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.

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

 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.)

 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.

 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

 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.

 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
:  of or relating to a land, culture, or people alien and usually believed to be inferior to another land, culture, or people
:  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.

A barbarian evokes atmosphere, much like a skeleton in a spacesuit.

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.

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


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:

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
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:
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).

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Lost -One Earth

Lost earth is a thing in SF. Basically humanity has expanded into the galaxy so far and so long that the location and nature of Earth is ambiguous or forgotten. It's a daunting prospect for us. After all with few exceptions we live the entirety of our lives on Earth. Everyone we know or know of lives or lived on Earth. Its geography shaped our history. Its environment shaped our evolution. We are children of Earth.

It is said those who do not study the past are doomed to repeat it. How much knowledge in the form of history and literature must be lost with the location of our homeworld? Saying you are a tiny particle in the universe is one thing. The mind seldom can really grasp this, even with infographics. Saying that all we accomplished will be lost on our descendants is another thing. Not mattering to the universe is one thing. Being nothing to other humans is disturbing. Worse, it's humbling. Anyone who says they like being humbled is probably lying or only one miracle away from being canonized.

It seems the earth would be hard to lose. We would have information on the location and such in any navigations computers or at least know where to look it up. Information becomes harder to lose with the more data bases that are set up. Someone must have written it down somewhere! Why would we lose such information?

In the first place, Earth might not be there anymore. If a gamma ray burst event occurred it could destroy life in a decent fraction of the galaxy or at least the Orion Arm. It might send human worlds spiraling into barbarism. Centuries later when those worlds regained their technology and were capable of star flight it might not matter where a dead world was. Why seek out ruins and bones when there are plenty of living worlds to colonize?

A seldom seen variation is forgetting Earth on purpose. Suppose we learn of a dire threat: an expansionistic alien species killing any other species it finds. Humans might decide to colonize other worlds to ensure the race's survival. When they do so they could delete references to Earth from the colony ship navigation systems. That way human colonies can give away the location of Earth (or other colonies presumably.) Given enough time the colonists might institute a curriculum of misinformation to educate their children. Their ship fell through a wormhole. Earth was forever lost on the other side of the galaxy. They were once part of an Earth Empire of thousands of worlds but the Empire fell to civil war and much knowledge was lost.

If the evil alien menace is defeated there's every chance that Earth will come looking for its lost children.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Belt Strikes (Back)!

Asteroid belts are beloved by SF writers and readers alike. They are not the deadly jumble of rocks depicted in space opera. You could live on a rock out there and never have another rock come within visual range. The average separation of asteroids in the solar system is a million kilometers or so. So flitting about them requires serious delta-v for any kind of action oriented story. Putting along with an ion drive prospector will take a couple weeks. Fortunately with maneuver drives we avoid all that pesky rocketry stuff (even if we risk the ire of Chung and Burnside.)

Belters are the only career with a worse survival rate than Scouts. That should tell you something right there. Belters are also the only career besides Barbarians that take their families with them. I say that because unlike other saner professions you start as a Belter at age 14. I have nightmares about a 14 year old being allowed to drive let alone pilot a ship. There is a lot less to hit out there though. Roughly 1/4 of all belters die, strike it rich or quit after their first term going on to other jobs and adventuring. It is a way of life for very few. Less than 5% make it through four terms. Though by then they probably are in it for life. It is the only career with survival rolls modified by terms served (another example would be if you wrote up school teacher as a career.) Learning all the reflexes you need to survive takes time and practice and practice can kill you.

Some people eschew their family mining enterprises to join the Scouts. The Belters half mockingly refer to them as 'slackers.'

In fairness only the most competent young people are chosen to be Belters. This isn't going to ensure their survival. It's to make sure they don't take any other people out with themselves. The major problem with prospecting is other prospectors. Claims are jumped. Some friendly ships turn out to be pirates. Belters have few illusions about their survival chances a couple of AUs away from a habitable world. Boarding actions are fought to the death. More importantly they learn as they go on to avoid all contact on a mining expedition, often making mini-jumps within a system to confuse the trail of claim jumpers and killers. Getting a Belter to file a flight plan is like getting a mobsters to pay taxes. Belters don't pay taxes unless you make them.

Questioning a Belter's competence, courage or honesty is a quick way to a fight. People who are weak or inept endanger others. Saying this about another can damage their reputation and make work scarce fast or make potential crew members look elsewhere for a berth.

They have a strong apathy towards central government. It's fine for other people but of little value to them. In the Belt it's all on you and your crew. Very rarely someone may come along to help you out in a fix. Having a ground pounder in a suit 10 minutes away by radio tell you what to do or draw up ordinances for you to follow is not only silly, it may be fatal.

Out in the Belt there are no courts of law to enforce contracts or agreements. You stand on your word. Saying a man is a liar is another way to make him shunned and make him your enemy.

There are many kinds of Belters though they all will say they are the true Belters. Some prospect on moons. Some mine rare gases from jovian worlds. Others inhabit bodies in the Oort Cloud or reside on space stations. Generally all have the fierce independent streak and the 'you don't bother me and I won't bother you' mantra.

Another common trait of Belters is their ability to stay calm in a crisis. They'll panic as quick as the next guy if it's the better way to go. It seldom is. They also have a strong tendency to understate things. A Belter might refer to misjumping as taking a small detour or finding a 100 meter gold nugget as having a good day.

Belters teach evolution as follows:

Pirates> primordial ooze> monkeys> ground pounders> Marines> Navy> Merchants> Scouts> Belters> Rich Belters.

The only 'civilized' people they have regular dealings with is the Scout Service. The Navy seldom bothers with airless rocks. They protect worlds with tourist appeal who pay taxes mostly on time. If you get help from anyone it'll usually be a Scout. Scouts have a similar lifestyle and would make decent Belters if they didn't take on Government work (shudder.)

A Seeker is more than a ship to a Belter. Seekers are home for most of their enlisted lives and a good portion of their childhood as they learn on routine inner system runs and contract work. A Seeker is a means to earn your living, keep ahead of your troubles and see the universe. Seekers are almost never bought or sold, instead passed on from parents to children (or leased very reasonably.) They remain in operation for generations and no two are exactly alike. It gets to the point where Belters out in the cold dark can spot a pal's ship by its drive signature or the patches and welds on its hull.

As a final note, I'd give Belters two skills a term like the Scouts. I might even be inclined to give them a Danger Sense roll (something high like 11+) with a bonus equal to their survival bonus (thus a three term Belter would sense danger on an 8+ and a seven term Belter is no one to screw with.)

Monday, October 6, 2014

I Blame Hard Science Fiction for This

Thank you for the positive response to my blog and the postings on piracy, boarding and various other fun things. Boarding tactics and problems generated a lot of comments. Winchell Chung observed that many things on a space vehicle do not react at all well to gunfire. Hence my defense of cutlasses by Marines and others (other people, not people in the Others ... though they use blades too.)

I replaced Citizens in the Imperium soon after this.

Then David McGuire posted the following:

I think it's a wonderful bit of serendipity that pirates careers are detailed in the same book as barbarians. Barbarians, you know, them guys who use swords and bows and arrows!

A bow can make a hole in a space suit. That pretty much is the bottom line for a weapon used in a boarding action. When your suit is leaking air and you're leaking circulatory fluid it doesn't matter if you were shot by an arrow or a 5.56 round. True arrows use feathers to impart spin and increase their accuracy and this will not work in a vacuum but I'm sure the far future can work out some way to impart spin to an arrow (springs, gas cartridges, whatever.) The hard part is finding the barbarians and getting them trained in vacc suit basics. Maybe they can use those skin tight models for short duration work.

Imagine attacking a merchant ship with a bunch of faux Cimmerians in skin suits adorned with feathers beads and bones firing arrows at fleeing merchant crew (cutlasses and swords optional.) Even if you don't kill anyone tackling one merchant crew and winning will give you raider cred for years to come.

Okay Robin Hood and his Merry Sophonts won't last long against Marines or main line military but if you have the Marines knocking on your airlock you're already really, really screwed. There's a very short nonexistent list of successful pirates who regularly won against military vessels.

I think barbarians troops storming a starship's corridors is epic. Rule of Cool says it can work. Case closed.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Boarding Actions Part 3: Entry Level Postiions

Okay you've closed in on your target ship. You've taught it to mostly stay still. You've gotten your people across to it through various means, not all of them pretty. What can you expect and what should you bring?

You're probably wearing vacc suits or rarely combat armor/battledress. Vacc suits are pretty much equivalent to cloth armor. Most combat is at short or medium range which is ideal. An automatic rifle is all you need to send most intruders on their way. Better to blast them at the airlock before they get near easily damaged stuff. Auto rifles work equally well for attackers. Both sides will probably have electronic sights, not for accuracy so much as dealing with the lights going out. Make sure the sights can be used with a vacc suit helmet.

Snub pistols loaded with tranq rounds are a viable option. A tranq round will penetrate a vacc suit, especially at short range. A tranq round is unlikely to put a jump drive or power plant to sleep. As a bonus many vacc suits have a self seal feature that will let the person shot live without having to slap a patch on their suit.

Bring some flashlights. Use them after the fight or let the bot hold them because people shoot at lights in the dark.

Bring melee weapons. No really. Auto rifles suck at short range or closer and you might not want to shoot the engineer standing in front of the jump drive or the guy hiding behind the crate with those red warning labels all over it you can't read. A cut in a vacc suit turns an enemy into a guy scrambling for a patch. The fight leaves those guys fast.

Both sides need vacc suits. Unless the defending captain is a moron he's depressurized the ship. You don't want your crew or passengers sucked out into space if the boarders blow a hole in your hull to enter. Passengers are probably in a secure area in vacc suits or survival bubbles.

Some boarders (high tech pirates, Marines, cat-girls if you're lucky) will bring along cutting torches to remove interior partitions quickly and not be confined to corridors ending in a bunch  of automatic rifles. This is not such a great idea. Fire sensors will tell the defenders what you are doing allowing them to prepare a nasty surprise for you on the otvher side of the wall you're cutting. Thermite or explosive charges are quicker but are harder on the ship's resale value. Starting a fire on a ship you're boarding comes pretty close to marching into the mouth of Hell for me.

Do bring an electronics kit and mechanical tool set to help open doors. Bringing a laptop along to hack the ship's computer is a popular trope. That's  the sort of thing reserved for a hi-jacking. Any computer you bring aboard probably doesn't have the processing power of a ship's computer unless you have several tech levels over it. Cyber operations are possible but will probably take a lot of time.

You can try going in through the airlocks. this is pretty predictable and even if you force the airlock or hack it there's going to be six kinds of warning lights on the bridge. Find several entry points and make the crew cover them all. The reason the storm troopers acted like idiots in the opening of Star Wars is Darth Vader was behind them in a hurry.

Turrets are often overlooked as entry points. Remove the turret and enter through the iris valve. Hopefully the ship is evacuated. If the ship has a boat deck or cargo hatch you're really in business. Force that or override it and you immediately have access to a large area to assemble and plan further mischief.

Then there's the brute force approach, blow a hole in the hull with ship lasers. Blow a couple of holes and watch the defenders play guessing games. Even so it is likely you are going to come under fire almost immediately.

A shield is a good idea. Get the biggest robot with the best armor you can to stand behind. Flash grenades work great for an entrance too (you need air for a flash-bang grenade.) You could also just hold pieces of hull metal in front of your group. If you can't do any of this find cover quickly. This is why Marines use battledress. Even that is not perfect protection at such short ranges.

Ship Interiors
The crew will do their best to make their ship an inhospitable place for you. They may cut lights in their areas giving them concealment while high lighting you. They may shut off the gravity in your part of the ship to take you off balance. They will close iris valves and hatches on you. Some ships have interior weapons mounted. If they have enough time they may even rig booby traps. After all a space combat turn takes 1,000 seconds. That's plenty of time to string a tripwire.

The crew will probably depressurize their ship. Explosive decompression is no joke even in a space suit. You can get blown out a ship if the hole is big enough. You also wind up wasting air if you wait to depressurize until you get get a big hole. Though you might get lucky and have it sealed by a pile of crew.

A hole big enough to suck a man out would be big enough to cause a lot of other problems that might need tending first.

On entering the ship your first goal is to stay alive. If you made several false entries, used shock and awe and big metal robots to hide behind and have a good bunch of crew you made it at least this far. If you're in a hold or bay you have room to marshall your forces. Whatever you're doing, do it fast.
Why? Because at least some of the crew is trying to un-disable it. If they get the maneuver drive running you can kiss reinforcements good bye. If they get the jump drive going you're really screwed. If they get a turret online they can start shooting at your ride, which might start shooting back. That could make holes big enough to suck you right out by the way.

Lasers and missiles have no friends.

Forget the bridge. Go for the engineering deck. Even if you take the bridge someone in engineering may still retain some kind of control and cause headaches for you. The bridge probably has one access and is well defended. The drive deck often has several access points for repair and such and is probably easier to get into. Get in and shut down everything. Those jittery types on the bridge might cause overloads or systems failures to damage your ship.

If life support is not controlled from the drive deck that's another option. If you can vent all the oxygen in the ship the crew is stuck in spacesuits with a day or two of air and much more inclined to be reasonable. If help is on the way this isn't such a big deal.

Hulls will  affect your tactics. Needle or wedge shaped hulls will limit flanking actions. Dispersed or close structures may afford the most points of entry but then each section can be sealed off more easily. Spheres and flattened spheres are perhaps the worst to defend. They have a small surface areas and high volume with plenty of decks for their tonnage. Once they get breached attackers can spread out quickly.

Hopefully I've given some ideas for you to use to make your next boarding operation fun for you and a living hell for the characters.