TVTropes: Urban Warfare

All from the Real Life section, which is simply loaded with ideas for use by Referees:

  • It’s interesting to note that in the German/Soviet situations in city fighting earlier in the war, such as at Stalingrad, the Germans had superior firepower and air support while the Soviets were underequipped and fighting desperately for their lives, were totally reversed in its late stages, such as in Berlin in 1945. Stalingrad is probably the most infamous example. Nicknamed “Rattenkrieg” (“Rat War”) by the Germans, some would bitterly joke about capturing the kitchen but still fighting for the living room and the bedroom. Buildings were literally cleared out room by room, floor by floor.

(“Just wait till they discover what’s waiting for them in the basement!”)

  • The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the Jewish resistance that arose within the Warsaw Ghetto in German-occupied Poland. The resistance was so successful, even with almost no supplies and after being starved for years, that the Nazis resorted to systematically burning houses block by block using flamethrowers and blowing up basements and sewers.
    • To further prove the point, the Ghetto resistance in one district lasted nearly as long as the entire Polish military did against the Wehrmacht across the entire country!
  • The Warsaw Uprising the following year lasted more than twice as long. The Germans responded by flattening almost the entire city.
  • Knowing the difficulty of this style of warfare, in the later stages of WWII, American forces would often attempt to avert it. They would approach (relatively strategically unimportant) German towns and villages, and before entering, demand the surrender of any defenders. If the offer was accepted, the defenders would be disarmed, a small garrison left behind, and they would move on to the next objective, leaving the village unharmed. If the defenders refused and fought back, US forces would level the place from long range using artillery and aircraft, and move on to the next objective.

(In the Third Imperium, “long range” means “from orbit” and “artillery” means “10MT warheads.”)

(Sigh.)

  • This kind of warfare was used by the Israelis during the War of Independence to hold off the (then better-equipped) Jordanian Arab Legion in Jerusalem. Because of this, before 1967 the IDF had a reputation in some quarters for only winning wars by sheer willingness to take casualties.
  • Grozny, the capital of Chechnya was once called the most devastated city on earth. And for good reason…through two wars it experienced not one, not two, but three major battles that took place on it’s streets.
    • The first battle during the First Chechen War saw the Russian military capture the city after a long fight and heavy losses.
    • Then in August 1996, the rebels launched a surprise attack and reclaimed the city, and kept control of it for the rest of the war.
    • When the Second Chechen War broke out in 1999, the city still hadn’t recovered much from the first conflict. This time the Russians laid siege and eventually pushed into the city for a decisive victory.
  • In the Siege of Lucknow during the Sepoy Rebellion a number of English residents barricaded themselves in a school and held it against rebel soldiers until relief arrived.
  • The Boxer Rebellion had a group of foreigners in Bejing defending the diplomatic quarter against a siege, while the relief force fought their way into the city and rescued them.

(A pretty good situation for a large mercenary unit, if you ask me.)

  • The 1915 Siege of Van in Ottoman Turkey took on this kind of character, after local Armenians refused to allow their able-bodied men to be drafted and most likely massacred, as had already happened in surrounding villages. Though minorities in the empire were banned from owning guns, the Armenians resorted to defending Van, a city already surrounded by walls, from the Ottoman army with antiquated rifles and pistols that had been stashed away, and other Improvised Weapons until invading Russian forces liberated them.
  • The concept of an “open city” is meant to avert the kind of destruction and suffering this trope can bring onto a city and its many inhabitants. In short, if the defenders declare it, they will no longer fight within the city—in exchange, the attackers are expected to simply march in and refrain from attacking any part of it.

(Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.)

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Anime as Wartime Propaganda

Behold, the first anime!

A.k.a. ‘The Attack of the Kamikaze Care Bears”

Some comments:

  • There’s some serious stereotyping going on here – as you’d expect, for a March 1945 flick.
  • Those English voices near the end of the video are really good. As in, way too good to be Japanese actors. I am confident that actual UK POWs were used as the
    ‘voice talent’ there.
  • It’s passing strange, that patriotic Japanese fascists, months from defeat and their back to the wall, pictured themselves (in part) as cutesy big eye/small mouthed monkeys, rabbits and bears.
    • It makes me wonder what truly alien propaganda would be like.
    • Sadly, I doubt if anyone is going to draw up some posters and short vids for Imperial and Solomani propaganda during the Solomani Rim War. It would be interesting to have a few samples of far future, ultra-high tech mass manipulation techniques.
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The Pinzgauer

Yes, it’s a TL 7 dirt-hugger, but there are quite a number of Emptyheads that would take it over any air/raft you care to name. It’s a lot cheaper, for one thing… and when something goes wrong (and something will go wrong), it’s a lot easier and cheaper to fix.

And there’s the matter of talent: there’s plenty of TL 7 mechanics in the Quarter – and sometimes, TL 6 or even TL 5 grease monkeys can do in a pinch. On the other hand, there are entire systems where a proper TL B+ mechanic, electrician or programmer is harder to find than a hen’s tooth.

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Japanese Futurism

From Techinasia:

Tokyo Train Ticket Machine, from https://www.techinasia.com/talk/subway-kiosks-japanese-futurism-decay/

Tokyo Train Ticket Machine, from https://www.techinasia.com/talk/subway-kiosks-japanese-futurism-decay/

Why do these ticketing interfaces provide a significant perspective onto Japanese society?

These analog and digital kiosks appear as mid-1980s inventions from the height of the Japanese miracle. Even today, they are marvels of engineering. With intuitive interfaces, economically-small-tickets-that-fit-perfectly-into-their-turnstiles, specific cash-acceptance-and-return-systems that accept 10,000 yen bills and return 9,000 yen in bills and whatever-coins in change, they’re perfected machines.

And yet…

They’re slightly grimy. They’re weathered machines. The analog buttons and digital screens would be at home in a Philip K Dick story. Their future-aesthetic borrows more from how the future was imagined to turn out, rather than how it has turned out to be.

Because Japan was so miraculous, so futuristic, so meticulous in the unprecedented 1980s, its transportation designers could, and did, create a system that has proven robust and future proof.

Where this insight now becomes telling: the 90s and 00s begin the period of economic cooling still underway today. Because the system has yet to be overhauled, because the cost of overhauling a subway system as massive as Tokyo’s is dizzying, these kiosks give a glimpse of the Japan of another era.

Where this insight begins to become haunting: with a shrinking population, and the massive capital expenditure required to overhaul a subway system, One can easily imagine the same kiosks persisting, in ten, or twenty, or thirty years. Through each subsequent decade, they provide the same window back on Japan’s lagging futurism.

I can see many, many Vilani worlds following the same basic outline, when it comes to technology.

Except the Vilani uphold the tradition of the “four children per family” model, so the grime will be limited. Say what you want about the Vilani: they don’t believe in the “aging & declining” societal model so common in the modern West.

The designs may stay the same for millennia – especially after they have been refined to peak efficiency for a given tech level. But when the product lifespan reaches a given point, the old grimy stalls will be replaced with brand-new stalls, also built to peak 1980s technology specs.

(Insert a deeply satisfied Vilani sigh here)

Sidenote: this points to another good reason why the Vilani are so traditionally minded. It isn’t only because the more daring of them tried and died improperly prepared foods back on the homeworld, leaving the more cautious and conservative Vilani to live and multiply their genes.  In addition, the more traditional among them simply outnumbered and outmuscled the more unorthodox Vilani, which made Building and Enforcing the Consensus a lot more easy for the traditionalists.

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Yet Another 3D Printer Breakthrough

Combining materials in one 3D printer (costing $7,000 for the cheapo version).

From the RT article:

A special bonus promised by the developers is easy multi-part printing. According to the MIT team, it will be possible to insert specific components – including sophisticated parts such as sensors and circuits – right into the printer. The machine would then incorporate them into the final product by recognizing the parts and continuing to print around them.

MultiFab is a complex system consisting of a central computer, 3D-scanners, and the printer itself. The computer constantly receives 3D-scans from a contactless ‘machine vision’ scanner with a resolution of 40 microns, or less than half the width of a human hair.

The machine compares each printed layer with the scans and detects errors, generating what the researchers call “correction mask.” This software technology frees users from the need to make all the corrections themselves. It also allows the printer to function without expensive mechanical systems that are traditionally installed in such devices to help the user do the fine-tuning.

If you aren’t making mass-market items, 3D will be the way to go.

  • I’m still waiting for the ability to put in the parts of a cell phone, and have a duplicate printed out in an hour.
  • Even better, if I don’t need to take apart the phone first!
  • And of course, the final end point: put in a whole and intact cell phone (working or not), and have a whole, intact, working cell phone come out.

Hat tip: North

Cool pictures available at Gizmag

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Colonize Venus Rather Than Mars…

…with cloud cities.At first. We’ll cool the planet properly later, when we have a better idea of what we are doing – and have a lot more wisdom, so we focus on reshaping nature, instead of trying to dominate each other. And sparking the inevitable chain of unpleasant consequences.Never forget: any technology that permits interstellar travel (or even interplanetary terraforming) can with ease be modified to a extremely nasty weapon. Traveller necessarily sidesteps the issue with jump drive, because to keep the space opera metastory intact, it’s the meson cannons, particle cannons, and missiles of the Imperial Navy that is supposed to be feared… and not the jump drive that’s on every single merchant trader and every last disposable scout!


And if you want real ugliness, consider the “Twelve angry men” problem, and give those angry men not twelve swords and sets of armour as in Caesar’s time, not boxcutters and 747’s of the early 2000s, but the super-intelligent smartphones and cheapo minilabs and pro-grade 3D printers and power sources of the early 2100s.I have no faith in the command’n’control solution of thought-control/filtered-internet chips in every skull, so we’re going to need some kind of massive moral revolution instead. I’ll cheerfully agree to a Christian one: but even if it isn’t Christian, it’s going to have to be something rather Christ-like, or at least laissez-faire. With the remarkable amounts of information and intelligent technological tools available at the fingertips of every ‘impoverished’ villager on the planet by 2100, resistance/evasion to any hated power-structure is gong to be very cheap, and very effective. “And the cheaper a good is, the more of it is demanded.”


On the other hand, if a fair fraction of that intense, driven energy of restless young men is pointed to something constructive – terraforming a world, say, instead of warbot-powered, virus-fuelled organized violence – we have a good shot of creating a great blessing, instead of a great curse.

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Entering the Bureaucracy

For many Imperials – especially the Vilani and the Bwap, but also highly bureaucratic Solomani cultures like the Russians, the French, the Chinese, and the East Indians – passing government exams is the be-all and end-all of the first two to three decades of life. Getting into the right schools, and mastering the right answers, is what gets you on the golden ladder.

Not aptitude. Not experience. Not talent. Not intelligence. Sometimes, not even education.

But often, education actually does matters – as it is also about memorizing answers and depositing it on the test. And of course, higher education is traditionally all about getting a permanent job in the various government bureaucracies (from the Military, to Foreign Affairs, to Education, and even the Established Church on many worlds) or the major corporations.

“The real reason this exam is considered so difficult and so respected in society is not because you need to be particularly smart, but because it is so competitive,” said Mishra. “You might be very intelligent and very hard working, but that is not a guarantee of success. You might be neither, but that is not a guarantee of failure.”

It looks like a random draw from here – but one that emphasizes tolerance for mind-grinding mental drudge work, coupled with unstinting obedience to the higher-ups.

If you aren’t a Noble – able to burn through red tape with a snap of the fingers – you are going to have to understand the bureaucratic “don’t rock the boat”, “always say no, unless forced to do otherwise”, “go along to get along” mindset. Especially on the Vilani and Bwap worlds.

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No Airport, One Pub, Six Surnames

On an planet island of 270 people, a policeman walks his beat.

This rather peaceful story – no arrests in 22 years – would make a great backgrounder for a Traveller… but not in the turbulent, strife-ridden Empty Quarter. Perhaps one of the pastoral, low-population yet highly civilized subsectors, maybe AArna/Fornast or Bunkeria/Core.

Yes Traveller is at its core a military game – because that’s what men want, young and old – but it’s flexible enough to handle many, many stories. Even quiet, character-driven ones.

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Kolyma Highway… for the Serious Traveller

From the Wikivoyage site:

The Kolyma Highway is in Russian Far East. It bridges two regions of Russia, the Sakha Republic (or Yakutia) and Magadan Oblast.

Originally built by prisoners using hand tools in the 1930s, the Kolyma Highway represents the unification of two road systems […] At varying points in history and times of year it has been possible to go from one end to the other, and in 2008 an ‘all-seasons’ road linking the two ends was completed.

One of the ultimate adventures in the taiga of Russian Far East, be ready to see lots of mines, people, wilderness, bears, squirrels, abandoned cities, dust.

[…]

The road condition is best in winter, when it is made of ice.

(Listen… do you hear that faint sound of lunatic, cackling laughter? The kind of laughter only a Referee can make?… Yeah.)

Independent travel in Kolyma is serious adventure, with the very real possibility of death. The area is essentially lawless, undeveloped, barely populated, and unbelievably remote. Just getting to either terminus at Magadan or Yakutsk is an adventure in itself – travelling along the road makes this look like buying a bus fare in comparison. Every year dozens of people die in the region from drowning, freezing, car accidents, starvation, tick-borne encephalitis, alcohol poisoning, fires, crime, wild animals, or just disappear. While travellers in the region are rewarded with nature, adventure, and so on, there is NONE of the safety net that accompanies nearly every other area that people travel, such as health care, consular support, English speakers, law enforcement, telecoms, etc.

The only thing missing is the roadside crosses.

There are many memorials along the road to people who have perished [by freezing].

I take that back.


This points to an interesting Traveller question: exactly what kind of memorial is usually erected for Traveller who die on the way? I mean a tradition-rooted Vilani memorial, of course, not the far-more-recent religion-rooted Solomani ones.

The Vilani always liked the number four, so I suspect it’ll be a cube of rock (if they have the time for a proper memorial) or a square slab (if the Vilani are in a rush). The Bwap will plant a tree, if at all possible… if the body must be interned on site, and no plant is possible (left on an airless moon, say), then they probably use some fold-out ‘artificial tree’ instead.)

(Addendum: While the Vilani like their four’s, they don’t like symmetry very much, so their memorials won’t be true cubes or squares. Irregular cuboids (three-dimensional) and irregular quadrilateral (two-dimensional) are far more likely than true cubes and regular quadrilaterals like squares, rectangles, kites, etc.)

If you take the ‘road’ to mean ‘lonely and dangerous route across the stars’, then the star traveller will occasionally cross paths with a simple beacon, transmitting a warning (if necessary) and the sad story of the disaster that struck a long-forgotten starship, decades (or centuries) ago. These beacons are probably banned from the orbit of the mainworlds, as they’d clutter up needed frequencies and orbits, but they’d be common enough on the many barren, uninhabited worlds of the Imperium.


 

OK, back to the article.

Russian is the only language that will be encountered here….

I suggest that you guard that language translator with your life. Assuming that the local language is actually known, of course.

Basic food can be purchased from truck stops every 200km or so.

Also, treasure that 3D food printer! Especially in the Vargr Extents: who knows where those dripping meat slabs came from…

The Kolyma Highway is one of the most dangerous roads in the world. The biggest risk by far is death by car accident due to unsafe driving, bad roads, unmaintained vehicles, or a combination of all three. A local proverb advises “the slower you go, the faster you’ll get there”.

[…]

Maps (there are several available in Russian from some stores) are generally out of date by a decade or more.Many towns listed on the maps will be either abandoned or completely vanished.

Referees should be making a quick note here.

Only a few towns have a single hotel, though in the more remote towns almost anyone you speak to will be extremely helpful!

Many towns lack police, but not people with financial problems, so either camp out of town or don’t look rich.

Note: to many impoverished worlds, all starfaring Travellers are by definition rich. A word to the wise is sufficient.

Drunken people are more common in winter, and can occasionally be bothersome. Bears and other wildlife enjoy a fearsome reputation but very few actual recorded fatalities. Bears in Russia are less accustomed to people than in North America, have ample food resources in the wild, and are very frightened of people.

Well, at least there are no sophont carnivorous canine pack predators (with a grossly deficient sense of property rights) wandering around in Siberia.

If necessary, evacuation or (relatively) speedy exit from the region is possible, either by road or from a regional airport. Helicopters in the area exist and can be hired at enormous expense (around $3000/hour).

Yet another business opportunity for a Traveller with a handy air/raft, and a need for some quick cash.

And, in regard to further usiness opportunities for someone with an air/raft (or better yet, a 200-ton starship with working artigrav):

This is the official federal-government highway to Yakutsk, and it is also the only one to get there. As there are no other roads, the intrepid motorists are doomed to wallow in this dirt, or wait in week-long 100 km car line-ups (they say women even gave birth there while waiting).

This can turn into a major humanitarian disaster during rainy spells, when the usual clay covering of the road turns into impassable mud blanket, swallowing trucks and tractors alike. In the meantime the city has to partly airlift food products.

And as for starport plane travel

During the winter, Yakutsk often has fog, sometimes lasting for days or even weeks. The airport may be closed as a result, or flights can be delayed by several hours. Although Russian airlines do land in some amazingly poor visibility, sometimes the conditions are so bad that even Russian pilots will not attempt it. It is not unusual for passengers to Yakutsk to find themselves staying in Magadan or some other alternate city instead, sometimes for days. The airline personnel generally will be most unhelpful in providing information about when you can continue on to Yakutsk, and they will not offer hotel accomodations or meals to passengers who have been stranded, though that’s starting to change. If you travel to Yakutsk in winter, it is advisable to carry at least some emergency money just in case you end up stranded somewhere.

To get from the international airport to the city center, you can take a taxi (15-20 min, 250-300 roubles is a fair price, any more than that means you are being shamelessly overcharged), or buses #4 or #20 (30 min, 18 rub). There are also other bus routes but they are very roundabout and not worth it. Magan is a bit further out, and a taxi ride to the city center will take 30-40 min; the bus “Yakutsk-Magan” will take a little over an hour.

It is somehow fitting, for a homeward-bound Traveller crossing 40 parsecs to finally get to his homeworld… and then root around for a few centicredits, for the bus ride from the starport to his waiting family.

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A Menagerie of Items

Or: Crime, Weapons, Races, Low-tech Driving, and Oppression

Crime

From The Coming Yakuza War

If there were a pamphlet to recruit young college graduates for the yakuza, it would read like this:

The Yamaguchi-gumi Corporation, with large comfortable headquarters in the international city of Kobe and lovely branch offices, complete with swimming pools and gyms in Nagoya and other major cities in Japan, has a proud history of over 100 years of serving the Japanese people. Our construction, real estate, IT, banking, and entertainment businesses are still thriving in a poor economy, and thanks to one of the best R & D sections in any Japanese company, we have a treasure trove of personal data on the elite in Japan’s business and political world that can be judiciously used for blackmailing such individuals and maintaining maximum leverage in the money markets. We not only offer lifetime employment* but we also offer a generous pension plan.

The asterisk would serve for the following disclaimer, which is important:

I could cut-n-paste the disclaimer too: but it’s more fun for the Referee to write his own.

I should note that I use the Yakuza as my go-to model for the highly organized Vilani corporate syndicates (and the high-tech Vargr/Vilani crime organizations on Ikon, which have had their own stock index for a very long time now…)


Races

From Around half of Taiwan’s population lack a gene required for metabolising alcohol

Around half of the population of Taiwan lacks a gene that is required to properly metabolise alcohol, meaning many Taiwanese people can experience flushed faces, respiratory problems and even an increased risk of cancer when they drink.

As reported by the China Times, the percentage of people lacking the ALDH2 gene in Taiwan is higher than in any other nation, at 47 per cent.

There are ~40 official human minor races in Traveller… but I’m actually thinking of genetic drifting that are actually within racial boundaries. (“Racial” meaning “Species”, and not, well, racial: a.k.a. a rather porous set of genetic/familial markers within a single species.)

(Quickly sidesteps the debate – the heavily armed debate, during the Solomani Rim War era – on whether the Solomani and the Vilani are part of the same species.)

With the many long-settled human populations across the Imperium – many residing on the same world for thousands of years, and a good number having undergone artificial genetic modification as well as the natural selection process (and odd radiation bursts from their sun) – and tossing in the genetic profile of the  initial settlement population – there are going to be a lot of minor-league oddities out there, from worlds where most people have six toes and fingers, to planets where lefty’s dominate, to female and male balding patterns, to widespread colour blindness… and yes, even (depressingly) alcohol intolerance.

These distinctive groups of genetic markers are not sharp enough to be considered a distinct species, but they are definitely strong enough to be considered a different human race (with ‘race’ used in typical ‘in-house’ Solomani usage.) Which leaves me to wonder exactly how the Solomani Party bureaucracy would deal with long-lost Solomani brothers with fine iridescent scales…


Weapons

In the ‘one step at a time’ file, we now can have police drones loaded up with “tasers, tear gas, rubber bullets, and sound cannons“. But no infrasound fear generators…yet.

“Certified 100% psionic-free!” in case your favourite group of Imperial citizens start to get antsy about the generators… with ‘antzy’ defined as ‘slowly reaching for their sidearms.’

Still tapping my feet, waiting for the Uzi-toting warbots to be cranked out in the tens of thousands.

Or maybe that should be flamethrower-toting warbots (ZeroHedge, Ars Technica).

It makes me wonder about the culture where the local military or law enforcement uses flamethrowers as their primary weapon. I would view it in much the same light as BattleTech’s Draconis Combine – where the police baton is the ceremonial weapon, and the shotgun is the primary weapon…


Low-tech Driving

It would be rather amusing to watch a TL 12 spacer learn to drive on one of the poorer TL 5-8 worlds, where the cars don’t drive themselves, where there aren’t any guard rails, where there are no GPS HUD maps…

“Why did they give me this large sheet of paper with all these squiggles for?”
“I can’t read it! Where is the translation button I’m supposed to press?”
“It’s a map, silly! Here, let me take a look!”
“Whenever I try to pinch this map, the images don’t zoom in or out. Hand it back, and get another one – this one’s obviously broken.”
“I don’t see a backlight switch. Sammy, how backward is this world, anyways?”
“There’s no marker for our current location! How in the stars are we supposed to know where we are?”

But never fear: if the PCs can’t get there contraption running, there’s always a mustachioed, gold-tooth local driver nearby, ready to give a hand – at the right price. “But at least he’s hu… er, Solomani. I can’t stand those every-clause-of-every-law Bwap drivers – and I couldn’t care less about their ‘spotless safety record!'”


Oppression

One of the sharpest differences between the Empty Quarter & the rest of the Imperium is exactly how the local Nobles behave.

It’s not that the local Nobles are wealthier than other nobles: as the Imperial Empty Quarter is noticeably poorer than the rest of the Imperium, the local dynasties are naturally poorer, too.

And, unlike the real world, there are no natural resources – *cough* oil *cough* – to open the gates of untold wealth for them in the face of near-zero industrialization and the pervasively low level of local science, education, and literacy.

It’s the sheer level of utter unconcern – okay, okay, frank contempt – the highest elites have for the lowest classes. This is grounded in slavery in the case of the Arabs, and the caste system in the case of the Hindus – and the punishments for violating the code.

(And, to be fair, the side-effects of providing some restitution to the lowest castes – yes, even in the aristocratic Imperium, local East Indians still hold to their now-ancient democratic traditions.)

And – just like in the rest of the Imperium – the upper classes set the tone for everyone else.

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