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dmccoy1693 July 4th, 2009 01:57 AM

Hard Science, I Don't Understand
Before I begin, let me state upfront that I am not trying to start a flame war. I have a genuine question that I hope to get a genuine answer from.

Why do some feel that Traveller should hold to "hard science"?

I was reading in the SM book about how Traveller should be a hard science game. But then a page later it said that science like nanotechnology should be downplayed. I don't understand. Nanotechnology is hard science today. It only stands to reason that in 100 year (let alone several million years from now) that nanotech will be an integral part of our daily life. Think of it like this: the first satellite went into orbit 52 years ago. Now satellite navigation is so embedded into international shipping that there is not real lighthouse system anywhere in the world and hasn't been for quite some time.

At the rate science is advancing, it seem quite possible that we may someday develop artificial gravity, FTL communication systems, personal energy weapons without the need for backpacks, and plenty of other tech that Traveller may or may not assume. Heck 30 years ago science said that there is no habital zone on any world with two suns. Now science said there is one, its just much further out that science thought possible. And simply because we cannot conceive of a white dwarf with a planet orbiting it that support life, naturally evolved or artifically placed there, doesn't mean that we cannot find one someday.

So, I would like your opinions. Why do you feel, those that do feel this way, that Traveller should hold true to hard science?

far-trader July 4th, 2009 02:21 AM

It might depend (the nanotech issue only) on the definition of what is nanotech and what the author meant by downplay it.

I'm only guessing here but I suspect the intention is to not use nanotech as a grey goo demon or replicator angel. Both of which are not hard science though very popular science fiction.

You pretty much hit the nail on the head I'm guessing with your own example. Satellite tech and such is so commonplace now that nobody thinks about it and to some it is pure magic that they don't have (or require) clue one about how it works, it just does, in very simple to operate devices.

Nanotech of the future, in Traveller, as hard science, is the same. It's ubiquitous and invisible (and not much different from where Real World hard science nanotech is going). It was used to build almost every bit of high tech your character uses in some factory but not in a grey goo or replicator (un-hard sci fantasy) fashion.

That is I think (again just my guess) the point of the author. Oh, and Traveller isn't several million years from now ;) It's only some thousands (with setbacks along the way) of years :)

EDIT: I also think you seriously under rate the usage of lighthouses. They are still very functional fixtures and widely used and will be for a long time yet. Far from your dismissal of them.

dmccoy1693 July 4th, 2009 02:30 AM

I didn't necessarily mean those specific instances. What I was getting is that science grows all the time. And simply because we cannot think of something existing today doesn't mean that it cannot be a daily reality in a very short jaunt in the future.

So why do some hold to a "it must be hard science" stance?

far-trader July 4th, 2009 02:43 AM


Originally Posted by dmccoy1693 (Post 323750)
I didn't necessarily mean those specific instances.

I thought the answer to the specific would address the general :)


Originally Posted by dmccoy1693 (Post 323750)
What I was getting is that science grows all the time. And simply because we cannot think of something existing today doesn't mean that it cannot be a daily reality in a very short jaunt in the future.

Nor does it mean that everything we can dream of science doing will ever become reality :) Just check out the Popular Mechanics and Popular Science and such from the 50's and 60's predicting what science would be doing for us in the far off future (our present) to see how wrong dreams can be.


Originally Posted by dmccoy1693 (Post 323750)
So why do some hold to a "it must be hard science" stance?

Because if I want to play a game with magic and space travel I'll dig out my D&D and Spell Jammer ;)

It's simply a choice. Traveller has always been more hard sci-fi than soft or fantasy though like any sci-fi allowances must be made. I'm not sure I'd really call Traveller hard science, not even hard sci-fi. Medium so.

And there are those who inject less hardness into Traveller in the interest of fun and that's fine.

I know you don't want to start a flame war but I even feel myself walking the line* in trying to answer more completely.

* See my deleted words in this post, oh, you can't. I deleted them before posting. Just as well, they weren't really flamey but some would have taken them as such or replied to them with more heat, so better to not go there I think.

dmccoy1693 July 4th, 2009 03:33 AM


Originally Posted by far-trader (Post 323752)
Because if I want to play a game with magic and space travel I'll dig out my D&D and Spell Jammer ;)

Fair points all around.

Myself, I want to escape daily life so I have no problem with stuff like a BFG or impossible space monsters in my game. I mean I don't pull out vampires and such, but some techno-zombies can fit the bill.

But like I said, I am just trying to understand and you did make some fair points.

fiat_knox July 4th, 2009 03:37 AM

I cite Clarke's Laws.

All three of them.

aramis July 4th, 2009 03:42 AM

Nanotech, as used in late 70's and early 80's SF, was "Magic blue goo"... it was presumed self-replicators being used for molecular assembly would be relatively common.

Current "nanotech" is nothing of the sort; current nanotech is almost all immobile, and very little matches the stuff that was predicted in the 80's for NOW, let alone what was predicted in the more distant future.

fiat_knox July 4th, 2009 04:26 AM

The emphasis on the science only means that every phenomenon must have some sort of explanation behind it.

Ghosts, for instance. Nigel Kneale's "The Stone Tape" posited the idea that stone, particularly iron-rich stone, could somehow record a fragment of the electromagnetic signature of a human brain, and at the peak experience of death store the last moments of a person's psyche in such a way that it can be "played back" as a manifestation that triggers the senses of human beings.

Nigel Kneale's Quatermass also touched upon concepts such as biological invasion - where an alien organism might threaten a world's ecology, rather than come in as a straight up lasers and robots invasion.

Religion also came under scrutiny in his final Quatermass story: there, the disturbingly prophetic "New Age" neo hippies of his story were being driven by a biologically programmed imperative to gather at stone circles so that a vast "machine" that took the form of a coherent energy field could harvest the electromagnetic energy fields of the fresh, tasty young humans. "Harvest time."

The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton also posited the idea of an alien organism that took the form of a disease, invoking Fred Hoyle's concept of Panspermia - the spreading of a life code throughout space in the form of DNA sequences preserved in space rocks. Crichton's Andromeda Strain would nowadays be called "nanotech" by anyone who's lived through the last twenty years or so.

If characters encounter an organism on a world that looks anomalous, e.g. wolves on a world with a corrosive atmosphere, there'd better be a damned good explanation for this. Perhaps they're robots that look like wolves, originally intended for use as guard dogs in some high tech facility but somehow they ended up here - investigation might lead to a crashed spaceship and a broken cargo hold.

If characters encounter a being with apparently godlike abilities, those abilities are the product of an obscene amount of evolution rather than the entity being "a manifestation of God." An apparent demon possessing a human is not some "fallen angel," but rather a disembodied alien that uses mortal hosts for its own purposes ... or even a parasite that has invaded the poor host's nervous system, controlling the host's behaviour.

Every phenomenon must have some sort of explanation behind it. Effects must have some kind of causes, and even the weirdest phenomenon must be in some way explicable, even if the given explanation seems impossible - it simply means that the answers lie beyond what the human mind is currently capable of conceiving of.

As Referee, you're simply not obliged to lay out every cause and mechanism before the players. You have the right to withhold explanations to maintain an air of mystery.

Icosahedron July 4th, 2009 04:33 AM

The concept of a hard science approach was written into the original CT rules somewhere (I just failed to find the passage(s), I'm sure someone will help).

To paraphrase, the intention in Traveller is (or was) that equipment and systems should be explainable by the laws of physics even if such devices and techniques are currently unattainable, thereby excluding 'mysterious zapotron rays'.

How closely one adheres to that premise is a matter of choice for Referee and players, since CT also states (LBB3 last page) 'anything can occur, with imagination being the only limit'.

Personally, I try to make my Traveller science 'hard' for two reasons: firstly, I like real science and I like to use it in my games, and secondly it gets hard to hold munchkins in check if they can destroy a starship with a pocket disintegrator pistol powered by extra-dimensional psionic dragons.

My D&D dungeons used to be explainable too - no dragons sitting for three centuries in 10 ft cell with no food...

I'm not an ultra hard case though, I don't stick to backpack-fed laser pistols, generation ships and spin-gravity.

The short answer: it's an original tenet of Traveller, it makes life easier, and it's a personal choice. YMMV. :)

fiat_knox July 4th, 2009 05:09 AM

The only thing you have to watch out for is that "hard science" stories suffer from a major pitfall: they turn into engineering stories, if you're not careful.

1. Science Crew is sent in to uncover some Weird Phenomenon.

2. Initial studies seem to aggravate the Weird Phenomenon.

3. Their initial attempts to stop it Make Things Worse.

4. One of the Science Team Puts The Pieces Together.

5. Science Team pour a bucket of water over the combusting thing. Weird Phenomenon ceases.

6. Science Team collects a financial reward, then shoot off to the next system to Solve The Next Problem.

Look at the TNG episodes "Night Terrors," "Sub Rosa," "Time's Arrow" and that one where Barclay becomes a supergenius for hideous examples of "hard science gone wrong" stories.

They also tend to typecast Traveller adventures somewhat. Traveller games become exercises in puzzle solving: the weird ghostly apparition turns out to be a holographic projector, and this week's monster alien turns out to be Mister MacAndrew, the groundskeeper, wearing a rubber mask to scare off the tourists so he could run his smuggling operation without interference.

When everything has a pat explanation, it kind of lets down the players who might be expecting something a little more exciting.

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