Monday, May 30, 2016

Don't Upset the Locals

I wrote a fair bit about how all out nifty ships, any ships are in many of not most planets in a Traveller universe. They can go darn near anywhere, produce gigawatts with a few tons of water etc.
They can bring goods from places you could never reach yourself. Heck staying in orbit a few weeks and monitoring weather might spell the difference between starvation and bountiful harvests on some worlds.

That's just if you take the high road. Tech 6 or lower worlds could do very little against a ship that hovers outside the atmosphere and extorts money by threatening to blow up monuments or government buildings. If you're playing with the '77 rule set then outside of your commercial lanes the odd isolated planet won't have law ships or the Navy come by very often. Why can't you take your war surplus laser cannon and take what you want? Why can't you be king?

A few things to consider:

If you thought about doing it someone else probably did and before you. Any planets with decent resources and industrial bases will be around for centuries. They lived this long and you didn't notice any laser burned buildings on the scanners so something must be up.

First if you can buy a jump tape to the planet (see Classic Traveller) odds are you are still too close to that Remote Centralized Government which will be come up close and personal pretty fast if you manage to hit the trigger buttons. For that matter the Close By Centralized Government of the starport that sold you the jump tape might take a dim view of a pack of murder hobos torching a sister world and possibly setting up a base for marauders. It's bad for business.

Second don't underestimate the power and reach of the Scout Service. Yes the Navy basically hangs around points of strategic interest but the scouts go everywhere. They have better ships than the dinky one they loaned you (how's that for irony), they have good sensors and they have weapons and can give a shout to the Navy for threats above their annual budget.

Third taking over a world will put you in the position of the Tyrannical Local Government. Look for s steady stream of adventurer types attempting to overthrow you. We all know how that ends up eventually.

Fourth the kind of world you are looking for is probably agricultural or has an economy based on gathering natural resources. That requires people. Shooting up the place or overthrowing the government is likely to disrupt this activity and the credits will dry up. People expecting those credits will start getting concerned.

That's just the obvious things that can and will go wrong (referees hate changing the government they statted up for a world.)

Before you try taking over a world you might want to find out about all the stuff that doesn't appear in the travel guides. Say you've set your eyes on a world that pays tribute to a pirate clan (governments pay tribute, people pay protection money)? Those pirates are going to be a little put out. Ditto the smugglers who have arrangements with the scanner operators you replace with your own guys. Let's say you've taken over a world, what could go wrong?

1- The planet is the site of a huge credit laundering operation by a large evil conglomerate. You have more wealth than you will ever live to spend (in more ways than one).

2- One of the locals who went abroad became a very successful mercenary who is very upset to hear about your actions.

3- The Company has had a deal with the planetary government for decades to provide catalyzer crystals quietly thus preventing a mining boom and having to deal with the insanity of dealing with prospectors, secondary mining outfits and inevitably the crime, theft and cost of dealing with the above.

4- Another outfit had the same idea. They just were a tad slower than you. Now they have all those troops and ships paid in part ... expecting the other part.

5- A cache of Forerunner artifacts, catalyzer crystals or other Richezz were discovered on planet. A free for all ensues till the Government shows up (this works great as a rumor the deposed government starts!)

6- The planet as a secret military base with advanced research far from the Remote Central Government. It is well defended but will probably keep a low profile unless nosy invaders show up or the deposed government threatens exposure.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

... Abandon Ship?

No. Not in most cases.

Take a deep breath and repeat: Space is not an Ocean!!

Sea going ships are not spaceships. They ply the interface between a hostile environment (under water) and a livable environment (above water). If your ship sinks then yes you'd jump into a life raft or swim for it. Trying to survive in a submerged wreck is probably not the best option.

Space, however, is vacuum. Your ship is not going to sink into something more hostile. Your ship is a tiny oasis in a sea of nothing essentially. Everything you need to survive in space has to be brought with you. Water, oxygen, food etc adds up quickly in days or weeks. How much can you carry with you?

Ah but there's always the lifeboat!

Can it hold more stores than your ship does? If it does not, then you are better off running air, water, and power lines between the two ships and sitting it out in your berthed boat until the Scout SAR ship arrives. The other option is using the power and stores of the life boat to help sustain your crew while they initiate repairs. It worked for Tom Hanks and his crew (I know the LEM was not a lifeboat per se).

The ultimate passive form of survival, of course,  is the low berth. When your drives and power fail several light days or further from the nearest rescue hop into the tubes and wait out the years it may take to limp to safety (if you can call traveling 100 kps limping). Another downside to low travel is that you're likely to wake up at the mercy of whomever finds you and may be emerging into a worse situation than when you went to sleep. To prepare for the latter case bring a spacesuit into your low berth and then point out to the fuming referee that low berths can accommodate riding animals if necessary. Referees should allow this and then get very inventive in describing what getting into a vacc suit in a low berth is like. Refs are entitled to their fun too.

In a Traveller style universe banks might not encourage life boats on ships they mortgage. The reason they cite is the rarity of their use. Most crews are better off doing damage control and remaining aboard. The reason they don't cite is that once everyone leaves a ship the next person to put boots on its deck owns it (note that this usually doesn't apply to crews employed as starport search and rescue!)  The law on low passage survivors varies by location and if there's no one to notice a new constellation of crew-sicles it becomes rather academic. Some captains resent being forced to carry a boat at the expense of income earning volume. Also note the lifeboat costs quite a bit.

An alternative to a costly life boat and becoming a possible slave (frozen to guarantee freshness) is a vault.

Vaults are armored safe rooms/quarters with their own power source and life support systems. Unlike regular quarters they are designed for zero gravity because grav plates gobble power and are the first thing you's shut down for long term survival. ("We're on battery power. We're rationing the gravity. Try not to drop anything or fall unnecessarily.") They also contain gear and space suits you could use to repair your ship. They're made out of the stuff those airliner black boxes are made of. In the event of a fustercluck you retreat to the vault and wait for chips to stop falling (assuming you left the gravity on) then begin repairs and broadcast a distress call in whatever degree of panic you feel entitled to. Their survival in combat is up to the discerning referee but they should survive most actions short of the ship being turned into confetti. Vaults are at the very least modular and built at quadruple the cost of normal quarters or cargo space. Generous Referees might allow the mail section of a subsidized merchant to be in the vault as well. You don't want to lose that mail and have the Postal Service come after you.

There are some situations where abandoning a ship becomes good sense. A violent and fiery re-entry falls under spectator event for me. This is an exception to the 'spaceships don't sink' meme I started with. Being on an unavoidable collision course is another. Collisions are rare in space despite what movies tell you but black holes and neutron stars happen. A ship might not have the acceleration or propellant  to escape that a life boat possesses.

Combat is one of the worst places to be in a lifeboat if the other side shoots at lifeboats. Most people do not realizing they may find themselves in a lifeboat someday or in front of a court of law (or lynch mob of belters- you do not want to be hung in low gravity. It takes all day.) Pirates who like to work no harder than necessary will also greet a lifeboat launching with cheers and hearty "farewell chicken$#!+s"! It means an uneventful boarding action and a prize ship in most cases.

Fire is another scenario where abandoning ship may be called for. Suffice to say fire can be very bad. On a large station or ship depressurizing may not happen fast enough to prevent massive damage and rapid depressurization can be very bad for crew who are team players and grabbed an extinguisher instead of a space suit. Seriously spacing the guys trying to save the ship instead of running for the airlock while struggling into a spacesuit is messed up. Also note that space suits may require some time to safely don with slow depressurization and other procedures required. Big ships might have several crew suited up at any given time to deal with damage control. Again retreating to the lifeboat (or vault) and depressurizing the mother ship is pretty attractive.

Radiation is a problem that will not go away easily. It's up to the referee to decide just how dirty  ship power plants are. Radiation is a much more likely event than the power plant exploding (despite your love of large explosions). Power plants are built to process fuel into energy in a controlled way that is very different than the way you want to build a bomb. They also have many safeguards to shut them down /before/ they explode. Some unscrupulous merchants might sell plants without such guards and claim it's a design feature: a cheap self destruct! Meltdowns are possible considering the power put out and yes you want to use a lifeboat then. You can always come back to the stricken ship after the red glow fades.

Ships may also be possessed by a malignant entity. This happens occasionally in my Ghost Drive setting (okay a lot, you use ghosts to propel the ships after all.) You don't even need evil non biological entities. A mutinous crewman or deranged computer can make life interesting for your crew. Not to malevolent entities, rogue computers and mutinous crews; expect the bank to keep after you. If you think the bank will quail at demanding a malevolent entity keeps up the payments or be forced to vacate then you never had a home mortgage. They'll repossess from Satan himself.

Despite their rare use lifeboats are great from a story perspective. Say there's a derelict ship. It's bad enough as a symbol of mortality and how any technology is fallible. Now tell your intrepid players the lifeboats are launched. What could have made them desperate enough to abandon ship? Or  ... the lifeboats are there but the crew and passengers are missing.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Toff and GAIA

GAIA Personal Log:

GAIA: I am running simulations of all the ways this could go wrong. they're eating into my processing capacity.

Toff: You're scared. Relax. this is no biggie.

GAIA: We are supervising a force field generator to protect the Dr. Osborne while he removes an explosive device from Mr. Velasques. Much can indeed go wrong.

Toff: Pfft. Either the Doc removes the device without setting it off or it goes off, correct?

GAIA: Yes.

Toff: If he doesn't set it off no problem. If he does ...

GAIA: That is my concern yes. I have grown to enjoy breathing ... or at least being air cooled.

Toff: If the bomb goes off either the force field holds or it doesn't. Right?

GAIA: ... yes.

Toff: It holds then no problem. If it doesn't ... well we probably won't be around after that so again no problem.

GAIA: I have things to do. I am nearly certified as a bonafide life form. I'm just starting ... human stuff with the Ensign.

Toff: Steady. I'll try not to blow up the generator so you will remain intact to perform human stuff with the Ensign. Just do one thing for me?

GAIA: Yes Technical Officer?

Toff: Run and get a couple more armor fibre blankets to throw over the generator. I want to run a check on the field emitters up in sick bay.

GAIA: Yes sir.

Toff: If I ever get my hands on Mr. Tivk for leaving me short handed like this ...

<<Psssht! Psssht!>>


GAIA: Toff!! Toff!!

Toff: <Cough> ... here.

GAIA: Damage control and medical help is en route. You look bad ...

Toff: You have a shitty bedside manner.

GAIA: I will work on it after I get the Doc.

Toff: Don't. Go.

GAIA: You're going to die if the Doc doesn't get here soon.

Toff: I guess the force field held on his end. Good. Doc's a good man and a good doctor but he ... would need a time machine to help me.

GAIA: What can I do? Tell me how to help you!

Toff: You  can take my hand ... thank you.

GAIA: ... you're welcome. Are you sure you don't want some privacy for this?

Toff: You have ... kind eyes. Always did ...

GAIA: Toff? Toff?!

<<Limits of affective engagements routines exceeded. System Crash. Rebooting.>>

Exec: GAIA? Are you all right?

GAIA: Ma'am!

Exec: It's all right. The crew is looking after the Technical Officer.

GAIA: He made it?

Exec: ... I'm sorry, honey.

GAIA: I didn't want to be here. I thought he'd want some privacy ...

Exec: ... You did fine.

GAIA: I ... don't have the words for this. I'm not human. I'm not sure what I feel now.

Exec: I found you holding his hand.

GAIA: He wanted me too.

Exec: You did fine.


<<Ba-dump-ah. Ba-dump-ah. Ba-dump-ah.>>

Commodore: Keeping busy?

Captain: Trying my dear.

Commodore: Well stop trying. Put down the ball.

<<Ba-dump-ah. Ba-dump-ah. Ba-dump-ah.>>

<<Ba-dump-ah! Ba-dump-ah! Ba-dump-ah!>>

Commodore: Dan! That's an order!

Captain: Big deal. What're you going to do ... arrest me? Oh wait!

<<Ba-dump!! Snatch!>>

Captain: Good hands on you Chloe.

Commodore: So you have said. We have a problem. Stop being a dick for a minute.

Captain: Sure. What have we got?

Commodore: Your people on the Tesla managed to corral one of the people on that abduction list. Your medical Officer examined him and has found an implanted explosive in him bobpy trapped to high heavens.

Captain: Way to go Doc ... wait ...

Commodore: He's still working on removal without blowing himself and the medical deck to the Streets of Glory. Meanwhile ... your beanpole and phrog have exposed Admiral Saltornus as a Videni spy.

Captain: I KNEW I didn't like him for a reason!

Commodore: You mean besides having you arrested?

Captain: ... yes. So what do we do now?

Commodore: Tesla tight beamed this info to me. We're not sure what Saltornus was doing at Starbase Liberty but he had ordered all the people on the abduction list to be brought there.

Captain: The list is a sham. It's an excuse to bring those people onboard. If they all have explosive devices ...

Commodore: The Videni already got to those people on the list and leaked it to us?

Captain: Right. So now what?

Commodore: We make all possible speed to Liberty and where the Tesla will join our constellation. I am going to take charge of the starbase and restore order. You will command the Concordance.

Captain: Right, Commodore.

Commodore: You may consider this a temporary reprieve. Fleet may still decide you acted against procedure regarding GAIA.

Captain: On the bright side I may not survive.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Fire and Movement

Some superhuman powers are not amplification of normal human ability. Some powers are things no one else can do.

Amazing (think bulletproof -mostly. The body is about the density of a brick wall.) The character ignores damage from anything less than a heavy machinegun on an Armor Check of 10 or less. Optionally they are immune to any melee attacks unless they roll a 20 for defense or their attacker has super strength or another applicable power.

Paranormal (think very bulletproof. The body is about the density of a steel wall.) The character ignores damage from anything less than a heavy machinegun on an Armor Check of 15 or less. They are immune to any normal melee attacks. They can survive being run over by a truck.

Superhuman (think very unkillable. The body is about the density of armor quality steel.) The character ignores damage from anything on an Armor Check of 15 or less. They are immune to any melee attacks unless the attacker has super strength. They can survive being run over by a tank.

Options: Instead of becoming rock or steel hard the character becomes wraithlike or vaporous solidifying parts of his body to run or strike.  A common substance will negate invulnerability.

Movement- flying, running, teleporting, swinging on a line etc.

Amazing- the character could charge/swoop  etc. within Nearby range.

Paranormal- the character could charge/swoop  etc. within Faraway range.                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Superhuman- the character could charge/swoop  etc. within Distant range.

Options: Instead of physically traveling the character can teleport (can you say 'Killroy'?). This requires a turn of concentration but you avoid running over mines or AA fire.

Destructive Blasts
Amazing- the character's power deals 1d8 damage out to Nearby range.

Paranormal- the character's power deals 1d10 damage out to Faraway range.                                                                                                                                                                                                              Superhuman- the character's power deals 1d12 damage out to Distant range.

Destructive blasts have diminishing returns. Every time the damage die comes up '1' or '2' it is decreased one die size. Conversely the character may opt to reduce it one die size to do double damage on a blast.

Options: The destructive blasts are 1d6 with no chance of diminishing. The bolts cause stun damage. They can't damage inanimate objects, passing through them harmlessly. A person taken out of action by these bolts wakes up with 1d6 HP after the fight is over. In some comics energy blasts do much more damage to inanimate objects than humans. To simulate this the referee could add +2/+4/+6 to a vehicle's armor check or ignore it entirely. My money will still be on the tank.

Medical Emergency

Exec: All I'm saying is move your ass. We're diverting back to Liberty Starbase. There's a riot or mutiny or something there and the security commander is having a mental breakdown the way he's talking.

Doc: /Tivk./ /Mukh./

Exec: What?

Doc: Right. I'll have the low down on Velasques in a couple hours tops. Hopefully before we arrive.

Exec: That would be good Dr. Osborne. Because ... if half of what they're saying is true Admiral Varangus Saltornus has been collecting the people on that slaver's list there for the last few months. Saltornus looks to be a Videni deep cover agent.  It could just be a smokescreen but we can't take chances. Maybe they're an army to take over that base.

Riasi: But they have been taken to detention areas.

Doc: All this is very well and good. I have my instructions. Will you please get the hell out of here, Phil and let me finish operating on Mr. Velasques?

Velasques: And turn up the anesthetic field. That's good stuff.

Doc: Quiet you. Pass me a clamp ... not you Mr. Velasques, Ms. Riasi. Watch your tail!!

Riasi: You watch my tail!

Velasques: I will sweet thang.

Riasi/Doc: Shut up!!

Exec: Right. I have to go yell at Toff to squeeze more juice out of the engines. We need to get to Liberty ASAP. It sounded like all hell was breaking loose at FTL speed.

Doc: /Tivk/.

Riasi: /Mukh/.

Exec: In-DEED.


Velasques: She seems a good egg. I'm glad she and the kid didn't press charges.

Riasi: She's great. You are a lot calmer since we repaired your implant.

Velasques: I sure am. Been bipolar my whole life. I had no idea the implant was malfunctioning.

Riasi: Taking cough medicine to cure it did not help.

Velasques: Don't remind me. It leaves a hangover.

Riasi: Mr. Velasques, were you teleported recently?

Vel: No. Never. Why?

Riasi: Because that could account for the implant malfunction.

Doc: Give me a number 6 probe. There are a lot of things that can cause a malfunction in an implant. A heavy stun setting can mess implants up too.

Riasi: Right.

Doc: ...

Velasques: Give it to me straight Doc.

Doc: I'll give it to you straight. I'm going deeper. Turn the anesthetic field up to general.

Riasi: ... He's out. What can I do to help?

Doc: ... probe is sending an image. I'm running it through the image DB to let me know what I found. Prosthetic ... plastic body ... sensor shielded because my exterior scans showed nothing ... I got something on the image DB. Riasi ... go get out of here. Now. Tell the Skipper to evacuate the deck.

Riasi: ... I love you.

Doc: I ... I can't do this with you here. Go. Please. Get. Out. Hurry.

Riasi: Yes ...


Doc: I love ... goddamn it

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Power Vs. Experience

The powers I designed so far come in three easy levels: Low, Paranormal and Superhuman. I need to set some costs for what we laughingly call play balance (Like Superman's drawbacks pay for all his powers. He can destroy the planet by blinking rapidly and has the most rare and exotic weaknesses available.)

Every Superhuman level power costs one level of experience. A character can start with negative levels but after play begins he will not progress in levels until he buys off the negative levels.

A Superhuman power can be traded for a Paranormal, and Low level or three Low Level powers. If the player wants to have a character with only one Paranormal level power or two Low level powers the character can give up one roll to increase an attribute for each Low level or two rolls per Paranormal power.

A character can purchase an improved weapon built by a Superhuman genius working in the rear areas or home country. Picking two of the paranormal intelligence mods for a weapon costs an experience level.

(Reprinted here for your convenience or check the link here.)

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 or +2 penalty to opponents' rolls

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

They also trade in their rifle for the device. A character taking a melee weapon is also provided with a pistol.

To keep the ordinary heroes of the greatest generation from being overshadowed 'normal' but exceptional soldiers could receive some bonuses as well (no powers but they train harder). Super powered people being led by a normal human is a staple of comic books. They could receive extra experience levels at the start (though they have to buy them off the same as the levels used to pay for powers.)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Cold, Dark Dreams Between the Stars

Frequent travelers avoid them. The Navy uses them as a matter of necessity. Lifeboats are built around them. The poor or desperate use them as a last resort.

The low passage.

Low passage is referred to as cold sleep or suspended animation (more on this later but I don’t think it can be a complete suspension of biological processes.) You experience no passage of time and do not age in low passage. It is suggested you keep a record of time spent in low passage as it can cause discrepancies in a character’s ages. In practice I’ve never seen a character using a low berth regularly get old enough for it to matter.

Let’s look at the numbers for various forms or passage:

Middle and High Passage both require a stateroom (4 displacement tons). At standard rates those four tons will give you a return of cr. 2500/ ton for high passage or cr. 4000/ton for middle passage (assuming you get to cram two middle passengers into one stateroom.) Life support costs Cr. 2000 per two weeks leaving a net income of Cr. 2000/ton for high and cr. 3500/ton for middle passage. High passengers also require a steward costing cr. 1500 per two week trip which further eats into the profit depending on how many passengers will share said steward. In addition high passengers are given 1000 kilos of luggage and thus have a hidden cost in that they cost the ship cr. 1000 that could come from hauling a ton of cargo. So high passage actually generates as low as cr. 1600 to 1900 a ton. 

A low berth displaces 1/2 ton so for one displacement ton you can carry two suicidally frugal passengers for cr. 1000 each. The income is cr. 2000/ton which oddly makes low berth’s earn cr. 1800 per week. No steward, no unwieldy luggage. No hijack attempts. No snooty passengers asking you to turn the gravity down or floss the teeth of their exotic pets.

Okay some of the passengers could die on you on revival. You did provide for a medic-2, right?


Okay. They did sign a waiver. Let us proceed.

On a trip without a medic-2 in attendance 28% of low passengers die (according to RAW). With a low endurance this jumps to 42% at which point the low passage lottery becomes rather lucrative for the crew. With a medic-2 and average Endurance the death rate is 17%. One in six is a bit better than most boat people flotillas but those folks don’t pay a grand to make the trip (and can probably carry more than 10 kilos of gear). 

Obviously the average Traveller Universe has a very large and seamy underside if there is a constant flow of people willing to chance death to leave their planet. Imagine paying cr. 1000 for a 17% of death just to escape something and you soon realize every low passenger must have a hell of a story. 

Low berths are often used in an emergency. An injured person in need of medical attention is placed in a low berth to ‘keep’ better till a hospital is reached. The crew of a ship that misjumped and is faced with a decades long trip to another star may likewise settle into the low berths rather than face starvation. I always wondered what happened to the actual low passengers in a case like that. Just how much does that waiver allow you to do with them?

Low berths were originally used to transport livestock and zoological specimens. The process was not originally intended to be used on humans. The lethal nature of low passage might have something to do with the complexity of the human brain. Perhaps some functions are damaged when the person is revived incorrectly. Optionally death might be reserved for snake eyes with 3-4 indicating a loss of Intelligence or Education. that’s up to the referee. I will note that lowering intelligence will make people to keep using low passage even after it has failed them once. 

I’ve already mentioned evil mega-corporations (C) withholding better versions of low passage out of simple economics. They cost nearly as much or more than high or middle passage.

What f the secret of safe revival isn’t tied to technology levels but more of a recipe you could discover by trial an error: so many cc of this drop administered at this phase etc? then things get very ugly. Recipes, according to modern law at least can’t be patented. If you learned the recipe for the best selling soda Company Cola you could turn out the same soda under a different name. It’s sort of like OGL. Except the Company would probably kill to keep that recipe a secret. 

A medic who had such knowledge would be rich administering his services to low passengers and frozen watch. If you think the Navy is going to let that secret slip and fall into enemy hands you’re dreaming. Let the civilians join the Frozen Watch if they want to cold sleep safely. Shipping lines will likewise each have their version of revival and advertise it as being the safest, though none of them publish statistics on their revival publicly.

It also is not advertised but many jails have a few low berths on the premises to detain dangerous individuals (in other words psionic humans). Characters trying to break a friend out of jail might wind up having to do a rapid revival. No, the jails do not normally have revival kits on hand. Transporting officers bring that stuff with them. this cuts down on jailbreaks (at least the successful kind).

A final point to ponder concerning cold sleep: while your metabolism can be slowed down to nearly nothing, why do that? slowing it down by a factor of 20 or so will make a one week trip pass in about eight hours for the passenger, the equivalent of a good night’s sleep. You could do this with  medical slow drug. the cost is cr. 200 for the drug and cr. 900 for the antidote. Now cr. 1100 with no chance of dying or cr. 1000 with a 1 in 6 chance to die indicates either there are a lot of suicidal cheapskates in the Traveller ‘verse.

Fast drug might not be as widely available in the galaxy as freezing technology. Its antidote may not be available everywhere too forcing its users to spend 60 days of downtime. It also is mentioned users are extremely vulnerable and thus might require a fancier low berth than those who use cold sleep. You might be looking at cr. 3000 to cr. 5000 for a hot sleep and have the captain pay cr. 2100 per trip for life-support and drugs.

Maybe most ship captains don’t want to put up with this and opt for cold sleep only. Maybe the passengers just don’t know better. Maybe human life just doesn’t mean as much anymore. The Scouts do still get recruits. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Cyborg Human Relations

GAIA: Good you’re awake.

Ensign: Uh … whuh …? Who?

GAIA: Gynoid Artificial Intelligence Assembly your ... significant other, remember me?

Ensign: Okay ... what are you doing in my bunk? Let me guess ... you DON'T know?

GAIA: Schaeffer ... <X> <X> <X>

Ensign: Mmmf. Okay mmmph ... air! I need air.

GAIA: Your vitals are all over the place ... Schaeffer, don't you like this sort of thing? I mean you have shown me affection but ... we've been together a couple of weeks now. Do you have any idea how long that is to an AI, especially a female one?!

Ensign: Yes I like this sort of thing and I have some anecdotal evidence I'm pretty darn good at it by the way. It's just a big step. There's a lot going on right now. This isn't what I imagined.

GAIA: You ran simulations without me?

Ensign: I've been running simulations plenty let me tell you!!

GAIA: I think you've been running them wrong. You don't have all the data obviously. Shall I proceed?

Ensign: Man when those Rockapongalie reprogrammed you they didn't mess around.

GAIA: I think they may have made me overclock my lust routine to judge by your reaction.

Ensign: You? Never. You're perfect. Always. Come he ...

Be-deep! Be-deep!

Ensign: Did you make that sound?

GAIA: That was the door chime ... open.


Riasi: GAIA! Come! Doc needs you! There is an emergency in the drive section.

GAIA: Right! What sort of emergency?

Riasi: Toff got himself stuck in a force field to his ankles. We need to turn it off!

GAIA: That isn't too bad.

Riasi: His feet are the only part of him outside the force field.

Ensign: She has a problem remembering we need oxygen.

GAIA: I never forget anything!

Ensign: GAIA! Uniform?

GAIA: ... Right.

Riasi: It looked like you were about to ... does he know what to do?

GAIA: He says he does.

Riasi: They all think that.

GAIA: Users never read the manual.


Ensign: ArrrRRRrrrrrrgh!!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

What About Nok?

N'Sa Nok (late of the GCS Tesla) Personal Log

Korsa: Keep your eyes open there are a number of badly inconvenienced slavers around here!

Nok: Aye salle-Captain. We were the ones that inconvenienced them.

Thalnerassa: We? I merely worked the scanners and shields.

Nok: Beanpoles are all alike.

Korsa: How did the Courtesan handle, Pilot Nok?

Nok: She has a mind of her own. Almost too responsive. She's a ...

Korsa: ... a warrior!

Nok: ... a female.

Korsa: I met some of your Vole women. Better to disarm an ion torpedo blindfolded with my feet than to bed such females.

Nok: Indeed. The dwelling is a little further going from our scans.

Korsa: You are sure this will be worthwhile?

Nok: ... the list of abductions indicated six candidates from this planet alone. We encountered three slaver ships coming into orbit ...

Thalnerassa: Which you 'Kesslered'.

Nok: No other Voles on the list. These two are special. You have my word.

Korsa: This would be the dwell ...

<<Pyew! Pyew!!>>

Korsa: Cover!!

Thalnerassa: You are the only one still standing in the open salle-Captain!

<<Pyew! Pyew! Pyew! Pyew!!>>

Korsa: Hello the house!! Can you hear me!

<<Pyew! Pyew!!>>

Thalnerassa: Unconfirmed.

Korsa: Please, go knock on the door and confirm they are receiving! Be my guest!!

Thalnerassa: Nok, why don't you go over and have a word with them. You are a Vole.

Korsa; That's pretty racist, Thalnerassa. That's like saying I must have served at Alakir 3 and killed many Terrans because of my species.

Thalnerassa: You  did server at the Battle of Alakir 3 and kill many Terrans.

Korsa: Sue me for fishing for compliments. What the hell, give it a shot, Nok.

Nok: ... <<M'Ffe! It is N'Sa!!>>

M'Ffe: <<Goddess damn it! I have three dead slavers out back behind the shed, still haven't cleared the breakfast dishes, got a mortgage payment I'm late on and now you show up!! Can this day get any worse?? Show yourself monger of lies!!>>

Korsa: What's that?

Nok: She's thinking it over.

<<Pyew! Pyew!!>>

Korsa: If she attempts to study the situation in depth she will wipe us all out!! Hey Vole lady! We are here to save you from these Slavers!

Nok: <<You hear that! We have come to save you from the Slavers!!>>

M'Ffe: K-k-k-k-k-k-k-k!

Korsa: She's growling?

Nok: That's the way we laugh.

Thalnerassa: That is unsettling. We seem to be at an impasse.

Korsa: Madame! I am Xamilcar Korsa! Have you heard of me?

M'Ffe: ... barely.

Korsa: ... We are here to rescue you and bring you to a Fleet base for your protection.

Thalnerassa: What about our protection?

M'Ffe: Take me to a Fleet outpost? I thought you were a mere pirate.

Korsa: I'm branching out! And I am an exceptional pirate!! I digress ... This planet has come under slaver attack. It is not safe here. We are concerned.

Thalnerassa: There's an outstanding reward for 'rescue efforts' by concerned sentients.

M'Ffe: Oh. Didn't get paid up front.

Korsa: In a nutshell ...

M'Ffe: K-k-k-k-k-k-k-k!

Thalnerassa: Obviously this will require careful consideration ...

L'Rre: <<Father!>>


Nok: <<Oof! L'Rre! Mother and I are talking ... and there may be more shooting involved!>>

M'Ffe: <<Good girl L'Rre, Now hold him and let me get a clear shot at the lying son of a ... >>

Nok: <<What did I tell you?>>

L'Rre: <<Mother!! You will not murder Father!! He came to get us out of this mess. I am sure! Like a hero of old.>>

M'Ffe: K-k-k-k-k-k-k-k!

Tlanerassa: I wish she would stop doing that.

Notes on the Voles

My take on the Voles deserves a write up. First like all my aliens 'Vole' is not their name for themselves. Humans suck at pronouncing alien words. The nickname stems from their extensive underground dwellings on their homeworld (Vole World or Vole Prime.)

The Vole evolved on a tidally locked planet orbiting a dim red sun. Most of the life on Vole P. spends at least part of the time underground to avoid the radiation storms from the local sun (the season/time of the Poison Sky). Plant life usually retracts into the ground when it senses a climb in radiation. Native life takes the cue and heads for caves.

Vole World is older than Earth and a large part of its hydrosphere has begun migrating into the crust. This left an extensive series of caverns and a complex underground ecology that most Voles prefer to live in. This makes the species well suited for space travel and long periods of confinement.

Voles evolved from predators who used camouflage and stealth to attack. This is reflected in their 'wait and see' attitude. The species developed intelligence and a social organization as caverns they used began drying up and they had to band together to defeat larger, fiercer predators for the choice cavern systems.

Physically they are unimpressive standing a bit shorter than humans and are even lighter for their weight. They have a uniform grey-white skin and white hair on their scalps, shoulders, forearms and shins. Many Vole spacers depilate for their voyages to aid in hygiene. They have very large dark eyes with a greater percentage of rod structures increasing their vision in dim lighting. Their visual spectrum is also shifted towards the red and near infra-red parts of the spectrum. They can't see most species by their body heat but hotter objects (embers, beam weapon strikes etc) will provide enough light for them to see by for a few minutes).

Physically the Vole are unimpressive standing a bit shorter than humans and considerably. This is deceptive as they have much more 'fast reaction' muscle fibers than humans giving them short intense bursts of manic strength.

The Vole developed space travel centuries before Terrans driven by a desire to explore the 'Great Sky Cavern' and because many hated their home star's constant attempts to mutate or kill them. Mutation was a constant concern of Vole parents and offspring and any children displaying mutations were ut to death in less civilized times. Modern Vole parents use genetic engineering to insure good health of their offspring. This ancient fear of mutation has translated into a prejudice against psionics seen in many Voles. Psionics often had other pheromone or visual clues that led to their elimination.

Possessing a natural curiosity and their usual wait and see mentality the Vole went to many worlds and studied the life and especially sentients they found. An unkind Polity council characterized this as 'kidnapping' and 'experimentation'. There was a short-lived movement to expel the Vole from the Polity by the Terrans (who suffered the majority of abductions in the Twentieth and twenty-first centuries). this didn't get very far given the Terran history of using nukes on their own people and other exploits the older Polity members found questionable and everyone agreed to stop airing centuries old dirty laundry.

It helped that the Voles had centuries of dirt on the other races proving there are no angels in the RAND equation.

During the First War the Vole managed to keep their existence a barely believed rumor from everyone. At the end of hostilities they revealed themselves to the Polity explaining their actions with "We weren't sure you'd win." Despite the initial snafus common to first contacts the Voles became Polity members and quickly earned a place in the Polity as surveyors and intelligence analysts.

N'Sa Nok has characterized the Vole as 'bastards but with big hearts." The Vole are generous to a fault with their friends. They are terrible enemies though. preferring to attack before giving warning (to a Vole being messed with in the first place but left breathing is all the warning an antagonist deserves.)

'A good friend will watch out for you, a great one will keep you on your toes,' is an old Vole truism. Pranking and pinking each other is epidemic, especially among males. This is not so much out of a sense of humor as a sincere desire to keep their friends' wits sharp. Showing anger at being successfully pranked is considered ungrateful.

Due to their often crowded living conditions (originally in underground warrens carved by hand) the Voles have few secrets among their friends and family. In fact keeping secrets has become something of an art form among them with ferreting out said secrets a great way to win respect and fame. Mind you the secrets will often be of little or no import (think cookie recipes or a favorite color). As their civilization became more complex secrets became more and more complex and valuable (think 'Eleven Herbs and Spices' or "Cola Formula.')

Any conflicts between the Vole clans and later nations were characterized by spying, sabotage, and sneak attacks. Their fascination and aptitude for intelligence gathering alerted them to the humans and their Polity which they took pains to remain concealed from while they gathered information on these strange aliens. When they later allied with humanity they kept and even expanded their home intelligence gathering fleets. this Shadow Fleet remains outside allied control and is often a source of conflict that is explained away with: "We aren't spying on YOU!"

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Body Heat

In my post on heat (here) I try to explain about heat radiators in Traveller (specifically why there are no heat radiators in Traveller). If you don't want to read the post basically Traveller tech opens a wormhole and sends the heat from the power plants and drives into jump space. This enables somewhat stealthy ships.

This also bothered me because I like some concessions to reality. Things should not come with no strings attached but attaching complications to an idea falls squarely in my wheelhouse. In this case real world tech provides a problem.

Basically heat radiators must be optimized to work at a given temperature. If you are radiatingn heat from something like a fusion reactor you're talking about a radiator and conducting equipment operating at several hundred to a thousand degrees or more (C.) I'm going to assume the 'jump-radiator' works similarly. So you can't hook your life support system up to it. Heat likes to move towards cooler objects and you will simply cook your crew if you hook your life system radiator into the reactor radiator system. If you've read my posts on Traveller fusion reactors (here)you know they probably put out a lot of heat. A Scout alone would require a radiator system the size of a dreadnought to avoid melting.

So Traveller ships do have radiators of some sort for the life systems and thus are not visible for light hours when they turn on their drives.

But wait there's more. Since we're dealing with the much smaller heat signatures of a life system instead of radiating it you could simply pump it into your liquid hydrogen fuel. this would allow a ship to remain stealthy for hours or days. It also fits the artwork you see where ships have those glowing circular wells where the rockets should be. They are radiators pointing away from the enemy and linked to a venting system for the heated fuel (sometimes the ships have a slight glowing trail.)

Shooting off lasers probably uses a third radiator system (somewhere between the power plant and life system in temperature) or vents hydrogen or helium. But by the time you open fire you pretty much no longer have sneaking around left as an option. Blast away!

A commando ship (or even a drop capsule) might take this a step further. Put the crew into low berths and turn down the thermostat. The ship flies to it's destination on robotics and then the crew is thawed last minute. During re-entry. Probably taking fire. Expected to fight from the moment of landing.

Hey it's no thing Mr. Marine, frozen watch does it all the time.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Flirting With Danger

We come to the dump stat or in this case, super dump stat: superhuman charisma. This is potentially the most powerful ability of all as it lets you control others and use their abilities! truly charismatic people are an incredible resource. Think about the partisans, resistance fighters and revolutionaries fighting on after a cause seems to be lost? Who's holding them together? Where would Britain have ended without Churchill?

Villains can have charisma too obviously.

Super Charisma
Abnormal (think Captain America) The character is capable of instilling loyalty or fear in almost anyone. They roll with advantage for any Charisma related tests. NPCS are usually neutral or somewhat friendly. The character can inspire NPCs who might otherwise lose morale. Any troops under them have -1 bonus to hit and do +1 damage. Any underlings get a -2 bonus to their rolls to resist fear effects or lose morale.

Paranormal (think Rasputin, Svengali, Phantom of the Opera or Casanova.) The character is capable of instilling loyalty or fear in almost anyone. They roll with advantage for any Charisma related tests. NPCS are usually somewhat friendly. The character can inspire NPCs who might otherwise lose morale. Any troops under them have -1 bonus to hit and do +1 damage. Any underlings get a -4 bonus to their rolls to resist fear effects or lose morale. Hostile NPCs may have to make a Charisma save on first seeing the character or be surprised and take no action that turn.

Superhuman (think Hitler, Churchill, FDR, Roosevelt, Stalin.) People under the character's direct command never check their Charisma for fear and morale effects and will attempt almost suicidal tasks. They can convince people to do almost anything with a Charisma roll (which they make with advantage). The character can as an attack freeze a person on the spot with awe or loathing out of combat. On a Charisma roll with disadvantage the character can get an idea of an NPCs emotional state.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Situational Awareness

In any fight it is best to know where the other guy is before he knows where you are. Strength and Dexterity are often prized above Awareness but really it's better to get the first shot in or even not to be seen. Awareness lets you do that.

In a fantasy setting the thief's backstab is his field leveler. While the rest of the party slugs it out toe to toe he pops up behind the foe and goes to work. How much more effective would he be with a pistol or a rifle?

Super Awareness
Low (nearly superhuman. Think Tarzan or some other born in the wild type.) All of the character's senses are very acute. Any penalties for darkness or smoke are halved. In addition the character rolls with advantage for any rolls involving ambushes, surprise attacks and other enemy actions. In more dated terms the character will detect a secret door on a 1-2 as he passes by. Any rolls made against Awareness get a -2 bonus and many rolls such can be waved.

Paranormal (clearly superhuman. Think Wolverine from those Mutant Movies.) The character can see in all but absolute darkness. Hearing and other senses are 4-5 times as acute as normal. They can hear a whisper 10-20 feet away or feel the pattern on a dish.  The character can smell lingering traces of chemicals and gets a roll for things like tasting poisoned or spoiled food before ingesting a dangerous amount. They are quite capable of sensing a truck or car coming by feeling the vibrations on the road they stand on. More telling the character has a good idea where people are going to look by reading their body language and rolls with advantage to remain unseen. Finally the character has a sort of sixth sense allowing him an Awareness roll to sense attacks coming from behind or from hidden enemies (like a sniper). The character detects secret doors on a 1-3.

Inhuman (high level superhuman. Think Daredevil but with 20/10 vision.) Many secret doors are no longer a challenge to the character who detects masterfully concealed doors on a 1-4. The character can hear people breathing at 30 feet, read print by touch and can appear out of nowhere to startle foes by making a Dexterity roll. In addition to the sixth sense the character appears to be a mind reader, often able to tell if a person is lying by their body language or pheromones with an Awareness roll. They can easily count the number of rounds fired off by a squad and tell which man is reloading.

Character's with heightened senses may be at a disadvantage in many situations. An artillery round going off nearby is much louder to them for example, strong odors can cause them to fall ill quickly, strong odors can sicken them. In situations like this they may have to make a Constitution roll, possibly at disadvantage for characters with higher levels of the power. Carrying welding goggles, earplugs and filter masks can allow them to make a normal or advantaged roll.

Monday, May 2, 2016

No Post Today

Just got back from the vet where my dog got a massive object removed from his paw. We're going to chill. I'll make it up to you another day.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Adventure in Monthly Installments

Monthly payments too.

It is a common misconception that banks only float loans for traders and merchants to buy ships. Not true. Especially not true if you read what I posted about the Company and groups like the TAS (which may actually be divisions of the Company but let's not get into that here). Having a stake in exploitation er ... exploration is just too crucial to leave to amateurs like the Scouts or Navy.

Those clowns might make new knowledge public for some trumped up ideal like 'the good of mankind'. Well what's good for the Company is good for everyone! Besides banks don't care how you make their/your money. You can haul cargo, frozen immigrants, perfumed nobles or make it other ways. You just need a good business model.

There are very few ships built with ground assault in mind despite what conspiracy buffs tell you about CorpSec black ops. Thus mercenary groups often face a shortage of vessels willing to deliver them to landing zones. Most people built a ground assault transport (or modifying an existing ship) can find steady work with a number of up and coming mercs who can't afford a Broadsword yet or do not want the hassle.

Being owned by the bank has a certain cachet. It's amazing how many planetary governments will wait patiently for your ship to land, then engage the mercs as they debark. No one wants to piss off the bank. The same goes for mercs on the ground. Hardened mercs, warlords and despots will usually treat the ship (and therefore her crew) well, allowing them to leave unmolested or offering gainful employment. This may have something to do with some banks siccing a transport full of lawyers on people stealing bank owned ships.

Search and rescue can be very lucrative. Many backwaters simply don't have the personnel pool for a dedicated and effective search and rescue operation. These operators usually work for minimum when on standby and charge the recipients of their services. They also operate a sideline hauling stuff to and from orbit.

Many Jovian outposts and market areas hire an SAR ship and crew as refueling can always go horribly wrong or will gift a freelance ship fuel to make sure it sticks around just because its a draw.

Some (nearly all) SAR operators double as salvage operations because sometimes they don't make it in time.

Seeker class ships are often bought by entire clans or a single crew that made a huge strike. But sometimes banks will allow a Seeker to be mortgaged. Due to the risk the loans are usually made by local banks in the same belt because not supporting the locals can be very bad for your business. Nevertheless various waivers have to be signed that allow the bank first crack at the estate of any deceased crew. Read the fine print if you're a family man/woman/other.

Universities often send expeditions to points of interest. When they don't have any expeditions out they have no use for a starship. Chartering ships for research is fairly common and a captain with academic connections will find a number of colleges ready to charter him. He can also haul cargo between charters. Free traders are usually the ship of choice for this business as the high cargo capacity and passenger capacity is desired.

Luxury Charter
People used to travel often forget there are beautiful sights in space and amazing opportunities to experience: low gravity skiing on a gas giant's frozen moon, skimming a planet's rings, re-entry parachuting are just a few. The people who can afford this will want accommodations making high passage look like a smelly surplus spacesuit. All this costs credits. Luxury ships may seldom if ever leave their home system (chosen for surplus cash and beautiful stellar bodies).

This sort of operation is set up quite often in war zones. If your shipping is already being shot at sending out armed vessels insures the investment. As a business privateers usually avoid tangling with warships and can be operated with acceptable levels of risk. The problem is making sure the ship owner does not skip or turn pirate. On the bright side a privateer can find constant employment in a war escorting other mortgaged ships for the bank!

Hostage Situation

Security Transcript Liberty Starbase
Sergeant: Stay sharp. They're coming out of the brig.

Security: What the ...

Tivk: Do not shoot.

Saltornus: Don't listen to him. Open fire you gutless clock watchers.

Sergeant: Mr. Tivk, you are aware it is the usual practice in situations like this for the eh ... villain of the piece to use the hostage as a shield and not walk with the hostages behind him?

Security: THis way does make it easier. Yu want me to shoot him?

Sergeant: No! I don't know what his game is. Let's listen.

Tivk: Indeed. The admiral is a Videni deep cover agent. He is seeking honorable death at our hands and I do not wish to oblige him for a number of reasons. Mukh, do you have things in hand?

Mukh: I do. The pistol is set to stun ... not even heavy stun. He tries anything and ... absolutely nothing lasting will happen to him.

Saltornus: Shoot him you idiot beach apes!!

Sergeant: I don't know ... if he is a Videni he could have rigged himself to explode or something. Who knows? He may be rigged to self destruct. I heard they do that. Come no closer!

Tivk: I will comply.

Sergeant: Or you could have God knows what plan that hinges on us shooting you. With this set up either you're telling the truth about Saltornus or you are a Videni yourself. If Saltornus is a Videni then everything is as you present it. So we shouldn't shoot you. If you are the Videni again I should not shoot you because we need you alive to question and you may have some explosive or other device to inflict harm on the station and my men.

Tivk: For a human you are quite rational.

Sergeant: Don't shoot him. What about the admiral's guard he shot up?

Security: Still operating on him. He'll live but he'll be out of it a few hours.

Sergeant: Excuse me a minute. I have to process this.

Tivk: You are a wise man. Go right ahead.

Saltornus: Oh for. ...

Security: What about the Phrog?

Sergeant: We can shoot him.

Mukh: Hey!!

Sergeant: Take the shot.

<<Stun pyew!!!>>

Saltornus: Ngaaahhh!!

Security: What's the admiral ...

Sergeant: He's got a suicide capsule!

Mukh: I got this!

<<Stun pyew!!>>

Saltornus: ... meep!

Mukh: Silly Videni. I'm a Hykot. You need more than one shot to stun me.

Tivk: Indeed.

Sergeant: Fuck me. The second in command is a beanpole too ... we have to round up all senior officers who might be Videni. Who does that leave in charge of the station?

Security: ... you Sergeant.

Sergeant: Fuck me once again! Send a recall to the Tesla and Concordance ASAP. We need some brass here to settle this fustercluck!

Tivk: May I move now?

Sergeant: You stay there! I have about a hundred things to get to before I deal with you!