Friday, September 8, 2017

Rest In Peace, Dr. Pournelle

Word has come out that Jerry Pournelle has passed away at the age of 84. A review of King David's Spaceship, last summer got me to write my own post in response as a list of books. This winter, I read and reviewed The Mote in God's Eye and The Gripping Hand. Both books provided great ideas for Traveller gaming. In some ways, Pournelle and Niven are the last of their generation, writing ideas forward, and fully embracing having the story first. To write fiction half as well as he did would be a great thing.

Now, he's another star watching down on us, in the Galaxiad.

Order of Solar Excellence

          There are many orders of chivalry throughout the Third Imperium. All of them, of course, recognize the Emperor as sovereign, but are in practice overseen by one or more nobles. In 1065, Duke von Ritterberg of Sol sought to establish an order to recognize the accomplishments of Imperial citizens in his demesne. In 1067, it was authorized by the Imperial Household, with the first inductions to the order made on 001-1068. Unusually, it provides the following levels:
            Knight or Dame of the Order of Solar Excellence (KSE/DSE)
            Companion of the Order of Solar Excellence (CSE)
            Officer of the Order of Solar Excellence (OSE)
            Member of the Order of Solar Excellence (MSE)
            Medal of the Order of Solar Excellence (OSEM)
A sketch of the Medal, used for proofing purposes.
Original work by Michael Thompson
Only Knights and Dames receive titles, the other levels are decorations, and merely make the awardee a prominent member of society. There are two divisions, the Military and General for all levels except for Knights and Dames. The motto of the Order is “For Sol and the Emperor”
            The ribbon of the Order is dark blue, with central symmetrical stripes of pale green and purple, differenced by a narrow yellow stripe at each end for the Military Division. Recipients of the medal are awarded a hexagonal gilt medal bearing with a stylized map of the subsector on the obverse, and “For Sol and the Emperor” in Anglic on the reverse. The Medal is worn on the left breast. Members receive a similar award, with a miniature hexagon mounted on a Maltese Cross, and also worn on the left breast. Officers receive the award as a neck order, but made of gold, using a medal similar to that the Medal. Officers receive the award as a neck order, in gold with the same design used for the Medal of the Order of Solar Excellence. Companions wear the award as a neck order as well, in gold and mounted on the Maltese Cross. Knights wear the hexagon upon a gold disc on the left breast below any medals, with the home world of the recipient picked out with a gem of the appropriate color of the star, and the rest noted with diamonds. If the Knight is not native to the subsector, the world he is most associated with is used instead. For informal use, the ribbon is worn with a following differentiations, Medal plain, Member a miniature of the hexagon in gold, Officer a miniature of the hexagon in silver mounted on a bar, Companion a gold miniature of the hexagon mounted on a bar with the left side gold and right side silver, and Knights wear the gold miniature of the hexagon on a gold bar.
            Officers of the order include the Sovereign, Grand Master, and Secretary. The current Sovereign in Strephon, Duke Mazun Tomas von Ritterberg is the Grand Master, and his Seneschal is the Secretary. Currently, Knights and Dames include Marchioness Alessandra Ribeira da Silva of Terra, Archduke Kiernan Langos Adair of Sol, the Count of Nusku, as well as many other nobles resident in the subsector.
            The Medal is awarded for long meritorious service in the Sol Subsector Unified Armies and Fleet personnel, as well as for ordinary sophonts performing a service worthy of particular recognition. Membership in the General Division is for “service in a particular locality or field of activity or to a particular group”, and the Military, “exceptional service or performance of duty,” and limited to 1020 persons per year. Officers of the order are have “Distinguished service of a high degree to the Sol Subector or to the Imperium at large” or “Distinguished service in responsible positions,” with a limit of 430 per year. Companions have “Eminent achievement and merit or service in duties of great responsibility,” and are limited to 100 per year. Knights and Dames have “Extraordinary and pre-eminent achievement and merit of highest degree in service to the Sol Subesctor or to the Imperium at Large,” with a very hard limit of twelve per year. Any Imperial citizen in good standing can nominate another for an award. The Duke’s staff is responsible for ensuring they are proper.

Game rules:
In UPP based Traveller games:
If received with a higher SOC, note the postnominals
+1 to a max of 10

+1 to a max of 10

+1 to a max of 9

+1 to a max of 8

GURPS Third Edition Traveller:

A Knight or Dame is Status 2. Other grades of the Order may give Status 1 at the Referee’s discretion, or else a +1 Reaction from everyone in the Solomani Rim with sometimes recognition as a 2-point advantage. Use the character’s background to make the determination.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

On Patrol, Part I


Alice Springs, Terra/Sol 0830 Local
Found Here
            A short week after the Boxing Kangaroo returned from the shakedown, she was commissioned. It was a typical ceremony, with the crew formed up, Admiral Taugolo delivering, and Lieutenant Brickley taking command, and the first watch stationed. That was yesterday, and half the crew was recovering from the party that followed. Baroness Beata Nehru Mesa of Brisbane, one of the honor nobles resident on Terra, served as the sponsor, serving to link the ship and crew more closely to the Imperium. Older, she had received her title as a result of having lead Oceania Exports, LIC into leading a leading seafood export firm, having had an Imperial Warrant of Appointment for the past decade, as well as running massive aquaculture operations in the warmth of the Pacific. Her picture would set next to Emperor Strephon’s in the crew’s mess, a reminder of the ship’s loyalties.
            Today though, was the first operational movement of the Kangaroo. Orders were in hand, after the week where the yard had fixed a few minor things in various systems, including an error in the targeting computer for number two laser. The ship was now formally assigned to Patrol Force, Sol Fleet, and the Rimward Flotilla. Six other Patrol Cruisers were assigned to this unit, and it mostly operated out of the Navy base at Fenris. The orders were a common mission, a patrol loop. The Boxing Kangaroo was instructed to patrol Peraspera, Loki, Dismal, and Hades for two weeks each, and then report to Flotilla HQ at Fenris. Simple stuff, for the most part, but these are backwater systems in the Outback lacking the population for effective system fleet.
            Brickley stepped out of his miniscule ready room into the empty bridge, and through the iris valve into the small common area. Hassan, Brand, Chishan, and Valdez were discussing plans as he strode up next to them.
            “Thank you for coming in here, Captain,” Hassan said as Brickley joined the group. “We’ve been going over the information here. All weapons and provsions are loaded, and once the G-carrier is secured in place, we’ll be ready to lift.”
            “Sounds good. What’s the load out? Starting with you, Guns.” Brickley replied
            “Sir, Weapons department has a full load out in the magazine, with 12 thunderballs,” Chishan replied with the slang term for nuclear tipped missiles. Continuing, “Both laser turrets checked out as satisfactory to the yard last week, and there are sufficient stores aboard for foreseeable future.”
            “Very well,” Brickley responded, “Eng?” shifting his focus to Brand.
            “Full fuel load, all engine room repair parts, and food stores onloaded, sir.”
            “Of course. Marines?” Brickley turned to Valdez.
            “We just need to secure the G-Carrier. All our Dress is in the Boat, and the boat checks out. Sir, in all respects save the G-Carrier, the Imperial Marine Detachment of the Patrol Cruiser Boxing Kangaroo is ready for deployment.” Valdez returned formally.
            “Of course, report accepted,” Brickley acknowledged. Shifting to the entire group, “We’ve got the 1000 boost. Get the G-carrier loaded, and start the reactor by 0930. Understand?”
            “Aye-aye, Captain!” came the response.
            By 0930, the G-Carrier was loaded, and the reactor started up. At 0945, external power removed, and the entire crew prepared for lift. 15 minutes later, the ship had taxied to a pad, and was ready to go.
            “Pilot, set course for orbit.” Brickley commanded.
            “Aye sir, course set for orbit. Lifting now!” Zabiyah responded, expertly piloting the ship into Terra orbit.
            “Sir, traffic is clear, and permission to set course to Peraspera?” Hassan informed him.
            “Very well. Set course for Peraspera.” Brickley responded.
            “Set course for Peraspera, aye.” Hassan replied, as he busied himself in the star charts and navigation computer during the flight to the jump point. “Jump course ready, sir.”
            “Jump course ready, aye. Engineering, divert power.”
            “Diverting power, aye,” came Brand’s steady voice. A few seconds later, she came back, “Power diverted, sir.”
            “Power diverted, aye,” Brickley took her report, switching to the main address system, “All hand, stand by for jump!” A brief pause, and “Jump!” as the Boxing Kangaroo flashed out of existence in the Terra system.
Found Here
            “Set jump space watch, section II,” Brickley said with normal resignation for the uneventful week in jump space. While merchant ships may have a “Captain’s Table” dinner for the final night in Jump space, the Navy instead ran it as a formal mess dinner, with a grog bowl and all sorts of hijinks. The messenger and engineer watches were secured for that evening, as it proved an entertaining diversion. The next day, ship’s time, they precipitated out of jumpspace into the Peraspera system.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Communications at Tech Level 5

Some times, you find interesting things in the family. Like this old Zenith Super Trans-Oceanic Radio dating from around 1951. It's believed to have been purchased with one of my grandfather's first paychecks after finishing basic training for the US Air Force. While the old batteries may no longer work, it will still function on AC main power. It is mentioned in the technical specifications that both 115 VAC 60 Hz power and 220 VAC or VDC power can be used as power for the system. The system is best described as a 'luggable' in that while portable, it is not a personal device, and best for moving between periodic locations. Interestingly, it does feature a headphone jack. I rather doubt it would work with a set of modern earbuds with out a heavy duty adapter!

In this big, black case is a rather expensive radio, with an initial MSRP of around $200. There is a front and back page with technical specifications. I paged through the guide book, and it had a list of clear channel stations in the United States when published, as well as a time zone map and a log for shortwave radio stations the owner heard. Of the "clear channel stations", I saw  Minnesota's old 830 kHz WCCO and 1500 kHz KSTP which are still around, as was St. Olaf College's WCAL at 770 kHz and WDGY at 1130 kHz. Of that pair, WCAL was bought by MPR, and the 1130 kHz spot in the Twin Cities is now a talk radio station. Another thing I saw was the nomenclature for the signal frequency, mentioned as kilocycles, as in WGN 930 kc, rather than Hertz, as the latter was not adapted as a SI unit until 1960.

Here's what it looks like with the cover up. On the cover is an external antenna for the AM band, and a receiver for shortwave stations includes an extendable antenna as well. The station selection is a single dial system. It also features weather and time radio station, and the manual includes a guide to various weather stations and their schedules as of printing.

How could something like this work in a science fiction campaign? Well, vacuum tube electronics are more or less electromagnetic pulse resistant, which may be useful if the characters find themselves on a nuclear or high energy laden battlefield. I would not be surprised if a Fusion Gun could fry equipment. Also, a system like this, a heavy duty communications receiver could be a useful trade good for TL 5-6 worlds. Not only would it be a good size for various transportation methods, with the original designer being a keen yachtsman, but it is also locally repairable. Think of the graduate class in receiver construction this would be on a low TL backwater, and how it isn't crippleware making the user totally dependent on outside tech support. Pair a radio receiver with a simple solar charger system, and it could be sold on almost any world that is open for trade as an easy way to get information to a large number of people The relatively innocuous nature of a radio blends into espionage campaigns as well. Numbers stations exist, as do propaganda stations like Voice of America, the BBC World Service, and Radio Moscow.  An every day radio set can be part of a spy's sinister plans for the players to thwart.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Quiet Shakedown

A badge for the Boxing Kangaroo
Following the excitement of the Kaufmann incident, it returned to normal (more or less). The full crew, including the Marines had arrived by 300-1119, and simulations had run more or less successfully. The Boxing Kangaroo was complete, a few weeks earlier than planned. A week before, the yard had taken her up and all systems were good. Brickley had been aboard, but the test crew had done all the work, and he’d been little more than a passenger the whole way. To mark the occasion, the Navy decided a full-on shake-down of all systems would be appropriate. The ship would lift from Terra, jump to Ceres, and burn in back to Terra. A couple of asteroids would do for some target practice.
            Brickley looked forward through the iris valve to the bridge opened; seeing Zabiyah on the left, and Hassan on the right. Forward of them sat Chishan at a console set up for master weapons, and Able Spacehand Hall to his back. The ship was nearly rigged for lift, with all equipment in the hull, and hatches locked. The only thing remaining connected was the power umbilical.
            Brickley stepped through the valve, as Marine Yap stepped out from the ship’s locker and shouted “Attention on Deck!” taking their attention. The young man braced against the locker iris valve, as Brickley passed him in the narrow passage.
            “Carry on. Captain has the deck,” was Brickley’s mild reply, but heard throughout the space. He stepped up to the acceleration chair mounted in the center at the aft end of the compartment.
            “Captain has the deck, aye,” Hassan replies, noting the time in the log. “Sir, all departments report ready for lift. Clearance has been received from Alice Springs Central, we are scheduled for one hour from now.”
            “Very well,” Brickley replied as he plugged in his personal comm to the ship’s systems and keyed the general announcing circuit.
            “All hands, this is the Captain. We will be lifting in one hour. This is our first flight with the Boxing Kangaroo, and we will bring our new ship home. Our mission is simple here. We jump out to Ceres in the Belt, and then shoot an asteroid, and come back through normal space in time to get back to Terra for fixing any issues. I have every faith in you that we’ll make it without a problem. Carry on.”
            The bridge crew looked at him with the understanding they’d be lifting soon. The indicator for an internal call came on. Brickley pushed his answer button. “Bridge, Captain.” The idea of saying that still came as new to him.
            “Captain, we’re ready to start up the plant for this first time. Plant is in condition to start up in accordance with POP-1,” came Brand’s collected voice back to him.
            “Engineering, you have my permission to start the power plant in accordance with POP-1,” he replied. “Note that in the log, initial operation of the power plant under ship’s force control.”
            “Right team,” Brand spoke to her people when she got off the line with Brickley, “The skipper said it’s time for us to start her up. Maurer, you got the procedure up?”
            “Yes, MM1,” the small woman spoke up. The team entered in to the procedure to start the main plant. Brand began the operation that would start the power plant. As she brought it up, Kidd, her other assistant, disconnected the umbilical. Brand called the bridge, reporting the ship was successfully on internal power.
            “Sir, Central has given us clearance, we have 10 minutes to boost,” Hall spoke from up forward.”
            “Very well,” Brickley replied, after taking Brand’s report as well. “Astrogator, make checks of all spaces.”
            “Make checks of all space, aye-aye,” Hassan replied, then spoke into the main announcing circuit, “All spaces, make final reports to the bridge before boost.”
            He turned to a clear area of his console, and with a grease pencil, stood by for reports.
            “Bridge, common area,” Sergeant Valdez came across, “We are ready for boost.”
            “Ready for boost, common area, bridge, aye,” was Hassan’s reply. He got the same reports from Brand in Engineering, Owen in the Missile magazine, Castillo in the cargo bay, and Afari in the boat.
            Hassan turned and looked at Brickley, “Sir, final reports from all spaces report ready for boost.”
            “Very well, astrogator,” Brickley replied before continuing, “Pilot, stand by to boost on my mark.”
            “Stand by on you mark, aye,” Zabiyah replied.
            “Engineering, bridge make the maneuver drive ready to answer all orders from the helm.”
            “Bridge, engineering, make the maneuver drive ready to answer all orders from the helm, aye,” came Brand’s report. A minute later she replied that it was in fact ready. The readout for the timer in the corner of his HUD showed 1:30 remaining before the Kangaroo’s turn to boost.
            The slow wait got to everyone, as the ship felt unnaturally quiet. As the seconds clipped away, the nerves seemed to grow in anticipation. 15, 14, 13, 12….
            “Pilot, ready to boost….” 5, 4, 3, 2 1 “NOW!” Brickley spoke as Zabiyah’s hands got the ship off the ground easily. The thunder of the ship’s lift boosted them to orbit quickly. He knew it would be about two hours for the ship to get to the 100D limit.
            “All hands, this is the captain,” he began, “Relax watches until rig for jump.” Chishan stood up from his console, and walked aft, likely looking to get a quick snack.
            Two hours passed uneventfully, and shortly before the 100D limit, Hassan looked up from his console. “Jump plotted, Captain. Do you want to check it over?”
            Considering his basic astrogation skills, Brickley paused, and said, “I trust you here. It’ll be good enough.”
            “All hands, stand by for jump. Engineering, divert power to the Jump Drive.”
            “Power diverted,” came the response on the direct channel from engineering.
            “Pilot, take us to jump!”
            The INS Boxing Kangaroo shuddered for a brief moment, and the universe went to nothingness.
            “Astrogator, set J-watch, section 1.”
            “Set J-watch, section 1, aye, sir.” Hassan replied, “All hands, set J-watch, section 1.”
            For the next week, the ship was in the quiet rotation of a jumping starship, even though the distance was far too little to be really worth Jumping for. Each day was heavily involved in administration and prep for the upcoming commissioning. Marines First Class Appledorn and Fini were practicing their pipe and drums in the Ship’s Boat each day, and somehow working into a harmony. Brand and Valdez were working to ensure that everyone’s uniform would be nearly perfect, and it seemed everyone was working well enough to ensure a quiet trip. 161 hours after jump, the ship precipitated out near Ceres.
            “Senors, OOD?” Brickley asked Chishan as they precipitated in to N-space.
            “I show nothing, sir. Contacting Ceresport now,” was the reply.
            “Very well. Keep the ship fixed relative to Ceres while we wait.”
            Shortly, a text only reply was received, it told them an asteroid 400,000 km ahead in the orbit was what they were authorized to target with all weapons. It had long been fitted with a couple of beacons for target practice with powered down lasers, and few missiles were authorized for expenditure on it. A short burn got them in position.
            “All hands, Man battle stations for space engagement,” followed a gong of an alarm, rousting everyone from their places. The crew hastily donned their light vacuum gear, to plug into stations. Brickley took his location at the aft end of the bridge. Zabiyah at the right, Hassan left. Father forward, Hall and Castillo buckled into remote directors for the lasers, with Chishan and Owen taking the missile mounts. Brand and her juniors were ready to go in engineering, donning hardsuits. The Marines were standing by in the cargo bay, ready to either board the boat or the G-carrier.
            “Sensors?” Brickley asked.
            “Clear,” came Hassan’s answer.
            “Wait, sir, I’m getting a jump emergence, range 50,000, bearing 358!” Hassan interrupts,
            “Transponder?” Brickley responds. Shifting gears, he calls down to Chishan, “Do we have any warshots?”
            “There’s twelve, sir. Three barrages per turret, and about 15 minutes for Owen and I to ready them by the book. We have to pull the telemetry”
I found this in my copy of the Traveller Book
Too good not to use.
            “Do it,” Brickley gives the implicit order. Calling to the boat, and Valdez, “We’ve got something. Get the Marines in the boat, and be ready to launch.”
            Before he could hear the reply, Hassan spoke up, “Sir, it’s the Free Trader Mudshark by the transponder. She’s Fenris registry.”
            “Ask them what happened to jump out here.”
            “Coming across now, they’re coming from Prometheus, and headed to Ceres with a cargo or robotic parts. Looks like a slight jump problem”
            “I’m sending the Marines over to ensure they’re legit, along with you as the boarding officer, XO. Draw a pistol on the way.”
            As Sub-Lieutenant Hassan and the Ship’s Boat made their way over to the Mudshark for a papers and quick inspection. As the boat came closer, they saw a battered, aging Empress Marava-type ship, with the exterior only showing a simple sigil. On the Starboard side, at the passenger deck, Afari expertly docked the boat. Checking the tell-tales, Sergeant Valdez told Hassan, “Sir, we’ve matched up and there’s nothing incorrect on the other side. Me and Appledorn’ll go first, then you. The squad’ll file in except for Corp and Franke, as the boat crew.”
            “Sounds like a plan, Sergeant. You heard him, we’re going.”
            The Captain of the Mudshark, a middle-aged man with the name “Thu” on his ship suit stand next to another in a cheap suit. Valdez and Appledorn step out to either side.
            “Captain Thu, isn’t it? Sub-Lieutenant Hassan, Imperial Navy, off the Patrol Cruiser Boxing Kangaroo. We’re going to conduct a brief inspection here, and ensure your ship’s safe.”
            “Not a problem, but I’ll be looking for a new astrogator soon. I like getting back to the wife and kids, here,” the Captain replies. “Mr Tazewell here is a robot seller, and is looking forward to getting to Ceres to sell his wares, while I get some ores to take home to Fenris.”
            “Thank you, Captain; Sergeant, start the inspection,” Hassan replied. “Are there any other passengers?”
            “Nope, only Oggie here. It’s me, my nephew running the plant, a cousin who’s the steward, and a couple of hired hands. A good one for my nephew, a horrible one whose Astrogating. Need to find a relative who can astrogate.” Thu claims as he thumps Tazewell on the back.
            “As the good captain introduced us, I’m Ogleston Tazewell at your service, my friend. I am a free-lance dealer in robotic parts. I sell Naasirka and Ling-Standard in the Sol and Dingir Subsectors.” Tazewell replies.
            “Right, did you get lishun?” Hassan asks.
            “Oh, free pratique, we cleared that at Prometheus. I’m sorry, you Imperials do prefer that term ‘lishun’.” Thus replies, and asks, “About how long will it take?”
            “Depends on if the Marines find anything. May I review your papers?”
            “Of course, you can. If you’d like, I can get Cousin Verda to get you something,” the Captian replies as he hands a data pad with the ship’s info on it to Hassan.
            “No thank you, Captain.”
            After his review of the papers, Hassan returns briefly to the ship’s boat, and informs the Kangaroo of the progress of the search. The gunners are all working to reinstall the telemetry packages on the missiles.
            After an hour docked to the Far Trader, Afari calls, “Message for you, sir.”
            Nodding in acknowledgement, Hassan answers, “Boxing Kangaroo, this is the boarding officer.”
“Boarding officer, Boxing Kanagroo. We got clearance back from Copernicus Down; this guy’s been check-mated, let him continue,” Zabiyah answers with near disinterest.
“Affirmative. I’ll get the Marines back here, and we can resume the shakedown. Boarding officer, over.” Hassan quietly walked back to the waiting Captain Thu.
“Sir, we regret the inconvenience, and you are free to carry on at this point,” Hassan states to him, offering a hand shake. “Once I call the Marines, we’ll get off your ship.”
“Of course, of course! At some point, I may have to bring the family along, on one last voyage. Many have not seen the wonders of Earth! I hope the other officers of the Imperial Navy turn out as professional as you!” Thu ebulliently responds, pulling the Sub-Lieutenant in awkwardly.
Stepping away, Hassan calls “Valdez, round everyone up. We’re letting this ship get on with her business.”
“Aye aye, sir,” Sergeant Valdez responds. “Marines! We’re clear.” The team is back aboard the boat with in a couple of minutes. “All present, sir.”
“Very well, Sergeant.” Hassan replies to the order. “Captain Thu, we’ll be clearing your airlock momentarily. Save travels as you shape your voyage home.”
“Of course! And the same to you.” Captain Thu replies, shutting the iris valve between him and the boat. Hassan walks through the air locks, cycling the boat’s as he head back to his seat just off the flight deck.
“Corporal, take us home.”
“Taking us home, aye,” Afari responds, in his Terran accent. The Marines are a bit more frantic than normal, seeing as were doing something rather than the nothingness of ship’s troops duties. Even a perpetually barely breaking even Far Trader with no interesting contraband is new compared to being locked into a starship with little to do. The trip back to the Boxing Kangaroo is uneventful, as is the docking. The Marines get to their post operation routine of equipment care as Hassan returns to the bridge.
            Strapping himself in, Hassan tells Brickley, “Just another fellow trying to make a credit. I think a robotics salesman had him chartered.”
            “I see,” the captain replied. “We’re getting back on schedule. I’m setting a modified battle stations here so the Marines can complete their work.”
            “Did it really relax?” Hassan asks rhetorically.
            “No sir,” came Zabiyah’s response.
            “Right then,” Hassan replied, as he keyed the mike and announced, “Naval personnel, man battle stations for weapons test.”
            The two junior gunners came up, and manned their stations forward of the bridge, setting them up to take the laser turrets. Chishan and his junior gunner reported the missile battery manned and ready, as did Brand in engineering.
            “Astrogator, range to target?” Brickley inquired
            “Open fire, Laser 1”
            “Laser 1, open fire, aye.” Spacehand Hall replied. Direct hit, and unaided.
            “Laser 2, open fire, with full fire control assist,” Brickley ordered.
            “Open fire with full fire control assist, aye,” Castillo, her counterpart at the other station acknowledged. Again, a direct hit, results similar to the first.
            The ship closed the range to 10,000 km off this rock, and repeated the procedure with the missile battery.  Chishan’s hit, as did Owen’s.
            The only thing left was the distance burn. All telemetry was sent to the Naval base at Theophilus on Luna. About a half hour later, the Kangaroo got her results back; pass in all regards, take the fifty-hour burn in back to Terra, and the ship and crew were accepted for commissioning. The impromptu boarding exercise would count for small craft operations.
            The return was uneventful, and Zabiyah stuck the landing at Alice Springs perfectly. A small crew was there to meet them, including Admiral Taugolo, informally congratulating them on a job well done. Next week would be the formal congratulations and commissioning.

Friday, July 14, 2017


Being the obsessive type I am, as well as having spent a portion of my life under one of these, here are the watchbills for the Patrol Cruiser Boxing Kangaroo. A watchbill can provide some useful 'chrome' for your campaign. It can tell you who is responsible for ship's operation at what time. Like having your players keep a log, this is another way of bringing it to life.

I set up a three section watchbill, and I assume six hours on and twelve hours off shifts, because that's what I saw most often. The Captain, as a matter of tradition, does not stand a set watch, but can relieve at any point he sees fit. 

Section I          Section II        Section III       Kick
OOD               Hassan             Zabiyah           Chishan          
Messenger       Castillo            Hall                 Owen                Afari*
Engineer          Maurer             Brand              Maurer             Franke*
Marine             Appledorn       Fini                  Hoedmaeker    Binici
*Corporal Afari and Marine Franke are standby on Boat Crew in N-space; in J-space they are to serve as above.
Sergeant Valdez and Marine Yap are on call at all times.

Section 1:        Hassan (CDO), Valdez, Zabiayah, Owen, Castillo, Maurer, Hoedmaeker, Binici
Section 2:        Brand (CDO), Chishan, Afari, Hall, Kidd, Appledorn, Fini, Franke
Marine Yap is on call at all times.

Watch Descriptions:
OOD: Officer of the Deck, is the on-watch pilot, and responsible for safe operation of the ship. All others are responsible to this person. In Jump, the OOD is merely the bridge systems manager and control manager, and has his eye on the Jump warning.
Messenger: Roving watch, reports to the Officer of the Deck on all matters. Checks to ensure other watch standers are doing their jobs alertly, and wakes oncoming personnel. This does including getting drinks for the rest of the watch team.
Engineer: Ensures safe operation of all engineering plant equipment during watch, and performs preventative maintenance during the watch.
Marine: responsible for the security of and condition of Marine Force equipment during the watch. May also be standing security watch on the missile magazine if any special weapons are on board, or stand guard over prisoners. Responsible to the Marine Detachment Non-commissioned Officer In Charge for Marine Force Matters, and to the Officer of the Deck for all shipboard matters.
Command Duty Officer: Responsible for the direction of an in-port duty section.
Kick: A supernumerary watch stander, this individual stands a specified watch period every day, allowing additional time for training, administration, or qualification for the others.

I tried to remove slang and excessive TLA use, but please tell me if you'd like any clarifications.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

What do You Mean it isn't Just a Liner: Armed Merchant Cruisers

By Source, Fair use, 
I recently re-read David Weber's Honor Harrington up to Honor Among Enemies, and I thought the idea of and use of Armed Merchant Cruisers in the Official Traveller Universe. Armed Merchant Cruisers are a type of auxiliary warship, converted from merchant ships. Generally, they would be equipped with older weapons, and feature limited fire control with no armor.

These ships come about because of commerce raiding as both the wolves and the sheepdogs around helpless merchants. The predatory ones, like the German Auxiliary Cruisers such as Von Luckner's SMS Seeadler. These ships operate under false flags, which are theoretically replaced with the real one to give the victim a chance to surrender. The other reason, like the ill-fated HMS Jervis Bay, are built to be readily available escorts and protection. Q-ships were a subset of these, smaller ships equipped to trap commerce raiders, submarines usually, with a hidden armament.

Thus, an Armed Merchant Cruiser exists because purpose built warships are for some reason unable to complete either commerce raiding or commerce protection and patrol duties. In some cases, you could find a peace time force of such auxiliary ships, especially in Navies looking to ensure a knowledge continuity in unusual craft, or as aggressors. A Naval Depot could include a few as part of it's defense and exercise force, or as part of a Convoy operations school that can be re-tasked in a time of war.

There is a couple of official designs for a Q-ship, also useful as an Armed Merchant Cruiser. First, in SJ Games Deckplan 3: Empress Marava-Class Far Trader, there's the Empress Arbellatara class variant, that replaces the cargo space with Rampart fighters. Another is provided on page 71 of Mongoose Publishing's Traders and Gunboats, based on the Type R "Fat Trader". These are both common enough designs a competent referee could set them on the players as a joker if the PC's have become a bit too ethically challenged. More may be in other books I do not own.

An Open Armed Merchant Cruiser would be operating as a Navy unit in all respects, squawking a Navy Transponder code, and operating as a normal patrol ship or as the escort for a convoy. In some ways, a converted merchant hull would make sense, as it would have similar performance to the ships it is escorting. On patrol operations, it could be set up for a longer duration operation (in-system performance).

The piratical LCDR Tom Dodge in "Down Periscope"
A Hidden Armed Merchant Cruiser would be looking more like a scruffy tramp or fat trader, and suckering in unsuspecting prey of a variety of sources. It wouldn't act Navy in any fashion, until it's too late for it's enemy to escape. In many ways, it's a completely legal pirate. It's a sucker punch like a System Defense Boat wing in the gas giant killing fuel skimmers.

Of course, these could be working together, where an open Armed Merchant Cruiser is 'escorting' a convoy of hidden ones, Most commerce raiders might consider turning tail when the entire convoy starts spitting nukes, and a large group of fighters are being launched.

In my view of the Official Traveller Universe, the Imperium is big and powerful, but just can't be everywhere. In many cases, local Dukes are unable to get the effective ships commerce protection, even in peace time, from the Imperial Navy, or else a world finds its commerce is under attack, and need mildly combatant starship of its own to ensure fewer merchants are lost. As I see it, the Imperium is more willing to give them Armed Merchant Cruisers than 'real warships', as they are not as emphatically Navy as a Patrol Cruiser, or a Destroyer. In some cases, along the lines of various other vessels navies have in war time, but prefer to get rid of as they are not part of the 'proper fleet' and offer opportunities for junior officers to show up their seniors. The subsectors and systems near the Vargr Extents (Coreward frontier of the Imperium) will have Armed Merchant Cruisers on their permanent Navy Lists, while those on the interior will normally see few if any.

Navies might not be the only operators of Armed Merchant Cruisers. A shipping line of type R's or A2's may buy an Armed Merchant Cruiser based on their fleet hull, as a way to ensure their cargoes get through. An mercenary Armed Merchant Cruiser could operate beyond the Imperium, supporting various small states against both pirates and rival small powers, particularly in the Extents.

In a campaign, an Armed Merchant Cruiser would be a different way to run a war, and to keep it at the players scale. A group of middle aged spacers looking to get out of a boring retirement would be a very skilled crew for one. Former Navy and Scouts would be the crew, boarding parties for Marine and Army characters, a Merchant type would add believably to the ruse of being a trader. Reformed pirate types would be useful as well; for understanding the piratical mindset better than some stuffy Navy type. Encounters would help the referee determine the course of the war. Successes help move the front along, but failures lead to losing the war. It can also be a mechanism to draft the party into the Navy, "Since you have been successful in this, we're promoting you, and sending you to a new cruiser," could be the response they get from success. It helps keep it at the Adventure Class ships level, where it's all smaller ships, and the PC's make the important decisions. The fleet units are escorting the Megafreighters, while the small Armed Merchant Cruisers are stuck herding cats forming Free Traders into a convoy.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Events of 202-1119

            Sixty odd days of office work and trainers had them all at a head it seemed. The crew involved with was some industrial work every day at this point, but it seemed to involve little of Lt. Brickley’s time. He had been there for keel laying, when the first module of the ship was assembled. The secondary berthing compartment was attached to the frame for the cargo bay and the hangars that day, and construction had continued at a decent pace. At this point, the main physical structure of the ship was mostly there, only the beak-like nose containing the sensors, the fuel tank wings, and the missile magazine and turrets had not been attached. Many of the compartments were unfinished as well, and the power plant had yet to be installed. Brickley had made it a point to go there every day; but far too often (to him) it seemed his day wouldn’t let him get there. Brand, Chishan, and Zabiyah were mostly his on-site supervisors, with Hassan getting down there for most days. The two spacers who had been assisting them when Hassan and Brickley moved into the office, Able Spacehand Hall, and Fireman Kidd, had turned out well enough so far. Two more were coming in “Soon” according to command, but that could mean tomorrow or a month from now. The Marines, as well, were coming in time to be determined.
            Days not involved in construction often had involved time in trainers, and meetings. Trainers, though unpleasant, as they had several near mishaps in various scenarios, but each one changed as to what was incorrect, at least got the crew together as a team. That paled next to the fallout from the ongoing Spyridion Affair.
            Earlier this year, several officers had defected from the Solomani Confederation, the most senior of which was Alexander Spyridion. Shortly after his defection, he announced he was going on a speaking tour of the Imperial regions closest to the armistice line. He had been given sanctuary along with many of the other officers. Just over a month ago, an extradition request had been denied. Thus, the base was on ‘enhanced security measures’ for a long time, but the lack of people under his command meant instead it was just a security pain in the ass for that period.
Aboriginal Welcoming Dance
            This evening had a sizable community festival in Alice Springs. In addition to the regular sorts of events, there would be a group of ‘traditional Aborginal Australian performers’ from the Authentic Movement showing dances that originated from this part of Terra, when it was still at the AAB’s Tech Level 2 or 3. Quite possibly some of them would be incorrect, but it would still be an entertaining.
            That evening, during the festival, Brickley and Chishan notice something is wrong with one area of this plaza. The little shack containing rest rooms and utility connections for some of the vendors when the desert allows for a market, looks like there’s some extra space that’s unaccounted for. It’s a simple task for the crew to open this up, and it turns out there’s a manhole cover in here. It looks to be untouched in quite a long time, and preserved almost immaculately by being out of the weather in the desert.
            After opening it and descending two meters, it comes out to a narrow stairway. Using a couple of flashlights, standard issue to spacers on liberty, they find their way into a door with the Solomani cross as a small symbol, and the notation “PHX ALICE SPRINGS BN” on it. Brand gasps, “How could something like this survive? It’s from the Solomani Phoenix Project that was wiped out.”
            “You should know as well as anyone,” Hassan interjects, “The Army and Marines maybe good, but they aren’t perfect. I’m just surprised it’s lasted this close to the Base and all. Since we’re not on the clock, what does everyone want to do?”
            The crew discusses, and it ends up they all want to look into the bunker. The doors somewhat like an unpowered starship hatch, and despite the century of neglect, they open it. It opens into another short stairway, that comes down to a landing. Ahead is one door, and to the right is another. The door ahead is visibly locked, but the one to the right is not. It contains a couple of desks, and spots for a computer table. Upon investigation, a key is found, and can open up the rest of the bunker. The group finds the main bunker still has lighting power. The first door is a medical space.
Based on a plan from
            “Wow, Rim War era med supplies, even an Auto Doc. With this crap, I’m surprised the Sollies didn’t put up more of a fight.” Zabiyah notes looking in there.
            “I don’t trust any of this equipment, it’s too old,” Chishan notes, “Let’s keep going.”
            A little farther down the hall is a supply closet on one side, that includes a diagram of the bunker.
            “Cryo chambers for some kind of staff?” Brand notes, “we need to get this back to NavInt immediately.”
            “But maybe there’s more gear here. A souvenir might be useful,” Zabiyah notes.
            “Note sure there is much use for one from this place,” Chishan replies grumpily. “Hundred-year-old Sollie crap, and you can get stuff that hasn’t been sitting in a desert bunker without risking your life.”
            “Enough from both of you,” Hassan snaps. “We don’t need to make many other decisions. Let’s at least take a look around here briefly.”
            “Right. Exec, we’ll take a look at the comms and stores first. I want to make sure there’s nothing lethal in either before we call in the Provost Marshal and other people like him.” Brickley decides. They take the left turn up past the comms room, noting the dusty mounting brackets, and see the sealed off cell for a prisoner. The Equipment room holds a few tools and supplies for building maintenance and manuals for the power system.
            “All this way for a janitor’s closet. They even have a Cadillac.” Zabiyah states dismissively after looking in.
            “Who asked for your opinion? The whole thing’s impressive if anything still works.” Brand retorts. “Part of me wants to take a look at the unmanned plant.”
            “We’re going to take a look at the main stores around the armory next. Exec, you Zabiyah and Chishan stay down, while-” Brickley starts to speak
            “A great plan except there’s still a Solomani alive! Long live the Cause and free Terra!” an unfamiliar voice shouts, and cocks an autopistol. He rushes out from the door at end of the dog leg, wearing an old style Solomani uniform with a nametape that reads “Kaufmann”. He wears a Phoenix perched on the Solomani cross as an insiginia.
            “Hold on, Private. We aren’t here to-“ Brickley begins as they turn around as a group. Brickley and Hassan are at the end closest the newcomer, Brand in the middle, with Chishan and Zabiyah at the far end.
            “Enough lies to Imperial Scum! I ought to put a round through all of your brains! Reach for the sky!” the man rants, his face contorted.
            Brand states, “You look odd. You know how long you’ve been frozen? I think something might have affected you in cold sleep.”
            “Silence!” he yells as he points his pistol at her. “Maybe I should shoot you first!”
            “Do you want to get back to the Confederation?” Hassan asks.
            “And leave Mother Terra in the hands of mix breeds from the Core like you?” Kaufmann replies, shifting his aim to Hassan. “I volunteered for this because when the War began, I found a purpose in the Army. And this way, I can hit the Imperium back harder.”
            “You know, the Imperium will hear if that thing goes off. Alice is the Navy’s town” Brickley replies, trying to de-escalate the situation.
            “Like I care. I just have to send a signal and Phoenix initiates,” Kaufmann replies, his eyes gleaming with madness. “Codeword Omega, and the war starts again”
The enslisted trio flee into the equipment space, and get out of the way while the officers charge in. Brickley misses his attack, while Hassan manages to grapple and disarm the Solomani soldier. Brickley moves to pick up the dropped pistol, noting the safety is still on, as Hassan and the trooper are still wrestling. Hassan manages to knock him prone.
            Holding the recovered pistol, Brickley, steps up, and places a foot on the man’s chest, pointing the pistol in a threatening fashion. “Listen, you’re coming with us, and there will be no grand success in retaking Terra by the Confederation,” he announces almost theatrically. “Come on out, he’s down.”
            After the trio get out, Hassan and Zabiyah work with him to conduct an improvised binding with a couple of zip-ties they found in the equipment closet.
            “Exec, Boats, you two with me. Eng and Guns, take a look and ensure there’s nobody else to surprise us.”
            With defeat obvious in his voice, Kaufmann bitterly states, “There’s nobody else. We were supposed to be a HQ section, and all the other lows berths didn’t revive properly.” The crew shuffles him out. Once out, the Marine MP’s arrive quickly to cordon off and investigate the bunker. It quickly becomes apparent that Kaufmann is going to spent a long time talking to various Imperial Intelligence services, before he is repatriated back via Smade’s Planet. They spend a few days getting debriefed about the whole affair.

Esperance/Solomani Rim                  147-1120

Count Willem Salacrou has arrived on Esperance to begin a round of mediation involving both Imperial and local officials.

"This is shuttle diplomacy," the Count said during a press conference at the starport. "War on Esperance would benefit no one, not the Imperium and not the Human or Vegan citizens of the planet. If I can help defuse the situation, all the better."

Dimmurak/Solomani Rim                  150-1120
Planetary elections have yielded a razor-thin majority for the pro-Imperial Iishadun Party, along with a great deal of election-day violence and widespread accusations of vote fraud.

Cheng Golok of the Interstellar Brotherhood of Labor stated that "if the Iishadun and their megacorporate sponsors think that they can steal this election, they are sadly mistaken. Under the Dimmurak constitution, the IBL and the People's Party demand a recount, to be monitored by neutral observers."

Late this evening, the Citizen’s Advisory Council issued a statement agreeing to the IBL demand, announcing that officials of the Imperial Ministry of Justice would be invited to oversee a recount and (if need be) a run-off election.