Yearly Archives: 2011

Flag of the Federated Nations

The Federated Nations – successor to the United Nations – use this flag:

To be fair, I just threw something together; I did not really assign any meaning to the symbols. I did want to remove some of the clutter from the globe, and I think that works nicely. I also prefer a deep blue to the old UN light blue, it’s a nicer, fuller color this way, giving the flag more “presence”.

But if anybody has a good suggestion on what the stars could stand for – let me know. I thought about continents, or planets in the solar system – I could change the number of stars after all – but neither sounds overly compelling.

Dice and Probabilities

If I wanted to create a game system, one of the first things I’d tackle is the fundamental dice mechanic I’d like to use. Rolling dice, and the chances a player is supposed to have at succeeding different given tasks, obviously deeply influence many other design decisions – such fundamentals as attribute ranges and how they figure into the dice rolls, but all other aspects of the game system as well.

Continue reading “Dice and Probabilities” »

NaNoWriMo 2011

Oh, right. NaNoWriMo starts in less than two months.

NaNoWriMo is the National Novel Writing Month – November, when a bunch of crazy people attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s a lot harder than it sounds.

I’ve taken part in NaNoWriMo since 2008, and made the goal in both 2008 and 2009, but a new, busy job, a new girlfriend, and illness all conspired in 2010 – I didn’t even reach 10,000 words.

I fully intend a successful comeback this year. Failure, as they say, is not an option. I intend to work on something set in my Voyagers universe, but I am still working on the specific planning.

Will anybody of you take part in NaNoWriMo? What will you write about?

Earth in 2174: Membership in the Federated Nations

Members of the Federated Nations, the successor organization of the United Nations:

Members of the Federated Nations, 2174
Members of the Federated Nations, 2174

This map should be considered as a “draft” – I may still change the status of a few nations. Either way, some notes may be in order:

  • The FN was organized by only a handful of nations, but a far greater number signed the charter when the FN was founded. The Second American Republic was a key force behind the FN treaty.
  • Texas was a founding member along with the entirety of the United States, but the membership treaty failed ratification. This was a major embarrassment for the Americans. Texas was admitted seven years later, after pro-FN politicians ran a successful campaign decrying Texan loss of influence on world politics.
  • The Andean Community withdrew from the FN in protest when the FN failed to force Venezuela to withdraw from annexed Colombian territory.
  • Morocco was expelled after severe human rights violations came to light.
  • Iraq withdrew on influence from the Islamic Union.
  • The Islamic Union, and most of the countries in its influence, never joined the Federated Nations. This also implies that the FN was founded after the Islamic Union – a key point I will probably change.
  • The Chinese Empire blocked membership of Xinjiang.

Ringworld Data

Consider a Ringworld, a ring-shaped world that orbits a star at the center of the ring.

Larry Niven invented this as a compromise between a Dyson Sphere and a planet, and wrote his novel of the same name to describe exploration of such a world. (And if you didn’t know that, go and read that novel. Do it now. It’s one of those classic Sci Fi stories that will get your sense of wonder going, even if the story itself is not particularly strong.

It’s an awesome concept, even with its technical problems (“The Ringworld is unstable!”) and I always wanted to build my own Ringworld. The past few days, the Ringworld concepts have been nagging me in the back of my head and yesterday morning I had an idea I think is interesting to explore. To that end, I need to find out more about the Ringworld’s properties.

First off, I prefer a Banks Orbital to a Niven Ring for three reasons:

  1. Banks Orbitals are marginally more realistic than Niven Rings
  2. Their smaller size makes them more manageable from an author’s perspective
  3. Since they do not orbit a star at their center, they do not suffer the inherent stability issues of Niven Rings

Rotation and Size

The width of the Ring is arbitrary, and I eventually settled on 50000 km.

Rotation is a little more complicated. I wanted it to have a 24h day/night cycle, and since the spin of the Ring determines the “gravity” through centrifugal force, this determines the size the ring can have. I worked on this many years ago, starting in November 2005, when I figured out the dimensions it would have, back when Wikipedia didn’t offer any convenient answer to that problem. I wanted the Ring to have an inner “simulated gravity” of 1G, 9.81m/s^2 (or a close alien equivalent to it, which is why I had 9.78m/s^2 in the old post I think), and a rotation matching 24 hours.

This all works out to:

  • Radius: 1854969,424913 km.
  • Circumference: 11655116.64 km
  • Surface area: 582755831794.04 km^2 or 1142.51 times that of Earth

If you discount Earth’s ocean-covered surface the Ring would have almost four thousand times the land area of Earth. Of course that is neglecting that the Ring will not be entirely covered by land. I haven’t worked out how much is a “good” ocean to land ratio, but I’m guessing 50-70% water. This is purely based on aesthetics; the surface of the Ring should be earth-like, and that means lots of water. This still leaves 1400+ times the Earth’s land surface area.

The Ringworld's Scale
The Ringworld's Scale

Day and Night Cycle

The ringworld orbits slightly tilted towards its primary star. This allows light to reach the inner surface of the more distant side – creating a Ringworld day.

The Ringworld's Day-and-Night Cycle
The Ringworld's Day-and-Night Cycle on the inner side of the ring.

Seasons

You could asjust the climate – or possibly create seasons – by controlling not only the distance from the sun, but by the angle of the Ringworld’s “tilt”. One problem that needs to be solved is that the Ringworld would, according to my understanding, eventually be oriented so that the dipped side is rotated 90° from the sun. That way, the sun’s light would be blocked entirely. The Ringworld days would differ in their length from 12h to 0h in a cycle repeated twice per Orbit. This could be a strange type of season, but I think it is undesirable to the inhabitants and should probably be corrected for by some means.

Angular Size

When you look up into the sky, you see the inner surface of the other side of the ring. At a distance of 3.71 million kilometers, the angular size of that ring is 46.331 minutes, about 50% larger than the Moon appears from Earth. An observer at the center of the ring would see the ring at a size of 92.658 Minutes on all sides – a little more than three times the Moon as seen from Earth.

If the Earth was placed at the center of the Ringworld, the Earth would appear to be of a size of 23.785 minutes of arc, roughly 20% smaller than the moon appears in Earth’s sky. It would be invisible during the night – hidden against the background of the opposite side of the ring – but might be fairly visible during the day, the same way the moon is sometimes visible during a Terran day.

The Moon as seen from Earth during the day
The Moon as seen from Earth during the day

If the Ringworld orbits at a Lagrange point, it will still fill the sky. And even at 150 million kilometers, the distance from the Sun to the Earth, it will be easily visible by naked eye.

A Ring in the Sky: Relative Size of a Banks Orbital
A Ring in the Sky: Relative Size of a Banks Orbital

Plot-a-Day: Genetic Engineering

Lugh’s comment on The Evil of Eugenics plot-a-day inspired me to write up a plot-a-day for Genetic Engineering. Lugh basically suggested that wizards created monsters in genetic experiments as a weapon against an undead horde, which is a nice and modern take on the origin of those creatures.

Genetic Engineering is really a staple of fiction by now. It usually goes horribly wrong, unleashing monsters or designer plagues on mankind. The sort of story you would associate with Genetic Engineering roots in Frankenstein and encompasses a lot of Post-Apocalyptic fiction; at the high end an unstoppable virus has become a popular alternative to global thermonuclear war for the purpose of destroying Earth to allow for such a setting or story.

Ignoring the total destruction of human society – which is usually a setting choice rather than a plot device – Genetic Engineering can be used in many ways in your adventures or stories.

  • The evil villain is breeding an army of unstoppable mutants – usable in (almost) any campaign and setting. The player characters need to stop him from unleashing that army. Perhaps the villain is already using some of his creations to terrorize the nation or to assassinate politicians that stand in his way. Even the Aliens movie franchise could be seen as a variation of this idea (and indeed, Alien Resurrection picks up on that theme).
  • Genetically engineered plants and creatures often feature in the colonization of other planets; realistically, Mars could be terraformed with their help. And you know what may happen next, of course – the plants used begin to mutate, the animals go crazy, and some may even develop intelligence. Depending on your setting this could result in anything from man-eating insects to a full exotic and alien ecosystem. Jungles on Mars! But that is setting. The players may have to investigate why colonists in an outlaying mining town disappear, and then find a way to exterminate the smart bugs, or they may even have to protect the new Martian ecosystems from an evil Colonial Authority that attempts to eradicate the “mistake”.
  • A lone mutant runs rampant in a city, and the PCs have to stop him.
  • Genetically-modified humans are patented and used as a slave labor force by an evil corporation.
  • According to urban legend, Stalin wanted to breed  human-ape crossbreeds to be used as soldiers. While there seems to have been little to this, at least one Russian scientist was conducting experiments to that end. No matter what the purpose, such experiments pass as unethical by today’s standards, and the PCs might have to look into a scientist who is doing follow-up experiments of the same nature. Or it could lead to a Planet of the Apes scenario.
  • In general, genetically-modified pets may go on a rampage.
  • A corporation on a distant colony world / in a dystopian future controls the world’s grain because it genetically engineered it in such a way that it is not viable after the first generation. Each year, the farmers have to buy new grain from said corporation which is abusing this monopoly more and more. The antagonists need to step in and end this injustice once and for all.
  • Genetic engineering is usually portrayed as “evil”, but it doesn’t need to be. A good, easy twist would be to offer a genetically engineered vaccine that is the only thing that can save mankind from a mutated plague; or a certain type of genetically modified grain that could solve a famine. If the producer of these is then less than clean – say, they also use their products for “evil” things – that sort of plot could offer a good amount of conflict of interests.
  • To cover another cliche: It’s not people who are behind the genetic experiments, it’s aliens. This can easily become zany, too, if you combine it with any sort of whacky conspiracy theory. Then twist it around and set it in a High Fantasy world.

There are surely countless other ideas, but that’s what I can come up with for now.