Data File Updated: Monday, December 10, 2012
Note: this page mostly out of date, having been superseded by the Weapons Profiles page.
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.
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:
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.
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
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?
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
Question: what is the effect of EMP weapons against the Umiak?
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:
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.