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Old March 3rd, 2019, 09:32 PM
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Lightbulb Energy Availability Effect on RPGs (also H. Beam Piper)

[Ahem. Had a hard time figuring out where to post this. If it reads a little weird in parts, that's because it started out as an email letter to my friend timerover51 and morphed in the course of writing into a forum post in which I'm seeking the ideas of CotI at large.]

Glancing back at what I wrote about what [he] wrote about what Piper wrote , I was thinking again about Piper's early-Federation nuclear-electric power units and later-TFH direct conversion of matter to energy. We both had problems thinking how to use those in an RPG such as Traveller.

Now, I think our problem wasn't so much figuring out the mundane effects, as not =wanting= some of those effects and their natural consequences.

Nuclear-electric power units = easily portable energy

Matter to Energy conversion = effectively unlimited energy (e=mc^2)

Quote:
For those not so familiar with Piper's work:

Nuclear-electric power units, described in early-Federation books like Uller Uprising and Four-Day Planet as varying in size from something like a pistol cartridge for essentially endless powering of flashlights and other small electrical devices, to something like a 20-liter keg coated in collapsium to power contragravity gunboats and large spacecraft. Each contains some quantity of radioactive material, tech to convert that radiation to electricity, and appropriate shielding to protect users.

Mass-energy converters are used in books set later in the TFH (TerroHuman Future History) timeline, such as Cosmic Computer and Space Viking. Those things work on good old e=mc^2, and no matter how inefficient you make it, that is one heck of a lot of energy!!
These would both have serious effects on the game setting. Obvious and immediate effects would be on starship fuelling and available energy for Jump, Maneuver, weapons, etc. No need to fool around with collecting and processing (or buying) fuel when you can stash a few (or a lot!) extra NPUs in cargo, or at higher TLs just toss any old junk into the matter converter! This breaks many many of our foundational assumptions about travel, commerce, and warfare conducted by starships. That's not even getting into the changes for what that portable (or unlimited!) energy means for the individual soldier or traveller.

Deeper problems show up if we try to follow societal changes that would result from such easily portable or unlimited energy. That's getting into economics, sociology, LOGISTICS, and even philosophy beyond the casual RPG experience for most of us. Is it fun trying to roleplay in a post-scarcity setting, where every person could potentially have everything they want/need? Maybe fun to dream about, or read about, but can we really imagine the thoughts and motivations of someone who is native to that kind of world sufficiently to roleplay them?

H. Beam Piper wrote some very entertaining SF adventure stories, but the technology was mostly a prop. His people would have been at home on Earth of the 1950s-60s; they just had a broader range of travel with interstellar hyperdrive ships and grav vehicles. Just as Traveller has been sometimes derided as "Shotguns in Spaaace!", Piper's settings could be oversimplified as "Machineguns in Space" (although much more often on planetary surfaces; Space Viking is the only novel with significant time spent on shipboard). But Piper's stories aren't really about the setting, they're about the people, and as long as we can understand the people we can enjoy the stories.

I love Piper's stories. I have ever since I discovered Four-Day Planet at the library when I was 10 years old (1972-73). Maybe that is because I can understand the people. Maybe for someone born in the 21st Century, they don't translate so well. I dunno. (Wait, we live in the 21st now? But that's the FUTURE! )
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