Thursday, July 29, 2021

Traveller's Terms and HBR's Tours of Duty

I had an interesting text-chat conversation with a former coworker recently (excerpted):

me: I suppose maybe that is a good argument for me going to XXX next rather than YYY...  Just to see if XXX is the way that I think it is (which was part of why I wanted to go to $CURRENT_EMPLOYER - to see it).  The tourist approach to career planning.
them: Ha, I like how you describe your career strategy!  Kinda reminds me of Reid Hoffman's tour of duty

It's a pretty good article.

I have thought about careers and life in terms of Traveller's terms for quite some time; my blogger profile used to have what I estimate my Traveller stats at, including terms in various occupations.  When I'm at a new company, I think of staying a full four years as a good solid run; I've only done it once so far, and it was a pretty darn successful four years, definitely worth an extra benefit roll (with a shift in company direction in the final year or so which I did not think promising).  More commonly, after 18-36 months, if things are looking mediocre, I move on.  Not a failed survival roll, but more like a failed roll to promote.

So I think it's a little funny to see a serious publication like the Harvard Business Review take basically the same perspective, following in the footsteps of some geeks in the '70s trying to model careers.

Monday, July 26, 2021

The Caller and the Vietnam Hypothesis

In order to command well, we should know how to submit. He who submits with good grace will eventually become worthy of command.

- Cicero, On the Laws.

There was a post on the osr subreddit the other day asking about the caller.  This post is an elaboration of my comments on that post.

In what seems to be my idiom lately, I decided to go have a look at what OD&D and 1e said about the caller, and was a bit surprised at what I found.

OD&D makes only a brief mention of the caller on page 12-13 of Book 3, where there is a dialogue between the DM and the caller, in which the caller describes a series of actions the party takes during exploration.Curiously, none of the other players say anything.

AD&D 1e largely replaces the term "caller" with "leader". A dialogue demonstrating exploration on pages 97-100 of the 1e DMG does include separate voices for Leader Character (LC) and Other Characters (OC). The OC voice seems to do a fair bit of asking questions of the DM, undertaking combat actions, and in a few cases undertaking independent actions when separated from the party. There is also a note after one of the LC's proposals ("The other players concur") which indicates that this dialogue is perhaps not intended to capture the full discussion at the table, just what passes between the DM and players (but on the other hand, there are also lines that are more or less just other characters agreeing to a plan proposed by the leader, so the text is somewhat inconsistent). The LC does seem to have a very active role in proposing courses of action.

The 1e PHB also makes a few mention of party leaders. The heading "Obedience" on page 106 notes,

The leader and caller of a party might order one course of action while various players state that their characters do otherwise. Your DM will treat such situations as confused and muddled, being certain to penalize the group accordingly.

(emphasis mine).  It is foreign indeed to modern gaming sensibilities for any player to give orders to the party as a whole. I have often thought of callers as sort of like the chairman of a committee, responsible for keeping the party moving coherently, but perhaps "elected expedition captain" is closer to the original role.  Maybe "caller" is meant as in "shot-caller".

This doesn't seem like something that would work well with the sort of people I have historically gamed with - contrarian engineers suspicious of all authority, who can't take orders even from the people paying them without arguing (to be fair, a big part of the job is figuring out which orders are impossible and pushing back on them).  But it probably worked for some sort of player, once - but what sort?  And then I remembered that I had read of a game at West Point that used a caller in very much this commanding style (with a second-in-command even, I believe).

Maybe, like careful dungeoncrawling and Tucker's Kobolds, this commanding way of playing the caller comes out of the American experience in Vietnam, where a broad cross-section of men were exposed to giving and receiving orders as a consequence of the draft.  And like careful dungeoncrawling and Tucker's Kobolds, maybe its decline in the '80s reflects the spread of the game beyond its original audience of historical wargamers and veterans.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Current 1:1 Timescale Campaigns

So apparently I haven't been the only person taking an interest in Gygax's timekeeping lately.  I stumbled into a cluster of blogs describing three campaigns currently being run with 1:1 timekeeping:

This seems like a very natural/consistent/worthy next thrust for the OSR.  Having recovered the early rules, and made them readily available, rediscovering and repopularizing the culture of play of the early days for which those rules were intended.

It kind of tempts me to run Traveller in this style...  the most obvious difficulty is figuring out the resources available to patrons, and Striker's rules for planetary GDP would provide a very workable starting point.