Showing posts from 2014

Matter Over Mind

Magical weapons are a feature of many (if not all) roleplaying games. Lewis Carroll gave us the vorpal sword. Star wars gave us the light saber (if you don't think that thing is magical talk to a physicist!) SF games with a harder sort of science shy away from such things and compensate with more 'dakka' (though an SMG with a 100 round clip firing 10,000 rounds a minute has its own sort of magic.) But getting back to the so-called magic weapons there are few hard facts given about how they work. Are they sharper, preternaturally lighter to wield or do they have AI (artifact intelligence) letting them compensate for ham fisted humans' lack of skill? I never really asked myself how it worked even when I was running a fantasy campaign, but I'm asking now. In magic as in all things the simplest way of getting the results you want is usually the best. You could make a sword and enchant it plunging it into dragon's blood to make it supernaturally hard and sharp. B

Spontaneous Generation

The first science fiction roleplaying game is generally thought to be Metamorphosis Alpha, not Classic Traveller. MA was the first RPG I even bought. Comparing the two is interesting. Metamorphosis Alpha is clearly in the vein of D&D which is not surprising as they were produced by the same company. Also D&D was pretty much the only game in town, if you pardon the pun. The first law of success is to copy someone who is already successful. Unlike D&D MA had no experience system, levels or classes. Instead characters were differentiated by mutations mostly and to a lesser extent stuff they found. Then Traveller came along. It definitively broke the D&D mold. Starships and Spacemen was published a year after Traveller and retained several D&D conventions such as classes and levels (which seemed to work pretty well.) But Classic Traveller avoided classes, levels. It also had no comprehensive experience system. Characters came to the game fully formed. In this the two

STL: The Next Generation, and the Next, and the Next, and the Next ...

Like so many people I want to travel to the stars because there's probably all manner of interesting stuff out there. Unfortunately Einstein is a meany and slapped a speed limit on us. Newton killed the buzz long before that with his equal and opposite reactions. People are saying you'll have to go a ways in ruining Earth before colonizing Mars becomes attractive. Well traveling to another star within a human lifetime would take enough energy to terraform Mars. For those who want those stars and want to follow science  slavishly (I like to call those kinds of people scientists) we have the generation ship. Okay it won't get you to the stars but it will get your descendants to other stars and they might even resemble you. Yes, I know. Low berths. Low berths are for sissies and suspended animation might not be achievable. More importantly things could go wrong on a decades long voyage and you might want a few crew not kept in suspense (or kept in suspense if you get my dr

Cats and Rockets

Disclaimer: I'm a dog person. I connect with dogs I always owned dogs. I'm not as familiar with felines but I do like them. I felt SF literature was        biased somewhat in their favor and hence my post. I try to look at things from another angle. However I also try to mine existing ideas for new slants and I am a big fan of Andre Norton so: Cats in Space... The Scouts have their dogs. Free Traders have their cats. The features that make cats less attractive to Scouts make them more attractive to traders. There is a difference between running a 200 ton commercial ship and a 100 ton explorer ship. Free traders do not have the time or need to perform the strenuous decontamination procedures a Scout ship does almost weekly. They also do not explore untamed worlds but stick to the known markets for the most parts. Having vermin onboard is more of a factor and liable to put off high passage buyers. Cats excel in killing vermin and can be taught to present kills to the crew for

Brothers in Fur

Humanity has yet to encounter true alien intelligences in the Icy Shores. Nevertheless the Scout Service at least frequently has multi-species crews. Some of the crew have whiskers and paws. Many of the other services have cats and dogs aboard their vessels. Cats take care of vermin on Merchant traders and liners. Some Navy ships have mascots with pedigree papers that get more respect than their captains (especially if the commanding officer is a commander or lower rank). A number of Marine and Army units have various Terran and off world creatures as mascots. Only the Scouts list their dogs and cats as crew however. Scout prefer dogs to cats for several reasons. A dog is less likely to jump on a control console and create an accident. Dogs are also far easier to train to book for their pressurized carriers when they hear a certain alarm siren. While cats are superior in keeping vessels clear of vermin this is less of a concern when Scout vessels regularly open an airlock to flush


A little discussed feature of other planets is holidays. I'm not talking about Chrismanukwanza or Conjoined President's Day or similar holidays brought from Earth. I'm talking about local celebrations to baffle and thrill your players. There's a lot of fiction written about festivals where everyone is entitled to do whatever they wish with no repercussions. Star Trek: TOS started that trope and it's gotten dumber with every iteration. If you think you could rape and murder without abandon and your victims and their relatives would just let it slide after some arbitrary alarm goes off you're an idiot. Just let one member of the 1% be grabbed by blue collar celebrants and believe me there will be consequences. I want to talk about happier times to be had by all (npcs and pcs, no really). The first problem with Earth style holidays is when to celebrate them. Other planets are unlikely to have a year and day the same length as Earth. Tidally locked worlds are ev

Stats vs. Skills

I presented one idea for using stats with equipment to modify rolls. After some pondering I realized that stats should be good for more and in fact in some situations may be far more important than skills. Some editions of Traveller use acrobatics or athletics as skills which short changes stats. Also I do not add new skills to Classic or any version of Traveller lightly. Adding more skills means you have to add more skill levels to get enough skills to function. This means players will have characters with levels concentrated in a narrow range of skill at times randomly and at times by design. Good stats are rare in a game where aging rolls take their toll. A person who musters out after one or two terms will have little in the way of skills but might have baby fresh high stats and go on to be the heavy lifter of their party. Classic Traveller had one rule for a roll heavily influenced by stats: Throwing Blades. Roll 18+ on 2d6 adding Dexterity + skill - target evasion. I'd i


Some people take issue with Traveller ships using liquid hydrogen for fuel. Why not water? Well why not? Water is not flammable and contains oxygen which is good for breathing among other things. It also is great for radiation shielding. It is way easier to waterproof something than hydrogen proof it. Those little bitty atoms can migrate through some solid materials. Hydrogen leaks are nearly untraceable and can lead to hydrogen explosions and survival throws. But water is f---ing heavy! Take a Scout Courier, its 100 tons which in Traveller terms means it displaces 100 tons of liquid hydrogen. Please don't stick your ship in liquid hydrogen. The fuel tanks can take the cold but many other pieces of equipment can't. That 100 tons of liquid hydrogen takes up 1350 cubic meters (and two hundred squares of deckplans!) What is the mass of a Scout ship? Let's say it masses about .25 tons, on a par with modern aircraft and space craft (the materials are probably way sturdier.)

T5 review Part 3: Milk Bottles?

If you get this joke you really are a grognard. Over 600 pages in T5 and no milk bottles listed in equipment? So I was skimming T5 as usual and came to the section on skills. In an innocuous little paragraph I was informed that fixing ground cars for example worked for all ground car regardless of tech level and other skills were similarly independent of tech level. It quantifies quality of workmanship, reliability, ease of use and several other factors for any piece of gear. So now you could buy that I really have a problem with that. Flying a biplane will not give you the skill set needed to fly a TL 7 jet. Maybe the author thought it was needless detail and complicated play but this game also went into a couple of pages on perceiving and identifying various scents. Come on. Also breaking down skills into cascade and regular skills worked fine. Now we have at least a three tier cascade system with skills, knowledges and what have you that at least at first is confusing to me. T

New Rule (Comes Disassembled: Some Dexterity Required)

My post on creating tasks was very well received. I feel like I slighted some of the more stat oriented players and referees. I never really went with stats adding to skills every roll. Classic Traveller doesn't make a big deal about stats modifying rolls after chargen, right? Wrong Classic Traveller does apply stats to a great many common tasks that also use skills. These tasks are entirely concerned with killing people (and get a lot of attention in some corners). I refer to gun and melee skills. Both of these have required and advantageous stats levels based on the weapon in use. It's a very elegant mechanism. It models differing levels of natural ability. It In the CT tradition it also gives characters some choices to make. Should you take skills in a big heavy weapon that can tear through a hatch or a lighter weapon that you could actually hit with. In fact a rare character with advantageous STR and DEX and a heavy crossbow is downright scary (especially with a dose o

Not Seeing the Trees

I return to my read through of T5 Monday ... Ish. I love me some Classic Traveller. The books as written have everything you need to get off to a rousing start. They have mini games within games. They have rules for world building. They have funky power rules. They have a task system ... Oh wait. Perhaps the biggest gripe about CT is the lack of a task system (if you disregard the crap about fuel use, computer size, and what tech level your favorite gadget appears). I went through the rules to resolve skills and found them a joyous hodgepodge of different rolls for different tasks with very little explanation on the justification for this target or that mod. But the basics of a skill system are there and we can't really fault GDW. Coming up with really comprehensive rules for tasks would have probably taken a fourth book and bigger box. In any case the game holds up better after forty years than most presidential administrations. Actually CT does have a task system hidd

T5 Review Part 2

Credit: evan MacDude corrected my earlier misstatement. T5 is not an upgrade of CT but of T4 (which makes sense I guess). I haven't read T4. It came out while I was semi-retired from gaming, but it's on the list! Thanks Evan. Beyond the oasis of Chargen there's the fabled land of Qrebs where dwell the gun and armor makers. But before you reach it you must pass through Land of the Clones, Chimerae,  and Synthetics. Then you must cross the Desert of the Senses. Geneering clones was a little tedious but it had good stuff. It could and should have been a book on its own and divides characteristics into genetic and lifestyle components in a simple way. So no your clone is not assured of being absolutely identical to you. It also introduces personality recording and imprinting though oddly this comes a tech level before cloning is possible. Makes you wonder what TL 12 planets do with that knowledge. The section on chimerae, creatures engineered from the genes of two compatibl

T5 The Elephant in the Room

I recently acquired Traveller 5 and am determined to read through it as quickly as work allows (and maybe a little quicker). I never review, the internet is quite full of reviews but Traveller is near to my heart. So here goes. I've heard T5 described as 'a toolkit in need of a little love.' I have to agree with that description. I'm about a quarter of the way through now (in Book 1 territory in CT terms). T5 started out with a description of common measurements, range, money, volume and such. This goes on for enough time to dash any hope of a quick start. Regardless of the clarity or need of this information it's in the wrong place. We don't get to rolling stats till the early fifties. We also get a little information on how fatigue modifies rolls for tasks before we really learn how to roll for tasks as well as many many charts assessing the chance of successful rolls based on many dice pools. Again the information is interesting but it should be with the ta

Skill List(lessness)

As with most classless games Traveller characters are very strongly identified with their skills. In fact it's often stronger than most games. You have t make hard decisions about what service to enter to get the sort of skills you want. You may ache to be a hot shot pilot but with a low social standing the Navy is out. A low endurance will preclude the Scouts (if you want to live). So farm boy winds up flying a free trader instead of a Rampart starfighter. Add to this you are constantly balancing your quest for skills against aging and survival. In many versions of Traveller increasing skills is a very long, expensive and uncertain process. Naturally no one in Traveller ever thinks they have enough skills or levels in skills. People didn't think it when they generated their characters in Classic Traveller. Little has changed that mindset. When we got a look at Mercenary, wow! Suddenly you could go for advanced character generation with the possibility of a skill gained for

Answering the Question No One Asks

I'm big on Classic Traveller. You all know that. I have (just this day) acquired T5. Expect a longer blog post as I can't read the whole dang thing in one day. But I started and the following post is the result. I will critique T5 after I read the whole shebang. But it got me going all meta on game design. As the hour is late and I'm beat I will try to be succinct. A lot of a RPG or setting's success hangs on knowing what questions to ask and answering them. Classic Traveller asked and answered the required amount for an SF setting, in my opinion, in the core LBBs. That's a good design. Leaving out say, starships, for a splat book is a bad design. Leaving out vehicle combat is a gray area. You can't stick everything in your game though so it is defensible. Trying to answer every question you can think of is commendable, at least for enthusiasm. It isn't always the right decision. A game still has to be accessible. It has to be affordable. Too much chro

Airships and Barbarians

There was a brief pleasant time when I could throw a question out on the interwebzz and get answers and research delivered to me. that seems to have stopped because I've rattled on about things enough for people to realize I can do the heavy lifting research myself. Crap. Anyway, the Sperans, my space barbarians had a low tech equivalent to an air raft. Keep in mind when I say barbarians they still are TL 5 (early WW 2 in Earth terms). Since the prevalent interstellar culture in this setting is TL 9 I guess a barbarian is anyone 4 tech levels or more below you and TL 12 cultures will probably laugh their asses off at our 3D printers before they add water to their dehydrated air cars and fly off. When Earth and the Fringe Worlds reestablished contact with Peraspera the locals had lost the infrastructure and tools to manufacture gravitics. Nonetheless Scouts making contact were amazed to see flying ships. Besides blimps and dirigibles the colonists had a number of open-topped t

Warmed Over Zombies

With Halloween just ahead I stopped my Traveller designs to work on something more spooky: a classification system for zombies! Zombies in Traveller? Why not? You can have all manner of alien viruses, bacteria, nano-tech, and parasites out there as well as well as bio weapons, drugs and weird psi powers. As a side note zombies make great opponents for barbarians in spacesuits. Anyway I present my Universal Zombie Profile (UZP) newly revised and expanded. Origin 1) Parasite 2) Virus 3) Radiation 4) Nano-tech 5) Drug induced 6) Really bad case of jump sickness Smarts  1) Bugs are smarter. Zombies react solely by instinct. Will walk off cliffs or into fire.  2) Animal cunning. Very dumb animals.  3) Feral human. Will throw rocks, particularly to break lights.  4) Semi-intelligent. Will throw rocks, use clubs and can learn rudiments of machinery. Could fire a rifle but not load it. Can open doors. Limited learning.  5) Near human. Often retains habits and knowledge of past

Barbarians in Spacesuits Reprised

A word about the origins of the word 'barbarian' Definition of BARBARIAN 1 :   of or relating to a land, culture, or people alien and usually believed to be inferior to another land, culture, or people 2 :   lacking refinement, learning, or artistic or literary culture Take it from the top, the Perasperans I wrote about do not spend a lot of their time on the planetary datanet the starport supplies. No social media, news or entertainment streams. They might be very well read and literate in their own cultures but to their star traveling cousins anyone not posting on their own blog might be regarded as backward. Similarly on those long Perasperan nights they might do all manner of drawing or sculpture to pass a few hours but to people used to CGI images and three dimension printing their one of a kind art pieces might not be as well known as digital media works or thought primitive ("You paint in oils and use turpentine to clean up?! That stuff is bad for y

Barbarians of the Icy Shores

One problem with a relatively near future setting like the Icy Shores is humans don't have a long time to develop very divergent cultures. By divergent I'm talking barbarians. I have no problem playing doctor, scientist or bureaucrat but let's face it someone in the party has to do the fighting. A Marine will do all right but a barbarian really makes a statement about a party of adventurers. Barbarians and space travel are a crossover you just have to make happen. A barbarian evokes atmosphere, much like a skeleton in a spacesuit. Sadly interstellar missions are going to have a high basic technology. Losing technology or knowledge was never easy historically, despite what people believe about the 'Dark Ages'. It's even harder to lose knowledge when everyone has a


First a correction: I was under the impression that spacesuits were designed for low pressure because inflating them to one atmosphere required extremely thick fabric to contain the atmosphere. Actually the more you inflate current suits the more resistance you encounter in moving the suits that still tend to balloon out at a fifth of an atmosphere. My thanks once again to Atomic Rockets and Winchell Chung. Today's post is about those venerable Traveller institutions: starports and Free Traders. Some people think starports only provide fuel and snoopy customs agents. In truth they provide many essential services. They can even help you get offworld. A fact of life is that Free Traders can only pull 1 gee. Some worlds are size 9 or 10 ('A' if you think in hexadecimal.) About one world in twelve is a semi super terrestrial. They have a surface gravity greater than 1 gee. Free Traders and Subsidized Merchants  can only make 1 gee. Thus the problem. A Free Trader or Merchan

My Space Suit

I've been posting and reading a lot about boarding actions and applicable tactics and weapons. It got me thinking about that staple of SF: the spacesuit. Now spacesuits in SF have taken on the role of horses in fantasy. Everyone uses them but few people know how they should be used. On the subject of the horse, writers and rpgers often treat them like bicycles. They ride them where they want to go but don't know all the care they require as living creatures. As for spacesuits, people expect a lot of a collection of fabric, tubing, tanks and batteries that already keep you alive in one of the deadliest environments known to man. For my money Marianas Trench has space beat. It'll kill you way quicker and we have yet to build a suit to keep a man alive that far down. Vacuum can take up to a minute to kill you. If you're lucky you have 15 seconds of useful consciousness in vacuum. A suit patch takes up to ten seconds to apply so you better put it where your can find i

Discount Squadron Tournament

After some discussion with David McGuire I am going to embark on a space squadron tournament. We decided to build billion credit squadrons for a test run. We also intend on testing the battle riders vs. battleships. The squadron parameters are: Budget 1 billion credits. Pilots 50 (upper limit on number of vessels). Tl 12 Squadron capable of J-2, M-5. Squadron capable of gas giant refueling. We further decided: David's squadron was to consist of battleriders and their tender(s). My ships were to be starship and I was only allowed to use small craft (fighter, shuttles etc) no battleriders for me. We intend on researching the 'riders vs. starship question. If this is successful and fun we will extend it to a Trillion Credit Squadron Tournament.

Wilderness Refueling Part 2: Fear, Loathing and Nukes

The purpose of my first post on this topic was simply to run some numbers and see how long refueling takes and how large squadrons might go about it. I found that the minimum specifications for squadron (10% total tankage on partially streamlined tankers or tenders) refueling were a little silly. But now that we had a time frame we could extrapolate for squadrons with more and better tenders. I also mentioned that refueling took several days per Trillion Credit Squadron and brought up the problem of SDBs lurking in a gas giant (almost as beloved a trope as starfighters).  Then Klaus Teufel brought this up: Klaus Teufel Yesterday 11:23 PM   1 Reply I think SDB's couldn't effectively ambush refuelers unless the SDB's were really lucky, or there are a lot of refuelers. Jovians are big, and even Traveller atmospheric speeds have limits. SDBs probably live in low polar orbit, rather than atmosphere; dipping in when fuel is low. Let's

Wilderness Refueling

A squadron costing 900 billion credits (they got 10% off for using standard plans) has to refuel from a local gas giant. In order to be considered capable of refueling on a squadron level 10% of their fuel tankage must be carried on partial or fully streamlined hulls. Trillion Credit Squadron says the squadron refuels in one week. Too long? Let's run some numbers. First assuming the squadron can make 3 gees a trip to the nearer gas giant (600,000,000 km) will take 78 hours or about three days according to the Traveller Book (TTB p. 54). The Ancients set up gas giants at this distance to standardize refueling operations and it was a bitch. That leaves four days to conduct refueling of the squadron. That means in four days the refueling vessels will make 10 trips. they could have more time to refuel if the system has a Hot Jupiter orbiting close to to the star. If you decide to refuel from a Hot Jupiter with any other options you've messed up big time. I assume the refuelin