Terraforming – Revisiting Asteroid Mining

Randal here, back for more Terraforming. I have previously discussed and created some asteroid based ideas/locations with goblins and dwarves to show off different ways in which asteroids can be just as useful in adventure creation. In both, I mention that they “mine” or “reshape” the asteroids as part of inhabiting them. Today I wanted to revisit that idea now that I have learned a little bit more about asteroids.

I freely admit that I happily mix and match the high fantasy of my games with my interpretation of “real physics” when I GM. This comes in the form of allowing a fireball to be cast underwater, but using simplified knowledge of physics to assume that the water in the area becomes steam (wether I am right or not). When it comes to space fantasy, I am a little more fast and loose simply because we (humans) don’t have any real experience in space and so any information I use is gleaned from study or cinema. In my previous pieces, I tossed out some interesting but brief descriptions of asteroids along with what they were being used for. I didn’t bother getting too deep into composition and what it would take to accomplish those plans/goals … I wanted to leave that up to you the reader to figure out how it would best fit your campaign and style.

I am a fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s podcast StarTalk Radio, and recently he discussed (with Natalie Starkey) asteroids (titled “Cosmic Queries – Asteroids and Comets”). I mention this for two reasons, the first being that if you are a SciFi GM and you aren’t listening, you are doing yourself a disservice. The second, and more to the point, is that I finished that episode knowing that I would have to (because of how my brain works) rethink how I deal with asteroids in the future, and that I wish I had known this information before writing those two pieces. The first question of the episode was “Would it really be possible to hollow out an asteroid and use it as a starship?”. Well, as I was vague before, I thought it would be fun to revisit this idea in general, and then apply it to both the dwarves and the goblins to see how each of them would handle their particular situations.

GM Note. While I enjoy my realism, this is a space fantasy and I don’t want to bog down with physics, math, and technicalities. I am trying to broaden the base of information with which we can describe and create asteroid based adventure locations, not teach you astrophysics.

Two Major Problems. Asteroids are either too hard or too soft, but what exactly does that mean.

  • Too Hard. Asteroids that are solid are generally a single chunk of rock, and some are entirely metal. When we think of mining operations, we generally imagine terrestrial mining, which is digging through mostly dirt (wether hard, packed, or soft) to find veins of precious metals hiding within. The actual digging is almost entirely through non-rock materials. Mining an asteroid, specifically digging into one, is going to consist mostly of boring holes in rock and metal which is, to say the least, not going to be an easy task.
  • Too Soft. Quite often, asteroids are simply collections of smaller rocks that have clumped together over millennia from simply gravity. In many cases, simply landed on (or bumping into) such an asteroid is enough to send pieces bouncing away and a larger collision could destabilize the entire thing. Drilling is simply not an option (nor really needed) when any sort of movement (let alone vibrations from mechanical drilling) tears apart the entire entity you are trying to drill.

The Dwarves. The dwarves are an old, mature, and wise creature (especially compared to goblins) and are extremely adept at engineering, mining, and forging.

  • Anvil Rock. Each of the clans would have use for a forge, per tradition beyond recorded time, but the dwarves of Anvil Rock have taken it to the next level. Centuries of work combining plasma tools and earth magic have allowed them to reshape the rough exterior of their rocky asteroid into the perfect representation of an anvil as they create numerous forges within. By leaving the hardest metals and rocks alone, they are able to ensure the stability of the asteroid as a whole while making it less difficult create living quarters within. They have attached a space dock along one side of the Anvil, adjacent to a large holding area that they collect rocks to be used in the grinders and forges within. While each clan is capable of getting the basic metals needed for standard construction, Anvil Rock is where you take your space debris for large scale smelting and fine metal extraction.
  • Torag Rock. On the other hand, the clerics, priests, and mystics of Torag Rock found that the majority of their new home was comprised of thousands of smaller metallic asteroids that clung to a larger central piece of metal with some magnetism. Upon further investigation, they realized that it was, in fact, shaped after a common statue of Torag. After decades of debate about wether or not they should remove the exterior debris or not before moving it to a more stable home, they decided on a completely different approach. They modified all of the carrier ships in their fleet so that they could be connected into a ring that would encircle their new monument in a rotating space station. Meanwhile, they scoured the exterior of it to remove any material that wasn’t magnetically attached all the while scouting the remaining asteroid field for other magnetic material that could be used to make the statue bigger while keeping the perceived “core material” consistent.
  • Rock Collectors. Any asteroid field is going to have collisions, often breaking up bigger soft asteroids but also sending harder ones out of stability that can lead to cascading events. The Rock Collectors are a group of smaller clans that make their living by intercepting these rogue rocks and either taking them to Anvil Rock for sale, Torag Rock for their magnetic properties, or any number of other clans for equally various purposes. To assist with this task they use a combination of gravity and magnetic nets, beams, rays, and towing devices (mechanical, technological, or magic) to catch and herd asteroids.

The Goblins. The goblins, while smart enough to survive in space, simply don’t have the patience nor the longevity to be as savvy as other creatures (especially compare to dwarves).

  • GreyEggShine. While it is now dead, it was at one point geologically active. Much of the mining tunnels the goblins use were simple lava tubes filled with debris from collision and collapse since the core became inactive. While they are historically used to the type of work that mines entail, the digging of new mines in the remaining hard rock and metal is extremely slow going and hazardous, under the best of conditions … of which these are not. Most of the work is done the old fashioned way with hand tools and manual labor (although technologically advanced tools that enable goblins produce the work of 5 goblins each).
  • Skinny Long. This asteroid is the remains of a chunk of rock that is almost 50 percent nickel spear through its core. Much of the mining done on it is within pockets of the rock where they can build/attach apparatus with which they can attempt to cut, shear, or slice of nickel from the core. While they do have plasma and other technological cutting tools, they have enough issues keeping them functional that they often resort to diamond cutting tools if they have to.
  • Dark Orb. As a piece of basalt, they have placed their mines in the few hollow sections so that they can brace their equipment against opposing walls instead of constantly drilling into the hard material. Most of the work they do involves finding cracks and crevasses and using old school pneumatic pressure to open these cracks until something breaks off. Little do they know how close they are to splitting the orb in two.
  • Donut. Donut is a collection of millions of small, loose, rocks. The shape itself is simply the result of a faster moving entity blowing through the center at some point in the past. The rocks slowly pulled back together and were still in the process of forming a sphere when the goblins found it. They were so enamored with the shape, that they built numerous nets and cables with which to force Donut to retain its shape over time. While they know they need to replace any rocks they take for it to retain its shape, they have a hard time remembering to always use similarly dense material to ensure the same distribution of mass … and so the caretakers of Donut are too frequently trying to ensure that the cables and nets get repaired when the shifting rocks inside them stress their limits.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into how just the tiniest bit of physics (and science in general) can cause my brain to go off into randomly creative tangents. Please join us on Discord https://discord.gg/Rt79BAj to let me know how you would have used this information to alter these two groups of spacefarers.

Randal Meyer

As a lover of crunch (rules and numbers), Randal is always tinkering with rules options. His love of magic users has led him to always fuss with the mechanics of magic and magic items. Years of GMing on the fly have given him endless ideas and content from which to draw on for adventures (ideas, plots, NPCs). When not working, gaming, or playing with his kids, Randal is likely working on improving Sage (his Discord bot for immersive play-by-post gaming that you can see in action on Know Direction's Discord in the Know Direction Societous PFS channels) over at https://www.patreon.com/rpgsage!