Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Split for Bigness: Trading Without A Starport

Hang out away from port, and hail a merchantman... or do it on your way in or out of system. Or hover 'round the gas giant. Roll for reaction: Type S, A or R vessels will be willing to make a courtesy call on a 10+, and that may bring an opportunity for trade. Thing is, port authorities don't like this, so you can't do it near port: you have to go out in the sticks, and everyone gets skittish. A hostile reaction will be just that, because either a) they figure you're a pirate or b) they figure you're an easy mark. Encounters with patrol ships will tend to be adversarial as well. Also, it's not unheard of that a friendly drink in the other ship's ready room turns nasty. Also, goods sold this way are probably stolen, and almost never have proper documentation.
Now, it does occur to me that "pirate" encounters have pretty much ended up being death sentences for my characters most of the time. But pirates are pariahs: they can't just sail a corsair into port and unload all their undocumented cargo. They really can't sell on the open market what they steal. So they need to convert their booty to cash. The luckiest of hapless merchantmen might be the venue for this.

If I go by reaction rolls, though, I might consider this
A) Hostile = attack, possibly with intent to take the whole ship.
B) Middle-range reaction = robbery with threat of violence (shut down and heave to: anyone sneezes and we're back to option A); forfeit will be any cash aboard, weapons, life support supplies, cargo, even ship's armaments and supply tools. Basically, everything that isn't nailed down and can be pried up.
C) "Captain, I'm going to make you an offer you can't refuse." A very positive reaction might mean an offer to trade:  their stolen cargo for your legitimate cargo (this is the way we launder our money, launder our money, launder our money...) Of course, this is also under threat of violence, so if you don't do the deal, this could devolve to a type B encounter, which could devolve to A. It'a not a good bargaining position to be in. It strikes me that the best case scenario for the merchantman would be on the order of receiving stolen goods valued high, for an equal value of the merchant's goods (valued low.) The pirate gets legitimate cargo for nothing. The merchantman keeps his ship, but has to figure out how to recoup on his stolen cargo.

Stolen cargo: more on that later.

Book 2 Ships in a Book 5 Universe

Most commercial craft in Festrian space are built around a combination of what are known collectively as Miller-Chadwick drives. All are constructed according to Imperial standard: their designs are simplified and codified so as to make reproduction of relatively high performance drives possible at lower tech levels than such worlds would be able to produce themselves. For example, tech 9 worlds on their own resources (by definition) can only achieve jump-1: the sophistication of higher-factor jumps is the difficulty, not the tonnage of ship. The Miller-Chadwick drive affords lower tech level worlds a boost: a type A drive specced out to push a 200 ton hull at J-1 can allow a 100 ton hull its 2-parsec performance.

There are problems inherent in M-C drives:
  • The power plants are notoriously fuel inefficient for smaller-hull craft.
  • They're finicky about refined fuel: although Imperium procures its scouts and patrol cruisers with fuel purification units integral to the drive, M-C drives as available in shipyards do not include fuel purification units.
  • They're limited in size and power: few effective warships will be powered on Miller-Chadwick combos. Smaller craft, in particular, will be extremely limited in defensive armament.
On the other hand, they're relatively inexpensive, swappable, and keep the cost on standard designs down.


Even though LBB5 said that everything in LBB2 still stood, we know that's not really the case without a lot of jiggering.

Ship design IMTU is BOTH LBB2 and LBB5.

Ship combat will primarily be LBB5; hence, I'll be using LBB5's energy point restrictions.

So, packing lasers on a free trader or scout is going to have a bad effect on agility, and even then you'll only be able to power two. Even a patrol cruiser that wants to use its lasers is going to be a trifle sluggish: if it wants to be sure to catch a fleeing scout, it'll probably have to shut the lasers down and use emergency agility, relying on missiles.

Standard book 2 designs are 1 turret per battery: so the T has 2 batteries of factor 3 lasers, and 2 batteries of factor 2 missiles. Book 2 ships built specially can use larger batteries, and must at higher tonnages.

Book 5 drives are all custom-work, designed for a specific class of ship. As such, they tend to be much more efficient than the black-box, mix-and-match units of LBB2; they can also be built with integral fuel purification units.

Friday, April 22, 2011

So, since I'm embracing high guard now...

I've been knocking around ideas about incorporating static defenses in HG combat.

If a commander of a fleet wishes to employ planetary weapons in the battle, the world for all intents and purposes is one very big ship. It should have a computer and a power plant; it will need crew and so forth. Armor for these features should be equivalent to a buffered planetoid. There are essentially no tonnage limitations: budgetary and tech constraints are all. Edit re italics: although on an inhabited planet of equivalent tech, these could be scattered all over the surface or just under it, and blend into the background, and be basically unidentifiable... no? So basically, the target-able elements of planetside defenses would be the weapons themselves, except in the case for deep mesons, whose sensors would again blend into the background of an industrialized world... argh.

There should be a fairly restrictive "batteries bearing" percentage (planets being big)

Damage to planetary installations should be treated the same as with ships: most weapons systems need to be on the surface anyway.Deep mesons, while technically invulnerable to direct hits, are dependent on surface sensors and power plants which are themselves vulnerable and damage assigned to them can be ascribed to damage to ancillary systems for purposes of an individual battle. see above.

1) A fleet incorporating planetary defenses has a fleet agility of zero.
2) To bring planetary weaponry to bear, the planet must be placed in the line of battle; it cannot fire from the reserve.
3) If the planetary fleet has initiative, and changes range from long to short, the planet must be placed in the reserve.
4) If the planetary fleet has initiative, and changes range from short to long, it must be assumed to have moved far enough away from the planet to remove it and its weapons from play.

I'd discussed with someone, once, the phenomenon of a fleet with agility-0 being able to occasionally win initiative and determine range, the rationale being that the mobile fleet is attempting its best possible shot but is preempted by the immobile fleet from doing so at the best range presented to them: in the context of HG's abstract combat this works for me - and it works just as well if one of the fleets happens to be a planet on its own. Biggest difference: The planet cannot flee the battle (though the battle can be brought away from it) and it cannot pursue a mobile fleet that attempts to flee.

Anyone want to contribute ideas? Let's ignore cost and composition of planetary defenses for now, since it's a can of worms.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Technology and Trade in the Festrian Reaches

Okay, you know you've done it. Bought computers at 40% on a tech 12 world, zipped off to a nonindustrial tech 3 world, sold 'em at %400, then put money down on a new ship.

All the while, neglecting the disparity between the technological levels of the worlds in question.

There's really two issues with that. One concerns the market for technology; the other concerns the regulation of technology.

It seems to me that where a significant disparity in technology exists - in either direction - the number of people available to buy and utilize it would drop.

Goods produced at a given tech ought generally find a broad market on worlds at the same level. But selling low tech goods to a high tech world will be more difficult: think of a TL 4 - 6 typewriter. Nowadays, TL7, you can scarcely give the things away.

And in the other direction: those high tech machine tools might be coveted by primitive worlds, but can they be powered? Can they be maintained? Do those TL 12 computers have their own power source, and therefore don't need to be hooked up to a donkey treadmill to operate? Or will the buyer have to obtain a separate fusion plant to run his machines?

And what of raw materials, and foodstuffs? Will things produced by a TL 3 world be usable on a TL 7 or 8 world without refinement?

Weapons and vehicles are more clear-cut. Blades we see in use, culturally, at any tech level. Any culture will be happy to obtain whatever weaponry it can maintain. On isolated, low tech worlds, firearms will be more popular than energy weapons which are expensive and require major power sources to recharge. Bullets are cheap. But the military, or the very wealthy might have the power sources, and might want the prestige of the exotic weaponry.

On a corporate scale, worlds and megacorporations produce goods for export to specific markets at lower than their own technological level: For example, a TL 10 world producing TL 5 rifles and ammunition for sale on worlds unable to produce them themselves. (Someone on CotI put it well: Sell a man a rifle, and you can sell him bullets the rest of his life. Build a man the infrastructure to make his own rifle, and you've spent a lot of money.)

But traders at the PC level don't generally have the luxury of factories to produce what they sell. Spec goods are found catch-as-catch can, and as the book 2 system stands, it seems likely that often the goods available for sale weren't produced on the given world at all! (Ever bought computers on a TL3 nonindustrial world? I have....) Indeed, Book 2 trade rules pretty much ignore technology. 

Darn it. Do I need to get another copy of Merchant Prince? I sold mine.

Book 2 trade, after all:
  • You don't really know the source world of what you're buying, because you don't know who you're buying it from. It could be produced locally, or it could have come in on another merchant ship. So there's no indication of the TL at which it was produced beyond a very broad brush.
  • You don't really know who you're selling to. It could be a local buyer, or it could be another merchant bringing the goods on to another world. So there's no indication of the end user's TL.
I got no answers here, just the handwaving

Monday, April 18, 2011

Festrian Imperial Starport Authority

Starports in the Imperium are paid for, run and maintained by their host worlds, but they are overseen by the Imperial Starport Authority. All full member worlds of the Imperium have either A or B class starports, and all such will have regular offices of the ISA; this is also the case with Protectorate worlds with A or B class ports. Worlds with only C or D ports generally do not; E or X class worlds never do. The ISA insures that the starport is in compliance with Imperial law regarding extraterritoriality, safety and so forth, and also have an eye on cargo coming through the port. They are not responsible for customs duties - that is handled on the host world's side of the extrality line - but cargo is monitored to ensure that no Imperial law is broken.

One of the ISA's most important jobs is monitoring shipyards and ships under construction, to enforce Imperial controls on naval construction. The Imperium will not generally allow its citizens, however wealthy, to acquire warships. Certainly,  designs involving bay weapons, spinal mounts, heavy armor, unusually powerful drives or computers are unlikely to be approved. Naval architects won't accept such contracts; financing will be unavailable - but even getting over those hurdles, the an ISA officer has to sign off before the ship gets laid down. A civilian attempting to build a meson destroyer can expect a number of long interviews with both the ISA and Navy intelligence.

Full member worlds are expected, if able, to build ships for the Imperial Navy: naval shipyards maintain their own security to insure that military grade armaments are not diverted, or military secrets divulged.

The ISA office of a protectorate world's starport must monitor not only civilian, but the world government's military shipbuilding closely to make certain that they don't start building ships of the line for themselves or anyone else. The Imperium will allow a defense fleet for protectorate worlds in good standing, but generally this means no jump ships and no spinal mounts: nothing that can be used aggressively, and nothing that can stand up to an Imperial warfleet.

A world with the technology and resources to build a starship can do so without a commercial shipyard. Worlds within the Imperium may not. The presence or absence of a class A or B starport is an expression of a world's willingness and ability to participate in the interstellar community, but it is also a symbol of the Imperium's acceptance of the world into that community. So, within the bounds of the Festrian empire, a TL 12 industrial world with a C starport is quite capable of building jump capable starships, but it will be doing so in secret, and at considerable risk.

(Worlds outside of the Imperium are a different matter altogether: starport classifications there are equivalents only: there is no extraterritoriality, and the ports are governed by planetary law (or by their own interstellar governments'.) Shipbuilding on such worlds is governed entirely by technological and industrial ability, and the presence or absence of commercial shipyards is no indication of those worlds' capabilities. Since the sector I'm building is all Imperial space, that's a non-issue.)

Ultra High Tech Worlds?

There's a problem world that's materialized in one of my subsectors: Class A starport, high population, a unified government: ripe for inclusion. It's just that it's tech level H. Yeah: 17. I don't even... I've never tried to extend black globes that far, or figure out how disintegrator weapons work in high guard. Can disintegrators get past a black globe? How many battle fleets does it take to bottle up several trillion credits worth of ships built two tech levels beyond the best the Imperium can build?

I don't think I want to do the Darrian thing with this world.

I think I might just fudge that down to F. I'm two and a half subsectors into this thing, and my tech levels so far have all been 14 and lower. 

But maybe the answer's there.

Suppose that there's a limit to what technology can be produced by a single world. For example, take a tech level 12 world with a population of 100, or even 100,000; that world, on its own, isn't likely to be able to produce most of the gadgetry that makes up a TL 12 society. Non industrial means non industrial: they have to import it all. There might be a few factories producing specific products: there might be a shipyard. (Likely enough, if there's a shipyard, it's the one big industry on the planet, and they import virtually every component.) The only reason that world can stay TL 12 is they have other worlds to supply it.

Being a high tech world is made possible by being part of a high tech interstellar civilization.

Just as an industrial world needs a high population, the ultra high tech worlds can only do what they do because they have they're part of a network of similarly high tech societies, and they have the resources of hundreds of worlds to draw on. So a TL 16 or 17 world, isolated, won't have the resources to support exploiting that tech in at a major scale.


Or maybe I knock it down to TL 15...

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Control of Technology in the Festrian Empire

Most Traveller universi have no sort of prime directive: they're all about swapping culture left right and center. Tech goes with that. 

And yet, there are all these different tech levels: and generally speaking, it's better to have higher tech than not. 
So the question comes up: how is technology controlled? If at all? 

There was a JTAS article about law and punishment which obliquely referred to trafficking in controlled high tech goods as a subsector-level crime. But there's been nothing else like that as far as I can tell, apart from the control of weapons tech: Generally, military grade high tech arms are both illegal and hard to get. In terms of naval scale weapons, traditionally nuclear weapons are the big no-no; one can only imagine that the same goes for particle accelerators and mesons, but that nobody really needs to spell that out because only a navy can afford the things anyhow. But what about other stuff?

So here's some thoughts:
Governments like to have the best military tech to themselves, when the alternative is destabilization.
The Imperium will have, or try to have, a monopoly on TL 15 equipment: so sales of that to anyone other than the Navy, would be high treason, as would passing on information of its construction. So, jump-6, the best mesons, and so on, all verboten. Passing on the secret of the Black Globe? Kill the bloody traitor.
On individual worlds, the government likely will want to have the best they can get: their tech, or better. Neighboring worlds will NOT want those governments to have better arms, especially in space tech. A TL 9 world might not mind their TL6 neighbor buying TL8 laser carbines, and might in fact sell them the things themselves. But selling that TL6 neighbor TL 11 spacecraft? Might bring a complaint to the navy:
If supply of technological information is likely to destabilize a region, it will be controlled.

That same TL 6 government will be delighted to buy your laser carbines, but will frown on you selling them to
their opposition groups. This will certainly be a planetary crime - but as it may destabilize the region, it may fall under Imperial purview as well.

Jump technology is an important tech to control: it's fair to say that Jump-1 is all but impossible to limit. Building starship drives is likely to be a big industrial process, though, and regular scout patrols on a world might be enough to see if it's being done. It seems that the worlds you don't want getting Jump are the worlds you don't want anything to do with, though: Blockade 'em, or blow 'em up.

More later? Any idears?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Travelling and Trade in the Protectorates

Most adventures are bound to take place in the Protectorates: within the Imperial Reach, but not full member worlds; often off the beaten track and not always all that friendly. Some worlds lack full member status due to their lack of a single world government: some, because of a history of resistance to the Imperium or to foreigners.

Protectorate worlds should often have a frontier-y feel to them. They're not generally on major trade routes, certainly not the Imperial ones. They're not always as safe. At the same time, while they're under Imperial protection, that will often be limited to a brace of patrol cruisers or perhaps a destroyer on maneuvers. Travellers with a ship might have a freer hand with their vessel in such a system than that of a full member of the Imperium.

Citizens of the Imperium - that  is to say, of member worlds - sometimes have a provincial attitude towards Protectorate worlds, referring to them as "Proddies," or worse, "Outies" (fighting words, tantamount to 'traitor') There is a sense - sometimes true - that Citizens in trouble in a protectorate can call on the ambassador (or the Navy, or the Scouts) for help, and they'll be bailed out. It's not entirely uncommon for merchant vessels to avoid the spaceport entirely and trade in the outback, especially on worlds lacking active defense forces.

Considering that spacers and blue-skyers already have a lot of differences, it's not surprising how often Travellers get in fights.

In or Out of the Festrian Empire?

The sector I'm developing now is an expanse of the Old Empire, which has been swallowed up by the rapidly expanding Festrian Empire.

All space within the Imperial Reach is considered part of the Imperium: the Imperium recognizes no other interstellar government within its space.

Worlds (broadly construed to include the whole stellar system) that accept Imperial authority are granted Protectorate status. They are not automatically granted full membership in the Imperium: they must petition the Emperor, and be accepted.
  • Citizens of a protectorate may petition for Imperial citizenship, but are not guaranteed it, save by honorable service on behalf of his Imperial Majesty.(Navy, Scouts, Marines)
  • Protectorate Worlds are granted autonomy;
  • must accept Naval and Scout presence, either as bases or patrols.
  • receives protection under Imperial law: 
  • must pay the Imperial tribute.
  • must accept an Imperial ambassador.
  • may NOT maintain a jump-capable battle fleet and may NOT build ships of the line.
  • may, at the pleasure of the Emperor, maintain a system defense fleet.
  • may accept or refuse trade, so long as it does not interfere with that of other worlds. 
Full Member worlds of the Imperium:
  • Citizens of full member worlds are Citizens of the Imperium.
  • retain autonomy over their systems.
  • Enjoy the full protection of the Emperor, 
  • Are represented by a noble in the Festrian Duma.
  • Must have a unified government. (Balkanized, anarchic, or captive governments are not recognized.)
  • Must maintain an open port to engage in trade, subject to starport authority and the TAS
  • Must pay the Imperial tribute.
  • Must, if able, maintain a system defense fleet or accept Imperial Navy patrols
  • May maintain ships of the line at the pleasure of the Emperor
  • May maintain a battle fleet at the pleasure of the Emperor
Civilian ships outside 100D are subject to Imperial, not planetary law.
Civilian ships within 100D are subject to planetary AND Imperial law.
Visitors to worlds must obey the local laws, and may be detained if they do not.