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Old 04-17-2021, 01:16 AM   #1
Tiger
 
Join Date: Apr 2021
Default Space Exploration Worldbuilding

This is my first post here, sorry it's so long but I don't usually have internet access so I wanted to front load it. If any of the below seems interesting, gives you ideas or is related to another post let me know! If there's any gibberish, I apologize because I'm on my girlfriends phone typing it.

I'm currently hammering out some ideas I've had for a roleplaying setting. It's designed for GURPS and I have all the relevant books and Pyramid issues. Before I start digging through statistics, though, I need to figure out some details.

I already know the general theme of what I want to run as a game - a space navy style military is exploring new star systems. Exploration in space and of planetary surfaces is the main activity. There still be some combat (personal and shipboard) as well as survival situations. Scientific study is also involved.

The setting tech level is about 10 in GURPS, they have relatively efficient spacecraft, but not torch drives - they have a lot of dV compared to SpaceX but not enough to fly around Willy nilly and ignore gravity wells.

Weapons are mostly regular firearms and some lasers. Spacecraft use the same, as well as particle beam cannons. I'm tilting strongly towards believable/conservative technology, though with some cinematic rule tweaks to help the players out so they're not just made obsolete by technology. There is no artificial gravity or teleportation. Faster than light will probably be wormholes, which are natural or at least far outside the capability of humans to recreate.

Characters should be with the crew/ship sometimes but also have an opportunity for independent decision making and some trade.

Regarding combat, but I have to be very careful because GURPS is already somewhat dangerous and people use coilguns on each other. Whatever the 'threat' is it has to be potentially survivable and allow players to use their talents or call in help so that it's a fight and not just a test of who can hit first and annihilate their target.

Add mentioned above, there is some military threat - I'm still not sure if it's other humans (prewormhole slow boat colonists who've generically engineered themselves), am intelligent alien or some non intelligent threat which is still space capable (as in Blindsight by Watts, mindless starfish aliens building superorganisms that eat radiation in space). Possibly some combination, such as slowboat colonists who've domesticated dangerous space monsters.

I'm also considering putting in mild psionics.

I'd be interested in hearing ideas and analysis for the setting. I still am not sure how to structure the mission and military to give them opportunity to go off by themselves sometimes. I'm unsure of what the Threat should be. Im also interested in alternatives to wormholes. Jump gates are interesting but can make it too easy to bring infrastructure and supplies, and I want the isolated, slow aspect of space travel to be key.

Warp and jump drives are out, unless there was a serious fuel limitation (and difficulty in getting the fuel), so that someone jumping will have to be committed to his destination as it's not possible to jump at will. Something like a limited jump drive with steep navigation requirements appeals to me as a alternative to wormholes.

One reason I thought wormholes initially is because they're not contiguous - a wormhole might lead to another galaxy a million years in the past, while across the system is one that leads to Mars orbit two days from now.

The disconnected time/long wait aspect really interests me - if I can make it work I'd like to include elements of "The Forever War" by Haldeman(sp?) and the Alastair Reynolds space operas with time diallated characters who are functionally immortal. A society actually adapted to work that way would be very interesting to portray. I want to portray the vastness of space, time and huge alien arcologies (ie "Rendezvous with Rama" , the decaying Dyson Swarm in Reynolds' "Revenger", Niven's Ringworld, etc.)

Most sci fi totally ignores these things(basically WW1/WW2 in space and aliens are everywhere butt somehow we never see them). The scientific and exploratory are the focus here, not 'human interest stories'. Plot takes a firm back seat to astrophysics.

One reason I'm interested in the wormhole our discontinuous jump type of scenario is that it allows aliens and space infrastructure to exist, whereas in our galaxy it seems they probably don't (if you light up a fusion torch drive or use radio it would be fairly obvious to anyone within several hundred light years). Wormholes allows me to avoid issues with Relativity and implausibly invisible alien civilizations as they can be on the other side of the galactic cluster instead of around the corner as required I a warp drive scenario.

Finally, I don't want to do forehead/hat aliens. While they might have some things in common with us (manipulators, math, requiring foods) I endevour to make at least some of aliens further from human beings than any organism that had ever lived on Earth - which are all cousins of ours.
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Old 04-17-2021, 05:00 AM   #2
johndallman
 
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Default Re: Space Exploration Worldbuilding

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tiger View Post
I'm also interested in alternatives to wormholes. Jump gates are interesting but can make it too easy to bring infrastructure and supplies, and I want the isolated, slow aspect of space travel to be key.
RogerBW's Wives and Sweethearts setting was created so as to behave like long-distance sea travel on Earth. That's done with jump points, which appear to be natural.
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Old 04-17-2021, 06:41 AM   #3
Tiger
 
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Default Re: Space Exploration Worldbuilding

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Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
RogerBW's Wives and Sweethearts setting was created so as to behave like long-distance sea travel on Earth. That's done with jump points, which appear to be natural.
Cool, I'm checking out the links right now because I've never read him.
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Old 04-17-2021, 07:08 AM   #4
patchwork
 
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Default Re: Space Exploration Worldbuilding

In terms of creating a billet where PCs are sometimes obligated to be with the ship but sometimes off doing their own thing, I'm reminded of a campaign taking Australian colonization as its model, where the expedition includes a few somewhat rich entrepreneurs outside the formal chain of command who are going along because they've secured a contract that lets them use convict labor; I'm going to assume you don't want a penal colony full of convict labor as your campaign premise, but the basic framework can still work depending on how you've set up the politics and economics back home. If we imagine a military or government that controls the bleeding edge tech - wormhole drives, AGI, swarm robotics - but for cultural or economic reasons has a very hard time attracting good human talent, you could wind up with a situation where people enter into employment contracts with the exploration corps in order to get access to that sweet tech, but are technically independent vendors, not crew members. When I served on a US aircraft carrier, we definitely had employees of Northrup-Grumman and similar companies on board as technical representatives; that too can serve as a model. As can the "embedded journalist" sometimes accompanying modern military units into warzones. They have a contract with the military which significantly limits their actions, but also they can't be ordered around the way a servicemember can. I'd dial that up to 11 - the regime has to bend over backwards to find technically skilled people so the techreps get a lot of private time and vacations in their contracts (and the service cannot function without techreps). Depending on the size of ship and length of mission, they can also be family members or counselors of crew rather than crew themselves. Although that may automatically make you part of the reserves.
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Old 04-17-2021, 07:37 AM   #5
Tiger
 
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Default Re: Space Exploration Worldbuilding

LOL I accidentally sent my reply as a report. My bad but I'm sure they'll figure it out.

Commercial exploitation is a big part of exploration so having the PCs as representing or themselves being investora makes sense.
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Old 04-17-2021, 09:01 AM   #6
Varyon
 
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Default Re: Space Exploration Worldbuilding

If you're using wormholes, you'll want to be careful to avoid the possibility of functional time travel. By this, I mean being able to react to events before they happen - a wormhole linking to somewhere 1 million years in the past is fine, so long as that somewhere is further than 1 million lightyears away. Note that's the primary rule you need to follow for your wormholes - it must take light longer to go from one opening of a wormhole to the other than the temporal difference between them. That's easy enough with just one wormhole to deal with - your wormhole that goes to the Mars of 2 days ago is fine so long as it's further than 2 lightdays from Mars. If you have multiple wormholes, however, things can get a bit hairier. Let's say we've got 3 wormholes. Wormhole 1 links the Mars of today to somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy 2 days in the future. 30 lightdays from Wormhole 1's Andromeda opening is the opening of Wormhole 2, which leads cotemporally (no temporal shifting) to the Backwards Galaxy. 12 lightdays from Wormhole 2's Backwards Galaxy opening is the opening of Wormhole 3, which leads to the Mars of 51 days ago. Thus, making the entire loop at lightspeed shifts you 2 days forward going through Wormhole 1 (T+2d), takes 30 days to reach Wormhole 2 (T+32d) but adds no time to go through it (still T+32d), takes 12 days to reach Wormhole 3 (T+44d), and going through it puts you on the Mars of 51 days ago (T-7d), meaning the total round trip actually subtracts 7 days. Being able to travel back in time only 7 days can actually make for a pretty decent campaign - or television show (although I'll note in the above scenario it's more about being able to get information 7 days into the past, rather than sending a person there) - but the real issue is that there's nothing preventing you from doing the loop again... and again and again, going back arbitrarily far (or at least as far back as the wormholes existed) into the past.

For further discussion on this (and possibly for some further inspiration, as the aliens there are indeed quite alien), see the Vergeworlds setting, the author of which sometimes posts here as lwcamp. In that setting, wormholes are manufactured, but there's an underlying bit of physics that can be summed up as "nature abhors a time machine" - basically, whenever some arrangement of wormholes would create a scenario that would allow for time travel, the weakest link in the wormhole network collapses a moment before such a time machine would exist. You can use a similar explanation for why the naturally-occurring (or Precursor-manufactured, or whatever) wormholes are conveniently arranged so as not to produce a time machine.
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Old 04-17-2021, 09:27 AM   #7
thrash
 
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Default Re: Space Exploration Worldbuilding

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Originally Posted by Tiger View Post
I already know the general theme of what I want to run as a game - a space navy style military is exploring new star systems. Exploration in space and of planetary surfaces is the main activity. There still be some combat (personal and shipboard) as well as survival situations. Scientific study is also involved.
From a roleplaying standpoint, pure exploration into the uninhabited unknown is hard to keep interesting week after week. Unless you're really good at creating and presenting puzzle planets (which are the staple of this genre in fiction), it turns into a lot of die rolling with only the occasional natural disaster or large carnivore attack for variety. It is often better that the setting be new to the characters, but already inhabited (at least in part).

Quote:
Weapons are mostly regular firearms and some lasers. Spacecraft use the same, as well as particle beam cannons. I'm tilting strongly towards believable/conservative technology, though with some cinematic rule tweaks to help the players out so they're not just made obsolete by technology.
Missiles rule in realistic space combat. Lasers make decent point defense weapons, but don't deliver enough damage at range to be main weapons. Particle beams are directed radiation weapons -- effective, but dying from radiation sickness is the opposite of heroic.

Quote:
Characters should be with the crew/ship sometimes but also have an opportunity for independent decision making and some trade.
No "trade" without someone to trade with. This is what I mean about uninhabited = boring.

Quote:
...other humans (prewormhole slow boat colonists who've generically engineered themselves), am intelligent alien or some non intelligent threat which is still space capable ...
The more, the merrier. Having a collapsed Precursor civilization on the wormhole network gives you people to meet and trade with (potentially with languages similar enough to gloss over linguistic challenges), ruins to explore, and a mystery to solve: what caused the collapse?

Quote:
One reason I thought wormholes initially is because they're not contiguous - a wormhole might lead to another galaxy a million years in the past, while across the system is one that leads to Mars orbit two days from now.
One problem with wormhole networks is that it is very hard to come up with reasons why they should be multiply connected (e.g., A -> B -> C -> A). Without this, the network takes the form of a tree diagram, which forces you to back up when you want to explore a new branch. It's not impossible, but also not what we usually mean by "network." An artificial wormhole network (created by the Precursors, say) may not have this problem.

There is a class of mathematical problems called "non-deterministic, polynomial time, complete" or "NP-complete." These have the property that computing solutions can take an extraordinarily long time, but checking that a particular solution works can be very quick. If your jump drive or probability drive navigation is this class of problem, you might need a super-computer at home base to generate the navigation data, but the ship can just plug in the solution and run it. If the solutions are time-dependent, the ship might show up with a set of return coordinates they can't use until the designated departure time -- in three weeks, or whatever. If the ship gets in trouble or wants to explore, the onboard computer can generate a solution but it takes weeks or months.
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Old 04-17-2021, 10:34 AM   #8
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Default Re: Space Exploration Worldbuilding

I think you're definitely going about your world-building the right way. Start with themes and work backward to your world.

Here's my thought: How about if wormholes are present as a matter of stellar mechanics, but must be activated by a ship's drive. This is how it worked in A Mote in God's Eye. They link solar systems, most having one or two some having more. Sometimes, rarely, the opening is actually within the star's corona. There's no way to know from the far end, but it's a nasty shock when you pop out. Only very specially designed ships can even think about making such jumps. The Sol system is one such system. But only for another 25 years as the jump point drifts out of the sun due to the slow motion of the stars around us.

About 20 years ago, the smoking husk of a ship emerged from the sun. No survivors. But we learned a lot. We were able to reverse engineer the drive and several other systems. We learned about jump points and that aliens existed. We also learned that there was a ticking clock until massive alien contact was upon us.

Now, the most advanced human spacecraft ever designed dives into the sun to learn more about the greater galaxy. They have two primary goals: Acquire alien technology to advance the human race. Assess possible threats from outside our solar system. They are also under orders to protect the secret of our existence for as long as possible.

The ship is highly automated. There are only [players] crew members aboard. They're highly competent, but must fill all roles between them. They're the landing party, the bridge crew, the doctor, everything. Supplies are limited, and O2 is heavy, so fewer people means longer mission.

Once out in the galaxy, they find trading hubs, jobs to do in exchange for galactic currency, uneasy alliances, and also that many of the nearby systems are just unexplored. So, it would be a good idea to explore them.

They find their ship to be uniquely suited to some of these jobs due to the extremely heavy armor. Also, everyone assumes they are either a tough exploration ship or a warship from some unknown species due to the strangely tough design.

Now, the crew is buying/trading in alien technology, adding new weapons to the ship, navigating alliances with aliens of various psychology and trying to stay alive through it all. In between everything, they've got big question mark systems 2-3 jumps from Earth which could be uninhabited or could be secret pirate/military bases or could be the spawning ground for the dreaded crystal plague.

Yes, a lot of this is silly. But I think it gets you where you want to go.
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Old 04-17-2021, 10:44 AM   #9
Tiger
 
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Default Re: Space Exploration Worldbuilding

It's functionally impossible for me to reply to you folks with quotations as I'd like to, this Android touch keyboard is garbage.

On the topic of time travel and wormholes that's the first thing I thought of. Essentially, wormholes are (believed to be) natural phenomena which originate from the early universe. They are randomly placed (But moved by gravity a bit), they link random locations, and all wormholes that were too close collapsed instantly because of the energy loop that occurs where light reaches the other end before it leaves.. There's absolutely no way to know where or when they lead without hopping through and can only be detected at close range. They're pointlike objects and they don't so much open as collapse the ship uniformly into a Time=0 state and emerge without any noticeable effects.

There will be aliens and other stuff, probably even mass combat if wet Erin the campaign long enough, the game is focused on exploration they are definitely military affiliated. Thanks for the suggestions and keep them coming! I'll reply later when I have more time to type on thisthing.
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Old 04-18-2021, 02:43 AM   #10
RogerBW
 
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Default Re: Space Exploration Worldbuilding

(writer of the Wives and Sweethearts campaign here)

I like to put the jump zones (natural or artificial, specific points or just "where you can turn on the FTL drive") a long way out from where the useful planets are.

If you have realistic space drives it takes a very long time to get anywhere, because there is no drive that has both high thrust and high endurance (specific impulse, or mps per tank in Spaceships terms). At TL10, the antimatter plasma rocket is your best bet for endurance with 120mps per tank, but it only develops 0.01G. The highest-endurance TL10 drive that gives you a "high-performance spacecraft" (0.1G) with just one unit is external pulsed plasma at a mere 8mps/tank.

This gets you isolation, but it fouls up endurance, because by the time you've crossed a few systems to go in to look at things and then back out to the jump zone your tanks are dry.

Put the jump zones closer in, and you can make more system crossings but you get less isolation.

Couriers are also a concern: if your FTL allows them to travel directly across multiple systems, you lose isolation. In W&S a fast message is sent by radio to the jump point where a courier is on station, the courier jumps and transmits it by radio (hours of delay) to the courier at the next jump point… but this requires a network of couriers, which implies a reasonably solid civilisational infrastructure.
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