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This article takes an up-close look at Chronocoms and their functionality in the Frontier. Ideas presented in this article are in use in my personal campaigns, in an attempt to correct a small portion of the naivety of the 1980’s view of the future presented by the original editions of this game. At the same time, I try to keep the feel of this naivety by not going overboard with where personal communications might actually be in a society that spans the stars, as that might ruin the “frontier” feel to the game system.

History of the Chronocom

The first appearance of a wrist-worn communications device came from the expedition to explore the Timeon system, by environmental scientists getting samples and performing atmospheric tests of Lossend in 148PF. They commissioned the communication devices in order to keep their hands free to use their envirokits while still keeping in verbal touch with one another. At that time in history, humans, Vrusk, and Dralasites had already coordinated their frequencies and standardized on a communications methodology that was in line with Yazirian technology – but until this voyage, all communication was via hand-held devices. This early “handycom” could tell the time and could communicate on a single open frequency for 2.5km, resulting in small expeditionary trips from the mission’s landers.

As the need for more portable communications gear rose, and people began settling the systems of the Frontier, the handycom evolved. Slowly taking more of the functionality of other hand-held devices, by 50PF it already had most of the functions of the Chronocoms sold in the modern Frontier. But the military still hadn’t gotten a hold of it.

In 12PF, as PanGalactic Corporation was fighting for supremacy over the stars on a corporate front, agents of this and other corporate upstarts began clashing over unexplored and unclaimed prizes throughout the Frontier. These clashes seldom took the form of corporate mergers and negotiated financial arrangements: the Frontier was heating up, and it wouldn’t throw these differences aside for another 15 years when the Sathar would arrive.

During these 15 years, the more militant elements of the maga-corporations began adding their needs to the otherwise domestic application of handycom technology. Multiple channels of communication became necessary to coordinate larger scale efforts, and longer range became vital. The military required occasional subspace relay of communication, and demanded the development of secure encryption. Each corporation worked independently to create functions for the com gear of their special teams (of course, nobody called them armies – this was a corporate cold war). Many of the advanced features of the modern Frontier Chronocom are credited to the bright corporate minds of this era.

When the Sathar arrived in 3PF, corporations temporarily set aside their differences to fight this common enemy – and were forced to share trade secrets about their technologies. Before the fated meeting on Morgaine’s World that would lead to the formation of the United Planetary Federation, the technical department figureheads of each of the megacorporations met at the first Corporate Technical Conference on Lossend (Timeon system – in the same building in which the handycom was engineered nearly fifteen decades ago) to discuss formulating a better way for the Frontier to pass information, media, and communicate. The schematics of the subspace communications network (later to be known as S-CoN) was born from this meeting, and a new standard was born in portable communications: the Chronocom.

Satellite Communication Network

All worlds with Heavy or Medium population are covered by S-CoNs in the modern Frontier. Planets with Light populations lack satellites but have relay towers located at strategic locations to allow major population centers that exceed 5km in size to have the exact same coverage as a world monitored by a satellite – but as soon as you leave the major population centers the digital signal fails and you’re back to using radio broadcast channels. Outpost worlds typically have no such towers, but entire population centers are usually within 5 kilometers in diameter.

The satellites themselves are made by Nesmith Enterprises of Triad – NET. They were built during Sathar War I to keep the forces of the corporate armies in touch while building the fleets that would later help form the fleets of the United Planetary Federation. The satellites are self-sustaining and are monitored by engineers around the clock, typically from remote locations. When a satellite goes down, Nesmith Enterprises of Triad can dispatch technicians to work on it within a day. All mega-corporations pay a small fee to NET for use of their services, which keeps the services free for the rest of the Frontier’s population.

The satellites are able to pinpoint someone’s location but will only do so for licensed Star Law detectives with proper clearance, and only under certain circumstances. For a huge fee, bounty hunters can obtain a license to give them similar rights for a single use of the triangulation process. Of course, triangulation is only possible if you know what world is under the boots of the person you’re seeking.

The Basic Chronocom

The modern Chronocom is a small, thin, watch sized device worn on the wrist. It has an adjustable band to fit all races. It has a very small but quite vibrant screen and a micro-camera capable of only a very short range. It is a combination wristwatch, calculator, and communicator. This is all well known, but there are many other functions and uses of this clever device that are examined below.

Standard Functions

It’s reasonable to assume that a Chronocom used in the modern Frontier has all of the functionality of a base-model cell phone from our own earth of today... but the special needs of the Frontier forces the inclusion of a few more abilities. Below is a list of basic standard functions found on all Chronocoms.

Power Supply. The power source is able to last nearly 5 years of regular use. It consists of a rechargable chem-cell microbattery. It is recharged by vibration and motion; as a being walks about and performs normal everyday activities, he keeps the charge on his Chronocom full. If it sits idle for a year or so, it tends to lose its charge.

Memory. The specialized memory is divided into three main storage areas, each reserved for specific use. When one of these three memory areas is full, the wearer must delete some to allow more. Address Book memory (enough to store address, Chronocom number, and minor personal comments for up to 200 names), Voice Message memory (enough to store 200 minutes of voice messages), and Text Message memory (enough to store 200 short text messages). The memory can be removed from a small panel on the back of the Chronocom and switched to another device where the archives of messages and contacts can be viewed or modified.

Calculator. The device is a full-functioning calculator capable of doing math with different bases and floating points with a mantissa of 32.

Timepiece. The Chronocom has a free-running time which can be set by wearer/owner. If a Satellite Communications Network relay is present, it will synchronize with Galactic Standard Time. It is also possible to set the watch to self-adjust to local time. When this feature is activated, the timepiece evaluates solar and lunar activities through several sensors and estimates a local time.

For example, if your character is on Minotaur (Thesus) his Chronocom can show either Galactic Standard Time or (if he’s calibrated it) local time. Since on Minotaur a day is only 15 galactic standard hours, Galactic Standard Time and local Minotaur time will not be the same.

The timepiece feature of the Chronocom includes up to 20 pre-settable alarms with various tones, and a calendar with reminder notes.

Messenger. The device is also capable of sending and receiving messages of either voice or text. Although it’s less than convenient to use, the Chronocom actually has a miniature keypad capable of entering full sentences and paragraphs. It’s possible to craft vocal or text messages and send them to one or more recipients. If the recipient’s Chronocom lacks space for the message or is not on (or is out of range), the message gets queued for later delivery and will automatically retry until it makes connection. The recipient is made aware of receiving a message by annunciation on the display.

Subspace Relayed Messages. An SCoN can relay messages of text or voice to other S-CoNs in orbit around other distant worlds. This takes a great deal of time, however, as subspace communication packets race across the Frontier at a rate of 1 light year per hour. Also, the satellite network doesn’t know where the recipient is – the sender of the message must specify the destination world. If the recipient is not present at the destination the satellite will hold the message for 20 hours, trying once each hour until the recipient is found. If it never finds the recipient, it returns the message back to the place of origin as a “failed” message. Messaging cannot be used on a world without coverage by a Satellite Communication Network.

For Example: your character is on Hentz, in the Araks system and wants to send a message to his employer on Gran Quivera (Prenglar system). The message would first be relayed to Yast’s satellite in the Athor system, which would take 8 hours. The signal would be verified and repackaged and then passed on to the Prenglar system to the satellite in orbit around Gran Quivera, which would take 11 hours. Assuming the recipient is present on Gran Quivera, he’d receive the message in 19 hours. You’d not get your response for another 19 hours (assuming he responded immediately).

Digital Communication. If a Satellite Communication Network (S-CoN) is present in orbit around the world the character is on, the Chronocom’s signal can reach anyone on that same planet as long as the recipient’s personal number is known. This is referred to as having a digital signal.

The recipient is made aware of the incoming call by a small vibration on the wrist or an audible beep (depending on personal settings). Text on the display of the device will show the number of who’s calling (or his/her name if that person is noted in the recipient’s address memory area). The recipient can tap an acknowledgement to answer the call.

Once communication is accepted, the short range lowresolution camera built into the Chronocom activates and both beings enjoy a conversation with audio and video components.

If the recipient doesn’t answer, the caller can choose to leave a text or voice message (no video message).

Analog Communication. If no S-CoN is present, the Chronocom switches to radio broadcast mode (referred to as analog signal mode, but don’t confuse that with analog communication of 20th century cellular phones; it’s more like radio communication). In this mode, the device will function similarly, but only within a very short range (5 kilometers is typical, though with favorable local weather conditions it may be as much as 7.5km or as low as 2.5km).

There are 20 channels for analog radio communication, each a different radio frequency. When in radio broadcast mode, you don’t specify a recipient; individual Chronocom numbers are not relevant since no satellite is present to multiplex and coordinate bandwidth usage. You simply specify a channel. Anyone using that channel can hear anyone using that channel – it’s not secure. On the display of the chronocom will be the numbers of the channels you’re currently set to listen to. For example, you might set your chronocom to communicate on all frequencies. Or you might just choose channels 1 and 2, etc.

For example: two teams of explorers disembark from their lander, one to explore north of the ridge and one to explore south. The team members heading north all agree to use channel 10 for communications, and the southern team selects to use channel 11. Channel 1 will be for team-to-team communication. Therefore, the North team sets their chronocoms to channels 1 and 10, and the south team channels 1 and 11.

If security is needed, any channel can be made monitored. When it’s monitored – it shows on the display the quantity of all those within range connected to that channel. When you’re communicating on a secure/monitored channel, that is the only channel you’re able to communicate on at that moment.

Torash (second in command of the north team) needs to inform the leader of the south team of her leader’s treachery. She calls him on channel 1 and everyone sees on their display a call request on channel 1. He answers the call. She doesn’t know if anyone else also answered it, so she says “Hi, Jon. We need to talk in private about something... switch to channel 2 and make it secure.” Both switch to channel 2 and hit the “secure channel” button on their Chronocoms. They wait a few moments and finally see “2 com devices secure on Channel 2” on the display and can now speak freely. If someone else pops on to channel 2, they’ll be added to the conversation and all three will see “3 com devices secure on Channel 3” after an audible tone, alerting them of someone coming into the secure channel.

Other Com Technology

There exists an entire host of various pieces of equipment that can be purchased or used that uses the Chronocom technology, frequencies, and networks. Communication via this technology is thoroughly wide-spread throughout the settled worlds of the Frontier.

The Visocom was discussed in issue 1 of the Star Frontiersman and represents but one of several other forms of personal gear available in the Frontier which uses Chronocom networks. Well-designed personal transportation devices (such as luxury skimmers and ground cars, most air cars) include hands-free Chronocom devices for use on civilized worlds (and most of them even have the analog communication feature for 5km ranged communication on worlds not covered by S-CoNs). Such pieces of technology usually cost less than a standard Chronocom because they lack certain features and because miniaturization isn’t always necessary. On a heavily populated civilized world, it should not be a problem to find a way to call someone: public Chronocom stations exist in parks and on the corners of busy streets where for a single Credit you can make a short Chronocom call to anyone covered by the S-CoN, or for 10 Credits even send a message via the subspace relay features of those satellites.

Some militaries mount chronocom technology on the sleeves of uniforms, or the collars. Some other uniforms sport chronocoms over the heart/breast and shape the device specifically to designate rank or social position. Chronocoms are so wide-spread in the Frontier that they make their way even into religious institutions: it’s not considered sacrilige for revered holy symbols to double as communication devices.

Some additional forms of Chronocom technology are also worthy of mentioning:

Advanced Chronocom

The advanced Chronocom is a sleek if larger version of the basic one. It costs 250 Credits – two and a half times what a standard one costs. It’s available in most commercialized markets in the free Frontier. It has all of the features of a standard version, with the following differences:

Memory. The advanced version has 2.5 the memory capacity of its inferior brother. Address Book memory can hold 500 contacts, Voice Message memory 500 minutes, and Text Message memory 500 short text messages. It can also hold 50 video messages (see Messenger, below). The removable memory card can only be inserted into another advanced Chronocom.

Analog Communication. The typical maximum range of radio broadcast communication is 10km instead of 5km. Depending on weather conditions, that might allow a lucky signal to extend to nearly 12.5km.

Messenger. The advanced Chronocom can send video messages in addition to the normal types. Only an advanced Chronocom can receive a video message. Video messaging received by a standard Chronocom will be stripped of its video component.

Keypad. There is no keypad on the advanced version. There is instead a holographic projector and positioning detection array. It causes a holographic keypad to float in the air next to the user’s wrist, which can be typed on as if it were real. It’s translucent and obviously not a real keyboard – but it functions as one.

Screen & camera. The advanced version doesn’t have a standard small crystal screen. Instead, it supports a miniature hologram projector array capable of making the head of the person you’re communicating with (digitally) float above the wrist, large and personal. If communicating with someone also using an advanced Chronocom, the hologram will be three dimensional.


Recent advances in bio-electronics has produced this interesting options for those not wanting to ever have their Chronocom taken away from them. It’s a subdermal implant that gets inserted between layers of flesh on the back of the hand. It’s expensive, but shares all the properties of a Basic Chronocom. It can even tell the time by pushing a button – the time becomes visible through the skin of the implant’s recipient. All features are available through upraised sections on the back of the hand.

Biocoms can be installed only at a handful of medical facilities. Prenglar has a research and development team that works independently for several mega-corps that will implant one for just under 2,000 Credits. The implant attaches itself to the central nervous system of the wearer, drawing bioelectric power from its host. Implanting one will permanently lower the maximum STA of the wearer by 2 points, though it doesn’t affect his current STA score unless his current score is greater than this new maxim.

Note that Biocoms cannot, at current, attach to dralasite physiology.

Signal Amplification Tower (SAT)

Explorers, frustrated by the limited range of the standard Chronocom, have been using Signal Amplification Towers for years to explore new worlds. Since basic Chronocoms can only be counted on for 5km, the site of an exploration team’s landing is often the center of a 5km diameter exploration area, meaning if exploration teams want to speak to one another they better not go past 2.5km distance from their landing ship. To improve this exploration range, explorers erect a simple aluminum-girded tower with a Chronocom relay device at its top.

The tower itself is erected by three people in about three hours. If fewer people are erecting it, adjust time accordingly. One person can do it in about nine hours. It’s height is about 10 meters and its base is about three meters into the ground. Not counting extreme weather conditions, the tower will remain standing until it’s disassembled when the exploration team disembarks (or later by a salvage and recovery team sent to clean up).

A SAT simply receives basic Chronocom signals at a range of 10 kilometers, and sends them just as far. This turns a multiple-team exploration radius from 2.5km to 10km, an extreme improvement to be sure. Making a network of these towers at 10km intervals will create a large area able to send an receive analog signals quite far!

The Signal Amplification Tower costs 750 Credits and is powered by a type 1 parabattery for up to 1 galactic standard year. When packed and folded, it fits securely (minus the parabattery) into a crate 1 meter on each of its sides. Some new models of exploration ship’s landers have built-in Signal Amplification Towers connected to them, which is expanded telescopically to the proper height after landing, and is powered off the engines of the lander itself.

They’re Watching You!

One of the fears of people using Chronocoms on a digital signal is that Nesmith Enterprises of Triad’s communications satellites can triangulate the signal source of the wearer. If someone wants to use a digital signal, they really can’t avoid this.

Star Law can pay a fee to NET to obtain triangulation information. Licensed bounty hunters can do this too (the fee is 100Cr per use – bounty hunting license number and voiceprint identification required). Criminals often use public chronocoms in order to keep their positioning off the grid, so to speak.

Analog signals can’t really be triangulated because they broadcast in an omni-directional manner and the signal bounces off canyon walls, buildings, and other obstacles.

Adventure Idea

I like to fill any article I write with concepts for further adventure. This article should be no exception.

Crystal Catastrophe

The creation of Chronocoms requires very specialized crystals. Although expensive to mine effectively, they’re plentiful on asteroids in most systems. They’re used in frequency control and modulation, and also as microphones (vocal sounds cause vibration on the crystal surfaces, inducing momentary current in the connected circuitry, which can easily be frequencymodulated for radio signals).

A large-scale mining operation on one of the many moons of Histran has recently gone dead-silent. Several attempts at communication have gone unanswered. Robotic exploration craft have returned images of a dark facility, with two of the three recently-mined crevices closed by what looks like explosions. The most recent of the robotic craft never returned.

The players are hired to investigate the mysterious event. Their employer is a government-owned mining company called the People’s Invasive Crystal Mining Operation (PICMO). It doesn’t matter how the players come across the job: they may be freelance troubleshooters, technicians on loan from a friendly megacorp, or even agents who work for the Yazirian government. They are offered money for the recovery or information leading to the recovery of the miners, and a bonus if they also salvage the missing robotic exploration craft.

Exploring the Mine

When they reach the mine by pre-programmed shuttle, they find that the crevices were destroyed but not by an explosion… it was an implosion which claimed the external structure of the facility. Something from within the depths of the moon has caused it! On the surface of the moon and within its depths, no chronocom will function. Instead, all devices powered by chronocoms will hum with a distinct noise at all times.

While exploring the mine, the PCs will face zombified yazirian miners, most of which are crazed and aggressive. The longer they remain, they too will begin to feel the effects of undesired feelings of anger and hate.

Exposure Table
Exposure Check Effect
A few minutes INT Easily angered, spiteful, jealous, not really violent
A few hours INT -10 Bullies others, acts hateful, actively seeks confrontation
A few days INT -25 Attacks without cause,wants to hurt enemies
A few weeks INT -50 Ravenous with bloodlust, everyone is an enemy!

What Really Happened

The miners uncovered a huge crystal, the surface of which began picking up vibrations from the mining equipment and reverberating within the natural chasm in which it was found. The sonic effect causes an unexpected effect on the central nervous system of living beings… making them more and more aggressive over time. The miners have been warring with one another in a chaotic battle ever since they were consumed by the sonic sensations.

The robotic explorer craft was destroyed by several of these miners as it searched the opening of the shafts. The explosion caused yet more reverberations that have amplified the problem, and also caused the implosion of two of the three openings. If the players find a way to shield the miners from the sonic sensations (a sonic screen would do the trick… but allow clever technical-based characters a chance to solve the problem with materials that may be found in the mine). Of course, many players will want to solve the problem with a lot of bullets.

==== Stressful Exit ==== 

When the players are finally leaving the moon, they’ll find that they have a stow-away on their shuttle: a ravenous miner who was once a veteran cyborg warrior, retired to a less violent life of mining… and in the close confines of the shuttle, they’ll quickly learn that violence is what this crazed yazirian is best at!

==== Aftermath ==== 

Assuming they all survive the catastrophe of the crystal mine, what will the players do with the information they've learned? Certainly certain militant groups and megacorporations would love to get their hands on the knowledge of the frequency and resonant effect caused by the natural phenomena. Will the players sell this to the highest bidder? Will they find it too lethal and dangerous, and destroy it? If so, what will their employer think?

50 Sonic-Raged Yazirian Miners: STR/STA: 50/50 (temporarily boosted +25) DEX/RS: 50/50 (unaffected by sonic-rage) INT/LOG: 25/25 (temporarily penalized -25) PER/LDR: 20/20 (temporarily penalized -25) IM/PS: +5/+3 (temporarily boosted +0/+1)

Relevant Skills: Melee Weapons 1, Unarmed 1 Equipment: Simple melee weapon 1d10 damage (often a tool or broken piece of machinery).

Sonic-Raged Yazirian Cyborg: STR/STA: 90/100 (temporarily boosted +25) DEX/RS: 50/62 (unaffected by sonic-rage) INT/LOG: 15/25 (temporarily penalized -25) PER/LDR: 20/30 (temporarily penalized -25) IM/PS: +7/+3 (temporarily boosted +0/+1)

Relevant Skills: Melee Weapons 5, Unarmed 5 Equipment: monofilament sword: 4d10, +10 to hit.