Strategic Intelligence ... aka how to learn about aliens

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Strategic Intelligence ... aka how to learn about aliens

Postby Cralis on Thu 26 Jan 2017 17:42

In the other conversation we are having about government types, Whitecold brought up a really good point about the lack of strategic intelligence rules in SSF. These would be intended to help answer the following questions every empire has about every other empire it meets:

Who are you?
What are you like?
What motivates you?
Who do you know and what is your relation with them?
How big is your empire?
How advanced is your empire?
What is your empire reputation? (examples: genocide awareness, wars you've been in, etc.)

...and more (please feel free to point out other questions that should be answered, I'm putting them into my notes).

So how DO you answer these questions? It hasn't been named before, but we are talking about Strategic Intelligence. There is some strategic intelligence in Section U, but mostly in the form of navigation, communications, and military information (such as unit positions).

Social Information

What is missing is social information. Well, not missing entirely, but certainly not an intentional feature. So what can we learn under the existing rules?

* Language (Full Communications) are learned through First Contact (T1.05.6). At the same time, the government tendency of the empire is learned. (T1.05.6)
* Full Communications with a previously incommunicado conquered planet gains you the Racial Attributes and * LEL/HEL policies of the conquered race. (T3.01.1) Or Peace Phase with a conquered race. U4.06))
* Trade treaties give you the general range of the race's Racial Attributes (T3.10.8)
* Restricted trade or higher trade gives you the government type, except for insane or unstable types which report the "base government type" instead, and Stalin/Marxist communists are reported as "communist"
* So will military treaties (T3.11)
* Trade treaty will give you your trading ally's EL (T3.10.6.2)
* Partnership treaty will give you the exact racial attributes of your ally (T3.13.1.3)

Some of these are only obtained directly from the race and only when you have certain treaties with them. I'm seeing the following as missing:

* Being able to learn about the existence of another race through one you know, that knows them.
* Being able to learn about the general attributes, general EL level (higher? lower? about the same?), and perhaps a general government type of a race that you know about, through another race that you know, that knows them.
* Learning a general size or something about how much military another race might have.
* Racial abilities! Those should be noticeable at some point too, yes? I'm thinking there might be direct methods of determining some (for example, observing their ship systems might let you know that they have a K3.03.13 maintenance bonus or penalty) and indirect methods of finding out about other abilities (such as another empire telling you that they've discovered something about them).
* Learning the names of worlds and systems, even if you don't immediately know where they are. And then, of course, learning where they are.

And I'm sure ya'll can think of some I haven't.

What are the mechanisms of Strategic Intelligence?

Captured units (data from computers on the unit)
Captured personnel (and leaders)
Captured facilities
Conquered populations
Information gleaned from negotiations and communications
Information gleaned from trade and military contact
Information gleaned from other races that know them

What else?

Espionage

I've set this aside because it's a special kind of Strategic Intelligence that we aren't going to cover here. We know what it is, and we know that it involves covert ops, but I think it deserves it's own topics on what it can or cannot do and how. Partially because I can't think of a way to do it any justice that isn't at least a little complex...
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Re: Strategic Intelligence ... aka how to learn about aliens

Postby southwestforests on Sun 29 Jan 2017 05:38

Am currently lacking a contribution but certainly am subscribing to this topic!
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Re: Strategic Intelligence ... aka how to learn about aliens

Postby Xveers on Sun 29 Jan 2017 22:30

Cralis, I'd strongly suggest taking a look at the optional spying rules originally for Ultra. That should provide a pretty solid base of data on what to build on :D

And so very glad this topic is getting a solid look at too :D
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Re: Strategic Intelligence ... aka how to learn about aliens

Postby Cralis on Sun 29 Jan 2017 23:06

Xveers wrote:Cralis, I'd strongly suggest taking a look at the optional spying rules originally for Ultra. That should provide a pretty solid base of data on what to build on :D


The problem with the optional spy rules is that it is dealing with covert espionage, which I explicitly excluded in my initial post.

Espionage requires a number of presumptions that we are not yet ready to make. Primarily, that any race can imbed a fake into any other race -- and then get the information back from that other empire -- despite the absolute border control that WPs provide.

I'm not ready to go there yet.

But there are some things that are simply not counted here. In reality, even something as simple as Non-Aggression negotiations could provide you with some information. For example, you may find out about a potential other race when you ask about a system and they accidentally say "oh we can't tell you what they think" ... or wonder why they are adamant that you don't want to go over __THERE__ despite they don't own the system.

When you start getting contact through trade and alliances, this becomes even bigger. Where did you get this particular <insert any product here>? Oh that's a <insert race here> <product name>. Oh? Who is that?

When you get to alliances, this information will become shared by default from the government. Ok here on this map is our border with X, there is Y, and these are the guys we think are going to attack us because the leader's insane.

This kind of overt intelligence at the _strategic_ and _government_ levels is not represented in the game. THAT is what I'm looking at.
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Re: Strategic Intelligence ... aka how to learn about aliens

Postby Xveers on Mon 30 Jan 2017 20:22

Cralis wrote:The problem with the optional spy rules is that it is dealing with covert espionage, which I explicitly excluded in my initial post.

Espionage requires a number of presumptions that we are not yet ready to make. Primarily, that any race can imbed a fake into any other race -- and then get the information back from that other empire -- despite the absolute border control that WPs provide.

I'm not ready to go there yet.


Ah. Totally missed that. However, it does provide a lot of seed idea for information would be available if not the exact mechanics as to HOW. Though, take it from me, the amount of information you can get on an economy just from hanging out at a major port is astounding.

Also, try not to discount the fact that you don't always need to embed a fake into another empire. Somehow the USA got a LOT of information about the USSR without the use of spies entering their territory. And short of a total non-contact with hostile pickets on the WP (which at least in my gaming group isn't anywhere near as common as it ought to be) that "absolute border control" isn't quite as absolute as it could be.

But I digress. Not the topic at hand!

Cralis wrote:But there are some things that are simply not counted here. In reality, even something as simple as Non-Aggression negotiations could provide you with some information. For example, you may find out about a potential other race when you ask about a system and they accidentally say "oh we can't tell you what they think" ... or wonder why they are adamant that you don't want to go over __THERE__ despite they don't own the system.

When you start getting contact through trade and alliances, this becomes even bigger. Where did you get this particular <insert any product here>? Oh that's a <insert race here> <product name>. Oh? Who is that?

When you get to alliances, this information will become shared by default from the government. Ok here on this map is our border with X, there is Y, and these are the guys we think are going to attack us because the leader's insane.

This kind of overt intelligence at the _strategic_ and _government_ levels is not represented in the game. THAT is what I'm looking at.


Aaaah, I see. Starting to get a bit more of a grasp of what you're angling at. I think a few of my blurbs might have a gem or two for you, but I'm sure you're already aware of those.

Hmm. Speaking of which, there might be a few more in the data archive. Want me to kick you a copy of that for your own review?
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Re: Strategic Intelligence ... aka how to learn about aliens

Postby Whitecold on Tue 31 Jan 2017 00:29

Xveers wrote:Also, try not to discount the fact that you don't always need to embed a fake into another empire. Somehow the USA got a LOT of information about the USSR without the use of spies entering their territory. And short of a total non-contact with hostile pickets on the WP (which at least in my gaming group isn't anywhere near as common as it ought to be) that "absolute border control" isn't quite as absolute as it could be.


I'd too agree, unless you the races are ignoring each other, select people can pass over the border. Diplomats, scientists, artists. It will hardly be casual, likely a bureaucratic nightmare to get a visa and there will be passenger lists of everyone passing over. While those have little chance for covert operations, debriefing them should give you quite some information.
The problem mechanic wise I see is that you can hardly influence this. The only decision you can take is not collect the information, you cannot really direct it.
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Re: Strategic Intelligence ... aka how to learn about aliens

Postby dazrand on Tue 31 Jan 2017 07:30

Espionage requires a number of presumptions that we are not yet ready to make. Primarily, that any race can imbed a fake into any other race -- and then get the information back from that other empire -- despite the absolute border control that WPs provide


By definition espionage uses spies, though in the modern context very few of them are direct operatives. Intelligence collection itself is not limited to agents and covers a host of other collection methods which require no penetration of a target country. While WPs make any penetration of this type difficult, there are suitable technologies in Starfire to make it possible. Once you add in analysis and research, intelligence can go surprisingly far with little direct contact.

It is that last part you are focusing on in this topic. The question I have is will Strategic Intelligence only rely upon what would be termed "open source" information? This would generally limit it to activity against races you had a positive relationship with. For the most part, it would be mainly Social, Cartographic, Technologic, and Economic aspects. Military might be possible with closer military relationship, but unlikely for the more militant ones.

The hard part of all of this is how to represent it in the game. The current tables in section U are just "here is some information", with no ability to focus and direct efforts. When I did the optional espionage rules ages back,we tried several methods of resolution using a directing effort. The ruleset which survived was the middle-ground of complexity and progress. This leads to my second question, do we want the ability to direct efforts to reveal a single piece of information or keep the data dump of the current Section U?
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Re: Strategic Intelligence ... aka how to learn about aliens

Postby Cralis on Tue 31 Jan 2017 17:41

Let's evaluate this for a minute. Really there are three main parts to Strategic Intelligence:

* Captured Intelligence - what you find from captured units, wrecks, intercepted messages, conquered populations, etc. (currently what is in Section U);

* Covert Intelligence - whether undercover agents, hidden spyware, hidden recording devices, turned sources, signal intercepts, etc. I think I'd like to think of this as active intelligence;

* Social Intelligence - collection of information from legitimate contact -- casual contact between representatives, collecting news, cataloging devices and peoples, and buying/selling interesting stuff through trade contacts, conversation between people during trade or even between military personnel on joint alliance training, or just straight up inquiries to their government. I think I'd like to think of this as passive intelligence.

Much of what you can learn overlaps. We could probably make an entire sub-game out of it. But the end result is that we should know a lot more about our friendly neighbors, and about their neighbors too.

You are right that an empire will learn the most from friendly empires. That's true on Earth today. But covert intelligence is extremely prevalent for two reasons: everyone is the same species and one can practically go anywhere in the world under a seemingly legitimate pretense. Those two things are difficult with non-friendlies and practically impossible with enemies (yes, exceptions I know) in Starfire so I want to tackle covert intelligence separately.

Right now the so ial intelligence is mostly missing in Starfire. In reality it would be one of the most prevalent sources of information. So let's see if we can't find a way to fix that.

So we have some basic idea (first post) of the kinds of things you might learn. Right now in Section T it assumes that you will pretty much automatically learn some things about the race you are dealing with. Realistically you'd also start to learn the names of places, some details on their populations and economy, about other races they have contact with, etc.

But I don't think that is something you learn automatically or all at once. At the same time, I'm thinking that the constant rolling to see what you might have learned this month could add a lot of steps to the turn, especially as empires grow and gain more and more contact with others.

So what do ya'll think? Does anyone think we should or should not go that route?
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Re: Strategic Intelligence ... aka how to learn about aliens

Postby olivertheorem on Tue 31 Jan 2017 21:33

Perhaps a good starting point would be to treat it somewhat like a Random and/or Focused Breakthrough in tech research. For every X MCr you spend, you get Y% chance to learn something, with some cap on Y%. Then you go to a table to find out just what you learned. Perhaps with modifiers to the roll based on treaty status with the other empire as well. Not sure how you'd handle rolls for multiple empires, maybe require a different "project" for each one you are trying to catalogue information on.
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Re: Strategic Intelligence ... aka how to learn about aliens

Postby Cralis on Wed 01 Feb 2017 00:46

olivertheorem wrote:Perhaps a good starting point would be to treat it somewhat like a Random and/or Focused Breakthrough in tech research. For every X MCr you spend, you get Y% chance to learn something, with some cap on Y%. Then you go to a table to find out just what you learned. Perhaps with modifiers to the roll based on treaty status with the other empire as well. Not sure how you'd handle rolls for multiple empires, maybe require a different "project" for each one you are trying to catalogue information on.


That's an interesting idea.

I don't think I was clear that I think Social Intelligence, being passive, should be something that happens automatically. However, I can see an intelligence service training patriots or putting trained personnel in otherwise normal positions like diplomatic teams, trade ship officers, travelers (heck, tourists!), etc. in order to try and collect more information. Perhaps you can pay to accelerate the rate at which you gain information?

I've been thinking about this tonight and I was thinking that something like having rolls for different areas where you might learn something. Trade, diplomatic negotiations, etc. are all going to have some automatic chance of learning something. HOWEVER, your idea makes sense for paying to send travelers, private sector businessman, or even things like librarians, professionals (doctors, for example), to learn at your new friendly empire's places of learning.

The downside is that I think if we do it right we'll generate rolls for things like "learn name of another race they know that you do not" or "learn name of another medium or larger population you don't already know" etc. -- and stuff like that is going to have to be interpreted by an SM.

Does anyone dislike this idea or say any potential problems with it?
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