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