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  #11  
Old July 4th, 2009, 04:13 AM
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Jon,

A couple of observations on a very intricate topic:

- Instead of calling the game hard science-fiction, we should call Traveller harder science fiction. Traveller can and does ignore scientific facts for the sake of the game. It's more a question of how much gets ignored and why than whether Traveller is "hard" science-fiction or not.

- What science Traveller ignores and why falls into different categories. The game ignores reality and has jump drive, gravitics, and psionics because those things are fun. The game ignores the reality of radiation exposure, waste heat, and the fact that lasers can blind more easily then kill because those things are not fun. Many of the "harder" science choices can be understood through these "Fun"/"Not Fun" categories. Earth compatible biospheres everywhere? Fun. The diseases that should imply? Not Fun. Battledress? Fun. Incomprehensible aliens? Not Fun.

- There are other categories too like; "We Didn't Know Any Better In 1977". Computers fall in that one, as does biotechnology and geneering. Among other things, this category includes Traveller's habitable planets around stars that shouldn't have planets at all. It turns out the nanotech does not belong in this category and I'll explain why later.

- Another large category is "Perception". Robots fall in this one and your confusion regarding lighthouses illustrates why they do so very neatly. You have a certain mental picture regarding lighthouses, modern lighthouses don't match that picture, and that's why you thought they no longer existed in large numbers. Robots are like that in Traveller. In the setting, robots are toasters or telephone poles. They're usually beneath the average person's notice and that's why they seem to be missing in the game.

- Perception works both ways. If I told someone from 1909 I had a machine that heats my house and keeps the temperature where I tell it to, they'd picture a mechanical man shoveling coal or splitting wood to feed a stove and not a simple thermostat connected to a furnace. When we're told that a factory uses robots we think of a robot using welding equipment or running a lathe rather than a robot that is welding equipment or is a lathe. Similarly, if we're told a robot cleans an apartment, we think of a robot that runs a vacuum cleaner, mop, and feather duster rather than of a robot that is a vacuum cleaner, mop, and feather duster. Traveller has many tasks performed as robots instead of tasks performed by robots. There are many conjectured technologies that fall into this perception trap. Loren Wiseman points to human geneering and says who is to say that most of the human population of the 57th Century either hasn't been "soft" geneered or is the descendents of those who were "soft" geneered.

- The idea of "soft" geneering leads to another concept or category; "Safe Tech". I don't know where or when the term was first coined, but SJGames uses it extensively in GURPS. Settings like Traveller and conjectured technologies are noted as being "Safe Tech". The definition of the term is fuzzy around the edges but it's generally held to mean technological choices that don't lead to a "transhuman" situation.

- Finally there's a category I'll call "Mistaken About The Future". Given humanity's track record in predicting the future, it's safe to say that many of the things we think should be present in the 57th Century fall in this category. If you read 1950s sci-fi you'll find that nearly every author thought a general thermonuclear war was a dead certain event in humanity's future. Everything pointed to it and it didn't happen. Nanotechnology is another mistake, more correctly the popular misconceptions regarding nanotech is a mistake. The nanotech popularized by Drexler and far too many writers is a thermodynamic impossibility. Other types of nanotech can work and are being used now, but the "gray goo" and "nano swarms" are thermodynamic nonsense. Traveller doesn't mention nanotech because GDW wasn't aware of it, but that lack of awareness only saved the game from a massive retcon later on.

Summing all this bloviating up, Traveller is harder sci-fi and not hard sci-fi. The game's designers made choices between fun and playability on one hand and scientific accuracy on the other. Some of those choices were right in retrospect and some were very much wrong, but the choices were still made and we're still playing the game over thirty years later.


Regards,
Bill

Last edited by Whipsnade; July 4th, 2009 at 04:44 AM.. Reason: spelling
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  #12  
Old July 4th, 2009, 04:37 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dmccoy1693 View Post
Why do some feel that Traveller should hold to "hard science"?
I prefer my Traveller settings "semi-hard", for many of the reasons already
mentioned, and for a simple practical reason: Thinking of plausible explana-
tions for the setting's technology and events helps me to avoid contradic-
tions and to support the players' suspension of disbelief.
As long as I could explain what happened in the setting, and why, I know
that I do still understand and control the setting, and that the players al-
so could understand it (if I would explain everything - which I rarely do)
and believe it.
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Old July 4th, 2009, 04:51 AM
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My thoughts are along the line of Bill's. It's not so much actual hard science as it is a set of stylistic choices chosen to present a particular kind of game. There are some guiding principles, and the term "hard science" is applied as a relative term, rather than an absolute one. It refers to the fact we're purposely avoiding some elements of science fantasy that have become common enough to become invisible to many when seen in a futuristic milieu.

Personally, I consider gravitics as a tough pill to swallow WRT "hard science." Even if it is possible, which I doubt, I find it hard to imagine it'd be the practical way to solve the problems it's applied to in-game. It's a dramatic element, like jump drives and sending humans to do a machine's job.

Anyway, I am open to new speculative tech that plays well, that doesn't end up being like Star Trek where they have to pretend there's no time travel after doing it twice that season, and that the amazing powerful gizmo from last week wouldn't cast all current related technology on its head. I'm also not above occasionally throwing in such elements if I think I can dink with players some by having their characters discover why that particular tech isn't practical.

I'm also willing to introduce tech consistent with a particular fictional model. If I'm running a campaign based on a ray-gun book, there'll be ray guns.
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Old July 4th, 2009, 04:59 AM
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The Traveller universe isn't hard science, it's somewhere between there and science fantasy.
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Old July 4th, 2009, 06:52 AM
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By comparison to the other SF games on the market in, say 1981?

Starships and Spacemen: trek with the serial numbers filed off.
Star Patrol: barely even a combat system.
Heritage Models' Star Trek: it's a cheesy minis combat game.
Gamma World: Most mutations beneficial and bordering on superpowers...
Metamorphosis Alpha: Science Fantasy... essentially Gamma World Ed 0.5... or D&D dungeon on board a spaceship.
Starfaring: totally whimsical at times. Didn't take itself seriously.
Flash Gordon and the Warriors of Mongo: The name alone tells all you need to know
Space Quest: I don't know enough to talk about it.
John Carter-Warlord of Mars: again, just look at the source material...
Laserburn:
Space Opera: FGU doesn't even use lasers in combat... fun game with people who can handle the math, but the game is anything but realistic in many ways.
Morrow Project: Postholocaust. Pretty decent for low-tech sci-fi...
Aftermath: Postholocaust. Pretty decent for low-tech sci-fi...
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  #16  
Old July 4th, 2009, 07:05 AM
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Science just takes out the certainty about things like who we are in the cosmos, what we're here for and whether this universe is all there is.

Hard science does not eliminate the mystery, awe and wonder of the universe. In fact, the wonders and mysteries multiply at an exponential rate.

All that "hard science" does is remove prophecy, astrology and religion presented as Absolute Truth.

A hard science setting does not eliminate gods. However, it does present those gods as something more akin to ancient, hyperevolved beings with immeasurable potency - e.g. beings from Type I, Type II or Type III civilisations - or Sublimated entities which have somehow transcended their physical bodies as one possible end point of the evolutionary process.

What matters is that, despite the sheer scale of a thing, the principles behind that thing are ultimately knowable, if only the characters can actually think about what they're observing.

A Sublimated being might crave human worship (or might tempt people into committing sins), simply because it feeds off the electromagnetic energies and pheromones unleashed by strong emotions. Perhaps, in order to generate such emotion, it has to possess a human host, controlling the host's body like a marionette or influencing the host's decision-making processes by subverting his conscience. Such a being might be deathly afraid of strong electromagnetic fields, because the EM field could decohere it utterly: the priest exorcising it might have more success using a crucifix made of magnetised iron - or simply sedate the host and run him through a medical NMR machine at the nearest hospital.

Take the example of a vampire in a hard science setting. A creature might rise from the dead and roam around drinking blood, not from some "supernatural curse," but because its body is infected with some form of alien saprophytic organism that latches onto necrotic tissues and can create a semblance of vital animation in fresh dead tissues.

Such an organism might exude powerful antibiotics and chemicals which keep other fungi, insect larvae and bacteria from rotting the tissues, preserving the creature's dead flesh (as long as it's intact, the saprophyte can animate the body); but the saprophyte might need to assimilate fresh plasma and haemoglobin, and cannot produce blood sugar of its own, hence its need for blood, and far from being some form of urbane sophisticate, the vampire would be no more than a mindless husk, driven by a primitive instinct to feed.

In a hard science setting, handwavey technology is invented, or the principles discovered and harnessed, by sophont ingenuity. The forces controlled by people come from resources, whether external (FTL, lasers) or internal (psionics); the use of these technologies and abilities is learned, and can be trained and developed; and in this respect, the approach is the exact opposite of, say, faith healing or prayer therapy.

Also in a hard science setting, alien beings are the product of evolution. An ancient being that manifests as a cloud of sparkly light belongs to a species of clouds of sparkly light that has ancestors in some unimaginably old alien world's fossil record in some distant corner of the uiniverse.

And beyond the sky, there's no Heaven or Hell: just more space, or possibly alternate quantum dimensions lying just a brane's thickness away. No seraphim on clouds playing harps; just aliens which evolved under alien skies.

But it doesn't stop you having creatures that look like angels (or demons) at a glance. Just read Arthur C Clarke's Childhood's End.
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Old July 4th, 2009, 08:16 AM
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This old chestnut! As always, it's a question of personal taste...
Most Traveller players I've met have been like me, science lovers. We appreciate that there's no devil except that one that hides in the details. I hate to see very bad science, though also I hate to see some players constantly turning every Traveller discussion into a showboat for their science doctorate. I just tell people that Traveller is supposed to be plausible.

For example, I watch an episode of Battlestar Galactica. I see engineers soldering ceramic resisters onto circuit boards, I think 'hmm that's plausible', and don't give it further thought. If I was to make the mistake of giving it further thought, I'd soon realise how nonsensical it is that a society capable of interstellar travel would be doing it contemporary hardware. The lesson is, BSG (and Traveller IMHO) isn't about how far-future engineers make their cool stuff work, it's about emotionally fragile heroes, people fighting for what they believe in, tensions between ambition and loyalty, all that jazz.
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Old July 4th, 2009, 09:26 AM
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I think that Traveller aims to be hard because of what the alternatives are. It certainly can embrace elements of Space Opera & Planetary Romances but it has shyed away from something truly epic. It has its roots in military sims and a post Vietnam worldview (and the decade that produced some really phenomenal Science Fiction films**). It also grew out of the need not to be D&D and many of the innovations that Traveller made in the early years were a conscious effort to avoid the pitfalls of Space Fantasy. As time wore on, it also picked up some elements from its own mythology that it was creating consciously or unconsciously building in a sort of collective myth of what Traveller was about (although very few sought to define it). It also was for a while the only big name Science Fiction RPG (others came before & after) but few covered as wide an area, consistant and were as prolific as Traveller.

**Here I am not referring to Star Wars but certainly Star Wars did influence Traveller. However, I think the designers/writers wanted to steer a fine line between the pulp origins of Star Wars and harder worldview (summed up in the universe does not care) that was opposing the fantastic elements of the SW universe.
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Old July 4th, 2009, 09:47 AM
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I think that Traveller has defined its self as a more hard science type game. I think many that have followed it have like that. It is one thing that has set itself apart from the other sci-fi games. I don't see games locking themselves into a very specific niche. I see games branching and offering options. I think the options should be grouped into logical units. An example of logical unit is the splatbook concept. If an option goes out of what a referee wants to run in his game he can say that that book is not valid for his game. I think it would be bad for the core game to abandon the hard science feel of the game.
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Old July 4th, 2009, 10:20 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dmccoy1693 View Post
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.
Simple, really.

Traveller's mythos is comprised of a combination of real science and golden age space opera.

This can be seen all over the game. Fantastic laser weapons that disintegrate targets upon contact aren't the taste of the day here. It's regular old slug throwers. A Traveller crewman is likely to be skilled in the use of a shotgun, not a phaser.

In ship building, the design schemes, even though they include jump drives (space opera), are primarily concerned with space: Can that equipment really fit inside the allotted volume? That's real world, hard science at work there.

Or, look at the world building, from the first method in Book 3, through Scouts, through to Grand Census and Grand Survey. Effort is placed (how successful this really is has always been debatable) on real aspects of a world. Atmosphere. How much of the world is covered with water. What's the planet core made of? How does all of this effect the world's surface gravity? It's temperature at different latittudes?

Compare that to the world building design in WEG's D6 Star Wars game, which is purly space opera, where a few dice throws create a world, and typically, there's no science at all applied to it. You end up with an entire "ice world", or a "jungle world", or a "desert world". And not a world that would have all three of these types of zones, as you do in Traveller.

In Sum, Traveller governs its space opera with hard science.

So, you're dealing with two factors here: golden age space opera and hard science.

Those are the two baisc rules that defien the mythos.

To refer to your question about Nanotech: Although it doesn't break the Hard Science rule, does break the Golden Age Space Opera rule.

You want another example of this type of universe? Try David Weber's Honor Harrington's stories. You wouldn't see a nano-tech warhead on a missile in that game that eats up the hull of the target's ships when it hits. That type of thing is not Golden Age Space Oprea, and Weber sticks to that rule throughout the Harrington series of books.

The same holds true for Traveller.

Or, I should say, did hold true for Traveller until Mongoose stepped in and started changing the universe and mythos.
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