Dark Nebula: Mizah

Posted: 23 June 2015 in Settings
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Atmosphere: Breathable. Temperature: Temperate. Biosphere: Miscible. Population: 347 million. Tech Level: 4+ (starships). Tags: Preceptor Archive, Trade Hub.

As a naturally habitable world with good connections to neighbouring systems, Mizah was colonised early on and quickly developed into a bustling trade hub. Its strategic location also made it the obvious place for the Preceptors to build the sector’s principal Archive. In the aftermath of the Scream, the planetary government and the Archive worked together to save Mizah’s population, successfully for the most part, creating a bond between the two which endures to this day. As Mizah returned to space a century ago, the Archive saw it as its duty to share its knowledge freely with survivors elsewhere; but roughly 50 years ago, a breakaway faction decided it would be more appropriate to sell technology and training rather than give it away. The initial intention was to plough the money back into the Archive, but the initiative quickly evolved into a mercantile combine focussed on its own profits and interests. This tension underpins contemporary politics on Mizah; the centre-left Phoenix Party has been in power for over a century, is closely aligned with the Archive, and is a staunch proponent of foreign aid; the right-wing Free Trade Party is funded by commercial interests and is effectively a front for a star-spanning mercantile Combine based at Mizah. With the Archive’s scoutships freely dispensing medical aid and other peaceful technologies, the Combine tends to sell military hardware and provide mercenaries to advise on its use, or in more extreme cases, use it on behalf of local rulers.

The political situation is further complicated by the presence of emissaries from both the Solomani Confederation and the Aslanic Hierate; Mizah is  the wealthiest and most advanced planet in the sector outside of those two pocket empires, and while its shipyards produce vessels in small numbers, their quality is outstanding. Mizah would be a valuable ally for either of the major interstellar factions.

Mizah’s population is principally descended from Turkish colonists of the Terran Mandate, and this is reflected in local language and religion, which are respectively Turkish and Islam. Dress follows the English fashion for men, but is more varied for women, ranging from English to Arabic styles, with many compromising on a combination of a light overcoat and a headscarf.

The spacefarer is most likely to visit Erdemir Spaceport or the nearby capital city of Zonguldak, and in particular its Charsi District, where ship crews and adventurers congregate from across the sector; in this district, the most commonly-heard language is English, which was formerly the language of rule, trade, and traffic control throughout the Terran Mandate, and whose speakers form a sort of semi-itinerant subculture like historical Gypsies or Sephardic Jews across the sector.


The Dark Nebula campaign will begin on Mizah, and later it will remain the PCs’ base and homeworld, so it needs to be the first world worked out, and the most fully detailed. In boardgame terms, I assign it two independent troop counters, available for hire as mercenaries by either the Hierate or the Confederation; a transport and some jump troops – those are the ones I think I’ll have the most fun with. For the broader history of the setting, I’ll use the unmodified background chronology from Stars Without Number, purely to minimise the number of source files I need to lug around on my tablet.

The campaign base world needs to be at once familiar, so the PCs can jump straight into the action, and strange, so the players understand that they’re not in Kansas any more. Making the home world essentially Earthlike addresses the familiarity, and I ease them into the strangeness by using a largely human population, but with a culture that is not the contemporary Western one they’ve grown up in. Time enough for the truly bizarre when they have settled in to their characters.

As the base world, it’s too important to have random statistics, so I assign them; most are mandated by Mizah’s status as a naturally habitable primary system. The Preceptor Archive and its offworld activities arose from my nostalgia for Classic Traveller’s scout service, and the Trade Hub ensures a cosmopolitan culture which tolerates unusual PCs, say aliens. The idea of English speakers as a semi-nomadic underclass arises from the facts that all PCs in SWN speak English, but there are almost no obviously English-derived world names on the map; in play, it serves to bind the PCs together as they are part of an ethnic minority.

The government is a representative democracy; as ever, this isn’t about whether that is the best or most likely type of government, it’s about what will be instinctively familiar to the players – we can introduce stranger governments later on, but to begin with we want to go straight into the action without having to explain how the government works first.

A representative democracy requires at least two parties, and I’ve tied those in to the tags – that was a new idea for me, but it has worked well, so I plan to use it again. Right from the start the PCs will be introduced to four factions: A Backwater Planet faction acting as the planetary government, a Mercantile Combine, and the two Regional Hegemons. The Backwater Planet faction is aligned with the Phoenix Party and the Preceptor Archive, while the Mercantile Combine effectively is the Free Trade Party. The Confederation and the Hierate, both Regional Hegemons, each try to influence both the Phoenix and Free Trade parties to support them; they would prefer Mizah to be controlled by the FTP, which would simply sell them what they want – transport ships, mercenaries, and rights to naval bases.

Erdemir and Zonguldak are actual Turkish cities, and Charsi means “market”. If I were writing this for publication, I’d expand SWN’s GM resources to include Turkish names, clothing and cuisine, but for the moment that’s not necessary; I’ll simply draw on my memories of Turkey and the online name generator here.


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