Citizens of the Imperium

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Julius9999 August 21st, 2018 12:00 PM

Driverless Starships
 
Looking at the rise of driverless technology in everyday life, I was thinking about how this effects Traveller. Why would you need a crew especially trading on known routes? I think the only reason would be a safety case. How do you think the game handles or should handle automation?

atpollard August 21st, 2018 04:20 PM

From a RULES MECHANICS standpoint, it is rather edition specific, so the answer for Classic Traveller will be different than the answer in TNE or GURPS or Mongoose Traveller or T5.

From a sci-fi/GAME CONCEPT standpoint, there seems nothing to actually prevent it and it seems like an interesting idea. I have explored it just a bit once or twice myself, but never too deeply. Depending on the game economics it could turn out to be a game changing decision if "robot" ships are much cheaper to operate than crewed ships.

From a RPG standpoint, it is probably a terrible idea. Games are about people doing things at places. If the ship has no crew, then who cares about the ship, or transportation between worlds or Jumpspace. Characters might as well teleport from starport to starport and just skip the ships. All of the "action" will take place where the people are and skills like Pilot, Navigator, Gunner and Engineer are no longer needed ... the ship already handles that.

Ulsyus August 21st, 2018 08:08 PM

If I recall correctly there was a robot freighter in 2300. Was that a wrong thing for the writers to include in the setting?

This series, Search for Second Earth, considers navigation to be one of the Big Four problems that would need to be cracked for unmanned interstellar flight to occur, and doesn't consider it impossible and in the circumstances quite necessary.

I"m not sure if robot freighters are necessarily a bad thing for a setting, but they do change its tone. Stowing away on a vessel, as long as the stowaway had their survival requirements all sorted out, could be a useful option for some characters to get about. It may not be a viable commercial practice in some locations due to the risks associated with lawlessness, though that may open up avenues of employment for some ship-owning PCs in the form of escort duties. Locating a lost robo-freighter could be a good scenario hook. Using them in a setting could also reduce the rate of human travel between stars, making it stand out even more as an elite, privileged or dangerous sort of activity.

rgd August 21st, 2018 09:18 PM

I think of the "automation" digit in the IMTU code - high automation implying less need for crew, more roboships; low automation saying crew are necessary for whatever reasons and there aren't many roboships. And in the Honor Harrington and other series trying to evoke the feelings of 18th century naval ships, automation is low and ships require a lot of crew.

Thinking about it for MTU, I could see roboships, mostly freighters, being relatively common in the core, older, populated sectors, but fairly rare in the younger, less developed areas like the Marches (where as was pointed out, lawlessness, whether piratical, corporate, Vargr corsairs, etc., make it riskier for insurance and profits).

I could see robofreighters being pretty common in the Hive Federation. Less so in the Hierate, 2000 Worlds, or Extents. Zhodani might use some in their more stable, less lawless polity. Solomani? Maybe.

In systems with multiple worlds with a lot of (i.e. enough) commercial traffic between the worlds that doesn't require jumping, I could see more roboships even in places like the Marches, but they'd be more background color.

Having just got The Great Rift package, I could see roboships being used for cross-rift shipping - in order to reduce the risk of losing crew via bad jumps. Probably not able to handle the situation if they do jump into a place they can't refuel. But someone could go and search for it. But they'd probably need pretty established deep space fuel stations for an automated ship to refuel anyway.

Interesting topic.

kilemall August 22nd, 2018 11:41 AM

I work off of LBB8 moreso then the MgT robots.


MgT robots benefit from the use of consistent computer rules, whereas LBB8 robot brains are quite different rules and definition wise from the LBB1-3 computers.


The economics in LBB8 make it tougher to operate robots economically early on, as it takes a great deal of capital to get them built to a functional level, and they only last 10 years. As more capable and longer lasting robots become available at higher TLs, that changes and robots are an economic 'win'.

For vehicles, the driverbots (bots stationary and 'plugged into' the vehicle) look to be more expensive then the RL versions. You could probably adjust that by having a 'mass production' cost decrease baked in for standard designs.

To save money on ship versions, I usually design a 'ship's robot' that is mostly or always stationary and usually plugged into ship's power except for emergencies. It acts as the 'server' for the other bots, so they can be dumbots and operate under master control.

IMTU I emphasize stats a lot more in rolls, and robots are a large reason why. People will tend to solve problems with INT situational creativity, robots are forced to use EDU more often. If the bot can't lookup or synthesize an answer from the EDU databases, it's going to have trouble at lower TLs. Good reason to have humans around for emergencies if nothing else.


Speaking of which, IMTU has three rules for ship bots-



  1. They have to operate ship controls like humans, not plugged in- keeps interfaces standard and human-operable.
  2. The owner is responsible for their actions as though the owner did it, and there has to be a registered human owner to cover criminal acts (civil liability may devolve to a corporate entity).
  3. There has to be rated human crew on anyway for safety reasons.


That last one has several justifications-

  • desire to have employment,
  • humans being more flexible then robots at least until full AI,
  • the humans are more backup to the bots then vice versa (especially when even a small ship is a kinetic and possibly ship weapon/radiological hazard), and
  • survival instinct kicking whereas they might not depending on bot programming.
Now then, if IYTU you allow remote control of ships, maybe more robot autonomy or entirely unmanned ships are allowed because they can be overridden by proper authority. My universe choices tend towards not allowing either sabotaged/subverted robots OR external ship control hacking and holding ship operators/owners responsible. You may see allowing that to be more adventure hook opportunity.

Speaking of which, that's another hack in with highly roboticized crews- the robots could be hacked, which would then give effective cotnrol of the ship.



I could see even lower interstellar tech military using bots extensively where being 'overcrewed' is a plus from taking Crew hits on ships, and fearless bots in support of mercs dirtside.

I can also see bots heavily used by Scouts and other frontier work, where there is a shortage of crew, merchants, techs or colonists.

And it's not a bad investment for even Free Traders. For less then the price of a Beam Laser you can get a lot of bot backup for crew losses, extra desperate engineering rolls, repelling boarders, etc.

One cost I would consider- double occupancy staterooms, with the life support and space required for robot recharging/refueling, maintenance, storage, access etc. instead of biological.


Another direction is eschew mechanicals and make the bots all biological. That will definitely set a unique tone that will catch player attention.



Finally, all this is boilerplate to justify ref decisions about bots in their universe. You want player agency to be supreme, and bots can either extend their reach and ability or hem them in/make them obsolete/underpowered.

Decide your desired effect on player roles and then work out a justification for bots in your universe that is consistent and won't undercut your intent. Then, be prepared to make exceptions for player ingenuity or plot twists.

rgd August 22nd, 2018 10:04 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by kilemall (Post 591435)
Speaking of which, IMTU has three rules for ship bots-
  1. They have to operate ship controls like humans, not plugged in- keeps interfaces standard and human-operable.
  2. There has to be rated human crew on anyway for safety reasons.

Nice. I take it that is for IYTU's Imperium? Or all of charted space? I could see this being the standard for some polities/cultures though different in others. Provide some variety and sense of the difference when going on board ships from Zho, Vargr, Hiver, Aslan, and other ships.

Quote:

Originally Posted by kilemall (Post 591435)
I could see even lower interstellar tech military using bots extensively where being 'overcrewed' is a plus from taking Crew hits on ships, and fearless bots in support of mercs dirtside.

Bots on ships for menial jobs but capable of taking Crew hits and bots supporting mercs (not front line - that'd be warbots) - I like it!

Quote:

Originally Posted by kilemall (Post 591435)
I can also see bots heavily used by Scouts and other frontier work, where there is a shortage of crew, merchants, techs or colonists. ... even Free Traders...

Definitely! Now to see/make some designs for such robots. :)

Quote:

Originally Posted by kilemall (Post 591435)
Another direction is eschew mechanicals and make the bots all biological. That will definitely set a unique tone that will catch player attention.

Agreed - another direction to add uniqueness and interesting aspects for other cultures' ships, or even different uses. Maybe mechanicals are used for some jobs, but aren't used in others by habit, convention or law. And vice versa for biologicals.

Quote:

Originally Posted by kilemall (Post 591435)
Finally, all this is boilerplate to justify ref decisions about bots in their universe. You want player agency to be supreme, and bots can either extend their reach and ability or hem them in/make them obsolete/underpowered.

Decide your desired effect on player roles and then work out a justification for bots in your universe that is consistent and won't undercut your intent. Then, be prepared to make exceptions for player ingenuity or plot twists.

Definitely.

kilemall August 23rd, 2018 11:16 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by rgd (Post 591460)
Nice. I take it that is for IYTU's Imperium? Or all of charted space? I could see this being the standard for some polities/cultures though different in others. Provide some variety and sense of the difference when going on board ships from Zho, Vargr, Hiver, Aslan, and other ships.




I don't do 1I, 2I, 3I or 4I. MTU is a Terran Confederation at TL10 with a limiting expansion factor of needing scouted space before being able to jump in. No sentient aliens known as of yet.


The rules may not apply however to the Pirate Clans, or various subclades or even by now subspecies of The Cloud.



In the latter it's hard to maintain an entire civilization of skill sets so bots are highly prized and safety regulations flouted. Not a lot of metal so doubly expensive to build and maintain- biobots are more likely, and NOT under TC rules for safety and morality, so no telling what you might run across.....



If I were to hijack any aliens from Traveller, it would be Hivers and several of the 2300 races like Pentapods and Ebers.



I would imagine some races would eschew bots altogether, others would use them heavily (here I'm thinking K'kree for having a lot more 'hands' per dton then more K'kree crew, and Hivers because of physiology, aversion to danger and comfort with computers), and the Zhos would have 'psionic-interface only' bots for critical functions (which may make them vulnerable if the leaders are killed or incapacitated).

Silverhawk August 25th, 2018 08:44 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by rgd (Post 591418)
And in the Honor Harrington and other series trying to evoke the feelings of 18th century naval ships, automation is low and ships require a lot of crew.

Later in the Honor Harrington series, Manticore introduced automation to deal with manpower issues. But it was clear that they could never automate everything.

I agree with rgd, an interesting topic.

RandyB August 25th, 2018 09:00 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Ulsyus (Post 591411)
If I recall correctly there was a robot freighter in 2300. Was that a wrong thing for the writers to include in the setting?

This series, Search for Second Earth, considers navigation to be one of the Big Four problems that would need to be cracked for unmanned interstellar flight to occur, and doesn't consider it impossible and in the circumstances quite necessary.

I"m not sure if robot freighters are necessarily a bad thing for a setting, but they do change its tone. Stowing away on a vessel, as long as the stowaway had their survival requirements all sorted out, could be a useful option for some characters to get about. It may not be a viable commercial practice in some locations due to the risks associated with lawlessness, though that may open up avenues of employment for some ship-owning PCs in the form of escort duties. Locating a lost robo-freighter could be a good scenario hook. Using them in a setting could also reduce the rate of human travel between stars, making it stand out even more as an elite, privileged or dangerous sort of activity.

Interstellar hobos (as in the "riding the rails" type of hobos).

agorski August 25th, 2018 12:05 PM

So there's some interesting ideas in this thread. At least in T5, a robot ship would have a really expensive AI computer and probably need redundant systems if there was nobody on board to do maintenance and repair. On the other hand, there would be no need for meatspace things like life support, galleys, staterooms, etc. Might be fun to design one of these.


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