Thursday, September 29, 2016

Pathfinder Transcript: "Don't Poke the Bear"

[One of the players in our group has started keeping brief transcripts of our sessions, partly for the amusement of a third party who isn't playing with us I guess, and partly to help us pick up the following session in medias res.

The next quest was run by the player who'd been controlling Snake (Ninja). It picks up his Xanadu meta-plot (basically, "go kill the seven mystical god-beasts") six months after our previous adventure there.]

TL;DR-  A temple's sacred gem has been swapped with a fake, and we're asked to investigate.

The first session was a mess. We wanted to examine the fake, but where I wanted a friendly NPC we know to get it for us quietly and legally, other PCs wanted to steal it (one of the island's most sacred objects, guarded by our allies in a TEMPLE DEVOTED TO WRATH). The discussion wasn't going anywhere, and I thought my plan was best, so I just walked out and set about finding the NPC. The other PCs, who also thought their own plans were best, took this as a sign to leap into action. So that all went south. And then, the friendly NPC (who should have been willing and able to fill us in on a few things) kept trying to abandon us.

I'm pretty sure this NPC isn't secretly trying to undermine us- I think he might have been trying to subtly/cryptically hint at our next step, buuuuut I don't think the DM realized we were missing some basic information about the situation and our mission; he mentioned afterwards that he never anticipated that we might consider the gem itself a potential lead.

When the Warg fight broke out in session three, I told a few PCs to guard the wagon & hapless NPC, because of course, right? Unfortunately, that meant they missed almost all of the fight - a substantial chunk of playtime - although the DM did have some Wargs circle around and eventually reach them.

The final encounter, with Acedia the Bear God, was kind of neat- the bear was essentially too lazy to fight, the negotiations we were using to draw the bear into ambush went so well that we canceled the ambush, and when a mind-controlled bandit tried to provoke the bear into attacking us (itself a neat twist) one of the PCs stayed the bear's wrath through sheer honorableness.

Monday, September 26, 2016

(Part 3) What the Fourth Succession War Implies About Population Size

Looking at that same Wikipedia again, it looks like the Allied armies (primarily the Soviet Union and China) suffered about twice as many casualties as the Axis armies (primarily Germany and Japan) did.

Supposing that the 4thSW's 100 million deaths are primarily infantry, and supposing the defenders suffer twice the casualties of the invaders, then defending planets lose about 5 million infantry per month while the invaders lose about 2.5 million per month. If you figure 2.5 million guys at 5 tons each, and a Mammoth (or half a Behemoth) at 40 kilotons* of cargo, that uses only about 320 DropShips (per month of travel), out of thousands of such ships sphere-wide.

As for the defenders, I count significant fighting on roughly 140 worlds, including:
Confederation- Tall Trees, Zurich, Aldebaran, Liao, Bharat, Tigress, Tikonov, New Hessen, Styk, Wei, Truth and Sarna. (The Duchy of Andurien attacked some worlds too, but it's not clear which ones.)
Combine- Buckminster, Kirkbach, Radstadt, Altair, and Vega.
Suns- Marduk and Kathil (whose populations I don't know), Algot, New Aragon and Halloran.
Commonwealth- Tamar and Poulsbo (whose populations I don't know).
Free Worlds- Procyon.
These 25 worlds have a combined population of somewhere near 65 billion people; at the Tikonov ratio, that makes 492.4 militia regiments. Supposing the other 115 worlds have two battalions apiece, that would make 569 militia regiments in all.

From HM:FWL*, an infantry battalion consists of 400-500 people. 7 troopers per squad and 36 squads per battalion would be 252 troops, and a tooth:tail ratio of 1:1 would bring it up to 500 troops. (The 400-person battalion may be Jump infantry, which use smaller platoons.) At 3 battalions per regiment, my estimated 569 militia regiments would amount to 860k troops. With losses of 5 million troopers per month, these militia units would seem to have an expected life span of five days. Or to put it another way, a population of 44 million has a standing force of about 1000 troopers, and can call up another thousand every five days. This is something (I can't find consistent data on it) like 6x-8x slower than nations mobilized for WW2.

Of course, the tooth:tail should be more like 2:3 or even 1:3 instead of 1:1, many of those worlds won't have a full 44 million people, I'm arbitrarily excluding the House's regular army and navy, and I'm ignoring how late the fighting started or how early it ended on any given world. So the worlds attacked in the 4thSW may well be mobilizing at WW2 rates.

*Curiously, that makes the Mammoth's 40 kton cargohold just the right size to carry a FWL infantry division.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

BattleTech AU: Compressed Century

Some years ago I struck on a number of ways to reuse BattleTech's existing material to generate alternate universes with a minimum of brain sweat. Here's the first one:

The Compressed Century
1960s: race to the moon.
1970s: race to the stars.
1984: Terra's governments collapse under the strain of supporting ~150 colonies. All Terran assets are withdrawn or abandoned.
1989-1990: Admiral McKenna consolidates power on Terra, then reconquers a swath of the colonies. He's eventually stopped by ex-Terran Militia who were abandoned in the 1984 withdrawal.
All years: the events described in a given book happen in the year it was published. The 'Mechs published in 1984 are available in 1984, the ones published in 1990 are available in 1990, and so on.
If you've looked into BattleTech for any length of time, you may, on occasion, have heard someone complain that certain aspects of its history are hard to swallow; the "Compressed Century" sidesteps all those issues, is extremely straightforward to implement, and (since you simply take things in the order they were published) completely negates any need to refer to Word of God.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Starfleet Ship: USS Absolution


I'm following a podcast called "17 to 01" where Van Velding and a friend (him a veteran Star Trek fan, the friend almost brand new to the franchise) comment on an episode while they watch it. Not so much on the events of the episode as on their execution - social themes, dramatic elements, and so on - plus of course joking about Star Trek's ridiculous idiosyncrasies.

(I think "All Our Yesterdays" (recent and more polished) and then "Journey to Babel" (earlier and rougher) are pretty representative of the show's content.)

I've been following with an eye to building a Star Trek RPG. So instead of a "top ten episodes" list or anything like that, I've instead assembled my favorite* guest cast into an alternate bridge crew, and for now I'm calling their ship the USS Absolution.

The Absolution:

A captured Tholian ship, refit for use by the Federation.
  • Captain Garth of Izar (Steve Ihnat from "Whom Gods Destroy"). The more times he shapeshifts, the more his morals and discipline deteriorate. This mandates periodic mindwipes, during which he forgets he can shapeshift. (Also, I notice that a shape-shifter is an easy way to bring in guest actors, and to throw in red herrings.)
  • First Officer Alexander (Michael Dunn from "Plato's Stepchildren"). The most highly principled person aboard. And considering that pretty much everyone else here is either insane or a criminal, he's also sort of the warden and chief rehabilitator.
  • Chief Medical Officer [unnamed Romulan] (Joanne Linville from "The Enterprise Incident"). Secretly an agent of Federation Intelligence, who relies on an erratic robotic nurse (Exploded Wreckage of Nomad from "The Changeling") to conceal her lack of medical training. 
  • Chief Engineer Richard Daystrom (William Marshall from "The Ultimate Computer"). Specializes in computers and AI. Periodically (dis)endows the main computers and various subsystems with free will. 
  • Helm Janice Lester (Sandra Smith from "Turnabout Intruder"). She is in some other woman's body, via a portable mind-swapping device which can be as (dis)functional as the plot requires. (Another fair way to bring in guest actors.)
  • Astrogation Miranda Jones (Diana Muldaur from "Is There No Truth in Beauty"). Possessed by Kollos, whose race is impossibly good at astrogation, and largely unfamiliar with the sensation of having a meat body. 
  • Communications Officer Andrea (Sherry Jackson from "What are Little Girls Made Of?"). An emotional robot who isn't very good at administering Turing Tests or coping with unfamiliar situations. (I'm also tempted to put Kevin Riley, a recurring singing Irishman, here.)
TOS presents a trichotomy between three ways of making a decision: Spock's logic, McCoy's emotionalism, and Kirk's duties of command. I'm thinking to give the new crew a trichotomy about prioritization: Garth's impulsive extravagance, Alexander's moral principles, and the doctor's short-term expediency.

I wanted to change which crew positions were in the "Power Trio," but the characters I had slotted for Captain, First Officer and Chief Medical Officer just worked out well.

*Or, now that I look them over, apparently just my favorites from season 3.

Monday, September 19, 2016

(Part 2) What the 4th Succession War Implies About Population Size

tl;dr? Soldiers in the 4th Succession War died at the same rate (per billion people, per month) as soldiers in World War II.

Per Volume II of the NAIS Military Atlas, the Fourth Succession War left 100 million dead and 600 million wounded from thirteen months of fighting. (The war lasted from mid August 3028 to February of 3030, with three months of inaction in the middle and two at the end.) That's 7.7 million dead, plus 46 million wounded, each month.

Per Wikipedia, World War II lasted 68-71 months during which 21 to 25.5 million soldiers were killed (with 8 wounded for every 7 dead), 29 to 30.5 million civilians were killed by strategic bombing or warcrimes, and 19 to 28 million civilians were killed by war-related famine or disease. Earth had about 2.3 billion people in 1940, with about 2.0 billion in countries which participated in WW2.
  • WW2 killed or wounded about 630k to 800k soldiers, or .032% to .040% of participating populations, per month. The 4thSW's 100+600 million dead and wounded, at those rates, would suggest a population of 1.7 trillion to 2.2 trillion for the 4thSW. 
  • WW2 killed about 300k to 380k soldiers, or .015% to .019% of participating populations, per month. The 4thSW's 100 million deaths, at those rates, suggest a population of 533 billion to 676 billion for the 4thSW.
  • WW2 killed about 970k to 1.2 million soldiers plus civilians, or .049% to .062% of participating populations, per month. The 4thSW's 100 million dead, at those rates, would suggest a population of 162 billion to 206 billion for the 4thSW. 
We know that last estimate is too low. Firstly because the Inner Sphere has at least 450 billion people, and secondly because the 4thSW didn't purposefully attack civilians and industry the way WW2 did. (I notice that the old Succession Wars board game has industry get damaged in about 30% of assaults, though.)

The high first estimate would mean an average of a billion people per named star system, which is difficult to reconcile with other data from the period. It also assumes no civilians were injured, that 31st century weaponry is not more powerful than WW2 weaponry, and that improvements to battlefield surgery have far outstripped improvements to battlefield weaponry.

The middle estimate makes the 4thSW at least as deadly for an average soldier as WW2 was, which seems like something the old developers would do. It's weirdly close to the geometric average of the high and low estimates, which is a bit disquieting because I don't see any reason for it turn out that way (especially if WW2 casualties have been re-estimated a few times over the years). Maybe it has to do with how they arrived at 600 million for the 4thSW's wounded.

Then there's the question of how many worlds actually "participated" in the war. I count significant fighting on only 140 worlds, but others contributed soldiers, others suffered famine because shipping was diverted... all five Successor States participated in the war, albeit unevenly; I'm willing to let it wash, given the countries involved in WW2 didn't participate evenly either.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Have a 'Mech, Frankie Valli

I don't generally bother writing up 'Mech stats anymore unless I have a good bit of fluff in mind to go with them. But last January, apparently I had a craving to make a heavy cannon and two heavy lasers go 80kph with as little tech as possible, and I had a song stuck in my head.

I was pretty proud of that "Meacham / each won" rhyme.

The tune is a brassy, energetic variation on Mack The Knife. The CD jacket claims it's performed by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, but it's a cheap CD compilation, and I don't really trust their fact checking.

The full lyrics are unGoogleable, so I've put them [with some guesses] below the cut.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

random cargos

Back in February, someone asked what the rough cost per ton would be to ship bulk cargo in BattleTech, and requested suggestions for semi-interesting cargoes to inflict on player characters.

As a quick rule, DropShips and JumpShips (hereafter DS&JS) suggests that a commercial ship makes about 2d6x10% of its usual revenue per mission.

Based on the revenues-per-mission and the cargo capacities listed in FASA's TR:3057, shipping should cost about 105 to 111 C-Bills per ton of cargo. (The per-mission revenues look like they were taken from a chart in DS&JS, which has a more complex system, and I suspect uses a base cost of 100 per ton). That matches up well with MW1e's comments that transportation can cost from 500 C-Bills for a single person (which is about five tons worth of cargo - I wonder if that's where BattleSpace got the mass of steerage quarters?) up to "several thousand" C-Bills to ship a BattleMech. And of course, transport into a combat zone can cost up to 10x higher.

The price should be per jump, which means any DropShip which can find customers for 500 tons of cargo space can make enough to pay for passage on a jump collar.

Here's all the cargoes I came up with:
  • a herd of cattle
  • whatever Han Solo was hauling in Episode 7
  • one deadly and unpredictable midget (the man loves fire)
  • enormous hallucinogenic fungi
  • industrial sand
  • petroleum sludge
  • soylent (capellan) green
  • quadrotriticale and/or tribbles
  • agrimechs or mining mechs
  • aquaculture farms
  • computer chips and/or fiberoptic components
  • fiberoptic cable too large to have any known use
  • a stack of enormous polished mirrors
  • antique weaponry or wines (for Kurita space)
  • copies of the most recent season of Solaris VII bouts
  • high art filled with drug stashes
  • drugs stashes filled with corporate espionage
  • corporate espionage team with several ten-ton cargo containers they refuse to explain or open
  • metal nets filled with mysteriously irradiated space debris
  • a smaller dropship
  • a thruster or engine part for a larger dropship
  • precursor metals or components for weapon manufacture
  • a rare isotope of water
  • a library of Vogon poetry
  • refugees
  • spare filters for a water filtration plant
  • medical and/or disaster relief supplies
The 1987 House Sourcebooks all have sections discussing what they trade with other states, and some of their corporate and planetary profiles mention imports and exports too.

Monday, September 12, 2016

(Part 1) What the 4th Succession War Implies About Population Size

tl;dr? The size of Tikonov's garrison implies that the Successor States have a total population of no more than 516 billion to 539 billion people.

Let's talk about Tikonov.

Tikonov has 5.279 billion people, and (according to the NAIS Military Atlases) fielded 80 militia regiments in the 4th Succession War. That's one militia regiment per 66 million people. Capellan worlds typically have a two-battalion militia each; using the Tikonov ratio, two battalions would imply a typical population of 44 million per world.

The House Liao: The Capellan Confederation (hereafter HL:CC) Atlas contains forty major Capellan worlds totaling 138.502 billion people, and averaging 3.46255 billion each. If we estimate the Successor States to have 156 such major worlds totaling 450 billion people, then the 116 outside the Confederation average only 2.68533 billion each. (Remarkably close to Chesterton's average of 2.68444 billion, also from HL:CC.) That makes the major Capellan worlds about 1.29x as populous as major non-Capellan worlds. If we assume that 1.29x ratio also holds for lesser worlds, then the "typical" non-Capellan world should average about 34.12 million.

I count about 1892 star systems in the Successor States, claiming (probably on the lower end of) 1974 to 2654 inhabited worlds between them. Assuming the Chesterton systems have an average number of planets for a non-Capellan system, that makes 377 to 373 "typical" Capellan worlds vs. (respectively) 1441 to 2125 "typical" non-Capellan worlds. That totals 66 billion to 89 billion humans on top of the 450 billion from major worlds (i.e., 516 billion to 539 billion humans in all).

On the other hand, the ratio of two battalions per 44 million people is a pretty rough abstraction. The "typical" Capellan worlds could be quite a lot smaller and still be able to support the two battalions; typical non-Capellan worlds may be more populous in comparison.

I don't know why Tikonov has only two battalions per 44 million people, but the reason probably applies to any population of significant size in BattleTech, which makes it useful for calculating an upper limit on planetary populations.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Godzilla Resurgence

I like things that are made of other things, so it's no surprise that I like Godzilla: Final Wars. But where that one's a comedy, to one-up Matthew Broderick's Godzilla, this one's a drama, to one-up Bryan Cranston's Godzilla.


Tiny googly eyes, needle-mouth and smoldering bellows chest 
will run from Oct 11 to Oct 18 in the US.
I wonder if the Fukushima disaster had / will have anything to do with it, and if / how the current push for stronger Japanese military will play into it.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Have a 'Mech: Hornet LAM

Hornet LAM tro thumbnailold Hornet (The Spider and the Wolf)
I'd hoped to post this Saturday but I took too long putting it together. It might be a while before I tackle anything else that requires editing and research.

Text version here. I still dislike how google is handling image hosting.

I'm pretty happy that I managed to keep it under 1000 words. It no doubt helps that my sources gave me very little text to rehash. Which isn't to say I wrote it wholecloth; like my first two LAMs, I pieced it together from a hundred little notes. That resulted in a bunch of "point, counterpoint" phrasings that I'm not really happy with, and probably contributed to how long it took to finish.

I didn't set out to make three Davion LAMs. But in hindsight, the Davion-centrism and Macross-centrism of the early material did make it kind of likely. I think I'll eventually follow up with a Jade Falcon LAM, a revision of my WoB Tarantula LAM, and a Rasalhague VTOL (an LAM hunter). That would give the series one unit per era, which would be kind of neat.

Images are all related to the writeup. The oldest rendition of a Hornet is seen at left; bottom compares a modern Hornet with the similar Duan Gung; and bottom right is the earliest rendition of a Chameleon trainer 'Mech, showing clear influences from the "I turn into a fighter plane" corps of 'Mechs.

Duan Gung vs Hornetold Chameleon

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Pathfinder: our maps & reference sheets

Reference Sheets: I forget where I found these. They're kind of useful. Not ideal, but so far I haven't cared enough to improve on them.

My Character Sheet: Never got around to updating this. I'll be switching to a mage soon, though, so maybe I'll actually change it up a bit.

As I recall, armor can gain either a +1 enhancement bonus, or spell resistance 13.
Weapons get a (chosen randomly) +1 enhancement bonus, shocking(?), keen, or defending.
[Edit, Sep 7: They don't. Not since the MageHammers took over. /Edit]

And now, the Known World:

Naturally, exact scale and contents of any region may vary from DM to DM and from week to week. Inset and key below the cut.