- Environmental Conditions
- Planetary Phenomena
- Stellar Phenomena
- Interstellar Hazards
- Vacuum: If there’s no atmosphere at all, anyone who isn’t in a sealed suit is in trouble. They gain a level of Fatigue each round until they become Incapacitated; after another minute, they’ll die. If a character in a sealed suit takes a Wound, they suffer the same effects unless they can patch it up.
- Thin: Very thin atmospheres aren’t much better than vacuum. Characters who aren’t in a sealed suit take a level of Fatigue each minute, and die after 10 minutes of Incapacitation. Simply having a breathing apparatus won’t protect you, as the low pressure can rupture blood vessels.
- Breathable: This is a nominal atmosphere made of a breathable mixture of gases.
- Dense: Characters who don’t have a rebreather or similar breathing apparatus must make a Vigor roll every 30 minutes or take a level of Fatigue.
- Inert: The atmosphere is the right pressure, but is made up of gases that are unsuitable for breathing. Characters without breathing apparatus will soon begin to asphyxiate as per the rules for drowning.
- Corrosive: The atmosphere is actively harmful. It might eat through a sealed suit in a day if it’s weak, or an hour if it’s strong. Characters who are exposed to it take 2d4 damage every round or every minute, depending on how strong it is. The atmosphere is also not breathable.
- Frozen: The world is completely frozen, close to absolute zero. Any atmosphere it once had has frozen into drifts of solidified oxygen or drifts of liquid helium. Survival is impossible without specialised equipment, and even machinery may struggle.
- Cold: The temperature is below freezing, and characters in this environment suffer from the effects of the Cold Hazard. In particularly cold regions or worlds, it might be significantly below freezing, imposing penalties on the Vigor roll.
- Temperate: The temperature is nominal for human survival.
- Warm: The temperature is above 30 degrees Celsius, and characters in this environment suffer from the effects of Heat Hazard. In particularly hot regions or worlds, there may be further penalties on the Vigor roll.
- Burning: The temperature is intense - lava flows, rivulets of molten metal, and spontaneous combustion of flammable materials mean that survival without special equipment is impossible.
- None: This planet is dead. Life has never developed here or has undergone total collapse, and there is no existing biosphere of any kind. These worlds are often perfect for human cultivation.
- Microbial: There is alien life, but only microbes and slime molds. These are often harmless but can sometimes be dangerous to humans. Introducing human flora and fauna can sometimes have unanticipated results, such as strange new diseases.
- Human: This world had no native biosphere or a microbial one. However, human-compatible life has been introduced to it successfully, and it is now home to a human biosphere. Familiar plants and animals such as horses are likely to be found.
- Human-miscible: There is an alien biosphere, but it is compatible with humanity. At least some plants and animals are edible, and the flora and fauna aren’t universally poisonous to humans. However, the reverse is also often true: if humans can eat the local life, then the local life can eat humans - or infect them.
- Human-immiscible: There is an alien biosphere, and it is hostile to humanity. Plants are poisonous, the soil is unsuitable for growing crops or fodder, and animals are either dangerous predators or simply poisonous to humans by their very nature.
- Hybrid: Human-compatible life and a local alien biosphere have been succesfully introduced to each other, and now live in harmony. This usually only happens on worlds that have had centuries to integrate. The alien parts of the biosphere may or may not be human-miscible, but are unlikely to be outright hostile to human life.
- Zero Gravity: +2 to Strength, +4 to Pace. Movement is only possible with something stable to “climb” along. Characters who jump from a stable surface can propel themselves at a Pace equal to their Strength until they contact another object or apply thrust from another source. Characters who are unused to operating in zero gravity suffer a -2 penalty to Agility and all linked skills.
- Low Gravity: +2 to Strength, +2 to Pace. Characters can jump twice as high and far.
- Normal Gravity: No bonuses or penalties. Human habitats (including starships) are assumed to have normal or artificial gravity by default.
- High Gravity: -1 to Strength, -2 to Pace. Characters can jump half as high and far.
- Super-High Gravity: -2 to Strength, -4 to Pace. Characters can jump half as high and far.
- Radiation: A world with low-level radiation is dangerous; one with high radiation is deadly. A starship or spacesuit will reduce high radiation to low, and protect against low radiation entirely.
- Poison: Some worlds have immiscible native life that renders the very air poisonous, even if the atmosphere is otherwise breathable. Without a rebreather or similar apparatus, they must roll against the poison every hour.
Orbital periods vary from planet to planet, depending on the size of the planet and its orbit. Most habitable planets, have days that last anywhere from 10 to 48 hours. However, the extremes of a star system can produce planets where a day lasts a week, a month or even a year.
Seasons can also vary dramatically between planets. On some planets, a season lasts only a couple months. On others, it might last for 20 years. Some planets don’t have a tilted axis, and don’t have seasons at all. Seasons can also vary in how extreme they are. Some planets might have minor Earth-like variations, while others might become almost uninhabitable during certain seasons.
Many planets have weather patterns which are hostile to human life. Some common meteorological phenomena that might pose a threat on “near-habitable” worlds include:
- “Radiation storms” that carry deadly radioactive particles.
- Clouds of poisonous spores or toxic minerals creating “toxic storms” that are poisonous to humans.
- Superheated rainstorms, or unrelenting hail.
- Monsoons and hurricanes that include extremely powerful winds or torrential downpours that can cause flash floods.
- Thunderstorms in which lightning strikes extremely frequently, making the ground a dangeorus place to be.
- Tornadoes and other extreme wind events.
- Firestorms during which burning material rains from the sky.
- Meteor showers which can harm people and even vehicles or structures.
- Earthquakes or “moonquakes”. Includes other forms of seismic activity, like volcanic eruptions.
Communications in space travel at the speed of light, but only when unobstructed. If a celestial body gets in the way, communications can be temporarily blocked unless there is a relay of some kind available to bounce communications off. This is rarely a problem in developed colonies, but uninhabited planets or poor colonies may encounter difficulties when something’s orbit carries it into a shadow.
Asteroid Fields & Planetary Rings
There is very little risk in flying through an asteroid belt - even at high speeds, the distance between asteroids is extremely great. However, there are parts of the universe where dense clusters of asteroids or other space rocks is a danger. A system’s lagrange points sometimes trap asteroids, which can result in a very crowded environment. Likewise, the rings of a gas giant are often filled with rocks of various shapes and sizes - sometimes as little as a meter apart.
In places like this, skilled piloting is still a must to escape unscathed, and spacecraft must generally reduce to atmospheric speeds to avoid being crushed into powder. Piloting rolls in an asteroid field are made at a -2. Any failure is treated as a Critical Failure, and requires a roll on the Out Of Control table.
An encounter with an unexpected comet or a piece of errant space junk is a rarely a problem at tactical speeds; such objects can be detected and avoided long before they become a threat. At the relativistic speeds of a starship travelling between planets, however, they can be more dangerous.
Identifying a potential threat while travelling at sublight speeds requires an Electronics roll to detect it with sufficient warning. The crew can then determine how they plan to deal with it. For example, they may use Maneuvering to attempt to slow the ship and divert its course, or Shooting to destroy the obstacle with their weaponry.
If the obstacle cannot be avoided, then it results in an automatic Wound and a roll on the Vehicle Critical Hit table.
Unpredictable bursts of cosmic energy - most commonly solar flares - can wreak havoc on a ship’s sensors and communications systems. The most dramatic solar weather can even affect a planet’s magnetosphere. There are some regions of space where the electromagnetic activity is so high that areas are pemanently affected. Systems located in these regions are a favourite haunt of pirates and smugglers.
Depending on the severity, an electromagnetic storm can impose anywhere from a -2 to a -6 penalty on all Electronics roll made to use sensors or communications equipment. However, vessels that are close to the stellar event might find that their electronic systems are completely disabled or even permanently damaged by the intense electromagnetic radiation.
Solar flares can wreak havoc on equipment, but they can also be dangerous to humans as well. Most ships are shielded against “standard” cosmic radiation, but stellar events can create a storm front of hazardous radiation that is strong enough to penetrate a ship’s hull.
Anyone caught in a radiation storm will be exposed to the Radiation Hazard. Anyone caught in space without shielding will be exposed to high radiation. Within a shielded vessel, you will only be exposed to low radiation. Some ships have special “radiation bunkers” where the crew can weather out the storm without being exposed to hazardous levels of radiation.
The monstrous black holes in the centers of galaxies are very visible, but those produced when a star dies can be very difficult to detect. A ship that stumbles across one in deep space is doomed. They will be destroyed instantaneously, or - if they’re very, very lucky - ejected halfway across the galaxy by a wormhole. Either way, they’ll probably die.
Most travellers doomed for this fate get their first warning sign when they’re unexpectedly dropped out of metaspace by the black hole’s gravity well. However, there are a lot of reasons you might get dropped out of metaspace - like a fracture, for example. Identifying the black hole requires an Electronics roll at -4 to find and avoid it. If you fail, you’ll get snatched up in its gravity and need to complete a Dramatic Task to escape.
Metadimensional space is still poorly understood, and no one has yet been able to describe why these “fractures” occur. They are usually only encountered in deep space, since metadimensional travel is impossible in any significant gravity well. Some fractures are temporary, while others have persisted for as long as metadimensional space has been measured.
Either way, the effect is the same: faster-than-light travel is impossible in a region affected by this phenomenon.
Most starships won’t even know they’re in a nebula unless they check their sensors, and being inside of a nebula doesn’t have any significant effects on intra-system communications. However, any star system within a nebula is effectively opaque against interstellar scanning. For the most part, this doesn’t really matter. Any inhabited system will be communicating via spike drive, not by sending radio waves at a system that is multiple light years away.
However, it does mean that there are many systems in the galaxy that humans don’t know much about. Uninhabited systems that are deep within a nebula are basically black boxes, and there could be entire civilisations hidden from the Foundation’s eyes. Unless someone actually travels there with a spike drive, they’d never know.