Friday, March 25, 2016

IW 2 - King Saud's ice paradise

The licensees of Charter 22 are about to launch TCIV CAMEROON to Callisto. There, they expect to find a second hand Jump-2 drive to replace the old and tired one on board.

Shatah: Saudi colony on the fringes.
The Saudi royal family founded a colony on Callisto some 50 years ago. The colony’s main economic activity is intercept refueling for starship transiting through the Terran system without stopping at the main world. Callisto is a 100km-thick layer of ice (water and carbon dioxide) over a 10-20km deep subsurface ocean. Some 45K people, mainly arabic-speaker live there.   

Location: Terra, Escape trajectory, Terra system
Terran timestamp: March 11, 2170 AD
A stream of swears in Anglic, Chinese and Vilani float in space from the ship’s bridge as Jane realizes that she made a data entry error and cause the escape burn to be off course by 15 degrees. “Sorry folks”, she broadcast on the intercom, “our new ETA is now March 17th”. Two days will be lost using partial thrust to compensate or else the CAMEROON will become an Oort cloud artifact.

Location: Outbound thrust, 2.7 AU from the Sun, Terra system
Terran timestamp: March 14, 2170 AD
The ship smelled like disinfectant as if a platoon of neurotic crewmates went on a spring clean for the last two days. Tom looked upon the hold, rubbing the tip of his nose and dreaming of having a lift directly on board. He tried to know better Anika, but she showed little interest in interpersonal relations. Instead, she seemed single-minded on lifting the dirt on Rashid, their sole paying passenger, without success. Rashid, an underwear model for department store online catalog, was treated to tasty home-cooking by Aeryn. Aeryn, assuming the role of the steward, mainly improvised from what she knew about the job from sitcoms.

Diane was something else: she built personnel files and asked for everyone’s mugshot. Aeryn provided her medical assessments for everyone as it seemed to make sense. Molly, when she was not fretting about the maneuver drive and predicting its impending failure, was trying to make friends. She initiated games of cards, engaged unwilling others into light talks. Jane’s cabin was filled with three cases of assorted liquor. When she wasn’t working, she keept to herself, a tumbler in hand.

While the ship was tearing at peak speed, the asteroid belt required regular course adjustments. There seemed to be many unmapped objects still in this corner of the belt. In a day or so, the CAMEROON should be back into clear space.

Location: Shatah-2, Callisto, Terra system
Terran timestamp: March 17, 2170 AD
The underground Rouhabiah scrapyard was a dreary and dank place. An old man was shouting at two teens as unsecured material was gently tumbling in the 0.4G environment. Jane tried to look suave, but bounced too hard and would have impaled herself on a titanium rod had her nanoweave undergarment not been worn. Mammoud Rouhabiah was a pleasant man with a thickly accented Anglic.  Molly ran a few diagnostic tests on the crated jumpdrive and gave the thumb up. Mammoud eyes flicked on into haggling mode. He first refused to converse in Anglic anymore, forcing Jane to be the sole interlocutor. Jane and Diane played off each other, coordinating in Vilani when needed. Many times, Mammoud threatened to kick them out of his office, but it became clear that the old man was better at making small talk than playing hardball. The crew traded a defective drive and 750KCr for a better one. Given the 1MCr capital funds for this from Douala LLC, a lot of money ended up in their pockets out of this tangled mess of arabic shouts.

Location: Shatah-1, Callisto, Terra system
Terran timestamp: March 17, 2170 AD
After delivering the aluminium cargo and cashing in the pay, Tom, Anika and Aeryn took the mag elevator through 85km of ice to Shatah-1. Temperature and moisture control down here was much better. The place felt like a small town/diffuse space station. Signage was mainly in arabic and the crew clearly stood out. Aeryn lead them to a MMA gym to meet Hassan: an acquaintance. It was clear to Anika that the place was a front for some other, shadier business.

Hassan was friendly and helpful. He suggested a good hostel and advised to stay out of the way of law enforcement officers as much as possible. The place was loosely run by a Saudi King delegate named Abn Al-Bagdadhi.  Up there, Molly had damaged the jumpdrive brackets and informed the crew that the new refit estimate was 8 days.

Anika went for a walk and found two christian Nuns desperately looking for passage back to Terra. She roped them in right away and got Diane to draft the contracts. Anika poked people at the gym, looking for trade lots, and eventually got in touch with a shady russian bodybuilder bemoaing that he couldn’t move a 30 dT of military-grade polymer pellets. Aeryn passed along the opportunity to others, but the restriction that it may only be sold to UWO approved armed forces was a deterrent. They decided to take a pass.

Aeryn and Tom decided to take a room down on Shatah-1 for the next week or so while Chipper-Molly was fitting the new jumpdrive onboard. Anika opted for the quietness of her cabin back up the shaft. She scrounged for a handgun but got frustrated by uncommon they happen to be. Her only lead was to attempt to buy one from a dirty cop: and she also decided to take a pass.

Location: Shatah-1, Callisto, Terra system
Terran timestamp: March 28, 2170 AD
While the jumpdrive was finally secured onboard on the 25th, Diane decided to hang-on until the 30th to catch another freight job to subsidize the thrust back to Terra. They decided to wire the jumpdrive back on Terra so Molly spent 5 days embarrassing herself in various entertainment establishments. Diane decided to have some "me-time" and shopping therapy, Jane kept on looking for speculative lots while Tom and Aeryn planned to make the most out of the gym, maybe organizing a for-money fight on the 29th.

Character Cast

  • Tom Anders: Retired Marine, gruff, good hearted. Now get off his cargo hold.
  • Diane Ayetou: born rich and far less qualified than given credit for. Gets an A for A-fort.
  • Jane Calhoun: Business-like business end of things. Reluctant pilot, appreciate spirits and solitude.
  • Anika Kaprescu: Recluse. Did some time, killjoy. The ship’s cat.
  • Aeryn Lorien: Stumbling steward, athlete and nurse. Gets the ribbon for caring the most.
  • Molly Pepper: Engineer and ship’s puppy. Her giggles are wasted on the crew.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

What I changed as a GM in the last few campaigns

I deliberately the first person in this post because this is what I do, but I don't imply that these are beads of universal wisdom. I posted this on a G+ thread earlier, but I meant to leave it somewhere that archives better than social media.

I don't try to keep PCs in a party. It is OK to let them explore parallel lines and coalesce whenever. This requires people happy to participate in the discussion event when their PCs isn't in the scene. Players also may take over antagonist for the duration of a scene and often turn out to be way nastier than if NPC'ed. 

I use the FATE-like aspect approach. I make simple statements that players chose to deal with or not. Not dealt with aspect are guaranteed to be biting back at the right time. I dropped hints in my session report as to what was in before and after the session and you can see how the PCs dealt with them. Through their actions, I generate new aspects. This allows multi-step solution to complex problem, and give characters a lot of room to breath as far as story arc goes. 

I use mainly the influence check as a mechanics to resolve conflict. I keep physical combat down to a few key event that have a critical impact on the campaign. When there is a combat, ask yourself what makes this situation unique and will challenge your player's GURPS mastery the most. 

Players aren't PCs, I allow influence check against PCs and when they lose, the character has to act accordingly. This makes it easier for players to make sub-optimal choice without looking like dorks. 

I think of characters as temporary threads into a bigger braid: they can come and go. There is more chance for them to be knocked out of the story than simply being killed. My players actually like to be able to jump into new characters to be closer to the main arc until the tide turn. 

I am not a big fan of character point inflation. I'm cheap with them, but will allow to shift limited points (FATE-inspired move here), and won't shy away from granting expensive advantages (patrons, contacts, ads) wherever the players worked hard to get there.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Gravitic Tech and Society


When your sister hacks into the house's firmware.
Let's assume that it is possible to distort the space time continuum over short distances in between two parallel planes. The power output needed must match the total energy (potential and kinetic) of all mass interacting with the field. The force generated inside the field is counteracted by a force of equal magnitude attempting to collapse the field itself. A gravitic unit is thus made of a sandwich of a non-conductive hyperdense material that resists compression in between two layers of powered gravitic field substrate. The hyperdense mass can be tethered to an outside structure, thus providing a net acceleration in ways that offends many fundamental laws of thermodynamics (but is so convenient in a Traveller game). Osmium is commonly used in gravitic unit. We assume that power from fusion plants is nearly infinite.

Efficiency is better at higher area to thickness ratio, hence the benefit to stack many units along an axis. Artificial gravity for living space is another obvious application so as to partially cancel both microgravity and the crushing effects of 1G+ acceleration through space. Ships save energy by powering the fields inside its living space only when needed.

Obvious applications: Build a stack and tether the inner masses it to a superstructure to add kinetic energy to the system.

Simulating gravity (either to enhance or cancel) is done by placing the substrate above and under an open space. It is inefficient as the area to thickness ratio cannot be large (unlike in gravitic units).

Obvious applications: Within the confines of a defined volume, either cancel acceleration due to a thruster, or generate an artificial gravitational field.

Specifications of a Gravitic Unit

Osmium is about 3 times the density of steel, 8 times that of titanium and about 25 times more dense than TL10 plastics. Fields of up to 6G can be generated without damaging the unit, meaning that a mass ratio of 18, 48 and 125 are required to induce 1G respectively to superstructures of steel, titanium and plastics. 

Applications of the technology in a TL10 society

Let's brainstorm to identify how such superscience would be applied and change society.  


  • Sky cranes: Tricky high structures may be constructed in prohibitive terrains. 
  • Floating/unstable structures: Lighter structure may support much larger buildings.
    • These assume a failsafe source of power: A bad assumption.
    • Very tall structures.


  • Untethered lifts: Simple up/down conveyance.
    • Sky elevators in principle, if a shaft can be constructed.
    • Stairs are no longer necessary in reliably powered buildings.


  • Low ground pressure vehicles: Make all-terrain travel more practical.
  • Grav vehicles: Low-speed, non aerodynamic transportations unconstrained by road systems. 
    • Need for a routing system in high-traffic areas. 
    • Water features and topography is beside the point.
    • Vehicles may park high into structures instead of only to the ground. 
    • TL10 society is physically segregated from lower TL ones.


  • Microgravity beds: Can stand up, taking on less space. Ease blood pressure, water retention. 
  • Personal movers: Disabled people can now access everywhere using grav movers. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

IW1 - Advertising faux-pas

We had a very brief session. But we are sorting out how we want to play this game.

Douala’s Tramp freighter market, March 10th 2170AD 

The meeting with Pierrot ended by early afternoon. The contract for charter 22 was signed, but the CAMEROON was still in low-earth orbit at TSS Merkel. Molly, Aeryn and Anika bought a shuttle ticket and caught the burn upward just as the gate was closing. Some two hours later, they keyed in the passcode and entered the tramp freighter. Molly ran a few diagnostic, Aeryn . Aeryn checked life support then the kitchen. Anika looked in vain in the ship’s locker for armament, then established contact with orbital control to obtain the permission for a reentry to Douala regional spaceport. The last crew were smokers and the ship felt filthy. With minimal system’s running, Molly made the first of many burn and plunged into Terra’s atmosphere.

Diane and Jane installed their copies of the best trading assistant that money could buy on their shiny new tablets. Their next stop would be Callisto: in most way a backwater in the Terra system. The soundness of this next move resided in the availability of a second hand Jump-2 drive for them to acquire. While Jane started a search for speculative cargo, Diane engaged with the tramp freight bidding process. It was a slow day, with a small 17 dT shipment of paletted aluminum trusses. No less than three other tramp freighters were interested in going to Callisto on that day. Diane had to go as low as 10.3 KCr to get the contract. Nothing else was coming in the pipe for now. She shook her head in disbelief and went across town to pick up a nursebot that she scored from the surplus of an NGO.

Douala in the mid-day sun. Circa 2170AD.

Tom headed for the bar to score the place for passengers. There was a lot of people, but most were waiting for their chartered liner. A single man was desperately looking for a passage. His name was Rashid Meer, a department store catalog model trying to head back home in a pinch. Tom signed him up and sent him to Jane to sign the contract and close the deal. Jane got the deal signed and probed him for information on what would sell well on Callisto. He smiled blankly and replied that the most valuable thing on Callisto would be soon be a pair of underwear with himself in them.

Diane, concerned about running the Cameroon at a loss, dictated a snappy advertisement for passages of all kinds. Unfortunately, she figured out only much later that instead of sounding funny, the ad had a threatening tone. Shockingly, no one followed up on the disturbing offer.

Tom was eating a packaged sandwich in the heat of midday as Molly was testing the interior grav fields. The plan was to get going to Callisto, procure the Jump-2 drive and outfit the CAMEROON with it. This will cost the ship about 3-4 weeks of valuable time. Hopefully, Jane can score something worth selling on the remote ice cube. At the ship's console, a couple of people inquire about a shipment of ATVs that she has put a feeler for. Chatting with people 33 light-minutes away can be annoying. Diane wants to go and Tom groans at the thought of unloading all that aluminum crap to make place for second-hand 4-wheelers.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Finance 101 for free traders

These notes gather and consolidate procedures for this campaign for everything related to money making.

Tramp Freight Market

Relates to the market where brokers attempt to find freight for contract that cannot be honored by large freight lines. 

Finding a contract
Tramp freight market are usually public and accessible online. Brokers are usually willing to pay good money for last minute jobs, often at cost.  

There is no need to roll against skills to locate contracts, but a Merchant check is required to determined whether your bid is successful. Avoid high traffic routes, unchartered routes are particularly lucrative when there is freight to be carried. Special handling often pays more.

A freight package is defined by a mass in dT, a nature, any special handling instructions and terms of delivery. 

Important notes
Bulk content may require containers. Freight handling equipment/personnel may be rented/hired on site. 

Collecting money
Depends on terms. Payment usually made on delivery via an official bank transfer. The agreed freight fee is specified on a contract. A bank branch will confirm that a contract was fulfilled before issuing a money transfer to the shipping party. If shipping was subcontracted, the money is immediately disbursed to the actual shipping party. Leftover money is transferred to the original shipper.

Passenger Market

Free traders are usually less expensive than legit liners. However, high- and medium-passengers are leery of free traders.  

Finding a contract
This will usually require some form of search for customers and possibly a negotiation. Advertising ahead of arrival is most beneficial but difficult to coordinate. Advertising on site is reasonably effective, as well as direct recruitment. Keep in mind that people travelling with free traders usually have a good reason not to use passenger liners. Brokers sometimes dabble in passenger business.

Important notes
A steward can handle easily 1 high- and 4 medium-passages.  Medics should tend to low-passage to improve the survival rate of cryogenic travel. 

Collecting money
Transactions are usually completed before departure. 

Future Freight Market

Brokers tend to try to secure freight contract as early as possible. They will buy contracts for particular jobs up to 16 week ahead of shipment. Certainty is trader for lower markup. Shippers may sell a freight contract by winning a bid at current freight base rate. At any time, the shipper may put their contract on the future market. The process is the same as bidding to get a contract, but success and loss on Merchant are inverted.  The base freight price is set to the current rate at the time of resale. Astute speculators will use consensus prediction or Market Analysis to determine whether the base freight cost may fall and thus allow them to subcontract with less money. Once a contract is put up on the market, it may not be withdrawn and may incur a loss.

Consensus prediction: Takes a few hours, require contacts and superficial research.
Market Analysis: Takes a day. Can be done for adjacent worlds. Penalized by time in the future and supported by good Area Knowledge.
Buying sub-contract: Merchant and presence on the Tramp freighter market.

Speculative trading

Instead of shipping someone else's cargo, buy cheap wares yourself and sell it where it is needed. You'll need to go off the beaten path to meet market needs that are otherwise neglected: you can't compete with the big players. 
  1. Use searching skills to find a seller using the lowest of Merchant, Area Knowledge. -2 X WTN, +1 if weaker skill is above 12.
  2. The GM will specify 0+ cargo(s) by type, tonnage, and volatility. 
  3. Predicting sales price:
    1. Judgement call: Need AK-12 or more. Use lowest of AK and Merchant to reveal one of the 3 good reaction dice.
    2. Market Analysis: Need data and 1 day. Additional +1/day up to +4. Roll vs Market Analysis to reveal a second reaction dice.
  4. Find a buyer at the other end using a:
    1. Search as in step 1: 1 per day -3 moderate volatility, -6 high volatility.
    2. Broker with high inherent AK, but for a fee of 5% to 30%.
    3. Sell at 50% value to a local speculator for desperate situations. 

Information Speculation

Please refer to the post on Computer and Software to determine the value of data packages. Data value degrades very quickly. It can only be sold once as the first purchaser will be in an excellent position to undercut you. 

Other ways to make money

The sky is the limit! Different types of contracts on the side, dividends from shares on the stock markets. Short term loans to generate investment funds. Month-scale outlooks using Economics instead of Market Analysis. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

GURPS Computers and Software

This article consolidates elements from ultra-tech, Interstellar wars and some houserules on AI, quantum computing and the information economy.


  • Tiny: Complexity 3/5, 1TB, $50, 2A/20h, LC4, 0.05lb
  • Small: Complexity 4/6, 10TB, $100, 2B/20h, LC4, 0.5lb
  • Tower: Complexity 5/7, 100TB, $1000, 2C/20h, LC4, 5lb
  • Microframe: Complexity 6/8, 1000TB, $10,000, LC3, 40lb
  • Mainframe: Complexity 7/9, 10,000TB, $100,000, LC3, 400lb
  • Macroframe: Complexity 8/10, 100,000TB, $1,000,000, LC3, 4,000lb
  • Megacomputer: Complexity 9/11, 1,000,000TB, $10,000,000, LC3, 40,000lb

The complexities are listed for TL9/TL10.

Hardware Modifiers

  • Compact: cost X 2, wts / 2, power / 2
  • Fast: cost X 20, +1 complexity
  • Genius: cost X 500, +2 complexity, LC-1
  • Hardened: HT+3, cost X 2, wt X 2
  • High-capacity: cost X 1.5, 50% more
  • Printed: -1 complexity, storage / 1000
  • Quantum: cost X 10, wts X 2, LC-1 (Volitional systems, NP-complete computations)
  • Neural: cost X 2 (Dedicated and Non-volitional AI @ +1 complexity)
  • Slow: -1 complexity, store/10, cost/20 
Notes: Without Quantum computation, volitional AIs and NP-complete computations (combinatorial number crunching) are running at an effective -1 complexity.

Artificial intelligence agents

Volitional AI: Driven by self-preservation, personality quirks, loyalties and personal aim. Would refuse to stand down as they can't be serialized. Capable of initiative, creative endeavour and non-expert IQ-based influence skills. Require quantum computers. Capable of inventions.
Complexity/(IQ/2)+3. LC4 for IQ8 and less, LC3 for IQ9-IQ14
In practice: Treat as a NPC, will gain cp on skills and act as an incorporeal character. Will use existing software as any other user.

Non-volitional AI: Treat as expert system operating across multiple software application to perform a task. Will react to uncertainty according to doctrine and operator's intent. Simulated personality would pass the Turing test, but have no concept of self. Past experience can be serialized. Multitasking. 
LC4, Complexity/(IQ/2)+2 (LC3 for IQ12+ or Complexity/10+)
In practice: Assign to a task and communicate intentions. The AI agent will operate the appropriate software as a character to the best of its ability and knowledge. Will gain cps on the AI agent side of the software.

Dedicated AI: deep-learning based agents. Capable of performing supporting parallel tasks, monitoring long tasks and pattern discovery with fixed input/output sets. Single tasking.
In practice: Assign to a single software application to perform a supporting task. Will acquire cps from experience.

AI are always assumed to have 1cp to a skill and never roll at default. For skill progression, award cps regularly, or award a cp for every 200 hours of operation if 3d6 > skill level.

Software systems

Basic: Minimal requirement to perform IQ-based TL9+ skill check.  Complexity/2 (E), Complexity/3 otherwise.

Good: Confers a +1 in support of skill checks. Priced as listed on p.164 of GURPS IW (The prices in Ultra-tech are ridiculously low). Complexity/4 (E), Complexity/5 otherwise.

Fine: Confers +2 in support of skill checks.  Complexity/6 (E), Complexity/7 otherwise.

Expert Systems

Expert systems are built-in dedicated AI for a particular application. To achieve Skill-12, a system must be Complexity/3 (E), Complexity/4 (A), Complexity/5 (H) and Complexity/6 (VH).  Any increase of complexity by 1 also increases its skill level by 1.

Example: A computer may have a fine support software for Market Analysis (IQ/H). This is a Complexity/7 software that costs $20K at TL10 and confers +2 to Market Analysis skill checks. Likewise, an expert system for Market analysis at Complexity/7 would be Market Analysis-14 and could run autonomously using its own dedicated AI. Unless the ship's trader has Market Analysis-11 or lower, it is better to invest in a support system than an agent.

Data packages

Data packages are special expert system that determine the upper bound of skills relying on knowledge. Research, Politics, Current Events and History are limited by the level of detail of a data packet. The price of data is less than procedural software as it expires. A packet is specific to a particular system.
  • Complexity/3 : Skill-12 $10, 0.01Gb
  • Complexity/4: Skill-13 $30, 0.1Gb
  • Complexity/5 : Skill-14 $100, 1Gb
  • Complexity/6: Skill-15 $300, 10Gb
  • Complexity/7 : Skill-16 $1,000, 100Gb
  • Complexity/8: Skill-17 $3,000, 1Tb
  • Complexity/9: Skill-18 $10,000, 10Tb (Public access level for online Internet)
  • Complexity/10: Skill-22 $30,000, 1 Pb (Privileged and proprietary access to live network)

Time thresholds for degradation:

  • 2 weeks: Current-Affairs, Market Analysis
  • 1 month: Economics
  • 1 year: Politics, Area Knowledge
  • 5 years: History
The effective skill level is degraded by 1 for every threshold reached. Information can be traded when very fresh: -4 to Merchant per threshold. +1 Merchant per jump-2 distance.

Example: When landed and connected to the local WAN, consider the data package to be current and of skill cap 18. Before leaving the system, the analyst purchase a Complexity/7 package (100Gb, $1000).  Six week later, any market analysis is done at Market Analysis-14, Economics-15 and Area Knowledge still at 16. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Callisto (Moon)


Callisto is a 50 y.o. terran colony built barely outside of the 100D line from Jupiter. Its mainstay economy is fast refueling of traffic going through Terra but not heading to the mainworld. An auxiliary economy based on the harvest of rare metal at the bottom of its subsurface ocean.  

Data Block

Physical: Diameter: 2,400Km (0.4 Earth); Gravity: 0.127G; Type: Frozen(Ice); Temperature: 134K (Frozen); Atmosphere: Trace; Other: Tidal locked;

CommercialWTN: 3.0; Gravity: 0.127G; Code: Ni, Na, Ex; Starport: Class II 1 downport, 1 refueling orbital station;  

Shatah colony

Population: 44K; EnvironmentTerrain: underground (ice); Hygiene: +1; CultureLanguage: Terra(Middle-East); Language: Anglic, Arabic; Literacy: Normal; TL: 9; Wealth: Average; Status: 0-3;  PoliticsGovernment: Corporate Administration; CR: 3; Military: --;  DB: +4; 

Shatah-1: Main colony (35K). Located 85Km under the surface. Home of civil administration. Homogeneously muslim. Local diet made of imported goods and locally grown autotrophic biomass from the depth of the subsurface ocean.

Shatah-2: Lowport (8K). Located 100m under the surface. Starport operations, scrapyards, and limited engineering capacity.  Magrail elevator to Shatah-1 and Gaussian Orbital canon for freight. 

Shatah-3: Corporate Mining Venture (1.5K). Run by Callisto Prospectorate LLC. Built on the ocean floor. Reachable only via submarines. 

Shatah-5: Remote nuclear fusion plant powering the entire planet. Location undisclosed. 


Shatah was founded by Saudi interest and populated with middle-eastern colonists. The moon is covered by 100km of ice (Water, carbon dioxide, volatile compounds). The moon is under regular bombardment by meteorites. As a result, the installations are all carved under at least 100m of the moon's crust. The bulk of the colony is, however, located near the ceiling of the subsurface ocean.

The main economic activity is the fast-refueling service allowing transient traffic to be intercepted out of the 100D line of Jupiter. The interceptors are refueling drones propelled from Callisto using gaussian accelerators.