Starship Combat – an Introduction

There has been some discussion recently on the Facebook group about starship combat in Antares. The trouble is, Antarean starship capabilities are REALLY different to those in many other games – for a start, the drive field itself used by all starships in the 7th Age acts as a shield.

On top of that you have to add the massive acceleration offered by the GA drive (50 gravities (g) – 150g+) and find that assumptions on inertia typically used in low-velocity, low-thrust engagements don’t pan out – in fact they have to be thrown out the window! And then, on top of that you end up finding that suchc capabilities lead to a node-based and fundamentally planar conflict space: ships are only likely to meet each other voluntarily at points of interest (nodes) such as gate terminus, a habited or useful planet or moon, or an orbital – and such locations are almost all based somehwere near the ecliptic.

Very quickly, any thoughts on 3D representation are shown to be unnecessary in an Antarean situation: even radically different 3D directions can be squashed onto a 2D space and model exactly the same effect. It’s not like ships at sea coming across each other and being able to engage: it’s far, far, far too easy for one side to move out of a difficult situation, so both sides must agree to the engagement for some reason because fractional misses at any appreciable percentage of lightspeed add up to misses of thousands of kilometre (or yan2) very quickly!

Before we go further, it’s worth noting an older article that discusses the nature of Antarean space and star-travel: The Holiday of a Lifetime. There’s a little more in the first and second chapters of the Universe Guide. And I’ll add the intro and comparative acceleration appendix from the starship game we designed, below.

The purpose of providing all this information is simply to see if someone can come up with a method of tracking and modelling Antarean starship movement in a conflict better than the one we devised. We hope these notes help!

The background taken from Antares Flotilla v0.20 runs as follows:

The technology and warfare of Antares universe is very different from how we might think of warfare in normal, three-dimensional space. Whilst faster-than-light (FtL) travel is impossible, the drives that power the spaceships of the advanced factions in the Seventh Age are capable of massive acceleration, making interception almost impossible. There is another factor that governs interstellar warfare: almost all known stars are linked by the vast, dangerous star-machine that is the Antares Nexus. A very few occupied systems stars can only be reached by sublight drives and journeys of years, but with the gates to and from Antares providing rapid transit between systems separate by vast distances – and time – travel to other stars is commonplace.

This leads to a conundrum as, despite its importance, conflict on the surface of Antares is impossible: the enigmatic Gatebuilders ensured that its dwarf companion, Obureg, is capable of causing huge and devastating energy surges on the surface of the Antares. This upsets the gate network, destroys all ships in the vicinity, and so focuses and guides the way conflicts are fought and where they occur. What is important in Antarean terms are specific objectives within systems or around planets: these points of interest are termed ‘strategic nodes’.

The Fight for Strategic Nodes

Given the gates and the immense speeds of Seventh Age travel, combat and strategic locations are focused around specific locations in a system – nodes. These nodes occur where ships are at a slow enough relative velocity slow to be engaged in combat.

Theoretically, a node includes any of the millions of gates on the surface of Antares. In practice, they are merely used for tracking and scouting purposes as Obureg, Antares rapidly-orbiting companion dwarf star, triggers intense plasma flows, solar flares or gravitational disruptions in response to aggression on the surface of the star-machine.

In a system, however, nodes include the gate itself, critical manufacturing or administrative installations such as orbitals and space stations, the planets themselves, orbiting objects and moons, and critical sources of metal and cargo – typically focused around installations in asteroid belts. Temporary nodes might be found in the shape of abandoned spaceships or T.O.Rs.

It is these system-side nodes that provide a focus where our starship combat takes place. In doing so, they also provide a reason why that combat takes place, an objective. Battles are no longer between arbitrarily located ships at high velocities but are for the control of a node or the carrying out of a specific activity, whether it is rescuing people or items from a space station, delivering vital supplies, resupplying an ancient hulk or even mounting an invasion against an orbital – or planet!

The defence of such nodes is vital, and provides a background for any Antarean space combat game.

A Technology Note

Ships entering a gate on Antares are debouched sometime later from a gate that is typically located near the edge of a star-system.  The exact location of the gate can be calculated by drawing a line from the parent star to Antares (apparently hundreds of light years away) and positioning the gate along that at a distance dependent on the energy output of the star. 

This is the gate horizon.

In the Sol system – long since lost – the gate horizon would be approximately 40SAU1 from the star, outside the orbit of Pluto.2 A critical factor is that gates only allow entry to ships travelling relatively slowly, and obstructions placed around gates are either destroyed by the Antares machine or swept away into the gate itself – and ships leave the gates at the same velocity.

The drives in the Seventh Age were developed by the technologically advanced Isorians to manage their real-space empire: they have tremendous acceleration.  These gravitic annihilation (GA) drives are fitted to almost every ship in the Antarean universe. The fields generated by the GA drives not only provide thrust but also protection from the perils posed by micro-meteorites encountered when travelling at substantial fractions of the speed of light.

Even a ship as ‘slow’ as a civilian transport ejected from an Antarean gate would take only two to three days to traverse the immense distances to reach an inner planet. Targeting ships travelling at such incredible velocities is almost impossible, especially when even a fraction of a degree in evasive manoeuvring results in a shot missing by thousands of yan.

  1. SAU = Standard Astronomical Units – an Antarean unit of measurement believed to be roughly equal to ancient Terra’s Astronomical Unit (around 30 million ky).2
  2. A yan is a unit of measurement in the Antarean universe approximating to five metres. A thousand yan is often referred to as a kiloyan, or ky. This would make 30 million ky around 149-150 million kilometres.
  3. The gate horizon depends on the radiation output from the connected star system. So a cool, low-radiation and low-luminosity star might have a gate horizon much closer to the parent. 
Example Drive Acceleration

The following outlines some of the drive accelerations from the Antarean gravitic annihilation drive, for each faction. Within most star systems, however, velocities are limited to around .15 of the speed of light (SoL) due to the density of matter in those systems: Isorians have taken their own ships up to substantially higher proportions of SoL in interstellar space.

‘Scouts’ are exploratory craft, typically carrying exploration drones who map out new gates and new systems.

To the Freeborn, a relatively fast combat ship would also double as fast traders, as shown in their many clases of Trading Frigates (see the Batu stories). They are most likely to be used as inter-system transproters by Boromites who might otherwise only use ancient ships held together by Boromite ingenuity and engineering brilliance for ore transports and clanships. As far as Boromites are concerned, a sizeable asteroid makes for a great place to set up home!

The Ghar have no purely mercantile vessels, merely fleet auxiliaries who transport their spoils of war back to Gharon Prime (or Fartok’s new Gharon Secundus or Tertius). Furthermore, their ‘liners’ are actually just troop transports!

(Old Ghar)*30g40-50g55g
New Ghar Empire60g70-80g90g

* Here for reference purposes. Fartok’s New Ghar Empire has dramatically boosted efficiency.

Continue to the next article in the series, weapons.

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