Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gritty Finances in Traveller Part 1: Starting Out

I've resolved to try to create a template of process of character creation for traveller where he uses real world present day financial instruments and tools to purchase his first ship and get his first job, to begin his campaign.

It is a great exercise to practice my accounting and writing about it helps me better remember, see how well I understand the topic, visualize and find deficiencies in my understanding of the concept.

Financing. Financing is the skill of managing cash or cash-like resources, knowledge of financial instruments and tools, where to get financing and how to get and meet requirements, as well as the some methods used to hold, move, protect, and appreciate cash. It can be said that a character with Financing (better with Market Analysis) can invest his/her money in stocks instead of leaving the banks to try to appreciate their cash assets.

Financing in IMTU. In ISW174, there is that unusual financial set up where backers just throw money at the character. It may sound like I'm exaggerating but I'm aware of accounting practices that make even non-munchkins drop their jaws in rules abuse. Share-holders are the first to pay and last to collect. So any creative accountant can just make-up frivolous expenses (like a brand spanking new $150k battle suit as a "necessary" defense measure on a Tramp merchant, a team building exercise in a pleasure dome, a "subcontractor", etc.).

Backers will always have stiff requirements, the most common sense approach is to micro-manage. They will require "touching-base" after a period of time augmented by a fail-safe or some collateral. They will want the returns at their soonest, even if it is in relatively small increments. It can also be having someone of absolute sure loyalty and a shared-stake be on that enterprise (but that is an added expense, unless as an asset to the mission the oversee-er more than takes care of the situation).

The Agent. The micromanager is a BIG role-playing challenge. Some are Assets and others are Burdens, or worse: liabilities to the mission. They are the ACE of the GM's sleeve, and managing them is more of a roleplaying and process-organizational challenge. It is the annoying thorn on the PC's side, or the hidden asset they take for-granted, or worse fight against.

Collateral. Another common method of securing such great investment and risk is by giving a collateral. Collateral is rarely equal or greater than loan for a business, this is because if one has assets equal to that of their New business (the starship), then what is the point on taking a risk on something new. if you have a pretty good business to use as collateral, auditors will be scouring the finances and hedging their bets (asking more in returns) at such a "irrational" financial decision.

So the GM can best assign collateral costs as equal to the cost of chasing after the characters and allowing the backers/financiers to recoup their cost or the possibility to earn better plus lost revenue during the time of the action. Heck thats even a adventure Hook: the players are the collection team and their first mission is bringing back that $170M armed Qian/Akkigish class ship. Its like Bail jumping.

Fate and Finances. The best kind of financial backgrounds are those handed by fate, instead of planned and bought, particularly rolling with the good and the bad. The truth about every individuals Finances is that there is a huge amount of chance, that points should not try to balance. It is these kinds of twists is where creative Acquisitions come from, particularly the trade-offs that blind-side the character.

So if ever, the use of chance through Life-path tables or story telling with dice are always useful in such game beginnings.

Part II. To be continued, still working on the Annual expense sheets for Hero, Beowulf, Marava, Qian, and Akkigish. There are just so many variable expenses and I'm still sorting through the static costs. I'm using as a baseline Uncertain markets that need plans to mature in 2-3 years (8mo-12mo in planning).

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

[Gurps Traveller] Why Old Relics?

Learning from our business finances and how the market works, there is still much to be said about the earning potential of a business despite the massive overhead expenses and the chance of hitting the red.

Purchasing depreciated equipment or capital means the Adventurer intends to earn a net profit just before the equipment fails.

Reversely, a company selling depreciated equipment or equipment in their End-of-Life, cannot afford the risk of the equipment failing or needs to keep up with the current pace of technology to stay in the market.

A business, despite being heavily in debt, short of key personnel and competence will always have its major assets (capital, like a ship; and equipment). You cannot use assets to keep the business running, but it is the minimalist requirement to stay in business.

A ship means off-world. it means Inter-stellar Markets or dealing with groups of much larger sizes able to collectively pay your services. It also means going where you want or need to go. There is a difference between products that sell for much, giving bigger margins and the ability to make strategic business decisions like location.

In the real world, I can compare a ship to a Factory or Plant. While having such a large capital advantage, even with the debt, one can still make money. Creditors can give you a hard time, but that won't get them their money back, you can always negotiate in good faith. As for paying labor, which should be one of the first expenses always paid, thats some RPing and playing smart.

Wish I can run Traveller for my younger cousins (father's side relatives are mostly entrepreneurs) give them an entertaining education about business, critical decision making, financing and exercise their accounting skills. Stuff only discussed in school, and only read and written about.

Real life work and Traveller. Filipinos are known for being a popular choice for Overseas Foreign Workers. Many Mariners are Filipinos and in the most troubled regions in the lucrative middle east where skilled labor is imported, Filipinos brave the dangers and the human rights risks of going to such places. Culturally adaptable, coming from a humble station (as being mostly poor) they are open and generally easy to get along with.

Right now, our business is taking us abroad in the places few would do business but people are able and willing, and their elites are willing to pay the cost for such expertise.

Big corporates and higher economically tiered people have higher operating costs. We don't, in fact we are in the low end of our market. We make it up because of Social Norms and Benefit the company provides [1]. After all, Pay =/= Productivity, productivity is a matter of chance, hardwork, and innovation. Its those tiny details that keep costs down, us competitive, and innovative.

I'm just surprised that in some way we are about to take a step towards a direction, I've only dreamed off in Traveller. To go places, only few would, where I and those with me will be able to adapt, thrive and profit.

Interestingly Its not us, who have the best technology, who are going to the Minor or Branch Routes. It is us who are willing to brave it, who understand the risks and challenges and willing to live with the inconvenience. I think its one of the few take-aways from coming from a world with a very wide gap between rich and poor, and living with it everyday. Being somewhat in the middle and able to see and adapt to both social extremes.

[1] The Cost Social Norms (financial security through transparency and willingness to listen and adapt is a social norm; also resource spent developing tools for making the job easier, smoother and emphasis on how the company cares for its employees)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Learning, Broken Down

I stumbled on this as I was doing my soldier research, in order for me to do an accounting of man-hours of learning or training. the differences became apparent when I started comparing Secondary Education and Recruit Training. Schools and Boot Camps have to be fairly efficient, and despite their variability of circumstances and applicants there are useful averages which help us benchmark. If this was communicated to me in Gamer Terms, I think I would have had a more informed decision and would have ended with a worthwhile degree (arts degree in an emerging market and struggling economy, suffice to say gaming saved my ass).

It is recommended that 1 hour of class per week is followed up by 2-3hours of self study.[1]

What is the relationship to this and Gaming?

Character Development. First is that in GURPS, in the chapters of improvement through study, B292, allows you to break down the manhours of study based on On-The-Job, Self-Teaching, Education and Intense Training.
  • On-the-Job Training vs Learning On-the-Job is not what it seems. In where I work, OJTs are not exactly an asset. There are laws that prevent such labor abuses, and in fact they are the fastest way to learn. So it is a surprise that is the SLOWEST way to learn in GURPS. When in my opinion and how closely it almost mimics Regimented Study (assuming the OJT is with a responsible firm)
  • Self Study is the Slowest way to learn. When you compare the 4 methods of learning, and have read-up on Dan Ariel's work on deadlines [2][3], the barriers of self-study becomes quite evident. These barriers are distractions, logistics, improved equipment, and accessibility to information.
  • What is Intensive Training. If you look at the Recruit Training, the entire training experience is strictly regimented. In the study of Dan Ariely[2] the results say strictly imposed deadlines had the best performance rates. So what B293 means by "full-time" study is that there is no Homework or Self-study outside the area of instruction and contact with the Instructor. Every hour of the day is accounted for, and in human averages that is a 4-8 hours per day. The second 4-hour set of learnings being the easier topics.

Realistic Learning. Part of what I realized when I learned these values was a more realistic expectation on learning. I'm advising my 18year old cousin in his choice of college course, as well as developing training material for our personnel one of the few pieces of information mostly people miss is these hard facts about learning.

Learning curves affect ROI and productivity, (can't help apply my munchkinism in my work) when taking on new challenges and horizons there is that little detail about: "When will competence improve productivity to the point that we are getting a return in our investment and hopefully a profit?" This detail helps project forward.

As for Quality of Life. What if in school, when we calculate the credits per week we include catharsis, fun, socialization, and partying in the accounting of time. In the selection of credits (in the Philippines its called Unit) curriculum, why not look at a those necessary and unavoidable social and cathartic needs.

The trick is investing in productivity enhancing study habits and to work towards an equilibrium. Working to bring down the 2.5 hours per credit of study, by finding ways to cut corners and achieve multiple goals in one action.

I'm sure you've heard that Games help us learn. But I want to point out in the accounting of study hours[1], Instruction or Information is about 30% (1:3.5) of learning, the other 70% is the practice and application.

  • Groups Study, can be a team building exercise fulfilling socialization needs as well as competency needs.
  • Developing a study resource, your own wiki of your notes, combines organizational and logistic exercises. Maybe a way to speed up the production of papers, by having a set of footnotes to import.
  • and my favorite, Finding a way to convert Study material into Games. The kind of games that best incorporates Serious Academic material, IMO, will be RPGs. In the spirit of Dan Ariely's The Upside of Irrationality, trying to use our games time to learn and exercise our thinking is a game in itself.

[1]Motion on Study Hours per Credit Hour. I can't afford to cite the journals that have the same ratios, because they require subscription but the key search term is "Study Hours per Credit Hour".

GURPS traveller ship buildiing program

it was very hard to find this strangely. It seems that its was not connected to the regular gurps website. Even if it is 3rd Edition, the file is editable and what has changed can be applied.

Anyway it is Thomas Bont's GTS program that I was looking for. I seemed to lose my copy, and given the scare it being lost forever, I might as well make this link available.

There are some old spreadsheets like: GURPS robots and Solar System Constructor that could probably worth saving in Google Docs.

Steve Jackson Games: Computer Aids For Our Games

Saturday, March 26, 2011

GURPS 4E Low Tech ships by Icelander

Great Material worth saving from the GURPS forums. I've started storing useful stuff in PDF form via Print Option in Chrome. Icelander has another one about horses also, but its been tackled in Low Tech Companion 3, still worth preserving.

Caravels by Icelander
Dhows by Icelander
Longships by Icelander
Viking ships by Icelander
Holks by Icelander

love well made material that can pass for official product. Especially since it is an interpretation of non-fiction facts, the science-y part of GURPS shows.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Skills part of Modern Day Tactics

Below is the outline of what composes the theoretical knowledge of Tactics. Tactics translates to organization, but more importantly dynamic organization. It is when you move and maneuver several smaller units into position or engagements. This is one of my reasons why I'm more for changing the key skill in GURPS mass combat from Strategy to tactics, since strategy more correctly describes planning vs how tactics is more of implementation.

Knowledge of what this involves is a Tactics + IQ check or a particular level of Tactics (12 typically of a professional grade). But implementation of these tactics should be Tactics+Will-3. Will is used to represent discipline and -3 is because it is hard to implement theory into practice without rehearsal which is represented by "X" Drill/Maneuver Techniques: Tactics -3 (average) or Soldier -4 (average). Defaulting related drill/maneuvers from each other tactics should be -2 instead of -4. This justifies why people train in a few core tactics then default at -2 tactics that are outside their field of operation.

I'll hilight Strategy, Leadership, Administration (Military), Writing (Military Reports) and how they can be important in a future post. I wrote and organized those below because it was part of a analysis of our Airsoft teams reviewer... I went overboard but I don't regret learning what I did.

Chapter 3: Movement
  • Fire Team Formations
    • Fire Team Wedge
    • Fire Team File
  • Squad Formations
    • Squad Column
    • Squad Line
    • Squad File
  • Movement Techniques
    • Traveling
    • Traveling Overwatch
    • Bounding Overwatch
    • Alternate bounds
    • Successive Bounds
  • Crossing Techniques
    • Open Areas
    • Roads and Trails
    • Villages
    • Enemy Positions
    • Minefields
    • Streams
    • Wire Obstacles
    • Enemy Contact at Danger Areas
  • Security During Movement
    • Terrain
    • Formation and Movement Techniques
    • Positioning of the Machine Gun Teams and Weapons Squad
    • Light Discipline
  • Soldier’s Load
    • Load Management
    • Combat Load
    • Fighting Load
    • Approach March Load
  • Emergency Approach March Load

Chapter 4: Offense
  1. Assembly Area
  2. Reconnaissance
  3. Movement to the Line of Departure
  4. Maneuver
  5. Deployment
  6. Assault
  7. Consolidation and Reorganization

  1. Maneuver
  2. Fire Support
  3. Mobility, Counter-mobility, and Survivability
  4. Air Defense (NA)
  5. Combat Service Support (NA)
  6. Intelligence
  7. Command and Control

  • Organization for an Attack
    • Reconnaissance
    • Movement to the Objective
    • Assembly Area to the Line of Departure
    • Line of Departure to Assault Position
    • Assault Position to the Objective
    • Isolate the Objective
    • Actions on the Objective
    • Seize a Foothold and Exploit the Penetration
    • Consolidation and Reorganization
      • Clock technique.
      • Terrain Feature technique.
    1. Task Organization
    2. Conducting of the Hast Attack
    1. Planning an MTC
    2. Techniques
      1. Command and Control
      2. Line of Departure, Phase Lines, and Checkpoints
      3. Fire Control and Distribution
      4. Indirect Fireplan (NA)
      5. Developing the Situation
      6. Defensive Considerations
      7. Approach March Technique
      8. Advance Guard
      9. Flank or Read Guard
      10. Main Body
        1. Search and Attack Technique
      • Counterattack
      • Spoiling Attack
      • Feint
      • Demonstrations
    • BATTLE DRILLS (only at Squad Level)
      • React to Contract Drill
      • Break Contact Drill
      • React to Ambush Drill
      • Knock-out Bunker Drill
      • Enter and Clear Trench Drill
      • Enter Building and Clear Room Drill
      • Breach Obstacle Drill

Monday, March 21, 2011

Accounting in my RPGs; A Traveller Businessplan; Researching on Soldiers

The only RPG that has Accounting in their game play is HARN, harn manor. Traveller can have accounting in its game play, especially when your trying to balance the budget of your Freetrader. Accounting in RPGs is a place for a Non-Accountant to Practice and get used to seeing and sorting through a spreadsheet.

Right now, I'm in the works with a generic spreadsheet of a Low Tech Income statement. Particularly a Medieval Fief and a Roman Villa. I'm actually making 2.5 spreadsheets: A generic spreadsheet with definitions and method of how to organizes that Cash-less data and the two examples: Villa and Fief.

I have a Balance Sheet in the works, particularly for the fief. Because of how the fief works where it is mostly leased lands, rents, duties, and contributions, I think a Balance Sheet would be useful.

Don't hold your breath, this might show up next month on 2nd week of april. Getting busier here at work and because the baby eats up a lot of my free time.

A traveller adventure begins with a Business plan.
Using Idiot's guide to Business Plans, I hope to make one using Traveller: Interstellar Wars as my setting. A business plan will require:
Balance Sheet, (breaking down the financial relationship of the characters and crew)
Projected Income Statement given the Proposed Projects/Missions
A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats).
Organization Chart

Key notes:
Productivity =/= Pay. In Economic Theory Pay = Productivity, but this is FAR from reality. Its not just about keeping it realistic, but making the factors that make this decision hard keep true: Employment and Contract Barriers, loyalties, trustworthiness, and that uncertainty. Like the threat of trying to roll on the employment chart and that future employee might be liability to the teams's business. The same goes with

Low-Tech households, you can't really help who family happens to be. As how relatives can be a liability more than an asset, and why nepotistic practices tend to stay true... also the positive side of nepotism and cronyism in Low Tech eras.

Study and RPGs: Combat Leader's Field Guide and GURPS.
The exercise, in every chapter and topic point out what skill does this falls under. Note that there are Technical Skills and Theoretical Skills. Theoretical skills that deal with processes, methodologies and doctrines.

I'm doing this because I'm curious about breakdown the Idea of a soldier, not just into GURPS but in a way systemic way. Not just for RPG purposes, although it will be immensely useful for an RPG in multiple era's and settings, but looking at a profession so thoroughly studied and interpreted by so many different cultures and scientific bodies. The professional soldier is so thoroughly discussed by many cultures that the common ground and the differences make for a great study by which to look at trained professionals in general.

I was pointing out how research in Human Performance/Productivity Data is largely a trade secret for companies but Military research into the same general field is Accessible and highly enlightening about our human mental and physical limits.