Tripping the Light Fantastic by David Manley

Issue: 21

Tripping the Light Fantastic
by David Manley

Lozinski frowned. Only two minutes to the Jump Point, but already the laser fire from the pursuing Outie marauder was peppering the aft shields of her Free Trader. Now came the choice - decelerate to be sure of hitting the Jump Point and risk almost certain destruction at the hands of the marauder, or risk missing the Jump Point by continuing at Full Thrust? Lozinski's finger hovered over the drive controls...

I was never all that happy with instant star drives. At the crucial moment the enemy always pushed the button and disappeared into hyperspace. Full Thrust is better in this respect as ships attempting to use FTL have certain disadvantages. However, I wanted something with more of a challenge,and something which would improve campaigning.

Many SF backgrounds have the idea of star gates and jump points. Notable examples are Babylon 5, Buck Rogers (is it true that you go blind after watching the complete series?) and, for the more traditionalist players Larry Niven's Mote series. In the end I decided to go for a combination of these, as well as drawing I some other ideas from various SF backgrounds. As is usual with these sorts of things, feel free to use as much or as little as you like, and change things to suit your own backgrounds.

The Basics

Starships travel between stars by moving to Jump Points and engaging their FTL drive. Each star system will have one natural jump point per destination and they may, or may not, be clustered in a particular region of the system.How these Jump Points are created is up to you - they may be caused by lines of equipotential interstellar nuclear flux or whatever piece of techno babble sound good at the time. However, star systems will normally only have natural Jump Points connecting them to up to 6 nearby systems.

The Jump Point itself is represented on the table by a point marker. Ships passing within 6" of the marker may attempt to engage their FTL drive and Jump into the next system. This is successful on a roll of 1-4 on a d6. The uncertainty is due to natural fluctuations in the Jump Point's location. Note that ships travelling at low speed will have several chances at making the Jump and can easily decelerate and come back to the point if they miss it - fast movers may miss the point and will have to spend some time heading back. Any ship with a normal FTL drive may ass through a Jump Point. Transit is instantaneous.

Star Gates

Once the physics of the Jump principle were discovered it became possible to create artificial Jump Points, of which three types exist.

The first is the Jump Point Stabiliser (JPS). This is a field generator placed on a platform at the Jump point. All ships passing within 3" of the platform and engaging FTL drives will automatically make the jump. Those between 3" and 6" are outside the influence of the platform and will have to roll as normal. JPS platforms are often used along frequently used routes. Due to their expense and high operating costs they would never be found in backwater systems.

The second is the Long Distance Star Gate, or LDS. This creates a Jump Point to more distant stars, up to 50 parsecs. Two platform field generators(placed 6" apart on the table) create the Jump Point . Any vessel passing between the platforms and engaging FTL drives makes the Jump automatically.If one of the platforms in not functioning the Jump Point may not be used.JPS Platforms are even more expensive to build and maintain than JPS platforms and are only used on high speed routes. Note that passing through an LDS Jump Point in both directions requires LDS Platforms at both ends of the route. If the platforms at one end only are working, or if there are only one pair of platforms then Long Distance travel is possible in one direction only.

The final type is a variant of the ship's FTL drive itself, called the Jump Point Drive, or JPD, whereby the ship creates its own Jump Point.Any star system within 10 parsecs may be chosen as the destination, with Jump Point entry effects as for the normal Full Thrust rules. As with the JPS and LDS, JPD drives are very expensive and take up a large proportion of the ship. As a result their use is limited to research cruisers, couriers(both civil and military) and one particular warship class. This is the Commerce Raider, lightly armed due to the space restrictions caused by the drive, but powerful enough to engage merchant vessels and convoy escorts,and nimble enough through its JPD to evade pursuing forces. Commerce Raiders are expensive ships, so are restricted to the more wealthy strarfaring governments,but their ability to strike at the enemy's transports in rear areas allows them to tie down valuable heavy warships 'on campaign'.

A variant of the JPD is the Jump Point Projector, or JPP. This is used to create small Jump Points through which small craft can be launched. Typical uses are the transmitting of data using Jump Torpedoes which are fired through Jump Points with pre-loaded data cartridges. These are then recovered at their destination. Jump Torpedoes are often used by military forces and research groups to transmit reports back to their superiors. Jump Torpedoes are also able to use regular Jump Points, JPS and LDS.

A Spanner In The Works

Jump Points, both natural and artificial, can be distorted and rendered useless through the same technology that supports the JPS and LDS. The Interdictor class of warship has been developed which carries the field generators required to close down a Jump Point and prevent the use of a JPD Drive. An Interdictor will prevent all FTL movement away from the table within 24" of the Interdictor itself. Jumping from other star systems will not be possible to Jump Points, JPSs or LDSs whilst the Interdictor's generators are functioning. Ships using JPDs from an other system may not arrive within 24" of the Interdictor - in addition, interference from the generator may damage the JPD Drive if the ship arrives within 48" - roll 1-4 on a d6 for the JPD to be damaged. Interdictors do not have everything their own way,however. The field generated by the ship is such that its use on large structure sis not possible - a hull the size of a battlecruiser would suffer shearing forces so great that it would tear itself apart if used. As a result, Interdictors may not be larger than cruisers, i.e. Mass 36. An alternative is to build a VERY strong hull, but the cost of this doubles the hull cost and reduces available hull space to one quarter of the ships MASS.

Putting It All Together

I hope you will enjoy using this variant. For one-off games a number of scenarios present themselves, from chases to Jump Points to assaults on enemy JPS and LDS platforms and Commerce raider attacks on convoys (is one of those escorts an Interdictor?).

For campaign games there are more possibilities. Players may wish to try an SF version of the 'Hunt The Raider' campaigns loved by naval wargamers,with a Commerce Raider preying on shipping in a sector. Longer reaching campaigns can have a little spice added to them by the use of JPS and LDS platforms. For example, a player making an incursion into an enemy's space may drop off JPS platforms along his invasion route to ease the flow of supplies to the front. More likely is the use of an LDS system direct to a system near the front to make the transit of supplies and reinforcements even faster - the LDS would then become a prime site for hit and run raids.

Facts and Figures

FTL Drive MASS, Cost as Full Thrust. Allows passage through Jump Points.
Jump Point Stabiliser (JPS) Platform MASS 20, Cost 100. One platform is required per Jump Point stabilised.
Long Distance Stargate (LDS) Platform MASS 50, Cost 500. Two platforms are required per Jump Point created
Jump Point Drive (JPD) Cost = MASS x 5. MASS available on the ship for weapons, systems etc. reduced to 1/4.
Jump Point Projector (JPP) MASS 1, Cost 10
Interdiction Generator MASS 6, Cost 50 (Gosh, these nuclear equipotential generators are expensive!). Hull cost doubled, MASS available reduced to 1/4 if installed on ships of MASS 38 or greater.

Design 1.

Commerce Raider - based on the Super Heavy Cruiser design, Full Thrust, page 31

Hull: Special, Mass 36

Damage points = 18

Mass Available for weapons/systems = 9 (One quarter of 36 rather than half due to JPD)

MASS USED Points Cost
Hull Cost 0 72
JPD Drive 0 180
Normal Space Drive: Thrust rating 4 0 72
Level 1 Screen 3 25
Two 'B' batteries, covering 3 arcs 6 18
Totals 9 367

Design 2.

Interdictor - based on the Super Heavy Cruiser design, Full Thrust,page 31

Hull: Special, Mass 36

Damage points = 18

Mass Available for weapons/systems = 18

MASS USED Points Cost
Hull Cost 0 72
JPD Drive 0 36
Normal Space Drive: Thrust rating 4 0 72
Level 1 Screen 3 25
Interdictor Generator 6 50
One 'A' Battery covering 3 arcs 3 13
Two 'B' Batteries, covering 3 arcs 6 18
Totals: 18 286

Ed Note: Full Thrust is a simple, flexible and highly popular game of starship combat which must rate as one of the all time Classic games. Full Thrust has won the Best SF Rules category every time the SFSFW Awards have been held. For further details regarding price and availability, send an SSAE to Ground Zero Games PO Box 337, Needham Market, Suffolk, IPA 8LN.