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Old 11-11-2019, 05:21 AM   #1
AlexanderHowl
 
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Default FTL 'Fuel' [Space]

While the default assumption in Space is that FTL drives do not require fuel beyond energy from power plants, it is an established trope in science fiction. Of course, it might not actually be fuel per se, it could be coolant or replacement parts, but the point is that the FTL drive consumes something that possesses value and that underlies the interstellar economy. It might be as common as hydrogen (see Traveller) or as rare as platinum (see the Psi-tech series), but interstellar travel comes to a screeching halt without it.

Do you use FTL 'fuel' in your settings? If so, what do you use and what impact does it have on your games? Is it an occasional annoyance or is it the first thing that people look for when they survey a new system?
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Old 11-11-2019, 07:02 AM   #2
ericthered
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Default Re: FTL 'Fuel' [Space]

I rarely use Fuel for FTL drives. There are two exceptions to this rule. The first is when I'm using someone else's setting and they have FTL fuel. The second is when I have a strong setting purpose for requiring fuel. For example, I'm trying to make a scenario based on a spaceship on fire, and I want lots of "moving parts" for the players to fix or have to work around, so the hyperdrive has fuel. And the shields require fuel. And the lasers need their lazing medium replaced periodically.

Normally I just give an energy requirement, and limit the drives through speed and locations where they work.
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Old 11-11-2019, 07:10 AM   #3
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Default Re: FTL 'Fuel' [Space]

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Originally Posted by AlexanderHowl View Post
While the default assumption in Space is that FTL drives do not require fuel beyond energy from power plants
Where do you see this assumption? Page 41, "Fuel Consumption," under "Designing a Stardrive," is all about drives that require fuel. There is no whiff of deviating from a fuelless default. And the discussions of FTL speed and range focus on fuel.

I've run Tales of the Solar Patrol games, in which ships' electron drives are reactionless engines that run off of "Tesla coils" that draw power from the luminiferous ether, so no refueling is needed. Interestingly, there's a section that describes how the first ship to land on Ceres had to convert the Tesla coils from a ship to power the colony until the atomic generators could be used. I emailed Lizard about this why would you need to use atomic fission if you've got a Tesla coil? He responded that he hadn't noticed this seeming contradiction when writing it.

My eventual justification was that Tesla coils burn themselves out quickly unless very carefully maintained, and they burn themselves out faster the bigger they are. A ship's engineer in the source literature is usually pretty obsessive about his engines, while a colony wouldn't want to hang the lives of so many people on the attention span of a rock-bound mechanic. So while atomic fission doesn't provide as much power as a Tesla coil, it provides steadier power for a much longer term and for much less manpower.

And this solution gives the setting a reason to continue to care about mining and transporting fissionable materials. Nobody would take on the extremely difficult job of mining Mercury for uranium if nobody needed uranium.

So the ships don't need fuel, but the planet- or asteroid-based populations do.
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Old 11-11-2019, 07:23 AM   #4
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Default Re: FTL 'Fuel' [Space]

My inclination is primarily for just having an energy requirement*. However, even then you can still have "expensive/exotic fuel" as a feature of FTL - have some sort of high-energy matter that is consumed at a negligible rate to power your ship normally, but have FTL take big bites out of it. This is the Cosmic Power design switch in Spaceships.

*FTL travel itself usually has significant non-fuel-related requirements. In my Harpyias setting, you can only transition to and from hyperspace within a certain flavor of star's heliopause, and hyperspace itself is fairly hostile to matter. Spending more than a few months in hyperspace will severely damage even the most heavily-armored vessels, and even brief jaunts will absolutely ruin your paint job.
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Old 11-11-2019, 08:29 AM   #5
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Default Re: FTL 'Fuel' [Space]

My last space opera had basically jump drives which burned themselves out, you could get likely 3 jumps out of them, possibly 5 if you where ready to take risks or had too but by then they where basically radioactive junk ready for replacement. .

It was possible to have multiple jump engines on a ship if they where shielded from each other but usually only military vehicles did such things the rest simply replaced their engines which came in standardized modules with different carry capacities. Due to the logistics of moving jump engines around to staging points both military and exploration gained natural limitations where you couldn't get further until you built up your infrastructure.

Last edited by exalted; 11-11-2019 at 08:39 AM.
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Old 11-11-2019, 09:49 AM   #6
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Default Re: FTL 'Fuel' [Space]

Currently I'm running a Traveller game, so ships require fuel. It's not generally expensive and the PCs generally use ships with their own refining systems, but refuelling takes time and can be a source of tension and drama in unfriendly systems.

Sure, you can crack hydrogen out of ice from any old lump of ice out past the frost line, but you have to find such a lump, and then you have to get to it, and do so in a reasonable time and possibly without getting spotted and intercepted. Jump to a gas giant, and there's probably ice quite handy, but on the other hand that's where hostiles watch and lurk. Jump to the outer system and the ice is there, but spread very thing, so unless you have the fuel for another jump, it's likely you'll be in for a long normal space transfer.

Often you're better off just sneaking onto the mainworld and swiping water from there, especially if you think there might be opportunities there.
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Old 11-11-2019, 11:07 AM   #7
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Default Re: FTL 'Fuel' [Space]

IIRC the Space 2300 setting had FTL drives that, rather than needing fuel, built up some kind of problem energy that needed to be dumped into a gravity well - which was the limiting factor on jump range and frequency...

Battletech's FTL systems used a lot of energy and were all about storage and recharge - fuel was for your manoeuvre drive (although you could use that to charge your jump drive - though I think it was less safe than using a solar sail to charge it).

Dune's FTL relied indirectly on "fuel" - specifically the navigators needed Spice to operate safely.

Starwars and Star Trek both (IIRC) had their FTL engines just use more of the same as their sublight engines. As, I think, does Traveller.

I'm not sure what WH40k's ships run on, especially in the warp, and you're probably better off not knowing. Probably orphan's tears or something.
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Old 11-11-2019, 11:17 AM   #8
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Default Re: FTL 'Fuel' [Space]

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Originally Posted by The Colonel View Post
IIRC the Space 2300 setting had FTL drives that, rather than needing fuel, built up some kind of problem energy that needed to be dumped into a gravity well - which was the limiting factor on jump range and frequency...
g.
Civilian ships used giant closed-cycle fuel cells to power the stutterwarp. in addition to the "charge" thing you had to get rid of in a solar graviity well.

So while you were discharging your fTL you put out solar panels to run your fuel cells in reverse and turn all their previous water exhaust back into hydrogen and oxygen.

For some reason this offends my willing suspension of disbelief more than prett much anything else I have ever encountered. Well, that and the semi-functional French Empire. Anywya, there are reasons I've never played 2300.
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Old 11-11-2019, 11:46 AM   #9
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Default Re: FTL 'Fuel' [Space]

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Originally Posted by The Colonel View Post
...
Starwars and Star Trek both (IIRC) had their FTL engines just use more of the same as their sublight engines. As, I think, does Traveller.
...
That's not entirely true. While there's lots of internal contradictions intrinsic to Star Trek, some interpretations allow for deuterium based fusion to be the power source of impulse power, but that warp travel requires antimatter.
(The biggest issue with this interpretation of course being everything Romulan.)
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Old 11-11-2019, 12:03 PM   #10
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Default Re: FTL 'Fuel' [Space]

If FTL requires insane power outputs per ship size, then that could necessitate unusual fuels anyway. Such as my example of fusion being fine for most ship functions. But warp generally needs man-made, super expensive antimatter effectively making it the FTL fuel.
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