Men Into Aliens

As we have noted before, with the barrier of light speed communication, in many ways  a colony around another star is almost an alien civilization, as we can expect them to diverge from us quite quickly, as these things go. This is something we have discussed before in the episode on the Kardashev Scale, cultures diverge pretty quickly in isolation and when you toss in options for genetic engineering and cybernetics you could get major physical and psychological divergences quite quickly.

So that is why our focus today is on Early Extrasolar Colonies. What the ones relatively near Earth would be like early on, not what some colony halfway across the galaxy might be like by the time we get their message saying they arrived safely, fifty thousand years after they sent it and maybe half a million years since they left. Possibly hopping from planet to planet, settling each in a long chain from Earth all the way out to the edge of the galaxy.

— Issac Arthur, Life in a Space Colony, ep3: Early Interstellar Colonies

This would make an awesome sci-fi scenario, by the way.

To Travellerize it:

  • Assume the Ancients were men from Earth, sending tens of thousands of STL (10% lightspeed) interstellar settlers for a thousand years before mysteriously going dark.
  • X thousand years pass…
  • A cluster of human worlds, baseline/near-baseline in genetics, discover the impossible: a cheap and safe FTL drive.
  • They surge out to find the other (often far more modified, genetically/digitally/cybernetically) human settlements, settle new worlds, avoid the super-hightech powers on certain systems (or kill them in epic and costly battles), and eventually found the Imperium;
  • Discover that the other Old Settlements have not heard anything from Earth for a long, long time, and set up a FTL expedition to discover what happened.

PS: Due to the sheer scale and power of these Old Settlements, the jumpships will probably be able to use the astonishing levels of power needed to make an FTL jump, and weaponize it. Incredibly powerful warships, coupled with FTL communication and artigrav, would give the Imperium a powerful military edge…

…for a time.

Now, about those cyborgs:

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In the Deep Background: Science as Directed Discovery

While reflecting on Marinov’s Science, Engineering, and the Kingdom of God (a good read), I am left reflecting on how the question of WHAT we want t0 research, determines WHAT we discover.

And in a cosmos of time, talent, and resource scarcity, we will discover first what we are looking for, and are quite unlikely to discover what we are not looking for.

For example, the Vilani are not known for their love of research and innovation: but they went out of their way and did it anyways… when the rewards were high enough. “Rewards” including the ability to alter or delete ‘unsocial personality complexes’, a stunt that would take decades of research and experimentation and, yes, innovation (shock!), before you can do it reliably and predictably and safely. *cough*

On the other hand, the Vilani saw no reason for looking for a weapon that would revolutionize space warfare, and so the First Imperium never put together a meson weapon, despite being quite capable of doing the R&D. “We already have the best only star navy in Charted Space! Why push for an innovation that would only weaken our superiority, and change the environment where we reign supreme?”

Or the Vargr. You’d think that they wouldn’t be able to discover a single thing, with their pro-chaos view of life: and you’d be wrong. Per capita, they have just as many TL 14+ high stellar worlds as the Zhodani Consulate and the Third Imperium – and more than some of their enemies, like the Yilean-dominated Second Empire of Gashikan (in 993: Third Empire of Gashikan in the Classic milieu), stuck at about TL 12.

I’d love to grasp how the Vargr conduct science, and how discoveries spread in the Extents. I bet it’s a lot more exciting than university-based symposiums and seminar talk shops!

Vargr science & technology definitely have their own flavour: for example, robots are typically poorly neglected (as they don’t give their owners Charisma). Pirate ship/raider naval architecture, on the other hand, must have all sorts of slick tricks and refinements that would make the Vargr raider the best in the galaxy… if they could collect all the scattered discoveries and trade secrets info in one place, after translating it from a horde of languages and conflicting technical standards.

But anyways, back to the main point: it would be what a sophont values most, what they are truly interested in, that would be the main focus of their research.

  • Social harmony or enforcing a social hierarchy (or both!);
  • Military tech & tactics focused on conquest, or extermination, or fast and hard raids;
  • Cheap and reliable vs. expensive and potent tools…

these are the background factors and choices that shape the world of the PC.

The Players are unlikely to notice it, no more than a fish in the ocean monitors the oxygen content or the level of trace elements.

But it’s there nevertheless, and if the PCs could somehow both read their environment and make that information work for them (in knowing their market, and grasping what tech would be in the highest demand here… or what local blind spots can be exploited), they should be rewarded for doing so.

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Something New, Something Old

First, I would be remiss not to mention the recent release of the Traveller Starter Set. It’s nice and fat at 336 pages, so I expect I’ll be getting my money’s worth… but a purchase will have to wait a bit.

For a re-release of something older but quite useful, I welcome the return of the Statterzone: Fleet book. It gives a good feel for a more brutal, harsh naval service, and I’m glad that a PDF version is finally out there!

Finally, another old book that’s been out in PDF form since March of this year, Hero Games’ Terran Empire: Adventures in Imperial Space holds a good deal of promise. Certainly, it’s worth a Referee raid for cool new ideas…

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The Beautiful Bronze Seas

While skimming Wikipedia’s Hypothetical types of biochemistry, I came across a beautiful image of a world with ammonia-based life, and an interesting description of the graphic, quoted below.

English: What an ammonia world, with an advanced stage of life, may look like.

Rationale for appearance:

The ammonia oceans, if it were just ammonia, would probably appear blue just like water. However unlike water ammonia can dissolve alkaline earth metals as if they were salt. When this happens the color changes. Dilute amounts of metal give it a an intense blue color, slightly higher concentrations give it a gold bronze color as shown here.

The reddish orange color in the atmosphere is due to oxides of nitrogen (nitrogen analogs for oxygen). Like Earth the atmosphere is primarily diatomic nitrogen. Unlike Earth it contains next to no free oxygen, but has nitrogen oxidizers. Most probably nitrous oxide, but it could be nitric oxide. It’s hard for me to figure out which would be more likely.

The planet would be much colder than Earth, so I depicted the vegetation as black to collect more light. Unlike water worlds like Earth, plants on ammonia worlds may not need to deprotonate water (or ammonia) molecules to get an electron for photosynthesis. This is because the dissolved alkaline earth metals release solvated electrons that can be used directly. This could free up photosynthetic plants to use a wider range of the spectrum.

Finally ammonia clouds and ice are white just like those of water.

Also, from the main article, a few pointers on the kind of temperatures & pressures of an ammonia-based biosphere.

A biosphere based on ammonia would likely exist at temperatures or air pressures that are extremely unusual in relation to life on Earth. Life on Earth usually exists within the melting point and boiling point of water at normal pressure, between 0 °C (273 K) and 100 °C (373 K); at normal pressure ammonia’s melting and boiling points are between −78 °C (195 K) and −33 °C (240 K). Chemical reactions generally proceed more slowly at a lower temperature. Therefore, ammonia-based life, if it exists, might metabolize more slowly and evolve more slowly than life on Earth.[46] On the other hand, lower temperatures could also enable living systems to use chemical species that would be too unstable at Earth temperatures to be useful.[42]

Ammonia could be a liquid at Earth-like temperatures, but at much higher pressures; for example, at 60 atm, ammonia melts at −77 °C (196 K) and boils at 98 °C (371 K).[34]

Ammonia and ammonia–water mixtures remain liquid at temperatures far below the freezing point of pure water, so such biochemistries might be well suited to planets and moons orbiting outside the water-based habitability zone. Such conditions could exist, for example, under the surface of Saturn‘s largest moon Titan.[47]

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Endless Space_2 Trailers

Rather interesting, from a sci-fi point of view. Seven strongly different major races would make for a different Traveller experience: especially with humans being in charge of just one major empire out of seven, instead of running three major empires out of six.

(Well, yes, there is that mess called the Vargr Extents: but that isn’t a single empire…)

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Unite the Imperium!

From Quora:

How was Japan able to invade and do so much damage to China when China is like 3 times the size of Japan? Wouldn’t they have a bigger military?

Eamon Dan, a native Beijinger

Actually China is 30 times bigger than Japan today, but things were different in 1937.

At that time, China was carved up by the warlords. The central government (the blue star) was controlled by Chiang Kai-Shek, Chiank Kai-Shek needed warlords’ (the Chinese names such as 马步芳 阎锡山) support to mobilize resources, in return, he gave these warlords legitimacy by appointing those warlords governors or generals. This relationship was not like the relationship between states and the federal in the US, it was loose and often malfunctioning. Not only the strong militarism Japan beat them, but also the weak communism guerrilla beat them too. In 1937, China was a castle built by sand, or in Chinese 一盘散沙.


Division

Assuming…

  1. A less destructive War of the Rebellion (1116-1130)
  2. No AI Virus  (1130+)

…the destruction of the Third Imperium could have well ended up like China in 1937.  There are a number of ways to get there from here: say, a less forceful, less determined, and less determined man than Lucan rose to the Iridium Throne.

Or assume that Emperor Strephon made even more catastrophic errors in character judgement, and appointed a second (or more!)  disloyal High Noble in critical positions. And then have the traitors work together, to carve up the Imperium among themselves.

But in any case, you get a situation that, by 1201 Imperial, the area that used to be called Imperial Space is full of poor small pocket empires, ever feuding, ever at war, and giving the common man no rest.

Unity

“And then, there arose a man of power, intelligence, and vision from [______], chosen by [_______] to again bring unity and peace to all Imperials.”

“The empire long united must divide, long divided must unite; this is how it has always been.”
— Lou Guangzhong, Romance of the Three Kingdoms,
14th Century A.D.

The PCs can be part of the major cycle of wars and political controversies (and hidden economic maneuvers) to reunite the Imperium and regain her lost glory and might, against enemies both external and internal.

Or, if they think they could handle it, they can be the Great Man himself: a Bismark or an Alexander, an Augustus or a Lenin, a Mohammad or a Mao.

Possibly, they could even be Solomani citizens, leading the Confederation conquest — peaceful or violent — of the various petty Imperial States in the name of the Race and the Cause.

(But I wonder if they would be as wise as either the Terrans of the Second Imperium, or the Solomani Aristocracy of the early Third Imperium…)

Limits: The Sands of Time

It is certainly possible that the PCs can fail in their quest. Or, their political cause may be victorious… but only after their deaths, a generation later.

Regardless, just like all the conquerors before them, the PCs will find their days of triumph to come to an end.

For a while, they will reshape Imperial Space in their image: and this is of long-term importance. It actually matters if the Conqueror is a pragmatic political operator whose in it to gain unimaginable wealth, a military genius who follows the Spartan Way and a desire to master all the stars, an idealistic transhumanist with a silver tongue and intuitive scientific insights, or even a Droyne Leader with incredible psionic powers, even stretching across the parsecs, worshiped by the masses (and more than a few of the elite!) as an alien angel from the Divine Stars.

It is ever so with the things that Men begin; there is a frost in Spring, or a blight in Summer, and they fail of their promise.
— Gimil, “The Last Debate”, The Lord of the Rings

And then, reality sets in.

The most successful conquerors really do create a powerful State that long outlasts their lifetimes, a true successor to Cleon the Great, or Peter the Great, or Liu Bang (founder of the Han Dynasty).

For most, though, things fall apart soon after the Founder dies: or a generation or two after, at best.

Perhaps there is infighting among the Ruling Class (which the PCs can be a part of).

Perhaps the Leader somehow ‘forgot’ to select a successor (see: Mohammad).

Perhaps there is an uprising from below, or an unexpected invasion from beyond the borders.

Or perhaps the wealth and privileges of conquests leads to a decadent, delusional, and uncaring aristocracy… and a resentful yet harshly disciplined populace, waiting for someone to put their discipline to work in unexpected ways.

Coda

Time doesn’t stop with the fall of an empire.

Time doesn’t freeze when an empire is at its peak.

Fundamentally, despite their power and might, empires are of secondary importance.

Something else is primary.

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Pictures to Spark a Story

From Quora: What are some rare pictures that we have never seen?

For that good ole’ Traveller feel…

I do fear God... but not dead Egyptian ones. Ask Moses the Lawgiver for details.

The unbroken seal on King Tut’s Tomb.

There is a point of decision every Traveller must make. The Referee should make that moment a time to remember!

Low-tech adventure! Can you imagine a chase scene here?

The building of the Nagarjuna Sagar Dam.

You can get a lot done at even a low tech level (…like the Six Subsectors, say…), if you are organized and committed…

For various values of “organized”.

The true adventurer brings wonder to the public.

Tires from the Antarctic Snow Cruiser.

An explorer should return to share a sensawonder with the folks back home.

(Especially the pretty ones!)

Travellers LOVE to pull stunts like this!

Mathias Rust’s Cessna 172 that landed illegally in the Red Square on May 28, 1987.

Travellers with a sufficiently high level of intestinal fortitude can do amazing things, even with a puny Sulieman Cessna!

In the Imperial Military, you never know who you are serving next to!

Elvis Presley during his service in the U.S. Army.

The Imperial military is huge: you never know who you’ll run into…

An explorer is an explorer, no matter which world he's standing on.

A grotto in an iceberg seen during the British Antarctic Expedition, January 5, 1911.

An explorer, is an explorer, is an explorer…

Reminds you of something..?

Pluto Ice Cave | DAVID HARDY – 1978

…is an explorer, is an explorer, is an explorer.

Rough neighbourhoods.

106-year-old Armenian woman guards her home in 1990.

Rough neighbourhoods like the Middle East The Empty Quarter are loaded with adventure, excitement, and danger: but do you really want your great-grandma to live there? Really?

There are reasons why there is a persistent brain drain in the Six Subsectors (a.k.a. “The Imperial Empty Quarter”). Everyone with smarts, talent, money, or connections looks for a way out, leaving behind… well, you know.

What was your childhood like?

A boy stands next to his riding boar. [1930]

It ain’t easy to set up proper, believable alien fauna & flora. Thankfully, inspiration can be found right here on earth!

(Good thing too, as you aren’t going to find it anywhere else…)

Hi-Fidelity!

Customers at a London music store, 1955.

Before the iPhone, there was the iPod.

And before the iPod, there was the iTurntable!

The real deal.

About to be executed by the Finns, this Russian spy laughs

There was a time when people didn’t kid around with spies.

Or cowards.

Or traitors.

Not even a tiny little bit.

Set the flamethrower to 'cigarette', would you?

Using a flamethrower to light a cigarette. The German army employed flamethrowers on the Eastern Front during the war

I have never been anywhere near a warzone (crosses self in my mind) — or even put on a uniform — but even I, a 100% civilian, have heard rumours of the ridiculous antics and lunatic stunts that are pulled off there.

A million what-ifs, in one picture.

A German soldier share some of his food with a local Russian mother

I will say this: if Hitler had actually marched into the Soviet Union to save the locals from the seriously loathsome Communist tyrant that ruled the place — instead of merely trying to steal the land and exterminate the locals himself — history would have been rather kinder to him, win or lose.

And if Hitler skipped the entire ‘kill the inferiors’ nonsense entirely? WOW.

Space travel = danger.

The remains of soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov after his space capsule crashed on reentry

A warning to all star-faring Travellers, everywhere.

I wonder who's standing in front of the Imperial Palace, at this very moment?

Drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and his son stand in front of The White House in the early 1980s.

“That’s such a stupid idea, Agovgvo. You might as well get a pic of yourself in front of the House of the Race on Terra!”

“Eh? What’s that?”

“It’s where the Big Man of the Humans-Only Club lives. In the high mountains of – wait a minute (StarGoogle lookup) – the Andes mountains, on Lake Titicaca. On Terra, a very wealthy and very powerful world… where the likes of you aren’t tolerated!”

“Hmmm….”

<The Vargr considers just how much Charisma he can get, if he pulls off a certain impossible stunt…>

Noble games... or is it Communist?

Human Chess in 1924, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Good to know that Insane (or extremely Bored) Nobles aren’t the only ones who have a taste for human chess.

Nobles like their guns...

Queen Elizabeth II fires a British L85 battle rifle (1993).

All Nobles – men and women alike – feel a certain closeness with their favourite military units.

New discoveries...

A black liquid called Coca-Cola was first introduced to France in 1950.

A Merchantman can cross 50 parsecs and two warzones for a rare tonic, but the true test isn’t the trials of bringing the goods home: it’s in the face of the customer, when he tries the stuff for the very first time.

Not surprised.

One for the movies: a stripper entertains some Wall Street employees.

Once upon a time, I thought that wealthy men were sober, stolid, sensible types, working day and night to shave off a penny of the price of their wares.

Well, I was wrong: at least after the founding entrepreneurs has left the scene, and the wealth-extractors, careerists, complacent heirs, con artists, and fast-talking glad-handlers show up.

Fortunately, the money won’t forever remain in the hands of these drooling fools.

But after the Bust… and after the next wave of hardened Puritan-types rebuild the wealth of their societies… how long before the wealthy elite again demand their whores and their liquor? A generation? Two?

(…and the Bible reading for today is Deuteronomy 28…)

All Travellers need a knowledgable guide...

A navigation hotline in 1963. Long, long before Google Maps.

There is a time, when every Traveller could use a helping hand… no matter the tech level.

“Better an up-to-date sketch up with pencil and paper,
than an out-of-date holographic projection!”

But can you run along the Emperor's AIr/Raft?

A well-dressed beggar running alongside King George V’s coach (1920).

Where there is wealth and power, there are well-dressed beggars.

When the time comes for the PC to stand before a Noble, it would be best for them to stand as independent men, able to make a deal… or leave it on the table, if it doesn’t measure up.

Power respects Power.

The Living reflects on the Dead.

Anne Frank’s father Otto, revisiting the attic where they hid from the Nazis. He was the only survivor (1960).

In the Imperium, life can get very hard, and the price of defeat can get very high… no matter how smart you are, or how determined, or how prepared.

Resilience, the refusal to knuckle under, still coming back despite punishing losses, matters.

Even if all you can do is warn the future, do it. Be the man, live to say what must be said.

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