I find myself thinking about setting detail for By The Stars. Specifically, space travel. The biggest decision is: More authentic relativistic slower-than-light interstellar travel vs. more sci-fi faster-than-light travel. Maybe I should puzzle out some of the pros and cons.
RELATIVISTIC INTERSTELLAR TRAVEL
- It’s rooted in reality. c is the universal speed limit, as near as we can tell, and thus what real space travelers are going to have to deal with some day. There are many sources of hard, scientific speculation about what such travel will be like.
- It’s counter-intuitively rare in gaming, and pop-culture sci-fi in general. Mostly, they mumble about trans-whatsis-drive and get to the blasters and aliens. Novelty is a selling point, and I always like breaking semi-new ground.
- It makes an epic time scale easy. When a single trip of a few months’ time from the travellers’ point-of-view could span hundreds of years for planet-bound folks, having millenia-old cultures and traditions is a snap. Plus, pairing it with a LeGuin-like ansible makes for really interesting slow-travel, fast-talking paradoxes.
- It’s hard to wrap one’s head around. The science fiction novels that make good use of relativistic space flight are well-pondered on many levels. Putting it in the game demands more forethought from players, and pushing them out of their comfort zone. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to be aware of.
- It isolates characters. This is a BIG one. Talk about problems of splitting the party! I’ve taken a trip that will last a month for me and 50 years for you–what does that do to our shared narrative? Relationships outside the ship are going to apply to their own situation only, because NPCs will likely be long gone by the time you come around again. The thought of record-keeping alone makes my eyes cross.
- It sets a standard that I, honestly, don’t have an interest in meeting. Choosing the unpopular, realistic option in something as central as space travel implies that other unpopular, realistic options–such as propulsion systems, particle shielding, power sources, transhumanism–are fair game and should be considered. But I’m not a guy that finds strong appeals in the hard science speculation.
HAND-WAVING FTL TRAVEL
- It’s common to most popular sci-fi. Everybody “gets” the whole “making the jump to lightspeed” thing. It mimicks our own understanding of travel in our day-to-day world. Although the physics make no sense, the aesthetics are easy.
- In-game problems and adversity are harder to run away from. Chases become reasonable actions.
- The hand-waving can be interesting in its own right. Fading Suns’ jumpgates have always fascinated me–to have one choke-point where everything must pass is just plain cool. Who guards them? What other duties do they perform? How would information travel without FTL radio/ansible communications?
- It’s common enough to be … boring. It’s expected that there will be FTL travel, and that journeys between stars take a few days or weeks. It’s run-of-the-mill.
- Space loses its wonder and granduer. It becomes little more than a metaphor for oceans. Things are too close, and place doesn’t matter.
AFter typing all that out, relativistic space travel has some very high negative points. It looks like the best solution is to put a unique spin on the fantastical FTL travel. But I’m not yet 100% certain. I’ve never claimed that setting design is my strong point. Is there anything I’ve missed?