Sunday, October 11, 2015

History of Alkonost Cluster - Part II

Following Part I, which covered the period from ancient history to the end of the Silence, this second and final part will detail the post-Silence history of my Stars Without Number setting, Alkonost Cluster. See the sector overview and map HERE.

Rise of the New Terran Mandate and the Incunablis Machines - 3054 CE to 3161
Kedesh Orbital Shipyards
The Mandate Bruxelles-class Battlecruiser Mumbai was in deep patrol, with a full marine battalion onboard, when the Scream hit in 2665. With its Psychic navigator instantly killed in the shockwave, it dropped out of Drillspace far outside the Kedesh system in the Alkonost region. Its engines severely damaged by the sudden dimensional shift, and unable to drill back into drillspace, the Mumbai faced 400 years of sublight travel back to the local colony at the minimal remaining thrust. Captain Aharon Durnhal and his crew thus entered cryosleep in hope of surviving the slow, centuries-long creep to settled space.

Meanwhile, the world of Kedesh, a former promising industrial colony on the high frontier, made its own slow climb to recovery following the Scream. In 3054, it launched its first orbital flight, and in 3061, staged landings on its two moons. When Kedeshian radio telescopes picked up a strange radio transmission - the Mumbai's distress beacon - from orbit in 3065, they sent a spacecraft to investigate. Its pilot boarded the enormous, highly advanced ship, and soon inadvertently activated the cryo-revival process. The revived crew and captain were quick to capture and interrogate the low-tech interloper. Soon after they used the ship's many shuttles to land at Kedesh's capital and present themselves as representatives of the long-absent Terran Mandate. Having enough firepower to wipe out anything in their path even with their crippled engines, they quickly installed themselves as Kedesh's new rulers, establishing the New Terran Mandate, with Durnhal as its Director. They used the ship's stockpile of Pretech anagathics to keep the old captain and his command crew alive and young for almost a century and a half. The same Old Mandate officers who took over Kedesh are also in power today, in 3200.

The ship lacked heavy manufacturing equipment or even experts in manufacturing apart from the partial knowledge of the ship's engineers. But with enough hard work and many sacrifices forced upon the Kedeshian population, the New Mandate reached TL4 in 3111. Soon after, Kedesh sent ships across the Sector to start building the new Mandate. The various warlords and petty tyrants of the outlying worlds were relatively easy to subdue, either with token gifts of Pretech origin, or more commonly, by a token demonstration of the New Terran Mandate's Pretech military might, usually by landing a small, but impressive, force of power-armored troops and a few grav tanks on the target world. The typical backwater ruler had no clue that this force was more or less all that the New Mandate actually had in the way of Pretech military hardware - and that the rest of its military was composed of TL3-4 troops of highly variable quality and morale.

So thus was built the New Terran Mandate, composed of a small Core ruled directly by Mandate officials, and a much larger Periphery - in the Shallow Blight - subordinate to it, which was paying the Kedesh administrators an annual tribute. The sleepy, backwater world of Alkonost was one such vassal-world of the New Mandate, its Archdukes subservient to the high-tech interstellar overlords. And so was, after a fashion, the even more backwater world of Laana, where the weak Presidents bowed to whatever bully who showed up in orbit with starship-grade weapons and good bribes, be that the New Terran Mandate or the inhuman Incunablis Machines.

The latter - the Incunablis Machines - reached from their mechanized factory-world to the stars in 3070s, and quickly built their own pocket-empire on the border of the New Terran Mandate, occupying the wolds of Isis, Osiris and Sicarii and exacting tribute in Pretech and in cyborg "volunteers" from several other neighboring worlds, chief among them Laana. Border skirmishes with the New Mandate were relatively frequent, but never escalated into a major war, as both polities were distant enough from each other to prefer to invest in their respective cores rather than risk a head-on confrontation.

Meanwhile, the AI Cores from Incunablis ordered and rebuilt their new colonies along the lines of Incunablis society - that is, a hierarchical system topped by unbreaked and partially-breaked AI Cores, beneath them lesser (breaked) AIs and sentient robots, beyond that cyborgs and at the bottom - "organic" serfs, each tattooed on his forehead with a barcode for easy identification by machines, who toiled at the menial jobs where the limited number of Pretech AIs and robots could not be applied. For, indeed, the post-Scream industrial capabilities of the Incunablis Machines were, and still are, limited, lacking the components and capacity to produce Pretech armatures and create more "proper" AIs, breaked or unbreaked, except for the most rudimentary; so cheap human labor, cyborged or otherwise, was always in high demand in the mechanized, industrialized society of the Incunablis Machine Empire.

The Great Alkonost War - 3161-3169
Alkonost Republic frigate fleet, circa 3163

Old Alkonost, under Archduke Leonid II's rule and de-facto New Terran Mandate domination, was little more than a colony of the New Mandate. Its population toiled in the many factories and fields, suffering poverty while their higher-tech products were either consumed by the aristocracy or shipped away to the distant New Mandate. New Mandate officials walked through the Alkonostan streets like mighty lords, eclipsing even the local nobility in their power and prestige. But by the late 3150's, the local population grew tired of this autocracy and its off-world masters. This resentment gave rise to the Free Alkonost movement, an underground movement initially engaged in agitation against foreign rule and its subservient aristocrats - and later outright clandestine political organization and acts of sabotage. The regime knew well enough how to deal with such dissidents. Countless would-be rebels were gunned down or sent to remote labor camps away from the temperate equatorial zones. So the rulers felt secure - after all, who will dare challenge a centuries-old regime backed by the energy cannons of New Terran Mandate gunships? Or so they thought.

Their mistake became apparent in 3161. No matter how many Free Alkonost activists were jailed or shot, the movement grew to massive proportions with cells in every factory, farm and neighborhood. In September 3161, the movement staged a lightning insurrection, rising up in arms around Alkonost. The overwhelmed Archducal officers found that their supposedly loyal soldiers were mostly won to Free Alkonost as well; the soldiers turned their guns around to face their old masters. The revolt was quick; within three weeks, the entire Archducal regime collapsed and was quickly replaced with a Provisional Government, soon giving way - in turn - to the Alkonost Republic, ruled by a President and a Duma (parliament). Archduke Leonid II himself fled to Kedesh, when he eventually died in 3189. The entire planet celebrated; the hated masters were overthrown, the many riches once held by nobles and off-worlders were quickly broken up and sold to locals, in part, or kept (in part) as state enterprises aimed at serving the people of Alkonost.

But the celebrations were premature. The New Terran Mandate was furious at the loss of its profitable subject-world of Alkonost, and soon sent its fleets to Alkonost and the rebelling Chernobog and Poludnitsa to bring the troublemakers back in line. Because sending outright legions of enforcers to crush such dissent was well beyond the New Mandate's capabilities, what this attack mean in practice was an "intervention" by New Mandate expeditionary forces in support of local Monarchist (pro-Archducal) forces on Alkonost and its neighbors. This war - fought in its main part between the nascent Alkonost Republic and local forces supporting the old order of things (and backed by the New Mandate and its orbital fleets) - consumed much of the 3160's in a haze of hellfire, orbital engagements and the cities of Alkonost, Chernobog and Poludnitsa changing hands multiple times. Eventually, around 2166, the New Mandate-backed forces began to fall back under Alkonost Republican military pressure, firmly clearing the worlds of Novaya Verkuta, Alkonost, Chernobog and Poludnitsa of any pro-Mandate forces.

At this point the war moved to its second phase - that of Alkonostan assault on New Mandate territory proper beyond the subjugated Archduchy of Alkonost. Fighting in the hellish swamps and alien mushroom-forests of Belobog raged for three years, but the Alkonost Republic also backed various anti-Mandate forces on several vassal worlds, hoping to entangle the New Mandate in a multi-front counter-insurgency war it cannot win and thus forcing it into a cease-fire agreement under favourable terms for the Alkonost Republic.

One such world was Laana - in part, a vassal-world of the New Terran Mandate, and in part, open hunting ground for Incunablis cyborgs and robots. The Laanese government was little more than a formality - a weak Federal Government controlling little but the run-down starport and sometimes sending its forces to protect whatever local gentleman from rebelling peasants. Slavers from nearby worlds, as well as Incunablis Machines, plied their nefarious trade and cyborg-raids unhindered. However, some of the Laanese population did resist this state of affairs. The remnants of the Perimeter Agency, members of the old Unity party, and the remains of the Order of the Mind found their way to the crags and caves of the deep south, protected even from orbital sensors by the rough terrain. And there, a new alliance was forged. In 3143, these three groups united into the United Liberation Front (ULF), a unified resistance group fighting against the ineffectual regime, tyrannical gentry, slavers, the New Terran Mandate "traders" and "tax collectors" - and the Incunablis Machines and their nightmare cyborging raids.

Thus the guerrilla war on Laana has begun in the 3150's, in the first years in sporadic sabotage and raids on isolated groups of Incunablis cyborgs or particularly nasty gentry, but later a better-organized campaign. Still, they were restricted to operating in craggy terrain or under the cover of hemisphere-wide dust storms, as the Machines, the slavers and the New Mandate ruled the skies above them with one orbital battle station per hemisphere. But underground, or in deep, shadowed crags, they built their strength, forging new communities of survivors and escapees. One of their best war-leaders was Johar Saleh, a cunning tactician and brave raider, who, in 3155, was elected the Chairman of the United Liberation Front. But the war still went on, harsh and exacting a high price in blood. Here entered the Alkonost Republic.

The greatest strike against the New Mandate and Machine overlords on Laana came in 3168. With help of Alkonost Republic military advisors and special-operations gear, teams of ULF warriors managed to infiltrate both of the orbital battle stations, purchased from the New Mandate at a high cost by the Laanese government and run by Mandate personnel. The raid on the southern hemisphere's station was led by Chairman Saleh himself, who left his young but talented aid, Ameena Miran, to lead the ground-side ULF in his absence. The New Mandate, of course, resisted this incursion with all of its might, but the ULF was victorious although at a terrible price: all of the ULF fighters who have infiltrated the two stations had to sacrifice themselves to destroy the stations, Saleh included. But they were victorious: both stations were destroyed and the New Mandate had to evacuate its presence from Laana.

Forced out of Laana and unable to hold Belobog, the New Terran Mandate finally capitulated in April 3169, signing a long-term ceasefire agreement with the Alkonost Republic, recognizing its independence and vowing to avoid any support of local monarchist forces. This ended the Great Alkonost War, with the Alkonost Republic having the upper hand and the New Mandate left to lick its wounds. While the losses incurred by the war were monumental for both sides, the wave of patriotism released inside the Republic by this victory was powerful enough to stimulate its economy and lend enthusiasm to the Alkonostan population in their reconstruction of their war-ravaged worlds. But soon after the New Terran Mandate was sent packing, a new threat appeared to the embattled Republic - the Incunablis Machine Empire.

The Incunablis Conflict - 3170-3189
Alkonost Republic Hecate-class Frigate, early 3180's
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 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. Shortly before the Scream, a network of unbreaked AI Cores was set up, its insights greatly speeding up the world's research into cybernetics; following the Scream, these Machines were in power.

By the 3160's, Incunablis controlled its own multi-world empire, under its mighty cybernetic yoke. Imprimatur, Incunablis, Osiris and Sicarii were its worlds, all managed by unbreaked or semi-breaked AI Cores and their legions of "puppet" robots and cyborgs; Laana - while not under direct Incunablis control - was also under strong Incunablis influence. During the latter days of the Great Alkonost War, the Incunablis Machine Empire sensed the weakness of the embattled Alkonost Republic, and began raiding its worlds for resources and potential "candidates" for cyborging. From its bases on Imprimatur and Sicarii, the Machines could easily strike Alkonost, Poludnitsa and Chernobog directly. In late 3169, knowing that the Republic was still recovering from the horrors of the Great Alkonost War, the Machines launched coordinated raids against Republic worlds. Following several waves of raids, the Alkonost Republic had no option but fight back, and it began concentrating its efforts at the weakest link in the Incunablis chain of subjugation - the semi-vassal world of Laana, where the Republic had connection with the local guerrillas from the Gret Alkonost War days.

On Laana, the young, energetic Ameena Miran, 31 years old at the time, was elected the next Chairwoman after Chairman Saleh's death, and very soon proved herself more than capable of leading the ULF. While not as brilliant a tactician as her predecessor, she was - and still is - a highly charismatic leader, capable of moving masses of people with the mighty force of her personality. Under her leadership, unhindered by any consistent Incunablis or New Mandate orbital capability and supported with arms and equipment by the Alkonost Republic, the ULF launched an all-out open war for the liberation of Laana from the AI overlords once and for all. In 3174 they were victorious. The ULF led by Chairwoman Miran entered Laana City under the cover of a massive dust storm and ousted the last President. They were free at last from off-world tyrants and from any organized opposition by the gentry. Celebrations in Laana City - now renamed The Liberated City - as well as in the rest of the world lasted for weeks. But the world was devastated by the prolonged wars and the Laanese were extremely reluctant to use any leftover Incunablis robotic technology, as it reminded them of the horrendous Machines.

Chairperson Miran moved quickly and decisively from leading the war against the New Mandate, the Machines and the Federal government - to leading the campaign for the re-industrialization of Laana. Led by her charismatic vision, the Laanese people willingly put long hours of hard work into rebuilding their world; they personal rewards for this in terms of their quality of life were quite minor, as the majority of economic output went towards industrialization and building a mighty Inter-Stellar Liberation Army (ISLA), but they were free - and worked for forging their own destiny. Analog technology, augmented by the rapidly developing field of psionics and by psionic "Mentants" (Humans trained to replace computers), replaced the Empire's digital technology.

Between 3174 and 3185, the Incunablis Conflict simmered on at a much lower intensity, both sides rebuilding for the inevitable next round of fire. The next target in the prolonged, if lower-key (when compared to the Great Alkonost War) Incunablis Conflict was Sicarii, and unlike Laana it was a world directly under Incunablis rule, its human population kept in line by robots and cyborgs and worked as slaves producing spare parts for the Incunablis machines or more commonly - left in abject poverty and under the constant threat of cyborging raids. As Sicarii served as a base of operations for many raids into the Republic and against Laana, it was the next logical step in the ongoing war against the Machines. It was, however, heavily fortified. This is why the invasion of Sicarii involved three integral parts - Alkonost naval strikes against Incunablis battlestations in Sicarii orbit, landing elite expeditionary troops to engage the Machine forces on the ground, and most importantly - supporting and bolstering the local human resistance (the Human Revolutionary Movement - HRM) which will do the bulk of ground fighting against the local Incunablis-supported "puppet" troops, their supporting robots and their cyborg officers.

The joint Alkonost-Laanese forces together with local HRM rebels launched the Operation Burnt Offering in May 3185. It began with coordinated naval attacks on the two Incunablis battlestations in Sicarii orbit, and once they were neutralized, Alkonostan transport ships landed a ground force mostly composed on Laanese ISLA troops. As these invaders integrated with the HRM locals, they began retaking Sicarii from the Machines, inch by inch. But unseating the Machines required the removal of their AI cores from Starport City, which were heavily defended and fortified underground. Thus, the HRM/ISLA forces executed a daring plan in 3187 - multiple commando raids on the five nuclear 'snuffers' protecting Starport City. These were almost suicide attacks against highly sophisticated mechanized defenses, but the sacrifice of most operatives paid its dividends when Starport City lost its 'snuffer' protection. Before the Machines could reactivate their 'sunffers', the Laanese frigate Harriet Tubman launched several deep-penetrating nuclear missiles into the heart of the Machine Cores, utterly destroying Starport City and thus eliminating any coordinated Machine fighting ability on this world. Within a few months, after repelling several Incunablis naval raids and mopping up the remaining Puppet forces, the Machine Empire had to admit its defeat, and Sicarii was liberated, soon to be integrated into the new "Liberated Worlds" polity headed by Laana.

Defeated, the Incunablis Machine Empire offered the Alkonost Republic a peace treaty beneficial for both sides. This Treaty of 3187 meant an end to all hostilities between the Machines and the Republic, and the Machines giving up any claims to Sicarii and Laana, in return to the Republic giving up any claims to any of the three remaining Incunablis Machine Empire worlds. Furthermore, both sides agreed to set the world of Imprimatur apart as a "treaty port" - a world where Alkonost-registered ships can land and trade raw materials and pretech components for advanced electronics and nanotechnology manufactured by the Machine Empire - far above and beyond anything the Republic could produce. The Republic agreed to deny its citizens access to Incunablis itself or to Osiris. While Alkonost signed this treaty with a sigh of relief, the Liberated Worlds refused to sign it, claiming that this will mean betraying the hopes for liberation of any humans left on the Incunablis worlds. But nonetheless, the Liberated Worlds does honor this treaty (though they did not sign it), at least for now, out of respect for their Alkonostan allies.

Later Developments 3189-3200 (present day)
Alkonostan Stalkers survey a lost world, mid 3190's
Peace finally arrived at the Alkonost Republic, and with it - the new prospect of colonizing new worlds (such as Domovboi) and raiding the various Blight worlds for highly profitable Pretech components to which the growing technological base on Alkonost ahs developed a voracious appetite. Many of the veterans of the last two wars - the Great Alkonost War and the Incunablis Conflict - found new employment as Stalkers, raiders of the Blight who treat on dangerous ground to bring back Pretech components to sell at a fat profit margin back on Alkonost. This is a time of exploration, of expansion and trade; and the Republic flourishes. But there are those who think that its democratic demeanour is a sign of weakness, and that a more authoritarian regime will steel it to face the challenges of the universe; the Psionic Committee and its allies in the Navy officer corps do plot a coup towards this direction, slowly but surely working their plan for regime change.

Meanwhile, the Liberated Worlds saw less peace than the Alkonost Republic. While Laana and Sicarii are undergoing fast-paced industrialization (and some would say, militarization), the Liberated Worlds have recently acquired Apep as well. When the Grand Pharaoh of Apep decided to seize the Laana-registered trader, Song of Moses in 3198 and imprison its crew, little did he predict the firestorm that would follow. When another free trader passed the news of this to Laana, especially with graphic descriptions of the torture and execution of crewmembers, the Laanese public was enraged, and soon enough Chairwoman Miran stepped up to the plate. Soon enough, three battalions of ISLA special forces landed with heavy TL4 arms and air (and orbital) support and spurred the local insurgents - with whom the Liberated Worlds had some dealings in the past - into an all-out assault on Pharaonic forces. When the dust settled, the Pharaoh was on a fast ship en route to Kedesh, and the insurgents were in power. Within a month, the leaders of the Revolutionary Provisional Government of Apep came to visit Laana itself and returned home with a 10 billion credit low-interest loan (usable for purchasing Laanese goods) for industrialization. Thus in early 3199, Apep formally joined the Liberated Worlds.

Both the New Terran Mandate and the Incunablis Machine Empire are still reeling from their recent defeats. Of these two, the New Mandate had had its three decades of recovery, and is now preparing for renewed expansion. In fact, rumor has it that the New Mandate's Harmony Bureau is behind the Luddite insurgency on Sicarii and the Royalist terrorism on Apep. Meanwhile, the Liberated Worlds and the Alkonost Republic are stirring trouble for the New Mandate on Svarog and Chemosh... A proxy war might be brewing, while the Incunablis Machines do seem to be quite as of late.

Interesting times...

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mars has liquid, flowing water!

NASA has just discovered liquid water flowing on Mars! Granted, the water flows seasonally, in the (relatively) warm summer, and thanks to the high saline content of the Martian soil, it does not freeze or boil as readily as it would otherwise, but this is still - flowing liquid water on Mars! This is the astronomy discovery of the decade, for the very late, and it will doubtlessly keep a good number of scientists busy for a while. This also means that there are greater chances for native (bacterial) life than anticipated. And it also means that terraformation might be more readily possibly - if still monstrously costly - than believed in the past. In any case, a monumental discovery in our solar system!

Now, in Traveller terms, it would probably be UWP X411000-0 right now, hopefully within a generation or two D411220-8 with a good scientific colony! And in my Visions of Empire setting, by 2260 AD, it would be a major colony undergoing terraformation - B433942-D...

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Trying to fight and forge ahead despite setbacks

It ain't easy being me. Between PTSD and depression, both of which originate from very bad things I underwent in my childhood, life is a struggle. I struggle to stay alive; I struggle to do something meaningful with my life despite the black pain which returns and floods me once and again like a dark wave. But I fight. I have no other option. I do far less than I would like to, I have so many great ideas but only a little of them get realized as sometimes my free time is taken over by dark thoughts and darker crying.

But I am trying to fight ahead! Despite all this pain, I am trying to do something with my life. Gaming gives me joy; writing gives me a purpose in life and a reason to live. The other reason I have to live is my spouse, Einat Harari, and my mother, Sarah "Suri" Golan. I live for them, and I live to write. And I am fighting. The struggle is difficult, and other than the support of my spouse and mother, and a few close friends to whom I reveal my inner darkness, and some mild sedatives, there is no outside support. I have to fight on by myself. And I will continue to fight as long I am alive, hopefully for many years.

My next goal is to finally finish the draft for Barbarian Conqueror King. Once BCK is finished, I am going to work on Visions of Empire as a commercial setting for the next edition of Mongoose Traveller (I will start writing it only AFTER BCK is done). All the meanwhile I will continue to run my bi-weekly BCK campaign using D&D5E/ACKS hybrid rules (there might be some conversion notes ready after I finish writing the draft).

I will fight! I will never give up to darkness! I will forge ahead no matter the pain!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Re-focusing Visions of Empire

Some thoughts about re-focusing my Visions of Empire setting

The "core" alien species I really like and who always enter my ideas, plot and parts of this setting are only three (apart from us Terrans, that is) - the Reticulans, the Cicek and the Zhuzz. The rest are far less central to the setting concept, even the Chuwak. One idea I had was to keep only these (and maybe the Chuwak as the Reticulans' arch-enemies) as the Major Races and relegate the rest - Fanja-Kanja, Ssellassians, Phnunk, Klaxx and so on - to the status of "Minor" Races with a few planets each (usually just the homeworld and the occasional off-world individual or colony). The map can also be changed so that the "interesting" space would be the Terran "quarter" (or quadrant) of the map showing Terra, many Terran colonies, the Reticulans, Cicek and Zhuzz; the Reticulan Empire (and later Technate) would mostly exist off-map, as well as most of the Minor Races. This will help the setting get an important focus.

The main two ideas about minor races I have with this are for the Sselessians and the Fanja-Kanja. The Sselessian homeworld was glassed by the Reticulans a long time ago when they dared revolt against the Empire. They were then forced to become nomads, and slave-fighters for the Empire. The Terrans of course capitalized on this during the Terran Liberation War and claimed openly that they were fighting to liberate the Sselessians (among others) from Reticulan slavery. And indeed, at the war's end, the dissident Sselessians (the ones who supported the Terrans and fought for them) got a homeworld and their own "independent polity" (with Terran advisers, of course) on a few worlds conquered from the Reticulans. The Fanja-Kanja, on the other hand, do have a homeworld, but no 'proper' polity - but on the other hand they are common everywhere as merchants, and are allowed to roam freely by the Reticulans. Reticulan propagandists always show them as an example for how conductive the Empire is to people who stay peaceful and cooperate with it.

There were at least two polities (that is, Terran client-states) formed by Terran victory - the Sselessian new homeworld and the Reticulan Technate. Of course the Cicek had a new 'government' as well, but as all things Cicek go, it was very loose, and not really controlled by the Terrans (or by anyone else, even the Cicek themselves; it isn't easy herding anarchistic tribal warrior-lizards into a cohesive political structure, after all).

The bottom line: let's focus on what's relevant to the setting core, i.e. Terran space. At its heart, Visions of Empire is always about Terrans, and their interactions and relations with aliens. What goes about, for example, on the other side of Reticulan space, and their long war with the Chuwak Holy Dominion, is another story for another time, part of the background, but not the main story here.

So I was thinking about a quadrant worth of space, 2 x 2 subsectors in size, with Mother Terra at its center or close to its center (this map would actually be easy to make from my old map using Paint.NET). Reticulan space is on the Trailing-Rimward part of this, Cicek on the Rimward, and Zhuzh on the Trailing. Terran Space is open to a frontier on the Coreward and Spinward. Alien space extends far beyond the borders of this area, and might eventually get a dot-map, but is not "core" to the story at hand.

Terran Quadrant Starmap:

For the full-res starmap, GO HERE.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Visions of Empire - Map Updates - Now with Borders!

I've made some progress (while mainly working on Barbarian Conqueror King and translation contracts) on the starmaps for my Visions of Empire setting for Classic Traveller, including political borders.

First is a political overview map for 2232, right before the Terran Liberation War; back then, all peripheral polities on the map are client-states of the mighty Reticulan Empire.

Second is a political overview map for 2261 - 3 years after the Terran and Cicek victory in the Terran Liberation War.

Third is the full starmap, now with 2261 borders. Notice how the Cicek (allied with the Terrans) managed to grab up Reticulan territory and how the UTR conquered much Reticulan and Sselessian space and colonized several worlds both in its war-time resource-rush and in an attempt to secure the Cicek Run (wartime supply route between the two powers.

All polities other than the Terran and the Cicek are still Reticulan client-states.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Can you get more kickass than this?

Helly Luv, a Kurdish pop-star born in Iran and raised in Finland, filmed this moving music video praising the Kurdish fighters who are kicking ISIS ass. But not only that - she filmed it no more than 3 kilometers from the ISIS lines, in Kurdistan, with the participation of actual Kurdish fighters and civilians. She even took her turn firing a tank cannon on ISIS scumbags. Can you get more kickass than that?

Visions of Empire "Dot Map" Ready!

Here is the whole sector "Dot Map" for my Visions of Empire setting for Classic Traveller which I'll use to plan out the astrography.

Blue worlds have liquid surface water.

Grey worlds lack surface liquid water.

Purple worlds have non-water surface liquids.

White caps indicate surface water ice and no significant surface water.

Multiple dots denote an asteroid belt main-world.

Starburst is a star system with no significant bodies or asteroid belts (typically bright stars).

A black dot on the upper right side of the hex denotes the presence of local gas giants.

Most system locations were "flattened" from real-life astrography; some (the ones without names) were hand-generated and handwaved to represent worlds orbiting hypothetical dim stars we haven't detected yet as per 2015.

Dataset was similar to what I used to generate the Outer Veil map, but I did make significant changes to this map.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Traveller Book 2 Expansion part #1 - additional fittings

Traveller Book 2 is my favorite ship-design system for Classic Traveller, or for any edition of Traveller for that matter - simple, elegant and interesting, especially if you add in the computer and software rules which allow you to trick out your ship to a great degree. The main charm of this system comes from two things - the great customability of the ships with its Lego-type plug-and-play construction method, and its end result - an entire starship described in one paragraph of plain English. Another strength was that of the small-ship universe which keeps ships at the player character scale of things. Later Traveller ship-design rules, while adding many more options and much bigger ships, also make the design process as well as the result much less elegant.

However, the LBB2 rules do have several weaknesses, such as a very limited list of potential ship fittings, as well as a combat system which gets cloged when too many turrents are firing at once. Another weakness is that there is no way to load a ship with significant munitions other than filling it with fighters, as there are no military weapons heavier than what is available to civilian turrents in Book 2. In a later post I'll detail the (slightly) variant ship combat and weapon rules. An excellent source of inspiration for those could be found in TBread1999's excellent Book 2 House Rule Thread on the Citizens of the Imperium boards.

So here I'll post a short series of articles about simple expansions to the Book 2 design process. The main design principle of these articles is that they shouldn't invalidate any design created by the standard Book 2 design process and that the main KISS spirit of Book 2 should be preserved. This first installment presents several non-weapon ship fittings for your use in Book 2 ship designs; all are ready to drop into any Book 2 design with as little additional rules as possible.

Factory (TL7): A shipboard factory usually produced one product or a series of related products; the types and amounts of raw materials needed for production are left for the referee's discretion. A astandard factory module requires 10 workers, displaces 100 dtons and costs MCr50. At TL9+ the worker requirement is reduced to 5 and at TL13+ to 1 - a single operator of the now-automated factory.

Partial Hydroponics (TL8) displace 2 tons and cost MCr0.25 per person they support. This kind of hydroponic gardens include a limited variety of plant life and usually serve as both decorative-recreational facilities and a source for fresh fruit, vegetables and spices. they also assist the life support system by producing some foodstuffs as well as helping recycle air and water; the monthly life support costs of any person supported by Partial Hydroponics is reduced by 50%. Partial Hydroponics require 2kg of additional nutrients, seeds and spare parts (costing Cr300) per month per person they supports. 

Full Hydroponics (TL8), which are full-scale closed-circuit shipboard biospheres, displace 4 tons and cost MCr1 per person they supports. They include a diverse selection of organisms ranging from bacteria and yeast to higher plants and animals, and are capable of providing all the life support and food requirements of any person supported by them; such persons do not have to pay any monthly life-support costs at all. Full Hydroponics require 1kg of nutrient replacements and spare parts (costing Cr200) per month per person they supports.

Laboratory (TL7): a basic laboratory space has no significant cost and any tonnage available may be assigned to it. However, laboratory equipment is expensive, from MCr0.025 per ton for very basic facilities up to MCr1 or even MCr2 per ton for advanced reasearch tools.

Mass Driver (TL8): a large magnetic rail-launcher designed for slinging cargoes over interplanetary distances. A mass driver is too slow and inaccurate to be used in ship combat, but may be used to bombard planets. A mass driver requires a crew of four, displaces 25 dtons, and costs MCr26.

Ore Refinery (TL8): a refinery capable of processing most compounds found in planetoids into semi-refined raw materials which can easily be shipped to other locations. It requires 1 worker, and costs MCr6 per 10 tons of refinery size.

Shipboard Hospital (TL8):  while any starship has a fully-functional medlab subsumed in its stateroom tonnage which is enough for most emergency operations (and counts as a "medical facility" for healing wounds), a full-scale hospital can treat less common afflictions and perform particularly complex operations. A hospital module displaces 8 tons,  costs MCr5 and houses up to two patients with complete life support facilities. Each additional patient capacity adds 2 tons and MCr0.5. It is a fully-fledged hospital, complete with laboratories and extensive imaging systems, allowing complex medical procedures such as cybernetic implantation and giving a +2 DM to all medical tasks. A Shipboard Hospital requires one doctor per 8 patients (or a fraction thereof) and one nurse or medical technician per 4 patients (or a fraction thereof).

Workshop (TL7): A small workshop capable of fabricating several kinds of spare parts and repairing equipment. Its exact capabilities and raw material requirements are left for the referee's discretion. A workshop requires one skilled worker and costs MCr5 per 10 tons of workshop space.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

So what is this bugger up to?

Me and Einat
You may have noticed that I post on this blog somewhat less frequently than back in late 2014/early 2015. The reason for this is actually good news - I am finally making a living as a full-time (sorta of) freelance English-Hebrew-English translator, and most of my financial woes are behind me. I am also in a second relationship (after seperating from my ex-fiancee two and a half years ago), so far almost a year and a half with einat, a beautiful, sweet woman who is also working full-time (as a kindergarten teaching assistant). So my own private life is quite full, with less time for gaming and online publications. Generally this is good news - I've found my place in life (as a translator), I am employed, I make a living, I have a beautiful girlfriend who loves me, and I also game every two weeks (right now a hybrid of Barbarian Conqueror King and D&D 5E). However there are three main big projects I am working on in the field of gaming, though a bit at a slower pace than I wished I could have worked on them:

1) Outer Veil improved/second edition (buy the old version here) - my commercial setting for Mongoose Traveller by Spica Publishing. My part of the work is more or less done and the whole thing is undergoing layout and preparation for print. Yes, you read right - this will go to Print-on-Demand (POD)! Also it has new and much improved starmaps and deckplans and a better layout. Stay tuned for the new edition!

2) Barbarian Conqueror King - a sword & sorcery sourcebook and setting for ACKS. I am going with this commercially - this will eventually be an ACKS sourcebook by Autarch LLC. But this is going far slower than I hoped to work on it, due to translation contracts and the usual delays of game writing. But I'll try to get it done as soon as possible and submit Alexander Macris (or Autarch fame) a full draft, hopefully within a month. This would be awesome - dinosaurs! Alien technology! Loinclothed barbarians tearing down decadent civilization! Tentacled monsters! Gladiatorial fights (yes, with full game rules)!

3) Translating Stars Without Number (SWN) into Hebrew (pro-bono) for the Israeli Society of Role-Players (ISRP), of course with a license from Kevin Crawford. This is taking very long and will also need editing, but WILL BE DONE eventually I'll also demo SWN in two games at the ICON festival/convention in Tel-Aviv in late September/early October this year.

Other than that, I am also (very slowly) working my way through my Classic Traveller setting, Visions of Empire...

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Terra Subector WIP

Here is a work-in-progress of the Terra Subsector for my Visions of Empire setting. The base data is similar to what I used to create Outer Veil six or seven years ago, but this is a new map, with its own data, and based solely on known near-Earth stars, with my extrapolations, "flatenning" or 3D real space into a traditional Traveller 2D hex grid and imagining what kind of worlds and gas giants would be found out there. Exectp for Terra (which should be named Sol after ist primary star), all star-names are real. Feel free to use this if you want a somewhat "realistic" near-Earth Traveller subsector.

This also allows me to extrapolate quite a lot about the Terran Liberation War. Reticulan Subsector Capital was at Keid, with strong local Reticulan colonies at Procyon, Kapteyn's Star and Epsilon Eridani. The old EFA (Earth Fedeal Administration - a client-state of the Reticulans) based on Terra had major colonies at Alpha Centauri, Tau Ceti,  Barnard's Star, Ross 154, 61 Cygni, and Epsilon Indi - and several other outposts; all of these were quickly taken into the new UTR (United Terran Republic) when we Terrans revolted against the Reticulan overlords.

As at TL13 (by the "Little Black Books 2" and 3 version of the Classic Traveller rules), maximum jump for serious naval combatants (1,000 tons and above) is Jump-3, in order to protect Mother Terra from significant Rericulan naval raids, the Terrans ahd to quickly seize Sirius and UV Ceti, which soon became major battlegrounds of the War. Since the mineral-rich Tau Ceti 5 was already an mining world with the highest colonial population outside the Sol system (approximately thirty million inhabitants), it became a major strategic asset and thus a major battleground as well - some sort of a "Stalingrad of the stars". Late war concentrated on Procyon and Epsilon Eridani, and the war culminated in the capture of Keid and the dethroning of the Reticulan House Thiragin.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Gardeners

Terra approcimately 60-70 million years ago
Some ancient history of my Visions of Empire setting.

Approximately 65 million years ago a sentient species formed an interstellar civilization in an area of space not far from Terra, or so it is hypothesized. They apparently had a habit of terraforming worlds and transplanting creatures from various "interesting" (to them that is) worlds and spreading them across a number of terraformed worlds, perhaps creating menageries or hunting preserves or simply tailoring the local biosphere to their tastes. They did not perform much genetic engineering (if at all), but rather engaged in planetary and biosphere engineering and life-form importation.

Now they are long gone. The vast bulk of their technology and cities were eventually reduced to nothing but anomalous concentrations of elements in the soil and the rock. None of their machines survived in an even remotely opertable form. Some of their artefacts - more commonly, trash - were fossilized; there are also fossilized bones which may or may not be fossiles of the "Gardeners".

However, their true legacy is not fosslized archeological artefacts but terraformed worlds and a wide spread of certain life-forms across multiple worlds. Some worlds failed and reverted to their pre-terraformation forms; others survived; all were changed by the passing of 60-70 million years. Some life-forms were extinct at the same time as the "Gardeners" or in the intervening millions of years; others survived virtually unchanged; yet others continued to evolve. And on at least one world, transplanted organisms reached sentience. The so-called Gardner Hypothesis suggests that the biological similarity between many of the known sentient and non-snetinet species across known space arises from their evolution from imported stock, some of which may have been Terran in origin - in its most radical form, this hypothesis claims that the Chuwak and possibly even Cicek and Reticulans have evolved from Terran animals imported to their prospective homeworlds approximately 65 million years ago.

A Quick Overview of the nine "Major Races"

Here is a quick overview of the nine "Major Races" or my Visions of Empire setting for Classic Traveller.

In this setting, the distinction between "Minor" and "Major" Race is Reticulan Empire distinction. A "Major Race" in this setting is an intelligent species which either had a multiple-world polity when first encountered by the Reticulans (such as the Zhuzz or the Chuwak), or alternatively an intelligent species which was biologically and culturally suitable of being organized into an interstellar client-state by the Reticulan conquerors (such as the Terrans and Cicek). The Cicek needed significant technological and cultural uplifting to do that, but that was a worthwhile investment for the Reticulans who desires to use them as shock troops. A "Minor Race" on the other hand does not have an interstellar polity and has some biological and/or cultural barrier preventing it from being organized into an Imperial client-state. This is why all (or most?) "Major Races" are "air-breathers" - capable of surviving in typical Reticulan (or Terran) environments unaided or with minimal assistance - while many "Minor Races" are much more exotic biologically and/or culturally.

So here are the "Major" species:

The United Terran Republic
Terrans - Humanity of the future. In the 23rd century, ruled by the United Terran Republic. Before that - a Reticulan client-species.

Reticulans - female-only rationalist/technocratic "Greys" who reproduce by parthenogenesis. Physically weak, in heavy work and combat they use robots and/or "client" alien species. Society is organized into castes. In the past they were one of the Precursor species.

Sselassians (CMG Astagar Fighters)
Sselassians - highly religious "snakemen", with a humanoid upper body and a "snake leg" underneath. The dominant faith creates multiple assassin-cults. Quite ritualistic and atavistic. Reticulan client-species mostly used as assassins and special-forces troops.

Fanja-Fanja - Khurasan Felids
Fanja-Kanja - individualistic, highly curious "felinoids". NOT a warrior species; egg-laying. Highly interested in trade and exploration, as well as scietific research. Reticulan client-species mostly used as researchers and ship crewmembers.

Phnunk ( Octopods)
Phnunk - "Humanoids" with tentacled faces used for eating and manipulating objects; also have claws in their hands for further manipulation. Society is quite egalitarian and creative work is valued above everything else. Biologically related to fungi and reproduce by spores. High technical aptituide. Reticulan client-species mostly used as technicians.

Klax (GZG Crusties)
Klax - "Insectoids" but much more similar to crustaceans; bear live young but lack sexes. Society is tribal and highly competitive between tribes. Quite aggressive in outlook. Reticulan client-species mostly used as shock-troops and snipers.

Chuwak (LNG Chuhuac)
Chuwak - Possibly descended from Terran theropod stock imported to various Garden Worlds by the hypotehtical Gardeners approximately 70 million years ago. Feathered pack-oriented predatory "dinosauroids". Aggressive and proud. Reticulan client-species mostly used as front-line troops. In the past they were one of the Precursor species but were heavily hit by the fall of the Precursors and regressed even more than the reticulans.

Zhuzz (Spriggan Miniatures Spug)
Zhuzz - Opportunistic "insectoids" who evolved on the homeworld of a dead Precursor species. Evolved quite quickly due to easy access to relic technology. Highly interested in trade, but not always trustworthy and not above piracy, fraud and outright raiding. Reticulan client-species as ship crews and technicians.

Cicek (Stan Johanssen Draco)
Cicek - Anarchic tribal "Reptilod" warriors. Males are highly competitive, females are quite cooperative, but both are usually loyal to their tribe (and little else). Until recently a Reticulan client-species; now mostly liberated and organized into the (very loose) Cicek Confederation (which is allied with the UTR).

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Flags of my Visions of Empire Setting

A kind person named Inku (Axel Loefving) posted a thread on RPG.NET offeriung to draw symbols and flags for people for free. So I asked him if he could draw a more professional version of my Visions of Empire setting for Classic Traveller; he agreed, and did some small changes to Oculus Orbus's UTR flag design, and also made me a Terran Empire standard and a New Terran Republic flag:

Terran Empire, Option #1

Terran Empire, Option #2

New Terran Republic

United Terran Republic

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Porting Over Grimmsgate to Stars Without Number

I'm currently running the Swords & Wizardry adventure Grimmsgate for my D&D 5E group, and so far it proves to be an interesting and enjoyable adventure. But yesterday, when I was re-reading this adventure while riding the train to the Tel-Aviv University, it dawned upon me - this could be an excellent Stars Without Number adventure as well! How so? After all, it has various strong fantasy elements such as demons, undead and courses. But this could be easily ported to sci-fi concepts.

The Ancient Temple becomes a pre-Scream Perimeter Agency research lab, which once upon a time housed a crazed Unbreaked AI. Three Perimeter Agents defeated the said AI after it wreaked some havoc on a nearby world, and brought it, locked in a datacube, to a research lab where it would be studied and stored safely. The facility had some robotic laboratories and a medbay as well. Eventually, as the Silence crept in, the facility's staff become little more than an atavistic religious group, following ritual after ritual in place of the old protocols. A young initiate, Arumvel his name, tried to breath some technological life into this dying ritual, and used his dataport (implanted into all initiates in a barely-functional initiation ritual) to jack into the mainframe where the AI was used. The old AI quickly "hacked" Arumvel's brain and brainwashed him into releasing it into the facility's still-functional computer network, using the remaining robotics to murder the other initiates and priests. However, it was unsuccessful in subverting the facility's own breaked AI ("Tomb Guardian") which still controls some of the robotics. Using the facility's Pretech medlab, the AI converted Arumvel into a full cyborg equipped with a nanite-cloud weapon. Arumvel now captures local peasants and transforms them into crazed cyborgs (Mogura-Jin) under his (and the AI's) control. The AI would wish to eventually take over the area and rebuild communication arrays in order to transmit itself into passing ships... Unless someone stops them.

The PCs will be hired by the regional government to investigate disappearances in the remote colonial village of Grimmsgate (or Givat-Giram) near that facility...

Conversion Notes:

The demon Vuod - Unbreak AI
The Tomb Guardian - Break AI security system
Arumvel - now a Cyborg!
Mogura-Jin - full Cyborgs!
Cursed Humans - Cyborgs with partial implants (due to lacking supplies).
Undead skeletons - humanoid service robots.
"Powerful" undead skeletons - security robots (also humanoid in shape)
Etarra and Albraith - locals captured and kept restrained to tables in the medlab pending Cyborg conversion!
Manes Demons - improved robots under AI control.
Paladins - Perimeter Agents (placed in cryogenic storage but dead due to the unbreaked AI's machinations)
Fane - mainframe
Altar - backup mainframe; orb is replaced by a dataslab with full data backup.
Dragon on the regional map - local apex predator (see stats for Traveller here - easily convertible to SWN)
Golden Treasure - Pretech salvagecomponentss

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

More XCOM2 inspiration for Visions of Empire!

Under Earth Federal Administration (EFA) Rule
Another IGN article about the upcoming strategy computer game, XCOM2, is full of inspirational material for my Visions of Empire setting - for the time when Earth was under Reticulan rule, complete with concept art of our occupied homeworld. This is how Mother Terra felt until we kicked out the alien overlords and established the glorious United Terran Republic (UTR). The main difference between the XCOM2 world and the Visions of Empire setting is that while the Sectoid/Ethreal rule on Earth will undoubtedly be kicked out by a protracted guerrilla war, the EFA was overthrown by a mass uprising led by the Terran Front (later the Terran Coalition), in which many EFA military units also switched sides and joined the rebellion. The large-scale fighting took place after Terra's declaration of independence, when the new Free Terra defended itself against intervention attempts by Reticulan fleets and their subject-species running-dog lackeys.

Terran Revolutionaries - Fathers of the Terran Guard!
Remember how miserable we were as slaves under Reticulan rule! Glory to the United Terran Republic - Guardian of our Freedom and Herald of our Future! Enlist today in the Terran Guard!

Monday, June 1, 2015

XCOM 2 Announced! Terrans! Fight Back vs. Alien Overlords!

The XCOM series of computer games (the original game has also been known as UFO: Enemy Unknown) is one of the best series of turn-based strategy games, in which the player controls Terran forces fighting an alien invasion, be that from a base on Mars, from underwater or from another dimension (or an orbiting starship). The games combine strategic globe and base management with tactical combat in which a squad of Terran soldiers kick some serious alien ass. They are tremendous fun, and also highly inspirational for wargaming and RPGs, and one of the sources of inspiration for my Visions of Empire setting for Classic Traveller. In 2012 a remake/re-imagining of the first game was released, also with great success.

And now, 2K, the studio responsible for this excellent game, has released a cryptic web-page of the "Advent Administration", a supposedly "Utopian" government promising futuristic cities and gene therapy. This site was supposedly "hacked" by people who wish to reveal the ugly truth under the Advent's glossy facade. This is the setting for the next XCOM game - an Earth controlled by alien overlords, where a resurgent XCOM wages a protracted guerrilla war for liberation of Mother Terra from the alien overlords, as seen in the reveal trailer. Much like my Visions of Empire's setting EFA (like the Advent, a puppet government controlled by alien masterminds) being fought against by Terran rebels and the Terran independence movement. Though in my Visions of Empire setting, the EFA was overthrown relatively quickly by a mass uprising led by the Terran Coalition; the real fighting occurred afterwards, between the newly independent United Terran Republic and the Reticulan Empire bent on bringing Terra back under its control.

But anyway I rejoice at a chance to fight for Mother Terra and against alien slave-lords! Long live XCOM! Long live the UTR!

(on a side note, this XCOM game could inspire tabletop skirmish wargaming of small Terran guerrilla units fighting alien overlords...)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A visit to the Katzrin Reptile Center (in Israel)

 Yesterday me and my beloved spouse Einat visited the Reptile Center in Katzrin, in the Golan Heights. This is a large pet store which also houses a collection of reptiles and arthropods, especially snakes of various species, as well as Leopard Geckos, Crested Geckos,Madagascar Hissing Roaches, Tarantulas, Green Iguanas, Red Tegus, Blue-Tongued Skinks and several others. The visit was very enjoyable, and, despite her initial fear, Einat came to enjoy holding a snake and quite liked the hand-tame Ball Python housed there...