Sunday, 30 December 2012

Some thoughts on Gamemastering

Or Five Old Guys Go Looking for Their Salad Days

This post started off as a write up of a game I ran last Friday. Then it went a bit philosophical so I’ve split it in two.

On Friday night, I had the pleasure of running a Classic Traveller game for the first time in at least four years. The players were four of my old gaming group who all happened to be in the country at the same time, for the first time in ages, and who all managed to get leave passes from wives and children.

I pregenerated ten Book 1 Army and Marine characters for Dylan and Chris to choose from, using the app on the Signal GK: Online Traveller Resource site, while Jonathan and John manually generated a couple of Book 4: Mercenary Army and Marine characters to refamiliarise themselves with the character generation rules.

I recall that back in the day we used to laugh about how all our characters were these ancient old fossils – Hell’s Grannies – and should really be tucked up in front of the telly with a cup of cocoa, rather than rushing around the universe, getting into gun fights with pirates and rogues. Now we’re saying, “He’s 42, what a pup! And he’s retired. His life’s just beginning. Your character is 22? Can he dress himself, yet?”

Age does tend to change one’s perspective.

I had bullet pointed out the adventure that I intended to run – working up some details to give a bit more background – and pretty much had a beginning, middle and end, though I was a little hazy about what the exact end would be. Oddly enough, this is my comfort zone as a Gamesmaster. Roleplaying is a collaborative exercise in storytelling and I want bits in there that surprise me, too.

In the past I have winged games to great success, and I have written successful scenarios. Of the two, the former relies upon the Gamesmaster knowing his setting very well, and being able to think on his feet. The latter also benefits from having a well developed setting but, to me and for my style of gamesmastering, is much more restrictive.

Early on in my roleplaying experience as a player, I saw incredibly complicatedly plotted adventures come completely off the rails because a) the players did something the Gamesmaster hadn’t expected; b) the players just couldn’t solve the cunning puzzle/trap and got bored; or c) the players missed the vital connection with the NPC who had the clue/tool/map/key that would have taken them to the next stage. In a discussion on G+, I suggested that Gamesmasters shouldn’t over think a scenario – if success of the mission depends upon one “thing” then you can almost guarantee that the players, when meeting the NPC with the clue, will instead mug him and take his stuff; that when the mysterious old man with the limp shows up with the warning, a player will kill him, or the party will flatly refuse to believe him; and when the players should be meeting the shifty ship captain down at the Rough and Tumble Tavern (Thursday night is Quiz Night), they’ll be uptown at Chez Swankies, knocking back wine coolers.

The secret, for me, in plotting an adventure is to work up the background and motives of the various Non-player groups in some detail, and then work out a basic story arc for the adventure as a series of bullet points. This means that you can chop and change your plan in response to the players’ actions while maintaining a logical narrative flow that pretty much writes itself. It also means that you can drop in the information/object/tool that are required to progress the story as you need it, rather than having to say, “sorry guys, if you’d looked behind the counter, back at the shop, you would have found the coil of rope you now need to escape from this Inescapable Pit of Doom.”

Writing a scenario should, in my opinion, be more like plotting a graphic novel or writing a film script, than writing a weighty tome of deathless prose. Chunks of what you plot will never be used, scenes will be deleted, and clever stuff that you’re really proud of will be ignored.

I'm not a fan of Total Party Kills, or even character kills. You do something dumb as a player and I'm usually prepared to help you out of it. Do something stupid, though, and you will be suffering consequences. I would define "dumb" as, say, trying to kill the space monster that's attacking you with a weapon that you can not only not use, but you can barely carry. "Stupid" might be defined as landing your scout ship on the roof of a ruined skyscraper in a city that's been a ruin for 200 years, without checking that the building is sound enough to bear the weight of your ship.

At the end of the day, the Gamesmaster and the Players aren't actually competing against each other - it's not that sort of game. It's about hanging out with friends and having a good time and telling a story together.

And, when time’s been called and you’re packing your dice away, if the Players say, “that was excellent! When’s the next session?” then you know you’ve done your job and aced it.

Next: Secrets in Sulphur – the game

Friday, 28 December 2012

Solo Traveller - Aloin's Saga Backgrounder #6

Now that the Iridium Queen has entered Kamperelian Space, it’s time to look at the Kamperelian Navy.

With a Tech Level of 11 Kamperel, on the face of it, should not stand a chance against the might of the Imperium. In reality, the Kamperelian Republic controls over 80% of the population of the Miazan Subsector. With a wartime military budget of TCr32 (that’s 32 Trillion credits), the Kamperelian military budget dwarfs the TCr6.78 that the Duchy of Miazan is able to raise, while the Kamperelian Navy Yards have over nine times the capacity of the slips at Miazan.

As Miazan Subsector Navy can, at best, draw on about a squadron of Tech Level 15 Imperial Navy ships, the Kamperelian Navy is a current and growing threat.

Amongst the numerous classes of escort deployed by the Kamperelian Navy, the Revolutionary Class Frigate and the Van Dransiquor Class Missile Barge Frigate are two of the most common.

Ship: Glorious 2nd Ferami
Class: Revolutionary
Type: Frigate
Architect: David Billinghurst
Tech Level: 11

USPFF-E2266D4-790000-65000-0 MCr 5,749.5945 KTons
Bat Bear 123 Crew: 66
Bat  1 23 TL: 11

Cargo: 37 Crew Sections: 4 of 17 Fuel: 1,300 EP: 300 Agility: 4 Marines: 10
Craft: 2 x 50T Type-103 Cutters
Fuel Treatment: Fuel Scoops and On Board Fuel Purification

Architects Fee: MCr 56.228 Cost in Quantity: MCr 4,625.035

Detailed Description
(High Guard Design)

5,000.000 tons standard, 70,000.000 cubic meters, Cone Configuration

13 Officers, 43 Ratings, 10 Marines

Jump-2, 6G Manuever, Power plant-6, 300.000 EP, Agility 4

Bridge, Model/4fib Computer

3 50-ton bays, 20 Hardpoints

3 50-ton Plasma Gun Bays (Factor-5), 10 Triple Beam Laser Turrets organised into 2 Batteries (Factor-6)

10 Triple Sandcaster Turrets organised into 1 Battery (Factor-9), Armoured Hull (Factor-7)

2 50.000 ton Type-103 Cutters (Crew of 1, Cost of MCr 63.400)

1,300 Tons Fuel (2 parsecs jump and 28 days endurance)
On Board Fuel Scoops, On Board Fuel Purification Plant

37 Staterooms, 37 Tons Cargo


MCr 5,679.022 Singly (incl. Architects fees of MCr 56.228), MCr 4,498.235 in Quantity, plus MCr 126.800 of Carried Craft

148 Weeks Singly, 118 Weeks in Quantity


Revolutionary Class Frigate

Book 5 Crew Breakdown
Command section: 7 officers and 4 ratings; Engineering section: 2 officers and 17 ratings; Gunnery section: 1 officers and 9 ratings; Flight section: 1 officers and 4 ratings; Service section: 1 officers and 9 ratings; Medical Section: 1 officers and 0 ratings; Marines: 10

Hull: 0.000 Td; MCr 550.000
Armour Factor-7: 1,200.000 Td; MCr 1,200.000

M-Drive Factor-6: 850.000 Td; MCr 425.000
J-Drive Factor-2: 150.000 Td; MCr 600.000
P-Plant Factor-6: 900.000 Td; MCr 2,700.000; +300.000 EP

P-Fuel: 300.000 Td; MCr 0,000
J-Fuel: 1,000.000 Td; MCr 0.000
Scoops: 0.000 Td; MCr 5.000
Purification: 7.000 Td; MCr 0.034
L-Hyd Drop Tanks: 0.000 Td; MCr 0.000

Bridge: 100.000 Td; MCr 25.000
Computer Model/4fib: 8.000 Td; MCr 45.000; -2 EP

3 x 50T Plasma Gun Bays: 150.000 Td; MCr 16.500; -30 EP
10 x Laser Turrets: 10.000 Td; MCr 30.000; -30 EP
10 x Sand Turrets: 10.000 Td; MCr 7.500


2 x Type-103 Cutter: 130.000Td; MCr 0.260; Cost of craft: MCr 126.800

37.0 x Staterooms: 148.000 Td; MCr 18.500
Cargo: 37.000 Td; MCr 0.000


Ship: FM-3227
Class: Type-103
Type: Pinnace
Architect: David Billinghurst
Tech Level: 11

USPKG-0106621-A00000-00002-0 MCr 79.25050 Tons
Bat Bear       1 Crew: 1
Bat        1 TL: 11

Cargo: 3 Crew Sections: 1 of 1 Fuel: 3 EP: 3 Agility: 4
Fuel Treatment: Fuel Scoops

Architects Fee: MCr 0.793 Cost in Quantity: MCr 63.400

Detailed Description
(High Guard Design)

50.000 tons standard, 700.000 cubic meters, Needle/Wedge Configuration

1 Officer

Jump-0, 6G Manuever, Power plant-6, 3.000 EP, Agility 4

No Bridge Installed, Model/3 Computer

1 Hardpoint

1 Triple Missile Turret organised into 1 Battery (Factor-2)

Armoured Hull (Factor-10)


3 Tons Fuel (0 parsecs jump and 28 days endurance)
On Board Fuel Scoops, No Fuel Purification Plant

12 Acceleration Couches, 3 Tons Cargo


MCr 80.043 Singly (incl. Architects fees of MCr 0.793), MCr 63.400 in Quantity

24 Weeks Singly, 19 Weeks in Quantity


Type-103 Class Pinnace

Book 5 Crew Breakdown
Command section: 1 officer; Engineering section: 0 officers and 0 ratings; Service section: 0 officers and 0 ratings; Medical Section: 0 officers and 0 ratings

Hull: 0.000 Td; MCr 6.000
Armour Factor-10: 16.500 Td; MCr 21.450

M-Drive Factor-6: 8.500 Td; MCr 4.250
J-Drive Factor-0: 0.000 Td; MCr 0.000
P-Plant Factor-6: 9.000 Td; MCr 27.000; +3.000 EP

P-Fuel: 3.000 Td; MCr 0,000
J-Fuel: 0.000 Td; MCr 0.000
Scoops: 0.000 Td; MCr 0.000
Purification: 0.000 Td; MCr 0.000
L-Hyd Drop Tanks: 0.000 Td; MCr 0.000

Bridge: 0.000 Td; MCr 0.000
Computer Model/3: 3.000 Td; MCr 18.000; -1 EP

1 x Missile Turrets: 1.000 Td; MCr 2.250



12 x Couches: 6.000 Td; MCr 0.300
Cargo: 3.000 Td; MCr 0.000


Ship: Progressive Advancement
Class: Van Dransiquor
Type: Missile Frigate
Architect: David Billinghurst
Tech Level: 11

USPFM-E3244D4-A90000-00008-0 MCr 5,633.5945 KTons
Bat Bear  1       4 Crew: 72
Bat   1       4 TL: 11

FM-E3244D4-A90000-00008-0 MCr 5,633.594 5 KTons
Bat Bear 1 4 Crew: 72
Bat 1 4 TL: 11

Cargo: 35 Crew Sections: 4 of 18 Fuel: 1,200 EP: 200 Agility: 3 Marines: 20
Craft: 2 x 50T Type-103 Cutters
Fuel Treatment: Fuel Scoops and On Board Fuel Purification

Architects Fee: MCr 55.068 Cost in Quantity: MCr 4,532.235

Detailed Description
(High Guard Design)

5,000.000 tons standard, 70,000.000 cubic meters, Cylinder Configuration

13 Officers, 39 Ratings, 20 Marines

Jump-2, 4G Manuever, Power plant-4, 200.000 EP, Agility 3

Bridge, Model/4fib Computer

4 100-ton bays, 10 Hardpoints

4 100-ton Missile Bays (Factor-8)

10 Triple Sandcaster Turrets organised into 1 Battery (Factor-9), Armoured Hull (Factor-10)

2 50.000 ton Type-103 Cutters (Crew of 2, Cost of MCr 63.400)

1,200 Tons Fuel (2 parsecs jump and 28 days endurance)
On Board Fuel Scoops, On Board Fuel Purification Plant

40 Staterooms, 35 Tons Cargo


MCr 5,561.862 Singly (incl. Architects fees of MCr 55.068), MCr 4,405.435 in Quantity, plus MCr 126.800 of Carried Craft

148 Weeks Singly, 118 Weeks in Quantity


Van Dransiquor Class Missile Frigate

Book 5 Crew Breakdown
Command section: 7 officers and 4 ratings; Engineering section: 2 officers and 11 ratings; Gunnery section: 1 officers and 9 ratings; Flight section: 1 officers and 6 ratings; Service section: 1 officers and 9 ratings; Medical Section: 1 officers and 0 ratings; Marines: 20

Hull: 0.000 Td; MCr 500.000
Armour Factor-10: 1,650.000 Td; MCr 2,145.000

M-Drive Factor-4: 550.000 Td; MCr 275.000
J-Drive Factor-2: 150.000 Td; MCr 600.000
P-Plant Factor-4: 600.000 Td; MCr 1,800.000; +200.000 EP

P-Fuel: 200.000 Td; MCr 0,000
J-Fuel: 1,000.000 Td; MCr 0.000
Scoops: 0.000 Td; MCr 5.000
Purification: 7.000 Td; MCr 0.034
L-Hyd Drop Tanks: 0.000 Td; MCr 0.000javascript:void(0);

Bridge: 100.000 Td; MCr 25.000
Computer Model/4fib: 8.000 Td; MCr 45.000; -2 EP

4 x 100T Missile Bays: 400.000 Td; MCr 84.000
10 x Sand Turrets: 10.000 Td; MCr 7.500


2 x Type-103 Cutter: 130.000Td; MCr 0.260; Cost of craft: MCr 126.800

40.0 x Staterooms: 160.000 Td; MCr 20.000
Cargo: 35.000 Td; MCr 0.000


Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Aloin's Saga - Solo Traveller #14

“Are they still out there?” Captain Lukk asked, craning to see Scan over Aloin’s shoulder. Aloin settled back in the chair at his station, presenting Lukk with an unobstructed view of the display.

“Yes, Captain,” Aloin said. His pointer highlighted two returns on the Near Range Field. “The Progressive Advancement is holding station about five thousand kilometres off us on 155, azimuth 62. She’s actively scanning us, but her guns are cold.”

“Could be a missile barge,” Miska whispered from Nav.

Aloin shrugged. “Could be,” he said. He tapped the second return. “The Glorious 2nd Ferami, however, has us painted with active LIDAR. Which probably means active scan and targeting as well. She’s at about one light second – say 300,000 kilometres – so I’m having difficulty getting fine energy reads off her.”

“And they’re both Kampies?” Lukk asked.

“Yes, Captain,” Aloin replied. “The Library Data isn’t so hot on frigates and monitors, but looking at their drive and transponder emissions, and watching their comm patterns, Kiirgun and I are pretty confident that they are both Kamperelian Navy frigates.”

Lukk looked at Aloin, expecting to see uncertainty or youthful messing around - 'Kiirgun and I are pretty confident' indeed. Instead, she saw a confident young man, seriously studying his boards and analyzing the data to provide his Captain with the information she needed to make hard decisions. She smiled to herself. It had been a long voyage, but Meccan Vesukka hadn’t let Kiirgun down when she had recommended her stepson as a crew member for the Iridium Queen.

“Do we have a visual for the Progressive Advancement?” she asked Aloin.

Aloin frowned and tapped a couple of keys. Layers of data from Scan - energy emission signatures, mass spectography, visual occulting against the background starfield - spawned a wireframe silhouette. Details slowly mapped onto it as algorithms refined the data. Revealed, the stubby, cylindrical hull of the Progressive Advancement slowly rotated against the distant starfield, four massive 100-ton missile Bays gaping open and ready to fire.

Captain Lukk cursed under her breath. “Good call, Miska,” she said, finally. “Missile barge, alright. Gut us with the first salvo.”

“Hailin’ us,” Miska replied and switched Comm to the main speakers.

“This is the People’s Republic of Kamperel Naval frigate Progressive Advancement hailing unknown Imperial ship,” the clipped, neutral tones of the comms officer boomed across the bridge. “Identify yourself and cut your drive in preparation for boarding.”

“'Unknown Imperial ship'? Can’t they read a transponder?” Lukk snapped and then gritted her teeth. “It’s nice to see that the Kamperelian Navy has improved its customer service,” she grumbled. “They used to hail you after the first salvo.” She reached for the comm key and glanced at Aloin. “Get aft and tell Kiirgun we have visitors inbound. Make sure he does a quick cabin and access way check for any contraband on the Kampie list. We are not going to get grounded because someone has left a copy of Interspecies Hotties lying around.”

The Navy boarding party duly came aboard – a nervous, young Midshipman with five marines in full combat armour. Aloin thought that, in other circumstances, the Midshipman might have even been pretty, but her pale skin only accentuated her rather bad acne. Also, extreme nerves had sharpened her clipped Kamperelian accent to an irritating nasal whine, which grew increasingly wearisome as Aloin escorted her around the Iridium Queen. Eventually, with all paperwork in order and no copies of Interspecies Hotties in evidence, the Midshipmen and her marines trooped back aboard their cutter and returned to the Progressive Advancement.

To Captain Lukk’s relief, the Iridium Queen was escorted insystem to Floranna Highport and then the Progressive Advancement, and her silent companion, accelerating hard, headed outbound to resume patrolling the Floranna approaches.

Aloin struggled as he hefted the freezer bins onto the cart. The metal boxes were slick with condensate and heavy. “Four, five, six. That’s our lot,” Kiirgun said, tallying the boxes into his handcomp as he checked the seals. He scanned the barcodes on each box and updated the e-docket. “Looks good to me,” he concluded as he signed off the docket and copied it to the supplier and to the Iridium Queen.

“Happy?” the burly Floranni supplier asked as he acknowledged receipt of the e-docket.

“Ecstatic,” Kiirgun said. “Marine life form is back on the menu.”

“Could always eat at the commons,” the supplier suggested as he packed his trolley away.

“No I couldn't,” Kiirgun said with a sad smile. “They only serve three kinds of marine life form, and I've eaten all three, cooked every which way possible, over the last four weeks.”

The supplier chuckled. “Welcome to Floranna,” he said as he headed for the cargo lift to the planet-bound shuttle dock.

“Do you think the Captain’s found a cargo, yet?” Aloin asked as he pulled the cart towards the access lock to the Iridium Queen.

Kiirgun checked his handcomp and then slipped it into his belt pouch. “If she has, she hasn’t announced it,” he replied as he glanced up. He stopped walking. “Oh, my,” he said.

Aloin walked another couple of paces further on, and then hesitated as he realised Kiirgun wasn't following him. He glanced in the direction that had grabbed Kiirgun’s attention. Over the access port to the Iridium Queen, the service and destination board was lit up. “We’re taking freight, again?” he asked. He knew that freight runs were marginal at the best of times.

“Yes,” Kiirgun replied, and stomped towards the access hatch. “And we’re heading for frakking Naltor!”

Another hurry-up-and-wait session. Rolled a ‘Patrol’ result on the Ship Encounter table. As we’re in Kamperelian Space, the patrol was obviously Kamperelian Navy. Reaction rolls produced a fairly neutral response and given the political situation between the Kamperelian Republic and the Imperium, I decided to downgrade this to Neutral/Hostile.

As Lukk runs a tight ship, there was little chance of a slip-up that would have got the Iridium Queen busted for contraband. As the reaction rolls were fairly neutral, I decided that, after a bit of hassle and bluster, the Kamperelians would have escorted the Iridium Queen into orbit and left it at that – especially given that the Iridium Queen’s cargo of vacc suits was actually bound for the Kamperelian Navy station at Floranna.

And once again, useful cargos eluded the Iridium Queen for four weeks, until Lukk gave in and decided to take a load of freight.

And just to round out the year in the real world, for the first time in about twenty years, my old Traveller group is all in the same country at the same time. We’re getting together for a game on Friday night which should be very cool.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Aloin's Saga - Solo Traveller #13

“I’m open,” Aloin shouted, dodging between two of the stocky defenders. Bel Karmhen paused, jumped, and passed as a defender cannoned into him. Both men went down in a flurry of limbs. The ball arced over the court.

Time seemed to slow down for Aloin as his consciousness expanded. He was aware of the ball rising from Bel’s hand, even as Bel was thrown backwards by the defender. In Aloin’s mind’s eye, he saw the equations computing the ball’s velocity, and the atmospheric and gravitational effects upon the ball in flight, and the velocities and trajectories of the players swarming across the court.

Aloin took two long steps and launched himself into the air, aware that two more defenders were converging on him. He stretched out in flight, straining towards the point in space where the ball would be in time. His hand, fingers dagger-pointed, swept up as the ball flashed past, deflecting its course towards the backboard behind the goal. Even as he fell he twisted. The ball struck the backboard with a crack and rebounded. As the ball struck his hand again, stinging, he pushed back, flicking it up in a parabola. Shedding velocity, the ball shot through the goal hoop. With a bone-jarring crunch, the two defenders collided with Aloin, spinning him around and throwing him to the ground. The goal buzzer sounded and then the full-time hooter blew.

Slightly dazed, Aloin looked up and then took the hand offered to him. Bel Karmhen helped him to his feet. “Amazing shot, Aloin,” Bel said, his Kamperelian accent clipping the ends of his words. “You ‘kay? Needo and Jymi are pretty good blockers. Needo played for Karystar Tower United back before call-up. “

Aloin stretched, trying to pop the kinks out of his aching back. “I’m ‘kay,” he said. He had started to pick up some of the conscripts’ slang. “Great pass,” he added. “Could see all the numbers running, just like plotting for Jump. Set me up, extra fine. “

Bel laughed. “Navigators make pretty good shooters in Jumpball. Got time for a drink, after?”

Aloin checked his chrono. “Not due back onboard until 1500,” he said. He headed towards the public showers. “’kay, see you in the cafeteria.”

The Iridium Queen had been docked at Ektra Downport for nearly a week. The cargo of blades had been quickly discharged and sold. It was only then that Captain Lukk had discovered the 10% sales tax the Kamperelian authorities had imposed on all goods crossing the XT line. Protests to the Starport Authority had been met with the advice that, as the Kamperelian Navy was providing enhanced security within the Ektra system, visiting merchant ships were invited to contribute towards the cost of that enhanced security. When Lukk was tempted to point out that the Kamperelian Navy was actually an occupation force of dubious legal standing, Kiirgun was obliged to remind her that arguing about the legal status of a Navy patrol from the bottom of a gravity well was a potentially futile pastime, particularly when no longer in Imperial Space and so not under Imperial Charters or Regulations.

After a couple of days of light duties while Lukk hunted down another cargo, Aloin decided to investigate a sports facility and gymnasium attached to the starport. It was here that he discovered freely available pickup games of Jumpball, and a semi-regular group of bored eighteen to twenty-somethings to play with. Having established a friendship with Bel Karmhen, one of the regulars at the gym, Aloin learned that Bel and his compatriots were Kamperelian conscripts, performing their two years of compulsory military service as members of the Kamperelian garrison on Ektra.

For Bel, compulsory military service was just a fact of life. All Kamperelian citizens were called up for at least two years service upon completion of compulsory schooling. And while it was possible to gain a service deferment if attending a course of higher education, most citizens chose to perform their service and get it over and done with.

Bel had thought he had lucked out when he drew Offworld garrison duty. Any sort of escape from the bleak and dreary tower blocks of crowded, over-populated Kamperel was a lifeline to hope. Ektra was not what he expected, though.

Smaller than Kamperel, Ektra was a dry world with a very thin atmosphere. The population lived in a series of warrens that had been so mutually hostile as to effectively be at war with each other. The one thing they had agreed upon, however, had been their hatred of the Kamperelian Business Houses that had dominated the Ektran economy prior to the Kamperelian annexation. This hatred had spilled over, one seconday in 1051, to become the series of riots and massacres known as “The Night of Knives”.

The Kamperelian response consisted of six cruisers and a gross of thermonuclear bunker busters. When the firestorm burned itself out, a Kamperelian garrison dominated the warrens – a state of affairs that, over fifty years later, showed no signs of changing.

Aloin had been surprised at just how little Bel and his squad mates either knew or cared about the origin of the occupation. This was probably because the Kamperelian conscripts were disillusioned and angry. They had been told that garrison duty was a lighthearted lark, a break away from the grindingly grim reality of the barrack towers and prole estates of Kamperel. While bashing a few heads to keep the Ektrans down was little different from the casual brutality of the corridor gangs at home, the reality for the conscripts was that they had exchanged the vertical mazes of the towers of Kamperel for the subterranean warrens of Ektra – only the lighting and graffiti were substantially different. Even disarmed by their NCOs, bored Kamperelian conscripts were a constant source of incidents – both on their fellow troopers, and on the Ektran populace.

While Aloin liked Bel, and enjoyed the opportunity to get back into shape with a bit of Jumpball, he found the casual, simmering, undercurrent of violence amongst some of Bel’s squad mates very disturbing.

“Vacc suits!” Captain Lukk exclaimed, slapping a bill of lading on the table top in the Iridium Queen's Crew Commons. She beamed. “Tech Level 8, no fancy nonsense, keep the air on the inside, vacc suits. There’s an Ektran company, Gaspourishidaminda and Sons, that’s been making vacc suits for two hundred years. They’ve survived the annexation; the Long Knives; the Warren Wars; the Outrim invasions; everything, and they’re still in business. They refused the Kamperelian Business Houses; survived the nuclear bombs; and secured a contract with the Kamperelian Navy to supply basic suits for all non-Jump capable ships.”

Kiirgun looked up from reading the lading bill. “But, thirty tons?” he asked. “And Tech 8 vacc suits?”

“The Kamperelians love them,” Lukk said. “They have a lot of conscripts in their armed forces, and they like stuff that is simple, efficient, and idiot-proof.”

Aloin nodded. “Some of my friend Bel’s squad mates are pretty low wattage,” he said, tapping the side of his head.

Kiirgun looked at him with surprise. “Since when are you all friends with the Kamperelians?” he asked.

“Since ‘e been goin’ to the gym,” Miska wheezed and then snuffle-laughed. “Where you think his new slang come fro’?”

Aloin looked puzzled and then shrugged. Kiirgun laughed.

Captain Lukk tapped the tabletop with the stem of her pipe. “It’s going to take us a day or so to get all the export paperwork lined up,” she said. “But as our destination is in Kamperelian space, believe you me, this simplifies matters a great deal.” She tapped a series of commands on her handcomp and pulled up a local area starmap on the Commons main screen. “That’s where we’re heading, ladies and gentleman, the beautiful water world of Floranna.”

“Beautiful?” Holi smirked.

“That’s what the Kamperelian Ministry for Truth and Tourism says in their brochure,” Lukk replied. “I read all two hundred and nine pages twice while waiting for the export licence to be processed.” She held up a hand. “But fortunately, we are not going to Floranna itself, as it is a water world and does not require vac suits. Our buyer will be at the local High Port.” Elera Lukk smiled smugly. “This will be an easy run, and then on and out to Imperial Space.”

“When’s loading?” Aloin asked.

“0545 tomorrow,” Lukk replied. “We’ll look for an 1100 launch window.”

Aloin looked dismayed, and then shrugged. Miska snuffle-laughed and poked him in the ribs. “They still be here when we come back,” she whispered. “Those kids’re not goin’ no where.”

A hard post to write as nothing really happens during the lay-over at Ektra. Aloin's friend Bel shows up later (another NPC thrown up by a reaction roll) so I actually developed him a bit more here than as he features in my notes. I also took the opportunity to look more closely at how Kamperel came to dominate Ektra. All the information was in my notebooks from 20-odd years ago and just needed a little polish and cross-check against other material I've written on the Kamperelian government.

Jumpball, like basketball and tlachli, is one of those games were a group of, predominantly, young men get together and throw a ball around. This seems to be a very common, human, thing and something that will probably outlast the N.B.A.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Liebster Blog Award

WQRobb over at Hard Boiled Zombies has very kindly nominated me for a Liebster Blog Award - the "Sharing the Bloglove" award meme that has been doing the rounds of the interwebs.

And, yes, it did put a smile on my face receiving this award. While I like the concept of "I'm only doing this blog to amuse myself - if you guys like it as well, then I guess that's ok", in truth if someone likes something that I've posted enough to comment or ask a question, then that is really cool and a source of great personal satisfaction. And so a Liebster Award is just Zero Kelvin! Extremely, ultimately, cool.

And so to:

The Rules
  • Copy and paste the award to your blog, linking it to the blog who nominated you.
  • Pass the award to your top five blogs with less than 200 followers by leaving a comment on one of their blog posts to notify them that they have won the award and list them on your own blog.
  • Sit back and bask in that warm fuzzy feeling of knowing that you have made someone's day
There is no obligation to pass this onto anyone but it is nice if you do.

My Nominees
  • Captain's Blogs: Malleman is both a keen Star Trekker, and an excellent figure sculpture. He has also developed a set of Star Trek-inspired skirmish rules called "Away Team" so his blog features photos of his figures as well as AARs. I have bought some of his Sybot figures, conversion heads, and assorted laser pistols and they are both useful and very good.
  • ClearHorizon 15mm SciFi: Mr Harold is an excellent painter and modeler and his work is very inspirational. He also likes to talk about the practical aspects of taking photos of your 15mm miniatures and lately has started looking at rulesets to play with.
  • FelonTrav: Felonmarmer's blog for the Mongoose Traveller game he was running recently. Very nice to read an AAR or someone else's game. Felonmarmer's other blog, Felonmarming, covered his figure painting and other activities. Both have been rather quiet of late, so I hope that this is just a seasonal fallow period.
  • In Like Flynn: Flynn is a world builder - in both Fantasy and Science Fiction settings - and he likes systems that give him results in a controlled, random fashion. I have a copy of his Flynn's Guide to Alien Creation which is a great little tool for making consistent, and logical, aliens - primarily for Traveller but, with minimal work, adaptable to other systems as well.
  • Thornwood-Daarnulud Institute: Craig G. has been working on his Traveller Universe for a while and, lately, has been refashioning it towards the arrival of T5. It's fascinating watching someone else going through the whole idea development/stream of conciousness/refining process as concepts and conundrums come up and need to be teased into shape.

Looking at my blog roll, there are others I could have nominated but I was only allowed to choose five, while others either fall outside the award criteria by having too many followers, or they have been inactive for too long.

To my five nominees, many thanks for the inspiration and pleasure you have given me over the time I have followed your blogs and I wish you success and great ideas for the future.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Unexpected Gravity Well Causes Jump Percipitation

October was a productive hobby month - both for figure painting and for thinking and writing about Traveller.

November - not so much.

Like a gathering storm cloud, the long running installation at work has been looming over me. From the beginning of November, the pace suddenly increased - and we began to understand just how half-assed the planning had been. Consequently, I'm feeling a tad over-whelmed/jaded and very uncreative.

Good stuff. Have had a couple of little figure orders arrive and a couple on the way. Also, Flynn, over at In Like Flynn, has embarked on a bit of Traveller Sector development which has been fascinating, and sanity-preserving, reading. I'm torn between stealing his ideas and filing the serial numbers off, or attempting to recast them to fit my needs for the development of Gazolan Subsector, and the other Coreward Subsectors. Also, again, I've just become the proud owner of a Samsung Tablet - I see it as a rule-book holding device that will allow me to take stuff with me to read while I'm waiting for files to transcode.

So ... the Good Stuff just about outweighs the Bad Stuff.

Oh, and The Hobbit premiers this week - another good thing. I wish Jed Brophy, and all the rest, all the best for their big day.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Website Update #19

Just finished a big update of my Modeling Log and my Traveller Library Data on my Blog.

Another weekend spent battling with a dodgy camera and a flakey laptop. But, it is done and, as they say, dusted.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Aloin's Saga - Solo Traveller #12

“Thank you, Omega Vasalai Traffic Control. Confirm Iridium Queen outbound on Nadir track 237. Jump in 190 minutes at 320,000 kilometres. Iridium Queen, clear.” Aloin closed the comm. and time stamped the ship’s log. Then, careful not to touch anything, he double-checked the ship’s course and heading.

“Very good, Mr Grathikka,” Captain Lukk said approvingly from the Scan position, behind him. “You have handed off from T.C.; confirmed outbound course and jump time; updated the log; and checked your heading. Now, what have you forgotten to do?”

Anxiously, Aloin scanned the pilot station control boards in front of him, desperately looking for a warning light or a switch in the wrong position, but the boards were green, green, green. Silently, from her seat at Nav, Miska tapped a large display that was currently dark. Aloin groaned. “I forgot to load and run the countdown clock,” he said and mouthed a ‘thank you’ to Miska.

“And?” Lukk said. She sounded slightly amused.

“And ...,” Aloin hesitated. Suddenly he made the connection. “And advise Engineering and deck crew, ma’am.”

“Well, we got there eventually,” Lukk sighed. “Precisely, Mr Grathikka,” she continued. “Now, Holi knows his business, and as soon as you run the clock, he will begin his prep for Jump. He knows that at ten minutes to jump, the Nav Computer and the Jump Controller will sync and run us up to jump. He also knows that he has to have completed any prep work or repairs by then or he will have to abort the sequence. At a busy starport that could cost you your slot and you’ll be given a stand down while other ships jump ahead of you.

“As a courtesy,” Lukk continued, “I always advise Engineering of our time to Jump. If Holi’s got his head in a drive unit, or is getting a sandwich, he may not see the countdown start to run. By getting his response, I know that he is focused on the run up to Jump and that I can then worry about getting us there on time.” Aloin nodded his understanding.

“Now,” Lukk said. “Advising the deck crew, on the other hand, allows them to ...”

“Clean, rack and stack,” Aloin interrupted, “Ma’am,” he added.

Lukk chuckled. “You have been hanging around Kiirgun too long,” she said. “That’s Navy talk but, I take it, you understand the implications?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Aloin said. “We clean and secure all common areas, and ensure all passengers and their effects are in their assigned cabins. Time permitting; a final check of the cargo holds is done to ensure everything is secure.”

“Correct, Mr Grathikka,” Lukk said, both amused and impressed. “A lot of merchant ships are a little casual about these sorts of things, but I like knowing if there is trouble at Jump, or at Drop Down, and we have to do some hard manoeuvring, that all these things have been cleared away and secured. Now, if you would be so good as to run the clock and advise the crew, we can begin the pre-Jump checks.”

The countdown clock glowed bright red as its numbers wound remorselessly down. Lukk, having dismissed Miska and Aloin to take a break and get something to eat, enjoyed the solitude of the bridge. Through the forward view port, she idly watched a scattering of stars slowly roll across her horizon as the ship followed its preplotted course deeper into the Jump Zone.

Scan chimed.

Lukk pulled the feed up onto the main screen. Ship in the zenith, inbound. The plot was being routed through at least two buoys, plus Omega Vasalai Traffic Control, so the position was over an hour old.

‘Poor sods,’ Lukk thought as she chewed on her pipe stem. ‘Hope you’re only fueling.’ Omega Vasalai IX had always been a marginal port of call. With a C Class port, a Non-Industrial and Non-Agricultural economy, and a self-perpetuating religious Oligarchy of Pershus and Derbus, the planet teetered between ‘stagnant’ and ‘regressive’. Only the system’s location, two parsecs from Ektra in the Kamperelian Republic, and the presence of an in-system gas giant, encouraged any sort of through traffic.

Lukk pulled up such stats on the inbound ship as Traffic Control had thought to pass on. She paused, and then rubbed her eyes. ‘Oh, Void’, she thought. The inbound ship’s drive signature was hitting seven points of recognition on the spectrum analyser. “That’s all we need,” she said to the slowly wheeling stars. “The Guard be-Voided Amethyst, in all her glory.” Checking the plots and probability cones on Scan, Lukk killed the autopilot, tweaked her course, and ramped up acceleration by a quarter of a G. No one aboard, besides perhaps Holi, would notice the change and, with a bit of luck, no-one in T.C. would be any the wiser either. But, a few degrees now and a few extra metres per second per second would mean hundreds of kilometres off plot at Jump, and that could be vital if someone had decided to throw something dark and nasty down range at where they thought the Iridium Queen should be.

Resetting the autopilot, Lukk stood up and stretched. Hearing footsteps in the corridor outside the bridge, she flicked the main screen to a generic display of the Omega Vasalai system and updated the Iridium Queen’s outbound plot. She then slipped into the jump seat at Scan as Miska stepped through the hatch.

“Rested?” Lukk asked.

Miska looked quizzically at her and then slid into her seat. “Pre Jump?” she whispered. “Hardly.” She touched her temple. “Too many numbers dancin’ inna head.” She glanced down at her board and then glared at Lukk. “You meddlin’? Or you wanna fine?” she hissed. “We’ll be k’s off plot at Jump.”

Lukk shrugged indifferently. “We aren’t coming back here, so who cares?”

“I care! Why you messin’ w’th my course?”

“The system’s pretty much empty. After the lad’s fine handoff, T.C. will have gone for lunch, or prayers, or whatever they do when there aren’t any Offworlders to harass.”

“Don’t change subject, ‘lera,” Miska spat. “You changed a logg’d plot, plot logg’d with T.C. And you didn’t tell me!”

“I didn’t tell you because you weren’t here.”

“Well, I’m here now!”

“Okay, okay,” Lukk drew a breath. Reaching over, she shunted the Scan feed back to the main screen. Miska’s eyes rapidly scanned the plot.

“Ship inbound. Outbound clear,” she said, slightly relieved. Lukk brought up the Spectrum Analyzer. Miska quickly read the data points. “Oh my,” she said, a hand rising instinctively to shield her throat.

“Feed’s off the buoys,” Lukk said, “via Traffic Control. Light speed lag messes with the probability cones. I finessed our course a little, I’ll admit, and our Acceleration. Just in case someone was watching for us. Given the Time Distortion, even the worse case p-cones were nowhere near your plot. All I’ve done is randomise things a little further, and given us an opportunity to throw something back if all our comets get ringed.”

Miska settled further into her seat. “Don’t know how much longer I can do this, ‘lera,” she said, her face ashen. “Even on scan, Void-eating ship makes my heart want to stop.”

Lukk reached over and hesitantly patted Miska’s shoulder. “I know, demi-sister, I know. And it breaks my heart to see you like this.” She cocked her head as she heard footsteps in the corridor. “Sounds like the boy’s finished his chores.” She squeezed Miska’s arm. “Jump in twenty. You want to tease him while I go make a pot of xhu?”

I rolled a negative reaction roll for the encounter with the Port Authorities on Omega Vasalai IX, as related in the previous post. I then rolled to see exactly how negative the reaction was and got a fairly neutral result. Interpreting this for the story, I decided that the local Port Officer was hostile, but backed down quickly and this was explained by internal politics amongst the Pilgrims, and the fact that the Iridium Queen had a clean slate from a previous visit.

Outbound to the Jump Zone, I rolled a starship encounter and then determined that the ship was known to the Iridium Queen. The encounter type was, again, neutral, and a simple YES/NO question of the dice indicated that the known ship was the Guard Amethyst, the Iridium Queen’s great rival/enemy. From that basis, the encounter pretty much wrote itself with Elera Lukk’s little act of deception – finessing the ship’s acceleration and heading – leading to a blowup with Miska Ilurrin over the altering of the Navigator’s plot, and then exploring both the demi-sister’s relationship with each other and with the Guard Amethyst.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Aloin's Saga - Solo Traveller #11

From space, the little planet looked like a tiny rocky ball, rolling around the rim of Omega Vasalai’s gravity well. Occasional flares from the sullen M2 primary had blasted the planet’s tenuous atmosphere away eons ago. Uninhabitable, and uninhabited until a little over 250 years ago, the ninth planet in the Omega Vasalai system had been unnamed and ignored by Aldeed Golus and the other Imperial Scouts who had mapped and explored the Miazan Subsector in the 7th and 8th Centuries.

While a small colony of Gas Miners clung to a precarious existence around the system’s gas giant, no one had really cared when Derbu Handark Zavtavol had offered to buy Omega Vasalai IX from Sector Duke Admiral Kranan hault-Lerneister. When the deed was done, it was discovered that Derbu was Handark Zavtavol’s title and that it translated as “Shepherd”. Zavtavol’s flock consisted of a couple of hundred members of a religious sect known as the Pilgrims, and this group of Pilgrims had decided that the caves of Omega Vasalai IX would make a good resting spot on their journey to meet their Arisen One.

Within a year of selling “that forsaken rock”, Sector Duke Admiral Kranan hault-Lerneister was dead, abandoned by the fleet that had raised him to the Sector Ducal throne, and the RimWorlds Sector was engulfed in Civil War. When the shooting finally stopped, fifty years later, the Pilgrims were still on “that forsaken rock”, and anyone who might have objected was long dead, or fled.

Discharging the freight from Miazan, Aloin caught glimpses of the huge cavern the Iridium Queen was secured within. High overhead, enormous clamshell pressure doors sealed the cavern from the vacuum of space. The ceiling and walls had been reinforced with steel and ferrocrete through which buttresses of native stone projected. Fuel and service lines snaked across the cavern floor, or swung from gantries like lianas, linking the Iridium Queen to the guts of Omega Vasalai Downport.

After securing the service lines, Aloin and Kiirgun began man-handling the freight containers out onto the hard of the dock using their pallet jacks and the mule. It was only when the last container was clear of the hold that Aloin spotted the three hooded figures approaching the ship through the pools of light cast by the overhead floods. Simultaneously, both Aloin and Kiirgun’s handcomps chimed. “Company,” Miska’s voice whispered through their comm. buds.

“See ‘em,” Kiirgun replied. He glanced at Aloin. “Stay close,” he said, “and stay alert.” Stepping forward to meet the approaching locals, Kiirgun held up his handcomp. “Greeting, gentle sophonts,” he said. “We are the Iridium Queen, out of Miazan, with freight requested for this world.”

The three hooded figures emerged into the pool of light bathing the Iridium Queen. Aloin could see that even though they had low gravity lanky frames, there was still a solid musculature about them that denoted years of physical hard work. Beneath their hoods, all three wore bushy beards, framing broad, unsmiling, faces.

“I am Pershu Salsuda Gavanak,” the middle one of the three said, his accent hard and clipped. “I require all documentation and proofs that this freight has not been tampered with while in your charge.”

As Aloin began to bridle at Gavanak’s tone, Kiirgun said smoothly, “Would you prefer these documents and proofs in electronic or hard copy form, Pershu?” When Gavanak paused, momentary nonplussed, Kiirgun turned to Aloin and said, “Please ask the Captain to print off the documentation that the Pershu requires, and notarise it with the ship’s seal. If she could also lodge a copy on our file with Traffic Control, the Pershu’s peers will be able to reference it at their leisure.” He gestured for Aloin to head back into the ship.

As Aloin walked up the ramp he heard Kiirgun say, “It is strange, Pershu, we were here four hundred and ninety standard days ago, perhaps one year local, and our honesty was not questioned at that time.” Glancing down, Aloin realised that Kiirgun had left his comm. channel open and his conversation was being relayed to the ship, and the crew’s handcomps.

Captain Lukk was waiting for him, just inside the main hatchway into the cargo hold. “What’s going on, ma’am?” Aloin asked.

“Politics,” Lukk muttered. “Starport Authority is obliged to recruit local staff. Locals sometimes want to control access to their world, in spite of the Starport Authority Charter guaranteeing free and unfettered access. Factions within local society want to be the ones with that control. Our uppity Pershu is from a more conservative Pilgrim faction than the one we dealt with last time, but our record is good. He can’t push too hard or the Starport Authority will get rid of him.”

With a clatter of boots on deck plates, Kiirgun trotted up the ramp and into the hold. He grinned at Captain Lukk. “The Pershu has graciously accepted our documentation that we have not wrought our evil foreignness upon the freight destined for this world.”

“The Traffic Control Pershus light a fire under him?” Lukk asked.

“Either that, or a Derbu was beginning to wonder where his freight had got to,” Kiirgun replied. “One of the Pershu’s minions took a call – not on a S.A. handrig, either, I noticed – and suddenly the Pershu was all sweetness and light.” He thought for a moment. “Or about as sweet and light as a block of solid hydrogen ever gets.”

Lukk grunted with annoyance. “Well, hopefully he’s clear of our jump zone,” she said. “Good work on the off-load, you two,” she added, “that was pretty much a record time. Now, get us fuelled and prepped . I want to be clear of this rock within 50 hours. We’ll ride light into Ektra as I really can’t be bothered with internal Pilgrim politics. So, no passengers and no freight. We have the spec cargo from Miazan and I can’t think of anything this lot have to offer beside aggravation and ulcers.”

Friday, 12 October 2012

Space Raptors in Kickstarter

My friend Eli has taken his concept of an intelligent, tool-using, species of raptors beyond the development stage to the sculpting stage. From kicking the idea around in a series of Facebook chats, the Chuhuac project in 15mm scale has driven the creation of Loud Ninja Games, Eli's new games/concepts/miniatures company. This, in turn, has lead to the Chuhuac Kickstarter project which achieved its funding goal within 24 hours.

Eli has discussed the concept of the Chuhuac on a number of occasions in various threads on The Miniatures Page, as well as being actively involved in other discussions about the types of alien life forms that one might encounter in Science Fiction gaming. I think it is a testimony to Eli's patience, persistance, and clarity of vision that his project has reached its funding goal so quickly.

I decided to support this Kickstarter project ,my third, as I like the concept of the Chuhuac and I think they'll be a great addition to the range of 15mm figures available. So I would invite you to take a look, see what you think, and consider whether a few Space Raptors - as game tokens or as a faction in your gaming universe - would look good as part of your collection.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Website Update #18

You have the right to arm bears - an Ursid Mercenary from Khurasan Miniatures.

I have just finished updating my Modeling Blog on my website which can be found here. The front page of the website is here.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Aloin's Saga - Solo Traveller #10

“Target returning fire. Lasers and missiles. Three missiles inbound.”

“Launch sand. Run Gunner Interact programme. Engage Target with Turret 1’s beams.”

“Missile 1 destroyed. Missile 3 destroyed. Missile 2 locked on.”

“Launch more sand. Turret 1, point defence against incoming missile.”

“Missile has lock.”

“Run Evade programme. Launch more sand. Turret 1, engage missile.”

“Missile has lock. Impact in ten seconds.”

“Not again! Turret 1 engage! Run Evade!”

“Missile impact. Explosive decompression aft of frame 24 ... .”

“Darn it! Same again! Every time it comes out this way! I’m so bored!” Aloin pushed the game controller away from him. As the tacsym paused, and the commons lights came up, Captain Elera Lukk glanced up from her reader. “We’ve been here two weeks and I haven’t stepped out of the ship,” Aloin complained, stalking over to the chiller and pulling out a fizz drink.

Elera Lukk frowned and turned her reader off. “We’re waiting, Mr Grathikka,” she said. “We are practising the art of patience.” She glanced at the chrono on her wrist. “I am expecting a call within the next 80 minutes which will determine whether we go out light or heavy.” She touched a couple of buttons on her hand comp. “Until then,” she continued, getting to her feet, “might I suggest you re-run your last exercise on the tacsym as I have just altered the parameters.” As the tacsym sprang into life and Aloin made a dive for the controller, Captain Lukk serenely headed for’ard towards her cabin.

“Right! We have a cargo,” Captain Lukk said, bursting into the crew commons. “Nine tons of the finest, laser-etched, Miazan blade ware. Or so that cutpurse, Itato Surviiros, tells me. Which probably means,” she added, “they were stamped in some Vargr-run sweat shop on Tonivar and Surviiros tricked them out of a dim-witted Outrim trader.”

Kiirgun Atmai pulled a face. “Nine tons, Ma’am? We’ll be running practically empty.”

Lukk nodded glumly. “I’m aware of this, Kiir,” she said. “Light up the board. We’ll take freight for Ektra, via Omega Vasali IX.”

“No passengers?”

“No passengers. More trouble than they’re worth.”

Kiir raised an eyebrow. “And we’re ignoring our angry cousins?”

Lukk grinned. “With Miazan Traffic Control climbing all over them for leaving their slot on approach? I suspect they’ll be staying quieter than fauxmice.” She chuckled. “The anonymous complaint probably didn’t help, either.”

“You dropped a blank call to M.T.C.?” Kiirgun asked. He laughed. “I think you’ve just made our angry cousins just that little bit angrier,” he said with a grin.

Twenty-seven hours later, and with 30 tons of freight for Omega Vasali IX aboard, the Iridium Queen departed Miazan High Port, dropping away to nadir into the outbound Jump Zone. One hundred and five planetary diameters out from the blue-gray orb of Miazan, the Iridium Queen’s Jump Drive began to spin up. As the ship’s transponder automatically synced departure time and destination with the Jump Zone Buoy, the Jump Drive wrapped the Iridium Queen in a bubble of energy, ripped a small hole in the fabric of the Universe and hurled the ship through it.

With a flash and a burst of neutrinos, the Iridium Queen vanished.


I do feel a bit of a tease after the big build up, but sometimes you roll “no encounter”. And in a Solo game, you then have to come up with a plausible reason as to why the expected confrontation did not occur.

With busy shipping lanes around a major starport, I would expect that Traffic Control would keep a very tight rein over what starships do or not do in the vicinity of the Highport. While space is very big, with traffic converging on a volume only several miles in diameter, the chances that someone not sticking tightly to plot ends up where they shouldn’t be and causes a major accident must be reasonably high (the wrecking of the Rena on the Astrolabe Reef, off the port of Tauranga, is a rather salient reminder of what can happen when a navigator attempts to cut the corner on what should have been a simple approach).

Given the agitation evident amongst the Iridium Queen’s crew over the appearance of the Guard Amethyst, a combination of a Traffic Control investigation (into a retro-written illegal manoeuvre) and a policy of staying pretty much aboard while in dock seems a likely explanation as to why there was no encounter – this time.

Anyway, the Iridium Queen is now bound for a new area of space – Ektra and the Kamperelian Republic – where, surely, adventure and daring do must be done.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Solo Traveller - Aloin's Saga Backgrounder #5

In the last instalment of Aloin’s adventures, the crew of the Iridium Queen encountered another Celephaizon merchant ship as they approached Miazan Highport. From the reaction of Miska Ilurin, the Iridium Queen’s Navigator, Aloin was able to gather that there was little love lost between the Iridium Queen and the incoming ship, the Guard Amethyst, Captain Venhrait.

This was the first time in this game that I had attempted to use both the starship encounter table and the reaction tables from the Classic Traveller rules.

The Starship Encounter table appears on Page 36 of Book 2: Starships and is a simple little 2d6 affair. With a range of results from 8 or less (no encounter) through to 18 (patrol), the 2d6 result is modified by the starport type of the system main world, +6 for an A Class port down to -4 for an X Class port. This means that in a system with an A Class starport, the only time that there won’t be a starship encounter is on a roll of 2 – this, perhaps, indicates the expected traffic volume in such a system. Encounter types are given as three types of free trader, two types of patrol, two types of subsidised merchant, two types of yacht and one pirate. Results of patrol and pirate can generate a Type-S armed scout, a Type-C armed cruiser or a Type-Y armed yacht. The assumptions evident in this encounter table are that starships are usually unarmed and that Traveller takes place in a “small ship” universe. Given that the starship construction rules in Book 2 seemed to max out at around 5000 tons then we’re looking more at Andre Norton’s Solar Queen than David Webber’s Honor Harrington series.

The starship encounter table from the Classic Traveller Starter Edition pdf essentially reprints the encounter table from The Traveller Book. This expands upon the Book 2 encounter table with the result spread now running from 2 – 15, and with each Starport type having its own column and selection of results. The presence of a Naval or Scout base grants positive dice modifiers and the ship encounters can also generate small craft encounters as well. All ship and small craft encounter types are now detailed and include all the standard ship and craft types that appear as “off the peg” designs in the rules. While still a “small ship” universe, this encounter table has both more detail and less freedom for the Games Master in that the ships are defined by class rather than primary function.

Standard 2d6 Bell curve
I had been considering expanding the Book 2 encounter table myself – perhaps by putting in a loading for location within the RimWorlds. With a standard 2d6 encounter table, one gets the standard bell-curve distribution. Dice modifiers simply move the bell curve along the X-axis which allows one to have different results or result ranges while using the same 2D6. On the other hand, an alternative would be to retain the basic encounter table and have a series of sub tables cascading off each result type – these sub tables would then be modified by DMs for location (frontier, Imperial interior, Outrim Space, Rimward Void, etc), starport type, Naval Base, Scout Base, and so on.

+2 modifier on 2d6 Bell curve moves the range to 4 - 14
This sounds like a project for a long, wet, Sunday when there’s nothing on the telly.

And on the third hand, I could just stick with the basic table, assume that any encounter rolled was significant to the characters, and play Interrogation to discover the What and the Why of it. Interrogation is a little thinking-assist brain-storming game I used to play where I would use a series of dice rolls to map out a story idea or plot.

In the situation where the Iridium Queen encounters the Guard Amethyst in the Miazan system, I rolled a Free Trader encounter type on the Book 2 encounter table. On the Reaction Table, I rolled “Hostile. May Attack.” Very interesting – who was this Free Trader and why was it hostile? I then posed a series of Yes/No questions and rolled 2d6 – 7+ for “yes”, 6- for “no”. Were they rivals? Yes. Trade rivals? No. Family rivals? Yes. From the same homeworld? Yes.

These answers told me that the Guard Amethyst was also from Celephais, and that the bad blood between the two ships was more of the nature of a feud between two families. This, in turn, gave me some insights into the nature of Celephaizon society (clannish). And also, by implication, it would appear that Captain Lukk, rather than owning the Iridium Queen herself, may actually be acting as agent for, and on behalf of, her family as Captain. With this revised ownership scheme, I was able to worry less about whether Lukk was meeting the mortgage payments on her ship and more about her meeting her running costs.

The naming of the rival ship, the Guard Amethyst, and her captain, Captain Venhrait, gave me two more plot hooks to begin hanging more story bits on, and an archenemy for the crew of the Iridium Queen to focus upon.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

150 Posts

150 Posts - awaiting shipment
... 79 Followers and a shade over 25,000 page views.

Of these three numbers, I'm impressed by the fact that I have managed to make 150 posts since I started this blog in 2010, and I'm amazed that 79 people are interested enough in what I write to follow this blog - thanks guys!

As to the number of page views - well, I stopped getting excited about that when I realized just how large a percentage of the total was generated by image searches and web bots (being viewed by a Russian Porn Site was ... rather odd). But having said that, there are a number of sites that have included my blog in their blogroll and, besides being very gratifying, this has encouraged regular readers of those blogs to give my one a try as well.

150 Posts down, more to come.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Solo Traveller - Aloin's Saga #9

Aloin doubled-checked his reference points and then the star system master plot. This late into Seconday, the bridge of the Iridium Queen was quiet except for the susurration of life support, the regular pulse of Scan, and an occasional gentle snore from the pilot’s chair. “Uh, Miska,” he said hesitantly, his voice sounding suddenly loud. Miska made a half-snuffle, half-cough sound and then abruptly sat bolt upright in her chair. Reflected in the bridge main screen, Aloin could see her quickly checking her boards.

“I’ve just noticed this,” he said, switching a feed of Scan across to the main board. Miska stared blankly at the system schematic. “We got the master system plot off the Jump Zone buoy about five hours ago,” Aloin said. “Nav Comp runs the plot in real time, based on logged vectors.”

“Know this,” Miska replied, tapping her chest.

“I’ve logged master system updates off the JZ buoys, and Miazan Highport, on the hour for the last four hours.” Aloin brought up the Scan plot. “And here’s our Scan returns,” he continued, “ mapped onto the master plot and with vector probabilities computed.”

Miska stared at the second plot. “That one,” she said suddenly, indicating an icon, “’s out of place.”

Aloin nodded. “Yes,” he said. “It dropped down into Real Space about an hour before us, which is why its position and vector were in the original master system plot we received off the buoy.”

“In-bound on Exxilon track,” Miska said thoughtfully. “Approach vector logged by Miazan T.C.”

“It starts to diverge from track about two hours ago,” Aloin said. “About when their scan would’ve picked us up.”

“Scan return on them?”

Aloin quickly tapped a command into his board. “Data stream coming up now,” he said, switching the new plot to the main screen. He glanced down the scrolling column of numbers on the left of the screen. “She’s a free trader. Harran Class, just like us. Imperial registry. Out of Celephais ...”

“Emission sig,” Miska interrupted. “Clean up ‘mission sig’ture.”

Aloin concentrated on the spectrum display at the bottom of the screen, activating filters to reduce the signal noise on the other ship’s drive emission signature. “I think that’s as good as I can get it,” he said at last.

“Good ‘nough, lad,” Miska said and punched the comm key on the arm of her chair. “Captain to bridge, trouble.”

Aloin stared at her. “Miska? What’s going on? They’re from your homeworld.”

Miska glanced back at him as she brought her board to life. “Thieves and villains and will cut our throats!” she said. She pointed at the scar on her neck. “Didn’t get this shavin’. “ Gesturing at the ship’s icon on the main screen, she said, “That’s the Guard Amethyst. That’s Venhrait and her thugs. That’s trouble, dockside.”

Jump Zone – A controlled area of space specifically assigned for starships to transit to and from Jump Space. By convention, in-bound starships transit through the system zenith while out-bound starships transit through the system nadir, thus reducing the possibility of encountering hazards orbiting the parent star along the plane of the ecliptic.

Seconday – Second shift. Work time on starships is usually measured in two shifts; Primeday or main shift; and Seconday or secondary shift. The bulk of a starship’s crew are off duty during Seconday.

T.C. – Traffic Control. Usually refers to the control hub for tracking and routing interplanetary and interstellar traffic through a star system. Ships enter and leave a star system in a Jump Zone – an area of space at least 100 planetary diameters out from the system’s main world. Jump Zones, depending upon the amount of in-bound and out-bound traffic in the system, can be millions of kilometres across.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

In Memory of a Friend

I was shocked to learn, a couple of days ago, that an Internet friend had passed away in August.

I never met Andrew Boulton, but I knew him as a moderator on the Citizens of the Imperium discussion boards, and as both a contributor to various other Traveller groups and as a talented artist who seemed to specialize in Traveller-themed artwork.

The Internet seems to both bring people together from all parts of the world and preserve them "in the moment" like one of those Californian Tar pits. Andrew is gone, but I can see all the Facebook posts he was making, right up until the time of his death. It is as if his memory has been prevented from fading by being indelibly imprinted upon the planetary ur-mind.

And the echos of his existence keep returning to me as Facebook persists in recommending pages and links that he liked.

I understand that Andrew tended towards the "atheist" end of the belief spectrum, which makes me wonder how he would have reacted to his imnetmortality - probably with a joke and a link to some funny or amazing thing he had discovered during his surfing across the infinite seas of the Internet.

My heart goes out to his family and to the friends who knew him in the Real. I know that I did not know him as half as much as you all did, but I enjoyed the company of the piece of him I did know.

You failed your Survival roll, mate. No mustering out for you, and no further adventures. Will miss you.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Solo Traveller - Aloin's Saga #8

Slipping on his new Daiihousi sunglasses, an impulse buy just before the Iridium Queen cleared Miazan Highport, Aloin took a deep breath and ducked through the crew hatch. He looked around, surveying the wide, wind-swept field of Golus Downport. ‘Not many ships in today,’ he thought immediately, and then drew his jacket more tightly about him as he became aware of the bitingly cold northerly wind.

Even though a faint heat haze shimmered over the ferrocrete apron, when he looked north he could see pockets of snow high up on the shoulders of the Jakabsan Range. It was then that it struck him, he had been aboard the Iridium Queen for five months, four of them offworld. During that time, winter had returned to the northern hemisphere of Golus, and the Olkathi younglings he knew from Tartesh were long gone on their annual migration into the deep southern desert.

The rumble of the main cargo hatch opening drew Aloin back to the here and now. Swinging down the access ladder, he ducked under the stubby wings of the Iridium Queen, quickly checking the exterior hull for obvious damage as he had been taught, and noting his observations on his handcomp. Rounding the starboard landing jack, he walked over to where Kiirgun was running out the ramp. “Starboard side clear,” he called out to the cargomaster as Kiirgun began working locking pins and straps free from the nets securing the containers in the hold. “I’ll just check port side – oh, and it looks like Customs is on its way,” he added, spotting movement amongst the vehicles parked near the concourse.

As Aloin finished his checks and flashed his report to Holi Pradeen, the ship’s Engineer, Kiirgun was completing the customs inspection of their cargo. Even as the inspectors trekked down the Iridium Queen’s ramp, the first of two cargo haulers was backing into position, ready for the offload. Sprinting to join Kiirgun, Aloin was soon hard at work, wrestling awkwardly shaped pallet-loads onto the hauler’s flatbed.

“And that’s the last of them,” Kiirgun puffed as he flashed a thumbs-up to the hauler driver. Aloin vaulted off the hauler’s cargo deck just as the large vehicle jerked forward and then accelerated away from the ship. Kiirgun quickly scanned the electronic manifest on his handcomp, signatured it, and forwarded it to Captain Lukk and the shipping agent. “Not bad, lad,” he said as they walked wearily up the cargo ramp and began to strike the crane, “five tons of machine tools offloaded in record time, and a healthy four million credit profit.” Aloin gaped at him.

“Don’t get too excited, lad,” Kiirgun continued, stowing the crane arm. “Once the bills are paid and the backers take their cut, we’ll probably only have enough left for a protosteak dinner.” He grinned. “But it will be a very nice dinner. And maybe next time I see a bottle of ’64 Celephaisian Rum in a concourse gift shop, the Old Lady will let me buy it.”

“Get me a pay day like today and I’ll buy you a vat of it,” Elera Lukk said, stalking into the cargo hold. Kiirgun flushed and then casually wiped his forehead with the back of his sleeve. “On it, Captain,” he said.

Over the next few days, in between driving Captain Lukk to meetings and prowling the concourse with Kiirgun in search of cargos, Aloin managed to phone home. To his disappointment, he discovered that his father was still working north of the Jakabsan Range on the Aldesarn Valley Project canal. The Project company had been busily recruiting as Autumn semester had drawn to a close and a number of Aloin’s school friends were now overseeing heavy machinery or working survey parties in the steppe lands that ran up to the polar ice sheet.

There was no word from Aloin’s mother, Imeneene. As far as he could learn, she was still offworld. Meccan Vesukka, Aloin’s father’s partner, had half-heartedly suggested that they catch up for dinner but, pleading an erratic work schedule and the likelihood of an earlier liftoff from Golus, Aloin had declined. He was grateful that Meccan had secured him a berth aboard the Iridium Queen, but he still felt awkward socialising with her.

As the days slipped passed, Kiirgun began to run short of manuals for Aloin to read through. Even Holi had to admit that all the routine maintenance was up to date, all the deferred maintenance had been completed, and if Aloin had to polish the Jump inducers again, there was a high probability he would wear through the metal sheathing. Even the reclusive Navigator, Miska Ilurrin was showing signs of boredom, playing adventure games on the crew commons wide screen rather than computing Jump solutions for all possible stellar bodies within 36 parsecs of Golus.

Finally, Captain Lukk arrived back aboard one evening, unannounced. Tiredly, she settled into a seat in the commons. Kiirgun brought her a glass of water and then went off to warm up some dinner.

“Well?” Miska asked. “Cargo?”

Lukk sipped her water and then nodded. “Yes,” she said, “we have a cargo.” She held up a hand to forestall comment. “Not the biggest, and not the cleanest, but it will keep us going a little longer.”

“Not the cleanest?” Holi asked. “What? Coal? Sand? Desert-beast doo-doo?”

Lukk shook her head. “Hot rocks,” she replied. “So you better break out the lead foil.” Taking the bowl of chowder from Kiirgun, Lukk stalked off towards her cabin.

“Hot rocks?” Aloin asked.

“Radioactives,” Kiirgun replied. “Hope your people don’t cut corners when it comes to sealing hot rocks in shipping canisters.”

A couple of nights later, a non-descript truck pulled up at the foot of the Iridium Queen’s ramp. Twelve pallets, each with a bright yellow armoured contained lashed to it, were swung off the truck and into the hold. Wearing full overalls and a rebreather unit, Aloin helped Kiirgun secure the pallets for takeoff.

“Double lock ‘em, lad,” Kiirgun said, handing Aloin another locking bar. “Holi says this stuff is pretty inert in this form, but it’s a real curse to mop up if it spills.”

The comm unit sparked into life. “You finished tying down?” Captain Lukk demanded from the bridge. “We’re lifting in ten. I’m closing the main hatch.

“All hands, “she continued, “secure for liftoff and get to your stations. Move it, people, there’s weather coming in from the west. If we stay any longer on this dust ball, we’ll get buried.”

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Website Update #17

CMG Mercenary Fighter, GZG UNSC Marine, Highlander Studios Grath gangster
Finally finished some more painting, and then discovered a bug in the Coffee Cup FTP software I use that prevents the website from showing newly uploaded photos (in fact any sort of .jpg or .png type file).

After a bit of fiddling around, I discovered a thread on the Coffee Cup forum which offered a possible fix - it would appear that when I had to reload a lot of software after my Great Computer Crash in July, I installed a newer version of Coffee Cup. Now, with freeware, you get exactly what you pay for, and this new version seems to automatically treat graphics files as ASCI text, which means the website can't read the graphics files. This is fixable if, prior to FTPing the graphics files, one changes a setting from Auto to Binary. I did this, and my pictures loaded.

Yay, me!

Website modeling log is here

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Solo Traveller - Aloin's Saga #7

Captain Lukk spread an old knitted shawl over the small aluminium shipping box and settled herself down, just where a shaft of sunlight spilled through the open main cargo hatch of the Iridium Queen. She drew her jacket more snugly about her. Sertan’s orangey light cast a golden glow across the late afternoon sky, but the K2 star did not throw much heat at this time of year and at this latitude.

Casually checking that the butt of her autopistol was free of the edge of her pocket, Lukk nodded towards the scruffy idler loitering beside the hoist at the foot of the cargo ramp. The idler suddenly found something utterly fascinating in his infotainment sheet and settled down on one of the hoist’s tines, half turning away from the Iridium Queen’s open hatch as he scanned the text boxes. Lukk lit her pipe.

Hearing footsteps on the deck plates, she glanced quickly behind her and then relaxed as Holi Pradeen came into view around the end of some stowed cargo jacks. Wheezing in the thin air, the rotund Celephaizon Engineer plonked himself down beside Lukk on her rug-covered shipping box. “I see our little friend is still out there,” he puffed. “I’d like to know how the Dear Leader gets his watchers on the Starport Authority Payroll.”

Lukk blew a smoke ring. “Quotas,” she said. “The Bromosians are a xenophobic lot. They don’t like offworlders. They’ll trade with us, but they don’t like us.”

Pradeen chuckled. “We’ve been here three and a half weeks, Elera,” he said. “They don’t seem to want to trade with us either.”

Lukk pursed her lips. “That’s why I sent Kiir and the lad over to the terminal,” she replied, “to post our destination on the main board.”

Pradeen raised an eyebrow. “Freight?” he asked. “We’re taking freight? And passengers?”

The Captain glared up at her rotund Engineer. “Yes, we’re taking freight,” she snapped. “And no, we’re not taking passengers. We don’t have a steward, and the Dear Leader probably wouldn’t let any of his Joyful Companions out of their potato fields, anyway.”

“That’s a relief,” Pradeen said. “I like having a stateroom to myself. I would really hate to have to bunk with Kiir.” He cocked his head, listening. “Sounds like the mule, inbound,” he added, hauling himself to his feet. “Hope Kiir and the boy had some luck at the terminal.” He smiled down at Lukk, “And our watcher has vanished, too,” he said quietly over the noise of the approaching quadbike and trailer.

“Well, you’d better go throw some coal in the boiler,” Lukk said, gathering up her shawl and pacing across the deck to the main hatch. “I want to be off this cabbage patch as soon as we’ve got something in the hold. We’re going back to Miazan. At least folks there have got some money.” She quickly stepped aside as Kiirgun gunned the mule up the ramp and through the hatch. Aloin sat perched on a pile of boxes in the trailer, grinning as the trailer bounced over the lip of the hatch behind the quadbike.

“You better have good news for me, Kiir!” Lukk shouted over the noise of the mule.

Kiirgun cut the engine and gestured double-thumbs up. “Captain,“ he said. “We have freight.”

Fifty-six hours later, the Iridium Queen lifted from Bromus Downport, two twenty-ton consignments and a five ton break-bulk load stowed neatly in her hold. Two hundred and fifty-two hours out from Bromus, on 212-1107, she slipped into Miazan Highport Bay 42 Spinward. The docking seals were barely tight when Captain Lukk had Kiirgun and Aloin crack open the main cargo hatch and begin shifting the containers dockside, much to the initial amusement, and then growing irritation, of Miazan Customs and Excise.


Time to rattle along the last couple of jumps before the use of encounter tables kicks in. It has been a nice, quiet run so far which has enabled us to learn a little about the characters, get a handle on how the ship operates, and do a little bit of trading. Sadly, Captain Lukk has had appalling luck on the Trade Tables. When Aloin begins to think about it, he may begin to wonder how she can afford to sit for weeks on a dock.

I’m very happy with how the background of the subsector has been developing, and the discussions on ships and shipbuilding have helped me focus various thoughts I have had off and on for years. Coincidently, I have recently seen two discussions on Citizens of the Imperium about both constructing shipyards and about what shipyards can construct, which have been both informative and entertaining.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Solo Traveller - Aloin's Saga Backgrounder #4

Having introduced two Navy vessels into Aloin’s story, the designs of which are now in the Starships and Space ships page, it seems appropriate to examine the Imperial and Subsector Navies as I see them operating within the RimWorlds.

When Kolin Venuraski (later Sector Duke Kolin I) launched the settlement of the RimWorlds by the 3rd Imperium in the 6th Century, he had at his disposal a small flotilla of Imperial Navy ships for the protection of his colony fleet. This flotilla was augmented by such armed auxiliaries as his supporters could buy, equip, or supply. And as they spread out and were granted, or took, planetary holdings, it soon became imperative for each Noble to possess at least a couple of armed ships to both protect their fief, and to send to serve the Sector Duke when he called for aid. Kolin I took his duties as Sector Duke, and head of his comitatus, very seriously and he did not hesitate to downgrade Houses Major to House Minor status if they did not fully support him.

While numbers of available ships, and the technology level of their build, have fluctuated over the centuries, the current system for the defence of the RimWorlds has changed little from Kolin Venuraski’s day, nor from the House Trumer restoration of the Sector in the 10th Century. There is an Imperial Sector Fleet, currently utilising Tech Level 15 ships, charged with defending the nine Imperial controlled Subsectors of the Sector. Headquartered at the Sector capital Thiroor/Gazolan, Sector Fleet has at least one base in each Imperial Subsector and regularly shifts squadrons between them to maintain a state of readiness. The Reserve Fleet of older, Tech Level 14, units is based at Raelmar/Thurgandarn. There is no mothball fleet as all surplus units are sold to Houses Major to augment their Subsector Fleets.

Each Subsector Duke maintains a Subsector Fleet as his or her comitatus and is responsible for the defence of that subsector, as well as being obliged to commit units to assist the Sector Duke as required. As the standing a House Major holds is dependent upon the resources it can both commit to the defence of its Subsector, and to the defence of the Sector, very few recalcitrant Houses have survived the refusal to render aid. "Send ships or grasp the diadem" is a saying that we might translate as "Do your duty, or take charge", with the implication that the act of taking charge involves irrevocably committing the resources and fortunes of your House to both overthrowing the current Sector Duke and dealing with whatever problem was threatening the Sector.

Houses Major of Siridar-Count and Siridar-Baron rank can, and often do, maintain Planetary Navies which both defend their respective systems, and support their Subsector Duke as required. This ships may be built locally, or purchased from shipyard systems. Even System Defense Boats can be moved from system to system if there is sufficient Jump-capable transports of suitable tonnage available.

On the whole, this system works reasonably well with Subsector Fleets, usually backed up by a Sector Fleet squadron, being sufficient to maintain order or deal with most border incursions, and the heavy units of the Sector Fleet being committed only in the event of a major war.

In Miazan Subsector, the bulk of the 12.1 billion Imperial sophonts are concentrated in just three systems – Nakaya, Exxilon and Miazan.

The 6.2 billion inhabitants of the isolated Nakaya system make do with an average Tech Level of 7 – below Interstellar, meaning that they lack the technology to produce the machines that produce the machines that manufacture starships. While the Siridar-Baron of Nakaya maintains a few orbital forts and a large System Defence Boat flotilla, these have all been purchased from elsewhere and have to be maintained by expensive off-world technicians. Nakaya does contribute approximately one fifth of the annual Miazan Subsector Navy Budget of TCr 5.1.

With a population of 575 million sophonts, the Exxilon system is just on the edge of developing a native starship building industry at Tech Level 9 – or it will be when it develops its starport further. Like Nakaya, its greatest contribution towards the defence of the subsector is to finance shipbuilding elsewhere.

And elsewhere just happens to be the Subsector capital of Miazan. With a Tech Level of 12, an A Class Starport, and a population of 5.2 billion, Miazan has a yard capacity of over 6 million tons and the ability to produce ships of up to 100,000 tons in size. It is also the only major starship producing shipyard facility in Imperial-controlled space within the Subsector.

For the last decade, yard space at Miazan has been at a premium as House Geyukthi, Dukes of Miazan, have sought to replace Navy losses incurred during the 4th Outrim War and the Kalar-Wi War, as well as encourage the expansion of interstellar trade required to boost the subsector, financially. With such a bottleneck in the supply chain, and the smaller shipyards at Celephais out of action due to damage sustained during the Kalar-Wi War, the Miazan Subsector Navy is finding itself being out-built by neighboring polities that it is obliged to defend against.