Friday, July 7, 2017

Dieselpunk Manifesto Part Nine: Finally a Real Rocket Ship!

My second post today because I've been a lazy blogger lately.

This post covers Buck Rogers strips 80-89

You can view the archives here.

Killer kane has done a lot of questionable things, but never let it be said he let grass grow under his feet. Mac and Buck go scouting for a Han raiding raiding force and Mac says, "We'll take' my wee rocket ship. She's a bonny crate, the latest model!" It is the first rocket to ever appear in Buck Rogers (discounting ammunition).


'Bonny' is a small two or three man rocket. She has a forward and fixed rocket gun with iron sights and a pintle mount behind the pilot seat. I fid a little fault with Buck's description of it as a rocket. Bonny has large intakes forward and probably operates as a jet most of the time. She has three heavy duty wheels for landing gear and as we will see later she is designed to operate as a ground vehicle at least over city streets. Doubtlessly she has a lot of inertron in her construction.

She's also got similarities to the biplanes her class will replace: an open cockpit and the weapons arrangement. As Dick Calkins got more comfortable with the SF elements in the strip he moved away from airplanes and to rockets. I'd love to have heard the discussion of the transports between him and Philip Nowlan.

Phil: Dick, the artwork is great but ...

Dick: Is this about those newfangled rockets again?!

Phil: Yeah.

Dick: Biplanes aren't good enough for you? they won us the goddam War! I draw great biplanes! What's the matter with biplanes?

Phil: I had rockets ... swoops in the fucking book! I want some rockets!

Dick: I'll see what I can work up ... but they're going to be little rockets! Biplane sized!

Phil : Fair enough.

(Actually I have no idea what was said.)

The small rockets seem to be easing the readers into the world of the future. They will get more and more elaborate but slowly to keep people comfy with them. There will be a smooth transition from those cute biplanes to the huge juggernauts Part will eventually field.

After lifting ship (she's a belly lander but I won't discriminate) they quickly spot a lone Han raider and Buck advises they attack. After all it's one to one. Proving that he is as crazy as Buck Mac attempts to get on the raider's tail. As they are coming around to begin their attack run the raider opens its hood and disgorges a squadron of Han fighter craft. the Han fighters cut them off from the Outlaw Org. 

The Mongol 'fish' have similar hulls to Bonny but are held aloft with repeller beams and mount a disintegrator forward on a pintle mount that is aimed by the pilot. 

To be honest the design sucks. The pilot has a big assed disintegrator blocking his forward view which he has to aim manually. Add to this that these craft basically handle like helicopters, not airplanes despite their sleek lines. this should come as no surprise. After all who have the Mongols been fighting in the air? These fighters are more for ground attack, courier runs and parades than dogfights. 

As we see in the next strip the disintegrator's famous lack of range also plays into the fight. Mac and Buck adjust oxygen masks and dive through the squadron taking down several ships. With the squadron on their tail Mac pilots them through a series of canyons. This is the point where the Mongol pilots say screw this and return to the ship. More tho the point, if these fish are similar to the other Mongol devices we've seen they use broadcast power, whether from their mother ship or the central broadcast and those cliffs might block their power.

Kane drops paratroopers next. It seems that the Emperor gave Kane a multipurpose ship. The paratroopers are immediately set upon. by Two Gun Pete and the rest of the Outlaws who use their new jumping belts and horses to keep out of range of the dis-rays while blasting them with rocket rounds. The Outlaws use their 'air cavalry" to flank the paratroopers and hurl them back. Wilma spots Killer Kane in the rear giving frantic orders to his broken squads.

Buck swears he'll get Kane but an Outlaw sentry announces an immense air fleet is approaching. Mac proudly announces that fleet will take their orders from him. Go take another look at the picture of the bonny crate. That number one is on her tail for a reason.

It's a pivotal moment in the strip. The previous military actions against the Han were mere pin pricks. The biplanes were fun but they really didn't look like they'd have a chance against a Han ship. In fact the Buck rogers High Adventure Game had a scenario involving biplanes and a Han airship mixing it up and ... if I were a player I'd want no part of it. No, biplanes could not disrupt a tea ceremony going on aboard one of those behemoths. Gimme one of those bonny crates mon.

This is the first shot of a war. When the Han raider lands to retrieve Kane and his troops the rocket fleet circles  and reduces it to a smoking wreck.

Suddenly the Americans have gone from 'wild tribesmen' to a force to be reckoned with.

MacGregor offers to clear Rogers' name if he will join his Orgzone ("Ah know ye for a bonny fighter!"). Buck agrees and heads off with his inertron enhanced horsemen to get Kane. Wilma gleefully accompanies them.

They bring Kane back on a leash and in disgrace to MacGregor who immediately has the traitor shot.

No wait he's too good a villain to waste. Mac sends Kane back to the Mongol Emperor with a message: all the Orgzones East of St. Louis have formed a confederation and will no longer stand for Mongol raids. The Emperor agrees to a truce while plotting the destruction of the Americans. Buck and Wilma bid adieu to the cowboys. They are issued their own rocket to to proceed to Niagara, the capital of North America. On the way to Niagara, Mac throws a line and uses it to board Ruck's rocket (their radio is apparently on the blink) and tells Buck they will have to land at Detroit and proceed on the ground the rest of the way. He mentions this just before the warning shot explodes off their beam nearly knocking them out of the sky!

Next: Niagara!






Dieselpunk Manifesto Part Eight: Air Cavalry and the Flying Scotsman

Buck Rogers strips 70-79 Link.

We last left Buck being called out by an outlaw named Lariat Luke. Luke snakes a lasso at Buck from horseback but the Org outlaw surprises him by leaping out of the way (straight up). Buck takes Luke out with one punch to the jaw. the other outlaws tell Rogers they are going to give him what he's got coming to him.

They make Buck their Boss. Apparently promotions are pretty quick in the outlaws. Beat up the Boss and you're the new one. Wilma is all starry eyed at this point calling Buck wonderful. Impending canoodling is cut short by the Cyclone Kid announcing there is one outlaw Buck can't beat: a powerful mustang. Wilma has her doubts ("That brute will kill you!") Buck is more concerned with being perceived as yellow by the other guys and he jumps into the saddle. The insertion belt gives Buck all the advantage he needs. The horse bucks him off and then tows him around like a parade balloon until wearing himself out. Buck bows to the ovations.

Being Boss outlaw ushers in a happy time for Buck. He and Wilma begin discussing wedding plans. In Armageddon: 2419 they DID get married pretty early on, before the the Orgs even began their war with the Han.

Buck attempts to interest the cowboys in jumping belts but they seem to have an aversion to the newfangled stuff.

 In the middle of all this though Lariat Luke staggers into camp riddled with bullets. Luke manages to relate that two of Boss Tabb's men shot him down on ground if him being an outlaw and them not being outlaws.

Angrily Buck radios Tabb and demands justice. Boss Tabb manages to stop laughing long enough to tell Buck that outlaws have no rights. Buck looses no time in organizing a reprisal. His outlaws swoop down on Tabb's outfit that very night and manages to take the Org by surprise. Buck demands 300 jumping belts from Tabb and Two Gun Pete demands that Luke's killers be hung.

We know Buck got the belts at least. Buck immediately puts them to use, strapping them onto a horse to see whether horses can benefit from inertron technology. He lets Wilma try riding the horse, which seems odd for a man trying not to appear yellow ("We'll just let the pretty little blonde try this out.)

The horse and Wilma make a leap of a full 500 feet. The outlaws begin learning to use the belts and outfitting themselves and their mounts. While Buck is trying to get them organized a few of the guys strap three jumping belts to their cook and send the poor SOB on a one way trip up. Buck grabs four belts to fly upwards even faster and save the cook and they return to Earth sacrificing five belts. I would have been pretty pissed at those jokesters, were I Buck.

While Buck was getting things back to normal a mysterious stranger calls on an outlaw outpost. Wearing a tartan kilt and cape the mustached stranger demands the sentry "Tak' me tae yer Boss!"

The stranger explains he is from the MacGregor Orgzone in Canada. We learn later he IS (Andrew) Macgregor and kind of a big deal. After winning all manner of awards for being the most Scottish in language and appearance MacGregor went on to command his Orgzone's air forces. But right now he's just Mac. Mac relates a report from his spies that might be of interest to Rogers.

Apparently the Mongol Emperor was so grief stricken at the loss of Wilma he went a on a rampage, fired his head spy and swore of booze for at least another day. Honestly the drawing of him in strip #78 makes him look more like he's hung over than suffering the pangs of unrequited lust. He might have also still been suffering from his bender and getting the snot beaten out of him by Lone Wolf.  Considering the chief of the spy service should have known about such things we can see why he got the Imperial foot in his butt.

In the midst of the Emperor doing an impression of a pissy Cobra Commander his lackey announces a strange tribesman seeks audience and oddly the Emperor allows this. The strange tribesman is none other than Killer Kane: "Major Kane of the enemy forces." Kane relates that Wilma spurned him and he seeks revenge. In return for command of a squadron he will get her for the Emperor. The Emperor agrees and Kane swears he will henceforth be a Mongol.

Strip #79 ends with Mac stating his concern for Buck and Wilma and Buck swearing he'll force Kane's hand.

Where to begin? With the horses of course!

As we saw a very fit runner could keep up with a man using a jumping belt. He'd just get tired way faster. Two Gun Pete saying he didn't need a jumping belt because he had a horse makes some sense. he could make better time but of course needs to see to the feeding and watering of the mount. On the other hand a horse could provide better warning of say, coyotes at night than your jumping belt.

Using a belt with a horse makes sense. If you don't have cars or planes a horse will do and a rider that effectively weighs a few pounds will not tire out Mr. Horse at all! besides that a horse jumping several hundred feet is just cool. I am not sure how hard the landing will be on the mount or how much training is needed. At the very least your horse could just walk normally with extra gear making up for the insertion carried.

The old western trope of the horse being shot and falling, pinning the rider under him is also subverted. The rider could easily pick up an insertion equipped horse and carry him to the vet.

There sure as hell is something going on with the insertion here. Grabbing more jumping belts makes you rise faster? One of the tricks the Americans never used insertion for (or did they?) use it to lift a spy satellite quietly and quickly into orbit to see where the Han raiders were. Because you know it's a better warning system than everyone screaming when half your Org gets vaporized or mashed flat.

MacGregor never had a given name in the strips. The High Adventure Cliffhangers Buck Rogers Adventure Game gives it as Andrew. Mac is a very cool character indeed. None of the outlaws scoffs at the man wearing a kilt.

Kane reception by the Emperor is a strange meeting indeed. The Emperor is after all the supreme ruler of North America (on paper at least) and he didn't get there being a drunken skirt chaser. Handing a squadron over to some love lorn yobbo might send all kinds of messages to the viceroys and toadies in the court. 

There was a spy in the Columbus Org. It was not Kane, otherwise he would have opened with that and not his rank. It's possible this spy turned Kane and sent word to the Emperor and the squadron under Kane's command is a fiction to throw Kane a bone before he finds Wilma, hands her over, and then takes it in the neck from the Emperor.

More troubling, the Bad Bloods were a constant problem for the Orgs. Did the Han use Americans and those of mixed race as mercenaries? I pointed out signs that there were people of various races living in the Han cities. The Buck Rogers Cliffhanger game supports this. Otherwise Buck would not have gotten very far in Los Angeles when he was looking for Wilma ("Hey stop that six-foot-three blond blue eyed Mongol!")

More to the point Mac says his spies reported on Kane's meeting with the Emperor. If the Americans have such spies then there must be some interaction between the Americans and the Han, dayworkers, maintenance or whatever. The Americans might even have their own 'Han', children of mixed marriage who were shunned and turned to spying for the American cause. There might be American sympathizers among the Mongols, or Han social climbers eager to show up the Emperor to improve their own position.

The Emperor's court is starting to look like a cross between Las Vegas and Caligula's reign.

BTW  The High Adventure Cliffhangers Buck Rogers Adventure Game states that Killer Kane's given name is Cornelius. Later strips established it as Nova, stated by his brother Coe. Yes, their parents named them Nova Kane and Coe Kane. I prefer Cornelius. 


MacGregor's name is given as Andrew in the same game and for the record: Buck's given name is Anthony in Armageddon: 2419. I'd go with Anthony Buckley or Buckminster Rogers myself. That could explain the nickname. Then again, the way he bucks authority might be a better explanation.



Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Luna's Windows

The spacecraft Luna went through a number of design changes before consensus was reached. One of the longest and most brutal was over windows. Did she need windows?

Since the earliest days of space flight windows were valued for psychological reasons. People like to see what is outside using the Mark One Eyeball. You can have as many enhanced, colorized, optimized views on screens as you want. They still want to see what is around them.

Luna has excellent viewing systems, starting with the collection of lenses in the bow. Lateral sensors give a perfect image of surroundings. Even the stern ram has viewing apparatus. The windows on Luna still made the command crew feel better. The pilot and navigation advisors were mostly adamant about including windows.

It was argued that Metasite could be made transparent and was still strong as steel. many ships had transparent portals or sections of their hulls. But the Luna was a war ship. What about a weapon hitting a window?

It was argued that a weapon hit anywhere with modern technology being what it was would be. Very. Bad. Metasite being what it was there was sufficient protection from micro-meteorites and debris in orbit.

The compromise was something neither side really liked. The command crew got their windows. The armor guys got their protection. Each porthole would have a small viewing alcove that was heavily armored with an airtight door. The alcove could vary lighting without interfering wit the rest of the deck. The alcove was also doubly armored to prevent any weapons strikes from being more disastrous than usual.

Space is empty until it's not!


The alcoves wound up having a variety of unofficial uses. Many underperforming or insubordinate crewmen were assigned guard duty in an alcove as a light reprimand. Some crew chose to decorate the small areas and use them for meditation, meals or rest. On at least one occasion two crew used it for a more intimate purpose while the control deck was fully manned. A more practical use of the alcove was storing extra damage control supplies or snacks for those long shifts.

The crew of a Luna class do not have a lot of privacy (there are two single cabins in the entire ship.) Despite the busy atmosphere of the control deck the alcoves are often used by crew at designated hours to get s little alone time. The use of windows in operations is minimal. In a short video that went global a pilot was dropping ship to land while the navigator stood in an alcove looking outside and making hand gestures to tell the the pilot when to slow down. At one point the navigator even rolls down the window (not possible on a standard porthole to say the least), sticks his head out and drops a brick to determine exactly how far up they are, timing its fall. Th psychological benefit of the alcoves are indisputable.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Diesel Engines in Space

Atomic Rockets divides fictional spacecraft into two varieties: those modeled on aircraft and those modeled on watercraft. the nonfictional spacecraft are all tail landing rockets of course. However in looking at the earliest Buck Rogers strips I found another type.

Trains!

When you look at the Satellite, she's a tractor design. The engine is in the front (you could make the case it's a Volkswagen design but that's just silly.)



Buck clearly sees the similarities to a train as this panel shows:


Naturally no one else sees it. they're used to flying around in rockets. He's the only one who ever saw a train. this was where I got the idea of train styled ships however.

The Satellite's interior features were kind of ... inconstant because Lt. Dick Calkins was grinding out a daily strip and not a rocket engineer. But we have a couple of refs of the Satellite's control room and fixtures.


Jeeze, look at those vacuum tubes! I bet the analytical engines have five times the power of twentieth century devices!


Gears, levers on the floor. Look at them. They say train to me. Honestly if you were living in the late 20's trains were the most high tech conveyance people were familiar with. It was an interesting sort of style for Calkins to use. He was an aviator and you might think why not base it on aircraft (which he was quite good at rendering)?

the aircraft Calkins was familiar with were similar (if not actual models of) the JN-4. those things had a range of about 300 kilometers. Spacecraft like the Satellite were supposed to house a crew for long distance journeys. The choices for long distance travel back then were a ship, a train, or an airship (Buck even hangs a lampshade on that by referring to the first Mongol raider he sees as a dirigible.) He'd already used dirigibles to model the Han ships so the Americans needed something different.

I also note that while the Satellite does have portholes to look outside. You can see Wilma standing in front of one below (and she looks lovely). The people in the control room use a view screen or televizo-ron or what have you. Odds are those lights above it indicate various conditions (such as -ease-off-the-throttle-or-you'll-kill-us-idiot! That's second from the right. This might be the first instant of a remote viewing display on a rocket.


Seriously, I'm wondering what the story is with those tubes? Any gear heads out there want to tell me why they built them so much bigger? they might contain some kinds of gases for life support or coolant. I try to do these write ups from the stand point that some of their technology looks like old fashion equipment but is actually something very different. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Group Solitaire

Transcript #12001089 GCS Tesla Forward Rec Room

<thwap>

Lt.: I'm stumped. Hint?

GAIA: Red seven on black eight.

Lt: Oh. thanks

GAIA: No legal moves remain. You lose.

Lt.: Damn! Redeal!

GAIA: Heeheehee. Certainly.

<<Psssht!>>

Captain: Hey Tech Officer, when are you getting these doors fix ...

Lt.: Sir!

Captain: What in the hell are you doing?

Lt.: Playing solitaire sir.

Captain: GAIA, what are you doing?

GAIA: I'm helping him play sir, dealing the cards, providing help.

Lt.: You haven't been that helpful, hon.

Captain: Why are you using the ship's AI ancillary to PLAY solitaire?

Lt.: ... I am off duty. She's offline.

Captain: Why are you using the most advanced AI in the Fleet to play goddam solitaire?!

Lt.: The dumber AIs won't let me cheat. She will ... sometimes.

Captain: I see. Carry on technical Officer, GAIA.

GAIA: He makes cute faces when he's losing.

Lt.: Card please ... Dammit!

GAIA: See he's doing it again!


Just Pay the Fee

A ton of refined hydrogen fuel costs 500 Cr. most places. there is a lot of screaming about this cost inflation of the most common element in the damned Universe by merchant captains (military officers are used to paying ridiculous amounts for everything and it isn't their money.)

Just pay the fee.

A frontier trader (per Cepheus Engine) takes 45 tons of fuel and can travel in system at 2 gees.

45 tons of fuel costs 22,500 Cr. most places.

Refueling at a gas giant cuts that down to nothing so captains all buy fuel coops and fuel purifiers and get fuel for free.

A free trader costs @ 80 million credits (any version of CTyou play).

The mortgage amounts to 341,000 Cr a month. Life support and salaries adds another 50,000 Cr say for @ 400,000 Cr. a month.

Traveling to a typical gas giant at a distance of 5 A.U.s is going to take you 4.2 days. You ship is not earning revenue or on its way to earning revenue. 400,000 Cr. a month divided by 30 * 4.2 gives us @60,000 credits that trip just cost you. Doing it twice a month will cost you 120,000 Cr. in effect. To save 45,000 Cr. worth of fuel.

You are in effect wasting 8.4 days a month schlepping to a gas giant. Not to mention all the fun stuff that may happen to you en route or while refueling. That isn't counting the added value to the ship and the increased mortgage and reduced cargo space the refinery takes up to let you refine that stuff and be on your way.

A ship typically spends one week in transit and one week in port looking for cargo or trade. To refuel you've cut that down to 2.8 days already and in a few ports you might stuck on the end of a holding pattern. They will let the ships that buy their fuel in port land first. There's more money to be made on fuel and berthing fees. Oh, berthing fees would probably sell by the week. So spending only two days in port will not save you anything (parking garages in New York City have a similar pricing structure.)

Also, your crew expects a good chunk of leave time on the ground and you just blew it making an in system run. Expect to pay bonuses or lose crew and reputation.

Now you could leave your crew onboard to do the refueling and take a fast shuttle with your cargo to the mainwoorld. But Even if you had a vehicle that could make 6 gees and haul your cargo it's take you about 2.5 days each way. That'd leave you 2 days out of the week for brokering and hunting down freight. Plus insisted runs cost 100 RCr. per ton to haul your cargo, both ways and a few hundred for yourself.

Where this falls apart is when the main world is a moon of a gas giant or ice giant. Then a starwort might not even bother to sell refined fuel. But in that case the berthing fees would be higher to make money off the clowns skimming the giant and selling fuel cheaply. They need to berth their ships to make repairs and keep their crews sane and take on supplies. The fees would in fact almost be prohibitively high. the only people getting rich there would be the skimmers and the port owners.

So shut up and pay the fee.

Or ... take a ship in the ocean.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Dead Is Dead ... Maybe

My fellow grognards may burn me in effigy but this post has been cooking for a while.

If you're going to play Classic Traveller then you roll up a character and take your chances. You may end up with a bunch of snake eyes for stats, or a one term wonder or see your Grand Admiral of the Stars nerf his survival roll and start rolling again as playing an impervious memorial statue is not your thing.

I never went with the fail a survival roll and you get mustered out after two years, no skill rolls or benefits for that term. It's called survival roll for a reason.

However I also understand players wanting characters who are hotshots, femme fatales and badasses. Having a character you've spent time crafting die or having one with worse stats than you, the player, can be a let down. So I offer the following system as a compromise.

You can still die.

You can still get shitty stats.

You could still be a one term wonder.

But not all three. Not likely. Not if you're smart.

I propose you start charges with a fixed number of character points. Say four points, three if you're in the Scouts. You'll see why in a minute.

Each point lets you succeed at a roll. You can even decide after the roll if you want to negate it and merely succeed by saving a point.If you're a Scout you can take automatic success in survival rolls and breathe easily, for three terms. Another use of character points would be dictating your roll for skills or benefits or even promotions.

So we make chargen less of a crapshoot and more of a resource allocation game. Do you succeed at promotion that last time and then take a chance on dying? Do you become a high ranking officer with few useful skills (not that this happens for real, ever!)? Do you take chances for many random skills but have a living breathing Scout? Do you save up all your rolls and wind up with a paid off merchant ship?

This could be a good compromise as I can see no one being satisfied with it. Of course you can set as many points as you wish for players and even make them 'pay' for them in little ways. You use a point for a promotion and it means you called in a favor and owe someone. You burn a point to survive and you wind up being cyborg at Simon-Kirby Memorial. What can go wrong?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Red Mercury and the Proletariat

The Soviets were desperate for a superhuman soldier. They couldn't let on though. Stalin was adamant the courage of the common man would carry the day (or at least the courage of millions of common men). Then Stalingrad happened and in the midst of the deadlock the Nazis brought in the Creature to break the stalemate. He waded through gunfire, leading a platoon of undead Blitztruppen, and slaughtered Red Guards with a sword. He found this Soviet lady sniper they had and broke her neck on film.

Stalin tried to weasel the secrets of the electric troopers and invisibility out of the rest of the Allies but that was a no go. So they fell back on alchemy and hundreds if not thousands of test subjects. One survived. Stalin liked the image of thousands of proletariat sacrificing themselves to create a champion, an amalgam of them all.

Except Mercury was a freaking vampire. Mercury survived his treatment by drawing on the life force of his fellow test subjects. Then the scientists. Then the guards, but he fell to his knees before Uncle Joe and swore to serve him with his dying breath.

They made him a commissar. He didn't take to the front lines often but when he did the results were devastating. He could drain the life from an entire tank crew through the armor. The Russians felt it was better to keep him behind the lines, safe and urging the troops onward. The Nazis had many monsters but what did it matter? The Reds had a worse monster to face if they retreated. They took back Stalingrad from the Nazis.

They're making more.

Commissar Mercury

The commissar is a 7 HD monster. He is AC [AAC] 6 [13] and +7 to hit. He has heightened senses and is only surprised on a 1 in 6 chance.

Explosions, fire, and chemical attacks do only half damage to Mercury. Bullets do half damage.

The creature adds +2 to its initiative rolls and is only surprised in a 1 in 10.  In combat his fists and talons do 1d6 damage and he may strike twice per turn. He absorbs half the damage he does and he may use this to heal damage his own damage on a one to one basis.

He can drain life force at a distance through nearly any material (he has de-manned tanks.) This attack has a 20' range and is a cone 15' wide. All those within this cone must make a saving throw or lose 1d3 damage.

More importantly if Commissar Mercury has access to a freshly deceased body he can imbue it with some of his life force to create a revenant. As you can imagine he has no shortage of bodies. This requires six hit points. A revenant has 6 HP, AC 7[12] and no hit bonus. They can use weapons.

Every six points of damage Mercury does raises his energy level increasing his damage rolls by 1 point to a maximum of 1d6+2. When he reaches maximum damage the next six hit points he absorbs gives him +1 initiative. Mercury can also reduce his own hit points by these amounts to get the same effects (-6, -12 and -18 hits respectively).



Monday, June 19, 2017

Dieselpunk Manifesto Part Seven: Badlands and Bad Men

Buck Rogers strip 60-69.

Well Buck is drifting along over the Rockies when he discovers he dropped a little too much ballast from those shirts he made into a sack. It happens. Using a knife he discovers he can easily cut the inertron the jumping belts are made of to save himself from flying into space. I guess the Navajo Boss let him keep a survival knife. Again the Navajo were pretty decent folks in all their appearances.

Buck lands, catches a rabbit somehow and is making dinner over a campfire when he is accosted by a cowboy with a rocket pistol! This is a pulp tradition. When things slow down have a guy with a gun errr rocket pistol step into the room.

Buck has met a new friend, Two Gun Pete. Pete susses out that Rogers is an outlaw, which is fine as Pete is also an outlaw and part of a whole outlaw org. He offers to take Buck back with him to meet the gang. Buck tries to interest Pete in one of his spare jumping belts but Pete would rather stick with his horse. Once safe (?) with the outlaws one roughneck says Buck has to be initiated, with his dukes.

The fight is a doozy with the outlaw giving as good as he gets and for once Rogers might be in over his head when his sparring partner calls a halt. A plane (one a' them durn mechanical buzzards!) is flying overhead and in some sort of difficulty. It makes a hard landing nearby. The outlaws and Rogers find the pilot dead and the plane in working order. Buck takes off in it to check it out.

Yeah, I know. Something killed that guy. It might be something to do with the plane but with a cursory once over Buck hops in. But the plane is fine and the pilot's cause of death is listed as an overdose of plot device.

Meanwhile Wilma lands at the Navajo Org and she and Nunah have some straight talk. Nunah takes no shit from Deering. Wilma soon learns Buck doesn't love Nunah, Buck doesn't know Lanlu is breathing, Buck loves Wilma, and Wilma was being a d--k.

Getting Wilma to do a reality check happens several times. She is impetuous (!) but means well. If Rogers ever learnt how to do it he kept it a secret. then again they got a lot of strips out of him following her around while she was trying to give him the brush.

Wilma is about to leave in search of Rogers when Killer Kane arrives. He again professes his love for Deering, who makes him about as welcome as a case of the clap.

At this point we get an idea just how dark a character  Kane is. He mutters to himself that if he can't have her (Wilma) no one will. Stalkers in the modern day are no laughing matter. Imagine one with a jumping belt and an airplane who designs medieval melee weapons in his spare time.

Nunah refuels Kane's plane with water while he's trying his moves on Wilma, then she tells Derring to cheeze it! Wilma takes off and Kane and his plane are left sputtering on the landing strip. Nunah apologizes for her goof further pissing off Kane.

As Buck is flying about he spots two planes making like mating butterflies. As he investigates there is a collision. One plane is fine, the other goes down. Fortunately Buck trails a line to the pilot who has a jumping belt. It's Wilma. Their joyful reunion is cut short by Kane who still has a plane thank you and an armed one at that. He begins blazing away and Rogers uses every trick he learned in the Army Air Corps finally pulling a fancy turn that Kane 'needs a sky hook' to match. You wonder just how much practice the average Org man or even an accomplished rat is great standing like Kane had with a biplane by now. Buck was a pilot in the Great War and likely saw his share of combat. He handily out flies Kane and was even in command of a squadron at one point so he must be a great pilot.

Kane begins broadcasting a message to the surrounding orgs asking for help apprehending Rogers and Deering (the big snitch!) Planes from Vancouver, Seattle, Columbus, Minneapolis and Oakland scramble. But Rogers manages to break off the engagement and land back at the outlaws. The Orgs do set up an air cordon around the area to keep his outlaw plane on the ground.

Rogers quickly introduces Wilma to Two Gun Pete and Pete brings the couple home to dinner with him and the wife, Missus Pete. Missus Pete informs Buck that women are scarce and he may have to fight for her as a peeping Tom looks on. That first fight comes in the next panel as the peeping Tom is revealed as -the Cyclone Kid, from Dead Man's Gulch. He demands Rogers fork over Wilma.

Being a decent sort Buck decides to fight the Kid. Handing Wilma over to him would just be too cruel (to the Kid that is.) Buck beats the crap out of him and teaches him to stick to murdering the English language. Feeling cocky, Buck asks "If there anyone else?" An outlaw named Lariat Luke offers to oblige Buck and snakes a rope at the man out of time!

Where to start? Buck is very inventive with his inertron, mores than the natives of the era. this may be because it is a relatively new substance. Still there should be releases to let part of your belt drift away in an emergency. Maybe it's just too complicated. Then people will want weight belts too to release in an emergency etc. They'd operate like old style airships, venting lift gas or ballast as necessary.

One also gets the impression inertron is still pretty hard to come by. You might want to conserve it. The outlaws don't seem to be familiar with it. In fact Pete would rather stick with his 'hoss.' the outlaws have all adapted old west dress. This makes sense as they are living in the south western deserts and mountains without many modern conveniences. The clothes of the Old West are very practical for living and working in such lands. Many do tote rocket pistols and they may have bits and pieces of other technologies handy, scrounged or robbed from Org men.

Kane is using an open cockpit biplane for his hijinks now. Possibly the previous plane was too slow to catch up to Wilma's plane. This plane mounts what looks like a machine gun and Kane is pretty intent on killing the lovers this time.

If the planes were built along the lines of a Jenny (JN-4) then they had a cruising speed of ~60 mph/100 kph and a top speed of 75 mph/120 kph with a minimum speed or 45 mph/72 kph. A JN-4 had an operating range of 140 miles/225 km. The planes here don't seem all that dissimilar from the planes rogers flew in the Army Air Corps so I'm going out on a limb by saying their chief improvements were in durability and range. After all, Wilma seems to fly hers direct from Pennsylvania to the Navajo Nation, a trip of ~1900 -2000 miles. Even if she refueled at Columbus (which is the only Org between the Allegheny Org and Navajo Org mentioned, she still has to make a trip of about 400 miles/650 km before fueling and 1600 miles/2600 km afterwards. My claim of durability is based on that poor deceased pilot who's plane survived a hard landing with no damage.

The planes also had some form of automatic pilot. Buck's squadron set theirs up to circle while they bailed out and jumped those Mongols. For that matter the deceased pilot's plane might have landed automatically, following instructions before the pilot died.

So we know the planes are superior in performance to the biplanes from history. They just look like antiques. It's like Mal's pistol in Firefly. The planes are also still way faster than a jumping belt. We know this because Lone Wolf can keep up with Nunah and Buck in their escape. He's apparently captain of the Navajo Org runs ing team and in terrific shape. An 'average' trained runner can make about 12 mph cross country. A jumping belt can let you do that all day.

The Org pilot who dies of no obvious causes remains a mystery. The plane as we see is an important resource for any Org at this time. You'd think they'd sent another up to look for the guy. The cause of death remains unknown and not even mentioned after that strip. To me it seems pretty creepy, like the story of the Orang Medan. I know it was made up but so was the strip.

You wonder if the poor nameless pilot ran across a Mongol death ray. We never hear of a weapon that kills and leaves a body behind. The Mongols use disintegrator beams that clean up after executions. they are masters of super science however and a death ray doesn't seem unlikely for them.

As we will see later at least one Org was wiped out by the Han and buildings were left standing and intact. You wouldn't expect that from a disintegrator. So maybe there are 'death rays', something electric that induces a seizure or stroke or arrests the heart at a distance. That could be even more unnerving than a disintegrator. Wiping out people without a trace is creepy. Leaving people dead without any visible cause is at least as creepy and lets you pick over their effects for intelligence.

The Columbus Org also seems very unconcerned with the Mongol raid on their hospital in earlier strips. I'd be. That means the Mongols have a man inside the Org (three guesses who). It also means the Han could easily send a raider or a whole squadron over to level the entire area. Even assuming the hospital is some distance from the rest of the Org structures, that hospital probably had to be abandoned and cleaned out of any sensitive information.

The Org might have just moved the hospital. It had some above ground structure. If that structure could be detached from the foundation then inertron could neutralize its weight and let it be moved elsewhere. Admittedly inertron was not exactly a household item but a little goes a long way towards replacing cranes. In fact most structures above ground might be only semi permanent and moved around to avoid Han air raids.

The outlaws seem unconcerned with Mongol raiders. They build small wooden structures above the ground. Oddly enough their neighbors, the Navajo Org, is very much on the defensive. They lose planes and people to the raiders with some regularity. The outlaws might simply be classified as not worth the trouble.

The outlaws may also have a reason for not collecting a lot of high tech gear. The Han might notice their new electronics and decide yes, they are worth a raid. The outlaws are a likeable bunch of knuckleheads with too much testosterone. Once you got initiated, that is. Like the Navajo they are a good group to have at your back in a scrape. I got to wondering just what they did to be outlawed.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Luna's Outhouse

Update
Matter Beam of Children of a Dead Earth fame commented and questioned my last post on the R-ray. That led to this:


But wait! With the use of R-rays you could in fact set up a space transport system to boost cargo modules to orbit or other planets. In effect the R-ray is like an orbital tower or bolo system (which Dr. Robert Forward tried to talk up in many of his books (go look for Indistinguishable From Magic). An station in geosynchronous orbit operates its R-ray in reverse (then it's an A-ray). It pulls cargo modules from the ground. this added mass causes it to drop orbit a bit so it also intercepts cargos from further out in the solar system, snagging them with another A-ray. This lets it maintain its altitude. Once in geo synchronous orbit the modules can be transferred to a ship or fired via A-ray out into the Black. If everyone does their job right the station remains in geosynchronous orbit. You could also use ships optimized for rocket drives in orbit. They snag a bunch of modules, do a hard burn to get them on the right trajectory, cut their beam and then slow down for another pass. If you do the slingshot move right the modules winds up taking some of the ship's momentum, slowing it down and saving propellant (pilots always worry about their propellant.)

The End of Luna
The stern of Luna ends in a an armored ram. The press and public ignorance ran with this fact and thought the ship was designed to ram opposing ships. It is doubtful a ramming attack could be made in combats fought over hundreds or thousands of kilometers. Closing n on a ship from that distance is problematical. A disabled ship would be boarded if it was practical or destroyed by weapons from a safe distance. Ramming a ship attempting to board you would invite a weapons attack.

The ram was actually meant for refueling operations. The Luna ca easily reach the asteroids. Many of them contain ice. Ice can be broken down to oxygen and hydrogen and the hydrogen processed into metallic hydrogen fuel pellets for the reaction drive. The ram is used to break up an area rich in ice. That ice is then fed into the small airlock in the stern and from there to a hopper that crushes the ice, melts it, filters it and pumps it to fuel. processing.

The lower airlock was just too darned handy to remain a mere secondary exit for ice mining. It was excellent for ejecting trash for one thing. From this practice it got named the outhouse.Trash disposal was a chore frequently done by new recruits and blowing the rookie (wearing a spacesuit of course) out of the airlock became a coming of age prank.

The small airlock does hold a single crewman and is very handy to use on airless worlds as cycling it wastes less air than the bug locks. It's also easily reached from the ground without a lift belt. In some missions to insert commandos on a habitable world both lock doors are left open and the men merely run through them quickly to exit.

The Luna doesn't have secondary craft. The airlocks along with lift belts and various insertion and extraction gear are an important part of covert missions. The outhouse gives the ship some flexibility since it's quicker to cycle and seal than the big locks and is an additional way to move people off the ship quickly.

After the first refueling operations were performed using the ice breaker move concerns rose about the hull being holed by rocks or debris. Engineers added foamed armor pallets to beef up protection to the hull and around the stern hatch.

One of the more unusual features of the Luna is that its 'ram' is also a landing light. Like the outer hull the ram is made of metasite. In this case the ram's metasite is transparent and a powerful light can be shined through it. Cameras can also give a view of the landing area, aimed through the ram.

The ram was eventually further strengthened by placing a dimple in the bottom. It's still not recommended to use the stern to ram another ship. But some personnel are curious.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Luna's Engines

After some discussion with my learned colleagues (At the Chung, Campbell, McVay and Black Design Group) I worked out the following factoids about the Luna's engines.

R-Ray
The R-ray is the primary propulsion. The Luna's ring generates a protational field. It is similar to gravity but it can attract or repel matter. Even though people call it a ray you can't see it anymore than a magnetic or gravity field. In fact if the R-ray does become visible as the saying goes, "Try to keep up with me."

R-rays are built using the Cepheus Engine table for jump drives. Instead of the rating giving you the maximum distance you jump in parsecs you get the R-ray's range. The range is the distance from the Sun that you can focus a beam accurately and efficiently enough to generate thrust. Read it as follows:

Range
1           Operates as far as Earth's orbit
2           Operates as far as the Asteroid Belt
3           Operates as far as Jupiter
4           Operates as far as Saturn
5           Operates as far as Uranus
6           Operates as far as Neptune/Pluto

Within its range the R-ray provides .1 gee of acceleration. An R-ray can operate up to 1 range further but at .01 gee. Getting to the outer worlds can take a while.

Closer to a world the R-ray is used to lift the ship by setting up a field between the ship and the ground. This is extremely safe. Once you have energized the field and raised the ship to a certain altitude you only need to put a little power into it to offset losses to mechanical inefficiencies and other field effects. A ship that loses power will drift downward very slowly, a few meters a second. The same happens with lift belts. In effect the R-ray has a built in parachute.

Some unscrupulous types with access to advanced technology can also shut down an R-ray from a distance or cause it to lose field strength fast, thus allowing boarding actions or bringing down your space support ships. But ships have reaction drives too allowing them to offset these shenanigans.

The Luna by the way has a drive rating of 3 and can easily make it to Jupiter and in a pinch Saturn.

When a ship is taking off or killing its field to drop quickly the R-ray is drawing back energy out of the field. This has such effects as heat, electrical discharge and looks a lot like a conventional chemical rocket in an atmosphere if a ship is really moving. Generally a lift off of a few meters can be done safely (still not a good idea to be in rifle range of the ship. Your phone and wirstwatch might be messed up. Lifting up to a gee creates heat, a lot of it and a boom like a rocket blasting off. On an airless world the ground under the ship bears the brunt of this with no atmosphere and you may leave a glassy crater behind.

How powerful is the drive? The Luna is 400 dTons. That's 5400 cubic meters. I go with .25 tons per cubic meter for my ship's rough density. That gives us 1350 tons of mass (we're going to leave the tonnage as volume alone from here out.)

The energy to raise the Luna ten meters is given by:

E=m*d*g
m is Luna's mass 1,350,000 kg
d= 10 meters (what we decided for the test flight)
g= 10 meters/s/s

=1,350,000 kg*10m*10 meters/s/s
=135,000,000 kg/m/s/s
=135 megajoules or MW

That's just for ten meters. To get out to say 1000 kilometers we need to use the gravitic constant and the Earth's mass and radius and orbit and such and the answer is in terawatts (trust me I'm saving you a lot of wear and tear on your disbelief's suspension by not getting into actual numbers here.) So if we want to get to orbit in any sort of reasonable time (like a few hours) we need a generator providing gigawatts at least. So yeah if you have as little as a few percent of that being released as static or heat you could kill a lot of people around you. Go look it up on the Boom Table at Atomic Rockets. A discharge of  100Kj is the equivalent of a stick of dynamite. Per second. Gentle lifts are called for in most situations.

Lifting the ship to 1000 km requires 11 terajoules. Assuming the beam emits 1 GW/s it will take Luna 3 hours to reach this altitude. She's still not orbiting. Personnel operating n the hull must remember that. Accelerating to 7000 meters per second (our arbitrary orbital speed chosen) will require 33 TJ and takes 9.1 hours. Acceleration is roughly .12 meters per second.

One more thing the R-ray sucks for lateral movement. While it could pull its rating in gees towards or away from a planet, lateral movement is typically a tenth that so for Luna with her three rating we're talking 3m/s. Not much.

The huge ring I added to the Luna design was originally a stabilizer to make landings safer. The ring now serves another function. Superconductor is looped around the ring. This immense battery holds power, a lot. Just in case the generators fail, the battery can hold enough to get the Luna a thousand miles up or let it hover for a couple of days. It also absorbs some of the power returned to the ship from using the field it established to descend or brake. So we're talking several terajoules at least. Oe TJ has the explosive force of 860 tons of dynamite. If anything seriously wrong occurs that superconductor becomes a not so super conductor and the energy is turned back into heat. In such an emergency the ring can be detached. It messes the ship up a lot less than the ring could if it was attached when it explodes. The ring has multiply redundant systems and is a heavily armored section.

Reaction Drive
Luna's secondary propulsion is a reaction drive, fueled with metallic hydrogen. The reaction is hot as f--- and kept away from material components of the ship with R-fields. This lets us use the nifty tractor rocket design and keeps our engines from going all glow-y and mushy. The repellor effect also supercharges the exhaust allowing very high specific impulse. The engines could lift the ship and let her hover though it will run out of propellant eventually. Luna has enough propellant for a round trip to Mars or Venus though it would take a few weeks.

The reaction drive can lift the ship far quicker than the R-ray. The 3 gee rating is for sustained burns. It could move (briefly) fast enough to break your neck. During evasive maneuvers people are strapped in.

Yes the repellor effect is used for a lot of different purposes. It is very useful. think of all the applications a laser now has. Lasers started out as death rays in common understanding. Now we use them for all manner of IT and sensory purposes. Just don't look into them.

The reaction drive is far less damaging than a nuclear drive and harmless beyond a few kilometers. It's also necessary to get Luna up to orbital speeds once you get to orbital heights. Luna could hover at say 1000 kilometers with the R-ray idling. You wouldn't be in free fall and if you stepped out a lock you'd learn that quickly as you fell to your death. The reaction drive is used to correct that when she arrives in orbit at her destination.

Fuel is metallic hydrogen in pellet form. It's way denser than liquid hydrogen, It also can be dumped easily in a fire or other emergency. You might even be able to use the R-ray drive to head back and retrieve some.

Total number of burns is given by the percentage of ship devoted to fuel propellant.

Ship %                          Gee Burns
of fuel propellant
10                                  4
20                                  10
30                                  15
40                                  20
50                                  25
60                                  35
70                                  50
80                                  60

A gee burn is one turn at one gee, three gee burns could be one turn at 3 gees, or three turns at one gee or any other combination.

All of this technology has ripple effects in the rest of the setting. The superconductor technology does require strong magnetic fields, strong materials to contain those fields and doesn't scale down nearly as well as people who favor laser pistols would wish. If a cubic meter of superconductor holds a terajoule, it doesn't mean a liter holds a gigajoule.

The metallic hydrogen also requires storage facilities that don't scale down to the size of rocket pistol rounds (though it works fine for their explosive shells).

Personal weapons would be very nasty though not up to say Star Trek (zap! You're gone!) standards.

Repellors do scale down pretty easily. They can make elevators high speed and ultra safe. Ditto for trains (though I'd keep a fee pneumatic trains for sentimental reasons.) The most notable use is the Lift belt. Lift belts delay falling or allow very high hops but as I said repellors don't do lateral movement well. Lift belts will have a variety of add ons if people really want to move.

As for flying cars ... no. Not really. A dieselpunk setting has electronics out of Mayberry N.C. There are no computerized auto-evasion or traffic control remotes. Pedestrians can definitely use lift belts. In fact they let you cross a street anywhere, anytime (they'll sell out in New York City, trust me.) But flying cars or similar vehicles will remain for emergency service or defense purposes.

Flying fire trucks would be awesome, except they have to carry their own water tankage.










Monday, June 5, 2017

Dieselpunk Manifesto Part Six: Han Entanglements and a Woman Refusing to be Rescued

This review is of Buck Rogers strips 50-59.

Buck charges back into the steam tunnels under Los Angeles with the lovely Lanlu to guide him on his search for Wilma. Lanlu has her own idea whatguidance she should give. Buck will have none of this. Meanwhile Wilma is making her way through the tunnels as well, deftly avoiding a monitor screen. The monitor screen actually looks more like a communications device for workers than a security device, but nonetheless she makes like Catherine Zeta Jones in Entrapment and shinnies under it and comes upon Buck and Lanlu!

Maybe Lanlu gave Wilma some directions to escape to cut down on the competition otherwise it's more evidence of how lousy Roger's karma is. Wilma leaps to conclusions and vents her spleen, gives Lanlu a knuckle sandwich and departs. Buck tells Lanlu to fuck off and she seems to have had enough of the crazy white folks and she departs. Buck runs to the exit and reaches freedom in time to see Wilma flying off with Killer Kane in the rat's plane!

It seems Kane had heard trailed Buck to the Navaho Org. When Nunah had radioed that Wilma was found he dropped in t offer her a ride.Buck and his friends return to the Org where the Boss holds a trial at the insistence of Boss MacGee. The Navaho boss is sympathetic but feels he can't refuse the request of his fellow boss.. The Boss charges him with desertion and spying. Buck is tried and branded an outlaw who may be legally shot on sight. he does let him keep his jumping belt.

Buck heads off into some badlands where two more tramps decide to roll him for his boots and inertron while he's sleeping. Buck has had enough of this treatment by now. He shows off his brawling skills and drops both. Then he takes their jumping belts and shirts. Buck uses the belts for lift and fills their shirts with sand to act as ballast. He's off to ride the winds, westward to the Rockies.

Meanwhile Wilma is taken back to Pennsylvania by Kane. Once there she learns that Kane had Buck branded an outlaw. Having warm feelings for Buck, not to mention gratitude for the sacrifices she made she declares herself a fool, realizes Kane made the king of all dick moves, and sets out to steal a plane to go get Buck. This ... wait for it, will brand her an outlaw!

Meanwhile Buck drops too much sand ballast to get over the Rockies and is on the verge of flying off into space!

The planes are beginning a metamorphosis into rocket ships. Kane's airplane is enclosed and looks comfy compared to the kites Buck and Wilma fly. Kane must be a high ranking Org officer to rate it and the leeway to fly off to chase Wilma and Buck. Several times planes seem to be scarce and valued commodities and not private property.

Kane is an intriguing figure wearing a uniform that has metal shoulder guards, a visored helmet and chainmail sleeves. No one else does. He also has a flair for inventing melee weapons (his creation looks like a lirpa exposed to atomic waste and steroids). This could be a call out to Armageddon: 2419. The Americans and Han both engage in hand to hand fighting in the later stages of the war.

He did earn the name 'Killer'. Was he stalking Han in the forests to kill in hand to hand? Possibly, even though he got his ass handed to him by Rogers in their duel, in later strips he proves to be a decent close in fighter.

But he's wearing that silly rig on guard duty. It must be hot and heavy. But hey, they have inertron! Mixing in inertron will lighten the load and provide some insulation from the sun. It will also give him some protection from Han disintegrator beams. It also points to him having a great deal of authority and respect. A mere grunt couldn't afford a custom armor suit or likely be allowed to wear it. I'm only wondering what his credits were before Buck woke up and swept Wilma off her feet.

Org military training seems pretty thorough on equipment at least. Wilma can't make a fire from scratch, and doesn't know what a bow and arrow are she can fly a plane and repair electronics. I also wonder how necessary a fire would be, if you have a uniform insulated with inertron. In Armageddon: 2419 we learn Wilma has other duties in the Org and goes on patrol on a rotating basis so woodcraft and patrolling may not be her specialty. She's basically an 'electronist' in the reserves when she finds Buck. The Org certainly had full time military types, Rogers for one. You never see him pushing a broom or washing a vehicle.

Wilma for her part is thinking straight. Her guy risked everything for her and now that she knows the score she's going to find him. She'll even throw her career away and rescue him solo! While Wilma is often ditsy (a sign of the times), and suffers in comparison to Buck (as she must, they didn't name the strip Wilma Deering in the 25th Century, she is far from a damsel in distress. She did get out of the Emperor's digs by herself. She might even be the first self rescuing Princess in the Pulp Era!

I will note that in many strips she not only doesn't NEED rescuing but she descends on the bad guys like the wrath of GHU. But that's a bit down the road.









Always Consider the Gravity of your Situation

(Note: this story is the result of a highly entertaining rant by John Reiher on just how silly antigravity is. thank you John and all the great commenters!)

Professor Ormsby had taken me in so I owed him. Most of the people of the 26th century would have stuck me in a zoo or a jar. The Prof stepped up and helped smooth things over after my 500 year old viruses caused a small epidemic. He would make medical observations of me undergoing various experiences and compare them to the readings for modern men.

Thus our little jaunt around the Moon. The Lunar Excursion Tours Ship looked ridiculously small compared to the rockets of my youth. I said as much.

"You obviously know nothing of anti-gravity," the Prof said with a shrug.

There was a brief medical check up. The doctor boggled at my height and then a couple of the readings from a big metal cap he made me wear. The Prof argued with him for a while and then showed him some paperwork. Probably my license. Stupid little bitty future folks. I was a little under average height back when. Now I was a t-rex.

Before we boarded we were issued clothing,  something like the gee suits fighter pilots used to wear. Mine was Amber and the Prof's green. We changed and boarded. A steward showed us to our small compartment and that was it. We grabbed seats and the Prof started reading a book. I had a couple magazines that I still didn't understand much of.

After a while I looked up and asked, "When do we blast off?"

The Prof set his book down and looked at his wristwatch and made a small sucking sound. "We lifted off about five minutes ago. Once we get above the atmosphere we'll really accelerate," he explained. then he checked my pupils for dilation and my pulse. It was a little fast.

Then I began seeing spots in front of my eyes as my weight seemed to increase. The Professor remained standing to further poke and prod me. I was glad of it when I began seeing flecks of light and dark spots.

"Professor ... I don't think I'm reacting very well with this antigravity. I'm seeing things ..." Professor Ormsby got very excited until he heard exactly what I was seeing. maybe he was expecting me to start spouting on about vision and such.

"That is the gravity simulation warming up. Stand up a minute, Ty," he said. My weight seemed to be sort of normal. I was finding it hard to figure out exactly what was happening. It was close to normal gravity, I guessed. I took a few experimental hops and still couldn't figure out what was off.

The Professor watched me intently and chuckled once or twice. "Tell me what is going through your mind."

"I feel kind of like ... gravity stops at my skin?"

"Exactly! The spots and flashes you viewed were caused by a cloud of microbots. In form they are like those ... drones you told me about. A central body with four rotors. They are a fraction of a millimeter. These suits are studded with micro hooks that provide power and guidance to them. The microbots thrust downward and voila! simulated gravity!"

"All that ... and you guys still don't have microwave ovens for the home ..." I muttered walking around. I picked up a magazine and let go. It hung there in the air. I did that with a few more magazines. No microbots to waste I suppose.

"That's right! You can't drop anything! But wait there's more!"

I had a stupid grin on my face as the Professor threw himself at the floor. He missed, slowing, stopping and then bobbing back up around waist level. "The suits have accelerometers. They shut down the microbots whenever they detect a sudden motion like falling. Jumping is okay as you saw. It kicks in if you are dropping and no longer vertical. All the health benefits of gravity with none of the drawbacks!"

"That is pretty neat," I said.

"Better than your selfish phones!?" he asked. I was about to correct him then stopped.

The Professor walked over to a wall and carefully began walking ... up the wall. The act wowed me. When Professor Ormsby turned to smile at me I decided to go him one better and took a short run at the wall and a skip onto it.

I fell.

I hit the deck with a thud, not hard enough to really hurt more than my pride. The Professor stepped off the wall and helped me to my feet shaking his head. I assured him I was fine.

"I am sorry, Ty," the great man offered me a rare apology. "I thought you knew. I sprang for first class for myself but ... you are traveling coach."


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Space Opera Roll Call

Here we go again.

What's the title this time?

Space Opera Roll Call.

When is it going live?

Hopefully tomorrow morning. I will keep you posted.

How much is it?

It's pay what you want. I'm suggesting a dollar.

Are you out of your fucking mind?


Language! No, I don't think so.

What is it?

It is a dice drop table for randomly generating story elements for a space opera style of play.

Izzat it?

No. You see the elements are common to any =number of gonzo style games: secret agents, WW2, dieselunk.

What else?


How did you know? Each entry has a paragraph of story ideas to help you come up with a story seed.

What about format?

Glorious black and white with SVG icons for the story elements!

What does SVG stand for?

Darned if I know. I just use them liberally!

Not on the cover though, right?

No. The cover is some nice art remastered by Steve Miller of Nuelow games. Go check his collections out. He does some fine stuff.

Still ... pay what you want?

It's an incentive!! I need nicer voices in my head.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Role Call

Topper pushed his plug hat down a little. It helped him keep a pokerface. He studied the cards before him. Luch waited for Tulip’s steward to do the math. Elf was not as patient. Furry Freddy from the Inside Strait already had folded and left in disgust to go walkies.

“Fold or meet the wager good sirrah,” Elf  snapped.

“I thought elves were good at waiting,” Topper muttered.

“For something worthwhile, perhaps!” Elf spat. Topper tsked and finally with much flourishing removed his top hat and added it to the pile of clothing. Elf sighed and began removing her left ear. After a moment Luch removed his mask. Rubbing his scalp vigorously, he added his leather mask to the pile.


“Both ears sweetheart,” Luch said.

***
The Deck Department and the Steward Departments are two vital sections of a merchant ship. Both do not concern themselves with minor matters such as fuel and courses but dealing with the commodities that actually generate money.

Not generating money can kill a ship faster than not generating power in some situations. Of course one department has to deal volatiles and other dangers. The other is the Deck Department.

Stewards must deal with passengers, anyone of which could be a pirate saboteur, indie hijacker, nut case or just plain obnoxious. A good steward is better than an anti-hijacking program. Having a program deny you access is just not the same as a steward toting a shotgun denying you access. (If you doubt this then you never aimed a shotgun at a person or had one aimed at you. I turned around and had one pointed in a guy's general direction by accident in my reckless youth when he surprised me. The irate neighbor got very polite and reasonable with no transition.)

Most of the time the passengers are just passengers and the worst problem that comes up is jump sickness (and guess what, if you have an understaffed free trader, Mr. Steward becomes Dr. Steward.) Besides cooking the meals for passengers and crews stewards can provide a variety of services: hairstyling, tailor, makeovers, personal trainer, sparring partner among many others.  Scouts with their jack of all trade skills make excellent stewards. 

Long ago the question was raised, "Shall we provide such services seamlessly, blending into the background? Shall we be ghosts in the sleep cycle and keep the down low?" The stewards on the big liners indeed do just that. They are another all purpose fixture. The big companies insist on standardization, making passengers feel they provide a second home or at least familiar surroundings. Some lines even coax or demand their stewards undergo plastic surgery to better fit a template the line deems the most commonly accepted.

Free trader stewards call bullshit on all that for one reason: tips! They believe the way to tip success is personality! Make them remember you! They invent an in your face persona and run with it, often winning cosplay awards inadvertently. So Topper goes for a steampunk vibe. Elf is an elf (what'd you expect? A hedge troll?). Luch is a luchador. Furry Freddy ... let's not talk about Furry Freddy. Suffice to say, he has his fans. That's enough.

Passengers on free traders: tramp freighters have no call to demand the comforts and privileges of the big liners (even the low berths have pillows and silk sheets). But they can have a fine show. So the families fortunate to travel together might want to buy passage on the ship with the lovely Elf (who babysits as events allow). The more refined passengers might find Topper to their liking. Luch appeals to those with a sense of humor and eager to have a trained martial artist look out for them (note he also makes the best creme brulee around). Furry Freddy ... has his own clientele.

Stewards often assume their roles completely. They are on call 24/7 during passages after all. It's easier mentally not to shift gears. It's also a lot of fun. Crews overlook this eccentricity, at least if the Steward is a good one. Ask Sandoval what Luch's real name is or hair color and you'd probably get a blank stare. It's not discussed to the point of being a superstition. If Luch lost his leather mask no one on the crew would look at him. As long as they keep the persona sacred good fortune will be theirs.

Okay, I'm writing the stories, but they at least figure they'll avoid outright disaster.

The antithesis of this is the poser. A poser or a faux steward does not develop a persona. They have a whole wardrobe of different clothes and accessories which they will pick and choose from to maximize their appeal for the cultures they are dealing with. The persona school regard them as con artists, and tip whores. To them they are not putting on an act, they are living the life. Being entertaining tip magnets is just a benefit. Besides, how can you play so many roles adequately, maintain them and practice your many other skills?

besides entertaining the passengers a good steward will combat boredom and space fatigue in their crews before it even comes up. It's hard to be bored when the crazy Elf woman goes running around the ship shooting arrows at those tetra-crabs you picked up and calls them baby goblins, or Topper figures out a way to shovel coal into the ship's power plant, or Luch wears the Camazotz mask to to the formal dinner, or furry Freddy ... never mind. You get the idea.

One of the most unforgivable insults is to poach another steward's persona. They have an unofficial record of stewards and their costumes. New stewards are advised to research it before choosing their own style. Poaching will quickly result in other stewards imposing all manner of sanctions on the poacher. They vary with circumstances but siffice to say, you better not try to borrow a cup of sugar from any of them. Violence is not unheard of if the poacher runs into the wrong person. Some stewards have a strong reaction to even similar roles. When Elf heard about Fae she demanded sanctions. The other stewards were undecided so a duel was called. In a masterful show of immersion they had a magical duel with Elf declared the winner when Fae's entire crew came down with food poisoning to various degrees. Most people considered it a coincidence but no one else (not even Luch) has screwed with Elf since. 

Of course if your steward is playing a wizard or magical type and has psionics, well that's the hat trick. 




Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Grin and Bear It

"Yes my boy, think on it!" Professor Ormsby said. "Were it not for the fortuitous combination of solar storms, x-radiation and novacane ... and a little help from the Cern particle accelerator you would never have made it to our enlightened age!"

"I knew I should have broken that appointment with the dentist. Stupid insurance. Stupid before and after x-rays," I muttered. I poked at the IV in my arm putting glowing blue juice in my arm. Blue was god in medicine, right.

"Izzat all you have to say? You knuckle dragging primitive ingrate. I brought you to life to aid me in my great endeavors! What say you?"

"Can you fix me up with a cell phone at least? I feel naked without one" I asked.

"Cell ... phone ..." the professor said processing the words.

"Yes ... miniaturized electronics, transistors, you make calls on it, get the weather, internet services?"

"Tran-resistors ..."

"Fer gosh sakes, you guys have anti-gravity, the 5:15 to the Moon and you could kill a small dog with one of your radiophones! What the hell happened in the last 600 years?"

"You obviously know nothing of history. Later for that. Miniaturized electronics! Interesting story about that," the professor said rubbing his hands together. I nodded and made the go on hand waving.

"The company I once worked for had embarked on an ambitious plan to make the tiniest vacuum tubes ever. This required a miniature labor force. We hit on using water bears or your tardigrades to manufacture the eensy tubes! Of course we had to modify the water bears: opposable thumbs, a hive mentality with rudimentary intelligence we might train. But we did it!"

"So how come your electronics all look like something out of Frankenstein's lab and weigh a ton?"

"Oh ... well water bears live in water. We never did figure out how to coax the little bastards to climb out of the water and build fires, let alone blow gas. The company went into bankruptcy."

I face palmed.

"But it had a happy ending! I bought the process and set up my own company. I taught the group minds to master mathematics, built a portable life support system for them and sold them as electronic difference engines. It worked quite well and the tardigrades could hibernate for years until needed."

"Brilliant. Water Bear Hardware," I said.

That got a laugh out of the old guy then he got serious for a moment.

"The hardest part, believe it or not, was micro engraving the tiny slide rules for them. I thought I'd go blin

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Dieselpunk Manifesto Episode Five

Buck Rogers Strips 40-49

Buck is surprised in his cell by the lovely Nunah, whom you might remember was the badass aviatrix who strafed the vagrants trying to do for Buck. She tells Buck of her lost love: Lone Wolf who was captured by the Han. Despite being a badass aviatrix and crack shot she needs his help to rescue Lone Wolf from the labs of the evil Airlords.

In a show of professional courtesy between badasses Buck of course agrees to help her. They'll rescue Wilma and Lone Wolf! Nunah for her part is deserting her Org and stealing a plane to rescue her love, which is exactly what Rogers did to land in jail and she comes off as a capable, brave character who's easy to sympathize with. Landing near Los Angeles they camouflage their plane and don Han disguises.

Wait.

Nunah might get away with this, in dim light. Buck is a  six foot three Caucasian with blond hair and blue eyes. Buck makes Superman's trick with the eyeglasses and forelock look like chopped liver. The Han really seem to have no idea what the American jumping belts can do because the City of Los Angeles is defended by a ten meter wall. They leap it pretty easily and cosh a lone guard. They slip into an apartment and hide their jump belts because they'd make the rescue easier. They slip back onto the wall (why?) and almost get arrested by another guard who kicks the pretty woman and the tall blue eyed blonde haired Han off the wall.

Meanwhile Wilma is watching this drama unfold on her magic TV. She wonders if Nunah is another one of Buck's 'sisters'. One can imagine the hijinks that might ensue if Buck called a guy 'brother' in front of her.

Buck and Nunah lay low for a couple days after this assuming no one will notice the incredible lifting belts they hid and work their way to the Han laboratories. They get in by bashing a couple of guards on the head and soon find Lone Wolf. Now with his help they intend to break into the Emperor's harem. Yes, I know harem is an Arabic term and the Han are your generic Asian bad guys (thankfully they are now extinct and we just demonize politicians). As for Wilma she makes the mistake of expressing utter boredom by wishing something would happen. Her peeping Tammy phase seems to be over.

She gets her wish. The Emperor is tying one on and the usual gaggle of pole dancers and bimbos doesn't send him so he sends for 'li'l Wild Wilma (hic)!'

Lanlu, an up and coming social climber in the Emperor's personal strip club, sees this as her chance! Fortunately Wilma will be wearing some sort of hood hiding her face and blinding her like a hawk. This is an apt metaphor if you know Wilma. Lanlu slips on the hood and costume and takes her place. She is brought to the Emperor by the Imperial flesh merchants while Wilma hides. For good measure the guards drug 'Wilma'.

You have to love the pulp era. In one strip we get female bondage, debauchery, drugs, and booze. I t's like Fifty Shades of Gray in four panels!

The Emperor gets about five seconds of cuddling Lan Lu, not even enough time to realize she isn't Wilma and kill his buzz when Buck, Lone Wolf and Nunah arrive and raise all manner of merry hell. They even bash the Emperor on his royal sconce with a priceless vase. Buck grabs the disguised and tripping Lanlu, thinking her Wilma!

The four flee raising more merry hell along the way. We're talking swords, rocket pistol diplomacy and a bunch of socks on the jaw. They grab a 'glide car' a short range version of the airships and make good their escape!

Oh wait. What about Wilma?

There has never, to my knowledge, been a mission to save Wilma Derring that has not turned into a clusterfuck in short order. Wilma grabs a funky hat, tight skirt and sequined bra and begins her escape.

Yes, the tall blonde blue eyed Caucasian woman loses the ornate robes she was wearing, bares as much skin as possible and tries to sneak out of the Han City. This alone puts her chutzpah far beyond Rogers and really she makes Superman with his eyeglasses her bitch.

Only it doesn't work. She boards an elevator car with the only two citizens who have their eyes open. they start screaming about a wild American being lose! Wilma found a gun somewhere (probably Han) and she busts both the snitches in the head as the car screams down to the lower levels of the city.

Buck and the others retrieve their jumping belts and make for the woods with 'Wilma'. You'd think someone would yank that dumb hood off to make sure she can breathe or note that this young woman probably never completed a hike in her life and was a Han but eeehhh it's already dark out. Besides this way is more fun.

When they stop for a rest they finally discover their mistake. Buck insists on going back. Nunah and Lone Wolf had enough but Lanlu is smitten with Rogers and decides to accompany him back. For some reason Buck throws his disguise away. Maybe he figures the Han are now on the lookout for blond blue eyed citizens now?

Lanlu shows Rogers a secret entrance into the lower levels of the city as we conclude strip 49 ...

It seems that Los Angeles has done a fairly good job of keeping the Americans at bay and on the defensive. The city has few defenses and few defenders, the opposite of the beleaguered Western Orgs. Obviously the Han feel the best defense is a good offense and that has worked till now. Aside from the disintegrators they have a few small arms like the pistol Wilma found that looks like a conventional slug thrower.

I'll also note, all kidding aside, that Deering and Rogers did sneak about the city so Los Angeles at least might be more cosmopolitan. In Armageddon: 2419 some orgs did deal with the Han and it is possible the Han had Americans working for them or trading. You might expect this after several hundred years of occupation.

The ease with which the Americans scale the defenses seems to show jumping belts are a recent invention that the Airlords are not familiar with (otherwise they would use it in their airships for sure) and a significant advance they have not duplicated yet. This theme ran through Arm: 2419.

Nunah and Lone Wolf were capable characters and I would like to see more of them.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Katana Blaster

The Katana syndrome holds that Asian martial arts and especially sword craft was highly superior to that of Medieval European techniques and blades. Thus the katana is the ultimate melee weapon and should deal out more damage than a European longsword. It has the best grade steel, best edge etc.

Katanas are bitching. Samurai are bitching. I just got through laughing and screaming and misting up over the final season of Samurai Jack. However, Toledo steel was the best in the world at the time in terms of flexibility and durability. Many well made European blades were every bit as deadly as the Katana. for that matter European warriors had a better grasp of technique than stand there and taketh it whilst thou hamer the other guyye. But see this mini-series called Shogun came out in the 80's. Everyone got into Asian culture (a good thing) and gamers got carried away.

So if you're going to write up a bunch of new weapons, say, you want your stuff to stand out and some people believe extra damage dice or points or mods or whatever is the way to go. People building a new pistol will obviously want it to be better than previous weapons and that means more damage, right?

Not really. A lot of firearms have gotten modifications to make them better at a specific job. The same holds true for most other equipment but firearms, weapons in general, are usually the best mass production technology people have. As my character Luch might remark, you can learn a lot about local technology and culture by what people are trying to kill you with.

A gun that does 4d6 damage as opposed to 3d6 won't do you any good if you get nerfed before you can draw it or arrested before you complete your ... assignment. Concealment or just ease of use is extremely important for weapons. If they're hard to tote about you might set them down at the wrong moment. One of the most important features of a sword for example, was that it could be worn sheathed at your side. A spear or axe had to be carried constantly and it was a pain in the ass.

Pistols were drasticaly inferior to rifles but again, they could be toted about fairly easily. Reaching for your shotgun could get you killed.

So I'm writing up some diesel-y weapon and equipment stats and I find I have even less incentive to vary damage than usual. See my products are geared mainly for Cepheus Engine or White Star folks. Cepheus Engine caps most slug damage at 3d6 because, hey, shooting right through your body places an upper limit on what a bullet can do. Similarly in White Star damage is based on the highly abstract hit points. Hit points, we've been told, represents the ability to turn a major injury into relatively minor cuts and scuffs through skill, experience and luck.

If you're lucky enough to avoid a bullet, beam or blade its damage potential doesn't really matter. If you're out of luck the same holds true. A dagger in the heart kills as surely as a bullet.

The upshot on this is my equipment and weapon right ups are going to focus on utility and other considerations. What about a pistol that does moderate damage but is so easy to use anyone can grab it and begin popping (at least at short range)? What about a rifle that collapses to easily store under a coat (I loved the Mass Effect weapons)? Or how about just ramping up the number of charges or rounds or whatever?

I'll note in closing that many weapons (or at least ammunition) are built to specifically limit performance (meaning damage). You might not want a high power blaster for a hold out on your bridge. Yes you'll shoot right through that hijacker ... and your control panel,  and your pilot. This is why my 'Trader Carbines' have several types of ammunition for shooting it out on your ship or on theirs.