"Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?"
"Same thing we do every night, Pinky – try to take over the world!"
– Pinky and the Brain
Before I kick off the Dark Nebula campaign in earnest, I need a view of the local factions.
It’s tempting to make up all kinds of custom factions, but at this stage I want to move quickly into actual play without worrying about whether the factions are sensibly designed or not, so I pick three template factions from SWN p. 127; the Aslanic Hierate (Regional Hegemon), the Solomani Confederation (Regional Hegemon) and the planetary government of Mizah (Backwater Planet). The Regional Hegemons each begin the game with the Planetary Government tag for all the worlds in their pocket empire.
I want the Dark Nebula system type for a world to be reflected in its government faction, and the simplest way to do this is to say that homeworlds are Regional Hegemons, primary systems are Backwater Planets, and secondary systems are Colony Worlds. Tertiary systems have no worlds, therefore no populations and hence no factions. For the most part, the planetary government factions will just sit there, waiting to provide opposition to the three active factions.
WHY MEN FIGHT
I now need to know the factions’ motivations, since that will both determine their goals and actions in game terms, and make them seem more real to the players.
Aslanic Hierate: Landgrab
In line with Classic Traveller canon, aslan are obsessed with owning land. If there is unoccupied land, preferably on a primary world, they will occupy it. If the only decent land they can get at is already occupied, they will fight for it. Aslan expansion therefore consists of creating Bases of Influence anywhere they can, starting with the primary worlds. The cheapest way to do this is to build Surveyors and send them to each world in turn to Expand Influence there. Once that’s done, they will happily spend their FacCreds upgrading the Bases, representing the expansion of aslan clanholds on the world.
Solomani Confederation: Reunify
As the spiritual heir to the Celestial Empire in my earlier campaigns, the Confederation seeks to restore the lost glories of the Terran Mandate, reuniting humanity under a single banner – this time, theirs. Their long-term aim is therefore Planetary Seizure of every system on the map. It’s faster and cheaper in most cases to do this by building Surveyors, using them to create Bases of Influence, and then building other assets for conquest at those Bases – otherwise they would have to spend faction turns and FacCreds just moving military units into place. Seizing control of systems is neatly Difficulty 3 for a homeworld or primary system, 2 for a secondary, and 1 for a tertiary.
Government of Mizah: Spread the Word
Mizah is comfortable with the status quo, thank you very much; it has a nice home, a comfortable income, and an honourable and altruistic purpose. To pursue its objective of sharing knowledge with its neighbours, it will also plant Bases of Influence offworld, and again the cheapest way over three or more turns is a unit of Surveyors. In philosophy, Mizah is closer to the Confederation, but its methods are closer to those of the Hierate. Its ambitions are also limited to a specific group of worlds, whereas the other two factions both want to dominate the entire map.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
It’s expensive both in FacCreds and actions to move assets around, so they need to be placed sensibly to begin with.
- Everything starts on Mizah. There’s no other option.
- Space Marines: Panas (Hierate) and Gazzain (Confed). They have to start inside the faction’s home turf, but they’re strike units, they’re no good at home.
- Planetary Defences: On the homeworlds, Kuzu and Maadin. These need to be defended, and there are too many potential routes to the homeworlds to block with the available units.
- Blockade Fleet: Gazzain and Bors. These are a bit of a white elephant really, they need to be refitted into something that can move two hexes.
- Extended Theatre: These need to begin on the faction’s borders, and quickly move up to a transport nexus nearby but on the outside. The Hierate would be best served if theirs were at Dno, the Confederation needs theirs to be at Bulan until they have pacified that area; so the Extended Theatre units start at Panas and Kamat.
- Pretech Manufactory: Maadin and Kuzu. These are probably a big part of why the Hegemons are Hegemons.
- Shipping Combine: Wherever the Extended Theatre went, the Shipping Combine needs to be on the other main route out of faction territory. That puts the Hierate one at Bors, and the Confed one at Gazzain.
- Tripwire Cells: These may as well stay at home to defend against stealthed infiltration units.
- Cyberninjas: Panas and Gazzain. I’m not quite sure what to do with these, but those locations give the most options.
We can see from this that the biggest naval base in the region is at Gazzain, and the second-biggest at Panas.
I’ve tried running macro-level wargames or boardgames to provide setting background before, and the game has always collapsed under the weight of record-keeping required. However, I think SWN factions will be different, as they can only do one thing each per turn, so record-keeping is fairly basic – at most three assets per turn move, usually less.
If the factions were merely level grinding, they’d all go for the nearest system and set up a Base of Influence for a quick experience point; but these moves seem more aligned to their known mindsets.
Finally, notice that I don’t need to know anything about the worlds to pick factions and set them at each other’s throats.