Sunday, September 8, 2013

History, Starships, & Campaign Update

First Generation

As I've mentioned before, the setting in my campaign is much more low-rent.  TL5 equipment is practically impossible to manufacture, even the toolkits to work on or repair pre-Scream technology are difficult to obtain.  I think this works out pretty well for an introductory game, and things will become gradually more available as in-game time passes.  More on this later.

The Nyx Cluster only rediscovered the technology to build Spike Drives a little over fifty years ago.  In that time, they've had to rediscover a great deal that would have been taken for granted by Mandate-era humanity.  Starships are divided into three "generations," which are subdivisions within TL4.

1st Generation ships were crude, the first attempts by the Nyx government to build something that could let them make contact.  What you see in this generation is very little in the way of space weaponry, and nothing larger than a small frigate.  Everything has Atmospheric Capability by necessity.  There aren't really much in the way of space stations outside of the Cluster itself, and so if you want to go somewhere you need to be able to land.  I also stuck to fairly "simple" seeming components installed in the hulls, and in most cases didn't use all the mass and power that should have been available.  


This was the first-generation model of exploration frigate.  These are non-configurable vessels.  All modules are integral, there is no "free" mass or power to expand with.
  • Hermes, 1st-Generation Non-Militarized Frigate
  • Speed 3, Armor 2, HP 20, Crew 1/6, 6 AC.
  • Atmospheric Configuration, Fuel Bunkers, Extended Stores, Ship's Locker, 100 Tons Cargo Space

It has fuel bunkers, so it can jump one system out and then one back. No further. It has extended stores so it can spend a fair amount of time wherever it goes. It can land on planets and carry 100 tons of cargo space, and the ship's locker gives the crew access to exploration and survival equipment. Frankly, this is pretty sad as starships go.

But, 100 tons of cargo space is enough, with a few runs, to start building refueling stations.  The integral sensor equipment that all starships have is enough to take a look at planets you find, and start examining the civilizations that may be present.  And the atmospheric configuration is enough to let you land somewhere, surreptitiously, and poke around a bit.  This would have been an exciting and adventurous time, where the starship crews were the very best of the best, operating alone and without support simply because there might only be a handful of ships in existence, at first.

The Nyx government spied on a lot of civilizations before it started making formal contact.  It studied them thoroughly, and in star systems where the technology to detect their activities didn't exist, built a few space facilities (like refueling stations) on the outskirts of their system.

State Colonization

During this time the structure for the State government was hammered out, and the Reef colonized.  The Reef is a system with no major orbital bodies on the scale of planets.  Nothing larger than a small moon, but lots of them, and many, many asteroids.  Fifty years later, it's a thriving system civilization of its own, and is completely self-sustaining at TL4.  The Nyx government also took possession of a ringworld in the neighboring uninhabited system of Abaddon.  Not so huge as Niven's titular one, but a Culture-style orbital.  There wasn't any technology there, just many, many earthlike planets' worth of wilderness on a ring 3 million kilometers in diameter, which has an earthlike orbit and spins to produce a day/night cycle and 1G of centripetal force.

There was an ancient psi-academy there which still contained some records of how psi-training was conducted.  The Nyx government has spent the last fifty years in a program to develop and train new generations of psychics, and allow them to control increasingly higher levels of psychic abilities.  They have succeeded so far, and it is now possible to train Psychics to use powers up to Level 6 without them burning their brains out.  The Psi-Academy is known as The Black House.  While some planetary peoples maintained or redeveloped cultural traditions sufficient to train psychics in powers up to Level 3, the Black House is the only place to go if you want to continue advancing.  There are supposedly Secret Masters among the faculty there, who know Level 7 or even higher powers, but their identities are kept obscure.  There are approximately 500 students at the Black House at any given time, and the State provides free room, board, and education to any psychic in the State who wishes to learn.


The first civilizations that the State contacted were Wolf, Anumati, and Corsica.  Wolf and Anumati were TL3 at the time of contact, Corsica was TL2.  Wolf has a sort of Nordic/Scandinavian culture, and is a slightly chilly planet.  Notable features are that they have an excellent capacity for modular heavy industry.  They produce "space ikea" goods that can be transported and installed easily.  Anumati is Cyberpunk Bollywood.  It's heavily influenced by Indian culture, at least aesthetically, and is now able to produce and install cybernetic and biotechnology better than any other civilization.  Corsica was the third, and was chosen for cultural rather than technological factors.  The Corsicans are a little French-flavored, and they took a central role in further diplomatic and governmental functions.  Despite their relative lack of technology, they were able to become very influential and established most of the intellectual traditions of the burgeoning State.

These civilizations kept in regular contact and cultural exchange with Spike-capable shuttles for at least a decade before official contact with other civilizations occurred.  Of course, the State's hand was forced by independent merchants who gained access to Spike-capable vessels and began smuggling goods back and forth through the official embargo.  Officially, the first-generation craft are not modular and can't be customized.  But if you take a first-generation shuttle...

  • Huginn, 1st-Generation Shuttle
  • Speed 3, Armor 0, 15HP, 1/20 Crew, 9 AC.
  • Extended Life Support, Extended Stores, Atmospheric Configuration

...and are willing to rip out half of the crew quarters and simply throw out the extended stores, you can fit in a couple tons of cargo space. Provided that you can find hydrogen for the trip back, you can make a trade run with a ship like this.  You just need to make sure that the cargo is valuable enough to justify it.  Outgoing cargo is easy, because gold and gemstones are cheap in TL4 cultures.  If you buy fancy compads on Anumati, they probably have gold, silver, and platinum cases and jewels for buttons.  The question is what you bring back to make it worth your while.

Prometheus Projects

Prometheus Projects in Stars Without Number are how you uplift a civilization from one TL to the next. They are described in the Suns of Gold book, and work roughly as follows.  You have to establish a presence on the planet; a small office building is supposed to be sufficient, but one of the themes of my campaign is that many things are harder than they "should" be.  I'd probably require a few satellite offices as the techniques are not perfected.  You then spend a certain amount of money per year, which represents the cost of importing experts and equipment.  This raises 10,000 people in the first year to the next higher Tech Level.  If you maintain the project, then for the same cost you raise twice as many people in each subsequent year.  10k, 20k, 40k, 80k, 160k, 320k, 640k, 1.3M, 2.6M, 5.2M, 10.4M, 20.8M, 41.6M, 83.2M, 166M, 332M, 664M, 1.3B, etc.  As you can see, it takes a number of years to get anywhere if you're starting with a large planetary population.  And, at first, the Nyx Cluster didn't have the expertise to undertake the Projects efficiently or effectively.  At this point in the campaign's development, I would allow a by-the-book progression and cost, although the less-sophisticated knowledge of sociology and so forth means it would require slightly more on-planet facilities, the cost of which is fortunately fairly marginal.

As of right now, Anumati and Wolf are almost TL4, and will be within the next year or two of the campaign.  They were the pilot programs for the whole idea, and so their uplift was very inefficient.  Most of the real experts on Prometheus projects are people who worked on those worlds from the beginning.

2nd Generation

2nd Generation starships are a marked improvement.  They still aren't modular, but a few more hull templates opened up.  You start seeing better weapons, and more extensive fittings and modules.  The 2nd-generation shuttle is very close to strictly better than the first-generation one:
  • Muninn, 2nd-Generation Shuttle
  • Speed 3, Armor 0, 15HP, 1/20 Crew, 9 AC.
  • Extended Life Support, Fuel Bunkers, Spike Drive 2, 2 tons cargo space, atmospheric configuration.
It's traded out the extended stores, which it does not really need for trips to anywhere even half-civilized, and now includes faster engines, integral cargo space, and the fuel to make two jumps. This is a versatile ship that can reasonably be used for trading of high-value goods or paid passenger transport. A lot of small-time private spacefarers tried to make a go of it with nothing but a Muninn-class shuttle, and presumably some of them made it.

At this generation, you start seeing more weapons, and more ships equipped with slightly more complex technology.  More fuel scoops instead of just fuel bunkers, on those vessels large enough to support it, and more advanced spike drives.  Fighters of this generation and later no longer have atmospheric capability, as they're intended for systems with space stations that can launch them.

By the end of the second generation, every system that is now in the State had knowledge of the civilizations that were coming from the stars, even if there wasn't formal diplomatic contact.  However, the State attempted to establish that quickly.  It was during this time that the State started loosening the restrictions on private ownership of space vessels.  By the end of it, used starships could be purchased at government auction regularly, and there was a thriving secondary market in parts and vessels.  The second generation is loosely defined as from approximately forty years before the start of the campaign to around ten years before the start of the campaign.

3rd Generation

The third generation started around ten years ago.  There are actual private starship companies that will sell non-militarized hulls to private citizens.  The newest ships are modular - they come with free space and power and can be customized like the ones in the book.  I've pretty much stopped penalizing vessels for being low-tech, so everything has the space and power it should have according to the book.  1st and 2nd generation vessels are cheap when bought used; if the PCs wanted to buy them I'd apply a discount to whatever the price should be.  Of course, they probably have various other penalties, like perhaps a -1 to computer rolls for scanning and detection unless they get refit.

The third generation also includes larger, cruiser-sized hulls, although none of those are in private hands yet.  Actual shooting wars in space between human civilizations are essentially nonexistent at this point, and shots fired in anger are usually against small-time pirates.  But being able to threaten such, or defend against an incursion from unknown outsiders, makes it worth it to keep some war vessels around.

The following is one of the big prides of the Nyx navy:
  • Inanna, 3rd Generation Colonization Vessel
  • Speed 1, Armor 10, HP 50, Crew 50/3000, 7 AC.
  • Hydroponics, Advanced Nav Computer, Cargo Lighter, Drop Pod, Fighter Bay (Usually carries a shuttle), Spike Drive 3, Extended Med Bay, Fuel Bunkers x2, Fuel Scoops, Ship's Locker, Workshops, Cold Sleep Pods, 3000 tons cargo space.
This was based on the colony ship in Scavenger Fleets.  It's substantially less good than that, since those ships are advanced well beyond the baseline and I didn't want that kind of technology to be available yet.  There aren't a lot of ships like this in existence, there are maybe 20 cruisers period in the entire State.  A handful of Inanna-class vessels are used for ongoing colonization efforts in places like Tenebrous.  They can drop off close to 3,000 people per trip, with one ton of starter supplies per colonist.  The most desirable colonists are healthy, physically active couples with no young children and enough training and education to contribute in a variety of ways.  If they run at full tilt and have sufficient logistical support, three Inanna-class vessels can put close to 18,000 people per month down on Tenebrous, the current colonization project.  Construction has started on another batch of 20 of these vessels, but it won't be complete for another two years.

If the campaign goes on for five or ten in-game years, the State might start being able to produce more advanced models that approach Scavenger Fleets ships and exceed what is in the SWN core.  

At this point, any TL4 gear can be purchased and the State is well on its way to establishing hegemony over all of the systems listed on the wiki.  There are a few holdouts like Towers and The Golden Empire, but everyone else is falling into line more or less as planned.  The PCs have the option to explore past the rim and take big risks, or stay relatively close to the State and play things safer in return for lower rates of return.

Campaign Update

So far, the PCs have made only one inter-system trip.  They drilled from Tenebrous (the bleeding edge of the frontier) out to an unexplored system called Oneiros Beta.  This is a binary system of two small red stars, which rip at each other's gaseous envelopes and have turned the inner part of the system into a big dull-red nebula.  It causes a great deal of interference with any attempts to scan the place, and the stars are dim so that the system's worlds tend to be very cold.

The PCs have explored an ancient alien structure on a wintery world with enough volcanic activity to have liquid water in places.  They looked through the lower levels and fought a few security robots, but found very little valuable loot.  They did find that the facility had a geothermal stack generator in the basement, and they could probably get it running with some work.  They haven't reached the upper levels yet, due to large vault doors that they don't know how to open.

They temporarily gave up on that to refuel (the nebula is full of hydrogen, and is very easy to run fuel scoops in.)  While doing this, they detected a huge spike of a magnetic field, clearly the signature of some technological artifact.  They chased it down and found an uninhabited asteroid, apparently made by the same aliens as the earlier complex.  It appears to be a refueling base, as the asteroid itself has a fuel scoop (like a Bussard Ramscoop.)  While it is not entirely automated, the fuel scoop engages to gather fuel and the onboard fusion core is still sort-of running.  Maintenance on the base has been nonexistent, though, and the systems are slowly failing.  As mentioned in last entry, recovery of the fusion core and its refurbishment will probably bring the PCs 50,000 credits or more.  That's good for ten thousand XP, and probably a fairly substantial chunk of new personal equipment.  They've found a fair amount of salvage, too, and are mostly sitting pretty.  

The problems with the asteroid base, other than the killer robots that occasionally burst forth to harass them, is that there is no atmosphere.  Or rather, there's helium (a noble gas, so it won't corrode anything, natch) at about 20% of normal earth pressure.  They can't work there without vacc suits, which slows everything down.  If they dismantle the fusion core, the gravity will fail (making things easier) but so will the airlocks (meaning they'll have to cut them out and expose the station to hard vacuum.)  And since the dismantling and transport of the fusion core represents about 125 man-hours of work and their vacc suits need occasional recharging, this will probably represent the better part of a week.  

They have most recently been attacked by a swarm of six maintenance beetles, which have very little combat ability individually but which I expect to whittle the PCs down some.

The aliens that constructed these facilities were a physically large snail or slug-like species.  They had cumbersome bodies that required a lot of moisture to survive, and their hands and fingers were not very dexterous.  For those reasons, the PCs have found the facilities to have a lot of provisions made to keep the inhabitants soaking in tubs of heated water and lots of robotic equipment to compensate for the creators' lack of agility.

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