Between the M-Space campaign I'm running on Wednesdays and the hours I've sunk into XCOM 2: War of the Chosen, I've come up with a simple set of rules for my players to run their Scout agency. This is for sending out fire teams of explorers and troubleshooters to do some side missions while your team does the cool adventuring. Great for frontier exploration campaigns, but you can tweak them to be for scientific research, surveying, and even war and trade. Made with M-Space and Mythras in mind, but I want to make one for Traveller/Cepheus Engine.
In its most simplistic explanation, a government and its effectiveness in maintaining security and loyalty over its citizens is dependent upon transportation and communication. As all have improved, it's been possible for nations to grow larger, keep their holdings, and maintain their borders. Once you get into space, however, geopolitical borders and control go out the window. This is especially true the slower you make transportation and communication between two star systems. If everything is done with wormholes (or any relatively short hyperdrives) and instant ansibles, then it's a lot easier to have sector-spanning star empires. It's easier to get military ships to defend your planets from pirates or enemy alien attacks. You can send supply aid quickly in case of a natural disaster. Or, you can stop those damn space Yankees from revolting and throwing your supplies of space tea into the space Boston Harbor.
But, the slower things are, the harder it is to maintain security, loyalty, and control. So, if you have something like Traveller's jump drive, it's going to be more difficult to set up the big grand empire. In a setting where travelling to a star can take a week or more
per parsec, you would need a less centralized government to keep your outworlders happy about their independence, but planetary governors to keep them loyal to your government. A standard unitary sphere couldn't work like that. So what kind of governments could you see in such a setting? Luckily, a lot of this can be seen in settings like the Third Imperium of Traveller, as well as several of the 50's to 70's sci fi that inspired it and many modern takes on the space opera genre.
A note here. I'm no political scientist. I'm just a cook that has an interest in sci fi cultures and politics. So these are just rudimentary explanations done with the intent to provide interesting ideas for sci fi games within the constraints of a slower FTL drive. They aren't meant as a treatise on why one is better than the other.
This is one I see a lot in transhumanist RPGs and literature, such as Eclipse Phase and The Culture series. Essentially, due to the vast distances and time that transportation and communication must cross, enforcing control over a planet is difficult. So these planets have to make due on their own in a lot of cases. Now, this really can only work if either there are a lot of resources available on the planet, or they have advanced mining and nanofabrication machines that can literally print what they need. If you are lacking either of those, then the colony is entirely dependent on either their patron, trade, or neighbors. Still, it's an interesting culture to see in space, and one that can be pretty alien to many of your players.
Whether it's Dune or Traveller's Third Imperium, a feudal space empire dominated by houses is another possible government that one could see across the vast gulfs of space. One could see it as a fairly decentralized monarchy, with each planet owned by a house of nobility. There would be a great deal of tradition and honor laws to keep people loyal to the capital world, and the capital world would have to have a large space fleet to keep a good military presence. Basically replace tithes and levies with taxes and militia prospects and you've essentially got a cool and interesting space empire.
With this, much like Star Wars's Galactic Senate, you have a union of worlds that want to retain some independent government over their planet and holdings, but still have an overarching government that runs things between the members. Stuff like trade and economics, social and civil rights, law and order, military, and foreign policy. The overarching government is the federal government, while the individual worlds would be the world government. People in America are fairly familiar with the federation, while a confederation is more decentralized. This puts more power into the world government and they are more likely to be different governments from each other than in a federation. Unlike the feudal system, where the members are all subordinate to the capital, the federation/confederacy members are generally equal (at least on paper). People in these federations would be united against a major threat. Think something like the Klingons and Romulans, or the Zerg in Starcraft. Because of the remote distances and transportation times, sticking together against enemy empires is a good reason to form a federation.
Free World Alliance
Similar to the federations and confederations, an alliance is a cooperative union of planets that remain very independent and under control over their own populace, but have banded together for mutual defense or economic trade. Unlike the federation, this one is much looser and laws (usually called treaties or accords) are decided on by the members. This can be mutually beneficial, or it can lie more in the realms of realpolitik, with each trying to get the most from their relationship with the least give. An alliance is great because the worlds can be completely different governments and cultures from each other but still be together. So players can go to a monarchy one adventure and deal with social intrigue and nobles, and the next, they can deal with someone tampering with the bureaucracy of a republic's elections. Worlds would unite either for resource trading or to go against a common, but less powerful enemy. Like pirates and raiders, or other free worlds looking to exploit them. Maybe even a budding galactic empire looking to grow quickly.
Trade Empire/Cartel Plutocracy/Kleptocracy
This is a set I like. You can have a group of worlds united under several different companies, corporations, and conglomerates. Each planet is a client state under a specific corp rather than a government agency. Perhaps the government of the capital world prefers the private sector to fund colonial and trade efforts. Or, perhaps you can go full cyberpunk and the government is bought out by the different corporations at the expense of the citizens. Or maybe they simply are the government, with CEOs also holding government positions and social mobility being very limited or non-existent. Or perhaps the government retains control, but focuses less on claiming holdings for themselves and more on setting up trade agreements for either mutual or personal benefit. These could be balanced for the benefit of both parties, focused on the benefit of one, or the detriment of the other. Think Venice or Portugal during the Age of Discovery, or England and America during the 1800s with their aggressive trades with China. You can actually go a lot of ways with this beyond the usually evil megacorps you see in cyberpunk. The groups of corps in similar industries could form a cartel that controls the price of their exports. It'd have to be something not readily available or some sort of service or luxury (or even drugs). If you really want to make them the bad guys, you can have them form a kleptocracy, where they steal from their own people to supplement their own expenses. These worlds can be great for games of traders, political intrigue or, for the kleptocracy, rebels trying to overthrow their government.
That's all I have. I'm actually using a lot of these ideas for my current sci fi game that I'm running on Wednesdays. I like being able to add different types of planets and governments to make them feel like the players are entire a different world. I've actually had a lot of fun making the Trade Empires and Cartels in my game. What are some other empires and governments one could see in a sci fi setting of slower FTL ?
I've been chatting with a friend of mine about table-top gaming and how to avoid railroads but still have a semi-structured and cohesive plot for a campaign. It can be cool to want to run an epic adventure module with friends, especially some of the adventure paths like Age of Worms or Rise of the Runelords. As much as I like sandbox gaming with a bold group of players, sometimes I do long for a more structured adventure path that still takes into account the actions of the players. So to answer my friend, I remember something told to me by my lead cook.
One of the things his old boss talked about was called "blowing the bridge". Basically, the bridge is some goal or task that needs to get done. It doesn't matter how the bridge is blown, as long as it's blown up by the time he gets back. In this case, the bridge could be cleaning the kitchen, or getting through some prep quickly, or pushing through a rough service. He doesn't care if someone takes a lot of smoke breaks, eats on the job, or imbibes in their chefly vice (nose candy is fairly popular in the food industry), as long as ultimately the job gets done correctly and by the deadline.
Now, say what you will about the philosophy in terms of physical and mental health of a chef (and believe me, we are not mentally healthy in the slightest), the idea is something that has stuck with me when I design my campaigns. For me, when I have some scenario in mind for the players to run through, I segment the goal of the players as the proverbial 'bridge'. I try not to throw too many limitations on their methods, though I am a believe that limitations breed innovation. But in general, I don't care how the players blow the bridge, as long as they go and accomplish their goal. Now, depending on the method of blowing the bridge, it can lead to some serious fallout and consequences. Which for me is great, since the players are literally doing my adventure hook creation job for me. So with that, even in a more structured adventure path/module/fox hunt style of game, you can still have the freedom of player ingenuity and cleverness take the forefront to tacking a problem.
So in the last post I talked about aliens and how many I wanted and such. I think the important part about aliens is how strange should we make them. There are all kinds of alien types out in science fiction, some made to be more familiar to us humans and some meant to be mind boggling strange. In M-Space, they have a Strangeness meter about them that shows how different an alien is from the baseline of an Earthling. It goes from 1 to 100, where 1 is practically a human, 50 is some where in the middle, and 100 is really really strange. I've actually used that in many of my games since, including Stars Without Number and Cepheus Engine. It's a really handy tool to gauge your aliens. So I made up a little silly scale for people to use when making their aliens, based mostly on Hollywood special effects
Stage One: Big Ears/Ridged Foreheads (BERF)
SFX: Makeup and a mask
This is a common one to see in a lot of media. It's familiar to the players since the aliens look so much like humans, and easy on the budget both for Hollywood and the GM. Sometimes it's something really low key, like different markings on the skin, or something more like pointed ears or antennae on the forehead. I've always liked blue aliens, so the Andorrans were always pretty cool to me. Star Trek is big on this obviously, as are many of the aliens from Stargate, Eldar from WH40K, and some of the aliens from Defiance.
Stage Two: Actor in a Rubber Suit (ARS)
SFX: Rubber Suit, Some Prosthetics and Make Up, A little CGI
This is the sweet spot for me in terms of xeno sophonts. The ARS still have a mostly humanoid body, but are different looking enough to make them feel alien. Most of the Mass Effect aliens are like this, as are some of the Star Wars aliens.
Stage Three: Complex Alien Puppetry (CAP)
SFX: Complex Puppets, Some CGI, Stop Animation, two or more people operating it
The CAP is where things get pretty strange for the aliens. This is where you get quadrupeds (or hexapeds or more [or less]), strange alien limbs and heads, and other unusual, but recognizable shapes. A lot of the original trilogy Star Wars aliens are like this, as are some of the Xenomorph from Aliens, and Farscape. God I loved Farscape. While not strictly alien, many of the monsters in Ray Harryhausen's Dynamation films could also be under this.
Stage Four: Undeterminable Sapient Lifeform (USL)
SFX: CGI, Film Tricks, Animation
This is the weird stuff. USLs are aliens that don't look like anything we as humans would identify as life. Clouds of intelligent plasma, sapient suns, living techno-organic metals, creatures of living energy, or shadow monsters can definitely fit the bill. What's important is that the alien is truly alien, Some good examples are The Blob from the original 50's movie, the shapeshifter alien from John Carpenter's The Thing, the Shadow Aliens and Sun Alien from Doctor Who, the C'Tan from WH40K, and the ELS from Gundam 00 Awakening of Trailblazer.
This post marks the 30th and last post in my 30 Days of Blogging Till I'm 30. It's was an interesting and fun thing to do, though I'm kinda glad it's over now. So now I'm going to take a break and enjoy my 30th birthday tomorrow.
I've been rummaging around in between my two long weekend shifts. Stayed too late at work and woke up too late to blog about anything substantial. Tomorrow is the end of my thirty day challenge, and I promise to have something longer and with more meat in it. So aliens.
I'm wondering how many aliens I want in the game. I'd like the scope to feel a bit more personal, so I kind of want to do what Starcraft did and have just two aliens, or even just one. Keeps the setting more tightly knit I feel, and allows me to really sit down and detail more about the aliens. Much easier when there is only one or two, rather than ten or twelve like your standard space opera.
Korhal, the capital of the Terran Dominion in Starcraft
One thing that I've been rummaging through my head is how I want the Commonwealth of Free Planets to feel like. I definitely want to keep a frontier feel about it, but at the same time, I do want points of human and alien civilization so that I can have interesting urban and political adventures. For this I've found a great deal of inspiration with Starcraft, the implied setting for D&D 4e, and the TTRPG Clement Sector.
Both are settings that take place out in a frontier area and have their fair share of worlds to explore and colonies to meet with. But they also have that 'points of light' style of campaign where you can have large capital worlds that the players can run through for fun. So using Starcraft's Terran Confederacy/Dominion as an example, for every Korhal capital planet out there, you'll have plenty of Mar Sara backwaters out there for 'lawless adventuring'. Which to me, is the core of exploration. Lawlessness and lack of social rules and etiquette so the players can (and many times have to) use their wits to overcome difficult obstacles. While the points of civilization are mostly safe havens until trouble happens (or they go looking for it). Then they have to use the same wit and canny but with the limitations of the social center they are in. Which to me, can bring about the most innovation and ingenuity from players. Conflict + limitations = ingenuity.
So the Commonwealth have been there for centuries. With a decent enough population growth, I see most of the Core Worlds with a population in the tens to hundreds of millions. Most would be centered around the first colony of the planet, with many of the later ones acting as satellite cities. You'd probably have the occasional colony far away for reasons unknown (resources, religious, or simply tired of the main colony's shit). Leaves plenty of undiscovered wilderness on the planets for intrepid players to explore, while still having cities for other adventures. I'm thinking five main core worlds would be good enough, with the oldest being the most populated and probably the capital. Soon I'll have to give these planets names and maps, but for now, it's a bit up in the air.
Getting a new puppy acclimated to a new house and new people has been a full-time job in of itself. It's been fun at the very least, and I'm working muscles that haven't been used in years. In the meantime, an idea for the sci setting I was thinking up called Twenty Parsecs (I really like that name).
While there is definitely FTL, it's new for both sides and not super face. Going a parsec takes a week and this sector is very very far away from Earth. But, even with a week, they could still get to Earth in a year. That's partially why I had FTL development take so long. It doesn't really make much sense if they have been separated for centuries if they can simply go to Earth in a year. So I'm thinking that FTL for the Commonwealth of Free Planets is in its infancy, only a decade old. With this, planets are focusing on reconnecting with each other via trade and transport, instead of travelling to an Earth that may simply be a fable.