Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Freetrader Conventions become STARSLUGS and some thoughts on homebrew Traveller settings

At the suggestion of Zak, the Freetrader Conventions will hereafter be known as the Simple Translation Agreement Rules Simulating Lastingly Unified Galactic Sectors, or STARSLUGS for short.  I've also been made aware of this handy document which should help in converting characters from other versions of Traveller if anyone wanting to run GT or MT decides they want in on this whole STARSLUGS thing.

On a tangentially related note, in a comment on my initial Boom Worlds/Galaxy of Fear post, Greg stated that "whenever I have seen different settings using Traveller, my mind refuses to accept it," which is a sentiment that seems to be common, even if it is not universal.  It is also a sentiment that I have a hard time understanding.  Looking at Classic Traveller, and even at the more recent Mongoose edition which I'm reading, I see a game that almost demands that you make your own setting.  It provides the referee with the tools to generate the sectors, worlds, and even the ships in which the game takes place.

Now this is not to say that there isn't a setting implied by the rules.  The most notable example of this in both CT and Mongoose Traveller is the presence of the Scout Service; however, the underfunded Star Fleet character of the scouts makes them something I'd include in a setting anyway, and I see that as little different than keeping beholders in a D&D game.

And I think that's really the key of what I'm saying: I view the implied setting of Traveller the same way I view the implied setting of D&D. They are both a set of elements borrowed from various pieces of source fiction that have been combined to make the game feel a certain way, but that are malleable and subject to the desires and inspirations of the referee.  Traveller, at least as presented in the LBBs and the Mongoose corebook, is a toolbox for making your own science-fiction adventures in the far future.

For some neat examples of this philosophy from the early days of Traveller, check out Freelance Traveller's Other Roads.  Particularly interesting to me are these two campaigns, run by two different referees at the same time in different parts of the galaxy.  They are what finally convinced me that STARSLUGS would be a good idea.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Freetrader Conventions

The Signing of the Convention Treaty on Geneva IV

In order for freetraders in the Space CantonmentDirectorate Space, and other willing sectors, to prosper and thrive, the referees of those campaigns have set out the following articles in order to ease movement between them.

Article 1
Characters may move between Directorate Space and the Space Cantonment freely provided they meet the standards required in other articles.

Article 2
Characters are bound by the rules of the version of Traveller being used in the game they are currently playing.  This includes things such as the rules for combat (both personal and ship-based), weapon damage, the functions of certain technological items, etc. 

Article 3
There is one exception to the rule presented in Article 2: skills.  Characters use whatever skill they possess that is closest to the one in the system currently being run.  This means that characters from the Cantonment (and possibly other CT games) possess broader skill categories than those the Directorate.  Skill acquisition is also based on the characters native system, and not on the system currently being run.  Skill rolls function as other items described in Article 2.

Article 4
Characters may bring their own personal effects with them, but not those held in common with other members of their party/crew.  This includes any ships the characters rolled on the benefits table, assuming the ship is being used by other party members.

Article 5
Psions, astropsychics, and aliens must submit their characters to the referee at least 48 hours in advance so that the referee has the time to read over any relevant sections of their rules/come up with how certain foreign abilities work in their area of space-time.

Representing the Cantonment: Chris Kutalik
Representing the Terran Directorate: Evan Elkins

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Aliens of the Directorate: the [Click]

This write up originally appeared on my old Traveller blog, but I have edited it in order to make it more in line with my current conception of my Traveller setting.

Appearance and Biology 
Male [click] aliens appear as furry creatures slightly larger than a human in stature.  From their furry faces peer a set of compound eyes and mandibles.  Their actual skin is a carapace designed to insulate their bodies from their planet’s notoriously harsh days and nights, as well as to protect them from predators.  Females are little more than mobile bloated egg sacks.  Similar organisms exist on the [click]’s home planet, though their fur is usually hidden beneath an outer carapace.  It is theorized that these creatures are to the [click] what gorillas are to humans.

The [click] were once the proprietors of a massive empire that included several other species.  They ruled through fear and grand displays of extravagance that both terrorized and mesmerized their various slave species.  However, their natural propensity for infighting eventually led to the rapid collapse of their empire about the time humankind first discovered the Jump drive.  Their handiwork can be seen in the Caliboi, which humans of the Future-past know as Mu-tants.

Today the [Click] Empire is no more, but it has left a number of domains controlled by petty [click] warlords and clans.  The Terran Directorate has been gobbling these up for several years now, and few of the remaining states would be able to resist a Directorate invasion.

[Click] culture is largely patriarchal.  Unlike other species, this is due to a strong biological imperative.  Female [click] are essentially non-sapient, and the males treat them as a commodity.  Fierce competition exists between males for who possess the most females, and war leaders will often lead raids on enemy worlds to capture women.  Oddly, this practice has also led to the kidnapping of the females of other species to display as trophies, despite the fact that the [click] cannot mate with them.

The largest class of the [click] is infertile males.  These males have usually been sterilized at birth in order to keep them in a submissive state to be used as work horses for the bureaucratic and military functions of the successor states.  A thin upper echelon maintains their fertility, but they must constantly protect it from up and coming fertile males.

Most view the [click] as decadent.   Their clothing vaguely resembles that of the various desert peoples of Earth, with robes designed to insulate the wearer against harsh climatic conditions.  However, since the [click] have left their desert home world, the rarely need such clothing.  Today it serves a primarily decorative function and is usually bestudded with jewels and rare materials in order to show the prestige of the wearer.

The [click] are more or less space-stag beetles, and spend much of their time competing with each other for position, rank, and females. Since they are intelligent, this usually take the form of more subtle contests and schemes, though physical violence is quite common among them.  They take slights to their prestige very seriously.  [Click] consider themselves superior to other species, and they do not tend to treat with them on equal terms.  This does not mean they do not enter into negotiations when necessary, simply that they only do so begrudgingly.

[Click] as player characters
Armored; Natural Weapon (claws);  Notable Endurance; Weak Dexterity
All [click] characters are male.  Any with a Social Standing less than 11 are infertile.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Organizations of the Boom Worlds

In addition to the organizations described in the Mongoose Traveller core books - the Army, Navy, Scouts, etc. - there are a number of organizations unique to the Boom Worlds setting.*

The Third Section
The Third Section is a subcommittee within the College of Thought.  It's original purpose is long lost to history, but after the last war with the [Click] broke apart the last pieces of their empire, the Third Section became the Steering Committee's secret police.  Due to issues of logistics and manpower, the Third Section is rarely deployed and, despite assertions to the contrary, the Directorate is not able to maintain anything close to a police state; however, when revenue begins to dry or Steering Committee members see their megacorps begin to hemorrhage profits, Third Section agents may be deployed.  The results of these deployments are always disastrous.

The Bureau of Astropsychics
The ostensible purpose of the Bureau of Astropsychics is to train psychic-potentials in the art of psychic-astrogation.  This art has led to the discovery and exploitation of a number of new sectors, as well as the creation of the mutants that make the extreme jumps required to access the Boom Worlds possible.  However, it is a well known secret that the Bureau of Astropsychics also illegally trains a number of its members in the art of psychic warfare.  These adepts are often hired out to Directorate authorities or feuding noble houses, making it unlikely that the members of the bureau will ever be prosecuted.

The Athena Group
One of the many megacorps of Directorate space, the Athena Group specializes in terraforming.  Its greatest success is often said to be the planet Minerva, which currently acts as its corporate headquarters in the Boom Worlds.  Athena is equally known for its infamous failure, the colony on Prometheus.  The  reasons for the colony's failure are a mystery to all but the highest level officials within the company.  Many conspiracy theorists - at least those with any sense of the interstellar economy - assert that the Athena Group also serves as a weapons developer for the Third Section, or any number of other shadowy organizations.

The Pirates of Guthrum
Guthrum was one of the first planets settled after the Boom Worlds was discovered.  Unfortunately for that first wave of settlers, the residual energies of the solar event had not yet calmed enough to prevent them from mutating.  Now Guthrum is under Directorate interdiction, for its mutant population - which seems to be reasonably self-sustaining - often attacks those who enter their system.  In addition to this, they are also known to engage in piracy and lead raids on nearby systems.  Their brutality is legendary, but savvy free traders know that it is possible to reason with them.

The Oniax Syndicate
The solar event which created the Boom Worlds and destroyed the alien interstellar empire that once existed in that remote corner of space left in its wake the mutated descendants of a once glorious people.  Some of these descendents have accepted Directorate rule, but few did so willingly.  Directorate officials believe that the Oniax Syndicate is one of a number of "criminal" syndicates within the territory newly acquired by the Directorate based around pre-existing alien noble houses.  The Oniax Syndicate is known to engage in piracy - sometimes alongside the Pirates of Guthrum, sometimes opposing them - and to be a large producer of the alien drug known simply as "juice," which seems to sooth the pain of the mutants produced in this region of space while having now affect on those with more standard biologies.

The Order of the Universal Principle
The Order of the Universal Principle is a strange movement that has taken the idea of a unified theory of physics to what Directorate officials consider an unhealthy extreme.  They have eschewed scientific searches, preferring meditative rituals designed to align one's consciousness with that of the universe.  These meditations often, bizarrely, occasionally lead them to commit assassinations, suicide bombings, and other acts of terror.  These often coincide with the members of the Order ranting insanely about the secret significance of a "divine number."  The precise digit has, so far, been different at each event.  The Directorate considers them a great threat to the safety of its citizens.

Darkstar Defense
Founded on Pinkerton, a metroworld close to Sublime Terra, Darkstar Defense initially served as a mercenaries during the [Click] Wars under the name Pythagoras Ltd.  After several name changes, Darkstar Defense changed its roll to that of a privatized police force utilized on a number of metroworlds, particularly those owned by members of the Steering Committee or one of the Terran noble houses.  They provide most of the security forces in the Boom Worlds, acting as customs agents, criminal investigators, and of course good old hired muscle.

The OpProl
A technical term for a supposed unified resistance group among the farmers and workers of the Boom Worlds, the existence of the OpProl is hotly debated outside the Steering Committee and its various colleges.  Directorate propaganda attributes a large number of radical political views to this organization, including mandatory sterilization of all citizens who currently posses a faufreluches social standing of 8 or higher, affirmative action for Froguloids, Dogoids, reparations for the [Click], and some vague terror called "soshialsm."  Whether or not these views are held by anyone the Directorate would identify as an OpProl, it is true that a number of farmers and workers have begun stockpiling weapons on the worlds of Ceres and Nibelung.

*In addition, I have renamed the TAS to the Traveller's Guild because guilds in my sci fi make me happy.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Home Group Boom Worlds Session 1 Highlight Reel

Last Saturday I ran Mongoose Traveller for my home group - which they chose over WFRP for various reasons.

The characters they generated were...
Wolfgang - a retired star marine who spent much of his earlier career worried he had become a terminal lance

Baron Abolone - an incompetent upperclass twit whose mental capacity leaves much to be desired even with his genetically engineered background

and Steve McQueen - a crippled pilot named after the famous Astronomer (who has not yet been born in our timestream and who was himself named after the director, not the actor)

Their ship is the Tutunus.  It's vaguely phallic shape was not lost on my players.

Highlights from the session include:

  •  Accepting a mission from a cobalt-blue skinned noble who desired a large number of "black cylinders" be recovered from one of the moons of the alien controlled world of Diteen.
  • Realizing their jump drive made this job they just accepted impossible.
  • The introduction of coffee into the metabolism of Ceres' clone-kiosks.
  • Training some farmers on Ceres in the manufacture and use of TL 7 firearms in exchange for an upgrade to their jump drive.
  • Nearly being attacked by mutant alien pirates, then making a deal with them to get an escort ship in exchange for 3 gallons of human blood (made during the three day travel time within the Diteen system by the players with the help of the medibot)
  • Paying the vampire-drugie-mutant-alien pirates to do their job for them, followed by the pirates jumping to the next system over, which happens to be the largest alien pirate base in the subsector. 

The players are currently on Diteen's single scout outpost (which lies on an island in a fluid-ocean on the planet, well above the terraformed dome-cities of the alien inhabitants of Diteen) trying to figure out how to get the cylinders from their former "employees." Next Saturday they should have a couple more people to add to their crew.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Adventures in a Galaxy of Fear

The Directorate Sees All

The Terran Directorate believes that the iron grip of its power stretches across the whole of Space and that its Steering Committee controls the fates of man and alien alike.  It is certainly true that the Directorate is powerful and after the recent wars, plagues, and a few corporate take overs there exist only a few minuscule polities that are able to maintain any sort of independence. Most organisms in owned space are, nominally at least, owned by the Directorate and subject to its edicts.

A Meeting of the Infamous Steering Committee

The heart of the directorate is, of course, Terra.  The sacred home of humanity now almost entirely consists of an enormous and highly stratified city.  Its class of exceedingly rich, genetically modified nobles live in great dome-estates above the class while those who cannot afford those luxuries must toil away in the labyrinthine tunnels beneath the surface.  The few remaining habitable zones on the surface either serve as private reserves for the nobles.  The rest was destroyed long before the existence of the Directorate during the Time of Troubles, an event that the Directorate often uses to justify its own existence.

Terran Nobles Often Have an Otherworldly Appearance

But the range of worlds claimed by the Directorate is vast, and that is only Terra.  While genetically modified nobles often govern other worlds, many of the Directorate's upper class are little more than common humans - though no aliens may enter their ranks.  Access to technology varies widely across the worlds, and many possess only a smattering of sapients who live and hunter gatherers and remember the sublime light of the Directorate as little more than a warped myth.  

This Froguloid Has no Idea of His Citizenship Status...

...While the People of the Metro-World of Clovis Benefit Enormously from Directorate Trade policies

As such, the ability of the Directorate to directly affect the lives of most of its citizens is minimal, though often crack downs will occur when one of the genetic elite is dispatched to crack heads and bring the localities in line with the will of the Steering Committee.  The effect of all of this is to create a kind of standard culture for so-called "spacers" - even if this is highly variable, again due to the scale involved - and billions of separate ones for the inhabitants of various planets.

The most recent project dictated by the Steering Committee has been the colonization and exploitation of the so called Boom-Worlds.  These worlds exist in a remote sector far removed from Sacred Terra, but a recent solar catastrophe in the sector's Galactic Southeastern edge have brought them to the Directorate's attention.  The solar event is believed to have dispersed a large number of heavy atomic particles that would be suitable for extraction and refining in the service of the Directorate's military and monetary ambitions.

A Depiciton of the Boom Worlds Drawn by One of the Directorate's Most Powerful Astro-Psychics

Early colonists also claim that the event destroyed a vast interstellar civilization.  While it is the belief of the Directorate that these peoples and their rules must have been inferior, since they were destroyed by a mere exploding star, the ruins of this empire have attracted scholars and looters from across Space.  So have the remaining alien populations on the planets that saw only small amounts of increased radiation from the event.  Xenologists claim that many of these populations show notable physical changes from depictions of members of the same species from before the solar incident.  In some rare incidents aliens have shown bizarrely aggressive behavior that would seem at odds with their previous levels of sophistication.

Adventurers Exploring one of the Many Alien Ruins in the Boom Worlds

Access to these worlds is made possible only by a genetically modified group of tortured humans whose minds work in tandem in order to maintain the massive warp bubbles involved - far larger than those used by normal Directorate ships.  The fact that these near catatonic members of the human race are a rare commodity in the Directorate means that access to the Boom Worlds is extremely limited, with regular travel only available to megacorps possessing writs from the Steering Committee itself and the convicts they sometimes employ.  Return trips are even harder to arrange for those not carrying raw materials on the megacorps' massive barges.

It's Hard to Sustain a Warp Bubble

Despite the isolation and the inherent dangers of the region, many see the financial opportunities and distance from the hands of the Steering Committee as a chance for a freedom that is impossible in other regions of space.  There's money to be made in those stars.