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Lloyd Dupont

Looking for brakes to space exploration

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I am working a scifi settings inspired by Master of Orion.
Player will have a galaxy map. Many star will be uncolonised because Terraformation will be harder than in the (original video) game I decided.

In the galaxy map it will be more or less obvious with some stars having generic name like "NGC164" and other will have proper names. Now this is also both a little bit of mystery building exercise, some of those planet are in fact populated and hidden planet by the "local galactic" government.

However these whole 2 concepts: hidden planets, uncolonised system, only make sense in this interstellar travelling era, if star hoping is somehow quite a drag without some helpful infrastructure. So now I wonder... what could this drag be?

I already thought of a mild one, perhaps each light years of travel consume a large volume of fuel, hence the further the trip, the less cargo can be carried... I am also pondering about making fuel expensive, but edging towards cheap fuel, expensive repairs at the moment...
Any other ideas?

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Why would you want to slow down space exploration?

When discussing reaching new star systems, are you talking about FTL drives? If not, then it doesn't take any more fuel to travel 10 Light Years than 1 Light Year, you just need the fuel to accelerate to an optimum velocity and decelerate afterwards, if you use slingshot techniques for deceleration you can reduce the fuel required.

Normally, for me, the biggest drag in star hopping is time. If your FTL drive takes days or weeks to travel a light year then travelling to distant stars takes a long time. Even if travelling to a nearby star system just takes a day, it will still take days or weeks to travel to faraway star systems.

That is why I like jump gates, in the sense of jumping point to point, as they drastically cut down travel times.

 

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Well it's Master of Orion, star hoping is a must! 
The story is one with spaceship crossing the universe on a regulars basis... But far from instant like Star Wars though...

I was thinking spaceship to have a base FTL speed 100 times the speed of light time 2~6... Which make the average time between neighbouring star on a slow and steady ship to be one week...

Why would I want to slow down space exploration? First why not? And if not, then I can hardly justify "mystery system".

I can feel you suggesting next that mystery star be a little more isolated, which would be easily 1 month travel.. But that would make them a little too obvious.. beside some of them are not. 

I am angling toward space exploration being much more costly that space trading. But space travel between star having both well developed terran system (i.e no obvious food or advanced industrial product trade being mandatory) still being somewhat viable, so it has to be that a lack of maintenance space station being somewhat costly in someways... But it can't be just a refuelling issue since it is easily worked around with some determination...

mmm.. I kept thinking about it and there is no real solution.. a determined trillionaire could always send prospector ship all around to find some prefect free real estate for their new industrial project. What I need is some alleged space monsters... Which I have some.... Master of Orion has space dragon (ludicrous) and space amoeba and crystal, more "reasonable" considering other thing in that setting...

Edited by Lloyd Dupont

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Space is big, with lots and lots of solar systems and planets.

Explorers might be able to visit a large number of systems, but according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milky_Way our Galaxy has between 100 billion - 400 billion stars. That is a lot of systems to check.

Even if you check a star system, all you will get from a cursory scan if the number of planets and maybe some details on each. To get more, you need to stay in the system for a while. The longer you spend exploring a system the more expensive it is.

If you have a cube, 100 system distances by 100 by 100, that means you have a million stars in that volume. It would take a million weeks to visit every single one of them, so having 1,000 exploration ships cuts it down to 1,000 weeks or 20 years. Spending a week in each bumps it to 40 years.

So, plenty of space for unidentified planets.

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Well.. but practically I was thinking to use 2D HexMap (suddenly much less stars already), with each hex being 4 light years and the space empire of interest being like 100x60 light years (it's like 1 year by 6 month travel, good enough for an empire and the game setting) or 25x15 hex.

Suddenly I have much less place to "hide" stuff...

Although... mmm.... just like I simplify the galaxy for practical purpose... I could decide that it is a game artefact that only benefit the players. i.e. NPCs "see the galaxy in 3D" (allegedly) and it justify them not going everywhere.. But it's simpler for the PC....
I guess that could do.... :)

Although I still need to dampen player space exploration ambition a bit... Maybe some space pirate, and the risk of being stranded in the middle of absolutely fucking nowhere could dampen that... mmm...

Edited by Lloyd Dupont

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This is a perennial problem with any setting that involves large unmapped areas and few impediments to travel. The players inevitably want to go off-grid, and it's the GM's job to either have an idea of what's in the direction of where they're going, or some means of managing it. Placing artificial constraints, or engineering them to prohibit exploration is basically shortchanging your players.

If you're set on running a sandbox campaign that involves the characters whizzing around the galaxy, then my advice would be to create a bunch of random charts (such as the many found in Traveller) that allow you to quickly create an inhabited world from a few dice rolls, if the characters suddenly head into uncharted territory. Customise the tables to fit the local authorities/rulers/empire so that it fits the themes of the campaign. And roll up a few worlds in advance and have some scenario seeds developed for them in case the characters head out there. In other words, you need to be prepared, and be ready to improvise. These are two of the most important things for any GM.

The worst thing you can do is put constant obstacles or constraints in front of the characters to stop them doing what they want to do. By all means have risks - and rumours of risks (the route to star NGC1646 is fraught with peril; no ship has ever made it through. Why is that?) - but try to avoid dampening the enthusiasm to explore. Instead find ways of managing it, or switch to a campaign that is rooted in one system or on one planet, so that the need for exploration is negligible.

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That celestial dragon isn't eating ships, he's charging interstellar transit fees.  In space no one can hear you max out your credit cards.  If you're strapped for cash he will still let you pass -- for unspecified favors to be determined later.

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4 hours ago, lawrence.whitaker said:

If you're set on running a sandbox campaign that involves the characters whizzing around the galaxy, then my advice would be to create a bunch of random charts (such as the many found in Traveller) that allow you to quickly create an inhabited world from a few dice rolls, if the characters suddenly head into uncharted territory. Customise the tables to fit the local authorities/rulers/empire so that it fits the themes of the campaign. And roll up a few worlds in advance and have some scenario seeds developed for them in case the characters head out there. In other words, you need to be prepared, and be ready to improvise. These are two of the most important things for any GM

Lawrence you misunderstood me... the plan is for the galaxy to be (more or less) "fully mapped" (albeit in a summarily expedient fashion), the plan is NG437 to be a "hidden world" (hidden by the government that is) (and a few other system as well). And I want to avoid players going systematically into unpopulated planet one by one or, luckily (or unluckily) jumping on it the first time.
So I want to make the plan to systematically explore unchartered world cumbersome and tedious.

Though when I say it like that I guess a little bit of fuel expense, a little bit of accident and a lot of boredom is all it wood take to stop exploration I guess.... And also... maybe I can "move secret planet a bit"...

Also, come to think of it, I don't need to worry. It will be hidden and defended. And if they jump on it first time, big deal.. They will just have to run away as they will detect enemy cruisers honing on them... And the mystery will remain, and possibly even, be increased, which is good!.... :) 😅

58 minutes ago, seneschal said:

That celestial dragon isn't eating ships, he's charging interstellar transit fees.  In space no one can hear you max out your credit cards.  If you're strapped for cash he will still let you pass -- for unspecified favors to be determined later.

I was not planning on accommodating monsters taking credit cards! :P
In fact I was not planning on intelligent monsters!
But I guess, if some of them are somewhat related to the Sillicoid, possibly a few of them could be smart and communicative enough... Theoretically... still feels strange to me though....

Edited by Lloyd Dupont

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Lawrence you misunderstood me... the plan is for the galaxy to be (more or less) "fully mapped" (albeit in a summarily expedient fashion), the plan is NG437 to be a "hidden world" (hidden by the government that is) (and a few other system as well). And I want to avoid players going systematically into unpopulated planet one by one or, luckily (or unluckily) jumping on it the first time. So I want to make the plan to systematically explore unchartered world cumbersome and tedious.

How many of these Hidden Worlds are there? Why are they hidden? Surely the whole point of having something hidden in a roleplaying game is for it to be discovered sooner or later? If it's one or two worlds out of an entire galaxy, and if the government has hidden them effectively, then the chances of the characters stumbling upon the hidden world(s) should be very, very remote anyway. And presumably if the government has gone to great lengths to 'hide' worlds, then they've put surely in place defensive measures and disinformation strategies to prevent them being accidentally stumbled on or found: deep space installations that scramble sensors when a ship gets too close; automated weapons platforms that fire on intruders; weird nanotechnology that can infect engines and life support (like Smatter from Iain Banks Culture stories), or other such nasties to prevent deliberate or accidental discovery.

All the above are simpler and preferable to imposing arbitrary roadblocks and brakes on space exploration generally - unless there's an an exceedingly good campaign rationale for limiting it. As you've said, the campaign needs star hopping ("Well it's Master of Orion, star hoping is a must!") so if you start throwing obstacles in the way of the characters for no good reason, save to stop them finding a hidden world, then you're shortchanging them very heavily.

It's your campaign of course, but if you've got a 'fully mapped' galaxy, then there's a reason why it's fully mapped: if space exploration is as hard, slow, and ponderous as you want to make it to simply keep a few worlds hidden, then you're undermining the logic of a well mapped galaxy.

Personally, if this was my campaign, I'd engineer a way for the characters to find the hidden world, experience its secrets, and then spend the rest of the campaign dealing with/fleeing from/attempting to expose/being changed by those secrets. That's usually how most good dramatic SF stories develop...

 

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I haven't made the map yet.. but there will be, I think, about 100 empty world... And while, of course I want them to go there! I was a bit concerned they just randomly select the system and jump to it on day 1!

But, as you just suggested, and as I realised myself just before (see! I typed that!)

16 hours ago, Lloyd Dupont said:

Also, come to think of it, I don't need to worry. It will be hidden and defended. And if they jump on it first time, big deal.. They will just have to run away as they will detect enemy cruisers honing on them... And the mystery will remain, and possibly even, be increased, which is good!.... :) 😅

It's not big deal if they go there, it will be defended..... They will run away, and be all the more surprised and curious...

That said, and somewhat related, I also want to give spaceship ongoing running costs which, while not prohibitive, encourage productive usage of them as much as possible.... ;)

Edited by Lloyd Dupont

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Your numbers appear to be very VERY low; your galactic map sounds incredibly sparse.

The current estimate -- based on what we can observe, and presuming our "stellar neighborhood" is typical of the galaxy -- is that there are probably ten BILLION potentially-habitable planets in the galaxy (roughly Earth-sized, orbiting within the liquid-water "Goldilocks Zone").  If we arbitrarily say that "sentient life with a technological civilization" is a 1-in-a-million chance where the circumstances allow it (i.e. "roughly Earth-sized, orbiting within the liquid-water Goldilocks Zone"), that's 10,000 technological species.

Red dwarf stars are excluded from that estimate, but if included could up to quadruple the number.

We don't include "exotics" like Enceladus (outside the Goldilocks Zone but possibly life-bearing in the liquid-water ocean beneath its frozen surface), silicon forms, methane-breathers, Niven-esque "Integral Tree" (gas torus) environments, etc etc etc.

See here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exoplanet

 

Regarding difficulty of travel/exploration, I kind of like what Traveller did with fuel limitations.  Basically, most ships only carry enough fuel for a 1-way trip, and refuelling mostly requires civilization at the far end.  "Exploring" -- going to a starsystem without a fuel depot -- is a one-way trip.  A very few ships are built with sufficient capacity to make a (relatively short) round-trip; IIRC none can make long round-trips, the engineering & physics precludes it.  The other possibility was to create a ship capable of extracting/refining its own fuel, but again this is relatively rare, specialized, etc.

 

16 hours ago, Lloyd Dupont said:

...

Also, come to think of it, I don't need to worry. It will be hidden and defended. And if they jump on it first time, big deal.. They will just have to run away as they will detect enemy cruisers honing on them... And the mystery will remain, and possibly even, be increased, which is good!.... :) 😅

...

Unless the PC's are quite unique in the galaxy, this "hidden" system will have been "stumbled across" again and again and again.  It will be an "open secret" in the spacer community (dive bars, guild-halls, whatever you have) that there is Something Very Very Substantive going on in this "uninhabited" and "worthless" system...

 

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Sometimes I wonder what's wrong with my writing style.. due to needless and sometimes mislead conflicting argument...
But this time I am sure you didn't read what I write, so here is quick summary! 😜 

- I have a 2D map of a 2D galaxy, which will reduce the number of star dramatically. Yes it's unrealistic, but it's practical. And it does not really matter, it's just a game hey! ;) 
- the average star density in our neighbourhood is 1 star per 3.26 light year, I have 4 light years hex map (which contains 0, 1 or 2 stars), fairly reasonable simplification
- my corner of the galaxy is only a sliver of the whole thing 100 by 60 light years (by 1, flat map, remember!?)

This galaxy (sliver) has 375 hex, I probably will fill 200 of them... there will be void and pack of stars)...
I can hardly have much more star than that (with those reasonable simplifications)

Beside it's good enough, its plenty enough, and at 100 lightspeed you can hardly have bigger semi cohesive single political unit....

As a side note, to show you the dramatic impact of the missing 3rd dimension, if the map were a "cube" (i.e. 3 dimensional) with 40 lightyear aside (i.e. much smaller side length) I would have 1000 slots, and maybe. mm.. 600 stars in that "3D map"... so the flatness has a big impact... But hey, for simplicity sake I am not going to use 3D map... because it doesn't really matter... and it's much easier to manage...
It happens in the kitchen too, people underestimate the impact of the 3rd dimension in containers.... Which is missing in my case! 😜 

BTW a source for stellar density, just to see my number are reasonable, though reduced to 2D....
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stellar_density
(actually the cubic root of 0.004 is ~ 0.158, which means a star roughly every 6 light years... so I am packing them quite tightly...)

 

---

Other than I though about car, boat, cruise ship... I guess the limitation is like you said, you have to pay the crew and the fuel! :)
I didn't like that initially because I was thinking to do "cheap fuel" (i.e. negligible price), and expensive repair.. But cheap fuel is a bummer, gotta charge for it in both storage space and credits...

And of course, it's about 1 week travel for 1 hex, those things annoys real people when stuck in a tiny ship...

--

9 hours ago, g33k said:

Unless the PC's are quite unique in the galaxy, this "hidden" system will have been "stumbled across" again and again and again.  It will be an "open secret" in the spacer community (dive bars, guild-halls, whatever you have) that there is Something Very Very Substantive going on in this "uninhabited" and "worthless" system...

It's arguable unrealistic, I'll grant that... My angle (which is a bit stretching it) would be most commercial shipping don't bother to do exploration, since it's quite cost ineffective. But obviously I would also need active information suppression as Lawrence suggested..... But.. yeah, you right, it probably should be.. what's the expression.. an "open secret"? or something...

 

 

Edited by Lloyd Dupont

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6 hours ago, Lloyd Dupont said:

... my corner of the galaxy is only a sliver of the whole thing 100 by 60 light years (by 1, flat map, remember!?)

I think this is the bit I missed.  You had said you had a "galaxy map" and I presumed you meant "map of the (whole) galaxy" rather than "map of (this sliver of) the galaxy."

 

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16 minutes ago, g33k said:

I think this is the bit I missed.  You had said you had a "galaxy map" and I presumed you meant "map of the (whole) galaxy" rather than "map of (this sliver of) the galaxy."

 

Haha... Alright then! :)

I will challenge you though, that no Game Master could produce a (remotely) accurate map of the galaxy that is usable for table top play! 😜 
You know, 3D with 10^11 stars in it....
Although.. come to think of it, from a quick glance at it, I think the galaxy maps from some Star Wars RPG claim to do it... :o

Edited by Lloyd Dupont

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One possible explanation why inaccessible planets might become more easily reachable is technological change. Suppose the best FTL was previously a bit like age of sail in space, fairly slow and hard to navigate safely. Only really big ships were feasible. But now new technology is a bit like introducing airplanes, interstellar vessels can be smaller, faster and can reach regions that were previously hard to navigate to. Maybe this new technology has only been available for a few decades, so you have a situation a bit like the 1930s on earth. Previously settled locations separated by little known or visited areas that suddenly become much more accessible.

Edited by simonh
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On 6/24/2020 at 6:05 AM, Lloyd Dupont said:

I will challenge you though, that no Game Master could produce a (remotely) accurate map of the galaxy that is usable for table top play! 😜 
You know, 3D with 10^11 stars in it....

I produced a map in Excel that was 200 points wide, deep and high, centred on Sol. It was a pretty accurate representation, based on some star map data. so, it had 401 sheets, each 401 by 401 cells, with each star name that I had available, including some cells with multiple star systems. I think it had 20,000 stars or something like that, I can't remember.

Of course, as a game aid it was only really usable when moving around a single sheet, moving onto another sheet took a while, as Excel is quite slow.

So, it is possible to produce a reasonably accurate map of nearby stars, but who wants to draw up star systems and planet stats for 20,000 stars?

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On 6/24/2020 at 6:05 AM, Lloyd Dupont said:

 


I will challenge you though, that no Game Master could produce a (remotely) accurate map of the galaxy that is usable for table top play! 😜

It depends what you expect from the map. If your setting assumption is that only very few systems have habitable planets, then there’s simply no need to map every star system. Most of them are barren wilderness. What matters is the population, industrial, agricultural and technology centres. A map of Africa doesn’t have to show every village, or even every airstrip and port to be useful.

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My completely unusable but probably fairly accurate star map, centred on Sol,  can be found at http://www.soltakss.com/starmaps/Map_000.html#000001. For some reason, it works better in Internet Explorer than Chrome.

Each dot is a Jump-1, regardless of the scale of Jump-1. The size is such that it can take a ship with Jump-4 several jumps to reach a lot of stars, but years to reach the outlying stars, which feels about right to me.

It uses the Huygens catalogue and I have an Excel spreadsheet with all 99k stars, their positions and links to the maps. It is nearly 13Mb in size, but that is small nowadays.

Edited by soltakss
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