Homeworld Remastered

There aren’t many high-level space war simulators out there. It may be wise to get what you can.

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Traveller Books for Explorers, Old and New

A nice sourcebook for Traveller far future space explorers is Audace ad Gloriam (2009). The index covers power & fuel supplies; typical things in a ship’s locker; survival & exploration tools (and examples of informative references); sensors; a brief list of exploration vehicles; and what you’ll find at a base camp.

What’s most unusual about this book is the level of detail provided. There is an extensive amount of detail for power supplies, including various types of batteries and exotic (on this world) biogenerators. Assorted vonNeumann Machines (super 3D printers) are discussed, for both equipment and food.

Self-repairing clothing, various camouflage options, and flameless cookers are available. Quite a lot of additional and interesting gear that I won’t mention here – buy the book! – is also available.

A recently released book that I just bought is Mongoose Traveller’s Referee’s Aid 1: Among the Trojans. It’s a good survey on life and travel among the asteroids and trojan points of a system, inclusive and going beyond the standard Belter stereotype. (Name-drop: Classic Traveller’s BELTER– Mining The Asteroids, 2076). I like the accent on cultural divisions in the societies discussed in the book, and non-FTL spaceships.

As the book ends,”Who needs a planet to have adventures?”

Finally, there’s the World Creator’s Handbook, the official Mongoose world designer book following in the footsteps of The World Builder’s Handbook (MegaTraveller), World Tamer’s Handbook (Traveller: The New Era), and the detailed planetary design sequences of GURPS Traveller: First In.

Unlike the aforementioned books, the World Creator’s Handbook is not focused on the science of world creation, but on making worlds that are fit for stories. World descriptions can vary, depending on what story element the Referee wants to stress. The writer specifically avoids “desert planet” and “jungle planet” descriptors.

(Unlike myself, who takes a breezy, sector-scale approach to planets. If I could get away with it, I’d make the Empty Quarter a “desert planet” sector! Whatever it takes, to tell the kind of stories I’m interested in telling. Naturally, if I was focusing Stellar Reaches on just one planet, or even just one subsector, I’d put in a lot more detail and thought in individual worlds.)

Despite being a lot shorter than the other World Handbooks, I find it quite useful: the ‘desert world’ section was quite enlightening to me. I recommend that you purchase a copy for yourself!

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Kowloon, City of Anarchy

Just a reminder of the Walled City, with a great map at the link. Existing due to a quirk of law in colonial Hong Kong, this was a tightly packed mass of humanity, a zone outside of government control (but with their own rules and punishments).

Every Traveller needs to visit a place like this, at least once.

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The Alternate War of the Rebellion

Using this intro video of the game-in-development “The Mandate” as a re-imagining of the  War of the Rebellion (1116-1130 Imperial) would be rather interesting.

In effect, let’s assume that Emperor Strephon was shot and killed… but the assassin was cut down before killing Empress Iothaine or – more importantly – his successor, Grand Empress Iphegenia.

Let’s also assume that Archduke Dulinor ordered the assassination, but remained in Ilelish Sector, sending a trusted noble to do the killing instead. In this alternate timeline,he decided not to gamble on the Ilelish Guard successfully seizing the palace, nor did Dulinor decide to claim the Iridium Throne for himself.

Instead, Archduke Dulinor

  • made deals with Archduke Brzk (unhappy that no Vargr would ever gain the Throne) and Archduke Ishuggi of Vland to mutually secede from the Imperium as a group, and
  • a bargain with the Solomani Confederation, to encourage the Second Solomani Rim War to kick in soon after the Imperium is fragmented – with the planned Federation of Ilelish as either a neutral party or a Solomani ally.

The video speaks of a Grand Fleet, but there are multiple such fleets in the Imperium, and due to the nature of Traveller naval combat, they are rarely gathered into one solid fist. (It’s too easy to just go around such a Grand Fleet, and burn down the worlds that provide the industrial support for said fleets.) Still, the PC could be involved in regathering the scattered loyal fleets, and providing assistance in bringing them back to the Imperial Core sectors for refit, resupply, and new orders.

“Will you never cease prating of laws to us that have swords by our sides?”

– Pompey the Great

The game “The Mandate” has a motto: “One rule; No quarter.”  Following Wikipedia:

A victor gives no quarter when the victor shows no clemency or mercy and refuses to spare the life in return for the surrender at discretion (unconditional surrender) of a vanquished opponent.

Note that formally ordering “no quarter be given” is considered a war crime: unconditional surrenders of enemy forces must be accepted.

Interestingly, that makes the Empress of the game not too dissimilar from Emperor Lucan, who also despised traditional restraints on warfare. As a captain in the game, it is up to the player who his loyalty is to: following a poll on the site, it could be to

  • the Grand Fleet itself;
  • Her Majesty;
  • one of the various Imperial factions;
  • a rebel group;
  • or go pirate

…so a player who disagrees with the No Quarter philosophy has other ways to play.

In MegaTraveller, Emperor Lucan is clearly depicted as a spoiled brat who got hold of the reigns of the Imperial State by illegitimate means (i.e. killing his brother). Empress Iphegenia is not depicted to be such a ruthless character in GURPS Traveller: Nobles, focusing more on the Imperial Scouts ‘ scientific efforts than on personal pleasures, or even the disciplined life of the Imperial Navy.

Still, war changes people, and violent war crimes are common enough in the real world. The refusal to accept surrenders in favour of completely killing off the military (and civilian as well?) opposition is sure to stiffen resistance considerably. But if the Imperial Core is able to protect and maintain its industrial might – a massive if – and the Empress able to successfully divide her enemies and crush them in detail, then the successful total extermination of opposing forces will shatter the morale of her enemies, and insure a challenge-free reign after the last rebel force has been eliminated to the very last ship and to the very last spacer and soldier.

Uncompromising autocratic star empires can make a very dangerous enemy, if led well. Being part of a failed rebellion, and trying to escape an empire whose only desire is to end your life, can definitely be a terrifying experience.

But space is very, very big; not even the Imperial Navy can be everywhere at once; and you don’t have to be an aristocrat to desire nothing less than the total annihilation of the enemy.

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The Mandate

The Mandate – the successful Kickstarter is here – is a game in development, focusing on the captaincy of a science fiction warship. While there is fighting, exploration and diplomacy, the main focus is on developing and working with the crew as the starship captain.

The Kickstarter Video

The planned style of combat, as of a year ago. Still a work in progress, AFAIK.

Much of the concept art is being produced by Garret Arney-Johnson: which you can see at his DeviantArt account.

And the website of the game, with the last update posted 23 days ago (as of Feb 28, 2015)

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Purchasing a Wet Navy Prototype…

The Sea Slice is up for sale for a mere $180,000. A similar vessel could be useful for explorer-oriented Travellers, or for light military duties. It was launched in 1996 (about TL 8), so it would be interesting using it on low-tech worlds of sail and slave galleys. Or – if you are more daring – in a more World War II-style, TL 5 naval campaign.

This link has a nice selection of interior shots: it might be useful as a first-approximation of how a starship should look, if you are just another landlubber like me.

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Betting it All

Now, I don’t know half of what’s going on here, but I do know…

  1. That’s an awful lot of chips!
  2. Losing that much cash has got to hurt.

Most of life – even most Traveller lives – are ‘making it big on the small deals’. Doing the cadre and security assignments for mercenaries; eeking out that 3% profit for merchants; cataloging ALL the flying rocks for scouts.

And then, every so often, you get a turning point. An opportunity, or a trap, where you have to make a decision that will change the shape of your Traveller game. Committing to a single war and a single paymaster ‘for the duration of the conflict'; putting in an entire year to find a lost, extremely valuable Ancient relic; getting to the bottom of mysterious alien sightings on a backwoods starsystem.

Rarely do you get a ‘do or die’ situation as in above, where you win it all, or lose it all. That’s a lot of risk, and if you lose, you can die; or become a debt slave; or lose your family or your future.

Is the reward worth it? That is the question!

The movie the scene is from, Rounders, is mainly about recovering from a big, big loss. The protagonist has to decide if he’s going to cut his losses and run, or make it good. If he’s going to make it back honestly, or cut corners. If he’s going to borrow even more money, in a last-shot attempt to get back on his feet. If he’s going to focus on law school for safety, or on his first love, gambling.

The same can be for any PC trader who loses his ship, a mercenary whose unit is destroyed, a scout who is marooned very far from home. A lot of decisions, and a lot of ways to get it wrong.

And there’s the question of what ‘winning’ means. Money? Safety? Significance? Proving your enemies wrong? Knowledge? Victory? Vengeance? Family? Righteousness? Justice? Happiness?

Finally: the PCs impact the world around them. They help or hinder each other, and their actions change the world around them, for good or for ill. What they do, matters.

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Tending the Dead

In Digging for their lives: Russia’s volunteer body hunters, we find Russians looking for the many dead men of World War II, to recover the remains, find their names, and give them a proper burial.

Even in 1105 (over a century after the end of the Solomani Rim War) both the Imperium and the Confederation will still be doing the same – but for a battlefield scattered over fifty-parsec and hundreds, even thousands of systems. Most of the actual work will be handled by the relatives of the dead (and specialist Vilani religious organizations, if you like me assume that they are ritualists/ancestor worshippers).

Captaining a starship tied to these duties can be macabre, or gruesome, or simply saddening… it could also be a demonstration of kindness, remembrance, or just saying thank you. It will involve the interaction of Solomani and Imperial religious mores, so opening unusual roleplaying opportunities: both cultures believe in caring for the dead (excepting certain hard-core Solomani materialists – and note that even Communist cultures exalt the revolutionary dead, in the real world).

There is a certain risk involved as well: there may well be active mines, shells, weapon systems, traps, and other hazards that could kill even more people, a century (or more!) after the guns fell silent.

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Maia – Space Colony Manager

From Space Sector:

Simon defines Maia as “Dungeon Keeper meets Dwarf Fortress on a primordial alien world.”. So, expect real-time strategy and city-building elements, as for a procedurally-generated universe. The game’s setting is dark and it’s inspired by 1970?s sci-fi films like 2001 or Alien. Simon also said to have been inspired by authors such as Arthur C. Clark, Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov and Douglas Adams (great choices if you ask me!).

This space colony management game is available on Steam.

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The Fermi Paradox & The Great Filters…

…which you can read about here.

And this quote, in a nutshell, is why I don’t believe in aliens in the skies:

The technology and knowledge of a civilization only 1,000 years ahead of us could be as shocking to us as our world would be to a medieval person. A civilization 1 million years ahead of us might be as incomprehensible to us as human culture is to chimpanzees. And Planet X is 3.4 billion years ahead of us…

If they existed, they would have made their presence know in an unmistakable fashion by now. In a rather forceful manner.

If you are looking for aliens, wait about 50 to 100 years. Even if robots never become sentient, our biotechnological abilities will be able to permit us to make our own aliens right here on Earth. Throw in cybernetics, the desire for agelessness, flawless beauty, and perfect health, and the humans *cough* of 2500 are going to be definitely different from what we are today.

Now, the article posits Great Filters – massive challenges that make life impossible, makes sentient life impossible, or long-lived technological civilizations impossible.


Of course, as a believing Christian I will insist that the Great Filters are behind us, between the unlikelihood of 1) the universe existing 2) life existing 3) sentient existing. The possibility of my computer just randomly putting itself together last night is a good deal higher than some of these odds!

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