So my old musings about converting Traveller to a non-SF setting (see here: viewtopic.php?f=45&t=2873
) have come back to haunt me, and after perhaps having played a bit too much of Sid Meier´s Pirates lately, I decided to just give it a try, primarily based on Mongoose Traveller (specifically the free Main Rulebook PDF). It´s all still very much a work in progress, but I think I could do with some feedback.
The whole thing is set in the Carribean and surrounding parts of the Americas, in 1630 AD, right in the middle of the 30 Years´ War. There are quite a few similarities in concept with the classic Spinward Marches region in regular Traveller - a frontier region far from the capital, dominated by one imperial power (except it´s the Spanish Empire and not the Third Imperium), with a number of established and civilized ports to call in (such as Vera Cruz, La Habana or Cartagena) but also plenty of smaller towns and relatively isolated frontier outposts, many of them havens for smugglers, scoundrels and outright pirates.
This isn´t a strictly historical setting, though - in this setting, part of Zheng He´s fleets was blown out onto the open Pacific on one his voyages and eventually landed on the west coast of the New World, so in the setting´s present time, there is a substantial Ming Chinese presence in North America centered what we know as San Francisco Bay - most of California, parts of Nevada and Arizona - as a rival and neighbor of New Spain. Speaking of parallels to the OTU - I think the Ming Chinese are alien enough in their culture to 17th century Europeans to make a passable stand-in for the Zhodani.
As for the rules, I decided to add two new characteristics, Charisma and Faith.
One thing that irked me, with most versions of Traveller (T20 excluded) was how Social Standing alone is inadequate (IMHO) as a basis of social and interpersonal skills - why would, for example, Leadership skill checks be based on Social Standing (according to Mongoose Traveller) when there´s no reason a lower-class character could not be as inspiring a leader (or even more so, since presumably lower-class troops would respect a lower-class superior even more as "one of them") as any noble, rather than being penalized for the lower Social Standing score? Likewise, there are many kinds of charme and personal magnetism that are poorly, if at all, portrayed by either Social Standing, Intelligence or Education - I think Traveller in general gives somewhat short thrift to social interaction skills compared to the technical and combat side of things, so I decided I needed a social characteristic: Charisma.
Faith, then, serves as sort of a counterpart to Education - where education is both the literal education of a character and his grounding in a rational, logical world-view, Faith covers both their personal faith in whatever they believe in (keep in mind the 17th century was a rather more religiously focussed era than either the early 21st century US/Europe or the Third Imperium), and their grounding in the supernatural, magical aspects of their world; a character with high Faith finds it easier to accept and take into account the workings of magic, the same way a character with high Education accepts and takes into account the workings of natural science (whatever there is of it in the 17th century); on the downside, a character with high Faith but low Education is as likely to falsely believe in superstition ("red hair means she´s a witch") as a character with high Education and low Faith is to dismiss genuine supernatural elements ("cursed treasure... yeah, right..."). Faith also serves as sort of counterpart to standard Traveller´s Psionics characteristic, as a basis for magical skills.
The skill list gets an extensive overhaul as well, with all of the modern/SF skills being removed, others being added as appropriate. For example, the main shipboard skills are now:
Helmsman - steering a ship via tiller or wheel, analogous to Pilot
Oarsman - rowing either an oar-powered ship like a galley, or a small craft such as rowboat
Seaman - handling the sails, rigging etc of a ship; the idea is that proper operation of a ship requires a number of successful Seaman skill checks by the crew, the number depending on the ship type and size
Gunnery (Cannon) - fire a ship´s cannon
Navigation (Sea) - chart a course to a destination, or determine current position, analogous to Astrogation
Craft (Carpenter/Sailmaker/Ropemaker) - repair a ship´s hull and mast, its rigging and its sails, respectively
Alertness - used by lookouts to spot distant ships, land, storm clouds etc
Since I mentioned magical elements above... rather than psionics, I intend to incorporate an array of magical traditions more appropriate to the setting. The most commonplace would be Alchemy, i.e. using "secret sciences" to create various useful substances such as antidotes, smoke powder, sleep potions and the like. Sorcery and Witchcraft deal with symbolic and sympathetic magic - a sorcerer could, for example, use an item closely connected to a person to divine their current location (or use a corpse as a focus to divine the circumstance of its death), whereas a witch can exploit the link between a symbolic representation and the actual person or object to pass on beneficial or harmful effects (the stereotypical image of stabbing a needle into a voodoo doll in order to hurt the victim comes to mind here...). Lastly there are various kinds of Conjuration, which involve in contacting and making deals with spirits - those of the dead, those of nature and locations, and with demons. So in total, not D&D magic, but more like what people back then believed in.
To a large degree, these magical elements are optional to the Privateer setting, at least as much as psionics are in standard Traveller. Other than some basic Alchemy to supplement the generally poor state of medical science at the time (and I fully intend to have mundane careers such as Physician to have some access to Alchemy), there should be no magic so powerful that a party would be hamstrung by not having access to it. Besides, magic tends to have its own drawbacks to the practitioner - starting with the automatic suspicion nearly everone (*cough* Holy Inquisition *cough*) harbors for those who associate with the supernatural.
So what kinds of campaigns could there be in Privateer?
Trader - the characters are traders (and/or smugglers) travelling between the various ports of the Caribbean, perhaps coming from Europe with a cargo of manufactured goods and intending to return there once they have a profitable cargo of New World products
Explorer - the characters intend to strike out find one of the fabled treasures of the New World, like the Fountain of Youth, El Dorado, or just a "merely" legendary treasure hidden in a ruin somewhere in the jungles of Mesoamerica
Pirates - the characters are (part of) a crew of either privateers or outright pirates hoping to collect a tithe of the treasures the Spanish have gathered in their colonies
Intrigue - the Spanish Empire isn´t one big happy family; the characters are part of, or in the employ of, a faction in one of the innumerable feuds and schemes that plague such a far-flung empire, either out of conviction or in it for the money and power - they might even work for Spain´s enemies to sabotage the Empire from within!
Traveller - the characters have recently arrived from Europe, perhaps with their own ship, to see the New World, have adventures, and if at all possible to gain power, wealth and fame (or even just wealth, but lots of it); this campaign can contain elements of most of the others
So, what do you think? Does this sound like an interesting setting? Would you like to hear more?