gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
I'm going to mess with the Traveller default setting again. It needs it. This time, I'm looking at the Zhodani, those mind-raping scum! Or not.

The Zhodani might be the oldest official races in the game, first appearing as the "barbarians" defeated at the Battle of Two Suns. Then they earned a name and we began to learn about them. The Zhodani are human, the descendants of the stock taken from Earth 300,000 years ago by the enigmatic Ancients, and scattered across space. Many of those transplants died out, the Zhodani thrived.

Uniquely, they embrace the use of psionic powers and have made them almost the center of their society. The psionically gifted are nobles, everyone else the lower classes. Nobles hold all positions of power in the Consulate, civilian and military. To keep control, the dreaded Tavrchedle' - the Guardians of Our Morality - constantly scan the masses for thoughts or rebellion or anti-social acts.

Or at least that's what the Third Imperium would have you believe. Later remakes of the Zhodani softened the edges a bit, making them less leering villains in black capes and more an alien-human race. The capes stayed, because they are cool.

Here's my first problem. The idea of an entrenched psionic nobility. In Traveller psionic ability is unpredictable and not inherited. So there is no guarantee that a noble's children will have any psionic potential at all, While Zeb, son of a dirt farmer, but be a prodigy. There would be no institutional memory, outside of a true celestial bureaucracy. Even then, what's to stop a non-psionic son of a powerful noble from seizing the reigns of power?

The problem is the writers were in love with feudal autocracies when writing up the setting. The Imperium, the Aslan, the K'kree, the Zhodani, and even the Droyne all had some variant of "rule by tiers of nobility" as their government of choice. Which simply doesn't make sense.

Main;y because life as a member of the psionic nobility is pretty damn awful. Consider the fate of the Tavrchedle' officers. They spend day after endless day inside the minds of the sick and broken. Know any cops or social workers? Imagine their war stories if they had to probe deep into the raw psyche of each and every unhappy person they encounter. Then they have to fix them. I don't know how you say "alcoholic" in Zhedtl, but one thing for sure, there's no Alcoholics Anonymous in Zhodani Space, because the Tavrchedle' handle that as well!

No, being a noble in the Consulate means a lifetime of service. I would imagine that the word the Imperials translate as "noble" actually means "Servant of the People" or something similar. Because there will be a strong "you owe it to the people" push in this society.

Let's look at the life of Zeq Chtilnats/ On the occasion of his Third Olympiad (roughly nine years old) Zeq, like all the other kids his age, is tested for psionic potential. It's a big deal, and Zeq and his classmates have been preparing mentally and emotionally for a year. The tests are odd, but fun.

Several days later, the Chtilnats family gets the fantastic news! Zeq has tested as one of the highest potentials in the District! His family starts planning his big party while he studies his packing list. Because Zeq is leaving home. He's losing his family name. Zeq is now Zeqiepr and will stay that way until he is trained.

Zeqiepr's new school is a huge facility on an important world. Here, the new students both learned the usual lessons (with a lot of political indoctrination) and undergo more and more testing to see what their skills are. Zeqiepr turns out to be wired for teleportation, clairvoyance, and telepathy. Right then his career is chosen for him. Zeqiepr is going to be one of the elite Consular Guards, troops trained to teleport in full combat armor and use their skills to defend the Consulate!

His training shifts. He and the others destined for military careers live in a more regimented way. Endless physical training, weapons training, and learning about the threats facing the Consulate. Much of the time is spent honing his ability to teleport accurately while carrying more and more weight. And always, the reminder that he is a servant of those who have not been blessed with his talents.

Finally, after three Olympiads of training, Zeqatl claims his new rank as a Commissioned Assault Specialist and reports to his Legion. Fast-forward thirty years. General Zeqiashav, commanding the 35th Consular Guards Legion, steps down. But his career isn't over! He's invited to join the Regional Defense Council as a military expert, and help guide the Regional Council on defense matters. His is a life of unending service to the people.

Now being one of the elect doesn't just mean work! They get great perks and universal respect. The turban worn by nearly all Zhodani nobles is both a symbol of rank and of humility. The bind their hair in turbans, because they work too hard to have the time to style it.

A different look, one that makes the Zhodani a little more alien.
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
Yesterday I took a nap (not uncommon when you've survived a stroke, you get tired easily) fully intending to get up and write the first part of the Threats to the Imperium article.

I woke up to a coup attempt in Turkey. Since we were just there, I sort of got distracted by the news. But it does serve the point that any society, any government is going to experience instability. And on occasion, that instability will require an active intervention.

Once again, I have to emphasize the huge size and variety of the Third Imperium. There are going to be literally millions of cultures, religions, and old simmering conflicts. We've often wondered why the Imperial Navy doesn't just post a cruiser in every system to deter piracy. The simple answer is they're too busy putting out fires.

So what triggers an Imperial intervention? Any event that could:

1. Disrupt trade over the region. As the Imperium is primarily a trade federation and dedicated to preserving the free flow of trade, anything that threatens that will be stopped as soon as possible. It doesn't even have to be a direct assault on the mechanisms of trade, freighters and the like, but an event that is causing damage to the economic health of a county. Civil war on an important planet might trigger an intervention to lessen the economic impact on the nearby worlds.

2. Weaken the security or integrity of the Imperium. Revolts, rebellions, and crusades against the Evil Empire will crop up constantly. This will be a big problem on the Solomani Rim. Anything that weakens the Imperium will be squashed with overwhelming force. For most of these, a show of force followed by the hunting down of ringleaders will suffice. In other cases, the Unified Armies will be tied down for years hunting partisans. The Ine Givar insurgency on Efate/Regina is a classic example of this.

3. Create mass causalities. This is an unusual one, as it includes natural disasters. Any event that threatens the lives of a significant number of Imperial citizens can trigger an intervention. This is a long-standing exception to the rule of sovereignty for member worlds; oppress them, fine. Genocide? Not cool. In this case the focus will be on both stopping the deaths (if possible) and rendering aid to the affected population.

4. Destroy Imperial property. Attacks on Imperial facilities, ships and vehicles, and sapiants in Imperial Service are grounds for an intervention. Two guys jumping the fence at the Consulate isn't going to be enough, but a mob storming and torching the place is. Attacks on the nobility are seen as attacks on the person of the Emperor, and *will* result in an Imperial response. Starports, military bases, Research Centers, and pretty much anything else with the Imperial Sunburst slapped on it.

So, who can call for an intervention? Normally, it's either a member state asking for aide, or an Imperial official who sees the need for such an act. Every Imperial Navy officer is drilled with the idea that they have to be ready to take action. Usually, the decision for a large scale intervention lies with the Count-Elector and his Fleet Admiral and Marshal. Most nobles are wary of intervening too often, because it builds distrust with the worlds of his county and drains the treasury.

When an intervention is called for, the Unified Armies motto for planning is "Maximum Force, Minimum Time." The Imperium wants to stop problems as quickly as possible. If the commander on scene determines that the best solution is the overthrow the local government, so be it. In most cases, the Imperial Marines embarked on a light cruiser can handle smaller events, at least until reinforcements arrive.

On a wider front, the navy deals with threats that cross space. Piracy, is the most common, of course, and Naval Intelligence has learned that piracy usually means someone backing it. The image of the interstellar freebooter with a cybernetic hand and a flaming eye tattoo is mostly a myth. Most pirates are back by governments or corporations, and set out with a definite target list.

Every so often, there will be an actual interstellar war to handle. Powerful worlds can field their own small navies, and as I said above, you can have grudges that date back centuries. Such wars tend to be fought with full understanding that the Imperial response will be devastating. Such wars tend to start out with cold war tactics, and escalate over time.

This is why the Navy isn't everywhere, it's too busy racing around answering the latest crisis. At least internally. Exterior threats will be covered in the next couple of articles.

I hope y'all are enjoying these. I really want to get feedback on them.
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
I swear to Halford the next installment will be about the threats the Imperium faces, but I realized that after the post on Imperial Law, or the lack of same, I needed to address how the Imperium regulates things.

Cleon the Great realized that even with a light hand on the member worlds, some things needed to be defined and controlled to prevent the conditions that brought on the Long Night. To this end, many of the early Imperial Edicts established regulatory agencies with broadly defined powers to established regulations and enforce the same. In the early 12th century, the main ones functioning are:

  • The Imperial Treasury. Responsible for managing the Imperial monetary supply and ensuring the the Credit is the sole currency used in interstellar trade. There will be more on the economics of the 3I in a later post.

  • The Starport Authority. Oversees and administers all legitimate starports in Imperial space. Over the centuries they've also acquired a role in inspecting starships for safety and compliance with regulations.

  • Standards and Measurements Bureau. Originally the Office of Calendar Compliance, this office has grown to enforcing common standards for everything from weights to struggling to keep Galanglic from drifting into different tongues.

  • Colonization and Migration Bureau. Created to repopulated the barren worlds after the end of the Long Night, this bureau now oversees ongoing colonization projects and manages any requests for large-scale movements of populations.

I'm welcome for suggestions for any I may have missed.

This literal Celestial Bureaucracy will have offices on almost every world of the Imperium, even if it's four bored C&M agents who spend the day playing cards. But their main jobs is data. All of these various bureaus produce reports in staggering numbers. Take the Starport Authority. One of the responsibilities of a Port Master is to maintain a log of all ships passing through the port. Name, transponder code, name of the ship's master, and reason for visit. This information is dutifully collected and forwarded to the County capital, where it is collated with reports from the other worlds of the county. Those reports are sent to the Sector capital, and finally, to Capital.

Capital is a temple to data collection. Those port logs from across the Imperium are feed into massive data farms where they can be used to do everything from modeling trade patterns for the coming century to tracking a single ship's travels. Beyond the Imperial Palace and the Moot Spire, the Imperial Capital city is filled with the magnificent offices of these agencies.

From these offices, updated regulations and reports issue forth based on the incoming data stream and the wishes of the Emperor. Dissemination can take years to reach every backwater world, so these new regulations tend to come out every ten years or so, except in cases of vital changes or emergency alerts. I suspect that a large proportion of the traffic on the X-boat network is encrypted Imperial data. Getting a specific report, or changing the data before it reaches its destination could be a fun adventure.

Who enforces these regulations? The SPA has it's own police and security apparatus, as it has physical plants to defend; as does the Treasury when it comes to mints and the branch Imperial Banks in the counties. They others depend on the the threat of an Imperial intervention to force compliance. Or they just hire mercenaries to do the job.

So we have 1100 years of regulations, some of which may be out of date, or ignored, and varying degrees of enforcement depending on the local official. This is why Bribery is a skill.

As always, I'm looking for comments and expansions.
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
I know, i said last time that this would feature a discussion of the threats facing the Imperium. I lied. Or more accurately, I realized that there was some that needed to follow the discussion of the now-ripped apart nobility. Namely, we need to examine Imperial Law.

There isn't any such thing as Imperial Law. Drive home safely!

You need more detail? OK. One of the big problems in the ongoing development of the Third Imperium is that is was defined by people living in Western democracies for the most part. This grossly affected how we defined a functional government. For those of us living in the US, the idea that we are "A government of laws, and not of men." as put forth by John Adams dominates our views. So we invented civilian ministries and the entire concept that there were three branches to the Imperial government, giving the Moot some sort of shadow legislative ability and assuming a standing court structure relying on published laws.

Which absolutely would not work in something on the scale of the Third Imperium. Imagine the logistical nightmare of a thousand regional courts issuing rulings on the same laws in wildly different ways, all crawling up the chain to the Imperial High Court! Between the backlog of cases, travel times, and the general slowness of high courts, it could be years or decades before the correct interpretations filter down.

No, the Imperium is a nation of men, not laws. One man, actually. The Emperor holds supreme authority over the state, and rules through Edicts that have the effective force of law. Over a thousand years Edicts and how they are enforced has built up into a semblance of a legal code. As an example, Imperial Edict 7 states that "the possession of weapons capable of mass destruction if forbidden unless specifically authorized by the Throne." Well, that's vague. But over the centuries numerous enforcement actions have defined both what constitutes WMD and what the punishments should be.

Most of the early Edicts are like this. Cleon I issued 27 Edicts in the first few years of his reign that defined the Imperium. Edit 4 defines treason as "making war upon the Imperium or a member state of the Imperium, adhering to the enemies of the Imperium, or any attempt to undermine the sovereign rights of the Imperium." Again, a very broad order that has been interpreted over time.

Now we come to enforcement. As I said above, it is insane to think that any court system could function in this setting. So instead you have the Imperial Navy. All naval officers (including Marines) act in the Emperor's name and with his authority. So when there is a violation of law, nine times out of ten the investigation and punishment will be handled by the Navy. Usually this means Naval Intelligence and Admiralty Courts. But out on the frontier it might be the next light cruiser to come by on patrol. A green Commander might find herself sitting in judgment of a group of conspirators against the realm. (Hint: this is a campaign hook.)

So what prevents abuses? Such trials and their results are reported up the chain of command and to the local Consul-General and Count-Elector. Appeals also go to the Count-Elector for review. If that Commander botches the job, she might not only find her career trashed, she might be riding a prison barge into exile himself! (Possibly with a few other interesting fellows, who are suddenly given a chance to escape. This is a Blake's 7 campaign hook.)

Despite the informality and vagueness of Imperial Edicts, there are lawyers who specialize in Imperial Law. They study the precedents from across the Imperium to ferret out arguments and loopholes. They are very expensive, and every good Travellers' Aid Society office has a few in the Rolodex right next to the hostage rescue team's contact information.

There you have it. A state where one man rules, but those rulings are carried along by the force of traditional and precedent, and where your fate may in the hands of a Naval officer who slept through his Legal Theory classes at the Academy.

As always, comments wanted.
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
At this point in history, as we approach Traveller’s 40th birthday, it is time to reassess the classic setting, the Third Imperium of Man. From it’s birth in vague references in Mercenary and High Guard, the 3I has grown mightily over the years.

The problem is it was never really designed. Dozens of authors working for different companies added pieces here and there. Oh there was the Moot, and we knew about the Imperial Armed Forces, but it stopped there. It was the broadest brushstroke of a setting. Which suited me when I was 13 years old.

I’m a bit older now.

So, I’m going to rip the Third Imperium to pieces and rebuild it. Comments welcome.

What is the Imperium?

11,000 worlds, the vast majority self ruling is the quick answer. Ruled by an Emperor and his loyal nobles. But most of the nobles seem to have no real power over these independent worlds. So what gives?

My answer is that the Imperium is, in a very real sense, the Imperial Navy. It’s the navy that keeps the peace, polices the “space between the stars” and has the best equipped troops in known space ready for action. The Imperium is a military state with civilian oversight.

But what is the Imperium? Born out of the ashes of the Long Night, Cleon I realized that what doomed interstellar civilization was the end of trade. The new empire was built on three concepts:

1. A universally accepted currency
2. A universally used calendar
3. Near universal freedom of trade

Using these three principles, the state grew quickly. (As an aside, the one thing I hated about 4th edition more than anything else was the Core Sector was filled with inhabited worlds. It should have been one desolate, ruined world after the other.) This would have been the glory days of the Scouts Service, who cemented their role as the more subtle option when compared to the navy’s hammer. Early merchant princes also struck out, using the promise of free trade to sign deals. It was a golden age.

And it established how the Imperium would run for the next thousand years. The Navy everywhere; gaining more power.
The Nobility.

One thing that always bothered me (once I started reading history, that is) was the neat pyramid of Traveller nobles. Everyone in their little slot. The reality is much different. So I’m scraping the nobility for the most part.

In the Imperium the only rank that really matters is Count-Elector. These counts replace subsector dukes, and they are the members of the Moot. They are the meat of the Imperium’s administration, as they control far more manageable areas of space. The local fleet admiral answers to them and the Sector Admiral. They control the local Unified Army, and oversee a vast bureaucracy dedicated to making sure that taxes and levied and apportioned correctly. The Count-Elector is the sophont on the spot. These posts are hereditary, but the Emperor can strip a family of their office if high crimes or gross incompetence are proven. Not all Counts are Counts-Elector, and it’s the Emperor alone who decides who get the title.

As members of the Moot, Counts-Elector are required to “maintain a presence” at Capital. As this is impossible for most Counts, a relative is usually sent as a proxy. The Moot is mostly a debating society, where the assembled member study issues and provide guidance to His Majesty. A year on Capital is a standard stop for a young noble’s Grand Tour.

Sectors are the province of Ducal families, and only rarely would a duke be an Elector. (One example is Grosherzog Norris of Deneb, who used the power of an Imperial Warrant to retain his title as Markgraf Regina.) Archdukes oversee Domains, and like the Emperor, are limited to mostly long range planning.

Barons are mostly life appointments, and are awarded for service. Most come with a manor house somewhere nice that provides a nice income. Knighthood is unchanged.

A note about Social Standing and noble rank. It is entirely possible for someone to be SS F and not be a noble, or not hold a title consummate with his power and influence. A merchant prince who controls the bulk of shipping across three counties might be of low birth, but his money opens many doors. This guy is probably a knight and should have his home estate declared a baronial holding. But still, he’ll be hob-nobbing with the glitterati while the Count-Elector of a poor frontier county will be ignored.

The Member Worlds.

The 11,000 worlds of the Imperium govern themselves, with certain limits. Imperial Worlds are strictly limited in their ability to conduct “foreign affairs” with other systems. In almost all cases, they are denied jump-capable warships (although a blind eye is usually turned to the “armed merchantmen” fielded in frontier regions.) They are forbidden to make war on other systems.

Controlling this is the office of the Governor-General. Appointed by the local Count, Governors-General work out of the Imperial Consulate usually found in the planet’s capital city or close by the starport. Consulates tend to be near fortresses in most places, and are guarded by Imperial Marines. Because the Governor-General has the power to forbid any action taken by the local government if she feels that it threatened the safety of the planet or other systems, it would unduly restrict trade, or violates the few laws the Imperium has. Governors-General tend to be people who've spent years in the Imperial bureaucracy and have shown a talent for diplomacy. The larger and more powerful the world, the lighter the Governor-General has to tread.

Sadly, there have been thousands of instances of Governors-General using their positions to enrich themselves through corruption, theft, and in one notable case, co-running a pirate fleet with the world’s system defense commander.

Less populated worlds tend to have a Colonial Administrator assigned instead, leading a much smaller office. On very low-population planets, the Administrator could also be the Starport Authority Port Master, the Customs Officer, and run the best bar in town (it’s the only bar.) Such assignments are seen either as stepping stones to bigger and better things, or the inglorious end after not making the right moves to further a career.

In all of these levels, from the Count-Elector down to the Governor-General, the key problem is time. Even if you have a courier ready to go, the minimum response time is going to be two weeks. So at every level, you will find leaders taking action. Sometimes the wrong actions, but that’s where we get adventures!

Next up, the threats faces by the Imperium, or how your character got six Starburts for Extrem Heroism.
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)

I now own an iPhone 5. Gifted to me by Kirsten​'s coworkers, who cobbled together two phones to make this one. I've been playing with it.

Yes, I'm a generation behind the current standard. I don't care. I am not a power user. I do not need to the latest and greatest. But I am impressed.

Video quality is excellent. The camera has features that mean I'm going to need to charge it at Burning Man, like panoramic photos. Tons of memory. I have Siri, and she doesn't do pod bay doors. (First thing I asked.) All my apps work again, and I'm able to add more as needed.

My main needs are being able to contact people when I'm out, mapping/driver help, social media, and some games. One of the big things is using Swarm to mark where I've been. There is a non-zero chance that I could suffer another stroke or other event, and leaving a trail of breadcrumbs is extremely important. If we somehow get the money for a new truck, I'm getting a F-150 with Fleet Management so Kiri can track me as I drive. 

But as I look at the App Store I'm seeing there is very little my phone can't do. Really, it rivals my old desktop in many ways. I could dictate a story, edit it, post it to friends for commentary, convert it to .pdf, submit it, and manage the incoming payment. Then ask Siri to find me the nearest burrito place to celebrate. All from my phone. Pretty amazing.

Which brings me to Traveller and the dangers of predicting technology. One of the items available in the original edition of the game (1977) was the HandComp. A device with the power of a basic starship computer but portable (good thing, since starship computers weighed several tons and could run two or three programs at a time. Vacuum tubes and card readers?) In early illustrations the HandComp was shown as being this bulky thing strapped to a forearm.

Now I have more computing power in a device that can literally fit in my wallet.

Predicting the future is tricky. Although Douglas Adams nailed Wikipedia in The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy

gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
(from an email to the Traveller Mailing List)

I've been doing a lot of reading on Italian history, mostly medieval and Renaissance stuff. and it's given me some ideas on how to remake the Imperium to make it a more interesting place.

Let's be honest, Strephon may wear the crown and have the big floaty palace, but the power is in the subsectors. Those leaders are the ones with the ability to react in a timely manner. Due to the limitations of jump speed, the higher you go, the more out of the loop the leadership. So those local dukes are going to be the real rulers of the Imperium. And each one is going to have an agenda. Sector Dukes and Archdukes are going to be the same, each playing a game to get more power for their houses, while keeping the Throne happy.

Next thing I'm going to do is decimate the nobility. Forget them. In my view, most titles are honor titles. They come with a nice estate and income, but no real power. This both cuts the Moot down to a reasonable size, and opens up all sorts of fun. Also, "Duke" is a relative term. The controlling noble of Jewell Subsector is more likely to be an Count/Earl, given the small population of stars he actually controls. Considering the plethora of possible titles, local honors, and possible confusion, I'm suggesting that the real senior noble of a recognized imperial state be titled "Elector." This refers to the noble's power to confirm the heir to the throne. So the ruler of Jewel might be titled as "Lord Sir Bernard VI hault-Wandschutz, OEG, Margrave-Elector of Jewell"

Those administering extremely small areas might be denied their electorship. This can be a good basis for a campaign. The House of Mansakept desires a return to greatness!

Next, I'm getting rid of those pesky planetary barons. In my view, the Imperial role in regards to the planetary governments is both as an embassy and as a representative of both the local noble and the Iridium Throne. The best example I can use is the current office of Governor-General as used in the British Commonwealth. This is not an office you want to entrust to any moron who just happened to be born first! No, the Imperial bureaucracy produces plenty of people who've spent their lives mediating disputes, acting as go-betweens, and working in Imperial Consulates on dozens of worlds.
The title and authority would vary based on population:

  • Pop 9+ : Lord Consul. There more to handle interstellar affairs and facilitate trade. Able to veto governmental actions, although this is risky.
  • Pop 5-8 : Lord Governor-General.  Far more involved, the Governor-General is expected to be a vocal advocate for the system. Is usually consulted on any governmental decision that might encroach on Imperial prerogatives. Strong voice and their ability to veto is unquestioned.
  • Pop 4- : Colonial Legate. No matter what the local government, these officers tend to enjoy considerable influence over the small population. Or they're just ignored. Legates tend to wear several hats, and usually develop several sources of income. A Legate might also be the Starport Director, Customs Officer, and own the local hotel and bar.

All of these positions are taken at the "pleasure of the Emperor", meaning they can be revoked at any time. Some Dukes prefer set terms of office, moving people around frequently to both encourage upward mobility and discourage empire-building. Others, through design of indifference, leave people in place until they die or get caught in a scandal to big to ignore. Governors-General and Consuls can expect at least a knighthood when appointed. Being assigned to an important world will usually come with a Baronage.

As always, feedback is invited.
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
Needs work, I know.

The Wreck of the Free Trader Beowulf

by Douglas Berry

ttto “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot

The legend lives on from the Vilani on down,

of the perils to be found when flying.

The gray, it is said, never surrenders the dead,

when the lanthanum grid is misfiring.

With a hard-purchased load filling her cargo hold,

the Free Trader Beowulf broke orbit,

That good ship and crew was a bone to be chewed,

when they made for the gas giant's orbit.

Beowulf was the pride of old Jamison's eye,

working worlds in the Regina subsector.

As the free traders go, it was more successful than most,

with a crew and good captain well seasoned,

Concluding affairs with suspected Corsairs,

when they boosted for the distant gas giant.

And later that flight when the ship's sensors called,

could it be Corsairs they'd been fleeing?

The fuel run was done and the ship clawed back up,

seeking the safety of orbit.

But there dead ahead, filling the crew full of dread

'twas three Corsairs tracking with them.

Without a word of command the Beowulf's crew to a man,

took the ship to General Quarters

When the pirate came in range the gunners opened fire,

this ship's no prize for the taking.

When the return fire came, Jamison grabbed the com, sayin'.

"Turret one, it's not responding"

A few salvos more, when the main drive cutout; he said,

"Fellas, there's one shot to save us!"

The captain sent out he was losing air fast,

and the good ship and crew needed saving.

And later in the fight when his jump grid flared,

came the wreck of the Free Trader Beowulf

Does any one know where the souls of men go

when they're lost in the vastness of jumpspace?

The Navy men say he was just three diameters away,

from the giant when he pushed the jump button

They might have blown up or they might have misjumped;

they may still be traveling forever.

And all you can see is some orbital debris,

the remains of a forgotten battle..

Jewell stands strong, Regina plots,

in the halls of the archducal mansion.

The Sword Worlds steam with impossible dreams;

of empires and domination.

And farther to rim we have Lunion,

a crossroads for who would travel.

Free traders still search for a way to get rich,

with the Free Trader Beowulf remembered.

In startown halls across the Spinward Main,

you hear the old spacers remember.

They drink Moran wine, every man seven times.

for each soul on the Free Trader Beowulf.

The legend lives on from the Vilani on down,

of the perils to be found when flying.

The gray, it is said, never surrenders the dead,

when the lanthanum grid is misfiring.

gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Penguin - Carpe)
I'm starting a small business. I'm also experiencing stress and the need for More Beer, but I understand this is a common reaction.

Gridlore Design Studios, Inc. (There's nothing there right now, but still... I have a domain!)

We've received permission from Marc Miller to do subsector books for the latest version of the game, Traveller5. The initial proposal was nixed, but he gave me a list of subsectors he'd like to see done in support of the ongoing metaplot.

So, now I just have to complete the stuff on LegalZoom, pay for that, see if I need a County or city business license, talk to the bank about setting up a corporate account, lasso writers and artists, figure out the formatting of the book, set up a production schedule and deadlines, start working my contacts in the industry for advice, not to mention doing my share an then some of the writing and editing. Thank Halford I have no art skills or I'd be stressing about that as well. Oh, and we need to determine compensation rates

About that last bit... I've done more than my share of work for credit. I will be damned if anyone who works for me works for free. It may be a t-shirt and a coupon for pizza, but I will pay everyone who does work for me. If I'm going to do this professionally, I am going to be professional from the start.

I love Traveller. I love creating awesome worlds to play in. Now, I have the chance to make some sort of living doing it. I'm scared as hell, but damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead! I've told [personal profile] kshandra that if I can bring in more than my salary as a dispatcher for two years, I'm quitting my day job and doing this full time.

So, yeah. This thing sort of happened.

Douglas Berry, President
Gridlore Design Studios
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
OK, this is too much fun. Thanks to [community profile] papersky for the link.

Thrilling Twilight's Peak
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
Anyone who has known me for more than five minutes knows of my near-life long association with the SF-RPG Traveller. I started playing the game when [ profile] isomeme brought it home from PacifiCon in 1977, and never quit. I love the game (in all its incarnations) and the setting. One of the survival goals I set while battling cancer was to write for the game. In 1996, in the wake of the death of Game Designers Workshop, a new edition of Traveller came out. Marc Miller's Traveller (better known among fans as T4) was published by Imperium Games and moved the default setting to the days of the Third Imperium's founding.

T4 was, in short, a hot mess. The problem was there was little or now editorial understanding of the game's conventions and unique attributes that had come to be associated with the name Traveller. There was also an ungodly rush to get product out the door, resulting in terrible editing and in at least two cases, the wrong draft being published. The absolute nadir of the line was First Survey, a sector book covering the area around the newly-born Imperium. Remember, the setting assumption was that this is all happening at the end of the Long Night, a near-two thousand year interruption of interstellar trade. The sector should have contained some scattered small states that had only recently redeveloped the jump drive, worlds with pre-spaceflight technologies, and many worlds where the population had died out due to the loss of trade or warfare. It should have been a howling wilderness waiting to be tamed. Instead we got what looked like a developed area of space with a ton of developed worlds. Even worse, the computer program used to generate world stats borked everything. The vast majority of the results given weren't possible under the rules, and every world's law level was exactly the same as the government code. So, 99, 88, 33, AA, CC, etc.

But among all the crap, there were a few diamonds. This was the first version of the game where members of the Traveller Mailing List got heavily involved in writing for the game. Some of the best material ever for Traveller was produced in that era. Pocket Empires, Psionic Institutes, and even with the typesetting that destroyed all the formulas, Fire, Fusion, and Steel 2. I can aslo say with pride that the terrible combat system prompted James Lindsay and myself to write At Close Quarters for BITS.

So, why this walk down memory lane? I was contacted yesterday by someone who has been tasked by Marc Miller to clean up all the errors in T4. He had been referred to me for information on Imperial Squadrons, the not-quite-the-Imperial-Navy sourcebook. I didn't write the book. That was the powerhouse trio of Tim Brown, Stu Dollar, and Joesph Walsh. I got an "Additional Design" credit because, in my gearhead glory, I designed four ships for the book. The write-ups made it in, but the designs got mangled into uselessness. This experience, and not getting paid for my article for JTAS (along with growing reports of lots of people not getting paid at all for major works) soured me on Imperium Games, and I never even bothered to bid for another project from them.

As a side note, Imperium Games was run by Courtney Solomon. The man responsible for the crappy Dungeons & Dragons movie.

Sadly, I wasn't able to provide any help at all. I don't even own a copy of the book anymore, that went in the Great Sale. Like I said above, I can't even remember the details of my designs. But I have to wonder why Marc is bothering with a dead system 14 years after it crashed and burned. Traveller fans have given up on T5, Marc's vaporware "next version" that has been in development for at least a decade. People these days are mostly playing Mongoose's version, which is very true to the feel of classic Traveller, or whatever legacy system they like best.

Really sorry I couldn't help more, but I'm not the right person to ask.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Me - Desk)
Dear Third Imperium,

It's not you, it's me. I know, we've been together for over thirty years, but I've grown in that time and you? Well, let's be honest. You're still rehashing things that were first published decades ago, trying to make them look shiny in new editions. I remember when we first met. Adventure 1: The Kinunir. How young we were! How naive! The Imperium had Senators? 1200dt was a battle cruiser? Oh, the fun we had! And the fun went on, for a time, but then things started turning. Although I didn't see it at the time, you were already stagnant, already crippled by your inability to grow. You promised me epic games of exploration, and what did I get? A default setting surrounded on all sides by long-established cultures, not a frontier in sight!

What's worse is how mundane you made everything. I'm capable of getting on a plane and going to any number of paces on this planet where the language, culture, religion.. all of it changes and is fascinating. But you, given thousands of star systems and dozens of alien races and variant humans, distill everything down to a pale vanilla. Why travel, when every world is the same? Then there are your alleged "threats." Yes, I'm bitter. Remember the barbarians from the original Battle of the Two Suns? They became the evil Zhodani.. but you couldn't leave well enough alone and hemmed and hawed until Zhodani society began to look a damn slight better than Imperial society did! You emasculated the big threat in the setting! What else did you have? The Vargr? Established that they couldn't organize enough to be a threat. The Aslan? For some reason this allegedly fractious band of clans has saw fit not to launch any kind of attack for several centuries. The Solomani? Dime-store fascists still plotting to get their capital back. The Hivers? Clever idea, but badly executed. And the one race that should have been launching million-ship, epic space opera, damn we need a hero now, crusades against human space, the K'kree, seemed content to trade with species that we were told represented absolute evil in their mindset. A K'kree wouldn't trade with a human just because that particular human stuck with a vegan diet for a month. Humans are g'naack! We eat meat, and deserve to die! The Imperial Navy and Marines should have been locked in a centuries-long war against the unending hordes from K'kree space! But no, they - and you - wimped out.

What's that? "The Rebellion"? Don't make me laugh. First of all, competing factions fighting over the throne is not a rebellion, it's a civil war. Had Dulinor attempted to leave the Imperium, that would have been a Rebellion. But even then you failed. It took about seven books before somebody realized that wars suck, and released Hard Times. Too little, too late. Traveller: TNE failed because instead of a frontier, it gave us established settings that hadn't really fallen that far. Marc Miller's Traveller could have been good, but you filled up too many worlds with space faring cultures! Again, no damn frontiers!

So the time has come, Third Imperium. I've found a new universe. The GrimDark future of Warhammer 40k. I'll admit we've been flirting for a while now, but having read several of the novels (something you never bothered to do more than half-heartedly) and read the rules for Dark Heresy, I'm leaving you. WH40K gives me what I need, endless variety, conflicts with a real bite and reason, adventure possibilities up the wazoo, and with warp storms and the variable nature of the immaterium, frontiers opening up constantly. Aliens that are truly alien, and an over-arching foe in Chaos that can drive campaigns for years. A living universe teeming with culture, flavor, and opportunities for desperate struggles to win fame, fortune, and the future of mankind.

Good luck with the updated material from the 80s.

Douglas Berry, aka Sir Arameth Gridlore
Master and Commander of the Free Rogue Trader Estimated Prophet
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
Day 03- A picture of you and your friends

Baycon TML Party 2000

From the Traveller Mailing List party at Baycon 2000. Yeah, I had to go back ten years to find a picture of me in a group of friends. See the whole set! It was a great party.
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
Day 02- The meaning behind your LJ name

I know I've told this one before. )
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
One of the positions I've held for a long time about Traveller's Third Imperium is that if it has a motto, a defining principle, it can be summed up as this: The Trade Must Flow. (anyone want to translate that into Latin?) The entire reason for the Imperium's existence is to ensure that the flow of goods and information never ceases.

A bit about the Long Night )

From Federation to Empire )

The Trade Must Flow )

The worlds of the Imperium can look to their own affairs. The Imperium rules the spaces between the worlds. The Trade Must Flow.

Posted to my Livejournal and to the Traveller Mailing List.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Me - Google)

  • Still feeling very blah. Not sure if I'm fighting something off, or if I'm just tired and the weather is getting to me.

  • We decided not to go to the monster truck rally. Weather is just iffy enough.

  • Right now, I just feel stalled.

  • Didn't help that work this week was pretty rough.

  • Weather, long runs, and the usual problems combined to give me well over a thousand miles for the week and a nine+ hour day average.

  • Actually gotten some discussions going on the TML that have branched out into some interesting ideas.

  • I'm wearing a hoodie from the Burning Man Department of Mutant Vehicles.

  • This is obviously part of [ profile] kshandra's evil plot to get me out to That Thing In The Desert.

  • I haven't been watching much of the Olympics, but I have been keeping up on the stories.

  • I'm flatly refusing to support NBC's attempts to manipulate time. You have three branded networks, and control over a few others. Show everything live!

  • Then have a nightly two-hour recap/highlights show.

  • This kind of crap is why the BBC is my main source of news these days. American media is too stage-managed for my tastes.

  • Speaking of news, Spring Training is well underway!

  • From everything I've read the G-men realize how close they were to the postseason last year; and are determined not to repeat their mistakes and poor run production.

  • One of my favorite stories is Willie Mays' arrival at camp. After making the usual rounds, the 78-year-old legend sat down with two of the Giants' prospects. Two kids who were visiting the big league camp for a day or two before going to the minor league facility. Both rookies, one straight out of high school, and they get to sit and talk baseball with one of the greatest ever to play the game.

  • First Spring Training game is Wednesday against Seattle.

  • GO GIANTS!!!

gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
One of my major complaints about the Third Imperium is it reads like a children's history book. Loyal nobles work cheerfully for the betterment of all, the Navy patrols and fights with no hint of political ambition, worlds as far apart as the US is from Saudi Arabia in terms of culture peacefully co-exist. It's pretty much bilge. Where's the greed and ambition? where's Baron Edmund Blackadder, scheming to gain the ducal seat from under the nose of the current inbred moron who holds it? With a little creative re-writing, we can make the Imperium a far more interesting, and adventure worthy place.

Read more... )

So, there you go. a much dirtier view of the Civil War and the Regency. Brimming with adventure and campaign possibilities. Comments?
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Penguin - Typing)
1331 words. Feedback encouraged. Attack my style, grammar, anything. Part of this exercise is improving my writing.

The following is a scene from my alternate take on Traveller's Third Imperium setting. It's meant to be an excerpt from a memoir of an adviser to Emperor Strephon. )
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
I'm still suffering from Traveller burnout, but something inside me still wants to fix the setting.

The core problem is that the standard assumptions has the 11,000 worlds of the Imperium united under a consistent government that works. Barons speak for their worlds, trade goes on, and we're all a happy family (the Imperial Navy is standing by to enforce that happiness, by the way.) This is all well and good, but not very realistic.

First of all, I've tried but I can't find any examples in history where a state survived for very long with the travel times of the Imperium. Ignore the X-boat network for a moment, and Capital is years from the farthest border. The worst London ever was from it's far-flung colonies was months, and even there they required a great deal of local autonomy and decision making. India wasn't ruled from London, it was ruled from Calcutta and New Delhi by the Viceroy, even then a large part of the British Raj was actually ruled by local monarchs who paid tribute to the British and received trade and military support in return. Another good place to look for inspiration is the Holy Roman Empire. (Yes, I know the joke.) At best a collection of squabbling semi-independent states, the HRE, lasted for close to 900 years because it was flexible and decentralized.

So, let's apply this to the Third Imperium. )

This, to me anyway, is a far more realistic look at the 11,000 worlds of the Third Imperium.

(Was this the kind of thing you were thinking of, [ profile] freetrav?)
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Music - Metallica)
Anyone else remember those old commercials for Reese's Peanut Butter Cups? "You got your chocolate in my peanut butter?" Well, today we have the equivalent effect for me. Traveller and Heavy Metal.

Around 2003 the venerable Traveller Mailing List started discussing an album from a metal band called The Lord Weird Slough Feg that was, as far as anyone could tell, a rock opera based on our favorite addiction game. Before anyone could actually order the CD, the whole thing got embroiled in a copyright argument and vanished.

But happily, sanity overrode the lawyers, an agreement was worked out, and the album was re-released. I got it off iTunes, and of the 12 tracks only one got a three-star rating from me. Everything else is four and five stars. It's not just the subject matter, the album is incredibly tight and well performed. I played parts of it for [ profile] kshandra and she liked it. Slough Feg is normally a Speed/Celtic Metal band, so this is a bit of a departure for them, but damn it is good!

The plot involves a pirate running from the Imperial Navy. He gets caught in a battle between Imperial and Zhodani forces, his ship is badly damaged, and he crash lands on a world were a Professor has a mad scheme to create a hybrid of Vargr and Human using DNA-altering spores. This is so a game I'd want to play in. You also have to love an album that uses the word "nucleotides" correctly in the lyrics.

This might be the only Traveller-related product ever to use the Querion subsector for anything. :)

So, enjoy The Lord Weird Slough Feg playing High Passage/Low Passage

Bonus Review!

This morning I downloaded Metallica's new album Death Magnetic. Wow. Forget St. Anger (please) this is how Metallica is supposed to sound. Every single track got a four star rating from me. No radio-ready hits like Enter Sandman here, but if you remember the great days of Ride The Lightning or ...And Justice For All you will love this album. Whereas St Anger sounded like they'd used tin cans for drums, here Lars Ulrich thunders; and where before guitarist Kirk Hammett was missing in action, here the riffs are fiery, speedy and awesome, pushed up to the front of the mix.

The songs are epic, all but one flying past seven-minute mark, while the ominous heartbeat that kick-starts That Was Just Your Life slides into a pumped-up, testosterone-fueled slab of classic Metallica, James Hetfield's V-twin voice rumbling like he's the ringmaster at the end of the world. Patched in the epic thrash and speed, there are the trademark moments of crystal beauty.

Despite being the subject of much eye-rolling and snide comments, The Unforgiven III is a solid track that will demand lighters at the show.

Four very solid stars. Buy this album.


gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)

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