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Old 09-25-2019, 12:28 PM   #1
ericthered
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Default How to Depict a Broken FTL Drive (and other Superscience)

I'm looking at running a game where the players are aboard a spaceship that has been hit and is experiencing cascading failures, but could survive with properly heroic damage control.

The scenario is a touch weird in that it calls for both super-science (FTL and a ship capable of withstanding a hit) and wants to look at technical failure modes, making them both intuitive and dangerous. The Physical shape of the device is also oddly important.

I'm looking at how to visual describe an FTL drive, as well as to describe what happens when its damaged by something. Ideally, the result should:
Use dangers that exist in the real world
Be continually dangerous, as opposed to instantly lethal or completely safe
Make at least some sort of sense as to why they would be part of an FTL system

I'm not sold on using a specific FTL system, but Hyperspace and Warp engines are the most likely candidates. The drive could be threatening for reasons other than damage. For example, if it send out an EMP every so often when damaged or release a few tons of magnetic dust.

If you've got good ideas for shields or for artificial gravity, those would also be nice to have ideas for.

Thank you in advance!
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Old 09-25-2019, 12:41 PM   #2
Mark Skarr
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Default Re: How to Depict a Broken FTL Drive (and other Superscience)

Well, BattleTech has the mis-jump for their jumpships. Basically, the drive triggers then, for all intents and purposes, explodes. In-world lore, until recently, stated that it destroyed the ships, but as we all learned, a misjumped ship went somewhere. Usually their destination, but they may be days, weeks, month, or even years or centuries off course. Potentially in either direction.

Usually, the drive is destroyed (though military drives can be repaired), but the ship suffers immense, usually catastrophic damage (again, military ships fare better). Structural members warp from the energy and it threatens to vent entire sections of the ship to vacuum. Overloads from the batteries to the jump drive can burn out electrical systems throughout the ship threatening everything from the maneuvering jets to life support and everything else on the ship.

One of the books even talks about becoming stuck in hyperspace with all the problems that could entail.
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Old 09-25-2019, 12:52 PM   #3
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Default Re: How to Depict a Broken FTL Drive (and other Superscience)

Quote:
Originally Posted by ericthered View Post
Use dangers that exist in the real world
Do you mean?:
- physical dangers, not psychic or mental or spiritual
- real things in our world, like alpha, beta and gamma radiation, not fictitious technobabble
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Old 09-25-2019, 01:00 PM   #4
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Default Re: How to Depict a Broken FTL Drive (and other Superscience)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark Skarr View Post
Usually, the drive is destroyed (though military drives can be repaired), but the ship suffers immense, usually catastrophic damage (again, military ships fare better). Structural members warp from the energy and it threatens to vent entire sections of the ship to vacuum. Overloads from the batteries to the jump drive can burn out electrical systems throughout the ship threatening everything from the maneuvering jets to life support and everything else on the ship.
A classic explosion... it certainly makes sense. In this case I believe that you've got a small (or at least compact) device fed by massive capacitors storing a lot of energy? Capacitors make for an interesting danger: they exist in the real world, but this is a new context for them, they've got rules about how to safely handling them, and when damaged they don't discharge all their energy immediately (at least not everytime) but they still COULD.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Daigoro View Post
Do you mean?:
- physical dangers, not psychic or mental or spiritual
- real things in our world, like alpha, beta and gamma radiation, not fictitious technobabble
Real things in our world. Coming up with a chemical that has odd properties is ok, but I'd like to stay away from new kinds of radiation, psychic attacks, and so forth.
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Old 09-25-2019, 01:21 PM   #5
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Default Re: How to Depict a Broken FTL Drive (and other Superscience)

Quote:
Originally Posted by ericthered View Post
A classic explosion... it certainly makes sense. In this case I believe that you've got a small (or at least compact) device fed by massive capacitors storing a lot of energy?
In BattleTech they aren't small. The K-F Drive (the jump drive) is the single, largest part of the ship. Also the most fragile. However, for you, it's whatever you want to do.
Quote:
Originally Posted by ericthered View Post
Capacitors make for an interesting danger: they exist in the real world, but this is a new context for them, they've got rules about how to safely handling them, and when damaged they don't discharge all their energy immediately (at least not everytime) but they still COULD.
That could help you. Some of the capacitors aren't damaged (other are destroyed, and thus useless), but the undamaged ones are trapped in a section of the ship that's falling apart, has no life support, and all of the power conduits to those capacitors are disrupted.

Noxious gases could be released from the damaged electronics/batteries. If you're using spin gravity, the emergency breaks could kick in sending everyone dragging across the floor.
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Old 09-25-2019, 01:26 PM   #6
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Default Re: How to Depict a Broken FTL Drive (and other Superscience)

My first thought is aligning the FTL drive with the STL drive and/or the artificial gravity. A small misalignment will mean a sudden apparent gravity shift and some crushing damage. A major misalignment will mean a sudden apparent gravity shift and massive crushing damage. Going back into FTL before alignment is perfect could be fatal.

A problem could also be had with the databases. We need to rebuild them before we can safely travel because gravitational waves (a real thing) can throw us light-years off-course and we may not have enough fuel to get home. To rebuild them, we need... Computer Programming. Astronomy. Electronics Repair. Astrogation. A working telescope Etc.

What if the FTL drive won't come fully off-line? then somebody has to crawl inside the working mechanism and find the sticking point. Roll DX for progress (failure may result in crushing damage). HT to resist heat (failrure my result in fatigue damage). And a repair skill to find/repair the problem. Radiation damage may also apply, but IDHMBWM. Every (random) minutes the ship lurches in/out of warp throwing everybody around and damaging the ship further until it's shut down properly.

The Fredrickson Actuator (not a real thing) came loose from its housing and careened through several other parts. They can be scrounged from other systems, but.... do you want to do without weapons? shields? Life support? Navigation? Sensors? Choose wisely.

Just some ideas off the top of my head.
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Old 09-25-2019, 01:34 PM   #7
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Default Re: How to Depict a Broken FTL Drive (and other Superscience)

Related, if you haven't already I'd recommend checking out an article called "Spaceship Malfunctions" in Pyramid #3/103, Setbacks as well as "Things Fall Apart" in #3/40, Vehicles.
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Old 09-25-2019, 01:38 PM   #8
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Default Re: How to Depict a Broken FTL Drive (and other Superscience)

It could be on fire. Plastic burns quite well.
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Old 09-25-2019, 01:40 PM   #9
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Default Re: How to Depict a Broken FTL Drive (and other Superscience)

A drive that warps space or creates a wormhole of some variety could be misfiring and creating small random holes in space time around the "drive core", if left alone these holes will further damage the containment systems. The repair crew sent in will have to repair or temporarily shut down the drive safely while dodging the emerging rifts and dealing with the new damage they cause. Added complications could ensue if there is additional damage like hull breaches or electronics failures. Other players could be involved to act as look outs for the engineers or to perform urgent repairs on new damage while the engineer repairs the core.
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Old 09-25-2019, 02:10 PM   #10
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Default Re: How to Depict a Broken FTL Drive (and other Superscience)

Visuals for FTL can be literally anything you want. But of course that's not really helpful.
For malfunctioning warp fields, there could be pockets of visual distortions that pop into and out of existence. Stars could appear to wobble or switch positions as similar or dissimilar to a kaleidoscope as you wish.
Messing with fields of view could be dangerous on their own without having to invoke the matter twisting destruction normally used in fiction.
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