Wednesday, October 28, 2009

With Great Power Comes Great Headaches!

I was explaining today to a fellow gamer that when Albert Bailey and I wrote StarCluster 2, we went to a great deal of trouble to understand, project, and exploit the various future technologies, then hid the information under gaming abstraction, so that gamers could just run the game without worrying about or understanding the physics behind it.

I was looking for a good example, and found the various portable power supplies. Powered devices generally have a standardized power source they need to work - under "laser pistol", the description would say it needs to be powered by an Armpak 8 or above. that's all you need to know to play the game, but when Albert and I designed it, we went to the trouble of figuring out exactly how energy was stored for portable use, given the enormous power drains of extremely high tech gear. We came up with the following:


Just as the different Tech Levels have different characteristic materials, they also have characteristic power storage. At Tech Level 6 and 7, energy is stored chemically, in batteries and fuel cells respectively. At Tech Level 8, energy is stored in stabilized monatomic
hydrogen. At Tech Level 9, energy is stored by keeping atoms in an excited state, either with inner shell electrons removed or with nuclei in non-ground states. At Tech Level 10, energy is no longer stored. A matter/antimatter reaction is bottled in a variable temporal stasis field, called a stasis bottle. When energy is needed, it is generated on the spot by bringing the reaction back from the other space the stasis field puts it into for a microsecond or so, allowing some energy to leak out to the power leads."

"The various energy storage/containment devices referred to throughout StarCluster are keyed by a number denoting the type of energy storage used, such as battery7, or armpak8. A 6 denotes Tech Level 6 (battery) storage, while a 7 refers to TL7, 8 to TL8, etc. Armpaks are typically worn strapped to the upper arm, but can be fastened anywhere else if that would be more convenient. Costs for power storage devices may be found in the Equipment: Weapons Guide. A higher level energy storage device can replace any lower level device. It is not necessary to carry several different energy storage devices for powering different items if the energy storage unit worn is capable of powering the device with the highest energy drain."

Now, the players don't need to know that. Neither does the GM. All they need to know is that if you plug this do-hickey in there and pull the trigger, it goes zap. So why did we spend so much time coming up with future energy storage methods with the proper energy density to power these devices? No one would know if we just handwaved it. Well, no one except us. We went to this trouble to make sure that the technology was consistent and possible at that level, so that we had a firm base to extrapolate. If you understand the underlying technology, you can assess any device and see where it fits, and if it fits, into that universe. There are no great gaps or leaps in progression. Things feel consistent and more real because of it, and the gaming group doesn't have to know any of this to make it run.



  1. It seems to me there would be another step between "Time Stasis Reaction" and Excited Atoms. Perhaps some gravitic storage.

    In my SF game (AEGIS) I had bucky balls (buckminsterfullerines) used as a stabilizing agent for a plasma reaction. The RAPC cell interface, strips out the stable buckminsterfullerines which leaves raw energy pumped out.

  2. Hi Tim!

    Yes, the jump in power output between atomic batteries and stasis bottles is very large, but there are other reasons we went this way. StarCluster tech is built on one or two on breakthrough discoveries occurring late in the previous tech level becoming the basis for the current tech level as they are exploited, extended, and permutated. One of these breakthroughs discovered in late Tech Level 9 was the field technology which became the basis for jump drives, matter transfer, soul transfer, and stasis fields, all defining Tech level 10 technologies. Any other power storage methods were discarded because of the vast potential of the stasis bottle. If the telephone had been discovered first, would anyone have bothered with the telegraph?