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!")oo

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 membrane 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. ugh 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 room 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 give 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 Trapist 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.