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Lately I've been fascinated with space arks -- big ships intended to take colonists to another world.  Preliminary research indicates you'd need 10,000 to 40,000 people to establish your new home.  The numbers avoid genetic drift and provide a cushion against deaths caused by disease, accident, or violence.  All these hardy pioneers need not travel on a single giant vessel; the mission might be safer if you have five ships each carrying 2,000 people than one carrying all 10,000.

There are two basic approaches to slower-than-light transport.  Sleeper ships (the "Ark in Space" from Doctor Who, the Botany Bay from Star Trek) carry colonists in some sort of suspended animation -- drug-induced hibernation, freezing, etc.  The ship's computer awakes part of the crew periodically to check and maintain the vessel and to enable passengers in heal cellular damage accrued during hibernation (otherwise they have a limited shelf life and arrive sick and crippled).  The second approach is a generation ship (the Warden from Metamorphosis Alpha, Earthship Ark from The Starlost) in which passengers are expected to reproduce and pass on their knowledge and the mission guidelines to each succeeding generation of inhabitants.  Genetic diversity could be boosted by carrying a supply of frozen human eggs and sperm, enabling medics to periodically artificially inseminate colonists to add variety to the population.  Oddly, my research indicates that a society advanced enough to build a successful generation ship would also have the technology to construct one with faster-than-light drives.

A sleeper ship avoids all the societal problems of staying on mission with a generation ship.  However, the technical challenges of both types of transport are great.  Even if you get up to speed then coast your way to your distant destination, you'd still need an outrageous amount of fuel to maintain even the minimal amount of life support required by a sleeper ship over thousands of years.  And no matter how advanced your engineering and well-crafted your construction, stuff is eventually going to wear out over that long a period.

So, have any of you included space arks in your campaigns?  If so, how did you handle these questions?  Or did you just ignore the complications (as most movies and TV shows do) for the sake of having your stalwart adventurers encounter a weird situation?

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You mention some very interesting role playing opportunities and interesting questions. A scenario in which the crew are dealing with escalating engineering challenges and have now lost contact with the other ships definitely appeals to me. I would be tempted to have some form of trans-humanism in the setting to allow for body horror elements and explore which attributes in crews worked better for long voyages. I would also be tempted to have the sessions on board the ship be part of a campaign in which the characters (or their descendants) eventually arrive at their destination and have to start colonising and exploring their mysterious new (initially peaceful) world.

Have you seen Pandorum? Its a great film about a crew waking up for their shift on a sleeper ship that has encountered problems during its voyage.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1188729/combined

There was also a TV mini series last year called Ascension that dealt with the challenges of a generational ship that was launched in the 1960s:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3696720/combined

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In Firefly RPG lore several such arcs left   "Earth that was" to colonize a new system. Always wanted to have a band of players run into a derelict ark that got lost in transit. My idea was a generations boat because there's no FtL travel in Firefly, but the ship lost power and the entire compliment of crew expired save a couple who secured themselves in stasis. Or maybe a scenario like Event Horizon. 

 

Edited by tooley1chris
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A variation on this topic is described in Accelerando by Charles Stross. The starship is the size of a box of Coke cans and contains the uploaded personalities of a number of crew, who exist in a virtual world on board. This solves the problem of acceleration to high speeds and keeping meat bodies alive, though not the one of colonising an alien world at the destination. (In the book the starship was journeying to meet an alien router).

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Yeah you've got to have the tech at the other end to "download" the digital crew back into meat bodies.  Again, if you can do that, you probably have the technology to do faster than light drives.  The anime "Expelled from Paradise" deals with the scenario but without space travel.  In this case, the elites avoided a global apocalypse by being uploaded onto an orbital satellite while survivors on Earth's surface adapted to a harsh new environment.  At the beginning of the movie it appears that the digital aristocrats have it made while the meat body dirtsiders are hard scrabbling.  As the story progresses, however, it gradually becomes apparent that maybe "Paradise" isn't as peachy as advertised.

Edited by seneschal
Correct spell check idiocy, add comment

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Oddly, my research indicates that a society advanced enough to build a successful generation ship would also have the technology to construct one with faster-than-light drives.

 
In terms of probability I would say this might not be true if looking at it from a scientific point of view (which might not be interesting for a fictional setting, though the constraints set up by science can be inspiring none the less). The chance that FTL travel is physically impossible I would say is still very high. Though some NASA tests with an electromagnetic drive (EM Drive) earlier this year actually did offer a sliver of hope (hinted at here: 
http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2015/04/evaluating-nasas-futuristic-em-drive/)
But going to Alpha Centauri would only take about 130 years in sub-light speeds with the EM Drive! Which means a generational ship might be a quite feasible project after all. 
 
Uploading ourselves to computers I would also deem as much more complicated than futurists make it sound. Not as improbable as FTL, though still very far in the future. 
 
(OT: Arthur C Clarke suggested we send frozen fertilized eggs and have AIs/robots raise the children when the destination has been reached. A lot of the tech involved is already in place or being developed at a good pace). 
 
I believe a new book by Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora, deals with many of the problems that generational ships might encounter, including genetic degradation, AIs becoming conscious and the later generations loosing interest in the mission. Did anyone read it? Is it worth picking up?
Edited by clarence
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 This solves the problem of acceleration to high speeds and keeping meat bodies alive, though not the one of colonising an alien world at the destination. (In the book the starship was journeying to meet an alien router).

You could have some handy nanotech whip up some equipment from local materials to create either meat or robotic bodies for your crew at the end of a journey to colonise a planet/asteroid . However Stross forgets that a coke sized vehicle would need shielding as cosmic rays would penetrate whatever computational substrate was being used, causing damage.

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On 09 September 2015 at 10:07 AM, clarence said:
 
 
 
(OT: Arthur C Clarke suggested we send frozen fertilized eggs and have AIs/robots raise the children when the destination has been reached. A lot of the tech involved is already in place or being developed at a good pace).
 
 

Alastair Reynolds has that idea as part of his Revelation Space history. Unfortunately the AI/robots aren't up to the job, and fail to fully humanise the colonists, with disastrous results.

Edited by Conrad

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Alastair Reynolds has that idea as part of his Revelation Space history. Unfortunately the AI/robots aren't up to the job, and fail to fully humanise the colonists with disastrous results.

Yeah, I was going to mention this possibility, too.  This sort of "ark" is called a seed ship.  Upon arrival at its destination, an army of robots builds a settlement on the new planet and plants crops while potential colonists are created via in vitro fertilization.  It assumes the reproductive materials survive the journey undamaged by freezing and cosmic rays and the existence of a practical automated artificial womb technology to grow and deliver the babies.  Aside from the psychological effects of not having physical contact with a human mother during gestation, the kids would also have to deal with being raised and tutored by mechanical parents very much unlike themselves.  Can you say "detachment syndrome"?  Even if they survive to adulthood, the first generation colonists would likely be sociopaths.

Re: an EM drive, a journey of "only" 130 years is much more do-able no matter which ship method you use -- as opposed to a trip of 2,000 or even 74,000 years.  Mechanical and systems failures with the ship due to normal wear and tear are less likely.  The time frame is within the reasonable "shelf life" period for the crew of a sleeper ship; less worry about cellular degeneration during hibernation.  And it solves a lot of the problems with a generation ship.  Now, the societal structure and goals of the arriving colonists could still be radically different than the folks who launched the expedition intended, but the chances of forgetting the mission or even forgetting that they are on a ship is greatly reduced.  Think about it:  130 years is 1885 until now, 2015.  Generations have passed, but we still remember the events and personalities of the 19th century, still read a lot of the books and sing a lot of the songs written then, and while our society and culture have changed it is still recognizably derived from what came before.

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Now, sleeper ships originally were proposed for interplanetary journeys with much shorter travel times.  For instance, there is some talk of putting astronauts into hibernation during a future trip to Mars.  That's a round trip of only about two years (9 months each way, and assuming a 3-4 month stay on Mars until the planets align properly for the return).  Old time sailors spent years at sea without sight of land, so freezing the crew to avoid boredom or aging seems silly.  On the other hand, it might reduce muscle and bone loss during transit due to lack of gravity.  Is the payload for hibernation equipment less than the payload for food/water/air needed for a two-year jaunt?  Hmmm.

http://www.astronomycafe.net/qadir/q2811.html

http://www.space.com/24701-how-long-does-it-take-to-get-to-mars.html

 

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The novel "Beowulf's Children" deals with the effects of cellular degeneration on the crew of a sleeper ship.  The colonists arrive and survive to raise kids but the once brilliant scientists are affected by brain damage caused by the freezing process.  Their adolescent kids disrespectfully accuse them of having "ice on the brain" when they are out of earshot.

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Has anyone read Tau Zero by Poul Anderson? Its been on my "to read" list for awhile and deals with a colony ship that uses constant acceleration until half way and then constant deceleration until they reach Tau Ceti. En route, they encounter problems with their engines and must continue to accelerate, pushing them further into the (relative) future and further away from humanity.

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No, I've missed that one. Though I would strongly recommend, not only because he's Swedish, Nobel Prize winner Harry Martinson's Aniara (1953), a long sci-fi poem describing the tragic journey of the generation starship of the same name. And in the process also capturing the fragility of life here on Earth; the similarities of a blue-green ball hurling through space and a giant starship are truly heartaching. I have seldom been so touched by a sci-fi book, only a couple more qualify for that list. I know it's been a bit hard to find in English earlier, but I hope that it's easier now.

Those long-range ships must also be fully functional biospheres I suppose, at least if colonists or a sizable crew is kept awake. This will inevitably lead to interesting balancing problems over time. A biosphere gone awry can become a very vicious enemy...

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I ran a slower than light tech sci-fi game many years ago sort of along the lines of Silent Running. I had the bulk of the meat frozen on long term cryo-storage and the players were the tech crew that got woken up by the ships AI whenever something unexpected happened, tech problem, interesting event, planet, course corrections etc. During the players down time the robots took care of the regular maintenance of the ship.

I had floorplans for the main ship, cargo transporter, shuttle and ground vehicle, but I have no idea where they are now...

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I ran a slower than light tech sci-fi game many years ago sort of along the lines of Silent Running. I had the bulk of the meat frozen on long term cryo-storage and the players were the tech crew that got woken up by the ships AI whenever something unexpected happened, tech problem, interesting event, planet, course corrections etc. During the players down time the robots took care of the regular maintenance of the ship.

I had floorplans for the main ship, cargo transporter, shuttle and ground vehicle, but I have no idea where they are now...

:(

Edited by seneschal
Correct formatting

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So, after our discussion so far, anyone up to writing up a space ark, either with BRP Mecha, River of Heaven, Cthulhu Rising or BRP Starships 2.x?

Bonus points for deck plans.

http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/deckplans.php

 

That's a thing I've been thinking about whether I even needed to go as far as deck plans. I haven't even done of capital ship stats yet.

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Having deck plans for for a really huge ship like the Valley Forge from Silent Running or Earthship Ark from The Starlost has always been sort of a holy grail of sci-fi gaming for me.  But when you look at it, even GDW's Azhanti High Lightning, which purported to give you specs and deck plans for a massive interstellar cruiser, actually mapped only a fraction of the ship.  Doctor Who's Ark in Space only showed you a few key areas of the Nova space station.  How much of the U.S.S. Enterprise have we ever actually seen in all Star Trek TV shows and movies combined?  And that's a much smaller vessel than a space ark or even than a Star Wars warship.

Most gaming supplements (as well as movies and TV shows) tend to take the Metamorphosis Alpha approach and treat the big ship as a discover-as-you-go mega-dungeon, the actual contents of which are sometimes determined by random die rolls.  Essential portions demanded by the plot may be mapped out in small, manageable bits, but the rest of the vessel is often a "here there be dragons" blank that could contain anything -- from nests of old but functional video game consoles to the Brady Bunch alive and well and living out a life of suburban sunniness.

Edited by seneschal
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Does anyone know of any game resources on the web; descriptions, general layout, partial deckplans etcetera? What ship sizes are we even talking about? 5000 colonists per ship, a sizeable biosphere, cargo, sub-light engines - what else? 

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Actually, I would reccomend Seldon's Compendium of Space Craft I, II, III. Book I has ships boats, traders, liners and patrol vessels ranging from small ships boats to a massive Space Liner of 1,250,000 tons. It has sections for Specifications, Mass,Volume and Comments. As well as deckplans for all the vessels in Book 1. Book II and III have some deckplans, but they are mostly military ships for various factions and the larger do not have deck plans. http://www.fantasygamesunlimited.net/product-category/spaceopera/page/3/ . I believe this is a hard copy, as it says shipping to my location is $3.00 and the book is $7.00 for a total of $10. International you might have to contact them.

Would also recommend Fasa Merchant Class ships, Aslan Mercenary Ships, and Adventurer Class ships I & II. Adeventurer Class ships set I, II, and Merchant I do not think have large ships. These are 15mm Deckpans. See them occasionally on Ebay. There is also ISCV: King Richard, http://www.farfuture.net/Guide To FASA Traveller.pdf , page 2, 5,000 ton Liner. Also a hotel complex Layout/(deckplan). They are available on Drivethru as PDF under Traveller Adventurer Ships 1,2,3,4.

Edited by Ethereal
misspelling. additional information.
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Does anyone know of any game resources on the web; descriptions, general layout, partial deckplans etcetera? What ship sizes are we even talking about? 5000 colonists per ship, a sizeable biosphere, cargo, sub-light engines - what else? 

I was thinking of a sleeper ship, part of a fleet of five.  So, 2,000 frozen colonists, crew members that get awakened periodically to check progress and maintain the ship (requiring only spartan accommodations), cargo room for all the tools and gear they'll need to build a colony (including frozen livestock), a reliable computer to maintain ship's course and duty schedules, and fast sub-light engines used mainly at launch and arrival as the ship would coast through space once it got up to speed.  The ship would be streamlined so the pilot could land the whole thing on planet, allowing the colonists to slowly cannibalize it for parts.  No armor and weaponry; this is a civilian ship and can't afford the extra payload.

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How much equipment would be needed? I made a first estimate of 4 tons per colonist, but if some large-scale 3d printers (essentially hyper-competent industrial robots) are brought along, using local materials plus dismantling of the Ark, it could probaby be halved?

I also think they would need to bring food for at least 3 months, to keep them going while waiting for the first crop. 

Artificial gravity or not?

Does any of this make sense?

Edited by clarence

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One thing to consider: The originating star system would continue to develop new technology after sending out a generation or sleeper ship, and might conceivably develop FTL travel before the colonists reach their destination. The colonists might arrive only to find that the system had already been colonized by their descendants, who might have mixed feelings about their ancestors showing up. 

Fuel might not be a problem if you use a magnetic sail:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetic_sail

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How much equipment would be needed? I made a first estimate of 4 tons per colonist, but if some large-scale 3d printers (essentially hyper-competent industrial robots) are brought along, using local materials plus dismantling of the Ark, it could probaby be halved?

I also think they would need to bring food for at least 3 months, to keep them going while waiting for the first crop. 

Artificial gravity or not?

Does any of this make sense?

I'd say you can't be too careful.  Four tons of cargo per settler sounds about right, even if you've got robots, too.  I was thinking you'd need room for farming and construction equipment, all kinds of machine and hand tools, and temporary pre-fab housing as well as the personal gear.  After all, colonists can't be sure what the local materials are or how plentiful they will be.  Food for three months is not nearly enough.  Both the Jamestown colonists and the 19th century central plains settlers needed to bring a year's worth of food for themselves and for their livestock -- and to pray that the first year's crop came in plentifully.  Our star pioneers can do no less.  Haven't thought about the gravity angle.  The ship's high thrust would provide at least a modicum of gravity in the direction of travel, even if you didn't have grav plates or a rotating section.  "Down" would change when the ship decelerated at its destination.

Re: sails.  Any sort of drive system, even magnetic or solar sails, will eventually get our space ark to its target solar system.  Once it is up to the desired velocity it'll keep on going without the need for additional fuel until it needs to decelerate.  The tricky part is how do you power the computers and life support for hundreds or thousands of years during that long voyage in the cold and dark?  If your journey is "merely" between planets you can use solar panels, although you'll get less juice the further you are from the sun.  Between solar systems that isn't an option.  Some sort of slow-burning, long-lasting nuclear pile?

Unrelated, but in retrospect I find it strange that the Valley Forge -- designed to maintain and nurture habitats filled with valuable, fragile plants and animals -- was packed to the gills with thermonuclear bombs conveniently placed to destroy the ship and its contents.  Makes no sense.

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