Tag Archives: Traveller

Freelance Traveller, Asteroids, Comets, Oh My

You’ve probably seen that Freelance Traveller September and October issues are out. Freelance Traveller is a fan-supported magazine. The editor, Jeff, is looking for submissions – check out the guidelines and get in touch with him!

In other news, some US companies are trying to get into asteroid mining. Turns out it’s a bit of a legal minefield, thanks to the Outer Space Treaty. The BBC has an article on the matter.

Finally, Rosetta will land on 67P on November 12th.

Ancients

Alien species that predate mankind – and usually meddle in human affairs or guide our evolution and development – are one of the big, big tropes of science fiction. There is probably no really good way of telling how this got started or even what source influenced Traveller directly – though von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods was published in 1968 and, from what I understand, quite popular in its heydays. And then there’s 2001.

While in reality it’s a load of hogwash and nonsense, there is nothing wrong with using Ancient Astronauts in a science fiction context. While it’s certainly an often-used trope, it is a great way to introduce mystery into your story or campaign. Works in most genres, too – you can even use them in a “hard” science fiction setting, the Fermi paradox being what it is. I personally like ancient aliens quite a lot – my favorite examples are probably Protetor, Mass Effect and the Heechee,

All said, pre-historic sentient species are absolutely to be found in Colonial Space. But how many, and what are they like?

Alien Ruins? Must be Monday

The Enderrans came from a world teeming with different sentient species. Humans, Endari, Thurin and Mineons were only a part of a larger, global community – if probably the dominant and most advanced alliance of species. Enderra also had a long and colorful history, and as its society became a scientific, technological culture archaeologists discovered ruins of several extinct non-human species.

Making first contact with Extraenderran species, and finding Ancient Alien ruins, therefore did not faze the Enderran explorers, exiles and colonists one bit. They expected it, and had there been no sentient aliens at all it would have shaken their fundamental beliefs a lot. As it stands, some scientists spend a lot of time wondering why there are not more alien species around.

FTL

It has to be understood that faster-than-light drives are an Enderran invention. That is not to say that it is impossible for anybody else to work it out on their own, but no other known species has managed to build ships that can enter hyperspace.

Of course, “reactionless” grav drives still allow you to build fairly efficient STL ships, but this all severely limits the scope of Ancient alien empires in known space.

Ancient Aliens

Here’s what exists in the setting right now:

Old Colonial Ruins: Though not technically an “ancient alien civilization”, several worlds in local space had once been settled by Enderrans, only to be abandoned later. Some died during the Dark Age, others simply failed for economic reasons. Many are known and documented and almost all have been looted, but some settlement undoubtedly remain for intrepid adventurers to discover. While modern war ruins are mostly ignored by scientists, archaeologists and historians have great interest in earlier settlements.

These are the sci fi equivalent of ghost towns.

Single Star System Cultures: Advanced civilizations that never made it out of their own star systems before becoming extinct existed on at least five worlds. Two died from nuclear war, one from what seems to have been a global plague, one for completely unknown reasons, and one from multiple asteroid strikes.

STL Culture: One alien species settled on five worlds using STL spaceships. This species is not extinct, but fell back into the stone age after an interstellar war escalated beyond control.

The Builders: The setting’s “true ancient aliens” are quite enigmatic, since they did not leave much behind – except for their monumental buildings and construction sites. These exist on worlds throughout the sector. Any newly-discovered Builder site is immediately seized by the government, but they have yielded little. What little is known about this species is inferred from their architecture alone.

Others: There are doubtless other species that existed in the past… their ruins waiting to be discovered.

 

The Unwashed Masses (High Population Worlds, Part 2)

Now that I’ve brought those mega-high-population worlds a little bit in line with the rest, let’s take a look at each of them in order to figure out what conditions might be like. For this post I will omit worlds with less than about 15 billion people.

I won’t post detailed analysis for all worlds in the sector, but this should serve as a good example of the way I work, and of how you can turn the simplistic UWP codes into actual places.

(As a note, yellow fields are how I mark data I’ve changed from the original dice rolls in some way.)

(5)Temperate 1429 AA8ABB9-G Hi Ht Wa HI5 127.000.000.000 (5)Temperate

The most populated world in Colonial Space is an interesting one. It is a large (A = 16,000 km) waterworld with a dense (1.5-2.49) atmosphere. It also has the highest tech level of any system (16), and it absolutely needs it.

What fresh, natural food is being produced is entirely aquatic. Most food is produced in vats and by synthesizers. The human population lives under water, on the water, and in floating cities and there’s probably a sizable off-world presence that gets counted in the total (a billion or two on the moon).

I say “human” because the world is actually quite hostile to human habitation. The gravity is too high, the air unpleasant. Yes, they have the technology to compensate, but I will assume that there is also a sentient aquatic species present. Since you can’t really develop technology underwater, they’ve either been uplifted by the colonists, or are being suppressed and exploited. Perhaps both.

The world is governed by a king and severely restricts contact and trade with off-worlders. The government is keenly aware of their technological edge over the other worlds and seeks to maintain it.

(3)Temperate 2614 BAA5AD9-A Fl Hi HI3 45.100.000.000 (3)Temperate

Another huge world, this one must be even less pleasant to live on. On top of its high gravity, it has an Exotic atmosphere and half the surface is covered in some sort of non-water. I wonder why anybody would want to live on such a planet, and it’s quite amazing that they managed to grow to 45 billion! I don’t want to assume non-humans, that’s a cop-out.

The planet’s government may give us a hint: code D is a “religious dictatorship”, which the Mongoose Traveller rules book says could be a “cult, trasncendent philosophy, psionic group mind”. None of those are very pleasant, and the implications are clear: The world was originally settled by religious outcasts, and they have some sort of inverse China syndrome. That is, instead of banning people from having children they strongly encourage or even force people to have a large number of children.

Why would they do this? I actually rolled on the Cultural Difference table and got a result of 55 – “Unusual Customs: Lifecycle”. Thanks, dice, I guess I was ahead of you.

Let’s leave the exact motivation up for later, but a large population is a large power base. These guys are certainly not up to anything good.

Last but not least I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that the fluid oceans are hydrocarbons, which serve as basic ingredients for the local synthifoods.

(8)Temperate 2917 B888AA9-9 Ga Hi HI8 68.400.000.000 (8)Temperate

Compared to our first two worlds, this one is almost boring. Yes, massive population, but also quite close to Earth: Size 8, about 80% water, just a bit of a denser atmosphere. It’s still classified as a Garden world and the only downside is the fairly low technology. It’s still high enough that they use carniculture vats, hydroponics, and maybe even imported food synthesizers, but the quality of the food will be a lot worse than on that tech level 16 water world.

With the environment fairly normal, and a Charismatic dictatorship (probably still revolutionary leaders in place from the war), this planet may seem like a fairly pleasant one. However, the massive population and the high law level do mean that the citizens’ daily lives are controlled to a great extent. Unlike the religious planet, this one probably does have strict family planning laws in place. Think fertility boards similar to what Larry Niven’s flatlanders have to deal with.

(3)Temperate 2611 A400A96-D Hi Ht In Na Va HI3 63.200.000.000 (3)Temperate

Ah, something completely different – a small vacuum world. Small as in Mars-sized, and without oceans this still means about the same land surface as Earth. To accommodate 63 billion people, this world is riddled with caves. The high tech level easily supports all these people, and the surprisingly low law level means that this world is probably the most pleasant to be a citizen on of all the high population worlds we’ve looked at so far.

The planet is probably an economic powerhouse – Industrialized trade code – supported by vacuum industries which in turn are fueled by mining. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that there are several dense asteroid belts, ringed gas giants, and many moons in this system that are all used to provide ore for the main world.

(8)Temperate 1418 C785A96-8 Ga Hi HI8 21.700.000.000 (8)Temperate

Next up, another overpopulated Garden world. With a size close to Earth’s, a dense atmosphere and extensive oceans it’s actually as close to the dystopic visions of an overcrowded Earth as we’ve got so far. The tech level is only 8 – about what we have on Earth today, maybe a little bit higher – which means 21.7 billion people is about the maximum the society can support, especially considering the C class starport implies a limited amount of interstellar space travel and the tech level is not high enough for a lot of “domestic” interplanetary travel.

Government code “A” is a charismatic dictator again, but I think this world – due to its location, if nothing else – was a supporter of Empire. So the local government is essentially unchanged under the Republic, and the locals support their leader because they realize that tight government control is necessary to cope with the large population. This is supported by the relatively low law code – much as on the previous vacuum world, the government is as hands-off as it can be.

If we’d ever want to set any sort of “cyberpunk” sort of adventure in the Contact Light setting, this world is a good candidate for it.

(7)Temperate 2135 B784A89-A Ga Hi HI7 31.000.000.000 (7)Temperate

This is another overpopulated garden world. The higher tech level supports more people than on the previous world. The government is a civil service bureaucracy, the rules book names communism or technocracy as examples. With the higher law level, this one might be a good candidate for a communist state and in a setting that derives inspiration from 1950s golden age science fiction, communist states make for great antagonists.

Beyond that, the UWP is fairly boring in my opinion.

(5)Temperate 1113 A8A5A89-D Fl Hi Ht HI5 30.500.000.000 (5)Temperate

Didn’t we already do this world? It’s very similar to #2614, except for the government type and for being smaller. A lot will depend on why people settled this world, but we can’t deduct that from the UWP. Alien ruins…

(4)Hot 1935 B743A88-9 Hi In Po HI4 15.700.000.000 (4)Hot

The first thing I notice about this world is the Hot climate; interestingly it’s still got oceans! The atmosphere is thin and tainted, so this world is certainly no paradise. It is industrialized, but poor – the reasons for this are the low tech level and its location in subsector O, outside the Empire (and now Republic). Perhaps the civil war caused it to lose what markets it had, or perhaps the Empire was supporting it and that support now vanished.

On the other hand we’re now looking at a world with “only” 15 billion people. Merely twice what we have on Earth today. And with the amount of dry land this planet has there is a lot of room for these people to spread around. It’s got crowded cities, for sure, but it doesn’t have the massive population problems of some of the other planets.

0.7atmospheres, the upper limit for this atmospheric code, is about equal to a height of 3000m on Earth. A quick check shows that this is below the tree line in some regions, so it’s entirely possible that this planet actually has quite a bit of vegetation.

(3)Temperate 0305 B410AD9-B Hi In Na HI3 14.200.000.000 (3)Temperate

Another Mars-sized world, and with its trace atmosphere it is very much like Mars indeed. The most interesting thing about this world is its location: It is situated in subsector A, which is very much on the edge of a major rift. It’s also a religious dictatorship.

Why did all these people come here? The UWP won’t give us anything. With law code 8, I think that this world serves as a base of operations to explore the spaces beyond, but the powers that be permit no contact between travelers and the locals (change law level to 7). What are they hiding? It’s a mystery for our protagonists to uncover at some point…

Conclusions

The UWP codes give us surprisingly much to work with, considering it’s just a handful of numbers. At the same time, I am very happy I reduced the number of systems in the sector. The more worlds we have, the higher the chances for similar results.

It does make a lot of sense to use the additional rules Mongoose added – such as various power groups and the cultural difference table – and I will do that for all systems when I work out detailed profiles for them.

Finally, we should never be afraid to override the dice. The random results are a guide, not the law. But this should go without saying, right?

People, People Everywhere (High Population Worlds, Part 1)

One thing you will remember from when we looked at the dice results for this sector was the insanely high total population – 2663 billion people – for what is supposed to be frontier-ish.

This is really due to four population code B worlds – that is, 100 billion or more inhabitants. I’ve already downgraded one of them. In addition, the sector contains 8 worlds inhabited by between 10 and 100 billion people:

(5)Temperate 1429 AA8ABB9-G Hi Ht Wa     HI5 834.000.000.000 (5)Temperate
(8)Temperate 0516 A763BD9-C Hi Ht       HI8 482.000.000.000 (8)Temperate
(3)Temperate 2614 BAA5BD9-7 Fl Hi       HI3 166.000.000.000 (3)Temperate
(8)Temperate 2917 B888AA9-7 Ga Hi       HI8 95.700.000.000 (8)Temperate
(3)Temperate 2611 A400A96-D Hi Ht In Na Va HI3 63.200.000.000 (3)Temperate
(8)Temperate 1418 C785A96-8 Ga Hi       HI8 61.700.000.000 (8)Temperate
(7)Temperate 2135 B784A89-7 Ga Hi       HI7 31.000.000.000 (7)Temperate
(5)Temperate 1113 A8A5A89-D Fl Hi Ht     HI5 30.500.000.000 (5)Temperate
(4)Hot 1935 B743A88-9 Hi In Po     HI4 15.700.000.000 (4)Hot
(3)Temperate 0305 B410AD9-B Hi In Na     HI3 14.200.000.000 (3)Temperate
Xoth 2219 A576A85-A Ga Hi In     HI7 12.200.000.000 (7)Temperate

Is this even possible?

From a pure math standpoint, absolutely. Earth’s population has increased dramatically over the past few centuries, as better agriculture and medicine reduced mortality – especially child mortality. When I was a kid, the world’s population hit 5 billion people. I remember the TV gala; for some weird reason people actually celebrated it. 2011, it was at 7 billion. Call it 25 years for 50% growth. Simply continue to feed all these people and you’ll have run-away, exponential growth.

Earth's Population over time, in Billion
Earth’s Population over time, in Billion

Of course, things aren’t as simple as that. First off, the Earth is a closed system and at some point – we are not sure where it would be – there simply won’t be enough food, energy and water. Population would hit a wall and things would turn ugly.

In reality, even if there was no limit to food, energy and water (say because of interstellar imports)  it won’t work out that way.

People adapt to their environment – we’re really good at that. Better health, more wealth, and especially better education also limit fertility. Women simply give birth to fewer children. In the 1950s, it was 5 kids per woman. In the early 2000s, it was half that. The UN expect it to eventually drop to just above 2.05. In other words, a balance will set in, and the best guesses place this at ~9 billion people.

A regular Sunday shopping in Chennai. A good example of the sea of humanity. cc-by-sa, McKay Savage
A regular Sunday shopping in Chennai. A good example of the sea of humanity. cc-by-sa, McKay Savage

In other words, a super-densely populated world isn’t going to happen in any natural way. Population growth is a byproduct of technological progress. If that progress stops, or even reverses, the population becomes unsustainable and will either crash or find an equilibrium. If technological progress continues unabated, then attitudes will change with it and population will find an equilibrium eventually as well, just at a higher level. To put it bluntly, people simply have better things to do with their lives than to raise kids continuously.

Genre Considerations

I am obviously not worried as much about building a realistic population model as I am about creating a setting that fits its genre and is internally consistent and, well, hopefully interesting.

Massively populated worlds are definitely in-genre. Asimov’s Trantor is of course the grand-daddy of them all, and had anything between 40-500 billion inhabitants. Coruscant has a trillion inhabitants. Then there are the many city-worlds of the Warhammer 40k empire (and probably others). Massive, galactic-scale societies support these worlds and absorb their effect on the economy.

In Niven’s “Known Space”, Earth has a population of 18 billion and is described as a crowded hell. Heinlein assumes 11 billion in “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” and it’s not exactly doing us any good. (Of course in “Starman Jones”, Heinlein assumes that 4 billion people are a lot). In both cases, space travel is fairly limited for various reasons – all those Terrans can’t just mass-emigrate, which limits the effect on other worlds.

The World-Builder’s Solution

My gut reaction was to simply downgrade these worlds – as I did with #2021. However, I reminded myself of the reasons for using a random generator in the first place: It is supposed to spur our imagination, right?

Here’s a map of where those >1 billion people planets are:

s256-annotations-highpop

The 1.2 in Subsector K is our world #2021, which originally had 786 billion people. Okay, so the absolute numbers are quite too high. But do you notice what I am seeing?

Subsector H, birthplace of the rebellion, has two super-high population planets. Lots of cheap manpower for the war. And that subsectors H-J axis I mentioned? Another super-high population world in subsector J – and the world with the highest tech level in the entire sector! Now, the 834 billion (and 482 billion) are just ridiculously high numbers, but if we fix it like so:

s256-annotations-highpop2

We’ve effectively preserved the random generator results, improved them significantly, and used them to explain the campaign’s political situation.

This brings the population of the sector down to 508 billion people – a fifth of what it was initially.

Next up, we’ll take a look at these planets’ individual UWPs to figure out just how these people might be living.

Quo Vadis, 256?

So. We have a home. Sector 256. This means the work is just beginning – now I need to lay out local space.

s256-annotations-subsectors

The map of local space should be centered on the Imperial Core. That is, by producing this map we imply that “this is it”, similar to how a Terran national map will show, well, the subject of the map plus perhaps parts of some neighbors. Subsectors F and G as well as J and K should thus be the main focus. K is obviously quite sparse – a backwoods area people don’t go to, perhaps comparable to a stretch of desert.

H on the other hand has many worlds that must be quite important – look at all of these A and B class ports and the travel connections between them!

In theory, this could be a neighboring nation but the ideas I have do not allow for a secondary powerful nation. So it’s part of the Empire, and this means I’ll have to expand the map to the “east” a little bit eventually, just to give our protagonists some room to explore.

s256-annotations-empire

The Imperial capital world, Mithra, and the original colony worlds the colonists settled on should be close to the center of that region. They do not “have” to be important anymore – just consider the difference between Rome two thousand years ago and now – but they should probably be relatively heavily populated. They should also be fairly close to each other.

Looking at the map, I immediately notice a bunch of temperate worlds which are marked as fairly habitable. (I also notice that habitability index 9 didn’t get shaded, but no matter). These are 1917, 2017, 2118, 2119, 2021, and 2219:

(8)Temperate 1917 X863445-0 Lt NI HI8 25500
(9)Temperate 2017 B8658B9-A Ga Ri HI9 833000000
(7)Temperate 2021 A663BB8-C Hi Ht HI7 786000000000
(8)Temperate 2118 D864951-8 Ga Hi HI8 5770000000
(8)Temperate 2119 C875657-8 Ag Ga NI HI8 4610000
(7)Temperate 2219 A576A85-A Ga Hi In HI7 12200000000

Interesting. #1917 works well for Mithra, just increase the population a little: X863845-0, Pop 156000000. Makes them “Rich” by Traveller definitions and I appreciate the irony. But we’ll get back to that later.

The other three original colonies were Sassandra, Ascalon and Xoth. Let’s use the three garden worlds, #2017, #2118 and #2219, for them. Either the colonists picked worlds most suitable for them, or ones they could easily terraform.

As for #2021, I’m reducing the population code to 9, with 1.19 billion inhabitants.

The Republic

The Republic was founded on Avalon. But where is that? With Mithra in “G”, our logical choices are “H” and “J”. J is probably the better choice – More isolated – but without wanting to foreshadow anything, I really want to place it in H. Let’s assume all those interconnected worlds indicate a tightly-knit community in this province, perhaps they were never too happy about being annexed by Empire in the first place. And Willem II was just the sort of Emperor who would ignore serious problems staring him into the face.

Consulting the map again, I find this:

(2)Hot 2715 A6309C7-D De Hi Ht Na Po HI2 1580000000

A small-ish desert world with high tech, good infrastructure, a very thin atmosphere and a class C government which the Traveller rules book says could be a revolutionary council. Could it be any better?

I can totally imagine these poor bastards, working in the mines under adverse conditions, their living quarters packed due to the high population. Everybody’s poor, and ideas of a Better Future begin to spread.

With the locations of Mithra and Avalon fixed, I’m thinking that the Republic first captured worlds in J, before circling back and attacking the Imperial core worlds from multiple sides. This probably also means that the J-H axis, with travel through the empty space of K, is the main area of Republic control. G is an occupied mess, and F ends up as a region on the sidelines – the Contact Light equivalent of the Regina subsector.

This is what I love about rng’s – they can be so inspirational!

 

The Republic

The Interstellar Republic – just “The Republic” for short – is the successor state of the Empire. It was founded – or rather came into being – in the 320s, when unrest grew over Imperial policy at a time of severe economic decline. By 330, several worlds had seceded from the Empire and immediately started to cooperate under the banner of the Interstellar Workers’ Union – trying to sort out economic problems and build up defenses over fears that the Empire might invade in order to crush the rebellion.

Instead of using its considerable military power, however, emperor Willem II negotiated a treaty with the secessionists. They agreed, seeing that this would give them time to build up defenses, and then promptly founded the Republic in 331.

Consolidation

Between 331 and 359, the Republic expanded slowly. New members were accepted, but some of them never formally declared independence. By the time Willem died, the Republic had become a sizable nation in its own right.

The Civil War

Miguel, Willem’s heir, immediately took a tougher stance regarding the Republic. Faced with a neglected military and a bankrupt government, Miguel was unable to use force against the Republic. Instead, a “Quiet War” developed – espionage, sabotage, economic sanctions and trade wars as well as some proxy wars were the order of the day.

Miguel made great progress, and as he began to fix the Empire’s many problems, so public opinion improved. With the advantage in numbers still on the Imperial side, the Republic government realized it had to force the issue or risk losing to attrition in the long run. In 371, President Ames ordered the Republic military to “liberate” and “protect” several key Imperial border worlds.  Miguel took the bait, and the civil war began. It would last five years and cause great destruction, but in 376 the Republic was able to end it decisively with a surgical strike against the Imperial capital world, Mithra.

The Purges

With the Empire in tatters and the remaining Imperial forces on the run, the Republic was able to occupy and annex the vast majority of the Empire. This put a great strain on the administration. President Ames feared that it would be hard to hold all this territory, and granted wide-reaching powers to military governors. With nationalistic fervor raging throughout the Republic, victorious soldiers and pro-Republic civilians alike began to systematically hunt, try, and often execute Imperial nobles, bureaucrats, and other sympathizers. On some worlds this became a regular witch-hunt, and many used the purges to denounce ‘innocent’, but disliked, neighbors and officials. The spiral of violence escalated to the point that even members of the Republic parliament were executed for treason.

Now, six years later, the worst excesses of this orgy of violence are over, but much of colonial space remains under military rule and the Republic Security Service still clamps down hard on any threat to the Republic’s security – real or imagined. The mood is changing once more, and many of the “free citizens” of the Republic are now discovering that a “right to vote” does not in itself guarantee more freedom.

Despite its recent victory, the future of the Republic, and of Colonial Space, seems uncertain.

Republic "War Banner" flag
Republic “War Banner” flag

Tech Levels Revisited

Tech Level – assigning a numeric value to a civilization’s technological development – is a powerful idea and having worlds with varying tech levels – often in stark contrast to each other despite physical proximity – is one of the central aspects of the “look and feel” of Traveller. The idea, of course, was a staple of the science fiction genre at the time. Dumarest comes to mind, and Space Viking – but also Foundation.

Other games have used the same concept. GURPS and TORG are two examples I am familiar with, but pretty much every science fiction game has done something similar. None of them are compatible beyond the fact that they use Earth’s development as a model up until the present.

I decided early on – actually before the setting I am working on saw the light of day – that I wanted to use a Tech Level system, and I also decided that I should stay as compatible to Traveller as possible.

A word of warning: This is a long post…

Continue reading “Tech Levels Revisited” »

FTL Communications

Travel with a star-drive equipped ship is fast, but it is not the fastest means of communications. Centuries ago, engineers of the Star Drive Corporation attempting to build equipment that would detect  ship in hyperspace discovered that Irrational Space was full of noises. It didn’t take them long to build a prototype FTL radio. Unlike the technology that goes into building Star Drives, SDC filed patents on the FTL radio technology and then licensed it out.

Properties and Limitations

The analogy to a “radio” ends with the ability to send and receive communications data in a meaningful manner. FTL Radio messages are instantaneous, have an unlimited (as far as anybody can tell) range, they are omnidirectional and – most importantly – they do not suffer signal strength degradation with distance.

This is fairly significant. It does mean that any planet or ship that has an FTL radio can communicate with everybody else at all the time, but there is no way inherent in the signal to determine who’s talking or where they are. You have to depend on the sender providing correct information about both.

Even more importantly, it means that all of Colonial Space – and indeed the entire galaxy – can listen in on your signal. This isn’t a huge problem for public data such as news, but is a big limitation when it comes to private conversation and especially military communications. Encryption and ciphers mitigate this to an extent, but they are subject to attack. Hence, important information is still often carried by couriers, if time allows.

Devices

FTL Radio is available at most colonies and on large ships. Smaller ships often do not carry them, relying on colonial infrastructure on both ends of their voyage for communications for cost reasons.

Ships which stray from colonized or technologically advanced worlds will usually carry at least an emergency beacon for use in case of a crash or other severe malfunction.

FTL Radios are too big and use too much energy to be man-portable.

Signals and Noises

Irrational Space is full of noise and many signals. There are regular news channels. Data transmissions, which synchronize the Encyclopaedia. Space Traffic Control chatter. Banter between free traders. Military transmissions. Commercial transactions. Anything humankind and their allies like to talk about – it goes through Irrational Space.

But there are other signals. There are mysterious “numbers stations” – broadcasts in plain language that carry nothing but strings of numbers, or timestamps, or seemingly random words. It is usually assumed that these originate with one secret service or another.

And then there are Ghost Signals.

Ghost signals are any noises in Irrational Space which have the characteristics of language or a communications protocol, and aren’t completely random noise. Oftentimes, these are nothing but weird signals that lack identification data. Sometimes, these are distress calls. Sometimes, things are a little more queer – the signals claim to be from a ship that is not in the Imperial Ship’s Registry, or address a planet that does not exist in Colonial Space. Sometimes they talk about past events as if they had just happened. Sometimes they are echos of older broadcasts. Some conspiracy theorists claim that many signals that make no sense are actually signals from the future. Irrational space, where the light-barrier has no meaning, is after all unpredictable and ill understood.

Many ghost signals, however, completely defy explanation. It is often assumed that many of them belong to other civilizations, far outside Colonial Space. None of them have even been cracked or understood. Government scientists usually dismiss this notion, but it gives the paranoid and conspiracy nuts sleepless nights.

StarCom

StarCom – Interstellar Communications, Inc – is an old company specializing in the manufacture and operations of FTL radios. It grew large on government subsidies – necessary in the early days since the construction of a single communications station was a huge investment. Once the network was in place, it used its monopolistic position to squash any competitor that entered the market, and lobbied – successfully – for protective legislation in the Imperial Senate.

The Republic is attempting to deregulate the market, encourage competition and break the StarCom monopoly. As it is dependent on StarCom services, however, these plans have not progressed far.

starcom

 

 

 

The Star Drive

The following is a brief draft description of the setting’s hyperdrive systems, mostly to nail down its capabilities but the post contains several other points crucial to the setting. Note that nothing I post on this blog will contain any major spoilers. I’ve tried to keep the technobabble to a minimum.

The Star Drive (colloquially also called “hyperdrive” or “FTL drive”) is a device that allows a spaceship to travel effectively faster than the speed of light, by side-stepping into an alternate universe known as Irrational Space (or “hyperspace”, “jumpspace”, or one of several other names).

It was invented many centuries before the civilized species arrived in Colonial Space; indeed, it was the star drive which made that voyage possible in the first place.

For a device that is at least 1300 years old, the exact workings of the Star Drive are ill understood. By anyonone, that is, who does not work for the manufacturer of the hyperdrives, the monolithic and enigmatic Star Drive Corporation. The Corporation employs the best physicists and engineers of Colonial Space on incredibly lucrative contracts that contain the toughest NDA clauses imaginable. There are persistent rumors that the Corporation will assassinate employees who leave the company and “know too much” in order to maintain their monopoly.

sdclogo-solidbg

Components

Star Drives consist of three subsystems: Control systems, huge banks of capacitors, and the drive core. Neither the capacitors nor the control system contain any secrets; the control system consists of high-performance commercial grade astrogation computers and regular control consoles. The capacitors are purpose-built low-inductance high-voltage capacitors.

The drive core, however, is a sealed container that under no circumstances must be opened or breached. This is not merely a legal requirement; a breach of the drive core will result in a powerful explosion and the complete destruction of the spaceship and everything in its vicinity. A ship that needs to dispose of a damaged drive core must jettison it, ideally into a star.

There are several sizes of drive canisters, with larger drives needed for bigger ships, and drives can be “chained” for better performance or for redundancy.

Operations

A ship that wishes to make a jump to another star system needs to charge the drive’s capacitor banks, and it must determine a route to the destination. It is possible to purchase generic or individual course data for nominal fees on major worlds, or the astrogator can do his own course calculations.

Courses must take into account any and all objects that may exist in rational or irrational space near the intended course. Even with the best charts available, some risk remains, as Irrational Space is a chaotic place and can experience unpredictable shifts.

Transition into and emergence from Irrational Space cannot occur in deep space; since there are no objects there that exist in both universes, the two spaces are not close enough to each other to permit passage.

Once a course has been programmed into the stardrive’s control consoles, the drive is activated. Huge pulses of current are fed into the drive core. The ship transitions to Irrational Space, automatically follows its course for the duration of the flight, and re-emerges into rational space at the end of the voyage.

It is possible to steer through hyperspace manually; this is common for ships that are exploring uncharted space in order to create astrogation maps.

Performance

Star Drives are the most massive component of any star ship. They are mass-rated and custom-designed for a particular spaceship class. Nominal speed of a starship is 0.5 parsec per day;  according to Star Drive Corporation promotional materials, speeds up to 10 parsec/day are possible, though anything over 1 parsec/day is not currently feasible and drives that perform at more than 0.5 parsec/day are disproportionately difficult to build and hence much more expensive.

In the past, drives were much slower. The original refugee fleet arrived in Colonial Space traveling at 0.5 parsec per month.

For safety reasons, an individual jump should last for no more than ten days. This effectively limits the drive’s range to 5 parsec.

Drive Fatigue

After a voyage through Irrational Space, a stardrive can not be reactivated or re-enter Irrational Space for a duration of 10% of the original travel time. SDC manuals call this limitation “drive fatigue”, and explanations are non-specific.

SDC warranties will not cover any damages resulting from actions contravening this safety precaution.

Hyperspace

“In layman’s terms, light does not dictate the cosmic clock in a realm of shadows.” – Star Drive Corporation cosmologist

Irrational Space is an odd parallel universe. At first glance it seems not unlike our own; all the regular laws of physics apply there – allowing ships and their crew to survive – and yet travel at speeds higher than c are possible.

Every object that exists in real – “rational” – space also exists in Irrational Space. Planets, stars, galaxies, asteroids, and – in theory – people – everything. There are also all sorts of objects there that do not exist in rational space, perhaps two or three times as many star systems in total. The origin or nature of these extra objects is unknown.

All of these objects have a slightly unreal look and feel to them.

Likewise, a ship that transitions into Irrational Space seems to fade ever so slightly; all colors seem slightly desaturated. Sounds carry a barely perceptible echo. Some star travelers claim that these effects can become much stronger – to the point where ships and crew can become ghostly, partially translucent.

There have also been reports that hyperspace is not “dead”; it is inhabited by strange creatures – some of them weird, exotic shapes that drift aimlessly through the shadows of Irrational Space. Others are said to be the ghost souls of our dead ancestors, or malign spirits from another world. Some of these are even said to enter a ship under drive.

Despite such tales, most trips through Irrational Space, while  spooky, are uneventful and safe.

World Generator Progress

Work days keep me from being productive where it counts – like science fiction world building!

I’ve made a number of improvements to my sector generator scripts…

  • I generate a “Habitability Index” – this has actually been in the script for a few days. I don’t use it for anything, but it’s a quick index of how nice the planet is to live on. Numbers are only ever added, not subtracted, so a world with a medium HI can still be crappy, but it’s still quite useful for judging worlds at-a-glance. Ranges from 0 (=abysmal) to 8(=perfectly earthlike).
  • I now use random seeds. As long as you know a sector’s seed, you can always recreate it again a second time with the script (as long as the script didn’t change).
  • The script now rolls for actual population, using Benford’s Law. (Thanks Berka.)
  • The script prints out some aggregated statistics about a sector – still a WIP.

Actual Population Sample

Here are the populations of the High Pop worlds of sector#121:

(8)Temperate   0110 B566998-8 Ga Hi  HI=8 A=6320000000
(3)Temperate   1502 B310999-C Hi Ht In Na  HI=3 A=1420000000
(7)Temperate   1710 A66ABD9-E Hi Ht Wa  HI=7 A=119000000000
(5)Temperate   3209 C8B5998-A Fl Hi  HI=5 A=3400000000
(6)Temperate   1617 B79AAD9-9 Hi In Wa  HI=6 A=31600000000
(3)Roasting    1620 A554A96-C Ga Hi Ht  HI=3 A=25100000000
(6)Temperate   2013 C841AD9-6 Hi In Po  HI=6 A=10800000000
(4)Roasting    2718 B5869B8-A Ga Hi  HI=4 A=7190000000
(6)Temperate   0330 D9729B9-7 Hi In  HI=6 A=4980000000
(7)Temperate   0923 B577A75-A Ga Hi In  HI=7 A=87300000000
(7)Temperate   1124 BA669B9-A Ga Hi  HI=7 A=1550000000
(7)Temperate   1127 C578BD9-7 Ga Hi In  HI=7 A=310000000000
(8)Temperate   1326 B8759D9-4 Ga Hi In Lt  HI=8 A=4960000000
(7)Temperate   1522 A675B66-B Ga Hi In  HI=7 A=206000000000
(3)Temperate   1527 A410A96-G Hi Ht In Na  HI=3 A=50000000000
(3)Cold        2229 A631AC9-E Hi Ht Na Po  HI=3 A=61200000000
(6)Temperate   2429 C894996-4 Ga Hi In Lt  HI=6 A=2990000000
(7)Temperate   1839 A585AA8-B Ga Hi  HI=7 A=79600000000

A= is the actual population. I only generate the leading 3 digits and then scale it up to the correct power of ten. Yeah that’s 300 billion people at TL7 on #1127 – with a small planet and more water surface than Earth has. Must be a lovely place. Lots of algae farms… Not to mention those TL4 and TL6 worlds.

Aggregated Statistics Sample

Generating sector: 121

Statistics:

Total Systems: 251

Total Population: 1022367735546

Star Ports:
   A: 12
   B: 24
   C: 40
   D: 48
   E: 57
   X: 70

To Do

I’ll add TLs and World Types to the statistics as well…

And I presumably should tackle unrealistic TLs somehow.

By the way, if anybody wants these scripts – let me know. You need unix (or a mac) for them, there is one shell script and one awk script – plus of course the sector map script I’ve modified.