Valient Hearts: The Low-Tech War

As of 2015, we don’t have any information of a proper high-tech war, with hunter-killer drones, orbital bombardments, artificial plagues, and all the radiation sickness you can load up on.

However, we do have earlier wars, and the emotional fabric of those wars are similar, although the details vary. For example, in World War I (depicted above) there wasn’t the racial overtones of World War II, or the ideological/religious influence of more recent wars, and the movement of the front lines was a good deal more sluggish compared to the tanks of World War II, or the distinct lack of a front line/secure rear area in the recent Iraq war.

Also: there was a certain level of innocence and ardent nationalism in World War I that simply doesn’t exist today, due to the nature of the media. And the noble elites at the time really did send their own sons to die in the field: something that may be true in the Imperium of Traveller, but is largely not true today in the West.

Different wars have different flavours: something for Referees to remember.


Traveller being Traveller, there really are worlds at TL 5 (World War I technology): seeing how a high-tech team would affect such a war would be interesting. And when that team overstretches itself, and gets too cocky, unaware that even low-tech enemies watch and learn?

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Amphibian Scout Vehicle

The Gibbs Quadski looks to be a nice light scout vehicle, “producing 140 horsepower, the engine enables Quadski and Quadski XL to reach speeds of 45 mph on both land and water.”

Not much cargo space in the base models, as it’s built for sports, but that can be remedied with a bit of redesign.

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Left in Silence

If the PCs have been in enough battles, they will certainly gain a list of Things We Don’t Talk About.

I’m not sure how you roleplay heavy ghosts and bad dreams, but they’re out there. A sufficiently heavy load of guilt could well lead to some nasty self-destructive behaviour: but even a lighter load – cleaning up the remains of your dead comrades, knowing that you gave the order that lost half the company, or even just survivor’s guilt – is going to take some doing to get past.

Traveller is primarily a military SF game: but by and large, I’m staying in exploration, culture and politics (with a dab of technology here and there).

I have my reasons.

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At Least Be Entertaining!

From a review for Jeffrey Quyle’s Against the Empire: The Dominion and Michian

Very addictive. Not being a fervent christian did not detract from me enjoying this book.

Read all the books and they move along and the characters are real enough.

Oddly, I have never seen myself as a fervent Christian.

A form of self-blindness, perhaps?

(Shrug) At least from the internal perspective, it’s more like being a natural atheist who got his illusions shattered by the hardened fist of Reality. With Logic eagerly grinding salt in the wounds.

I wouldn’t put myself in the category of C.S. Lewis, “perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” I always had a certain affinity for Justice and Law, and yet also an appreciation for a wise and well-balanced Mercy: so an opening for the Christian faith was always there. Throw in a deep distrust when it comes to the sweet words of wealthy and powerful men, and the ground is ready for the Word.

Still, at least from my perspective, there is no great fervency, only the natural outworking of the core principles. So my work tends to be harsh and serious, though hopefully less dark and grim over time, as Good actually does triumph over Evil: on Earth, and not just in the Heavens (and – for that matter – increasingly so in our lifetimes, and not just in the Far Future.)

But I don’t think that I will ever be as entertaining as Jeffery Quyle (never mind C.S. Lewis!) Also, my characters tend to have “four-colour” personalities, somewhat caricatured and simplified compared to actual people in the real world. On the other hand, I think this makes my NPCs more useful for Referees who want to add spice and colour to their adventures.

 

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Robot Wars, 2015

OK, not particularly impressive right now: but it’s going to get a lot better in a decade or less!

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Firing Until Failure

In my completely civilian eyes, the AR-15 ran very well. But I shiver to think of a scenario where you’d actually have to fire full-on for eight minutes.

As the man later says, most guns have a quick-change barrel system, so the final failure can be handled quickly in a real firefight. The amount of ammo available is the real issue, methinks.

This isn’t really a Traveller-specific issue – unless you really run a lot of heavy firefights – and I doubt if it’s necessary for Referees to model weapon failure probabilities. Ammo is a different issue: hard to keep track of in a game, but something should be done to give a nod to reality.

* scratches head *

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Made in Japan, Part III

Yes, even more from Made in Japan.

What can I say? A great businessman works hard to expand the business to many different nations, rising (briefly) to a megacorp status, definitely has a Traveller resonance to me.


We noted, or rather Tamon Maeda did, that during that early postwar period there was an acute shortage of stenographers because so many people had been pushed out of school and into war work. Until that shortage could be corrected, the courts of Japan were trying to cope with a small, overworked corps of court stenographers. With Maeda’s help, we were able to demonstrate our machine for the Japan Supreme Court, and we sold twenty machines almost instantly! Those people had no difficulty realizing how they could put our device to practical use; they saw the value in the tape recorder immediately; to them it was no toy.

 

You have to find the right customer, if you want to sell your goods at the right price.

When you are selling higher-tech goods to lower-tech systems, you can make even more money in maintenance contracts than in the initial sale. For example, say you sell fifty laptops (TL 9) to a TL 5 government (electricity is just coming online for factories and the big cities, and cars and telephones are for fancy rich people). IF those laptops are used right, this government can definitely outcompete her neighbours in war and peace: but you have to write the programs and scripts that meets her needs. And laptops break… the occasional mob might try to smash the evil off-world ghost-haunted work of aliens… or a seductress may lift one from her sleeping lover, and give it to an enemy government for a fresh new identity and a fat reward.

 

“You know, maybe you don’t really want to sell fifty laptops. How about just one, with a massive frame so it looks like a room-filling supercomputer, with lots of flashing lights and whirring gears, and some techpriests hired to do mystical sciency things to intimidate the locals?”

 

“I bet you can charge Big Bucks – maybe even get your own autonomous county, with a castle and a hundred or so soldiers – if you package it just right!”

 

“I always wanted to live the Noble life…”

 

The head of our research laboratories, Makoto Kikuchi, a leading expert in the semiconductor field, recalls that in those days the level of research and engineering in the United States was so high that “the voice of Bell Labs was like the voice of God.”

 

It’s hard to believe now, as the internet-powered distribution of knowledge beyond the grip of the gatekeepers – as well as the ongoing delegitimization of authority figures, secular and religious, political and cultural – has radically changed the world. But in traditional, authority-respecting Solomani cultures, a respected priesthood has an enormous amount of influence, and often real power.

 

Some worlds are basically outposts of the Imperial Catholic Church: others, run by the World Science Federation: it all depends on your preferred flavor of priest. The Vilani have nothing but scorn for original scientific research, seeing it as perverted, but they love their traditions and respect the hereditary priesthoods who have mastered the sacred ancient rituals.

 

(Yes, several Vilani corporations do have research labs… but they are kept out of the public eye, and preferably off of the many Vilani worlds that have strict laws against such deviant behaviour. Many simply outsource the research to Solomani or Mixed Vilani firms, so keeping their own hands free of such filth.

 

I should also point out the difference between original scientific research, and what the Vilani do approve of: making known techniques and tools more efficient and cost-effective. Applied engineering will always have a place in the Vilani heart!)

 

Court cases take a long time in Japan, and the case dragged on for four years, but we won.

 

And if you think that Japanese court cases drag on and on, just wait till you see a big-money Imperial court case! So many rules… injunctions… affidavits… subpoenas… jurisdictional disputes… examinations… hearings… certifications and verifications… all across multiple star-systems, as the months and years go by… and the lawyer’s fees mount and mount…

 

“You know, you could spend four billion credits, pushing this thing through the court system for the next decade. Or, you could spend 600 million credits, and let my boys re-write the facts on the ground and clear out these obstacles in a matter of weeks. It doesn’t take a University of Sylea MBA to figure out the right decision…”

 

Today [in 1986], over 99 percent of all Japanese homes have a color TV; more than 98 percent have electric refrigerators and washing machines; and the penetration rate for tape recorders and stereo systems is between 60 and 70 percent. But in 1958, the year after we produced our “pocketable” transistorized radio, only 1 percent of Japanese homes had a TV set, only 5 percent had a washing machine, and only two-tenths of one percent had an electric refrigerator.

 

All major tech level jumps have to start from somewhere. The main point is to be unsatisfied about where you are, and to have a goal of where you want to be.

 

Despite rising affluence in Japan in the late fifties, we had a great deal of difficulty raising money and had to rely on friends and introductions by friends to people who might become investors. In this regard, we were lucky to have a board of advisors who had real stature. They could get us introductions to potential investors that we could not arrange on our own.

 

Powerful and wealthy friends – especially those with megacorporate, Imperial military, and aristocratic ties – are worth their weight in gold. The right word at the right time can change absolutely everything for the better… and the wrong word at the wrong time can get you a bad case of the deads.

 

The people at Bulova liked the radio very much and their purchasing officer said very casually, “We definitely want some of these. E will take one hundred thousand units.” … We began to talk details, my mind working very fast, when he told me that there was one condition: we would have to put the Bulova name on the radios.

That stopped me…. After thinking it over and over, I decided that I had to say no, we would not produce radios under another name. When I returned to call on the man from Bulova he didn’t seem to take me seriously at first. He was convinced I would accept. When I would not budge, he got short with e.

“Our company name is a famous brand name that has taken over fifty years to establish, “ he said. “Nobody has ever heard of your brand name. Why not take advantage of ours?”

I understood what he was saying, but I had my own view. “Fifty years ago,” I said, “your brand name must have been just as unknown as our name is today. I am here with a new product, and I am now taking the first step for the next fifty years of my company. Fifty years from now I promise you that our name will be just as famous as your company name is today.”

I never regretted the decision not to take what is called an original equipment maker (OEM) order because the decision gave me added confidence and pride…I said it then and I have said it often since: it was the best decision I ever made.

 

There will come a time in every Traveller’s life that they will be given a great, profitable, glorious offer… on one condition.

 

Get ready for that offer by practicing saying the word ‘no’, good and often.

 

Incidentally, this is why Japan at least had some decades of glory – and may even regain them, if they ever start having children again – which OEM China will never have. You simply must put in the decades of quality work, under your own banner, if you want to get to the top. There are no short-cuts.

 

[The opposing party] wanted a big settlement – three hundred thousand dollars to break the contract – and as we resisted they gradually came down a bit in their demand. At more than one point I was ready to settle…. but [my agent] Ed Rosiny was not ready to settle, and I went along with his judgment. H dais “Give me one more day and I’ll get it down to one hundred thousand dollars.” Sure enough, he managed to bring the settlement down to seventy-five thousand dollars. I asked him how much his fee was and he said, “Twenty-five thousands. I’ll take my fee out of their money!” I got to like him even more.

 

Just remember that this was in the late 50s, when casual racism was built right into the system, and Rosiny was working for some Jap company, from an ex-enemy nation that the US nuked not that long ago.

 

It can be hard for PCs find their ‘Rosiny’ on a given Solomani-dominated world, but it isn’t impossible. Big bucks helps, of course, but often something more is needed to get the top-tier talent you want.

 

Most Japanese businessmen who visited the United States in those days tended to be clannish and learned about the country from the other Japanese businessmen who had preceded them. But it doesn’t take much analysis to seethe inadvisability of this approach. Despite a couple of years of living in a foreign country, these Japanese businessmen were still strangers; following their advise was like the blind leading the blind.

 

The PCs who reside on a foreign world – especially the xenophobic worlds of the Six Subsectors – will be strongly tempted to hide in comfortable expat enclaves. This will work right until the anti-foreigner riots (or anti-infidel, or other unexpected revolt) kicks in. But if you mix with the locals (and take the lumps you are sure to get), and learn the language, you get to know what’s really going on – and perhaps have an early warning heads-up when trouble starts to draw close.

 

Working on that showroom and trying to absorb the rhythm of American life [in NYC], it struck me that if I were really to understand what life was like in America, and if we were going to be successful as a company in the giant American market, we would have to do more than establish our company in American soil. I would have to move my family to the United States and experience the life of an American.

 

Hard-core market analysis, if I may say so myself. With the Traveller equivalent, the PCs are trying to get their budding interstellar business into a strange new high-pop/high-tech world, where the money is big… and so are the dangers, violent and indirect.

 

Incidentally, Akio Morita’s wife Yoshiko did a great job adapting to life in the US, despite not speaking a word of English at first. Perhaps the PC’s wife will be just as adaptable… but maybe not.

 

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Analogy: A Port in a Storm

Djibouti is a small nation on the Horn of Africa, which hosts an important local port – which hosts many militaries, Western and Russian (and Chinese soon enough… perhaps even Indian one day). It maintains a set of “neutral but friendly” relations with as many great powers as possible, and remains a peaceful nation in a troubled region. The heavy naval presence makes piracy in this part of the East African waters unlikely. (As opposed to Somali waters, say.)

Transplanted from Earth to a Referee-chosen spot in the Six Subsectors, it isn’t a bad spot for some intrepid Travellers to base their starship: and the strong port system will help keep the ship well-maintained, at a useful tech level.

The official religion is Islam, but both the state and the people remain notably more  tolerant of other religions than other Islamic nations. Qat, a mild narcotic (think marijuana) is very important to local life: without their daily fix shipped in from Ethiopia, the men get more easily irritated, short-tempered and aggressive. After the shipment comes in…. smooth runnings.

The PCs had better make sure that they keep to their shipment schedule. Fortunately, with all that military hardware loitering around (not just Imperial, but many local navies as well – and even other star empires, if the world is set beyond the Imperial frontier), piracy in this part of space is quite unlikely.

There was once a settlement of Cossacks in the area: perhaps expelled from Russia, or maybe in search of new opportunity. But the French grew nervous in regard to the Russian presence, and – after a naval bombardment that destroyed the Cossack citadel – arrested and sent home the settlers.

Settlers amongst the stars are tough hombres, and can get past many obstacles… but orbital bombardments are a high barrier. Especially if nuclear munitions – or large rocks at high velocity – are used.

The heavy international military presence allows for a better tourist industry, compared to the neighbours. One of the local sites is a ship’s graveyard: between 1,500 and 6,000 ships from many eras have gone down in these waters.

Now, that’s an interesting tourist spot: a starship’s graveyard. The Referee has to decide what killed the ships – Pirates? An unexpected solar radiation wave? A Jumpspace dead zone? A Perhaps it’s a strategic spot, fought over by the great powers for the last five centuries? A Kessler Syndrome deathtrap? – and then what happens to PCs who tour the ships, for adventure and perhaps a bit of ancient treasure…

Locally, weddings are big communal affairs, where the tribe gathers to celebrate. It can be assumed that this is where quite a number of deals and contacts are made among the local warrior tribes.

Being warriors, I’m confident that they have their own tales about Red Weddings. Sure, it almost certainly won’t happen: but all the men are armed, nevertheless. The PCs would be wise to follow local customs here.

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More Ideas from “Made in Japan”

Again, quotes and re-purposing comments from Made in Japan (1986):

We soon ran out of money, and in those days we turned often to our father for loans. He had faith in us and our new company, and he did not press for repayment. So I decided to give him stock in the company. It turned out to be a wise investment for him because his faith was well rewarded. The stock added up and he became a major shareholder in the company.

Not bad for a single family. Now, if you can get the same ball rolling, but this time across a few nearby systems, you can get a stout financial foundation for a subsector dynasty.

Gotenyama had been fortified as part of the defenses of Tokyo Bay in 1853, but when we moved into our weatherbeaten old building on a cold day in January 1947, Gotenyama looked anything but fortified: the evidence of defeat was all around us. We could see bomb damage wherever we looked. There were leaks in the roof and we literally had to open umbrellas over our desks sometimes.

Some military men look back at their defeat, and vow vengeance: others take what they have, and build something new. Or again, elsewhere in the book (page 61)

Our company was beginning to expand and we moved into an adjacent and more substantial building on Gotenyama. New ideas were finally being accepted, perhaps some of them too eagerly, but Japan was building its new society – it was not rebuilding the old one.

Exactly. Something for Solomani Confederation soldiers and spacers to remember, after the conquest of Terra – still eight years into the future of the Stellar Reaches universe.

As it tuned out, Ibuka and I, the two top officers of the company, were the only members who had driver’s licenses, so we had to make the deliveries and go out and do the shopping and bring supplies and materials to the factory. We would do our “executive” work, help load the delivery goods in the truck, crank it to get it started, and make the deliveries or run the errands.

What an executive does, depends on the society, the skill sets available, and what needs to be done. The business-oriented, primarily Solomani Imperial Nobility of the early Imperium is a different beast, compared to the military-oriented, Mixed Vilani Imperial Nobility of the late Imperium…

The street scene in Tokyo was chaotic, noisy, smoky, and smelly. Gasoline was very scarce and expensive, when you could find it. Many of the cars, trucks, and buses had been modified to run on waste oil, charcoal, or other solids that were burnable, including garbage and coal dust. They were still running after the war. Even an occasional donkey cart appeared in the streets.

“War changes things.” Note that the nature of the land shapes the nature of the reaction: in Iraq and Afghanistan, Syria and Libya, there is never a lack of oil. But then again, there is also the nature of the people: we all know that there will be no technologically innovative company like Sony (at it’s 1985 peak) arising from any of these lands by the year 2055. Assuming the fighting has actually stopped by that time…

We always managed to get gasoline for our truck through legitimate and other means.

*cough*

But so many American soldiers were selling gasoline, siphoning it out of their jeeps and trucks and some actually selling it by the barrel,

The entrepreneurial spirit of America still lives in the Imperial military!

that the military authorities tried to put a stop to it by putting a red dye in it. Random roadblocks were set up. The police would stop the traffic and an MP would put a long glass tube into your gas tank, stopper it with his finger, pull it out, and check the color. If it was red you had a lot of explaining to do. But they soon began to catch fewer and fewer people because some clever Japanese had discovered that you could filter out the pink color with charcoal and was doing a thriving business “legitimizing” black market gasoline.

Every gigantic megacorp has to start in someone’s backyard…

[Discussion on the superiority of tape technology to wire recording.]

Ever tried to make a jump up in tech level, while working from a bombed-out shell?

We had no electric furnace to heat the chemical, so we borrowed a frying pan and, stirring the stuff with a wooden spoon, we cooked it until it turned brown and black; the brown tuff was ferric oxide and the black was ferrous tetraoxide. Kihara had the knack for checking the color of the powder and removing it from the frying pan at just the right color. We mixed this with a clear Japanese lacquer to get just the right consistency so we could airbrush it onto the strip [of smooth kraft paper]. The airbrush technique didn’t work, so we tried everything we could think of and ended up painting the coating on by hand with fine brushes made of the soft bristles from a raccoon’s belly. To our surprise, we found this gave us the best results.

Worth keeping in mind, when a TL 12 starship crashes onto a TL 4 world, and repairs simply must be made…

The tape recorder was so new to Japan that almost no one knew what a tape recorder was, and most of the people who did know could not see why they should buy one. It was not something people felt they needed. We could not sell it.

Ooops.

Note to engineering types: make sure you have a market, before making something flashy to sell.

Also, consider creating an advertising budget.

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Molecular Gastronomy

Some rather far-future foodstuffs here. The good news is that this is a very scientific form of cooking, so I can see such technical virtuosity gaining the appreciation of the Vilani – who greatly value food purity. By it’s very nature, though, you won’t find much molecular gastronomy below TL 9.

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