Yearly Archives: 2011

Mapping H. Beam Piper, Part 5: The Dislocation of Nu Puppis

As stated in Part 3, H. Beam Piper’s Nu Puppis – the star around which Niflheim orbits – does not match current understanding of the star’s position. I’m inclined to move Niflheim to a star that’s closer to Earth, matching the Piper-Nu Puppis as much as possible, but there’s also a reasonable argument to just go with the in-fiction-truth.

Let’s look at the math to see what both mean to the Piper universe.

First, we need some numbers. Piper’s Nu Puppis is described as:

The planet named Niflheim is the fourth planet of Nu Puppis, right angle 6:36, declension -43:09; B8 type star, blue-white and hot, 148 light years distant from Earth.

Doing the math this works out to:

Real Nu Puppis-37,633-115,478-45,486129,7016861219
Piper Nu Puppis-13,182-40,383-15,94945,3748716874

That’s in parsecs, with Real Nu Puppis shown for comparison. Dist is distance from Earth.

Piper’s Uller is described as:

It is the second planet of the star Beta Hydri, right angle 0:23, declension -77:32, G-0 (solar) type star, of approximately the same size as Sol; distance from Earth, 21 light years.

Again, doing the math, we get:

Real Beta Hydri3,277-4,719-4,7837,4749588877
Piper Beta Hydri2,825-4,062-4,1196,4379502305

That’s a parsec off, too, and gives us a new question to ponder: Do we use Real Beta Hydri or Piper Beta Hydri? I guess if we accept Piper Nu Puppis we must also accept Piper Beta Hydri. Of course, my “favorite” Nu Puppis replacement is Epsilon Hydri. It has almost the same spectral class (B9) as Nu Puppis (B8), and both are Giant stars (class III). Epsilon Hydri’s position is:

Epsilon Hydri10,489-30,898-33,76946,9575395402

Distances between these stars are these:

Real Nu PupPiper Nu PupReal Beta HyPiper Beta HyEpsilon Hy
Real Nu PupN/A84,318124,892125,54598,015
Piper Nu Pup84,318N/A40,83541,41731,111
Real Beta Hy124,89240,835N/A1,03739,718
Piper Beta Hy125,54541,4171,037N/A40,718
Epsilon Hy98,01531,11139,71840,718N/A

Note how beautifully Epsilon Hydri’s distance to Earth and to Beta Hydri match the distances of Piper’s Nu Puppis to Earth and to Beta Hydri. Let’s visualize:

The little gray shadow of Beta Hydri is the Piper Beta Hydri, almost a Parsec closer to Earth than the real Beta Hydri. The numbers attached to stars are their z-Coordinate.

I still think that Epsilon Hydri would provide for a better “outgoing” vector than Piper’s Nu Puppis, but from this simple map it’s clear that Piper’s Nu Puppis is not in an absurd position (which for example the other side of Terra would be).

So where’s your Niflheim at? If you want to stick to the Piper “canon”, it’s clearly where he says it is, at a Nu Puppis that doesn’t really exist. If you want to consolidate Piper’s material with real star data, Epsilon Hydri is the way to go. Since switching Niflheim to Epsilon Hydri only violates the star name mention in Uller Uprising, and fixes more problems than it causes, I will assume that Piper made a mistake in the star name.

In the end, since everything else we know about Piper’s Terran Federation is very, very vague, it won’t affect the final map much in either case.

Mapping H. Beam Piper, Part 4: Hyperspeed and Niflheim Revisited

I actually found another figure that shows how weird Piper’s distances are. It’s six months from Uller to Niflheim, according to Uller Uprising:

“Well, it takes six months for a ship to go between here and Nif,” Prinsloo considered. “Because of the hyperdrive effects, the experienced time of the voyage, inside the ship, is of the order of three weeks.”

But it’s also six months from Uller to Terra – which is 21ly!

“He’d get away with it for just welve months—the time it would take to get the news to Terra and for a Federation Space Navy task-force to get here. And then, there’d be little bits of radioactive geek floating around this system as far out as the orbit of Beta Hydrae VII.”

This is inconsistent in the extreme, as Niflheim at a described 148ly from Earth can’t possibly be 21y from Uller. Surely, the Navy wouldn’t take, say, eight months or more to get a task force ready.

Of course, it is telling that the text passage mentions Beta Hydrae, not Beta Hydri. Beta Hydrae is another star, at 370 +/- 40ly from Earth!

Overall it’s quite clear Uller actually is at Beta Hydri, though.

So ignoring that flaw (the two names are easily confused after all) and assuming “half a years” consists of a rounded 180 days – since it’s also unclear where Niflheim actually is, we can’t really use it to calculate the speed of the hyperdrive. Note that the time difference between hyperspace and realspace was a concept that Piper dropped later.

If we assume that the travel time for earth is correct, we get roughly 0,005 to 0,007 ly/h.

Four Day Planet states that a light-year takes about 60 hours:

All the news is at least six months old, some more than a year. A spaceship can log a light-year in sixty-odd hours, but radio waves still crawl along at the same old 186,000 mps.

Note the “sixty-odd”, so it’s not exactly sixty.

Later in the book, it’s stated that Walt will go to Terra for six years; five years on Terra itself for studies and one year for the round trip.

If we calculate 180 days * 24h = 4320 hours, and travel 650 light-years during that time we get 0,15 ly/h. All’s well, right?

Not quite. The problem arises when we calculate 650 light-years times 60 hours per light year. That’s 39000 hours, or 1625 days, or almost four and a half years – for a one way trip! Clearly there’s something broken here. 0,15ly/h works out to 6,67 hours per light year. Factor of ten issue, but which one do we believe? It’s got to be the higher speed, because I can’t imagine that many people would travel all the way to Fenris if it took them 9 years to get home.

This seems so blatantly wrong that I wonder if I have a glaring error in my math.

Anyway;  using Four Day Planet’s figure of sixty hours per light year for the trip from Uller to Terra. that voyage should take ~53 days. That’s a far cry from the “6 months” mentioned in Uller, but 106 days plus preparation time is still too long a time to depend on if your natives are revolting.

Space Viking states quite bluntly that a hyperdrive travels at roughly 1ly/h:

A ship in hyperspace logs about a light-year an hour.

Again, this gives us some leeway in our interpretations – it’s not exactly one light year. It could be less, or more – 10% either way, at least.

Little Fuzzy gives us an indirect figure for hyperdrive speed:

They’re on Terra, five hundred light-years, six months’ ship voyage each way.

Assuming 180 days for half a year, we get a speed of about 2.78 light years per day, or 0.115 light years per hour. Fits pretty well with the assumed 0,15ly/h from Four Day Planet, especially if it’s slightly more than 500ly and less than half a year. At 0,15ly/h the trip from Zharathrustra to Earth would take 138 days.

Ministry of Disturbance has a very vague figure:

A ship on hyperdrive could log light-years an hour

Since it’s plural, that means 2ly/h or better. It probably needs to be much more if the Empire is truly galactic.

StorySpeed (ly/h)
Uller Uprising0,005 – 0,007 ?
Four Day Planetlikely 0,15
Space Viking1
Little Fuzzy0,115
Ministry of Disturbance2+

Even with the rough numbers we have, it’s clear that there was a tenfold increase in hyperspace speed between the early days of the Terran Federation to the time of Space Vikings, and probably another such jump in drive performance by the time of the Empire.

Mapping H. Beam Piper, Part 3: To Niflheim!

Here’s something we already knew: Science Fiction authors don’t always get their science right.

The planet Niflheim, a hell-planet, features prominently in H. Beam Piper’s fiction because the name of the planet has become a swear-word. According to Uller Uprising, Niflheim is the 4th planet of the B8 star Nu Puppis, 148 light-years from Earth.

And the problem? Nu Puppis is actually 422.5 light-years from Earth.

It’s pretty clear that the figure given in the book is the intended distance of Niflheim from Earth. In fact, even the closer figure may be a problem – a trip to Uller, at Beta Hydri, is described as taking half a year, and that’s only 21 light years from Earth. So if travel times are linear, that would mean 2.5 years for the Terra-Nifflheim trip. There is also regular Niflheim – Uller traffic; ships from Niflheim stop over at Uller on their way to Terra.

On the other hand, Piper’s hyperdrives were not described consistently. In Uller, ships in hyperspace experience time at a slower rate. This is never picked up again in later books, but travel times have to be taken with a grain of salt in Uller Uprising.

The basic data on Niflheim stems from a short writeup by one Dr. John D. Clark, so the source of Piper’s error is easy to find. However, we still need to figure out what went wrong, and how to compensate for it in our little mapping project.

The coordinates are clearly correct for Nu Puppis, it’s just the distance that makes no sense. It is possible that Nu Puppis was thought to be much closer to earth when Uller Uprising was written. But we have to live with the broken data, and somehow get it back in sync with reality.

Unfortunately there are no other stars in the Puppis constellation that match type and distance, so we can’t claim a simple case of getting the name slightly wrong. So what is there in the sky that matches the star type and approximate distance? Not a whole lot:

758810144472Alp EriAchernar1,63-57,2444,09-2,77B3Vp
25428354971791112Bet TauAlnath5,4428,6140,18-1,37B7III
1060214228674Phi Eri2,28-51,5147,480,18B8IV-V
74785135742568527Bet Lib15,28-9,3849,07-0,84B8V
132091757383841 Ari2,8327,2648,900,16B8Vn
113963218045878154Alp PegMarkab23,0815,2142,81-0,67B9.5III
90185169022687920Eps SgrKaus Australis18,40-34,3844,35-1,44B9.5III
1239416978806Eps Hyi2,66-68,2747,010,76B9III

Here, distances are listed in Parsec (I am too lazy to convert all of them). 148 light years are 45.38 parsec. Beta Tucane can be quickly discounted, as it is a weird multiple-star system and this would’ve come up in the descriptions in the story.

phi Eridani is about the right distance, and is the “best match” for coordinates to those figures from the description given by Dr Clark, but since the original values do match Nu Puppis the error in the document must have been confusing two stars, not getting the coordinates wrong. Still, phi Eridani is as reasonable a pick as any others.

Kaus Australis (Epsilon Sagittarii) is actually listed as 188 light years distant in Hipparcos, so it’s not a very good match. It also seems that the star is really too bright for a B class, and might be in the process of dying. Now, humans are short-sighted creatures, but I’d like to think we would not establish a permanent colony around such a star. Of course, in an advanced interstellar society, and close-up observations we may decide that the star has millions of years left and settle planets in its system anyway.

However, there is the distance issue, and we do have an even better match.

Epsilon Hydri is B9III and we’ll need to work out whether this could actually possess a planet at the described orbit, but it matches the distance fairly well and it’s in the same very general direction as Beta Hydri (by virtue of being in the same constellation), which would make it plausible that an incoming ship would stop over at Uller. There isn’t much information on Epsilon Hydri on the web, but I guess it’s a good choice.

I will go with Niflheim being in orbit around Epsilon Hydri when trying to work out a map of Piper space.

Do you guys have any opinion on what might be a better choice?

Mapping H. Beam Piper, Part 2: More Planets

More planets, more connections. I think this does cover all Piper stories.

And again as a PDF: piper-systems

A lot of the planets are just mentioned by name, never in actual relation with any of the other worlds.

One thing I did not include in the chart yet is that Marduk is probably relatively close to Baldur, at least the two exchange diplomats. Still, since ships regularly make 3000+ light year jumps, that does not necessarily mean actual proximity.


Mapping H. Beam Piper, Part 1: Some Basics

I love H. Beam Piper’s sci fi stories, and I always wanted to map out the Terran Federation. Well, there’s not enough source material for any kind of reliable map, but I’ve collected as much info as I could without re-reading every book:

The chart is probably self-explanatory; it maps distance and in a few cases directional relationships between the planets. Some planets are mentioned without any other info, those are free-floating boxes. These are not complete, there are a few planets mentioned by name that are not on my schematic yet.

And as a PDF: piper-systems PDF

There is some material I did not check yet, so this will get updated eventually. And do let me know if I you are aware of any data not included yet!

World of Warcraft “Item Squish”

The lead system designer for World of Warcraft, Greg Street, posted an article about a proposed “item squish”. The Item Squish, he argues, is necessary because stats on items will at some point become meaningless – and illustrates this with hypothetical items from the endgame of Mists of Panderia and whatever expansion would follow that.

That World of Warcraft would at some point get problems with the constant inflation isn’t new; I recall discussing this with some buddies of mine back when Burning Crusade came out. It’s also been a problem in the economy, but unlike say Eve Online, WoW’s economy isn’t really an integral part of the game.

I do think that this kind of shows that Blizzard did not originally think about power levels much, and didn’t quite anticipate how long WoW would be popular. Or perhaps they simply chose to ignore the problem at first. With a power progression as implemented, I am sure they knew they would run into trouble eventually, they are way too good at what they do not to. Had they taken a long term view, they would be scaling their gear accordingly. When Arjan and I build Underdark Adventures 3, one of the very early things I did was set up rules on gear design, and set the general levels of power items for characters level 1…30 would have. It worked really well, too; game imbalance existed but mostly because of the way some of Neverwinter Nights spells worked. The items were never an issue.

Anyway, Greg’s is a good lesson to anybody who has to balance a game of any kind.

Task Resolution

After deciding that 3d6 is a dice mechanic that gives good, generally predictable results and a good granularity, let’s work on task resolution. “Task resolution” is any situation where a character is attempting to achieve something, but the mechanics will be used for other decisions as well. One example might be random encounters, where the probability is dependent on, say, weather or the time of the day.
Continue reading “Task Resolution” »