Friday, October 30, 2009

Space Ship Design Redux

Here's a couple of different small craft set up for ship creation for In Harm's Way: StarCluster. Subtract tonnage from the total, and add troops and officers. When you can't subtract any more, you are done.

Light Fighter
A 15-ton single person craft with pilot station and no pressurization, The pilot is presumed to be in armor or pressure suit for the entire flight.
Monocoque hull with wheeled landing gear, lift surfaces for maneuvering in atmosphere, supplementary oxygen for pilot, tight-beam MASER and radio communications, and bubble-topped pilot station = 0.33 Tons
Hull Armor
Factor 1 armor = 0.75 Tons
Factor 2 armor = 1.5 Tons
Factor 3 armor = 2.25 Tons
Factor 4 armor = 3 Tons
Factor 5 armor = 3.75 Tons
Factor 6 armor = 4 Tons
Lift Surfaces
For maneuvering in atmosphere = 0.15 Tons
6G thrust, plus 24 hours M/AM fuel = 3.75 Tons
7G thrust, plus 24 hours M/Am fuel = 4.0 Tons
8G thrust, plus 24 hours M/AM fuel = 4.5 Tons
9G thrust, plus 24 hours M/AM fuel = 4.25 Tons
10G thrust, plus 24 hours M/AM fuel = 5.25 Tons
Standard Scan Array = 1 ton
Standard Shield Package Factor 3 = 0.25 Tons
Standard Shield Package Factor 4 = 0.3 Tons
Standard Shield Package Factor 5 = 0.4 Tons
Standard Shield Package Factor 6 = 0.5 Tons
Standard Shield Package Factor 7 = 0.56 Tons
In-Line Pulse Laser = 3 Tons
Pylon mounted M/AM Missile = 0.25 Tons
Pylon mounted M/AM Torpedo = 2 Tons
In-Line Laselet= 1 Ton
Drone Lure = 0.5 Tons
1 Pilot, either officer or crew
Stealth and Miscellaneous
Each factor decreases chance of detection by 1 Small Penalty, and increases damage by 1 Small Bonus.
EM Absorptive Coating Factor 1 = Zero Tons
EM Absorptive Coating Factor 2 = Zero Tons
EM Absorptive Coating Factor 3 = Zero Tons
EM Absorptive Coating Factor 4 = Zero Tons
EM Absorptive Coating Factor 5 = Zero Tons

Small Rider
A 100-ton craft with cabin pressurization.
Monocoque hull with wheeled landing gear, lift surfaces for maneuvering in atmosphere, docking spur, loading ramp, HVAC, tight-beam MASER and radio communications. = 1 Ton
Hull Armor
Factor 1 armor = 4 Tons
Factor 2 armor = 8 Tons
Factor 3 armor = 12 Tons
Factor 4 armor = 16 Tons
Factor 5 armor = 20 Tons
Factor 6 armor = 24 Tons
Lift Surfaces
For maneuvering in atmosphere = 0.8 Tons
1G thrust, plus 100 hours M/AM fuel = 9 Tons
2G thrust, plus 100 hours M/AM fuel = 13 Tons
3G thrust, plus 100 hours M/AM fuel = 17 Tons
4G thrust, plus 100 hours M/AM fuel = 21 Tons
5G thrust, plus 100 hours M/AM fuel = 25 Tons
6G thrust, plus 100 hours M/AM fuel = 29 Tons
7G thrust, plus 100 hours M/AM fuel = 33 Tons
8G thrust, plus 100 hours M/AM fuel = 37 Tons
9G thrust, plus 100 hours M/AM fuel = 41 Tons
10G thrust, plus 100 hours M/AM fuel = 45 Tons
Factor 1 Jump Drive = 9 Tons
Standard Scan Array = 1 ton
Standard Shield Package Factor 1 = 0.4 Tons
Standard Shield Package Factor 2 = 0.8 Tons
Standard Shield Package Factor 3 = 1.2 Tons
Standard Shield Package Factor 4 = 1.6 Tons
Standard Shield Package Factor 5 = 2 Tons
In-Line Pulse Laser = 3 Tons
In Line Cogar = 8 Tons
In Line Missile Launcher with 8 CG missile magazine = 5 Tons
Missile Pod with 8 GG missile magazine = 7 Tons + 1 crew
Laser Pod = 5 Tons +1 crew
Pylon mounted M/AM Missile = 0.25 Tons
Pylon mounted M/AM Torpedo = 2 Tons
Torpedo in weapons bay = 2.2 Tons
Drone Lure = 0.5 Tons
1 officer
Squad Troops = 10 tons + 10 troops
Stealth and Miscellaneous
Each factor of EM Coating decreases chance of detection by 1 Small Penalty, and increases damage from energy weapons by 1 Small Bonus.
EM Absorptive Coating Factor 1 = Zero Tons
EM Absorptive Coating Factor 2 = Zero Tons
EM Absorptive Coating Factor 3 = Zero Tons
EM Absorptive Coating Factor 4 = Zero Tons
EM Absorptive Coating Factor 5 = Zero Tons
Reflective Plasma Shaper = 1 Ton

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sauce for the Goose

In a recent OHMAS (On Her Majesty's Arcane Service) game session, the player characters returned to their home base, a semi-ruined castle in the Scilly Isles, full of satisfaction for having completed their job successfully. The Teamsters - the people hauling freight in wagons, not the union - had been behind the whole thing after all. They settled in, and the secretary took quill in hand to begin draughting a report to the queen on the strange occurences of the false famine in Bristol.

As the secretary began interviewing the participants, however, discrepancies emerged. Up to a point, the stories of the participating characters were very much the same. However, once that point had been passed - a fight with a massive teamster on the streets of Bristol - memories of exactly what happened diverged, sometimes radically, from each other. All remembered the fight, then the realization that the Teamsters were behind stealing and selling the stored food, and that they were suitably punished, but details varied wildly, and the times between those points of commonality were remembered very differently by everyone.

What was going on? It was a false memory implanted by a Minstrel. The Minstrel, one of the game's Paths of Power, can change ones' memories. By singing a song of surpassing beauty, the Minstrel can implant Words of Power into the minds of all those listening, so long as they can hear and understand the song's lyrics. These words work like seed crystals, freezing the memories of those listening into a new shape.

Why were these memories different? The Minstrel's Words are few in comparison to the memories displaced. Where the Words of Power hit, their memories were closely aligned - all remembered that the evidence convicted the Teamsters, the punishment, and the return home well content with finishing their job successfully - because that was what the Minstrel directly said with her Words. Everything else they made up, sometimes from whole cloth, sometimes from bits and bobs of buried memories resurfacing, to fill in the void left by the new implanted memories. Where the characters made up their own memories, they diverged quite a it from each other.

The PCs were horrified. What had they done that they couldn't remember? Who had done this to them? Who were the real culprit, and what was going on now?

The PCs, by the way, have their own Minstrel, who had "adjusted" the memories of many others, including that of the Queen herself. Sauce for the Goose.

So, have you ever used the PCs' own weapons against them?


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.


There is no stealth in space!

"There is no stealth in space." Whenever hard science fiction is mentioned on an RPG forum, this baby is trotted out. Why? Heat. All work produces waste energy in the form of heat. Despite the bitter cold of space, the big problem of spacecraft is radiating waste heat, not freezing. So what's the problem? Just rig up a big ol' radiator, a heat sink, and pump away! Not a problem at all - unless you don't want to be seen, that is. That big ol' radiator stands out like a beacon against the cold emptiness of space. Let's leave that for a moment, and jump to a new subject - they're related, I promise!

Zero-Point Energy is the McGuffin of SF - infinite energy all around us, free for the taking! Yay! Free beer! The zero-point is the ground state of the universe - here's wikipedia's take - which basically says the zero point, the lowest energy state you can go, is full of energy. Compared with this universal ground state, the energy demands of even a space ship are trivial. Much SF has been written about extracting this energy in some way for useful purposes.

Unfortunately, extracting this energy is the problem. There doesn't seem to be any way to extract this energy, what with the laws of conservation of energy, and besides, using it would eventually mean taking the universe down a peg energy-wise - not necessarily a good idea. So how could you use this without extracting energy?

How about pumping waste heat into it?

That violates no physical laws. It's useful, and it's very appealing. A ship equipped with a zero-point pump could go stealth! I would expect the technology is not cheap, so let's assume it is mainly a military thing. Ordinary civilian ships wouldn't need it anyway, as they aren't stealthy in other ways - radar, for example. A big ol' radiator would work just fine.

So, in StarCluster, there is stealth in space. Take that, nay-sayers!


Sunday, October 18, 2009

The SaVaHuta Military Dicta

From In Harm's Way: StarCluster

I felt I needed to describe what the mission of the military is in IHW:SC. It's a different sort of setting, and not everyone knows what the mission of - say - the US military is, so how would they know what a freaky deal like SaVaHuTa would expect from its military?

The Missions of the SaVaHuTa Military

The SaVaHuTa military is used for various purposes both in war and in peacetime. As the military arm of a league of sovereign states, the SaVaHuTa military is constrained in certain ways, as opposed to the military arm of a unitary nation state. These restrictions, the Dicta, define the mission of the military.

One World, One Government

The military is tasked with preventing the formation of an Empire in the Cluster. Any move by any power to extend its governmental control over another world permanently must be opposed, whether or not the Leagus is involved. Wars between worlds are not necessarily fought with this object, but must be strictly observed in order to determine this. If necessary to prevent this object, the military is empowered to intervene. Member worlds found guilty of this transgression are expelled from the League.

The Military is not a Stepping Stone to Empire

The SaVaHuTa military is itself the most dangerous of weapone, one which may turn in the hand. Four times since the formation of the League, Sector leaders have attempted to use the SaVaHuTa military to create an instant empire. Each time, the plot has been discovered in time to put it down. Each time, though, parts of the military fought each other in a devastating civil war. Preventing such an occurance from happening again is a prime mission.

Piracy is an Enemy of the League

SaVaHuTa is a military-economic alliance. Piracy is a threat to economic prosperity. Piracy must be ruthlessly put down wherever it appears.

Terrorism is an Enemy of the League

Terrorism is a threat to the prosperity of the League. Terrorism against League Members must be ruthlessly put down wherever it appears.

Citizens are Entitled to Protection

SaVaHuTa citizens have earned the thanks of the League, by definition. Citizens are threatened at the risk of retaliation out of proportion to the offense.

Commerce is the lifeblood of the League

Threatening the trade of a League Member is at the risk of retaliation out of proportion to the offense. If possible, trade is to be protected in areas of danger with convoys and escorts to prevent temptation of belligerents to prey on League shipping.

Threats to the League Will Not be Allowed to Stand

Threatening moves by any power against the League itself will be met by escalation in kind.

Member States and War

Member states are free to pursue war against other powers without involving the League military. These incidents are considered a local affair. The League will not become involved unless there is a threat to the League itself. The goal of the League is to prevent widening of the conflict to include the League itself. The purpose of this dictum is to prevent one member State from using the entire League to solve its problems with other Sovereign States.

Application of These Dicta are at the Discretion of the Commander on the Scene

Communication within the Cluster is too slow to refer constantly to higher authority. The commander on the spot has the authority to commit forces proportional to the problem. Adjudication by higher authority will be made after the fact.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Maneuver Room

Here's a few maneuvers from In Harm's Way: StarCluster. None of these can be done by airplanes.

A Horizontal Fly By is used while passing a target going in the opposite direction or moving markedly slower to one side. The craft’s thrust is cut, and attitude jets are used to slew the craft sideways to continuously point the craft at the target while maintaining relative speed. Doubles the Quality of any hit. At end, craft is reversed, but coasting backward. Failure results in Large Penalty to Gunnery Skill Check. A Vertical Fly By is as a Horizontal Fly-by, but attitude change is vertical to hit target passing above or below

In a Grapple Slingshot, the craft grapples another ship or craft and uses it to change direction, passing the momentum to the other ship

In a Gravity Slingshot, the craft uses a gravity well to change direction. The deeper the dive, the higher the speed and the arder the turn:

  • High Gravity Slingshot - Skimming through a gravity well, using the gravity to change direction. Failure results in a Medium Gravity Slingshot
  • Medium Gravity Slingshot - Diving into a gravity well, using the gravity to change direction and add speed. Failure results in a Deep Gravity Slingshot
  • Deep Gravity Slingshot - Diving deeply into a gravity well, using the gravity to change direction and add speed. Failure results in breakup of the craft on the surface or atmosphere
Of course, the bigger the ship, the higher the penalty, and the smaller the craft, the bigger the bonus to do these maneuvers.

Sometimes you have to throw away the old methods, because they just don't work in a new situaton.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

In Harm's Way: StarCluster

I'm currently on vacation - my big project at Real Life work has been released, and I am free to take time off I have not been able to since this summer. That means 4+ weeks in the next four months.

The project I am workig on for Flying Mice is In Harm's Way: StarCluster, a marriage of the In Harm's Way military series and the StarCluster setting. It's also a preview of StarCluster 3, which I am in no hurry to release. I worked this game up to Beta test status earlier in the year, but ran into a snag with Fighter combat. Big Ship to Big Ship combat worked very well, but Fighters and Strike Craft were... well... boring. StarCluster is Firm SF - I try to keep to known physics as much as possible within the contraints of the setting. Therefore treating Fighter combat like air-to-air combat would be wrong. I kept hitting a brick wall whenever I thought about it, and shelved the project to concentrate on first Commonwealth Space, then Created Creatures for StarCluster, and finally On Her Majesty's Arcane Service.

The time off has done me a world of good. I came back to the game with fresh eyes and things just leapt into place. I was fighting what I had to work with because I had the cool air combat of IHW: Aces In Spades, Aces And Angels, Wild Blue, and even Dragons! in the back of my mind, and kept trying to fit realistic space combat into that. It would not work. This time I approached it from the standpoint of "what can you do in space that you can't do in atmosphere?" and was rewarded with new and very different maneuvers. I also took the perspective of the ship maneuvers in the original IHW: A Napoleonic Naval RPG, and kept to an abstract prose description, with consequences for failure and success.

Basically, in space, the entire ship can be treated as a turret, turing to face in any direction without affecting the flight path so long as thrust is cut off. Turning the ship to face another direction while thrusting results in a curve to the flight path with some slowdown. The slower you go, the more maneuverable you are, but the easier you are to hit. Targeting computers would display the target not as a point, but as a trumpet-shaped probability cone, with the point at the last known position, with light speed lag. The faster the target is moving, the deeper and sharper the cone. The slower the target is going, the more flared and shorter the cone. The person operating the weapon must put the weapon in the most likely place in that cone for the target to be, given demonstrated past behavior and known flight characteristics. In other words, pattern recognition. Humans are awesome at pattern recognition.

I'll be posting more as I work on it!


Monday, October 5, 2009

Future Perfect

Fortune telling is one of the hardest things for a GM to work into a game. When the prognosticator lays out those cards, or gazes into that crystal ball, things tend to go south fast. When it's the GM laying out the future, the tendency is to get locked into a choo choo experience, and when its the PC peering into the future, it just usually ends up making no sense at all.

So here I am, putting astrology into OHMAS with the Savant path - so what's up with that?

When I researched the people on which I based the Savant, one thing all had in common was Astrology, so if I wanted to remain true to my source, I needed to somehow integrate Astrology into the game in a way that would allow the player character the chance to make meaningful predictions, while at the same time not locking things in to the point of pre-destining the game.

I went back and really looked at Astrology in the real world - how is it supposed to work? How has belief in astrology lasted since antiquity? Maybe if I based the game mechanic on the real thing, it would solve the problems which seemed inherent in game-based fortune telling.

The key seemed to lie in the attitude towards what the stars actually were presumed to do. The planets influenced events. They did not dictate events. Futhermore, each planet had a sphere of interest - Venus ruled romance, but had no power over fighting. Jupiter presided over fortune, not reason. So I had to create an abstracted game sub-system where the planets could influence things in their sector, but allow the GMs and players to play without pre-determined results forcing things into any given path.

What I came up with was a system of random bonuses, good for the day, and good all day. If you approach a problem in this sphere in this manner, then you have a bonus:

Roll Luna Mercury Venus Mars Jupiter Saturn
rules Emotion Reason Romance Conflict Fortune Order

1-2 Fear Deliberation Flirtation Trickery Secrecy Boundaries
3-4 Hesitance Inspiration Subversion Might Timing Laws
5-6 Horror Analysis Sex Indirect Boldness Customs
7-8 Anger Deduction Seduction Flanking Lavishness Families
9-10 Doubt Mystification Titillation Position Prudence Organizations
11-12 Affection Appreciation Fascination Intimidation Investment Channels
13-14 Lust Deceit Ingratiation Brutality Trust Ethics
15-16 Confidence Misdirection Sympathy Glory Miserliness Morals
17-18 Longing Compromise Intrigue Caution Distrust Patterns
19-20 Joy Persuasion Beauty Opportunity Openness Connections

So, the Savant decides to see what the stars have in store for Conflict, Romance, and Order, becasue those are the sphere she judges are most important. For Conflict, she rolls a 12, indicating Intimidation is favored. In any situation of conflict, attempts relying on intimidation gain an extra die. For Romance, she rolls a 7 for seduction. In any action concerning romance, the PCs can gain a bonus dice if they are trying seduction. For Order, she rolls a 2, for a result of Boundaries. In situations where order is important, somehow involving boundaries will gain the PCs a bonus die. In upcoming situations, the PCs will tend to use these methods because they are favored.

Simultaneously, the GM reads the prophecy backwards to put in opportunities for those methods to work. How these factors are involved can involve creative interpretation, but they give a seed for the upcoming situation. Don't worry about the PCs. they will supply their own creative interpretations. The NPCs also can use these bonuses if they know of them. These influences are literally in the air, and anyone can use them. The PCs have a relevant prophecy, and the GM has a situation seed without railroading.