Friday, June 20, 2014

Solar power from space for Traveller

The picture above illustrates what is claimed to be by this website the amount of Earth's surface that would have to be covered in current (2014) generation solar panels in order to provide electricity for the World, the European Union and Germany, from largest to smallest box.  

     While the distribution network would be logistically complicated, and there would be some loss from resistance in the power lines necessitating some increase in the area of the boxes, this is pretty impressive. I have not studied the science behind this assertion, but I am assuming that it is reasonably correct.

     In an earlier post I discussed why food would be the big trading commodity in the Far Future instead of energy. If the above assertion is correct, then the problem of powering a stellar tech society becomes trivial. 

     The average population of the 260+ planets in my TU is roughly 44 million, or about half the population of Germany in 2014. The tiny box on the right, probably less than 50 km on a side, would certainly suffice for the worlds on the lower side of that average. Even my highest population worlds, with people in the hundreds of millions would not need a box bigger than the large one - and they also have a whole world surface to choose from in siting it. There's no necessity for all the solar panels to be in one place, so break the box up into smaller boxes and scatter them about on all the less-enticing bits of land. 

    This doesn't even bring into the equation the potential for Space-based Solar Power, which takes the real estate issue even further out of the picture. This concept has been in the theory/development stage since the late 1960's, and one of the major issues is cost of boosting the equipment into space to begin with. 

     Imagine what another few levels of tech development would do for the cost & technical difficulties. The introduction of contra-gravity technology for space & orbital transportation at TL 9 alone should greatly reduce the barrier of cost. 

You get major Sci-Fi cred if you know (Before reading the Wikipedia article) what major science fiction writer proposed this method of power generation in a short story in the 1940's!

     As solar power, particularly from orbit, is both free and inexhaustible, a world that uses it as the sole or primary source of electrical power will not be dependent on either hydrocarbons to burn or water for hydrogen fusion. There could be interstellar trading in electrical power (superbatteries) much like trading in hydrocarbons today.

     These solar collection farms, whether on the ground or in space, will be strategically vulnerable points. Travellers can interact with them in a number of ways, including:
  • commando raids to cripple planetary power grids as part of a planetary invasion
  • repair missions working in hazardous conditions vacuum or atmospheric
  • an unusual location to visit and have a 'space station' adventure
  • accidental or intentional impending collisions with ships or space debris (watch out for near-C rocks!)
  • illegal tapping into the power grid for private purposes
  • delivery/installation of space based collectors
  • terrorists attempting to redirect the microwave beam onto a populated area
  • ground-based facilities run entirely by robots could be a great hideout location for the PCs or for the baddies.  
  • Exploration work on the ground, surveying new regions of the planet for potential siting of solar collectors. 
  • New trade item - large-scale batteries. imagine the potential danger of a cargo bay hit in space combat while carrying Terawatt level capacitors. Wait, then you could build one-shot spinal mount weapons in smaller ships. Oh dear, what have I done?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Thoughtwaves - Amber Zone Reviews # 22

Check out the series introduction here.

Amber Zone: Thoughtwaves, by John M Ford from JTAS # 13
A mysterious sub-marine pyramid structure. What danger or revelation is contained within it?

Location: Kehaan, a planet in the uninhabited 899-076 system in the Vilis subsector.

Patron: The administration of Weishaupt University, also of the Vilis subector

Mission: The PCs are to rescue an archaeological team that was captured on Kehaan by the Zhodani when they invaded the star system, in the course of the Fifth Frontier War. Any data the team has compiled should be recovered as well.

Payoff: Cr 100,000 per scientist, Cr 500,000 for all of their data.

Complications: Plenty. First, the archaeological site is underwater on a planet with an atmosphere that isn't breathable without equipment. Everything has to be sealed up. The survey team is examining an apparent alien artifact; a step-pyramid structure on the sea floor under 40 meters of water. Second, there is the occupation force of Zhodani soldiers. It is only eight men and two officers, but they are professional soldiers, equipped to (probably) TL 13+; and the two officers are both telepaths. They will give any PC group a serious fight; and the Imperium is not going to come to the rescue. 

The Zhodani arrived with a small task force to take control of the planet, uncontested of course, but in the landing a Zhodani gunboat destroyed the survey team's submersible ATV, killing two scientists. As a result, there is very little goodwill between the two groups. The commanding officer of the Zhodani has allowed them to continue their investigation of the site as a sign of good will, but is unwilling to allow any of the Imperials to leave.

Third, in recent weeks weird things have begun to happen. The two officers have been subject to random psionically induced headaches and other discomforts, which at first they thought was an attack by the archaeologists. A psi-scan of the scientists has ruled that out, but cost the officers whatever good will they might have had with the Imperials. One officer has tried to psionically examine the topmost level of the pyramid, but is being blocked. 

Tensions and tempers are rising with each psi episode, and someone may decide to become less than civil. And lastly, there's the curious circumstance that some of the scientists have seen what they think is the ghost of one of their dead colleagues . . .

Strong Points: This adventure has great atmosphere
from the setting: dim red lighting and dripping corridors, to the mystery to solve. This is a real sci-fi adventure; the players will not have trouble remembering that they are not on Earth. Even if they solve the mystery of the alien artifact, there is still the more conventional problem of the soldiers who have orders to not allow anyone to leave the planet. The PCs can fight or negotiate, but in either case it will not be easy.

Another well done aspect of this adventure: the author points out that the players can take the part of the scientists, or the Zhodani, and leave the 'rescue' element out of it altogether!

Weak Points: The setup, because it is so specific and detailed, works best in the OTU in the time line of the Fifth Frontier War. Re-casting it any where or any when else will be very complicated. As written, the alien construct is a macguffin; the PCs will not be able to use it and certainly not take it with them if they escape. Maybe that's not a weak point, but it could be a tantalizing treasure to dangle before the PCs, who have no chance of getting it.

What I'd change: Nothing apart from setting details to move the adventure into my Traveller universe. This is a well thought out and well written adventure that stands up as it is. This is one of the best Amber Zones I've read.

In My Traveller Universe: It is hard to say where I could put this in my Traveller universe, as I do not have a society analogous to the Zhodani. If I were to include one, I would probably put it in the Weitzlar or Wilds area, away from the mainstream of the galaxy. 

Maps: The referee will have to draw up a map of the pyramid's interior, the adventure describes the structure in general terms. A map of the on-land and underwater portions of the archaeological site will be helpful but not essential.  

Lockbox - Amber Zone Reviews # 21

Amber Zone: Lockbox, by J. Andrew Keith from JTAS #13

Check out the series introduction here.

Location: no specific location is given, but the description give the impression that it is not a backwater. The planet Otrai (Foreven 2613) is named as being nearby.

Patron: A ship crewman, who does not give his name.

Mission: He asks the PCs to hold onto a key, and deliver a package, currently in a lockbox at the starport, to the owner who is arriving on-planet in a day or so. Cash and a key are given, as the patron suddenly rushes off, as if being pursued.

Complications: This adventure is nothing but complications. The PCs discover the patron dying in an alley almost immediately after hiring them. He leaves them a cryptic message (“don't look!”). Soon after, mysterious persons will approach the party and demand they be given the key to the lockbox, saying that the contents are theirs, and was stolen from them. If the PCs do not comply, they will be followed and attacked at random points. No matter how many of the mystery men they defeat, there seem to be more of them coming.

Payoff: Cr 250, plus another Cr 250 upon delivery

Strong Points: Kudos to Mr. Keith for making research, not gunplay, the central component of this adventure. It's a mystery, and you solve a mystery by learning more about the situation. Who killed the patron, and why? Who are these mystery men? The mystery men can be serious foes if it does come to actual fighting, despite their reliance on low-tech weapons. They employ sneak attacks and assassin tactics. The JTAS article on martial arts (JTAS # 19) can be used to make them really effective fighters. 

The PCs may have to engage in a quest to get the mystery men & their organization to leave them alone. The adventure also notes that the referee can make use of the mystery men as devices to influence the PCs in subsequent adventures, nudging them in the direction the referee wants them to go.

Weak Points: The plot seems to hinge, at one point, on the PCs being curious and indifferent to danger; they have an easy out when the mystery men ask for the key. Why should the PCs risk getting knifed for 250 credits and a doohickey that isn't theirs? The mystery men as recurring antagonists can, if not handled deftly, be seen as heavy handed railroading by the players – the article states there is really no way to change the mystery men's determination to pursue them. 

Further, there's been a murder and (possibly) attempted murders, yet the adventure states that the local authorities will do little to help. Why? Even on planets with little formal law, murder is still serious business, and off-worlders committing them could be a political scandal as well.

What I'd change: A structural change to the plot: I would have the PC's interviewed by the local police after the patron is killed. I would not have them arrested, just brought in for questioning as they are identified as the last ones the patron spoke with. The police can give them the cryptic message and other details about the murder. The police will likely want the key, and advise the PCs to stay out of it. They may get called in again by police if the investigating officer is found murdered in the same fashion as the patron. 

This should motivate the PCs to investigate and discover the facts about the lockbox and its contents, if only to clear their own names. If the PCs do discover the patron in the alley, I would allow a medic to attempt to save his life. He might still end up dead later, but that would also draw the PCs into investigating.

In My Traveller Universe: I would locate this adventure in the Weitzlar subsector. Among the Independent planets, there are plenty of places that could substitute for the adventure location, and as a home world for the mystery men.

There are no locations described in this adventure, so I do not include a map.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Foxhound - A Striker variant Amber Zone Reviews # 24

Check out the series introduction here. 

Amber Zone: Foxhound, a Striker variant, by J.D. Webster

Location: Sverdan, a balkanized TL-7 world with standard to dense atmosphere. (No location given in the OTU)

This Amber Zone is specifically written
for Striker, making it unique of the Amber Zones I've reviewed so far. There is no mention of PCs, patron or payoff, so I'll leave that out of the review.

Setup: The defender's side in this scenario consists of eight G-Carriers & three Rampart space fighters. The G-carriers are moving in convoy, transporting a national leader. They are protected from above by the Ramparts. The attacker's side has twelve “Foxhound” jet fighters – normally not a threat to the space-armored Ramparts, but the attackers have been supplied with a quantity of anti-spaceship missiles (Gyrfalcon type) which can knock the Ramparts down. 

 The Foxhounds' mission is to take out the national leader, but they don't know which G-carrier he's in, so in effect they have to take out all of them. The defenders obviously want to prevent this. The scenario ends when either all of the G-carriers or all of the Foxhounds are out of action. 

 Striker has rules for utilizing aircraft (which at higher TLs includes contra-grav craft like the G-carriers) in strafing ground targets and dogfighting. In each turn all the craft in the same range roll for 'advantage'; which usually means in position where one side cannot fire on the other. Damage is abstracted into a 'damage point' value; hits scored reduce this total. As the dp value goes down, the craft loses speed, and there's a chance for crippling hits to take a craft out immediately.

Strong Points: I am assuming that this is a balanced scenario. The G-carriers will be pretty easy pickings for the Foxhounds, and are not likely to score many hits in return. The Ramparts are very tough relative to the Foxhounds; but the Gyrfalcons can even that up, except that there are only so many Gyrfalcons available.

Weak Points: I can't see any, unless the scenario is unbalanced, which I will not know until I play it several times. Let's assume that it is balanced. No weak points to mention.

What I'd change: Basically nothing, this is a good standalone/one-off game. It could also be integrated into a Traveller game, most likely making the PCs pilots of the Ramparts. A really mean referee would make them crew of one of the G-carriers!

In My Traveller Universe: I don't have a lot of TL 7 worlds, and most of them are in the Wilds. The world Sharmun (which I lifted whole from JTAS 4/Amber Zone #4 “Salvage on Sharmun”) fits the bill, but this encounter would certainly ignite a nuclear war between the two local powers, so maybe I'd better pick on the planet Pergamuth (Wilds 0309) - and make the target the Great Leader (see Planets in my Traveller Universe - I've added Pergamuth).

Maps: As this adventure takes place entirely in the air, maps are not indicated.

The page image is of a Soviet MiG-31 Foxhound.

Royal Hunt - Amber Zone Review #20

Check out the series introduction here.
Amber Zone: Royal Hunt, by J Andrew &William H Keith from JTAS #12  
OK, Jumbo, now just hold it steady here a moment.
Location: Krajraha (no known location in the OTU), no planet UPP given, but the details of the adventure mention a medium size world with a type 6 atmosphere.

Patron: Elias Dulandir, VIP of an industrial corporation which is seeking mineral & mining rights on Krajraha. He is negotiating directly with the Potentate of Krajraha.

Mission: The PCs will act as bodyguards/lackeys to Dulandir for the two month visit to Krajraha, which will include going on the titular royal hunt into the jungle with the Potentate.

Complications: The PCs are barred from coming along with their usual combat load; the party is restricted by custom to use bow weapons only. What is supposed to be a leisurely trek with a large group of retainers and only occasional actual hunting becomes anything but relaxing as aggressive creatures invade the camp, pack animals become belligerent, weapons have accidental discharges, and the hunting party becomes temporarily lost. Through it all, the PCs have to keep themselves and their patron alive. The patron will want to keep the Potentate alive as well – if he dies, the deal is off, or at least negotiations will have to start over with his son.

Payoff: Cr 15,000 per PC for the two months of bodyguard duty.

Strong Points: The PCs will be busy on this trip, it seems a most ill-fated expedition. Part of the challenge will be that they will have to get used to low-tech weapons, as the patrons will send home any PC caught with firearms. The referee can 'motivate' the players to investigate all the mishaps by having the Potentate or the patron accuse them of trying to undermine the deal.

Weak Points: Only with setting it in my TU – Mishima is a TL12 planet, which means communication with the city (weather, GPS, hi-speed contra-grav rescue) should be pervasive enough to take the wilderness out of this wilderness adventure. It works better if the hunting party are out of touch with the capital and on their own.

What I'd change: I think this one stands up well as it is.

In My Traveller Universe: Mishima, in the Barrick Cluster, is a suitable match for the described geography. It is also out of the way, of modest population and has trade code Non-Industrial. 

The Map
The map scale can vary, probably best between 5 and 10 km/hex, and assuming that the pack animals will move at best 3-4 km/hr, and the party will frequently stop and camp out. 

I made this map, using Hexographer. It may be reproduced or modified without permission.