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Thread: Fore-and-aft Spaceship Design Considered Silly

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    Fore-and-aft Spaceship Design Considered Silly

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    I just blew about $25 downloading spaceship maps from Ki Ryn and Fat Dragon Games. The maps were interesting, but irked me somehow ... until I realized that they were all constructed like boats or aircraft: there's a front and a back, a port and a starboard, a floor and a ceiling.

    Uh, guys, this is SPACE!

    We're not on a TV budget here. Where are the designs that assume a spinning cylinder to provide an illusion of gravity? Where are the true "spacer" designs for people quite comfortable with zero-G? Why aren't they built like towers, since a more-or-less continuous thrust from "below" would provide a semblance of gravity? Why has none of these graphic artists looked at plausible starship designs and realizes the living quarters are tiny compared to the engines.

    Why aren't spaceships spherical? Conical? Icosahedral? Toroid?

    I mean, take this one: http://www.tullisart.com/fdg0006.html First off, it's like some Star Fleet Battles mutant offspring of Federation and Gorn cruisers who had a little too much dilithium one night. Second, each of the saucers is one floor. ONE! They're connected by long hallways with airlocks on both ends. Why? One hit and your ship is in two pieces. If I ever use this map -- and the interior is fairly nice -- I'll assume that the three saucers are actually three levels of an oblate spheroid craft ... or the crew area atop giant engines.

    OK, now that I've gotten that off my chest ... has anyone seen "plausible" floor plans of a spaceship or starship, as an RPG supplement or not? Anyone feel like designing one?
    "On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."
    - Charles Babbage (1791 - 1871)

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    Well, as you pointed out, the ship design would depend on what level of technology the builders were capable of at the time. If you had artificial gravity inducers and a FTL drive, perhaps you could get away with designing your ships in a more nautical fashion.

    For other kinds of ships, you might be able to get away with borrowing maps from other sources and modifying them. For example, a map of the residential levels of a tower-like continuous thrust spacecraft (as seen in the new Heinlein/Robinson book Variable Star) might be easily replicated by simply using the plans from a high-rise apartment building.

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    Whenever I design my own ships, I consider what level of technology I am using in the campaign. I don't run many near space, low tech campaigns, so most of my ships are designed more like aircraft or nautical ships because the technology available means they have artificial gravity.

    From the quick look I took at the one ship design you provided, I'd say they're using high tech which allows for artificial gravity. I haven't seen many ships that are designed around low tech.

    I remember one ship I designed that had two floors in every room. It was a cylinder, that once the ship was coasting, after acceleration, they would spin up the cylinder and use the outer hull as the floor, when they were in acceleration/deceleration mode though they used the bulkheads that were perpendicular to the length of the ship and split the ship into sections.

    The thrust from the acceleration/deceleration generated the gravity at that point. But I didn't run that campaign for too long.
    Skunk
    a.k.a. Johnprime



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    Quote Originally Posted by gurusloth View Post
    If you had artificial gravity inducers and a FTL drive, perhaps you could get away with designing your ships in a more nautical fashion.
    But then, why does the artificial gravity have to work along a plane in a vector perpendicular to the direction of motion? (Woo, pseudo-math.) Maybe it emanates from the rear drive. Maybe it comes from the core of a cylindrical or spherical ship ... or the hull, as part of the shields. Maybe, to fit odd spaces or odd minds, it comes from arbitrary directions based on which deck you're on and where you're going, like M.C. Escher's "Relativity".

    Even for fantasy gamers, imagine a version of Expedition to the Barrier Peaks where the players have to realize the ship is, in fact, upside down.
    "On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."
    - Charles Babbage (1791 - 1871)

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    The Warden from Metamorphisis Alpha?

    http://www.metamorphosisalpha.com/ma1map.html

    I mean, it's crude as heck but seemed to make a loose sort of sense when your talking about THE terraforming vehicle of the future. Well, the future as percieved in the 70's...

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    Quote Originally Posted by TwoGunBob View Post
    The Warden from Metamorphisis Alpha?

    http://www.metamorphosisalpha.com/ma1map.html
    Well, it's still a fore-and-aft design, with ludicrously small and off-center Star-Trekky engines. But it's not a big stretch to use the interior floorplan and hypothesize cyclopean fusion engines underneath, or a set of ramscoops, or preposterium space-warping drives under the lowest level.

    My beef isn't with the size of a ship's living space, but its layout. Maybe also I balk at the size of the engines for a craft that traverses interplanetary or interstellar distances; I suppose if you want a bunch of riffraff to own their own ship, you have to presume propulsion is so advanced it's about the size of a jet engine, but it still stretches credulity.
    "On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."
    - Charles Babbage (1791 - 1871)

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    The reasoning behind these ship designs has nothing to do with real physics. These designs are familar, easy for most people to wrap thier head around. Until people start regularly building ships in the shapes you talk about the most common designs you will see in games will be based on familiar designs like nautical craft or aircraft. As far as aircraft style designs go, this shape actually makes sense for all but capital class ships because of the potential need for using spaceports. As for the whole gravity plane thing. Unless the gravity generators can only pull toward a single fixed point on the ship(with a spherical ship thus being the most suitable design). Then a flat plane with only one established down would play the least havoc on human anatomy. Ask anyone who knows about the space program, it doesn't take long in zero G to mess a human up. And the disorientation of switching gravity directions. Can you say violently ill.
    Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.

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    My original rant came from the perspective of trying to run a "hard science" campaign. Current science admits no plausible way of generating gravity, or moving FTL.

    On the other hand, most space games are less about realistic technological capabilities and more about the ultimate freedom of going anywhere in the universe in the Millennium Falcon/Serenity/Enterprise/White Star/Liberator/whatever.

    Quote Originally Posted by shilar View Post
    These designs are familar, easy for most people to wrap thier head around. Until people start regularly building ships in the shapes you talk about the most common designs you will see in games will be based on familiar designs like nautical craft or aircraft. As far as aircraft style designs go, this shape actually makes sense for all but capital class ships because of the potential need for using spaceports.
    Planet-base spaceports assume ships can go in and out of the gravity well easily. Especially at lower TLs, a more reasonable solution is to have shuttles from the ground to an orbital station or ship, and then ships optimized for deep space.

    Quote Originally Posted by shilar View Post
    Then a flat plane with only one established down would play the least havoc on human anatomy. Ask anyone who knows about the space program, it doesn't take long in zero G to mess a human up. And the disorientation of switching gravity directions. Can you say violently ill.
    There are some games/worlds, notably GURPS Transhuman Space, that assume the residents of orbitals and extraterrestrial colonies might be genetically engineered to live in micro-G or zero-G without adverse health effects. (Usually, Earth-like gravity messes them up, although I'd assume spacefaring parahumans would also be used to constant acceleration to travel between planets.)

    I'm beginning to think that, if I ever run a SF game, I'll gloss over space travel entirely, and just assume the players got to the planet via Guild Highliner, generation ship, or TARDIS.
    "On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."
    - Charles Babbage (1791 - 1871)

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    Star Frontiers

    If you can get a hold of some old Star Frontiers material, they ships were desighed along your tower ideas. That game system HAD gravity simulated by constant thrust.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fmitchell View Post
    I'm beginning to think that, if I ever run a SF game, I'll gloss over space travel entirely, and just assume the players got to the planet via Guild Highliner, generation ship, or TARDIS.
    At the very least, you and your players will need to have some idea of how they got to where they are, which will help set the tone. If they came on a generation ship, then they may have adapted a very different culture than the one they came from. They will also have no direct knowledge or connection to the planet of their original launch, and may even lack motivation for leaving the ship at all.

    On the other hand, if you use the mechanism of cryofreezing or time dilution to explain how they traveled such a long distance without FTL and without aging very much, then the characters may be people who didn't have much to loose back on Earth (or wherever they came from). They will have left everything that they knew behind and as a result they may be more determined to make the mission and the sacrifice a success.

    So, the technology behind it doesn't have to be greatly detailed, but how the characters got to where they are will have some baring on their character motivations and backgrounds.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Farcaster View Post
    At the very least, you and your players will need to have some idea of how they got to where they are, which will help set the tone.
    No, I get that. Your examples are very good, BTW.

    I just meant I'd worry less about the travel aspects (apart from time and mechanism), and more about what happens on the planet/moon/orbital. That cuts out the complexity (and, admittedly, the fun) of designing spaceships and space combat.

    Although I could see myself running a game inside a generation ship, sort of like Metamorphosis Alpha replacing "mutants" and psi with a "transhuman" society. Might keep the accident and the aliens, though ...
    "On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."
    - Charles Babbage (1791 - 1871)

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    I like the designs, but since I am going to be using the Star Wars setting they can work for me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fmitchell View Post
    OK, now that I've gotten that off my chest ... has anyone seen "plausible" floor plans of a spaceship or starship, as an RPG supplement or not? Anyone feel like designing one?
    There are a LOT fo questions to be asked there.

    What technology? What function? All of that affects how a ship is designed.

    In a super hero game, we had a condition where Iron man like super-rockets were released to the wild.

    One of the results of this was a "Llama" a cone shaped ship based on various SSTO designs. They had the super rockets, but they didn't get any of the other super technology designs.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_DC-X

    Anyway - After a couple of attempts to run games with limited and more sensible technology development lines, I gave up and ran Star Wars. It works as a role playing game and I don[t have to argue engineering and costs of development issues with my friends.

    Jay ~Meow!~

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    Quote Originally Posted by InfoStorm View Post
    If you can get a hold of some old Star Frontiers material, they ships were desighed along your tower ideas. That game system HAD gravity simulated by constant thrust.
    There are still people who play Star Frontiers, although far and few between. There is some of the old stuff at the SF site. http://www.starfrontiers.com/modules/
    Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.


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    Quote Originally Posted by jayphailey View Post
    What technology? What function? All of that affects how a ship is designed.
    My definition of "realistic" was to discount any technology not possible by current physical theories. We can generate pseudo-gravity by walking around the inside of a rotating cylinder, but unless there's some new experimentally-confirmed physical theory I'm not aware of, the only source of true gravity is a big freaking mass. FTL violates Einsteinian Relativity, and "force fields" are an SF writers' invention of desperation.

    So, no artificial gravity, no FTL drive, and no force field generators, to name three. Given those constraints, I was thinking of the full gamut of functions: interplanetary freighters, scout ships, military ships of various sizes, even interstellar ships (generation or suspended animation). Of course, if one assumes reaction drives are still slow, so that Earth to Mars takes months instead of days, interplanetary travel becomes immensely harder, and only exploration vessels, colony ships, orbital stations, and ground-to-orbit planes would remain practical.
    "On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."
    - Charles Babbage (1791 - 1871)

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