Category Archives: World Generation

New System Generation, WIP#2

The script now handles multiple stars and their separation:

It probably doesn’t look like much but this is pretty exciting to me.

The script can’t handle white dwarfs, brown dwars, and giant stars very well yet, and it doesn’t generate planets or moons, but I am getting there.

(Knowing me, I’ll probably rewrite this monster at least once before I produce final data, too…)

New System Generation, WIP #1

Reports of my death have been vastly exaggerated, for now.

And not only that, I’ve picked up the torch of Sci Fi world-building again. Thanks to Emmett‘s comment, I ditched my old, ugly world generation scripts written in shell and awk (really, what was I thinking). I always wanted to learn Python anyway.

So far, my script does some basic generation work. The beauty here is that it not only reliably produces data using supplied random seeds, I also set this up in an object oriented fashion. That is, this is wholly modular and I might end up with an entire universe generator in one piece of software.

Anyway, here’s some sample output:

And yes, it’s called because I started with “Hello World” and then just kept adding pieces. I guess this is about 2h of work so far.

Update: It now creates basic SVG maps, too:

Why Colonize a Crappy Planet?

Since I am hosting this month’s RPGBA Blog Carnival over at Enderra, I thought I might post a little bit about colonies this month.

One of the quirks of the Traveller world generation system is that it creates populations on Earthlike and hostile worlds alike. The modifiers in the Mongoose rules somewhat mitigate this, but not much. Combined with an abundance of Earthlike worlds, the question naturally arises: “Why would anybody live on such a hell-hole?”

Low Tech Levels: Isolated cultures of Tech Level 7 or 8 (20th-21st Century) might attempt to settle a moon or a hostile or marginal world in their own system simply because it’s the only option they’ve got. If they have Grav drives or a lot of resources, they can even reach nearby star systems (very slowly), but without Hyperdrives their choices are limited.

Paid to stay: There might be excellent reasons for the colonists to stay. Alien ruins, abundant natural resources, research, or something else might make a colony on a hostile world economically viable. The colonists are mostly employees of whatever corporation or organization runs the show, and they are paid premiums to stick around.

No place else to go: The original colonists were outcasts, voluntarily or forced. All the good planets were taken, and they had to contend with what was left. The main objection to this is that new Earthlike worlds can bee easily found by traveling outside the Empire/Republic, but proximity to the core might outweigh the problems and challenges the planet poses – and may ensure that the colonists are left alone, where a more desirable planet could be a target for a takeover.

Terraforming: The colonists could be a terraforming crew. The planet is a mess right now, but give it two hundred years and it’ll be a man-made paradise. By signing up for terraforming duty, the colonists and their heirs are guaranteed choice land parcels and a better life.

It’s Not That Bad: A world that is extremely hostile to us – say, Venus – might be easy to colonize at very high technologies. A super-earth with a high gravity isn’t that daunting if you can just stick grav plates into your colony – you get the idea.

Modified Humans and Aliens: Some alien species will find a “hostile” world to be quite to their liking. The Traveller world generation makes no assumption about the species of inhabitants, and in a space opera-ish setting like Contact Light, the locals could actually be non-humans. A variation of this is the concept that we might genetically modify some colonists to thrive in an environment that humans would otherwise find unpleasant or unbearable.

We don’t actually ever go there: The settlement is actually on a moon or space station and not the hostile planet itself. Technically, under the Traveller rules, the UWP should describe the station in this case. However, there might be excellent reasons for the locals to claim to be a planetary colony and make it stick – government subsidies, or better rights, representation in the Senate, better military protection, it all depends on interstellar law. Perhaps this requires a small colony on the surface for legal reasons, with staff well-paid and rotated out regularly (in which case it becomes Paid to Stay).

There is no spoon: The colony might not actually exist. It could be a census mistake, or a cartographic artifact. In the Contact Light universe, starships do not need to refuel with Hydrogen after every jump; in a Traveller universe this could lead to some stranded ships. A variation of this is an abandoned colony – they attempted to settle this world but failed, and the census data has not been updated.

Get With It, RNG: It’s always permissible to change the random results. Make the atmosphere a little more friendly, decrease the planet’s size, what have you – Or just make it an uninhabited world after all.



A Note on Names

I’ve always had trouble coming up with good names, and in this regard names for colony worlds aren’t any different from names for people. Over the past few years I’ve built a list with about 700-ish names for colonies. However, these were intended for a Terro-centric culture, and many make little sense in Contact Light.

There was no Washington on Enderra, for example. That’s straight forward. But you’ll notice I have already been using names from Earth mythology, for example.

I think these are fair game; they resonate with us because we’re so used to them. Everybody connects Arthur to Avalon, for example. We can assume that these are translations, or an artifact of the strange way the multiverse works.

That said, I may revisit some of the names later, when I’ve got more of Colonial Space nailed down, so to speak.


People, People Everywhere (High Population Worlds, Part 1)

One thing you will remember from when we looked at the dice results for this sector was the insanely high total population – 2663 billion people – for what is supposed to be frontier-ish.

This is really due to four population code B worlds – that is, 100 billion or more inhabitants. I’ve already downgraded one of them. In addition, the sector contains 8 worlds inhabited by between 10 and 100 billion people:

(5)Temperate 1429 AA8ABB9-G Hi Ht Wa     HI5 834.000.000.000 (5)Temperate
(8)Temperate 0516 A763BD9-C Hi Ht       HI8 482.000.000.000 (8)Temperate
(3)Temperate 2614 BAA5BD9-7 Fl Hi       HI3 (3)Temperate
(8)Temperate 2917 B888AA9-7 Ga Hi       HI8 95.700.000.000 (8)Temperate
(3)Temperate 2611 A400A96-D Hi Ht In Na Va HI3 (3)Temperate
(8)Temperate 1418 C785A96-8 Ga Hi       HI8 61.700.000.000 (8)Temperate
(7)Temperate 2135 B784A89-7 Ga Hi       HI7 (7)Temperate
(5)Temperate 1113 A8A5A89-D Fl Hi Ht     HI5 30.500.000.000 (5)Temperate
(4)Hot 1935 B743A88-9 Hi In Po     HI4 15.700.000.000 (4)Hot
(3)Temperate 0305 B410AD9-B Hi In Na     HI3 (3)Temperate
Xoth 2219 A576A85-A Ga Hi In     HI7 (7)Temperate

Is this even possible?

From a pure math standpoint, absolutely. Earth’s population has increased dramatically over the past few centuries, as better agriculture and medicine reduced mortality – especially child mortality. When I was a kid, the world’s population hit 5 billion people. I remember the TV gala; for some weird reason people actually celebrated it. 2011, it was at 7 billion. Call it 25 years for 50% growth. Simply continue to feed all these people and you’ll have run-away, exponential growth.

Earth's Population over time, in Billion
Earth’s Population over time, in Billion

Of course, things aren’t as simple as that. First off, the Earth is a closed system and at some point – we are not sure where it would be – there simply won’t be enough food, energy and water. Population would hit a wall and things would turn ugly.

In reality, even if there was no limit to food, energy and water (say because of interstellar imports)  it won’t work out that way.

People adapt to their environment – we’re really good at that. Better health, more wealth, and especially better education also limit fertility. Women simply give birth to fewer children. In the 1950s, it was 5 kids per woman. In the early 2000s, it was half that. The UN expect it to eventually drop to just above 2.05. In other words, a balance will set in, and the best guesses place this at ~9 billion people.

A regular Sunday shopping in Chennai. A good example of the sea of humanity. cc-by-sa, McKay Savage
A regular Sunday shopping in Chennai. A good example of the sea of humanity. cc-by-sa, McKay Savage

In other words, a super-densely populated world isn’t going to happen in any natural way. Population growth is a byproduct of technological progress. If that progress stops, or even reverses, the population becomes unsustainable and will either crash or find an equilibrium. If technological progress continues unabated, then attitudes will change with it and population will find an equilibrium eventually as well, just at a higher level. To put it bluntly, people simply have better things to do with their lives than to raise kids continuously.

Genre Considerations

I am obviously not worried as much about building a realistic population model as I am about creating a setting that fits its genre and is internally consistent and, well, hopefully interesting.

Massively populated worlds are definitely in-genre. Asimov’s Trantor is of course the grand-daddy of them all, and had anything between 40-500 billion inhabitants. Coruscant has a trillion inhabitants. Then there are the many city-worlds of the Warhammer 40k empire (and probably others). Massive, galactic-scale societies support these worlds and absorb their effect on the economy.

In Niven’s “Known Space”, Earth has a population of 18 billion and is described as a crowded hell. Heinlein assumes 11 billion in “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” and it’s not exactly doing us any good. (Of course in “Starman Jones”, Heinlein assumes that 4 billion people are a lot). In both cases, space travel is fairly limited for various reasons – all those Terrans can’t just mass-emigrate, which limits the effect on other worlds.

The World-Builder’s Solution

My gut reaction was to simply downgrade these worlds – as I did with #2021. However, I reminded myself of the reasons for using a random generator in the first place: It is supposed to spur our imagination, right?

Here’s a map of where those >1 billion people planets are:


The 1.2 in Subsector K is our world #2021, which originally had 786 billion people. Okay, so the absolute numbers are quite too high. But do you notice what I am seeing?

Subsector H, birthplace of the rebellion, has two super-high population planets. Lots of cheap manpower for the war. And that subsectors H-J axis I mentioned? Another super-high population world in subsector J – and the world with the highest tech level in the entire sector! Now, the 834 billion (and 482 billion) are just ridiculously high numbers, but if we fix it like so:


We’ve effectively preserved the random generator results, improved them significantly, and used them to explain the campaign’s political situation.

This brings the population of the sector down to 508 billion people – a fifth of what it was initially.

Next up, we’ll take a look at these planets’ individual UWPs to figure out just how these people might be living.

Welcome to Sector 256

It’s been a while since I worked on world generation. Needless to say, the layout of composition of “Imperial Space” is one of the big fundamentals that needs to be settled before I can work on the details of the setting.

I did consider reworking the random generator into generating entire solar systems (Evil Dr Ganymede has posted a great revision of the 2300AD system generation rules that seems about perfect for the purpose) and perhaps into a less grid-based 2D map, or even a pseudo-3D map.

In the end, I think I should not do either of these. For a space opera setting, a realistic map isn’t necessary – in fact, it’s probably a distraction. Most people can’t visualize 3D space very well.

As for Dr Ganymede’s system – it would create a lot of nice detail but in the end I also want to make some progress. If whatever audience this thing gets prefers, I can always retcon. 🙂

To cut to the chase, I played around with a few random seeds, and 256 looks great. Here is the map:


The green circles indicate “habitability”, the darker the better. The lines are “travel routes”, basically they connect all A/B class starports that lie within a certain distance of each other.

What I like about this sector is its structure. Subsectors F, G and H are probably the “core” of the (former) Empire. I think that J might make a good place for either the Imperial capital – adding physical distance to the social detachment that led to the civil war – or the rebel capital – explaining why the Empire didn’t see it as a bigger threat.

Subsectors M and N, as well as subsectors O and P make for one nice “fringe cluster” each. There’s a small group with two very habitable worlds in subsector A – a nice “outpost” area – and a number of colonized worlds in subsector B, which might prove interesting – since none of them is a nice place to live there must be something fairly important there to warrant settlement.


The sector contains 262 worlds with a total population of 2,663,284,385,714. That’s a lot of people and I’ll definitely have to reduce it – there are a number of population B systems.

Tech level distrubtion:


World classes:


Starport classes:


I think this is going to be a very nice sector. Do let me know what you think of the layout!

Next step: Clean up the map, and turn it from a generic sector into our colonial space.

Evolution of the Imperial Flag

I sometimes wonder why I am not making more progress. But then, if I look at the time I spend on some things, it becomes clear. Case in point – flags. I put a lot of importance on them, and their symbolism and their effect on the (real-world) audience is taken into account.

The Imperial flag started out as an emblem several years ago, when my setting was still very different:


Even back then, I created various versions. Some samples:


As I began working on the current iteration, I decided to switch the Imperial color from red to blue. I went through many iterations:

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Until I finally decided on one design. As a last step, I changed the color to a slightly darker blue, to make the central sun stand out better, and the end result is:


All through the process, my friends Realmwright and Fester provided valuable feedback. Thanks guys! 🙂

How Many Colonists Does It Take?

One of the big questions you face when working on an interstellar science fiction setting is: Just how many people does a colony start with?

Cue this timely article by Popular Mechanic. They assume colonization by generation ship, but I think the results are still applicable if you simply look at the colony at its destination. It takes between 10000 and 40000 people to maintain genetic diversity and guard against accidents that wipe out a substantial number of colonists. As a side note, the authors also recommend that it’s better to send a small fleet of vessels rather than one big ship – but that sort of redundancy is pretty much a given if you are sending that big an expedition.

10-40k is a really good match for population characteristic value 4 (“tens of thousand”), and you could assume that any world that has Pop 4 and a TL that is close to your setting’s mainline technology level is a fresh young colony – especially if it’s out in the periphery.

At first glance it might seem that colonies are big busy places – forty thousand people is a fair-sized town – but keep in mind that this is the entire population of an entire planet. They’ll spread out at least a little bit, into homesteads, camps, and outposts, and the main settlement with the starport won’t be a very big settlement at all.

It’s also worth noting that 10,000 individuals is the assumed number of survivors during the Toba catastrophe human population bottleneck.

For comparison: Concord, NH has about 40k inhabitants. Caldwell Parish in Louisiana has 10,004 inhabitants. Its largest town, Clarks, has just over 1000 inhabitants.

Tech Levels Revisited

Tech Level – assigning a numeric value to a civilization’s technological development – is a powerful idea and having worlds with varying tech levels – often in stark contrast to each other despite physical proximity – is one of the central aspects of the “look and feel” of Traveller. The idea, of course, was a staple of the science fiction genre at the time. Dumarest comes to mind, and Space Viking – but also Foundation.

Other games have used the same concept. GURPS and TORG are two examples I am familiar with, but pretty much every science fiction game has done something similar. None of them are compatible beyond the fact that they use Earth’s development as a model up until the present.

I decided early on – actually before the setting I am working on saw the light of day – that I wanted to use a Tech Level system, and I also decided that I should stay as compatible to Traveller as possible.

A word of warning: This is a long post…

Continue reading “Tech Levels Revisited” »