The Maw Installation doesn't officially exist, which is no real surprise. There are a large number of off planet stations, colonies and habitats that exist off of the records. The Maw is special in two ways, it's location, and it's history. The vast majority of human habitats and colonies are all built very close to the ecliptic plane of the Solar System, the Maw is in a high stable position 70 degrees off of the Ecliptic, roughly as far from the Sun as Mars is. The installation is routinely discussed in memos and meetings, but it is an inside joke, and most people discussing it do not know it actually exists. The Maw is a construct from the Star Wars mythos and was a hidden fortress and ship building facility built in a cluster in black holes. The jokes typically involved what the fleet hawks are going to pull out of the Maw to surprise everyone next, or using the Maw as an analog of a lost and found, a dumping ground, or a common reference for a black hole, not the astronomical sort, but the beaurocratic type.
The Maw is composed of five separate facilities in close proximity, protected from detection by means of the Horizon Shield system. To sensors and telescopes, the Maw is a dark spot in the sky and nothing else.
Central Dogma - The center hub of the installation, Central Dogma is a large but otherwise unremarkable residential and administrative habitat. The habitat is a Bernal sphere 900 meters in diameter, and houses a population of 3,500. This is principally the administrative staff of the installation, visiting VIPs, and people using the recreational facilities, of which there are few in the Maw.
Aleph Station - The industrial core of the Maw, Aleph is a massive space dock, with facilities to handle the construction of ships and new station modules up to a kilometer in length. Aleph is the oldest part of the Maw and was shipped to it's current location in pieces and was later responsible for building the other four components of the base. Aleph itself is mostly scaffolding and unpressurized bays just over a kilometer and a half long and is one of the two installations in the Maw with no rotation. It can house up to 10,000 workers using a hot rack system, but usually only has 2000 workers aboard at any given time. Aleph is largely automated and mechanized, so most of the workers are not actually building, but rather are supervising the machinery that is, or guiding teams of construction droids. The few that are manually working do so in either space construction mecha or large industrial power suits.
The station and it's crew is marked out with a shoulder patch depicting a minotaur like creature, but with the features of an ox rather than a bull.
Bet Station - Somewhat smaller than Aleph, Bet is where the spaceframes and hulls constructed by Aleph are moved to for final fitting. Bet has a number of smaller pressurized bays where ships can be fitted out by crewmen and workers not in power suits or pressure gear. Here, the ships are pressure tested, and and completed and launched from. The larger ships are connected to the station's non-rotating central ring. Bet houses a maximum of 20,000 staff and crew, but routinely has half of that at any given time. Unlike Aleph, Bet's accommodations are much less spartan.
The Bet crew is marked out with shoulder patches and insignia with two pillars connected by rank symbols.
Gamow Station - The largest of the Maw stations, Gamow is the refinery and forge for the Maw. Automated mining ships bring the station the raw materials it needs to constuct it's ships and other projects. This is done as both a form of concealment and a form of facilitation. The Maw consumes a massive amount of resources and Federation planners rightly predicted that the amounts of metal consumed by the installation would skew the system resource markets and drive the prices of metal through the proverbial roof. It would also reveal the existence of the Maw. By using automated and private mining operations in the asteroid belt, the materials are shipped to the installation without tipping off outside interests, and without disrupting the solar system markets. It can be difficult to manufacture multi-hundred thousand ton ships and stations without being noticed.
The Gamow staff and crew, all 12,000 of them, use a stylized camel as their insignia.
Dalet Station - The last of the Maw installations is Dalet, the security center. Dalet is the fleet tender for the Maw's space fighters and complement of patrol ships, six advanced destroyers and two cruisers, plus the black budget warship, the Nemesis. The Nemesis is an advanced Federation Class battlestar and is the culmination of Federation military engineering and might. Dalet is a large Bernal sphere, and houses 15,000 crew and soldiers, including the crews of the ships associated with the Maw. The Dalet fleet has only moved twice in the eighty years the base has been active, once destroying an errant mining ship, and once engaging and destroying a Seibertronian exploration ship that came to close.
The insignia of Dalet is a castle style gate, or a white cross on a blue field.
Origin and History
The Maw was built decades ago to function as a clandestine ship tending location and shipyard to repair and refit classified ships of the Federation Space Navy. It's location was chosen because the biggest problem facing covert fleet options is that objects in space aren't horribly hard for computer guided telescopes and the location of bases can often be easily inferred from observing ship movement, and watching the flow of raw materials through the solar system. The Maw was placed well off the ecliptic in a dark part of the sky, where it would not stick as being a dark spot in the sky. Aleph was assembled in pieces from modules that were built from across the Federation, with a number of the ships involved being 'lost' or 'destroyed' so that their disappearance wouldn't be noticed. In some instances, the ships themselves were the modules and were 'unpacked' and put into place.
The Aleph station functioned as intended and the Federation intelligence and deep space fleet made regular use of the station. Over the next thirty years the other habitats would be completed, with the Gamow finishing yard being the last created. Construction ceased as the main focus of the new massive shipyard was to function as a proving ground for new ship designs for the Federation. The high success rate of the Atlantic Federation's space fleet owes to the fact that almost every new ship launched has a prototype spaceframe and core system model built at the Maw for structural integrity testing and other shakedown tests. After the new ship line is launched, these space frames are either recycled for use in new ships, or are completed as Black versions of the new line, able to mimic existing ships to carry on their clandestine work.
The Federation class battlestar represents a massive amount of time and resources, even for a nation as large and powerful as the Atlantic Federation. Two spaceframes were assembled at the Maw for it's roll out. One frame was completed and launched as the Nemesis, and is the fulcrum of the Maw defense network. Nemesis, like her predecessors, was built with experimental and one off prototype weapons. It replaced the Constellation class cruiser Ophiuchus as the centerpiece, relegating the cruiser to a gun testing platform.
The Maw has another purpose aside from the typical black hat black budget military intelligence role. It is a think tank and test bed for prototype and conceptual ships, not just military and surveillance ships. Many of the ships constructed have their flaws demonstrated and are scrapped. A few demonstrate interesting ideas and concepts, or require revolutions in ship construction to make. While the construction of the ship itself is an academic exercise, it often pays dividends in identifying problems not immediately obvious, and through working through designing fictional ships into real life, can as mentioned, create major improvements in ship design and construction.
The installation has at any given time three ships in varying stages of construction and another one or two in the testing and shakedown phase.
The Crew of the Maw: The Maw employes a large number of people, enough that they would be noticeable coming and going. As such, a large percentage of the crew was grown on site as clones. These clones have undergone psychosurgery to set their value systems and ensure loyalty and servility to the command staff. Likewise, many are cymeks, having undergone cranial surgery to augment or replace their organic brains with artificial brains.
Notable construction projects
The Engineer Ship, Alien and Prometheus - PoC Prometheus. The Prometheus is 100 meters long and 120 meters wide and was grown using a genetically modified bone coral. The ship took over a decade to 'gestate' before the organic steel spaceframe was completed. The systems were mostly installed before work on the ship stalled. The proof of concept failed as the organic nature of the hull began to rapidly deteriorate in space dock. Being composed of organic metal, the hull remains drifting in the Maw boneyard. The ship didn't break new ground, but it did determine a number of faulty construction ideas and techniques.
Close Encounter Mothership, Close Encounters of the Third Kind - PoC Close Encounter. The Close Encounter is half of a Bernal sphere mounted to an engineering and drive module, with a belt of communications equipment around the middle of the ship. The Close Encounter is one of the first Proof of Concept (PoC) ships built at the Maw. The hull proved stable and easily transitions from stable to rotational modes allowing for artificial gravity to generated through the sphere section. This would later prove a valuable technology in developing the Federation's Belle class long range cargo and civilian pleasure craft. Larger versions are used for carrying bulk cargo from distant sources, such as the Jovian gas mining operations or deep belt mining. Upscaled versions of the Close Encounter hull function as mobile space stations, moving from place to place under low speed to function as hubs for construction sites, colony supervision, or other operations.
Valley Forge, Silent Running - PoC Valley Forge. The Valley Forge is not much more than a basic civilian hull, with a drive section attached to a mile long scaffold. The main feature of the Valley Forge are the six hydroponics domes attached to the scaffolding. Each dome is 250 meters wide, 100 meters tall, and houses a different ecosystem, from sampled biomes on earth to agricultural research. The ship itself is both mundane and retrotech, the domes are the focus. Data learned from the Valley Forge domes has since been used in creating offworld biodomes, domed cities on small moons, and improving hydroponics bays on existing ships, increasing the typical food yield by 30% and increasing the rate of recapture in recycling atmospheric gases and water.
Borg Cube, Star Trek - PoC Datum. The Datum is a unique cube spaceframe. The ship is a 500 meter cube, and mounts a basic ion propulsion system, but advanced computer systems and an internally controlled cyborg crew. Composed entirely of cymeks and proxies of the ship AISC, the ship is technically unmanned. It has a small crew of 250 and only 30% is pressurized. The main function of the ship is to be a flying AISC. With it's low crew and supply requirements, this is being considered as one method of exploring outside of the solar system, with these ships carrying loads of genetic data and cloning facilities to grow a new generation of colonists on a new world, while providing the technological assistance of the AISC and competence of it's cyborg crew. The Datum mounts an OmniNet system, making all members of the crew linked into the AISC controlled hive mind. Until this is further explored, the main use of the Datum is to be a freestanding and secure node for the Maw zone of the CogNet.
Galactica, Battlestar Galactica - PoC Galactica. The Galactica PoC served as the testbed for the Federation Class Battlestar, and even lent it's name to it. The layout of the ship was changed to better accommodate both aerospace fighters and for launching mecha, and the weapons systems were upgraded to have superior anti-ship firepower. The original Galactica spaceframe was scrapped and recycled, and major sections were used to build the spaceframe for the Nemesis. The Nemesis mounts a number of high power energy weapons, long range ship-buster missiles, and a complement of 48 aerospace drone fighters and 20 air and space capable mecha.
Discovery, 2001 and 2010 - Several centuries after exploring Jupiter in cinema, the PoC Discovery was constructed. The ship is simple, with a gas ammonia drive system, a central L/AISC computer, and was a major innovator in construction techniques. The long slender central spar had to be very strong to survive centrifugal force and tensile pressure generated by the large drive section. It's facilities were extremely limited, fuel supply also limited, and it was determined that it's best range would be from planet to moon, not planet to planet travel. The techniques to building the central spar would prove invaluable in building ships greater than 500 meters in length while retaining a measurable acceleration ability.
Enterprise, Star Trek - The PoC Enterprise was constructed at half size, barely over 300 meters in length. Many of it's canon technologies were beyond the currently level of arcanotech, and were not attempted in replication. The ship only had maneuvering engines and a minimal ion drive so that it could move around the Maw without a tug. The transporters, FTL drive, and Matter/Antimatter reactor are not present, leaving the ship as a construction challenge. The discoid primary hull, and engineering section were simple to make, but the struts connecting the nacelles, primary and second hulls, proved real challenges. Eventually the processes and materials were worked out. The new framing techniques would later be integrated into new Federation ships, albeit with the supports often being buried inside the spaceframe. This has resulted in Federation spaceframes being significantly stronger, and damage resistant than their rival ships launched by the ACPS or the Alliance. The Deflector Dish, long a McGuffin tool of the original series finds itself very useful, as projecting a weak energy field to clear a path through debris is useful and important for mining ships, and warships moving through potential minefields. The large dish, frequently housed inside a dome, can also be used for long range focused communications.
Vindicator, Star Wars - The PoC Vindicator is a Star Destroyer and it's performance was considered lackluster at best, mediocre at worst. Nothing went wrong constructing the 600 meter long ship, and it's complement of 24 aerospace fighters and batteries of naval lasers, plasma cannons, and long range missiles makes it a decent warship. It lacks a knock out punch. The major innovation that came from the Vindicator was the redesign of the internal power systems. The main core often lagged providing power to the energy weapon batteries and the drive engines. Secondary power systems were designed with high discharge capable 'Power Sinks' being designed to store power from the power plant. These differ from batteries as their charge is only stored for a short amount of time before it's discharged, rather than sitting in solid state. A secondary power system connected these sinks to alternate power generators, and an entire secondary power system for internal systems. The Vindicator pioneered the now standard triple layer power management system used by all Federation ships. The main power core is hooked to the propulsion system, power sinks, and armament. A secondary system provides support power to the main system, and also feeds into the power sinks, but the connection is one way, the power sinks cannot feed back into the secondary system. The third and final system uses smaller power cores like those found in large mecha to power lights, internal functions and life support. This third system is decentralized and even if the ship were to be cut in half, it would not mean the end of life support power.
But but but... insert famous ship, why wasn't it on the list? There are several reasons a ship doesn't show up on this list of prototype and proof of concept ships.
1. Millennium Falcon, Firefly, etc - It's a small ship, and presents no great challenges or dynamic ship design. These smaller craft stand out for their hoopty, modified, and flawed nature and the scoundrel and vagabond crews that man them. The Federation is building big ships.
2. Andromeda, Vorlons, etc - Entirely too futuristic designs that do not fit into the look and feel of the Cosmic Era
3. I'm not familiar with that ship (anime, deep list sci-fi, etc)
4. Sulaco, Omega Class Destroyer - Fits the look and feel of the Cosmic Era, but doesn't bring anything to the table just looking at it, and would be of limited value on a thematic level.
The Black Budget
The Maw Installation is expensive to operate. Two major costs are covered as it imports most of it's raw materials through automated mining operations, and the majority of it's staff is augmented clones and automatons. It still remains expensive, so it does on occasion sell and lease the technologies it has pioneered. Many of the Federation's contractors pay leasing fees on the technologies they use in their industrial applications, and the Maw is also funded through patents and trusts that can trace their way back to technologies that the installation has created.
The Future of the Federation Space Fleet
The Maw contains a major portion of the Federation's future planning. It is both a strength and a liability as it represents in large part an 'eggs in one basket' approach. The isolated nature of the installation protects it, but should it become known, this isolation would become a liability as it is relatively far away from most other Federation assets and would require a fleet reassignment to protect it.
The current research initiative underway at the Maw is exploring arcanotech propulsion systems. The limitations of ion propulsion have theoretically been reached and computers have calculated the upper limit of what that engine type can do in terms of weight to power ratios. The two realms of research going on are the long sought after Faster Than Light drive, and a superior sublight engine.
Author's Note: The Glassenheim Foundation is well aware of the Maw and has both supported it, financed it, and hamstrung it as it suited their needs. The Foundation doesn't use the facility to build ships for them, but they do use it to disseminate or obstruct new tech.
Area 51 - The Maw is a piece of background information, and much like Area 51 it is discussed as a repository of alien tech, a graveyard of ships, and more. The PCs will never go there, never see it, but it is something that does exist on the backside of the CogNet and in the inner circles of high end shadowrunners.
The Hunt for Red October - A prototype warship manufactured at the Maw has gone renegade and the PCs have been contacted as part of a widespread net looking to find the missing ship. The figurative Russians in the scenario, the Federation is being quiet about what they've lost, and it's up to the PCs to piece together that they are hunting a prototype ship and a renegade crew of cyborgs and clones. Do they side with humanity (the humane and human condition type) or do they side with the Federation hunting them down to destroy them and their stolen ship.
The End of the Rainbow - It isn't uncommon for shadowrunning PCs to be sent on data smash and grabs, and they discover after several years working for the same employer through a series of shadow games. The end result is that most of their work has been funneling stolen data back to the Maw. Some of the things they have found are dangerous and highly questionable, along the lines of super weapons, arcanotech WMDs, and biological weapons. How do the PCs react when they realize that rather than making the solar system safer, they have been supplying stolen tech to one of the most unscrupulous groups around.
Into the Dragon's Jaws - The PCs have been tasked with finding the Maw and have to find a way to infiltrate the facility, then upload a hostile computer program into it. If they can find it, and can get past Nemesis and the rest of the defense fleet, and then access a computer terminal and manage to upload the program, and the program works, they might cause a significant amount of damage to the facility. Or somewhere along the way they end up blown to atoms.
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? Responses (3)
This is a beaut!! You don't have to incorporate the entire Cosmic Era foundation, in order to run a great game/campaign based on the Maw. Everything id need as a gm is here.
Love the shout-outs to the various ships of sci-fi and I learned a new word today. Hoopty.
I'd run a combination of Area 51 and into the dragon's jaws plot hooks. And I just might. Seeing some 'PCs' this weekend who love the sci-fi.
As I was reading this sub, mainly the section on construction projects, my mind was constantly under threat of blowing up but then I would encounter something about a particular prototype that tied really nicely and neatly into the underlying world. Anyhow, I felt like I was pulled on two sides a bit while reading cos I have a personal difficulty with the sci-fi genre. But I really liked how at the beginning, there was the reference to how the Maw had been incorporated into everyday language in jest. And I must say that despite being a non-fan of sci fi, this is a very complete piece that is already ready to be dropped into a sci-fi game. So full marks.
This is a fun idea. A little known place where they build real life versions of the space craft from popular science fiction (aka the conceit from Galaxy Quest raised to nth degree). That would be a great idea seed. You have taken that idea seed a step farther and tried to realize the Maw in the cosmic era setting. To this end you outline the numerical dimensions of the place, drop is some proper nouns, link it to other cosmic era content and the list some more numerical dimensions. You also add some choice details that really put steps forward towards immersion in the world. I like how each 'pod' has its own insignia and that you explained (in your first blurb) how the Maw is subtle part of the collective consciousness. You passed on some easy laughs by not including Pod 6, and writing about 'those jerks from Pod-6'.
But I don't think the Maw is fully realized. You give us a lot of numbers and often give us dry impersonal facts. Numbers that might be more descriptive if you told us the ratio clones to people, the ratio droids to people, the ratio of sheep to people and so on. This kind of reminds of the RPG you ran and when scouted the archeology you told me the design history the archeology but nothing about the current state of the archeology. You are just throwing facts up there rather than 'mechanically' using those facts to build a point.
There are 2000 workers on Aleph station, but so what? Is it cramped? Do they monitor their droids from one central control room like NASA or are the labs and departments modular? Is there a cafeteria? Which clones are these? (I hope the the crew is 75% Shipwrecks and Roadblocks) Yes we could answer these questions but the gaps don't fit with pedantic tone of the piece. You scale down the size of the ships for what? Is it going to ruin your RPG if the star destroyer is over 2 kilometers long? Point is you tell us a lot about what this place needs to be to fit into the cosmic era setting, but you don't tell us what the place is actually like. It is impossible that your imagination begins with a ship we have already seen in another and ends with a number. I assume there is stuff you planned that didn't make into the post. You mention a shipwright in the blurb, while that could be a description of the place, I assume denotes specific person. Did you intended to write up the chief designer of the station? So how about some personalities or people in here? A place where a bunch of dorks have a huge budget to realize their geeky daydreams? There has to be interesting culture on that station. When and how did the Maw transition from clandestine ship tending to think tank?
All these fact about numbers, discussions of budgets and resources bring up another question. Do you intend for economic game play to be part of the cosmic era? Such rule sets have been a part of many RPG systems. In second ed D&D you had the castle guide which allowed you to budget construction of a castle and tax the peasants. . Battletech has a whole arm of core rules for managing a unit, paying salaries and upkeep costs. Westend Star Wars had the Smuggler's guide which detailed rules for speculative trading and the economics of playing a working space merchant. I think developing your system along those lines might be fun for you.