This is an awesome picture from Traveller Art of a Zhodani Guardbot

Zhodani Guard Bot

Zhodani Guard Bot from Traveller Art

This picture is close to my mental image of a Zhodani Warbot — a grav robot that floats using its anti-gravity locomotion unit. How does that work?

First of all, the grav unit must generate enough “lift” to float the robot. That means an upward thrust capability or offsetting anti gravity force must exceed the weight of the robot in this case. Simple enough. The upward force creates the first part of the robot’s locomotion: lift.

The robot also needs to be able to move around. That requires a second force for a lateral thrust or push capability. (I’m leaving out for the moment where that force comes from but I plan to come back to that.)

So if the robot has lift and the robot has lateral thrust, it should be able to float like the one in the cool picture above.

I’ve been thinking lately about another problem which someone on the Striker newsgroup brought up. What happens when my floating robot gets hit by a character swinging a baseball bat? Or an ACR round? or a grenade blast? In other words, what happens when a sudden, unexpected force strikes my floating robot?

If the robot has only the two forces mentioned — lift and lateral thrust — then when someone hits it with a baseball bat that robot is going to move away from the bat in proportion to how much force is applied in to the bat. Or the ACR round or the grenade blast. The sudden, unexpected force striking the robot is going to make it move in a sudden and unexpected manner but one that depends on how much lateral “thrust” was applied against it.

That makes floating robots a very interesting tactical problem. What if this robot is operating with some infantry when hit? He might crash into an infantryman as a result of being it. He might lose his orientation and “tumble” into an unexpected position.

[Sidebar: I live and work in Washington DC where tourists often take a Segway tour of the sites. These “vehicles” maintain orientation by gyroscope so that usually they maintain an upright position. However on the occasion that the vehicle tips past a certain point, the force of the gyro slams the vehicle into a different (perpendicular) orientation that snaps the rider off it in a nasty way. I suspect that even gyroscopically stabilized grav bots might suffer from a similar tumble if struck suddenly in just the right direction.]

What about the surroundings? Does a floating grav bot next to a wall hit the wall when it suffers a hit itself? What happens when the guard bot is guarding a rare set of Ming vases? If hit does it crash into a vase?

I think you can see where this is going. Floaters have no “grip” against the ground and hence no inherent capacity to absorb or transfer the shock of the blow.

I’ve been pondering what that grip might be but I haven’t figured out anything yet. I have toyed with the possibility that perhaps the lateral thrust capability could be directed to offset the thrust from the incoming baseball bat. Good news on that solution is that one might prevent the bot from moving. Bad news is that the bot would need to absorb the force of two baseball bats in a head on collision. That might be a worse problem that the first strike.

That kind of mechanism assumes that the bots computer could respond to the incoming force quickly enough to offset it. My anti-lock brakes sense the braking forces in the wheel and adapt to the physics of the situation rapidly — but not as rapidly as an incoming .50 caliber round. Even given advanced computer technology, there might well be limitations on the rate of response.

What happens to the hypothetical thrust compensator when the bot is hit by multiple rounds from different directions? What happens when the incoming energy is greater than the bots lateral thrust capability? Perhaps this hypothesis is not easily workable.

I also considered the possibility that the bot might save its lateral thrust for collision avoidance. It might be better able to adapt to that situation within the mechanical limitations of its hardware and thrust capacity. Of course if the initial strike causes the bot to tumble into a bad orientation, that collision avoidance could be pretty tricky. And what about the  infantrymen operating in close proximity to it? How is he (or they) protected from collision with the floating bot?

The grip problem relates to transference of force. If a big rugby player straight dives at me  and I am facing him  perpendicular to his line of travel, he’ll knock me over since I have no way to absorb or transfer the force of impact. If I step one foot back so I am standing parallel to his line of travel, bend my knees and lean in the direction of the rugby player, I may be able to absorb the shock or transfer the incoming force through my legs into the ground. Now I have an effective grip on the ground which I can set against the incoming force. I might still get knocked down, but it takes more energy to do it when I have a grip.

I am making the case that the floating robot has no grip. Even if it could use some means of directed gravitational force, that force is unlikely to be able to transfer energy away from the strike. When hit, the bot is certainly going to have to move.

There might be an additional alternative response to being struck: spin. Tumble intentionally to dissipate the incoming force. I’ll have to think that one through, but that seems to work best in a bot that is designed to operate without any particular orientation being designed as best or most efficient. In a gun fight, a bot with a spinning defense might do a lot of defensive spinning which could harm its capacity for “normal” operations.

Grav bots are in trouble when they get hit. Even hits that don’t penetrate could stun or KO the bot. An undamaged bot that is defensively spinning could be “stunned” and lose its offensive action.

If I want my bot to stand up in a fight, it needs to have legs through which to transfer energy. It needs hips, knees, and ankles to absorb and transfer some of the energy away. A fighting bot needs to be a walker if the designer intends for it to take hits and keep fighting.

I think that Zhodani Warbots need to be walkers.

The grav bot depicted above is perfect for swift, silent manuever. It is perfect for pursuit, patrol, and observation but not primarily fighting.

Walkers fight. Floaters spy.



Have you all seen the XM25? You can check out the Wikipedia article here but in the meantime, here is a pic:

XM25 Punisher in action

XM25 Punisher in action

This little baby is a game changer. It employs a very simple concept: set the grenade I am firing to explode 1 meter beyond the cover that I am pointing at.  It uses a laser range finder and a fiendishly simple method of calculating distance — the number of rotations in its flight. Once the target is selected, the projectile is on its own and not subject to jamming or obscuration of the “painting” laser.

For the soldier faced with guerrilla enemies who use cover as a fighting advantage, the XM25 (or if for some reason this version doesn’t work out, its eventual improved successor) provides the means to negate the guerrilla’s big advantage.  Makes lots of sense for the US to develop such a weapon given its current deployments.

While one side has these and the other side doesn’t, it sure is a “tech level related advantage.” IMTU the modern US is Tech 8 and its army fights with a combination of Tech 8, 7 and 6 equipment so let’s call it Tech 8. Its enemies in Iraq tend to use Tech 7, 6, 5 equipment with the odd piece of Tech 8 equipment thrown in so let’s call it Tech 7.

What happens though when both sides have their own XM25 Punishers? That means no one gets the advantage of cover.

Well of course you have to bring your cover with you…and that sounds a lot like Combat Armor. I would expect to see rapid development of the body armor component of Combat armor soon. The power assisted capacity research is already funded and in progress (BLEEX for example is a proto-walker) as well as really smart armor like tanks and AFVs carry now (Wet Armor.)

In the meantime, I’ll treat a Traveller/AHL/Striker soldier with an XM25 as having a LAG that can ignore cover if it has a LOS over or past the cover. The airburst means no contact hits, but that frag attack is still pretty nasty.

And I am thinking of making the Combat Environment Suit Tech 9 instead of 10 and Combat Armor Tech 10 instead of 11.

Our campaign included a secret Swords Worlds moon base that the characters were supposed to use for resupply and refueling of the Narsil supported privateer free trader. As the gods would have it, instead of leaving the base as a pencil and paper only installation, the crew of the Beka Valentine managed to get their ship shot up enough to force a landing on the moon base. Now I had to actually create a moon base. Sigh…a referee’s work is never done.

As it happened, just then some venerable Martian Metals Swords Worlder figures came up for auction on ebay. I’m a sucker for the old Martian Metals stuff and was lucky enough to win.

So here goes my first shot at posting mini pics. These are damn hard to take so be kind on the focus issues. Anyone who can point me to some good tips on photographing minis would be much appreciated.

First the whole set of 12 (there are 16 at the base but two are pilots and two are vacc suit wearing mechanics for the communication gear off base):

Martian Metals Sword Worlds Pack

Martian Metals Sword Worlds Pack

Next my attempt at a better focus by taking out the second line of figs:

Martian Metals Swords Worlds Pack

Martian Metals Swords Worlds Pack Pic 2

Compared to the recent vintage guys from Rebel Minis and Khurasan, these fellas don’t look so great. On the other hand, they do have the charm of being ORIGINAL Traveller stuff. I especially like the stylish 70s tight slacks and sweater under jacket look. The beards do provide an appropriately Nordic look. I love ’em.

Failing to find any uniform references for Swords Worlds Naval forces on a dirtside deployment, I improvised the gray pants and dark blue jackets as their uniform scheme. It vaguely reminded me of something Kriegsmarine like. They certainly do have a characteristic look.

Next up to leave the production table: Legged Zhodani Warbots…


Tech 4 Frontier Gunfight

March 27, 2011

New, hopefully quick project in the works today. Details and pics to below.

The idea behind the game was that playing Traveller’s Azhanti High Lightning Rules (AHL) as a direct skirmish game would be fun, easy to learn and connect people to the Traveller world at a con.

The concept would be a fast play game playable in under 60 minutes that would allow character and skill based play (Traveller) in a recognizable setting (Wild West) that could be framed in a Traveller milieu (as TL 4) and would be enjoyable as a stand alone or walk up game.

I have a lovely set of 15/18mm Blue Moon Western figs on the painting block and a diminutive set of Peter Pig Western buildings that I picked up on ebay for a song. These will serve as the raw material for the setting.

I’ve been toying with the idea of creating a collection of role play “sets” for Traveller after the model of the movie sets that are often reused and reshot for different cinematic moments. The idea behind this particular set is “dusty frontier spot” which could serve as a backdrop for wild west,  mexican adventure (like the pursuit of Pancho villa), the Northwest frontier, or even Mos Eisley from Star Wars. The only difference being the specific uses would be the structures, figures and flora. The thought that some Firefly play might fit that setting didn’t escape me either.

So the observation is that such a game would have to have a small footprint. I’ve played larger con games on a huge 8’x14′ table and they are very difficult to keep running smoothly since inevitably someone is in the middle of careful decision making and intense combat while someone else is just moving up to join the action. A smaller format keeps the setup, game management and play time down to a minimum and focuses on the narrative action. Much better for role play/wargaming too!

So I bought a 24″ x 24″ board at Home Depot and started off by spraying one face of the board with Krylon Make it Stone! textured paint. I used the Travertine Tan color since it is a dusty tan with flecks of texture and color. The can says that it covers 6 square feet. I was able to get a thick and intentionally uneven coat of my whole board before emptying the can.

Here’s a pic of the board before texturing:

Unfinished Frontier Set

Unfinished Frontier Set

And after the texture paint has been applied:

Textured Frontier Set

Textured Frontier Set

So now the moment of drama…spraying on the square grid.

I took my handy Litko 1/2″ grid template and set to work. The template itself has a spray area slightly smaller than its full two foot size. After experimenting with fitting it in different configurations, I decided to fix the middle of the template down the middle line of the board. This configuration required me to spray the template three times: once down the middle and once on each side.

The first spray went well. I used Model master Sandgelb as the grid color since it seemed to stand out well enough without contrasting too sharply with the textured paint. Lining up for the second spray was a little fiddly and required a bright light and glasses to get everything set. After pulling of the templates and masks, I was happy to see a nice transition. The set of squares that I used for the template overlap came out distinctly darker which was an imperfection but a tolerable one.

I set out to line up everything on the other side taping down the templates and mask carefully to make sure I had a good alignment.

The Sandgelb paint, which I had not used before, was quite thick in the jar. My normal acrylic airbrushing mix of about 3:1 paint to thinner was not going to work so I went down to a soupier 1:1 consistency. This thinner mix sprayed a nice light tone on the set, but it also ran through the airbrush faster. Right before finishing the bottom corner of the final template spray, I ran out of paint and had to mix a new batch.

I pulled up the corner of the template to see what if any paint had gotten on the set before the brush ran dry. Definitely another mix was required. Apparently though, when I pulled the corner up, I also pulled the template slightly out of alignment. When I finished the spray and removed the template, I found that the overlap squares had become out of alignment and had a weird double exposure kind of effect. Very disappointing.

Here’s the outcome:

Frontier Set for AHL after removing spray templates

Frontier Set for AHL after removing spray templates

Some quick thinking was required to address the problem. I decided to use some 1/4″ GHQ Terrain maker tiles to shape a rock outcrop to position over the boo-boo.

Here the final result of the set:

"Dusty Frontier Spot" Set for AHL

"Dusty Frontier Spot" Set for AHL

Next step: painting the western buildings…

Short answer for those who don’t want to read a long and personal post: No, Traveller is not dead. There are some smart ideas there that bear a second look.

HOW I GOT HERE – Thoughts on a personal wargaming history

I play a lot of games. These days one of the critical parameters for successful game play is time. I only have so much time to play and when I do get to play I want to have good “bank for the buck.”

When I first played Avalon Hill’s Midway back in the early 70s, I was a teenager with lots of time on my hands. That’s a good thing since those AH classics took a lot of time to play. I spent many hours playing Panzer blitz and Panzer Leader, Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Afrika Korps and many others. I enjoyed the time especially since it was better than just about everything else I was doing in those days (except Judo.)

The problem I had was not finding the time, but finding the players. Finding another teen who was willing to take the time to meticulously set up Anzio, let alone play it, was something of a quest. I managed but there was always the question of creating the community of interest.

I started collecting and painting Napoleonic miniatures. I couldn’t think of anything cooler than that. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t find another teenaged soul to play. Remember there were no Sharpe’s rifles books to read in those days. I found A Soldier of the 71st damn good reading but I couldn’t even get anyone else to pick it up. I had many a solo battle on the floor of my bedroom.

I attended my first game con, Origins 77, at Hunter College on Staten Island, in the hunt for gaming materials, know how and preferably peers. That was the first time I saw “fantasy” miniatures. I didn’t know what to make of them since there was no reference books to use to help understand what they did and how that fought. (ah youth…)

The D&D came along. Frankly I was not very interested in the concept when I could play Alexander or Arab Israeli Wars. But my gaming confreres were interested and in 1977 I embarked on a career as a Dungeon Master. Even I got hooked.

What I found was a whole new level of excitement, engagement and interest in role playing. There was just MORE. I never lost my interest in military gaming. I just found a new and separate outlet that did not require the same pre-game commitment to understand satrapies, dive bomber tactics, desert supply, or the difference between cuirassiers and voltigeurs. You created a character and started to play. THEN you had to understand lots of new and weird stuff. By that time, you were already engaged and interested.

The D&D game convened at my parents Kitchen table which had a convenient 1″ checkerboard pattern that served us as our ad hoc dungeon map. The group grew and even included girls. Midway was set aside to gather dust. One of the girls lent me her copy of Lord of the Rings. Yikes I was converted.

I DISCOVER TRAVELLER or A Love Affair with Three Little Black Books

I discovered White Dwarf magazine in the Compleat Strategist store in Manhattan and found there was a larger world of gaming. In one of the first issues, they had a review of a new science fiction role playing game, Traveller. I read the review and started saving my pennies.

I can still remember the first time I open the box to reveal the three little black books (LBBs.) I can still remember the smell of it. If you think that is creepily akin to a young romance, you would be entirely right. I devoured the books. I found them utterly disappointing as an extension of D&D and completely fascinating in opening an entirely new and bigger world. I fell in love.

You hear stories lately of how people who have married, raised a family and divorced wind up meeting their high school sweetheart on facebook and falling back in love. I have to admit I sometimes feel that I am in the same boat with Traveller. I am admitting to you that my love for the game is tied to that youthful spirit of adventure, discovery, and excitement. That could be a bias in all the rest of what I say. I just want to be up front about it.

So I started a Traveller campaign, bought the extra books, supplements, and adventures that I could afford, and we played and played. I prefered Traveller over D&D, but we wound up running both. By the time I got to college, I was pretty adept at running games. I ran a D&D campaign that had about 22 player characters and I recall actually having to stand on a chair once to manage the crowd. Exciting days.

I played Traveller as a player then in a campaign run by my friend Andy. This change was a big one since I got to play rather than ref and I could savor the enjoyment from the consumer rather than the producer side. Don’t get me wrong, they both have their charm.

About 1981, I got D&Ded out. As characters advanced in levels, the very concept of advancing in levels itself became the point of the games. Instead of exploring the unknown and facing an environment of uncertainty and risk, the games tended toward risk management. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that a lot of those players went to work for Chase or Morgan Stanley.

Traveller though, structured without levels or clear intra-game advancement really shone in contrast. I kept playing Traveller more or less regularly until about 1986 and intermittently there after. I bought the MegaTraveller books, love the consolidation of materials they had done, liked the task systems concept although not always its manifestation and hated the Shattered Imperium setting. Did I say “hated”? Yeah I wanted to make sure that was clear.

I started going to Historical Miniature Gaming Society (HMGS) conventions in New Carollton MD in 1983, I have gone to all but a handful of HMGS cons since. One college buddy who played Traveller back in the day still attends regularly (love you Frank L!)  HMGS was the long awaited outlet for the military games I so loved before role playing.


When I first read Book 4 Mercenary, a whole new idea dawned on me. Military role play. It was around that time that I first consciously asked myself: Can I play a military role playing game? Is there such a beast? I had to wait for Striker before I found the answer was yes.

However, Striker faces the would be player with some daunting challenges. First and foremost, there are no TO&Es, no real vehicles to speak of. The chore of completely organizing one’s forces from scratch deterred almost everyone I know who set out to play the game. For Traveller referee’s who got an inkling of the kind of cool hardware previewed in Book 4 Mercenary, Striker was a gold mine of deep resources for creating high powered toys. Lots of folks have created vehicles (or should I say “vehicle” singular since the effort is something considerable) or otherwise used Striker as a resource for Traveller or other games.

But the game itself is remarkable. If played as the game itself, it puts players in charge of herding cats. If makes the troops under one’s command only partially under the player’s control with a wide range of things they may or may not do. The player is truly in command, not of a robotic horde of perfect, order following, opportunity-seeking extensions of the commanding officer/player, but as a fuzzy, more or less controllable mob of individuals formed into cohesive or less than cohesive units attempting to work together towards a military objective while desperately trying to save their own asses. That strikes me as very realistic and certainly worthy of role play.

By creating a commander-centric game — players succeed best as a platoon senior NCO or lieutenant — the game creates a very different perspective on tactical military operations. Frank Chadwick, Striker’s author, went on to write Command Decision/Combined Arms which similarly dealt with what a commander can and can NOT do. That confrontation with the limitations of command makes the game challenging if one is willing to adopt that limitation perspective. The normal wargamers perspective might be characterized as “let’s see what happens when this infantry regiment defends against an assaulting brigade.” The focus is on the outcome of the meeting of forces. Most wargames are enjoyable when they answer that kind of question. The experience of individuals or even small unit commanders of getting what is in their head as a plan out onto the battlefield as actions is sort of assumed as below the level of abstraction of the game or the player winds up with quasi-divine powers to order the world as he would.

Striker deals with that experience of command limitation head on. Someone, player or referee, has to control the forces and that control is only approximate. That leaves the commander in the position of having to correct, order, or personally lead troops to get them to do the job that needs doing. Unit quality is established as militia, conscript, long service, and elite. Individual fire team stands are assessed an initiative level (low, average, high.) Elites usually operate the way players might expect from a more traditional wargame. The player controls their actions since they usually have high initiative. Other troop levels mix the player-controllable high initiative folks with “we can follow orders (sort of)” average initiative stands and “you have to lead me to get me to fight” low initiative stands. With a little forethought and planning, the character of a particular force can be tailored in its composition. Based on the troop quality overall, players are confronted with a differing mix of responsive and unresponsive units. Hence the herding cats.

This situation makes the player’s in-game skills (leader, tactics,  recon, gun combat, forward observer, vehicle, heavy weapons, etc) have meaning in the military game. Not abstractly as a saving through or secondary effect, but right in the warp and weft of the main turn sequence. Leader helps solve morale problems. Tactics speeds ordering. Recon helps spot and avoid being spotted. Each skill is part of the play and give meaning to what my character can do. It also allows the opportunity for a better game player to adopt the role of an inferior commander. No one enjoys the smartest gamer in a group winning every battle — that’s not role play. This system allows in-game skills to balance out-of-game skills as role players expect and wargamers don’t always.

Part of the charm of the system is that it can do this in an environment that is expandable and adaptable to technology. Traveller introduced the idea of various technology levels from stone age (0) to horse and musket (3) to WWI (5) to through modern US (late 8) all the way to the Imperium’s military at tech level 15.  Striker picks up this system at about tech 5 (starting say with smokeless powder days through the 1930s) and provides a unified means of stepping up technology. Most wargame rules assume a certain level of technology (like Arab Israeli Wars, or NATO vs Warsaw Pact, or even cowboys and indians.) Few games provide a single system that can host bolt action rifle combat and fusion powered flying grav tanks without batting an eye. Striker can do exactly that in a consistent single system.

Real world play time is pretty important and I really like the idea of learning one system that I can play Boers, Stalingrad, Vietnam, Modern Iraq and Starship Trooper all in one system so I don’t have to learn a whole new game every time I want to try a new period. I also like the idea that I could play all these troops against zombies (or each other) if I wanted to.

Since Striker is a by product of Traveller, the play occurs within the flexible sci-fi format that allows flat out historical refights, pulp like adventures, xenomorphs vs human (a la the Alien or Predator franchises), all in addition to the laser pistol toting, vacc suit wearing space opera one might expect from a sci-fi game. Traveller’s tech levels, despite some obvious challenges, remain a great way to hold on to history, alternative history and science fiction all in the same game context. That makes for an impressively flexible tool.

Traveller has gone through various incarnations from the so called “classic” or original Traveller to the most recent incarnation Mongoose Traveller. These incarnations themselves reflect the power of the basic idea behind the game. I am partial to classic Traveller for some of the reasons I mentioned above and because classic Traveller and its sub-games like Snapshot, Striker et al. provided a game-making toolkit rather than simply a game. Striker especially falls into this category since it is impossible to play without having invested a fair effort in creating the weapons and forces just to have one’s first game.

I believe that the idea of a game-making toolkit is coming back into fashion. It seems to me from my limited perspective that people enjoy making things. Now you can make the art, maps, video, text, rules, figures, terrain, or created universe you want much better and easier than one could in 1977. There are better tools. More people are doing so and there is more synergy among those of us who choose to make games as well as play games.

I am sure there will remain a larger market for those who want their gaming prepared and ready to go like a frozen dinner. For me, I prefer to cook my own. It always seems to taste better.

This set of pics is once again of the lovely Countess Anar of Alell/Regina with her intrepid companions trekking through the jungles on a quest for another rare specimen. It seems that pouncers and chasers smell her from a mile away. Perhaps it is the delicate perfume she wears…or is it an effect of her training at the Psionic Institute.

The terrain is GeoHex Battlescape tiles which I use for “outdoor AHL” (details in a forthcoming post.) Each hex = 4.5m or 3 AHL squares. The flora is a combination of aquarium plant conversions, plastic flower parts from Micheal’s, twisty wire plants from somewhere I can’t remember. I’m adding these pics to the Flora page too.

Jungle Scene 1

Jungle Scene 1 with Countess Anar

Jungle Scene 2

Jungle Scene 2 with Countess Anar

Jungle Scene 3

Jungle Scene 3 with Countess Anar

If Firefly loaded the gun, these buildings pulled the trigger on my Traveller craze. The set is called Startown Slums by I picked these up a year ago at Cold Wars 2010 at the Brigade games booth. I am tempted to buy another set and paint them up in a different color scheme.

Here the pictures are taken on a GeoHex mat with two scouts (Martian Metals Mercenaries) from my original Traveller miniature campaign in 1978! The scene is a wild cat prospectors camp on Cuprum in the Urnian subsector (my version not the non-canon Foreven version…)

The ex-scouts have dismounted from the ATV (a Battletech Mobile Command Vehicle commandeered for 15mm play.) The scene is taken from our Traveller RPG play exploring Cuprum which is affectionately known to the players as “radio weird world.”

The first pics show the buildings with roofs on and the second set with roofs off.  Enjoy.

Cuprum Prospecting Camp 1

Cuprum Prospecting Camp 1

Cuprum Prospecting Camp 2

Cuprum Prospecting Camp 2

Cuprum Prospecting Camp 3

Cuprum Prospecting Camp 3

Cuprum Prospecting Camp 4

Cuprum Prospecting Camp 4

Cuprum Prospecting Camp 5

Cuprum Prospecting Camp 5