Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Boarding Actions Part 2: Getting There is Half the Battle

For whatever reason you've decided boarding another ship is required. The other ship's crew is not keen on the idea. What can a crew of merchants do to stop you? Quite a bit if the captain has half a brain; and they don't give masters papers to people with less than a whole brain!

Boarding actions require getting close to your target ship. Usually that requires you need to disable its drives. The power plant is the best target because once it is shut down the target ship enters a powered down state. The technical term for this is 'screwed.' Otherwise both the maneuver and jump drives have to be taken offline. A ship that jumps out of system with your boarding party is a little inconvenient.

I recommend a Select program for those trying to disable a ship. Having a person onboard the ship can also be very handy. A pilot can find it hard to maneuver with a body pistol against his head.

A ship that is brought to maneuver-0 can't maneuver in the normal scheme of things. It may still have working thrusters and gyros for docking and such. A ship that can move a couple of meters a second can make a mess of another ship close by. Of course your captain may say to hell with this and keep station a few hundred meters or a couple of klicks away.

Getting There
Some ships have boarding tubes: flexible extensions with an airlock on the end to latch onto a target's hull and begin cutting a hole through the hull using saws or lasers. The tube is sturdy enough not to be damaged by less than a gee of acceleration. Many ships don't have these. Unless you run a salvage operation they scream PIRATE for one thing. Another way to get over is to use a launch or boat to avoid damaging the main ship. This might be hard on the boarding party and the launch.

Boarding parties may also use vacc suits and go EVA to get to the other ship. They can use grapple guns or rocket thrusters depending on how close the ships are.

A few militaries use boarding capsules (no stats, I'm making this up.) A boarding capsule is like a closed boarding tube with rocket thrusters at one end and a bunch of restraints for some troops. The attacking ship launches a capsule, it slams into the target and cuts a way in.

While I'm on this topic a ship is dangerous in far more ways than just squashing your launch or throwing a boarding party into space with random jerks. You have active sensors and communications transmitters . Those things reach across millions of klicks and can cook you right in your space suit. A ship might generate heat and radiation around it when under full power. Remember designers only have to worry about shielding the main compartment which is on the inside of the hull. A distributed structure hull might fill the space around it with radiation when its power plant is running and for a few hours afterwards. The crew might feel killing your future offspring is not deterrent enough and also pump whatever corrosive chemicals they can spare into the void creating a gas cloud that will eat your space suit,

Finally that unarmed trader may turn out to have a heavy machine gun or VRF gauss cannon in its otherwise empty turret. useless for starship combat but fine to put holes in a launch a few hundred meters off or raise merry hell with some idiots in vacc suits. Really paranoid captains may attach fragmentation devices to the hull on armored plates. Hand grenades hate vacc suits and their wearers.

My next post will cover the antics once you get to the ship you want so badly.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Boarding Actions Part 1: The Science of Making Their Ship Yours

I must confess that I am a semi-retired murder hobo in Traveller (I only off NPCs three days a week now.) The ships were always an important part of the game obviously. A lot of action took place on them. I'm not too crazy about intense pointless combat these days but I had a bunch of thoughts on how taking a ship might look in the game. You might want to look at (http://twilightgm.blogspot.com/2014/07/life-and-death-in-icy-shores.html) for less violent alternatives first.

Boarding Actions
So you want to take over another ship? Waiting till she's on the ground and the crew is off getting hammered is one way to do it. Oh, you want the ship taken in space? Well most starports would object to people just grabbing berthed ships. The clients are entitled to some security for their berthing fees. Also, many starports are built inconveniently close to naval, marine, and scout facilities and those guys are just plain nosy and intrusive.

What are your reasons for boarding the ship? I compiled the following reasons:
1) economic
2) evidence
3) intelligence
4) survival
5) mistake

Economic- you want the ship and/or its cargo. Please note a Free Trader in the showroom costs you about 37 Mcr. Unless that ship has radioactives, pharmaceuticals, gems, and computers the value of the ship will exceed the value of most cargos. If you have the above in your cargo hold hire some mercs! The ship's value will still be a sizable fraction of the cargo's value.

Evidence- the Steel Remorah was scanned in numerous acts of piracy true. Any navy captain would love to blow that ship to Glory. But what about the crimes you don't know about? The navigation computer might have the coordinates to dens of vice and pirate havens. The quartermaster might have all kinds of records of transactions you need to convict many people. Send in the Marines, do you think I want to be a lousy SDB captain my whole career? I'm in term 4 for GHU's sake!

Intelligence- information of military importance might be in a ship's computer, in the heads of the crew or in the construction of the ship itself.
Survival- your ship is trashed. Theirs is not and they are being unreasonable about keeping it.

Mistake- boarding actions are only as rare as opportunity (much like pirates.) A normally lightly defended ship might be carrying a load of gauss rifles and battledress. It might be hauling a merc platoon to their ticket. How good was your information?

On the defending side there are few reasons to put up a fight.
1) Survival
2) Delaying action
3) Desperation

1) Survival- you have reason to hope if you stay in control of your ship you will survive. This is a much better situation than losing your ship after all.
2) Delaying action- in a large fight some ships will be disabled by others. Some will be boarded while the battle is still in doubt. Holding off the boarders gives you a good chance of keeping your lives and freedom. More rarely help is on the way out of the black.
3) Desperation- this is probably the worst reason and leads to the most vicious defense. You have no reason to believe the bastards are going to let you live but you're going down fighting.

Some captains will try to avoid boarding actions whenever possible. they work on their silky tones to convince the pale faced defenders that surrender is a good option. "We'll settle for your cargo. We only want the Contessa of Andalusia IV. Surrender and you will receive fair and humane treatment; it's a new policy!" They'll settle for you spacing your cargo and such ("Put the Countessa in her monogrammed vacc suit. We're not savages!") Even the Marines use the subtle psychological ploy of hacking resistant people to tiny pieces with their cutlasses to make surrender more attractive.

Even pirates will try to make boarding a last option. They are business men after all. They might allow a crew to board a lifeboat with enough fuel and supplies to reach a safe destination. that also cuts down on naval pursuit. Given the choice of pursuing a ship full of murderous rogues or a ship full of greedy extortionists which do you think receives first priority?

A slight divergence here. Some people may say, but Rob, we spaced all those poor bastards. Who's going to talk? Your crew. When your navigator gets picked up for drunken air/raft driving and the cops find he's wearing the earring of the Contessa of Andalusia IV ... he'll talk. Or the Contessa will (you did ransom her right?) Optionally the cops turn up some cargo from a lost merchant ship in a factor's warehouse. Note that working your crew without leave, killing them and hiring new crew is way beyond murder hobo. Even pirates have some standards.

Similarly merchant crews you spare will talk ("They took the cargo but didn't harm a hair of our heads. They even gave the Contessa back her earrings!")

Cargo can also be insured.

But despite all this for whatever reason you have to perform a boarding action.

More next post.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Others: Coming to a CT Game Near You.

In the beginning there was LBB 1 Character generation and it was good. After all you haven't lived till you died in character generation. Or in some cases failed to kill off a character in chargen.

Then we got Citizens of the Imperium which added many many civilian occupations to Traveller. Apparently not everyone joined the Armed Forces in the Imperium. We could thrill to Barbarians with broadswords engaging Marines with cutlasses in a sword fight!

Before this cornucopia of options though people looking to dodge avoid the military had one option: the Others. They didn't even have a title really. If the Army was benignly ignored by those wanting to be Marines and the Scouts were hastily avoided by those wanting to live the Others had a worse public image than a Vargr crashing a K'kree wedding. I do not exaggerate. One Personal Development roll lowered your Social Standing. They got no ranks, no service skills, and one skill per term. The Scouts got many people who wanted no part of society. The Others were the people of which society wanted no part.

Many people point to Mercenary as the start of Traveller's militarizing. But really when you treat the only civilian career like this what else could you be except a militarist? You are essentially saying the universe is composed of military and rabble.

One saving grace of the service is in the Advanced Education table. The Others are the only place besides the Scouts that you can pick up Jack of All Trades. The other advantage is purely story based. You can make up any wild story to justify the weird collection of skills you come by, like the guy who picked up Broadsword-3 and Gambling-2 (Cut the cards! Wham!-buh-dump-shh!)

I suggest the following tweaks to help the Others:
The Others receive Jack of All Trades as a service skill given that they can be found almost anywhere doing nearly anything.

Rolling -1 Social entitles you to choose one skill level in Forgery, Bribery, or Streetwise. You had to be doing something interesting to get that bad reputation.

Passing your survival roll by 4 or more grants you a second skill for that term.

If your Social Standing drops to 2 congratulations: you are a convicted criminal. If it drops to 1 you are a parolee. The cops on most worlds are allowed great latitude in harassing you. If your Social Standing drops to 0 you are a wanted man on at least one planet and or have made the wrong people very angry with you.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Autorifles and Cutlasses

What do you call the guys who can't make it in the Marines? The Army. The Marines get all the love in Traveller. But how do the two services compare?

Both services seem similar on the surface. They shoot at people and get shot at. They are very different in their missions and mentality. The Marines are designated to board vessels and defend their own vessels and naval installations. In time of war they are used to disrupt communications and grab a beachhead for main invasion forces. They are basically aggressor forces and see a lot of combat. They have a worse survival roll than any service except the Scouts

The Army has worse PR. Their main job is to defend their planet against invasion. If they do it right no sane enemy will attack and so no one knows what a great job they've done. Their survival rolls are no worse than any other service and lower than the Marines. So much of their career is fairly peaceful.

More tellingly the Army is a full independent service. They not only maintain and guard their bases they build them on many worlds. In the case of the Marines they often if not always operate out of Navy bases and the Navy deals with much of their logistics and supply.

The Personal Development table for Army and Marines are identical with one difference: the Army replaces blade combat with and Education boost. In fact the Army survival roll is modified, not by Endurance or any physical stat but by Education which reflects the importance of technology in their operations.

In the Service Skills table the Army is again similar to the Marines, but the Marines have blade combat and vacc while the Army has air/raft and forward observer. Again this reflects the Army's role in defending their planet. While the Marines are piling into drop capsules clad in battledress the Army is operating GCarriers and speeders, engaging enemy fighters and fighters launching artillery strikes on enemy vessels and landing forces.

The Marines love their blade weapons. The cutlass is not only handing for hacking stuff, it exemplifies their warrior code. They will do or die. They fight to win.

The Army is the last line of defense. They will make their world too costly to take and hold. After organized resistance ends many worlds have contingency plans for their surviving forces to go underground and mount insurgency campaigns. The Army fights to live another day. They are quite happy letting the other guys die for their cause.

The Army is all about giving their people the skills they need to survive. While the Marines service skills are cutlass and revolver the Army offers their soldiers auto rifle and SMG. Both weapons afford a decent chance of penetrating battledress, are much more affordable than laser weapons for the mass of soldiers that must be equipped, and are more portable for troops not wearing powered armor. Yes the Army has their traditions too but they don't let them dictate their tactics or weapons.

The Army in less forgiving moments refers to its Marine cousins as fools who bail out of perfectly good spacecraft. The Marines refers to their planet bound cousins as ground pounders. In practice both perform the same duties. Marines will defend their ships and bases and Army troops will embark on assaults and invasions

Sunday, September 21, 2014

First In and the Last Ones Standing

Scouts. We've all had a character with such lousy stats we just decided to throw them in the Scouts and pray they died quick and clean. I remember one guy who didn't roll above a six in anything. He lasted seven terms in the Scouts and wound up getting nothing much besides air/raft. When I rolled '12' for re-enlistment I informed the ref I was standing under the engines of a ship about to take off. Then I found out about the reactionless drives. My colleagues grabbed me and gave a me quiet discharge for my service time. I didn't get a ship on mustering out.

Why the heck do Scouts have such a fantastic casualty rate? Rolling a six or less kills you which means 42% of starting Scouts don't live past their first term. that means about 2% survive seven terms. I'm assuming that they re-enlist automatically. With casualty rates like this you aren't throwing a guy out for any medical problem they don't have a telethon for or for most felonies.

How do they get people to join the Scouts with numbers like this? Okay, if your character has Endurance +9 or better you only have to roll a five to survive. That means the Scouts are a viable career for 27% of the population. The survival roll is only worse in the Marines, the guys who board hostile ships armed with cutlasses.

I sometimes wonder just how much continuous action Marines must see in a term. Their survival roll is the only one close to the Scout chance. the Scouts are the guys who get exposed to new diseases, get chased by pirates after identifying their secret bases, have their mail ships jumped by pirates, discover new and hungry life forms, and finally get to test new theories in jump drive designs from the inside.

In retrospect a Scout is: someone with no better prospects taking a desperate gamble he will fit in and perhaps prosper, a very fit individual who has a good chance of living, and people assigned by the draft. So the agency tasked with exploration, communications, and alien contact is full of misfits, malcontents and a sizable minority of well adjusted leaders and teachers trying to impart some knowledge on the new people and hoping they'll live long enough to be some use.

In other words: player characters.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Faux LBB

I wanted to try to write up my vehicles rules LBB style. Over all I liked what I did. But then I read Across the Bright Face and I realized I forgot a major part of any Traveller mini-game is trade offs and decisions to make. In any sort of classic adventure you have a finite supply of several resources you need to reach an objective. In Bright Face the resource was the ATV's power, the objective to reach the starport with a bunch of angry locals chasing you. You had the choice of using power to blast ATVs with your laser cannon or run.

My system didn't have that. You just shot at vehicles and they shot back. I got to thinking that besides power there were other trade offs in vehicle combat like visibility. Did you operate buttoned up or stick your head out to see what was going on? Anyway here are the rules without my color commentary and visibility rules.

Rules for Vehicle Combat
Vehicles have an armor class based on their construction as follows:
Civilian/thin skin vehicle (ground car, most aircraft, helicopters, grav speeders etc.): Mesh
Ruggedized (ATV, air/raft): Cloth
Paramilitary (GCarrier, AFV): Battledress

Besides its construction a vehicle has additional modifiers based on size and type:
ATV/AFV, GCarrier: -4 (5+ meters)
Air/Rafts, ground cars: -3 (3+ meters)
Hovercraft, grav speeder: -2
Helicopter: -1

Thus an armored car for transporting dignitaries might be Cloth -3, a sportscar Mesh -3, A Gcarrier Battledress -4 etc.

People in the vehicle that are partially exposed (head out a hatch) would get -1 to be hit at Medium, -2 at long and -4 at very long. People in an open topped vehicle like an air raft only receive a -1 to be hit at long and -2 at very long range. A vehicle passenger or crewman standing in a hatch or hitching a ride on a deck does not get this bonus. A passenger or crew using a firing port or view slit is -4 to be hit.

A hit to a vehicle uses the small craft damage table from Book 2. Generally a hit disables a system. A drive hit means your ride is over. High performance vehicles like the speeder or ground car could take two or three drive hits with speed being reduced by 25%, 50%, and 75%. Computer hits would destroy or damage electronics.

Small arms that hit a vehicle have a 1 in 6 chance of damaging a system for each die of damage they cause, so 3 in 6 for most firearms. Optionally give the vehicle a hit whenever the damage inflicted adds to six. So if you manage to hit the AFV with a body pistol you have a 2 in 6 chance for it to notice. Hitting with both shots from an automatic rifle will get you an automatic hit of damage.

Ship lasers will do 1D of hits to  a vehicle. Missiles (ship mounted or tac) will do 2D. Optionally apply the hits all to one system. A vehicle can take hull hits equal to its tonnage before catching fire, exploding or just being blown into confetti. Throw +10 to bail out of a vehicle, +appropriate skill, +1 if Dex is 9+. Success means the character bails out and manages to grab his gear. An '8' or '9' means you take 1-3D and grab a sidearm or other small item. If the roll is '7' or less you take 1-6D of damage and get out with just the armor on your back .

Weapons on a vehicle can be fired at people on foot. Human targets get a -1 to be hit, -2 from turreted weapons and can evade.

Vehicles can evade like characters. This only works vs. vehicular and similar weapons and the maximum minus equals the vehicle skill of the driver.

Starships and smallcraft  are treated as paramilitary (Battledress +4) vehicles. Ship lasers do 1D hits to vehicles and starships at such close ranges. Missiles, artillery and rockets do 2D hits (because they explode on contact or very close.) Ship hulls ignore small arms doing less than 6 dice of damage. Weapons doing 7-8D of damage do one hit to a ship. Weapons doing 10D or more do two hits. Weapons doing 3D or more will puncture interior walls of a ship.

People in a vehicle suffer from reduced visibility. At short and close range people can stay out of view and attack. Spotting a person at short or close range in a vehicle requires a 7+ modified by  vehicle skill. The spotters are penalized:  exposed or open topped vehicle -1, if using a tv camera -2, -4 if using a gunport. Characters that are under cover get a further -4 to be spotted and moving characters get a +1 to be seen. Vehicles moving more than four bands or half their full movement impose a -2 to spot hidden ground forces. Starship crews using an Anti-Hijack program automatically spot people at short or close range and have no minus to to spot people out to very long range.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Starfighters Need Their Space

One of the tropes of Traveller and other SF games is that space fighters look like contemporary jet fighters. Why? A streamlined hull is of course necessary if your fighters are to attack a planet with an atmosphere or larger than size 1. Of course there's no clear reason why planetary bombardments and attacks can't be performed by ships in orbit except the Rule of Cool.

Well if you must have space fighters (I know I want mine) you could at least give them a little variety. Look at all those hulls in High Guard for starters. Fighters for surveillance of a star system  might use planetary hulls to blend in (unless the locals number their planetoids for such situations.) If you want really long term surveillance stick a low berth on the fighter.

Cheap mass produced fighters might benefit from the cost savings of close or dispersed structure hulls, especially if the main world is a vacuum world or the base ship is used for constant patrols. There's no reason to add 20% cost to a hull. Though it isn't a common image, fighters that have to be used in an atmosphere might be built on a flattened sphere.

A final thought. Most deck plans are designed in a rectangular format. This includes the hangars. That's fine if your fighters are cube-like. A ten meter cube takes up 1000 m^3 and takes up 100 square meters of deck space. A sphere hulled fighter 10 meters in diameter only has ~525 m^3 but takes up 78.5 square meters. That's 3/4 the area for half the displacement tons making it less efficient to store. Plus you'd need restraint devices to keep the thing from rolling around. Cones are even worse, assuming a 10 meter height and five meter radius the ting takes up 78.5 square meters for a volume of 261 m^3. Extremely streamlined hulls like needles could be similar to cones or take up more room due to wings. Wet navy aircraft avoid some of this by having their wings fold up. Smart metal wings could be very useful. Dispersed structures and planetoid hulls could be the worst case. You might want to consider mapping out small craft to get an idea how much deck space they take up or (for sanity's sake) go with modifiers based on the hull type. For example:
Needle/wedge x2
Cone x4
Cylinder or flattened sphere x1.25
Sphere x2
Close structure x1-2 (ref's call)
Dispersed structure x4 or more (requires the deck to be in zero gee also)
Planetoid/buffered planetoid x4

Or you could just go by streamlining and be less exact, assuming you could find something to fit in otherwise wasted space (fuel, snack cakes, whatever.) Streamlined hulls get stored at their displacement, partially streamlined at 130% of their displacement and non streamlined at 150% of their displacement and get on with your game.

Of course you can avert all of this by having a dispersed structure which sensibly sticks all its subordinate craft on the outside of the hull. Any hangar space would be for repairing small craft without using spacesuits.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Guys and Hulls

A ship’s hull is much more than a wall keeping air and stuff inside and vacuum out. Unfortunately I haven’t found a lot about hulls and the way they affect their ships. Classic Traveller started out with two types of hulls: streamlined and not (the default.) Streamlined hulls could enter atmosphere or even refuel in the atmosphere of a gas giant. Other hulls could not enter atmosphere.

That means for practical purposes only streamlined ships could land on worlds with 8000 kilometer or greater diameter. Larger than that and they had to have at least a trace atmosphere. 

Then High Guard came out and gave us oodles of new ship hull types. We now had partially streamlined as well as some descriptions of general shapes. We now had wedges, needles, cones, and flattened spheres (saucers!) for streamlined hulls. Cylinders, spheres and close structures were partially streamlined and dispersed structures and planetoid hulls were not streamlined in any way.

We now learn that streamlined and partially streamlined hulls can refuel from gas giants. Streamlined ships can land on any world. Partially streamlined ships can land on any size 0-1 world. Other types can’t land.

I was going to start introducing all kinds of devices like contra-grav, wings, thruster variations and such. Then I chucked it because the three types of hulls work fairly well as is. 

Where the system breaks down is it doesn’t differentiate between the hulls much. You get a price modifier, a description and a defense against meson weapons. In MTU beam masers are cutting edge and meson guns remain science fiction. I still want a bunch of ship types. So here are my tweaks.

Type One Cost Mod: +20% Description: Needle/Wedge Streamlined

This is the ultimate in streamlining. This hull can refuel from a gas giant in one pass, dropping into the deeper regions of the atmosphere. The hull can hover indefinitely and has extensive control surfaces (possibly wings.) Flying this ship in atmospheres of 2 or greater gives the pilot a +2 DM to all rolls. This hull can launch one small craft per turn per 10,000 tons.

Type Two Cost Mod: +10% Description: Cone Streamlined

The conical hull is not as maneuverable as a wedge or needle. It is cheaper. Refueling from gas giants requires 1D3 passes. Because the hull is sloped the ships receives a -1 DM to be hit in combat. Ships can hover on worlds whose size code is no more than double their maneuver rating (so a ship that can make 4 gees can hover over a size 8 world.) This hull can launch one small craft per turn per 10,000 tons.

Type Three Cost Mod: 0% Description: Cylinder Partial Streamlining

The cylinder design is built for deep space operations. It can scoop fuel from gas giants taking 1D6 passes. It might even land on size 3 or larger worlds by standing on its tail and thrusting directly downward but this is not a stable configuration. The ship’s control systems are not made for it (10+ to hover or land + Pilot skill, -1 if world size 5, -2 if world size 7 and -3 if world size 9 or larger.) Other maneuvers in an atmosphere are at -1 DM. This hull can launch one small craft per turn per 10,000 tons.

Type Four Cost Mod: -40% Description: Close Structure Partial Streamlining

A close structure removes the engines and generators from the main hull and sticks them on booms. This trades distance for radiation shielding saving on mass and cost. generally speaking you want the stuff on the booms and arms to be securely fixed despite what you see on Firefly. This design can refuel form a gas giant in 3D6 passes. It can launch small craft very easily, generally 2 small craft per 10,000 tons or less.

Type Five Cost Mod: -30% Description: Sphere Partial Streamlining

The sphere is able to refuel from gas giants with some difficulty due to the wind resistance its shape creates. It refuels by skimming the highest reaches of the atmosphere and takes 2D6 passes. In space the sphere can pivot in any direction with equal speed and presents the smallest target for a given volume giving it a -1 DM to be hit. This hull can launch one small craft per turn per 10,000 tons.

Type Six Cost Mod: -20% Description: Flattened Sphere Streamlined

The classic flying saucer makes its debut in CT. This also covers oblate spheroids. Unlike the plain vanilla sphere the type six has a bunch of thrusters and control surfaces to let it operate in an atmosphere. Unlike the type one and two it receives no bonus to operate in an atmosphere. It can hover with the same restrictions for the type two. Flattened spheres require 2D6 passes to refuel from a gas giant. This hull can launch one small craft per turn per 10,000 tons.

Type Seven Cost Mod: 0% Description: Dispersed Structure Not streamlined

Dispersed structures and most planets do not mix well. These vessels are much longer than their tonnage would indicate. Engines and generators are placed very far from crew and cargo sections letting the ship use very little shielding to protect the crew. The radiation hazard from these sections make EVA activities (like boarding actions) dangerous to vacc suited crew. A dispersed structure might be able to land on a size S world. It risks tearing its radiators panels, sensor arrays, and similar systems off. Dispersed structures carry all their small craft on their hulls in recesses. All craft can launch in a single turn making them excellent carriers. 

Maneuvering a dispersed structure in space is no joke. A long skinny ship has a huge arm of momentum and turning without warping structures must be done carefully. This hull is +1 to be hit in combat and has a -1 DM to all pilot rolls.

Type Eight Cost Mod: 0% Description: Planetoid 

Planetoids are essentially free. The bad news is tunneling and carving compartments costs 1000 cr. per ton. The planetoid also requires 20% of its space be used for structural purposes. Boarding actions on planetoid ships are a joy for the attackers. There’s plenty off bulletproof rock walls for defenders to duck behind. Think dungeon in space. If you aren’t using High Guard planetoids are -1 DM to be hit due to natural armor. Forget about tight maneuvering. This hull can launch one small craft per turn per 10,000 tons.

Type Nine Cost Mod: 0% Description: Buffered Planetoid

Buffered planetoids have 35% wasted space to provide the ship with armor. If you aren’t using High Guard planetoids are -2 DM to be hit due to natural armor. This hull can launch one small craft per turn per 10,000 tons.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

That's Not a Knife!

One of the things that hurts Classic Traveller these days is presentation. Some things just seem a little dated or silly these days. Take for example the two staples of the Marines: the revolver and the cutlass.

Revolvers can be justified with one word: reliability. Revolvers are one of the most dependable handgun types in history. A Marine working in many exotic/deadly/alien environments might want a very dependable sidearm for a last resort. If we're talking high tech revolvers then you could probably drop one in liquid nitrogen and fire off a round.

I exaggerate. Don't do it. But you get the idea.

An Imperial/Colonial/United States Marine waving a cutlass around might seem silly. Au contrair. Marines frequently perform boarding actions. Boarding actions usually mean they're fighting close enough for the bad guy's breath to fog their battledress visor (of course the Marine is the good guy.)

Boarding actions also may be fought in areas you do not want riddled with bullets or plasma blasted. Shooting a plasma gun in the computer room of a ship being seized for intelligence is self defeating. If the opposing crew's armor doesn't put them in battledress' weight class a charge with cutlasses is not suicidal. A cutlass traditionally has a basket and hilt arrangement that works well as brass knuckles in a tight spot. You can cold cock someone and not run them through.

High tech materials can also make very scary melee weapons. Imagine the the psychological value of putting a titanalloy (or bonded superdense) blade through a door or hatch to announce your presence You might want to wear battledress for this stunt.

You can just call your cutlasses katanas. That immediately makes them cool. Just wear a back rain coat over your battledress and Traveller goes cyberpunk!

Once people get the hang of blades and get tired of stray bullets and beams wrecking their expensive ships a new arms race begins: broadswords, spears, halberds and pikes!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

When Tanks Fly!

I was reading through the The Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society looking for ideas. I rarely come away from such reading empty handed and did not this time. In particular I was reading Special Supplement 3: Missiles in Traveller (JTAS #21.)

Without recounting every detail of the missile design system three features stand out. First, the missiles weigh in at 50 kilograms and use reaction drives. An average missile warhead weighs 10 to  20 kilos. Thirty odd kilos of fuel allows these beasts to thrust at about 3 gees for 20 to 30 minutes.

This tells us a lot about rocketry in Traveller. First it's a bit better than present TL 7-8 but not as good as maneuver drives. We can build a rocket that thrusts around four gees for 15 minutes or so. We need to to make it to orbit.

Second, maneuver drives can't be built for vehicles less than a few tons (at least not until TL 13 introduces the grav belt.) It's odd that missiles don't experience a huge leap in effectiveness by TL 13. Grav belts are expensive and not used on cheap munitions normally.

Book 2 says that vacc suits can make a three gee burn for a standard turn. The fuel and engine for the thruster would weigh 20 kilograms or more. Not something you want to carry around in normal gravity. Don't give me any of that guff about it being part of the worn clothing allowance either.

Most importantly, the third point is that missile warheads are about 10 kg. (maybe 20 kilograms.) A field Howitzer in Mercenary fires shells weighing 15 kilograms and it isn't awe inspiring. If the missile warheads lose force in space without an atmosphere to conduct the blast spacecraft must have relatively thin hulls. Classic Traveller doesn't say how tough ships are compared to vehicles or mercenary style weapons.

I don't think infantry with ACRs can down a Free Trader. But we tend to think starships are flying tanks immune to most air defense and ground force weapons. The 1981 revision of Traveller said a 'ton' of starship displacement was 13.5 cubic meters. That volume of liquid hydrogen weighs about 1 ton (or 71 kilos per cubic meter.) Interesting that they picked that volume. It seems the original intention was to have a 100 ton Scout /mass/ 100 tons. If not then it's a hell of a coincidence. What a strange number to pick otherwise.

Atomic Rockets has the following densities:
modern commercial a jet- 250 kg/cubic meter
fighter jets 350 kg/cubic meter
wet navy vessels 500 to 600 kg.cubic meter.

Most SF roleplaying games assume a density of 100 to 200 kg/cubic meter. That doesn't sound like a flying tank.  Even with improvements in material technology 71 kg. per cubic meter is pretty light.

Ships already defy gravity, side step relativity and operate in all environments. Having them shrug off artillery is asking a lot. A starship might be able to hold off a grav tank if it had a smart gun crew and a good pilot. I doubt a Scout ship crew, for example, would enjoy the experience or feel smug about the outcome. A RAM HEAP grenade or tac missile could likely damage a ship.

Classic Traveller treated starships more like big aircraft than battleships. When GDW put out High Guard the ships became tremendous and seemed more like wet navy warships. Wet navy battleships are very well armored. But they do not have to make orbit.

Striker also came out in '81 and stated starships had armor like a tank. That would mean they weigh in at a lot more than 1 ton/cubic meter. GDW forgot the old implied relationship of volume to weight.

If we have low mass ships firearms would also be better at putting holes in interior walls, equipment and conduits. Boarding actions become more dangerous for the defenders. Marine cutlasses stop looking silly in a boarding action. Combat becomes more interesting (thoughI doubt a revolver fired into the main reactor would blow it up.)

Maybe I'm over thinking this but take a look at Mercenary. There are mercs swarming over planets in the Imperium. Why don't more beleaguered rulers just hire an armed free trader to hover over the opposing forces and laser and missile them into nonexistence? Why even have an army at TL 9 or higher? I tend to believe that starships and their weapons are not immediate game changers -not the kind of starships a sane referee will let his group acquire.

Even if you have something like a maneuver drive, the mass of a ship will affect its acceleration which affects trip time. To a merchant time is money. To a navy time may mean victory. Economics and strategy alone will make designers build ships as lightly as possible. In space ships have natural armor, it's called distance. Even at 60,000 km a radar wave will take .2 seconds to reach a target and and .2 seconds to return to the sender. The laser the attacker fires also takes .2 seconds to reach the target. In .6 seconds a scout ship can accelerate by 12 meters or 2/3 of its length. That's a hard target to hit at 60 kiloklicks. It gets even worse if the pilot has enough brains to point the Scout at you or away. The beam of a Scout is only 12 meters.

If you use Story Vehicles or Vehicles for Stories? to run a fight between a starship and some vehicles I'd treat the ship as paramilitary (Battledress +4.) Lasers do 1D hits to vehicles and starships at such close ranges. Missiles, artillery and rockets do 2D hits (because they explode on contact.) Ship hulls ignore small arms doing less than 6 dice of damage. Weapons doing 7-8D of damage do one hit to a ship. Weapons doing 10D or more do two hits. Weapons doing 3D or more will puncture interior walls of a ship. Use a cutlass or body pistol. Really.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Navy of the Icy Shores

When Terrans began expanding into space a conflict began over what service would become the Solar Command. The Marines and Army were not considered and began a longstanding struggle over who was in charge of air defense. The Air Force and Navy both presented strong arguments over who should run the Solar Strategic Command.

The Air force had more experience with space launches, satellites and aeronautics. Then maneuver drives made a lot of that experience worthless. The Navy had experience managing large crews on long missions and operating large vessels. Both built spacecraft and starships. There wasn't a clear winner until the Allen Triphibian.

The Triphibian took an old idea, sticking space drives in submarines for ready made spacecraft. The vessel had ballast tanks and a pressure hull. It could preform as a submarine without the maneuver drive or contra-grav. It was going to explore the oceans of Europa and Titan. Then someone put fuel scoops on it. The first Triphibian refueled at Saturn after a long voyage to several of its moons. The government took notice. Soon proposals for gas giant refueling came out and the second generation triphibs could do just that.

The Triphibian sealed the deal for the Navy to take over the Solar Strategic Command. The similarity of scoop refueling to submersible operations was clear (at least to politicians.) The Air Force became the Orbital Defense Command. Their expertise with probes justified a small exploration fleet and several orbital stations. Having a separate air service when the Army and Marines had begun building grav tanks seemed redundant.

The many of the first settlers on Tyche and the other Fringe Worlds were ODC veterans with a love for tradition. They created the Scout Service to make use of their experience with probes and small crew operations.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Space Combat Made Stupid

I was just thinking that a merciful referee or one that liked toying with his Traveller group might like combat results that don't end in rolling up a lot of new characters. Instead of implementing damage from a mishap the following mishaps can occur. Optionally these mishaps might allow a players to escape from an uneven fight. Note that many of the results require a crew of boneheads. Tightly run military vessels should be exempt from the mishaps that scream stupidity and instead suffer from the ones that scream bad luck. The mishaps coud also serve to make a throwaway encounter more interesting (sunspots cause the pirates and the pc's to each see the other's tramp freighter as a merc cruiser.)

Intruder Player Turn-
A. Intruder Movement.
Missiles acquire wrong target or no target.
Sensor glitch provides incorrect information on Intruder. A Scout is classed as a Dreadnought or a Dreadnought becomes a Scout. 
Sand or Solar storms present one or more ghost images either indistinct or resembling a ship in sensor range. this could be a clue when six /other/ Bewoulf class traders show up around an uninhabited world.
Transponder switch stuck on/off. Whichever is worse.
Collision with debris (natural or artificial.)
Acceleration compensators glitch. Results vary from bruises and sprains to being pounded into chunky salsa.
Maneuver jars cargo loose.
Maneuver throws passengers loose.
B. Intruder Laser Fire
A bit of debris hit a laser cannon knocking it out unknowingly until now!
Missed maintenance jams a turret.
Laser shutter is jammed closed. Firing the laser means you buy and install a new shutter.
Laser overheats (possibly due to fragments of a laser shutter vaporizing near it.)
Laser coolant leak requiring filter masks or opening a window (heh.)
C. Native Laser Return Fire.
Laser beam hits a sensor link blinding the Intruder for 1 turn (no fire permitted.)
Laser beam hits a comm relay. No messages in or out.
D. Intruder Ordnance Launch.
Missile warhead is a dud.
Missile launch fails leaving a live warhead in the missile rack. Joy.
Missile launches and detonates at minimum safe range causing a shake up. 
Missile detonates in tube or within explosive range (this should only be done with a crew that thinks maintenance begins and ends with painting stuff once a decade whether it needs painting or not and hatches painted shut are an anti-hijacking feature.)
Defective or discount sand canister holds real sand and is useless.
Sand canister jams in the launcher.
Sand canister backfires filling turret and any adjacent compartments that are not sealed. Filter masks required to breathe. (See note for dealing with coolant leaks above.)
E. Intruder Computer Reprogramming
Data cube holding Gunner Interact or Maneuver program falls and bounces under seat.
Data disk gets jammed in computer.
Screen displays Vegan pron instead of trajectory of target.
Computer AI only wants to tap dance after one too many hits.
Computer operator gets stuck under seat looking for data cube.
Someone is using the data cube tray for a cup stand and the data cubes are missing or thrown about by maneuvers.
Computer needs to be turned off and on.
Native Player Turn A-E. - Pretty much anything that went wrong for the Intruder can happen to the Native Player. Just reverse the players in the descriptions.
Game Turn Interphase
Gaming group runs out of pizza.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Damn the Torpedoes!

Humanity went to the stars and took their military with them. The Solar Space Command did not let the absence of hostile alien navies deter them or shrink their budget. The newest cruisers were on the drawing board when engineers worried that their bulk would make existing lasers and missiles ineffective against them. Strides in computer systems already made space fighters obsolete.

Missiles packed more punch than lasers but sand, ECM, and point defense weapons all took their toll on munitions. Some designers advocated a larger form of laser emitter (see Showing the Flag At the Icy Shores 8/15/14 post.) This feature was rushed into production for the newest generation of warship but some strategists have misgivings about it. Other navies like that of Tyche decided to improve the odds of missile strikes through sheer volume, fielding carriers with large numbers of missile armed launches.

The latest solution the Terrans have examined was the torpedo. Unlike the smaller 50 kilogram missiles a Mark I torpedo weighed in at five tons and the first were built on stripped grav speeder hulls. It was powered by a maneuver drive with a liquid fuel chemical rocket for terminal maneuvering. Its warhead was ten times the size of a missile (3D of hits each die of damage applied to a different hit location.) A maneuver drive allowed a torpedo to maneuver at 6 gees indefinitely. The liquid rocket motor allowed it to increase its acceleration to 12 gees for a single turn. Since it had maneuver drives sand would not affect the torpedo (though laser fire was slightly more effective than against missiles (-2 DM to hit.)

The downside was the 1,000,000 cr. price tag, as much as a turret itself. The torpedo could be outfitted with any of the detonators a missile could. Contact detonators were popular since the torpedo was not limited by delta-v and could maneuver indefinitely. However, ECM programs could still cause the torpedoes to malfunction  and miss. Including a computer in the already expensive weapons was decided to be unproductive.

The solution was to incorporate a laser guidance system in the torpedoes. Since active laser guidance could allow similar torpedoes to track a torpedo back to its launching ship and sand could foil the targeting system at long ranges a launch was designated to paint targets for the torpedoes and defeat ECM. Since a launch could could control a number of torpedoes (Computer model # +2) outfitting it with a high end computer was not considered to expensive.

The launches were of course far too small to launch the torpedoes and depended on the mother ship. An expensive problem with torpedoes was the launch tube required for any kind of speed in launching the monsters. Launch tubes were 125 tons and cost 250,000 cr. and could launch five torpedoes per turn.

Once a torpedo was in space its explosive warhead would hit a target with the same probability of a beam laser fired at that target. Sand could interfere with the procedure (-1 DM per 25 mm of sand.) But a torpedo that missed could come around and try again until it or the controlling launch was destroyed.

Destroying the launches proved a popular option with cruiser commanders in simulations after their initial shock. This led to redesigned launches that were faster and better armed. This led to other launches with better armament to shoot them down. The space fighter advocates had the last laugh.

Rumors of an anti-torpedo torpedo are without foundation according to Solar Space Command but continue to sell downloads of Star Soldiers of Destiny.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Addenda to Vehicles

One of the techniques I like to use in my Old School homebrews is the idea of giving people dials to fine tune the rules to their setting.  Of course I forgot to include this in my post yesterday.

As a bizarre example you might want a combat system where an adventurer with a laser carbine could torch an M-60 tank (you need a laser rifle for a M-1.) It's your game. I'm not an authority and back inna day we all switched stuff around to suit us anyway.

The standard vehicles from Book 3 would look like this in my rules writeup

Air/raft: mesh-2
Air/raft: Mesh -2
Speeder: Civilian Mesh -1
GCarrier: Armored Combat -4
Ground Car: Civilian Mesh -2
W-ATV: Ruggedized Cloth -4
T-ATV: Ruggedized Cloth -4
W-AFV: Ruggedized Cloth -4
T-AFV: Ruggedized Cloth -4
Biplane: Civilian Mesh -3
Fixed Wing: Civilian Mesh -3
Helicopter: Civilian Mesh -1

Hovercraft: Civilian Mesh -3
Remember that DMs in CT modify the die throw, not the number you need. Cloth +1 is easier to hit than Cloth for example.

The modifiers to the armor are based on the size of the vehicle and its type as follows:
Motorcycle -1
Ground Car -2
Hummer/Van -3
Truck -4

Aircraft +1
Rotor craft +2
Hovercraft +1
Grav Vehicle 0
Ground 0
HighSpeed +1
Water Craft -1
High Performance +1

Finally keep in mind that a shot that hits a vehicle might damage it in ways not immediately apparent. For example the sucker with that snub pistol you ran over might have put a hole in your truck's oil pan. Optionally any shot, even one that didn't make its damage roll could cause some minor problem like taking out a headlight or windshield wiper.

Here are some vehicles adventurers might encounter using the system above for armor:
Kart: Civilian Mesh -1 (dune buggy sized vehicle for moving loads short distances.)
Hopper: Ruggedized Cloth -2 (enclosed air/raft.)
Sportscar: Civilian Mesh -1 (Vrooooooooom!)
Truck: Civilian Mesh -4 
Armored Car: Ruggedized Cloth -3 (Brink's, not SWAT)
GEV: Ruggedized Cloth -3 (hovercraft optimized for ground travel)