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.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Starships & Spacemen Examined: The Power Pile Base, Energy Units, and You

   Author's Note: The rules mentioned below, unless otherwise specified, are the hard work of Daniel Proctol et al. at Goblinoid Games on the second edition of Starships & Spacemen
Yes, I use this pic a lot.  I happen to like it.

     Let's talk about the Power Pile Base.
     I've read multiple reviews, and the general consensus is the Power Pile Base and EU system in Starships & Spacemen is elegant and balanced mechanically.  In brief, each starship has a Power Pile Base, which is the number of Energy Units (EU) it can produce in a day.  Each major activity, such as maneuvering, going to warp, firing beam weapons and raising shields, costs a certain number of EU.  Damage in space combat or from hazards is taken our of a spacecraft's EU also.  As long as a ship only uses it's Power Pile Base's worth of EU per day, it gets its full amount EU back the next day.  If the spaceship uses more than it's Power Pile Base, it counts as damage and the ship loses those EU until repaired.   If a ship uses more EU (or takes more EU worth of damage than it's Power Pile Base, the ship is considered destroyed. It's sort of like Hit points and Wound points and Manna points all rolled into one.
    This is a good system for an RPG, as I've already said, but for a guy like me, that's not quite enough.  How would an engine system (and everything else system) work in the real world with those constraints?  Through careful research at my favorite SF Destination, mixing and matching capabilities of various real-world (or theoretical, anyway) engine designs, and all that jazz, I have come up with a plausible engine/reactor combo that mimics the details of the Power Pile Base system, right down to the allocations and damage ratings.
     ...More or less.
     Anyway, lets start with basics:  power.  If we don't want radiation and find Matter/Antimatter to be passe, then we're going to want to go with fusion.  Problem is, fusion is easy to theorize about, but hard to actually get to work.  It would be even harder to sustain a fusion reaction on a moving spaceship with people shooting at you.
     If we look at the top of Atomic Rocket's Engine List page,we can find hope..  Ignore the cat's surly manners (and it's to your advantage to do so), and notice the entry for "Magneto-Inertial Fusion"      Read up.  I'll wait.
     I am a fan of pulse propulsion systems.  They are the only plausible systems of propulsion that have both high thrust and high specific impulse - Torch Ships, in other words.  While the theorized M-IF engine isn't quite the that powerful, it's within the realm of SF possibilities, especially if you mess with inertia and gravity. Bonus points, the engine can provide electrical power and does not require radiators.
Now, you can notice it, too.
     Next, I notice the magnetic nozzle. This reminds me of the "Mini-Mag Orion" which uses z-pinch fusion also, and needs a huge amount of electrical power to start a reaction.  Once the nuking has happened, a small percentage of the reaction's energy is channeled into enormous banks of capacitors, more than enough to start a new reaction.
    Capacitors.  Banks of them.  They're like these units...full of energy...
    So we have a power system that can fill up a number of capacitors, and requires the use of a number of capacitors to work, and makes clean fusion reactions and not dirty atomic ones.    Good...good...
     The next items are the weapons and shield systems.  Really, these could get their own post, but I've decided to fold them into the PPB post because they both rely on Energy Units.  The weapons - simply called in-game "beam banks" and defensive screens are going to be covered by particle beams and magnetic fields.  And excellent case has been made for particle beams already, and they have the added bonus of looking and acting more like sci-fi lasers than real lasers do.  Magnetic shields are already a good idea as protectin from cosmic background radiation, solar flares, and in an emergency, aerobraking and atmospheric re-entry.  Particle beams have one addtional advantage - if necessary, the beam can be fired directly by the fusion reaction, without needing to use capacitors.  This ability reflects the rules' entries on using more EU than your Power Pile Base.
     Damage to the spacecraft is a wee bit trickier.  How do you reflect ship damage using simple EU values?   To be honest, I accepted that upon my first reading of the rules.  My assumption then was that the ship is taking no actual damage - the shields and inertial damping system are absorbing it all. As the power consumed surges through the system suddenly, capacitors burn out and you get electrical feedback that blows circuits, fries wires, and occasionally blows out a console (which apparantly is an actual thing).
    Anyhoo, that's all for now, RocketFans tune next time when we tackle FTL, Why S&S ships are so small, and why the decks are laid out wrong.  See you then!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Blame it on Rob-o

     Specifically, Rob Garitta, friend and sometime collaborator here at Blue Max Studios.  He mentioned our previous work on the Starships& Spacemen game and I rather woefully lamented not having completed any of the projects I wanted to for that game.

  It was a rather lengthy list. I was going to make variants of all the major ship classes for the game, from Frigate to Dreadnought, make enemy spacecraft - even an adventure/setting.  I never did anything with it, in part because I got bogged down in tying to make a spacecraft design that made sense in light of the games rules on Energy Units and their distribution.

    I will respectfully decline to discuss the Shuttle Ship situation at this time.

    Once again, Ilove the game Starships & Spacemen OSR Star Trek? Sign me up!  Nevertheless, the Power Pile Base system gave me pause when trying to design spacecraft.  And so did the Teleporter.  And the way the decks are laid out like boats and not rockets.  And the dang shuttle ships.

    This was about a week ago now, when I was talking to Rob.  Since then, I've been thinking about these problems with the focus and intensity of...well, of a middle-aged autistic man who likes spaceships.  I have therefore managed, thanks to past experience, the Atomic Rockets website, and lots of graph paper, to resolve of these issues to my own satisfaction.  Over this week (at the least) I will outline my findings and developments.  Some of this takes the form of deckplans or schematics.  some will take the form on nano-fic set in my own private S&S universe.  All will be awesome.  Please stay tuned...

Friday, March 10, 2017

A Town on the Road to Nowhere

     The River- class transports are big.
     At four hundred and fifty meters in length, these colossal spacecraft can carry a lot of folks from here to Titan, some of which are actual passengers.  Most of the company and crew of a River, however, are part of the civilian or UN crew.  In order to make sense of what we needed in terms of staff and whatnot, we must first make a couple of assumptions about how the crew will be composed, selected, and distributed.
     First, the crew of the Rivers follow the Mission Control model. The individuals are not actually running the spacecraft, they are the managers of computers and automation and robotic drones.
     Second, the River- class is a civilian owned and operated spacecraft.  The UN pays the transport company a subsidy to insure regular service and to pay for transporting UN spacecraft and crew.  Also, naturally, the UN are present to provide the inspection team required on all spacecraft boasting a nuclear-powered drive.
      Third, There are not only three watches on the crew, there are two entire crews for each spacecraft and associated vessel.  Once the River leaves orbit, the people aboard won't see open skies again for a minimum of 2 years.  So, like submarines in today's American Navy, there are two crews for each spacecraft.
     With all of that in mind, here is a preliminary table of crew and passenger positions on a River-class transport.  The numbers in bold are the total number for that given division:

Crew Division
Crew Section
UN Command
Mission Support
(Dept Heads x2)

Mission Commanders
UN Patrol
Patrol Craft Crews
(5 positions x 3 watches +1 Flight x2 crews/craft x2 craft)
(1 Captain, 1 Leutentant, 3 Staff)

(6/squad x2 squads/craft x2 craft)
Civ Crew
Command Crew
(15 Mission Control x2 Crews +1 CIVMCOM

(1/Pod x3 watches +1 Chief x2 crews)

Life Support
(2/Pod x3 watches x2 crews

Hangar Crew
(8x 2 crews)

Small craft Pilots
(3/Cygnus x 4 Cygnus + 4/Tug +1 AUXCOM x 2 crews)
Candidate Training

(1 Commandant + Class Supervisor x1/year)


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Ezekiel's Wheel: The Escher of Habitats

     I described the type of centrifuge habitat used by the River-class transports as being a species of Winchell Chung's Ezekiel's Wheel.  I also described it as a maintenance nightmare, as anything that must hold pressure and spin is already a nightmare, and anything that spins on two axes is a nightmare squared.  Be that as it may, I also posited that when shaping an orbit that takes two years to reach your destination, high maintenance is not necessarily a bad thing - it gives your intrepid Astros and Espos something to do during that long trip in the black besides stare at the wall and go mad.
    Besides, It looks cool.
Observe the coolness.,
    The twin hab rings float in a gigantic globe of water.  This is for a few reasons.  First, the water is the "Fleet Reserve" tank of propellant for the Patrol Rockets, tugs, service modules and any other spaceraft requiring chemfuels.  Second, the water is a cracker-jack protection against ionizing radiation, including the cosmic rays that vex long-term space travel.  Now, this diagram shows that the globular water tank provides excellent protection fore and aft, but is lacking in the lateral direction.  We'll have to supplement the water tanks with some magnetic shielding - which is fine, as the forward hanger, conning tower and command module need such shielding anyway.  Still, it is to our benefit to put the habs in the water tank, for even more reasons.  How about thermal insulation?  The water tank will act as an enormous heat sink that provides even temperatures to the habitat sections throughout the long voyage to Saturn.  Then there's vacuum insulation.  Let's face it, RocketFans, while John Campbell was wrong about using the Dean drive to turn subs into spaceships, he was right about one thing - we know a heck of a lot more about building subs for long-term habitation than space habitats. And the habs we have on the River are actually easier to design than subs - they don't have to be insulated against sound, since in space, no one can hear you scream.  But in all seriousness, it is easier to plug a leak in a water vessel with a wedge of soft wood than it is in a rocket with a specially designed polymer that won't boil off or become brittle when exposed to vacuum.
     There is one other thing I wanted to speculate upon with the design of the Zekes for a space habitat.  I am, for various reasons, in favor of hub-less torus centrifuges - or at the very least, a torus that does not derive its spin from the hub.  The sheer size of these habitats, for example, would put enormous torque on the hub and whatever spokes connect the hub with the torus.  My usual dodge is to put wheels on the torus and have it trundle along some sort of track - As I've mentioned here and here.  But the Ezekiel's Wheel design, alas, makes this impossible, as the pods rotate in two axes.  My solution, I am happy to say, involves the clever use of another piece of nautical tech:  Azmuth thrusters.
The simple inclusion of these thrusters solves the torque issue by giving each pod its own propulsion.  The advantages don't stop there, however.  The propellers will stir up the water in the tank so as to keep the temperature even.  The propellers can generate thrust using only electricity, and lack the mass penalty of a flywheel. The direction of the thrust can be easily changed, which means that the Azmuth units may be useful in changing the orientation of the hab pods during the transition from rocket thrust to freefall.  And again, there is a certain cool factor.
     Speaking of cool factors, just what kind of crew would such a habitat benefit from? Astronauts, or Submariners?  The question is moot, as you'd need a little of both, but some of the culture of Submariners is sure to become part of the Astros' traditions in service among the River -class spacecraft and their militarized equivalents.
    But back to spaceships and deckplans.
    To the right are a couple of views of the habitat pods that will be inside our globe of water in our spaceship going to Saturn.  These are not small pods, as you can see - each deck is over twenty-five meters long and the smallest is twelve meters wide.  That is a lot of habitable volume.  And there are twelve of these pods; six per wheel, arranged in two counter-rotating wheels.  There are flexible tubular walkways connecting the pods to their rotating hubs, which in turn connect to the central hub.
     Even postulating that half the volume (six pods) will be taken up by hydroponics and plant gardens, There is a lot of space for a lot of people.  But who are they?  What do they do?  That, my dear RocketFans, will be the topic of Friday's post.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Rolling Down the River

      Good Monday, RocketFans!  By the time you're reading this, I'll have been through the first phase of getting tested for autism.  Yes, autism.  I was surprised too.  Until I studied up on autism - now it seems rather obvious in retrospect.
     I want to work on the River-class interplanetary vehicles some more.  I've been tweaking, modifying, and finagling the stats and sizes and other variables of the ship for going on three years now, so I've decided that it's about time to put some firm statistics to the work in progress in order to move forward.
     And of course, art.
Very much a work in progress, lacking in detail.
The beast is about four hundred and fifty meters long.  From left to right, we see the business end, a Magneto-Inertial Fusion rocket, and it's large rack of pulse units and capacitors.  There are the obligatory angled radiators that lead into the massive globe structure that dominates the craft.  this sphere is full of water and electrolysis equipment to turn that water into propellants.  The water also provide insulation against CBR to the two Ezekiel's Wheels that make up the main habitat section of the spacecraft.  For from the globe is a cargo bloc, carrying goods from Terra to Titan and back again, and to the right of that is the hangar space.  This allows for docking two of our Class A patrol craft on either side, and drydock space for one below.  The Cygnus rockets and any intra-fleet tugs also dock and are serviced here.  Above the hanger is a sensor mast that contains the forward phased arrays and the communication antennae.  The forward-most area is a command module that is partly command spaces, but mostly RCS thrusters.
     I've also been trying to get a handle on the crew compliment of this spacecraft.  I've got a few ideas already, which have to do with the spacecraft's function and other design considerations,
     That's all I have at the moment.  I'm working on details for the habitat pods, which are very complex and require a lot of thought.  Before that, I'll probably make a post about the crew compliment and more about the River's mission. Anyway, I hope you enjoy!