Tag Archives: Setting

Well, What Sort of Aliens?

Before I go into detailing some of the races in the setting, let’s take a look at common approaches to alien design and their problems (and beenefits) and lay out what sort of aliens we will have in our setting.

Level of Anthropomorphism

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first: I am talking about Rubber-Forehead Aliens.

Science Fiction is full of aliens who are little more than humans with some stuff glued to their forehead (and in some cases, in obvious rubber suits). To some extent this is of course necessary because aliens in science fiction are portrayed by humans, and more extreme makeup or even CGI is expensive (and used to be impossible). Still, this is one trope that I should avoid like the plague – no matter how “in genre” it might be.

That is not to say that humanoid aliens are a bad idea. There is a lot to be said for a basic humanoid shape, not the least of which is that it’s the only sentient, tool-making, technologically advanced species we know of – ourselves. If it works in one place, it’ll work everywhere.

Indeed, I expect a large number of aliens in the setting to fall into this category. It will be a tough job to make them convincing and interesting.

There is a subset of humanoid aliens, and those are the human aliens – Aliens that look to human that they are mistaken for them, and often they can interbreed with humans, too.  These exist in many, many settings – Spock and the Vulcans, the humans in Star Wars, Elves and other fantasy races, Vineans from Yoko Tsuno, H. Beam Piper’s Freyans, and so on. They may be slightly odd – Spock’s supposedly somewhat greenish, and has long ears; Vineans are blue, and so on – but they are identical with humans in every other respect.

In general, these are a problem because they make no sense. There’s always the Ancient Astronauts approach that is so over-used (Traveller, Battlestar Galactica are notable examples), but that’s pretty much it. Parallel evolution won’t account for it.

However, in my particular case I will actually use human aliens. Humans, Endari, Thurin, and Mineons are all refugees from Enderra, and Enderra is – as you may be aware – a D&D fantasy world. The Endari are Elves, the Thurin are Dwarfs, and the Mineons are Gnomes. Just don’t tell anybody – it’s a secret.

Last but not least there is that category of Starfish Aliens.

It includes all aliens made to be truly alien. When creating bizarre aliens we need to keep in mind that they also have to be functional – that is, they need certain features such as hands to be able to build a tool-using, technological civilization. A whale, for instance, might be sentient, but he will never build a fire. And when used as characters, it becomes more and more difficult for the audience to emphasize with these truly strange aliens, which is why they are usually antagonists or mere mysteries or flavor.

What capabilities do aliens have?

It often seems that designers give their creatures and monsters all sorts of nifty powers. Some of these make sense, some are borderline, and some are impossible. Fundamentally, I think that if an animal species on Earth has a certain feature or ability, then one of our alien species can have that same ability. The important thing is that we need to consider the implications of such biology when we then design their culture.

They will not have truly fantastic features – invisbility, for example –  but I’ll get back to you on breaking this self-imposed rule at some point, too.

Species vs Culture

One last important distinction that I need to point out is that “species is not equal to culture”. Again, many fictional setting offend on this count – mostly because it is easier on both designer and the audience. All Vulcans are logical and emotionless. All gnomes are terrifying engineers. All Hutts are criminals. All Orcs are evil brutes.

Obviously, I will not have the time and creative energy to create hundreds of cultures for each species, but I’d like to create at least a few distinct variations each to avoid this trope.

 

The Nine Sectors

If you recall, local space in this setting looks roughly like this:

adj-02aThe highlighted area is the area covered by our map – 3×3 sectors – with the central one, marked with a small “X”, the main sector the setting is all about. Coreward is up, Outward is down, Spinward is left and Trailing is right.

In order to create this central sector, we do need to know what’s just outside them, so I have been creating those other eight sectors’ worth of planets. I will not really check them or fix them up, except for regions that are actually important to my effort. This means all systems that I need to create trade routes to (so I can add them to my map) and a small section in the right-hand sector into which Empire has extended.

These are the tentative names I’ve picked:

adjacentsectors-names

Some notes:

Core: This is the core of colonial space. The empire/republic are here, and most of the important colonies. The border of this sector is pretty much the “edge of civilization”.

Expanses: Imperial colonisation and expansion was mostly directed towards this sector. It is a fairly sparse sector.

Frontier: This is an attractive sector with a dense population of star systems. From the Imperial/Republic Core sector it is only reachable via two key routes, and it is almost entirely unexplored.

Nebula: Dense interstellar gas clouds dominate this region, and many systems in this sector are fairly young. There is little usable real estate in this sector, and astrogation is hazardous.

Void: As the name implies, systems are scarce in this sector, but it is essentially divided into two regions. The more coreward void region, and a more outward-laying cluster of star systems.

Sentinel: The original colonists approached from this direction; it is a sector comparable to Core in terms of system density. Several smaller interstellar nations exist close to Core sector, and Empire (and now Republic) does extend about one subsector into the Sentinel sector. Exploration does not extend far into this direction, however, and all of the logs and astrogational data from the original fleet has been lost.

Islands: Several small startclusters dominate this sector, separated by great distances which make travel complicated.

Marches: Another frontier region pegged for expansion by Imperial authorities. However, since it is slightly further away and several other nations are in between Empire and the Marches sector, exploration projects had emphasized the coreward directions. It is unknown what, if any, expansion the Republic will undertake. The sector itself is fairly sparse in star systems close to Core sectors, but the outer region of the Marches is dense in stars.

Tempest: This sector is remarkable for an unusually high number of asteroid belts, nova remnants, and dead worlds – that is, worlds where life had once existed, but which are now sterile. The cause is unknown.

Quo Vadis, 256?

So. We have a home. Sector 256. This means the work is just beginning – now I need to lay out local space.

s256-annotations-subsectors

The map of local space should be centered on the Imperial Core. That is, by producing this map we imply that “this is it”, similar to how a Terran national map will show, well, the subject of the map plus perhaps parts of some neighbors. Subsectors F and G as well as J and K should thus be the main focus. K is obviously quite sparse – a backwoods area people don’t go to, perhaps comparable to a stretch of desert.

H on the other hand has many worlds that must be quite important – look at all of these A and B class ports and the travel connections between them!

In theory, this could be a neighboring nation but the ideas I have do not allow for a secondary powerful nation. So it’s part of the Empire, and this means I’ll have to expand the map to the “east” a little bit eventually, just to give our protagonists some room to explore.

s256-annotations-empire

The Imperial capital world, Mithra, and the original colony worlds the colonists settled on should be close to the center of that region. They do not “have” to be important anymore – just consider the difference between Rome two thousand years ago and now – but they should probably be relatively heavily populated. They should also be fairly close to each other.

Looking at the map, I immediately notice a bunch of temperate worlds which are marked as fairly habitable. (I also notice that habitability index 9 didn’t get shaded, but no matter). These are 1917, 2017, 2118, 2119, 2021, and 2219:

(8)Temperate 1917 X863445-0 Lt NI HI8 25500
(9)Temperate 2017 B8658B9-A Ga Ri HI9 833000000
(7)Temperate 2021 A663BB8-C Hi Ht HI7 786000000000
(8)Temperate 2118 D864951-8 Ga Hi HI8 5770000000
(8)Temperate 2119 C875657-8 Ag Ga NI HI8 4610000
(7)Temperate 2219 A576A85-A Ga Hi In HI7 12200000000

Interesting. #1917 works well for Mithra, just increase the population a little: X863845-0, Pop 156000000. Makes them “Rich” by Traveller definitions and I appreciate the irony. But we’ll get back to that later.

The other three original colonies were Sassandra, Ascalon and Xoth. Let’s use the three garden worlds, #2017, #2118 and #2219, for them. Either the colonists picked worlds most suitable for them, or ones they could easily terraform.

As for #2021, I’m reducing the population code to 9, with 1.19 billion inhabitants.

The Republic

The Republic was founded on Avalon. But where is that? With Mithra in “G”, our logical choices are “H” and “J”. J is probably the better choice – More isolated – but without wanting to foreshadow anything, I really want to place it in H. Let’s assume all those interconnected worlds indicate a tightly-knit community in this province, perhaps they were never too happy about being annexed by Empire in the first place. And Willem II was just the sort of Emperor who would ignore serious problems staring him into the face.

Consulting the map again, I find this:

(2)Hot 2715 A6309C7-D De Hi Ht Na Po HI2 1580000000

A small-ish desert world with high tech, good infrastructure, a very thin atmosphere and a class C government which the Traveller rules book says could be a revolutionary council. Could it be any better?

I can totally imagine these poor bastards, working in the mines under adverse conditions, their living quarters packed due to the high population. Everybody’s poor, and ideas of a Better Future begin to spread.

With the locations of Mithra and Avalon fixed, I’m thinking that the Republic first captured worlds in J, before circling back and attacking the Imperial core worlds from multiple sides. This probably also means that the J-H axis, with travel through the empty space of K, is the main area of Republic control. G is an occupied mess, and F ends up as a region on the sidelines – the Contact Light equivalent of the Regina subsector.

This is what I love about rng’s – they can be so inspirational!

 

The Republic

The Interstellar Republic – just “The Republic” for short – is the successor state of the Empire. It was founded – or rather came into being – in the 320s, when unrest grew over Imperial policy at a time of severe economic decline. By 330, several worlds had seceded from the Empire and immediately started to cooperate under the banner of the Interstellar Workers’ Union – trying to sort out economic problems and build up defenses over fears that the Empire might invade in order to crush the rebellion.

Instead of using its considerable military power, however, emperor Willem II negotiated a treaty with the secessionists. They agreed, seeing that this would give them time to build up defenses, and then promptly founded the Republic in 331.

Consolidation

Between 331 and 359, the Republic expanded slowly. New members were accepted, but some of them never formally declared independence. By the time Willem died, the Republic had become a sizable nation in its own right.

The Civil War

Miguel, Willem’s heir, immediately took a tougher stance regarding the Republic. Faced with a neglected military and a bankrupt government, Miguel was unable to use force against the Republic. Instead, a “Quiet War” developed – espionage, sabotage, economic sanctions and trade wars as well as some proxy wars were the order of the day.

Miguel made great progress, and as he began to fix the Empire’s many problems, so public opinion improved. With the advantage in numbers still on the Imperial side, the Republic government realized it had to force the issue or risk losing to attrition in the long run. In 371, President Ames ordered the Republic military to “liberate” and “protect” several key Imperial border worlds.  Miguel took the bait, and the civil war began. It would last five years and cause great destruction, but in 376 the Republic was able to end it decisively with a surgical strike against the Imperial capital world, Mithra.

The Purges

With the Empire in tatters and the remaining Imperial forces on the run, the Republic was able to occupy and annex the vast majority of the Empire. This put a great strain on the administration. President Ames feared that it would be hard to hold all this territory, and granted wide-reaching powers to military governors. With nationalistic fervor raging throughout the Republic, victorious soldiers and pro-Republic civilians alike began to systematically hunt, try, and often execute Imperial nobles, bureaucrats, and other sympathizers. On some worlds this became a regular witch-hunt, and many used the purges to denounce ‘innocent’, but disliked, neighbors and officials. The spiral of violence escalated to the point that even members of the Republic parliament were executed for treason.

Now, six years later, the worst excesses of this orgy of violence are over, but much of colonial space remains under military rule and the Republic Security Service still clamps down hard on any threat to the Republic’s security – real or imagined. The mood is changing once more, and many of the “free citizens” of the Republic are now discovering that a “right to vote” does not in itself guarantee more freedom.

Despite its recent victory, the future of the Republic, and of Colonial Space, seems uncertain.

Republic "War Banner" flag
Republic “War Banner” flag