How FTL Works

Ships in this setting all use a Warp Drive inspired by the theories of Miguel Alcubierre and Harold White Another article:


Within this game setting, the operating drive has the following characteristics:

  • When the Warp Bubble is engaged —
    • It boosts the apparent current speed of the spacecraft by a large multiple in the direction of travel
    • The warp distorts light / radio signals from reaching inside the bubble enough to not allow their use
    • The engage / disengage event can be detected easily at some distance (light speed propagation)
    • This takes a lot of energy (fuel).
    • A ship’s path will be affected by gravity wells while engaged – altering the ship’s course.
    • A ship under full warp can itself affect nearby masses (like planets, asteroids, etc.)

Which has these effects:

  • Ships never engage full warp while in a star system.
  • Ships can, and generally do, engage a minimal warp to move around a star system. Generally the apparent speed is no more then 0.1C
  • In setting, small ships can get to a destination faster then larger ones because they can accelerate to faster speeds for a given energy cost.
  • Ships navigate by engaging the drive (which propels them in the direction they are traveling) for a period of time, then disengage. Take a navigational fix (which can take a fair amount of time), make course corrections, and re-engage.
  • The better charted a route, the fewer times a ship needs to drop out of Warp to take a navigational fix. Thus the formation of regular trade routes and shipping lanes within a system.

Reaction Drives

Again, the reaction drives used in this setting are also inspired by current work – in this case, the Quantum Vacuum Plasma Thruster. Here, I’ve just decided that its been improved enough to generate some serious thrust.

This type of thruster needs energy, but no reaction mass needs to be carried around. Just what we needed.

Other characteristics of ships:

  • Anti-Matter is used as fuel. It is manufactured in settled systems, and can be purchased there. Large ships may make their own if they spend enough time fairly close to a sun.
  • 90% of all shipping is containerized. A standard container is a cylinder 5m in Diameter, 40m Long, with domed endcaps. They can be pressurized, and temperature controlled. They are mounted externally.
    • A typical small merchant ship can carry 1-3 containers. Medium freighters carry 6 around a central core. Larger freighters carry multiple groups of 6.
  • Since we can warp space, we can have artificial gravity onboard ship.

FTL Communications

For a longtime, I just said there was no FTL Comm. All communications were carried by ship. But I’m thinking of allowing FTL Comm. using entangled particles. In game, this would work like this:

  • A pair is manufactured (well, a whole bunch are). Each pair is split, with one half being shipped to a destination.
  • each pair can transmit OR receive 1 bit of information (to/from each other), then it becomes un-entangled and useless.
  • So if 2 billion pairs (4 billion particles) are made in system A, and half of each pair sent to system B,
    then each side can transmit 1 billion bits of data to the other side instantaneously.

This has this effect:

  • Shipping entangled particles become a major trade effort.
  • FTL Communications are expensive.
    • Charge by the bit!
    • Treat like a telegram – a message is send to a central place, it is compressed, transmitted, decompressed, and sent (email) to its receiver.
    • Realtime audio and video is possible, but horribly wasteful and expensive.
  • While most planets can communicate with each other within a political group (kingdom, empire), communications with other groups are much more limited
  • Most starships cannot carry enough entangled particles to do more then file an occasional report with a central point or fire off an emergency message.


OK, it would be way too easy to extrapolate computer improvements to the point where player characters don’t have to do anything interesting (navigate, shoot, etc) – computers can do it better. But that isn’t any fun, so:

  • Computers are present, but are mostly like they are today
  • Any sufficiently advanced / artificially smart computer is a character (player or NPC)

In game effects:

  • Characters do everything – fly ships, fire guns / torpedoes in combat, pilot air / water craft, etc.
  • Characters can be robots
  • If its not that interesting for a character to do, then the computer can do it.

Hacking: my basic rule is that you have to have direct access to a computer to hack into it – no hacking along comm. channels, public terminals, etc. You have to go to the source.


For Medicine we borrowed the idea of an ‘auto-doc’ – a coffin shaped tank that can diagnose and repair most injuries and cure most diseases. These are small enough that a light trade ship can carry one.

But even though this exists, it works better if there is a medically trained person to set up the treatment parameters. The ‘Autodoc’ knack is all about this programming, and can be used to reduce treatment from a week in the tank, to hours.

There are 2 medical related skills in this game, the Doctor skill and the EMT Skill, where the former is similar to the regular 7th Sea skill of the same name, and the later is focused on field medicine. The EMT skill has one knack the Doctor skill doesn’t, and that is ‘Field Stabilization’. This knack works like surgery to fix Dramatic Wounds, but it can be done quickly, and in the field. These wounds are not really healed though, and will return over time (short time in Combat – the stress of combat tears things loose again).


Old Empires, New Kingdoms larrylf