The Eight Worlds -- Ship Operations
Starship operations in the Eight Worlds can be divided into several phases. These are described in the followng sections:
A Note About Explosions
The final category, 'catastrophic explosions', could in principle be divided into subcategories (e.g. 'catastrophic', 'very catastrophic', 'extremely catastrophic', 'destroys the entire planet', etc.), but from the standpoint of the crew of the ship involved (the 'explodees'), these distinctions may not be of much importance.
Startup and Shutdown
A starship is a complex system, like a diesel locomotive or a relationship. Like a diesel locomotive, a succession of operations must be performed to start it. And like a relationship, failure to follow these procedures correctly can lead to a catastrophic explosion.
Power and Readiness Levels
Down: All systems are shut down, and may have been so for some time. Nothing is running or ready to run. A vessel is in this state after it's been delivered from the yard, after an overhaul, or if it's been found abandoned on some unknown world with no record of its origin other than a cryptic recording. Which you can't play. Because the power is off.
Cold: Diagnostic and control systems have been started up and are running on battery power. There is no reason to keep a ship at this level except as part of the startup process since it cannot be maintained without external power. In theory, one could run the lifters on battery power and fly the ship in an atmosphere at this readiness status, but it would involve some risk.
Reserve: Engineering plant is running at 0.1% power, batteries are charging, and enough spare power is available to run equipment such as sensors and the fuel refiner. Ship can be brought to Standby status in an hour or so (5 space combat rounds) by a skilled crew. It can be brought up even faster by a skilled crew who are willing to accept the risk of a catastrophic explosion. Grounded vessels and vessels in hyperspace are usually kept at Reserve readiness status. This can also be used for stealthy planetary approaches, but if one's ship is detected by a hostile vessel less than an hour's flight away, the consequences can be unfortunate.
Low Standby: Engineering plant is running at 1% power. Reaction drives cannot be used and weapons cannot be fired, but the vessel can be brought up to Standby status in 12 minutes or less (1 space combat round). This is a typical energy level for planetary approaches. Vessels spend most of their time in normal space at some level of Standby.
Standby: Engineering plant is running at 10% power, ready for immediate use. In theory one could run the vessel's reaction drives at 10% thrust at this readiness status, but there is no reason to do so.
Full Power: Obvious.
The following table lists approximate ranges at which a ship can be detected by passive sensors. Active sensors have a range of around 300,000 km, but make the scanning ship visible to passive sensors at ranges up to 1.5 million km -- i.e. you can see anyone hiding nearby if you don't mind revealing yourself to everyine in the system.
The 'Bringing The Ship Up' Table
In general, a vessel's fusion drives cannot be used in an atmosphere. Some military drives have been rated for atmospheric operations by designers who read too many Larry Niven stories from the classic era before the dawn of space travel, but attempts to use these drives in any atmosphere significantly denser than that of Mars has often lead to tears.
Atmospheric operations are conducted using Lifters: a syetm of thermal turbo-scramjets powered by the fusors. In general, these provide 1 g more acceleration than the ship's reaction drives and can propel the vessel at speeds ranging from Mach 3-15, depending of atmospheric density, temperture, composition, the quality of the vessel's steralining, and the extent to which the crew might object to having their hull melt. Power consumption for lifters is minimal. Even on battery power a ship could, in theory, fly for days, and endurance under fusion power is limited only by the endurance of the machinery.
During an ordinary launch, a ship takes off using the lifters, accelerates first to and then to hypersonic speeds, climbs to an altitude at which it is safe to start the fusion drives, and then uses these to continue to orbit and beyond. Rentry and landing are the revese of this procedure. The ship can also cruise in the atmosphere under lifters for an indefinite length of time. On airless worlds, procedure is slightly different and the ship must vent reaction mass through the lifters. It is in principle possible to take off from an airless world using fusion drives, but many things can go wrong with such a plan.
Ordinary 'streamlined' hulls are tail-landers, restricted to landing zones or prepared fields of reasonable quality. 'Belly-landers' -- which may still land on their tails in some cases -- have additional lifters and more robust landing jacks that allow them to land in more 'rustic' locations. The additional thrust-vectoring capability make them more maneuverable in air combat.
Normal Space Operations
These rules are incredibly important. I haven't transcribed them yet, but a quick summary is given here. Since hyperspace jumps conserve momentum and preserve intrinsic velocity, ships must accekrrate in normal space to match velocities with their destination. This means that to travel from world to world, a ship must lift from its planet of origin, travel sufficiently far away to use the hyperdrive, change velocity with its destination -- this can be done in stages before and/or after the hyperspace jump -- approach its destination world, re-enter, and land. An amibitious referee would keep track of the orbital ephemera and stellar motions of every world to calculate the delta-v requirements associated with each and every jump. This would allow him or her to track seasonal variations in the fuel requirments to travel from world to world in a way that would have exciting implications for the campaign. In practice, anyone who tries this is likely to go nuts, so it's easier to assume that the delta-v requirement will always be around 72 km/s.
The following list gives a brief summary of departure operations
Approach is the reverse of the above procedure.
Hydrogen for the ship's Refiner can be obtained in a variety of ways. The easiest is to run a pipe to a nearby body of water, pump the stuff aboard, and apply the Miracle of Electrolysis. This does require a certain number of Mech and Wilderness Survival skill rolls to deploy the pipe, drag it to an appropriate source, and protect it from local environmental hazards -- particularly large obstreperous ones with teeth. It also requires that the planet have water. If no free-standing water is available, one can resort to other options, which are listed below in ascending order of ickiness.
These rules are even more important. I haven't transcribed them either. Here's a very quick summary of a standard jump at Jump 2.
Shorter jumps are possible. In fact, 'microjumps', with charge times of less than a minute and transit distances of a billion kilometers are less are standard practice for in-system transit or to foil attempts to track a ship's interstellar jump.
The Jump Limit
Repairs, Maintenance, and Annual Overhauls
Ships are complex systems, whose components can wear out and fail. These failures become more likely as a vessel grows older. When they occur, they must be repaired, which involved an exercise of skill and some cost in spare parts. The probability of systems failure for a single flight, which includes planeraty departure, hyperspace transit, and planetary approach, varies with the grade of the vessel, and is determined by rolling 2d6 using the table below
An engineer can apply their skill to detect a potential failure before it happens. On a modified 9 (Eng skill + 2d6), they detect the failure before the ship lifts. On a modified 7, they detect if before the system is engaged. Lower rolls mean that an unpleasant occurs in flight, and a natural 2 (snake eyes) means they broke something that would have been fine if they hadn't been messing around.
"Houston, we've got a problem."
Overhauls and Surveys
A brand spanking new ship, fresh out of the yard, is Grade One. It would be possible to do shoddy work and produce cheaper vessels of lower quality, but for reasons described below, this is not economical. Every year, or after any damage that threatened the ship's integrity -- this generally only happens as a result of near-destruction in combat -- a ship must undergo an Overhaul and Survey. If it fails the Survey, it drops one grade. If they wish, the crew may then attempt a Major Overhaul and have the vessel resurveyed, but for older vessels, it can make more sense to spend some of the money drowning one's sorrows in a bar (this involves use of the Carousing skill) and use the rest on a down-payment for another ship. Costs of overhauls are listed below.
A bit of calculation and probability will show that in spite of their higher purchase price, Grade One vessels have significantly lower operating costs after one accounts for maintenance and overhauls. They are followed by Grade Two vessels. Like many things in the Eight Worlds, this was deliberate. A lot of thought went into these rules.
Troublemakers may ask, "Why must overhauls occur on an annual basis? What's so special about Earth's year? Or must ships built on worlds with a different orbital period be overhauled with different frequencies?" We don't like people like you. Cynics may ask what happens if one misses an annual overhaul, either because one was outside the Pale with no access to a spaceport, or was tryiong to sneak something past the GM. The Survey roll happens anyway, with a +1 penalty because life is cruel.
Last modified: 20 January 2010