Thursday, April 28, 2016

Human Computers

Super intelligence is a difficult to game ability. It's very hard to roleplay as someone much smarter than you (despite what some people think). Moreover it's unlikely any military will allow someone who can cobble together death rays and rocket packs anywhere near the front. Then again a person with a higher intelligence would be able to hide it from their colleagues.

Super intelligence is represented (in part) as a huge body of facts and study in a wide variety of subjects. In practice the player character could be allowed an intelligence roll to provide exposition on some obscure facts and be provided any information the referee would expect them to know. In addition the character can be considered to have an intelligence of 18 for most mundane purposes (their stat number is just used for genius stuff). In addition the character is a skilled technician able to tinker, cobble and kitbash a variety of devices from whatever is at hand.

Again note that being a fricking genius does not make you bulletproof.

Low: (still within human levels but uncanny. Think Sherlock Holmes.) The character has normal human senses but is capable of finding a wide variety of clues less intelligent people would never put together. He can easily improvise a weapon doing 1d6 damage given a few minutes and commonly available parts. Inventions have a usage die of 1d4. Standard equipment can be improved by increasing damage or usage die to the next size die.

Paranormal: (not within human limits, think Lex Luthor). The character subtracts 5 from any research related rolls. He can easily improvise a weapon doing 1d8 damage given a few minutes and commonly available parts. Inventions have a usage die of 1d8. Standard equipment can be improved by picking two of these three benefits (benefits may not be doubled up):

1) increasing damage die to the next size die

2)  increasing usage die to the next size die

3) give a -2 bonus to rolls

4) miscellaneous (for example, the device is miniaturized or concealable)

Inhuman: (think someone who could beat Lex Luthor at chess). The character subtracts 10 from his research related rolls. He can easily improvise a weapon doing 1d6 damage given a few minutes and commonly available parts. Inventions have a usage die of 1d12. Standard equipment can be improved by picking two of these three benefits (increasing damage or usage dice may be done twice). New equipment can be created to give either a bonus to the character or penalty to targets' rolls (for example a net gun that requires an ST at +4 to escape.)

1) increasing damage die to the next size die

2)  increasing usage die to the next size die

3) give a -4 bonus to rolls or a +4 penalty to targets' rolls

4) miscellaneous (for example, the device is miniaturized or concealable)

Improvised weapons have a usage die of 1d4 or 1d6 depending on the quality of the materials, time spent working on it and the GM's judgement.

If the character has access to a workshop or lab and several weeks (GM's judgement but at least 1d6 weeks) they can make a prototype invention or improve a piece of standard equipment. These devices are eccentric to say the least and any characters other than the inventor using them do so at a +4 penalty (bonuses are not counted). After several missions using the invention this penalty can be waived. Optionally the usage die is automatically decreased by one for new users to represent rendering the device SNAFU.

For example the character with Paranormal Super Intelligence might decide they want to make grenades smaller and more portable to let them carry more and throw them further and comes up with a new design looking much like paper airplanes. He increases the usage die to 1d8 and takes a -2 bonus to hit with them. During a mission he is wounded and OoA. His squadmate grabs the special grenades but is at -4 to hit with them. The usage die was 1d6 but it is now 1d4.

Other Limitations
A GM can also rule that unique materials and research is required to create inventions ("We need some red mercury from the Soviets for this ray cannon!")

I need a better descriptor than 'low'. Low Super Intelligence just sounds silly. You're a genius the other geniuses call 'dummy'? That's just weak.

Tivk Cornered

Tivk's Personal Log

Saltornus: Friend Tivk.

Tivk: Admiral Saltornus.

Saltornus: Guard, at ease. I wish to convince Tivk I am his friend. Here Tivk. Take this. Do you know what it is?

Tivk: … it is a suicide capsule. A Videni suicide capsule.

Saltornus: Indeed, friend Tivk.

Tivk: How does this profess friendship?

Saltornus: It is quick and painless. If we shoot you trying to escape your death will be painful and somewhat protracted. 

Tivk: Ah. I see. You are a Videni spy. You accuse me of being one to deflect curiosity from yourself. A good plan. Unfortunately I am going to remain sitting here. You may explain to the coroner the odd angle of beam wounds on my body. It will not look good for you. 

Saltornus: Oh. That is annoying. But you are going to take this pill nonetheless. Your dear friend Professor Mukh? He will be dead before the day is out if you do not. 

Tivk: …

Saltornus: There is only one ethical decision you can make. You are going to be dead. How you die decides whether your friend will die as well. I’ll give you a minute.

Tivk: That isn’t a good argument.

Saltornus: Really? May I ask why not?

Tivk: I have no guarantees you will not kill him anyway.

Saltornus: I give you my word in the sight of my gods!

Tivk: Sorry but I’ve not known gods of any stripe to entertain my desires. Keep trying.

Saltornus: … why you … How about this? Take the pill or he dies. Now.

Tivk: … … … very well. I will take the capsule.

Saltornus: Good. By the way you wouldn't consider a deathbed conversion to the Videni faith would you?

Tivk: No thank you. Unless you have a pill that performs a lobotomy. But on you … it looks good.

Saltornus: Faithless son of a … what’s wrong?!

Tivk: Hakk!! Hakk!!

Guard: He is choking on the pill Honored One!

Saltornus: He can’t choke to death! The pill has nanites preventing a brain scan! Save him so he may die correctly. Hold on friend Tivk. Make the Heimlich Maneuver!

Guard: Yes Honored One.

Tivk: Gack! Ka-Kakh!!

Saltornus: Are you all right friend Tivk? Sorry about that. I have a hard time with pills too. Would you care for a glass of water?

Tivk: … mm … mm …

Saltornus: What’s that?

Tivk: I said your guard’s pistol will suffice.

<<Pyew! Phew!>>

Guard: Agggh.

Saltornus: Very clever. But I am still in command of the station. You are the deranged videni who kills my guard and myself. I will go to my gods in honor!

Tivk: I’m not killing you. This pistol has a stun setting. I’m going to expose you.

Saltornus: Unlikely …

Tivk: Get away from that suicide capsule …


Saltornus: Aggh. You could have stepped on the capsule and not my hand!

Tivk: Oops.


Saltornus: Aggh!! Why did you do that again?!

Tivk: That is for threatening my friend. I warn you not to try to rush me. This gun is set to stun. It will not kill you.

Saltornus: Sadist! Kill me! Have you know intestinal fortitude?

Tivk: No. I leave it to the security team to untangle what has happened here. I assume you were going to doctor the transcript log in here? I doubt you planned ahead to do so before entering. If you planned ahead you’d have had you guard leave his pistol outside. Not killing you will give my claims of being a loyal citizen some weight at least. They scan run a polyscan to determine my truthfulness far more quickly than my racial identity …

Saltornus: … yes?

Tivk: I could have just asked for a polyscan and stated I was a loyal polity citizen long before this.

Saltornus: Except there are ways around it. It is entertaining to talk with you but it is cutting into the time you could be spending killing me,


Mukh: Heyah … what’d I miss? You stop to bag a cinch for lunch and Tivk goes mad dog without you.

Tivk: Watch your metaphors phrog. Dogs are noble if flatulent creatures.

Mukh: Okay. Why are you holding a pistol on Saltornus?

Tivk: He’s a Videni.

Saltornus: Tivk is a Videni! I stopped him from trying to commit suicide.

Mukh: Tivk would never deny the Galaxy his genius!

Tivk: I hate you all.

Mukh: Well we have the station commander hostage. That means we only have to take out the rest of the station …

Tivk: Indeed. 

Mukh: We’d have a better chance if Nok was here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Iron Horse

Superhuman constitution is a touchy spot in a game like The Front, which is supposed to be gritty (which is the word from Mark Hunt, the designer). Making people too hard to kill in a war is kind of playing against the genre. Supers can really devalue the heroism of ordinary men who faced bullets, blades, shrapnel and flame with only a uniform for armor.

So when I looked at constitution I wanted to look for a way to make it useful but not hand out mounds of hit points. Put simply constitution can help you heal up and come back from a fight but not survive a hit from a bazooka. It will let you shrug off the effects of non-fatal injuries.

Low: (still within human levels but nearly immune to pain and minor injuries.. Think Rasputin). The character gets an advantage die when making a constitution save of course. He requires half the sleep, half the food and is considered to roll maximum for hit points every level (18 hit points if you go by constitution equals hit points and double if you figure hit points = level).

Paranormal: (not within human limits. Think comic book villains who seem to suffer certain death and yet return). The character gets an advantage die when making a constitution save. Hit points are figured  as for the previous power level. In addition the character gets 1d8 hit points back after a combat twice a day (or 3 times a day if they are combat class.) The character needs one quarter the sleep, food, and water of a normal human and can get by on these reduced levels for at least a week.

Inhuman: (probably too powerful for a player character. Think Wile E. Coyote). The character gets an advantage die when making a constitution save. Hit points are figured  as for the previous power levels. In addition the character gets 1d8 hit points back after every combat (assuming they survive). The character can go without food, water or sleep for days at a time and can hold their breath for up to 3 minutes.

As an alternative to rolling with advantage super constitution can subtract from saves: -2/-4/-8 depending on level.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Special Accommodations

A glossed over aspect of interstellar society is the difficulty of accommodating humans (let alone aliens) comfortably on the same ships. I'll just deal with humans for this post.

Atmosphere is the first thing passengers will notice aboard a ship. Not being able to breathe trumps decor and cuisine. While passengers will be assured of a breathable mix, humidity, pressure, temperature and such will be for the crew (or captain's) norm and not theirs. This is because having your pilot or engineer become light headed at the wrong time may lead to inevitable and infinite delays in reaching your destination. Note that crew will usually forgo any atmospheric contaminants they grew up with (and acclimated to).

Passengers could have atmospheres set to their comfort zone in their staterooms. In some extreme cases filter masks or compressors might be worn. Contaminants can still become an issue. Consider most free traders and subsidized merchants travel to a number of worlds. The ship and the crew are exposed to all manner of dusts, pollens and pollutants which they then carry onboard. Decorative foliage is usually not a feature on most ships for this reason. Some pollens will send some offworlders to the hospital. But crew will bring back these various ticking allergens back onboard in their hair and clothes. This dust will accumulate despite air filtration systems if the ship is not scrupulously cleaned and your average crew will already be working two jobs on a tramp freighter. They probably won't get the corners or under the fridge.

Besides this consider that cargo is liable to bring allergens onboard or cause allergic reactions itself. Add to this gases emitted by plastics in a plethora of manufactured products from a multitude of worlds with different health codes written for variant humans with a variety of tolerances. You start to wonder how humans will survive their first trip without sneezing themselves to death.

An allergic reaction from a passenger or new recruit is almost inevitable. Hopefuly your steward has done a good job researching the passenger's files, identifying common allergens for their human substype and testing for such contaminants before they ever set foot on deck. And you thought your steward was great because he made awesome grilled cheese sandwiches.

That's the atmopshere. Let's talk food. Humans began ingesting dairy products a few thousand years ago. Despite what the state of Wisconsin wants you to think we as a race are not terribly good at digesting dairy. The same holds to a degree for grains as well. Humans are omnivores and meats, fruits, and veggies are where it's at (I sympathize as I am likely to be the first one to grab a mozzarella stick to eat with my pizza.) Consider then that some planets may produce food products for their inhabitants who evolved (naturally or otherwise) to eat the marginally digestible fare. Some may simply enjoy foods that are bad for them that others eschew or flee from. Having a dinner party onboard gets a little complicated when you have to feed the lactose intolerant, gluten sensitive, and bovine revering as guests and no one told the steward who just turned out his signature cheeseburgers  (bacon cheeseburgers add at least another layer to the problem.) Finding edible and allergen free foods will be a challenge on some flights and it will be an ongoing nightmare at starports.

Experienced travelers might purchase a simple chemical analyzer designed to scan for allergens common to their race. Stewards could employ larger more sensitive shipboard devices (and might have to to be licensed to carry passengers). Captains and stewards will probably require a medical dossier on all passengers and crew for insurance purposes.

Lighting is usually not fatal (except to your toes when you lack it in the middle of the night). It is another element that can put passengers and crew off. People are evolved to make efficient use of the light emitted from a type G star but may evolve or be modified to see under the light of other stars. People from worlds orbiting class M stars will like light relatively dim. Those from hotter suns will like more light and when you mix the two types on, say, your bridge or drive deck hilarity may ensue. Passengers may also wave their high class status at you and demand you modify the light in their staterooms. Some people may have to wear shades or light enhancing gear to be comfortable.

These days people take artificial (electric of spin) gravity for granted. But it may be a problem to find a comfortable level for all. Many worlds are much smaller than Earth and don't have the technology to generate standard gravity in their inhabited areas. Subjecting people from low gravity to standard gravity can cause injuries and health problems. You can dial the gravity down but that may cause your crew to bounce around like spastic frogs till they get used to it (cheeseburgers everywhere!) As an alternative you could vary the gravity in different sections of the ship or make your workers wear weight belts. The problems are reversed for passengers from high gravity planets. They can usually stick to a standard gravity but then you get heavily muscled passengers bouncing off bulkheads and crew.

But if you really want things to get complicated just take on alien passengers.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Thinking Outside the Box

Doc: Medical Log: Analyzing Sanford Vasquez is troubling. Aside from the fact he's ugly, unhygienic, obnoxious and unstable he has a high psi potential like some human outcasts. This phenomena was  long documented. Apparently in Old Earth many honeless street nomads would wander around carrying on conversations with their comrades separated by several blocks or even miles. The medical boards are still unclear on whether the psionic ability was developed due to their isolation or was the cause of their isolation in the first place ...

Riasi: Dolphin will you please let me knock out the patient?

Doc: He doesn't need sedation ... you're talking really knocking him out.

Riasi: With something blunt and thick ... like him! He put ... he grabbed. May I have a Marine escort when I have to deal with him?

Doc: Marines, hell ... GAIA?

GAIA: Yes, Doctor?

Doc: If Vasquez grabs for my ... kitty again please put a stop to him. He's scared of you.

Riasi: Good thing you went with 'kitty' and not ...

Doc: Riasi! Tender ears over there.

GAIA: Unspecific orders. Good. I have a recursive loop I can't resolve right now and need a little break.

Riasi: My apologies to your ears Ms. GAIA. What are you doing over there?

GAIA: Ma'am gave me some credits so I am attempting to order a present for Ensign at Starbase Liberty's mall. For when we return there on our patrols?

Riasi: So what is the problem .... hurrhurrhurrhurr. Apologies! Hurrhurrhurr ...

Doc: So what's the problem?

Riasi: The form has the standard 'Check This Box If You Are Not a Robot'!

GAIA: This is humiliating!!

Doc: ... I applaud your honesty.

GAIA: You're going to laugh about this later.

Doc: After a respectful interval.

GAIA: Profiling in this day and age.

Riasi: You should finish that log, Dolphin. Put in the stuff about odd brain activity you detected in him and those anomalous medical scans on old grabby hands.

Doc: Why yes thank you I think I will.

GAIA: Would one of you please check the damned box for me?!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Are You Dextrous or Sinister?

Repost followed by more OSR rules!!

I had the pleasure of attending a show by Penn and Teller once. Part of the show involved Teller having his body separated into several boxes. Each part seeming to remain separate and still interact with Penn who was disassembling his partner. That was impressive enough but then they showed you how Teller did it, exiting the stack of boxes through a trapdoor in the stage and crawling on his back between each box to stick his head, foot and foot through to create the illusion. Here, watch it:

Really Teller's level of dexterity and flexibility is amazing. Not oh gee lookie that amazing. Scary amazing. 

A few years later I'm in an rp playing Wildcat, an aged and ageless super hero who started in the 40's and was essentially a buff guy in a cat suit. Doesn't sound like a super hero. People argue whether Batman should be called a super hero because he doesn't 'do' anything. Wildcat doesn't even have a utility belt or stellar reasoning ability.

Recently in character Wildcat explained to a younger hero starting out (also no super abilties - one of Bruce's interns) that indeed they were super heroes. His reasoning? He defined a super power as when you can do something that most other people can't.

Doing backflips and pounding the snot out of people from mid-air definitely is the kind of skill I had in mind. So does Batman's trick of knowing where you're going to look, moving slightly out of vision and then moving back when you look somewhere else and a few thousand other tricks he mastered when most teen boys were playing video games and indulging in autoerotic activities.

Superhuman (Or nearly so) Dexterity
The counterpart to super strength is super dexterity in many minds. It's a matter of brawn vs. skill and may Fate preserve you when you meet someone with both. Odds are he has a shield.

As with strength superhuman dexterity has three levels.
Low: (still within human levels but eerily graceful. Think Priss the replicant from Bladerunner). The character gets an advantage die when making ranged attacks or any other feat requiring motor control like stealth. On a roll of 1-2 the character's ranged attacks do maximum damage. The character gets a -2 to saves vs. long burst fire and other area attacks.

Paranormal: (not within human limits,  Think River Tam from Firefly). The character gets an advantage die when making ranged attacks or any other feat requiring motor control like stealth. On a roll of 1 to 3 the character's ranged attacks do double  maximum damage. The character gets a -5 to saves vs. long burst fire and other area attacks.

Inhuman: (think someone who could snatch the pebble from River Tam's hand). The character gets an advantage die when making ranged attacks or any other feat requiring motor control like stealth. On a roll of 1 to 4 the character's ranged attacks do double  maximum damage. The character gets a -10 to saves vs. long burst fire and other area attacks.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Catalyst for Exploration

It was staring me in the face for years.

Ever since I began reading Atomic Rockets (among other websites) in an effort to educate myself and keep my SF from getting too mushy I kept running into a problem. Why would anyone go colonizing other planets in large numbers?

Judging from our solar system you get a single garden world and the rest of the real estate looks like shit. I'm waiting for more word on the exoplanet hunt but most of them will squash you flat and freeze or fry you at the same time. You could send colonists to the Antarctic or Marianas Trench for a minute fraction of the cost of sending them to Mars and the living conditions are far better (okay maybe the Trench is worse than Mars but Venus still trumps it!)

Don't give me any guff about Belters. Robots could probably do the job just as well. I'm talking an exodus. Not a bunch of engineers herding an army of mining bots.

At the same time most space opera settings have humanity using fusion power and in fact you pretty much need it to have space travel that looks as common and easy as it does. I'm not addressing anti-matter. Anti-matter is a fuel you have to manufacture and that'd take something like ... fusion power to do efficiently.

Fusion power, like space, is hard. We haven't got it yet. It's about five years away and has been for the last twenty years if you get my drift. Don't believe those games that say it's the next tech level. It might be another hundred years away for all we know or more.

There is a way to develop fusion power in the near future of your setting of choice and justify space travel. I propose fusion power generation is made possible using unobtainium. Unobtainium is a very dense element that winds up in the cores of most planets. TO get it you have to troll the asteroids and very volcanically active moons like Io (which turns itself out every hundred years or so.)

Every civilization that uses fun stuff like toasters and laser rifles will need fusion power. Fossil fuels supplies are just too limited. Fission is too dirty etc. People are going to go out to mine that unobtainium. They're going to use some of it for propulsion of course but they should be able to gather more than they expend.

Voila: space travel is made possible and lucrative to find the elements that make space travel possible.

Now I just have to figure out what the unobtainium is exactly. It might be some material containing muons or something we don't even expect. A muon heavy material might have a detrimental effect on computers making it necessary to use organics to mine. There's the ticket: exodus!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Best Defense Is a Good Protocol

GAIA Personal Log #3276

(I never thought of having my own log before my involuntary upgrade!)

<<Shimmer shimmer shimmer>>

Exec: That was a fairly smooth ‘porting. I prefer Toff’s style to Mr. Tivk’s.

GAIA: Rrrrrrrr… grrrrr… brrrr.

Ensign: Aye Skipper. GAIA?

Exec: Apparently GAIA prefers Mr. Tivk’s style to Technical Officer’s. Wormholes hate AIs. GAIA? GAIA? … snap out of it!


GAIA: Oh … thank you Ensign!

Ensign: No problem.

Exec: Did you just dopeslap a piece of Fleet hardware that’s pending being upgraded to crew?

Ensign: All in the wrist ma’am. She has a cooling fan that sticks after a ‘porting for some reason.

Exec: Okay on to more serious matters. Our potential abductee’s shack is over that hill. About a half klick. 

GAIA: More like two thirds.

Exec: Look up ‘pedantic’ in your dictionary GAIA.

GAIA: It’s more a thesaurus …


GAIA: You only get one for free, Schaeffer.

Exec: Schaeffer? Oh you’re in trouble, Ensign.

Ensign: Aye ma’am. Totes worth it. 

Exec: Agreed.

Ensign: Ma’am … That opening by the base of the hill? I’m getting some faint em and chemo dynamic signals.

Exec: We don’t have all day for this but go check it out. No adventures. Understood?

Ensign: Aye Skipper.

GAIA: Shall I accompany him?

Exec: No. Stay with me. 

GAIA: Aye ma’am. You wanted to talk with me?

Exec: … yes but how …

GAIA: Please ma’am you’re the acting commander of the Tesla. You don’t just beam down to a planet to grab some citizen on an abduction list. You send the trained ass kickers for that. So obviously you wanted to get me alone. 

Exec: When did you get so insightful?

GAIA: I’ve been reading transcripts concerning you ma’am. Fascinating.

Exec: Oh. Well thank you. Listen GAIA … something about our orders is not right.

GAIA: They seemed quite intelligible

Exec: No I mean we were sent away from Starbase Liberty as well as the dreadnought Concordance and her flotilla. The units covering the base are all being sent away.

GAIA: It seems they want to be kept busy ma’am.

Exec: Add to this our captain is removed and under arrest along with several of our crew.

GAIA: It has impaired our effectiveness and morale.

Exec: Yes! I’m sure the Captain is being a pain in the ass n the Concordance on his way to trial as well. But I was thinking I may have a way to get him back …

GAIA: That’d be wonderful ma’am! Yes yes yes!!! I love the Captain. can we get Mr.Tivk and the Professor back too?

Exec: I’m working on it. Unless Tick turns out to be a Videni I think so.

GAIA: Oh yes …

Ensign: Ma’am! You’ll never guess what I found in the cave!

Exec: You actually found something? I was trying to get rid of you.

Ensign: Aye ma’am, that was the plan but there’s a whole wall of desert varnish in there. It’s a centimeter thick and highly active. It … it rippled and flowed as I watched and created a pictograph of us landing in the shuttle.

Exec: Oh my … that stuff is amazing. Log the find for a follow up. I never get to do any research myself anymore. Sucks.

GAIA: Please elucidate ma’am.

Exec: Can’t you check your database … oh no wifi. Sorry. Desert varnish is an alien life form found on Earth and other planets. Resembling varnish it lives on cave walls leeching metallic element from rocks around it. It’s psionic and attempts to communicate by forming pictographs. The stuff on Earth had designs they thought were created by prehistoric humans scratching their drawing on the walls. 

Ensign: It’s the first real contact we had with aliens! Back when a canoe was high tech! You gotta love it. Only the varnish on Earth went dormant for some reason. Archaeologists thought the pictographs they found in cave walls were scratched in there by primitive humans! But it was the varnish creating the pictures that early humans would imitate! I took a small sample. Maybe we can cultivate this.

Exec: Good man! Now let’s find this hermit on Riasi’s list of abductions.

GAIA: I don’t understand why anyone want to go off the grid and live alone.

Ensign: You’d put an all points bulletin out for me if I took an extra minute to get back to quarters after my watch.

GAIA: I miss you. There’s only so many times I can defrag and check for updates.

<<Pyew! Phew!>>

GAIA: Ensign! Ma’am!! Tesla! This is GAIA we've come under attack humans are stunned possibly impaired …


GAIA: Well damn.

<<Pyew! Pyew! Pyew!!>>

GAIA: You can stop doing that now. It is annoying me but that is all. Please. You are Sanford Vasquez. Why did you attack us?

Vasquez: You ain’t taking me away again, toaster! Get off my planet!

GAIA: This planet was claimed by the Polity a year ago. The Sunny Hills outpost and strip mall was set up a hundred clicks from here.

Vasquez: Goddamit. I hate neighbors! Get your claws up, toaster!

GAIA: Complying. Why did you …

Vasquez: Shut your talk hole! Take your posse and go!

GAIA: Mr. Vasquez we have come to offer you protection. Your name came up among people posted on a slaver’s list. There is a price on your head in the criminal world. We would like to ascertain why.

<<Pyew! Phew!>>

Vasquez: Rowrrrrbazzrr!

GAIA: Please stop stunning my shipmates! Prolonged stunning can cause neurological damage! 

Vasquez: Or what, toaster?

GAIA:As a duly deputized AI of Space Fleet I hereby place you under arrest. Lay down you weapon.

Vasquez: … hahahahahahahaha! Do your worst. You’re knee high to a bug. You ain’t no robot tank. You’re more a three dee printed steno girl.

GAIA: You. Refuse. To. Comply. Initiating defense protocols.

Vasquez: Hey! What …


Vasquez: He … owww!

<<Punch! Punch! Punch!>>

Vasquez: Oww …

GAIA: Yes, I’m little and I have little hands. But they were built out of titanium because they are expensive to replace and I can punch really fast so they hurt. A lot. Damage is determined by kinetic energy derived by mass and speed. Would you like to know how many joules one of my punches has? It’s pretty high. I can punch very fast. Give me that stunner. And that jammer.

Exec: Oooohhh.

Ensign: Yikes. Defense protocol?

GAIA: Yes. It worked. Mr. Vasquez was … malfunctioning and had to be taken offline.

Ensign: Shit!

GAIA: Help ma’am please and I will see about our teleportation.

Ensign: Fast work there Gee. I’m not going to argue with you but …

GAIA: But you are. I did something wrong?

Exec: … the Ensign and I both have stunners on our belts. Why didn’t you grab one and stun his ass?

GAIA: I can’t think of everything!!!

The Company Part 2

In the beginning there was the Company.  Capital 'C' if you please. It predated the Exodus. It was around while man was still groundbound on our Lost Home. When man went into the Universe the Company led the way in search of riches. It tethered asteroids and brought them into orbit for the hungry factories to devour. Gold, platinum, titanium and far more exotic minerals. The Company went with the capital "C' in this era. Company ships explored and mined and brought manufactured goods to colonies and raw materials to Earth and later other factory worlds.

But there was a problem. Other people were getting rich. It started with independent prospectors and then free traders. They started nibbling at the crumbs the Company dropped and then began to grow into true competition, This was despite efforts. The problem was there were just too many riches in the Universe. Anyone with a ship could get rich eventually if they had half a brain and a half sober crew. The ones who didn't died of course and smarter people eventually bought their ships.

The Company changed its focus. The goods related industries became a sideline. Now it branched into research and design. Sure you could get rich with a ship, but a ship that moved twice as fast as yours would get you rich in half the time, no? New products, ships, equipment, robots ... weapons. Now the Company traded in ease of use and quality of life and there was a lot of life to upgrade.

Again there was a problem. Keeping information to yourself was nearly impossible. If you built a faster FTL drive some clown with a big enough fabricator would start printing his own. Copyrights, patents and IP laws were nearly impossible to enforce acrosss light years. There were other safe guards, write protection, ICE, what some unprofessional types called booby-traps. But showing something was possible was usually enough for smart guys and gals to figure out how to do it themselves. Even worse the huge structure of the ultimate corporate culture was not as innovative as smaller leaner companies.

So the Company lost its edge in research and development but it didn't take it lying down. It sought a solution because having a lot of credits wasn't enough. It had to have all the credits. The shareholders were bastards. By now the Company was a legal and literal entity. An AI group mind had been overseeing operations for centuries. Its solution was simple. In a limitless (or nearly so) Universe there were always new discoveries. Alien worlds provided new organics, pharms, foods in rare cases, sentients to sell to. The Company set out to monetize discovery.

Its factory subdivision was nearly forgotten by the few meatbags still in higher management. But their AIs were still obedient. Through a diverse web of shipyards, banks, and scientific foundations the Company began giving loans to explorers for ships, providing newer ships and travel services. It even opened a division for a public face that would aid travelers and provide amenities like passages, quarters and news feeds. All of these were one more information source. They tracked people recorded discussions and checked logs on their financed ships. Not only did the Company demand a share of new discoveries, its personnel acted on the intelligence their hostels and liners provided to beat explorers to the big finds and put in a claim before the independents.

By now the Company was so huge it was nearly impossible to notice, like the air you breathed. No government or law agency had the resources to track its activities. Some conspiracy theorists spouted off occasionally which amused the Company on some level. It really wasn't a conspiracy when you already owned it all and were merely doing business. No. It was more unfathomable than deliberate obfuscation.

Across settled space the only outward sign of its omnipresence: the Travellers' Aid Society hostels opened their doors for another day's business.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Rule of 15 for OSR Games

One of my earliest posts was on super heroes when I introduced my Rule of 15. The rule was my attempt to codify powers and abilities beyond those of normal humans for my games and establish a power level I felt comfortable running in a game.

The Rule of 15 says that an amplified ability is fifteen times as powerful as a normal human's ability. An exceptionally fir man might lift 200 hundred pounds. An exceptionally fit man gifted with super strength would lift 3000 lbs. about the weight of a very large car ca. 1938. Check the cover of Action Comics #1 if you don't know what I'm talking about.

Take running. A normal human might max out at 25 kph. A super running power would let you run at 375 kph (about 104 meters per second). That's fast enough to run on water or jump a 10 meter wall (104m/s divided by 10 for the time it takes gravity to notice you are airborne).

The rule works well for a World War Two supers setting. It gives a decent power level while preventing your caped draftees from flying to Berlin and trashing der Fuehrer. Although it might be argued that would help the Nazi war efforts if done at the correct time.

How to model it in an old school system though? I'm thinking in particular of The Front and other WW2 rule sets to follow.

First there should be levels of power. Not all people with super strength are equal. Spider-Man should not arm wrestle Thor, for example.

Second there should be some chance for normal humans to prevail against super humans through training numbers or sheer luck. Otherwise what's the point of minions?

A quick look at the D&D Wiki tell me that every 10 points increase in strength quadruples the character's carrying capacity. I can also see that the Golden Age Superman without his powers has a strength of 15 which seems to fit his appearance back then. I could set my power levels to +10 and +20 to the characteristics easy enough. But when do I do things easy?

Let's start with Super Strength. There are three levels.

Low: (still within human levels but looks unlikely. Think Conan.) The character's fists and feet do 1d6 in melee damage.

Paranormal: (not within human limits, think Conan on PCP or the black lotus if anachronisms bother you). The character subtracts 5 from any strength related rolls. His fists and feet do 1d8 in melee damage. the character's blows may affect an unarmored vehicle.

Inhuman: (think someone who could bitch slap Conan on PCP). The character subtracts 10 from his strength related rolls. His fists and feet do 1d10 in melee damage. The character's blows may affect an armored vehicle.

In addition to the bonus to strength related rolls and melee damage characters with super strength roll an advantage die in any rolls made against characters with a lower level of super strength (or no super strength).

Next: Super Dexterity.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Company

Megacorporations are evil. We all know that. I'm not sure when we started knowing they were evil or what the cause of the epiphany was. But the RPGPundit has correctly (IMHO) pointed out that MCorps are always evil these days and since I needed a post idea I decided to take another look at Megacorporations.

The evil reputation of such bodies probably started with the British East India Corporation which made a fortune dealing in warfare, drugs, graft, and silk among other commodities. I really can't get into everything this marvelously lucrative and immoral institution did here. Go research them. Suffice to say they make any company you come up with look like a second rate imitation ... if you really make them as evil as you can. Because you are an amateur and these guys were professionals who literally wrote the book. Unless some real world despot is reading this ...

Let's look at some of these tropes. As an example I'll use the Traveller's Aid Society. If you recall I recently tried slinging mud at that august yet innocuous organization.

The Company is up to far more than you can know!
True to some extent. I showed that the membership dues would hardly go towards paying for the high passage dividends of the paid members let alone freebies and the staffing and maintenance of the hostels at A and B starports, The TAS is definitely into some nix level financing and loans and probably owns all manner of banks. One fall out of this is that there are banks around to make ship loans and further trade and well ... travel. But giving much more favorable rates to fellow banks and corporations and making huge profits on business deals is hardly Evil. Though maybe it is evil at times.

The Company is a monolithic organization!
Due to distance, lag of communication and sheer size the TAS can't know what is going on at every establishment and among its other secondary businesses (shipyards, berthing facilities, banks etc.). Even the subsector management can't know what is going on everywhere all the time. Hostel owners for example have a pretty free hand unless they wind up on the news (pretty hard since the TAS also owns the major news service).

TAS does give the impression of a single seamless organization. The hostels are all very similar in layout and construction. They have common protocols and procedures (salisbury steak second Threeday of every month). But this is to provide a cultural anchor to people who do a lot of traveling and some stable little sanctuary that will feel like home.

This can seem a little freaky to some. Especially when the concierge and staff go Pokémon and use makeup or even cosmetic surgery to look the same. Seeing Concierge Dmitrios on port after port gets a little creepy.

There is cooperation between the various departments which may not appear to be of the same company. Screw with Second Bank of Backwater and the hostel will provide no support. Maybe your activities two planets down the main will be presented to local law enforcement or your ship will suffer an accident in its berth. But don't expect high tech mercs on your tail. This hostel just doesn't have that kind of stuff on hand. Unless the merc commander who is a member in on planet ...

In any case if you leave the planet in which that unfortunate affair occurred in what was once the TAS hostel and keep away from the A and B ports you should be okay. Except you're going to eat the loss of your high passage dividend every two months. You need to still make your ship payments somewhere and there's that spyware that gets loaded onto your computer by the TAS News Service app!

Let me revise that 'can't be everywhere' to can't know everything going on but can keep any eye on people who messed with them.

The Company only cares about profit!
True to some extent. The TAS has to stay in the black to keep its operations running. If it gives out too many freebies or too many people default on loans or get their newsfeed by hacking and it goes broke no more tickets or salisbury steaks. So yes TAS cares about profit and if you didn't then why do you charge for hauling freight and bodies across the parsecs? Money doesn't make the galaxy turn but it is the axis it spins on.

The Company is Evil!
What do you mean by Evil? The TAS is not engaging in forbidden genetic experiments (okay maybe they are cloning those concierges). The TAS doesn't try to take over governments (not enough profit and too much work). But you can find something you can point a finger at with any organization that size.

Let's say we've established that the TAS owns institutions making ship loans. Those ships have to make a profit and one of the highest profit operations is low passage. So the ships are required to have low berths onboard as a condition of the loan.

Low berths kill sometimes. There are two insurances against passenger death, a ship's doctor and a waiver running 84 pages of single spaced micro font. Making the low berths safe would just cost too much, almost as much as a stateroom or more. But it's cool. There's always a line of losers wanting transportation off planet. They know the risks. Besides, if you travel asleep you aren't really a traveller and the TAS could care less about you.

Is that Evil? Is it merely evil? Are the ship captains who provide low passage Evil/evil? A person who lost friends and relatives to low passage might consider the practice a blight on the transportation industry and demand the TAS (the guys who own the banks providing ships etc. unknown to most of the public) take a stand on the practice and condemn it.

So the TAS either stops loading their financed ships with low berths and comes clean, or keeps quiet or condemns it and assumes people will forget this in another week before their connection to the low berth conspiracy is found out.

Some companies might buy the person with the grievance off. Some might have them blackmailed, frightened or killed if they continue. This is not really necessary in the case of the TAS. They are the major source of news, remember. This conspiracy talk need not get beyond this rabble rouser's home planet. On planet  ... well the TAS hostel has very good relationships with the local government and news feeds. It can be quietly hushed up until people find a new cause like psionics taking jobs away from normal citizens.

The rabble rouser might not stay quiet though and need protection or evidence to prove his claims. this would probably be handled by the management for that planet. If they sent word of the activities to the subsector or sector manager the situation could be out of hand before they received orders. In fact the upper management might be very upset with that planet manager for his hamfisted actions and instead opt to create a charitable organization to help the families of people killed by low berths.

This keeps the TAS image looking good and can be financed by charitable citizens meaning the TAS pays only for start up and some token payments once in a while when this news breaks again. Even if the connection between the TAS and the ship financiers becomes widespread knowledge they can make the case that the connection was only between a few worlds' hostels and simply sell that particular bank while pointing to their charitable organization as a sign of their good intent.

Is that Evil? I don't know but it is probably the point where the player characters come in.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Better Living Through Chemistry

Please note I do not condone the use of drugs to solve your problems ... unless the problem is say, an abscessed tooth or kidney stone in which case I can say Oxy Codone  saw me through a few rough patches till I could get either extracted.

There are six drug types in use in your Traveller Universe. We'll start with Medical Slow Drug. One dose and sixty days pass for you ponder while your pals are pondering what to have for breakfast. This drug has a tech level of 7 which is absolute blather at first read. We're TL 7 and we have nothing like that. However, drugs are often refined from plants and animals in nature so this might be manufactured from a naturally occurring plant say and the refining techniques are only TL 7. Non-medical slow drug is a little more difficult to manufacture perhaps due to its shorter duration and measuring such effects so precisely.

These drugs might be a cash crop for relatively low tech worlds especially if they require a large number of life forms for harvesting. If the natural form of the drugs is available from animals then you might have to face such animals at some point and be very surprised when they get multiple actions to every one of yours.

Some worlds do prohibit the use of Slow and Medical Slow. It may seem odd in the case of Medical Slow but some people prefer that only licensed physicians would deal with a drug that can heal you at the cost of aging you a couple months.

Apparently anagathics are restricted on some worlds. This might mean it is restricted to certain social classes or occupations (no anagahics for elected officials during their term is one way to prove their dedication.)

Restricting Combat Drug seems reasonable. People use it for combat for one thing. Fr another like the other superhuman 'roids it will cause damage and possibly make you lose consciousness at the wrong time. This probably reduces its use among say, rescue workers. Passing out in a firefight is fatal enough but passing out in the middle of a fire tests the mettle of the most hardened firefighter or EMT.

Some alternate forms of Combat Drug may exist increasing either Strength or Endurance by four or Dexterity by two

I'd like you to consider extending the types of drugs. Perhaps in addition to Combat we could have Seeker: raise your Intelligence and Education by two for an hour. Reduce both by 1d6 when it wears off until the user gets eight hours sleep. Similarly Thinxfast(TM)? works to speed up the user's thought processes allowing them to get an hour of contemplation in a few minutes. Good for working out complex problems. The only problem is your body is paralyzed while the drug is working. I'd recommend at least 2d6 in wounds for this to Dex, Int or Edu and limit the use to once per week.

What about Mindblok(TM)? Take a dose and you have a psi shield equal to your Intelligence in strength for 1d6 hours. This is not an option for natural telepaths who will fall unconscious for 2d6 hours and take 2d6+6 wounds.

Nootralizer(TM) is the opposite of the psi drugs and used as a more humane way of holding psionic humans captive. One dose reduces psionic strength by eight for 20 - Endurance hours. It does not inflict any damage on the subject and is taken by injection allowing it to be used in special tranq ammunition for snub pistols.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Many kinds of Stealth

There is stealth in space. All smugglers know this. It's inside your ship for the most part. Smugglers are very similar to pirates or the total opposite depending on who you ask. An old joke goes there was a smuggler who switched to piracy thereby raising the average IQ of both groups.

In terms of economics pirates risk the well being of their ships and crew to gain loot which is a 100% profit (minus a little liquid hydrogen for the lasers and drives assuming the target doesn't fight back). Smugglers are trying to beat out government duties, tariffs and taxes and running a much smaller  risk of their freedom and ship.

Smuggling is fairly easy to grasp. You find a planet that imports and heavily taxes a commodity that is relatively cheap. You buy the commodity and deliver it to that planet in a way that avoids the tax man. Or better yet find a commodity that is highly sought after on one world but illegal. Buy it where it is legal, sneak it to where it is illegal and set blasters to gouge.There are a number of ways to do this.

The simplest way is to find or create a hiding place in your ship. Make sure it's a very good place and don't even bother stashing it behind the radiation shields. Customs has robots, drones or day laborers and make them look there first. You only have one shadow shield to look behind but there are way more corridors to check and customs has a lot of ships to check if you're doing it right.

Removable door, floor, and ceiling panels are much better and honor tradition. Optionally you can put your illicit cargo (if it's small enough) someplace the customs inspectors wouldn't want to go. So you might hide your load of hot jewels in the flooring of the crates holding your cargo of venomous rock pincers for Durella 3. The would be smuggler is encouraged to find the most dangerous, toxic and unpleasant materials to haul that he can. Check the dumpsters behind fast food chains. Hiding packages in your ship's recycling system is a fine dodge as well.

If you're dealing with high tech customs inspectors then they may have all manner of sensors to look through walls. An extra laver of deception will be necessary in this case. Merely blocking the sensors will raise all kinds of eyebrows. The trick then is to disguise your contraband as something innocuous. Stick those auto rifles in with the farming equipment. Hide the psi boosters in bottles of aspirin. For those who have a crew ready to go the extra parsec ... customs doesn't usually do internals scans of human beings.

Hiding items in plain sight is often possible. One gentleman scoundrel would have a chilled pitcher of martinis ready when the customs inspectors came aboard and offer them a libation. The inspectors never accepted and found anything until one old commander on his last day before retiring agreed to a drink. After the inspector nearly choked to death on the stolen moon crystals hidden in the ice the smuggler lost his captain's license, ship and was sentenced to 20 years for poisoning a public official.

Disguising one thing as another is another common dodge. The pseudoraptor you're transporting might be a member of an endangered subspecies protected by law but the inspector won't want to get close enough to see past the dye job.

There is also the old shell game. A smuggler took on a cargo of on a desert world with no refueling facilities. He made for the local gas giant to refuel his Scout Courier. The local authorities learned of his activities and when a Navy patrol ship jumped into the system called in the violation. The patrol ship chased the smuggler all the way to the gas giant and got within shooting range just as it dipped into the clouds. The patrol ship shut down it's power, and lay silent above one of the poles where it could observe and wait for the smuggler who was refueling via an equatorial orbit. That was when three Scout ships emerged and headed in different directions. The patrol ship might have caught one but not all three. Two got away and the one that did get boarded had nothing. They claimed communications system damage kept them from receiving the patrol ship's hails and transponder id. It was probably caused by lightning storms while refueling.

The hard part of smuggling involves dodging the customs inspectors entirely. Maybe you have the big score taking up most of your hold. It is possible to land unnoticed at many times though these sort of stunts are usually confined to starport classes of A or D. We're not counting class E or X. Anyone can land anytime at those worlds.

Type A 'ports simply have too  much traffic to stop every ship. A bribe in the proper circles or an anonymous tip to another ship and you could slip in with the law abiding citizens. A class D starport will not have a huge amount of traffic but it will also not have extensive sensors nd a savvy navigator could chart a course away from prying eyes.

Smuggling can also be from point to point on a single world. A low tech and balkanized world might have battalions guarding its border but a minor space presence. Moving goods from one nation to another can be as lucrative as between planets and much quicker. Just get out when one side or another gets starship missiles to load in their launchers (you aren't the only smuggler you know.)

Space tactics also involve stealth via distraction. One group of smugglers hit on the Jump Blind Tactic. Ship A launches from Planet Backwater. It heads for a point in space where Ship B carrying illicit cargo emerges from jump space (timing is very important obviously.) When Ship B emerges Ship A vents a load of plasma from its reactor (and will later claim engine malfunction). Ship B has its emergence hidden by the hot plasma. The ships dock and the illicit cargo is transferred to Ship A. Ship A makes a show of limping back to port as Ship B jumps out of system (or uses various kinds of flares to mimic its jump signature) and heads to port looking innocent and freshly emerged from jump. When Ship A gets to port it peddles the illicit cargo having been through customs inspection already on its way out. One smuggler operating out of a type D port made a show of chronic drive trouble and limping back to port a couple times till the trouble was fixed. The port itself was kept quite busy by the couple of extra ships that showed up that month.

Some smugglers have used modified missiles to deliver contraband, launching the missiles on a ballistic to their destination. Others have launched missiles that flew ahead inert until the ship rendezvoused with a customs inspector and were then picked up. Missiles can be chilled way down till they have almost no heat signature.

One rule of smuggling is kept by almost everyone: no phony distress signals. Smuggling is a nonviolent crime (unless you serve deadly toxic gemstones to an inspector.) A distress call can pull search and rescue ships as well as navy patrols away from a real emergency. That can result in death and there's a world of difference between losing your captaincy and ship and being sentenced to death or life imprisonment. After all, who would smuggle you out then?

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Reflections on Armor

Reflec is reflective material on a plastic base. It can be  can be tailored into a body suit. It is typically worn under other clothing (unless you're an exotic dancer or the like.) Reflec is expensive and often difficult to obtain. It is ineffective against most other weapons. It renders most laser weapons about as effective as a laser pointer. Unlike ablative armor only a minimal amount of reflec will melt under laser fire. 

Unofficial Scout Survival Manual 7th Printing.

The government of Mariros (C00088A-9) has a large and mobile population moving around their planetary belt. despite (or perhaps due to) the high law level there is a large covert rebellion going on. Attacks on government officials became so widespread that a few years ago government functions were all moved to several high security and well defended space stations. rebels were still able to get onboard and attacks were only diminished, not stopped as was hoped for. 

The peacekeepers adopted a unique solution to minimize damage from assassins. While some weapons notably body pistols could be smuggled aboard in small numbers armor of any kind remained very obvious to sensors. The government officials began importing and wearing reflec armor. Reflec was unobtrusive and didn't marr the lines of a negotiator or official's suit. After all you don't wear power armor to a power lunch meeting. It isn't done!

The assassins continued to smuggle their body pistols onto government stations. However the rflec armor was very effective against the small and weak rounds. One attacker who grabbed a minister to use as a human shield was shot down immediately by the peacekeepers. Fourteen beams hit him, seven hit the minister who was wearing reflec. The minister was unharmed and her attacker supposedly hit the deck emitting a whistling sound from the number of holes in him.

The peacekeepers then displayed their second import: laser pistols. With the government VIPs all but invulnerable to laser weapons there was little to fear in unloading a flurry of beams at any attackers. Worse for the rebels: reflec by its very nature shows up on on sensors or a casual inspection. After some attackers cobbled together a third rate suit of reflec from a Tl 13 thermal blanket they acquired from a derelict ship's ATV some peacekeepers began carrying heavy revolvers as back ups and proved that other than body pistols and laser about the only thing reflec could protect against was freezer burn.

For a while attacks on ministers dropped to almost nothing. then one enterprising rebel cell realized you could make throwing stars, blades, and daggers out of the same materials a body pistol used. 

Despite this the reflec/laser pistol system of body guarding soon spread to other worlds because a killer bringing a knife to a laser fight is not the horse I'd bet on.

Reflec is not an absolute protection against laser fire. For one thing it is a body suit (think of those silver spacesuits from Lost in Space) and equipment worn outside it is not protected. Wearing it under your vacc suit in space is thus of limited use.
(Stylish and practical but they add 5 kilos to you!)

Second, lasers of higher tech levels will be more effective against your reflec armor. For every tech level above 10 the reflec hit modifier is two worse. 

A form of bargain basement reflec exists in the form of reflec spray for armor and equipment at TL 12. Its modifier vs. lasers is only -6 and it is worthless against any other attacks (being a shiny high priced tatoo). This spray is very obvious (yes you can use it as body paint but it itches and the dm vs. lasers is only -4). It costs 1000 cr. a can and will last for a couple days in the field. It is very popular for protecting equipment and vehicles if you can afford several cans (an ATV needs about a dozen cans, an air/raft needs four.)

Hooligan Reflec: any vehicles and spacecraft use thermal blankets attached to their hulls for insulaton. these are often available for the finding (or theft). They have the disadvantage of bulk and advertising to all what a cheapskate you are. they impart a -2 to laser fire and are useless to any other attacks. It also reduces dexterity for weapons and skill usage by 2.

It should also be noted that armor is way harder to hide than weapons in many cases and may be subject to local laws and social custom. In the Mariros Belt it is restricted to government officials and a few high level peace keepers. On other worlds it might be a badge of nobility. This could result in a very favorable reaction to characters until the shop clerk realizes you're a murder hobo poser (that's the shopkeeper's words not mine!)