Once More Into The Nebula

Posted: 21 May 2014 in Settings
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This year’s sci-fi campaign is gaining momentum now, after a certain amount of dithering over what rules and setting to use. Some of my previous groups have had firm ideas on what should be used, but the current players are very laid back about that, so I can use whatever I want.


Much as I love Classic Traveller, it has holes. Character generation is too random, there’s no levelling up to speak of, and the range and armour DMs for combat are too clunky. I could house-rule my way out of that, or we could learn a new game (say, Mongoose Traveller or Stars Without Number), but you know what, we’re already familiar with a game that will do the job, and that’s Savage Worlds. So there’s the core rules set.

There are things SW does not do well, mostly around setting generation; but that’s fine, because I have a setting in mind already.


The Official Traveller Universe is too big and too detailed not to use, but by the same token I want to tweak the setting too; that and my affection for the Dark Nebula map have taken me away from the well-trodden paths, towards that region of space.

I’ve used the Nebula as a setting before, in the playtest campaign for my work on GURPS Traveller Alien Races 2 and 3, and I expect to have a couple of the same players. To avoid awkward questions and allow me to apply lessons learned in the intervening 15 years, I turn the clock back from 1105 or so Imperial to 3400 AD and the very start of the Aslan Border Wars. That’s during the Long Night, 650 years after the fall of the Rule of Man, so there’s a major difference – this game will have the feel of re-emerging into space after centuries of rebuilding, much like Stars Without Number or Traveller: The New Era, either or both of which may be mined for resources.

It also means the Solomani Confederation doesn’t necessarily have to be the Stalinist Nazi hybrid of the Official Traveller Universe; that’s 2,000 years in the future from the PCs’ viewpoint.


I promise I will eventually stop redrawing the map of the Nebula; but not today. I hope this will be the final version, although I admit it never has been before…

This version has the rescaling and rotation I normally apply, but I worked out how to do double star systems in Hexographer so added those back in. Doing that revealed that I could have a more authentic jump route network by moving a couple of worlds as well; since one of the conceits of the tweaked setting is that one can only move along jump routes, this has no effect.


Worlds are colour-coded; red dots are homeworlds, blue ones are primary systems, orange are secondary, grey are tertiary. (Using dots for everything makes it easier to do the map key in MS Word for player handouts.)

Jump routes are in green; solid lines for charted ones, dotted lines for uncharted. Hyperspace jumps are only possible along charted routes; my rationalisation for this is that the map is a 2D representation of 3D space, so worlds that appear next to each other may be too far apart vertically to allow a jump; there is an explanation for the uncharted routes, which I’ll come back to later when I do some world writeups.

That means I can suppress the hex grid for clarity, since the players will never use the hexes. Then, the map looks like this:


The map uses the original 1980 terms for the interstellar states, Solomani Confederation and Aslanic Hierate; this is so that any Traveller-savvy players who join the campaign will immediately realise this is an alternate Traveller universe, not the official one.


The period of tension and intrigue leading up to the First Aslan Border War is a great time for roleplaying adventures, the straight-up combat after war breaks out not so much, at least not for the players I have in mind. This is a good thing, because otherwise I would feel compelled to work out the war in detail – which naval squadron is in which system on what date, how long the Battle of Valka lasts and who is involved, that kind of thing – and the campaign would collapse under the weight of my notes.

So instead of using the Pacific War of 1941-45 as a real-world analogue, the campaign is going to be more like the 1930s, which will suit the pulpy feel of Savage Worlds very well.


The PCs will be those from Back in Black; converting them to SW is a cinch because they are actually SW archetypes converted to CT.

None of them have a ship, or ship-related skills, so for the moment all I need to worry about is their base world; this is going to be Mizah, and I’ll look at that in the next post.

  1. clusterpod says:

    Wow. Wish I was playing!

    • andyslack says:

      Well, that could be arranged… the last Dark Nebula game was about 85% PBEM…

      I love the photos, by the way, especially that golden stag beetle.

  2. Umberto Pignatelli says:

    Never played Traveller (but I had the manual). Is it necessary so much detailed world building to run it (I mean dozens of worlds, routes and so on…)? Not a critic, just curious…

  3. andyslack says:

    It depends on the kind of game you want to run. Actually, I have more to say on this than will fit in a reply, so I’ll make it a post in a few days’ time!

  4. thetailrace says:

    One of the great things about Classic Traveller is that is that worlds can be generated very quickly and their characteristics can be expressed in a single string of letters and numbers. For example if I were to write ‘C777777-7’ down as being the UPP (Universal Planetary Profile) of a world I’m certain that Andy could extrapolate the size of the main world, its atmospheric and hydrographic characteristics as well as how many people (human or otherwise) live there, what the government structure is, how often you might be challenged by law enforcers and what sort of things could be manufactured locally.

    • andyslack says:

      In a heartbeat. Average quality starport, refined fuel available but no overhauls or ship construction; diameter 7,000 miles, surface gravity about 0.78 G; atmosphere at a breatheable pressure but tainted somehow so you would need a filter mask; 70% of planetary surface covered in free-standing water, so the temperature range is bearable – you might be wearing a parka with that filter mask, or a swimsuit, but you wouldn’t need a spacesuit. Ten million inhabitants, balkanised into an unknown number of petty states (each probably about the population of Lithuania); no firearms allowed but you could carry some blade weapons, daggers for sure but I’d have to look up what else; 58% chance of being harassed by the police on a daily basis; tech level equivalent to somewhere in the timeframe 1970-2010. (Officially, 1970 to 1979, but I’ll believe we’re TL 8 when I can buy an air/raft.) It’s an agricultural world, so its primary exports are wood, liquor and textiles, and it imports farm machinery and AFVs. That in turn suggests the taint may be pollen, and the balkanisation is resulting in a certain amount of military posturing. Or maybe the wildlife is big – really big…

  5. thetailrace says:

    Have you seen the proposed set of Starter rules for Traveller from 13 Mann at all? these look like a Mongoose Traveller derived set of rules that are being developed at the moment. Playtest rules are available to be downloaded free from their site and do look promising. They seem to be heading toward a ‘template’ method of character generation and not only reducing the number of skills but also expanding what many skills can do, e.g. ‘Gun Combat’ now allows use in all manner of firearms, lasers and plasma guns, much like ‘shooting’ in Savage Worlds

  6. Looks great… and a TNE-like environment of the Dark Night is intriguing.

    My intention was to run Dark Nebula in CT, though SWN might also do. What I’m doing is set the game in a semi-alternate 1120, after the Solomani Confederation has won the Eight Month War against the far-away Imperium, re-taken Holy Terra and reclaimed the old Solomani Sphere. Now, emboldened by this victory many parsecs away, the local Solomani Party in the Dark Nebula builds up its local forces to push into neutral and, eventually, Aslan space. The Aslan, who have also gained victories against the failing Imperium, have also developed and appetite for conquest, and their eyes are set at the rich new territories to be conquered from the humans of the Dark Nebula (as well as creating a buffer-zone around the homeworld of Kuzu.

    This could be a great Classic Traveller setting, though, again, SWN might be better, as it has things such as faction rules, more interesting technology, and best of all – world tags to make worlds interesting.

  7. andyslack says:

    World tags? Hold that thought, my friend, hold that thought… 🙂

    Last time I used the Nebula, it was also around 1120, and having decided they couldn’t take on the Imperium the Confederation expanded Spinward into Aslan territory.

    • In my version of 1118-1120, the Imperium is weak, racked by internal strife, and both Solomani and Aslan have used this to their advantage. Emperor Dulinor sits on the Iridium Throne, which he has taken by force, but not all Noble Houses accept his authority. So the Solomani invaded in 1116, and in eight months of lighting strike retook Holy Terra and reclaimed the old Solomani Sphere. This was made possible by a combination of decades of careful planning and preparation by the Solomani, the Imperium’s internal strife, and the advantage in morale that Solomani forces fighting to liberate Holy Terra for their Movement have over Imperial troops unsure who has the legal authority (Imperium in Roman terms :)) to give them orders and who deserves to be Emperor.

      The Aslan have also clawed the way into Imperial space.

      So both powers in the Dark Nebula have earned victories in the past few years and have thus gained much confidence, as well as an appetite for conquest.

      Also note that, while my Solomani have a clear preference for authoritarian regimes and charismatic leaders, they are less totalitarian than what many ‘canon’ OTU sources hint at. I draw inspiration for them from a source quite close to me – Israel in the 1960’s rather than Germany in the 1930’s. Militaristic, nationalistic, and have just reclaimed their capital and holy places from their opponents (leading to mass euphoria). They’re David who has just kicked Goliath in the balls. My SolSec is more akin to the Shin-Bet and Mossad than to the Gestapo.

      • andyslack says:

        Interesting. Are you going to keep the blog going? I’d love to see where you’re going with this.

  8. Of course I’ll keep my blog going. Still undecided between SWN and CT, though for the stats.

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