Fleets in the Iron Empires

Excellent discussion, guys. I’ve been away for the holiday, with no access to the site, so I missed the early part of this discussion. Overall, what you’re proposing is all well within canon. There are two factors that aren’t being addressed, mainly because the rpg doesn’t discuss them. I’ll be going into more detail in the future, and they may show up in an expansion, but I’ll touch on them here.

  1. Q-Beams.
    These are the primary Hammer weapons… the big guns in the Iron Empires. They have the following properties:

-they annihilate matter on contact (via a matter/antimatter detonation), but don’t often contact their target directly, being inaccurate and slow. Most damage will be from near-misses.

-they outrange all other naval weapons by a significant margin.

-they can be fired out of atmospheres (or any other particle-rich environment, such as a dust cloud… even from far underground), but not into them.

-They’re massive, and require a lot of power to operate.

  1. Powered Armor
    This isn’t a force-field (we don’t have those in the IE), but a form of powered plate (or ceramic, or layered, or whatever… Sydney, help!) armor. Energy transferred to the powered material (kinetic, heat, shockwave, etc…), is channeled away and vented, allowing the target to survive strikes from most conventional weapons (all the stuff in the Brick), Nuclear weapons and Antimatter weapons being the notable exceptions.

-Again, this technology is bulky and eats power.

The ramifications for fortresses: Fortresses can mount and power more Q-beams, more cheaply, than Hammer forces can. What’s more, ground-based Q-beams can attack anything outside of low orbit, while the attacker can’t respond. Finally, Q-beams can buried a mile underground, and still operate as long as their surface sensors and targetting elements are intact.

The Keep and other key facilities will be shielded with powered armor, rendering them virtually invulnerable to orbital attack except with nuclear weapons or really big asteroid bombs (which have their own problems, as you guys have discussed). So a “real” fortress will be proof against orbital attack, unless the attacker is determined to just burn the entire world. Outnumbered defending Hammer assets can shelter in low orbit, protected by the Q-beams of the fortress below, and preventing the attacking fleet from approaching without suffering horrible losses.

Ultimately, the only sure way to take a major fortress out is via ground assault, sabotage or treachery. Smaller fortresses are another story, and those sorts of fortifications will employ all of the sorts of strategems you’re talking about above.


Hmm, powered armour sounds like a very efficient heat exchange system. Something combining lots and lots of low mass/high bulk armour with superconductors that duct the energy down into subterranian water resevoirs.

Moving out of the game and into the universe, the way I’d deal with a fortress like that is with low mass C-fractional strikes against communicaiton platforms… either that or threaten to commence glassing cities if the planet doesn’t surrender within a given time period. Give them a chance to give up, then chuck rocks directly at population centers daily. Either the populous rises up against the government and surrenders, or they would have been too much of a pain to pacify anyway. Once a continent has been reduced to slag, you can begin landing troops in that blind spot.

Great! I was hoping for your input, Chris, since it’s obviously essential. Let’s contemplate how to depict them.

The armor sounds like a supersized version of Iron’s “hardened and shielded” trait: instead of reducing Vehicular-scale damage to Human-scale as Iron does, an armored fortress might be able to reduce Superstructural-scale damage to Vehicular-scale. [EDIT: I crossposted with Mike/Countercheck, but I think his description of the armor sounds reasonable].

The Q-beams might be portrayed as a highly modified Battery with an extra level of Long Range (“beyond artillery”), an accuracy penalty, the Megablast trait, and a Trait Limitation to reflect firing into/out of atmospheres.

Question: Why can Q-beams fire out of atmospheres/dust clouds but not into them?

We’re at the limits of my physics knowledge here, but I’m remembering the “meson gun” from Traveller, which generated particles that didn’t interact with matter, allowing them to pass through obstacles and armor until they dropped into realspace (or whatever they did) at the targeted point. Let’s assume the Q-beams are generating and firing anti-particles (anti-mesons? anti-neutrinos?) of some kind, and they’re fairly innaccurate, as you said, which in this context means it’s difficult to control exactly when the “Q beam” starts interacting with matter. That means that if you’re firing out of an atmosphere or a dust cloud, it’s fairly easy to tweak the beam to something like “don’t interact with matter until you’ve gone at least 100 km,” but if you’re firing at a target inside at atmosphere, it’s very difficult to tweak the beam to the finesse of “don’t interact with matter until you’ve gone 9,999 km, but when you reach 10,000, drop into realspace”: The Q-beam would tend to fall short, interact with the upper atmosphere, and create an unpleasantly radioactive but militarily useless artificial aurora borealis, or overshoot, interact with the planet’s crust, and create minor seismic disturbances.

If that’s the way Q-beams work, then I could see most fortresses being placed under-water. The water itself would act as the bulky armour, and would give you a near inexhaustable heat-sink

That’s a cool idea. There are nasty engineering problems building underwater, so I’m not sure “most” fortresses would be submerged, but I’d think a lot of Forged Lords would consider the tradeoff (more construction cost for better defense) to be worth it.

And even with hardened-and-shielded fortresses, you’d want to conceal or at least obfuscate your exact location, because you don’t want to make it easier for the enemy to drop that asteroid or H-bomb on you – and they’re certainly going to try to.

As an invasion force commander, especially a Vaylen one, I’m going to do everything I can to smash the fortress itself before resorting to exterminating the populace and hoping the defenders relent. Besides the waste of valuable slave labor/hullable humans, the problem with such terror tactics is that they rarely work: The population tends to rally, not collapse (consider the Blitz in London), and even if they don’t, the defending military secure in their bunkers doesn’t really have to listen to them.

I agree, strategic bombing has proved ineffective generally, but when you add WMD into the mix, things might change. Not saying they WOULD, but if fortifications are as tough as Chris has suggested, then planets will be virtually unassailable, and the Vaylen would eventually need to move onto depopulating a large enough area to begin staging their Hoth style assault.

Also, If I’m a Forged Lord, you KNOW I’m going to put my anti-invasion Q-beams in the middle of cities.

As for the engineering difficulties of submerged fortresses, how about truely massive submarines? They can manouver, fire into space easily, and have hundreds of meters of water between them and the surface.

Cripes, anti-Hammer submarines. Is scary thought. You can launch missiles off those things too, of course – that’s existing technology, in fact!

Also, I remember how the Traveller “meson guns” worked: Mesons are exotic particles that don’t interact with matter, but also have a very short lifespan before they decay into (deadly) radiation; by accelerating them to near-light-speed, and calculating precisely how much those relativistic velocities slow down time in the mesons’ frame of reference, you can determine exactly when and where they decay.

Now, trying to burn up the Q-beam is, wow, expensive:

Resources Obstacle: 12 points

Enhanced Range: Artillery-plus (+10 pts)
(This is extrapolating from Vehicular range costing 8 points and Artillery costing 9)

Indirect (+8 pts)

Megablast (+6 pts)

Categorical Limitations x 3: cannot fire into atmosphere or dust clouds – restricts Direct Fire, Suppressive Fire, and shot opportunities (-3 pts)

Mounted (-3 pts)

Categorical Limitation: must be mounted on a fortress or a vehicle with Integrity of 8 or more (-1 point)
(Again, extrapolating from Vehicular weapons requiring Integrity 6 and Artillery weapons requiring Integrity 7)

Inaccurate: +1 Ob to Direct Fire, Suppressive Fire, and shot opportunities (-4 pts)

Categorical Limitation: may not be used in Close Combat at all (-1 pt)

And all that is after you’ve already bought an Artillery scale weapon (Ob 8) or a vehicle with artillery mountings (like a SPAG or Hammer warship) as the base to upgrade from.

Blind spots will abound regardless… planets are huge, and you can’t build a fortress that points in every direction (at least not an affordable one). The strategic function of fortress worlds is to make “safe harbors” from which human hammer assets can strike and harass Vaylen penetrations. One of the odd facts about Iron Empires naval operations is that you can’t make your opponant fight if he has fuel to operate at HEx. If you close on an unwilling foe, zip, off he goes. So Fortresses aren’t designed to be a “wall”, stopping enemy Hammer forces cold, but strong points beyond which it becomes dangerous for the enemy to penetrate. Doing so exposes the long trains of logistical transports following the spearhead to harassing attacks.

As for nuking fortress worlds into glass, it’s expected that a desperate enemy will go full out against a fortress world when it comes to a siege, throwing everything possible at it. The populations will have some sort of underground shelters (if their lords are humane), or flee in civil spacecraft, or die horribly, which is still preferable to being hulled. As Faith says, “It’s a fortress world, it’s supposed to be ruined.”

As for the Q-beam, it is similar to traveller’s Meson Gun, in that it creates a “tear” in the positive universe at a distant point, without regard to intervening matter. The trick is that the point at which the tear opens has to be a virtual vacuum. The tear won’t occur if there’s too much positive matter in the vicinity. The same technology (on a much smaller, more controlled level), is used for distortion drives. So distortion drives can’t operate inside dense particle fields either… near planets, in gas clouds, nebulae, etc… Furthermore, HEx, which is more sensitive than subluminal expansions, generally requires that you get outside of the star-system’s particle disc in order to fire up the drive (trivia: the quickest way out of a system’s particle disk is “up or down”… so that’s where system defense forces station the bulk of their assets: the North and South Watches).

I could obviously go on at greater length, but I have to paint today :slight_smile:


Don’t let your paying job distract you from the forum, Chris. Lord knows I don’t! (Heh. Joke. Sorta). The more details you give us, the happier we are, and the better the ultimate tech burns will be.

From your description, I’m thinking that the great strategic advantage of a fortress world, on the interstellar scale, is to free up one’s own Hammer fleet for a counteroffensive. An unfortified world is horrifically vulnerable as soon as there are no friendly forces in orbit, so the temptation is to penny-packet yourself to death by leaving small squadrons around every world (not that you care about the population complaining, but those local barons have cousins, who have cousins, who have cousins…), which the invaders can wipe out easily one by one. The more fortified worlds you have, the more you can concentrate your Hammer forces and respond aggressively to the invaders, in the confidence that the planets you’re leaving uncovered can hold out long enough for the Grand Fleet to come to the rescue.

As far as I read the comics, there’s no no class of ships that has a significant interstellar speed advantage over any other. That implies that it would be damnably hard to bring an unwilling enemy to battle, not just tactically within a star system, but strategically across interstellar distances as well. The fortress world doesn’t stop the enemy fleet, but it does force it to slow down enough that the defending fleet has a chance of catching it.

And I do mean “catch,” because invader Hammer that’s close enough to the planet to be useful in the siege is presumably also close enough not to be able to go to HEx. If I’m right about that, then the invader has a serious dilemma: each ship assigned to bombardment and landing operations is potentially trapped when the counterattack arrives; each ship assigned to a “high guard” standing off far enough to have maximum maneuverability is one less for the siege, which makes the siege last longer, which increases the chance of being counterattacked in the first place.

Conversely, the defending Grand Fleet’s dilemma is to let the invasion fleet get sufficiently embroiled with a tough fortress world that it sends most of its ships into bombardment range, but not to wait so long that the fortress is unable to help when the Grand Fleet arrives. The ideal is to catch the invaders in-close and unable to jump, with the Grand Fleet on one side and the still-functional planetary fortress on the other.

Hammer and Anvil. I think I get it now.

The ideal is to catch the invaders in-close and unable to jump, with the Grand Fleet on one side and the still-functional planetary fortress on the other.

Yes. When a fleet is inside the system’s disk (plane of the eccliptic? is that the term?), it’s vulnerable. Refuelling, revictualling, or interacting with planets. That when you can force battle.

Ships do have different HEx potentials (from 1 to 9 drive units, with potentially double that using a high technology “BCD” compression drive). One drive at HEx = 1 “Distortion Week” of travel (appx. two light years) per week. A ship with nine drives travels 18 light years per week. A ship with nine BCD-capable drives travels 36 light years per week (but uses double the fuel doing it).

The map on page 28 shows a distance key, with light years on the top and distortion weeks (Distortis Vicis) on the bottom, to give a sense of scale.


Interesting. I presume “BCD” is relatively rare, what would be considered “high index” technology in game terms?

It looks like there’s potentially a wide spread: A fleet entirely composed of BCD-9 ships travels at 36 ly/week, a fleet of non-BCD ships with only level one drives travels at 2 ly/week. Now, as practical matter, I’d suspect the really slow ships would be large trading vessels, carrying goods for which they were confident prices at the destination wouldn’t fluctuate, and the really fast, really expensive drives would be found only on a relatively small number of courier ships, scouts, and elite raiders, so the actual variation among combat fleets would be a lot narrow.

So, question: What’s the HEx potential for a typical “slow” Hammer warship, and what’s the HEx potential for a typical “fast” Hammer warship? I’m not so curious about what’s possible for a handful of extremely good or extremely bad ships as I am about what’s possible for something you’d actually have enough of to make a fleet with.

Combat Fleets average D5. Fast combat ships: Destroyers, Frigates, etc… range around 6-7, Slow ships: Dreadnauts, Monitors, Tankers, etc… 3-4. Corvettes and couriers go to 9. BCD’s (Burnhardt Compression Drives) aren’t so much super-high-tech as they are fuel/mass hogs which take too much space away from weapons, sensors, bombs, troops and other combat necessaries. They’d be very much limited to courier types.

One development this suggested to me was the idea of squadrons of combat “taxis”… basically BCD equipped hulls with giant fuel tanks. They would be fitted to warships to give them BCD capabilites in rear areas, but be detatched before the final move into battle.


So while couriers and scouts can move nearly twice as fast as combat fleets – nearly four times as fast, with BCD (right?) – there isn’t that huge a range among combat-capable fleets, in practice: A fast raider force moving at D7 is going to have only a 40% speed advantage over a heavy battlegroup moving at D5.

The “mother ship” concept is attractive, but it’s often done badly in science fiction. (See the websites in the BE 'ography for discussion). In this case, I’d be tempted to have the BSD-equipped mothership carry the fighting ships right into the target solar system, so you can offload all non-combat mass onto the mothership – not just the BSD drives but all interstellar HEx capability, living quarters, sick bay, repair shops, etc. – and have the highest possible tooth:tail ratio in the fighting ships themselves, which go into battle in the disk of the solar system while the mothership and a few escorts hang back far enough outside the dust clouds to make the interstellar jump if they have to. This gets you to an aircraft carrier/fighter combination in a pretty classic Battlestar Galactica kind of way, except the optimally sized “fighter” may well be a mile-long Hammer battlecruiser.

(Luke, a few posts back – as of my 11-29-2006 03:30 PM post, I’d say – this became a “starships and strategic interstellar warfare” discussion; could you split that off from the Fortress discussion for clarity’s sake? Thanks).

P.S. Again, Traveller provides a model – the “battlerider” concept, where instead of a hundred tiny fighters on a big carrier, you had one non-FTL capable pocket battleship (or at most a half-dozen of them) mated to a slightly larger FTL-capable support vessel.

Come to think of it, in general, Burning Empires/Iron Empires is “Traveller done right.” Instead of, “here’s a vast interstellar empire with these huge, sweeping conflicts and, uh, you’re a scout pilot who took early retirement and your patron wants you to kidnap his sister-in-law,” it throws you right in the center of the big, sweeping conflicts." And also has character, world, and technology generation where the elements actually inter-relate instead of being highly randomized, and where the complexity level (especially in tech burning) is much more manageable.

Yes, that would be more efficient…


There is no mass navy in the Iron Empires, and Forged Lords are very jealous of their prerogatives. Imagine the power the Lord with the carriers would have over his peers.

BCD transports would be operated by private guilds. They are non-combatants, so they don’t tread on the toes of the Lords. And, like the private artillery trains of the 18th century (before Napoleon brought them into the military proper), they aren’t going to risk their valuable ships in actual combat.

Here’s an excerpt from a set of wargame rules I wrote years back to try to get a handle on what Iron Empires campaigns would look like at the strategic level (in this case, regarding tankers vs. transports):

Human Tanker Squadrons would be operated by a private guild. Some Leaders may have their own, personal Tanker squadrons, but 9 out of 10 human Tankers will be private, and pretty unreliable. Probably tending to park themselves on low-index worlds, along popular trade routes, charging Hammer squadrons to refuel/revictual. They might almost be considered to be Neutral forces. It should be very hard to get them to move, unless it’s with a really big force, that they’ll be sure to get big $$ from… the human player should be able to eliminate 1 private Tanker squadron in order to capture another. This reflects siezure of private Tankers… but it should be a desperation measure only, and result, not only in the burning of one Tanker, but in the increasing reticence of private Tankers to stick with the fleets. (and future “burnings” should be more and more expensive: 2:1, 3:1…)


Ah, yes: Politics. Of which war is an extension by other means, so to say “stupid politics are interfering with military efficiency” is like Basil Fawlty saying “we could run this hotel so much more efficiently if it weren’t for all these guests!”

Still, a Lord-Pilot Hammer or Hammer Lord could do the one-to-one battlerider:tender system without compromising his independence, since he’s not making himself just one of many fighter pilots dependent on a superior noble with a carrier. You could have your wife command the base ship…

Sure, anything’s possible on the individual level. But as a matter of course, IE armadas are cobbled-together groups of Hammer Lords, so any one battle-tender-equipped lord is going to be dragged down by the capabilites of his compatriots (leave the wife at home, Baron). It’s possible that an uber-noble (a Duke, say), could field his own small armada of BCD equipped dreadnauts. He’s the exception to the rule, though.

On the other hand the Vaylen, as a more unified political entity, will mobilize clan-fleets that rival a human fleet in size, and they could very well use the battle-carrier model.


Wargame rules?!? Might we ever see an Iron Empires wargame? I’ve loved space combat wargames ever since GDW’s Triplanetary (still the best vector movement rules ever IMHO) and Imperium

Heh. I’d love “Burning Emperors” as well, but it wouldn’t be a space combat game, it’d be a game where each world’s Infection-Usurpation-Invasion phase is proceeding in a miniaturized Burning Empires game (probably maneuver rolls with no scenes inside) and the players, as people (or Vaylen) of interplanetary influence, have to decide which world they want to intervene on this “turn” – i.e. actually have scenes on and spend resources on, be it a battlefleet bombardment or a state visit – and which they’re willing to let go hang.

Aha. No standardization = lowest common denominator drags the whole fleet down.

Since we haven’t see fleet action yet in the comics, I’m going by the game here – obviously, this is your universe, so you’ll know definitely in places where I have to extrapolate. The rules on pg. 112 say that you have to be a Hammer Lord to own a warship, so by implication each Hammer Lord has a retinue of individual Lords-Pilot under his (or, rarely, her) command. You could use them all to crew one big ship, but that seems a waste, since each ship only needs one person with a Crucis and the Helm skill (plus a backup pilot or two for safety’s sake and for 24-hour shifts). So the Hammer Lord could command the mothership – or put his heir/second son/wife in command of it – and have each subordinate Lord-Pilot take a fighter/battlerider.

So the Hammer Lord could command the mothership – or put his heir/second son/wife in command of it – and have each subordinate Lord-Pilot take a fighter/battlerider.

Sure, and fighter-carriers are definitely part of the mix, I don’t care what any stuffy old rocket scientists tell me about their impracticality. The limiting factor isn’t manpower, but the cost of maintaining an autonomous little fleet of warships, with all of the support that would entail. Imagine Bill Gates with his own carrier battlegroup. It would stretch even his prodigious fortune to maintain, I’d guess.