Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Dark Nebula - Back to the Roots!

I have been thinking about the worldbuilding and "4X" aspects of my Dark Nebula Traveller OTU variant. I tried to do the economic worldbuilding using Trillion Credits Squadron and Fifth Frontier War. However, both came out a bit off to my taste, filling the small two-subsector Nebula Region with hundreds of big ships and vast planetary armies. While epic in scale, and officially Traveller, they were a bit... Overwhelming.

Thus, I went back to this setting's roots, and will use the Dark Nebula and Imperium boardgames for this sort of worldbuilding. Just as intended! Why also Imperium? Because I think that some of the changes in the transition from Imperium (the original game) to Dark Nebula (the sequel) do not go too well with this sort of worldbuilding. Oh, and I also like Motherships and Fighters, as in Imperium!

So, here is my Unified Dark-Imperium Theory!

  1. Take Imperium and Dark Nebula rules. Other than as described in the following points, use the Dark Nebula rules as intended, with imports from Imperium as noted below.
  2. Turns are 1 years each, unlike 2 years as in Imperium/Dark Nebula. With the Phasing Player 1st Action/Non-Phasing Player Reaction/Phasing Player 2nd Action turn structure in these games, this means one major game-world event every 2 months of Traveller game play, as follows (approximate dates):
    1. Solomani Maintenance and Production Phase and Solomani First Movement/Combat Phase - January/February.
    2. Aslan Reaction Phase - March/April.
    3. Solomani Second Movement/Combat Phase - May/June
    4. Aslan Maintenance and Production Phase and Aslan First Movement/Combat Phase  - July/August.
    5. Solomani Reaction Phase - September/October.
    6. Aslan Second Movement/Combat Phase - November/December.
  3. Production also uses the half the Imperium/Dark Nebula rate, so production turns stay the same, and are thus faster (1 year to build most ships; 2 years for larger ships. Faster than in RAW Traveller but befitting the 5-year arc I'm planning.
  4. Clarification: as noted in the rules, ship markers denote squadrons. However, I am tempted to make Capital Ships (B/BB/B1/B2-classes) singular. So, a single Dreadnought would be, narratively speaking, as powerful as a squadron of cruisers.
  5. Clarification: the aforementioned squadrons include support craft, apart from transports,  tankers, and fighters, which are, of course, their own markers. This includes various logistics ships and small escorts, among others.
  6. The Imperium/Dark Nebula budget does not include most small ships. It deals with large combatants of strategic importance. Even a Destroyer, under this system, is over 1,000 tons in size (as in High Guard). All sorts of patrol frigates, couriers, customs cutters, etc. under 1,000 tons may exist below this strategic scale, again with the exception of large fighter formations.
  7. Ground units denote Corps (or Field Armies?) rather than the Divisions noted in the original rules. This seems more appropriate for planetary conquest than mere divisions.
  8. Use Imperium-style outpost/world markers. Such a marker is sufficient to control a planet.
  9. Income uses Imperium's Terran model: 8 RU per connected world; 6 RU per unconnected world; 1 RU per connected outpost; and 0 RU per unconnected outpost. There is no initial budget other than that.
  10. Initial budget is still 40 RU per side, representing existing assets. Each side also gets standard income on the first term, in addition to the initial budget. However, these initial 40 RU provide the player with ships immediately on game start, while 1st turn income permits the beginning of ship construction, which will be ready next Turn (i.e., in 1 year).
  11. Neutral Worlds begin with an initial budget of 16 RU.
  12. World markers, as in Imperium, cannot be manufactured. There are world markers on the following worlds:
    1. Solomani: Maadnin, Mechane, and Gazzain.
    2. Aslan: Kuzu, Blatta, and Vaxt.
    3. Neutral: Mizah, Karpos, Rim, Godoro, and Valka.
  13. Outposts can be manufactured and transported to target worlds. Neutral systems do not possess or need outposts. There are outpost markers on the following worlds:
    1. Solomani: Avair, Zloban, Llavia, Kamat, Icat, and Omoro.
    2. Aslan: Ikona, Bor, Xida, Rosa, and Panas.
  14. To control a system (including a neutral one), a power (Solomani or Aslan) requires the presence of either a friendly World marker, an Outpost marker, or any military unit in the system.
  15. Controlling enemy Worlds (including non-allied Neutral Worlds) requires the presence of an occupying military unit in system, after destroying all enemy forces in the system and Neutralizing the World marker.
  16. World and Outpost markers do not attack, but they do defend. The invader must attack or bombard them and defeat them, leading to their Neutralized status (in case of Worlds) or to their destruction (in case of Outposts). A non-Neutralized World or Outpost market prevents the invader from controlling the system. A World marker has a Combat rating of 10, again, used for defense only. An Outpost has a Combat rating of 2.
  17. Conquering non-World neutral systems is automatic, as local forces are insufficient to counter significant military effort by the Powers. However, to hold unto such world, the occupying Power must maintain a military presence in that system, or install an Outpost in it.
  18. Each Neutral World is on its own. This means a 8 RU budget per turn for each Neutral world, typically used for system defense (which may be hired as mercenaries by allied Powers).
  19. Missile Boats, Motherships, and Fighters exist, as per Imperium.
So, these are the ground rules. In my next post, I will put these rules to use to determine the initial forces available to each faction.

Friday, August 6, 2021

So, what's new in the upcoming Cepheus Light 2nd Edition?

Art by Jeff Kazmierski

The Second Edition of Cepheus Light is now in its final playtest and editing stages. It is designated for PDF release in September 8th, 2021, and a print release release in September or October 2021 (depending on COVID-19 delays). Both initial releases will be from DriveThruRPG, with a Lulu, and, potentially, an Amazon release later in 2021 or early 2022.

So, what's new in this Second Edition?
  • Skill throws are now modified by Characteristic DMs (modifiers), as in the Cepheus Engine SRD/Core. This also means that target numbers are somewhat higher. This also means better compatibility with the Cepheus Engine SRD/Core.
  • UPP and UWP pseudo-hexadecimal digit strings are now completely optional.
  • Character generation is now less random and more controlled by the players. This is similar to how this is handled in Stellagama Publishing's Non-Random Character Generation booklet, published in January 2021. The random element is retained by Event and Benefit tables, but most of the other elements of character generation permit greater player control.
  • There is no more death in character generation, but serious injury (requiring cybernetic replacement) is very possible. As is spending some time in prison!
  • Damage is now separate from the Characteristics, using Stamina and Lifeblood scores, based on the character's Endurance and Athletics skill, but not modifying the actual Characteristics upon injury.
  • Traits are now included in the core-book, rather than a separate booklet.
  • Cybernetics have been expanded, clarified, and systemized - and mostly moved to TL9 for the benefit of low-tech cyberpunk games! They are also cheaper.
  • There are now rules for building and modifying robots!
  • Vehicle data is presented in a much more readable format.
  • Vehicle-scale weapons are now detailed, for more complex vehicle customization and combat.
  • There are optional rules for simultaneous combat and for armor serving as a to-hit modifier rather than a damage absorber.
  • Characters can now suffer a Mortal Wound in lieu of dying in some cases, and prompt Trauma Surgery can save them.
  • If you die at TL9+, this is not necessarily the end! You can cheat death by (expensive and risky) Cyborg Conversion or "safer" but monstrously expensive TL16 Bio-Reconstruction.
  • Vehicle and starship armor uses a simpler system of a simple weapon class vs. armor type table rather than the old Penetration dice, which were notoriously difficult to balance.
  • "Advantage" in vehicle and starship combat was renamed "Position" to avoid confusion with the Trait-related Advantage mechanic.
  • Psionics are now an integral chapter rather than an appendix, and are expanded.
  • Trade now takes into consideration the world's traffic and travel risk, making goods cheaper on safe, high-traffic core worlds, and expensive on dangerous, low-traffic backwaters. So, if you want to make a profit as a small trader, you should probably try your luck selling goods to the dangerous Frontier!
  • Starship hulls can now reach 10,000 tons rather than 5,000 tons.
  • Starship drives were completely revamped, and are now calculated as a percentage of the ship's tonnage. Jump potential, rather than ship size, is also limited by tech level.
  • Power plants no longer use external fuel (an annual refueling during maintenance keeps your fusion plant running for at least a year). Fuel is used for jumps only.
  • There are now more varied starship weapons, including Main Guns (such as spinal weapons) to crack that 10,000 Massively Armored behemoth!
  • TL16 now permits force shields, both for personnel and starships!
  • The starship encounter chapter was redesigned, now considering system traffic and danger.
  • Animal generation rules were added.
  • There is now a Referee's Advice chapter at the back of the book.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Dark Nebula - Revised and Expanded Naval Budgets

Public Domain Art
Following comments I received on my original Trillion Credits Squadron Dark Nebula post, I have decided to revise this setting's naval budgets. First, all previous naval expenditure would be peacetime; the major powers (Solomani, Aslan, and Mizahni) began war preparation only recently. Second, I calculated 10-year naval budgets, as per Trillion Credits Squadron, for existing fleets.

I assumed that Government 7 has an average peacetime government multiplier of 1, and that all Aslan worlds, regardless of government, have a peacetime government multiplier of 1.1, warrior culture that they are.

So... What Are we talking about? How much budget for existing fleets do the various naval powers of the Dark Nebula have?

The powers' naval fleet worth is:

Maadin Confederation: Existing fleet worth Cr64,068,662,375,000.

Fastness Mutual Defense Pact (Mizah): Existing fleet worth Cr3,619,558,500,000.

Aslan Hierate: Existing fleet worth Cr44,861,676,750,000.

The independent world naval worth is:

Kindara Existing fleet worth Cr248,625,000,000.

Mir Existing fleet worth Cr20,400,000,000.

Enjiwa Existing fleet worth Cr132,000,000,000.

Rim Existing fleet worth Cr2,200,000,000,000.

Godoro Existing fleet worth Cr235,125,000,000.

Dno Existing fleet worth Cr19,337,500,000.

Drax Existing fleet worth Cr6,412,500,000.

Salan Existing fleet worth Cr277,875,000,000.

Irbev Existing fleet worth Cr2,565,000,000.

Kapros Existing fleet worth Cr24,500,000,000.


My initial concept for such procurement budget's distribution is as follows:

10% maintenance and overhead.

15% troop transports (depending on available Expeditionary Troops).

15% logistics ships/tankers.

20% System Defense Boats (SDBs) and Monitors (15% for Aslan).

40% offensive squadrons (45% for Aslan).

This assumes that the budget is after overhead and salaries/maintenance costs of past years.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Dark Nebula Troop Strength Calculation

To complement my
naval budget calculations, I calculated ground and expeditionary troop strengths for each world in the Dark Nebula. For this, I used the Troops In The Fifth Frontier War (History), article by Marc Miller, published in JTAS #10. That article gives troop strengths, in battalions, per population and tech level.

I have made a slight modification to the rules, noting that any world with at least population 4 (at least 10,000 inhabitants) has at least one defense battalion. I also renamed regular troops into "Defense Troops", and mobile troops into "Expeditionary Troops", and added troop strength in divisions as well.

The worlds with significant troop numbers (i.e., at least one division) are:
Kindara - 6 defense divisions, 1 understrength expeditionary division
Amani - 1 defense division
Vaxt (Aslan) - 80 defense divisions, 8 expeditionary divisions
Mir - 1 understrength defense division
Kuzu (Aslan) - 480 defense divisions, 20 expeditionary divisions
Blatta (Aslan) - 480 defense divisions, 20 expeditionary divisions
Enjiwa - 6 defense divisions, 1 understrength expeditionary division
Rim - 80 defense divisions, 8 expeditionary divisions
Godoro - 8 defense divisions, 1 expeditionary division
Dno - 1 understrength defense division
Drax - 1 defense division
Taanga - 8 defense divisions, 1 expeditionary division
Simba - 1 defense division
Mizah - 48 defense divisions, 5 expeditionary divisions
Gazzain (Solomani) - 80 defense divisions, 8 expeditionary divisions
Salan - 6 defense divisions, 1 understrength expeditionary division
Maadin (Solomani) - 480 defense divisions, 20 expeditionary divisions
Mechane (Solomani) - 480 defense divisions, 20 expeditionary divisions
Kamat (Solomani) - 6 defense divisions, 1 understrength expeditionary division
Bulan - 12 defense divisions, 1 expeditionary division

What do we learn from here?
Solomani (Maadin Confederation) and Aslan have equivalent expeditionary troops (48 divisions each, polity-wide). These are grossly insufficient for conquering Population 9 worlds (i.e., billions of inhabitants), but can conquer less populated worlds.

The Maadin Confederation has as many expeditionary troops as Mizah has defense troops. A ground invasion is possible, though this will be a difficult battle, as both are of the same tech level. Also note that even if it achieves orbital superiority over Mizah, the Confederation is unlikely to use heavy orbital bombardment, as they are interested in Mizahni infrastructure. This makes a total Confederation invasion of Mizah unlikely; a limited war to force Mizah to sign a non-aggression pact permitting free passage and refueling of Maadini ships on their way to fight the Aslan is much more likely. An alternative would be to encourage an insurrection on Mizah, then arrive to "intervene" and enthrone the rebels - another conspiracy ripe for players to get involved in!

Dark Nebula - Trillion Credits Squadron naval budget calculations

(Art by Jeff Kazmierski, used with permission)

I'm back to work on my Dark Nebula, variant-OTU (variant of the Official Traveller Universe) setting, published under Far Future Enterprises' Fair Use License in my Darkest Stars fanzine for Classic Traveller.

Today, I will start doing the math of the various fleets in this setting. Obviously, only polities with a Starport-A can produce their own navy, though well-off worlds with other starports can purchase ships for a local navy.

The three worlds with Starport-A's in this setting are Maadin (Maadin 0702), Mizah (Maadin 0304), and Kuzu (Kuzu 0207). This gives us the three naval powers of this setting - the Maadin Confederation, Mizah, and the Aslan Hierate, respectively. To improve its defenses against both Aslan and Confederation aggression, however, Mizah has entered a mutual defense pact with the other 5 Fastness worlds. While Maadinite media calls it a protection racket, this pact results from the Fastness worlds preferring indirect Mizahni leadership over direct Confederation control.

I will use the old Trillion Credits Squadron booklet to determine naval strengths. I took the liberty to roll each world's population multipliers.

The three powers have navies (obviously), as well as any independent world with a population digit of 5 or greater and TL8+.

The aforementioned Trillion Credits Squadron assumes a baseline Cr500 tax money per citizen per annum going to the naval budget. This is modified by a government modifier, which is further modified by whether the world is at peace or at war. I assume that due to the current political situations, all three powers - but not the independent worlds - are investing war-level budgets in their navies. All three powers anticipate war in the near future and prepare for it in earnest.

Note that the warlike Aslan have a wartime government multiplier of 1.5, regardless of Aslan government type.

Also note that I assume that balkanized worlds under Maadin rule have a wartime government multiplier of 1.3. Independent balkanized worlds have a peacetime government multiplier of 1.


Surprise! This back-of-the-envelope math produced BIG naval budgets even for such local powers!

The powers' naval budgets are:

Maadin Confederation: population of approx. 15,160,916,000 citizens; naval budget Cr8,161,622,277,500! (That's 8.1 trillion credits!).

Fastness Mutual Defense Pact (Mizah): population of approx. 983,615,000 subjects; naval budget Cr533,622,950,000.

Aslan Hierate: population of approx. 10,810,570,000 Aslan; naval budget Cr6,117,501,375,000.

The independent world naval budgets are:

Kindara Cr24,862,500,000

Mir Cr2,040,000,000

Enjiwa Cr13,200,000,000

Rim Cr220,000,000,000

Godoro Cr23,512,500,000

Dno Cr1,933,750,000

Drax Cr641,250,000

Salan Cr27,787,500,000

Irbev Cr256,500,000

Kapros Cr$2,450,000,000


Big ship universe it is! However, the navies still cannot be everywhere at once, as Aslan invest in large carriers and Solomani in large battleships, as well as massive troop/invasion ships.