Saturday, November 29, 2014

Tech Level 9 Technology

An essay Albert Bailey wrote on StarCluster Tech Level 9 Technology.

There are a number of technologies associated with Tech Level 9, notably protium fusion, antimatter production and use, and A-grav. While these may sound like unrelated technologies, they are all based on the same principle: the control of weak interaction forces. Prior to TL9, the electromagnetic force was the only force truly under human command.

With control of the weak interaction force, it became feasible to fuse two protons into a deuteron. This meant that it was no longer necessary to sift out the small fraction of deuterium contained in natural hydrogen; it could be created at will. This drastically dropped the price of deuterium to 1-10% of its previous cost. This has boosted fusion back to the main energy source in most location, though solar energy is still competitive in certain situations. Conversion of protium to deuterium produces only a small amount of energy (by nuclear standards) and with thermal and neutrino losses, little or no useful power is produced by the operation. However, the resultant deuterium can be efficiently fused into helium, releasing large amounts of energy. Efficient deuterium production plants tend to be large, so most fusion-based spacecraft use deuterium as fuel and do not contain protium to deuterium converters. There are, however, a few exploration vessels that do carry p-d converters, allowing refueling from any locally available hydrogen source.

Isotopic field generation, commonly known as "A-grav" is probably the most ubiquitous of the weak force technologies. Despite its common name, it actually is due to a weak-force field that pulls "up" quarks in one direction and "down" quarks in the other direction. Since protons consist of two "up" quarks and one "down" quark while neutrons consist of one "up" quark and two "down" quarks, protons and neutrons will be pulled in opposite directions. The direction an object will be pushed or pulled depends on the relative concentrations of protons and neutrons in the body. Humans, being mostly water, are proton rich. Objects of heavier atomic number, such as iron, are neutron-rich. Planetary bodies may be either. While isotopic field generators are now commonly used for local levitation and for planet-to-orbit transfers, care is required: an isotopic polarity that is repulsive over one surface, such as water, may prove attractive over areas containing metal ores. These attraction differences are generally also believed to account for the sickness experienced by most species subjected to strong isotopic fields. The most common explanation given is that sodium and chlorine are both repelled by a field tuned to attract proton-rich materials, but that this is the actual cause of "a-grav sickness" has not been conclusively demonstrated. The short-range "a-grav" fields commonly used to make surfaces repulsive or attractive actually use combined electroweak forces which either attract or repel both proton-rich and ferromagnetic materials. Most common materials are either one or the other, so they are generally quite effective. However, some materials are not, and will be attracted to what is commonly regarded as a repulsive field; as such, occasional polarity reversal is needed to properly clean these materials. For antimatter storage, very strong pure short-range weak field generation is used; both anti-hydrogen and anti-methane are proton-rich. The occasional proposal to use anti-helium is nonsense.

In addition to providing for its storage, weak field technologies have also provided for the efficient generation of antimatter. Previously, proton-antiproton generation was a somewhat hit-and-miss proposition produced by colliding particles together, normally electrons and positrons, also producing a variety of undesired mesons. However, with the application of sufficiently strong and properly tuned combination of electro-weak fields, protons and antiprotons pairs can be directly boiled from vacuum. This does, of course, require significant amounts of energy. Despite the all too common talk, antimatter is not an energy source, merely a very efficient energy storage mechanism.

All the weak force technologies require weakly interactive massive particles (WIMPs) for operation. WIMP concentrations and current flows differ profoundly across the Cluster, making WIMP collection and interstellar transport one of the most important parts of interstellar trade. Systems that would otherwise be unimportant backwaters have become wealthy due to the WIMP currents present. Some extra-stellar regions have been proposed for WIMP collection; however, the transport times and costs currently make this uneconomical.

Monday, November 24, 2014

More Work on The Necklace

I began work on sketching out the chargen for The Necklace. As this is a game with a setting linked to the StarCluster 3 universe, as well as using the same game system, I had several choices of how to present the chargen process. The StarCluster 3 system is extremely modular. Everything except for the character stat ranges are plug-in modules. Lately, I have been using something I call layered template trees for CharGen - a character gets a number of points to purchase templates with depending on age, then spends them to buy templates laid out in trees, first purchasing the base template, then buying templates further uo the tree, or shifting to another tree root template. StarCluster 3 - the game, not the system - used a different format for CharGen , where the player builds a character up year by year buy taking Skills and Edges from their character's current profession, and changing professions where desired.

Both have their good and bad points - the layered templates produce a very integrated character, with rank inherent in the template, but suffering from the possibility of characters looking much more alike than is perhaps desirable; while the SC3 method takes longer and is somewhat more erratic, but the chances of any two characters coming out anything alike are virtually nil.

I went with the SC3 format, mainly because this game should be usable as a drop-in setting for any SC3 character to play in. Klax and I took the list of professions from SC3, and first pruned it of anything that would not be important in The Necklace, then added in new stuff peculiar to the setting. For example, in the Necklace, Shields - reflective shaped plasma fields and defense lasers - are not very viable, so they are dropped, along whit anything too military; While we added Xeno-Archaeologist for those who study the ruins of the Builders.

Then Klax and I took a look at how these professions would fly with the various playable cultures/species in the Necklace, and marked them appropriately, so a profession marked A, R, C would be suitable for Altiplanian, Rasi, and Carnivales characters. This is not meant to be a block, but a guideline. A player character can have any profession the player wants, but you won't find NPCs of non-indicated cultures in that profession.

The Inner and Outer Stations of the Necklace

Klax, Albert and I did some work on the Necklace this week. and commented on ways to cut across the gas torus, as it is so large. We came up with the following:

In orbit inside the orbit of the torus, but beyond the gasseous envelope are six massive asteroid-stations. They are in an inner orbit, so their orbital velocity is higher than the velocity of the torus - they revolve around the neutron star faster than the torus - so anything in their orbit moves around faster than in the torus. If an airship climbs up out of the Necklace and into the rarified air near the boundary between the vacuum of space and the atmosphere of the torus, tugs from the next station sweeping by can dock with the airship and speed it up to the station.

Here they can dock, either wait to drop back down into the torus when they reach their goal - at a far faster speed than they could flying around *in* the torus - or they can hire, or take passage with, a space ship also docked at the station, as required. Conversely, space ships can dock at the station and hire or take passage on an airship bound for the Necklace.

Also orbiting the torus further out - thus in a slower orbit - are six more asteroid-stations. The procedure to use these outer stations is the same as for the inner stations, but these stations are moving slower, thus they are convenient for reaching areas of the torus behind your starting place.

In effect, they are like highway lanes - the innermost on the left is a high speed lane, the center lane is a travel lane, and the right lane moves slower. If you assume the center lane - the Necklace - as your default, the left/inner lane moved forward faster, and the right lane moves backward in relation to you.

The stations are towns in themselves, with a transient and a permanent population. Some are mining the asteroid, others are storing and trans-shipping goods and passengers, and others yet are selling the transients services while they are there. They are made up of people from all the folks of the Necklace, and outsiders.

Monday, November 17, 2014

High Strung Playtest Session - Dumpapalooza!

On Saturday, I ran another session of High Strung featuring the 1985 ska band, Dynamic Habit. Some of the band heard their demo song being played on the radio, and were totally stoked, not knowing in this day of no internet or email that it was getting scattered national play.

Wanda, at 18 the youngest in the band, let it be known that she had broken up with John Jacob Jinglehiemer-Schmidt, the 40 year old sax player, when she was 17 because not only was he sleeping with her, he'd gone after her 15 year old sister. John had just lost his day job as a keypunch operator, was sleeping on the couch in the rehearsal space, and hadn't money to put gas in his car, so it was a banner day for him. The band was disgusted, but John was a hell of a sax player...

Anyway, Doc Brown called every club in the Detroit area that allowed non-cover songs, and could find nothing. No gigs. No interest. Several prposals to do something fell flat, until Lief suggested they turn the warehouse the practice space was in into a club, and charge admission. This received unanimous approval, so everyone did something. They put just enough gas in John's car to get where they were going, and used that to haul what they could scrounge.

Lief asked his father for some cash and bought the non-scroungable stuff - beer, TP, and a decent PA from a pawn shop foremost. Rusty, who worked as a garbageman, brought Wanda and Doc to the dump, where they scrounged some decent though mismatched tables and chairs, and some nice hardwood flooring a renovator had ripped out of an apartment. Wanda knew about a cinder block wall they could dismantle by night for the underpinnings of the stage, and they cobbled together some passable stage lights scrounged from the dump. John cleared out the practice space, and Doc, who worked for the city's Public Works department, borrowed a street sweeper and cleaned the floor of the warehouse. They called it Club Dumpapaooza.

This is all completely outside the rules, mind! But I know one Band in Boston that did exactly this, the Phantoms, who created Club One in their basement, with scrounged booths, tables, and decor, and had many gigs on their own with other bands. I had to allow it.

Then they decided they needed a band manager to boost the draw. They would pay for it from their Hope in a rotating arrangement. Doc, John, and Rusty decided since they were hiring a Band manager, she might as well be a stripper too, so they hired Brandi Banxxx, who had both requisite talents.

They got a couple other bands to join in with them "Preferably bands who had a decent following but aren't as good as us!" and worked up to the gig. They decided to go on second, so the people who came to see the third act wouldn't leave early.

Right before the second set, John played his Nasty Card, which stated he put laxative in Doc's drink, to incapacitate him. Doc and John had been feuding since joining the band - Doc as trumpet player and John as sax man fought continually over who was the lead Riff player - and Doc had just started dating John's ex-wife to dig the knife deeper. John figured Doc would be unable to play, and that would settle who the lead was tonight!

Doc blew out his bowels, and, cramping violently, went to Brandi, asking for a butt plug and an adult diaper. Brandi, who turned some kinky tricks in her third side, could actually oblige, and with her help, Doc played through the set, though he did not challenge John for the lead.

They had their best gig yet, and went home happy, if in one case rather sore.

Peoples of the Necklace - Stereotypes!

In writing up the Peoples of the Necklace, I am using stereotypes again. This is a good thing, so long as people realize that nobody is bound by these stereotypes. Cultural traits, introduced in StarCluster 3, work by being a stereotype of the culture in question. The smaller the sample size, the farther we statistically diverge from this stereotype. With the Necklace, I'm introducing "What the X think about the Y" This is an interface of two stereotypes, like an interference pattern. An example:

The Rasi

The last major Human settlement was 150 years ago from the UN Slowboat "Ras Al-Khaimah" - Built by the UAE and gifted to the UN, her crew included Icelanders, Koreans, New Zealanders, UK citizens, Arabs, and Malians. They were forced to settle in the Torus as the good real estate - the two icy water worlds in the outer system - had already been claimed. Its people are called the Rasi, and are settled in a city made from their ship, and many towns along The River. The Rasi maintain a culture that varies from TL 9 in their capital to TL7 in their smaller towns. They are fairly tightly bunched, with towns sometimes less than 100 km apart. They make their own grav plates to graviform asteroids which have no appreciable gravity.

Cultural Traits: Greedy 1, Practical 2, Scheming 2, Bombastic 2
Attributes: STR: 9 COOR: 8 AGY: 7 END: 7 CHAR: 8 INT: 6 PSI: 2 LUCK: 2

How the Rasi Feel About...

Javans Predictable marks, if you are careful not to anger them.
Altisherpas We respect them, but they are meddlesome - slow and conservative.
Pucks Lazy, passive-aggressive, clever little monkeys!
Carnivales Trainable cheap labor. Simple and solid.
Hermeans Useful pricks, these jerks. Programmable asshats - total tools.

Airships In The Necklace

So Klax and I talked last night about airships and vehicles in the Necklace. The common mode of transportation in the torus is atmospheric fusion jets. This uses a compact fusion reactor on the ship to compress ambient air with a turbine. At higher speeds the air path can switch to direct heating by heat exchanger as a ram jet. This affords highly fuel efficient travel over very long distances at relatively high speeds. Since the Torus is insanely huge, travel - even high speed travel - takes a long time. These airships are constructed much like space ships rather than airplanes - spaceships with lift surfaces and airflow controls, which are not necessarily air tight.

That led to me looking through StarCluster 3's spaceship construction section. great chunks of it were perfect, along with the overall structure of how one builds ships. But I came to the section on weapons and was struck with how much the expectation of space combat underlay much of SC3. Matter/Antimatter missiles and powerful lasers were a big chunk of the options available - and SC3 is a civilian game! I put all the *big* weapons into a completely separate game!

So - that will not do for the Necklace! It's not about that level of conflict. I talked it over with Klax, and he said the exact same thing! At least it proves we are on the same wavelength! Conflict in The Necklace is on a PERSONAL level. Weapons available for civilian airships would be things like machine guns in turrets, not M/AM missiles! Something to discourage the occasional pirate or swarm or airsharks. The only people in the Necklace to have anything like a fighting force is the Rasi, who have the Rangers- sort of a cross between militia and SWAT police. They have access to laselets and small missiles - the armor piercing or high explosive kind, not nukes, let alone M/AM!

There are other smaller, short range vehicles, but these airships are a big step.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Losonta/Eleena

So, the aliens living on the core of the gas giant in the Necklace!

The Losonta are human-sized winged creatures, omnivores, able to walk upright on their back paws, with three fingered hands on their arms. They are furred, their wings great leathery bat things coming from the centers of their backs. A thick, short tail serves to balance their tops. They started off as pets of the Builders, and inherited the planet after the Builders left.

The Eleena are slick, silvery creatures without eyes, and with six tentacles depending from their undersides. Adults are cat-sized, with their young much smaller. They evolved from parasitic creatures, their tentacles designed to tap into nerves and blood vessels of their hosts.

In combination, the two are symbiotes. The Eleena enhancing the intelligence of the Losonta to sapient levels through their attaching tentacles. The Losonta deliberately introduce Eleena juveniles into their children after birth, the Eleena burrowing in under the skin of the neck, and penetrating into the brain through the unclosed areas of the babies' skulls. There the Eleena attaches, and begins secreting hormones which gradually change the shape of the skull and enhance the Losonta's brain. The Losonta can feel the Eleena in their skulls, and can dimly communicate, as they remain separate beings.

Humans refer to the Losonta/Eleena pair as Pucks.

The gas giant core is now an earth sized world, called Sheelin by the Losonta, and Midsummer by the Humans. It is swathed in the atmosphere of the Necklace, and richly sprinkled with lush islands in a world ocean. In addition, floatweed mats hang in the air, floating by hydrogen-filled bladders, and trailing long tendrils linking the mats to the ocean and islands.

Losonta have the Cultural Traits of Carefree 2, Audacious 2, and Roguish 3. Their sight is superb, their sense of taste as accurate as human sight, and their touch sensitive. Their hearing and sense of smell are weak, and Losonta don't have any external ears.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

More Notes on the Necklace

The Necklace was once home to The Builders - the people who graviformed The River. They originated on the gas giant core, and from there spread out into the Necklace. They left the gas torus and went to different worlds in the cluster, bringing back whole ecologies and planting them on graviformed asteroids in the L4 point as a kind of zoo. They left the Necklace long ago, and went elsewhere or died out.

The Necklace is now inhabited by four peoples, three of them from Earth originally.

Los Carnivales were the first Humans to arrive, almost 500 years ago. They came from Earth on the Brazilian Slowboat Carnivale, and they had left the Earth just before the cut off point between survival and death. Their ship was slapped together in a rush, and was consequently a bit shoddier than most slowboats, but it was faster, and passed the slower ships en route to become one of the first to reach haven in the Cluster.

Unfortunately, the Carnivale broke up on entering the denser air of the Necklace, and chunks of the ship landed in different places along The River. With only the scraps of ship and little technology, their culture crashed down to a very low level in a short time. During that time, the Carnivales were trained by rote in their duties to maintain what scraps of tech they had. This led to several ritual clans spread throughout the scattered tribes, who ritually memorize practices like programming, hydroponics, tending a fusion reactor, mechanics, and the like, which they have no real ability to exploit, but they try to adapt to local materials.

Most Carnivales live in tribes scattered along the river, and maintain at best a Tech Level 4 (Renaissance) life. A few live in cities and towns of the Altisherpas and Rasi, and have adapted to the higher tech levels of these cultures.

Next to hit the Necklace was the UN Slowboat Achilles, some 400 years ago, with a crew of Sherpas, Canadians, Swiss, Fililipinos, and Columbians. Achilies entered into the Necklas and settled in The River, forming an island. The children were bred to be resistant to zeroG - with enhanced calcium retention, larger lungs, and foot-hands. They are called "Altisherpas". They are explorers and able to live anywhere in the torus. The Achilles is now the largest city in the Torus, and site of a starport.

The Altisherpas maintain a fixation on biology, medicine, and genetics - reaching to TL 10 in those areas, but maintain a TL 8 in all other aspects. they travel the Necklace in fusion powered jet craft, and settle wherever they like, as they have no need for gravity.

The last major Human settlement was 150 years ago from the UN Slowboat "Ras Al-Khaimah" - Built by the UAE and gifted to the UN, crew included Icelanders, Koreans, New Zealanders, UK citizens, UAE Arabs, and Malians. They were forced to settle in the Torus as the good real estate - the two icy water worlds in the outer system - had already been claimed. Its people are called the Rasi, and are settled in a city made from their ship, and many towns along The River.

The Rasi are closer to standard Cluster Humans than the others, being more recently come and less adapted. They maintain a culture that varies from TL 9 in their capital to TL 7 in their smaller towns. They are fairly tightly bunched, with towns sometimes less than 100 km apart. They make their own grav plates and use them to graviform asteroids which have no appreciable gravity.

The fourth people are aliens. We haven't created them yet, but they live on the gas giant core, and are not the Builders. They evolved after the Builders left.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Notes on the Necklace

According to Albert, the gas torus of the Necklace has a volume of 9e15 cubic kilometers. So the mass of the ring is about 0.006 Jovian masses. Very different from a planetary surface; Malthusian limits effectively don't exist. Room for lots of native and alien species without even managing to encounter them.

Albert suggested that the Carnival, the second of three Slowboats to reach the Necklace, should break up on entering the denser air at the center of the torus, with the passengers dispersing will-he nil-he all over the torus in random clumps determined by the flight of the wreckage they were contained in. Klax and I talked it over. At first we liked it, a lot, but then we realized it would complicate one of the cool things we thought of for Los Carnivales, the people of The Carnival. Since the ship's educational systems broke down on the flight - one reason their society degenerated - they would have to use verbal memory to transfer necessary skills like hydroponics, programming, mechanics, electronics, and fusion drive tech - basically tending the machines. This would give them chants and songs which taught what was necessary in a ritualistic fashion rather than from first principles. This would give rise to rote specialists who would retain their ritual skills even after the occasion for them - for instance programming - were gone. We were imagining a clan structure for each of the specialties that survived, which would be maintained despite the breakup of the culture into tribes in the torus. If these clan members were randomly distributed in the breakup, would that hurt the chances of the tribes surviving an already chancy life without technology? I'm a bit torn on this! It could be cool, and another way to distinguish tribe from tribe, though I'm thinking hydroponics - farming - would be almost universal, and by far the largest clan. Some cool things - cargo cult religions, programmers communicating by writing programs in ink on tree bark, the ability of these untrained 'savages' to have a marketable skill if they join a town or city, adapting mechanics for found local materials... just interesting stuff

One of the core concepts that led to this project - Klax's idea built entirely from random stuff he heard from me about Niven's Smoke Ring setting and his own fertile imagination - is that The River should be navigable by ship, so it needs its own gravity. That's why we went with it being artificial, rather than naturally formed by shepherd moons. The River does need to corkscrew, for one to reach as much space as possible within the central Smoke Ring part of the torus, thus being a simple and convenient, though slow, way to get from here to there; and for another to avoid the masses of the core and trojans. The idea of ships sailing a river on a journey that will take many lifetimes to return is just inherently cool. And even at very low tech levels, the Carnivales could travel, at least locally. Some may be nomadic, drifting down the river, stopping for a while here and there to harvest resources before continuing.

The core of the gas giant is problematical. Why wouldn't the people settle there instead of the torus? It must be habitable - everything else is! That's why we thought of making it already settled when they got there. Klax would prefer a new humanoid sub species like the Tagris or Vantor, created by the Seeders. I prefer an alien species, as in StarCluster 3, there is no canon on how the Tagris, Vantor, and Sastra got there - they could be just a popular bio-engineered variant, for example - and is entirely up to the Group. Even the existence of the Seeders is open. This torus could have been modified by an ancient alien species, perhaps those that inhabit the planet, more probably another, with the species now on the planet being new. I just prefer to leave things like this open.