Travel Zones

But where re the starports?

https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/cameroon

It’s interesting, to see Traveller-style travel zones put to work in the real world.

The Travellers Aid Society sticks to zoning worlds: but there could be a market for more detailed zoning of main worlds (and other worlds of population 100,000+). Most critically, this zoning – within the Empty Quarter – can be done from various perspectives:

The default: “A Mixed Vilani Trader from the Imperial Core”
(This includes local Vilani – Pure or Mixed – and Ikonaz Vilani from the Julian Protectorate. Being part of one single unified interstellar superculture has some major advantages…)

Additional perspectives, all of which cost extra to buy:

  • The Imperial Servant – Civil Service and Military (“Now 30% off!”)
  • East Indian/Hindi Solomani
  • Arab Muslim Solomani
  • Bwap
  • Vargr, Ovaghoun
  • Vargr, Irilitok
  • Vargr, Suedzuk
  • Arzula Culture

What’s a safe place for an Ovaghoun Vargr to rest his paws is likely to be a very unsafe place for an Arzula human supremacist, and not very good for the Irilitok Vargr either; and a pleasant region for the standard Imperial Civil Servant is not necessarily so for a Bwap. This, despite the fact that quite a lot of Imperial Civil Servants are actually Bwap (mainly, it’s an issue of humidity).

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Desperation Trades

We Have It… if You Can Pay for It

After reading an interesting article on the ongoing collapse of Venezuela, I can come up with a critical set of goods that an interstellar trader can offer “at prices the market can bear.”

  • Food
  • Medicine
  • Electricity
  • Beer

Not includes above, but which could be easily as critical in a Traveller setting:

  • Water
  • Spare equipment for repairs
  • Metal
  • Air filters
  • Fertilizer
  • Batteries & Power Generators

“All they have is detergent,” she says. “How am I going to eat detergent?”

An interesting question, likely to be answered by looting and rioting, picking over supermarkets that have already been looted a few times already. And quite possibly a comprehensive collapse (…skipping over the old-school coup/civil war bit…) and large-scale famine.

Usually, these situations are an outcome of war, or (in the Empty Quarter) relentless pirate raiding. But in this case, a socialist government would have already seized everything, and promptly ruined it all... and there are definitely socialists running around in the Empty Quarter.

(And not even the smarter, profit-oriented “corporate collectivism” the Vilani go for!)

Making Coin…

Even the Mongols avoided harassing international trade, so long as the taxes were paid. The Nazis left the Swiss bankers alone, the Soviet Union and Red China were/are careful to court corporate interest, and North Korea makes business deals with Egypt, Russia, and Germany, among other nations.

The masters may have no problem destroying their national economy, but they are real careful to pay their own bills, and protect their own financial standing.

And even the most impoverished of nations have something to trade, be it oil.. or water… or vast amounts of low-cost, disposable labour. “With something to trade, a deal can be made.”

In a crisis situation, the interstellar trader would be wise to deal only with local grandees, people who 1) have the political connections needed to 2) shelter the wealth that naturally flows into the hands of the People’s Friends and 3) protect their Off-world Friends from more suspicious – and more greedy – members of the Party.

Build up that personal friendship… never utter a discouraging word… sing the praises of how the Leader cares for the People (while tactfully averting your eyes from the ever-growing slums and the mass arrests)… and you can hear the Doors of Profit swinging open.

…Without Getting the Starship Confiscated
“In the Name of the People”

Note that the problem of starship seizures is not nearly as bad in the Imperium, compared to elsewhere. The largest and most favoured port in most systems is the Imperial Port, which is under the jurisdiction of the Emperor… and NOT the local yokel political class. So the Dear Leader usually can’t get his hands on your starship… but if he’s angered, he can try to get his hands on you, by luring you out of the port, or by kidnapping. Out-and-out murder is quite unlikely – he doesn’t want to scare off other traders – but it remains an option.

The real danger isn’t for the ordinary trader: it’s for 1) deep enemies of the People, and 2) deep friends of the People. If the Leader feels that you are funding his enemies, especially insurgents opposed to his rule, he’s going to start gunning for your ship and your life.

And if you’ve grown too close to him, giving out air/craft rides and doing a little close ground support, you could get rapidly bogged down in local politics. One branch of the Party might start using you as a political pawn, another may see you as a threat, and your ship may well be unexpectedly seized if it’s in one of the Leader’s bases or private ports. And even the most feared of the Leaders must die someday, and the succession process can get rather rough.

I recall that North Korea once simply seized a Chinese train as it was unloaded supplies, “as it was desperately needed to Protect the Welfare of the People.” Make of that what you will.

When Poverty Means Death

Most of the populations of the Imperial Empty Quarter is part of some kind of tribal mutual support group, that will be willing to pay up for food, water, and limited care so your nation does not actually starve to death by the millions. Muslims look out for Muslims, Bwap look out for Bwap, etc. Yes, this usually means some kind of debt servitude – completely legal in the Imperium, by the way – but for most, slavery, especially slavery to family and kinsmen who share your genes, religion, language, and culture, is far better than death.

But if you don’t have any emergency support network…  and you have nothing to offer… you and your people actually will be left to die.

By the millions.

Few societies wait for longer than the death of 20% of their population though – a.k.a. the poorest and least powerful of people, typically impoverished women and children – before bending the knee and submitting to a tribe wealthy and powerful enough to feed them, usually Islamic or Vilani. (The occasional conversion to Hinduism has been documented.)

It is very, very difficult to get an Imperial Noble or the Imperial Government to accept such a submission: they simply have no need for the additional mouths to feed, or the expensive political entanglements such mouths usually comes with; the fact that Empty Quarter mouths usually have nothing to offer in return but their lives further turns off the Nobility.

“Every world is independent and sovereign, and responsible for their own survival… and if they fail in this, then they fail and then they die. His Majesty’s Government has no obligation to save any member world from her own incompetence.”

That being said, it might… might… be possible to get a sufficiently wealthy Noble to take a population under his wing. In the Empty Quarter, this is seen as a great humiliation, though, and said population would be harassed and mocked and relentlessly derided with contempt, probably driving it from the sector.

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Democratic Earth, Conquered Earth

If you divided earth into pieces of roughly equal population, you’d get this map. From the comments:

This map of the world has been divided in equally-populated zones. Each zone contains roughly 1% of the human world population, which currently means 74 million people (well, it’s actually more like 0.9-1.1%, which means 66-81 million people, and some of them are too much or too little populated). It’s possible to judge population density in different parts of the world by the size of the zones: each tiny sliver of land in India, Java or Eastern China hosts as many people (if not a little more) as the huge expanses of Canada or Siberia!

[…]

Continents by number of provinces:
59, Asia (of which 18 in China and 16 in India)
16, Africa
9, Europe
7, North America
6, South America
1, Oceania

Largest and smallest provinces in North America: Canada and Midwest (3705), Yucatan (94)
Largest and smallest provinces in South America: Amazon (1314), Sul and Sao Paulo (154)
Largest and smallest provinces in Europe: Baltic and Western Russia (904), South Germany (95)
Largest and smallest provinces in Asia: Siberia (3695), Varanasi (9)
Largest and smallest provinces in Africa: Sahara (1003), Lower Egypt (27)
Largest and smallest provinces in Oceania: Indopacific Islands (1652)
Largest and smallest provinces in China: Western China (808), Beijing (14)
Largest and smallest provinces in India: Rajasthan (62), Varanasi (9)

This means that all of the Americas would easily be outvoted by China or India: Asia holds 59% of the planet’s population, which means that they will get most of what they want.

The first demagogue that can unite both China and India under his banner – not an easy feat – gets to rule the world. I can see Europeans try to get Africans on-side as much as possible, aiming for a single voting block. North America would be the victim of every ‘soak the rich’ scheme imaginable – backed by armies largely composed of Chinese and Indian soldiery.


But this doesn’t have to be a map of the precincts of a Democratic Earth. Instead, this could be the various provinces of an Occupied Earth, either of the Third Imperium’s territory after the Solomani Rim War, or of a alternate-timeline Vilani conquest of Terra.

Earth of the 12th Imperial Century isn’t going to be mapped out as above: according to the Rim of Fire, both South American and Africa will have sharply increased populations and wealth. This would work out to more provinces for these continents, and to further reduce the voting weight of Europe and the Americas.

If the Referee is feeling sentimental, he may permit North America to radically increase in population: but it’s going to have a far stronger Hispanic/Chinese/East Indian feel than today. I strongly doubt if there will be any resurgence in the birthrates of White Americans (…or White Europeans, for that matter…), although I am open to a reasonable challenge here.

  • “Crank up the clone vats?” Well, maybe, but I’m doubtful. “Single point of failure,” “Unexpected expenses” and all that…
  • “Resurgent religiosity?” Sure, if you’re talking about Islam in Europe…
  • “Governments mandate huge families?” It didn’t work for the Nazis and Soviets of old; and it isn’t particularly successful for the Russians, French, or the Scandinavians of today.
  • “Massive immigration from Arab and African lands?” Yes, that would work. Whether the locals will tolerate this, though, is a very different story.
  • “Massive immigration from outer space?” In the Traveller universe… perhaps. We do have Hiver colonies in Australia as canon, as well as Vilani settlers in India.
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The Only Fantasy World Map…

you’ll ever need.

(The unlabelled version is here… but it’s the original that made me snort.)

Now, Traveller is an SF game… but the PCs have got to land somewhere, and if they can’t get to the starship for one reason or another <Referee eye-shift>, then they will have to adjust to the local ways.

Bonus points if they can get the Alien Egyptians to fix their starship – after running a few quests, more likely than not!

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Martin van Creveld

I have only recently discovered that van Creveld, an author I always admired, also has a fine blog as well.

Duh!

Just going back to the more recent posts, I came across two posts that would be gremane Imperial forces in the Empty Quarter: Whom the Gods Wish to DestroyTopoi, and Two Articles Caught my Attention Last Week.


The first is a warning to leaders of strongly dominant forces, rooted in a certain kind of moral framework:

The killing last week by an Israeli soldier of a wounded Palestinian terrorist who was lying helplessly on his back has sent the country into a turmoil. No sooner was the picture published on the Net then the Israeli media mounted a wave of protest….

In his defense, the soldier claimed that the terrorist was moving and that he was afraid that he, the terrorist, might be carrying an explosive belt on his body. This was denied by the man’s commanders and made doubtful by the fact that the terrorist, who had been lying there for no fewer than six minutes before he was killed, had been examined and found unarmed. As always happens in such situations, charges and countercharges quickly multiplied until they congealed into a single opaque, stinking, tissue of truths and falsehoods. I do not know what the outcome is going to be. But I am prepared to bet that the soldier will not be punished as murderers in Israel usually are, i.e. with life in prison. Assuming he is punished at all, almost certainly he will get a pardon of some kind.

All this is still in the future. Meanwhile the fallout from the case is splitting Israeli society from top to bottom. Not to mention other soldiers’ justified fear that, should they be caught in a similar situation or commit a similar deed, their superiors, instead of backing them up, will wash their hands of them.

Ugly charges and countercharges – and the usual chain of unexpected consequences – start to get rolling…

Now, in the Empty Quarter, the moral framework that the writer is coming from Simply Doesn’t Exist. All Muslim societies know how to deal with infidels: all Vilani cultures know how to deal with people who refuse to conform. The Bwap believe in the rules… period.

The Hindi generally don’t have such hard borders – their hardliners are more tuned to caste enforcement, not punishing unbelievers of a religion with very porous boundaries. But no matter: I am confident that they have learned much from the period of Arab Domination, as they discover for themselves how Islam handles polytheists.

(“…and mystical psionics, too!” the Arab nobility of the time would say, with an eye on the Iridium Throne.)

Anyways: back before the Hebrin Rebellion, the Arabs had no problem with crushing any number of anti-Arab anti-Imperial rebels. But today (993 Imperial), the local Imperial forces are carefully managed according to tribe, with various attempts to install professionalism and a “Emperor, then Tribe” mentality… with various degrees of success.

Most of the regular Empty Quarter forces are currently fighting in the Solomani Rim War: it may well be that the fires of war will merge these Soldiers of the Emperor into a single unit. (Judging from the behaviour of the Empty Quarter during the Rebellion period, I would argue that it did do so: the sector was mainly loyal to Emperor Lucan, regardless of his unlawful behaviour.) But right now, it’s only the local forces who are guarding the worlds…


The second, Topoi, is a variant of Kipling’s The Gods of the Copybook Headings: the same historical lessons, taught over and over and over again.

From Lycurgus, Solon, Heraclitus, Herodotus, and Plato on, many ancient statesmen, philosophers and historians believed that history was cyclical. Rise and fall, rise and fall. Repeated over and over again. Medieval sages such as Honoré Bonet and, in the Islamic World, Ibn Khaldun agreed. So did some twentieth-century scholars such as Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. The details vary from one thinker to the next. But the gist of the argument is always more or less the same; if ever there was a topos, (Greek, singular of topoi), meaning a theme or archetypical story that people keep telling themselves, this is it.

As this particular topos goes, originally war was waged by men of poor, nomadic tribal societies like those of which, long ago, all of us used to be a part. At first they fought over such things as access to water, hunting- and grazing ground, domestic animals, and, not least, women. At some stage one tribe, often headed by a particularly able leader, defeated all the rest and united them into some kind of league, confederation, or federation. As the ancient Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Huns, Magyars, and Mongols all did.

Next, the victors took on their richer, settled, neighbors. They fought, triumphed, conquered, and subjugated. Having done so, they discarded their nomadic traditions and took up life in the cities under their rule. Exploiting the labor of others, they grew rich and soft. They also indulged in every kind of luxury, allowed themselves to be governed by women, and witnessed a sharp decline in fertility.

Having abandoned the military virtues, at some point they started looking down on them. Hiring foreigners to fight in their stead, they ended by losing the qualities that had made them great. Attempts to substitute technology for fighting power, such as were made both in fourth-century AD Rome and, repeatedly, in China, did not work. Nor is there any reason why they should, given that the barbarians could often capture or imitate the technologies and find renegades to operate them. As, for example, Genghis Khan and Timur did. Each empire in turn was overrun by its poorer, but more virile and aggressive, neighbors. More often than not subject peoples, long oppressed, rose and joined the invaders. The end was always the same: ignominious collapse.

The Imperium has been a major exception, perhaps because of Vilani involvement, perhaps due to the broad (and cheap!) no local interference policies of the central government. Most empires don’t live to see their 300th birthday, but on her 1000th birthday the Imperium was able to fight – and, arguably, win – a major war against a competing power, and do so as a broadly united culture and polity.

True, this extraordinary state of affairs didn’t last much longer – only 116 more years, actually – but this is a major (fictional) historical achievement. I am interested in finding out how this is possible in a plausible fictional universe, where the nature of men remains as it is today.

(The Zhodani and the Vilani are both tightly uniform and conformist cultures – one enforced by the Thought Police, the other by Conformity and Tradition – so these human cultures have a reasonable excuse for their unusual longetivity.)


The last article is on feminism, and the place of men in society.

With plenty of patriarchal Arabs and Hindi cultures in the Empty Quarter (and patriarchal Bwap, too!) men lead and women follow, by and large, with the Vilani being the major exception.

The difference in size, known as dimorphism, is easily visible among humans as well.

Note: there is little/no sexual dimorphism among the Vargr. Vargr females are still tied to home by their need to suckle and care for pups for over a decade… but killing, they have no problem with. At all.

In my writing, I assume that Vargr females are more serious and less flashy about their network than the males are. For them, it isn’t about Charisma, Crowd-pleasing behaviour, Building a Following, or Making a Name: it’s about food on the table and the survival of their pups, nothing more. “The female of the species is more deadly than the male.”

Only a small minority of women are as large as the average man. True, humans are less dimorphic than many other mammalians. But the difference between the sexes is sufficiently large to put most women at the mercy of most men. That, incidentally, is why much of the advice that tells women to practice “self-defense” is misguided. Should they try, then usually the outcome will be injuries. It also explains why, starting when they are toddlers, boys are always warned against hitting girls. Even if, as often happens in early puberty, they are larger and heavier than them. Doing so is considered “not nice” at best and can lead to serious consequences at worst.

Irregardless, I still would advise outsider women bear arms while within the Quarter. Not only because women can die on swords (regardless of if they bear them or not), but being outside the tribe means that you have no protection against predators.

And no legal protection either, if you are an infidel woman on a Shari’a-governed world.

(And then, there are the visiting Vargr and other nonhumans, who don’t realize that the laws against murder – such as they are – don’t cover nonhumans on local Solomani worlds…)

Also, “God made Man, but Smith and Wesson made them equal.” This even applies to pistols: .22 calibre weapons kill more people than .45 pistols, after all. Something about bullets dancing happily about as they bounce around organs and ribs…

But there are other repercussions as well. Many “less advanced” societies do not have strong police forces. Instead it is the task of the male members of each clan to protect their own womenfolk.

That sentence should be memorized by Referees roleplaying in the Empty Quarter. “The Tribe Takes Care of Its Own.”

That is why women are subjected to so many restrictions. Such as prohibitions on leaving the home, taking up work outside it, and, in Saudi Arabia, driving. When they do these things they are obliged to cover their bodies and faces and/or take on a male escort. A woman who stays inside, or who is escorted when she goes out, is less vulnerable to sexual assault and the consequences it may bring. So is one who instead of wearing provocative clothing, hides her face behind a veil.

Against the prevailing social and cultural background, all these measures make excellent sense.

Less condescension, more intelligence!

<Cheers wildly>

Then again, van Creveld lives in Israel, where there is little time for inaccurate, ignorant stereotypes when it comes to understanding the Arabs… but lots of time for real, useful knowledge you can build on and work with.

Thanks partly to the police, partly to what a famous twentieth-century scholar used to call “the civilizing process,” life in the West today is relatively secure. As many researchers have pointed out, the number of crimes per 100,000 of population has been declining for the last two centuries or so. That, incidentally, is one reason why the death penalty is being reserved for more serious crimes, and used much less often, than was the case before 1800. Still women before they need anything else need security. Something tall men, big men, strong men, can normally provide better than weak men, small men, short men can.

Let’s assume, as I, on the basis of the research I did for a number of my books do, that the best days of Western liberal democracy are behind it. And that, as a result, the future is likely to see civil society upset by growing crime, terrorism, and various combinations of the two. In that case women will need protection more than ever. In Europe, where wave after wave of Muslim immigrants are arriving, this is already happening. No doubt men will do their best to provide that protection. But they will do so at a price: to wit, obedience and the inequality it implies. Not necessarily because they are oppressive by nature, as so many feminists have foolishly claimed. But because you can only protect those whom you control.

There are reasons why the Empty Quarter is the Empty Quarter. “You can only protect those won you control.”


There will always be a need for strong, tough men with some good armour and a reliable weapon: that’s just the way the Empty Quarter is. But to thrive – or to govern the region successfully – you need to understand what’s going on before your eyes. First you understand, then you can shape and predict, and the door to mastery appears.

A big, strong fighter with real brains and a good set of eyes and ears can go very far in the Empty Quarter… if, and only if, he can get the tribes to recognize his leadership. A man without a tribe is easy pickings: a wealthy outsider without a tribe to back him up is simply screaming to be disappeared. The local Vilani – somewhat more muscular and tougher than the Solomani Arabs & East Indians – are the model for an outsider to learn from.

A skinny man with brains can get by as an explorer, and sometimes a trader. For fights, technology really does help… but be cautious here, for things break, and supplies and power can run out. The Bwap – not very strong, dependent on humidity for their life support, but with governmental connections absolutely everywhere – can be a good teacher here, if you are willing to learn.

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There Will Be War

Jerry Pournelle, a sci-fi author beloved by fans of a certain age, has actually released a new volume in the There Will Be War series. There Will Be War Volume X came out in December 2015, but I just discovered it today.

I’m glad to see that old warhorse ride out, one again!

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Something Went Wrong

“I tell you, Grimm, Aoli and I have done this a thousand times! This wasn’t supposed to be any different. A few goblins, a troll or two and then treasure. Everything was going great! We were just about to enter the dungeon, and then something went wrong….”

Change the setting and tech level, and Something Went Wrong can do well as a Traveller competitive role-play game.

A group of skilled adventurers go on one last adventure to secure their futures and fortunes. Something they’ve all done, any number of times. And then something goes wrong. Featuring almost 5 classes, literal tons of gold and monster knitting circles, you won’t want to miss out on this.

The premise is simple! As experienced adventurers, your characters succeed at just about everything in game. The only exceptions are hitting monsters with weapons and hitting monsters with spells. For those, you’ll have to roll.

Players take turns as the GM leading their group of characters through one or more encounters. Every round of each encounter features another player taking the roll of the GM. The goal? Use your experience to cause the other characters to fail spectacularly! The last character left standing wins all the loot and gets to brag about it at the local tavern.

Something Went Wrong is a quick game which can be played with zero preparation. All you’ll need are a d6, a d12, some paper and pencils and a good dose of humor.

I hope my readers will take this very affordable game out for a spin!

Referees will have to consider two things:

  • “As experienced adventurers, your characters succeed at just about everything in game. The only exceptions are hitting monsters with weapons and hitting monsters with spells. For those, you’ll have to roll.” Of course, replace spells with psionic effects. Restricting threats to just actual monsters – so the environment can’t hurt the PCs, and they pass all skill checks – keeps it fun and fast.
  • With the high technology of Traveller, there are a LOT more things that the PCs can do: and the classes that come with the fantasy game will have to be rewritten. Maybe the author can be persuaded to do a Trav version, or perhaps you are up to the challenge yourself…
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Styrofoam & Mealworms

From High school girl discovers Styrofoam-eating bacterium

I blogged about a Canadian student’s discovery of plastic-eating microorganisms last May. Just last month, another 16-year-old high school student (this time from Taiwan), Tseng I-Ching swept the world’s largest science fair in the Peoples Choice Category at the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (ISEF) for her discovery of a polystyrene-decomposing bacterium derived from mealworm beetles.

I-Ching vivisected more than 500 mealworm beetles to isolate the single bacterium that allows the mealworm to digest one of the most troublesome forms of waste on the planet — Styrofoam. For her discovery, I-Ching was awarded the top prize in the microbiology category along with four other prizes.

If scientific discovery can occur in Styrofoam cups, then it can definitely occur on Free Trader as they pick up all sorts of creepy-crawlies on their wayward travels. The thing is, is there any science-minded PCs who know weirdness when they see it, and are willing to press with their questions until they get some answers?

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Vilani Conversation Skills

From How to Overcome Shyness:

Warm up. If you’re at a party, you can have the same exact conversation over and over and over. Hit up one or two people at a time and practice the same social pleasantries and platitudes until you’ve got it and are practically nauseated. Then move back to the people you really enjoyed talking to. You can zero in on a real conversation then.

So, imagine going to a Proper Vilani Party, where everyone is having the same exact conversation over… and over… and over again. “It’s 100% comfort, 0% innovation!”

Well, I guess you can go and join the conversations with longer scripts – at least the speech patterns are more varied and interesting. Resisting the pressure to Conform will just get you iced out, but if you know the rules and the scripts, Vilani Conversation is actually a fun art form. Among high-status practitioners, it can even be art!

Just don’t expect to learn anything new. Vilani Conversation is far more about the joys of tradition, conformity, and building social unity/establishing social roles than any kind of information exchange.

As for me? I suspect that I’d be bored stiff really fast, so I’d move to a Solomani or Vargr  party. Lots more entertainment, with a 20% chance of full-auto fire should things get exciting.

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Lasers and Feelings

Traveller is heavy on the gunplay and – especially during the GDW years – the number-crunching. It’s pretty much a war-game, fleshed out nicely.

In contrast is Lasers and Feelings, a more girl-friendly one-page game that emphasis a balance between the firefights and the mushy stuff. Based on the well-known Star Trek universe, it’s good for what it does.

I especially like the GM section:

Play to find out how they defeat the threat. Introduce the threat by showing evidence of its recent badness. Before a threat does something to the characters, show signs that it’s about to happen, then ask them what they do. “Zorgon charges the mega- cannons on his ship. What do you do?” “Daneela pours you a glass of Arcturan whiskey and slips her arm around your waist. What do you do?”

Call for a roll when the situation is uncertain. Don’t pre-plan outcomes—let the chips fall where they may. use failures to push the action forward. the situation always changes after a roll, for good or ill.

Ask questions and build on the answers. “Have any of you encountered a Void Cultist before? Where? What happened?”

That’s the way to do it!

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