Friday, November 17, 2017

Gravity is a Blast

Diesel tech is equal to real world technology in many regards and behind it in several (user interfaces, programming, electronics and information storage). The area it really shines in is its generation, insulation and direction of gravity (or at least a force like gravity but let us not quibble).

As Winchell Chung has said one of his peeves is gravity manipulation that is merely used to keep everyone on a spaceship agreeing on which way is up. In the dieselpunk setting gravity generators attract or repel the good old sun to travel great distances at appreciable acceleration (usually several meters.)

In orbit around a planet the engines are capable of several gees of acceleration. On a moon or small body generators are purposely built to raise gravity to Mars levels at least two prevent muscle and bone degeneration. Some have touted gravity control as being able to create pressure curtains of air to replace airlocks but sadly these have a knack for pulverizing organic tissue (and soft metals) passing through. They also present safety issues in combat or when a ship takes damage and most of the ways around this involve using a regular mechanical airlock. the irony is not lost on the engineers.

In the case of spacecraft gravity control could be used for docking in a pinch (the control was there but the gravity effects persisted a bit after being shut down) though thrusters worked better. It could create a gravity field on the hull of a ship making space walks safer and repairs a little easier. It could also be used to tractor in personnel and other small objects adrift in space.

The Mercurians were the first to use gravity control for communications. Holding a gravity beam focused across astronomical units was already done for ship drives. Modifying a weak beam to register on a mass detector was a simple modification. True beams could only be modulated fast enough for morse or crude audio, but nothing could stop them. Radio transmitters on Mercury were frequently blacked out by solar activity. The Mercurians implemented a massive upgrade to a gravity wave system.

it was the Earth that used gravity control to invent the blaster.

Blasters were the mythical big wallop pistols so beloved of media real. Any physicist will tell you a man firing a pistol at another and knocking them flying is ridiculous. Bullets didn't have that much impact and the laws of momentum would say that the pistol applying such force to a projectile would be thrown violently back. Someone decided a gun firing a repulser beam was doable and controllable.

A two handed grip was recommended. If you were much below average size you just didn't fire one of the things. This reduced the blaster's appeal. Other problems were the waste heat and radiation that resembled small thunderclaps in an atmosphere. But most embarrassing was the darned thing's tendency to melt and take a few fingers with it. Energy technology just didn't scale down that small.

The problem was partly solved by using resistors a cylinder. If the energy dump didn't proceed properly a resistor would blow before it got too bad. It was an improvement as it usually only took one finger (and sometimes only the first joint). Nevertheless some officer somewhere wanted it to work so development continued.

Special Forces issued blasters made an extraordinary effort to lose or break them.They did admit in the hands of a (large) skilled user they were spectacular for speaking confusion. If it fired. It it didn't cremate the user's hands.

Then a bright boy decided the exploding resistors worked better as a design feature than a flaw. Power was dumped into a repulser generator. Some of it went into a resistor (usually a tungsten composite)  that vaporized. The small stream of melted metal was 'blasted' away from the weapon and down a column of vacuum created by the repulsion beam a micro second before. The blast had the advantage of carrying waste heat away from the weapon and putting it to some good use. it was hoped the forces of entropy wouldn't notice.

The repulsion beam would hit the target with the force of a sledgehammer, knocking most people flat.  The stream of molten metal (somewhat solid after a few meters would add injury to injury actually inflicting a burn and a possible electrical shock from plasma carried along with it.

Blaster pistols held six shots. That was the number of shots judged to be safe for a firer's wrists. In practice users learned to reload the things quickly in a firefight. Rifle versions were soon produced. They didn't have anymore fire power but the recoil was easier to control. Some users added a hook under the barrel to let users brace the weapon on a wall oral and spare their shoulders somewhat.

The Martian foe is more advanced in energy weaponry than Earth people and has a number of smaller and more powerful weapons including a 'disintegrator'. A disintegrator was capable of turning a human being into a problem for forensic specialists (with microscopes). The exact way waste heat was eliminated is still unknown.

Disintegrators in media are portrayed as scrupulously neat weapons. They hit you, you glow and are gone. In the real world disintegration means breaking a target down into smidgens. Matter is not destroyed but strewn all over the place. Disintegrators would be far more potent if their range was not so limited. They remain the modern equivalent of the Old Earth flamethrower: extremely potent within their range and scary as hell.

Some manufacturers tweaked the plasma created when the resistor blew to create pulses or beams of 'light', actually relatively slow moving pulses of plasma. SpecFor never went in for these features. True you could follow them to see where your beam impacted, but the salient point was your opponents could follow them back to your position which led not end well for you. Some action hero types were portrayed in media as being quick enough to dodge blaster bolts or even deflate them with various contrivances.

In reality the repulsive bolt traveled at light speed hitting it's targets long before a 'pulse' would reach it and the spray of tungsten was even twice the speed of the 'light'. Attempts by wags to block blasters in the field did not end well. SpecFor denied that it had gotten the entertainment industry to purposely stage such deflection events in their action movies to goad their enemies into suicidal heroics.

Monday, November 13, 2017

EF Sticks

The equipment was officially designated Electro Magnetic Frequency Scanner/Jammer. Predictably SpecFor agents short it to EF Sticks. Then they were ef-sticks. Then F--- Sticks with good reason.

The EMFS/J was a small compact and hellaciously powerful radio frequency scanner. It could pinpoint transmissions and jam them. Power was provided by a customized solium fuel cell and later paired conductite superconductor rings. The 'stick' had a protective cover that was closed when not in use. Pushing the button on the side opened the cover and extended a small antenna. Pressing the square red button under the cover initiated jamming. Up to four signals could be jammed at once.

The incredibly compact power source was a problem. If damaged badly sticks could explode with the force of several sticks of dynamite. Ruggedized construction made that unlikely for any damage that would leave the operator alive (those are really tough covers.)

SpecFor agents used them to disrupt communications of ground forces to delay response or confuse pursuit. In many cases they would have to leave the stick behind as it would draw fire. Eventually someone realized the power sources had another function and wired their stick to explode if tampered with. The new practice was to turn the jammer on, rig it to explode and leave it for the enemy to find. They had the choice of leaving it on or disarming it and risking an explosion (which they were  unaware of the first few times they encountered the sticks).

Eventually the Brass got wind of this highly unorthodox and effective procedure, issued orders to the engineers and the explosive feature was upgraded fro flaw to design feature. The new explosive mode was activated by hitting both red buttons then giving the handle a half twist. The manual recommended leaving at a brisk pace. Most SpecFor agents opted to run like hell.

The aggressor forces grew tired of being blown up while doing their job and their new protocol was to disintegrate sticks when they encountered them. The sticks were small targets and an off center hit was likely to flip it around and set it off. In addition disintegrators were short ranged and increasing the explosion radius  beyond the disintegrator radius was doable. Some agents opted for slipping a non-metallic fragmentation cover over a stick before dropping it to increase lethality. SpecFor agents are notorious for dirty tricks in the field.

A number of copies and knock-offs have found their way into the black market. The explosive trait may be more of a flaw in these than a design feature. The 'civilian' models also may have a flaw when're counter jamming can activate the explosive mode.

(thanks to Luke Campbell for superconductor warheads in his Vergeworld series, Raymond McVay for development,and Winchell Chung for ubiquitous posts and help developing this shiny)

Friday, November 10, 2017

Second Life for the Luna Class

The Luna class began a a lie. Earth was getting ready to throw her weight around in the Solar System and needed intelligence of every sort. The class could function as a lab ship doing research or be modified to serve as a warship in a week or less. Furthermore, the research facilities, two labs and a library could quickly be converted to quarters to hold a squad of special forces.

The Martians and Outer Moons looked suspiciously at the class' four triple fire launchers. "Pirates," Earth explained. Likewise the 40 tons of armor was purely a defensive measure.

When hostilities began it was with the Venusians and another problem came up: the ships were not great at providing ground support. This was regarded as inaccurate targeting systems. It was later discovered the ordinance was flawed and special ground bombardment rounds were developed.

In the meantime Earth's solution to ground support for troops in the Venusian jungle were a variety of heavily armed aerospace scouts. Several Luna Class were hurriedly converted to carriers. The library and a lab were converted to quarters and a flight room. Three of the four airlocks were converted grapple throwers. Instead of firing a high powered magnetic grapples they were now docking collars for three interceptors. The eco armor lock was retained because the suits were deemed useful to make repairs underway. The ship's armor was stripped to avoid mass issues. Deemed a new class it was named the Binary.

In the process the Earth military discovered that the Luna was an excellent starting point for other related classes. The central section of the ship was laid out in seven forty ton decks. The ship design bureau got to work and began building a variety of standardized decks they could stack to create different capabilities for different missions.

The Binary class allowed rapid transport of the fighters and was much more likely to survive than freighters. In addition the fighters could and did launch from orbit to conduct raids and land at field bases. The real vetting of the class came when Earth mounted an expedition against the pirates troubling Ceres and its allies. The ship could bring 7 turrets to bear  counting the fighters and was a very effective force multiplier. The ship's fuel refinery allowed it to mine for water and refine fuel for the fighters.

Some people argued that 'Binary' was incorrect as this was a constellation of four ships (not counting the EVA suits). Quaternary didn't have the right ring to it and Primary was considered too ostentatious.

There were mishaps with the class that only space operations showed. The carried craft were difficult to board under anything but a gee or less. There were still accidents boarding them, climbing through a tube and swinging into a forward seat some pilots kicked the wrong buttons. Another problem was with the interceptors' wings. The Luna and Binary were tractor rockets, the engines mounted on top and blasting just far enough from the hull to keep from scorching it. The original interceptors had a greater wingspan and higher tail assembly and pilots complained the tips of their wings were bing burnt off. the tail assembly was redesigned int a canard style and the wingspan reduced. The wings were more or less a Plan B incase the lifter engines failed. New design theory holds that wings are superfluous except to mount more equipment but the military are traditionalists. Besides, wings are great to draw fire away from the fuselage where the important stuff (like pilots) is stored. Pilot maintain that the cooler the wings look the faster the ship is.

Two seat Interceptor (the joke among the ground troops is: Why does it need two crew? One pilot reads and one writes!)

A few flight crew also complained of sickness due to proximity to the R-ray. Present doctrine is to kill all engines briefly for a launch.

Forty tons of auxiliary craft makes for a potent multipurpose vessel. Instead of military craft Primary carriers can operate cargo shuttle or search and rescue vessels. the class' future in the Earth military looks bright.

IRL the Luna has gotten completely revised and will be the subject of my next project. Here's a sneak peek.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Diesel Powered Fighters

Okay first of all this started out as a project titled Scout Rocket. I began this because I felt I was hitting a wall with several other endeavors and needed a change of pace. Now you know how I work.

I originally envisioned something akin to this:

If you don't recognize the source material you're obviously a new reader. I liked this design but 1) I wanted something more original my own style 2) I wasn't happy with the lines on it in general and felt I needed to work on my curves and such. After several tries I got this which I was comfortable with i.e. it needed a lot of tweaks. I tried to make it look similar to the Luna in some regards (note the Luna has undergone some big changes that I will be showcasing soon. The red rods are engine exhausts the yellow rods are where the dacha for the guns go.

Still not happy I was looking over the fighter and had an 'Enterprise Incident'. When they were developing the the original Star Trek supposedly someone flipped the Enterprise model upside down and Roddenberry decided it looked better that way (I'm not putting up photographs of both views, the Pre Crime Unit of Paramount just called to tell me not to. ;))

Anyway I reversed it (which mainly involved changing the dakka dakka and the engine exhaust colors and making the former tie assembly smaller and more akin to a speeder bike's probes or whatever they are.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to go with both. I'm not sure which one I like better. As to their use, well the product that is based n the Luna just got a lot bigger.

See a major part of Luna is composed of 40 dTon circular decks. It occurs to me that makes modifying the Luna class fairly easy, Just choose what decks you want to go into the latest model. So you can have a lab ship, a cargo ship etc. all built on the same hulls essentially. Since all the hulls are laid out with fuel tankage and auxiliary systems in place creating new ships should be comparatively easy. I just need to create a flight deck now and I'll have a carrier version.

Oh yeah, both are two seaters because in dieselpunk you need two people to handle all the number crunching and engine monitoring. Automation is for sissies.

That's it for now. More dieselpunked vehicles for gaming coming soon.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Bright Shinies

Like anyone else I love it when my characters have bright shines to play with. I also love dieselpunk and drawing gear for it is not as easy for me as rendering gear that looks like 'modern' futuristic equipment.

In many ways it is similar to the quandary the the developers of Enterprise faced. they couldn't have gear that looked more advanced than the original series and yet cellular phones were quite common and making the previously cool communicators with the flip grill look dated already.

With dieselpunk you need to make something that looks vaguely 1940's vintage but also has futuristic elements to it. I worked up some principles to follow, at least for my stuff.

1) It's clunkier than 'mainstream' SF gear. A communicator that can reach orbit will be the size of an old style phone receiver. But it will have some cool striping to let you know its futuristic and be capable of video calls.

2) Angles. Lots of angles. Streamlined gear is too modern looking. You want a comm that you could beat someone to death with? You came to the right place.

3) Gear is usually single purpose or has a few related purposes. The comm-corder for example is to make and store video and logs. It also has a night vision setting and that's abut it. If you want to transfer recordings to your computer you either remove the internal drive or hook up a cable. Wifi is not dieselpunk. It's a Martian conspiracy!

4) Some of the gear is fragile. Yes you can still kill a person with it but you might break a lens. The comm-corder has a shield that flips over the lens when not in use or keeps buttons from being broken if you drop it when the friendly fauna you're recording goes demogorgon on you.

5) Equipment requires additional time and perhaps some skill to operate. Take the very rare multi-scanner (TM). The toggles on the left are verbs such as measure, map, track, compare. The toggles on the right are quantities the device could measure: ionizing radiation, EM, gravity waves etc. There are switches for modifiers, conditions etc there as well. While in actual play the device could perform most of the functions of a tricorder (real TM) it would require some programming knowledge and perhaps a round or two, not the instantaneous scans of say that ghost detector app for you smartphone.

As a final note most of this stuff is not pocket sized. They can be outfitted with straps or carried in cases when not in use. Small packs may be necessary.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Cost of Business

All traders know there will come a time when you are hailed, intercepted and boarded and you'd damned well better make the right decisions or risk getting your freighter shot to pieces, see your crew get shot to pieces and lose everything.

The enemy has the weapons, has the troops, and the skill. They are the Patrol!


The Fleet is the creation of a number of advanced and populated worlds. It exists to preserve the status quo, the fat freighter plying their way between major centers of commerce. They have the tax base to let them by the big ships, pay their crews the premium salaries and get the best and brightest. Any pirates operating in the core worlds better have a masterful plan, make their score and then go into cold sleep for a few hundred years.

Out on the Frontier ... there is still commerce and trade (much of it legal). There are also pirates as always. The Frontier has the Patrol, armed well enough to raise merry Hell with one or more pirate ships. It's a smaller, leaner operation and it is chronically underfunded. The worlds that support it have less money, less of s pool of skilled crew. They need as many ships as possible to cover as many hot spots as possible. How do they pay for this?

Asset forfeiture!

The business model is simplicity itself. Most traders smuggle at least part of the time. Nearly everyone's smuggled at least once. Make a trader pull over and you have a decent chance of finding some swag. What then? The Patrol does not maintain extensive correctional facilities and most planetary governments don't want the refuse of space crowding out their native felons. The easiest ways to punish for nonviolent crimes is fining, suspending licenses, and exile.

Under fines read confiscating your cargo (all of it) and maybe your ship for a serious enough smuggling offense. Knowing what goods are contraband or may be regarded as such on your port of cal is a big job. It's where your deckmasters pay for themselves several times over.

For a big enough offense the entire ship may be forfeit. This rarely happens because one case of this can scare the free traders away for years. It is a great tool for starting up your own shipping line and keeping outsiders from competing with you. But then your trade efforts might still be hampered for some time. Other free traders may not want to support an organization that started out screwing their own.

The Banks have a handy solution to the immense power of asset forfeiture the Patrol wields. In the case of a mortgaged ship being seized, only part of that ship belongs to the offending party. The rest belongs to the Bank and in such cases the Patrol gladly hands over the ship in exchange for a fraction of the principal already paid to the Bank. The Bank gets a ship back that it can mortgage again, the Patrol gets a fat check, and evildoers are punished. Sometimes Banks even let these ships go cheap since they are often used. there might be problems with former owners seeking to steal the ship for various reasons (hidden compartments, vital information encoded on the computer etc.)

Please note in many cases the Bank turns right around and remortgages the ship to the same poor slob that it was confiscated from. Hey, crews don't grow on trees, every day that ship is sitting in a port it could be earning money for the shareholders. Besides, the so called lawbreakers already passed a background check once! So they broke a local law! It happens.

Note that the Patrol could sell these confiscated ships and pay the rest of the principle in the mortgage, but seldom has the interest or networking to get a good price. Also the Banks pay taxes and wield a lot of clout in many local governments. You don't want to tick them off.

Less extreme than asset forfeiture is the phenomenon of spot inspections. A bunch of Patrol inspectors boards you and finds your vessel to be a flying deathtrap. Stiff fines ensue! Or someone 'notes/ a leak of a vital commodity (fuel, propellant, air) just as it is vented explosively (did someone nudge a switch?). What a pity. The nice Patrol Captain is willing to sell your some more fuel or whatever at triple cost.

All these dirty trick can be done by space port inspectors. They aren't done commonly because the Patrol usually gets to traders first and getting gouged by a Patrol ship is avoidable in theory, if they can't intercept. The way you avoid gouging on planet is avoiding that planet. Not good for business.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Care and Feeding of Space Fleet Crew in the Diesel Age

Let's talk about uniforms. Uniforms have several functions beyond keeping your backside from sticking to the furniture (though that may be the most important!)

Uniforms allow you to recognize a member of the service.

Uniforms provide some measure of protection.

Uniforms provide pockets.

Space Fleet uniforms are made of nonflammable material. The basic uniform onboard ship consists of a light blue coverall with green piping down the legs and boots (either high boots or ankle height). Sleeveless and legless green overalls are often worn over this.

The Space Fleet is fairly easy going regarding uniforms onboard ships and in transit. Small personal touches are allowed. In addition while the uniforms are designated male or fem crew are welcome to wear whichever version is more comfortable to them.

The basic uniform consists of a blue coverall and boots. The boots have ankle and shin reinforcements. The protection is not only good for  using a lifter belt, it is helpful in low gravity maneuvering. Crew sometimes try 'stunts' to traverse several decks under low gravity levels and forget that while their weight is reduced their mass is the same and they can build up a good head of steam. Already ankle and leg injuries are down 40% in the Fleet with the use of this foot wear.

Unfortunately wrist and arm injuries are up 40%. The fleet is looking into wrist and elbow guards.

As you can see the uniforms *have* pockets. The pockets seal closed for zero gravity situations.

Branch is indicated by the collar and cuffs. The Space Fleet generally does not bother with rank insignia aboard ships. Rank badges are reserved for dress uniforms. Anyone transferring ships is advised to learn the hierarchy quickly.

The blue collars and cuffs mark these crew as Engineering. The Engineer on the left is further differentiated by the yellow tag on her collar and yellow striping in her hairband as dealing with airlocks and extravehicular activity.

The crew have hair at the maximum length allowed by regulations. This is for ease in donning spacesuits. Hair bands and scrunchies are required. If gravity goes out or a ship moves suddenly a crew might get hair whipping in their eyes during a crucial moment.

Engineers almost always wear specialized boots with reinforced steel toes just in case someone drops something heavy.

As a further note, most crew are allowed jewelry such as rings and chokers. Engineers are not due to safety concerns. electrocution and getting your necklace caught in machinery is never fashionable.

Officers have a white collar and cuffs. these officers have added over tunics to their basic uniform. this is pretty common. Engineering does not usually do this because the tunic gets in the way when crawling through machinery. The officer on the right is outfitted for a landing party with a compressor mask and eyescreen used for missions on Mars or a desert area. He's also wearing lifter breaches, similar to riding breaches with extra leg room for making jumps. The fem version of the tunic opens in the back and the make version on the side. Both tunics have straps running under the legs and arms that a lifter belt attaches to. They also have supplemental pockets. The officer on the left is wearing jewelry to give an idea of acceptable ornaments.

Some crew wear lifter belts onboard their ship to transit decks fairly quickly. Other just prefer wearing the tunics because the basic uniform feels like pajamas.

Billed cps are not used in the Fleet in general. Crew using billed caps have to turn the bills around to ascend ladders for safety reasons, the crew all carry goggles for eye protection and it's too easy to catch the bill on machinery in the engineering sections. Also if anything a space helmet can go over a sift cap in an emergency. You don't need to take it off.

Deckhands are designated with red collars and cuffs. They are usually relatively new to the Fleet and low ranking, Deckhands are extra crew carried in case personnel are incapacitated. Their major function is to handle damage control and first aid. When they aren't doing that they could be performing maintenance, swabbing decks or assisting personnel in almost any task. They also double as ship's troops. In some cases personnel remain deckhands after several years or for their whole career because they prefer the constantly changing duties. Highly experienced hands of this sort are prized.

This deckhand is wearing goggles with light enhancing lenses (like the engineers). Not everyone puts up with the added weight of the light enhancement gear and most goggles are not equipped.Almost everyone wears goggles onboard ship or has them handy. For one thing, low gravity plays hell with vision over long term exposure engorging and warping eyes. The goggles have an electro massage feature that alleviates this. Crew operating in the machine shop or laboratory may be exposed to metal filings or other contaminants and the goggles provide protection as well. Finally in the event of a micr meteor strike or combat it is possible for the inner hull to be breeched. Most breaches are a few centimeters across and will take several minutes (at least) for pressure to drop dangerously but winds from these hull can whip debris into eyes and blind unprotected crew at crucial moments.

Medical branch is designated by green collars and cuffs. This doctor replaced the over tunic with a smock and the lifter foot wear with comfortable ship shoes. She is clearly happy with a more sedentary set of duties.

Gunners are designated with yellow collars and cuffs. They also will wear their over tunics and lifter belts on duty. This is because reloads for the big guns can weigh over 100 kilos and lifter belts help enormously with reloading. Gunners are often the most adept crew at changing the lift settings on their belts to let them tote heavy loads. Sometimes they even use the winches set up for that purpose.

Warships seldom carry troops. They are simply not designed to move people in large numbers and the Fleet usually commandeers civilian liners or sleeper freighters for large troop movements. Special Forces are the exception to this. Special forces operate in small teams of two to five operatives. They are part of the Fleet by necessity, troops have to pitch in with the regular crew on a flight. In general they operate as deckhands, performing maintenance and aiding more skilled crew. Some Spectfor members wear mission badges on their caps. Others believe mission badges are bad luck or tempting fate. Badges record numbers in the same fashion as Roman numerals (| = X, / = V and o =I). Those officer has completed 16 missions (|/o = XVI). The uniform's tunic contains some armor, not enough to matter against modern weapons but able to stop clubs or a knife thrust.

In general uniforms are simply ignored unless you need a character sketch. You might consider using the gear worn when assessing saves. Perhaps using your lift belt to drop down the length of the ship is a dicey idea but you rightfully point out that you're wearing those lovely boots and deserve a +1. perhaps later you're trying to be stealthy and you hard soled reinforced boots give you a -1. In general things should even out and again the uniform pictures I posted are just for color, to develop a look for my world. though you might get into an argument with your CO over those mission badges you clipped to your cap.