Showing posts with label Traveller. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Traveller. Show all posts

Monday, June 14, 2021

Science Phenomena to Pump Up Game Play


I am always a big fan of have realistic details of what is happening around my players to bring them into whatever world they are in. Each of these items are based on real world technologies and phenomena. 

Real lasers are silent unless they hit something. but the power supplies are not. They can sound like a hammer on a metal garbage can. This applies to medical lasers. Talk about making a trip to the auto-doc scary. 

Cutting and etching lasers are also loud, but more like a leaf blower because the beam is close to continuous. Again, it is the power supply and the drive required to move it around is making the sound. This also ties into fashion. Characters messing with realistic lasers should always have goggles. If the tech level is high enough protective contact lenses would work nicely, too. 

Sun Outages can drive plot points. When a satellite delivering information to a ground station passes in front of the sun the information gets garbled. The ground station loses it's connection because the sun is such a powerful source of radiation. In the real world this happens to cable TV satellites in the spring and fall. This is a consequence of their orbit's aligning Earth's tilt. For a week or so, the satellite's signal is garbled for about 10 minutes at a time. It can be described as sparkles, pixelated or fuzzy pictures, picture freezing, audio distortions, or even a total loss of the channel. 

Since these satellites are in high Earth orbit it only happens once a day. If the satellite was in a lower orbit, it would happen several times a day based on the period of the orbit. This is great for plots involving a bit of mystery on a semi-regular basis, say every 40 minutes but the duration would be much lower, like a few seconds. 

Vacuum cementing is another phenomena that can either stymie players or give them a power stunt. Two pieces of material will stick together in a hard vacuum as if welded or cemented together just by touching them together. This is a good way to force repairs using little used skills to free moving parts. Alternatively, it can be used to add protective surfaces to objects to prevent or repair damage with little or no skill and can use junk as a resource. Astronauts on the moon noticed this happened even to dust. 


By the way, lunar dust smells like spent gunpowder or cooked meat, which can be an interesting detail to freak out the players. Why this smell (and taste) occurs is mystery today. It is transient. Lunar dust doesn't smell like anything on Earth. It could be the release of charged particles or a quick, short term chemical reaction with water or oxygen. No one knows how or why it happens.  

I call another trick "Zinc-Clink". Zinc oxide sensors are used to measure the amount of oxygen around a sensor. If a sensor system gets some other material on it, say soot, it will believe there is no oxygen in the area and refuse to open the door. Again, players will have to resort to little used or differently used skills to fix the problem. Say Vacc-suit or electronics. It's a handy way to slow the action down or pump up the drama because a hatch or door is misbehaving. 

In space missions these zinc oxide sensors are used to detect damaging oxygen around the sensor, which is counter intuitive. Oxygen in space is bad for some equipment. 

I am also a fan of the idea of the Decadal Survey to land really sophisticated machinery in a small nook in the ship. In real life, the Decadal Survey is conducted once every 10 years and asks scientists to come up with very broad science questions to research. In ship terms, these research projects could place new sensors, small power supplies and/or radios which are separate from the ship's normal operations. Think of it as an emergency lifeline for strange happenings on the ship. The crew would be versed in maintenance functions, so the equipment which is somewhat a "black box" would understandable to the crew. 

One of the more interesting types of research could be atmospheric aerosol tracking, which could enable a ship to use an alternative method to track other ships. GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) was a mission to look for gravitational anomalies (dense, heavy items) on the Earth's surface. In a sci-fi setting, it could locate shipwrecks, crashes and other hidden items under the surface of a planet while also creating great maps. 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

To Traveller or Not to Traveller

I've got my hands full. A moment ago, I had $100 Amazon gift card. Now I have a reading list.


I've shared both Rick Wayne's series before and Mike and Shell "Presto" DeBaggio's books before. Probably a couple of times. Generally, I have a plan. 

What do these two series have to do with one another? 

My winter posting series will be about superhero games, Marvel Superheroes to be exact. I'll be reviewing all three series of books as they have inspired me to select this topic for my winter post series.  

Today, I'd like to talk about H. M. Hoover's books. Helen Mary Hoover (1935 to 2018) was an American children's writer. 

Or was she? 

I'm not a child and I enjoy these books. The Delkon is my favorite. They are slightly more mature than C. S. Lewis or Tolkien. And many of them are science fiction themed. It occurs to me that many would make a excellent setting for the Traveller ruleset. 

Why? 

Because as "children books" they don't have much violence. The potential is there but it never seems to get that bad. Which is great when you're using Traveller rules. 

Gunfire is deadly... very deadly. I think this is my hangup with the ruleset and since I would like to learn to play, I need to learn "To Violence Or Not To Violence". I didn't think of that, I totally stole it from SAFCOcast. Episode 23 to exact. I've listened to this one episode like 3 times and the more I listen, the more I think H. M. Hoover's settings would be perfect for the Traveller game system. 

The tech is there. The potentiality of a quick and final end when violencing is there. The not so obvious or completely obvious solution is there. It's built into the atmosphere of the setting. Ms, Hoover does an excellent job of hiding whether or not the solution is going to be the tricky one or the obvious one.  

Traveller has a very different science fiction atmosphere than what I am used to participating in. It seems to live in that space between tricky and obvious, with violence leading to just one of many obvious solutions. Other obvious solutions is tailoring responses to skills and talents of the players. It places far more emphasis on all of the skills available rather than just the ones that give immediate results. 

As I amble my way down to Traveller way, I'm gonna read a few books before I give it another try. 

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Pluses and Minuses, Pools and Podcast

In Star Smuggler, characters make to hit rolls. They have to roll over a certain number which is varible with 2 dice. Although the rules do not say it, the character receives one die for skill and one die for the quality of their weapon. The rules establish that if you have no skill with a weapon, you can't make a to hit roll. However, theoretically, if you ignored that rule you could have an unskilled character blasting away with a very, very low probability of hitting. 

For starship and boat weapons, the roll is different. You need to roll 1 or 2 to hit. A pair or more of ones indicates a critical. The player receives a 1d6 per roll based on the tech level of their weapon, up to a maximum of 6d6. 

In other parts of the game, there is a standard roll of 1d6 or 2d6, where the character can have pluses and minuses modify the roll. The roll is usually used to determine what of 6 or 12 things happen next not how good you are doing. The evaluation of "good" or "bad" happens as a result of reading a paragraph or two describing an event. Getting in a fight is supposed to be bad, but if you have large party of characters that idea is flipped on it's head because the player can dominate the battlefield. Getting a cool new item is supposed to be good, but if you don't have room for it, it's useless. 

The D&D player in me only noticed the standard roll of 1d6 or 2d6 with modifiers and could not conceptualize why giving modifiers to weapons fire does not work. I know, I've tried. It's because those rolls are from a dice pool, a concept that is totally foreign to me.  

This is a case of knowing your rule sets and having a great background in games, mechanics and theory helps a lot. I am all about D&D while I find Traveller to be entirely opaque. Traveller fascinates me because I can't figure out how the game master and players use the game mechanics to make great things happen. I've heard of people playing one Traveller campaign for decades, as I have been doing with Star Smuggler. The basic mechanics make that happen. 

In D&D, my campaigns fizzle after a few weeks or months because the characters reach a point where the truly fantastic has to happen over and over each session to make the game go. The rules lose their gritty danger as the characters improve. That's baked right into D&D while Traveller has a totally different mindset where it's not likely that your character will mechanically improve at all. They get better and smarter, but everyone is still one blaster shot away from death. It's the psychological threat level that changes, not the characters abilities. It's all in the scope of the story. 

This is probably the reason why I've been listening to Safco Cast so much. I am sure most listeners are looking to Jeff Koenig and Bob Loftin Traveller experiences, I am listening for their Gaming experience. It's this whole "new" world of Traveller that fascinates me not for the world itself, but the whole mechanical framework that makes the play happen. In the last episode I listened to, they spoke all about dice pools and it really sorted out some issues I had with Star Smuggler because of my personal experience with D&D. Bob and Jeff are truly enlightening, because of the way they present the Traveller rules while also looking other systems like Cepheus and make great comparisons in how things are done. 

Amazing. Why don't you give them a try? 



Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Star Smuggler... again... and again

Ok, in my last post I created a new ship for Star Smuggler, creatively called "The Antelope II". It's twice as big as the original. 

Crewing the ship will be a problem as will generating weekly funds to pay for it. In order to dance around these issues, I decided to create a new mechanic for Duke Springer. Duke has a statistic no other character has, Cunning. When playing, you roll 1d6 to generate this value. When replaying the game, it is suggest that you reduce this number if the game was too easy and increase it if the game was too hard. 

Since the game already allows a changing value for this Cunning mechanic, I want to use it to rapidly add crewmen. Duke can "purchase" one crewman for a point of Cunning. He cannot spend all of his Cunning on this, he must have at least one Cunning point. 

The available options are all of the retainer types from e062 to e069. The player simply chooses the one(s) he wants, include the Driver who normally won't travel outside of his or her system. In this case, he or she would. Where there is a choice of two, such as gunners or bodyguards, Duke picks the better of them.

Stats are generated just like retainers, but crewmen are different than retainers. Each crewman has a stake in the ship as opposed to drawing a salary. When items more than 100 secs are sold, they take a 1% cut. They keep this money for themselves to buy goods or save, as they see fit. The crewmen can operate independently and can be separated from the ship and/or Duke to perform their jobs. 

Additionally, they purchase their stake in the ship from Duke. When these characters are initially created, they have 1d6+150 secs. which they pay half to Duke for a stake in the ship.
If Duke is killed, one of them takes over his role. 

EDIT 1 - I tried that part and it was too difficult. I have changed it. Each crew generates their starting money and it is pooled. This pool is divided by the following formula: (pool/number of characters+2). Each person has a "stake" in the ship now, but the ship has two stakes. If the characters had 1000 secs. and there were 3 characters, each stake would be the 1000/5=200. Each character has 200 secs. while the ship has 400. The 400 secs. for the ship's stake is what is used to purchase goods for the ship. If a character purchases personal equipment, not for the ship, it comes out of their personal money. 

When items are sold, the funds are also divided up in this fashion, too. The sale of 100 secs. worth of goods would net each player 20 secs. and the ship would take twice that amount, 40 secs. This makes it much harder to generate funds for the weekly payments, but that is the cost of doing business. Save early, save often. 

To pay the 300 secs for the loan, players would have to make at least 1500 secs. a week. If the funds aren't there, all characters will kick in money from their personal savings. It's that or be hunted as a loan jumper. 

If new characters are added, recalculate the cost of each stake by adding the new character to the original formula. This means you need to write the formula down the first time you use it. The new character will then pay that amount to the ship's account to become a crew member. If a crewman dies, nothing much happens. When the sale of good occur, use the new number of crew in the formula. Yes, getting your crew killed will make more money for the survivors. It happens. 

As an added twist, these crewmen also have a Cunning skill. It is 1d6-2, with a minimum of 1. Like Duke, they can use this stat to bring on new crewmen at a later date. This creates the scenario where Duke probably isn't the most cunning person on the ship. As a consequence, if Duke enters a scenario where a cunning roll is needed, the roll is made by the character with highest Cunning present. If Duke desires to do something dangerous, he must accompany that person and pays the price of a failed roll himself.

EDIT 2 - This part didn't make sense. Duke can't decide for another crewman, he can't force them to be savvy. 

Something like Mal and Zoe's relationship where Mal has an idea and Zoe does the tricky work of getting the details right. It also covers a situation like when Simon hired the crew for a heist or when Mal brought Simon (and River) on as crew after they had started their adventures. 

EDIT 3 - The comparison doesn't make much sense now. 

I haven't even begun to categorize the rules and event changes this would require. But it seems rather workable. What do you think? Let me know in the comments. 

Star Smuggler... Again

I unexpectedly have the day off and want to revisit the Star Smuggler Universe. The temptation to reskin the characters as the crew of the Firefly is incredible, but that would take a lot of work. I am stealing some ideas, but not Firefly whole clothe. I have decided to interject some ideas from Traveller into this run through, too.

My understanding of Traveller is super weak, so I am taking some of the larger concepts and ignoring many mechanics. The main idea that I am stealing is weapon mounts are dependent on hull size. I have created a large ship, which I will dub the Antelope II and it's twice as big as a 100 ton ship.

The original Antelope was 100 ton ship with space to carry about 134 CU of goods. Sort of. I seem to get a different number depending on how I count. The Antelope II is 200 ton vessel and has 212 CU of space. That is a multiplier of 1.58 for those keeping score at home. 

Since this is Inktober, I wanted to keep the high contrast drawn vibe from the original game. I used GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) to create a new deckplan, staying as close to the original art as I could. It isn't exactly "ink" but it sort of looks like it. 


As you can see from this schematic, I have stolen a bunch of ideas from Firefly. The ship has space for two hoppers, a medical area and weapons hold. The crew area is much larger than the Antelope, holding 6 rooms or enough room for 32 CU of people. Unlike Firefly and the Antelope I, it has two gun mounts and no secret areas. The 60 CU cargo hold is of center as it was in the original design, but this ship has a second 40-CU hold fore of the main hold and bay. It can hold a second hopper, but that is not a standard option so play begins with just one. 

This ship would require a few of modifications of the rules, which I have not formally written up yet. It looks like I would have to rewrite 3 events and 3 rules: e001, e036, e157.4, r237, r229d and r217. The events cover your first day with the ship, e036 covers buying a new ship and e157.4 references the medical regrowth tank. The rules modified are r217 for starship damage, r229d for search locations and r237 for critical hit locations. In respect to hits and search locations, the only completely new things are the medical space and weapons hold. 

The medical space is simply an area large enough for several characters and the medic could hang out in there. It would count as quarters for searches and would be immune to criticals as it's a vault in the center of the ship. The weapons hold would be searched on cargo hold results and would share the immunity to criticals for the same reason as medical does. The medical space is somewhat like a turret as it has enough room for the 4 CU regrowth tank plus a medic and one patient. The regrowth tank is not a standard option, so the player would have to find one. As far as the extra crew quarters and hold, I would have each of them hit on a 50-50 chance. I think I thought of everything, but I will have to do a play through to be sure. 

Since we are talking about a ship 1.58 times bigger, I figure multiplying everything by that will give me good cost stats. The cost is 190,000 secs with an interest payment of 475 a week. All of these values are simply the original ship's stats multiplied and rounded up. At that price point, the player would get two sets of tech 1 guns and one hopper and 16 hits. 

The overly large size will create crewing problems. I'll look at that in my next post. 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Travel Ship Construction - Devil Fish Warship

I dug out my set of Traveller rules. They seem to be a combination of the Classic Traveller quick start rules and some portion of the original Traveller rules. The person who gave them to me made photo copies of the original rule set, but didn't staple them so it's a mess. 

Instead of creating a characters, I went right to the ship construction rules. I like them. They make ship construction fun and easy. I came up with an idea and was able to spec it out in short order. 


This is an old warship refitted for cargo duties. It's a "Devil Fish" class ship. The rules allowed me to have a really out there design which made sense on a couple of levels AND the whole process lends itself to quick memorization of statistics. 

Tonnage: 400 tons
Crew: 5
Main Compartment: 335 tons, Engineering: 65 tons. 
Bridge: 20 tons
Staterooms: 5
Jump Drive: C
Maneuver Drive: J
Power Planet: J
Computer: 4 (Launch, Target, Jump 1, Maneuver/Evade, Library, Navigation, Generate, ECM.) 
Fuel: 120 tons.

Standard Equipment: Laser Turret (1), Lifeboat, One empty hardpoint. 

Non-standard Equipment: Nuclear Missiles (10) on two hardpoints. 

Even while deviating from the standard rules by adding nuclear missiles, the system works. It even hints at why this ship would survive a couple of wars before being refitted as freighter. 

The ship has just enough fuel to make two jumps and maneuver. It's a hotrod with those J type power plants and engines. However, the fuel load is worrisome. You have one jump to the target, one to return home and a good amount of fuel to maneuver. However, if any thing goes wrong it probably can't complete it's mission. Contaminated fuel, a hit to the fuel tank or a bad jump and the ship doesn't hit the target or doesn't come home. 

This ship is a dream to fly, but not the best warship. Given that it's supposed to bomb the snot out of planets, it's not the first ship selected for a mission. The Devil Fish is a nuclear deterrent ship which could be displayed and flown but not used before it outlived it's usefulness. 

Later, I'll be looking at the civilian freighter version and talk about mechanics. 

Monday, August 31, 2020

Devil Fish Freighter - Background Information and Crew Notes


Yet, another ship, this time based on the 1977 Traveller rule set. This is a 400 ton freighter. The Devil Fish is a converted warship. As a warship, it was horrible. It was meant for planetary bombardment, but it lacked the fuel pods shown on this refit. It had just enough fuel for 2 jumps and 2 hours of operations. You could end up trapped in a system you just bombarded. None of these ships saw combat, thankfully. 

This freighter version is outfitted with larger fuel tanks which is slightly more practical. The two long beams are where the missiles used to be. In the refit, these long tubes were simply sealed up. The crew calls them "Industrial Accident Site, Port and Starboard", because they lack the funds to put anything in there. It's a long open chamber, completely devoid of any safety features. There is a brass sign with the names of 5 crew members who have been killed and a longer list of names of people merely injured. 

While creating the files for this ship, I made a typo that made me think of an interesting crew feature.

The current crew likes to gamble and won big at the table. It turns out the other gambler didn't actually have all of the funds to support his bet. In lieu of cash, he had a guy who could get the crew name plates for the ship, matching leather jackets and jumpsuits plus some extra patches, complete with names and logos for the ship.

Unfortunately, the crew thought he was faking an accent but he wasn't. Instead of logos with a manta ray logo and the name "The Devil Fish" they got a green devil's head and the word "Devilish". 


Since the ship is registered as "The Devil Fish", mistakes have been made in the crew's favor. Such as escaping security and not paying for goods loaded on board. The name plates are visible only when the airlocks are closed. They objected at first, but once they realized what was happening, the merely hate these details with a passion. It doesn't stop them from using them to run hustles and scams.  

It's such a strange detail, it sounds like it could actually happen. 

Edited - to add the Military variant, with no tanks. 



Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Episode 002 - I Chose Poorly and De Ut Des

This episode has a format change base on feedback I've received. I have a new sponsor, Anchor.FM and the format now supports the concept of sponsors. I also have some new music so let's all give thanks to Kevin MacLeod at incompetech.com for the following tracks:

Evening Fall (Piano) and
Starry
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

In this episode, I reminisce about 4 games: D&D, Star Frontiers, Gemstone IV and Traveller.  I cover 35+ years of gaming experiences in one podcast. Part of the reason I have been offline for so long was a mash up of getting my lesson plans online for students, my classes at Buffalo State suddenly switching to an online format and the associate PITA from taking finals online.

I hope this format works better than Episode 001 and 000's. It was a pain to record, mostly owing to my new Podcat, Shinobu. She's cute even as she climbs the cables.

Now on to the episode!






Thursday, January 16, 2020

Playing with Inkscape and an Orion Type Ship

If I could make my own universe, I'd probably run with something like Traveller. However, the ships I have in mind are sort of WTF level.

This is an Orion Type ship. I'm tinkering with Inkscape and coming up with ship designs. This one is a Bixby class exploration ship. The difference between battleship and explorer is slight with an Orion class ship.

Typical models are 10 meters across and about a hundred meters long. The long spar from the base to the top is where the payload goes, which I haven drawn yet. The whole ship is over 600 meters long.

Orions don't scale down, period. 10 by 100 meters is an arbitrary limit that one hits if you merely want to fill a spaceship with niceties like a 50-100 kg barber chair just because you might want one.


Typical Orion type ships have HUNDREDS of kiloton nuclear devices used to push the ship forward. This one probably has thousands. The grey area above the orange is the magazine for these propulsion devices. Often, the nuclear device will be deployed by a gun like mechanism through a hole in the pusher plate. That is option 1.

Option 2 is to have the nuclear device mounted on a missile that flies out the sides of the ship and to the target area 30 meters behind the pusher plate. The delivery rate is a leisurely 1 device per 1.1 seconds and one launcher would have the ability to perform this task. However, this ramped up version has 16 launchers, each one capable of launching nukes once a second, plus the gun-like arrangement at the bottom.

Theoretically, this is an unarmed ship. You can read a story about it in action here. The tech level in this story is all over the place, no FTL, but lots of AIs and reefer sleep. The AI is beginning to think about arming itself.


Monday, November 12, 2018

I Just Can't Stop...

I just can't stop.

While organizing my desk, I happened upon a book by Robert Pearce. It is an incredible set of ship plans for Traveller. Sure, it says "Traveller", but it could be used for any game system. The detail and scope is amazing. It is campaign fuel for sure.

 Why not take a look yourself.

I know I will be pouring over this book for days to come. For some odd reason, it isn't even for sale. It's free.

Damn. A mighty big thanks to you Mr. Pearce, you made my day.