Dark Nebula Map

Posted: 30 November 2011 in Settings
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I’m going through a “life laundry” at the moment, editing possessions and pastimes down to a more sustainable level. Amongst other things, that means going through my old gaming files and culling them – some of that stuff hasn’t been used in 30 years, and that probably means it never will be again, so it may as well go.

(I have visions of my descendents in a few decades’ time, after my demise, going through all my beloved and carefully acquired possessions, saying: “What is this crap?” – and then throwing it away. But I digress.)

This one was too pretty to die; it’s the map from my playtest campaign for GURPS Traveller Alien Races 2 and 3.


This is the map for GDW’s old boardgame Dark Nebula, rescaled to one parsec per hex, and rotated to align it with other Traveller maps; this was issued to players with the following blurb as a one-page handout:


The Aslan Hierate (imagine Klingons in lion suits) and the Solomani Confederation (Stalinist Nazi humans) are two interstellar empires glaring at each other across a buffer zone of independent planets. Each wants to expand into the other’s territory, but neither has a decisive advantage, so they wage a cold war in deep space and dark alleys.

Player characters are based in the Solomani Quadrant, a pocket empire which is being absorbed by the Confederation to act as a jumping-off point for their eventual invasion of the Hierate. Key figures in the Quadrant live in fear of Solomani Security (the Gestapo) who monitor them constantly to ensure their commitment to the Manifest Destiny of the Solomani Race (“Same thing we do every night – try to take over the world”).

Between the two empires lie the Dark Nebula (half Bermuda Triangle, half North West Passage); the Union of Fastnesses, a group of mixed human/Aslan planets trying to stay neutral; and various petty planetary states (those places that only appear in one episode of Star Trek – made of orange polystyrene and inhabited by humanoids with weird noses and funny hats).

Local technology is like Star Wars without the blasters and lightsabres. Personal weapons are conventional guns, although ‘conventional’ now means ‘packed with electronics and firing caseless shaped charge rounds off a floating breech’.

Hyperspace jumps are only possible along marked routes. The map is a two-dimensional representation of three-dimensional space, so systems next to each other may be too far apart vertically for a jump to be possible.


This lasted for about four real-time years, during which the PCs followed individual plotlines in small groups, plotlines which bumped into each other and eventually twisted together into an overall story arc. They discovered the secret origin of the Aslan jump drive, the secrets left by the long-vanished Terran Confederation in the Nebula itself, insane artificial intelligences, a nasty villainess with multiple cloned bodies and a distributed consciousness, the real reason for the pastoral nature of the Droyne and a Droyne conspiracy to take over the Galaxy. They stole the jump co-ordinates from the Droyne, and tried to sell them to the highest bidder. They unwittingly carried a Solomani agent provocateur to Kuzu and helped him nuke the starport without realising they had.

It was insanely complicated, hugely enjoyable, and burned out a year before the five-year story arc was to have come to an end, meaning that just like Babylon 5, a lot of the story had to be rushed through in season 4 to get us to a closing point that tied up the most important loose ends. Rest in peace, characters.

  1. R Singers says:

    I did the same thing but rather than deleting files I moved them into Google Docs. So they’re stuffed into the cloud and searchable, but not directly cluttering up my life. At some stage I’ll scan and OCR as bunch of Ars Magica material and do they same. The reason I haven’t outright deleted it is that it consists of a significant amount of time in the writing, and the storage in Google docs is essentially free.

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