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!

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