Sunday, December 28, 2014

Matter Over Mind

Magical weapons are a feature of many (if not all) roleplaying games. Lewis Carroll gave us the vorpal sword. Star wars gave us the light saber (if you don't think that thing is magical talk to a physicist!) SF games with a harder sort of science shy away from such things and compensate with more 'dakka' (though an SMG with a 100 round clip firing 10,000 rounds a minute has its own sort of magic.)

But getting back to the so-called magic weapons there are few hard facts given about how they work. Are they sharper, preternaturally lighter to wield or do they have AI (artifact intelligence) letting them compensate for ham fisted humans' lack of skill? I never really asked myself how it worked even when I was running a fantasy campaign, but I'm asking now.

In magic as in all things the simplest way of getting the results you want is usually the best. You could make a sword and enchant it plunging it into dragon's blood to make it supernaturally hard and sharp. But some say the hand wielding the weapon is more important than the weapon itself. Perhaps the best way to make a better sword is to make it get the best out of its wielder. If enchantments can make a warrior think friends are foes they can make him think he's a better warrior. Confidence, bravery, fighting spirit can make a warrior more effective.

So maybe just maybe that sword isn't a better sword; maybe it makes the user a better fighter, more focussed and assured which carries over to his fighting. His belief could be so strong enough to hurt creatures otherwise invulnerable (belief is a pretty strong factor in many settings.)

This approach can certainly be used in SF settings. Have your rifle or pistol inject measured doses of Combat or Slow drugs. If you want a less chemically friendly approach a weapon could use neural feedback to elevate the user's confidence and serotonin levels. At higher tech levels a weapon or device might use psionic means. This leads of course to the subject of abuse. It could be as simple as sending a jolt to the pleasure center of your brain every time you fire at something the sight tells you is an enemy.

If you have a weapon that can tell you you're great, it can also whisper in your ear (or whatever you hear with) about how great your cause is and how you should kill anyone opposing it. The more you use that weapon the more loyal you become. So maybe rebels, space pirates and assorted antisocial types should think twice before they loot that government armory.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Spontaneous Generation

The first science fiction roleplaying game is generally thought to be Metamorphosis Alpha, not Classic Traveller. MA was the first RPG I even bought. Comparing the two is interesting. Metamorphosis Alpha is clearly in the vein of D&D which is not surprising as they were produced by the same company. Also D&D was pretty much the only game in town, if you pardon the pun. The first law of success is to copy someone who is already successful. Unlike D&D MA had no experience system, levels or classes. Instead characters were differentiated by mutations mostly and to a lesser extent stuff they found.

Then Traveller came along. It definitively broke the D&D mold. Starships and Spacemen was published a year after Traveller and retained several D&D conventions such as classes and levels (which seemed to work pretty well.) But Classic Traveller avoided classes, levels. It also had no comprehensive experience system. Characters came to the game fully formed. In this the two games were similar.

From there on the two games were completely different in tone, setting and approach. Travellers were given a universe to move about in. MA characters were given a lost derelict generation ship to explore and live on for however long the ship's systems kept working. In Traveller the universe would keep on going, evolving, and changing. In MA the ship would eventually wind down. The shiny gear you'd find or loot would eventually run out too. Despite this Alpha had a surreal and positive tone (when a sentient bush with a laser rifle wasn't shooting at your feet and telling you to dance telepathically.)

One fact about Traveller blew my mind after dealing with laser swords and protein disruptors. Despite the high tech everywhere you generally used guns firing bullets that no one would have trouble finding in a chain store to day anywhere south of Maryland and west of Jersey. All the technology was pretty accessible to us TL 7 types.

Traveller had a more mature tone. It even gave you equations with square roots! It also clearly displayed its designers' wargaming roots (far more so than D&D in its finished form.) Looking at the core LBBs they almost seem like a collection of minigames: survival (in your career), trading, combat. Some people refer to Old School games as a collection of unrelated subsystems. To a degree this is true of CT. The beauty is in how minimal and engaging the rules are. You also have to give GDW points for using all d6's especially if you were a broke kid in the 70's and couldn't get to an FLGS.



Tuesday, December 2, 2014

STL: The Next Generation, and the Next, and the Next, and the Next ...

Like so many people I want to travel to the stars because there's probably all manner of interesting stuff out there. Unfortunately Einstein is a meany and slapped a speed limit on us. Newton killed the buzz long before that with his equal and opposite reactions. People are saying you'll have to go a ways in ruining Earth before colonizing Mars becomes attractive. Well traveling to another star within a human lifetime would take enough energy to terraform Mars.

For those who want those stars and want to follow science  slavishly (I like to call those kinds of people scientists) we have the generation ship.

Okay it won't get you to the stars but it will get your descendants to other stars and they might even resemble you. Yes, I know. Low berths. Low berths are for sissies and suspended animation might not be achievable. More importantly things could go wrong on a decades long voyage and you might want a few crew not kept in suspense (or kept in suspense if you get my drift). So even with cryonics you'd probably want a sizable fraction of your crew kept awake. Also having everyone in low passage is pretty boring.

Having your entire human population in cold sleep is known as a sleeper ship which is quite gauche unless you are a fleeing tyrant. But I'm off topic

So you can get to the stars with generation ships, crew/lackeys, and cold sleep. You just have to worry about things like the crew seizing control and waking up to a dictatorship. Why should they take orders from a corpsicle they carried for decades. See A Gift From Earth by Larry Niven.

Generation ships are big! They have to be because any trip they make is definitely one way. When they get to their destination the intent is to settle down, find a nice garden world or build orbital colonies. How people will react to the great outdoors after being raised in a closed environment I do not know. That might be a story in itself. The people in low berth want to settle Terra 4. The ones who've been awake and breeding all that time want to build an orbital palace. Drama.

One of the unsettling effects of generation ships is that people tend to forget they are on them. You think living over a Bussard ramscoop would be hard to ignore but maybe it's like people living next to train tracks.

Having your humans trade their silver pajamas for loincloths would probably be a bad thing. Your ship would need some sort of maintenance baring very good automated repair systems. If you had a computer that smart it'd probably be able to teach  people the skills they need to be productive again and also to put on some pants. But the regressed generation ship does have an unimpeachable pedigree (Universe by Robert A. Heinlein). Metamorphosis Alpha, by James Ward, was the first SF RPG.

Generation ships have appeared in Traveller. The Old and New Islands subsectors in the Reft Sector were first reached and colonized by generation ships. There are other instances of aliens in and out of canon using such STL ships to generate library entries. Usually these cultures are TL 8-9 and not advanced to realize that ship hulls are limited by computer size. Less facetiously a referee could rule that the hulls limits (originally by tech level in LBB2 and by computer in High Guard) apply to ships with maneuver drives and thrusters. Generation ships seem more akin to orbital colonies than boilerplate style Traveller ships and those don't even need a computer (JTAS 324).

Using a generation ship also brings up the possibility of your parent culture beating you to your destination. Consider that technology on your mother world will keep advancing. Terra attained Jump drives while the ESA colony mission plodded along. If it wasn't for Interstellar Wars 1 to N earth probably would have attempted to reach those colonists and rescue them. They just sort of forgot.

A lost or derelict generation ship would be a major find for any canny merchant or scientist. It might even contain examples of lost technology (Wifi ... how did we forget abut wifi? And these computers are TINY!) or kilotons of fuel and raw supplies.

A populated generation ship could mean new markets for the solar system it enters or invasion. They might want your verdant planet. What tech level did you say you were again?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Cats and Rockets

Disclaimer: I'm a dog person. I connect with dogs I always owned dogs. I'm not as familiar with felines but I do like them. I felt SF literature was        biased somewhat in their favor and hence my post. I try to look at things from another angle. However I also try to mine existing ideas for new slants and I am a big fan of Andre Norton so: Cats in Space...

The Scouts have their dogs. Free Traders have their cats. The features that make cats less attractive to Scouts make them more attractive to traders. There is a difference between running a 200 ton commercial ship and a 100 ton explorer ship.

Free traders do not have the time or need to perform the strenuous decontamination procedures a Scout ship does almost weekly. They also do not explore untamed worlds but stick to the known markets for the most parts. Having vermin onboard is more of a factor and liable to put off high passage buyers. Cats excel in killing vermin and can be taught to present kills to the crew for rewards instead of eating them and poisoning themselves.

A popular trick on some merchant vessels is to shut down gravity to various areas to save maintenance on the grav plates. Many of these ships lay strips of carpet or velcro like materials allowing the cat to keep its footing using claws while mice and other stowaways try to swim in the air.

Commercial vessels also possess a steward who can devote more time to the care and training of a feline than a Scout medic busy treating bullet holes, stabbings and other symptoms of pirate attacks. The ship's cat usually has a locator chip (embedded or on its collar) to make finding it (relatively) easy.

Many cats are taught to seek their carrier at the sound of an alarm. The alarm sounds like an antique device called a can opener to some or a microwave oven to others. Of course many felines are defiant in the face of laser barrages and decompression (they have humans to take care of that stuff.) In the event of accident or attack he is the person responsible for seeing that a stubborn ship's cat is secured in its carrier or a safety ball. He also carries a tranquilizer hypo to make sure the cat stays in the safety ball for a few hours.

Sharp merchants will procure and nurture a cat that will attract high passengers (maybe several on a big ship like a liner or Type R). A flawlessly groomed feline can add to a ship's decor. Many pirates prize white Persians for some reason. This leads to another advantage of ship's cats that Scout dogs do not share: breeding them for fun and profit. While no Scout will ever entertain any insult to their dog the animals are of mixed breed. A well bred cat has turned credits for its owner by breeding services or the sale of their kittens. Many a deal was conducted with a kitten or two added to sweeten the terms.

Cat Skills and Tricks (as for dogs roll up 2-3 tricks.) All cats receive Hunter-1.
1) Can use a fresher (no litter box!)
2) Can operate a food dispenser
3) Hunter
4) Steward (pluses to reactions from passengers.)
5) Zero-G
6) Survival (the cat can live off the land or ship for that matter for days or weeks without human care.)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Brothers in Fur

Humanity has yet to encounter true alien intelligences in the Icy Shores. Nevertheless the Scout Service at least frequently has multi-species crews. Some of the crew have whiskers and paws. Many of the other services have cats and dogs aboard their vessels. Cats take care of vermin on Merchant traders and liners. Some Navy ships have mascots with pedigree papers that get more respect than their captains (especially if the commanding officer is a commander or lower rank). A number of Marine and Army units have various Terran and off world creatures as mascots.

Only the Scouts list their dogs and cats as crew however.

Scout prefer dogs to cats for several reasons. A dog is less likely to jump on a control console and create an accident. Dogs are also far easier to train to book for their pressurized carriers when they hear a certain alarm siren. While cats are superior in keeping vessels clear of vermin this is less of a concern when Scout vessels regularly open an airlock to flush out the pests, something civilian and large navy vessels are less cavalier about. For these reasons dogs make up the majority of Fur Crew. Most Scouts consider a good ship's dog to be worth their weight in shore leave passes.

Ship dogs are typically smaller mixed breeds with at least some Terrier in their ancestry. They are small and tough dogs suited to hardship and also decent ratters but above all they are prized for alertness and intelligence. A good ship's dog is a four legged alarm system, their hearing and smell augmenting their human crew mates' eyes and ears. Size is not important. Usually the armament of a landing party outclasses the fangs of a 10 kg. canine.

The ship's assigned medic is usually in charge of the dog. Another benefit of canines is that most human medications have the same effects on them. Scouts do not usually have a lot of room for sick bays.

Peaslake, ship's dog on the Courier Psychopomp, managed to alert the engineer to a malfunctioning maneuver drive hearing a sudden change in the harmonics of the device before alarms picked it up. A catastrophic drive failure was averted. Similarly Gonzo, ship's dog on Survey Vessel Occulis barked alerting his landing party to an ambush by raiders. Fizz Jig, base dog on Prometheus alerted his mates and attacked a local predator that had infiltrated the Scout base saving untold lives. Sadly he was awarded the highest honors posthumously. The Order of Fizz Jig is the highest honor a ship's dog can receive.

Scouts turn exceptional dogs over to breeders at Scout bases to constantly improve the breed. Other ship's dogs are 'retired' to duty on a base or placed in the care of a retired Scout on detached duty.

In Traveller terms ship dogs are 3-12 kilograms in weight and attack using teeth. Their speed is 2-4. Ship dogs will not attack unless ordered to or cornered. They flee on 10+ or if their group breaks morale or flees. A group with a ship's dog has a +1 Surprise DM.

Scouts may use Medic or Jack of All Trade skill to order their dogs in various ways ('Shut up!" in hushed tones being quite popular). Generally the dog's superior officer has to roll 8+ to make the dog listen to instructions.

Ship dogs have the following additional characteristics:
Dog Skills (roll 1-3 times)
1) Hunter
2) Recon (tracking related)
3) Brawling (+1 to bite and +1 to evade)
4) Stay and 1-3 other commands followed automatically
5) Extremely cute (no skill)
6) Extremely obedient +1 to follow commands.








Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Holidays!

A little discussed feature of other planets is holidays. I'm not talking about Chrismanukwanza or Conjoined President's Day or similar holidays brought from Earth. I'm talking about local celebrations to baffle and thrill your players.

There's a lot of fiction written about festivals where everyone is entitled to do whatever they wish with no repercussions. Star Trek: TOS started that trope and it's gotten dumber with every iteration. If you think you could rape and murder without abandon and your victims and their relatives would just let it slide after some arbitrary alarm goes off you're an idiot. Just let one member of the 1% be grabbed by blue collar celebrants and believe me there will be consequences. I want to talk about happier times to be had by all (npcs and pcs, no really).

The first problem with Earth style holidays is when to celebrate them. Other planets are unlikely to have a year and day the same length as Earth. Tidally locked worlds are even worse. One day equals one year. How do you divide that up? Either the locals will pick a local day roughly equivalent in their calendar or celebrate whenever that day hits on Earth, which means Christmas, for example, will move around on local calendars or even come up twice in one year.

I suppose you could figure out the equivalent day locally by establishing the different seasons using Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes and the Summer and Winter Solstices and figuring each date by the percentage of the season it occurs in. On a planet with a long year you're going to get hosed for birthday presents though. On tidally locked planets and vacuum worlds the locals might just go with the terran calendar system and screw how high the sun is in the sky.

Planets with exceptionally long years might have a few made up holidays to fill in the gaps. Holidays could celebrate local events. First Landing Day could be celebrated by giving out presents to fill the void in a 486 day year. On the other hand First Landing Day could be a somber occasion mourning those who lost their lives merely reaching their new home. Or there could be different ways different groups celebrate the same day. Store owners try to turn 1stLD into a carnival like celebration to make credits while many conservative elders frown on this and prefer quiet services held at home. Know your audience is the rule here.

Holidays marked by a phase of Luna might be thrown way off. No moon is bad enough but what about when you have three moons and no one agrees which one to follow? Hilarity ensues.

Holidays can be marked by sports, special foods, dance, costumes, and nearly anything else you could think of. On Peraspera a young person's rite of adulthood is held on the Vernal Equinox. they must remove their breathing gear and descend into the poisonous low lands, holding their breath for 30 seconds. In the Scout Service Memorial Day recognizes the fallen Scouts and their heroism by having the youngest member of each ship's crew attempt reentry on a suitable world using a vacc suit (+7 survival rolls, remember?)

Some planets may celebrate the Earth they left behind. Thanksgiving or an autumnal feast celebrating the harvest is pretty universal (except on space colonies, they grow crops year round). Of course the colonists on Nergal find it expensive to import turkeys from Terra and instead eat the native land decapod. But hey, everyone gets a drumstick! Holidays may change with time, isolation and as the colonists create their own cultures.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Stats vs. Skills


I presented one idea for using stats with equipment to modify rolls. After some pondering I realized that stats should be good for more and in fact in some situations may be far more important than skills. Some editions of Traveller use acrobatics or athletics as skills which short changes stats. Also I do not add new skills to Classic or any version of Traveller lightly. Adding more skills means you have to add more skill levels to get enough skills to function. This means players will have characters with levels concentrated in a narrow range of skill at times randomly and at times by design.

Good stats are rare in a game where aging rolls take their toll. A person who musters out after one or two terms will have little in the way of skills but might have baby fresh high stats and go on to be the heavy lifter of their party.

Classic Traveller had one rule for a roll heavily influenced by stats: Throwing Blades. Roll 18+ on 2d6 adding Dexterity + skill - target evasion. I'd include the armor modifier for the weapon as well. Rolling 18 or higher requires an 11 for an average character with 7's in their stats which is a little high to roll for things like saving your life. Since throwing a knife to hurt someone who is likely running or shooting at you, you might want to drop the target numbers for less stressful tasks. Since many referees go with the 6-8-A rule (6 for easy stuff, 8 for average stuff, 10 for hard stuff) you could set up a similar progression for stats rolls: 12-15-18 (or C-F-J for those who like hexadecimal).



WTH2O addition
Jeff Zeitlin asked how ammonia would work as an alternate fuel. Liquid ammonia would mass 9 tons for each displacement ton of hydrogen fuel replaced and contain 1.6 tons of hydrogen per displacement ton. Since ammonia freezes at -77 C it's easier to liquify and store than liquid hydrogen, a little lighter than water and unlike methane and hydrogen doesn't explode. It's also quite pungent allowing you to find leaks with the Mark 1 Schnozolla. Dealing with ammonia requires a full face mask as it will damage eyes.

Evyn MacDude was nice enough to correct me on a point of ship construction. Traveller ships in canon mass 10 tons per displacement ton. This was codified in TNE and fits MT treatments of the ships. I said from the start that I was going with lower figures for mass based on some facts I noted about missile warheads and materials fit for radiation shielding. The important thing to note is that Traveller vessels can float. A displacement ton of water masses 13.5 tons while the ship is still less dense at 10 tons per displacement ton so the the picture in the Referee's companion is spot on. Three quarters of your ship is going to be underwater though. Don't forget your maneuver drive can make your ship as buoyant as you need it to be.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

WTH2O!

Some people take issue with Traveller ships using liquid hydrogen for fuel. Why not water? Well why not? Water is not flammable and contains oxygen which is good for breathing among other things. It also is great for radiation shielding. It is way easier to waterproof something than hydrogen proof it. Those little bitty atoms can migrate through some solid materials. Hydrogen leaks are nearly untraceable and can lead to hydrogen explosions and survival throws.

But water is f---ing heavy!

Take a Scout Courier, its 100 tons which in Traveller terms means it displaces 100 tons of liquid hydrogen. Please don't stick your ship in liquid hydrogen. The fuel tanks can take the cold but many other pieces of equipment can't. That 100 tons of liquid hydrogen takes up 1350 cubic meters (and two hundred squares of deckplans!) What is the mass of a Scout ship? Let's say it masses about .25 tons, on a par with modern aircraft and space craft (the materials are probably way sturdier.) That's about 340 tons of mass. The fuel is 40 tons of that, not too bad. According to Atomic Rockets a fuel tank generally weighs about .15 * weight of fuel. So the Scout's tanks weigh 6 tons. Not a lot. Remember ship designers like to save money where they can.

Replace the liquid H with water, which weights one ton per cubic meter. The 40 ton fuel tanks now hold water massing 13.5 *40 = 540 tons, more than the rest of the ship! Maneuvering will not be an issue because you won't be able to lift the ship. The ship massed 340 tons before. The water fuel increases the weight by 540 tons - the 40 tons of H2 so it now masses 840 tons. The ship could make 2 gees in pen space which means it thrusts with 340 * 2 = 680 tons. You aren't going very far on an earthlike world. But the fun is just starting!

Remember those fuel tanks built to take the cold of liquid hydrogen and keep it safely sequestered? they were built to take the weight of 40 tons. Not 540 tons. True you won't blow up but drowning is a strong possibility. If you want your ship to be able to carry water those fuel tanks will mass about 80 tons which in itself is a large increase in mass for a ship that's between 300 and 400 tons mass.

But let's say the fuel tanks are a part of the hull which masses .25 tons per cubic meter. The the tanks can hold fuel massing 900 tons. I think that's asking a lot for what you pay for hulls but what the hell. You fill the tanks with water!

There is an advantage volume-wise. Water is 11% hydrogen by weight. Electrolyze the water and each displacement ton will give up 1.5 tons of hydrogen! Keep in mind that the electrolysis process may take some time and you don't want to mix the liquid hydrogen with the water so you need another set of tanks. Making a quick escape jump is no longer an option. Also your ship is probably still more of a bunker than a conveyance until most of the water is gone.

All this for 50% more hydrogen.

Finally refueling comes up. I am not a big fan of wilderness refueling. But it can be done with you (or me!) relatively safe in the ship. Anywhere there is a gas giant is your free fuel depot. If you choose water as your fuel of choice (paying for extra tanks, reinforced water tanks etc) you are still left with the fact that water in the cosmos is mostly in the form of ice. that means some poor bastard has to go EVA with a jackhammer and shovel and start filling the tanks. The only time it becomes worth is is if you have a garden world with oceans. Just drop down and fill the tanks. Ships do this in Traveller too, electrolyzing the water they suck aboard. Just bear in mind a planet with liquid water oceans will likely have life. Sea life. Has your referee been humming the theme from 'Jaws' or does he keep pulling out a copy of this and giggling?

Add to this tsunamis, bad weather miscalculating the ship's buoyancy and ... pirates? Suddenly EVA looks better as you can avoid animals and bad weather. But of course there will always be pirates where there is water.

Extra: You-thane, We-thane We All Thane for Methane!
As long as I was carrying on about how using water for fuel in Traveller was stoopid, I decided to check out methane as a fuel (as in it contains hydrogen for fusion reactors.)

Liquid methane has a boiling point of -164 C as opposed to -283 C for hydrogen so cooling systems should keep it liquid easily. It weighs 464 kg per cubic meter so a displacement ton (13.5 cubic meters) would weigh about 6.26 tons, which is not as bad as water but still way heavier than hydrogen. It's also an explosive gas but easier to contain than hydrogen. Forty displacement tons of liquid methan weighs (6.26 * 40) = 250 tons which is still pretty heavy compared to hydrogen. The tanks will still need reinforcement. Assuming our scout normally masses 340 tons it could still make 1 gee with a load of methane. Methane is about 25% hydrogen by weight so our 250 tons of methane will have 62.5 tons of hydrogen or 50% more fuel. Furthermore methane can be broken down into carbon and hydrogen with high temperature and fairly quickly (say, I dunno, a fusion reactor?)

A ship using methane for fuel has its displacement figured normally except every displacement ton of fuel counts as 6.5 tons for purposes of figuring drive performances. Each displacement ton of methane counts as 1.5 tons for fuel. So our Scout in the above example would drop to M-1 and J-1but have 60 tons of fuel extending it's jump range over all at the cost of lower jump numbers. It might be worth it for long range missions. If the ship is carrying a normal load of hydrogen fuel it still masses a little extra 30 tons or so or 9-11% which could be overlooked. Methane compatible tanks could cost 50,000 credits per ton. Me, I'm sticking with H2 and honoring tradition.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

T5 review Part 3: Milk Bottles?

If you get this joke you really are a grognard. Over 600 pages in T5 and no milk bottles listed in equipment?

So I was skimming T5 as usual and came to the section on skills. In an innocuous little paragraph I was informed that fixing ground cars for example worked for all ground car regardless of tech level and other skills were similarly independent of tech level. It quantifies quality of workmanship, reliability, ease of use and several other factors for any piece of gear. So now you could buy that

I really have a problem with that. Flying a biplane will not give you the skill set needed to fly a TL 7 jet. Maybe the author thought it was needless detail and complicated play but this game also went into a couple of pages on perceiving and identifying various scents. Come on. Also breaking down skills into cascade and regular skills worked fine. Now we have at least a three tier cascade system with skills, knowledges and what have you that at least at first is confusing to me.

Then I came to the combat section. I don't get it. A few examples would be really neat. Some of it seemed contradictory. Traveling faster makes you an easier target or a better shot, I'm not sure which. I'm saving the errata for when I finish the rule book. The section on combat was 3-4 pages. It felt shorter than the CT section on combat. Please, tell me more about combat. It's crucial when generating a character takes so long.

QREBS.
I like them. It's exactly the sort of modular, optional chrome I like to include in my posts. Now a piece of gear can have identifying features such as quality, ease of use and reliability. A set of six vaccine suits can each be different. Do you go with the ergonomic but unreliable model (hint: no)? The QREBS rules are something I will probably use in my own games at some point and probably be the subject of a future post.

I'm already pondering how to apply them to my androids and clones!
Obviously ease of use sets up a lot of off color jokes. I'm not doing a post about love droids. Nope.









Sunday, November 16, 2014

New Rule (Comes Disassembled: Some Dexterity Required)

My post on creating tasks was very well received. I feel like I slighted some of the more stat oriented players and referees. I never really went with stats adding to skills every roll. Classic Traveller doesn't make a big deal about stats modifying rolls after chargen, right?

Wrong

Classic Traveller does apply stats to a great many common tasks that also use skills. These tasks are entirely concerned with killing people (and get a lot of attention in some corners). I refer to gun and melee skills. Both of these have required and advantageous stats levels based on the weapon in use. It's a very elegant mechanism. It models differing levels of natural ability. It In the CT tradition it also gives characters some choices to make. Should you take skills in a big heavy weapon that can tear through a hatch or a lighter weapon that you could actually hit with. In fact a rare character with advantageous STR and DEX and a heavy crossbow is downright scary (especially with a dose of Slow to let you reload and and fire each round).

So basically skills and stats are used in combat situations as a sort of 'opposed rolls system.' Stats modify a roll made against another person or entity that is trying to deny you success and may cause you injury. You wouldn't use advantageous dexterity mods in target practice, it applies to moving targets that are likely shooting back or hitting.

Except it's too good a mechanic not to apply to other situations. Why can't other pieces of equipment have required and advantageous stat levels? This would allow stats to modify skills rolls but be a level of detail that could be discarded if the referee or player wishes. While Strength and Dexterity are advantageous in combat other stats could modify other kinds of tasks.

Examples:
TL 8 Vacc Suit
The TL 8 vacc suit is the best available to early spacefarers. Inflating it to a full atmosphere of pressure would cause ballooning and loss of mobility. At the partial pressures possible a pure oxygen mix is required and some resistance to movement is unavoidable. All this takes a toll on the wearer.

Required Endurance: 9 DM -2 to any physical tasks in the suit
Advantageous Endurance: 12 DM +1 to vacc suit rolls

Advanced Navigation UI
This navigation display can be installed on any bridge terminal. There is no middle ground: users either love or hate it. It does provide a huge amount of information but some find the number of readouts and links overwhelming.

Required Intelligence: 7 DM -1 to navigation, piloting and Ship's Boat tasks
Advantageous Intelligence 10 DM +1 to navigation, piloting and Ship's Boat tasks

Robes of Station
Required Intelligence: 10 DM -2 to any interpersonal tasks in the suit in high ranking social situations
Advantageous Intelligence: 12 DM +1 to any interpersonal tasks in the suit in high ranking social situations
Noble robes or power suits (for board meetings, not boarding actions. The suit provides a bonus in social situations but won't help anyone of low birth (snobs will spot a phony in a minute.)

Super Speeder
Required Dexterity: 6 DM -1 to tasks involving air raft skill
Advantageous Dexterity: 9 DM +1 to tasks involving air raft skill
The Super Grav Speeder is a high performance grav vehicle with very sensitive controls. In the hands of a dextrous user it is extremely maneuverable and will outperform standard air rafts.

TDX Blix
Required Dexterity 9 DM -2 to tasks involving Mechanic skill
Advantageous Dexterity Not applicable.
The TDX Blix is a high speed ground car with a reputation as a piece of junk. This does not refer to its handling but to the difficulty many mechanics have in repairs and maintenance.

As a final note, none of these pieces of equipment have to be standard. So this can be ignored by refs who do not want to work out modifiers for stats. It can be used to give players a choice. Do they want a standard speeder or a Super (for increased cost). The Super is faster (double speed say) but harder to handle if your pilot doesn't have a nimble hand on the controls. Why is the referee smiling like that?


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Not Seeing the Trees

I return to my read through of T5 Monday ... Ish.

I love me some Classic Traveller. The books as written have everything you need to get off to a rousing start. They have mini games within games. They have rules for world building. They have funky power rules. They have a task system ... Oh wait.

Perhaps the biggest gripe about CT is the lack of a task system (if you disregard the crap about fuel use, computer size, and what tech level your favorite gadget appears). I went through the rules to resolve skills and found them a joyous hodgepodge of different rolls for different tasks with very little explanation on the justification for this target or that mod. But the basics of a skill system are there and we can't really fault GDW. Coming up with really comprehensive rules for tasks would have probably taken a fourth book and bigger box. In any case the game holds up better after forty years than most presidential administrations.

Actually CT does have a task system hidden in the skill write ups. You just have to roll up your sleeves and do a little work. Did you expect anything else? If you did you probably should turn back now.

All the rolls in CT break down to a couple of criteria. These form the dials you set for your desired task. The first criteria, the one that really catches the eye is the target number. Most of the time we're talking 8+ although 6+ and 10+ are also popular and refer to easy and difficult tasks respectively. They could also represent things like taking more or less time for a task (cautious or hasty tasks in later systems).

The next and crucial dial regards skills. I like most people always equated one skill level to +1 but this isn't really the case. A skill could give a +1 or +2 per level if it was being used in a fairly typical manner, making minor differences in skills a big deal if you desire. A situation with many external variables out of the person's control or knowledge might warrant halving the skill modifier. As an example I probably have Driver-1 just from living in New York City. I try to drive my car around a sanitation truck that affords me the three inch clearance required by the driver's sense of sportsmanship. If it was a task I'd set the difficulty level at 8+. My skill level would count as a +2 modifier (I succeed on a 6+.) Finally I take my blessed time doing the maneuver to drop the target from 6+ to 4+.

The final criteria is unskilled modifiers and anything else you can think of. Some people will would modify a task according to a stat. We modify gun combat according to DEX and melee according to STR. I DIDN'T in the example above because speed and reaction time weren't factors. I could certainly see using physical stats to modify rolls for combat or emergency situations. For example if I blew my roll to get around the truck another skill roll modified by Dexterity might keep me from tearing off my bumper.

A task should address whether it is okay for unskilled attempts and any modifiers for them. Gun combat has a -5 for unskilled use and I think this should be a maximum for life or death situations. In my driving example unskilled attempts would be fine with a -1 or-2 because everyone knows something about driving. Unskilled attempts at surgery should be avoided.

Some referees and designers feel that stats should have bearing on every task but I'm not one of those. It feels too much like skill bloat. Stats already have a huge bearing on combat. I usually relegate stats to hard and fast quantities. Dexterity gives initiative. The three physical stats give carrying capacity and so on. More on this in a later post. You're certainly free to include stat based modifiers.

I've deliberately avoided giving too many examples of tasks. This is a blog and not a game supplement and you have to decide how to set tasks to reflect the sort of campaign you want to run. Work up a few your own secure in the knowledge your players will think you're hosing them no matter what.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

T5 Review Part 2

Credit: evan MacDude corrected my earlier misstatement. T5 is not an upgrade of CT but of T4 (which makes sense I guess). I haven't read T4. It came out while I was semi-retired from gaming, but it's on the list! Thanks Evan.

Beyond the oasis of Chargen there's the fabled land of Qrebs where dwell the gun and armor makers. But before you reach it you must pass through Land of the Clones, Chimerae,  and Synthetics. Then you must cross the Desert of the Senses.

Geneering clones was a little tedious but it had good stuff. It could and should have been a book on its own and divides characteristics into genetic and lifestyle components in a simple way. So no your clone is not assured of being absolutely identical to you. It also introduces personality recording and imprinting though oddly this comes a tech level before cloning is possible. Makes you wonder what TL 12 planets do with that knowledge. The section on chimerae, creatures engineered from the genes of two compatible sophonts is also of use and raises interesting questions about a certain major race.

Everyone wants an android servant! Good to see them finally in Traveller. The section has details on creating 'sophontoids' as well as biotech and some methods of keeping them under control (restricted diets, needed supplements, no tethering your love droid to a power cord.)

I have to admit I became lost in the Desert of Senses. The detail is enormous. Resolution for hearing a noise has modifiers for volume and range as you might expect but also addresses frequency, span and voice. Each sense has a section on modifiers for strength of sensation and range for quick and dirty 'Notice this' tasks followed by a section with a lot more detail that left me wondering if I needed to brush up on my anatomy and physics. I'm tempted to say there's too much extraneous detail in this section. If you're interested in creating an alien or android with different sense ranges or new senses it's worth a look. I keep thinking I'll find the inspiration to write a Poul Anderson style story of first contact in it. In the end most of the modifiers could have been made optional and given a sidebar.

The more I read of this the more I can appreciate the work that went into it. I wrote a GURPS worldbook and a Master's thesis and they seem like light reading compared to this. the problem I come to again and again is presentation and focus.

I will push on to the Land of Qrebs

Sunday, November 9, 2014

T5 The Elephant in the Room

I recently acquired Traveller 5 and am determined to read through it as quickly as work allows (and maybe a little quicker). I never review, the internet is quite full of reviews but Traveller is near to my heart. So here goes.

I've heard T5 described as 'a toolkit in need of a little love.' I have to agree with that description. I'm about a quarter of the way through now (in Book 1 territory in CT terms). T5 started out with a description of common measurements, range, money, volume and such. This goes on for enough time to dash any hope of a quick start. Regardless of the clarity or need of this information it's in the wrong place. We don't get to rolling stats till the early fifties. We also get a little information on how fatigue modifies rolls for tasks before we really learn how to roll for tasks as well as many many charts assessing the chance of successful rolls based on many dice pools. Again the information is interesting but it should be with the task system, which we get into 50 pages later.

The sense I get so far is a lot of care and thought went into these sections and almost no consideration into how to present them. In truth all the sections before chargen might reasonable be tucked into a couple of appendices. Instead they're packed before the material you need to begin play.

As for character generation itself, it's very different from Classic Traveller. RPGs in general have experienced a steady increase in number and level of skills since CT was first released and T5 has as well. I can understand this is in part due to the task resolution system: roll under characteristic + skill on a variable number of dice from 1-9! It's still a little jarring for me to read Scouts get 8 skills per term. This also makes converting characters from CT to T5 difficult, which is a bad move in a game regarded as an upgrade of Classic Traveller.

The venerable (to some sacred) concept of survival rolls is kept in a modified form. Failing to succeed can now result in permanent injury (stat reduction) or eventual death. I like the idea as a bridge between the iron man style of chargen and those allowing mustering out on a failed survival roll.

In summary, I'm finding many interesting ideas here. The presentation of the ideas is a problem.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Skill List(lessness)

As with most classless games Traveller characters are very strongly identified with their skills. In fact it's often more stronger than most games. You have t make hard decisions about what service to enter to get the sort of skills you want. You may ache to be a hot shot pilot but with a low social standing the Navy is out. A low endurance will preclude the Scouts (if you want to live). So farm boy winds up flying a free trader instead of a Rampart starfighter. Add to this you are constantly balancing your quest for skills against aging and survival.

In many versions of Traveller increasing skills is a very long, expensive and uncertain process.

Naturally no one in Traveller ever thinks they have enough skills or levels in skills. People didn't think it when they generated their characters in Classic Traveller. Little has changed that mindset. When we got a look at Mercenary, wow! Suddenly you could go for advanced character generation with the possibility of a skill gained for every year of a term! That made Scouts look like pikers in the basic system. Moar skilz was popular with some people. Others pointed out you now had to roll for survival every year and that your spelling was abominable. Me, I longed for an advanced character generation system for Belters and Barbarians. All this led to the phenomenon known as skill bloat in later years and later editions. Without giving out more skills we have several ways of closing the skills deficit.

My favorite way is pretty simple. Make sure your adventures give everyone something to do. Look over their skills and tailor challenges and events to suit them if you can. Note this doesn't mean every adventure has an Iron Chef competition to showcase your Steward's fancy grilled cheese sandwich merely that everyone has something to do.

I'm a big fan of 0-Level skills. Most characters have 0-Level in weapons (this comes from possessing the adventurer gene.) A 0-Level skill allows you to perform routine tasks without negative DMs or killing yourself outright. Characters should be encouraged to use 0-Level skills and please note I qualified kill with 'outright'. A related technique would be to give a character a lower level in a related skill. In Classic Traveller Pilot functions as Ship's Boat at one level lower for example.

Advanced character generation is the official method I suppose. While it does lead to a lot of skills and levels in skills many of them have a narrow application. A merc helping explore a derelict ship won't have a lot of call for Forward Obs-3. You might be better off bringing the Steward bearing lunch (grilled cheese with Kudie bacon anyone?) Similarly merchant princes do not belong in a fire fight although being able to build a fort out of cargo containers might save lives. So even with Advanced character generation you'd still have to make sure people have things to do.

In a campaign that concentrates on free traders or a mercenary unit all the characters are merchants or ground pounders everyone has similar characters and scenarios all have a common basis. You're trying to make the deal of the week or honor your latest ticket.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Answering the Question No One Asks

I'm big on Classic Traveller. You all know that. I have (just this day) acquired T5. Expect a longer blog post as I can't read the whole dang thing in one day. But I started and the following post is the result.

I will critique T5 after I read the whole shebang. But it got me going all meta on game design. As the hour is late and I'm beat I will try to be succinct.

A lot of a RPG or setting's success hangs on knowing what questions to ask and answering them. Classic Traveller asked and answered the required amount for an SF setting, in my opinion, in the core LBBs. That's a good design. Leaving out say, starships, for a splat book is a bad design. Leaving out vehicle combat is a gray area. You can't stick everything in your game though so it is defensible.

Trying to answer every question you can think of is commendable, at least for enthusiasm. It isn't always the right decision. A game still has to be accessible. It has to be affordable. Too much chrome or crunch defeats this.

As a game is played more questions will come up, or questions that seemed unimportant initially become a priority. So we have revisions and splat books. The success of these again depends on how good their answers are and how well the designer chose the questions to answer. I'm looking forward to seeing how good T5's questions and answers are.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Airships and Barbarians

There was a brief pleasant time when I could throw a question out on the interwebzz and get answers and research delivered to me. that seems to have stopped because I've rattled on about things enough for people to realize I can do the heavy lifting research myself.

Crap.

Anyway, the Sperans, my space barbarians had a low tech equivalent to an air raft. Keep in mind when I say barbarians they still are TL 5 (early WW 2 in Earth terms). Since the prevalent interstellar culture in this setting is TL 9 I guess a barbarian is anyone 4 tech levels or more below you and TL 12 cultures will probably laugh their asses off at our 3D printers before they add water to their dehydrated air cars and fly off.

When Earth and the Fringe Worlds reestablished contact with Peraspera the locals had lost the infrastructure and tools to manufacture gravitics. Nonetheless Scouts making contact were amazed to see flying ships. Besides blimps and dirigibles the colonists had a number of open-topped trimaran craft that just ... floated without props or thrusters. The secret lay in the planet's exotic atmosphere. The first few hundred meters of Peraspera's atmosphere was half sulphur hexafluoride. This inert was not toxic, though it could still suffocate you much like CO2. Unlike CO2 'sulfex' was sic times as dense as air. A cubic meter of sulfex weighed a little over 6 kilograms. The lower atmosphere had a density of 3.5 kilos per cubic meter. The dense gas had a sharply bounded layer with a breathable atmosphere at standard pressure above. Placing a container of air of light construction atop the lower layer was quite easily done, as long as it was air tight.

Since the breathable upper atmosphere had a density of 1 kilo per cubic meter it had a net lift of 2.5 kilos per cubic meter, nearly double that of hydrogen in a standard atmosphere. Moreover the airship could be open topped resembling an old style water craft. Since rolling too far would let sulphur dioxide in and it's very hard to bail out an invisible gas the airship should be very stable with a trimaran style hull.

I worked up a TL5 airship from JTAS #2. It has three 'envelopes' each with a diameter of 8.5 meters and a length of 70 meters. The airship masses 40 tons and it's 'gas bags' have a volume of 50,000 cubic meters. The ship generates a lift on Peraspera of 100 tons, allowing it to carry 60 tons of cargo. The TL 7 airship had fuel cell driven motors but that's a little advanced for TL 5. Old style diesel motors will suffice but I'd reduce the operating time of the airship to two weeks. The airship can cruise at 35 kph. Unlike Terran dirigibles the craft can have an open top to save weight. It just needs high sides to make sure no sulfex gets inside. Even so air quality has to be monitored closely and some crew will always be wearing oxygen masks. Unlike Terran airships our craft can't really change its altitude much making it more like a boat than a balloon convertible.

I'd ride in it. Why should the barbarians have all the fun?




Thursday, October 30, 2014

Warmed Over Zombies

With Halloween just ahead I stopped my Traveller designs to work on something more spooky: a classification system for zombies! Zombies in Traveller? Why not? You can have all manner of alien viruses, bacteria, nano-tech, and parasites out there as well as well as bio weapons, drugs and weird psi powers.

As a side note zombies make great opponents for barbarians in spacesuits. Anyway I present my Universal Zombie Profile (UZP) newly revised and expanded.

Origin
1) Parasite
2) Virus
3) Radiation
4) Nano-tech
5) Drug induced
6) Really bad case of jump sickness

Smarts
 1) Bugs are smarter. Zombies react solely by instinct. Will walk off cliffs or into fire.
 2) Animal cunning. Very dumb animals.
 3) Feral human. Will throw rocks, particularly to break lights.
 4) Semi-intelligent. Will throw rocks, use clubs and can learn rudiments of machinery. Could fire a rifle but not load it. Can open doors. Limited learning.
 5) Near human. Often retains habits and knowledge of past life. Can learn by observing how to operate simple machinery.
 6) Hive mind (individual zombies are stupid but they communicate mentally and boss zombies rate human level intelligence.)

Quickness
 1) Can plod slowly along. Forever.
 2) Can stumble or shamble along at normal walking speed.
 3) Can break into a shambling jog.
 4) Can run but may fall.
 5) Can run as fast as a human.
 6) Any of the speeds above. Individuals vary by freshness.

Muscle
 1) Half human strength
 2) Below average human strength
 3) Average human strength
 4) Athletic human strength
 5) Twice as strong as an average human
 6) As strong as a normal human but can bite through a steel bar

Toughness
 1)Brittle. While destroying the head is the only way the skull is fragile and can be broken with a kick or penetrated by a jackknife.
 2)Normal human durability. A headshot is not necessary.
 3) Only a headshot will do it though other wounds will slow it down.
 4) Only a headshot will do it. Other wounds are ignored.
 5) Even a headshot is iffy. Only massive firepower will kill this.
 6) The zombie's circulatory system resembles tar making it nearly bulletproof. Guns do 1/3 damage. Blade weapons do normal damage.

Infection
 1) Not infectious.
 2) Infection can be fought with antibiotics.
 3) Only amputating a wounded limb has any chance of working. A bite on the torso, head or neck is hopeless.
 4) Infection is immediate within seconds
 5) Highly infectious...
 6) ... and goes out of its way to infect (spitter, spewers etc.)

Some examples:
28 Days Later Origin -2, Smarts-2, Quickness -5, Muscle-4, Toughness-2, Infection-4
Night of the Living Dead Origin-3, Smarts -3, Quickness -2, Muscle-2, Toughness-4, Infection-1
The Walking Dead (new zombie) Origin-2, Smarts-1, Quickness-4, Muscle-3, Toughness-4, Infection-3
The Walking Dead (old zombie) Origin-2, Smarts-1, Quickness-3, Muscle-3, Toughness-1, Infection-3
Warm Bodies Origin-2, Smarts-5, Quickness-3, Muscle-3, Toughness-3, Infection-3
Skeleton in a Spacesuit Origin-6, Smarts-5, Quickness-5, Muscle-5, Toughness-3,  Infection-1

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Barbarians in Spacesuits Reprised

A word about the origins of the word 'barbarian'

Definition of BARBARIAN
1
:  of or relating to a land, culture, or people alien and usually believed to be inferior to another land, culture, or people
2
:  lacking refinement, learning, or artistic or literary culture

Take it from the top, the Perasperans I wrote about do not spend a lot of their time on the planetary datanet the starport supplies. No social media, news or entertainment streams. They might be very well read and literate in their own cultures but to their star traveling cousins anyone not posting on their own blog might be regarded as backward. Similarly on those long Perasperan nights they might do all manner of drawing or sculpture to pass a few hours but to people used to CGI images and three dimension printing their one of a kind art pieces might not be as well known as digital media works or thought primitive ("You paint in oils and use turpentine to clean up?! That stuff is bad for you to breathe. <Savage.>")

The Perasperans were and are capable of a lot. You have to be, living on a world that tries to kill you twice a week. Their wood houses might seem strange to people who build n steel, concrete and composites until you remember the solar storms Lalande 21185 is prone to. Wood shields from particle radiation much better than more modern materials. If you can't get to a shelter it's better than nothing.

Look at definition one: 'people alien and usually believed to be inferior.' Beliefs can be mistaken. the original barbarians were people outside Greek and Roman culture who were stereotyped by their beards (which is the original derivation of the word: bearded people.) The Perasperans with their almost tribal ornamentation of their equipment are similarly and unfairly looked down on.

The settlers on Peraspera knew they were not going to be able to maintain all of their technology in the struggle to make the planet at least partly livable. they did their best to provide their descendants with some bio technology that would cost nothing to maintain. Fast growing trees for building, lichens with medicinal properties, highly nutritious staple crops that could grow untended. 

The oxygen hoarding crystals are another ubiquitous fact of life handed down by the original settlers. Originally for use in life support every Speran carries one. The technology to discover the crystals was late TL 7 or early 8 however producing the stuff is well within TL 5. Electronic atmosphere sensors are far too bulky at TL 5 but carrying a crystal around your neck or wrist is easy enough. 

To this day the Sperans regard the original STL settlers, the Old Ones with an almost religious awe. They tell and write about the people who died to reach their home, and the ones who could have left them and remained to toil alongside them.

I've been perusing the rules for bow weapons. While I'm far from an expert at archery (reading Green Arrow doesn't qualify me it turns out) Note that while it's darned near impossible to get a favorable DM with them (you have to qualify for both strength and dexterity) people can always take Combat or Slow drug to lessen the time to ready shots and make their shots more accurate. Also, the crossbows have 0 DM for piercing Cloth. If you plan on operating a bow weapon in a spacesuit the only way to go would be the repeating crossbow. Imagine trying to nock an arrow in a vacc suit. I think TL 5 crossbows might have a point or two knocked off their advantageous DM stats to prepresent various mechanical improvements.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Barbarians of the Icy Shores

One problem with a relatively near future setting like the Icy Shores is humans don't have a long time to develop very divergent cultures. By divergent I'm talking barbarians. I have no problem playing doctor, scientist or bureaucrat but let's face it someone in the party has to do the fighting. A Marine will do all right but a barbarian really makes a statement about a party of adventurers. Barbarians and space travel are a crossover you just have to make happen. 
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-J93d8zZzTzo/UDQwfpwz0SI/AAAAAAAB2AY/n0wiVja-mt0/s1600/05_space%2Bborn.jpg

A barbarian evokes atmosphere, much like a skeleton in a spacesuit.
http://41.media.tumblr.com/dd1a93bc9ee6431e0ccf62327b3ad7dd/tumblr_nbgdmquJv41sndzdgo5_500.jpg

Sadly interstellar missions are going to have a high basic technology. Losing technology or knowledge was never easy historically, despite what people believe about the 'Dark Ages'. It's even harder to lose knowledge when everyone has a flash drive.


Saying colonists lost their technological tools as they were forced to adopt to a new world is dangerously contrived. They don't have to colonize a planet that is too dangerous. They can stay in orbit and have weekend trips to try and get killed. Colonizing a lush garden world probably won't make people go native. Don't even think about a domed or asteroid colony regressing. That just leads to mass graves.

Here's my take on barbarians in the Icy Shores. Hopefully it's not too farfetched.

The colony mission to Peraspera did not like the looks of the world. It was Earth sized but had an atmosphere rich in sulphur compounds, nitrogen and carbon monoxide. They were preparing to go on to another world when Lalande 21185 began a series of prolonged eruptions. The resulting EM effects interfered and damaged the maneuver drives of several ships. Landing on Peraspera became a way to avoid radiation sickness and death.

The colonists discovered Peraspera had life, microscopic plant life performed photosynthesis and was beginning to produce oxygen. The colonists introduced genetically tailored plant life to accelerate the process. Atmosphere processors were also set up. The effort took nearly all the colonists' resources. The terraforming worked in part. 

The low lands of the planet still had concentrations of carbon monoxide, dioxide and sulphur compounds that made the air unbreathable. Settlement was limited to mountains and large plateaus. Fortunately Peraspera was quite mountainous. Terran plants and animals were introduced and a fragile ecosystem set up.

The colonists had to forego many amenities of 22nd century life. All efforts were bent to sustaining a livable environment. Even the colony ships were cannibalized for resources. The colony was surviving when Earth developed FTL and sent a rescue mission. 

The Terrans with the Tycheans established a starport and help stabilize the terraforming program. A starport was built to support shipping for the air works projects. Part of the starport facilities was a system to warn of solar eruptions or turbulent storms that could blow deadly gases onto the settled areas. Gas mining became a source of revenue and higher technology items began finding their way into the locals' hands. 

The Sperans had learned to deal with life without many high tech advantages. Bows replaced guns in many areas. Blade weapons were used to settle disputes in many cases. Court systems and due process took too much effort. People fell back on dueling to settle disputes. Airships had replaced air/rafts. In many cases the locals stuck with the simple and local technologies they knew, rather than plunge themselves into debt to buy offworld wares.

The oxygen masks the colonists wore in case of poisonous storms had become decorated and adorned and a symbol of rank and family. It led many to believe they were savages. As Sperans found employment as mercenaries this view became widespread. Pirates shooting bows  and wielding battle axes get talked about. The Sperans themselves cultivated this mystique though they are not fools and will se a rifle when it serves them better.

Some personal high tech items that do not require much infra-structure or support are used by the natives: filter masks, flashlights, and personal communicators (simple ones that could merely sound a warning of bad air storms or solar flares from the starport) were all too valuable to lose. Oxygen crystals became vital to survival. Everyone wore one of the reddish crystals around their necks. In case of bad air the crystals would turn black warning their wearers. 

http://motherboard.vice.com/en_uk/read/this-new-oxygen-hoarding-crystal-is-the-future-of-breathing-underwater

Similarly a radiation counter was universally worn to warn of solar flares. The counters also became decorated and fashion items.

The average Speran who worked outdoors wore armor, a simple mesh made of bioengineered plant fibers or jack. These suits were often made by the wearer and to fit that individual. The handmade, one of a kind gear and and 
clothing were amazing to people used to mass produced products. All this contributed to the 'savage demeanor' of the Sperans who encouraged it while quietly learning to operate computers and laser rifles.

Peraspera (Lalande 21185) M2V B7A2663-5
Atmo mix: N2, SFl6, CO with some SFl4. This results in the lowest regions getting occasional drizzles of H2SO4 and HFl acid resulting in a C atmosphere rating (if you get caught in the rain. Terraforming introduced O2 to the atmosphere allowing the higher altitudes to be breathable. Storms will occasionally kick some poisonous gases into the upper reaches so everyone carries an oxygen mask and there are shelters all over (type 7 tainted by sulphide compounds).

The highest regions are relatively safe. The air rates type 6. Poison storms from below are very infrequent. More likely a blow of SFl6 will require a breathing mask for a few  minutes. 

SFl6 is used in a variety of electronics and power cells. The starport supports a gas mining operation and shipping offworld. It also operates several satellites to tell the locals when Lalande 21185 emits a flare. Nice place to live.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Hodgepodge

First a correction: I was under the impression that spacesuits were designed for low pressure because inflating them to one atmosphere required extremely thick fabric to contain the atmosphere. Actually the more you inflate current suits the more resistance you encounter in moving the suits that still tend to balloon out at a fifth of an atmosphere. My thanks once again to Atomic Rockets and Winchell Chung.

Today's post is about those venerable Traveller institutions: starports and Free Traders. Some people think starports only provide fuel and snoopy customs agents. In truth they provide many essential services. They can even help you get offworld.

A fact of life is that Free Traders can only pull 1 gee. Some worlds are size 9 or 10 ('A' if you think in hexadecimal.) About one world in twelve is a semi super terrestrial. They have a surface gravity greater than 1 gee. Free Traders and Subsidized Merchants  can only make 1 gee. Thus the problem. A Free Trader or Merchant can land on such an obese orb. Getting off it is another problem.

The easy out is to dock with a shuttle. Shuttles can land darn near anywhere and haul an appreciable load. The hard part is getting the cargo to the shuttle. At the very least it involves a bunch of crew in vacc suits hauling and pushing cargo containers from the trader's hold to the shuttle. It sounds simple but no job is simple in zero gravity and vacuum. Worse it takes time and time is money.

Okay so you simply dock and wheel the cargo to your rent-a-shuttle in a shirtsleeve environment. Good plan except not all starports have orbital facilities and those that do are often in demand which means you are on a waiting list. Given a choice between deboarding the passengers of the Lunard Mega-Star liner or a load of sundries from the dinky Free Trader Singing Pig who do you think gets priority? Let me repeat time is money.

Starports are therefore faced with either increasing the size of their shuttle fleet (meaning more pilots, more personnel and more traffic) or increasing the size of their orbital elements (which means you still need the shuttles to to get the stuff to the surface.)

An alternative is to give all these sluggish ships a boost to get to orbit. This equals color for any rpg setting. Color that might even go boom! Even better.

The easiest solution is magic err... gravitics. Ship lands on a runway or in water nearby, unloads its cargo of bricks and is then wheeled to a ring of grav generators that negate part of the planet's pull allowing it to lift. Fast, easy and as reliable as your ship's own m-drive (or better given most PCs concern with maintenance). This is the most common method on worlds with an A or B starport and TLs of 10 or better. The cost is assumed in the berthing fees for the ship. It's kind of hard to get other ships in that berth if your freighter makes like a paperweight.

Tech levels below 10 do not quite have the grasp of gravitics we would hope for. Likewise starports of C or less don't have the revenue to justify such an infra structure. One of those lifters would cost at least what a comparable ship's drive would and probably more. Shipping offworld for parts is not always an option. What happens if some genius sends them in a 1 gee ship?

Lower tech or less travelled worlds make use of a variety of means, magnetic accelerators, rocket sleds, or tugs are all used. they are all as safe as the story requires. A magnetic accelerator might cause all manner of sensor or computer glitches. The rocket sled will probably exceed the ship's acceleration compensators and require passengers and cargo to be secured very carefully. The steward really is a necessary position. Most crew would rather deal with a radiation leak than get to deal with strapping nervous passengers in let alone deal with passengers losing their lunch after launch.

Some passengers faced with a high gee launch might opt to purchase a low berth as well as middle or high passage. That way they can ride out the launch unconscious and be revived in orbit. How you deal with the bumped angry low passage passengers will be up to you. Bear in mind people desperate enough for low passage might not be the easiest to deal with. Let the steward handle it.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

My Space Suit

I've been posting and reading a lot about boarding actions and applicable tactics and weapons. It got me thinking about that staple of SF: the spacesuit.

Now spacesuits in SF have taken on the role of horses in fantasy. Everyone uses them but few people know how they should be used. On the subject of the horse, writers and rpgers often treat them like bicycles. They ride them where they want to go but don't know all the care they require as living creatures.

As for spacesuits, people expect a lot of a collection of fabric, tubing, tanks and batteries that already keep you alive in one of the deadliest environments known to man. For my money Marianas Trench has space beat. It'll kill you way quicker and we have yet to build a suit to keep a man alive that far down.

Vacuum can take up to a minute to kill you. If you're lucky you have 15 seconds of useful consciousness in vacuum. A suit patch takes up to ten seconds to apply so you better put it where your can find it quickly.

For my spacesuit (assuming I'm suddenly a character in a space opera) I'd like to try something new. I want something that will allow me to suit up quickly without the need to pre-breath pure oxygen for a few hours. That means it has to stand up to an atmosphere of pressure. Can modern technology produce such a garment? Maybe.

One type of spacesuit being proposed is a skin tight job made of an elastic that exerts one atmosphere of pressure over every square centimeter of your body. There are a couple of problems with that. First it would take a long time to wriggle into. Second the human body like an English muffin has all manner of nooks and crannies that the suit will stretch over. These will expand with air and become undignified at best and uncomfortable or restricting at worst. Proponents of such suits suggest ... putty, though inflatable bladders will also work. The bladder method probably means the suits must be custom fitted.

On the plus side it is the least cumbersome and allows full range of movement. A skin suit is also light weight if gravity is a factor.

Another way to hold a standard atmosphere is a hard suit. Hard suits are durable and relatively easy to get into. They are heavy and restrict movement as they are essentially high tech plate mail with a backpack.

The key to my spacesuit is this:
https://plus.google.com/112526208786662512291/posts/YmXqa9J2tj1

The arms and legs are made of this fabric which shrinks to fit them when subjected to electric current. Another current heats the fabric making it loosen. You can get into the sleeves and legs of the suit easily enough. The torso would be hard suit through and through to protect vital areas and let me get into my suit without using putty and such. Thus the suit has some of the durability of a hard suit but is lighter over all and the sleeves will allow more freedom of movement.

A lot of suit designs have controls in the helmet you work with your tongue or chin. I'm not doing that. It sounds disgusting and imprecise. I'd have my control systems on a heads up display controlled by motion sensors on my arm. Basically you see the control icons on your helmet and the suit senses what icon you are pointing to.I'd also install a blower or vacuum in the helmet to dry sweat before it floats free and gets in your eyes.

The helmet would also holds a snack bar in a slot just in case I'm on a space walk longer than expected. Likewise I'd have a water dispenser that could either give me a drink or blow some mist in my face to wake me up.



Friday, October 17, 2014

Discount Squadron Tournament

After some discussion with David McGuire I am going to embark on a space squadron tournament. We decided to build billion credit squadrons for a test run. We also intend on testing the battle riders vs. battleships.

The squadron parameters are:
Budget 1 billion credits.
Pilots 50 (upper limit on number of vessels).
Tl 12
Squadron capable of J-2, M-5.
Squadron capable of gas giant refueling.

We further decided:
David's squadron was to consist of battleriders and their tender(s).
My ships were to be starship and I was only allowed to use small craft (fighter, shuttles etc) no battleriders for me.

We intend on researching the 'riders vs. starship question. If this is successful and fun we will extend it to a Trillion Credit Squadron Tournament.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Wilderness Refueling Part 2: Fear, Loathing and Nukes

The purpose of my first post on this topic was simply to run some numbers and see how long refueling takes and how large squadrons might go about it. I found that the minimum specifications for squadron (10% total tankage on partially streamlined tankers or tenders) refueling were a little silly. But now that we had a time frame we could extrapolate for squadrons with more and better tenders. I also mentioned that refueling took several days per Trillion Credit Squadron and brought up the problem of SDBs lurking in a gas giant (almost as beloved a trope as starfighters). 

Then Klaus Teufel brought this up:

Klaus Teufel
Yesterday 11:23 PM
 
Reply
I think SDB's couldn't effectively ambush refuelers unless the SDB's were really lucky, or there are a lot of refuelers. Jovians are big, and even Traveller atmospheric speeds have limits. SDBs probably live in low polar orbit, rather than atmosphere; dipping in when fuel is low.

Let's crunch some numbers.

Jupiter has an area of 52 billion square kilometers. A fast streamlined ship, let's say it makes Mach 5. If refueling takes 6 hours as I suggested the SDB can intercept ships passing within 36000 km. That gives an area of 400 million square kilometers or .7% of the planet's area. That means you need at least 130 SDBs to cover a gas giant. That's for an intercept by one SBD which is a tall order for the SDB if the opposing task force has any kind of admiral in command. The tenders will either have defenses or escorts (hey, fighters might be a good idea after all!)

If the SDBs are any good at all we're talking 200 Mcr each, that means you need 26 billion credits for minimum coverage. If you use ten times the number to have a flotilla covering the gas giant completely that 260 billion credits. Ten ships probably won't be enough. Remember the name of the game is High Guard. The rest of the squadron will be hovering nearby ready to call the wrath of GHU down on your flotilla. Now 260 billion credits is also a lot to spend on a last ditch scorched earth strategy. Maybe if you spent that money on your main fleet the bad guys wouldn't win in the first place? Most planets haven't got many trillions to spend on defense. Likewise most sector navies don't want to spend that much on every planet. 

So how do you defend your gas giant?

In a word: nukes.

Read Special Supplement 4: Missiles. Mines are perfectly allowable in that system and fairly cheap. In space even an unguided piece of explosive will hit anything within 2500 miles. So they must still have some kind of short range guidance and propulsion. Buy a bunch of them. Stick them under balloons. They have an intercept area of 20 million square kilometers and you need 2600 to cover a gas giant. At the cost of even 100,000 cr. you could buy a few thousand for the cost of a single SDB. Seed the gas giant with them. Use your SDBs to maintain and control them as needed. When the bad guys show up watch hilarity ensue. 

Even if your ship is moving mach 1 to refuel you cover 24,000 kilometers in the six hours I established for refueling. That means you cut across the engagement areas of at least ten nukes. Even that relatively expensive option is probably 10 Mcr or less. Again you can afford 10 times or more the number of turrets as SDBs.There will probably be more. Instead of a single mine laying under a balloon imagine a remote controlled triple turret with three launchers.

May I point that nukes are bad in space but they are absolutely terrifying in an atmosphere. In space nuclear weapons mainly damage through x-rays melting your hull. Atmospheres add blast effects to that. This is happening to a tanker or tender the owner probably try to save money on. The tanker is probably moving at several mach. It will not respond well to huge blasts being set off around it. 

I always assumed the High Guard concerned themselves with incoming attacks while their comrades were refueling. It seems they need to worry about what is below as well as above. Refueling might be a matter of clearing a region of the gas giant and confining your refueling operations there. But by then you've restricted your area of operations and then the SDBs have a great chance to find you and raise merry hell.

I said it before but Traveller is about making difficult decisions. Personally I'd chicken out and refuel at the nearest Europa type moon. Quick thaw an area with nukes or lasers and fill them up.

Except you could mine Europa too.




Sunday, October 12, 2014

Wilderness Refueling

A squadron costing 900 billion credits (they got 10% off for using standard plans) has to refuel from a local gas giant. In order to be considered capable of refueling on a squadron level 10% of their fuel tankage must be carried on partial or fully streamlined hulls. Trillion Credit Squadron says the squadron refuels in one week. Too long? Let's run some numbers.

First assuming the squadron can make 3 gees a trip to the nearer gas giant (600,000,000 km) will take 78 hours or about three days according to the Traveller Book (TTB p. 54). The Ancients set up gas giants at this distance to standardize refueling operations and it was a bitch.

That leaves four days to conduct refueling of the squadron. That means in four days the refueling vessels will make 10 trips. they could have more time to refuel if the system has a Hot Jupiter orbiting close to to the star. If you decide to refuel from a Hot Jupiter with any other options you've messed up big time.

I assume the refueling ships are staying close to the atmosphere to rendezvous with their friends running on bone dry tanks. This cuts down on travel time and lets the squadron stay under the planet's radiation belt. Anyone working outside will be able to have children who will appreciate this. So a fuel scoop run, rendezvous, fuel transfer and return to scoop lasts about ten hours. How much of this is spent actually scooping hydrogen? TCS says that pumping fuel from a collapsible tank into your regular tanks for jump takes about three hours (TCS p. 13). Figuring another hour to rendezvous and dock means you're looking at 6 hours to fill your tanks.

Wilderness Refueling
Local gas giant.

A. Achieve orbit.
This may not be as simple as it sounds. You must be prepared to deal with:
debris from rings
e-m radiation
particle radiation

The orbit will be near the cloud tops. A trip out to the jump limit is 5 to 10 million klicks and will take several hours for a ship that makes 3 gees. This is of concern to Navy operations and anyone else afraid of an attack deep in a well where they can fall back call on the Jump Fairy to get them out of a tight spot. You could have part of your squadron at the jump limit and let only the ships needing refueling enter a close orbit and retreat to the jump limit when done.

Of course any SDBs waiting in the gas giant are waiting for you to split your forces. 

SDBs have it relatively easy. They aren't in a hurry to be somewhere else. They can loiter in relatively calm regions of the gas giant's atmosphere. They can pump in hydrogen as they need it for their power plants. Traders and interested others are trying to get fueled and get out fast and are bound to make mistakes.

 B. Refuel.
Great you made it this far! be prepared to deal with:
downdrafts
life forms- gas giants do not usually produce intelligent life. Traveller canon does mention one race. Be careful you don't suck someone important into your fuel tanks. Beware the referee who reads H.P. Lovecraft.
contaminated fuel- the good thing about contaminants in fuel is that you can usually smell them. That ammonia leak might cause concern but it also indicates your fuel tank has a leak.
lightning strikes- lightning strikes are the natural enemies of starships.
diamond storms- theory holds that Jupiter and other gas giants have carbon cores that under incredible pressure become diamond. Convection might throw diamond bits into the upper atmosphere. The bad news - this can damage or wreck your ship. The good news - the diamonds are probably poor quality so you don't need to worry about destabilizing the gem market.
communications going out - they will at some point.
sensor blindspot - probably near where the comms go offline.
SDBs - yet again.
pirates - sauce for the goose, my friends.

I have no idea what kind of target numbers you need to roll to avoid damage or maintain control. I'd set them at 10+ and make the damage of concern but not immediately fatal.

Keep in  mind many people skimp on armament for their fuel tenders. In this case a 600 ton SDB might immobilize a 100,000 ton dreadnought by taking out its fuel tenders to deny it fuel.

C. Set course to major world or outsystem.
Yes. Please.

Note that this sort of piloting can be stressful and tiring to pilots. A 24/7 fueling operation might see pilots being rotated between the tenders and the fleet or they might be willing to let their tenders make mistakes while docking our handling cryogenic and inflammable materials.

Some gas giants will have orbiting weather satellites to help ships chart safe courses to refuel. Usually these are not found at C starports who want to sell you their rotten contaminated fuel. If the system has an A or B starport, a Navy or Scout base they have satellites orbiting the nearer gas giant. 

Weather satellites could also keep a record of ships refueling or be part of a defense system (mines).