Monday, June 30, 2014

Mixed Bag

This post is a mixed bag as I am still recharging. My first subject, appropriately enough is downtime.

In most RPG downtime is when your characters aren't in danger of being eaten (or slightly less danger YMMV.) It is when you do your campaign bookkeeping, apply experience increases and gloss over what your character do to keep from going nuts. Let's face it their quality of life on an adventure is pretty shitty and you can get eaten as I might have said.

I may have mentioned I am a school teacher and downtime is very important to us. In a way for ten months of the year we get very little downtime and almost no break on the job. In return we get generous time off. In spite of this lengthy vacation we never get people flocking to become pedagogues. During the summer many of us take additional courses to stay ahead of the game etc. So in a way it's like a roleplaying campaign. This is the time of year when we apply our experience increases and de-stress.

Downtime probably shouldn't be about yet another life and death situation because again, how is that different from actual scenarios? then again people who risk life and limb regularly might have a wild idea of what's fun. the ex-Imperial Marine for example joins a diving club, from orbit. Far more relaxing than what he's used to -they give you a vacc suit and heat shield! A fantasy style wizard joins a dueling club (any offensive spells up to minor curses allowed.) There's some risk (that is usually minimized by support, regulations, and drilling.)

So the Marine might get a positive modifier for landing a vacc suit without being char broiled. The wizard learns a bunch of variant spells. That lets you individualize your characters.

More to the point they are also meeting people who can keep cropping up. the wizard may discover the person who has a tome he needs was the one he cursed with boils in obscure places for a month. This is will make negotiations a little harder. The Marine might use the Re-Entry Clubs activities as a cover to board a ship in orbit the group needs to investigate.

Clubs and social networks can provide contacts and allies. They can provide allies and enemies. In fact an enemy might be quite congenial if he's in your club regarding it as neutral ground. After all lobbing laser beams or fireballs around could get him kicked out. It might also be an opportunity for social combat. That is decidedly non-lethal but can also sting.

Finally downtime can be used to set up things for the next story arc!

Tuning Tech Levels
I ran into a slight problem with my near future setting. The Tech Levels in Traveller cover very long periods of time (at least a couple of decades.) There's also a decent amount of progress between TLs and a wide range of TLs across space. None of this seems right for a setting a couple hundred years from now. I did want to differentiate worlds a little more than having them be TL 7,  8, or 9. So I further refined the Tech Levels using + and -.

Basically a - means the world's technology is deficient in some way from the standard TL. A + means it has some elements of the next TL. I also did a conversion chart bearing the max TL 9+ in mind and the further gradations. Note I added in androids and dropped the TL for robots from TL 12 to TL 9 (using the JTAS system.)

TL Roll      Adjusted
7                 7
8                 8- R-Drives 1-3. Air/Rafts 100m max
9                  8 R-Drives 4-6. Air/Rafts 1 km max
10               8+ Low Berths (Survival 7+), M-Drives 1-3 gees, Air/Rafts 10 km max
11               9- Low Berths (Survival 6+), Air/Rafts orbital max, artificial gravity, Jump 1 (x4 fuel)
12               9 Low Berths (Survival 5+), M-Drives 4-6 gees, acceleration shield 1-3 gees, TL 12                              Robots
13+             9+ Androids, TL 10 Small Arms, Reflec armor, TL 13 Robots

Friday, June 27, 2014

I'm Back

Having deconstructed characters and advocated screwing with their stats (something close to inherently evil, I'm told) I'd like to revisit the idea. This time with SF supers in a fashion.

A long time ago a community living in an orbital habitat decided to tweak their children's genes to make them smarter. Their space habitat didn't spin fast enough to generate a full gee. Therefore they were carrying around some redundant muscle mass. The plan was to reduce their muscle mass and use the freed up circulatory functions to support a larger brain.

It worked after a fashion. There was a slight intelligence gain. The drawback was that their children began to lose more muscle mass and suffer from lower bone density. Not a huge problem. They reduced the spin of their habitats a bit every year until it was about .1 gee. this worked fairly well. They could reduce the mass of many structures and vehicles. Sure they were fragile but sufficient for their comfy low gee world of weaklings.

Then something happens. They suddenly need security/defenders. Normal humans fill the bill. namely the PCs.

So you could jump 7-8 times higher and further than normal (1/g^-2 as I understand it.) You could lift something on the order of a ton, say a small vehicle. Everything is built to be used in low gravity so most doors and even walls are light plastic or think slats of wood or sheet metal. With a kick you could break in nearly anywhere not rated for vacuum. Most vehicles would seem to weigh about as much as a dirt bike. You could toss them aside.

Hand weapons used by these folks would be a joke. You could snap what they consider a truncheon in your hands. Any body armor you wore would make you relatively invulnerable. Some operatives might design wings to fly with as they are more picturesque than jet packs.

I'm cheating a bit by setting this on an orbital habitat. Let's say most overtly lethal firearms are taboo. You don't want to shoot holes in the hull, portholes or vital equipment. Any ranged weapons are usually nonlethal (think snub pistol with tranq rounds.) The nonlethal weapons are a joke to you. Rubber bullets that's take out an average citizen will barely bruise you.

Psionics such as TK and anything letting you override your body to become faster or stronger will really make you a monster.

There are some drawbacks of course. You have to get used to running in low gravity. Object retain their mass. If you start shoving a ground car it will take some effort to get it rolling and a ground car hitting you will still hurt and knock you flying.

Also if you start making trouble for the scrawny crime lords they will get more off worlders to deal with you (or bots.) GMs may want to experiment with including aliens or cyborgs in this mix (I definitely would.)

In Traveller terms these humans would probably halve their strength stat (at least) and bump their intelligence. In terms of Risus you could simply deem any citizen fighting an off worlder doesn't have the right tools of the trade (high gee muscles) unless they build an exoskeleton.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Deconstructing Characters

When I started this blog it was full of all kinds of mopery about how my gaming life was ended essentially and I was sad. Eventually I got tired of moping and turned to writing about gaming. You see I was one of those people who started all manner of writing projects but finished very few of them. I had notebooks full of half remembered scrawls of ideas

The wife called me on my bullshit as she always does. She challenged me to get my writing out where people could see it and let them tell me if it was any good. I don't think she had a blog in mind. In fact she was frequently annoyed when blogging delayed her nightly foot rub (yes I rub her feet, it's cheaper than flowers and can lead to all sorts of mutually enjoyable activities.

Anyway I reactivated my blog and it had a meager few hits. On the one hand I was still writing for myself. On the other hand if you only write for yourself you'll never know whether you're any good. The feedback I got suggested I was 'meh.'

I decided to be a better writer. I remembered the words of Will Wheaton: you have to do a lot of work at anything before you're any good and a lot of your work is going to suck. I put up a schedule. I tried to find my audience and shared like crazy. I wrote consistently and haven't missed a posting in a while because 1) It helped me discipline myself as a writer and 2) It helped me build an audience.

I've enjoyed the comments and critiques I received. I get a charge every time someone comments on my posts. I want to keep that feeling happening. Maybe it's ego and maybe it's wanting to be good at something and take a chance by exposing yourself to criticism and yes, abuse.

Anyway this inspired the following:

Characters do not always have a clear idea of their own stats. Sometimes this is played for comedic effect. Look at the Muppets, for example. Fozzie Bear thinks he's a great comedian, Miss Piggy thinks she's a great singer and seductress. Sometimes it can be used for dramatic effect: think about super heroes having their origin. Peter Parker didn't think he had a chance against those hooligans especially after reeling from that nasty spider bite. Pa Kent had nearly had a stroke after the tractor rolled over his three year old ...  leaving him unharmed. Little Clark didn't take it too calmly either despite the wheels feeling sort of like SHiatsu massage.

Basically the player's character can either be better at something or worse at something than he thinks. Being better might be due to anything from amnesia ('Evidently at some point I learned to play the piano.') to getting some new prototype cyberware that works MUCH better then normal to having a shitty self image (or maybe the player just didn't read the player's guide well.) I'm not going to dwell on this too much. I don't think there's a player out there who will complain if you suddenly bump up their stats or let them fly. It's characters who are worse at something than their players expect that's going to take some justifying. Why would a player put up with that?

Some players might like playing a delusional nutcase. Having an inflated idea of your abilities can lead to all kinds of hijinks and play merry Hell with your party members. It can also be taken too far. Dumping a load of oil from your car on a friend might be funny once. Disarming a bomb is a lousy way to find out you don't have demolitions skill. It's a lousy way to learn you can't sprint too.

On the other hand a referee could have fun with the reason your abilities are inflated in your perception. Maybe in Traveller terms you have a few levels of Jack of All Trades. Maybe In Risus terms you have more than the usual number of Lucky Shots or Questing dice. So you'd unconsciously fall back on these abilities and think that your more formal training carried you through. On the upside both mechanics would let you pull off a near miracle in a number of enterprises. On the downside well, lucky does run out.

In more occult or magic oriented games perhaps the character has an undiscovered magic item or even a guardian spirit. The guardian or token could work minor miracles convincing him he's the best swordsman in the realm ... until it departs for some reason and he has to rely on his wits. I'd like to point out that nothing causes consternation faster in a party, any party than hearing one of their members has to rely on his wits. You might want to give the deprived character a bonus to experience if he succeeds.

Another possibility is that the weakened stats are caused by a local condition. Sunspots, radio interference, low manna take your pick. The character is weakened in some way but when he finds and removes (or escapes) the cause he'll be fine.

The referee can also invoke 'there's always someone better than you' principle. Sure your space mercs are a terror. But now you're fighting guys with tech a hundred years ahead of yours. What to do? Or your ripped super hero is transported to a high gravity world where he is merely (barely?) average.

As a final thought players don't have to like everything you do to them at face value. Any game or story has a certain amount of screwing with characters' heads. There should be a payoff at the end because games tend to be a little fairer than life (at least mine were.) Overcoming a problem should garner some advantage for players

Monday, June 16, 2014

Hiding in Plain Sight

The dinosaurs came and went. Pfft.

Only they might have evolved further, into birds for examples and thus still be around in effect.

Then there were the Neanderthals. Our ancestors killed them off.

Except a great many people alive today seem to have a sizable portion of Neanderthal DNA.

Previously I wrote about the Fermi Theorem and why intelligent life might be very rare. Many people again think there's some kind of filter wiping out civilizations. There must be aliens with so many worlds in the universe that are likely to support life. We don't see evidence of alien intelligence so they must be gone. It's just conceited to think we're the first born.

Then I read this:

If you don't want to read it, it says that applying mathematical analysis to the evolution of life indicates that according to the rate of evolution life must be about 9 or 10 billion years old. This is odd as the Earth is only 4.5 billion years old.

However we have recently learned this:

Kapteyn's Star is a Halo star and originally part of the Omega Centauri group, a dwarf galaxy that was swept up by the Milky Way. The Omega Centauri stars are about 11 billion years old. Coincidence?

A lot has been said recently about life originating on Mars and being transported to Earth via meteorite.

Let's think more grandly. What if life originated in the Omega Centauri stars and spread to our galaxy? What if we and all the other aliens with funny foreheads we meet are the result of seeding from Omega Centauri? We are all in effect aliens.

Mind this still doesn't answer the question of where the seeding intelligences are now but I'm working on it.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Life Is Not a Game

I'm drowning at work with a boss who is pouring water on me. At least that's what it feels like. With my job under fire that pretty much puts my mortgage, pension, and living arrangements at risk. If I were a younger person I'd consider running away from home. But I'm not going anywhere I can't take my wife and dogs.

So I'm firmly in the camp of those who will try to keep their routines and put a twenty foot brick wall around their comfort zones. Obviously most player characters are not.

What was the stress, the final straw that led your character to turn his back on his home and kin. I mean how often do you see your players sending their characters home or sending their dads Father's Day cards??

Did they borrow money from the wrong people? Were they hurt by someone so badly they had to leave everything that would remind them of that hurt behind? Are they on the run with a price on their heads?

Don't get me wrong. Wanting to explore the galaxy or the Underworld are good reasons for adventuring. But they get a little trite with time. The trend to portray character motivations as seeking something doesn't always generate hooks for a story as well as motivations involving escape.

In Star Trek: The Original Series we had Kirk, SPock and McCoy who were all brave explorers seeking out new worlds (I know McCoy had that Transporter phobia but he was still a stand up guy in a dicey situation.) In later episodes and especially the reboot movie, we saw some darker reasons for their travels. McCoy was divorced, penniless, and bitter. Spock was a truly gifted scholar but looked down on by his fellow Vulcans due to his human mother. He wanted to get away from them and prove his own worth. Kirk was saved from a self destructive nature by a mentor.

But the best part of these backgrounds is what happens when whatever the character is trying to escape finds them. The disapproving parent appears, the loan shark's goons show up, the lost love returns ... with her fiancee. You get the idea. Roleplay at its best is always about conquering inner and external demons.

From the player's point of view if you are going to get hosed by the GM (and who isn't?), why not at east be given center stage when it happens?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Mind Over Dark Matter

Psionics is the magic system for Traveller and many other SF rpgs. Some people try to dress it up differently. Mass Effect called it biotics and invoked dark matter and Element Zero as its components. Spiritualism is big in some steampunk settings. The Jedi had the Force. Whatever you call it it remains a collection of really wild abilities that very few people can do. Note that psionics IS the psionics system in D&D and MAGIC is the magic system.

Many games use psionics to add a taste of the bizarre in an otherwise believable setting. Some people choose to leave them out believing that they hurt the realism of their campaign. Before you add psi to a modern or futuristic setting you should ask yourself some questions.

Psi is very noticeably lacking in any real scientific way in our world. At present there is little or no indication anyone can read minds or move objects and a lot of proof that test subjects are better at cheating on tests than scientists are at catching them. You might ignore this or come up with reasons. Many people who believe in psychic phenomena think the disbelief of the scientists neutralizes a psychic's powers. In this case psi is about as practical as inflatable dartboards. You might want to hang a lampshade on that. Characters with psionics are immensely powerful but get blocked a lot of the time. "I can cloud men's minds but not while they look directly at me!"

No one though doubts that psi is cool. You can read minds or move things with your mind or see far off events in your mind ... you get the idea. You're a wizard. We all want super powers at times. On the face of it psi destroys physics and for that reason alone should be banned from a hard science setting. Of course when your setting has reactionless drives and FTL how hard can its science be?

The old SPI game Starforce hung a lampshade on this. Instead of having separate mechanisms for ftl and psi, psionics actually powered their ftl. This brings up the subject of whether you could (or should) have psioniics using telekinesis move your ship around. I once suggested to a friend who watched those ghost catching shows that ghosts, if they existed, would be a fantastic power source for space craft. Just tell them to get out and push. You don't even need to crack an airlock.

There are some outs for why psi suddenly starts working if you feel the need to explain that. Perhaps something about the Earth or the Solar System dampens psi powers. This effect could vary in intensity over time. Previous accounts of witches and wizards could have been instances of psi manifesting. In this case going offworld or out system allows you to use powers.

Psi could require drugs or a medical procedure to 'awaken.' In this case you might need to go off planet to be awakened and then be able to use your psi powers normally or some planets might be too populated or have too strong a magnetic field and weaken or neutralize your psi. If local conditions interfere with psi then you might have a way to dampen those powers by duplicating the effects artificially giving you some control over those pesky mind readers.

A third possibility that was often alluded to is that psionics is linked to a number of dangerous genetic diseases. People with psionics tended to die young through out history till medicine began to improve their outlook.

In the Icy Shores humans are just starting to develop psionic abilities. Initially only people who left Earth and traveled in deep space developed abilities. This led to a number of techniques that could test and awaken psionics (think drugs, implants, and various feedback techniques.) It is believed that the abilities were stimulated by the reactionless M-drives used or exposure to Jump Space (since both are related) or that something about the Solar System dampens abilities in the untrained.

Psionic powers are looked on with deepening distrust by many. Psionics on starships often report contacting 'something' in the depths between stars. That something, whatever it is, leaves a mark on them in the form of mental instability. Star flight does have its stresses and people on and off Earth all have a share of people going off. It's just more noticeable when the person going on a tear can mentally assault you or squeeze your arteries shut from across a room.

It is possible that some events are exaggerated by the Earth's government to deprive its rebellious colonies of an important factor in future resistance. In any case psionics are being regarded with growing suspicion. People advocating their development have been attacked or jailed and are starting to go into isolation. That's fine because people with the 'gift' can always find others.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Thinking Small in a Big Universe

Traveller and the SF games that followed it had the same trope. It was embedded in them. It traced its roots back to Star Trek and Star Wars. Very simply the Universe was flaming huge and you had to paint it in very broad strokes indeed. So we had empires that spanned a galaxy, planets with one biome, and societies where everyone wore the same hat. All the Tlingans were warriors first. That Tlingan chambermaid you hired because I haven't put in rules for robots yet? She could snap your neck and is a qualified sniper. Check my earlier posts: The Only Sci Fi Cliches You'll Ever Need 1-4. I do it too sometimes.

Traveller had its own call outs to this convention. Star systems each had one main world and screw the others. Hexes had a star or nothing (though if you really had a galaxy one parsec thick those hexes would be very crowded indeed; but I digress.)

In working up my ATU I realized I couldn't paint the Icy Shores in broad strokes. It'd take one or two strokes tops. Man just hasn't gotten that far into the Universe yet. Several million people live in extrasolar systems so far but I've assumed that nearly every nation on Earth will be able to participate in this colonization. I don't need aliens if I have people of every stripe (more to come on aliens though.)

Having come to another star system I doubt people are just going to plop down on a garden world and ignore all the other bodies' research potential and minerals. In fact a disproportionate number of colonists will be from asteroids and space station. Those are the kind of people you want when the time lag to the service desk is 4.26 years both ways. They may turn their noses up at blue (or green or yellow) skies, fresh running streams and grassy fields and get right to work mining asteroids and setting up industry in space so the fields stay grassy and the sky stays blue.

Not to mention every planet is going to be pretty shitty to live on from someone's perspective. I'm sure some people are going love the thrill of their type M primary sending them scurrying for shelters when it flares every few hours.

In the Icy Shores I have humans reaching less than twenty light years from Earth and that's using rogue planets as stepping stones for a fuel hungry jump drive. Every light year will have something important: a fueling station, or pirate base or pirate base with a fueling station for a front. A hex might have several stations crewed by all kinds of people (a Moari station, an Ainu station, and a Martian Colonial station!)

I'm going back to my original maps in my post The Icy Shores and Sunless Seas and thinking perhaps the scale is still too big at 1 hex = 1 light year. A light year can hold a lot of stuff.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Respecting Traveller Canon

One of the things that crept up on me in working out my near future Traveller setting was that I was respecting what the core books said about the way the setting worked. Robots? Under represented and low intelligence by any contemporary standard. Okay I had a reason: really smart AI's tend to wig out. I've seen this in a few SF settings. Let the characters learn the hard way that having a robot who can run the whole ship and act on its own is a problem when it decides it doesn't need the crew.

Ships burn much more fuel than in the standard rules. There are reasons for that. Overcoming the problem may be a campaign in itself.

Psionics. Psi powers are the bugaboo of the Traveller rules. Everyone wants them and they are universally feared. I intend to show just why people are scared of these powers in a later post and the results for psi characters.

SF1 Fleet Scout (TL9). 100 tons. Jump-1, 2-G. 42 tons fuel.
Model/2bis. 2 staterooms
1 double turret (B-Laser, Sandcaster). Air Raft. 7 tons cargo. Streamlined. 1 crew, 3 passengers.
39.3 MCr #; 9 months. 
Using a 100-ton hull, the Fleet Scout is designed as a courier or diplomatic escort for larger vessels. It has excellent sensors and is often used to scan beligerant regions and worlds it is transporting diplomats or officials to. It mounts jump drive-1, maneuver drive-2, and power plant-2, giving a performance of jump-1 and 2-G acceleration. Fuel tankage for 42 tons supports the power plant and allows 1 jump-1. Adjacent to the bridge is a computer Model/2bis. There are 2 staterooms and 4 low berths. The ship has 1 hardpoint and 1 ton allocated to fire control; mounting one double turret. There is one ship's vehicle: a 4-ton air raft. Cargo capacity is 7 tons. The hull is streamlined.

The SF1 requires a crew of 1: (pilot/navigator); maximum life-support capacity is 4. The ship costs 39.3 MCr  (including 10% standard-design discount) and takes 9 months to build at Tech Level 9.

The ship is often crewed by 4 who spend most of their trip in low passage if only to avoid monotony on long journeys in a cramped ship. Some entrepreneurs, however, make money by selling four low passages per trip. this is an older design and lacks the newer crisis berth system. Other complaints are the lack of maneuvering fuel at a destination. Some owners modify their ships to add two more tons of fuel at the expense of cargo space.

As one of the first FTL ships mass-produced the SF1 had a reputation for causing jump sickness, making low passage more attractive. The ships are frequently given to retired scouts for their use with the understanding the ship’s sensor reading and comm logs will be downloaded for the Scout Service on occasion. 

The most common modification of the SF1 is a commercial courier with a Model 1/bis and reduced sensor range. Cost is 28.5 MCr. Cargo is increased to 8 tons. Some owners convert four tons of cargo to a stateroom if they feel there's more money to be made selling passages. 

Rule Changes
Fuel usage is changed as follows:
Power plants use .01 * M * Pn fuel for four weeks of operations. This increases to 400 weeks when the ship is in low power mode (only low berths occupied, no gravitics, and no maneuvering.)

Jump drives use .4 *M * Jn per jump.

(M= mass of ship, Pn= power plant number, Jn=  jump number)

The jump drive used on the Scout is an Aa. It masses 10 tons but only costs 7 Mcr. It can only be used in a 100 ton vessel and allows Jump-1.)

I've tied the sensor ranges of the ships into the computers used and assume instruments are fairly standard, true sensor power comes from processing the information available. A type 1 or 1/bis allows detection out to 1/2 light second. Model 2 or 2/bis allows detection out to one light second. Midel 3 computers allow detection out to two light seconds. So your detached duty ships have better sensors than commercial ships but not better than the military. refitting a ship with a homemade or stolen type 3 may also be a campaign in itself.

The LBBs are a little unclear on non-starships at TL 8. Air rafts and g-carriers are available at TL 8 but no word on what drives are. Are TL 8 non-starships solely powered by reactions drives? For my setting I'm ruling that TL 8 ships use drives and power plants A-D but increase their fuel use to double normal. That will also allow me to use TL 9 versions of that ship with minimal modifications. TL 8 drives and power plants cost 50% on a TL 9 world like Earth. 

TL 8 Gravitics also can't be used to generate artificial gravity or inertial compensators so the ships have spin sections for the quarters when the ship isn't under acceleration. The central section of the ship with the fuel, drives, low berths, and bridge.

Sections built to spin have +50% cost and mass. An even or odd number of staterooms can be spun. Odd numbers of staterooms have one room broken into two half rooms with an occupancy of one each. The same number of tons must be in each of two spin sections. Ships with spin sections may not be streamlined.

STL Transport 800 tons.
Note 4 weeks of 1 gee acceleration works out to accelerating and decelerating to .04 c. If
 .01 * 800 * 1 = 8 tons of fuel doubled to 16 tons for TL 8 inefficiencies. Every 4 tons of fuel is .01 c. If we want a trip at .6 c we need 240 tons of fuel plus fuel for maneuvering at the destination (figure 5% or 80 tons after doubling) so about 320 tons of fuel. This is figuring a one way trip as we can tell one way or another where the fuel sources in the destination system are. Either a probe was sent in or we have really good instruments to tell us there is a gas giant present.

Incidentally the 80 tons of power plant fuel will support low power flight for 1600 weeks (31 years) of low power mode and one month of high power flight. This gives us a maximum range of 18 light years (though we better refuel fast at the destination.) Typically 40 crew are carried. Ten are to service and operate the slow boat. The other 30 are awake in shifts of ten at one time during periods of powered flight.

BT Bulk Transport (TL 8). 800 tons. 1-G. 320 tons fuel.
Model/2bis. 10 staterooms
4 double turrets (B-Laser, Sandcaster). Air raft and two slow boats. 270 tons cargo. 10/30 crew, 160 passengers.
109.45 MCr; 25 months. 

Using a 800-ton hull, the Bulk Transport is designed to transport colonists and their supplies. It has excellent sensors and is often used to scan worlds it is transporting diplomats or officials to. It mounts no jump drive, maneuver drive-D, and power plant-D, giving a performance of  1-G acceleration. Fuel tankage for  tons supports the power plant and allows maneuver at 1 gee. Adjacent to the bridge is a computer Model/2bis. There are 10 staterooms and 160 low berths.  The ship has 4 hardpoints and 4 tons allocated to fire control; mounting four double turrets. There are three ship's vehicles: a 4-ton air raft and two slow boats. Cargo capacity is 270 tons. The hull is not streamlined. The ten staterooms are mounted on a spinning boom in two groups of five.

The slow boats generally have two configurations. A general transport has 10 tons of cargo and 18 small craft couches. The other is used for refueling and long range recon and holds 18 tons of fuel and 1.9 tons. 

The BT requires a crew of 10: (executive officer, science officer, pilot, navigator, engineer, doctor, steward, two assistant engineers, and a sergeant at arms) with a ten man landing party/boat crews; maximum life-support capacity is 20. The ship costs 109.45 MCr  and takes 25 months to build at Tech Level 8. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Artificial Intelligence: No Preservatives Added

I'm writing up some ships for Friday. Instead we have more background material on the Icy Shore: Robots!

Computer power in Traveller is the second biggest problem people have with the basic rules (the first being reactionless drives and light speed missiles.) I never had that much of a problem with the portrayal. 

At a Gen Con a looooooong time ago someone asked Marc and Frank and Loren why the computers massed tons and the reply was that of course that didn't represent a solid mass of transistors. It included the room to house the computers, access for repairs, safety, and redundant features. Not to mention terminals in various part of the ship. If someone wanted to forego that weight they could and any hits to the computer system would leave it destroyed and I quote "You can let them die sucking vacuum."

As for processing ability I have no idea how much actual processing ability you need to generate a jump program so saying a CPU of one for Jump 1 is not telling me anything. I just assume the computers are pretty damned smart. yes, you could have a Model 3 fit in your desk. Repairs might be a little tricky and forget using it while it's being fixed, unlike the big redundant design of ship's computers.

Having said thatI broke out my copy of Book 8: Robots. While I'm not using High Guard and its construction system for ships I feel robots should be in a near future space epic. I mean the Space Station has one for gosh sakes (sort of.) The Book was written in 1986 and is slightly more current than the core LBBs. It also gives provisions for running everything with CT.

TL 9 robots are said to be able to follow single word commands that are clearly enunciated from a variety of users. I'd say this is a minimum. Under most circumstances your 'bot can follow simple commands with some contingencies built in i.e. "Go down the corridor to the steward's quarters and knock on the door. If he answers return. If he does not enter and wait for me." Of course it helps to avoid ambiguity, "I'll hold the panel in place and when I nod my head you hit it! ... WAIT!"

In the case of a noisy gun battle or an airlock blowing or any other situation where there is a lot of noise and confusion the bot would work under that minimum. For example, handing it a gun and saying, "Reload", or pointing to the airlock and saying, "Close." Savvy users will program robots with several trigger words or phrases for moderately complex tasks. "Bacon!" -"Take this weapon and throw it in the nearest waste disposal", or "Cleric!" - "Get me to a low passage berth and freeze me till help arrives." Of course many people are the type who buy a robot based on its color and lines and leave its internal clock blinking 12:

Robots are pretty god at the job they do and suck at everything unrelated. 

For those of you who read the webcomic "Freefall" by Mark Stanley I picture the robots acting a lot like the AIs in that setting after neural pruning removed any new memories they had not job related. Emotional simulation gives a 'bot that acts very human but shallow. A robotic Dr. Phil will not have any psychiatric advice worth mentioning.

AI computers are sticky wicket indeed. I do not want expert systems to take decision making and all that stress from the players. If AI is just a matter of processing power we should have it by TL 8. In fact it's been five years away for at least 20 years. I'm going out on a limb and saying building large scale computers with AI is possible. You just are pretty certain your AI will be unstable at best and dangerous at worst (think Hal from 2001 by Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Yes I know he went nuts as a result of conflicting directives. It's the kind of nuts I'm endorsing!

So you can have AI but it needs watching and rebooting which implies a bot master. A robot is the ultimate npc. You can boss it around, abuse it, wreck it and only have to worry abut still making the payments. 

I'm pretty sure almost every ship will have a bot for maintenance while the crew hibernates or for EVA chores such as digging ice for fuel on the frozen shores. One of the features Robots leaves out is a power cable. You want your fuel cell powered 'bot to step into the Black? Run a plug from the airlock.

I'd also go with a modular design. Have a humanoid torso and head (it's less creepy.) Plug the waist socket into any of several locomotions devices: grav module, legs, wheels etc. Why carry several bots when you can switch one to the most efficient configuration? For that matter buying a robot might be more along the lines of building the pc you want today. You go to a builder, give the requirements you have and let them build one to order.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Jump Starting the Jump Drive

Continuing my tinkering with Traveller for a near future setting.

The facts:
Humans have recently begun expanding into space via FTL, bringing them into conflict with colonists who arrived at their colonization targets decades ago via STL.

The average TL is 9. 

I'd like to use a minimum of material outside the LLBs.

The LBBs make TL 9 drives too good.

LBB 2 allows you to build G rated drives at TL 9. This allows you to construct a 400 ton ships with Jump 3. This is minimum TL for having a starship. J-3 is too darned good. I need to restrict it to J-1 to force people to use rogue planets and icy blobs between the stars (which are themselves colonized in some instances.) My options as I see it:

1) Use High Guard style drives. Possible, but I already stated my intention.

2) Restrict the Jump programs available to J-1 or increase the number of programs necessary to Jump.

3) As the first Jump Drive produced this beast guzzles fuel requiring refueling after each jump. Fuel use is 4x normal. A ships can store enough fuel for a jump one way and still have drives and a useful payload.

On reflection I decided to go with option 3 as Traveller canon said the first Terran J-drives were fuel guzzlers and this requires ships to stop and refuel. It also makes early FTL travel similar to current space travel. Fuel hungry vessels with mass at a premium. If I use the High Guard rules for power plant fuel (.01 Mass * PN instead of 10 * PN) I can use some Book 2 designs with some mods. This also suggests some interesting designs and secret projects. There are differences between Book 2 and High Guard. High Guard limits hull sizes by the model of computer. Book 2 limits it by the drives available. Using the table in Book 2 I can see I can build ships up to 1000 tons. That's fine. The huge ships of 3I don't fit in this setting.

Besides the fuel hungry disadvantage I want jump drives to be a little less dependable. The unmodified throw for a misjump is 11+, not 12+. Missing annual maintenance and using unrefined fuel becomes a bit more risky. Ships usually have low berths equal to the number of occupants just in case a misjump sends you out where no one has been and cooks your drive.

Low Berths
Low passage is more dependable than in the standard rules. Maybe you'd get convicted criminals or fugitives from justice to take a low passage with a 1 in 6 chance of dying but few others would be interested. If the passenger fails the throw for revival they take 2d of damage. The next time they fail a throw for revival and every time after that they increase the damage done by 2d. Thus failing your save once may leave you under the weather a few days. Failing a second or third time means a hospital stay at least. Four or more mean your characters is probably being fitted for a halo.

One low berth on each ship is fitted with a damage control station and called the Crisis Berth. Its occupant (usually the ship's engineer is placed in the berth wearing a form fitted spacesuit. This occupant is wakened in the event of a catastrophic event. His duties are to make immediate repairs and wake the rest of the crew if necessary to evacuate or help damage control efforts. A Crisis Berth weighs 1 ton and costs 250,000 cr.

Low Power Usage
Ships coasting between the stars typically are kept just above freezing and depressurized. Grav plates are turned off. In this mode 1% of fuel will sustain the ship for about 8 years or a trip of 2 parsecs. It take about 15 minutes for a ship to power up. Sensors and computer functions are kept to a minimum.

TL 8 Sleeper Ships
TL 8 ships do not have artificial gravity and must spin sections of the ship to create g forces. Many of these vessels were converted into space stations and their drives moved to newer and smaller interplanetary ships.

Next: Ship Redesigns.