Interstellar Hazards

Space is as dangerous and unpredictable as it’s vast. In any campaign, regardless of how advanced it may be, only a tiny fraction of the void between systems can have been mapped. Even in well-known and well-traveled systems, there can be areas light-years in length that have never been extensively explored, if for no other reason that there are no immediately identifiable resources contained within that make exploration worthwhile. Planets with no ability to support life and no valuable elements can be given a cursory evaluation and then passed over for decades at a time. Asteroid belts are in a constant state of movement and are dangerous even for the most cautious explorers.

With any campaign where the focus involves the characters and their starship, familiarity can breed contempt with regard to the nature of space itself. Players can become complacent and overlook the dangers their characters face every time they leave a planet en route to some distant destination far across the galaxy. In some cases, however, this can work to the advantage of those creating encounters for such campaigns.

Hostile Environment of Space

An unprotected character in space takes at least three points of damage per round or one Wound level every two rounds. One point comes from the exposure to the vacuum, one from the exposure to intense temperatures, and one from the lack of oxygen. (For characters using Wound levels, being exposed to one of these factors results in losing a Wound level every six rounds and being exposed to two of them means a loss of a Wound level every four rounds.)

The Game Master may increase the damage because of a space debris shower, the intense heat of a nearby sun, the cinematic effects of the setting, and so on. The game- master may allow Special Abilities or equipment to slow the rate at which damage is taken or protect against some or all of this damage.

Natural Phenomenon

While there are an abundance of hazards created by intelligent beings that drift through the galaxy, naturally occurring hazards are far more common and typically far more dangerous. Chaos is the nature of space, and there is little that mortal beings can do to influence the grand scheme of the cosmos. The best that can be hoped for with regard to these natural dangers is to map any that are located and attempt to alert others to their location. Unfortunately, many of them can claim countless lives before someone survives to reveal their location to the galaxy at large. Even more unfortunately, there are those who would use the location of a hidden danger like these to their own advantage, as a secret weapon of sorts to waylay their enemies and destroy any who cross them.

Asteroid Field

Asteroid fields are an extremely common phenomenon, found in countless star systems throughout the known universe. They are made when systems first form, as planets begin to settle into orbit around their star. Inevitably, some planets form orbits that intersect with one another and eventually collide, creating a disaster of cosmic proportions. From these celestial head-on collisions, trillions of tons of debris create vast fields of rocks, some of which become captured by larger bodies.

Asteroid belts are typically restricted to certain regions of space, captured as they are by the same gravity that destroyed their parent planets. This is not to say that they are static, however, as the gigantic rocks that make up the belt, some the size of moons themselves, drift through the region. Collisions happen frequently, and any event that creates a disturbance within the region, such as a pitched battle between starships, can send shockwaves throughout the entire belt. It’s in this way that many meteors and comets are first created. Obviously, this completely unpredictable and random nature makes it virtually impossible for asteroid belts to be consistently navigated successfully. Most interstellar travelers avoid the belts by going above or below them to prevent any unforeseen drift that could place obstacles in their path.

An asteroid belt can serve as a rather unorthodox center for a campaign, particularly if the characters are using their starship for less than honorable purposes. Because their unstable nature causes most groups to shun them, they can afford numerous places to hide. Criminals use asteroids to avoid their pursuers, and in some cases, they discover relatively stable pockets within the belts. More than one pirate base has been built into a large asteroid and protected with heavy shields. Such a locale can create a sinister atmosphere for an encounter, one filled with a sense of peril as smaller asteroids constantly crash into the shields and are deflected or destroyed. The discovery of the base by law enforcement could make for a battle between multiple starships that takes place in one of the most hazardous locations known.

More legitimate uses of asteroid belts take the form of respectable businesses. Asteroids are comprised of many different elements, some of which can be extremely valuable. Just as planets are extensively mined for precious materials, so too can a planet’s corpse be picked over for large deposits of any number of valuable commodities. It may even be possible for normal resources to evolve into something different, given their state of existence in a vacuum and constant exposure to a variety of different forms of radiation. Such precious elements might only be found in asteroid belts, making it far more important for various parties to make use of the belts. Interplanetary corporations could hire freelancers to scout out secure pockets within a belt, find large deposits, or even to scare away rivals.

Although improbable beyond all reckoning, it’s possible that planets destroyed in the creation of an asteroid belt might already be home to civilizations that leave remnants to be discovered in the belt’s midst. These remains would have be among the most durable objects in the universe to survive such a cataclysm, and would be of interest to many parties simply because of their survival.

Navigating an Asteroid Field

Navigating a field requires a piloting roll each round at +20 to the speed difficulty (see “Spaceship Movement” difficulties). Failure results in a collision with one large or several small asteroids, inflicting 5D damage to the starship plus an additional amount of damage equal to the number of points by which the piloting roll was missed. A Critical Failure combined with a failure may result in the destruction of an essential system.

Black Holes

Without question the most dangerous of any naturally occurring phenomenon in the depths of space, a black hole is created when a star’s natural lifespan expires and it implodes, collapsing in on itself. The gravity of such a collapse is so enormous that nothing can escape its pull, not even light itself. There is a distinct border to phenomenon like these, called an event horizon. Anything that comes too close, anything that crosses the event horizon, is trapped by the black hole’s intense gravity and will eventually be consumed by it. It may be possible, with sufficiently advanced technology, to escape the event horizon, but in most campaigns, such things are typically beyond the capabilities of a commercially available starship and are available only to certain military or experimental craft.

Black holes, also called singularities, can be difficult to incorporate into adventures successfully because of their somewhat terminal nature. Any encounter with a black hole has the potential to be lethal for a starship and its crew, and there is little room for error. Assuming a certain degree of technology on the part of the characters, they could be hired to retrieve something or someone trapped within the black hole’s event horizon. Any such endeavor would be incredibly pressed for time; there is a very short period between the time an object crosses the singularity’s event horizon and the time at which it’s consumed. The cargo in question would have to be of great importance, possibly a personage of extraordinary wealth or influence, or an object that could not be replaced and that was necessary for some particularly important task.

Perhaps the best use of a black hole in an encounter is as a looming threat. An ordinary delivery or exploration encounter could be dramatically altered when a starship’s interstellar drive fails after the vessel’s journey through space is interrupted by a singularity’s gravity well. This transforms what the players might expect to be a standard, light-hearted adventure into a desperate race against time to restore the ship’s systems and escape the area before the inevitable. Such encounters must be planned carefully so as to equip the characters for success. A campaign that ends when the party is utterly consumed by a black hole’s inescapable gravity is generally not the desired outcome for anyone involved, and it can understandably lead to hard feelings among the group.

Somewhat more fantastic or existential encounters become possible when the black hole serves as a gateway to another dimension or location. Singularities used in this manner could radically alter a campaign that has become stagnant or commonplace. Virtually anything can be introduced in this manner, from vast alien civilizations to locales with radically different laws of physics to dimensions where everything the characters know is completely opposite — a mirror universe of sorts. Used in this way, the black hole can be the tool through which an entire campaign can be transformed into anything the Game Master imagines.

Comets and Meteors

Meteors are large chunks of rock that crash down to planets after being set in motion, frequently from an asteroid belt. (They are often called meteorites should they survive entry into a planet’s atmosphere.) For whatever reason, the meteors come free of their position within the system’s asteroid belt and rocket through space on inertia until they are captured by the gravity of a moon or planet or simply cross paths with something bigger than they are. If large enough, meteor can destroy all life on a planet by dramatically altering the climate or atmosphere by sheer force of impact. Obviously, most planetary governments wish to avoid occurrences of this nature. Some control fleets of sufficient size to eliminate such threats, but if those ships are involved elsewhere and cannot be freed (such as in the case of a large scale conflict or other commitment), then they will hire freelancers to deal with the situation. Events of this sort can be both profitable and noble endeavors for the intrepid crew of a capable starship.

Comets, composed primarily of ice, tend to be more predictable than meteors because they have fixed paths that they travel regularly as they hurtle through the galaxy. Of course, if the path isn’t mapped yet, they could cross with the interstellar flight of a ship and damage the drive, causing a sudden halt to the journey. Likewise, a slight altering of a comet’s path could send it toward a planet, where it could cause the same damage as a meteor.

Cosmic Storms

Often related to nebulae, the so-called cosmic storms are vast clouds of gas and charged particles that constantly discharge incredible amounts of energy through them, much like atmospheric storm clouds. These storms can drift slowly through the void, and although they rarely present a threat to planets, they can have a devastating effect on space stations, fleets, and lone starships that happen to stumble across them. The energy discharges they frequently exhibit can wreak havoc on a starship’s systems despite shielding, and they can disrupt or destroy virtually any part of a vessel’s technology, leaving behind a lifeless husk adrift in the midst of a cosmic hurricane.

Cosmic storms are somewhat different that the majority of natural space hazards in that they are a mobile threat. Unlike comets and meteors, they are far too large for there to be any hope of neutralizing them ahead of time. Also unlike comets and meteors, they are exceptionally slow-moving and can be detected well in advance of their arrival. This allows for Game Masters to foreshadow the storm for lengthy periods of time and use them as a distant threat, a background for initial encounters in a campaign that slowly builds until it arrives near where the characters’ vessel is moored. This can provide a change of pace as the characters find themselves planet-bound for the storm’s duration, or it can be used to much more dramatic effect if the characters’ ship is docked at a space station when the storm finally arrives. Although most modern space stations take precautions against such phenomenon by employing advanced shielding, survival is never assured under such dire circumstances.

Nebulae

Beautiful and potentially deadly, a nebula is a vast field of charged gases that dominates a large area of space, sometimes light-years in length. These gases are relatively static in their area of effect, although they do shift and flow within their borders. Over thousands or millions of years, these gases congregate and create new stars, giving birth to new star systems in the process. This rare event is the subject of great interest from stellar cartographers, but it has only been witnessed and recorded a handful of times in galactic history due to its unpredictable nature. In many ways, a nebula is the antithesis of a black hole. It’s the fetal form of a star waiting to be born, just as a singularity is the rotting corpse of one that has died and now seeks to destroy others in its final hours. Despite that a nebula has the potential to bring new life to planets after millions of years, and despite the beauty that many find in them, they can be every bit as deadly as any other phenomenon detailed in this section.

As static fixtures in the galactic landscape, nebulae are typically well documented and identified on most modern star charts. Any pilot with a reasonable degree of skill and access to dependable equipment can avoid them almost without thinking. The excited gas particles that make up a nebula can play havoc with a starship’s advanced electrical systems, and those who venture into one for whatever reason rarely emerge without some form of damage.

Nebulae are best used as a backdrop for an encounter, serving to block a means of escape or force a starship to remain in one area for long enough to complete the scenario. Any conflict- based encounter could find its dramatic climax in a peril-filled race through a nebula’s outer edge, and any exploration- based adventure might require an intrepid crew to delve into the nebula’s heart in search of some long-forgotten remnant of the past.

Piloting in a Nebula

Every round spent within a nebula requires a Difficult shields roll. Failure results in 4D damage being inflicted on the ship by electrical discharge. Every 15 points inflicted in this manner results in one system on the ship sustaining heavy damage. Use the “Damaged Systems” chart to select or randomly determine which one. Nebulae also add +1 or more to sensors difficulties — the farther the target is from the tracking ship, the more difficulty it becomes to detect it.

Solar Flares

The presence of solar flares increases the difficulty of all comm, navigation, and sensors roll throughout the system by +5, along with any other effects the Game Master wishes to include.

Solar Flares and Supernovas

There are few things in the known universe that simultaneously possess such incredible potential for destruction and creation as a star. With a few rare exceptions, life cannot exist without the warmth and heat provided by a star. Life begins with these brilliant jewels of the galaxy, but unfortunately it can end with them as well.

Relatively speaking, solar flares are largely benign in nature. The exact cause of solar flares have never been precisely determined, as there seems to be some strange variation between systems. Some flares are caused by ill-defined “storms” across the surface of a star. Others may be generated by the ongoing chemical reactions within the star’s heart. Still others owe their origin to gravimetric fluctuations caused by asymmetrical orbits.

Regardless of their source, solar flares send pillars of flame billowing out from the star’s surface like hairs reaching out from a head. This analogy is far from perfect, obviously, but the idea is essentially correct. Given how large a star is, the “hairs” generated by solar flares are truly spectacular, capable of completely vaporizing entire star cruisers or space stations that may be too close when this phenomenon occurs. Solar flares can also interfere with communication, sensor readings, and navigation throughout an entire system, dramatically complicating even the most basic starship functions for days on end. Used in this way, solar flares need not even play a direct role in an encounter to have a noticeable effect on the events over the following few days.

A supernova is the cataclysmic death of a star. The fusion reactions that take place in the star’s heart gradually decay over time, changing in style and composition. As these reactions decay, eventually the star becomes unstable and extremely volatile. When this reaches a critical point, the reactions can no longer sustain themselves, and the star goes into a supernova stage, detonating with the force of more nuclear weapons combined than Humankind has created throughout the history of a thousand worlds.

The effects of such an explosion are what might be expected. The planets closest to the star are usually vaporized, with not even gases remaining. Planets in the system’s inner half are destroyed when the shockwave reaches them, leaving little more than asteroids and trace elements. Outer planets are broken apart by the diminishing power of the explosion. The result is an empty pocket of space where a thriving star system once existed, with little more than the manner of debris one might expect from a typical asteroid belt. (Alternately, the star might implode upon itself in the final stages of its decay, creating a black hole that will consume anything left from the system’s destruction.)

Effects of Gravity

Every so often, characters are going to come up against alternate gravities. Those accustomed to 1-G environments react differently when gravity changes. For very cinematic and simple difficulty modifiers, use the following values (based the ones suggested by the “Combat Options” chapter).

> In low gravity, all Agility, Strength, and tool-manipulating Technical attempts have a -1D (-3) modifier.

> In null gravity, all Agility, Strength, and tool-manipulating Technical attempts have a -2D (-6) modifier.

> In heavy gravity, all Agility, Strength, and tool-manipulating Technical attempts have a +3D (+10) modifier.

Game Masters who want a little more detail in their gravity situations can use these guidelines, which have been designed for ease and cinematic action.

All acrobatics, brawling, firearms, melee combat, missile weapons, riding, sneak, throwing, and lift attempts get a modifier equal to 1 for every 0.1 difference in gravity between 1 G and the current gravity. (Round down.)

Example: In a 0.25-G environment, the modifier is 7, while in 1.2 G, the modifier is 2. In 0 G, the modifier is 10.

The Game Master may also apply this modifier to other Agil- ity, Strength, or other tasks that depend on movement, lifting, or precise manipulation. Generally, the modifier adds to the difficulty, but in some cases, especially lifting or catching in low gravity, the attempt may become easier and the modifier is subtracted from the difficulty.

Any sleight of hand or Technical action that employs tools risks having the tool or object used spin out of control (in light gravity environments) or becoming too heavy to handle properly (in high gravity environments) on a Critical Failure.

All movement rates equal the base movement rate divided by the number of gravities. Thus, a character who can jump 2.5 meters in a 1-G environment jumps 0.8 meters in 3 G and 10 meters in 0.25 G.

The distance characters can throw objects also changes. Divide the throwing distance by the gravity to get the new distance. Thus, an object thrown five meters in a 0.01-G environment can travel 500 meters or until it leaves the affected area or is stopped by something. This also means that objects in 0 G can travel forever in a straight line, unless they exit the field or something stops them.

Falling damage is determined differently when the gravity varies from 1 G. Divide 1.5 meters by the number of Gs to determine the distance the character would have to fall in order to sustain 1D of damage. (Round down to the nearest half meter.)

Example: A character falling 10 meters would take 6D of damage in a 1-G environment. If that environment is 3.75 G, he gets that much damage after a 2.5-meter fall; while in 0.25 G, it would be 40 meters before he sustained that amount. Another way to look at this is to multiply the damage total (not the die code) for a similar fall in 1 G by the number of current Gs.

This also means that a character can’t fall in 0 G; rather, the character is injured from being pushed into objects. (Apply only the base damage, not any damage bonus.)

Gravity can affect how much damage a dropped object will do. Multiply the amount of damage that the object does (the total, not the die code) by the number of G. In 0 G, a dropped item simply floats.

To determine how much an item weighs in the new gravi- tational pull, multiply the weight by the number of G affecting the item. For example, a man weighing 90 kilograms in 1 G weighs 180 kilograms in a 2-G environment. (For Game Masters who wish to determine whether a character could lift his new weight, the lifting difficulty is based on the difference between the character’s standard and the new weight — not on total new weight.)

Zero G generally has no effect on objects, except to make them easier to move (because they no longer have a weight — though they still have mass and can still hurt if a character runs into them!). An object in 0 G floats when moved. Game Masters may wish to impose permanent penalties (in the form of Hindrance Disadvantages) on characters for long-term exposure (a month or more) to unfamiliar gravity conditions. Game Masters may also add other factors (such as recoil affects) to nonstandard-gravity situations, as they think best suits their campaigns.

Low- and Null-Gravity Conditions

When characters encounter low (less than 1 G) or 0-G conditions, they use their flying/0-G skill to perform actions effectively. Since most species orient themselves to gravity environments, they’re often confused and clumsy in weightless situations. Training can help the character understand how body weight, counter balance, handholds, and other factors work in weightless conditions.

As characters first enter a low- or null-gravity environment, they make, as a free action, a flying/0-G attempt. The orientation difficulty is 5 for those with the skill or 10 for those who default to the attribute. The characters use the result points (the difference between the difficulty and the roll) to reduce the gravity modifier up to a maximum amount equal to the gravity modifier.

The modifier lasts until the character gets a Critical Failure on any roll or until the character leaves in the same environment (whichever comes first). After the Critical Failure, the character needs to take a moment to reorientate herself. As a free action, she makes an orientation attempt again at the same difficulty as the initial attempt. The same conditions apply for the new gravity orientation modifier.

Characters may also make the orientation attempt as a normal action, to see if they can get themselves more accustomed to the environment (and lower the gravity modifier more). Those who wish to take extra time getting used to the environment get the bonus for preparing.

Artificial Hazards

Natural phenomenon are hardly the only threats posed by the galaxy at large. Despite that civilized beings utilize only a fraction of the space that has been successfully explored at this point, there are nevertheless regions that have definite dangers as a result of some artificial creation that lingers after its designers have long since departed the area. For whatever reason, either through intent or happenstance, these phenomenon can be every bit as threatening as any natural danger.

Debris Field

Battles fought on an interplanetary scale are terrible, gruesome spectacles. The raw destructive potential of even a single star cruiser is truly frightening to behold, but a pitched battle between two, or even an entire fleet, can leave entire star systems hopelessly scarred for decades afterward. Although more localized than an asteroid field, the field of debris left behind following a battle can pose not only a significant navigational hazard, but a definite hazard to any ship that travels through it even at a safe speed. This is particularly true with debris left from primitive space vessels, some of which use dangerous chemicals in their propulsion drives. Some pockets of these chemicals persist, and they can be caustic enough to damage a starship’s exterior if left exposed for long enough. Anyone attempting to exit the vehicle in such conditions would find his environmental suit quickly eaten away.

Despite the obvious dangers, debris fields are popular destinations for independent businesspeople for a number of reasons. The first, of course, is salvage. It’s possible for entire sections of a star cruiser to remain intact once it breaks up in a battle, and these large pieces are full of electronics and weapons that can fetch a spectacular price on the salvage black market. The risks gathering such items are considerable, but the seductive allure of reward is too much for many to overlook. Criminals in particular are keen to acquire such forgotten weapons, as the illegally obtained military weapons cannot be traced and there is little worry that law enforcement will be able to track them through records of sale and purchase.

Information is another major reason to return to a debris field. Many cruisers have compartmentalized computer backup systems, and informational records can survive within these systems for long periods of time even after the cruiser’s destruction. Either side involved in a battle will wish to retrieve such secrets following the battle’s conclusion, and many third parties as well. Even if the conflict is not military in nature, information found in the wreckage may still be of great value to someone.

Mercenary or pirate fleets that are involved in conflicts with legitimate fleets or various law enforcement armadas may leave behind data that could serve as evidence of their many crimes or provide the location of their hidden bases. On more than one occasion, smaller scale battles have been fought between starships and soldiers in space suits among the debris following a major battle, as both sides attempt to recover the information lost in the battle.

Abandoned Traps

For whatever reason, be it military, scientific, self-defense, or megalomania-induced cruelty, there are instances when beings leave behind devices that can only be described as traps. These devices, sometimes ancient holdovers from a previous era, range in complexity from crude explosives to elaborate traps designed to imprison starships until they can be retrieved, something that may not be possible as the creators are often no longer alive or at least in the area to maintain them.

The first and most basic type of trap is one designed to destroy any ship that ventures into its area of effect. Proximity-activated explosives and simple mines are the most common form of these traps. There may be vast fields of mines that have been located and defused by a galactic government, but thousands individual mines could be still scattered throughout the galaxy, waiting to be discovered by some poor, doomed starship crew hurtling through the galaxy.

Proximity charges placed on asteroids through commonly used passages are another common variation of this theme. These traps can have far-reaching repercussions, as an explosion within any asteroid belt can create a chain reaction that sends asteroids spiraling through space, where they may damage other ships, space stations, or even planets as they crash through the system.

More elaborate, insidious, and far rarer traps are those that are designed with a specific purpose in mind. These often involve devices such as tractor beams, gravity-well projectors, electromagnetic pulse generators, and all other manner of powerful machines. Some devices are created as a military project, as a means to detain and capture enemy starships without need for risking valuable assets in combat. Some more rationally minded pirate groups prefer such techniques as well, as there is far less chance of damaging the prize during capture if it has been denied power long enough for systems to shut down. Some even go so far as to allow the ships to lay dormant long enough for the crew to expire before returning for their prize, guaranteeing no resistance.

A few corporations use similar tactics against their rivals, and even certain scientific groups have experimented with such devices beyond the frontier in an attempt to acquire specimens for study. Commonly, these tactics are restricted, and those caught practicing them without permission suffer enormous penalties. However, space is quite vast and impossible to patrol completely.

Perhaps the most insidious and enigmatic use of traps is in the hands of individuals whose motivations may or may not be known to those who suffer their predations. Some wealthy eccentrics find sport in hunting starships like big game, trapping them in elaborately constructed circumstances that require their crews to succeed at nearly impossible tasks in order to free themselves. Others may be powerful, godlike beings who enjoy testing “lesser beings” in order to learn more about mortality and the abilities of those who do not share their power. Beings of this nature, whether merely eccentric or truly omnipotent, can serve as a recurring threat to any starship’s crew and may even upstage existing campaign villains for short periods of time.

These hidden dangers can serve as excellent sources for encounters when the campaign is at a point where something is needed to interrupt the normal flow of events. If properly designed, traps can provide an outstanding problem-solving challenge for the starship’s crew to overcome, perhaps exercising skills that they are not often called upon to use.

D6 Space Ships (WEG 51017), © 2005 Purgatory Publishing Inc.
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