Thursday, September 30, 2010

MORE Shippy Stuff

(It's probably  just as well to leave inertial compensation and shipboard gravity in, and if one's going to go that far, might as well leave Contra Grav as well, considering the AG and IC as part of the cost of staterooms and bridge, and considering the CG to be part of the drive tonnage. It saves a lot of fuss.)

That said:

But what if! What if there's no artificial gravity, no inertial compensation? 

Sure, you've explicitly got ContraGrav, in the Air/Raft and the G-Carrier. But they're mighty expensive: the air raft's a cr. 600,000 flyabout at 4 tons! Shouldn't shipwide CG cost more? Indeed, when your ship gets hit, shouldn't there be a chance the inertial comp will fail?
(Though maybe that's what causes the Crew criticals...)

If you're going to be accelerating at more than 1G, and you're human, well, you can't do it forever. If you're going at 2Gs, you can't do it forever; it's very uncomfortable, and eventually will hurt or kill you. The following link is baffling and scienc-y, but it seems to put a human limit of something like 20 minutes for sustained 4G, 60 minutes for sustained 3G. I didn't immediately see anything for 5 and 6Gs, but it'll be less than a 1000 second combat round, for sure.

Maybe to rough it out:
1G - indefinite
2G - Lots, but maybe an END roll?
3G - 3 combat rounds
4G - 1 combat round
5G - NO? Or some sort of high END roll to continue?
6G - NO? Or some sort of REALLY high END roll to continue?

It makes large 1G ships make a little more sense.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More Shippy Stuff

Stemming from some CotI Q&A, I'd almost settled that the drives in LBB2 aren't fusion torches - if only because fuel goes to the jump drives and the power plant, but not the maneuver drives.


The P-plant is a fusion reactor, right? It's got a containment bottle and all that. Might not the M-Drive be considered an adjunct to the power plant, the mechanical/gravitic/handwavium apparatus for focusing and venting the plasma of the ship's power plant?

So looking at book 2 drives: Fuel goes to the J-drive for it do to its thing: fuel goes to the power plant as well, which does its thing. The maneuver drive may simply be powered by the plant, or it may use the power plant to provide thrust via plasma.

If maneuver drives are fusion torches, then that has an effect on starports: A and B ports on busy worlds will probably prefer that EVERYONE use the highport apart from shuttles and other small craft. C and D class ports, likely , are going to be a good ways out from settled areas (how far? dunno) and they'll be restricted to smaller ships for the most part: I'd say a limit of 400 tons isn't crazy.

It makes the smaller unstreamlined ships make a bit more sense. Military ships might be streamlined at the higher tonnages, but that's for fuel skimming more than landing.

I'm trying to decide on how I feel about contragrav on spacecraft for atmospheric maneuvering. It sorta bugs me when there's a system on shipboard that doesn't get costed out. I'd already made my mind up, pretty much, that LBB2 assumes artifical gravity and internal inertial compensation on shipboard. It's not specifically stated in the rules, but virtually every spacecraft design depends on it in deck plans/ etcetera dating back to the earliest adventures. I'm inclined to go with that. And by the same token, looking at your classic Scout and Trader designs, those guys don't have wheels, they have skids: they depend on some sort of CG for their landings. So I sorta have to shrug and say it's there, perhaps a subsystem of the M drive or power plant or something. Squishy, though, you know?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Shipbuilding Wonkery

Cobbled together a new ship for my solitaire trader game: our boy struck it rich on a couple runs, and can now blow his wad on a brand new ship that he can own outright; his old crew can just about put a down payment on the old ship with their company shares, so that'll be taken care of.

As for the new ship, I figured I'd build it on a standard 600 ton hull - an economizing measure - and that I wanted it to achieve Jump-3. I decided I didn't need it to be particularly fast, and I liked the idea of an unstreamlined vessel. What resulted, from an engineering section standpoint, was virtually identical to a Subsidized Liner; I went with a D drive for the maneuver drive, instead of the Type M's C, mainly for its resilience. The rest of the ship's rather different: many fewer staterooms and low berths: the notion is that it's optimized for spec trading. About a hundred tons of cargo, to which can be added some 64 tons aboard the ship's 95-ton shuttle.

I don't intend on the ship ever using unrefined fuel (still civilian specs.) For its maximum jumps, she'll only be going to safe, established ports. For C, D or E ports, the plan is to get there via short jumps that allow for return trips without refueling. I suppose that the Shuttle could be fitted with collapsible tanks to allow for frontier fueling, but I'd as soon avoid that.

The ship can be heavily armed, though: six hardpoints will allow for sufficient armament to contend with most hostiles. The price fell just a bit on top of 285 MCr.

The Subsidized Liner would have been fine, if it weren't for that ships heavy focus on passenger transportation and its puny little Launch. I wanted at least a Pinnace, and I like the additional cargo capacity offered by the Shuttle.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

And Another Thing

I don't recall it being addressed for the OTU, and I'll poke around - but what keeps worlds from being able to create their own Jump drives?

There's tech levels for some of 'em. There's population issues: stands to reason, a non-industrial world won't have the infrastructure necessarily. Except that it ain't so: there's plenty of worlds, with A ports, that don't have high enough tech, and don't have big populations. And there's plenty of worlds with sufficient tech and populations that have C or B ports, and can't produce Jump ships.

(I'm pointedly ignoring Trillion Credit Squadron right now.)

Is knowledge of the Jump Drive controlled? How? Or is it a materials problem?

If anything, it suggests a far more insular and less homogeneous TU than often seems to be discussed amongst Traveller wonkery.


I absolutely must come up with some tailor-made encounter tables for my subsectors, which means that I absolutely must come up with a brace of local-color ships to populate them. I want to create more texture, but without adding undue complexity to the game.

The standard designs work fine, don't get me wrong. It makes sense that throughout human space there will be a lot of common designs. These are ships whose classes have been known for centuries: they're like Cogs,
Vlieboten, Galleys: individual features will differ from ship to ship, but you look at the ship's capabilities, basic size and configuration, and you'll know the basic class. 100 tons? It's a courier, or something very similar. If it's 200 tons, streamlined, and modestly powered, it's a free trader regardless of its interior layout. 400-1200 tons, fast and long-legged with full hardpoints? Cruiser.

I'll have to think about other stuff, though: Fast fighting ships with minimal jump? Lower tonnage fast warships? The big, slow stuff? Small ships with long jump capabilities?

Looking at my spread of shipbuilding worlds, I should be able to come up with a batch of basic classes without worrying about details. And really, for encounters, you don't need that much, do you? Tonnage, Drives, Computers, Hard Points. Generic performance so I don't have to sweat about computer loads.

Of course, I'll probably go and stat them out all to hell and back, but whatever.

Corsairs, for example: never liked the one in S4. Historically, wet-navy corsairs were Galleys. Coast-huggers, minimal sail, mainly oar-driven but fast. And government funded... Traveller "galleys" might be 400-1000 tons, m3 or 4 with a jump of 1; perhaps fuel enough for two jumps, to be able to skip a parsec into the "dark" to avoid pursuit. Plenty of cargo space, lots of room for prize crews and fighting men (note to self: how cheaply can a 400 ton hull be kitted out to be able to knock over the average merchantman, and escape? Long jump not required; speed and economy is.)

J-2 merchants: lots of parts of MTU do seem to call for them, simply because they can't be served by short-jump ships. Fart Raiders Far Traders as written are adventurer-yachts, though: something more economical is needed.

Small craft/ system ships: C-D-E ports won't have a lot of these: B&A worlds should. Fuel scows. Outsystem frieghters.

Maybe I need to go crazy with dice and see if I can rationalize what comes up. J1, M6, 800 tons. What's that for?

Captcha Words As Adventure Seeds

Ha. My Captcha word of the day:


n, slang. a Temple of the Priestess-Seers of Callipygia, Fertility Goddess of Voluptuon-9.

Voluptuon-9 is that rarest of creatures: a world governed by a demanding, all-pervasive religious dictatorship that nevertheless enjoys active - one might say
vigorous - intercourse with the interstellar community. True to form, the laws of the world are extremely restrictive.
No offworlder is permitted on Voluption soil unless intending to receive the blessing of the temple hierarchy, and the Faithful will have nothing to do with offworlders who have not been so blessed. And yet, Voluptuon's high port is one of the busiest in the subsector, and trade between Voluptuon and its neighboring systems is brisk.

Visitors wishing to conduct business on V-9 are advised that petitioners to the Priestess Seers are expected to show up at the temple the night before, in order to propitiate The Goddess. Further recommendations are that petitioners be in good health, have no heart conditions, and harbor no social or religious compunctions that would conflict with the necessary temple rites. Travellers are strongly advised to avoid the world during its bi-annual solstice rites (see entry 141.0103V9.b, "Eunuch Priests of Voluptuon 8").

Unlike most locally based religions, the cult of Callipygia has gained adherents from as far as a sector from its native world.
Offworld opinion generally agrees that the Priestess-Seers don't really see the future, but offworld opinion also generally agrees that this is entirely beside the point.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

LBB2 I love you, but

on the other hand, I just ran an LBB2 fight between a type R (skilled crew, expensively-programmed computer) with a type T (hack crew, low budget programming; barely enough to afford the launch program.) The R lost its laser turret (BBB) but its combo missile-sand (MMS) turret remained up the whole fight, and the T always suffered a disadvantage with lasers; the 6 missile racks on the T seemed likely to overwhelm the R's two; neither the T nor the R had any missile defense available. And yet neither side landed any major hits, only scoring dozens of hull and hold hits until the last missile salvos, whereupon both suffered criticals to drives and power plants, leaving them adrift on vaguely similar vectors. If I hadn't houseruled crew casualties, not a soul would have been hurt on either side.

I'm seriously thinking of beginning to experiment again with High Guard combat, perhaps retaining LBB2 for shipbuilding, perhaps not. I may be able to retain the spirit of the thing, regardless.

Although I love the computer programming aspect of LBB2, I do think it throws things out of whack if a little slug of a Free Trader can slap in Maneuver/Evade 5 and give free reign to a Pilot-4, you know? Also - especially if you're like me, and barely get a chance to do anything but solitaire play - HG is attractive for limiting the variables somewhat. Makes it easier to slap an encounter together.


What one suspects about LBB2 combat is that ships are really fragile, and it's true that any hit is capable of being a critical: a 5000 ton carrier, notionally, can be wasted by a lucky shot from a ship's boat. (An argument, certainly, for keeping military hulls small in my book.)

In practice, however, two tiny ships can stand toe to toe and let each other have it for an hour or more without doing much more than poking holes (lots and lots and lots of holes) in the hull, and two ships can fight each other to a standstill, and end up delivering mutual mission-kills.

I don't, for the life of me, remember how a fight like that plays out in High Guard. I'll have to try it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Revising Trade Chrome.

Trying to streamline the way I handle Law & Speculative trade. Sort of a second draft.

Latest addition:
Typically, any offworlder put "through the system" - arrested and arraigned, whether released or sentenced - is considered "persona non grata" on that world: more than one judge will have told a defendant, "You're free to go, spacer. But don't set foot on this world again, or I'll know about it." Future attempts to pass customs that fail a law check will result in an arrest. Many spacers, to avoid the hassle and risk of imprisonment, will likely happily avoid a world where they've accrued a rap sheet.

Starport customs:

A general law check must be made whenever attempting to move cargos IN or OUT of extrality. A roll of Law + indicates no particular scrutiny: Law - indicates that the cargo has been flagged for customs, and will be subject to further checks. If a ship has been flagged for alert following a patrol inspection, this law check is skipped. Note: one success avoids the rest of the process.

Further scrutiny may be avoided via bribery, if reactions allow and law levels are appropriate. (See below.) Note: again, success here avoids the rest of the process.

If no bribe is attempted, or if a bribe fails, then check law for each specific cargo, applying Admin skill. Each cargo that passes, may go through customs. Each that fails is blocked. If a critical failure occurs (natural 2s) or the failure follows an attempt at bribery or forgery, or if the cargo is plainly illegal (laser rifles delivered to a law-9 world) the character will be placed under ARREST.

Blocked cargos for import must remain on shipboard.
Blocked cargos for export are impounded, and cannot be removed or refunded.

(Or rather, shifting blocked cargos requires the sort of effort that adventures are made of.)


If trouble with customs is foreseen (either due to high law level, or if the cargo is plainly illegal) a bribery attempt may be made.Mainly, the procedure is an embellishment of the LBB1 rule:
  1. Roll reaction of the customs officials. If negative, no bribe is possible.
  2. If a bribe is possible, the attempt may be made. The amount paid is equal to the bribery roll x10 for Bribery-1; x100 for bribery-2; x1000 for bribery-3, x 10,000 for bribery-4 and so on.

    : The bribing character need not use his skill at maximum: a character with bribery-4 may elect to use bribery-1. A character attempting a bribe without the skill or ABOVE his skill may do so with the no-skill modifier of +5.

  3. If a bribe is attempted, but fails, subtract the level of bribe attempted from the customs law roll. Hence, a casual attempt to bribe brings slight additional scrutiny. A major bribe brings major scrutiny. If the bribe attempt is reported (2D for 3-) the player will be placed under ARREST.

Patrol ships: if a patrol vessel is encountered, it will order the ship to heave to and be boarded: this will involve a customs check at the law level of the world in question (if the searched ship is known for criminal acts elsewhere, especially piracy or skipping, this should play out differently, but let's assume an otherwise clean ship here). If the customs check fails (including any attempts at bribery) the ship is flagged for alert by Starport customs. Critical failures (natural 2s) and failed efforts to bribe Naval Officers will result in ARREST.


If arrested, the suspect will be held in custody for (2D+Law)/Admin days.

Officials, if their reaction is good, may be bribed for release: the cost should higher than the procedure above: N x cr. 100 for Bribery-1, N x cr. 1,000 for Bribery-2, etc. (Judges are expensive.) Failure will result in an additional charge, with an additional sentence/fine.

At the end of this period, the suspect will be charged, or released: Roll Law+ for release, with admin as a modifier.

If the suspect is charged with a crime, he will be imprisoned or fined:
(2D-7 + law - admin) = years imprisonment or (2D-7 + law -admin) x 10,000 in fines.

LAWYERS: The player can add a lawyer's skill to assist in his defense: Fee = 10% of total fines per level of legal/admin.

NAVAL ARREST results in cold sleep transport to the nearest naval base, followed by ((2D + 2) - admin) years imprisonment in a Naval Brig.

Typically, any offworlder put "through the system" - arrested and arraigned, whether released or sentenced - is considered "persona non grata" on that world: more than one judge will have told a defendant, "You're free to go, spacer. But don't set foot on this world again, or I'll know about it." Future attempts to pass customs that fail a law check will result in an arrest. Many spacers, to avoid the hassle and risk of imprisonment, will likely happily avoid a world where they've accrued a rap sheet.

The Short Version:

Customs check at planetary law level. (Law + admin)
success = no scrutiny
If fail, check reaction; if negative, no bribe possible; failed bribe = NAVAL ARREST
If miss law check = FLAGGED
Critical miss (natural 2) =

Starport customs:
General law check:
success = no scrutiny
fail = FLAGGED


Roll reaction:

If negative, no bribe possible.
If positive, the attempt may be made (see below).
If attempted bribe succeeds, no scrutiny.
If attempted bribe fails, roll law for each specific cargo (- the level of bribe attempted) + admin
Check for report of bribe: if reported =
If no bribe attempted, roll law for each specific cargo, + admin
Each cargo that passes law roll clears customs.
Each that fails is blocked.
If a critical failure occurs

Blocked cargos for import must remain on shipboard.
Blocked cargos for export are impounded, and cannot be removed or refunded.


Initial custody = (2D+Law)/Admin days.
Bribes for release, where N= bribery roll: N x cr. 100 for Bribery-1, N x cr. 1,000 for Bribery-2, etc. (Judges are expensive.) Failure = additional charge, with an additional sentence/fine.
Trial: Roll Law+ for release, with admin as a modifier.

Sentencing: (2D-7 + law - admin) = years imprisonment or (2D-7 + law -admin) x 10,000 in fines.

LAWYERS: Fee = 10% of total fines per level of legal/admin.

Naval Arrest: Cold sleep to Naval Base, + ((2D + 2) - admin) years in a Naval Brig.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Play By Play: How to take a planet.

Hey, guys: help me poke holes in this:

You've got a multimillion credit Patrol Cruiser, and you've decided to put it to piracy. Huzzah! You're a pariah. Civilized worlds will send warships to destroy you. No world capable of defending itself will allow you to land, refuel, or resupply. You are a little bird, in a storm, without a nest! Where will you put your feet?

Since you're packed to the gills with beam lasers and missiles, you actually might be able to make a few demands in this regard.

If you envision a Traveller universe where starports are like airports and the skies are thick with ships, well, this might not work. But IMTU, there's not a whole lot of traffic where there isn't a highport. A C-class or D-class port on a small world might only have a few ships in orbit. There might not even be a patrol present.

IN fact, there might be more pirates in a given location than patrols: and if the eating looks good, then they'll team up. Supposing you've a patrol cruiser, or maybe some other variety of corsair. You've probably got more firepower than the port itself does, lots of these hinterlands. Maybe you've got a ship's boat, too, and it'll be armed.

So you jump insystem. What's next?

So you head in slow, at 1G like a merchantman, and keep your eyes open. You've got to get fairly close to see what's in orbit. Let's say there are maybe six or so ships in orbit, some few stuck onworld. That's what I envisage for a lot of the outworlds. Maybe there's a patrol ship: if there is, it'll probably be in orbit over the port, that being the single best bottleneck of the system. If there there's a T in port; it'll fight, and that'll be bad: they're going to engage as closely as possible to protect the merchantmen, They've the best programming available, and they may well be packing nukes. Now would be a good time to break off... But this time, maybe you're lucky: the patrol isn't in port.

So what's there are going to be merchant ships. Most of these, if they take any serious damage at all, can be financially ruined, so them that can are going to run for jump as soon as the shooting starts. Those on the ground may stay there, or try to lift, then run. So you pick your targets, and open fire. Some may fight back, but chances are, they'll scatter. If there's one you've deadlined in the first salvo or two, send a boat over with a prize crew; the ship can chase the next prey. Unless a crew is particularly desperate, it's likely they'll surrender the ship or abandon it for their lives.

Scouts, if armed and present, may move to assist the defense, but they're more likely to be running for jump themselves. They'll not jump instantly, but observe the fight from 100d. If it goes sour, they'll jump to report it. They'll likely run interference for the merchants as they leave; if there's more than one scout, one will leave while the other stays on hand to assist with survivors, and help divert incoming traffic as long as possible.

So likely, the pirates take orbit, and one or two ships as prey. There's likely some small damage. The remaining scout has already hightailed it towards the gas giant; annoying. It's broad-beaming an alert that there's an active pirate threat, and setting beacons doing the same thing. The port's got an alert going, too: that won't do. The pirate's landing vehicle - either the T's g-carrier, or the Ship's Boat head down to the port, covered by fire from the ship in orbit. Any land defenses that the port might have won't last too long. (If this were an A or B port, it'd have some sort of Big Guns for planetary defense. This is a low-pop, low-tech world and I suspect they wouldn't have much more than a beam laser emplacement.) The port now may be convinced to stay quiet and docile, lest it be bombarded. Never underestimate the power of orbital batteries.

Once that's taken care of, it's time to deal with that pesky scout and its distress beacons. Leave the Boat on post, as well as whatever ship you've managed to capture: then head off to engage the scout and force it to jump, or capture it if possible. That won't take long, either way. If you don't, then any incoming traffic will be alerted to your presence, and will divert to the gas giant.

Either way, you've got the mainworld. In one week, reports will reach the planet's neighbors; so you can count on nearly two weeks of incoming shipping that's unaware that anything's wrong. The only thing you really need to worry about is if one of those happens to be a patrol cruiser, and that *could* happen any day. So you've got to keep a ship on watch, all the time. Anyone on approach to the mainworld should be easy meat: You sit tight until it's close enough to hit, and then 'sic em, preferably with the ship's boat. Some will surrender immediately: some will fight: few will have fuel enough to run for jump.

By now, your prize crews should be spread thin, so the focus is going to be on cargo, supplies, arms, repair parts and cash. Some ships will be left spaceworthy: some will be stripped for parts, especially if there's time enough. Between what you've taken, you should be able to have at least one spaceworthy ship to send out to sell off loot.

As the twelve-to-fourteen day limit approaches, you should be getting ready to leave: you should assume that reports of your attack will bring at least one and possibly more Navy ships down on you. Before that happens, you should be gone.


So where's a PC likely to be during a pirate encounter?

The PCs might be in orbit: in which case they're one of a handful of ships trying not to be the slow buffalo in the herd.
They might be trapped onworld, in which case they might wait until their scans tell them the pirate's engaged, and then make a break for it.

Or the PCs hit the system, to hear a Pirate Activity alert beamed from a scout near the gas giant.

Or, the PCs hit the system to no alert at all, and get caught by the pirates once they're approaching orbit.

An encounter at 100D seems very unlikely to me.

Your tuppence, gentlemen?

Moments of Weakness

Okay; so I've been solid, solid with LBB123 these years. Right? And everything that happened with LBB678 pretty much confirm me in that.

Back in the day, I never really had a problem with Mercenary: it fit the flavor of the game well, and heck, I was a teenager, and big guns were fun. Characters tended to get more skills, but they were so specialized that I didn't get fussed, and they didn't change any of the rules that applied to other characters and their skills.

And High Guard was fine, mostly. Characters, again, were a little skill-heavy, but so did my LBB1 Scouts and Merchants tend to be. But there you see, more than LBB4, the addition of skills tied specifically to a new system of combat not compatible with LBB2; Fleet Tactics and Ship Tactics can't really apply outside of High Guard combat.

I remember being stunned by ship sizes, and in fact it was many years before I even really experimented building ships of even tens of thousands of tons, much less the Trillion Credit Squadron monsters that one sees. Certainly, the differences in drive and fuel tankage and damage calculation were there, but I didn't spend a lot of thought on them. The basic incompatibilities of HG/ LBB2 didn't really strike me until a few years ago.

It does occasionally strike me that introducing these - while breaking my experiment - wouldn't necessarily break MTU. If I were actually to run a GAME, with PEOPLE, and they wanted to do an LBB4 Mercenary type game, I'd incorporate it and no worries.

A big naval type of game? Well... that's a bit trickier. I keep meaning to experiment with the strategic terrain of MTU, and see what sizes of fleets make sense... and from that, what size ships make sense. As I'm envisioning things now, it makes sense for those big warfleets to stay home most of the time, because potential threats can come with little warning: most activity is going to be in the hands of patrol ships of one stripe or another, mostly operating singly. For the most part, LBB2 is just fine for those, and High Guard skills don't really signify for that any differently than LBB1 skills.

In some ways it's a shame, really, because I do like HG as a shipbuilding system on its own. I just don't care for an HG universe, I guess.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

So Much Pirates On The Brain

Perhaps, because their presence/absence/behavior has such an effect on how the rest of the TU is viewed. How are they viewed? How do they get their ships? How do they supply themselves?

Trying this on for size: Supposing - as I've begun to - that the Interstellar Government considered its worlds to be limited to full participants in the interstellar economy: basically, A or B ports, those worlds with TAS offices, high ports and so on. The lesser worlds, with ports for trade, but who did not have the ability or will to produce jump-capable ships themselves, aren't part of the IG. They're Old Empire Barbarians.

So first off, you've got your navy protecting the homeworlds against incursions, and delivering punitive blows against worlds powerful enough to be real threats. You'll have occasional patrols keeping tabs on who those are. And you'll have scouts out among them, trying to coax them in.

But the IG isn't protecting them. In fact, nobles and entrepreneurs of the IG may choose to actively prey on them. Hence the presence of pirates. Out there in the Barbarian worlds, who's to say who's shooting at whom? And for refitting and resupply, the pirates just go home to their IG world, pay their patrons their cut, and resupply.

Kinda like the situation in H.B. Piper's Space Viking.

ETA: Which all goes on: why are these local worlds so backwards compared to their high tech neighbors? Because the high tech neighbors LIKE it that way.

And why aren't there Pirates operating in worlds with A or B ports? Don't shit where you eat. Also, the Navy's there.

Why don't the nearby worlds with enough tech to have starships have A or B ports, and fleets and stuff? Because the
IG Navy will get the drop on them, knock the highport out of the sky and rain fire on the world's cities, and nobody wants that.

Why do those worlds a few more parsecs away still have their B and A ports and fleets and stuff?
Maybe they've got a treaty signed. Maybe it's powerful enough to defend against an
IG task force. Maybe there's an IG task force on the way right now.

Why do those tiny little worlds with tiny populations have A or B ports, over there? Outposts. Maybe they have something that the
IG needs on a regular basis, so they've upgraded the facilities, knowing the population's not enough to be a threat. Why are you asking so many questions? What are you, a spy?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Another Think On Piracy

Judging by the tables, piracy's pretty common in those backwater worlds I've mentioned.

And yet, there's often Imperial Navy bases but a jump away... which, assuming that reports of piracy bring some sort of swift action, leaves a Pirate about two weeks operating time maximum in a given system, at a shot. Moving around that quickly can get expensive, even when you're emptying the holds and galleys of fat merchants on a regular basis.

The "Loiter at 100D" piracy model doesn't work so well for me. It's not a good hunting ground. It's too broad. Given LBB2's detection ranges, it's too easy to miss your quarry. If it's patrolled at all, you're just as vulnerable to patrols as your quarry is to you. Not but that you might run into a ship on the way, but it's a hard thing to plan.

The sure places to bottleneck anybody are planets: at the very least, the mainworld and the gas giant. In a civilized system these will be well patrolled. C, D, E? Not so much. So these will be the places for a ship to hunker down and wait for prey. It's conspicuous, yes. It's somewhat vulnerable to attack should patrols arrive. But if you're flying a T or a C or something similarly upgunned, you can whip pretty near anything that you can expect to run into... and whatever it is will almost certainly be low on fuel. Once Merchant Mike's A-ship gets near its deceleration to orbit and sees that there's a T ship coming to meet him, he's going far too slow to run and he's well into the 100D radius. He's a sitting duck.

How's a T get there in the first place? What are the possibilities?
A low pop, low tech world might not have any defenses at all, in which case the T would have only to rout what merchantmen were in port at the time.
A higher population world, though, might be able to hire ships to fight off pirates who try this, classing them as privateers...

But then, what's to keep the privateers from skimming the cream from the top every so often, or simply taking over?

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

What Sort of Imperium Is This, Anyhow?

One sees it again and again: Rich, civilized, prosperous star-faring worlds but a parsec away from hardscrabble, low-tech, downright unsurvivable planets. Worlds separated by multiple parsecs with more in common with each other than the star systems just a Jump-1 away. Two neighboring worlds: one, a world whose space lanes are well patrolled and regulated; the other, a haven for pirates and a deathtrap for merchants.

If this is the domain of a single galactic empire, it's an empire that appears to be based on selective neglect. Not necessarily deliberate in every case: the idea is well established in "canon" that the Imperium, however powerful it may be, cannot extend its power to every world within its reach at all times.

Consider the policy of the Scout Service of releasing its ships for "Detached Duty" rather than scrapping them. It's understood that those ships will maintain connections with the less fortunate worlds within the Empire. But a doughty S-ship isn't exactly a battle cruiser; and the presence of any piracy in these worlds - so close to civilization, yet vulnerable to predation - indicates that the Imperium's willingness or ability to patrol these areas is limited.

The sheer lack of a starport providing even something so basic as refined fuel suggests that not even the power of the commercial world is sufficient - or willing - to bring these orphans fully within the Imperial embrace. And such orphans are numerous! Roll up a subsector, go ahead: here's a nice one, 43 worlds, virtually all of them in the same J-1 main, but they're not really all that connected: huge swaths of them have only C or D ports; one end is cut off from the other by X and E port backwaters. Even if you wanted to link the civilized planets of the subsector with J-3 routes, there are whole quarters that would be cut off unless you stopped in C-ports along the way. And it's this way IMTU, as well.

The presence of an A or B port is an indicator of the importance of that world to trade or political power; either the world itself can establish such a port, or someone else deems it useful: in any case, these are worlds that truly make up the interstellar community. An empire, then, rather than resembling a geographical mass of territory, should be reminiscent of a root structure: a spindly, branching thing of links and tributaries connecting a handful of worlds out of every dozen. The Imperium's mercantile power flows along those paths; the Imperium's military power sits heavily on the key intersections. The lesser worlds huddled about the worlds along the sprawling roots of the Imperium may be considered part of the Empire, but only in name. The face of the Imperium they'll see most often are the scouts; less often, there will be a patrol cruiser in port. But they're largely on their own. The good news is that they're free to govern as they see fit; the bad news is that their neighbors are, too.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Lots of Space, or: In Space, Noone Can Respond To Your Signal GK.

I don't envision a crowded Traveller Universe.

Following LBB2's lead, when you're on your way in or out of port, sometimes you don't encounter another ship. And that's the big, civilized ports. Once you reach orbit, sure it'll get crowded - but even at an A or B port, it's not exactly the Long Island Expressway.

This suggests to me that when you're in trouble in space, you really are in trouble. Oh, sure: pop out a distress call in a fully developed system, and you'll get ships coming to your aid in an hour or so, depending on how far out you are, and how heavily populated the system is. But it strikes me that the less developed ports aren't going to have nearly that much traffic, and if your drives give out, you could be waiting for days before help finds you. If you're contending with a pirate, you're pretty much going to be on your own... even if there is someone available to help you, unless they're really heavily armed, all they'll be able to do is drift by later and pick up folks in vacc suits.

Of course, LBB2 isn't specific on how often one checks for a ship encounter; it's pretty clear that the ship encounter table is intended as an example for one to follow. Now, I generally roll once per leg of a journey: A ship arrives in system and heads for a gas giant, roll once. The ship heads from the gas giant to the mainworld, roll again. Or if the ship pops insystem and heads towards the mainworld right away, just the one roll.

It's imperfect. I'm lazy.

I saw one fellow on CotI, Aramis I think, who first rolls against a world's population to see if there's an encounter, checking a couple times a trip: That'll have the effect of making them generally scarcer, which is good to my mind.

Really though, one ought to come up with better tables. Not just fixing the typos of the LBB2 encounter table, but making something that fits the LBB flavor but at the same time reflects one's own TU and the worlds in it. I think I talked about this back in Ought Six, or something. But hey. I'm lazy.

Friday, September 03, 2010

BUT FIRST: Moving Money

Here's some of how I've been thinking about how money gets from world to world IMTU.

Say you've made a big sale on planet X, and have five million credits there. You want to travel to planet Y, and bring your money with you. What can you do?

1) You can bring cash. If you've got a ship, or if you can afford a high passage, this is a possibility... but it's risky. How comfortable would you feel making an intercontinental journey with five million credits on you? Also, local law might limit how much cash you can bring in and out of a world - though if your accounts are all kept at the starport level, that won't be as big a problem.

The established merchant, traveling on a route, should have substantial accounts established on most of his ports of call. He won't need to move money, most of the time, unless his needs far outstrip the local account - and he won't have time to wait for it, anyway.

3) When traveling between A or B ports, electronic transfers via courier (x boat and otherwise) can happen, but they're expensive and take time. I'd venture that they'd cost around 2-12% per jump of distance. (I'd do a law check; a failed one would double the cost, in fees and tariffs. Admin skill might work to one's benefit here, I just need to figure how.)
The smart traveler would arrange this ahead of time, and barring mishap, his money would be available by the time he arrived. But it'll cost him, especially if he's moving millions. Having money transferred to you from an offworld account will be very expensive indeed.

4) A better way to move wealth is in passages. You only lose 10% of their value if you cash them in, and you get their full value if you use them for travel.

5) IMTU, the Travellers' Aid Society maintains a banking service for its members. Since they vet their members and charge million credit fees up front, an accountholder-member can access his full account on any world with an A or B port. Membership has its benefits!

6) Planets off the beaten track aren't going to be in the loop, though. A traveller visiting a world without an A or B port is going to need cash, passages, or something else to sell. Therefore:

7) The best way to transfer wealth between worlds is via trade, because if one buys low and sells high, this is the only way to move money and have it grow at the same time.

8) Starships IMTU won't need to carry lots of cash if they're merchants doing milk runs between a handful of civilized (read, "A or B port") systems, because as per #2, If they're regulars in port, they'll have local accounts established, and probably will have good relationships with their bankers in each port of call.

9) On the other hand, tramp Free Traders dicing with death with unrefined fuel on backwater worlds won't have the benefit of these networks - especially if they aren't working a route, but plunging further off into the boonies. These guys need to keep cash on hand for everything, because they can't wait for their credit checks to go through. Cargo needs buying, crews need paying.
Any ship moving in a C, D or E system is liable to have cash aboard.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Unrefined Fuel

LBB2 is wonderfully specific in game terms, vague in universal terms. Anyone can use unrefined fuel: only Scout ships and Military ships can use it safely.

Why? Because their engines are made to use it.

How? Eloquent silence. In LBB2 there's no discussion, at all, about what it is that makes a an A drive in a scout/courier happy about using unrefined fuel, and what makes an A drive in a Free Trader choke on it sometimes.

Since that choking can be expensive (drive failures) or deadly (misjumps,) it has a huge effect, or should: any merchant captain visiting a backwater world is throwing lives in the balance, just from the misjump risk.

(Now, I've been using a tech cutoff for this IMTU so far: I assume that jump drives are finicky, and that fuel refinement is actually a very difficult industrial process. Military craft of the Festrian Empire are built at TL 13+, generally (IIRC that's the cutoff for being able to do a Book 2 Type T or C) and so I assume that drives of whatever class, made to that tech, are capable of using Unrefined fuel safely. Scout ships fall under that category.)

When I was wee and my first set of LBBs was new, I wavered around. I figured that fuel scoops were the only equipment you needed to use unrefined fuel safely - so every ship built streamlined could do it. A cheap and easy solution - but it means that virtually NO ship should ever be made without streamlining (just as any ship built using High Guard ought to pack a refiner, it's silly not to.) It certainly makes things easier for your Merchants flogging Free Traders around the galaxy: in particular, it makes skipping a LOT easier. But I'm not sure I like that solution now, especially since it doesn't make sense to me that LBB2 would include those rules if the ships that most PCs could access weren't affected by them. (It confused matters further when Supplement, um 7? includes a Fat Trader SPECIFICALLY said to sport a refinement plant, and a Fart Raider Far Trader which is NOT specifically so equipped.)

ON THE OTHER HAND, if ALL streamlined craft can use unrefined fuel, then of the standard designs we see the A, R, S, T ships all able to skim safely, while the M, Y, and C are restricted. But then, Gripping hand, are the Mercenary Cruisers not military?

This is certainly an area which makes High Guard look tempting.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Where The Pirates At, Man?

Suppose you're captaining a free trader, as one often does. You jump in system and roll an encounter: bing! There's another pirate. BOO!

Now, what's going on here? If there's an encounter, It's more than saying "there's another ship in this system." It's saying "there is a ship sufficiently close to my vector that we can interact." It means that the ships are close enough in relative velocity to stay on each other's screens for enough time to either be of help, or be a threat.

Unless the navigator says otherwise, ship A will arrive in-system stationary relative to the target world, and fairly close to the jump limit. Those ships encountered at that part of ship A's journey will probably be:

1) accelerating, moving towards the world, and away from ship A
2) decelerating, moving away from the world and towards ship A

Ships going elsewhere - for example, accelerating away from the world towards another location in the system, or approaching the 100D limit in a different direction - will be on vectors that differ sufficiently in degree or length that interaction would not likely occur.

Encounters upon leaving jumpspace are not likely to be planned. Nobody knows when a ship is coming out of jumpspace until it does: the 100D limit is a large swath of space: a poor bottleneck. A ship waiting there isn't going to encounter many ships, and yet it will be conspicuous to whatever patrols or detection systems a world might have.

A ship loitering at the 100D limit should always appear suspicious. An A or B port could be expected to have sufficient detection in place to spot such ships and direct patrols to intercept. C ports aren't as well patrolled, but if there's a T in port, it'll likely note a loiterer and engage it. D, E and X ports are less likely to spot a loiterer - but again, the 100D limit is a bad spot for a pirate to go fishing: it's conspicuous and a waste of time. It's possible: a pirate might hang out here until he gets rousted by the local patrols, or until he's convinced that no such patrols exist - but without first clearing a system of defenders, a pirate won't have much time to plunder anything unlucky enough to drop out of jump.

When a ship's under way between 100D and close orbit (or landfall,) it's moving on a long vector. If the object is to harass a ship and prevent it from decelerating to orbit, as a naval defender might, an interception here might be worthwhile. But it's a lot of work to match a long vector. A ship waiting at a dead stop has a lot of catching up to do: a ship already on a similar vector will have been spotted long ago (probably at 100D) and ships on parallel but opposing vectors might intercept for a brief time but will probably not be able to match vectors in a timely fashion.

Which leaves a third option: sitting in orbit. First of all, it's the ultimate bottleneck: anyone visiting the world has to contend with what's in orbit. Second, it's the only cover there is: a ship staying quiet in orbit will see a ship on approach well before it is seen. Most ships approaching will be low on fuel and will be decelerating to make orbit themselves: they're the easiest targets.

It's difficult to do, though. It's impossible for anything less than a navy force where there's an A or B starport: they're too well patrolled and defended, and there are too many targets to contend with.

If a pirate is equal to the task of defeating a handful of merchant craft simultaneously, though, it might be able to overwhelm a C port's orbital capabilities: a D or E port might not have any defenders of its own at all: it depends on how well patrolled by another world's navy it might be. Any merchantmen that can flee, probably will. A type T or C, moving decisively and using its small craft as pursuit ships, might be able to successfully take orbit and hold it. If any of the fleeing merchants get away to report the attack, no responder will arrive until two weeks have past at a minimum. Patrols may or may not arrive in the interim: but so might a fat merchant or two, decelerating unaware into a trap. Next up, let's think in terms of a play-by-play.

Hostile Ship Encounters

So, you've encountered another ship, which means that you're on a close enough vector to interact. You roll reaction.

I like to adjust that roll according to the presence of naval and scout bases: +2 reaction for navy base, +1 for a scout, +1 for a B port, +2 for an A port. It's much less likely for truly hostile encounters to occur in A or B systems. Unfriendly encounters there with merchants will likely result in arguments about spacelane crowding, trade competition, and the like, and will probably result in legalities in port.

But suppose it's a C port, and there's no base, and a merchantman's hostile, and decides to attack. he might just think you're a pirate; he might want to prevent you from competing. His first priority will be defending his multimillion credit ship. But if he can get a lucky shot in and cripple you, then there's another decision point. Does he leave you drifting while he goes about his business, or does he attempt to board? Types M and R are unlikely to do more than disable you or drive you off: they have passengers aboard, for the most part. Type A ships might not be so busy, though, and may indeed be interested in opportunistic piracy, just like a lot of PCs might be. (Boarding is another can of worms for another day)

Hostile type T ships are somebody's navy, probably, and if you've kept your nose clean, they just want to board you. Just do as the man says, and everything will be fine - if you're skipping, or if you've gone pirate, or if you're breaking local law levels, you'll probably find yourself chilling in the low berths while your ship gets sold at a 40% discount. Hostile Scouts will likely behave the same, or at least call in the cavalry or report you to the Starport.

Hostile type C ships are liable to be local military, or hired by them, and might be operating on the same terms as a Navy patrol... but they might be a little more inclined to requisition cargos or take substantial bribes not to. Or, they might have been hired to streamline competition in local markets, in which case you'll probably be escorted to the gas giant and out of the system. Unless you want to fight, in which case they might pick you up after you abandon ship.

will almost certainly attack. Again, the fact that there's an encounter at all indicates that they happen to be traveling on a vector close to yours, which means they're in a position to attack you.

A reaction roll is useful here. A negative roll indicating attack? Well, they'll come in shooting, and pick the corpse after they've disabled you. A positive reaction means they threaten you first: if you behave, shutting down and shutting up (no maneuvers, no firing, no distress calls) they'll board without blowing you up.

The smart captain opens the hold, opens the ship's locker (with the ship's payroll and operations funds), and seals the passengers and crew with him in the bridge. It might not work. The pirates might insist on prisoners; they might think the captain's holding out; the pirates might decide they want the whole ship. If that's the case, then there's likely to be an ugly fight for the bridge and everyone dies. But the pirates might also take what they can get cheaply and quickly, and leave. If they have lots of time, they might strip out the engineering section, leaving your ship a driveless hulk.

If the captain fights back, then it'll just get ugly faster. Passengers will be taken for ransom and/or enslaved, or maybe they'll just kill them along with the crew, who are totally dead for having fought at all.