Sunday, September 16, 2018

Hard Space rocket engine types

Artwork by Philippe Bouchet AKA "Manchu"
for Robert Heinlein's Time For the Stars
Torchship "Lewis & Clark"
I have decided to make interplanetary travel in Hard Space more nuanced than I have originally thought.

So we now have three types of rocket engines used in this setting:

1) Fusion torches. Used by starships and fast interplanetary ships. Can maintain constant acceleration/deceleration at high G (typically 1-G). Highly destructive exhaust. Ships with fusion torches use chemical thrusters for fine maneuvering (such as docking) where a fusion torch would be too dangerous. Such ships do not land, at least not in most cases but can "dock" with smaller asteroids. Unobtanium (i.e. physically possible but we don't know how to build them yet) but not handwavium (unlike J-Drives).

Note that the fusion torch is not a fusion power plant; in fact, torchships ships carry fission reactors for their energy needs (especially when the rocket is turned off). Controlled, contained fusion reactors are massive planetside affairs, to large and heavy to include in a starship.

2) Closed-cycle gas-core fission rockets ("Nuclear Lightbulbs"). Used by slower interplanetary craft and interface craft not intended for atmospheric use. Much safer than fusion torches while providing significantly better performance and endurance than chemical rockets. Such ships can land on airless worlds if they have a standard - rather than distributed - hull. However, still unsafe to use in an atmosphere due to the risk of radioactive gas leakage in case of accident or combat hits; thus, used for airless worlds where everything is sealed and radiation-shielded anyway. Realistic.

3) Chemical rockets. Used almost exclusively by atmospheric craft, as well as for fine maneuvering on ships with fusion (or even fission?) rockets. Inefficient but safe. Can land anywhere if they have a streamlined hull and can fly like an airplane in an atmosphere if they have a lifting body. Realistic.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Hard Space - Colonial Commerce Commission and Infinite Stars Cooperative

In a previous post, I have detailed the Trading Blocs, the Earthbound polities, of my Hard Space setting. In this post, I'll detail two international and interstellar organizations, the Colonial Commerce Commission (C3) and the Infinite Stars Cooperative (ISC).

Colonial Commerce Commission (C3)
The Interstellar Agreements on Colonial Commerce (IACC), signed in 2072 by the Big Four corporations and the three Trading Blocs. IACC set basic ground rules for extrasolar colonization and commerce, banned overt piracy and claim-jumping, and established the Colonial Commerce Commission (C3). The latter began as an inter-corporation arbitration body but grew to a framework of extrasolar corporate governance. It is not a government, as it does not truly govern individual citizens and holds no armed forces of its own. Rather, C3 is a system operating to serve the common interests of the Big Four and the three Trading Blocks - open commerce, avoidance of overt large-scale warfare, and preservation of the corporate order of things. C3's executive body, the Presidium, holds seven representatives - one from each Big Four megacorporation and one from each Trading Block, giving the corporations, as a group, a majority.

As part of the IACC, to facilitate trade, C3 also issues and regulates the common currency, the Credit, agreed upon and used by all corporations and governments.

Each official colony has a C3 representative, situated in its starport. The representative's job is to ensure compliance with the IACC by local corporations and authorities, handle complaints for such violations, and more than anything else - serve as a neutral mediator and arbitrator in local corporate negotiations and disputes. Getting on the representative's good side is highly useful for travellers, as such an individual and their staff often hold intimate knowledge of local corporate affairs, intrigue, and "job" oppotunities.

Infinite Stars Cooperative (ISC)
Starting as a loose professional association of deep-space explorers during the Second Generation of interstellar colonization, the Infinite Stars Cooperative grew to a tightly-knit quasi-corporation offering survey and courier services. In return for hiring its services rather than those of freelancers, the ISC guarantees professional exploration and secure courier services. Those who join the ISC begin as ISC employees. Those who survive several terms of dangerous exploration - the number changes from case to case - become ISC members and shareholders. Such members may receive their own "detached" scout craft and may operate as autonomous (virtually "independent") ISC agents. However, no one ever truly leaves ISC, and the Cooperative may reactivate a "detached" member at any time, or - more often - give such members special missions on behalf of the Cooperative.

The ISC "encourages" freelance explorers to join it, or at least pay a fee as "honorary members". This allows better job opportunities with the corporations, as well as preferred rescue operations in case of being stranded on the frontier. Rumors of "accidents" happening to non-compliant explorers have never been proven. The same goes to rumors about smuggling operations, and more than anything else - conspiracy theories, common on the internets, claiming that ISC has its own covert operations branch tackling supernatural and technological threats.

ISC also has the primary spacer journal, Infinite Stars*. It manages the Explorers' Society - which is open to non-members as well. This allows investment in the ISC by third parties. You can get into the Society if you pay the initial investment, or when a corporation of government pays for you. You then get the return on your investment in form of starship passage tickets.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Lovecraftian Magic in Traveller and the Cepheus Engine - Initial Thoughts

I am developing my own Lovecraftian magic system for use in Traveller and the Cepheus Engine. This will be especially useful with my Hard Space near-future, near-Earth Lovecraftian setting.

In a nutshell, under this system, anybody can attempt to learn spells by studying Mythos tomes; anybody can attempt to cast any spell. And there are no spell points or "hard" daily "spell slots".


  1. Learning spells has a Sanity cost. So does studying the tomes to begin with. Learning also requires an INT throw to successfully learn; failure means you need to repeat studying it, again - with a Sanity cost. The more powerful the spell, the harder the INT throw to learn it.
  1. Spells take time to cast; in many cases, hours. "Combat" spells, which are often weaker, usually take two full combat rounds to cast, and concentration might be broken if the sorcerer received damage while casting the spell.
  1. Spellcasting requires an Occult skill throw. Fail or roll "snake eyes" (there is no automatic success in spellcasting), you'll get the spell's integral "miscast" result. The stronger the spell - the nastier the miscast.
  1. The really powerful spells damage your Sanity on failure and/or on success (Commune with Cthulhu at your own peril!). So you can technically attempt to cast any number of spells a day as you'd like, and a totally clueless layman can try to learn and cast magic (with the usual DM-3 Unskilled Penalty), but the limiting factor is the risk you're taking (a very, very powerful limiting factor), as well as casting time. Cast as many times as you dare and as the casting time allows you - at your own peril!

Yes, this means that even skilled sorcerers will sometimes fail in spellcasting - at least once in every 36 spells (on average - the chance of "snake eyes"). This is H.P. Lovecraft's legacy we're talking about here - not Dungeons & Dragons. Sorcerers do not cast powerful magic casually. They may use weak spells more often, as the risks of failure for them might be bearable, but no no one takes powerful summoning and necromantic magic lightly.

This, of course, leads to all sorts of sorcerous disasters (read: adventures), as - for example - some utterly unskilled fool is just bound to try casting that 6th Circle earth-shattering summoning spell, unleashing something horrid upon the local colony!

The above were just initial thoughts and ramblings. I'll write up a more coherent magic system later on.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Hard Space: the Trading Blocs

So far I have detailed many aspects of my Hard Space setting for Classic Traveller and the Cepheus Engine, from spaceflight to history. Now it is time to detail the political "big picture" - the Trading Blocs. The next blog post will detail the Fig Four corporations, as well as the Colonial Commerce Commission and the Infinite Stars Cooperative.

Following WWIII, nation-states were too discredited and bankrupt to function individually. Furthermore, they had great trouble retaining much of their former territories. To maintain a semblance of governance, they banded together, signing trade agreements and aligning themselves with the rising corporate powers. These supra-national government entities are called Trading Blocs. Each Bloc is an economic entity first and political entity second; the Trading Blocs map to their backing corporations. On Earth, this is a corporate-government partnership. Off-world, the Trading Bloc is little more than a flag of convenience.

United Nations (UN): The original United Nations collapsed with the first shots of WWIII in 2038 and officially disbanded in 2043. However, once the war was over, China, Russia, and India reestablished the UN, at least in name. With backing from the gigantic Zhang-Markov Industries, the UN soon expanded, first to Brazil and South Africa, and later to encompass most of Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of South America. They extended invitations to the (formerly) developed nations of North America and Asia to join them, but it was clear to these nations that the UN is firmly in the hands of their old wartime rivals, and thus they refused, forming their own competing Trading Blocs instead. The UN claims much of the world's territory as its own, as noted above, but only holds tenuous control over much of inland China, Siberia, and the recovering South-East Asian jungles. It also claims the Levant as its own, but holds no power there, despite repeated attempts to force its political will on it.

Today, the UN is the most populous of the three Trading Blocs and holds the most territory. It claims to be a democratic regime with equal standing for each member-nation, but the Shanghai Arcology calls the shots (together with the underground Moscow Arcology and the fortified center of New Delhi), and Zhang-Markov calls the shots in the Shanghai Arcology. In space, the UN holds titular claim over the Coreward arm of the Solar Main, with 23 colonies, 15 of then new; it also holds 3 new outposts to the Trailing of Sol.

American Federation (AF): Rising from the destruction of WWIII, the North and Central American markets  began their slow recovery with the support of Iron Star Enterprises. Refusing to join the Russo-Indo-Chinese-controlled UN, the former United States, Canada, and Mexico joined forces economically. They later absorbed the Greenland, Caribbean states, all of Central America, and parts of South America as well. Power rests in the few central arcologies of Eastern North America, especially the Boston and New York arcoblocks. Behind this power lies Iron Star Enterprises, closely followed by the electronics and cybernetics powerhouse of Federated Robotics. The latter is not one of the Big Four but is very close to being the fifth corporation in line. The AF claims the entire North and Central America, as well as parts of South America, as its own but holds weak control outside the arcoblocks, and no control of the vast wastes of the former central and south-central United States. Particularly, despite frequent skirmishes and "police actions", both the Rockies Cantons and the Free Republic of Texas remain firmly outside AF control.

Today, the AF is the smallest Trading Bloc in terms of population and territory. Its federal regime is de jure composed of autonomous states, though the central arcoblocks enjoy the most autonomy, while the smaller urban sprawls, Caribbean islands, and South American states are little but puppets of the larger arcology-states.

International Commonwealth (IC): The European nations, Britain included, came out of WWIII in a bad shape, having much of the ground combat occur on their soil. To recover, they banded together to form their competitor to the UN, called the International Commonwealth (IC). It is de jure an open organization of nations, akin to the old League of Nations or United Nations. In addition to Western and Central Europe, it also includes Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as a number of African countries. De facto, London, Berlin, and Neo-Tokyo set the tone and the rest follows. The IC has good control of Western Europe and Japan, but little control over the Eastern European wreckage and no control at all over the wasted Australian Outback.

Today, the IC is the second largest Trading Bloc in terms of population and territory, after the UN. Like the UN, it claims to represent the interests of Humanity as a whole, and presents itself as a more "enlightened" alternative to it. However, in practice, it represents the interests of the Royal British Interstellar Society (RBIC), United European Minerals (UEM), and their smaller Japanese competitors.

The American Federation and International Commonwealth share the Rimward arm of the Solar Main, with 19 colonies, 13 of them new. They also control 6 new outposts to the Rimward-Trailing of Sol.

A new logo for the Den of the Lizard King

As you may have noticed, this blog has a new logo, by the wonderfully talented Hannah Saunders.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Hard Space - revised setting history

Here is a short historical background of my Hard Space setting. I posted a history two years ago, but this one is a revised, expanded, and edited one to serve my new (current) iteration of the setting.

World War III and Solar System Exploration: 2038-2063 (TL8)
World War III came about in 2038. Luckily enough, it did not materialize into the all-out nuclear Armageddon feared by many. Instead, the war dragged on for almost a decade until all belligerents were bled dry and exhausted by the long war years. In 2047, the war was finally over. The world was in ruins from prolonged conventional warfare and the few nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that did see use in the war.

All sides claimed victory. In reality, there were no victors - just bankrupt and impoverished nations incapable of conducting any further large-scale military operations. Politically, most governments emerged from the war at a very weakened state. They had very little support from the war-weary population. They were mostly powerless to do anything meaningful to reconstruct the ruins of their nations. Into this vacuum stepped the private sector, thrilled with the possibility of profit from reconstruction. Earth's collapsing nation-states no longer had the political power necessary to force taxes or regulations on the larger corporations. Thus these companies grew rapidly in size and power.

Bit by bit, the corporations rebuilt parts of Earth. Not all of it; not even most of it. The corporate arcologies and gated cities provided their residents with the amenities of modern life, unlike the universal poverty of the urban blight surrounding them. Rising in profits, the private sector turned its eye to research and development, as well as the industrialization of the solar system. In the late 2050's, these efforts bore fruit and resulted in a rapid succession of innovations, from suspended animation to controlled nuclear fusion.

The greatest discovery in the history of space flight came in 2061 when a dig of the Cydonia region of Mars yielded weird alien artifacts. This came after long years of rumors and strange accidents caused to spacecraft and ground vehicles in the vicinity of this region. While the Face of Mars turned out to be nothing but an oddly-shaped hill, the region itself appeared to be visited by extraterrestrial travellers, dubbed the "Visitors" or the "Antediluvians". They left behind cyclopian ruins filled with unexplainable and deadly anomalies warping time and space, as well as a plethora of artifacts, the function of which was never fully discerned so far. 

First Colonial Generation: 2063-2082 (TL9)
In 2063, research into Antediluvian artifacts recovered from Mars led to the greatest invention of all times - the faster-than-light Jump Drive. It was demonstrated by a historic month-long round-trip to Alpha Centauri by Zhang-Markov Industries's starship Zhen He. Very rapidly - some would say too rapidly - Iron Star Enterprises followed suit and launches their own exploratory starship, John Glenn, on an expedition to Barnard's Star. Thus began the first generation of space colonization.

Space is dangerous, and interstellar space more so. The first interstellar travellers found this the hard way, with high mortality rates among the early explorers who ran into deadly jump drive malfunctions, vicious alien wildlife - and soon enough, inter-corporate rivalry resulting in bloodshed. But mankind continued its march to the stars, despite the small size of interstellar ships allowed by the early jump drives. Colonies soon sprang out on planets orbiting Alpha and Proxima Centauri, Barnard's Star, and Ross 154, as well as small research outposts on rockballs in orbit around Luhman 16 and SCR 1845 6357.

With the vast profits promised by extrasolar assets, corporate competition grew to enormous proportions. In the absence of any effective government beyond Earth orbit, this encouraged cutthroat methods and led to bloodshed. Warfare began with privateering and small, but overt, mercenary actions. In 2070, it grew up to a full-scale war between UEM's Olympus colony on Proxima Centauri c and the Zhang-Markov Arcadia colony on Alpha Centauri 2f. The war raged for a bloody year. In 2071, mercenaries operating for UEM accidentally (or so the official story goes) caused a meltdown of the fission reactor powering the Arcadia 2A sub-colony. The destruction and death toll - as well as the bad press they brought - brought an immediate cease fire. This made the corporations pause and think - such warfare already began rising beyond acceptable costs, and threatened to destabilize the political situation on Earth itself.

The result was the Interstellar Agreements on Colonial Commerce (IACC), signed in 2072 by the Big Four corporations and the three Trading Blocks. IACC set basic ground rules for extrasolar colonization and commerce, banned overt piracy and claim-jumping, and established the Colonial Commerce Commission (C3). The latter began as an inter-corporation arbitration body but grew to a framework of extrasolar corporate governance. It is not a government, as it does not truly govern individual citizens and holds no armed forces of its own. Rather, C3 is a system operating to serve the common interests of the Big Four and the three Trading Blocks - open commerce, avoidance of overt large-scale warfare, and preservation of the corporate order of things. C3's executive body, the Presidium, holds seven representatives - one from each Big Four megacorporation and one from each Trading Block, giving the corporations, as a group, a majority.

Second Colonial Generation: 2082-2106 (Mature TL9)
In 2082, a transit station was built on a strange rock orbiting the dim brown dwarf HSC0801 (now Sheol), linking Sol to the Solar Main in a Jump-1 chain. This allowed larger ships to travel from Sol to the colonies. Together with the development of more robust orbital shipyards and thus a larger number of starships, the second wave of interstellar colonization in the early 2080's, colonizing seven new worlds, of them only two, orbiting 70 Ophiuchi (Tehom) and Gliese 667 (Agartha), turned out to be highly promising garden worlds, with the rest being more amenable to rare and exotic element mining.

This era saw a rise in local warfare and "police actions" on Earth itself. The Trading Blocks moved to consolidate their hold over Earth's devastated and lawless Wilds, and tighten their grip over the urban Blight surrounding the arcologies. They achieved the latter to a reasonable degree, defeating many of the urban gangs plaguing the old cities. However, taming the Wilds was a failure. Equipped with the best corporate-made equipment their limited budgets can buy, the Trading Blocks tried to force their rule over wasteland areas such as the Rockies, the Levant, and Siberia. They attempted to bring "rogue states" such as Iranistan or the Free Republic of Texas into their fold. This failed miserably. The Wilders - as corporate media often referred to such people - had no intention to be governed by the Trading Blocks. They had better knowledge of their terrain. They had much better morale than the underpaid governmental armies. By the dawn of the 22nd century, the Trading Blocks all but abandoned their dream of reconquering the entirety of Earth.

However, this warfare, as well as the horrible conditions in the Blight and the Wilds, drove interstellar expansion. People were, and still are, willing to risk the deathly perils of cryosleep to reach an extrasolar colony. Even though life is harsh on the colonies and death hides behind every corner, this is still far better than living in the blasted wastelands or shelled-out cities of Earth.

Third Colonial Generation: 2106-Present (TL10)
In 2106, research into the alien artifacts and anomalies - while yet far from bringing about an understanding of the Antediluvians themselves - gave scientists valuable insights into meta-dimensional physics and exotic matter. This brought about a new generation of jump engines, allowing both larger starships and longer travel ranges. This opened up new frontiers to Humanity. New expansion began in full swing, doubling the number of extrasolar colonies within a few years.

Today, in 2120, human space boasts 43 primary interstellar colonies. Most are very small in size, especially the remote ones, though Arcadia (Proxima Centauri III) does serve as a home to almost a eleven million people. The frontier is wide open, and starships are "cheap" enough for smaller corporations and all sorts of social and religious movements to afford. Criminals, of course, can afford them as well, and piracy is a blight on the high frontier... This is a time for daring people to go out of the Sol system and seek their fortune among the stars. Many, however, will find there not their fortune - but their untimely death.