On the Sci-fi Side: How 'Hard' is Hard Enough?


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Ithnaar wrote:
Johnico wrote:
My rule is gonna be "would I complain if Star Wars did this?" If I'd be cool with Star Wars doing it, it's cool for Starfinder. Which, basically, means a minor hand-wave is good enough for me to buy anything.

I'm curious as to where Starfinder will fall on the Sci-Fi <-> Space Opera continuum. I've seen different advertisements billing it as one or the other.

A thousand readers will give a thousand different definitions, but this is mine:

If a significant character dies because they didn't have a space suit on, it's Science Fiction. Otherwise, Space Opera :-p

By that definition, the game will vary from table to table depending on how willing the GM is to kill PCs. :)

In even the Silliest of Space Operas the setting rules still say normal people die in space without space suits, it just doesn't happen.

Liberty's Edge

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Wait, Gravity as hard sci fi? *Shudder* No. The Martian was harder sci fi - the big whoopsie there was that Martian atmospheric pressure couldn't generate the winds seen at the beginning of the story.

Gravity was about as hard sci fi as Aliens.

Personally, I'm hoping they hit a sweet spot somewhere between Babylon 5 and Firefly. Loose enough to tell a variety of stories, but sane enough that "wizard did it" isn't the best explanation for everything.


DrSwordopolis wrote:

Wait, Gravity as hard sci fi? *Shudder* No. The Martian was harder sci fi - the big whoopsie there was that Martian atmospheric pressure couldn't generate the winds seen at the beginning of the story.

Gravity was about as hard sci fi as Aliens.

Personally, I'm hoping they hit a sweet spot somewhere between Babylon 5 and Firefly. Loose enough to tell a variety of stories, but sane enough that "wizard did it" isn't the best explanation for everything.

Wasn't Gravity the one where they had a spacesuit that could maneuver as well in space as a full on space ship? Move over Damian, that was the Iron Man moment.

Grand Lodge

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Gravity is best described as "hard movie science fiction," not "hard science fiction." It suffers from some very egregious errors, specifically in how it treats a spacewalking astronaut moving between objects in different orbital planes, among other things.

-Skeld


DrSwordopolis wrote:

Wait, Gravity as hard sci fi? *Shudder* No. The Martian was harder sci fi - the big whoopsie there was that Martian atmospheric pressure couldn't generate the winds seen at the beginning of the story.

Gravity was about as hard sci fi as Aliens.

Personally, I'm hoping they hit a sweet spot somewhere between Babylon 5 and Firefly. Loose enough to tell a variety of stories, but sane enough that "wizard did it" isn't the best explanation for everything.

Let's be real here: however you want to break down these categories, Aliens is much, much harder than Starfinder is going to be. Most likely softer than B5 and Firefly. I'd expect Star Wars and not a tame version of Star Wars at that.

"A wizard did it" or "A god did it" is quite reasonable in setting. There are by canon spellcasters and deities - not just mysterious alien tech and ancient evolved alien races playing those roles.

PCs may easily be the "wizard who did it".

I mean, if you want even moderately hard space opera there are games out there. Maybe not actual hard SF - but I'm not sure what such a game would even be like? Or be about.
Regardless, this isn't that: This is a science fiction fantasy cross. It's got dragons and casters and gods and big damn heroes saving the day, but it's in space!

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Pawns, Rulebook Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
thejeff wrote:
DrSwordopolis wrote:

Wait, Gravity as hard sci fi? *Shudder* No. The Martian was harder sci fi - the big whoopsie there was that Martian atmospheric pressure couldn't generate the winds seen at the beginning of the story.

Gravity was about as hard sci fi as Aliens.

Personally, I'm hoping they hit a sweet spot somewhere between Babylon 5 and Firefly. Loose enough to tell a variety of stories, but sane enough that "wizard did it" isn't the best explanation for everything.

Let's be real here: however you want to break down these categories, Aliens is much, much harder than Starfinder is going to be. Most likely softer than B5 and Firefly. I'd expect Star Wars and not a tame version of Star Wars at that.

"A wizard did it" or "A god did it" is quite reasonable in setting. There are by canon spellcasters and deities - not just mysterious alien tech and ancient evolved alien races playing those roles.

PCs may easily be the "wizard who did it".

I mean, if you want even moderately hard space opera there are games out there. Maybe not actual hard SF - but I'm not sure what such a game would even be like? Or be about.
Regardless, this isn't that: This is a science fiction fantasy cross. It's got dragons and casters and gods and big damn heroes saving the day, but it's in space!

All of this is true, but is kind of irrelevant to the question I was asking in the original post. The question is, what does it look like in the places where a wizard hasn't done it? Or, to put it another way - when a wizard did it, how obvious is it against the backdrop of mundane reality?

This is a separate question from how hard the setting is overall. An example: I've recently started watching Enterprise, because I never really got into it when it was on broadcast and it seems like a good way to get excited for Starfinder (as though I needed that). One of the episodes in the first season involves a couple members of the crew landing on a comet to take core samples. The idea of "landing" on a comet, rather than just tethering to it, bugged me a lot, on account of how much gravity something like a comet should actually possess. It got worse: a rather significant part of the storyline involves the shuttlepod falling through the comet's icy surface and having to be towed out - at which point I think I rolled my eyes hard enough to risk damage to my sinuses.

Now, there are certainly parts of the episode where "space magic" kicks in, such as the tractor beam eventually used to rescue the shuttle, but the basic physics of mass and gravity have nothing to do with them, and ignoring them to the extent that this episode did actually made it really hard for me to get invested in the drama. (I found myself thinking, "Maybe you should have landed on a real comet instead of the Earth-G TV set and you wouldn't be in this mess in the first place...")

Now, in Starfinder, "A wizard did it" would be a fine explanation for "how the heck does a ball of ice a few hundred kilometers across have enough gravity to stand in?" but if I sent my crew over there and found standard G conditions, you'd better believe I'd be looking for the wizard somewhere...


Shisumo wrote:
thejeff wrote:
DrSwordopolis wrote:

Wait, Gravity as hard sci fi? *Shudder* No. The Martian was harder sci fi - the big whoopsie there was that Martian atmospheric pressure couldn't generate the winds seen at the beginning of the story.

Gravity was about as hard sci fi as Aliens.

Personally, I'm hoping they hit a sweet spot somewhere between Babylon 5 and Firefly. Loose enough to tell a variety of stories, but sane enough that "wizard did it" isn't the best explanation for everything.

Let's be real here: however you want to break down these categories, Aliens is much, much harder than Starfinder is going to be. Most likely softer than B5 and Firefly. I'd expect Star Wars and not a tame version of Star Wars at that.

"A wizard did it" or "A god did it" is quite reasonable in setting. There are by canon spellcasters and deities - not just mysterious alien tech and ancient evolved alien races playing those roles.

PCs may easily be the "wizard who did it".

I mean, if you want even moderately hard space opera there are games out there. Maybe not actual hard SF - but I'm not sure what such a game would even be like? Or be about.
Regardless, this isn't that: This is a science fiction fantasy cross. It's got dragons and casters and gods and big damn heroes saving the day, but it's in space!

All of this is true, but is kind of irrelevant to the question I was asking in the original post. The question is, what does it look like in the places where a wizard hasn't done it? Or, to put it another way - when a wizard did it, how obvious is it against the backdrop of mundane reality?

This is a separate question from how hard the setting is overall. An example: I've recently started watching Enterprise, because I never really got into it when it was on broadcast and it seems like a good way to get excited for Starfinder (as though I needed that). One of the episodes in the first season involves a couple members of the crew landing on a comet to take core samples. The idea of "landing" on a comet, rather than just tethering to it, bugged me a lot, on account of how much gravity something like a comet should actually possess. It got worse: a rather significant part of the storyline involves the shuttlepod falling through the comet's icy surface and having to be towed out - at which point I think I rolled my eyes hard enough to risk damage to my sinuses.

Now, there are certainly parts of the episode where "space magic" kicks in, such as the tractor beam eventually used to rescue the shuttle, but the basic physics of mass and gravity have nothing to do with them, and ignoring them to the extent that this episode did actually made it really hard for me to get invested in the drama. (I found myself thinking, "Maybe you should have landed on a real comet instead of the Earth-G TV set and you wouldn't be in this mess in the first place...")

Now, in Starfinder, "A wizard did it" would be a fine explanation for "how the heck does a ball of ice a few hundred kilometers across have enough gravity to stand in?" but if I sent my crew over there and found standard G conditions, you'd better believe I'd be looking for the wizard somewhere...

To a large level, that kind of thing is going to depend on your GM. If you're using modules/APs, partly on the author. I doubt they're going to change their pool of module writers to science experts or have the freelancers work with science experts.

The rules aren't going to be a realistic physics simulator or cover the vast majority of such cases.

I'd expect an awful lot of the "Rule of Cool" beating hard science. Like it does in Pathfinder.:)

Scarab Sages

Quote:


I mean, if you want even moderately hard space opera there are games out there. Maybe not actual hard SF - but I'm not sure what such a game would even be like? Or be about.

Transhuman Space is pure hard sci-fi. It's basically the expanse without any of the Aiken influence.


Imbicatus wrote:
Quote:


I mean, if you want even moderately hard space opera there are games out there. Maybe not actual hard SF - but I'm not sure what such a game would even be like? Or be about.
Transhuman Space is pure hard sci-fi. It's basically the expanse without any of the Aiken influence.

As I think I said, "hard SF" is a very fluid concept.

I don't know if I'd consider anything "transhuman" to be hard SF, if I was being strict about it. Real AI, uploading minds, most SF nanotech, could all go out of the hard SF realm. Cyberpunk isn't hard SF, even in space.
That's just from a quick look at the blurb, mind you. It certainly looks cool.


DrSwordopolis wrote:
FTL comms and travel exist in Pathfinder, so that, at least, shouldn't be an issue.

The basis for FTL, even instant communication could even exist right now in RL with the Chinese recently successfully testing the transfer of data/charge from earth to an orbiting satellite via a quantum entangled particle.

They were able to change the charge on a quantum entangled particle here on earth and it's co-tangled particle in orbit changed charge at exactly the same time. Even with only that you can transmit at least binary signals and easily communicate.

It also means that communication is absolutely secure and cannot be jammed since their is no signal to intercept or jam since the nature of quantum entanglement means whatever you do the one of the particles also immediately happens to the other over any distance, instantly, with no (currently) discernible means of transmission of that state. Einstein referred to it as 'spooky action' IIRC.

When Mass Effect 2? had it as a means of instant communication the quantum entanglement process was still mostly theoretical.


The Chinese experiment didn't demonstrate instantaneous communication. The aim of the experiment was to attempt quantum encryption over large distances.


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What someone considers hard SF has a lot to do with how they understand science: not just the level, but the interpretation.

That's why I don't like hard SF: you are basically painting a target on your story and inviting people to tear it to shreds. Not based upon the quality of the literature, but on silly technical details.


Pathfinder Starfinder Society Subscriber

Just my 2 cents in regards to the original question: I've been trying to get myself ready by reading a book on the science of Battle Star Galactica. On the section dealing with the speed of light and what is called Lorentz–FitzGerald contraction (faster you go, shorter you get) I found myself saying, "thank God there's magic and stuff." Saying something is done by magic may be lazy by comparison, but I think its gonna be a good tool to bail me out of some technical situations.


I remember when my friend was organizing an AI faction in a world that was just being built. He was worried about maintaining backups in the absence of FTL communication. I said that if there was no FTL communication, he still had a major advantage since every other player probably wouldn't have airtight contingencies for its absence.

Grand Lodge

1 person marked this as a favorite.
DrSwordopolis wrote:

Wait, Gravity as hard sci fi? *Shudder* No. The Martian was harder sci fi - the big whoopsie there was that Martian atmospheric pressure couldn't generate the winds seen at the beginning of the story.

Gravity was about as hard sci fi as Aliens.

Personally, I'm hoping they hit a sweet spot somewhere between Babylon 5 and Firefly. Loose enough to tell a variety of stories, but sane enough that "wizard did it" isn't the best explanation for everything.

But this is a setting where "A wizard did it" is a VALID EXPLANATION...


thejeff wrote:
Ithnaar wrote:


If a significant character dies because they didn't have a space suit on, it's Science Fiction. Otherwise, Space Opera :-p

By that definition, the game will vary from table to table depending on how willing the GM is to kill PCs. :)

In even the Silliest of Space Operas the setting rules still say normal people die in space without space suits, it just doesn't happen.

That's pretty much exactly what I was getting at, specifically concerning Ship Combat.

In Star Wars Episode IV, we see about a total of *one* guy in the whole movie with a space suit on, and he's sitting in a bar. When the Millenium Falcon goes into battle, nobody feels the need to "Suit Up".

Even in Star Trek, which is definitely closer to Sci-Fi than Space Opera, the only time you see someone in a space suit is when they have to travel outside the ship for some reason. During space combat, they rely on super-technology to keep them safe (recent movies notwithstanding).

In "The Expanse" "The Reaches" and "Honor Harrington" series listed in the Inspirational Reading blurb, *everyone* puts on a space suit before a space battle. You'd be crazy not to. Frequently, they'll even let all the air out of the ship on purpose, to avoid concussions and fires.

Which is why I'm wondering what the default starfinder setting will be: Is there a "you got a hole in your ship" result on a space combat chart somewhere? Or is losing atmosphere something that happens very rarely and is more of a storytelling or plot device?


Well. They mentioned somewhere that even in heavily populated areas, it's not uncommon to wear your armor, which typically doubles as a space suit. It's only safe to do so.


I just don't see why people use B5 as a medium Space Opera - it's further out than Star Wars or Trek, I mean some things that showed up:


    *The galaxy's first sentient being, who also happens to be immortal became the adviser for the main character, and resurrected him (albeit with a time limit).

    *A coalition of "elder races" with unbeatable super-tech (until the tech was given to us) going to war.

    *A human psychic ascended to the next plane of existence - in the first season.

    Techno wizards - who used tech, but it was also magic.

    *The had ships, living ships, on the other side of the galaxy (sorry couldn't resist the reference).

    *Sentient energy beings that watched over the other races (so Organian there).

    *Planet killers that were as effective, and easier to deploy than the death star.

    *Prophecy that comes true (yeah, it's Psi, but it's still telling the future).

    *turning on hyperdrive inside a jump gate to blow things up - I seem to remember that trick in one of the early Lensmen books.


Pure over the top space opera


Lord Mhoram wrote:

I just don't see why people use B5 as a medium Space Opera - it's further out than Star Wars or Trek, I mean some things that showed up:


    *The galaxy's first sentient being, who also happens to be immortal became the adviser for the main character, and resurrected him (albeit with a time limit).

    *A coalition of "elder races" with unbeatable super-tech (until the tech was given to us) going to war.

    *A human psychic ascended to the next plane of existence - in the first season.

    Techno wizards - who used tech, but it was also magic.

    *The had ships, living ships, on the other side of the galaxy (sorry couldn't resist the reference).

    *Sentient energy beings that watched over the other races (so Organian there).

    *Planet killers that were as effective, and easier to deploy than the death star.

    *Prophecy that comes true (yeah, it's Psi, but it's still telling the future).

    *turning on hyperdrive inside a jump gate to blow things up - I seem to remember that trick in one of the early Lensmen books.


Pure over the top space opera

Because the basic human tech seemed grittier.

Near as I can tell, that's what it all comes down to.


thejeff wrote:
Lord Mhoram wrote:

I just don't see why people use B5 as a medium Space Opera - it's further out than Star Wars or Trek, I mean some things that showed up:


    *The galaxy's first sentient being, who also happens to be immortal became the adviser for the main character, and resurrected him (albeit with a time limit).

    *A coalition of "elder races" with unbeatable super-tech (until the tech was given to us) going to war.

    *A human psychic ascended to the next plane of existence - in the first season.

    Techno wizards - who used tech, but it was also magic.

    *The had ships, living ships, on the other side of the galaxy (sorry couldn't resist the reference).

    *Sentient energy beings that watched over the other races (so Organian there).

    *Planet killers that were as effective, and easier to deploy than the death star.

    *Prophecy that comes true (yeah, it's Psi, but it's still telling the future).

    *turning on hyperdrive inside a jump gate to blow things up - I seem to remember that trick in one of the early Lensmen books.


Pure over the top space opera

Because the basic human tech seemed grittier.

Near as I can tell, that's what it all comes down to.

I can see that. If you focus on the early politics around Earth and the civil war it was much more mellow.


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Lord Mhoram wrote:

I just don't see why people use B5 as a medium Space Opera - it's further out than Star Wars or Trek, I mean some things that showed up:


    *The galaxy's first sentient being, who also happens to be immortal became the adviser for the main character, and resurrected him (albeit with a time limit).

    *A coalition of "elder races" with unbeatable super-tech (until the tech was given to us) going to war.

    *A human psychic ascended to the next plane of existence - in the first season.

    Techno wizards - who used tech, but it was also magic.

    *The had ships, living ships, on the other side of the galaxy (sorry couldn't resist the reference).

    *Sentient energy beings that watched over the other races (so Organian there).

    *Planet killers that were as effective, and easier to deploy than the death star.

    *Prophecy that comes true (yeah, it's Psi, but it's still telling the future).

    *turning on hyperdrive inside a jump gate to blow things up - I seem to remember that trick in one of the early Lensmen books.


Pure over the top space opera

Some of those are... others on that list are amazingly mundane.

Planet killers, for example, are absurdly easy, down to nukes or simply dropping lots of large rocks on a planet. And one of those planetkillers was just a large cluster of giant shards that could easily just be used for kinetic bombardment. Yeah, it isn't going to make a planet simply explode for no reason like the death star, but it's going to do enough.

Civilizations 10,000s of years older with more advanced tech? Well, yeah. That seems pretty straight forward. For much the same reason that a bunch of ancient Egyptians wouldn't be able to challenge a modern army.

Hyperdrive in a jump gate blowing it up. That isn't particularly unreasonable. Assuming you could justify it at all*, the amount of energy involved would be fairly conducive to things going boom on a misfire or deliberate sabotage.

*which, really is one of the fundamental problems with hard sci-fi. If its actually 'hard sci-fi' your setting is the solar system, and maybe generational ships. As far as actual science is concerned, real interstellar travel isn't achievable beyond 'it takes decades to get to the closest star. Prepare to be bored for years on end, or cope with time skips.'


The Lensman books are one of the original genre definers for space opera.


Fardragon wrote:
The Lensman books are one of the original genre definers for space opera.

Yeah but they are also the ultimate rediculously super high power books as they end up with fleets bigger than entire solar systems, using black holes as towable weapons and firing the entire energetic output of stars as concentrated beams.

Oh and they throw planets at relativistic speeds. Think of a gauss weapon or mass driver but the mass is an entire planet.

Oh and all of this done with manual calculations since the author never came up with computers as a calculation option. These books were written a LONG time ago (first stories were in 1934).


Robert Heinlein, a much more sophisticated writer, had characters using slide rules to calculate interstellar journeys in the 1950s - after computers had been (officially) invented.

So I don't think it is fair to criticise Doc Smith for failing to anticipate the digital revolution in the 1930s.

But whatever you think of Doc Smith, he is a genre definer (along with the Flash Gordon & Buck Rogers comics of the same period), so anything that happens in Lensman could happen in Starfinder.


Gilfalas wrote:

Oh and they throw planets at relativistic speeds. Think of a gauss weapon or mass driver but the mass is an entire planet.

When the phrase "Superluminal planets as weapons" is not inappropriate, you know you are in a really high powered campaign.

That is part of the reason I love those books.


Gilfalas wrote:
Fardragon wrote:
The Lensman books are one of the original genre definers for space opera.

Yeah but they are also the ultimate rediculously super high power books as they end up with fleets bigger than entire solar systems, using black holes as towable weapons and firing the entire energetic output of stars as concentrated beams.

Oh and they throw planets at relativistic speeds. Think of a gauss weapon or mass driver but the mass is an entire planet.

Oh and all of this done with manual calculations since the author never came up with computers as a calculation option. These books were written a LONG time ago (first stories were in 1934).

The Culture, Time Lords, Downstreamers and Xeelee would like to object to not being more ultimate super high powered than the Lensman series.

Actually, I suspect EE 'Doc' Smith's Skylark characters would have similar objections. They get into detonating all the stars in a galaxy by the end.


Fardragon wrote:
But whatever you think of Doc Smith, he is a genre definer (along with the Flash Gordon & Buck Rogers comics of the same period), so anything that happens in Lensman could happen in Starfinder.

Oh don't get me wrong. I LOVED the Lensman series when I read it back in high school (1982ish). I still think it is a fun series.

But 'over the top' does not begin to describe it. :) I recommend it to everyone if for nothing else but the history of current Sci Fi.

Grand Lodge

In answer to the original post. I personally don't plan for much "hard sci-fi" in my Starfinder game. In my opinion, everything we know about Starfinder, tells me it's not really the setting for what we think of when we say hard sci-fi. Frankly if I want that there are other systems/settings that I would use instead.

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