Friday, September 21, 2018

The Economy of Tyranny Part 2

It's a fact that you go to war with the space fleet you have. As I said in the previous post building big ships is uneconomical. Smaller ships can cover more bases and provide more surface area for mounting weapon systems.

The Republic of Alpha and their neighbors, the Evil Empire of Beta are beginning hostilities. More than likely the first blow in any war will be crucial. Going off unprepared will be worse than doing nothing at all as it will waste ships and leave one open to attack.

The Empire started out as a trade-friendly province in the mod rim. They were a local cluster capital and they produced mid-range (200 meter) ships for the Old Empire Navy. Since the Old Empire fell and a plethora of new empires (note the capitalization conventions) Beta decided to follow suit. After all, the new golden age has to start somewhere.

They could build the biggest ships, but most of their worlds are agrarian with bucolic and stupid locals who do not build let alone comprehend the problems of building and crewing starships. Pilots, engineers and trained crew are crucial. The shipyards were optimized for such ships. It was their role in the galactic economy (RIP) and were less than efficient at building smaller ships. Furthermore, the firms producing larger ship systems were all tight with the Evil Parliament and you didn't want to mess with them.

The Alpha Polity was a frontier province. It had shipyard facilities to service the smaller navy vessels and with some corner cutting can now produce smaller (100 meter) ships. Being spread out with defense and research outposts they have a larger pool of crew than the Betans but can't produce such big beautiful ships. The square cube law says the Betans are doomed. What can reverse this? Evil empires are a necessary component of the dramatic tension constant! Without the DTC the universe just ... winds ... down ... Everyone stays home and shops for shoes or hats.

First, realize that people in power want to remain in power. Good guys and bad guys have that in common. Betans have a number of strategies to boost their firepower:

1) Alliance with a power that will enhance their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. In this case someone with smaller vessels. this might be hard due to the 'Evil' in their title but it's too late to change the letterheads!

2) A comprehensive education program for the bucolic population. That will take years and who wants to SF RPGs about comprehensive education reform? Monte Cook couldn't sell that idea.

3) Go with the ship numbers and crew numbers they have. Once the Alpha Polity is conquered we will use their shipyards and non-bucolic population to increase our forces!!!

Going with the plans for a brief successful campaign against the Alphans means maximizing the effectiveness of the Betan warships.

The first design proposal was to simply stack eight 100 meter hulls lengthwise. this would have very nearly the surface area to equal eight Alphan ships in surface area. that was shot down (pun intended) quickly. A ship that long and skinny would have insufficient area to mount enough thrusters aft. The length made maneuvering harder and the shape was comparatively fragile.

The next design proposal was to make most of the weapon systems internal. There were several ways to do this. The first was the spinal mount, building the ship around a horrifically huge weapon. This worked quite well if your target wasn't moving. Otherwise you had to steer the whole bloody ship.

Then next three proposals were simple: missiles, missiles, MISSILES!

While missile launchers took up space on a hull, they required ammunition which required volume. This was the main reason energy weapons were often favored over missiles. You could fire those till your power plant gave out. Larger ships could carry more missiles and afford to fire more missiles at longer ranges. More missiles co uld overwhelm defenses. Thus if you were lucky you could cripple or destroy several smaller ships.

This had application for commerce raiding. Instead of say, five  defending gunboats of 100 meters to tackle a raider, you'd need six or seven since several would be disabled by long range fire before coming to grips. These extra ships added ip fast when you were dispatching several task forces to find such a raider.

As the Alphans soon learned such larger ships could also lay eight times more mines, creating a hazard for civilian shipping that required military ships to clear.

The Evil Empire of Beta was also open to commerce raiding of course. However, the Alphan ships also had less fuel and supplies and thus a shorter range. The Evil Overlords gladly allowed several worlds of their frontier to be cut off. Remember the part about the high technology assets being concentrated on their capital?

In any case when the raiding an feinting was over a tad force of 20 Alphan ships faced an incursion of four Betan cruisers. Only the invaders were content to lob a whole bunch of missiles at long range, watch a few score telling blows and leave. They would repeat the process in a war of attrition. Appear, fire off long ranged missiles and leave.

While this went on the Betans and Alphans were desperately trying to build more ships to tip the balance of power. Ironically the fleet with the larger ships continued hit and run and raiding tactics. The fleet of smaller gunboats would try to maneuver their enemy into a telling battle because losing even one such cruiser would be a huge loss.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Economy of Tyranny

Galactic empires in media have undergone a steady progress of increasing the size of their starships. It's almost as if, in addition to the technological problems or space space travel, the ships have to look good on film as well. Regardless of this, huge government ships are here to stay. But, there are a few problems for would be dictators who want to build mobile moons.

Take the polities of Alpha and Beta, unoriginal but advanced worlds of equal engineering skill and resources. They both eye each other warily and then begin building ships for their defense a/o offense. Assume a flat cost per ton for military ships. Alpha decides on building a fleet of fast attack ships 100 meters long. Beta wants good photo ops for their glorious navy and builds their attack craft 200 meters long.

That's where the cube law steps in and starts to ruin things. A ship with double the dimensions of yours will be eight times the mass and eight times the cost. For the moment the Betans go with the larger ships.

Out of their available resources the Alphans build a navy of  72 ships. The Betans construct nine. Now a Beta cruiser is more than a match for an Alpha gunboat, correct? It depends. In terms of surface area the Betan ship has four times that of an Alphan ship and can mount four times the weapons.

Or can it? The Beta ship needs larger engines, it's pushing eight times the mass and those glowing panels movie ships use to move take up surface area too. On a Beta ship they will have to be eight times the surface area of an Alpha style engine. That means they are 2.8 times the length and width of the engine panels/thrusters/whatever of the Alpha ships.

So instead of four times the area, say a Betan ship has three times the area to mount weapons. That means for every eight weapons the Alpha fleet brings to the party, the Betans will bring three. Assuming there's an equal amount of tonnage.

What about flexibility? Say both empires have 18 worlds to protect a/o invade. The Betans will have to shuffle their nine ships around to prevent rebellion, deal with pirates, and show the flag to keep the Alphans honest. The Alphans could keep four ships at each of their worlds, maybe get away with two ships and have a mobile reserve or attack force to keep those ships from Beta honest,

In contrast, in the event of hostilities the Alphans could match the Betans in weapons using 24 ships of their fleet, and use the other 48 to attack and out gun the big ships. Moreover those 12 of the Betans worlds without protection are going to get awfully angry and might rebel or secede.

So it looks like the guys with the bigger ships are going to lose. What are some reasons for building those lovely, gargantuan ships we all love?

First of all, resources, technology, and missions might not be equal. The first example that springs to mind is the Trillion Credit Squadron  GDW loved to organize. Your humble author had the distinction of playing in the first tournament GDW held at GenCon. Never mind how long I lasted! In TCS you had a fixed number of pilots which put a cap on the number and size of ships you could build. personnel are a very valuable resource, you can't train them overnight, and they might have other plans (like joining the Resistance!) Don't forget some of those pilots or whoever are needed to provide civilian shipping.

Star Trek:TOS had dilithium crystals. they always seemed to be in short supply. Even t he Enterprise never had any spares on board! This being the case yes, you bet you'd build big ships and get the most of a scarce resource.

If your empire uses star gates of some sort then the 'resource' is how much mass a gate can move. Again you might want to consider that a limit on ship size.

A navy designed to protect against pirates and other naughty types might run towards small ships, even smaller than the average pirate in order to be more places and swarm. the odd corsair they find. A culture with little or no piracy might run towards large ships to do tasks the smaller locally built vessels couldn't. When war threatens you go ahead with the forces you have.

Say the Betan Republic was a stable, secure and friendly power for years. With little or no piracy, their 200 meter ships were more a deterrent than anything else (but very good at that). The Betans have a revolution and become the Evil Empire of Beta. The overlords begin a crash ship building program (no pun intended) but for now their evil schemes are limited by their monstrously huge ships. The Alphans seeing the handwriting on the hulls decide to declare war.

Scale efficiencies are another, important factor. In my simple and naive example, we were talking a fixed cost per unit of ship. What if say, larger engines were more efficient, cheaper per ton or more powerful? It might be cheaper to build bigger engines for bigger ships, it might be impossible to build them small. In Traveller you have the minimum size of 100 tons for an ftl capable ship. It could be a lot more than that in some settings.

What about endurance? People do not often consider the cargo capacity or a warship. A ship's cargo hold contains the things it needs t complete a mission, whether that is hauling freight to remaining on station for weeks and months. If the Alphans have eight times the number of Betan ships but they have only half the supplies, then you'd have less of your fleet on station while the rest is heading back to starport, getting resupplied or heading back to station. Or we have to pay extra for supply ships that can be attacked and will require defense ships.

For our example, I've kept weapons simple and ignored defense. In reality a bigger ship will probably want to mount a few bigger guns that smaller ships couldn't spare the space for. To continue our example, the Betan ships would have armor twice as thick as the Alphans. A Betan ship could defeat several enemy ships at once meaning attack forces would need to be built around several Alphan ships and cutting down on the flexibility of the Alpha fleet. A single Betan commerce raider that got past the defenses would raise a huge ruckus and draw many ships from their missions to track down and eliminate it. Moreover some weapons might be more dependent on volume than the size of their launcher. A really big laser could be mounted in the hull with a mirror in a comparatively small turret to direct it. Missile launchers need cargo for their ammunition and of course the spinal weapons beloved of Classic Traveller and anime take up a huge amount of internal space.

As a final note: larger ships have more room for force multipliers. Classic Traveller excelled at this with the concept of battle riders. Basically ships carry smaller ships, fighters, missile buses and whatever to increase their firepower. If instead of building eight 200 meter cruisers the Betan build four and each of them carry four 100 meter ships well hey! -You have the same surface area as the Alpha fleet for mounting weapons and you have several ships with larger weapons and thicker armor to base your task forces around.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Come for the Sargasso, Stay for the Ghosts

There are many reasons for ghost ships. In a big Galaxy you will have unexplainable and unsettling coincidences just by law of averages. Add to this the fact that most merchant crews are the minimum number that can safely or legally operate a ship to save on salaries and life support, the vagaries of FTL and gravity technology on some people and voila you have ghosts or at least the paranormal.

Beyond this, the Universe is really big and under no obligation to preserve our sanity. Ask an FTL navigator if you wish. In the Sandoval stories non-biological entities are an established fact. They are composed of exotic matter, drain heat or electrical energy for food and can get a decent idea of what scares you and use it to drive you away. Doubtless as we move further into the Dark we will encounter things that make NBEs seem like 'Hello Kitty'.

Then you have some folks who just like a good ghost story and will maintain it no matter how much evidence there is t the contrary or at least lack of proof. They will truthfully declare that people have reported such things for millennia. In fact, odds are the Cro-magnon sat in front of scary paintings on dark nights and thrilled to them.

Not to mention some people out and out lie for various reasons.

Ships cost tens of millions of dollars and are a steady source of income. A bank watches credit signs and won't pay attention to weird reports. At worst they'll slap a new coat of paint on a haunted hulk and put it back on the market. Similarly, there are many good reasons for a crew not to abandon ship ("I don't care if the bulkheads are bleeding and bugs are crawling out of the USB ports! Any rescue is weeks away!") Bugs crawling out the USB port is a hardware problem should you seek tech support.

Nevertheless some crew abandon ship (law of averages again) or are killed outright. Again a ship is worth tens of millions of credits. So the natural impulse to use a 'cursed' ship for target practice is often ignored. Even if no crew wants to set foot on its deck a ship has value, it's a ta write off for one thing. It is a source of salvage for another. Salvage crews are often mobile and will have no idea of a ship's bad rep.

Ghost ships are kept handy but not too handy. They get relegated to -you guessed it- a Sargasso. Where you have a Sargasso, you will have ghost ships. That's been the pattern through out settled space and into the fringes.

Some enterprising Sargasso dwellers even run tours of infamous ships to ground pounders on a space holiday. The way money disappears from your pockets on these tours could be considered supernatural by some.

Ghost ships in the wild are another case entirely. Ships that move around but do not answer hails, are way colder than they should be, or have other anomalous readings do happen. Contrary to popular movies free traders do not usually board such ships in search of adventure -or- loot. It may be a pirate trick. It may be a ship with dangerous or even deadly conditions onboard. It might be a fricking haunted ship!

A remastered ghost ship for your SF game: the Icon Messier*

The Icon Messier was a naval auxiliary ship based in a well settled system. Substantial assets on various moons and planets needed defending and the system navy had a number of remote bases and defense systems the Messier was assigned to resupply. On her maiden voyage the Messier had to resupply a base in the outer system and faced a cruise of a few weeks. The first day out some crew had an uneasy feeling. Around third watch this foreboding turned to anxiety in some. By midnight a riot broke out with crew assaulting each other. The ship's officers attempted to restore order with gas and tranq rounds until a crewman fell through a hatch and broke his neck. The madness stopped then.

The Messier crew was calm for the next few days until a deckhand reported seeing a faintly glowing humanoid figure in the main hold. The figure walked behind a large crate and vanished. The antihijack program recorded a glowing orb that might be a video malfunction or dust mote. That night the madness repeated. The crew again rioted. This lasted until another crewman was killed by the mob. The captain ordered both bodies ejected into space, fearing the madness was caused by a pathogen. Oddly crew thought they saw the bodies following several times and the captain ordered the portholes sealed.

There was one more eruption of madness despite the crew being confined to quarters off duty. It started with the steward killing himself in the galley. By the time the ship reached its destination the entire crew except for the bosun debarked and refused to return despite threats of jail and violence. The base commander made the bosun acting captain and found some drifters and day workers to crew the Icon Messier (with fat bonuses). The ship headed out again for another remote base.

The new skipper committed suicide the second day out. The pattern of madness repeated itself three times on the voyage and the crew abandoned ship as soon as they could trust the SAR from the base to pick them up in their spacesuits. The Icon Messier was towed into orbit. At this point no crew would look at the ship, so it remained in orbit. A few weeks later sensors recorded a burst of thermal activity onboard indicating a fire. An SAR ship was dispatched to control the fire. As a precaution the search and rescue performed a hail to make sure the ship was indeed abandoned. The ship's radio transmitted a horrific scream that might be a malfunctioning auto distress call. The SAR ship was closing when several explosions occurred on the ship.

The SAR captain aborted the mission. The Icon Messier's burnt hulk was used for target practice on the next training mission. Stories persist that several cargo containers were thrown free of the explosion somehow and ended up drifting in space and that several parts or items were salvaged from the ship. Vessels that used or merely transported them had 'interesting' stories to tell. The hard science explanation for the madness was hysteria compounded by subsonic vibrations or electrical fields caused by malfunctioning machinery.

But where's the fun in that?

*Okay Icon Messier is stolen based on the story of the Ivan Vassili. The 'true' story is unfortunately not supported by any independent news sources or records of the time. Still a good story and more believable than Flat Earth theories.

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Branes Behind Deep Space Exploration

How prevalent are hyperspace membranes? In my example I said they were created by the fusion reactions of stars. That means the smallest body that could generate one would be a brown dwarf (abut 12-13 Jupiter masses) that can fuse deuterium. In other words there could be rogue planets in deep space that are nearly unreachable using FTL. These planets might hold all manner of interesting people, places or things, just looking to keep a low profile.

What about white dwarfs, neutron stars and blackholes? Perhaps the membranes their reactions created could persist for millions of years after they died out. In the case of these massive objects the membranes might break the normal convention of brane sizes and be perilously close to the hyper mass objects. They might be in a state of flux as they slowly decay with no energy being put into them or pulsate, changing in size over days or hours, in which case a badly timed jump could put your ship in great danger.

As for multiple star systems, I'm inclined to say they generate one set of branes in the case of close binaries and separate branes if they are several hundred AUs away. I already made things complicated enough. On the charts I did so far it is possible to have a star's branes completely inside the branes or a single brane of a nearby larger star. In this case one hemisphere of the smaller star's brane will be active and ready to accept or emit starships. This makes things much easier for shady types going in.

Planets could have an effect on branes, I said gravity contracts them, remember? A large planet orbiting close to a brane could pull it one way or another, varying the radius by an AU or more. This too could mean timing jump correctly would shave a a few days off your trip.

Finally if the branes are with you you could use them to cut time off an insystem trip. A good navigator could jump from one jump point in a system to another in the same system. Again this makes it easier for naughty crews to stay ahead of the law. At the very least a ship going from System A to System B could arrive in System B, then jump ASAP to System B's jump point for System C and change its transponder to calm it arrived from System C. This is handy if System B has tariffs on System A or favored trade status with System C, or you just want to throw the bank off for a few months.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

There is No Stealth in Space, But There is Surprise!

By and large there is no stealth in space. You can take extreme steps and dodge the many sensors and AIs that labor to catalogue anything bigger than a couple of molecules in an orbit. But it never works for long. Even Borsten's Leap with a substandard port facility would usually get hours of warning about any ship thrusting for it.

They could track the numerous Belter ships, record their engine emissions and then after a mining trip compare those engine emissions to the previous ones to determine how much more mass they had in a hold for tax purposes. Not that they found a way to tax the Belters. Belters had nukes and the port officials had zilch beyond their own sphere of influence. The last expedition against the belters was a subject of tavern jokes.

A major problem was smuggling, and it was done in a very overt fashion. Since the Leap was situated ideally between two pockets of commerce ships were already passing through rather than taking the 'long' way around. It was the goal of the Borstenim to stop everyone of those ships and wring a few credits from them. It was the goal of the merchant captains to avoid this process if they could.

Usually a ship would break out of hyper with zero velocity relative to Borsten, get vital news updates, refuel and take a smoke or the equivalent. There was some hunting for cargo because you were usually stopped and fined for some nonsense safety inspection. The victimless crime sector of commerce got to work on the crew and after a few days you left, bellies full, having had a smoke or whatever and little lighter in the wallet.

The lighter wallets of crew and officers did not bother the captains that much. It was the delays. When the banks had paper on your ride, time was money. An ordinary trader held loans amounting to 11,000 credits per day. So even one day's delay was a sizable loss amounting to several senior crew members' monthly salaries. Add to that fines, fees and the intangible opportunities lost because a captain didn't act in time or missed a deadline with a hit shipment. The Borstenim did not finance ships of their own, and they just didn't get it.

Captains could get external drop tanks and merely jump in and then jump immediately after getting their bearings and news updates. The Borstenim hated this and put their patrol cruiser to work stopping ships and running the inspection scam on them.

The captains found a new trick. Tanks strapped on they boosted for their jump point. No flip over, no deceleration. They hit the jump point at high speed. Once in the Borstein system they kept accelerating, falling through the gravity well of the planet beyond the ability of the patrols to intercept.

They did need their news downloads: gossip about all the little wars going on, what stocks were up to, what to buy low and sell high, and where. The Borstenim were adamant about refusing info dumps to these ships practicing the equivalent of the ancient practice of cutting across a gas station to avoid a corner traffic light.

That fact there was no stealth in space did little to console Brockhurst B. Borsten the Third, planetary governor, proprietor, and de facto owner of most of the commerce on Borsten's Leap. He was a prime example of someone who let their money work for themselves. It was widely accepted that was a lucky thing for him since he couldn't make a milli-cred on his own. All B3 knew was he had a ship too and it was a big one and it should do something about this.

B3 stormed and fumed to the captain of his patrol cruiser. The patrol captain patiently explained at length that his ship only had finite propellant reserves and finite acceleration. Those trader monkeys had done the math and they couldn't be caught before blipping to the tachyon spawning ground.

B3 blustered and ordered the patrol to do everything they could.

Fire warning shots? Warning shots were pretty stupid in space (this was cleaned up from what the patrol captain called it). You didn't see a laser unless it in fact hit you in a vacuum. That wasn't much of a warning. Missiles would either hit a ship or miss it and any navigator could tell the difference.

Fire real shots? Actually firing on ships could be considered an act of war, not just by their planets of origin but ... the Bank. You didn't declare war on the Bank. Besides traders would take the long way around the Leap at that point.

Sow mines so they'd have to slow down? Then no one would pass through for reals. The place would become a sargasso in a year.

The Borstenim parliament had a brief respite when B3 went on a fact finding exchange to Inerze and Zaonia. They even held out hope he'd piss off the feudal and honor obsessed Tech Knights of Zao and get bumped off. In the meantime the Borstenim trusted in B3's short attention span and simply began charging for info dumps to ships passing through. The charges included a hefty fee for presenting a hazard to navigation, breaking the speed limit and refusal to accept a safety inspection.

Most captains paid it electronically and for a while that was it. Still cheaper than stopping off. Let their crews take long showers and bitch.

Then a new faction appeared. People began sending free info dumps to passing ships. The messengers were the strangest of life forms, the altruistic. They didn't care about money. They liked messing with the government or were pro trader or they hated B3. Didn't matter. The point was ships were still whizzing by and Borsten's Leap wasn't able to charge them!

Info dumps were sent by social media or mail or piggy backed on fund transfers. Even B3 wouldn't screw with those. He used those! This resulted in the same suggestions as before (remember the short attention span?)

Then he threatened to stop payment on all funds to the patrol. The patrol captain was upset by that because truly burning a world down to the rock was easier than getting the uber-rich to cough it up after stiffing you. It was time to think out of the cruiser. The captain proposed a very simple plan because there was no time to make up a complex one. He did establish that he didn't get his rank due to the pleasing symmetry of his features. Strictly off the record he presented his plan and the Borstenim acted on it.

Ships passing through still got all manner of social media, electronic mail and fund transfers with info dumps. Only now some of the dumps were from the Borsten government hired hackers. The viruses they contained were mostly harmless. Their effect on the ship's computers were minimal. They could be contained and wiped out without a second thought. But you gave everything a second thought when you were about to enter hyperspace.

Cue soundless braking of a number of merchant ships. Cue several patrol ships and shuttles soundlessly revving their engines. All you could hear were the ka-chings as ships were hailed, boarded and inspected. They all failed. Their brain boxes were tainted by a virus! Fortunately the Borstenim had antivirus software for a nominal charge. After you paid the hefty fcost of a safety inspection. In fact the info dumps had extensive accurate and up to the minute updates of flagged messages with malware included in their official info dumps.

Rumor was, for an increased cost you could purchase antivirus software that would be good against all present and future viruses for a year. They were, of course, completely true.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Weaponizing Geometry Part 2

Kyle Shuant pointed out he had already established what it took me some bathing and an online geometry number cruncher to figure out: it sucks to practice pirating anywhere near a main world.

In SF terms it is the equivalent of the daylight bank robbery in a western. In the movies you see the desperadoes rob the bank and get away where as in real life they would probably be shot to pieces the moment they went out the door. Yes, I know that historically most Western towns didn't allow open carrying of firearms but that didn't mean people couldn't get to them quickly and send the desperadoes to walk the streets of Glory.

I digress. There are spots for piracy of course. Star systems are not a main world plus an encounter table. There are belters seeking their fortunes, more marginal worlds that have inhabitants for various reasons, defense installations and administrative facilities (prisons!) They all need to be supplied. For that matter ever since CT we knew there were gas giants!

If you know this blog at all you know I have a love hate relationship with gas giants and wilderness refueling. I think one trip through a high gravity, radiation spewing cyclone that makes Hurricane Katrina look like a bug exhaling would be enough for any sane individual to STFU and pay the 100-500 cr. a ton for fuel at a nice starport (which usually has amenities like shopping and restaurants and not frying your ship with lightning strikes)!

then this whole thing about covering ships from pirate attacks came up so let's run some numbers. Say we start with a gas giant comparable to Saturn. That's 75,000 miles in diameter. To put it another way, that's 7-8 range bands in ship combat. So jump radius is 7,500,000 kilometers. That's750 range bands. It will take a ship making 6 gees 22 combat turns to get clear to jump. That's six hours. The surface of the sphere defining the jump limit has an area of 235 trillion square kilometers. Going with a 6 gee missile boat fro my previous post you'd need about sixty such response craft to cover all quadrants. Oh and gas giants are usually far enough away from their star for the primary's cup shadow not to matter so you pretty much have to cover all the quadrants.

If we drop the orbits of the task forces to half the jump limit things get better. We'd need a quarter the number of ships or about fifteen and the task forces would need 14 turns to get to either the jump limit or close orbit in case some naughty pirates are lurking in the depths or a ship needs a some rescue. 

Fourteen turns is plenty of time to board,  loot, and wave 'bye to a merchant. In addition most planets will not have the resources or the need to stick most of their Patrol around a gas giant. Smart pirates will lurk around a gas giant look for a quick intercept and leave while the Patrol tries to close and curse in vain.

How does the {patrol deal with this sort of problem. First they realize that destroying or capturing a pirate ship is not necessary. What you want is to convince them to go elsewhere. There are several ways to do this. 

Convoys: Group your merchant chips in large formations and provide an escort. This is a much more effective use of forces. The problem is pirates can group their ships as well. All they need to do is cause one merchant to drop out of formation, then the Patrol craft have to decide whether to split their forces to guard the crippled vessel or push on and let it fend for itself.

Q-ships: When is a merchant ship not a merchant ship? When it's a Patrol vessel with a bunch of hidden turrets and a hold full of fighters. Pirates practice this sort of thing all the time, sauce for the goose and all that.

These tactics are also very effective around the main world.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Weaponizing Geometry

If you played the earliest iterations of Traveller you soon realized there wasn't a lot different between a warship and a commercial vessel, design wise. Okay sure, the warship didn't need to justify its existence and could use space for drives and weapon turrets a civilian ship would use for cargo.

But what if some naughty people, say I dunno, pirates get hold of a 600 ton merchant. They stick as many turrets as they can onto the vessel and then run up against a 400 ton Patrol cruiser (go Patrol!) The Patrol ship has but four turrets. Surely the brave Patrol men are doomed!


The Patrol vessel has state of the art software, for targeting and to avoid being targeted. They can use their lasers to explode the corsairs' missiles. Indeed in short order the Pirates must strike their colors, jettison the turrets and surrender. Software makes the difference, and the military guards its 'ware jealously.

But military ships also need to get to the fight. If a pirate loots a fat merchant ship and jumps before the Patrol can close in that Patrol ship is a waste of credits. Patrol strategists minimize intercept times using hellacious engines and/or having enough patrols running to cover a large area experiencing traffic. Consider a TL 10 planet Prudence (Size 5 or average), with good industry, lots of loot, and a small population, so no huge armies to oppose a raider.

Prudence's government has placed her defense in a small but efficient Navy. Its jump limit is 800,000 kilometers. We all know the jump limit is 100 diameters. Jumping within this limit means roll for misjumsp, roll 1d6 for direction and 1d6*1d6 for distance. Jump within ten diameters and roll 2d6 six times for a new character.

The Patrol has problems. A sphere 800,000 kilometers in radius has 8 trillion square kilometers of area. If a ship can see and hit things out to 2 light seconds, 600,000 km then you would need seven or eight task forces/space fortresses/cyborg space whales etc to cover a planet from all directions. A ship's lasers cover 1.13 trillion square kilometers figuring a circle with a radius of 600,000 km. Assume the star's jump shadow prevents jumps from one quadrant and that is still 6 trillion square kilometers or six task forces. if you go with 400,000 km (maximum acceleration of missiles in MgT 10g4)  it's 10-11 task forces for such a sphere. If you go with 50,000 km (for lasers and energy weapons) then you need about 750 defense points. Yikes.

Mind you, that's if you want to control the jump boundary and be able to burn anything that jumps in. A navy that says drop dead to ships coming in from the jump boundary and concentrates on defending the world has an easy time of it. Four task forces can form a tetrahedron around a planet at a distance of 50,000 kilometers from each other and 30,000 kilometers from the surface. This lets one group engage incoming forces while supported by all the other groups and ground installations.

If you have enough forces to take an icosahedron (d20!) you're really talking coverage. Twenty task forces fifty thousand kilometers apart Eans each force is supported by the firepower of five task forces and you're still only 47,000 kilometers from the planetary surface batteries.

As for ships jumping in towards Prudence, if general approach vectors are established then those volumes will have most of the available ships on patrol and search and rescue ships assigned. Appearing outside those areas could indicate 1) your  ship has had a misjump and may require aid 2) you are trying to sneak about unseen 3) your navigator is an idiot. Such ships will be hailed, forces will be placed on alert, interceptors will be launched in more volatile systems, and S&R ships rerouted.

Running an intercept pattern beyond far orbit requires more ships. Covering a quadrant completely requires about 250 ships or mines or whatever (note that mines are pretty poor at performing search and rescue, they are more for drumming up business.) You don't need to just burn everything at once (though that sort of defense overkill is in use around throne worlds and such). Figure a pirate needs at least two hours to cripple (or intimidate), board, and loot a merchant. You need enough fast ships to perform an intercept, fly within weapon range, and start blasting.

If you keep your forces around your planet then traveling 750,000 kilometers to the jump boundary will take about two hours as well or seven combat rounds. How fast can your guys loot a merchant?

Merchants for their part can expect local forces to crash the party in 7 or so combat rounds. Delaying tactics might be worthwhile. For example shipping gold or other valuable minerals in ingots weighing several hundred kilos, putting misleading labels on containers (or hiding the labels inside the crates), and turning up the gravity and locking the controls could keep unwanted visitors from making off with your whole cargo.

Most crews will not fight for freight, however, hazard pay for repelling pirates based on the value of the cargo retained does work wonders.

Missiles can move 390,000 km in two hours or so. A 6 gee ship can move 780,000 km assuming it drives at zero relative speed to the larceny. That means a 6 gee ship within 1,170,000 km is in the game. That means such a ship- can cover 4.3 trillion square kilometers. A fast reaction force could get away with two task forces on opposite side of the main world.

It's not as simple as that though. What makes up a task force? Are they a credible threat? How many incidents can the Patrol respond to at once? How fast are the pirates? How much of a fight will the merchants put up? Start your world building.

Or roll 2d6 for the number of combat rounds till the Patrol shows up. Obviously the patrol will vary the positions or their task forces, send ships put in odd directions and such hoping to catch someone being naughty. Having information on how these positions vary will be of great interest in certain quarters.

If there are few ships faking an emergency to get a Patrol ship to respond is an option. faking a distress call can result in your ship being seized, loss of master's paper and jail tie for this reason. Thus most ships working as a decoy create a real emergency. Having a pirate aboard your ship to hijack it or sabotage it's engines is one thing. Having some saboteur trash your life support system, kill crew and passengers or start a fire is far harder to deal with. This sort of mission is only done by the most skilled operators or what the pirate chiefs refer to as throw aways.

If the CT rules linking drive types to tech level are used that will determine the size of the ships used in anti-piracy and S&R. In the case of Prudence the local TL 10 shipworms can produce type H drives, limiting the size of 6 gee response ships to 200 tons. S&R ships might be larger and slower, because they need room for S&R gear and transporting evacuees. A backwater planet might have to make do with ship's boats (6 gee acceleration, power for one energy weapon, and room for a Model 2 or 3 computer if you don't want lasers).

Appearing on the wrong approach or well inside the jump limit, if that is possible, can result in being intercepted and boarded, fines, and being forced to pay for the fuel and other expenses of interceptors. Everyone is scared of epic misjumps leaving them stranded but some of the smaller ones can leave you broke or your ship impounded.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Brane and Brane and Again Brane! What Is Brane?!

So here's my crack pot "theory" of FTL travel in a nutshell. Any relationship to current physics is purely coincidental. If you see one let me know! I dig that stuff.

Stars generate membranes in a parallel space (hyperspace or jump space). The branes are generated by nuclear reactions or similar energetic processes. The number of branes generated his related to the amount of energy generated. Small dim stars have one brane, a star like Sol has three.

Gravitational collapse can maintain membranes for a while. Pulsars, black holes, and white dwarfs may have membranes depending on how recently they exploded/collapsed. Brown dwarfs may have branes but I made this set up complicated enough.

Anyway, branes have levels of energy designating where they form around their stars. Up to four branes is stable. they form at the same distances. Other stars, objects in the system, and solar variance may distort the branes but aside from plot devices, these are minor.

M-Drives tap into the energy that maintains the branes -to a point. They work by attracting or repelling the system's star.Of course, unless you have a huge ship, the ship does the moving and not the star. They have a top speed because at some point the inefficiencies of any engine overcome the energy you put into it and merely generate waste heat.

FTL travel requires very little energy. In fact the normal energy use for a power plant is .01Ms
(Ms= Mass of the ship). thrusting in a system does require energy. .1 Ms for an week's thrust at one gee. Drives have a top speed based on their maneuver rating

M-1 1 gee 48 hr/AU (900 KPS)
M-2 1 gee 24 hr/AU (1800 KPS)
M-3 1 gee 16 hr/AU (2700 KPS)
M-4 1 gee 12 hr/AU (3600 KPS)
M-5 1 gee 10 hr/AU (4500 KPS)
M-5 1 gee   8 hr/AU (5400 KPS)

Note that this changes almostt nothing in combat. Few fights will last anywhere near long enough for a ship to reach its top speed or be started near top speed as this generally takes 24 hours at its full thrust.

Also note a 6 gee boost for 24 hours consumes 6 days of fuel. Also note you have to slow down, requiring an equal amount of propellant. No doubt players of Triplanetary are grinning right now.

The red ring corresponds to an M-type star system, K stars go out to the orange ring, G stars use the yellow ring and F or brighter the turquoise ring. There can be planets beyond the rings but in general it's a guide to the inner system. Each ring corresponds to .5 AUs out so the scale isn't practical for, say, the Trappist system though you could fudge it by reading days as hours.

Diagram above shows a star system with all four branes. A ship with a maneuver-1 drive can cross from one box to an adjacent one in twenty four hours. It's vaguely related to node maps. A jump point will cover a box or several depending on how close and bright the stars are. It got a lot harder to detect a ship jumping into a system. However, ships now take a while to get somewhere so you will spot them eventually.

For the people worried about weapons of mass destruction, assuming a g gee drive mounted on a greatly altered Scout/Courier and assuming the actual mass is about 500 tons (somewhere between aircraft density and metal hulled water vessels) and it actually hits a planet, we have a 1.7 gigaton boom! Hardly worth it to lose an able vessel.

The ship will be moving at 5400 KPS. That is (5400*1000/10.000) 540 range bands in combat scale. Now that is impressive, but again, missiles in CE will move 40 bands. If an incoming projectile is detected 2 light seconds out that gives the defenders a chance to fire missiles, one round. Not fractions of a second. And a 50 kilo missile would impact the incoming Scout with the force of .17 kilotons. that's one missile. that should divert (if not destroy) our would be dino-cidal maniacs.

Not every world will have such defenses. They will have little reason to waste a Scout ship on them. Conventional weapons will work well enough and not make every fleet in the vicinity come gunning for you.

In the event of an actual war well that is a lot of trouble to go through when regular nukes are way simpler to employ.

It now takes a while to crawl through star systems. Branes and jump points may be a ways off from the main world. There will be fueling stops, spaceports and infrastructure and encounters of every sort. Now instead of flying to 100 diameters from the mainworld you need to get to the jump point you want. There ie some wiggle room here. Ships can fly into a system, haggle by comm over freight and have a cargo or freight lined up by the time they land.

As for transition between stars ... instant transitions pose  questions. Communication in an interstellar empire now becomes faster than travel. Ships have to travel between the jump points. A relay system of ships however, could just keep 'porting between two systems, beaming important messages to a ship doing likewise at another jump point will take only hours or minutes. Instead of the Age of Sail, communications move into the Age of Steam. Ships plod along but telegraph systems can notify far-flung posts and issue orders much more quickly. Naughty characters have to step lightly. They no longer can outrun their reputations. A system hooked up with comms will know everything about them, warrants, like on social media etc.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Hex Signs and Wyrmholes: Technical Difficulties

I'm having some technical ical difficulties. That is I'm making unwise decisions. Curse you Dunning-Kruger my old foe.

I'm trying to use my subsector system to focus upon individual star systems or just a few. I thought I could even map them out in a new and improved way.

Nope. Not yet anyway. The major problem I have is when you blow up a few hexes with their stars and branes you get something like this.

You almost have to BE a navigator to make sense of this mess! I'm sure it is laughingly simple compared to real maps but we're talking about a roleplaying game aid here, not giving people homework.
How to differentiate between systems (which have planets and all manner of crap flying around them)? How exactly to show the entry/exit points on the branes?

Well first I got rid of the plus sign style markers. I went with lines radiating along the points of the hexagons. Duh.

The differentiating between systems problem remains and I am afraid my answer involves a rendering program. I'm not sure how to clean up a representation for a 2d image but here's what I got.

What you have here are five star systems, a type G star, three K's and an M.

Branes create two kinds of jump exits, fine and fuzzy points. Fine points are on the order of a few light seconds across. they are in practice spheres. I represented them with thin black lines. There are are two leading from the M star to the adjacent K stars next to it.

Fuzzy points are way bigger, light minute or light hours across (especially in K or G type systems). I represent them with circles at right angles to the systems they open onto, connected by light gray panels between the systems.

Those are what we want. Too big for anything but a well funded navy to patrol constantly and even then you might get naughty people slipping through. But wait there's more, now you can rep0resent objects in each system thought really, aside from planets at this site you might want to reserve such details for a single system map (with jump points and such).

So this is probably more info than most referees will want, but what he hell. I have a 3d rendering program. Some people like doing this sort of thing and it looks sort of 3D!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Hex Signs and Wyrmholes Part 3

So, how do we set up a hyper Venn diagram map?

One way is to draw up a grid. I suggest we honor tradition with eight by ten measurement and 80 hexes or squares. I used that in square or hex format and went with a 1 in six chance of a star in each square or hex. This gives us about 10-15 worlds which should be plenty for a game. If you need 40 or so worlds then roll up three or four such subsectors.

A tip for rendering artists out there: create your grid and make it a group. That way when you  no longer need it you can delete it or hide it. I think W.I.N.G.S. works the same way. The stars shown have the minimum size 'brane for the dimmest stars. 
Once you have a grid and your stars positioned you start placing their membranes (or just 'branes). A star has a number of branes according to a die roll or assignment 1-3 one brane, 4-5 two, 6 three or four. generally speaking there is no more than one star with four or more branes in a subsector. Anymore would really scramble the branes of the other stars cutting them off from easy travel or 'pushing' them into their own subsectors (more on that in the next post).

A star with one brane is low mass and likely cool, and dim (M and some K stars). Stars with two branes run the gamut from midsize K to smaller G. A three membrane star is Sol class or larger. Four branes and we're talking Procyon and Sirius or larger.

Subsector flipped on its side -because it looks better! More accurately, rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise.
Membranes are generated by thermonuclear reactions of the stars and thrown out by forces that are analogous to light pressure. They are held in place by the star's gravity. In the case of a star no longer undergoing fusion, some might persist for a hundred million years or more.

Stars are much closer (nearly touching) in hyperspace. Nearby stars can pull on each other's branes distorting them or making them collapse. Where branes overlap, a ship with ftl can transition from one star to another.

Small, dim stars that are close to large bright stars may lie entirely within that star's branes. These are known as captive stars, and we will discuss them further in the next post (yeah, I'm milking this for -reasons.) Other stars may barely touch branes. On a hyperspace map the size of the overlap indicates how large a volume you can appear in. In the case of branes barely touching or kissing, the area will be very small perhaps a light second in radius or less.

How big are the branes? How big do you want them? This is double-talk (though hopefully entertaining and insightful double-talk). Pick radii to suit yourself. I went with about half a hexagon's width as radius separating each brane.

The star cluster above has a number of K stars that not only are prone to having planets with day and night and breathable atmospheres. Their medium sized branes let you fly from one end of the cluster to the other. The larger gold colored F-star is not positioned to take advantage of its larger branes.

Next we'll see how gravity affects this (working title 'Stupidity got us orbiting this neutron star, it ought to get us out of it!")

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Ship's Computer

I was on the Thera en route to the Asteroid Belt. The part where the Belters didn't shoot at Earthmen. Publicly I was there to examine the effects of space travel on my metabolism. People had changed in a few hundred years due to war, medicine, and their own tweaking. I was special.

Privately, I worried the Big Brain. It decided to send me on a tour of the Solar System or at least the parts we could reach. Professor Ormsby spent most of the trip in our cabin fuming at being away from his lab and business. He was poor company when he was in a good mood and I avoided him and hung out with the crew. I was amazed a ship could be run with so little automation and processing power. I guess I never heard of the Apollo Program. Despite the nano plague the Space Fleet and its auxiliaries ran a pretty smart outfit.

The Space Fleet had seen some criticism for its employment of computers lately. The top brass were quick to defend Fleet policy.

To whit:

Even with current tube technology ships can't afford the space and mass to include a state of the art  analytical engine and indeed some ships can't afford anything but the most rudimentary devices. Fleet computers filled in the gaps economically and efficiently and were a credit to their uniforms.

Yes most computers were female personnel. The reason for this was the limited resources a ship possessed. Air, water, and food all takes up weight and space in a hull. Women tend to be smaller than men and use less resources. Brain activity contrary to popular belief uses a lot of calories and again female personnel use up less resources than men.

This is doubly important because on most Fleet ships crew members have more than one job when the vessel is underway. Computers have one full time job but no fixed hours, sometimes working round the clock to perform a particularly tricky bit of navigation. A one jobber should take as little resources as possible.

Needless to say a competent computer was a valued member of any ship's crew regardless of gender or background.

The Thera's computer was Dr. Deborah Wu from Luna. So you could say the ship's computer wore heels, though only for formal occasions. She was one of the youngest computers in the Fleet and one of the best. In fact the captain had already repelled several attempts to win her away.

Dr. Wu was very interested in archaic methods of computation. Of course my boss, the Big Brain wasn't letting me tell anyone about that. No need to start people on building compact electronics and more AIs. I was as vague as I could be and played up the stupid guy from the past card as much as possible. Then I hit on getting her to talk about her job and duties.

This went on for quite a while, since we were on what amounted to a milk run and the navigation was fairly routine. She showed me her collection of nomograms on microfiche cards as well as her own hand drawn ones on paper. She showed me her electric slide rule. It was a cute little affair that used a back projector to let you dial up whatever scale you wanted and show it on the slide. It stored dozens of functions.

I wasn't allowed to tour the bridge yet but Debra took me to the uppermost engineering deck, right under the tractor rockets and showed me a slide rule table. You could plop your electric slide here, onto contacts and use it to load data directly onto computers. It also allowed ultra fine manipulation of the slide via waldoes.

It was a very nice gesture and I told Dr. Wu she reminded me of Margaret Hamilton. Then I had to spent 30 minutes remembering everything I could about Margaret Hamilton. I had to spoil it at the end, of course.

I asked her if she had an assistant who repeated everything she said? She was amused. Apparently Dr. Wu knew who Sigourney Weaver was ... and they still had that movie.

Friday, July 6, 2018

The Inversion Effect

No it is not a drive or a weapon though the title suggests some really neat drives and weapons. It deals with a modification to your 2d6 system of choice. Invert the rate at which you use fuel in space craft.

So in most systems that means you burn .01 of the ship's 'mass' in fuel * p-ower plant number per month using the jump drive. That extends the range of a ship by four, assuming a basic load of fuel. there isn't a captain living that wouldn't jump at that deal but there is more.

A straight interpretation of inversion means your maneuver drive now uses .1 of the ship's mass per drive number. I assume that would be for one week under thrust. A ship that could thrust at one gee for one month would have to be 40% fuel! A ship with a thrust of six gees would need 60% fuel to thrust for a week and could only manage 1.5 gees for an entire month.

Accelerating for 1 gee for a week (accelerate, flip, decelerate) will take you 900 million miles or about 8 AUs. Almost to Saturn. Why you want to go that far in a Traveller style system is up to your referee (who is no doubt reading this and plotting). You can also just  make a jump in system that far or longer for much less fuel.

With the fuel inversion of course you could just jump into a system and jump right away to another without all that pesky refueling. defenses in depth will need much more depth. If you allow jumps to and from 'empty' hexes it will play hell with canon ideas of defense.

The idea has appeal for merchants. A mainworld has an average diameter of 8,000 kilometers. That's  a mere four hours away at one gee, your M-drive fuel, even a mere 10% would last you 33 such trips on average! Note that a 200 ton ship uses 20 tons of fuel for a jump of one parsec in the old system. That's 10,000 credits twice a month (on average) except now that ten tons will last about seven months (four in system hops a month 5 hours each). The fuel for the j-drive will come to 7,000 credits in seven months (two ton a month). Using the CE rules that ship will on average burn 48 tons a month and in seven months pay 168,000 cr. So fuel costs are a real factor even with a mortgaged ship. A 200 ton trader'r mortgage runs 35 Mcr. The mortgage is 146,000 cr. The mortgage is less than the fuel costs ('not even going into the life support, maintenance, berthing, and salaries -you know that I could.)

So fuel inversion makes defense a lot harder, exploration and invasions a lot easier and it reduces the monthly costs of your plain old trader by half. The merchants still have to scramble for credits somewhat but it isn't quite as frantic a pace, meaning they have more time for adventuring. Ships that have to make even short inner system runs might not use their thrusters. The jump drive is far more fuel efficient. They would if time were a factor and they were getting supplies from the same system. An orbital port might be at the jump limit, accepting cargo from ships and launching it to the destination with a magnetic accelerator to save on fuel.

One more thing, the fuel inversion effect avoids the gig of global destruction problem. No ship will carry enough fuel/propellant to reach anything close to light speed. Just accelerating at one gee for a week gives you 6048 kps. That's fast but not impossible to stop or survive.

Of course that accelerate for a week business is from a literal interpretation of 'inverse'. People may want less acceleration time. You could go with 10% of the ship allowing a day or an hour at one gee. In that case you're down to insisted traffic taking weeks if not months and anything beyond far orbit will probably see the use of jump drives.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Fireworks for the Fourth

First happy Independence Day to my fellow Americans. Happy Wednesday to the rest of you. In the spirit of the day I am discussing fireworks. Specifically the sort emanating from the turrets of your spaceships. The sort player characters like.

I never gave turrets much thought. I'll admit this and if I was pressed to describe one fast, I'd go with a block, or cylinder, or pyramid, with one to three barrels sticking out if it, built to swivel.

Does this look familiar? I ask you, would this scare anyone?

Something like this. It takes up 150 cm square or half a displacement ton. The other half is taken up presumably by the gunner's station, some spare missiles a/o sand canisters and maybe a couple magazines to read when things are boring.

Okay, it's short hand for a weapon installation.At least it was for me. On reflection not all of a ship is shown on the deck plans. There has to be some gear not contained in the hull, sensors, engine nozzles, landing gear. There's stuff that sticks out that you, safe and cozy and breathing, standing in your 1 gee artificial gravity field do not deal with unless you're doing maintenance in port or an EVA. So your turret exterior doesn't have to be a 1.5 meters across.

That's a little better but I'd worry more about a guy with a Desert Eagle if I didn't know better.

Well I had too much time on my hands. I began doodling. I thought about things. It took very little time for things to progress to this.

I humbly submit the blue beast on the left as an example of a triple turret. It makes sense to me for several reasons.

1) There is ample room for power lines, coolant lines, missile and canister loaders.

2) It's big. If you consider the 1 displacement ton a turret takes up it seems pretty ludicrous to fit one of the darned things for every hundred tons. This beast looks like it would take some doing for a Scout to haul about. Making visual sense is important in an RPG. especially if, like myself, you are neither an engineer or physicist and your last name isn't Chung, Black, McVay, Choi or Campbell.

3) The missiles (the three little circular holes in the front) are kept a little ways off from the laser. This is a good thing. You don't want exhausts and such messing your lenses up and at some point some dumbass will ignore that <Laser Firing -Do Not Fire Ordnance!> light and let fly.

4) I will also note that keeping your missiles away from your delicate machinery isa good thing. A laser or rail gun malfunctioning generally means you have a warning light letting you know. A missile malfunction means you have a loud boom letting you know. Better it has a little distance from the non disposable weapons.

5) That nasty thing that looks like a small artillery piece is a sandcaster. In this reimagining the sand in a canister is loaded into the turret. This coil gun then takes the grains off sand and fires them in carefully chosen speeds and vectors to block incoming laser fire or missiles. I think that is more effective than exploding a canister some distance from the ship. That's a good way to have a few grains take out a sensor or laser on your own ship. Some of the grains in an explosion will be flying back at you so yeah, the sandcaster fires squirt of sand. Return the empty canisters for .05 cr. Not there are two launchers for the purpose of illustration but they count as one launcher for purposes of combat. Each one covers 180 degrees.

6) The laser cannon has two emitters at right angles to each other and that swivel independently. There is still only one laser. A mirror lets you chose which way it comes out. Two lasers increases the coverage of the beam, making you avoid tilting the whole ship to fire one way. Also turrets have got to track targets very precisely and you can't be accurate and fast. Finally, sometimes you have to tilt the ship and that firing solution you were working on becomes meaningless as the laser's field of fire moves.

7) It looks badass. To the ill informed the sand casters look like the nastiest weapon system. this might be the case since the ill informed are generally. people on the ground in some backwater and a sandcaster is a good substitute for a hundred guys with shotguns.
A wing mounted version of a turret. Note there is only one (larger) sandcaster because several turrets (or at least one other) will handle some of the 'casting.

I leave the single and double turrets for you to work up yourselves. Or wait till next week and I'm sure I'll be working on other turrets.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Paragon Papers

This is what I worked on after Operation Starfall (if you have read my posts on diesel punk and the Luna spacecraft and like them but didn't hear of this go check it out.)

The Paragon Papers deals with  an enigmatic race of super humans in the White Star setting, able to hurdle orbital towers, faster than a missile, more powerful than a terraforming bot! When I first read of these bruisers in White Star, I wasn't sure how they fit in with the usual bunch of scruffy, reluctant heroes. Superhumans figure in a lot of space opera though. You have the Legion of Super Heroes, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and any number of strange aliens with powers beyond those of other humanoids.

I've included notes on various powers they have, how to get around those powers and some devices that will negate their abilities or replicate them. There's a section on their homeworld and civilization and notes for dropping it into existing games as overtly or subtly as possible. Finally there's a chapter on playing these superhumans, which may not be as easy as you think (take a look at the introductory sentence of this paragraph.) Class levels let you drop them into your game as anything from exceptional muscle to campaign bosses.

I hope you'll give it a look.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Hex Signs and Wyrmholes Part 2

When we last left hyperspace we had discovered that

1) Stars have a number of 'membranes' determined by their size.

2) In hyperspace at least these membranes intersect and ships in this area can engage their ftl drives and move from one system to the other.

3) You have some choice of which area to exit in, if several membranes overlap.

This is a hyperspace map, perhaps from a children's book or a media production. Do NOT use it for navigation purposes. Though a real navigator would know that and if you aren't a real navigator-don't touch anything!

Well then we have a number of problems integrating this into ahuhu! 2d6 systems. To wit: 2d6 systems have these lovely charts of ftl engines (skirting copyrights here) indexed against increasingly huge hulls. Cross index the drive with the hull and either it don't fit or you get a number of parsecs range the ship may jump. My set up pretty imagines it like the Alderson Drive from Jerry Pournelle's future history. You get to a point (determined very carefully) hit the drive and bang (well hopefully you didn't hear a bang, that'd be very bad)! You're in the next star system. There is no skipping star systems. Essentially a ship (any ship) has a range of 1 jump (though that jump could be Lurrdy knows how many parsecs.

Most Interstellar Empire settings reserve better gear for the military because they are the MILITARY dammit! In many 2d6 settings, for example, commercial traffic travels at 1 pc a week, faster commercial traffic (express runs) and auxiliary military (those ships some Service hands out to their vet, lok like pizza slices) 2 pc, slow military at 3 pc etc. How to give some people an edge?

Well first there is fuel efficiency. Perhaps each level is the number of jumps you can make between topping off the tanks or recharging or some such. So if a ship needs 10 tons of fuel to make a jump with a jump-1 it needs one sixth that with a J-6 or whatever scale you set up for your setting. Having a ship with less need for fuel is a huge advantage in most settings.

Fuel efficiency is even more important if your precious drive requires specialized fuel that you can't synthesize en route. Maybe there is no such thing as a ship board fuel refinery? Refined fuels must be purchased at installations. In this case logistics becomes crucial for an invasion or colonizing effort. It also means if you really want to have adventures you tinker with fuel use. Maybe a flat 10% per jump if you go by 2d6.

No, I don't now why it would have to be like that. Ask an engineer. Those guys are great at telling you why you can't do something and then making it work. It's the only profession that likes proving itself wrong.

Another possibility is to give engines saving throws vs. local effects, nebulas, strongly ionized regions, radiation belts or frequent flares. A military ship or explorer should be able to go anywhere. Some untrusting types might plant secret bases and such in dangerous areas just to keep you from popping in, taking a few scans and popping out for this reason. If the Dubbel-Tok Effect blows your drive or even delays jumping out, things might get hot for you.

One final thought. When size and expense of a drive merely determines range you have fewer options constructing ships. All J-3 ftl drives are alike. They let you jump 3 parsecs (or whatever). But with the effects I mentioned, let's say each level of drive e can reduce fuel use by 15%, or gives you a +1 modifier to avoid drive damage, or displace your ship .1 AU from the jump point of your destination.

A pirate might use all three levels of J-drive to displace his ship .3 AUs away from the average entry point. He wants to avoid the law. A merchant does the same because he wants to stick his ship as close to the destination planets and stations as possible. In an M star system like Trappist you might be able to appear anywhere in the Goldilocks zone and give your M-drive a rest.

An explorer vessel ready to jump into the unknown might got for fuel efficiency, using only 55% of fuel they would use otherwise. Or a ship about to jump into a nebula known for raising hell with electronics would take all three levels as a +3 modifier to avoid damage on a jump, and misjumping. Finally, a new system for noting these ginchy jump drives if you play 2d6 and like fitting everything on index cards.



J-3 +1, +1FE, .1AU
The drive above has a +1 mod to rolls to prevent misjumsp and damage to drive, one level of fuel efficiency (15% less fuel), and can exit .1 AU from the jump point.

Next Monday we get into misjumps and similar hilarity.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Hex Signs and Wyrmholes Part 1

In the beginning there was the hex grid and life was good. Hex grids are a staple of the war-games  which led to roleplaying games. They are all over the OSR and CT. In fact CT was recently criticized for mapping the galaxy as 1 parsec thick. In light of recent development, it turns out to be a little thicker!
Is there another way? Join the mission to protect our vanishing third dimension!

Some people explain this as the maps being a representation of jump space with some distortion necessary in projecting it onto 2d paper or screens. Okay, fair enough. No one likes 3d maps and using trig. No matter how good they are at it. (Disclaimer: yes some of you like it. Go play Universe, don't bother calling BS on this point).

Diaspora is one (excellent) game that ignores the holy hex entirely. Worlds are in a cluster and the routes between them tagged for your use. It's similar to a node map, made popular by Winchell Chung on Atomic Rockets.

The main point of these systems is the map is symbolic, representing the hyperspace (tm) relationship between stars. So you might have situations like this:

First of all take these two star systems each full of adventure and chances to make the most wanted list. One parsec separates them in our universe.

Stars not to scale. So I really need to say that?

Since we do not want to use sleeper ships or other hard SF conveyances to get between them in our setting we have a faster than light drive. On an FTL map the two systems might look like this-

Representing the stars with their 3d spatial positions is unnecessary and wasteful of paper (at 1/10,000 scale you'd need about 10 trillion sheets of paper.)

This is much more economical and concise. It shows that in ftl space, at least, the star systems have a way between them or are touching for practical purposes. The distance in real space doesn't matter to our ftl pilot. Let the torchships worry about such things.

A jump point is formed when two or more stars kiss in hyperspace.
The two star systems are touching, meaning there is a hyper space path or wormhole or whatever between them. The intersection of the two circles is a jump point. So far so good.

If we do this then the two systems have not one but two jump points. Only we are talking about three-dimensional objects (at the very least) so the arcs between the jump points overlap in hyper and thus we have a volume of space for our naughty players to use to slip into systems on the low down. It also makes defending a system a little harder than sticking a gigaboom a few kilometers from the jump points or covering it with a really big laser.

I’m going to add one more factor. Not all stars are equal. The more mass to the star the more jump points in general. Though this depends on other factors like the proximity of other stars and of course you have to factor in Speed of Plot etc. 

Here we have a happy little star around Sol's size. It has three ftl membranes, just 'branes. Smaller dimmer stars might have one or two. Brighter ones might have four and up. So instead of one or two jump points (which are really more like sections of a sphere in practice) you have several as the different membranes overlap and rub against each other.

More on this Friday.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Halfway to Nowhere

My latest creation -Operation Starfall: A Strange Mission Against Time, went live on RPGNow yesterday. Without giving too much away a Word War Two Special Forces team in the Aleutians comes across a space hopping and time hopping ship and must prevent it from falling into enemy hands (there's much more than that). It runs 87 pages with 21 pages of tactical maps of the ship, renders of machinery, weapons and gear -all for $5 American! Get it now before I become famous and popular and conceited and maybe will charge you $6!

Anyway one of the themes deals with a dodgy FTL drive. If you read this blog at all you know I love making up weird stuff to confound space travelers. Ghost ships, non-biological entities, wild psi talents. Part of it is because at the present time, FTL travel is wish fulfillment and, if you read any stories about wishes or ever got a wish in a roleplaying game, you know wishes always have a downside.

Andre Norton is also to blame (and Winchell Chung for reminding me of her). I cut my SF teeth on her Solar Queen stories and they had an impressive amount of spooky lore. My personal favorite (and I believe Winchell Chung's): the New Hope, a ghost ship always sighted by ships in dire distress, its 'deadlights' shining through eternity. No idea how ships that were lost got the message out about the New Hope showing up, perhaps they wrote it in their logs. 'Sighted the New Hope but confidence and morale remains ... Get it off! Get away!-aaaaagggh' (Got to love verbal transcripts in a horror setting.)

I'm also kind of into dieselpunk right now and I am sticking to a Solar System setting (not necessarily our Solar System or timeline) so taking an FTL leap would be the equivalent of helming your sailing ship towards the area of the map where they drew all those funky monsters.

Another share of blame goes to the glut of paranormal books that came out in the 70's and 80's. In one book (Atlantis Rising I think by Brad Steiger) I read about the Philadelphia Experiment. Total bullshit BTW, but absolutely riveting and a source of inspiration for me.

So for all you people who started reading this and immediately said "Ahah! He saw Event Horizon!" Well, yeah, but this sort of stuff has gone on in my head for years before that. I think the latest contribution to the Science Unleashes Hell Upon Us All genre  is the Cloverfield Effect; which I wanted to like dammit! But they should have subtitled it The God Awful Particle after the story (but I couldn't like it and they even had Roy from The IT Crowd in it, and I love Roy.

So I invented the Halfway. The crew makes it halfway, not in terms of distance but in terms of returning to this Universe. Some are wraiths that are barely visible or shadows. Some got a fourth dimensional shuffle and returned as ... I'll let you find that out for yourself.

Of course with Stranger Things the idea of a twisted representation of our world, with inimitable life forms that makes their way here is almost mainstream. Stranger things is quite good and enjoyable but it is not original. Evil parallel worlds abound in SF, the most famous being Star Trek's Mirror Universe, but even Lost in Space had an evil Antimatter Universe. The Justice League had Earth Three, and you had Doom's Gateway to Hell at a research base.

People have a way of magnifying the danger in the unknown. When locomotives were state of the art technology everyone was sure traveling faster than 75 mph would asphyxiate the passengers and crew. When we started shooting people into orbit we were scared of the effects of microgravity -and basically everything else. FTL is the new unknown. No matter how many centuries elapsed since the first FTL flight, every time is like the first time (like kissing your soul mate).

Science deals with probing the Unknown in a rational manner. The Unknown however is under no obligation to be rational.