Saturday, 19 May 2012

More Fun with Accountants in Space – the Space Corsair’s Return

Cover of GURPs: Far Trader - slightly altered
While retrieving files from my old computer, I came across the link to one of my favourite Traveller language generator sites - Space Corsair's Word Generator.

During the development of Classic Traveller, a lot of work was done developing unique phonologies for the languages of the various Major Races, and some of the Minor Races as well. Originally, the results were published in phonology tables where, by working out the vowel/consonant ratio of a syllable, a series of dice rolls would generate completed syllables. These could then be strung together to form words and sentences. If you could remember the pronunciation guide, you could even get a feel for how the language might sound.

This was fun as far as it went, but was also rather time consuming.

Then one day while pootling around on the internet, I stumbled across Space Corsair’s Word Generator.

Control Panel of Space Corsair's Word Generator
As you can see, this programme has a nice, clean and simple front page.

Language selection - 12 on offer
It allows you to select from any one of twelve languages; the Major Race Languages of Vilani and Zhodani, Gurvin (the Hive Federation Common Language), K’kree, Gvegh (one of the major Vargr languages), Trokh, and Oynprith (the Droyne language). The Minor Race languages of Ael Yael, Te-Zlodh (Darrian), Bwap, Ithklur, and Sword World Icelandic are also included, as these are, in all likelihood, the most commonly encountered Official Traveller Universe Minor Races.

Twenty separate two-syllable words generated
With a language selected, the programme allows you to generate multiple words of multiple syllables, or generate sentences of multiple words.

A six-word sentence is generated
The words so generated can be copied from the generator and pasted into a Word Document or Note Pad for later use. I keep a file of one, two and three syllable words which I can access when I need, say, a word in Trokh for a type of drink Aslan prefer, or a Gvegh name for a common household pet.

Unless I am working with existing root words or grammar, (and I have only really explored this in work I have done on Arrghoun – an ancient Vargr language that appears in Alien Module 3: Vargr and which I have adopted for the Vargr of the Hunt of Rronurl in Cabria Subsector) then I usually don’t concern myself with relationships between generated words and possessives or tenses or all those other bits of the structure of language that I really wished I had paid more attention to at school.

Being able to slip some authentic sounding words from another language into the course of your game, especially when your characters are in a multi-species situation, always adds to gaming experience, and it’s even more fun if your Galanglic-speaking Player Characters start picking up and using loan words from their non-human companions.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Accountants in Space: Fun with Spread sheets

Jamison is a Traveller character from
the very first edition of the game
Within Traveller the roleplaying game, there are a series of metagames and minigames. These can be lots of fun and help scratch the Traveller itch if, like me, you find it difficult to get a regular crew together for a game. It’s not like I’m Nigel No-friends, it’s just that organizing games can be a bit like herding cats these days, with kids and families and work all competing for time.

The character generation process is actually a little game all of its own. Unlike a number of other roleplaying games from the mid-to-late 70’s period, characters in Traveller begin their adventuring later in life. In basic Book 1 Character Generation, the character’s pre-adventuring career is resolved in a series of four-year terms. In the later career books, starting with Book 4: Mercenary and Book 5: High Guard, and in various third party career books, such as SORAG from Paranoia Press, the four year term is broken down further into one year assignments. What this all means is that at the end of the character generating process, it is possible to marry up a character’s career against the larger history of the campaign and see whether he or she was present at significant historical events.

Cool starship discovered on the Internet

And while this is fantastic from a character’s backstory point of view, it’s also actually quite a lot of fun just rolling the dice and seeing where your characters end up. I have a notebook of characters from various career paths that I have generated in gaming downtime to use as NPCs as required.

Traveller wouldn’t be Traveller without starships and one of the things Traveller has always been known for is its material design systems – a toolbox of components and rules that allows you to create and define “stuff” like planets, planetary systems, and starships.

High Guard Shipyard

I used to use the starship design sequence and design ships on notepaper  – listing the components I wanted and their volumes and costs, adding it all up and then pulling things out or downgrading them until the volume of the components matched the volume of the starship hull – but this was all a bit fiddly and time consuming.

A few years ago, I discovered that a very clever countryman of mine had created a lovely little computer programme that did all the heavy figuring for you. As freeware, the programme, High Guard Shipyard, is available for download from Andrew Vallence’s website . Essentially, he put all the volume and cost parameters into a spreadsheet and then linked this data to a little interface screen containing all the required formulas.

Text report showing volume and cost of
components for a ship design.
So now, I can enter in the performance details I want my ship to possess, and the programme will make all the required calculations. And this means that if I change a parameter, all the other calculations are updated as I go. It will also provide me with a printable data card of the final ship, as well as a text file that elaborates on the actual components chosen. It actually took me longer to make up these screen shots than it did for me to make the ship!

The design sequence for generating planetary systems uses a lot of variables – everything from planetary diameter to atmosphere type to population to government. These are hard to figure into a spread sheet without some form of random number generator. Fortunately, there’s another bit of freeware called Heaven and Earth, specifically designed for Traveller, available on the Internet.

Heaven and Earth
This piece of software will generate subsectors and sectors, using several different design systems, as well as fleshing out entire star systems and mapping them. It also has a fairly useful edit function that allows you to enter existing worlds into your master sector map. So, all in all, a pretty powerful piece of software with a few annoying quirks – such as not allowing you to name a system’s primary star separately from the main world.

Sometimes, you just need an estimate of how much money your polities have to spend – especially if you’re looking at Sector and Subsector Fleet budgets, and trying to work out the size of available ground forces. To calculate how much money the armed forces have, you really need to know what the Gross Planetary Product of each system is and work out how keen the system government is at slicing off a chunk for the military. As economics bores most people rigid, the Traveller designers came up with a quick little calculation that produces a number. What’s neat about this is that by plugging the Universal Planetary Profile (UPP) values (generated when each planetary system is created) into a simple Excel spreadsheet, you can generate system, subsector, and Sector military budgets, as well as shipyard capacity values for all A and B Class Starports.

Supplements such as Sector Fleet (for MongooseTraveller) and Ground Forces (for GURPs: Traveller) offer suggestions for how these armed forces might be structured which allows the Games Master to slice and dice his or her budgets as is deemed appropriate.

By automating a lot of the design calculations, a Games Master can extract information more quickly from the raw data, and can have more faith in the numbers being generated. By taking out the drudgery, the fun factor is increased which, after all, is why we do this.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

A to Z: I Survived It

Last night's post was the final of the A to Z Challenge. It's been a wild ride and, about half-way through, I began to really wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew. But, last night was letter 'Z' and the end of the challenge. And, oddly enough, I now feel a little deflated.

Usually, I post about once a week - fitting it around figure painting and general life - so posting daily was a bit of a culture shock for me. Funny thing was that even with the difficult letters, the "Q's", and the "Y's", once I relaxed and stopped stressing about it, something would just pop into my head and I would have the germ of a post. Whether my posts actually mean anything to my readers, well, , that's another matter. I take solace in the fact that I have had some great comments on the posts I have made - and it seems that my flailing around in search of material to write about has prompted at least two readers to dig out their old Traveller books which, for me, is a win. 

Some of the material I wrote about, in particular for my own Traveller campaign, has set off little trains of thought. For example, the article about the Querl'harto was actually cut down from a longer piece that sprang off the character of Antheas Golus who encountered the first known (to the Imperium) Querl'harto. The piece I began writing detailed her search for her brother, who had disappeared to Rimward while searching for the Querl'harto homeworld. Antheas discovered a source of anagathics during her exploration, which is why she was able to spend a century on the hunt for him and Klarekhek. 

I need to explore the Rimward Subsectors in some detail, so I can write the rest of the story, and I need to complete the rest of my work on Gazolan Subsector so I can begin moving the History of the Rimworlds forward again. If nothing else, the A to Z Challenge has revitalised my interest in getting on and writing this stuff.