Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Diselpunk Post

I like dieselpunk a lot. I want other people to like it. Having said that, the major hurdle is to make it look retro in a way that appeal to people in the Twenty-first Century. That isn't much of a hurdle to be honest. The artwork of the period and the machines have their share of fans. There's a ton of reference images and there is a slew of wild inventions and vehicles documented and photographed.

There are a few problems though, like the Solar System. from what we know of the Solar System it's pretty darned hostile. Earth itself, our home wrold, is pretty darned hostile and can kill you in a number of ways! Consider 90% of the population is crammed into about 25% of the land area. There's a lot of deserts, tundra, and places with bears!

If you wanted dinosaurs on Venus a/o weird elder Martians in a steampunk game, you had to just go with it and say it was an alternate universe where life sustaining planets were the norm. For some reason disbelief is still suspended, even though a lot of physical laws and biological principles have to be disregarded. Dieselpunk doesn't seem to have that luxury. By the 1930's people knew a lot of steampunk ideas would not work. Fortunately, you have another option: terraforming. Yes terraforming could take centuries or millennia. Set your calendars accordingly or hand wave it gently away into decades. Don't be afraid to put the fiction in science fiction.

We knew jack about atomic power when dieselpunk started in the 30's. We know a bit more now (Heinlein's torch ship drive remains magic). You could specify a type of fusion for 'atomic power' these days and not raise any eyebrows. I prefer to go with boron to hydrogen reactions. It's a very clean energy source without many pesky neutrons.*

Dieselpunk doesn't have the information managing electronics we take for granted today. No smart phones with computer functions. Slide rules ... rule. This retro future never experienced, or forgot, the Information Age (how is that for irony?) Computers weigh hundreds if not thousands of kilos. Books are on microfilm or ... books. Space fighter pilots make sense! A computer that can replace a man would weigh far more than the man even with all his life support. It would probably suck, too. Just because something with the power of a Cray computer could fill a warehouse, doesn't mean they don't have them. They can use them for all manner of experiments and experimental simulations. They won't be toting these monsters on most ships though.

Technology is far beyond ours in areas of energy generation, as I said, and materials technology. Light alloys, super explosives, giant electromagnets and engines we can barely conceive are all possible. They remind you you're in a future. It is a future dominated by square jawed, steely eyed rocket pilots (and those are just the women!)

*Plus I get to throw out thermonuclear fission and yell "Aha!" and cite Atomic Rockets when someone tries to call BS.

We Has Met the Enemy Part Five

With General Buckner en route to the Triumph, Megan Detwiler sought to make the most of his carte blanche. The Flying Dutchman base had a number of tractor/ repulsor engines studding the surface, the better to aid docking and ping stray asteroids away from more expensive equipment. She quietly began supplying these with independent power cells, and it wasn't long before the engineers in the power department noted her activity. That and the fact she wanted them working triple shifts to get it done NOW! The other preparations were by the structural engineers who were Megan's old crowd. She knew them and scared them and they kept their mouths shut even as they worked.

The Martian battleship Enforcer approached the Flying Dutchman from a highly inclined trajectory. It had swallowed a lot of its heat to get that far that quietly. It also banked on beamed power from Mars. They picked up the metal beast while it was a half hour from weapon's range. The Triumph was 45 minutes out, but space battles seldom lasted that long.

The strategy of the Martians was clear -the base was the highest priority. Knock out the fuel and repair facilities and you would cripple the Earth Fleet. If the Enforcer had sustained little damage from the attack it would turn on the Triumph, which would be in need of refueling and unlikely to fight a lengthy battle. Chasing their new prideful warship away would teach the Earth and Moon dogs to stay in their kennels.

Commander Oyade was the acting commander of the Dutchman, a high honor he would rather not have. He desperately wanted the Triumph to have a base to return to. He raised repulsion fields and alerted all personnel to get their heads down as Martian drones were reported inbound. Earth flak guns and pressor beams did their best to keep missiles from hitting surface targets,

The attack wasn't the knockout blow the Martians had hoped for. Docking bays were damaged, fueling masts crippled but the Martian commander knew the real facilities were far underground and he needed a full strength nuclear strike to reach those. He brought the Enforcer close enough to the base's defense shields to begin overwhelming them with the power of his own engines. The pyrotechnics were incredible to behold, The Terrans didn't see it they were otherwise employed,

Next to Commander Oyade, Megan looked over several readouts and nodded. Oyade shouted, "Power up! Disengage supports! All hands to shelters!"

On the surface the Enforcer was treated to a final flash of light as the base's Feld powered down. then several more flashed of light from the asteroid's surface. The base commander can be forgiven for thinking for a moment that they were missile impacts. Then he realized something was wrong as a dozen heavy tractor/repulsor beams turrets detached from the base. Locked on the Martian battleship they closed the distance rapidly, gaining speed and momentum by the moment. The small caliber missile defenses of the battleship did not amount to much against a multi ton armored turret and each turret's power supply was brutally sufficient. The Martian might have lived to fight another day if he immediately tried to pull away and max out his acceleration. The Enforcer was turning to do just that when the first turret hit. Much like the old prototype lasers, they didn't have to work as designed. You just had to drop them on the enemy.

Six turrets hit the Enforcer with the force of  bombs. One penetrated the ship entirely. Flying Dutchman would not have simulated gravity for quite a while in its outer sections. A number of docking and fueling facilities were offline but the Martian goal of total destruction failed. The unspoken goal of not losing your damn battleship was also shot to the ether.

Even the most hardened military types had to admit the engineers won this one. The few surviving Martians swore to it

Commander Oyade summed it up," The Martians merely had a battleship. We had a woman with a Masters in Engineering."

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Just Chilling with my Yeeps

Last Friday night I had a great time with the Gamer + group on the Discord server at Tenkar's Tavern. It was momentous for me as it was the first playtest of a system I devised and will release soon. The title is Universe Unleashed. This first game was SF. I like having Unleashed in the title because it is a very fast rules light game that gets out of the way and lets you role-play. In fact I think the game system is a success so far. The players were all a little confused at first but quickly got up to speed and it turned out no one had time to read the rules before but were learning on the spot with one or two examples in play. there were two standouts in this first game.

The first was a player who came by and asked to join on the spot. Since it was an initial game I ran a scenario that was a dungeon crawl through an enemy base and an alien ship that was docked. The new player mentions as combat is joined that he is wearing and eco-skeleton and has to move last in a turn. Okay, I didn't set limits on equipment. Amused I went along with it. then he mentions he is wielding a brush cutter essentially a sword. I ask him what department he's with and reply is "I'm a scientist." I immediately christen him 'Doctor Chainsaw. He goes me one better and says his nickname is 'Tex'.

The other stars of the evening were the Yeeps. Yeeps were small alien animals looking sort of like blonde ferrets with Fennec fox ears and toes similar to a chameleon's. All but one character liked them immediately (he wanted to kill them with fire IIRC). A friendly NPC exobiologist insisted they were harmless creature. In  fact they were not, but they were definitely on the side of humans and proved their yips (or 'yeeps') could harm or kill some non corporeal creatures who were hostile. A major complaint to their handler was her lack of imagination. She said she was too busy researching them to make up aq clever name.

Some odd facts about Yeeps:

Their pulses are very closely synchronized. All the time.

Their body temperatures are exactly the same.

A Yeep will bond to a human fairly quickly. They keep an eye on humans who are hostile to them. Dolph the security man, noticed whenever he stole a glance at them they were all looking at him.

They are very good at coordinating efforts.

No cage or enclosure seems to hold them for very long if they want out. They do like to be crated -especially together. But sometimes they will get up and leave somehow. Exactly how they do this is unknown. They are just somewhere else.

They refuse to be separated more than 100 meters from each other, becoming agitated first and then simply being closer to their pack. So far this has happened with the estranged Yeep being carried in a crate and then reappearing elsewhere. Sometimes the mechanism securing the crate opens and sometimes the Yeep vanishes from a secured crate.

So far all tests have been minimally invasive. But the Yeeps have several anomalies. They have a  nervous system and several ganglia, but no discrete brain mass. Similarly they have a circulatory system but no central heart to do the pumping. There is no sign of a reproductive system.


**************************************Spoilers*************************************

The Yeeps encountered so far are all parts of the same organism. the prime life form is multidimensional (it has at least four spatial dimensions). Picture a human interacting with a two dimensional world. This world is like a plane the human 'hovers over. If they stick their arm through it, beings on that world would perceive it as a circular mass.

In this analogy, the six Yeeps encountered are fingers, toes or tentacles. The multidimensional being is dabbling in our world. Like tentacles, they can perform different functions. Being fourth dimensional they can leave an enclosure almost as easily as humans stepping out of a chalk circle (by 'pulling themselves free of our world/plane). They don't do it lightly as it seems to require some expenditure of resources (energy, stress or what have you).

The Yeeps are all attached, like fingers on a hand and exhibit similar behavior. They may have individual minds and some autonomy, We don't know. The prime creature might be intelligent or not. Higher dimensional nature doesn't mean you are intelligent. Most tree dimensional creatures are not intelligent.

Encountering more Yeeps may tell us more about their nature. Are the new Yeeps another creature or another 'hand' of the same one already met?

I have not worked out the exact abilities of Yeep-Kind yet. Can they be killed or is shooting one like cutting your finger? Are there always six? Can they survive in hostile environments? Vacuum?

My gut feeling is that they aren't hard to knock away or stun. Killing one is harder. If one Yeep is in an Earth like environment then they all have access to breathable air. Poison or drug one and it will affect them all in time.

The prime creature is intersecting our dimension but we don't know how far it extends beyond it. Are the Yeeks merely fingertips or a meaty cross section of a finger or tentacle or arm? Is destroying one a  minor injury or an amputation?

Yeeps have little or no protection against harm despite being hard to really hurt. Hitting one with minor damage (hand weapons, fists, sticks) is usually ignored. Moderate damage (large melee weapons, firearms) seems to hurt and will make one disappear for 1d6 minutes. Hitting one with severe damage will make it retreat for 1d6 hours. Heavy weapons might 'kill' a Yeep, amputating it (3 in 6 chance). It also has a 1 in 6 chance of making all the Yeeps disappear for 1d6 hours.

Yeeps are poison to psychic or energy based beings. Their cries will stun them unless they pass a saving throw (Constitution/Endurance based) and cause them to retreat or take 1d6 damage.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The Gravity of Our Situation

Passenger: Glurrrrgh. I can't be space sick! I paid for a first class transit!

Steward: You got it. You're not space sick. you have Downer sickness.

Passenger: But ... Urk ... artificial gravity?

Steward: This is your first exposure to it? Right. No one reads the disclaimer. See mimicking a fundamental universal force without lugging a billion tons of mass around or melting the ship is hard enough. Making it indistinguishable from gravity is a little much to ask for.

Passenger: ...

Steward: See we pulse the field a few hundred times per second to reduce power consumption. The field also obeys the inverse square law like any sensible phenomena. That means your feet experience slightly more 'gravity' than your head. Not a lot but it does affect your blood pressure and circulation. This all raises hell with some people's inner ear and kinetic feedback. Basically your body is telling you you're in motion but your eyes are not. Spacers are used too it and can adapt or they don't stay spacers.

Passenger: Well ... what am I supposed to do?

Steward: We have medicine to help with the nausea. We also have a well we keep in zero gravity if you prefer ... I guess not! We can also put you out and let you hibernate the six weeks till we make orbit.

Passenger: I did not invest in a whole new wardrobe to sleep through my <Bluuuuuurgh> ...

Steward: I didn't even explain how the field ... sometimes acts on the brain and causes hallucination ...

Passenger: My hands are staring at me! My fingers are eyes!

Steward: Medical alert. We have another Downer here! Prep the hibernarium! Next time sweetheart ... book passage on a low continual boost ship. No artificial gravity and you could really get the most out of 10 centimeter heels like the ones you just ruined.


Monday, February 4, 2019

We Has Met the Enemy Part Four

With the Triumph en route to the Flying Dutchman, the Martian Admirals saw an opportunity to at once cripple Earth's Asteroid Belt operations and destroy their new flagship. The decision was made to attack the Flying Dutchman base and facilities and destroy the Triumph as well. This would leave the Earth without a major warship or facilities for other ships in the Belt.

Admiral Buckner meanwhile had given Megan Detwiller carte blanche to modify two Thunderhead fighters at the base to operate from the Triumph. Two was the limit since the battleship had two suitable airlocks. Every dog owner was familiar with that reasoning: hands, two leashes, two dogs on a walk.

Ensign Cornelius 'Wings' Chen was promoted to Lieutenant and given one of the modified Thunderheads to fly. Admiral Buckner figured he had less to unlearn about flying the new style fighter. Chen had also handled a drunk Megan detailer and the only way he'd top that in Buckner's mind was to disassemble a working nuclear reactor by hand.

The other modified Thunderhead was to be flown by Lt. Rita Elora, who had the most experience on the base. Buckner figured 'an old hen makes good soup.' He didn't say that to Rita.

As the Triumph neared and nerves frayed like a bargain store throw rug the Admiral announced he would fly out to it to show his support for the battleship's test crew and thank everyone who had worked so hard on his project. He poo poo-ed the idea of the Martians hitting the Triumph. Even if they were to do that it would have been outside effective range of reinforcements.

He climbed into the Thunderhead banging his head, knee, and shoulder. "I'd rather be flying on a shuttle!" he complained to Chen. Wings gave him a thumbs up and answered, "I'd rather be flying with a gunner, sir. But I am game if you are!" That got a laugh, no dope slap.

Now, the Big Brains had not allowed compact electronic computers for centuries, and might never again. They hated competition. With the limited processing systems onboard a fighter, the pilot had an inordinate amount of work to do. A fighter pilot needed the math weaponizing skills of a sniper, the reflexes of a gunfighter, and the persistence of a cartoon canine. In fact even with all these things the odds were heavily weighted against a fighter pilot actually hitting a ship with any effect.

There was an old truism of war: wounding an enemy was better than killing them. Dead enemies merely needed a mortician and a hole. Wounded people required a great many trained medical personnel to heal and rehabilitate. In recent years it was determined that convincing an enemy to be a fighter pilot was even better than wounding them! The number of trainers, instructors and administrators necessary to produce a pilot was huge, as were the personnel necessary to build and maintain a fighter in combat ready condition. All those people could be assigned to training a great many ship's crew and producing ships!

Mars had encouraged Earth to develop fighter tech for years, smaller reaction drives, better fuel cells, smaller sensors. Some of it was through investments, some was by funding media that constantly touted the fighter pilot as the dashing hero. It was a brilliant move that totally bit them on the ass.

The average Earthman was unconcerned with solar politics and not ready to fight a war off world. There were already rogue nations, warlords and mad scientists to contend with at home. The fighters, however, were quite good at dealing with threats at home and seized the public's imagination. The Martians laughed (presumably evilly with hand wringing).

Then a Special Forces team operating out of the Kingdom of the Golden Vale on Mars ran into trouble. The Vale was a warm and comparatively well watered area of Mars. The Polar Kingdoms had a long history of plotting against it. Earth ships regularly called there and missions were run from it to collect intelligence on the Polar Kingdoms.

One mission ran into a large force of Polar regulars. They were pinned down and surrounded. To their credit they did not break radio silence to call for help. Vale sensors intercepted the Polar transmission reporting the action. The Vale wouldn't send help. Its neutrality was mostly a sham but it was still useful.

The Vale was hosting several Earth ships with many 'advisors' including a small fighter force training the kingdom's pilots in the latest Thunderhead fighters purchased from Earth and now two thunderheads took off (without orders or permission as the Earth would later claim). The Thunderheads engaged the Polar ground forces in several passes, clearing a way for the Terran team and making sure the Martians kept their big heads down. Most of the team got out alive.

More importantly they got out with recordings of the ground and fighter action.

Earth was incensed at the Polar Kingdoms attacking earthmen engaged in practice maneuvers in neutral territory. They were stirred by the images of their fighters engaging the enemy, because they were all certain Mars was now an enemy, and driving them off. The Vale denied any knowledge of these actions and in fact confiscated the fighters (that were already bought and paid for).The fighter pilots were placed on suspension, transferred back to a media tour on Earth and later quietly reassigned back to the Belt. One was Rita Elora.

The damage was done. Earth was ready for a fight. In fact many demanded it for good or ill. Worse, Earth had shown that their media sensation fighters had a purpose: home support was an important mission. Looking good for the people watching the news was another. There would soon be other uses found for them.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Sandoval's Folly

<<This is Transgressor. Cut your drives and prepare to be boarded.>>

//This is the Profit Rockit. Sorry we can't do that. There is a Patrol ship inbound. If you check the registry the captain is one of the good ones. You have 2 hours-point twenty tops. You could never board us, strip our cargo, top off your tanks and get away.

Second Tier Navigator Sandoval//

<<Sandy? Listen gorgeous, convince that shambling plumber you call a Captain we mean business. You already need a radio telescope to see the far end of this ship's wrap sheet.>>

//Why is that Bart? Sorry, no can do. But sweetie, why bother? We aren't worth a missile. We have a hold full of synthetic fuels and you don't want to move that stuff in the time you have left before oh you know ... POW!

2nd Tier Navigator Sandoval//

<< ... we won't be close enough to use our laser, but we can and will fire a missile up your tail. That'd slow you down real good. Plenty of time to come aboard then and strip your ship. Besides how do we know you got hard to move cargo?//

//Apologies if this isn't Bart. Anyway, like I said why bother? We have a hold full of synthetic fuels. We also have insurance. We will gladly vent it. Then you wasted a precious missile for nothing. In fact set up a video channel I will gladly go down to the hold and show you what we have and poke into any odd corners that interest you."

2nd T. Nav. Sandoval//

<<Your concern for my economic plight is touching. But we will fire missiles. What the Hell?>>

//That's my new missile evasion algorithm at work. ;)

Sandy//

<<You can't dodge missiles forever. Good as you think you are.>>

//You meant, "You can't dodge missiles forever, good as you think you are." We don't have to. We just have to convince you that you will waste more missiles on synth fuel  than it is worth, sweetie. Do the math, inbound patrol cruiser, marginal cargo. Missile defenses.

<3Sandy/ ^.o//

<<Okay Sandy. I'll tell you what -- transmit that new algorithm and we'll leave you alone. That IS worth something. Maybe a lot under present circumstances. Otherwise we'll see just how good it is..>>

//:'-( //

"Wow," Captain said from his station. "Look at that pirate twitch! Think they'll get away from the Patrol, Sandy?" Sandoval pondered whether Bart would get any missiles off  at them, then reasoned he'd probably save them for the patrol ship.

"Not a chance. Those bugs we slipped in the program are bad stuff. Remember all the debugging and software upgrades we needed? Never throw anything away, I says," Sandoval spoke with authority. "Serves them right for accepting a download from us."

"Caveat emptor. Takes on a whole new meaning with you."

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Economy of Tyranny Part 2

It's a fact that you go to war with the space fleet you have. As I said in the previous post building big ships is uneconomical. Smaller ships can cover more bases and provide more surface area for mounting weapon systems.

The Republic of Alpha and their neighbors, the Evil Empire of Beta are beginning hostilities. More than likely the first blow in any war will be crucial. Going off unprepared will be worse than doing nothing at all as it will waste ships and leave one open to attack.

The Empire started out as a trade-friendly province in the mod rim. They were a local cluster capital and they produced mid-range (200 meter) ships for the Old Empire Navy. Since the Old Empire fell and a plethora of new empires (note the capitalization conventions) Beta decided to follow suit. After all, the new golden age has to start somewhere.

They could build the biggest ships, but most of their worlds are agrarian with bucolic and stupid locals who do not build let alone comprehend the problems of building and crewing starships. Pilots, engineers and trained crew are crucial. The shipyards were optimized for such ships. It was their role in the galactic economy (RIP) and were less than efficient at building smaller ships. Furthermore, the firms producing larger ship systems were all tight with the Evil Parliament and you didn't want to mess with them.

The Alpha Polity was a frontier province. It had shipyard facilities to service the smaller navy vessels and with some corner cutting can now produce smaller (100 meter) ships. Being spread out with defense and research outposts they have a larger pool of crew than the Betans but can't produce such big beautiful ships. The square cube law says the Betans are doomed. What can reverse this? Evil empires are a necessary component of the dramatic tension constant! Without the DTC the universe just ... winds ... down ... Everyone stays home and shops for shoes or hats.

First, realize that people in power want to remain in power. Good guys and bad guys have that in common. Betans have a number of strategies to boost their firepower:

1) Alliance with a power that will enhance their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. In this case someone with smaller vessels. this might be hard due to the 'Evil' in their title but it's too late to change the letterheads!

2) A comprehensive education program for the bucolic population. That will take years and who wants to SF RPGs about comprehensive education reform? Monte Cook couldn't sell that idea.

3) Go with the ship numbers and crew numbers they have. Once the Alpha Polity is conquered we will use their shipyards and non-bucolic population to increase our forces!!!

Going with the plans for a brief successful campaign against the Alphans means maximizing the effectiveness of the Betan warships.

The first design proposal was to simply stack eight 100 meter hulls lengthwise. this would have very nearly the surface area to equal eight Alphan ships in surface area. that was shot down (pun intended) quickly. A ship that long and skinny would have insufficient area to mount enough thrusters aft. The length made maneuvering harder and the shape was comparatively fragile.

The next design proposal was to make most of the weapon systems internal. There were several ways to do this. The first was the spinal mount, building the ship around a horrifically huge weapon. This worked quite well if your target wasn't moving. Otherwise you had to steer the whole bloody ship.

Then next three proposals were simple: missiles, missiles, MISSILES!

While missile launchers took up space on a hull, they required ammunition which required volume. This was the main reason energy weapons were often favored over missiles. You could fire those till your power plant gave out. Larger ships could carry more missiles and afford to fire more missiles at longer ranges. More missiles co uld overwhelm defenses. Thus if you were lucky you could cripple or destroy several smaller ships.

This had application for commerce raiding. Instead of say, five  defending gunboats of 100 meters to tackle a raider, you'd need six or seven since several would be disabled by long range fire before coming to grips. These extra ships added ip fast when you were dispatching several task forces to find such a raider.

As the Alphans soon learned such larger ships could also lay eight times more mines, creating a hazard for civilian shipping that required military ships to clear.

The Evil Empire of Beta was also open to commerce raiding of course. However, the Alphan ships also had less fuel and supplies and thus a shorter range. The Evil Overlords gladly allowed several worlds of their frontier to be cut off. Remember the part about the high technology assets being concentrated on their capital?

In any case when the raiding an feinting was over a tad force of 20 Alphan ships faced an incursion of four Betan cruisers. Only the invaders were content to lob a whole bunch of missiles at long range, watch a few score telling blows and leave. They would repeat the process in a war of attrition. Appear, fire off long ranged missiles and leave.

While this went on the Betans and Alphans were desperately trying to build more ships to tip the balance of power. Ironically the fleet with the larger ships continued hit and run and raiding tactics. The fleet of smaller gunboats would try to maneuver their enemy into a telling battle because losing even one such cruiser would be a huge loss.