Monday, November 21, 2016

Building a Space Navy In The Gentleman Abroad Series I

  Happy Monday, RocketFans! I am happy to say that we reached a major milestone this weekend:  Over 100 downloads of LAUNCH WINDOW! This was my (I thought unrealistic) goal for the entire month - and we reached it in just five days!  Thanks to everyone who got a copy of LAUNCH WINDOW Issue 0.5 for helping make this release our most popular ever.  If you like the magazine or - more importantly - have something you'd like to see in the future, please comment or email us.
     But enough about LAUNCH WINDOW.  I wanted to get into some good, old fashioned world building for my Gentleman Abroad setting and talk about some of the assumptions that are going into the design of the spacecraft and how they are funded, manned and deployed.  You know, the "Building a Space Navy" stuff we all love so much!
     For full details of the steps and considerations that go into building a Space Navy, you can read the Atomic Rockets article here.

Basic Assumptions
     What follows is fairly arbitrary world building details that are tweaked to give me the setting I want.
     In order to start working on the nuts-and-bolts of this setting without too much extra detail work, I shamelessly stole borrowed the excellent Near Space resource published by Stellagamma.  I chose this because 1) It's a Traveller style map so I don't have to convert it; 2) Its real planets with the most up-to-date data we have, 3) Being larger than a subsector but smaller than a sector puts the map in the Goldilocks Zone of utility for my needs and 4) The licensing of the product allows me to steal it shamelessly.
     Against this backdrop I wanted a tiny "empire" of worlds run by people (mostly) as well as the near-mythical god-AIs that actually make NegMat.  So I've assumed that one intrepid cruiser from one last rag-tag fleet from the last round of apocalyptic wars managed to limp via Rabbitholes to a Nexus system just before its NegMat reserve ran dry.  The system was abandoned - no one knows what happened to the AI.  The crew of this cruiser - call it Vanguard - became the rulers of a new empire as they learned the secrets of creating Janus gates and NegMat and set out to reconquer the galaxy.
     Epic backstory: Check.
     When I said "tiny" I meant it - you can count the nobles in the Vanguardian Empire easily.  For convenience and as an intellectual exercise, I'm using the numbers for the Aristocracy of England in the 13th century.  You'd be surprised at just how few their were.  Anyway, our aristocracy is as follows:

  • Tejishang: The Emperor :  It is said she is a descendant of the original Captain of Vanguard. She could also be a clone for all anyone knows - it is a Nexus system, after all.  From her all NegMat in the Empire flows.  She is a mainline human, as far as anyone knows by hard choice:  A message to the Janoi and other god-like AI that mear mortals can control their own fate.
  • Jiang: Dukes: Perhaps five.  All of them wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice, yet wanting more.  All of them either blood relatives of the Emperor, or decedents of the senior officers of Vanguard . Whole families have been wiped out in dynastic struggles and other intrigues.  Their fiefs include the Class B ports of the Empire.
  • Xiao: Counts: No more than a dozen or so.  They either rule planets with Class C starports or command the expeditionary fleets of the Empire.  Lowest hereditary rank the Emperor recognizes, but only the most competent - or ruthless - of a Count's offspring can expect to be elevated to rank and the Admiralty.
  • Wei: Baron:  This rank is often passed down in families but is actually dependent on being able to field a warship of over a thousand tons.  Anyone who can afford to build one - and has the political savvy to get one constructed for them at one of the Ducal shipyards - will almost always be elevated by the Emperor.  Better that than having rogue fleets preying on the boarders systems... Even so, there are only about twenty or thirty Lord Barons in all the Empire.
  • Zhang: Baronet: A senior Knight that is elevated to command of a Patrol Cutter.  The most common military ship in the Empire by a wide margin, Patrol Cutters are produced by the Emperor and the Dukes and also provided second-hand by the Janoi.  Zhang can be commissioned by the Empire directly, or by any Noble that chooses to buy one and appoint its commander. 
  • Bing: Knights:  These are mostly but always fighter pilots, the senior officers of a spacecraft, or part of a starport's administration.  Any noble can knight someone, but only those commissioned by the Emperor are Knights of the Empire. 
     So maybe fifty or so nobles and then a mess of knights.  That's it.  Not a large empire, to be sure.  This system also defines our Empire's size as a function of starports and shipping lanes.  We have one Class A port, 5 Class B ports, and maybe six or seven Class C ports.  These also define the extent of the Janus Network in the Empire as well. I'm assuming that any planet without an A, B or C port is not connected to via a Janus controlled by the Empire.  The Janoi however, created dozens of gates and some go to planets seemingly without value.  Since they're orders of magnitude more intelligent than humans are, they work in mysterious ways...

     Lots of potential for shenanigans: Check.
Pictured: Noblesse Oblige
Strategic Assumptions
     I've said before that one of the inspirations for The Gentleman Abroad series was the Drive system.  I've detailed the game mechanics for Negative Matter drives in the "Down the Rabbithole" article in Issue 0.5, so I won't repeat the details here except for a couple of points that pertain directly to fleet building.

  • Negative Matter is the "fuel" for all space travel.  It is only consumed when travelling FTL without a Janus Gate
  • Physical size of spacecraft are limited by the amount of NegMat available for propulsion and the physical size of Janus Gates
  • Interstellar travel is by wormhole - distance is covered instantly and the effective distance one can travel in a single jump is limited only by navigational accuracy
  • NegMat is only produced in Nexus systems (systems with class A ports) And only available for sale in Class B and C ports
     Security Environment
These few facts shape space travel in a way that is fundamentally different from the parsec divisions of Traveller and the free and open systems of most other space operas.  The most important way it shapes the setting is how the use of Rabbitholes and Janus Gates defines the frontier.  The biggest difference between the Gent setting and most space operas is that "core" and "rim' become null concepts.  With unlimited "range" and instant travel times, there is no logical reason to establish Janus Gates between systems in close proximity instead of systems with ideal conditions. This means that a polity's "Core" would not be a dense cluster of systems around the Capital, it would more resemble a branching river or web of systems connected to the Capital via Janus.  The "Rim" could include the system next to the Capital - if it lacks useful resources or habitable planets.
        What does all this mean for a Space Navy?  For one thing. The Nexus systems will probably be impregnable.  If your goal is defense of the system, you can build warships as big as you want and wait for the small fry that can fit through the Janus to come to you.  Being a production center of NegMat, you'll have plenty to pump into your monster ships, and you'll only need to fuel these monitors once.  Even better, while the spacecraft themselves are unable to carry complex computers, the Nexus systems are virtually the only places with AI and super-advanced computing.  So said AI could control warships via radio, confident that their god-like processing power will create an encryption that no computer simple enough to traverse the Janus could break.
     So no assaulting a Nexus system.  
     The best you could hope for is to isolate said Nexus by destroying the Janus gate that connect it to other systems.  But those Gates are in Ducal systems, which are only powerful as long as the supply of NegMat is maintained.  Ours is quite the hydraulic empire - and it's meant to be.  I don't want an Empire on the brink, under threat of extinction or even one about to explode into a new Renaissance.  For purposes of writing little stories about local events and providing a good game setting,  I want interesting backstory, just enough of a logical framework to make filling in details easy, and above all I want the empire static and out of the way.
     Fiscal Assumptions
     This is kind of the opposite of the Medieval system I used to design my arisocracy:  Credits are for the rabble; the Nobs don't generally use money.
      This has to do with being an industrialized society.  Those Nobles with planetary feifs will own banks and be minting their own credits, which will be used by citizens.  Among themselves, NegMat is the main currency:  It dictates how many ships you can build, how far they can travel, and how much business your spaceport can handle.  If you want to draw parallels between Dune's spice and Imperial NegMat, you can.  So among the Emperor and her Dukes, favors are exchanged for NegMat, which is exchanged with Counts for more favors and so on.  The NegMat must flow.
      As far as how this pertains to shipbuilding, the assumptions are that any planetary system that can sustain a Class A, or B starport has the resources to build ships without trouble.  Even assuming low TL computer power, having ships with unlimited Delta V in practical terms will insure the riches of the entire system can be exploited.  As for minor nobles that lack shipbuilding capacity, they're still rich enough in practical terms to buy ships.  This gives them the option of accepting noble rank, which is basically a glorified Letter of Marque, or being hunted down by any vassal of the Empire who would like their personal access to NegMat to continue.
     As for the 99%ers who are not born to nobility nor rich enough to buy their way in, you have credits, banks, mortgages and all of the lovely systems that keep traders and mercs in Traveller from earning a quiet living and forcing them to have adventures to stay in the black.

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