Showing posts from June, 2016

The Merchants Strike Back!

The life of a free trader in general can suck. I'm not referring to making your monthly payments (though those suck too). A combination of running cargo, carrying passengers and wise speculation more often than not will let you turn a profit. No hard work, does pay off in Traveller despite what the LBBs advise. I refer to all the people trying to separate you from your hard earned credits. The first obstacle to financial independence is often considered to be piracy. True to a point. Sometimes you can avoid them (the rumor mill is good for tips (buy a round in the local watering holes.) But as previous posts have stressed piracy is not limited to sociopaths in black painted cruisers randomly shooting at ships. Pirates will use their own rumor mills and spies to find out when you are carrying a juicy cargo. Take precautions. The fact is if the skull and crossbones set has a an inside man at the port there is little you can do about it. they've spent years probably weaseling

Code of the Stars

In keeping with any far flung group of people living on the fringes of mainstream society, spacers have evolved a code of conduct to regulate their behavior. It is not nearly as absolute or unbreakable as a spacer will profess but it is a good start for what to do and not do when you rub elbows with the star travelers. Yes I swiped the Code of the West for some of this.  Take the measure of a crew mate for what they are today and how they do their job.  Never steal another’s ship. A hijacker or pirate pays with their life.  Defend yourself whenever necessary.  Look out for your own, first ship, then crew mates.  Never use recreational substances on duty.  Don’t make a threat without expecting dire consequences.  Never open fire unless you intend to destroy a vehicle or installation.  Never pass another ship without a friendly hail.  Never shut down your transponder.  Never perform an active scan on another ship unless you're ready for a fight or perfor

Abandon Ship!

Abandon ship? Yes sometimes. Most times it is simply uneconomical to carry lifeboats. A lifeboat is designed as a long endurance craft with propulsion that can get you to safety. In the case of spacecraft that means something almost as costly and complex as your mother ship. Merchants can't afford that and usually neither can most militaries. I'd like to tip Traveller traders/smugglers and explorers to an easy way to minimize risk: convoys. Travel with a group of ships. One trader's dinky weapons will not trouble your average pirate or raider. Twelve traders' rinky dink weapons will. For that matter a collection of traders might have enough money to hire a mercenary ship to fly along and be further deterrent. If something does go wrong it's way quicker to transfer ships than reach a safe haven. I have yet to see a merchant convoy in any SF game I ever ran despite my bias towards space piracy. Suppose though there is a reason to abandon ship? A slow radiation l

Nature Red in Tooth and Claw ... Move Over!

Thanks to That's Gameable Community for the link and the inspiration. In many SF games the local animal life is a distinct threat to adventurers. Whether it's a water moccasin in your moccasin or a grizzly leaving you grisly you're well advised to pack some firepower on those long trips referees seem to love to railroad you into. After all some of those animals living in the Traveller encounter table weigh as much as a T-rex and lack its charm. "Feed me or your next survival roll will be a b!tch!" I'm not talking about them today. I'm talking about another kind of enemy that bullets are useless against: plants. Even on Earth a plant can mess you up. Plants have evolved defense mechanisms over millions of years. If they hadn't the animals would have eaten them all by now. Thorns Thorns on a plant are a no brainer. If the plant has resources animals require or just like it will have some sort of objectionable cover: thorns, nettles, brambles

Ghosts of the Mind

Sorry for the spotty updates lately. Work is awful in a word. I'm barely making my re-enlist roll and trying to stay long enough to make a few rolls on the mustering out table.  But enough of my botching. You want more Ghost Drive? You got more Ghost Drive! First a recap: Nonbiological Entities (NBEs) are what more primitive cultures refer to as ghosts or spirits. We lard evidence for them being the souls of the departed though some cultures maintain they are that and more. We do know they are life forms composed of psionic energy and several types of exotic matter existing in our three space as well as FTL space. Most people contain and use them to make their starships go. they usually have telepathy and telekinesis. Some do not but we don't bother with them in general unless you can 1)give them orders and 2) get them to give your ship a push. there are rare cases of them possessing precognition, clairvoyance, healing abilities and other fun parlor tricks. Outside a drive sy

Technical Difficulties

To celebrate my 50,000 page view (a little late) an overlong piece of the Tesla story. Thank you viewers! GCS Tesla “Ma’am,” the Ensign says. It’s a habit he picked up from GAIA. The Skipper hasn’t called him on it yet but he hasn’t called her that on the bridge until now. But the Skipper is all business and she gives a shrug of those perfect shoulders. She lets it go for now and is all ears. Ears and perfect shoulders. “Liberty Base’s signal. We’re losing it. I doubt we can get a signal through to them at this point,” the Ensign adds. “Disrupt communications. First step of a Videni attack,” the Skipper says. A slight frown crosses her brow. “How long till break out?” “Break out in twenty minutes if all goes well,” the Ensign says with certainty. The communications disruption was unexpected and he had not encountered it in his short career. He liked being sure of things. A little of his customary confidence returns. “How are the fuel reserves?” the Skipper asks. She

You Say 'Sargasso', I Say ...

Jonny Quest, Doc Savage and Captain Nemo had adventures there. Hammer Studios set a film there. Lady Andre Norton got the idea for one of my favorite books from it. Columbus traveled through it. I wrote about and defended space pirates. I wrote about cutlasses in boarding actions. I wrote about ghost ships of space and yet I forgot one of the most improbable yet enticing nautical legends that is just waiting to be transferred to outer space. I refer to the Sargasso Sea. The Reality The Sargasso Sea is the only sea on earth without a coastline, bounded instead by ocean currents and wind patterns in a relatively calm area of the North Atlantic off the east Coast of America. The currents and wind cause an accumulation of Sargassum seaweed which give the sea its name. It is also the site of The Great Atlantic Garbage Patch which must make the World's largest ball of yarn look like a real tourist attraction. (Sorry no photos on Wiki of the Garbage Patch) The Fiction Fict

Splodey Fighters

I mentioned the Catalyst before: the unobtainium that makes fusion possible at very low temperatures. I posited that mankind would expand out into the universe to seek more catalyst (unless the solar power lobby won). The assumption was that ships would use and reclaim Catalyst as they generated power. It is somewhat expensive. Besides the storage and recycling systems take up a lot of volume and mass. With any valuable resource you will have conflict over it. Maybe not eternally but it's a good long term bet. One of the coolest ideas in space conflict is the star fighter. But those little ships can't afford the space for recycling and storing Catalyst. Therefore they have all their fuel catalyzed before launch. It's economical given the size of the ships and their short duration missions. One of the other cool things about space battles is explosions. In the past I've said a ship probably won't explode when its reactor or drives take damage (unless you are d

Oddball Planets Pt. 4: Single Habitat Irrespective of Terrain Planets

Single Habitat Irrespective of Terrain Planets are a tried and true trope of SF and especially some roleplaying adventures. The most famous examples are the Desert Planets (C) Tatooine and Dune. Other examples are Dagobah and Coruscant. In our own solar system Mercury, Venus and Mars are a single type of habitat or environment. They'll kill you without a spacesuit. But people seem to enjoy pplanets that are entirely modeled after a relatively small area of Earth. this has some justification. It's a good shorthand way of writing up a planet for a referee under the gun. Referees are always short of time and energy and any established shortcuts like this are usually overlooked. If you're a writer and try it you're called a hack. Or worse. In fairness and entire campaign might take place in a relatively small area of a single planet. If a group of characters had a series of adventures on an Earth like planet but in a region resembling the Sahara in size and conditions

The Aliens of the Trope Cluster

Asimov said there were three kinds of SF story. The action adventure is where the gadget is a means to adventure: a time machine, starship, giant robot etc. In terms of aliens we are definitely talking forehead aliens. Humans would serve just as well but we want to make sure people remember it's SF. These aliens are sometimes given a special power or ability to make them harder to fight but it isn't necessary. The invention story is all about getting the parts and materials you need for the gadget and building it. This sort of alien can communicate with humans and might even appear very human but they have their differences. Part of the story involves working through these differences or passing some hurdles then benefitting from the aliens' special abilities. The Vulcans from Star Trek fall into this category. Their unemotional exterior, copper based physiology and mating patterns all provide problems that need to be worked around but they have telepathy and extremely po

WTF Does That Mean?

As I seem to be going through the 'invent new words' phase of SF writing I decided to include a small glossary for what I have so far used in the Tesla story. (N.C.) non-canon species, (Te.) Tenebrian, (Vo.) Vole, (Z.) Zangid -va go-agro: (Te,) Telling a person you are about to deal violence to them. Ex. Terrence go-aggro. AXA: A nomalous X eno- A rtifact. An artifact left behind by an extinct (or just missing) species. the code refers to any advanced and working technology the Fleet doesn’t understand. The AXA onboard the Tesla can change a subject’s species temporarily. GAIA: G ynoid A rtificial I ntelligence A ssembly. The combination of source code and hardware that is uniquely GAIA. gynoid: Terran AI in with ambiguous female attributes Lurran: (N.C.) Riasi’s species. Humanoid species with some feline and vulpine characteristics. An ally of the humans paddlet: A small tablet like device, usually with a flatscreen as a back up for a holographic displa