On The Scarcity Of Unobtainium

The Science Of Planets: What Is The Ship Limit, Really?

My office has fielded so very many inquiries from you on the subject of the Ship Limit that, for once, I intend to violate a long-standing rule of mine and explain in detail.  If this session can decrease the amount of message traffic I have to deal with, it may even be worth it to add to the curriculum.

Do you see this glass vial I’m holding?  This is large enough that it could encompass the Echo Cluster’s entire supply of Unobtainium and still have space left over — briefly.  Why briefly?  Because the very nature of this metal precludes it existing in one place in greater than microscopic quantities for longer than a few nanoseconds.  It is this same property, combined with an instantaneous subspace resonance, that permits interstellar communication and coordination of our fleets and planets.  This resonance, properly tuned, provides an instantaneous map of local space, which is the only reason ships can navigate at superluminal speeds.

Unobtainium is, in essence, the one item which permits us to have control over an empire.  Measuring by mass, it is the most precious commodity in known space.  It cannot be mined, synthesized, or indeed produced in any way aside from the capture and distillation of cosmic radiation on a starbase placed within the gravity well of a planetary system.

And every single warship in existence requires an Unobtanium communications and navigation node.

It is for this reason that, speaking generally, the Ship Limit is approximately equal to the number of planets in a cluster.  Likewise, since collection efficiency decreases depending on the Unobtainium density of that cluster and vanishes entirely in the immediate presence of a collected but unassigned node, one can readily see how vessel production will inevitably arrive at a fairly sudden stop once the number of ships becomes roughly equivalent to the number of worlds.

In the distant past, during the so-called “Formative Years”, when a starship was destroyed in combat, its communications node would need to be salvaged and physically transported to a friendly starbase before the construction of the replacement vessel could begin.  However, with the rise of the Tim Continuum and then the Galactic Senate, there are now unbiased and universally trusted organizations that can handle these transfers on our behalf, recording and tracking legal title to each node as it is captured.  As well, improvements in technology now permit a small margin of excess Unobtainium nodes, pre-positioned but held in neutral hands, which give us the ability to nearly instantaneously replace one destroyed ship with another.

There are two technical systems of Unobtainium transfer, and each sector can choose which it will employ.  The first is the Classic or analog system, which compels direct transfer in a cumbersome system using a fixed limit.  The second is the more advanced Priority Queue or digital system, which incorporates a soft limit and surplus production, balanced by a marginally higher opportunity cost per hull.  Each has its advantages and disadvantages, which is why the option is available at the inauguration of each new sector battle.  One of the most evident differences is the linear turn-based distribution of available nodes under the Classic system versus the random lottery employed in the Queue.

Now, that’s the science, and now you know it, you can forget it entirely.  The actual details of the systems can be found at the two web addresses at the end of this tutorial.  You’ll notice that they don’t even use the word “Unobtainium”, but instead the arcane measures of “Priority Build Points” or “Kill Points”.  Which is why I keep telling you:  You don’t need to know the science; focus on the rules.

Well.  This has been a tremendous waste of time, hasn’t it?  I’ll be in my office.



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