‘Faster Than Light: Nomad’ Ship Generation, Part 1: Communication

Posted: 2024-06-25
Last Modified: 2024-06-30
Word Count: 2891
Tags: ftl-nomad rpg

Table of Contents

CHANGED 2024-06-27:

CHANGED 2024-06-30:

Introduction

As part of my exploration of Faster Than Light: Nomad, I decided to make a few ships, or “ships”. I’m not sure I’m doing it quite right, and I think I’m breaking the rules with the Express Drone and the FTL Relay Pod.

In any case, the ships (and ship technologies) I’ve created follow a theme of communication infrastructure an interstellar civilization would need:

FTL:N already describes a Cosmic Era device called the FTL Communicator (pp 98-9) which provides instantaneous communication up to six parsecs away. (Just like on Star Trek and other TV shows.) That, however, means either the PCs can just phone for help or the GM must somehow disable the Star Phone just this once … again. (For more information, watch this.)

Hyperspace Express

(Inspired by the Portal Ships I created for Coriolis.)

An interstellar civilization needs some way to communicate with its member star systems. Most civilizations rely on sending messages with private or government starships heading in the right direction, but as organizational complexity increases, the need for dedicated message ships rises.

Express Courier

Technology Age: Early Interstellar

An Express Courier exists solely to deliver data and priceless cargo between star systems. To this end, its guns are severely underpowered, enough to take on small fighters or boarding pods but nothing larger. A wise Express Courier captain eludes any potential pirates or hostile forces rather than fighting back and risking destruction.

Hull Type Endurance Armor Crew Cargo Guns Agility Mods Total
Scout 1 month 18/21 4 2 2d6 +4
base 1 month 18/21 4 16 5d6 +2
steps +2 +2 -2 -2 0
cost -10% -20% +10% +20%

Modifications:

Travel Multiplier: x1

Cost: 8,000,000 + 20% = 9,600,000 Cr

Monthly Cost: 39,000 + 20% = 46,800 Cr

Express Drone

Technology Age: Late Interstellar

Essentially an Express Drone has just enough room for a small amount of cargo or a large data storage device. It possesses no weapons; it compensates with Agility to elude any pursuers and increased Armor to survive the first hit. Once it arrives at its target destination, it can beam its data payload to a pre-determined location and/or head toward a pre-determined rendesvous.

Drones are only useful when the sender is only a few hyperspace transits away from “civilization”.

Hull Type Endurance Armor Crew Cargo Guns Agility Mods Total
Micro 3 mos 14/17 0 0.5 - +4
base 1 day 7/9 1 2 2d6 +4
steps -3 -1 +1 +1 +2 -0 0
cost +30% +20% -5% -20% +20% +45%

Modifications:

Travel Multiplier: x1

Cost: 700,000 + 45% = 1,015,000 Cr

Monthly Cost: 7200 + 45% = 10,440 Cr

FTL Telegraph Networks

2024-06-30: These rules have been superseded by “finished” rules for the FTL Telegraph. We retain these only out of historical interest.

(Inspired by 19th century telegraphs.)

As interstellar civilizations grow into galactic civilizations, they begin to create a communication network that reaches across the stars. In the Late Interstellar Age this takes the form of the FTL Telegraph, a device onboard FTL-capable spaceships that can exchange short messages with a similar unit a few parsecs away.

Limits

Due to the limitations of Galactic Age technology all messages along the FTL network are asynchronous, with a lag time of a day to a week per transit between the source and the destination.

Without an automated relay system an FTL Telegraph operator must receive each incoming message and relay it to the relevant authorities. This may mean sending the message onward through a chain of telegraphs. Especially in the Late Interstellar Age relaying a message to a central government can take weeks if not months.

The technology has other limitations; see below.

Uses of the FTL Telegraph

Even with its limitations, an FTL Telegraph provides vital intelligence to expanding governments, corporations, and militaries. If a ship is lost with all hands, its last messages can indicate where it was, what it was doing, and who or what may have destroyed it without risking another ship to search for any wreckage.

FTL Relays

2024-06-30: These rules have been superseded by “finished” rules for the FTL Telegraph and the Hypernet. We retain these only out of historical interest.

(Inspired by radio telegraphy, TCP/IP routing, email, and cell phone networks.)

To extend the FTL Telegraph’s reach, Early Galactic civilizations create a network of automated relays that pass messages between them to their intended destination. FTL Telegraphs need only be within transit of at least one relay in the network to communicate with a space station dozens of parsecs away.

Each message sent to a particular star system arrives at that system in the fewest number of transits, thanks to routing tables at each relay.

The FTL Message Protocol (FTLMP)

Except for the very first FTL Telegraphs each Telegraph and eventually each Router and Node uses a message protocol that remains surprisingly stable over the centuries. All messages include the following data:

Despite the level of cryptography, a receiver can never actually know where a message comes short of examining all the devices along the message’s route.

Limits of FTL Relays

Messages sent to a mobile recipient (e.g. an FTL space ship) are less reliable. Because of the FTL lag time, routing messages to an FTL-capable ship moving between stars turns out to be a hard problem.

The ship must have registered their location with the nearest relay(s) in range. (For security or timing reasons, not all ships make their location known.) Relays may queue messages if a ship indicates it will arrive there soon. Given the lag between relays and the possibility of stale information, a message may take much longer to arrive than a simple analysis of the relay network might indicate. After several failed retries, the system forwards the message to a queue at the ship’s registered planet of origin.

A well-designed network will never lose messages, but the message may not arrive in time, or at all, unless the intended recipient goes looking for it. Large organizations schedule “rendesvous” windows2 in an attempt to alleviate this problem, but no solution is foolproof.

Uses of the FTL Relay

Ships can strike out even further into the unknown while keeping in touch with their home base. Central authorities can, for better or worse, issue orders and directives from their offices and rely on them reaching their final destination, or at least near enough.

FTL Relay Pod

2024-06-30: These rules have been superseded.

See FTL Relay Pod. and Hypernet Relay.

The Hypernet

2024-06-30: These rules have been superseded by “finished” rules for the Hypernet. We retain these only out of historical interest.

(Inspired by the Internet, naturally.)

In the Late Galactic Age the FTL Telegraph network evolves into the “Hypernet”, a true galactic distributed network of Hypernet Nodes.

The Hypernet Datagram Routing Protocol

By the Late Galactic Age, extended research into information transfer through hyperspace leads to the Hypernet Datagram Routing Protocol, also called HDRP or simply “the Hypernet Protocol”, which leads to a tenfold speed improvement in data transfer speeds. The Hypernet Protocol also allows some information streams priority over others so that it can commandeer existing channels for extra bandwidth.

HDRP solves bandwidth and routing, but many other problems remain intractible, notably the day-long lag time between sending a message and receiving it. If a data stream needs to be divided in chunks and one chunk is missing, the end-user will either have to wait a day or more for the missing chunks to be sent or reconstruct the full data stream from the pieces they have. As we know from the Omninet3, audio and video data can survive losing some information; other forms of data cannot.

Uses of the Hypernet

Unlike each planetary system’s Omninet3, a Hypernet typically remains in the hands (or manipulators) of interstellar governments and other organizations. Some governments use the Hypernet to broadcast propaganda to all the systems under their control; others reserve it for military and administrative use. Very rarely do the owners of a Hypernet open it up to private use, and even then sending physical media via ship may be cheaper.

Despite government control and the tyrrany of hyperspace physics the Hypernet ties otherwise isolated planets in a Galactic Era civilization together. Momentous events on one planet inevitably become news in another. Democracies and dictatorships alike can reach out to a galactic scale audience of supporters. Opponents of the current regime can with great effort reach out to like-minded dissidents.

Those civilizations that open up their Hypernet to the public reap the benefits (and headaches) of a galaxy-wide free press and freely available knowledge.

New Ship Technologies

2024-06-30: These rules have been superseded.

FTL Telegraph (Late Interstellar)

See FTL Telegraph.

FTL Telegraph Router (Early Galactic)

See FTL Telegraph Router.

Hypernet Node (Late Galactic)

See Hypernet Node.


  1. From a GM’s perspective, the FTL Telegraph eliminates the complications and distractions of the Hyperspace Express, while leaving enough of a lag that players can’t simply phone HQ or the Star Patrol when they get into trouble … and their superiors (if any) can’t micromanage them. ↩︎

  2. E.g. a ship is scheduled to arrive in the Miranda system by stardate 2829-06-28-00:00Z and wait for three days in case HQ has new orders. Often HQ will simply send the messages directly to Miranda with directions to buffer them for some number of days after the scheduled rendesvous date. ↩︎

  3. The public network used by an Omnicomm or Omnicomp. ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎