Monday, October 25, 2010

Designing Plusible Spacecraft for Role-Playing Games, Part II

     I hope everybody had a good weekend, because I sure did. Among other things, I volunteered to do a "Coming Soon" page for the upcoming D6 Magazine.  So if you visited the site and saw a GoDaddy advert, relax.  That will soon change.
     If you are a contributor to the D6Magazine,  I need an image file of your logo for the new homepage.  I you'd like to be a contributor, the deadline for proposals is Halloween.  Follow the link below in the sidebar for more info.

     Anyway, last Friday we began out discussion of how to design rockets that are both plausible enough to qualify as hard science fiction and cool enough to be exciting locations for RPG adventures.  Using the principles I outlined, I am going to walk you all through the design process of Blue Max Studio's November release, the Valkyrie Utility Craft.

     ...Which is a fancy way of saying, "getting an idea worth selling" in BS-ese.  Basically, I need a good idea to get started with.  Fortunately for me, I spend most of my spare moments marinading in a witches' brew of futurism.  I subscribe to SF blogs and forums, SF websites, watch the Mars Society vids on YouTube, and basically inundate my subconscious in space-ly goodness.  So getting an idea usually takes care of itself.
     The idea for the Valkyrie as inspired by watching and reading the awesome manga/anime series Planetes.  The characters in this hard SF offering are employed in the glamorous job of space debris removal.  Yes, they are trash collectors.  But they have a pretty awesome garbage truck, the  DS-12 Toy Box 2.   Its a little POS spacecraft that would have to have drop tanks added to the sides to get from LEO to the Moon (which, if you care to know, takes a very small amount of Delta-V).  But it has personality, and that is precisely the trait I want in a RPG ship.  In fact, I could add another rule to my list of spacecraft design guidelines just for that:

4. Unless they're Power Gamers, Players would rather have an interesting ship than a powerful one.  If they are Power Gamers...make 'em play Paranoia.  That should take some of the starch out of their trousers...
     Think about it; when have the heroes of a story had the better ship?  the Enterprise?  Can't cloak and in TNG it was half the size of a Romulan Warbird.  BSG? Try again, not only was it outdated, it had to defend a civilian fleet.  Serenity?  Falling apart and unarmed.  The Falcon?  Well...okay, the Falcon was pretty badass, but it kept breaking down and never fought in its weight class.  A ship in a movie is something to show-off in, not with.

     That being said, RPGs are not movies; I know that.  So a ship that you expect heroes to fly in maybe unarmed but PCs need something to cover their assets with.  I solve this problem in The Black Desert in two
ways: One, space combat is really hard to even accomplish, much less succeed at. Two, The main propulsion systems of plausible spacecraft are themselves usually weapons of mass destruction.  See John's Law:

"Anything That is Interesting as a Spacecraft Propulsion System is Interesting as a Weapon."

    As in, "Really fast fusion-powered hydrogen rockets spew a jet of ten-million-degree ionized gas our their rear ends. "  Nothing can stand up to that, except a very powerful magnetic field.  So, in The Black Desert, pretty much every ship is armed, under the right circumstances.

   Surprisingly enough, all that wasn't a digression.  I want to make a new RPG spacecraft that has personality, isn't relatively powerful, yet packs a punch if PCs (or villains) need it.  I have an idea for a spacecraft that is inspired by the good 'ole DS-12, does not have much range or speed, and by virtue of its propulsion system, can provide a dramatically nasty surprise for cocky Players.

     As a GM myself, this is exactly what I want.

    What's that, you say? The ability to cut small asteroids in half is a bit more that "a nasty surprise"?  This is where game design comes in.  Some of this part gets pretty rules-specific, as in The Black Desert rules, but the general gist can be applied to other games as well.  I'll go into how in a bit.
    First, in order to understand this in the context of The Black Desert, you'll need a copy of The Black Desert Excerpt #1: The Ship's Log in Detail.  This is FREE, so don't worry. 

     You wanna get it right now?  (Sigh) Fine, I'll wait.

     Back?  Did....did you buy my other stuff?
     Never mind.  As you can see from the description, There is no "Speed", or "Space".  There's Acceleration and Delta-V.  Using your fusion drive to blast something is very powerful, true, but it uses a whole lot of your Delta-V.  So, again using the Heinlein as an example (maybe you have one, if so follow along),  While it's Fusion Torch does a whopping 25D of damage, it uses up an equally whopping 25 points of Delta-V.  Long story short, It can Torch a grand total of 5 rounds before using up its Safety Margin.  Four rounds after that (if you're insane enough to keep Torching), Your fuel tanks are dry and you fly off into space on a one-way course at 45 hexes a round forever.  This means only suicidal or mathematically inept Players will use the Torch for more than a couple of rounds.  After just two rounds, the ship has accelerated 10 hexes in the opposite direction and will take 10 rounds to slow down using its regular L-Drive.
     In The Black Desert this is simply physics.  In other games, it is an example of another Rule of RPG Ship Design:

5. The more powerful the weapon, the more limited the rate of fire/number of shots/ targeting accuracy/ something else that keeps it from breaking the game.

     Let's take arguably the most popular spacecraft super-weapon of all as an example: The Death Star.  Its main armament is a laser capable of turning a medium sized planet into an small sized asteroid field.  This is the mother of all Big Guns.
     Have you ever wondered why, in  A New Hope,  The Death Star didn't blow up the gas giant Yavin instead of waiting a half-hour for the Death Star's orbit to give it a clear shot at the moon the Rebel's Base was on?  Because the Superlaser took  an hour and a half to recharge.  Waiting to clear Yavin was simply faster.
     (Either that, or it really is a huge plot hole.  Sheesh, Lucas....)
     The same movie offers another example: the X-Wings making the bombing run had only two proton torpedoes.  This gave Luke just one chance to use the Force and blow up the Death Star.  The principle is the same; the torpedoes are more powerful and thus more limited.

   That about wraps it up for Pre-viz, ladies and gentlemen.  We will continue tomorrow with Part III.



  1. re: deathstar vs gas giant -- the same energy dumped into a gas giant isn't going to faze it, much less blast it out of your way.
    (and if you _were_ dumping enough energy to do so, you wouldn't _need_ to shoot the now kentucky-fried moon)

    -- "Why am I arguing star wars physics" Xander

  2. An exercise in futility to be sure. I only made that particular point in response to the "How it Should have Ended" parody of Episode IV, that showed the Death Star blowing up Yavin in an effort to demonstrate a plot hole in the movie. Of all the plot holes, they chose one that had been resolved in the 1980's! If anything, I think a Death Star could ignite the giant and kick off self-sustaining fusion, making it a tiny star. Wait, now I'm arguing Star Wars physics!


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