This has come up a few times, and so I’m going to kind of talk about it for a bit. I will start off by admitting my bias toward Star Trek. This is what I know the most about and what I can find the most actual numbers for. There are a lot of other universes out there that have a lot of different methods of dealing with things.
As a general rule, I try to find out ways to balance the power levels out for an individual story line. This is difficult since I also like to be accurate to what I know and what others tell me. For the most part, I think that we have done a good job at power-leveling the field of play so that we don’t have insta-kill scenarios going on and the actual role play can ensue.
Weapons & Yields
One of the most important measurements of weapons is their yield, destructive yield. This is going to be measured in the modern-day in tons of TNT. For those that do not know, the measurement is equivalent blast in tons of TNT for energy released. Another measurement for such is in Jouls (symbol J). In Star Trek’s terminology they never say on-screen directly what the yield of weapons are, this is smart of them, but it also means that we need to rely on what is said by comparison to things we can quantify.
Shields and Kinetic Force
Star Trek shields are shown on-screen to be very effective against purely kinetic forces, as demonstrated by this clip:
In this clip we can see the Enterprise D having an 80 year old passenger ship’s shields hold open massive doors of a Dyson Sphere until the Enterprise can escape. During the escape we also see that those shields are taken out by 2 photon torpedoes from the Enterprise to destroy the passenger liner so the Enterprise can escape. Now, an 80 year old ship put that vessel at just after Kirk’s time, in fact in the episode Scotty mentions that the Enterprise A was decommissioned, he makes a comment that Kirk pulled “the old girl out of mothball himself”.
Putting these facts together we can reasonably estimate that shields of a Galaxy Class or other “modern” (by TNG standards) vessel would have shields of a much higher capacity.
All of this points to shields which can soak an impressive amount of continuous kinetic energy (the pressure of the doors closing at that speed, given on-screen size references would be intense, perhaps even absurd). The doors were going fast enough to cover the distance of the height of the Enterprise in a few seconds and are going right around half the speed of sound. These doors are heavy enough and dense enough to keep the Enterprise from scanning through them or using the phasers to cut through them. If we assume that the doors weigh only a 10th of what the Enterprise D does (which is reasonable, I think, given their size), that means they weigh 40,000 metric tons total.
Now, the ship clears the doors and they close about the height of the ship in around 1 second, that makes them going about half the speed of sound. This means the doors alone had an explosive equivalent force of impact of about 166 tons TNT, since it is continuous pressure, we can assume it is applying that force to the ships shield every second. The entire clip shows the shields are doing this for 90 seconds, now I’m going to admit the math isn’t this easy but a rough estimate says that it’s around 15 kilotons of force of those shields.
Other Measures of Shield Strength
In TOS episode “The Changeling”, the shields are said to be able to withstand 90 simultaneous impacts of photon torpedoes at once, and be able to do this 5 times. I will note here that this is clearly absurd, but it is canon. So that means that based on a 64 gigaton yield, the Enterprise (original) shields could withstand a singular impact of 5 Gigatons of TNT. To put that in perspective, the largest bomb ever made (the Tsar Bomb) was 50 Megatons, and the shields could withstand this 5 times. This means that the Enterprise shields in TOS could withstand a total of around 25 Gigatons of TNT, or a blast equivalent.
Now, moving away from the absurdity of this for a moment, this presents an issue. An example from Troy Rising, a KEW weighing something around a car (2000 kg) flying at 99% of the speed of light (we assume since it is hitting something far more massive that the impact decelerates the KEW in 1 second, this makes the math very easy) gives an equivalent explosive yield of 21 Gigaton’s of TNT. So, now we have some figures of explosive yield to match up to. As written a KEW fired would not only completely obliterate the Original Enterprise shields, but the ship too, and that is using absurd figures from TOS.
TNG, Voyager, and DS9
TNG doesn’t really mention explosive yields all that much but DS9 and Voyager do, but they switch to a new unit of measurement “isotons”, no one is sure (not even the writers) what an isoton is. This makes comparisons difficult, but there are on-screen comparisons we can go off of. The one of most note to me is from the Voyager episode of “Living Witness”, where a 25 isoton torpedo could level an entire city within seconds. Since cities vary in size (duh), we can assume that a 25 isoton blast is somewhere in the range of 200 megaton blast (the blast required to take out almost an entire medium-large size US city in the initial fireball).
As a side note: It is noted in the DS9 technical manual that a torpedo’s maximum yield is 25 isotons (this is inconsistent with other figures, but can serve as a lower-bound). So, the Enterprise (original) could withstand 2250 isotons in a single volley and 5 total of those for a total shield strength of 11250 isotons.
So what does all this actually mean? For one, shield strengths are wildly difficult to quantify, writers have spent a lot of time trying to just use the numbers to push plot, as they should, for two it means that in the realm of TNG, Voyager, and DS9 we really have no idea how strong the shields are. Voyager and DS9 make heavy use of this new measure “isoton” which they use as both a measure of energy and weight, showing the writers had a clear misunderstanding of how the term “megaton” was used in explosives. We have some nice weapons yield figures (one torpedo type in Voyager had a yield of some 200 isotons).
Story – Weapons & Shields
Now that we’ve had a bit of background on technologies in use. If one is to strictly go by canon, to use a recent example from Troy Rising series, canon is very clear that lasers cannot penetrate even the navigational deflectors (let alone shields) of Star Trek vessels. However, the KEW’s used would obliterate any Trek vessel that they hit. There are also other problems, going by the numbers, such as speed and turning radius… As I’ve said before if you’re going the at around 90% the speed of light and are going to track your target (like a homing missile), then you’ve got to slow down and speed up again to change direction, since Troy Rising does this with gravity manipulations then it seems clear that the homing abilities would be problematic at best – how much power does a KEW have to change directions? How much fuel does it have? What is the effective range (assuming it does track its target)? These questions have no answers.
Similarly, in things we’ve already dealt with, Star Trek ships have no real measure of how strong shields are. On screen it is clear that just like in the real world different types of ammunition make a big different, Photon Torpedoes, Quantum Torpedoes, Phasers, Disruptors, Tricobalt Warheads, Transphasic Torpedoes, etc… We have no real measure for how strong a phaser is in any real terms except what is seen on screen. In one scene in Enterprise a phaser is seen to destroy an entire asteroid while others show phasers as easily able to burrow holes into planets. Additionally, torpedo casings are shown to also be able to burrow into planets, and this would be no easy feat for a torpedo.
We’ve also seen that Star Wars has issues, we determined through research that their “turbo lasers” are plasma weapons for the purpose of the game and that fits with online resources, but it is likely that these resources were influenced by Star Trek and other science fiction series since they don’t behave as lasers on screen.
Guidelines – Dead-Even Rule
The Dead-Even Rule is a guideline, I haven’t really put it into words yet. However the rule is designed to avoid one of the plagues of science fiction, and that is the science. If we were building our own setting entirely from scratch (as in, unrelated to any science fiction series) we could solve a number of these problems; however we couldn’t predict the future. In a prominent scene in one episode of Star Trek the Next Generation, Picard is mulling over a theorem, Fermat’s Last Theorem which in the year the episode was written, was unsolved (unproven), and in TNG they specify that it remains unproven / unsolved in the 24th century. It is used as a plot device for some foreshadowing and setting the feel of the episode to come. However, that theorem was solved and proven in 1995.
So what of it? No one knows if any of the theories and such we have now are anywhere near reality, so trying to take a hard-science approach to science fiction is a problem. There is also an education problem, I’m extremely well versed in a lot of mathematics and somewhat well versed in physics – and I cannot do enough research and study to supplement being hard science about the game. I can run numbers, come up with reasonable estimates, but in the end it isn’t about the numbers.
Sure, I do enjoy showing how smart I am but at the same time game play is more important than the numbers. So, the Dead-Even Rule is a guideline that essentially states that weapons, shields, and other technologies should be overall evenly matched with their opponents during conflicts.
Guidelines – People vs. Technology
Look into this page:
The entire page is about how we’ve managed to balance things up until this point. Finding ways to give and take. A Star Wars vessel has bonuses that Trek vessels do not have and Trek vessels have bonuses that SW vessels don’t have. They are not the same but within game play it evens out. Over all I employ this philosophy to say that Lasers in something like Troy Rising are a significant drain on shields, they are instantaneous compared to other weapons, impossible to see and thus impossible to dodge before they hit; etc. However, they are not as efficient as Trek Phasers (and Disruptors which are similar), which are slower, can be more easily dodged because they can be seen, and pack more of a punch for the power output than Troy Rising lasers.
Since we are mixing various genre’s of fiction and universes in the game, it is assumed at a base level that the primary / most standard weapons of one side are about as effective as the most standard and primary weapons of the other side. Same goes for shields, if one was to invoke logic, a shield in Troy Rising would be designed to dissipate heat primarily with the hull armor designed to withstand the incredibly unreal physical stress of a KEW impact. However, a phaser that operates on neither and both at the same time – who the hell knows? It is impossible to know.
In game it is most desirable to use the technology to further the plot and character interactions. Use the battle to punctuate conflicts and alliances within the people involved. A war breaks out; what does that war do? A fight breaks out; who is fighting and why? Then, technology can come in as a sort of window-dressing. Which is more poignant of a story of loss – the captain who goes down with the ship on the ocean, making sure his crew are safe or the captain who sets the self destruct and stays on board to make sure it goes off, making sure her crew is safe? Answer… Neither, doesn’t matter if it is a boat on the ocean or a starship in space – we care because of the people.
Super Weapons / Super Shields
In terms of game play there are a number of super weapons available, especially on the side of Solas Tempus. A number of characters have incredible abilities but overall, the idea of balance applies – a character using something hands-down overpowering of the other side or that (within the context of the story) provides a powerful shortcut should be forced to become equally vulnerable or lose some equally measured quantity to perform some feat.
Cost of Use – Example
The “Deflector Beam Weapon” that I’ve used a number of times. It takes out a ships warp drive and drains all power leaving the ship to maneuver sluggishly and be vulnerable to attack until the engines recharge. The weapon also takes time to charge up and takes full warp power to fire, meaning the firing ship cannot give chase and has to stay relatively still to use – making it vulnerable. Also being damaged during such a procedure could have disastrous consequences.
In terms of in-game mechanics, this opportunity should be used to further the plot; maybe the deflector is burned out (as it is in canon Star Trek TNG) and leaves the ship unable to go to warp at all or burns out the engine core (also canon in Star Trek TNG) leaving the ship at least a full day out of service! Maybe it explodes, maybe it does a lot of things. The use of this weapon can also be used to punctuate a character with a flaw, when the weapon is overkill. The non-use of this weapon in extreme circumstances can also tell about a character’s ability to lead and willingness to inflict harm.
Non-Threatening Use – Example
In terms of the game play, the ALR-X missile was developed to use as an kind of release valve for players. T0l effectively used it to punctuate the idea of a decision made in combat having disastrous consequences while I have personally used it as a way to demonstrate power or authority. Rarely ever do I ever actually use it in combat. In the Troy Rising game, an ALR-X missile would not end the game, it would be a threat. Similarly to when it was used in the conflict with the Onyx / Star Wars forces; it didn’t destroy an entire fleet or even a ship, no it was a threat.
Extremely powerful weapons can be used effectively without being game-killers.
So the ALR-X missile is there, exists, but not really, it does exist but it is only used when the plot calls for it.