Friday, April 8, 2016

Hard Space

I have written a month or so ago about the inherent lethality of the Classic Traveller rules as written. While I dedicate most of my game-design time to Visions of Empire which has commercial implications, as well as shorter Stellagama Games products, I thought that it might be fun to write up a Traveller setting inspired by my conclusions regarding Classic Traveller lethality. This, of course, is for Classic Traveller - mainly Books 1-3, with some added material from Book 4 and Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium, as well as hand-picked materials from JTAS. However, the spirit of the setting is that of the three little books - a dangerous, mostly-frontier, small-ship universe. This is not a grand space opera setting such as Visions of Empire or the Official Traveller Universe, but rather a much grittier, harsher and less colourful. Think of it, maybe, as a reflection of mine on my old Outer Veil setting (published four and a half years ago by Spica Publishing) with the "grit" and "harshness" dials turned up to 11.

I have made a rule for myself, however, in order to prevent having Hard Space take over the time devoted to Visions of Empire: I have made a rule for myself, however, in order to prevent having Hard Space take over the time devoted to Visions of Empire: I will write ONE paragraph for Hard Space for every FIVEparagraphs I write for the Visions of Empire.

Anyhow, the premise of Hard Space is this - the year is 2130 AD. Humanity has only recently reached out to the nearby stars, but limited technology does not allow for rapid interstellar expansion. Space is dangerous, ships are small, and even sixty-three years of faster-than-light exploration and settlement have only carved out a small, sparsely populated colonial region around Sol. As the old national governments on Earth have been bled dry financially and politically by the events of the mid-21st century, space is the domain of the private sector - of the larger corporations; once you leave Luna's orbit, Earth governments are little more than flags-of-convenience to private-sector investments and facilities. Competition among the "Big Four" interstellar corporations, and to a lesser degree between their rivals, is tense and quite cutthroat, leading to a great degree of underhanded actions and industrial espionage.

Most of humanity still lives on Earth, followed by Luna and Mars. As Earth is highly polluted, extremely crowded, and suffering from an unstable climate,  many people - especially from the lower classes - are willing to take major risks to move to the colonies, where living conditions are often somewhat better, and where corporate jobs abound, even if they are mostly low-level jobs. To get away from the sprawling slums of Earth, many would even accept the risk of travel by Low Berth. Moving to Luna or Mars is easier, but the jobs on the extrasolar colonies pay better, and some of them have actual open-air environments.

Humanity has colonized 35 primary extra-solar worlds, of them 24 in the last fourteen years. The common way to refer to the stages of interstellar colonization is by "generations" or "waves" of colonization related to the development of jump technology combined with the slower creep of regular world-to-world expansion. The 1st generations colonies were founded between 2067 - when the corporations developed the first Jump Drives - and approximately 2090. The 2nd generation started with the colonial push of Zhang-Markov Industries and Iron Star Enterprises to the Coreward and Rimward, respectively, in the early 2090's, and lasted until the development of next-generation starship drives in 2116. The 3rd generation began in 2216 and is still going strong, with Zhang-Markov and Iron Star expanding further along their "arms" and attracting lesser colonial partners; the Royal British Interstellar Company (RBIC) colonizing the Procyon Cluster, and United European Minerals (UEM) colonizing the Ceti Cluster.

Humanity has encountered alien life on many worlds, but no (living) sentient life. There are, however, the Visitors. These alien beings have presumably "Visited" Mars - as well as several extrasolar worlds - leaving behind anomalous "Visitation Zones" filled with anomalies and artifacts, with little hint of their creators or their purpose. Most anomalies are highly dangerous - typically lethal to the unsuspecting explorer - and almost all artifacts have no immediate use. However, gradual research of Visitor artifacts does yield some insights into exotic physics and even weirder molecular biology, and thus any artifact has a meaty price tag when sold to researchers or to scientifically-minded corporations. Exploring a Visitation Zone is a profitable, though highly risky, enterprise. In many cases, when explorers find a Visitation Zone on a remote world, this generates a violent "gold rush" where rival gangs of Stalkers - as those artifact-hunters are often called - stop at nothing when trying to amass artifacts for sale to corporations and research institutes.

This is a very "early" near-future near-Earth setting. Even more than Outer Veil. The maximum Tech Level is 10, though unreliable prototype technology can reach TL13 in some cases, and in the case of electronics and software might even reach TL16 in very unreliable cases. The only Starport-A around is that of the Sol system - the collective shipyards of Earth, Luna and the Belt - and the only Industrial World in the setting is Earth itself. The largest starships are 1,000 tons in displacement - as this setting uses the Classic Traveller Books 2-3 drive tables and drive TLs; small ships are usually faster, and a colonial transport or heavy freighter of 1,000 tons will typically take long weeks to reach most destinations. Colonies are very small and very remote in comparison to anything in the Sol system.

This is a time of outward expansion and adventure among the stars - and also of great, mortal danger. Going into the Unknown is a particularly risky endeavour, as the Unknown as teeth, and Claws, and tentacles, and even the slightest malfunction in a ship's drives or in a spacer's vacc suit could spell disaster to the hapless explorer. Corporate and government marines battle vicious pirates, desperate rebels, and nasty xenomorphs on many worlds, facing a bloody attrition rate; explorers and couriers on the frontier and beyond - colloquially called "scouts" - go among unexplored stars, and in many cases do not return from their missions. The rewards of interstellar exploration are staggering, but so are the risks...

Tentative Map:

Sources of inspiration - literature:
Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson
Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Sources of inspiration - film and television:
Alien and Aliens
Apollo 18
Event Horizon
Star Hunter
The Expanse

Sources of inspiration - video games:
Alien Legacy
Dead Space
Metro: 2033 and Metro: Last Light
Red Faction and Red Faction: Guerrilla
Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri
S.T.A.L.K.E.R - Shadows of Chernobyl
System Shock 1 and 2


  1. Probably not what you want to hear, but more please! This is excellent stuff.

  2. I forgot to ask: is it possible to get the data behind the map at all?

    1. You mean the UWPs or the astrographical data? Drop me an e-mail at golan2072 -at- gmail -dot- com and I will try to find the old astronomical data and send it to you...

  3. Just bought Nearspace from DrivethruRPG and noticed that its map doesn't reach out quite as far as the tentative map in this post. Any chance of getting the expanded version?

    1. This was an older map, though it should cover roughly the same area. You can get a far wider map (though not necessarily with the original world names) from Spica Publishing's Outer Veil (which I also wrote).

    2. Thanks. Looks like Outer Veil follows the Traveller protocol of using mainworld names for mapping rather that star names. Is the star info in the book anywhere?