“Fire Extinguisher… Check.”

It looks like a fire extinguisher is now 100% mandatory, non-negotiable equipment for every single last spacer.

NO EXCEPTIONS.

That fire extinguisher upped her chances of survival from “zero” to “fractions of a percent above zero”.

And sometimes, that’s all you need.

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Pit Stop

In My Traveller Universe (as the saying goes), the major shippers like Tukera Lines keep their own private starports. The reason can be seen in the video: they just can’t afford to have a starship down for a month, as every day that ship isn’t working is money down the drain.

Working assets must keep on working!

Things are different in the major Vilani lines, as tradition and stability and consensus are of higher priority in their minds. They still like their profits, but are satisfied with a slower but longer curve up, with less dips and more built-in margins for error in case the ‘just in time’ thing fouls up for some reason.

Like pirates, or trade wars, or natural disasters…

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Admiral Kirk

From Blood in the Sand:

Omaha had had bad luck all around. It was known beforehand that the Omaha terrain was perhaps the roughest of the five, a crescent-shaped dish with a bluff on top and only two exit roads, which could be a devastating defensive position. It was not known that a fresh, crack division, the 352nd, had been moved into the area a few days before. In addition the air bombardment had missed its target, the majority of the Duplex Drive tanks (semi-amphibious tanks that were to lead off) had sunk in the heavy seas before they reached the beach, and the beach and underwater obstructions were much tougher than expected. As late as 1030 hours the good-as-gold old First Division lay pinned down behind the seawall while the enemy swept the beaches with small-arms fire. German artillery chased the landing craft where they milled off shore. By 1300 hours the crisis was pretty much over. Much credit for that goes to Admiral Kirk, the U.S. naval commander, who bunched his destroyers off the coast and delivered maximum fire on the German strong points. At the same time, the German 352nd Division was running out of shells, as the excellent U.S. aerial bombardment on the roads behind them kept them from getting resupplied and reinforced. But at midnight the deepest penetration on Omaha was barely more than a mile. For almost 3,900 casualties.

…And now you know. Good thinking, about the massed destroyer fire and cutting off resupplies for German artillery.

How you translate this into Traveller terms is up to you.

(Actually, with the incredible variation of planetary tech levels, you could actually replay this scene by scene in 993 on low-tech worlds without interstellar support. Just replace ‘Allies & Axis’ with ‘Imperial & Solomani’…)

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What is Essential…

“What is essential is invisible to the eye.” – The Little Prince

This is exceedingly true in the world of cyberwarfare.

North notes two incidents: one, where a Russian plane disabled a USN missile destroyer leaving it blind and helpless, and two, where the Chinese (or is it the Russians?) stole the designs of two dozen major weapon systems.

“You’ve seen significant improvements in Chinese military capabilities through their willingness to spend, their acquisitions of advanced Russian weapons, and from their cyber-espionage campaign,” said James A. Lewis, a cyber-policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Ten years ago, I used to call the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] the world’s largest open-air military museum. I can’t say that now.”

The Referee can use these stories as a jump-off point for an Imperial Response Team, working fervently to repair the damage before the invisible becomes far too visible…

…but beware of sleeper cells.

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Wind Map

The only reason why I am posting the Wind Map here is because it looks so cool and science-fictiony.

(Snapshots of earlier Wind Maps are here.)

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Sci-fi Games, Today!

If someone described this game to me when I was younger – before the World Wide Web, say, I would have pegged it as “early stellar tech” – the game a civilization play when they have already colonized the Moon and Mars, and are extending their reach to the outer system.

Things are moving fast, and the childhood games of 2100 – never mind the interstellar era – will be quite different from the games I played when I was a young boy.

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Storytelling Practice

I was thinking: As a Traveller referee, how would I convey the same information – and the emotional content – as the following cutscenes do? Let’s say I wanted to convey the word-picture, a single scene, in 30 seconds or so?

(Using Script-timer, the average rate is 90 words across in 30 seconds.)

Scene 1:

Scene 2:

Scene 3:

It takes practice to get both the factual details (so the PCs know what happening) and the emotional content (so the PCs know how important it is) right. Large-scale prep for a set-piece battle (Scene 1), surveying a devastated city (Scene 2), and cultural weirdness (Scene 3) are all things most PC’s need to deal with on a fairly regular basis.

It’s easy enough to say exactly what is happening, but I am expecting more of a punch to get the meaning of what’s happening across. Not easy to do with the right pacing so the Players don’t fall asleep – and without a soundtrack by Yoko Kanno, Kenji Kawai, or the O’Donnell/Salvatori team.

For a little fun & storytelling practice, you and your group can give a session over to practicing 21 Awesome Storytelling Techniques. First, see who can tell a short story – maybe a minute long – set in your universe.

“Just how blockheaded is an Emptyhead? Let me tell you…”

“There’s a time to speak up, and a time to shut up. Like when I was docking the Spinnmaster in a corporate port…”

“When someone puts money in your hand, close the hand! There was that time when…”

Very few people are going to get it right the first time – but never mind that. Good storytelling, like everything else, takes practice.

But you don’t have to make it hard on yourself. Successfully conveying quiet scenes of only implied, hidden significance like the ones I pasted above – in a way that’s interesting to people – is the end-point of the storyteller’s art, not the start. There is no shame is learning how to tell a story with bright action, colour, and humour like…

Scene 4:

(It’s a lot more fun for players, too! And the players have to have fun, if you want them to keep on coming back. Once they’re hooked, then the Referee can – every so often – try something new.)

It’s easier to tell an interesting story when lot of stuff – and explosions – are kicking in everywhere. But it takes a bit of time to quickly and effectively get across the high-tech of the Traveller genre right, like the difference between high-velocity bullets and ordinary bullets, or how you can spot a digitally-cloaked enemy if you are looking for the right tell-tales.

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Biomanufacturing!

From Gizmag, “Synthetic biology could be the key to manned space missions”:

The secret to pulling off long-term manned space missions is biomanufacturing – at least, that’s the argument presented by scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) who have used synthetic biology to produce sustainable alternatives to fuel and anti-malaria drugs. Their theory rests on the idea that biological production processes and harnessing of materials at the mission destination could dramatically reduce mass (and hence cost) requirements.

Sounds smart to me – if you could make what you need at the destination, you don’t have to spend the fuel hauling over a lot of mass.

Even in the estimations of SpaceX founder Elon Musk, a manned mission to Mars will cost in the order of billions of dollars. Much of that cost will be down to the mass of food and fuel (the Berkeley researchers cite estimates that fuel will be two-thirds of the total ship mass for a return trip to Mars). But if astronauts can generate some portion of their fuel, food, medicines, and tools through synthetic biological processes, the ship mass could be reduced significantly.

For a 916-day manned mission to Mars, for example, the researchers determined that such methods could shrink the mass of fuel manufacturing by 56 percent, the mass of food shipments by 38 percent, and the shipped mass to 3D print a habitat for six people by 85 percent.

It looks like the technology is still a few decades away – and, with the reactionless drives  of Traveller, it isn’t that important for transport (although it would still very important for colonization).

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1) Surge Pricing 2) Background Events

Surge Pricing

I spotted the article “Your UberX Driver May Be a Deranged Killer (and May Charge You Surge Pricing)” and the surge pricing seemed interesting, so I took a look.

What did I find?

If you’re not familiar with surge pricing, it is Uber’s extremely controversial practice of increasing prices when their algorithm tells them to do so. Essentially, what the company has said is that there are too many riders and not enough drivers on the street, so they boost the price up to get more drivers to sign on.

If it’s Thursday night at 10 p.m. and you’re an UberX driver sitting in front of the Thursday Night Football game at home, maybe you don’t feel like going to work. (UberX drivers work when they want to.) But, if there are a lot of people looking for cars and, as a result, the company declares that surge pricing is in effect, you know that you’re going to make more money, and so you might be more likely to sign on.

I’ve mostly seen Uber surge pricing rear its ugly head during severe weather, and, frankly, when I really needed to get from Ardmore to Manayunk during a torrential rainstorm last year, I can’t say that I argued much with the surge pricing. But on Thursday night, it was crisp and clear, so I was surprised to see that Uber had set the surge pricing at 1.4-times the normal rate.

The PCs may be interested in investigating this ‘surge pricing’ model themselves. In most of the Imperium, shipping and passenger rates are restricted: but in the bare-bones Empty Quarter, extra amounts of capitalism is allowed (officially and otherwise) to kick-start more interstellar trade.

Of course, there is a flip side to this. Local traders don’t take kindly to out-of-subsector foreigner types, horning in on their territory. That kind of unneighbourly behaviour might lead to critical information being leaked to pirates.

Or, the local traders might cut out the middle-man, and do the job themselves. They’ve done it before.


 Background Events

Just culling some TVTropes material, and doing a bit of a rewrite for it to fit the Empty Quarter. A lot of this is quite visible, and meant for the visual medium: the Referee will have to describe it in a way that most players will ignore – except the detail-oriented guy.

  •  The completely ignorable go-fer – a waiter, a page, a secretary – appears closer and closer to the target the PCs are supposed to be protecting.

(P.S.: This is how the ninjas actually worked. Well, in the 55th century, a chameleon cloak might come in handy…)

  • The Duke happens to come from a well-established clone family, which is the cause of many practical jokes across the subsector. Of course, one day…
  • “In the original Alien, when Brett enters the cargo bay looking for Jones the cat, one of the shots is from a low angle, looking up at him. It is very difficult to see unless one knows what to look for, but the xenomorph itself is clinging to the ceiling above him, completely motionless and blending in seamlessly with the piping and ducts above.”

(To my surprise, it isn’t actually impossible to spot such a thing. I have heard of one US soldier who got a timely warning of an IED by spotting a tiny glint of copper wire ahead of his hummer. How could anyone even see that while at speed is a mystery, but there it is…)

  • “In Signs we first see the shadowy figure of an alien on the roof while Mel Gibson assures his daughter nothing’s there; however you only notice it’s there when it moves at the end of the scene.”
  • The PCs are standing in an apartment building doing their thing, not spotting the flying dot of an air/raft that is getting bigger and bigger BIGGER…
  • ” In Alfred Hitchcock‘s The Birds there’s a scene where Tippi Hedren’s character is sitting outside a school, and behind her we see one or two crows flying down to perch, and then a few more, and a few more, until one of them finally catches her eye and she turns to see hundreds of them perching on the playground climbing frame… “

(This would be great behaviour for alien lifeforms…)

 

 

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1) Coffeemakers 2) The Empty Quarter that Never Was

1) A quick post on Coffeemakers reminded me that the PCs won’t always recognize what they see.

2) I came across this video…

…and it caused me to reflect on my design decisions on the Empty Quarter.

Basically, I know that…

  1. Many Travellers like fighting,
  2. Arabs Muslims like their fights,
  3. Putting Muslims and Hindus together is going to cause… problems,
    Throw in
  4. Highly bloodthirsty Suedzuk Vargr,

…so I aimed to create a tough arena that can provide quite a large range & variety of dangers for a low-level tech squad (say, TL 7-10).

But, let’s say that you want more of a “Rainbows and Lollipops” Empty Quarter. Not necessarily a utopia, but with a lot less aggression, tribalism, ignorance, and old hatreds in the air.

** Points to Video **

The Ukrainian woman in the video, Vera Brezhneva, is singing a rather cheerful and happy song, “Good Morning”. As Ukrainians are unconcerned with Political Correctness, the video is quite heavy with assorted orientalism & exotica, with a mix of Arab culture (and beats), Indian dress, a desert environment… and not a single beheading.

Instead, you get lyrics like (translated):

Good morning, my dear people.
Good morning to all those whom you love.
Morning, day and let the good will.
Breathe freely and live in love that day.

In the dark you can see, I wanted to -
What is invisible in the light and will not meet anywhere else.
In the dark you can fall and fly,
Not afraid to touch the naked bodies and souls.

But when the sun rises over the world suddenly pritihnuvshim
When there is no sense in silence - there comes the dawn!

Not exactly “Slaughter the Infidel”, I would say.

So, if you

1) shift the Stellar Reaches Arabs from the “failed jihad, but still tribal” situation of 993 to more of the sensual, exotic, dangerous, ancient culture the West saw in earlier eras (but without the “Expand the Caliphate!” politics); and

2) shift the Hegemony of Lorean from a humanist/materialist/fascist framework to more of a Eastern European racial group that takes up Indian culture and desert living (and not a Blood Vargr in sight);

then you can get something like the video. Continue reading

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