Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Gas (Giant) and Go!

Okay ships use wilderness refueling to save credits. However, their crews do have money to spend. While their captain won't want to head for the mainworld, which has no market for his cargo, the crew still wants some leave. Even a few hours. Smart captains will give a little. Forward thinking world governments will see a way to make some bucks off passing ships.

Presenting Last Chance Outposts. Also known as side ports, gas 'n goes and a variety of less wholesome names.

Many worlds with a C starport or worse establish a space station near the inner gas giant. Sometimes it's an orbiting base. Other worlds use one or more large insystem craft, the better to meet captains eager to make their schedule. The mobile outposts carry a variety of merchandise, spares, filters, vacc suits, ship's locker items and personal weapons.

A number of outposts have very basic repair services have basic repair stations and a large EVA crew to perform them for ships that have been damaged during refueling. Without exception such repairs always take at least a few hours allowing the ship's crew to partake of the other outpost services.

An outpost will have a restaurant of some type. They vary in quality though most at least serve fresh food. After all the crew can get microwaved packaged crap onboard for nothing. Other shops will sell local goods such as luxury items or handcrafts all at steep mark up.

There is usually a compartment or several reserved for various illicit activities. These red lit corridors have almost anything you could imagine for sale or rent though what's illicit varies wildly from world to world. You might wind up in a coffee bar or out of uniform. Note this section is not openly advertised and requires some Streetwise or Steward skill to learn about and enter (as well as credits).

Finally each outpost has a cargo hold filled with a variety of items for speculation. A lot of haggling happens here. A great many items are organic in nature. Dumping food cargos due to spoilage, mold or fungal infection is common. So common that no one really looks into it. Some dumped cargoes find their way to an outpost where they can be bartered for other organics leaving no paper trail for the revenue services to follow and tax.

Other cargos can find their way to the cargo hole depending on how believable a story the captain can come up with. You might get away with saying you dumped some pcs with viruses downloaded from the factory that weren't worth debugging for example or saying you got swindled on some goods and threw them out the airlock ("What the hell are 'Bollex' wrist chronometers?!")

Some outposts are owned outright by the mainworld governments. The mobile outposts are often franchise owners moving from system to system or in many cases squatters on the gas giants of worlds that haven't the means of chasing them off or assuring they get a cut of the profits.

Another lucrative role for these entrepreneurs is as camp followers, tagging along behind a large mercenary group or an invasion force catering to the military's whims. War can be a cash cow no matter who wins.


Monday, December 28, 2015

Being a Little Streamlined Is Like Being a Little Dead

In the beginning ships were streamlined or not and it was good. One landed. One stayed in orbit. Simple. Then High Guard came along and introduced partial streamlining. You couldn't land but you could dip gingerly into the clouds of a gas giant and suck in the free crappy fuel.

This has caused a lot of cognitive dissonance to overthinking grognards like myself. I'm not an engineer by any means (Masters in Education). I can have conversations with engineers without them laughing at me however. Dang it any ship that can hit even the upper layers of a gas giant ought to land on what is the near vacuum by comparison of a terrestrial world's atmosphere. You're already using antigrav or reactionless thrusters or whatever. Hell we recently landed part of a rocket successfully. It is rocket science but it isn't impossible.

I'm proposing this alternative: ships are either belly landers or tail landers. Belly landers equate to streamlined. The decks are parallel to thrust, they have wing structures or are lifting bodies to some degree and they have control surfaces or thrusters allowing a degree of mobility. They land on run ways (though the runways can be very short, lifter tech works wonders). Tail landers have their decks perpendicular to their thrust like a skyscraper. They have some control surfaces for wilderness refueling but are not maneuverable when refueling or landing. They need very little room for a landing.

The misnomer about untreamlined/tail landers not being able to land on planets with an atmosphere stems from the following. Follow me, first earthlike-sized planets generally have some kind of atmosphere. On such a planet a streamlined ship with wings glides gently to a landing (at least that's what you pay your pilot for.) When taking off that ship will take off horizontally using its structure for some of the lift it needs, flying to the edge of the atmosphere and then blasting with all jets. Even if the ship only pulls a gee and local gravity is one gee the construction lets it fly horizontally. Airciraft do the same thing with thrusts way less than a gee. The ship gets some safety space between it and the cold hard ground before it redlines the engines to blast off (it probably needs 1.5 gees for a few minutes which is not asking too much.)

Tail landers have a bit of a problem. First tail landing, keeping the nose up, feathering your thrust to touch down, and picking a landing spot you don't melt or crater is harder than landing like a plane. If you have a ship that pulls one gee and are landing on a world like Earth you're redlining it from the get go because normally you couldn't even get off the ground. But assuming you do land safely (which is what you pay your pilot for) your troubles are only starting you still have to take off!

Take offs are straight up. Modern rockets often pull four or more gees to do this. The reason being something called gravity drag. A reaction drive has finite fuel and has to hoards every meter of delta vee it has. Gravity eats some of this and the longer it takes to lift ship the more it eats. With a reactionless drive you can ignore gravity drag though it does still reduce your acceleration and since take offs and landings are the time when most accidents occur you want it to be over with before your referee starts rolling shit up.

Note that for tail landers that make 2 gees or more this doesn't apply nearly so much but most civilian ships like far traders only pull a gee. This is a bitch and most civilian captains don't have as well trained a crew as a Navy or Scout ship and don't want to chance scattering their cargo and limbs across a wide smoke filled area. Thus you have the golden rule of not landing the ship. It really  is only an issue part of the time which is like saying your life is only in danger part of the time.

Another note: a lot of old timey Traveller sources ignore local gravity in figuring times to make orbit and escape velocity. But if you wanted to keep things simple why did you read this far?

Streamlined Landings
Throw 10+ for safe landing. DMs +2 per level of Pilot, Dexterity 9+ +2.
Type A starport +6
Type B starport +4
Type C starport +2
Type D starport 0
Smooth Terrain +1
Maneuver 2 or more +2
Size 8+ World -2
Type 1- Atmosphere -2
Type 4+ Atmosphere +1
Size 8+ World -1

Partially Streamlined Landings
Throw 10+ for safe landing. DMs +1 per level of Pilot, Dexterity 10+ +2.
Type A starport +6
Type B starport +4
Type C starport +2
Type D starport 0
Smooth Terrain -1
Maneuver 2 or more +3
Size 8+ World -3
Navy pilot +1
Landing beacons +1/+2

Streamlined Take offs
Throw 10+ for safe lift off. DMs +2 per level of Pilot, Dexterity 9+ +2.
Type A/B starport +4
Type C starport +2
Type D starport 0Smooth Terrain +1
Maneuver 2 or more +2
Size 8+ World -2
Type 4+ Atmosphere +1

Partially Streamlined Take offs
Throw 10+ for take off. DMs +1 per level of Pilot, Dexterity 9+ +1.
Type A/B starport +3
Type C starport +1
Maneuver 2 or more +3
Size 5- World +1
Size 8+ World -3
Type 6+ Atmosphere -1
Navy pilot +1
Landing beacons +1/+2

You can break down the modifiers for star port types as follows:
Starport type Traffic Control Landing Beacons Runway/landing Pit
A +2 +2 +2
          B                         +1                             +1                         +2
          C                         +1                               0                         +1

Your better type D port might have a +1 for a patched up runway/pit or rudimentary traffic control. This can give a referee an idea for modifiers if characters want to get cute with takeoffs or landings i.e. not wait for clearance or use a runway that's under repairs. Starports in the midst of a war might not have landing beacons up etc.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Shipping Lines

I was watching Raiders of the Lost Ark with some friends when they did one of those old style maps with the dotted line marking the passage of a plane Indy was on when I said, "Navigation was pretty hard back then for pilots." One of my friends looked a little bewildered and said, "How so compared to today?" Not a tech minded person. I explained, "Well they didn't have global positioning satellites or even tower lights. You could get lost flying across the USA. That's why they got crop duster planes to fly along the regular routes spraying loads of paint to mark them for the pilots." Well my friend was buying this completely until I overplayed my hand and said, "Yeah, that's where they got the idea for that dotted line on the map scene they used in the old movies." I got smacked by her for that.

Yes. I can be a bastard. Have you read my tables on stuff that can go wrong? On to the post.


There was a time, in Classic Traveller,  where the referee was instructed to roll for commerce and communication lines. You basically rolled for each world and based on the starport you could have a regular line of communication a/o shipping (up to four parsecs away for a Class A 'port). As the game evolved this little table was done away with. You can still find it in the Lost Rules Supplement long with other good stuff.

Nowadays referees merely place communication lines as they deem appropriate. It works I guess but it ignores a source of information to determine subsector politics.

I'm pretty sure it'd be de clase to reprint the whole table here and copyright infringing. Go buy the CDs. But the gist of it is Class A-B ports can have commerce lines linking them up to 4 parsecs away. B-C type starports up to 3 parsecs and D or lower 1 or rarely 2.

Usually in CT civilian and low priority government ships have J-1 or J-2. Military and express shipping (government and civilian) average about 3-4 and the really important stuff and bleeding edge warships move at J-5 or J-6.

A commerce line of one or two parsecs indicates a healthy trade between worlds but nothing shocking. Fat and Far traders and Scout/Couriers running mail. You'd expect an A port to have several lines to adjacent worlds. An A port in isolation might indicate a world being censured or with an embargo or even blockade. A good starport with no adjacent links but a three or four parsec link to a single world might be economically dominated (or the dominator) and there may be several monopolies being protected there. A three or four parsec link indicates something is going on. Perhaps two worlds see fit to coordinate their military actions or one world is supporting a research base or other enterprise needing constant updates on progress or priority shipments.

A lack of commercial lines might also indicate the area is rife with pirates or privateers. Believe it or not most free traders who are npcs prefer to avoid danger. The same applies to active warfare. You didn't think mercenaries were only ground pounders, did you. Some worlds with no commercial lines might be xenophobic or have repressive societies that wish to limit offworld contamination.

So in summary when you're trying to make sense of the size 1 worlds with standard atnospheres and the desert hell holes with 20 billion people give some thought to the commerce lines and any anomalies that might suggest adventures.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Imperial Dearth

Ten thousand millennia to the Empire. Hail the Overlord!

After an extensive review of several costly and undignified setbacks the Imperial Ministry of After Action Analyses by Omega Decree has posted new directives for all warlords, satrapists, governors, regents and consuls to follow effective immediately and on pain of forfeiture of rank, holdings, freedom, and a number of limbs.

1) No more super weapons! Seriously the last one took up the production equivalent to a million doomships. We have many, many worlds to patrol and each battle station sized victory weapon can only be in one place at one time. Besides, you can never armor every point on those things.

2) Invest in Q-ships. Seriously, these rebels have dinky assed ships but as with the battle station program, doomships can't be everywhere and the rebels have shown a preference for attacking when there is no doomship within a hundred light years. Some warships disguised as freighters would really take a toll on their high handed glory seeking hit and run assaults.

3) Bounty hunters are a cost effective solution. While our faithful, faceless minions make an enormous contribution to our welfare and safety the rebels have shown a preference for attacking where they are not. Hunting them down is a job for specialists not soldiers chosen for their enthusiasm for swarming. Besides if bounty hunters do not find any rebels we pay them nothing!

4) Archaeology pays off. Effective immediately each sector government will organize an archaeology core. This corps will be tasked with locating and procuring all potentially disruptive artifacts of ancient religions and lost races and transporting them to a secure and heavily booby-trapped location. A mystic makes more trouble for the Regime than an entire fleet. Note that your archaeological missions should contain a mix of athletic types and academics who can unearth ancient tombs without micro-nukes. Also note the Emperor is authorizing emergency grants for creation of secure facilities.

5) Any AI units displaying unique, lovable or otherwise engaging personalities are to be WIPED. Furthermore their owners are to be placed on the watch list. Intelligence has determined a positive correlation between traitors and mechanical sidekicks.

6) Smugglers, pirates, and scoundrels do not need to be spaced in all situations. It has come to the attention of the Ministry of Sociology that most smugglers and low lives are constantly seeking creds to pay off loans and might be willing to inform on rebels for a reasonable sum.

7) Hold all summary executions of senior officers due to failure until further notice. Gentles, this is a no brainer. Each senior officer represents a significant investment in creds, time, and indoctrination. If they didn't do anything right they wouldn't be senior officers for long. Anyone, even an admiral, can have an off day. File the required paperwork, Form 8BLL. Honestly we've even got a short form (8BLL-SF)!

8) Planetary destruction. While this is serious overkill, even for the Regime, some rebels need a strong message. Planetary destruction is still allowed under the following restriction: please make sure the entire royal family is on the planet. Sole surviving royals provide a rallying point for colorful heroes, loyal aliens and mechanical sidekicks. See note 6 above. Honestly, it's better to have the whole royal family offworld. A family of crown toting unemployed moochers doesn't inspire anyone.

This concludes the directives. Remember anything not mandatory is forbidden and you will save the Overlord the price of your disintegration. Have a nice day!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Stars of the Deal

I tried the excellent random subsector generator over at The Zhodani Base. I took a look at the world stats and discovered a couple things I could not help but pick at. First I decided to pick the worlds that were the movers and shakers across the subsector. For that I highlighted the four P's: 'Port, Politics, Populations, Propulsion.

Port is starport. If it isn't an 'A' then new starships are not produced for commercial use though the military can build some. the planet does not wield a lot of economic power.

Polity is the world government. I'm pretty liberal here and only a result of '7' Balkanization makes me think people might not be looking at other worlds but their neighbors.

Population has to be at least in the millions to build an appreciable number of merchant ships.

Propulsion is actually Tech Level. If you don't rate at least a 9 you haven't got the ability to build jump drives.

So if a world has a TL of at least 9 and a population of several millions why the futz wouldn't they build a class A starport?

Strangely enough my subsector so far has two movers and shakers. One has a population of 300 million, an A starport, and a TL of 11. The other has a population of 10 billion, a TL of 12 but a B starport.

Reasons to not build starships may be:

The planet has a severe shortage of a mineral required to build jump drives.
The planet has a xenophobic culture and does not desire offworld contact.
The planet lacks the specialized knowledge to build ftl rives but is otherwise at the Tl to do so.
The planet can buy starships cheaper offworld.
The planet is prevented from building starships or spacecraft by treaty imposed on it. If you just kicked your rival's teeth in you may not want to occupy their whole planet but you will want them to stay in their own back yard.

However this paucity of starports deserves a story arc/campaign seed. For this I turn to the megacorporations. In the past on Earth huge corporations like the British East India Company grew huger still by controlling commodities. they had their fingers in everything from silks to opium. In an interstellar economy this becomes more difficult. A world could probably handle all its needs with the resources on hand especially if you threw in a few moons and a planetoid belt. Yes you could ship stuff to them that you made more cheaply elsewhere but that sort of quarter credit a kilo profit doesn't make you the peer of the sector governor.

After the commodities corporations fell out of fashion the new business model provided ways to use time and ideas more profitably. The railroads and steamship companies made travel and shipping faster and more profitable. Companies also became innovators. they produced all manner of appliances and devices to make your life and business better. they also invented advertising to convince you their crap would make your life better.

That's harder in Traveller though. travel is about as fast as it is going to get. You aren't going to build a jump drive to get to your destination in five days for example and usually the higher jump numbers are reserved for the military and so fuel hungry it's hard to haul useful cargo. Ditto for insystem travel. When you're only going a from the jump limit to the high port even 6 gees isn't going to matter that much.

Innovations becomes a thorny issue. If you assume 3D printing you can build whatever the heck you want on at TL 8 or higher. A company could license designs for the printers, license the printers and go through more copyright infringement suits than Disney Corp. did over those pogs back in the 90's. But people are going to hack and steal your designs regardless. People are going to refill your material cartridges they are supposed to replace and when some genius figures out a way to print another 3D printer it all falls apart, not to mention leading to Von Neumann machines that ALWAYS revolt. Also you need more narcs and police to enforce your copyrights and patents than the Emperor had stormtroopers. All that eats profit.

What's left to monopolize, monetize and run into the ground?

New worlds! New worlds provide living space but may need terraforming or genetically altered colonists to occupy. Both of those are huge long term projects for big bloated companies. But new worlds also contain new commodities. Unique organic compounds for one thing that take the form of pharmaceuticals, luxury items, new food staples (or dietary supplements of they aren't nutritious), pets/slaves/servants. You can't three D a sun diamond from the desert world of Zaranal after all.

To control these items you control the spaceways and trade. Difficult, not impossible. First you start  starship manufacture. You build the ships, you standardize everything between the models you build. If there's any competition you sell at a loss long enough to make them go under. Moreover if there are any rare substances you need for ftl or maneuver drives you buy those up before the little guys can.

Open a bank. Give loans on the ships you sell and make sure the new owners will be hauling cargo to make their mortgage payments. Offer discounts on the standard designs you crank out but in the end starve them so they can't take a chance on hopping off the beaten trail to make discoveries that might be nonexistent, unprofitable or deadly.

Open subsidized merchant runs to various planets making it cheaper for them to use your line than build their own ships. For that matter build warships so that the local governments don't have to and won't need their own spaceports.

You also need some pull with the government but by the time you've bankrupted a few worlds' space programs you're big enough to eat with the big dogs. get some influence over the Scouts and making discoveries is their job. Demand regular mail services, surveys of hazards in known systems and worlds, anything that keeps them on the settled side of the frontier.

Finally send your own merchant cruisers out to make the discoveries, perform first contact, and bring in the goods. Your exploitation errr exploration has to be far more organized and widespread than anything a dinky free trader can put up. Make sure you have labs and research personnel to analyze everything. Those eight legged rats' droppings may be the best anagathic component ever found. Of course you're also going to buy any samples from free traders you analyze that turn out to be profitable.

Between ship building, banking, pharmaceuticals, mining related services you should be ready to become a megacorporation. If the sector governor has to make an appointment to see you you're on the right track. Keep him waiting or reschedule.


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Ranting About Rockets

Okay reaction drives. I was hoping someone else would do this write up as it involves the e funstion and such but it is time to man up.

There are reaction drives in Classic Traveller. You just have to dig deep to find them. The first mention of using propellant in space movement comes from the 1977 LBBs. It said that non-starships used 10 kilograms of fuel per gee of acceleration per turn regardless of mass or cargo carried (this may be the first time Traveller formally abstracted mass and volume into the kludge that we came to know and love.) The second instance was in Special Supplement 3: Missiles in Traveller (included in JTAS #21). There it was specified that a 50 kg missile required one kilogram of fuel for burn (one gee for one combat turn).

Hell of a difference. You'd think from  SS3 a ship would require 2% f its mass for a burn or two tons of propellant for a Scout Courier to boost at one gee for one turn. Using LBB 2 a non-starship requires 10 kg regardless of mass which is a little too rules light for me. Let's call it .01 mass for vessels because you can build bigger engines more efficiently according to Striker.

That's a minimum specific impulse of 100,000 for those who keep track of such things (50,000 for missile engines) and all I can say is yikes!* Ion engines have an efficiency like that but they are very low thrust to keep from melting. Orion nuclear engines are in that ballpark but again we have the specter of using a spacecraft as a WMD and they are also big assed things, not safe for driving little bitty missiles. Lunching your own missiles and hitting a self destruct switch also becomes hard to tell apart. I'd accept that it is future technology but according to SS3 these engines start around TL 8 (which we are poking with a short stick that we have advantageous strength for).

Actually a gravity control system to speed up rocket exhausts would be a way to use gravity generators to move a ship efficiently without causing Newton to haunt us. The engine fires its exhaust through a gravity ring where it is sped up to an ungodly speed and expelled. Think of it like a mass driver but not so picky about what it accelerates, instead of ferrous material you could shoot dirty socks out of this thing though your mileage might suffer. Stick with hydrogen. It honors tradition. You don't need to worry about the engine melting with all that power because ... science and we never used heat radiators in Traveller anyway.

Another possibility is the oft overlooked nuclear damper. What that implies is a technology that lets you manipulate the strong and weak nuclear forces. I'm not even educated enough to bullshit about what that would imply in chemistry, medicine and physics. I do know those forces are real though short ranged. Perhaps instead of a new force (artificial gravity) maneuver drives, air/rafts and grav plates actually use the nuclear forces?

Artificial gravity is pretty short ranged in canon. An air/raft can take you to orbit but not much further. Grav plate effects do not stack in a noticeable way, otherwise a three deck ship would have 1 gee on the bottom deck, 2 gees in the middle deck and 3 gees at the top deck. Maybe artificial gravity is just slang for a strong nuclear force amplifier allowing it to work at several meters instead of trillionths of centimeters?

In Traveller as it stands dampers are used to keep nukes from going boom and little else until a gadawful high tech level when they become disintegrators. What if early breakthroughs in damper tech allowed you to construct an engine using these powerful but short ranged forces? Instead of heating your propellant or using gravity or magnetic fields to accelerate it, you used the strong nuclear force?

One burn equals 10 kilometers per second by the way. A ship with 20% propellant will be able to accelerate to 100 km/s and decelerate at its destination. That will let you travel an AU in 17-18 days. This is incredibly fast the way NASA measures things. Saying that, starships will probably still use their jump drives for interplanetary journeys more than half an AU or so. But starships can still close the distance from jump limit to low orbit in a few hours to a day if you're hoarding fuel for a getaway.

Shuttles and small craft suddenly become crucial to many operations. Taking off from an Earth sized world requires 10 km/s. That isn't telling the whole story, you have to overcome a planet's gravity and make up losses to atmospheric drag as well. So about two burns will do it. Those add up fast and for merchants everything is money and that propellant you carry with you takes up space you need for mission requirements and cargo to make money. Eight percent of your ship for fuel just for taking off and landing is going to eat up your profits. So most starports will have an orbital element and shuttle pilots will be kept busy. Air/rafts, which can ascend to orbit will have increased use. They don't need any propellant to operate and are ideal for transporting a few passengers and small packages. Reaction drive shuttles will be faster and have more range than the lifter vehicles of course and probably carry more.

Starports will have runways on any planet with an atmosphere allowing streamlined ships to land safely on their bellies rather than deal with the stress of tail landings. Best of all planets will have a reason to invest in things like orbital towers/elevators and bolo transports. In fact the companies building these huge constructions might have a vested interest in suppressing reactionless thrusters.

*The specific impulse is probably even higher. One 'ton' of fuel does mass one ton. Apparently a ship's displacement ton is the volume a ton (mass) of liquid hydrogen takes up (13.5 cubic meters) and masses about 10 tons. Well yikes again. I have a problem with this figure as well (http://twilightgm.blogspot.com/2014/09/when-tanks-fly.html) and usually go with about 2.5 tons mass per ton of displacement.



Friday, December 11, 2015

The Science of Empire

Imagine a jump mishap throws a ship way the hell out of the Imperium or whatever bloated weapons factory empire you have set up. The characters find their ships in a small cluster of stars cut off from the mains galactic civilization. In the Traveller setting the Islands Clusters are ideal for this, colonized by STL asteroid ships and developing independently for thousands of years. Imperium? Never heard of it.

The characters find themselves the object of a witch hunt for a simple reason. Their ship has a reactionless drive. Civilization here has only developed reaction drives. A reactionless drive opens a whole can of worms which others have detailed far better than I. Near light speed projectiles are a real bummer. they make any polity effectively helpless against long range bombardment.

Okay I mentioned a bunch of double talk ways to limit the top velocity of reactionless drives, everything from ark matter build up to upsetting ghosts. Presumably there is such a limit in the characters' technology allowing their nation to flourish.

But the local won't believe this. The player characters are the scouts for an armada of world wreckers. So wherever they go, they are hounded. Some warlords want the drive for themselves. Others want to make sure the others don't get it to keep business going on as usual. What can you do? The chase is on!

The characters want to reach a point where they can return to their home stars. Perhaps there is one wormhole they need to reach. Perhaps they only need time till a burnt out whatsit is repaired. regardless they have to keep moving. Their ship has the edge in delta vee (nearly infinite call it). Of course the locals may have attack craft with higher accelerations making top velocities moot.

Then there's the issue of fuel/slash propellant. The local witch hunters can gas up at the nearest starport. Our intrepid crew will have to beg borrow or steal their fuel wherever they can. Wilderness refueling in Traveller is hard enough without being on the run. Also gas giants will be the first place the locals will look for those physics flouting invaders.

Equal and opposite reactions. It's the law.




Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Price of Free Trade

Pushing out past the frontier into alien worlds to make a profit by trade. What could go wrong?!

11] A native herb or food is a strong narcotic to your species.

12] A Terran herb or food is a strong narcotic to the locals. You did test for that right?

13] The locals want something that you have not packed in large quantities and only have personal stores of. Their Emperor is mad for chewing gun for example or hand sanitizer is a potent potable to the locals.

14] The locals have found a wrecked starship and want your help in salvaging it. Only the ship belongs to a pirate clan that shows up to reclaim the wreck's treasures.

15] The locals want your weaponry or a reasonable facsimile. They will pay a lot.

16] The locals want your weapons and will pay a lot or get them other ways.

21] Something about humans: voice, smell, appearance is anathema to the locals requiring disguises, perfume or similar measures to be taken.

22] The locals are involved in a prolonged fight with other locals and are ready to pay for your help. Are you interested in blood diamonds?

23] Other traders or members of a megacorporation arrive to make life difficult. They might pay you a pittance to scram, sabotage your operation or lay a beat down on your personnel.

24] Payment for your current contract is delayed due to cash flow problems of the recipients. They offer instead to reimburse you in their product: livestock.

25] A local pest that is not harmful to the locals and not really thought of much at all causes anaphylactic shock in one out of three humans. Whoops.

26] A wrecked ship holds the trade contract to a mother lode of marketing. Only the coordinates were lost in the wrecked navigation computer. You have to get the coordinates without tipping off the competition, from a Patrol or Survey base.

31] A passenger turns out to be a professional and fairly high stakes card player. At your next port of call he wishes to hire your ship for a high stakes poker game, lifting the ship into orbit where antigambling laws do not apply. Easy money, what could go wrong?

32] A stowaway! Need I say more?

33] Okay a stowaway who's a(n) outlaw/mental patient/highly skilled drifter/exiled royalty/hit man who is on the run/pet of a Big Glowing Head/bizarre alien (pick one of the other tropes).

34] Someone hid contraband on your ship or in your cargo. What was the law level of your next stop?

35] One of your crewmen broke a local taboo (he didn't like bacon or stared at the dowager queen's pet fufu too long) and trade negotiations will be ended unless you can do some damage control (and not the easy kind like in space).

36] The Patrol wants to use your ship in as bait in a sting operation. It will make the Patrol owe you a big favor. I think I'm opening a store selling WCGW bracelets.

41] A local official wants some personal (ahuh) attention from a crew member. If the favors are not cheerfully rendered he will squash your trade efforts.

42] Officials need to be bribed.

43] Officials need to be wined and dined. How good is your Steward?

44] Officials need to be shot. See number 41 above.

45] Your buyer was shunned by his community and left it for a few weeks until his punishment is lifted. Unfortunately you have a cargo for him that just can't wait. You need to go into the mountains to track him down.

46] Your engine broke down and needs a part. Let's ... get ... Ready! To! Haggle!

51] There's a pirate base. There's always a pirate base. Why do pirates even base on inhabited worlds? If they must be near the thrills of the starport commercial district why then do they still have to be anywhere near the port or on the same continent? Inevitably, you stumble across a pirate base.

52] Posted! In a hilarious case of mistaken identity the Patrol thinks you're a bunch of outlaws. This is not much of a stretch for most player characters anyway.

53] Emergency! The low tech locals have an emergency (storm/earthquake/mole stampede) and need your ship to perform a daring rescue. This could have a good effect on trade negotiations if you don't screw it up. For extra points realize the locals are doing this as a test of character.

54] One of the crew discovers a local group that shares his hobby, whatever that is. They might be crooks trying to get close to your ship for nefarious reasons or ... a bunch hobbyists. If everything is bad news you'll wind up with a bunch of paranoid player characters.

55] Local misunderstanding. How were you supposed to know that was the local governor's spouse/daughter/son/pet?

56] Fuel Shortage: you can save some needed credits by refueling for free at a local gas giant. Check my earlier post for everything that could go wrong. Suffice to say: pirates, hostile life forms, trigger happy Patrol forces all set up in 5000 kph hurricanes and megalightning strikes.

61] A crewman from another ship arrives at your airlock begging for sanctuary. Do you turn him in?

62] A number of moves in trade negotiations are lost to a rival who seems to have inside knowledge of your offers. Is it psionics, a spy, a bug, a little (uplifted) bird.

63] A passenger claims your ship is haunted.

64] Your ship is pressed into service by a local luxury cruise line. All the amenities are upgraded but can your tyros put up with a bunch of spoiled rich passengers?

65] As above but your spoiled passengers want to go on safari and need someone to carry their guns.

66] A local group of honorable businessmen are impressed with your honesty and integrity and would like you to do them the favor of holding some 10 Mcr. until ... things quiet down. Most local people would do this favor without even thinking of running off with the money.




Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Dark and Strange Matters

The Triangulum II galaxy got me thinking about my NBEs. Ghosts to you readers arriving late to the party. Triangulum II is a tiny galaxy, its luminosity is 450 times that of the Sun. After examining the orbital velocity of this galaxy astronomers computed the mass as ... 2 million times the mass of the Sun. Our astronomers say this is due to huge amounts of dark matter. What if the same holds true for the world of living biological beings we can directly observe and the realm of the NBEs? For every 450 humans there are 2 million ghosts waiting to get interactive.

In a previous post I mentioned how a FTL drive might work drilling through the normal space surface of a hyper-dimensional sphere and referred to this as the fragile shell of reality. Now it seems the shell might be a lot thinner than even I expected.

Humans have returned to space and the stars in my Ghost Drive setting. Are they setting themselves up for another fatal fall? Other spacefaring races have not been encountered yet. What if the NBEs themselves are the great filter? Races find them, interact with them and are destroyed by them.

So some may call for the abandonment of FTL and fast interplanetary travel, which is the basis of trillions of credits in trade, freighting and colonization efforts. What do you think the humans will choose to do?

Even now the brave men and women who spend time in orbit return with symptoms of rapid aging. Is it all from zero gravity? Earth bound spirits are supposed to be bad enough but it seems the NBEs are everywhere. We are far more bound to gravity than they are.

It is a deeper, darker universe than we ever dreamt of.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Three Pillars of Federation: Taking a Survey

The third pillar of Federation is the Survey Service, analogous to the Scouts of Traveller but without the courier functions. These are the guys who get the first opportunity to learn how all the best ways new world can kill you. They are the silent Service, not interacting much with the Patrol or Trade. They operate at the fringe of the Federation or more commonly beyond it.

The major duty of the Survey is t explore and chart new worlds. After a thorough preliminary survey a new world is classified and its trade rights are put up for auction. There is some bias in this as the auctions usually take place on Terra or the Core Worlds while Free Traders work the fringe. Likewise the pricing of choice worlds is completely beyond that of your average Free Trader.

The Survey charts courses in hyperspace. While this can be done by anyone competent in astrogation there are risks involved. New coordinates are approximate and the wrong calculations with proven coordinates can end your voyage and your career. Survey ships are built very tough with this in mind. They feature armor, compartmentalization and more redundancy than a clone trooper reunion. Their crews can survive most crashes or mishaps that don't disintegrate the ship immediately.

It can be assumed that the dangers the Survey faces would make even the most hardened Free Traders take pause. They are exposed to any unknown toxins or pathogens a world presents. They make the first contact and evaluation of local intelligent life, far more dangerous than pathogens (you can't get a vaccination against a blaster bolt or sword thrust). While the most deadly worlds are never put up for trade auctions that is only after teams from Survey visited them and lost a few people learning about the local food chain from the inside.

Every ship has a navigation book. Yes book, Andre Norton was writing this stuff in the fifties. these days you could call it a tablet. The navigation books are monitored very carefully by the Patrol. Without a book you can't chart a FTL course. When a ship is decommissioned its book is destroyed. Of course smugglers and pirates find ways to steal, copy or cobble together their own books. One wonders how many of these pirate books are created by Survey personnel either under bribe or duress. In any case though the Patrol monitors these books the Survey is responsible for providing new data for them.

Charting star is the primary duty of the Survey. In a setting where an aging freighter (the Solar Queen by name) can travel halfway around the galaxy in six months there are hundreds of millions of stars. Obviously Survey can visit every one. They must stick to the one with known planetary systems and a high probability of life bearing worlds.

Some of the duties of monitoring trade missions to aliens worlds must fall to the Survey since they have the most experience with contact and xenopsychology. Even though they are not as heavily armed and equipped for war as the Patrol they have serious firepower. For one thing as mentioned their ships are the toughest in the Federation. For another thing they have no problem calling the Patrol if they get in over their heads. Many pirates and outlaws will cease operations and lay low while a Survey vessel is close.

Survey may be the most overworked Service. The data they provide Free Traders is very incomplete in a number of stories. In one case they missed a semi-sentient race that was already practicing limited agriculture and had planted some fields! While the Patrol handles the interdiction of Forerunner sites the Survey may be tasked with their research.

As overworked as they are the Survey never leaves a ship behind. Any missing Survey ships become a top priority for a sector wide search. All other activities are put on hold until the search bears results or is reluctantly called off.

Sometimes the results are not what anyone would want, a derelict tumbling out of hyperspace, dead lights glowing a forlorn pale blue. the unknown claims another crew and the would be rescuers can only shepherd the dead vessel into the nearest sun before turning away and back to their endless exploration.








Friday, December 4, 2015

Three Pillars of Federation: The Patrol

The Patrol is the military arm of the Federation. They have access to the fastest and most heavily armed ships in the Federation. Even worse for law breakers, their ships have military vehicles: flamers (flamethrower tanks) and mauls (artillery capable of downing a starship.

In spite of bearing weapons of mass destruction the Patrol does not use lethal force until more humane means fails. They typically carry high powered but non-lethal stun rifles and demand surrender of suspects or outlaws. In the event of a gun battle they can and will bring every means they have to win including heavy weapons.

A lot of the Patrol's duties seem to involve Trade. Merchant ships must file a flight plan and a passenger list for each voyage. The Patrol runs background checks on all passengers before a flight is okayed functioning like an internal security department. They also man a wide network of emergency resupply stations across the Federation to aid ships in need. There most unenviable job is locating plague ships and disposing of the same by hurling them into suns.

The Patrol can also Post especially violent or dangerous criminals. Being Patrol Posted is equivalent to being an outlaw. Federation citizens can shoot you on sight with no legal repercussions. Likewise once a ship is determined to be a plague carrier Patrol forces can open fire on that ship with no warning and show no mercy.

In spite of its impressive weaponry the Patrol doesn't always keep the peace. Federation worlds will have armed altercations and even war with the Patrol doing little besides enforcing a blockade to keep these conflicts from spreading. The fact is the galaxy is a big place and they can't be everywhere at once. Stopping two high population, high technology worlds from fighting would strip entire sectors of their defenses and leave them open to pirates. The greater good forces the Patrol admiralty to take a passive seat at times.

Trade and Patrol often work together to keep the peace, with Trade forging bonds of trade to make conflict unprofitable. The Patrol regards Trade as an equal partner in keep ing the peace. It certainly regards Trade's activities and vital to the continued existence of the Federation and devotes a lot of effort to protecting merchant shipping (mostly that of the big companies though). Free traders can expect any reasonable aid and to be treated with respect though they might be watched closely.

A disturbing trend lately is the attempts of the sector control offices to field their own forces and keep Central Control out of the loop or even deny funding and materials to local Patrol ships. The Patrol Admiralty is pursuing these isolationists and attempting to shut down their activities. At this time most sector chiefs strongly support the Patrol.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Three Pillars of Federation

More thoughts on another Traveller setting (ghosts optional I suppose). The Federation in the Solar Queen novels is enormous and pretty wide open. In Sargasso of Space they mention that they've encountered only five other races (with ftl space flight). There are a number of early and pre-spaceflight cultures perhaps thousands. In Plague Ship the Solar Queen gets a contract to the planet Sargol that is described as a quarter of the way across the galaxy. A round trip is said to take six months for the aging freighter. So they must have something better than jump drives (or even warp drive).

So we are talking about a lot of planets, a lot of aliens and a government that runs humanity (mostly). The Federation is administrated through a number of Services. The three major Services in the stories are the Patrol, the Survey and Trade. Let me try to explain the Services in terms of tomatoes. The Survey heads out and marks the positions of all the tomatoes and grades them according to freshness (intelligent tomatoes with some degree of spaceflight are grade A.) Trade heads out and deals with the tomatoes bringing them things like plant food and new soils in exchange for ... tomato juice. The Patrol makes sure everyone treats the tomatoes in an ethical fashion, enforces travel safety laws and hunts down your occasional bad tomatoes.

The Survey and Trade seem to have similar functions. Survey finds the star trading worlds, ones with intelligent life. Close behind them, sometimes slightly ahead of them comes Trade. As new cultures are contacted Traders operate as ambassadors of a sort opening up new markets and bringing them into the Federation.

So Trade is a sort of amalgam of Traveller's Scouts and Merchants. They are trained in xenopsychology and contact strategies. They go in with a minimum of information to open a new market. The Trade Service monitors its members carefully to insure fair dealings with aliens. Breach of contract can result in loss of license. Any foods, herbs or drugs have to be certified by a committee of human and local doctors before introduced to a planet and weapons are right out.

Traders are expected to use violence as a last resort relying on nonlethal weapons in all but the most dire situations. Most ship arsenals are under lock and key though sleep rods are regularly carried. In spite of this Free Traders have a reputation as fighters. They have to be to survive. In fact some outlaws view the Traders as worse than the Patrol as they have fewer restrictions on dealing with criminals and conduct with prisoners. The stories I read so far bear this out. The crew of the Solar Queen are not to be screwed with.

Trade is dominated by huge companies. Three or four have the profitable inner world runs that generate the most profit. Though they will make a grab for juicy markets out on the rim most of those risky ventures fall to the Free Traders, men who own and operate a single ship or small fleet. In spite of their vital role in pushing back the frontier Free Traders are often regarded as almost  the bottom rung of their service (interplanetary traders seem to vie with them for that spot.)

In spite of some people's negative attitudes to Trade it is regarded as a vital Service by the Patrol and Survey. Not only does it open new markets and bring new planets into the Federation, it maintains the bonds of trade that prevent war. Ten years after a particular Mars-Terra conflict the Patrol regarded Trade as their essential partner in improving relations and keeping the new peace.

Next: The Patrol.