Lately, I have noted a small revival of Star Frontiers, with several articles and rules variants. Here is my contribution-- an article I wrote several years ago to flesh out interstellar travel via 'the Void'. I hope you enjoy it. Please write TimC27@aol.com if you have any comments. Please share and enjoy.... just don't take any money, give any money, give proper attribution, etc.
Shah KRaaakkk!!! Laser light raked out form the darkness, tracing a blackened scar across the wing. The retreating assault scout, smooth and clean an instant before, now had a jagged exclamation mark of fused metal next to the name-plate of the fleeing ship. The "Moondancer" was lucky. The blast was a solid hit, but a few feet to the left, and one atomic motor would be useless slag.
"That one came damn close to making us into cut bait, Tragg" Ktree cried. The 'monkey' as usual made no attempt to hide his anger, barely containing his characteristic war-whooping. His long, spidery fingers danced over the engineering console, which now lit up with several dozen red lights insisting on attention.
"Cool year jets, you ape," came the terse response, "I got my face full 'a bogies on radar, and I don't have time for it!" Almost casually, the glossy black face-plate slid up and away from the face of the visor, and covered the name stenciled onto the plastic crown "Cap. Traggert Moldo". He squinted his already pinched eyes as he bent over to look in the hooded display of the nav' computer. His face lit up with the reflected blasts of AR's, assault rockets exploding just out of range. For the moment the dancer was safe. The 'worms' never got the first few rockets on target. Lasers were one thing, AR's another. But a few more volleys,...
Tragg peered deeper into the green terminal, watching the numbers roll by. He was almost willing the right combination to lock the astrogation fix., but for the moment he had to wait. What good would it be to jump out of a system swarming with Sathar, only to wind up lost in deep space.
Another explosion. Waves of concussive force made the welds in the 'Dancer groan. The violence of the blast meant this time it was no 'AR'.
"Torpedo's, 'Mon Capitan'," The hollow. booming voice crackled over the intercom, "Don't worry, Fool gave it a good-bye kiss." The comment ended with the familiar smack of pseudopodal lips.
"Nice going, Fool," Tragg crackled back. He felt funny saying it that way, especially when the little blob, a crack shot with the laser battery, had just saved their lives, blasting the torp moments before it struck. But after all, it was the Dral's name.
"No Fool like an old fool", Fool Bol yelled up from the gunnery deck. Urgency checked his voice, and he immediately sobered up. "Looks like her sisters are looking for revenge!"
"Looks to be about twelve, ..., all torpedoes."
Tragg didn't have to wait to hear the last part. His visor slid back into place, and ignoring the numbers on the nav' computer, he punched the throttle.
"We're smoking this jump, boys and blobs."
From below, came the echo-laugh, "if we can't stand the heat, let's take our fishing pole and go home, eh?"
The Yazirian engineer looked up from his console snarling. Dralasite humor and not even enough time to take a sedative before crossing that mess called The Void.
To many an adventurer in Star Frontiers, there really is not much to worry about when crossing the mysterious region of non-space non-time called the Void. It is merely a way of making short hops across and otherwise vast Cosmos. What would take years, decades, or even centuries following the laws of the relativistic universe in Real Space, can be accomplished in weeks, days, hours, even minutes in the non-relativistic universe of the Void. But should this incredible phenomenon, the very thing that makes the Star Frontiers milieu possible, be treated in such a routine manner?
Granted, making too much of the generally mundane matter of interstellar travel mundane, (that is, by Star Frontiers standards) would threaten to bog down play. But ignoring The Void leaves unanswered some serious, nagging questions.
In the Star Frontiers expansion, Knight Hawks, The Void is described as a physical reality of space apparent when a space ship accelerates to a speed of about 12 million kilometers per hour, roughly one percent of the speed of light in a vacuum. When this speed is reached, "a ship will disappear from the space known as the Universe, and enter a region called 'The Void'." This discovery was 'accidental'.
No doubt is was an accident. Every scientist, every school child, indeed every thinking human being should have been shocked by such a discovery, since no evidence had ever been even slightly hinted at in all the countless hours of experiment and observation in all of known scientific endeavor throughout time! Were this phenomenon to actually exist solely in the manner described, all matter would have long ago slipped the 'bonds' of reality and entered The Void, since the Big Bang surely propelled all matter easily beyond that speed by several orders of magnitude. Discounting that event, even common occurrences such a super-novae, super gravity, and earth-bound particle accelerators propel quantities of mass at nearly the cosmic speed limit of 180,000+ miles per second. No, indeed, jumping across The Void is a bit trickier than that.
To understand how travel across (through, over,...?) The Void is accomplished, it is necessary to understand what this region/condition is, or is not, compared to the universe of Real Space. Frontier scientists generally accept the notion of the Meta-Cosmos, a kind of super-universal theory which includes Real Space as simply one aspect of it, while the Void is simply another. The best 'model' for the Meta-Cosmos is the so-called "Stellar Ocean" model first postulated by a renowned Dralasite philosopher. According to the model, Real Space is like a four dimensional ocean surface, rippled with slow-moving waves and inexorable currents: Matter provides the substance; energy, the motion. Significant concentrations of either can cause whirlpools, breakers, and storms on this Meta-Cosmic Sea. But for every wave of Real Space, there is a subsequent trough of Non Space. It is these troughs that Spacers now refer to as the Void. By skipping across the surface of Real Space through these valleys of emptiness, much like stone skipping across water, starships can by-pass vast tracts of Real Space. Thus, faster-than-light travel is possible. But herein lies the trick-- getting the stone to skip. Common sense says that some unusual outside force must act upon the stone to make the skip possible, to cause it to enter The Void.
One answer to the problem of including such a major new factor into a Star Frontiers campaign is to ignore the problem. Another might be a bit more elegant - to include another element in the equation of Void travel-- The Transit Field.
The Transit field is a variation on the field technology basic to the frontier races. Already, they are familiar with albedo screens, gauss screens, sonic screens, stasis fields, etc. All are envelopes of various forms of energy that wholly or partially nullify their complementary forms of energy (lasers, electromagnetism, sound, particle beams, etc.). The Transit Field is most closely related to the freeze field, the relatively common temporal stasis device used by field medics to preserve the near-dead until better treatment can be administered. The freeze field was first discovered by pre-starfaring Vrusks, and later by humans. The experiments with tachyon hyperwave energy were found to slow the metabolism by taking the life force to the fringe of the time stream. Later experiments created the sub-space radio, which eventually opened up communications between Humans and Vrusk. It was the latter race, experimenting with sub-light sleeper ships employing freeze fields destined for long term colonization, that first found the Void.
The event resulting in the discovery was completely serendipitous, but for the unlucky passengers of the first Void faring ship, it was a disaster. The fateful ship was outfitted with a new, large scale freeze field, one that enveloped the entire vessel in hyperwave. Moments before the ship reached the speed of 12 million km/hr, barely a tenth of the sleeper ships ultimate speed, the chief engineer reported via sub-space radio that a malfunction had altered the field pattern of the hyperwave envelope, nullifying its stasis effect. In a garbled, barely understandable, and subsequently historic message, the engineer stated that the ship was still accelerating to meet its schedule, with the altered field effect still wrapping around the ship. Fortunately for posterity, that engineer thought the unusual effects of the damaged field interesting enough to beam a continual stream of telemetry back to the launch control base. Abruptly, just after the ship passed the mark of .01 light speed, the message ceased.
No wreckage of the ship was ever found, and none probably ever will be, since this first ever journey across The Void by a frontier race was totally unexpected. The telemetry data, however, held infinite value. Within months, the unusual field malfunction was reliably duplicated, and hundreds of remote probes equipped with it, along with sensors and subspace radio were soon launched into the uncharted Void. Eventually, the Vruskan scientists had enough information to begin limited Void transits with the first generation of Vruskan spacers on board. Thus began the modern era of the Frontier.
"Eleven point Eight, ugh..., five kloms per, Tragg," Ktree shouted, "Another minute's acceleration and we're out'a here!"
"I only hope that screwball jump circuit you rigged works" Tragg said back. "it looks like spaghetti in a blender."
The Yazirian bared his fangs in an ugly gesture that would have meant Time for you and me to step outside' to another Ape. Instead, he only growled backs "Curse your ancestors, bare-skin. Maybe you'd like to try better. It is not a fault of mine you forgot to get that old piece of junk overhauled."
'True enough' thought Tragg. But to admit it to that bloody ape was against his philosophy- 'be honest with yourself, but that's all'. His reply was a feeble, "Hey, I ran a little short this month."
Tragg would have followed up with some well-honed insult, but the torpedo explosion cut him off. It was too, too close.
"Mon Capitan," The dral's bellows voice from below came in an urgent sing-song, "we only have about twenty seconds before the worms catch the fish this time"
"Roger. We're just waiting for the speed." Tragg answered the wheezing voice with his own up-and-down tremulous tone.
"Five,. . four,. . THREE! "
Tragg nearly screamed with joy as the velocity indicator gave him the magic twelve million kloms per hour. He could just about feel the heat of the fission engines powering the torpedoes when he engaged the jump circuit. Instantly, the cobalt-blue blanket of energy called the 'Transit Field' wrapped around the hull. Suddenly, warning signals that blazed away a second before ceased. All of the hundreds of gauges flashed their last Real Space readings, unable to make sense of the non-sense wonder realm of the Void. Through the faint bluish shimmer of the Transit Field, Tragg saw the unsettling ephemeral gray infinity. Later, when the computer switched off the field, he was going to kiss that monkey on the lips. That can of metallic spaghetti held together! They were in the Void.
The current method for generating the Transit Field is reliable even in the face of the rigors of space travel and ship-to-ship combat. The field is distributed much like the various ship wide defensive screens in common use, and is treated exactly like them in regards to malfunctions, jerry-rigging and repairs. The Transit Field generator is called a jump circuit. While not very delicate, jump circuits are still expensive, costing usually 100,000 credits to replace. Pro-rated ones from salvaged vessels cost less based on the estimated number of remaining jumps at about 1,000cr per jump.
The circuit itself consists of a delicate balance of rare earth metals in an alloy created in huge, orbiting cyclotrons. These alloys are then tightly wrapped with metallic hydrogen in a precise configuration. Electrical current pumped through this device at specific polarization patterns produces the hyperwave field, which is then shunted along conductive matrices around the hull creating the field effect. Operating the field at less than .01 light speed has no other effect than to make the ship easier to detect on energy sensors (+20 % effective range for energy sensors actively probing the ship), since substantial velocity is needed to skip across the waves of Real Space. Each 'jump circuit', as the device is often called, is guaranteed by the manufacturer for 1000 jumps (the actual number of jumps should be rolled secretly by the game master[2D10+901]). Jumps made on a worn jump circuit will either fail completely (80% chance) or result in a misjump (20% chance) as per the Knight Hawks rules. If the unit burns out, and no replacement is available, a level 5 or higher technician has a chance to jury rig a temporary jump circuit using parts from five freeze fields (roll on repair machinery with a modifier of -40%, starship engineers add +5% per level of experience). Such a makeshift circuit will be good for only one jump before its unrefined components disintegrate.
The enormous complexities with regards to astrogating a starship across The Void are the reasons for the length of time an astrogator must plot even a well known course between the stars. The field can be activated effectively at any time between the speeds of 12.00 and 12.03 million kph. Subtle variations can result in longer or shorter jumps. Direction in Real Space is even more exacting, with variance from the plotted course in thousandths of a degree resulting in mis-jumps light-years from the intended destination. As stated in Knight Hawks, theories of Void transit say that practically any distance can be traversed by a starship. However, the practical limits appear to be about 30 light-years. Any jump over that distance has never been successfully attempted. The difficulty lies in the vast number of computer calculations necessary to maneuver a vessel across the undulations of the Meta-Cosmos. Computers capable of handling the incredible task have not yet been developed in the era of Star Frontiers.
Countless are the stars in the heavens, and to the poor astrogator adventuring into the unknown, countless are the risks to a good Void transit. Unusual solar activities, intense gravitational field, or even simple cosmic dust can seriously affect the accuracy of calculations when plotting new courses or when taking the risk of 'smoking the jump'. Below is a list of some disruptive phenomena and the appropriate adjustment to astrogation.
PHENOMENON MISCALCULATION Solar Flare, Destination -10 Solar Flare, Departure -15 Solar Flare, Intermediate -20 Super Nova, Destination -30 Super Nova, Departure -45 Super Nova, Intermediate -60 Neutron Star, Intermediate -15 Oort Cloud, Intermediate -15 Black Hole, Destination -30 Black Hole, Departure -60 Black Hole, Intermediate -50
(Departure refers to the area in Real Space the starship is exiting Destination refers to the area in Real Space to which the starship is heading. Intermediate refers to the points in Real Space between the Destination and Departure points.)
Other cosmic or interstellar phenomenon can have a similar effect on the plotting of new courses and in the attempt at risk jumps. The distortion effects, however, do not necessarily mean a vessel's course affected by them will always draw the vessel to that vicinity. Once a misjump occurs, determine the outcome according to Knight Hawks rules.
'Like getting your bell rung in the fun house.' Before Traggert Molds had ever dreamed of being a 'spacer' himself, his uncle, Bodius told him the sensation of passing through The Void was something like that. 'it gets you dizzy like you never been before. Sort'a like looking down the whole time while bein' hung out a window by year ankle-bones on a foggy day.'
Tragg's uncle had been a hard-core merchant 'spacer' for years. But never as a pilot. Pilots, it seemed to Tragg --who had also been a 'hand'-- had to meet the Void face-to-face. A pilot somehow had to wrestle with the beast and come to some kind of terms with it, or else go mad.
Not that it was so hard to actually travel through The Void. In fact, this was usually the smoothest part of the trip. Everything on automatic. Just let the Field do the jump, and computer tells it how long. Simple enough. No, it was how The Void messed with your mend.
Tragg had seen men go right out of theirs just moments after transit, they would sometimes just lose it. Some get giggles, becoming "Space happy" the old timer's like his uncle used to call it before the "Psych's" came up with 'VTS'. But the Void Transit Syndrome could also make a man sick as a dog, or drunk as a dry-dock spacer. Tragg had seen men weep like the Universe itself was coming to an end. Or nearly rip a vessel apart with a high-g maneuver to avoid a swarm of comets they 'swear was headed at me!' The funny thing was that The Void seldom treated anyone equally.
Now, the little Dralasite, Fool Bol, didn't mind jumping one bit. That little blob seemed to love it, in fact. He'd stand there and gaze out the portholes into the 'Great Gray Yonder', smiling the whole time.
That Vrusk, down in the hold, was another story. Tragg had begged the bug for its freeze field to fix the failing jump circuit. The response was a firm 'no'. And not just a 'no', but "Hell No!" It was a damn good medic, but there was no way it would go through a Transit without a freeze field. Said the last time it did, it was in the 'rubber room' for three month, convinced the Universe was slowly unraveling into permanent chaos. Tragg guessed that meant something like the can of worms for a jump circuit Ktree had assembled from the rest of the ships freeze fields.
Ktree was the big variable. Tragg had hoped there would be time to stick him with a sedative before the jump. About every other transit, the bellicose monkey wound go berserk, attacking the security robot with any handy piece of equipment. Last time. it was the circuit board for the sub-space radio, and it cost a few thousand credit --all of Tragg's vacation money-- to replace. Tragg laughed to himself thinking of how hard he had knocked the whooping and screeching ape on the head with the butt of his laser pistol.
"This time will be fun, too." Tragg thought, smiling wickedly as he unhitched the holster at his waist. Just then Moondancer emerged from The Void.
Potentially more disturbing to adventurers than the remote chance of mis-jump are the numerous neuro-physiological problems that can result when crossing the Void: The so-called Void Transit Syndrome, or V.T.S. Physicians and psycho-pathologists are at the time of Star Frontiers only just beginning to understand the effects of traveling through the para-dimensional Void. They have compiled some reasonably accurate data on some of the known effects of V.T.S.
For one thing, the actual perception of The Void seems to be mostly subjective. Some who have traveled across the empty gaps in the Meta-Cosmos say The Void appears as a kind of limitless gray nothingness lacking any normal sensations of spatiality and a queer, disoriented sense of the passage of time. Others report a serene whiteness beyond the windows of the ship, all the while the ships sensors indicate the last readings they received from Real Space. Occasionally, some report hearing voices, or seeing strange beings, or even feeling the presence of some dead or missing friend, companion, or relative. Most psycho-sociologists dispute these last reports as merely one aspect of V.T.S.
After traveling through the Void, occupants of a starship will all experience a brief feeling of disorientation (-10 to both DX and RS. Effects last 2D10 minutes). For most, the 'star spinners', as the effect is referred to, is the only problem they will ever experience after a Void transit. Others can suffer from more severe V.T.S., with symptoms ranging from mild anxiety, to paranoid delusions; minor nausea. to debilitating illness.
Each of the four races dominating the frontier reacts differently to the transit. Dralasites seem best adapted to the jumps, their peculiar, non-objective physique apparently providing relative resistance to the spatial/temporal displacement. Vrusk, on the other hand, generally dislike the transit. Scientists studying the physical and emotional effects of the Void believe that the Vruskan mind, with its logical, pragmatic outlook, is distraught at the nonsensical method of interstellar travel (Ironic, considering the Vrusk first discovered the Void). Vrusk tend to get depressed following jumps, some even become suicidal. The average Vrusk will take a sedative, or better yet, strap on a freeze field (Yes the freeze field still works when crossing The Void!) before transit begins (Sedative will add +30 to saving rolls when crossing the Void properly activated freeze fields will negate any effects of VTS. Sedation and freeze fields work equally for all character races.). Humans and Yazirians have a much wider range of reactions, including those the Vrusk suffer, to queasiness, euphoria, even madness.
Characters passing through The Void must roll versus their combined Intuition and Stamina. For example, a Character with an Intuition of 40 and a Stamina of 37 adds the two scores for a total of 77. Roll percentage. Roll of 77 or less indicates a save; anything over that means the character suffers from V.T.S. Any roll of 95 or higher always indicates failure to save even if the combined scores total 100 or more. Failure to save means the character has been affected by some aspect of Void Transit Syndrome. To determine which, use the following chart:
Reaction Human Yazirian Vrusk Dralasite Depression, Mild 01-03 01-05 01-40 01-20 Depression, Normal 04-08 06-11 41-60 ------ Depression, Severe 09-11 11-12 61-80 ------ Catatonia 12-13 ------- 81-97 ------ Nausea, Mild 13-20 13-22 ------ ------ Nausea, Severe 21-27 23-27 ------ ------ Fever/Chills 28-30 28-30 ------ ------ Euphoria, Mild 31-50 31-44 ------ 21-50 Euphoria, Extreme 51-60 45-49 ------ 51-75 Intoxication 61-80 ------- ------ 76-87 Hallucination 81-86 50-64 ------ 88-92 Battle Rage 87-89 65-94 ------ ------ Dream Trance 90-100 95-100 98-100 93-100
These are only the officially identified effects of VTS. Scientists studying the phenomena are only beginning to understand and prevent the disorders. However, these efforts remain experimental and not commonly available. But who is to say a few less-honorable types might not sell some latter day version of snake oil.
As a rule, machinery is unaffected by Void transit. However, there is a 5% chance that unusual conditions of a jump may cause a system failure if such a malfunction is indicated, roll percentage dice again, consulting the following chart:
Malfunction Roll Robot Malfunction 01-50 Computer Malfunction 51-95 Other Malfunction 95-100
Program 1D10 Drive 1-2 Astrogation 3 Life support 4-5 Weapons 6 Damage Control 7 Security 8 Communications 9 Miscellaneous 10