DIY starship part 3

Sensors are important, more so than in any other space combat system, so I will go into a little more detail on those than the rest of the tutorial.  You can get the rules, design system etc here.

The Visual/IR sensor is the most important one, especially for the small ships typically used by players. It can be used in Visual or IR mode but not both. All sensors have inverse square range falloff (1/r^2) except radar which falls off as 1/r^4 and this alone may make you want to skip radars completely.

The fact that you cannot add more than one of each kind of sensor does not mean that the ships can have only one sensor per type; each sensor rating is the sum effect of several sensors spread over the hull, all working together. This means that sensors do not have any particular location (top, bottom, left, right, fore or aft) like weapons do. Neutrino and mass sensors are located in the Payload section and completely protected by the armor. Visual/IR and Radar sensors are located in the Surface location and have less protection from armor (-6 when popped up, -3 when popped down).

To summarise the strengths and weaknesses of each sensor type:

  • Visual/IR in Visual mode They are degraded when scanning in the direction of the sun, they are also blocked by planets. Enemies can reduce their visual signature by being in the shadow of a planets or, if they have streamlined or better hulls, face directly towards the sun. Visual stealth is the cheapest stealth, basically more or less advanced forms of broad spectrum black paint. Visual uses the visible spectrum and typically pick up sunlight reflected from the hull or fission/fusion rocket plumes.
  • Visual/IR in IR mode They are degraded when scanning in the direction of the sun, they are also blocked by planets. Enemies can reduce their IR signature by running their powerplants on idle. IR stealth which consist of covering the ship in radiators to reduce their temperature and routing heat to radiations that do not face the foe. IR uses the infrared spectrum and typically pick up power-plant radiators or fission/fusion rocket plumes. IR can also detect ships with turned off powerplants from their ambient hull temperature.
  • Radar They are degraded from the sun direction (yes, the sun shine in the microwave spectrum as well, I’ve done radio astronomy labs on old WW-II Wurzburg radars to detect the sun back in the day, I kid you not), they are also blocked by planets. Enemies can reduce their radar signature by popping in their sensors and weapons. Radar emit microwaves that bounce off the target back towards the sending ship. Radar scans are easy to detect but they also spot targets faster from the doppler information they give back. Radars suffer from the extreme falloff as mentioned above. Radar masking is radar absorbing materials and cleverly angled surfaces. Open frame ships have significantly higher radar signature.
  • Neutrino They are degraded when scanning in the direction of the sun (the sun spews out insane amounts of neutrinos yet the neutrino sensors of today are huge affairs that can only barely detect our own sun), neutrino sensors can see right through planets, they are the only sensors that can do that. Neutrino sensors see right through the hull so they are always protected by the ships armor. Enemies can turn off fusion or fission thrust and they can run their powerplants on idle to reduce their signature. Neutrino stealth is high tech and expensive but can further reduce signature. Neutrino detectors detect neutrinos created in fusion and fission reactions, these particles fly straight through ordinary matter and are very hard to detect. The efficient neutrino sensors and stealth of Intercept are high tech magic not grounded in any real world physics.
  • Mass These sensors can scan right at the sun without degrading but are blocked by planets. Enemies can turn off their reactionless thrusters and turn off their floorfield to reduce mass signature. Mass stealth is expensive but can reduce the signature of ships further. Mass detectors detect the gravity from the mass of ships and the gravity waves sent out by reactionless drives and floorfields. The efficient mass sensors and stealth of Intercept are high tech magic not grounded in any real world physics. (My previous incarnations of Intercept had the mass detectors measuring tidal forces with inverse cube falloff  but I scrapped that from purely aesthetical reasons; the falloff values for scan radius would have been 1.5 x that for Visual/IR which didn’t look good and was hard to remember, I am still not quite sure I made the right decision there.)

We give our Suleiman a medium sized Visual/IR array and a small radar. At TL-13 they have Scan +2 and +1 respectively.

Turrets and bays

Each weapon is either Fixed in the hull itself or it is mounted inside one of the mounts; Small turret, Large turret, Small bay or Large bay. Fixed mounts are always at the front of a ship and can fire in that arc only. Turrets and bays have 180 degree firing arcs and must be placed top, bottom, left, right, fore or aft. If you have turrets and bays taking up more than half the ships total surface area they cannot all be mounted on the same side. Note that Fixed mountings take up less surface area than the same weapon inside a turret or bay, also note that 10 weapons in 10 mounts take up more surface area that the same 10 weapons in a single mount, pick as large a mount as you can to conserve your precious surface area.

Canon has the Suleiman having only one turret but we choose to give it one top mounted large turret and one bottom mounted small turret. The large turret can hold up to 0.6 dTons of weaponry (or 3 m3 if 1 dTon = 5 m3), the small turret can hold 0.2 dTons (or 1 m3 if 1 dTon = 5 m3). We will put a laser and a missile launcher in the top turret and a single sandcaster in the bottom turret. If you want the classic three weapons to a turret simply pick a large turret only and choose a smaller laser so all three weapons fit inside it.

Sandcasters and screens

For historical reasons we collectively call ship defenses for ‘screens’. There are no shields in Intercept as they have the pungent smell of Trek and suffer severely from handwavium.

Sandcasters shoot streams of crystal ‘sand’ against enemy lasers working like a combination whipple shield and laser absorber. Sandcasters do not work against missiles in Intercept, you better add some low powered lasers as countermissile defense. A ship must have Spotted its enemy to use its sandcasters. Only one screen battery per ship may defend against each attack. A single battery may defend against each and every attack volley. This make very good reasons to group beam weapons into few batteries and also to group screens into few batteries.

Nuclear dampers are used against nuclear missiles but there are yet no rules for nuclear missiles in Intercept so we ignore them for now.

Meson screens defend against meson attacks by modifying the decay times of the incoming particles, they should be grouped into as few batteries as possible for the same reasons as for sandcasters above.


It may seem smart to have missile launchers as Fixed mounts to reduce surface area, but that is not the case as after each turn of missile thrusting the launching mount must be able to ‘see’ the missile as the missiles are operator guided to the target.

Missiles are launched from the drift position so you may think it would be clever to mount missile turrets on the bottom of your ship (or at the top with the ships rolled when doing missile attacks), pop them and thrust away like mad while your missile gunner steer the missiles from his back facing turret. Sounds like a good idea aside from the danger of your enemy simply maneuvering into your rear centerline and thus break the missile link. The rear centerline is blind while thrusting, you see; from drive plume or gravity disturbances.

As you get positive DMs from grouping launchers into larger numbers and as defensive lasers may fire at all incoming volleys you should go for few but large volleys for maximum effect, this also happens to simplify things when playing the game.

We put one small missile launcher in the top mounted large turret for our Suleiman ship. Missile launchers hold 3 volleys each in the launcher, add more by giving your ship a missile magazine. Note that the design system does not include the cost of the missiles themselves, nor for that matter, fuel, life support consumables, crew salaries, poker chips for the off duty crew etc.

Beam weapons

Beam weapons do not really fire beams at all, in reality they fire pulses. All beam weapons except meson guns automatically spot your ship for the target after the combat phase. There are three kinds of beam weapons:

  • Lasers guns Lasers fire pulses of coherent light, shorter wavelengths at higher tech levels. The defenses against lasers are sandcasters and armor but high thrust Gs can make you harder to hit.
  • Particle guns Particle weapons fire pulses of relativistic neutrons. Armor is the only defense against particle weapons but high thrust Gs can make you harder to hit.
  • Meson guns Meson guns don’t fire mesons at all, this is a mixup that has refused to die dating back to the Vilani wars with the Solomani. Meson guns fire stable particles that are forced to decay by a nuclear booster soliton wave catching up with the pulse when it is inside the target. Defense against meson guns rely on meson screens alone as meson fire completely ignores armor, high thrust Gs helps as they make you harder to hit. Meson guns work very well with the Neutrino sensor as both the sensor and the meson pulses go straight through a planet.

The Suleiman has one laser in its large turret with good enough penetration to barely penetrate the armor of a Suleiman. A duel with two Suleiman scout/couriers will be a drawn out one, thanks to the heavy armor.

Well, this wraps it up for this time, next time I will talk a bit about the game values calculated by the design system and how everything fits in with the Intercept game.

Friends don’t let friends watch Star Trek.

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