Thursday, October 23, 2014

Back Issues #6 - That's No Moon

I like science fiction. I read a fair bit of it, I enjoy watching science fiction film and TV, and, when I can find them, I usually enjoy SF RPGs. I rarely run science fiction games however. I'm not wired for it as a GM/ST. I'm not in tune with high tech, and my brain rarely fires on the cylinders needed for a proper science fiction game. However the occasional idea does spring to mind...

Issue #6: That's No Moon.

I'm a big fan of megastructures and mega-engineering. That is, objects designed and built on a scale of thousands of kilometers. Dyson Spheres, Stellar Engines, Skyhooks, and Bernal Spheres are all examples. Another example is the Ringworld as described by author Larry Niven. People today know the concept from a little series of moderately video games called Halo.

These capture my imagination because they are, at this time, well beyond our capability to produce. While a Skyhook or Bernal Sphere could potentially be built in the near future it would involve a massive effort and dedication of resources, the likes of which we have yet seen. Not only do these structures represent a level of technological prowess that we simply do not possess at this time, they also represent feats of engineering who's scale is truly mind boggling. While one can easily envision a sphere large enough to surround the sun at the orbit of the Earth it is another matter to comprehend that the usable surface area of such a sphere would be 550 million times that of the Earth.

Similar to megastructures another aspect of science fiction that is well beyond our current technological level, and engineering ability, is faster than light travel, or FTL. Be it space folding, space warping, wormholes, hyperspace, or something else this technology is a staple in science fiction stories and RPGs. Sometimes this tech is built into the ships that use it. The Macross/SDF-1 had a spacefold engine, the ships in Star Wars slip into hyperspace easily, humans routinely create temporary wormholes in the Stargate franchise, and in Babylon 5 hyperspace is accessed through openings generated either by the largest capital ships or by gates that are the cornerstone of interstellar travel and commerce for smaller vessels.

Back when Pluto, poor little Pluto, got demoted to the status of Dwarf Planet I had spent a little while reading up on our former little planet. Poor little guy is out there all by himself (editor's note, this was written before some of the dwarf planets out in Pluto's neighborhood were proven) and now he's not even a planet. It's sad. Now every time I think of starting my own SF game I keep putting a jumpgate of some kind (the how it works is unimportant at this stage) out there with Pluto. I have for years, well before the demotion to Dwarf Planet status. Often said device was left by a prior civilization, or perhaps by one waiting and watching for Earth to mature. This idea is hardly new, the Monolith from 2001 was basically an gate/sentinel left behind to await mankind's contact.

The inspiration struck. 

I though to myself "What if Pluto WAS the jumpgate?" After pondering this I wondered how it was powered since solar energy would be minimal and nuclear fission or fusion would need fuel. I decided instead that Charon, Pluto's moon, was the gate itself. In my head the moon would more or less collapse into a wormhole when active, or maybe open up in some way to reveal a teleportal, or hyperspace entry; again the specifics were unimportant at this stage. With Charon (appropriately named) as the actual "gate mechanism, Pluto itself became the energy generator/provider. Still I was unhappy because either Pluto was piping hot with nuclear material, a massive chemical battery, or it was a huge fusion reactor with impossibly perfect insulation which prevented emissions that would have been detected in our studies of the dwarf planet. None of those ideas seemed plausible, nor did they appeal to me.

Then I thought, "What if Pluto was only part of the power system?"

Mercury is the smallest true planet and also closest to our sun. An ideal location to absorb a tremendous amount of free solar energy. So what, then, if Mercury was a solar energy absorber that somehow beamed/transmitted energy to a storage and conversion system that was Pluto. Pluto would then have all the energy it needed to provide the power for Charon to activate and facilitate FTL travel. It had a certain bizarre elegance to it. It also struck me as a solid foundation for an in game mystery, "Who created these devices on such awesome scale?"

Is it an original idea? Probably not in the long scale of it, but it is to my knowledge a novel application of previously tread on ideas. That's good enough for me.

What gets you thinking about science fiction games? What ideas do you have that could add to a potential science fiction setting or game?