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Off the Grid - some riffy thoughts on a space opera/exploration game

Bailywolf

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been in the mood to do something a little Star Trek, a little Traveller, a little Firefly (which might be redundant, since I have Traveler in there already), a little Blake's Seven, a little Doctor Who, a little etc. Nothing too original or anything.

The PC's would be members of a crew aboard a small FLT-capable scout ship.

The larger setting, and the setting's history, are dominated by the Network. At some point in Earth's nearish future (after another global war, after expansion into the solar system, after advances in propulsion and space manufacture, but not too much magic tech), out orbiting in the dark with nothing but OCOs for company, humanity finds the first of three Gates. These are just what you'd expect - huge alien artifacts containing a stable wormhole passage to another gate located somewhere else. After messing with the gates for a bit, humanity figures out how to open them up, and is welcomed by a thriving metacivilization of dozens of other species and cultures, some being obviously descendants of other Network members who had been taken and seeded elsewhere in the Network by the Precursors (sometimes jokingly called the Admins).

One of the Network's weird features is that there does not seem to be any kind of proximal relationship between linked systems. Gates can open to systems (or in a few cases, the cold dark of interstellar or even intergalactic space) anywhere in the universe, without any real sense of how the Precursors might have organized things, or why they'd link Sol to a system in Andromeda. The Precursors seemed to like fairly conventional systems, and with the number of life-bearing worlds in the Network, were likely selecting ones which showed the potential or were already living. Perhaps that explained the wide scattering of the network's nodes- their favorite kind of systems were fairly rare.

So humanity learns some basic tricks - how to fortify and control access through their Gates, for one - and shows off some tricks and teaches some lessons of their own to the Network's other node-civilizations, the main one being don't fuck with the humans - it turns out that from the alien perspectives we encounter, we're the Klingons. Xenophonic, tribal, warlike, and dangerously good at dirty tricks and death-dealing. Without too much trouble, Humanity gets a seat at the grownups table.

What follows is a hundred years of realpolitik, ups, downs, and general getting along. War between node-civs is pretty rare, but there's lots of proxy waring and other brushfire conflict in the minor nodes on the network, as the big players push and shove, politic, and generally do what big power blocs do. All the while, the cultural, religious, artistic, corporate, and academic elements of the big and small nodes conflict, intermingle, cross-fertilize, breed. On Earth and its constellation of colony and client nodes, fads for alien religions come and go, for example. It's an exciting time, but people get a handle on it, and it becomes the new normal.

And then some big brain at SSIT (Sol System Institute for Technology), working on a Precursor artifact scaved from one of the only damaged Gate complexes ever discovered, figures out how to create microsecond-stable traversable wormholes with accurately targetable egress points. The beast demanded a huge burst of power, and there was an ugly exponential increase in energy as the volume of the wormhole mouth increased, but what they had just cooked up was fully functional free-flying FTL gate-free drive. The results are published before anyone can clamp down. The jump drive leaps to freedom.

Suddenly all the major and minor node civilizations were moving to exploit the new tech - no longer limited to the Network, they could now jump a ship directly to any visible or accurately charted point. The size/power/jump equations were pretty harsh on the scale of these ships though - most had to be fairly small, as past a certain point, you couldn't cram enough burst capacitors into them to power the drive for a single jump. as it is, the standard scout ship needs a week or more to regenerate its capacitors for a jump, assuming no unusual drain on its power systems. Ships tend to be longer, sleeker to as to better fit a wormhole aperture, though many are able to deploy to a more expansive configuration once they arrive, expanding or inflating habs, spinning up simulated gravity rings, unfolding light-collecting petals like baroque metal flowers. Pocket dreadnaughts and corsairs are built as well, but these are nothing like the big system-control ships the major nodes can deploy at home.

so that's the basic setup - the Network is the Old World. Familiar, civilized, complicated, well-peopled. Traveling via jump drive means being off the grid - cut off from the fat bandwidth of a node system, unable to signal FTL back to your jump-off point, and until you can fill your caps, you are stuck wherever you land. There's money in survey data, more in basic science and exploration, and an absolute mint to be made from biological prospecting, civilizational contact, and staking resource claims. The ultimate prize is a new Gate, which would open up into another Network, co-local, intermingled, but unconnected to the familiar Network. Especially one which interlinked systems with bizarre and even more alien biases, or ones connecting to the universe's distant past or future. The theories run wild in the street, taking off their clothes, and throwing poop. The Precursors might have opened gates to universes with different chemistries, different physics. Anything could be out there, waiting to be found.

If you can get a short-term loan to pay for the refurb on the regenerative life support module after it got infected with e.vulgaris, and the fungus wrecked the ecosystem-in-a-can and almost killed everybody last jump. And what a jump. Barely broke even counting comets. Had to do the last week in suits, as the ship's air was too foul with CO2 and spores that smelled like cabbage and fart (though to be honest, that's pretty much what a scouter smells like after a month of operation anyhow).

So it's like you have to do the Strange New Worlds federation stuff, but without any support, legal authority, or moral framework beyond what you can make for yourself. It really is the final frontier, and you've got your little covered wagon in space, and you have some telescopes, and a really expensive biodecompiler because this star looks spectroscopically primed for life-bearing worlds, and you really need a score because if you don't make good on your loans, See-See the Kind Smile is going to cut off your head and have it transplanted still-living to its Wall of Joyful Warnings, and you still don't know if See-See's affection for joviality is a cultural trait, or something it does just to be extra scary.


What I wanted to do was take current gen and next gen space tech, and expand it in plausible (but neat) ways. The setup gives me things I like - small isolated crews, sleek ships that looks like atomic rocket adventure ships until they unstow, human-comprehensible aliens, no magic AG etc. Mature space industry, some modest nanotechnology and fabrication, but no magic box that spits out stuff. Things are still made from smaller things which are still mostly made in industrial processes. Power is mostly solar, atomic, fusion, and a little antimatter back home. Propulsion is probably something like a late-generation descendant of a VASIMR. Burst capacitors are super-dense (and thus, likely volatile ) power storage mediums which emerged from weapons technology (where they power lasers and mass drivers), and now is essential to the jump drive which needs a huge but very brief surge of power to flip a ship across the cosmos. BC's can be charged at a trickle. Quite fast from a powerful reactor, slower from passive solar, faster from an aggressive high surface area solar solution etc. It becomes a fiddly bit you can have as part of ship building and fitting out. Mass isn't the issue for FTL, but volume is. However, mass IS the issue for conventional drives, so both considerations are important. Some ships might have detachable power satellites - jump in, maneuver to a safe point, drop off the capacitors and collectors, and then take the much much much lighter ship cruising and surveying around the system. Scouts would carry a standard industrial toolset, so unless the tools themselves got wrecked, or there just wasn't anything available (or accessible) longterm survival and repair is certainly possible. Jump drives themselves are black boxes though - no user-serviceable parts, voided warranty, danger: strangelets. A spare could be carried, if you can lump the mass cost.

Galactic morally-grey space trek hexcruise.

Anybody want to riff with me on this one?
 

MoonHunter

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Ships are small, cramped, and have a submarine feel to them. Every bit of space is utilized. They will have a design mechanic that we already have, as well as reactor designs appropriate.

Travelling in ftl isn't much different than being underwater. You are in a harsh environment, flying by instruments, hoping nothing breaks and the guy at the helm knows wtf he is doing.

Of course these subs have wing designs, so they can do the atmospheric glide land and take off.

There are corporate ships out there. They are nicer equipped. Sure they are a bit claustrophobic, but they are better equipped. They have the feel of a more modern nuclear sub.

Note: There are very few corporate scouts out there. They tend to be doing follow up done by an Indie scout.

Indie Scouts are often second or third hand craft, some of which were adapted from older in system craft. They are not pretty or elegant, but if they keep you alive who cares. They too have a submarine feel, but more like a Diesel Can from the 1940s and 50s. Cramped, Awkward, Simplier to work on, but much less functional.

Why are their Indie Scouts? Two reasons. Because an average payday for an indie scout wouldn't keep a corporate boat running. The second and the one they don't mention, is that Scouts don't always come back. So the corporations are not willing to waste their resources and people when there are desperate spacers out there willing to take those risks for them. Sure they have to pay out big when one of these guys comes back with a big deal. However, most of the time... they aren't heard from again.

Note: This is not always because they die, get lost, or never come back. Sometimes they can't keep the ship going due to resources, parts the fabricators can't make or just money, so that little Indie Company just "goes away".
 
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GoldenH

Darmok & Gilad at Tenagra
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Once the scouters went looking for other networks they discovered a complication to their search: the universe is literally littered with inactive gates. Not damaged or worn out, but brand new, never been used gates.

Scouters can't just run across a gate and dial home to get the big bucks, and they aren't well enough equipped to carry a science team with them, so what they're looking for is fully realized civs who can contact them and teach them how their gate network works.

Desperate to pay the bills, crews have been known to crash inactive gates into moons (or vice versa) to crack them open and raid the parts, which they then bring back to civilization for research material. The bounties involved for turning in evidence of this behavior is more than enough to put scouts at each others throats, while encouraging them to keep tabs on each other on the chance that they'll get to catch the other in the act and make bank.
 

Craig Oxbrow

Ah, y'know. This guy.
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And the guys who fly under corporate flags all have mandatory physio and psych requirements that make the military look lackadaisical. They're the best and brightest because the companies can afford 'em. And they let the crazy freelancers take the off-the-grid jobs, because a safe investment is a sound investment. This doesn't stop them being presented as pioneering heroes - and doesn't stop a few frustrated best and brightest mustering out of contracts and going startup.
 

Harrowed

Nyarlathotep's Bitch
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Once the scouters went looking for other networks they discovered a complication to their search: the universe is literally littered with inactive gates. Not damaged or worn out, but brand new, never been used gates.

Scouters can't just run across a gate and dial home to get the big bucks, and they aren't well enough equipped to carry a science team with them, so what they're looking for is fully realized civs who can contact them and teach them how their gate network works.

Desperate to pay the bills, crews have been known to crash inactive gates into moons (or vice versa) to crack them open and raid the parts, which they then bring back to civilization for research material. The bounties involved for turning in evidence of this behavior is more than enough to put scouts at each others throats, while encouraging them to keep tabs on each other on the chance that they'll get to catch the other in the act and make bank.
A few reports have come in that Gates, crashed by scouts in search of voodoo tech, have been replaced by new Gates. This have made a hell of a stir. Everyone assumed that whatever built the damned things is long gone. Something is still left, maintain the Gate network in some fashion.
 

Harrowed

Nyarlathotep's Bitch
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And the guys who fly under corporate flags all have mandatory physio and psych requirements that make the military look lackadaisical. They're the best and brightest because the companies can afford 'em. And they let the crazy freelancers take the off-the-grid jobs, because a safe investment is a sound investment. This doesn't stop them being presented as pioneering heroes - and doesn't stop a few frustrated best and brightest mustering out of contracts and going startup.
Plenty of second string companies that are willing to overlook that slight variation in your DNA that the corporates would drum you out for. Hell, those second stringers are happy that the first tier testing washes so many damned fine pilots out. Saves on testing costs.
 

Sovem

En Kai Monon
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it turns out that from the alien perspectives we encounter, we're the Klingons
This is my favorite part so far, because it's probably so true ^__^
 

GoldenH

Darmok & Gilad at Tenagra
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The reason corporate standards are so high is that corporate disagreements are fought in trial-by-combat... with mecha. And any of their pilots can, at any time, be called upon to pilot one of the Mecha in a state-sponsored arena. Victory is not necessarily determined by brute force, but by the crowds, so, a dishonorable company can often find their mecha being scapped and sold bit by bit to pay for projects in the public sector.

Even some private companies have mecha, as only with mecha can their claims be held up in court. So when a claims dispute is held a corporate ship will often ask to inspect the private mecha to see if it is worthy to fight in the arena. This even works in private disputes: if a small company who cannot afford a mecha is claim jumped by someone who does, they're just out of luck, unless they can find a sponsor...

But while important in the legal sense, Mecha are of little use in starship combat. However, they are ALWAYS appropriately sized to fit inside a Gate. The ancients were huge... or at least liked their architecture to IMPLY that they were huge. It is a risk to deploy a mecha into a gate, but when unexpected or used intelligently, they can turn the tide of a battle.

Not that battles are common. I wouldn't imply that. I mean, they almost NEVER are on the '875 news.
 

BillChuck

Velociengineer
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The question everyone asks is why these other gate networks exist. Who is using them? Why are they unreachable from the Network? And why does this gate, in a system scattered with asteroid belts and no solid body larger than a skyscraper, look like someone tried to blow it to hell? Maybe the ancients weren't trying to protect potential sophont species. Maybe they were trying to protect themselves.
 

MoonHunter

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The Biggest Local Advantage discovered so far is the "Advari Pass". It is a place in the Grid where FTL drive can shave 17 jumps worth of time off the 19 jump trip between the two habitable worlds of Bellacon IV (A vibrant Human Colony that the Humans inherited after adopting it from another race (a little warfare, after a little accidental germ warfare combined with the fact that Humans breed faster, means we get to keep it)) and k'Checkre, (the Checkree (Alien) Homeworld and trading Hub). "The Pass" mostly refers to the two difficult system with asteroids that a ship must go through to get to these two choice destinations. Advari is the Network word for "Hellishly Tough Movement".
 
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