Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Dieselpunk Campaign In a Nutshell

I generated the following background for a dieselpunk setting. Comments in parentheses are variations I invented because I can't leave anything short and simple. 

Setting One: The Atomic Gangsters!
The rolls: Earth is mostly ruins with strict rationing. It is menaced by gangsters who want to rule mankind. The Earth is defended by heroes. Under technology I rolled up superconductors and insulators as well as exo-armor (human tanks) and intelligent robots. The heroes also have state of the art equipment made with ultralight alloys, and at least one member with psychic abilities. Technology does not show a high degree of automation for reasons I go into below.

Earth is mostly in ruins, recovering from an atomic war in the past century. Life is hard and many items like food and water are rationed by government orders. Nutrition depends on food tablets for most of the diet (carrying supplies is not a problem, you can carry a week's rations in your jacket).

Energy weapons and energy resistant armor is very common (bonus to damage and armor for energy weapons and their defenses). People traveling any length of time on the surface use exoarmor. The city dwelling humans also have fairly intelligent robots (robot PCs may be possible)to help them rebuild society and attempt to civilize the ‘wild people’ living in the wastes. (I made up the part about savages in the ruins, you could use them as player characters or even a career or class if your system runs towards that).

There is very little automation in day to day life. The robots are reserved for important projects in the ruins. In addition there is a large number of refugees from the wilds who need gainful employment to truly become civilized (this is more for color, telephone and other media exchanges have hordes of operators, servers wait on you hand and foot in restaurants and so on. Getting laborers for an expedition is possible and cheap. However, laborers might run away while robots will not.)

Society is menaced by futuristic gangsters calling themselves warlords who have fortified underground bases in the wastelands. So far they have proved impossible to assault directly due to their numbers and large settlements of innocent people that spring up around their stronghold entrances seeking protection, food and water. (In a black and white world the Earth government is Good and the warlords Evil. Or are they? Perhaps the earth government s completely corrupt, creating various shortages to keep the public in line, welcoming refugees, then virtually enslaving them and scheming away. Warlords could be rebels. Calling them rebels would tip off more would be rebels to join them. The Earth government calls them warlords to foster an image of brutality. The 'warlords' attempt to keep the poor and starving fed and away from the government 'education programs' that make slaves of them. While we're at it: what's IN those damned pills?!)

The gangsters want to eventually rule all of mankind. (Or if you go with my spin theory above they want everyone under their relatively benign rule and the current regime destroyed). The gangsters are opposed by a band of heroes with special technology based out of an old ruin who are kept informed by a warning system the surviving cities are linked to. These heroes have developed ultralight steel for their weapons, armor and vehicles making them far faster and maneuverable than the gangster forces. They also have high powered 'solium' fuel that lets their vehicles and robots have much greater range as well as a psychic who can give them a few minutes warning of the gangster attacks. (Obviously the head gangsters should have mind reading proof helmets to prevent the heroes from learning their big plans -an excuse to roll up fancy helmets. (The 'heroes' are in for a surprise if the Earth's government lied to them when they remove a gangster's helmet!)

The gangsters have numbers and brutality on their side but can’t find the heroes’ base. If they did all would be lost. (If the Earth's government is the corrupt one or just corrupt the 'gangsters' ' numbers and brutality might be greatly exaggerated.)

Space travel is not developed yet. (With superconductors, super insulators, high energy fuels and lightweight alloys it is certainly possible in the near future or even immediately, at least to the Moon. If the Moon has useful resources it will be developed even faster. (Hint: I rolled up a subterranean world for it. The first explorers are going to be adventuring!)

Rules Systems
Open d6 is a quick and clean system for running adventures. It originally was the engine of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game from West End Games. It's qualifications for running space opera are unquestionable.

White Star is also a quick clean system with plenty of space opera material. Just change the focus from an entire galaxy to the solar system. Really nine planets, a possibly hollow Earth and 30+ moons and asteroids aren't enough for a couple of years of play at least?

Cepheus Engine is another system that is easy enough and quite good for simulating a variety of different technologies. It takes a more hard science approach to technology but some imagination (and Dieselpunk in a Nutshell!) can remedy that.

D.E.C.O. system by the sadly inactive Heliograph Games was designed to run adventures in the Zappelin Age (I wish I'd thought of that term). If you can track down a copy of their Airship Troopers on the Volcanic Island of Dinosaur Doom (if that title isn't enough to get you looking ...) it has a neat little system with FUDGE and Open d6 conversions.

Atomic Rockets obligatory link:
Winchell Chung's inimitable website is geared for writers and referees who want to tell stories that respect hard science. For the rest of us the site has tons of images from the era and notes about various handwavium and unobtainium equipment. This is great if you want to know exactly where you started to BS in your background. He also quotes a number of bloggers (AHEM) with ideas for world building.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Art Deco Solar System


What is this?

It's an image I plan on using for the cover of my next publication: Dieselpunk In a Nutshell.

What is Dieselpunk In a Nutshell?

Dieselpunk In a Nutshell is a series of tables to let you generate your own dieselpunk science fiction setting.

What's dieselpunk?

Dieselpunk is similar to steampunk. While steampunk borrows scientific theories, technology and ideas from the Victorian era, dieselpunk takes it's inspirations from the science fiction of the pulp magazines and books of the 30's and 40's. The Buck Rogers comic strip of the 1930s is an  excellent example. While it often uses handwavium inventions and materials (recoilless force beams, reverse weight elements) it also has technology that is extrapolated from the technology and science of the day. You have vacuum tube electronic brains, atomic rockets, and energy weapons.

What do I get out of this?
Nothing actually unless you buy it. But if you buy Dieselpunk In a Nutshell, you'll be getting charts of various inventions, menaces and civilizations to help fill in a whole dieselpunk setting!

What rule system does it use?
It's systemless. It gives general results you tailor to whatever system you use.

There's a lot of good systems already out there which I don't want or need to compete with right now.

Did you pay for that art you're using?
It's public domain art! Cut me some slack!

How about a sample?

Earth in the future is
  1. a virtual utopia (or is it?)
  2. recovering from disaster (atomic war, planetary disaster, secret weapon gone wrong)
  3. wasteland and ruins (mostly)
  4. a puppet state (publicly or secretly)
  5. uninhabitable outside domed cities (or is it?)
  6. under strict rationing of vital resources such as food and water (really in short supply, hoarded or wasted?)

The technology features (roll till you're satisfied):

  1. Strange Elements
Strange elements are usually found or manufactured in small amounts (enough for the weird scientist to build a unique prototype but not mass production). 

  1. Anti-gravity Element(s) Antigravity elements usually exert a repulsive force far beyond their actual weight. A cubic foot could lift several humans like a balloon or allow the construction of several flying belts or a small personal flyer. Any of these devices should have a mechanism to release some of the lift element just in case some mishap lightens the load. For example a rocketship might get its tail shot off and rise like a shot. remove some of the AGE and you reduce the lift letting you float to Earth (or wherever).
  2. Metanite Ore These rare elements allow you to access a whole new spectrum. Meta particles only interact with meta ore. You can build sensors or communications devices that are undetectable and unjamable by electronic means. This is  huge step forward in terms of stealth and espionage.
  3. Gravinite Spin this element in a centrifuge, say, and you generate gravity at a right angle to the direction of spin. Gravinite tops for the kids were great for pranking the neighbors living above you. Spacecraft can use gravinite to fight the effects of weightlessness. It also creates rapid (really rapid) acceleration f your setting has intercontinental subway tubes or orbital towers. High gravity fields can also be used to ground aircraft or restrain intruders.
  4. Invisite Crystals of invisite ‘imprint’ on the colors of their surrounding. An object coated in invisite is perfectly camouflaged and invisible beyond a few yards. As you may imagine it’s pretty hard to find.
  5. Cerebrite Cerebrite accelerates mental processes. It increases intelligence if worn near the brain (in a headband, for example) In individuals possessing psychic powers it increases there range and duration and can be habit forming.
  6. Immunite Immunity increases the power of the immune systems. This provides faster healing and resistance to pathogens. Life exposed to immunity from birth possess the ability to regenerate and heal almost any damage.

What else?
Other technologies include, special alloys, power sources, super weapons and robots. A special table lets you detail what your futuristic world lacks (you have a television screen that takes up a wall but no remote so your robot butler switches channels for you.)

An optional section lets you roll for what the worlds of the Solar System hold in store.

How much is this?
One buck! For about 12 pages. I'll even throw in a table to generate an individual helmet design for your hero!

Didn't you do a post on that?
Oh for ... It'll  have more stuff. It'll be good! I'm going live with this the first week in May.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Zeerust Helmets

First of all I intend to return to the nuts and bolts of the Satellite soon enough. Here's a picture of her officers:

Once you get over the WTF moment realize Dick Calkins was a cagey old artist. Told to introduce a slew of characters he came up with a way to make each stand out, their helmets. Note that Buck and Wilma need no such ornamentation (Wilma could probably stand out in the rain on a crowded street.)

You can spend a bit of time wondering just what each helmet had by way of equipment (and why). Why does the engineer need binoculars? The electronist a breathing doohickey and the astrogator a frigging roll bar?!

Why yes I have better things to do with my time. You're reading this and I might ask the same.

Anyway here is a set of tables to let you or your characters customize their helmets, the better to play dieselpunk characters. Roll for location and then decoration. Then roll for special equipment. The special equipment might jibe with the decoration or require some explaining. I'm not doing that for you. Roll as many times as you feel necessary or the referee lets you get away with.

1) Visor
1) Flip down

2) Removable clips

3) Straps

4) Magnetic clamps

5) Fixed

6) None

2) Ear Cups
1) Radio receiver antenna

2)Poofy style padding

3) Separate Hoses

4) Stethoscope style hoses

5) Flaps
6) Outriggers (also known as door catchers, think Jack Kirby style)

3) Rear Vent

2) Flap

3) Strap

4) Poofy style padding

5) Neck guard

6) Fin

4) Side Plates
1) Legionnaire style metal armor

2) Mounting rails

3) Stethoscope style hoses

4) Grilled for ventilation

5) Detachable

6) Chin strap

5) Crest
1) Top knob

2) Mounting rail

3) Spike

4) Steel mohawk

5) Roll bar

6) Metal plating

6) Special Gear
1) Breathing mask

2) Binoculars

3)High power radio

4) Black light visual enhancement

5) Listening gear
6) Headlight (literally)

1) Camera

2) Heads up display

3) Food syrup dispenser (yuck)

4) Cigarette/pipe dispenser

5) Marquee style display

6) Awesome detailing job (this is what Luch rolled up)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Far Too Much About Buck Rogers Part 1

TL;DR Buck Rogers' first ship the Satellite which I have a serious bromance with. wait a couple of posts till I put up some stats if you're too pressed to read it all.

In the beginning there was the Satellite:
(This image and the others is probably still owned by the Dille Family 
whose copyright I would never think of challenging.)

Buck Rogers was happy. I was happy (much later) when I got a hardcover collection of Buck Rogers strips and they had the story of his trip to Mars.

This was a spacecraft totally unlike the ones I grew up watching on television. The Enterprise was decidedly abstract. The Jupiter II was a flying saucer, an entirely different species. The rockets on the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials I watched Saturdays had fins and art deco chrome and ... buzzed.

This thing was an unknown fantastic beast. The rockets were in the bow for gosh sakes. It was drawn in tribute to Robert H Goddard's tractor style rockets. The concept would be used nearly a hundred years after Goddard's work in the movie Avatar's Valkyrie style starships.

The internal drawings were for familiarization purposes of course. Don't take the four meter tall rocket gunners too seriously. Or the Hobbit sized engineers required to work the machine shops and labs in the stern.

Starting from the bottom (stern) the Satellite had an armored ram that could severely inconvenience less sturdy ships at close range. The one time they used the ram on a Martian sphere the collision knocked everyone silly. Presumably the Martian ship survived as it was nowhere to be found when the Earth men came around, but in no shape to continue the conflict as it didn't finish the Satellite off.

At the tip of the stern was a large (~1m,) dome lighter in color than the rest of the hull, where the plans indicated there was a release valve for their 'liquid ultronium' ballast. That seems odd unless the dome was somehow permeable to the ultronium and hey why not a bunch of microfine holes set in an armored ram? Ultron, the other miracle material in Armageddon 2419 was incredibly hard as well as naturally transparent so the dome might be tinted ultron with a huge light behind it to do overtime as a release valve, ram, and landing light.

Above the ram were four hatches. One at least opened into an airlock. Another could fire magnetic grapples.. The others might be lockers for tools and such. It seemed like a lot of 'locks on one deck.

Above the hatches there was a row of dark squares. Solar batteries? Sensors? Not sure yet.

A couple of meters above the main airlocks there portholes. they seem to match up with the navigation deck or what would be called the command center these days. It looked like the portholes could open up like a porthole on an ocean going ship and I'm not at all happy about a row of the things on the deck with your command crew. However, they were probably made of ultron and as strong or stronger then steel. The portholes opened inward and air pressure would hold them shut to prevent them from being opened in space.

Above the navigation/observation deck, we have four huge 'rocket guns'. The Earthmen made heavy use of recoilless or rocket rounds in their weapons (rayguns were a few years away for them, though the Han nation was using disintegrator beams.) If you went by A: 2419, these rounds had a variety of warheads, most likely including atomics. It is also stated several times the North American's rocket weaponry outranges ray weapons. In Traveller terms they look like four single turrets (I miscounted in an earlier post). You could say they are the equivalent of triple missile turrets using a single launch tube and a quick fire launcher.

The rocket guns likely used a magnetic or pneumatic system to kick the shells out of the ship, igniting their engines some distance away for safety. They might have fired dumb shells too.

Alongside the turrets is an 'emergency ladder' running most of the length of the ship. It's more for what we call EVA today. Oddly enough the ladder doesn't reach to the bow. But when you have a jump belt that isn't a huge problem.

Onward and upward there is a ring of portholes above the gun turrets and It seems they are a circular observation deck running around the main cargo holds.

The final major surface features are four roughly circular light colored panels the length of at least two decks. The second Satellite cutaway  shows this:

(Also Dille Family Property. I'm not trespassing so much as pointing from the fence.)

Near the top/bow and below the rocket engines is a thermionic ray projector. It's a huge stubby barrel and seem to be a fixed mount unlike the weapons on the gunnery deck. Maybe 'thermionic ray' is future talk for a heat radiator! I'm using that slim thread of supposition to make the huge panels heat radiators. Don't leave atmosphere without one. There is also an airlock! Which explains this:

(Okay, know what? If this is ticking off any lawyers I will be glad to replace these with links. In the meanwhile if you like this check out Roland Anderson's archives. Lots of beautifully rendered comics.)

Wilma is boarding the Satellite using one of the square hatches. Professor Stoddard, the engineer, seems to be jumping past her (heck of a jump though you wouldn't think that judging my his form.) An airlock would also be handy for loading parts and spares, let you pounce on Martian Tiger Men from really high up, and just be a good safety feature.

The bow of the Satellite is the rocket hood, containing descent and tractor rockets. That would keep people routinely boarding the ship away from the engines which are presumably hot in at least one sense.

Then again we have this:

Obviously Dick Calkins was heavily influenced by zeppelin and dirigible operations when he was working on the Satellite. A static test of the engines on low power is a good idea. Standing under the ship while the engines are firing? Not such a good idea to me. Then again Larry Niven and Robert A. Heinlein traumatized me with tales of how dangerous their engines were. More on this later. It's still a great picture (even if the silhouette is waaaaay too big).

Both Satellite views have a telescope sticking out the bow. I'm not sure how well a telescope would work there due to thermal expansion (then again inertron solves that problem), and vibration and exhaust from the engines. Then again, the exhaust from the engines can't be too bad if you can stand under it.

Maybe that's Bob Byron. Bob Byron was a tough customer. Coming soon some interior views and more like this

(This one is MINE. Back off Lawyers!)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Classic Traveller for the First Time Again

A post by Omer Joel on Classic Traveller got me thinking about it yet again (for the the record I've also been thinking about White Star and Operation White Box). As I see it there are two major reasons for its lasting appeal.

Mini Games
If you look carefully CT is a series of mini games. Character generation is the first. You risk your character's survival against building an array of skills. Will you character be over the hill as age drains vital characteristics? The trading game is essential to making your mortgage payments. Doing your homework here can be a life saver. Tip: Find a world where you can buy something low next to one where you can sell it high. Get rich.

Combat is fast and deadly. Do you remain undercover or advance? Do you carry ammo or smoke grenades to provide cover? Do you expend all your endurance striking powerful blows and running or let the other guys wear themselves down? The resource allocation and decision making comes up everywhere in Classic Traveller and the decisions matter. That was what we called immersion in the old days.

Negative Space
Artists and designers are familiar with the concept of negative space (it's not a misjump, no). Simply put, what you leave blank is as important as what you show. In Classic Traveller's case the setting was left blank aside from some assumptions you could draw from the rules. We knew psionics could get you lynched, there were nobles, and paying off your ship was generally speaking a bitch. That was about it. No Empire/Republic/Imperium/Federation setting taking up pages. No alien bestiary. Oh, the Animal Encounter rules were awesome too! You rolled up animals as you needed them and filled in the fur, scales, teeth, tentacles you wanted. This is a very different approach from many newer games.

Traveller didn't have a setting. You had to make your own and people did. Some friends went for an anime style universe. I went for a hard and gritty techno thriller approach. Another went completely gonzo. It all worked though. In fact we were starting to talk about merging all our games into one galaxy and take turns running stuff.

Once you marry your rules to a setting you restrict what people will do, in many cases this is unintentional. The designer wants to help new players start up. The problem is that can influence new players far too much. Games with an official setting are sort of like Ikea. Classic Traveller was more Home(world) Depot. Obviously there is a huge market for setting material (that fact astounded the guys at GDW initially). But people lose sight of the fact, it's your universe and you can do whatever you want. In fact after you buy the setting material you can fiddle with that all you want. Have all three Imperiums existing at once. Have the Zhodani be humans infested by psionic parasites. Have the Ancients be active in some areas. Have giant robots. It's your universe and there's more than one way to have fun.

Friday, April 14, 2017


The Phrogues came to Zaonia. Zaonians knew there was intelligent and nonhuman life out there. Most of them leanred all they knew about aliens from the movie serial Ghouls of the Underworld. Despite this the Phrogue ship opened friendly relations by radio after it entered orbit.

Trade began as the Zaonians had some useful metals the Phrogues wanted for fabrication and couldn't be bother to dig up or crack asteroids for. they baubles and gadgets they traded were immediately seized by the Tech Knight orders.

A number of officials in the civilian government and the Order of the Flaming Sword were concerned about the Phrogue practice of buying or renting warehouse space. Nothing went in or out of the warehouses except Phrogues. To be fair the Zaonians would be suspicious of humans doing likewise.

Then the Profit Rockit broke out of hyperspace and grounded. It turned out the Rockit had met the Phrogues and exchanged pleasantries via radio and in person on the ground. In fact several Phrogues insisted on coming onboard the beat up freighter to socialize.

The Tech Knights, police and the Mayor were waiting to have a gentle word with the crew about the Phrogues. The Phrogues, however, had made the freighter crew sign a non-disclosure agreement so draconian as to make threats of death rays and giant robots seem passe.

Sir Cuthbert argued that shooting one of the crew might loosen some tongues. But it was a ship mortgaged and operating from Zaonia and they had no real criminal record. The captain of the Profit Rockit, however offered a solution. Second tier Navigator Sandoval came up with the solution but Captain left that part out. He, Captain, would go to the Phrogues and explain that their NDA and actions were causing concern that would impair future business dealings. That an explanation should be made to the leaders at least, who could sign similar agreements and come up with some bullshit story that wouldn't hurt the Phrogue profit margin and would avoid torch wielding mobs.

Vokh, the lead Phrogue thought it over. The concept of bullshit stories had to be explained in fair detail. Navigator Sandoval, having met a few aliens, was tasked with this. She was also an expert on bullshit. After a long discussion Vokh agreed that she should tell the senior Knight and Mayor. They happened to be the best bullshit artists around in her estimate. The Phrogues gave her a retainer to develop an algorithm to determine mastery of bullshit for them. That's another story.

The Profit Rockit met the Phrogue freighter as the humans were outbound. The Phrogues werea inbound but obliging enough to eat the extra propellant and rendezvous, eager to test the human markets out here on the Rim.

The meeting was a fiasco. The Phrogues had all manner of things the humans could trade and make locals pay dearly for: holographic textiles, stealth prosthetics, cybernetic teeth (which the humans didn't even realize they needed). The problem was the humans had nothing the Phrogues really needed or enough credits to afford goodies.

Then the crew had an embarrassing moment. A tet crab showed its ugly face analog. the crew already had a couple of incidents, leading to nipped toes and a ship's cat that was strongly considering quitting. The crew even exposed the ship to vacuum. Apparently that wasn't sufficient. the creatures had lodged in the deepest recesses and they retained enough atmosphere to at least let eggs survive.

The crew had begun carrying sidearms. Even Sandoval had one though it made her list to one side. there was a pause in the story here as the Mayor and Sir Cuthbert exchanged sympathies with Captain. Tet crabs were all over Zaonia and the reason the Zao didn't suffer from rats. The crabs ate them. Sadly their hunger extended to canines, felines and just about anything else organic. Zaos hated the damned things. they didn't load their shotguns with birdshot, they loaded them with crab shot.

Captain Vokh, however took it in stride, gave a loud sniff and then attacked with a barbed tongue nearly as long as Sandoval was tall. The tet crab vanished formidable claws and all into the Phrogue's mouth and Vokh asked how much he owed them then remembered his manners and apologized if he'd eaten anyone's lunch by mistake.

The Profit Rockit remained docked to the Phrogue freighter for two days until the aliens did their best to clear every crab from the ship and paid handsomely for the privilege. They were nearly out of fresh food themselves. Vokh even took pity on a very upset cat with kabourophobia and outfitted her with an individually made suit of feline battle armor. That's another story.

So the reason the Phrogues were renting or buying warehouses was far from sinister. Warehouses bred vermin. the Phrogues wanted to keep the price of tet crabs from spiking (current price was 0 cr. per kilo). The Phrogues to their credit knew they weren't going to keep their secret forever.

One specie's vermin was another's entree. Or at least fast food.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Aliens Capsules Book Two

Aliens Capsules Book Two went live (yesterday, somehow I missed it). Shi... whoops yet again. The book was a lot of fun to right and hopefully it will find its niche. It includes the following beings:

Beanpoles, Phrogues, and Voles

If you've read my Tesla stories these guys will be familiar to you. They can make good friends and allies if you want to put up with them. they say the same thing about humans. their mindsets and environmental tolerances are close to human with some differences I encourage you to find interesting.

Hive minds are a staple of science fiction, despite everyone having a different idea of how they work (ironic). The 'Giks' are avians who subordinate themselves to the 'flock'. Different sized flocks have different behaviors and functions. Shoot up a bunch of laborers and they will regroup as warriors.

Sentient liquid life. Waterproof and Hydroid Proof are two entirely different things.

Advanced alien machine life that can lob tiny nukes at you but that can be stepped on easily.

Sentient octopi (or maybe squids, hard to say), Obsilodons are grasping, greedy, and fully incorporated. Facing mercenaries or pirates is one thing, facing a team of lawyers is another.

I had to put at least one 'squick' inducing alien in her. the Qaptos: eaters of the dead and more.

Poisonous charlatans. And that's just their biochemistry. their attitude is worse.

Prophets of doom, who like making their prophecies come true.

I hope you will find them entertaining and induce me to do more write ups. The next two (in no particular order) will be write ups on unique alien threats, and capsule write ups of extinct alien species and the artifacts they left behind. Everyone wants artifacts and the really good one will insist you take and use them!