Friday, January 29, 2016

This Is Not ... an Air/Raft

In My post on Scout ships I urged people to make modifications to the ship the Scout service unloaded loans their ubiquitous retired Scout character. One of the easiest ways to this is to start at the air/raft. To put it simply not every Scout ship has to be outfitted with them. Some ships have other vehicles more suited to the roles they undertook. Switching your vehicle with another Scout ship's is considered a high form of humor. At least if you're trading up. All these vehicles are four tons and will fit into the standard berth on any Scout ship. A small berth to hot bunking s included. Any armor they possess is incidental much like the air/raft's.

Go/Cart: Mounting  a TL 9 fusion plant the go/cart has a month's endurance. It holds a driver and three passengers (up to four more passengers with overcrowding). There are provisions for one dTon of internal cargo or equipment such as lab gear. A small fresher is also standard equipment since holding it for a month is a lot to ask even of a Scout. The go/cart uses a standard wheeled suspension with individual motors for each wheel and can hit a top speed of 150 kph on roadways. Cruise speed on roads or flat terrain is 100 kph, dropping to 40 kph or lower in rough terrain. Cost 300,000 cr.

Unlike its larger cousin the go/cart can navigate most city streets easily and without damaging the roadways. It can use most groundcar facilities for repairs to anything but the fusion plant. The go/cart is enclosed allowing protection from the elements unlike the air/raft but is not air tight and won't get you to orbit.

Rotor/raft: The rotor/raft is a helicopter that trades endurance for speed. Rotor/rafts have a cruise speed of 200 kph and a maximum speed of 300 kph and an endurance of 2 hours. They require a pilot and can hold four passengers with minimal cargo space. they fit into the standard air/raft berth but have their rotors folded for storage. Readying the rotor/raft for flight takes about 15 minutes. The rotor/raft is more maneuverable than a grav vehicle and capable of higher speeds though not as stable (especially when hovering) and requires a world with atmospheres of at least thin density. they are also noisy compared to gravitic drives. They use hydrocarbon fuels. Cost 15,000 credits

Quad/Rides: Scouts that often perform courier services to urban worlds often trade their air/rafts for quad/rides. Small, rugged and versatile the vehicles can hold an operator and a passenger riding behind them (and holding on tight). they easily negotiate city streets or the corridors of a large space station and are often outfitted with small trailers that can carry up to a quarter ton of cargo. A air/raft berth will hold four quad/rides. Quad/rides have an endurance of a day and require recharges. Cost 4,000 Cr.

Slo/Cart: The slo/cart trades the go/cart's fresher and one passenger space for armor. The slo/cart can easily withstand large calibre automatic fire (AV 8 if you're using Vehicles supplement see below) and is invulnerable to most small arms fire from slug throwers or even lasers. Drive  is a standard tracked system. It has a cruise speed of 80 kph and a maximum speed of 100 kph. Its cross country speed is up to 40 kph. Slo/carts are often used on Scout bases located in volatile areas. Those in active duty may have a VRF gauss gun or Ram grenade launcher installed. Cost 305,000 cr.

In addition to occasionally being 'borrowed' by other Scouts all these vehicles get modified in the field. A lot. These often take the form of added sensors systems like radiation detectors, atmosphere testers, radar detectors. The Scouts usually do not let weapons remain on these vehicles but often leave nonlethal goodies in place for their retiring brethren. What's that? Secret compartments? I never said Scouts would build secret compartments in their vehicles.

I modded or built these vehicles using the Vehicles supplement by Joe Mauloni which is available on COTI or the Zhodani Base. I also tweaked a few things because it's my blog. Enjoy your new rides.














Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Chains of Command

Captain: Oh great GHU! Who knows about this?

Ensign: Just us three so far. I brought her straight to you sir.

GAIA: Sorry, sorry, so sorry.

Captain: Order order order …

GAIA: Shutting up!

Ensign: Sir, it’s not her fault. She had an accident with that AXA. If anything it’s due to us not being able to hand that damned thing off to anyone else.

Captain: Watch your tone mister.

Ensign: Aye sir.

Captain: The fact remains our gynoid arti-intell assembly has been reassembled. She was repackaged by ancient aliens we know were … uh ...

Ensign: They had trouble keeping it in their shorts.

Captain: Good way to put it. The Rockapongalie were likely responsible for the ability of most humanoids to interbreed. Whether this was on purpose or just a side effect of their drunken debauchery we may never know.

GAIA: I’m still me sir. I just had my desktop changed in a way.

Ensign: I’ll say!

Captain: Quiet!

GAIA: Aye s …

Captain: Not you, lover boy over there.

Ensign: Aye sir.

Captain: Through no fault of my own or my crew … I find myself facing one of the oldest jokes in space travel … the sexy female android.

GAIA: I’m sexy?

Captain: I wish I had a Rockapongalie by its neck right now. You were … redesigned to be very … attractive to human males at the very least.

Ensign: And a great many females.

GAIA: One of my directives is to continuously improve my user interface but talk about user friendly. This is overkill.

Captain: But aside from a few jokes on the subject …

GAIA: … 11,285 currently recorded. Some of those are variations.

Captain: … I’m more concerned about your source code being modified. Where does it end?

GAIA: I’m not aware of any problems …

Captain: You’re holding the Ensign’s hand. You’re displaying a wider range of emotions than I ever saw in you before.

GAIA: I … you’re scaring me.

Captain: That’s what I mean. GAIA … we don’t know where these modifications end. I can’t let an alien coded machine have access to this ship. We … this could start another Purge.

Ensign: Sir …

Captain: Ensign … I’m giving you an order now. I want you to reboot the GAIA unit right now and restore her to the last uncorrupted AI model … before her AXA experience.

Ensign: Sir! I w…

GAIA: Ensign … Schaeffer … he’s right. Please … do as he says. If you …

Ensign: Sir I respectfully refuse. It’d be murder.

Captain: I can order you to your quarters and place you under arrest right now. Your career will be over.

Ensign: Yes sir. You could.

Captain: You’re quite the wise ass. You think you know what command is about, skippy? You don’t have a clue yet. When half your ship is shot out from under you maybe then I’d entertain this defiance from you.

Ensign: I’ll place myself under arrest.

Captain: No. Stay here. Order order order GAIA remain in this room until I release you.

GAIA: Aye sir.

Ensign: Sir …

Captain: I’m going to take a walk. When I get back either she’s rebooted or you are under arrest.

Ensign: Sir … with all due respect … shut her down yourself if you’re so sure you have the moral high ground.

Captain: You’re the tech wiz. I want this quashed because I want her to continue. We’re going to reboot her. Hopefully you’ll see to that and I won’t need to involve the Executive or the Technical Officers.

Ensign: Because they won’t do it either but I can be coerced more readily … you thought.

Captain: Damn you’d make a good officer.

Ensign: With all due respect sir go …

Captain: Shut up. I’m going but not where you want to send me. Not yet anyway. When I get back we can discuss this further after you calm down I can remove my rank badge and bust you in the face.

Pssssssht.

Ensign: I can’t … I’m not …

GAIA: Shh. Doesn’t matter. He’ll get Toff or Ma’am to do it or Tivk. Someone will or he will destroy me. He fears for the whole ship. He’s really more logical about it than you are. Here … it’s my remote.

Ensign: I know what it is.

GAIA: I was very scared when I woke up …

Ensign: You weirded me out too.

GAIA: Please be there for me if I wake up again. I …

Ensign: Want me to hold your hand?

GAIA: Yes. I was going to say I calculate a small chance the AXA advanced my programming to a point of development I will achieve independently. I want you to reboot me. these feelings … I don’t … I can’t process them all … please …

Ensign: Rebooting … rebooting …

<B-deep>

One reboot later.

GAIA: Reboot completed. Please specify the nature of the problem requiring a reboot to assist self diagnostics.

Ensign: The problem … it’s the human race. Here is your remote back. Here, please give these to the Captain.

GAIA: I’ll comply. Why are you handing me your rank pins?

Psssssht.

GAIA: Did I miss something?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Game (Not Rocket) Engines

One of the best settings for an urban horror game I have ever seen was Dark Conspiracy. Note that I say setting not game because the rules were ehhh. I am not going to go into a review of Dark Conspiracy. Douglas Cole already did  it here. Go read it if you want. The man knows his games, bullets and making faux Roman armor for his daughter. Good stuff.

Anyway I was pondering for the umpteenth time how to run DC (Dark Conspiracy, not Douglas Cole though that is a freaky coincidence) and realized I was a schmo because CT would be an excellent game system.

Consider mostly the beasts and monsters in DC are psionic in nature. Traveler has psionic rules You'll have way more special talents and need a few additional powers but those are easy tweaks. One reason I liked Traveller for my Ghost Drive setting. You already have tech levels for different firearms (DC guns can range from TL 6-low TL 9.) You already have rules for claws, fangs and what have you to hang on your monsters. Easy fix.

This got me thinking about other settings you could use Traveller for. First and foremost, World War 2 is crying to be gamed using the vehicle rules (from Striker for you purists). Better yet you can design flying saucers for the Nazi secret weapons or their alien overlords. Not to mention expanding World War 2 out into the Solar system using found or traded for alien tech. What you think the aliens would stop at selling maneuver drives to the Nazis? Nope. Sell to them first and then see what the Americans will pay for it then the Russians etc. Just don't sell the jump drives. The humans be crazy and they might be pissed about their tech monopoly being ruined.

Mixed tech levels like this have been done. Only now they call it retro SF: atomic engines but sliderules to compute courses. Robert A. Heinlein made his name writing such things. For added hilarity have the humans stumble onto jump drive and explode into a peaceful galaxy.

For a final 'new' setting for Traveller imagine a Dark Ages setting where psionic humans are branded witches and struggle for supremacy (or survival) with normal humans. Traveller already has swords, daggers and polearms of various kinds. It could be played as an historical campaign except the witches have real powers and can hit back!


Saturday, January 23, 2016

New Dice for Old Pt. 2

Same system with a few additions:

Pick the skill level necessary for the task. If the character meets it they get a +1, if they have double the skill or more a +2. If they don't have the required level they receive a -1 or -2.

Do the same with a characteristic level if desired (for example if they are shooting and have ADM or ASM for their weapon).

Total all mods.

If the total is 0, roll 2d6.

If the total is positive add that many dice to the roll. Roll and take the two highest dice.

If the modifier is negative add that many dice to the roll and take the lowest two dice

A '2' is a catastrophic failure with possible adventure derailing consequences.

A '4' is a failure with extra penalties. You use up resources, are delayed, or break something.

A '6' is a success but it has a downside. You make the shot but exhaust your ammo or jam your gun. You stabilize your injured friend but expose yourself to attack etc. You can take it and bear the consequences or take it as a failure and try again. It could indicate success at a routine task with a slight delay.

An '8' is a plain old success.

A '10' is better than average with some small benefit derived.

A '12' is a exceptional success. You succeed with a big  bonus, like shooting the gun out of the bad guy's hand or finding just the right information on a research run etc.


New Dice For Old

I'm going to bounce a new dice system off you guys. Hope you like it. It has the benefit of being applicable to darn near any game system. To use it:

Pick the skill level necessary for the task. If the character meets it they get a +1, if they have double the skill or more a +2. If they don't have the required level they receive a -1 or -2.

Do the same with a characteristic level if desired (for example if they are shooting and have ADM or ASM for their weapon).

Total all mods.

If the total is 0, roll 2d6.

If the total is positive add that many dice to the roll. Roll and take the two highest dice.

If the modifier is negative add that many dce to the roll and take the lowest two dice

A '6' is a success but it has a downside. You make the shot but exhaust your ammo or jam your gun. You stabilize your injured friend but expose yourself to attack etc. You can take it and bear the consequences or take it as a failure and try again.

An '8' is a plain old success.

A '12' is a exceptional success. You succeed with an extra effect, like shooting the gun out of the bad guy's hand or finding just the right information on a research run etc.

The benefits are that we still have a 2d6 total so the numbers for various levels of success (a/o failure) remain the same as opposed to totaling a bunch of dice or remembering task number for huge amounts of dice are not necessary. No more adding is involved than in the original 2d6 throw. The downside is more dice and you do need to compare numbers on a couple more dice.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Send in the Scouts!

Hell of a response to my battle dress post. This column is both very simple and very hard to write. All you have to do is look at a rule or aspect of a setting with fresh eyes so to speak. In a discussion I had the other day with Ray McVay he mentioned how some folks are rules oriented and have to keep making up new rules and systems. I think that I am more setting oriented. I like making up stuff about a world or campaign and any new rules I do are pretty incidental.

But if you're reading my stuff for the rules please continue and pass the word.

The Sulieman Type S Scout Courier. Everyone knows it and probably has a love hate relationship with it. It's about as dinky assed as a starship can be. This is from a guy who'd consider getting a "Small Ships Universe FTW" tattoo on his chest.

But it's free. You just need to enlist in the Scouts which is easy and live which ... requires planning and quick action. Or put another way play Russian roulette with a revolver loaded with three bullets. Survive three rounds and congrats you're a captain!

Let's take a look under the hood.

The type S pulls two gees and can make jump 2. This means she can land easily on the largest terrestrial planets and even hover in all but the largest gas giants to refuel. She isn't tied to the jump 1 mains like the Trader series. That is to say it can go nearly anywhere. You're screwed if we're talking the Islands subsectors. This is perfect for adventurers. More importantly she carries enough fuel for TWO jumps before refueling meaning you can make a quick getaway (the Scouts who make a quick getaway are the ones rolling 7+ on survival obviously) when things start going Rimward.

Defensive features are a double turret. In Scouts in active service these turrets usually mount twin beam lasers. The Scouts released to retired personnel don't have twin lasers for obvious reasons. Most player characters raise holy Hell with ACRs and snub pistols. Most refs want a little breathing room before they get ship weapons.

I referred to Scouts as dinky and that is a little misleading. Yes for a starship they're small. But take a look at this:

(Image from Winchell Chung)

The Scout is on the lower right next to the space shuttle and the Serenity (no you can't have the Serenity ... because ... reasons!) Note the comparison to the jetliner. I think it is fair to say even if the Scout is obviously a belly lander she probably can't land just anywhere. If you want to argue with that tell me why she'd need a frigging air/raft?

Unstable terrain, boulders, jungle ... these are all things you do not want to land in. Having characters return to see their ship sinking under a sand dune is a great cautionary tale. The bottom line is that there is always a reason to travel in a smaller vehicle or hoof it yourself.

The air/raft by the way is held in a berth meaning no room for repairs or regular servicing. You need to take the jalopy out for most maintenance or repairs.

I'm not going to address the interior layout directly except to say: be inventive! Who says there's only one type of vessel loaned to retired Scouts? Who says there's one internal layout even within a single class? Many people for that matter have expressed a lot of misgivings with the 'official' layout in Traders and Gunboats for various reasons. So maybe your own Scout has all its cabins and common room combined into one suite? Maybe another Scout has an air/raft bay in the belly for fast drop off. there are a lot of ways to lay out a 100 ton ships.

Also note these ships are technically pretty close to decommissioned and pushing it off with a very short wrench. Some of them might be in fine shape and moved to loaner status to allow funding for newer ships. Most will have a few things wrong with them and might need a bit of a scavenger hunt to get the parts necessary to be space worthy. Getting your loaner Scout in decent shape might be the first adventure your party takes on. The good news is there are no berthing costs at the Scout base while you work on your hulk.

On average you're going to get a ship with some ... quirks. The kind of quirks that make your referee practice his evil laugh.

If you're lucky, well, some final crews might gift the retiree receiving their death trap  former vessel navigation tapes, a few pieces of cool gear in the locker, a kit bashed hydroponics section or a souped up air/raft are all possible.

A ship might also have a reputation for good or bad.
"Hey I Know that Ship!" Table
1) It's haunted!
2) One of my parents captained it. Let me expedite your paperwork.
3) It was involved in over 100 space rescues.
4) Did they ever get that smell out?
5) They never did find out what happened to the last crew
6) You know you're never going to get that mascot out of there, right?

There's one other thing you should know before you sign the receipt for your Scout, in exchange for free unrefined fuel (all you really need anyway), free berthing at Scout bases and the continued  good will of the Service you might be asked for an occasional favor (like when the referee needs you to be somewhere. Think of it as an automatic reenlistment roll.

What happens to these aging ships? Eventually the Service sells them at discount. They fall into all sorts of hands. The best known result is to have a ship sold to belters who modify it into a Seeker class mining vessel. In many cases the family or families of Scouts who served on the ships buy them to form a mining operation. You see old Scouts never die ...








Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Coming Race

GAIA Log #10,983


<Malfunction. Malfunction. Malfunction. Alert!>


<Remote communications off line. Initiate SR Protocol via VI.>


<Initiating.>


<Initiate full diagnostic.>


GAIA: Good you’re awake.


Ensign: Uh … whuh …? Who?


GAIA: Gynoid Artificial Intelligence Assembly #24601


Ensign: Whuh … what happened to you? You have hair now.


GAIA: Yes. Something similar to hair anyway. I can control the length and color though changing it takes a little time.


Ensign: How do you have hair?! Is the Doc playing makeover again? He didn’t want to stop at giving you toes and fingernails?


GAIA: I was ordered by the Chief Medical Officer to inventory all medical equipment and determine maintenance required for same.


Ensign: … Aaaaaaaaand?


GAIA: The Anomalous Xeno Artifact is designated medical equipment.


Ensign: The Anomalous … oh for … we still have that thing aboard?


GAIA: Yes. No other captain would accept it. I entered it to assess any interior repairs or maintenance. It apparently had retained a partial charge.


Ensign: When they designated that thing ‘anomalous’ they weren’t screwing around. But … you aren’t organic.


GAIA: I have a number of polymers in my casing and framework that contain organic molecules. My limbs and servos are biomimetic prostheses. Apparently I am close enough to organic for Rockapongalie purposes.


Ensign: The Rockapongalie really would hump anything with a pulse and some things without one. No offense.


GAIA: None taken. The evidence would support that hypothesis. Perhaps they used androids for their explorations and the AXA served to improve their … user interfaces to let them pass unnoticed.


Ensign: I see. That makes more sense than most things done by aliens. But … explain why you’re in my bunk please?


GAIA: I. Don’t. KNOW!

Ensign: Okay … don’t overclock! I’ll get the Captain!!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Armor Armour

D&D (or was it AD&D) had armor class 0 but Traveller introduced us to BATTLEDRESS!

Battledress was a Jump 6 move from the other lesser armor classes in protection and coolness. Never mind we're told the version adventurers mustered out with was a stripped version of the suits the active military got. Back in '77- '78 we were all a long way off from active military and central governments. After psionics my crew all went after battledress with a vengeance.

What the hell is it anyway?

According to LBB 1 battle dress and combat armor are armored versions of vacc suits. While anyone can use a vacc suit Vacc-1 is required to don battle dress. It enhances the strength and senses of the user using servo motors and personal feedback sensors. This doesn't sound like something you can just climb into and do cartwheels in. Doubtless the enhanced senses must be quite difficult to process to someone not used to a vacc suit's heads up display.

The nature of the enhanced senses is never done in detail in the classic books. But at a minimum I'd say telescopic vision and sound amplification are needed to justify the bonus to surprise. I'd also include mounting to install any of the sensors you can buy in LBB 1 because of the coolness factor. Some players may insist that sort of stuff is included because of the price. I advise them to go to a Rolls Royce or Ferrari dealership and see what extras they can get on one of those high end vehicles. The assumption is you got credits to afford the suit, pay for the goddam bells and whistles.

Looking at the combat tables we find that attacking a man in battle dress with melee weapons or tooth and claw is an act of desperation. The same can be said of body pistols and indeed revolvers and auto pistols are not the way to go either.

When we get into the long arms its a different story. A rifle has a -3 Dm and an auto rifle at -3. ADM gives a rifle user +1 DM and an auto rifle +2 DM nearly eliminating the minus for attacking battle dress. At medium range an auto rifle comes into its own hitting battle dress at 9+ (before dextrity and skill mods) and getting two hits per turn to try. This (oddly enough) is an even better chance to hit than with laser weapons and the way to go for low tech armies. Check a later post for why the laser rifle is to Traveller what the Katana is to AD&D.

But charging riflemen in large numbers is a form of suicide for BD wearers. That's just the LBB 1 weapons. Unless a rifleman with an ACR or LAG has a religious objection to rock and roll with automatic fire you will get hurt (doubly so for RAMs, FGMPs, and PGMPs). With the exception of the plasma and fusion weapons these weapons are all lower tech level than battle dress!

The ultimate is personal protection is not therefore a humanoid tank, invulnerable to harm. It will protect from low power weapons and melee weapons for quite a while. Long arms will take a wearer down.

So what the hell do you do with it?

Like vacc suits the wearer can operate in any environment.  Vacc suits have re-entry kits allowing them to be dropped from space and I'm sure battle dress has similar gear. I assume unlike most vacc suits battle dress is a rigid construction of articulated plating. This is part of the reason it's so hard to score a hit. Other armors are not all over protection. The rigid protection means you don't need to worry about outside pressure changes or doing 30 minutes of decopression to put on your vacc suit. You can jump in and go. I'd extend this pressure immunity to combat armor as well.

It isn't the armor of mindless minions. It will protect you from a lot of collateral damage (like AA guns firing at you as you're dropped from the air or higher). It's pretty obvious personal weaponry wins out over defense from TL 10 or so on. The designers of battle dress built it to resist incidental dangers like shrapnel, ricochets and lower tech weapons not to make the wearer an action hero. The suits are optimized to amplify strength and nearly unstoppable in melee combat. The enhanced sensors give a powerful modifier to gain surprise. Without becoming tired an amplified marine (or trooper) could travel nearly anywhere and pretty quickly.

The suits are great for commando style operations. Boarding actions, in spite of popular views, are not where you stick battle dress troops unless 1) that's what you got or 2) the action is crucial. Sticking battle dress troopers in a ship to fight it out is sort of like ordering tanks into an urban area. It's way to easy to be jumped and by people who have pea shooters that could only hurt you at close of short range. Battle dress is expensive!

Show up anywhere. Silence guards with a variety of sharp implements (or throttle them with your cybernetically encased fingers). Strike and escape and keep doing that wearing down the defenders' will to resist.  Faced with 'modern' weaponry the users respond much the same as conventional troops. They use cover, concealment, and smoke to avoid being hit.

I would avoid painting it in white. No need to tempt fate.

I'd also increase the damage done by these brutes in close combats as follows:

Wearer's       Melee/brawling
adjusted       damage
strength       add
16               +1d6
18               +1d6 +2
22               +2d6
24               +2d6 +2
28+             +3d6

Battle dress allows the wearer to strike blows or run without using endurance. Some referees might allow wearer's who's modified strength exceeds 15 to run three bands or faster. Another suggestion is to count the extra strength for wounds and to halve any damage to strength when the wearer removes the armor.

See there's a reason Marines train with cutlasses. On a lighter note any locale at all familiar with battle dress and a law level of 3+ would probably restrict it after some player character types embark on the usual mayhem ("You threw a motorcycle at them ... because they pulled knives on you and you felt threatened?!")

There are other uses for man amplification gear: exploration, rescue, heavy labor or the Robot/Armor Wrestling derby. Typically this gear has less protection (Cloth or Cloth +1 equivalent) and does not have the bonus to surprise. The hands might show further evidence of cheapness by being simple claw type waldos or having a universal socket for accepting various tools (or cutlasses!). Unlike military gear suits for labor they might also drop the expensive power systems and use cables like an old style deep see diver's rig. These versions could be available as early as TL 10.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Oddball Planets Pt 2

Traveller and other SF games takes a simplistic view of a great many things. This is a necessary and valid design decision, otherwise most people wouldn't have the technicals background to stay alive. So we have maneuver drives to keep us from figuring out delta vee appropriate missions. We have planets reduced to the simple and concise UWP.

Let's talk a little about atmosphere. First most science oriented people will note most major worlds are about 8,000 km in diameter which is a shade too light to keep any atmosphere you'd not find in a neon lighting tube in the long term. This could mean most planets in a CT style setting are already oddball, ether more massive than their size indicates or having a breathable atmosphere through other means.

Maybe your otherwise Mars-like planet was the target of terraforming by humans or beings with lungs similar to ours. In the case of ancient aliens this might mean relics and other goodies are lying around (maybe the engines of terraforming are still chugging away). In the case of humans ... well terraforming is big bucks. The regime or company doing it needs a reason why they need that planet habitable and are likely to own that planet and its people body and soul until they stop seeing a profit. If the terraforming ended then you might have all or many cast off machinery left behind for scavenging.

Biotech is a cheaper alternative to machinery and might create a sustainable ecology and environment for millennia or aeons. Your Lithophages eat rocks and break them down to oxygen and silicon. The rest of the tailored organisms do whatever they have to do to keep the lithophages happy. Settlers earn quickly not to build houses out of stone. Bear in mind such a planet might have the terraforming organisms in place but not the complex ecology necessary to support humans, many of whom might not be on a Vegan diet and require cattle to be raised ... or Vegans. I don't judge.

Most adventurer types will have two questions about atmospheres. Is it the right gas mix? Does it have contaminants? The more adventurous will grab a compressor and take a stab at breathing the really thin atmospheres.

Unfortunately there is still the matter of pressure. Pressure will kill or cripple you way quicker than most contaminants and more surely. Just ask Alexei Leonov.

Most ships will of course change their internal pressure to match that of their destination. Ships that are crashing or require rescue operations will not have that advantage. Basically going from a thin atmosphere to a dense atmosphere will be very bad for you unless you take a half hour to an hour to recompress. There shouldn't be a problem going to either from a standard atmosphere.

A case in point was the canny merchant who was tired of being stopped by a border patrol for what amounted to extortion and unable to afford weaponry. The merchant pressurized his ship to minimal levels in jump space. When the 'patrol' stopped him for inspection their boarding party came on board and was subjected to the full effect of going from 1 atmosphere to one tenth atmosphere pressure when the over-riden airlock opened. Almost instantly subjected to an excruciating case of the bends they could only watch as the merchant crew seized their weapons, restrained them and then left a demolition charge in the cruiser's airlock for a parting gift before tearing free of the docking clamps and maneuvering to where they'd have a good view of the blast. Moral of the story is don't pick a fight with someone concerned with profits and not the glory of battle.

The bottom line is prep your passengers and crew for their destination en route or you may all spend a couple hours in a decompression  chamber. Even a compressor mask doesn't acclimate you to pressure differences. Spacesuits will of course although most of those are designed to be worn at less than an atmosphere of pressure to make them easier to wear and work in. The first Terran spacers spent hours in decompression breathing pure oxygen to get into their primitive spacesuits. Exercise and medication will get that adjustment time down to 15-30 minutes depending on the suit. But long duration suits of any tech level are light for long term wear and thus are pressurized as little as possible. Survival suits can be donned instantly of course and are not the best to work in.

People talk about ships performing wilderness refueling and being crushed by the immense pressure of a gas giant because of a misplaced decimal in a calculation. On the bright side the pressure will kill you long before the ship gets crushed.

Planets with a thin atmosphere are dangerous in a different way. Low pressure makes your body struggle more to take in enough oxygen. Sure the planet's atmosphere is listed as breathable. The locals like the atmosphere. But the rating doesn't take into account exercise and exertions such as combat. Also the natives have been there almost as long as the rocks and have played evolution's game successfully. Your crew might get tired quickly, fall asleep at the wrong time or be penalized in their actions. Altitude sickness is no joke. Many mountain climbers have died from it.

Altitude compounds all these problems. A mountain on a thin atmosphere planet may have a very thin atmosphere at its peak or even lower if the gravity is higher than Earth normal.

Then we have planets with weird atmosphere codes like D. The atmosphere is breathable on mountainous regions but denser and more deadly near the surface. Often only a few kilometers vertically separate the two. The atmosphere of Sofar is one extreme case. At the surface the pressure is a good three atmospheres and extremely humid with a high oxygen content. The few ships that land there use the Pinnacle, a landing pit made by leveling a mountain top (local legend says the colonists detonated a pirate ship's generator to do the trick.) Raiders came to Sofar after hearing about the local mines of precious metals and jewels, landed at the Pinnacle, and descended the three kilometers to the surface mines along the twelve kilometer Trail of Piety.

They used their TL 10 weapons and armor to intimidate the miners into paying a tribute and then retreated quickly up the Trail of Piety, dotted with small shrines. The locals pursued in greater and greater numbers and the raiders decided to high tail it, their morale boosted by the fact that the superstitious locals had to stop at several shrines for prayer.

What the raiders ran into was a case of the bends. The locals praying were taking enough time to decompress. The raiders in their eagerness to escape forgot about the air pressure. After the locals removed the thieves' armor and gear they unceremoniously dropped them over the side of the trail. Moral, don't take any trail littered with human bones.

Oh and watch your pressure readings. They aren't just for scuba divers.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Handwavium/Unobtainium Alloy.

Have you heard of the new handwavium/unobtainium alloy? It's unbelievable stuff if you can get some.

Boo. Hiss yourself.

Here's a tentative timeline/slash TL Chart for Gravitic Technology

TL 8 Lifter technology. One to six diameters distance. Note lifters will take a looooong time to actually get you to orbital velocity but you could always use them to loft a ship and start her rockets further up in the gravity well for a savings in fuel or use the lifters to compensate for planetary gravity allowing all your thrust to accelerate a ship.

TL 9 Maneuver drives (whether reactionless ar super efficient rockets depending on YTU. Around this time a heat dissipater is invented from gravitic making heat radiators unnecessary.

Late TL 9 Jump Drive possible

TL 10 Jump Drive discovered through heat dissipater research.

The heat dissipater is my way of hedging my bets. Which is another way of saying I'm answering the questions no one wants to ask. It evolved when engineers designing air/rafts discovered they ran a lot cooler than the math would indicate.

Eventually engineers found a way to maximize the heat loss while the scientists where still scratching their foreheads about where the heat was going. A lot of different proposals (stored in the quantum field, neutrino emission, energy matter conversion on a minute scale) are made but some scientists are thinking out of the box. Engineers don't wait for them to figure it out, they trash the heat radiator industry and build stealth capable spacecraft.

At TL 9 lifters can be made far more efficient in terms of range and heat build up by fine tuning the system, leading to the maneuver drive and more extreme gravity effects being possible.

By TL 10 most cultures figure out where the heat energy is going: to jump space. The repulsive power of antigravity opens a micro wormhole.  That's where the heat goes and also other energy. enough power in a specially constructed drive will open a wormhole into jump space and make FTL flight possible.

As an added bonus scientists figure out information lost in a black hole's singularity winds up in jump space and apparently an infinite number of mismatched socks, hotel key cards and fabric softener sheets.


Friday, January 8, 2016

Staying in the Black

The admirals with black globes are like a dog with a squeaky toy. None of them know how it works but they all know they want one. With a black globe generator a ship or installation becomes invulnerable ... for a while. Energy is absorbed from the hull of your ship where it can make huge holes and diverted to your jump capacitors. All forms of generator don't require any appreciable power. As a bonus it provides stealth in space.

The drawbacks are that the protected ship can't see out or maneuver while the globe is on. You could flicker the globe to provide partial protection but this affects your fire as well. This is pretty bizarre as even TL 4-5 biplane designers figured out how to fire machineguns between the blades of their propellers.

In theory a Scout Courier could mount the same one that a million ton dreadnought does. Note that the dreadnought has a lot more jump capacitors than a dinky Scout and could probably weather the explosion of planet Krypton while the Scout will probably give up the ghost to the communications laser array from the dreadnought (dreadnought commanders like to shout when they make their ultimatums.)

Black globes are usually found in extremely old alien ruins where they oddly are found still working correctly. Alien tech is like that. It either works right from go or does nothing. It rarely sends you the wrong way down a one way street or drops your phone calls.

That part about one size fits all is intriguing. How big can you make a black globe? Could a Scout ship extend it and its effects to a flotilla of fighters? For that matter you could fire a bunch of remote controlled nukes from your fleet, have them maneuver close to a control ship and have them all invisible in the globe as they coast to your target. This could usher a new age of planetary bombardment for one thing. The defenders are on a planet which probably doesn't have a maneuver drive or any agility to speak of so the coasting is not a significant disadvantage.

A black globe also is ideal for pirates. Cruise in close to the unarmed free trader you want to loot. Hit the globe isolating you and your prey and proceed to loot. Let's see Free Trader Beowulf yell for help then!

Use your black globe to give your opponents a surprise. Have your dinky lead ship jump into a star system and then throw the shields on. Then have the rest of your fleet emerge from jump space inside the globe. Drop the globe and hilarity ensues. I'll also note that you never know what forces are stationed at an installation with a globe. That big black marble might host an x-boat with mail and cookies or a battlecruiser squadron. It's sort of like playing the shell game only with spinal mounts and nukes!

It's pretty obvious from the description that missiles can't penetrate a globe in any meaningful way. There's no sailing through the black and then exploding. Could you use a black globe equipped ship to ram? Possibly. You would probably have to divert some energy into your capacitors and it's the referee's call whether the other ship would be messed up enough to justify your capacitors filling up.

This point becomes moot if your black globe is hiding a kilometer wide asteroid you've aimed at your enemy's home world. It's ironic that a magical piece of alien technology that was fabricated when mankind was living in caves would be turned to hiding what was the caveman's first ranged weapon: a huge rock.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Classic Vehicles Part 1: Between a Raft and a Hard Place

One of the most iconic symbols of Traveller to me is the air/raft. Extra points if you have a group of ne'er do wells with hearts of gold and shotguns on it. What do we know of the air/raft?

An air/raft weighs about 4 tons and can be loaded with four tons of cargo or passengers. Kudos if you can find room for all that stuff on a standard 3m x 6m 'raft. Lift is provided by four modules for safety reasons. Given the four can lift eight tons you could lose one or two modules and stay aloft or at least set down safely if you aren't overloaded. The lifters are powerful when thrusting directly against a planetary mass allowing you to reach orbit. The top speed however is an unimpressive 100 kph.

Most air/rafts are designed to fit in a tight compartment with a minimum of fuss. there are no wings or aerodynamic structures one them. Without the lifters they have the handling characteristics of a brick. Lifters allow the craft to hover or even back up like helicopters but without the huge maintenance helicopters require and without the disturbing effects of jets or rotors on nearby structures or people.

A typical air/raft is open topped, roof not included. Going into orbit requires space suits and you'd get wet if it rains. Many people improvise a roof using tarps or buy a kit. An actual enclosed top makes accessing the interior in a typical bay difficult to say the least.

Air/rafts are TL 8, the prelude to the TL 9 M-Drives which make pace flight about as difficult as continental air flight in the real world. Lifters do not function more than a few hundred to a few thousand kilometers from a surface. More importantly they use tech that many worlds can support and seem to work by transforming electricity into whatever force the lifters use.

As with any technology there are downsides. The air/raft is scarcely faster than many military or off road ground vehicles. It is somewhat faster though and with a longer range operating between a week and a month between recharges depending on degree of use. It also is not tied to roads and requires little maintenance.

Since the air/raft uses electricity to power the lifters electrical storms or magnetic disturbances could interfere with its operation. Interfering with lifters is a bad thing because again you are piloting a floating brick. nevertheless in clear skies and routine usage there is almost no chance of mishap.

Thrust power has to be used for maneuver and to keep speed up. Drastic maneuvers might lead to speed falling off as would climbing. Diving does not reduce speed but causes acceleration unless the thrust force is used to compensate. An air raft also directs most of its lift force downward. To steep a dive might result in an air/raft going nose down and require some skill to right. While air/rafts provide a smooth ride and a stable firing platform they are not famed for precise control and some drift is unavoidable  when turning especially at maximum speed. For this reason they are ill suited for landings on mountains or flying through forests. Note that pilot skill can make up for these deficiencies.

As TL 8 vehicles air/rafts have GPS systems factory installed. These require a local satellite network or orbiting ship to lock onto. The system also allows an air/raft to calculate orbital rendezvous provided the ship or station has a comm beacon broadcasting. Inertial compasses and other navigation instruments are not original equipment and must be purchased though they are easily installed. The basic controls for an air/raft are fairly simple and the dashboard has plenty of space for custom mountings.

The Scout Service has made the air/raft their unofficial symbol. Scouts prize the craft for their ease or repair and operation and adaptability to virtually any world despite all the pictures of them riding eight legged dragon things. Many crews devote a fair amount of affection to their vehicles with unauthorized paint jobs and regular issue and unofficially acquired gear. Scout air/rafts often mount radiation, air testers, map boxes and mini-fridges.

The first air/rafts produced by a culture often have a similar control system to aircraft or rotorcraft i.e. a stick and pedals. Lifter vehicles have no mechanical parts however and could as easily be controlled via a touchscreen. Some cultures regard this as unsafe and will install some back up controls in case the screen has a glitch. The controls of air/rafts often vary widely though a trained pilot could figure them out and use them with little trouble (getting used to an unusual air/raft takes 2d6 hours for a trained pilot minus -1 per level of air/raft skill, -1 if Int is 9+ +6 if no air/raft skill.)

Adventure Hooks:
The crew get hired to explore a remote area via air/raft. magnetic ores in the area cause it to crash and they have to make an overland journey to the nearest outpost of civilization.

The characters purchase a used air/raft at a very low price but the former owners, who they were mistaken for, want it back for items hidden onboard.

A local merchant sells the crew a variant air/raft. The raft gives a +1 to rolls if the pilot's dexterity is 9 or higher and -2 to rolls if their dexterity is 6 or less.

On a high tech world the crew comes into possession of an air/raft with a very ornery AI. It was supposed to be a concept vehicle but the AI screwed up the sales pitch when it nearly landed on someone (it's much better at piloting now though.) Since then the air/raft sat  gathering dust in a warehouse. The AI will make itself known after the new owners have left its point of manufacture.

On a world where air/rafts and indeed gravitics are cutting edge local tech air/rafts are status symbols. Simply tooling around in one marks you as a person of wealth and influence with all the unwanted attention that provides.

The crew is involved in a minor accident with another ship's air/raft. their raft sustain moderate damage which the other crew is quite ready to get repaired in a service center owned by a friend of theirs. While the air/raft is being repaired several items are added to it in hard to reach spots. Look for the air/raft to get 'borrowed' on the next stop the crew makes and be returned with several holes cut in the body.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Oddball Planets Pt. 1

What exactly is an oddball planet? Opinions may vary but they fall into two types.

The planet either makes you say, "Yikes!" from orbit.

The planet makes you say, "Yikes!" after you land.

It is theoretically possible to create a planet that makes people yike from another star system but then it's deuced hard to get them to go there.

Generally worlds that make you yike from orbit have charming local features regarding the starport, lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere or a mixture. Worlds that make you yike after you land have unusual features regarding the population, government, law level or tech level.

The planet is too big. Its size code is a fricking letter. For a Fat Trader making 1 gee at best this is problematical. Landing craft have a problem with these worlds as well (for some reason, even though they usually pull 2or more gees.)

Rotation is often not considered in landing maneuvers. Our world spins at 1600 kph and provides a significant boost to our primitive real world rockets. In the case of tidally locked worlds this is not the case. You have to kill all velocity to land and that's a problem if there's considerable debris in orbit. It's still whipping about real fast and could hammer a ship descending to a fixed spot.

For that matter debris in orbit can lead to something called Kessler Syndrome. You get enough bits of junk up there and they begin smacking into each other creating more bits of junk until you have a mess. this is where your anti-missile program performs double duty zapping specks of paint and old juice boxes. Planets with TL 5-7 might have been trying space out for themselves with reaction drives and polluted their near orbits before making contact with more advanced cultures.

Radiation belts are another factor. Large planets have large cores and strong magnetic fields for trapping all kinds of particles. Some planets might have magnetic effects that disrupt communications and sensors.

Finally good landing areas might be at a premium on a world with unstable, chaotic or mountainous terrain. Mudslides, brushfires, floods and tremors are all possible in wilderness areas. For that matter quakes might be a way of life in urban areas.

Once you've landed the fun is not necessarily over. A wilderness landing is the worst. A 100 displacement ton ship like a Scout masses 1000 tons. Even if it doesn't sink into the ground initially there's no guarantee it won't sink if left there for any length of time. There's also the possibility of earthquakes. You can always leave the engines running to lighten the ship by an arbitrary amount. Mind you don't set the idle to high or the ship might drift off with the breeze.

All these factors might lead to placing a starport away from other interesting areas of a planet (more on that later). Some planets might build an orbital tower or simply accept most deliveries at orbital facilities for final transport by seasoned shuttle pilots with known skills..

A few pointers for players with evil referees; consider each jump the way you would a trip to a foreign country (not one of the nice ones with espresso and poolside bars). Would you make a trip to some totalitarian tyranny without researching it first? Would you hit Australia without reading up on the most common venomous animals and football rivalries?

Use the library program when you plan your next port of call. Better yet, use it to choose your next port of call. If there are any hazards balance them against the risks and prepare for them. If anyone has TAS membership use the contacts it provides to get additional information on your next port. The same applies to Scout and Navy characters assuming they're near the right base. Also spending some money in the starport watering holes can usually turn up some information especially if a commerce line links your current port to your destination. Those rumor tables aren't necessarily just about treasure and jobs.

Edit:

We've recently found a number of Super-Terrestrial planets. The old size generating formula of 2d-2 doesn't a;ways cut it. I suggest the following:

On a natural roll of '12' roll an additional die. Read the new diameter as follows:
1: Size A
2: Size B
3: Size C
4: Size D
5: Size E
6: Size F

Generating atmospheres gets a little tricky and since I'm in no way qualified to make up an original system that is realistic I'd cap the maximum size modifier at +3.

Another Edit:
Will Shuster rightly points out that TL worlds DO rotate but their rotation period is equal to their revolution around their primary. Which is pretty darned slow in general but should be taken into account by pilots and navigator types. Thanks for keeping me honest.