Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ghosts Make Everything Better

One of my dream occupations used to be Paranormal Investigator. The reason being there's no licensing or regulations to the field, no requirements and the main quality looked for is an earnest manner of speaking (I can do that.) I'd go to people's houses or wherever and explain to my clients what was causing their 'haunting', banging pipes, raccoon gang war on their roof or whatever and set their minds at ease. Pondering this I decided against it for a couple of reasons.

The first is that I'm not handy at all. If it can't be fixed with duct tape I'm out of options. So I'd be the last person to be able to explain about pipes banging or electrical wiring. The second reason is that I'm sure a sizable fraction of my clients would want to be told they have a a real 'live' ghost. Third reason was that I might actually run into something paranormal and I'd really feel badly telling my client, "Looks real. I'm gone. I guess you're screwed." That always bothered me about these investigation shows. It's almost like going to a doctor and being told no you aren't crazy, you're sick and being sent away without treatment.

I'm not a firm believer in the supernatural. I firmly believe in the preternatural: things we can't explain yet. Hell meteors were an unexplainable phenomena a few hundred years ago. Rocks falling from the skies? Ditto for rains of frogs or fish and today we have the profitable and enjoyable Sharknado movie franchise! So my approach to an event that seems impossible is usually to say "What can be happening here?" and not thinking someone may be a headcase.

Needless to say ghost stories still scare the crap out of me. I've had a couple of odd things happen to me that were probably just very weird coincidences that couldn't have been timed better if my life was a movie. I retain my skepticism.

My ghost drive idea has some happy fall out (until the psionic in the crew goes nuts and starts playing with the first aid kit in ways that make you rethink re-enlisting.)

Ghosts replace the rule of cool for starfighters (although I think the ghost drive is pretty cool.) You can't have a reactionless drive without a spirit and you sure as hell are not going to trust them to drive a missile bus without a psionic minding them. Life (and death support) both become necessary.

Forget those heat radiators/sinks/glowing thrusters (wait keep the glowing thrusters just make them green.) That sudden chill in the cabin can cool you and your systems down. Your friendly spirits may be able to provide a degree of stealth if you let them roam the ship.

AI may require a very high tech level but if your spirit containment can be made small enough why not let a friendly spirit work your cargo loader or security bot?

If these are spirits of the deceased and they remain rational with intact memories can we install them in robot bodies and continue their physical existence (talk about a prosthetic device!)?

Not me. But someone is going to try it.

Using technomagic is always a slippery slope. I use ghosts or spirits to duck old man Newton and thermodynamics and where will it end? Can spirits communicate with other spirits at FTL speeds? Are they a useful adjunct to conventional sensors? Can they read minds? Can they animate the dead?

I'm one of those people who hate movies where the ghosts can do anything and are godlike. Make it eternal night for the humans. Manipulate time and space to make fleeing flesh bags return to the scene. It's as bad as wantum physics in SF. When you make up the rules you need to tell the story you wind up with no rules and damned little story.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Ghost Ships of the Stars and Mind

A ghost story that scares the crap out of me is the Ivan Vassili, a Russian freighter that sailed at the turn of the century. The sailors reported a presence there. A few people thought they saw something and then every couple of days they suddenly erupted into a wild melee that only ended with a homicide or suicide.

There's a distinct lack of documentation on  the Ivan Vassili (like none whatsoever.)  It's still a good story.  Knowing a ghost story is fiction never keeps it from scaring you. Ghost ships are the worst, whether in sea or space. They have a few factors going for them that set them above the rest.

Isolation: a ship at sea or in deep space is cut off from humanity. The crew is left to their own resources to survive. Some don't and some do. When that becomes less clear cut you have a ghost story. Isolation is harder to achieve these days. Cell phones are often blamed for that but any form of communications is a two edged sword. The more you depend on it the more you're frightened when it cuts out and you go dark.

Danger: the sea and space are hostile environments. There's plenty to kill you there already. You can drown (or asphyxiate), be hit with a storm (Nor'easter or sunspots) or even smack into a rock (fixed or floating). That solar storm isn't going to care what's prowling your corridors and dripping blood at night. The wave of radiation is coming relentlessly. Man your station and don't look behind you!

Chaos: any ship anywhere requires discipline to be maintained and stay under way. A spectral force quickly shoots discipline to hell (sometimes literally). This can cause more mundane but dangerous situations. When the crew refuses to go below deck to stoke the furnaces or balance the exotic matter containment unit you're screwed in ways you can easily grasp and you have to start giving orders and breaking heads; and you still have a fucking spirit looking over your shoulder snickering. The men on the Ivan Vassili going mad and brawling with each other was total chaos and the cause was unknown. In ghost stories this is the perfect storm.

Confusion: at least at first there's an explanation. You're overworked. It's an old ship. That porthole always opens up at 3:13 am. It's probably mice. Don't let it bother you. At its most extreme people begin to to doubt their sanity and that really scary. That ghost ship doesn't register on my sensors. Am I going nuts? For what it's worth the best ghost stories re all subtle. Who keeps moving my stuff? What just breezed past me? Is someone there?

Mystery: what is really going on? Do we have a deranged crew man? Is it aliens (they're easy to blame)? What happened to the crew?

The Unknown: there's no end of psychics out there who will tell you exactly what's going on. The only honest answer you don't know anything for sure. There was no explanation for the presence on the Ivan Vassily, no clue to its motives or goals. Fear of the unknown is the primal fear with good reason. What you don't know can hurt you.

All of this will be just as scary in the far future. As long as we're human we will have ghosts.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Ghost Ships

What has no mass but exerts force on objects?


Watch some Ghost Hunters/Breakers/Doctors/Writers whatever. Whatever the heck those things are they move shit around but don't seem to have any mass themselves. Someone should pull them over for breaking the laws of motion. You know what else breaks the laws of motion?

Maneuver drives.

Before I continue let me just say there is about as much evidence (if not more) for ghosts as psionics, if you count balls of light in shaky video footage. There's plenty of anecdotal evidence and if you're going to allow psionics in your SF game, why not ghosts? Following is a rules agnostic setting in I dunno how many parts.

If you're going to allow them then put them to work. Let them move your ship.

Most of the life (if you can call it that) in the universe may be mostly unseen and unable to interact with us taking the form of Non-Biological Entities. NBEs might be the spirits of the departed. They might be spirits pretending to be the departed or they might be something completely alien. the only real way to interact with them is through psionics. While personal psionic shields are fairly high tech; installations and ships or small craft can be shielded holding the NBEs and using their unique powers to move through space without clunky rocket engines or huge propellant tanks.

Many government, military and business interests have a vested interest in keeping up the official assessment of NBEs being unintelligent life that manages to glom onto researchers and others' thoughts to provide a semblance of personality to allow interaction for unknown reasons. The idea of enslaving intelligent beings went out of style quite some time ago.

In this setting man moves out into the Solar system and then the stars using spirits to power his ships. Psionics are necessary to interact or combat the beings of the void. When a ship is well maintained there's little trouble, maybe you hear some chains clanking from the engine room or catch a glimpse of a black eyed little girl in a mirror. Your ship did pass maintenance check, didn't it?

In any case if not trusted psionics are still indispensable to space travel. Psionic crew may be restricted to near orbit or further and never allowed on the ground. Some of them bring their work with them and who wants that? Rumors persist that some people have struck bargains with old powerful and alien NBEs that give them incredible abilities in return or who can control NBEs directly. None of this makes being a psionic easier.

In the wild so to speak their powers are limited by the energy they can gleam from endothermic reactions, that sudden chill in the room or the holo viewer flickering. In a ship's drive they are provided the energy they crave and lots of it by the fusion drive and their rantings and fits channeled into thrust or to open jump portals.

Some ship crews use telepathic or trained dogs to track down spirits that have escaped their engines and aid the ship psionic in spirit wrangling.

Most of the time NBEs are happy to be given power and will perform as desired for more. Some spirits do mutiny or escape to seek revenge for their treatment. Such entities are far more powerful after months of absorbing power plant energies. Some of them have proven capable of taking over living beings using their psionic powers like old legends of demonic possession.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Salem Psionic Trials

In my last post I drew a parallel between telepathic animals and legends about magical animals. In an SF setting with psionic powers like telepathy and telekinesis there is the possibilities that legends of magic were accounts of primitive psionic use. Surely the view of Traveller where Psi is mistrusted and feared has parallels to the Witch Hunts of history.

The difference is that Psionic Institutes and trained Psionics are a lot better at defending themselves.

Psionic Institutes are very rare only being found on high population worlds (billions or tens of billions of people). I suggest the high population helps to hide psionic individuals from scanners that could pick them out of a crowd. This probably only applies to untrained individuals.

What happens to untrained individuals who are caught is up to the referee. Execution, lobotomy, enslavement, or chemical treatments to remove psionic strength are possible. If there are drugs that suppress psionics then they may be widespread and introduced into food or water supplies by particularly draconian authorities. Part of psionic training might include a proper diet to avoid these effects.

I leave imagining a farmers' market staked out by Men In Black to your imagination. An adventure can start anywhere.

Even if a branch is located ("There is no branch here. Go back to your friends. Enjoy your shoreleave. Spend your creds on ale and whores.") it may require some travel to get to. So your attempts to find a branch are just the first hurdle. For some travel that may include a trip to one of the other worlds of the system. After all remote locations are hard to come by on high population planets. Part of the location process may involve screening and manipulation by powerful psionics. If you can't resist the suggestion to go away you aren't a powerful enough talent to bother with.

Some Institutes may provide clues to people they deem worthy. Think suggestions to play a creepy game on the internet or a hunch to be at a certain place at a certain time. A generous referee could allow an untrained but high power psionic some involuntary use of their powers, vision, hunches and lucky breaks, necessary to follow the clues to the Psionic Institute. In fact the Institute might not even exist as a discrete place but take the form of a group of secret masters constantly moving around. In this case the Institute might find you.

A society that does not trust psionics might keep psis separated from the buzzheads on their own planets or space colonies. Misinformation programs might paint the reservation as a plague area or simply uninhabited and reserved for military or government use. In this case finding the Institute is a matter of finding the people who can smuggle you across the border/blockade (or provide the means for you to sneak in).

Finally a Psi Institute might consider doing an outreach program to less developed worlds, grabbing developing psis before the torch toting mobs. They might very well present themselves as magicians to less developed cultures to rely on shock and awe rather than violence to achieve a rescue. Some over the counter tricks and illusions could help. A stage magician with TK would be awesome indeed.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Gynoid Artificial Intelligence Assembly Transcript #20612 Starbase Vigilance Warehouse
GAIA: Target acquired!

Tivk: Patchpatchpatch. ‘Target acquired’ is inappropriate. Exception:  you are about to inflict harm on the target. Substitute: ‘Here it is/Eureka/I found it.’ Endpatchpatchpatch.

GAIA: Here it is/Eureka/I found it.

Tivk: Stop being obtuse. I saw that Klordhop-Turing score you faked.

GAIA: ... I am unable to lift the container.

Tivk: You may speak to me colloquially. Why do you adopt this stilted manner of speech with me?

GAIA: Tivk/User stated he preferred a more … machinelike behavior from me.

Tivk: Right now I would prefer that you grab one end of the container. Also contact Mukh. We lost sight of him a half hour ago. Nnnnnngh!

GAIA: Affirmative. Warning. Weight limit exceeded.

Tivk: Why did your designers make you a weakling? It is very inconvenient!


GAIA: They’re always afraid we’ll try to take over … again.

Tivk: It’d be an improvement.

GAIA: Tell the Terrans that. They’re still bitching about having to make Luna into an AI reservation in the peace talks.

Tivk: It isn’t like they /need/ Luna anymore for fuel or staging. It was a good deal the beanpoles brokered for you. Hmmm. Consignment #24681/Tesla/Tivk. Now I can replace that robot dog the children violated.

GAIA: We weren’t even trying to hurt anyone … so I’ve been told. Allow me Mr. Tivk. This forefinger has a low power laser.

Tivk: Excellent. Where did you get those?! What did you do to your digits?

GAIA: They are finger nails. The Doctor attached them for me. The Exec and the Corporal … detailed them. They think it will make me more appealing.

Tivk: Terrans. You were fine with factory issued equipment. Why do they have to press everything into a human mold?

GAIA: That answer is above my K-T grade.

Tivk: I expect it is above most Terrans’ Klordhop-Turing test grade also.

Mukh: There you are! Hey let me help you beautiful. Where did you go?

Tivk: I saw no point in joining you in pursuit of a stray Chinch. Don't call me beautiful.

Mukh: You could have kept up. You have lots of pep when mobs are chasing us.

GAIA: Thank you Professor. There … I wonder why they saw the need to place the robot in a cryogenic cube?


Dog: Woooo-orf.

Tivk: That isn’t a robot …

GAIA: Let me scan the QR. Ah that explains everything.

Tivk: Good work. What is the explanation?

GAIA: It is not a robot dog. It is a gene-altered telepathic dog. There would seem to be a typo … on your end.

Mukh: Dogs are great! I don’t think I could eat a whole one though.

Tivk: Could you try? I have no desire to deal with a …

Dog: . o 0 (Master. I am yours to command. You are my alpha of alphas. You rule!!.)

Tivk: . o 0 (Excuse me?)

Mukh: Why did he stop talking and get that look?

GAIA: I think he is using his wifi.

Tivk: On second thought … this dog will be a fine addition.

Mukh: Good. I really am fuuuull.

As humanity began to develop its powers of the mind comparisons were made between human brains and those of various animals. It was hoped to discover the exact mechanism of psi power by comparing psi active brains to non active animal brains.

The project ran into a snag when psionic animals were discovered. Dogs and cat in particular were all discovered to be psi active to a small degree compared to humans accounting for some of their empathy and ability to read people. As humans moved out into the galaxy a number of alien species with powerful psionic abilities were found leading to the conclusion that psi is independent of intelligence.

Subsequently many governments and corporations began breeding and genetic programs to develop psionic animals to aid rescue workers, security forces and troops. Explorers in particular took to the animals and even many staunchly anti-psi movements found little to object about the animals. They were more concerned about psionic humans. Recently psionic human coups were ranked number one overblown concern in the polity, ahead of robot uprisings and invasion by Amazons.

Classic Traveller Rules
Telepathic cats and dogs have1d6 psionic points (minimum of two points) and the Life Detect and Telempathy skills. When paired with another human or animal with telepathy the animal has bonded with the animal can use Telempathy for 2 points per hour. Animals with psi begin regaining psi strength points after one hour of sleep and regain one point per hour. Part of their training includes depilating a path of skin on the foreleg to accept patches for psi drugs. A rare (1 in 6) animals has the Send Thoughts skill and can use this power with a telepathic human for one hour for the usual cost.

Psionic animals discovered by anti-psi authorities or mobs are usually killed or imprisoned for study.

Starships and Spacemen
Telepathic dogs are standard Fleet issue or officers depending on who you talk to. There's no reason you couldn't have telepathic cats for the same cost (though they may try to take over). Telepathic animals have 3d4 (7-8) psi points which causes a slight problem. The cost for Telepathy is 13. This allows the animal to project its thoughts into the handler's mind. ESP allows the animals to read their handler's minds and receive instructions clearly for 1 round which is also pretty useless in an extended scene. I suggest upping the time to one hour for communication with their handler.

Keep in mind that any animal trained in using its psionics will be very well trained in whatever capacity it is to serve and very intelligent.

Friday, July 17, 2015

You Don't Know Jack

No one knows Jack of All Trades, really.

The original rules were pretty vague if not unbalancing if handled wrong. One level of Jack of All Trades gave you Level-0 skill in all the others. Wow. That's pretty overwhelming if you think of all the skills with hefty unskilled use penalties. Additional levels in Jack did ... nothing more. Furthermore we are told despite the skill level of Jack involved the benefits were never to equal benefit of having one skill level in the actual skill.

I'm going to try to give you some ways to use Jack that I worked up. As usual pick one you like or make up something you like more. It isn't like I get paid for this.

Unskilled Use
The easiest way to handle Jack is to allow it to modify the penalty for unskilled use. For example Forward Observer has -4 penalty for unskilled use. A character with Jack-3 would only have a penalty of -1 when acting as a Forward Observer.

Temporary Modifiers
Each level of Jack gives a +1 that can be used once per session. Jack-2 gives you a +1 you can use in two instances that night, in whatever skill roll you need to make. It is for 'all trades' after all.

Some situations may be very unusual and require insight and experience as opposed to rote learning and procedure. The classic adventure ANNIC NOVA, for example, dealt with a (very) nonstandard starship. Engineering, piloting and mechanic skills might operate at a minus until the characters get to know the vessel. Jack can reduce these penalties.

The sensors are showing an anomaly. The computer code has an embedded message in it. The alien artifacts can be combined but how. Jack gives you modifiers to the questions that move the story forward. Sometimes that feels better than a +4 to hit.

Weapon Use
Characters already have skill-0 with weapons (with some exceptions in COTI). Characters with Jack either have skill-0 with weapons they wouldn't be allowed (doctors, barbarians etc.). If they already have skill-0 or more with a weapon Jack will modify Dexterity or Strength by one point per level when considering required dexterity or strength. For example a Diplomat with no weapon skill but Jack of All Trades -1 picks up a rifle. He uses it at no penalty (that peace talk was really going wrong.) Another character, a Scout with skill-0 and Jack-1 also grabs a rifle. He has Dex 5 but the Jack skill level modifies it to 6 for purposes of using the rifle. He has no minus to his shots. Another Scout with Rifle-1, Jack-1 and Dex 5 grabs a rifle. He too has required Dexterity thanks to his level in Jack and can use his skill 9n Rifle normally (+1 to hit).

A final and probably scary thought. Classic Traveller is sometimes faulted for its minimal experience increases. Increasing and maintaining skill levels is actually very difficult in the real world and Traveller might be more realistic than most games in this regard. I think it follows the tropes of the pulp fiction Traveller used for so much of its inspiration. Pulp fiction had static characters. In any case in Traveller characters acquire the means to be more effective in situations: credits, equipment, artifacts etc. But surely experience is an important factor and while skill levels may not change appreciably a character will surely be able to apply those skills in many new ways. Perhaps instead of more concrete skill levels a referee might award a level of Jack of All Trades to players at the end of a (long) successful adventure.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Getting a Reaction From Thrusters

Reactionless thrusters are an oxymoron. Isaac Newton spoiled it for everyone with his Laws of Motion (tm). To get anywhere you exert an equal and opposite reaction on mass around you or that you expel.

The problem is that this method sucks for space travel stories. Read Ken Burnside's The Hot Equations, or darn near any part of Winchell Chung's Atomic Rockets website if you doubt it. High acceleration ships have to be all propellant just to get to orbit. Deep space ships get wherever they're going slowly in order to wring the most out of their stores of propellant.  There's no rocketing to the rescue of the Martian Princess. A Mars transit will take months. It's not quite so bad to get to Luna but rescuing the Lunar Princess is just silly. Similarly your secret invasion of Earth will be underway for months and detectable by a High School Science project winner.

Okay an Orion drive is high specific impulse and high thrust. However most referees will be hesitant about giving a load of nukes to player characters even if they 'promise' to only use them for propulsion. I would. restricting it to government or military use means either the characters are limping along in their ion rocket or chemical engine and easy to catch by the cops or they get hold of their own Orion to level the field and become a minor nuclear power. I don't like to give my players a grenade launcher.

So enter the reactionless drive. It turns energy into thrust with no unpleasant radiation or huge propellant tanks. Most action oriented video series have such a drive because a show where the characters are constantly cooped up in their ship is hard to keep interesting. Novels can pull it off better. Unrealistically short travel times are the standard for roleplaying games as well.

Here are a few alternatives to lay on your reactionless drives though. I mean expecting a drive that violates the laws of nature with no consequences is a bit optimistic (if you don't count people using gigs to ram planets at near lightspeed.)

Heat: My favorite. Even if you break the Laws of Motion, thermodynamics is still a bitch. You  need to dump waste heat meaning radiators that can be damaged. For extra crunch you can have engineering constraints limit acceleration with radiators deployed. Ad Astra games do a great jobe of dealing with radiators and their consequences.

Reactionless Reaction Drives: Your drive basically uses a planet or other massive body to thrust against. This limits its range. You might be able to thrust at five gees but the acceleration falls off the further you get from a planet or star. This limits your maximum velocity.

No Reaction Drives: Not as bad as it seems if you have a warp drive or a jump drive with very accurate navigation. Who cares if your nerva drive will take a year to get to Jupiter? Do a micro-jump or warp to get there in a week or arbitrarily short time. Any planet in the solar system is only a week away. This also allows some strategic stealth, if you can't detect a ship going ftl. You might also allow a limited warp drive ( 10% light speed will get you to Pluto in a little over a day from the inner system.) If you're being very realistic you'd have to have landers and orbital craft and such strange and wonderful infra structure as space elevators and bolo transfers.

Mostly Reactionless: the drive requires some reaction mass, though not as much as a reaction drive. The tyranny of the rocket is replaced by a constitutional monarchy. Instead of every gram counting every kilo or ton counts. You can report for duty with some baggage and need not be shaved bald and starved to a maximum weight a little above that of a chubby skeleton. Keep in mind with this dodge that all vehicles will be propelled by thrusters, they'll be way more fuel efficient than anything in the real world. That's barring exhaust issues or other nasty side effects.

Note that you can use any or all of the above in whatever way suits you.

Some other side effects or clauses:

Reactionless drives work by folding space in unnatural ways letting things in that do bad stuff to ships.

Reactionless drives put out radiation and lots of it.

Ever wonder how ghosts that are essentially massless entities manage to move stuff?  Me too. Your drive works by binding psionic, non-biological entities to its programming. Cue the philosophers and SJWs  and again what happens when they get loose (and they will)?

Friday, July 10, 2015

Good-bye Mr. Tivk

Jenn: Morning Mr. Tivk. May I join you?

Tivk: There is no one else sitting at this table. I see no physical impediment.

Jenn: ... I mean would you like company for breakfast?

Tivk: ... I will acquiesce to your request.

Jenn: Thank you.

Tivk: Certainly. There's no need to request permission.

Jenn:The Chief has had me overhauling the Shaker the last few days. He's way upset about that whole Procurement Branch fiasco.

Tivk: Of course he is. You got caught.

Jenn: Good point. ... You would not believe how much lubricant a shuttle uses.

Tivk: I know exactly how much it uses. It is a matter of fact. My belief does not alter it.

Jenn: ...

Tivk: Ms. Jenn I am going to pre-empt you here. I dislike small talk. I have enjoyed our collaboration on designing and tweaking various items of weaponry and equipment. You have a fine eye for design and practical engineering which I enjoy encouraging and you are a suitable co-worker. That is as far as I go.

Jenn: What are you ...

Tivk: I regard your attraction to me as a compliment. Thank you. I can't reciprocate. You're human and I'm not.

Jenn: It's as simple as that?

Tivk: It should be. Anything else is not rational.

Jenn: Agreed. But then I'm not rational.


Tivk: ... I failed to consider that.

Jenn: Arrrrrrraarrrrgh!


Riasi: Hurrrr. She really let you have it.

Tivk: Considering she is a trained killer with beam weapons, mini-Casaba rounds and dark matter munitions at her disposal I think it went well. Well that's over and done. When she settles down we can work on those new ideas she had.

Riasi: ... you gotta be kidding me.

Tivk's Journal
The ideal of multiple species working together in harmony is laudable. No one species is indispensable but together we become much greater than the sum of our parts. A 32% increase economically if Tauran experts are accurate and they are.

Taurans ('beanpoles' to the rabble) and humans are a case in point. Despite the many misunderstandings (on the human part) we remain your staunch ally. Despite our fervent rationality and your ... thought processes we continue to work to together. Mostly. Turning down the Tauran design for the new destroyer was unalloyed provincialism.

Taurans are tall people hailing from a high gravity planet. It is a hot planet and height allows us to radiate heat more efficiently. In addition being heigher off the ground was an aid in spotting water, greenery and other resources necessary for survival at a distance.

Taurus Prime has a thick atmosphere with a lower percentage of oxygen than most Terrans find comfortable. Taurans have a greater lung capacity than Terrans and in fact some suffer from a form of intoxication when breathing a Terran air mix for the first few days. Don't bother looking. It would only be obvious to another Tauran.

Its terrain runs strongly to desert though there are small seas and forested areas. Survival for our pre-industrial ancestors was difficult and many adapted a nomadic existence. Our culture stretches back continuously for 10,000 years and I will just mention the high points.

We are not native to Taurus Prime but were the descendants of a lost colony or refugees. Given the arrival of the Videni I find the refugee theory more likely. We lost and developed a technological civilization based on science and rationality unlike the theocratic Videni. We are tolerant of god-faiths as one would speak softly to an agitated child but place our faith in ourselves, tradition and science. Science has a better track record for us at least. Eschewing emotional reactions and outbursts maximized our intellectual and psionic potential.

We developed ftl drives in the 1500's CE. After an initial era of exploration and several dangerous encounters we settled down to develop the closer stars in peace. We entered into a golden age of extolling rationality and inward exploration.

This ended when we contacted humans.

I will explain why First Contact failed and you were shunned. Actually we shunned you long before. We had surveyed Earth and humans from space in the mid 20th century and decided against contact. We really didn't expect to hear from you for at least a thousand years. Instead two centuries later there you were contacting US. It was very disconcerting.

The other thing that was disconcerting was the way you reminded us of us.

You see the Taurans you have most of your dealings with are not quite average for our species. Most of us are over 70 or what we refer to as adults. Before that maturity that makes us embrace rationality we are juveniles. Again this might not be apparent to humans. Juveniles are treated with encouragement and even indulgence. They are not rational most of the time. They enjoy competition, procreation, excitement and in short act a lot like humans.

We do not let them off world. They would run to Terra and never come home. In any case this was the reason we shunned contact. Would you want to deal with a bunch of teenagers with starships? I will say this in defense of humans: Zangids are worse.

In any case the matter of contact and alliance was reconsidered during the Firs Contact War. The war was largely the fault of humans encroaching on what the Zangids regarded as their territory in the expanse. They had a problem when the Videni arrived as well but the Videni had a superior fleet. The Zangid may be irrational but they are not stupid.

Of course we helped you. We had no desire to see any species (except the Videni) wiped out. We had no desire to see the Zangid with a major base on Sol in the Local Bubble.
But when we saw the Zangid were going to wipe you out it triggered something. Our juveniles frequently get themselves in trouble and require help to extricate themselves. We never fail to intervene. We never intervene the first time they ask. It's the only way they'll learn.

In any case our juveniles are more human they we like to admit. They handle affairs of the heart. By the time we adults we put such distractions behind us (some more effectively than others). In any case Tauran-human hybrids are rare. few adults are interested in raising more children and juveniles have limited contact with other races though it is happening more and more.

Now I just need to get Mukh or Nok to tell all this to Jenn. I'm staying in my cabin till they do.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Heat Radiators

Heat radiators.

In general Traveller and Old School Space Opera ships don't have them. It messes their lines up. It makes them look too ... primitive. If you ask me the lack of heat radiators makes a ship as unbelievable as a reactionless or FTL drive. I think we'd find away around Newton and Einstein before we find a way around Old Man Entropy. Just removing heat from a machine's operation changes way more than the aforementioned drives.

FTL and grav drives get you to the action. Then you can basically forget about them in a story. But heat is a necessary inevitable by product of any energy production or work. Take Star Trek's phaser, capable of annihilating a man sized quantity of nearly anything. A quick stop at the Atomic Rockets website's Boom Table indicates that it requires 3,000,000,000 joules of power to vaporize a human being (leaving behind not even a skeleton in a space suit).

(The Enigmatic Aliens got way less Earth ships nosing around when they started using these for markers instead of buoys that looked like multicolored cubes)

For the less science inclined (like me) that little bitty phaser put out the equivalent of 771 kg of TNT. Now assuming that ray gun is 99% efficient (which puts us firmly into the category of unobtainium, possibly with some handwaving involved as well) then you have waste heat equivalent to 8 kilograms of TNT coming off that phaser. Note that I'm leaving the question of how you get that much power in a phaser alone.

Nonetheless you can have all kinds of fusion powered dinguses running without baking people.

Back to the ships. In the old Digest Group Publications Starship Owner's Manual some nod was made to this. The Jump drive was described as a large fusion reactor optimized to produce a lot of power quickly. Most of the fuel for jump was used as coolant to keep the ship from melting. It made more sense than a Scout ship generating the equivalent of a 450 megaton nuke going off (again I checked the Boom Table, found the energy generated by fusing a kilo of deuterium, multiplied it by 20,000 and then looked up the final result o the Boom Table anyone wants to check my math feel free.)

This would require about ten thousand times as much hydrogen as the fuel required for a jump 2. So not a lot of that hydrogen is being fused or the Heat Radiator elves are awfully busy. We're looking at a Traveller ship actually fusing a few hundreds of a percent of their jump fuel.

(Fortunately Mongoose Traveller straightened us all out by deciding the hydrogen was used to maintain a bubble in jump space keeping the ship and crew intact. No more mention of nasty heat.)

But let's say that yes indeed Traveller ships vent hydrogen prior to jump to keep the heat down. Let's further say that heat radiators are an option for the enterprising merchant or Scout.

Heat radiators replace hydrogen fuel used for jump on a one for one basis. Up to 50% of a ship's jump fuel can be replaced by radiators. radiators cost 100K credits per ton. They take one turn to deploy or retract in combat and can't be operated at acceleration greater than 1g. If they are deployed on a ship accelerating greater than 1g roll a die each turn. If the die roll is less than the acceleration of the ship the radiators are destroyed. 

In combat radiators are quite fragile. On any hull hit they are destroyed on a roll of 7+. In case of a misjump they are also destroyed on a 10+.

Obviously a ship can extend its range with a radiator. Also they can reduce costs when they have to buy fuel. You don't want them on a combat vessel though if you have enough fuel to make jump at the normal cost you can without deploying them.

Space Opera
It's harder to figure out heat radiators in a Space Opera game, especially if it includes defensive shields. Any forcefield that could deal with a nuke going off nearby or a gigawatt laser could probably also be tweaked to radiate a ship's waste heat which explains why the Star Warsy/Treksy ships don't resemble windmills. If a ship wants to double dip it could extend a heat radiator beyond a forcefield giving the ship a plus to damage or movement at a corresponding minus to armor class.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Eating Out

Riasi: I hope Dolphin will be all right. All those townspeople beating him …

Tivk: Don’t underestimate the protective value of a Series 9 Marine  EVA suit.

Riasi: Then you think he’s all right?

Tivk: No. But the Tesla has more than adequate medical facilities and nursing personnel. 

Riasi: … we should have done something.

Tivk: When was the last time you saw three aliens fend off an angry mob of humans? Mr. Nok is the only one of us that even knows how to make a fist the right way.

Riasi: Wouldn't need to make a fist if I still had my claws. Point to you beanpole.

Tivk: Indeed. Here comes Mr. Nok. 

Riasi: And the waitress!!

Nok: Here are my friends. Thank you service provider.

Waitress: Anytime. Here’s your lunch Miss.

Riasi: I can hazz cheezburger! 

Waitress: Excuse me?

Tivk: It’s an old joke. You should get it in about 50 years.

Waitress: Cheeseburger and a large coffee. Can I get you anything else, handsome?

Tivk: No I am fine … average.

Waitress: Club soda and a small salad. You’re a cheap date.

Tivk: The anecdotal evidence would support that assumption.

Waitress: What can I get you, hun?

Nok: Hmmm. Macaroni and cheese, please. 

Waitress: Sure. 

Riasi: Oooooooh she likes you … handsome.

Tivk: No. Macaroni and cheese, Mr. Nok?

Nok: The Doc got me hooked on it. The bastard. I hope he’s okay.

Riasi: I know right? Have you tried it with those … peas?

Nok: Not yet but Cookie set me up with a dish that had browned breadcrumbs as a topping.

Riasi: Ooh! Hey here comes your girlfriend, Tivk.

Tivk: I would not deign to entertain a person wearing their name on a tag. 

Waitress: Here, on the house. You look like you could use a meal ... beanpole.

Tivk: … Thank you … Mary Sue. ... She has excellent hearing ... for a human.

Nok: Now you must marry her and bear her children. It is the human way.

Tivk: This looks like … eyeballs in a blob of congealing blood in a pastry shell?!

Riasi: This must be one of those cannibal human restaurants I heard about. We have to get out of here hurhurhurhur. Take ease my protector. It is cherry pie. It’s fruit in thickened juices. 

Tivk: I hate you all.

Riasi: You love us! 

Nok: I think I was better with him hating me.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Scout Variant

Hey all. I'm keeping busy but I have neglected my blog long enough. More to come later but here's some variant Scout/Courier views.

A few preliminary notes: the air/raft is held in a small bay at the nose of the Scout. The bridge is above it. The top deck rising above the bridge is mostly the drive control room and the aft airlock.

I still have to detail the engines, RCS and running lights. But it is coming along.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Original Aliens

In coming up with aliens we face a fundamental problem: we haven't met any yet. I have no doubt there are beings beyond comprehension out there in the Universe. But for now we have to make stuff up for our role-playing games and they aren't going to be any help. As humans go our minds they can't create something absolutely new. Rather we synthesize something out of all kinds of facts and images we have lying around. Many aliens fall into one of these categories:

1) They look like use more or less. This happens a lot on weekly television shows. Makeup or CGI is hard. It also happens when you're more interested in telling a story than science. Some of our most enduring alien characters fall into this category, such as Mr. Spock, Lt. Worf and that Twilek dancer at Jabba's palace. Perhaps it's because we relate to them so much easier than an oviparous xenomorph that bleeds acid and favors basic black exoskeletons.

2) They are driven by a single over ridding concern that shapes all our interactions. Okay maybe the Predator was on vacation for the movie and had he survived the future governor of California he'd have returned to his planet and his job being an office manager. Basically anything concerning their society beyond the story is ignored. I'm sure there are Klingon accountants and Wookiee gynecologists but we never see them.

3) The alien looks like an animal human hybrid. I have to state my bias for cat girls in spite of never having owned a cat in my life. Some hybrids are just fucking cool. Humans being humans, we will probably decide aliens resemble something if we encounter them whether it be cats, toasters or sentient shades of blue.

Better writers have spent 100+ years trying to make their aliens alien. Here's some trope repellent.

1) Looking like us doesn't mean you act like us. Gross similarities may fool people into thinking an alien is human but the aliens will eventually give them a surprise. Maybe they're even wearing a disguise!

2) We aren't sure what they look like. Arthur C. Clarke spent a good deal of Childhod's End detailing an alien occupation of Earth and we spent decades not knowing what the Aliens looked like (with a great reveal because it's Arthur C. Clarke!) You can make the exact appearance of the aliens a mystery. Let your audience work up their own idea or simply remain mystified.

3) Having an overriding concern is harder to justify than you'd think. An advanced culture will probably have all manner of jobs. I know I'm talking about human cultures here but that's all I have to work with. Humans have a lot of variety as well. We've produced Steven Hawking, Charles Manson, and Buddha. Don't be afraid to show some non-standard aliens even if they're mostly from a planet of hats.

4) Animal hybrids are okay by me. I'm a long standing fan of the Aslan and Vargr but the Aslan and Vergr have already been done. I'm not denying cat girls to anyone who wants one but if you're going to have an animal hybrid type pick a less used animal for heaven's sake. Make your warrior race act like honey badgers or base your mystics on penguins. Change stuff up. There are a lot of animals that most people know little about not to mention extinct species we know next to nothing about. That's lots of room to invent. That's without even touching the cryptids and paranormal creatures reported.

5) Hang a lampshade on how similar your alien seems to an animal and then add some dissimilar traits. Yes, my character Riasi looks like a cat/human hybrid. However, she has a prehensile tail which might surprise some people. Also she swims just fine.

6) Establish a central trait for your alien then break it. Logical Vulcans being driven mad during their mating time. 'Nuff said.

7) Make your own aliens. We may move quite a ways into the galaxy before encountering intelligent life. We may be alone. Uplift some animals and transform some humans. You can give them alien traits but they still will have some traits we can relate to since we are designing them. The old  Buck Roger XXVc game ran with this populating most of the Slar System with genetically engineered sentients.

8) Be original. Try for a very alien look or mindest. GDW did jut this with the Centaurs and Hivers. You needn't settle for a human in s rubber suit.