Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Energy in Star Wars

One of the reasons I like Star Wars so much is the fact it does NOT go into detail about a lot of the 'tech' in its universe. How do ships fly? How do shields work? How? They just do. That's how. From a gaming perspective, this is even more refreshing, since you don't really need to keep track of a lot of 'techy' aspects- as a player or a game master. Even so, I like to have a few general guidelines in place so I know how things 'seem to function' in a game, even if I don't know (or care about) the science behind them.

For instance, I know that blasters seem to require an energy source (a power pack) and a small amount of 'blaster gas' to function. The gas is assumed to last a long time between refillings and can easily be worked into the 'routine maintenance' that is assumed by me in my games. The power-packs are used up more more quickly (depending on the output of the blaster in question) and are generally looked at as the 'ammo' for the weapon- i.e. they are what determines the number of 'rounds' a blaster can fire. Do I need to know exactly how any of this works? No. But its nice to have the superficial details like characters swapping out energy-packs in the midst of battle.

I feel the same way about power sources in the SW universe. I don't really care about the science behind them, I just want the 'gist' of how they work. And yet, there is very little canon information on this subject. More to the point, there seem to be conflicting stories. In some of the 'technical companions' many vehicles run on 'fuel slugs', while in others, reactors are 'solar ionization'. Still others are 'hyperparticle' reactors. Likewise, in some books they show some vehicles (such as AT-STs) as being 'too small' to have onboard reactors, and thus have a power-cell/battery instead.

This seems quite odd to me, considering there are some vague representations of generators in the movies themselves that seem to show that 'generators' can actually be quite small. For example, there is the power-generator that the Snowtroopers carry to power their E-Web blaster in Empire Strikes back. In the same movie, there is that tiny little generator that Luke plugs Artoo-Deeto into after he's crashed on Dagobah. And then there are power-droids, seen throughout the original trilogy- who were described to be 'walking power generators'.

As usual, I tend to err in favor of what we see in the movies over what is presented in the EU or in the (often conflicting) technical readouts of various vehicles. So it is that in my OWN Star Wars galaxy, Power Generators are relatively small in size compared to their power output. This means that in my universe most vehicles are equipped with power generators- even vehicles as small as speeder bikes. This means that with the proper fuel, these vehicles generate their own power- they do not run off a 'battery' (though they would have the ability to store some of the power they generate as a backup).

Though I do not want to get too deeply into the science behind them, I consider Star Wars technology to be based upon fusion technology- a much safer form of nuclear energy than the fission we're used to. The fuel for these reactors would likely be a liquid deuterium (or whatever other star wars equivalents might be invented). I say liquid because it strikes a nice balance of storage space (taking up less space than gaseous fuel) and usability (able to be 'pumped' into fuel tanks instead of having to be 'inserted' as solid fuel slugs or anything of the sort). The use of a fuel like deuterium is also supported in some of the RPG sources as well- specifically those listing 'fuel scoops' and converters. This would allow ships so equipped to dip into naturally occurring supplies of deuterium (in gas giants or even ocean water) to use as low-grade fuel in emergency situations. Since deuterium is a relatively common element, this would mean that power is pretty abundant in the SW universe- and considering the amount of tech we see in the movies, this seems to be the case. Also, in the movies, we never hear about 'fuel shortages' or the like. From a purely 'cinematic' viewpoint, I also like the idea of 'fuel' being a combustible material (deuterium is) and being transported in 'tankers'. To me, that just feels 'right'.

So that's how I handle energy in my own Star Wars universe, vague on the scientific details, but cinematically functional.

p.s. At first glance, it might seem that this system would actually eliminate the necessity for power droids. But having read into just what they were (supposedly) used for, it actually doesn't. In makeshift bases and settlements without a centralized power-grid, power-droids are used to recharge various bits of isolated tech to keep them functioning. In locations where there WAS centralized power, these droids could have a supply of deuterium onboard and could thus 'top off' the fuel tanks of various reactors they service.

1 comment:

  1. Galaxy Guide 6: Tramp Freighters (1st ed.) has a section on fuel cells and self-sustaining fuel converters. For Rebel agents and starfighter pilots, fuel wasn't an issue since the Alliance was supplying the ship, but for smugglers and the like, I liked the idea of maintenance bookkeeping for the cash-strapped freighter captains. This allowed some disastrous consequences for poor ship upkeep or interesting role-playing encounters with rival captains, the Empire, aliens, and pirates. This way I could introduce other NPCs and situations without purposely railroading the PCs since it was their fault they were "outta gas."