Aaron Pollyea’s Science Academy: Warp Propulsion

warp5An incredible amount of information has been written about warp propulsion over the years. Rather than go over what warp travel is, in this article I want to go over ways that characters in your game can use warp propulsion or how they can use it in different ways then what is typically shown. Being that it has some sort of presence in most episodes of Star Trek in one way or another, some of these ideas may not be fully canon or fit well with how you think about the universe. Regardless, take what you can and leave behind what you don’t.

One interesting way to approach warp speed is something that I’ve hinted at over a few books in the Star Trek Adventures line, that warp drives don’t require a matter/anti-matter reactor to function. Rather, the warp coils only require a huge amount of energy to operate. In an era before M/AM reactors, a species may use fission or fusion reactors to power produce warp plasma to cycle through their coils to produce the warp field. It’s my theory that Phoenix used a fission pile in this way.

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The downside to not using the incredibly energy-efficient M/AM reactor is that you may only produce a tiny portion of the power required to actually form a stable warp field. This means that a vessel may also have large numbers of capacitors to store up energy to discharge into the coils, providing a limited amount of time for the vessel to travel faster than light. After the capacitors are empty, the vessel would them need to spend some time recharging batteries and those capacitors for another jump to warp.

I’ve pointed out that some small Starfleet vessels may not use M/AM at all and rely on capacitors and a fusion reactor for warp power just because their small size means safety and protection of said anti-matter is just not possible. Starfleet isn’t alone as less developed species could achieve warp without having to have the immense infrastructure available to produce and store anti-matter. It also means that some of the most dangerous material in the universe isn’t inside small craft that civilians in the Federation use to fly around the Solar System.

Yes, I’m saying that M/AM reactors may only be onboard Starfleet vessels, or at least vessels maintained by highly qualified engineers.

“Characters be able to play around with different ways to power warp coils in an emergency situation.”

Small civilian spacecraft may have fusion reactors that power weak warp fields just so cousin Billy from the backwoods of Minnesota isn’t tasked with maintaining the magnetic containment bottle on a kilogram of antimatter in his old surplus Class F Shuttlecraft, and when he decides to take it for a spin to Ganymede for First Contact Day, he doesn’t slam into the moon and detonate with the force of 43 megatons of TNT, or a little less than the largest fusion bomb detonated on Earth, the Czar Bomba.

It would be much safer for Cousin Billy to have a simple fusion reactor capable of providing warp 3 for a few hours and if he crashes the shuttle then all that happens is he kills himself and releases a quick puff of barely noticed super-hot plasma. That and the impact crater he’d leave behind of course. And the scattered remains of cans of Hamms beer.

So, how can you add t his into your game? Characters may have played around with subspace field theory at the Academy, or even have it as a sort of hobby since graduation. Knowing this, they may be able to play around with different ways to power warp coils in an emergency situation.

Had to eject the warp core due to battle damage and your subspace transmitter is also wrecked? Figuring out how to tie your ships single remaining fusion generator into the EPS network to power the warp coils to slowly make your way back to starbase at warp 1.2 might be a pretty interesting story in itself. Or even with older starships trying to daisy chain the independent ship’s phaser power systems into the warp nacelles without burning everything out or killing everyone onboard would also be a nerve-wracking challenge.

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Another way of utilizing warp fields is with research or computations. We all know that Starfleet vessels use symmetrical warp fields around computer cores to speed up calculations, or maybe that’s just me. Regardless, using a warp field on a small scale, not for propulsion but for temporal acceleration can be incredibly useful in ways besides trapping the ships’ doctor in a rapidly degenerating pocket universe.

Perhaps a scientist on board wishes to study a very fast event like a chemical reaction or a biological event that they want to study in more exacting detail. It may be worth surrounding the thing wanting to be studied with a symmetrical warp field, slowing down or speeding up time inside of it to better understand what’s happening. Of course, messing around with the flow of time can have its own problems, and having a warp field concentrated in a small space is just asking for other complications to occur like ruptures or weird subspace dwelling aliens to come looking for why they suddenly see a bright light in their perception that just turned on next door.

I hope some of my ramblings here give gamemasters some ideas of how to put in some odd ideas about warp speed into their game.

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