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Monthly Archives: April 2009

Jumping is a fairly amorphous method of faster than light travel, as it has no particular limitations beyond the energy requirements. Thus, those in the business of Jumping have come up with a variety of terms to lock down just what they’re doing. Here are the common civilian terms.

Otto – Short for orbit to orbit, this Jump is technically one of the more complicated, but also the most frequently used. Jumping from orbit exploits the near negligible gravity experienced during a Jump and so which ever direction you are facing when you turn the drive on is the direction you go. Time this right and you can simply skip from one gravity well to another, though timing it right is more easily said than done. Otto Jumps use the least fuel of all Jump types, as orbital manoeuvres have the potential to be highly efficient. A skilled navigator and Jump engineer are mandated for successful Otto Jumps.

Brute – Brute Jumps are the lazy man’s Otto. You fire your engines away from your destination and rely on the fact that eventually your thrust will overcome any circular motion you have. It’s not exactly the cheapest way of getting from A to B, but its simple and fast and sometimes speed is of the essence.

Vac’ – Vac’ Jumps refer to a Jump where either the entry or exit point is away from a gravity well, but still within a solar system. They are less efficient than Otto Jumps as the vessel will have to thrust significantly to change direction, and some vessels are designed so they don’t actually have the engines to do a meaningful Vac’ Jump. Vac’ Jumps are predominantly used for intersytem travel, the ship Jumping into the rough area of the solar system and then perform another Vac’ Jump to reach a planet. It is mostly because of this interstellar ships have larger engines than their intrastellar equivalents.

Bright – These Jumps only really become feasible later in the setting when computers become powerful enough to resolve interstellar distances. In a bright Jump the ship leaps straight from a gravity well to another gravity well around a different sun. This creates a massive flash which is easily visible from the surface, and so a ‘bright’ Jump. Both the military and civilians use Bright Jumps wherever possible, as they are much cheaper and for the military they take the target completely by surprise, though they can take significantly longer to plot than a series of Vac’s.

Black – Black Jumps tend to have been miss-Jumps and are defined as arriving beyond the orbit of the nearest sun’s planet[1]. No one really wants to do these as they nearly mandate a Vac’ Jump before you actually get to a planet and that wastes a lot of fuel, but there are a few routes that can only be plied by Black Jumping ships.

Sloppy – Sloppy Jumping is a Jump with no exit coordinates, only the hope you won’t wind up hitting anything. Generally they are performed by people wanting to get the hell out of Dodge as they cost a lot and rarely get you anywhere near where you want. Depending on how far you wanted to run Sloppy Jumps are either a type of Vac or Black Jump.

Tight – Tight Jumps occur when your error margins overlap a major stellar body i.e. you have a 2% chance of hitting a planet. Slowly these become illegal, though as it is quite hard to ascertain their expected arrival zone most governments assert a ‘no Jump zone’ around their planets where you incur a severe fine if you Jump into it.

Flash – This is a sprinters[2] Jump. First you Vac Jump into the system, ideally a good way out from any inhabited planets, and then you Jump into orbit before your light flash announces your arrival. This ideally takes the local establishment by surprise and you set down on a spaceport or friendly strip of asphalt before anyone can catch up.

Cruncher – Not a Jump type per say, a Cruncher is any Jump that was plotted by another vessel for use on yours. They have a tendency to be used for the extreme long range Jumps, as carrying a supercomputer around when you’re only going to use it once is a waste of tonnage, but there are also systems which offer external Jump plotting, for a small fee.

[1] By this definition there are a few suns without planets where you could be in the corona and still be in ‘the black’, but no one ever goes to those systems anyway.

[2] Sprinters are carriers of ‘desirable’ cargos. Distinct from smugglers in that they do not try and hide, but instead really on being faster than the police. They don’t get the same kind of business in the core worlds but on the loosely policed border worlds they can make a lot of money very quickly.


Next to address is combat range. Now, as this is space, every weapon has theoretically infinite range[1], but combat will rarely take place at these extremes and instead everyone tries to get within a certain engagement zone which is defined by your own ships capabilities, but also the abilities of the target. Key to remember is your weapons power, speed, accuracy and rate of fire, but you should also bear in mind your ships own power and target profile, not to mention the manoeuvrability and size of your opponent.

These combined give your optimum range of attack, where you inflict the most damage possible, while incurring as little as possible yourself. The only problem is this is actually as dependent on your opponent as your ship, so will be constantly changing during an engagement. Not to mention there is also the little issue of reaching and staying in this range, which is easier said than done, and in a big battle, may well be occupied by an enemy Cruiser.

Let’s take a few examples, and because I’ve been dealing with them recently, we’ll first look at the American Alliance frigate. This is an eighty eight metre frame with four decks, a standing five fighter squadron, six intermediate rayys, one spinal beam, and two hundred short to medium range warheads spread across six launching points. Pretty impressive, as just one of these has more firepower than every ship built in the eighteenth century combined, but how should it be used tactically?

Well, the spinal rayy is the ship’s primary weapon; this is a high accuracy but low tracking weapon, with good damage ratings. Ideally the frigate will engage the target at maximum range and force the target to charge, once they get closer the secondary turrets will fire and the ship will start jinking to avoid the retaliatory fire. This gets the maximum number of guns on target, and hopefully incurs low levels of damage, but it’s hard to maintain as you’ve got your engines pointed away from the target and so you can’t manoeuvre.

Let’s try another class, the Icarus, a popular class in the Corporation Wars. A slightly longer frame of one hundred and three metres, it mounts two short range gauss cannons, fourteen intermediate rail drivers and has mounts for either a lot of missiles or a lot of point defence. Icarus is almost the polar opposite to the Alliance[2], its engagement range is very short due to the relatively inaccurate main guns, and it relies on its secondary rails to do the majority of the damage. For its size it has large engines so charges the opponent, relying of electronic warfare and fore armour to hold of the enemy fire, and vectored thrusting to point its nose exactly where it needs to be to hit with the gauss rounds.

Of course, both of these plans go to pot if the enemy frame is significantly larger. In this case the Alliance would engage at medium turret range and have to keep jinking[3] in order to do enough damage, while the Icarus could engage from a greater distance as its accuracy would improved a lot by the larger target profile[4].

They would also be hampered when dealing with a corvette sized frame[5], the Alliance would be forced to spin rapidly to keep its nose towards its target, and this is something it is not designed to do, and wouldn’t be able to define the engagement range in the slightest due to the corvette’s superior acceleration. While it probably would be able to do some significant damage, it may not necessarily win. The Icarus would also be unable to keep its nose pointed towards the target, but it has twice the number of tracking turrets, so could keep a reasonable number of guns on target[6]. Actually, when this does happen the Captain tend to not manoeuvre to avoid the corvette, as it is fairly futile, but instead concentrates on not getting hit and arranging their next shot on a capital ship.

[1] Except for plasma weapons, but it’s not really relevant.

[2] And was in no small way designed to fight them as Alliance derivatives were still popular at the time.

[3] Something it would not be all that good at when dealing with an enemy that it packing its spinal gun as turrets.

[4] This does mean that the Icarus would be more effective against the larger ships, but this isn’t much of a surprise, it was designed in an era of ships three times its size, when the Alliance was produced it was the biggest thing around.

[5] The Icarus less so. I really should have picked Frigates from the same era.

[6] It’s a design thing again. Corvettes actually existed when the Icarus was made.

Ballistic weaponry falls into two categories, magnetic or chemical, based on the source of acceleration. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages. Magnetic rounds generally are fired by either a rail or coil gun and consequently have a greater muzzle velocity and ergo damage than their chemical compatriots. In addition they are very stable in storage, but they require a lot of power at the time of launch and a long barrel to be effective.

Chemical rounds are accelerated like traditional bullets[1] down a short barrel. Rifling is moot so the barrel is perfectly smooth and ideally exactly the same diameter as the shot. Generally, chemical rounds tend to travel more slowly than the magnetic, and have a lower mass, but they are significantly cheaper, less likely to fowl and require only a spark to fire. They have a tendency to be used by civilians or militias for this reason.

Kinetic rounds in Vast Worlds are no where near as destructive as classically depicted in sci-fi, mostly because the distance and energy required to accelerate them to explosive velocities is not generally available in battle. Instead they are designed as penetrating weapons, preferably fragmenting within the hull and hitting as many targets as possible. Armour is the best remedy, but as the rounds in both cases are quite slow dodging is also possible. Because kinetic rounds are so versatile they have been used for everything from short to long range weapons, with a variety of bore sizes and some even featured detonating shells.

Finally, missiles are a much underpowered weapon in Vast Worlds for a number of reasons[2]. The first of these is the over effectiveness of point defences, all ships carry p.d. or ‘pop guns’ and these are designed to intercept fast moving debris on an impact course with the ship[3], its not to much of a stretch to start pointing them at missiles too and they achieve disturbingly high kill ratios. Also, missiles are incredibly bright, due to their motor, so are instantly visible on any kind of scanners, so there is no way to sneak past a ship’s p.d. grid short of firing from extremely short range.

In the earlier eras missiles are also underpowered due to the fact a good number of ships can match or equal their acceleration. Humanity runs up against a lower limit to the size they can readily make a fusion rocket, or fusion powered rocket, and this is about the size of a jet engine. This means that all missiles are forced to use chemical propellant, and this simply isn’t powerful enough to catch smaller ships. They do become more powerful later in the setting, but by this point ship technology has passed them by and they resemble torpedoes rather than interception missiles.

Missiles are also highly vulnerable to electronic warfare, especially with battle ships able to deploy faux A.I.s to interfere with the missiles’ far simpler systems. This of course requires some time to operate so is only effective against missiles fired from range, and missiles that are extremely ‘dumb’ can not be confused in this manner, instead jamming systems must be used and even then missiles can be made too simple again.

Anyway, missiles do have their uses, the chemical store allows significantly more destructive power in the shot than can be provided with classical munitions, and they are far more reliable than the more futuristic weapons. They also can be fired without significant amounts of aiming and so can be launched on mass without serious logistical issues, and so they are often used as the second strike wave when the fleets are in brawling range. They have a strong tendency to be used on the smaller vessels as they hit above their weight class, but you can store comparatively few shots so it’s best not to use them on any ship with an appreciable survival time.

[1] Though do bear in mind a regular gun requires oxygen to fire so will not work in space, chemical kinetics carry their own oxygen supply so can operate.

[2] The most significant is how boring a space fight where everyone is killed by missiles from two light seconds away is.

[3] These were absolutely vital around Earth where human debris was a serious navigation hazard, and they still tend to be installed on ships from less polluted worlds as they are a life saver when actually necessary.

Quite a long time ago, back when I finshied writing The Freed, I sent a call for any questions from the audience. When I didn’t get any real response I eventually forgot about it. But now, I am pleased to anounce we have Questions from the Audience for your amusement.

And if you haven’t read The Freed yet, why not? It’s basically a free novel.