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"What type of FTL travel would be most advantageous?" Topic

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Science Fiction

751 hits since 1 Oct 2018
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Daricles01 Oct 2018 6:27 p.m. PST

So, of the common methods of FTL travel in the sci-fi genre, which would most advantageous from a military viewpoint? Which are best suited for game mechanics?

Warp drive as seen in Star Trek? Jump travel as in BSG? Hyperspace travel like in Star Wars or B5? Jump points like in Mass Effect? Others I may have overlooked?

I think Jump Points like in Mass Effect are the most strategically limited, but also the most interesting from a game mechanic standpoint in that the jump points provide an important strategic asset to fight over and spatial theatres for combat to occur in and around.

I'm not sure space combat would ever actually occur if any of the other FTL methods existed. It seems it would be almost impossible for the fighting units to engage each other.

Maybe BSG jump travel would work given the lengthy calculations involved and the time required to spin up the drives. The combat would probably be short and vicious like depicted in the show with the attackers jumping in on a fixed target or surprising a mobile target and inflicting as much damage as possible before the weaker force can jump away or jump in reinforcements to a fixed target.

What are your thoughts?

Thresher01 Supporting Member of TMP01 Oct 2018 6:41 p.m. PST

Instantaneous, with no spent fuel.

Daricles01 Oct 2018 6:59 p.m. PST

Thresher, what franchise uses that type of travel? I can't think of one.

Stryderg01 Oct 2018 7:07 p.m. PST

Babylon 5's combo of jump points generated by structures and jump points generated by large ships. It gives us gamers some strategic locations to fight over, but also allows for surprise attacks. And don't forget the potential for battles in hyperspace where the rules may be slightly different (like curvy laser shots).

mwindsorfw01 Oct 2018 7:13 p.m. PST

Folds in space, sort of like Dune. Move the ship slightly forward, and you're gone from here to there.

Aethelflaeda was framed01 Oct 2018 7:16 p.m. PST

Combat will always be at the places that can't be deemed expendable. It would be much like AoS naval combat. Find the enemy at his port of origin by blockade, or intercept him at places he must go to. Fights in transit would be exceptionally rare as with even accidental encounters one side is more than likely to disengage if there was no reason to defend something. So essentially combat will be at slower speeds at destinations.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP01 Oct 2018 7:26 p.m. PST

Someone's been watching video instead of reading again, but if the "Mass Effect"--whatever it is--system resembles the systems in Pournelle's Second Empire (Mote in God's Eye) and Bujold's "Vorkosiverse" stories, I'd agree: makes for a decent campaign system.

Warp drives and such will work, but they're less strategically interesting--no strait equivalents--and you also have to have FTL detection and communications, or else opposing fleets can pup up anywhere without warning so there is effectively no defense.

David Drake's "Leary and Mundy" books have a very interesting system of smaller jumps which give advantages to ship-handling and navigational skills. Less useful for the commander of galactic empires, perhaps, but some real advantages at the RPG level.

And now a word for the classics--the good old Bergenholm Drive and going inertialess from the "Lensman" books. The science may be even less plausible than the other three, but from a wargaming perspective, it's the only one in which boarding actions and hand to hand combat make sense.

Break out the space axes, boys, we're sending in the Valerians!

Thresher01 Supporting Member of TMP01 Oct 2018 7:26 p.m. PST


It is Sci-Fi, after all, AKA, "magic".

Kind of like a stargate, without the gate, AND with spaceships for puttering around in local systems.

Daricles01 Oct 2018 7:28 p.m. PST

What type of genre restriction or game mechanic would be needed/useful to prevent combat from devolving into FTL missile attacks on fixed objectives like planets?

One that I have seen before is that FTL travel cannot occur near large gravitational sources like stars or planets. You have to drop out of FTL at the outer edge of a planetary system.

Daricles01 Oct 2018 7:40 p.m. PST

Robert, Mass Effect has massive relic space stations built by an ancient and extinct race that allow ships to accelerate to FTL speeds from the stations location.

My memory is a little fuzzy about the particulars, but I think the stations are like giant rail guns that launch the ships. So, you could travel to anywhere from a jump point, but if your destination doesn't have a station you are stuck there.

Also, no one still alive knows how to build new stations or no one has the resources to do it. I don't remember which.

Lion in the Stars01 Oct 2018 8:39 p.m. PST

The most dangerous type of FTL is one that allows FTL to suddenly arrive in-system. Bab5's ship-generated jumps are included here, especially when they can jump inside a gravity well.

It allows the 5-minute planetkiller: someone dropping out of FTL on top of your planet and smashing it with something (or the Laurell Reeve 'Peacekeeper' trilogy's someone dropping out of FTL and smashing your star)

The best FTL from storytelling POV is fixed-point jumps like Bab5's jump gates or Mass Effect's Relays, because it creates 'straits', known places where anyone invading your system will have to be. Depending on how difficult it is to replace the FTL Gate (or how dangerous it would be to destroy one!) determines whether it'd be an acceptable tactic to destroy a gate or not. These desirable-for-storytelling traits also make it good for gaming.

Something in-between would be ship-generated FTL that doesn't let you go FTL too close to large gravity fields. Star Wars used to be like that, Battletech's jumpdrive is that, and Peter Grant's FTL drive is like that. You have a pretty large defensive problem, since people can arrive relatively anywhere, but you have a lot of warning (days/weeks, even with Peter Grant's significant-fraction-of-cee sublight drives) when they do arrive.

Daricles01 Oct 2018 8:55 p.m. PST

I was thinking that a neat option might be that it takes a long time to establish a jump point and the energy build up is detectable at the destination a considerable time before point to point travel can occur.

This would allow large ships to generate jump points, but they would be fixed in place while doing so. You could jump from anywhere to anywhere, but anyone near the destination will know when and where you are coming well in advance and there is a decent chance they will be able to detect where you are coming from.

Daricles01 Oct 2018 9:03 p.m. PST

On second thought, the gravity well limitation is simpler and gives pretty much the same end result.

Under the slow/detectable jump point system you would have to jump somewhere the defender couldn't get to quickly like the edge of the solar system.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2018 3:20 a.m. PST

The closer you get to light speed the harder it becomes to have a fight until you are for all purposes right on top of each other.

Anything going faster than light speed would have a massive advantage on being able to strike first on condition that there is no "ahead warning" like an incoming jump signature x amount of time ahead of your arrival.

FTL against each other, I'd give it to jump capable ships, they can get in an out of trouble quicker than a warp capable ship. If you can cover enough distance in a single jump you can stay ahead of any warp capable ship. Once locked in combat the ability to move faster than light even for a short distance would be a huge advantage (cf Picard Maneuver)

One of the odd aspects of most forms of FTL is that they tend to have very fast acceleration/deceleration. Imagine if it takes hours or days to get up to full speed and you have carefully time your slow down or you might zip past your destination.

Some use pseudovelocity, moving faster than light by eclectic methods such as the stutterwarp in 2300AD which is simply a very short jump of only a few hundred meters repeated in fast enough cycle to go cover distances faster than c, but it isn't really moving or having any velocity.

Also traveling faster than c often has few side effects to neigboring space. Imagine being able to physically go faster than light inside our own space-time and the energy you both build up through your velocity as well as the disturbance you might cause, might well be treated as a weapon of mass destruction. Hitting a planet at 18 LY/H with an object the size of Millennium Falcon is probably going to leave marks in the morning.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2018 6:55 a.m. PST

To prevent the "FTL inertia bomb" effect (which could destroy a planet with BBs), go with the Alcubierre Warp Drive. Since only space is warped, the ship itself has no high velocity inertia except for that created by conventional means, so that when it arrives at its destination and shuts down the warp bubble, it immediately drops back to a relatively sedate pace.

FTL combat would be fundamentally impossible, as the ship is creating its own bubble or pocket of spacetime, which only it and whatever is initially in that bubble's region can be in, and which nothing else will be able to enter or exit until the bubble is shut down (if I understand the concept correctly). So it's effectively a "ship creates the jump" effect, like classic Traveller.
I don't know if a warp bubble can be created in a significant size within a significant gravity well or not (so far nobody's done that in the recent (micro)lab scale attempts, but that may be a factor of the concept not actually being possible, or not being practicable, or not being possible via the method used, etc.. nobody attempting it has, so far as I know, suggested that a gravity well prevents it).

One problem is that of a potential "gamma-ray death wave" that such a bubble might build up in front of it, which makes it the equivalent of the planet killer FTL BB again, simply by showing up. Don't know if that's been refuted or not.
However, this all might be mooted simply by the fact that it would be impossible to navigate or maneuver the bubble once it's formed, except perhaps to a very broad degree. (You might be able to alter the direction of the bubble mid-jump, but that would create an enormous change in destination, possibly measured in parsecs! (OMG…that's what Han meant! laugh)). In any case, you can't see out of the bubble, so you have no idea what's in your path except what was known to be there from the last information you received (almost necessarily via light-limited communication). Consider that if you're only going from Earth to Alpha Centauri A, that information is over 4 years old! You don't want to slam into a hastily constructed asteroid "wall", so you'll plan a stop point well away from that potential. And as others have noted, you don't want to overshoot the destination, either. Thus it all comes down to how quickly the warp drive can be turned off, and how much this is planned in advance. (Once you turn it on, you're committed to going wherever it's set to go and stopping when it's set to stop. You can't respond to outside info, because you can't see anything outside the bubble.

Finally, it's a "straight line" shot (well, not really, as space-time is curved, but we'll ignore that complication), from your starting location to the target's eventual location at your time of arrival, assuming nothing deflects it or you. If you point your ship at where Alpha Centauri A is now (much less any potential planet orbiting it), you won't arrive at the location you saw before you turned on the drive. Depending on the relative speed of your drive, even if FTL, your target will have moved a considerable distance. In fact, even if your FTL is fundamentally instantaneous (like Stargate travel), Alpha Centauri A and its planet will be four years along their movement paths from when you looked (because that info is, as we saw earlier, 4 years old!). So instead, you will be plotting your arrival at a destination based upon its predicted location when you arrive, and your predicted arrival point (assuming nothing deflects you, if that can even happen).

So, in the end, the point of arrival probably won't be near a target planet, in order to have a safety margin for the ship itself (whether you care about safety for the planet or not). Also, each ship has to create a warp bubble independently, or potentially be able to fit within the warp bubble of a generator ship (assuming that's possible), So there are tactical and logistics problems there in coordinating the jumps (and how far apart do the ships all have to be for a safety margin when creating each ship's bubble? How instantaneous or staggered do the jumps have to be to prevent one bubble from going through a location of another ship or another bubble? What happens if either of these collisions occurs? Yipe!). So with any size fleet or flotilla, you'd probably want to plan a jump destination that allows for significant regrouping for a coordinated attack and potential defense, where the enemy won't see you very soon and can't respond quickly.

As for the gamma-ray death wave, well, either you prefer that the planet remain habitable (in which case you arrive at an angle to your target so the wave passes it by) or that's too precise an effect to actually effectively target, given all the calculations and assumptions built in to selecting an arrival point anyway. (I don't actually know the details of how wide such a gamma burst would be, or if it's simply a spherical "detonation" like a bomb, or a cone, or even an effective straight "laser" line.)

But, with caveats in place, it still makes for a gameable battle situation: remote arrival, regroup for initial approach, defender detection, defender regroup, attacker detection, etc..

Winston Smith02 Oct 2018 8:56 a.m. PST

FTL is fantasy. So make up what you want.
Throwing words like "gravity wells" around only make you sound like you pick up Scientific American once a month.

Heck, if Star Wars has wizards with magic swords, you might as well use FTL.

Covert Walrus02 Oct 2018 10:44 a.m. PST

robert piepenbrick said -

And now a word for the classics--the good old Bergenholm Drive and going inertialess from the "Lensman" books. The science may be even less plausible than the other three, but from a wargaming perspective, it's the only one in which boarding actions and hand to hand combat make sense.

all too true. Of course, given the Higgs Boson, this idea that the property of inertia is a property that is non-manipulatable hasn't been entirely ruled out :)

Winston Smith, as Scientific American is only published on a montlhy basiss, there isn't much chance of anyone reading it at a faster rate, so your comment is not so much an argument it's more an insult to many of us; And given the nature of physics today I'd be very careful as to what you dismiss as "fantasy" lest you be in the position of Poe's characters in "The Thousand And Second Tale of Scheherezade" :) Though I'll admit, theory is one thing and hardware another But then, look at all the people here who dismiss GEV hovercraft ( A working technology ) and accept Grav vehicles ( Depeding on your school of thought, impractical in small scale or time machines ) without a qualm. I apologise to those of religious bent on that last part.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2018 10:48 a.m. PST

A "gravity well" is simply shorthand for stating "within a significant distance of a significant amount of mass which, due to its inertia, is less perceptually noticed to move towards the lower mass object due to their mutual gravitational attraction." If one is discussing an actual theorized FTL method (as the Alcubierre Warp concept is), it's a decent shorthand to use.

But then, the OP wasn't suggesting that FTL was anything other than an imaginary proposition. He was instead asking what form of imagined FTL is the most advantageous from a military or gaming viewpoint, and thus this discussion is about finding that using a logical system of rules for whichever imaginary method is suggested. Surely you are not stating that a fantasy system, especially for gaming, doesn't require rules and rationales for how significant elements work?

Really, Winston, sometimes it seems you only log in to throw a snide remark into a discussion you actually have no interest in, except as a disruption. Rather rude, that. Since the OP wants suggestions for a viable, militarily and tactically interesting FTL method for gaming, perhaps you should use your vast years of experience in gaming to offer a viable suggestion?

Back On Topic, after being rudely interrupted: I recommend Jack Campbell's Lost Fleet series and Mike Shepherd's Kris Longknife series, both of which present excellent tactical battles in "jump point" type settings. Their "jump points" appear to be manufactured by unknown sources, and in the case of Shepherd, highly susceptible to the speed, spin and angle of entry by the jumping ship as regards to destination.
The web comic Schlock Mercenary uses a more "instantaneous jump anywhere" approach called a "teraport," though the author had to introduce "teraport denial zones" as a defensive mechanism to prevent the obvious "Surprise! We're here! You lose!" aspect of the concept (Which, in a way, makes the system more similar to a "jump point" or at least "jump distance" system as Traveller, Elite/Oolite, etc..)

Daricles02 Oct 2018 2:50 p.m. PST

No, Winston. FTL travel is definitely in the realm of Science FICTION. I blame the bookstores (if you are old enough to remember those) and the video streaming services for your confusion. I never understood why they always lumped sci-fi, fantasy and horror together in one section.

I'll even concede that science fiction and fantasy both often have "magic" in them, but with an important difference. The " magic" in science fiction is created and controlled by man using machinery and is disguised as technology. Magic is different. It is usually natural or supernatural, not created by man and man usually has limited control over it.

So, do you have anything to add to the discussion other than to say "make stuff up"?

Dynaman878902 Oct 2018 5:26 p.m. PST

From a military viewpoint – unless the universe has more then one whatever you got is best. From a game perspective jump points are best since it gives you a spot you can use for defense and strategic choke points. The ones in Starfire (the Task Force Game board game) come to mind. For a different take there are the jump lines in the "Trafalgar Incident" book series. Kind of like a jump point but instead it is a line so there is more area to cover.

Winston Smith02 Oct 2018 9:12 p.m. PST

No, Winston. FTL travel is definitely in the realm of Science FICTION.

FTL is definitely "fiction". So your emphasis is warranted.
But "science"? No.
I've read one or two speculations on how PARTICLES can exist on both sides of c. I might think that a particle can dive into a singularity and emerge whole. But an atom? A molecule? A space ship?
I find dragons and White Walkers more believable.

So it's fantasy. Like Varys and Littlefinger in Season 7 of Game of Thrones. Gendry too.
You would think that those guys had FTL drive.

Lion in the Stars02 Oct 2018 11:03 p.m. PST

FTL isn't quite disallowed by physics, though (at least in a couple limited cases).

Magic tends to just flat ignore any inconvenient laws of physics.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2018 7:48 a.m. PST

In any case, Winston, you're still just being rude. You have no interest in the genre, no real interest in the topic, and clearly a limited amount of knowledge of the subject, as it's already pretty much known that a region of space-time CAN travel faster than light (and did in the early moments of the Big Bang). Whether or not that is doable by deliberate technological means is a different issue, of course, but the concept is not outside the realm of science.

But either way, right now, you're being that guy who walks up to a group of people who are talking about golf and loudly proclaims how golf isn't a sport and the one time you played it, you realized how stupid it was, and why don't they just admit that croquet is better and essentially the same thing anyway, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Which means, that in this instance, your opinion is worth exactly what you've been paid to express it. Oh wait, that was nothing? Then same answer.

Winston Smith03 Oct 2018 7:50 a.m. PST

Getting from FTL down to "normal" speed is the problem that thousands of dedicated science fiction writers have never been able to solve to my satisfaction. Usually they throw around a lot of big words, with names of fictitious foreign scientists having strange accent marks on the vowels.

Come on. It's fantasy. Not science. Admit it and the stories make more sense.

Dynaman878903 Oct 2018 11:53 a.m. PST

I've heard the definition of science fiction as being allowed to change/bend one scientific law as we currently know it. So a story with just FTL is certainly science fiction under that definition.

Also getting from one place to another faster then light does not have to mean physically moving that fast. So speed has nothing to do with it.

EDIT – of course most science fiction of the "blink you are there" variety ignore the fact that each star is moving at a different velocity around the center of the galaxy, and in those where you can jump from one end of the galaxy to the other they would be going in opposite directions. Jumps across galaxies are even more uncommon in scifi but things would be even worse there.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2018 1:54 p.m. PST

Alcubierre is not fictitious, Winston. According to current understanding of physical law, his proposal is correct. That does not, however, mean it is achievable. It simply means that it is indeed possible for a region of spacetime to move at speeds that exceed the speed of light without violating relativity.

And Dynaman is also correct: nothing about relativity prevents an object from moving faster than light; it simply means that an object cannot accelerate to a speed faster than light. Again, this doesn't mean that it's possible to build a device that can take an object at (relative) rest and put it a condition of moving faster than light without accelerating to and through the speed of light. It just means that faster-than-light movement is within the possible realm of physics.

Which, of course, should simply be a "duh" moment, as we know that linear time is a property of spacetime, not a limitation on it, and that (as currently theorized) the Universe may essentially be one massive EM field that is, in effect, non-temporal in nature. Physicists even theorize that this EM field effectively sends "ripples" back and forth through time (and thus FTL). I am being, of course, very simplistic in this description, and I can in no way comprehend the underlying math or explanations, but the Universe is very, very strange and a lot more happens than we currently understand or know. But all of that clearly allows for some aspects of the Universe to move at FTL speed. So while the suggestions we are exploring are (with the exception of Alcubierre's root proposal) indeed science fiction, many are in fact science fiction, that is based on current understanding of physical laws and what those laws allow. So not exactly fantasy, except to the extent that anything imaginary is necessarily also fantasy (like proposing that a guy with a beer in his hand staring at a table covered in little painted men is the mental equivalent of Napoleon).

As for gaming any of these suggestions, I think it's safest to say that regardless of FTL method, actual spaceship combat as we conceive of it (and can hope to actually conduct with miniatures on a tabletop) cannot itself occur at FTL speeds, simply due to such things as relative vector angles: If I'm traveling at Warp 2 in one direction, and you're traveling at Warp 2 at virtually any angle to my vector, we're going to wind up millions of kilometers apart in a matter of seconds. Shoot quick! So combat will be at known strategic destinations, and can only occur in open space if there is some method of preventing travel through (or around) a particularly large region of space, or if in some way FTL is prevented within a given distance to a strategic location, thus forcing craft to slow to STL speeds for approach on the target.

Tactically, this is probably a wash in a gamed combat scenario, unless a provision is in place for enemy spaceships to escape the combat through FTL, in which case the method of FTL used becomes significant, or if the scenario itself revolves around control (or destruction) of a fixed FTL device/phenomena.

So certain FTL concepts thus become essentially identical:
Jump point/Jump gate/Wormhole: Tactically, these are all presumably stationary locations/devices on the battlefield which a ship must physically reach to achieve FTL. The only real question becomes whether they are movable or subject to damage/destruction.

Warp travel/Jump travel/Hyperspace/Ship-generated wormhole: Tactically, these are actions a ship may take virtually anywhere on the battlefield to achieve FTL on its own. The question thus becomes how long does it take to do so, can it be prevented (and how), and whether or not any other battlefield "terrain" alters or blocks such action along certain paths.

And, lastly, regardless of method, can the FTL ship return to the battle, how long will it take to do so, where can it reappear, in what condition, and can this also be prevented?

Finally, there's also the simple rule that no ship can enter FTL in a battlefield situation, making the question moot.

Perhaps I've missed something, but I think that covers the possibilities for FTL in combat.

Daricles03 Oct 2018 5:36 p.m. PST

Winston, does it really matter if the spaceships in my question are powered by science, magic or magic masquerading as science? You can still discuss the question and offer meaningful input any way you see it. I didn't ask how to make the ships travel FTL, only what the strategic (military) implications of the various means of FTL travel commonly described in the sci-fi genre were from a gaming perspective.

You could respond to the question without going down the rabbit hole of "is the ship powered by faerie dust or anti-matter" if you wanted to without derailing the topic.

Daricles03 Oct 2018 5:47 p.m. PST

Mwindsorfw, I'm not that familiar with Dune (apart from the awful movie), but what you are describing sounds kind of like an Alcubierre drive. Or is it more like a jump point system?

Lion in the Stars03 Oct 2018 9:01 p.m. PST

There's no 'deceleration from FTL' problem in the allowed-by-physics Alcubierre drives or wormhole travel.

The Alcubierre drive doesn't move the ship inside the 'warp bubble', it basically moves the universe around the ship. The known issue with the Alcubierre drive is a nasty gamma-ray pulse when you drop the bubble.

Wormholes are a shortcut. You physically travel sublight through a much shorter distance. Though getting into a wormhole might be interesting, the math says that a stable wormhole requires negative mass (don't ask, I don't understand that part of it). Negative mass implies negative gravity, and the math to have a macroscopic wormhole implies a whole lot of negative mass. So you'd need to burn hard to get into the wormhole, and really hard to not get flung out of the other end at absurd gee.

@Daricles: I've 'only' read the original 6 Frank Herbert Dune books, and there's no description of the actual process. You ship docks with the Guild's Highliner, they carry you to the destination. Even if an enemy's ship is docked right next to you, you DO NOT fight on a Guild ship.

Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian05 Oct 2018 7:22 a.m. PST

Throwing words like "gravity wells" around only make you sound like you pick up Scientific American once a month.

Gravity Wells is Dawn's lesser known sister.

Dawn Wells

Borderguy19009 Oct 2018 3:44 p.m. PST

You guys haven't stifled Winston yet? This was a good read, full of fun what-ifs and food for thought when dreaming about all sorts of gaming. Then Winston the jerk shows up. He is such a jerk and ruins TMP. Stifle him. Then you never have see his worthless drivel again.. Its refreshing.

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