Friday, March 24, 2017

Duly Compensated

First I reserve the right to reuse this title for a Sandoval story.

In the middle of the night, last night in fact, dog number two woke us up by barking downstairs. Middle of the night I stumble down the stairs to where we keep downstair and figure he's looking out the window and barking at a cat or barking at someone on the street or one of the local raccoons.

Nope. He's standing in the middle of the living room barking at ... nothing I can see. I'm a fairly rational guy but this gave me a momentary chill so I checked the front door, and behind the shower curtain.

Acceleration compensators make me feel that way. THere's almost certainly nothing wrong but it doesn't feel that way.

Acceleration compensators are a necessary piece of (usually) handwavium technology in any story where the spaceship is only there to get you to the story (fast!) While the ftl dingus keeps trips between stars from taking decades or centuries the acceleration compensator let's your ship accelerate rapidly allowing you to speed about like a bejeebus without turning your characters into dramatically unappealing pancakes salsa or film depending on your engine of choice.

As an offside, one gee of acceleration will feel like you never left Terra and get you to Pluto in two weeks! Acceleration compensators are for the truly impatient who have to get to Pluto NOW!

Anyway if your ship is pulling 2-4 gees you could probably squeak by with powered exoskeletons, high tech water beds, and meds. Any higher than that and you probably need to invent a way to freeze the humans solid and defrost them after the really hard maneuvers are done. This probably is not an optimum solution for fighter pilots and some others.

In most science fiction acceleration compensators are assumed, especially if the spacecraft is laid out like a boat. While artificial gravity holds you to the deck, acc-comp keeps you from slamming into a wall when you put it in drive. Some drives, like the Alcubierre Warp Drive, do not actually accelerate the ship and don't need acceleration compensators for the long range journeys. They might still need rockets to enter orbit and land but this sort of thing is handled by mere humans even now without compensators.

But say you want to blow all your delta vee at once? If you have a ship that has 500 kps delta vee you could blow it all to get to say the moon in 12.8 minutes (double the time if you want to slow down). Unfortunately the human body only can take 2-3 gees for any length of time. Accelerating to 250 kps at three gees would take over two hours and deceleration equal time and making the trip at 1 gee would take 4 hours. So acceleration compensators really don't start looking good till we have space opera style drives operating at least at tens of gees with very high maximum velocities.

What could be some limits of compensators? Limits make characters act all inventive by sticking problems in their way.

No Compensators -No Gravity
The drive affects the entire ship somehow keeping everything in free fall. This has its own set of problems as astronauts discover everyday. Some ships spin some section of their ships to create a gravity effect.

Stasis Tubes
Compensators operate over a very limited area, say one (very expensive) compensator will affect about 3-4 cubic meters. In this case we have something like the stasis tubes in Forbidden Planet that protect the occupants from some kind of deceleration on exiting ftl flight. The rest of the time they make due with strapping in and using a gentle gee acceleration.

Single Axis
Acceleration compensators are aligned with the thrust of the ship. Gees from lateral thrust will be fully felt and fast maneuvers to evade danger might throw people about.

You Can't Butter Toast on Both Sides
Due to power configurations or whatever fancy double talk you invent you can have acceleration compensators or artificial gravity on but not both at once. If you're screaming along at five gees then you're in free fall.

Acceleration dampers don't reduce the effects of acceleration by a fixed number of gees but a percentage. A fifty percent compensator will make two gees feel like 1 gee. A ship with this sort of compensator will be laid out like a building with decks at a right angle to the axis of thrust.

The effects of the compensator quickly fall off the further you are from the compensator. Designing a ship is a delicate balance of sticking components as far from the compensator as they can stand. Moving against the axis of acceleration might be quite nauseating or result in unconsciousness at higher accelerations (like combat conditions). The bridge and living areas might be built on top of the compensators or fuel tanks if sloshing fuel is a concern. These ships will probably be built with decks at right angles to the direction of thrust.

Micro Tremors
Compensators vary just a little in their effects and it's enough to cause nausea in people especially when making hard maneuvers.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Infrastructure and Mega Credits

One of the most overlooked aspects of space travel in SF settings is infrastructure. Space travel today is barely begun and is almost impossibly hard. The only way our first voyages have succeeded is with a lot of people on the ground working incredibly hard. In the future new propulsion systems and engineering techniques will make it easier but I sincerely doubt it will ever be easy. It will require a lot of time, energy and skills compared to most other human endeavors (except possibly terraforming and kicking coffee).

Say we have something like the traveller maneuver drives: you put your power in one end and your ship moves to the other end sort of. No deadly rocket blast necessary. No one needs a spaceport, right?


First of all antigravity (or whatever handwavium you use) is expensive. A Scout ship alone costs 36 Mcr. Its routine maintenance is 36,000 credits a year and that is not figuring in life support, wages, fuel, supplies, and non-routine costs like repairs or ordinance. For a comparison, in CT high living (great food, swank accommodations, lighting your cigarettes with credit notes) costs about 900 cr. a month. A credit buys a lot.

In a setting like this earning money to keep your ship flying is a major concern (let alone paying a gorram mortgage). This has two effects: time is going to be precious, ships are going to try to cut expenses.

Time is precious because you need time to do whatever it is to pay the bills. In the example above your courier could wind up costing you say, 6000 cr. a month. That's two hundred a day so you don't want to waste any of it sitting around repairing a busted strut or Johnston rod.

As expensive as ships are they could be even more expensive. So manufacturers will try to cut costs where they can. That means anything not devoted to maintaining life and getting from point A to point B will be made as cheaply as possible, like landing gear. So you are going to want a more or less level stretch of concrete to land on otherwise you waste time fixing your struts and rods and such.

Saving money by optimizing your ship for vacuum work could save you a bundle. In Cepheus Engine streamlining costs 100,000 credits per ton. That doubles the price of some hulls, an important fact if you are paying for your ship. Not everyone steals their ship -but even in that case, you need a paint and body shop to alter it and someone to forge legit seeming credentials for it.

Yes pirates/smugglers/slavers have their own infrastructure. their ships need frequent repairs as most merchants will fire at least one shot to make things look good for the insurance company. Sometimes they panic and actually hit the pirate!

In that case they need repair facilities for their prize ship as well. Pirates have to make things look good too.

Maintenance was mentioned. Annual maintenance comes up way faster than anyone expects or wants. It requires a dock or shipyard or whatever to allow major overhaul of ship systems. Presumably you could do this in the wild but you'd be looking at longer times and an overworked engineering gang at the end of it.

But say you don't want to waste time and put wear and tear on landing, just drop your cargo off in an orbital station and pay for a shuttle to ferry it down.  Except shuttles need infrastructure, landing fields, fuel and re-mass storage. Stations need maintenance. It's all infrastructure.

I haven't even touched on ship construction but you get the idea (that may turn up in another post).

Maneuver drives are fairly expensive and considering that cost, worlds might find it useful to develop other ways to transport loads to and from orbit. A maneuver drive ship is an all purpose spacecraft (that's an oxymoron at our present stage of development by the way). Ships dedicated to lifting cargos or orbital transports can be specialized to reduce some of those costs. They don't necessarily need antigravity. Laser launch vehicles, reusable chemical rockets, orbital towers and space bolos are all being discussed and planned now. Give them a few tech levels and they might give an antigravity device a run for its money (no pun intended) for simplicity and economy.

If you are using hard science style torch ships infrastructure becomes even more important or your planet becomes instantly recognizable. It's the one with the large scorched areas and the Bladerunneresque yellow fog. Player characters are not the only people you don't want to give a 100 terawatt fusion drive to.

In fact antigravity technology might revolutionize infrastructure instead of replacing it. The previous tech level you used mass drivers to shoot cargo into orbit, now you use MFTN* driver to smoothly loft shuttles and bulk cargo containers. But don't forget, antigravity devices need support systems too.

*(MFTN= Middle Finger to Newton)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Villainy Unsound

Villains! Roleplaying games and literature just wouldn't be the same without them. I've spent a lot of time lately writing short fiction for an e-book (more on that to be announced.) The stories I'm writing right now are space opera of a sort but they deal with the crew of a small freighter trying to meet expenses, deal with passengers, locals and their assorted craziness.

 I tried very hard to stay away from the tropes of SF I grew up with and sometimes succeeded. There are no square jawed heroes with nerves of steel. The damsels and guys take turns being rescued and everyone screws up regularly in some way.

When it came to villains I wanted to do some more mold breaking and I looked at a few traditional villains to plan my villains' departure from said tradition.

1) The villain possesses ample resources to deal with the likes of your motley crew.

In truth most criminals I've known or heard of (hey, I live in New York City) had way less money than the average middle class person. That could have caused their life of crime (people gotta eat one way or another) or been the result of it (defense attorneys aren't cheap). They might have ample weapons or cars if they are trading in them but might be short on cash or other resources.

Trying to get over on the heroes unfairly or illegally because you're hard up can make a villain a sympathetic character to some degree. But you're still a villain.

2) They're all badass renaissance men.

If we're talking a global mastermind running a huge empire then they probably don't have 6 hours a day for a work out and mixed martial arts and weapons training. That's what the bodyguards are for. If he is a badasses usurper who killed the mastermind and then took over then he will lack a certain experience and administrative savvy. No one is good at everything.

3) They don't have to be confrontational.

Getting revenge on the team that messed up your big secret deal is satisfying. No doubt. Some might call it a waste of time and resources, especially if that big secret deal was one of seven that month and the other six went off without a hitch. Why seek vengeance when what happened is more of a business expense?

In the real world criminal types do not go out of their way to antagonize the law, unless their region has little law or government. A group that hurt the villain once might be actively avoided. Law officers and other irritants might be bribed and not killed or operations could be suspended or moved to a more favorable location.

4) They have but one penalty for failure.


Would you work for someone like that? How big a failure are we talking? Do you off the servitor who didn't cut the crusts off your bread? What about the loyal lieutenant who took all reasonable precautions but still had his big deal broken up by the good guys? Truth is having a secret enterprise stay secret requires a fair amount of loyalty. In the later seasons of the drama Breaking Bad viewers are introduced to the concept of legacies. When a minion (yeah they don't call them that in the series) gets arrested and sent up they continue to draw a salary which is sent to their dependents or their own account. That buys a lot of tight lips.

5) There is but one penalty for disloyalty.

This actually makes sense. There can be extenuating circumstances for failure. Having a big mouth ought to guarantee your former coworkers will show up to shut you up fast. This is even more likely if the coworkers have a legacy plan in effect, full medical and are treated well. If the head of the operations gets killed or jailed that will all go away.

Villains are people too and sometimes they get betrayed by someone who is too close to them to just remove (ask Don Michael Corleone.) Love, denial or custom might buy them their life. These people might be isolated, guarded, sent into a sanitarium or tropical island but they'll still be around for future betrayals.

6) They have no honor or morality.

Villains have honor and morality unless we're talking someone like the Joker (I have no idea how he keeps finding gang members.) Remember the things like the legacy plan and henchman support system shows

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Extreme Auditing

The minimal power managed barely a quarter standard gravity. Beagley ignored the ladder and just dropped the three meters, he covered them as they descended feeling a little silly, a former bureaucrat and money handler playing cops and robbers. He was still glad of the shotgun in his gloved hands. That was why he only jumped a little when the others lit behind him.

The crew deck had a much more up to date entertainment center and newer carpet than their own ship, Sandoval noticed. The media screen had a golden trefoil on a red background showing.

“Thanks for sharing,” Skipper said walking over to the screen’s console. There should be a remote but like all other remotes it was uncannily good at hiding when you really wanted it. Skipper found a hotkey and hit it.

“Don’t hit nothing marked destruct,” Beagley said still looking about. “There’s clutter, dishes, knick knacks around. They didn’t stow for liftoff or ftl insertion … they left in a hurry.”

“Unless they’re still here,” Skipper answered. She was immediately sorry. None of them wanted to move to the bridge yet.

“How’s your stomach babe?” Sandoval asked trying to change the topic.

“Fine … total terror puts a little nausea in its place fast,” Beagley muttered. Skipper couldn't get the hot key to work. Finally remembering her suit glove had a special patch to work a touch screen belatedly, she uncovered one finger tip and pressed.

A ship’s officer looked out at them from his bridge station. He had the star and sextant badge of a navigator. The crispness of his uniform, the depth of focus, all told Skipper this was an AI. Of course the name badge on its chest with a banking logo did too.

“Greetings! If you salvaged this ship my employers will gladly reimburse you five percent of its current value after deductions for breakage, depreciation, taxes and outstanding fines and transfer fees!”

“Your masters are all heart. What happened to the crew?”

Beagley asked.

The AI hesitated.


If you think your merchants and traders have a hard time making their ship payments, ask a banker about finding a ship once the captain decides to skip. Banks are in the position of floating loans to people who can flee at hundreds of times the speed of light. Of curse the bounty hunters and repo men get all the media treatments but they are really a last resort and do not in fact deter skipping captains very much. Most of the skipping is deterred by precautions. 

Vetting- a thorough background check on loan applicants is the first step. Fingerprinting, retina scans, DNA profiling and other scans are taken to establish identity and add to a central law enforcement database (Loan Applicant: You ain't sticking that thing in my mouth. Bank Examiner: It don't go in your MOUTH!) In addition to having an identity banks lean towards granting loans to people with other business, family ties or better yet property (that can be seized) on the branch's world. 

Business Plans- you should have one of your own, but some banks will help you tweak it or help with networking. Believe it or not they want you to succeed and keep paying them. 

Snitches- if this is your first ship, despite vetting you will most likely have a crewman making a little extra on the side. He basically reports any dirty dealing to the banks heading off any attempts to skip (in exchange for a fat bonus).

Security keys- the more benign form of this is a hidden security program (often part of the anti-hijacking program). Every time you make a loan payment the bank transmits a code to your ship and everyone is happy. Miss a payment and the computer will have all manner of responses: denying entry to the ship, transmitting a distress call (the captain and crew's pin numbers etc). Some more tight fisted banks may load a full artificial intelligence on your ship designed to incapacitate crew and take the ship back to a branch office -more or less. Course data may need updating and you are dealing with accountants and not navigators. 

Other less savory institutions may let their AI employ less humane means to coerce a crew into obedience. These range from blasting horrific music from hidden and armored speakers to opening airlocks, shutting airlocks and repeating as necessary.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Spells and Sliderules

Skipper was finishing up the laundry when to her great annoyance Beagley arrived with another basket. Seeing the broker begin to load another washer she sighed with relief and paid him no further notice until he was nearly done. She gaped as she saw him toss several plush toys that normally shared a station on the bridge with Sandoval as well as the navigator’s prized fluffy slippers and robe.

Utter fear froze the young woman to the spot a few crucial moments. She leapt for the machine with a strangled cry as it started up. Beagley was left with a crazed deckhand trying desperately and illogically to climb over him to get to the machine. Luch was already on the utility deck checking the freezer contents and first on the spot. He viewed this outburst much the same as a bad load of fuel in the reactor causing a neutron storm. He had time to get his affairs in order.

Sandoval was the last crew member present. It took her a few moments to process what had happened letting the other three make an escape with Skipper and Luch disagreeing over whether to take Beagley or use him as a diversion. Skipper won as she was concerned he would paint an unfair picture of her part in this desecration.

The crew very nearly ran down the Captain as he was returning to the ship with Celsie. The NBE being a sensitive creature took one mental scan and hurriedly fled to the safety of a flashlight in the damage control locker. Captain waved off the cries of alarm and begging he go with or at least get the hell out of their way.

“This is my ship! Ain’t no Second Tier Navigator no bigger’n a sack of fly crap gonna scare me! What in Rah’s name brought this on anyway?” he demanded adjusting his cap to look more official.

They told him.

“Pancake House!” Captain ordered. The rest of the crew tried to keep up with him.


There are a couple of salient points to dealing with navigators.

1) They're all superstitious.

2) They deny it.

3) You don't call them on their bullshit. Ever.

4) You don't screw with their rituals.

You can't blame them. They're as close to visualizing four dimensions as a human can. That'd twist anyone a little. Psychologically this is an attempt to impose order on cosmic forces they can comprehend only in a limited way. The guys who actually work on hyper engines are even more wack but I'm talking only navigators here.

A navigator is going to have their rituals. In Sandoval's case this is being in ensconced in pillows, a whole plush toy ecosystem and her beloved fluffy slippers. The washing schedule for these core implements is dependent on obscure portents and signs known only to her or the two week annual maintenance (so she can break them in before lifting ship).

Some people equate the skill of the navigator with the inconvenience and annoyance their little quirks entail. They whisper in hushed tones of the hidden course masters (capitalization optional), pathfinders so astute they could lay a course to take you around the universe but the rituals required would take longer than a human lifetime.

How much this actual affects a navigator is often called into question (when the navigator is not around). Some ideas:

1) Pure hoakum. This doesn't keep some from believing it with their whole heart and becoming very difficult if anyone interferes with their little customs.

2) Placebo - but not doing it causes a slight minus to the navigator's rolls.

3) It works! Performing the rituals required will put the navigator in a special frame of mind giving them a small plus to their rolls to avoid hazards and delays.

4) The navigator possesses enough mojo after performing their rituals to reduce travel time by 10%.

5) Performing the rituals required will put the navigator in a special frame of mind giving them a small plus to their rolls to avoid hazards and delays. Failing to perform the rituals will increase travel time by 10% (and possibly fuel use).

6) The real thing!! Performing the rites allows the navigator to access a cosmic font of wisdom and anticipate any dangers on the course they lay in! If you're playing with psionics a character might get a flash of a possible future development (these are seldom never good.)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Next Capsule Will Be Delayed

Yeah about Alien Capsules Book One debuting today? Not so much. It seems I am not yet vetted by RPGNow (I'm only a Fourth Tier Publisher it seems). So I have left my latest project in their gentle hands while they inspect it for any sign it will tick someone off. I wish it would. It seems that's the way to sell your product. I guess people download the pdfs and then burn the tablets the pdf is on these days.

Anyway a little more on the book: art is by Team Frog Studios and Art of War Games. Words and stats are by me. Game write ups are for White Star though they could serve for other OSR games. The background for each alien has some story ideas and their usual M.O.

As I was writing this book though I realized most of these aliens could serve as character classes (no not Skels, what are ya, crazy? Okay, RP a Skel. It's your game.) So here's one alien from the book written as a playable class.

Beast Master

Level        XP          HD          BHB         ST      
1                 0          1+1          +1            15      

2          3,000          2              +2            14      

3          6,000         3+1          +3             13      

4        12,000         4              +4             12      

5         24,000         5+1           +5          11        

6         48,000         6               +6          10 

Beast masters may wear up to medium armor in combat. They employ any primitive weapons (bow and arrow, staff, or daggers are favored.)

Saving Throws
Due to living close to nature beast masters have a highly developed immune system and are +2 to saves vs. diseases, toxins and extreme temperatures.

Quick Reflexes
Beast Masters and their party are +1 to initiative.

Unarmed Combat
Due to their savage nature Beast Masters inflict 1d6 damage in unarmed combat. 

Animal Followers
Beast Masters begin play with one animal follower. They receive another at third level and an additional animal every level after that. Their first animal can have no more than one hit die. Their next two hit dice and so on. 

Animal Networking
At fifth level Beast Master can influence all the animals in their vicinity modifying reactions to make them hostile to others or more friendly. Their own animal followers are unaffected. Beast Masters can convey their intentions to unknown animals and won't be bothered by them unless they are threatening the animal or its group or interfering with feeding.

Mental Link
Beast Masters share a link to their animal followers who will always carry out instructions within reason. Every time one of their followers is killed the Beast Master loses 3 HP permanently. The Beast Master can replace the animal in the course of events but if he choses he can lose it permanently instead of the hit points.