Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Galactic Proportions

Stars Without Number suffers from the same aliment that Traveller suffers from - two dimensional space.  It's a very understandable affliction.  It's hard to represent a three dimensional stellar map on a flat piece of paper, and even if you do, ho-boy, you have to take out the slide rule to figure distances between the stars.

In order not to upset the hard-core amateur astrophysicist lurking just under my skin, I have to look at the star maps in Stars Without Number as, um, hyperspace maps - maps that are only relevant to the extra-dimensional space that starships hurtle though. This space bears no relevance to real 3d space - just enough pseudo-logic so that the sleeping astrophysicist will not awaken and rain on my parade.

But . . . let's assume that the maps bear 'some' relation to real space.  Kevin Crawford says very little about the 'shape' of human-space, or its dimensions.  The most explicit snippet is this:

"By 2600, the frontier of human space extended almost ten years of spike drive travel away from Terra. Even after taking Jump Gates as far as possible, a fast pretech courier ship required a year to reach the farthest colonial worlds."

That date is just before the end of the Golden Age and the beginning of the Scream, so those dimensions should pretty much be the height of human colonization in the galaxy.  Ship technology was also at it's height, so spacecraft could jump one hex per day.  Ten years equals roughly 3650 hexes.  The author very carefully never states the size of hexes on the star maps, so if we interject Traveller sizing - which if memory serves correctly is one parsec, we get:

3650 hexes X 3.26 light years = 11,899 ly

So, human space has roughly a 12Kly radius.  A little image stealing and circle drawing gets us this galactic map:

That's a fair chunk of the galaxy colonized, but it still leaves ample room for who knows what.  Now, I can start thinking about SWN's 'Known Space' visually - inside my noggin.  Not that I really need to, but it's more comfortable that way for me.

So, that ends my thought experiment for today. :)

- Ark


  1. There are definitely some built-in problems with a 2D star map. Any astrophysically-minded reader is going to be spending enough disbelief effort just carefully not thinking about the causality ramifications of faster-than-light travel; stacking on the improbable configurations of most RPG star maps can be a hard row. Some games do love to leverage reality by trying to accurately model a real configuration of existing stars, but I couldn't justify it in returns at the table.

    For disbelief's sake, the configurations on SWN star maps represent feasible drill paths between stars. The ravening tides of metadimensional light can make a short course lethal for a ship, forcing it to take a roundabout drillspace path that might stretch a physically near star into an unattainably remote destination. The fact that these tides are constantly changing and require at least yearly navigation to maintain accurate records is one reason that even neighboring worlds fell out of contact so quickly after the Scream. If no ship had made the run between Terra and Alpha Centauri within the past 12 months, that course might as well be totally unscouted. Given the expense of ships and the difficulty of many worlds in acquiring skilled navigators, even present worlds are not often all that eager to risk their hardware on drills with a 40% chance of catastrophe.

  2. One of the things I really like about SWN is that you don't go too heavy handed on explanations or the technobabble - you just describe things and leave it up to the GM to create the why's and wherefores, should he or she wish to do so. That keeps the Science Dude in my head happy. :)

    - Ark