Sunday, March 11, 2018

Dark Nebula Redux

Four years ago, after purchasing the Classic Traveller and JTAS CD-ROMs from Far Future Enterprises, I encountered the Dark Nebula board game. This game depicted a proto-Traveller struggle for dominance between the Aslan and the Solomani. It showed an area of space similar to two adjacent Traveller subsectors. However, directions were reversed - the Solomani were to the Spinward of the Aslan - and the game used fixed jump routes instead of Traveller-style free jumps. Most stars on that map - except for the Aslan homeworld of Kuzu - did not appear in later Traveller publications.

The interesting thing is that Dark Nebula presents an interesting version of the Solomani-Aslan border region different from future depictions of the canon Dark Nebula Sector. Here was an opportunity - a proto-Traveller, quasi-canon setting ripe for the plucking. On one hand, this is the "Official" universe. This allows us to use the wealth of material presented by the Classic Traveller and JTAS CD-ROMs. On the other hand, it is non-canonical, so we need not be bound to the stifling limits of Traveller canon.

Andy Slack did design an excellent variant of this setting for Stars Without Number and Savage Worlds; I find his work inspiring, though I am probably taking a very different road than his in my version.

I toyed with this setting back then, in 2014. Now I got the urge to explore it once again.

My old map was cluttered; I added two unnecessary polities which made non-aligned space needlessly civilized. However, the basic conversion from board game maps to Classic Traveller maps still holds. Here we have two subsectors - Kuzu and Maadin - on the Aslan/Solomani border. Neutral systems abound as well, just as in the boardgame. There is probably some treaty in place between teh Solomani and Aslan, which created this frontier "buffer zone" between them. A treaty both intend to violate.

I wonder if Kuzu here, on the border, would be the actual Aslan homeworld, or will the real one - Kusyu - exist two or so subsectors to the Spinward?

This will mostly be Classic Traveller, with some Megatraveller seasoning. I do like the idea of a weak Imperium leading to resurgent Aslan and Solomani expansionism. Megatraveller's Civil War, when removing the New Era virus from it, serves this purpose well. Imperial events are very distant from this setting. However, both Solomani and Aslan seized the opportunity to invade Imperial space. With great success. With their Imperial rivals knocked out of the fight and recent conquests bolstering their confidence, both polities look for new places to satisfy their appetite for conquest.

War is inevitable.

But when will it break, and who will emerge victorious? This depends on many factors. Both sides now set their plans in motion in this deadly game of interstellar chess. Before launching an invasion, they first need to put their pieces in place and prepare well. In the meanwhile, "peace" reigns - the calm before the storm.

Both are eyeing the big prize: the Dark Nebula itself, its stars returned from beyond time and space, brimming with technological wonders - and untold horrors. Neither the Solomani nor the Aslan, however, dare send their fleets into the Nebula right away, as this will surely ignite all-out war - for which they are still preparing. Instead, they work by proxies, by mercenaries and "Stalkers" - (fool)hardy men and women who dare enter the Nebula in search of relic technology and dark secrets. Few return; but those who do bring back wealth and speak of wondrous phenomena and buried secrets.

Espionage, false-flag operations, Stalking the nebula, exploring the dangerous Neutral Zone frontier - the players have a sandbox brimming with opportunities to play in.

This is Proto-Traveller. Mostly Classic Traveller, Books 1-3/The Traveller Book, and anything I can cannibalize from other Classic Traveller adventures, supplements, and JTAS. The above-mentioned Megatraveller seasoning is relatively minor in scope - mainly as a background to the Solomani-Aslan border tensions.

Most ships are small; however, the Dark Nebula board game calls for heavy transports each capable of carrying an armored brigade or an infantry division, and capital ships capable of carrying an infantry division each. This is definitely smaller than High Guard ships - the larger of which could carry many more soldiers; probably this will use Expanded Book 2 with ships going as large as 12,000 tons, probably sufficient for carrying infantry divisions.

But most ships would be small - the capital ships and heavy military transports are the exceptions, not the norm. Only huge corporate freighters plying the few core routes can sometimes reach such sizes. Most systems without Naval bases usually see ships at 1,000 tons or below.

Here is my new work-in-progress Dark Nebula map. I'll generate the starports and most bases later.

A Note on Canonicity

Dark Nebula is not canon. I repeat: it is not canon in any way. It is vaguely set in the OTU, but in a variant OTU. Specifically, I use Classic Traveller - and some Megatraveller - material in a way suiting this particular variant. I sometimes use it in significantly different ways than in canon. I also place some adventures and other material set in Foreven, the Solomani Rim and the Spinward Marches in the Dark Nebula

Legal Disclaimer

The Traveller game in all forms is owned by Far Future Enterprises. Copyright 1977 - 2014 Far Future Enterprises. Traveller is a registered trademark of Far Future Enterprises. Far Future permits web sites and fanzines for this game, provided it contains this notice, that Far Future is notified, and subject to a withdrawal of permission on 90 days notice. The contents of this site are for personal, non-commercial use only. Any use of Far Future Enterprises' copyrighted material or trademarks anywhere on this web site and its files should not be viewed as a challenge to those copyrights or trademarks. In addition, any program/articles/file on this site cannot be republished or distributed without the consent of the author who contributed it.


  1. I look forward to reading more

  2. Pretty much need Jump 3 to get around the map in a useful way, no?

    1. Actually, having been following Andy Slack's various DN campaigns, I was going to compliment Omar on his tweaks to make the map work with Jump 2. As Bill Cameron observes, the original map was based on other ideas.
      One of the things which has struck me messing about with proto-Traveller is how long it does take to get round even a subsector at the speed of player ships.

    2. Indeed. Most ships are J-2, military ships are mainly J-3. You can get practically everywhere with J-2, but you will have to take detours.

  3. What an intriguing pitch for a setting! I'm also looking forward to reading more. Mr. Slack's use of DN is fascinating because he's using it has background for 3 separate solo RPG campaigns.

    As for needing Jump3, that lack "sort of", "kind of", "maybe" explains DN's use of jump links. Of course the real reason for those lines is that DN was based on Imperium and Imperium's design predates Traveller itself.

    1. I myself intend to play this as a solo campaign one day...