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Brainstorming a “Kitchen Sink“ Sci-Fi campaign

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Operating from the idea seeds upthread about the gates being made in asteroids and also being part of a sentient mechanical race, tied with the Oan/Green Lantern type relationship, the KoO’s concealment issue becomes a bit easier.

1);The fact that they’re inside asteroids makes gate activity harder to spot. Most of the energy would be escaping from the ends, so if you’re looking at it a few degrees off center, it might be nearly undetectable from any real distance.

Visually, they going to blend in with their surroundings, as well.

2) Assuming the portals are sentient means they don’t need to be at fixed points in space in order to create and maintain connections. They keep in touch, updating their locations. That means a portal could be drifting along in an asteroid belt alongside hundreds of billions of similar pieces of rock.

3) If the sentient portals consider the KoO’s to be their agents*, they have a vested interest in keeping them safe. That means that the locations of those portals in KoO controlled space wouldn’t necessarily be revealed by the other portals.

Now, it wouldn’t take long for smart critters to figure out something hinky is going on when they try to follow KoO agents and wind up places where it’s patently clear the agents aren’t, but the portal technology predates the rise of pretty much every other sentient race. They won’t know all the secrets. They might figure it’s just a glitch. Or that the KoO have figured out some kind of way to manipulate the transport data.

Figuring out the portals are doing it themselves would be a shocking revelation. “They‘re sentient? They have free will? What if they stopped cooperating with us?”





* pets?
 
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Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
@Umbran

In this thread, we’ve been discussing a setting in which large starships are capable of “short range” hyperspace jumps, but truly “long range” jumps require the use of portals.

What would you think would be good definitions for “short” vs “long” range?
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
@Umbran

In this thread, we’ve been discussing a setting in which large starships are capable of “short range” hyperspace jumps, but truly “long range” jumps require the use of portals.

What would you think would be good definitions for “short” vs “long” range?
I'm not Umbran, but how about 10 parsecs? There are 414 stars within 10 parsecs of Sol.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
@Umbran

In this thread, we’ve been discussing a setting in which large starships are capable of “short range” hyperspace jumps, but truly “long range” jumps require the use of portals.

What would you think would be good definitions for “short” vs “long” range?
What you ask is... really complicated.

Take, for example, that 10 parsec suggestion. It sounds reasonable. There are a few hundred stars within 10 parsecs of Earth. But, if one engine can make one jump, and reach any of 400+ worlds, how many are within two jumps, or three, or thirty? Within 30 jumps (about 900 light years) there should be millions of stars.

If a jump takes a day, you can reach any one of millions of stars in a month. If the jump takes a week, you can reach any of millions of destinations in a year.

This is the problem with space. Locally, it is empty. Globally, there's too much. If every star in the 10 parsecs around Earth is a game location, you already have over 400 of them - you're done.

Here's the secret - when you are dealing with space opera RPGs... the distances are arbitrary. Because you aren't going to have them hex-crawl through the galaxy. For one thing, it is a 3d volume, not a flat map. For another, the number of sites they can reach goes up too fast.

You're going to end up with a node map of interesting places. What matters is not distance, but how quickly you can travel the node map. Scale the node map to whatever distance scale you like.

What you need to know more is not distance scales but the politics and socioeconomics of travel through the node map. How much effort, money, and time does it take a PC, a normal person, cargo, and war machines of note to travel the node map?


I think I have it: the blue supergiants Alnitak, Alnilam and the blue giant Mintaka are the stars system comprising Orion’s Belt. I think Knights of Orion has a cool ring to it. Their emblem will be a trio of blue stars in a line.
Remember, they only look like that from Earth.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
What you ask is... really complicated.

Take, for example, that 10 parsec suggestion. It sounds reasonable. There are a few hundred stars within 10 parsecs of Earth. But, if one engine can make one jump, and reach any of 400+ worlds, how many are within two jumps, or three, or thirty? Within 30 jumps (about 900 light years) there should be millions of stars.

If a jump takes a day, you can reach any one of millions of stars in a month. If the jump takes a week, you can reach any of millions of destinations in a year.
While not mentioned, the stringing jumps together issue was on my mind. It was part of why I asked for your help!

My thought was that a jump capable ship could do 2-4 jumps within a day, but the fuel costs, mechanical stress, and stress on biological minds would combine for there being a hard cap on the number of jumps a ship could make in a week. And after that cap was hit, biological crew needs R&R (or risk psychosis), the ship would need fuel...and possibly maintenance work. That would allow for mercantile and military jumps, but would prevent simply skipping across the galaxy, bypassing the portals.

Portal travel takes the same amount of subjective time, but is much less stressful on everything transmitted. This is probably because the other races are using knockoffs of the original portal tech, and haven’t cracked all the physics the portal makers did. The original portals are just better.
Here's the secret - when you are dealing with space opera RPGs... the distances are arbitrary. Because you aren't going to have them hex-crawl through the galaxy. For one thing, it is a 3d volume, not a flat map. For another, the number of sites they can reach goes up too fast.

You're going to end up with a node map of interesting places. What matters is not distance, but how quickly you can travel the node map. Scale the node map to whatever distance scale you like.
As I recall, SPI’s Universe RPG had a flat map, but there was a 3rd axis implied by giving stars a coordinate above or below its plane.

But your point stands: no way a TTRPG can contain that much info on a galactic scale map. So... handwavium applied to ship-level hyperspace generators?

What you need to know more is not distance scales but the politics and socioeconomics of travel through the node map. How much effort, money, and time does it take a PC, a normal person, cargo, and war machines of note to travel the node map?
Yes. Excellent insight.

Remember, they only look like that from Earth.
Oh, I know that. But every Sci-Fi IP I can think of that mentions constellations defaults to the human ones.
 
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Zardnaar

Legend
Danny about ftl travel.

Have it but it's not super fast. Slower than say Star Trek.

Something later or 4-5 light years speed in a year and only on ships that are big enough to house a jump drive and generator.

So a year to get to say Alpha Centauri from earth but more like 20000 years to cross the galaxy.

If the current races can build the gates they send out a construction vessel to nearby stars and it takes a few years to get there.

Older gates and wormholes might be able to get to parts far away.
 

MarkB

Legend
Fuel as a limiter to FTL travel can work well. Make it something that can only be manufactured by a high-tech civilisation (antimatter, or preferably something similarly exotic but less unstable) and that is bulky enough to be a significant limitation to maximum number of jumps.

Combine this with the Gates network, and most civilisations within the galaxy will be gradually-expanding bubbles centred around each gate location. Sure, you can travel further with local-scale FTL, but you run out of fuel if you stray too far from anywhere advanced enough to manufacture more of it.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Fuel as a limiter to FTL travel can work well.
I expect most arbitrarily set limitations on consumables will generally be found to be questionable given sufficient economic incentive. Making it a fuel issue really shifts the problem to money - and you have interstellar governments who should have access to arbitrarily large amounts of funds, it ceases to be a limitation.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
My thought was that a jump capable ship could do 2-4 jumps within a day, but the fuel costs, mechanical stress, and stress on biological minds would combine for there being a hard cap on the number of jumps a ship could make in a week. And after that cap was hit, biological crew needs R&R (or risk psychosis), the ship would need fuel...and possibly maintenance work. That would allow for mercantile and military jumps, but would prevent simply skipping across the galaxy, bypassing the portals.
So, I am going to come around to a point backwards.

What do you want to be the basic economic limiters on the cultures in this setting. Because those, combined with your ftl technology, will tell you what war will be like. Because, to be brutally honest, war is a problem.

Anyone who can manage casually moving around in a solar system, and make jumps between stars in independent ships, can destroy society on a planet, almost trivially. Slap engines on a ship-sized nickel-iron asteroid. Jump it to the outskirts of your target solar system. Drive full throttle at your target - engines and the gravity assist of falling towards the system's sun make your rock into a dinosaur killer. This is cheap and unmanned. You make 'em by the truckload. Eventually one gets through.

So, you need a reason why wars don't happen. The gate system may be your answer.
 

Nobby-W

Far more clumsy and random than a blaster
So, I am going to come around to a point backwards.

What do you want to be the basic economic limiters on the cultures in this setting. Because those, combined with your ftl technology, will tell you what war will be like. Because, to be brutally honest, war is a problem.

Anyone who can manage casually moving around in a solar system, and make jumps between stars in independent ships, can destroy society on a planet, almost trivially. Slap engines on a ship-sized nickel-iron asteroid. Jump it to the outskirts of your target solar system. Drive full throttle at your target - engines and the gravity assist of falling towards the system's sun make your rock into a dinosaur killer. This is cheap and unmanned. You make 'em by the truckload. Eventually one gets through.

So, you need a reason why wars don't happen. The gate system may be your answer.
I know this - reaction drives and guidance. It's pretty obvious when you're doing this, as an asteroid big enough to be a dinosaur killer needs a large drive and a shit-load of reaction mass to move it in any reasonable length of time. Unless you can accelerate it to velocities in the 1,000's of km/sec it will still take months or years to get to an inner planet from the outer system.

If you've ever done an orbital rendezvous in Kerbal Space Program, hitting the sphere of influence of a planet, let alone the planet itself is not a trivial undertaking from (say) Jool to Kerbin. The asteroid will still need terminal guidance or a very precise initial shove indeed to hit the target. Caught far enough out, it doesn't need a big push to make it miss - a difference of a few metres per second will do it from far enough out. You have to defend the asteroids or the target will pick up on it and nudge it away.

You need a lot more delta-V to orchestrate the attacks then you need to defend against them. Unless the target has no spacegoing capability or lacks the technology to do the intercept then it's easier to defend this than attack with it.
 
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Zardnaar

Legend
I know this - reaction drives and guidance. It's pretty obvious when you're doing this, as an asteroid big enough to be a dinosaur killer needs a large drive and a shit-load of reaction mass to move it in any reasonable length of time. Unless you can accelerate it to velocities in the 1,000's of km/sec it will still take months or years to get to an inner planet from the outer system.

If you've ever done an orbital rendezvous in Kerbal Space Program, hitting the sphere of influence of a planet, let alone the planet itself is not a trivial undertaking from (say) Jool to Kerbin. The asteroid will still need terminal guidance or a very precise initial shove indeed to hit the target. Caught far enough out, it doesn't need a big push to make it miss - a difference of a few metres per second will do it from far enough out. You have to defend the asteroids or the target will pick up on it and nudge it away.

You need a lot more delta-V to orchestrate the attacks then you need to defend against them. Unless the target has no spacegoing capability or lacks the technology to do the intercept then it's easier to defend this than attack with it.
Clever asteroid trick used in the Thrawn Trilogy. Use the as siege weapons.

You load a few onto star destroyers and put cloaking devices on them. They made you blind as well but doesn't matter on asteroids.

Drop 20 of them around a planet and fake fire your tractor beams a few hundred times.

Don't even need asteroids you could use large tungsten rods or go the mass effect route and fire things very fast.

If you've got ftl drives and interstellar flight one would think you can deal with errant asteroids.

Even in sci fi if you can weapon asteroids large enough to wipe out the dinosaurs you're getting into mega engineering levels of sci fi. The dinosaur killer on the smaller scale estimates masses more than a Super Star Destroyer and they're 19 kilometres long.
 
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MarkB

Legend
Clever asteroid trick used in the Thrawn Trilogy. Use the as siege weapons.

You load a few onto star destroyers and put cloaking devices on them. They made you blind as well but doesn't matter on asteroids.

Drop 20 of them around a planet and fake fire your tractor beams a few hundred times.

Don't even need asteroids you could use large tungsten rods or go the mass effect route and fire things very fast.

If you've got ftl drives and interstellar flight one would think you can deal with errant asteroids.

Even in sci fi if you can weapon asteroids large enough to wipe out the dinosaurs you're getting into mega engineering levels of sci fi. The dinosaur killer on the smaller scale estimates masses more than a Super Star Destroyer and they're 19 kilometres long.
In the Expanse novels, terrorists use stolen stealth materials to coat a bunch of asteroids and shunt them into Eath-intersecting orbits. Only one of them gets through, but it's enough to cause a nuclear winter.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
In the Expanse novels, terrorists use stolen stealth materials to coat a bunch of asteroids and shunt them into Eath-intersecting orbits. Only one of them gets through, but it's enough to cause a nuclear winter.
They weren't trying to destroy the world but block spaceflight. 20 odd asteroids, 200+ fake launches.

Ship takes off collides with cloaked asteroid. Shuts down all space flight.

Extinction level event you need a decent sized asteroid and to hit the right spot. Smaller asteroids/tungsten rods can "nuke" a city.
 

MarkB

Legend
They weren't trying to destroy the world but block spaceflight. 20 odd asteroids, 200+ fake launches.

Ship takes off collides with cloaked asteroid. Shuts down all space flight.
That's not how I remember it, or we may be talking about different incidents. There was definitely a full-on surface strike followed by global-scale crisis.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
That's not how I remember it, or we may be talking about different incidents. There was definitely a full-on surface strike followed by global-scale crisis.
One may have fallen out of orbit but the blockade was the primary goal. They didn't want to destroy Coruscant.

If your cloaking devices work like Romulans you don't need to do this.

Assuming you have them.
 

MarkB

Legend
One may have fallen out of orbit but the blockade was the primary goal. They didn't want to destroy Coruscant.

If your cloaking devices work like Romulans you don't need to do this.

Assuming you have them.
Okay, you're still talking about the Coruscant one. Since you were quoting my comment about the events in The Expanse I thought that was what you were referring to.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Okay, you're still talking about the Coruscant one. Since you were quoting my comment about the events in The Expanse I thought that was what you were referring to.
Lol derp crossed wires.

I've watched the TV show and read a bit about the expanse on the wiki.

Sister in law has the books so I'll need to read them. I know the humans go and colonize the galaxy via the gates, Earth becomes irrelevant and the precursors start to matter.

Precursors seem a big sci fi trope turns up everywhere (Expanse, Trek, Mass Effect, Star Gate, Star Wars legends, Halo, etc)
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
What are your thoughts on the size of the actual gates? Smaller diameter gates would limit the size of the ships. If your FTL tech is bulky, those smaller ships would have limited (or no) capacity. That same bulk could also index weapon capabilities. Overall, you'd have lots of capacity for smaller exploration sized-ships to zip about, but the big warships would pretty limited movement-wise, outside of FTL. If actual FTL travel is limited itself by, say, navigation and destination constraints, you can put some nice limits on you 3D sandbox.
 

Nobby-W

Far more clumsy and random than a blaster
What are your thoughts on the size of the actual gates? Smaller diameter gates would limit the size of the ships. If your FTL tech is bulky, those smaller ships would have limited (or no) capacity. That same bulk could also index weapon capabilities. Overall, you'd have lots of capacity for smaller exploration sized-ships to zip about, but the big warships would pretty limited movement-wise, outside of FTL. If actual FTL travel is limited itself by, say, navigation and destination constraints, you can put some nice limits on you 3D sandbox.
The ones in The Expanse were about 1,000km across. The Fsherl-Ganni's gates in Schlock Mercenary are smaller than that but still large enough to fly a capital ship through.
 

Nobby-W

Far more clumsy and random than a blaster
Even in sci fi if you can weapon asteroids large enough to wipe out the dinosaurs you're getting into mega engineering levels of sci fi. The dinosaur killer on the smaller scale estimates masses more than a Super Star Destroyer and they're 19 kilometres long.
That was my point earlier. An actual dinosaur killer size asteroid needs a lot of energy to get enough delta-V to accelerate it out of the Asteroid belt or trojan orbits. Lugging something big enough to do that insystem, and then doing the burn isn't going to be subtle. Even a burn to get it into a minimal energy orbit to intersect with your target planet is going to be pretty hard to overlook.

The minimal estimated size for the Chixulub impactor is about 2x10**12 tons. A minimal Jupiter-Earth transfer is about 3.1km/sec worth of delta-V, and that's an orbit that would take years to make the rendezvous with Earth. Even with a 100% efficient reaction drive, that's about 1.5x10**22J of energy, or equivalent to the explosive yield of 3.5x10**6 megatons that you have to somehow conceal while you accelerate the asteroid. Bearing in mind that at a relative velocity of 3km/sec the kinetic energy of an object is roughly equivalent to the explosive yield of its weight in TNT; attempting to sink even 1% waste energy into the object itself is going to make it quite warm.

A city killer could be a lot smaller, but that's some real precision sharpshooting to hit a city-sized target from Jupiter.

Having said this, although I think we now have a sense of the scale of the effort involved in humping dinosaur killers around a star system, we are also in the business of trying to apply real-world physics to a fantastic setting ...

 
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