Due to the Dead

From the Shia/Sunni conflicts:

Someone in the German intelligence service – which regularly acts as a negotiator between Israel and the Shia Hezbollah in Lebanon, usually to exchange bodies between the two sides – obviously decided that its erring Sunni NATO partner in Ankara should get fingered in the infamous “war on terror” in which we are all supposed to be participants.

Ignoring the business with renegade intelligence officers – always lots of fun, I admit – I’d like to focus on the exchange of the dead between combatants.

True: the most hard-core groups don’t do this… but most armed forces/combatants do. Usually, a trusted third party handles the details and the actual exchange.

Naturally, in most conflicts, this trusted third party is the Imperium, as part of it’s monitoring duties to insure that local strife sticks with the Imperial Laws of War. But when the military is off on other duties – like in the Empty Quarter, where His Majesty’s Armed Forces are busy on the other side of the Imperium – the local Nobles will turn to the better sort of mercenary.

Usually, this is something of a milk run. Assuming that everyone has done their jobs, the bodies are respectfully exchanged, the PCs get paid, and life goes on. For small groups, it can be a nice supplement between more active engagements.

It’s also a way to get to know the two sides, in case an opening for more interesting business appears.

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More Alien Suns

I’m busy on a project right now, so to tide you over…

Yeah, it’s in Russian, but there is a tiny English tag for some of the stellar bodies…

 

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Monocrop Worlds

Every so often, PCs should set up their character from a monocrop world: in the case above, a place that only grows potatoes. And more potatoes.

Potatoes since the planet was settled during the Second Imperium.

Potatoes right through the Long Night.

The world that grows with pride the very best potatoes in 50 parsecs.

When we are going to harvest in your mind and in your hearts you feel that you are going to export the potato and never see it again. That hurt.

Yes, it’s as corny as you can get. But you have to admit, the love and care is real.

You want these people to grow your potatoes.

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2001: That Kind of Day…

One nitpick: completely exhale – not inhale – before pressing the button.

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Magnetic Rose

An interesting review of an old 1995 anime, Magnetic Rose, is quoted below.

Drawing inspiration from the story and music of Madame Butterfly and 2001: A Space OdysseyMagnetic Rose follows the members of the deep space salvage vessel Corona. While performing a salvage mission, the crew encounters an odd distress signal emanating from the Sargasso region, ominously nicknamed ‘the graveyard of space.’ Each man has their own reasons for working in deep space, namely to ‘build houses in California.’ Specifically, Miguel is looking forward to being united with one of his beautiful girlfriends and Heinz longs to return to his family.

The crew discovers a destroyed space station and Heinz and Miguel are sent in to investigate. Once onboard, Heinz and Miguel are lured deeper into the baroque interior of the space station, following various holographic images of the beautiful Eva Friedel. A famous opera singer, Eva fell from grace after she lost her voice and disappeared completely after the murder of her fiancée, Carlo. As the two men venture deeper into the ship, the holograms begin to reflect their own dreams and memories and the difference between illusion and reality become increasingly difficult to distinguish.

It sounds quite interesting, definitely influenced by Buddhist themes, if rather literary for a Traveller story. If the focus of the adventure is more on character than on action, then it is quite useful.

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No Man’s Sky, Again

Just a pleasant, low-impact exploration tour. No chat, just ambient music, eye-candy, and upgrades.

“A Scout’s Dream.”

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Revolutionaries & Reactionaries

Some excerpts from Critical Mass – Part 8: The Necessity of a Plan:

I own a copy of the movie Gandhi, which I regard as the greatest government-funded propaganda film of all time. I also regard Ben Kingsley’s performance as the finest movie performance of all time. I watch it every year or so, just to remind myself of what one man can do if he is willing to sacrifice everything for a just cause, and yet not deliberately leave the day-to-day affairs of this world unattended to.

[…]

Gandhi accomplished this because he had a long-term goal: the political independence of India. He also had a long-term program: non-violence. He never wavered from either. And because he was dealing with the British, who were public defenders of legality and bureaucratic form, and who had been weakened by two world wars and a lack of vision, he succeeded.

Most Travellers haven’t truly met such a dedicated opponent to the Imperium. And there are some good reasons for doing so: Gandhi built his life opposing small Imperial regulations at first, eventually building support for the largest regulations (the critical salt trade, up to the very existence of the Imperium). In quite a number of ways – especially in granting most worlds sovereignty  – the Third Imperium is explicitly designed to foil such attempts to be drawn into low-profit/high-risk local conflicts.

Moreover, his tactics an strategy was shaped by his enemy on the one hand, as well as his goal. After all, it was his revulsion of having his own people being treated like African blacks that powered his war: after all, Gandhi’s tactics in South Africa, which was to have the Indians be recognized as equals to the Whites, even serving in the British Army at one point. (A hostile essay on the political saint can be found in the Commentary article The Gandhi Nobody Knows: for an anti-Imperial perspective, see Churchill and Gandhi. )

Aside: Note that (Traveller universe here) Imperial Law early on had nonhuman lives held to be the equal as human ones: as the pure Solomani Emperor Cleon I ruled in 17 Imperial. From one of Traveller’s most beloved supplement, MegaTraveller’s World Builder’s Handbook, page 13:

In Imperial Year 17, Cleon Zhunastu declared, “Any sentient lifeform within the Imperial borders, regardless of its origin, is a protected being, and this a citizen o the Third Imperium.”

But never mind claims to sainthood: it is effectiveness and results that matter in today’s pragmatic, secular, and disintegrating Western World. So, to continue:

He spent years in jail. His family survived because he had benefactors who were willing to finance him. Every successful revolutionary needs such supporters. As he says in the movie to Margaret Bourke-White: “Some of my friends say it takes a fortune to keep me in poverty.” But he never gave up. For over 50 years, he never wavered from either his goal or his program. He lived to see India’s independence.

Interesting. If a cause is deeply believed in by the population, there always will be such supporters. Take the various Arab secular dictators: they attacked Islamic fundamentalism with great ferocity and gave their security services a free hand to do what they pleased for decades: but when they fell, guess who instantly rose to fill the void?

At the other strategic extreme was Lenin. He was driven by a personal motive: revenge for his older brother’s lawful execution for revolutionary violence. He had a long-term goal: the capture of political power. He had a strategy: political organization. He had an ideology: Communist revolution. He never wavered from any of these. Even among Communist fanatics, Lenin was regarded as a fanatic. Lenin was filled with care.

Dealing with a widespread Communist insurgency is something that I haven’t seen in the Third Imperium. Interesting, especially as Communists tend to do their best in taking over ancient massive autocratic monarchies, like China and Russia…

Gandhi had worried about the kinds of leaders that would be thrown up — the correct verb, the correct voice (passive) — by revolutionary violence. This was why he opposed violence. He kept looking beyond the day when the British would leave. He wanted decent men in power. He also wanted the British to be friendly after their departure. Once Pakistan and India were divided, he got his two wishes. India did not wind up as China did. The Communists never made serious inroads into India outside of the state of Kerala — and even there, they were elected to office.

The revolutionary band may well have a greater say over the future than the Imperial power and its armies. The kind of victor – and how victory was gained – tells the tale.

(Restrains himself vis-a-vis that vacillating & waffling Archduke Dulinor.

Well, one quote:

“In the founding days of the Imperium, great men dreamed great dreams… and achieved them. In the last days of the Imperium, petty men dreamed petty dreams… and achieved them too.” – MegaTraveller: Rebellion Sourcebook.)

Back to the Critical Mass article:

Who inherited in Communist Russia? Stalin: the man Lenin warned the Party not to put in his place after his death. His warning did no good. Lenin could not control who would succeed him because of the inherent logic of the system he built: one based on raw power and the guilt-free willingness to shed blood.

The point is, both Gandhi and Lenin succeeded because they had long-term goals and long-term plans. They both had strategies from which they did not waver. Gandhi’s legacy to his followers was far better than Lenin’s, for Gandhi had adopted a more decent strategy.

The Vilani seem to be the only ones with an effective long-term plan, managing to break the power of the Solomani Party at Court in the 600s. But having achieved their goal, the simple fact is that – in Canon Traveller – there just isn’t enough pure Vilani to truly retake the Imperium, or enough power to again reimpose cultural conformity. Corporate power is great, but it just wasn’t enough to remake the Imperium – raw wealth can fail to achieve political goals, just as high technology, raw numbers, and ideological purity can fail.

Reactionaries

Their opponents had no long-term strategy of defense. This was because they no longer had a long-term strategy of dominion. They had become bureaucrats who reacted to events rather than exercised leadership. The Czar had no vision. Like Louis XVI of France, Nicholas II was dominated by a narrow-minded wife and bad advisors. He had no desire to lead. Like Louis XVI, he lost his throne because of it. We are told officially that he also lost his life. in any case, he disappeared forever from public view.

Similarly, the British government by 1900 no longer had a vision for the Empire. Better put, whatever vision England’s elected rulers had was being supplied by a group of self-appointed humanist conspirators who were, in the British phrase, too clever by half. From 1890 to 1948, they surrendered the Empire.

Without vision, empires perish as surely as people do.

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Lethal Profits

From Investing in Venezuela Could Be Hugely Profitable or Potentially Lethal

Barclays Plc has decided that Venezuela is too dangerous for its bond-investor clients. No, not as in default kind of dangerous. Sure that’s possible but Barclays is more worried right now about things like kidnapping and murder.

Last month, the bank canceled a trip to take a group of money managers to Caracas after its security team deemed the trip “unwise” without “significantly enhanced” safety measures, according to an e-mail sent to investors that was obtained by Bloomberg News.

It amuses me to imagine what “significantly enhanced” measures would mean in the Traveller universe.

At a time when interest rates are near zero or even negative in many countries across the globe, the 23 percent yield offered by Venezuela’s benchmark dollar bonds stands out as a rare opportunity for the bravest of investors to make a big score. Before taking that plunge and buying the debt of a nation mired in crisis, though, investors will typically want to see the place first-hand, talk to government officials and business executives and assess the mood on the ground. In Venezuela, that means walking into a country convulsed by an economic collapse, spontaneous street protests and soaring crime.

The relentless search for profits continues. When you are talking multi-millions and billions, you want face-to-face talks, if only to avoid the really sophisticated scams. But face-to-face talks means sticking your neck out… sometimes wayyy out.

“But hey – at least the Venezuelans aren’t ready for cannibalism yet, even if the old school ‘fat=wealthy’ connection is back in business… and it’s getting more and more difficult to spot any stray pigeons, cats, or dogs. Try visiting a starving Vargr world – any really hungry Vargr world, even the most civilized.”

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Lions, Bad Neighbourhoods, and the Problem of Time

From Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart, we see…

The Lion of the Desert:

Before driving into northern Iraq, Dr. Azar Mirkhan changed from his Western clothes into the traditional dress of a Kurdish pesh merga warrior: a tightfitting short woolen jacket over his shirt, baggy pantaloons and a wide cummerbund. He also thought to bring along certain accessories. These included a combat knife, tucked neatly into the waist of his cummerbund, as well as sniper binoculars and a loaded .45 semiautomatic. Should matters turn particularly ticklish, an M-4 assault rifle lay within easy reach on the back seat, with extra clips in the foot well. The doctor shrugged. “It’s a bad neighborhood.”

The Bad Neighbourhood:

Our destination that day in May 2015 was the place of Azar’s greatest sorrow, one that haunted him still. The previous year, ISIS gunmen had cut a murderous swath through northern Iraq, brushing away an Iraqi Army vastly greater in size, and then turning their attention to the Kurds.

And The Problem of Time:

Azar had divined precisely where the ISIS killers were about to strike, knew that tens of thousands of civilians stood helpless in their path, but had been unable to get anyone to heed his warnings. In desperation, he had loaded up his car with guns and raced to the scene, only to come to a spot in the road where he saw he was just hours too late. “It was obvious,” Azar said, “so obvious. But no one wanted to listen.” On that day, we were returning to the place where the fabled Kurdish warriors of northern Iraq had been outmaneuvered and put to flight, where Dr. Azar Mirkhan had failed to avert a colossal tragedy — and where, for many more months to come, he would continue to battle ISIS.

First point: In-universe, many Traveller PCs are mercenaries… which mean they have no pull or rank in the local government, and may well be ignored.

“You either do it yourself, or it isn’t going to get done.”

…but then again…

“We are not a charity, and we don’t work for free.”

The PCs get to decide what to do, and face the consequences for their actions… or lack thereof.

(Note that – unlike most PCs – most local forces work for the Tribe, not for the Credit. A comparatively small minority work for their deities (as of 993): an increasing minority fight for the People (especially the oppressed cyborgs).

Corporate forces do exist: but they are largely Vilani locals, who have fused the needs of the Tribe and the Corporate Credit.)

Second point: Sometimes, amateurs really do know what they are talking about. Not always, not even usually… but sometimes.

A character sketch:

Azar is a practicing urologist, but even without the firepower and warrior get-up, the 41-year-old would exude the aura of a hunter. He walks with a curious loping gait that produces little sound, and in conversation has a tendency to tuck his chin and stare from beneath heavy-lidded eyes, rather as if he were sighting down a gun. With his prominent nose and jet black pompadour, he bears a passing resemblance to a young Johnny Cash.

It’s not easy for a pen-n-paper RPG to get across what actual warriors are like: especially if the Referee is far more into computers and history than battlefields and good tactical movement. Moreover, there is often a LOT going on at any instant of battle: much of it is noise, some of it critical information.

The weaponry also complemented the doctor’s personal philosophy, as expressed in a scene from one of his favorite movies, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” when a bathing Eli Wallach is caught off guard by a man seeking to kill him. Rather than immediately shoot Wallach, the would-be assassin goes into a triumphant soliloquy, allowing Wallach to kill him first.

“When you have to shoot, shoot; don’t talk,” Azar quoted from the movie. “That is us Kurds now. This is not the time to talk, but to shoot.”

Words to live by, in the Imperial Empty Quarter.

Fortunately, the major threat in the 993 Quarter remains pirates, cyborg-sypmathetic sophonts from Hebrin (Shadow Cartel), high-tech (Ikonaz Vargr/Vilani organizations) and the carnivorous and hungry Suedzuk Vargr. This means trouble, yes, but it’s still better than race’n’religion fuelled civil strife that so wracked the Empty Quarter before the Hebrin Rebellion was crushed.

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Veteran Authors

NPR has published an interesting article on those veterans who are interested in writing a modern war story.

I would strongly prefer a non-fiction story, along the line of the famous Black Hawk Down or Bravo Two Zero (and yes, I am dating myself *shrug*). I have heard that it usually takes about 20 years for a really good book on a given war to be written, so – ignoring the examples I just gave – I ain’t expecting a lot until the 2020s are well underway.

I doubt if Traveller would be the best vehicle for a story of modern war: but it could be kinda shoved into it – not too dissimilar to what I did with the Empty Quarter, but even here the differences necessarily far outweigh the similarities.

However, I think that the Traveller universe would be more useful as an allegorical or a metaphorical setting to a modern war, like Halderman’s The Forever War.

(But if I was truly going to write grand, powerful, moving fiction in the Traveller universe, it would certainly be grounded in the immense tragedy known as the Rebellion. It’s not every day that you see a civilization die…)

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