Data File Updated: Monday, December 10, 2012

Note: this page mostly out of date, having been superseded by the Weapons Profiles page.

Beam Weapons

The primary offensive weapons in Outsider are various forms of beam weapons. The maximum range at which you can normally expect to score a hit with a beam weapon on a maneuvering target is about 1 Light Second (approx. 300,000 km); any farther away than that, and the delay between the arrival of your targeting radar pulse and your beam reaching the target becomes such that the target may have changed vector. The Loroi heavy beam weapons such as the pulse cannon and superheavy blaster are effective out to this distance; Umiak heavy beam weapons can score a hit at this distance, but need to be closer (150,000 km or closer, the closer the better) to penetrate screens. Umiak ships are very heavily armored and screened, and aren't shy about taking damage in the first place, so they press in as close as they can and blast away.

Since the Loroi units are usually faster, they like to play hit and run (or "fire and maneuver", as they would prefer to say), but the Umiak have a number of methods for inducing them to stand and fight. The most obvious of these is to attack something the Loroi must defend.

The Loroi also use fighters, which in the old days of the empire used to be their primary offensive weapon; in the war against the Umiak, the fighters have mostly been relegated to a fleet-defense role. The Umiak, who evolved on a low-gravity planet, are not very G-tolerant, and so their smallest vessels are 100 m gunship-class vessels that are large enough to carry their own artificial gravity generators.

Beams in space should theoretically be invisible... but they won't be in Outsider. I could theorize that with gigawatt lasers there's so much energy that there would always be enough photons interfering with each other and bouncing off in various directions that the beam would always be visible... also, interplanetary space is never truly a vacuum -- there's always some little bit of matter hanging around for photons to bounce off of. But the real reason is that it's difficult in a comic to depict invisible beams, and visible beams look cool.  

The laser is a good, basic beam weapon: it's a tight beam of photons that can be projected over great distances. The drawbacks are that the beam loses intensity over distance (and light is hard to "corral" back into a tighter beam at distance), and the light/heat damage component is probably fairly easy to deflect, absorb or ablate with high-tech armors. Light is probably not greatly affected by electromagnetic defensive screens, so lasers would be screen-piercing weapons.

The particle beam (or blaster) is a beam of charged or neutral particles that should be better at penetrating armor than a laser. The potential problem is keeping the beam focused; particles (especially charged) are likely to spread faster than coherent photons. Neutral particle beams were probably the first version of the blaster in service; these would have been relatively short-ranged. At higher tech levels, I presume ways are found to substantially extend blaster range; I imagine a sort of particle helix, where opposed "braids" of particles of opposite charge loop around each other, keeping the beam focused for extended distances. Assuming that this sort of configuration could extend effective ranges out to about half a light-second, the blaster would replace the laser as the standard beam weapon. The main drawback of charged particle beams is that they are probably easily deflected by electromagnetic screens. Both the Loroi and the Morat have their own versions of the blaster; the Morat version (which the Umiak use on some ships) does more basic damage, but the Loroi version is better at penetrating armor.

The idea behind the plasma focus (or plasma beam) is that you have some mechanism for focusing plasma into a tight beam over very long distances. I imagine some sort of "carrier wave" that accomplishes this long-range cohesion... here we're talking pretty high tech, even for the aliens, so only the Umiak and Historians have really mastered this technique. The advantages of the plasma focus are very high power and very good armor penetration/ablation; the disadvantage is limited range. The Historian version uses a different focusing mechanism than the Umiak version, and has significantly longer range.

When the Historians gave the Loroi the plans for a dumbed-down version of their plasma focus, it was still too advanced for the Loroi to copy exactly. They could only get it to work in short bursts. The result was the Loroi pulse cannon, which sends pulses of plasma down the carrier wave to the target; it doesn't do as much damage as the Umiak plasma focus, but does significant damage at much longer ranges.

I imagine that the historical order of development of these systems went like this:

laser-resistant armor
neutral particle beam
charged/helical particle beam
defensive screens
plasma focus
pulse cannon

How much of a ship's power must be diverted to weapons?  

Given the fantastic energies required to push these starships along at 30G, I think that the energy requirements of most conventional beam weapons are going to pale by comparison. I'm assuming that as long as a ship has main power, it can fire any or all of its weapons that are ready to fire; a ship can probably accelerate at full thrust and still have energy to fire all of its weapons. The rate of fire of most beam weapons is going to be limited mostly by heat management and mechanical issues. Cooldowns would probably be measured in minutes. 

A tightly focused beam weapon would maintain integrity for an eternity of empty space...

No matter how tightly focused, beams diverge or "spread" over distance resulting in a larger "dot" on the target. In a laser, where all the photons have the same wavelength, divergence is fairly small, but in white light, where the photons have a variety of frequencies, divergence is much larger (as the photons of different frequencies interact and interfere with each other). This is what I meant when I said the range of a "white" beam weapon would be sharply limited. White light won't "hold together" for even a fraction of 1 LS. White light diverges so badly over even a few dozen meters that they've even started to use lasers for applications as simple as theatre projection systems.

At a distance of 1 LS, there's a two second delay between the arrival of the light pulse that tells you where the enemy is, and the delivery of the beam on target. In those two seconds, an enemy ship accelerating at 30 G can move from its expected course (in an unknown direction) 588 meters (which is about a single ship length for a battleship). Add to this small accuracy errors, and I'd guess the odds of scoring a hit are somewhere below 50%. Hence the use of the phrase, "maximum range at which you can normally expect to score a hit." Certainly, a hit can be scored at greater range, but requires some luck as you don't have a target "lock." The relative speed of a target in space is mostly irrelevant as regards targeting; the computer knows the vector, and can easily calculate where the target will be when the weapon pulse arrives. Only the amount of the target's acceleration produces uncertainty for the targeting computer, and acceleration in space is the same no matter what your current velocity is. So, going slower is no advantage.  

I'm skeptical about the feasibility of accurately focusing a beam from turret aboard an accelerating, maneuvering ship against a target 300,000 km away. I would think you'd have to use a fixed spinal mount, and point the whole ship at the target.

Even today's mechanical telescope tracking mechanisms are more accurate than what would be required to successfully paint a target at the distances we're talking about. A large turret on a half-million ton starship seems like a pretty stable platform. But in any case, if that accuracy seems so hard to achieve for a turret mounted weapon, how is pointing the whole half-million tons of starship to that same accuracy supposed to be any easier? 

Other Technologies

What's the main propulsive technology for Slower Than Light travel?

The non-official response is: it depends on the race. The humans probably use a fusion torch or fusion-powered ion drive (the Bellarmine drive plume was blue... perhaps cadmium ion). Loroi and Umiak both have ships that can sustain 30G acceleration for extended periods, so I guess the only drive answer for them that makes sense is some sort of reactionless drive powered by matter/antimatter reactors.

Both from a technological and story point of view, I'm more concerned about powerplants than drive mechanisms. Science fiction is rife with elaborate drive mechanisms that free the ship of a need to carry reaction mass, from Star Trek's "warp drive" to Niven's mystical "reactionless drive", to Clarke's dubious "quantum ramjet" from The Songs of Distant Earth. I'll do myself a favor by saying as little about the drive systems as possible. You're right, though, that its' important to know the basic qualities of one's candidate system... for example whether your reactor will go critical if it is damaged or shuts down.

Personally I expect that any military power system, even a matter/antimatter powerplant, has to be able to quit cold in the event of a failure in order to even be considered as viable. Matter/antimatter containment has to be power-safe, so that a ship losing power won't explode like a supernova. Loss of power has to be considered a normal occurrence in a warship, and I don't see the Star Trek: Voyager idea of ejecting your reactor core in an emergency (not to mention hunting it down and re-inserting it later) as a serious damage control concept. That said, a direct hit on the reactor area might still cause such as explosion, and I think that has to be considered as part of the equation (similar to the interesting but unevenly applied Mobile Suit Gundam concept that you had to be careful where you shot a mobile suit, lest its nuclear reactor go critical).

And, with all, that, I don't want to eliminate the visual vocabulary of the space opera starship. Engines have bright "outlets"; weapons have "barrels." Why not?

I often wonder, but can never be bothered to think through, this simple thing - at stupendous speeds in real space, how much drag is actually created by the particles floating around in space. I know there aren't many, but at huge speeds, you'd still be hitting quite a few. at certain flight speeds in atmosphere it is better to have a constant cross section than a seemingly more aerodynamic shape. Is it possible that something similar could come into play for very large starships?

Perhaps, but that would have to be a really huge starship... space isn't empty, but it's really, really close, even inside a typical nebula. However, there might be examples where some streamlining could be beneficial, such as operating in very low orbit (where the planetary atmosphere starts to be a factor), or in dust clouds (such as the Naam proplyd).

It takes an Outsider starship 28 hours at full acceleration (30G) to reach 10% lightspeed from a standing start; from zero velocity it would travel 83 LM, or 10 AU, roughly the distance from the Sun to Saturn. Assuming you have enough fuel, you can theoretically continue accelerating from there, but to do so would be reckless; you're going to need several days and several solar systems' worth of stopping room. Only military vessels would generally go as fast as 10% lightspeed, and we assume that since they have screens designed to protect them from gigawatt energy beams, self-induced cosmic rays are probably not going to present much of a problem.

But yeah, if you plow into a gas cloud at 10% C, you're probably in big trouble, regardless of whether your ship is streamlined.  

What about cloaking devices?

Cloaking, or the Star Trek concept of being able to turn one's ship into a magically undetectable space-submarine, doesn't exist in Outsider. Stealth, the ability to avoid detection from enemy sensors by absorbing or deflecting the detection medium, exists in Outsider, but is impractical in most applications. The massive energy output of starships able to accelerate at 30G against the cold background of space is almost impossible to mask, considering the passive and active detection mechanisms possible at this technology level. Electronic Counter-Measures (ECM), or the ability to confuse enemy sensors with jamming and false signals, also exists, but will probably be useful only at relatively close range.

Missile Weaponry

There are three types of missiles in use; the first, mass drivers (a.k.a. "rail guns" or "gauss weapons") are dumb projectiles that are only useful at very close range, and are employed only by the more primitive secondary races (including the Humans).

Second is the AMM, a high-velocity, short-range missile used for point-defense by the Loroi.

Third is the long-range missile (or torpedo), used by the Umiak. These are sophisticated unmanned craft the size of a small fighter, similar in concept to the "drones" described in the Star Fleet Battles game. Torpedoes are used at long ranges to counter Loroi standoff tactics, and also en masse (along with swarms of gunships) to draw Loroi fire off advancing Umiak heavy capital ships. Large and expensive, only the industrially mighty Umiak could afford to use them in numbers large enough to be effective, and they do.

Kinetic-kill weapons and bombs are great damage-wise; the trouble is getting them on target. Ballistic (non-guided) weapons such as mass drivers can be very effective at close range where there is a reasonable probability of a hit, but at longer ranges against targets that can maneuver, they are fairly useless. They still work great against stationary targets (such as space stations and ground installations) at any range, though. Good old Newtonian physics.

Nukes or antimatter bombs or torpedoes would also cause a lot of damage, but again the problem is to get them on target -- beam weapons can strike with accuracy at great range. In Outsider, a torpedo is a small unmanned drone ship, powered by the same reactor/engine that powers the larger ships; it heads toward the target at very high acceleration, and when it gets close enough, it ignites its remaining fuel and causes a big (thermonuclear or antimatter) explosion. However, even at a burn of 30G, it would take more than 23 minutes (from a standing start) for a torpedo to cross the 1 light second of a beam weapon's effective range. That's a lot of time to be intercepted. This is why torpedoes in Outsider, while used by most races, are considered an auxiliary weapon (except by the Umiak, who have the resources to use torpedoes in large enough numbers to saturate the target's defenses).  

I define a torpedo as a guided missile that uses a ship drive. Normally a torpedo would have to have at least twice a ship's acceleration to be useful, so for the Bellarmine (~6G) that would probably be around 12G. Since the powerplant is probably fusion, it doesn't need a warhead; it can just light off whatever fuel it has left, and boom: thermonuclear explosion. I say "probably" because we'll never know; hypothetically, if Terran vessels ever do enter combat in the story, they'd probably have access to better ordnance provided by their allies. Tempest could easily outrun a Terran torpedo.

From what I've read, a fusion reactor that suffers a catastrophic failure merely is a whole bunch of vented, star-hot plasma, not "fusion nuke in a can". It takes a LOT of effort for there to be fusion...

This isn't a failure situation, it's a triggered overload. If you can make a fusion reactor work, you know how to make hydrogen fuse under controlled conditions. If you know how to make hydrogen fuse under controlled conditions, you can probably choose to turn your fusion reactor into an H-bomb on command. 

Of course, if your "really primitive" missile can do 12 Gs, you don't even need to bother with a warhead, in some ways. Just pack the front end with a huge hunk of depleted uranium or a similar dense metal...and get it up to a significant fraction of lightspeed. At 12 Gs, that happens PRETTY quickly. Want to be even nastier? Load it up with a whole bunch of basketball-sized spheres of dense metal, and release them in a shotgun pattern before impact. At high fractions of C, that hunk of dense metal is going to make a nuke look like a firecracker.

Kinetic kill weapons are always preferable, provided you can deliver them on target; if you're skeptical about getting a fusion warhead close enough to the target to damage it, you can forget about actually making kinetic contact with the target. Using a "buckshot" warhead will improve your chances of a hit, but not by much; once you go ballistic, the enemy can get out of the way and you can't compensate. And I'm not sure what you had in mind about a "significant fraction" of lightspeed being achieved "pretty quickly" at 12G, but it would take a missile more than 70 hours to reach 10% lightspeed at a 12G burn. It's unlikely that any torpedo would have that kind of fuel or time to accelerate, and if it did, it would be going too fast to maneuver well enough (at 12G) on target to achieve a hit.

Again, we're not positioning Terran torpedoes as superweapons; on the contrary, they're quite backward compared to those of their combatants.

Define "close" in terms of point defense and armor.

Not as close as you'd need for a kinetic kill. If you think it's possible for a torpedo to get close enough to ram an enemy ship, then it's surely close enough to damage it (and possibly others) with a thermonuclear or antimatter explosion.

Besides, there's one use for missiles and torpedoes that most people don't think of in space combat-controlling your enemy's movements. Using ballistic weapon salvoes to channel an enemy towards where you want him to go, or deny him a direction to maneuver.

The only high-tech race that still extensively uses torpedoes (the Umiak) do so for just this sort of reason: to pin the enemy and tie up his defensive fire while their ships close to optimum beam weapons range. But for any race other than the industrially mighty Umiak, torpedoes are too expensive for such a proposition.

Based on Arioch's comments about Loroi farseers not being able to detect electronic/computer brains, perhaps a good tactic against them would be to use ai's to pilot torpedoes or other remote type weapons.  

Certainly, torpedoes and other such tactical weapons are going to be unmanned. In tactical situations, the Loroi use the same sorts of sensors everyone else does; only in the case of strategic movement is their Farseer sense useful. In order to gain an advantage, the Umiak would have to send entire fleets of unmanned starships into Loroi territory.

Is it worth the effort?

It would be expensive... the vessels would have to be fitted with extensive automation systems, and even so wouldn't be able to compensate for damage or unusual circumstances as well as a living crew. Controlling the fleet would be the biggest problem; without FTL comm you can't control it remotely, and without FTL sensors, you don't know exactly where your targets are beforehand, so the ships' computers would have to be autonomous. As a substantial body of classic science fiction hints to us, creating robotic berserkers is an extremely dangerous proposition that tends to bite one in the ass. And remember; the fleet wouldn't be invisible to normal Loroi sensors; the odds of such a fleet being able to sneak past the front lines undetected are questionable; once detected, the Loroi could defeat the fleet normally. It would be a hail-Mary pass, a desperation move... and currently the Umiak are not desperate.

Doomsday Weapons

With nukes today, you have to have a lot of tech to make them. But in space, just plain kinetics can cause a lot of damage. So even the most primitive space faring culture can launch a planet-killing attack. Of course, the more effective your engines, the easier that is to do.

Yes, that's very true. We've had several threads' worth of discussion on planet-killer "doomsdayweapons", so let me summarize them for you: destroying the surface of a planet is not very hard, even with our technology today. Getting your weapon to that planet past the front lines guarded by the enemy's starships is very hard. It's the battle trying to get past the enemy fleet that you need to worry about; once you win that, the enemy planet is at your mercy; even the smallest escort vessel has enough firepower to obliterate the surface of a planet. A bigger or better planetkiller warhead will not help you in this fleet battle, the fight that really counts. There are no superweapons in Outsider; if there were, the Loroi-Umiak war would not have lasted 25 years.

My Question: what is the effect of EMP weapons against the Umiak?

Even today, military equipment is shielded against EMP. This isn't complete protection, as it can still be overloaded by a strong enough pulse. But, considering that in Outsider most weaponry consists of high-energy beams, I think it's logical to expect that most of the military equipment is going to be very well-protected indeed. Which brings us to the second point:

One would think the Loroi would end up detonating gigaton scale nukes in orbit of Umiak planets.

If the Loroi were close enough to be able to light off nukes in orbit of Umiak planets, the Umiak would have a lot more to worry about than EMP; the Loroi would simply destroy everything on the surface. And for Humanity, lighting off nukes on Earth in attempt to frazzle invading Umiak seems a bit self-defeating; if you're going to ruin your own planet, you might as well just surrender. And, as has been mentioned, you're as likely to fry your own systems as the enemy's.

It's certainly possible that the higher-tech races could come up with a smaller, more directed EMP device, but the only use I can see for such a weapon would be to stun or disable an enemy at a relatively small scale. For those instances in which they might be interested in capturing a live Umiak, the Loroi have much more effective telepathic methods for obtaining prisoners.