Federation-Apocalypse Session 90a – Reminiscence of Apocalypse

   Kevin had been busy for the first few days after getting back from the Crusader Kingdoms… There had been the new Thralls to induct. Kelsaru had done a marvelous job of getting that organized, he’d never have been able to get so many bonded so quickly if she hadn’t sorted out the ones who were willing just on the basis of the recorded information and gotten them set up with mass appointments – but it had still taken time.

   He’d had to talk to Gelman, organize the information network, dispatch new agents, and a dozen other projects – but all of them were underway at last.

   Gelman was right; he really should delegate more.

   Anyway, he finally had time to look back on the last few hours they’d spent in the Crusader Kingdoms.

   He’d been focusing on keeping an eye on Death (and making sure that he STAYED pacified) while some of the Thralls got Death Knights (including the ones who’d had their foci captured, but not yet broken) on the road to recovery, Thrall-contingents had been dispatched to the other major cities – both to serve as gate-foci and to relieve what was left of the undead sieges (it wasn’t too hard now that Death’s power was no longer backing them) – and the rest had been assigned to maintain the defenses of Jerusalem, produce food and supplies (at least until a new harvest was in) and to answer questions for potential recruits.

   Marty had just sworn blood-brotherhood with Thawban (not something that he’d seen coming, or really would have suggested, but it was Marty’s decision), was considering where Puck might have escaped to, and was trying to get to know his previous incarnation. He’d wanted to take Thawban along when they left too… He hadn’t thought that there was much left for the poor man in the Crusader Kingdoms. He hadn’t really thought about that; if the man wanted to come along, why not? He could probably use a change of scene.

   Jamie’s heaviest sarcasm (Oh why not? After all, it wasn’t like they didn’t have enough trouble already without hauling along someone who was sure that THEY were one of the biggest menaces in the universe!) hadn’t been enough to penetrate Marty’s psychological armor of cheerful and slightly-tipsy anarchy.

   Back on Core Earth, the Unified Church, House of Roses, and Department of Mysteries had been frantically preparing a secure place to debrief Death. They desperately needed information, and Death had to have at least a little, just to direct his contingent of the enemy forces.

   The priests had been looking for a way to argue with Kevin, but their attempts had been swiftly falling to A’ikana’s subtle theological points. Up against a core-style education, formal training in debate, and fifteen hundred years worth of theological development, they had about the same chance as a shield wall against a tank division. Still, some of the local priests were fairly tolerant and had been turning out to be more aware of the existence of other dimensions than she’d thought. Some of them might be ready to join the Unified Church after all.

   When they’d departed, they’d spent a total of twelve days in Jerusalem… One realm saved, three hundred Death Knights either destroyed or saved, better than a hundred thousand lesser undead destroyed, thousands of Thralls recruited, one Horseman of the Apocalypse pacified and ready to be debriefed, magical ward-repairs completed, supernatural beings once more intervening, dimensional barriers down, insane Dr Frankenstein type dealt with, magical knights considering an alliance, remaining sieges being relieved, and many people badly confused. It hadn’t been a bad trip.

   It had been a mildly amusing discussion though – at least if you thought about their committment to pursuing the Trickster.

(Thawban) “Leave? Where would we be going to? Much of this world lies in ruins. Or are you suggesting heading to where you hail from?”

(Marty) “Possibly. Or we could go to Kevin’s realm.”

(Thawban) “So you are not all from the same world then?”

(Marty) “No, we are not.”

(Thawban) “It may be that this was fated. I do feel that in order to better understand the threat to my home and elsewhere, it would be prudent for representatives to go to the wider conflict. I have nothing keeping me here save a blood oath against a vile creature, and I suspect that where ever I may go, I will run into him again.”

(Marty) “Yeah, well, we’ll get him someday!”

(Thawban) “Very well then I will come with you.”

(Jurin Hans) “Well that does seem to have gone much better than I would have thought possible. (Watches the treatment of the Death Knights for a moment) So the process of becoming a Death Knight can be reversed?”

(Kevin) “Yes. Bodies are relatively easy; it’s retrieving a soul that’s passed on that’s nearly impossible. If the soul is available though – such as by being trapped in a focus – bringing someone back is merely tedious.

(Jurin Hans) “Fascinating. I imagine the rune weapons are the foci containing the soul then? That would explain why slaying Death Knights accomplished so little in the long run, the creature was really the blade and not the body. When you are done here, there is someone else I would like for you to have a look at before you leave.”

(Kevin) “Yes, although a few seem to use foci other than swords. I do hope we haven’t completely upset the order of your world. It would still be better than it’s destruction – but most worlds exist because people want them that way, and it’s rude to simply turn them upside down. Who is it you want me to have a look at? I’d rather not get too far from keeping an eye on Death until he’s safely into counseling and debriefing.”

(Jurin Hans) “Well, when it comes to upsetting our world, it apparently happens from time to time. Should things get too out of hand, the people rally around a single Emperor for the world and he makes decrees to set things back on track again. Last time this happened was the formation of the Roman Empire. As for the special individual, the Knight-Commander’s elder brother was taken by the Death Knights during the war but was captured before the siege began. The Knight-Commander could not stand the thought of slaying him though, so he was locked away deep inside the walls of the Temple Complex. If you could heal him, I expect the Knight Commander would be overjoyed once he recovers.”

(Kevin) “Well, I see no reason not to heal him as well if he is willing – and that is interesting. Most worlds are not so aware of how people can act to maintain them.”

(Hans) (Claps his hands) “Great! I am sure that will make a fine victory reunion for the Knight-Commander. So most worlds are not aware that the leader of the world can reshape the world by virtue of his position? It would seem obvious to me.”

(Kevin) “Hm… No, most worlds do not have quite such an expansive view of authority. I would guess that it comes of the deeply religious nature of your world and of the idea of leaders as agents of god. Most worlds are not so accepting.”

(Hans) “I am not sure whether to be intrigued that other worlds view such matters so differently, or to be saddened that those worlds would lack such guidance in times of great need.”

(Kevin) “Every world must follow it’s own nature, and I suspect that all of them have advantages and disadvantages of their own.”

(Hans) “Nonetheless, each of you does deserve a boon for you efforts over the last weeks. Have you any thoughts of what you would ask?”

   Marty had actually given that a bit of thought beforehand; the locals weren’t up to upgrading his sword, although they could forge mystical latin scripts into the blade to grant it local holy powers – but that wouldn’t help him much and didn’t exactly suit him. Still, unrestricted trading rights in Jerusalem would be nice – and the locals had no problem with that. They NEEDED trade to get back on their feet.

   Jamie wanted her campaign ribbon. She’d participated, and thus should get the appropriate award – and some local souvenir in token of a job well done seemed in order. Any actual pay or increase in grade would – of course – be up to her actual employers, but she’d been serving on detached duty with the local forces, and the recognition would be nice.

   A’ikana felt that she would be well-rewarded if the locals would extend a welcome to any other emissaries of the Unified Church that might come along.

   Kevin was a bit baffled… He came to worlds for his own purposes, recruited there, and departed. He was a Lord of Darkness, and took what he wanted; if his personal activities happened to be to the advantage of the locals, that was their good luck! The locals didn’t usually offer to reward him for manipulations… Ah! This time he was here to help the locals both because it suited him, in search of information, AND to get an “in” with the Unified Church! It just looked to them like he was being gratuitously noble!… and it wouldn’t be fair to take advantage of that. Ah well. A token of appreciation (maybe a title to go with his local ID, he could start collecting those) and allowing his agents to continue their investigations and aid / defense operations would cost the locals nothing at all – and it would continue to let them recruit a bit on the side. Of course, the locals probably had no real way of stopping that anyway, and – if they had – it would unfairly stretch their religious scruples to ask them not to try. He could ask for some social reforms, such as a limit to slavery-terms, but social change would be barreling down on the realm anyway. It might be nice to know who’d set up their wards, but they hadn’t even known about the foci, so they’d surely have no idea of who’d made them.

   Marty felt that it might have been the original founders of the realm – after all, the place might well be linked to Heaven or Eden, so all they’d have needed to have done would be to draw on the holy power – but Kevin felt that most of the local stunts involved active divine magic being channeled through people – and whoever had set up the wards had a modern education and used Tengwyr – Tolkien’s invented script. That put it within the last five hundred years, and probably a lot more recent than that.

   Another mystery to be added to the list. Something about the whole thing made Kevin suspect that Ryan was involved somehow, but there really wasn’t any evidence of that at all.

(Kevin) “I hadn’t really considered such a thing… I think your world needs time to recover with as few demands on it as possible in any case – although I was planning to ask if you needed a few local gates set up before I left”.

(Hans) “Gates to other worlds might be good to have, although I must admit having no knowledge whatsoever on the nature of such things. However I will ask some of our most wise leaders and see what insight they might have.”

(Kevin) “I can also set up a few local gates if you like; those should allow you to move people, information, and materials, between various points more readily. It should make it easier to get everyone back on their feet again.”

(Hans) “Also intriguing, I suspect routes connecting the various capitols would be the most prudent, but I shall once again have to consult the others… I shall leave you to your endeavors for now. I, unfortunately, have matters I need to attend to.”

   Meanwhile, Marty was having his companions wrap him up in more protective spells and was keeping an eye on the Death Knights (while avoiding actually touching any of them or their stuff). It didn’t look, however, like any of them wanted to challenge the massed Knights and the beings who’d defeated Death.

   Kevin, meanwhile, went back to keeping an eye on Death (and talking to him to maintain his influence) and organizing a few more Thralls – mostly the ones’s he and Marty had arrived with and who knew the ropes of the Manifold – to keep an eye out for attempts at interference. He had some doing divinations, more keeping an eye on the dimensional barriers, more acting as waiters/watchers for Death, keeping up aerial scouting and layers of anti-divination wards… Death was a major prize, and he wasn’t taking ANY avoidable risk of losing him. He wanted to get Death to Core, where magic generally wouldn’t work, and to wherever the House and the Church had decided to stash him, without any accidents.

Advertisements

RPG Design – Star Trek Physics

   The Star Trek universe uses a lot of power – and we know where it comes from; Antimatter.

   Or do we?

   Antimatter is a difficult thing to find. There isn’t a realistic natural source in the galaxy – and making it by any known method takes rather more energy than you can get back out of it.

   It’s equally awkward to store. If something happens to your containment system, not only will you loose your energy reserve, but you’ll probably lose your ship too.

   It does have one major advantage of course; it’s the most efficient source of power available to known physics and engineering. Antimatter has, in fact, such a good power-to-weight ratio that it is already – even with our incredibly inefficient methods of antimatter production – a marginally viable fuel for space travel (try googling “NASA Antimatter Engine”; you’ll find a load of trash, but there are some genuine studies out there).

   This is science fiction, so we can, of course, invoke zero-point energy systems, tapping into other dimensions, violations of conservation laws, and similar forms of technobabble, to supply energy – but if we overdo that we might as well admit that we’re making the “technology” work by waving a magic wand. Every science-fiction setting is entitled to a few waves of the magic wand – but the trick is to keep it down to as few as possible and – preferably – to keep them on the level of principles ormaterials instead of individual gadgets.

   That’s why this analysis is sticking with the original series and the first few movies. The various followup series used the magic wand so often that it’s almost impossible to make anything consistent out of their physical principles.

   So what do we actually know about the antimatter systems in the Star Trek universe?

  • They use antimatter, and actually seem to be fairly realistic about it’s properties – it annihilates on contact with normal matter to yield vast amounts of energy, it’s very dangerous, it’s very hard to find, you need special containment systems for it, and you DEFINITELY don’t want it getting out. There’s an alternate mirror universe full of the stuff (although there isn’t normally any access), and the interaction produces some fairly odd results.
  • They involve “dilithium” crystals, which are rare, somehow involve more than chemistry, and seem to have some fairly unique properties. In addition, time travel, very high warp speeds, and other exotic circumstances seem to put some special strain on them that isn’t shared by most other materials – including the highly-sensitive ones of living bodies. There are serious problems with synthetic versions and even the natural ones tend to break down in use. None of this has much to do with actual lithium or dilithium.
  • They are apparently necessary to achieve sustained FTL speeds – although there may be a mention or two of other systems apparently involving “quantum singularities”. Given that we never get more than a casual mention though, this could be the usual gross oversimplification that you get in casual conversation which touches on technical subjects.
  • Powering up a matter-antimatter annihilation engine too quickly results in backwards time travel. Now THAT’S a big anomaly.
  • Antimatter engines are apparently regarded as being SAFER than fission systems. That’s also pretty weird under normal circumstances. “Makes an area messily toxic and hard to clean up” is usually a bit less menacing than “instantly vaporizes the city”.
  • They don’t seem to use very much antimatter. Federation starships seem to be equipped with methods of transporting relatively small amounts of it rather than large reserves, can physically eject the antimatter system and have it be at a relatively safe distance in less than a minute, are not considered a major menace in orbit, and have been destroyed within eyesight range of unprotected humans with no one the worse for wear. The explosion is impressive, but certainly can’t involve much antimatter.
  • There’s some indication that the matter-antimatter engines use up a lot more matter than they do antimatter.

   So

  • Federation warp drives require antimatter due to the vast energy demands.
  • Federation ships don’t actually carry enough antimatter to yield vast amounts of energy.
  • Federation ships do have to have antimatter, but once they’ve got some, they seem to have enough to operate almost indefinitely.
  • In the Star Trek universe, antimatter is a fairly safe fuel source.
  • They apparently don’t have to invest massive resources in creating the stuff.
  • Federation starships have broad corridors, plenty of personal space, and other luxuries – implying power to spare. There isn’t really any sign of them being particularly mass-and-space conscious.

   We have one set of observations that say antimatter is plentiful, and another set that says that it’s only actually used in tiny quantities.

   How can we make sense of this and still keep the magic wand waving to a minimum?

   Well, it was noted long ago that an antiparticle is indistinguishable from a normal particle moving backwards in time – and time seems to be entangled in this whole mess.

   Ergo, here’s the vital point where we can keep our magic wand waving to a bare minimum.

   The internal structure of “Dilithium Crystals” involves time. When electromagnetic energy above some critical threshold is projected into, or generated in, the otherwise-unreactive interior of such a crystal, it produces a field (or altered volume or space) within which time flows backwards.

   The annihilation of matter and antimatter generates vast amounts of intense electromagnetic energy.

   If carefully maintained within a small area, such a field will convert matter entering it into antimatter. That means that the initial supply of antimatter is only a catalyst; if it’s focused into a small area, and the matter feed is carefully regulated, you can increase or decrease the power output to suit demand.

   If you try to do it too quickly, you run the risk of the field either collapsing too rapidly – shutting down the engines and requiring a slow, careful, startup again with a fresh infusion of antimatter – or of the field expanding beyond the limits of the crystal. If it expands beyond the vacuum-chamber, but does not engulf the entire ship, the resulting matter-antimatter explosion will destroy the entire ship. If it does engulf the entire ship, from the viewpoint of the ship, it will go backwards in time until the field collapses again.

   Given that, we need very little antimatter – quantities small enough so that multiply-redundant containment systems are quite practical and that even a total containment failure will not endanger much of a planetary surface and will be quite survivable at even a modest distance from the main ship.

   We can even have several small antimatter reserves, so there’s a backup way to start the engines if you lose power unexpectedly. That also means that you can dump extra antimatter into the system to try for that “fast start” or “intentional time travel” stunt.

   The main fuel supply can simply be ordinary matter – such as water.

   Now, if the Dilithium Crystals have a structure that unique, it’s pretty reasonable that they’d be affected by time travel and forces which have no effect on normal matter. Normal matter doesn’t have any structure on that level to be affected. It’s also a possible reason for why synthetic crystals aren’t a lot of use and why even natural ones degrade; in operation, the structure of the crystal is forced unevenly back into time. Natural crystals – often many millions of years old – can handle a lot more going back into time before breaking down than synthetic ones from last year. Ah, that precious, precious, natural dilithium!

   This also means that antimatter reactors are far safer than fission reactors.

   What else can we do with this particular pass of the wand?

   Well, the other technological wonders of Star Trek include the Transporter/Replicator (and, later on, the Holodeck), the Warp Drive, the Phaser, the Tractor Beam (and other artificial gravity effects), Subspace Communicators, Tricorders, the Universal Translator, Sensors, and the Shields/Force Fields.

   OK, we can get around a few of those:

  • Tricorders are just sophisticated special-purpose analytical systems with a lot of miniaturized sensors.
  • The Universal Translator is presumably simply a very high-powered linguistic analysis system and automated translator.
  • The Warp Drive… well, we’re already playing with generating a field which modifies time. If we wrap the ship in such a field without quite going to the (presumed) threshold for time travel, then we’ve just opted out of normal space and time; we’re now within a “warp” – and FTL travel is fundamentally linked to time travel through relativity. All we need now is a low-powered drive to give us some “impulse”, and there’s no reason why our “warp” shouldn’t let us move around quite handily. That glosses over a LOT of details of course, but if we actually knew the details, we’d be able to do it. It also gets us out of having multiple drive systems; impulse power is a necessary part of the warp drive.
  • Phasers can be used to cause things to become hot, to cause matter to quietly vanish – with no apparent residue or energy release, to stun living creatures, and can be fired at targets which are moving far faster than light. They can also be dodged, but only by creatures which are clearly operating in purely subjective time. Phasers seem to have near-infinite speed, but can be seen. They lose energy even passing through empty space. Awkward… Wait; if solid matter is accelerated in time, it will become hot – at least to an outside observer. If it’s slowed, it will seem cold, and – it’s not too hard to believe – that complex biological processes will be somewhat disrupted. If matter is somehow stopped in time, it would quietly vanish – lost to the past without necessarily releasing other energies. OK: “Phasers” “fire” time-manipulation effects, losing energy as they “pass through” normal space due to interface effects and virtual pair production. Obviously, Phasers involve the use of tiny bits of dilithium. They’ve only got a limited charge, so they’re obviously too small for antimatter – but a larger power pack will make the same emitter “more powerful”; it’s just pumping more energy through the dilithium speck at the core of the system. Dilithium can be affected by high-energy radiation, thus Sulu’s misfire in Star Trek IV.
  • Force fields glow a bit, glow more brightly when touched, and interact with phasers. Another boundary effect then, generated by pumping power into an array of tiny dilithium-based “field emitters”. That means that things which can warp normal space and time – like Charlie – can easily pass through them if they wish. Energy never just vanishes, so energy directed against a force field feeds back into the generator system – so shields can overload and burn out.
  • The Tractor Beam is apparently an artificial gravity effect – a warp in space time. Can we do that? Happily, yes, we can. Once we’re distorting space and time, artificial gravity effects are pretty straightforward.
  • The Transporter/replicator is harder – if only because the Star Trek universe is never too clear on what the thing actually DOES. If it moves atoms, how can it duplicate people? If not, why can’t it copy people normally? Is the Soul involved? How can it sometimes send you into alternate universes? How could it split Kirk into good and evil halves? Well, if dimensions – that is, space and time, are involved, we can avoid the problems with quantum mechanics. The system is somehow flicking it’s targets through other dimensions, a process which could allow access to alternate universes and any kind of weird effect we like. Who knows what other universes could be like or what strange disturbances might occur there? Playing games with space and time… It’s a bit of a stretch, but that does still fall under the basic effects we can get from our one bit of unobtainium dilithium. 
  • That leaves us with Sensors and Subspace Communicators. Sensors aren’t all that awkward with respect to what they pick up; what’s awkward is their ability to do it at incredible ranges, and through massive amounts of matter or other shielding. Similarly, Subspace Communicators operate at incredible ranges and leap right past the speed of light. It’s almost as if both were operating through another dimension – just like the Transporter.

   Magic Wands are nice. Well-aimed and precise magic wands are even better. They also make it a lot easier to game in a setting; you can give the players a fair idea of what will and will not work, and of how they can try to adapt a setting’s equipment to their own purposes.