Traveller: Galactic Empires

So, having populated the map of Fringe Sector 13 with star systems and gone through the process of generating worlds, I’ve been working on setting up some interstellar states. The way I see it, if you want a world to become the hub of an interstellar government in Traveller you need to be bringing several important ingredients to the table.

  • Your world needs to have at least Tech Level 10 so you can build Jump drives. You can’t really be a colonial superpower if you’re relying on someone else to build your warships. Yes, according to the rules as written the elite of a world can get access to somewhat higher Tech Levels than the local average, but you can’t rule a galactic empire if your fleet only consists of a few cutting-edge prototypes: you need to be able to crank out starships reliably and regularly. The higher the Tech Level beyond 10, of course, the further you can Jump, so the larger your potential sphere of influence can be.
  • Once you know how to make starships you need the infrastructure to do so. This means you need to have a type A or B starport, because only those have the facilities to craft interstellar ships from scratch. The way I see it, the type A and B starports of a galactic empire are its hubs; prudent empires will not attempt to expand more than 1 Jump away from one of their A/B starports because let’s face it, that 1 week per Jump thing already puts a huge cramp on people’s style when it comes to interstellar communication and responding to emergencies because you essentially can’t send a punitive Naval force anywhere until at least 2 weeks after shit has kicked off because it’ll take at least 1 Jump for the news to get to you and 1 Jump for your vengeance to make its way back to the crisis zone. Trying to rule a planet 2 jumps away from your nearest major starport means that your Naval forces (who tend to be concentrated around such starports) may end up taking a month to respond to an emergency, which is pushing things out of the realm of viability.
  • You need to have an economic reason to go out and secure other people’s raw materials. This means, based on the trade system, you need to have at least one of the High Technology, High Population, Rich or Industrial traits. Some of these are mutually exclusive and others always appear together (you can’t be a Coruscant-style Industrial planet unless you have High Population, for instance), so the possible combinations are High-Tech/Industrial/High Population, High Tech/Rich, High Tech/High Population, High Population/Industrial, Rich, High Population, High Tech. Obviously, the more of these traits you have the greedier you are for raw materials and the better basis for massive expansion you have; a High-Tech, High Population Industrial planet has cool toys, the industrial capacity to make heaps of them, and plenty of people to draft into the Space Navy. Conversely, worlds with only one of these traits will expand more slowly – and indeed High-Tech worlds with Low Population, or a population too small to support an industrial base, may find that they are quite limited in their opportunities for expansion because you can only delegate so much to robots.
  • You need to have a single world government – balkanised worlds are too busy with their internal bickering to colonise the stars most of the time, and even if they make the attempt an individual country from a balkanised world isn’t going to be able to stand up to a galactic empire ruled by a world which can throw its entire economic weight behind its colonisation process.

So, having identified worlds with these traits and working out which worlds would expand quickly and which slowly, I started on the process of plotting out their spheres of influence. First I looked at the worlds within 1 Jump of their capitals, then worlds within 1 Jump of any type A/B starports captured during the first stage of the process, and so on.

In determining which worlds have been taken in by a star empire, I compared their governmental types. Worlds with the same governmental type as the empire’s capital, or which have the Captive Government governmental type, are under direct rule – their affairs are administered directly by the central government. (The big difference is that worlds under Captive Government have no real representation in the central government, whereas other worlds under direct rule are able to send representatives to the central government, whether this takes the form of elected members of a galactic assembly or fresh recruits for the military junta.)

Worlds with a government type which is different from the capital world (say, a Participatory Democracy being scouted out for recruitment by a Representative Democracy) but vaguely compatible have a 2 in 3 chance of being taken in under home rule – they get to keep their original form of government but let the galactic empire handle interstellar diplomacy and warfare. Worlds with an incompatible government type have a 1 in 3 chance of being inducted anyway under a home rule basis; likewise, in the case of balkanised worlds, there’s a 1 in 3 chance that one of the nation-states on the planet is backed by the galactic empire, or indeed represents a colonial force sent by the galactic empire. (Note that the way I did the system, worlds within 1 Jump of two different type A/B starports ruled by a galactic empire might end up having two rolls to see if they’re in the empire. This I consider a feature, not a bug: if the empire’s navy can double-team you from two different directions, that’s a good sign you might want to reconsider your earlier rejection.) Worlds with no government type are not part of any galactic empire – because if they were, they’d have a government, right?

Because I don’t want to have a dozen galactic empires with more or less the same governmental type, when two galactic empires of exactly the same government type ended up within 1 Jump of each other I merged ’em. The end result was a few large superpowers, a handful of smaller states, and some wild, unclaimed areas of the map to boot. (I’ve also designated some worlds with no governmental type to be Kzinti-colonised worlds, since I’ve decided that a) the Kzinti governmental type I’ve made up doesn’t really slot into any of the standard Traveller government types and b) the Kzinti wouldn’t accept entrance into any galactic empire and nobody considers poking that sort of hornet’s nest to be worth their while).

Once I’d done that, I was ready to flesh the various stellar empires out. Here are the interstellar states that call Fringe Sector 13 home…


These are guys whose holdings extend over multiple subsectors. There’s only a few of them and they’ve divided a large extent of the map between them, though I am pleasantly surprised that there seems to still  be a fair amount of unclaimed wilderness and scope for smaller states to exist between them. One thing the superpowers have in common is that they all give a fair amount of leeway to worlds under their control when it comes to the worlds’ internal affairs: worlds with home rule operate much like quasi-independent client states, some of whom even carving out their own smaller empires within the larger structure of the superpower, whilst worlds under direct rule tend to be highly subject to the whims of their governors, who aren’t subject to very much oversight. The reason for this lassaiz-faire attitude – without which the governance of such a vast area of space would be highly impractical, to say the least – differs for each of the superpowers.

The Technical Commonwealth

(Government type: Feudal Technocracy.)

These guys are easily the least control-freaky of the superpowers; many member worlds enjoy full home rule, and the worlds that are directly administered by the Commonwealth have a powerful voice in the form of the Colonial Assembly at the Commonwealth Homeworld of Yiel. The Commonwealth grew out of a number of smaller interstellar states which all operated on a broadly similar basis: namely, a technical elite co-ordinating information-sharing between the scientists, engineers and researchers of member worlds and ensuring that technological resources go where they are needed. Worlds with adverse environments obtain, at heavily subsidised rates, the equipment and know-how they need to keep their population fed, watered, supplied with sufficient air and so on; planets with less highly developed technological infrastructures gain access to high-tech goodies and can call on the Commonwealth to help them maintain law and order over the worlds they rule (often having attained rulership in the first place thanks to their pact with the Commonwealth…); cultures who have attained highly advanced levels of technology are able to barter their unique inventions in order to gain membership of the Commonwealth’s elite. The Commonwealth props up tyrants and supports democracies alike; much like the Trade Federation, they are not too concerned with how worlds with home rule govern themselves. Unlike the Trade Federation, they are more than willing to step in and take direct control of a world if stability is threatened through lawlessness, violence, unrestrained criminality, or a planet thinking it can go and declare independence all of a sudden after the Commonwealth has invested so much time and effort into making it an economically viable world. When the Commonwealth do go to war, it’s usually in the context of a “peacekeeping” actions like this, or as a response to outside aggression.

Style guidelines: Combine a spacefaring society’s high technology with a medieval guild’s protectiveness towards its specialised knowledge and skills (or maybe a version of the Adeptus Mechanicus from Warhammer 40,000 without the religious trappings) and you’ve more or less got it.

The Galactic Mandate

(Government type: Impersonal bureaucracy.)

Somewhat more centralist than the Commonwealth, the Galactic Mandate is the moribund remnant of an audacious attempt to reforge the Republic which didn’t quite work. As with the other superpowers, worlds under their command range from micromanaged Orwellian hellholes to near-anarchic places where the authorities have been bribed into turning a blind eye towards anything short of unrestrained mayhem.

The key difference here is that, unlike the other superpowers, the Mandate didn’t plan it that way. What began as a centrally planned authority has degenerated over the years into a profoundly corrupt bureaucratic morass. Everyone in the Mandate’s interstellar administration is busy lining their pockets, and the Mandate stumbles on mostly through inertia and the bureaucrats’ desire to protect their sources of income.

It would be a mistake to say that the Mandate is completely disfunctional. A happy side-effect of the cut-throat competition for particularly lucrative posts in the bureaucracy is that people who hold those posts want to be seen to be doing a good job so their opponents don’t get a chance to oust them, and the only way to do that is often to actually do a good job most of the time. And unless there’s actually money to be made out of oppressing the population of your world, the Galactic Mandate is not especially unpleasant to live in provided you behave yourself and pay your taxes. Still, those citizens of the Mandate who do take an interest in interstellar politics often despair that such a noble enterprise has come to such an ignominious pass – often at the same time as those same citizens are quietly accepting bribes.

Style guidelines: The most cynical depictions of real-world political corruption, turned up to 11 and transferred to deep space.

The Star Demons

(Government type: Charismatic oligarchy.)

These guys are real oddballs. The Star Demons burst onto the scene only recently, backed up by technology the likes of which even the Trade Federation don’t have access to. They’re a cabal of interstellar adventurers who, according to their propaganda, have attained nigh-superhuman powers due to their command of very advanced technology. Certainly, the individual Star Demons have a nasty way of surviving “accidents” and more blatant assassination attempts that should by rights have killed them, and at least one is rumoured to also have psionic powers.

Each Star Demon is effectively a law unto themselves, touring around space crushing dissent within their realm wherever it pops up and always looking out for a way to expand their domain. As the title “Star Demon” implies, they go out of their way to cultivate terrifying reputations, and many worlds have capitulated to them out of fear of suffering the same outrages that befel planets foolish enough to resist them.

Despite them being psychotic dictators, the Star Demons are not so stupid as to try to micromanage the worlds they hold sway over. They even give plenty of worlds under their control full home rule, provided that the tithes of funds and volunteers for their armed forces (the so-called Chastisers) keep coming. Even when the Star Demons do come visiting, they’re more often chasing up personal business than conducting widespread purges – though if a planetary population personally offends them, a good old-fashioned purge will do…

Style guidelines: Each Star Demon should be a unique individual and the way their realm is run should be adjusted accordingly. As far as inspirations for individual Star Demons go, the main source of inspiration are the villains from Jack Vance’s The Demon Princes, though Darth Vader, Ming the Merciless, and Servalan from Blake’s 7 would all make good Star Demons. Speaking of Blake’s 7, worlds under direct rule and the Chastiser forces bear a distinct resemblance to the Federation from Blake’s 7; worlds gifted with home rule desperately try to avoid coming under direct rule.

Non-Aligned Powers

Smaller powers, usually extending across a single subsector or thereabouts, which have retained their independence through wiles, guile, military prowess or simply being too much trouble to bother annexing.

Interstellar Popular Republic

(Government type: Charismatic dictatorship.)

Dictatorial regime run by Generalissima Eva Juarez, hampered in expansion by a lack of resources and technical expertise – plus fairly effective containment efforts spearheaded by Technical Commonwealth. Quite simply, the IPR lacks the facilities, expertise or technical know-how to pose a threat to its neighbours, and every time it seems to be on the verge of changing that lightning raids from one of the neighbouring powers swiftly puts paid to that. The IPR is notable for being the only interstellar state in Fringe Sector 13 to reject the Trade Federation – even the Star Demons consider the Federation to have its uses – making them a true pariah state.

Style guidelines: Mashup of various post-World War II dictatorships.

Democratic Union of Planets

(Government type: Representative democracy.)

An attempt at interstellar democracy on a galactic scale, with planets that are full members of the Union (ie, those under direct rule) sending elected representatives to the Union Senate. Worlds under home rule are members of a mutual defence agreement (the Self-Determination Pact) with the DUP but retain full control of both their internal affairs and their international relations except where it comes to matters of war.

Style guidelines: The nicest government on the map, think the Federation from Star Trek or the way the Interstellar Alliance in Babylon 5 liked to present itself (rather than how it actually was).

Hannachi’s Protectorate

(Government type: Charismatic dictatorship.)

A group of planets drawn into a mutual defence pact against the Star Demons by Admiral Nassima Hannachi, known for being the only commander to have successfully led a defence against a Star Master invasion. Of course, this defiance has made her number one on the Star Demons’ kill-list…

Style guidelines: In a state of constant preparedness, midway between Blitz-era London and Duck and Cover-era America, with a dash of Babylon 5 during the war years. Although modelled as a charismatic dictator under the Traveller system, it should be stressed that Hannachi is about as benign as such leaders get; like Churchill during World War II, she might make questionable decisions from time to time, but the worlds under her command are under constant threat of invasion and she does what she does because she believes it’s the only way to protect the people who’ve put their trust in her. Well, that’s what the propaganda says at least…

Bluth’s Republic

(Government type: Civil service bureaucracy.)

A group of worlds which made first contact with interstellar society after being contacted by legendary Scout Donald Bluth. After he retired to this region of space several offered him governmental positions as ambassador to the wider galaxy but instead he spent his retirement touring the worlds he’d discovered, visiting the various friends (and, rumour has it, startling number of lovers) he’d made on his voyages, and writing studies of models of global, interplanetary and interstellar governance he had observed on his travels. The books were of mild academic interest but sold like crazy in the worlds he was personally responsible for discovering, due to the celebrity status he had won there with his acts of heroism.

Soon enough, those worlds rapidly adopted a system not unlike the one he proposes at the conclusion of the book, in which he argued for planets to have as much self-determination as possible, and for interstellar matters to be handled by a civil service bureaucracy where the major officers hold their positions for strictly-limited terms of service and are subject to a full audit of their work in the job once they come up for retirement.

Style guidelines: A (so far) functional, not obviously corrupt interstellar government, as invented by James T. Kirk.

Republic of the Rift

(Government type: Civil service bureaucracy.)

A new power in Fringe Sector 13, emerging from the sparsely-inhabited galactic rift at its border. They appear to have high technological prowess – at least on a par with the Trade Federation, and possibly on a level which may compete with the Star Demons – and operate on a rigidly meritocratic system. They apparently are descended from various high-tech missions sent to explore the rift back in the days of the Human Republic, but over the years of isolation they have become rather eccentric. They have a particular hatred of the Star Demons.

Style guidelines: A civil service bureaucracy run by people who are extremely helpful unless you ask them who they actually are and what they want. Then things get ugly.

Better Living Inc.

(Government type: Company/corporation.)

Better Living Inc. is a corporation offering its services far and wide, which has established control over a small region of space thanks to their specialisation in government consultancy work. Their packages range from offers of advisors to governments who want some outside eyes to help them work out a reform package to “planetary insurance policies” which amount to promises of military, technical or humanitarian aid to worlds if and when it’s required in return for certain political concessions, to effectively providing governments-for-hire to administer worlds where the population has decided to forcibly eject their existing government and invite Better Living in to help manage the transition to a new form of governance.

The worlds Better Living enjoys direct rule over, then, often tend to be disaster areas of one form or another – places where the existing government has collapsed and Better Living has been able to ride in to help re-establish order. These are all intended to be temporary arrangements – Better Living considers these processes to be long-term investments, in which funds provided now will translate to generous tithes handed over once the worlds in question have become economically viable again. They are not a charity; however, by making sure they appear with food aid, security, medicine and a helping hand as soon as they hear of a disaster on a nearby world which no other government is taking care of, they have attained the saintly reputation of one.

Style guidelines: A mashup of typical cyberpunk megacorporations, Oxfam, and the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.

3 thoughts on “Traveller: Galactic Empires

  1. Seems like a solid system, and you’ve ended up with some very interesting-sounding elements. I think the Star Demons are probably my favourite – basically supervillains in spaaaace! but Better Living Inc. is a close contender.

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