Monday, November 30, 2015

More Reactions to Drives

I liked it when things were simple and I didn't think every frigging piece of handwavium through.

The reactionless drive as original portrayed in Classic Traveller made interstellar government impossible. Any ship, even a 6 ton gig became a WMD because given a laughable fraction of its space for fuel it could get up near light speed. If you didn't like another planet aim a lifeboat at it from the Oort cloud and sit back, wait a few months and then blam! Enjoy the fireworks (wait a few years to see it from your homeworld or get it a week later on Pay Per View!)

Mega Traveller provided the first relief in the bombardment of reactionless drive projectiles. They said earlier maneuver drives only operated within 10 diameters of a body. Huzzah. That in effect produced an upper speed limit. Say you took your type S into a low earth Orbit and began blasting away at 2gs.

10d = 10*1280000m= 128000000m
d=1/2a*t^2 as anyone who read Robert A. Heinlein will tell you.
12800000 =1/2*20m/s* t^2
12800000 =10m/s *t^2
1280000 = t^2
(12800000)^.5 = t
3577 s = t
So you'd be humming along for about an hour which at 2 gees will result in a final speed of
3577 *20 m/s= 71.5 kps. Not exactly a planet cracker or unstoppable.
It also equates to a speed of 715 mm per turn if you still use the Classic Traveller starship combat system. Fast but not unstoppable.

Interstellar government is saved oorah!

But then MT decided that those limits went away above TL A.

But then Marc Miller said in T5 the more limited G-drive operated within 10 diameters (Tl A). A true maneuver drive operated within 1000d. Which let you boost all the way to the jump limit. Stupid G-drives made you cost for 90% of the way.

But wait you can ruin damn near anything with a little math. I know little math!

What if instead of beginning your boost from the LEO of a rinkydink planet you jump to a really biiiig star and begin your boost as close as you can get without melting your ship (not that you care all that much for it later anyway.)

Sol, a middling star has, a diameter of 1,280,000 km. 1000d is 12,800,000,000 km
with a run of 13 billion kilometers our Scout would boost for 13 days and have a final velocity of 22,600 km per second. That's 226,000 mm or 226 meters per turn in the space combat system. There isn't a game store with a backroom big enough to game that attack run out.

Dammit it yet again.

Seriously, a 100d limit to the maneuver drive lets you hit about 220 kps around an Earth sized world. A one THOUSAND diameter limit gives us the planet crackers back. Mind you none of this matters to the individual referee who can set whatever limits on the m-drive they want.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Sargasso Bound!

I am rereading Sargasso of Space by Lady Andre Norton for the first time in thirty years. I got it on iBooks and almost immediately regretted losing my copy so long ago. I forgot how well the author wrote. She had a simple and concise style that got the heck out of the way and let you enjoy the setting and the story. I was never one for stream of consciousness on every page or a dissertation on tech or sociology that the author was far more interested in than the reader (me).

I'm reading through the Solar Queen novels to mine them for a game setting, mostly system agnostic at this time.

So far it appears that Trade (not Merchants) is a very old and established service and similar to a Guild or Union. It provides training for new personnel (the Pool) and amenities like a restaurant in some ports. It also has a high degree of nepotism. Having family in the Service is almost a guarantee you will be accepted. The main character, an orphan, made it into the Pool and considered it a great achievement. It may be a matter paying for your education with some people qualifying for scholarships due to grades or charity.

The characters refer to their occupation as Trade or more commonly the Service. this is a little odd for merchants out to make a profit. I read a little further and the Trade personnel were all supposed to take X-Tee contact classes. The protagonist, Dane Thorson (yes he gets kidded about the name), is an apprentice cargo master. He has taken a number of psychology and economics courses along with a smattering of everything else. As a Free Trader his ship operates mainly on the Fringe and contacting new sentients, combat, disease and all your mundane dangers of space travel are a fact of life. The big companies stick mainly t the central regions and established trade routes with sure profits.

The Free Traders sound like an amalgam of Scouts and Merchants. It's not a matter of everyone doing what they want fueled by big business. The Service has trained the personnel to make contact with new societies in a friendly and responsible way. While people buy, beg and steal trade rights to new worlds they have training to deal with contact problems.

So far it seems the Federation the characters like in have three branches responsible for interstellar exploration and expansion. The Survey charts new worlds and performs a cursory inspection. While some worlds will be kept secret or declared off limits. After the worlds are charted and surveyed this information is made to Trade who then proceed to ... trade finding resources, contacting natives and setting up a merchant relationship. The Patrol is the big stick of the Federation enforcing a number of civil and criminal codes. Traders send Patrol HQ their passenger lists for one thing for the Patrol to perform background checks. Being Patrol Posted means you are in effect an outlaw and anyone can shoot you on sight with no legal repercussions. So much for due process on the frontier. The Patrol also has the unwanted duty of shoving plague ships into suns (a gas giant won't do.) The Patrol also attempts to keep war from breaking out between Federation members. At the time of the book Earth and Mars are still being watched carefully by the Patrol and Trade after concluding the 'Crater War' ten years previously. Trade was also helping to keep the peace so apparently trade is an adjunct to diplomacy. I doubt Trade makes demands of its megacorporations regularly but I'm sure they could get all the traders together to enforce an embargo on a world or exert other economic weapons to keep the peace.

I'm going to be working on applying these ideas to Traveller Merchants and Scouts next.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Remote Control

Traveller assumes a remote centralized government (referred to in this volume as the Imperium), possessed of great industrial and technological might, but unable, due to the sheer distances and travel times involved, to exert total control at all levels everywhere within its star-spanning realm. 
-Book 4 Mercenary

I have no problem with selling a bunch of items with the 3I setting. People eat it up. All is well. the problem is the more you show of the Imperium the less remote it gets. If you have a central government with any kind of time/travel lag that makes resurrecting the idea of nobility a good idea it will likely be a long way off. But starting with Adventure 1: The Kinunir the Imperium began to creep closer and closer and become a pervasive thing. In fact it got to the point where you'd have to travel for half a term to get to a frontier let alone uncharted stars. Don't give me that business about the 11,000 worlds having unexplored worlds within them and unexplored sections of worlds. If your cel still gets three bars you ain't exploring you're retracing someone's footsteps.

I'm a firm believer that the less there is of the Imperium the better everyone is. I've been reading up on a number of sectors, that are sadly no longer canon, fiefdoms dealt out to friends and allies of GDW. There's some gonzo gaming there.

If you are going to have a powerful central government keep it remote for a good story. Otherwise the slick players and unsociable sorts have to spend nearly as much time tripping lightly as dealing with story stuff. It also means people can't holler for help as easily.

A central government might have its power limited by distance and travel times,  by astrographic features, political necessity or inertia. Sometimes it can be several factors. In the First Interstellar War the Imperium was indeed far from the upstart Terrans, there was another crisis going on prohibiting sending reinforcements to the sector governor and the Vilani were by then complacent and thought they had nothing to fear in the galaxy.

In Andre Norton's fiction the closest thing to a government seems to be central Control for the Patrol. the local authorities seem to have a lot of power to restrict the Patrol i their domains and various guilds wield equal powers to protect their supporters. While an invasion or pirate blitz would probably produce a rapid and coordinated response (before everything turned to shit   Star Rangers) the Patrol and government didn't really bother anyone much. In most of her stories you had fairly rapid travel and faster than light communications. So a weak government allowed people to play dirty.

But the Imperium ... is Traveller's Borg. Initially big and impressive as Hell and barely glimpsed, like a T-rex through some fern trees. It was dragged out so regularly it became the the elevator music of Traveller.

So when I get a Traveller game going the Imperium may be running things behind the scenes or causing the earth to move a few sectors over but it will remain mostly remote and hidden and likely to make its presence known with a million ton dreadnaught showing up in the middle of your plans. A rumor of the Imperium being involved should be a cause for dismay or rejoicing (if you're an NPC.)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Mall Ware

Planet Liberty Shopping Mall
Exec: Thanks for helping us out, Chief.

Chief: No problem ma’am. It’s my pleasure.

Jenn: Thanks likewise, Sergeant Major.

Chief: Corporal.

Exec: Ooh. Designer clothing half off!

Jenn: Squee!

Chief: …

Exec: Chief, wait out here please.

Chief: Aye. Bless you ma’am.

Exec: And hold this for me.

Chief: Ma’am! With all due respect and courtesy …

Exec: It’s a purse. Spank my butt and call me Missy! Don’t tell me you’re into gender roles?

Jenn: Ain’t that ma’am. He has a bigger one hisself. But that’s a civilian bag. Look at him, the man wears his class A uniform on his day off.

Exec: Don’t make me order you on my day off, Marine.

Chief: Aye ma’am.

Jenn: Here, Chief my bag can keep hers company.

Chief: We ain’t shopping forever, girl. Best you remember that.

Exec: Thank you.

Chief: <Dire Mutterings.> Eris said there’d be days like this.

Bonk. Bonk.

GAIA: Malfunction. Please advise the nearest Fleet personnel.

Chief: GAIA? What in the …

GAIA: Malfunction. Please advise the nearest Fleet personnel. A Marine will do …

Chief: Hey! What are you walking into walls for, girl bot?

GAIA: Distress signal terminated … I accessed the Mall wifi … so many pop ups! I … go away. No I don’t want to change my internet browser! Help?

Chief: Take my arm. Goddamn pop ups is what started the AI rebellion! I lost three toes when my toaster went rogue.

GAIA: … does everyone I know have a story about the Uprising?

Chief: Probably. Toast is pretty common. Here, sit down. Hey you’re wearing a little black dress.

GAIA: Technical Officer fabricated one for me. LBD Mark 3. Not very durable. The shoes were from Ms. Riasi … when she was human?

Chief: She made a hell of a human, she did.

GAIA: Anecdotal evidence and biometric data for male crew corroborates.

Chief: Anyway I like your new desktop.

GAIA: I like your bags. I see you added two small ones as to your normal purse.

Chief: … It’s a shoulder bag. I’m holding these for the Exec and the Corporal.

GAIA: Ah. This custom is called …?

Chief: Being screwed.

GAIA: Now I have a pop up for an ‘Astrologer’? What is the purpose of this?

Chief: It helps support the mentally defective and unskilled.

GAIA: Like the Procurement Branch!

Chief: There you go!

Ensign: Hey! Hey you two! Is the whole crew here?

Chief: Hello Skipper. Possibly. We just saw the Nok family in the pizzeria. L’rre jumped into the ball pit there and mom and pop were wading through it trying to find her. What is it about voles and ball pits?

Ensign: I don’t know. Hello ma’am … hello uh …

Jenn: Corporal … Jenn … Marine will do. We play poker for gosh sakes.

Exec: Ensign … do you become tongue-tied at the sight of any woman’s shoulders?

Ensign: No ma’am!

Exec: Oh. Only my shoulders.

Exec: No ma’am I ah … GAIA … how are you?

GAIA: I am being blinded by pop ups. I accessed the Mall wifi.

Ensign: Dear Lord. Better to eat plague ridden meat.

GAIA: I feel like I need a shower. Help. Now some exiled prince needs my help to extricate him from financial difficulties! Must aid ...

Exec: Override! Override! Override! It’s a scam. No human is in distress … except maybe for the Ensign blinded by women’s shoulders. Poor sweetie. Ensign, would you escort GAIA to the Port Circuit establishment and shore up her firewalls there?

Jenn: Oooh Port Circuit … I wonder if they got the new ‘Harp’ 3D VR FPS?

Ensign: C’mon Corporal. Follow us.

Exec: Yes. Bring your shoulders with you.

GAIA: Maybe one of you could steer me?

Ensign: Give me your hand. Steer you indeed.

Chief: Corporal! Take your Kitty Kat bag! Pink isn’t my color.

Jenn: Aye Chief. You’re more an autumn. … Bye!

Exec: Let’s sit down a minute. Are you tired?

Chief: I have been on maneuvers less taxing than a day of shopping with a lady such as yourself.

Exec: Sorry, Eustace.

Chief: I thought we’d never be alone when Jenn hooked up with us.

Exec: Heh. Yeah. Put a little cramp in your style, didn’t she? But we’re alone now.

Chief: Yeah, you, me, and your shoulders. Skippy has good taste. You have beautiful shoulders, Philomena.

Exec: <Smooch> Call me Phil. This was a crazy day.

Chief: I wound up with you so I have no complaints. Hail Eris.

I'm pretty sure the shopping center in some form will be with humanity as it moves out into the galaxy with shops of interest to all starfarers. There will be stores and fabricators for you to print exactly what you want or even assemble a kit you want (from bundled 3d printer designs). I'm also pretty sure all the toxic memes of marketing will evolve and bear the same relation to today's advertising that an F-15 bears to a biplane. .

So don't let your android wander around unattended.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Mega-corpses and Bureau-rats

The whole premise of auctioning trading rights to various worlds got me thinking. In the Solar Queen novels (Sargasso of Space) some if not many of the worlds being auctioned had intelligent life (A and B class I think). The crew bids and wins the rights to a class D, no known intelligent life (operative being of course 'known'.)

That seems rather cavalier to allow a bunch of merchants to contact a presumably non space traveling culture. What if they start selling them flintlocks and lasers and nukes? That got me thinking that perhaps the Universe of the Solar Queen is dominated by megacorporations that pretty much set the rules or at the very least the government is one of the least intrusive ever conceived (They're selling nukes? Give a yell when they start peddling tri-cobalt devices!) This in spite of providing tax payers such services as rescue station and the ever nosy Patrol.

Then again in Plague Ship the Solar Queen is made out to be a plague carrier and liable to be blasted on sight by any Patrol ships encountered with very little due process beyond a rumor some rat starts. So maybe the megacorps have the Patrol eating out of their hands?

A setting running on hyper-capitalism makes for interesting adventures. I'll say that. in Classic Traveller megacorps make great patrons, savvy and influential enough to know about that macguffin and pay your merry band to retrieve it and ruthless enough to make you opt for witness protection in Hell to get away from them (it won't work) if you screw up or screw them. But usually the government is a complication. They don't view one corporation killing another's workers, scientist and guard or blowing up their research station in the good natured fun loving way the robber barons do. If Lucre Tech blows up Dyno Buxx's anagathics producing moon on Tuesday odds are their CEOs will be working things out and having a laugh at the club over cigars on Friday night (before going home to their husbands.)

But now cast government into the role of passive and easily distracted stooge (never happen in real life!) Your guys can run riot over the opposition with little fear of exposure. They can hit those juicy X starport worlds for fun and profit. They can turn pirate if they desire provided they pick their targets carefully. No target making over five megacredits a year for sure.

If you think about it this makes sense given the premise of Mercenary: Traveller assumes a remote centralized government (referred to in this volume as the Imperium), possessed of great industrial and technological might, but unable, due to the sheer distances and travel times involved, to exert total control at all levels everywhere within its star-spanning realm. 

Bear in mind 'Imperium' was pretty much shorthand for 'whatever the hell central government (if any) you want,' not the laboriously detailed setting that it would grow to be. Now a bunch of thinly spread revolver toting nobles is one way to go. Another way (if you ignore or rework those pesky A+ social standings) is a mercantile league where darned near anything goes. Especially if there is no external pressure to promote brotherhood and fellowship (until we wipe the other guys out!)

It fits other elements of the Traveller LBBs, like having heavily armed civilian ships. Everyone is out for themselves. The Patrol or Navy is to serve the big corp affiliated merchant liners and trade ships. Everyone else is on their own.

As for nobility who needs them? In the 3I setting they are merely a social class cultivated to follow orders and be loyal to their superiors. In a corporate ruled setting with many unaffiliated worlds there are merely one time mailroom tenders and other mailroom tenders looking for a chance to backstab them. Any multiworld governments will be much smaller to facilitate a quicker response to emergencies. Of course that also means ticking off one polity will not require you to travel for 18 months to reach their border. A few jumps and you're in a new polity ready to screw them over.

I'm starting to like this set up.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Solar Queens and Cosmic Pigs in a Poke

Go read Sargasso of Space and come back.

The premise is simple: an independent survey ship grounds at a port the player characters' ship is being serviced at. The survey company is going into receivership and the crew. desperate to raise funds or face seizure of their vessel and unemployment offers the most recent (and partial) surveys at auction for the traders.

1) It's a golden opportunity as it is cash only. Even the subsidized merchants can only bid for their corporations with the funds on hand. As advertised the surveys are partial: only size, atmosphere, hydrosphere and initial comments. What can go wrong?

2) Inhabitants: Information on the locals is sketchy at best. Cut off from mainstream culture for centuries what sort of lunacy have they descended into?

3) Barren: There are no inhabitants according to the initial survey. No really. No one there. It's abandoned. I mean it never was settled.

4) Sentients: You can't go by some blurry orbital pictures. The atmosphere distorts everything. What you are seeing are animals ... around a naturally occurring prairie fire ... that a small herbivore fell into. I mean sentients are an awesome trade opportunity but there are laws against civilians making first contact.

5) Artifacts: Look at the spike in the G-band! There are artifacts to be found here! Or a transmitter ... why would anyone transmit a signal you could mistake for artifacts?

6) Animals!: Explorers will pay a premium price to capture or kill the latest alpha predators. Some sentients are evolved from predators. Can you tell the difference?

7) Minerals: You can take up mining. Or you can sell stakes to prospectors. Claim jumpers are a problem of course and that weird spike in G-band is making communications difficult.

8) Scam: Selling the trade rights to more than one ship's crew is definitely not cricket. But it's done. Surely we can work this out in a civilized manner.

9) The Secret Research Base: Well it was a secret.

10) Salvage: There are ships there. Dozens and dozens of wrecked ships for salvage. Why are there so many wrecked ships?

11) Space Station: There's a space station in orbit not in the initial survey.

12) Trap: How do you set up a number of gullible merchant ships at once for ambushes?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Station Nation

With all the exploration done in the OTU and the colonization done as well there is a serious dearth of space stations. They are barely given a nod in most material I've seen of heard of. At the very least some C, most B and nearly evert A class starport will have an orbital element. Do you think all the people there commute to work and live on the planet's surface?

Beyond that I find it hard to believe a size A world with atmosphere class F will play shelter to all the 100 million people its UWP code indicates. Insert your own deal breaker world here if you don't mind having to swim through an atmosphere in battledress to get anywhere in 1.5 gees.

Perhaps a world's population rating could refer to all sentients living within say 100 diameters of it? That 100 diameters does come up a lot, don't it?

Of course this is also my opportunity to create a Universal Station Profile. I don't just stat zombies.

1) One class higher ( i.e. B becomes A maximum of A)
2) One class higher ( i.e. B becomes A maximum of B)
3) Equal to mainworld starport
4) Equal to mainworld starport
5) One class lower ( i.e. B becomes C minimum of C)
6) One class lower ( i.e. B becomes C minimum of D)

Type of Gravity
TL -7 Zero-Gee (0)
TL 8-9 Spinning wheel (1)
TL +10 Artificial gravity (2)

Orbit roll 3d6 DMs: Mainworld TL 7 -6, TL 8 -5, TL 9 -2, TL 10-11 0, TL 12 +2, TL +13 +4. Mainworld size -6 +1.
3-4 Low Orbit (0) The bare bones orbit. Even chemical propellant gulping dinosaurs can reach this with some usable payload. It's liable to be relatively crowded with bits of debris, orbital and suborbital traffic.
5-6 High Orbit (1) You need something with a little more kick than chemical engines to reach this high. It is relatively clear of debris or traffic but often is the realm of communications, weather and defense satellites.
7-8 Geosynchronous Orbit (2) Communications and defense satellites occupy this orbit which remains above a fixed pint on the planet's surface.
 9-11 Jump Limit Orbit (3) Satellites this far out are better serviced by maneuver drive ships or atomic rockets (grumpy cat optional). They often serve as transfer points for merchants on a tight schedule (or corporate merchants). Drop off your cargo, refuel and jump right out. No stay over, no leave. They often have casinos and other clip joints to fleece crews with a few hours to kill.
 12-13 Cycler (4) A cycler is a ship that moves between two orbits. They allow bare bones spacecraft from each orbit to rendezvous and be carried along to their destination orbit where they are dropped off to their destination. They often take prepackaged cargo modules for a drop off to be picked up by low cost orbital taxis.
14-15 Tower (5) this is the sign of a pre-gravitics culture with too much money. A Tower is a statin in geosynchronous orbit at the top of a space elevator reaching to the planet's surface. People can literally ride an elevator to orbit. They are often kept up in cultures with grav drives because they are still borderline profitable and they're awesome tourist attractions.
16-17 Static (6) This station is not in orbit but uses thrusters, maneuver drives or solar/magnetic sails to remain stationary over a planet. They usually are built and moved into position for a long term missions: survey, communications or defense. These installations are very dangerous to the uninitiated. If you take a space walk and lose your grip you fall until you burn up in re-entry. Ditto for untended ships that come lose (though that shouldn't happen unless you tick off the wrong people.)
18 Mobile (7) The station moves albeit slowly from orbit to orbit using low power engines, sails or both. It may not be where you last encountered it, like right in front of you when you come out of jump. Who did you tick off anyway.

Docking Rating
Roll 1d6 + 1/3 mainworld TL (round down)
Docking Rating is the size of ship that can dock to a station efficiently. Your Tigress class dreadnought's crew is not going to appreciate being passed through a four man airlock for shore leave though it is possible to dock nearly any ship to any station in a pinch. Read the docking characteristic like a population code: 1 is ships in the tens of tons, 2 is ships in hundreds of tons etc. This is also a rough idea of the cargo that can be handled in a typical shift on the station.

Roll 1d6
1) Crew in 10's
2) Crew in the hundreds
3) Crew in the hundreds
4) Crew in the m thousands, hundreds of residents
5) Crew in the thousands, with thousands of dependents, merchants and residents.
6) Colony with 10,000+ residents and crew

Administration Type
Roll 1d6 + population roll
1) Corporate Run
2) Merchant Council
3) Participatory Democracy
4) Technical Feudalism
5) Military controlled
6) Colony

Law Level Mainworld LL + 1d6-3

Tech Level Mainworld TL

Special Feature(s)
roll 2d6 or pick        
2) Casino
3) Fine Dining
4) Excellent Expedition Supplier
6) Tax Shelter
7) Duty Free Shop
8) Medical Center
9) Traveler's Aid Hostel
10) Research Lab
11) Jump Enhancement Tech (drop tanks or whatever system your setting uses)
12) Psi Institute Annex

Odd Features
2) Life support is breaking down/power shortages
3) Crazy AI controls some areas (this might make some people assume #6 is in effect)
4) Gang culture is flourishing
5) Mostly deserted (zombies optional because ... reasons!)
6) Haunted (spacers are a superstitious lot, ask Andre Norton)
7) Vermin infested (you'd amazed what people get complacent about and refer to as vermin)
8) Many stowaways
9) Long quarantine period (once there were two rabbits ...)
10) Constant state of emergency
11) Movie in production (you have to live through one of these to understand what a pain in the ass it is)
12) Celebrity owner (this might lead to #11)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Thin Fragile Shell of Reality

I was talking over my last post about the 'gravity train' explanation of Jump Space with Raymond McVay and realized that is was scary as hell on some levels. Imagine our entire Universe is just a thin skin over a hyperdimensional otherspace. The unknowable is also right behind you. Also in front of you and on all the othersides, just rotated a scant 90 degrees from your comfortable native three space.

If there is a force that is analogous to gravity in this realm are there other forces like a repulsive force allowing the Universe to keep its shape (or keep expanding). Are there currents in it responsible for the occasional misjump?

Are there 'solid' bodies? What are they composed of? This could lead to all kinds of fun. A ship in Jump precipitates out when it reaches the Jump Limit. So would an asteroid or planet sized mass. Imagine another moon composed of mirror matter or negative matter suddenly popping into reality 800,000 km from Earth.

At the very least sections of the Underspace must vary in density because jumps do not all take exactly the same time. What causes those and what else could it cause? Moreover, can human technology cause them to cut down jump time? Is it a good idea?

Jumps currently are from point to point in our Universe and seem to consist of a relatively shallow dive into Underspace. What if a ship just descends deeper into it using and then uses its fuel to return to the departure point. Are lower regions different in characteristics?

Does anyone live there?

In my Ghost Drive seting ... yes! The NBEs seem to be native to the Underspace. Sometimes they make the leap to our Universe where they are harnessed for their useful talents like moving ships without using rockets. What else lives there?

Humanity has a long tradition of using technology it does not fully understand with unexpected fallout. This was literally the case when the atomic bomb was used on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Radiation proved far more horrific than the initial casualties from the blasts. But there are many other examples. Poking the unknown with a short stick is part of being human.

What happens when the unknown pokes back?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Intra Universal Transit Tunnel System (Hurrah!)

Jump Drives, the go to FTL of the Traveller game will take you from one to six parsecs in a week. It always takes one week. Period. The designers probably set it up that way because it was an easy way to quantify things. I dunno. It always bothered me though that a jump took you a week regardless of distance. It seemed counterintuitive but it did make things easy to run so I filed my doubts under 'if it ain't broke don't fix it. But for forty years I idly pondered a real world analogy for the Jump Drive.

Until recently. I found it.

Consider the Universe viewed from a fourth dimensional (or whatever higher dimensional space you choose to occupy). What if it was like the skin of a balloon or the surface of a planet?

Well for one thing it explains those silly flat maps. That's what the distances compute to if you flatten out our three space into a two space. Also if you have a few billion years to kill you could travel in a straight line and come back to where you started from. Though I'd rather spend the time watching Netflix and seeing if Breaking Bad really never gets old.

The reason I used a planet as my analogy and not a balloon (yes forget the balloon, now it's a planet): say you were to dig an insanely deep tunnel connecting say, New York city to Honolulu. Standing on either end of the tunnel it would appear to slope downward. If you laid track and set up a rail car on it it would roll down that tunnel moving faster and faster under the effect of gravity (which balloons are deficient in, see?) At the midpoint of your journey, moving really fast you would start to slow down (again due to gravity). You'd arrive at Honolulu in 43 minutes (I doubt anyone from Honolulu would jump to come to Brooklyn but I digress.)

Drill a tunnel from any point on the surface to any other point and the trip will take 43 minutes regardless of distance. Sound familiar yet?

So when you're making a jump you're basically digging a tunnel from Star A to Star B. The better the jump drive the longer the tunnel you can dig (and the more energy it consumes). A mysterious para-gravitic force operates in Jump Space propelling you to your destination.

A deep transit tunnel on a planet would also need to be evacuated and run on a frictionless system like a maglev or friction would slow down the car and keep it from reaching its destination. So the jump fuel not only lets you 'dig' further it replaces losses to this pseudo friction. If you make a jump and try to short the fuel costs you go nowhere or remain in Jump Space till your quarks rot.

Misjumps are caused by proximity to gravity wells or improper maintenance. Maybe the tech crew was watching Netflix. Misjumps are capable of far greater ranges than a nice sane, controlled jump. To continue with my planet analogy perhaps planets and other large bodies are like volcanic or tectonic activity. If you jump too close to them you get subducted by magma/jump currents and come out a few parsecs beyond God-Knows-Where.

The possibility exists of 'caverns' of normal highly curved space existing in Jump Space. A misjump could propel you to one of these or a very precisely charted jump from very close to a planet.

I leave it to you to make up some more tunnel analogies for jumps. Why should I have all the fun?

Women's Uniforms Are Half Off!

Doc: The situation doesn’t look good on Sackett’s Landing. There’s a new strain of pneumonia that is proving resistant to standard antibiotic treatment. Based on current research the infection could respond to tniba berries, native to Hausen 3, a few days travel away.

Exec: Oh Jebus save us …

Mukh: Oh f’taugn.

Tivk: What is your concern? hausen 3 is 2.7 days away. Sackett’s Landing 4 days beyond that. Given the progression of the disease and assuming we process the berries for their medicinal extracts on the way we should arrive in time to effect a complete reversal. That is if the Doctor’s information is accurate.

Doc: It. Is.

Tivk: So?

Exec: The harvest of tniba berries is time consuming and very labor intensive. To get enough to treat 500 humans … well we’ll have to deal with the locals for their stockpiles.

Doc: … I hadn’t thought of that. I guess you’re going to command the mission?

Exec: … yes.

Mukh: I’ll go with you of course. We females have to stick together.

Tivk: I do not understand. Are they difficult to trade with? I can produce any number of goods useful for a variety of technology levels.

Exec: The natives are humanoids, similar to humans or Zangid … they’re cavemen Tivk!

Doc: The natural enemy of spacemen.

Tivk: Na Oh that is a problem. But the Chief and his Marines are certainly equipped to repel any hostiles armed with the local flora and quartz chips.

Doc: They won’t show themselves to a well armed party. We have to do this using a contact team. With at least one woman. And they will attempt to make off with any women we take with us.

Mukh: It is sort of flattering. I guess.

Exec: Bite me, frog.

Tivk: … they will make off with any women.

Exec: I’m not having any of my ladies subjected to that. I’ll take this hit.

Doc: It was a lot worse when you used to wear those tight fitted silver uniforms. The short skirt variant was a complete fiasco.

Exec: I liked the silver uniforms.

Mukh: I loved the silver uniforms! Very slimming.

Doc: ...

Tivk: I don’t understand. Why don’t you just port down a party that is all men?!?!

Doc: I can’t believe you’d say that.

Mukh: Tivk!

Tivk: Say what?

Exec: An all male party would be sexism! We can’t have that!

Tivk: I apolo … what? But … sexism is … excuse me please. I need to test the structural integrity of a few beams … by banging my head against them.

(Door) Fwoosh!

Exec: Okay back to business. It’s the three of us for the contact team so far. Doctor, Professor I want your recommendations for a fourth on my desk ASAP. I’m going to see about getting my old silver uniform pressed. I wore it last time I was there. Their Matriarch is an old friend. We should have the berries in no time. I’ve got to get to the bridge. Later!

(Door) Fwoosh!

Doc: Do you think messing with Tivk will ever get old?

Mukh: You should live so long.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Reactionary Drives

Rockets get no respect in a lot of SF these days. People would rather use technobabble to get where they want to go. Add to this the fact that a lot of game systems suffer from the One major world plus junk per star system trope. You've reached your destination world,  unloaded your cargo and/or sought other means to make your expenses back and show a profit, every other planet there is an ice/dust/rock ball and about as interesting as your dog's average day.

Okay, some people want reaction drives in Traveller. I wanted reaction drives in it many times for you know, reasons. Nothing freudian there at all. Nope. Move along in your air/raft ya hippies.

Okay there are some rules for reaction drives in Traveller. You just have to look for them. I'm referring to Special Supplement 3 Missiles in Traveller from JTAS #21 (published back in year 1110 of the Imperium).

Missile propulsion systems come in three types: continuous burn, limited burn, and discretionary burn. Continuous burn rockets are turned on and blast at full acceleration until they are used up and are to solid rockets. Limited burn rockets have their thrust set when they launch and seem to be a form of solid rocket. Discretionary burn rockets are similar to liquid propellant rockets.

A fifty kilogram missile can accelerate to 10 kilometers per second on one kilogram of solid propellant. That means we're talking a specific impulse of (50 * 1000) 50,000. A quick scan of engine types on the Atomic Rockets website tells me the technical term for a rocket like this a torch ship. My personal term is 'Holy F*ck!' (I'm going to forget about what in hell a solid fuel torchship would be exactly.)

Solid propellant chemical boosters aren't that good. Not by TL 8 and probably not ever as we understand things. The only engines with that kind of bang for your kilo involve fusion, anti-matter or captured demons being tortured (with anti-matter or fusion). Saying it is some kind of fusion power doesn't help either. Something with that much boost would irradiate the ship launching it and the target. It doesn't need a warhead.

I'd like to point out this causes about as many problems as a reactionless drive. For one thing you don't really need nukes with chemical fuel sources that powerful. A hand grenade could knock out a tank. Even if you wanted to explain away Traveller's stealth in space due to exhaustless reactionless drives, the aliens at Tabby's Star are going to see one of these engines 3500 years after it fires up and take a break from building their Dyson Sphere to watch (once again, let me say, "Holy F*ck!")

The reasons for these incredible rockets are solid. The designer knew what he was doing. See a chemically propelled missile would never get anywhere near a ship with an M-drive. A nuke powered missile might get close if the pilot was narcoleptic or had a latent death wish. More to the point Traveller is a system based game. Realism isn't as important as giving people decisions to make, and keeping the game fun.

So the rockets are really variations on the maneuver drives some love to hate. They are smaller and as a trade use much more limited power sources than the fusion power of starships. Fine having gotten this far I'm damned if I'll stop now. I'd also like to point out that this is one way to limit players who want to use a gig boosted to .99c to kill off the dinosaurs on a target planet. It also gives a neat Firefly feel to your game. So let's go with the Limited Drive ancestor of the M-Drive (or loser cousin).

L-Drives are introduced at TL 8. Some cultures never make the leap of engineering that lead to the M-Drive or have a deficient reserve of lanthanum to build M-Drives (lanthanum ... it's not just for Jump Drives.)

L-Drives cost 1/2 that of a comparable M-Drive. Three quarters of the L-Drive are composed of fuel cells, energy cartridges or whatever to power it.

The L2-Drive is introduced at TL 9. It has greater efficiency similar to the Discretionary Burn engine for missiles.

Traveller ships mass roughly 10 tons per displacement tonne according to Megatraveller and various grognards. A 100 tonne Scout will weigh in at 1000 tons on a standard 1 gee field. Propelling it to 10 kps (100 millimeters in standard combat scale) will take (1,000,000 kg/50,000 =) 20 kgs of fuel or propellant or whatever (f/p/w). That's per second. One gee for one standard turn (1000 seconds) takes 20 tons of fuel. Wow.

That's for a solid fuel model which has the drawback of staying on after you light the fuse.

Discretionary burn models are more efficient at TL 9. They use their fuel up at 40% of that rate so the Scout uses 8 tons of f/p/w per 1 gee turn of movement. That's a little better. Our Scout's type A L-Drive has a measly .75 tons of fuel letting it boost for short bursts for docking and such. It'll have to dip into the 40 tons that would normally be for jump fuel to power more burns. Twenty tons of fuel will let it thrust at 1 gee for 2.5 turns (it goes 50 millimeters in the third turn.)

What does this mean for a campaign?

Change your nomenclature. If the L-Drive runs on easily depleted energy sources then that isn't a fusion plant you're lugging about to power jump. Then again some people were never happy with a free trader putting out enough energy to melt the polar ice caps to jump  a parsec. (There's no technology that doesn't have a destructive application in the hands of a player character.)

Scouts become more a courier than a than an explorer with their low capacity for propellant. Almost every ship is going to need drop tanks for extensive maneuvering or travel. Ships are going to fall into two classes: ftl ships that go from one jump limit to another and in system ships with more copious tankage that zip around. Jump drives become more important for those really long trips. It will be more fuel efficient. A Scout Courier might be fitted with external tankage dropping its jump range to 1 parsec and flit about on internal tankage. That would give it 12.5 boosts or a delta vee of 125 kps which would let it travel an AU in a month. Not bad by 21st century standards.

Missiles are suddenly terrors in their own right. No ship will have enough boost to dodge more than a couple of waves of the things. ECM, Anti-missile programs and sand suddenly become very important.

Those 'solid fuel' can also find use as a a strap on booster system to let ships take off from larger worlds or increase delta vee for the really long hauls. Any ship that can carry a landing vessel will to conserve its precious burns. Our Scout Courier might do most of its exploration by jumping in, firing off a bunch of RCVs and probes from its turret receiving readings for follow up missions and then jumping back out.

Planetary systems with several worlds settled will make use of space stations for fuel/propellant depots and other infra structure. Infra structure is good for giving a setting a lived in look and adventure hooks. A number of sessions can be run in the mostly abandoned or unexplored outer regions of star systems.

As a final note most of this obsession with space craft speeds and travel times is not necessary in running an actual game. Look what Ken Burnside has to say:

Worrying about the speed of your spaceship for an RPG is like focusing your WWII platoon RPG on the voyage over the Atlantic in a troop transport...

It's usually sufficient to say the characters are there and set them lose on the poor locals. All this detailing is mostly for referees. You'll have a better idea of what an outpost is like if the major world(s) is hours, or months away.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

More on Reactionless Drives

Ken Burnside said it best.
Friends Don't Let Friends Use Reactionless Drives In Their Universes.
(Quote via Rocket Cat at Atomic Rockets)

Reactionless drives are a great example of a cure that is worse than the disease. true they get you magical accelerations. They expedite stories by not having your Space Patrol Cruiser (tm) take 17 months to get to Mars. After al in 17 months the evil mastermind might have put his plans into effect (evil masterminds are very proactive.) 

The downside: with reactionless drives any space war becomes the final war for the participants. It has no limit to delta vee so even a ship's boat becomes a world wrecker moving at .999 c. Maybe races develop space travel, eventually discover reactionless drives and destroy each other with loads of jelly beans fired at relativistic velocities. After all when your sensor operate at light speed detecting incoming moving at .999 lightspeed doesn't give you a lot of time to file your will or otherwise react. 

Oh yes. Reactionless drives pretty much invalidate most of physics as it is currently understood. Apparently giving the finger to Newton pisses a lot of smart people off even if people keep on playing Traveller in all its avatars. For every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction. Not just a good idea, it's the law.

What can we do about reactionless drives since everyone likes them? I offered one setting: Ghost Drives. You want a magical drive fine. It is powered by evil disgruntled spirits that may get loose and ruin your day if you overuse their powers. Go read the pages. But that was scratching the tip of the iceberg.

The first and simplest way to fix reaction drives is to say they are not reactionless. Maybe they shoot out dark matter or neutrinos or some form of matter or energy that doesn't interact with normal matter at all. The drawbacks are that you need a honking big power plant to run a rocket with a delta vee in the hundred or thousands of KPS. The heart of a star gets that hot but not much else. That kind of super science can raise other questions like what society is like with essentially free energy. Also you don't want to be near a power plant like that when it blows up. Instead of a kinetic weapon your ship becomes a fusion bomb. Local governments love having those in civilian hands. 

Your rocket is now a torchship. You have a very high but magically infinite delta vee. You still need to carry propellant. Damned if I know what you'd carry fuel that is intangible to normal matter in. 

The other way a reactionless drive might work is by thrusting against planetary bodies with a sort of reversed tractor beam (a repellor). No propellant needed. You still need fuel or energy for it to work. Also if it is a beam you're training on a planet that is pushing your ship then it will weaken with distance (actually the square of the distance which is way worse). So you feisty little blockade runner that can pull 4 gees at ten diameters from Earth will only pull .04 gees at 100 diameters (jump limit). This fits games like  Traveller well where ships usually appear near a planet and fight or drop cargo. A trip will start with a period of high acceleration, a long coasting period and frantic deceleration at the destination planet.

Reactionless drives might work by manipulating a fluid filling hyperspace (or warp space or whatever you call it). By thrusting against this medium they move. The medium also exerts drag on a ship giving it a maximum velocity.YMMV.

Another cheat is to limit your power systems. Say there is a minimum size for fusion power plants (a biiiiiig minimum). Your dinky little free trader couldn't mount one even if you got all the government licenses. Instead you use fuel cells or solar panels with al their lovely side effects. You run out of power you stop accelerating. I leave it to the referee to figure out why people can't get fission reactors and find uranium in the vast universe. Because that will let you thrust for years.

As a final note some drives in the real world are effectively reactionless: solar and magnetic sails are being developed now but their accelerations are minuscule resulting in journeys of months at the very least. Perhaps what we really need to develop is a montage device. You turn it on, everybody works to a soundtrack and boom it is months later.