Xavier-Ryu, Ion, and Reaction Drives: Motive Technologies
The nature of interstellar warfare demands powerful drive systems. As in most other areas, the wilderzone features an eclectic variety of technologies to propel ships between stars.
Xavier-Ryu Warp Drive
The Xavier-Ryu gravity-warping drive is the primary method of transportation in the wilderzone. The X-R was humanity’s first “stardrive,” and has been used ever since the days of the Chase. These warp drives are powerful tools, but bulky and large. The smallest X-R drives mass about fifty metric tons, with mass and volume increasing geometrically with the amount of force the drive will be required to produce in sub-light mode. Modern X-R drives have three settings.
This was the original setting for the Xavier-Ryu drive, and allows faster than light travel in the absence of a jumpgate. The drive traps a pocket of normal space in a powerful bubble-shaped gravity field. The ship lies at rest in this pocket. The gravitational force created by an X-R drive in FTL mode is so strong that the bubble is essentially a pocket of non-Einsteinian space. This means that the pocket can be accelerated nearly instantly to velocities faster than light. The field harmonics of tribal X-R drives allow them to produce FTL velocities from 56c to 169c - that is, a maximum velocity of one parsec per week. It is important to note that an X-R drive can only produce a given range of velocities. It is impossible, for instance, for a tribal X-R to produce a velocity of twice light-speed. Doing so would rip the generator - and the ship along with it - to shreds.
FTL mode is only used between star systems, for several reasons. First, the enormously powerful gravitational bubble blinds all sensor systems and makes fire into and out of the bubble impossible. A ship under FTL drive has no connection with the outside world. While this effect has enormous tactical potential in theory, practically speaking it is more of a liability than an asset in combat. Interference between the X-R drive and the local star’s gravity well would blow the drive nanoseconds after activation in FTL mode, leaving the ship crippled and helpless. It becomes safe to use an X-R drive in FTL mode about forty light minutes from a system, depending on the mass of the local sun. While such “microjumps” are used occasionally as evasive maneuvers, tribal skippers generally consider the cost of destroying their ship’s primary mode of locomotion great enough that the microjump escape is used only as an absolute last resort. Moreover, FTL jumps only take place along straight lines - FTL navigation consists of dropping out of warp and re-entering along a different vector. A moderately skilled tactical officer can thus predict the terminus of a microjump fairly accurately; the maneuver is successful as an escape only if the enemy skipper is unwilling to subject his vessel to the same stress as the fleeing one.
A peculiar side effect of FTL travel with X-R drives is the so-called “FTL boom.” As a ship travels between stars its grav envelope encounters radiation and particles that get trapped on the surface of the bubble by the gravitational forces. When the ship drops its bubble and drops to sublight speeds, these cosmic rays and particles are released at light-speed along a cone centered on the path of the ship. This advance warning of a ship finishing an FTL journey is a serious tactical consideration, since the boom is quite distinctive and can easily ruin a clever skipper’s attempt to enter a system undetected. Astrogators generally try to end their FTL journeys on a vector that will direct the boom away from the areas of a system where enemy ships are expected to be, but it is of course impossible to predict where enemy vessels will be with absolute certainty.
This is the most common setting for X-R drives in the modern era. Miniature X-R drives only capable of sub-light settings are referred to as “grav drives” instead of “warp drives.” As Xavier and Ryu’s work was improved upon by successive generations of scientists, it became feasible to manufacture warp drives that could operate in a range of harmonics that allowed for sub-light travel.
In sublight mode the drive operates very similarly to a spinfusor. The drive produces a powerful gravity source along the desired axis of travel, accelerating the ship towards the source like an animal chasing a carrot attached to a rod tied to its back. The ship is continually “falling” in the desired direction. This means that X-R drives in sublight mode are essentially very powerful thrusters. X-R drives offer several advantages over conventional thrusters, however. Compared to reaction thrusters they are very fuel efficient, although not quite as efficient as ion thrusters. Unlike ion thrusters, however, X-R drives can produce their thrust at any angle. Finally, they are capable of producing far more raw force than either ion or reaction thrusters. Depending on the size, mass, and make of the drive, an X-R in sublight mode can produce accelerations of anywhere from 300 to 600 gees for a typical starship.
The amount of thrust a warp drive can produce in sub-light mode varies inversely with the square of the distance to local gravity wells. That is, the closer a ship gets to a planet or star, the less power its drive can provide without tearing itself apart due to interference with other gravity wells. By the time a ship is in orbit, its X-R drive is all but useless.
A jumpgate normally exists in space as a small aperture; large jumpgates have realspace apertures only a few microns across. This is far too small for a ship to pass through. Xavier-Ryu drives can be set to “pulse” a jumpgate with a powerful gravitic wave that opens the gate to a blazing disk up to hundreds of kilometers across. The gate will remain open for approximately ten minutes between pulses.
While this means that any warp-capable ship can enter a jumpgate, it is important to note that X-R drives in jump mode have severe limitations. First, the range of the warp drive in jump mode is very short. The most powerful tribal warp drives cannot open a gate at ranges longer than 100 kilometers. This means that careful timing of the warp drive is necessary if a jumpgate is to be entered at high velocity. Second, a warp drive in jump mode cannot select threads. The jumpgate may be opened, but any object passing through it will travel down the same thread as the last object. To change a jumpgate’s active thread requires a spindle array.
Spindle Arrays and Hyperweb Travel
Spindle arrays are not, strictly speaking, drive technologies. These long, finger-like projections from a ship’s hull are used to switch the active thread of a jumpgate. Spindle arrays are massive, bulky, and fragile. They are by far the most delicate part of a ship’s hull. Unfortunately, the arrays can be sheltered only so much, because they must physically enter the disk of an open jumpgate to accomplish their work. Retractable spindle arrays are possible, but rare. Spindle array size increases with the length of the thread they will be switching. Spindle arrays are expensive to manufacture even in small forms, so most tribes have a policy of creating spindle arrays capable of handling large threads; the marginal cost for increasing a spindle’s size is small compared to the initial cost of building a spindle in the first place. The standard benchmark is for a spindle array to be able to handle a thread of 20,000 light years - resulting in a spindle of about 400 meters in length. The size of each individual spindle can be reduced by adding more spindles to the array; a “standard” (20,000 LY) array requires 1600 meters of spindle, but if the array includes eight spindles each need only be 200 meters long. Because size is only loosely related to the expense of producing a spindle array, most arrays consist of four or less spindles. Having large numbers of spindles makes the most sense on warcraft, who naturally wish to minimize the size of these delicate components to shield them as much as possible from enemy fire.
For a spindle array to be active, it must be in free contact with the thread and within one hundred kilometers of the terminus. A ship can switch threads only during the first and last one hundred kilometers of its journey; this tactic is sometimes used by spindleships to avoid an ambush or evade pursuit. A spindle array that is retracted or folded against a hull will not work, because the hull is in contact with the array. The area of spindle that must contact the thread depends on the size of the thread - for a 20,000 light year thread, for instance, requires 1600 meters of spindle in unobstructed contact with the thread.
Technically speaking, a thread requires a certain area of spindle in contact with it. However, spindle arrays must be manufactured to exacting specifications; spindles are shaped like a trapezoidal prisms with a fixed relationship between dimensions. For this reason, thread requirements are given in length instead of area as a matter of course.
The mechanics of hyperweb travel are not thoroughly understood, since the method of the web’s manufacture remains a mystery. What is known is that a thread compresses the distance between two points into a much smaller distance. Thus a ship traveling a thread experiences a much smaller distance than the thread appears to span in normal space.
It is important to note that ships traveling a thread observe themselves as moving at sublight velocities. Maximum velocity in a thread for a ship is .8c, while electromagnetic waves can still move at lightspeed. This is why hypercast is a faster mode of communication than couriers - the radio waves simply move through the hyperweb faster. The time it takes for a ship to move through a thread, however, is relatively low, and given by Laschetecher’s First Law: time is equal to the “length” of the thread (that is, the distance between entrance and exit points in real time) divided by the square of the velocity of the ship in the thread. Thus, a ship traveling a 10,000 light-year thread at .8c will arrive at its destination in a mere twenty-two minutes. A radio message would arrive in eighteen.
Needless to say, most skippers feel that the faster a ship can move through a thread, the better. Skilled warp drive and spindle array crews, working as a team, can coordinate their efforts to pulse a jumpgate and select the proper thread moving at breakneck speeds. This maneuver is generally considered risky, however, since if the ship overshoots the jumpgate before it is fully opened, or the spindle array techs are a just a little slow in selecting the wrong thread, much valuable time can be lost as the ship turns around to correct its error. In a combat situation such bungled jumps can have disastrous consequences. Most skippers make hyperweb translations at much lower speeds because of this.
Unfortunately, ships without spindle arrays cannot accelerate inside a thread. That means that ships with X-R drives who make jumpgate translations travel the thread at the same speed they enter it - and that warp capable ships must either attempt a high-speed jump or settle for much longer transit times than a spindleship. Spindle arrays allow acceleration by Laschetecher’s Second Law: spindle acceleration is equal to the maximum acceleration of the ship’s warp drive in sub-light mode squared. It is important to note that Laschetecher’s laws describe the effects of jumpgate travel, rather than the actual mechanics. A ship capable of accelerating at 600 gees in normal space does not actually accelerate at 360,000 gees in a thread; that would override even Imperial acceleration compensators and turn the crew of a spindleship into unrecognizable goo from the gee forces. However, relative to an observer outside the thread, the ship behaves as if it is accelerating at 360,000 gees. This makes web capable ships much more convenient to use in jumpgate transits, since they can accelerate to the maximum thread velocity of .8c in mere minutes and travel the thread essentially instantaneously even if they enter it at close to a dead stop. The ability to vary one’s acceleration with a spindle array also allows warships to lay in wait in a thread, awaiting information from advance scouts before committing to exiting the thread.
Hazards of the Hyperweb
Though space travel is fraught with peril because of the sheer number of components aboard a starship, there are two dangers spindleship skippers must be especially wary of. The first of these are fluxstorms, energetic discharges that occasionally inhabit threads. The causes of fluxstorms are unknown, and little definitive research has been done on the phenomena because they are so dangerous. When a ship encounters a fluxstorm in a thread the results can be spectacular. The faster a ship is moving, the more havoc a fluxstorm tends to wreak - at best, a spindle or two may be blown; at worst, the ship can be ripped to shreds. If a craft is equipped with spindle arrays, it has limited steering capability within the confines of the thread. The average thread is a mere thousand kilometers in diameter, however, so it is not uncommon for fluxstorms to span the entire thread. If a ship cannot avoid a storm, it is best to pass through it at low velocity. Fluxstorms are another hazard that make stringers wary of using merely warp-capable ships in threads, since a ship without a spindle array cannot even slow down to avoid a fluxstorm.
The other hazard peculiar to the hyperweb is collisions. On the scale of space a thread is a very narrow tunnel, and spindleships tend to travel them at very high speeds. Usually collisions can be avoided, since most spindleships are civilian transports and travel threads at an agreed-upon standard velocity of .65c. If all traffic moving through a thread is moving at the same velocity the odds of a collision are very low, especially since spindleships can steer to avoid oncoming traffic. The odds of collision are slightly greater at the realspace termini of a thread, but since exiting ships must pulse a jumpgate to open a sufficiently wide exit point the traveling ship usually has plenty of warning that traffic is waiting to enter the gate. Because of Laschetecher’s Second and Third Laws, a web capable ship in a thread has far more maneuvering power than it would normally have. According to stringer custom, the onus for avoiding a collision is always on the ship exiting the thread rather than the ships waiting to enter the thread.
Ion thrusters (or “ion-grav drives”) are a hybrid technology similar to tribal battle armor jets. Thrust is accomplished by expelling heavy-element ions through a charged grating, and a gravitic inertial enhancer is used to amplify the thrust far beyond that of a pure ion drive. Sometimes a magnetic sail is added to further augment the drive’s effectiveness, essentially allowing the ship to surf its own drive.
Ion thrusters are by far the most fuel efficient drive system in the wilderzone, making them popular for use on fighters. They do not offer the maneuverability of a grav drive, since the thrust ports must be physically moved to alter the direction of thrust. To make up for this, most ships with ion drives mount secondary “maneuvering thrusters” at various angles and places along the ship’s hull. Ion maneuvering thrusters are also common with small and medium warcraft as station-keeping and maneuvering-thrusters. Delicate maneuvers like docking require a level of finesse that grav drives cannot provide close to a gravity well, so a secondary set of thrusters is necessary.
Unlike warp drives, ion thruster systems are small enough to be mounted on starfighters. They cannot produce the raw power of a warp drive, but because the ships they propel are usually much smaller than warp-capable vessels they are capable of producing higher accelerations. A typical ion thruster vessel is capable of anywhere from 450 to 800 gravities of acceleration.
Despite these impressive figures, a grav drive would be capable of even greater accelerations on a fighter-sized craft. The reason that most fighters mount ion drives instead of grav drives is related to the interference problems grav drives experience in the presence of gravity wells. The performance of an ion drive is degraded somewhat by the proximity of other gravity wells, but not by much. Since most fighters are designed to operate close to planets by astronomical distances, ion drives allow them to remain nimble when grav-drive ships have become sluggish and lumbering. Moreover, ion drives are cheaper than grav drives, which is always considered a plus from the standpoint of tribes’ fragile economies.
Reaction thrusters are the most primitive drives in the wilderzone, or indeed all of human-inhabited space. These systems are simply refined versions of rocket engines, which expel exhaust through a nozzle of some sort to produce thrust by equal and opposite reactions. They are extremely fuel inefficient, and far weaker than either ion or grav drives.
On very large warcraft reaction thrusters are sometimes used as maneuvering thrusters. Very large cruisers or transports require too much force from ion-grav systems to use those as maneuvering thrusters, since the size of the thrusters would render their gravitic inertial enhancers clumsy and imprecise in the presence of a nearby gravity well. This leaves reaction thrusters become the only viable alternative for such vessels. This makes very large craft particularly unwieldy as range to a planet or star decreases.
The only real benefit to reaction thrusters is that they are cheap. Purely atmospheric fighters can often get away with reaction thrusters and still claim a quite satisfactory 400 gees of acceleration, although they have very short legs at such high thrust settings. More often, reaction thrusters are used on missiles. The primary virtue of missiles as a propelled weapon is their low cost, so it makes sense to provide them with cheap reaction thrusters for steering purposes only.
Shields and Electronic Warfare: Detection and Defensive Technologies
Since the earliest days of space combat using reaction thrusters in the Sol system, space combat has been fundamentally about detection. With modern grav-drives and ion thrusters the scale of black-ocean warfare has only increased. The first steps in the deadly dance of space combat always focus on detection. Only after a foe has been located with pinpoint accuracy can energy weapons and guided projectiles be brought to bear. Tribal skippers who are skilled at this “sensor combat” gain the greatest respect. Although sneak attacks may be considered cowardly in ground combat, they are applauded by tribal convention in space warfare as commendable displays of skill. A pulse sensor is just as much a weapon to a spacer as a spinfusor is to an infantryman. Spacers divide sensors into three categories: pulse sensors, gravitic sensors, and ladar.
“Pulsers” are simple devices, nearly identical to the pulse sensors used in ground combat. These sensors blanket the EM spectrum in radiation, from the low radio waves to the high-frequency gamma waves. The EM waves bounce off of objects like asteroids and spacecraft, and since they move at the speed of light a pulse sensor can determine range by the time between a wave emitted and the time the “echo” was received. This wide-spectrum approach precludes detection by Doppler shift, but pulse sensors are sensitive enough that this is rarely a problem. Because they transmit over such a wide range of frequencies, pulse sensors are difficult to jam. Avoiding detection by pulse sensor using a ship’s passive electronic counter-measures suite is considered a high art by spacers. Pulse sensors are reliable out to a range of about one light-minute, or eighteen million kilometers. However, a skilled crew with a military-grade ECM suite may avoid detection by pulser until the range is as low as three hundred thousand kilometers or less.
When it is absolutely imperative that a ship not be detected, multi-phasic cloaks can be brought into play. MPCs are essentially large-scale versions of infantry pulse sensor jammers. Powered by the ship’s onboard fusion plant, a starship can maintain its MPC essentially indefinitely. The cloak makes the ship invisible to detection by pulse sensors, although it will not stop ladar. Full-spectrum (“true invisibility”) cloaks are actually less sophisticated than MPCs, but most skippers consider them impractical. Blocking even visible light makes it impossible for a ship to fire out, whereas a vessel under MPC can use its fire control. Detection by this method is very difficult, since an MPC blinds the cloaked ship’s pulse sensors as well as an enemy’s. Tactical officers must cast about in the dark using pencil-thin beams of light. The real advantage of an MPC over traditional ECM is that a ship under a multi-phasic cloak is invisible to pulse sensors. Traditional ECM creates a large area of electromagnetic “white noise” that allows the jamming ship to see out with its own pulse sensors but gives away its general location. Carefully modulated ECM can be made to look like the background radiation of space to a certain extent, while poorly handled ECM will alert potential targets to the jamming ship’s presence and usually cause a frantic ladar search of the jamming’s area of effect. MPCs require no skill to use and cause the cloaked vessel to simply drop off of enemy pulser screens.
Despite their impressive-sounding maximum range, pulsers are really only accurate at ranges of a few light-seconds. At eighteen million kilometers, information received by a pulse sensor is two minutes old. By that time a contact is far away from where the sensor originally detected it.
Gravitics are the second category of long-range sensors in the wilderzone. Like ancient pulse radar, pulse sensors are best suited to determining a target’s location. The advent of the pulse sensor, with its full-spectrum emissions, made Doppler-shift sensor systems obsolete. Unfortunately, Doppler systems are far better at determining information like a target’s speed. Gravitic sensors fill the hole left by the obsolescence of Doppler sensors. Gravitic systems detect the gravity wells generated by a ship and the ship’s grav-drive. Gravitics are reliable out to about 25 million kilometers - a little less than one and a half light-minutes - but since they receive their information at lightspeed as well they are subject to the same data lag that pulse sensors are. All warcraft include powerful T-grav ECM suites to reduce their gravitic signature. This is more of a brute-power approach than avoiding pulser detection, but the skill is no less important in a tactical officer.
The difficulty with gravitic sensors is that they are notoriously specialized. Because they are essentially passive systems, gravitic arrays receive a constant flow of information that makes them well suited to determining heading, bearing, speed, and similar data. However, gravitics are far less capable than a pulse sensor at detecting range. A planet at very long range may have the same gravitic signature as a corvette at very short range, or vice-versa. The best way to discriminate between two such similar objects would be velocity, so vessels attempting to blend into the gravitic signature of an object in space must be careful to match velocity relative to any observing vessels.
T-grav ECM is significantly different from the counter-measures used against pulsers. T-grav nullifies all or a portion of a ship’s gravitic signature by matching its N-wave emissions with antigravitons; more powerful suites are needed to eliminate more powerful signatures. However, if TGECM is not monitored it may end up giving away the ship’s position. If a ship is using a planet to hide its gravitic signature and turns its TGECM too high, the opposing ship will notice a “hole” in the planet’s gravitic signature that neatly pinpoints the hiding ship. Moreover, ECM crews must be careful of graviton-antigraviton annihilation: when the two particles collide in space they annihilate and produce high-energy light radiation, which can be detected on passive EM sensors. If a ship is massive enough it may not be able to completely mask its gravitic signature without creating a radiation “ghost.” These conflicting variables are one of the major reasons that countermeasures are still supervised by human operators.
Because of this, the “terrain” of a solar system is a major part of gravitic sensor duels. For instance, an opponent in orbit around a planet has a pronounced disadvantage against a force rising from the planet’s surface. The planet’s mass provides a natural jamming effect that fills gravitic screens with a single massive contact. Starfighters especially are fond of positioning themselves to attack with a planet or sun at their back to mask their already small gravitic signatures. If no such natural cover is available, it is best to approach a ship along its axis of thrust. The target’s grav-drive provides some gravitic distortion. Although it is a relatively simple matter for gravitic sensor operators to compensate for their own drive’s gravitic signature, keeping a ship’s grav drive between it and oneself is better cover than none.
This is an acronym for LAser Detection And Ranging. Ladar is similar to a pulse sensor, but instead of creating a wide-spectrum detection sphere, ladar continuously emits a very thin beam. The return echo for a ladar pulse is very precise, making ladar the preferred method of fire control in tribal navies. Once a target’s general position has been established with gravitic or pulse sensors, ladar is trained on it to gain a pinpoint fix on the target. Because ladar pulses travel at the speed of light, they are only useful for fire control at relatively short ranges. The generally accepted convention in the wilderzone is that ladar information is useless for fire-control purposes if it is over four seconds old (that is, targets at a distance of two light seconds). “Maximum range” for non-propelled weapons is generally defined as the distance a weapon can fire in two seconds.
Because ladar beams are very thin, they can be dodged. Once a ship is hit with a ladar beam it generally engages in a series of evasive maneuvers in an attempt to break the fire-control lock. This is best done at relatively low velocities, which allow a ship to generate vector changes quickly. A ship moving at 40,000 kps may be difficult to pin down with a ladar beam, but once lock is achieved the targeted ship has a very difficult time deviating from its heading because it has so much momentum to overcome. This means that tribal space combat tends to take place at very low velocities.
Of course, the preferred way to break a ladar lock is to destroy the lasing ship itself. A ship using ladar has created a laser-straight path back to itself, making it a simple matter for answering ladar operators to lock on to that ship. As both ships twist and turn in an attempt to break each others’ ladar locks, the ladar operators themselves must attempt to keep those locks despite the fact that both their own ship and the target are moving. At long ranges warcraft can maneuver for minutes at a time before firing a single shot.
Weapons can be fired without a ladar lock, but the result tends to be wildly inaccurate except at very close ranges. The sheer scale of space combat means that a weapon can be only a fraction of a degree off and miss wildly, making very accurate fire control information a necessity. One of the major advantages starfighters have over warcraft is that their tiny size results in very low sensor profiles. Fighters can approach to such close ranges that they can engage without using ladar, giving them a major advantage over larger targets. Ace fighter pilots can even engage with the fuzzy data generated by gravitic sensors, without even alerting their targets by pulser emissions.
“Passive sensors” refers to those sensors that are electromagnetic in nature but do not produce any emissions. Instead, these devices can detect pulse sensor and ladar emissions that strike them. They are less capable than pulsers at determining a target’s bearing and range, but a ship using its passive ECM and passive sensors can detect a ship using pulsers long before the passive ship is detected. This makes the judicious use of passive sensors an integral part of the sensor warfare that makes up most of space combat.
Spacecraft shields are based on the same technology that battle armor uses, but a ship is a very different animal from a suit of battle armor, so there are a few important differences between battle armor and starship shields.
Thresholds and Force Walls
Battle armor shields work on a “minimum-maximum” threshold principle. A certain amount of energy is required for a contact to cause an armor’s shields to exert resistance. This is a practical model for infantry. If a shield went active every time a warrior attempted to put his foot down or grab a tree limb, battle armor would become more of a nuisance than a tool. Starships, of course, rarely have to come in contact with their surroundings. For this reason starship shields are designed to resist everything that comes in contact with them. This constant resistance-force gives rise to the term “force walls” to describe starship shields.
This difference in resistance models means that starship shields never “burn out” like battle armor shields do. An armor’s shield nodes exert more resistance as the energy of an attack increases, with no upward safety limit. This makes sense - after all, it is better for the node to burn out bleeding energy from an incoming attack than simply “give up” after a certain amount of resistance. It hardly benefits the warrior to have an intact shield node if the first attack kills him!
Starship shields, however, exert a constant amount of resistance at all times. As a shield is forced to deal with attacks the energy used to maintain the shield bleeds away. Higher-energy attacks constitute a greater drain on the shield’s capacitor, which is constantly being recharged by the ship’s onboard fusion plant via the primary shield generator. Maintaining a lock on a target’s position is sufficiently difficult, and warcraft hulls sufficiently resilient, that it is usually considered better to save the physical shield generator than have it burn out after a certain amount of damage is absorbed. In the long run, this gives a starship more service from its shields than a battle-armor “burnout” operational model would. This means that starship shields can be overcome but never permanently destroyed in the sense that battle armor shield nodes can be physically destroyed. Starship shields recharge, given enough time. Battle armor nodes must be repaired.
Battle armor nodes generate a shield around based on the node’s location - a node placed on the right arm, for instance, generates its shield around the right arm and the right arm’s firearm. If the node burns out another will extend its shield coverage to include that arm.
Starship shields work on a similar model. A starship’s “force walls” are generated in a geometric pattern as follows:
Rectangular shields have two walls. One wall covers the forward arc of the ship, and one wall covers the rear.
Square shields have four walls: forward, rear, left, and right.
Hexagonal shields have six walls: forward, rear, and two for each side.
Octagonal shields have eight walls: forward, rear, left, right, and one wall between each of those.
It should be noted that the term “force wall” is something of a misnomer. The tribes are more than capable of bending their starship shields to cover the dorsal and ventral aspects of a ship, as well as deforming the entire bubble to conform more closely to the skin of the starship. Shields also bend laterally - obviously a ship with a rectangular shield geometry is not unshielded to its left and right! A “wall” then is simply a segment of the overall shield bubble that absorbs energy from an attack without weakening its neighboring segments.
If one wall is defeated, strength from the other force walls can be diverted to bring up the downed wall quickly. Because a starship’s shields must encompass all of the ship’s bulk the transfer can take a few seconds, but the system gives starships a great deal of defensive flexibility.
Civilian observers sometimes wonder why starships bother with generating walls at all instead of a single shield bubble. The reason is that walls can be reinforced with energy from others. If all of a ship’s attackers are in its forward arc, the rear shields can be depleted to increase the capacity of the forward ones to absorb damage. At the same time, it is difficult for a ship’s attackers to concentrate their firepower, since they must be close together in order to fire on the same shield facing. This means that shield geometries with more facings are more powerful tactical tools. The larger the number of walls, the smaller volume of space each can be fired upon from. That means that shield power can be concentrated more effectively, as well as making it easier to force the enemy into dangerous maneuvers. If a ship is surrounded it can continually distribute its shield power equally among its walls, causing the walls to behave as if they were a single shield bubble.
Although walls can be manipulated to cover a ship’s whole volume in a quasi-spherical “bubble,” with screens stretching from the “north” to “south” poles of the bubble, that is not the ideal arrangement. Ideally, of course, a ship would have an infinite number of screens: each individual point on the shield bubble would have to be penetrated separately. Sadly, this feat of relative invulnerability is beyond even the reach of Imperial technology. The tribes content themselves with their four geometry patterns, with each increasing number of walls representing an increase in efficiency. However, those geometries describe walls arranged around the ship’s bow and flanks. In space, of course, ships must also worry about deflecting fire from above and below. Normally a ship’s side walls are bent to cover the dorsal and ventral aspects of the ships. Ideally, of course, the ventral and dorsal arcs would have their own set of shields. The tribes currently use three patterns of shields to deal with this problem:
Alpha patterns are laterally-based. The side walls are deformed to cover the dorsal and ventral arcs of the ship. Fire taken from above or below is deflected by the same shield that would take fire from the side.
Beta patterns are vertically based. Instead of a single set of side walls, the ship is protected by a set of ventral and dorsal shields that are deformed to cover the ship’s sides. Fire from the side is deflected by the same shield that would take fire from above or below. This arrangement is somewhat unusual.
Gamma patterns are a combination of alpha and gamma patterns. The ship is protected by three sets of shields: above, below, and sides.
Shield geometries cannot be mixed within a pattern - that is, a ship cannot have six walls above and only two below. The most powerful shield generators are those with an octagonal gamma configuration, protecting the ship with no less than twenty-four separate shields.
Unfortunately, higher-order patterns and more complex geometries require larger and heavier shield generators, as do generators that can support larger energy reserves for their shields. A shield generator is rated on five specifications: its geometry, its pattern, the overall energy reserve it can support (that is, how much damage its walls can absorb before they collapse and must be rebuilt), how fast it can distribute energy from one wall to another (“focus”), and how fast it can convert reactor power into shield energy. Each of these specifications requires an increase in mass and volume. Thus, generators must trade off between specifications. It is possible for a starfighter to have an octagonal gamma shield pattern, but its overall shield power will be less than an equivalent starfighter with a rectangular alpha pattern. The second fighter can devote the mass and volume savings of its less powerful geometry to a more powerful capacitor. Similar trade-offs must be made for recharge and focus rate.
Shields exist in space as bent planes of particles and force fields. Stronger shields have greater particle density and more energy in their fields; similarly, a reinforced wall has higher-energy screens than its neighbors. When a shield facing is attacked, it absorbs the energy of the attack and re-emits it into space as light and low-level gamma radiation. “Damage” to the shield occurs during the conversion process. No machine is 100% efficient, so as a shield converts an attack’s energy into light it loses some of its own field’s energy in the process. Shields are more or less resistant to an attack based on how efficiently they can convert that attack’s energy. Kinetic energy is extremely easy to dissipate, whereas thermal and electrical energy is more difficult. Lasers lie in between.
In addition to the primary protective layer, starship shields include a series of secondary layers that serve to filter out photons with high energies through a two-step filter process. The first step is simple diffraction of the light, by holding the charged particles in each successive layer tighter together. This serves to diffract radiation in the ultraviolet bands and higher at nearly right angles, stripping incoming beams of intensity. The second mechanism alters the optical density of each successive layer to bend high-energy radiation away from the primary layer. This system makes starship shields virtually invulnerable to nuclear weapons, and completely invulnerable to antimatter, since matter-antimatter annihilation produces extremely high-energy radiation. At the same time, it reduces pulse sensor effectiveness, since nearly half of the electromagnetic spectrum is eliminated by these shields. This is rarely used as an evasive maneuver, since the shields themselves are detectable on passive EM sensors. It is primarily a hindrance; a captain about to bring his shields up must keep in mind that his pulse sensor effectiveness will suffer as a result.
The reasons for this secondary technology are twofold. First, it serves to protect a ship’s crew and equipment from being continually bombarded by cosmic rays. Second, it makes electromagnetic pulse weaponry obsolete. Until the 33rd century EMP weapons were the most devastating anti-shield weapons in known space. It was only natural that military technology attempt to circumvent these weapons, a goal which was achieved with the so-called electrically grounded shield. The mechanism was very similar to modern layered shields, and used successive shield layers to filter out the most damaging radiation produced by an EMP. The result was that the most powerful EMP weapons became no more or less damaging than a simple laser; indeed, since EMP cannons fired electromagnetic shells with lower muzzle velocities than laser beams, those weapons became nearly obsolete. For the most part, this situation has remained to the present day.
It was the Tribes of Man that revived the EMP concept with their inappropriately named ELF guns. These weapons emit showers of electromagnetic radiation tuned to the resonance frequency of a shield, causing walls to lose contact with their neighbors and collapse the bubble. Spacers refer to these weapons as ELF beams, since their radiation is in the visible light range and visible as a lightning-like discharge. ELF beams are relatively short ranged, need many seconds to do their work, and must be focused on a single shield facing to be effective. Nonetheless, they can be devastating in the hands of a skilled operator.
Energy weapons, known to spacers as “beams” or “beamers,” are the predominant weapon in wilderzone space combat. The term “energy weapons” is actually something of a misnomer; tribal stringers include all ammunition-independent weapons in this class. Thus, while a fusion cannon may not actually fire a coherent beam of plasma, it is still referred to as a “beamer” because it has essentially infinite ammunition.
The reason for the predominance of beamers in space combat is twofold. First, most beams have a much longer range than missiles or drones. The majority of beamers are relativistic weapons - that is, they fire their projectiles at light-speed or very near it. This gives them a much greater effective range than most projectile weapons. Even the best drones can never match the velocity of a laser beam. A ship armed exclusively with laser cannons may not be able to damage an enemy craft as quickly as a ship armed exclusively with missile launchers, but the laser-equipped craft will be able to engage its opponents at many times the range of the missile-equipped one.
The second reason is economic. The cost of equipping a ship with even the cheapest missiles quickly adds up. By their very nature, energy weapons do not require logistical support. That makes them a cheaper and more convenient choice for the Tribes of Man, whose economies are generally hard-put to support web-capable navies even without worrying about expensive missile or torpedo complements. Indeed, the reluctance of tribal navies to use large amounts of missiles is a chief difference between the wilderzone and Imperial navies.
Following is a brief description of the energy weapons to be found on a tribal warcraft. It should be noted that the hitting power of the weapon is generally proportional to the size of the ship it is mounted on. A laser mounted on a corvette is rarely as powerful as a laser mounted on a hyper cruiser, because the cruiser’s beams have a much more powerful power plant to draw on.
In general, the wilderzone has an obsession with particle blasters that often strikes Imperial observers as ridiculous. Unlike the much more powerful compressed plasma or laser packets that typical Imperial blasters use, tribal weapons in this class fire compressed bolts of charged particles. The technology often strikes military analysts from the Empire as a throwback to the days of particle microbursters - another technology of which the tribes are uncommonly fond.
Although this quaint bit of technological culture may seem at first unfounded, the tribes swear by their particle blasters. The reason is mostly grounded in the fact that charged-particle blasters are equally effective against armor and shields. Laser or plasma blasters, while providing greater overall damage potential, have a significant bias towards shield damage. For economies that strain sometimes to equip even a single destroyer, and a research establishment that lags behind the Empire’s in many areas, particle blasters are an attractive alternative to blaster technology.
Tribal blasters fire packets of charged particles encased in an electromagnetic shell. The shell can then be accelerated to near-light speed - about .9c in most cases - via a conventional mass driver. The result is an eye-searing beam that is far more powerful than a laser of comparable mass and power requirements. These “compression blasters” have an effective range of up to two light-seconds, although they begin to degrade in power at a range of about 250,000 kilometers as the EM shell starts to break up and “leak” particles into space.
Less common than the compression blaster is the auto blaster. This weapon is similar to the pulse blasters of previous eras. The auto blasters fire bolts of charged particles like their larger cousins, but at a much higher rate of fire. The automatic fire mechanism causes autoblasters to fire weaker bolts than compression blasters, and at a slower muzzle velocity - about .5c. Against other warcraft these weapons are generally considered a waste. However, against incoming missiles or attacking starfighters, autoblasters come into their own.
Lasers are the longest ranged weapons in space. Tribal space lasers generally incorporate a compression technology that tunes the laser to a frequency more effective against armor. The compression has the side effect of turning the laser into a sort of low-powered laser blaster.
Lasers, like blasters, come in an automatic variety. Because gatling lasers fire less powerful bolts, they are mostly used against incoming missile fire and to augment other weapons. A typical gatling laser may be effective enough against a starfighter’s shielding, but its relatively weak bolts lack the strength to defeat the fighter’s armor without help. Larger compression lasers (the “compression” nomenclature remains as a tradition, despite the fact that gatling lasers fire compression lasers as well) have better luck against armor, but remain a primarily anti-shield weapon.
Because gatling lasers do not suffer the muzzle velocity reduction that auto blasters do, the choice between a compression laser and a gatling laser becomes fairly academic. Gatling lasers are nearly as effective against shields as a compression laser, owing to their high rate of fire. Some tribes prefer the larger weapons for their nominal anti-armor capability; others prefer the dual-purpose gatling lasers for use as anti-shield and anti-missile weapons.
A third type of laser is the so-called “wavelock laser.” The wavelock laser is an outgrowth of the fire-control ladar tribals use. Unlike a ladar, whose pulse is just powerful enough to locate an enemy’s position in space with pinpoint accuracy, a wavelock laser fires a pulse powerful enough to cause shield damage and even some armor damage. Because they fire a continuous beam, a wavelock laser is easy to aim and devastating against shields. Very large warcraft sometimes go so far as to use them in place of ladar! However, the enormous power requirements of a wavelock laser tend to preclude this system from widespread deployment.
Particle guns in the traditional sense no longer exist in the wilderzone. The tribes have put so much work into refining their primitive compression blasters that the difference in damage potential between a burst of charged mesons and a burst of ions is essentially nonexistent. Indeed, the tribes’ “modern” compression blasters are more powerful than charged particle guns ever were.
For this reason, the term “particle gun” in the wilderzone refers to what is more properly called a particle beam. The difference between a neutron beam and a particle blaster is subtle but significant. Instead of EM shells, particle beams generate an electromagnetic field in a cylindrical “tunnel” open at both ends. Tribal particle beams fire either neutrons or positrons down this tunnel at relativistic velocities. Of the two, positron beams are more damaging, both against shields and armor.
The resulting weapon is an odd device, even more primitive to Imperial eyes than particle blasters. Tribal shields have only moderate difficulty stopping subatomic particles as massive as a neutron, and the electrical charge carried by a positron makes it equally repellant to shields. Without the compression provided by a full EM shell, these weapons have only limited utility against shields. The electrical charge on a positron makes it somewhat more effective than a neutron at damaging shields, but without the compression of a blaster even positrons have slight anti-shield capability. However, both weapons disrupt armor at the molecular level quite easily, and are the most popular tribal energy weapons for serious anti-armor work. Very large warcraft sometimes have the raw reactor power to support wavelock particle beams, the anti-armor counterpart to the wavelock laser.
The main limitation for any particle beam lies in the tunnel it creates. The tunnel is not as stable as spherical shell, which limits the range of a particle beam despite its c-fractional muzzle velocity. Larger guns have more range owing to the greater amount of raw power they can use to create the tunnel; tribal particle beams have effective ranges of 80,000 kilometers to a full light-second.
These weapons are not truly beams. Enveloper weapons fire large bursts of subatomic particles that use the shield bubble itself as a conductor. The blast hits all of a target’s screens at once, making these weapons popular with fighters or small warcraft that must swarm larger ships in combat. Envelopers fire electromagnetic shells like compression blasters, but the shell is much larger and has the low muzzle velocity of about .4c. This limits the effective range of envelopers to about 240,000 kilometers.
Plasma guns are as popular, if not more so, than particle blasters in the wilderzone. The tribes use a form of fused plasma in all their plascannons, which makes these weapons behave very similarly to the plasma guns that battle armor infantry uses. A powerful core of negatively charged particles is injected into the plasma to keep the plasma particles from dispersing. The use of a charged core instead of an electromagnetic shell reduces dispersion at the point of impact, concentrating the force of the bolt on a smaller area for increased damage potential.
Plasma guns can be accelerated via mass drivers just like blasters, but their muzzle velocity is much lower. Plasma beams, the most devastating weapons of this type, have a muzzle velocity of only .3c. This limits their effective range to about 180,000 kilometers and lower. Plasma gatling guns can accelerate their bolts only to about .2c, making these weapons very short-reached indeed at about 120,000 kilometers of maximum range.
Although plasma has a slight anti-shield bias in its damage curve, these weapons are essentially equally effective against both shields and armor. Plasma beams fire coherent streams of plasma, making them devastating weapons for close range engagements. However, these weapons tend to be large and bulky, so they are rarely found on fighters. Fighter-mounted plasma beams are referred to as “borers,” large-bore weapons that sacrifice a regular beam’s muzzle velocity for sheer volume of plasma flow. Plasma gatling systems, with their much higher rates of fire, are more suited to the short ranges of fighter dogfights. Plasma gatling guns are mainstays of the Children of Phoenix’s fighter forces.
Autocannons are rarely found in space combat. At a range of even a thousand kilometers an autocannon has difficulty finding its mark. Even the most powerful autocannon can only achieve muzzle velocities of about Mach 200, which is only .0002c. Moreover, the weapons are ammunition-based, which adds tremendously to their bulk. For these reasons autocannons are never found on warcraft.
Nonetheless, occasionally autocannons find themselves deployed on starfighters. On a kilo-for-kilo basis, ATC shells are far more deadly than any drone or missile. They are also excellent ground support weapons. Fighter pilots whose mounts are equipped with autocannons tend to be uncommonly fond of the weapons. Pilots speak of their “autos,” “pulse guns,” “slashers,” or “shredders” almost as if the ballistic weapons were pets.
A typical starfighter autocannon is a hybrid of gravitic and electromagnetic acceleration that produces muzzle velocities of about 20 kilometers per second, although very large autocannons can produce velocities of up to 70 kps. On the scale of space combat autocannons are hopelessly slow, and even with the ability to churn out 2000 or more rounds per second, ATC-equipped starfighters only use the weapons in low-speed engagements. In deep space one almost never encounters these weapons.
ATCs can fire a wide variety of shells, which undoubtedly contributes to their popularity with pilots. The most common form of ammunition is some simple thermal high explosive like the ZJ-90 found in tribal spinfusors. These shells are effective against both armor and shields, although it takes many shells to equal the effect of a missile barrage. Antimatter shells are used for exclusive anti-armor operations; an AM shell is approximately six times as effective against armor as a THE shell of equivalent size. Finally, some autocannons are optimized for use against shields. So-called “thunder” or “hyper-flux” shells substitute an explosive payload for an electron-flux generator. A storm of such shells acts like an ELF gun or skytrop barrage, weakening the enemy’s shields at the point of contact to allow more powerful anti-armor weapons through. A popular ground-support form of this last ammunition type is the electro flechette canister. This makes an autocannon an near carbon-copy of the tribal chaingun. EF ammunition spews forth clouds of electrically charged flechettes that can sweep wide cones of terrain.
Missiles, Torpedoes, and Drones: Ranged Combat Technologies
Although energy weapons dominate tribal space warfare, missiles and other propelled weapons do have their place in tribal space combat. These weapons can offer greater hitting power at close ranges, or standoff capability at extreme range. Propelled ordinance in tribal arsenals comes in three varieties: missiles, torpedoes, and drones.
Types of Warheads
The tribes generally restrict themselves to a few types of warheads. In contrast to the thermal high explosive warheads tribal ground-based rocket systems like the Diogenes turret features, most space warheads are energy-based. In small propelled weapons the power for such warheads often comes from a simple energy cell. Larger warheads can be powered by onboard fusion reactors or even, in the most extreme cases, antimatter reactions. As a general rule of thumb, larger weapons have more powerful warheads. A laser head mounted on a 50 kg missile, therefore, is nowhere near as powerful as a laser mounted on a two-ton torpedo.
Thermal High Explosive
warheads are similar in effect to tribal spinfusors and rockets.
The explosive used is highly exothermic, and equally effective
against armor and shields.
Advantages: Splash damage without causing excessive collateral damage; useful for ground support missions. Cheap to produce.
Disadvantages: Generally less effective than other types of warheads. Requires warhead to impact the target.
Plasma warheads come in two
varieties. Plasma field warheads generate a field of high-energy
plasma that sheaths the weapon. Such weapons are highly effective
at penetrating shields and armor alike. The second type uses a
fused-plasma charge that detonates like a plascannon.
Advantages: High damage potential, effective against both shields and armor. Plasma charges are good anti-infantry weapons.
Disadvantages: Little splash effect with plasma fields, while plasma charges are less effective against ships. Requires warhead to physically impact the target.
Laser warheads also come in
two varieties. Some fire a single beam along the weapon’s axis of
travel, while others scatter dozens of less powerful beams in every
direction. In order to get maximum power, the laser bolt is
compressed slightly with an electromagnetic field. Because the
field degrades over distance, laser warheads lose power at ranges
over one light second.
Advantages: Longest-ranged of all warheads. The weapon need not actually impact the target; laser warheads detonate at ranges of about 30,000 kilometers. Laser clusters can be used to detonate behind a target, striking the potentially less powerful rear shields.
Disadvantages: Not very effective against infantry; relatively ineffective against armor.
Blaster warheads are
similar to lasers in most respects, and come in both the single-beam
and cluster variety. They are based around the tribes’ signature
particle blaster technology. In essence, a starship blaster is a
particle beam that has been compressed so tightly that it is very
nearly a single point in space. The effect is similar to that found
in SCARAB war blasters, but the smaller EM shell allows these
compression blasters to fire at about .9c, giving them an
effective range that rivals a laser’s. Blasters lose more power
over distance, beginning their degradation at about 250,000
kilometers from the point of firing. Since blaster warheads
detonate at 20,000 to 10,000 kilometers from their target, however,
this is rarely much of a concern.
Advantages: Long range. Weapon need not impact the target. More powerful than a laser; effective against both armor and shields.
Disadvantages: Not very effective against infantry
Antimatter warheads are
powerful anti-armor weapons. They can gouge large holes out of
starship hulls, since the reaction between the ship’s armor and
the antimatter is what actually provides the explosive
Advantages: Very powerful against armor.
Disadvantages: Requires warhead to impact the target; totally ineffective against shields.
Subatomic warheads utilize
the shield screens as conductors, so that they envelope the entire
shield bubble. Although the blasts of subatomic particles these
weapons fire are very slow in comparison to compression lasers or
blasters, they are stand-off weapons to a limited degree. An
enveloper warhead will detonate at about five thousand kilometers
and send its payload in an electromagnetic shell towards the target.
More importantly, these weapons can make very effective warheads
for fighters, since a hit on one side of the target benefits
fighters that are maneuvering on the target’s other
Advantages: Damages all shield locations at once. Significant area damage. Less effective against armor than antimatter, THE, or blasters but more powerful than a laser. Does not require warhead to impact the target.
Disadvantages: Requires a great deal of energy to generate the enveloper pulse. Since damage is spread out across all of the target’s shield facings, enveloper warheads are less effective against a single screen than a directional blaster or laser warhead of similar size.
ELF warheads are designed
to weaken shields and play havoc with shipboard power grids. These
weapons come in two varieties. The standard ELF warhead releases a
powerful electromagnetic flux upon impact, weakening shields or
causing momentary disruptions in power lines near the point of
impact. ELF beams are found mostly in standoff drones as
penetration aids due to their large mass. They emit a continual
shower of EM energy against a shield, creating a resonance effect
similar to that created by the tribal ELF gun. ELF beams
Advantages: Capable of disrupting enemy fire and weakening shields. Often used in conjunction with antimatter warheads.
Disadvantages: The effect of a single ELF missile is quickly shrugged off by modern shield technologies. The most powerful electromagnetic pulse is scarcely more effective than a much smaller one. Continual bombardment is required to drop a shield or create a long-term disruption in power grids. For this reason, ELF warheads are mostly found in large missile launchers that can disgorge their missiles in a ripple pattern, one after the other. ELF beams circumvent this problem, but are of limited effectiveness because of their proportionally greater mass and the fact that eventually the warhead impacts a shield.
Gravitic imploder warheads
are powerful weapons, popular with fighter pilots. A gravitic
warhead generates a powerful gravity well that can literally rip
armor off of a starship or warp a spaceframe. Gravitic warheads
have the side effect of violently arresting the target’s movement,
dragging it towards the detonation point. Imploders get their name
from the effect of a direct hit. If a spaceframe is not capable of
withstanding the stresses placed on it by a well-placed imploder,
the craft will literally fold in on itself, crushing its occupants
and mangling every system onboard.
Advantages: Capable of antimatter-level effectiveness against armor. Popular for ground support missions because T-grav can narrow or widen the area of effect, whereas very powerful antimatter warheads are considered unsafe to use near friendly positions. Capable of shorting out a grav drive, leaving ships unable to maneuver effectively in space.
Disadvantages: Less effective against shields than armor. Essentially requires the warhead to impact the target.
Missiles are the smallest of this class of weapons. Typical missiles can mass anywhere from fifty kilograms to half a metric ton. These weapons carry reaction drives for maneuvering purposes. Because their drives cannot produce enough sustained thrust to produce a meaningful velocity difference between their launch platform and themselves, missiles must gain their initial velocity boost from their launchers. Missile launchers come in two varieties:
Box launchers take up very little space - little more than the combined volume of the missiles. They propel their ordinance into space by producing a gravitic pulse that accelerates the weapon away from the launcher. Because the missiles receive only a single push, box-launched missiles have the lowest velocities of all tribal warheads. This limits their effective ranges to 100,000 kilometers or less in most engagements.
Tube launchers are much longer than the missiles they launch. Missile tubes are powerful mass drivers that combine a gravitic pulse with electromagnetic acceleration down the length of the tube to produce much higher velocities than box launchers can achieve. Because of the greater volume of the tubes, however, ships that mount missile tubes can throw fewer missiles per salvo than a ship equipped with box launchers. This disadvantage is somewhat offset by the fact that tube-launched missiles’ greater velocities give them an effective range of about 250,000 kilometers in low-speed engagements.
The advantage of a missile lies in its low mass and volume. Ships can launch large salvos of missiles - large box launchers can incorporate up to one hundred missiles in a salvo, while tube clusters can carry as many as forty. Because these weapons add comparatively little to a warcraft’s mass and take up so little space, they can be carried in prodigious amounts. Furthermore, while missiles are slow, the sheer volume of warheads that a missile-equipped ship can put into space is capable of swamping almost any point defense system. There are simply too many of them to shoot down. Finally, because these weapons are little more than rockets with seeker heads and a payload, missiles are the economical choice for tribes who do not wish to devote great amounts of resources to their space forces.
Missiles can mount laser, plasma, antimatter, ELF, high explosive, or subatomic warheads.
Torpedoes are larger than missiles and mount ion-grav drives. They are larger than missiles, massing anywhere from 750 kilos to two metric tons. This gives torpedoes a substantially heavier payload than most missiles. However, their larger size often seems to be a disadvantage. A single torpedo may be the size/mass equivalent of four missiles, and while the torpedo will localize its damage, making it more effective, the single warhead is more likely to be shot down than the four. Because of this, torpedoes are most popular on small craft like starfighters, who can close to very short ranges before releasing their weapons. Torpedoes can be launched in two ways:
Torpedo racks are little more than external hardpoints that the torpedo is mounted on. This arrangement is most common on fighters, although small warcraft sometimes jury-rig torpedo racks to augment their firepower. Rack-launched torpedoes have no velocity boost except from their onboard ion-gravity drives. These drives are powerful enough to provide up to 600 gravities of acceleration, and have enough endurance to give rack-launched torpedoes ranges of about half a light second.
Torpedo tubes are similar to missile tubes, but much larger. A torpedo tube may be as long as thirty meters, and seldom is one found that is shorter than fifteen. The combination of the accelerated pulse tube and the torpedo’s own drive, however, means that the outside effective range of these weapons can nearly rival a laser’s: about 500,000 kilometers.
Torpedoes are somewhat uncommon on spindle array-equipped warcraft. Although they have a theoretical effective range of almost two light seconds when fired from a tube, they are insufficiently fast to avoid being shot down during the flight to the target. Warcraft that want a long-ranged weapon usually take standoff drones, while missiles provide a more economical close-range firepower boost. Because of this, torpedoes are most common on starfighters. At close ranges, torpedoes are much more deadly an equivalent mass of missiles, and their relatively high accelerations mean that at close range point defense lasers have little chance to shoot them down.
However, torpedoes do have two unique advantages to recommend them. For one thing, torpedoes can mount laser, plasma, antimatter, subatomic, ELF, high explosive, subatomic, or gravitic imploder warheads. Imploder torpedoes are quite popular with some units because of their ability to both cripple and destroy, and it is generally considered a waste to mount such warheads on a drone. Because of their hybrid drives, torpedoes can also be used very close to a gravity well - making them popular with inner-system craft like corvettes and starfighters.
Drones are the largest class of propelled ordinance to be found in the tribal arsenals. They can mass anywhere from two to sixty tons. Although few are capable of faster-than-light travel, all drones carry gravity-warping drives that give them powerful accelerations. These weapons are very large and can only be launched from accelerated pulse tubes. They generally have ranges on the order of one to two million kilometers. Drones come in several varieties:
Reconnaissance drones carry sophisticated sensor packages and communication lasers. They are small enough to avoid being detected by pulse sensors except at very close ranges - good quality recon drones are can remain undetected as close to the enemy as a thousand kilometers. These units can be used to gain first-hand intelligence of an enemy from far beyond engagement range. Alternately, a warcraft can shut down all of its emissions and deploy recon drones to provide it with sensor capability without giving away its position.
Electronic warfare drones carry multiphasic cloaks, ELF beams, and a variety of gravitic and pulse sensor jammers to foul enemy sensors and allow friendly ships to approach without being detected by the enemy. Although an enemy being assaulted by EW drones will know that an attack is probably coming, the drones generally make it difficult for him to ascertain exactly where the attack is coming from. EW drones can also be used to augment point defense by locking ELF beams onto incoming torpedoes or drones and fouling their onboard electronics. They can even be programmed to mimic the sensor profile of warcraft many times their size, although only the largest drones can mimic very large ships for power requirement reasons.
Courier drones are automated radios with grav drives attached. They are used to send a radio message through a jumpgate without using the local antipodal relay (important when that relay belongs to an enemy) or dispatch an HCAR message without drawing the mothership off station. Courier drones can even be sent through a jumpgate to transmit their messages, although using them in that capacity means that the message will be broadcast for all to hear. Because they cannot mount spindle arrays, courier drones cannot make full use of a jumpgate’s threads. Courier drones are therefore capable of ordering friendly antipodal relays to select the proper thread in advance when security concerns mandate that the drone transit a thread.
Bombardment drones are special warheads used to attack a planet from orbit. A planet’s atmosphere will diffuse energy beams, and the friction of reentry will generally destroy a missile or torpedo. Bombardment drones are specially fitted with ion-grav drives and designed to execute careful reentry maneuvers that allow them to enter the atmosphere with their payload intact and deliver it to groundside targets.
Standoff drones are essentially very large torpedoes. Their powerful grav drives can give them accelerations of up to 6000 gravities, giving them very long range. Moreover, their large masses give them room for devastating payloads.
In a combat sense, drones can do something that no other form of weapon can. Bombardment drones can execute precision orbital strikes, while SDs give a warcraft an extremely long reach. The true value of an SD or BD, however, lies in its prodigious size compared to other forms of propelled ordinance. Even with the mass requirements of their special grav drives, drones can mount payloads many times the size of the largest torpedo. Alternately, the size of the payload can be downgraded to allow extra equipment to be packed into the drone body. A drone with a torpedo-sized warhead might also mount a multiphasic cloak, small shield generator, and its own ELF beam to aid in penetrating the enemy’s shields. Drones, like torpedoes, can mount any type of warhead.
The down side to drones is twofold. First, they are very large, so a ship can only carry a few of them. Since most warcraft carry at least one courier drone, several recon drones, and perhaps a few EW drones, it is usually prohibitive to dedicate mass and volume to a battery of standoff drones with sufficient reloads. Second, drones are many times as expensive on a per-kilogram basis compared to torpedoes or missiles. A sixty-ton drone might cost eight to ten times as much as sixty tons of torpedoes. Because of this, most tribes reserve deployment of drone-equipped ships for very serious occasions.
Propelled Ordinance in a Ground Support Role
Except for standoff drones, all propelled ordinance can be used in a ground support role. The most popular ground-support warheads are THE, plasma, and imploders. THE weapons are most common close-support missions. SCARABs are generally comfortable operating close to explosives, since many common hand weapons utilize that technology. Moreover, of the three most common ground support warheads, THE offers the maximum amount of firepower per cubic meter of effective volume. Other weapons may be more powerful, but they generally require a larger area of effect. When a fighter pilot makes a run in support of friendly infantry that is important, because it allows the SCARABs to follow as closely as possible on the heels of his warheads.
In the ground-support role, plasma warheads are generally of the plasma charge variety. These weapons are akin to dropping an enormously powerful plascannon bolt on the target. A small salvo of such missiles is far more effective than old-fashioned flammable liquid weapons like napalm. Plasma warheads are used primarily in preparation for ground assault. Their larger, more powerful warheads allow them to deal more damage to a greater area, and using them when no friendlies are present ensures that their fury will not harm friendly warriors.
Gravitic torpedoes are popular with pilots for shooting down enemy dropships. Too big to launch in most ground-based batteries, even the largest fighters can only carry a few imploder torpedoes. Although these weapons are quite capable of being used against ground targets, most pilots consider them too valuable for that role. Instead, they are used as quick, one-shot kills against small dropships or other fighters.
With the recent escalation of hostilities in the wilderzone, however, the richer tribes are experimenting with using gravitic torpedoes in a ground-support role once more. Several field trials have indicated that imploders would be highly effective against HERCs and grav tanks. Even if the vehicle is not killed outright, the imploder generally brings it to a crashing halt. In field tests with training rounds, several HERCs have actually been flipped on their heads by near-miss imploders.
The Role of Fighters
For the most part, the tribes consider ground combat the realm of SCARABs. Most tribes use small support vehicles - wheeled or tracked vehicles, and even low-level fliers with ion-grav drives are fairly common. True close-infantry support has traditionally been provided by grav tanks. Generally faster than infantry vehicles like scout bikes or flying personnel carriers, and sporting shields and heavy weapons, grav-tanks tend to operate in the wilderzone like pre-Fire helicopters. Hovering on their T-grav, and with a maneuverability that even starfighters cannot match, grav tanks are the preferred method of supporting infantry with heavy firepower.
Observers frequently point out that starfighters are just as capable of hovering as a grav-tank, and even mount heavier weaponry. While this is true, three considerations tend to keep starfighters from remaining stationary on the battlefield. First, on a kilo-for-kilo basis, a grav tank is cheaper to operate than a starfighter in atmosphere. The tribes find both types of vehicles distastefully resource-intensive, so they prefer to keep their starfighters from spending prolonged periods in the field. Second, even starfighters can be shot down by SCARABs. Not only is the loss of a fighter to infantry a source of considerable shame for the pilot, it is considered a shamefully wasteful use of resources. Third, while there is nothing in the Tenets that specifically proscribes the use of fighters in support of ground troops, almost all tribes seem to view the practice as criminally unfair. That my strike an Imperial observer as an absurd tactical consideration, but the tribes take it very seriously. Ritualized warfare like their Banner Coup contests is more than just a quaint entertainment: it reflects an institutional reverence for fairness in combat.
Because of these considerations, starfighters are usually called down from orbit or from their planetside bases by infantry commanders only when sorely outclassed. The fighters make a low-altitude, high-velocity approach against a target designated by the friendly senior officer on the ground. They release their ordinance and peel away. If the situation warrants it they will sometimes make another run.
The Role of Warcraft
Although kinetic strikes from orbit, or even outside a planet’s orbit, are possible with good enough sensor data, these methods of warcraft support are generally avoided by the tribes. The use of orbital strikes against holdfasts is specifically forbidden by the Tenets, as is the use of extra-orbital strikes. Mass drivers used from orbit are permitted, but rarely used.
The reason for this is twofold. First, it is extremely dangerous for any warcraft, even a destroyer, to enter a hostile world’s gravity well. Enemy fighters possess a significant advantage over warcraft in orbit owing to their far greater maneuverability and the fact that the background of the planet’s mass hides them from hostile gravitic sensors. Because of this, warcraft enter hostile orbits only if they intend to use their firepower to conduct orbital strikes against targets of high value - meaning enemy fortresses. This sort of maneuver gives the planet-bound forces plenty of time to react, and fortresses routinely undertake evasive maneuvers when an enemy warcraft is in orbit. Although it is possible to still conduct accurate kinetic strikes with accurate enough data from the ground, the process is generally considered too complicated to be worth it.
Instead, warcraft use bombardment drones. BDs are essentially high-powered cruise missiles. They are routinely equipped with multiphasic cloaks, powerful ECM suites, and shields to ensure that their payload reaches the target. Once the drone has entered the atmosphere, onboard systems guide it to the target area. At that point, friendly targeting lasers or a pre-loaded target profile can be used to designate the target in question.
Bombardment drones fly fairly slow; a typical velocity is one hundred kilometers per second. The low drive emissions helps keep their sensor profile down, since a BD on approach is a very vulnerable target. Once the target has been acquired the drone executes terminal attack maneuvers and delivers its payload. Almost any type of warhead except a laser will work to destroy or cripple a powerful fortress.
The advantage of a bombardment drone over a kinetic strike are twofold. First, a BD can be launched from any point in orbit, whereas a kinetic strike requires a precise orbital location. The longer flight time is offset by the fact that a warcraft generally only enters bombardment range to attack fortifications anyway, and those are incapable of dodging a self-guided warhead, especially with friendly ground troops to provide secondary guidance. Second, BDs allow for more precise strikes. Kinetic strikes that retain the mass and cohesion to strike the targeted point require a certain amount of kinetic energy, and few tribals take joy in wanton destruction. Besides that, if an engagement is serious enough to warrant the use of warcraft in a ground-support role, the attacker is likely moving in to stay. It is self-defeating to blow a holdfast’s defenses to rubble, when a counterattack is likely to come in a few days even in the event of a victory. BDs allow a commander the flexibility to destroy particularly troublesome fortresses at need, but in other cases the fortress can be damaged sufficiently to allow it to be taken relatively intact by ground forces.
Starship Classes and Design Philosophy
Combat spacecraft in the wilderzone are divided into dropships, fighters, and warcraft. Of the former, only strikeships are routinely armed with anything other than infantry-support weaponry. Even strikeships are seen as heavily armed transports, however, although an enterprising commander may use them to augment his forces in a pinch.
Fighters are generally one- or two-man vessels, and typically mass from sixty to two hundred tons. They are the primary fighting forces of tribal navies - the pilot and his fighter are to space combat what the warrior and his SCARAB are to ground warfare. Close to planets and stars, fighters are extremely cost-effective compared to warcraft due to the limitations of grav drives. Deeper into space, fighters become less effective. This means that combat around jumpgates is typically the arena for warcraft, although grav-drive equipped fighters can hold their own in deep space.
Warcraft are larger vessels, requiring crews of twenty men and upwards. These vessels are most common in the frigate classes and smaller, employed as the cornerstones of planetary defense fighter squadrons. Warcraft also tend to accompany serious raiding flotillas, freeing spindleship docking space that might be used for fighters to carry more dropships. Warcraft with Xavier-Ryu drives are referred to as “warp capable,” and those mounting spindle arrays as well are referred to as “web capable.” In deep space, warcraft know no equal. Closer to a planet, however, their maneuverability drops radically, making fighter screens or heavy destroyer support a necessity.
Interceptors are fast ships, in the 60 to 100 ton range, with a premium placed on drive power and maneuverability. Interceptors typically mount rectangular or square shields and light armor. Their primary mission profile is to engage other fighters, leaving more heavily armed craft free to engage without being molested by heavy fighter attacks. Interceptors are also sometimes used against dropships.
Space Superiority Fighters are larger than interceptors, massing from 80 to 130 tons. These craft strike more of a balance between speed and firepower than interceptors do. Although their primary role is still to engage enemy fighters, they are capable of engaging larger craft in a pinch and have the endurance to stay in space longer than interceptors. While it is somewhat rare for interceptors to mount propelled weapons, SSFs mount torpedoes regularly.
Strike Fighters are designed to fight their way through hostile fighter screens and engage enemy warcraft. They inhabit the 120-160 ton range. Strike fighters have a definite bias towards firepower over drive power. Strike fighter weapon configurations generally favor heavy, slow-firing weapons over the lighter, rapid-fire weapons of interceptors and SSFs. Most strike fighters mount square shields.
Attack Fighters are the heaviest starfighters, massing from 150 to 200 tons. They are relatively slow and designed expressly for engaging enemy warcraft. Attack fighters generally mount heavy missile or torpedo armaments, as well as powerful direct-fire armaments. Very large attack fighters sometimes mount hexagonal shields, and occasionally even a beta generator.
It is important to note that the most important definition of a fighter’s class is its primary role. For instance, a deep-space interceptor might mass 100 tons to accommodate a grav drive. A grav-drive attack fighter might mass over 200 tons, although craft much more massive than that are generally considered to be specialized dropships and require crews large enough to conflict with the independence and initiative expected of a tribal fighter pilot.
Corvettes (CV) are the smallest warcraft. These multi-purpose vessels most often mount ion drives, since their primary purpose is to defend a planet in conjunction with the local fighters (if any). Corvettes tend to mass from 5,000 to 20,000 tons, measure up to 100 meters long, and require crews of fifteen to thirty. They mount weaponry heavier than attack fighters, though they are slower and less maneuverable than fighters. Corvettes can generally hold one or two fighters or a small lander in their small craft bays. They are generally not warp-capable, although there are always exceptions.
Frigates (FF) are larger than corvettes and usually mount full X-R drives. They are tough enough and heavily armed enough to hold their own against multiple fighter opponents, given conditions that allow the frigate to maneuver. However, frigates’ primary roles are to engage enemy warcraft and transports, and their weaponry reflects this bias. In conjunction with other warcraft, frigates serve as escorts for larger craft. The typical frigate masses from 18,000 to 40,000 tons, measures from 100 to 180 meters in length, and has a crew of forty to ninety. Frigates are large enough to support small SCARAB complements, and a few shuttles or fighters.
Light Carriers (LC) are system-defense craft designed to support fighters. They are warp capable, but lack spindle arrays. Light carriers almost always mount ion drives, but they are essentially unarmed except for point defense and a few light weapons. Their primary purpose is to shuttle fighters around a system, allowing the smaller craft to conserve the fuel and ammunition a long flight beyond a planet would take. LCs are relatively inexpensive, and can add a great deal to the utility of a planetary fighter wing, but they are essentially glorified transports and many tribes disdain them. Light carriers mass from 20,000 to 35,000 tons, measure from 90 to 200 meters in length, and require crews of thirty to ninety, not including the fighter pilots and support personnel.
Destroyers (DD) are the smallest web-capable vessels. They are designed as raiders and anti-fighter platforms to protect larger craft and transports. These vessels are designed with multiple rapid-fire weapon mounts, X-R drives, and spindle arrays. Some destroyers even mount full ion thruster systems to allow them functionality close to a planet, although a destroyer-sized ion drive is a major mass and volume consideration. These vessels are by far the most common web capable warcraft in the wilderzone and mass from 40,000 to 60,000 tons. Without their spindle arrays, destroyers measure from 170 to 260 meters in length, with crews of 80 to 170. Destroyers do not usually have a small craft capacity greater than a frigate’s, although their marine complements are substantially bigger. Destroyers typically mount hexagonal shields.
Hunter-Killers (HK) are raiding vessels. They are scarcely more heavily armed than a frigate, but carry large numbers of fighters or dropships. Hunter killer vessels are fast, and typically carry full-sized ion drives in addition to their warp drives and spindle arrays so that they can support their fighters close to planets. HKs typically mass from 35,000 to 70,000 tons and measure from 150 to 300 meters in length. Because most of their bulk is devoted to dropships, fighters, and the supplies those craft require, HK crews are typically only 70 to 150. In practice, they carry more passengers, since the HK’s crew is not responsible for piloting or servicing the fighters they carry.
Light Cruisers (CL) are larger than destroyers and formidable vessels. Light cruisers are capable of engaging many frigates at once and emerging victorious. They have reasonable anti-fighter capabilities, though ton for ton a destroyer is a better anti-fighter platform. CLs are designed for conquest, particularly holding jumpgates, and to this end they are designed with the ability to hold off both warcraft and fighters in mind. They rarely mount ion drives except as maneuvering thrusters, since they are not expected to venture close to planets. However, light cruisers are capable of putting a platoon or two of infantry onto a planet with a handful of fighters to support the dropships. Light cruisers mass from 90,000 to 130,000 tons, measure up to 400 meters in length, and require crews of 200 to 450.
Jump Carriers (FC, for “fighter carrier”) are larger than hunter killers and can support many fighters on an extended campaign. These vessels carry fairly heavy armaments, with many point defense and anti-fighter batteries. A jump carrier’s main weapon against enemy warcraft is its fighter wing. These vessels are tough, typically mounting octagonal shields. They usually do not mount full ion drives. Jump carriers mass from 90,000 to 150,000 tons, and measure from 350 to 600 meters in length. The crew required to run a jump carrier, aside from the fighter personnel, is typically 200 to 500 spacers.
Heavy Cruisers (CA, for “attack cruiser”) are the heaviest warcraft one is likely to find in the wilderzone. These vessels are expected to form the centerpieces of task forces, and their armaments are heavily biased towards engaging other warcraft. They also tend to devote a greater proportion of their armament to propelled weapons than other classes of warcraft. Heavy cruisers routinely mount octagonal shields and can mass from 150,000 to 300,000 tons, with maximum lengths running up to 700 meters. These vessels can require crews of about 500 to 800, and represent an impressive investment for even the most wealthy tribes.
Hyper Cruisers (CH) are veritable black-ocean fortresses. These vessels are rarely seen because they are so expensive, but there are few things a hyper cruiser cannot do. They can carry the dropship capacity for an entire raiding force, with the fighter capacity to match. Hyper cruisers always mount octagonal shields, usually in a gamma pattern. They can engage whole fleets of smaller warcraft and win, and even if their weaponry is primarily devoted to engaging other warcraft, the sheer number of mounts they carry makes them tough targets for fighters as well. They can mass anywhere from 400,000 to 900,000 tons, measure from 800 to 1500 meters, and demand crews of 1,000 to as many as 2,500 spacers.
The following are examples of each of the above classes of fighters and starships, most taken from the arsenals of the Great Tribes. Some of these vessels are typical of their class, while others are exceptions to the rule.
A note on maneuverability statistics: for fighters, pitch, roll, and yaw rates are given assuming that the fighter does not attempt to change its vector (for instance, flip over without altering course or speed). The vector change number states the maximum speed a craft can move at while completely reversing course in six seconds. Faster velocities result in less ability to alter course, while slower velocities increase maneuverability.
Also note that while some fighters are scarcely faster than certain types of warcraft, they generally outperform warcraft closer to a planet or star. Most fighters mount ion drives, which lose only a fraction of their available power near a star or planet. The amount of force a grav drive can safely produce decreases by four every time distance to a gravity well is cut in half. Thus, a heavy cruiser drive capable of producing 902 giganewtons of thrust at distance d from a planet would only be able to produce 226 giganewtons of thrust if that distance was cut in half. Shipboard T-grav suites can mitigate this effect to a certain extent, but the fact remains that ion-driven vessels are far more useful in the inner system than a warp drive ship. Moreover, even grav-drive “deep space” fighters are more effective than warp driven warcraft deep in a gravity well, for the simple reason that they require less force to accelerate them. The end result of this technological bottleneck is a split of the black ocean battlefield. The inner system belongs primarily to fighters and small, ion-drive warcraft like corvettes. Such craft can battle in a system’s outer reaches, but deep space combat truly belongs to warp capable warcraft.
In general, the tribes do not mass-produce weapons of war. Even relatively simple devices such as war blasters are usually lovingly constructed by skilled craftsmen. Indeed, tribal smiths tend to be offended by the very idea that a mere assembly line can replace their hard-won skills. Since even “hand-crafted” weapons are usually wrought using entek, they are not far wrong in this assertion. A factory is scarcely faster than an entek-equipped craftsman, and the factory cannot take advantage of nano-construction sequences without human supervisors in any case - essentially turning it into an amalgam of individual craftsmen.
With regard to starships this paradigm shifts slightly, as the components produced are so large that a certain amount of machinery must be used to assist the craftsmen. Despite this, the basic cultural preference for hand-crafted designs remains. Starships can be fitted with different weapons, but the process is time-consuming and relatively difficult. To save space and mass, warcraft are usually designed with the ability to supply a given weapon loadout with power. To change a ship’s weapons plays havoc with its power distribution system despite the redundancy built into ships of war. Altering equipment configurations is most common on fighters, whose systems are relatively simple compared to a warcraft’s. Nonetheless, some tribes prefer ships that are designed with extreme flexibility of equipment in mind, crafting their ships out of a few large pieces and/or designing weapon pods that provide the requisite power couplings and adapters. That kind of flexibility comes at a price, however. Compared to ships whose hulls are made of a single piece of armor, they are far more susceptible to damage in battle. Such ships and components also tend to weigh more and be larger than their purpose-built counterparts. Most tribes prefer to compromise by designing ships that are capable of handling a wide variety of roles, which is a large reason for the predominance of hulls in the destroyer class and smaller in wilderzone navies.
Nova Flare interceptor
Length: 18 meters
Wingspan: 8 meters
Mass: 65 tons
Armament: 2 plasma gatlings
Shield Generator: Alpha rectangular
Armor: 5 cm
Drive: Ion thrusters
Maximum Acceleration: 950 g (rated at 605mN)
Maximum Yaw: 100º/second
Maximum Roll: 160º/second
Maximum Pitch: 120º/second
Maximum speed at 30º vector change per second: 16.1 kps
Endurance: 5 hours
Description: The Nova Flare is a common interceptor among the Children of Phoenix. Though lightly armed, Nova Flares are formidable foes in a dogfight. They work best at close range, where their plasma gatling guns are not hampered much by muzzle velocity, since most of the Nova Flare’s mass is devoted to its acceleration compensator and ion thruster bank.
Raider Space Superiority Fighter
Length: 24 m
Wingspan: 30 m
Mass: 100 tons
Armament: 1 120mm autocannon, 3 autoblasters, 2 16-missile box launchers
Ammunition: 400 rounds
Warheads: 96 75-kg warheads
Shield Generator: gamma rectangular
Armor: 12 cm
Drive: Ion thrusters (rated at 785mN)
Maximum Acceleration: 800 g
Maximum Yaw: 100º/second
Maximum Roll: 150º/second
Maximum Pitch: 130º/second
Maximum speed at 30º vector change per second: 13.6 kps
Endurance: 8 hours
Description: The Raider is a common sight aboard Diamond Sword hunter killers. Able to out-climb most interceptors, the Raider can more than hold its own in the inner-system dogfights for which it is designed. The Raider’s primary anti-warcraft system is its box launchers, which are typically equipped with multidirectional laser heads. Flights of Raiders hit a target’s shields from multiple angles. The craft are maneuverable enough to overfly the typically weaker “rear” shields and hit them with their autocannon once the laser heads have downed the screens. In return for its powerful maneuvering specifications, the Raider’s shields are little better than the average interceptor’s. Its hull armor is also somewhat weak for an SSF.
Howler Strike Fighter
Length: 36 m
Wingspan: 50 m
Mass: 145 tons
Armament: 1 enveloper, 2 gatling lasers, 6 torpedo racks, 2 compression blasters
Warheads: 6 1000-kg warheads
Shield Generator: beta square
Armor: 34 cm
Drive: Ion thrusters (rated at 967mN)
Maximum Acceleration: 680 g
Maximum Yaw: 80º/second
Maximum Roll: 100º/second
Maximum Pitch: 90º/second
Maximum speed at 30º vector change per second: 11.6 kps
Endurance: 12 hours
Description: The Howler is an aging Starwolf strike fighter design. Its main punch comes from the sextet of torpedo racks it carries. Howlers must fight close to enemy warcraft to deliver their warheads, which makes these craft poor choices for fighting destroyers or light cruisers. As an inner system attack vessel, however, Howlers are still quite capable units. They are especially noted among fighters of their class for their durability.
Osprey Deep Space Assault Fighter
Length: 50 m
Wingspan: 96 m
Mass: 260 tons
Armament: 10 missile tubes, 2 autoblasters, 4 neutron guns, 1 plasma borers
Warheads: 50 100-kg warheads
Shield Generator: alpha hexagonal
Armor: 45 cm
Drive: grav drive (rated at 1530mN) with ion maneuvering thrusters
Maximum Acceleration: 600 g
Maximum Yaw: 70º/second
Maximum Roll: 90º/second
Maximum Pitch: 75º/second
Maximum speed at 30º vector change per second: 10.8 kps
Endurance: 20 hours
Description: The hideously expensive Osprey is a relatively new class of Blood Eagle assault fighter that has entered service since the start of the Starwolf feud. Almost half as expensive as some corvettes, Ospreys were designed as force multipliers for the Blood Eagle navy. Squadrons of these units, backed by a frigate or hunter killer, would be dropped into enemy territory to lay siege to the system or seize control of its jumpgate. The Osprey’s powerful armament fails somewhat on the anti-shield side; once an Osprey’s missiles run out it must rely on supporting craft to down an enemy warcraft’s shields. Without a full ion thruster bank, Ospreys do not operate well in gravity wells. In deep space, however, these fighters are serious contenders.
Length: 63 m
Maximum Beam: 21 m
Mass: 12,000 tons
Armament: 1 compression laser, 6 autoblasters, 1 neutron gun, 2 plasma gatlings, 2 16-missile box launchers
Warheads: 960 300-kg missiles
Shield Generator: beta square
Armor: 115 cm
Drive: Ion thrusters (rated at 55gN)
Maximum Acceleration: 470 g
Maximum speed at 30º vector change per second: 5.8 kps
Spindle Array: N/A
Small craft capacity: 80 tons + 2 ships on docking collars
SCARAB complement: 5
Description: Denlord corvettes are an example of system-defense warcraft and are fairly common in Starwolf territories. Although Denlords fare poorly in deep space because they lack grav drives, they can hold their own close to their home planets. These vessels’ main defense is their relatively powerful ECM suites and the large number of missiles they can fire at once. Denlords typically carry a mix of missiles, and often seed their salvos with multiple types of missiles for maximum effect.
Deflected Strike-class Frigate
Length: 140 m
Maximum Beam: 34 m
Mass: 28,000 tons
Armament: 20 torpedo tubes, 6 compression blasters, 6 positron guns, 14 gatling lasers
Warheads: 600 1000-kg warheads
Shield Generator: beta square
Armor: 170 cm
Drive: Xavier-Ryu (rated at 137gN) with ion maneuvering thrusters
Maximum Acceleration: 500 g
Maximum speed at 30º vector change per second: 8.5 kps
Spindle Array: N/A
Small craft capacity: 100 tons + 200 tons on docking collars
SCARAB complement: 9
Description: Deflected Strike frigates are assigned to important Diamond Sword holdings as system defense craft. Though weak against fighters, Deflected Strike vessels are powerful enough to deter most commerce raiders and protect convoys.
Protector-class Light Carrier
Length: 140 m
Maximum Beam: 57 m
Mass: 24,000 tons
Armament: 30 gatling lasers, 3 compression blasters, 1 plasma beam
Shield Generator: gamma square
Armor: 180 cm
Drive: Xavier-Ryu (rated at 122 gN); ion thruster (rated at 71 gN)
Maximum Acceleration: 520 g; 300 g
Maximum speed at 30º vector change per second: 8.8 kps; 3.9 kps
Spindle Array: N/A
Small craft capacity: 1,700 tons + 6 ships on docking collars
SCARAB complement: varies
Description: Protector light carriers are one of the more ubiquitous vessels found in the wilderzone. These vessels are cheap to produce and popular with smaller tribes, since a Protector can turn a fighter wing into an offensive weapon. These vessels carry heavy protection for their fighters, but are virtually unarmed. Of particular note is the fact that Protectors mount two separate drive systems to allow them the ability to maneuver near their fighters’ home planet.
Length: 215 m
Maximum Beam: 80 m
Mass: 55,000 tons
Armament: 8 compression blasters, 4 neutron guns, 12 drone tubes, 28 autoblasters, 32 gatling lasers
Warheads: 200 35-ton standoff drones, 8 10-ton bombardment drones
Shield Generator: alpha octagonal
Armor: 220 cm
Drive: Xavier-Ryu (rated at 297gN) with ion maneuvering thrusters
Maximum Acceleration: 550 g
Maximum speed at 30º vector change per second: 9.3 kps
Spindle Array: 2 800-meter spindles, retractable 160 meters
Small craft capacity: 300 tons
SCARAB complement: 12
Description: Khopesh class destroyers are the backbone of the Blood Eagle’s web capable navy. These ships are fearsome foes against fighter attacks, though compared to some other destroyer classes they are light on anti-fighter mounts. The reason for this is the powerful drone complements that Khopeshes carry, making them almost the equivalent of a small light cruiser until they run out of ammunition. Khopeshes are easily distinguished visually by their distinctive ovoid shape, dorsal and ventral spindles, and the two rings fore and aft. The rings carry most of a Khopesh’s beams, while the drone tubes are situated broadside.
Charge of Truth-class Hunter Killer
Length: 230 m
Maximum Beam: 80 m
Mass: 60,000 tons
Armament: 4 envelopers, 10 compression lasers, 4 positron guns, 2 wavelock lasers, 6 16-missile box launchers, 10 autoblasters
Warheads: 3840 100-kg missiles
Shield Generator: gamma hexagonal
Armor: 200 cm
Drive: Xavier-Ryu (rated at 294gN); ion thrusters (rated at 259gN)
Maximum Acceleration: 500 g, 440 g
Maximum speed at 30º vector change per second: 8.5 kps; 6.4 kps
Spindle Array: 6 300-meter folding spindles
Small craft capacity: 2,800 tons + 4 ships on docking collars
SCARAB complement: 18
Description: The Charge of Truth class is a common Diamond Sword raiding unit. The mother ship is expected to enter combat along with its fighters, lending them anti-shield support against large craft. HKs are the largest craft the Diamond Sword routinely fields, and their skippers use the number of spacecraft at their command to continue the tribe’s tradition of innovative strategies. While Charge of Truth vessels are well protected, they have two weaknesses. The first is their relative helplessness against other warcraft in the absence of their fighter support. The second is the gamma hexagonal shield generator. Such a complex shield pattern is typical of the Diamond Sword, but leaves each individual screen weaker than one might expect on a 60,000 ton vessel.
Valhalla-class Light Cruiser
Length: 320 m
Maximum Beam: 70 m
Mass: 105,000 tons
Armament: 40 torpedo tubes, 20 autoblasters, 15 compression lasers, 20 neutron guns, 6 plasma beams
Warheads: 1200 1500-kg warheads
Shield Generator: alpha hexagonal
Armor: 240 cm
Drive: Xavier Ryu (rated at 477gN) with ion maneuvering thrusters
Maximum Acceleration: 460 g
Maximum speed at 30º vector change per second: 7.8 kps
Spindle Array: four 400-meter spindles
Small craft capacity:
Crew: 2,000 tons + 5 ships on docking collars
SCARAB complement: 75
Description: Light cruisers, as a rule, are the heaviest units that the Starwolf employ. The Valhalla class typically Starwolf in the simplicity of its design. Rather than a complex shield pattern, Valhallas have an alpha hexagonal generator with unusually powerful screens. They are heavily armed for ship to ship combat as well as fending off fighter attacks. Valhallas can carry an entire warband of warriors, and support the dropships with a skyclaw’s worth of fighters carried externally.
Glorious-class Jump Carrier
Length: 490 m
Maximum Beam: 200 m
Mass: 118,000 tons
Armament: 8 plasma beams, 6 compression blasters, 30 plasma gatlings, 20 gatling lasers, 16 drone tubes
Warheads: 480 40-ton standoff drones
Shield Generator: beta octagonal
Armor: 240 cm
Drive: Xavier-Ryu (rated at 498gN) with reaction maneuvering thrusters
Maximum Acceleration: 430 g
Maximum speed at 30º vector change per second: 7.3 kps
Spindle Array: 6 260-meter spindles
Small craft capacity: 8,000 tons
SCARAB complement: 30
Description: Glorious-class carriers are the capital ships of choice for the Children of Phoenix. That tribe’s emphasis on elite fighter pilots makes the jump carrier class a natural choice for the First Tribe; indeed, outside the Children FCs are rarely seen at all. The ships are powerful in their own right, although certainly not the match of a properly handled cruiser without their fighters. The carrier’s powerful drones make it a formidable partner to its fighters, which can focus more heavily on anti-armor weaponry with the knowledge that the mothership is available to engage a target’s shields.
Unbreakable Strength-class Heavy Cruiser
Length: 630 m
Maximum Beam: 196 m
Mass: 230,000 tons
Armament: 30 torpedo tubes, 10 drone tubes, 18 autoblasters, 10 envelopers, 30 positron guns, 30 compression blasters
Warheads: 1050 2000-kg torpedoes; 200 15-ton bombardment drones
Shield Generator: gamma hexagonal
Armor: 305 cm
Drive: Xavier-Ryu (rated at 902gN) with reaction maneuvering thrusters
Maximum Acceleration: 400 g
Maximum speed at 30º vector change per second: 6.8 kps
Spindle Array: 3 530-meter retractable spindles
Small craft capacity: 2,300 tons + 9 ships on docking collars
SCARAB complement: 162
Description: These vessels are most often seen with the Diamond Sword and represent incredible concentrations of firepower. Oddly enough, the Unbreakable Strength class was designed with a bombardment drone complement. The Diamond Sword has only a handful of these vessels, usually assigned to the Pure Facet for “peacekeeping” missions. For serious warfare, the Diamond Sword considers heavy cruisers to be crude tools.
Paramount-class Hyper Cruiser
Length: 1340 m
Maximum Beam: 400 m
Mass: 800,000 tons
Armament: 10 drone tubes; 4 64-missile box launchers; 20 plasma beams; 30 gatling lasers; 10 autoblasters; 40 compression blasters; 25 positron guns
Warheads: 180 60-ton standoff drones; 7680 500-kg missiles
Shield Generator: gamma octagonal
Armor: 540 cm
Drive: Xavier-Ryu (rated at 2746gN); ion thrusters (rated at 628gN)
Maximum Acceleration: 350 g; 80 g
Maximum speed at 30º vector change per second: 5.9 kps; .96 kps
Spindle Array: 4 400-meter retractable spindles
Small craft capacity: 6,000 tons + 2 ships on docking collars
SCARAB complement: 600
Description: The Blood Eagle maintain only one hyper cruiser in their fleet. The single Paramount class vessel is always named after the current Grand Master Paramount and assigned to his pennant. The Great Eagle’s hyper cruiser is supposed to be the single incontrovertible evidence of his authority. Equipped with a blistering array of weaponry and carrying an entire talon of hardshelled warriors, this vessel is arguably the single most powerful force in the wilderzone. Paramounts have only been destroyed twice in the history of the tribe, once from within and once while in orbit around a hostile planet. The symbolic significance of the Blood Eagle’s hyper cruiser is so great that the designers devoted over one hundred thousand tons to providing it with a bank of ion thrusters to allow the ship to fight in the inner system, though 80 gees of maximum acceleration hardly qualifies Paramounts as in-system fighters in the minds of most skippers. The Alexandre Konovalev pulled out of Starwolf territories in 3940 when the Great Eagle himself withdrew from the conflict.
Entertainment vids often portray starships as lone operators in the deeps of space, but the reality is more complex than that. Even if a task force centers around a single transport or warcraft, starships rarely travel alone. A starship always has to communicate with shuttles, dropships, fighters, other starships, or planets.
The simplest form of starship communication is the radio. This technology has changed very little over the centuries: long-wave electromagnetic radiation is emitted by one ship and received by another, then decoded at the receiving end into voice or data. Tribal radios support a variety of encryption techniques, and “hop” frequencies every few seconds to discourage eavesdropping. The frequency-hopping algorithm is a secret as closely guarded as a military’s IFF codes; without it hostile vessels have an almost impossible time listening in on radio conversations.
The key to the radio’s longevity lies in the invention of the pulse sensor jammer, or multi-phasic cloak. Such devices cover a wide range of the electromagnetic spectrum. Only extremely low frequency radio waves or extremely high frequency gamma rays escape the coverage of modern jammers. Since gamma rays are filtered out by modern shields, radio is the only method of electromagnetic communication available on the modern battlefield. This allows radio communication even in combat situations, when vessels are shrouded by complicated layers of ECM.
The primary downside to radio is that the vastness of space requires transmissions to be made over a large area. While radio transmissions can be made directional, it is still possible for an enemy ship lying close to the line of transmission to detect the broadcast on his radio receiver or passive EM sensors. When absolutely secrecy is required, starships use radio-frequency lasers to communicate. Intercepting a raser requires physically interposing the eavesdropping ship along the beam, which is whisker-thin. Best of all, unless a raser actually strikes an enemy vessel there is no way to detect its existence at all.
The disadvantage to raser communication is that it requires that the beam be aimed with pinpoint accuracy. The process is almost exactly that of aiming a ladar beam; communication by raser in the middle of combat is therefore usually impossible. When the transmitting and receiving vessels are keeping relatively still, raser communication can be established after about half a minute of trial and error.
A subset of radio communications is the HCAR, or hyperweb coherent antipodal relay. The heart of this system is the antipodal relay, a large satellite comprised of a spindle array, radio, encryption gear, gravitic pulse emitter, and station-keeping thrusters. These stations are used to relay messages through jumpgates. A ship with the proper authentication codes can transmit a message and destination to the AR, which then opens the jumpgate, selects the proper destination thread, and re-transmits the message.
The advantages of this system are twofold. First, it allows vessels without spindle arrays to send messages through the hyperweb. The message travels at many times the speed of light, and in many cases substantially faster than a mail courier vessel would. Second, the AR allows a vessel to send messages through a jumpgate without stopping to open the gate and select the proper thread itself. Civilian vessels enjoy the luxury of sending messages without wasting valuable time and operating expenses. Military vessels oftentimes use a hypercast to transmit news of hostile invasion without leaving their patrol routes.
Antipodal relays are found near most jumpgates in inhabited systems. Gates in uninhabited space rarely have an AR station, since there is nobody to perform maintenance on the satellite should it break down. Because it incorporates a spindle array, AR stations represent a considerable investment for a planet’s population. Usually the increased traffic they bring is considered worth it. Some planets charge skippers a toll for authentication codes to the local relay in an attempt to exploit the asset further.
The biggest disadvantage to sending hypercast messages lies in a peculiar property of electromagnetic radiation called diffraction. Unless activated by a powerful gravitic pulse, a jumpgate exists as a microscopic aperture in space. Because the jumpgate terminus is so small, radio messages that exit the gate exit not as a beam but a hemispherical wave. If a raser is used, the message beam exits the jumpgate at an angle so extreme that it almost always misses the intended receiver. For this reason, hypercast messages can be received by anybody who cares to hear. The only way to ensure privacy is to encrypt the message as heavily as possible.
Most starships carry one or two courier drones for emergency purposes. Too small to mount warp drives on their own, CDs can be launched to send a final message from a dying ship to the local antipodal relay. They also serve as backup communication devices for ships whose radios have been damaged, and a method for warships to communicate clandestinely when a raser connection cannot be established. Manned vessels can be used in this role as well, but CDs are much less likely to be detected.
A CD is a torpedo-shaped object from three to nine meters long. The typical CD masses five to ten tons. It contains a grav and ion drive, a sensitive sensor suite, some rudimentary ECM, and a radio/raser transmitter/receiver. CDs can be preprogrammed with the sensor profile of the intended receiver and allowed to seek out the vessel autonomously, or directed by a ship’s communications officer.
Encomms (“N-comm,” from the ancient practice of calling graviton emissions “not-waves”) are simple devices for transmitting messages outside of the electromagnetic spectrum. Encomms are little more than a low-power pi-field inducer that directs an alternating stream of gravitons and antigravitons at the receiving vessel. The transmission rate is somewhat slower than that for radio transmissions. If the receiving vessel is operating under extremely strong TGECM the message can become garbled, but in general encomms can punch through such jamming with the help of skilled communications officers.
Tactically speaking, encomms suffer numerous limitations. Primarily they are useful for communicating when one vessel is under MPC and unable to send or receive radio transmissions. They can only transit in cones, increasing the likelihood of somebody intercepting the transmission the farther it must travel. Since the encomm does not operate on the same action-at-a-distance principle as the transcomm, it can only be used between two vessels with a line of sight to one another. Encomm transmissions cannot be hypercast, since the same forces within a thread that prevent warp drives from functioning stop the transmission only a few meters into the thread. Finally, encomm effectiveness degrades according to the same principles as warp drive interference with other gravity wells. Passing the transmission too close to a planet or star scrambles the transmission beyond hope.
The rarest of all communication devices, transcomms allow instantaneous communication over distances as great as 5,000 light-years. More often than not, these devices are as expensive as a full-fledged warcraft. Indeed, they are more precious than warcraft in the wilderzone, because only Imperial specialists can manufacture transcomms.
The heart of a transcomm is a resonating object called a quantum reed. The basic premise is to create a macroatom and split in two while maintaining the quantum link between the two objects. Any change in one half will instantaneously produce a predictable and matching change in the other half, allowing faster-than-light communication. Modern Q-reeds are “grown” in matrices that produce many reeds. A reed can transmit to any reeds from its own matrix, but to no others. A reed’s matrix identity can be switched after it has been grown, but the process is taxing even on Imperial technology and only a handful of technicians outside of the Imperial military possess the skill.
Because they are so rare in the wilderzone, tribal transcomms are usually used to link strategic worlds into defense sectors. They are almost never found aboard starships. A reed can only transmit to its own matrix. Tribal task forces are usually formed on an ad hoc basis, making the concept of transporting an entire batch of Q-reeds to a given group of vessels a logistical and strategic nightmare. The Imperial Navy, on the other hand, has a virtual monopoly on Q-reed production. In the Empire task forces are formed on a more permanent basis, making it practical to assign a single matrix to each task force. The instantaneous and absolutely private communication this allows gives the Imperial Navy the level of coordination that make it such a deadly force in combat.