Saturday, June 1, 2013

SciFi Saturday – Campaign Book Oddities

My prior posts on the Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks game have almost entirely about the tactical boardgame and related miniatures (i.e., the 16-page "Tactical Operations Manual" book). As we start June, I'd like to transition to focus more on the associated "Campaign Book" by Doug Niles. This 64-page book includes sections on designing, equipping, and purchasing spaceships by players; information on how PCs interact with spaceships by way of skills, navigation, personal equipment, and close combat; and expanded detail to the Frontier campaign setting, including major organizations, plots, and economic activity (with lots of nice tables to run mining operations, freight hauling, passenger lines, etc.) Finally, it details the Second Sathar War, a grand campaign game in which Frontier space suffers a massive invasion by the Sathar, and hopefully battled back by the United Planetary Federation (although not successfully in the one time I played the campaign as the Sathar forces).

Today I thought I'd point out some of the smaller, but nonetheless notable oddities in the Campaign Book that are easily to overlook or, at first blush, not see the surprising import that they carry for the campaign:
  1. Star Frontiers spaceships don't have artificial gravity; instead they only have whatever gravity occurs as they accelerate with their engines (see p. 23 and 33, etc.) Therefore, spaceships are designed like skyscrapers, with a series of tiered decks arranged up the long axis. (Anyone familiar with the game will be cognizant of this, but I mention it again here because it's so important and unusual in sci-fi settings. Personally I love this fact and the opportunity to explore the ramifications of real-acceleration implications.) This retcons certain details in the ship maps from the original RPG.
  2. As a result of this, travel between stars is said to be constantly accelerating forward for half the trip, at which point the ship rotates around to use its engines for deceleration, and apparent proper gravity is kept in the ship the whole time (p. 33). While that's reasonable real-world physics, it does contradict the fact that in the boardgame turning the nose of a ship immediately changes its movement in that same direction (so no traveling backwards).
  3. In addition, it's stated that this standard travel is at a rate of the boardgame's 1 ADF (acceleration-deceleration factor), equal to 1 g of acceleration (p. 33). But unfortunately, that's an incorrect conversion; 1 ADF (an added 10,000 km per 10 min over 10 min) is closer to 3 g of acceleration (see Google calculation here). So either travel is much slower than expected in the book (at 1/3 ADF), or else travelers are subjected to a crushing effective gravity (3 g) for days or weeks on end. Moreover, space fighter-pilots would be carrying a 15g load at max acceleration, possibly for times as long as an hour, which I'm pretty sure would crush any human to a fine paste. One possible solution is that the Frontier races have some solution to these massive g-forces, or are just naturally much tougher than humans on Earth.
  4. Another implication of this state of affairs is that the delightful Agriculture Ship design (a series of transparent hemispheres all pointed "up" to catch sunlight; p. 7) would usually be functioning in zero-g, whenever it's in orbit around a planet that it's supposed to be supplying, and this has major ramifications for its internal layout, equipment, robots in use, etc. A possible alternative fix would be to make ag ships into cylinders and rotate them for gravity, much as space stations do (including the associated ag space stations).
  5. A surprisingly small number of locations in the setting can support building starships. The information in "spaceship construction" (p. 9) asserts that only two systems can build military vessels larger than a frigate or destroyer: Prenglar and Cassadine (the Class I centers). Aside from that, only three other systems can build interstellar ships at all: Theseus, Fromeltar, and Araks (the Class II centers; note one each Human, Dralasite, and Yazirian system). There are 4 other systems that are only allowed to build in-system ships (the Class III centers).
  6. Finally, an interesting assertion in the Personal Space Equipment section, under the item "Velcro Boots" (p. 29): "Since it is standard procedure to carpet all inhabited sections of a ship, velcro boots are a very common accessory." Have you been describing your spaceships as having plush carpeting throughout every part of the interior? I know that I haven't. From what I can tell, this concept owes its existence entirely to the early scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey where a stewardess on the Pan Am Orion shuttle is walking around in zero-g via velcro shoes (see clip below). In reality, I don't think anyone's used velcro boots for that purpose -- NASA uses velcro to secure tools to the walls, but that's about it (link).


Which of these Campaign Book oddities seems the most surprising to you? Which seems most clearly in need of a fix or alteration? Is there some other shocking detail that I've overlooked myself?


10 comments:

  1. Re: few spaceship building facilities - yeah, well, it's the frontier. You can't expect the frontier to be full of full-service facilities. ;)

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  2. There's an easy fix for point 3: take a page from Traveller and make the space combat turn about 1000 seconds (16 and 2/3 minutes). The Google calculation shows the result.

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    1. Yes, that's an option, or equivalently one could that the hex size is smaller than what's officially asserted.

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    2. Yes, setting the hex size to 3600 km instead of 10,000 instantly brings the two into alignment of 1 ADF = 1g.

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    3. True. Although the problem with that -- now that I think of it -- is that standard (Earth) sized planets wouldn't nicely fit inside one hex anymore, you'd have to overhaul the basic orbiting rules, etc. (Link)

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  3. Sounds like a lot of detail I can't be bothered with.

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  4. the void was kinda bizzare - no stardrive just happens - you accelerate and decelerate in void - coulda been fleshed out - i love the 2 star frontiers free mags

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    1. Yeah, that's a whole separate discussion (coming soon...)

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