Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What's New?

This. September 15.

The ship is a Vegas class freighter. But there's not really much gambling with it. Running cargo and passengers tends to make you money above and beyond the mortgage for this ship which in turn means that every few weeks, at worst, you can take a vacation to get into all manner of trouble on your own.

As always making money is not enough, you have to keep it. There is always someone somewhere looking to separate you from it often at gunpoint. But as Firefly showed us running a merchant vessel can be a story in itself. there are cultural taboos to avoid, friends to be won, enemies to remove or recruit and that's just your crew. Making deals among the locals is hard.

Oh, some of the people who try to do you out of your money are stowaways. You best learn about them.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The World of Many Faces

A great many worlds in the galaxy are habitable. In the millennia that came and went many of them were inhabited by man and his descendants. Unutulmush was typical of them. It was a small and dry world in a tide locked orbit around a dim red feisty star.

It had known humans once or near enough. We landed outside ancient granite ruins that reached to the stars like broken fingers in the temperate belt stretching pole to pole. The cold thin air was like a refreshing libation after months of living on our packet. We had heard of an abandoned orbital station and came seeking salvage.

But we found its orbit had long since decayed. So we grounded and spent a night out under the stars looking at one horizon frozen just before the dawn and the other caught up in endless twilight. We built a fire with fuel pellets. We were too experienced to burn native foliage. Not after making camp on Zehir and loosing half our crew.

Sitting by our safe, synthetic fire roasting tube meat and puff tots we got to talking about the Homeworld. All humans had some myths about it and at these times we liked to share out old stories. This was mainly because we could never agree on what the World was like.

Elisapie called from the perimeter of light the fire threw. She liked the cold thin wind. It reminded her of home. "The World was cold with frozen seas for most of the year. It had long nights and long days at different times. Mountains were high and locked in glaciers and ice. Great beasts roamed the land and seas." She nodded her head sharply once.

Qalid inspected a tube meat on a fork and returned it to the fire. His dark eyes blazed as he spoke and he shook his head annoyedly. "The World was desert. Much like this one, it was sandy and rocky and life sprung from small water holes. Days were hot. Nights were cold. Maybe not cold enough for you Eli. But cold. People traveled on beasts that thrived in the sand and drank seldom at all."

Shug looked up from his puff tot and shrugged. "The world was ... city as long as people could remember. Streets full of lights blotted out the starlight and only those on the tallest building could see the horizons and they were full of more buildings. People lived stacked on top of people until the Exodus and many seeing stars went mad with delight or fear."

"No," I said firmly. "The World was nearly dead when men came into it. It nearly expired before we reached beyond it to bring ice from frozen moons to revive the air and feed the dry ocean beds. Worse than your desert Qalid or your frozen lands Elispie."

"The World was named Ocean and humans knew little of dry lands till they went to the Planets and the Near Stars. My people knew nothing of it of course. We cultivated fish for foods and harvested metal nodes for industry until the waters turned black and we had to leave ..."

"It was a cavern inside an asteroid ..."


"It was a fiction ..."

"This is an amalgam of legends of several early colonies among the stars. Humans reached them or were taken there by others. Never mind how. No planet had that many biomes, that variety of climes and weather, that many peoples. There wasn't enough room for all those tales on a dozen worlds, let alone one." That last pronouncement came from Thoth, the ship's AI. Its motile floated daring us to challenge his data.

"This is a nice planet. I wonder where the people went ... why they left?" I asked looking at Thoth. The motile wobbled a little. Thoth hated being asked a question and coming up ignorant. I threw another fuel pellet on the fire and looked at the ruins. Finally I shrugged. There were no easy answers in this Universe just more and more questions. I was suddenly very homesick for the small dead planet and the particular dome I called home. I wanted to breathe the air my people had breathed for centuries and walk the decks their feet had worn smooth.

After all, there's no place like home.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Gravity Wars

Tesla and Edison had the War of the Currents. There was the struggle over gaslights vs. electric bulbs. Then there was VHS vs. Betamax (for those of you old enough to remember videotaping). Mac and Microsoft still aren't talking. Wherever there's a way to build an invention there's likely to be several. But then at Low Stellar and Late Solar levels of technology you get the Gravity Wars!

Gravity control in most settings makes space so much easier (meaning you can get to it and get killed quicker and cheaper.) Instead of using a honking huge rocket to reach orbit you can use a consumer friendly launch with a reasonable payload to fuel ratio. You just throw a switch and some of the Earth's (or other planet's) gravity is negated. Doing a space time sidestep you find yourself in orbit.

This is going to piss off many powerful and wealthy people.

Think about it. You're running a surface to orbit transport company and have invested in a laser launch system or space tower or even just a reusable rocket and launch pad. That's $$$$! Then along comes Pop Jenkins who builds an anti-grav car in his garage for GHU's sake! the cost of getting to orbit becomes the price of some current (pennies unless you're buying it in New York City). What would your reaction be? What would the headlines read?

Local Inventor Dies in Garage Fire! Plucky Nephew and Brainy Neighbor Girl Feared Dead as Well! Page 2

Maybe I'm being a little cynical. Maybe Pop Jenkins announces his discovery from orbit in his Solar Winnebago. The secret is out. What the hell do you do with your infrastructure? All those rockets and launch platforms are junk and all your revenue will dry up.

Even worse, anti-gravity negates many reasons for going into space. A popular form form of MacGuffinite is microgravity manufacture. Now you can have microgravity or true zero gravity anywhere. So why even go to space?

Wait! Your company has some long term contracts? Smart. Even if transport to orbit costs go from $10,000 a kilo to $0.25 you have contracts! Tough shit! Build an anti-grav transport with a loan or your savings. Use the increased profit from using it to retire your rocket fleet and build more anti-grav transports. Meanwhile delay the anti-grav revolution as much as you can!

Legislation- You need to carefully monitor and license this new tech. Why you could drive a shuttle up to light speed and have it smack into a planet!

Economics- If you need Element X to produce anti-grav then Element X becomes very expensive. Or in a rift on legislature processing and acquiring Element X requires special licenses.

Health Concerns- the long term effects of artificial gravity on the human body are unknown! This needs further study!

National Security- This new technology can threaten the nation and must be restricted to the military. This might even be a fair cop. Those planet smashing gigs are pretty scary.

Slander! Anti-gravity is weakening the Earth's gravitational field/causing global warming/immorality and pulling meteors at your ship. Besides a little coriolis force never hurt anyone and keeps the coaster manufacturers in business. Those people have kids!

More than likely the new tech will have drawbacks and limits. If it's very short ranged it might only be used to provide gravity on space stations and low gravity worlds to keep settlers from becoming anorexic beanpoles. Those beautiful rotating space stations and passenger sections are all suddenly out of fashion though.

Perhaps anti-gravity is a  repulsive force instead of a shield or nullification. In that case it works when you have a planet or other massive body. The chemical rocket guys are out of business. The ion rocket cartel is still going strong for deep space missions. Just to further ruin Doc Jenkins' day, getting to orbit and being in an orbit are two different things. If anti-gravity lifts you a couple hundred klicks you are just hovering. Shut off the anti-grav and you fall. Worse, there are things moving in orbit that can hit you like little bits of dynamite. So an anti-grav might reduce the fuel and thrust needed to get to orbit but not negate it but Big Rocket stays in business.

It does feel a little immoral though. Like you build a fusion reactor that uses hydrocarbons as fuel so Big Oil (boo!) stays in business or a super rocket fueled by tobacco.

Friday, August 26, 2016

A. I. ... Artificial Identity

One of the biggest sore spots of any players of  (classic) Traveller are starship computers. Even after explaining that jump plans don't compute themselves and maneuver drives need careful minding while they break the laws of physics they seem to be too big for what they do. I'd like to weigh in on the subject.

Starships are modular, even the streamlined ones, to a great degree. That is you can switch out drives and generators and even take apart staterooms to rebuild your quarters deck the way you want. Married couple with high passage? Push those two staterooms together! Set them up as a pod hotel if you like.Similarly ships can keep swapping out drives and such as they wear out to extend their useful life. there are never enough ships after all.

Winchell Chung, Raymond McVay and many many others have brought up a legal query: if you have a ship you an replace everything on is it still the same ship? This is better known as The Ship of Theseus. Legal types like to worry about this stuff and so do banks that mortgage the darned ships. If you have a bunch of ferrous hulled far ranging FTL Frankensteins flitting far and wide, how do you identify them for legal purposes. What happens if a captain skips with his ship and puts his mortgage money into pimping his ride? When the ship calls at a port the authorities try to seize it but wait ... the ship they were looking for could pull 1 gee and this beast can do3 gees easy. The swiped ship similarly had different cargo and fuel capacities. Does the bank president yell,  "Curses foiled again!" and slouch away twirling his or her mustache (I'm equal opportunity, either or any gender can be a villainous prick)?

Enter the big-assed Classic Traveller computers from a game conceived when the only mobile communications device you'd carry would be a beeper that fit in a backpack. For this reimagining consider it more of a group of core systems tied almost inextricably into the keel (or whatever you call it on a spaceship). That my friends identifies the ship for legal purposes. Try to rip her out and unless you have a Class A shipyard you'll be likely to be left with a junked ship. And first rate shipyards have many nosy inspectors monitoring such upgrades. Buying a new computer requires a change of registry, notification of financial institutions and probably DNA samples ("You aren't sticking that chainsaw with scalpels in my mouth!" "It doesn't go in your mouth. Lrt me just twirl my mustache a bit first.)

This might justify the original High Guard system of restricting maximum hull size by computer model. It's not so much the computer as the control core around it. It needs to be a certain size to regulate the systems on bigger ships.

One more little catch I haven't been able to iron out. Electronics have a finite lifespan. So undoubtedly the computers have modular elements in them as well. Removing and replacing a whole core every forty years or so (right after you make your last payment!) is just cruel. How much of the computer d you replace before it's no longer the same computer?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Other Fleet

My series of posts have tried to wake up merchants and other spacers to the colorful travellers and phenomena of the space lanes. Mind the colorful people are usually pirates and barbarians and the phenomena you could usually do without. Sorry, those are the thought that come to me out of the ether. I just get custody of them, as George Carlin once said (I'd love to say I wrote this during a lightning storm with a bottle of Scotch in my hand but alas it's a sunny day and I'm sipping iced tea.)

Anyway besides your basic pirates there's another group out there to worry about. They are every bit as relentless (maybe more), they have better technology, they have excellent crews. The Polity Navy takes a dim view of them many times. I refer to the Patrol (with a nod to Lady Andre Norton of course).

There is no branch called the Patrol in most Polities but it's there. Politics indicates a Polity will field fleets to prevent invasion, and rebellion. These fleets will have the most powerful ships and weapons available as well as the highest technology level.

These fleets will be idle and trying to look busy 99% of the time. It's that other 1% that you keep them around for: war, blockades, rebellions, invasions, and spitting on the GHU-Emperor's statue. For fighting pirates these fleets are almost 100% useless. In building big ships to serve as deterrents you are concentrating your forces. Fighting a group of pirates or a smuggling fleet with a fleet like this is much like taking a sledgehammer to a swarm of gnats. The pirates go where the big ship[s aren't. Big ships require a scheduled route for political and defense considerations. This may be the same thing. Fleet Day may come early if your Planetary Baron is feeling uppity. Pray they leave early too.

Add to this that a remote central government probably doesn't give a chinchilla's ass about your local concerns or the distress call of that lousy 200 ton free trader ... Roland, Siegfried? I forget the name.

After paying their share of taxes for the Polity fleet member worlds with any sort of leaderships will tighten their belts and pay another tax for their local fleet, usually referred to as the Patrol. Yes it is part of the Navy, much as some regard the Marines as part of the US Navy. You try telling A Marine that and I'll take pictures. Apart from a temporary alliance the Patrol and the Fleet do not work that closely. While the Fleet exists to protect the Polity, the Patrol takes care of things on a local level.

The frontier navy does not have the budget of the Fleet. Small ships are used with local technology that do not require special bases or technicians to maintain. Crew are small. There's no Marine equivalent, ship troops handle boarding actions. Ship's boats are used extensively to augment firepower in a sort of mini-battlerider strategy. These ships are crucial in raiding pirate bases that traditionally have landing fields that are a nightmare for large ships.

The Patrol has relatively small ships (800 tons and under and darned few 800 ton ships). They do try to be everywhere. They use technology locally available and are built for lengthy patrols. Finally the Patrol skipper has a high degree of autonomy. Beyond a few scheduled stopovers for various concerns a Patrol skipper has a group of star system they patrol in whatever fashion they choose, barring orders from above.

The autonomy part gives pirates the fits. The Fleet makes a show of arriving and leaving and goes for shock and awe. It's like a marching band. The Patrol shows up where and when you least expect it, much like the guy who steps on a subway train, starts p[laying a flute and passes the hat around.

There's a difference in culture as well. Navy officers (and crew where possible) will often be stationed in ships and fleets far from their homeworlds. Their first loyalties and interests are to the Polity, not some locals (barring shore leave.) The crew of the Patrol are the locals. The Fleet regards anti-piracy missions as search and destroy missions (usually against a base or a lone ship with phenomenally bad luck/judgement). The Patrol uses local contacts and local rumor mills to ferret out the informants ad fences so necessary for successful pirate enterprises. There are even instances of one pirate ring informing on another group invading their territory to the Patrol. After all locals look out for each other.

The Parol is also relentless in mounting sting operations often using upgunned merchant ships or captured pirate vessels. These stings extend to Patrol crew operating undercover in starports to report suspicious goings on. Besides their own contacts and agents the Patrol cultivates good relations with the Scouts and the Free Traders. Both are valuable sources of information on local shipping. In the case of the traders some helpful tips might lead to the Patrol looking the other way when you have some duty free cargo in your hold.

The system is not perfect. For one thing in some areas the Patrol amounts to a private navy beholding only to its homeworld and little else. In Polities that are confederations local navies may be dominant. These look to their own world leaders and admiralty for orders first then the Polity.  The central government usually takes a dime view of this and restricts ship size and armament when it can.

Even so Patrols are often scenes of power struggles as local commanders do not always cooperate with others in a cluster funded navy. It gets worse if one or more worlds rebels against the Polity. In the case of a rebellion the Patrol is usually the first to get the ax. The Polity Fleet will regard them as possibly disloyal and move to disarm them and intern their ships. Similarly some local planets may regard them as tainted by offworld contacts and interests and move to eliminate their officers at the very least.

In a final  sign that the Universe's most fundamental force is irony many Patrol ships faced with their homeworld turning rebel turn pirate.

Monday, August 22, 2016

War and Honor

Ulla-Korsa: Klendath ... Klendath?

Klendath: Here my lord.

Ulla-Korsa: Report.

Klendath: Nothing is working and we are all that survive of the bridge crew. The escape shuttle is powering up.

Ulla-Korsa: The Hell with that. Hand me my blaster. I'll take down whomever is foolish enough to board us while I live! The blaster! Now.

Klendath: Yes ... the blaster ... here!


Ulla-Korsa: ... you miserable ...

Klendath: Actually I'm feeling pretty good right now. I want you to know something oh benevolent master ... your kingdoms are a joke. We ... my people run the show. We give you the technology we decide to give you. You are a bunch of damned barbarians. You may have beaten us at war but you lost at peace. We have worked our way into all levels of your culture until we are indispensable ... till we run the show! A shutdown here a failed rive there and you lose the war against the humans.  Yet you call us slaves and servants. Idiots ... we only needed you to keep the slugs and the Videni off our necks and free ourselves for true research. What do you say to that?

Ulla-Korsa: ... ...

Klendath: Well ... CRAP! Dying before I could rant. Lousy warrior scum! What ...?

<Clunk ... clunkclunk clang!>

Klendath: I don't want to know what that is. To the Klendath-pod!


Ulla-Korsa: Someone should tell the brilliant mastermind the difference between a kill and a stun setting. I will survive this if only to pay the little son of a bitch back!

Barbarians in space are my second favorite space opera trope (pirates rule, sorry). In many many tories they are put in a position to gain enough technology to invade and topple far older and more advanced cultures.

Let me explain what I mean by barbarians in space. They are people who came into the galactic community late using technology they borrowed, begged or stole from interstellar capable beings. They are new to the scene and not cosmopolitan at all, meaning they do not have much experience contacting other beings or with multispecies conventions (like signals meaning surrender or the standard airlock design). they don't have to be warlike or violent but most people think it's more fun that way.

Larry Niven's Slavers are an example of barbarians in space. They used psionic powers to take over other races and steal their technology and (even more creepy) their minds and wills. Personally they were kind of dumb, closeminded (no pun intended) and arrogant.

In a world where the Roswell incident was a real UFO crash and we were in fact back engineering the wreck's systems we would be on the verge of being barbarians in space. The best case of humans being the barbarians for my money is 'The Road Not Taken' by Harry Turtledove. It's available online and good reading so I won't spoil it here but it sums up a major point of being a successful barbarian: technology.

To be a credible threat the barbarians need an edge. The Slavers had psionics. Other races might have highly advanced technology but lack developed space transportation systems (maybe they just like things at home.) I'm thinking about the Golden Age version of the Kryptonians here. Highly advanced and superhuman specimens who had no interest in space travel because they had it so good. If another race made contact and the planet didn't explode the galaxy would be under a Kryptonian flag.

In some cases warrior spirit or raw courage gives the barbarians their edge. I'm not so sure these will out against laser rifles and battle armor when you have swords and chainmail. Poul Anderson managed to pull it off in The High Crusade, then again he was Poul Anderson! Mnay others have claimed humans are a unique mixture of technology and primitive urges and a force to be reckoned with. That depends on the rest of the galaxy. Any race that ascended to the top of the food chain must be pretty dangerous though and in a race full of dangerous aliens I doubt anyone would become so evolved they would forget their bloody bloody past. Some cultures might outlaw war. This may not be a stable state of affairs. Take out enough of their ships and conquesr enough of their worlds and you might see what high tech really means.

Sometimes the edge is not a strength the barabarians have but a weakness the 'civilized' galaxy has. GDW's Imperium had just grown too big to pay attention to those upstart Terrans until it was far too late (we also bred like rats.) Being preoccupied cost Great Britain the War of 1812 (or at least let the Americans survive it.)

Finally technology might not be everything. Perhaps energy weapons seem superior to slug throwers but just are not worth the extra cost, training time, and maintenance. So the troops with slug throwers will win the war even if they loses some initial battles.

The most dangerous thing that any so-called barbarians can do is not attack or flank his enemy or torture the prisoners of a hundred worlds though. The most dangerous thing they can do is learn. That might be all the advantage they need.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Moriarty With a Nuclear Submarine

I loved Trek and Lost in Space when I was a boy. In many episodes of both shows they would encounter fantastic alien technology and figure it out before the last commercial break. I'm older and more jaded now and call bullshit.

Say, you took a brilliant Victorian type, Professor Moriarty, and gave him a Navy surplus nuclear submarine. Boom! He has nukes, he's master of the world. except he hasn't a clue how it works (manuals were lost in the temporal exchange, no refund, no exchange read your waiver!) Could he figure it out without killing himself or scuttling the ship? Would he cause a meltdown trying to find the coal bunker (I say, let's extricate these metal rods Colonel Moran and see why they were deemed to so precious as to be ensconced in this metallic vessel.) Okay maybe not that. He's certainly smart enough to read a warning label. Alien tech wouldn't even have labels we could read (What's this that looks like the Olympic symbol only in plaid pictographs? Meh, pull that gewgaw out of that thingawhatsit.)

Note malfunctioning alien tech is usually worth a whole movie or novel. Alien tech either works perfect or ushers in an apocalypse, or at least prematurely emails your letter of resignation to your boss telling what a tool they are. Alien tech never just loses your mp3 playlists or forgets a password.

But what could we learn from technology hundred ort thousands or even decades ahead of us? Take an example.

It emitted radio signals intermittently from 1899 to 1928 and was detected by Nicola Tesla and others. It was an anomaly and quickly lost in the shuffle of the First World War and only occasionally noted after.

In the forties the Third Reich knew something was there. There was discussion of sending a man atop a modified V-2 to investigate but defeat and partitioning got in the way. The men at Peenemunde knew the real reason rocket technology was so important to the Reich and took their stories to West ... and the East.

The Space Race was begun for national pride publicly. Few knew of the darker reason, a few hundred miles above there was technology that could change or end the world. Titov did a flyby in Vostok 2 followed by Glenn in Mercury 6. Both confirmed the theories and fears. It was there, it was big and there were what looked like running light s powered on. No response to light or radio signals. Later mission assed closer and provided tantalizing photos. Engines? Sensors? An airlock.

But the Gemini missions would be the first to put a man onboard the Black Knight.

The premise is simple but flexible. In the 60's-70's mankind discovers the first of several alien derelicts in his neighborhood. How advanced the tech is, and what can be understood can be nearly anything. In thirty years we might still be puzzling over how to open the airlock or we may have unlocked SECRETS. It could be relatively minor matters like material tech or a storehouse of fusion catalysts. You could have accelerated development with recognizable tech (Orion drive ships heading to explore Jupiter) or technology that's mostly handwavium but looks familiar (Lost in Space, Space 1999).  Maybe mercury capsules become the first scoutships for the solar system with mini-warp drives fitted to the stern and when the ftl drive is figured out things get really crazy.

(The Gemini model is from the Sketch Up 3D Warehouse: Blue Gemini by Alistair D. Alien/Black Knight/enigma by yours truly.)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Eating Out

Personal Journal Gynoid Artificial Intelligence Assembly #24601
Captain: You have your orders. Correct?

GAIA: Aye aye Captain. I am to accompany the journalist about, render assistance, answer questions regarding procedures onboard and fill any reasonable requests.

Captain: Annnnnd?

GAIA: ... make sure personnel keep their fucking mouths shut! I thought I wasn't supposed to say that out loud.

Captain: You can say it to me, the Exec or the Chief. Stop imitating my voice.

GAIA: Aye sir.

Captain: I wish I had a crew of you at times.

GAIA: Shall I let the factory know?

Captain: Negative. Ah here come the four horsemen.

GAIA: ... excuse me?

Mukh: Hey it's GAIA! I love GAIA! Hey Captain!

GAIA: Hello Professor ... what in the name of Edna happened to Schaeffer?

Tivk: We are escorting the Lieutenant to the medical section. He has a badly lacerated thumb.

Lieutenant: I never got a scratch before I became Tech. I don't understand it. Ow!!

Nok: Got to keep pressure on it till we get to Doc.

Lt: Well let's go.

Captain: What the hell happened now?

Mukh: My lunch got uppity and the young fellow here got between it and me.

Lt.: Who orders a live lobster? Who gives it a steak knife?

Nok: I armed it to even the odds.

Tivk: Who told you to disarm the arthropod?

Lt.: You could have helped more. You dove under the table like you owed money to the Life Support Guild.

Tivk: Arthropods are venomous! The knife could have been rusty or envenomed! Besides, I was seeking a weapon.

Mukh: Human restaurants keep weapons under the tables?

Tivk: I would improvise something.

Nok: Next time hide behind a little girl whose mother doesn't mind.

Lt.: Save yer breath Mr. Nok ... Tivk is convinced squirrels are venomous.

Captain: Oh for ... yeah get to sick bay. If that journalist sees this sort of thing and it gets out the Zangid will probably jump to attack us.

Tivk: Yes sick bay. I may require medical attention for this buffet on the scalp.

Lt.: The mother smacked him with her purse.

Tivk: Dreadfully unpleasant woman.

Mukh: Would you like to pet my lobster Captain?

Captain: Get that thing the hell away from me! Get to sick bay all four of you! GAIA, go and keep them out of trouble.

GAIA: Aye sir, going and keeping them out of trouble.

Lt.: Aye Captain. Going to sick bay. Hey, professor?

Mukh: Yes?

Lt.: Aren't you going to eat that thing?

Mukh: I can't now. He won, didn't he?

Social media is an aspect of our future that was unheard of when games like Traveller and Starships and Spacemen came out. On some planets it may be outlawed, on others it may fulfill the role of media and news service. This can have an impact  on player characters.

What happens when a merchant arrives to find his name has already been smeared by rivals in TraderNet.web forums as a deadbeat and payment skipper? What about citizens recording and posting video of player characters ... being player characters? A totalitarian regime with a high enough tech level may make every citizen a mandated reporter with a camera phone.

I was going to write more about the misuses of social media but given the state of the webs these days, if you're reading a blog you must know what can go wrong and frankly it's a little depressing. I'd much rather write about murderous space pirates and criminals in the far future.

In other news Marco Polo is coming home tomorrow in time for his 6th birthday! I saw him today and he's was fine if a little standoffish (how could I let THESE people have him?)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Review Is Up!

Winchell Chung was kind enough to read and review Ships of the Galaxy: Hawking Courier. the review can be found here.

Friday post may be delayed as I dance the happy dance.

You can purchase your copy of Ships of the Galaxy: Hawking Courier here for only $5.00 As Winchell says you get plenty of views and a solid idea of how the decks and other components fit together and where the story hooks are and you get to meet Slider. If enough people are interested there might even be some freebies on this blog for Hawking captains.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


Private Journal of Klendath Servitor Class Alpha

Ulla-Korsa: This is ridiculous. I know how to act properly.

Korsa: No Dad, you don't.

Klendath: Humans don't like you to yell 'Death to the humans!'

Ulla-Korsa: Old habits are hard to break. They shouldn't take it so seriously.

Korsa: Shut up you or I will sic Talnerassa on you.

Klendath: Shutting up.

Korsa: Now ... when you are introduced to Terrans or beanpoles or phrogs you greet them and say, "How do you do?"

Ulla-Korsa: How do they do what?

Korsa: You got me. They just ask it and never seem to answer it.

Ulla-Korsa: What about the voles?

Korsa: They make no pretense about caring how you are.

Ulla- Am I supposed to answer the question?

Korsa: No. Just say 'fine' or 'doing good'.

Klendath: It is a calibrating phrase to make sure their translators are working properly. Like when you guys say "We've come to liberate you!"

Korsa:  ... Hey that makes sense. Anyway wait for the translator module to kick in. Now you will probably be offered refreshments.

Ulla-Korsa: It's about time.

Korsa: Not necessarily booze or a full meal.

Ulla Korsa: Cheap bastards. We're supposed to enter into a weighty thing like a conversation without some meat and salad and wine?

Korsa: Maybe later. Anyway, when they offer you food you say, "Thank you."

Ulla_Korsa: Why?

Korsa: It proves you are polite.

Ulla-Korsa: Who said I'm not polite? Are they just so snooty as to assume I am rude? I'll kick a mudhole in some snotnose's chest!

Korsa: You just do it. Say 'thank you' or 'thanks' if they give you anything.

Ulla-Korsa: Wait. EVERYTIME? Why?!

Korsa: Again to show them you are polite.

Ulla-Korsa: Once is not enough? Are they trying to trip me up? This is very stressful!

Klendath: I can see why you tried to conquer them.

Ulla-Korsa: I know right?

Klendath: If you let me tell him about saying 'please', Master Xamilar, I will realign your entire power assembly!

Korsa: I was getting to that ...

Ulla-Korsa: What is 'puh-leeze' for?

Korsa: Klendath, wine, meat, salads ... more wine. This may take a while.

Klendath: You didn't say please.

Korsa: Bring enough for yourself as well.

Klendath: I like the way Zangid ask for things better than humans.

Ulla-Korsa: Right?

My nano-fic made a point of saying the humans who run a lot of the Space Fleet have mediocre translators at best. One clear discrepancy is in labeling Klendath and his ilk as slaves. In the Zangid culture conquest of individuals and whole cultures is the road to glory. The humans perceive this as 'slaver' and to a point they are correct. To the Zangid 'slave' is not a binary function (slave/free). They view everyone as having obligations, the conquered as well as the conquerors. There are degrees of responsibility and freedom.

While a human made translator translates a Zangid word as 'slave' there are at least a dozen variations on that term denoting different socio-economic levels. Indeed some servants such as Klendath have more luxuries lavished on them than the average Polity citizen. More telling he has rights and privileges an ordinary warrior does not. Being an inoffensive servant you can't just bust him in the mouth for a snide remark like your brother warrior. there's such a thing as the 'Slave' Relations Board. Too many infractions and you get your license to operate servants taken away. then you must actually hire people and deal with (shudder) unions.

The Tripper/ Zangid relationship could be characterized as mutually beneficial. The trippers run the machines of industry or war. The Zangid operate the machinery of war and keep the bigger meaner aliens off their pencil necks.

As for the translators: the Polity is not without its prejudices against the Zangid and others. The humans programming the translators will have biases as they trnaslate terms. thus the non-Zangid citizens of their kingdoms are referred to as slaves. The term "Zangid', once thought to refer to their species actually means 'children of Gid' the first ancestor/Creator/badass. Now any being displaying courage, tenacity and ruthlessness can be a Zangid (note this is not S&S canon, blame Ray McVay for this neat insight). That sort of egalitarian philosophy doesn't fit human notions of these warriors so the term continues to refer to the race. Controlling a translator can promote world views and propaganda or just reflect cultural biases.

Take the Big Glowing Heads, first encountered by the beanpoles. These are truly alien in biology, mentality and culture. Given to arbitrary and god-like dick moves they deserve a more ominous name perhaps but the beanpoles are pretty literal in their language and eschew mythology and the supernatural in their descriptions. Thus the term is translated into the various human languages as Big Glowing Heads because that is the form they often take. So humans are maybe a little less cautious about them (Doc sure was.)

Culture and politics are spread by more than troops and starships. So is misinformation.

Obligatory plug: the Company makes translators.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Hawking Class Courier

Remember way back when I put up some neat pictures of a Scout variant (it's actually more of a courier given the crappy sensors but eh) I kept at it and tomorrow will see the release of the first Blue Max book done entirely by me, myself and I: Ships od the Galaxy: Hawking Courier. I prepared a little FAQ on the design.

Q: What game system?
A: The Cepheus Engine though it should work with any OSR system using 2d6.

Q:What kind of ship are we talking here?
A: She's a surplus fuel hungry little beast (20 tons of power plant fuel gives the same endurance as 3 tons in more modern ships). So instead of paying 30 Mcr. for one you could get pay as low as 15-18 Mcr. Or you could pay the full price for an uprated model that has a lot of extra fuel.

Q: How big a ship is it?
A: 100 dTons. Three decks. Very cozy.

Q: What am I getting into here?
 A: Deck plans, 3d views, some homebrew rules, a lot of story hooks, and snags for players disguised as color commentary.

Q:Does it have gravity control?
A: Yes it does, hence it is laid out like an aircraft or ship.

Q: Does it have greebles and gadgets?
A: Hell yes!

Q: Where do you get your ideas?
A: Equal parts Atomic Rockets website and watching Tiny House Hunters on HGTV.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Recruitment Starts With Arrrr

So ye want te be a pirate chieftain do ye? Well getting a ship be easy. Beg, borrow or steal one. Getting the crew be the hard part!

No what? I'm tired of talking that way.

Yes Ship usually come with a crew but after the usual methods of acquisition that may not be the case. A crew might mutiny and then some refuse to to sail under the Black Flag. Add to this that some crew may pirate only briefly and then retire or be retired and you realize there is a bit of a turnover rate. How then do you recruit more pirates?

This problem is compounded by the fact that pirates need some very skilled personnel to repair and modify ships and their transponders. The Navy can just hang some posters up and man a kiosk at the port with some eye candy and attract gullible young people. Try that with piracy and see what far you get. (Spoiler: you get twenty years hard time to life.) But don't worry! If the Scouts can attract recruits anyone can!

In several posts I mention piracy starts at starports. There any savvy group of Brethren have a number of snitches and agents identifying a juicy cargo to plunder. It beats rollin stuff up on an encounter chart. But it starts well before that. Piracy arises from a number of economic issues and local politics.

Take the Brethren (nickname given by the Navy brass). The Brethren were originally a a group of crime families who prospered and expanded to several worlds and stations. They began a number of illegal mining, drug refining and slave camps. They soon found that they had to guard these operations as well as have method of punishing those managers who were derelict in their duties or worse -skimming. They quietly put the word out through smuggling ring contacts and got a number of pirate captains quite willing to follow orders for a fat and regular paycheck. With their expansion secured the Brethren realized their space forces could easily generate more income and were mostly sitting around idle!

 The Brethren embarked on a highly organized system of insurance fraud. Precious cargo would be bought, insured, and loaded on ships. In the process the cargo would be switched for worthless junk and sold groundside before anyone knew it was stolen. The ship carrying the false cargo would then be attacked, boarded and looted with the pirate crew instructed to do no real damage to the merchant already part of the Brethren. The Navy would chase the pirates in many cases and a well timed wave of smugglers would descend onto the Brethren's planet.

In some clusters the brethren began trading on their reputation. representatives would approach shipping companies and introduce them to a very reasonable (compared to the alternative) rate system to assure no pirates would bother their ships. The same representatives called on a number of smuggling rings as well. Needless to say the smugglers were another source of recruits. Some merchants quit their companies to pirate as well. If they were going to endure violence and corruption the pirates had better armed ships and more leverage.

Some of the starport informants were quite skilled indeed working in traffic control, and maintenance and would make prime crew. Leverage to recruit them varied. Does that traffic controller have a gambling problem? Does the married engineer like the ladies a little too much. Any and every vice was monetized to get some hold over them. Loans and bribes to help out recruits were also used. These loans will be expensive. Just how expensive no one knows because no one ever finished paying them back. Maybe a promising recruit lacked the connections to make it into one academy or another. The Brethren obliged.

All these informants, expediters and corrupt officials had two things in common: a set of skills and a finite career groundside. They could either keep pointing out targets until they are caught or retire after they made enough to suit retire.

Except the Brethren might not want them to retire.

Now apart from their strong work ethic the Brethren usually did all right by its informants. When one got fingered they made a concerted effort to get the person offworld and onto a ship where they could be of further use. Letting them get arrested is just opening a whole other can of worms. It also made new snitches harder to recruit. So your traffic controller ended up manning a scanner on a corsair. Your engineer was set to up gun that merchant you brought in. That's how they got highly skilled labor.

Whole crews were harder. Sometimes a merchant skipped on payments and went rogue, peddling smoke stick cartons without the duty stamp and declaring himself a pirate. They usually lasted till they met a real pirate who made the crew an offer. Being outlaws already many accepted.

Privateers were another source of crews (GASP!). Once they started attacking enemy merchants some had trouble reading the print on their letters of marque and started grabbing any ship. Others wound up buying a ship for what amounted to a short war and horribly, peace! Left with no way to make payments and a warship what do you think they did?

Some crew came from prize ships. After working long hours, enduring passengers, local laws and a stratified promotion system many merchants chose a life of piracy instead of ending up a retired wage slave with a gold watch. The same held true to a lesser extent for Navy and Scouts. Some people would rather take a chance at riches if they're going to be putting their lives on the line anyway.

Moral of the story: pirates don't exist in a vacuum.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Amenities for Fun and Profit

A stateroom (or cabin for you peasants) will run 8,000 cr. for double occupancy. That means a cool 16,000 cr. profit. Consider that shipping cargo would only get you four grand and obviously running people os more cost effective than cargo. Wait there are a few snags. First that room runs 2,000 cr twice a month for life support each week of use so you're talking a 12,000 cr. per trip.

Second passengers are a pain in the ass. They will want entertainment, personal service, meals for GHU's sake. You're going to need a steward. `That guys gets 3,000 cr. a month. Of course a steward can tend to a number of passengers at one time. Especially if the other crew help out. You aren't going to need your gunners in jump, are you? Let them start doing laundry and tossing salad.

A person combining steward and medic is a rare jewel indeed, being able to tend to passengers' ills and allergies. The other good thing about a steward is fine cooking doesn't hurt crew morale at all! You might keep crew longer and some captains care about that.

Likewise installing facilities for entertainment and pampering can be used by the crew when they are not working a charter or are otherwise grounded.

No the ants at the picnic in this charming scenario are high passengers. For some arcane interstellar status quo fustercluck you are supposed to give these clowns a cabin all to themselves for a mere 10,000 cr.! So that'd be 8.000 cr. for that same four tons, not 14,000 cr. Worse they take up a whole ton of cargo. That's another 1,000 cr. you lose in shipping. So we're talking a bit more than half what that stateroom makes with two economical middle passengers.

I bet merchant captains loathe TAS members with every fibre of their being. Each of them get a high passage once a month? For life? Wait, we're on a regular schedule between these two worlds and this guy wants to commute regularly to see his kids/mistress/whoever?! That's 5,000 cr. we lose every month for this ... pensioner! A good captain seeks to stretch a centi-cred as far as possible. By the time he finishes you could use it as monofilament in an orbital elevator.

Okay. the price of a ticket may be fixed but any merchant captain knows several ways to skin a cat. Particularly if cat pelts are fetching good prices. Those of you who have stayed in hotels know what I'm talking about: service charges!

Basically aside from a furnished room life support, sustenance and library data access the ship is not responsible for you. Anything beyond this can be charged. Do you want to use the entertainment system? Twenty-five credits per game. Laundry service? Dry cleaning? Premium meals (i.e. anything other than meatloaf)? Headache tablets? The charges pile up. Fortunately people who can afford high passage don't mind throwing away money. TAS members are already traveling for free and might want to splurge a little.

Some merchants have elevated separating travelers from their credits to a high art,arranging shows, gambling and darn near anything else the passengers might want. What happens in jump space stays in jump space. Right?

For soe ships this is simply an economic necessity. They started out passenger liners and just don't have a lot of cargo space but they have staterooms.

Making a good name for yourself can lead to charter work. Maybe the Jionthy Atmospheric Re-Entry Club hires your ship every month to jump from the edge of atmosphere after a lavish party. Maybe you get a regular run supporting safari expeditions because you don't mind caged snarling brutes in your cargo hold (besides the trade master and deck hands). It's good economics and good andventure hooks to have regular clients to depend on who may have their own need of a chip and crew at times.

In my earlier posts I've noted that some passengers will require different atmospheres, foods, gravity levels to remain in their comfort zone. Charge them for that two. Note that stuffing rocks in the mattresses and then gouging people for zero-gee sleeping arrangements can get you in trouble fast. This is actually a viable strategy. Get enough complaints from high passengers and the Travellers' Aid Society will flag you as a flying clip joint. Then the high passengers will disappear. But then that was what you wanted in the first place, wasn't it?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Sorry Yet Again

Post will be up tomorrow. My dog had surgery today.

"You will all pay for this loss of dignity!"

Monday, August 8, 2016

Life in the Fast (Drug) Lane

The first multinational corporations got that big controlling commodities or resources. The next generation became truly global by controlling inventions like railways and telegraphs that moved people and information. The next wave made its mark by controlling time (albeit crudely). Appliances and conveniences were produced that maximized your productivity allowing more leisure time (Unless you were working in America).

The Company extended the control of time to an unbelievable degree. There was no way known to slow down the universe or make things happen faster of course but time is relative, a conceit of the mind and minds can be manipulated.

Let's take things slow. Say you like to be kept in suspense.

Fast drug is a fairly cheap and low tech commodity (200 cr. TL 10). In fact it makes you wonder why people put up with the deadly effects of low passage. Perhaps the drug requires limited natural resources to synthesize or specialized knowledge and skills. Perhaps low passage can be initiated by anyone but fat drug requires a prescription (it's even called drug.) Let's ponder a world or culture with easy access to fast drug.

Time loses all meaning for long voyages. At least for milk runs you could stack your crew members like cords of wood. On exploratory trips fast drug reveals its flaw: you need someone to administer an antidote. that means a crew member must make the trip awake or in cryo (or more than one if you're paranoid.)It's also rather wasteful. A single dose lasts for two months. Cutting it down to less time ay be a little dodgy.

Aside from traveling as a piece of furniture fast drug opens a number of economic possibilities. Take that beautiful young starlet. She makes movies and they make money. She can only make one a year tops and there's often downtime of a year or so between films. Why should she sit around aging? Just take a nap for a few months until her next flick is ready to shoot. The same applies to professional athletes who need to make the most of their productive years. in between their seasons when they aren't training let them sleep and duck an aging roll. In both these cases prolonging a career even by a decade or so would reap huge rewards.

Needless to say highly trained individuals of every sort may have their productive lives prolonged in the same way The special forces leader may be pushing eighty but he can pass for thirty.

Is the law on your tail? Things are getting hot? Drop a fast pill and sleep until the heat dies down.

The benefit of fast drug above cryo/low passage is that for the one you need a special berth that draws power. With fast drug you could probably bury yourself alive in some out of the way spot until you ready to rise.

Militaristic regimes, want to keep all those soldeirs but can't afford them in peacetime? Give them fast drug and let them wait until needed. In this case you might want to arrange things so say your army is divided into eight units with their wake up times staggered. If there's trouble let the first unit wake up, then the second etc.

Unemployed? Can't make the rent? Drop  fast pills until the economy turns around. There may be sleeper hotels catering to those taking a long nap to meet economic needs.

In case of a disaster fast drug could save uncounted lives. Is your healthcare system swamped by a crisis? Stick some of the victims in a fast drug coma until you can get to them and work on the truly urgent cases. this can also be a humane way to isolate disease carriers until a cure could be ]synthesized or researched.

Prisoners of war are another chance to economize. Prisoners in the penal system you kind of want to experience their captivity. In case of a war though you may be left with thousands of trained combatants who need feeding, guarding (barbed wire ain't cheap.) Instead knock them all out until peace is declared. This method might also be used on captive psionics who can raise all manner of hell if you don't have a regular supply of psionic shields.

Slow drug is the other side of the coin: take a dose and your metabolism is sped up by 2:1 for the combat version or 30:1 for the medical version. The RAW says that the medical slow drug requires life support gear as the patient is in a very vulnerable state but it says nothing about the patient's mind? Does slow drug leave you conscious? If that's the case can you learn or do mental work (research) under its effects? You might need to be immobilized to protect yourself from sudden movement but surely eye tracking technology would let you operate a display as you scroll through pages in seconds. You might also want a nurse standing by to mist the patient's eyeballs as they read.

Back to psionics because I can't help myself (it's always on my mind). Would a psionic under the effects of slow be able to make assaults or probes 30 times faster than normal? Would they regain their psionic strength 30 times as fast as well? Because that is pretty damned spectacular. Get one psionic onboard a ship or station, give them a slow pill and within a few minutes that ship is yours. (more accurately it's theirs but you get my drift.)

Don't forget what the Company says, "Time is money."

Friday, August 5, 2016

Sorry But ...

Sorry I missed Wendesday's post and I'm kinda shorting you today. I'll make it up to you folks Monday. I've been busy and August 10th should see my newest product released through Blue Max Studios. I'll let Raymond McVay tell you more at his leisure. On the home front I've had a couple family crises I'm dealing with (don't tell me dogs are not family I won't listen.)

Anyway here's a teaser for things to come. This is the culprit I'm working on now.

Here's a fat-ass merchant ship that prefers to hand off its cargo in orbit but of course needs to land now and then. It would be a standard hull in Cepheus Engine or MgT First Edition or a partially streamlined hull in CT. It has no business landing anywhere without a beacon, landing lights, and a level field. But of course sometimes it has to. To facilitate docking the original ship has a docking module stuck on the top.

Whether you have rockets, reactionless drives (boo!) or warp drive handwaving docking is a maneuver that gives pilots grey hairs early on. The docking module bears the brunt of it. It's easier and faster to replace a module than an airlock that requires welding a heat resistant hull.

Big companies usually stocked a few modules at starports so if their merchant ships called and were in a hurry or banged their module up they could just swap modules and be on their way to make that hot delivery by the contract deadline. Swap modules and jump the hell out.

As an aside the module also held 10 dTons of cargo for really fast transfer of priority deliveries. If you were lucky the shipment was throw pillows. If you were unlucky munitions but hey no pressure there.

Then some ship builder realized there were a bunch of these 'kegs' just dumped in starports awaiting repair or surplussed. He bought one, stuck a drive and power plant on it and voila! a 20 ton launch!

The damned things proved popular. They could aid in docking maneuvers since their little bitty engines had more fractional control than the bug ship engines. But wait there's more!

The 'caps' at both ends on the keg came off easily (for repairs ... not while docking that would be a bad thing masquerading as a design feature).

People began modding the modules. In the 'standard configuration this keg has the top module fitted with proper landing legs. It docks nose in the the ship and of course she can't be used to dock with this feature. If you expect to land her on rough terrain, say in the case of a delivery to a mining outpost on a rocky moon, they provide more stability than those stubby docking clamps. More modules will be forthcoming. Suggestions will be entertained. I'm pretty sure there's a market for a fuel scoop version with a streamlining module (I know it breaks the at-the-time-of-construction rule but I feel it's justified.) There will be other modules with waldos and power tools for salvage and mining.

In fact I may shelve the rest of the merchant I was working on to deal with this feisty little beast.

Monday, August 1, 2016


Kin Demes was a quiet backwater world. Mostly ocean, settlement concentrated on a chain of fertile islands. The latest settlers had no hstory of warfare. Barring some police actions against raids by the Ingoko indigenes (in other words people settled there long enough to forget they settled) it was a peaceful planet. In recent years even the Ingoko united into a loose commonwealth with the settlers providing cheap labor and trade in pearl-gems and seafood. It recently upgraded its bare dirt landing field to a Class C starport after several decades of labor took a deep breath and entered the interstellar community.

The planet was invaded almost immediately.

It was not ready. It had defenses around the starport and capital. It had a defense boat in orbit. It had a small respectable militia designed to deter invasion. They were of no use. The invaders were tenacious, merciless, and hungry! Kin-Demes defeat was made more galling by the fact the invaders had never mastered fire.

A bare 1.2 parsecs from Kin-Deme is Yu, a harsh unforgiving world with high gravity, windy deserts and brackish seas. Most humans there belong to nomadic tribes that can only be described as savage. They raid each other nearly as much as the starport and trade various rare minerals for guns and more guns. They'd roll over Kin-Demes in a minute if they were organized and united. But they weren't. They couldn't and they didn't. Forget them.

In the brackish waters lives the bloat fish. Bloat fish lived there a long time evolving and thwarted by high gravity and a low oxygen count. Eventually their fins evolved into tentacle like feelers and they were able to scramble on land in search of food until they found it or got their fishy brains blown out by an irate native who woke up to find their pet's leash trailing from a daddy bloat fish''s mouth.

Then a captain landed his free trader on Yu, was too cheap to buy fuel at the starport, took on water from the brackish sea, and lifted ship.

Starships have a great many fuel tanks. Some are to hold water for trim (even reactionless drive ships worry about their center of mass as they boost). Into these tanks went the bloat eggs and fry and they survived to go where n bloat fish had gone before: Kin-Demes.

Cheapskate repeated his offshore fueling on Kin-Demes. He later misjumped and wound up 4 parsecs from the nearest star. His crew spaced him and climbed int their low berths and left the distress beacon on. But before that, while refueling bloat fish eggs and fry were released when a trim tank was blown to right the ship in some waves.

The bloat fish had a ball. They thrived in the less salty and benign ocean. In the lighter gravity they made leaps and bounds (sometimes literally) in practicing walking on shore and they ate anything that swam or walked near the beach. The Ingoko told their new allies something was up with the fishing. Then it collapsed. Then a boat hauled up a school of bloat fish wh were the size of tuna and not amused. They tore through the fishing nets and the crew.

By the time the celebrations about the new starport ended and hangover therapy began working the bloat fish were established and on the move. Rivers, streams, even lakes a short walk apart were getting infested. Crops were being devoured. There was always the fishing industry to fall back on ... no wait.

Kin-Demes had a few weeks between ships calling. When the next merchant ship came calling famine and riot had taken over. Soldiers were barely holding the capital and port people were screaming for passage offworld. They'd pay anything. Unfortunately the leaders of the military and government would do anything to get offworld and tried to take the ship. The captain lifted ship and got ready to leave, but he hadn't time to refuel.

He took on water in the ocean.

There's a reason starports charge you so much for fuel. Yes, a good deal of that is price gouging (100 cr. per ton hydrogen? It's the most common element in the Universe!). Part of it is the cost of honest labor to clean your ship's tanks out and ensure no clever little beasties make their way into an open eco system. Your ship is essentially a closed system until it does something like refueling, or letting off passengers and cargo. Customs deals with that but some people forget that so many little cryptids and refugees from a monstrous tome of beasts will find their way into landing gear, airlocks, and other nooks and crannies where they could survive or at least lay durable eggs or spores.

This does not begin to consider the smugglers, poachers, pirates and ne'er do wells who perform ocean refueling and never think about it again. Invasive species are a problem here on Earth -a single planet. Commerce between worlds really opens up a can of worms (note these worm eat metal and spit hydrochloric acid at you).

Most space opera assumes that earth-like worlds have similar biologies: in other words you or I can get something to eat that won't kill you. They don't address invasive species. The thing is invasive species thrive when the environmental factors limiting them are removed. Go read Chamax Plague/Horde if you doubt me. A planet hop can leave an animal's predators behind but it might still perish due to other environmental factors (of course baby Kal-El did okay.)

An invasion of this sort could spur a new business for characters: pest control! This falls squarely under business plans for non merchant ships. Take a lab ship (or hunting ship) fit it with bio labs and head into the danger zone. You can have field missions to get specimens, hunting trips to get bigger specimens, military missions for the reeeeeeeeally big specimens, all the while dealing with displaced,  desperate or chewed on survivors. Meanwhile the scientist types can whip up a toxin or virus or pest catching robot as the situation demands.

The crisis can take a darker turn when lab tests of an invader reveal it is genetically modified to survive on the afflicted world. Enter the mad scientist: a truly underused enemy of SF RPGS. Ecological sabotage can be a cheap alternative to war in virtually any setting and very hard to get caught at. In fact local scientists making that discovery before the characters might start pointing fingers. Maybe they introduced the bloat fish to drum up business?

And wait 'til the flying monkeys attack!