Friday, June 19, 2015

Sci-Fi Friday: Diary of a Va-Kree Spacer, Entry 2

It is an interesting thing to be aboard a ship full of the creatures used to frighten unruly children. It is also quite informative. Initial posturing aside, the Earthers and Coqnur seem to get along terrifyingly well. Woe betide any foe that inspires them to ally together.

They have been swapping stories of ancient conflicts, trading tales of battles that ended scores of lives as casually as we might discuss the weather. It is unnerving to listen to, but tells much of their races and the fearsome reputation they have earned.

They had shared countless tales of their great wars, largest battles and greatest defeats. Finally, the topic I dreaded arose; the first contact and combat between the Terrans and Coqnur. I feared a great conflict would arise, one I would have no escape from in the close confines! But instead it was met with great curiosity, as neither species seemed to know much of the other's motivations in the battle. Indeed, all that is known throughout most of the galaxy is that the human victory was absolutely crushing.

As you well know, it all began when a Human settlement was established on a world claimed by the Coqnur at the fringe of their space. It was a loose claim, but the planet held little most of the galaxy deemed of value (including the Coqnur themselves) and to my knowledge there was no formal claim to denote its ownership. Some even theorize that having heard of the Terran's habit of planting at least an outpost on every unclaimed world with a vaguely stable orbit, that the Coqnur claim was planned to gain an excuse to attack, and perhaps reclaim their former glory as the terror of the galaxy. However it came to pass, the galaxy watched in horror as a Coqnur battlefleet mobilized against the fledgling spacefarers. It was feared that a conflict, if it truly arose, would engulf and destroy all of known space, such were the reputations of both species.

No strangers to warfare, the Coqnur used the humans impressively advanced, though somewhat questionable in content, datanet to perform research. Where the civilized inhabitants of the galaxy would avert their eyes in horror lest they imagine the terrors the Humans had inflicted upon themselves, the warriors of the galaxy read with keen interest. But it seems that in their haste and eagerness to prove their dominance, errors were made in their analysis. 

The Terrans were nothing if not efficient at establishing a colony; the encampment was already well emplaced when the Coqnur fleet fell upon it like a meteor shower. Armed and armored, the Reapers of Battle are a terrible force, and the humans fell before them as had been expected. The young Coqnur, known to the humans as Randall due to their inability to properly ennunciate several of the sounds of his true name, explained that initial reports of the battle led the generals to believe they had already won. Even as the commanders prepared to toast their victory over the supposed might of the Terran Military, the tide of battle began to turn. The token resistance faced in the intial wave stiffened, and the Coqnur advance slowed to a crawl. Still, it was thought that with so dominant a position, the humans would surrender or collapse under the strain of battle, trapped as they were in their fortifications. How wrong they had been...

Randall relayed the sense of horror shared by the Coqnur forces as the Might of Terra joined the battle in earnest. These humans, descendents not of mighty predators, but of mere omnivores, even herbivores did not collapse, did not surrender. When the Reapers were poised to capture a structure, the inhabitants would sacrifice themselves and destroy it to defeat their foe; Such structures were taken at no small cost to the invaders, only for their gains to be stripped away amidst thunderous blasts and rending fragments. At every turn, every advance, horrific traps were sprung. The top planners had predicted that unconditional surrender or complete annihilation would be reached within an hour; by the third hour of the engagement the weary forces of the Coqnur were beginning to be pushed back.

While most forces, such as the automaton war brigades kept by most civilized races, would deem a battle lost, the Coqnur did no such thing. Driven by pride and a sense of sure superiority, they were determined to cow the uppity usurpers to their throne as terror of the galaxy. As it would turn out, they never stood a chance.

By the end of the first day, the Terrans had taken the offensive. By the third, the Reapers were facing tremendous losses not to battle, but to fatigue; despite their best efforts at maintaining reinforcements, the troops were falling dead of the strain. Yet, the humans advanced, through day and night, without tire. Even the automaton brigades, a favorite foe of the Coqnur for their ability to provide a proper battle, fought nothing like these monsters. The finest war machines would falter, or stop to run combat analysis, but the humans advanced without fail. Only the greatest of damage seemed to slay them, and still they came. As the fourth day broke, even the most stubborn of generals admitted that the battle was lost to them and attempted retreat; the humans prevented any escape, seeming determined to delay or destroy their attackers.

It was at this point that the large human who had thrown the knife at the bar took the narrative. John, his name is, explained that the humans had seen the fleet coming. Indeed, the Coqnur made little attempt to hide their initial approach, and such measure are questionable at best against the backdrop of the void regardless. Unbeknownst to the Reapers, Humans are masters of defense, and think little of refusing to join in glorious open combat. They knew little of the enemy, and were prepared to fight to the last man, woman, and child with every trick at their disposal.

Then, the true turning point happened; On the fifth day, the Terran military arrived. The forces that had faced the mightiest military then known to the universe to a standstill and forced a retreat were mere militia, a term unknown to both the Coqnur and I until John explained. The militia is a force, composed not of any warrior caste, but merely any human willing to take up arms. John continued to raise a fair point; The humans had evolved as persuit predators, a terrifying concept to discover. Armed with mere sticks, they had hunted many of the greatest beasts of their homeworld to extinction not by might of arms, force of numbers, or sheer power, but simply by dogged determination. They simply tracked their prey until it died of exhaustion in its attempts to fight or flee, just as the Coqnur had. Even their first ally on their world seemed to be selected as the only creature to somewhat keep pace. Most of the great predators of their world were like the Coqnur, mighty and peerless in battle, but unable to sustain the effort beyond a brief and furious initial clash.

Randall spoke, revealing the terrible flaw behind the whole confrontation. When planning, the Coqnur had indeed found many of the measures of human battles. What they failed to comprehend was the sheer scale; the differing measures of time led months and years to be taken as their equivalent of days and weeks, a common length for great wars among the Coqnur. John explained that wars lasting for generations were not only not unheard of, but not even uncommon throughout Terran history. Even Randall was cowed, to hear it so casually explained that humans thought very little of wars lasting longer than the adulthood periods of many galactic inhabitants!

What manner of terrible world would produce such a horrific creature, and how could it survive to spread into the great void? Then again, having heard even this much about them, how could such monsters not thrive? Though they are amiable enough once known, they are not to be crossed if it is possible to avoid. Still, they seem willing enough to risk themselves in defense of galactic denizens, and swap stories of facing uncontrolled war machines in defense of their creatores with the same casualness we might apply to a simple jaunt to one of our moons from the planet.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Interstellar Warfare Wednesday: Building A Better Gyroc

The Guns Of The Future show up in many settings, but are usually one of three categories; lasers, gyrocs, or gauss guns. Guass guns are someone else's problem, and lasguns are fantastic and I have some musings that will require I brush up on electrical engineering a bit to start assembling a thing. This discussion is about TINY ROCKETS. A favored weapon in WH40k, along with lasers, which is amusing because the setting always drastically oversells the difficulty and complexity of a gyroc weapons system,

Of the three classes, gyrocs are ahead of the curve in terms of realism; the Gyrojet Pistol (sort of) worked, in the 1960s! Rocket motors have improved substantially in power since then, much like all other things with propellants, and the means to design with. With ammunition that didn't cost an arm and a leg ($7.50 per round or so to purchase at time of introduction, according to GURPS High Tech, so there might be a bit of error in there due to conversion factors to GURPS Dollars), combined with a gun that wasn't stupid, it might be darn viable.

First up, things wrong with the Gyrojet pistol; designed to be recoilless. That's all well and good, but if it makes your gun essentially nonfunctional out to 20 feet but is designed to be used as a defensive weapon? All the power in the world "eventually" doesn't help much if it does nothing "now" which is where you need it. Just sealing the barrel and permitting the rocket exhaust to pressurize it like a standard gun would probably step the power up substantially at the muzzle, as would using a relatively weak firing charge to ignite the round and get it up to speed while the rocket motors were still kicking in. Boosting muzzle velocity also helps accuracy, because the round leaving the gun at no speed means wind plays hell with your accuracy. Modern propellants may permit the gun to remain recoilless or semi-recoilless, if they can accelerate to a useful degree even at short ranges.

Several other issues with the most commonly known version of Gyrojet were solved by later models, when it was realized that designing things to be New and Different for its own sake was stupid, because a lot of how things worked was because that's what WORKED. As such, I won't discuss those particular changes and will merely state that a new production gyroc must have the features and capabilities one would expect of a modern firearm (detachable magazine, ability to clear jams should they occur, etc).

Next up, the ammo needs to be redesigned. Gyrojet rounds use angled vents to spin the round as it flies. Any problems in manufacturing those vents and the round turns into a crazy rocket, which isn't very useful. They also require fairly good tolerances be held, and it's not a particularly easy design to make conveniently. Instead, switch to a 2-3 part construction: the warhead is simply a bullet of the same caliber as the gyroc that press/crimp fits into the gyroc-to-be, the body of the round is simple tube metal that is formed to produce the rocket vent and fit to the final piece, a stamped metal fin. Stamp fin, roll-form main body, press/weld fin and body together, insert rocket motor, insert warhead. Gotta jam a primer and possibly the booster charge in there at some stage of that, but it wouldn't be at all hard to automate the heck out of that like any other modern ammo production system, to achieve competitive prices to same. Alternatively, using a sealed barrel and/or booster charge, you could use rifling to achieve the stabilizing spin with the rocket solely focused to driving the projectile.

The final question; what's the point? Does a gyroc improve over good old fashioned lead in any particular way? The answer is that it depends. A gyroc accelerates up to the max speed it can manage and stays there until it runs out of fuel, meaning it stays at full power for a good long while. Larger caliber gyrocs would essentially be improved slugs, and comparable to the use of shotguns in tactical situations: Very capable but limited by sheer size and weight of ammunition. Much like a shotgun for military use, they'd be likely used as what they are: a tiny rocket launcher (the slug or 12ga grenade filled shotgun being a tiny smoothbore cannon), delivering minigrenades with accuracy and range, possibly mounted to a carrier firearm. Depending on the effectiveness of the gyroc, the function of the gun to fire it, and comparisons to standard ammunition (price, weight, size) small caliber gyrocs could well take the place of the traditional round as the standard. That said, traditional rounds will never go away (I'd hardly be surprised if 9mm lasts as long as the species and possibly beyond)

Music: A Space Miner's Lament

Haven't even played the game yet, but the soundtrack's darn good. I dig the feel of this song (hah). That's one of my favorite things about the Terrans of Starcraft, they're Space Rednecks; they'll take on anything, and it gives much of the world/system/galaxy/whatever a real nice adventurous frontier feel.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

GURPS CheatSheet: 4e Basic Set in 5 pages or less

In my quest to make GURPS a bit more playable for people who aren't crazy and read its copious amounts of rules, and to supplement my own GM screen, I went through and collected most of the major rules of GURPS into a handy little compendium. By getting just the rules, it collects the actual stuff needed to play into about 5 pages (skipping all the character generation stuff and rules attached to that, with the expectation that a player will make their own reference sheet for things that effect them).

Still tweaking, formatting, and adding to it, but there's the sheet as it presently is
Page 1 is basics of play: odds of 3d6 based success, the different types of tests, and when to roll.
Page 2 is combat basics, the turn order, and so on
Page 3 is rules for injury and recovery
Page 4 and 5 are further special situations, including rules for shooting things in cover, size/range/speed tables, rate of fire bonuses, and hit locations.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

GURPS High Tech Low Tech; Mass Production and Improvised Weapons

GURPS, for all its efforts to have rules for everything ever, leaves a number of things unmentioned and without rules. Some of them are minor and only likely to impact anything if you really are trying to dig in depth, others are a bit more jarring if you try to use them.

First up, mass production at higher tech levels of blades and similar. Low Tech has the Cutlass at $400, and mentions that the one listed in basic set for $300 is a mass produced version. This gives us a functioning mass production modifier of .75x. Thing is, that's at TL4, age of sail, when even mass produced they still had to be built Ye Olde Fashioned Way. What happens at high tech, when a properly set production line can churn out good or fine quality blades by the hundreds or thousands? Corners can be cut (or not, if it's cheaper) in ways never before possible to allow for ease of production, at the cost of appearance, even if the blade quality itself is unaffected. Many modern blades use the standard rules for the free upgrade to fine quality, or 60% price break to purchase good. These mass production musings are for such things as blades made of quality modern steel, with hardly any effort put into actually sharpening the edge and such things as ugly molded plastic grips. An example would be some things such as the Cold Steel machetes, made of pretty good steel and weighted exactly as they should be (most fall under the classification of Falchions or Small Falchions for rules), but with every corner available to cut without ruining the blade. They also come with a nearly blunt machete/utility edge, even if they're made of the same steel as the finer blades; for example, both the 1917 Bowie knife and the Bowie Machete are made of 1055 Carbon steel. As most blades are machine tempered these days as an automated process, it's unlikely that other than the anti-rust coating on the machete (which is meant to be abused) and generally simpler geometry the blades differ any. The true bowie has an MSRP of $200, online retail of $117. The bowie machete has an MSRP of $30, and an online retail of $25. Alternatively, cheap quality (20% price of usual) would explain the difference perfectly, with the difference being in the quality of the edge as purchased, provided that it is permitted to raise the quality by sharpening and refinement (assuming that mass production, rather than necessarily using poor quality steel that cannot be improved, merely doesn't bother with a fine or even good edge, and other such niceties that can be remedied with sufficient time and skill in the required areas such as blade sharpening, woodworking, even if the skill or equipment to craft a good or fine blade from scratch is not possessed). Otherwise, I may house-rule that a modern mass produced blade is treated as an opposite version of a display weapon, valued at the next step down (A good quality blade becomes cheap price, and receives reaction penalties from those who know or appreciate weapons equal what a display weapon would gain in reaction bonuses)

Other questions with GURPS are the treatment of improvised weapons; many things receive fairly sizeable penalties to use as weapons without the Improvised Weapon Master perk; Among these is the Sledgehammer, treated as a maul at -2 to skill, despite all historical examples of war maul I can find being essentially just sledgehammers. So far the main difference I've been able to come up with was possibly the use of a metal haft, or at least metal clad, but this doesn't explain the penalty to skill when they are identical save for weight and price (Sledgehammer is listed at 15 lbs, maul at 12. Of course, sledgehammers are commonly available in different weights, would a smaller sledgehammer simply be a maul at 1/8th price? The splitting maul, essentially a lightweight but sharpened sledgehammer, gets a -3 to skill to use with two handed axe/mace skill. As someone who's spent much of his life swinging axes, sledgehammers, and so on, this seems somewhat questionable. Still, not particularly hard to ignore those penalties and just treat it as using base skill.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Motor Music Monday

Found this because it was the theme for a promo for Wasteland Weekend, which is basically live action Fallout/Mad Max/Metro 2033/etc, and is a big post-apocalyptic immersion party in the deserts of Vegas. Apocalypsed cars and costume are mandatory for the weekend. One of these years I may swing on by representing the Nuclear Winter covered Northlands, with our preserved fine brewing techniques despite the fall of civilization. I think I'll go more Metro 2033 apocalyptic pseudo-military style rather than Warboy/Raider/etc.