From Traveller to D&D

An article, Ships without crew set for the seas, notes that in 10 years or so, all the major cargo ships will be fully automated.

(..and so, no more pirates. Or at least, no more low-tech, violence-oriented hijackers from the Horn of Africa. Now, when it comes to computer-hacker types from Romania…)

Traditionally, Traveller bans automated ship crews (as a matter of Imperial legislation), as this pretty much destroys 80%+ of the adventures possible in the setting. As a game, this can be kept up, no problem – but new players in the future will not see Traveller as sci-fi, but as some kind of retro-future.

This transition is probably inevitable, and will only get more obvious and inescapable in the future.

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Connecting the world with ant-sized radios

Unfortunately, I can’t foresee all – or even the major – applications this development will cause. It’s like being present at the time of the invention of the first working silicon transistor at Bell Labs in 1954.

I have little doubt that the implications are massive – with “the Internet of Things” being only a part of the picture.

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Actual Explorers

I encourage men to be actual men: to be the self-sacrificial leaders, explorers, fighters, defenders, and judges they were created to be.

But if men will not stand, then we must turn to women instead. This is definitely not the way it was meant to be – “If men won’t defend their country, then the country isn’t worth defending.” – but what’s true for a nation isn’t necessarily true for exploration and discovery.So, let Jolandie Rust’s plan to ride her motorcycle around Africa solo be respected (and I remain amused by her tech-head plans for her ideal home), and her bravery honoured, even though she will be (rightfully) protected by both governments and men, in the wake of the robbery of her bike. (After all, how can I gainsay her bravery when there are no circumstances where I would ride a motorbike across Africa, regardless of any promises by anyone? “Honour belongs to those who earn it!”)Still… the entire situation reminds me of a typical village scene, where the men lounge around chatting while the women haul heavy loads on their heads, for the sake of their family. It makes me grit my teeth.

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Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall

From an article on the Massive Berlin electronics show:

It was in Panasonic’s concept living space that I came face to face with ‘mirror mirror on the wall’ — the next generation.

It looked like a conventional mirror, until text and icons started rolling out on the sides. Then it captured my face.

And set to work.

First it tut-tutted over my skin care regime — it could even check up by comparing my skin week after week to note whether or not I was taking its advice. Thankfully I don’t have to go back.

Next, a gentle suggestion that if I improved my diet with more fruit and veggies, it would help.

And then came the virtual application of makeup, the mirror taking care to differentiate whether I was dressing up to go clubbing or heading into the office.

I think that it was around the helpful suggestion to “improve your diet with more fruit and veggies” that the sudden shattering of glass was heard from the PCs hotel room.

“Man, what did you do that for? D’you know it’s going to cost us 8,000 Credits to pay for the damages?”

“And it was worth every credit!” said the grinning mercenary.

Anyways…. for a different kind of image manipulation:

Now, returning to the Berlin show, we’ll abandon imaging tech and get to some good eating, as the article mentioned some interesting cooking technology:

The induction stoves have a nice high-tech feel – and is now including the self-stirring pot concept. (A non-Panasonic version is below)

The Future is going to be quite interesting, especially for an old 80s guy like myself, raised on Star Wars & Star Trek, some Cosmos… and a bit of MegaTraveller! Now, let’s see if I can get it to work for me and mine: high technology is cool and all, but it’s useless without a purpose – something I plan to supply.

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Readying For War, as the Fighting Draws Near

For Travellers, the current fracas in Eastern Europe is quite useful in raw material. I don’t remove the names, details, etc from the report to hide who’s doing what to who, but to get the Referee to focus on the patterns and not the details, to better understand how humans behave in wartime. This is why the current war is interesting to me, and why I like to mine it for interesting material for transplanting into Traveller military campaigns.

So, to the article of the day (heavily edited: read the original for the real deal! Or, just fill in the blanks with your own names…):

With pro-____ separatists once again gaining ground in the bloody conflict for control of the ____ eastern industrial heartland, a sense of panic has overcome this port city on the shores of the Sea of A___.

Late last week, [the local government] said as many as 1,000 [enemy] troops had crossed the border just 40 miles from M_______. Within hours, anxious residents began preparing for what many fear will be the next battle between [...] government forces and a separatist army trying to expand its territory south and create an independent state it calls N________, or New R______.

Volunteers sprang into action. Along the city limits, residents showed up with shovels and backhoes to dig trenches to defend the city from attack. The [local] army built additional posts at every feasible entry point into this city of half a million people.

Thousands of others fled the city by bus, train or car, hoping to avoid what they have seen happen to the nearby cities of D_____ and L______. There, heavy shelling and fighting have claimed as many as 2,600 lives since the conflict started in April [there are no months in the Imperial calendar, AFAIK], according to the latest figures from [Imperial observers].

But perhaps nowhere was the fear more palpable Monday [Imperial: Twoday] than in the headquarters of the New M______ volunteer organization, where M____ O____ was frantically trying to coordinate the delivery of food and basic supplies to the “boys on the front line.”

O_____ said her main task was to get more medical supplies to a war hospital being set up in the center of the city. On Sunday, she organized the delivery of binoculars to a pro-[local] volunteer battalion stationed about 15 miles to the east.

“Everybody in the city is mobilizing for this war,” O_____ said in the organization’s two-room office, which also serves as a warehouse for sleeping bags, packages of macaroni and other items that [the local] poorly funded army has been struggling to provide its troops.

So, let’s hit on some notes the the Referee should keep an eye on.

This article is centred on a port getting ready for war. As usual, transport nexuses are important targets for attack: this counts for water ports, space ports, and even railway centres.

Travellers with their starships are get quite involved in the defense of a starport, if they choose to stand with the defenders. Or, if on the side of the attackers, be a dangerous Trojan Horse.

The fighting is focused on the industrial heartland of a region. So, fighting isn’t only about oil or natural resources: the ability to make things is also important as well. (Especially in metal-poor regions of space like the Empty Quarter, where the factories are valuable not just for their ability to make things, but because of their metal content.)

Also, the technology to rebuild those factories may be absent, so control of those factories can be critical to the survival of a nation. Whenever you can make the cars, the computers, or the tractors your nation needs can make the difference between getting a second chance at the stars, holding on to a computerized civilization, or going all the way back to horse-drawn plows (and the massive die-off such a technological die-off implies.)

These kinds of resource-wars demand a different kind of soldier than the tribal/religious/racial genocidal wars the Empty Quarter was historically plagued with. (Today’s wars, thankfully, are mainly against pirate strikes, and not the enemy tribe next door.)

An accidental artillery hit on a critical factory can easily lead to field executions, and losing factories to the enemy can directly reduce the amount of vehicles, ammo, and computers the PCs have access to. Expect lots of infantry actions, as you need to dig out the enemy ‘by hand’, as it were… but you do need to leave the door open to surrenders, as the enemy you are fighting could easily be a local mechanic that you want to capture alive (and not mistreat!) , to put back to work in the factories you have captured.

A Traveller starship, whose crew has chosen sides, can be vital in keeping a struggling nation in the fight. On the other hand, there may well be other starships who have picked the other side in the war, who are quietly arranging a ‘pirate attack’ on the PCs, with the help of the enemy nation’s interstellar spy/assassination/criminal network… “Try to capture the crew alive: their tech skills can be put to work for the Motherland. And who knows – perhaps they can be persuaded to switch sides, if the price is right. If not, there are always the People’s Factories in the rear, and the prison work units…”

Population is important as well: if your population is declining, like a certain large nation left unmentioned here, then you want to bring together everyone you can, under your control. More People = More Production = Bigger Armies = More Power. (Not always… but often enough.)

Traveller PCs are people of particular value, due to their skill sets and interstellar experience. For poor planets and nations (and the weaker star empires, where you can actually count ALL the local starship captains in your head, or even just the fingers of both hands), each of the PCs can be worth their weight in iridium.

Volunteers are important, if the local government has any local support worth mentioning. They tend to be untrained, but may bring in some interesting skills sets. If it isn’t really a popular war, most volunteers are merely the criminal element of the population.

Patriotic Traveller PCs can easily become the centre of their own volunteer network, with the very presence of their starship bringing cheers to their side – and obscene gestures from the enemy. Dropping off vitally needed supplies at A, providing an emergency pickup for a platoon at B, arranging more financing from friendly Nobles and Corporations on world C, bringing a local celebrity for a propaganda tour for the D cluster of worlds to raise money, and acting as a go-between between their government and an interstellar military unit at the rather shady free trader watering hold at Startown E.

(And is that military unit just in it for the money? Or does it have racial/religious/tribal links to the PC’s homeworld? Or, perhaps, a mix of both…)

In a poor state, volunteer organizations are vital for keeping the front line fed and clothed… and resupplied with ammo. Medical care may well be part of the mix. And of course, volunteers may actually BE the local military force.

See above, but with even more people coming in and out of the captain’s cabin – including other, friendly starship captains, interested media organizations, citizen groups, Imperial Agents (to remind the PCs that ‘we will be watching’)… and the occasional visitor from The Other Side. “The Lannister’s Sends Their Regards.”

And as always, many civilians will flee the coming of war.

Smart PCs will naturally jack up the price of outbound tickets, the closer the enemy is to taking over the city. As usual, money talks loudest – and if the PCs play their cards right (gun-running on the one hand, and shipping out the wealthy on the other), they could pay off their 40-year ship’s mortgage in a single year! Assuming the don’t get shot down…

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More Military Articles, Close-up and Big Picture

Close-up: ‘You’re better clueless because the truth is horrible’


I’m going to stick in some more quotes from another Guardian article: but before I do so, a scenario that is simply waiting to be played out is…

  • PC’s company attacks a rag-tag enemy outfit;
  • PC’s come close to crushing said outfit;
  • PC’s come face-to-face with said rag-tag soldier’s Big Brother, who is wayyy beyond the PC’s league.

Before the Referee sets this game up, he will have to come to terms with the fact that it’s perfectly likely that the PCs may well decide to die in place, rather than retreat like their officers are screaming at them to do from the radio.

If the Referee doesn’t want to play this way, it’s not too hard to have the PC’s be the rag-tag outfit. (And it could easily be accurate, too!)

As for the Big Brother… that is certainly a regular army, perhaps planetary, perhaps Imperial. If playing out the scenario as written, it’s not to hard to have the PCs fighting some TL 6 pro-Zhodani insurgency, come close to smashing it… and then have all these teleporting, teched-up Zhodani Consular Guard troops (with orbital support!) come out of absolutely nowhere

To the Article:

Having fled from encirclement in the town of I______, their column of 70 armoured vehicles and hundreds of soldiers was ambushed and shelled, according to one soldier. “Our vehicles were colliding with one another and our tracks were running over our own fighters,” said T____ S_______, 28, whose 51st brigade was one of the units surrounded.

If the PCs haven’t learn to hate encirclements yet, now’s a great time to teach them to.

Fortunately, at about TL B+, most tanks are anti-grav, so you don’t have to be worried of being run over by your own side. You’re always going have to worry about shells though: High-explosive, burning White Phosphorous, Fletchette… Lasers aren’t much good as bombardment weapons (except against armour), but meson artillery is the bee’s knees!

Many died, some were captured, and about 100 soldiers survived, often “with legs broken or smashed, with shrapnel in our hands, legs, bodies, with smashed teeth and broken noses”, he said.

TV battles don’t handle medical issues much. The Referee should not let the PCs get away with the same thing. There really are serious consequences to having several hundred men try to kill you.

S______, who worked as a barman in the western [local] city of L___ before being recruited to the army, said he and his comrades rescued a [enemy nation] in an armoured vehicle they destroyed near the town. “He told us he served in 8th C____ brigade [...snip...] and he claimed he thought they were sent here for exercises,” S____ said, adding that the soldier was now being treated in a [capital city] hospital.

Unfortunately, most of the conflicts I write of in the Empty Quarter are nasty tribe-vs-tribe fights, where little or no quarter is expected or offered. Internal wars, brother’s wars, run-of-the-mill money fights, etc. have a lot more leeway for mercy and kindness across the lines, as both sides respect the humanity of each other to a certain limited-but-real extent. “Surrenders really are accepted, truces really are honoured, and honour is honoured.”

[Enemy naton] has flatly denied any of its troops are operating in [local nation], claiming a group of paratroopers captured by [locals] deep inside their territory were on a border patrol mission and crossed “accidentally”.

The ludicrous claims of certain great powers can be occasions of high comedy, if the Referee plays his cards right.

The Guardian has found the social network account of a soldier who appears to be fighting in [local nation]. In a post on the [R_V_] network, dated 31 August, K___ Z___ from [N___ N___] said he was determined to fight on out of a sense of duty to his fallen comrades. “You know, I will stay here. I cannot sit idly and watch our guys being taken home as Cargo-200s [a S____ codeword for coffins] …One day you say hello, talk to them, laugh with them, then the next day you find out it’s all over – they are no longer alive, heading home in a metal box.”

I tend to mock the claim that “war… war never changes.” If only because we have seen a huge number of changes in the last 200 years, and the rate of change is only set to accelerate.

But before the blunt fact above, though, I am forced to rescind part of my mockery. Because the simple fact is that some facts of war – the most important facts – never change.

The transports change. The weapons change. The organizations change.
But not the blood, not the pain, not the death, and not the permanent loss.

Not now. And not three thousand years from now, either.

He appears frustrated by the secrecy surrounding his mission and his close friends have no idea what is going on.

See what I wrote above. I don’t know how the PCs would handle the same thing: many NPCs should have the same feeling, though.

“You won’t see it on TV, hear it on radio or read it in newspapers. You won’t find anything on the internet that explains what is really happening where we are now. Honestly, you’re better clueless, because the truth is horrible.”

I wonder what kind of society allows the full face of war to show itself on TV, the internet, the radio…

“Without the troops and armour sent over the border, we would have taken back D_____ by the end of August,” he said.

Just like always, it’s at the very edge of victory that you have to be most observant… a lesson that military PCs should be taught. It’s when things look to be decisive when the unspoken rules get broken, the Emergency Forces get put on line, the Big Surprise comes out.

Sometimes, it works. And sometimes, it doesn’t. And sometimes – like Napoleon in Moscow – the PCs were simply being trolled right from the get-go.

Big Picture: Tribal Rule in a Desert Sector Nation

From Asia Times

There are four armed groups, of very different structure and efficacy, operating in [desert nation]. [...] a modern standing army; [...] a warrior cult reminiscent of monastic fighting orders of the distant past; [...] an awkward middle position between guerrilla force and conventional army; and [...] an insurgency with strong support from the populace. The clash of these four militaries is decisively shaping the future of the country and the borders of the region as well.

No, this isn’t the Empty Quarter of 993, but if you stepped back to about the 700s…

Of course, every military PC group needs to fight a proper warrior cult at least once in their existence.

A disciplined and dedicated recruitment base augurs well for military efficacy and confers critical advantages over less motivated rivals. In many respects, Salafism’s discipline and commitment parallel what military societies and organizations have long instilled – in Sparta, Prussia, Cromwell’s Puritan army, Cheyenne Dog Men, and the austere communist insurgents in the previous century. Such people are more willing to accept the privations of military life, the authority of commanders, and the hardships of war. They are also more likely to accept the prospect of death in battle as the supreme act of faith and purification.

By 993, its been a long time since the glint-eyed guys have really made a mark in the Imperial Empty Quarter. (But see the Sword Temples of the Hegemony of Lorean…)

The actual experience of the soldiery in the Imperial Forces in the Empty Quarter is NOT as described below below. But it was a lot more accurate, before the Hebrin Rebellion and the housecleaning that followed.

Perhaps the most serious fissure is the presence of [Tribe-A] troops under [Tribe-B] command. The [Tribe-A] are increasingly disaffected with the army and state and have recently demonstrated their attitude toward [capital world Nulinad] by deserting or going over to [Tribe-A] insurgent forces, underscoring that [the Imperial Empty Quarter] viability as a [stable area of Imperial Rule] is increasingly dubious.

An officer corps based on corruption, factionalism, and cronyism cannot rely on the respect from the rank and file. Soldiers in line outfits are less willing to take risks in combat. Tactical operations will meet with hesitation and anxious looks, not with assurance and instant responses. Even well led units will suffer doubts as soldiers wonder if sister units can be relied upon to come to their aid in difficult spots.

Many [Tribe-B] look upon local clerics with at least as much respect as they do their officers or elected officials in [Nulinad]. A mullah in [notable world] might speak more authoritatively and command more respect than a battalion commander or even a prime minister. This is all the more problematic as many [Tribe-B] units were once urban militias fighting the [Imperial Core outsiders], [Tribe-A] militias, or each other, and they have been unsatisfactorily detached from neighborhood clerics and perhaps [Religion-B] cadres.

If you really want to give a challenge to serving Imperial PCs, stick them in the Imperial Empty Quarter around the Imperial Year 680 or so… rampant in-house tribalism for the win! (With a bit of religious fanaticism for extra spice…)


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Artifical Birds

Yep, they’re here.

Robirds Falcon Drone robotic birds of prey


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Amusing Art

Actually, Kermit and Bert would make great mercenaries, if this art is any indication.

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War Stories

Quite a lot of Traveller games are far future war stories… so it would be good for Referees to read up on them.

(For extra realism, there’s always actual front-line service – but, while there may be other reasons that justify risking both your life and taking the lives of others, a mere game isn’t one of them.)

For the time-limited, there’s always dispatches from actual war correspondents, which isn’t too hard to find. A few excerpts from a recent story, with references that Referees can sprinkle in their narration:

The armoured personal carriers are blackened shells. The tank has been blown in two. And the lorries are barely recognisable as such.

Half a dozen charred bodies, contorted in incredible pain, are all that is left of their crews. Where the rest have been taken, no one knows.

It is a chilling demonstration of the devastating power of artillery, the decisive weapon in this war. And, as if it were needed, a picture of the dramatic reversal of fortunes in this increasingly bitter conflict.


In the corridors of no-mans land between the advancing and retreating armies, the evidence of a desperate, panicked, rapid retreat can be found everywhere.


Whoever fired the mortars and rockets that struck the convoy did so with impressive accuracy.

Half a mile from the burnt out column, an undamaged armoured personnel carrier stands in a field, abandoned by its crew after it ran out of fuel.

They left body armour, maps, their tooth brushes, and ammunition in their haste to get away.

Locals, said the one policeman left in town, quickly scavenged the ammunition.


“They didn’t defend us, they just stole from us,” he said. “They showed up, said they were going to blockade the town, and took over the police station for their HQ. When we complained we’d get shelled because of this they said that was none of our business.”

“After this my doubts are gone. We’re just waiting for the [PC's? Imperials? Insurgents?] to get here,” the man added.

The town was indeed caught in a brief battle last week, and two civilians were killed when a shell landed on their house. It was not clear which side was responsible.

Back at the column, local villagers busily stripped the blackened remains of the men’s vehicles of everything valuable, from ammunition to scrap metal, without appearing too worried about the dead men lying beneath the trees nearby.

The going rate for a kilogram of iron or steel at the local scrap metal merchants is about ten pence. You can get [0.5 Cr] for aluminium, and nearly [3 Cr] for copper.

In the metal-poor Empty Quarter, you can up these prices by a factor of ten…

At that rate, the hulking remnants of a 13 tonne armoured personnel carrier represents a healthy fortune.

“Give it a week, there will be nothing left,” said a local police officer, surveying the scene with a certain distaste.


Meanwhile, a haphazard effort to retrieve the wounded from another battle is still under way.

A dozen ambulances manned by unarmed and visibly nervous [local] soldiers and medics gathered on the road south of the rebel-held town of S________ on Monday evening, hoping to collect wounded prisoners from the defeated encirclement in I______ under a deal with the separatists.

It does not always work out. On Sunday’s convoy, said one medic, the rebels allowed the rescue column through, only after arresting everyone with a shoulder patch of the D______ battalion – one of the volunteer units that was fighting in I______.

At the entrance to the town of S______, a handful of rebel gunmen confirmed a convoy of wounded [locals] was meant to come through, once their commander has come to an agreement with the [locals] down the road.

But it seemed the handover comes with conditions.

“Maybe those under 20 can go, and those over 20 we arrest,” said one gunman to another.

In this single column, I can spot the following storylines:

The agonizing pain of the dying. War means pain and suffering (and, to some, poverty and defeat). Military games need to recognise this: anything else is the most loathsome form of lying.

Artillery is Not To Be Trifled With. As artillery is usually far from the dramatic visuals of front-line conflict, there are few artillery mercenary regiments in the game. A more realistic Traveller game would give them bigger numbers, and more respect.

What are the signs of a panicked retreat? Would the PCs know it if they saw it?

Scavengers and looters are all over the place. Perhaps a deal can be made for medicine or ammo, if the PCs have a bit of cash on hand (or maybe alcohol, or cigarettes…)

Most wars are not genocidal. Yes, the Imperial setting feature the Vilani. and the Solomani aren’t known for their kindness to those outside of the Race. (And there are always the K’kree…) But even in the Imperium, most wars most of the time are just about the money, so most non-combatants are not killed just for existing. And Nobles and Corporations like to preserve the tax base/workforce/market whenever possible.

To protect the wounded, deals can be made. It ain’t easy to run an ambulance service in a war zone, and carefully negotiate with all the armed factions and parties, but it can be done. It’s easier if everyone is of the same species/religion/culture, and harder when differences are greater than average.

(And if medical care can cross the front lines, wildly overconfident spacefaring traders can too. Just don’t forget the flak jacket, keep your hands in the air, smile a lot… and when they tell you to stop walking forward, STOP WALKING FORWARD.)



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Basic Supplies

A headline from the WSJ:

Ebola Virus: For Want of Gloves, Doctors Die

Health Workers Believe Ebola’s Toll on Staff Could Be Mitigated With More Basic Hospital Supplies

My Traveller thoughts?

It’s easy to just run a merchant campaign on shipping x goods to point y, making z Credits in profits. And a good Referee can make it work, too!

But with a bit more colour, you can really weave in some human interest in those shipments.

  • The shipment of 1,000 medical gloves can really make the difference between a local outbreak and a continent-wide die-off.
  • Those grain seeds can mark the exact moment a province can feed itself… or remains poor, and dependent on other, more powerful planetary nations/cities/corporations of ‘the wrong race’ (Solomani/Vilani, human/Vargr, even Arab/East Indian).
  • That high-tech manufacturing equipment can be exactly what’s needed to power a tech level jump from 8 to 9 (ie: no FTL to FTL).
  • The heavy-duty water-purification equipment marks the difference between a temporary Bwap camp, and a permanent Bwap settlement.

All that stuff the PCs are hauling about – that stuff matters to someone.

Certainly, it matters enough to pay some big bucks over.

It may even matter enough to kill over, depending on the politics involved.

(And I haven’t even touched arms shipments, population transfers, and military units yet!)

“Know your customer.” – really good advice, and not just to know if he pays in full on time. Something you should never assume, in the Empty Quarter…

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