October 29

The X-Boat Network In Traveller

A guest post here from an old friend.

Getting the message across.

The X-Boat network in Traveller.

What is it?

The X-Boat network is the main means of sending messages across the vast Imperium. It was established 624 (Imperial) and covered the entire Imperium in 718 (Imperial). The backbone of the system is a small craft capable of a maximum speed of Jump 4. Administration of the X-Boat system is the responsibility of the Communications Office division of the Imperial Interstellar Scout Service (IISS). Although the maximum speed of an X-Boat is jump 4, not all jumps are made at that speed. Because of the way the network is laid out, the average speed a message travels is Jump 2.6.

How it operates.

The best way to describe this process is to do it as an example. Say I was staying at Capital and I wanted to drop a message of to a close friend of mine on Regina. I would address it in the following fashion:
*John_Smith@JS584866.TASNET.Regina.Regina

So breaking it down, starting with the far left. The * informs me that John is a registered voter on Regina then his name. The @ means located at. The next part is his Personal Information Reader’s serial number. This part is optional. TASNET is the computer system name. Regina is the subsector capitol, Regina is the system name.

Common computer system domains include:

  • TASNET: Traveller’s Aid Society.
  • EDUNET: Educational.
  • GOVNET: Local government.
  • IMPGOV: Imperial government.
  • COMNET: Commercial businesses.
  • PRIVNET: Non business.

These are the main ones. Major corporations’ names are added after the network name and before the user ID.

I record my message to John using my terminal in my room. I have the option of Video, Audio, or text. The only difference in them is the quality and cost. Video is 30 credits for each ten minutes per jump, audio 10 credits for ten minutes and text one credit for ten pages. Mixed text and pictures’ costs one credit per page. If I was not using a terminal in my room, there are public terminals located in most starports. Although video transmissions are only available on class A starports, audio class B and C or less is text only. Billing is in Imperial credits and worked out with the jump speed of 2.5. If he was not on the main route, the message would be passed to the Imperial Courier Service (ICS) for final delivery.

I have finished my message and instruct the terminal to send. The terminal then gives me the option to have my message encrypted, this doubles the cost of the message. From here, the data is compressed and passed to the local communications system for transmission to an X-Boat station or passed to the ICS for delivery onto an X-Boat route.

An X-Boat drops into realspace. The pilot then activates the recovery beacon and aligns the communications array to the X-Boat station. An X-Boat station is constructed close to entry points of Hyperspace and contains fuel, pilot stations and communications arrays. The station dispatches an X-Boat Tender with a fresh pilot and fuel. Once it has reached the boat, it recovers it, changes crew and refuels it. This process takes about four hours. The record for this routine is seven minutes. A single tender can deal with up to six X-Boats at a time. In busy systems, many tenders can be seen working at once to keep the network going. Once re-fuelled and a new pilot aboard, the X-boat is released and gets ready to jump. While all this activity is going on, the X-Boat is still getting data and messages.

Once all checks are finished aboard the pilot shuts down the communication array and departs the system. The pilot from the X-Boat is given another job, whether this be aboard the tender or at the X-Boat station. After a week in normal space he is reassigned to another X-Boat and his job starts again.
What is the ICS?

The ICS maintains a fleet of type S scout/couriers. It is they who take the messages to systems off the main network. They are mostly modified with the passenger compartments removed and replaced with extra computer storage and extra fuel tankage. They depart at different speeds taking their messages to wherever they need to go.

How do I collect my mail?

Usually this is just case of connecting up to the planet’s data net and accessing it that way. If you are on the move, this can be tricky. Copies of mail are held at subsector and sector capitals and at TAS hostels. The last option only applies if you are a member of TAS. Mail is also archived at scout bases, this option requires an administration fee of about 100 credits and a week to accomplish. You also need to produce proof of identity. A standard Imperial bank card is usually all that is required.

What else does the X-Boat system handle?

You can make bank payments at an X-Boat office. The information is encoded and then sent to the bank of your choice. This has become a standard way of paying for starships.

Does the X-Boat carry military transmissions?

Yes, unless the transmissions are secure. If they are secure then the Imperial agency sending the transmissions uses an Imperial courier vessel. Imperial courier ships are rated at Jump 4 with a few being capable of Jump 6! Otherwise, the X-Boats data bank is fitted with an auto destruct system that fueses the internal electronics.

What about parcels or paper transmissions?

To some, a letter is the ultimate secure transmission. You cannot drop a letter into a computer and scan for a phrase. Someone has to read it all the way through. Letters are handled by the ICS except they are not X-Boat sent. Instead the message is accepted at the ICS office and then passed on with other letters and parcels to a cargo ship. Letter post costs one credit per 100grams of weight. Parcels on the other hand can make licensed carriers a tidy profit. For ease of packing aboard ships, parcels must be sent using a standard design. The boxes are available at starports everywhere at the cheap price of a tenth of its size in credits.. The smallest box is a 10cm plastic cube and this costs one credit. The postage for this item is 5 credits. A cubic metre costs ten credits and postage costs 500. The formula used to calculate this is: (size*size*size)/6*10. Size= size in cms. So the metre box is 100*100*100 =300/6=50*10=500. Postage is charged per 2 jumps or fraction thereof. The parcels are collected and dropped into a cargo container for a sector. So, I decide to send John a litre of water. The water fits into a metre cube and I take it to the ICS office. There I pay my 2500 credits for it to be carried 24 parsecs. The package is loaded into a cargo container along with nine other metre cubes for Regina. Each cargo container will hold ten cubic metres for each ton of displacement. Once loaded, a licensed trader is contacted for delivery.

Note: Since the ICS has limited ships available, they rely upon licensed carriers. Obtaining a licence is not easy. First an application form has to be filled out and a fee of 500,000 credits is paid. Then the applicant is given a thorough background check if anything looks suspect then their application is refused and the fee is kept. If all looks good, the applicant is granted a licence.

ICS regulations prevent more than five tons of a ships’ cargo space from being used for mail. This prevents unscrupulous captains from running off with mail and also means there is a steady flow of carriers. Each ton of space nets the carrier 5000 credits.

If a group of governments is pitching together for a Subsidised Merchant and the ICS thinks it will suit their needs then they will throw in one fifth of the cash for it. The merchant is usually given first pick of the cargo.

The cargo is then transported to its destination in its pod. It may along the way make stops to drop off mail pods and collect more.

MegaTraveller.

The X-Boat system operates at full capacity until about 1120. Once fleets start to diminish, many systems start to lose contact. The Aslan’s hold off attacking X-Boats because they present no threat. Many ships and pilots where lost in systems that had major battles as they became easy targets for stray missiles. Once the virus starts to rampage through Imperial space many X-Boats become infected. They become carriers of the Virus. Since they contain only enough fuel for a jump 4 they drift aimlessly. It is during the rebellion the ICS makes the bold decision not to spy on enemy systems. This leads to Lucan’s and Dulinor’s fleets to intentionally destroy X-Boats in enemy territory. Vagr pirates prey on them for spares and the long range jump drives.

New Era.

There is not the personnel to maintain something as complex as a network of ships. A vague communications network exists but it lacks the range of the old X-Boats. Many have been found in systems, dead and lifeless. They are boarded and scavenged for spares. Since they have no manoeuvre drive the hulls are just left to decay. A few X-Boats became Vampire ships, however because they could not refuel and were not fitted with manoeuvre drives the ships simply lay in space becoming time bombs waiting to go off. The RCES when it finds one ALWAYS employs anti viral protocols. Those that were invaded by other viruses usually triggered the auto destruct if they lost control.

References:

I took and based my information on the following sources.

Book 6 Scouts.
Imperial Encyclopaedia.
Supplement 7 Traders and Gunboats.

Authors’ notes:

Well, I finally did it. I always thought it would be a bit longer than what I have here! I hope that this will provide inspiration for all players out there. I can be contacted here via the contact me form

The Traveller game in all forms is owned by Far Future Enterprises. Copyright 1977 – 1998 Far Future Enterprises. Traveller is a registered trademark of Far Future Enterprises. Far Future permits web sites and fanzines for this game, provided it contains this notice, that Far Future is notified, and subject to a withdrawal of permission on 90 days notice. The contents of this site are for personal, non-commercial use only. Any use of Far Future Enterprises’s copyrighted material or trademarks anywhere on this web site and its files should not be viewed as a challenge to those copyrights or trademarks. In addition, any program/ article/ file on this site cannot be republished or distributed without the consent of the author who contributed it.

This document is Copyright ©1996-2014 Steven Ward

 

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October 24

Steve Stone’s Zero

I picked this game up as I was a fan of the biomechanical art style made famous by the late H.R Giger and this little book seemed to be my sort of game.

Two things struck me about the book, the first was its size as it was much smaller than an ordinary game book and full glossy colour; the second thing was that it was expensive, I guess that full colour glossy art came with a premium price.  Despite these details I bought it, read it and admired the artwork before losing it as the small book just vanished.  So I write this overview from memory.

The background for the game itself was promising, all characters belonged to a hive mind and operated together for the good of the  Equanimity.  Even though you were all relatively equal you all conformed to one of the few roles that existed within this community.

The game was almost like playing the Borg from Star Trek, even naming your character involved rolling a handful of d6s and that was your “name”, you could allocate the digits however you wanted to.  I also recall the interesting skill system; you could determine the number of skills you had and the more of a Jack of All trades you were the harder it was for you to accomplish a task.

Moving beyond character creation and into the story of the game.  An event happens which severs your characters from this hive mind and you suddenly have to cope with being alone, an individual lost in their thoughts and unable to reconnect to the Equanimity; worse still, the queen wants you dead and devotes time and effort trying to hunt you down for termination.

There were a couple of supplements printed for it but they became hard to find and the meta-plot died with the game line, which is a shame as this little gem had so much going for it.

Version 2.

I understand that as a result of Lester Smith’s successful Kickstarter for his d6xd6 core rpg, Zero will once more live again and I can’t wait to see the results.

If you want to see this new game then please click here http://www.d6xd6.com/ and have a look.

October 22

Twilight 2000 Must Be Eaten

Or All Flesh 2000 🙂

While looking for the pdfs of Dark Conspiracy I got from the Bundle of Holding I came across the pdfs of Twilight 2000 I purchased a little while ago.  I bought them with the intention of running it with the group as I thought it may make a change of pace from what we’d being doing beforehand.

Then I remembered what happened the last time we’d try to play it.  Jonny Nexus had bought two copies of the first edition Twilight 2000 reprint volume and cut one up as a players guide for us to use and one copy for himself.  We proceeded through character creation and my PC was abysmal to say the least, he failed to make any of the front line roles and had to settle for being a mechanic in a support function. We ran through the initial encounter and had started on finding out about Operation Reboot when the game took an unexpected turn for the worst.

I managed to identify the person we were looking for as Jonny had given us his photo from the adventure and left his real name on it and not the alias; which didn’t help; things went from bad to worse after that and we lost interest in this game and it was forgotten about; until Jonny moved.

Rather than shifting stuff he no longer wanted he asked us if there was stuff he had that we wanted and after pawing through his stuff I found the Twilight 2000 books, maps of Poland he’d bought, figures and dice.

With all this stuff in hand and the recently found pdfs I wondered about spinning the game slightly.  I was thinking of using the background material I had for Twilight 2000 and combining it with All Flesh Must Be Eaten, so Operation Reboot would have dealt with animating the fallen soldiers and having them fight on.

System vs system.

I propose to use Unisystem to drive things, perhaps with the Band of Zombies book to handle some of the crunchier side.  I’m also trying to decide whether or not to use a fixed amount of cash for the players to acquire their starting gear or a package system found in Spycraft or even to allow them to have an amount of equipment based upon their encumbrance thresholds which is how Twilight 2013 does it.

I may not be able to run this with one of the groups but it never hurts to have an idea or two on the back-burner.

Which gear system do you think I should use?

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October 19

pdf bookmarks

Over the years I’ve purchased several pdf files of gaming books and I continue to do so as I find it a convenient way to carry my gaming collection on the go.  Before my tablet I preferred to game at my house as it saved lugging several kilogrammes of gaming books to and fro.

The technology to create these files has also improved and the tools that game authors have are vastly superior to what they had to use before. Despite all these advances there is one area that a lot of these books fall behind with and that is a nicely indexed and bookmarked document that will allow you to jump to the relevant section of a book in a heartbeat.

I know the pain involved with creating a table of contents in Word and there are ways of doing it automatically, is this the reason why publishers steer clear of including a basic bookmark structure, for the fact it looks unprofessional?

I feel not having something like this only adds to the amateur quality of a product.

I wonder if I start leaving comments on the products I bought saying “yes, I like it but why isn’t this pdf bookmarked?” would this start a revolution in the industry?

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October 12

Dark Conspiracy fanzines

One area that Dark Conspiracy shone was the free fan created resources for it.  There were two free downloadable ezines available to read.

Demonground.

DEMONGROUND: Reflections of a Darker Future is a fanzine dedicated to supporting the genre of Modern Horror in roleplaying games.

The first nine issues were dedicated to Dark Conspiracy and later issues would cover a broader range of horror games.  Demonground seems to have stopped publishing over a decade ago.

Protodimension

Protodimension Magazine is a fanzine devoted to the wonderfully creative world of conspiracy horror role playing. It’s about the worlds.

This is a spiritual successor to Demonground and carries on the work laid down by it.

There is also one final area of support, a fan based website :http://darkconspiracytherpg.info/

 

October 10

Top 10 rpg list Number 2 – honourable mention

After publishing the post about Top 10 rpg list: Number 2 – Call of Cthulhu I realised I had forgotten the honourable mention, so rather than edit the original post I present to you a bonus post:

Honourable mention:

Dark Conspiracy

I had previously mentioned this game twice before, most notably in the #RPGaDAY post http://www.generaltangent.com/blog/2014/08/28/rpgaday-day-28-scariest-game-youve-played/ .

I have often regarded this as a forgotten classic of the day, what I loved was the background.  This was a world teetering on the brink of collapse; ecologically ruined areas, society divided into a class structure of the have and have nots.  Cities had effectively vanished and controlled by the corporations.  In some ways it is a bit like Cyberpunk for the attitude but the rest of the game exudes a 1930s depression era setting.  Technology has stagnated and even a simple thing like a telephone is the purview of the idle rich.

The game has gone through three editions with the first edition being the one that I purchased, a gorgeous black and white softcover book with some fantastic colour cover art.  Stylistically this is where I think the game shines; if you have a world that has become black and white then using a monochrome book does set the tone.  After GDW closed their doors, the game was licensed for a second edition which tidied up a lot of the information scattered in the first edition books and divided it into two players guides and two games-master guides.  The Master edition of the players and GMs books were slightly longer and had extra material.

There is currently a third edition published by 3Hombres Games I have as yet to give it a good read.

Character creation.

The first and second editions of the game used the same system that was derived from Twilight 2000 Second edition and while clunky in places it did give you an idea of your characters background.  Shortly after first edition appeared so did a GM screen with a booklet called the PC Booster kit and this gave you expanded backgrounds and migrated the game to the D20 system which was being used by Twilight 2000 v2 .  The booster kit also gave more information on the social classes so you could play the ultra rich nomenklatura, the middle class Mike or the lower class prole or if you desired it the rogue android.

Careers.

There were a wide range of occupations your character could take including the Cyborg Escapee, Doctor, college student, plus a bunch of military types imported from Twilight 2000.

Background.

Apart from what I mentioned above, there is a little more to the background that needs mentioning.  Humanity wasn’t alone; there were alien races that were working to subjugate mankind, entities from parallel dimensions bent on global domination and dark beings from Earth’s past.

Lester Smith also had a wry sense of humour when he wrote the book, there are a few Easter eggs to look out for, including the sunglasses that are popular among monster hunters.

Combat.

This section was also taken from Twilight 2000 and in the first d10 version of the game had an interesting rule for shotguns, you rolled a number of six sided dice and you got a hit for each 6 that came up.

Adventures.

There were a few published and they weren’t bad but a couple of misunderstandings did arise, the curse of American English I suppose 🙂

If you get the chance to pick this game up its worth a look but the system may seem very dated.

October 5

Zombie infection spread table for Savage Worlds

Recently someone asked me if I had a “Zombie infection spread table for savage world” and I have to admit that I didn’t, although a smarter person than me has already created a mathematical formula for it:

This equation could spell your doom: (bN)(S/N)Z = bSZ. That is, if you ever found yourself in the midst of a zombie pandemic.

That’s because the calculation describes the rate of zombie transmission, from one walking dead individual to many, according to its creators, Robert J. Smith?, a mathematics professor at the University of Ottawa who spells his name with a “?” at the end, and his students. Smith’s work has inspired other researchers to create zombie mathematical models, which will be published with Smith’s work in the upcoming book, “Mathematical Modeling of Zombies” (University of Ottawa Press, 2014).

http://news.yahoo.com/surviving-zombie-apocalypse-just-math-115916068.html

The person never asked me why they wanted such a detailed model.

I wouldn’t worry about such a detail as with most survival games I’d pluck a rough figure out of the air and use that to calculate the number of human survivors in an area.  For an urban environment I’d say 5% to 10% of the population have survived and go as high as 33% for wilderness areas.

I’ve always felt that the point of a good zombie apocalypse fiction; be it game, book or movie is to have fun and see how long you can survive before you succumb to the inevitable.

If you have any further questions, please comment or contact me and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Have fun and try to stay away from the hordes 🙂

October 4

October 2014 Blog Carnival: Things that go bump in the night

RPGBlogCarnivalLogoSmall

An explanation.

In the previous post I described something that is mostly true, cobbled together from my childhood and sprinkled with a little artistic licence.  If I had told it straight it would have been an insight into nothing more than my psyche, a little embellishment though added the extra spice to it.

In case you’re wondering I did have that poster and it did freak me out each and every night it hung on my wall and it did eventually get replaced.

If you want to scare your players though, you do need to take something very familiar to them and spin it slightly; Hollywood has made fortunes featuring  haunted; houses, bottles, dolls, paintings, boxes and nightmares from beyond.  Heck someone made money from nothing more than two people in a house recording themselves on video cameras.

So a haunted poster is a great idea to freak your players out with; brought to life by the wishes and dreams of a small child, perhaps even a small demonic child 🙂 .  You could even say that the poster is a portal between two worlds and that when the stars are right; correct ritual performed in front of it or even certain times of the year, those trapped within the poster are free to wreak havoc upon the living.

There is an excellent scenario for Call of Cthulhu in a haunted house which works because of the set-up; it may or may not be haunted, that’s up to the Keeper to decide.

 

 

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October 3

Top 10 rpg list: Number 2 – Call of Cthulhu

I first learned of Call of Cthulhu from reading the gaming magazine White Dwarf, this was in the day when all sorts of games that weren’t developed by Games Workshop were given column inches.

I was intrigued by this game set in the 1920s that emphasised investigation over combat and knowledge was the ultimate weapon; the problem being the more your character knew the quicker you were to losing them to insanity.

The premise of the game is that it is set in the writings of one H.P Lovecraft; a pulp horror writer who wrote about dark things in the universe and that man was an inconsequential being, a mere ant in the scheme of things.

As luck would have it I bought this game for under £5 as Games Workshop had lost the licence to print it in the UK and were clearing out there unsold stock of the game.  I got it, read it, re-read it and was a little puzzled to what the players were meant to do.

I gathered it was a horror game but this edition was the 3rd edition of the game and assumed you knew about Lovecraft’s creations and the Chtulhu Mythos.  As of writing this article, the current edition of CoC is the 6th and comes with the short story The Call of Cthulhu so at least you are given some exposure to the mythos.

Undeterred I talked to some friends at the games club I used to attend and they recommended to me the three volume compilation of his stories and if you want to know more I heartily recommended them to you.  Although I’d suggest you start with the second volume as these contain short stories and they’re easier to digest.

I learned many things reading these stories; most notably that Lovecraft was verbose and used a wide and varied dialogue in his books.  I also found at that most of the stories have a single protagonist rather than a group of two or more people as in the standard gaming group.  There was also some sort of unspeakable horror which would eventually cause the doom of the protagonist.  In this context I hesitate to use the work hero as victim seems a little more appropriate; most of the victims go insane or are consumed by something or other.

It took a while but I digested all three volumes and one other collection of works I found at a book fair and still had no idea of what to do.  So I bought some of the supplementary books I could find and managed to get a handle on what you’re meant to do.

In most fantasy games your adventuring party is in the pub and gets a plot hook to the adventure.  While CoC does have pubs the default setting for my edition was the roaring 20s during prohibition so pubs are few and far between.

Most CoC adventures start with one or more player characters getting a communication of some sort from an old friend, workmate, professor, librarian or family member.  You have known this person for a number of years, etc and are therefore trustworthy.  After meeting them you discover their situation and agree to help them.

I’ve always found a start like that to be a little on the weak side and the players may feel like they have been railroaded into the task at hand.  Some of the other scenarios have the PCs gainfully employed by an NPC, trying to get them to accept such a job can be almost as sanity eating as the mythos beasties you may encounter.

To try and correct this situation the last time I started a CoC campaign I used the World War One scenario No Man’s Land and had the characters members of the same unit.  So when I came to run the adventure the players knew the person in question as they had served with him.

Unlike many games, your character is likely to succumb to the aforementioned sanity eating things that man was not meant to know.  Call of Cthulhu provides you with two tracks; one for hit points and the other for your sanity, which erodes faster than hit points and is harder to recover.  It is imperative that if you want to succeed a CoC adventure you must learn to fold your hand and run for the hills if it all goes *poof* in a strange ritual that contacts something from beyond.

Despite all these things I still enjoy playing the game; a strong emphasis on investigation and copious uses of the Library Use skill are always in order.

As I mentioned before the game has remained relatively unchanged between editions, some of the changes are for the best while removing the Linguistics skill I feel was short sighted.  The smaller the group, the less resources you have to fight the mythos and while having individual languages may be realistic it means you have to spread a thin number of points over different languages.

Character Creation

Creating a new investigator for CoC is relatively easy and having access to the double page spread in the later rulebooks helps smooth things out.  Having access to a character creation program is even better and can speed up the process considerably; plus some of them can produce spiffy looking character sheets.

The system boils down to rolling a handful of dice for the character, calculating secondary attributes, picking a profession, selecting skills, spending extra points on non-career skills, rolling for money and buying some possessions.

Mechanics

This is another area where the system works, skills are rated in percentages and trying to achieve something is as simple as getting under the listed percentage.  Whether you are shooting a gun, casting a spell or trying to run away it uses the same core mechanic.

The other area where I think the game has problems is the tomes of the mythos; these ancient books contain vast amounts of forbidden knowledge and power at the cost of more sanity.  The trouble is that these books takes weeks or months to study before you can comprehend the information; this is somewhat in keeping with the stories but doesn’t help if the adventure you are playing in requires a spell or ritual to complete it.  The game designers came up with rules for skimming a book which for me was a kludge that didn’t sit right with me; three hours to learn the spell or ritual to defeat the unspeakable horror from beyond seemed a cop-out.

Other eras.

As I said before the default era is the 1920s and Chaosium have released other supplements detailing other eras; Cthulhu by Gaslight which is the 1890s and the modern era.  The 6th edition rulebook details them at the cost of pages that used to contain background for the 1920s.

I shall look at the other eras for this game later on this month.