Can someone help me "get" the Drift?


General Discussion


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I struggle to enjoy the Drift as a part of the setting. I have a few random moments that jar when they come up. Any kind of rationalisation/explanation of what I've misunderstood would be appreciated...

1. As I understand things you use your Drift drive to enter the drift, then maneuver using regular thrusters to the point in drift-space corresponding to where you want to go in the physical universe and then use your drift drive to cross back to the material plane. The next time you try it, the geometry of the plane could have shifted so you'll take a different path (and potentially spend a different length of time in the drift). What I don't understand is how if your ship has monstrously slow thrusters but a powerful drift drive you'll beat someone with very fast regular thrusters but a slow drift drive. How does that work in-world? You jump using your rating one drift drive then speed through the drift - how does the higher rating drift drive with slower thrusters beat you?

2. How are encounters in the drift supposed to work? Pre-launch it sounded to me that the whole "suck parts of other planes into the drift" was a mechanism for motivating encounters with a whole bunch of interplanar entities. But what's to stop you just speeding past? Obviously some things can keep up with a spaceship, non-material things can perhaps enter your ship - but in general that aspect seems to not have a lot of impact on actual play. Is the expectation that rather than encounters with creatures you encounter a region from another plane (and may then choose to land on it and explore)?

3. Why isn't the swarm (or any enemy of the pact worlds, for that matter) attacking the core worlds first? It seems like, no matter where you are in the galaxy, the Golarion system is the nearest and easiest spot to attack (plus any counterattack from there is going to take ages). I really struggle to reconcile this tactically - the Golarion system seems terribly exposed, especially since my reading of the flavor is that the Azlanti empire (for example) is much more militarised than the Pact Worlds. It's easier for them to jump from their capital to Absalom than it is for them to reach their colonies. It's a weird vulnerability in a galaxy full of threats. There just don't seem to be enough peaceful trading partners to offset the risk of living near the Starstone and therefore effectively living right next door to just about every enemy in the galaxy (including all the insane, froth-at-the-mouth ones).

I don't know if any of that makes sense, but at this stage I'm really struggling to like the drift - it kind of feels like it was added in just for the sake of being different from other settings. To me it doesn't enhance the universe but continually throws up irritating little "how would that work?" moments...


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1. If you're looking for a cannon explanation, I don't believe there is one. You could say that better drift engines tune how "deep" into the drift you go, and at deeper penetration you can more easily move through it faster. You could fabricate some other explanations just as easily.

2. Nothing. If you spot a group of bandits staking out a roadway, you can go around them if you want. This is the same. Maybe the bandits spot you and come to you. Or maybe you "ride around them". You might encounter some "rock" and choose to land. You might find some floating space monsters that go after your ship. Maybe they are space bandits with a tractor beam. The Drift is about offering possibilities so GMs can incorporate things later. This, it does.

3. I'm not sure we have enough background flavor to say right now.

You seem to be struggling with the Drift as a physics construct. The Drift is a storytelling device first and foremost. Drift travel moves at the speed of plot. Maybe you encounter something, if it makes for a good story. It's set up to maximize possibilities, not be consistent with the laws of physics.


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Wingblaze wrote:

1. If you're looking for a cannon explanation, I don't believe there is one. You could say that better drift engines tune how "deep" into the drift you go, and at deeper penetration you can more easily move through it faster. You could fabricate some other explanations just as easily.

2. Nothing. If you spot a group of bandits staking out a roadway, you can go around them if you want. This is the same. Maybe the bandits spot you and come to you. Or maybe you "ride around them". You might encounter some "rock" and choose to land. You might find some floating space monsters that go after your ship. Maybe they are space bandits with a tractor beam. The Drift is about offering possibilities so GMs can incorporate things later. This, it does.

3. I'm not sure we have enough background flavor to say right now.

You seem to be struggling with the Drift as a physics construct. The Drift is a storytelling device first and foremost. Drift travel moves at the speed of plot. Maybe you encounter something, if it makes for a good story. It's set up to maximize possibilities, not be consistent with the laws of physics.

Cheers. I appreciate it's inconsistent with real-world physics (I don't need to look that far to find physics inconsistencies!) but I don't think that's my beef.

I'm happy to ignore relativity, accept the unreasonable plethora of livable worlds and make other such allowances. But I can see why those choices were made. I don't really see what the weird Drift geometry adds (that jump drives or a more traditional hyperspace wouldn't).

I guess what I'm asking is what's the benefit of making it easier for Azlanti colonists to reach Absalom station rather than to go home to their capital planet?

I'm a big fan of plot being more important realism - I just struggle to understand what great stories the drift allows that wouldn’t be tellable otherwise (and continually bump up against little plot-holes it opens that I need to skip over without thinking about too much).


That I cannot say. I guess we'll have to see what stories they have in mind. The game is young.

I had assumed that the reason Absalom was easy to get to was to make it quicker and more certain for the party to come home after the adventure. But I have no basis for this.


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While canon doesn't reflect this, our own group has come to look at Drift engines more as navigation devices or sensors/lenses to guide through the Drift (to get to the "proper" Drift pathway), rather than actual engines. This makes the whole aspect of Drift engines determining travel speed work in our heads.


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These are just head-canon speculations.

1. Imagine the Earth and its many layers of tectonic plates, mantles, and cores. Your drift drive puts you into the drift, the better the drive, the deeper you go. Once there, you move about using your conventional engines. Exiting the drift, no matter how deep you were in, puts you at the normal space equivalent location. So using the Earth analogy, a lesser drift drive will put you a few hundred miles below the surface. Traveling a couple of miles at that layer will translate to more distance once you get back to the surface. On the other hand, a better drift drive would put you closer to the core. If you're close enough, then even only a mile or two will still put you on the opposite side of the planet once you translate back to the surface.

2. Not sure, but Wingblaze's answer seems like the most reasonable take.

3. For the galaxy at large, ease of travel still doesn't equate to successful travel. That is, they still have to know that Absalom Station exists as a destination to go to in the first place before they can go there on purpose. I think you can go to destinations accidentally (doesn't Triune have a city/station in the drift that you can accidentally come across?), but Absalom Station would only be in danger of a sudden coordinated attack by a fleet if said fleet cranked up its engines one day with a sudden urge to conquer something and it didn't matter what, where, or who.

Not sure about the Azlant empire, though.


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1. Think of it as a probability drive transportation to a non-linear dimension. You warp out of the Prime Material and appear in the Drift. Your drift drive indicates how close you are to your destination when you port over; the physical thrusters are actually immaterial to the fact that you are traveling. Basically, the fact that you are traveling is more important than the speed at which you are traveling, because of non-Euclidian subjective physics. You could get out and push and take the same amount of time as using the thrusters, but you have to take some sort of action for the narrative relativity of the Drift to activate.

(I have no idea what any of what I just wrote actually means, but the point is, the normal rules don't apply in the Drift. Like the Outer Planes, it has subjective rules for reality)

2. You encounter things in the Drift for the same reason you encounter things in the physical universe: delicious XP and loot.

3. Absolom Station is LOUSY with ships, nearly all of which have some sort of armament or combat utility. The fleet outside the station is huge for the same reason you point out Absolom's vulnerability: it's the easiest place in the galaxy to go to, meaning that corporate and military interests have a LOT to do there. They probably have an entire wing of cruisers with guns trained on the most likely entry points from the Drift, prepared to annihilate anything before their thrusters come back online.

Indeed, the very nature of Drift travel suggests that fleets would have a significant challenge arriving in force, rather than each ship appearing on different days and being completely alone and dismantled by the defenders.

The Swarm already learned their lesson. The Azlanti Star Empire learned from the Vesk and Swarm that you can't just roll into the Pact Worlds and expect them to roll over, so their plans are likely going to start off more subtly (perhaps in the upcoming AP).

Also remember that he Pact Worlds have an absurd number of races and civilizations, compared to most systems. Further, they have a staggering number of powerful wizard societies (go go gadget Bone Sages) and paramilitary organizations such as the Hellknights. Plus, you know, they have a seemingly endless supply of plucky adventurers looking for a big villain to plausibly murder for their loot and XPs.


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Note that it does a would-be conquering civilization little good, if they successfully use their giant armada of doom to break the defenses of Absalom Station and conquer the place. . . only to have this use up most of their forces and leave them unable to defend the place. Or their own home turf.

Basically, its not enough to just conquer Absalom Station, you have to be able to defend the easiest place in the universe to reach, too. Which, given that all its own native defenses are now kaboom, and most of your own fleet is probably kaboom, from the fight. . .


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That makes me wonder whether people are manipulating the Drift beacon densities in various solar systems. If Absalom Station would be hard for a would-be conqueror to hold on to, then the same line of thinking might cause a more paranoid culture to ensure that their home system is in the Vast....

Sovereign Court

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For my own version I am planning on a separate set of systems that are linked by a slightly different frequency of drift beacon, so they could be accessed by pact world drift drives, but their own leans to closer and quicker travel. Not canon, but makes marginally more sense for extra-Pact World empires to work sensibly.


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1. I'm of the opinion that the only internally consistent explanation is that the thrusters are only used for maneuvering in relation to other objects in the drift, not for moving 'through' the drift. If that makes any sense. The drift is a plane where space-time is constantly in flux and the drift engine lets you 'ride' the changes in space-time to get from one point to another as well as enter and exit the plane. The thrusters are just on so you can maneuver around any asteroids or something that get in your way as you do.

2. I get the feeling that those are intended to be plot devices.

3. I have the same problem with the setup. It also doesn't make sense that the ASE would willingly choose to leave their own empire 'in the vast' as it were and leave themselves stuck moving things around internally so slowly. I think the best reconciliation is that each world that got the message from Triune got a slightly different designs and so the Vast is slightly different for each world and some world's don't have the benefit of the Star Stone's short trip times.


Quote:
Why isn't the swarm (or any enemy of the pact worlds, for that matter) attacking the core worlds first?

For the Swarm, I suspect they significantly predate the Drift and do not have actually Drift-capable ships. Note the length of time between the Shirren showing up and the Swarm showing up. I believe the other Swarm ships are out there and still pending (there is heavy hinting in canon to this effect), and the Swarm war the Pact Worlds recently experienced was a preliminary skirmish.

As for other enemies: well, Alaska or Canada are just hours away from the Russsian border. Why doesn't Russia just invade? Because it's not that simple. The universal proximity of Absalom Station doesn't change the fact that the Pact Worlds are evidently quite powerful (counting the combined Brethedan, Aballonian, Eoxian, Castrovelian, Aucturnian and Vercite navies, to say nothing of Absalom Station itself) and more than capable of defending themselves against enemies who are most probably behind the curve of figuring the Drift out for themselves. Absalom is not really any more or less "exposed" to comparable powers than the United States on a global level when air travel was invented.


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The Russia/Alaska comparison is a bit off, because Russian has like 3,000 miles of frozen wasteland and a small stormy/semi-frozen sea between the majority of its people (and military assets) and the Alaskan shore then another 1000 miles or so before they get to any of Alaska's major cities. That's a better analogy for if the Pact Tried to invade the ASE, not the other way around. The other way around would be Germany invading the Netherlands.

I do think that the Pact Worlds has to have a much larger navy than it appears to in the books so far. The Corpse Fleet alone is scary OP with what we know about it so far. There's no way a handful of civilian vessels and a couple capital ships could stop them and their fleet of super-colossal mega-capital ships. The Armada needs to be huge and full of equally impressive ships for any of this to make sense.


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pithica42 wrote:

The Russia/Alaska comparison is a bit off, because Russian has like 3,000 miles of frozen wasteland and a small stormy/semi-frozen sea between the majority of its people (and military assets) and the Alaskan shore then another 1000 miles or so before they get to any of Alaska's major cities. That's a better analogy for if the Pact Tried to invade the ASE, not the other way around. The other way around would be Germany invading the Netherlands.

I do think that the Pact Worlds has to have a much larger navy than it appears to in the books so far. The Corpse Fleet alone is scary OP with what we know about it so far. There's no way a handful of civilian vessels and a couple capital ships could stop them and their fleet of super-colossal mega-capital ships. The Armada needs to be huge and full of equally impressive ships for any of this to make sense.

Another possibility that I've toyed with is the idea that drift engines are rare and/or difficult to make.

That although the technology is widely known throughout the galaxy (and far superior to any other method of interstellar travel) it's all still very new and there just aren't that many navies with the entire fleet fully equipped for drift travel (yet).


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There could also be a factor of familiarity through astronomical observation involved in Drift navigation. Being able to reach the Pact Worlds in 1d6 days doesn't matter much if you don't know where they are.


Steve Geddes wrote:
Another possibility that I've toyed with is the idea that drift engines are rare and/or difficult to make.

Not impossible to do, but it would require some pretty substantial changes to the base setting. Ships are incredibly common (look at the limited cargo space, and this becomes even more necessary). And Drift engines aren't in any way a massive portion of the resource cost for ships.

It's also not really that new. 300 plus years of the knowledge being available in a setting that has full-on maker tech, nano-fabs, and incredibly complex micro-printing capabilities...that's something pretty well understood and developed in a setting. It's part of the historical backdrop at that point, not a newly developed invention. Again, an area that would need substantial changes from the base setting.


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David knott 242 wrote:

There could also be a factor of familiarity through astronomical observation involved in Drift navigation. Being able to reach the Pact Worlds in 1d6 days doesn't matter much if you don't know where they are.

That's my take. Navigation isn't *just* dependent on number of Drift beacons. You also have to know what you are trying to reach, and relate this to the Drift beacons. Drift beacons tell you where you are on the map, but you still need to actually have the map, first.

Thus, the ASE is Vast for the Pact Worlds ( and most everyone else ), because people don't have the "map". The ASE, by contrast, *does* know their local navigational matters in detail, so they have enough beacons to be Near. OTOH, they don't have fully detailed charts of the Pact Worlds territories, so a lot of stuff that would be Near for the Pact is Vast for the ASE.

( Absalom Station is enough of a shining beacon that, even without a map, you can just fly towards the giant glowing light. . . but doing that without proper reconaissance beforehand is called "absolute idiocy" )


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Steve Geddes wrote:
Another possibility that I've toyed with is the idea that drift engines are rare and/or difficult to make.

While that might work...

Dead Suns Spoiler not directly tied to the story:
The corpse fleet gazetteers in the back of the Dead Suns AP list a lot of ships in that one fleet, including several "ultranaughts" which are a new class of mega ship from DS6. They have dozens of planets dedicated to ship manufacturing and multiple fleets of starships. If ships are rare (generally), then the Corpse Fleet is way ahead of everyone else and should have invaded by now.


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Metaphysician wrote:
David knott 242 wrote:

There could also be a factor of familiarity through astronomical observation involved in Drift navigation. Being able to reach the Pact Worlds in 1d6 days doesn't matter much if you don't know where they are.

That's my take. Navigation isn't *just* dependent on number of Drift beacons. You also have to know what you are trying to reach, and relate this to the Drift beacons. Drift beacons tell you where you are on the map, but you still need to actually have the map, first.

Thus, the ASE is Vast for the Pact Worlds ( and most everyone else ), because people don't have the "map". The ASE, by contrast, *does* know their local navigational matters in detail, so they have enough beacons to be Near. OTOH, they don't have fully detailed charts of the Pact Worlds territories, so a lot of stuff that would be Near for the Pact is Vast for the ASE.

That would suit my taste better too (it’s not my reading of it, but it’s easy enough to take it like that).

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