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Drift Lanes

Source Ports of Call pg. 12
The recent Drift Crisis tore at that plane’s very being, and while Triune’s realm has since recovered, it emerged from the ordeal with scars. Known as Drift lanes, these scars represent speedy, especially reliable paths through the Drift, enabling faster travel between specific points and creating a strategically valuable travel network.
Following the Drift Crisis, Drift travel has regained its traditional functionality: traveling to Absalom Station once again takes 1d6 days, reaching a Near Space location takes 3d6 days, and accessing the Vast takes 5d6 days, all influenced by the relative number of Drift beacons in the area. However, whether by accident or design, the Crisis left figurative wrinkles across the Drift, and explorers discovered that these wrinkles predictably and speedily connected various points in the galaxy, regardless of the number of Drift beacons nearby. While the galaxy remains accessible primarily through conventional Drift travel, these so-called Drift lanes have created powerful highways, opening new opportunities for travel, trade, and conquest.

Understanding Drift Lanes

Source Ports of Call pg. 12
Any given point in the galaxy corresponds to a point in the Drift, just not in the same configuration; two spots in the Drift a mile apart could correspond to two points 1,000 light-years apart on the Material Plane. Were the Drift a static plane, reaching the desired point might require light-years of travel—little better than just using conventional thrusters in the galaxy. Fortunately, the Drift isn’t static. It constantly folds in on itself.
As an analogy, imagine that the Drift is a towel in a clothes dryer, each loop of thread corresponds to a Material Plane destination, and a starship traveling through the Drift is a speck of lint. As the towel tumbles and churns, different loops briefly brush against each other, and the lint might get passed from one loop to the other. By random chance, the lint eventually lands on the desired loop. Fortunately, a starship isn’t so helpless. In addition to transferring a starship into and out of the Drift, a Drift engine lets a pilot predict when figurative loops will align, allowing them to plot a course and reach their destination by making a few strategic hops. The more Drift beacons a destination has, the more its corresponding loop tends to brush past others, making it easier to track and access. Of course, planar gyrations are virtually undetectable to mortal senses, and even as a starship leaps halfway across the Drift, it usually looks like it’s just coasting through the plane’s placid clouds.
When the Drift Crisis struck, it tore the figurative towel in a million places. Jumping from one loop to the next might accidentally send the starship through the towel, only to land on an unrelated loop or even get hurled into the cosmic machine’s lint trap. For a time, the towel seemed to be unraveling, but—through miraculous developments scientists haven’t fully identified yet—something stitched the tears closed. The Drift Crisis ended, and the Drift was repaired—mostly. Most notably, the towel now has a lot of loose threads, and after a few revolutions in the dryer, the threads snagged on various loops. Now, while a Drift pilot can still chart a course the traditional way to one of these snagged locations, they have a new option: just follow that loose thread from A to B, with no chance of getting lost.
Those loose threads represent the Drift lanes. Some connect just two points and attach to nothing else. Others chain together, leapfrogging across the Drift, whereas others still snagged multiple threads, turning those points into invaluable junctions. Using a Drift lane is almost always faster and safer than charting one’s own path to a Near Space location, and even zigzagging along a few Drift lanes can outpace a conventional trip to the Vast. However, since a Drift lane isn’t a highway, a starship can’t take an exit ramp and reach a point somewhere between the two ends. Exiting a Drift lane prematurely means entering a random point in the Drift.
Physical Description: A Drift lane functions like a massive, flexible tunnel; its internal diameter measures several miles across, with certain sections widening or narrowing depending on surrounding conditions within the Drift. The walls are typically semi-translucent and thick, resembling a shimmering heat mirage or gelatinous sheath. This boundary softly repels attempts to move through it, keeping most starships from accidentally veering off-course but not preventing a determined vessel from pushing through the side and exiting into the rest of the Drift (after which the breach seals shut).
From the outside, a Drift lane is functionally indistinguishable from the rest of the Drift. Given a lane shifts and flexes along with the rest of the plane, its exact position changes frequently. Due to these qualities, identifying and interacting with a Drift lane from outside is impractical, if not impossible. No matter how much its exterior form appears to shift, anyone inside a Drift lane experiences limited movement, with the path curving gently and only rarely turning or twisting dangerously.
Opportunities and Perils: Particularly for worlds in the Vast, Drift lanes provide unprecedented accessibility, and unrelated planets that now share a lane often develop exciting partnerships. Transporting cargo, passengers, and ideas between key locations is faster than ever, fueling economic and intellectual booms.
However, conventional Drift travel has one big advantage: it’s almost untraceable. Pirates once had to lurk near planets or raid settlements because catching a starship mid-Drift was almost impossible. However, Drift lanes enable blockades and ambushes along valuable routes, allowing brigands to patrol narrow routes carrying valuable cargo and heralding a new golden age of piracy.
New Lanes: The concept of Drift lanes is new to science. Within a few months, explorers identified many of the major Drift lanes known today, yet new lanes emerge periodically, and indeed, the exact workings of these lanes have yet to be fully understood. Did newly discovered lanes appear more recently than others? If so, what makes new Drift lanes? Is their number finite, or are there countless Drift lanes yet to be found, hiding across the galaxy’s expanse? Are Drift lanes permanent, or might they fade or migrate with time? A few conduits, colloquially called Drift threads, don’t seem to connect to planets, instead linking two unremarkable voids. Are these areas where future worlds might one day exist? Are the threads floating through the Drift until they snag and permanently connect two existing worlds? Or, are they just leftovers from the Crisis, like abandoned genes hiding amid useful DNA? Are they even Drift lanes or some related phenomenon?
Testing these hypotheses could take the efforts of a generation. Fortunately, whether it’s universities or organizations like the Starfinder Society promoting science, governments and militaries shoring up defenses, or companies uncovering efficient new ways to extract wealth and deliver goods, there’s no shortage of potential patrons eager to hire explorers and adventurers to locate and chart unknown Drift lanes.

Using Drift Lanes

Source Ports of Call pg. 13
To access a Drift lane, a starship must be outside the atmosphere but within the gravity well of a world at one end of the lane. The starship’s pilot must chart a course to the Drift lane, and lanes are exceptionally easy to navigate to (DC 10 Piloting). As usual, it takes 1 minute for the ship’s Drift engine to activate, during which time the ship’s thrusters can’t be used. If all these conditions are met, the ship enters the Drift on the Drift lane.
No matter their length across the galaxy, a Drift lane takes 7 days to traverse, divided by the ship’s engine rating (and, as usual for Drift travel, not rounding the result). For example, a Blackwind Sepulcher (Core Rulebook 307) with an engine rating of 2 would travel from one end of a Drift lane to the other in 3.5 days. The manage course downtime activity (Starfinder Character Operations Manual 154) can be used to further reduce travel time on a lane, using a value of 1 as the normal minimum. For example, a character who spent 1 day managing a ship’s course couldn’t reduce the final travel time below 2 days.
Ships traveling the same Drift lane can see and interact with each other in the Drift. A ship that gets on a lane but then loses or turns off its Drift engine remains parked on the lane, floating in the Drift and becoming a navigational hazard to other ships on the lane. Ships can wander off or intentionally leave a Drift lane, but when they eventually emerge from the Drift, it will be at a random location. This also adds some reliability to travel along these lanes; ships that use them are less likely to become lost forever in the Drift should something go awry.
Starship Combat: The exact width of a Drift lane (measured in hexes) varies by the route, per the GM’s discretion. A typical lane’s interior is about 10 hexes wide, with sides about 2 hexes thick. The sides behave much like difficult terrain, causing anything moving through them (including attacks) to treat each hex as though it were two hexes for the purpose of distances and movement speed. This provides limited room for maneuvering, plus it provides a clear way for ships to escape the Drift lane or even push an enemy out!
Adjust these dimensions as needed to create the desired encounter. However, note that a starship with average, poor, or clumsy maneuverability needs a space at least 5, 7, or 9 hexes wide, respectively, to turn around without using pilot stunts.

Famous Drift Lanes

Source Ports of Call pg. 14
Several discovered Drift lanes have garnered more attention due to their strategic or scientific importance. These lanes (or, in some cases, a pair or more of connected Drift lanes) have been named by those regularly using or studying them, though the average galactic citizen might still be unaware of their existence. Recalling knowledge about a known and named Drift lane requires a character to succeed at a DC 15 Culture or Piloting check (but even some established Drift lanes still retain their mysteries).

Charge of the Inheritor

Source Ports of Call pg. 14
Drift scholars were thrilled to find the terminus of a Drift lane in the atmosphere of Pabaq, the osharu (Starfinder Alien Archive 292) home world in Near Space, after the conclusion of the Drift Crisis. That excitement turned to fear when the first exploratory ships entering the lane emerged near a lifeless planetoid in a blue dwarf system near the edge of Swarm-controlled space. Soon after, large sects of the Knights of Golarion and the Church of Hylax sent regiments of troops and engineers to establish bases in that system, holding the far end of the Drift lane against the Swarm. Bulwark (page 134) has quickly become a pilgrimage site for followers of Iomedae who want to “fight the good fight” against the ravenous, insectile menace.

Conqueror’s Path

Source Ports of Call pg. 14
Even as the galaxy reeled from the Drift Crisis, the neglected Azlanti colony world of Kehtaria (see Atuity on page 44) became inexplicably easier to access—and the Drift Crash ejected a Veskarium battleship into the planet’s orbit. Since the Crisis concluded, Kehtaria has retained its accessibility as one end of two different Drift lanes. One route links to Vesk-4 in the Veskarium, while the other links to the planet Oyojii in the Azlanti Star Empire’s Oyoya system. Oyoya’s ruler, Arcidux Tethin Placaria(NE male Azlanti envoy) delights in the courtly prestige this Drift lane affords him, whereas Vesk-4’s High Despot Kamilzanva (LN female vesk solarian) takes a more humble approach. Given both empires’ recent tensions and histories of conquest, the route has become known as the Conqueror’s Path. Vesk quite enjoy the title, considering it an homage to Damoritosh and their military prowess, but any war would devastate everyone involved.
While overshadowed by these titans’ posturing, the Conqueror’s Path also extends from Oyoya to Embroi. So far, only a few embri trade delegations have used the lane, but Embroi keeps its loyalties and aspirations secret, and in the event of an Azlanti-Veskarium war, it could be Embroi that does the conquering!

Gambler Road

Source Ports of Call pg. 14
One of the more dangerous known Drift lanes, initially thought a dead end, opens in high orbit above the poisonous green gas giant Preluria in Near Space. Shortly after the end of the Drift Crisis, several scout vessels entered this Drift lane at Preluria, but only one returned. The others were all consumed by the black hole at the other end of the lane, and so it was deemed off-limits to travelers. However, a human engineer on the sole returning crew named Salli Numo (NG female human) began telling tales of seeing an impossible planet just inside the black hole’s event horizon before her ship reentered the Drift lane. This story sparked the interest of fortune seekers throughout the galaxy, and though most of these treasure hunters failed to return from their trip into this Drift lane—now called Gambler Road—a handful have come back bearing wild accounts of the impossible planet as well as strange relics that have made them rich.

Ibzen’s Calamity

Source Ports of Call pg. 14
The Near Space corporate prison planet Daegox 4 is connected to the Veskarium’s Conqueror’s Forge via a slightly unstable Drift lane. Those who mapped the lane reported that its “walls” appeared to be thinner than normal in several places, making the journey through it quite dangerous when it wends through areas of the Drift that see large amounts of planar activity. Accounts of fiendish starships, elemental storms, and pockets of planar debris penetrating the lane’s walls without warning have dissuaded most casual spacefarers from using this passage. Nevertheless, the wardens of Daegox 4 are concerned about the increased access the lane provides to their world, especially as it connects to a space station bristling with military technology.
The lane is named after Ibzen Houdle, a prisoner who somehow stole a Drift-capable shuttle from Daegox’s surface and escaped into the Drift lane. As security ships threatened to overtake him, Ibzen executed a daring maneuver where he skimmed the edge of the lane’s wall and attempted to reverse course while exiting the Drift, but his shuttle suddenly disappeared in a multihued explosion. Some believe Ibzen survived, jettisoning in a makeshift escape pod to some unknown destination.

Jatembe’s Jaunt

Source Ports of Call pg. 14
The vibrant world of Xibia is inhabited by the descendants of an expedition from the magic school of Magaambya on Lost Golarion. They regained contact with the Pact Worlds system after the discovery of Drift travel but have remained independent as a civilization of peace and scholarship. After the Drift Crisis, travelers discovered a Drift lane that connects Xibia to the Pact Worlds’ Triaxus, which is set to usher forth a new spirit of collaboration and trade between the two. The lane is named Jatembe’s Jaunt after the ancient wizard Old-Mage Jatembe, the founder of the Magaambya.


Source Ports of Call pg. 14
The series of Drift lanes known as Prosperiola connects Verces in the Pact Worlds, Vesk-3 in the Veskarium, Marixah in Near Space, and Great Shadar in the Vast, in that order; consequently, these lanes have increased the trade of technological goods and raw resources between these worlds. Prosperiola is a merchant’s dream come true, but with the increased ship traffic comes an increase in space piracy. Ambushes commonly occur along these Drift lanes, and cargo vessels making the route are always on the lookout for security specialists to protect them.