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: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
OK, some changes and expansions of the setting for Task Force Singh. I'm still building the state my main protagonist comes from (there are actually two protagonists in opposition to each other, but this is the guy I thought up first.)

The Beta Hydi system was settled roughly 300 years before the book's starting date by way of a huge colonization effort headed by India. The effects of climate change and the ravages of the Warpox epidemic was leading to mass famine. Volunteers from across southern Asia begged to be included in the mission. All told, over 5 million refugees were packed into colony ships and sent out.

The rigorous conditions on their new home, named Arjuna after a mythical hero, led to the creation of a strict hierarchy and a strong work ethic. Shelters needed to be dug and fitted out, vast hydroponic farms put into operation, and a million other details worked out. The colony thrived with an isolated oligarchy running things. For the Traveller players reading this, it was a Feudal Technocracy.

Power has concentrated in the hands of the Jagirdar; landed nobles who ruled through sheer economic power. The Jagirdar were the captains of industry and operators of the vast warrens of worker housing. As the colony grew to exploit both the resources of Beta Hydri and those of nearby stars, conflict among the Jagir houses grew to near warfare. To end this, the houses agree to elect a dictator and form a constitutional monarchy.

Today, the Arjun Samarjy (Arjun Empire) controls eight star systems besides the home system. The ruler, the Samrat (Emperor) has full executive power. Technically, the assembly of Jagirdar elects the Samrat; in reality the ruling Samrat appoints his eldest child at birth and the nobles approve it.

The Jagirdar meets as an upper house of the government, known as the Gomed Hol (Oynx Hall) for the chamber they meet in. The Gomed Hol serves mainly as an advisory body, producing little legislation, as its members tend to be busy seeing to their own holdings.

The people are represented in the Samsad (Parliament) which is based on population. Currently the Samsad seats 573 voting members and numerous non-voting observers from the colonies. Members of the Samsad are elected from regional councils, which are elected by the people. One of the greatest issues on Arjuna is the growing demand for direct representation and more regional power. The Samsad is considered to remote, with each member speaking for an average of 3 million citizens. The Samsad is where legislation is introduced, debated, and passed. The state operates on a theory of implied royal assent. When a bill passes the Samsad, it is held for three days after the Samrat has been informed of the bill's passage. After that thime, the bill is law. The Samrat has the power to veto any bill. This power is almost never used.

The Samrat is the head of state. The head of the government is his Chancellor, a post selected by the Samrat himself. The Oynx Hall has the power to refuse to allow the Samrat's choice for office, but it takes a super-majority and has only been invoked twice. The Chancellor is charged with appointing officers to the various ministerial posts and running the day to day operations of the state and government. Chancellors are usually chosen by the party with the majority in the Samsad, or by coalition vote. The Samrat is usually quietly consulted as well. Chancellors remain in office at the pleasure of the Samrat or until his party falls out of the majority and a new Chancellor is called for.

There are several parties in the Empire. The major players are:

The Imperial Expansionists. They support a strong central government and expanding the Imperial holdings. Currently hold a slim majority in the Samsad.

The Traditionalists. A conservative, religious party dedicated to returning to old Hindu ways and promoting religious unification under one faith. The more radical members want a return to the caste system. They are partners with the Expansionists in the current government.

The Unionists. Their main platform is full membership in the empire and full citizenship for those living on the colony worlds.

The Democracy Now Party. They demand the dismantling of the imperial state and full suffrage and free elections under a new constitution. The hold a small number of seats, but are quite vocal and vote as a solid bloc.

The Consolidationists. Bitter foes of the Expansionists, they advocate spending precious Rupees on building infrastructure and improvements in the territories already controlled by the state, and improving the lot of the citizenry.

The Isolationists. The fight defense spending and expansion tooth and nail. Once the strongest voice in the Samsad, they've lost dozens of seats over the years and are now a distant third after the Imperial Expansionists and the Unionists. Natural allies of the Consolidation Party, they break on several issues so a true union seems impossible,

More to come.
gridlore: The word "Done!" in bold red letters. (Done!)
The setting for my novel is really starting to gel nicely. After much searching, I've finally settle on where the main character hails from. As I worked, many details about the planet, it's culture and history, and the form of government came together.

I had originally wanted to put my system in Epsilon Eridani. But that was soon discarded. The system isn't right, and far too close to Earth for my purposes. E.Eri might show up as a setting for some important scene or the other, or just be discarded. What I ended up with was Beta Hydri, a type G2 IV star some 24.33 light years to our Galactic south. A very old system, with on;y 500 million years left before expansion and death, but time enough for humans. It's much brighter than our Sun, and as I generated it, has eleven planets.

The first three are airless, tidally-locked rocks all within 1 AU of the star. They are named Mongoz, Kobara, and Chooha (Mongoose, Cobra, and Rat.) There is occasional mining and scientific operations, but the tiny worlds are pretty useless. Moving out, all the worlds except the main world of the system are named for heroes from India's fight for independence from Great Britain. Lakshimbai is a sub-Jovian world with a small family of moons, and is the headquarters of the Hydran Navy's operational arm.

Naya Ghar (New Home) is home to the bulk of the system's 7.9 billion residents. Slightly smaller than Earth, with .77g of gravity and an atmosphere 1/5th as dense as ours, the surface is nearly half water, with the planet carved into a series of landmasses separated by channels and small seas. There is life, mainly in the oceans. Land forms are mainly plants and smaller animals. There is considerable evidence that the world once had a thick atmosphere for a long period.

Cities are a combination of underground warrens and sprawling surface facilities. Going outside on a summer's day requires a respirator and emergency oxygen supply. The days are 18 hours long, a year is 2.13 standard years. or 1,037.6 local days. Older cities tend to be named for Indian cities on Earth, while newer settlements are named for local terrain features.

Naya Ghar has two moons, both of which are in fairly distant orbits. Their tidal forces are relatively weak, with the exception of those times when their orbits cause them to exert a tidal pull on one side of the planet. "Flood days" are a well-known phenomenon and are seen as part of life on the shores of the many waterways.

There is an ongoing effort to terraform Naya Ghar. Working with the powerful firm Planetary Development Incorporated efforts have begun to thicken the atmosphere in hopes of reaching double the current pressure with an oxygen level that would allow people to walk outside freely. Critics point out the amazing diversity of life already on the planet and the probability of this life being destroyed.

Next out, at 2.78 AU, is Khan, a small Mars-like world wracked by near constantly dust storms. Virtually worthless, it has become home to a colony of Punjabi Sikhs who tired of the Hindu majority on Naya Ghar. Despite near poverty, the colony has become something of a tourist destination and the Hydran military has a strong Sikh component.

The next four worlds are all large gas giants, all with smaller than normal sets of satellites. Chandrasekhar, Bismil, Lahiri, and Bhagat all support vibrant Helium-3 scooping and refining operations. The system's hyper-limit as at 11.04 AU, between the orbits of Bismil and Lahari.

Finally, the is frozen Bahdur, 41.4 AU from the sun. A sub-Jovian, Bahdur has been judged as too distant for economically feasible scooping operations. It has become the main training ground for the Imperial Hydran Navy due to, in the words of one Admiral "It has plenty of worthless rocks to blast into worthless gravel." The planet and it's immediate surrounds are marked as off-limits to unauthorized vessels.

The central star, Beta Hydri, is either called Hydri or just Ravi (Hindi for "Sun") by the residents. As most of the population lives in sealed cities and rarely see the sky anyway, the name doesn't matter to them much anyway.

The system's population is primarily from the Indian subcontinent. After the spasms of the mid-21st century and the Warpox plague, reducing the excess population of India became vital. Later waves of immigrants came from North America and Central Asia. Hindi and English are the languages most spoken, with Hindi being the official language of the state.

Tomorrow, the Great Hydran Empire! Or the Mahaan Haidraan Saamraajy (The Raj, to most people.)
gridlore: A Roman 20 sided die, made from green stone (Gaming - Roman d20)
I'm really pleased by how well my proposed D&D campaign was received the other day. Having several people say "I want in!" is a refreshing change. I'll start finding maps and doing the research to make this game a cool reality.

If it does happen on roll20, I might ask for players to help fund a gamemaster's membership for me to help make for the best experience. This would allow me to get all the goodies that make online tabletop games great. Based on my current experiences with roll20, I'd probably want to use Skype for communications.

But I do have a complaint. "D&D meets Twilight: 2000" was a way of giving a quick analogy for the game's setting, not a promise to mash two entirely dissimilar games and settings together. The setting I'm planning is a take on the Battle of Manzikert, fought in 1071 between the Byzantine Empire under the Emperor Romanos IV against the Seljuk Turks under Arp Arslan. In the real battle, Romanos was betrayed and captured. Arp Arslan asked his royal captive what he would do if their roles were reversed. "Kill you, more than likely." was the reply. The Turkish warlord told Romanos that he was going to something much worse: let him go.

Historians point to that battle as the point where the Roman Empire began its long slide into ruin. It's also a great setting for the type of game I want to run, a game where the characters are already established, and have an immediate, pressing, need to work as a team to survive.

Thinking about it, the campaign could take several paths, all of which could run into each other with some meta-plots running in the background.

First of all we have The Long Road Home. This is the most basic concept. The characters, after coming together in the wake of the rout, decide to work their way back to civilized lands. It's a reasonable goal, and would make for a fine episodic campaign. The push is obvious, survive to reach home. The pull could be a desire to expose Constans Logios as a traitor, or to raise a new army, or to just get back to normalcy. All sorts of fun roadblocks to throw here, and a recurring foe in the agent of the enemy sent to hunt them down.

Secondly, the players could decided to be the Merry Men of Cappadocia. They steal from the evil and give to the good. The area where the battle took place still has many humans, now enslaved and forced to farm and labor for the enemy. They need heroes to save them! Again, this would a good episodic game. The characters would need to find a safe hide-out, gain allies, and then begin striking the enemy where it hurts. This would also lend itself to a running villain. I like boss fights at the end of a campaign. This one would require a more detailed map of the area the players will be operating in.

Next, is the Lawrence of Cappadocia option. Forget raiding, raise an army among the locals and wage guerrilla war against the oppressor! I think in this case a more constant style would work as the characters work to recruit their army from local nomads and lead them to victory. While fun sounding, this one might bog down into a wargame, and I haven't read the mass combat rules yet. But still, it would appeal to players who want to change things on a larger scale.

Then there's the "Run In The Wrong Direction" possibility. Like the first, it involves getting away from the battlefield and heading home, but in this case, the characters are forced further and further into unknown territory until they have a much longer road. I really like this concept, because it gives me a chance to really do so world building on a grand scale in a fantasy realm. Keep pushing east and you come to places like India, Southeast Asia, China, and beyond. How do you ever get home? Admittedly, this option is the hardest for me as a game master, as it would require a ton of creative work. Plus, the players have to agree to a railroad for the first couple of adventures. Still, if you like road trips. . .

I can absolutely see these ideas merging. The campaign might start off with trying to get home, then coming to the defense of a small village and sticking around to protect the locals, who eventually form the nucleus of a resistance. If that resistance is shattered, the crew might find themselves many leagues from any known landmark and hunted by an army.

All good stuff. I'd be interested in seeing what people like from these ideas.
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
What is the goal of a war? Why are you committing your blood and treasure to a machine that will consume both? Unless your leaders and population are mad, wars need to have goals, and a reasonable expectation of achieving them. The problem, of course, is the state you go to war with has it's own ideas about your goals, and will resist them if what you want disagrees with what they want. Such is human history.

In the mid-19th century, Central Europe was in flux. The map had been torn apart by Napoleon I, and glued back together by the Congress of Vienna, and in every state the effects of the Industrial Revolution was being felt. Onto this stage strode one of the true giants of world history, Otto von Bismarck. Son of a minor Junker landowner, and possessed of an iron will, von Bismarck climbed the rungs of the Prussian state until he was the effective head of the nation. But he wasn't satisfied. By winning two wars he had no right to win against the vastly superior Austrian and French Empires, he forged a new united German state.

And then he stopped making wars and turned to diplomacy. Because von Bismarck understood what I stated above, that wars have to have a reason and a goal. The Imperial Chancellor hated wars, as they were something that was out of his control. But he still kept them as a possibility, as an instrument of state policy if needed. But even for this master statesman who created and ran Germany for 40 years, there was one line he would not cross unless forced: Russia.

Speaking to the German Ambassador to Vienna in 1888, Bismarck stated that one would not actually defeat the Russians. “The most brilliant victories would not avail; the indestructible empire of the Russian nation, strong because of its climate, its desert, its frugality, strong also because of the advantage of having only one frontier to defend, would, after its defeat, remain our sworn enemy, desirous of revenge, just as today’s France is in the West."

Which is relevant to my novel, as I'm writing about a massive, multi-sided war out among the stars. But we don't live in deep space, we live on planets. And what von Bismarck had to say about Russia applies ten-fold to taking an entire world. Unless there is only a small colony present, or the inhabited body is incapable of supporting life and can be threatened with destruction of life support facilities, an invading force has only two real options.

The first is the doctrine of total war. Since you can't control the planet, render it useless to the enemy. Destroy orbital facilities, cripple the surface by hurling projectiles at a small fraction of the speed of light at vital points (as energetic as a nuclear device, with no radiation. So your colonists can move in when the dust settles.)

This doctrine is needlessly destructive, and is usually only resorted to by desperate commanders or in reprisal for similar attacks by the enemy. No, if you want to hold a world, exploit it, rule it, you have to put boots on the ground.

But we just established that conquering a planet is impossible! True, but you can control enough of it to maintain effective control of the rest, just like a police officer can neutralize a comabative subject with the right twist of a wrist. This is called nodal warfare. The idea is simple. Control or disrupt the important points that allow a civilization to function (the nodes) and you gain control by proxy over the rest of the planet.

Some nodes are obvious. Government centers, major cities, transportation hubs. Others may be less obvious. Gain control over the communications network, and you not only can make sure the population hears what you want them to hear, but you also make it hard for resistance cells to operate. Control the sources of food and water and rebels face a desperate choice. There are others, but I think the idea is clear.

This invasion and occupation would be supported by one or two orbiting cruisers, or perhaps a small squadron of destroyers. They're they to both coordinate efforts on the ground, and provide retributive fire if needed.

The final key is popular opinion. If the previous government was oppressive, the invaders may be greeted as liberators . . . or not. (See George W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq, 2003.) If the occupation is handled well, and a strong propaganda campaign is in place, you might turn popular opinion your way.

But still. Don't invade Russia. It's a bad idea.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
As promised, a look at life aboard ships in the Task Force Singh (TFS) universe. This is mostly going to be about the naval ships that are the center of the book, but I'll branch out a bit. As usual, my inspiration comes from the great "Age of Battleships" era from the 1880s up through the First World War.

To begin with, life on a naval warship is going to be cramped. Warships are going to be filled to the gills with equipment, munitions, supplies, and all the machinery that is needed to complete the mission. On a battle wagon like the Carnivora-class battleship, you'll find large magazines of canisters for the big grasers. A cruiser that is dedicated to using Autonomous Attack Vehicles is going to have launch and recovery bays for the missiles, as well as spaces for their maintenance and reloading. The only large open spaces are likely to be the hangers for small craft.

Crew accommodations are going to be tight. While hot-bunking (two crewmen sharing the same bunk, a practice common in submarines) isn't going to be the usual practice, a navy rating will have little more than a bunk with a privacy screen and a small storage are to call his own. Communal facilities for eating, cleaning, and toilets are the standard. I'm picturing six-man rooms for the crew with a very small space for relaxation. Nobody joins the navy for the luxury! Senior NCOs and junior officers will bunk two to a room, with the more senior officer and top petty officers getting single occupancy staterooms. The captain gets an actual suite, with an office and a room for his personal valet.

Because of the ever-present threat of electrical equipment damage in hyperspace, ships will be over designed in terms of backups and ruggedness. Whenever possible, mechanical systems will be used in place of electrical ones. No automatic sliding doors here, instead you have heavy hatches on the bulkheads and manual doors where needed. And since a warped frame can lock a door shut, there will be numerous places where there will be no door at all, just a curtain is you need to block light.

Expect to find heavy fuse boxes and thick bundles of cables in every corridor. Every mission critical system is going to have multiple redundant control lines with a very efficient fault detection system. All crew will be trained in damage control and how to repair their duty stations. Even the cooks will be qualified in damage control for the kitchens and mess areas. After every emergence from hyperspace, it will be standard to do an immediate fault check on every part of the ship. This is also a sweep for anyone overcome by the terminus shock effect. A well-trained crew can clear their area of responsibility within minutes of emergence into real space.

On civilian ships, especially the high-end liners carrying well-paying passengers from star to star, things will be more open and less draconian. The crew might be stuffed into tiny cabins, but the passengers - those in first class, anyway - will enjoy large staterooms with every convenience, wide open promenades through parks and gardens under artificial sunlight, and wide options of food and entertainment along with lots of alcohol. Lots and lots of booze, it keeps them quiet. You'll still have crew who are cross trained in repair and the like, but nowhere near the level of a military ship will show.

The reality of the dangers of hyperspace, resulting in less automation than used today, means these ships will be over-crewed by our standards. Almost every rating position is going to have a few extra bodies above the actual requirement. Gun turrets will be crowded with crew feeding canisters into the breech and confirming a full seal before firing, the power and engineering spaces will be crawling with men constantly adjusting and fixing every valuable piece of equipment, and even the bridge and combat command center will be over staffed. When you can find upwards of 20% of your crew knocked out for minutes to hours by the terminus shock (which is totally the name of the second book, by the way) having too many crew becomes a literal lifesaver.

Now these ships aren't all big levers and hand-cranked wheels. There are plenty of electronics in use. You couldn't navigate without computers, and the firing of guns and communications demand high quality electronic gear. So the control spaces are going to look like any modern command center. It just that there's going to be a lot of lower-tech back up.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
All right then. I've written about the hyperdrive, I've written about the weapons systems, so how about the ships themselves, as they are going to be characters in their own right as the book progresses.

In essence, all ships are the same, whether it is a Greek galley carrying goods to Constantinople or an interstellar-capable warship bristling with energy weapons. They both exist to transport people and cargo through a medium that is hazardous to unprotected humans. So there are certain basics functions that need to be covered.

The first is life support. In space, you need to maintain a breathable atmosphere, a livable temperature, and provide clean food and water while dealing with the inevitable waste products of life. The fist problem is handled by encasing the ship in an airtight hull with as few openings as possible. For most ships, advanced composites over metal sheeting is sufficient to handle both the pressure differences between the crew areas and the vacuum of space. Warships tend to pile on armor, mainly made of custom grown slabs of diamond and layers designed to quickly dissipate heat. More about that in another post.

Temperature control has been the gremlin stalking science fiction writers since we first understood the problem of getting rid of heat in space. The International Space Station has those giant "wings" not for solar power, but to get rid of heat. The Space Shuttle had orbit with its cargo doors open for the same reason. Without an effective method of bleeding heat, your safe time in space is limited. I'm thinking that a combination of extremely effective heat dumps and some sort of gravitic funnel will help vent excess heat. It will also create a noticeable infrared plume when in operation. Civilian ships, which operate at lower energy levels, will be easier to cool, and can risk traditional methods like radiator wings.

Clean food and water mean mass and space. An average human requires about 3 liters of water per day and about 2,500 calories of food intake to remain healthy. Starships use intensive water and waste recycling to reduce the need for more storage. But still, a ship with a thousand-person crew is going to need to devote a great deal of space to food and water storage, not to mention preparation areas and places to eat, as food is a communal thing in most cultures. In history, ships, especially submarines, heading out for long journeys tended to be packed to the walls with consumables. This is a good model for me to adhere to. Also, there's no reason why most ships couldn't have a few hydroponic gardens aboard to provide fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as fish. Also, these gardens help with the air recycling.

Now that we're somewhat safely in our ship, it's time to go somewhere. Since the nature of the hyperdrive demands a trip to the point where it is easy to enter hyperspace, the ships need a "real space" engine. This comes in the form of a reactionless thruster. Reactionless, in this context, means that the ship isn't using exhaust products to push itself forward, like a rocket does. Instead, the thruster uses the same control of gravity seen elsewhere to push against the universe itself.

These are going to be "hot" thrusters, as they produces a great deal of electromagnetic waste when in operation. They will be painfully bright to look at, produce very odd and dangerous gravitational fields in their immediate vicinity, and the plates themselves will produce a great deal of heat when in operation. Which means the plates cannot be inside the ship's structure, but stick out. This makes them juicy targets in battle.

The thruster drive is directional, meaning that the plates are built for an optional direction of thrust. They can be "feathered" to angle their thrust up to 180 degrees from the optional thrust line, but with decreasing effectiveness. Using your drive to slow down without flipping the ship can result in a loss of nearly 90% of the drive's power. Most ships just flip to decelerate.

Constant acceleration provided by these thruster plates varies by design and available power. Most have a "cruising" acceleration of between 1 and 2g of constant acceleration. Higher-powered drives can push up to 10g, which strains the ability of compensator systems. The drives used on kinetic-kill short attack missiles can blast a mind-numbing 50g acceleration, but the drive quickly overheats and fails. Since the missile is supposed to flash to plasma inside an enemy ship anyway, it's no big loss.

Almost all ships capable of interstellar flight have complete interior artificial gravity and acceleration compensation. If you were aboard one of these vessels, you would have no sense of movement at all. Additionally, there is a weak "deflector beam" used to push the gravel of space out of a ships path. Attempts to upgrade this system into something stronger have been stymied by the huge power requirements.

Losing your gravity is a bad thing, especially if the ship is under acceleration. Because it can happen, most naval architects plan ships as "stacks" with the main thruster assembly at the perceived bottom and the navigational deflector at the top. That way, if there is a mishap, there aren't any kilometer-long accessways to fall down. Designs vary, with luxury liners seemingly addicted to the "long deck" approach.

Finally, what do ships look like? The answer is, what every they want to look like. Warships tend to be long wedges or cones so they can get all their weapons facing a target. Freighters are spheres or cylinders to maximize holding space. Almost any design has been tried once, and is probably still flying.

Next up, how a ship runs.
gridlore: One of the "Madagascar" penguins with a checklist: [x] cute [x] cuddly [x] psychotic (Penguin - Checklist)
Perhaps I should go into some detail about the setting I'm going to be using for my novel, tentatively titled "Task Force Singh." As always, I encourage questions, comments, and donations of burritos to the Starving Writers Fund.

We're about 450 years into the future. Mankind has spread out from Earth in a series of diasporas after the invention of the hyperdrive in the late 21st century. The first wave was well-funded mass colonization efforts from the industrialized portions of the world. China and India were leaders in the effort to send excess population to the newly discovered worlds. Western Europe and North America lagged, but caught up.

The second wave came when the now-empty colonial transports were looking for work. This wave was made up of ideological groups that were no long welcome on Earth. Many of these colonies were poorly funded and supported, many have degraded over the years.

The final wave was in the last century and came as the UN government on Earth became more aggressive and controlling. This wave tended to settle in established colonies, while a few utopian groups grabbed space wherever they could.

There is no unified state controlling human worlds. There are a dozen multi-system states in existence, with many more single system states scattered through near-Sol space. Relations are not always peaceful.

The two biggest technological advancements involve fusion power and the ability to manipulate gravity. Fusion reactors use Helium-3 fusion; as He3 is easier to store and the fusion process is cleaner. He3 is found in the regolith of airless worlds, deposited there by solar wind, and in the atmosphere of gas giants. Of the two, it's easier to scoop He3 from the gas giants. Most systems with a gas giant will have a refinery in orbit around it. Control of these planets is an important strategic objective in war.

Gravitic control is the key to the stars. Along with the long-promised flying cars, gravity control is the key to both the reactionless drives that move ships in normal space and the hyperdrive that allows ships to get around the speed of light limitations. Ships enjoy artificial gravity and compensators that eliminate the effects of high acceleration. Losing either of these benefits can be devastating to a ship.

On planets, near-limitless power and negating gravity has resulted in cityscapes that have soaring, mile-high towers and wide open parks. Most people on Earth live in massive arcologies, huge single building cities that can house millions. Most of the people on Earth are on Basic Income, as there are nowhere near enough jobs. Make-work and public education keeps things mostly calm.

Key to the novel is the growing tensions between my as yet unnamed coalition, probably centered around Epsilon Eridani (because I like the name Eridani Coalition Navy) and the United Nations over economic issues. The situation will resemble the situation at the dawn of the First World War. The Eridani are the German, the UN is England, and I've yet to cast France and the other powers.

The actual plot is drawn from the pursuit of the SMS Goeben and Breslau, Imperial German warships sent to Constantinople to bolster the Turkish Navy. To get there, the two ships had to pass through the British-dominated Mediterranean pursued by the Royal Navy. War between Britain and Germany hadn't yet been declared, but both commanders knew it was coming.

I'm translating this to space. The commander of the Task Force has to escort a small group of ships to an allied system while dodging UN ships. Both sides are waiting for the word to start shooting. I'm aiming for a tense game of chess played out over many light years.

I'm world building now because I realized why my NaNoWrMo attempt failed last year: I wasn't ready. This time, I'm going to have all my world building, character development, and plot set. I'm using a program called Scrivener which serves as a great tool for organizing your writing and creating chapters and keeping track of your plots and subplots. I'm writing this on which is training me to write every day.

So come next November 1st, I'll be ready and armed for the task of writing 50,000 words in one month. I'm going to work on increasing my daily output from 750 or so words to around 1,400, which is the level you need to maintain to "win" NaNoWrMo. Along the way, I'll work on a few short stories and essays.

I'm ready to start writing. For real.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
Doing a little more world building for my eventual NaNoWrMo project. I plan to have everything ready to roll come November 1st. Setting, characters, plot and subplots laid out in Scrivener (a program I heartily endorse, by the way) so that I can start writing. That's part of the reason I'm doing 750 words, to get into that writing habit day after day. Get the word count up, work on my typing, and most of all cure myself of that insufferable urge to correct my mistakes as I go, as that always derails my train of thought.

So, today I'm going to look at the weaponry these ships will be carrying. Again, I'm going for a Golden Age of Battleships feel for the book. So recreating what a WWI battleship would be carrying is my main thrust, with a few exceptions for logic's sake.

The battle is going to be split into two "zones" in terms of weapons usage. Beyong about 10 light seconds (call it 3 million kilometers) combat will be carried out by Autonomous Attack Vehicles. These are the setting's equivalents of torpedo boats. An AAT is an unmanned carrier system for payloads attached to a big honking drive and guided both by internal programing and orders from the launching ship.

AATs are going to be fast, agile, and designed to get close enough to the target to launch attacks with nearly no time for response. The standard configuration is a "bus" system where the AAT carries smaller missiles with sprint engines and hyper-dense penetrators. These are the no-nonsense, kinetic kill weapons. They poke holes in things, and a AAT might carry twenty of them, all launched at once.

Other common packages are electronic warfare loads designed to degrade the enemy's sensors, senor platforms, packages that drop decoys that mimic AATs, and even big freaking fusion bombs to destroy large soft targets like space stations.

AATs are multi-use vehicles. It is expected that every attempt will be made to bring them back safely after an attack run. Any Captain who fritters away his AAT compliment will soon find himself flying a desk. Capital ships like battleships and dreadnoughts, won't carry many AAT tubes. Cruisers are the AAT-heavy ships, especially specialized missile cruisers flown by most navies.

Inside 10LS the battle shifts to energy weapons. The near univeral weapon is the gamma-ray laser, or graser. This is an extremely power burst of coherent gamma rays directed at a target. The weapons are rated by their effective output in Gigajoules (GJ). 1 GJ is equal in power to about 500 lbs of TNT. A typical main gun on a battle ship will put 200 GJ onto the target, or the equivalent of nearly 48 tons of TNT focused on a very small area. The grasers are fired in pairs from the same mounting, with the shots going out a fraction of a second apart, so the two blasts hit in close succession. Smaller mounts range from 5 to 40 GJ.

To power these shots, the guns are fed "shells" consisting of the lasing apparatus and and fusion power plant that consumes itself in creating the pulse of energy. The shots travel down a barrel that is a combination of wave guides and scattering protection to prevent damage to the firing battleship. These barrels would be 3 or 4 meters long for the big guns. The entire firing mechanism is in a turret that can rotate and track to place rounds where they are needed.

Which is exactly the feel I'm looking for. Because of the higher than normal reliance on human crews caused by the problems with hyperspace travel, the gun mounts are going to be hives of frantic activity in tight quarters as shells (I need a better word for those . . . cartridges? charges?) come up from the magazine, are placed into the firing chamber, all safety checks done, and fire! An outside observer wouldn't see anything, these beams are afar, far outside human vision. But I imagine that the impact would be spectacular to say the least.

There is a third many weapon system, rapid fire railguns that send streams of fire to destroy ATTs that get to close. These are mostly seen on smaller escort ships like destroyers and frigates, but a big ship will mount a few just in case. Generally, these are slaved to their own fire control systems and once given the clear by command, operate independently.

The one place you don't want to be in my book is between to flotillas slugging it out. Not at all healthy.

All comments and questions welcomed, as always.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
One of my favorite parts of writing is the world building phase. I love creating strange places and the people and things (and the things that are people) that inhabit those spaces. I steal gleefully from history for setting details and odd occurrences to throw in.

But I think my favorite thing is designing aliens. I'm using the word here to define anything other than a baseline human. Elves and dwarfs are aliens, as are those hyper-intelligent shades of green from Procyon. Because building these sort of things allows for great creativity.

One of the things I hate about most alien depictions is that they end up being humans in funny hats, to steal a line from TV Tropes. Oh, they might have weird heads or be CGI critters, but we can recognize their motivations and usually speak with them. Klingon honor is indistinguishable from human codes of honor. These are aliens! They should be, well, alien!

Take my favorite alien race from Traveller, as I was just talking about that yesterday. The K'kree. A hexapodal plains-dwelling race of militant vegans. The K'kree are gregarious to the point that just the thought of privacy makes them ill, claustrophobic as hell, and totally dedicated to the extermination or conversion of all meat-eaters in the galaxy.

You see, at the dawn of the K'kree's industrial age, a slower than light asteroid ship came to their world. Aboard were the G'naack (the K'kree name, means "carnivore" more or less) a species who saw Kiriur as an all you can eat BBQ. The war lasted centuries, and when it was over the K'kree were the survivors and they had a mission that had become beyond religious.

So tell me, would the K'kree trade with human kind? Exchange diplomatic pleasantries? Do anything other than send extermination fleet after extermination fleet towards the Third Imperium? Gateway Sector, where the Third Imperium and the 2,000 Words meet, should be a scene of near constant war, with smaller meeting engagements punctuated by horrific clashes of giant fleets. The worlds should be scoured of life as the K'kree fight to erase any human presence. A thriving trade in looting these shattered fleets and doomed world would attract adventurers willing to risk being stomped to death by K'kree military types in the hopes of striking it rich.

But instead we got a watered down version of this, where if you abstained from eating meat for several days, it was totally cool because the K'kree would ignore the existence of a few trillion meat-eating humans. That always bugged me no end.

Now when I do my own aliens, I look hard at what they are to begin to understand how they act. As an example, my race of sentient blimps (called Blimps by humans, their own language is a series of colors and shapes formed on their skin) evolved as grazers in swallow swamps and river deltas. They use long tentacles to grab both mooring points and food as they stride along. I decided that rather than having sex, Blimp females drop egg sacks in still waters, and males are attracted and fertilize them. Also, Blimps have distributed brain networks. Along with a large brain near the forward eye clusters, there are neural nodes all through the body. Blimps never sleep, completely. There's always some part of the brain that's awake. Which means that Blimps are awake and dreaming at the same time.

So here we have a race with no traditional family structure, as eggs and the spawn are community assets, a worldview that sees dreams and the waking world as one, and communicates by changing the patterns and colors of their skin. They are not going to have the same thoughts and goals as humans! Indeed, even once we figure out how to talk to them, it may be that we find them infuriatingly vague and other-worldly; while they find us to to be boring and rude. Artists would love the Blimps, and who knows, the Blimps might find some value in human visual arts.

Of course, Blimps use colors for mood enhancements. Since blue is the primary color of the swamps they live in, blue is the color a Blimp uses to hide, so it is associate with fear. Meaning they'd be quite confused by Picasso's Blue Period. Also, don't wear your red power tie to the meeting, Blimps use hydrogen to float, and they are a little touchy about fire-like colors. I love these guys, I just wish I could figure out how to write a book around them.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
I'm working on a setting for a science-fiction novel. Essentially I want to recreate the feel of travel in the Edwardian era. Travel taking days or weeks, constant danger, and poor communications.

The germ of this idea came from reading about the pursuit of the SMS Goeben and SMS Breslau, two ships of the Imperial German Navy sent to reinforce the Turkish fleet in the opening days of the First World War, before England entered the fight on the French side. The two ships had to run a gauntlet of Royal Navy vessels, constantly seeking to outwit the English, and dealing with damaged boilers and lack of safe harbors.

No imagine the same scene in space. A task force sent to support an ally, but having to evade an enemy force while both sides wait for the order to be given for open hostilities to commence. I figure it would have the same tense feel of a submarine/destroyer conflict, but rather than not being able to see the enemy, the suspense would be in figuring out where the enemy is going.

To create this tension, I'm setting up some base rules for how ships work.

1. Hyper-drive equipped ships can reach speeds of up to about 1,000c, or 1,000 times the speed of light. However, maintenance and fuel requirements rise sharply in drives designed for the highest speeds. Such high speeds require larger and more complex engineering spaces, reducing the effective carrying capacity of the hull. Most ships cruise at 200-250c.

2. Entering or exiting hyperspace requires a local gravity field of at least .000006g. Which in our solar system is roughly at the orbit of Saturn. Entry and exit can be pushed in high fields, but it's hard on the equipment. Ships trying to push deep past the hyper rim can be forced out of hyperspace without warning. This has been difficult for some people to get, but it's simple. Hyperspace entry and exit needs at least a minimal gravitational field to work. Theoretically, you could enter h-space from a planet's surface. However, "current" engineering limitations means that trick will end in a huge explosion. Ships therefore will enter normal space at or near the minimum gradiant, or "h-edge" to reduce stress on equipment.

3. Hyperspace is damaging. Ships and people in transit begin to suffer effects of hyperspace after several days of travel. Early symptoms of Hyperspace Adaptation Syndrome (HAS) are headaches, numbness or tingling in extremities, nausea, and vision or hearing issues. The longer a trip continues, the more severe the issues become. Extended voyages can result in permanent damage to the nervous system or death. Electronic systems on ships are also disrupted, though they can be better shielded. As a result, starships tend to have more redundancy in electrical systems and larger crews than we would expect today as they can't trust automated systems as much as we do.

4. Additionally, ships exiting hyperspace are subject to "terminus shock." This is a sudden attack of HAS, causing everyone on a ship emerging from hyperspace to be stunned or nauseated for as long as several minutes. Those already suffering from severe effects of travel can be killed by this shock. The deeper a ship goes past the hyper rim, the more severe the shock. Ship's systems already suffering from damage from h-space exposure can fail spectacularly due to terminus shock. It is customary for ships to run diagnostic tests on everything after exiting h-space.

5. Speed and distance increase the severity of negative effects of travel. The pilots of high-speed couriers tend to have short careers and amazing health care plans. Astrogators (the space travel version of a navigator) will need to plot courses that minimize their time in hyperspace by juggling speed and the distance to be traveled. Which means controlling access to certain stars will be quite lucrative as trade will funnel through them.

Now, interstellar communications. Faster than light (FTL) communications exist, but they are limited. The power and plant requirements for a true FTL sending station are massive. The systems that can afford them usually build sending stations on asteroids or moons close to the hyper rim. These stations tend to be heavily fortified against attack.

The sending system itself has limited bandwidth. Messages tend to be telegraph-short. Anything longer than a few hundred characters will take an extremely long time to send and consume vast amounts of power. Governments and big corporations tend to use codes whenever possible to reduce the sending costs.

Stations can broadcast or aim a message at another station. Directed messages will suffer some signal spread as they propagate, but the effect is minimal. Messages move at about 10,000c, so a message sent from Earth to Æsir, a planet orbiting Epsilon Eridani, 10.475 light years away, would arrive in just over nine hours. A ship traveling at 250c would make the same voyage in a bit over 15 days.

Larger ships can carry receivers. This allows them to get messages even when moving in hyperspace. Due to the limitations of the media, these tend to be three letter code groups, like used today with ballistic missile subs. Warships are issued code books (that are updated on a regular basis) used to determine what their orders are. As an example:

RQD (All 3rd Fleet Units)
YYT (War Plan Case Ocher)
SNW (Rendezvous Wolf 359)

In which case every ship of the 3rd Fleet would open their safes, pull out Case Ocher, and plot courses to Wolf 359. It's possible to issue different code books to different organizational units, so while YYT means war to 3rd Fleet, to 2nd Fleet units it means "Eat your veggies" and SNW mean "null message group."

I'll be doing more on weapons and tactics. I want to know my universe before I start writing in it.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
Doing a little thought as to how to recreate the tensions of a WWI era naval pursuit in an interstellar setting. Let's start with the drive and it's effects.

1. Drives can reach up to about 500c. However, maintenance and fuel requirements rise sharply in drives designed for the highest speeds.

2. Entering or exiting hyperspace requires a local gravity field of at least .000006g. Entry and exit can be pushed in high fields, but it's hard on the equipment. Ships trying to push deep past the hyper rim can be forced out of hyperspace without warning.

3. Hyperspace is damaging. Ships and people in transit begin to suffer effects of hyperspace after several days of travel. Early symptoms are headaches, numbness or tingling in extremities, nausea, and vision or hearing issues. The longer a trip continues, the more severe the issues become. Extended voyages can result in permanent brain damage or death. Electronic systems on ships are also disrupted, though they can be better shielded.

4. Additionally, ships exiting hyperspace are subject to "terminus shock." This is a sudden attack of hyperspace sickness, causing everyone on a ship emerging from hyperspace to be stunned or nauseated for as long as several minutes. Those already suffering from severe effects of travel can be killed by this shock. The deeper a ship goes past the hyper rim, the more severe the shock.

5. Speed increases the onset of negative effects of travel. The pilots of high-speed couriers tend to have short careers and amazing health care plans.

So, we have a set up where ships will need to plot courses that minimize their time in hyperspace. Which means controlling access to certain stars will be quite lucrative as trade will funnel through them.

Now, interstellar communications. FTL comms exist, but they are limited.

1. The power and plant requirements for a true FTL sending station are massive.

2. The systems that can afford them usually build them on asteroids or moons close to the hyper rim. These stations tend to be fortified.

3. The system has limited bandwidth. Messages tend to be telegraph-short.

4. Stations can broadcast or aim a message at another station.

5. Messages move at about 10,000c

6. Larger ships can carry receivers. This allows them to get messages even when moving in hyperspace.

7. Due to limitations, these tend to be three letter code groups, like used with ballistic missile subs. As an example:

RQD (All 3rd Fleet Units)
YYT (War Plan Case Ocher)
SNW (Rendezvous Wolf 359)

In which case every ship of the 3rd Fleet would open their safes, pull out Case Ocher, and plot courses to Wolf 359.

More to come.
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: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Gaming - EatRads)
The First Diaspora was commercial, when we spread through the solar system to exploit asteroids and gas giants. We learned that space was dangerous, and ready to kill us in many ways. The new breed of colonists grew strong and prospered.

The Second Diaspora was cultural, after we were contacted by an IRSOL Star City and given the hyperdrive. Suddenly the stars were open to us, and any culture or sect that wanted freedom embarked on massive transports and headed to new worlds. We learned that we were not alone, and that we'd often have to fight for our survival. These colonists adapted to their new homes, many changing their very DNA to fit in.

The Third Diaspora was one of survival. During the madness of the Purity Wars, an ancient gateway was discovered in Sol's Kuiper Belt. The Resistance set up an underground railroad, using any ship they could get their hands on the funnel dissidents and and the dispossessed through the gate. In the end, millions were saved and sent to a cluster near the North America Nebula, 1,600 light years from home. But then disaster struck. A Pure Earth raid on the gateway destroyed it.

We were marooned. Years from the Terran Federation with no way of knowing a safe route back.

So we settled in. Explored. Expanded. Settled and built. But fearing the return of tyranny, each world remained independent. We traded, debated, and prospered. Until the Korellians found us. In less than 14 kilo-hours, we were defeated and enslaved.

That was a century ago. We've learned. We've organized. Quietly, the worlds of the North America Cluster have formed a united government, the Confederate Systems Alliance, and have spent two decades carefully assembling the means of rebellion.

Recently something has distracted the Korellians. Fewer Battle Fleets patrol our space and the quality of Imperial Legions garrisoned on our worlds has dropped. Rumors come to us that the Empire has found itself locked in a bloody war with an implacable enemy. Our time has come.

But before we can light the fuse and bring the fight into the open, there is much to be done. Sabotage, assassinations, smuggling, subversion, intelligence gathering. All vital steps on our path to freedom.

Are you up to the task?

Divided, We Fell. United We Rise. The war starts in 35 kilo-hours!
gridlore: A Roman 20 sided die, made from green stone (Gaming - Roman d20)
I'm currently reading The Alexiad, written by Anna Komnene. She was the daughter of Alexios I Komnenos, Emperor of Rome from 1081 to 1118. The book is a fascinating look at one of the more interesting Byzantine emperors from an inside perspective. Anna herself is an interesting figure.

You also have the fact that this book was written in the middle of the 12th century, which flavors the views of the author. Anna, despite being a highly-educated woman and possessing a healthy dose of skepticism about prophecy and astrology, accepts religious miracles as fact. Which leads to one of the best ideas for a RPG dungeon crawl I've ever seen.

Book I of the Alexiad concerns the rebellion against Nikephoros III Botaneiates that brought Alexios to the throne. Nikephoros Melissenos, a brilliant general, was also marching on Constantinople. The two forces were exchanging letters trying to broker as deal. Here's the relevant passage:

Adventure seed

A tomb that seeps oil that cures all manners of things.

OK, let's make this an interesting Place of Mystery. The Temple honoring Demetrios is is fairly remote. The Church of the Healing God used to holy oil not only to effect cures at the hospital built there, but to manufacture heal potions that were a nice money maker for the order. People who made the pilgrimage to the temple also tended to leave generous offerings.

This will be a large complex. Aside from the actual temple and hospital, you'll have a religious school, a caravanserai, quarters for the priests and craftspeople, satellite temples, a tomb complex for the notable priests, storehouses, and a complex where the holy oil was turned into potions. Put the actual temple up against a bluff, that was it can be built into the cliff side. There will also be several agricultural villages nearby to provide the complex with food.

The actual tomb of Demetrios is inside the bluff, in a stone sarcophagus carved out of the rock. The oil that seeps out is collected in a series of drains, which takes to a collecting and barreling room on a lower lever. That space will be connected to a surface room by an elevator. Workers collect the oil, move it to the elevator, which takes it to the workshops mentioned above. The entrance to the tomb is behind a secret door in the temple. The workman's entrance to the collection room is more obvious and outside the temple proper.

Now, the who thing was overrun by barbarians, orcs, Perfidious Genoans. . . whatever baddies you want who would attack, loot what they could find, and move on. Dumb is better, as they wouldn't stop to figure out things like secret doors and the like. The Church of the Healing God knows that the odds of that areas being secured anytime soon is slight. So they have another plan: Get the body.

Here's the scenario. The Church needs a party of experienced adventurers to lead a high-ranking priest and several acolytes to the temple. Once there, the priest will oversee the ritual of removing the body from the tomb. If the body is touched by anyone who is unclean, the body rots away. Also, the Church wants as much oil as can be loaded onto a wagon or two. In return, the party can keep 90% of what they find (the person making the offer will mention that there is a large treasuty somewhere near the altar) and receive free healing for life from the temple. Raise Dead will still cost the usual fee.

There's always a catch. The priest is not an adventurer. He's spent his whole life in temples and the church bureaucracy. All the church people are dedicated pacifists and sworn to heal all who need it. Including monsters. The priest can be just naive about the realities of the world or an arrogant buffoon. They all know a few healing spells, and are great at first aid, but utterly useless in a fight.

Finally, there is something living in the oil collection chamber. Pick any appropriate monster, but living ankle deep in miracle healing oil has changing it. Whatever it is, it is a huge version of the monster, with a regeneration ability that would make a troll jealous. And it's addicted to the oil, and would not appreciate any attempt to remove any of the barrels, or the removal of the saint's body. Oh, and the oil is highly flammable.

For Pathfinder, party level should be around 7 with one person having the Leadership feat. Having loyal retainers to guard the horses would be ideal. Killing the priest is a decidedly evil act, and the Gods will notice.

So, what do y'all think?

gridlore: A Roman 20 sided die, made from green stone (Gaming - Roman d20)
I'm reading Osman's Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire by Caroline Finkel. There's a passage describing what Western Anatolia was like at the time of the rise of the Tribe of Osman. Both the Byzantine and Seljuk-Ilkhanid empires were in decline; the former withdrawing steadily towards Constantinople, the latter wracked by internal strife and clinging to territories along the Mediterranean coast to the south. The lands between these two fading states were. . .
. . . criss-crossed by overlapping networks of nomads and seminomads, raiders, volunteers on their way to join military adventurers, slaves of various backgrounds, wandering dervishes, monks and churchmen trying to keep in touch with their flock, displaced peasants and townspeople seeking refuge, disquieted souls seeking cure and consolation at sacred sites, Muslim schoolmen seeking patronage, and the inevitable risk-driven merchants of the late medieval period. 
Tell me that isn't an epic setting for adventures! Right in that passage, I see barbarians, fighters, rogues, clerics, and arcane magic users all crossing paths, uniting to save (or plunder) a column of refugees or follow up on the rumor of lost treasures on either side of the Byzantine/Seljuk split. Replace the Turkomen with hominids, add in some bad magic events, some lost cities.. the area is lousy with tombs and caves, and is home to one of the greatest subterranean cities known, the Derinkuyu site in Cappadocia. Plus, the highlands hold many ancient ruins dating to the Hittites and Hurrians. More lost places of mystery to explore!

Dervishes, in reality wandering Muslim holy men who had taken strict vows of poverty and charity, make great models for the tradition FRPG monk class. Everything else can be dropped in with almost no modification.

I'm picturing the larger setting being the rise of a new limited pantheon led by the Moon God, who has assumed the role of God of War. The Imperial Sun God cult has lost that, as it is old and tired. So along with the looting of tombs and slaying of monsters, you have the larger game of armies marching under the Crescent Moon. Will the players defend the Unconquered Sun? Rise in power until they can challenge the walls on Constantinople? Or forge a third path?

Let's find out. I need players.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Goth)
Thanks to Tod Glenn, everyone favorite gun-toting liberal (he'll shoot you, but then he'll explore his feelings about it.) I now own an Xbox 360. After some fiddling and fjording, we have it hooked up and running. I bought a used copy of Madden 15.

Wow. The graphics are amazing. The players look like people, they move fluidly, and the action is smooth. Little details, like rain drops on camera lenses and grass being torn up when players hit the turf. You really feel like you are watching a game.

Game play has been greatly speeded up. Play selection is much faster, and presnap options come up with one button. When passing, the receivers' icons are faded out until they are open and ready for the pass. Most play combinations are ergonomic, not forcing you too overuse one hand. It will take a lot of practice, but I do have time.

One of my real loves is engaging in the Walter Mitty fanatasy where I'm a NFL player. Back in the old version, creating and progressing a player was dull as dirt. You hade to buy all your stats, then engage in endless preseason drills and practices. It really derailed the fun of the game. Now, you make far fewer choices. You choose where you went in the draft; high, low, or undrafted. Each affects your stats and team expectations. Next, you chose what kind of player you want to be. For example, you could be a power back, fast defensive end, or, as I chose, a West Coast quarterback.

After this, rather than waiting to be drafted, you scroll through all 30 teams and see where you would fit on their depth chart. As a rookie QB, most teams would have me standing on the sidelines holding a clipboard all season. But the Oakland Raiders.. well, they need a quarterback.

So we have Douglas Berry, a 21-year old rookie out of Harvard. 6'4", 225lbs. Looks at acts like a biker with a Harvard accent. Revels in his image as an uncouth barbarian. When asked about entering the draft he told reporters "I thought about Harvard Divinity School, but I'm already a God, so I chose the NFL."

Since most teams don't alow their players to ride motorcycles, he bought a classic hearse, had a Oakland hotrod shop go to town on it, and shows up for home games with a casket in the back. The casket is draped in the opposing team's colors. The Black Hole loves him.

As players progress, they earn experience points that can be used to raise stats and buy talents that affect gameplay. A good example for a QB is Throw Away. Having this lets the AI decide to throw the ball out of bounds if you have no one open and are close to getting sacked.

Great game play, amazing graphics, a whole lot of fun.


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

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