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…

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Traveller: Aliens and Non-Humans

Intelligent aliens in SF RPGs – the sort who can talk and build things and sell you stuff and offer you jobs and conspire to rule the galaxy, as opposed to the sort who are basically monsters – come in two different varieties, broadly corresponding to the two different flavours of intelligent aliens offered by SF as a whole. You have your humans in rubber suits, who are no different from ordinary humans in terms of the way they think or behave 99% of the time (or take one particular aspect of the human experience and crank it up to 11), or you have aliens whose designers intend them to be properly alien, and so often have decidedly unusual psychologies which don’t necessarily seem very functional.

Traditionally, Traveller has been hyped by the fans as offering excellent examples of the latter sort. Certainly, in the default Third Imperium setting the designers made a concerted effort to try and make sure this was the case: in general, the “humans in funny suits” niche was taken by actual human cultures – descendants of peoples kidnapped from Earth back in caveman times by the Ancients and transplanted to other parts of the galaxy following a certain amount of tampering – whilst the more exotic aliens like the K’kree or the Hivers had entire supplements devoted to understanding their psychological makeup and societies.

This is cool if you appreciate Traveller as an exercise in worldbuilding for the sake of worldbuilding. I think it’s markedly less useful in the context of actually playing the game. If, as a GM, I were seriously trying to roleplay your alien characters according to the writeups in the alien modules then I suspect one of two things would happen: either I would be so hesitant in thinking through how the aliens are going to behave that it would slow the game down or I would end up failing to distinguish the individuals as individuals, due to being so taken up with portraying their psychology as a species I won’t have time to make them distinct characters in their own right.

The Mongoose edition of Traveller includes basic stats for the more prominent aliens in the official Traveller universe. Whilst I am not using that galaxy I have no qualms about pinching ideas from it and mangling them to fit my own plans – and, in particular, to make my portrayal of said aliens easier. (For the moment I don’t want to include any alien PCs in the game, because I like the assumption of an all-human party in Classic Traveller and I think scarcity of aliens and the specialness of meeting them is mildly undermined if there’s an alien on your crew.

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Traveller: Galactic History and Stellar Governance

Since my primary GMing responsibility for the near future lies with the preparation of my Traveller campaign, I thought I’d treat you folks to some of the work I’ve been doing on the background – mainly, I admit, as a spur to me doing the actual work, but still, it’s the thought that counts right? If you’re interested, the goodies are after the cut, if you don’t care about me blabbering about my homebrewed campaign setting move on, nothing to see here.

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