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Old 05-19-2024, 11:52 PM   #1
David L Pulver
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Default Starships as Giant Armored Air/Rafts

In various Traveller adventures, starting with early GDW ones like Mission on Mithril but continuing the present day, there is often the assumption that their ship lands on an exotic world, and the crew exit to explore, map, hunt, or otherwise travel via ATV, open air/raft, or afoot across dangerous terrain, across the GM's detailed planetary hex maps while experiencing the perils of random alien animal encounters, local malcontents, and/or planetological events.

However, with spaceships generally being defined as vehicles possessed of reactionless/gravitic drives with thrusts usually in excess of the average planets (size 5 or so) gravity (especially if you have a scout ship, fast trader, pinnace, etc. with 2G+), the cunning player may well ask why they can't (when visiting X-class starport worlds or those of a low TL) just do their exploring or mapping or hunting by having their antigrav drive ship cruise along at walking to airship-like speeds just above the treetop, in perfect safety (as most ships are armored to resist 250-megawatt laser cannons) as a mobile base in comfort. Sure, they'll need to get out when they get close to interesting wild life or alien ruins or whatever, but that's far less dangerous and faster..

In many low-tech "mercenary" type adventures (e.g., classic ones like FASA's Seven Pillars) there seems to be an implicit idea that the PCs will land their ship at a fixed point, get out, and never use it as for planetary mobility. Of course, in worlds with some form of planetary defense, the local traffic control regulations will prevent or at least regulate this sort of thing. but I'm talking about low tech or strange new worlds here.

So, which of the rule sets, if any, address this sort of thing, either by explicitly allowing it, or by setting specific limits on the safety, maneuverability or capabilities of standard M-drives in a planetary setting. I've seen some rules sets that seem to require landing rolls, at least in bad weather, but not much that takes into account the fact that the ship's power plant is usually good for 2 weeks to a month and the ship is seemingly a giant VTOL grav sled covered in pretty thick armor....
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Last edited by David L Pulver; 05-19-2024 at 11:54 PM. Reason: fix typo
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Old 05-20-2024, 05:34 AM   #2
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Default Re: Starships as Giant Armored Air/Rafts

Starships in CT don't have contragravity, as such. Maneuver drives produce acceleration; there is (so far as I know) no mention of hovering without thrust. Gravitic units neutralize gravity within their field of action (Supp. 12, pp. 16-17), but are otherwise also described as "lifting" or producing thrust (e.g., Striker 3, p. 8.)

Operationally, there is a very large difference between passive lift (e.g., a dirigible) and active lift (e.g., a helicopter or Harrier). If you have to actually fly the thing all the time to use it, it makes sense to ground the big, unwieldy starship and use auxiliary craft.

Last edited by thrash; 05-20-2024 at 05:38 AM.
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Old 05-20-2024, 08:40 AM   #3
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Default Re: Starships as Giant Armored Air/Rafts

This seems to be one of the things that was 'hand waved' away in Traveller. Pretty much all the art work and descriptions of ships imply some kind of horizontal landing ability without really providing a game rule mechanic for how it happened. If all a maneuver drive can provide is forward thrust, all ships that land into a gravity well would land on their tail and would have their cargo holds and crew areas setup that way.

Maybe one way to deal with it is to rule that the grav units that allow ships to land horizontal instead of vertical need a flat surface to function. Would account for starports being almost universally described as flat. Hard tarmac for Type A and flat patch of grass for Type X.

So no slowly drifting placidly over the rough terrain in your Type S while looking for that valuable mineral deposit. The size/mass of the ship keeps the grav units from reacting fast enough while the much smaller air raft has no problems.
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Old 05-20-2024, 01:50 PM   #4
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Default Re: Starships as Giant Armored Air/Rafts

Sorry, I'm mostly in th camp witht he peopel who think that the possessors of a fucntioning starship have little need to hike through the wilderness.

To that effect one of the few scenarios that I've come up with that might require such a thign was the result of my "Stocking your Life Pod" thread

https://forums.sjgames.com/showthread.php?t=158442

....and it requeires a whole carefully concieved TL9 universe where you have a significant chance of ending up in a life pod a relatively short distance from an Earth-like planet.

After you're down you need to not only survive until your rescuers can get to you, you need to hike to some place their HEDM powered tailsitter can land _and_ access enough local water to refuel from.

So, not very Traveller-like.

Working from a Spaceships defined setting where a reasonable "Scout Ship" can be a (probaly "Hot")reactionless thruster tailsitter without needing a Contragravity system. From there you can get into a situation where such a ship is in a "rescue" situation where another such ship is down in mountainous terrain.

The rescue ship can't land next to the downed ship and without specialized euipment they don't have aboard (and/or specially trained personnel) they can't get medical personnel off their ship while it hovers overhead.

So they have to land however close they can get and then hike/climb through this mountainous terrain to get medical personnel to the downed ship.

Won't that be even ahrder than geting off the ship somehow? No, you pretty much can't avoid technological cheating on this problem. You take the Aerial Scout robot from UT which is only slightly superior to the late TL 8 "Drone" in thaty it has little arms. So you give it one end of a length of rope and a bottle of Molecular Glue (also from UT) and it goes and puts your line in the place it already scouted. Your players probably wouldn't believe you if ou told them their ship couldn't 3-D print rope.

This one's pretty contrived too. I'd be kind of likely to pack a Backpack Dragonfly on my scout ship. Or at least a parachute even if I couldn't have a Contragravity Harness or a Grav Cycle.. Because of price reasosn those are much more attractive than UT's Air Cars.

If contragravity is available a dedicated "Rescue/Repair Ship" will have it and will hover where ever it needs to.
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Old 05-21-2024, 07:45 AM   #5
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Default Re: Starships as Giant Armored Air/Rafts

I actually used something like that in creating counterinsurgency vehicles from starships to old to jump and or variant models built without jump drive in the first place. Among their equipment was ventral pressors for clearing hostile drones.
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Old 05-21-2024, 09:37 AM   #6
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Default Re: Starships as Giant Armored Air/Rafts

Well, landing on paved concrete berth guided by the ports systems is something other than bringing the old bird down in jungle-covered swamp, but wouldn't legal stuff and (more important) money be more important?

Starships cost a lot of money, repairs also.

A ship can land without much (legal) problems on a star port, where the Imperial Law applies and the crew can do not much wrong - usually.

When the ship leaves the port and lands somewhere else on the planet, it leaves Imperial Terrain and enters the planets jurisdiction (correct terms?). So, if anything goes wrong, the star port authority can just shook its head. "Sorry, not our problem."

Do they get a landing permit to land somewhere else on the planet? ("Wait, you did not even put in a flight plan?")

When the ship is somehow damaged, will the insurance cover the repair?

Will you really risk your ship (often your home, your whole existence) just because you want to avoid a few hours in a ground car or on horse back?

Yes, in the end, it is your Traveller Universe.
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Old 05-22-2024, 03:16 PM   #7
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Default Re: Starships as Giant Armored Air/Rafts

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fred Brackin View Post
Sorry, I'm mostly in th camp witht he peopel who think that the possessors of a fucntioning starship have little need to hike through the wilderness.

Working from a Spaceships defined setting where a reasonable "Scout Ship" can be a (probaly "Hot")reactionless thruster tailsitter without needing a Contragravity system.

If contragravity is available a dedicated "Rescue/Repair Ship" will have it and will hover where ever it needs to.
There is that. Whether the ships in Traveller logically should be hot thrusters (as per some artwork) or not (as per other artwork and gravitic vehicles) and whether grav vehicles and starships do or don't use the same drive is a much vexed question, presumably also within GDW (e.g., HEPLAR in TNE as a solution that didn't catch on). It's been discussed before many times, e.g.,

https://forums.sjgames.com/showthread.php?t=93906

Mongoose Traveller actually does provide some welcome game mechanics for landing a starship making it more difficult outside of a starport, but while this is welcome, doesn't really square the circle on the ability to use a starship as a big VTOL space plane. The question of whether or not starships and non starships (e.g. pinnaces) can maneuver like the Imperial Marine's 600-metric ton grav APC (if you believe striker) does seem to be rather significant from a play balance perspective.

I suppose one option that retains both grav vehicles and starships but maintains canon continuity with starports and art is to say the ships are vectored thrust "hot reactionless" drives and that while an air/raft with a couple of tons thrust is not very hot - like a jet engine - with a few dozen tons of thrust, a starship (assuming a rough 5 metric tons per dton) with 1000+ tons thrust is going to be setting forests alight and panicking wildlife if you drive if at treetop height, so best to set down in ocean, bedrock, or starship landing pads.

I do kind of think that a space opera game may work better if there were strict but simplified fuel constraints within a gravity well and you only had enough fuel for takeoff or landing, and there were no grav vehicles at all.
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Old 05-22-2024, 03:38 PM   #8
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Default Re: Starships as Giant Armored Air/Rafts

Quote:
Originally Posted by David L Pulver View Post
I do kind of think that a space opera game may work better if there were strict but simplified fuel constraints within a gravity well and you only had enough fuel for takeoff or landing, and there were no grav vehicles at all.
Space opera's usual solution to this is pretty handwave-y. Maybe you crashed. Maybe there's some rule (prime directive, etc) that requires not letting the locals know that there's advanced aliens among them. Maybe there's a mysterious phenomenon that disables ships that try to pass over. Frequently, this isn't limited to ships, it applies to all kinds of advanced tech, with whatever gaps the author things gives a good story.

Honestly, Traveller works better if there's a mysterious field that means once you leave the spaceport no tech that's higher than the TL of the world works, at least not reliably; using something like TORG Eternity for Traveller might be amusing.
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Old 05-22-2024, 05:40 PM   #9
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Default Re: Starships as Giant Armored Air/Rafts

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Originally Posted by David L Pulver View Post
... 1000+ tons thrust is going to be setting forests alight and panicking wildlife if you drive if at treetop height, so best to set down in ocean, bedrock, or starship landing pads.
Some of the math I did for GT Starports also points to ground pressure on landing feet as an issue. An air/raft or grav tank is designed to set down on its wide, flat belly. If something (e.g., heat dissipation) prevents starships from doing the same, it may required bedrock or landing-pad grade concrete to avoid the gear sinking in and getting stuck. (Naturally, water helps mitigate the heat issue if that's the limitation, so a full dunking is okay.)

Quote:
I do kind of think that a space opera game may work better if there were strict but simplified fuel constraints within a gravity well and you only had enough fuel for takeoff or landing, and there were no grav vehicles at all.
For my own games, I've split spacecraft into planes (belly landers, with <1g thrust and wings), boats (tail landers with ~1.5g thrust), and ships (unstreamlined and never land). All maneuver drives are rockets and there is no gravitic technology. Air/rafts and such are replaced by ducted fan flitters (cf. the coming generation of eVTOLs).
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Old 05-22-2024, 02:45 PM   #10
David L Pulver
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Default Re: Starships as Giant Armored Air/Rafts

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Originally Posted by thrash View Post
Starships in CT don't have contragravity, as such. Maneuver drives produce acceleration; there is (so far as I know) no mention of hovering without thrust. Gravitic units neutralize gravity within their field of action (Supp. 12, pp. 16-17), but are otherwise also described as "lifting" or producing thrust (e.g., Striker 3, p. 8.)

Operationally, there is a very large difference between passive lift (e.g., a dirigible) and active lift (e.g., a helicopter or Harrier). If you have to actually fly the thing all the time to use it, it makes sense to ground the big, unwieldy starship and use auxiliary craft.
I agree that you can't hover without thrust in classic traveller, but after HG 2nd edition and Striker, I don't think there was any distinction between maneuver drive and gravitic thrusters. Anti-gravity in Traveller "produces both neutralization of weight and lateral thrust" to quote Striker, and given that a grav tank and air/raft can both hover, I can't see why a ship can't.
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