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


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


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.

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?


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.

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.


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?