Monday, December 28, 2015

Being a Little Streamlined Is Like Being a Little Dead

In the beginning ships were streamlined or not and it was good. One landed. One stayed in orbit. Simple. Then High Guard came along and introduced partial streamlining. You couldn't land but you could dip gingerly into the clouds of a gas giant and suck in the free crappy fuel.

This has caused a lot of cognitive dissonance to overthinking grognards like myself. I'm not an engineer by any means (Masters in Education). I can have conversations with engineers without them laughing at me however. Dang it any ship that can hit even the upper layers of a gas giant ought to land on what is the near vacuum by comparison of a terrestrial world's atmosphere. You're already using antigrav or reactionless thrusters or whatever. Hell we recently landed part of a rocket successfully. It is rocket science but it isn't impossible.

I'm proposing this alternative: ships are either belly landers or tail landers. Belly landers equate to streamlined. The decks are parallel to thrust, they have wing structures or are lifting bodies to some degree and they have control surfaces or thrusters allowing a degree of mobility. They land on run ways (though the runways can be very short, lifter tech works wonders). Tail landers have their decks perpendicular to their thrust like a skyscraper. They have some control surfaces for wilderness refueling but are not maneuverable when refueling or landing. They need very little room for a landing.

The misnomer about untreamlined/tail landers not being able to land on planets with an atmosphere stems from the following. Follow me, first earthlike-sized planets generally have some kind of atmosphere. On such a planet a streamlined ship with wings glides gently to a landing (at least that's what you pay your pilot for.) When taking off that ship will take off horizontally using its structure for some of the lift it needs, flying to the edge of the atmosphere and then blasting with all jets. Even if the ship only pulls a gee and local gravity is one gee the construction lets it fly horizontally. Airciraft do the same thing with thrusts way less than a gee. The ship gets some safety space between it and the cold hard ground before it redlines the engines to blast off (it probably needs 1.5 gees for a few minutes which is not asking too much.)

Tail landers have a bit of a problem. First tail landing, keeping the nose up, feathering your thrust to touch down, and picking a landing spot you don't melt or crater is harder than landing like a plane. If you have a ship that pulls one gee and are landing on a world like Earth you're redlining it from the get go because normally you couldn't even get off the ground. But assuming you do land safely (which is what you pay your pilot for) your troubles are only starting you still have to take off!

Take offs are straight up. Modern rockets often pull four or more gees to do this. The reason being something called gravity drag. A reaction drive has finite fuel and has to hoards every meter of delta vee it has. Gravity eats some of this and the longer it takes to lift ship the more it eats. With a reactionless drive you can ignore gravity drag though it does still reduce your acceleration and since take offs and landings are the time when most accidents occur you want it to be over with before your referee starts rolling shit up.

Note that for tail landers that make 2 gees or more this doesn't apply nearly so much but most civilian ships like far traders only pull a gee. This is a bitch and most civilian captains don't have as well trained a crew as a Navy or Scout ship and don't want to chance scattering their cargo and limbs across a wide smoke filled area. Thus you have the golden rule of not landing the ship. It really  is only an issue part of the time which is like saying your life is only in danger part of the time.

Another note: a lot of old timey Traveller sources ignore local gravity in figuring times to make orbit and escape velocity. But if you wanted to keep things simple why did you read this far?

Streamlined Landings
Throw 10+ for safe landing. DMs +2 per level of Pilot, Dexterity 9+ +2.
Type A starport +6
Type B starport +4
Type C starport +2
Type D starport 0
Smooth Terrain +1
Maneuver 2 or more +2
Size 8+ World -2
Type 1- Atmosphere -2
Type 4+ Atmosphere +1
Size 8+ World -1

Partially Streamlined Landings
Throw 10+ for safe landing. DMs +1 per level of Pilot, Dexterity 10+ +2.
Type A starport +6
Type B starport +4
Type C starport +2
Type D starport 0
Smooth Terrain -1
Maneuver 2 or more +3
Size 8+ World -3
Navy pilot +1
Landing beacons +1/+2

Streamlined Take offs
Throw 10+ for safe lift off. DMs +2 per level of Pilot, Dexterity 9+ +2.
Type A/B starport +4
Type C starport +2
Type D starport 0Smooth Terrain +1
Maneuver 2 or more +2
Size 8+ World -2
Type 4+ Atmosphere +1

Partially Streamlined Take offs
Throw 10+ for take off. DMs +1 per level of Pilot, Dexterity 9+ +1.
Type A/B starport +3
Type C starport +1
Maneuver 2 or more +3
Size 5- World +1
Size 8+ World -3
Type 6+ Atmosphere -1
Navy pilot +1
Landing beacons +1/+2

You can break down the modifiers for star port types as follows:
Starport type Traffic Control Landing Beacons Runway/landing Pit
A +2 +2 +2
          B                         +1                             +1                         +2
          C                         +1                               0                         +1

Your better type D port might have a +1 for a patched up runway/pit or rudimentary traffic control. This can give a referee an idea for modifiers if characters want to get cute with takeoffs or landings i.e. not wait for clearance or use a runway that's under repairs. Starports in the midst of a war might not have landing beacons up etc.