Words from the Wise (Guys)

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell © 2005

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion


To the seventy-sixth issue of The Guild Companion.

The Magneto-Gravitic Drive

Perhaps the key technological advance in ICE's official Tintamar setting for HARP SF is the magneto-gravitic drive. Discovered by humanity sometime in the twenty-second century, the magneto-gravitic drive provides mankind with a reactionless drive. Spinoff technologies of the magneto-gravitic drive include artificial gravity, antigravity, and the shield. Artificial gravity and antigravity permit spacecraft to accelerate and decelerate at high rates, typically in the order of hundreds of gravities. Shield technology enables ships, bases and cities to be protected against nuclear weaponry. War is not decided by who can launch their missiles first. Space battles need not be an exchange of weapons fire between drones and small craft - ships can be damaged rather than destroyed and player-characters on those ships can live to fight another day, whether they win or lose. The combination of gravity control and the shield also permits human colonization of the Jovian moons and of the upper Jovian atmosphere, despite the deadly radiation belt and gravity of mighty Jupiter.

From a rules perspective, defining the magneto-gravitic drive as a reactionless drive substantially simplifies the mathematics that SysOps (System Operators, HARP SF's GMs) and players need to use for space travel. All current rocketry adheres to Newton's laws of motion, and in particular the third law that for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction. Rockets are propelled upward and forward by ejecting mass at high velocities in the opposite direction. Spacecraft powered by reaction drives need propellant mass to accelerate them and propellant mass to decelerate them. They also need reaction mass to move the propellant that is required for deceleration ... and as propellant is ejected, it becomes easier to move the rocket because its overall mass is decreasing.

Assuming that your eyes have not glazed over completely at the thought of the equations you'd be having to solve in the game, it should be clear that reaction drives have no place in a High Adventure game. For those who would like to play a grittier game of ne'er-do-well traders who'll accept any job that will put food on the table and fuel in the tanks, the magneto-gravitic drive is powered by microfusion generators and they need fuel, so accounting for deuterium can have a place in the game.

Going too fast in normal space means that relativity comes into play. As ships move at significant fractions of the speed of light, time dilation occurs so that the crew on board a craft experience time at a different rate than an observer on a planet. Thus a fast enough craft could circumnavigate the entire known universe and, for anyone on the ship, it would seem as if only a human lifetime had passed. For everyone else, billions of years would pass.

Relativity is a complex business, and confronting SysOps and players with another set of equations is not something I want to do in the HARP SF core rulebook. (It is likely to be covered in the SysOp's Guide, the companion guide to the core rulebook.) So in the Tintamar setting, we've set an upper limit on the velocity safely attainable by ships in the crowded environment of a solar system. Ships can only travel at 7% of lightspeed, which is low enough that relativistic effects can be ignored, but fast enough that spacecraft can travel the distance between the Earth and the Sun in two hours. Reaching Pluto will take several days at such speeds, but few travelers will need to visit that frozen iceworld. One mode of the magneto-gravitic drive permits faster-than-light travel and it can be safely activated much closer to the Sun. But we'll save the explanations and the consequences of faster-than-light travel in the Tintamar universe for another time.

Articles Still Wanted

We had a good response to our call for articles last month, but we still need more contributions in all sections in order to keep our issues healthy. Send your submissions to me at editor@guildcompanion.com

Farewell for now ...

It's back to the HARP SF manuscript for me, so I'll leave you to enjoy this month's articles. Our next issue will be published in July 2005, but until then ...

Keep gaming and have fun,
Nicholas HM Caldwell
General Editor for The Guild Companion