Friday, September 23, 2016

Animal Encounter - White Apes of Barsoom

John Carter - ruling Barsoom like a Boss.
 I am having a heckuva good time reading the John Carter novels. I'm into the fourth book (Thuvia, Maid of Mars) now, and ERB has not disappointed.

Barsoom is vividly described and each book has introduced new and strange people, places and things. Today I'd like to share one of the creatures of Mars as a Traveller animal encounter. This is how John Carter describes them upon his first meeting, in A Princess of Mars:


“The creatures were about ten or fifteen feet tall, standing erect, and had,  like the green Martians, an intermediary set of arms or legs, midway between their upper and lower limbs. Their eyes were close together and non protruding; their ears were high set, but more laterally located than those of the Martians, while their snouts and teeth were strikingly like those of our African gorilla. Altogether they were not unlovely when viewed in comparison with the green Martians.”  (chapter  6)
Here he describes them at the opening of The Gods of Mars:
"They stand fifteen feet in height and walk erect upon their hind feet. Like the green Martians, they have an intermediary set of arms midway between their upper and lower limbs. Their eyes are very close set, but do not protrude as do those of the green men of Mars; their ears are high set, but more laterally located than are the green men's, while their snouts and teeth are much like those of our African gorilla. Upon their heads grows an enormous shock of bristly hair". (chapter 2).
They are, of course, the great White Apes of Barsoom.

Making a few assumptions, I take their Traveller animal stats to be as follows:

Carnivore Killer 

1600kg 8D/3D [28/10]  Claws/teeth  (+4 to hit due to size) Dmg 6D+2 
Armor: Mesh  A2 F8 S3  2 attacks/round   Number appearing: 1D

They are big,(1600 kg) they are aggressive,(Attack 2+) and they are fast (Speed: 3). Even Travellers armed with guns should have a difficult time with these beasties. When they attack, they will move at best speed to Close range and use their claws, which are more deadly than shotguns or laser rifles. PCs with melee weapons can use their skill to parry (-DM) but the apes massive size & strength gives them a big advantage. Carter, who probably has Sword-5 plus the strength bonus was able to fend them off, but most PCs won't be that capable.
 
At the beginning of GoM, Carter and Tars Tarkas (who's 15 feet tall) are chased by a big gang of white apes, and can't outrun them. This leads to one of my favorite quotable exchanges from the whole series so far, which I shared here.

Go read A Princess of Mars, available from Project Gutenberg and as an audio book from Librivox.

Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Photos are in the public domain. 


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Gravitational Effects and Combat

John Carter is considered to be the greatest swordsman on Barsoom (Mars). This is in part due to his extensive skill (even he doesn't know how long he's been practicing arms) but in another part due to his relatively high strength. His muscles are used to Earth gravity, so while on Mars he has a distinct advantage. In my short story Just Across Town, the protagonists' off-world physique both helped and hindered them – they were stronger than the locals, but unused to the lower air pressure and oxygen levels.

The Gravitational Effects Table (ST Charts book, p. 5) says that you can carry or lift more when on a lower-gravity planet. In the table, the difference is expressed as a percentage of standard carrying capacity. The standard load is 1kg of weight for each STR point. So a person of 'typical' strength can carry 7 kg worth of gear before being 'encumbered'. Lower gravity means you can carry more without penalty.

It seems reasonable then, that such changes can also be expressed as an effective change in STR score. Multiply the base STR by the load percentage and round up. This becomes the effective STR while on the low-gravity planet. This in turn will have an effect on a character's ability to fight with melee weapons.

For example, Bruce, an NPC character has STR 6 and Blade-1. He avoids the -DM for STR, so his total DM is +1 (from his skill). When Bruce visits a size 4 world (150% load) his effective strength is [6 x 1.50=9] 9. Now, the Advantageous STR score for Blade is 9, so as long as Bruce remains on this lower-gravity world, his effective DM when fighting with a Blade is +2.

If Bruce visits a heavy-gravity world of size A (75% load) his effective strength is [6 x 0.75=4.5] 5, which may mean he incurs the -2 DM for required strength.

The gravity effect should not reflect a character's ability to absorb injury, however. This only effects muscle power's interaction with local gravity.

This requires little math to calculate, while adding a layer of reality that can influence player decisions. Mercenaries or explorers might be reluctant to take jobs on heavy-gravity worlds because of the drag on their abilities. Variables like gravity and air pressure give worlds their character and flavor, and keep them distinct.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Secret Police forces in Traveller Governments

  • The KGB & FSB.
  • The Gestapo, the SS, the Stasi.
  • SMERSH (James Bond and Real Life)
  • The “Office of State Security” in the People's Republic of Haven (Honor Harrington novels).
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. (Marvel comics universe).
  • U.N.C.L.E. (as in The Man From).
  • Torchwood from Doctor Who.
  • The Galactic Empire's Imperial Security Bureau.
  • Babylon 5's Nightwatch and Psi Corps.
  • Firefly's Blue Hands Men and the Operatives of the Alliance.
  • 1984's Thought Police. 'Nuff said.
What do all these groups have in common? They're Secret Police forces.

What are Secret Police?
The Columbia Encyclopedia defines secret police as a “Policing organization operating in secrecy for the political purposes of its government, often with terroristic procedures.”

They exist to protect the security of the state from conspiracies or revolutions. They are distinct from conventional police in that they operate out of uniform and often with little or no over government oversight. Secret Police forces often have power to act extra-legally, and authority to over-rule conventional police.
In some states the Secret Police (SP) reports only to the chief executive or someone near him. In these cases, the normal legislator or jurist may be unaware of their activities or even their existence.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

You really can do anything in Traveller!

I hope the OP doesn't mind my sharing this. I was reading the CT board at COTI recently and came upon this post by Pendragonman. The thread was discussing 'what is the point of Traveller? What do you do?' Go read the whole thread.

"I once ran a solo game. The guy generated a 5 term Navy character. After mustering out, he took passage to an industrial world where he bought a house. He then found a job working at a shipyard where he could apply his mechanical skills.

He then bought a car. On his first day off of each week he did his household chores. That night he would participate in some form of entertainment. The other day off was rest.

He kept doing this week after week. I kept waiting for him to do some sort of adventurer-esque activity.

I finally asked him what he was trying to achieve. His response was that he was proving that in Traveller a player can do literally anything that the player wants to do, provided that the player is ready for the consequences."

Fantastic!
 
Now, that doesn't sound like my kind of adventure, but sure, why not? Also, note that all the referee would need to give his player the 'adventure' he wanted was books 1-3 and some imagination.

The thread also has some good posts about what 'character advancement' looks like in Traveller, as compared with level-based game systems. I wrote about this a while back, too. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Why are there no Ranks in the Scout Service?

Chris over at Tales to Astound has been recently exploring the literary inspirations for Traveller. I wish to add a small discovery to that effort. 
An abandoned alien city and an object that appears to made of Absolute Zero.

I've known for some time that the fantasy & sci-fi great Poul Anderson is counted among the inspirational authors for Traveller. Just yesterday I ran across a story of his that provides an answer to my question. His short story "The Entity", with John Gergen, appearing in the June 1, 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction gives us a look at the life of the Scout Service.  Also, it's a good story of an encounter with alien technology.


“Civilization could not expand blindly into the stars. Someone had to go ahead of even the explorers and give a vague idea of what to expect. Only Earth’s finest, the most ultimately sane of all mankind, could endure being cooped in a metal bubble floating through darkness and void for years on end and even they sometimes broke.” 

Perhaps this explains the higher Survival throw for Scouts?

But here's the paragraph that has me convinced (emphasis mine):


"He [the expedition's captain] felt a loneliness as he stood facing the men. They were more than his subordinates; they were his friends. Only those with the highest congeniality indexes could ever have survived a survey trip, so rank and formal discipline were unnecessary and unknown. The captain was only the coordinator of a band of specialists."
Scouts that are really scouting the uncharted regions have to endure long stretches of isolation with a small group. You'd better be able to 'play well with others' in such circumstances. The astronaut Mann in the film Interstellar is an example of the Scout type that 'sometimes broke.'

While the 'laconic scout' trope is popular, if we take this story as source material, the key personality trait for Scouts should be a willingness to collaborate - maybe Liaison skill should be retrofitted into the Scout's skill tables?