Friday, March 24, 2017

Starships & Spacemen Examined: S&S, Triplanetary, and real Stars and Planets...

     To the left is (hopefully) the solution to my dilemma.  Rather than wax lyrical about how I came to arrive at my current notion, I'm just gonna hash it out for you.
     I'm ditching the FTL system in Starships & Spacemen and replacing it with my "Rabbithole" system.  If you don'l know what that is, I wrote a a whole article about it in LAUNCH WINDOW 0.5, so you can read about it there.  Go ahead, its Pay What You Want.
    In brief, Interstellar travel involves (will involve) seeking out naturally occurring wormholes in close orbit that link certain stars together.  These "Rabbitholes" are natural so the temporal/causal effects of using them are accounted for.  The causal effects of wormholes are fascinating and will make for cool fiction.  Currently, Dr. Luke Campbell is doing just that, and will do a better job that I ever could.
    Because we will be handling interstellar travel via wormhole, the movement rules for interstellar travel in S&S are invalidated.  This is a shame, as the Energy Point system/ Power Pile Base is one of the fun features of the game.  The solution I have to this is to Use the movement rules, modified a bit, in Interplanetary space.  This also has the advantage of letting use use Node Maps for the game and rest peacefully in the knowledge that our stars are real.
     Refining the movement system of Starships & Spacemen to work in interplanetary space will require a few extra steps and things. One, we have to account for orbital space, and gravity.  Two, some sort of Newtonian engine would be appreciated.  I mean, its hard to watch a Star Trek film where a ship loses power and stops, and sometimes even starts to sink.   Besides, I like the idea of watching starships go at in the frictionless black like a pair of hockey players with a grudge.
     Anyway, I don't fancy making my own movement system from scratch, so I plan on borrowing elements from the above shown game: GDW's Triplanetary.  As Winchell Chung put it on Project Rho, "This game has the One True way of managing vector movement in two dimensions." He's not the only person to day so, and I bow to superior mechanics. 
    Anyway, right now I'm thinking of the mechanics of S&S, and the vectors/gravity of Triplanetary for simulating orbits and stuff.  The system maps will be a lot easier to make than one would think.  Using Winch's Node Maps as a spring board, I can take the star names, pop them into Google, and see if the star has any planets and what their features are.  I will be a bit time consuming, but not especially hard...
  Anyway, that's what I've got so far, Rocketfans.  See you next week!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Starships & Spacemen Examined: I'm going to have to make my own setting, aren't I?

Ha!  Rhetorical question, Rocketfans - what else would I be doing?  It's not like I can leave anything alone...
      The deal breaker came with my examination of the FTL system.  It's a variation of the classic Trek/Alcubierre warp drive - which is bad enough, as warp drive has problems.  What's even more difficult for me to deal with is the speeds involved.  For an RPG it's perfect: Each warp factor is how many light years on the hex map you can travel in a day, and ships can travel between warp 1 and warp 8.  If you are a fan of The Original Series of the source material, that's between warp 7 and warp fourteen.  Needless to say, you can cover a lot of territory with that kind of drive.  At warp 8, Proxima b is only twelve hours away, and Gleise 581 is only 60.  The entirety of the Local Bubble would only take 50 days to cross - 200 light years, in less than two months.
     It's about here that I've always run into problems with SF RPGs: Maps of space. When you can travel across a wide swath of space in a short amount of time, it's easy to get to the planet of the week, but harder to maintain any sort of realism in your star mapping. While Game Design Workshop's 2300 AD is a unique exception, most games that obstensibly take place in our universe have star-maps that bare no similarities to observable reality.   S&S - like Traveller and Star Frontiers, doesn't even pretend to make accurate maps of the Milky Way and instead provide guidelines for making up star maps and even randomly generating stars and planets. That was fine in the 70s and even the 80s, when accurate star charts were hard to come by.  Since the advent of the Internet - and especially in the exoplanet discovery era of today, it becomes harder and harder for me to suspend disbelief.
Here, to be exact.
   Now, there are accurate star maps out there.  It would be a fairly easy if tedious task to add the know extra solar planets to them.  But making a star map of a large enough scale to be useful in Starships & Spacemen and shows accurate distances is nearly impossible.  Even if you projected the map onto a convienent wall or pool table or something, the sheer number of stars in a given volume of space (and the fact that they are stacked three-dimensionaly) make using the map in a game a daunting prospect and far from the relative simplicty of the S&S rules as written.  However, the movement system in the game tracks interstellar movement and gives you interplanetary for free - so it would appear that we have to have some sort of star-maps.
     There are, of course, star maps that reduce the nightmare of 3D or 21/2 D mapping into something that both has accurate distances and is easy to look at.  Node Maps are an easy method - it gives you the information you need without going into sensory overload.   That being said, Node Maps are also useless in the S&S game because they do not provide hexes to show interstellar movement.
    This is where I threw up my hands in despair. You can have accuracy, simplicity, or utility: Pick two.  I feel a psychological need for accuracy, and an intellectual need for simplicity, and an actual need for utility.   What am I to do.
     (sigh) Change the setting, of course.  I always seem to do that anyway.  But hey, that's what being a game designer is all about.
     Here's what I'm gonna do:  I will make a new system of starship movement and combat.  I will make deckplans for starships that use this new system.   I will also provide stats and such for Starships & Spacemen as written.  And White Star too - just to cover the whole SF OSR OGL alphabet soup.
     But stick with me on the new rules thing.  I have some ideas that may interest you.  We'll talk about them more on Friday.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Notes on an Alternate Starships & Spacemen/ White Star Setting...

     Working on some some for  the FTL post are some notes for a new setting I've been working on:

The path of an officer in the Patrol Fleet begins at the Academy.  We will only discuss officers because there are no enlisted ratings in the Astronaut Corp.  An Astro begins their career at a Patrol Base nearest their homeworld or system.  This is often in orbit over their homeworld - or in the same orbit as their home station.  It is meant that no citizen of the League of Planets be too far from a Base and it’s attached Academy.
The Academy is a rather nebulous institution.  There is no main campus nor branches that may compete for the prestige of being The Academy - The Academy is an idea, spread among the stars along with the League and the Patrol Fleet itself.  There is no faculty, as a dedicated and separate group, that sit in their offices and ponder theory.  The underclasses are taught by the upperclasses, when not taught by computer, and the upperclasses by officers stationed at the Patrol Base or on the many, many ships in the Fleet.  The job of the Patrol and it’s Astronaut Corp is learned very much on the job.  It is different with Espos - the Espacier Corp learn at planetary and space based training camps the skills of soldiering.  Their officers - for there are enlisted ranks in the Espos - are taught what they cannot learn from Drill Instructors in the Patrol’s Academy system.
A cadet of the Patrol Fleet starts at the Base nearest home but will not stay there.  After two years of training and instructions often by other, more senior cadets, the underclass will transfer to a different Patrol Base, around another world as far from home as feasible.  This is part of the the most important training of the Patrol’s Astronauts in the view of the Planetary League: the cultivation of that cosmopolitan outlook that makes an Asto or Espo feel they are citizens of the League itself, not of an individual world, or even species.
The time in space transferring to a new Base Academy is far from idle.  The cadets travel by Battle Cruiser and Dreadnought and are given their first taste of life on a working ship of the Fleet.  These starships are not express liners - the Cadets may be months aboard ship, helping execute missions, do scientific research, and cross training in new specialities.  It is not unknown for a cadet on such a cruise to be breveted an officer by the end - especially during the War.  But even if the cadet arrives an Ensign to their new Base, they must finish their higher level training and help to educate the raw recruits that themselves are beginning their careers in the Patrol Fleet.
Another year or so of training and instruction by officers of the Patrol Base sees all Cadets commissioned or dismissed.  By now, the graduates have served with or at least met every major species in the League, learned at least one of their languages, and probably developed a taste for some other world’s music or food.  The Patrol encourages this - it is always easier to get leave on a world you’ve never visited than it is to one’s homeworld, barring family matters of course.
The newly minted Ensigns are then assigned to the Base’s staff - which includes the Base’s own flotilla of Frigates.  The Cruiser/Tender, rarely a front-line vessel anymore, becomes their first posting followed shortly by a stint on a Frigate.  Frigates may be commanded by Ensigns - the ones breveted during their Underclass cruise, anyway - and are nearly always crewed by officers no higher than rank than Sub-Lieutenant with perhaps a Lieutenant as Skipper while they wait for a Destroyer billet.  More often, the greenest Ensigns are stationed on the Cruiser, the more experienced and Sub-Lieutenants on the Frigates, and the Lieutenants serve as department heads on the Cruiser before moving on to the Destroyers or a true Cruiser of the Fleet.

The organization of the PATROL FLEET is telling. There are six major planetary civilizations (seven, counting Humans) and each of these are host to a Planetary Fleet.  Each of these fleets are made up predominantly of the native species.  The Martian Fleet is made up of Humans, the Banlishkoa Fleet of Talmachi, the Dramassi Fleet of Sloaak, and so on.  “Predominantly” means roughly 80% of each craft’s crew is made up of the natives .  
A Planetary Fleet is made up of a Dreadnought Squadron, two Battlecruiser Squadrons, four Cruiser Squadrons, and Eight Destroyer Squadrons.  It is based, predictably enough, at the largest Patrol Base in the home system of the fleet.
The Planetary Fleets are far from idle, however.  Not even the Batlecruisers or Dreadnoughts spend much time in port - the Fleets are almost constantly on the move between the major planets of the League.  The fleets make courtesy calls on the other founders’ planets, visit the colonies in their sphere of influence, and in general try to expose as many citizens of the Northern Lobe to as many different sophonts as possible.  And they, of course, patrol.
There are, in addition to the “big seven” fleets, Sixteen Numbered Fleets scattered around the four Quadrants of League space.  These are attached to the various numbered Patrol Bases, and are charged with patrolling and exploring the empty space within the Treaty Boundary.  Unlike the Planetary Fleets, the Numbered Fleets are fully integrated. Some ships in the Fleet have a predominant species, but this is a consideration of environment (it is easier to make an entire ship with consistent gravity and atmosphere).   In general, each six-vessel squadron has a ship featuring the ideal environment of one of the major species.
A Numbered Fleet consists of a Battlecruiser squadron, two Cruiser squadrons, four Destroyer Squadrons and eight Frigate squadrons.
In addition to these assets, the individual Patrol Bases have extra Frigates, organized into a Patrol squadron.  A Patrol Squadron includes two divisions of Frigates and a Cruiser/Tender.  Typically, one Division stays (relatively) close to the Patrol Base and engages in search and rescue work, fast response, and the routine transfer of personnel.  The tended division ranges farther afield, conducting planetary surveys, engaging in longer patrols, and conducting more specialized scientific research.