Monday, August 5, 2019

Psi-Wars: the Perils of Space

Back when I started Psi-Wars, I dismissed space as unnecessary to deal with, and I did this for a few reasons.  First, it adds a layer of complexity that I didn't think most people wanted to deal with; space is a very alien, very hostile environment not especially conducive to whizz-bang action unless you're deeply invested in it.  Second, most of my source material, which is primarily the "planetary romance" side of Space Opera, doesn't really deal with it.  Only once (The Last Jedi) have we seen a Star Wars character dealing with vacuum or microgravity in the context of a film while outside of a starship, and works like Barsoom or the Metabarons or Killjoys almost never puts their characters outside of a ship.  Action takes place on suspiciously earth-like planets.

But as the game has progressed, I've noticed that most of my readers assume space as part of the setting.  For them, space isn't necessarily just a means to get from one world to another, or a staging ground for dogfights.  It might be the site of adventure itself.  Characters might board a derelict space station to find evidence of a psychic experiment gone awry. Their dreadnought might suffer catastrophic destruction while in an asteroid belt.  And even when they spend all of their time bundled up in the confines of a ship, they still expect to see things like pulsars, asteroid belts, nebulae and black holes out there.

I had pondered this for awhile: how do I give the GM every thing he needs for a more space oriented campaign, and can I simplify the rules for handling space to the point where most characters aren't unduly punished for not spending a mint on handling "space" stuff, while still giving a "spacer" character an advantage over people who don't have it?

My Patrons voted for collation of the space rules.  I've already handled interstellar travel in several other posts, and I've collated it onto my wiki, but I also wanted to take the opportunity to discuss the rules for handling adventures in space itself, as well as unique terrain types you might encounter in space.  Please note that these are all deeply cinematic, suitable for ridiculous space opera, and not for realistic sci-fi.  I aim more for flavor and whiz-bang fun than for accurate astrophysics.



Gravity

Psi-Wars concerns itself with only two forms of gravity: microgravity (which includes free-fall environments) and Earth-normal gravity. Microgravity environments include very small moons, asteroids, and ships or spacestations with no artificial gravity. Ignore the rules for Free-Fall in GURPS Basic and instead apply a -4 to all DX rolls made in a microgravity environment unless the character has at least one point spent in Free-Fall or Spacer. Free-Fall may also replace any skill for moving around (Acrobatics, Running, Jumping, Climbing, etc) while in a microgravity environment. Psi-Wars vacc suits include microthrusters and mag-boots, allowing for extra-vehicular excursions. Characters may use their Vacc Suit skill in place of Running, Jumping and Climbing at -2 (rather than -4), provided they’re able to connect to a magnetic surface with their boots and they have fuel left in their microthrusters.

Characters with Psychokinesis can use their abilities to navigate micro-gravity environments. If the character has TK-Grab with ST equal to his own, he can “fly” through the environement, allowing him to navigate with his TK-Grab skill, or apply a +4 to any applicable traversal skill. Characters with TK-Jump or TK-Grab at less than their ST can’t “fly” through their environment, but can more carefully control what they do, and gain a +2 to all traversal skills.

Realistic Gravity?

Alternate Gravities: Realistically, different worlds should have different gravity levels. Psi-Wars ignores this because most of its source material does as well. However, if this bothers you, you can use the more detailed gravity rules from GURPS or, as an optional rule, apply a familiarity penalty to all DX, ST and HT rolls representing clumsiness, exhaustion from the additional force, mistakes made from having too much strength, etc. This familiarity penalty goes away with practice on a world. Characters can take a Gravity Familiarity perk to ignore this optional rule, which assumes they’re familiar with all gravity variants, and can ignore the -4 penalty for microgravity.

Orbit: Are ships in planetary orbit in a micro-gravity environment? The GM can answer this question in one of two ways, depending on what is more intuitive for the group.

The more “realistic” answer is that they’re not. Psi-Wars ships use hyperdynamics to “pin themselves against the sky,” similar to contragravity. This means that they’re not actually in orbit, but floating 100 miles or more up above the surface, where they’re still under the effects of the planet’s gravity. In this interpretation, nothing prevents a dreadnought from loitering in the same place, and if someone leaps out an airlock, they’ll begin to fall towards the planet, and they can stand on the “top” of the ship, but will fall off the “bottom” of the ship without mag boots. If artificial gravity is switched off, characters won’t notice a difference (and may not even bother to activate it while in the gravity well of a planet).  A good way to picture this is to imagine the starship floating a few feet off the ground and imagining how its physics would work, and then to realize that this is still true, only it's 100 miles up.

The more “cinematic” answer is that they are. In this model, ships in orbit follow normal orbital mechanics, which means they circle the planet rapidly and cannot “loiter” in one spot unless they’re in a high, “geo-stationary” orbit. If artificial gravity is switched off, characters in the ship will enter freefall, and terms like the “top” of the ship or the “bottom” are meaningless. This more accurately reflects how a real-world spaceship would operate above a planet, and ignores the interaction of contragravity with a gravity well.

Vacuum

Rather than use the more complex rules of GURPS basic, use the following simplifications: Sudden, explosive decompression (someone opening an airlock, a gaping hole being blown out of a ship) can suck everyone in the affected area off the ship. Characters can roll DX or Spacer+4 to grab a hold of something and prevent themselves from being sucked out into space.

Characters with access to a vacc suit generally have enough time to make a single Vacc Suit roll to get their vacc suit on at least enough to prevent the worst of vacuum exposure: the GM may assess 1d6 damage to both HP and FP on a successful roll and then declare them suited up. On a failed roll, or if the character is deliberately spaced, they’re dead (if they’re NPCs), while PCs should get a grace period of about five minutes during which they suffer the same effects as exposure to a WMD (see page 29 of GURPS Action 2); the -5 to success rolls stacks with the -4 from Zero-G! Beyond this, the character suffers a mortal wound and is comatose, unless the GM deems their exposure to space to be going on too long (generally over 15 minutes) in which case not even the advanced medicine of Psi-Wars can save them!

Characters with Pressure Support can ignore these rules, but must have some means to breath, and use the rules for Suffocation.

Cold

Realistic space isn’t “cold,” but the cinematic space of Psi-Wars definitely is! By default, treat space as an arctic environment. This only matters if the character is outside of a vacc suit (a character with Pressure Support and who Doesn’t Breath lost in space for hours) or life support has failed (their power supply on their vacc suit was damaged, or the ship is losing fuel). Roll HT or HT-Based Survival (Arctic) at -5, with an additional -5 if they have no winter clothing, or at +5 if they have heated suits designed for arctic environments; add any levels of Temperature Tolerance (Cold) that they have! On a failure, reduce their maximum fatigue by the margin of failure until they get to a warmer environment. Make this roll no more than once per day and it does not accumulate (though if a character spends many days on a ship without life support, they likely face worse problems than the cold!).

Unique Space Environments

Space-based adventures offer unique hazards for moment-to-moment adventures. The following rules have been adapted from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 16: Wilderness Adventures. Most of these environments assume isolation from a planet (that is, they matter when you’re in a space ship, or directly interacting with them), but they can be combined with planetary environments in truly exotic cases (e.g. a world orbiting a flare star).

All unique space environments assume the same dangers as hard vacuum unless noted elsewhere.

Asteroids

Asteroids vary in size from large rocks to floating mountains to small rock worlds. Most have rocky surfaces, riddled with caverns, razor ridged “mountains,” and craters. They often have a great deal of metal in them, and some even have pockets of hyperium.

Ignore the Cold as they tend to be at least temperate (but see comets for cold debris fields!). Asteroids are microgravity environments, but treat large, rocky moons or planetesimal asteroids as worlds with Earth-type gravity. All asteroids are assumed to be exposed to vacuum (though exotic asteroids exist); small rocky worlds might have an atmosphere sufficient to avoid the direct effects of vacuum, but characters will still suffocate in the atmosphere.

Asteroidal terrain tends to be disjointed and haphazard. The constant shifts in terrain apply a -2 to DX rolls (including attack rolls) and a -1 to defense unless the character has Sure-Footed (Uneven); this only applies on worlds with Earth-normal gravity or if the character is using their Vacc Suit skill to “walk” on the microgravity surface.

Characters can leap from one asteroid to another using thanks to the minimal gravity. Treat this as a Jumping, Free-Fall or Vacc Suit roll (with the usual microgravity penalties). Success means they hit their target and land safely. Treat a failure as an uncontrolled landing and handle it like a Slam with an unyielding surface.

Asteroids are dark when outside of the glare of the sun. Apply a -4 if in a general debris field (from the reflected light of the other asteroids), or -7 if you must operate by starlight.

Survival on an asteroid or rock-world is possible with Survival (Rock World). It involves finding pockets of air and other volatiles, knowing how to find ice and turn it into water, seeking space oddities like Thalline Mushrooms to eat and how to set up solar panels for maximum recharge. This defaults to other Survival skills at -4. Given the hostility of the environment, though, characters can’t expect to survive long without the proper tools.

Asteroid debris fields count as Rough Terrain in action vehicular combat for anything larger than a fighter, and especially dense fields count as Rough Terrain for all vehicles!

General Asteroid Conditions

  • Vacuum: Vacc Suit or pressure support required.

  • Microgravity: -4 to all DX rolls without Vacc Suit or Free-Fall skill.

  • Uneven: -2 DX and -1 to defense, x2 movement cost

  • Darkness: When not in the view of a star, apply a -4 (if in a debris field) or -7 (if alone with only starlight).

  • Survival (Rock World).

  • Debris Field: Rough Terrain for space combat.

Specific Asteroid Perils

Falling Rocks: DF 16 32; meteors! These always come “from above” giving everyone a -2 to dodge, and come in fast enough that, at the GM’s discretion, damage can be doubled. These often come in showers over the course of an hour or more, requiring characters to take cover. If especially thick, apply an additional -1 to sight rolls to peer through the meteor storm.

Black Holes

The corpse of super-giant stars or stars destroyed by certain Eldothic super-weapons strike fear into the hearts of the astrographers and pilots of Psi-Wars, for their reach extends throughout the galaxy. They generally reorient the local hyperdynamic medium, making hyperspatial travel difficult and even interfering with hyperdynamic travel.

The churning influence of a Black Hole creates a permanent “hyperstorm” which applies a -4 to navigate away from the Black Hole. It also applies a similar penalty to nearby starsystems, and navigational failures within the same constellation as the black hole can result in a ship dropping out of shunt in the black hole’s system.

The gravitational waves around a black hole disrupt the hyperdynamic medium as well. Vehicles treat all space around a Black Hole as rough terrain, and this stacks with any additional rough terrain (ei, dogfighting among the disintegrating debris of a planet being devoured by a black hole).

Black Holes are also dark. Their accretion disk offers light equivalent to twilight (-2), and if the black hole is not in sight, its presence distorts startlight enough to reduce the brightness of a starlit sky to -8.

General Asteroid Conditions

  • Vacuum: Vacc Suit or pressure support required.

  • Microgravity: -4 to all DX rolls without Vacc Suit or Free-Fall skill.

  • Darkness: -2 (in view of the black hole); -8 (Out of the view of the black hole).

  • -4 to Hyperspace Travel

  • Rough Terrain

Comets

Treat comets like icy asteroids. They tend to be crazy, knife-edged worlds with great crystal structures the size of small mountains, great glaciers of ice, and riddled through with ice caverns. They tend to have few metals, but often have pockets of hyperium of other volatiles! This can also represent the rings of a gas giant deep in the outer regions of a solar system.

Comets are Cold (use the cold rules of the vacuum), microgravity environments (though large “ice worlds” are possible) and are in a vacuum (though a thin atmosphere is more reasonable with comets than with asteroids).

Characters can leap from one comet to another using thanks to the minimal gravity. Treat this as a Jumping, Free-Fall or Vacc Suit roll (with the usual microgravity penalties). Success means they hit their target and land safely. Treat a failure as an uncontrolled landing and handle it like a Slam with an unyielding surface.

Comets have uneven, icy terrain. Characters attempting to move across it must suffer a -2 to DX rolls and -1 to defense for all combat rolls and for traversal rolls (running, jumping, climbing, etc) unless they have Sure-Footed (Ice). The GM may also assess a similar penalty for uneven terrain, though this applies only to characters “walking” on the planet, such as those using the Vacc Suit skill, or ice-worlds with earth-normal gravity.

Comets are dark when outside of the glare of the sun. Apply a -5 if in a general debris field (from the reflected light of the other asteroids), or -7 if you must operate by starlight. Comets tend to be far from their parent star, so even when the sun is visible, they suffer a -1 to vision.

Survival on a comet or ice world is possible with Survival (Ice World). Given the hostility of the environment, though, characters can’t expect to survive long without the proper tools.

Cometary debris fields count as Rough Terrain in action vehicular combat for anything larger than a fighter, and especially dense fields count as Rough Terrain for all vehicles!

General Cometary Conditions

  • Vacuum: Vacc Suit or pressure support required.

  • Microgravity: -4 to all DX rolls without Vacc Suit or Free-Fall skill.

  • Icy: -2 DX and -1 to defense, x2 movement cost

  • Darkness: -1 in full view of star, -5 if in a debris field or -7 with only starlight.

  • Survival (Ice World).

  • Debris Field: Rough Terrain for space combat.

Specific Comet Perils

Sink Hole: DF 16 33; Rather delicate ice tends to make up most asteroids, and even when a comet gets rocky, the material tends to be soft and easily broken, which means characters might suddenly lose their footing as the comet crumbles beneath them. In a microgravity environment, the character doesn’t “fall” so much as miscalculate their landing as they plow through the “ground.” into some cavern. This follows the same rules for spotting and avoiding the problem, and if they fail, treat this as a fall (it’s really a slam, but falls use the same rules).

Debris Field

When a major battle leaves numerous ruined dreadnoughts and wrecked space stations in orbit or free floating in space, they create a debris field. Scavengers love these, but many a Fighter Ace or Commando of the losing side finds himself lost in a debris field. The debris in the field can vary from everything from a small piece of scrap metal or shimmering speck of diamondoid to entire ruined dreadnoughts.

A debris field is always a microgravity environment in a full vacuum, though clever explorers can find pockets of breathable air in the depths of a ruined starship. Treat them as Cold unless they orbit a world.

Characters can leap from one piece of debris to another using thanks to the minimal gravity. Treat this as a Jumping, Free-Fall or Vacc Suit roll (with the usual microgravity penalties). Success means they hit their target and land safely. Treat a failure as an uncontrolled landing and handle it like a Slam with an unyielding surface.

Debris fields may or may not have uneven or weird terrain, but it was at least originally built for people to traverse, and is often easier than “natural” space terrain to maneuver around, thanks to fragments of ladders and handholds on ships and the prevalence of worked metal for characters to use their mag boots on.

A debris field outside of the light of the sun becomes dark. Apply a -3 for the reflected light of the debris field.

Survival on a comet or ice world is possible with Urban Survival.

A debris fields count as Rough Terrain in action vehicular combat for anything larger than a fighter, and especially dense fields count as Rough Terrain for all vehicles!

General Debris Field Conditions

  • Vacuum: Vacc Suit or pressure support required.

  • Microgravity: -4 to all DX rolls without Vacc Suit or Free-Fall skill.

  • Darkness: -3 outside of the light of the star

  • Urban Survival.

  • Debris Field: Rough Terrain for space combat.

Specific Debris Perils

Falling Rocks: DF 16 32; Some debris operates like Kessler Syndrome, creating a wave of debris that races around a world and rakes across the rest of the debris field. This tends not to last, but it’s a real danger when a debris field is first formed. Treat all debris as falling from “above” (-2 to dodge) and given it’s very sharp nature, replaces the crushing damage with cutting damage, and allow up to double damage.

Fire (DF16 32): When the debris field is first formed, some of the ships in it may still be burning. Treat these fires as hot, dealing between 3d and 6d burning damage! Note that a ship that’s burning has atmosphere in it, so technically one can risk removing their vacuum gear (at the risk of being poisoned!)

Lightning Strike (DF16 33): ships with remnants of power may still have dangerous discharges until their reactors finally die. Treat these as 6d(5) burning damage, which reduce the DR of any non-composite or non-diamondoid rigid armor to DR 2.

Sink Hole (DF 16 33): Not all the metallic debris is in a proper state to support the landing of the explorer. Treat this as the same as the Sink Hole for the Comet, above.

Flare Star

Red super-giants and brilliant, violent blue stars tend to bathe their surrounding environments in intense heat which can suddenly elevate with devastating effect. Treat these environments as Hot even when they might not otherwise be (space near them is Hot, ships in orbit around them are Hot, a nearby asteroid belt is Hot, etc). Roll HT or HT-based Survival (Desert or Jungle) at -5 to endure the heat. Add levels of Temperature Tolerance (Hot) to the roll. Failure reduces the maximum available Fatigue to the character until they have a chance to escape the heat (see “Heat” DF 16 page 30). Desert survival gear and vacc suits can reduce this, but even they suffer: roll at +5. Ships with full life support can keep relatively cool, but the increase in heat is noticeable even here (they won’t need to roll, but the GM might increase the fatigue cost of combat and such by 1 to reflect the additional heat).

Flare stares will brighten in intensity at irregular intervals. This can cause blindness unless someone has glare protection (which tends to be integral in most visors). Those without protect must roll HT or suffer blindness for a number of minutes equal to the margin of failure; those with protection must make the roll if the sun is in full view of them (they needn’t be looking directly at the sun, but facing it is enough), and characters without protection make the same roll at -10! Failure by 5 or more might make the blindness permanent at the GM’s discretion (this is generally true of NPCs, but often untrue of PCs). Even with protection during a flare, the brightness is so intense as to apply a -2 to all rolls to see.

Flares also disrupt electronics. Vulnerable devices might roll HT to resist the effect. Failure stuns them for a number of seconds equal to their margin of failure. Any vehicles with a lock or attempting to communicate must roll the appropriate specialization of Electronics Operations at -1 to -5 or lose their lock or communications.

A flare star is not “terrain” that someone can survive without some sort of nearby supporting environment (such as a debris field). It’s generally a modifier on existing space.

General Debris Field Conditions

  • Vacuum: Vacc Suit or pressure support required.

  • Microgravity: -4 to all DX rolls without Vacc Suit or Free-Fall skill.

  • Hot: Roll HT or lose fatigue.

  • Flares: During flare, electronics must roll HT or be stunned; roll Electronics Operations to maintain target lock or communication; roll HT or be blinded (-10 if directly facing the star). -2 to vision.

Specific Flare Star Perils

Fire (DF16 32): Intense pulses of heat can ignite fires on ships, or ignite a character on fire.

Nebula

Red super-giants and brilliant, violent blue stars tend to bathe their surrounding environments in intense heat which can suddenly elevate with devastating effect. Treat these environments as Hot even when they might not otherwise be (space near them is Hot, ships in orbit around them are Hot, a nearby asteroid belt is Hot, etc). Roll HT or HT-based Survival (Desert or Jungle) at -5 to endure the heat. Add levels of Temperature Tolerance (Hot) to the roll. Failure reduces the maximum available Fatigue to the character until they have a chance to escape the heat (see “Heat” DF 16 page 30). Desert survival gear and vacc suits can reduce this, but even they suffer: roll at +5. Ships with full life support can keep relatively cool, but the increase in heat is noticeable even here (they won’t need to roll, but the GM might increase the fatigue cost of combat and such by 1 to reflect the additional heat).

Flare stares will brighten in intensity at irregular intervals. This can cause blindness unless someone has glare protection (which tends to be integral in most visors). Those without protect must roll HT or suffer blindness for a number of minutes equal to the margin of failure; those with protection must make the roll if the sun is in full view of them (they needn’t be looking directly at the sun, but facing it is enough), and characters without protection make the same roll at -10! Failure by 5 or more might make the blindness permanent at the GM’s discretion (this is generally true of NPCs, but often untrue of PCs). Even with protection during a flare, the brightness is so intense as to apply a -2 to all rolls to see.

Flares also disrupt electronics. Vulnerable devices might roll HT to resist the effect. Failure stuns them for a number of seconds equal to their margin of failure. Any vehicles with a lock or attempting to communicate must roll the appropriate specialization of Electronics Operations at -1 to -5 or lose their lock or communications.

A flare star is not “terrain” that someone can survive without some sort of nearby supporting environment (such as a debris field). It’s generally a modifier on existing space.

General Debris Field Conditions

  • Vacuum: Vacc Suit or pressure support required.

  • Microgravity: -4 to all DX rolls without Vacc Suit or Free-Fall skill.

  • Hot: Roll HT or lose fatigue.

  • Flares: During flare, electronics must roll HT or be stunned; roll Electronics Operations to maintain target lock or communication; roll HT or be blinded (-10 if directly facing the star). -2 to vision.

Specific Flare Star Perils

Fire (DF16 32): Intense pulses of heat can ignite fires on ships, or ignite a character on fire.

Nebulae

The swirling dust of dead stars, or the cool mist of interstaller clouds of gases can obscure the stellar environment. This makes them extremely popular with pirates!

Treat these as unrealistic “space clouds” that hide things from view. Ships passing through them must actively roll to gain sensor lock; furthermore, the nebula adds another -4 to -8 to detect ships or hit them with missiles. Communication through a nebula is also difficult, and requires an Electronics Operation (Comms) roll at -0 to -4.

Nebula are dark, which can prevent people from physically seeing other ships as well! Even the direct light of a star is muted in a nebula, applying a -3 in darkness penalties. In regions with only starlight, the darkness penalty rises to -9! Furthermore, the clouds themselves obscure vision, applying an additional -2 that will not benefit from night vision.

Ships may always attempt to hide in a nebula at no penalty.

General Pulsar Conditions

  • Vacuum: Vacc Suit or pressure support required.

  • Microgravity: -4 to all DX rolls without Vacc Suit or Free-Fall skill.

  • Darkness: -3 in the light of a star, -9 otherise.

  • Obscured vision: -2.

Specific Pulsar Perils

Ionic Lightning: Nebulae subject to hyperspatial storms often leak some of the energy of those storm with swirling gas and spears of “ionic” lightning. Against human-sized targets, you can treat this as lightning (6d(5) burn sur that ignores the DR of non-composite, non-diamondoid rigid armor). Against larger ships, these strikes deal as much damage as the GM likes (but typically roll 1d and take the result and roll that many dice as ×50(5) burn sur damage that ignores the DR of non-composite, non-diamondoid rigid armor). Targeted ships can attempt to dodge.

Ionic lightning also triggers a flare-like effect that doubles the penalties to communications, sensor locks and missiles during the minute that they strike.

Pulsars

The remnant of a star nearly massive enough, but not quite, to become a black hole, they manage to combine the worst of a flare star with a black hole.

Like a black hole, they churn the hyperspatial medium around them. This applies a -2 to all navigation rolls to escape them, and this often extends into the nearby constellation; a failed navigation roll often brings the ship to the Pulsar.

The churning gravity waves around a pulsar make the terrain count as Rough Terrain to vehicles. This stacks with other forms of rough terrain (such as debris fields).

Pulsars also flare. These flares are usually purely EMP in nature. They will not blind people, but they can destroy electronics. Vulnerable devices might roll HT-5 to resist the effect. Failure stuns them for a number of seconds equal to their margin of failure while failure by 5 knocks them unconscious for hours equal to the margin of failure. Any vehicles with a lock or attempting to communicate must roll the appropriate specialization of Electronics Operations at -5 to -10 or lose their lock or communications.

General Pulsar Conditions

  • Vacuum: Vacc Suit or pressure support required.

  • Microgravity: -4 to all DX rolls without Vacc Suit or Free-Fall skill.

  • -2 to Hyperspace Travel

  • Rough Terrain.

  • Flares: During flare, electronics must roll HT-5 or be stunned; roll Electronics Operations-5 to maintain target lock or communication.

Specific Pulsar Perils

Collapsar Lightning: During a pulsar flare, the twisted and fantastically powerful magentic fields might “snap,” especially if the “crust” of the pulsar is undergoing a “starquake.” This can unleash titanic energies, which can discharge as dramatic bolts of lightning striking nearby vessels. These deal as much damage as the GM likes (but typically roll 1d and take the result and roll that many dice as ×200(5) burn sur damage that ignores the DR of non-composite, non-diamondoid rigid armor). Targeted ships can attempt to dodge. These rarely strike human-sized targets, and instead tend to cripple dreadnoughts!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...