The post that I wasn’t anticipating was my review of the AnyCubic Photon 3D printer. That one came about as a bit of serendipity. I was at the university library (where I used to work) printing out my poster for the meeting that I went to in Australia at the beginning of the month and they had added an SLA resin printer to the host of other 3D printers. We got talking about it and after seeing some of the prints they were doing, I kind of got excited to maybe get one myself. So I started looking and found that there were some entry level ones for just $300. And then I went on my trip. When I got back, I decided that for $300, I had to take the plunge so I ordered it and have been playing with it all month so I thought I’d write up a review for anyone else that might want to get one to make miniatures with. I mean if creating miniature for game play doesn’t count as creating RPG resources, I don’t know what does. 🙂
The 3D printer was the fun part of the roller coaster that was August. The down side was “off camera” so to speak. Somehow, my web hosting service got hacked and all my websites that were hosted there had malicious code injected into them. So I had to get that all rebuilt and back on-line. It didn’t affect this site as this one is on my home server but it did take the Frontier Explorer site off-line for about a week while I got it all cleaned up. The hack that let the malicious users in was on the webhost side, not my sites since they damaged several different (unrelated and unlinked) sites exactly the same way like they had access to account file system, not the web file system. As I’m writing this, I still don’t have one of the sites back up yet but that should be done in a day or two (probably by the time this posts). It’s my old blog that I haven’t written on since 2013 so I have a perfect backup. It’s just so old, I don’t think it works on the newer infrastructure at the web host so I’m temporarily reinstating it on my home server until I can get it upgraded.
I’ve also been putting some work in on my Star Frontiers novel. I’ve only added about 2200 words this month (and 2800 last month) but I’ve gotten some more organizational stuff done on the manuscript and done some light editing. It’s only about 3000 words shy of being the same size as my Discovery novel and I’m only about 1/4 of the way through the plot. So I’ve got a way to go.
September is likely to be a slow month as far as posting goes as I’m going to be doing a bunch of stuff behind the scenes that will probably not translate into posts. I’ll try to get a post out every week but they might be kind of small. There will definitely be the Timeline post as always, and I’ll do one more on the module based campaign, probably covering the Warriors of White Light and Dramune Run modules. Beyond that I can’t really say what will come up.
Behind the scenes I will be continuing to work on my books. I also am probably going to actually start getting Death at Rosegard put together properly.
But the big thing that will probably be taking up my time is an upgrade to my home server and moving websites around. The computer that is running my home server (an old laptop that was 2x faster and more memory that the previous server) is having issues and constantly throwing errors. It doesn’t seem to affect the running of the sites, but it is a cause for worry. Partially I think it is just over-heating and I need to clean it and maybe reapply some thermal paste or replace a fan to get better airflow. That server hosts this site, starfrontiers.info, starfrontiers.us, and starfrontiersman.com, and my old programmingspace.net site (once I get it moved back). So if you see a short interruption on those sites, it’s because I’m working on the server.
That’s just maintenance. I’m planning on actually building a new server with modern hardware (instead of 5 year old hardware) to run the server on. On the hardware side, the amount of memory will be the same but the memory speed will more than double and the CPU will go from 4 cores to 8 with each core being about 60% faster than the older ones so there should be a definite performance increase. I’ll probably also use the computer to do some development on as well but it will primarily be my server. In addition to the hardware upgrade, I’ll be working on upgrading the software infrastructure as well.
I’ll also probably star migrating my sites on the shared webhost back to my home server. I originally moved them off to get increased bandwidth and stability from my now 10 year old server and slower internet connection. But since then I’ve upgraded my internet and with the server upgrade, I will have plenty of processing power and bandwidth so that it make sense to move them back in house where I have a bit more control. Once the migration is done, I’ll be looking to make upgrades to the sites themselves but that a project for several months down the road.
I’m still itching to do another Technical Manual so that project might start this month depending on how the infrastructure work goes. We’ll just have to see.
As always, let me know if there are any particular things you like to see me address more here on the blog.
And thank you to all of you reading my blog and especially those supporting me on Patreon. It’s your support that makes things like the server upgrade possible.
As you know, I like to build models and 3D print them. I’ve had Rostock Max v3 printer for a couple of years now that I’ve been very happy with. With it’s ~11″ diameter bed and ~16″ maximum height, it has allowed me to do some really large prints like my 12″ Assault Scout and my dice towers. I’ve also used it to print parts to repair things around my house or other useful gadgets.
Types of Printing
As a fused deposition modeling (FDM) printer with a 0.5mm nozzle, one thing the Rostock doesn’t do is super fine detail on small scales. It’s good enough for the spaceship models I’ve been making, especially since I designed the ships with the capabilities of the printer in mind. However, some of the models that I made to recreate old metal miniatures are right on the edge of what the printer could do. And while they print fine, they could be better. It definitely doesn’t do well enough to print small 28mm scale miniature figures with all their detail.
So earlier this month I purchased a new printer to compliment the Rostock on the small scale: an Anycubic Photon. Unlike the FDM printer that uses filament to lay down layers of material to create the print, the Photon is a Stereolithography (SLA) printer. It uses a UV sensitive resin and shines a UV light on the resin, hardening it for each layer. Early (and more high end) SLA printers use lasers as the light source. The Photon uses a UV LED screen. So instead of having to move back and forth across the print area to put down filament, it exposes the entire print surface at once.
Resolution & Build Volume
My Rostock has a cylindrical build volume 280mm in diameter and 405mm tall. Vertically, it can theoretically do 0.06mm layers but in practice, anything less than 0.1 mm doesn’t work but at that thickness and higher it works just fine. So I would use 0.1mm for high detail prints and 0.2mm as the default for large prints. That’s the vertical direction, in the horizontal direction, the positional accuracy was on the order of 0.05 mm but with the 0.5mm nozzle, you get actual resolution more on the order of 0.2mm.
The Photon is much much smaller. The picture at right shows them side by side. The print volume on the Photon is rectangular, 121mm wide, 68mm deep, and 150mm tall. However, that 121×68 mm print bed is imaged by a screen that is 2560×1440 pixels in size. That works out to a resolution in the x and y directions of 0.0475mm, 4 times better than what I can achieve with the Rostock. In the vertical direction, the default layer height is 0.05mm and it can go as low as 0.02mm, although I haven’t tried that yet as the 0.05mm height is amazing. It can go as thick as 0.1mm. So the default vertical resolution is already 2 times better than the best the Rostock can do and it has the capability to go even finer. The cost is print time and build volume.
Before I talk about the printing process, it’s time for some pictures. I’m still testing things out, but the default settings produce some amazing prints.
The images below shows a pair of miniatures that I printed for my daughter’s friends. I had tried printing them on the Rostock and it just couldn’t do it. The discoloration on the print of the sorceress is due to an alternate curing method I was trying out (more on that later). You can see the folds in their clothes and hair, and details in their armor.
The printer came with the green resin and that’s what I’ve been using. I’ve ordered some white, black, and grey resin but I’m waiting for it to arrive. Next up we have the pirate corvette. The silver one was printed on my Rostock and the green of course is the new Photon. You can see the difference immediately. The resin print is much smoother and doesn’t have the banding from the print layers that the FDM print has. That wasn’t actually the best print from my Rostock so it’s not a completely fair comparison but the new one is just that much better.
This image shows my sathar destroyer and hull 6 freighter models printed with both printers. The main thing visible in this set of prints is that the physical dimensions of the prints are more accurate with the resin printer. For example the bulb at the head of the destroyer is a bit distorted in the FDM print. Another thing that’s not as easily visible in this picture (as I wasn’t thinking about it when I took the picture) is that there are some fine details of bay doors and airlocks on both models that are just barely there on the FDM print but easily visible on the resin print. The other thing that stands out is that the barrels on my laser batteries (on the freighter) show up just fine in the resin print.
This next print I did to test out the resolution. The two prints are the exact same model file. The white one was printed with 0.1mm resolution on the Rostock and is 4″ tall. That was the scale (1/500th) that I designed the model to print at. I’ve also printed it at 1/333th, 6mm, and 10mm scales (6″, ~8″, and ~12″ tall. If you want one, you can order them here). The small one was printed just 1″ tall (1/2000th scale). It’s hard to see it in the picture, but every detail you can see on the large model, is also on the little one.
In addition, because of the very high resolution of the resin printer, details on the bottom of the model (back of the engines and fuselage), which didn’t print very well on the FDM version, are hinted at on that 1″ print but completely visible on a full-sized 4″ print as seen in the image below.
Next we have a comparison of the sathar light cruiser model. The FDM printed one has suffered some battle damage from my little boys playing with it. This is their favorite model of the bunch for some reason. Now the FDM version is pretty good but suffers on the underside of the engine struts. Otherwise it looks pretty good. But what blew me away when I got this print finished was the surface detail on the resin print. If you look closely at the head of the ship and the upper fuselage, you can see that the surface is faceted by a bunch of flat surfaces. That is the actual shape of the model file, not a printing artifact. It is washed out by the lower resolution of the FDM printer but the resolution is so high on the resin printer that the fact that I only used 50 faces to model circles is evident in the print. Those are the individual hull plates used to build the ship. At least that’s the story I’m sticking to.
The image below is the tallest print I’ve done, the sathar heavy cruiser. This one is about at the limit of the printer standing 142mm tall. In this case, I haven’t removed the support material from either of the prints so you can see what that looks like before it is all cleaned off. Not much more to add with these ones.
Finally, we have a collection of the smaller ships. These are all models, like the two above, that duplicate the original metal miniatures as exactly as I could (which turned out to be pretty close). We have the UPF and sathar frigates, the sathar cutter (which is the silhouette used on the UPF minelayer chit, but called the sathar cutter on the blister pack), and the pirate and UPF assault scout.
The Printing Process
The Photon’s SLA printing process comes with a different set of experiences, constraints, and challenges as compared with a FDM printer. The most obvious one is that everything is printed upside down.
Build Plate Adhesion
The layer being printed is at the bottom of the pool of resin. The UV light shines there to cure the resin, then the build plate slowly lifts to separate it from the teflon panel at the bottom of the reservoir, lifts it up and then puts it back down to work on the next layer. Because of that, one of the biggest challenges is making sure that your first few layers stick very strongly to the build plate. I’d say this has been my biggest challenge so far and I’ve had plenty of failed prints where it just hasn’t stuck and I’ve ended up with at layer of hardened resin stuck to the teflon at the bottom.
To achieve a good binding, there are two major factors that go into it. First, you simply expose the resin to the UV light for a lot longer on the first 5-10 layers. Typical expose time for a regular layer is 8-12 seconds. On the first layers you expose it for 40-80 seconds. This makes these first layers strong and well hardened and helps them bind to the build plate. The other part is to make sure that the build plate is as level as you can get it.
On the Photon, the build plate is connected to the mechanism that moves it up and down by a ball joint (that you can just see at the top of the picture above) which allows you to adjust the position of the plate. I’ve found that I need to realign this after every few prints. I think I’m applying too much force when trying to remove models from the plate, or not tightening the screw enough that holds it tight. I’m still working on making this more stable.
Layer Print Speed
Another difference is that it takes the same amount of time to print a layer whether there is only a small bit of the model on that layer or you’re filling the entire build plate. On an FDM printer, the nozzle has to travel over every bit of the layer where you want plastic to be laid down. Which means that the time spent on a layer depend on the amount of material to be placed. In fact, in the slicing software for FDM printers, there is an option you can set that is minimum layer time. This is because the plastic is still warm and if you print over the layers to quickly, you get smearing like you can see at the top of the corvette model in the earlier pictures.
On the SLA printer, it exposes the entire layer at once. Which means each layer takes exactly the same amount of time regardless of the amount of material being printed. However, because of the smaller layer sizes, you have to do more layers.
For single models, the FDM printer is faster. For example, the freighter print, and the frigates and sathar destroyer for that matter, all take about 4-5 hours on the Photon to print since they are all the same height and print time is just a function of the height of the model. The heavy cruiser took about 11 hours (I ran it overnight). On the FDM printer, those smaller models only took about 30 minutes to 1.5 hours depending on the layer height settings. So you’re getting the increased quality in exchange for increased time.
However, because the SLA printing is independent of the amount of material being printed, you can print a bunch of models all at once if they fit on the build plate. I printed the eight smaller ships (destroyer, 2 frigates, freighter, cutter, and 3 assault scouts) all at once. It took five hours and only filled about half the build plate area, if that (I could have packed them closer together). On the Rostock, that same set would have taken nearly 6 hours to print (at 0.1mm height resolution compared to the 0.05mm of the Photon) and the scaled down assault scout model would not have printed successfully at all as the details are too fine on that model. And that 11 hour print on the heavy cruiser? It takes 6.75 hours on the Rostock. And I can print 5 at a time on the Photon in that same 11 hours which would take just over a day on the Rostock. So while individual prints are slower, you can print many models at once and actually achieve a faster print speed with higher resolution. As long as it fits in the build volume.
Materials, Post-processing, and Clean-up
With the FDM printer, I just use PLA plastic which comes in 1kg spools that cost about US$22-25 depending on the color and transparent plastic costs a bit more. You can see one of the spools and its box in the very first picture sitting on top of the Rostock. For the SLA printer, you use a liquid resin that hardens when exposed to UV light at 405nm. You can buy it in 500ml and 1 liter bottles that cost about US$25 for the half liter bottles and US$40 for the liter bottles, again price varying slightly by the color and transparency. So the material on the SLA printer is a bit more expensive.
Additionally, you use more material for any given print. You always have to have a base plate (raft) that uses up material, plus the resin prints tend to be more solid than the FDM prints. There are techniques for reducing this that I’m still learning, but my resin prints are definitely heftier than the prints from the Rostock. Additionally there is a bit of resin lost in the clean-up process each time (although the amount is fairly small). All told, it probably costs about 2-3 times as much to print with the SLA printer than the Rostock.
There is also a bit more work involved on finishing a print with the SLA printer. With the FDM printer, once the print is done, you just have to let it cool, remove it from the build plate, remove the printing supports, and you’re done. Paint or use. It’s a bit more involved with the SLA printer.
First, the print is literally dripping wet. The last bit of just came out of the resin bath and you might have bits of liquid resin hiding in pockets higher up depending on the shape of your model. So you have to have to make sure that gets cleaned up.
Second, there is typically a thin film of uncured resin sticking to the surface all over the print. This needs to be rinsed off to get the highest surface detail. This is done by washing the material in a bath of high concentration rubbing alcohol (I use 91% isopropyl). The alcohol dilutes and washes away the uncured resin. This keeps it from binding to the model in the next step.
Finally, you need to finish the curing process. While the model is solid, it is not completely cured and you want to make sure it is. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. One is to buy a UV lamp that emits at 405nm and put the model under that for a while to finish curing at least the surface (which is really what you need, the interior will finish over time). The other option, which I typically use, is to take advantage of the big UV lamp in the sky and set the model out in the sun for 10-15 minutes. Of course that latter option only works during the day. At night I actually have a full spectrum lamp from an old fish tank that I use. It’s not super efficient as I don’t think it actually emits a lot of UV but it does work if I let it run overnight.
Since you’re working with a liquid, you get drops of resin falling across your work surfaces and printer as you’re working with the finished model, plus resin sticking to the tools you are using, so you have to make sure to clean it up as you go.
Finally, you have to deal with failed prints. On the FDM printer, you just pull the bad print off, make sure the nozzle is clean, and try again. There is a little more work with the SLA printer.
First, when a print fails, that usually means that it has come off the build plate and therefore is stuck to the bottom of the resin vat. Although I did have one failed print (of the heavy cruiser) where parts were just missing because they didn’t stick at first and then later layers worked. The printer comes with a plastic scraper for removing prints from the build plate and the resin vat when they get stuck there. However, you have to be very careful. The bottom of the resin vat is actually a thin sheet of clear teflon film. Clear so the UV light can get through, and teflon to help the resin not stick. This film has to be flat and intact for the printer to work. If you gouge it, it has to be replaced.
Which of course I did on the second day of printing. I was having a lot of failed prints and I accidentally caught the film with the corner of the scraper and gouged it pretty good making it no longer flat. Luckily the printer comes with two replacement films so I got to experience that right away. I haven’t had a problem since. (And I’ve ordered more film in case I do and for when the film just wears out from use.)
The other thing you have to deal with on failed prints, and even regularly after good ones, is little bits of cured resin in the vat. These have to be cleared out because if they get between the build plate and the bottom of the vat, the build plate doesn’t get into the correct position and the layer doesn’t cure properly which can cause it to not stick and the print to fail. This is done by removing the resin vat from the printer and pouring out the resin through through a very fine filter (that came with the printer) into a container. The little bits are removed from the resin and then you can replace the vat (after wiping it out) and refill it with the resin. The picture to the right shows the filter I’m currently using and all the little bits that have been filtered out. The filters that came with my printer are paper and eventually soak up a bunch of resin and have to be discarded. The printer came with 10 so I’ll eventually need to get some more.
Just a couple other thoughts before we wrap up. First is the smell. The PLA plastic that I use for the Rostock actually smells pretty nice. It’s not like air freshener nice but it is not a bad odor. The resin isn’t nearly as pleasant. And while it’s not too bad, you can definitely smell it when the printer is running. It’s best to run the printer in a well ventilated area. Also, there is a distinct odor from the rubbing alcohol as well. While I wouldn’t consider them to be really unpleasant, the extra odors from this printer are not as nice as the FDM printer. Of course, I’m not that sensitive to the smells so it might be worse for you.
Another topic is the slicing software that you use to make the print files. The printer comes with the software bundled on a USB stick and as far as it goes, the software works just fine. However, it is very limited in its functionality. It also has a bug in the rotation functionality that makes it a bit hard to position pieces if you want to rotate them. Namely, the x & y rotation work on the original model axes, no matter the model rotation, while the z rotation works on the printer z axis.
Additionally, it would be really nice if the slicing software would tell you how much resin was being used in a print. It gives estimated print times (which tend to be underestimates, I don’t think it takes the motion of the build plate into account) but doesn’t give you the volume of resin used. It also doesn’t do hollowing or drilling holes (an advanced topic I’m just getting to to reduce resin use) but that can be done in other software. I’ll admit that I haven’t checked the company’s website yet to see if there is a newer version of the software.
Others have recommend ChiTuBox which is what the bundled software is based on (an older version) as it does have all those features and fixes the rotation bug. But for some reason, I have yet to get a print to work using a file generated from that program. They always fall off the build plate despite having all the settings the same in the two programs (at least as much as I can. ChiTuBox has many more options). I’m still trying to figure that out. Right now I use ChiTuBox to position and hollow out the model and then use the bundled software to add supports and slice.
Finally, the touch screen is a little small. The icons and images are fine, but the print is really tiny. It’s a pretty high resolution screen crammed into a 2.7″ space so the words are small. I typically have to either use my magnifying glass lamp or put on reading glasses (even with my uncorrected closeup vision) to read the remaining time on a print.
The bottom line is that I really like this printer. Like any 3D printer, it has its quirks and there is a bit of a learning curve to get the best performance, but it is fairly turnkey and once I got the build plate leveling worked out, it pretty much just works. There is a bit more work involved in finishing the prints, and the materials cost a bit more, but it’s well worth it for the increased resolution.
I haven’t mentioned prices. My Rostock was a kit that I had to assemble and cost $900 (on sale from the regular $1000 price). The current model (the v4) is the same price as a kit and about $1400 assembled. You’re really paying for the large print volume with that printer. Getting a small FDM printer with a 6″x6″x6″ print volume will only cost you about $300-400 dollars. I got my AnyCubic Photon on sale for $300. The regular price is $539 but the sale price is still available (as I’m writing this) on Amazon. Here’s a link to the product page if you want to check it out.
So in summary:
Low printer price
Can print multiple models in the same amount of time
Easy to set up and use
Higher materials cost
More post processing work
Software somewhat limited and buggy
Relatively small print volume
I’m really enjoying this printer and you can expect to see more prints from it in future posts. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, let me know in the comment area below.
This is another map done using my map generation software. As I mentioned in my last State of the Frontier post, I’ve been itching to make a map of the area of space my book, Discovery, is set in. I’m (very) slowly working on a sequel to that book as well and so want a nice map to go with them.
Unlike the Frontier map, this map has a third dimension with the stars having positions both above and below the plane of the map. This area of space is 40 lightyears wide, 40 ly tall, and 20 ly thick.
The Original Map
I have a hand-drawn map of the sector that I made years ago (2010-2011). I randomly generated the positions in this map via rolling a bunch of dice in small 10x10x20 ly sections (d10 for x, d10 for y d20-10 for height). I had sat down and worked out the approximate stellar density for the region around the Sun and it worked out to 8 stars in that 10x10x20 volume, so I just rolled eight positions in each section of the map. There are 16 such sections. And somewhere along the way I rolled an extra star system since there are 129 systems on the map and not 128. Here’s a copy of that hand-drawn map:
The stellar type tables that I implemented in my program come from this time period as well. I worked them out originally to generate this map. I even rolled up the composition of each of the star systems by hand back then using those tables and have a list of the systems generated. Or at least a composition for 128 systems. They weren’t assigned to specific positions on the map, I had never really gotten around to that part.
And apparently I was still using the original map, not the one copied into my notebook, when I originally plotted out the sequel novel as the notes for that novel are on the very original map as well.
One thing you’ll notice is that the “central” star of the sector, Rael, is not at the middle of the map. I’m not sure exactly why I didn’t just arbitrarily put it there. I do remember that I created the map, and then picked the system closest to the center to be on the central plane vertically. Either that or I got lucky and there was a star near the center.
Since the people in that star system are making the map, it would make more sense if it was at the center but that’s not what I did and I didn’t feel like changing it. The more I think about it though, the more I might go back and do that. I’d just shift all the stars down and to the right by 2 positions and wrap everything that falls off the edge to the other side.
In any case, that’s where the map stood for many years. Until I decided to make the full color version.
The New Map
Let’s start by showing the map. And then we can talk about how it was made.
So to make the color version of the map, I simply ran the program a few times, tweaking the density parameter to generate exactly 129 systems. They weren’t in the right places yet, but now I had all the data I needed, I just needed to update the positions. If I had already assigned the system characteristics back when I rolled them by hand, I might have actually just entered all that data. However, since I didn’t, and I was using the same random tables (with some additional refinements), I went with the new data.
The next step was to update all the positions. This is actually what took the bulk of the time as I had to manually edit each entry to match a position on my hand drawn map. And then somewhere (at about x=26) I messed up and suddenly dropped back to 24 and everything was off and I had to work back through the numbers and find where I messed up.
As I was working through the positions, there were four stars that I knew the general characteristics of: Rael, Proxima, and two systems from the sequel novel. I made sure that systems that matched the expected parameters for those systems ended up in the correct positions. In the case of Rael, there was no G2 star in the data set so I changed one of the other stars (I think an F9) to be the needed spectral type.
The Third Dimension
The feature that this map adds that I didn’t have in the Frontier map is that the stars all have a z-component to their position, a distance above or below the plane of the map. Since you can’t easily represent that by position on a flat map, what the program does is write the z-component as a small value to the lower right of the star symbols.
This required a small change to the code to implement. The original version of the code did draw the z-coordinate, and in developing the code for the Frontier map, I had added a parameter to turn the printing on and off. Since I had it off for the Frontier Map development, I hadn’t kept that bit of code completely up to date.
However, it didn’t take much. Mainly, I needed to increase the font size as I realized that it was just a bit too small to easily read unless you were really zoomed in on the map. And that change also entailed moving the positioning of the text just a bit as well. The code now includes a scale parameter that adjusts the text and star symbol size that I added while making the Frontier map. I elected to not have the font size of the z-coordinate scale with the other aspects of the image. It’s fine to stay small if you increase the scale.
Another aspect of adding in the third dimension is that is is possible to get more than one star system in the same (x,y) position, but separated in the z direction. That actually happened at five different positions in this map. When that happens, the code automatically shifts the stars away from the center of the square where it would normally draw a single system. While it possible to have more than two systems in a single (x,y) grid position, and the program can handle up to four, I’ve never had more than two in any map I’ve examined.
A Word on Names
There are only two named systems on this map, Rael, the home system of the stories, and Proxima, the other star system visited in the first book. In truth, most of the stars probably have names, especially the brighter ones as they can be easily seen from the night skies of Jord, the habitable planet in the Rael system. I just haven’t sat down and figured out what they are yet.
All the other systems, for the purposes of this map, just received RS (Rael Sector) designations. Those were assigned by starting in the upper left and running vertically numbering the systems moving to the right after each column.
Jumps and Nebulae
That was about it for the automated processing. The only other bit was the single jump between Rael and Proxima. It’s a short 5 lightyear jump and the only one that exists at the end of the first book, which is where this map is set.
Next I had to decide if I wanted to add in nebula or not. In this small region of space, with the older stars, there probably wouldn’t actually be any large nebula. But they sure make the maps look a lot nicer. So I decided to add two large ones in. I created these just like the ones I did for the Frontier map although I muted their colors significantly.
You might notice that some of the star systems look like they are in the middle of the large nebula. However, if you look closely, all those systems have a high z position. They are near the top of the map sector. Thus the nebula is actually below them on the map. That is true for both of the large nebula, they are at the bottom of the 3D volume.
There were also some solitary white dwarfs in the sector (and several more that were in binary systems). Since white dwarfs form from the death of stars like our Sun, and those deaths usually involve the creation of planetary nebula, I decided to add in small nebula around those two stars as well. You can see them over on the left side of the map, a little above center. For those nebulae, I simply grabbed a couple of planetary nebula images from NASA ,then scaled and rotated them to fit the map. They are roughly to scale as planetary nebula are typically about one lightyear across and that’s the size of one square on the map. It’s left as an exercise to the reader to figure out which nebulae I used, although it shouldn’t be too hard.
The last thing to do was clean up all the names. By default, the program just prints them up and to the right of the star symbols for the system. The ones on the far right fell off the map. The ones in the five locations where there were to systems in the same square were writing on top of the star systems. And some of the nearby systems were overlapping as well. Plus I wanted to move Proxima’s name off of the jump route line. These tweaks were all done by hand.
I also added in the map title in the upper right and the attribution in the lower right. And with that, the map was done. All told, it took about four hours to make the map, most of that being spent entering the positions.
As always, when I work on this, I dream up more things I’d like to code to do automatically.
In this case, it is to be more intelligent about where it places the system names. Especially in the case of multiple systems in the same grid. I’d still probably have to end up tweaking things manually in the end, however, so it may not be worth the effort.
Using the Map in Your Game
On the the purpose of this blog is to develop and create resources that you can use in your sci-fi game. And if it weren’t for the names on Rael and Proxima, this would just be a generic sector map that you could drop in anywhere. So, to that end, here’s version of the map with the names filed off:
The other thing you’ll probably want is the actual data used to make the map. That will give you the spectral types for each of the systems. That can be found in the file below, which is an input file to the program if you want to use it.
Okay, I didn’t get nearly as much done on my trip as I hoped. I should know by now (after doing these for over 15 years) that attending a conference sucks way more energy out of me than I expect. That and I had something come up that took up a bunch of my free time. I did get to play cricket for the first time though. That was fun and the Australians got a good laugh at us Americans messing up all the time.
I had hoped to get the map done and posted this week and while I made some progress on it. Working on it in the airports and on the plane was not as efficient as I had hoped. So this week we’re going to continue with the module based campaign series. We’ll finish the Alpha Dawn adventures and when we’re finished the PCs will have their starting starship skills and be ready for the Knight Hawks adventures.
Where are we at?
I have two goals for this part of the campaign. The first is to get the PCs to level on spaceship skills. The second is to start building them a nest egg of cash that they can use when the get a ship as running and maintaining a ship can be expensive.
When we left off in the last post, the PCs had just foiled Jack Legrange’s plan to kill all the Vrusk on Kraatar and had been given a free ticket to either the Theseus or White Light system. This is where we pick up.
Upon arrival, the PCs will be at loose ends and looking for employment or some other form of adventure. While the last adventure was XP heavy, it didn’t come with a lot of cash since their original employer was killed early on. After they’ve had a day or two to bum around the station, they are approached by representatives of the Cassidine Development Corporation.
They have heard about the PCs exploits on Kraatar and looking into their background their accomplishment in some of the other adventures as well. The offer from CDC will depend on the PC’s experience level. If the PCs need a bit more XP to get to the point that they have all the prerequisite skills they need to acquire spaceship skills, the pitch will be to work as troubleshooters for CDC helping them solve problems in often remote parts of the Frontier.
If, on the other hand, the PCs already have all the prerequisite levels for starship skills, the Referee could go right into the pitch for SF4: Mission to Alcazzar explaining that they had lost contact with their base on Alcazzar and want to hire the PCs to go find out what is going on.
Laying the Groundwork
Let’s assume the PCs aren’t quite there yet, they need a few more XP to round out their skills and make the jump into the life of a spacer. The exact adventures are up to the referee but I’d use two design principles in setting them up.
First, they should be relatively remote. Or at least on sparsely populated worlds, New Pale instead of Pale, Morgaine’s World instead of Gran Quivera, Groth, Lossend, or either planet in the Scree Fron system. Remember that CDC works in developing new areas and tends to be on the edge of civilization.
This has some advantages for the PCs. One is that the travel times involved can be long. That means that they are bringing in a paycheck without having to do much work. The other is that since they are operating on the edges of civilization, there isn’t as much oversight or direct control. They are on their own to use their own discretion. Of course the downside is that they are potentially far from backup and resupply.
Second, they should come into direct conflict with agents of Streel and have heartaches and headaches because of it. I want to set them up do be ready to go after Streel in both Mission to Alcazzar and in the following Warriors of White Light adventures.
The Intermediate Adventures
Given the state of our PCs in this thread, they are basically ready to start getting their starship skills but I want to give them one more adventure before Mission to Alcazzar.
To that end I might have CDC discover something unique and valuable on Histran in the Scree Fron System. Maybe it’s something similar to items found on Volturnus, or maybe some manifestation of the matrix virus from Bugs in the System. Or it could just be that it’s another adventure with the Jurak Hangna Foundation and CDC is leveraging the PCs’ existing relationship. What it is, it should be something that leverages the PCs background and warrants shipping them all the way across the Frontier. Or if you don’t want to stretch that far, make it something on Lossend in the Timeon system. They are right in that neck of the woods so it’s not that far a trip.
Either way, they should be in a race against teams from other rival mega-corps, especially Streel, for whatever the prize is. They are not in the Truane’s Star system so Streel probably won’t be playing nice. The point is to make the conflict between Streel and CDC personal for the PCs.
For our PC’s I’d make this about a 15 XP adventure, whatever it ends up being. If your PCs need more XP, you can make it a bigger adventure or a series of smaller ones to get them where you want them.
Mission to Alcazzar
I would have this come to the PCs either right as they are finishing some assignment, or if they have been doing several assignments for CDC, I’d have them get pulled off a project they are currently working on. If possible, I prefer the latter as it emphasizes the importance of this assignment to the Company.
Regardless, they are bundled up and shipped off. Depending on where they are at with their other adventures, they will be headed to Prenglar or White Light to make the jump to Alcazzar. Along the way they will be briefed and allowed to provision for the adventure.
Run the adventure as written. The beginning might be a little different if the PCs have been working for CDC but if they are picked up directly to solve the problem on Alcazzar, you can play it directly out of the module. Regardless, they are on a double pay rate so this will help to earn them some extra cash.
This module doesn’t give an expected amount of XP to be earned (or if it does, I missed it in skimming back over it). However, based on the encounters, I’d award up to 6 XP at the CDC compound, 3XP for the journey to the Streel compound, up to 6 XP for successful interactions with the Lokkuku, and 3 XP for taking out the Streel compound successfully. That gives up to 18 XP, similar to other modules. We just need to get them enough to by the Knight Hawks skills.
The PCs should definitely be given the stock option offer. If they don’t choose to buy their spaceship skills with the XP earned, you could run them on more adventures for CDC to get them a bit more XP. If you take this option, I’d heavily weight the adventures to events involving starships to get the PCs thinking in that direction. Possibly even have their CDC contact recommend they get those skills. Once they do have the spaceship skills, however, I’d have whatever adventure they finish deposit them in White Light.
From this portion of the campaign the PCs have netted 33 more XP. They’ve used them to lean all the necessary prerequisites and have each learned their first level 1 starship skill. Here is where they now stand.
Born on Pale, Truane’s Star. As Mekar will tell anyone who asks, his job is to understand the local critters and keep everyone else in one piece. [Mekar will eventually have a Rocket Weapons spaceship skill but getting a bio-social PSA character there takes a bit of work.]
Born on Gran Quivera, Prenglar. T’vor used to hang aout at the University of Prenglar as a kid and chat up the tech professors. He loves to hack computers and robots and can usually get anything working, eventually. He also has a deep interest in astronomy.
Here’s the next installment of the detailed Frontier timeline. This past month has been a busy one with several sabotage and espionage events as well as a sathar raid into the Frontier.
A pair of sathar ships (destroyer and frigate) leave the sathar starship construction center near Kizk-Kar on a raid of the Frontier to probe defenses and readiness.
The Jurak Hangna Foundation (FE02), makes a sizable
contribution to the Yazira Heritage Foundation, joining the Foundation with
representation on the board of directors.
Fortress Kdikitt (Madderly’s Star)
reaches the 85% completion mark.
After 200 days of operation, the Yaziria dome
continues to be very popular with over 3 million visitors to date. There is
still a great amount of discontent with the lack of accessibility to
The TSSS Tiger emerges from the
shipyards repaired after its encounter on its maiden voyage. It begins another patrol of the system.
Sathar starship construction center in the Liberty
system completes another destroyer.
Months of work by scientists on Laco
(Dixon’s Star) and Pale (Truane’s Star) have determined that the destination
of the transmissions sent and received from Laco are most likely a star
system approximately 35 lightyears from Truane’s Star.
The Pale government, in partnership with Streel,
decides to mount a major “reconnaissance in force” operation to try
to explore a route to the suspected source of the Tetrach transmissions. The
three newly acquired militia vessels, along with three Streel corvettes will
take on the mission.
Attacks on PGC headquarters
on Gran Quivera result is significant damage and loss of technical data
related to manufacture of high-tech military technologies
Strike Force Nova arrives at Hargut (Gruna
Garu). It will remain in system for 20
days as it spends some time investigating the signals received from the
direction of the Vast Expanse.
Five fighters are completed at the
sathar starship construction center near Fromeltar.
The six ships slated to chart the route to the
suspected Tetrach system meet at Pale station to make final plans, rotate to
their all-volunteer crews, and top off supplies. Dubbed the Discovery
Squadron, if successful, they will be gone for the better part of a year.
Having interviewed everyone on the
station, Starfleet lifts the quarantine on its armed station orbiting Triad
(Cassidine) allowing normal operations to resume. Nearly 100 beings are detained for further
Civil rights groups protest on Triad (Cassidine)
demanding the release of those being held on the orbiting armed station
claiming the detainment is unlawful.
Reconstruction of the Streel starship
construction center (Pale, Truane’s Star) continues. The SCC is now at 80% capacity.
Discovery Squadron leaves Pale (Truane’s Star)
headed to Zebulon on the first leg of their mission. The first few jumps will be through the Rim
to Kazak at which point they will begin moving into uncharted jump routes.
Approximately half of those detained by
Starfleet on the armed station orbiting Triad (Cassidine) are cleared and
released. Three of the remaining
detainees suddenly admit to being sathar agents and claim responsibility for
the sabotage and then promptly die from unknown causes.
New formulas for the recalled flavors of
SynthCorp’s Bloop’s Every Flavor Battle Balls are released back into
distribution. Aficionados claim to be able to taste the differences but for
the most part the release goes unheralded.
Autopsies of the three self-proclaimed
sathar agents reveal a small parasitic organism attached to the brainstem.
Analysis shows that it has similar biology to sathar bodies recovered during
the incursion on Volturnus (Zebulon). Unfortunately, the organism does not
appear in any non-invasive detection techniques.
Spire Dragons establish final advanced camp about
80% the distance up Mt. Spire. They
spend the next month hauling equipment up to establish pressure domes at a
height of 35,000 feet to rest in in preparation for their final ascent to the
summit. Four more expedition members
Computer and control systems on the
Task Force Cassidine flagship, the battleship Admiral Harsevoort, lock crew
and officers out for nearly three hours before control is regained. Suspected
to be tied to the Nesmith Enterprises break-in, Spacefleet launches an
The second saurian Ark ship is completed and begins
its shakedown cruise. Refugees begin
assembling for transport to the ship.
Eighty days after the hatching of the
first crèche of Eorna eggs from the lost egg ship, three more of the babies
have passed away due to unknown causes.
While three of the eight deaths can be attributed to modern diseases
that the children don’t have built in immunities for, the other five deaths
still remain a mystery.
– The TTSS Destiny departs the Kizk-Kar system for Fromeltar
– Discovery Squadron arrives in the Zebulon system where it will spend an extra day before continuing on to Capella.
A new class of recruits enter Gollwin
academy. It is expected that many of
them will serve their first training tours on the new battleships and other
vessels when they are completed.
– Caught by a sathar raid entering the Kizk-Kar system, the TTSS Destiny is attacked by the sathar vessels. Destress signals are sent out, but no ships are in range to assist. After about an hour, all transmissions from the ship are lost. A pair of armed PGC freighters head to the last known location.
– Calls for assistance go out from the Zit-Kit (Kizk-Kar) government and an assault scout from the Fromeltar militia, as well as the assault scout from K’aken-Kar are immediately dispatched to the Kizk-Kar system
The PGC freighters arrive at the
location of the TTSS Destiny to find a drifting hulk. Investigation finds no
survivors. Several destroyed lifeboats
are later recovered as well.
As news of the loss of the TTSS Destiny spread
throughout the Frontier, the Anti-Satharian League stage demonstrations in
major population centers once again demanding and increase in funding for
Spacefleet and an aggressive search for and destruction of the sathar worlds.
The sathar ships in the Kizk-Kar system
attack a small group of freighters headed to Fromeltar. One of the freighters is destroyed but the
sathar frigate takes considerable damage and the pair of ships retreat.
– Sathar starship construction center near Kizk-Kar completes a frigate.
– Strike Force Nova departs Hargut (Gruna Garu) for the Araks system. After spending 20 days in the Gruna Garu system, no evidence of the claimed signals have been detected by and of the Spacefleet vessels.
Trans Travel releases a statement about
the loss of the TTSS Destiny and pays out a small fortune in remuneration to
the families of those killed as a gesture of good will. They also place orders for the construction
of a number of armed vessels to serve as escorts for their spaceliners.
There was enough interest in getting printed physical copies of the map that I’ve set up an ordering page for them. You can follow the link to get there or hit the “Order a Map” tab at the top of the page.
You can get the Player version, Referee version, or both. Price is $20 a map (including shipping) in the US and $40 international, with a discount if you order one of each. All the details are on the ordering page.
I’ll be taking pre-orders through the end of August 2019 at which point I’ll actually get the posters printed. Any posters ordered in this first round will be signed and numbered. If you want a copy, jump on over and get your order in.