In Stars Without Number (and other games), one thing that intrigues me is the minimum population level needed for particular capabilities to be present on a world. Does a world with a quarter of a million people have its own intelligence apparat? Can it build its own gravsleds?
I decided to look at real-world nations of the contemporary world as a guide to the possible, and spent several weeks’ worth of lunch hours surfing and winnowing data to collate something a GM could use. I’ve split the SWN bracket of Millions along Classic Traveller lines, to make the output more broadly usable.
What else would you like to see? Let me know please, and if I can find it, I’ll add it.
These haven’t got anything as such. There are a surprising number of these on contemporary Earth, but for game purposes I think you’re best served by rolling for what its population was, and using that as a guide to what’s in the ruins.
- Almost always a dependency of a larger state (Vatican City excepted).
- Some states as small as a single family or person, but these are rarely recognised officially.
TENS OF THOUSANDS
- Independent states appear at this level. My inference from the Rules As Written is that in the Stars Without Number universe, this is the smallest sustainable population.
- Armies appear (Seychelles, Tonga).
HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS
- Espionage agencies appear (Barbados Financial Intelligence Unit).
- Navies appear (Bahamas, Brunei). At this level they are brown-water navies, focussed on local defence.
- Military special forces appear (Brunei Special Forces Regiment and Special Combat Squadron).
- Vehicle manufacturing appears – AFVs, aircraft, cars (e.g. Bulgaria, Latvia, Lebanon respectively) – although typically designs are bought in from outside.
- Merchant marine shipping appears (Slovenia)
- Mechanised and armoured units appear in the army (Estonia, Laos)
- Air forces appear (Lebanon)
Tens of Millions
- Top tier economic or military powers are at this level and up (G20 members, top ten military nations).
- Blue-water navies appear, able to project power sustainably at a distance and maintain bases outside their state’s territory – Regional Hegemon tag becomes credible.
- Significant shipbuilding capabilities emerge – Major Spaceyard tag becomes credible.
Hundreds of Millions
- Manned space programmes appear on TL 3 worlds.
This is present-day Earth as a whole, so if you can find it in the real world, a planet with this population could have it.
Tens of Billions
We have no data for this yet, I’m afraid. I expect it would be like billions, only more so.
As for Failed Colonies, I think you’re best served by determining a population and working from there; at the time humanity discovered agriculture, the total human population seems to have been about 15 million, so a viable alien civilisation is probably in the millions and up.
The more I look into this, the more surprised I am by two things: First, how small a population is when a given capability first appears, and second, how large nations can get without having specific capabilities – I haven’t recorded the second, because the first seems more useful.
The take-away is that any system with a population in the hundreds of thousands and up could conceivably have any capability you might be interested in, given the political will; but that major powers need populations that are at least in the tens of millions.