Dark Nebula: The Great Game

Posted: 14 July 2015 in Settings
Tags: , , ,

The Factions rules in Stars Without Number are a subsystem intended to generate adventures. Factions are large NPC organisations in conflict; their actions may generate adventures for the PCs, or the PCs’ own schemes may have an impact on them.


Implicit in the Dark Nebula boardgame, and the chess game I’m using to simulate it, are two Regional Hegemons: The Aslanic Hierate and the Solomani Confederation. Each of them intends to rule the sector, so in SWN terms their long-term goals are Planetary Seizure of every system on the map, which will probably require each of them needs to Destroy the Foe (the other one). The chess game covers off their initial dispositions and movement, as you’ll see, so they don’t need much thought.

My work offstage on the setting has brought out two more clear factions: The Great Archive Tekke of Mizah, and the Mizah Combine.

Those are respectively a Backwater Planet and a Merchant Combine; the Great Archive represents both the planetary government of Mizah and the Archive itself, because of their close and long-standing collaboration, and for this reason it gets a second tag – Precursor Archive. (I considered making them separate but allied factions, but that’s more work for very little gain.)

There are also a number of inactive factions; these represent local governments, which will resist Planetary Seizure attempts – but not Expand Influence actions, to help keep the game fair but fluid and fast-moving. Depending on the planet concerned, these will be Backwater Planets (all the primary systems and some others), Colony Worlds (probably most Outposts) or Lost Worlds.


With two exceptions, factions begin with all their assets on their homeworlds (Kuzu for the Hierate, Maadin for the Confederation, and Mizah for the Archive and the Combine). The exceptions are the Hegemons’ Blockade Fleets, which represent the first two pieces that move in the chess game and so are constrained to begin at Xida and Gazzain respectively. (I thought the Hegemons would start with them because they are deniable, and cheaper than Space Marines.)

All four factions have a Base of Influence on Mizah, which is shaping up nicely as the Casablanca of the setting, and each Hegemon also has a Base of Influence on (and the Planetary Government tag for) every world inside the dotted red line denoting its initial border. The Archive begins the game with the Planetary Government tag for Mizah. Any world or faction with an Outpost also begins the game with a Base of Influence on the relevant world. These Bases of Influence have the maximum possible hit points, having been built up gradually over the last few decades.


At the chess game level, the first move is: White – pawn to e4; black – pawn to e5.


At the faction level, the Hierate takes five turns to move its Blockade Fleet from Xida to Craco, via Kuzu, Panas, Enjiwa and Dno. The Confederation responds by moving its Blockade Fleet from Gazzain to Salia, via Kov, which takes two months. So the first chess game turn represents seven faction turns, let’s call them January to July 3201 AD. Since it’s clear neither will have any conflict for a while, they both select Peaceable Kingdom as their short-term objective. Looking ahead, on the next chess turn both factions move a knight, which can be represented by their Space Marines, so they don’t need to build another military asset just yet.

Meanwhile, the Archive and the Combine both build Surveyor Crews on Mizah, since they are an efficient way of placing Bases of Influence on other worlds, which in turn is the cheapest way of getting assets in place on a world – building them elsewhere and moving them is more expensive in both time and money. So they have selected Expand Influence as their immediate objective.

I didn’t bother rolling for turn sequence as there is no conflict – yet.


What the PCs see… on average, news travels one jump per week, so since the PCs begin on Mizah, they won’t learn about about the Hierate Blockade Fleet being on the move until early March. Due to the Preceptor Archive tag, it’s cheaper for the Archive to build surveyors (3 FacCreds) than for the Combine (4).

“The President of the Republic of Mizah stood side by side with the Grandmaster Adept of the Great Archive today, as they made a joint announcement that Mizah would expand its surveyor fleet and reinvigorate the fair trade and foreign aid provisions of the Zonguldak Accords.”

“A spokesbeing for the Mizah Combine condemned this as unfair, stating that the Combine’s similar programme is hampered by a lack of government subsidies and restricted access to the Archive’s naval architecture database. ‘Yet again,’ he said, ‘We see our tax Credits used to fund the Archive’s obsession with giving away our most precious asset, the technical knowledge we have preserved for centuries when other worlds cast it aside – an asset which could be a source of enduring revenue for us all.’ Despite this, Erdemir Spaceport – where the ships will be built – issued a statement welcoming this renewed commitment to the industry.”


A few of my initial rulings had to be revised as I worked through this.

First, initially, I got carried away and supplemented the above four factions with a number of custom ones, both overt and covert; but it isn’t a good use of my time to play out conflicts between groups that the PCs may never meet, far from their current location. I can always add more later.

Second, experiments off-camera revealed that if I move faction assets on a hexgrid, the game bogs down in building and prepositioning Extended Theatre and Heavy Drop assets to move ground units around, and there is almost no naval action because most fleet assets can only move one hex; that’s an interesting and playable game, but it isn’t the one I want for this campaign. So, assets now move one jump route per turn for each hex they could have moved in the rules as written; for example, a Strike Fleet can jump to an adjacent system in its move, while a Battle Fleet can move along three different jump routes in its turn. This means hexes now serve no purpose at all in the game, and I’ll drop them from the next iteration of the map.

Third, I’d intended to have the Hierate and Confederation turns overlap – so Confed’s first turn would occupy April and May, while the Hierate is moving from Enjiwa to Craco; but this means the two main factions don’t have enough time between moves to do anything else, like build new assets.

Fourth, I considered giving the Combine and the Archive Bases of Influence on other worlds, but that made it difficult to decide what they should do next; the setting background worked out so far makes it clear both factions want those bases, so they can start without them and build them in play.

This is why I play games solo in between sessions with the players; there are some things I only figure out by experimentation.

For further study: What is so special about Craco that the Hierate moves there rather than Godoro?

  1. Brass Jester says:

    Thanks for this Andy. Although I love the Factions idea in SWN, I’ve always had issues with putting it into practice (it never quite seemed to work). What I needed is something like this, spelling out how it works in play.
    I’m really enjoying the whole write-up and analysis of the Game. SWN is on the back burner atm due to a current Game of NBA and eventually looking to carry on with B&B (just got Tricarnia – fantastic piece of work, if a little scary to read (shudder – the Inklivium!))

  2. Brass Jester says:

    Finished yesterday, I’ll post it on Uncanny Worlds and on Pelgrane if I can get into their forum. It went well; the players liked it and had fun (always a good sign). They are putting together an Adversary Map already.

    N.B. They think they are playing a secret agent Game (as we had a brief go at Spycraft last year). They DO NOT suspect the existence of vampires (I remade the character sheets and changed the reference to Code V (in homage to Ultraviolet). I love the game – there Is so much packed into the rule book (and I haven’t even started on Double Tap yet)

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