I'm currently writing up a sci-fi universe where humanity is the newbies to the intergalactic community. Because nobody likes stories of extremely slow yet realistic interstellar voyages (with exceptions) I've given humanity ships with FTL capabilities.

How do I balance the system not to make it too overpowered within the story?

Here's some details that I'm sure on:

  • Jump drive system, you press a button, and your ship instantly goes from point A to B via punching a hole in space-time and converting matter into energy and information and slinging it through the fabric of space-time itself to the target
  • doesn't need any sort of astral beacon or gate to function

Disclaimer: I'm not asking for ideas, I'm asking advice on balancing the FTL with other stuff in the story.

  • 1
    What do you mean by "balanced?"
    – codeMonkey
    Feb 27 at 19:50
  • @codeMonkey flawed enough to drive a story but not enough to be weak Feb 27 at 19:54
  • Going to be difficult to answer without more context. And the context will likely answer the question. What about it makes it overpowered? For example, does it make smuggling much too easy?
    – Boba Fit
    Mar 7 at 23:52
  • this seems like a question for worldbuilding.stackexchange.com
    – Philipp
    Mar 10 at 16:03

3 Answers 3


Some ideas:

  • Spin Up cycle: This would be a limitation on the availability for a jump in that the jump engine is not ready for a jump immediately. The ship has to "spin up" the engine from a stand-by or cold state for each use. This could involve turning the engine on, plugging in the co-ordinates, having a computer process the jump to make sure you're not putting yourself into a star's corona or a planet's core or into another ship in that same spot. This takes time to do... which allows bad guys to shoot at you until such time, which may risk the drive going down again.

  • Cool Down cycle: You can only jump once or so many times before the engines need to cool off and power down. While doing so, you're limited to sub-light speeds, which means if your position is reportable, you need to hide or stall out before you can jump again.

  • Range: You can only jump within a range. Combined with a spin up or cool down cycle, this can limit your ability to get from Sol to a distant star with only the stars within a certain lightyear radius being immediately accessible.

  • Gravity Well Disruption: The FTL drive is not dangerously non-functional in the gravity well of a planetary or stellar mass, so you would have to navigate to a point outside of the gravity well, which can add hours to the trip... because you have to get into position in sub-light before you can FTL.

  • Speed: In order to get the jump drive to work, the ship has to be moving at a high rate of sub-light speed to begin with. Normally this wouldn't be a problem and gives that nice visual flight like look before going to FTL or coming out of it. Can also justify having someone at helm, especially if you have cool downs between jumps, as a pilot would be needed to make sure you throttle down when you come out of a jump if you're entering your final destination, or keep the corrective thrusters stay off, and use your already high speed to keep moving at sub light while waiting for the next jump drive, which conserves fuel.

  • Fuel: We already have some powerful engines that can run for a long time without refuel (Nuclear powered naval vessels time away from port is limited by biological needs of the crew, not the fuel needs of the engines) but they still need to refuel. And space is wide. If you over jump your fuel range, you could be stuck.

  • Flight Control: Any pilot will tell you the flight tower is going to know everything you're doing at any given moment. There are ways to prevent this, but it's going to make it more obvious that you're doing it, because those systems are there to keep you safe. You might need to get authorization to jump from a local system space control tower, and jumping without that authorization is going either going to get a BOLO sent out to all possible points you'd jump too OR locks down the jump drive until the authorization is given by proper authority... and getting around the lock will require you to basically rewire your ship... and you'll probably break your ship before you get it right.

  • This is a good list of possibilities. Not sure why it wasn't marked as the answer, because seems like OP needed some ideas of limits on FTL and you gave OP a great (very creative) list to choose from and even mix.
    – raddevus
    Mar 10 at 21:34

Be consistent.

With faster-than-light you already lost me, a physicist.

If you want to „stick“ somewhat to reality, using worm holes is an accepted, yet technologically still underdeveloped approach. E.g. survival rate from travel hasn‘t been evaluated so far.

But be consistent: IF humanity can find other species, visit them like we visit our friend next door, THEN drop any physics and build on that. Think of Enterprise, Flash Gordon and all those popular myths on wizzards, hobbits and what have you.


Make up a really rare resource that is required for FTL to work. Humanity has to manage said resources and plan its expeditions wisely. Most other aliens are on another level but won't share the tech with the space monkeys.

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