The silly is thicker than a cloud of meteors today.

There's a little meme going around the Classic Traveller group over on Facebook, 
taking profound or iconic science fiction quotes and placing them on a replica LBB book cover. 
Here's my goofy little contribution. 

When the players get on your last nerve, nuke 'em from orbit, it's the only way to be sure

CT Character Experience & Improvement Revisited

Post originally appeared here 28 December, 2014. 
Reposted for edits and to restore proper authorship.

For many players, especially those who came to the hobby after the golden age of the late 70s to early 80s, the biggest "flaw" in CT's design is the lack of a proper experience system for character advancement and improvement. "I have to take 4 years of game time off and then I get to make a die roll check to see if the training stuck? -F- that!!!" Although the CT arrangement didn't bother me back in the early days, even I now tend to agree that there needs to be an easier way to improve the characters through play without allowing them to build latter day D&D style supercharacters.

I reviewed the various incarnations of the improvement rules in Traveller's editions (except GURPS and T20, which operate within the paradigms of their base systems) and was generally sad to see that the status quo from CT is basically maintained, with even more complexity added here and there. While I don't begrudge the designers and their probably quest for "realism" in the game mechanics, I wasn't totally satisfied with any of the "canon" systems, although, TNE's system came close, and seems the most workable and satisfying to the player who wants to see somewhat regular improvement in their character. Based on that, I present the custom experience and improvement rules I've been using for a while now, based loosely on the TNE system.

Alternate CT Experience & Improvement Rules

Earning Experience
At the conclusion of each episode of the campaign(1), the referee will award each PC a couple of Experience Points (XP), based on the following:

  • Survival of the episode: 1xp
  • Player went above and beyond to enhance the fun of the episode for the group: 1xp
  • PC made a major self sacrifice to aid the team or another PC: 1xp
    Peer MVP award (the players, not the referee, mark a secret ballot voting for their pick for the most valuable PC for the episode. They cannot vote for themselves unless they have a solid, exceptional reason.1xp
With the referee's approval(2), XP may then be spent to improve a character's attributes or skills. There are a couple steps to this process:

Acquiring New Skills
If a character wishes to add a new skill to his talents, he must spend 3xp and succeed at a 2d throw of 8+ (DM+1 if EDU 8+, DM+2 if EDU 12+). If the throw fails, the xp are not lost unless the unmodified throw of the dice resulted in a total of 2 (in other words, two 1s, "snake eyes", whatever your group calls a "fumble".), in which case 1xp is permanently lost. In either case, a failed throw to acquire a new skill results in that skill being unavailable to that character for 6 months of game time

A success on the acquisition throw means that the desired skill is added to the character at a level of (Skill-1). In addition, a natural, unmodified roll of 12 (two 6s, a "critical" success) on the acquisition check signifies that the new skill came naturally to the character and only cost him 2xp instead of 3.

The Inspiration DM rules, below, apply to new skill attempts.

Improving An Existing Skill
Most characters will not be satisfied long with skills of level 1, and will want to improve their ratings once they have the XP to do so. The method is similar to that for gaining a new skill. The xp cost for raising a skill one level is equal to the target level (Princess Vespa wants to raise her Vacc Suit-2 to Vacc Suit-3, this improvement would cost her 3XP). Then, as with gaining a new skill, the player must succeed at a 2d throw of 8+ (DM+1 if EDU 8+, DM+2 if EDU 12+). If the throw fails, the xp are not lost, but a failed throw to improve a skill results in that skill being closed to improvement for 6 months of game time.

A success on the acquisition throw means that the desired skill is added to the character at a level of (Skill-1).

The Inspiration DM rules, below, apply to new skill attempts.
Skill Inspiration
It is very likely that a character will want a skill that someone else, PC or NPC, has used recently and proven to be useful. It is therefore logical to assume that a character who has studied under another person, or even simply observed that person's regular performance of a skill will have a slightly easier time learning that skill himself.

Any time a character decides to forgo his actions for the duration of another character's performance of skill, doing nothing but observing, taking notes, memorizing, etc, he may make a 2d throw against 6+ to gain an Inspiration point in that skill. The observer receives a DM of +2 to that roll if his mentor is taking the time to actually demonstrate and teach the skill, which doubles the time it takes to perform the skill task.

A character may accumulate up to 4 Inspiration points for any given skill at a time, and these points may be applied 1 for 1 as positive DMs to the throw to acquire or improve a skill.

Inspiration points may also be awarded upon completion of a formal training class, self study holo-vid or computer program, or other means of education, at the referee's discretion in terms of cost, time required and Inspiration points gained, but the 4 point total still applies.

Improving A Character Attribute
Although costly in terms of xp, this process is fairly simple.

The xp cost is the attribute's target score multiplied by 1.5 (rounded UP)
(Our friend Princess Vespa wishes to improve her DEX score from 8 to 9. This costs 9 + 4.5=13.5 rounded up to 14xp).

The character must then make a 2d throw against the attribute's target score. Success means the xp are spent and the attribute is raised to the target score. Failure means the xp are not spent, but the character must wait 1 year of game time before attempting to raise that score again.

Inspiration points, in the form of tutoring, physical coaching, etc, apply, using the same guidelines as for skills, about.

XP do not need to be spent immediately, and the character will in fact often have to save up for a few episodes to afford the improvement he wishes to purchase.

There is one more thing you can do with an earned XP, though in the long term, it's kind of foolish unless it's a life or death situation.

Tempting Fate:
Once per game session, a PC with saved XP may spend one point to add a one die booster to any failed roll.
For example, First Mate Piggy needs to make a mechanical skill check to quickly (and temporarily) repair gunfire damage to the ships life support system after an attempted hijacking that got out of control in the engine rooms. If she fails, the crew is doomed, so she rolls against the referee's stated target of 9, and gets a total of 7. She decides to tempt fate and rolls one additional d6 to boost her chance of success and gets a 3. 7+3 gives her 10, enough to make the required difficulty of the task, and manages to patch things together enough to quickly head for a starport to get real repairs.

Tempting fate can also be used to lessen damage rolled against a PC, again rolling 1d, but this time subtracting the result from the enemies damage roll. In this case, but not the former, tempting fate can be used on another PCs (or ally or otherwise important non-hostile NPCs) behalf. First Mate Piggie can either roll to lower damage rolled against her, or she can attempt to save Capn. Hogthrob by rolling to reduce damage rolled against him. At the referee's discretion, the successful sacrifice of an XP to aid another character can qualify as "self sacrifice to aid the team or another PC" and earn the PC another XP at the end of the episode, but I'd be careful to make sure the player's dont abuse it. The attempt to save another PC must be genuine and self sacrificing, not just an attempt to milk the XP system knowing you'll get that XP point restored at session's end.

(1) For our games, one episode is usually the completion of one 4 to 6 hour game session. A shorter or uneventful session may be rolled into the next session to count as an episode, and conversely, an exceptionally long, grueling or action packed session might count as 2 episodes. The individual referee is responsible for deciding how often XP are awarded.

(2)Most of the time, we just apply the time honored concept of handwavium and allow the player to, if they wish, purchase the improvements they desire right when they get enough XP to do so, assuming that their character has been training, studying, observing a mentor's actions, etc and is ready to gain the benefits of a new or improved skill or attribute as soon as they can afford it. In exceptional cases (learning a rather difficult skill, for example) or for referee's wishing for a little more realistic improvements, the character may be required to return to a proper resting place, or library, or gymnasium, whatever in order to practice for a short time before applying their newly purchased improvements. I do not recommend further monetary costs to the character beyond those mentioned in the Inspiration points section, and we prefer to keep any training "downtime" to a few weeks at most (maybe a throw of 1d to decide how many weeks of study or training is needed?)


The Solomani Mind: Grassroots political activism in the Solomani Confederacy

Post originally appeared here 22 December, 2014. 
Reposted for edits and to restore proper authorship.

Although overall and long term governance of the Solomani Confederation rests solely in the hands of the highest Directors of the Solomani Party, who are usually kept divided equally between Home and Terra, with a third portion spread around various other Confederation worlds to prevent a possible mass assassination of the Party's leadership, matters of little importance to the Confederation as a whole, and day to day administration of individual worlds and settlements is left to the corporate interests that actually own those locales.  Some of these corporations handle all such affairs internally, effectively ruling the citizens of their settlement with strict yet generally fair and tolerable policies dictated by the administrators of that organization.

Other, more progressive Corporations and local Party Directors have found it both more economically advantageous and beneficial to the morale of the citizenry to preserve (or at least pretend to preserve) the ancient political systems of Terra, giving the people a chance to elect representatives to convene on their behalf to direct the policies of their settlement, as well as to petition the Party Directorate on various matters. This arrangement has led to the creation of myriad political causes and "parties (lower case P)" around the Confederation. Most of these factions come and go within a year or two as their members awaken to the futility of trying to change a nearly 5000 year old society, and many others evolve and adapt to changing political memes, but only a rare and select few, such as the Preservation party, headquartered on Luna (Terra, Sol) have the actual numbers and clout to genuinely influence Party policies. More than a few parties also exist only as public relations operations of local or rival corporate organizations, seeking to influence the morale of the citizenry.

A few sample parties are provided here, but use your imagination and consider how irrelevant and whimsical some fringe real world political causes may seem to those not affiliated with them.

A few sample minor Solomani "Political parties"

The Labor party:
The Labor party is the oldest continuously operating socio-political faction in Solomani space, tracing its roots directly to the Lunar Labor party on Luna in Sol system's pre-jump drive colonial era.

The Labor party exists to improve the plight of the common working folk of the Confederation, constantly petitioning local administrators and directors, as well as Party leadership itself in hopes of obtaining higher wages, safer working conditions and other matters of importance to the average citizens.

Most Laborers and leaders are down to earth, hard working and well meaning folk who, despite wildly variant views on larger social and political issues, band together for their basic day to day interests, though corrupt and opportunistic charlatans seeking only to elevate themselves as liaisons with the corporate and governmental interests on their world or colony are not unknown.

Other parties, common citizens (even those not actually affiliated with the Labor party) and many low level Party government officials are sympathetic to and friendly with the Labor party, at least grudgingly agreeing that the working man sometimes suffers to promote the welfare and productivity of the Confederation. It is usually only the administrators and low to mid level management of corporate organizations that actively dislike and oppose Labor party members and leaders.

The Social party:
Generally dismissed as idealistic, irrelevant and out of touch with economic reality by almost all corporate and Party government officials, the Social party is simply the current incarnation of a fairly constant yet ever changing theme in Solomani politics; the idea that the government and corporate masters should provide all basic needs and luxuries to their citizens.

Social party causes are usually focused on attempts to obtain cheaper (or, ideally, free) air, water, food and medicine for the citizens of whatever world or colony the party cell is active on. Less often, such luxuries as improved holovid network access, cheaper or faster transportation networks and other frivolities are the subject of the party's activism.

Most Socialites are well meaning and harmless, generally wide eyed youths driven by grandiose dreams but inexperienced in the realities of life in 57th century Solomani space. Although most corporate and Party officials find the Social party annoying, there is rarely any real ill will toward them and it is highly uncommon for party members or leaders to have any noteworthy enemies.

The Preservation party:
Almost as old as the Labor party, the Preservation party was founded almost immediately upon public awareness of the discovery of the Vilani on Barnard's Star in 2097 (Terran). Isolationists and social conservatives within the nations of the UNSCA feared that the introduction of alien influences to Terran culture would endanger the traditions and legacies of the people of Terra.

The Preservationists existed as a moderately influential force throughout the Rule of Man, when Solomani culture was on the rise and exerting its own influence on the other sophonts of known space, as well as through the Long Night, when limited to nonexistent contact with outsiders made threats to Solomani culture a less critically important matter, and it was not until the formulation of the Solomani Hypothesis and its confirmation by the members of the haut-Devroe expedition that the Preservation party blossomed into its current and ongoing prominence.

The Preservation party is directly responsible for the formation of the Solomani Movement and the themes of racial, historical and political patriotism common in the Confederacy. The Preservationists are closely allied with, though formally independent of the Party government, and often occupy low level administrative positions in local corporate or government bodies, granting them a fair amount of local clout as well as access to contacts through the Party government.

The Repatriation party:
An offshoot of the Preservationists, and one of the Confederation's newest socio-political factions, the Repatriates advance the cause of welcoming home the far flung kindred of the Solomani people, to include all races transplanted or manipulated by the Ancients from Terra to their current home worlds, with the exception of the Aslan/Fteirle, for reasons discussed previously in the "Solomani Hypothesis and Terran Human Supremacy" article on this blog, provided that those individual beings cast off their "alien" culture and adopt the lifestyle and values of the Solomani.

Obviously, the Repatriate agenda is quite controversial in much of the Confederacy, especially among elder Solomani humans. Old, deeply ingrained suspicions and prejudices are difficult to cast off, though the general peaceful success of the Repatriate party so far is having a slow but soothing affect on relations.

I want to emphasize the undertones of "preserving (or at least pretending to preserve) the ancient political systems of Terra".
Despite the similar naming convention, the Solomani Confederation has little or nothing in common with Star Trek's United Federation of Planets. The vast majority of Sol. citizens are in reality nothing more than living property of the corporations who control their home world or colony. 

The Solomani Party operates behind a carefully crafted facade of Terran patriotism, manifest destiny and traditional republican (in terms of the illusion of a governmental republic with a representative government, not the early 21st century political agenda) democracy, but in truth, Party directors are either hereditary successors to a position their family purchased (with money and/or loyalty) ages ago, or carefully controlled and monitored puppets for the powerful corporations, both Confederate and Imperial, with interests in the Confederacy.

A rare exception is the off the beaten path world of Tlaloc (Kukulcan, Solomani Rim, 2631), an agricultural center exclusively adminstered by the SolAg Corporation, operates as a true representative democracy. On that world, natives of the planet (80% Sol human, 15% Vargr, 5% other) who enter employment with the company are granted status as shareholders after one term (4 standard years) of work. Once a person attains shareholder status, they not only begin to scale their income based on corporate performance, they are entitled to vote in any of the nearly weekly polls that help the company management run SolAg and administer all aspects of life on Tlaloc. SolAg's Party operative, stationed on Terra since the end of Imperial occupation 3 years ago, is a stalwart supporter of the Labor party and a vocal critic of the less people-friendly Party directors. SolAg's rapidly growing influence in the food trade within the Confederation and beyond, including regular acquisition of smaller rivals, prevents other interests in the Party from retaliating against SolAg's critiques, for now at least.

The rest of the Confederacy looks more like a hybrid of the Star Wars Empire, where the illusion of a functional senate is kept to hide the tyranny of a corrupt Emperor and his cronies, and the Alliance from the Firefly-Serenity universe, where high tech, wealthy corporations run almost every aspect of people's lives, while distracting them with high tech shinies and sometimes unsubtle social engineering. 

Sort of like Neo and friends in the Matrix, once a Solomani citizen wakes up to the harsh realities of life, they often become bitter and resentful, and if possible, sign on with the next free trader that comes along and hope for a better, freer, life.

This article is based on material from "Luna: A Traveller's Guide" 
by Marc W. Miller, from Dragon Magazine Issue 87 (1984, TSR, Inc.)

The Solomani Mind: The Solomani Hypothesis and Terran Human Supremacy

Post originally appeared here 21 December, 2014. 
Reposted for edits and to restore proper authorship.

"It's now undisputed scientific fact accepted by all the starfaring sophonts of known space, except the Aslan(1), that humaniti and derived humanoids trace their genetic ancestry to Terra! We are the untouched and purest strain of human blood! Pay no mind to the insolents of tainted lines who claim that our late entry into interstellar affairs makes us somehow inferior to them, that logic is nonsense. We needed no mythical ancestors of the Chirpers(2) to hold our hands throughout our technilogical progress, we achieved alone what the rest of our scattered cousins did only with mentors aiding them down the path to the stars!"

 - Andrea Solomon(3), TNN Commentator, 184-5634 (1114 IC)

(1) One of the Solomani scientists involved in the haut-Devroe expedition of 588 IC, a genetic anthropologist named Viktoriya Begle, came to much more controversial and, many of her peers and scientists since then say, biased, conclusions than the rest of the researchers present for the expedition. Most of Dr. Begle's theories and conclusions were disputed or disregarded outright, and were not published among the official findings of the h-D team. Nevertheless, many Solomani loyalists, including more than a few high ranking Party directors, accept Dr. Begle's body of work as fact.

One of Dr. Begle's most disputed claims was that the Fteirle, or Aslan, as most humans refer to them, are not a naturally indigenous sophont race. Begle claimed that genetic analysis of the Fteirle and samples from other animal species found on Kusyu obviously revealed that the DNA of that world's prehistoric life forms had been modified with DNA samples native to Terra. Using methods similar to those used to uplift Terra canines to become the Vargr, Dr. Begle claimed that the Ancients had uplifted Kusyuni proto-felines to become the Fteirle.

This theory is rejected by Imperial, Fteirle and Hiver scientists, and even questioned (though never publically) by most Solomani researchers. Futhermore, confronting most Fteirle with the "Begle Conjecture" is a rather egregious insult. Solomani loyalists who accept Dr. Begle's ideas argue that the fact that the Fteirle declined to participate in the haut-Devroe expedition, and even forbade biological and genetic study of their homeworld's life forms by the members of the h-D team is evidence that the Aslan have something to hide, and insist that until the Fteirle allow an "objective" scientific survey of Kusyu's plant and animal life, Dr. Begle's theory is within the margin of acceptable scientific error.

It is worth pointing out that although Dr. Viktoriya Begle is something of a heroine to Solomani extremists (racists, to be blunt), she herself was decidedly not a racist or advocate of innate Solomani superiority. As a matter of fact, late in Begle's career, decades after the haut-Devroe expedition, she was dismissed from her tenured professorship at the University of Luna after the sordid details of the nature of her relationship with her long time associate and confidant Kfouzarra, a female Vargr long in the employ of Dr. Begle's research department came to the public attention.

(2) Rooted in a long history of superstitions and urban myths dating back to the infancy of Terra's space age, the Solomani as a whole have a deep distrust and dislike of the Droyne. This, coupled with the condescending attitude toward the Ancients and the races they meddled with, which is demonstrated clearly in Miss Solomon's rant above, leads most Solomani loyalists to refer to Droyne as Chirpers, the common name used for the Droyne's degenerate non-spacefaring cousins.

(3) Miss Andrea Solomon is a well known celebrity new analyst and commentator all around the Confederation, appearing as the host of a popular holovid program called Terra Talk. Imperials and less sympathetic Solomani view Terra Talk, and its host as angry, overly patriotic drivel, but the program is wildly popular and anticipated among many, many Solomani in the post Rim War years. Andrea is a blatant, raging Solomani racist and anti-Imperialist, akin to the most annoying fringe extremist "journalists" of modern day earth. (Insert your wacko talking head/blogger of choice here)

Miss Solomon lives and works from the TNN headquarters on Mars, Sol, and it is a little known secret that she is also the eldest daughter of one of that world's top SolSec operatives, making her a dangerous person to threaten or harm. Andrea herself is somewhat unaware of the exact nature and stature of her father's position, and is surprisingly unlikely to use him as a threat against those she dislikes.

Andrea Solomon (Andrea Fabiani) 5749BA
Solomani Female, Age 44
7th Term Solomani Party, Cr 200,000 (plus liberal access to TNN assets related to her work)
Administration 3, Bribery 2, Leader 2, Liaison 3, Streetwise 1

Miss Solomon is also a typical example of TNN's Terran Humanity bias and focus. All of the major, Confederation-wide reporters, anchors, analysts and hosts on the TNN holovid programs and XBoat delivered "email" reports use surname pseudonyms derived from the word Solomani; Solomon, Solo, Solomonson. The one exception is the Arrghoun language Vargr holovid anchor "Mr. Agzee", a pseudonym used by a succession of Solomani sympathizing Vargr celebrities and based on a rather crude Anglicization of the Arrghoun term Agedzllaergh, "he who returned home". The Vargr of the Confederation are uncommon, but not unknown, and the current Mr. Agzee is always wildly popular among them, as well as among younger Sol humans who are fluent in the Arrghoun language.

One last note: Dr. Begle's name is just a silly homage/joke re: Charles Darwin, referencing the sailing ship upon which he formulated most of his evolutionary theories.

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