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.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Thief Is NOT Guilty ! (part 2)

So, after a surprising amount of thought, and even more unsurprising amounts of dawdling (and working), I’ve decided to sum up my long hanging discussion on thieves.

In my imperial manner, I will ignore almost all of the arguments I previously said I’d discuss, and focus on two points: a discussion of one particular complaint, and one argument in favor not advanced before. Here goes the first part.

No, 'twas proficiency that killed the beast……

It is said that Thieves introduced D&D to the long painful slide into skill systems, and thus roll-playing rather than role playing, and , to those of us who care, this is a most damming accusation, for the heinousness of skillsystems in D&D  is true, to the extent that skills in almost all later editions are a train wreck, and promote the “roll to resolve” mindset for play. And when I say “train wreck", I mean it. Skills from 1E onwards just didn't work or were too clumsy for words.
Skills are and always were a bolt-on that really didn't add much. So, this, then, is what the thief stands accused of: nothing less than striking a  conceptual backstab to the rules of D&D at their  very birth birth in Greyhawk. A wound that has ulcerated and bled more each edition, until the entire structure of the game seems to be half intended to support it, as with some terrible parasite.  Were the thiefs abilities truly the wound that could not heal ?  A dolorous stroke to the system? No good readers, I say it is not. For while the skill systems of D&D are an abomination, they are not the thieves fault. No! Not the thief, I say. It was NOT the humble thief that struck the blow which we see now killing the colossus.  Then Who?  There ! He stands before you brazenly showing his known weapon proficiencies and specializations! The Fighter! THE FIGHTER !(Gasps from the crowd).
 How is this so ?  I will say, it was the lust for weapons and proficiency and clarification that birthed the blood-sucking tabeworm of dispair and confusion that is has grown, leviathan like, into the current skill systems.  But how you ask ?  Surely the thief brought skills into being, not the fighter ? No, lean close and I'll tell you the truth. (san loss =1/3-18)

Put aside the argument that the thieves “skills” are in fact class talents, and poorly explained at birth – and rather consider that the skill system as it exists, grew directly from the perceived need for weapons proficiency in D&D. See, back in the day, the argument was something like this;
  • 1. We have limits of weapon use by class, but not within fighters
  • 2. A fighter can thus use any imaginable weapon at all
  • 3. The limits on non-fighters are assumed to be due to lack of training
  • 4. If so, non-class weapons aren't impossible to use (do they burn us?) but rather usable poorly and at a penalty and
  • 5. Fighters should have limits on weapons use, too, since knowledge of all weapons is clearly unbalancing or (your pick) unrealistic.
Now, I can't recall the exact source, but it might have been in the dragon, where EGG argued against weapon proficiencies for the exact reasons stated above: fighters should be able to grab anything, and class limits were no wonkier than armor limits or spell casting.
 “Weapon proficiency” was, however a constant source of variants everywhere, and at some point, EGG himself caved , insofar as it became official in the PH. Then came the cries for specialization –surely we need the ability to be insanely (here it is) SKILLED with less weapons if we are willing to limit the total number of slots. So, unfortunately, UA included weapons specialization that allowed trading slots for bonuses. At some point, I think it was the dragon in the AD&D era; we have “non-weapon proficiencies” which allow trading weapon slots for …other….skills! And by 2E it was a huge hodgepodge of variants and semi-official rulings accreted on the PH weapon proficiencies. So it was “improved” and regularized, and made completely core book official; and, it sucked, too. (Truth in advertising: I never liked 2E all that much)

Now, at some point, and I think it must have been just prior to 2E, or early on, at least, some clever Nelly came along and said some fateful words: “Hey, look, since thieves use skills and proficiencies, and now so does everyone, perhaps we should make them all work together  ? “; or at least that what it sounded like. And thus, when 3E came along with its rules heavy agenda we discovered that what the clever Nelly said was actually:
"I have an unresolved need for order and symmetry in my life, which is far more important than any consideration of rules intent or play, so I’m going to bollux up the thieves because they make me itch. And, I’m going to claim it’s more modern and advanced to have a defined skills system just to make it superficially acceptable , but mainly I want to do this to make DocGrognard's head explode in frustration ten years from now when he tries to play a 3.5 edition Thief" 
So, yes, Skills have been one of the banes of later edition D&D, but it isn't the thieves fault. It’s those damned “non-weapon Proficiencies.” And the bean counter fighter players who just HAD to know if they could use a three headed Battle parang, and if they used it in both hands, did it hit harder? Thanks dudes.

NEXT: Why the thief defined and created D&D as a role playing game. No, really.

Postscript, because I can.
I really don't know where the idea came from that if thieves could sneak, and then no-one else could. At least in the LBBGHBMEW games, we seemed to have assumed that sneak (for example) was ninja style sneaking, and hiding in shadows was batmanesque.

Actually, what we also assumed was that first level thieves suck and are unplayable as anything but muggers (backstab + loot); except for climb, every other “skill” was absurdly low. Which usually meant house rules to make them useful, which invariably included some notice of what they meant?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Umberoid Pseudohulk OSR monster horror chiller post......

So, for today, and due to a VERY busy week, heres a monster for old time D&D that I originally posted in the swords and wizardry (complete) forums -BTW, my new go-to FRPG rules !

Stick this in your players and smoke em.......

HD 8+6 AC 0
Attacks: Bite 3d6 2x claw 2d6
Move: 8, can sprint for one round/hour at 14. Movement is halved when moving thru matter.
Size: Large
Special Power: Indeterminate location and form: first sight of an EarthBorne in any given encounter requires a save to avoid confusion – subject is unable to move or take actions until damaged from any source, or attacked by the EarthBorne. All attacks on the earth borne are at -2 until the attacker scores damage, thereafter attacks are as normal.

The EarthBorne are a race of elemental offspring able to move thru natural matter much as a fish moves through water. Detailed description is difficult, as they are difficult to look at without disorientation due to their semi-material nature. Most observers are at risk of confusion or fear when observing an EarthBorne, due to its vague, shifting nature. Nonetheless, they are typically seen as large vaguely humanoid creatures, in size comparable to the largest of bears or larger. Form seems to vary somewhat from creature to creature, although all have multiple sets of eyes – presumably for sight in the different environments it inhabits. Finally, EarthBorne are possessed of tremendous strength and powerful digging claws, often incorporating iron or other harder elements into their structure.
As noted, EarthBorne are able to pass thru natural matter with minor effort, leaving no trail, but are unable to pass any matter that has been modified by non-natural forces. The extent of modification needed to block EarthBorne movement is somewhat unclear –while dressed stone, or even planking will stop them, simply displacing earth does not, although a sufficient level of compaction seems effective in some cases.

This protection is only partial, however, as they are often able to physically burst thru any modified matter that they encounter. Note that as the inter-earth movement is not effortless, they typically find natural caves or open areas in which to lair, and often to hunt, using the earth as a shortcut across open areas.

While they are rarely created, they are effectively immortal and thus found in many areas, inhabited or not. EarthBorne are one of the most deadly perils encountered in any underground excavation, such as mining, and they have been known to attack large structures thru the basement or dungeon levels. While seldom encountered aboveground, they are quite willing to pursue into open or outdoor areas. Luckily, they are invariably solitary, highly territorial, and seem to be limited in how far they can move from their point of creation. Thus, when one is slain, it is not replaced; nor are more than one ever encountered, as they invariably fight to the death when they encounter another EarthBorne.

EarthBorne invariably incorporate valuable metals and gems into its form, as well as naturally/magically alloyed metals (such as high grade steel and Nickel-Iron).
Note: Elemental offspring are so-called as it is believed that they are the result of elementals interacting with the mundane world. There is a noted association between encounters with elemental offspring and places where elementals are frequently summoned, have been bound for long periods of time, or have been destroyed. It is postulated that some part of the life force of an elemental interacts with mundane matter and becomes an offspring, gaining a material form, but retaining characteristics and powers associated with its “parent” type. They are seldom truly sentient, but are generally very cunning and aggressive possessed of great hostility to mundane life, likely as a result of the circumstances of formation.

Note: this is not a misspelling -they are Earth borne, as in carried along by the earth.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Rant about Stupid ideas of how we Gamed in the "0eLden" days

I posted this over on Zaks marvelous blog, and suggested, as its rather OT, that people should come over here to give me grief and lumps.  So, I'm reposting it here -I mean, why should his readers have all the fun ?
And, oh yes. Just to further obfuscate rational discussion, I'd like to point out the following comments from the comments [unsourced as these stand for many]:

"Most of the time the old school characters felt like checker pieces. Larger because, in my experience at least, they were treated as checker pieces by the DM."

"Just yesterday I was talking with one of my players who mentioned how he dislikes that in many old games he was in it was like his character materialized out of thin air mere minutes before the start of the first adventure like some damn MMO. "Poof" - First Level Fighter appears. Came from nowhere. Knows nothing. Doesn't matter if he dies. Prepare to die. Hit. Killed. Dead."

"The (very) old school treats characters like checker pieces - I don't cry in my beer when I lose a checker piece. I've got more and if I lose all of them we can just play again. It isn't some kind of grim ethic that makes me do it - I'm enjoying it."

This is utter, utter bullshit. Where in the hell did this come from ? I mean, other than your hat ? "Most of the time" ? "In my experience " Really.   When ? Crap and retardedness. Look, I was there. Maybe you have mistaken the miniatures wargaming and gamers that did use checkers because that's what they are, with the RPG players because that where we all came from. Maybe. But look here Sherlock, the overlap between D&D ('cause thats all RPGs were then) and Minis was far from complete; why ? Because the gamers who didn't give two damns about character, backstory, campaign or fantasy literature, or even god forbid, roleplaying, didn't play. Get that ? The first generation was self selected for caring about those issues. We were the hippy trippy weirdo character playing fringies of mini gaming. Characters and all the above mattered, and the idea that most or all games used up characters like cannon fodder is idiotic -miniature wargames set in dungeons or the wilderness did that, perhaps, but those are skirmish games, and often, post 75, explicitly that way to avoid all that "D&D crap".  This was not the vast majority of D&D games in the "0eLden" days.

Why the bunch of enthusiastic creative character and backstory oriented folks have become stereotyped as boring non-gaming farts is beyond me. Possibly we have, as a group become bitter at finding ourselves stereotyped by a new wave of gamers, some vocal few of which don't seem to be able to make a contribution stand on its own without knocking someone else down to use as a prop (I dig confusing mixed metaphors). Perhaps its some kind of unresolved rebellion against parents crap, prompted by the fact that most of us are parents -or at least look like them. Whatever. Just Stop It. Now. Or you're going to be grounded this semester, kids. 
Next rant:  When the hell did "Grognard" become an insult ?
Or maybe I'll finish up setting the Anti-Thief lobby straight.
Or maybe....who knows.  The stats on this blog suggest that sarcasm is my best drawing point.