19 October 2019

Faster Than Light

Unless you want to be rather hard in your cosmic sci-fi game, you will need a spaceship that can zip between star systems. Instead of giving everyone some generic FTL drive, what if each spaceship manufacturer had slightly different engines in their ships? Suddenly new opportunities for shenanigans arise when ships with different advantages and drawbacks compete.

What kind of faster-than-light drive will your spaceship use?
Do not give your players a TARDIS,
or they will break your spacetime continuum.

Roll for a base type and then for two drawbacks.

d4 Base Types of FTL Drives
  1. Beam drive dematerializes the spaceship and sends it as a faster-than-light tachyon stream to the destination, where it is rematerialized. This can be considered a type of transmat or teleportation technology.
  2. Hyper drive allows the spaceship to travel through an alternate dimension with more favourable laws of physics, such as higher speed of light, shorter relative distances, or slower passage of time. Of course, hyperspace is a scary place.
  3. Jump drive generates an Einstein-Rosen bridge (a wormhole) that connects the starting and target locations with a shortcut. While the bridges don't tend to stay open for long, sometimes multiple ships may slip through a single wormhole.
  4. Warp drive utilises a space-folding technology to contract the space in front of the spaceship and expand the space behind it, resulting in an apparent faster-than-light travel without actually travelling faster than light.

d20 Drawbacks and Complications
  1. The entry and exit points of each trip are easily detected and impossible to mask.
  2. The engines are still experimental and have a small chance to break down or burn out with each trip.
  3. The external duration of each trip is somewhat random, so it may take days one way, but weeks on the return.
  4. Each trip causes disturbances in local spacetime, so using the drive in orbit would have catastrophic consequences.
  5. The engines require a rare, expensive or limited type of fuel.
  6. The engines require excessive amounts of fuel or energy, enough that only very few trips can be made before refuelling.
  7. The engines require a lengthy cooldown and recharging period between uses, otherwise they might blow up.
  8. Destination must be planned with extremely precise and time-consuming targeting calculations, otherwise you might land in the core of a star, or never arrive at all.
  9. The ship cannot be piloted without the use of precognitive abilities. Non-psychic pilot will get you lost in deep space (and go insane in the process).
  10. The ship can only travel between specific nodes, such as star beacons, locations with weakened spacetime firmament, or through a portal network.
  11. The drive cannot be used within the gravity well of a star. Generally at least several light hours of distance are required to successfully engage it.
  12. The drive can only be engaged at near-light speeds, requiring the ship to first accelerate enough (and decelerate on arrival).
  13. The trip is deadly to a random race or sex for unknown reasons, though this can be circumvented by travelling in cryosleep.
  14. The activation of the drive attracts some kind of space monster. Roll for a special random encounter with every use.
  15. The trip causes mental distress and trauma unless you are unconscious, though pilots often overcome this with space drugs.
  16. The trip causes a period of nausea upon arrival, with some people even blacking out.
  17. The engines are very, very, very large. The spaceship has to be quadruple normal size just to pack them in.
  18. Targeting of the drive is somewhat imprecise, landing you within a few light hours of the destination.
  19. Each trip has a set length (1d20+10 light years), so long journeys are made as a series of smaller trips, while short ones may require a sidestep.
  20. Wow, your drive only has a single drawback! Someone will want to have a look at this advanced technology...

How F Is Your FTL?
I've decided to use a rough speed of 1000c (2d100 x 10c) for most FTL travel. This is fast enough that interstellar trips are relatively quick, yet it does not completely undersell the vastness of outer space. A ten light year distance will take around three days of flight, which for me sits comfortably between "space is irrelevant and no obstacle at all" and "not telling the players no, just making it slow enough they will get bored thinking about leaving the star system".

1 comment:

  1. Heh, I can name a book where each of these appear.