Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Mediocre Movies as Adventure Fodder

A few weeks ago, after getting hit by the ad blitz for it on other social media, I watched the rather forgettable "thriller" The Last Thing He Wanted while out of town on business. The plot, once you make sense of it, is a major power runs illicit arms shipments into a politically controversial brushfire war, with a sympathetic bystander drawn in. Except she's not really a bystander, in having previously covered, ostensibly from the side of the rebels, a neighboring civil war.

After I finished the movie, my opinion is that it was something to watch while waiting on the Friday Night pizza delivery to get to me and then eat the pizza. Also, it could have used another draft or better editing.

However, many of the set pieces would be good for Traveller adventures. Having a dying friend or family member offer a big payday they'll split with you is an reward pull. Dirty secrets of the government works a well, even if you're running a Traveller Universe where Norris is as great as the propaganda makes him out to be, and Strephon is the Good King. Powerful governments often make cruel decisions and work with unscrupulous people, and good men will accept doing them as the alternatives are far worse. Or maybe the crew gets hired to take some cargo to an unmarked starport on a backwater, along with a representative or two, and the crew is their ride back, but they don't make it. Do the characters make their scheduled departure, or go after them? People those with sources, like organized crime bosses, spymasters, and successful smugglers, who can easily track down an obvious outsider doing shady things. Just keep the travel times in mind here. Perhaps the new friend is really the agent of a government official you are on the wrong side of. Don't be afraid to steal ideas from forgettable movies and books.

Monday, October 28, 2019

T5 Character Generation

Nigel the Cat "Helps"
Having gotten my copy of the T5.10 books last week, I decided to take try out the process of character generation for myself. At one point, I had quite a few Classic Traveller characters generated, and it's always been a minigame I've enjoyed in many systems. Here's my first attempt at generating a Traveller: 5 character.

Meet Coronel Sir Elden Cox, IM (ret), SEH, XSx4, WBx2, BA (Hons). Born on 195-1063, he is a native of Preslin/Gulf (Dene 0633). One of the few non-Jonkeereen natives of the world, he ended up dropping out of high school, and finding some work around the Navy Base. Seeing how unpleasant life was during that period, he completed his basic education at the Downport Education Company, to apply for college at the Imperial College of Preselin, where he obtained a honors degree in electronics, and joined NOTC, where his massive physique got the attention of the Marine Sergeant-Instructor. With his humble background, and previous lack of academic success, he opted to join the Marines instead. After completing the Deneb Marine Officer's School, he was assigned to Protected Forces, meaning Meteoric Entry and Ship's Troops his entire career. On his first tour, on mission against the Kforzeung corsairs, he was decorated with the Starburst for Extreme Heroism, with the following citation: "While in action against hostile Kforzeung Corsiars, he entered with a few enlisted men the mouth of a cave occupied by a desperate enemy, this act having been ordered after he had volunteered several times. In this action 1st Lieutenant Cox was wounded. An inspiring and courageous leader, 1st Lieutenant Cox's extraordinary heroism and supreme dedication to his comrades were commensurate with the his rank and reflects the highest credit upon himself and upon the Imperial Marines." Other than schools, his career showed a typical alternation of units, moving between command of Marine Detachments aboard ships to that of Meteoric Entry companies.

UPP: D69AAB, Skills: Driver-1, Electronics-5, Fighter-4 (Battle Dress-2, Blade-3, Slug Weapons-2), Flyer-2(Grav-1), Forward Observer-2, Hostile Environment-1, Leader-4, Liasion-1, Medic-1, Philosophy-2, Robotics-2, Survey-1, Stealth-1, Steward-1, Survival-2, Tactics-2, Vacc Suit-1.
Languages: Anglic-9, Battle-8, Gvegh-7
Equipment: BVIGR-13, SEH, WBx2, XSx4, TAS Membership,1 Ship Share, Cr 50,000 cash, Life Insurance, Cr 36,000 pension

My general conclusion is that it's kind of clunky to use for generation, and a little opaque, especially with respect to the Knowledge/Skill for Fighter and the like. I do like the Risk and Reward mechanic, and the flux for damage. The E5 course listed is a godsend, and makes sense in the setting, and may find it's way into future Mongoose or Classic Traveller games I have.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Traveller 5.10 Kickstarter Arrival and Unboxing

This spring, against possibly my better judgement, I backed the Traveller 5.10 Kickstarter. Despite the delay, the packages were shipped on October 16th, and arrived on the 19th, a delivery day in advance of what was stated. The Courier route to me was a bit more direct than most, it seems. The box arrived with out an issue, and largely damaged from when it was on the pile at Mr. Miller's residence in his last update.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Shooting Up Professional Pirates

Classic William H. Keith Corsair Drawing from Traveller Wiki
            “Challenge sent sir, once they were a blip on the sensors. We should have had a response when you came in.” BM3 Zabiayh’s explanation began.
            “Send it again, and man battle stations.” Lieutenant Brickley ordered, as he started prepping his gear for strapping in. “The captain has the deck and the conn.”
            “Aye-aye,” the Boatswain then gave the announcement, getting the entire crew to their stations.
            “Helm, get us to an interception. Sensors, what can you tell about the bogie?” was the next set of orders.
            “Laying in course, sir.” Zabiayh responded.
            “Working on resolution, sir,” responded Sublieutenant Hassan as he strapped into his chair. “I’ve got some basic information from passives, but nothing yet. It’s going to be a long time to close enough for details.”
            “Understood. Keep signaling, though.” Brickley responded.
            The two ships spent much of an hour slowly closing. Every signal from the Kangaroo was ignored, but the rules of engagement forbade shots. Finally, Hassan announced, “Got him! Looks like about 400 tons.”
            “Keep on him. Let’s get a good lock,” was the Captain’s reply.
            “Get a lock, aye,” was Hassan’s fully voiced reply, followed by a thought. Lighting this SOB up with a missile ping just tells him he ain’t trusted! “Can’t quite get it!” as time passed.
            “He’s trying to break our lock. Still got a good hold on his position.”
            “Keep going. We’ll get one soon enough.” The range continued to close
            “Lock is good. We’ve got him where he’s wanted, Cap’n.” was Hassan’s tired announcement. Looking at the readouts for the crew, he could see that many were snoozing at their posts, with Chishan’s section III completely asleep.
            “Good. At this point, he’s responded to my hails with an ancient song about professional pirates. Prepare to open fire. He’s a confirmed hostile now.” Brickley reviewed reports from the Orbital Complex showed the ‘ready flight’ was nowhere near ready, the customs cutters out of position for this fight, and the Adzel in an extended refit. Also, the Naval Station was said they were recording it, with them giving him subtle approval and back up. Evade selected for the system.
            When the ships closed slightly more, he gave the order to open fire with the triple laser turrets. The dorsal turret hits, and the ventral narrowly missing. The corsair’s return fire was more accurate than expected given the range, with two of them hitting the Boxing Kangaroo. “Brand! Get on that!” Brickley ordered. He directed the computer to load the Fire Control software; his ship’s best advantage.
            Closing, he had Chishan join in with his missiles. Conventional warheads only, as there was too much in the area to use the nukes. The first flights and the lasers impacted on the corsair, destroying hull, and damaging the drives, the return fire ineffective. He noted Brand’s continued efforts on the repairs, ensuring this ship would not fall. The fighters were now forming up, but not ready to go. The next round of fire, the indications were the corsair had repaired its drive, and was getting ready to run. Where in the system though? The Oort cloud for a frozen slushball the crew could refine and then jump out with? It would be hard to outrun the couriers eventually. The Kangaroo’s fire at short range gutted it quickly, with the corsair breaking up in orbit from a final missile volley.
            “Boat away! Inspect the wreckage, and check for survivors!” Brickley ordered. The routine task of launching the ship’s boat was easily accomplished. Afari skillfully matched the orbit the debris field had taken. A light blinked a few minutes later, indicating an incoming message from the Joey.
            “Boxing Kangaroo, this is Joey. I have some good news.” Valdez’s Banadsani accent came through.
            “Joey, this is Kangaroo actual. Go ahead.”
            “Kangaroo, Joey, we have found ten crew here, with one survivor. We’ll send him over to be questioned, and the rest for the morgue. And we got an ID. Sollies out of Smade’s Planet.”
            “Rodger, Joey. Come on back, and we can get refilled on ammo.” After surrendering the prisoner to the authorities, the rest of the week was quiet when they jumped out on 072-1120, bound for Loki.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Crossing Over with Another Game

I've long been a fan of the BattleTech setting and game. Having gotten to understand it more, I have participated in the community off and on since early 2000, after obtaining a boxed set the year before. The novels, particularly William H. Keith Jr.'s Decision at Thunder Rift, got me interested a while beforehand.

Once I started building up my Traveller collection, I ended up getting a copy of the well written Ground Forces for the GURPS Traveller line. I really enjoy how it sets up a complete force, with company and battalion headquarters, and also explains how the staff works as well as actual command. One major point for enhancing my suspension of disbelief was how the about the author mentioned Mr. Berry's expertise in not only weapons, but the floor buffer.

Almost 10 years ago, I wrote a simple, planetary militia unit for my own amusement. Not the greatest troops in the universe, but older and younger than average people who wanted to defend their homeworld, with the Commanding Officer being a MechWarrior who could not get back to his normal unit because a war broke out making interstellar travel impossible. A few years later, I wanted to update it to the end of the conflict. As the world I picked was largely untouched, so any combat experience would have been from defending against small scale raids, and some of the troops would have been given offers they could not refuse by commands higher in the food chain to join.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Low Power Adventures in Fiction

My copy has this cover, from here
Between Robert Weaver's excellent series on high powered Traveller play and most recent post, I thought of the Venus sequence in Heinlein's Space Cadet. I got my 1992 printing in 1995 or 1996, and it has stayed around me ever since. It is an excellent example of low powered play. The characters have few skills useful in this setting, and are mostly relying on their personalities and inherent wits.

The characters have landed a small spacecraft, tail sitting as God and the Lieutenant intended, in a swamp on Venus.Their 'Jeep', a short duration craft that sounds rather like a Launch or Ship's Boat , ends up rolling over into the swamp with the contents of the ship's locker. The skill sets the men have, standard shipboard skills with each one having a specialty, with Oscar having Electronics, Matt Navigation, Tex Engineering, and the leader, Lieutenant Thurlow Gunnery. All are useless for the most part in the story, with primitive electronics repair and rigging a camp stove as the only real skill usage I read. The most important skills the men have are Oscar's cultural competency, and a determination  to do the right thing. The cadets former classmate, Burke, is as close to a murder-hobo a Heinlein could get; self-centered morality, and willing to do anything to make a profit. He even attempts to bribe the heroes. The skills they use are largely soft skills like persuasion and cultural knowledge. The climatic scene in chapter 15, where Oscar persuades the City Mother to treat the stranded cadets as people should be a way to think about social setting in adventure. One character, with the right knowledge, hits the right buttons to get out from between a rock and a hard place.

From there, it's all about tying up the loose ends to me. The old space ship Astarte, being in the area is a nice little deus ex machina, to get them home after two other spacecraft are ruined by the pests of tropical Venus. While the "Venus is a jungle world" trope is better suited for Space: 1889 than Traveller, but it can still be applied to visiting a world with a hot climate from an extended system generation. Each one contributes something to the recovery, but it was from building a relationship with an alien people, something Heinlein notes repeatedly that we as humans will identify as a group when faced with outside intelligences.

But what really makes it low power is how the highest position any character has is the leader of a small town. There's no reason to avoid the occasional low power scenario in most games. A situation like this, where the role playing is mostly on completing peaceful goals, and getting home, should be the players goals. A goal in a RPG should be to get the players thinking about how to get their problems solved, as having a good time. I am reminded about Marc Miller's example of play in Space Gamer #40,  where shooting only happens at the end, as the players hightail it out of a group of cannibals. And at the end of the novel, it turns out the man whose wits were vital to their survival, has been promoted for his efforts, and is with a return expedition, part of the making your own reputation in the universe, and providing a bridge into high-level play.

Also, I found a really nice review of the novel at Every Day Should Be Tuesday.It seems like a nice fiction blog I'll be looking at more often.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Atmosphere Control and Monitoring Equipment

Of the parallels that spacecraft have with submarines, the most analogous to me is atmosphere control. Generally, heat dispersal is less of a problem as seawater is an excellent heat sink, and submerged maneuvering is more intuitive than orbital mechanics. Both the monitoring systems and the control systems are going to have both primary, fixed to the ship, and secondary systems, portable, that can be useful for details. The monitoring systems are those providing information about composition and  pressure, while control systems allow the crew to manipulate the gas mix. There is a simple atmosphere analyzer, giving the users breathablity and general class of the atmosphere in the game, costing Cr 150 and weighing 1 kg. However, exploration and mystery oriented campaigns and adventures may desire more detail than a simple system.

The primary monitoring system would be a computerized combination carbon dioxide detector and mass spectrometer that is built into the ship. The current CAMS Mark II system is about the height of a man, and can take samples from a variety of shipboard locations. A system like this would be part of the ship's engineering section, and repaired during annual maintenance. This could also be used to test samples captured from an unknown or poorly described atmosphere, giving the partial pressures of the component gasses. Future versions would be smaller and more reliable of course.

Draeger bellows and tube package
Secondary portable systems are available, but have to split up the monitoring functions. For oxygen content, I used an aging Servomex tester where the user had a bulb to bring in air to the sensor, and it gave a percentage readout of oxygen content. For detecting the more unusual gasses, the standard issue was a Draeger hand pump kit. This gadget consists of a hand pump kit, and a glass tube with a reagent that indicates the concentration of a chemical using a color. One end of the tube is broken off, the tube inserted into the pump, the pump is used the requisite number of times, and it shows the concentration of  a gas where the sample was taken. To check for another gas, the system must be removed to a clean atmosphere area, purged, and a new tube inserted. Also, a single purpose hydrogen tester was in use, showing atmospheric hydrogen percentage.

Electrolytic Oxygen Generator.
Atmosphere control is provided by two processes. Oxygen partial pressure is maintained by the use of an Electrolytic Oxygen Generator. Pure water is distilled, mixed with potassium hydroxide, and subjected to a high voltage, splitting off the oxygen and hydrogen into 'pure' gasses. The oxygen could either be stored at pressure, or dispersed through the ventilation system. This machine was considered to be one of the more dangerous pieces of equipment on board, because nobody wants an undersea hydrogen explosion. Carbon dioxide is removed by an amine based scrubber system, that leaves a peculiar odor in the air, and it sticks to the clothes. Carbon monoxide along with hydrogen, are removed through a burner that runs hot air across a hopcalite catalyst bed.

Again, there are secondary systems for oxygen and carbon dioxide level maintenance. Carbon monoxide is just not seen as an immediate item for emergency removal. Oxygen levels can be maintained by using the stored banks, or oxygen candles. The banks just release oxygen at a bleed point, but the air must be circulated to ensure there is no harmful build up of oxygen to dangerous levels. Candles provide oxygen to directly to the internal atmosphere using a thermal reaction. Carbon dioxide is removed by using lithium hydroxide in two fashions. There is an active hopper system that moves air through lithium hydroxide canisters using a fan, and a passive curtain system where air passes over a hanging sheet with small amounts of lithium hydroxide. One of the problems with these systems is that it is possible to over-pressurize the atmosphere. In one case, we could not open the water-tight door to the engine room because of the pressure differential. More serious problems from over-pressurized areas can include decompression sickness. Pressure build up can be mitigated by compressed air systems taking in excess, venting to space, or storage as part of a reaction control system.

The major equipment is expected to be aboard a spacecraft. Notably, the ISS uses chemically similar systems, and recycles waste products for extra water. I would expect that part of a berthing cost would be refreshing some consumables as well as the actual landing. Starships operating off in the wilds with few resources will place more space in cargo for consumables, and gas giant refueling may make the atmosphere go stale a little faster. Given the smaller ships that players have access to, backups may be limited. Most ships should have a gas tester kit as part of damage control, and the basic atmosphere analyzer was noted as being in the ship's locker for two short adventures. Oxygen candles are a disaster risk, as they almost destroyed Mir in the 1997, and killed two sailors aboard HMS Tireless (S88) in 2007.

As a way to encourage action, this gives the referee different ways to encourage play and see how players react. This is also a way to include some chrome on how systems operate. The atmosphere plant gets a bit more detail, and here are a couple more tools to use in a variety of situations.

New Equipment

Hand Gas Detector Kit, Cr 500 for kit with one pump and 18 gas tube sets in a hard case. Cr 100 for the pump, Cr 25 for set of five tubes each detecting one gas. The kit weighs 1.5 kg, while the bellows weigh 250 grams and tubes weigh 50 grams per set of five.  TL7. Kits include CBR detection, and toxic leak, as well as a standard kit used on most ships. 

Oxygen detector. Gives a current atmospheric oxygen percentage and carbon dioxide percentage. Runs off a rechargeable battery good for six hours. Cr 500, 2 kg at TL8, TL 10, half cost and weight.