As I've mentioned elsewhere, I actually work in the maritime industry as a legal investigator. I mostly deal with labor issues, but I try to keep abreast of the field generally. Exact prices for specific vessels will vary quite a bit (specialized equipment, tax breaks, sweetheart loans, bulk purchasing, etc.) but as a very rough figure your looking at $25 million USD and up for any serious cargo ship.
Typical Neopanamax bulk carriers (60-80,000 DWT; the biggest that can fir through the Panama Canal) sell for $35-40 million newly constructed and about $25-30 million used.
A Capesize bulk carrier (80,000 DWT and up; too big for either the Panama or Suez Canals, thus having to sail around the Cape) are pretty much the biggest things on the ocean and start at about $60 million.
China's OOCL Hong Kong is currently the largest container ship active today. She was the first of six vessels in her class and the contract to build all six was worth a reported $950 million. So doing very crude "back of the napkin math" that puts her at about $108 million dollars.
How do you handle Player Characters having that sort of money?
Very simple. You make the universe's economy work like an actual economy. A $35 million dollar cargo ship isn't going to be cheap to operate, even "parking" the thing in a port is going to cost thousands of dollars a day... Operating it will cost millions of dollars in fuel alone. Not to mention maintenance, tariffs, taxes, licenses, regulatory compliance. Oh, and you gotta pay the crew. You'll need to keep the ship moving cargo if you don't want to loose your shirt. If you are lucky you might break even. If you are very lucky, you might turn a modest profit.
In short, for the typical group of players interested in adventure and exploration, bulk cargo ships are far more trouble than they're worth. A smaller tramp freighter that deals in luxury goods and/or express delivery of sensitive materials (and/or running contraband) is far more profitable, doesn't require crew beyond the size of the typical party, and has the freedom to venture away from established trade runs. Hence, their ubiquity in fiction (e.g., Millennium Falcon, Serenity, or the African Queen).
I'd look to Traveler as the benchmark for how to make a sci-fi roleplaying game with a realistic-ish economy. The game does do away with a lot of the "boring bits" but still allows for the PCs to engage in mercantile adventures. You can be a Mal Solo / Han Reynolds tramp freighter captain dealing in a mix of legit jobs as contraband running in a smaller ship or even become an independent yankee trader in a bulk freighter competing with the major corporate powers... Heck, if you really want to, you can work for one of the big corporations.
This is why I hate settings where ships moving at FTL speeds (or significant fractions of c) are capable of interacting with the normal universe. I’ve done the math in the past and using it’s sublight engines, a bog-standard TIE/ln Fighter from Star Wars impacts at speed with kinetic energy the equivalent of the Nagasaki “Fat Man” bomb... Why bother building DeathStar doomsday weapons, just strap some engines onto a big rock.
Starfinder wisely avoids this. Interstellar travel is done via an alternate dimension using the same standard sublight engines you use in regular space, and the speed seems to max out at less than 1% of c.
The Aether is a real thing, the medium which light propagates. After all, advanced human beings use the luminiferous aether in their technology.
“Advanced human beings”? Let me guess, they’re from Atlantis aren’t they... and the reason no one has been able to reproduce their technology is because of a Global Conspiracy (probably involving the Jews) to keep everyone unaware of it.
Look, I’m a maritime and admiralty law investigator. I don’t have any academic or professional credentials in the sciences, I’m merely an enthusiastic amateur astronomer and physics nerd. But the whole point of science is openness, falsifiability, and reproduction of tests. You don’t need a Ph.D. or even a B.Sc. to read a scientific journal and try to replicate any experiment within... You can conduct your own Michelson-Morley experiment yourself. I did it as an undergrad. It’s fun.
As to “Zero Point Energy”... Sigh.
Look, the worldwide ocean-going shipping industry has something north of 90,000 vessels active today. They handle about 90% of all global trade (yes, ninety, that’s not a typo). These ships burn 2.5 million to 4 million barrels a day of fuel oil... that’s about $300,000,000 USD annually. An international treaty regulating sulfur emissions goes into effect in 2020 and the entire industry is bracing for massive financial losses as a result of it.
If “Zero Point Energy” technology is real, please, walk into your nearest Møller-Maersk, COSCO, CMA, Mediterranean Shipping Company, or Hapag-Lloyd office with a copy of the blueprint, a demo model, and an empty semi-truck to haul away the cash they will give you. Those are the five largest container shipping companies on the planet. Møller-Maersk alone moves about 15% of all the manufacturered goods on Earth. Møller-Maersk Has an operating revenue of, like, $35 billion... But, they had negative profits last year and in fact they’ve been operating at a loss the last few years. Almost entirely due to fuel costs.
A “Zero Point Energy” motor would be worth TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to this industry. Yes, with a “T.”
(To say nothing of the Nobel Prize, international fame, permanent place in the recorded history humanity, and whole “rewrite every physics textbook” thing.)
I'm always open to the possibility that the standard model of physics is wrong. But, well, you've got to come up with a helluva lot of very good evidence if you want to upset the apple cart.
Prior to the Michelson–Morley experiment, just about every scientist knew that the luminiferous æther was a real thing. After Michelson and Morley demonstrated that the æther wasn't, scientists spent decades either trying to prove Michelson and Morley wrong or trying to come up with some other explanation for how light propagated. Enter Einstein.
Classic Newtonian physics and the luminiferous æther works well to explain nearly everything about our observable reality. Except, well, we couldn't observe æther. But the rest of the physics still "worked." So when Einstein developed the theory of relativity he had to work damn hard to provide the evidence to back up his hypothesis. So he did the work. He could have just hunkered down in his basement somewhere and written angry screeds about how The Conspiracy® was suppressing The Truth™... But, no, he wanted people to actually take him seriously.
Plenty of legitimate scientists have worked for years, if not there entire lives, in the pursuit of a hypothesis or model that turned out to be wrong. Lots of very serious physicists at the time Einstein first began to publish his work on relativity didn't think he had it right and worked to disprove his theories which is a perfectly legitimate avenue for science to take. But they did it "by the book," the experimented, they tested, they published... and when, eventually, they realized they were wrong they owned it.
Stephen Crothers is an embittered conspiracy theorist and a quack.
But no charging with a gun, that's just silly.
Um... It has been done countless times throughout history. I've done it myself in training.
From the Highland charge of Jacobite rising of 1689, the enfants perdus and forlorn hope of the Napoleonic Wars, to the tennōheika banzai charges of the Imperial Japanese Army during WWII... Rushing headlong at the enemy, shooting him en route, and then bashing him with a butt-stock or stabbing him with a bayonet is a time honored tactic.
A buttstroke isn't an ideal way to use a modern rifle, shooting people is. (I mean, that's why you put the bullets in it, right?) But smacking someone in the face with a 3.5 kg M4A1 is going to get noticed.
There’s just one question I ask whenever a player pitches me on such a concept: In a world of readily available cybernetic prosthetics and magical healing, why does your character still have a permanent disability?
Zatoichi is a cool series of movies, but a permanently blind swordsman makes a lot more sense in late Edo period Japan than it does in a universe of cybernetic space-monks and rocket-pilot paladins.
The “Artillery Laser” subgroup of weapons are phenomenally misnamed. The meaning has changed overtime, there are also pedantic nuances between British and American English and some technical distinctions between military branches, but the modern usage in all cases pretty much agrees on one major point: artillery are not a small arms. (Which is another thing that bugs me: longarms [e.g., rifles] are one type of small arm; Starfinder uses the term “small arm” for what should be called sidearms.)
Artillery are things like canon, howitzers, mortars, rockets... Again, professionals will quibble about whether or not a particular weapon system is artillery or not, but no one ever would count a rifle as artillery.
Stephen Crothers? Really? That guy was expelled from the University of New South Wales for academic misconduct. He refuses to publish his work in peer reviewed journals, claims a doctorate from the notorious Maxwell Einstein University degree mill, and constantly makes wholly unfalsifiable claims. Honestly, the luminiferous æther guys are more credible.
I mean, c’mon, the whole electric universe model can be falsified using a prism, a sheet of white paper, and a sunny day. Crothers likes to spin wild tales about how “big academia” is oppressing him, suppressing the truth, and how general relativity is a big lie... But his pet pseudo-science cannot accurately model observed reality like basic optics.
In the standard model, the nuclear reactions in the Sun’s core produce light and heat that cause the star to shine. If this were true, then we should observe thermal radiation bring emitted by the sun. We should observe a spectrum of colors that is almost continuous (and we should observe some Fraunhofer lines where cooler gasses in its upper atmosphere absorb some of the light.)
If the Sun were lit by electrically excited plasma, as the electric universe model claims, then the spectrum would be a discontinuous melange of bright lines. Plasma discharges do not emit a continuous spectrum of light.
So, what do we actually see?
Quod erat demonstrandum.
I’ve always lived by the maxim that fictional universes operate the same as the real-world unless we are told otherwise. This makes it much easier to maintain verisimilitude and makes sure everyone is playing by the same assumptions. If I don’t explicitly tell my players that my campaign world is a flat disc resting on the backs of four elephants standing on a giant turtle being circled by a glowing giant riding a fiery chariot, they will probably assume it’s a oblate spheroid orbiting a yellow star.
Ergo, unless Paizo tells me different, I’m assuming the Starfinder galaxy is approximately the same size and shape as the Milky Way.
In my Savage Worlds/Pirates of the Spanish Main campaign, where the players have explicitly turned piratical, I have the heroes make a Streetwise skill check to auction off prizes and captured cargo. A single success finds a buyer willing to give 10% of the "retail" price for a ship, with every Raise getting them +5% (up to a max of 25%).
So a $25,000 cromsteven might get them $2,500 to $6,250, plus whatever they can get for the cargo. This then all has to be divided amongst the ship's company according to the ship's Articles of Agreement.
When they were privateers, I handled things a bit differently, in keeping with the historical practice the crew of a privateer vessel receives no pay unless a prize is captured. Then their ship's NPC owner received the largest share – 40 to 70% of the captured vessel's "retail" price – and the king/queen/governor took 10 to 20%. The rest got divvied up amongst the PCs and NPCs actually crewing the ship.
The potential for individual profit by being pirates incited them over to the dark side, much as it did for real pirate crews. Of course, now they lack the protection of a Letter of Marque and will dance the hempen jig should they be caught.
They didn't use such for reasons they've explicitly stated many a time: if you allow players to buy or sell ships ( or ship parts ), you break the economy in half.
If that's the case, then I would suggest that it is the economy that should have been fixed and not the money sink treadmill that they actually put into Starfinder.
The default assumption of Starfinder is that the PCs will be independent adventurers and not part of any formal state's military. So, where a Star Trek game could ignore the taking of prizes by saying simply "Starfleet doesn't do that." there is no narrative reason that a group of Starfinder adventurers wouldn't do so... Except that the game's mechanics make it impossible. As a general rule, I do not like when game mechanics don't have a narrative explanation.
Maritime law regarding the taking of prizes has been, more or less, standardized since since De Iure Praedae Commentarius was written in 1604, with significant refinements during the mid-18th Century. Maritime law happens to be what I do for a living and maritime history is an area that I am especially prone to "geeking out" over, but I recognize that its something 99.999999999% of the human race has no interest in. Hell, most people don't realize (and don't care) that "ship" and "boat" mean different things... Nevertheless, given how prominent pirates and privateers are in role-playing games and how prominent space-pirates are in sci-fi RPGs, I find it mind boggling that Starfinder's designers wouldn't think that PCs would be taking prizes.
Prize law is very well-developed and has been for centuries, but it is to put it plainly complicated as hell. Prize cases are handled by the admiralty court of whatever nation the prize taker sails the prize to, but its international law and a byzantine web of treaties, accords, common law, and (shudder) diplomatic relations that actually apply and not necessarily the laws of the country that is hearing the case. If the prize ship was flagged by one nation, owned by someone in a second, but carrying goods belonging to an owner in a third (and a fourth, fifth, ... fiftieth) then you get even more complicated cases.
Now, we haven't really see prize taking as a common activity since the 19th Century. But during the Age of Sail and the Age of Steam, prize taking was serious business. Capturing only one prize could be enough to set a ship's master and commander for life... Prizes, collectively, actually impacted the global economy. During the American Revolution the combined American naval and privateering prizes totaled somewhere north of $25 million, during the War of 1812 the Americans captured something like $40-50 million... and that is in 1800s dollars.
Here's the thing though, the legal cases would take years sometimes decades to work their way through the courts. In September, 1778 British sloop Active was captured by an American privateer, the case would spend the next three decades working its way through the court*. This was one ship and two nations that shared virtually the exact same legal precedents for how to resolve prize cases (mostly because the Americans had only been independent for two years at that point), and during an active shooting war.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that Starfinder heroes should be allowed to take prizes. But if they want it to be legal and above-board, the GM should feel justified in making the process a long and drawn-out one. If the PCs don't want to wait months or years to get their money (and don't want to role-play the thrilling and exciting months of depositions and administrative hearings) then maybe we can have a NPC run "Admiralty Prize Corporation" award them a tiny percentage of the prize's assessed value... and then the corporation goes through the years of long and boring legal work. The PC's capture a prize worth $1,000,000. They turn it over and walk away with $100,000... But its all legal and proper.
Alternatively, the PCs can to spit upon their hands, hoist the black flag, and begin keeping prizes for their own personal use. This is naked piracy and should render the PCs outlaws within the Pact Worlds and other civilized star systems. Which makes for a wholly different kind of campaign than the default Starfinder game... But no less fun.
* United States v. Peters, 9 U.S. 115 (1809) for any of you nerdy enough to care.
‣ Moya / Leviathan-class Transport (Farscape)
I think that the Miranda-class Cruiser and Moya don't really need much explanation. Other people in this thread have mentioned Moya and I'd be shocked if anyone here hadn't see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, in which the U.S.S. Reliant plays such a prominent role. So let me wax lyrical about the much more obscure Valiant-class from the Jovian Chronicles RPG/Wargame.
The designers of the Jovian Chronicles RPG clearly knew what most military/mecha campaigns need: an awesome ship! The Valiant-class is basically the perfect homebase for most gaming groups in this setting. To begin with, it is just friggin' awesome looking. That is always a good thing! Just look at her. She's an absolute beauty.
But even better, the ship's intended role of long independent patrols at far-flung stations combined with its transport capacity of up to six exo-armors (the name for the setting's spacefaring fighting mecha) makes it perfect for the adventuring gaming group. The Game Master has a built-in reason for the Heroes to be out, on their own, sticking their noses into trouble. But, since the Valiant-class is also strong enough to hold a place in the line of battle, the GM can also have the heroes' home ship play a key role in those awesome set-piece battles that make great capstones to a campaign. The large crew of senior Officers, NCOs, and support staff mean that their are plenty of NPCs around so that the GM can have someone to act as the heroes' boss, one hero's love interest, another hero's antagonistic rival, and another hero's tag-a-long kid sister, etc. Heck, you can even reasonably have some of the heroes playing non-mecha pilots. Bridge officers, engineers, doctors, ground troops, and even civilian specialists somehow attached to the ship's mission can come along and still contribute to the space-combat.
A while back, I converted her for use with the Mutants & Masterminds rules. I don't have enough experience with the rules (or enough free time) to do so into Starfinder. But if anyone out there has a desire to tackle the conversion work, I think that Jovian Chronicles could be made to fit the Starfinder ruleset very well.
As I see it, Undeath has layers of “life” just as much as Living creatures do. There’s free-willed sapient undead (e.g., Vampires, Liches); enthralled but sapient undead (e.g., Lesser Vampires); sentient but not sapient “animalistic” undead (e.g., Ghouls); and non-sentient, non-sapient, automata-like undead (e.g. Skeletons, Zombies).
We wouldn’t expect a Human, a Wolf, and a Shark to have the same sort of moral and ethical standards, right? If a Human steals your cattle, you can hold him responsible for violating your property rights, but if a Wolf eats your sheep you can’t sue him or have him arrested for homicide.
Immanuel Kant’s famous maxim “ought implies can” seems to apply here. A fully sapient undead, like a Vampire, can restrain himself from murdering every living being he meets, so we can say that he ought not commit homicide. A mindless undead, like a Ghost, cannot stop itself from attacking the living so saying that it ought not do so is meaningless.
It’s a weird variation of the question that’s vexed theologians for millennia: Why does God allow Evil to exist? If people like St. Augustine, Zeno of Citium, and Immanuel Kant aren’t able to satisfactorily answer that, then odds are good that a roleplaying game about lizard-people with chainsaw swords probably won’t either.
We do know that the Starfinder universe contains gods of myriad alignments. We know these gods are real, are active, and can directly communicate with mortals. We also know they could, potentially, unleash legions of celestials/demons/whatevers and armies of mortal worshippers upon their enemies... But we also know that they don’t.
For me, I think it’s easiest to try to explain away their lack of action, since that seems to be the default state, instead of trying to explain their very rare direct intervention.
A “divine detente” seems to be the most likely explanation. Historically, we know that whenever the international balance of power was divided between multiple rival major powers (England/Spain; England/France; Triple Entente/Triple Alliance; USA/USSR; Kim/Kanye) the powers will still act in support of their own interests or to undermine their rival’s. Usually by proxy and sometimes directly... But they keep things, for lack of a better word, low-key.
The USA and USSR engaged in all sorts of espionage shenanigans, they both propped up various puppet states, they both backed coups against the other’s puppets, they both rattled their sabers... And on several occasions they went to war. Just never with each other. As terrible as Afghanistan or Vietnam might have been, it never got to the point of a full blown “Cold War gone Hot.” Had that happened, it would probably also known be as “World War III.” Or maybe just “Armageddon.”
Presumably, the gods of Golarion have some sort of “mutually assured destruction” capacity that keeps their rivals in check. They can all engage in low-key Bush War conflicts and espionage-type shenanigans – adventuring parties, evil cults, the occasional miracle – but they don’t ever cross that threshold that would make the celestial ICBMs fly.
I’m kinda envisioning a very high-level campaign where the PCs need to play Planar Jack Ryan and race against time to stop a divine diplomatic incident from escalating into a Holy War. Like the Hunt for Red October involving some sort of Xth-level Artefact instead of a submarine.
True story: my best friend and I were once banned from a Vampire the Masquerade LARP after our starting-level characters conquered the city in only three nights of play using only a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order, the ‘Star Trek: DS9’ book Legends of the Fereng, and an in-universe copy Camarilla’s bylaws.
He made a fairly run-of-the-mill Tremere scholar (a history professor, turned into a vampire because his sire wanted his expertise in ancient languages) and I made a fairly restrained Malkavian sci-fi geek (a nebbish tax attorney with dssociative identity disorder that was the embodiment of his repressed rage issues). But, we discovered in the first fifteen minutes of the game beginning that we were the only Tremere or Malkavian in the city. So we asserted our claim to Primogen status as the oldest representatives of our clans... Things quickly spiraled from there.
I'm not sure that Hacker needs to be a theme. It's already a character role that is handled by the Mechanic Class (esp. if specific Mechanic Tricks class features are selected), the Operative Class (esp. if the Hacker Specialization is selected), the Envoy Class (esp. if certain Expertise Talents are selected), and to a slightly lesser degree by the Technomancer Class or the Mystic Class. If you are really focused on hacking, then taking some of these tricks from two or three classes via multiclassing can really make you an incredible Hacker.
(My SFS hero is a Operative 2/Mechanic 1 whom I just intended to be a really good engineer... I wound up with a somewhat silly +12 Computers Skill check bonus accidentally.)
Your Mileage May Vary, but I feel that Character Themes should be used to reflect background, upbringing, or training outside of what you get from your Class(es). They should also be a way to "bridge" two characters of different Classes but a shared background:
A Soldier who operates in the wilds of alien planets is a Spacefarer Soldier, but a Soldier who breaks legs for a smuggling syndicate is an Outlaw. These two don't have much in common, apart from being trained to use lots of weapons really well.
An Operative who is an expert in expert in scouting out hostile new worlds is a Spacefarer and the Operative who is an expert jewel-thief is a Criminal. These two don't have much in common, apart from sharing stealth skills and tactics.
The Spacefarer!Soldier and Spacefarer!Operative have a lot in common as do the Criminal!Soldier and Criminal!Operative.
I've always admired how this issue was handled in the Dragonstar setting. Long story made short, the most prominent interstellar civilization in that setting was created by (and mostly designed for the benefit of) dragons, with both the Good-aligned Metallic Dragons sharing power with the Evil-aligned Chromatic Dragons. Toss into this civilization the other fantasy-world staples like intelligent Undead, half-demons, half-celestials, a pantheon of gods, and so forth... Along with readily available magic spells that could Detect Good & Evil with 99.99% certainty.
Well, since its hard to have a stable civilization when any randomly overzealous Paladin can Detect Evil and then Smite the local governor because he happens to be a LE Drow... Yeah, that'd be bad.
So the powers that be in the Dragonstar established what they call the "principle of active morality." People are to be judged by
We haven't been given a whole lot of information about the political and legal structure of the Pact Worlds. But, given that a cabal of undead sorcerers act as the governing body of one major member world and the priesthood of the god of law are simultaneously the CEO and board of directors of a major interplanetary conglomerate... and that representatives from both of these groups are repeatedly called some of the most savvy politicians in the Pact Worlds. Well, I think its safe to assume that something akin to the "principle of active morality" is in place.
(I'd really love to learn more about the Pact Worlds' government structure, but I'm a politics wonk. I find exploring a fantasy government equally as fun as fighting dragons. Most people, apparently, think this is weird.)