Saturday, June 17, 2017

What do You Mean it isn't Just a Liner: Armed Merchant Cruisers

By Source, Fair use, 
I recently re-read David Weber's Honor Harrington up to Honor Among Enemies, and I thought the idea of and use of Armed Merchant Cruisers in the Official Traveller Universe. Armed Merchant Cruisers are a type of auxiliary warship, converted from merchant ships. Generally, they would be equipped with older weapons, and feature limited fire control with no armor.

These ships come about because of commerce raiding as both the wolves and the sheepdogs around helpless merchants. The predatory ones, like the German Auxiliary Cruisers such as Von Luckner's SMS Seeadler. These ships operate under false flags, which are theoretically replaced with the real one to give the victim a chance to surrender. The other reason, like the ill-fated HMS Jervis Bay, are built to be readily available escorts and protection. Q-ships were a subset of these, smaller ships equipped to trap commerce raiders, submarines usually, with a hidden armament.

Thus, an Armed Merchant Cruiser exists because purpose built warships are for some reason unable to complete either commerce raiding or commerce protection and patrol duties. In some cases, you could find a peace time force of such auxiliary ships, especially in Navies looking to ensure a knowledge continuity in unusual craft, or as aggressors. A Naval Depot could include a few as part of it's defense and exercise force, or as part of a Convoy operations school that can be re-tasked in a time of war.

There is a couple of official designs for a Q-ship, also useful as an Armed Merchant Cruiser. First, in SJ Games Deckplan 3: Empress Marava-Class Far Trader, there's the Empress Arbellatara class variant, that replaces the cargo space with Rampart fighters. Another is provided on page 71 of Mongoose Publishing's Traders and Gunboats, based on the Type R "Fat Trader". These are both common enough designs a competent referee could set them on the players as a joker if the PC's have become a bit too ethically challenged. More may be in other books I do not own.

An Open Armed Merchant Cruiser would be operating as a Navy unit in all respects, squawking a Navy Transponder code, and operating as a normal patrol ship or as the escort for a convoy. In some ways, a converted merchant hull would make sense, as it would have similar performance to the ships it is escorting. On patrol operations, it could be set up for a longer duration operation (in-system performance).

The piratical LCDR Tom Dodge in "Down Periscope"
A Hidden Armed Merchant Cruiser would be looking more like a scruffy tramp or fat trader, and suckering in unsuspecting prey of a variety of sources. It wouldn't act Navy in any fashion, until it's too late for it's enemy to escape. In many ways, it's a completely legal pirate. It's a sucker punch like a System Defense Boat wing in the gas giant killing fuel skimmers.

Of course, these could be working together, where an open Armed Merchant Cruiser is 'escorting' a convoy of hidden ones, Most commerce raiders might consider turning tail when the entire convoy starts spitting nukes, and a large group of fighters are being launched.

In my view of the Official Traveller Universe, the Imperium is big and powerful, but just can't be everywhere. In many cases, local Dukes are unable to get the effective ships commerce protection, even in peace time, from the Imperial Navy, or else a world finds its commerce is under attack, and need mildly combatant starship of its own to ensure fewer merchants are lost. As I see it, the Imperium is more willing to give them Armed Merchant Cruisers than 'real warships', as they are not as emphatically Navy as a Patrol Cruiser, or a Destroyer. In some cases, along the lines of various other vessels navies have in war time, but prefer to get rid of as they are not part of the 'proper fleet' and offer opportunities for junior officers to show up their seniors. The subsectors and systems near the Vargr Extents (Coreward frontier of the Imperium) will have Armed Merchant Cruisers on their permanent Navy Lists, while those on the interior will normally see few if any.

Navies might not be the only operators of Armed Merchant Cruisers. A shipping line of type R's or A2's may buy an Armed Merchant Cruiser based on their fleet hull, as a way to ensure their cargoes get through. An mercenary Armed Merchant Cruiser could operate beyond the Imperium, supporting various small states against both pirates and rival small powers, particularly in the Extents.

In a campaign, an Armed Merchant Cruiser would be a different way to run a war, and to keep it at the players scale. A group of middle aged spacers looking to get out of a boring retirement would be a very skilled crew for one. Former Navy and Scouts would be the crew, boarding parties for Marine and Army characters, a Merchant type would add believably to the ruse of being a trader. Reformed pirate types would be useful as well; for understanding the piratical mindset better than some stuffy Navy type. Encounters would help the referee determine the course of the war. Successes help move the front along, but failures lead to losing the war. It can also be a mechanism to draft the party into the Navy, "Since you have been successful in this, we're promoting you, and sending you to a new cruiser," could be the response they get from success. It helps keep it at the Adventure Class ships level, where it's all smaller ships, and the PC's make the important decisions. The fleet units are escorting the Megafreighters, while the small Armed Merchant Cruisers are stuck herding cats forming Free Traders into a convoy.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Events of 202-1119

202-1119
            Sixty odd days of office work and trainers had them all at a head it seemed. The crew involved with was some industrial work every day at this point, but it seemed to involve little of Lt. Brickley’s time. He had been there for keel laying, when the first module of the ship was assembled. The secondary berthing compartment was attached to the frame for the cargo bay and the hangars that day, and construction had continued at a decent pace. At this point, the main physical structure of the ship was mostly there, only the beak-like nose containing the sensors, the fuel tank wings, and the missile magazine and turrets had not been attached. Many of the compartments were unfinished as well, and the power plant had yet to be installed. Brickley had made it a point to go there every day; but far too often (to him) it seemed his day wouldn’t let him get there. Brand, Chishan, and Zabiyah were mostly his on-site supervisors, with Hassan getting down there for most days. The two spacers who had been assisting them when Hassan and Brickley moved into the office, Able Spacehand Hall, and Fireman Kidd, had turned out well enough so far. Two more were coming in “Soon” according to command, but that could mean tomorrow or a month from now. The Marines, as well, were coming in time to be determined.
            Days not involved in construction often had involved time in trainers, and meetings. Trainers, though unpleasant, as they had several near mishaps in various scenarios, but each one changed as to what was incorrect, at least got the crew together as a team. That paled next to the fallout from the ongoing Spyridion Affair.
            Earlier this year, several officers had defected from the Solomani Confederation, the most senior of which was Alexander Spyridion. Shortly after his defection, he announced he was going on a speaking tour of the Imperial regions closest to the armistice line. He had been given sanctuary along with many of the other officers. Just over a month ago, an extradition request had been denied. Thus, the base was on ‘enhanced security measures’ for a long time, but the lack of people under his command meant instead it was just a security pain in the ass for that period.
Aboriginal Welcoming Dance
            This evening had a sizable community festival in Alice Springs. In addition to the regular sorts of events, there would be a group of ‘traditional Aborginal Australian performers’ from the Authentic Movement showing dances that originated from this part of Terra, when it was still at the AAB’s Tech Level 2 or 3. Quite possibly some of them would be incorrect, but it would still be an entertaining.
            That evening, during the festival, Brickley and Chishan notice something is wrong with one area of this plaza. The little shack containing rest rooms and utility connections for some of the vendors when the desert allows for a market, looks like there’s some extra space that’s unaccounted for. It’s a simple task for the crew to open this up, and it turns out there’s a manhole cover in here. It looks to be untouched in quite a long time, and preserved almost immaculately by being out of the weather in the desert.
            After opening it and descending two meters, it comes out to a narrow stairway. Using a couple of flashlights, standard issue to spacers on liberty, they find their way into a door with the Solomani cross as a small symbol, and the notation “PHX ALICE SPRINGS BN” on it. Brand gasps, “How could something like this survive? It’s from the Solomani Phoenix Project that was wiped out.”
            “You should know as well as anyone,” Hassan interjects, “The Army and Marines maybe good, but they aren’t perfect. I’m just surprised it’s lasted this close to the Base and all. Since we’re not on the clock, what does everyone want to do?”
            The crew discusses, and it ends up they all want to look into the bunker. The doors somewhat like an unpowered starship hatch, and despite the century of neglect, they open it. It opens into another short stairway, that comes down to a landing. Ahead is one door, and to the right is another. The door ahead is visibly locked, but the one to the right is not. It contains a couple of desks, and spots for a computer table. Upon investigation, a key is found, and can open up the rest of the bunker. The group finds the main bunker still has lighting power. The first door is a medical space.
Based on a plan from http://www.harwichanddovercourt.co.uk/the-war-years/
            “Wow, Rim War era med supplies, even an Auto Doc. With this crap, I’m surprised the Sollies didn’t put up more of a fight.” Zabiyah notes looking in there.
            “I don’t trust any of this equipment, it’s too old,” Chishan notes, “Let’s keep going.”
            A little farther down the hall is a supply closet on one side, that includes a diagram of the bunker.
            “Cryo chambers for some kind of staff?” Brand notes, “we need to get this back to NavInt immediately.”
            “But maybe there’s more gear here. A souvenir might be useful,” Zabiyah notes.
            “Note sure there is much use for one from this place,” Chishan replies grumpily. “Hundred-year-old Sollie crap, and you can get stuff that hasn’t been sitting in a desert bunker without risking your life.”
            “Enough from both of you,” Hassan snaps. “We don’t need to make many other decisions. Let’s at least take a look around here briefly.”
            “Right. Exec, we’ll take a look at the comms and stores first. I want to make sure there’s nothing lethal in either before we call in the Provost Marshal and other people like him.” Brickley decides. They take the left turn up past the comms room, noting the dusty mounting brackets, and see the sealed off cell for a prisoner. The Equipment room holds a few tools and supplies for building maintenance and manuals for the power system.
            “All this way for a janitor’s closet. They even have a Cadillac.” Zabiyah states dismissively after looking in.
            “Who asked for your opinion? The whole thing’s impressive if anything still works.” Brand retorts. “Part of me wants to take a look at the unmanned plant.”
            “We’re going to take a look at the main stores around the armory next. Exec, you Zabiyah and Chishan stay down, while-” Brickley starts to speak
            “A great plan except there’s still a Solomani alive! Long live the Cause and free Terra!” an unfamiliar voice shouts, and cocks an autopistol. He rushes out from the door at end of the dog leg, wearing an old style Solomani uniform with a nametape that reads “Kaufmann”. He wears a Phoenix perched on the Solomani cross as an insiginia.
            “Hold on, Private. We aren’t here to-“ Brickley begins as they turn around as a group. Brickley and Hassan are at the end closest the newcomer, Brand in the middle, with Chishan and Zabiyah at the far end.
            “Enough lies to Imperial Scum! I ought to put a round through all of your brains! Reach for the sky!” the man rants, his face contorted.
            Brand states, “You look odd. You know how long you’ve been frozen? I think something might have affected you in cold sleep.”
            “Silence!” he yells as he points his pistol at her. “Maybe I should shoot you first!”
            “Do you want to get back to the Confederation?” Hassan asks.
            “And leave Mother Terra in the hands of mix breeds from the Core like you?” Kaufmann replies, shifting his aim to Hassan. “I volunteered for this because when the War began, I found a purpose in the Army. And this way, I can hit the Imperium back harder.”
            “You know, the Imperium will hear if that thing goes off. Alice is the Navy’s town” Brickley replies, trying to de-escalate the situation.
            “Like I care. I just have to send a signal and Phoenix initiates,” Kaufmann replies, his eyes gleaming with madness. “Codeword Omega, and the war starts again”
The enslisted trio flee into the equipment space, and get out of the way while the officers charge in. Brickley misses his attack, while Hassan manages to grapple and disarm the Solomani soldier. Brickley moves to pick up the dropped pistol, noting the safety is still on, as Hassan and the trooper are still wrestling. Hassan manages to knock him prone.
            Holding the recovered pistol, Brickley, steps up, and places a foot on the man’s chest, pointing the pistol in a threatening fashion. “Listen, you’re coming with us, and there will be no grand success in retaking Terra by the Confederation,” he announces almost theatrically. “Come on out, he’s down.”
            After the trio get out, Hassan and Zabiyah work with him to conduct an improvised binding with a couple of zip-ties they found in the equipment closet.
            “Exec, Boats, you two with me. Eng and Guns, take a look and ensure there’s nobody else to surprise us.”
            With defeat obvious in his voice, Kaufmann bitterly states, “There’s nobody else. We were supposed to be a HQ section, and all the other lows berths didn’t revive properly.” The crew shuffles him out. Once out, the Marine MP’s arrive quickly to cordon off and investigate the bunker. It quickly becomes apparent that Kaufmann is going to spent a long time talking to various Imperial Intelligence services, before he is repatriated back via Smade’s Planet. They spend a few days getting debriefed about the whole affair.


Esperance/Solomani Rim                  147-1120

Count Willem Salacrou has arrived on Esperance to begin a round of mediation involving both Imperial and local officials.

"This is shuttle diplomacy," the Count said during a press conference at the starport. "War on Esperance would benefit no one, not the Imperium and not the Human or Vegan citizens of the planet. If I can help defuse the situation, all the better."

Dimmurak/Solomani Rim                  150-1120
Planetary elections have yielded a razor-thin majority for the pro-Imperial Iishadun Party, along with a great deal of election-day violence and widespread accusations of vote fraud.

Cheng Golok of the Interstellar Brotherhood of Labor stated that "if the Iishadun and their megacorporate sponsors think that they can steal this election, they are sadly mistaken. Under the Dimmurak constitution, the IBL and the People's Party demand a recount, to be monitored by neutral observers."

Late this evening, the Citizen’s Advisory Council issued a statement agreeing to the IBL demand, announcing that officials of the Imperial Ministry of Justice would be invited to oversee a recount and (if need be) a run-off election.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Adventure Review: The Kinunir

A snip of the Kinunir from p. 14 of the adventure for review purposes
Adventure 1 The Kinunir was the first official adventure published for Traveller in 1979, two years after the release of Classic Traveller. It's an interesting read, and it has some ideas. But here's what I got from it

For running, it's a very bare bones set up. There's three entry points, and it's largely up to the referee to get the characters from the entry to the adventure itself. It's a more bare bones approach than the current ideas on how to write an adventure. This is less the modern adventure with everything scripted out, more of a frame work to build into your universe.

In a fundamental difference, the Imperium is not as pleasant in this incarnation as it is later on. The Imperium disappears politicians it doesn't like and locks them in prison hulks. They ruthlessly use Ancients technology and Anagathics for the ruling class, and make it difficult for lesser nobles and players to get access to it.

Warships are built with imported components. The scrapped Adda Dubsar lays on its ways on Regina, a TL A world, fitted for a Model 7 computer. At least for its own purposes, the setting is implicitly allowing for equipment on a world to be produced outside of it's stated tech level. It can either be a plot point or something like current era ships built in China but fitted with Western weapons and sensors. I see "Tech Level" as mostly relating to what is commonly available on the world.

Also, we begin to see information about the wider setting. Somewhere in this Imperium is a Vegan Autonomous District-this won't be detailed until 1982 when Solomani Rim is released. For a J-4 ship presumably built in the Spinward Marches, it's a long journey in the Official Traveller Universe. There's also mention of the Fourth Frontier War, and Express Boats. It's starting to merge the small ships of the initial release into the large ships of High Guard and later editions. Also, Strephon and Iolanthe are mentioned, complete with UPP's.

Generally, this is an interesting addition to any Traveller collection, and a fodder for ideas as well. The Kinunir and similar ships can make give your Free Traders a real threat with out a big ship, or be Big Daddy for merc campaigns, especially if the Marines are deployed. It's setting neutral for the most part, and easily adapted. A lost starship is a great adventure hook in any science fiction setting.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Book Review: The Mote in God's Eye and The Gripping Hand


A fan build model kit of the INSS MacArthur in the possession of Jerry Pournelle
This winter at the instigation of Ronald Stepp on my prior post, I read both The Mote in God's Eye and The Gripping Hand. While The Gripping Hand post dates the publication of Traveller by over a decade, Mote can be considered a forebearer, as it was written shortly before the release of Classic Traveller in 1977. Beowulf Shaeffer from Niven's Known Space stories was profiled in Supplement 1 from 1978, so I think it may be a good influence. The Mote in God's Eye is the first part, and The Gripping Hand is the after the break.

Fundamentally, Mote is a book about events, and not people. The Second Empire has arisen, and in the process of establishing it's rule. A daring action leads the dashing noble officer Roderick Blaine into command of the battle cruiser MacArthur. Heavily damaged in this pacification action, it is sent back home, with two important passengers, Lady Sandra young woman from a prominent family conducting field research, and Horace Bury, a merchant suspected of starting a revolt. It is the only starship on the scene as an unknown solar sail spacecraft appears, and disables the unknown ship. Finding out it's from a non Terrestrial race, and this is the first time chance for a First Contact, the MacArthur and its passengers are reassigned, to the first first contact with an alien intelligence.

And what an alien intelligence the Moties turn out to be. A biologically casted species, who must reproduce or die, they are an excellent foil to humanity. They understand the technology of Alderston Drive for interstellar travel, but do not have the Langston Shield that allows human ships to take more damage and even enter the photosphere of a star. Neither party really understands each other is hiding something, like the Imperial Battleship Lenin at the only Alderson point that leaves the system, or the Motie Warrior Caste. The Humanity is just as alien to the Moties psychologically, especially when the MacArthur's engineer meets them. Humanity's lack of specialization drives some of the Moties mad, as well as our reproductive biology. Locked into their star system, the Moties are in an eternal Malthusian Trap.

The characters are not particularly memorable, as they fill roles in the story, and are archetypes for the most part. The big character development moment is for Bury seeing a dead man's space suit filled with Watchmaker Moties causes him to radically change his position, from resentful of the Empire, to knowing it is the only force that defend humanity from the aliens. The final resolution involves a blockade being established at the request of one of the Motie mediators once the truth of the Moties is known. The book ends with Bury getting blackmailed into becoming an agent of the Empire with an officer, Kevin Renner formerly of the MacArthur, reactivated from getting out as his minder.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Is this Some Vindication?

So this news came out recently, the U.S. Navy is getting its ratings back. Needless to say, there has been much rejoicing. I feel what I said back in October was accurate
Found Here. I don't own.
Having spent far too much of my life around the U.S. Navy, I project parts of my experiences on to how I see Traveller's Imperial Navy. I think that other people's experiences affect some of how they see their gaming. I read some entries at The Word of Stelios, and his profession comes up in writing about various historical works. His last line in one review was pretty much: don't pay attention to the details if you know about an era; you'll go mad, is important. Bellisario's Maxim: "Don't examine this too closely," from the famous TV producer, is another item to remember. I try to do this as much as possible in settings. I try for a 'just right' amount of detail. There's enough where I think it is important, but not so much I get lost in the details.

The hard part there is, knowing how much is enough!

I'm not sure where I'm going here, but perhaps, for some it's a way to make comments, for some it is to relax, and others, a way to open up and write. Why are you gaming?

Friday, December 9, 2016

Amber Zone: The Unseen Institute

Believed to be an image of the faculty...
Somewhere on the rimward border rumor has a small group of highly skilled, rather mad psionicists who run an effective near open Psionics Institute. The Solomani frequently claim it's in Imperial Space in the Dabei, Magyar, Solomani Rim, Alpha Crucis, and Old Expanses. The Imperials ususally claim it's on the Solomani side of the truce line. Those of a diplomatic bent claim it's on some backwater in the Reaver's Deep or Hinterworlds. What is known about them follows:

In appearance, it is a normal college from the outside, with a staff of Porters running well manicured grounds. Allegedly, there are far too often ongoing events that spill over from the Psionic talents of the staff and students to escape notice. Unusually, it is almost all men who study here with two exceptions.

The Institute is headed by a man referred to as the Archchancellor. A very powerful psion, he is a large fit man, apparently in his mid 60's. His talents include Clairvoyance and Telepathy. By his manor, he suggests the sort of upper class hunter who would have his own Safari Ship. In addition to his Psionic skills, his skill with a hunting crossbow is unnatural. Don't try and talk to him, he won't even pretend to understand you.

The Bursar of the Institute was once quite talented in Awareness and Telepathy, but was mostly interested in numbers. He still can run the books effectively despite having lost his sanity. Highly skilled and powerful telepaths from the staff are able to induce a hallucination of sanity into him, along with substances derived from poisonous Terran Tree Frogs.

The Dean is an even larger man, requiring two chairs to sit on. This powerful Telekentic and Telepath has two major jobs, attending various functions in the city the Institute is hidden in, and amplyifing any sort of crazy psionic affect in the area. He is rather found of trying martial arts, but the local instructors have been terrorized into understanding that you don't tell a rather powerful psion 'No, you don't have a clue' at their gyms.

Curiously, the Librarian is an uplifted orangutan(1), whose sole psionic talent is Awareness. The most pleasant member of the faculty, he enjoys going to starport bars, playing the organ, and is a member of the local police force's reserve. Only speaking in "Ook" and "Eeek", he nevertheless understands Anglic fluently. Rumor is that calling him a 'Monkey' is a surefire way to find the speaker in the hospital the next morning. He is one of the two exceptions to the Insitute's rule that it's adepts are human males, the other was an extremely strong young woman who gave of the aura you would expect of their usual students. Needless to say, that adept died shortly thereafter.

The Head of Inadvisably Applied Psionic Technology is the youngest member of the faculty, having just completed some of his own studies. He is skilled at Telekinesis and Telepathy, but is really an expert at Psionology. He's also the man the Institute ought to be having talking to the outside world, but this maybe intentional, as this young man is actively involved in a variety of projects inside the Institute, including a combination of psionic talents and high tech computers.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Nifty Things You Can Find!

Sometimes, in reading various Traveller groups and forums, you can find cool things like this "Traveller - in Two Pages." If you find yourself trying to get people interested, it lays out a great basis that most OTU players and fans can agree on.

Also, please don't forget your psi-shield when visiting the Zhodani Base. You never know what that psi might be up. (I am joking in this paragraph).