Experiments with Water

First, in Zero Gravity

“Look Cadet, an alien substance!”

“Just wait till you see the funky hairstyles on the Thresa Asteroid Cities…”

“I’m already looking forward to the integral trees…”

And – having nothing to do with water, but interesting anyways –

“Ah, the traditional Last Known Sign of a vanished scout. It reminds me of old times…”

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Years of Messages

Traveller FTL travel does not involve time dilation… excluding the time shifting of the wilder misjumps.

But spacers and Travellers of all kinds can miss a LOT when they leave their family behind on a long journey.

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Some More Could-Have-Beens…

From Wikipedia, regarding the 747 (without the footnotes, and the bold is mine)…

Boeing designed the 747’s hump-like upper deck to serve as a first class lounge or extra seating, and to allow the aircraft to be easily converted to a cargo carrier by removing seats and installing a front cargo door. Boeing did so because the company expected supersonic airliners (development of which was announced in the early 1960s) to render the 747 and other subsonic airliners obsolete, while the demand for subsonic cargo aircraft would be robust well into the future. The 747 was expected to become obsolete after 400 were sold, but it exceeded critics’ expectations with production passing the 1,000 mark in 1993. By January 2015, 1,502 aircraft had been built, with 35 of the 747-8 variants remaining on order.

Our dreams of the future have changed.

Now, I have no great desire to exchange computers, networks, 3D printing, and the coming waves of robots, clean energy and biotech in exchange for supersonic aircraft, flying cars and moonbases. What actually happened is, I feel, a better deal than what the 50s-60s men thought would happen.

Still, a moment of silence for the future that never was is appropriate.

Interesting, even under the tyranny of North Korea, there are those who dream of the future. The images of what North Korean designers would build, if they had access to unlimited funds, have a definite 50’s vibe to it.

A curious Referee may throw such a world to his players, just to see how they would react.

Assume that a hard-core Solomani racial purist (with powerful collectivist visions) cashed out a few trillion credits of stock in <your favourite Imperial Megacorporation>, and spent it in building up an isolated high-tech totalitarian utopia. Let’s place it on an island the size of New Zealand (either main island, or all of it), on a nice Earth-like world.

Let’s put the starport off the main islands, on the local equivalent of Stewart Island, so the Offworld Talent can’t contaminate The People with their filthy impure blood and corrupt alien ideals. They will be treated well, and paid well, but allowed to work exactly one five-year term – and then shipped off, forbidden from ever setting foot in The People’s Democratic Republic again on pain of death. The air/rafts can go anywhere on the starport-island, but are programmed to never leave the islands’ airspace. The local guides are friendly, but firm about any unauthorized transmissions or unregulated travel to the main islands. But as most Offworld Talent are happy enough in their enclave, there isn’t much trouble: “just work hard, party hard, get the money, and get out.”

(I assume that – fearing bad publicity – misbehaving Offworld Talent will simply be kicked out, with all of their earnings confiscated, instead of quietly taken out and shot. Still, the Referee may permit repentant Offworld Talent to just have their pay docked and forced to wear shock collars in penance, for old time’s sake.)

While the Offworld Talent brings in the newest ideals and techniques, the TL14-15 robots will do all the actual work in building high-tech products for sale at The People’s Starport. The robot factories will be kept on the major islands (the equivalent of North & South Island in New Zealand), supervised by the kind of families who have earned The Leader’s trust. “All of The People are equal, but some are more equal than others.” To have the responsibility to manage an automated factory is a high honor: only the military, police, senior political, and state security castes are more trusted by The Leader.

The G-carriers, supersonic trains and air/rafts – all automated – will all be carefully combed over by The People’s Police before connecting the main islands and the starport: fumigation via poison gas is a distinct possibility, ‘to better protect The People from those loathsome infiltrators and keep those pesky dissidents on their knees at home, where they belong.’

While the senior castes get the best of everything, even ordinary members of The People lead nice lies lives. It is the robots – and the inferior castes – who work hard: most of The People get good food, good medical care, and some decent, sanctioned entertainment from time to time. (This includes a People’s Internet.) Naturally, there will be endless, inescapable streams of propaganda absolutely positively everywhere, woven into every book and every song: but that’s a small price to pay, for the safety and security of all.

To most of the readers of this blog, all of the above is just an open-air prison: but if you’re Vilani – or even an impoverished Solomani from the Empty Quarter – you’d be surprised how quickly you learn to adjust. To most humans throughout history, a full belly, a roof over your head, solid health care, and some good entertainment and alcohol from time to time is definitely worth more than some abstraction like ‘freedom’ or ‘truth’.

How long can this glorious utopia last? As always, until the money runs out.

If you set it in the conformist, intensely-regulated Vilani-dominated Ziru Sirka, this kind of culture could well last for millennia. But the Mixed Vilani-dominated Third Imperium is a far more turbulent, less predictable environment. The utopia would always be under threat via a market crash, a military strike, or a succession war among the elites. Hostile neighbours – on or off-world – who despise The People’s Democratic Republic for religious, racial, economic, or ideological reasons will always be a threat. And no matter what, there will always be someone with a hardcore grudge out there, patiently waiting for exactly the right time to ‘give a little push’…

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Just Another Scouting Expedition

For people who love surprises…

And, of course, we all have those bad docking moments…

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Ori and the Blind Forest

This game certainly wouldn’t fit Traveller: the Military Simulation… but I’d love to see it adopted for Traveller: the Science Fiction Game. Cute critters, an interesting and beautiful world, a cool weapon/aide, and a quest.

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Ennad Games Supplementals

Ennad Games has provided a few supplements, rarely more than 5 pages in length, that could be useful for off-the-reservation Traveller Referees.

First, the Starship Kit from Ennad Games. These descriptors have essentially no crunch, but instead ways to visualize your starship, to see the ship and it’s component systems in your mind’s eye.

For example, for Volume 2: Size and Shape… The overall ship design, add-on’s like sensor clusters and docking ports, the tech style – biological? pseudo ancient? magitech? – even colours and patterns, are provided for. Other volumes follow similar descriptors: Volume 4:  Weapons Generator tells you nothing about joules or the difference between lasers and particle accelerators, but does tell you if the weapon is a leecher, a slicer, or fragmenting.

If you want to ignore the standard Traveller ship construction flowcharts and make something memorable and out of the ordinary, the Starship Kit could be useful.

On to the Multiverse Kit, again from Ennad Games. There is somewhat more crunch here than in the Starship Kit, but definitely not approaching that of the classic GDW & Digest Group materials. It’s more like a set of charts with interesting descriptors, to quickly sketch up something interesting or work as the initial spark for a really unusual world.

The greatest benefit of the Multiverse Kit is for Referee’s who want to upsize their adventure, to deal with galaxy-spanning adventures involving exotic stars, different kinds of galaxies, etc.Various cosmologies are also provided for in Part I: Rules and Structures including various origins (via deity? technology?), universe ages, reason for existence, etc.

Most Traveller adventures only deal with Charted Space, which is a ridiculously small box of a mere 512 parsecs by 320 parsecs (16 sectors width, 8 sectors length). No neutrons, no stellar nurseries, not even a single black hole – for shame! Fortunately, Galaxies, Stars and Clusters will at least get you asking the right questions. The 100 Galactic Features supplemental is also useful here.

A different, lighter take on planet creation is provided for in the Part 3: Planet Details and Part 4: Life offerings. I happen to favour 100 Planet Aspects & Quirks more, though.

Finally, there is the Empire Builder Kit – History Generator. While meant for the medieval-age game, it can also be modified and used to help flesh out all those Traveller worlds that have been settled for thousands and thousands of years.

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Local Operations

It was that DHL truck at the end that made this post possible.

Yes, even in the most oppressive and isolated nation in the world – yes, worse than the Islamic State – the leaderships and the moneymen want to stay in touch with the rest of the world (if only for the foreign currency). For example, the sci-fi Ryugyong Hotel could not have been built without Egyptian help and (planned) German management.

So what does this mean to a Traveller? It means that there is money to be made in daring to go where others fear to tread. Even collectivist monoracial monocultural isolationist communist states are willing to cut a deal… if the price is right.

Naturally, the Traveller has to be careful: after all, the Dear Leader (or one of his close friends) could change his mind at any time, and simply seize everything for himself while slamming the PCs in the gulag for some reason or other. You need to know who you are dealing with.

Now, a paranoid dictatorship isn’t going to make a deal with a direct enemy – an American or Japanese business in the case of North Korea, an Imperial or nonhuman corporation in the case of an ideologically committed Solomani Confederation world, etc. But they need to make a deal with someone. Splendid isolation just isn’t going to cut it, in a universe where any pirate – or ‘violence-oriented entrepreneurs’ – can just drop a nuke 50 km from the capital, then begin polite negotiations with the local low-tech government “for mutually beneficial trade arrangements”.

“Mutually beneficial” meaning “I get what I want, and you get to live. For now.”

No interstellar trade => no money and no technology => dead meat.

(Actually, a massive airburst explosion with a nice, fat shockwave and a deafening is better. No one dies, so you don’t rub the powerless of the locals in their face – and so gain all sorts of repressed hatred and resentment… but the local authorities get the message. Consider it an updated version of Commodore Perry visiting Japan.

In the Empty Quarter, the highly professional, high-tech Vargr/Vilani pirates from Ikon have raised this to an artfrom: and several have a nice stream of income from various extortion rackets. For example, there could be serious trouble with a planet’s TL 10 financial network system… which are easily cured, once certain off-world Ikonic ‘system engineers’ remove the TL 14 viruses from the planet networks for a phenomenal  fee. And off they go, to the next shakedown.

“And remember, not a word to the Imperial Ministry of Justice. Or else.”)

Now, strange and extreme law level worlds get that way for a reason. Typically, they are very different from their immediate neighbours, and usually have bad relations with them – normally including a set of wars, hot and cold.

The PCs need to know their standing locally. For example, the Vargr are intensely loathed on the more backward Solomani-dominated worlds in the Empty Quarter, so it could be wise to leave them on the ship – or at least make sure they don’t leave the starport & the attached city, where they are more tolerant of the Vargr.

Which leads to the need for a certain amount of situational awareness. In the Imperial Empty Quarter, anyone who owns a starship is filthy rich: and often even the crew are paid salaries far higher than most people earn in the impoverished local worlds. The PCs may forget this: but the locals never do.

So, keep an eye out for envy. And unexpected encounters with criminal elements on the way home from a business meeting.

Also: the starport, startown, capital, or nearby trade city can be VERY different from the rest of the planet. Many times, the PCs will be restricted to a isolated trade port (a la Shogunate Japan) or perhaps the capital (North Korea), where the locals are very different from the rest of the country. For example, only politically reliable people from approved castes may be permitted to live in the capital. (Or the right race/religion/culture…) Or again, the capital/the trade port could be living a good tech level 0r three (or even more) above the rest of the planet.

And naturally, the rest of the planet may have an unpleasant reaction to nonhumans. Or humans from the wrong race. Or the wrong belief system. Or with unnatural technology.

Now, having given hundreds of words of warnings and advisories to scare you off, it is STILL possible for a courageous PC with dreams of unlimited profits to make real money, servicing worlds other traders avoid like the plague.

For example, take that DHL truck in the Hermit Kingdom. With some good deals and know-how and connections and some real guts, you can reimagine that vehicle into, say, an air/raft service.

The only air/raft service on the entire planet. An exclusive service, for only the best customers.. with prices to match.

Then, let’s extend that service to cover the planet. Then many planets. With a starship network, to ferry high-priority cargo and passengers across a blighted, backward region of space – like the Empty Quarter, say.

Who can say no to a nice, fat, regular cash stream, supported by powerful friends?

But of course, this will only last for a time… until competitors start to break into your market at lower prices. And/or pirates, sniffing money, start making you offers you can’t refuse.

That is when things start getting interesting.

(And if the PCs survive that… there are always the megacorporations, always looking for new markets to dominate…)

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Stellar Reaches #5 Collapse Script Released

The script that was used in the Stellar Reaches #5 article “1248: An Alternate Collapse/Recovery System” has been released on github by the author.

To refresh your memory, the script collapses the sector (a la Traveller: The New Era, pages 190-191. Get the deluxe package here!), but to 1248 Imperial, not 1201.

It’s hard to find the 1248 Traveller books (Out of the Darkness; Bearers of the Flame), so the Referee is advised to make up his own version of a reborn Fourth Imperium, based on his imagination and – maybe – whatever limited information he can gather off the ‘Net.

Or just do his own thing – I always was interested in the Regency of Deneb retaking Imperial space myself: call it “the Domain and the Protectorate” scenario, with the Domain of Deneb being the high-tech region of the Fourth Imperium, and devastated Imperial space being the Protectorate that’s being rebuilt.

(This cheerfully ignored the Empress Wave, et al. “It’s my story, and I’m going to do what I please!”)

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Summarized: the PCs have to execute a traitor. But because of past history, favours, and mutual respect, the execution has to be done right.

Now, most Traveller adventures are simple “go here, do this, go there, get that”. But if you’re more into the roleplaying aspect, then you have to change how you move. Household men-at-arms who have to execute a family aristocrat for treason have to do things differently than when shooting a low-life stranger who talks too much.

(Unfair? Unequal? Yes, definitely. But the Imperium is not based on equality.)

A distinction without a difference? Perhaps. But maybe not: some men appreciate being shown respect when they are to be killed. If a man knows that his family won’t be harmed if he just quietly steps into the car, he may well do it.

(This then gets into reputation: why should he believe you? This gets into the Imperial Noble obsession with honour and reputation…)

Dignity, respect, honour, friendship… these things can mean more than money or wealth or power in certain critical situations. Roleplaying them effectively can definitely deepen your Traveller game.

Continue reading

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Dead Star Empires – Thumbnail descriptions

Just playing around with the Lost Civilization Generator (sci-fi category):

  • This philosophical intergalactic technocacy was noted for its advanced computer technology and terraforming. It was destroyed by a supernova, leaving behind only superstitions.
  • This fear-ridden planetary commonwealth was noted for its advanced zoology and genetics. It was destroyed by social breakdown, leaving behind only trade routes and maps.
  • This sadistic star-spanning tyranny was noted for its advanced physics and planetology. It was destroyed by economic conflict caused by interest in forbidden things, leaving behind only artifacts.
  • This bigoted planetary domain was noted for its advanced chemistry. It was destroyed by economic conflict caused by religious differences, leaving behind only legends and scientific knowledge.
  • This stingy translunar imperium was noted for its advanced genetics and planetology. It was destroyed by an alliance of its neighbors because of the people’s extreme immorality, leaving behind only temples and technology.
  • This unstable solar-system-spanning domain was noted for its advanced physics. It was destroyed by a computer virus, leaving behind only scientific knowledge.
  • This creative interestellar theocracy was noted for its advanced architecture and natural science. It was destroyed by economic conflict caused by arrogance, leaving behind only its religion and methods of transportation.
  • This humble star-spanning theocracy was noted for its advanced genetics. It was destroyed by their own artificial life forms, leaving behind only government buildings and ruins.
  • This industrious inner system theocracy was noted for its advanced pharmacology. It was destroyed by social breakdown, leaving behind only machinery.
  • This altruistic intergalactic kingdom was noted for its advanced nanotechnology. It was destroyed by a neighboring civilization because of the people’s extreme slavery, leaving behind only its language.

Useful for thumbnail starnation descriptions. As for the Third Imperium?

  • This long-lived imperium was noted for the many cultures to be found on member worlds. It was destroyed by artificial lifeforms released during a civil war, leaving behind only murderous robots and feuding pocket empires.
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