Something I’ve been wondering about for a while is this: What level of population does a world need in Stars Without Number before it can have special forces units, of the kind that the Skyward Steel supplement refers to as Deep Black units? When one considers the continuous training they undergo and the support tail they must need, they are likely to be scarce.
Let’s look at real-world nations with population levels a planet might have in SWN, and see what they can field, especially in the naval arena, since Deep Black units are part of planetary navies.
The total population of the Earth at the moment is in this region, so basically as many as you want. Most countries with famous naval special forces units – US Navy SEALs, British SBS, Russian Naval Spetznatz – have populations in the tens or hundreds of millions. Picture the combined might of the UN Security Council vs. Luxembourg, Malta or the US Virgin Islands and you have some idea of a Regional Hegemon taking on the average planet.
As an example at the high end of this range, Israel has a population of 8 million or so, and has a number of special forces units, including Shayetet 13, part of the Israeli Navy. If you added them all up, there would probably be some hundreds, possibly thousands, of troops, but exact numbers for any unit of this type are hard to come by.
At the low end, Estonia has a population of about 1.3 million, and has the Estonian Special Operations Force, which was said to have an initial recruitment target of 36 men.
Tens or Hundreds of Thousands
I couldn’t find any contemporary state this small with a special forces unit. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any, of course, but I doubt the average post-Scream planet at this population level has the money for its own permanent special forces. Enter the PCs, stage left, as mercenaries…
Much to my surprise, a cursory search through my bookshelves and on the web shows any planet with a population in the millions and sufficient political will could have special forces units. So there you have it.