Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Greater and Lesser Blorrp

The Krimaxian fleet just priot to the Battle of Aremis IV.

The traditions of the Krimaxians lack the medals, ribbands, commendations, and other post-battle honors employed by other space navies to encourage gallantry in combat. Terran social scientists ascribe this omission to the high value placed by Krimaxian culture on attending to one’s duty, especially under duress. The closest Krimaxian equivalent to typical space navy honors are the Greater and Lesser Blorrp. Taking the form of abstract statuettes rather than worn objects, an old Terran joke refers to the Blorrps as the Oscars for Best Captain and Best Supporting Captain. Immediately after (or as soon as practical) any encounter with an enemy force in which fire is exchanged (i.e. both sides must shoot, Blorrps are not awarded for border incidents involving a trigger-happy gunner losing their cool), the surviving Captains consult with one another to confer the Blorrps. 

Outside observers are often astonished to learn that there is no prerequisite that the Krimaxian forces win the battle. It is a tenet of the insouciant Krimaxian warrior code that no battle is won or lost except in historical perspective.

Rules for Voting

  • Ballots are secret and no discussion is allowed.

  • Each Captain submits one ballot.

  • The ballot records a vote for Greater Blorrp and a separate vote for Lesser Blorrp.

  • You may not vote for the same Captain for both Blorrps.

  • You are allowed to vote for yourself for Greater Blorrp and there is no cultural stigma attached to doing so.

  • You are not allowed to vote for yourself for Lesser Blorrp. In Krimaxian culture that is considered an act of false humility.

  • Any Captain who is dead, captured, or otherwise unavailable for the vote is assumed to vote for themselves for Lesser Blorrp (this supersedes the above rules).

  • Whoever gets the most votes wins the Blorrp..

    • In the event of a tie for Greater Blorrp, the winner of the Lesser Blorrp voting actually receives the Greater Blorrp and then awards the Lesser Blorrp to their choice among the tied parties
    • If the Greater Blorrp is awarded but there is a tie on Lesser Blorrp voting, no Lesser Blorrp is awarded.
    • If both Blorrp ballots tie, the Captain with seniority awards each to separate recipients. It is typical for the senior Captain to give himself the Greater Blorrp. Again, it would be considered an act of false humility to give oneself the Lesser Blorrp.

Traditionally, a Captain receiving their first Blorrp sponsors an elaborate feast for their crew at the next opportunity. If the Captain is dead or missing but the crew survives, the other Captains who took part in the ballot split the costs. If the whole ship was lost the money normally spent on the feast is forwarded to the kinship groups from which the crew were drawn.

The Blorrps themselves are handmade by Krimaxian artisans on the homeworld, so no two are identical. Most known examples are made of a rough pinkish-purplish stone or a polymer designed to resemble such stone, but some are carved from a darkish wood. They typically stand somewhere between six and twelve inches tall. Greater Blorrps tend to resemble the Greek letter Phi with the inner bar missing, while Lesser Blorrps resemble triangles or chevrons pointing down. Both varieties of Blorrp features an opening through the center and either a wide, flat integral base or a tripod structure at the bottom.

Sketches of four Blorrps observed by Lt. Commander
Vance Dillhonker during his captivity on a Krimaxian vessel.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Farsiders unite against Xorkaelian tyranny!

So this is the map of the setting used in most Traveller products. Each white rectangle on that map is 24 parsecs wide by 32 parsecs tall (78.2775 light years by 104.37 light years, if you'd prefer). Those white rectangles are called sectors in the terminology of the game and each sector typically contains 3 or 4 hundred worlds you can visit, all of which have been sketched out using one of the greatest game mechanics in RPG history, the Universal World Profile. There's enough material on that level to riff a whole campaign out of a sector's worth of UWPs. The Imperial Fringe does just that. The PCs are hired to survey the Spinward Marches sector.)

Even with all those worlds and all that space, in the greater scheme of things that map doesn't really cover much of the galaxy. Check this out:

That little red blob labeled Charted Space? That's the map above shown in scale to the Milky Way. Thanks to Joshua Bell and his great resource for that view.

At 256 parsecs tall by 384 parsecs wide, the Charted Space map fits neatly into one hex on this map:

This is the board for Federation & Empire, the strategic board game for Star Fleet Battles. The round blue area is Federation space. The grey area down and to the left is Klingon territory and the grey to the right is the Romulan Star Empire. The little dark bit between the three at the bottom of the map is where the Tholians weave their webs.

Each hex on that map is 500 parsecs across. This is really convenient in that the galaxy is maybe that thick along the spiral arms, allowing a 2-d map to accurately describe a volume of 3-d space. However, I've always been slightly annoyed by this scale. Here's why.
This chart proves that I'm
right and the F&E designers
are wrong. Honest.

Star Fleet Battles
is a fork of the Star Trek universe, incorporating the Original Series, the Animated Series, and the Star Trek Star Fleet Technical Manual by Franz Joseph. The latter is one of the truly great examples of fandom lore. One of the things that Franz Joseph does is define what the heck a Warp Factor is. Turns out that if you cube the number of the Warp Factor, that gives you the speed in terms of units of C, e.g. Warp Factor 6 (the safe cruising speed of the original USS Enterprise) is 6 x 6 x 6 C, or 216 times the speed of light. That means, according to this source at least and my own limited arithmetical skill, it would take Captain Kirk's Funtime Pals over seven years to cross a single Federation & Empire hex. Seeing as how each turn is six months, my guess is that the F&E designers ignore Franz Joseph on this point.

Since Federation & Empire first came out in the 1980's, the lovely folks at Amarillo Design Bureau (who make SFB and F&E) have expanded their universe even more. There's now an adjacent area of space, the ominously titled Omega Sector, with 20+ new polities and hundreds of more spaceships you can blow up. They've also mapped out at least one Magellanic Cloud. But my favorite expansion to Amarillo Design Bureau's expansion of the Star Trek universe is this one:

Companion Games came out of the blue in 1993 or so with it's own chunk of the SFB universe, located on the opposite side of the galaxy. They called it the Far Side and had their own races and spaceships, completely compatible with Star Fleet Battles. As a non-canonical supplement to a non-canonical and super duper complicated* Star Trek game, the Companion Games material didn't exactly set the world on fire. But I'm a sucker for weird little corners of fandom like this. In full SFB tradition, each spot on that map has its own unique navy with its own special weapons. How different ships with different weird subsystems that only one species possess interact is half the fun of Star Fleet Battles.

Anyway, I recently learned that the Amarillo have started mapping out the whole dang galaxy, so I used my limited photoshoppery skills to add the Far Side to the official map:

The blue circle near the bottom is the Federation. What is labeled "Alpha Octant" is basically the Federation & Empire map projected onto a polar coordinate system. It looks like the Far Side overlaps several Xorkaelian Slave Sectors. I don't know who these Xorkaelian's are, but they obviously aren't nice people. Now I am imaging a war of conquest as the Far Siders, used to fighting among themselves for ages, must unite or be crushed by the Xorkaelian menace. I wouldn't use SFB to find out what happens next. My opinion of SFB is pretty much the opposite of Companion Games: I love the spaceships, but can't deal with the game mechanics. There are a dozen or more ship-to-ship games that are faster and more explodey than SFB. Starmada is one of my favorites, though I haven't played the last couple of editions.  
*Seriously, you may think modern D&D is complicated, but full-blown all-the-bells-and-whistles SFB blows it out of the ding dang water. The only comparable non-computerized game I know is Advanced Squad Leader.

Monday, October 26, 2020

I've been looking for this for a long time.

Click to embiggen.

That's the rules for the Waverider (i.e. surfer) class from Teddy C. Ryan III's Exotic Characters & Worlds (1983). Other classes represented include the Ninja, Ryan's version of the Techno from Arduin, and a Time Traveller class. Speaking of Arduin, page 32 of Exotic Characters & Worlds includes a crit chart derived from the glorious Arduin chart, but with a few tweaks, such as a "BODY/split in twain" result. In true Arduin style, this both kills you instantly and does 20-50 hit points of damage. Sadly, my two favorite results, buttocks torn off, and tripping over your own spilt entrails, have been removed from this version.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

stupid d6 tricks

 Some OD&D house rules make use of "roll 2d6, take the lower result" and "roll 2d6, take the higher result." Obviously that would skew the chances of each possible result away from the flat 16.66% chance of each number coming up with a typical roll. But I wanted to see how much that skew would be, so I did the math real quickfast.

Here's the same idea, but using 3d6 and only keeping the result of one die.

But the real interest possibility with throwing three dice is the possibility of keeping the middle result. If you define the middle result to include any roll of doubles (e.g. 3,5,5, is a 5 result) then that spread looks like this:

There's probably a lot of uses for a die mechanic like that. After all, it's not too different from the bell curves we get from throws where we add up multiple dice. I think I once suggested roll 3d6, keep the middle as a way of generating low-but-not-necessarily-first level PCs for a campaign that doesn't want to spend a lot of time on the rat-killing, copper-piece-grubbing world of 0xp. Of course, you could just say everyone starts at 3rd level, or everyone begins with 8,000xp or something like that. But why not roll dice if you can?

Friday, October 23, 2020

Spell Research as Freeform Magic System

One of the reasons I like to go back and re-read the old rulebooks is that I inevitably find something that I didn't notice on previous readings. Or that I forgot over the years,

Want to bend the universe in a way not covered by the rules? That's what spell research is for.

Quote from page X52 of the 1981 D&D Expert rulebook.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Down and Out in Adrianople

(I originally posted the following to the LotFP Facebook group, but I thought I'd save a copy here.)

A Thimble of Online Research, Inc. proudly presents: 

*Biggest Cities in the West(ish) circa 1500* 
Constantinople 550,000 
Paris 225,000 
Naples 200,000 
Antwerp 150,000 
Ghent 150,000 
Venice 135,000 
Adrianople (Edirne) 125,000 
Thessaloniki 125,000 
Brussels 100,000 
London 100,000 
Milan 100,000 
Moscow 100,000 

*Biggest Cities in the West(ish) circa 1600* 
Constantinople 700,000 
Naples 350,000 
Paris 325,000 
London 300,000 
Venice 200,000 
Moscow 200,000 
Seville 200,000 
Milan 180,000 
Adrianople (Edirne) 170,000 
Lisbon 130,000 
Brussels 100,000 
Prague 100,000 
Rome 100,000 
Amsterdam 100,000 
Messina 100,000 
Palermo 100,000 

(Population figures obviously include a lot of guesswork and estimation.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Fun times in the Ethel System

So I've been having some Traveller thoughts again. Good ol' Trav comes with a clearly defined method of insterstellar transport, the jump drive, and some pretty good parameters for whether or not you'd like to live on any given planet, the Universal World Profile.

Imperial Starfire dares ask the question,
"What if Dejah Thoris was
a birdwoman from Ophiuchi?
But what if these things, method of FTL travel and suitability of worlds for habitation, weren't fixed? There are examples of games where they are variables that impact play. If I recall correctly, Imperial Starfire (Task Force Games, 1993) assigns each player's starfaring race a number to represent their species' biology and you spend a good portion of a campaign look for worlds with a similar designation. My Class M world may not be the same as your Class M world, so to speak. So players may compete fiercely for some worlds but sometimes you may not care if a planet near your empire is poached. You were never going to colonize that methane-soaked dump anyway.

Imperial Starfire was the campagn system for Starfire, the spaceship combat game made by Task Force that wasn't Star Fleet Battles. I played both Star Fleet Battles and Starfire a bit back in the day. For my taste SFB was too cumbersome and Starfire too light. Call me the Goldilocks of spaceships blasting each other to pieces, I guess.

Web and Starship (West End Games, 1984) deals with a scenario where two alien empires vie for control of interstellar space around the Sol system. One player has an FTL drive that allows them to move across the board much as you do any other boardgame, zooming from one space to the next. The other player has a teleportation drive that allows them to bamf across the board, but only to spaces reached by their transit web. I've never played this one, but I assume much of the interest of the game hangs on the asymmetric nature of the movement rules. Web and Starship, by the way, was designed by Greg Costikyan, who deserves more credit for all the amazing game design work he has done. One of his many, many other designs is Bug-Eyed Monsters. To the best of my knowledge it is the only wargame where one of the scenarios involves aliens kidnapping Dwight D. Eisenhower. It also the only wargame I know that needs a bunch of counters that say this:
Nowadays no one should probably make a game where the monsters from outer space kidnap Earth women to take them back to their home planet. Back then, it seemed like a harmless homage to 1950's sci-fi movies where the monster would carry off the leading lady for reasons that never made much sense.

Anyhoo, the thing I've been thinking about is this: what if a Traveller universe had more than one method of FTL transport? We'll call the canonical jump drive method A and posit 5 other methods, B, C, D, and E. Maybe these are all jump drives but they are calibrated to a diver dimension of hyperspace, so that each of A-F can only go to worlds that intersect their respective dimension. Or maybe the six methods use different physics entirely, like Web and Starship mentioned above. Either way, out of any selected patch of the galaxy, some worlds can be reached by each FTL method and others cannot.

Add to this the complication that different starfaring societies crave different things. Call the default human set of priorities class 1 and assume the existence of class 2-6. Maybe the bigger the number the more members of that society differ from humans biologically or culturally. Class 2 entities could be silicon based lifeforms, class 4 could be machine intelligences, etc.

A humble beginning for a
galaxy-spanning empire.
Now you can have up to 36 different kinds of starspanning empires, each with a two digit alphanumeric code. Like this:

Remloth Combine, E3
7th Interregnum, F5
Nation of Joe F1
Ooblaxo Entities D5
The Metalliance, A6
Thorvacian Qualiocracy, C3

I rolled a couple of d6 to get the stats for each faction, then gave them a stupid name. The Remlothi and Thorvacians want the same kind of worlds, but use totally different methods to get there. Meanwhile, the same drive technology is used by both the Nation of Joe and the 7th Interregnum (whatever that is), but they are interested in wildly different planets.

Now, each solar system on your map needs to be assigned a code of one ot more numbers and one or more letters, to indicate which kinds of technology can reach the system and what kinds of desirable planets it possesses. You can then look at your map and easily figure out who wants to go where and if/how they can get there. Here's an example:

Each system is a box with a code in it. So the Eoh System, near the middle of the map, has code CE345. That means there's at least one world desirable to the Remlothi and one world enticing to the Metalliance. Fortunately for both of them, their drive technologies can get them there, so I drew more boxes around the system to mark settlement here (I'm assuming for this subsector that every system that can be settled has been settled). Here are the color codes:

Remloth Combine, brown
7th Interregnum, green
Nation of Joe, red
Ooblaxo Entities, blue
The Metalliance, black
Thorvacian Qualiocracy, yellow

I seeded numbers and letters randomly around the map. I also decided that F-type drives use naturally occuring wormholes and some were present in the subsector with no stars or worlds near them. Thus, although most factions have routes leading offmap to right edge, the Interregnum and Joe have settlement patterns emerging from the 'naked' wormholes Futhorc 01 through 03.

Here's what I learned about the Futhorc Subsector once I mapped out who settled where:

The Thorvacian Qualiocracy has settlements in four systems, Thorn, Eoh, Eolhx, and Ethel. Using Thorvacian technology, Thorn can not be reached from the other three without leaving the subsector and taking a circutous route through off-map Thorvacian systems. Although they don't like the world of the Beorc system, it is an important transit point between Eoh-Ethel and Eolhx-Ethel.

The Remloth Combine has colonies in the same four systems, but since they differ biologically, they probably inhabit different planets. They also have a colony on Rad.The Combine uses a different drive technology than the Qualiocracy, so you can travel from Thorn to Ethel (via multiple routes) on a Thorvacian vessel.

The 7th Interregnum uses the wormhole technology I mentioned. They have 3 settlements, two that reach the rest of the Interregnum via wormhole Futhorc 01 and one via Futhorc 02. I also drew a line from Futhorc 03 to Ing. I had this idea in my head that maybe the Interregnum wants to terraform the class 4 world at Ing to class 5, since no one else is paying attention to that world.

Similarly, I drew lines from Futhorc 02 and Futhorc 03 to indicate travel routes for the Nation of Joe. There are no worlds on Nyd or Ethel that are suitable for habitation, but I had it in my head that maybe the Nation uses the class 2 worlds there as penal colonies or for some other nefarious purpose.

The Ooblaxo Entities hold Peorth, Beorc (the corssroads of the subsector), Lagu, and Daeg. Clearly, keeping the Ooblaxo friendly is important to strategic subsector relations for both the Remlothi and Thorvacians.

The Metalliance have two systems settled, Ior and Ethel.

Speaking of Ethel, three factions have full settlements there, the Metalliance, the Thorvac Qualiocracy, and the Remloth Combine. Plus whatever sneakery the Nation of Joe is up to. Sounds like a place for some adventures!

One of the neat things about this experiment is that I didn't end up with a bunch of blobby nation-states like a typical Traveller map, but rather with a messy set of intersecting networks. I kinda like that.

Old Gameblog posts of meager relevance: two sci-fi fragments, fun with jumpspace