Monday, September 12, 2016

Day 12: What if?

Science! Magic! Psionics! Divine Intervention! A Jedi craves not these things, but your average adventurer in Trinary will probably want one (or a few) of these in their back pocket.  Today we're talking about "Speculative elements" in my campaign setting. Bryant instructs me to proceed with the following exercise; I'm going to break it down into digestible sections:

So, settle in with your notebook. If you don't know yet if you're writing science fiction, fantasy, or horror, you should probably decide now (and yes, a blend is a-ok; just be sure to do all the speculative element exercises once for each genre). But the chances are, you have some idea already of which genre(s) you want to work in. You might even have some specific ideas to play with-- a talking octopus, for instance, or a magically-appearing cat.
Ain't got a notebook but I hope a blog is okay...

Trinary is a setting where super-science is known and widely used; we have energy weapons, faster-than-light travel, power armor, robots, mecha, and huge starships. It's also got psionics; the Bathal are powerful psychics and will prove to be a dangerous foe, but they're not the only ones. Some of the races in The Garden are psychic; albeit at a much smaller percentage of the population than those of The Host. The Host have one weapon no one else seems to have; divine magic. Their theocracy is empowered by their belief in "The Dark One", and she grants miracles that can only be described as "magic". Blessings and miraculous healing are but two of the ways these powers manifest, but there are others.

Finally, there are rumors that someone saw a guy on Danal shooting lighting from his hands and flew around without any sort of apparent jet pack; but that's just crazy talk...
Write down the snippets and images that you already know you want in your story. Some of these might be things you have already decided on as convenience items-- a faster-than-light drive, maybe, or telepathy; things you want in there to help drive the plot forward and eliminate certain inconveniences as a storyteller. Just remember that these convenience items are always available; it's implausible to have the spacetime drive fail just when the hero needs it, and these things ought to be available to the villain, too, just so your heroes are playing on a level field.
  • FTL travel via jump gates and jump drives
  • Ku'jai Excrement from Danal can be used as a booster to Jump Drives, enabling smaller ships to jump without the need for a gate
  • Clunky mecha (More Battletech, less Gundam)
  • Power Armor
  • Some energy weapons, but ballistic weapons most common
  • Arcologies are the norm, rather than urban sprawl
  • Psionics; telepathy, empathy, bio-manipulation, psychic weapons, telekinesis, clairvoyance, and possibly some high-end powers that allow for manipulation of space-time (i.e. teleportation)

  • Initially, divine magic only as granted by the Dark One to the Bathal
  • Actually is magic in the setting, but only accessed by a select few
  • Some sort of council of wizardry like in Harry Potter or (more accurately) the Dresden Books to police magic use and keep it under wraps
  • Leads to plotlines about "what is magic?", "where does it come from?" and "why can the Bathal use it openly?"
Next, ask yourself the hard questions. "What if?" What if my society could talk to each other instantaneously? What would that do to them? Would that change my plot? What if you could make yourself invisible? Would that require magic, or technology, or both-- and how would you do it with either?

Last year, I knew I wanted aliens and a network implant (like having the Internet in your head); as I played with all my "what ifs," I realized that the network implant wouldn't just change the big things, like how dangerous a hacker could be-- it also changed the little things, like very few people carrying a briefcase or cell phone, and how you always would know where you were and could never get lost.
Drill down on the big things and the details, decide what would happen if they work one way vs. another. Chances are, you'll find there are speculative elements that you need in your story to support or limit the power of the ones you've already created.
This is odd; I'm having a hard time trying to come up with these "What Ifs?". So let's start with the big one; faster-than-light travel. The cornerstone of the galactic economy is the ability to physically transport yourself between worlds light-years away from each other. Various cultures in The Garden figured out the calculations and power required to fold space and transition from one location to another. There are a couple key points I want to make "facts" for the jump drive;

  1. The more gravity neutral a region is, the easier it is to jump there. This will create "jump points" in each system where the first jump gates were built.  It will also restrict the ability for ships to just jump in anywhere in a system; only the most powerful jump drives could jump into planetary orbit over a planet, and the energy expenditure would be astronomical.These jump points would also be known destinations that could be patrolled. Space stations or large ships would serve as customs depots, fighter patrols and destroyers could monitor arrival points from the Drachon clan worlds, and smugglers would be eager to locate new jump points and keep them secret.
  2. Jump drives have limited range. The calculations and power of a jump drive are limited; only so much space can be folded over to connect two points in reality. I'm thinking something like 25 light-years for the average jump distance, with 40 being the absolute maximum (and reckless to attempt). This would create travel routes to get across the Union, jumping from one star to another. Not every system connects to every other, so to get to one only 30 light years away, a ship might need to take a route that takes it five times that distance, just because there's no good, safe route on a straight shot.
  3. Ku'jai additives are power boosters for jump drives. Something about the Danal bio-system and the ku'jai makes their droppings incredibly potent when refined and added to the fuel for a Jump Drive. Normally the power output needed for a ship to create it's own jump point can only be performed by large ships with massive reactors. Smaller ships (anything under 500m) simply can't devote the amount of space needed for such a reactor. When ku'jai droppings were studied and a refined fuel additive was developed, it allowed for ships the size of civilian shuttles (and military bombers) the energy output necessary to create a jump point. The military applications were obvious, but even the civilian market received a big boost. Smaller shoulds could now be owned by corporations for rapid transportation of goods and personnel. Overnight shipping between systems became possible (albeit expensive). Corporations always had a couple jump-capable ships available for the benefit of their executives, and several exclusive passenger carriers appeared to transport the ridiculously wealthy between the stars. The ku'jai ranchers who exploited the system became rich, while those who cared more about the ku'jai's well-being fought against the increasing Union control over their operations. Vast amounts of land were devoted to ku'jai grazing fields, and the ku'jai overpopulate Danal. This led to the Danal Revolutionary War, as the Union took control of more and more of their world "for the benefit of the Garden as a whole", when in reality the ranch operations mostly only benefited the ultra-rich and the military.
I think that's a lot, and all I really have time for now.

By the way: I personally find that talking about my story with someone else helps me find the holes in my spec element. For the past week, my husband and I have been playing "what if" with my dinosaurs, figuring out what needs to change in their physiology to make them able to cooperate with each other as a society, and discovering that having twelve sentient species of dinosaurs means a very complicated society indeed.

This one I can attest to; the whole "excrement as super fuel" was a result of bouncing ideas off my buddy, Alex. He's been a constant "idea wall" and continue to utilize him to this day.

I'm going to need to come back to this exercise frequently, there are a few things that deserve this sort of pass.  Tomorrow is another of those days where I have to decide how much I'm going to share. Some things need to be presented to all as backstory and world setting, and somethings need to be kept in secret to not give away the overall storyline to soon. We'll see what comes to pass tomorrow when I deal with Plot Hooks.

Folks who are reading this series; I need a favor.

I'm having trouble coming up with my "what if's", so if you're following along, ask me something about the "speculative elements" of Trinary. For example, someone just asked how interstellar communication worked, and it spurned a solid couple paragraphs of response.

So give me one question or one "What if" in the comments section below, if you please.


  1. Random thought that your musings on FTL gave me - what about communication? Is FTL communication a thing? If so, at what range? Only inside a system, or beyond that?

    1. BALLS. This is what I forgot to do; have you readers throw me one "What If" question. That will help me figure out the speculative elements.

      Interstellar Communication has to be a thing. Each jump gate would logically have a system for sending messages along a similar method. Maybe it works more like email or texting; you send a message to another system (either one jump or many jumps away), and the recipients receives the message and has to reply. Visual and audio messages are possible, but they would also be one-way, possibly with a surcharge for the higher data (and energy) required to send them.

      But without a jump gate or similar station to transmit and receive those messages, interstellar communication would not be possible. This would make space travel more risky, especially if you're going to a system where you know there are no such comm stations. You could suffer a calamity and be stuck there for a very long time; possibly forever.

    2. I like the idea of jumpgate to jumpgate communication! It's reminiscent of old telegraph stations.

      Maybe a ship with a full jump drive can power it up to hook into that communication network too, in certain locations? Incredibly expensive in terms of power, but in an emergency it might be the only way to warn people.

    3. Likely, and that would be important for military actions. However, they likely couldn't receive messages from another ship in another system (or from a station for that matter) unless the sender knew the exact location of the target ship (like, down to meters).

      Although I suppose it is possible to coordinate that; the sending ship could tack on it's coordinates to an outgoing message.

  2. Hung up on the idea of Jump Gates... What if one fails? Who manages their maintenance and use? And what if something goes wrong during a jump?

    1. 3 really good questions...

      1. If a jump gate fails the problems could be minor out to catastrophic. The energy required to jump a ship is incredible, but it takes time to build up. If the failure happens early, the energy likely just dissipates. If it fails at the zenith of the cycle (just before the jump), there is an energy backlash. Large vessels might be able to take that sort of hit, but smaller vessels are likely blown apart.

      Jump-gates are made by planetary governments and stellar powers; maintenance is also the responsibility of the government who built the gate. This means during interstellar conflict, control of a system jumpgate is crucial, but not absolute (thanks to large warships being able to jump on their own).

      A failure during jump could mean a few things; minor damage, burned out jump drive, or my personal favorite - the jump half-worked (meaning half the ship jumped, the other half stayed put). How often a failure occurs has yet to be determined.

  3. Metabomber threw me these questions...

    1: Is there a Prime Directive? If a planeteering (that's a word, now) group finds a previously undiscovered civilization, what's the protocol? Or has the (known, localized) "garden" been completely mapped?

    2: Does the known Dark One magic work in jump? Is the fold inbetween still count as part of her domain? Does the magic have stronger or weaker zones? Is that related to where She has power?

    3: Telepathy. Known distances, or can someone have a "feeling like millions of voices cried out and were silenced?"

    1. Dammit; I had a whole reply written out but it disappeared. TAKE TWO!

      1. Most of The garden has been explored by this point, and all of the races are known to each other. There probably isn't a prime directive-type mandate for the Union, they're more likely to bootstrap up a "primitive" society to get them to join up, especially if their world has resources the Union could use. This would likely continue to happen until something goes horrifically wrong with a race they "advance".

      2. Jumps are, for all intents and purposes, instantaneous; you can't really cast a spell mid-jump. If you mean to question if magical effect survive a jump; yes they do with no loss of effect or duration.

      Your question about "fold-space" being part of the Dark One's domain is intriguing and thought provoking; I'm going to say "yes, with unexpected effect" and let the horror flow over the PCs if they ever are able to get to Fold-Space (currently believed to be an impossibility).

      Are there stronger and weaker magic zones? I'd have to guess there are, and figure out what would cause that or why. Good question.

      3. Telepathy's distance is limited by the strength of the psychic and their ability to focus on one person. Sending is pretty easy; it's receiving that's tough. You could end up getting a lot of noise that distracts you while trying to "read someone's mind".

      The death of an entire planet would send out massive psychic shockwaves, probably even across light-years. Strong enough psychics could receive quite a shock from such an event, which means psychics in The Garden could have been affected by the destruction of the Allef homeworld several decades before campaign start. I'll have to consider what happened to those who were affected and survived the experience.

    2. Good stuff, Phil. Thanks for taking the time to answer!