wiki pages for organizations, people, events, stars and planets, technology and science discoveries, and so on. Players are given wide latitude to invent stuff pertaining to their orders and the responses.

Encourage "New Rome". I ultimately want to create my New Rome SF setting, but I hate railroading. I'll handle this in two ways. First, I will reserve an NPC dynasty for New Rome itself. I can play it as a competitor, but I have to be careful not to stomp on other players as if it's a GMPC or something. Second, I will offer small bonuses to die rolls for players whose orders align with certain, well-published themes. Application of those bonuses will be published with the order resolution, so everyone will know who got the bonus and why.

I'll probably also give some kind of small bonus for creating interesting wiki pages related to one's orders.

Every month or so, introspect. If I have the bandwidth as GM, add another player. Replace players lost due to attrition.

Repeat for a while. See how it goes.

Does this seem feasible? I don't have a ton of free time but I can eke out a couple hours once a week to process orders and if I'm late, I can just start the next 7-day order submission period late and publish the revised schedule in the latest order resolution posts.

Is there anything I should do differently?


  • Hi
    I'd suggest you need a strong and explicit strategy to deal with unsubmitted orders. These will inevitably occur given life, timeframes etc. You don't want to halt/slow the game for this.
    Also " I'll review orders and correspond to clear up issues. " sounds like a lot of work. Best to just interpret and apply the results as you see fit. Any confusion caused is just modelling real-world issues that are not otherwise modelled. This also implies that having a strong template for orders could help (I'm not familiar with the product).
    Finally suggest you check out Pocket Empires for T4, sounds like an inspiration for Dynasty.
  • edited June 2014
    Good call there. Back last millennium, I was involved in the design/running/playing of a PBEM space empire game and missed deadlines was always a hassle. Contingency orders is one way to handle it, "let it ride" and use the same orders where feasible is another, for moderated games - "just wing it" is actually a valid (if costly in time) approach where you let the GM handle it. Depending on the game, having an alternate player is an option, especially if you have a vacation or temporary duty assignment coming up.
  • Ok so maybe you have those options right there in the dynasty definition sheet...

    [ ] Contingency Orders: ________________________________________________________
    [ ] Continue in Same Vein/Direction/Mode
    [ ] Allow GM to Make Decisions for my Dynasty
    [ ] Allow Alternate Player to Make Decisions for my Dynasty

    It is mandatory to choose one, but you can change it at any time. If/whenever you miss a deadline, the GM checks your current selected option and applies it.
  • Aslf, I like having a default missed-deadline strategy per player. I'd add this to the order template, as well, so they could override it for just one order.

    robb, good advice about avoiding back-and-forth correspondence to interpret orders. However, I feel like there could be some drama when I interpret an order incorrectly and the player feels that it's my fault, not theirs. That puts me in the position of wanting to retcon a resolution, etc. Maybe that's still easier, though. Dunno.

    Another way I could handle missed orders:

    1. Every week, you earn one Action Point.
    2. At any time, spend one Action Point to submit a single order, up to a maximum of (say) THREE per week.
    3. The GM interprets all orders submitted that week as if they all occurred in the current game time period.

    There's some strategy here allowing a player to give up orders up front and save them for a surge of action later. In a PvP game, this might be too much. I don't envision this entirely as a PvP game, but it could turn out that way.
  • It sounds feasible. (And pretty neat!) But unless the Dynasty rules and the kinds of turns that get submitted are tightly constrained, two hours to process sounds optimistic. Maybe if you read all the submitted turns and then just wait a couple days, while it rolls around in the back of your head, by the time you sit down to write up results, it'll be faster.

    Are the players all real friends or just peeps on the internet? Particularly if the latter, have a second avenue of contact for each player. You said turns will be by email, so that's the default. But be able to G+/Facebook/text/other email/phone people too. When they disappear, you won't want to just dump them, you'll want to be able to ask them what's up.
  • Some players are local friends. One is my brother, who lives 90 minutes from me. Some are Internet friends I chat with regularly. I probably have one or two slots for random Internet peeps...

    I just realized that it's not a full week cycle for the players. I need time to process, but they need time to process, too. So it's more like 3-4 days each. That's tougher. I can always slow it down, though. The actual one-week cycle is a dial.
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