IBM Watson

I would have sworn that I (temporarily) gained three IQ points just by watching the video!

Not so much because of the concepts or the language: I can grasp what they’re talking about, and the logic of the presentation is clear and persuasive. It’s because the video never talks down to you: vocabulary & grammar remains at the ~120 IQ level, and never falls below this. “A seven-minute workout for the brain.”

It is extremely hard to create and successfully roleplay a world with a mean IQ of 130-150, as I can’t even fake that level of intelligence (and the vocabulary, math, and database such sophonts would have). But it would be great to send a Traveller crew to visit such a world – and to spot the differences between

  • hyper-intelligent Vargr worlds
  • hyper-intelligent Solomai worlds
  • hyper-intelligent Vilani worlds

It isn’t the intelligence that matters so much, but how you use your intelligence. Remember: there are more IQ 120 multimillionaires/billionaires than IQ 150+ multimillionaires/billionaires (in relation to their populations).

A culture can just as easily send it’s intellectual cream to serve in the SS (as those top-tier German universities did in the Nazi era) as to the medical field, or to the Church (can you imagine the level of genetic loss incurred, because all those brainy men were kept childless?) or to the Party, or to the Yeshiva, or to the Colonial Office (a.k.a. the British running an empire controlling 25% of the world with 5,000 men, max)?

As for the Imperium as a whole? I suspect that most of the smarties head straight to the megacorporations, with a minor flow going into the Imperial services, especially the Navy. The ruling families will use genetic modifications to keep the inbreeding issues under control: but in general, high intelligence is a plebeian obsession: “A problem for the commercial classes, not the aristocratic classes.”

(I am assuming a stability-oriented, traditionally-minded, deeply conservative aristocracy: a ‘lean-and-hungry’ aristocracy dabbling in genetic engineering will start picking up Draka-style tendencies at a very fast rate, no doubt ending in a spectacular civil war between the Übermensch.)


A greater-than-average of the remainder hyper-intelligent Imperials will become Travellers, as their hunger for knowledge (and the outside possibility of winning a great reward via adventure) outweighs their desire for safety and predictability.

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I have no doubt that this free, TL 9 software could be expanded to include non-human verbal languages in the Traveller universe. And I think that it could handle sign languages, body languages, and scent-based communication (Useful for both Vargr & K’kree) at the same TL.

Once again, a bit of Trek technology that I used to laugh at, the universal translator, gets the last laugh on me.

(And I’m still stinging from the bite of the real-life replicator, 3D printers!)

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Medics Yes, Doctors No

Well, not all doctors – it’s going to take a while before surgeons are replaced.

But General Practitioners are doomed before 30 years are up, never mind the 3,500 years of the Traveller future. From The Week

[L]ook at the future of the general practitioner of medicine. This is considered the epitome of the high-skilled, secure, remunerative job. Four years of college! Four years of medical school! Internship! Residency! Government-protected cartel membership!

And yet, this profession is going the way of the dodo bird.

To understand why, the first thing you need to understand is that multiple studies have shown that software is better able to diagnose illnesses, with fewer misdiagnoses. Health wonks love this trend, known as evidence-based diagnosis, and medical doctors loathe it, because who cares about saving lives when you can avoid the humiliation of having a computer tell you what to do.

Then you need to look at companies like Theranos

Then look at a company like Sherpaa


What room is there left for generalist doctors in that scenario? None. They’re the ones who the internet will replace; and it is nurses and other “low-skilled” health workers who will do best out of this shift. And most importantly, it will be great for patients.

It will also be great for Travellers, as they don’t need to pay for a doctor to get proper medical care: a good nurse and a mass-produced robot will do fine 80% – 96% of the time.

Interestingly, if you look most generated medics in the game, you’ll find that this is already implied in the chargen. The vast majority would rate as EMT, corpsmen, or nurses, not doctors. And in the MegaTraveller supplement Vilani & Vargr, we learn that Vilani specialists rely on expert systems for professional advise:

“Not only is computer health care more cheaper than the old system: it’s a lot more predictable than a flesh-and-blood specialist. Less inclined to perverted inventions, disgusting innovations, and those repulsive, unregulated discoveries!

“Yes, I agree. I’m going to miss those government-backed cartels, massive medical bureaucracies, and extensive licensing requirements, though.”

“I know, I know – any real Vilani would have to shed a tear at their passing. But cheaper, more effective, and less inclined to break the rules? Even the ancestors would have to agree – grudgingly, but inevitably.”

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Surprises of War

More tools for the military Traveller’s toolchest.

1) The Christmas Truce

This kind of thing is rather unlikely in the Empty Quarter: it relies on a shared religion (supernatural or naturalistic) and probably a shared species bond as well, so you won’t see it in Hindu/Muslim or human/Vargr conflicts. But in a civil war-like situation, an unsanctioned peace might break out.

It would be very difficult to keep going… but if it could shut down the war, both combatants would be better off. I know that Europe would have been far better off if the troops continued to defy the commanders, and halted the slaughter that destroyed Europe’s future…

(Just how to keep it going in the face of human tribalism is a puzzle worthy of a good-hearted Hiver manipulator – it’s definitely past my abilities!)

2) Napoleon Wasn’t Defeated by the Russians.

Well… actually, he was.

But the Russians got a huge assist with typhoid (with lice as the vector), as well as winter. And hungry, high-tech soldiers, inexperienced in the world of real filth, who lose their supply chain/power supply and have to ‘live off the land’ could definitely face a die-off situation in the low-tech Empty Quarter.

Poland is where things started going badly for Napoleon. He found the region filthy beyond belief. The peasants were unwashed, with matted hair and ridden with lice and fleas, and the wells were fouled. Since the army was now in enemy territory, the supply trains had to move to the rear. The roads were soft with loose dust or were deeply rutted from the spring rains; the supply trains lagged farther and farther behind the main body of soldiers, and it became difficult to provide food and water. The army was so huge that it was nearly impossible to keep military formation intact, and the greater part of the army dissolved into straggling, sprawling mobs. Many of the soldiers pillaged the homes, livestock, and fields of the local peasants. Nearly 20,000 army horses died from lack of water and fodder on the way to Vilnius. The homes of the peasants were so filthy that they seemed to be alive with cockroaches. The typical battlefield diseases of dysentery and other intestinal diseases began to appear, and though new hospitals were set up in Danzig, Königsberg, and Thorn, they were unable to deal with the large numbers of sick soldiers sent back to the rear.

THIS is what you want to stick your most gung-ho soldiers/cadre in. Preferably just before the water purification tablets run out… promptly followed by the power supply for their weapons and powered armour (which no PC knows how to repair).

But Napoleon’s problems were just beginning.

Heh. Wait till Napoleon the Force Commander finally makes it to Moscow the starport… and discover that the Russians Ikonaz pirates have systematically destroyed all the stocks & supplies, the power & commo grid, the medical equipment… and shot disappeared all of the techs too!

“Winter is coming”, indeed.

3) Disease, Again, with Emphasis

From Eric Margolis

I’ve covered 14 wars and seen a lot of combat. But being shelled or shot at never scared me half as much as the fear of serious illness in the field.

While reporting on the 1980’s war in Afghanistan with the mujahidin warriors (“freedom fighters” back then/today “terrorists”), we were involved in a fierce battle with Communist Afghan troops. We fired volleys of rockets at them; they fired back at us with mortars and tank shells.

As shells exploded around me, the mujahidin chief announced, “now we stop fighting, Mr. Eric. It’s time for lunch!”

“But I’m not hungry. I came here to cover the fighting,” I pleaded, far more frightened by the local food – and particularly endemic hepatitis – than enemy shells. There was no denying Afghan hospitality. We piled into jeeps and returned to a nearby village for lunch.

I tried to beg off eating, claiming a toothache. But my Afghan hosts would have none of it. “Eat, eat Mr. Eric.” I suspected they had used up their week’s food ration to give me a small banquet.

Now, the military situation in the 993 Empty Quarter is a lot closer to the anti-Soviet war of the 1980s than the Taliban of the 2000s – just substitute Vargr pirates for the Soviet Army & Air Force – so it’s more likely that PCs will eat with the local human fighters than try to kill them. (Then there are the more nasty Blood Vargr packs, who will try to eat the local human fighters…)

Anyways. The point is, local disease among the low-tech locals are a lot more dangerous to ship-to-ground laser fire. Sure, if you are unlucky you’re going to go up in a puff of smoke, but that’s quite unlikely: on the other hand, you have to eat and drink where the locals don’t believe in separating their waste from their drinking water, or that silly off-world ritual about washing your hands.

(But you may be lucky, and an off-world Brotherhood adviser or medic may give you a helping hand. Very friendly and helpful, those guys.)

4) Asimov’s Three Laws Are Not an International Treaty

The author thinks that three separate treaties:

  • Treaty on the Testing and Operational Standards of Artificial Intelligence Drones Intended for Combat.
  • Treaty on the Liability of Artificial Intelligence Drones.
  • Treaty on the Use of Artificial Intelligence Drones in Combat.

are going to halt/govern the use of the warbots that are due to arrive in the near future.

I love this touching faith in treaties. But, I have a pretty good idea on just how much these sheets of paper are going to be worth in the 2040+ era. Especially if you assume, as I do, that a substantial percentage of the combatants are going to be ‘non-state actors’, as the lingo goes.

Incidentally, the Imperium does about as much as you can here, insisting that 1) the owners of the warbots are held responsible for the action of their wonderful toys, and 2) avoiding the use of warbots themselves, and sticking to flesh-and-blood men to do the Emperor’s fighting.  The Imperium sets a powerful example here: because she avoids the use of robots, the various anti-Imperial insurgencies (including the biggest insurgency, the so-called ‘Solomani Confederation’) also avoids the use of robots as an unnecessary ‘added expense’.

(Yes, this is a gift to the enemies of the Imperium: but a smart gift, which limits their options as well as yours. After all, the worse 99.9999% of the Imperium’s enemies can do is storm the starport, and take full control of an entire planet. Whoopie-doo.

And if you want those interstellar goodies, you’re going to have to reopen that starport. And convince the Imperial Navy to end the blockade at best, and stop dropping missiles on your head at worst.

But if you force your enemies to turn to warbots, to fight your warbots, that means that they will have to develop a covert industrial base. And gain mastery of some serious electronics and IT programming techniques. And set up some resilient, heavy duty smuggling networks… “Your Grace, are you sure you want to force your enemies to go down this route?”

Empires create their own enemies. A wise Empire will set up the rules so that she will suffer minor losses here and there, her enemies make minor gains here and there… and that no powerful threat to the entire Imperial system can develop.

“All politics is local – and His Majesty prefers that we keep it that way!”)

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1) Updated #25, 2) Sufficently Advanced 3) Catalogues

More nips and snips for Stellar Reaches #25 – you can download it at the Downloads page.

Sufficiently Advanced, Second Edition is an interesting book, if you want to go the transhuman route. A diceless system, we find that

Humanity has been reconstructed by time and technology. Wield incredible technological enhancements and thousands of years of expertise, or the ability to mold the story of the game. Play a digital intelligence with remote-controlled robot drones, a diplomatic team that shares a group-mind, a soldier infused with nanotechnology, or even a living starship. Play an Old-Worlder witnessing our fantastic universe for the first time, or a Masquerader taking on different identities each day.

In the most recent issue of Stellar Reaches, I took a far more conservative route regarding superscience: besides focusing on terraforming, ringworlds and altering solar systems, I assumed that humanity can’t go the digital route while remaining human, and most forms of human alterations are dead-ends. We should find out who will be right in the next few centuries – or even just this century.

Advanced Equipment Futuristic Tools, Gadgets and Props for the Pathfinder Role Playing Game can be used a good update for the Traveller. Except that everything is priced in gold pieces.

While there are quite a good number of catalogue books for Traveller, they really only started up as a dedicated book with the Reformation Coalition Equipment Guide.

(Incidentally, I salute those ultra-hard core players who are playing with the RC, 1202 New Era campaign!)

Then came the T4 Central Supply Catalog, a fun purchase for ideas, even if only a few still play with the Imperium Games rules.  But I still wish they got the number in the T4 Fire, Fusion & Steel book right – but the book is rather cheap…

With Mongoose came a better Central Supply Catalogue which you should definitely get. But as it was published in the cave-dwelling days of 2009, 3D printers et. al. are missing.

(But that being said, you should see the impressive range of weapons in the Mongoose book! Maybe not as creative as my beloved 1001 Science Fiction Weapons (Revised) book, but still – really good selection, with a lot of detail.)

Note that I have not touched the various vehicle books, and there is often bits of useful kit mixed up in the typical sourcebook.

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Two Doomed Princesses

The Destruction of a Royal Princess

First, from Thailand

Thailand’s crown prince has divorced his wife, in a dramatic fall from grace for a senior princess at a time of heightened anxiety over the health of the country’s revered but ailing monarch.

A statement published by the palace in the early hours of Saturday in the Royal Gazette said Princess Srirasmi had relinquished her royal status, a move that ends her 13-year marriage to Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Essentially, what happened was that her family was using her royal connection as a ‘get out of jail free’ card, to cover all sorts of corruption. It is quite difficult for the press to legally criticize the monarchy, as “Under section 112 of Thailand’s criminal code, anyone convicted of defaming, insulting or threatening the king, queen, heir or regent faces between three and 15 years in prison on each count. Even repeating details of the charges could mean breaking the law.”

(This would not surprise the star-crossing Imperial: “To determine who has authority, find out who you can’t criticize” is a good rule of thumb: not perfect, but pretty reliable.  Note that in Official Traveller, there are lèse-majesté laws: I personally ignore them as unenforceable outside of the Imperial Services & Imperial property. Within the Services and on Imperial property, it’s a very different matter.

Note that many planets – certainly Vilani, but also the more pro-Imperial Solomani & Mixed systems – do protect Imperial authority with lèse-majesté legislation.)

What surprises me is that the government didn’t simply use the lèse-majesté laws to suppress any and all questions, and so let the rot spread and grow. Unusually, they actually kicked out the Princess.

Note that the Princess herself is not charged with any wrongdoing: it is her family that is depicted as corrupt. This may be accurate, which then is a lesson in only marrying people of good breeding and of a fine familial reputation.

The Destruction of a Corporate Princess

And now, the fall of a Corporate Princess from Korea:

SEOUL — Forget dust-ups over reclining seats in economy class. There’s a new and exclusive twist on in-flight anger: Nut rage in first class.

A recent Korean Air flight was delayed when its chairman’s daughter, who also was vice president responsible for cabin service at the airline, ordered a senior crew member off the plane. The crime? Allowing her and other passengers in the pointy end of the aircraft to be served bagged macadamia nuts instead of nuts on a plate.

Quite a number of people on this side of the Pacific wishes that local airlines had such demanding executives, ‘always on the job.’ But in South Korea, it was seen as an example of pure arrogance and privilege: her family owns Korean Air, and her father is the head of the company.

(And note that the victim of her wrath was repeatedly asked by the company to lie to save her career: and he refused to do so. Every so often, a commoner gets his say in the affairs of the great – especially in those cultures when you can’t just kill him out of hand, or arrest and silence him with trumped-up charges.)

Even granting that the woman had to be punished, I am surprised that she was punished with such a high degree of public humiliation. I guess that I am used to a vision of Imperial elites that are never held to account for their actions, and an interstellar press that does as its told.

In Summary

Depending on your view of the commoner’s view of the Imperial Nobility, Imperial aristocrats may not be truly above the law. A surprising conclusion!

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Starmercs, Now and in the Future

(The below is extracted from Rozeff’s article on Cargo Ship Protection, and partially put into the Imperial Context)

The Imperial Navy does not exist to protect the shipping lanes: it exists for primarily political reasons, to project force in the name of the Emperor and ‘keep the local systems in line.’ It is a fundamentally offensive, not defensive, organization: to the extent that it protects shipping, it’s focus is on military & troop transports. And naturally, protecting civilian shipping isn’t the way to gain promotion and flag rank: fighting and winning military actions against peer competitors is the way to go here. And where the glory is, so goes the best officers and most of the money.

So who guards the shipping?

Starmercs, of course: from Tukera Line’s dedicated Route Protectors down to four guys in cammo and a beaten-up Free Trader with additional armour bolted on.

Does this go against the Emperor’s desire to ‘rule the space between the stars”?

Yep. But in the end, if you assume every sector has 1000 warships, that’s still just too few compared to the number of civilian ships that needs protection. So there is a place for pro-Imperial, licensed starmercs. “We don’t challenge Imperial Authority: we just give His Majesty’s rule a helping hand, if you will.”

So in the present day, you get people like Armed Marine Security and British plans to set up a mothership and patrol boats.

The UK’s first private navy in almost 200 years has been set up by a group of pioneering businessmen, former marines and retired captains and soldiers to defend shipping off the coast of east Africa from the threat of pirates.

They are frustrated at the inability of the Royal Navy, NATO, the European Union Naval Task Force and other navies to guarantee security for shipping in an area of ocean the size of North America.

“They can’t do the job because they haven’t got the budget and deploying a billion-pound warship against six guys [pirates] with $500 of kit is not a very good use of the asset,” Anthony Sharp, chief executive of Typhon, the company behind the venture, told the Times.


The navy will include a 10,000 ton mother ship and high speed armored patrol boats and will be led by a former Royal Navy commodore and 240 former marines and other sailors. The marines will be armed with close quarter weapons such as the M4 carbine and sniper rifles with a range of 2 km.

It will escort its first convoy of oil tankers, bulk carriers and the occasional yacht along the east coast of Africa in late March or early April. They will aim to deter pirates rather than engage in firefights.

And of course, there are the armed guards on-board. The cry “Repel boarders!” isn’t just part of the 18th century anymore…

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Other Forms of Islamic Culture

The “Future Islam” of the Empty Quarter is based on the assumption that various Salafi/Wahhabi followers were sent to colonize the Empty Quarter during the Rule of Man, mainly because the rest of humanity wanted those folks as far away from their own homeworlds/interstellar civilization as possible.

However, just because the Empty Quarter got those kinds of Muslims, does not mean that all Muslims across the Imperium are fans of the Caliphate. For example, The Russian TASS group has an article on an Russian Islamic fashion show where the women dress in an attractive yet modest fashion (as opposed to large black tents, say).

A Referee who still wants to respect the Islamic influences on the Empty Quarter, but is not interested in getting bogged down in the absolutely endless hostility between The Righteous Faithful and The Filthy Infidels, could do worse than turn to the Russian Muslims for inspiration. Definitely exotic, still The Other, but not so fascinated with the idea of slaughtering infidels.

But how can you get away from the name The Empty Quarter? That name points to one, and only one, form of Islam!

Just rename the sector – call it Tartarstars, or Yeni Torpaqlar (Azerbaijani: “New Lands”), or some such name.

But I don’t want to rename the sector! I want to stay canon!

Then you are stuck with the black tents.

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Continuous Real-time Planetary Tracking, Everyday

So, the Imperial Intelligence Services could track every planet every day – and with decent resolution, at least attempt to track every sophont and every car, every day, with the only delay being time-in-jump to bring the info back to the subsector, sector, and Imperial capitals.

But with satellites this cheap, every megacorporation could do the same.

And the more powerful and better funded insurgencies.

And enemy organizations, like Solomani Security.

Even some NGOs and citizen groups could do the same – not for the entire Imperium, but for, say, every mainworld in a subsector.

And that’s just the spooks. The IISS would love this: better detail, more timely detail, and less need to risk the lives of their personnel. “Every increase in the Scout survival rate – even 1% – has material benefits, in morale, in knowledge retention, in improving the overall skill levels of the Service.”

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The Elite Stay Elite

“Surname Status: Elite Families Stay Elite for Centuries”

Somehow, I sense great big swaths of Imperial Nobility nodding knowingly. The right sort with the right names stay at the peak of the social & power pyramids for a long, long, long time.

(If Vilani, add about ten more “longs” to the above.)

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