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Rules > Starships
No one knows which Pact World first achieved spaceflight, but by the beginning of the modern era, nearly every world had some form of interplanetary travel. For some, this was purely magical: powerful spells or artifacts, or quick jaunts through other planes of existence allowed travelers access to their intended world. Yet for others, the airless void of space was just another sea to be crossed, which they did in a variety of craft, from magical to mechanical and from biological to divine.
As technology improved, travel time between worlds dropped from months
and years to days, and the optimal routes between planets became crowded
with spacecraft. Yet even in this new age of space flight, voyages beyond
the solar system remained rare; traveling to even the nearest star at conventional
speeds would take generations. While a few starships had drives capable
of circumventing this obstacle, all relied on extremely expensive magical
technology, often controlled by churches or other organizations. From Asmodean
Helldrives to Kuthite shadow engines to the prayer-fueled cores of Iomedaean
cathedralships, most of these technologies not only took the ship through
other planes but also operated with direct divine assistance, and thus always
came with a hefty price. While other drives had been theorized—drives that
could fold space, create stable wormholes, or otherwise bend the rules of
physics— the Pact Worlds had never managed to build them.
Then, 3 years after the end of the Gap, the Signal went out. Some worlds received it as a broadcast. It came to others in the dreams of inventors or lunatics, or etched into floors by malfunctioning assembly robots. Still others dug it from the innards of crashed space probes, found it carved on monoliths in city centers, or heard it blared from the sky by entities within wheels of flame. Regardless of the mechanism, at the same instant, thousands of cultures across the Material Plane received the same information: blueprints for a new type of starship drive— one capable of cheaply and efficiently shortening the distance between stars.
Though some scholars argue that every mortal culture received this information, many recipients were never aware of it or able to capitalize on it. In some cases, cultures weren’t technologically advanced enough to interpret the information— explorers have even uncovered these designs painted on cave walls by an uncomprehending paleolithic culture. In other cases, the information was lost due to simple accident, as when an inventor blessed with the information fell out a window before he could share it.
Immediately following the Signal, the new god Triune revealed itself to the Pact Worlds, claiming to have granted the knowledge as a blessing to its new mortal children. Formerly three minor gods of machines and robotics, now networked together into a single entity, the divine collective claimed to have peered through the substrata of reality and discovered a previously unknown plane of existence. Called the Drift, this plane could be reached only via technology—not magic— and would allow mortals to cheaply and easily travel between points anywhere in the galaxy. In granting this discovery to the world, Triune became one of the most powerful entities in the multiverse overnight: the new god of interstellar travel.
Like earlier interstellar drives, Drift engines operate by jumping to another plane of existence and then back to a different point on the Material Plane, thus never actually running up against the hard limit presented by the speed of light. In the past, that had meant using powerful magic and traveling to places like Heaven, Hell, the Maelstrom, or the First World—places inhabited by creatures and gods with sometimes inconvenient attitudes and appetites. The Drift, on the other hand, is a different type of dimension: a void of swirling color without substance, a mostly empty place of mutable laws, thought by some to be the quantum foam underlying all creation. While magic still functions inside the Drift, only technology can pierce the membrane between it and the rest of reality, which, combined with Triune’s role as gatekeeper, keeps any other deities or organizations from monopolizing the place.
While even most skeptics and members of other religions are forced to admit that Triune has appeared to make good on its egalitarian offer to maintain cheap and easy interstellar travel for everyone, use of the Drift does come with a catch. Every time a Drift engine is used, a tiny portion of a random plane is torn from its home and added to the Drift, set to float there for eternity. The farther the jump, the larger the chunk of material, which sometimes appears near the jumping ship, adding an element of risk: you never know when a long jump might tear away a chunk of Hell and leave you flying through a cloud of furious devils. Even those making safely measured jumps might encounter strange beasts trapped there by previous travels. Why the technology involves this side effect is unknown, though some conspiracy theorists believe that the ever-increasing size of the Drift—and the corresponding shrinking of the other planes of existence—is part of an inscrutable power play by Triune itself.
Whether they’re patrol craft or battlecruisers, all starships are propelled through space by thrusters. The exact workings of these engines vary from starship to starship—some are technological, while others are a blend of magic and machine. See the navigate task of the Piloting skill (page 145) for information about using that skill to plot a correct course. Determine the approximate distance you wish to travel and roll using the travel times below to see how long it takes you to reach your destination, but note that the Game Master is the final arbiter of travel times and may shorten or lengthen them as she desires for the needs of the campaign.
Using Drift technology differs from ordinary astrogation in that the
distances between worlds are less important than the difficulty of correctly
targeting the jump. Within a given solar system, jumps are relatively quick
and easy, though this method is only moderately faster than flying between
worlds using conventional thrusters. Outside of a given system, Drift tech
divides the galaxy into two sectors: Near Space and the Vast. While Near
Space worlds tend to be closer to the galactic center (and, incidentally,
to the Pact Worlds) and the systems of the Vast tend to be farther out,
the true difference between the regions lies in the density of so-called
“Drift beacons.” These mysterious objects, sometimes spontaneously generated
and sometimes placed by priests of Triune, help navigation systems orient
ships in the Drift. While placing a single Drift beacon on a world isn’t
enough to convert a Vast world to Near Space status, placing many in that
general region of space can cause the shift, and thus it’s possible to find
pockets of Near Space worlds all the way out to the galactic rim, as well
as uncharted zones considered part of the Vast near the galaxy’s core.
When traveling to a world through the Drift, determine whether the destination is in the same system, Near Space, or the Vast. The distance between the start and end of your journey doesn’t matter, nor which category of space you’re starting from: traveling from the Vast to a Near Space world is no more difficult than between two Near Space worlds. Roll using the travel times below, then divide the result by your starship’s Drift engine rating to determine how long it takes you to reach your destination. For example, a starship with a Drift engine rating of 2 traveling to a world in the Vast would roll 5d6 and divide the result by 2. If you rolled 15, then the trip would take 7-1/2 days. Note that you never round down with Drift travel rolls, since these partial days can be extremely important when multiple spacecraft are racing each other to a destination. Additionally, since the Drift is a plane that you’re traveling through, it is possible to pause midjump, and even to land on one of the floating chunks of terrain or engage in starship combat. Time spent stopped in this manner does not bring you closer to your destination, and thus does not count toward your required travel time. Days spent in the Drift are no different for the crew than days spent in normal space, and thus they can craft items, heal, and take other actions as normal.
The one exception to the rules above is Absalom Station: for unknown reasons, the Starstone at its core acts as an extremely powerful Drift beacon, allowing ships from anywhere in the galaxy to jump to Absalom Station in 1d6 days.
While traveling through the Drift, a starship uses its conventional thrusters. For a starship to engage its Drift engines to either enter or exit the Drift, its conventional thrusters must be turned off for 1 minute.