Monday, June 14, 2021

Science Phenomena to Pump Up Game Play


I am always a big fan of have realistic details of what is happening around my players to bring them into whatever world they are in. Each of these items are based on real world technologies and phenomena. 

Real lasers are silent unless they hit something. but the power supplies are not. They can sound like a hammer on a metal garbage can. This applies to medical lasers. Talk about making a trip to the auto-doc scary. 

Cutting and etching lasers are also loud, but more like a leaf blower because the beam is close to continuous. Again, it is the power supply and the drive required to move it around is making the sound. This also ties into fashion. Characters messing with realistic lasers should always have goggles. If the tech level is high enough protective contact lenses would work nicely, too. 

Sun Outages can drive plot points. When a satellite delivering information to a ground station passes in front of the sun the information gets garbled. The ground station loses it's connection because the sun is such a powerful source of radiation. In the real world this happens to cable TV satellites in the spring and fall. This is a consequence of their orbit's aligning Earth's tilt. For a week or so, the satellite's signal is garbled for about 10 minutes at a time. It can be described as sparkles, pixelated or fuzzy pictures, picture freezing, audio distortions, or even a total loss of the channel. 

Since these satellites are in high Earth orbit it only happens once a day. If the satellite was in a lower orbit, it would happen several times a day based on the period of the orbit. This is great for plots involving a bit of mystery on a semi-regular basis, say every 40 minutes but the duration would be much lower, like a few seconds. 

Vacuum cementing is another phenomena that can either stymie players or give them a power stunt. Two pieces of material will stick together in a hard vacuum as if welded or cemented together just by touching them together. This is a good way to force repairs using little used skills to free moving parts. Alternatively, it can be used to add protective surfaces to objects to prevent or repair damage with little or no skill and can use junk as a resource. Astronauts on the moon noticed this happened even to dust. 


By the way, lunar dust smells like spent gunpowder or cooked meat, which can be an interesting detail to freak out the players. Why this smell (and taste) occurs is mystery today. It is transient. Lunar dust doesn't smell like anything on Earth. It could be the release of charged particles or a quick, short term chemical reaction with water or oxygen. No one knows how or why it happens.  

I call another trick "Zinc-Clink". Zinc oxide sensors are used to measure the amount of oxygen around a sensor. If a sensor system gets some other material on it, say soot, it will believe there is no oxygen in the area and refuse to open the door. Again, players will have to resort to little used or differently used skills to fix the problem. Say Vacc-suit or electronics. It's a handy way to slow the action down or pump up the drama because a hatch or door is misbehaving. 

In space missions these zinc oxide sensors are used to detect damaging oxygen around the sensor, which is counter intuitive. Oxygen in space is bad for some equipment. 

I am also a fan of the idea of the Decadal Survey to land really sophisticated machinery in a small nook in the ship. In real life, the Decadal Survey is conducted once every 10 years and asks scientists to come up with very broad science questions to research. In ship terms, these research projects could place new sensors, small power supplies and/or radios which are separate from the ship's normal operations. Think of it as an emergency lifeline for strange happenings on the ship. The crew would be versed in maintenance functions, so the equipment which is somewhat a "black box" would understandable to the crew. 

One of the more interesting types of research could be atmospheric aerosol tracking, which could enable a ship to use an alternative method to track other ships. GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) was a mission to look for gravitational anomalies (dense, heavy items) on the Earth's surface. In a sci-fi setting, it could locate shipwrecks, crashes and other hidden items under the surface of a planet while also creating great maps. 

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