Monday, July 14, 2008

Thinking About Drugs

I've often ignored drugs in Traveller, and I don't know why: drugs & Psionics both. I'm going to give a good shot at integrating them both MTU and finally get a handle on them.

For one, I want to look at my subsectors and see where Anagathics can come from; then I want to figure from there where the can/will be used; then I want to figure out how they'd affect various worlds.

There's one world I've got my eye on which would be a garden planet if its government were not the charismatic dictatorship it is - also, the TL of 1 tells me something weird is going on to prevent the world from developing. Minimal tech is being imported: a large population using roman-era tech is fanatically devoted to a single ruler. Why the stagnation?

I don't use IISS interdiction lightly; and the world doesn't seem to be the sort of place the Festrian Navy would blockade.

What I am leaning towards is this: The world is a source of VALUABLE RESOURCE X which occurs on the world in abundance. A merchant combine has negotiated an exclusive trade agreement with the dictator: no other merchants can cut in, and indeed, the combine's fleet has become the world's de facto navy. Competing merchant vessels, even if they somehow thread the blockade, cannot gain embassy with the dictator. The secret? The combine provides a steady, reliable supply of anagathics for the dictator in return for a monopoly on trade.

ProtoTraveller Robots

Looking at LBB123, they don't really show up, do they? I need to look at the book 3 tech tables again to see what references are there - but the core of the game gives little in the way of guidance - so I'm pretty free to do just what I want.

Robots should certainly be no less plentiful than they are today - industrial applications abound. Androids, though, will be vanishingly scarce. Even 'droids as envisioned in Star Wars will be few and far between.

In the worlds settled by humans during the Old Empire (that is, all known human space) , there is a deep and abiding unwillingness to creating true AI - there is almost universal revulsion with the idea. It is certainly possible, at the higher techs, to create completely sentient, independent AI - but the thought of actually doing so inspires horror almost everywhere.

Dumbots are ubiquitous on many worlds; often, worlds of high tech but low population are heavily automated. Better starports have robots to assist with loading and unloading. But these robots, in virtually every case, are under human supervision and control.

Among spacers, the robot taboo is particularly strong; there is an acceptance that there are proper roles for 'bots - menial positions that humans do not wish to fill. But the thought of giving a robot control over a human in terms of medicine, or any key role on a starship - engineer, navigator, or- Great Space! - piloting - inspires deep, existential terror.

This also goes for the military. Drones are virtually all remote-controlled; there are fairly intelligent mines and missiles, but there is a great unwillingness to create or unleash war-bots capable of independent operations.

The prejudice against A.I. surpasses even that against Psionicists in some circles; slavery is almost more acceptable - although morally abhorrent (on most worlds) human slaves are generally considered less likely to turn on the species as a whole. Robot-fear is not new - there are no recent events anyone can point to to say why humans feel this way about machines. A common, indeed ancient trope in fiction is the psionic-scientist-villain who unleashes his robotic minions to prey upon the innocent; such stories virtually all result in the robots turning on their master, and then developing into self-replicating machine plague which the hero of the story - often a scout - must then defeat.

One of the oldest of these - The Lay of The Five Suns - is an elegiac poem describing the last journey of a starship - The Five Suns. The ship, an exploratory trade vessel, visits a world whose leader satisfies all his needs with a great army of servants, which prove to be robotic. Realizing his secret has been discovered, the villain attempts to murder the crew and capture the ship. The captain escapes with his ship having lost most of his crew; he jumps back towards civilization. But robots have stowed away, and begin to take over the ship. The captain proves cowardly - his name, in fact, is Craven - and he abandons ship, with all but one of his surviving crew. The hero, a lowly deck hand, realizes that the robots in command of a jump vessel would spread and become a menace to all humanity. To prevent this, he refuses to follow Captain Craven. He holds the bridge against the teeming robot horde, and flies the ship into a gas giant, sacrificing himself to save humanity.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More on Trade in The Festrian Frontier

IN the Festrian Empire, and in some of the clusters around it, there's enough good ports that commercial spec ships can make a good, safe living - indeed, if you're wealthy enough to handle the down payment on a starship, you can become tremendously wealthy with very little risk.

Many clusters in the frontier subsectors are not like that. One in particular I have in mind has an A and a B port, but they are three parsecs apart; the rest of the worlds in the cluster are all C or D class worlds, most of which are non industrial - I don't recall the tech distribution overall, but the A port can't produce any ship better than tech 9.

So we have a situation where there's a group of worlds which, while survivable, are only barely self-sufficient. I'd reckon that without trade between them, these worlds would be at serious risk - so there's demand for merchant activity.

But that's a tough proposition. The way I've been thinking of house-ruling milspec-scout spec, Festerian milspec quality ships can't be produced until Tech 13.

So any Free Trader plying a cluster like this would do so at risk of drive failure and misjump on half of its jumps, assuming it just did milk-runs back and forth from the A or B port worlds. Let's see: 1 in 36 rolls is a 12, so if I understand the probabilities correctly, if half of these jumps are subject to use of unrefined fuel, that's 1 in 72 jumps where there might be a misjump.

While there can certainly be enough profit in spec trade that someone might take the occasional deadly risk, I don't think someone would deliberately Dice with the Deep every other jump if they could reduce the risk some way.

So, meh. Either ships have to have double-jump fuel tankage so they can at least do two successive jumps on refined fuel, or I suck it up and use some sort of fuel purification plant (I can use high guard as a model, there; the smallest TL 9 plant is 9 tons, IIRC; not expensive in credits, really, and not as bad a hit as doubling your jump tankage. )

A Frontier Trader version of the type A, then, might either carry 50 tons of fuel at the expense of 20 tons of cargo, or I can go with the fuel plants and sacrifice 9 tons of cargo. The plant would end up paying for itself pretty quickly.

But I don't want to bring HG into this thing, so:

For the cluster in question - and perhaps elsewhere in similar regions - the standard vessels should typically carry about twice the jump fuel that the LBB2 standard ships do, in order to extend the effective "safe" range of the ships. They'll certainly be Jump-1 vessels: extra loads of fuel for a Jump-2 would be prohibitive for anything but military craft. So A free trader there will carry fifty tons of fuel, and 62 tons of cargo if nothing else is changed. I'm going to take a closer look at the cluster later, to see what else might be shifted: if the ship can't count on a full house of high passengers, for example, I might pull a stateroom or two; maybe some of the low berths.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

From Macro to Micro a Moment

So, as I've been hammering this all out, I've been running a solitaire merchant game. It's taken place in the spinward-coreward corner of the Festrian Main, just touching on Festeria's neighboring subsectors but not yet leaving her borders. It's been a fairly traditional Free-Trader-Buy-Sell game, and has been *mostly* fairly uneventful. One merchant captain with a mortgaged standard free trader, a salaried crew (offered the option to buy shares of ship's equity, and awarded a share each from the captain in the event of facing deadly force: danger money.) As tends to happen, things were tight for a few months, and then The Cap'n got a lucky break with spec cargo. From then on, it's been a booming enterprise. The ship's always been about a year ahead in payments since then, so she has had freedom to move. There's a cluster of seven or eight worlds linked by J-1 with A and B class ports, and though most are non industrial a few are bigger and a few are agricultural, so there's usually some good opportunities, and travel has (mostly) been safe. Partially to keep lively and partially to keep true to reaction rolls, there have been a few dust-ups with competing merchant craft and the occasional armed yacht, but the Cap'n's been both lucky and smart, avoiding anywhere without a B or A port apart from rare trips to one C-world (they're rich, so there's a market for some stuff there.)

Long story short, they're loaded now, to the point that the crew (if the Captain sold out) could buy his interest in the ship with the value of their shares in it. And the Captain has sufficient shares that if he them in cash, he can buy a much nicer ship, outright, no loans.

He's had a ship designed and laid down: the architect's been paid, and the down payment as well. There's sufficient funds set aside so that there are no worries about paying the remaining 80% when the ship's complete, and there's almost a year's merchanting left to do before that happens. Plenty of time to build up operating capital, both for the Captain and his crew.

What'll probably happen is that the Captain will retain a controlling interest in the Free Trader, but relinquish direct control of the ship to its remaining shareholders, who will take over operations. Meanwhile, he'll set off on this boat, into the frontier and beyond:

Frontier Trader
400 tons, standard, Streamlined hull. TL B, Festrian Commercial Specs
D-class drives, allowing J-2, 2G acceleration, and an appropriate power supply.
100 tons fuel, allowing 1 J2 or 2 J1 and 1 month ops.
One computer Model/2 off the bridge. 4 hardpoints and 4 tons for fire control, armament to be determined upon delivery.
16 staterooms; four emergency low berths.
1 Air/Raft
1 Ship's Boat, 2 tons fuel, 9 passenger couches . 1 ton set aside for computer, 8 tons cargo.
122 tons cargo.

MCr 144.4

Built specifically to handle the vagaries of speculative trade and operations outside the Festrian Main, the Frontier Trader - built using an economical 400 ton standard hull - is capable of reaching most worlds in the immediate Festrian Frontier, and is expected to be able to range beyond. While restricted to refined fuel use, the Frontier Trader's range should allow it to minimize risk by skipping many C-class ports while allowing it to visit such locations that are accessible by J-1 without refueling. The ship's powerful maneuver drives give it access to worlds whose size would prevent landfall by standard Free and Fat Traders. The combination of hull and drives results in five tons of waste tonnage in the engineering section: actually a boon to the engineering staff, since it amounts to almost a stateroom's worth of workshop space, making it easier to service the plant and drives while underway.

Despite the ship's large complement of Staterooms, the ship is not focused on passenger service: the extra space allows for a full complement of gunners as well as other security personnel, or for the transport of factors to develop markets on promising worlds. The emergency low berths provide for long-term survival in the event of drive failure in the frontier, or misjump.

There are four hardpoints with fire control. The Captain is awaiting a clearer idea on the quality of his next crew before he commits to his specific armament, but is partial to the idea of two forward port & starboard triple turrets housing pulse lasers, manned by master gunners- he likes the punch the pulse lasers give. The dorsal and ventral aft turrets are likely to be mixed Sand/Missile/Beam turrets. (The arrangement on the Free Trader has been, until recently, one triple pulse backed by a double turret mounting a missile rack and a sandcaster. The pulse lasers have since been upgraded to beam.)

The Air/Raft provides utility transport when making landfall, and can be used to run minor surface-orbit errands.

The Ship's Boat allows for more transport of crew and small cargo while the Trader remains secure in orbit; with the addition of weaponry and an optional shipboard computer, the Boat can perform as a defensive fighter. Overall, the ship's boat gives the Frontier Trader a standoff capability unavailable to most merchant craft.


Financing would not typically be available for a vessel of this design: bank loans would more than double the final price of the ship, and payments would be all but impossible to guarantee, even were the craft to enter mass production.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

So Why Is Your Beezle Cheese So Cheap?

The Trading Game. Ah, how we love it so. Captain A. L. Jamison and his intrepid crew hit system, mosey over to the highport, get assigned a dock, and get down to business. They get their passengers aboard the shuttle, and get their paid cargo unloaded. They start the wheels in motion to get their ship fueled and resupplied. And Cap'n Al, or his purser if he's got one, heads over to the brokerage to see what their spec cargo will sell for. If he's smart, he'll pay for a top-notch broker. If he's got any skill of his own, there's no reason for him to sell, ever, at less than list: most of the time, he'll be selling at the big markups. And a lot of folks will be selling like that, too.

So when he hunts around for something new to buy, and he finds a cargo available at 40% list, the question is: why?

We have so much of this stuff, we can't give it away. This fits if the goods are locally produced - your raw materials on a NI world, your grain on an Ag world. No muss, no fuss, just supply overwhelming demand.

Nobody around here has any use for these things, and I need them out of my hold/warehouse. A lot of this sort of trade will be merchant to merchant: a ship has a hold full of mid-tech equipment that isn't selling on a higher tech world: or high tech gear that won't sell on a low-tech world. Maybe a broker bought them, found they won't sell, and is trying to cut a loss. Maybe the seller has been offered a deal on something else, but hasn't the capital or the hold space free.

It's cheap because it's not here... you have to go get it. Maybe the shipment of metals you just bought is available for pickup - at the refinery station in the asteroid belt surrounding the eighth planet out from the mainworld. Maybe the Air/rafts need to be picked up from the manufacturer's lot, and what you've saved on the purchase price you're going to have to pay in customs getting the things aboard your ship. Maybe you're going to have to go downworld, hire a few trucks and haul that load of spice to the downport, and pay to have it shuttled up. Maybe the reason the seller can't get the goods to port is that they're not supposed to be exported. Maybe the reason is that there's pirates/a war/aliens/radiation storms between the port and the product. All good fun.

It's cheap because it's stolen. Anybody know how to forge papers? This option might well coincide with the last one.

It's cheap because it doesn't actually exist. It might just be a really good way to con you into taking your free trader out away from the mainworld where there's fewer patrols...

Highporters and Lowdowners, Startowners and Locals

I don't have much of a Starport Authority IMTU. Fester maintains one, sure, but that's only what, forty worlds or so? So the definition of "extraterritoriality" is going to vary widely once you leave the Festrian main. But any world maintaining a decent port - or any agency on a world maintaining one - will want to reduce friction between the local population and outsiders. There will also be a desire to control the trade as it comes and goes.

The best way to do this is to maintain a highport, and insist on its use. All interstellar trade goes through the highport: everything and everyone coming in or out is kept under control. All A or B class ports will have a highport, so really, any safe trading world can be said to have one. Depending on a world's law level, it might actually be illegal for outworld vessels to land anywhere else onworld or to use a downport. (Who but smugglers and thieves would not prefer the facilities of a highport?) So for the most part, visitors to such worlds won't meet anyone but highporters: people associated directly with interstellar trade, with a vested interest in treating well with outsiders. Local laws may be relaxed; foreigners may be treated with extra care.

C ports, and worse, though, generally require the visitor to actually touch down in order to treat with the locals; C ports might have a shuttle, but that's all. Depending on law levels, there may or may not be firm lines drawn between the Startown and the rest of local society. And this is where your offworlder can get into trouble.

In any case, whenever a traveller leaves the relative safety of a startown, they can get in BIG trouble. They won't necessarily know local etiquette. They won't know the local dialects. They'll stick out like sore thumbs. This can happen even in Festrian space: in the frontier, there's no telling what trouble a traveller will meet.

Spacers and Worlders

Spacers: Aliens. Raiders. Bloodsucking merchies. Arrogant imperials. Interfering scouts. Vagabonds. Bloody tourists. Haolis.

Worlders: Groundlings. Dirt-eaters. Blue-skyers. Ignorant peasants. Stubborn mudscraping primitives. Provincial Simpletons.

It won't be like this across the board. But it'll be out there.

Everything should be viewed in the light of the relatively recent explosion out of the Long Night, and the long period of the night itself.

Worlds which survived the isolation of the night are the ones that were self sufficient. Those that were not, died off.

As I draw up finished copy for my subsectors, I should make this call for each of the worlds: Were they self-sufficient survivors of the Old Empire?
If so, did they retain identification with the Old Empire? I suspect that most worlds that are currently major players fall within this category: they maintained their traditions and identity as well as their populations.
OR, were they forced to change significantly in order to survive? And how?

All of these historically isolated places will have a tendency towards "Worldism" of one stripe or another.

Worlds *not* currently self-sufficient can mostly be assumed to be newly-settled in the few hundred years after The Night. These will be Spacer worlds, to a large degree, but there may be some strains of localism as well.

Worlders won't necessarily be hostile to spacers, and vice versa. But there'll be different motivations for doing things, and different sticks and carrots in play.

Those worlds with no particular trade classification - not industrial or rich, perhaps poor but not lacking in finished goods or food - stand a good chance of being Old Empire holdouts. Long in tradition, and short on ambition. Inward and backward-looking at best; distrustful of the new powers in play.

Rich worlds, Agricultural worlds and industrial worlds will usually be Old Empire survivals that are booming, and have surplus - in goods, food, or lucre - to send elsewhere. So they'll be friendly to outsiders, or at least, those in possession of the means of producing these surpluses will be. If there's people exploited by the situation, they'll stand to be very hostile.

Those worlds unable to produce enough food will almost always be new settlements. Non industrial worlds survivable at a low tech can be old worlds, but if they require sophisticated tech to survive, they'll be new.