1) Mind and Hands 2) To Be A Master

An recent article  – “Status Report on HHO-Catalyst Experiment from Alan Smith” - caught my eye.

Even though it was a failure – as it was unable to get hard evidence, one way or another, “whether combining HHO gas with a catalyst [would create] any excess heat produced in such a reaction, or whether it was just a simple chemical reaction” – the procedure in setting up the experiment, solving problems, and understanding the results is inspirational to the technically-minded.

Or even though who, like me, lack the math to really make a difference, but still admire the hard work and systemic logic used to get results.

“Science, not as popularity contest, but as an investigation in reality – with an eye to how to make the universe work for humanity!”

Traveller? Well, a crewman who can both think and work – a real craftsman in his trade, regardless of what that trade is – is worth is weight in gold.

An entire school of Japanese manga focuses on the drive To Be A Master, to be the very best in your field.

(And note the distinct lack of such a genre in the West. Our loss.)

It would be interesting to take your character from a 18-year-old rookie to a 40-year-old veteran in his field. Quite a lot of adventures would be taken, and the field chosen could have a major effect in shaping the PC’s character – and even his survival.

Perhaps the Referee could set up a set of campaigns, with each campaign counting for a year, two years, or a term (four years) in a PC character’s life. The years 18 to 40 could equal five terms, so five campaigns; or it can be further subdivided, depending on the PC and the Referee.

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Problems with Local Forces

As a model for the Referee – looking for even more ways to harass his players – I present the Afghan National Army as a model.

The soldiers gave statements to investigators after going into battle June 8-9 in the Gaza Valley of Zabul province, northeast of Kandahar. The Green Berets told of Afghan soldiers refusing to fight and hiding among trees and behind a rock.

The Afghans had no ability to fight at night, a hallmark of American forces. Green Berets had to take the lead in clearing villages controlled by Taliban militants, even though the steady withdrawal of U.S. forces is at the stage where Afghans are supposed to be “on point” — that is, the first to engage the enemy.

The Green Beret’s A-Team leader, a captain, made several unflattering statements. Investigators were probing the mission’s end point, when a B-1B bomber mistakenly dropped two bombs on a “friendly” position, killing five American soldiers and the Afghan sergeant commander.


The Pentagon’s most recent progress report on Afghanistan in April said the Afghan National Army, first conceived in 2002, remains unable to sustain itself more than several days in the field.

“The ANA made impressive progress, and maintained its tactical overmatch over the insurgency,” the report said.

Yet, the 180,000-soldier army cannot perform complex operations, such as close air support.

Now, there are two – no, three – major differences between today’s Afghan situation and the Imperial situation in the partly-Arab Muslim Empty Quarter.

1) The traditional centre of jihadism in the Quarter – Hebrin – was crushed with great ferocity over century ago, costing the lives of billions of local believers. (And then, billions of off-worlders, mainly Vilani unbelievers, were brought in to permanently break up Arab cultural unity on Hebrin.) Since then, Islamic-grounded violence has lacked the needed support of their own population to restart anti-Imperial activities. The greatest threat on Hebrin are socialist, pro-cyborg activist/pirate groups, which lack a trace of interest in things religious.

2) The Imperium is here for the long term – and has chosen it’s battlefields well. By and large, what it controls is the space between the stars, and a starport. There is precious little interest in wading in to directly rule the population, bringing Enlightenment to the natives… and face surprise explosions on the way home (and massive drains on the budget). On the other hand, the locals have no real ability to challenge Imperial power in space, and are unable to breach the concentrated high-tech security measures protecting the starport.

3) At the end of the day, as Hans-Hermann Hoppe noted, “government power ultimately rests on opinion, not brute force.” Imperial opinion is strongly shaped by Vilani opinion, which has no qualms regarding either forced conformity, or the massacres, genocide, even personality replacements needed to protect that conformity. True: the Vilani viewpoint has been diluted by cultural drift (and a major Solomani infusion), so it isn’t as disciplined, united, or as hard-core as it was during the First Imperium. Still, the preferences and tendencies remain persuasive and influential.

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Fashion Beats Totalitarian Dictatorships

…and where there’s fashion, there’s a merchantmen trying to make a credit or two, selling the latest fashions to the locals – no matter what the puritanical or ideological leadership says.

“I think that North Koreans are even more obsessed with fashion than South Koreans”

It doesn’t matter what the authoritarian regime – religious, egalitarian, monosexual – women want to look good. It starts with the upper elite women, who can always pressure their husbands to let that Perfect Dress slip though.

“It’s just one dress – Dear Leader doesn’t need to know! And how can this little bit of cloth hurt the power of The Church/The Party/The Umnah/The Nation?”

The wife/mistress offers a wink or a suggestive glance to her man, and the PCs have a new customer – perhaps a very powerful one!

(And, maybe, a hook-up into the local black market…)

And as the new threads gather their admirers…

  • “A dress with two colours! Count them! TWO!”
  • “A dress instead of a grey overall? Bourgeois! BOURGEOIS!”
  • “Flowers and bows? But that’s sexist!”
  • “Jewellery is STRICTLY FORBIDDEN here!”
  • “Perfumes have never been part of the Traditional Dress – and they won’t be accepted now!”
  • “Flip-flops are the only true Solomani footwear – anything else is Impure Vilani Corruption! You wouldn’t want to be racially corrupted… would you?”

…other elite women – and those who want to look elite – start to show up. (And, soon enough, fixers and deal-makers who are interested in bulk purchases…)

The first wave of regulators can be dealt with by bribes, but there will eventually be uncompromising dedicated enemies of unofficial commerce. Let’s see how long it takes before those bureaucrats are defeated, too…

In the Imperium, Advanced Levels of smuggling involves not planetary governments, but the Emperor’s Will.

We’re talking about psi-drugs, Imperial-restricted weaponry, certain forms of software, classified information, smuggling psions, etc.

Such smugglers would be wise to stick to border regions (so they can run far, run fast) and lots of fake registries, routine re-flagging of their vessels, etc.

Because they won’t like it when they finally get the undivided attention of the Imperial Government.

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A Real Traveller

It’s very easy to retrofit the following story into the more Arab Muslim parts of the Empty Quarter. There is no great Islamic insurgency in the Imperial Empty Quarter, as of 993, but that can be changed at the whim of the Referee.

The father in the story could make an interesting passenger, patron, or even a PC.

Afghanistan: A father’s journey in the footsteps of his fallen son

We have come to Afghanistan because Tony wants to see the country where his 22-year-old son was killed by a Taliban sniper on 9 February, 2011. He wants to pay his own tribute to the fallen boy and his comrades of 3 Para.

Not many fathers would do this.

After Conrad was killed, Tony remembered his son’s deep affection for the dog. “Two weeks after he died we got in touch with Nozwad to get Peg back from the most dangerous place on Earth.”

Now the Afghan stray is a consoling presence for Tony and Sandi Lewis at their home in Claverdon, Warwickshire.

Tony Lewis is a reasonable man. He listens and watches before offering his own opinions. There is a gentleness about him that makes him an easy travelling companion.

He believes his son fought for the right cause. But his patriotism is not blind. As we move around Kabul he experiences a see-saw of emotion – from hope to deep worry.

The father, Tony, may well be a reasonable and gentle man – but he’s also willing to step into a hostile part of the world, to find the answers he seeks. Gutsy.

We drive to a market, past the numerous checkpoints manned by edgy soldiers and policemen. The Taliban are here in the city. They strike at Nato convoys, at roadblocks. They have attacked restaurants and shot Westerners in the street. At the Serena Hotel where we are staying, they struck last March and killed nine people in the dining room, including a mother and her three children. Her pleas for mercy for the children were ignored.

It’s bad to even read about: but worse to see with your own eyes. The situation isn’t anywhere like this in the Empty Quarter of 993 (even with the pirates)… but back in the 700s, it was ugly.

Later that day we visit the main market in the company of Khoshhal Taib, a BBC Pashto service reporter who has lived in Kabul for four decades. He has seen the rise of the Communists, the Soviet invasion and war, the civil war that followed, the rise of the Taliban and their fall, and now the fragile democracy beset by insurgency.

A good model for an NPC “old-timer”.

“Nobody is safe in Afghanistan,” he says. The market is bustling. Crowds are perusing racks of clothes and multi-coloured bolts of cotton. Street children approach with hands outstretched seeking alms. A man is roasting corn on a charcoal fire. “In a minute here you can have a suicide attack,” explains Khoshal, “but five minutes after that everything will go back to normal, people will go on with their lives.”

Life in wartime.

For Tony one of the essential moments of the trip is a visit to the animal charity Nowzad. As we walk past the huge concrete blast walls that protect the shelter, the sound of dogs barking grows louder. Just inside is a huge poster of Conrad with his dog Peg on patrol in Helmand, next to a sign for the Conrad Lewis Clinic – for the veterinary surgery named in his memory.

A land where dog shelters need massive concrete blast walls.

A man in his 50s – the same age group as Tony – is cleaning a set of graves. Abdul Gafar explained that his 12-year-old brother was killed in the civil war. Soon afterwards his grief-stricken father died. “He could not live after what happened,” Abdul explains. Tony listens and offers his sympathy. Then he tells Abdul that he, too, has lost a child to the wars of Afghanistan. As Tony’s words are translated I notice that Abdul is looking at him with an expression of great intensity. Then he speaks: “The fact that I am Muslim and you are not, the fact that you are from the West and I am from here, it does not matter… I can feel for you.”

Sometimes, even hard, non-negotiable differences can be bridged. Sometimes.

He cannot stifle his feelings. With voice breaking he says, “Oh son, who’d have thought.” We walk away and give him time to be alone. Afterwards I ask Tony what he remembers best about Conrad. “He didn’t waste a minute of his life,” he says. The words are both a stirring tribute and a haunting epitaph for a lost son.

Words worth reflecting on.

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Back to Space!

Strange comments on today’s youth:
Today’s Youth Have Never Been Young & We Were Young, and Headed to the Stars

To quote from the second article:

It’s hard for modern young people to understand what it was like to grow up as a scientifically minded child in the 1960s. It was a special time that has, sadly, passed.

Each week there was a new step toward the stars. And this was not science fiction, this was reality.

Satellites had never existed in all the long history of mankind, but we saw them going up – and functioning – one after another.

As the Gemini program moved forward, we saw men living in space for more and more days at a time; they learned to rendezvous, and they even left their capsule and “walked in space.”

And then we geared-up for a trip to the moon… and succeeded!

Why wouldn’t a young person believe humanity was on its way to the stars? Humanity WAS on its way to the stars!

And on top of that, we had Star Trek. Remember that while Star Trek was clearly fiction, it was easy to see it as just a few steps ahead of us. And Star Trek was all about morality tales. We looked forward not only to an interesting future, but a good one, where we all became better.

And again, this was not at all unreasonable – we were taking clear steps toward it day by day. This was REAL.

And Then…

And then, it all stopped. Skylab and the shuttle were steps backward, useful mostly for saving face. Humanity stopped progressing and pulled back from the stars. If any of us still need a reason to judge government as unworthy of our time and treasure, here it is.

Since space was closed, we’ve endured boring, washed-out decades, focused on anything but the awe-inspiring, the good, and the heroic.

I strongly believe that those days will return… eventually.

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How 1,000-year lifespans could remake the economy…

Well, the article has nothing to do with Traveller, really – even the Vilani have trouble reaching the 300 year mark.

But it is interesting for speculation. And if anyone ever wants to really rebuild Traveller from the ground-up to match today’s expectations for the future, the game designer will have to address the issues spoken of in this article.

“If all PCs were ageless, would any of them ever risk their lives in dangerous exploration expeditions or risky military strikes?”

“Hard-core religious types might, if they believed that God would resurrect them on the Last Day. And… that’s about it.”

“Terraforming worlds and crossing the Void isn’t exactly safe, either. Perhaps the stars belong to the devout, after all…”


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A Few Things to Chew On, Part One

I have a ton of ideas in my head, but only a limited amount of time to get them all down in paper. This means that triage must occur, and some good stuff must be cut off.

But you might be able to pick out some gems from my thoughts, and work it to an interesting story for your group!


Here the Random Event, the Ma­niac, the Prophet, and the Genius have to be reckoned with. We have absolutely no way of escaping them. The future-predictors don’t suggest that we can avoid or escape them —or ever be able to predict or forecast them. What the future-predictors, the change-analysts, and the trend-tenders say in effect is that with the aid of institute resources, comput­ers, linear programming, etc. they will deal with the kinds of change that are not the consequence of the Random Event, the Genius, the Ma­niac, and the Prophet.

To which I only say: there really aren’t any; not any worth looking at, anyhow.

From The Year 2000 and All That, by Robert Nisbet

I will give Asimov credit: his future history made some allowance for such an outliner.

This week, I had my haircut. Hardly exciting, I realize, but not only is it refreshing to have huge clumps of dry hair hacked away and no longer be confused for Phil Spector, but it’s also a fun way to explore the town and test my Japanese skills. By fun, of course, I mean the kind of “fun” you have when you fall off a cliff in New Jersey and have to gimp walk the four-hour trail back to Manhattan. Even so, today, I wasn’t followed through the woods at dusk by four smiling men in hoods.


Always something new in the 11,000 worlds…

 Alignment: Lawful-Angry

This kind of character is one of the fundamental building-blocks of the universe. Respect his authority!

 SPIEGEL: And for the last three years, Rich’s numbers have worked well. She’s now in the top one percent of the 3,000 forecasters, which means she has been classified as a superforecaster, someone who is extremely accurate when predicting stuff like: Will there be a significant attack on Israeli territory before May 10, 2014? In fact, Rich is so good that she’s been put on a special team with other superforecasters whose team predictions are reportedly 30 percent better than intelligence officers with access to actual classified information.

So I mean, like, do you go to obscure Internet sources or are you just using, like, Wikipedia to make your judgments?

RICH: Usually I just do a Google search.

SPIEGEL: Your basic process is a Google search.

RICH: Yes.

SPIEGEL: Which at least for me raises this question: How is it possible that a group of average citizens doing Google searches in their suburban kitchens can outpredict members of the United States intelligence service with access to classified information? How can that be?

So You Think You’re Smarter Than A CIA Agent

All ordinary Imperials (and many deviant ones!) would call the Ministry of Justice, and accuse the woman of psionic use. In Gavin’s Imperium of the Solomani Rim War, she would be quietly taken away and lobotomized or executed. In Strephon’s Imperium of the Classic Traveller era, she would be quietly taken away and put to work in a secret Imperial facility – in comfort yes, but unlikely to see her friends or family ever again.

But this article isn’t science fiction: it’s science fact.

Therefore, this assertion is true: for major world events, the Web can be used to predict the future, within a certain margin of error.

I wonder which group will be the first to put this fact to profitable use?

(Points to the stock market.)

 A real life treasure hunt - that has cost the lives of six men so far – that might inspire your own in-universe search…

When Muslims have critiqued other Muslims, it has often been to chastise them for not killing enough infidels. When the 8th-century Arab general Muhammad bin-Qasim defeated his opponents on the Indian subcontinent with craftiness, his superior, Al-Hajjaj bin Yousef, demanded that Qasim commit more massacres. In his next action, Qasim was sure to massacre thousands.

There are many examples in Islamic history of relatively tolerant Muslims being replaced by more draconian ones. In Medieval Spain, the more orthodox Almoravid Dynasty replaced previous more tolerant rulers, and, in turn, it was replaced by the Almohads, an even more fundamentalist Islamic dynasty. In Medieval Baghdad, the more liberal Mu’tazilis, who emphasized reason and argued that the Koran was created, were denounced and defeated by more strict Muslims. In modern Iran the more conservative Ayatollahs replaced the Shah. Today the more extreme ISIS is eclipsing Al-Qaeda, whom they assessed as too moderate. The hope that time will temper Islam lacks supportive evidence.

I wonder what an additional 3,500 years of endless war would lead to. In the Empty Quarter, the answer is: poverty and defeat.

I suspect that this will be the answer in the real world, too.

http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2014/07/511_160680.html – “Do you wanna be white?”

Amusingly, this isn’t an Indian ad, but Korean.  I have little doubt that “skin lightening creams” will be as much a hot seller among the local Arab & East Indian Solomani women as they are right now on Earth.

Much to the amusement of the racially-uncaring (but culture- and conformity-obsessed), tan-skinned Vilani women…

Someday, one day, someone will design a properly pagan Third Imperium. Not the soft-soap polytheistic-paganism that I assume, but Ancient Greek & Roman paganism. Gary North (who I love to quote a lot) simply loathes it, and has a hostile-but-accurate outline here and here.

In today’s culture, you can probably find some source that will favourably describe ancient Classical culture, complete with sexual and enslaving practices.

(But once again, if you want to get both hardcore pagan, and hardcore sci-fi, I point to Drakon. Now, that’s what I call Imperial Nobility!)

For a contrast, see Karl Popper’s book, The Open Society and Its Enemies. A “Professor Popper” with the serial numbers filed off could make a great enemy of the Imperium. It’s said that the pen is mightier than the sword: the PCs can get a ringside seat to see if it’s true or not.

(Hint: Mere intellectual firepower isn’t good enough: you need organizational ability and a certain level of charisma to really get the ball rolling.)

Another Adventure Seed: a PC starts setting up a 3D house printing company on a low-tech world, providing tons of cheap housing for the masses…

…and angering the masses of workers the PCs have put out of work.

  • Can the PCs defy the mobs?
  • How about when the mobs pressure the local government to shut down the PC’s?
  • And what about the tons of poor people, who are waiting for their cheap housing?

Some Russian Wisdom:

  • “There is nothing easier than to give up smoking. I’ve done it a thousand times!”
  • “Optimists study English, pessimists study Chinese, and realists study Kalash (Kalashnikov)”
  • “We are responsible for what we have tamed.”
  • “People quickly adjust to good times, and slowly adjust to bad times.”

PCs don’t like responsibility… but if they are in a fairly realistic universe, they won’t be able to escape it.

The second proverb is easily tested: give the PCs a windfall, let them enjoy it for a few months, then take it away.

See what happens.

“There are two kinds of people in this world: those who can extrapolate from incomplete data.”

Three types of men live well in bureaucracies:

  1. bureaucratic politicians, infighters, and boot-lickers;
  2. time-servers, at once fearful of breaking the rules and delighted in enforcing the rules on others;
  3. go-along-to-get-along, ‘no is the safe answer to those lower than you, and yes to those above you’ types.

I have always placed the Vilani at the top level, and the Bwap in the middle. I don’t have anyone for the third slot, though… Probably because I see bureaucracies with a hostile eye, looking for conflict (and story potential).

For extra fun, see Communist Bureaucracy vs. Keynesian Bureaucracy”. They key difference is that Communist bureaucrats can arrest and disappear you, while the standard Western bureaucracy can’t.

The Vilani Bureaux – a kind of corporate bureaucracy, with law-making and law-enforcing power (up to and including warfare) is a somewhat different animal than the above. One good thing: as very bureaucratic organizations, they don’t have the arbitrary killing power the Communists have. They take the rules seriously, by and large.

There are two groups of wanderers – the very poor and the very rich. Mongoose Traveller has some good ideals for them, with the Dilettante and Scoundrel books.


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Crew Positions

In case you have no experience, but a desire to really join the working crew of a sailing ship…

Hey – it’s the best way to get hands-on experience for the Great Traveller Novel (Merchantman edition: the Mercenary edition needs a different skillset…)


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The Slaver Weapon

Interesting. It’s good to know that the Japanese aren’t the only ones who can make intelligent animated sci-fi…

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Medical Decontamination

Medical Decontamination

It’s rather tedious and boring to strictly roleplay proper decontamination routines, so I wouldn’t insist on it myself. Even when it is a life-and-death matter, you just don’t want to slow down the game, not even for a “save-or-die” situation.

But, for the climax of a medical campaign or preparing to fight the bad Guy in a hot zone (where he is in his native environment, and the PCs are at a serious disadvantage), it might be useful, if done once, MAYBE twice.

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