Monday, October 30, 2017

Borlo FTL

 In my Borlo campaign, my design of Faster Than Light (FTL)  travel was very important, even though the players never left the planet's surface. How easy or difficult it is to get somewhere shapes  the culture and game-play of a setting.  I really liked the system. It lets you cross the galaxy in a month, but it takes weeks to get to any particular place. My favorite consequences include:
  • It creates massive frontier areas where communication and transportation is possible but slow
  • Travel times are unpredictable 
  • The ideal route for a merchant (or any other spaceship) is often to visit a new world.
  These features make for good gaming: The PC's are often isolated from help or stodgy management, but if they need to leave a world, they can do so quickly. Colonization occurs in many places all at once instead of growing shell of planets that quickly go from one hundred to one billion people. How does it do this? I now present to you: the Borlo FTL system.

In a Nut Shell

The core idea behind this star-drive system is quite simple:
  • you must decide your destination at the beginning of the jump.
  • Preparing to enter hyperspace takes one minute. This is almost entirely automated
  • You are in hyperspace for 100 hours of passenger time and 5 to 10 days of real time, no matter how far you are going.
  • You arrive in an empty area of space "nearby" your target. The farther you went, the farther you are from your hoped destination. Most of the time, you will have to jump again.
  • Some places are "Anchor Points" that make jumps more accurate.
That's probably all the drive really needs, and that's all my players really used.  But they only cared about where people were coming from and how far it was to civilization. If we want PC's to travel in ships, we'll need more details.


The drive can jump from 3 to 20,000 light years without issues. Unfortunately, the drive doesn't arrive at the precise location put into the computer, but some distance away. This distance is called the error distance. The distance may be determined as follows:

error distance: 3d6 * (Length of Jump) * .002 * (Range Modifier)

The length of jump is in light years.
The range modifier is from the speed and range table, reading yards as light years.

The direction of the error is irrelevant for most journeys, but if it matters, the GM should roll for it, giving all directions an equal chance. 20,000 light year jumps are usually about 10,000 light years off. 10 light year jumps are usually about a single light year off.

For example, if The Sunny Comet was jumping 20,000 light years, her navigator look up 20,000 yards on the speed and range table.  20,000 yards is a -24 penalty, so we'll multiply . That's a huge amount, but the roll of 7 on 3d means this jump is more accurate than most. My final distance is 24 x .002 x 7  x 20,000 for 6,720 light years of error. Its a pretty accurate jump for how big it is, but the Comet is still thousands of light years from its destination.

Time In Nowhere

The time spent in the jump (in hyperspace, I suppose) is always exactly 100 hours from the point of view of the passengers -- just over four days.  If I'd been pushed for a more exact number I'd have made one up, but rounded off 4 days. In contrast, it takes an unknown amount of time to arrive at your destination.

Anchor Points

     Anchor points are used to reduce the error on a jump, as they give a beacon to zero in on. Natural
Anchor points are formed by super-massive bodies fairly close to each other. Almost all of them are found in the dense galactic core. Artificial Anchor points require large amounts of energy, and only the very largest and richest communities have them. When I used this in the game, only Earth had an artificial anchor point.

Anchor points have some real economic implications. Most anchor points aren't good for inhabited planets, but they make good trading hubs. Some of the natural ones will have stations just to facilitate this trade. Artificial anchor points are also a big deal, reducing the time to get to them by large amounts. This makes them trade hubs as well, and given their other resources, large and powerful ones.

How to Get Around the Galaxy

Yes, this gets you across the galaxy in reasonable times. The longest safe jumps are 20,000 light years each -- an astounding speed. 5 weeks are sufficient to go 100 thousand light years, a commonly quoted number for the galaxies width (edges are a little blurry). Other Galaxies are possible, but take longer. Andromeda takes about 2 years to reach. The galaxy is only one thousand light years thick, and can in a single fairly short jump.

However, if you want to go somewhere specific, it takes longer. If you are 20,000 light years away from somewhere, it will take 8 to 9 jumps to get there. That's 8 to 9 weeks. Longer than it takes to cross the galaxy! Even if you're merely 2,000 light years away, that's still 5 jumps. Jumping to an anchor point tends to cut the time in half. Yep, just half. Still much better than the alternative!

A lot of the time though, people aren't going somewhere specific. Or at the very least, they can be flexible. You can sell your load of tractors on the farm world you just popped up next to as easily as as the one you wanted to go to. Colonies tend to form in clusters, so that they can attract these cheaper traders of opportunity. Most merchants travel with their cargo, and as they approach their destination, choose which world they think will be both closest and need their goods. This makes markets for exports a little swingy though: its quite possible Borlo will get 4 ships full of tractors in a month, while Relston won't have any tractors shipped in for half a year.

Short Jumps

I actually never solidified how the last part of the drive works. A couple of  schemes are possible, depending on what you want.

When I first laid out the system I was planning on just using a second FTL system more akin to a warp drive. Not as fast as the Jump Drive, but much more reliable. In fact, the original write-up had jumps less than 2 light years raised the error to 10% of the total distance, and attempting to jump less than 1 light year just broke your star drive. You can use different variations on this, but be aware it requires either huge transit times or introducing a new FTL system into your campaign.

When I actually ran the game, FTL was background enough I instead decided to simplify things. jumps under 2 light years were accurate enough  to just arrive where they needed to: in orbit around the system. There are some nasty military applications to this (see Niven on receiverless teleportation), but my players weren't in a position to abuse it.

The additional FTL system is the more robust method, designed to stop some of the worst abuses of a pinpoint teleportation device, like popping into orbit with a loaded weapons platform. The variable time delay introduces an additional layer of inaccuracy, and makes it so you can't  put a whole fleet into orbit at once, but there are ways around that.

Pushing the envelope 

Its possible to try and jump farther than 20,000 light years. However, its also risky. Your inaccuracy is 50%, and for every 1,000 light years beyond 20,000 you go, you have a 10% cumulative chance of never returning. Its unknown where such ships end up. Do they explode? Do they end up in hyperspace stasis forever? Rumors abound, but almost everyone respects the 20,000 light year limit. At least while they're physically in the ship. Scientists love to run experiments with probes.

The Tables

A lot of the time, knowing the average amount of time it takes to get somewhere is just as important as knowing the exact time. And if the exact timing of the jump doesn't matter, then the GM could just use the average travel time.
Distance Average # of Jumps Average Error Distance Average # of Jumps Average Error Distance Average # of Jumps Average Error
20,000 8.0 9,600 1,500 4.9 510 100 2.7 20
15,000 7.6 6,900 1,000 4.4 320 70 2.1 12.6
10,000 7.1 4,400 700 4.1 210 50 2.0 8
7,000 6.6 2,940 500 3.8 140 30 1.9 4.2
5,000 6.1 2,000 300 3.4 78 20 1.7 2.4
3,000 5.6 1,140 200 3.0 48 15 1.14 1.5
2,000 5.1 720 150 2.9 33 10 1.0 .8

Searching the Stars

This system isn't for every setting, of course. But I found it fit a lot of requirements most FTL doesn't, and changed my setting to be more immersive. I hope you find good use for it, whether just as I present it here, or as inspiration for your own system. Happy Starfaring!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Gurps City Management Refence Chart

Gurps actually supports running a city as a game, and I'm currently playing a game where that's exactly what's going on. My players are trying to keep a city in deep trouble from being slaughtered, running out of food, or breaking out into riots.

Gurps has rules for this! And they're actually not that bad. Yes, I had to make a chart for them, but I found that the interactions weren't all that complex: there was just a lot of things to keep track of, and it was written as text, rather than as a table or diagram. This chart lets you see all of the stats and possible actions at once and have confidence that you're not missing anything.

The rules displayed here are drawn from GURPS: City Stats and from Pyramid 54's article "City Management". I highly recommend those works. If you're interested in city management in gurps you should also check out Mailanka's "Orphan of the Stars" work. 

I hope you find this useful. I know I sure did!

click for full size version

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

What I wish I knew as an Online GM 18 Months ago

In December of 2015, I moved from a college town where I knew lots of people and had a gaming group to a rural location where I knew almost no-one. As a result, I moved from gaming face to face with an established group to gaming online with complete strangers. Looking back over those 18 months, there are a few things I wish I had known.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Vanishing Scout Bush

Vanishing Scout Bushes are a strange breed of creature used as scouts and spies. When they're not fighting, they appear pretty much like a large bush a little bigger than a person, all told. They can even stand up to a little investigation, though it will quickly become apparent that this is no ordinary bush: they have nasty spikes and the woody core of the creature is much thicker than it needs to be.

When they stand up for combat, they have a roughly humanoid shape, but covered in thick vegetation. Their fists are tipped in long wooden spikes, and getting hit by one tends to hurt a lot. That said, they really don't like fair fights. They can retreat quite rapidly, and they will do so if faced with serious danger: they're scouts, not warriors. They are cunning enough to appear directly behind foes to strike from behind though.

Vanishing Bushes are designed as servitors for some villain. They work well as Fae or as the creation of a wizard. They can also be used as demons or as forest servitors, all with minor adjustments.

ST25         HP25          Speed6.5
Dodge      9(12)Parry10DR8 (hardened 1)

Thorny Fist (14): 2d+3 impaling

Teleportation (12): Vanishing Bushes can simply leave their locations, appearing at another. This is utterly silent, and they can do so quickly. They can ignore up to -5 in range or time penalties. They cannot, however, leave an area within 10 yards of any part of a fir tree. A handful of dry needles or a branch of the tree will suffice, but a single needle or old twig will not. If one attempts to teleport into an area with a branch, it will be stunned until it can make an IQ check (yes, that's going to take a while), and then the dread will effect it.

Camoflauge: Vanishing Bushes look pretty much like bushes: motionless and quiet. A bystander who isn't on the lookout for non-human foes is at -5 to spot them, and even a wary adventurer looking for general trouble gets a -2 for potentially over looking bushes. Conversely, +2 can be gained by a successful Biology, Naturalist, Gardening, or appropriate hidden lore roll. If the onlooker is familiar with the area, an Per check will reveal the additional bush. A Typical example would be the neighbor's front porch.

Traits:  360 degree vision, Chameleon 2 (effects sight and sound), Dark Vision, Doesn't Breath, Doesn't Eat or Drink, Doesn't Sleep, Dread (fir trees), Immunity to Metabolic Hazards, Injury Tolerance (Homogeneous, No Blood), Social Stigma (monster), Warp (blink, weakness: fir trees, no signature, penalty cancelling 5, reliable)

Skills: Brawling - 14, Stealth - 16*, teleport - 12, body sense -14, observation -15
*includes +2 from chameleon. If the bush is not moving, this bonus is doubled, and the bush has stealth -18. See the camoflague entry.

Build Notes

This monster was created using the Monster Hunters Foe Generator, off the seat of my pants. Most of the time I take a bunch of time when using the generator. On Tuesday I needed a monster off the seat of my pants, and built the monster pretty much during play. Its based on the weak demon from monster hunters 3, plus the special abilities given. I don't think any of the players noticed, because they were busy looking through the park for the demons. I really like the way it turned out.

I beefed up the warp a lot, uncapping range, adding blink, and emphasizing the silence. I also dropped the leech (standard) I got in the roll, because it didn't really fit -- though blood sucking plants are a staple of dungeon fantasy.

The penalty cancelling 5 is the reliable enhancement, with the condition that it can't actually raise skill. I did this because I didn't want their blink defense to be sky high.

I kind of bent the rules with Chameleon. Chameleon has an "extended" enhancement that's normally supposed to apply to infravision, not sound. There is an almost identical advantage called "Silence" that applies to sound. But I wanted both Chameleon and Silence without actually stacking their bonus, so I used the extended enhancement. I'm still looking at how that worked, but I'm feeling happy with it at the moment.