Friday, April 21, 2017

Zeerust Helmets

First of all I intend to return to the nuts and bolts of the Satellite soon enough. Here's a picture of her officers:

Once you get over the WTF moment realize Dick Calkins was a cagey old artist. Told to introduce a slew of characters he came up with a way to make each stand out, their helmets. Note that Buck and Wilma need no such ornamentation (Wilma could probably stand out in the rain on a crowded street.)

You can spend a bit of time wondering just what each helmet had by way of equipment (and why). Why does the engineer need binoculars? The electronist a breathing doohickey and the astrogator a frigging roll bar?!

Why yes I have better things to do with my time. You're reading this and I might ask the same.

Anyway here is a set of tables to let you or your characters customize their helmets, the better to play dieselpunk characters. Roll for location and then decoration. Then roll for special equipment. The special equipment might jibe with the decoration or require some explaining. I'm not doing that for you. Roll as many times as you feel necessary or the referee lets you get away with.

1) Visor
1) Flip down

2) Removable clips

3) Straps

4) Magnetic clamps

5) Fixed

6) None

2) Ear Cups
1) Radio receiver antenna

2)Poofy style padding

3) Separate Hoses

4) Stethoscope style hoses

5) Flaps
6) Outriggers (also known as door catchers, think Jack Kirby style)

3) Rear Vent

2) Flap

3) Strap

4) Poofy style padding

5) Neck guard

6) Fin

4) Side Plates
1) Legionnaire style metal armor

2) Mounting rails

3) Stethoscope style hoses

4) Grilled for ventilation

5) Detachable

6) Chin strap

5) Crest
1) Top knob

2) Mounting rail

3) Spike

4) Steel mohawk

5) Roll bar

6) Metal plating

6) Special Gear
1) Breathing mask

2) Binoculars

3)High power radio

4) Black light visual enhancement

5) Listening gear
6) Headlight (literally)

1) Camera

2) Heads up display

3) Food syrup dispenser (yuck)

4) Cigarette/pipe dispenser

5) Marquee style display

6) Awesome detailing job (this is what Luch rolled up)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Far Too Much About Buck Rogers Part 1

TL;DR Buck Rogers' first ship the Satellite which I have a serious bromance with. wait a couple of posts till I put up some stats if you're too pressed to read it all.

In the beginning there was the Satellite:
(This image and the others is probably still owned by the Dille Family 
whose copyright I would never think of challenging.)

Buck Rogers was happy. I was happy (much later) when I got a hardcover collection of Buck Rogers strips and they had the story of his trip to Mars.

This was a spacecraft totally unlike the ones I grew up watching on television. The Enterprise was decidedly abstract. The Jupiter II was a flying saucer, an entirely different species. The rockets on the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials I watched Saturdays had fins and art deco chrome and ... buzzed.

This thing was an unknown fantastic beast. The rockets were in the bow for gosh sakes. It was drawn in tribute to Robert H Goddard's tractor style rockets. The concept would be used nearly a hundred years after Goddard's work in the movie Avatar's Valkyrie style starships.

The internal drawings were for familiarization purposes of course. Don't take the four meter tall rocket gunners too seriously. Or the Hobbit sized engineers required to work the machine shops and labs in the stern.

Starting from the bottom (stern) the Satellite had an armored ram that could severely inconvenience less sturdy ships at close range. The one time they used the ram on a Martian sphere the collision knocked everyone silly. Presumably the Martian ship survived as it was nowhere to be found when the Earth men came around, but in no shape to continue the conflict as it didn't finish the Satellite off.

At the tip of the stern was a large (~1m,) dome lighter in color than the rest of the hull, where the plans indicated there was a release valve for their 'liquid ultronium' ballast. That seems odd unless the dome was somehow permeable to the ultronium and hey why not a bunch of microfine holes set in an armored ram? Ultron, the other miracle material in Armageddon 2419 was incredibly hard as well as naturally transparent so the dome might be tinted ultron with a huge light behind it to do overtime as a release valve, ram, and landing light.

Above the ram were four hatches. One at least opened into an airlock. Another could fire magnetic grapples.. The others might be lockers for tools and such. It seemed like a lot of 'locks on one deck.

Above the hatches there was a row of dark squares. Solar batteries? Sensors? Not sure yet.

A couple of meters above the main airlocks there portholes. they seem to match up with the navigation deck or what would be called the command center these days. It looked like the portholes could open up like a porthole on an ocean going ship and I'm not at all happy about a row of the things on the deck with your command crew. However, they were probably made of ultron and as strong or stronger then steel. The portholes opened inward and air pressure would hold them shut to prevent them from being opened in space.

Above the navigation/observation deck, we have four huge 'rocket guns'. The Earthmen made heavy use of recoilless or rocket rounds in their weapons (rayguns were a few years away for them, though the Han nation was using disintegrator beams.) If you went by A: 2419, these rounds had a variety of warheads, most likely including atomics. It is also stated several times the North American's rocket weaponry outranges ray weapons. In Traveller terms they look like four single turrets (I miscounted in an earlier post). You could say they are the equivalent of triple missile turrets using a single launch tube and a quick fire launcher.

The rocket guns likely used a magnetic or pneumatic system to kick the shells out of the ship, igniting their engines some distance away for safety. They might have fired dumb shells too.

Alongside the turrets is an 'emergency ladder' running most of the length of the ship. It's more for what we call EVA today. Oddly enough the ladder doesn't reach to the bow. But when you have a jump belt that isn't a huge problem.

Onward and upward there is a ring of portholes above the gun turrets and It seems they are a circular observation deck running around the main cargo holds.

The final major surface features are four roughly circular light colored panels the length of at least two decks. The second Satellite cutaway  shows this:

(Also Dille Family Property. I'm not trespassing so much as pointing from the fence.)

Near the top/bow and below the rocket engines is a thermionic ray projector. It's a huge stubby barrel and seem to be a fixed mount unlike the weapons on the gunnery deck. Maybe 'thermionic ray' is future talk for a heat radiator! I'm using that slim thread of supposition to make the huge panels heat radiators. Don't leave atmosphere without one. There is also an airlock! Which explains this:

(Okay, know what? If this is ticking off any lawyers I will be glad to replace these with links. In the meanwhile if you like this check out Roland Anderson's archives. Lots of beautifully rendered comics.)

Wilma is boarding the Satellite using one of the square hatches. Professor Stoddard, the engineer, seems to be jumping past her (heck of a jump though you wouldn't think that judging my his form.) An airlock would also be handy for loading parts and spares, let you pounce on Martian Tiger Men from really high up, and just be a good safety feature.

The bow of the Satellite is the rocket hood, containing descent and tractor rockets. That would keep people routinely boarding the ship away from the engines which are presumably hot in at least one sense.

Then again we have this:

Obviously Dick Calkins was heavily influenced by zeppelin and dirigible operations when he was working on the Satellite. A static test of the engines on low power is a good idea. Standing under the ship while the engines are firing? Not such a good idea to me. Then again Larry Niven and Robert A. Heinlein traumatized me with tales of how dangerous their engines were. More on this later. It's still a great picture (even if the silhouette is waaaaay too big).

Both Satellite views have a telescope sticking out the bow. I'm not sure how well a telescope would work there due to thermal expansion (then again inertron solves that problem), and vibration and exhaust from the engines. Then again, the exhaust from the engines can't be too bad if you can stand under it.

Maybe that's Bob Byron. Bob Byron was a tough customer. Coming soon some interior views and more like this

(This one is MINE. Back off Lawyers!)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Classic Traveller for the First Time Again

A post by Omer Joel on Classic Traveller got me thinking about it yet again (for the the record I've also been thinking about White Star and Operation White Box). As I see it there are two major reasons for its lasting appeal.

Mini Games
If you look carefully CT is a series of mini games. Character generation is the first. You risk your character's survival against building an array of skills. Will you character be over the hill as age drains vital characteristics? The trading game is essential to making your mortgage payments. Doing your homework here can be a life saver. Tip: Find a world where you can buy something low next to one where you can sell it high. Get rich.

Combat is fast and deadly. Do you remain undercover or advance? Do you carry ammo or smoke grenades to provide cover? Do you expend all your endurance striking powerful blows and running or let the other guys wear themselves down? The resource allocation and decision making comes up everywhere in Classic Traveller and the decisions matter. That was what we called immersion in the old days.

Negative Space
Artists and designers are familiar with the concept of negative space (it's not a misjump, no). Simply put, what you leave blank is as important as what you show. In Classic Traveller's case the setting was left blank aside from some assumptions you could draw from the rules. We knew psionics could get you lynched, there were nobles, and paying off your ship was generally speaking a bitch. That was about it. No Empire/Republic/Imperium/Federation setting taking up pages. No alien bestiary. Oh, the Animal Encounter rules were awesome too! You rolled up animals as you needed them and filled in the fur, scales, teeth, tentacles you wanted. This is a very different approach from many newer games.

Traveller didn't have a setting. You had to make your own and people did. Some friends went for an anime style universe. I went for a hard and gritty techno thriller approach. Another went completely gonzo. It all worked though. In fact we were starting to talk about merging all our games into one galaxy and take turns running stuff.

Once you marry your rules to a setting you restrict what people will do, in many cases this is unintentional. The designer wants to help new players start up. The problem is that can influence new players far too much. Games with an official setting are sort of like Ikea. Classic Traveller was more Home(world) Depot. Obviously there is a huge market for setting material (that fact astounded the guys at GDW initially). But people lose sight of the fact, it's your universe and you can do whatever you want. In fact after you buy the setting material you can fiddle with that all you want. Have all three Imperiums existing at once. Have the Zhodani be humans infested by psionic parasites. Have the Ancients be active in some areas. Have giant robots. It's your universe and there's more than one way to have fun.

Friday, April 14, 2017


The Phrogues came to Zaonia. Zaonians knew there was intelligent and nonhuman life out there. Most of them leanred all they knew about aliens from the movie serial Ghouls of the Underworld. Despite this the Phrogue ship opened friendly relations by radio after it entered orbit.

Trade began as the Zaonians had some useful metals the Phrogues wanted for fabrication and couldn't be bother to dig up or crack asteroids for. they baubles and gadgets they traded were immediately seized by the Tech Knight orders.

A number of officials in the civilian government and the Order of the Flaming Sword were concerned about the Phrogue practice of buying or renting warehouse space. Nothing went in or out of the warehouses except Phrogues. To be fair the Zaonians would be suspicious of humans doing likewise.

Then the Profit Rockit broke out of hyperspace and grounded. It turned out the Rockit had met the Phrogues and exchanged pleasantries via radio and in person on the ground. In fact several Phrogues insisted on coming onboard the beat up freighter to socialize.

The Tech Knights, police and the Mayor were waiting to have a gentle word with the crew about the Phrogues. The Phrogues, however, had made the freighter crew sign a non-disclosure agreement so draconian as to make threats of death rays and giant robots seem passe.

Sir Cuthbert argued that shooting one of the crew might loosen some tongues. But it was a ship mortgaged and operating from Zaonia and they had no real criminal record. The captain of the Profit Rockit, however offered a solution. Second tier Navigator Sandoval came up with the solution but Captain left that part out. He, Captain, would go to the Phrogues and explain that their NDA and actions were causing concern that would impair future business dealings. That an explanation should be made to the leaders at least, who could sign similar agreements and come up with some bullshit story that wouldn't hurt the Phrogue profit margin and would avoid torch wielding mobs.

Vokh, the lead Phrogue thought it over. The concept of bullshit stories had to be explained in fair detail. Navigator Sandoval, having met a few aliens, was tasked with this. She was also an expert on bullshit. After a long discussion Vokh agreed that she should tell the senior Knight and Mayor. They happened to be the best bullshit artists around in her estimate. The Phrogues gave her a retainer to develop an algorithm to determine mastery of bullshit for them. That's another story.

The Profit Rockit met the Phrogue freighter as the humans were outbound. The Phrogues werea inbound but obliging enough to eat the extra propellant and rendezvous, eager to test the human markets out here on the Rim.

The meeting was a fiasco. The Phrogues had all manner of things the humans could trade and make locals pay dearly for: holographic textiles, stealth prosthetics, cybernetic teeth (which the humans didn't even realize they needed). The problem was the humans had nothing the Phrogues really needed or enough credits to afford goodies.

Then the crew had an embarrassing moment. A tet crab showed its ugly face analog. the crew already had a couple of incidents, leading to nipped toes and a ship's cat that was strongly considering quitting. The crew even exposed the ship to vacuum. Apparently that wasn't sufficient. the creatures had lodged in the deepest recesses and they retained enough atmosphere to at least let eggs survive.

The crew had begun carrying sidearms. Even Sandoval had one though it made her list to one side. there was a pause in the story here as the Mayor and Sir Cuthbert exchanged sympathies with Captain. Tet crabs were all over Zaonia and the reason the Zao didn't suffer from rats. The crabs ate them. Sadly their hunger extended to canines, felines and just about anything else organic. Zaos hated the damned things. they didn't load their shotguns with birdshot, they loaded them with crab shot.

Captain Vokh, however took it in stride, gave a loud sniff and then attacked with a barbed tongue nearly as long as Sandoval was tall. The tet crab vanished formidable claws and all into the Phrogue's mouth and Vokh asked how much he owed them then remembered his manners and apologized if he'd eaten anyone's lunch by mistake.

The Profit Rockit remained docked to the Phrogue freighter for two days until the aliens did their best to clear every crab from the ship and paid handsomely for the privilege. They were nearly out of fresh food themselves. Vokh even took pity on a very upset cat with kabourophobia and outfitted her with an individually made suit of feline battle armor. That's another story.

So the reason the Phrogues were renting or buying warehouses was far from sinister. Warehouses bred vermin. the Phrogues wanted to keep the price of tet crabs from spiking (current price was 0 cr. per kilo). The Phrogues to their credit knew they weren't going to keep their secret forever.

One specie's vermin was another's entree. Or at least fast food.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Aliens Capsules Book Two

Aliens Capsules Book Two went live (yesterday, somehow I missed it). Shi... whoops yet again. The book was a lot of fun to right and hopefully it will find its niche. It includes the following beings:

Beanpoles, Phrogues, and Voles

If you've read my Tesla stories these guys will be familiar to you. They can make good friends and allies if you want to put up with them. they say the same thing about humans. their mindsets and environmental tolerances are close to human with some differences I encourage you to find interesting.

Hive minds are a staple of science fiction, despite everyone having a different idea of how they work (ironic). The 'Giks' are avians who subordinate themselves to the 'flock'. Different sized flocks have different behaviors and functions. Shoot up a bunch of laborers and they will regroup as warriors.

Sentient liquid life. Waterproof and Hydroid Proof are two entirely different things.

Advanced alien machine life that can lob tiny nukes at you but that can be stepped on easily.

Sentient octopi (or maybe squids, hard to say), Obsilodons are grasping, greedy, and fully incorporated. Facing mercenaries or pirates is one thing, facing a team of lawyers is another.

I had to put at least one 'squick' inducing alien in her. the Qaptos: eaters of the dead and more.

Poisonous charlatans. And that's just their biochemistry. their attitude is worse.

Prophets of doom, who like making their prophecies come true.

I hope you will find them entertaining and induce me to do more write ups. The next two (in no particular order) will be write ups on unique alien threats, and capsule write ups of extinct alien species and the artifacts they left behind. Everyone wants artifacts and the really good one will insist you take and use them!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Aliens Capsules Book Two

And we're live ... sort of.

I just dropped the pdf of Aliens Capsules Book Two at OBS and even though it's my fourth product I'm still not vetted enough to be allowed to go on line immediately.

This sucks to put it mildly.

We live in an era of a massive amount of RPG products. A newbie like me is rapidly swamped by ten other people putting their products in the pipe. After ten people or so get put online your product is not longer one of the first things people see. That can lead to a rapid transit to oblivion.

When I started freelancing ten years ago it was a bit easier. The ratings system went according to the number of copies you sold twenty or more -IIRC- and you at least made Copper Pick which gave your product a bit more visibility. But now it's percentage based and much harder.

My strategy so far is to try to release my books on Monday morning. With the delays required for approval though they get released who knows when. Last time was Wednesday noon. Monday mornings 8 EST and people are coming into work, warming up the computer and messing around over coffee tile they have to work. Hump Day and they're thinking lunch, not buying RPGs. At least that is my understanding.

I'd like to know when I am vetted in RPGNow's eyes. I'd like to know if this delay is just because every other guy thinks Monday morning is a great time to release their stuff. In that case maybe they could use an appointment system and give everyone a chance.

Anyway, I've tried to give some aliens to use as possibly allies in this book. With a little work they could easily be used as variants on the two aliens classes of the core rules or even player characters. If there's some interest I could write up new classes for them as a new book.

I'm considering three themes for Book Three. Let me know which you prefer:

Patrol Posted: the evil, nefarious or godlike and uncaring entities the Patrol tries to defend against. This would be write ups on single individuals with their unique abilities a/o technologies to challenge your players.

To the Dust: write ups of several (supposedly) extinct species, their civilization and the bizarre artifacts they left behind.

Empires: A more in depth look at 2-3 alien species with stats for their ships, equipment, homeworlds and a class or two.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

All Creatures Bitey and Small

A recent run to Zaonia resulted in a tet crab female coming onboard and laying a clutch of eggs. She died at the pincers and palps of her voracious children since she’d already eaten their father. At that point the young went into hiding and began maturing or being eaten by their siblings.

Luch the steward’s cat, Rockit was in charge of vermin control. Being a young cat he assumed the Profit Rockit was his ship. It was named after him after all. Since the humans had their uses he let them remain. At the moment the situation was developing he entered the lower hold, which was nearly empty. That was why he spotted the tet crab so easily. The other reason was she was an arrogant young crab that considered the ship her property and ate whoever disputed it.

Rockit attempted a pouncing maneuver, but came up short when four pincers began snapping in his face. The two began circling, Rockit hissing, the crab whistling. The commotion brought Luna, the ship’s dog.

Luna was an anomaly. The ship already had a cat for pest control and anti-hijacking apps for security. She was really not needed. But, when was a dog ever really needed unless you were herding or hunting? All that mattered was that Skipper the deckhand wanted her and after a great deal of fuss she was allowed to keep Luna.

Luna still had a lot of puppy in her but was an exceptional dog, even in Rockit’s opinion, considering she’d learned to use the ladders on the ship by herself. Rockit still didn’t think much of her of course since he was a cat.

Luna saw Rockit and the pinchy thing with many legs circling and went for it. Dogs have an innate loyalty but even their biggest fans admit they have no sportsmanship. Luna came at the thing from the side hoping for a quick kill but the crab had several more eyes and very good peripheral vision and Luna got a pincer clamped onto her muzzle. Her fur saved her from laceration but it still hurt like blazes. She tried shaking the tet crab off and the crab’s pincer caught Rockit by the tail as the cat turned to get out of the way.

Canine, crustacean, and feline did a sad and painful dance on the deck, like a small tornado with pincers and fur. The commotion brought Skipper and Luch. Luch immediately ran to his cat’s aid and stomped the alien intruder.

The crab latched onto Luch’s slipper-clad foot with a free pincer. Skipper fled as the steward joined the dance. At this point Captain and Sandoval arrived. Sandoval was the first to climb the ladder to the deck and found herself at floor level with a whirling ball of feet andpincers. She did what any good spacer would do, screamed like a little girl and got the hell out of their way. Captain was next up the ladder and he dodged the falling Second Tier Navigator.
Captain was a Zaonian and Zaonians don’t knuckle under. This one almost did. Then he heaved himself up onto the deck and began seeking a weapon. That was when Skipper came down the ladder from the upper with Captain’s revolver sidearm. She took careful aim fired and missed completely, the bullet burying itself in a deckplate. Captain grabbed the revolver from her before she could ruin another gravity generator, gripped it by the barrel and attempted to pistol whip the tet crab.

Tet crabs also don’t knuckle.

Vermin on ocean going ships is a given. The same will most likely be true of space going ships. Both afford plenty of small dark places to hide and edibles. Unlike terrestrial ocean going rats and roaches any SF pests may have to adapt to the environment and diet of the ship's crew. there's not going to be any fluorine or levo-protein based life on a human ship for example. But then most SF settings ave a lot of planets with compatible environments and biologies. And the player characters thought this was for their convenience. Heh heh.

On the other hand vermin breed rapidly, otherwise they aren't vermin. A bear rummaging in your pantry isn't vermin, it's an animal encounter. Rapid breeders may adapt quickly as subsequent generations grow in unusual conditions. A good example of this is the flea. Fleas could cover the earth in a month unchecked and breed so rapidly using the same toxins against them for more than a couple of months can result in them becoming immune. Your crew's referred methods of dealing with pests may become useless at the worst time.

A bear is probably less destructive to a ship than most vermin. Roaches, rats and such can not only make your galley fail a health inspections, they can destroy wiring, including warning sensors. As for fouling a gallye think of telling a high passenger that you all have to eat prepackaged rations on your next trip out because you failed a health inspection.

There are many and numerous methods of pest control. The TL 0 solution is a cat. Cats are pound for pound very efficient little killers (just ask one). Dogs generally speaking come in a far second, unless your crew is savvy enough to get breeds that were bred for ratting, like terriers. Then again some aliens pests might make a ship's mascot earn hazard pay. Genemodded cats and dogs are also possible. I wouldn't get any pets cybernetic enhancements. I wouldn't trust a cat with laser eyes and a dog wth laser eyes would take its begging to a whole new level. Just step away from the pot roast.

There are many and numerous poisons and traps doing a web search for pest control can give all manner of devices. Checking out an exterminator's web page could give plenty of ideas and they generally give you cogent reasons why you should leave the pest control to professionals.

Some starports, of course, will seal and bug bomb your ships for a reasonable rate. Reasonable to the folks who sell you a ton of the most common element in the universe for 500 cr. that is.

Of course space is not an ocean. One resource spacecraft al have easy access to is vacuum (sometimes the access is too easy but by then the pests are very far down your list of concerns!) Lifting a ship and opening the airlocks is pretty cheap. Of course it requires the crew and any passengers have spacesuits or survival bubbles. Remember you can shove two middle passengers in a survival bubble but high passengers get their own. this also will not likely win you repeat business but in the example above, tet crabs might make a few minutes in a bubble time well spent.

Vacuum will also get into places poison will not and it pretty much kills everything outright, unless you have some really hardcore pests. Just make sure the cats and dogs are safe as well as any fresh foods or other commodities that will not react well to vacuum, like bottled wine. Also make sure there are no pests hiding out in the pressurized cages and cargo pods.

A far future sort of pest might be destructive nanites. Heinlein help you. Immune to vacuum, breeds like mad and might have a go at eating everything. You might have to shut everything down and drop an EMP bomb or buy some hunter killer nanites.

Uncharitable type may note many of these ideas apply to stowaways.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Renderings of Handwavium pt. 3

So we have lifters that can go into orbit. This is a classic trope of Traveller. In fact the idea of personal orbital transport is way older than that. A character with a flying car capable of reaching low orbit appears in Waldo (Robert A. Heinlein, 1942). So an air/raft or hopper or flitter going to orbit is something we've lived with in literature for a long time.

Classic Traveller had the open-topped air/raft and going to orbit required the passengers to ear spacesuits (the living, organic ones anyway). For my part, I think an orbital hop with no preventative measures is a little dicey for the following reasons:

1) Armor - we always hear about the relatively thick hulls of starships in Traveller and other classic games. One reason for those thick hulls is micro-meteors. A tiny chip of Godknowswhut recently gouged a window on the International Space Station. Most source material doesn't give a flying car anywhere near the armor to stop, say a rifle shot and such debris is traveling much faster than a bullet.

2) Thermal management - areas of spacecraft that are in sunlight get very hot very fast. Areas in shadow get very cold very fast. This stresses the areas in between and can cause expansion, contraction, and mechanical failure. Again an aircraft is not designed like a spacecraft and is liable to malfunction, anything from doors jammed shut to coolant or fuel pumps freezing and failing.

3) Waste heat - dumping heat in space requires large expensive radiators. An aircraft can be (surprise) air cooled. A reaction engine will carry some heat from its operation away. A reactionless drive will just heat up.

4) UV - an aircraft flying to orbit (especially an open topped one) will have its interior discolored or faded by ultraviolet. Plastic (or those new leather seats) can degrade.with enough exposure. Canopies can prevent this especially polarizing or one way mirror versions. Canopies can also protect the passengers from potentially fatal micro-meteors see above.

Lifters do not have all these features for reasons of cost and weight. An occasional trip to orbit ought to go smoothly enough. A lifter used regularly on a vacuum world or to make orbital hops needs modifications or something is going to go very wrong. Using Skippy from me previous posts if came up with the following modified version:

Skippy gets a white thermal blanket that insulates from extreme temperatures as well as affords some protection against micro-meteors. It also looks a little puffy. The hopper now has a canopy attached that protects the passengers from harmful sunlight as well as meteors. It also lets them take their helmets off briefly and scratch their noses. Finally the propulsion foils have small heat sinks attached to allow Skippy to dump waste heat.

But seriously, use a shuttle if you can.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Those Scruffy Pilots and Their Rusty Freighters

I love the White Star game. It's fast, it's fun and you need to make a lot of stuff up for your background (these are all qualities I also have.)

What if you wanted to make up an economic system or just guidelines for how much a credit can buy, how much a ship's overhead is and all that. I gave it a whirl inspired by Atomic Rockets of course!

If you're really making up a Cepheus Engine or 2d6 game out of whole cloth you can find a lot of this applicable.

Basically I started with the medium freighter and made it analogous to a modern cargo jet.

A medium freighter runs 15,000 cr.

A cargo jet costs 100 million.

Thus 1 credit is @ $6500 in terms of buying in this regard at least. Don't think too hard on it.

I assumed a cargo run takes about two weeks. There's a two week holdover at the port. That makes 26 cargo runs a year possible. The two weeks is just an average. It may be more or less on some runs.

I assumed a ship will last twenty years. Ship loans are for ten years and are double the price of the ship total.

Thus a loan for a medium freighter costs 30,000 cr.

Thus the monthly payments are 3,000 cr. a year or 250 cr. a month.

I assume crew, fuel and sundries are the same thus a medium freighter has 500 cr. a month overhead.

A ship can carry 50 tons of cargo so its cost to run freight is 500 cr. a month/50 tons = 10 credits per ton. This doesn't seem like a lot until we remember a credit buys what $65 does these days. A decent smart phone might be 10 cr.

Assume a 50% profit 15 cr. per ton. This price can vary ... a lot.

Our freighter will show 250 cr. a month profit. If the crew of two is working for shares the senior member gets three and the junior gets two or 150 cr. and 100 cr.

Assume spacers are middle class. That means the middle class make about 1200-1800 cr. a year. A spacesuit is a huge purchase costing one or two months' salary. Figure cost of living for middle class is about 50-75 credits. A fine meal out will run three to five credits.

Poor people probably make 25-50 cr. a month and spend 20-25 cr. for living expenses.

Middle class make 100-150 cr. and spend 50-75 cr. for living expenses.

Upper Class make 300 cr. and up and spend 250 cr. or more.

Passages run 100-200 cr. living people take up a bit of room.

Steerage is about 50 cr.

First Class is 500 cr.

Ships haul 1 ton of cargo per 300 cr. of price.

Warships haul 1 ton of cargo per 1000 cr. of price. They don't have to make money.

Sectors are 12-18 days apart averaging about 14 days

Say an Empire is six sectors in radius or 12 sectors in diameter or about 144 sectors total. A three month travel time is similar to the Age of Sail and doable. How many light years and worlds this is analogous to the age of sail. If a ship going to trade doesn't stop at every world for trade it reaches the Empire's fringe and those lovely colony worlds in three months. This makes shipping stuff really expensive: 500 cr. a month times 3 divided by 50 tons equals 30 credits a ton or about $2000  a ton. That's a dollar a pound. You'r'e not going to be getting a lot of low profit high volume cargos like foods and ores going to the colonies. You're go9ing to get finished products they need. The colonies will be shipping raw materials and luxury goods back. the raw materials find a market in the middling industrial worlds about halfway to the colonies and closer. The luxury goods find their market at the core worlds.

That is one way to work out an economic system. It's basic math expenses of the ship/amount of cargo it can shift. Varying the numbers lets your crew make as much or as few credits as you wish. Though delivering cargo in dangerous situations should definitely be worth more money.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Renderings of Handwavium pt. 2

More on antigravity ...

I decided the basic shape of a lift generator will be a torus. The torus holds the unobtainium you spin to generate the lift force. This force is generally directed at a right angles to the torus. Obviously other systems modify that (I'm calling the craft hoppers as opposed to calling everything a lifter. I'm sure hopper pilots hear people make that mistake all the time. It's like calling a Cessna a prop or an F-15 a  ... nevermind!) Otherwise the hopper would never go anywhere. The secondary systems keep the force directed downward for starters and the airfoils make sure the thrust is directed under the center of mass (for the most part it moves a bit back and forth to facilitate climbs and dives.) The foils direct thrust for movement.

The torus' power is related to its surface area. What if we double the dimensions of the hopper? Poor little motor looks overworked. Especially since the craft's mass is now eight times the originals (nevermind about the giants riding in this version).

If we double the dimensions the area of the torus its better but ... the surface area is now only four times the originals so the craft is still underpowered. To increase the surface area to eight times the original we have to increase the torus' dimensions by the square root of eight or 2.8 (call it three if the gigantic people had big lunches.

To extend the example, if we have a vehicle ten times the length of our little hopper, it will have a 1000 times the mass and the torus would need 1000 times the surface area and be thirty times the original's dimensions. Which is starting to get a little too big to fit under the hood.

All this suggests that larger vehicles will have their lift generators more centrally located. That might make balancing the lift easier too. But as vehicles get bigger it could be more expedient to build them inside the lift generator. So we get ... dun dun duuuuhn ... flying saucers!

This is getting ridiculous.

No I dunno why I ponder this stuff. It does give me some guidelines for devising a look for vehicles in my settings. Foils are for directing thrust, the bigger they are the faster the hopper goes. A speeder version will have foils that make people think the pilot is compensating fir something. Hoppers that are for lifting a lot will become more and more circular/spherical as the toruses get bigger and bigger or they stack several toruses.

Space craft probably mount stacked toruses around their engines to keep all the thrust along one axis so engines will be cylindrical. That's for tail landers. Belly landers would use lifting surfaces and somewhat smaller toruses that handle trim and are used in landings and takeoffs in the last few hundred meters and shut off before they melt.

On a side note I was thinking about the old trope of riding a hopper to orbit. I think I ruined this idea enough and would like to bring it back. No, you won't get to orbital velocitied but you could still dock with a friendly ship or an orbital tower. But that will require some more rendering and be my next post.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Renderings of Handwavium

I've always had a certain amount of handwavium in my settings. Most of the time I make do with unobtainium but sometimes I'm pressed for time. As I am learning to render vehicles of various types and other gear or worse stat them for games I have a decided disadvantage over the artists I follow who do hard science designs (besides talent ... get the snarks done now).

What the fuck does an antigrav generator look like? What about a hyperdrive?

An artist doing a piece on a ship with an inertial confinement fusion drive has reference material on it. They can make a pretty good guess how big it is and much shielding you need to avoid giving the crew free x-rays. All that good stuff.

Star Trek and Star Wars has it good too. Their tech just needs to look cool? Why does an X-Wing (or Voyager) need variable geometry? It looks cool and we all know vehicles go faster when they look cool.

 Anyway here's my latest offering. Skippy is a lifter built with variable geometry. Here she is at rest:

There she is hovering:

Here she is moving fast. The foils on the back manipulate the properties of the field that provide thrust. Here Skippy is moving all out forward. The foils are dropped down to provide most of their force as thrust. The little foils in the front provide enough lift to stay in the air and a little extra to maneuver. The aft foils drop down when she's booking:

Hard deceleration looks like this:

A very sharp turn will look like this (also referred to as the Wash Evasion):

I like it. The render gives you an idea how the vehicle works. More to the point it has gaming applications. A pilot can state they are setting their foils to optimize performance, trading maneuverability for speed. I like putting allocation decisions into a game. A pilot being chased between buildings might decide to put it all to speed or keep some maneuver power in case they run afoul of ,say, a floating fruit stand (I have no idea what floating fruit tastes like).

It will also be pretty obvious what the general intent of other pilots are, like the little old lady flying along in the fast lane with her foils pointing up.

You can also extrapolate where the thing gets hit in a fight. For example damage that reduces speed could hit the foils themselves. Reduced maneuverability could be damage to the rotator shaft.

As for controls you could have the old plain vanilla stick/yoke. the air foils will rotate through prefigured configurations based on the stick position. More complex and high performance lifters could have a separate dial for each foil to let a pilot use the moves Wash put the Serenity through or compensate for battle damage.

One more thing to consider is the canopy. It is a single unit and locks down. If you want to add gunplay to your air chases you will have to detach and lose the canopy. If you want a different design to enable gunplay you might like this variant:

Just don't blame me if the referee says it's raining and your guns get wet. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Cargos Made to Order

"This time ... we're going to hit it big," Captain announced. "We're going back to Jormganner! They have that maneel wood. Everyone is crazy for furnishings made of maneel!"

The crew tried to look interested but he sprung this bit of financial legerdemain on them during Sundae Sunday. It was hard for him to compete with ice cream and whipped cream. So he slammed one huge fist down on the table. Bowls and utensils jumped. Sandoval snagged her sundae in mid-air and gave a dirty look.

"What ... are we bringing to trade? The Jormgann barely speak any basic and if you recall we had a hard time anticipating what to even bring them other than raw metals ... which we learned about after we got there. They don't chop let alone treat that maneel wood for their good health," Beagley the trade master muttered.

The Jormganner were primitive by most standards, the problem was they were learning fast. they had moved from flintlocks to metal cased rifles before the Profit Rockit arrived and mastered sprung steel. By the time they returned they might have fusion powered campfires.

"Easy peezy. I bought a hold full of raw metallic cartridges. We'll find out what they want when they get there and fabricate it on the spot," Captain said finally diving into an incongruously small sorbet he had ordered.

Beagley paused and wiped his mouth. "That ... could work ... "


To put it simply, why carry one cargo when you can install a fabricator and carry any cargo? Odds are even a rust bucket freighter has higher technology than the planets they visit. That probably includes production technology. To put it another way t's like the Dutch bringing a blacksmith ashore in Manhattan and producing ironwares for the Lapinock, not just lugging a box of trade goods.

A fabricator allows you to adjust for market fluctuations or planets having technological breakthroughs (or just buying them from a previous merchant). It lets you exploit markets you might not know existed when you set out.

It lets you counterfeit coins. 

What where did that come from? But yes ... On the lawful side some backwater planets might pay a ship captain to fab currency for them. Currency does cost money to make after all. It's about a $1.5 billion dollar a year industry in Europe alone. Printing it on a higher tech system would save the government money and let a ship make money without you know ... making money.

A drawback to fabrication on the spot is license fees. Sure there's a lot of good shareware plans out there for three dee printing and sure there will be some that such and then there's the licenses you actually want to pay good money for for people who may not get a lot of shipments of goods but do know high tech. Those licenses have fees (and are copy protected I'm sure.) Having a fabrication engineer onboard can often pay for itself (in my Tesla stories Mr. Tivk is a fabrication specislist and a darned good one).

It may seem odd but 90% of a cargo's value might be contained on a couple of sticks of storage devices. If you're worried about cargo mass or volume or whatever having bulk materials you process on site is a mass a/o volume savings right there.

Of course a software virus can't eat your cargo of tractors and rubber hoses.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Duly Compensated

First I reserve the right to reuse this title for a Sandoval story.

In the middle of the night, last night in fact, dog number two woke us up by barking downstairs. Middle of the night I stumble down the stairs to where we keep downstair and figure he's looking out the window and barking at a cat or barking at someone on the street or one of the local raccoons.

Nope. He's standing in the middle of the living room barking at ... nothing I can see. I'm a fairly rational guy but this gave me a momentary chill so I checked the front door, and behind the shower curtain.

Acceleration compensators make me feel that way. THere's almost certainly nothing wrong but it doesn't feel that way.

Acceleration compensators are a necessary piece of (usually) handwavium technology in any story where the spaceship is only there to get you to the story (fast!) While the ftl dingus keeps trips between stars from taking decades or centuries the acceleration compensator let's your ship accelerate rapidly allowing you to speed about like a bejeebus without turning your characters into dramatically unappealing pancakes salsa or film depending on your engine of choice.

As an offside, one gee of acceleration will feel like you never left Terra and get you to Pluto in two weeks! Acceleration compensators are for the truly impatient who have to get to Pluto NOW!

Anyway if your ship is pulling 2-4 gees you could probably squeak by with powered exoskeletons, high tech water beds, and meds. Any higher than that and you probably need to invent a way to freeze the humans solid and defrost them after the really hard maneuvers are done. This probably is not an optimum solution for fighter pilots and some others.

In most science fiction acceleration compensators are assumed, especially if the spacecraft is laid out like a boat. While artificial gravity holds you to the deck, acc-comp keeps you from slamming into a wall when you put it in drive. Some drives, like the Alcubierre Warp Drive, do not actually accelerate the ship and don't need acceleration compensators for the long range journeys. They might still need rockets to enter orbit and land but this sort of thing is handled by mere humans even now without compensators.

But say you want to blow all your delta vee at once? If you have a ship that has 500 kps delta vee you could blow it all to get to say the moon in 12.8 minutes (double the time if you want to slow down). Unfortunately the human body only can take 2-3 gees for any length of time. Accelerating to 250 kps at three gees would take over two hours and deceleration equal time and making the trip at 1 gee would take 4 hours. So acceleration compensators really don't start looking good till we have space opera style drives operating at least at tens of gees with very high maximum velocities.

What could be some limits of compensators? Limits make characters act all inventive by sticking problems in their way.

No Compensators -No Gravity
The drive affects the entire ship somehow keeping everything in free fall. This has its own set of problems as astronauts discover everyday. Some ships spin some section of their ships to create a gravity effect.

Stasis Tubes
Compensators operate over a very limited area, say one (very expensive) compensator will affect about 3-4 cubic meters. In this case we have something like the stasis tubes in Forbidden Planet that protect the occupants from some kind of deceleration on exiting ftl flight. The rest of the time they make due with strapping in and using a gentle gee acceleration.

Single Axis
Acceleration compensators are aligned with the thrust of the ship. Gees from lateral thrust will be fully felt and fast maneuvers to evade danger might throw people about.

You Can't Butter Toast on Both Sides
Due to power configurations or whatever fancy double talk you invent you can have acceleration compensators or artificial gravity on but not both at once. If you're screaming along at five gees then you're in free fall.

Acceleration dampers don't reduce the effects of acceleration by a fixed number of gees but a percentage. A fifty percent compensator will make two gees feel like 1 gee. A ship with this sort of compensator will be laid out like a building with decks at a right angle to the axis of thrust.

The effects of the compensator quickly fall off the further you are from the compensator. Designing a ship is a delicate balance of sticking components as far from the compensator as they can stand. Moving against the axis of acceleration might be quite nauseating or result in unconsciousness at higher accelerations (like combat conditions). The bridge and living areas might be built on top of the compensators or fuel tanks if sloshing fuel is a concern. These ships will probably be built with decks at right angles to the direction of thrust.

Micro Tremors
Compensators vary just a little in their effects and it's enough to cause nausea in people especially when making hard maneuvers.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Infrastructure and Mega Credits

One of the most overlooked aspects of space travel in SF settings is infrastructure. Space travel today is barely begun and is almost impossibly hard. The only way our first voyages have succeeded is with a lot of people on the ground working incredibly hard. In the future new propulsion systems and engineering techniques will make it easier but I sincerely doubt it will ever be easy. It will require a lot of time, energy and skills compared to most other human endeavors (except possibly terraforming and kicking coffee).

Say we have something like the traveller maneuver drives: you put your power in one end and your ship moves to the other end sort of. No deadly rocket blast necessary. No one needs a spaceport, right?


First of all antigravity (or whatever handwavium you use) is expensive. A Scout ship alone costs 36 Mcr. Its routine maintenance is 36,000 credits a year and that is not figuring in life support, wages, fuel, supplies, and non-routine costs like repairs or ordinance. For a comparison, in CT high living (great food, swank accommodations, lighting your cigarettes with credit notes) costs about 900 cr. a month. A credit buys a lot.

In a setting like this earning money to keep your ship flying is a major concern (let alone paying a gorram mortgage). This has two effects: time is going to be precious, ships are going to try to cut expenses.

Time is precious because you need time to do whatever it is to pay the bills. In the example above your courier could wind up costing you say, 6000 cr. a month. That's two hundred a day so you don't want to waste any of it sitting around repairing a busted strut or Johnston rod.

As expensive as ships are they could be even more expensive. So manufacturers will try to cut costs where they can. That means anything not devoted to maintaining life and getting from point A to point B will be made as cheaply as possible, like landing gear. So you are going to want a more or less level stretch of concrete to land on otherwise you waste time fixing your struts and rods and such.

Saving money by optimizing your ship for vacuum work could save you a bundle. In Cepheus Engine streamlining costs 100,000 credits per ton. That doubles the price of some hulls, an important fact if you are paying for your ship. Not everyone steals their ship -but even in that case, you need a paint and body shop to alter it and someone to forge legit seeming credentials for it.

Yes pirates/smugglers/slavers have their own infrastructure. their ships need frequent repairs as most merchants will fire at least one shot to make things look good for the insurance company. Sometimes they panic and actually hit the pirate!

In that case they need repair facilities for their prize ship as well. Pirates have to make things look good too.

Maintenance was mentioned. Annual maintenance comes up way faster than anyone expects or wants. It requires a dock or shipyard or whatever to allow major overhaul of ship systems. Presumably you could do this in the wild but you'd be looking at longer times and an overworked engineering gang at the end of it.

But say you don't want to waste time and put wear and tear on landing, just drop your cargo off in an orbital station and pay for a shuttle to ferry it down.  Except shuttles need infrastructure, landing fields, fuel and re-mass storage. Stations need maintenance. It's all infrastructure.

I haven't even touched on ship construction but you get the idea (that may turn up in another post).

Maneuver drives are fairly expensive and considering that cost, worlds might find it useful to develop other ways to transport loads to and from orbit. A maneuver drive ship is an all purpose spacecraft (that's an oxymoron at our present stage of development by the way). Ships dedicated to lifting cargos or orbital transports can be specialized to reduce some of those costs. They don't necessarily need antigravity. Laser launch vehicles, reusable chemical rockets, orbital towers and space bolos are all being discussed and planned now. Give them a few tech levels and they might give an antigravity device a run for its money (no pun intended) for simplicity and economy.

If you are using hard science style torch ships infrastructure becomes even more important or your planet becomes instantly recognizable. It's the one with the large scorched areas and the Bladerunneresque yellow fog. Player characters are not the only people you don't want to give a 100 terawatt fusion drive to.

In fact antigravity technology might revolutionize infrastructure instead of replacing it. The previous tech level you used mass drivers to shoot cargo into orbit, now you use MFTN* driver to smoothly loft shuttles and bulk cargo containers. But don't forget, antigravity devices need support systems too.

*(MFTN= Middle Finger to Newton)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Villainy Unsound

Villains! Roleplaying games and literature just wouldn't be the same without them. I've spent a lot of time lately writing short fiction for an e-book (more on that to be announced.) The stories I'm writing right now are space opera of a sort but they deal with the crew of a small freighter trying to meet expenses, deal with passengers, locals and their assorted craziness.

 I tried very hard to stay away from the tropes of SF I grew up with and sometimes succeeded. There are no square jawed heroes with nerves of steel. The damsels and guys take turns being rescued and everyone screws up regularly in some way.

When it came to villains I wanted to do some more mold breaking and I looked at a few traditional villains to plan my villains' departure from said tradition.

1) The villain possesses ample resources to deal with the likes of your motley crew.

In truth most criminals I've known or heard of (hey, I live in New York City) had way less money than the average middle class person. That could have caused their life of crime (people gotta eat one way or another) or been the result of it (defense attorneys aren't cheap). They might have ample weapons or cars if they are trading in them but might be short on cash or other resources.

Trying to get over on the heroes unfairly or illegally because you're hard up can make a villain a sympathetic character to some degree. But you're still a villain.

2) They're all badass renaissance men.

If we're talking a global mastermind running a huge empire then they probably don't have 6 hours a day for a work out and mixed martial arts and weapons training. That's what the bodyguards are for. If he is a badasses usurper who killed the mastermind and then took over then he will lack a certain experience and administrative savvy. No one is good at everything.

3) They don't have to be confrontational.

Getting revenge on the team that messed up your big secret deal is satisfying. No doubt. Some might call it a waste of time and resources, especially if that big secret deal was one of seven that month and the other six went off without a hitch. Why seek vengeance when what happened is more of a business expense?

In the real world criminal types do not go out of their way to antagonize the law, unless their region has little law or government. A group that hurt the villain once might be actively avoided. Law officers and other irritants might be bribed and not killed or operations could be suspended or moved to a more favorable location.

4) They have but one penalty for failure.


Would you work for someone like that? How big a failure are we talking? Do you off the servitor who didn't cut the crusts off your bread? What about the loyal lieutenant who took all reasonable precautions but still had his big deal broken up by the good guys? Truth is having a secret enterprise stay secret requires a fair amount of loyalty. In the later seasons of the drama Breaking Bad viewers are introduced to the concept of legacies. When a minion (yeah they don't call them that in the series) gets arrested and sent up they continue to draw a salary which is sent to their dependents or their own account. That buys a lot of tight lips.

5) There is but one penalty for disloyalty.

This actually makes sense. There can be extenuating circumstances for failure. Having a big mouth ought to guarantee your former coworkers will show up to shut you up fast. This is even more likely if the coworkers have a legacy plan in effect, full medical and are treated well. If the head of the operations gets killed or jailed that will all go away.

Villains are people too and sometimes they get betrayed by someone who is too close to them to just remove (ask Don Michael Corleone.) Love, denial or custom might buy them their life. These people might be isolated, guarded, sent into a sanitarium or tropical island but they'll still be around for future betrayals.

6) They have no honor or morality.

Villains have honor and morality unless we're talking someone like the Joker (I have no idea how he keeps finding gang members.) Remember the things like the legacy plan and henchman support system shows