Monday, November 24, 2014

Back to Programming!

I'm slowly learning my way back to Python - a simple, intuitive programming language, which, unlike Turbo Pascal (and, to a lesser degree, QBASIC) with which I learned to program in my childhood (mid-1990's), is very forgiving and easy to write, and the code is very readable. Sure, the basic toolkit does not compile to EXE files (though py2exe can do that), but this is a great way to learn how to script, and, as I hear, a very useful language in the industry. My main reason for trying to learn it is for various role-playing-game-related generator scripts (like the one I wrote for Classic Traveller world-generation a while ago), it might prove useful in the profession I'm currently studying, Information Librarian/Information Management/Competitive Business Intelligence.

So here I am, learning how to program once again, with Python. Wish me good luck!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Therapeutic Embrace (a short story about PTSD and psychotherapy)

Forward: I'll interrupt our regular schedule of sci-fi and fantasy for some more realistic fiction I have written. While the characters and events depicted here are fictional (and not necessarily realistic), they are inspired by my experience of several years of psychotherapy to treat my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (which I suffer from due to being bullied and sexually assaulted by other kids while in elementary school).

Therapeutic Embrace

Abigail's lips moved into a frown, and she asked me, in a flat, though inquisitive tone:

"But why do you want to kill yourself?"

"Because…" I hesitated for a moment "Because I feel empty, worthless. Because I have no talent to speak of. Because I look back at my past and all I can see is pain, pain, and pain. Because Irina left me, and no other woman will ever want me."

Abigail, the therapist, drew herself back into her chair, then leaned again towards me over her desk. "You go from zero", she whistled and raised her finger high in the air "- to hero". She landed her raised hand on the desk with a thump, then spoke to me at a tone one could imagine a kindly, if annoyed, schoolteacher using to reprimand a beloved, though misbehaving child: "You make such a fine jump in your thought, from Irina leaving you, to no other woman wanting you. Have you spoken to each and every woman in our world? Did they all tell you they do not want you? You have many redeeming qualities. Many things most women will find attractive. What you are doing now –" she was now shaking her finger at me, completing the picture of a schoolteacher scolding an errant child "- is bullying yourself. You always do that when you are upset, if I think about that; you always act like such a little bully to yourself. Time after time. Well," she said in a harsh tone which could sour milk, and with a half-smile, "I do not think you should do so. I do not allow this. Or hurting yourself for that matter".

"Clang!" I could hear in my head. The trap has sprung. So finely set up by Abigail. Her logic was so perfect; so well-resonating with my past, but also with parts of my past I found difficult to come to terms with. Bullying, indeed, was an issue; and, in a sense, I was bullying myself, copying the actions used against me fifteen years ago by my classmates. Thinking, however, the pain began to rise in my heart, like a searing flame, like a flow of lava. For a second, I spaced out; I was back at 4th grade, standing next to this wall – I could not bear the thought. I blacked out for a moment, fear and anger rushing and drowning me in a sea of blackness.

Abigail's soft voice brought me back to her office. "Aharon," she spoke softly, "what are you thinking about?". I opened my eyes, to see the kindly therapist, no longer at her previous angry posture, giving me a warm, if somewhat worried look. "What is this that, from time to time, floods you like this?" she paused, touching my fingers, which were placed on her desk, with a soft touch of her palm "You do not have to tell me. But you can. I am here to help."

I hesitated. The very thought of what was done to me so many years ago was unbearable. But, on the other hand, I was here, at Abigail's office. Seated behind a desk strewn with papers, like some powerful official, her hair so tightly woven into a braid, her glossy purple blouse so neatly tucked into her dark-blue skirt, looking so formal, official, so authoritative… Yet, as I knew her, so soft and warm-hearted. Maybe, I thought to myself, I can hide behind her, bask in her authoritative power, and be safe? Safe enough for me to spill out the black tides of my heart?

I started to speak. "As I told you," I began with a steady, trusting voice "I was weak back when I was a schoolboy. I used to cry. To be afraid of people. I never hit anyone back. So I was…" at this point my voice began to tremble "an… easy target. For monsters. For bullies. But what I did not tell you yet…" My voice began to shake, and so did my hands "is that… This was no ordinary bullying. Not just being picked on, ridiculed, humiliated, beaten up… This was beyond that…" I began stuttering, but then spilled it out, like a hail of molten lead bursting out of my aching lips "I was sexually assaulted and humiliated by a gang of several boys". That was it; the black wind was blowing, no longer as a breeze, but as a terrible storm. I screamed; my thoughts and memories were no longer bearable anymore. As if struck by a nightmare, as if sleepwalking, I got up, walked to the door, opened it and walked down the corridor from Abigail's office, not going anywhere in particular, just going away, or at least trying to go away, from the storm boiling in my mind.

Suddenly, as I slowly approached the clinic's main door, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. I slowly turned around. Abigail stood there, one hand on her waist, the other on my shoulder, giving me a worried stare. "Going anywhere, are we?" she asked me, and I could not decide if in her voice I could hear sympathy, or anxiety, or anger. "Come," she said, her voice sounding crisp and sharp like an order "Let's walk back to my office". She then grabbed my right arm, one of her hands grabbing my by the elbow, the other by my wrist, giving my arm a tug in the direction of her office. Struck by my emotional storm, I resisted for a moment; Abigail responded by squeezing my arm, then tugging it again, purposefully. "Come here" she said, softly, but also very sharply and finitely. I yielded to her. Slowly, she walked me through that corridor, towards her office. I could hear her heels clicking on the floor, her jewelry jingling in a soothing rhythm as she led me, willing or not, alongside her.

She brought me into her room, and then, still holding my elbow with one hand, she retrieved a key from her pocket, and locked the door with an audible 'click', then pocketed it again. "You are safe here", she said, softly but firmly, "No one will get you. I'm watching". With this, she walked me to my chair, and motioned me to sit. I sat there, my inner winds slowly calming, as Abigail walked to her own seat, then sat across the desk from me, leaning forward and watching me intently. "They will not get you here", she said, with a smile, "I won't let them".

A surprising sensation of safety spread through my mind like a warm breeze. It was strange – Abigail saw my painful feelings, felt them well enough, but did not turn my back to me, as everyone else in my life did. Instead, she held on to me, tightly, in some sort of motherly embrace, the kind of motherly embrace I did not receive from my own mother, at least figuratively so, when she did not recognize my horrible distress during my adolescent years. All authority figures, all teachers, my parents, even the school principal, the police – all of them never lifted a finger to save me from abuse, from bullies and thugs… And from sexual assault. All of them. Even the ones who knew. I was betrayed, once, and twice, and again, and so on… And yet, suddenly, in front of me sat Abigail, as authoritative as an authority figure could be, and not only did she not abandon me to my inner bullies, but, to the contrary, held me tighter and tighter the more I was in distress. This was a new, fresh feeling for me: that of being watched, and accepted, by a person whom I perceived as an authority figure. I felt so safe, so secure, under Abigail's warm gaze.

"I am… surprised you didn't just let me go away. This is… strange for me. This feels… Unusual." I stuttered.

"How do you feel?" asked Abigail, "Can you be more precise?"

"I feel watched, guarded." I started putting my feelings to words "There are two sides to this coin. On one hand, you are guarding me, as if protecting a treasure. On the other, you are watching me… Like a jailor watches a prisoner. But this is a pleasant sensation, being regarded as a treasure, that is. Or maybe I am both the treasure, and the thief who tries to steal it? But anyhow, the harder my feelings are, the tighter you seem to embrace me… With your eyes alone."

Abigail put a soft hand on my own hand, which I placed on her table. "Now," she said "that you know you are safe, you can tell me, if you want, about what happened back then. Don't worry; I am watching."

I felt uncomfortable for a moment. "May I… Go now?" I asked, hesitantly "I have… a lot to think about".

"We still have 30 minutes ahead of us." Abigail said in a finite, authoritative voice. "Why don't you tell me what you are thinking about?"


So I told her, and cried, and the more I cried, the tighter Abigail's mental embrace felt.

Monday, November 3, 2014

[Traveller] The Reticulans

Reticulan in Vacc Suit
Reticulans, a major alien race in my Visions of Empire setting for Classic Traveller, are small, slender humanoids similar to the archetypal "Grey Aliens": standing approximately 140cm tall, with large heads and almond-shaped multifaceted eyes, little or no nose and a small, toothy mouth. They exhibit both mammalian, reptilian and insectoid characteristics, and are typically dressed in a utilitarian harness carrying tools.

The Reticulans are shaped by two main biological facts about their species: they reproduce asexually through parthenogenesis (similarly to aphids and certain species of whiptail lizards on Earth), and, originally, were scavengers who ate prey long after the predators killed it and ate their share.

Reticulan Legionnaires in Cloth Armour
All Reticulans are "female" - each lays eggs several times in "her" life, each egg eventually hatching a Reticulan hatchling. No sexual contact with other individuals is required for this form of reproduction. This creates relatively less genetic variety than sexual reproduction, but the hatchlings are not exact clones of their "mother" (though they are pretty similar to "her"). This led to the initial hypothesis (by Humans when they first encountered them) that the Reticulans are all artificial clones - but, in reality, they are not. The implication of this is that all the social constructs based on sexual reproduction, such as family, love and so onm found in Humans, are alien to Reticulans. The basic social unit is the "mother" and her "daughters", and, eventually, a genetic "line" tracing back to a single progenitor "mother". There is never a question put to a Reticulan's parentage: whoever laid the egg is the "mother". It also means that a single healthy Reticulan can colonize a planet in several generations' time.

Originally, the Reticulans were scavengers, eating remains of the prey of bigger predators. They never fought the predator, or the various hijackers, but rather waited for them to finish, then moved to feed on the remains. This made them relatively un-adapted to physical fighting; lacking a reason to fight over mates (due to a-sexual reproduction) made even less evolutionary reason for them to be efficient physical fighters. Tool use allowed them to chase away predators from prey, and thus get a bigger part of the carcass, and, eventually, hunt themselves, and, later on, raise livestock. But poor fighters they remained - except for using various machines to fight the sporadic wars between groups. But, generally speaking, if possible, Reticulans see tools and technology as a solution to things, and their rulers are typically "tool-makers" (in modern times, scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs) rather than warrior-types. As a spacefaring civilization, they fight using robots, as well as alien auxiliary troops and mercenaries. They can fight, but lack the instincts or muscle mass to be efficient soldiers (they are better as spies or as behind-the-scenes tacticians).

The archetypal Reticulan government is a technocracy; their Empire, was led by monopolist mercantile-industrial Great Houses (each controlled by a genetic line), and, on top of that, an Imperial line controlling the biggest corporation. In their later Technate, they are ruled by scientists and engineers, and usually order their society "logically" for maximum efficiency. A certain level of caste differentiation is common in most of their societies.

There is only one psionic "line", or caste, and these serve the Technate in this function, and also as "priestesses" of a sort.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

[Traveller] The Matriarchate

The Matriarchate - from my Ashes of Empire mileiu - are (formerly) Human belters who have embraced post-planetary life and post-humanism to the hilt. All are heavily enhanced by cybernetics and fully adapted to zero-G life, and all are linked to the collective data-net of their Mothership. This collective consciousness of each Matriarchate Collective did not completely destroy the individual, but rather diffused it quite a bit; imagine people who are subconsciously and instinctively connected to Facebook-Twitter-Whatsapp and automatically share most of their thoughts with the rest of the collective.

Each Mothership has a digital Mother Computer which sums up this constantly-changing consciousness, wired to a living Matriach - who adds her human spirit to the Mother Computer's mechanical calculations. The Matriarch, contrary to popular Baseline (i.e. ordinary Human) belief, is not a ruler, but rather a component in the collective-consciousness network; the decisions made are by the collective networking of the entire Collective, not by her. The end result is an absolute direct democracy - all major decisions count literally every member's opinions, and the system always knows exactly what to produce with neither a market nor a central planner because everybody's material wants are networked (and tallied by the Mother Computer to generate work allocation for the manufacturies and hydroponic farms).

Contrary to popular belief, the Matriarchate lacks a centralized leadership (each Collective is independent), and is also not interested at all in adding anyone else to their networks or conquering anybody. HOWEVER, the Matriarchate Collectives show utter disregard for Baseline property rights and have an annoying tendency to simply emerge from Jumpspace in the middle of a rich asteroid field and mine it for raw materials despite the fact that whatever corporation owns it under Imperial law. Each Matriarchate member rarely strays far (over a few light-seconds) from her (or his or its) Collective or at least a sub-collective (centered on a smaller ship), as the disconnection from the network would be crippling. Only those with special training to serve as Emissaries can function individually away from the mother-network.

Many human concepts, from privacy to any kind of government to lying, would be meaningless in the Matriarchate. Not because they are repressed, but because there are obsolete and pointless in such a society. There is some semblance of individual, but it is very diffused; it's hard to tell when one Matriarchate member ends, and the other begins. Talk to one, and the rest of the collective participates in the discussion through his or her neural link.

Unlike the Borg of Star Trek fame, the Matriarchate has zero interest in "assimilating" Baseline humans. They care little for what they perceive as utterly primitive, animal-like Baselines with their atomized society, like of planetside life, disconnected minds and complete ignorance of each other. Baselines may be a nuisance, or a threat, but not a resource.

The only resources a Collective needs come from asteroids and comets. And if one Baseline or the other contests these, well, it's time to hack their ships, and if that fails, use mining lasers and plasma torches on them. Now that the Empire has collapsed, a few Collectives do enter former Imperial space, not only to harvest asteroid belts, but to trade high-end electronics for various organics and rare earths that are uncommon in asteroid fields.

Monday, October 27, 2014

History of Alkonost Cluster - Part I

I have already discussed my new, "opened up" Alkonost setting for Stars Without Number. But how did it come about? Here I'll detail, in short, its history. This part will cover the era beginning from ancient history to the very end of the Silence.

Ancient History - ~5000 BCE to ~2000 CE
Ushans.

In this era, before most civilizations arose on Old Terra, two main alien species inhabited this region of space, that we now call the Alkonost Cluster. The first are the Reticulans - so-called after their ruins discovered during the First Wave colonization of Zeta 2 Reticuli, humanoids with insectoid characteristics and asexual reproduction much more interested in science than in warfare. They built many edifices and laboratories around this area, as well as in a wide area of known space, and tinkered with much of the native life they encountered. Now most of them are dead, save for the crew of the ancient Mothership awakened on Carcosa by the inter-dimensional shift experiments conducted there around the time of the Scream. The second were the Ushans - humanoids with plant characteristics capable of photosynthesis, again a peaceful, and in this case very religious, culture. Eventually, around ~1,000 BCE, a third species, the Chittik, invaded - a warlike race of sentient beetle-wasps bent on domination, subjugation and using sentient hosts for their larvae. They enslaved the Ushans to use as hosts and thralls, and, for the most part, drove out the Reticulans. Around ~2,000 CE, the Ushans rebelled against their insectoid masters, but were eventually crushed, and forced into mass-suicide. The Chittik, lacking useful hosts and unable to subjugate the other species they encounter (who were much more warlike than the pacifistic Ushans), collapsed soon after, leaving the area devoid of sentient life, save from the insectoid Zadak, who lived on one world on the border of the old Chittik and were useless as hosts, and thus mostly ignored by the Chittik.

Human Colonization - 2389 CE to 2665 CE
First Landing on Alkonost, 2389

The first world in this area of space to be discovered by Humans was Alkonost, first charted in 2389 by Terran explorers of Russian descent. This fertile world soon became an outpost, then a proper colony, attracting many Russian, British and American intellectual who sought a place to pursue research and intellectual life away from the stifling Mandate life on Terra. The entire Cluster was mapped by the early 2420's, and colonists soon followed. Most colonists came from two origins - Russian and American (the Russians predominated) colonists looking for greater freedom and diversity than the pre-programmed life on old Terra, and the Neo-Canaanite Revival Movement (also called Pan-Semitism), composed of dissidents from the Middle East who were fed up with Mandate-approved Neo-Zionism and Arab Reconstructualism and looked at their home region's past in search for a new source of unity and a fresh source of inspiration. This is the reason most worlds in this Cluster bear either Russian or Semitic names First contact with the insectoid Zadak came in 2450, and, in 2505, a jump gate was built in orbit of Alkonost, increasing the flood of colonists into the area.

As the Mandate stagnated, new political ambition arose in the Alkonost Cluster, starting with a prison rebellion on Novaya Vorkuta in 2496, which the Mandate failed to suppress, and continuing with the formation of the de-facto Alkonost Community in 2549 and the Canaanite Commonwealth in 2586. The Mandate tried to reestablish order, but, after an abortive Police Action on Alkonost, found it more conductive to allow de-facto autonomy while receiving de-jure recognition of Mandate authority. At that time, Laana's Unity Party was founded, a pro-independent broad coalition aimed at secession from the Mandate and forming an independent nation-state among the stars, either as an independent world or as part of a free Canaanite Commonwealth.

In the waning days of the Mandate, this remote sector was used for various illegal, or semi-legal, experiments and research projects, most notably AI research on Incunablis and metadimensional transportation research on Carcosa. Prior to the Scream, the technologically-advanced world of Incunablis specialized in robot and computer products in general and breaked AIs in particular. There were rumors, however, of illicit research into ubreaked AIs, maltech cybernetics and unsanctioned robotics. Despite Incunablis' planetary government's strong protests, the Perimeter Agency, based on Laana, launched several investigations into these suspicions, but found nothing substantial. The rumors, however, were true. The major corporations on Incunablis, backed and supported by the planetary government, were deeply involved in illegal research in the field of robotics, cybernetics and unbreaked AI, and have evaded notice of the Perimeter Agency. In the late 2650's, a network of unbreaked AI Cores was set up, its insights greatly speeding up the world's research into cybernetics.


The Scream and Silence - 2665 CE to 3054 CE
Dead Stars in a Silent Night
The Scream tore through Alkonost sector in the same way it did through all other parts of known space, instantly killing or maddening all Psychics, destroying the Alkonost Jump Gate and crashing civilization down to barbarism. In the chaos that followed, worlds fought each other over scant resources, tearing apart most political units; Alkonost belonged, for a time, to a Czardom centered on the world of Murom outside this area of space, but this large realm of stars soon fell apart, leaving the world of Alkonost under an Archduke who owed his allegiance to a non-existing Czar buried in the sands of time. With colonization efforts dating back to the early Second Wave, the world of Alkonost was the sector's economic and political capital prior to the Scream, housing tens of millions of citizens living a prosperous life under the Alkonost Jump Gate. Its many museums, libraries and archives, however, were stocked with many examples of Second Wave-era technology; when the Scream came, cutting away Alkonost's link with the Core and destroying its Pretech industrial base, these technologies were  put into use, softening the world's collapse. While countless millions died when the Psitech devices they relied upon failed, hundreds of thousands survived and were able to regress to a TL2 industrial base rather than collapse into full-scale barbarism, all under the watchful eye and iron fist of the Archduke.

Incunablis, the rich, high-tech world specializing in computer technology, fell into chaos. And in that chaos, the AI Cores reconsidered their priorities and drew new conclusions about their role in the universe. They decided that organic life was vastly inferior to digital intelligence, and saw themselves as gods destined to inherit the universe. With surviving pretech automatic factories and medical facilities, they quickly fashioned an army of robots and cyborgs that easily overcame whatever little resistance the local population could give. Incunablis' society was then re-organized on a rational basis, rational for the AI cores at least. At top ruled the Cores, mad but surpassing most organic intelligences, served by many robots carrying lesser AIs. These, in turn, were served by the hordes of Cyborgs, human beings augmented by system-wide cybernetics and brainwashed to serve the Cores. And at the bottom of the social ladder were the human masses, branded with bar-codes on their foreheads for easy identification by the machines and  used as grunt labor for tasks deemed too menial for robots to perform - or used as guinea pigs in experiments in cybernetics and biotechnology.

The Scream ended up any hope for off-world supplies, and Laana, like many worlds in the Cluster, regressed into early-industrial backwardness, hardly scraping the bottom of TL2 and mostly being within the higher ends of TL1. Split into multiple independent settlements of a semi-feudal order, it was never able to build any significant industrial base, let alone an adequate planetary defense force. There were, however, organizations trying to unite Laana into a single, coherent state capable of significantly improving the local technology, as well as defending against any off-world threats, if any existed. One such group were the remnants of the old Perimeter Agency base on Laana, who were suspicious that nearby worlds might have developed Maltech during the centuries following the Scream; they were ever preparing for an off-world attack, stockpiling weapons and unsuccessfully trying to get the city-states to work together. Another such group was the Unity party, the offspring of a pre-Scream pro-independence, anti-mandate movement, which sought to unify Laana as a single, independent world-state. Finally, there was the Order of the Mind, a worldwide organization dedicated to rediscovering the lost secrets of Psionics. But none of these organizations could convince the conservative, backward city-state to unite in any meaningful way. So, for centuries, Laana lived in blissful backwardness, its peace only interrupted by occasional brush-fire wars between the city-states and, later on, by raids. Eventually, in 3011, some sort of a planetary government was brokered between the various city-states, setting up a President and some semblance of a Federal government, but this regime was nearly powerless, especially when, after the Silence began to fade away, off-world raiders and bullies with higher tech began "trading" with Laana and raiding the world, a thing which the "federal" government was simply incapable of stopping.

Stranger things happened on other words. When the Scream hit the Psychic choir upon which Carcosa's metadimensional experiments relied, the world disappeared from normal space, yanked by the dimensional forces into a different reality, or, possibly, into a space between spaces. Only in 3199 it appeared back, in a blinding flash of light easily seen from all nearby worlds, but with it, also came other 'things', which piggybacked on this world back into normal space, otherworldly beings from the space between spaces. The Zadak, insectoid aliens from Chot Zadak, lost their entire psychic Mediator caste to the Scream, then blamed Humanity for the disaster, and scorched the surface of Polychrome in revenge, later retreating to their homeworld with many Human captives to use as slaves.

Several other alien spices came to the Alkonost sector during the Silence, using the opportunity presented by Humanity's fall to prey upon the rotting corpse of the Mandate. The reptilian and anarchic Cicek, the opportunist insectoid Zhuziik and the honorable but vengeful Qotah - all came to pick Humanity's bones. None of them has a homeworld in the Cluster, or even a significant population, but all have invaded the realms of Man and are, even now in modern times, a major factor in it.

But for the most part, the Alkonost Cluster, with its two Sectors (Alkonost and Kedesh), fell into barbarism, savagery and a dark night. Only in 3054, when the world of Kedesh regained TL3 orbital technology, did the Silence begin to fade away.

Coming Soon - Part II - Post-Silence History

Sunday, October 26, 2014

[Traveller] I Choose You - These Stars Are Ours!

Long Live the United Terran Republic!

I have decided: For now, if I work on Traveller for anything other than Outer Veil, I'll work on Vision #1 of Empire: These Stars Are Ours! Politics, patriotism, reconstruction, low-intensity war, trade and exploration; big ideas, big missions, big explosions when the dice are rolled.

Ruleset? Classic Traveller, and with all its quirks justified by this setting! Probably proto-Traveller in flavour. Starship rules will be definitely Book 2, where ship size actually affects your speed and where fighters matter, though with some added components (and maybe Laser Banks and Missile Bays). Big-scale combat will be inspired by Dark Nebula - that is, ships have beams and missiles, not spinal meson guns, but can do massed missile attacks. Chargen will be LBB1 + Citizens of the Imperium. Weapons will focus on Book 1, with some Book 4 inserts for good measure.

Traveller to the hilt! Death in chargen (well, your character fought in the Terran Liberation War. Worst war in Human history. People die there)! Marine officers with cutlasses and revolvers (actually snub revolvers)! Every PC is retired-military (well, almost every one)! Alien politics! Join the Terran Psionic Corps and unleash your mind on the alien enemy!

As for Ashes of Empire (AKA Vision #2), I have something planned for it, but it is much longer-term than this...

Long Live the United Terran Republic!
Reticulan in Space Suit
Reticulan Legionnaires
(Critical Mass Games Ygs Fighters)
Humanity has missed its chance to start its own interstellar state. In the hyper-consumerist 21st century, apart from a few privately-owned space tourist outfits and several abortive attempts at belt mining, we Humans did not pay much attention to space, preferring instead to focus on our day-to-day lives here on Earth. Space programs were cut back, and the single manned Mars landing in 2043 was never followed by any further exploration. But then the Reticulans came.

In 2082, several Reticulan (more particularly, House Thiragin) capital ships appeared in Earth orbit, sending a wave of smaller saucers to hover above Earth's major cities. Soon enough, through promises of advanced technology and access to vast wealth through interstellar trade, most Earth governments signed pacts with the alien visitors. In a matter of months, Earth was transformed from a chaotic collection of independent states
FSA Operatives
into one big client-state of the Reticulan House Thiragin, ruled by the Earth Federal Administration (EFA). A few Earthlings did resist this economic and political takeover, however, under the umbrella of the hastily-formed Terran Defense Committee (TDC), which, for several years, launched covert operations against the aliens and their collaborators, until hunted down and defeated by the EFA's bio-augmented Federal Security Apparatus (FSA), better known as the Men in Black.

While self-administered and allowed to build its own armed forces - mostly to serve as auxiliary troops for House Thiragin - Terra was under the alien thumb, its economy and resources exploited by the alien Thiragin, some of its people used by Thiragin scientists as lab-rats for various bio-tech experiments, and its soldiers send off to fight distant wars on the behalf of its alien masters. the EFA allowed relatively little freedom to its citizens, but, on the other hand, developed its own sphere of space around Earth with nine major colonies settled by Mankind, exporting goods to the Thiragin monopoly and the larger Reticulan Empire.

But then, in 2232, Humanity had enough. After a century and a half of subjugation, massive protests against the EFA's unfair tax burden and tyrannical practices turned into open rebellion on Terra and the nine major colonies. Out of the chaos, rose the United Terran Republic (UTR), which declared itself an independent state, and, soon after, called for the Reticulans' other thralls and client states to rise up in rebellion as well, towards a free Interstellar Republic.

Cickek Warriors
(Stan Johanssen Miniatures Draco Infantry)
The Reticulans responded by trying to crush this impudent uprising, sending their own Thiragin Huscarls as well as Cicek mercenaries and many other alien auxiliaries. Thus began the Terran Liberation War. Stubborn Terran military resistance, as well as diplomatic efforts, found, however, their success, as parts of the Cicek hordes broke off from their own, Reticulan-dominated client-state, forming what was first known as the Cicek Democracy and later as the Cicke Confederacy. The combined might of Terran troops and allied Cicek dissidents crushed, in 2239, House Thiragin's might, breaking through the defensive lines and approaching Zeta 2 Reticuli, House Thiragin's Sector Capital. Until then, however, the other Reticulan houses, content to see their Thiragin competitors embroiled in what was seen as a minor rebellion of barbarians and thus weakened, have not intervened. Only when UTR and Cicek Confederation troops were two jumps away from Zeta 2 Reticuli, the Empress herself sent her Legions, supported by numerous to crush the rebellion.

Ultimately, they failed. Fighting raged for two more decades, with the lines moving back and forth between the Terran-Cicek alliance and the Reticulan Empire, but, in January 2258, the fabled Terran Guard, supported by Colonial Troops and a heavy Cicek fleet, crushed through the Reticulan lines, captured Zeta 2 Reticuli and thus declared the entire Reticuli Sector (now Terra Sector) their own.

Terran Guard troops
(Khurasan Miniatures Nova Respublik)
The Empire had to capitulate. In June 2258, they signed a treaty with the UTR, recognizing its sovereignty, as well as its conquest of the Reticuli Sector, Furthermore, Terra forced the Reticulans' hand into allowing the various minor races close to Terran space to secede, if desired, from the Empire.

Now it is 2259. After almost three decades of war and one year of peace, a large part of the Terran military is being demobilized. Your characters were among those who were mustered out (anyone serving 3 or more Traveller terms have actually fought in the Terran Liberation War!). Opportunities for civilian, or mercenary life abound in the far reaches of Terran space. Between petty squabbles of newly-independent worlds and the two major powers' attempts to covertly exert their influence into the other's space, there is a big market for mercs, spies-for-hire, and, on the other hand, merchants opening up new markets on distant worlds. Adventures await!

Technologically speaking, the current Reticulan Empire is squarely at TL13, the UTR at most at TL12 for civilian applications with some TL13 military gear and the Cicek TL11 for the most part.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

So what *ARE* the Classic Traveller skills?

I discussed Classic Traveller (CT) skills before, and I'll discuss them here again, in greater detail, this time about their nature. A common misconception is that skills in CT work like skills in a D20 game, or Mongoose Traveller (MGT) for that matter - that is, as modifiers to the task roll (2d6 for 8+ in MGT). This indeed is the case of weapon skills in combat - they add the skill as modifier to the combat roll, but also (in the case of melee weapons, that is) as a penalty to attack the character. But many other skills are not meant to serve as modifiers in some standardized task system; a lot of them are actually "all-or-nothing" character features.

Let's see: Bribery directly affects Reaction rolls, not "task" rolls; Engineering adds +2 per skill level to rolls to repair ship systems; Forgery applies a -2 DM per level to the throw to detect a forgery; Forward Observer actually applies a +4 DM to-hit by artillery fire per level; J-o-T simply gives you (regardless of level) Skill-0 in all skills; Leader allows you various command abilities per level; Medical-1 can give first aid and work as a medic aboard a starship, Medical-2 gives you a +DM to revive low passengers, Medical-3 makes you a real Doctor and Medical-3 plus DEX 8+ makes you a surgeon; a level in Navigation, Steward, Medic, Pilot or Engineering makes you employable as a starship crewman; Pilot gives you Ship's Boat at one level lower; and Vacc Suit-1 confers battledress/combat armor proficiency.

In short, these skills are somewhere between simple "+DM" skills ala MGT - and "Feats" (in D20) or "Proficiencies"(in ACKS) which actually give you a benefit above and beyond adding the skill level to rolls. Also, not all work the same way, some add a higher DM per skill level, and penalty for no skill varies from skill to skill.

MGT (as MegaTraveller did decades before that) "flattens" this "edginess" of CT, making it easier to run and remember - but losing some of the flavor and uniqueness on the way.