Monday, January 4, 2016

Classic Vehicles Part 1: Between a Raft and a Hard Place

One of the most iconic symbols of Traveller to me is the air/raft. Extra points if you have a group of ne'er do wells with hearts of gold and shotguns on it. What do we know of the air/raft?

An air/raft weighs about 4 tons and can be loaded with four tons of cargo or passengers. Kudos if you can find room for all that stuff on a standard 3m x 6m 'raft. Lift is provided by four modules for safety reasons. Given the four can lift eight tons you could lose one or two modules and stay aloft or at least set down safely if you aren't overloaded. The lifters are powerful when thrusting directly against a planetary mass allowing you to reach orbit. The top speed however is an unimpressive 100 kph.

Most air/rafts are designed to fit in a tight compartment with a minimum of fuss. there are no wings or aerodynamic structures one them. Without the lifters they have the handling characteristics of a brick. Lifters allow the craft to hover or even back up like helicopters but without the huge maintenance helicopters require and without the disturbing effects of jets or rotors on nearby structures or people.

A typical air/raft is open topped, roof not included. Going into orbit requires space suits and you'd get wet if it rains. Many people improvise a roof using tarps or buy a kit. An actual enclosed top makes accessing the interior in a typical bay difficult to say the least.

Air/rafts are TL 8, the prelude to the TL 9 M-Drives which make pace flight about as difficult as continental air flight in the real world. Lifters do not function more than a few hundred to a few thousand kilometers from a surface. More importantly they use tech that many worlds can support and seem to work by transforming electricity into whatever force the lifters use.

As with any technology there are downsides. The air/raft is scarcely faster than many military or off road ground vehicles. It is somewhat faster though and with a longer range operating between a week and a month between recharges depending on degree of use. It also is not tied to roads and requires little maintenance.

Since the air/raft uses electricity to power the lifters electrical storms or magnetic disturbances could interfere with its operation. Interfering with lifters is a bad thing because again you are piloting a floating brick. nevertheless in clear skies and routine usage there is almost no chance of mishap.

Thrust power has to be used for maneuver and to keep speed up. Drastic maneuvers might lead to speed falling off as would climbing. Diving does not reduce speed but causes acceleration unless the thrust force is used to compensate. An air raft also directs most of its lift force downward. To steep a dive might result in an air/raft going nose down and require some skill to right. While air/rafts provide a smooth ride and a stable firing platform they are not famed for precise control and some drift is unavoidable  when turning especially at maximum speed. For this reason they are ill suited for landings on mountains or flying through forests. Note that pilot skill can make up for these deficiencies.

As TL 8 vehicles air/rafts have GPS systems factory installed. These require a local satellite network or orbiting ship to lock onto. The system also allows an air/raft to calculate orbital rendezvous provided the ship or station has a comm beacon broadcasting. Inertial compasses and other navigation instruments are not original equipment and must be purchased though they are easily installed. The basic controls for an air/raft are fairly simple and the dashboard has plenty of space for custom mountings.

The Scout Service has made the air/raft their unofficial symbol. Scouts prize the craft for their ease or repair and operation and adaptability to virtually any world despite all the pictures of them riding eight legged dragon things. Many crews devote a fair amount of affection to their vehicles with unauthorized paint jobs and regular issue and unofficially acquired gear. Scout air/rafts often mount radiation, air testers, map boxes and mini-fridges.

The first air/rafts produced by a culture often have a similar control system to aircraft or rotorcraft i.e. a stick and pedals. Lifter vehicles have no mechanical parts however and could as easily be controlled via a touchscreen. Some cultures regard this as unsafe and will install some back up controls in case the screen has a glitch. The controls of air/rafts often vary widely though a trained pilot could figure them out and use them with little trouble (getting used to an unusual air/raft takes 2d6 hours for a trained pilot minus -1 per level of air/raft skill, -1 if Int is 9+ +6 if no air/raft skill.)

Adventure Hooks:
The crew get hired to explore a remote area via air/raft. magnetic ores in the area cause it to crash and they have to make an overland journey to the nearest outpost of civilization.

The characters purchase a used air/raft at a very low price but the former owners, who they were mistaken for, want it back for items hidden onboard.

A local merchant sells the crew a variant air/raft. The raft gives a +1 to rolls if the pilot's dexterity is 9 or higher and -2 to rolls if their dexterity is 6 or less.

On a high tech world the crew comes into possession of an air/raft with a very ornery AI. It was supposed to be a concept vehicle but the AI screwed up the sales pitch when it nearly landed on someone (it's much better at piloting now though.) Since then the air/raft sat  gathering dust in a warehouse. The AI will make itself known after the new owners have left its point of manufacture.

On a world where air/rafts and indeed gravitics are cutting edge local tech air/rafts are status symbols. Simply tooling around in one marks you as a person of wealth and influence with all the unwanted attention that provides.

The crew is involved in a minor accident with another ship's air/raft. their raft sustain moderate damage which the other crew is quite ready to get repaired in a service center owned by a friend of theirs. While the air/raft is being repaired several items are added to it in hard to reach spots. Look for the air/raft to get 'borrowed' on the next stop the crew makes and be returned with several holes cut in the body.