Threat Tuesday – Can I Drive?

Where do I get the keys? (AP Photo)

In this undated image made from KRT video, North Korea’s new young leader Kim Jong Un appears from a military vehicle at an undisclosed place in North Korea, aired Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012. Kim Jong Un, who was named “supreme leader” of North Korea’s people, ruling Workers’ Party and military following the death last month of his father, Kim Jong Il, was shown observing firing exercises and posing for photographs with soldiers in footage that was shot before his father’s death and aired as a documentary Sunday.(Daylife – AP Photo)

It certainly looks like the NorK propaganda machine is working hard to portray the newest youngster dictator as a vibrant, happening kinda guy. Gone are the days of the Jonger simply walking  around on an inspection. The kid at least climbs around his toys.

But just how much is he in charge? According the the NorK propaganda machine, he was making go-to-war decisions since at least 2009:

Ominously, the younger Kim is also seen shaking hands with officials at a satellite control centre after scientists launched a missile test in April 2009 – and saying he was ready to declare war if the missile had been shot down.

That test firing stoked regional tensions and earned North Korea international sanctions and condemnation.

‘I had decided to wage a real war if the enemies shot down’ the rocket, Kim Jong Un was quoted as saying.

A voice-over described Kim Jong Il as saying his son was in charge of the military’s anti-rocket interception operations at the time.

North Korea has said it successfully sent a satellite into orbit as part of a peaceful bid to develop its space program. U.S. and South Korean officials, however, said no satellite or other object reached orbit, and accused the North of using the launch to test its long-range missile technology.

At the time, Japan had threatened to shoot down any debris from the rocket if the launch went awry. U.S. lawmakers also urged their military to shoot the rocket down. (The Daily Mail)

Traveller Tech – Manned X-37B?

According to sUAS News, Boeing engineers have suggested a 165% scaled-up version of the X-37B space drone for manned spaceflight. The cool graphic below  shows two configurations each with five or more astronauts.

My original Traveller X-37B design was only five dtons. Scaled up at 165% makes it roughly 8.25 tons. In both designs it looks like the all “cargo” is replaced by “crew.”

(EDIT) Here is the ship card from High Guard Shipyard (HGS 1.20.17) using Book 2 design rules. A few obvious problems are the automatic fuel scoops and the 1 dton of fuel.

Ship: X-37M
Class: X-37B+
Type: Shuttle
Architect: Boeing
Tech Level: 8
         XM-0101101-000000-00000-0 MCr 7.640 8.25 Tons
Bat Bear                           Crew: 6
Bat                                TL: 8
Cargo: 1.250 Fuel: 1 EP: 0.083 Agility: 1
Fuel Treatment: Fuel Scoops
Architects Fee: MCr 0.076   Cost in Quantity: MCr 6.112
Boeing Manned X-37B Concepts (Courtesy sUAS News)

Wargame Wednesday – GPS in Modern Wargames

Recent reporting out of South Korea is talking about a new north Korean threat – GPS jammers. From Yonhap:

In a report submitted to the parliamentary committee on defense, the ministry said North Korea has been developing the new Global Positioning System (GPS) jammer with a range of more than 100 kilometers, among other devices for electronic warfare.

In many wargames, GPS jamming tends to either be ignored or dealt with under Electronic Warfare rules. This is too bad since the modern military’s dependence on GPS is so so heavy that the loss of this critical force enabler could make a difference. Tactical air games like Air Strike were designed in the days before GPS, and even operational level air warfare games like Downtown or Elusive Victory don’t reflect the impact of GPS on the battlefield. I am not a modern ground warfare player so I really can’t talk to how GPS is reflected in those games but how do you replicate the great “end-run” of the First Gulf War without GPS rules?

With the efforts China has put on anti-satellite technology since 2007 when they shot down their own satellite it may be interesting to see how the loss of GPS would influence a modern battlefield. Maybe a variant rule for Red Dragon Rising? Or how about a variant rule for Crisis: Korea 1995?

Stars Without Number

Stars Without Number (Courtesy RPG Geek)

The Game: Stars Without Number (Sine Nomine, 2010)

The System: Old School Renaissance

The Appearance: Full-size (8.5”x11”) pdf with 210 pages. Cover is a color stock space image (NASA Space Telescope?). Interior layout is two-column text in a rather small font (not good for e-readers or maybe even tablets). Interior artwork is black-and-white, sparse in number, but generally appropriate to the setting. Tables are one- or two-column and use alternating shading to help distinguish rows.

The Setting: The year is 3200. Space travel created a new breed of humans that used psychic powers. In 2665 a psychic wave (“The Scream”) wiped out psychics and the universe broke down. The adventurers must survive and try to thrive in this hostile universe.

The Content: This is a complete rules and setting book. The 210 pages break down as follows:

  • “Introduction” which is a (very) short teaser of the setting
  • “Character Creation” introduces three classes; Expert, Warrior, and Psychic.
  • “Psionics” introduces relevant rules
  • “Equipment” is a standard ironmongery collection
  • “Systems” explains the mechanics of the game
  • “The History of Space” provides background
  • “Game Master’s Guide” gives hints to running adventures in the setting
  • “World Generation” provides rules for creating star sectors and planets
  • “Factions” includes rules for creating these special groups
  • “Adventure Creation” is a step-by-step assistant for creating an adventure seed
  • “Alien Creation” and “Xenobestiary” give you the bestiary for the setting
  • “Designer’s Notes” are Kevin Crawford’s thoughts on this game
  • “Hydra Sector” is a pre-generated sector with planets and factions defined
  • “Game Master Resources” includes a multilingual names generator and other quick generation guides
  • “Index” and “Record Sheets” complete the package

The Verdict: Stars Without Number is very unashamedly an Old School Renaissance game. Character generation uses a very standard class-based approach. One also has to be big into psionics since so much of the setting relies on these rules. The system mechanic is very old school; roll 2d6 plus attribute modifier and skill level against a difficulty rating. In combat you roll 1d20 and modify the roll based on a few factors such as armor class to see if you hit.

World generation is very similar to Classic Traveller but with a great twist. You also create world tags that further explain the world in ways like enemies, friends, complications, things and places unique to the world.

Factions allows creation of domains by defining it using hit points (resilience), a force rating (physical violence), cunning (espionage and cunning), wealth, experience, assets and goals. In effect, a faction is a super NPC that he players can either face off against, ally with, or even control.

As I already alluded to, the setting is heavily dependent upon psionics. That is not to say that you MUST use psionics, but the setting drives you to it. I have to say that I like certain aspects of the setting as it seems to draw heavily from the great sci-fi masters such as Asimov and Piper.

In the Designer’s Notes, the designer makes it clear that he is a “sandbox” gamer and because of this bias the game is designed with that approach to play in mind. Like many old-school games, the best adventure group is composed on at least one character from each class to ensure that necessary skills are available to at least one member of the adventure party. The designer also provides many tables and idea aids to help the GM create the adventure within the sandbox of play.

As I have gone on and described this game, it is possible that you have had to refer to the top to ensure you are reading about a new sci-fi RPG. That leads to my biggest complaint – in the end Stars Without Number feels like old Dungeons & Dragons in space. Now I personally was never an old-school D&D player but rather preferred Traveller.

Stars Without Number is a good game and setting. It is a worthy regeneration of the old-school gaming world. But is it not without its problems, the largest for me being that it feels a bit to much like D&D in Space and the heavy use of psionics.

Fuzzy Thoughts on Fuzzy Nation

Courtesy Tor Books

I picked up John Scalzi’s latest book, Fuzzy Nation, this weekend. This book is a reboot of the 1962 Hugo Award-winning Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper. I have mixed feelings about reboots; Battlestar Galactica did alright but Star Trek was less than stellar (no pun intended). Reviews of Fuzzy Nation have been mixed at best at Amazon. A liberal dose of 5-star reviews mixed in with a few 1-star commentary.

I have to admit I am one of the people who have very mixed feelings about this book. H. Beam Piper is one of my favorite sci-fi authors. After all, his story Space Viking is one of the main inspirations for the Traveller RPG series. On the other hand I also absolutely love Scalzi’s Old Man’s War.

One part I really don’t get is the quote on the dustjacket. Stephen King and John Scalzi don’t go together in my mind so I really have no idea what the quote is supposed to be telling me!

Threat Tuesday – Space Planes!

Looks like small space planes may be the wave of the future for both the military (the unmanned X-37B) as well as commercial space transportation.

Artist Concept of Orbital Sciences Space Plane and ISS

Orbital’s proposed space vehicle for NASA’s Commercial Crew Development-2 program is depicted in rendezvous and berthing operations with the International Space Station. (AP Photo)

We already know that the Chinese are working on their own projects, like the so-called Shenlong (Divine Dragon) project photographed in 2007.

Chinese Shenlong Spaceplane

Wargame Wednesday – Veterans Day Outlook

Looking forward to a long weekend and hoping to get in a few games.

Aeronef – Will try to get my “Savage Aeronef” battle done.  What will happen to ‘Ace’ Woodley?

Imperium – Will try to find out what happens in the Second Terran War.

Star Wars Saga Edition – Following my Star Warriors and Star Wars Silent Death games I am going to give a similar scenario a shot using the SWSE starship combat rules.