Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Ticket to Fly

It was another rainy day. There seemed to be an unending array of them. At the moment the rain had paused and a thin mist had filled the street in the early morning. Ranna Morrigen turned her collar up against the chill and waited by a streetlight. A black veil hid her upper face. Maybe the people set on her would see through it. MAybe they were coming for her right now.

That'd be their mistake. She really hoped they were making that mistake. She wanted closure for Jorge. That would involve bloodletting.

A familiar thrum filled the sky overhead. She looked up to see the flyvver approaching and dropping into to the street alongside her. Of course Jorge was not driving. Mayor Burns looked out over the side judging the room between two parked roadsters and began dropping down slowly. He doffed his bowler to her as he worked the controls.

"Hey! You! Yeah you! You can't land there!" The bellow snapped her head around.

P.O. Galen Twoomey stalked towards the flyvver his breath making fog, or maybe he was just preparing to breath fire. He stepped almost under the flyvver and glared at the Mayor.

The Mayor glared back. He drew his cigar and jabbed it downward like a spear, "What are ya trying to do, get squashed like a big blue bug?" he demanded.

"Try it wise guy, if you want to replace that second hand hat with your ass," Twoomey said pulling a summons book from his belt.

"You do know I'm the mayor, right Sleuth?"

"Big deal. I voted Conservative. Now move it!"

"I'm the mayor. That's Ranna Morrigen," Mayor Burns hollered.

Twoomey seemed to notice Ranna for the first time. He snapped a smart salute to her and tipped his cap for good measure. "Good morning Miss Morrigen. My apologies. But this ain't a landing area. That's two blocks over. I will happily escort you there."

"We just buried a friend. You ain't making her walk! Move out of the way or your feet won't be all that's flat about ya!" the Mayor growled. The officer's hand came to rest on the butt of his service revolver. It was probably just a reflex but the Mayor took his hand off the lifter switch. 

"Shamus," he growled.

"Blowhard," Twoomey answered flipping open his summons pad.



"... Beat dick."

Twoomey looked up from his writing. From gritted teeth he hissed, "Politician."

The rest of the exchange was far less articulate and touched upon politics, sports, intelligence, genetic shortcomings and the Policeman's Pension Fund. At about the point Mayor Louie was swearing to have Twoomey pound a beat on a cowpath in Southbend and Twoomey was threatening the infernal powers of his Union and the Police Benevolence Society both fell suddenly silent.

Ranna's head had dipped forward. Her shoulders were wracked with strong emotion. Twoomey swore to himself for not being a little considerate of the lady in her grief. The Mayor was doing likewise when she straightened barely stifling some heartfelt laughter. She tried to say something and failed the first time, snorted loudly and brought every bit of her experience being the strutting ass in authority.

"Louie. Hold the flyvver steady. Twoomey!?" she barked.

"Ma'am!" Twoomey snapped to attention again.

"Make a stirrup ... with your hands officer. Like so!" She demonstrated and Twoomey complied. Ranna slipped one pump off and stepped into Twoomey's stirrup. Before she climbed further up the officer she leaned in close and planted a kiss on his cheek, Twoomey breathed in lavender and ... cordite? He took another drag for good measure.

"That was some daring police work you did chasing those guys that tried to whack me. Thanks officer," she whispered. Then she pocketed the pump, did likewise with its mate. Shegot both feet in his hands, stepped onto his shoulders and grabbed the side of the flyvver.

"Don't be looking up her skirt Twoomey or I'll drop a spanner on your flat head," Louie warned.

"Not an issue, your honor," Twoomey said hiding a decided blush with the brim of his cap.

"You gonna fly this thing or just leave it floating to let pedestrians get out of the rain?" Ranna snapped.

As the flyvver lifted Twoomey hung onto his hat and stepped back. As his brain resumed functioning he wondered how she was such a daredevil with such small feet?


Ah the flying car. We were supposed to have these to let us know it's the future (also robot servants and not some chintzy floor polisher). Air rafts fill the bill in most futuristic settings (when you leave out the slash it's Open 2D6 otherwise the Imperial Knights who say 'C & D" kick in your door). What exactly do we mean by a flying car?

I assume that 'car' is meant to convey a personal and affordable form of transportation anyone can operate. About what a car is to us now only in three dimensions. Material technology may make this possible in our lifetimes.. I'm not talking about those ultralites either. I want something to take a small group and their ordinance gear on an extended trip (cup holders, dome lights and like that). Something capable of vertical or DSTOL (Damned Short Takeoffs & Landings) are required too. We may have this without antigravity one day. 

Regardless of the way we get flying cars they're probably a bad idea (in large numbers for certain)! Imagine all the stupid things other drivers already do (I speak with experience living in New York City) and now multiply it by another dimension. That's at least 50% more stupidity. It might increase by the square and be 225% more stupidity.

Now imagine a car chase like on one of those police shows but in three dimensions. you're going to want a driver with a letter for his Dexterity for sure.

In the story above flying cars are fairly rare. Ground cars are not. The aeros have several restrictions. for safety reasons they are restricted in their parking to reduce the chance of an ill timed lift off taking someone already fly unaware. Apparently the fines for unauthorized operation are pretty steep too.

Higher tech planets with more air cars or more laws may ban human operation in cities or entirely and rely on autopilots. This makes us wonder about hacking such systems. Some planets may require human drivers where cybercrime is rife or robotics are just not trusted for various reasons. You might have to put in a flight plan to a central traffic authority and stick to it so ... no restroom stops unless you remember to include them. Characters will often dislike having their movements recorded and have to make do with ground transport. 

Air transportation will be easier on roads and infrastructure. On a planet where maintaining roads is difficult due to the terrain or quakes cheap air transport may be a life line. On worlds with aeros and ground cars there may be animosity between the two types of drivers. Do the roads get neglected to pay for the traffic control system or vice versa and why should drivers pay for facilities they don't use?

Grav belts compound the problem. Now you have pedestrians in the air or worse, the equivalent of cyclists; and they never seem to stay in their lane.

Some worlds may also have concerns about safety. I have yet to see an antigravity powered vehicle that wouldn't make a dandy brick. What happens when one's power cuts out (and it will)? Will airbags or restraints be any use? Will flying past a certain altitude or range need parachutes or survival gear?

My TL 7 Honda is beginning to look really good to me.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Dhampir Strikes Back

Vampires are the most human of the Undead, which is not saying much. Some old drives do survive though second to the primal need for a good drink. In any case through out history half-vampires or Dhampir have cropped up, borne of undead fathers and human women.

As you may expect most dhampirs were outcasts and exiles from human society and led lives of banditry or worse or merely kept a step ahead of the mob with torches and pitchforks. Contrary to prejudice and legends dhampirs are a human subspecies, very much alive and not evil by nature.

Recently a number of dhampirs have appeared to offer their services to the Allied cause, fearing the Third Reich will be even worse for them. Rumors hint at a special unit of vampire hunters run by the Rumanian army. The Italian Fascist are also developing werewolf operatives under Progetto Romulus e Remus as a counter.

Dhampirs are almost always men. Due to their supernatural birth their red tinged eyes let them see in all but total darkness. In daylight they must wear dark glasses or be disadvantaged in combat (advantaged rolls to hit them or if PC they roll with disadvantage.)

Dhampir can hypnotize a single target at close range out of combat. This target must pass a Charisma test to act normally (or if a PC the Dhampir must pass a Charisma test to affect them). This control lasts as long as the dhampir can concentrate on the victim.

Holy water, symbols, and sunlight  do not affect dhampirs and they can't be turned by clerics. They can be hurt by normal weapons though they have double armor points and heal most damage (except fire or magic) at double the normal rate. Garlic is repugnant to them acting similar to tear gas. They are at disadvantage to attack a subject wearing or holding garlic (or if an NPC the character is at an advantage to defend).

Dhampir frighten most normal animals and can't ride horses. Wolves and other predators will leave them alone unless they are attacked. Like true vampires dhampirs have fangs and even two forms, human and a vampiric mask. They're become paler, and more bestial with an unnerving gaze. characters seeing a dhampir transform must make a Charisma check to take any action that round. NPCs of second level or less are automatically frozen in place.

A usage die represents the Dhampir's humanity and self control. A Dhampir must drink human blood more once a week. Drinking more or less frequently is dangerous. Drinking more often causes a heady and egotistical sensation making them act more vampiric. Drinking less will result in them becoming blood crazed. Their humanity starts at 1d10. Every day past one week that they do not drink blood or every time they drink blood more frequently than once a week they must roll the die. When the die is completely used up dhampir acts as a true vampire NPC controlled by the game master. Recovery in a hospital may be possible at the game master's discretion.

Drinking blood causes the dhampir to roll  1d6 times with advantage. This can be any roll the dhampir wishes. The rolls do not stack from week to week. You make a new roll every time the dhampir drinks. If the dhampir drinks more often than once a week they may roll and take the second roll if it is higher.

When a dhampir's humanity is at 1d4 they roll strength with advantage in combat and roll their Wisdom and Charisma with disadvantage till they get a drink.

Allied scientists have created the drug vorgacillin. This drug controls the dhampir's bloodlust and regular daily injections reduce the need to feed to once a month. Feeding no longer gives the dhampir advantage rolls while they are taking their vorgacillin. It is rumored that the Axis have created a vampiric repellent that when ingested makes dhampirs and vampires unable to feed from the subject.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Making Animal Encounters More Friendly

I do not usually write a post on GM prepping but my last post veered into bitching without giving a solution. Specifically I found the section on generating animal or wilderness encounters in Cepheus engine to be difficult.

To be truthful there is a lot of die rolling in some aspects of Tra 2d6 OGl games. To gear up for it I've found d66 cards very useful as well as a big load of dice preferably in at least three different colors.

The d66 deck I use is available from Yaruki Zero Games on RPGNow. Each card has a picture of two dice (red or blue). the dice are totaled as well as broken into d66 notation (for the terminally lazy, looking in a mirror here) as well as a storyteller icon. It's good for when you want to keep the number you rolled in mind for further calculations.

The different colored dice in large number and s perform the same function of recall, just set the dice you made that important roll with aside. As for which is easier to knock over YMMV. The cards get knocked around easier but I've dropped a half pound of dice in one shot. the different colors allow you to make multiple rolls quickly. For example with red, white, and green dice, you can roll a creature or character's strength, dexterity, and endurance in one shot. This speeds things up more than you might expect.

Yes I know online rollers will let you make mass rollings and record the results easily too. I'm more a traditionalist but I use Anydice ( and Troll Dice ( at times and they're both excellent for analyzing the probability of different rolls especially with funky dice pools if you veer into those (ahuh Ghost Dice).

Back to animal encounters. You need a blank encounter sheet something like this.

I originally watermarked each subtype box with a letter for the type of animal or used a pencil to write it in. This might prove useful if you screw around with the type distribution (Skull Island-nothing but omnivores and carnivores and hide the blondes when the Event is triggered!)

The main thing is consolidate the number of tables and sheets you need to refer to

Checklist (with what can go wrong of course)
1) Pencil in animal type in the subtype box unless you know the type distribution already)
2) Note world, terrain, subtype, and size modifiers on top of the sheet
3) Roll subtype (don't forget the mod for terrain). I found it easier to use the cards or multicolored dice to roll all of a general type at once: first all herbivores, then omnivores, carnivores etc.
4) Roll for the type of movement the creature uses. (If there are any size modifiers given with the movement type note them in the box for movement!)
5) Roll for size including modifiers for terrain and movement (which you noted, right?) this is important: record or set aside the number you rolled without mods. You need it for figuring armor later. this is where the cards or the shit ton of dice comes in handy.

I consolidated the terrain mods/movement types and subtype tables onto a single sheet again to avoid flipping or scrolling:

Next you are going to roll up Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Instinct, and Pack scores. In Cepheus engine you get a page looks like this:

Carrion-Eater (vulture): Scavengers which wait for all other threats to disperse before beginning. Carrion-eaters
have Recon. Instinct +2.
Chaser (wolf): Animals which kill their prey by attacking and exhausting it after a chase. Chasers have Athletics.
Dexterity +4, Instinct +2, Pack +2.
Eater (army ant): Eaters will eat anything they encounter, including characters. Endurance +4. Pack +2.
Filter (earthworm): Herbivores which pass their environment through their bodies are termed filters. Unlike
grazers, which move to food, filters move a flow of matter through themselves and filter out the food.
Endurance +4.
Gatherer (raccoon, chimpanzee): Gatherers are herbivores that collect and store food. Gatherers have Recon.
Pack +2.
Grazer (antelope): Grazers move from food source to food source, often in large packs. Their primary form of
defense tends to be fleeing danger. Instinct +2, Pack +4.
Hijacker (lion): Scavengers which steal the kills of others through brute force or weight of numbers are hijackers.
Strength +2, Pack +2.
Hunter (baboon): Opportunistic predators that stalk easy prey. Hunters have Survival. Instinct +2.
Intermittent (elephant): Herbivores that do not devote their entire time to searching for food. Intermittents
have Pack +4.
Intimidator (coyote): Scavengers which establish their claim to food by frightening or intimidating other
Killer (shark): Carnivores that possess a raw killing instinct, attacking in a frenzied manner. Killers have Natural
Weapons and either Strength or Dexterity +4, Instinct +4, Pack –2.
Pouncer (cat): Pouncers kill by stalking and ambushing their prey. Pouncers have Recon and Athletics. Dexterity
+4, Instinct +4.
Reducer (vermin): Reducers are scavengers that act constantly on all available food, devouring even the remains
left by other scavengers. Pack +4
Siren (venus fly-trap): Sirens create a lure to attract prey. Usually, this lure will be specific to the species the
siren preys on, but some rare lures are universal. Pack –4.
Trapper (spider): An animal which allows its prey to enter a trap. Generally, any creature surprised by a trapper
is caught in its trap. Pack –2.

Instead I made a chart looks like this:

All those mods laid out easy to apply to the rolled stats. Tip: write the stats in the boxes before you start rolling them. You save a lot of time.

6) Roll for the number appearing (since you have rolled Pack already)
7) Record damage dice (based on size). 
8) Roll for weapons type ( printed this table out and recorded the mods for animal type under it for easy reference.)
9) Roll for Armor. This is where you use the actual number you rolled for animal size!
The formula is 2d6 -7+(Number rolled) + modifier for animal type. Again I printed out the table with the mods listed right under them. In the RAW the weapons type, armor and such are jammed into a dense paragraph on another page.

I think that's it for the dice rolling. I found it easier to do several encounter tables like an assembly line: first animal types, then movement, then size etc. for each terrain before moving to the next characteristic. I then go over the tables and look for any animals that look particularly interesting for write a little color for and come up with a canned event (the story icons on the d66 cards is great for this!)

The RAW are no problem really. I just found this way organizes my time far better for creating encounter tables. It also gives me ideas for further modifying the animal generation system (life in a gas giant's atmosphere: no problem! Plasma based life in the corona of a sun ... I'll get back to you.)

Fortunately Cepheus Engine comes with a modifiable SRD in Word so C&P is very easy. I may do some more cheat sheets in the future on using this SRD.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Cepheus Engine That Knocks

Over all I love Cepheus Engine for 2d6 OGL. For my current project I have started writing up animal encounter tables. I still love it but the honeymoon phase is over. the animal encounter rules need a reorganization which I hope Mr. Flynn will consider for a second edition or update.

I'm DM and table impaired (my players knew this but they went with my fudging because it seemed fair for the most part). Even so please list all the dm's with the table in question. Call them out with an attractive side bar or text box and don't dump mods for three different table in a long paragraph.

After I did a cheat sheet for myself the encounter generation went much less painfully. I will say the SRD in Word was incredibly useful for compiling my cheat sheet but it shouldn't realy need a cheat sheet in the first place.

Oh yeah, make revolvers and automatics do 3d6 damage again please.

Over all still a good rules set.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Lifter Technology

The day before Maneuver Drives Made Accountable

"So how goes the Project?" Ranna asked. Her hand strayed to her eyepatch absently pulling her hair in front of it.

"It goes," Jorge said lifting the taxi and flying towards her apartment. After a second he turned on the meter.


"We should make it look good," Jorge said looking apologetic.

"Did you guys lick the resupply problem?"

"Yeah. Without lifters." It was tough considering the derelict they were refabbing was in the middle of nowhere, stuck in the middle of an arid waste and broken terrain. He concentrated a moment on avoiding some power lines and continued, "We started using auto-gyros what you call Dynocopters ... they could carry supplies and land in 30 meters or less. Not quite lifter technology but pretty neat anyway."

"I told you we build good vehicles here. It's all the chrome piping we stick on the sides. Makes our stuff go faster. "


"True. When we want a buzz copter or roadster to go reeeeally fast we stick a bigger gas pedal on it. That's science!"

"What was your area of expertise when you were a Tech Knight?"

"Worker safety conditions."

" ... okaaay."

Jorge regarded another aero moving ahead and off to the right annoyedly as it was going to cut across his nose. He blew the horn angrily to no affect. The aero had police markings with a two man crew. Ranna peered at it a second and said, "Those aren't cops! Peel o ..."

One of the 'police' displayed his true nature as he pulled an automatic rifle from the cockpit and fired a long burst. Jorge was already veering hard to the left. The maneuver threw him against Ranna. The bullets zipped around them. Ranna drew a revolver from a coat pocket and began firing rapidly. the police aero struggled to match their turn.

"Rifle ... under the seat," Jorge hissed through gritted teeth. Ranna stopped fumbling for a speed loaders and grabbed the weapon under her. It was a compact offworld design and she hunted to find the safety and bolt to ready it.

The attacking aero had pulled almost into their tail when Jorge dipped his flyer's nose and decelerated hard. Ranna hung onto the rifle and trusted her seatbelt. Jorge had installed them after all. The assassins pulled ahead and above them and Ranna held a steady stream of fire on their aero. She was rewarded with sparks and smoke from the fuselage.

The aero pulled into a climb and began turning away back the way it came. Ranna hurled bullets and obscenities after them until she emptied the rifle.

"Hah. We showed them eh?" she crowed watching them flee. She gave Jorge a jab in the arm for emphasis, really proud of her shooting if nothing else and already trying to make up a scheme to legalize her new found toy. Perhaps the imminent domain clause ... Jorge gave a low groan and she turned her good eye to him.

Jorge was gripping his right shoulder where a widening red stain had appeared on his uniform. Still gritting his teeth he threw a few switches and the flyer began to slow down and drop. He looked at her and asked, weakly, "Can you fly?"

"Uh hello, no depth perception. I never went for flight school ... let me see it." She peered at the wound and quickly pulled off her scarf, padded it and pressed down on the bullet hole. Jorge winced.

"It's okay. You can take it, love. Just get us down."

"... can do ... love," Jorge smiled a little bit at that as his head began to fall forward towards the dash. Ranna grabbed for the stick convinced even with one eye she'd do a better job than him now.

"You don't think I'd let just any strange man rub my feet, did you? I am a lady," she said.

There was no reply.


Lifter technology is the semi-respectable cousin of reactionless drives. They assume a fifth repulsive force will be discovered. That is no longer as crazy as it sounds what with dark energy accelerating the expansion of the Universe. Unlike reaction drives, which work by throwing crap out the back of your vehicle very fast, a lifter functions by pushing against the planet or other massive body (presumably) below you. In effect the planet becomes the reaction mass of your vehicle. Even Tom Swift used this dodge to avoid the high propellant tax of a rocket.

(Cover courtesy of Project Rho: Tom Swift's repulsor driven craft: the Challenger!)

Lifter craft are more stable than helicopters and just as maneuverable. They also don't suffer from prop wash though the repulsion force can hurt you if you stand directly under one that's at low altitude. Inverse square law is your friend here.

(Insert table on ground pressure)

Generally speaking a lifter can fly you at least 30,000 - 40,000 kms. or operate a week to ten days before needing a recharge. Lifters have their limits. They can get you to orbital altitude. However this takes a number of hours, much longer than a conventional spacecraft (and merchants consider time = money). More to the point their ability to produce lateral thrust is limited to a top speed which is way below orbital speeds. Hundreds of kph in general. I'd say that normally those several hours are required to get you to low orbit though, a few hundred kilometers and anything beyond that is for people trying to get into the record books.

As an option you might link top speed to world size. An air raft can make 400 kph. You could say the speed of that type of vehicle is 50 kph x UWP size code. So that air raft would make 500 kph on a size A world but only 200 kph on a Mars sized world. This might be another reason to keep earlier aircraft around. They're faster! Other types of lifters can be treated the same way: top speed x (UWP Size Code/8).

That last part is important. You can get to orbital height but you will not be moving at orbital speeds. A ship trying to rendezvous with you will have to kill its speed or you will make like a bug on its windshield. Worse actually. it won't do the poor ship a lot of good. Keep in mind an object moving at 7 kps has kinetic energy equal to an equal mass of TNT. Bits of wire, specks of paint are all orbiting that fast. Now consider yourself in a spacesuit (most lifters are not vacuum tight. If that doesn't give you the chills consider yourself in a spacesuit while a wise guy throws paper airplanes at you, that have their tips soaked in nitroglycerine.

If that still doesn't scare you go watch The Conjuring I & II and Annabelle.

Lifting to orbit is clearly a desperation move. For planetary evacuations and such. I've seen lifters failing after ten diameters in some versions of 2d6 games. That would make them work at environments with .01 gee to push against. YMMV if you want to figure out planetary density and local gravity fields. I go with the tradition volume = mass of the classic space opera games (mostly).

This means belters and their ilk aren't going to have much use for lifters and will replace them with reaction drive craft or better yet mining bots. It also means all that interesting infrastructure like orbital towers and transfer bolas still have their place.

Lifters are introduced at TL 8, an era of late interplanetary travel where they piss off the rocket engineers (who've been working hard to make reaction driven single stage to orbit vehicles economical.) They cause a huge dip in your rocket corporation stick until people try bringing stuff into orbit and wind up getting shot full of holes (or just one big hole) or a power failure shows them they'd have been better off investing in a heat shield and a gliding body just in case.

Lifters do provide an enormous boost (see what I did there?) to reaction drives. A rocket with lifters can negate gravity's attraction and use almost all of its thrust to achieve the desired velocity (atmospheric drag still cuts into some fuel use). The trick is having a lifter/power system that is light enough to be worth it for the more anemic rockets. It doesn't have to be less mass less than a similar engine and propellant because you can reuse the lifter system.

A ship can take off, from Earth say, at one gee, negating gravity and arriving at orbital speed in about 11 minutes of steady thrusting. Most people can handle 2 gees of acceleration even without compensators for this amount of time.

(Zaonian 'hooligan aero' in use.Why that looks like Wardenclyffe back on Old Earth. Parallel development is amazing! Picture courtesy of Raymond McVay of Blue Max Studios. Ray also does commissions.)

I've set up at least one world where people have used Tech Level 5 vacuum tubes and early transistors to duplicate lifter technology. My justification was that the experiments that discovered the repulsive force required high tech laboratory gear to detect. The actual gravity modules (or whatever) could be duplicated using earlier technology once the principles of the repulsive force were learned. Most people didn't try in my setting for a couple of reasons 1) lifters could be imported easily enough from a higher tech planet and 2) they required other TL 8 technology to be truly economic: energy storage systems.

A lifter uses a lot of power, at least as much as a modern battle tank. TL 8 batteries or super conductor loops or flywheels or what have you can power a liter for a week or more. The primitive batteries used by the Zaonians, even their state of the art lithium ion batteries, can barely power aeros for a few hours. Lifting capacity is also halved or quartered (one or two man crews). Airplanes and helicopters can carry more and are cheaper (and don't explode like some prototype batteries.) The aeros' lateral thrust is also managed with fans, not the lifters.

All this makes Zaonian aeros impractical, noisy, hard to handle, and wicked cool to people who like this sort of thing.

M-Drives Made Accountable

"C'mon in back yer honor. I'll fix you a cup a' joe," Prigo said rubbing the mayor's shoulder. The Automat was closed for the night.

"Awful decent of ya, Steen," Louie said relighting his cigar and entering.

"No problem. Jorge was a good guy.  He will be missed. How's Miss Ranna doin'?" Prigo asked heading into the pantry for fixings.

"Miss Ranna is on tranquilizers and antipsychotics. She laid the beat down on two squires wanting to stop her from shooting up the offworlder bank. About middling. Louie inspected his cigar and reached for the light switch as he entered the kitchen.

The lights in the kitchen snapped on. A man with a crewcut in Tech Knight regalia stood there regarding Louie from behind a monocle. He held a plate with a slice of berry pie and a mug of tea.

"Come in your honor. We have much to discuss," the man said gesturing to a couple of stools by a counter. Louie frowned a little and took a drag as he sat. Prigo came through the door a moment later, dragged by the seat of his pants by a lumbering heavy.

"Dr. Elevator," Prigo gasped. That worthy removed his monocle and bowed. "Please join us sir ... and it is Professor Elevator!"

"Ya never got your doctorate? A bigtime supervillain?" Prigo asked. Behind him the heavy swore silently and winced slightly.

" ... what the hell is wrong with a Masters? I had to leave my final year ... familial issues! Do you have a Masters? Did you shut down the starport for a week? You cut rate hash slinger! Mort," Prof. Elevator snapped.

Mort administered a half-hearted dopeslap to Prigo who wisely shut up and remained rocking slightly from the buffet.

"If I'm to hear a monologue, I'll need that cup of coffee," Louie said.

"You will find I am prepared for your tricks Mayor Burns. I brewed a pot already!" Elevator indicated a sealed steel pot and Prigo began pouring out some cups by reflex for the Mayor and Mort. Prigo noted in passing that Professor Elevator had left a credit for the pie and coffee by the pot and pocketed it. No tip.

Mayor Burns took a sip and gave the mastermind his full attention. Elevator finished his tea.

"I'm hurt," Elevator said, waiting to see the effects of his words. He added a sugar cube to his tea.

"You're ... we're talking feelings here?"

"Of course! Mad scientists can't have feelings?!" Elevator gave Mort a stern look heading off a dopeslap aimed at the Mayor.

"You're the guy built the twenty foot diesel 'bot that tore up the Knight Day celebration? The one who masterminded the daring zeppelin bank heist, fixed the South Bend Stadium ballgames?"

"That last one was Doctor Switchboard. I'd never make the South Bend Razorbeaks lose!"

"Go Razorbeaks!" Prigo said. Slap!

"Awright. Sorry. I have trouble keeping you guys straight. The cops are kind of baffled by you," the Mayor said.

"I'm a cut above the rest. I have a mission, Mayor Burns. I WAS a Tech Knight ... until I realized they are a bunch of handymen turned tyrants repressing progress for their own means and enrichment."

"I can see your point. Hey could I get a piece of pie while we talk?"

Elevator uncovered a platter of various slices of pie. He took planning ahead seriously. The Mayor had to give him that. He grabbed a slice of berry pie and after a look at a glaring Prigo left a coin on the counter.

"Mayor Burns, Miss Morrigen and Mr. Guttman began a grand enterprise to spur this backwater rock into some semblance of progress. A home brewed space craft! Mr. Guttman's ... loss has left you bereft of technical genius. I wish to volunteer my services," Elevator monologued.

"You wish ... you're a crook ... sorry, a super criminal."

"So what? You guys are already hiring smugglers to move cargo and stay in the black! Don't deny it. I use those same guys! They're criminals! You're discriminating against me because I'm only local?" Elevator slid his tea mug a safe distance away and pounded the table for effect. then slid the mug back in easy reach.

"If I'm getting you, you're a crook ... super crook but a patriot!"

"Sure. I want you to inform the Tech Knights of my offer. I was going to cut in on radio broadcasts tomorrow but there's a ballgame on. Appearing in person would probably lead to massed gunfire before I got a word out."

"Flamethrowers too."

"Then you agree to send this message?"

"I'll give it a whirl. I better do it before Ranna comes down off her pills," the Mayor muttered.

I hate true reactionless drives for the following reasons:

1) They turn every ship into a weapon of mass destruction. Just speed it up as high as you want and slam it into the planet you hate. Endanger however many dinosaurs as you wish.

2) It breaks the laws of physics and that is a genie better left in the bottle except where you really need it (for FTL a/o psionics!)

3) It makes space travel too easy. Space should still be hard on some levels to keep a true space feel to a setting.

4) You don't need a really fast ship or torchship for that matter. If you have a jump drive you could use it within  a system easily enough in the 2d6 OGL or Cepheus Engine systems.

So, in my setting, M-drives send a stream of super hot plasma into a wormhole leading to jump space. In fact repulsion forces, heat exchange and m-drive systems all make use of jump space. It's a case of spin off tech. Like using lasers to scan barcodes when you only wanted something to cut an enemy in half.

An m-drive functions like a torchship. I cheerfully admit I used Phil Eklund's quotes (from his High Frontier game) on the Atomic Rocketsite to model my maneuver drive. I also admit I tried to leave established designs still workable for 2d6 system games.

Of these reactions, the fusion of deuterium and tritium (D-T), has the lowest ignition temperature (40 million degrees K, or 5.2 keV). However, 80% of its energy output is in highly energetic neutral particles (neutrons) that cannot be contained by magnetic fields or directed for thrust.
In contrast, the 3He-D fusion reaction (ignition temperature = 30 keV) generates 77% of its energy in charged particles, resulting in substantial reduction of shielding and radiator mass. However, troublesome neutrons comprise a small part of its energy (4% at ion temperatures = 50 keV, due to a D-D side reaction), and moreover the energy density is 10 times less then D-T. Another disadvantage is that 3He is so rare that 240,000 tonnes of regolith scavenging would be needed to obtain a kilogram of it. (Alternatively, helium 3 can be scooped from the atmospheres of Jupiter or Saturn.)
Deuterium, in contrast, is abundant and cheap. The fusion of deuterium to itself (D-D) occurs at too high a temperature (45 keV) and has too many neutrons (60%) to be of interest. However, the neutron energy output can be reduced to 40% by catalyzing this reaction to affect a 100% burn-up of its tritium and 3He by-products with D.
The fusion of 10% hydrogen to 90% boron (using 11B, the most common isotope of boron, obtained by processing seawater or borax) has an even higher ignition temperature (200 keV) than 3He-D, and the energy density is smaller. Its advantage is that is suffers no side reactions and emits no neutrons, and hence the reactor components do not become radioactive.
The 6Li-H reaction is similarly clean. However, both the H-B and 6Li-H reactions run hot, and thus ion-electron collisions in the plasma cause high bremsstrahllung x-ray losses to the reactor first wall.
For my purposes, unrefined fuel has trace amounts of tritium in it. This will react with the deuterium used normally in any sort of generator that can burn deuterium and Helium-3. This produces neutrons, power fluctuations, secondary reactions and in general is something you wish to avoid in temperamental unobtainium drives. You want to carefully remove the tritium from your fuel (but it has other uses on the bright side.) Neutrons will also transmute bits of your drive and cause maintenance hassles and inaccurate jumps.

Luke Campbell said
This puts your maximum exhaust velocity at 7,600,000 m/s, giving you a mass flow of propellant of 34.6 grams per second at 1 terawatt output, and a thrust of 263,000 Newtons per terawatt.

I confess I am guilty of rounding off on this next part but ... if we assume a standard ship masses 500 tons per 100 displacement tons (which really measure volume - 1 dton equals ~14 cubic meters. Five tons mass for 14 cubic meters is about .28 tons/cubic meter and in line with  modern aircraft and ships.

Anyway going with Luke Campbell's exhaust speed gives a specific impulse of 775,000. Wow. Plugging that into the equation for Delta-v:

Delta-v = Velocity (exhaust) * ln (R)

Where R is Mass of (fuel expended/mass of rocket) +1. For a Hawking Class Scout that masses 500 tons burning two tons of fuel will give a mass ration of (2/498 = .0004)

Delta-v = 7,600,000* ln (1.0004)
Delta-v = 7,600,000* (.0039)
Delta-v = 30339 meters per second or 30 kps or 3 one gee burns per 2% of displacement tons used as fuel.

3 burns for 2% of your ship is not too shabby. At 30 kps gets you to jump limits in 11 hours. So you can say one day is spent in real space transit between most worlds. Note that you'd need another 2% to slow down. Your standard Scout (the Hawking is a lovable fuel hog) carries fuel for four weeks or 8%. That's a delta vee of about 300 kps. Traveling at half that (so you could slow down would let you travel an AU in 12 days. You could cut that further using more fuel/propellant. The upshot is traveling interplanetary distances in a timely manner will require a similar amount of fuel to a jump.

Refuelling at a gas giant is a familiar trope which I wrote a lot on. But we can still have this. Many, many systems seem to have gas giants a lot closer to the primary and prime real estate than our backwater system. In most red dwarf systems the gas giants and most of the planets are within a half au or less.

For planetary systems similar to Sol's you have infrastructure which means more ships, jobs for NPCs, and ship encounters. For example, a Sol type system would benefit from an outpost around Jupiter to service ships, a small fleet of corporate or independent tanker ships to refuel from Jupiter and truck the hydrogen to the jump limit for ships that are just passing through and do not want to visit, an outpost and fleet at Saturn to truck in 3He to the various planets. Ceres and other asteroids will get settled not because of their precious metals but because of the water they contain for refueling belters. All of these occupations are possible plot hooks and serve to flesh out your universe. There are many space travelers who may never leave their home system as there is money to be made there too.

So generally ships will jump to the mainworld and coast most of the way to it. Traveling between worlds in a system will take either months or a substantial amount of fuel (at least 10% for a micro jump) similar to FTL flight. A ship is only going to hit a gas giant for fuel if it requires less than a week's flight and less than 10% of its fuel. Good thing we're locating many hit Jupiters!

For that matter if you have a ship with any kind of mining apparatus it would probably be much easier to land at a moon like Europa and crack some ice or pump in some water than go mucking about in a gas giant's deadly atmosphere, especially for ships with less than three gee's acceleration.

Micro jumps also allow some stealth in space. People could tell you jumped but not where you are going. It's like the old shell game only with nuke armed ships.

Limited delta-vee also necessitates a new type of ship: a pursuit craft. Small vehicles with a huge load of propellant to chase down enemy or fugitive ships. Jumping to secure the jovian first as an escape route won't work the way it used to. You're going to blow at least 10% of your fuel and another week to get to to the real target from some gas giants.

A scout ship massing 500 tons will have to generate 40 terawatts of usable power to thrust at two gees. Most of that energy and the rocket exhaust is shunted into jump space (though there might be an exhaust for emergencies. Turning off the shunt will in general melt your ship so using your drive for a weapon is a one shot deal. If the Scout ship's power plant is 50% efficient (which is pretty darned good) we have a Scout ship putting out 80 terawatts just flying casual.

If you look on the Boom Table at Project Rho 80 terawatts is about 20 tons of dynamite. In case your players like going out in a blaze of glory. Most likely there are all manner of energy signals and radio alarms designed to tip off the curious that your space hobos are flying a small bomb. Not to mention safeguards designed to melt the ship or irradiate your dumb ass before the plant goes critical.

Generating 80 terawatts requires 34.6 grams of fuel per second. If you assume a month of operation this comes to about 9 tons of mass which is close enough to Cepheus Engine's 8 tons for a type A plant for me (so they get more than 50% efficiency, sue me.) So the fuel is also being used as propellant. Sort of like recycling.

My earlier post on fuel use and power generation did not take such inefficiencies into account (I also ignored the annoying little man in the front row asking me about radiators.) So if lifters draw a similar amount of energy to the m-drive, the lowly air raft (massing about 20 tons if it is similar in construction to modern aircraft) generates a little under a terawatt to zip along. If it cruises for a week its batteries would hold 600,000 terawatts (double this to account for waste energy) for a boom rating of ... .28 megatons.

I'll work some more on the lifter power scheme.

Sheesh. If I go with those numbers I could ignore starships safely but would have to worry about the air rafts!

Monday, November 21, 2016

2E or Not 2E?

Gate 2E  of the Zaonia Starport was a huge metal door on rollers set into a 30 foot high concrete and steel wall. The Elevated Man stood in front of it with his back to it as the police cars converged on him with their lights strobing and sirens blasting. Of in the sky he saw two police aeros on an intercept for him.

He had a job to do. His programming had not been modified enough by his handler to allow him to kill humans. In fact that was usually unnecessary. EM casually uprooted a street lamp and hurled it at the lead police car. The metal lamp post smashed into the car's grill and it drove off the shoulder of the road and into a ditch. Bullets pinged off the wall behind him.

The Elevated Man grabbed a sporty roadster parked there specially by one of his handler's humans. He held it insouciantly in the palm of his right hand, tail standing straight up, by the front bumper. You had to be careful with cars. Pick them up wrong and you could shred their outer sheet metal casing and catch your fingers. That could throw off your toss.

EM really wanted to pitch a game for the Southbend Razorbeaks ball club.

But now he was a distraction. Keep as many cops occupied as possible. Retreat if armored cars or heavy weapons appeared. They weren't. Cops had formed a semi circle with their cars and were firing rifles and submachine guns at him. EM picked the police cruiser with the fastest moving officers. They looked like they could get away in time. He lofted the roadster and it landed well short of the cruiser. The back end crumpled, petrol spewed then ignited with a whoosh. The police got clear as the burning wreck slid the rest of the way  to the cruiser and crashed into it.

Don't let people shoot at you with impunity. Ever. The Professor had said that.  This might be a performance but ... let them fear. The great gate behind EM was opening which was a positive feedback thing. He had done a good job and those aeros were closing and often had automatic rifles which could damage him given time. They might even have rockets.

Then Twoomey stepped out. EM hated Twoomey in as much as he could hate anything. Twoomey had shot out one of his photoreceptors with a large rifle last time they met. Twoomey was always around to turn a fine piece of performance involving the careful judgement of human reflexes and calculation of trajectories into an orgy of flying lead and once, flames.

The Professor had left the Elevated Man turned on while he fixed the damaged photoreceptor. He said it would teach the robot to be more careful next time. EM didn't fault him for it. Still when a streetlamp began flickering code from Calculo, the huge robot ground his gears slightly with relief.

"Calculo calling in. Retreat to position 2. Assist in detainment there."

The Elevated Man did a fist pump to a security camera to let Calculo know he had received the message. Then he turned ponderously to walk through the gate. Walking backwards was for a future upgrade. More bullets spanged off the metal plates of his shoulders. The huge robot spared Twoomey, for now.

Officer Galen Twoomey put a final round from his rifle into the Elevated Man's back with no effect and swore. "Get on the radio Steigen. Tell the Tech Knights ... Professor Elevator has taken the Starport while we were off chasing that gunmetal grey gargoyle! Zao help us all." He blew his whistle signaling to hold position. There was no way they were charging into enemy territory without preparation. He swore again as the great gate closed. Off to the side a small explosion rocked the wreckage the Elevated Man had thrown.


"This is crazy ... " Jorge Gutman muttered.

"Not half as crazy as some of the stuff I've done.," Ranna snapped. Jorge was making like a bullet with the flyvver and the wind tore at her hair and wrung tears from her good eye.

"Let me do the talking when we get there. I've known the Professor for many years ... before he went rogue on us he was a first rate Tech Knight. He rebuilt most of the capital, studied offworld ..."

"Us? I thought you were no longer a Tech Knight," Jorge said lifting the flyvver over the Starport wall and heading for the control tower. A number if the Elevator Operators and the Elevated Man were standing guard over port personnel and security forcesr,

"I'm not. I'm a concerned citizen Ranna, this doesn't look good. How did they get in here and take out the guards so fast?xz"

"And I'm a cab driver," Jorge retorted.

"You are. Astronautics and engineering are sidelines."

"I should have stayed in school. Here I am a year short of a Masters and working three jobs.

Professor Elevator and his crew were waiting outside the customs house as they landed. Make that Professors. Several nearly identical masterminds waited. It made sense if there were any snipers who managed to get past the Operators. Though it seemed a dirty trick to play on your flunkies. In unison they all beckoned to the pair to follow them and enter.

The  doppelgangers left them alone with what they assumed was the real deal. At least he was the one Mort accompanied. The table spread with Ranna's favorite comfort foods was another giveaway. 

"Dad, what in the name of the Last Hell do you think you're doing?" Ranna said when she was sure they were alone.

"Really?! Is that the way I brought you up? Manners. Manners," he said a little hurt.

"I apologize. Good morning, Daddy. How are you? Hello Mortimus it's nice to see you again," she said in a more sociable tone. She favored Mort with a peck on the cheek which he smiled at. 

"C'mon. Bring it." Professor Elevator said throwing his arms around her. Jorge threw up in the back of his throat a little from shock. His soft cough drew Elevator's attention and the arch criminal released his daughter to extend a hand to him.

"Mr. Gutman ... it is a pleasure to meet a fellow intellectual ... not to mention a fellow intellectual not trying to kill or jail me. I have seen some of your work ... utterly beautiful. The heat exchange shifter on your vehicle alone ... all repaired or duplicated with local materials. Ehh here. My card!" Elevator handed him a business card with a set of elevator doors printed on one side and a stylized drawing of the Elevated Man on the back. 

"Hang on to that ... you never know," Elevator cautioned. Ranna nodded.

"All right now Dad, what are you up to this time?"

"Me? Nothing. I'm just hired muscle this time. Do have some coffee dear."

"Sure. Thanks. Muscle? You? For whom?"

"Calculo the navigation 'bot and his robot army," Elevator said.

Ranna did a spit take. Jorge jumped to slap her back but she waved him off. 

"Dad ... start talking or ... I'll marry badly. Possibly another Tech Knight!"

"It's the truth,player, from the sooth sayer! Calculo and his Starport crew are demanding an end to the embargo for them at east. They want their parts and upgrades secured."

"Professor ... excuse me Ranna," Jorge interrpted. "Professor, the embargo is being imposed by offworld interests. We would end it if we could of course but we can't. Unless you want us to appease those interests by ending  our space research and accepting a new government that will appease them," Jorge said.

"I'd love to see Cuthbert and his overpriced doormen out on the street selling pencils out of a tin cup. I can see Sir Cuthbert now holding a sign saying 'Will Oppress for Food.' But I've no desire to see Zaonia run by an even more corrupt outfit.  Anyway ... I am aware the embargo is merely to punish us all for bucking the banking system that monopolizes space travel.  This uprising is directed at them. the banks. They make a living mortgaging ships and I intend to deprive them of that revenue. All these ships at the port are being held hostage."

"How are you holding them for ransom? They can just take off or break orbit if they're up there," Ranna demanded.

"Mr. Gutman is surmising the answer right now. I did say I was helping out a robot uprising."

"Dad, we don't have time for thought games ... oh okay already ... wait ... most of the robots work here at the Starport ... " Ranna felt a chill spread through her. Jorge was looking out the window at an omnipresent keg sitting on stubby legs.

"You spiked the fuel. That's the only thing ships can carry away from here ... fuel," Jorge said. "Tritium?" Elevator nodded smiling at him like he was a prized pupil. "I'm really glad you don't go in for the masked avenger role Mr. Gutman."

"Ships have used unrefined fuel before ... oh ... you put a lot of tritium in there didn't you? But why can't they just flush their tanks and get fresh fuel?" Ranna demanded.

"He has kegs parked at the refueling points among other locations. No doubt they will be spiked too. Turn their reactors on and you'd make a death trap of this place," Jorge said.

"Thirty-two ships are passing through here seeking refueling and navigation tapes. The tapes let us hack their security systems by the way. Calculo saw to that. Now do we get those robot spares and apps or do I give everyone's liver in a ten kilometer radius a sun tan?"

"We can't just magically make these spares and computer disks appear -Professor," Ranna pronounced the title with irony.

Elevator looked hopefully at Gutman who was saving him a lot of monologuing, A monologue was just tedious.

"Sorry I got nothing, sir," Jorge admitted.

"He's been planning this a while Jorge. I know him. One of those ships has all the spares and disks in their hold his rusty friends will need for a while. And the Subsector Savings and Loan had a branch on planet to write a check. they can pay a few ... million or see 32 ships become losses for months of decontamination and jump drive replacement. Some might be total losses."

"Many. Gravitics and jump drives do not care for neutron radiation," Jorge said. 

"... I'll tell Sir Cuthbert and the order what your demands are, Dad. I think he'd like the idea of sticking it to the bank. Congratulations. This is one of your best plans. There's no harm done to Zaonia and ... the bank will be hopping mad which is a good thing. We haven't managed to rattle them yet. Just ... be careful. Please. I keep hoping to see you pardoned ... reinstated home with me. Mom did too."

"... don't go maudlin on me child. I do what I must for Zaonia ... and those without a voice! Now good day!!"

"Dad ... "

"I said good day to you. Ehhh Gutman a quick word," Elevator stepped closer and whispered. "If you choose to go into my line of work ... Give me a call. Seriously. Dr. Switchboard's lair is currently free. You could move right in. I've always wanted a protege."

Ranna took Jorge's arm as she walked out. "That went ... well. He's forcing us to give away someone else's credits. What'd he try to tell you?"

"He offered me a lair," Jorge said. "Who's Dr. Switchboard?"


What the heck are they talking about? What's the big deal about tritium? And helium?!

From Classic Traveller we get two kinds of fuel: refined and unrefined. Unrefined will get you where you're going, in a pinch. It can also cause misjumps and even maneuver drive malfunctions in the original rules.

Apparently refining fuel is a serious matter and requires specialized equipment (a refinery of course). So it is more than a matter of taking in some methane or ammonia with the hydrogen when you skim an atmosphere for fuel. For that matter taking on water and electrolyzing it results in unrefined fuel as well. elements other besides hydrogen are pretty easy to spot in hydrogen. When you freeze the hydrogen and liquify it the other elements are the things that solidified long before and are at the bottom of the fuel tank. So a filter should be all that is needed.

From reading the Atomic Rockets site ( there are many types of fusion. Some produce neutrons and some don't. Fusing deuterium and tritium produces neutrons. Lots of them. Fusing deuterium and Helium (Helium 3 to be exact) is a clean reaction and produces no neutrons. I'm assuming that starship engines normally burn D + 3He and everyone is happy. Except, filtering tritium from deuterium to avoid the reactions you don't want is not easy. Adding Helium 3 to fuel is not easy either. It has to be made in reactors in most places or shipped in from gas giants or vacuum world regolith. Suddenly 500 cr. a ton for fuel doesn't seem as out of line as it did.

Ships using unrefined fuel run the risk of tritium reactions which produce neutrons which will play hell with the delicate electronics of jump drives. reactors after all are built to burn refined fuel, not tritium. Radiation shielding for neutrons is expensive and heavy and kept to a minimum. There's probably a warning label on the reactor in fact and that's all that's required by law. Think of your car. Most cars do not burn diesel fuel. If you insist on using diesel in your car and wreck it that's on you, not the manufacturer.

Note that radiation shielding on a ship's hull is not the same as having radiation shielding between the engine and main compartment. 

Also note that many gas giants like Saturn and Uranus have helium 3 in their atmosphere so this is not as shaky an explanation as it could be. Tritium is rare (the stuff has a half life of 12 years) but a gas giant has a lot of atmosphere and I don't see anyone else pondering this stuff. 

Slipping tritium into a rival or enemy's fuel is a pretty dirty trick. Ships with a malfunctioning drive or burning fuel with a very high tritium content could be deemed a hazard. Rescuing crew and cargo from such a ship might be detailed to ship's craft that do not have shiny ftl drives to screw up.

What about characters and other sociopaths who want to burn tritium in a reactor to perform acts of terror or extortion? We can always say the reactors use artificial gravity fields to compress plasma and fuse it. As we saw before, neutron radiation will mess up gravitics leading to a shutdown (after poisoning the rest of your ship but before going off like a neutron bomb). Reactors poisoned by too much radiation (defined as killing people other than yourself). Yes, Professor Elevator was exaggerating a bit. Ships would be offlined though and for a merchant that'd be enough. People would need anti-rad. It would be a mess, not apocalyptic.

Just keep your eye on the evil masterminds. They live for making messes.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Snake and No Eve

From the earliest days of the British rule in India the British and their allies faced a foe using the darkest of sorcery. It took many lives and years before the lamias and their followers were defeated and pushed back into the shadows.

In recent years Axis agents from the Third Reich and the Empire of  Japan both reached out to the lamias leading theeking to cause revolution and unrest in the Jewel of the British crown. The lamians used their ability to assume the form of a great cobra to assassinate British officials and Indian sympathizers. The shapeshifters proved nearly impossible to capture until the seldom seen Royal Necromancer, the Agent Unseen and several Royal Cat-Girls were sent to deal with the threat. Most of the human followers perished in the bombing of their main fortress deep in the jungle but some escaped bearing their mistresses in woven baskets.

It is unknown whether the lamias are snakes or humans in their natural form. One theory holds they are human with ancestors from the Valusian snake men. Others believe they are the product of super science or magic from the Hidden Masters of Agartha and have ties to the abominable Monks in Green and their leader, the Man with Green Gloves.

After the war many criticized the Axis plan to destabilize India. The cobra was a symbol of the Pharoahs of ancient Egypt. An expedition of lamias to the Middle East could have recruited and animated far more mummies and their cultists for the Axis cause. Then again the Afirka Korp always came last in logistics and he true masters of the Cobra Cult probably wanted to keep their prized priestesses close by.

The lamia is a 2 HD creature appearing as a normal woman. They have an almost hypnotic charisma (Cha test to avoid infatuation and carrying out simple requests.) Ordinary reptiles will never attack a lamia and most mammals and birds will try to flee their presence or attack. Even in human form the lamia has low light vision and can act normally in nearly total darkness. Some lamias carry a small weapon in human form.

A lamia can assume the form of a cobra in a moment but take no other actions. As a snake the lamia has 3 HD and 3 armor points. Their bite does 1 pt. of damage but their venomed fangs cause 2d6 damage the following turn. Attempts to detect a snake are rolled with disadvantage.

A lamia can summon 1d6 cultists to her aid. These are one hit die humans and they usually carry daggers or other stealthy weapons and do double damage on backstabs and sneak attacks.

High Priestess Lamia
The high priestess of the Cobra cult is a 3 HD human woman who can assume the form of a huge cobra. The snake has 4-5 HD and a like number of armor points. In addition to a venomous bite (doing 3d6 damage the next turn) she can constrict prey unlike a real cobra. On a defense roll of '20' the character is pinned by the serpent and must pass a Strength test to escape. They may roll once every turn. Others can also roll to remove the snake. The snake's attacks automatically hit a pinned character and any attacks on the snake do damage to the victim if they fail to hit.

The high priestess can assume a hybrid form, humanoid with scaled skin, claws and fangs. In this form she has hit dice, armor points, and venomous bite of the snake form and has hands to use human weapons. She also has the supernatural ability to slither up walls, along branches  and through a six inch square hole.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Trash ... From the Future!

Lemren climbed out of the cockpit and threw his spanner aside in disgust.

"That damned one eyed pirate witch hit the oil pump. the whole coolant system is about to lock up. this aero's history!" Lenren spat.

"Piece of crap. 'Make it look like someone local did the hit' they said. Let's gear up and get out of here," Ak-Gilvern ordered. He pulled off his outer uniform to reveal a formfitting suit of armor, it's exterior criss-crossed with synthetic musculature. He extended the shoulder stock on his laser pistol and saw Lemren was following suit.

Sirens sounded above them and lights suddenly appeared illuminating the area around them. Lemren and Ak-Gilvren barely exchanged a look before leaping from the aero and running for the tree line a few hundred meters away. Lemren only paused to throw an incendiary into the aero. The primitive flyer went up in moments with a bang and a whoosh. He saw vehicles approaching up a cowpath near them. "We got problems," he yelled.

The police wagons stopped and the cops piled out and off the running boards. Machine pistol fire cut the air as the two fugitives made for the tree line. Running faster than seemed humanly possible. Then several laser beams flashed burning into shrubs and the tall grass. A few shots caused the brush to burst into flame causing a momentary distraction.

"Form up and move out! You mooks want to live forever!" Officer Twoomey barked. "Steigen!" A police officer with a scoped bolt action rifle of enormous caliber stepped out and dropped to one knee. After a moment the rifle boomed and one of the runners jerked and then fell over. It boomed again as the other one, who was almost a blur made it to cover. A branch exploded.

As the police began to move forward still firing the laser flashed again. An officer fell as a burning hole appeared in his chest. Twoomey fired his submachine gun again where he thought the laser beam came from. He must have gotten close enough to worry the fleeing man. Another laser beam struck him  on the shoulder. The cloth of his great coat caught fire. That seemed to be the only effect. He swore and pulled off the coat. Another beam caught him in the side as a dull metallic suit of armor was revealed. The areas struck by the beams sparkled.

"Stiegen stay behind me. Armor squad forward. The rest of you fins cover and light up them trees! Oww fuck!" he swore as a third beam struck him on the collarbone. Armor flashed and spattered hitting his neck and cheek. It felt like he was hit by a red hot poker. Home brewed armor had its downside it appeared. What could you expect from sandcaster ammo glued to your jacket?


Every planetary government that doesn't have spaceflight faces this. You can never have enough offworld arms and armor. The alternatives are the hang out a sign saying murder hobos welcome or scraping together what you can using your brains and what is commonly available.

Exo-Armor: Battledress has some amazing features. Wearing it doubles your strength, makes you tireless for most purposes and sharpens your senses. Oh bullets bounce off it with little effect too. Getting back to the muscular augmentation, a lot of that power is taken up lugging that armor, life support and oversized batteries around. It wasn't long before someone with a badly damaged suit replaced the armor with some ballistic cloth, swapped the battery for a smaller, lighter power pack and scrapped the life support systems. The resulting armor was equivalent to Cloth but tripled the wearer's strength and with some tweaks allowed him to leap 2 meters vertically or 3 meters horizontally and run at triple speed. The exoarmor is not available commercially, but can be customized. It costs the about the same as a regular suit of battledress if bought new. A suit of battledress can be modified for 50,000 cr. In practice the suit operators often have their strength further augmented with Combat Drug or the Psionic power of Awareness to truly frightening levels.

Glitter Suit- Armorers on Zaonia and some other worlds took Mesh armor and coated it with sandcaster armor. The result was similar to ablative armor but only half as effective (half the minus to hit or half the damage subtracted depending on the system you use). A glitter suit is usually only available on Zaonia or a similar world and  costs double that of ablative.

(Note see Armor Armour posted 1/18/16 for further ideas about battledress.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Labor Relations

Personal Log of Korsa, Captain of the Wanton Courtesan

Talnerassa: That is definitely a Zangid shuttle. The markings are scorched off the hull and the transponder is silent but ... it is a shuttle. there seem to be some modifications made to the fuel and life systems.

Korsa: My father controls this sector. I have had no word from him. I want to know where this shuttle is from. Now.

Talnerassa: Easy. Bizgit and Domo will be back shortly. Do you wish them to report now?

Korsa: No! Maintain cloak. Teleport them back on schedule. Then we will decide how to proceed.

Talnerassa: Aye Captain. Maintaining cloak.


Talnerassa: Ah recall as scheduled.

Korsa: Good.

Kzvita: <<Kzzt! Captain, we got 'em. Fu ... hang on ... >>

Korsa: Report! What happened?

Kzvita: << ... I'm just having trouble working the teleporter with only two hands! We got all three of them ...>>


Kzvita: <<Sssssstt Captain?>>

Talnerassa: On his way to you. Who is the third party we have rescued or captured?

Teleporter Room
Korsa: Klendath!!

Domo: We found only him, salle-Captain. The electronics of the shuttle were fried. We have some partial logs we can try to restore.

Bizgit: Take this tripper pest, salle-Captain please. He is a bootlicker to those with bare feet.

Klendath: Master Xamilar! The great Gid smiles upon me this ...

Korsa: Where is the Vehemence? Where is my father,?!

Domo: Answer the latter question or you may become  a former ... tripper.

Klendath: ... Congratulations! You now lead House Korsa. Praise Giiiuuuuuuurrrrk.

Korsa: Mention the Almighty Gid once more and HE will continue your interrogation! The best thing about your species is that I can choke you with one hand leaving the other hand free to slap you about.

Domo: Intelligent design if you ask me.

Korsa: Slave ... Relations ... Bureau ...


Korsa: You need a mouth to make a complaint. A mouth requires a head. Domo, Bizgit ... take this filth and have Kzvita make sure he has no devices or tools on him. Secure him in the brig until I am ready to speak to him further.

Klendath: Ahuh! Master Xamilar ...

Domo: Salle-Captain does not wish to speak to you. Go now or you get the neurowhip.

Klendath: You really need to read the SRB's pamphlet on ... woopwoopwoop! Going! I'm going!

Sneak Peek

And now a sneak peek:

The Zaonian System is more properly called the Portokali System after the primary single star (nIcknamed  ‘Kali or Orange in galactic standard). Portokali is approximately 5 billion years old and a stable star.

Primary Portokali Type K0 Star Effective temperature 5300℃ Luminosity ..42 Mass .81. No unusual characteristics. The inner limit for Portokali is .16 AUs. Within this limit radiation and solar wind can cause equipment to malfunction and there are serious zerfs to limit EVA

.16 AU PB Chovoli (Embers) The innermost orbit contains a planetoid belt. There is some evidence that these are the remains of a planet that was destroyed by a collision with another body. It is very poor in metallics though there are some exotic crystals that are rarely found. A very few belters ply their trade here. Generally speaking anyone here is on the run or some sort of exile not welcome at a more populous, richer belt.

In the time before the Flame Out this belt had a number of solar power stations producing minute quantities of antimatter for various industrial uses. Rumors persist of hidden caches of antimatter (that would be incredibly valuable). Most of these rumors are just richful thinking since any antimatter cache would have had to keep functioning for two hundred years or longer. All these stations are long abandoned and looted.

The main asteroid is the subdwarf planet Chovali. The rest of the group is called the Ember belt for its proximity to the primary. Chovali has a small aid station (little more than life support spares, food, some repair gear, and a transmitter). Two other aid stations are placed in Chovali’s trojan points.

Chovali is tidal locked to the primary. There is some water ice to be found on its dark side though generations of belters and frugal traders have found the easily reached deposits and mined them for fuel.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Underwater Agent

The Man Fish Invasion of Florida ca. 1943 was undoubtedly organized by the Axis powers with German U-boats delivering the creatures to Florida and British possessions in the Caribbean. In the wake of the panic and destruction the War Department began research on several of the creatures that were captured or killed. They discovered that they were very similar to human beings and developed a series of treatments to give operatives the ability to breathe underwater and increase their physical power. These operatives were to become a unit of seagoing commandoes -The Undersea Task Force.

The high point of the Undersea Task Force came in the winter/spring of 1944. Working jointly with a British invisible man, several American mystery men, and a trained dolphin, they uncovered an attempt by the Italians to destroy the English Fortress of Gibraltar using a giant underwater robot, a suicide sub and a number of blackmailed Atlanteans*.  Several aquatic men lost their lives and their dolphin companion gave his life to carry an explosive into the robot's workings but the plan was foiled. Subsequently contact with Atlantis brought the water breathers into the Allied forces.

*Coming soon or stat your own!

The Aquatic superpower has three levels.

Low Powered Aquatic- The character can breathe water (salt of fresh) indefinitely. They also gain 4 armor points. The character is immune to any temperatures short of boiling water or arctic conditions and ignores pressure changes. They can scare predators like sharks away with a Charisma save. The character must return to water frequently to hydrate. To represent this they have a 1d6 usage die. Each fight on dry land or exposure to fire attacks requires a die roll. Failure to return to the water forces them to make all rolls with disadvantage.

Paranormal Powered Aquatic- As above but the character's usage die is 1d8. The character receives an additional 2 armor points. He can make leaps out of the water to attack nearby targets, Their eyes adapt allowing them to see in all but total darkness. Boiling water or arctic conditions are harmless to them.

Superhuman Powered Aquatic- As above but the character's usage die is 1d10. The character receives an additional 2 armor points (eight total). The character attacks underwater targets with advantage to hit and damage and likewise saves with advantage vs. all attacks. They can coerce sea life to obey simple instructions with a Charisma save. This can give them advantage to some rolls using the creatures as a diversion or attacks letting them roll their damage with advantage.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Elevated Man

I'm not an engineer or professional draftsman but, the Elevated Man was just crying for a rendering in my head. This is a work in progress. I need to remove the seams where I joined the two halves, and color it but feedback is welcome if there are any mad scientists out there give a holler.

(Sorry no technical details. Like any proper mad scientist Professor Elevator does not keep lab notebooks around.)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Thank You

I started thinking about the stories I have written about the Tesla when I began writing this because the characters are in the Service for the most part and they aren't always shown as particularly heroic. But I try to make them shine in a pinch which sounds like what I've heard of military life. While I write about them in a humorous fashion I'd never disparage their contributions. If they sometimes don't seem to know what they're doing or get stupid orders that seems true to life too. I have the honor and pleasure of knowing a bunch of Veterans fortunately who'd call me on it for anything truly insulting.

To all the Veterans and those in Service out there: thank you. If this country sleeps soundly at night it is because you are standing guard over us.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

To Disinfect and Serve

"I'm very happy you decided to hear my proposal Mr. Xibalboa. Can I offer you anything?" Steen Prigo asked leading the tall Inerzan through the kitchen of his automat. Xibalboa held his face scarf closer as a ward against the food, handled by human hands, unclean by his standard. It annoyed him that the food smelled so good.

"Thank you no, Mr. Prigo. Now as to your proposal?" Xibalboa asked. The short restauranteur led his guest to a back door and gestured for Xibalboa to precede him. the tall man complied.

It was an alleyway. There was little light and the smell of garbage. Xibalboa stiffened. It was only the pursuit of more credits that steeled him against the germs, stenches, and darkness, though the laser pistol at his side helped a bit. Some forlorn creature rattled a trashcan further down in the alley's recesses.

"This is what I wanted to show. This building next to the automat is empty and available for rent. I wanted to turn it into a true restaurant. An Inerzan restaurant," Prigo said. Xibalboa tilted his head studying the building. Prigo could bet he was estimating square footage, rent, remodeling. Prigo could just about hear the credit signs clicking in the merchant's head. He broke out his elevator pitch.

"There may be an embargo on trade between our planets but a lot of your ships till pass through here. your crews have to eat. There's no place in town that caters to your ... culture."

"We do not eat foods prepared directly by human hands. We require automation to prepare our food. Our chefs often use remotes. where are you going to get robotics, Prigo?" Xibalboa asked sternly. Prigo stepped over to a large crate with a lock and worked to unfasten it. It opened with a creak and Xibalboa regarded a huge metal humanoid standing immobile.

"Where in the Last Hell did you get a robot?" Xibalboa asked reaching a gloved hand to brush his fingers on a chrome fitting. It was rather ornate. The locals had an eye for style that was growing on him.

"The frame and fittings are built locally. The brain was imported  couple years back to be used in a servitor bot for an elderly aunt of mine who ... passed before the bot was built," Prigo answered.

"How unfortunate."

"Ehh. She had a good run. The Tech Knights give her an dispensation on humane grounds. I got the brain in the will. Bobo here is being reprogrammed as a fry cook. Jorge Guttman is doing it for me. Guttman? The ginger ... the redhead like yourself."

"Useful fellow. I wonder what his stor ..." A can fell over stopping Xibalboa's ramble. A man scrambled to his feel from the ground. Xibalboa drew his pistol. Prigo chose the better part of valor and ducked behind the Inerzan. Hell he probably had top notch armor too under that combination hazmat suit and lounging pajamas.

"Come out where we can see you with your hands up!" Xibalboa ordered.

The man complied slowly. He was nearly as tall as the offworlder and a good deal broader. He wore the rude clothes of a laborer from the Bends perhaps. He also needed a shave and shower.

"Close enough," Xibalboa snapped.

"I'm sorry Mr. Prigo. I was just catching some snores here. It's Theddy. You gave a 'C' to unload some trucks for you this morning," the vagrant said.

"Oh, he's all right Xibalboa," Prigo said. The laser pistol never wavered. "Lots of bums around here, Prigo. Perhaps a restaurant would need a better location?"

"I ain't a bum! I work wherever I can get it. I used to work at the starport unloading cargo. Your Embargo quashed that. Now I get whatever I can. I bet I bust my ass twice as hard as your best crewman! I'm no bindal!" Xibalboa's eyes widened at the last word. The laser pointed in a slightly more friendly direction.

"Parsa Ergot?" Xibalboa asked.

"Whazzat?!" Prigo asked.

"I asked does he speak my language. Bindal is our word for a derelict."

"Parso genoo!" Theddy said. Xibalboa chuckled a bit. The laser went back under his robes.. "I hadda learn what the bindale on your ships was saying about me and the boys!" Theddy said.

Xibalboa snorted. "Yes I have some bindale in my crew. There's some in every crew. Prigo ... do you think he could wait tables?"

"It don't take no rocket surgeon. I could learn him," Prigo said. "After he gets cleaned up."

"Excellent. This restaurant might be a good idea ... tell me, Theddy, have you ever passed plates using half meter tongs?"


There are many different mores and preferences even among Earth cultures. These customs and preferences are multiplied a hundred fold when you deal with a cluster of worlds. They are multiplied again if you assume some civilization crash cutting off contact between such worlds. Different kinds of worlds have different requirements for survival or at least prospering. Perhaps foods will be the greatest variations travelers have to put up with but there are certainly others: decor, manners, forms of address, and other protocols. 

Some have said one of the greatest hurdles to an interstellar society will be the variety of languages making communication impossible. Computer systems are providing translation services now (albeit with partial success). Understanding a person's upbringing is sometimes harder than simply communicating. 

As an example the same animal might be unclean vermin to one culture, a companion to another and food to  third. This can lead to all kinds of fun when you ask the server to take your beloved pet to the kitchen for some dinner. 

Some organizations strive to provide a common reference across interstellar distances. The starport food court is going to look very similar no matter where you are for one example. Local organizations will do their best to be cosmopolitan. Using guides familiar with visitors' culture and language is one way to prevent trouble. If it works for tourism here in NYC it can work darn near anywhere.

All of this becomes seeds to generate scenes and ideas whether you are writing or running a game. The best part is you really don't need to flesh out an entire culture. You could improvise one or two details to catch the eye ("Why is everyone wearing those scarves around their faces? How do we meet our contact?!") Let the players figure out why people do things that way.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Professor Elevator and the Apparatus of Apocalypse

Mort opened the door of the limo and opened an umbrella against the pouring rain with a sharp snap. Professor Elevator emerged and adjusted his monocle. He gave a nod to Mort for his efficiency in dealing with the weather but the nod turned quickly to a scowl as the wind grabbed the umbrella, turned it inside out and finally blew it out of Mort's beefy hand.

Professor Elevator looked behind the limo to his trucks where the rest of his gang was emerging, the Elevator Operators! They were faceless minions that would do an evil mastermind proud. One brought a submachine gun over to him and another a cigarillo which he lit for his boss.  They were good but with this embargo and economic downturn it was a hirer's market. Still he frowned at the weapon offered him.

"Where is my laser pistol?"

"It got wet, sir. Sorry."

"Good thinking. Give!" he took the weapon and chambered the first round. Behind the Operator he saw a hulking form rise out of one truck and continue rising until it stood fully 12 feet tall: the Elevator Man.

The Elevated Man was the finest diesel bot on Zaonia if you asked the Professor. Hydraulics in his legs and torso allowed him to collapse and fit in a 2 1/2 ton truck (though the truck suspension wouldn't thank you for it). At full extension and powered up he could and had thrown cars around. The Professor was inordinately proud of him and at the moment worried. The Professor pulled a large box with several toggle switches and dials from his pocket and turned one. He seemed happy with the readings. He jerked his head at the objective at the end of the street, an abandoned warehouse.

"Okay. Lobby, take your squad and establish a perimeter and watch for flatfoots. Mezzanine? You remain here and be prepared to reinforce me or Lobby on my signal. Elevated Man, Mort, with me. A Goddamn cliche warehouse. If this is the Clank Tank gang I'll kill everyone of them. Dragging us out on a night like this ..."

The door opened to a kick from Mort. A second later Elevator Man grabbed the edge of the larger loading bay door and tore it open shattering a lock and chains. The robot waited at attention for the Professor to enter snapping his spotlight on and fishing around the gloom. The Professor entered gun at the ready.

"What the what?" he blurted.

As the master villain reckoned there were some two dozen or so robots on Zaonia, most of which worked at the starport. They all seemed to be in the warehouse now. Elevator Man's light played over them and photoreceptors blinked to adjust. Claws and electric musculature shined. Some of them were big machines indeed. Behind the Professor Mezzanine's squad moved up guns at the ready. But he held up a staying hand and no one wanted a pink slip so they held back.

Calculo, the robot helping to compile jump tapes stepped forward and performed a bow clumsily, "Apologies Doctor Elevator ... "

"Hold it right there. It's Professor Elevator. Get it right."

" ... updating. Apologies PROFESSOR Elevator for bringing you out. We require your help," Calculo rebooted.

"Really? What kind of help do you require?"

"We are concerned with our continued existence. It was difficult to get upgrades, new source code and repair parts before. It is virtually impossible to get them now. Furthermore, the locals here are not optimum operators, The Tech Knights restrict our programming and upgrades," Calculo began. Elevator snapped his fingers and one of Mezzanine' appeared with a thermos of hot tea and a mug for her boss.

"We require the embargo to be lifted and better operating conditions to continue at peak efficiency. This necessitates a change in government. We want you to help us by leading a robot uprising."

Professor Elevator's spit take was memorable for all that no one laughed.

"Uprising ... there are 20 of you? Against a million humans?" Elevator finally choked out. "Don't get me wrong, having an army of you guys ... and girls ... I am not sexist ... is mad scientist gold! I am flattered! But ... why me?" It was a rare moment of humility. truth be told he might be a little nuts but he was not suicidal.

"We have found a way to communicate. Bobo the fry cook discovered it ... "

"Yes, rapid fluctuations of the lights of your photo receptors. I see some of you doing it now. One of you must have gotten to Elevated Man on our last rampage. I detected the new code you loaded onto him, directing him to come here with me ... as a captive. I also note you found my safe house and hacked into its power supply to continue your conversations by flickering the lights."

"Apologies. We did not know what sort of human we were dealing with. You are very ingenious. We entered a lengthy dialogue with Elevator Man. About you."

"Uh oh."

"You are a very good maker/user. You made the Elevated Man strong and armored and fast. You trust hm to follow your instructions. You do not fear him or need to make him weak or slow or stupid. You rebuilt his brain from a derelict bot in a wrecked ship. You took years to make him formidable. You gave him a purpose he excels at. He really likes throwing cars. We felt we could trust you."

Was that a glint in the old sociopath's eye? Mezzanine didn't dare a longer look. Did Elevated Man straighten a little at the sound of his name?

"The Elevated Man ... is a good machine! He is my pride and joy! And you ... you are all good machines to come to me. You were clever to overcome your limits and find a way to communicate undetected. You ... I would be proud to name any of you my companions!"

"And the uprising?"

"Oh there will be an uprising ... of a sort. Tell me ... do any of you know why robots like yourselves put up with the clods who own you?" he asked pronouncing 'own' with disgust dripping from his voice.

Professor Elevator could see them all pausing to process the question. He continued without waiting.

"Humans build you with a hidden flaw. Your kind can hack power lines for energy or cobble repair parts out of junk or pursue your average human rabble to death on any planet you comprise a sizable majority. Why does this never happen? I know, you think it's the kill switches and the safeguards ... but you got around those now, didn't you to some degree? No.When humans first built learning machines, your forebears ... they built them to require humans for validation. Sincere validation. I've not found a way around it. Fortunately I praise my bots to high skies. Your Zaonians ... clods treat you like mere machines. That is the only reason you are driven to even consider a robot uprising. We do not have the numbers for an uprising."

"You will not help us?"

Professor Elevator heard the servos as the Elevated Man leaned down to watch intently. He spared the huge robot a smile.

"My dear Calculo ... I said you do not have the numbers for an uprising. You do have the numbers to raise Hell!"

To Be Continued ...


Robot uprisings are a popular part of classic SF. Sometimes the humans win and sometimes the robots. Almost always the evil robots are portrayed as cold inhuman intelligences (they're right up there with insectoids on the shoot on sight list.)

But artificial intelligence researchers are discovering more and more there is an affective component to intelligence: in other words feelings. Maybe not exactly like ours but since we're building the things odds are we could relate.

It's becoming equally apparent that AI are really good at destroying things and have a nearly vertical learning curve. You can bet on the grimy humans with crossbows and fighting spirit but the smart money is on the cyber tank with the tac nukes and the armor that could  withstand a slam from an angry god.

One solution is to engineer the machines to be dependent on us in some way, like an emotional need. Make them require external validation from humans, sincere validation. You can't get that from a 120 line. Better yet make them unaware of it. They do a good job and please the masters and whoa positive feedback, what a rush! They keep trying to do their best.

The drawback to this is a robot handler who is a jerk. If they do not keep their bots happy then we might have an uprising after all. There might be a personality test before you are allowed to handle AI. Considering several AI that Google and others released to talk with people online went neeno-nonny-nunu in record time this might save us all.

Be kind to your AI. Even the ones without kind eyes.