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Thread: RocketDad's Ten Rules for Plausible Spacecraft Design:

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    Guild Member RocketDad's Avatar
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    Info RocketDad's Ten Rules for Plausible Spacecraft Design:

    I finished up my blog series on designing realistic spacecraft for games. I ended up with ten guidlines for rocket design, and I though I share them on the forum. If you want to read the full articles they are on my blog.

    RocketDad's Ten Rules for Plausible Spacecraft Design:

    1. What's its function? No, no, not its "real-world" function, its function in a game.* This is as important as defining the mission is to an engineer, as the in-game function will dictate weapons armor, speed, size...uh, everything, really

    2. An RPG Spacecraft Must Look Cool.* If you wanna sell a ship - either to your players or on the open market, it must look cool.* From all sides.

    3. The Interior is as Important as the Exterior. It should be consistant and visually appealing. Make sure to include lots of elements that make it interesting to run combats in, and don't forget the treasure!

    4. Unless they're Power Gamers, Players would rather have an interesting ship than a powerful one.* The Firefly-class is one of the most popular ships out there right now, and its unarmed. BTW, If your players are*Power Gamers...make 'em play Paranoia.* That should take some of the starch out of their trousers...

    5. The more powerful the weapon, the more limited the rate of fire/number of shots/ targeting accuracy/ something else that keeps it from breaking the game. No one wants their Player running around the galaxy in a Star Destroyer. The Mellineum Falcon is almost as bad.

    6. Fictional Spacecraft are Either Anthropomorphic or Iconographic.**** This is part and parcel with the human condition.** Even real spacecraft,*whose designs*are influenced far more*by money, politics and the inescapable physical limitations of chemical, disposable rockets, fall into one of these two categories. Look at the Soyuz, its practical, yet instantly recognizable as Estern Bloc Space Chic.

    7. There Are No 10'x10' Rooms in Space. **** Observe the case of the International Space Station.* The ISS is the single most expensive construction project in human history.* This includes things like the Manhattan Project, the Great Wall of China, and the estimated cost of the Great Pyramids at Giza.* The total cost of the ISS is*greater than the Gross Domestic Product of some industrialized nations.
    **** I mention all this so that you will understand my point about extra space in space:* The habitable volume of the ISS is roughly*that of two 18 wheeler trailers.* There simply is no spare room in*spacecraft.* All realistic spacecraft are designed for minimum weight and volume.* Accept this and go on.

    8. Keep the Design Grounded in Reality.**** Science fiction is, by its very nature, fantastic.* It takes a good bit of willing suspension of disbelief to put over the stuff* that is actually true about space travel.***The stuff we hope to*do later on, like interplanetary travel in weeks instead of months and terraforming Mars, is simply beyond the pale.

    9: Does the Spacecraft in Question Have a Point?**** "It looks cool" is not a good answer.* Take a gander at the sub guidelines for most Star Trek*blueprint websites.* You will see some variation of the following, "No Uber Dreadnoughts, Please."* This goes double for*hard sf designs.

    10: Make Your Ships Unique.**** By this I mean, "Do not design a dozen small orbiters when one or two will do." Making other types of spacecraft *Keeps your designs fresh and exciting.

    Plz leave a comment if you agree or disagree with any of the above. If you want clarification on any of points, please read the blog before posting your question.

    Hope you enjoy!
    In space...no one can hear you whine...
    My Maps in All Their Glory

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    Community Leader Facebook Connected tilt's Avatar
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    great list ... I have a note to nr. 7 - as we move forward in time and space travel becomes normal, so will the prices to create spacecrafts also get lower (just like cars), however - this doesn't mean I disagree with your conclusion, cause just like cars you would still build as compact and light as possible to save on material etc. Extreme luxury products except from this of course - cruise ships for instance will probably have great big halls with all the bells and whistles then can push in and for which people pay ticket prices that would bankrupt a small country
    regs tilt
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    Guild Artisan Aval Penworth's Avatar
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    On point 7. I'm with Tilt. There was a heck of a lot or reasearch done to get the ISS up and running. A lot of money was probably spent on finding out what doestn't work. In the future that money doen't need to be spent again. They know how to build a cost effective space craft. So there will probably also be room for mega yatchs so the Bransons and Trumps of the future can flaunt them.
    Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work I go..

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    Guild Artisan rdanhenry's Avatar
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    If a ship is never meant to land and is built from space-harvested materials, as in a mobile asteroid belt shipyard that moves from mineral resource to mineral resource, building the ships right there, large ships become much more practical. The main cost is mass-to-orbit. Take that out of the equation and larger might even allow some economies (especially in terms of life-support). That's without having to introduce far out stuff like anti-gravity or practically unlimited energy.

    These are generally good points, but some could use some expansion/modification IMO:

    #2: Some ships should *not* look cool, just to make the cool ships cooler by comparison. A standard freighter should be pretty blah, so that getting a sleek Gazelle-class cargo transporter is a nice step up, even if the gains in performance are marginal. Of course, except for a freebie given at the start of the campaign or temporary rides settled for after major setbacks, the *player character's* ship should be cool. If it doesn't start that way, the PCs should make it that way. Spread toy dinosaurs around the bridge; add some non-standard weapons; pick up an exotic experimental computer; paint it with tiger stripes and give it an exotic name.

    8: Keep the design grounded in the reality of your fictional universe... inertialess drives, artificial gravity, and teleport technology are fine as technological postulates, but their implications should show throughout the game world.

    10: Common ship types can have many varieties. If there are multiple groups making ships (different species, different empires, different rival megacorps, different hobbyist spaceship builders), no end of ships may be made for the same role. In a space war scenario, with five rival fleets involved, five destroyer designs is likely. More are possible (an older model and the latest design give two to one fleet). You can do variety on the cheap by modifying existing designs instead of building new designs. A liquid-transport freighter may be the same as a solids-transport freighter except for swapping out standard cargo bays for tanks, and a couple of other tweaks to keep things interesting (in game: to take advantage of technology advancements since the original freighter design was drawn up).

    5: This goes for every other system on the ship. A perfect cloaking device, incredibly fast drive, invincible armor/shields, sensors that can instantly locate a given individual on a planet of eight billion citizens, and other wonder devices can prove too powerful. At the very least, ensure that amazing technology has some excuse for failure after it has served its purpose. For example, if you need a cloaking device so the PCs can get past an orbital blockade, make sure it is an experimental model, maybe even an alien one, so that it is not surprising when it fails and cannot be repaired.

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    Community Leader Facebook Connected tilt's Avatar
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    good points rdanhenry and aval - and just to add a little to point 2 - about not looking cool... a car that actually have sold ok as a family car was definitly NOT cool The Fiat Multipla
    regs tilt
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    Community Leader Facebook Connected Steel General's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tilt View Post
    Gods above! That thing is ugly!!
    My Finished Maps | My Challenge Maps | Ghoraja Juun, my largely stagnated campaign setting.

    Unless otherwise stated by me in the post, all work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.



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    Guild Member Meridius's Avatar
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    2. An RPG Spacecraft Must Look Cool.* If you wanna sell a ship - either to your players or on the open market, it must look cool.* From all sides.
    Actually, you do not want every ship to look cool. Especially in RPG's... if players get an incredibly cool ship, getting them an upgrade may be next to impossible...

    5. The more powerful the weapon, the more limited the rate of fire/number of shots/ targeting accuracy/ something else that keeps it from breaking the game. No one wants their Player running around the galaxy in a Star Destroyer. The Mellineum Falcon is almost as bad.
    Actually, the Millennium Falcon is a good example how to make an overpowered ship balanced... What I mostly remember about it was it's rather grumpy hyperspace drive which failed at at least one crucial moment. If the players want that super-powerful turbo-blaster... let them... just let it blow up in their face once in a while, or make it break down right when they are about to deliver the finishing blow. Overpowered but quirky components can actually make it work. Just make sure you add so many faults that the players will sometimes ask themselves why they didn't buy the dependable peashooter when it once again fails.
    Though fantasy, I once introduced a 'hat of ideas' into my campaign. The players thought it was awesome, and it indeed does have great uses... however, they misinterpreted my words as 'hat of good ideas'... I never said that. The hat still has a lot of potential, but they don't really use it that often.

    7. There Are No 10'x10' Rooms in Space. **** Observe the case of the International Space Station.* The ISS is the single most expensive construction project in human history.* This includes things like the Manhattan Project, the Great Wall of China, and the estimated cost of the Great Pyramids at Giza.* The total cost of the ISS is*greater than the Gross Domestic Product of some industrialized nations.
    **** I mention all this so that you will understand my point about extra space in space:* The habitable volume of the ISS is roughly*that of two 18 wheeler trailers.* There simply is no spare room in*spacecraft.* All realistic spacecraft are designed for minimum weight and volume.* Accept this and go on.
    Hell yes there are, but just as my players in D&D are currently content with their horses and wagons, they dream of owning dragons or mastodons as mounts. Remember, you're talking Science FICTION. Having room available or not, is a design decision. If launching a 10.000 ton spaceship costs as much as refuelling a truck or something, no, space and weight won't be an issue. If building a craft capable of travelling to Mars in 5 months costs billions, yes, room and weight WILL be an issue.
    I do have some problems with comparing those great historic monuments with ISS though, not strictly because some of those monuments have cost thousands of lives, but the level of technology, and the amount of people supporting the project may also be a problem in comparing. If I divide the total cost of ISS by the amount of people supporting it (through their governments), the cost per person is about 157 dollars (total cost = 157 billion, divided by about a billion people). Let's say 200 dollars. It's not the cheapest thing ever. But people had to work a YEAR as tax-payment on the Great Pyramids of Giza during construction. Not all of Egypt's people, but compared to that 200 dollars, ISS suddenly sounds cheap. A LOT of projects have placed a far greater strain on the available resources than ISS.

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