Sunday, January 23, 2011

Hellholes and Dead Ends of the Traveller Universe Episode 3

And now, a break from rants and raves, with some gaming content.  As noted before, a common criticism of Traveller is that its world generation creates "impossible planets", generally hellholes or improbable mixes of technology and environment.  So, in addition to providing the usual arguments* , I decided to simply generate a bunch of words, and pick the weirdest and most likely to be superficially dismissed by the "Anti-Worldgen Society of Perfect Scientific Truth for Exquisitely Detailed Gaming" and make them good places to have players interact with...

*that it never was meant to be used as is without GM input, that it intentionally stresses anomaly as a way to generate adventures, and that it isn't a truescience planet generator but rather a plot setting generator for an RPG with spaceships, and it does take a bit of imagination to use -so it shouldn't be used if you want everything all real horrorshow and NGC compatable, that a system isn't broken because it  doesn't work the way you want it to in a way it was never intended for, etc etc.

And so, I present:

UWP E101789-4  
Mongoose Traveller, basic worldgen -90% compatable with Classic Traveller worldgen
Starport : E . No facilities, unimproved flat spot.
Physical: 1= 1000 miles diameter, 0=no atmosphere, 1= 10% hydrosphere, 
Social: 7=tens of millions population, 8=civil service bureaucracy, 9=extremely high  law level (complete weapons ban, intrusive, controlling)
Technology: TL 4:=(Industrial) The transition to industrial revolution is complete, plastics, radio, mass production, industrial economy and basic internal combustion or electrical transportation. Early twentieth century: 1900-1920.
Travel: Amber Zone (law 9+)
Trade codes: Ice capped non-agricultural, non-industrial , low tech , vacuum
Scout  base
Likely Anti-Worldgen Society complaint
  • Unreasonable number of people in an unlivable hellhole; 
  • TL insanely low for survival; 
  • Stupid and unlikely place to be the main colony in any solar system.  
  • AWS Conclusion: Broken, stupid and unrealistic.
My interpretation: 
Castaway E101789-4 

Perhaps one of the most isolated colonies ever founded by mankind, Castaway is aptly named, and was founded entirely by accident.

Castaway seems to be the result of a disastrously failed generation-style colonization effort. The colony, only recently located by the scout service, is on, or rather within, the sole iceball moon of a rogue gas giant/brown dwarf at least x parsecs from the nearest actual star system.

The moon is essentially a mico-Europa, with a large internal liquid water layer sustained by internal heat generated by the massive tidal forces generated by its companion. The main habitations are anchored to the bottom of the external ice layer, which are several kilometers thick. The actual surface is hard vacuum at near absolute zero. The water/ice zone covers a roughly circular area approximately 10% of the surface of the planet, and is likely the result of an early impact/meld with an ice body, possibly during planetary formation.

The colony as a whole is a loosely federated Polis, with full citizen participation in important decisions; otherwise, most of the habitations are governed by a changing board of expert technologists and biologists, who are quite ruthlessly and unforgiving tested for competence and fired for failure.

Little is known of the circumstances surrounding the no doubt desperate situation that necessitated the colonization of Castaway. It is clear that access to the liquid zone was obtained by impacting the asteroid based colony ship into the ice surface, hopefully after it was stripped and evacuated. Several beacons and at least one decommissioned shuttle have been found in orbits around both the primary, and Castaway, apparently in an attempt to mark their presence, as once the ice layer reformed no contact with the moon's surface was possible.

The original colonists, who seem to have been a fraction of the original colonists and crew, did have access to a large store of prefabricated and varied high tech colonizing equipment.  Most technological equipment is adapted and recycled colony equipment; almost no new production is possible due to both the environment and the resource-poor nature of the moon. 

The locally manufactured technology is approximately TL 4, barely sufficient to support and maintain life in a sub aquatic, low temperature microgravity environment; but sufficient to maintain and operate the remaining  equipment (at approximately TL 7) , which has become absolutely required for simple survival and maintaining the living habitats.

Almost all other resources available are scavenged from the wreckage of the original colony ship, and it's asteroid hull. A few fusion plants are still active, along with a makeshift geothermal technology to provide heat and power to the habitations. Food is entirely based on either thermal based plant forms apparently introduced by the colonists, or vat grown protein and plants.

The habitations tend to be as self sufficient and dispersed as much as possible, but an extensive communication system and submersible transport has maintained a mostly cohesive society, likely a testament to the constant struggle to survive.

This is not a permanent situation. It is crucial to note that the resource and maintenance cycles are completely closed, and are slowly running down without any input or production; the situation is guaranteed to fail catastrophically in perhaps a century or three.   However, with minimal input from the outside universe, the scavenging and recycling technologies developed would allow Castaway to survive indefinitely.  There are, unfortunately severe cultural problems complicating any such contact.

The colonists have not lost memory of their origins, nor of the outside universe; however, it appears that the impetus for the initial colonization effort was to create a hidden haven for the human race, an ethos that is still strongly in existence. Accordingly, the society is extremely exophobic and xenophobic, and so opposed to any external contact, or off planet travel by the inhabitants. They essentially believe that they are the last true humans in the universe, and that an unspecified "evil empire" (physically resembling humans) has eliminated earth and all other colonies.

The central goal in the society is survival and efficiency, and as a result individuals are very strictly tracked and monitored by the central committees, and each other, and observation is almost ubiquitous. This has become so ingrained in the population that the concept of privacy is almost non-existent; rather, the concept of "oversight" is taken as a basic human need. This observation is seldom if ever used for political or social manipulation goals; indeed such use of "oversight" is strictly taboo. Rather it is used to safeguard individuals in a very dangerous and unforgiving environment, and to allow constant refinement of working techniques. Indeed, given the strong social restrictions on oversight as a method of supervision or control, most inhabitants are acutely uncomfortable in its absence, and are highly agoraphobic when alone.

Population levels are strictly limited and limited to replacement. Life expectancy is low, and the population is as a whole fairly young. Education and training are universal, and begun at a very early age. Most individuals will be working for most of their waking hours, for most of their life.

Resources and property, as well as all production is entirely held in common, and strictly rationed and distributed on a strictly per capita basis; material goods or access to same is not used as a reward or benefit. Private ownership is limited to clothes, and, oddly, musical instruments and religious items.

Waste of resources or failure to recycle is considered a major criminal and moral offense. Interestingly, human life is also considered a scarce and perhaps the most vital resource (after power) needed to preserve the colony (and thus the human race). Even the worst of crimes have no death sentence; however, the societies concept and implementation of "forensic resource recovery" would give even hardened criminals pause before offending.

Finally, it must be noted that the population has diverged significantly from the original human population, primarily due to adaptation to a constant microgravity environment. It is unclear if the colonists are aware of this divergence, and if so, what part it plays in their hermit/survivalist ethos.
The initial effect is that it is impossible for a baseline human to infiltrate their society.

Interestingly, all information suggests that the colonists are unaware of the orbital beacons that attracted the initial survey expedition; it is possible that this is the remnant of early, perhaps initial, schism in the colonist society.

The classification as an E starport is due to the scout presence on the surface. A semi permanent post has been created, as they anticipate a long, long period of study before contact, if it is ever deemed to be necessary.

1 comment:

Ndege Diamond said...

I've been following this series with interest. I think you are absolutely correct that the AWSoPSTfEDG lost sight of the fact that worldgen was supposed to be an aid for imagination and not a Scientifically Correct exo-planet generator for pedants.

I think that the older players complaining of the "unrealistic" worlgen, the obsession with the minutia of the 3rd Imperium, and other baggage like that keeps Traveller down in the long run.

I was happy to see that Mongoose attempted to decouple the setting from the rules.

Anyway, enough of my whinging.

Thanks again for your work and being obsessive about Traveller in a way that's new and refreshing.