Friday, December 14, 2018

Dark Nebula 2900 AD - Ships and Technology

Following my continued interest in the Dark Nebula OTU variant, I was thinking about the setting's technological and space groundwork.

Highest sustainable technology for both Aslan and (local) Solomani is TL11. The Rule of Man reached TL12, but Maadin and Mechane - the most advanced local human worlds - were frontier colonies. Once cut off due to the 2nd Imperium's collapse, they were left to their own devices and had to rely on the less advanced local frontier manufacturing capacities. There is TL12 gear around - but is decades old. The reason I lowered sustainable technology is mainly to make space "topography" matter - at J-2, there are far more "choke points" which you have to pass to reach your enemy, and the Dark Nebula offers such a route as well. At TL12, with J-3, everything becomes easier, too easy in fact, and "topography" matters far less. Without the Dark Nebula, there is only a single J-2 route between the prospective belligerents, so control of the Nebula will allow circumventing defenses and choke-points.

Of course, the Dark Nebula has TL12+ artifacts, sometimes reaching up to TL16. Most in working order as subjective time in the Nebula during its "jump" was quite short. Exploring the nebula is key for rapid technological development, which, in turn, is key for victory in the upcoming wars.

This will probably be a "quasi-small-ship" universe. The Dark Nebula board-game calls for large ships, such as transports capable of carrying an entire ground forces division. However, their number is sharply limited by local production capacities. I will probably use Trillion Credits Squadron for the main combatants. However, apart from the major combatants (quite few in number - you get 40 RUs to start with and a Strike Cruiser costs 10 RUs, for example), everything is below 5000 tons and can use The Traveller Book/Starter Traveller rules. I will check TCS for more details later, but again - no huge fleets of tens of multi-kdton battlecruisers here.

I might use either High Guard or "Expanded" Book 2 for the bigger ships; the "Expansion" allows ships of up to 12,000 tons by logically extending the Book 2 drive table. If this will be sufficient for transporting an armored brigade or an infantry division - I will use this. Otherwise - I will use High Guard.

I'm using High Guard jump drive TLs in this setting: J-1 at TL9-10, J-2 at TL11, and J-3 at TL12.

There are no empty-hex jumps in this setting, again - to maintain space "topography". Also, no "Jump Torpedoes".

Otherwise, expect standard Traveller technology peaking at TL11 outside the Nebula (and up to TL16 inside it) - grav/cars, grav-tanks, fusion reactors small enough to power a vehicle but not compact enough to power personal plasma weapons. Cybernetics exist outside the Nebula but are uncommon; inside the Nebula you can find cyborgs and all sorts of cybertechnology. No AIs or sentient robots outside the Nebula, but one fully sentient (and mad) AI ruling at least one world inside the Dark Nebula itself.


  1. Fascinating as always, Mr. Joel. One point regarding the fleets of the opposing powers: We have HG2 and they do not. We know that nuke-tipped missiles are the best weapon system at TL 11 and they do not. Their ships are going to be designed with what they believe are the lessons of the previous wars they've fought. The Solomani are going to copy the ships with which their ancestors beat the Ziru Sirka - large ships armed with spinal mounts. The Aslan are going to build the types of ships which are useful in the constant, small scale, intra-clan, skirmishing. Neither of those types may prove useful in the coming war.

    The Solomani aren't going to be able to truly copy those Terran battleships, but that doesn't mean they won't try. Their attempt to build/deploy a "real" navy could handicap them in important ways. Look at the South American nations, for example, who would waste almost their entire naval budget on buying a foreign battleship or two. They weren't able to maintain them and often lacked the money to operate them. Those battleships not only couldn't perform many of the duties their navies really needed to do, but the cost of those battleships also meant there weren't enough other ships to perform those duties either. Despite all that, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina still bought those battleships.

    The Aslan are going to have a similar problem expressed in a very different way. Their experiences mean they want to build/deploy the kinds of "light" forces which a male or two can "man" to gain individual glory/honor and which are good for the constant skirmishing and "dueling" which occur between clans.

    This doesn't mean that the Solomani will have nothing but spinal-armed battleships and the Aslan will have nothing but tiny, one-"man", fighters. It does suggest that the both navies will be "unbalanced" in some way. With their tonnage tied up in battleships, the Solomani may not have enough "light" or "escort" units and, with their emphasis on individual combat, the Aslan may not have enough "heavy" units to slug it out.

    Just my 0.02 Cr.

    1. I like that! Great points.

      If I recall correctly, though Terrans in the Interstellar Wars were really into missile boats, compared to the Vilani who had more orthodox vessels. But spinal mounts do have an attractive factor to them, especially to militarist regimes such as the Maadin Confederation. Big guns are appealing. So the pre-war Solomani ships will probably be a combination of missile destroyers and battleships, with little or no intermediate ships.

      Also keep in mind that there were two previous military conflicts between Solomani and Aslan in the Dark Nebula, though these were mostly at the destroyer/light carrier level rather than on the battleship level. Again, an incentive for light missile ships, without intermediate ships (cruisers), with huge battleships built for prestige purposes and to follow the old Interstellar Wars Terran doctrines.

      Both navies have very little hands-on experience with cruisers and capital ships, especially the Aslan who never fought a full-scale war against an interstellar foe, but also the local Solomani who follow very old doctrines not necessarily adapted to local conditions.

  2. The meta-history of the Interstellar Wars is far too convoluted to address here. The initial idea of the Wars came from a wargame which predates Traveller and what few details exist have been haphazardly added across 40+ years, dozens of products, and several versions. The "Terrans like missile boats" concept is a fairly late addition to the mess. The weapon tables HG2 rules certainly suggested it, but we had to wait for GT to finally state it.

    A long time part of the IW story, however, has been that two Terran tech breakthrough finally ended the wars; jump3 and the meson gun spinal mount. Spinal-armed capital ships destroyed the ZS Central Fleet and then used the strategic speed afforded them by jump3 to blow open the front which up until then had been limited to the Rim sector. That history and "knowledge", plus the "lessons" it "teaches", will be part of Maadin's cultural "baggage". It doesn't mean they're going to build or even be able to build huge spinal-armed battleships. It does mean they're going to think they should be striving towards building huge spinal-armed battleships and that similar vessels are the "true" arm of decision.

    What I'm trying to say is this cultural "hangover" Maadin has - plus different hangover associated with the different Aslan culture - means that neither fleet will be optimal. They're not going to sit down with HG2 and TCS, run a spreadsheet a few hundred times, and come out with the perfect TL11 designs. Their ships are going to be designed with budgets, politics, guesses, and cultural blindspots at work than anything else.

    1. Great point! Plus, militarist regimes such as that on Maadin often invest in "prestige" projects, such as building a "white elephant" battleship.

      There were previous rounds of conflict with the Aslan, but none involved major naval engagements. They were more ground "police actions" against ihatei, with space combat against small ihatei ships, so no lessons learned about actual large-scale naval combat with capital ships.