The Cheollima Group

An interesting model for a Traveller Intervention association, perhaps tied to transporting refugees and fleeing families from Zhodani or Solomani Space, to the safety of the Imperial worlds.

The man claiming to be Nam’s son in the latest video doesn’t talk about the whereabouts of his family or how they were being protected. The video was posted on the YouTube channel of Cheollima Civil Defence, which describes itself as a group helping North Korean defectors.

The group said on its website that it responded to an “emergency request” last month by three members of Kim Jong Nam’s family and relocated them to safety. The group expressed gratitude to the Netherlands, China, the United States and a “fourth government to remain unnamed” for providing assistance in protecting the three.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said it had no knowledge of the Cheollima group.

I especially like the ties to various helpful governments, including the “fourth government to be unnamed”. In Traveller, that could well be various corporations, Noble Houses, or NGOs (religious or ethnic, most likely).

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Upside Down Deaths

Typically, I have always envisioned most Travellers dying by ballistics, explosives, radiation, the joys of (not) breathing vacuum, and occasionally disease and low-tech pointy and blunt instruments.

Then, there are the Scouts, who have apparently made it their mission to die in wildly improbable ways…

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Room Breaching & Clearing

For Referees who have exactly zero military experience – like yours truly – this is a smooth, simple, and clear review of the basics.

The thing that immediately stands out for scenario/tactical mapping is:

  • it’s really important where those doors and windows are, exactly;
  • it’s really important how many levels – basement & above-ground – the building is.

There are various subtle issues I can already spot for far future fighting, that I leave to Imperial Marines and grav-belt troops to handle.

Also, explosives are really important even in squad-scale, four-man Traveller team assaults. Just the basic job of adding an instant additional entry point needs stuff that goes boom.

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Space Elevators

A very nice presentation of space elevators.

Certainly, there are a ton of good story ideas to be used here, and not just if the cable snaps! Even the fight to bring the cost of graphene or carbon cables down is worth a story, as well as all the knock-on effects this would bring.

In a Traveller universe without artigrav, I can definitely see every Imperial Starport of 100 million or more sophonts have at least one of these up and running. Indeed, this would be the primary image of the Imperium to most of her inhabitants: beanstalks to the stars, to wealth, to new worlds, to awesome cities in space.

A rather a glorious and inspiring image, which – if corruption and injustice is kept limited — can inspire both loyalty and creativity for generations.

(The other archetypal image of the Imperium – the Imperial Navy raining death from on high – is best kept in the background. Only her enemies need to remember it in their nightmares.)

In a no-artigrav universe, I’d classify system ports as:

Class A: major orbital and facilities, as well as 2+ space elevator ports on the mainworld. Beanstalks on several minor worlds, too: the rating would assume a system-wide production network. Probably some spaceborne cities, standalone, in orbit of a major body, or eating an asteroid/minor moon from the inside. “What a major civilized system should be!”

Class B: A strong, healthy world, with 2+ space elevators on the mainworld: but things are non-existent or thin on the ground outside the orbit of the mainworld. “Just a few research stations, maybe just half-a-dozen mining settlements.” Still, a good orbital economy, and established settlements/economies on any mainworld moons.

Class C: An “OK” world, with a single space elevator. Just a few token space stations, or none at all. Any natural satellites are either just ignored or have a mere token settlement. These are likely to be monocrop worlds, be it agricultural, chemical, or other local specialty. Still, there’s enough local value, to be worth building a ~100 million dollar Imperial Starport. (Maybe 20 million credits, in Traveller-value currency?)

Class D: No space elevator, although one may be in the works or being assembled. Off-world commerce is handled by on-the-ground/water docking, repair, and refueling facilities, geared to shuttles and multiuse rockets/balloons interfacing with visiting starships in orbit. Without a space elevator (or equivalent mechanism) , it’s very expensive to ship anything off-world, if the world is of Earth-size. (Things are easier in more shallow gravity wells, like Mars or the Moon.)

If Class C Starports mark the limit of integration into the Imperial Economy, Class D is where ‘primitive impoverished ignorant locals’ status begins. Very few visitors and off-world products and materials ever set foot on these worlds. These Starports – unlike the space elevators – are typically based far from population centres, although there is good integration via rail/road, if the traffic warrants. “Not much traffic, but it’s very high-value when it arrives!”

Note that the planet may well still have billions of highly-educated sophonts, and may well still have a decent impact on the Imperial economy and society if they focus on information, not material products. “You need beanstalks to move atoms, but it’s far cheaper to move electrons about.” Still, they remain physically isolated from the Imperial mainstream, for the most part.

Class E: Still a piece of flat land, with a paved surface, a radio control tower, hangars, a hotel and nearby hospital/clinic (able to treat aliens/off-baseline humans/cyborgs/etc.) and a few warehouses. Without artigrav, these tend to be runways when possible, balloon-docking facilities if there isn’t enough hard, stable surface area for a shuttle landing. Visitors are rare, typically less than once a week, often once a quarter or longer.

I’d envision the Class A ports being the classic high-pop/high-tech backbone of the Imperium, with “high-pop” meaning at least 100 billion, with at least 1/4 of that population off the homeworld and spread out throughout the system.

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Who’s Laughing?

A joke currently in circulation:

My wife asked why I carried a gun around the house. I told her: fear of CIA.

She laughed. I laughed. The Amazon Echo laughed.

I shot the echo.

The guys listening in – be it Solomani Security, Imperial Intelligence, or even the more sophisticated Vargr/Vilani piracy conglomerates – changes, but some Travellers have above-the-mean levels of paranoia for surprisingly good reasons.

It’s hard to shoot the ship computer, though. Sometimes, you need more than a good trigger, to get the job done.


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A Lost World of Innovation

The following post is not really Traveller until the end. Instead, it describes a scientific tragedy, and a great loss in potential discoveries and new insights, all in the name of restricting knowledge to a guild of elitist paid professionals.

It smells extremely Vilani: but at the end, it’s a Solomani story.

But then again, the bureaucratic, controlling, anti-innovation Vilani are just our shadow selves. They are not real… but we are.

But if that fictional people helps us to better understand ourselves, they would have served their purpose.

I read that much of the supposed war between religion and science was primarily based on the need for professionalization and a steady income based on a restricted guild and obscured knowledge.

From the second link, Who Is to Blame for the Greatest Myth in the History of Science and Religion? These Two Guys

If these two historians—one an agnostic, one a confessional Christian—both agree this is a manufactured myth, then who is to blame for inventing it?

That distinction falls to American scholars from the nineteenth century: (1) Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the founding president of Cornell University, and (2) John William Draper (1811-1882), professor of chemistry at the University of New York.

I like the fact that names are named here.

Here are a couple of urban legends that Draper and White perpetuated:

  1. The church believed for centuries that the earth is flat.
  2. The church opposed the use of anesthetics in childbirth since Genesis promised that childbirth would be painful.

On the first myth, Lesley B. Cormack, chair of the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta, writes that “there is virtually no historical evidence to support the myth of a medieval flat earth. Christian clerics neither suppressed the truth nor stifled debate on the subject.”

On the second myth, Larsen responds:

No church has ever pronounced against anesthetics in childbirth. Moreover, there was no vocal group of ministers who opposed it. In fact, the inventor of chloroform received fan mail from ministers of the major denominations thanking him for helping to alleviate the suffering of women in labor. Rather, the opposition to anesthetics during childbirth came from medical professionals, not from ministers, and for scientific, not religious, reasons.

And on the legends go.

Odd, that a group of men who insist that they are the gateway to The Truth grounded their vision on a lie.

It makes a man suspicious.

So why exactly did men like Dickson and Draper—along with English biologist T. H. Huxley, who championed Darwinism and coined the term “agnostic”—manufacture these historical myths and this overall legend of perpetual conflict?

In the mid-nineteenth century there was no separate profession of science. Manufacturing a “war” between science and religion was part of their professionalization campaign. Larsen explains:

The purpose of the war was to discredit clergymen as suitable figures to undertake scientific work in order that the new breed of professionals would have an opportunity to fill in the gap for such work created by eliminating the current men of science. It was thus tendentiously asserted that the religious convictions of clergymen disqualified them from pursuing their scientific inquiries objectively.

More to the point, however, was the fact that clergymen were undertaking this work for the sheer love of science and thus hindering the expectation that it would be done for money by paid full-time scientists. Clergymen were branded amateurs in order to facilitate the creation of a new category of professionals.

Dickson and Draper won this debate, even if it was at the cost of truth itself.

The myth continues today, but it can be overturned as we study the history behind how the legend developed.

So, in the name of an anti-religious ideology, the need to restrict knowledge to an elite, and the thirst for a steady stream of income, the scope, number, innovative rate, and depth of scientific discovery and innovation was radically crippled.

How pathetic. And how very human.

Fortunately, thanks to numerous advances we are leaving the current era of elitist, self-serving obscurantism and willful ignorance, and — as knowledge, databases, internet links and cell phones span the globe, to the last bright, curious kid in the last Indian or Chinese or African village — the future is going to be astonishing bright.

But can you imagine where we would be, without the self-serving, pretentious guilds that crippled the rate of scientific innovation for over a century?

In Traveller as in life, there is always a burst of innovation in a culture — Vilani or Solomani, Darrian or K’kree — and then stagnation and a slow ossification.

But what if there was a world out there, that did not fall into the same intellectual and spiritual traps? A race who did not merely sprint, reaped the initial awards… and promptly sat down and rested on his laurels?

A species that knew that mastering the Creation was a long-term marathon, and not something to be tossed aside in return for a steady income and the chance for some intellectual preening?

We are in the second century of the Industrial Revolution (now joined by the Information Revolution), and despite it all — the tyrannies, the genocides, the moral failures — the whole world is more free and more wealthy than ever before.

Even the “War of Science and Religion” scam is going to be ancient history, in less than a generation. It falls to dust, joining the academic gatekeepers and the mainstream media, as well as the failed Total State structures of fascism and communism.

And as the chains falls, new discoveries and new insights will fill the world, at an increasing rate.

I suggest that, despite it all, WE are the ones who will run that marathon, right to the end.

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Imperial Dreams

“Return of the Jedi” (1983) Matte painting by Mike Pangrazio

“Return of the Jedi” (1983) Matte painting by Chris Evans (low-rez)

It is false, to always claim that the past was better than the present. In some ways, yes, but not in most ways.

Even so… I wish that Traveller would inspire dreams, and visions, of a grand, inspiring, yet dangerous future.

(Here, I searched everywhere for ‘the burial of the stormtroopers’, a sketch of Joe Johnson in the Art of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back book. No dice.

So I am left with only words instead of a picture: “There are no real victories, without real prices paid.”)

I am far too much the grim realist to lead the way here. I am too strongly tied to what is, and not close enough to what can be.

But at least I know what I am missing: I know what I can’t do.

I wait in hope.

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The Purge, The Books, and the Money

From an article celebrating both Capitalism and the Reformation:

A curious tale is related of how he contrived to turn the devices of his foes to advantage. The Archbishop of Canterbury [Whalem at the time] was buying up his translations for burning and commissioned a certain Packington to scour the continent for more. The man went straight to Tyndale himself and informed him that he had discovered a merchant who would clean out his stock.

“Who is this merchant?” said Tyndale.

“The bishop of London,” said Packington.

“Oh, that is because he will burn them,” said Tyndale.

“Yea, marry,” quoth Packington.

“I am the gladder,” said Tyndale, “for these two benefits will come of it: I shall get money from him for these books and bring myself out of debt, and the whole world shall cry out on the burning of God’s Word, and the overplus of the money shall make me more studious to correct the said New Testament, and so newly to imprint the same once again; and I trust the second will much better like you that ever did the first.”

And the account concludes: “And so forward went the bargain: the bishop had the books, Packington had the thanks, and Tyndale had the money.”[3]

Tyndale thinks like a Traveller.

The example can be easily retrofitted for any form of forbidden knowledge: “An Introductory Course on Psionics” would do for a start in the Imperium.

Most governments outside of the (relatively easy-going) Imperium have stronger censorship boards: certainly include the Solomani, but also the Aslan, and the Zhodani.

(Hiver information control methodology are a lot more subtle than the blunt instrument of a censorship board. The PC is left to discover for himself just how they operate.)

If you know what you are doing, you can tap into these government institutions for an endless flow of money…

…but don’t get complacent. Even William Tyndale was first strangled, and then burnt at the stake. It doesn’t help you to have a billion-credit bank account over there, but the local Thought Police is over here, and they just got a tip-off on your precise location.

Get the guns, yes. Get the money, yes.

But mainly, it’s about actionable, timely information.

(Side thought: for a Traveller game, it really powers up the story when a powerful & respected patron goes down just before the Final Battle.

“It’s all up to you now. Don’t let us down.”)

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Space is Big: The Map

If the Moon Were Only One Pixel does a good job in describing how immense a solar system is.

Or — if you don’t care to scroll for a couple of minutes — there’s always the video below.

An on such a scale, the Imperium would be mind-boggling. Just for starters, ever wondered just how long a light year or a parsec really is?

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He was Nothing. The Well is Everything!

Every Traveller group should encounter at least one frenemy with eagle eyes and amazing marksmanship.

Also, this clip gets the tribal instincts of the Empty Quarter spot-on.

When you get two tribes and their flocks, and a well that can care for only one tribe and its’ flocks, the resolution of one well becoming the sole property of one tribe is practically preordained.

How you get from here to there is where the PCs get involved. The precise route taken — bribes and gold, lies and deception, hard and pitiless law, or astonishing levels of violence — is the interesting part.

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