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Messages - Nobby-W

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The best guide is the elevated all-cause mortality data, which is not susceptible to mis-recording non Covid deaths as Covid. It does show noticeable spikes in several countries, mostly around March-April 2020.
I earlier mentioned the town of Bergamo and its surroundings. The local newspaper usually prints a page of obituaries every day. At the height of the pandemic they were printing ten pages of obituaries every day ( That notion alone sobered up a lot of people who were babbling about "just a bad flu".

Coffins were stacked everywhere inside the hospitals. At night the Army vehicles collected the dead and brought them to the crematory (this is still today one of the most enduring images from the pandemic Relatives got a ticket with a number. After a week you got a phone call and you could go to collect the urn with the ashes. Of course any bureaucratic error meant that you ended up with someone else's ashes - but you will never know.

And yet no other region or city in Italy was as ravaged as Bergamo was. Why this happened is still a mystery. Was Bergamo hit before anyone else and so no one knew about prevention? Was there a genetic factor at work? Here in Milan, after seeing what was happening only half-an hour away by car, they built a COVID hospital wing from the ground up in a week. It remained (and still is) mostly empty. We Milanese were hit hard but we managed (even if barely). I guess that how this virus managed to be so unpredictable will be the subject of studies for years.
Bergamo is a pretty town as well, with its old medieval-era walled town, and its funny local accent with all the glottals.  Some years ago I used to holiday in the area on a semi-regular basis (my ex used to play bridge with a chap who lives in Lecco) and fly through Orio al Serio. 

To give an idea how badly Lombardia got hit, the region has the highest per-capita number of doctors and medical professionals of anywhere in the world.  Something like 40% of Italy's GDP is centred around Lombardia; the majority of Italy's GDP comes out of the Po Valley and surrounding area.  Lombardia is wealthy, industrialised and highly developed; it has some of the best medical infrastructure on the planet - but was completely overloaded by the rate of COVID cases in the first wave.

I got COVID around the end of last year - fortunately asymptomatic as I am in a cohort with elevated mortality risk if I did get symptoms and I've bubbled up to the top of the NHS's priorities and had the first of two COVID shots a few weeks ago. 

My neighbour's mother in Brazil just died from COVID.  Someone on another forum I have an account on is a doctor there and described his experiences quite graphically a few days ago.

There's a joke about Stanley Kubrick that goes something to the effect that if he was asked to fake the moon landing he would have insisted on flying to the moon to do location shots there for authenticity.  The three-ring circus COVID has created is far too big to be hoax.  I can't look at this thread as anything but a graphic demonstration of the pathology behind conspiracy theorists.  It's quite sad really.

My IRL game moved online about a year ago and has worked fine on Roll20.

As a Ref, I would find the following suppliments useful:

A book of ships and small craft that the playerz might encounter, or acquire. Complete with deckplans and art.
This is definitely a useful one - compare and contrast CT S7: Traders and Gunboats with S9: Fighting ships.  A book of adventurer-sized ships, not necessarily any more than a dozen or two designs, provides a useful background piece with resources that actually might get used.  Once they have deck plans and stats - and they are in the size and power range that works for bunch-of-yobs type adventures - then you've got them on a low-prep basis for most things you might use them for.

New sophonts, that Travellers could encounter or play as.
Less useful, I think. Although a handful of alien races with some mechanical distinction is useful, they're less useful if they're not readily playable, or are too similar to some other race in their mechanical effects.  IMO for things like races you want something that sits in about 5-10 different niches, and after that you're starting to get into diminishing returns.  The exception to this is if you want to do something like Star Wars, where the large proliferation of alien races is a core part of the look-and-feel of the universe.

More patrons, a la 76 Patrons.
I think you can never have too many patrons or adventure hooks, although the first edition of 760 patrons has shown that they still need to meet a reasonable quality standard to be much use - a lot of it felt really phoned-in.  76 good, well thought out ones is more useful than 760 bad ones.

A book of several worlds that a Referee can plop down into a campaign. Complete with adventure hooks and interesting planetside sights.
This sort of thing is quite useful, although a significant amount of effort to do.  However, I think a small sandbox of a couple of subsectors with 20 or 30 well thought out and written up worlds would be quite useful as a low-prep setting.  Particularly if you had write-ups for factions, various sites drilled into in detail, and encounters, rumours, patrons etc. for all of the starports or other places your players might hang out.  Not a five minute job to do, but I think it would be a useful game aid.

[ . . . ]
Short adventures that a ref can run in case he hasn%u2019t prepped or if the players decinde to go off into left field.
And, in this day and age, you can make maybe a dozen or two such adventures, but skin them for various different worlds via electronic publishing as PDF.  In conjunction with the detailed sandbox above, you have a low-prep campaign pack for a busy referee with a job and 2.4 kids.  Add a few modules for specific campaign arcs - aimed at 6 months play each or so, then your sandbox becomes quite a useful low-prep-for-busy-refs product.

Now, this is quite a substantial body of work - it could easily run to half a dozen volumes - but it's quite high value.  The scale doesn't have to be the whole Imperium, just enough space to run a sandbox in.

I think there's something to be said for drip-feeding your setting across a series of adventure modules, rather than trying to publish a big book of lore.  It's likely to be more interesting as lore filled in as background to the adventure rather than just a big brain dump.  Also, I think that if you publish it bit-by-bit, folks are going to see hints of a wider world, and it will leave them hungry for more to a greater or lesser extent.

For '80s-'90s here's an archive of Argos catalogues - mostly cheap-and-nasty housewares but there's a variety of stuff there.

It's widely used in hypergolic and monopropellant systems - most satellites have hydrazine monopropellant thrusters for orbit maintenance.  The tech is useful because Hydarzine has a long shelf life, remains liquid at low temperatures and you can get exactly the delta-V you want by metering a precise amount of fuel through the engine.

The Russians used to be quite big on Hypergolics (IIRC the upper stage of Soyuz still uses them) so there were incidents of locals investigating used boosters and getting poisoned by residual hydrazine splashed around from the impact.  I think the last thing the Merkins flew with Hypergolic boosters was Titan.

Unstable, dangerous or noxious chemicals has been suggested, but let's go into a few examples:

Chlorine Triflouride

Hypergolic with just about everything - including glass, sand, concrete and water.  Maybe the alchemist has it as a cleaning agent to really sterilise their apparatus - what are they working with that needs it?  There's a famous except from Ignition! that describes a ClF3 fire:

"It is, of course, extremely toxic, but that's the least of the problem. It is hypergolic with every known fuel, and so rapidly hypergolic that no ignition delay has ever been measured. It is also hypergolic with such things as cloth, wood, and test engineers, not to mention asbestos, sand, and water-with which it reacts explosively. It can be kept in some of the ordinary structural metals-steel, copper, aluminium, etc.-because of the formation of a thin film of insoluble metal fluoride which protects the bulk of the metal, just as the invisible coat of oxide on aluminium keeps it from burning up in the atmosphere. If, however, this coat is melted or scrubbed off, and has no chance to reform, the operator is confronted with the problem of coping with a metal-fluorine fire. For dealing with this situation, I have always recommended a good pair of running shoes."


Extremely smelly, and very unpleasantly so.  

Recently we found ourselves with an odour problem beyond our worst expectations. During early experiments, a stopper jumped from a bottle of residues, and, although replaced at once, resulted in an immediate complaint of nausea and sickness from colleagues working in a building two hundred yards [180 m] away. Two of our chemists who had done no more than investigate the cracking of minute amounts of trithioacetone found themselves the object of hostile stares in a restaurant and suffered the humiliation of having a waitress spray the area around them with a deodorant. The odours defied the expected effects of dilution since workers in the laboratory did not find the odours intolerable ... and genuinely denied responsibility since they were working in closed systems. To convince them otherwise, they were dispersed with other observers around the laboratory, at distances up to a quarter of a mile [0.40 km], and one drop of either acetone gem-dithiol or the mother liquors from crude trithioacetone crystallisations were placed on a watch glass in a fume cupboard. The odour was detected downwind in seconds.

Flouroantimonic acid

A "Superacid", so reactive that it's difficult to even find material to store it in.

HF-SbF5 is an extremely corrosive, and toxic substance that is sensitive to moisture. As with most strong acids, fluoroantimonic acid can react violently with water due to the exothermic hydration. Only hydrogen fluoride can be used as a solvent for the acid, given that an aqueous solution can not be used. Heating Fluoroantimonic acid is dangerous as well as it decomposes into toxic fluorine gas. The only method of containment involves storage in a PTFE container as glass will dissolve upon contact. Safety gear must be worn at all times when handling or going anywhere near this corrosive substance. Fluoroantimonic acid can eat exposed flesh down to the bone while reacting violently with water present in human blood cells.


Dimethylmercury is a mercury compound that allows mercury to be absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin.  It is toxic in very small quantities, causing acute mercury poisoning that is often fatal, although it can take several months to kill.  There is a famous incident of a chemist Karen Wetterhahn who died from getting a drop on her gloves, which penetrated through to her skin.

The toxicity of dimethylmercury was highlighted with the death of Karen Wetterhahn, a professor of chemistry at Dartmouth College, in 1997. Professor Wetterhahn specialized in heavy metal poisoning. After she spilled a few drops of this compound on her latex glove, the barrier was compromised, and within minutes it was absorbed into her skin. It circulated through her body and accumulated in her brain, resulting in her death ten months later. This accident is a common toxicology case-study and directly resulted in improved safety procedures for chemical-protection clothing and fume hood use, which are now called for when any exposure to such severely toxic and/or highly penetrative substances is possible (e.g., in chemical munitions stockpiles and decontamination facilities).


Hydrazine is a widely used rocket propellant, both in monopropellant and hypergolic rocket systems.  It's also a strong reducing agent.  Really, Hydrazine's got it all - it's toxic, carcinogenic, corrosive, highly flammable, explosive in air at a wide variety of concentrations, and hypergolic with a wide variety of common materials including cellulose.  The safety protocols around Hydrazine mean that just fuelling up a satellite with it costa about $100,000.  When people talk about 'green' rocket fuels, what they really mean is 'anything but fecking hydrazine.'

Once upon a time I spent a couple of evenings compile a big list of names off anywhere I could find them on the interwebs.

I've got a few other lists (mainly specific languages like Hindi, Bhasa or Chinese) as well.

There are reprints of the 1902 and 1928 Sears catalogues floating about.  These will give you a pretty fair idea of the prices of stuff in that era.

For moderns, find an issue of Gun Digest or Shooter's Bible from sometime in the 1980s.  That will give you all the gun porn you could possibly want, along with era-appropriate prices.

For equipment, find an army surplus or outdoor supplies catalogue.

For electronics or computer equipment, find old issues of Byte or some similar publication and look at the prices in the ads.  Try also finding a Zenith or Heathkit catalogue from sometime in the 1970s.  Electronics in the '50s or '60s were buttock-clenchingly expensive, especially exotic test equipment.  For example, an original Moog was about $8-10k depending on the configuration.

Try also finding an old Edmund Scientific catalogue from sometime in the 1970s.  This will have prices for all sorts of lab and test equipment.

For stuff around the 1940s, it should be possible to find a fair amount of documentation on the cost of war materiel from WWII - one should be able to infer most of what you want from that.

I am irrationally indifferent to While Wolf, with the exception of their masterpiece: Street Fighter.

White Wolf fanboys, on the other hand ...

It's complicated.

The difference between different dice mechanics is largely about the kurtosis, although some such as D20 and percentile dice behave essentially the same in this regard.


Fig 1. Random chart off the interwebs showing distributions with different kurtosis.

Figure 1 shows some probability density functions with differing kurtosis.  Kurtosis drives the likelihood that a roll will produce extreme results in the tails.  Dice with high kurtosis are more swingy.  The most swingy mechanics are D20 and percentile dice (which behave as if they were a single 100-sided die).  These have a flat distribution where every possible outcome has the same probability.  

Fig. 2. A flat distribution such as a D20 or D100.

Different dice mechanics have different probability distributions.  4DF, for example, has relatively low probability of rolling anything outside the range of +2 to -2.  There is about 6% chance of rolling higher than +2.  This makes the game dependent of the FATE point economy as the dice roll outcomes are largely clustered around the middle in the range +2 to -2.  D&D's D20 mechanic, however, is just as likely to roll a 1, 10 or 20, giving it a much higher probability of rolling in the extremes.  Traveller's 2D6 mechanic sits somewhere in the middle.  Exploding dice mechanics complicate the calculation - Savage Worlds is famous for being fiddly to calculate the odds for dice rolls.

Generally the more dice involved the lower your kurtosis.  One issue with buckets-of-dice systems is that the kurtosis changes with the number of dice being rolled.

Having said all that I have a soft spot for 2D6, as it lends itself to quick mental arithmetic and bonuses of (say) +1 to +3 have more-or-less sensible effects across a wide range of target rolls, which is a nice happenstance.  It's more swingy than 4DF and less swingy than D20.

I'll also add some observations about dice mechanics on systems for PbP use.

I'm running a Scum and Villainy campaign on a forum at the moment, and the dice mechanic is slightly clumsy as you have to have some back-and-forth between the DM and players to even determine how many dice to roll.  For a game to work nicely in PbP I would suggest a dice mechanic with the following attributes.

  • Always rolling the same dice - the difference is the target.
  • Bonuses can be added after the fact.  If you have metacurrency then it can just be added later.
  • Avoid contested rolls.  Keep it to the player making one dice roll - through a roller app or otherwise.  The DM can subtract the opponent's bonus from the roll.
This approach means that the player can roll straightaway and the GM can frig the roll with whatever bonuses apply.  On a PbP game that can save a day or two of turnaround time for a single roll.

2D6 + bonuses would work fine for this, as would 4DF or a D&D style D20.  Dice pools where you might vary the number of dice being rolled add a round trip to the conversation.  This also includes D&D's advantage/disadvantage mechanics if it's not always obvious when it applies.

Quote from: Jamfke;1127716
I'm working on a design for a sci-fi OSR game and I'm wondering if alignment rules are that necessary. I can see them being useful in fantasy games with deities and the like being an ever present factor for the characters, but sci-fi doesn't dip into that pond so much. However, with dark and light themes being a thing (à la Star Wars) I can see where it can come in handy for gauging a character's allegiances.

Do you guys/gals use alignment that often during a session?
I've never used alignment anywhere but D&D with one exception.  Although the Palladium system largely wasn't anything to write home about the alignment system from Palladium was a neat idea, a bit different from the gartner-ish Law/Chaos, Good/Evil of D&D.  I grafted that onto Rolemaster for a game at one point.  

Instead of the good/evil and law/chaos it has 7 basic personality types

Principled (essentially lawful good) - Boy scout types
Scrupulous (essentially chaotic good or neutral good) - Maverick with a heart of gold
Unprincipled (primarily self-serving) - Lovable rogue, e.g. Han Solo
Anarchist (self-serving) - Untrustworthy rogue, roughly equivalent to chaotic-neutral
Aberrant (honourable evil) - Likely violent and ruthless but honourable.
Miscreant (lawful evil) - Evil, manipulative, scheming, for example Littlefinger.
Diabolic (chaotic evil) - Violent psycho with little regard for consequences.

See here -

Because it views alignment as more of a personality trait rather than some abstract good-vs-evil concept it could be used outside of sword-and-sorcery without looking too much like D&D-in-space.  I've never bothered with Alignments in sci-fi games but if you think it would add to the game something like the Palladium alignment system might work for you.

Design, Development, and Gameplay / Index in the book
« on: April 28, 2020, 09:45:45 AM »
Quote from: rway218;1127347
If you were to purchase a Player's Handbook, how important is it to have an index or table of contents?  From a design prospective they are extra print pages, but I know they are a help from a reader's perspective.

Very important for reference as you will need them to look stuff up.  Not having them would be a major impediment.  In practice, they are only a few pages long, so you really are shooting yourself in the foot if you omit them.  If you really have to cram the book into a specific page count, drop the text size by half a point, the leading by 1 point, and adjust the tracking to -5 or -10.  Then get ruthless about re-writing paragraphs with orphans, which will pull a bit of space out.  Then re-write some of your more verbose content to be more concise, cutting down the word count.  Pull out artwork if you need to.

On a shorter works of (say) 50 pages or less you might be able to omit the index, but anything bigger than that really needs indexing.  Never omit the table of contents.

Pulpy space opera is a bit more flexible but many sci-fi tropes could be done in a hard sci-fi context.  If we take a look at the Classic Traveller A and DA modules we could see some adaptations like:

A1: The Kinunir could be adapted to boarding a ship with a mad AI computer.
A2: Research Station Gamma could be adapted, but you might need a human patron substituted for Chiree
A4: Leviathan Probably not directly adaptable but you could certainly do some sort of space exploration campaign.
A7: Broadsword - if you like military sci-fi you could run a cruiser with some marines on it (see also Aliens)
A8: Prison Planet - escape from a prison in an inhospitable location.
A11: Murder on Arcturus Station - a murder mystery on a remote outpost.
DA2: Across The Bright Face - ATV chase across a vacuum world
DA3: Death station - Investigate the space station, what went wrong?
DA4: Marooned - trekking across an alien wilderness.
DA5: Horde - If you're OK with alien critters in your 'verse.

Several of the JTAS adventures come to mind - Rescue on Ruie, Salvage on Sharmun, The Werewolf Disease, Loggerheads for example.

Hard sci-fi doesn't have to be completely dystopian or grimdark, either.  Your part could be involved with a more-or-less benign polity or NGO, perhaps some sort of merchant's guild (think something like the Merchanter's alliance).  You could have a culture of belter analogues that you can hide amongst.  Maybe you have a home port in some neutral location.  You could have something like the Falkenberg-verse Co-dominium or UN (per the Expanse) where the navy or organisation has some political clout of its own and an agenda bearing a degree of professionalism and political acumen in its own right.  Holden wouldn't have gotten far without the UN's or OPA's patronage.

There can be beacons of light in your setting.

The other leaf you could take from the Expanse's playbook is that maybe your party aren't complete nobodies.  Holden et. al. were in a unique situation of having a modern warship, facilities where it could be maintained and patronage from various friends in high places who had the clout (and incentive) to keep it that way.

Quote from: Marchand;1125714
Agree, although Blade Runner has got very limited relevance to the other 2, not sure how you synthesise.

I could see the Jedi as a Dune-style Ancient School, with toned-down powers and no lightsabers, and the Sith as an offshoot of corrupt mercenaries.
It definitely had light sabres under a different name and did telepathy using much the same spell-lists system as Rolemaster, although there wasn't a direct knock-off of the force.  You could do a pure telepath or hybridise it with other classes for something analogous to a semi-spell caster class in Rolemaster.  

You could see Blade Runner's influence in the eugenics and replicant species, of which there were about half a dozen of each but not so much in the setting.  There wasn't much of the cyberpunk or blade runner vibe in the setting, that was mostly a knockoff of the great houses of the Dune 'verse.  Really it came out a few years before cyberpunk really started trending in sci-fi literature.  It does give the distinct impression of being written by serious Dune fanboys.

There were a few odd traveller-ism's here and there; the authors had obviously read if not played it at some point.  Looking back at it, I get the impression that it was designed to be not-Traveller.  Many of the OTU conceits like tech levels, short jump ranges and travel-as-communication were obviously rejected.

I'd rate it about a B or B+ in the grand scheme of things.  It wasn't crap, and it almost made it as having some atmosphere (if more than a little derivative of Dune) but it wasn't great either.  Sort of a near miss.

I thought ICE's Space Master was a sort of near miss in this regard.  It did a fairly good job of being not-Traveller, and almost made it as an interesting world.  The major influences seemed to be Dune (especially the David Lynch movie), Star Wars and Blade Runner - which kind of made sense given when it was produced.  

While I was a Star Wars fan as a wee lad, I never got into role playing in the setting, although I may get the WEG reprint.

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