Friday, April 21, 2017

Zeerust Helmets

First of all I intend to return to the nuts and bolts of the Satellite soon enough. Here's a picture of her officers:

Once you get over the WTF moment realize Dick Calkins was a cagey old artist. Told to introduce a slew of characters he came up with a way to make each stand out, their helmets. Note that Buck and Wilma need no such ornamentation (Wilma could probably stand out in the rain on a crowded street.)

You can spend a bit of time wondering just what each helmet had by way of equipment (and why). Why does the engineer need binoculars? The electronist a breathing doohickey and the astrogator a frigging roll bar?!

Why yes I have better things to do with my time. You're reading this and I might ask the same.

Anyway here is a set of tables to let you or your characters customize their helmets, the better to play dieselpunk characters. Roll for location and then decoration. Then roll for special equipment. The special equipment might jibe with the decoration or require some explaining. I'm not doing that for you. Roll as many times as you feel necessary or the referee lets you get away with.

1) Visor
1) Flip down

2) Removable clips

3) Straps

4) Magnetic clamps

5) Fixed

6) None

2) Ear Cups
1) Radio receiver antenna

2)Poofy style padding

3) Separate Hoses

4) Stethoscope style hoses

5) Flaps
6) Outriggers (also known as door catchers, think Jack Kirby style)

3) Rear Vent

2) Flap

3) Strap

4) Poofy style padding

5) Neck guard

6) Fin

4) Side Plates
1) Legionnaire style metal armor

2) Mounting rails

3) Stethoscope style hoses

4) Grilled for ventilation

5) Detachable

6) Chin strap

5) Crest
1) Top knob

2) Mounting rail

3) Spike

4) Steel mohawk

5) Roll bar

6) Metal plating

6) Special Gear
1) Breathing mask

2) Binoculars

3)High power radio

4) Black light visual enhancement

5) Listening gear
6) Headlight (literally)

1) Camera

2) Heads up display

3) Food syrup dispenser (yuck)

4) Cigarette/pipe dispenser

5) Marquee style display

6) Awesome detailing job (this is what Luch rolled up)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Far Too Much About Buck Rogers Part 1

TL;DR Buck Rogers' first ship the Satellite which I have a serious bromance with. wait a couple of posts till I put up some stats if you're too pressed to read it all.

In the beginning there was the Satellite:
(This image and the others is probably still owned by the Dille Family 
whose copyright I would never think of challenging.)

Buck Rogers was happy. I was happy (much later) when I got a hardcover collection of Buck Rogers strips and they had the story of his trip to Mars.

This was a spacecraft totally unlike the ones I grew up watching on television. The Enterprise was decidedly abstract. The Jupiter II was a flying saucer, an entirely different species. The rockets on the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials I watched Saturdays had fins and art deco chrome and ... buzzed.

This thing was an unknown fantastic beast. The rockets were in the bow for gosh sakes. It was drawn in tribute to Robert H Goddard's tractor style rockets. The concept would be used nearly a hundred years after Goddard's work in the movie Avatar's Valkyrie style starships.

The internal drawings were for familiarization purposes of course. Don't take the four meter tall rocket gunners too seriously. Or the Hobbit sized engineers required to work the machine shops and labs in the stern.

Starting from the bottom (stern) the Satellite had an armored ram that could severely inconvenience less sturdy ships at close range. The one time they used the ram on a Martian sphere the collision knocked everyone silly. Presumably the Martian ship survived as it was nowhere to be found when the Earth men came around, but in no shape to continue the conflict as it didn't finish the Satellite off.

At the tip of the stern was a large (~1m,) dome lighter in color than the rest of the hull, where the plans indicated there was a release valve for their 'liquid ultronium' ballast. That seems odd unless the dome was somehow permeable to the ultronium and hey why not a bunch of microfine holes set in an armored ram? Ultron, the other miracle material in Armageddon 2419 was incredibly hard as well as naturally transparent so the dome might be tinted ultron with a huge light behind it to do overtime as a release valve, ram, and landing light.

Above the ram were four hatches. One at least opened into an airlock. Another could fire magnetic grapples.. The others might be lockers for tools and such. It seemed like a lot of 'locks on one deck.

Above the hatches there was a row of dark squares. Solar batteries? Sensors? Not sure yet.

A couple of meters above the main airlocks there portholes. they seem to match up with the navigation deck or what would be called the command center these days. It looked like the portholes could open up like a porthole on an ocean going ship and I'm not at all happy about a row of the things on the deck with your command crew. However, they were probably made of ultron and as strong or stronger then steel. The portholes opened inward and air pressure would hold them shut to prevent them from being opened in space.

Above the navigation/observation deck, we have four huge 'rocket guns'. The Earthmen made heavy use of recoilless or rocket rounds in their weapons (rayguns were a few years away for them, though the Han nation was using disintegrator beams.) If you went by A: 2419, these rounds had a variety of warheads, most likely including atomics. It is also stated several times the North American's rocket weaponry outranges ray weapons. In Traveller terms they look like four single turrets (I miscounted in an earlier post). You could say they are the equivalent of triple missile turrets using a single launch tube and a quick fire launcher.

The rocket guns likely used a magnetic or pneumatic system to kick the shells out of the ship, igniting their engines some distance away for safety. They might have fired dumb shells too.

Alongside the turrets is an 'emergency ladder' running most of the length of the ship. It's more for what we call EVA today. Oddly enough the ladder doesn't reach to the bow. But when you have a jump belt that isn't a huge problem.

Onward and upward there is a ring of portholes above the gun turrets and It seems they are a circular observation deck running around the main cargo holds.

The final major surface features are four roughly circular light colored panels the length of at least two decks. The second Satellite cutaway  shows this:

(Also Dille Family Property. I'm not trespassing so much as pointing from the fence.)

Near the top/bow and below the rocket engines is a thermionic ray projector. It's a huge stubby barrel and seem to be a fixed mount unlike the weapons on the gunnery deck. Maybe 'thermionic ray' is future talk for a heat radiator! I'm using that slim thread of supposition to make the huge panels heat radiators. Don't leave atmosphere without one. There is also an airlock! Which explains this:

(Okay, know what? If this is ticking off any lawyers I will be glad to replace these with links. In the meanwhile if you like this check out Roland Anderson's archives. Lots of beautifully rendered comics.)

Wilma is boarding the Satellite using one of the square hatches. Professor Stoddard, the engineer, seems to be jumping past her (heck of a jump though you wouldn't think that judging my his form.) An airlock would also be handy for loading parts and spares, let you pounce on Martian Tiger Men from really high up, and just be a good safety feature.

The bow of the Satellite is the rocket hood, containing descent and tractor rockets. That would keep people routinely boarding the ship away from the engines which are presumably hot in at least one sense.

Then again we have this:

Obviously Dick Calkins was heavily influenced by zeppelin and dirigible operations when he was working on the Satellite. A static test of the engines on low power is a good idea. Standing under the ship while the engines are firing? Not such a good idea to me. Then again Larry Niven and Robert A. Heinlein traumatized me with tales of how dangerous their engines were. More on this later. It's still a great picture (even if the silhouette is waaaaay too big).

Both Satellite views have a telescope sticking out the bow. I'm not sure how well a telescope would work there due to thermal expansion (then again inertron solves that problem), and vibration and exhaust from the engines. Then again, the exhaust from the engines can't be too bad if you can stand under it.

Maybe that's Bob Byron. Bob Byron was a tough customer. Coming soon some interior views and more like this

(This one is MINE. Back off Lawyers!)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Classic Traveller for the First Time Again

A post by Omer Joel on Classic Traveller got me thinking about it yet again (for the the record I've also been thinking about White Star and Operation White Box). As I see it there are two major reasons for its lasting appeal.

Mini Games
If you look carefully CT is a series of mini games. Character generation is the first. You risk your character's survival against building an array of skills. Will you character be over the hill as age drains vital characteristics? The trading game is essential to making your mortgage payments. Doing your homework here can be a life saver. Tip: Find a world where you can buy something low next to one where you can sell it high. Get rich.

Combat is fast and deadly. Do you remain undercover or advance? Do you carry ammo or smoke grenades to provide cover? Do you expend all your endurance striking powerful blows and running or let the other guys wear themselves down? The resource allocation and decision making comes up everywhere in Classic Traveller and the decisions matter. That was what we called immersion in the old days.

Negative Space
Artists and designers are familiar with the concept of negative space (it's not a misjump, no). Simply put, what you leave blank is as important as what you show. In Classic Traveller's case the setting was left blank aside from some assumptions you could draw from the rules. We knew psionics could get you lynched, there were nobles, and paying off your ship was generally speaking a bitch. That was about it. No Empire/Republic/Imperium/Federation setting taking up pages. No alien bestiary. Oh, the Animal Encounter rules were awesome too! You rolled up animals as you needed them and filled in the fur, scales, teeth, tentacles you wanted. This is a very different approach from many newer games.

Traveller didn't have a setting. You had to make your own and people did. Some friends went for an anime style universe. I went for a hard and gritty techno thriller approach. Another went completely gonzo. It all worked though. In fact we were starting to talk about merging all our games into one galaxy and take turns running stuff.

Once you marry your rules to a setting you restrict what people will do, in many cases this is unintentional. The designer wants to help new players start up. The problem is that can influence new players far too much. Games with an official setting are sort of like Ikea. Classic Traveller was more Home(world) Depot. Obviously there is a huge market for setting material (that fact astounded the guys at GDW initially). But people lose sight of the fact, it's your universe and you can do whatever you want. In fact after you buy the setting material you can fiddle with that all you want. Have all three Imperiums existing at once. Have the Zhodani be humans infested by psionic parasites. Have the Ancients be active in some areas. Have giant robots. It's your universe and there's more than one way to have fun.

Friday, April 14, 2017


The Phrogues came to Zaonia. Zaonians knew there was intelligent and nonhuman life out there. Most of them leanred all they knew about aliens from the movie serial Ghouls of the Underworld. Despite this the Phrogue ship opened friendly relations by radio after it entered orbit.

Trade began as the Zaonians had some useful metals the Phrogues wanted for fabrication and couldn't be bother to dig up or crack asteroids for. they baubles and gadgets they traded were immediately seized by the Tech Knight orders.

A number of officials in the civilian government and the Order of the Flaming Sword were concerned about the Phrogue practice of buying or renting warehouse space. Nothing went in or out of the warehouses except Phrogues. To be fair the Zaonians would be suspicious of humans doing likewise.

Then the Profit Rockit broke out of hyperspace and grounded. It turned out the Rockit had met the Phrogues and exchanged pleasantries via radio and in person on the ground. In fact several Phrogues insisted on coming onboard the beat up freighter to socialize.

The Tech Knights, police and the Mayor were waiting to have a gentle word with the crew about the Phrogues. The Phrogues, however, had made the freighter crew sign a non-disclosure agreement so draconian as to make threats of death rays and giant robots seem passe.

Sir Cuthbert argued that shooting one of the crew might loosen some tongues. But it was a ship mortgaged and operating from Zaonia and they had no real criminal record. The captain of the Profit Rockit, however offered a solution. Second tier Navigator Sandoval came up with the solution but Captain left that part out. He, Captain, would go to the Phrogues and explain that their NDA and actions were causing concern that would impair future business dealings. That an explanation should be made to the leaders at least, who could sign similar agreements and come up with some bullshit story that wouldn't hurt the Phrogue profit margin and would avoid torch wielding mobs.

Vokh, the lead Phrogue thought it over. The concept of bullshit stories had to be explained in fair detail. Navigator Sandoval, having met a few aliens, was tasked with this. She was also an expert on bullshit. After a long discussion Vokh agreed that she should tell the senior Knight and Mayor. They happened to be the best bullshit artists around in her estimate. The Phrogues gave her a retainer to develop an algorithm to determine mastery of bullshit for them. That's another story.

The Profit Rockit met the Phrogue freighter as the humans were outbound. The Phrogues werea inbound but obliging enough to eat the extra propellant and rendezvous, eager to test the human markets out here on the Rim.

The meeting was a fiasco. The Phrogues had all manner of things the humans could trade and make locals pay dearly for: holographic textiles, stealth prosthetics, cybernetic teeth (which the humans didn't even realize they needed). The problem was the humans had nothing the Phrogues really needed or enough credits to afford goodies.

Then the crew had an embarrassing moment. A tet crab showed its ugly face analog. the crew already had a couple of incidents, leading to nipped toes and a ship's cat that was strongly considering quitting. The crew even exposed the ship to vacuum. Apparently that wasn't sufficient. the creatures had lodged in the deepest recesses and they retained enough atmosphere to at least let eggs survive.

The crew had begun carrying sidearms. Even Sandoval had one though it made her list to one side. there was a pause in the story here as the Mayor and Sir Cuthbert exchanged sympathies with Captain. Tet crabs were all over Zaonia and the reason the Zao didn't suffer from rats. The crabs ate them. Sadly their hunger extended to canines, felines and just about anything else organic. Zaos hated the damned things. they didn't load their shotguns with birdshot, they loaded them with crab shot.

Captain Vokh, however took it in stride, gave a loud sniff and then attacked with a barbed tongue nearly as long as Sandoval was tall. The tet crab vanished formidable claws and all into the Phrogue's mouth and Vokh asked how much he owed them then remembered his manners and apologized if he'd eaten anyone's lunch by mistake.

The Profit Rockit remained docked to the Phrogue freighter for two days until the aliens did their best to clear every crab from the ship and paid handsomely for the privilege. They were nearly out of fresh food themselves. Vokh even took pity on a very upset cat with kabourophobia and outfitted her with an individually made suit of feline battle armor. That's another story.

So the reason the Phrogues were renting or buying warehouses was far from sinister. Warehouses bred vermin. the Phrogues wanted to keep the price of tet crabs from spiking (current price was 0 cr. per kilo). The Phrogues to their credit knew they weren't going to keep their secret forever.

One specie's vermin was another's entree. Or at least fast food.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Aliens Capsules Book Two

Aliens Capsules Book Two went live (yesterday, somehow I missed it). Shi... whoops yet again. The book was a lot of fun to right and hopefully it will find its niche. It includes the following beings:

Beanpoles, Phrogues, and Voles

If you've read my Tesla stories these guys will be familiar to you. They can make good friends and allies if you want to put up with them. they say the same thing about humans. their mindsets and environmental tolerances are close to human with some differences I encourage you to find interesting.

Hive minds are a staple of science fiction, despite everyone having a different idea of how they work (ironic). The 'Giks' are avians who subordinate themselves to the 'flock'. Different sized flocks have different behaviors and functions. Shoot up a bunch of laborers and they will regroup as warriors.

Sentient liquid life. Waterproof and Hydroid Proof are two entirely different things.

Advanced alien machine life that can lob tiny nukes at you but that can be stepped on easily.

Sentient octopi (or maybe squids, hard to say), Obsilodons are grasping, greedy, and fully incorporated. Facing mercenaries or pirates is one thing, facing a team of lawyers is another.

I had to put at least one 'squick' inducing alien in her. the Qaptos: eaters of the dead and more.

Poisonous charlatans. And that's just their biochemistry. their attitude is worse.

Prophets of doom, who like making their prophecies come true.

I hope you will find them entertaining and induce me to do more write ups. The next two (in no particular order) will be write ups on unique alien threats, and capsule write ups of extinct alien species and the artifacts they left behind. Everyone wants artifacts and the really good one will insist you take and use them!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Aliens Capsules Book Two

And we're live ... sort of.

I just dropped the pdf of Aliens Capsules Book Two at OBS and even though it's my fourth product I'm still not vetted enough to be allowed to go on line immediately.

This sucks to put it mildly.

We live in an era of a massive amount of RPG products. A newbie like me is rapidly swamped by ten other people putting their products in the pipe. After ten people or so get put online your product is not longer one of the first things people see. That can lead to a rapid transit to oblivion.

When I started freelancing ten years ago it was a bit easier. The ratings system went according to the number of copies you sold twenty or more -IIRC- and you at least made Copper Pick which gave your product a bit more visibility. But now it's percentage based and much harder.

My strategy so far is to try to release my books on Monday morning. With the delays required for approval though they get released who knows when. Last time was Wednesday noon. Monday mornings 8 EST and people are coming into work, warming up the computer and messing around over coffee tile they have to work. Hump Day and they're thinking lunch, not buying RPGs. At least that is my understanding.

I'd like to know when I am vetted in RPGNow's eyes. I'd like to know if this delay is just because every other guy thinks Monday morning is a great time to release their stuff. In that case maybe they could use an appointment system and give everyone a chance.

Anyway, I've tried to give some aliens to use as possibly allies in this book. With a little work they could easily be used as variants on the two aliens classes of the core rules or even player characters. If there's some interest I could write up new classes for them as a new book.

I'm considering three themes for Book Three. Let me know which you prefer:

Patrol Posted: the evil, nefarious or godlike and uncaring entities the Patrol tries to defend against. This would be write ups on single individuals with their unique abilities a/o technologies to challenge your players.

To the Dust: write ups of several (supposedly) extinct species, their civilization and the bizarre artifacts they left behind.

Empires: A more in depth look at 2-3 alien species with stats for their ships, equipment, homeworlds and a class or two.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

All Creatures Bitey and Small

A recent run to Zaonia resulted in a tet crab female coming onboard and laying a clutch of eggs. She died at the pincers and palps of her voracious children since she’d already eaten their father. At that point the young went into hiding and began maturing or being eaten by their siblings.

Luch the steward’s cat, Rockit was in charge of vermin control. Being a young cat he assumed the Profit Rockit was his ship. It was named after him after all. Since the humans had their uses he let them remain. At the moment the situation was developing he entered the lower hold, which was nearly empty. That was why he spotted the tet crab so easily. The other reason was she was an arrogant young crab that considered the ship her property and ate whoever disputed it.

Rockit attempted a pouncing maneuver, but came up short when four pincers began snapping in his face. The two began circling, Rockit hissing, the crab whistling. The commotion brought Luna, the ship’s dog.

Luna was an anomaly. The ship already had a cat for pest control and anti-hijacking apps for security. She was really not needed. But, when was a dog ever really needed unless you were herding or hunting? All that mattered was that Skipper the deckhand wanted her and after a great deal of fuss she was allowed to keep Luna.

Luna still had a lot of puppy in her but was an exceptional dog, even in Rockit’s opinion, considering she’d learned to use the ladders on the ship by herself. Rockit still didn’t think much of her of course since he was a cat.

Luna saw Rockit and the pinchy thing with many legs circling and went for it. Dogs have an innate loyalty but even their biggest fans admit they have no sportsmanship. Luna came at the thing from the side hoping for a quick kill but the crab had several more eyes and very good peripheral vision and Luna got a pincer clamped onto her muzzle. Her fur saved her from laceration but it still hurt like blazes. She tried shaking the tet crab off and the crab’s pincer caught Rockit by the tail as the cat turned to get out of the way.

Canine, crustacean, and feline did a sad and painful dance on the deck, like a small tornado with pincers and fur. The commotion brought Skipper and Luch. Luch immediately ran to his cat’s aid and stomped the alien intruder.

The crab latched onto Luch’s slipper-clad foot with a free pincer. Skipper fled as the steward joined the dance. At this point Captain and Sandoval arrived. Sandoval was the first to climb the ladder to the deck and found herself at floor level with a whirling ball of feet andpincers. She did what any good spacer would do, screamed like a little girl and got the hell out of their way. Captain was next up the ladder and he dodged the falling Second Tier Navigator.
Captain was a Zaonian and Zaonians don’t knuckle under. This one almost did. Then he heaved himself up onto the deck and began seeking a weapon. That was when Skipper came down the ladder from the upper with Captain’s revolver sidearm. She took careful aim fired and missed completely, the bullet burying itself in a deckplate. Captain grabbed the revolver from her before she could ruin another gravity generator, gripped it by the barrel and attempted to pistol whip the tet crab.

Tet crabs also don’t knuckle.

Vermin on ocean going ships is a given. The same will most likely be true of space going ships. Both afford plenty of small dark places to hide and edibles. Unlike terrestrial ocean going rats and roaches any SF pests may have to adapt to the environment and diet of the ship's crew. there's not going to be any fluorine or levo-protein based life on a human ship for example. But then most SF settings ave a lot of planets with compatible environments and biologies. And the player characters thought this was for their convenience. Heh heh.

On the other hand vermin breed rapidly, otherwise they aren't vermin. A bear rummaging in your pantry isn't vermin, it's an animal encounter. Rapid breeders may adapt quickly as subsequent generations grow in unusual conditions. A good example of this is the flea. Fleas could cover the earth in a month unchecked and breed so rapidly using the same toxins against them for more than a couple of months can result in them becoming immune. Your crew's referred methods of dealing with pests may become useless at the worst time.

A bear is probably less destructive to a ship than most vermin. Roaches, rats and such can not only make your galley fail a health inspections, they can destroy wiring, including warning sensors. As for fouling a gallye think of telling a high passenger that you all have to eat prepackaged rations on your next trip out because you failed a health inspection.

There are many and numerous methods of pest control. The TL 0 solution is a cat. Cats are pound for pound very efficient little killers (just ask one). Dogs generally speaking come in a far second, unless your crew is savvy enough to get breeds that were bred for ratting, like terriers. Then again some aliens pests might make a ship's mascot earn hazard pay. Genemodded cats and dogs are also possible. I wouldn't get any pets cybernetic enhancements. I wouldn't trust a cat with laser eyes and a dog wth laser eyes would take its begging to a whole new level. Just step away from the pot roast.

There are many and numerous poisons and traps doing a web search for pest control can give all manner of devices. Checking out an exterminator's web page could give plenty of ideas and they generally give you cogent reasons why you should leave the pest control to professionals.

Some starports, of course, will seal and bug bomb your ships for a reasonable rate. Reasonable to the folks who sell you a ton of the most common element in the universe for 500 cr. that is.

Of course space is not an ocean. One resource spacecraft al have easy access to is vacuum (sometimes the access is too easy but by then the pests are very far down your list of concerns!) Lifting a ship and opening the airlocks is pretty cheap. Of course it requires the crew and any passengers have spacesuits or survival bubbles. Remember you can shove two middle passengers in a survival bubble but high passengers get their own. this also will not likely win you repeat business but in the example above, tet crabs might make a few minutes in a bubble time well spent.

Vacuum will also get into places poison will not and it pretty much kills everything outright, unless you have some really hardcore pests. Just make sure the cats and dogs are safe as well as any fresh foods or other commodities that will not react well to vacuum, like bottled wine. Also make sure there are no pests hiding out in the pressurized cages and cargo pods.

A far future sort of pest might be destructive nanites. Heinlein help you. Immune to vacuum, breeds like mad and might have a go at eating everything. You might have to shut everything down and drop an EMP bomb or buy some hunter killer nanites.

Uncharitable type may note many of these ideas apply to stowaways.