Words from the Wise (Guys)

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell © 2006

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion


To the eighty-sixth issue of The Guild Companion.

Castles & Ruins Back In PDF

Castles & Ruins is now available from RPGNow Edge in a digitally-remastered PDF edition for a mere 16 US dollars. No, this isn't an April Fool's prank. Joe Mandala with the assistance of the good folk at ICE has completed the transformation of this classic Rolemaster sourcebook into a new edition. You can pick it up today by this direct link:

The new edition includes errata fixes and an addenda page of extra information that didn't make it into the original 1996 printed version.

That's one of our New Year's Resolutions delivered. Expect another soon.

Tintamar - A Technological Future

The Tintamar (sometimes called the Portals) universe will be ICE's house setting for HARP SF. In last month's editorial, I gave a general overview of the setting. This time I'm going to look at the technologies of Tintamar.

In the Tintamar future history, science and technology have continued to advance. By a combination of luck and some uncommon sense, humanity has managed to avoid any catastrophes that would catapult some or all of mankind back to the dark ages. Preventing such disasters and the focus of efforts into interplanetary and interstellar expansion has to some extent broadened, perhaps even slowed, technological progress. Certainly none of the known Tintamar civilisations have advanced such that all work can be delegated to obedient superintelligent computers and ultrasophisticated nanotech. Prognosticators and pundits continue to claim that this utopian lifestyle is just around the corner.

From the SysOp's (GM's) point of view, this is the designer seeking to ensure that the SysOp and the players can have plenty of cool tech in the game without the tech taking over.

We've Got The Power

The solution to the energy crisis faced by mankind in the twenty-first century was nuclear power. Clean fusion energy using hydrogen deuterium extracted from sea water and later hydrogen and helium mined from gas giants was and remains the energy of choice for mankind and every starfaring race. Fusion generators have become smaller and more reliable. Rechargeable power cells can easily ensure continuous operation of devices for hundreds of days and be recharged in an hour - no more embarassing hunting for a power socket for your laptop every couple of hours. In space and in certain colonies, solar energy is a frequent backup source of power.

Tapping the quantum fluctuations of vacuum is an active research area and is widely touted as the future for energy generation. The Protectorate of Venus is particularly interested in this technology - their eventual goal is to speed up the terraformed Venus so that the Venusian day lasts hours rather than several terrestrial months. Fortunately for the peace of mind of the other solar governments, they are decades away from such bold ventures.

Clandestine research into direct conversion of matter into energy using matter-antimatter collision also continues. As antimatter has significant weapons potential, Federation authorities monitor and, where necessary, suppress unsanctioned research and development in this area.

Getting Around The Tintamar Universe

The essential technology for spaceflight is the magneto-gravitic drive, a "reactionless" propulsion system that neatly avoids SysOps and players having to worry about all the equations necessary for reaction drives. The magneto-gravitic drive is normally powered by a bank of fusion generators so a campaign centering on the picaresque adventures of a crew of free traders can include monitoring fuel consumption, if SysOp and players are so minded. Or not.

The magneto-gravitic drive is not the only breakthrough resulting from the unification of the physical forces. Other related discoveries included antigravity, artificial gravity and the shield. Military vessels can achieve accelerations of up to six hundred "gees" without their crews being squashed to a red smear. Shield technology allows starships to reach speeds of up to 7% of lightspeed in normal space by protecting them from interactions with interplanetary debris. At normal acceleration and deceleration, a scoutship can travel from Earth to Jupiter in eleven hours.

(Imposing the 7% limit on normal space travel eliminates the need for relativity equations and also prevents relativistic weapons of planetary destruction being deployed in the setting.)

The Lagrange drive is a special mode of the magneto-gravitic drive. When activated in the correct location, i.e. a suitable Lagrange point, it permits translation into a hyperspatial dimension where faster than light travel is possible. Activation in an unsuitable Lagrange point destroys the starship. Exactly how the portals achieve their much faster rates and how their Builders were able to place them wherever they liked is a mystery.

Faster-than-light communication is not (currently) possible. Message drones and courier vessels carry vital information between solar systems.

(From a SysOp, the absence of FTL comms promotes indiviualism and diversity among the stars. From a player perspective, it gives characters more leeway for independent action.)

More Than Human?

New worlds provide new challenges for any starfaring culture. Frequently these challenges manifest in terms of environmental differences between the colony world and the homeworld. One strategy is to change the environment as humans have done on Mars and Venus. The other strategy is to adapt to the environment by changing the colonists through genetic engineering. Most civilisations have adopted a combination of these strategies. By 2473, such transfornations can be performed on adults, albeit for significant amounts of cash and necessitating weeks of convalescence. Characters can be born with or be "retrofitted" with genetic advantages such as superior heat or cold resistance, night vision, gills, etc. Alternatively a character can have cosmetic biosculpting to achieve a whole new appearance right down to the DNA as the ultimate in disguise.

Organic augmentation through genetech is not the only route to becoming a transhuman (or a trans-sophont). Cybertech is readily available; many individuals have neuralware implants permitting wireless connections to external computers, data networks and other augmented persons. Knowledge packages, physical boosters, and sensory enhancers can be purchased as additional options for neuralware implants making their possessors smarter, faster, stronger, and more perceptive than ever before. Implants are only the beginning for true cyborgs - most organs and limbs can be replaced with cybernetic equivalents until the person is more machine than man (or alien). While cyberware implants are common, cyberware replacement is rarer.

Of course, cybertech is not without its problems - malicious (and highly illegal!) software can control people through their implants and a timely electro-magnetic pulse can put all the cyberware out of action.

It is possible to transcend the limitations of biology entirely and have one's personality transferred into software. In some worlds of human space, such virtual persons enjoy the rights and responsibilities of organic individuals; elsewhere virtual persons are not considered citizens - law and society are playing catch-up with technology in this area. Some are content to live forever in cyberspace; others take the opportunity to be downloaded into robotic bodies or even vehicles. Where once they might have flown a starship, now they can become a starship. Current personality recording technology is unable to transfer psionic powers; consequently few Adepts will even consider a virtual existence.

Farewell for now ...

I'll have more inside information on Tintamar next month. We'll be back in May, but until then...

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