Sunday 30 October 2016

All Rockets are Haunted

Starships are bullshit. 

All that zipping about in hyperspace thumbing your nose at Einstein, playing silly buggers with Dark Matter, cheeking Higgs by creating shipboard gravity with no mass, juggling all those new quarks*, kicking Heisenberg in the nuts by disassembling your spaceship into particles and reassembling it hadron by hadron with no help from Maxwell’s demons, folding, warping and ironing space-time like you are an effing black belt in eleven dimensional origami, all serious bull.

You just can’t do that and expect everything to go swimmingly. Sod about with reality and you get unreality, and when things get unreal all kinds of worms chew their way out of the cosmic woodwork. All rockets are haunted, all spacers have a tale or two to tell about stuff that shouldn’t happen and if you believe the starport bar hype ghost ships outnumber the living ones by ten to one.

*Dark, Light, Jale, Ulfire, This, That and the Other (the Vague quark is still kind of theoretical)

All page references are for the Mongoose Traveller Pocket Rulebook.

The Ghost Nebula, photo by NASA

Starship Hauntings

All starships in Known Space acquire quirks that violate the laws of physics, a consequence of violations they themselves commit by merely existing. In the Traveller rulebook starships acquire one technical oddity per ten years as per the table on p136. Replace it with this one.


1d6% of the ship per warp number has been fractally rearranged on a macro scale. Appears normal while in warp, but reverts to rearranged state on re-entry to normal space. Usual functionality of inorganic components is strangely unimpaired, though impossible to fix if they go wrong. Organic material (ie crew) present when the rearrangement takes place is utterly jiggered, but may return to apparent normality when jump space is re-entered, if they are in the rearranged space. On the next return to normal space the affected organics are rearranged wherever they may be, and if they are not in this area that gets terminally messy. A number of ships have hermit crew members trapped in this situation, only properly alive during warp.
Unusually finicky warp drive, needs to be 1d10 (exploding) % further away from a gravity source to engage without causing a misjump and internal gravity must be disengaged when entering or leaving warp. Can be lived with, but warp drive can be replaced to avoid this issue.
Screaming Reactionless Drive. Unusual high pitched or ultrasonic noises come from the reactionless (maneuver) drive when in operation, usually very quiet but occasionally ear piercingly loud. No detectable vibration from any moving parts. Nervous engineers claim that the noises are some kind of language, really batshit ones say they are the howls of dark matter life-forms as they are called into existence and ejected as exhaust gases. Soundproofing does help.
‘Poltergeist’, or at least a transient and mobile anomaly in the internal gravity field. Crew may feel momentarily heavier or lighter, or gravity may even temporarily reverse or change vector so that walking down a corridor feels like going uphill. Stuff falls off shelves once in a while and spilt liquids may form tiny whirlpools. Replacing all the grav plates has only a temporary effect.
Temperature anomaly. Transient and mobile increases and decreases in temperature wander around the ship while in warp. Internal life support can compensate to some extent, but sudden sweats and chills of a few seconds can still be felt.
As Trav table.
As Trav table, but ‘Luxurious starship’ mysteriously cleans itself up when no-one is looking. May be helpful pixies, may be reversion of matter to a more ordered state in violation of the laws of thermodynamics, whatever, Stewards love it.
As Trav table, but ‘erroneous library data’ comes from a different time period. Entries in the Devangari alphabet dated ‘in the four thousandth year of the Treta Yuga’ for example, or from sometime in the next millennium written in Third Order Sinesperanto.
As Trav table, but ‘psionic echoes’ are merely real echoes in confined spaces where there really shouldn’t be any. Shouting into the broom cupboard sounds like shouting into a cathedral.
- 1 DM to all sensor checks. Sensors show ghost ships once in a while, or disconcertingly pick the wrong four dimensions out the eleven to display their results. The resulting images may resemble the innards of a giant lifeform, or passing space krakens or just squiggles.
-1 DM to all repair attempts, may just be old and knackered components, engineers claim it really is gremlins and/or control subroutines with malevolent AI sentience
Increase maintenance cost by 50%. Entropy is strong in this ship, or the gremlins are doing overtime, or the crew are just untidy buggers who put used ration packaging behind bulkheads and have attracted cockroaches with the urge to tinker.
-1 structure. Something went wrong with the warp field at some point and the frame is now recrystallised in nanometer scale fractal baroque.
Damaged thrusters, -1 to all Pilot checks. On bad days the dark matter backwashes over the hull leaving it slightly magnetised, squamous, spicluated and tenebrous.
As Trav table, but data as per entry 11 is present. This data may actually be useful and true, if you can translate and decode it. The dodgy data tends to disappear and reappear randomly with each warp however, and while you might print it or write it down as hard copy, the hard copy changes too wherever in the universe it may be.
As Trav table, but ‘improved computer’ secretly has a mild case of the AIs and its own agenda, and the improved sensors appear to be receiving in some exotic variety of radiation otherwise unknown.
Time dilation. Internal ship time moves 1d6% faster per warp number when in warp making trips subjectively shorter.
Mass dilation. Ship is 1d6% heavier, reducing effectiveness of drives.
Internal space/time warp. Corridors and rooms change size. Not visibly, or obviously, but it can be an awfully long walk to the head from time to time and you may wake up in a stateroom the size of a hangar or a cupboard. Crew subject to frequent deja vu and Jamais vu hallucinations.
Doppleganger ship. Sensors frequently indicate vessel on same course at limits of sensor range, exactly the same model, transponder code etc as own vessel. Attempted communication results in short circuit as comms officer finds he is talking to himself with a slight radio delay due to distance. Some reports tell of the Doppleganger appearing ever closer, no one knows what happens if the two ships ever meet.
Ghost crew member. Glimpses of the spook are seen out of the corner of your eye, footsteps heard, doors open etc, but nothing ever shows up on internal cameras or recordings, nor via Ouija board. Will carry out repairs/pilot/clean up and the like when no one is looking, some captains even try and schedule them duties on the roster. May or may not be deceased former crew, some are alleged to be ‘Grey’ humanoid aliens, others are allegedly pur black or pure white cats. Only present while in warp space.

Space-time Anomalies

Investigations into these phenomena by warp physicists (a neurotic breed since they spend their lives dealing with this shit) have shown that space/time is permanently altered every time a ship enters or leaves warp space. Fortunately space is pretty big, and your chances of flying through one of these areas of dubious physics is slim, but they do move and they are becoming very common in well travelled areas. The Earth system now has millions and belated attempts are being made to map them after they allegedly caused a few hair raising incidents, but with dozens more being created every week and their widely varying manifestation and detectability this is probably futile.

When rolling for encounters in space on the table on p 139 or the Traveller rulebook a roll of 71 or 83 has a 50% chance of being a space anomaly.


Dead Space. Ship ‘becalmed’ in lightless void for a period of time, no sensor input, drives make no difference. Roll 2d6  - 2-8 Minutes, 9 hours, 10 days, 11 weeks, 12 years, roll 1d6 (exploding) for units of time.
Temporal anomaly. Ship time subjectively speeds up (50%) or slows (50%) by 50%. Crew see this as a sudden speeding up or slowing down of the passage of the ship through space. Lasts 1d6 hours.
Doppleganger ship appears displaced from vessel 1d6 hours ahead on course, lasts 1d6 hours.
Large gravitational anomaly passes through ship in a wave from bow to stern doubling mass of anything within it by two then halving it a moment later with a random vector (ie everything may suddenly slam into the ceiling, roll ‘downhill’, be stuck to the floor). Several may be encountered in succession resulting in a rollercoaster effect.
Radio anomaly. Comms traffic suddenly changes to a different, possibly past, possibly future language, Space Traffic Control certainly sounds funny in ancient Akkadian.
Dark Matter plume. Scars hull with random recrystallisation of metals and ceramics, passes through ship as a 1d6m radius temperature (1-3), gravitational (4-5) or radiation (6) anomaly. Counts as an armour hit, and radiation as a crew hit.
Electromagnetic anomaly. Affects all ship systems, -1 DM to all Sensors, Comms, Pilot and Gunnery rolls until repaired. Reduces Computer rating by 1 unless shielded.
Acoustic anomaly. All sounds on the ship are muffled and echo as if in a vast cave. Sounds of distant screaming from Reactionless drive, all crew affected by sudden migraine/vertigo/epilepsy, lose 1d3 Int, regained at 1/day.
Gremlin. Series of 1d6 (exploding) internal hits to ship systems, happening at intervals of 1d6x5 minutes. Successful Computer rolls modified by Int can deactivate the suddenly rebellious ship subroutines after each hit.
Involuntary warp entry. Does 1 hit to warp engine, sudden acceleration to trans-light speed. A very quick de-warp will at least eject you back into real space in the same system.
Naked singularity, Does 3d6 damage, with a successful Pilot roll reduced to 2d6.

In Warp, no-one can hear you gibber (usually)

The ultimate nightmare is a malfunctioning warp drive. A ‘misjump’ result on the table on p 141 of the Traveller rulebook will result in one of the following interesting ways to die (or at least have your starship expensively fucked up).


Screaming death. By some horrible accident your ship is caught up in the dark matter intake of somebody elses R-Drive. Entire vessel and contents slowly squished into an R-Drive reaction chamber and ejected as exhaust material. Can make an emergency warp exit, but not before 1d100% of the vessel has been disintegrated.
Knocking from outside of ship during entire journey. Intermittent loud thumps reverberate through entire vessel from unknown source doing 1d6 external hits per week in warp. Sensors show nothing, if functional, and exiting the vessel during warp is not advised in any circumstance as the warp bubble rarely extends more than than a couple of inches from the hull. When back in normal space hull shows spiculation, squamation and tenebration in peculiar spiral patterns.
Temperature anomaly. While in warp space temperature rapidly drops. Lose 10 degrees Kelvin in the first day, 75% chance of losing another 10 degrees K next day and so on until temperature stops falling and stabilises or everyone freezes to death. Roll Engineer skill to get a ‘soft’ exit from warp if needed, otherwise a ‘hard’ exit causing 1 hit to warp drive, roll d6 on 5-6 a second hit and roll again etc. On a roll of 2 on the Engineer skill ship fails to exit, warp drive still takes damage, and it may plough on through warp space until everything reaches absolute zero and disintegrates.
Warp exit failure. Ship rematerialises with 1d100% of its structure fucked up on a subatomic scale. All surviving crew suffer 4d6 x 50 rads. Oddly enough the rearranged matter still seems to be functional, and the ship can re-enter warp with a -4 modifier to success if the pilot and control room are intact, and the screwed up matter will be back to normal at least while in warp space. Repairs can be attempted and 1d10% per Engineer roll effect number less will be rearranged on a subsequent exit. Ship will overshoot target by several million km due to excess time spent in warp space.
Warp exit failure. Ship does not leave warp when it is supposed to and ploughs on. Cutting the fuel for a ‘hard’ exit causes 1 hit to warp drive, and roll a d6, on a 5-6 a second hit is caused, the roll again and on 5-6 it suffers a third hit and so on. Ship overshoots target by 1d6 million km, more if the crew dither.
Warp entry failure. Warp drive suffers 1 hit. Roll a d6, on a 5 or 6 it suffers a second, roll again and on a 5-6 it suffers a third and so on and so on. On a bad day this will blow up the entire ship and at the very least will result in an expensive repair.
Partial warp entry failure. The warp core warps, the ship doesn’t. Warp core is just plain gone, leaving a knot of entirely fucked-up space-time in the engine room. Roll hits on Power Plant and Reactionless Drive as above, plus 1d6 further internal hits as the drive core blasts through the ship in the form of dark matter, rearranging all the real matter it meets in a nanometer scale fractal pattern. Just hope you aren’t in its way
Deformed Warp Bubble. d100% of the ship is outside the warp bubble and does not warp, the rest does. At minimum the warp core itself warps (half tonnage of warp engine) with effects as item 8 above. Otherwise the section that warps suffers explosive decompression and if the crew survives that they must make the best of a week long trip in airless wreckage with one side open to warp space. The section that stays in normal space suffers 1 internal hit per 10% of ships mass that warped as the rest of the ship ploughs through it in the form of a dark matter wave. This is how space junk is born.
Directional screw up. Add or subtract 1d6 to the x, y and z coordinates of your supposed exit point, and you have travelled +/- 1d6 years into the past or future. If into the past then there is no chance of meeting oneself. Your past selves and ship have just disappeared while in the warp and the events of the last few years have only happened to you and will not repeat. If into the future, again the ship will have quite simply have been lost for the duration of the time gap. Chances are you will be several parsecs into deep space with insufficient fuel to get anywhere near a planet, so it is a moot point anyway.
Ghostification. One member of the crew becomes a ghost, invisible and inaudible to the rest who also forget he ever existed. Ghost ceases to exist at all when ship returns to normal space, reappearing the next time the ship enters warp. Ghost may also become temporally unbound and each return to the ship may be to some point in the vessels past or future, though if to the past he will never see himself. It is as if he never existed at all. There is a 50% chance that he may suddenly find himself as a back or white cat ghost.
Dead Space. Ship has not entered warp space but another dimension entirely, nothing outside the ship, turning drives off and on does nothing. Stuck until fuel/air/food runs out and everyone aboard dies. May rectify itself spontaneously in 1d6 (exploding) time units. Roll 2d6 2-4 hours, 5-6 days, 7-8 weeks, 9 months, 10 years, 11 decades, 12 centuries. When ship exits it is apparently in the same place it started, but galactic rotation, stellar movement etc. may have shifted the local solar system some distance away. From outside the ship has become a naked singularity and a major hazard to shipping.

And a tip of the hat to M John Harrison again for more inspiration from the Kefahuchi Tract novels. Read them!

Saturday 1 October 2016

In Flight Entertainment

Low passage in Known Space is not all about refrigeration, it’s about sensory deprivation, bodily invasion and embarrassment too.

The Low Berth tank first becomes available at TL 10. The passenger is anaesthetised, many interesting implements and tubes are inserted into every bodily orifice and they are cooled to about 4 degrees celsius. They then awake, partially, and spend the trip drugged into immobility and semi-consciousness, boredom kept at bay by virtual reality headsets. At higher TLs it becomes possible to keep the passenger in the tank longer with fewer long term repercussions.

The process is not that dangerous as long as precautions are taken to prevent pressure sores and deep vein thrombosis, the nutrient mix pumped down the passengers gullet is of sufficient quality and the bodily wastes are removed efficiently by the suction pumps at the other end.

It does take a toll though, and passengers will need a few days to fully recover at the other end. For the longest trips a course of physiotherapy to return the limbs to full use and a weaning process to rehabilitate the gut to solid food are recommended, and it is not recommended for older passengers.

But it is cheap. A medical orderly with very basic nursing skills (Medic - 0) can manage 10 passengers during the trip, plus 10 more per level of medic skill beyond that. Most dedicated ‘Fridge Ships’ make extensive use of automated monitoring through computer expert systems.

Upon opening the berth at the destination the attending doctor makes a medic roll. These can be hired at a class C or above spaceport for 50Cr plus 10Cr per medic skill per passenger de-tank, cheapskate transport companies like RyanSpace charge this as one of their many hidden extras. A stay in a rehab centre at the spaceport will be a minimum of 100Cr a day.

Add the passengers Endurance bonus, the doctor’s Edu bonus, -1 per two weeks in the tank, +1 for TL 11, +2 for TL 12.

0 Possible permanent injury, make an ageing roll

1 Possible permanent injury, make an ageing roll at +2

2 Possible permanent injury, make an ageing roll at +4

3-5 Lose 1 from Dex, Str, End and Int per two weeks in the tank. Recover 1 point at random per day spent in a quality rehab facility, if you make an End roll gain an extra point. If a stat is reduced to 0, there is a permanent loss of 1 point to that stat.

6 Lose 1 stat point per week in the tank, roll randomly for each, may be from Str, Dex or End, regain 1 a day through a stay in a medical facility.

7 Lose 1 stat point per two weeks in the tank, as above.

8-11 Lose 1 stat point per four weeks in the tank.

12 No stat loss, can walk away after an hours medical check up.

Poor or miserly passengers may decide to forego the recovery clinic and tough it out, walking off stiff muscles and dealing with the vomiting and diarrhoea as their gut wakes up to solid food again. Recovery takes twice as long if inactive and just relaxing in a normal hotel, five times as long if the passenger insists on bustling about the city or wilderness. 

There's no such thing as a bad trip in  HappiCorps low berth tank!

In Flight Entertainment

The VR set ups in the tanks again vary in quality. You may spend a couple of weeks trapped in a dire sub-D&D MMORPG, you may have a relaxing jaunt through one of the standard travelogue programs like the sights of Old Earth, or endless re-runs of soap operas. Military ships of course take the chance to put their tanked soldiers through battle sims, exploration vessels enable their staff to brush up on their science education, and there is usually some kind of language learning or cultural orientation sims for those planning a long terms stay in a destination colony.

Skill training packages can be used in the tank, but being drugged up makes the information hard to retain. Roll 8+, + Int bonus for a week in the tank to count as a week of training in a given skill.

And there are persistent rumours of these VR sets being used to do nefarious things to passengers. Colony ships taking bulk shipments of indentured labourers to Torch allegedly get the poor sods used to their future life by running them through sadistic programmes of simulated beatings, the Orphean League allegedly pay space lines to subject travellers to ideological indoctrination in Orphean Humanism, all ESA Starbuses supposedly try and hypnotise passengers into talking French and liking camembert, the CIA choose random passengers to turn into ‘Manchurian Candidates’ to assassinate key people on their destination worlds, etc.

One fact that is undeniably true is that some people are vulnerable to VR addiction, and many high-tech worlds have Tank Parlours where people may enter suspended animation and play these VR games for days, weeks or even months at a time without the excuse of being in transit on a boring spaceship ride. There are some tough worlds out there and plenty of boring ones with little but dull repetitive labour due to robot shortages or meaningless unemployment due to an excess of automation; tank addiction is on the rise.

Adventure Hooks

  • It’s fucking MMORPG time again, three weeks passage between Quintus and Fargen mugging orcs and pootling through Elder Scrolls CXXXVII… Some sonofabitch is making the whole thing even worse by fragging everyone, and how did he level up so fast anyway? Has he been stuck in the tank grinding away for months? Yes he has, he’s an Aquilan businessman’s tank addict son, he’s been in the ship’s tanks for about a year now blowing thousands of credits hiding from his dad. His father might offer a reward for his safe return but his body will be in terrible shape after a year and getting him out alive will be a major medical operation and you might need a shrink on hand to convince him that he is not in fact Ygloog the Necromancer. Takes it mighty seriously - getting the rest of the passengers to gang up on him in game might take the little snot out, but he will bear grudges and his baggage allowance is mostly taken up with an auto-laser.
  • Half a dozen people on Zephyr have been found babbling in an unknown language, apparently suffering from some kind of amnesia and nervous breakdown and exhibiting quite high levels of violence. Psychiatrists are baffled until some nerd realises they are talking Klingon and further investigation leads to the ‘Enterprise III’, a Free Trader where the medical orderly in charge of the low berths ran out of the usual anaesthesia for the low passengers and started using some street-drug shite that was mostly scopalamine. He spends his off shifts in the tanks himself and subjects the passengers to a lot of Star Trek fanfic.
  • J’accuse! An experiment in AI is underway at the University of Fargen. Volunteers wanted to spend a month in the tank in a simulated Revolutionary period France, but the twist is that one or more of the other players will be the latest model of political science AI rather than the usual dumbass NPC subroutine. The originator of the scheme, Professor Davide Danton is so sure no one will spot his cyber-sans-culottes he is offering 10 000 Cr prize money if you do. Try not to get guillotined, I hear this AI plays for keeps.
  • The code-monkeys of Neuland on Epsilon have always excelled at producing genuinely interesting VR entertainment and also at stealing, cracking and recycling whatever content comes their way. One such, Ultra-Simian Odin-seven of the Galloping Gibbons collective (they are a silly lot in Neuland), wants a Chinese military battle-sim and will pay handsomely to get it. Or he already has it and Chinese security agencies, baffled by the anarchist antics of the Neulanders and losing agents, want it back and have to get outside contractors to do it. Or it happens to be a simulated space marine drop on the US colony of Newhio and a PC who experiences it in low passage gets the distinct feeling that it is too good and too uncannily accurate to truly be purely a Neulander shoot-’em up game and feels the urge to dig further.