Wednesday, February 22, 2017

DM Report - Adventure in the East: new 1st level AD&D 1r party in Seaward

  Since I prefer jazz band adventuring and the PCs are leveling, we all agreed to launch a new low-level party.After a bit of die rolling we ended up with:

The Wife - Trixie Redspark, 1st/1st Cleric/Thief gnome
Son #1 - Lennart von Schwabach, 1st Nobleman (custom class from my Far Realms book) human
Son #2 - Ga'Ree Byu-Zee, 1st Magic-user elf
Son #3 - Ludwig von Schwabach, 1st Nobleman human
Son #4 - Anarawd, 1st Bard (another of my customs) human

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Classic Traveller: Reactionless Drives and Repulsor Tech

  Let's get nerdy and jump into the deep end of the scifi RPG pool - reactionless drives.
  In short, the reactionless drive 'issue' boils down to this:
  1) So far, in Real Life, it appears that in a vacuum and microgravity (or close enough) you need to expel reaction mass to generate thrust. Burn a rocket and shoot out the exhaust; use magnetic bottles to eject ionized gas; have hydrogen bombs detonated by a shock plate; whatever. In short, to move mass X through space you somehow hurl mass Y in the other direction and the reaction generates thrust.
The RF Resonant Cavity Thruster which is being tested in space about now might change the 'in Real Life' part of this post. We live in interesting times
The issue is this - with this as true travel through space is hard, expensive, short-range, and slow because you have to use mass to move mass.

  2) In fiction lots and lots of people use reactionless drives - ships move, but they don't have to throw mass 'that way'. 
  3) So some people say 'Yay, reactionless drives are fun! They let my book/game/whatever be Horatio Hornblower in space!'
  Other people say, 'Boo, reactionless drives are no fun! They break my ability to accept the book/game/whatever and mean that everyone should just be hurling planets at one another at 99.9999% C!'

  As much as some would like to label the latter group 'pearl-clutching ninnies' in the what was perhaps the very first fictional portrayal of reactionless drives (Doc Smith's Lensman books) the characters did, indeed, escalate until they were destroying planets by hitting them who two other planets. 
  From opposite directions.
  Both doing 99.9999999% C.
  And both were made of antimatter.
The father of Space Opera wrote BIG stories.
  So there is a risk there.

  You'd think that such a rather nerdy, niche, obscure issue wouldn't be that big a deal, right? I mean, it isn't as if people obsess over things like food or fuel sources in fantasy rpgs, right?
  But reactionless drives are a Big Deal in SF TRPGs, so much so that one side of the debate has the slogan 'friends don't let friends use reactionless drives'.
  Part of the problem is classic Traveller.
  If you are among the few guys who might read this blog who don't know what Traveller is, hoo-boy: you are missing out.
  As I remember, Traveller hit the FLGS in Spring of 1977. Dad owed me a huge favor involving a situation straight out of a 1980's sitcom
...but that is a story for another time...
  so I got it that week and started reading it.
  Two weeks after I got it, I saw Star Wars for the first time.
  Great timing.
  Traveller is a pretty crunchy game. The original books are full of mathematical formulae you need for play, including an intro to the use of vectors. The ship building rules, planet generation rules, sub-sector generation rules, etc. are essentially minigames. The game is developed enough that you can run a full game that is all about being explorers based on a remote, agrarian frontier world: you slip out into barely-explored space and come back with valuable knowledge and rare items. Or you can run a full game that is all about being mercenaries based on a remote, agrarian frontier world; you are guns-for-hire for the brush wars that erupt far from centralized power. Heck, you can run a full game that is all about being merchants based on a remote, agrarian frontier world; you are trying to corner the market on farm machinery!
  Oh, yeah - the trade system is another mini-game.
  Anyway, Traveller supports SF RPG play from asteroid prospectors trying to earn enough for more oxygen to intrigue among galactic nobles at imperial court where entire solar systems are used as currency and everything in between. A seminal game in the early days of tabletop RPGs.

  And it uses reactionless drives.

  I can remember the debates about this from Back in the Day, and they were pretty serious on the old Traveller Mailing List from time to time. I remember particularly when T4 was coming out with new ship construction rules.

  Personally, I have never had an issue with reactionless drives for one simple reason - we are surrounded by 'reactionless acceleration' all the time.

  "But, Rick!," I hear you say, "Gravity involves mass! The mass of the attractors!"

  Yeah. I know.

  As a little aside, I have fond memories of my Physics 360 prof telling us a humorous aside as we discussed gravity. He was quoting someone else (whose name I don't think he mentioned) and I am paraphrasing,
"The Medieval world used the concept of Crystal Spheres to predict the movement of the sun, moon, planets, and stars and were very, very accurate about it. If you pushed a Scholastic to tell you what it was that made the celestial objects move he couldn't tell you exactly what it was - he could measure its effects, he could make very accurate predictions about the future, etc. but what it was? He only had measurements and formulae. So he said it was the angels."
"Today people laugh about that, and say 'it is gravity!' But all we have done is give the angels a new name. We can measure its effects; we can make very accurate predictions; but as to what it really is? Could be angels."
  Anyway, the idea of a gravity-based drive being 'reactionless' is actually kinda' goofy. The reaction mass is just other places.
  Here is an analogy - beam powered propulsion. This is the 'planet based laser pushing a vessel with a light sail' idea. In this case the reaction mass is the planet that holds the laser - the vessel doesn't carry reaction mass for the main trip.
  With sub-light thrust using gravity fields the 'reaction mass' is, well, the rest of the universe, really. Even some of the biggest proponents of 'reactionless drives are broken' admit this (not all - just some).

  We know Traveller uses artificial gravity (it is explicitly mentioned in the books) and even use a form of defensive gravity generator, the repulsor. So I assume that the drive systems in spaceships are gravity-based in any spacefaring civilization in Traveller unless otherwise noted.

  One of the things I like about classic traveller in particular is a lot of things are implied, giving a GM plenty of room to move around. Look at gravity technology in books 1 through 8 of Classic Traveller and you see a lot of discussion about artificial gravity in use. Indirectly, usually. It really lets you go off on your own and has some interesting little quirks. G-carriers, air/rafts, repulsors, grav belts - artificial gravity tools are all over the background clutter of the CT game.

  Looking at the development of ships by tech level I decided to add something to a campaign I wrote up in 1986, re-wrote in 1988, and eventually never got to run. I have ported it over to my about to be launched campaign. That is....

Repulsor Shields
High Guard stats:

Repulsor Shield Tech Level Table
Tech Level-            11    12    13    14    15
Shield Rank-           2      3      4      5      6
  this is the maximum shield rating available at each tech level

 Repulsor Shield Displacement Table
Rank                 1    2    3    4    5    6
Displacement-  2    5    8    11  14  17
  this is the percentage of the ship required for the shield generator

Repulsor Shield Cost Table
Rating-    1       2    3     4     5     6
Cost-       1.5  0.7  0.5  0.5  0.5  0.5
  in millions of credits

Repulsor Shield Power Requirement
is calculated by: R 0.01M
Where R equals the rating of the repulsor screen and M is the total displacement of the ship.

  Feel free to point out any errors I am making as I am recreating these really experimental devices from memories about 30 years old!

  If you do more than glance at this, you'll realize that repulsor shields are just another maneuver drive! Rather than provide thrust for the ship, though, they push away any inbound missiles. In combat a ship with active repulsor shields applies its shield rating against all  incoming missiles! This is, naturally, in addition to any counter-fire, dedicated repulsor bays, and nuclear dampers.
  The downside is that a ship with active repulsor shields cannot launch or recover any sub-craft, regardless of size, and also cannot fire any missiles or even use deadfall ordnance.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Conan the Barbarian: A Review, an Analysis, and a Little Bit of a Misunderstood and Improperly Played - While Talking About the Pulps

It appears that, barring a sudden change, my father will not be with us much longer. As his children, grand-children, great-grand-children, and various in-laws gather (there are about 65 of us, all told!) to see him, my thoughts are on what he shared with me.
Note: My father passed away while this was being written. We were able to see him before he died.

In the Spring of 1982 I was 14-going-on-15 and very excited because Conan the Barbarian was coming out soon. My father, who was a huge fan of the pulps, had introduced me to Conan when I was very young (even the De Camp stuff) and I had been mining it for my D&D games for years, along with Howard's works on Kull, Kane, and even his Breck Elkins stories. The day that Conan hit the theaters my father took me to see it.

Over the weekend I saw that the 1982 film was available on streaming and watched it again (the 14th or 15th time, I am sure). I had seen the remake with Momoa in the intervening years, as well as the TV series (Well. Some of the series).

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Classic Traveller Book 5: High Guard - Implications for World Building

  I do love classic traveller. From that fantastic box cover giving us the mayday from Free Trader Beowulf to the crisp aesthetic to the crunch. Toss in the mini-games of ship design and it was an instant classic.
  Book 5: High Guard was one of the best splat books ever added to a game, in my opinion. Advanced character generation, advanced ship design, detailed yet streamlined space combat.
  Hard to top and it might not have seen its equal in the 37 years since it came out.

  Lots and lots of people use HG to build ships, but I also use it to look at the 'Domain Game' of Traveller (or as Traveller calls it, the Pocket Empires game).

Let's talk about what the shipbuilding charts in HG tell us about building a campaign setting for Classic Traveller looks like.

First, a quick glance at FTL travel with the Drive Tech Table:

  You need to have Tech Level 9 to have any FTL ships and you don't get longer than 1 parsec until TL11+.

  Impact: To have interstellar travel you must have worlds capable of at least maintaining and repairing TL9 jump drives. To have real strategic speed you have to have TL11+. This means TL9 and 10 civilizations will be very 'local' compared to higher techs.

  Now let's look at Weapons and Defenses, starting with major weapons weapons, i.e., stuff that's big for starships:

At TL9 you have access to heavy bay Particle Accelerators (or PAs), PA spinal mounts, and heavy missile bays. TL10 adds heavy repulsor bays and bigger PA spinal mounts as well as some light bay weapon systems. TL11 is a big jump where you gain Meson spinal mounts.

  Let's look at turrets:

  It can be hard to see, but the heavier energy weapons aren't available until TL10+ and they get more powerful fairly rapidly.

  Last in this section, screens;

You can't have nuclear dampers or meson screens until TL12+.

  I am not going to post the huge combat charts showing the various target numbers to hit and then penetrate, but the end result is - until TL10+ missiles, especially nuclear missiles, dominate space combat because they are more likely to hit and penetrate. Repulsors eat up some of (ok - a lot of) the advantage of missiles at TL10 and TL11, but once nuclear dampers are added to the mix missiles are matched by energy weapons. If you track missile reloads in large scale, long-term space battles energy weapons can take the edge, especially at higher TLs.

Impact: Missiles rule until TL12. After TL12 ship-killer mesons spinal mounts appear.

Now it is time to talk about a rather odd fact or two. Here is the computer chart:

  This chart is important because more powerful computers = bonuses to hit and penetrate with weapon fire. This chart is critical to world building because of ship size.
  Yes, really.
  See that column that is headed'Ship'? That column is 'the hull tonnage size that requires that model of computer as a minimum'. In other words, that code is the largest ship hull available with that computer model. This means hull size is limited by tech level.

    Here is the hull chart:

  By cross-reference you can see that at TL9 maximum hull size is D, or 4,000 displacement tons while at TL12 maximum hull size is R, or 100,000 displacement tons.
  There are some very interesting implications from this! For example, at TL9 the smallest PA spinal mount is 5,000 displacement tons while the largest possible space ship is 4,000 displacement tons. As a result, at TL9 PA spinal mounts are for planets, moons, etc., not ships. The most powerful weapon that can be put into a TL9 ship is a 100 ton missile bay with a weapon factor of 7. Next would be a PA bay or a total of 30 missile tube, both of which have a weapon factor of 7. A capitol ship for a TL9 navy might look like;
4,000d dt, Jump-1, Manuever-3
1 x 100 dt PA bay (factor 6)
10 x triple sand turrets (1 battery of factor 7)
10 x triple missile turrets (5 batteries of factor 3 each)
10 x triple beam turrets (5 batteries of weapon factor 4 each)
Armor factor 12
Agility 1 (emergency 3)
Computer factor 3
  So while it has a relatively low agility it has fair survivability with the beam lasers capable of anti-missile fire and the sand to stop heavy energy attacks and decent armor.

  On the other hand, TL12 is a big leap in capabilities. Ships get very big, meson spinal mounts, meson screens, and nuclear dampers are on the table, armor gets tougher, etc. The differences are pretty stark - the TL9 navy's capital ship isn't a match for a TL12 navy's frigate - the TL12 frigate would have Jump-2, heavier armor, better agility, and a more powerful computer in the same size hull. This means the higher TL ship chooses the range of engagement, hits more often, penetrates more often, gets hit less often, etc.
  The Fun Lads Four refer having a more powerful computer in space combat "The Traveller Bless spell".

  TL12+ capitol ships should be able to engage entire TL9 battle groups alone and prevail.
  So how could a TL9 navy face a TL12 navy?
  Two words - zergling rush.
  The TL9 navy could put so many ships into play at so many locations that the TL12 navy would be forced to pick what it defends. With the TL12 navy pinned the TL9 navy could then swarm selected fleets, or even ships, with an overwhelming number of attackers. This depends on a few things, though:
  1) They need to have that many hulls
  2) They have to be able to lose a lot of hulls
  3) They have to be willing to lose a lot of hulls
  4) They must be committed to a long conflict
  5) Their own economic and supply bases must be secure from counter-attack

  That is a tough combo to pull off.

Impact: When doing world building within CT to achieve anything approaching parity between a TL( civilization and a TL12+ civilization the TL9 group must be much larger and have a lot more population and have well-defended manufacturing. If not the TL12+ group will be able to overwhelm the other at will.

Next time - how I used these elements to make my new CT campaign setting.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Play Report/DM Report, Blackstone Record Keeping and the Domain Game

  Twenty months ago the party ended a 7 real-world year arc in the Blackstone campaign. The adventures were Big Deals and the loot was spectacular.
  In the approaching-two-years since we have played a lot of sessions, but the party never sat down to even divide the loot from this adventure! In the intervening time castles had been designed, built, paid for, etc. and a lot of Domain level diplomacy had occurred, but little nuts and bolts.
  I spent a little time doing a game-year worth of encounters and issued an update of what was going in in Blackdell, Doomsman's domain. Then we decided to sit down and settle some things.

Traveller: The Lanxing Comity - a short take

It has been a heck of a fortnight: I went to a Red Hat conference week f=before last and had a blast, then last week:
  One of my employees who is also a family member got shingles.
  I slipped a tore a muscle in my lower back.
  I found out I have about 20 hours of hoops to jump through to become an approved vendor for 3 major potential clients. 20 hours each.

  So today as the rest of the family is at Mass I am sitting at the interwebz machine with ibuprophen, a heating pad, tea, and smelling of Thera-gesic (my analgesic heat rub of choice) working on stuff to relax.

  Last June I wrote about a Classic Traveller campaign I have been doodling on for about a decade without putting pen firmly to paper, so I decided today is a good day for it. Behold the Lanxing Subsector-

Legend: Yellow Line = official interstellar trade routes of the Lanxing Comity; Light blue lines = official trade routes of the 12 Moon Trade Cooperative; Light purple lines = independent merchant routes; Diamonds = Jump-capable starship manufacturing facilities; five-pointed stars = Jump-Capable Warship Bases; triangles = Civilian-accessible stardocks with refined fuel and jump repair facilities.

  The Lanxing Comity is the focus, naturally, of this subsector.

  I'll have planet write ups and such in the near future.

  I used hexographer for the mapping. It took me about 20 minutes to cobble this together.