Thrill-seeking Tourists

From Thrill-Seeking Chinese Tourists Rush To Visit North Korea “Before The Regime Collapses”

While nearly two-thirds of Americans view North Korea as a “serious threat” and most would rather vacation literally anywhere else following the death of college student Otto Warmbier, Chinese adventure-seekers are visiting the North in ever-greater numbers, according to Reuters. The wave of tourism has been inspired by the fear that the latest escalation between Pyongyang and Washington might lead to the toppling of the Kim regime, which has successfully kept the forces of modernization at bay for decades, offering tourists a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse into the past that some say reminds them of a “young” China.

North Korea has become a favorite destination among wealthier, more adventurous Chinese travelers. Another tour operator who targets the affluent said he’s been fielding more questions about whether it’s safe to visit the North, Reuters reported.

 “But those that inquire often already have their heart set on going,” the operator, who declined to be named, told Reuters. “The idea of a bit of danger adds to the thrill and mystery of North Korea.”

While the looming threat of nuclear annihilation is keeping some tourists at bay, more daring travelers say they are trying to visit the North before regime change brings the country into the 21st century, according to one tour guide.

“There have been quite a few tourists in my groups who say they want to see North Korea in its reclusive state while they can,” he said.

“It won’t be the same if the regime collapses.”


Few of the Chinese who spoke to Reuters were concerned about the North’s missile tests, or the economic sanctions imposed by the UN. Most said they saw the opportunity to visit a “piece of history” as too attractive to pass up.

“Undeterred by escalating tensions between Pyongyang and Washington rattling nerves globally, a steady stream of tourists from China each morning passes through the immigration checkpoint at the border trading hub of Dandong.

Greeting them on the North Korean side are dozens of tour buses, collecting them for itineraries ranging from a day in neighboring Sinijiu to a week visiting North Korea’s main cities, including the capital Pyongyang.

“We’re curious. We want to see how they live,” Xu Juan said on Thursday before crossing the Yalu River, which marks the border between the two countries. Xu was traveling with friends and family from Hangzhou, in eastern China.

“I just want the sense of nostalgia, to see a country that is poor, like (China was) when I was young,” said a man in his early 50s, from Jilin province, declining to give his name.”

Discovering your PCs starship has become a magnet for insane tourists who love playing chicken with thermonuclear missiles could be very profitable.

On the other hand, your insurance costs are going to skyrocket.

Decisions, decisions….

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The Quiet Revolution

Or, “Life in the late 21st century”.

Depending on how you peg your tech levels — robots? FTL? Energy production? — that lifestyle, as depicted in the video, could be anywhere between TL 8 and 13.

Officially, Traveller focuses on FTL range to determine technology levels.

However, if you assume that we will never get FTL travel, and yet we will advance in all other areas beyond what was imagined in 1977, we will have to ignore the official TLs to a certain extent.

This decision is actually significant: Traveller TL reflects the importance of FTL travel in the fictional Traveller universe. And it even serves as the divide between a major race (who invented Jump technology on their own) and a minor race (who didn’t).

So what happens if a PC discovers a ‘minor’ race who never discovered jumpdrives, but in all other ways live at about TL 35, complete with Dyson swarms?

And whose population numbers in the quintillions?

An interesting question.
The Referee can divide what happens into a few segments:

  1. Post-discovery, but before formal contact
  2. Contact is made, but the ‘minor’ race hasn’t reversed engineered jump drives yet.
  3. This ‘minor’ race re-engineers jumpdrives, and simply explodes all across Charted Space… and far beyond.
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Science, Oddball and Terrifying

The different scales of life is actually interesting, and pretty important for various scientific researchers and Scouts to keep in mind.

(Except scaled up, to include various huge things living in Jovian worlds. Depending on your Traveller universe, put in a few more zeros to include living worlds and interplanetary-scale lifeforms.)

For most Travellers though – in it for the money, or for the fighting – the scale of living things isn’t so important.

THIS, on the other hand, is a nice little problem for a super-heroic high-powered Traveller adventure group — “The Emperor’s Troubleshooters”, say, or whatever the local campaign’s version of Special Circumstances is — to deal with.

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Music: Zach Hemsey

Yes, I discovered him the same way most did: by that wonderful Breaking Bad video on the Evolution of Walter White

It would be difficult to translate Breaking Bad into Traveller the right way (as opposed to a simple “call a rabbit a smeerp” cheap switcheroo.)

But if anyone ever does a proper transfer, I’m asking for a Zach Hemsey soundtrack.

What the PCs are at the end of a long journey, should be different than what they were at the start.

It’s not easy to do a Redemption story right — Too Sappy! Too Cheap! Too Corny! — but if you hit the mark, it shifts your entire life up a notch.

Eventually, inevitably, the PCs are going to have to make a choice that defines who they really are. And if they choose wrongly… well, good intentions just won’t cut it, sometimes.

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There’s Always Free Cheese in a Mousetrap

“Fifty years of struggling to make ends meet have taught me one thing for sure—that you don’t get something for nothing. A mouse will always find free cheese in a mousetrap; but I never saw one that was very happy about it.”H. C. Diefenbach, 1950

There would be far more Travellers alive today, if they took this saying to heart.

But then again, Diefenbach is a better fit as a grizzled old merchant captain than a young and eager adventurer. Not only do very few adventurers last fifty years in the field: I am not sure if they even want to last that long. They seem far more like the semi-self destructive “Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse” type.

(But in Traveller, the typical ways an adventurer dies — explosives, explosive decompression, a hail of bullets, radiation, oxygen deprivation, disease, being eaten, shipboard fires, fusion/plasma gun fire — tend NOT to leave a good-looking corpse behind.

Or even a recognizably human corpse, often enough.)

From Selling the Mall at the Corner of Caveat and Emptor, we get the story of a failed sale. It’s definitely worth a read, if you want a glimpse of how a real buyer thinks, and how he sniffs out a bad deal.

(Experience and specialized knowledge is definitely part of the equation!)

Once the PCs have survived their trial by fire, after they know how to sort out a good move from a tempting mousetrap, then it’s time to up the game.

But surviving that first encounter with a mousetrap is going to be the key.

Sure, talk to old hands, get prepared and equipped, lay down your contingencies, but nothing is going to replace experience.

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Canine Personalities

An interesting article, People In Venezuela Are Abandoning Their Dogs Because They Can’t Afford Food, granted me — who owns no pets, and basically believes that animals should be either kept outside the home or cooked and prepared on the dinner table — a bit of insight into canine (read Vargr) personalities.

Celo was given her name because she was left outside the shelter in the middle of her fertile stage. “When the volunteers arrived, the place was a mess,” Silva said. “All the males, although they were castrated, were going crazy.”

An interesting insight, this.

Quite a lot of Noble Houses in history has used eunuchs as palace servants, as the Noble in question can trust these men to not chase his women, or slip in a ringer into his family line. Well, the second is true, but I wonder about the first…

(And even the second is up for grabs, given the state of biotech in the late fourth/early fifth millennium!)

“She suffered a stroke and although she never recovered completely, she is a very good guard dog. She lives outside of the shelter and when someone approaches, she starts barking.”

To their credit, the Vargr can and do understand what the cost of duty is… and are willing to pay the price. But even I, with no familiarity with canines, knew that!

“She was the posh girl of the shelter, she didn’t like to get her feet wet. All dogs used to attack her and because of that, she did not like to come out of her home.”

Ah, this is a new one to me – fancy-ancy Vargr females. Ah well, perhaps I should have known that females are females, at least so far as mammals are concerned.

“He was full of worms, literally, eating him alive, but after a week of medication and care, he finally started to eat well and is recovering.”

A hard life can strike any sentient, even any animal (actually, even plants!)

It’s the will to live, the willingness to fight, to grab onto even a shred of hope (a real hope, in this case), that interests me. The sick Vargr that should have died five years ago still holds out for the sake of his pack; the plant, struggling on a rock, still pushes his roots into the limestone, fracturing it.

“The loving but fearful dog did not like to leave the space where she slept, even to eat.” La China died in the week after the photo was taken.

Due primarily to the nature of the God I worship, I actually do believe in the power of love… but even love has hard limits. It’s a tough universe.

Also, dogs — like Vargr — are social animals. And despite being carnivores, they can be fearful and cringing, especially in social situations. If the master/alpha dog keeps on beating on a low-status pack member, things aren’t going to turn out well mentally for the dog at the bottom of the pack hierarchy.

El Mocho was given his name after he lost his leg in a road accident. “He used to live in a kennel inside the shelter, but a few months ago escaped and now likes living on the street in front of the shelter. He has a very bad temper – he always runs behind bikes, barks at cars, and bites people who walk near him.”

Merely losing a leg isn’t going to slow down a mean old dog.

I can definitely see such a Vargr make a challenge to someone he really shouldn’t be picking a fight with. Due to his weakness, the outcome is likely to be ugly: but if said Vargr – a hardened and experienced fighter – spots a weakness he can exploit, there is the real chance of an upset.

Win or lose, he’s going to make a challenge, though: no matter the odds. It’s what he does; it’s who he is.

Definitely a Vargr character I can work with in a game!

“She is very calm and never fights with anyone, but she is afraid of people. When someone approaches her, she immediately reacts as if they were going to beat her.”

Vargr inside the Hegemony of Lorean – an intensely anti-Vargr culture (but more into domestication than extermination) – are going to turn out differently than Vargr outside of the Hegemony.

“He was brought to the shelter by a neighbor called Alvaro after he saw a car run him over. He was in a very bad condition and almost died, but instead of putting him down, it was decided to give him a few days and wait to see if he could recover.”

Sometimes, after a nasty lost, even as death draws near, there is still a glimmer of hope. What happens then often defines a man… or even a Vargr.

Ojitos was given her name because of her blue eyes. “She arrived at the shelter two years ago and from the very first moment has always been very loving. She never fights with the others. She has been offered up for adoption on many occasions, but no one wanted to keep her.”

Times are hard: but actually, the odds are better for Ojitos finding a new master than for most. In hard places, you need fighting ability: but in the cities and the wealthy lands, social skills are key.

Most of the time.

“He did not have a bad temper, but the bigger dogs always attacked him.”

Perhaps the bigger dogs always attack him because they smelled the weakness of a chronic victim.

She arrived at the shelter two years ago and is very playful. She loves water. Whenever she can, she gets inside a bucket or bowl with water. If she lived in a house with a pool, she would never come out of it.”

Some dogs do have a fondness for water: I used it (for Vargr) in an adventure I wrote, “Retirement” (Stellar Reaches #8).

And yes, I am still working on the latest issue…sporadically. The problem, as always, is time.

“She arrived at the shelter almost dead and completely covered with scabies, to the point that her face bled. Carita is very aggressive, attacks any dog who is close, and during fights has killed several. So now she has to live locked in a kennel.”

Yes, the female is the born killer in this pack. Remember: female dogs are not particularly weaker then the males, and females dogs (and Vargr) do hunt and kill.

That’s what they were born to do.

“Got pups to feed, and threats to neutralize.”

Then again, that dog now lives locked in a kennel, while the other dogs get some fresh air and sunlight.

In the Wilds, killers can thrive: but on the Civilized Worlds – a.k.a. outside of the Empty Quarter 1 – they need to get more subtle and intelligent, or move to the ghettos and the no-go zones (a.k.a. “the Inner Wilds”), or get a patron who can provide legal cover.

“She was one of the most spoiled in the shelter, but barks at everything all the time.” Brisa was adopted two days after this photograph.

More often than you care to admit, the Queen Bitch gets to win. Again.

Pichurra is an elderly dog and a long-term resident of the shelter: “She is extremely calm, never fights with anyone, nor does she bark. In fact, at mealtimes the volunteers have to be very alert because if any other dog steals her food she would not complain.”

Some Vargr really aren’t meant to live in Vargr society. Perhaps they are just too deeply rebuilt by human geneticists to survive outside of peaceful, lawful cultures…

“She has never been given up for adoption because she is very nervous. When someone approaches, she begins to whine and react immediately. She never fights with anyone, but she likes stealing food from the other dogs.”

Ever wonder why the Vargr are so good at scrounging, at making things ‘appear’ when they are needed? Well, teeth and claws aren’t the only way to earn a living among the Vargr…

Mama was left outside the shelter with her litter of puppies. “All of them were taken for adoption but nobody wanted to take her. Mama is old and almost blind, so she does not leave the place where she sleeps and does not share with any other dogs.”

You know, when you old and worn and unwanted… but you know that all of your pups are safe… there’s no real need to go far from your bed. Soon, it will be time for a last long nap.

“She is both independent and feisty. She barks at all dogs and has a bad temper. When it is mealtime, no one can be near her.”

Maybe she’ll be cast off from her pack. Maybe she’ll be the last survivor. Maybe she’ll build her own pack. Hard to say at this stage…

“Everyone who comes to the shelter falls in love with him because he is extremely loving, always happy, and wants to play. He always wants to be near people.”

A model for the idealized Irilitok Vargr: “rebuilt by humans, for humans”. One thing about pet species: they tend to vastly outnumber their kin in the wild. This is true enough in the Empty Quarter, where the bloodthirsty Suedzuk has been largely destroyed by the Hegemony, while the Vilanized Ovaghoun – while quite wealthy and politically powerful – have fewer and fewer pups, every generation.

In contrast, the Irilitok — “Julian Vargr” — easily number in the hundreds of billions across the Julian Protectorate, and are likely to be around for a long, long time.

There’s even a real chance that they may outlast their human (ex)masters: not because they would ever overthrow them (I wonder if the Irilitok are even able of conceiving such an action, after their brains and instincts have been so extensively rewired…), but because they are so useful and easy to direct. Few people smash useful tools, or kill happy, obedient servants who are eager to please.

1 Of course, I’m including Alpha Quadrant – dominated by a very wealthy Vilani/Vargr culture – as part of the Civilized Worlds.

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Triggered by Iran

Nobody forced me to take on the Empty Quarter: I knew what the name implied before I got into the sector, so I can’t blame anyone but myself.

But the difference between a ancient and deep nation that values her history and culture, and some howling ignorant destructive barbarians from the desert, makes me groan at the missed opportunities.

Iran is what I would expect from a declining, run-of-the-mill theocracy going to seed: the police (now staffed by young men who missed out of the revolution) just ain’t that interested in oppressing people like in the Good Old Days “when the Revolution was fresh, and the soldier’s eye glittered with fanaticism”. So long as the Evil Alcohol Dealers keep a low profile, the badges and guns ain’t doing squat.

A smart Traveller can make some good money in a Iran-esque theocracy, and the culture is actually fascinating and intriguing! With the right bribes and the right friends, he might even decide to stick around for the long term. Just be very careful when the revolution kicks in: betting on the wrong horse is going to have a bad end, and if the bullets fly, off-world foreigners may well be prime targets.

In contrast, I can’t imagine anyone willingly deciding to stay in the blasted wastelands (cultural and physical!) of the Wahabbi loony-lands, which is the template I used for the Arab cultures of the Empty Quarter. “There are reasons why these guys were shoved as far from Terra as possible, while still within Imperial Space. Technically.”

Iran Persia has been Imperial for a VERY long time, with a Shah ruling in living memory. The nation as it currently stands wouldn’t make a bad model for a fairly theocratic Imperium: but the State Religion would most like be some form of resurgent Vilani Ritualism, or just possibly the Church of the Stellar Divinity, rather than any Solomani religion.

To my regret, I don’t have the time to make a deep dive into Persian history, bringing up all sorts of goodies that can be transplanted into the Third Imperium. But a creative and motivated Referee could do a really good job of this… and I hope that someone does!

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