View Full Version : Space travel rules/speed

01-07-2010, 01:01 PM
So I'm working on a space tabletop rpg and was looking for some input before proceeding.

Im leaning towards a less rules-intensive gaming experience and one that is geared more towards exploration and battle. That said, I haven't come up with a satisfying system for space travel. So I am hoping you guys have some suggestions. :?:

In this story line FTL travel is possible, but I'm not sure how/where to start making a system for different speeds and such. Like I said it would be a game geared towards exploration, so traveling across a galaxy and possibly beyond would be a necessity.

I know that star trek uses "warp drive factors" to determine how much space gets warped around a ship and thus how quickly it can get to it's destination.
I am not sure I'd like to go with that, but if anyone knows a site with a chart for the warp factors that would be great. It couldn't hurt.

Also, maybe wormholes could be utilized instead of FTL for traversing extreme distances in short time.. 8)

So please give me input/ideas! I'm out here on my own running out of creative fuel.

01-07-2010, 03:07 PM
1) starships travel at multiples of the speed of light, via whatever means. distance remains a factor in travel time.

star trek fanon establishes warp factor cubed = multiple of the speed of light. that is, if the enterprise is at warp 3, it's travelling 3 x 3 x 3 = 27 times the speed of light. warp 6 = 216c. warp 9 = 729c. fanon has also had to come up with things like 'warp lanes' to explain how the enterprise can get to the center of the galaxy so quickly in ST:V, which more or less punts everything to option 3, below.

2) starships travel nearly instantaneously via wormholes. distance is not a factor, unless you have to travel to the nearest established wormhole first.

3) starships travel at the speed of plot. travelling across the galaxy takes as much time as a handwave, unless there are complications (jedi training, space battles, hyperspace drive malfunction, etc.).

choose your poison. :)

01-07-2010, 03:42 PM
Personally I'm a fan of "fold drives", that is you basically make your own worm hole and fold space around yourself. A great gameplay limiting factor can be the distance you can safely fold in one go.

Put in a mechanic to allow the players to 'risk it' and push their drive beyond what is considered 'safe', such as a DC5 to extend range by 10%, DC10 for 15%, etc. The more you push it, the more extreme the risks and consequences of it become. All the way up to "Your party's atoms intersect with those of a Star's core, and you have just ripped space-time to cave in 20 stars. On the bright side it was recorded by astronomers, and the known universe will always remember you when they pass near the massive navigation hazard you have just made."

Less critical failures could be damage to the party/ships systems.

Gives you upgrade paths, however it does require you to 'map' your stars of interest and have things large enough that a better engine will actually matter. Another restriction may be to require to be within a solar system, and jumping to a spot between stars would leave you stranded. (Another good option for pressing your engines too far. "Opps, you got greedy and missed the star. With sub light engines you are now 954.32 years from the nearest star. How much food did you say you packed?")

01-07-2010, 05:10 PM
Infinite Improbability Drive...

I win.

01-07-2010, 08:59 PM
well, technically, anything made up of matter cannot reach or go faster than the speed of light. The only thing capable of reaching the speed of light is.... well.... light.

source (http://helios.gsfc.nasa.gov/qa_gp_sl.html)

but then again, anything is possible in fiction.

Infinite Improbability Drive...

I win.

indeed you do.

Edit: oops, missed the FTL is possible section... maybe I should consider reading the entire post next time :oops:

01-08-2010, 03:08 AM
Thanks guys, you have definitely given me food for thought.

I like the idea of fold drives very much. Actually I liked the use of wormholes and the warp factor cubed.. so maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to just have multiple means of travel in the game, a primary means of travel and then a secondary, followed by a naturally occurring phenomenon in space (wormhole)

Think that would keep my bases covered.

How would you propose the folding space rule would work?
For every higher degree of folding capability, increase the distance and difficulty *2 ?

What would you consider a good starting distance to be able to fold space at the first stage? Hmm.. maybe 1 parsec. That's quite a good distance..

So what say ye?:shock:

01-08-2010, 11:37 AM
well, technically, anything made up of matter cannot reach or go faster than the speed of light. The only thing capable of reaching the speed of light is.... well.... light.

Actually, matter cannot be accelerated to or beyond the speed of light. Who knows what might happen if you could introduce a non-linearity and simply skip that speed entirely?

Back on topic: To pull from another game, the Traveller RPG system has jump drives that always take 7 days (I think, I may be misremembering the details) to transit, and the quality of the drive determines how far the ship can travel in that time. A ship gathers fuel from local gas clouds and gas giant planets between each jump, so jumping to a point with no local fuel gets you stranded.

Also, Traveller has no faster-than-light communication, so information can travel only as fast as the ships themselves, which significantly affects the shape of civilization.

Conversely, Orson Scott Card's Ender novels (initially) have ships that cannot exceed the speed of light, but the Ansible allows instantaneous communication. So by the time a warship arrives at its destination, it is usually no longer needed there.

Most settings, though, use a more conventional combination of the two: FTL ships and instantaneous communication, within certain limitations. Usually a FTL communication relay system of some kind is involved.

01-08-2010, 12:10 PM
I'd highly recommend reading the Algebraist by Iain M Banks. It deals with the details of both FTL travel through wormholes and travel at almost the speed of light. The science underpinning it it very good indeed and he works through all the implications of it on society, civilisation and how you got to war. One of the best treatments I've seen in fiction.

But yes, once you allow for science to be broken and allow FTL travel, you can pretty much come up with whatever rules you want to allow for the game to work.

No FTL transfer of information is a good rule though. if you are sending information back and forth then you're using some form of radiation to do it. You could get around this by sending a ship back through a wormhole, or send a light beam through the wormhole itself. Indeed a world with stable wormholes would likely have those as the primary strategic points with large structures built around them. Those structures would have the means to send communication through the wormhole so information would be sent to the wormhole space station then relayed through to the other side before being sent on from there by lazer or radio signal.

With wormholes you'd have islands of civilisation in space around the wormhole and a vast wilderness around them. Remember that even our closest star is 4.3 light years away, which is a long time for an advanced civilisation to take in sending it's ships. So solar systems with wormholes would be the oases of the galaxy.

As soon as you move from that to having ships that can jump, you expand from single solar systems to a much more spread out region. However you do this, it's going to require large amounts of energy, so you'll want ships to be able to refuel somewhere. If you jump 1pc from out solar system you'll end up in the middle of nowhere, so you probably want to up your jump distance a little, unless you're mostly working in the middle of the galaxy where everything's a lot closer together. I remember that in Elite you could surf the edges of stars to refuel by collecting plasma from the solar wind. That always struck me as a cool mechanic.

Anyway, hope that helps with your thoughts.

01-08-2010, 03:24 PM
For game mechanics, consider if all your players are on the same timeline or not. If there's a big difference between interstellar transit time and travel-time to what your system uses for jump points, you can't have players A&B making three transits of 10 days out to safe distance from star (or to the nearest wormhole or to the spot where physics permits folding - whatever) plus 10 minutes (or 10 months) in FTL, whilst players C goes to the same place with one jump... If everybody's in the same sequence of events, there's no problem with a turn or unit of game time to be the same for the 10 days as for the 10 min or 10 months. A stretchy, rubber clock, if you will.

If you intend for players to be jumping hither and yon across a galaxy, and interacting in real time, pick an FTL system that matches your needs. Like others mentioned above, maybe the constraints are how much energy you have to spend, or how big a ship you can use. Or how much unobtanium your ship has in its tanks :-). But it always takes one turn or two turns to transit - something nice and simple.

If you don't want players to get dropped from the game by the delightful problems others mentioned above (You have arrived at a dead end with no exit. Good bye. Go get the rest of us some pizza.) then maybe make all your interstellar travel from predefined transit points, and leave the "Galactic Engineer Corps" and their slow/expensive/catastrophic initial placement of gates/wormholes/fold points off-board and out of play.

If you want to force some decisions and tradeoffs, set some kind of parameter like big ships make the transit point unusable longer than small ones. Or the same armor that makes ship A well-nigh invulnerable causes a percent chance of a random alternate destination instead of the one you planned <evil grin>. Ship B uses shields instead, not protecting from thermoplasmic disruptor lances as well, but actually enhancing ship integrity in warp space (pick your own technobabble).

Exploration & battle both, eh? Do you intend to have a mapped-out sector to work in, or will someone's decision to "head 500 light years thataway" automatically leave him somewhere interesting and useful? Are you going to severely limit the number of possible destinations, like Cherryh's Chanur or Alliance/Union (http://www.solstation.com/cjc-47ly.htm) universe? Is there a gamemaster, or does everybody play? If no gamemaster, are you going to rig something random to set the characteristics of places before they're explored? Maybe picture a Settlers of Catan (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/13/the-settlers-of-catan) board of randomly placed hexes, with players only turning them over when they get to them. Or a set of Battleship boards so each player has their own secret map, and they annotate it or stick in pegs or whatever to match their own unique knowledge - the aforementioned hexes stay face down the whole game with players getting a peek at their characteristics when they get there. Or a mixture - some predetermined ones are "already mapped" and common knowledge. Or a player needing money (energy, mana, supplies, fuel) could trade knowledge of places he's been "to the community" and publishes it to the Atlas Galactica by turning over one or more hexes so all can see from then on. Hey, that sounds interesting - if you don't try something like that maybe I can work up something to do with my Catan games' hex tiles :-).

Or how about a map system a little like that of Nexus Ops (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/15363/nexus-ops) - semirandomly preplaced hexes where the different terrain is visible, but some token or characteristic has to be 'explored' to find - a mine or a new unit, in Nexus. Interstellar "terrain" could be what, observable characteristics of stars? Rudimentary data found in the Travellers' Guide to the Link Network, recently translated from the ancient language of the link builders... but some things aren't known until you get there - is there a local civilization with gas stations and recreational facilities? Did the star go nova since the guidebook was written, and there's nothing of interest there?

01-09-2010, 06:17 PM
There will be a game master and also some pre-generated places, but most of the area will be unknown to humans.
The way I've been thinking on it the game takes place just as humans are starting to expand and travel beyond our own solar system. As yet there has been no encounter with 'intelligent' alien life,
though an earth-like planet was discovered complete with vegetation and life forms (animals, insects, etc).
I plan to have some sort of mapping system (thanks for the ideas :idea:), probably hex based, where players on a quest venture out on a set path.. or those who just want to explore can see what they find out there. There will have to be a limited number of places, but I came up with a dice system for generating planets/planetoids so that will help.

Here's a picture of the ship I'm designing. It's the ship that discovered the first earth-like world and it's going to be artwork in the rulebook.

01-12-2010, 12:17 AM
If you are going with an 'early in space' theme then I have a possiblity that no one has mentioned (unless I missed it). It is the idea I used once in a space campaign. Basically, it is the use of Warp Ferries. The tech to go faster than light is still new and takes a lot of energy/machinery/whatever. Warp capable ships are thus HUGE. No small craft can manage it. The ferries are like small cities or space ports in themselves. But . . . the ferries have to stick to open spaces. They can't go into systems or too near stars or other collision hazards. Thus PCs would then have to hitch a ride on a ferry to go places, then sublight it a little when they get close. The travel time is determined by four factors, how long before the next ferry arrives, how many ferry transfers they need to do, how fast the ferries travel, and how close they get to their destination.

This has a few of advantages.

1) No need to overthink the problem. The PCs travel time is determined by the speed of plot. You need them to take a long time, then the next ferry isn't comming for a while and it is a slow beast. On the otherhand if you want them to get somewhere quick, they can hop a ferry right away and the journey is a quick one.

2) You can use the ferries themselves as adventure locals. A giant techo-city hurtling through space at faster than light . . fun fun fun.

3) You can impose long trips if you need. These would be timeframes remaniscient of the age of sailing ships. Say the PCs are exploring . . . they take the ferry to the latest new route destination then head out to explore at sublight. Taking weeks or months to get to someplace new. Perhaps they will find a safe destination worthy of a new ferry route. This also allows for rewardable suffering. The PCs are the exporers who do the hard long trips to scout out new ferry destinations. Its tough work but they get the recognition when they do things like find an earth like planet (to use your example).

I know this isn't exactly what you were asking. I guess what I'm saying is that, IMHO, you shouldn't make a system for speeds and such. After all you are intending a less rules intensive play. As soon as you make a chart or speed table or any of that, you have a rule set that constrains you. Just pick a time unit that suits your vision, whether it be days, weeks, or months and use it as you need it. Personally, I would favour the longer end of things but that is just me.

Seriously, there is no need for some precise star chart with defined measurements and detailed speed ratios. As an added bonus you can map out your star chart anyway that suits your fancy without having to worry about your PCs grabbing their rulers and calculators and out mathing you.

01-12-2010, 10:13 AM
Been reading this thread with some interest. A long time ago I might have said different stuff, but like Torstan, I also read Iain M Banks books and he has a masterful fixed system in place that deals with travel and time in space. He has FTL because basically you just have to have it given that its 4 yrs to get from Sun to Proxima Centauri our very next closest star. A campaign might burn through your character lifetime in a few system jumps without cryo or something equally as fantastic tech.

In Banks' books the Culture have various grade ships from fairly light transporters to these things called General Systems Vehicles (GSVs) which are vast billion population scale floating islands of ship. These things go the fastest but at the same time they dont deviate course or stop much either so you normally need to hop onto a ship and accelerate up to very fast speed and dock with it to hitch that ride which is like that FTL barge. So maybe any ship can do FTL but not for very long.

He also seems to have some heuristics about how long the comms is to and from a GSV. Now obviously you need FTL comms or else you cant ask to dock with something going FTL. I reckon its important that the comms is a lot faster than the fastest ship but not infinite speed either.

Another slightly unrelated point is the compute power which in his books the best is in the Minds of the GSVs. All smaller droids have varying degrees which although high is still on a measurable level so you can for instance, comms to the closest GSV and get a better answer tho it might take a while for the result to get there and back.

So yeah, read all his Culture novels. Got the Algebraist next to me unread at this point tho. Something to look forward to ;) I remember Player of Games being one which had a lot of this time delay, ship speed stuff in it.

01-12-2010, 06:03 PM
See I'm going with an odd bit when I get to interplanetary travel for my setting... I'm limiting technology to a little more than what we're capable of today (IE what we could do without the political and monetary restrictions currently in place)... and dropping the FTL travel on the shoulders of the mages/clerics. Since it's still a fantastic setting, I'm hoping to get away with that. (Example, teleportation relay mages, or perhaps a new version of the teleport spell cast by multiple casters at once to move ships between worlds.)

01-13-2010, 01:53 AM
I like your ideas Boethius61. Previously when I was trying to write the storyline for the game setting I imagined humans venturing to the edge of our solar system and as travel between worlds became more common place, building communication relays. I think someone also mentioned something like that in a previous post.

I do like the idea of having a large vessel that smaller ships (non-FTL) can dock inside and be ferried away towards their destination. Being so large, it seems only natural that there would be a city built inside the large vessel.

So maybe FTL is like a government regulated technology at first.. hmm.
Most smaller ships can get where they need to go, but the really fast moving ships are military or government owned, at least until the tech is more common. I'm sure that alien races and humans as well would have it as more common technology at some point in the game.

That's just me thinking out loud though.

I haven't worked through much of the storyline yet, but you guys keep giving me great ideas. Thanks a lot!

Ryan K
01-13-2010, 04:16 AM
I wouldn't worry about monetary resources. All you need is some sort of valuable unobtainium that the corporations can get their greedy little mits on, and then you have cash-flow and no need for any form of governmental administration apart from some regulatory commissions.

01-13-2010, 11:23 AM
Regarding space travel I found an interesting supplment on http://cortexsystemrpg.org// for the Serenity RPG.

Basically, all planets in the 'verse get a three digit number. Say Earth has 367 and Mars has 392. The difference between them is 25, making the base distance. This is modified by a random compenent (a die) due to changing orbit positions. In their system it's a D12.

Say I roll a 4, then the actual base travel time is 100 hours. This is divided by the speed factor (Warp factor, if you like) of the ship. If a ship has "Warp factor" 5, then you divide the basic 100 hours by 5 and receive an actual travelling time of 20 hours (this is then further modified by the pilot's skills) - this also gives a nice element of diminishing returns for higher speed factors.

01-13-2010, 11:47 AM
I'll check into that site. I've heard of serenity, but haven't read on it yet.

I was reading about quantum entanglement for FTL communication (I think is a possibility) and found something else about FTL communications though. Some of you guys might find this interesting.


01-13-2010, 12:07 PM
Quantum entanglement has faster than light effects - the instantaneous collapse of the wavefunction - but no faster than light transfer of information unfortunately. So I'm afraid that's not really a goer. I'd add some ficitonal new physics to explain the FTL communication otherwise you'll get called.

Edit: Had a look at that article. Radio waves are electromagnetic so they do travel at the speed of light. I'll look into the source article now because that sounds broken.

01-13-2010, 12:19 PM
Okay, I had a look at it and it seems that the thing that's travelling faster than light is the polariation of the material. So no thing is travelling FTL. This gives rise to a highly beamed emission of radio waves which travels a long way without degrading. But the radio waves themselves are not FTL. The FTL polarisation change is interesting and quite surprising but the radio waves that emerge are still travelling at light speed.