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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Extreme Auditing

The minimal power managed barely a quarter standard gravity. Beagley ignored the ladder and just dropped the three meters, he covered them as they descended feeling a little silly, a former bureaucrat and money handler playing cops and robbers. He was still glad of the shotgun in his gloved hands. That was why he only jumped a little when the others lit behind him.

The crew deck had a much more up to date entertainment center and newer carpet than their own ship, Sandoval noticed. The media screen had a golden trefoil on a red background showing.

“Thanks for sharing,” Skipper said walking over to the screen’s console. There should be a remote but like all other remotes it was uncannily good at hiding when you really wanted it. Skipper found a hotkey and hit it.

“Don’t hit nothing marked destruct,” Beagley said still looking about. “There’s clutter, dishes, knick knacks around. They didn’t stow for liftoff or ftl insertion … they left in a hurry.”

“Unless they’re still here,” Skipper answered. She was immediately sorry. None of them wanted to move to the bridge yet.

“How’s your stomach babe?” Sandoval asked trying to change the topic.

“Fine … total terror puts a little nausea in its place fast,” Beagley muttered. Skipper couldn't get the hot key to work. Finally remembering her suit glove had a special patch to work a touch screen belatedly, she uncovered one finger tip and pressed.

A ship’s officer looked out at them from his bridge station. He had the star and sextant badge of a navigator. The crispness of his uniform, the depth of focus, all told Skipper this was an AI. Of course the name badge on its chest with a banking logo did too.

“Greetings! If you salvaged this ship my employers will gladly reimburse you five percent of its current value after deductions for breakage, depreciation, taxes and outstanding fines and transfer fees!”

“Your masters are all heart. What happened to the crew?”

Beagley asked.

The AI hesitated.


If you think your merchants and traders have a hard time making their ship payments, ask a banker about finding a ship once the captain decides to skip. Banks are in the position of floating loans to people who can flee at hundreds of times the speed of light. Of curse the bounty hunters and repo men get all the media treatments but they are really a last resort and do not in fact deter skipping captains very much. Most of the skipping is deterred by precautions. 

Vetting- a thorough background check on loan applicants is the first step. Fingerprinting, retina scans, DNA profiling and other scans are taken to establish identity and add to a central law enforcement database (Loan Applicant: You ain't sticking that thing in my mouth. Bank Examiner: It don't go in your MOUTH!) In addition to having an identity banks lean towards granting loans to people with other business, family ties or better yet property (that can be seized) on the branch's world. 

Business Plans- you should have one of your own, but some banks will help you tweak it or help with networking. Believe it or not they want you to succeed and keep paying them. 

Snitches- if this is your first ship, despite vetting you will most likely have a crewman making a little extra on the side. He basically reports any dirty dealing to the banks heading off any attempts to skip (in exchange for a fat bonus).

Security keys- the more benign form of this is a hidden security program (often part of the anti-hijacking program). Every time you make a loan payment the bank transmits a code to your ship and everyone is happy. Miss a payment and the computer will have all manner of responses: denying entry to the ship, transmitting a distress call (the captain and crew's pin numbers etc). Some more tight fisted banks may load a full artificial intelligence on your ship designed to incapacitate crew and take the ship back to a branch office -more or less. Course data may need updating and you are dealing with accountants and not navigators. 

Other less savory institutions may let their AI employ less humane means to coerce a crew into obedience. These range from blasting horrific music from hidden and armored speakers to opening airlocks, shutting airlocks and repeating as necessary.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Spells and Sliderules

Skipper was finishing up the laundry when to her great annoyance Beagley arrived with another basket. Seeing the broker begin to load another washer she sighed with relief and paid him no further notice until he was nearly done. She gaped as she saw him toss several plush toys that normally shared a station on the bridge with Sandoval as well as the navigator’s prized fluffy slippers and robe.

Utter fear froze the young woman to the spot a few crucial moments. She leapt for the machine with a strangled cry as it started up. Beagley was left with a crazed deckhand trying desperately and illogically to climb over him to get to the machine. Luch was already on the utility deck checking the freezer contents and first on the spot. He viewed this outburst much the same as a bad load of fuel in the reactor causing a neutron storm. He had time to get his affairs in order.

Sandoval was the last crew member present. It took her a few moments to process what had happened letting the other three make an escape with Skipper and Luch disagreeing over whether to take Beagley or use him as a diversion. Skipper won as she was concerned he would paint an unfair picture of her part in this desecration.

The crew very nearly ran down the Captain as he was returning to the ship with Celsie. The NBE being a sensitive creature took one mental scan and hurriedly fled to the safety of a flashlight in the damage control locker. Captain waved off the cries of alarm and begging he go with or at least get the hell out of their way.

“This is my ship! Ain’t no Second Tier Navigator no bigger’n a sack of fly crap gonna scare me! What in Rah’s name brought this on anyway?” he demanded adjusting his cap to look more official.

They told him.

“Pancake House!” Captain ordered. The rest of the crew tried to keep up with him.


There are a couple of salient points to dealing with navigators.

1) They're all superstitious.

2) They deny it.

3) You don't call them on their bullshit. Ever.

4) You don't screw with their rituals.

You can't blame them. They're as close to visualizing four dimensions as a human can. That'd twist anyone a little. Psychologically this is an attempt to impose order on cosmic forces they can comprehend only in a limited way. The guys who actually work on hyper engines are even more wack but I'm talking only navigators here.

A navigator is going to have their rituals. In Sandoval's case this is being in ensconced in pillows, a whole plush toy ecosystem and her beloved fluffy slippers. The washing schedule for these core implements is dependent on obscure portents and signs known only to her or the two week annual maintenance (so she can break them in before lifting ship).

Some people equate the skill of the navigator with the inconvenience and annoyance their little quirks entail. They whisper in hushed tones of the hidden course masters (capitalization optional), pathfinders so astute they could lay a course to take you around the universe but the rituals required would take longer than a human lifetime.

How much this actual affects a navigator is often called into question (when the navigator is not around). Some ideas:

1) Pure hoakum. This doesn't keep some from believing it with their whole heart and becoming very difficult if anyone interferes with their little customs.

2) Placebo - but not doing it causes a slight minus to the navigator's rolls.

3) It works! Performing the rituals required will put the navigator in a special frame of mind giving them a small plus to their rolls to avoid hazards and delays.

4) The navigator possesses enough mojo after performing their rituals to reduce travel time by 10%.

5) Performing the rituals required will put the navigator in a special frame of mind giving them a small plus to their rolls to avoid hazards and delays. Failing to perform the rituals will increase travel time by 10% (and possibly fuel use).

6) The real thing!! Performing the rites allows the navigator to access a cosmic font of wisdom and anticipate any dangers on the course they lay in! If you're playing with psionics a character might get a flash of a possible future development (these are seldom never good.)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Next Capsule Will Be Delayed

Yeah about Alien Capsules Book One debuting today? Not so much. It seems I am not yet vetted by RPGNow (I'm only a Fourth Tier Publisher it seems). So I have left my latest project in their gentle hands while they inspect it for any sign it will tick someone off. I wish it would. It seems that's the way to sell your product. I guess people download the pdfs and then burn the tablets the pdf is on these days.

Anyway a little more on the book: art is by Team Frog Studios and Art of War Games. Words and stats are by me. Game write ups are for White Star though they could serve for other OSR games. The background for each alien has some story ideas and their usual M.O.

As I was writing this book though I realized most of these aliens could serve as character classes (no not Skels, what are ya, crazy? Okay, RP a Skel. It's your game.) So here's one alien from the book written as a playable class.

Beast Master

Level        XP          HD          BHB         ST      
1                 0          1+1          +1            15      

2          3,000          2              +2            14      

3          6,000         3+1          +3             13      

4        12,000         4              +4             12      

5         24,000         5+1           +5          11        

6         48,000         6               +6          10 

Beast masters may wear up to medium armor in combat. They employ any primitive weapons (bow and arrow, staff, or daggers are favored.)

Saving Throws
Due to living close to nature beast masters have a highly developed immune system and are +2 to saves vs. diseases, toxins and extreme temperatures.

Quick Reflexes
Beast Masters and their party are +1 to initiative.

Unarmed Combat
Due to their savage nature Beast Masters inflict 1d6 damage in unarmed combat. 

Animal Followers
Beast Masters begin play with one animal follower. They receive another at third level and an additional animal every level after that. Their first animal can have no more than one hit die. Their next two hit dice and so on. 

Animal Networking
At fifth level Beast Master can influence all the animals in their vicinity modifying reactions to make them hostile to others or more friendly. Their own animal followers are unaffected. Beast Masters can convey their intentions to unknown animals and won't be bothered by them unless they are threatening the animal or its group or interfering with feeding.

Mental Link
Beast Masters share a link to their animal followers who will always carry out instructions within reason. Every time one of their followers is killed the Beast Master loses 3 HP permanently. The Beast Master can replace the animal in the course of events but if he choses he can lose it permanently instead of the hit points.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Alien Capsules

My latest work is Alien Capsules Book 1. It is a collection of ten aliens geared towards OSR games and compatible with White Star. My goals with the book were simple: come up with some creatures to play a variety of roles, and come up with some genuinely creepy stuff.

For your interest I'm posting the introduction to the book here. The rest will go live on RPGNow on Monday 3/6/17 (price to be announced but pretty cheap I imagine).


Aliens in roleplaying games usually come in two flavors, the friendly sort and the other kind.

Both are great for adventures. friendly aliens can be allies or patrons or need rescuing. Unfriendly aliens shoot at your characters or do worse. In this they are similar to the races of fantasy games. Except aliens will fire lasers and orcs fire arrows.

What makes aliens special is that they embody a mystery of some sort. Any of the beings I’ve listed here can be presented as an enigma with unknown motives. Can these creatures be negotiated with? What did we do to  upset them? Where exactly did they come from?

If your group favors exploration you can present each race as nothing more than a rumor at first. Learning about them and communicating can be an adventure. In fact it might be the focus of a mission for your party!

If your group is not into making first contact the aliens can still be friends or shoot at them as is appropriate or the players may learn the beings are not what they seem initially. The Crater Men (page XX) might appear as a hostile mob of savages at first. As the characters learn more they discover the Crater Men are not normally hostile but seeking revenge for another offworlder stealing one of their precious artifacts.

Similarly the Death Angels (page XX) and the Slugs (page XX) are both written up as intensely hostile, xenophobic races. As the characters encounter them they may discover there are some individuals who want peace or that some of them can express gratitude for mercy shone.

Or they could all be evil. It’s your sandbox.

One overlooked aspect is that some of these creatures can work together. The Zamot (page XX) and the Beast Masters (page XX) would appear to be natural allies, one using animals as war machines and the others hating technology and AI. If players can make up a party that embodies different racial strengths so can the NPCs.

Aliens can also be fighting each other. Perhaps some evil Slugs seek an ancient weapon worshipped by Crater Men? Perhaps the Crater Men are aided by a shipful of the Zamot who are hostile to the Slugs because of their robotic shells. The characters run right into this war zone on a mission of their own.

Cagey players might find a way to use one group of aliens against another (this is dangerous stuff but you know players). The Slugs and Death Angels may both detest humans but this doesn’t mean they like each other. This might be the key to survival if they greatly outnumber the good guys.

You might want to throw the hit dice equivalents to the wind and upgrade or downgrade creatures to create an appropriate threat for your players. Maybe the first Slugs they meet are rookies at abductions and spreading terror. The players may decide these creatures are vastly overrated ... until they meet the first line monsters. A minor threat like Dreggz (page XX) or Crater Men could have an exceptional leader. Feel free to change any of the write ups anyway you wish to make them fit your game better. It is your game and they’re your aliens!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What Time Is This Way?

Second Tier Navigator Sandoval was blossoming. Luchador, the masked Steward accepted it grudgingly. She was his best friend and he had to condone what was good for her. Skipper barely noticed. She was young and had already blossomed at an early age and working her way through clouding men's minds and causing fender benders. But there were no mechanical conveyances on Jormganner.

The signs were small unless you really knew Sandoval: hair worn loose, earrings, a daring (by her standards) blue tank top and the final clue ... lipstick. She even washed her lucky fuzzy slippers, something the older members often coaxed and threatened her to do.

The agent of her blossoming was their newest crew: Wilberforce Beagley. Beagley was a former Port Inspector and despite it a decent guy. He had made himself invaluable since hiring by running down leads and rumors of trade items he heard tales of in his former job. At the moment he was back at the Profit Rockit supervising a gaggle of locals who were supposed to be loading cargo. He had shooed the senior members away insisting he had it covered and they were all enjoying themselves by the waters of a crystal lake and helping themselves to a lunch Luch had packed.

Truth be told they ran for the hills to enjoy some downtime, right after learning that the biosphere was hospitable and they could kick the local alpha predators a kilometer. The natives were mostly incomprehensible but eager to please, much like Skipper, Sandoval thought.

The navigator lay on her back and watched the primary starting to set and the evening star, one of two far companions begin to rise. Most of Jormganner's year was awful for stargazing with the light pollution from one companion or anther. The natives seemed to have an innate sense of what sun was doing what -- proto-navigators. Sandoval felt a deep kinship with the simple souls until one tried to eat her bamboo slideruler.

She'd gotten the earrings in compensation so everything was going fine.

There was a whine, almost at the edge of hearing that Sandoval heard before she saw the ATV. It was a recent acquisition bought in a flush of adequacy since Beagley was handling part of the trading. Captain was off in the gig seeking further bargains and Sandoval wished desperately he'd stay out of the cargo deck since things were going pretty well or at least way better than she was used to.]

Beagley drove the vehicle over a rise and parked  on the beach near them. The crew began gathering their belongings. This involved Luch throwing most of them at Skipper who gamely was attempting to catch them. Both Sandoval and Beagley screamed "No!" when the steward was about to loft a large cooler at the deckhand.

Beagley allowed Skipper to drive the ATV back with Luch beside her while he and Sandoval took up the back seat. He figured he'd need both hands around Sandoval with her blossoming and all. After the Second Tier Navigator looked at him she detected a certain smugness and determined through some intuition the smugness didn't involve her.

"Give. What'd you do now?" she asked cuddling vigorously. It took most of the long ride back to get him to spill it. He was having too much fun. Even Luch was showing interest. Normally the steward wouldn't spit on Beagley if the deck master's hair was on fire.

"We got another load for our half full hold. We should have a full cargo when it's loaded," the trade master admitted.

"That's great babe ... what else?"

"Well I kind of made Captain look silly before he left to scout more leads," Beagley continued.

"Pfft. Not too hard. We all do that, even Skipper," Luch muttered.

Beagley was on a quest to be admired though and went on, "He got a bunch of natives to load the cargo that we might leave on time tomorrow, as we calculated. Only they don't speak Basic. So he started storyboarding the job, them taking the crates on the ground and bringing them up through the ship.

Except they still didn't understand. So Captain tried pointing to the crates and giving them instructions in Basic slow and loud. They're looking at the drawings and pointing and gabbing while he does this and he finally dumps them in my lap and tells me to school them. Like I speak srir-lukh-ronga?"

"No one really does. This planet gets very few ships to date," Sandoval patted her beau's arm.

"Then I got the idea -from what you said Sandy- maybe they don't follow sequences from left to right they way most cultures do. I mean you said they are pros at tracking the sun and the far stars. Maybe they use them to express time. So I get a compass, find a bulkhead that's aligned roughly east-west and lay the storyboard out for them again. the head man looks at the pictures nods with a big smile then points to the crates. I'm like 'Yeah! I gotta pick up my mates. I'll be back in a bit.' I left them with him giving orders and gesturing all over my drawings. I bet they'll be done by the time we get back!"

Sandoval got a cold spot in the pit of her stomach. She stopped hugging and said, "Skipper, floor it back to the Rockit." Skipper happily applied her lead foot to the pedal. The ride back still took a while. ATVs were sort of mechanical oxen. You couldn't hurry them much.

"What's the matter, hon? Are you not feeling well?" Beagley asked concerned at the sudden absence of cuddling for the balance of the trip. He;d asked several times. This time Sandoval finally answered as they were nearing the Profit Rockit.

"I'm great but ... you laid out your drawings on the ... port bulkhead of the hold or starboard?"

"... port."

"Left to right?"


"In other words east to west?"

"Yes. What's the ... oh Great Rah!" Beagley yelped. The Profit Rokit was coming into view now, the entire contents of both her holds were neatly arranged in rows on the ground near her. Captain had returned and was busy fist shaking at the skies and when he saw it, their ATV.

Sandoval facepalmed and said through her fingers, "This isn't Earth ... or Gern ... or even Zaonia ... the sun rises in the west here." Sandoval was already starting to redo the flight plan for tomorrow in her head. they might still raise ship, if they paid for more natives. She tried hard not to let the plaintive sounds her Wilberforce was making distract her too much.


First thanks to Winchell Chung for posting this article. In case you don't want to read it a quick synopsis follows: humans have a wealth of problems communicating with other due to different perceptions arising from different languages. Languages aren't merely different words and different syntax. They are different because they mirror different cultures and different ways of thinking.

As a  very simple example asking for a bathroom in an English speaking country other than America might direct you to a room with a bathtub and not a toilet. Some people distinguish between the two functions. A universal translator might not be a big help, not a human translator. Engage hilarity.

It's not so hilarious when two soldiers are speaking a common tongue to direct an artillery strike but one assumes the distance is in feet (or quarloos or whatever) and the other is using meters. For that matter compass directions might mean nothing on a world without a magnetic field. Gyro compasses might be set to home on the starport  or natives might use the sun's path to specify directions.

Star Trek: the Next Generation got an episode out of this when they met a race that spoke in metaphor. The universal translators did squat for a change. It was an interesting idea though I'd like to know how they used metaphor to say, "Go to Warp 6!" in a combat situation or even, "Hand me a wrench."

Language and culture differences go much deeper of course. A culture that lives on a tidally locked world might have no words or concept of time as we do, living in an eternal twilight. They might measure it by slight dips the sun makes over time or life processes of local life (I'll give you ten breaths to come out with your hands up!") This can make for hassles making appointments and handling business with offworlders from rapidly spinning planets. It also means getting a life sentence means the same as on Earth.

One example of the languages given in the link is a type of conversation where people speak very exactly and with affixes to indicate how sure they are of what they say. I could see this language for spacers or anyone living in a very delicate life system like a ship or space station where a miscommunication could lead to blood or tears. Such people might be driven to distraction by others who seem to speak ambiguously all the time.

Hopefully Beagley will have the article link for the Captain.