Posts Tagged With: ProtoTraveller

Ship Computers, Generate Programs, and Jump Cassettes

So, I had a thought because there has been an ongoing discussion on the COTI Forum (“Citizens of the Imperium” – the official Traveller forum) regarding a bit of Classic Traveller electronics, the Jump Cassette. It part of the ongoing discussion regarding ProtoTraveller and RAW Traveller, all of which is has been informing my own internal thoughts regarding what I want my Traveller universe to look like next time around.

Building off of the other discussion, it is worth noting that “engine-wise” you could build a ship that does Jump-6 the moment you discover Jump Drive. The limit comes in to two ways – you can build ships of a limited size, and you can only build a computer of limited power.

  1. So as ship size increases, it gets “slower” with the same size drive. Rather than “slower” it is “limited to the jumpspace it can penetrate” – and the jumpspace determines how far the ship travels in the week spent there. So, an A-Drive can move a 100dton ship Jump-2, and a 200dton ship Jump-1, while a D-Drive can move a 100dton ship Jump-6 and an 800dton ship Jump-1 – at the other end of the scale, a few hundred years of development later, is the Z-Drive which can move an 800dton ship Jump-6 and a 5000dton ship Jump-2. With the “extrapolation” I talked about earlier, I moved that size up to 10,000dtons for Jump-1 with a z-Drive.
  2. At the same time as Jump Drive is invented, computers reach small size and enough power that you can fit into a ship that can use (and potentially calculate) Jump Coordinates. The limit here is that the best that they can do is Jump-2. So while you can build a 800dton hull, the biggest ship you can build that can do is 400dtons – all despite the fact that if you were able to buy and install a more powerful computer later, you could install that D-Drive on a 100dton ship and get deep enough to travel Jump-6.

Now, “computers” are one of those parts of Traveller that have been horribly and justifiably ridiculed over the years. Their sizes and capabilities are, well, based on 1970’s mainframes – the cutting edge of technology when the game was first written. Over time, “ship computer” has been retconned into including sensors and a certain amount of C3 (Command, Control, Communications) but it can still be hard to swallow some of the numbers used. They also date from the time when, yes, oh younger readers, people used cassettes to record and save data, and when computers often weren’t able to do very many things at a one time…

So a ship’s computer could be equipped with a “Generate” program, which is what allowed a Navigator (or Astrogator is you prefer) uses to calculate and “generate” the plot of the Jump route. However, especially with those “early computers” that might be the only thing the computer was able to run, no Gunnery, no Maneuver, heck maybe not even Jump itself.

Plus, the players might not even be able to afford the Generate program to start off with! The computers and programs were talking about are “enterprise-level” technology, not a laptop hooking up to a network (more like mainframes). So, what they were able to do was a buy a one-shot “Jump Cassette” that gave them one-way plotted coordinates to a single system. I haven’t checked, but I think these somewhat disappeared in MegaTraveller and Traveller: The New Era, and Mongoose Traveller, but in T5 they were back – with the ability to use them multiple times (just making the Jump more difficult each time until on the 6th use it was an automatic misjump).

I like this because it dovetails with the idea of the “Jump Rutter” – perhaps there is some way to model very, very slow calculations that don’t use the Generate program but instead involve laborious calculations with the normal computational power of the ship’s computer but sans the specific algorithms and database that the Generate program contains. It also suggests the existence of a psychic talent that allows instantaneous Jump Calculations ala the Pilgrims from Wing Commander.

Given the default anti-psionic attitudes inherent in the RAW, this creates a couple of interesting potential plot points immediately…

So, using a Generate program, creating a Jump Plot normally takes 10-60 minutes, we could simply say that going by hand, using a Jump Rutter, takes two time increments of time slower, or that it takes 6-24 hours (hmmm… I that table might mean 6-36 hours instead….) instead and is a Formidable task (an additional -6 to the roll). So, you can pay for a Jump Cassette, or pray that the Astrogator is as good as he promised when you hired him…

TTFN!

D.

 

 

 

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Jumping, Jump Masking, and Jump Shadowing

So, as I delve into ProtoTraveller I am confronted by the issue of Jumping – and will ignore (for the moment) Mongoose Traveller’s introduction of Warp Travel and Hyperspace.

Jumping is the Traveller term for Interstellar travel. Ships use Jumpspace to travel faster-than-light, with certain strictures.

  1. All Jumps last roughly one week in length (with variance measured in hours, rather than days). Anything else is a sign of a Misjump.
    • Okay, one quick diversion to Warp Travel and Hyperdrive from Mongoose Traveller. These both, as per the MgT RAW, speed up travel to be measured in days rather than weeks.
  2. Jumps are limited in distance, with the distance being determined by the tech level of the ship.
    • The original game and all editions up to T5 limited travel to Jump-6, this meant that in one week, the ship will travel six parsecs. Jump-1, the ships travels one parsec in one week. This was probably ignored in house rules as much as it was rigorously enforced – gamers being gamers.
    • In T5 (the much maligned Traveller 5th Edition, though not nearly as maligned as Traveller: The New Era) Jump goes up to 9, and Hop and Skip are introduced which scale up by factors of 10x and 100x respectively. These both, as well as the post-6 Jump numbers, occur only at much higher technological levels.
    • Misjumps can be up to Jump-36 in distance (or even longer with Referee fiat), rolled 1d6x1d6 when it is determined that a Misjump has occurred.
    • This suggested different levels or dimensions of Jumpspace, mostly by making sense of the Small Ship Universe ship construction system as compared to the Big Ship Universe.
  3. Entering or leaving Jumpspace is impacted by gravity wells -often causing Misjumps or a violent exit from Jumpspace.
    • In the game this meant that you had to travel “100 Diameters” from a planets surface before you could safely Jump. Technically you could Jump 10 Diameters out from the surface, but it was more difficult and dangerous.
    • Technically speaking, as people have extrapolated across the years (and editions) this also means that gravity wells of ships and stars. For ships, the distances are generally too miniscule to worry about (but the question is inevitably raised when someone wants to Jump a ship that is in larger ship’s hold, usually because they are captured by pirates). While stars… well that just tends to get ignored – unless you (like me) tend towards the OCD.
      • A professor of mine in grad school said that in order to be successful in grad school you had to at least a touch OCD. The key, as he put it, was to keep in on the Obsessive side instead of the Compulsive.
    • Some argument has existed as to if Jumps needed to start and end in a star system (essentially that ships used the gravity well of a system to “catch themselves” out of Jumpspace). This came from the old Imperium boardgame where this was the case, and is evidently a canon bit of history. But technology evidently allows this to change – with scattered references to deep space refueling stations or other forms of calibration points.
  4. Starships must be at least 100 dtons in size.
    • An issue raised by the now utterly non-canon, but once (and still) questionable existence of “Jump Torps” – something that I love, but that seriously conflict with the canon OTU despite being listed in the old (and much loved) Adventure 4: Leviathan.
    • As an additional note, in standard Traveller Jump Fuel requires 10% of the ships volume per Jump Number – as a one-time expenditure. So Jump-6, that’s 60% of the ship allocated to a one-way trip.

That gets us to Jump Shadowing and Jump Masking, which were only explicitly described in Traveller: The New Era (in their search for gritty realism). Later, in the GURPS: Traveller Far Trader supplement is the first (and only to my recollection) rules for actually incorporating them into play.

Jump Masking is when significant interstellar body intersects the path of a ship in Jumpspace. Jump Shadowing is when the destination point of a Jump-travelling ship lies within a gravity well of an interstellar body.

It doesn’t seem to me to be that hard to do an idiot simple tweak to the Jump rules to handle both Jump Masking and Jump Shadowing – as well as incorporate a old idea into what also feels like a very ProtoTraveller setting.

In Mongoose Traveller, using the Astrogation skill to plot a Jump is normally an Easy (+4) Education check, modified by the Jump distance (so, -1 to -6). It effect this means that unless the attempt is rushed along it is probably always going to succeed. In ProtoTraveller the idea is that travel is somewhat dangerous. Think more like world travel before the advent of flight – maybe not as dangerous as the Middle Ages, but more in the nature of the 18th or 19th century.

So, let’s say that those rules (mostly) apply to well-mapped trade routes (we’ll get to that in a moment). It still doesn’t cover Masking and Shadowing – and here is the simple fix. For Jump Shadowing add a -1 Modifier for every star in the system while for Jump Masking, when plotting the Jump simply add a -1 modifier for every system that the route intersects.

Normally, Jump takes 148+6d6 hours. In the event of Jump Shadowing, if the navigator doesn’t wish to take the Difficulty penalty then instead add +6d6 hours of travel for every modifier for the Jump Shadowing that they wish to avoid. This represents them targeting a point further and further out to avoid the Jump Shadow – though at the expense of longer and longer in-system transit time.

Now we can also say that plotting a Jump to a Backwater system (off the Trade Routes)in the Core Worlds is a Routine Education check the same as Frontier systems on Trade Routes. Backwater systems in the Frontier are a Difficult Education check while truly unknown systems are Very Difficult Education checks to plot a course to.

This also has the effect of channeling travel around “dangerous systems” and towards “safer systems” – essentially “rocks, shoals, and reefs” for the Traveller system. That’s before we add in other potential effects for nebula, black holes, etc. It also means that you can really create “hidden bases” or “protected systems” because certain systems are just a huge pain in the ass to get to.

Now, in the “real world” navigators had “rutters” which were their private (and secret) notes and charts for navigational hazards. Anyone who has read or watched Shogun should be able to recall the discussion around the existence and the secrecy of these things. When we add in these sort of navigational hazards and complications the use and desirability of a “jump rutter” become apparent.

So, we could simply suggest that ship navigators keep and maintain “jump rutters” which they create (and pass on to apprentices, or family members in the case of Free Traders). Through experience in Jumping to various systems navigators can essentially create their Trade Routes, even their own “Core Worlds” with enough time and enough Jumps.

This also explains why (or how) the small Free Traders and Tramp Freighters maintain a viable economic presence. They are the only ones that know the safe routes to the Backwater and Frontier worlds. Similarly, it also explains how pirates manage to exist and remain viable – they haunt the long spaces where ships avoiding Jump Shadow travel, and have found “secret asteroid or nebula bases” where they can hide in safety.

TTFN!

D.

 

 

 

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The Small Ship Universe…

One of the great debates (among many debates, both great and not-so-great…) in the Traveller RPG universe is the Small Ship vs Big Ship universe.

The original Traveller rules (and a selection of “basic rules” since then) have a methodology for ship construction that caps ship sizes at around 5000 “displacement tons” (the volume of 1000kg of liquid hydrogen, or 14 cubic meters). That’s about, either, twice the size of a WW2 “Liberty” ship, or about half the size of the Titanic, roughly the size of the USS Arizona, or about 10 Los Angeles-class submarines, or about 500 tractor-trailers.

This is also known as the “Adventure Class Ships” in some quarters. It is based on roughly fixed (but easy to extrapolate) hull sizes, and fixed size engines and power plants, that become available at various tech levels, in conjunction with computers. Smaller ships can go faster, but this is also limited by computers – which provide the real limitation on interstellar speed. The drives can move ships faster than the computers can calculate at lower technological levels.

When then Book 5: High Guard came, it gave a radically new design and construction paradigm. Most notably, ships could be up to a million tons in displacement. Plus, engines and power plants are a percentage of space depending upon the performance desired, and interstellar speed is directly linked to tech level, not computer performance per se.

As can imagine, these are largely incompatible. The canon Traveller universe clearly converted over to a “Big Ship Universe” while keeping “Adventure Class Ships” around for the PC’s. There are reasons – the BSU model is far more thorough, and covers vastly more options for construction and wargaming. It also more closely parallels “real world” naval construction in that ships became bigger and bigger as materials science and propulsion technology has allowed.

One of the quirks of the SSU is that while larger sizes of ships became available with increased technological development, and faster interstellar travel, but faster came with a decrease in hull displacement – e.g. the ships get smaller when you want them to travel faster, with significant differences. This actually suggests some differences in a SSU version of Traveller from the BSU version.

The big one, in my mind, is that ship size is limited because by some other factor of the interstellar medium. Additionally, that this limiting factor is not merely a function or characteristic of interstellar travel (“Jump Space”) because the same size limitations apply to boats (non-starships) as well. Either that there is some life-sustaining quality of terrestrial existence that is lacking, or there is some additional threat that has not yet appeared in our (real-world) explorations of space. I tend to run with the idea that the starships in Traveller also maintain some sort of magnetic or biotic field that protects the inhabitants from prolonged exposure to dark matter (along with perhaps acting as a deflector for space dust and micrometeors).

Now, many of us that prefer a SSU would also prefer ships a bit bigger than 5000 dtons (that’s “displacement tons”) in size. Luckily there are some interesting extrapolations of the SSU ship construction rules that suggest that ships could get up to a 10,000 dtons. There is also a methodology in the Mongoose Traveller High Guard supplement that creates ships with up to six “sections” (for better damage tracking). I like using these both in conjunction with an additional idea that was meant to create faster “big ships” (on a SSU scale) but that I instead tweaked to allow these larger, multisectional ships that merely operate like the original SSU ships. The end result is ships IMTU (“In My Traveller Universe” as opposed to the “OTU” or “Official Traveller Universe”) up to 60,000 dtons in size (though they are, slow, slow, slow…).

But this lets me build ships big enough to transport an entire battalion of troops at a single time (important for campaign-related, flavor text reasons), as well as warships that are both impressive in size and utterly overpowering without being utterly ridiculous when compared to whatever ship the player group is likely to be travelling around in. Player-character types ships tend to be in the 100 dton to 400 dton (perhaps a bit larger if they are lucky), and this puts Corvettes in at around 300 dtons, Frigates around 700 dtons, Destroyers around 1000 dtons, and Cruisers in the 2000 to 3000 dton range.

Yeah, ok, I know… I know… get around to catching up on game logs…

Plus, rules for Shades for 5E.

Plus, I promised my players some guidelines about multiclassing.

TTFN!

D.

 

 

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Which Imperium is Lost?

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time thinking about ProtoTraveller, as well as my idea of the “Lost Imperium” setting actually being a Traveler game rather than a Dark Heresy game. Another interesting spin that combines that idea with the canon Traveller universe would be a similar  “trip over a Ancient’s trapdoor” during either the Civil War or the Psionic Suppressions.

It doesn’t quite answer the question though – an full-sized WH40K Expeditionary Fleet of the Great Crusade had enough people to found a empire. Whatever it is that meant to escaped from the Traveller universe wouldn’t be nearly so big (ok, I suppose I could posit some other weird Jump Space effect hat simply captures a bunch of ships all at one time or something).

Just something I ponder while I wait for the D&D 5e game to come about!

D.

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Wow! On an entirely different note…

I had the insight that my “Lost Imperium” idea for an alternate Dark Heresy game would also make a fantastic Traveller campaign – especially with the Mongoose rules that have all sorts of pointers towards the WH40K setting. I’m kind of amazed that I never seriously considered it. I spent so much time wrestling with the question of how to “fix” the Imperium to get an ATU that I could live with I never realized that all of the elements I was looking for are pretty much already present:

Imperial Nobility, Interstellar Trade, Stellar Empires, Alien Races, Psionics, High Tech, Low Tech, Lost Tech, “Ancients”, Cybertech, Lost Colonies, New Colonies, Interstellar Wars, Powered Armor, Imperial Agents, etc. etc. etc.

Really, it’s all a pretty nifty fit in a good many ways – the only clear boggle I can see is the basic (and somewhat fundamental) lack of Adventurer-class ships – unless of course I posited a change in the tech (and I could do that if I wanted I suppose).

I mean, yes, it’s a radical re-envisioning of a Traveller setting, but not as radical as someone who prefers a Proto-Traveller setting instead of the fully-fledged OTU from the height of the GDW era. I was never a huge fan of the Rebellion, enjoyed the old Paranoia Press and Judges Guild versions of the (then) ATU, even the last bits of the Classic Traveller OTU were pretty enjoyable – but the Rebellion was kind of “meh”… I actually enjoyed Hard Times more than the Rebellion and that is pretty darn sad when you think about it.

(Yes, I thought TNE was an abomination just like everyone else. Bad system, worse setting…)

Now, I’m enjoying the heck out of 5e right now and no desire to switch games any time soon, but this is kind of nice to have in my hip pocket. I always run better games when I can let my brain gnaw at an entirely different setting and system.

TTFN!

D.

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