Thursday, October 27, 2016

Footrubs As An Integral Part of a Space Program

Here's the deal. Real life is keeping me hopping. It turns out retiring is actually more work than the job was at least for the next few days. I started this and was going to use it for an introduction for a long post about how I am going to treat spacecraft and lifters in my setting. I still am but just not today. So I owe you a couple of posts and I hope you enjoy this introduction. Bear in mind if you use footrubs for personal gain I get a cut. It's only fair.

"Don't. Stop." Ranna Morrigen gasped.

Jorge stopped.

"... why did you ... oh. I meant to say, "Don't stop." Gasping was hard on your ability to parse apparently.

"Oh. Sorry," Jorge returned to rubbing the lady's feet. The left one in particular. Ranna stretched slowly and completely.

"You're very good with your hands," she finally managed.

"I'm a whiz at gravitics, boson manipulators and programming. Welding gives me problems and internal combustion engines actively dislike me it seems," he rambled.

"Jorge, you can't be this dm. What kind of marks did you get in school?" she snapped.

"I did quite we ... "

"Is it the eyepatch? Some guys are put off by it. You aren't one of those are you?"

"... if someone were to gift me the finest sword ever made, I would prize it. The nicks and scratches it bore would show its history and great worth."

"I'm a second hand sword?" Ranna asked with a critical tone.

"You sure as hell aren't a fragile, gentle flower," he said bracing himself. But then she snorted and laughed.

"Jorge, you know lifter technology, even our patched together version," it was a statement,

"I do," he replied working the ball of her right foot.

"How are you at ... naval architecture?"

"I was studying it before ... before I came here," he said cautiously.

"Mmm ... when did you find time to get this good at foot massage? Never mind! How far along were you in your studies?"

"I was in the middle of my final year. I was getting ready to begin my internship," Jorge said softly. Worse he stopped rubbing her feet, thinking furiously.

"You may be the closest thing we have to a starship designer."

"Then God help us all," Jorge snapped. Ranna's face fell and he continued. "Maybe you should have asked someone before you risked your reputation and life on a speech promising the masses a starship. We have lifter technology. That has limits: beyond ten diameters or so it becomes nothing."

"We could get to orbit!"

"Yes but getting to orbit and achieving orbit are two different things. You'll get up there but you won't be moving at orbital velocity. When your power cuts off you'd start to fall. Any ships moving in orbit couldn't dock with you. Any bits of debris (and believe me there is debris in orbit) could hit you like teeny bits of high explosive."

"We could build a maneuver drive. those use components similar to lifters!"

"Their similar yes but refinements, that require special materials and production techniques we just don't have here. Making a drive that uses a planet or moon in place of reaction mass is one thing. Making a drive that fuses fuel, uses it to generate a plasma rocket and then dumps the heat and exhaust into jump space on a massive scale is another. Your lifters can't even manage the lateral thrust conventional gravcraft do. You need secondary propulsion systems. Then there's the fusion reactors. Your technology is nowhere near building a fusion generator to power a jump drive or rocket ..."

Ranna drew her feet back and scrambled to her knees on the couch leaning in close. She hissed angrily, "Stop telling me what we can't build and work on what we can! No one built gravitics using vacuum tubes and resistors before we did! No one turned back an invasion force equipped to modern standards before we did! You're a fucking genius. You built that flyvver outside out of junk! It flies circles around the ones the Tech Knights have ... oh yes we ... they kept an eye on you Jorge. Now put your mind to this. The mark of true genius is to see the simple solution everyone else overlooks."

"I'll try ... okay I'll put my mind to it. But only because you ask me so nicely," he said. The fire in her eyes ... eye subsided somewhat. She inched closer to him on the sofa. He had to admit he felt like a mouse confronted by a mousetrap. How to get what you want without getting your neck broken? Well so far so good.

"You don't have to keep rubbing my feet."

"It helps me think actually," he said as she resumed her original position with a small squee.

The door opened with a bang letting in the rain and wind. This time it wasn't a man with a gun. It was Mayor Bruns entering. His poncho was slick with rain and he grinned to be out of that weather.

"Hey kids, sorry I'm late! Rain and all. What do you know?" The response was rather more antagonistic than he expected, even if he won the last election with only 54% of the vote.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Numbers Runners Redux

"Captain! Captain!" Sandoval yelled excitedly. She was waving a folder excitedly.

"Yeah," the Captain, also the deck master and busy as hell, looked up from his bill of lading. A vape stick hung from his lip.

"Do you see what the low techies did here?"

"Hah?"

"The locals! Their computer went down a week or so ago and they're doing navigation calculations by ... hand I guess or using their brains," Sandoval said.

"That's ... impressive," the Captain allowed slowly. He pondered it a moment and asked, "How do they manage to do it in a timely fashion? They must have to come up with a couple a week at least."

"They're amazing. They have these sort of rulers to figure jump logs. They use these projectors with mathematical designs called nomograms that represent the various jump factors and they got thousands of pages of logarithmic table they look stuff up with. It doesn't even use one computer or any power."

"Hunh. That'd be a great back up if it didn't all take up several staterooms worth of space."

"Well that's the good part sir. I figured out how we could use it," Sandoval puffed out her chest obviously proud of herself. The Captain braced himself for it. It wasn't his first rodeo.

"I got it all on computer disc sir!


Numbers Runners

Zaonia faced an embargo. For some worlds this would be an economic disaster and for other literally a slow death. Zaonia had water, breathable air and a biosphere that you could work with. What was more, during the Great Flame Out they had learned self sufficiency.

They still felt the bite. There was a shrunken market for thier goods. Subsidized merchants had their routes changed to exclude the world. Free Traders were strongly encouraged to look for bargains elsewhere or face the mother of all balloon payments on their ship mortgages.

Zaonia had a small merchant fleet, a shoestring operation. It had some grey area opportunists (smugglers) and it had other small local operations who owned their patched together little ships like Belters and tramp freighters.

Shoestring operations usually do not employ navigators. Instead they buy a jump tape. It isn't recorded on tape  but the name persists due to the tape you unwind to unpack the storage media that holds coordinates for a jump. It's usually cheaper than a navigators on ships that can't manage high jump numbers like Belters and tramp freighters. The tapes are sold any starport that is more than a cleared field and outhouse.

Zaonia used an offworld computer on their starport. The starport was legally a separate territory from the planet. The offworld computer failed soon. The embargo excluded sending repair parts to Zaonia's starport. The Zaonian's lawyered up and demanded the parts saying the starport was not part of their territory and hence excluded from any planetary embargoes and tariffs. the reply was the the embargo specified the planet Zaonia and not the government. As the starport was affixed to the lithosphere it was part of the embargo.

Accusations flew that the computer breakdown was the work of industrial sabotage. Possums weren't that destructive. A microwave couldn't explode with that much force. The spontaneous fires were kind of hard to explain as well. The answer was the same, take it to subsector court (where they would wait months) or sector court (wait years at the least).

Trade slowed still more for a week or so until jump tapes were made available. At discount. The tramp freighters and rock miners came back. The economy was definitely not booming but it was at least now breathing on its own. The embargo barons did a spit take and (after refilling their glasses) called an operative to go to Zaonia and see what in hell went on. The operative packed a few incendiaries, bombs and possums in low berth carriers for good measure and left.

He returned a month later. It took him a while to get to see the inner workings of the jump tape computers.

"ComputerS?" Banks wanted to know.

"Computers," the operative said reaching for a glass that was slid out of his reach. "They call these guys, can run numbers in their heads -computers, They got about 40 of them and they use these to calculate the jump coordinates." The operator held up a contraption that looked like  bunch of rulers held together with a clear plastic band.

The Director of Starports grabbed the slipping sticks and ponder them working them against each other slowly. "It has jump logarithma on it," he finally announced.

"They have all kinds of similar things. Also mechanical adding machines and hard copy books of logarithmic tables. They use them all to calculate jump tapes. There's a pool of secretarial labor to input the numbers on tape. -It's amazing," the operative said grudgingly. It was also hard to take out with a couple of easy to smuggle bombs or GMO  marsupials.

"Humans can't figure out jump navigation -you need computers!" Banks sputtered. Starports shook his head. "Humans can figure out jump coordinates. It takes a little longer is all."

"But ... the cost! The salaries!" Banks protested.

"Sir, do you have any idea how little mathematicians make in academia? Or aides? They were cranking out tapes when I got in and saw them," the operative said enjoying Banks discomfort.

"Okay, you go back with a bio weapon ... " Banks began. The operative  was about to protest he wasn't a mass murderer. One at a time was as far as he went. But Starports cut him off.

"Embargo on the starport is over. Now. Ship them a new computer on the next merchant. A good one!" he growled. He slid the glass back over to the operative who drained it gratefully.

"But why?"

"Do you know how much the Starport Authority makes selling jump tapes? Selling computers to compute jump tapes? If this gets out that a bunch of egg head number crunchers could do it for peanuts, we'll be ruined!"




Monday, October 24, 2016

The Immoral Equivalent of War Pt. 2

The most densely settled area of Zaonia was called the saddle, a fertile valley between two spurs of a mountain range. the frates River ran through the valley. The Tech Knights and ultra wealthy (the dozen or so) lived in villas on islands or on the riverbanks. The fertile banks of the river held farms. The foothills on either side of the river had hunting lodges and summer homes for the more important regular citizens. The Mayor had a hunting lodge at the foot of one hill, secluded and the scene of many a backroom deal.

It was a bitch to reach by car, unless your car flew. Jorge Pierre Guttman's car flew. The beat up aero came down precisely in front of the cabin. Jorge jumped out to hold the door for his passenger who annoyedly waved him off and hooped out on her own. She was no fragile flower.

"Well what do you think?" Jorge asked.

Ranna regarded the cabin a moment and asked, "Were there any survivors?"

Jorge bristled a little at that. He had found the cabin and persuaded the Mayor to buy and renovate it. "Sheesh, you're not here a minute and you already insult the place."

"Did I break the record?"

He showed his annoyance by holding the door for her. "Dame Morrigen," he snapped clicking his heels. She snorted.

"I'm under censure. It's just Ranna."

"Cowards," Jorge snorted.

"Expedience. I can continue managing Project Venture as a private citizen and my fall from grace will make me less of a target." the door was unlocked and she slipped past him and into the lodge. Rain began to fall.

There was a roaring blaze in the fireplace inside and two men with pistols. they both rose from their seats and motioned for Jorge to come inside with gun barrels.

"Good day to you. Ms. Morrigen We'll make this brief," the smaller man said.

"Good. Relax Jorge. No heroics. This meeting was expected," she cautioned.

"Ms. Morrigen, you have a trade embargo begun by the bankers on Inerze. they've styled your planet as a backwater run by feudal drug lords. They've threatened every ship owner they hold a mortgage on and changed the subsidized merchant ship runs. You're sitting on hundreds of tons of hemp products, timber and some luxury items," he began.

"Yes. I can speak exposition. Go on." she answered sitting down.

"... Yes. Well I represent a number of people who can move your products for you," the man continued.

"I see. You're smugglers?"

"Think of us as entrepreneurs ... "

Warships are not the only weapons in an interstellar war. Money, influence and politics can combine to make a thriving world a backwater or to destroy the promise of a new settlement if people are upsetting the status quo. Trade embargoes are one major weapon. Find a reason, or make one to place an embargo on a world and you can choke off trade if you're important enough. Your trade partners will follow your lead or face sanctions.

For that matter trade can keep high tech items rare to retard local progress and keep worlds as backwaters that can only earn revenue by gathering natural resources or agriculture and remain a ready market for your manufactured goods (no tablets please!)

Traveller among other games paints a picture of a number of worlds at different levels of technology. Some justifications were that Earth's progress in the last hundred years or so was not typical of human society and evolution and a fluke, that some societies do not seek technological progress or that conditions are so harsh survival slows progress.

It's often been said that we now have sufficient technology to automate most jobs and usher in a non-working layabout utopia. It hasn't happened because the powers that be are not big on sharing. There's no reason to assume that will change anytime soon. Many businesses in history made a fortune trading to less technological people (remember Manhattan Island?) Assuming cheap interstellar travel (and shipping) the model could be extended to entire worlds.

The homogeneous worlds empire is built for trade. A factory or office might have to junk its office computers and replace every few years if they are on a thriving progressive world. Rather than taking the loss or selling locally they could trade them to a lower tech world for full price.

If an economic system is making someone money they will attempt to preserve that economic system. People who can't make money under that system will find work arounds or starve. Smugglers are usually regarded as criminals but they may be a lifeline to a world with embargoes.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Long Range Desert Grotesque

As the Allied forces in North Africa began successful operations against the Afrika Corps the Axis command decided to think out of the box. Due the difficulties of resupply across the Mediterranean a local source of reinforcements was investigated by Ahnenerbe specialists and S.S. wizards. The circles were drawn, the tanna leaves brewed, and the rites performed in forgotten tombs.

The new recruits were tireless, superhumanly strong and needed no food or water. They traveled with surprising speed over the desert dunes on their bandage wrapped feet in a stride that never faltered

Lesser mummies vary greatly in strength and capabilities and may have from 2 to 4 hit dice. Unlike most undead they have no fear of sunlight. They take only half damage from bullet or explosions since they no longer have working internal organs. Their bandages provide two points of armor per hit die. Fire is their greatest weakness. Any flame attack does double damage and 1d4 the round after hitting.

Lesser mummies are almost mindless creatures completely in control of the necromancer who raised them.

Greater mummies were wizards and priests seeking immortality and not undead so much as reanimated. They are at least 6 hit dice. Some can cast spells as a wizard of their level if you use The Black Hack rules. At the start of an adventure greater mummies have only 2 hit points per hit die. They can rapidly increase their hit points by using a life drain ability. To drain life the mummy must grab its victim (Strength save to avoid). If the grab hits on the following round, and until the victim breaks free, the mummy does maximum damage and its hit points are increased by one point per hit die (up to a maximum of 8 points per hit die). Unimportant non-player characters could be considered
killed instantly if grabbed (no benefit to the mummy).

A greater mummy has numerous amulets and charms animating and protecting it. Flame attacks do normal damage. Instead of armor points these charms and their enchanted bandages have a d8 usage die. Each attack forces a usage die roll. The mummy takes no damage until their charms and bandages are depleted. A greater mummy (especially one with access to spells) is a foe worthy of the most experienced troops with heavy weapons or magical resources.

Don't forget to add a few cultists or guards in case your greater mummies get hungry.


Poll Positions

I've been writing game designs here for a while and I noticed my narratives are increasing in length. I've personally had a low tolerance for people sticking narratives into games. I'm buying a game sell me a game. Don't add the first chapter of your never to be completed novel into it. Perhaps I'm a little harsh in that.

In my defense I'm not charging you anything for my ideas and game stats so look at the narratives as a little something extra you could take or leave if they aren't to your liking.

Feedback on my Hawking Courier book was very positive for the format and narratives. Personally I like to give you a writing piece that will help you enlarge your sandbox of play and give you more ideas, not just show you I can write (anyone can write, it's writing well that is the problem).

So a short poll and be brutal:

Keep the narratives

Lose the narratives and write more crunch

Write more crunch and write a damned book already

Keep everything as it is but make removing puns my first Patreon goal (note, no Patreon account yet)

The Immoral Equivalent of War

Dame Ranna, one of the younger and more hellacious Tech Knights made a decision. She loved her homeworld, Zaonia. She'd already lost an eye in its defense. She knew the people were clever and tough and that soon none of that would matter. Zaonia was failing to progress technologically and surrounded by star drive capable worlds.

The longer Zaonia waited playing with internal combustion and vacuum tubes the less likely it would ever amount to anything in the face of more advanced and expanding worlds. There was a glimmer of hope. Old Earth had gone from Zaonia's level of technology to interplanetary flight in about a century and it didn't have more advanced neighbors to steal from emulate.

Earth however made a good deal of its progress due to two global wars. A costly but certain spur to progress. Ranna needed something similar. Then she started the buzz. The offworlders considered Zaonians backward, a stupid pastoral people. There was some truth. Most offworlders who knew Zaonians respected them. A few were a little scared of them. They had achieved lifter technology with their vacuum tubes, at least on a limited basis. It was easy to discount their opinions. They were friends and clients. But those other nameless and faceless offworlders ... they had an attitude according to Ranna.

Her half truth worked wonders. If someone insulted their customs or theology the Zaonians would haul off and give them a poke in the eye. But saying they could build things better, faster more powerful? They were up for that! They'd prove to them they weren't stupid the only way that mattered. They'd build their own spacecraft, even build a real jump ship! A race to space would replace war as a driving force for human advancement.

Call a man a heathen or slob and he'd argue with you. Tell him he can't do something and he'd kill himself to make a monkey out of you.

Ranna expected developing spacecraft to be a long drawn out affair. In fact developing them was unimportant to her and her vision. She expected technology from the research to trickle down and spur inventors and engineers on a planet wide scale. Unfortunately her plan hit a snag.

The Zaonians figured out a way to actually build a spaceship in the next few years. That was when the various parties interested in keeping starship construction their monopoly sat up did a spit take and started making plans of their own.

The cutting the brake lines on Dame Ranna's roadster was the first sign of their disapproval.

To be continued ...


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Automat-ic Assumption

The Inerzan merchant looked a little sinister though it wasn't his fault. A black scarf covered his lower face. red locks framed his dark face and intense green eyes.  He gestured angrily at Mayor Burns but his voice was more controlled.

"So you honor, respectfully, I want my loving money back!" he concluded.

Mayor Burns looked at him from across a truly massive desk of the local stone wood. He steepled his fingers thoughtfully and then called on his intercom. "Jorge, please bring in Mr. Prigo."

Jorge Pierre Guttman ushered the local in. The merchant noted the young man's hair and complexion, so similar to his own and frowned slightly at his unmasked face. A handsome fellow to be so unsanitary. On Inerze a new virus broke out every few weeks in the crowded arcologies.

Steen Prigo sat down haevily and the Mayor bristled at him, "I ain't told you to sit. We're ending this little scam right now. No need to take a load off. Get up!" Prigo sprung to his feet.

"Okay, speak to me. What's your side of this?"

Prigo began sweating, "Yer honor, I run a clean joint and a honest establishment. Mr. Xibalboa here comes in with his crew to eat up and throw a few credits around ... we got a special: berry pie for a quarter credit a slice ..."

"Can the commercial."

"Right. Well they're sitting around and talking with the locals and this guy ... Mr. Xibalboa asks to see the owner. I come out ask what's what and it turns out everything is fine. He's watching my customers all throwing coins in slots and pulling our pot roast and chicken and dumpling and ... sorry. He's watching them all pay and pull the entrees out the little compartments and he says he wants to invest in the place. Me ... I want to put in a salad bar but sneeze guards cost ya ..."

"So you made a deal and took his money?"

"Natch ... er yes. That was yesterday, I dunno what his beef is today! Incidentally: beef ribs on speci ..."

"Clamp it Prigo. All right Mr. Xibalboa ... what seems to be the nature of your complaint?"

The Inerzan took a deep breath. "I was misinformed! Lied to!"

"I ain't lied to you! You wanted to know what we took in and I showed you the books! You quoted the number and I agreed! Ya grim reaper wannabee!" Prigo hollered.


"All right! Mr. Xibalboa ... what was the problem?"

"Mayor Burns ... you note my face mask? My gloves? My people pride themselves on the sanitary habits."

"Ya could use a roll on ... with the rest of your crew!"

"Dirt eater!"

"Aaaah, ya get a banjo with that outfit?"

"Well ... wait ... what?"

"QUIET!" the Mayor bellowed. "Mr. Xibalboa ... I try to extend every courtesy to our offworld merchants and the clients for our various services. We pride ourselves on being patient and understanding with other cultures ... but spill it awreddy! What's your complaint?!"

"Well the little windows, the coin operated meals ... I thought the place was ..." Xibalboa's answer trailed off and was muffled by his scarf. The Mayor fixed a stare on him until the tall ginger offworlder spoke in a rush.

"I thought the food was all prepped and served by robotics behind the walls! I had no idea people did all that work in a kitchen! The idea of eating food prepared by human hands ... no thank you. My gorge rises. It is not a fit enterprise for me. My reputation ... This man tried to make me think the place was run by robots! Even the name: automat! Implies robotics! I thought it amazing this little backwater had robots."

"We got a whole gang of them, the Clank Tanks ..." Prigo was going to mention the Clank Tank gang's last daring bank job but a look from the Mayor silenced him.

"Give him back the money."

"I spent it on the sneeze guard!"

"All of it?"

"Well the sneeze guard and salad. High end ingredients," Prigo explained. Xibalboa shuddered at the mention of sneeze guard.

Mayor Burns rubbed his eyes. "All right Mr. Xibalboa ... I'm going to give you your money back from city funds. Then Mr. Prigo, you and I are going to work out a payment plan for your salad bar."

"Thank you, your honor. May I return to my ship?"

"Please do. I'll send the check to you ... oh all right, the cash to you within the hour."

The tall Inerzan rose, and departed with a stiff bow. The Mayor regarded the budding restauranteur sourly. "You ... better get to the starport and find another offworlder to invest and pay me back. Fast. I'm giving you two months."

"Yes your honor. Thanks your honor!"

"And city employees get ten percent knocked off!"

"Sure your honor! What about the Tech Knights?

"I said city employees. When did that bunch ever do a day's work? Besides they can strongarm their own deals. And send up one of those berry pies!" the Mayor added.

"On the house yer honor," Prigo said retreating expeditiously.

"He thought we had robots ... almost a sin to leave offworlders' money in their pockets," the Mayor muttered.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Black (Lagoon) Hack!

1943
A hidden lagoon in the jungles of Brazil; holds a secret - a monstrous creature half man and half fish. The creature runs amuck on an isolated rubber plantation, a plantation owned by Japanese expatriots. Some of these still have strong ties to their homeland and a message is sent. This is a creature that could cause havoc to the enemies of the Rising Sun.

The creature is captured and subdued using explosive charges and torches. A U-Boat is despatched from the Third Reich to bring a horrific cargo to Florida.

The Man-Fish
The Man-Fish is a 5 HD creature. Its alligator like skin absorbs four points of damage. It has 1d10 usage die to represent its limited endurance out of water. The creature's level for making or avoiding attacks on it  is considered to be half the highest number on its usage die, so it starts at 5 (1d10), then becomes 4 (1d8), 3 (1d6) etc to a minimum of 2 (1d4). The usage die is rolled every minute of normal activity, every moment of combat.

The creature is extremely cunning and stealthy. characters may be called on for a Wisdom or Intelligence save to detect a sneak attack by it. If they fail the roll the creature's claws do double damage.

Fighting the creature under water is not advised. Characters foolish enough to fight it in its element roll with disadvantage to hit, block or do damage. Even going near the water is dangerous as the creature can still make a sneak attack and the saves to detect it are rolled with disadvantage.

The Man-Fish is incredibly strong, able to overturn a car or fling a grown man like a doll. It is also able to make 10-20' leaps out of water of any depth over its head.

Attacks with flame or electricity allow a character to make a Charisma save to drive the creature away or at least keep it at bay.

It is unknown if the monster is a unique relic or a small population of them exists deep in the jungle. Their cognitive ability is also unknown. They may be trainable as underwater shock troops. for that matter the creature itself might be a victim of cruel men and more docile than initially reported.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Coffee and Nobility

"Sit yourself down and have some breakfast, we got time to spare," Mayor Louie said gesturing grandly. The grand gesture went unnoticed by the crowd at the counter. They were more interested in their coffee and eggs. His driver, Jorge Pierre Guttman sat down and doffed his Taxi cap with some misgivings. Red dreadlocks spilled out to cover his shoulders.

"C'mon ... my treat. What's the problem? I got you by the hour today ... this is a democracy ain't it?" the Mayor snapped, grabbing the ketchup near him.

"Actually we're listed as a feudal technocracy run by an oligarchy," Jorge said slowly.

"Yeah yeah them guys run the big stuff. I deal with the day to day stuff and my part is a democracy!" the Mayor answered, putting too much ketchup on his eggs. He regarded his half drowned eggs sourly before he added the home fries to the mixture and began eating.

"I don't know how the Tech Knights would feel about your assessment your honor," Jorge said as the waiter filled his coffee mug.

"Ah screw 'em. They want to keep a lock on too much technology. They should get some outside opinions. Get around a little. Rub some shoulders. Press the flesh," the Muttered between forkfuls of eggs.

"Why don't you stop complaining so much? Some of us just want to eat our breakfast," crabbed a woman hidden behind a newspaper.

"Don't you tell me to shut up!"

"I'll tell you plenty! Shuddup before you get a poke in the nose," she rejoined turning to the sports page.

"Oh yeah? Who's going to do it?"

"Me! I'll come right over there and bop you."

"Oh yeah? And how are you going to get back to your seat?"

"Pfft."

"Meh," Louie responded, using little of his oratory skill.

"Good coffee," Jorge ventured cautiously.

"Louie, pass me the sugar please," Ranna said suddenly changing her tone.

"Sure thing. Ready for your speech?" the Mayor asked.

"I am now. Thanks!" Dame Ranna got up. As she did a tall skinny man in uniform appeared behind her to drape her coat over her shoulders. "Thank you, Beppo." The man nodded curtly and followed her out into the street. Another uniformed man joined them and Dame Ranna strolled in the clear autumn sunlight towards the main plaza.

"What ... " Jorge began.

"It's her cure for stage fright. We have a little tiff before she goes on. She's an all right Dame."

"Someone could get the wrong idea," Jorge said sipping the strong coffee.

"Already happened. She forgot to tell Beppo the first time and he nearly shoved that scattergun down my throat when I called her a ham fisted tyrant."

Transcript of Tech Knight Senior Dame Ranna Morrigan at Zao Plaza, Life Day Speech

"They call us backward because we drive cars and fly propellor planes. Our electronics are primitive because they use tubes and transistors. Our phones have wires and dials. Our media is sound only or black and white. One of those offworld fools laughed himself sick watching me ride a horse once into the starport."

"We have our merchant fleet made of ships built offworld. That is the answer to many planets, buy it from offworld. That is what the great corporations and banks want, to make consumers and workers of us all, their workers! That is not our way. We build it and we own it. It is time to send a message to these spacers, that we are every bit as good as they are! We are building a rocket!"

"Think about it ... mankind was no more advanced than we are now once ... centuries ago. they made that leap into space with far less knowledge than we have now. We know how it was done. We have Belters ready to sell us materials in bulk, not just steel and titanium but fissionables. We have basic lifter technology. We can get to orbit and beyond in a ship build solely on this planet! We are going to do this. It will be hard. It will be expensive. We won't see a profit from this ship. Our grandchildren will. We will spread to the stars again in our our ships built by our own hands and we will be no one's slaves!!"

***

There is something afoot in any Traveller setting that uses the the standard starport system. Either interstellar travel is way less common than actual play and most settings suggest or something is happening with starship construction. There's a definite shortage of starports capable of producing starships. That shortage is even greater if you look at whether a world with shipyards also has a population and technology level that supports building a number of ships with many being marked for export. In fact I think on average 2-3 worlds per subsector will control the bulk of ship production despite other worlds having higher technology or population.

I think the reason boils down to control. certain people (like the Company) want to restrict and control space travel and private enterprise or exploration of space. They deliberately restrict the number and quality of of shipyards in a subsector. They have a very simple way to do this. They sell starships.

Building a starship or even a shuttle is a complex enterprise. It's way easier buying one (if you don't mind paying 220% of its value in the long run). Build the ships, sell the ships and free up that industry to other things, like luxury items to keep people from wondering where the hell the post scarcity economy went. Worlds that are not habitable could put that industry to work terraforming or building bigger and better habitats. Balkanized worlds might have enemies close by that require defense plants.

In a few years universities won't even offer courses to become a naval architect. those who want to become naval architects will have to travel off planet for education and discover most employment opportunities are at existing shipyards.

It's a delicate system. The ship builders do not want people realizing they too could work their way into space. Let alone that they have technology (like lifters) that will make such a leap easier than it was for the homeworld to take those first steps. It is a fragile lie and one planet or even a few exceptional people might shatter it and usher in holy Hell (from the powers that be perspective).

Friday, October 14, 2016

Man Made Horrors

I haven't done a post for The Front or  the Black Hack for a while. I'm very find of creatures and monsters in a WW2 game and what better place for science to go awry?

I meant to use these ages ago but the WW2 Champions game I ran fell by the wayside and I don't stat up characters for the Hero system for fun so here goes using TBH and The Front!

Blitz Truppen
Blitz truppen began as recruits that tested for an abnormally high resistance to electrical shock. Under the program the recruits were given mutagenic substances and progressively larger electrical shocks until they began to depend on them much as an addict does his daily dose. When powered down blitz truppen are normal if lethargic humans. They can absorb electrical power to raise their strength and endurance to superhuman levels. They remain very susceptible to orders from those controlling their electrical power source and behave in a zombie like fashion.

Blitz truppen are 4 HD monsters and use the rules for Powerful Opponents. In addition they wear insulating suits that are equivalent to leather armor. When this suit is shredded by edged melee weapons or natural weapons like claws the trooper loses 1 HD every other moment. Attacking  blitz truppen with metal melee weapons does 1d4 damage to the attacker on a successful hit.

Player Characters (Electric Troopers)
Some experimental subjects on both the Allied and Axis forces were able to absorb and control larger amounts of electricity and combat the lethargy between treatments, remaining aware and independent. Their powers at various levels are written up using the format I began with here.

This assumes the character is wearing a special containment suit to contain their power. The containments suits are fairly ordinary insulating suits and provide 4 pts. of armor. Bullets ignore this armor. Without a containment suit a character's usage die is reduced one size.

Low
Usage die 1d6
The character has advantage making strength rolls to hit and damage. The power functions as an additional 2 pts. of armor if a containment suit is worn. The usage die is rolled to represent depleting the electrical energy (going through water, being stuck with a metal object etc. If the die is reduced to to zero (note it gets reduced to 1d4 first) the character has disadvantage on strength rolls until he powers up again. A character with a low power level can generate an electrical shock affecting 1d4 close targets. this requires an immediate usage die roll to check for depletion. Attacking the character with a metal weapon causes damage to the attacker equal to their current usage die.

Paranormal
Usage die 1d8
As above except the power gives 4 pts. of amor. The character can generate an electrical shock causing damage equal to his current usage die to 1d4 close targets.

Superhuman
Usage die 1d10
As above except the power provides 6 pts. of armor. In addition the character can fire an electrical bolt to nearby range causing damage to one target equal to their current usage die. This automatically drops the usage die to the next smallest.

It's up the the GM how much electrical power Electric Soldiers need to recharge. Low and Paranormal levels might recover with house current in a few hours. Superhuman levels might require a power station or laboratory for full recovery (but work at Paranormal levels till then).

Special- a genius type working behind the lines could construct a containment suit that magnifies a character's power bringing the usage die up one size.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Technophobes

First an unpleasant truth that Ian Borchardt (Reverance Pavane) revealed to me:

One of the interesting things about the Traveller Tech Level is that it is a very rapid rise to Jump Drive capability, at which point the rate of technological increase with TL slows drastically. This is perfectly in keeping with what Traveller originally was - an interstellar wargame, where the minor capabilities of advanced planets to support naval operations was important. So TL 9-15 is basically the variation in Imperial space capability. That bend at TL9 is vitally important as far as the universe is concerned.

The idea that the TLs beyond 9 are variation of a standard Imperial Tech (TL 15) other worlds copy as well as possible makes sense. Once you reach the stars you encounter other planets and see how they do things you try to do the same (or better).  It also allows for a lot of fleets that could tussle with each other without a decisive advantage from technology (until High Guard came out anyway).

The other side of the TL scale, below TL 9 was designed to give a wide variation in cultures and their capabilities (you can run 'The Sentient Who Would Be King' all over the place).  So after TL 9 we have cultures busily playing catch up (probably limited by resources, economics, and labor pools). Before that we have a number of worlds that are (pardon the term) stagnant, remaining at their pre-stellar technology levels for hundred of years. 

I like making up explanations for this sort of stuff. I used to hate when a designer would force what was essentially a sandbox world into their biases. Now I understand that these choices are made for a good reason. You don't knock down a fence without knowing why it was put up there. Traveller has chugged along for 40 some odd years so there was a good reason for that fence.

Without borrowing from the 3I setting what are some reasons for this technophobia (or at least apathy)? Here's the background for Zaonia though these reasons could be extended to other worlds. 

Zaonia once had a higher level of technology (early stellar at least). After a catastrophe in my setting called the Flame Out jump drives had a bad habit of turning into a cloud of superheated plasma due to unknown jump space shenanigans. Worlds that previously were connected with trade were suddenly cut off. Space travel failed. Technology and industries supported by offworld parts and know how came crashing down. 

In the case of Zaonia, a bucolic agricultural world, the offworld imports were fertilizers, GMO crops, farming tools. Farming is fairly technological even today. The Zaonians suddenly had to relearn basic farming at a early industrial level of technology or lower. Famine followed. Other technologies faltered as everything was put into growing food and ranching. 

Zaonia today is governed by an oligarchy of technocrats: the descendant or successors of those who seized power during the disaster and got the farms and basic services working again. In the time since since space travel resumed these Tech Knights wielded great power but only so long as they maintained the services they were in charge of. 'Knight' meant you were granted rights and privileges and status but you still had constituents and they could vote to recall you. In the old days replacing a knight was a lot more bloody.
(General George S. Patton would have made a dandy Tech Knight! Note I do not claim to own Gen. Patton. His family has him copyright-ed or something.)

You'd think a technological oligarchy would welcome new technology. But the Tech Knights viewed offworld technology as dangerous. Technology requires support, infra-structure. If that support is in the form of a trade ship from another world then you are beholding to that ship and that world. If the ships stop coming you're screwed. If they keep coming they can own you body and soul. 

So the oligarchy limits imports and aims at self sufficiency. The population has the old tales of the Great Famine to keep them scared of too much offworld influence. More to the point the Tech Knights base their rule on being masters of technology. Bringing in smart phones and robots they do not understand or control would erode that authority. 

Regardless there are offworld influences. the only way to stop that is to blow up the starport and shoot down every ship that tries to land and jam any radio signals. Unfeasible. The Zaonians aren't even particularly violent.

Also the Tech Knights are not above making excuses to get some top gear for themselves. In some cases they could cite humanitarian interests. A person who gets cybernetic legs and returns home will not face amputation and a wheel chair. In many cases they cite the technology as depending on different kinds of unobtainium. They import sand munitions, for example, and tell the locals it's a sand gathered on the beaches of a far away world. The same goes for various drugs.

In the most wonderful case locals will salvage or replace some piece of local technology from before the Great Famine. This happened with a number of gravitic modules. Eventually they began building their own grav modules using vacuum tubes and crude transistors. It's amazing what you can copy if you only know it is possible. Their grav modules are more fragile. they are prone to overheating and in general an airplane is cheaper and faster. The gravitics powered aeros are important because they demonstrate just what the locals can do on their own.

The final exception to offworld technology is imminent need. Zaonia faced one invasion force equipped with battledress and laser weapons. They beat them back using weight of numbers, strategy and exploiting their own ignorance and over confidence. Some of those captured suits of battledress were hung in public as a warning. Some of the suits still functioned and those found a use. The same for the laser weapons (and a few gauss rifles). You can look the other way when the defense of your planet is at stake. You can also import more battledress and laser weapons since no one really keeps records of how many weapons and armor suits were captured. In fact the Knights used a number of exoskeletons from damaged battledress to build new suits replacing the destroyed armor using metal plates.

They are knights after all.



"Excellent. This suit of armor is virtually impregnable. Now get the biggest ruffian in the guard, put it on him and have him stand in front of me!'
-Tech Knight Senior

(Image from Fallout 4, does not constitute any sort of claim or plagiarism. I just liked it!)

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Seems Like Old Times

Medical Log: Following L'Rre Nok's possession by a non biological entity we have modified Shuttle 1 with a psionic screen and are currently tracking the entity to learn more about it. My companions are rather more enthusiastic about this mission than I am.

Nok: It's been a while.

Tivk: Here we are back on Shuttle 1. Why did it take so long to get back to basics?

Doc: Let's see, you started a civil war on Nodens ...

Mukh: They were using stunners! It was a very civil war indeed!

Tivk: Quiet. There's still an ongoing investigation.

Doc: Crashed a robot dog during temporal research, nearly killing Riasi, and possibly altering our timeline ...

Mukh: That was Shavetail's fault! He couldn't keep his eyes off Riasi's ass.

Doc: And you crushed a number of security vehicles at the Liberty Starbase Planetside Mall.

Mukh: They were asking for it!

Tivk: A clear logical response to abuse of power. Restricting parking on an arbitrary basis.

Doc: It was their job ... and their mall!

Nok: They had ... nice balls there ...

Doc: ...

Tivk: ...

Nok: The ball pit. In the food court?

Mukh: I love balls!

Nok: We're not keeping up with the NBE.

Doc: Nuts! Can we project a course for it?

Tivk: Working.

Doc: Mukh, have you found any further information on this type of NBE?

Mukh: It's a pretty piddly-shit sort of entity able to control a single mind. Obviously a low tolerance for pain.

Nok: L'Rre made short work of it. Why follow?

Doc: It might encounter someone less able to resist it.

Tivk: Oh. Hu-mans.

Doc: Why do you even keep us around?

Nok: Laughs.

Tivk: You keep showing signs of improving.

Mukh: I love humans!

Doc: ... we love you back Froggy.

Nok: Course projected ... laid in.

Meanwhile, on the mighty Cruiser Tesla, we find our daring hero and his plucky AI facing a mystery in the making ... (end scroll)

Lt: Is the transcript system still malfunctioning? (he asked testily.)

GAIA: Hahahahahahaha!

Lt.: When I find the smart ass who hacked the system I'm going to kill him! (he snarled testily.)

GAIA: Hahahahahaha! (she guffawed.)

Lt.: A little help? (he asked more testily than before.)

GAIA: Sorry my wifi is back but I can't hack any ship systems till I'm off my probationary period. (she answered tossing her luxurious hair luxuriously.) Snrrrrk! Hahahahaha! (she giggled.)

Lt.: Oh stop it before you snort lubricant out your nose.

GAIA: <SPLORT> Hehehe ... hey ... aren't you going to fix this? (she asked oily  testily.)

Lt: Why? it's working fine! (he retorted.)


GAIA: HAHAHAHAHAHA! Hey, I think my laughter app is malfunctioning ... (she whined.)


Lt.: Hey there he is! Dog! Here Dog! Here boy! (he pleaded.)

Dog: Nrrrrrrrrrr. (the cur snuffled piteously.)

GAIA: Whined? I don't whine! (she whined.) 

Lt.: Sure you do. Dog ... he's staring at that locker. I hate it when dogs do that. Do a scan. (he snapped.)

GAIA: Scanning ... cold spot. EM flux. (she said operating the scanner with a deft motion.)

Lt.: NBE! The Exec was afraid of this. The damned thing fissioned before it left. 

(Indeed. I'm also hacking your transcript bots for laughs.)

GAIA: Looks likely, Schaeffer. 

(You know what? I'm tired of this! Screw the both of you!)

Lt.: Dog's on the move! 

(Jerk!)

Dog: Woof! Woof! 

(Fucking dog!)

GAIA: ... and our NBE! 

(Girl 'bot toadie!)

Lt.: Tell Ma'am to sound general quarters! We still got a ghost onboard! 

(Bring it meat bags! You too chip witch!!)

Saturday, October 8, 2016

What Tech Level is a Plot Hook?

Let me start by saying I dislike SF stories where the square jawed heroes find and figure out alien tech and even back engineer or mid it all before the last chapter/commercial break. I think this is mainly a feature of the more optimistic SF genres. It goes: society is changing so fast and technology progressing so swiftly there must be a fast answer to everything. Of course we can find out how this alien portal works pushing buttons! Just take notes.

BTW taking notes is always a good idea. Zaonia taught us that.

I'm more of David G. Potter's mindset: have the alien tech investigated on a space station dedicated to it with numerous safeguards and wired to a few gigaton nukes.

But there must be a middle ground between the incomprehensible, magical Forerunner tech and Og the caveman working out a smart phone. He uses the flashlight function to become high priest of course making the light which does not burn (move over Mightor!)

(If they were less advanced they might be a major power!)

Take my recent post topic Zaonia. The Zaonians have a technology level roughly equal to Earth in the 1930's. While most of the planet fits this description there are exceptions. On Earth today the Cern Particle accelerator might be the beginning of a new era of technology once it produces some physics we can monetize. A lot of Zaonia's success was due to more advanced cultures forgetting how much you might do with barbaric diesel engines and vacuum tubes (or pen and paper).

The Zaonians avoided a world war which is the dog's bollocks for progress. On the other hand Depression Era America didn't have contact with more advanced cultures. It doesn't mean the Zaonians by and large would understand how a smart phone works. On the other hand they could send people off world to study hot topics or hire offworlders to teach them. At the very least they could bring back information. That would be very important to them. Invasions do happen as they learned. Having an idea of higher tech capabilities is essential to defending against them.

Sometimes that's a hell of an advantage. Sometimes knowing something is possible is enough to get people to do it. Let's say that the EM drive is real and generates a repulsive force making lifters like Traveller's air/raft possible.  The initial tests for the drive required cutting edge machinery to sense,  out of the grasp of 1930's tech. But the actual lifting technology is fairly simple and could be reproduced with crude transistors or even vacuum tubes. The thing is you'd never realize it without the research made possible with extremely sensitive measuring devices.

So the Zaonians have aeros. They aren't as powerful as the ones that came out at the end of the Information Age. They don't go as far or as fast and they can break down more often (glass vacuum tubes). But they have them and authorities and some special forces use them for showing off or high priority missions. Some more unscrupulous types merely buy them offworld and doctor them to appear local. Having that made on Zaonia stamp is important.

There are all manner of pieces of technology that are reproduced fairly simply on our own world. Mac 10s  were crafted by local metal workers in the Phillipines to arm their rebellion in the 90's. The weapon was mostly sheet metal parts. On the other hand no one knows precisely how Bronze Age chemists created Greek Fire, a powerful incendiary weapon. Some things are just stumbled upon and appear sooner or later than you might expect.

I'm pretty sure Civil War era technology could make a crude fission bomb. But as I said that would probably never occur to a culture at that stage of development. So much of the research required advanced technology. But once that research is done and available ...

(Can you say Dieselpunk? The Zaonian Aero-Coup!)

In many cases building something might be a matter of using advanced materials from a higher technology or unobtainium, carbon nanotubes or diamond filaments. Building a manpowered aircraft is just a matter of making it light enough for example. In some cases bioengineered materials might provide these materials.

In summary a world's tech level doesn't begin to describe everything they are capable of. They might be constructing things that have the star trader types scratching their heads. I love the idea of vacuum tubes generating lifter energy.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Bamboozled pt. 2

No one can win them all. No person, no planet, no empire. that's fine. Only someone who does nothing makes mistakes. The same applies to Zaonia. The Tech Knights are fallible as any Zaonian citizen would tell you (strongly in many cases) as this should illustrate. I do not like setting up someone as a Mary Sue, or a gadget as a Katana or a planet of organization as the Good Guys who must win. Just because I created you doesn't mean you get a free (or even easy) pass. Read the Tesla stories if you need a clue how low I can stoop to make a story fun (for the reader).

Zaonia  (0104 C885655-5     Ag Ri) shares a star with Nuzon (0104  E653555-4     Ag Ri). contact between the two planets was sporadic and often antagonistic. The Nuzoni fled Zaonia during the Time of Things Going to Hell. The Nuzoni maintained that they were exiled. The Zaonians insisted they did flee and that they stole the last working shuttle and broke it.

Now the Nuzoni made contact with one of Zaonia's subsidized merchants who was intrigued by wooden computing devices made locally. These slipsticks or ruled slides could be used in various areas of a ship where magnetic fields or radiation interfered with regular computers and were keen besides.

The devices were made of bamboo, a local plant.  The captain doubted he'd fill a hold with the little gadget or more importantly sell them all.  So he asked what else the bamboos were good for. The short answer was: Everything!

You could build with it, create fabrics, containers, medicines from extracts, fodder for some animals, decorations, even make -paper!

Word of this got back to the Tech Knights while they were slapping themselves on the back and pouring libations and figuratively speaking a group spit take occurred.

The Tech Knights called the bankers and explained that it was time to use their leverage of holding mortgages on ships to maintain their markets. Meanwhile they got hold of the lawyer and told them how badly they'd fuck him up if he didn't do something fast. Any Tech Knight can be called out into a gun duel over a political issue at any time. This was felt to assure only people with a commitment would take on the job. Their threats were not taken lightly.

The merchant captain knew law. He pointed out the contract spelling out his subsidized route mentioned the star system but not Zaonia specifically. The Tech Knights' lawyer went into hiding. They then looked nervously at Inerze, their major customer despite a recent bit of unpleasantness. Those contracts were coming up for renewal and the prospect of replacing Zaonian hemp with a plant that had even more uses was pretty enticing. That would be where the subsidized merchants would go to as well.

The fact the Inerzans would also be giving the uppity Zaonians the finger, hell the whole hand, was icing on the seed cake.

Bankers, Tech Knights and some merchant captains met behind closed doors while the citizens went about their day working, hitting smokeasies, and listening to the tubes. The secret council drew up several plans.

Invade Nuzon: very bad. Planetary invasions were hard. They had only experience in repelling one and it would lead to a long occupation and a permanent enemy.

Carpet bomb the bamboo fields: illegal, immoral and did you see how fast  that stuff grows? Unless they hired a ship just for that it was unfeasible and probably cost more than it was worth. Also the Polity would probably notice at that point.

Coerce the merchants to stop shipping bamboo: unlikely. Keeping a merchant from profits was nearly impossible. The contracts were no help. The new lawyer said as much.

A solemn delegation went to Nuzon to discuss the matter. They received a friendly if guarded welcome. Then they had another meeting. the Nuzon emerged with a 'sweet deal'.

The banks of Zaonia were going to float a large and low interest free loan so that Nuzon could subsidize their own merchant ships. One way to keep a merchant from profits was to stick one in his place who made more money at it. In exchange for this Zaonia received a decent portion of the bamboo business.

The Zaonians could use the bamboo themselves or just let it rot or ship it far away. Reducing the amount of bamboo on the market would protect their timber and paper industries. It would also drive the price of bamboo up which thrilled the Nuzoni. The timber and paper industries still took a bit of a hit but other markets were opening for them. Zaonia would just tighten the belt for a while (meaning the ordinary citizens, the Tech Knights got to keep their flying cars andimported death ray laser pistols.)

Their former lawyer even turned up, on Nuzon where he began a new practice representing subsidized merchants. He told everyone of the dangers of messing with low tech planets and that truly terrible biological weapons wouldn't kill you, they'd leave you broke but alive.