Archive for the ‘Settings’ Category

I’d like to have the option of dungeon crawls in my fantasy game, but I don’t especially want to create a new setting when there is such a vibrant and detailed one as the Dread Sea Dominions already in play and familiar to my players.

So, where are the dungeons in Beasts & Barbarians? There are little ones all over the place, for example in The Carnival at Nal Sagath or The Sword of Izim, but what about megadungeons? Let’s see… In order of publication…

The Fallen Realm of Keron (Beasts & Barbarians Golden Edition). The vanished Keronian Empire must surely have left behind a number of cities, fortresses, wizard’s towers and so forth, and one could easily create a megadungeon somewhere within striking distance of one of the Independent Cities, perhaps a former surface city now buried.

The Cursed City of Collana (B&B GE, Shadows Over Ekul). This is more a ruined city in the style of RuneQuest’s Big Rubble, but it’ll do. It’s a former trade hub, so it’s full of treasure. Since that unpleasant affair with the Valk demon-summoning, it’s infested with monsters, who just won’t stay put. Apart from straight-up tomb-robbing – er, sorry, I mean "salvage" – there are always those surviving descendants of noble families who simply must have their grandparents’ regalia, and are looking for rough fellows to recover it for them. There is however a near-certainty of a Total Party Kill.

The Sewers of Jalizar (Jalizar, City of Thieves). The City of Thieves has a number of underground "levels", but as the Sewers are intended to be used as a mapless dungeon these are regions with shared architectural features rather than levels in the usual sense. This is much like the underworlds in Empire of the Petal Throne, and is the most obvious choice, as it is intended to be used this way.

The Iskondor (The Queen of the Lost Valley). This is an immense tunnel passing under the northern range of the Iron Mountains; it exploited and expanded old mine tunnels to provide a trade route between Felantium and northern Zandor, but during the Valk invasions it was sealed by a Tricarnian sorceror to prevent the Valk swarming through it into Faberterra. It is rumoured to be cursed and full of Things Man Was Not Meant To Know. Can you say "Moria"? I knew you could. The players can easily be commissioned to reopen the trade route, giving them a reason to explore and a clear destination. I rather like this one.

Tricarnia (Tricarnia, Land of Demons and Princes). There are many candidates here for megadungeons, including the ruins of Tel Askora, former citadel of a powerful warlock; the notorious Breeding Pits of Nal Nomantor; and of course the original underground city which gave birth to the nation as a whole, Val Hordakor. For inspiration, I would use D&D drow, Warhammer dark elves, and Michael Moorcock’s Dark Empire of Granbretan in the Runestaff novels.

Whichever you pick, one thing that must be taken into consideration is the different monster palette; Beasts & Barbarians is based on the Conanesque side of the hobby’s source material, not the Middle-Earth side; orcs and goblinoids, for example, can be used, but they and the reason they are not stampeding across the Dominions need to be explained – their ecological niche in the Dominions is filled by the nandals, the Caleds and especially the Valk. (According to his letters, Tolkien partly patterned orcs on historical steppe nomads.)

However, more importantly, Beasts & Barbarians isn’t intended to be used with detailed maps, but with advancement tokens, preset encounters, and card draws; download the free adventure The Carnival at Nal Sagath to see how that works. The GM need not draw maps or stock their rooms, but still needs to prepare a group of significant encounters.

This is another example of the Savage Worlds approach to adventures; all killer, no filler.

We got the bubble-headed bleached blonde comes on at five
She can tell you ‘bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye
It’s interesting when people die, give us dirty laundry.
– Don Henley, Dirty Laundry

Sometimes, I think I take this stuff too seriously.

In a setting like the Dark Nebula where news travels at the speed of a starship, news items from nearby systems arrive earlier than those from distant ones, so if you expect players to use this intelligence to inform their actions in the sandbox, it is important to know what they learn when. It’s bad enough when you only have one party, but in the Nebula I will have several, and some of the news items are triggered by things other parties are doing.

So I built a spreadsheet and entered the news items to date into it, and with a bit of not-terribly-clever calculation I can now extract the following three views…


Only the GM will ever see this; it’s what really happened.


Column A shows where the event happens, column B shows when, columns C to J show when the news of that event reaches the primary systems, and column K is the actual news item for reading to players.

I considered tracking news arrival dates for every system on the map, and allowing different arrival dates depending on the spike rating of the ship carrying the news, but decided the extra complexity wasn’t worth it. So I’ve limited myself to the primary systems, and assumed that news moves along the charted routes on the map at one week per system.

I also considered a slightly more elegant approach with a lookup table of travel times so that I could select a system and have the dates automatically calculated from that, but decided on a quick-and-dirty prototype to see how much use this actually is before I do anything clever with it.


By filtering on column A, you can see what happens on a particular world in sequence. Not sure how useful this is, but it’s easy to do. Here we see what happens on Enjiwa, month by month.



By filtering on one of the primary worlds and then re-sorting the items in the order that the news arrives, you get what is playing on the holo set in the corner of the bar while your PCs are drinking the profits of their latest mission. Here we see what a party on Valka between late February and early April would learn; notice the difference between when things happen (column B) and when Valka knows about them (column I).


This is likely the most useful view during a session. The jury is still out on how useful that actually is.

The player characters haven’t got this far into the campaign yet, so there are no player activities this turn, but I may as well finish off the five day blitz…



All factions except the Solomani Confederation select new goals this turn, having achieved their previous ones last turn. All of them now have one experience point; it will be a couple of years at this rate before anyone can improve a rating.

The die comes up 4, so Confed goes first.

Solomani Confederation: Action – move Surveyor from Tangga to Hasara. Confed gains one experience for going a whole four turns without attacking anyone, and ends the turn with 20 FacCreds. Next turn, it will select a new goal – Expand Influence on Hasara – which it can achieve immediately.

Aslan Hierate: New goal – Expand Influence on Valka. Action: Extended Theatre moves itself from Panas to Enjiwa, preparing to move the Space Marines to Valka next turn. The Hierate ends the turn with 5 FacCreds and one experience.

Great Archive: New goal – Expand Influence on Hasara. Action – move Surveyor from Kov to Tangga. The Archive ends the turn with 5 FacCreds and one experience.

Mizah Combine: New goal – Expand Influence on Gazzain. Action – move Surveyor from Kov to Gazzain. The Combine ends the turn with 5 FacCreds and one experience.


None as yet. Stay tuned!


Hasara, 7 April 3201

The Great Archive’s Adept-in-Place on Hasara reports the arrival in-system of an apparently friendly Solomani Confederation surveyor crew.

Faction turn 4; the Confed surveyor arrives at its destination. This occurs on Hasara on 7 April; the news reaches Mizah on 21 April, and Valka on 5 May.

Enjiwa, 14 April 3201

Lord Bhasmasura of the Simsek Clan, Colonel of the 1st Hierate Marines, welcomed the 11th Hierate Logistics Wing to the new base on Enjiwa today. When asked about the absence of Enjiwan government officials, Lord Bhasmasura stated that they were valued allies of the Hierate, but that their presence was not required for this event.

Faction turn 4; the Hierate starts moving up other assets to support its push into Moralon. This occurs on Enjiwa on 14 April; the news reaches Valka on 21 April, and Mizah on 26 May.

Tangga, 21 April 3201

Tangga’s Ministry of State Security surveillance satellites observed an Archive Survey ship transiting their system en route to Hasara. “This is perfectly normal,” a spokeswoman said, “We have mutual assistance treaties in place with the Great Archive, which grant them the right to free passage through Tanggan space.”

Faction turn 4; the Archive Surveyors move towards Hasara, little knowing that Confed has beaten them to it. This occurs on Tangga on 21 April; the news reaches Mizah on 28 April, and Valka on 26 May.

Gazzain, 28 April 3201

Confederation Marines were asked to intervene when a mammoth brawl at Kandla Orbital Spaceport grew beyond the Shore Patrol’s ability to contain. The fighting is thought to have begun when recently-arrived surveyor crews of the Mizah Combine exchanged insults with local spacers. When interviewed later, as the last of the bodies were being removed, Company Havildar-Major Yilan of the Confederation Marines commented that “Thisss wasss the bessst fight we have had in yearsss.” Rumours that one or more urseminites were instrumental in provoking the carnage are unconfirmed.

Faction turn 4; the Combine’s Surveyors arrive at Gazzain. This occurs on 28 April; news reaches Mizah on 12 May, and Valka on 16 June. I’m starting to feel the need for some sort of spreadsheet or database which allows me to sort news items into the order they would be received on each planet; I can see why The Last Parsec opted for FTL radio.


That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do.

Achievement unlocked: Summer resolutions 3 and 8 completed!



The die comes up 2 again; the Archive moves first this month.

Great Archive: Action – build Base of Influence on Kov with 12 hit points (as much as they can afford). I did consider making a smaller base and buying a second Surveyor, but as you can only claim experience for one goal at a time, and I think Expand Influence has to specify a particular planet, that is a sub-optimal use of FacCreds; better to make a stronger base that can resist attack for longer. The Archive has now achieved its first goal and gains one experience, ending the turn with 0 FacCreds.

Mizah Combine: Action – build Base of Influence on Kov with 11 hit points (the Archive’s discount on buying Surveyors gives them a slight edge). Again, the Combine achieves its first goal, claims one experience, and ends the turn flat broke. You have to speculate to accumulate, they say.

Solomani Confederation: Action – move Surveyor from Kov to Tangga. Confed ends the turn with 14 FacCreds and no experience.

Aslan Hierate: Action – build Base of Influence with 15 hit points on Enjiwa. The Hierate claims its first goal and an experience point.


This is as far as the crew of the Collateral Damage have got in the face to face game; they arrive back on Mizah on 1 March. Notice that while they are notionally part of the Combine Surveyor asset, there is no reason why the actual asset should return to Mizah with them. At the character level we assume follow-up missions from the Archive and the Combine move in to build on their work, while they are reassigned to something more exciting.


Mizah, 01 March 3201

Following the recent terrorist outrage at the Great Archive in Zonguldak, long-proposed gun control laws have been pushed through the Planetary Assembly of Mizah by the Phoenix Party. This makes automatic weapons and explosives illegal. The Free Trade Party managed to secure some concessions against the expected blanket weapons ban; semi-automatic pistols and longarms, and blade weapons, are still permitted so long as they are properly licenced, openly carried and registered with the police.

The government of Mizah and the GM react to the events of Collateral Damage episode 2: Please Enter Your PIN by belatedly introducing weapons restrictions to the campaign. Occurs on Mizah on 1 March; news reaches Mizah immediately, and Valka on 12 April.

The Combine surveyor and free trader Collateral Damage returned from Kov yesterday with great news for both the Archive and the Combine; the crew successfully negotiated a treaty between Karabulut Station and the Combine, giving the Combine a base of influence on Kov, and rescued the missing Great Archive Adept, Hurriyet Gundogan, who has now assumed control of the Mandate planetary defence grid node No More Mr. Nice Guy on behalf of the Archive, which the node recognises as the legitimate heir of the Terran Mandate. The president and Grandmaster Adept issued a joint statement congratulating the Heroine of Kov, and emphasizing that the node’s acknowledgement of the Archive proves it has a manifest destiny to reunite humanity for the greater good.

Collateral Damage episode 3: Hot Hydrogen. The ship leaves Mizah on 11 February, arriving at Kov on 18 February. Completing their mission on 22 February, they return to Mizah, arriving on 01 March. The events occur on Kov 18-22 February; news reaches Mizah on 1 March, and Valka on 5 March.

Tangga, 21 March 3201

Tangga’s Ministry of State Security announced today that orbital surveillance satellites detected spike drive emissions which they describe as “consistent with the drive signature of a Confederation Frigate-class vessel”. The sensor contact was observed to take a hyperbolic path through the atmosphere of the system’s outermost gas giant before moving off on a trajectory towards Hasara; it made no attempt to contact Traffic Control.

Faction turn 3; this is the Confederation Surveyor en route to Hasara and not bothering to stop. This occurs on Tangga on 21 March; news reaches Mizah on 28 March, and Valka on 25 April.

Enjiwa, 28 March 3201

Lord Bhasmasura of the Simsek Clan, Colonel of the 1st Hierate Marines, today announced the completion of a Hierate military base on Enjiwa. When asked what the reaction of the Enjiwan government was to this, he observed that this was irrelevant.

Hours before his mysterious disappearance, an Enjiwan spokesman later said, “I for one welcome our new rakashan overlords. Did I say overlords? I meant protectors.”

Faction turn 3; here is the Hierate Base of Influence appearing. This occurs on Enjiwa on 28 March; the news reaches Valka on 4 April, and Mizah on 16 May.


As I have four factions I’m placing their actions in a different week each month, which is probably too predictable but makes it easier for me to keep track of things. PC activity happens when it happens, which obfuscates the pattern a little.

This is all working rather well now I’m using the faction rules as written rather than trying to add complexity.



The d4 comes up 4 this month, so the Confederation goes first.

Solomani Confederation: Action – move Surveyors from Gazzain to Kov. The farthest system Confed can guarantee to reach before the Hierate is Hasara, so their intention is to get there first and build a Base of Influence as the start of their defences. They end the turn with 8 FacCreds and 0 experience.

Aslan Hierate: Action – move Space Marines from Panas to Enjiwa. I could perhaps claim this is using their special ability, in which case the Extended Theatre could go with them, but let’s leave that for now and treat it as a simple move. At the end of faction turn 2, the Hierate has 9 FacCreds and 0 experience.

Great Archive: Action – move Surveyors from Mizah to Kov, and end the turn with 7 FacCreds and 0 experience.

Mizah Combine: Action – move Surveyors from Mizah to Kov, and end the turn with 6 FacCreds and 0 experience.


Just the Collateral Damage again for the moment:

  • 3 February: Collateral Damage – Please Enter Your PIN.
  • 11-18 February: Collateral Damage is travelling from Mizah to Kov.
  • 18-22 February: Collateral Damage – Hot Hydrogen.
  • 23 February – 1 March: Collateral Damage is travelling from Kov to Mizah.


Items in italics are for the GM’s information only.

Mizah, 03 February 3201

The Zonguldak Police Department is still unsuccessful in its attempts to track down the terrorists who threatened Adept Aytuna Durak yesterday in the hallowed halls of the Great Archive itself, before fleeing towards Erdemir Spaceport in a stolen vehicle. Eight police officers were killed during their escape, although a government spokesman denies any connection with the later gas main explosion in Erdemir Nature Reserve.

Collateral Damage episode 2: Please Enter Your PIN. Occurs on Mizah on 3 February; news reaches Mizah immediately, and Valka on 17 March.

Kov, 7 February 3201

Free merchants who asked not to be identified claim to have sighted a Confederation scoutship transiting the Kov system this week. Analysts theorise that the vessel, if indeed there was one, may have been en route to either the N1 system and its so-called “starship graveyard” looking for Mandate-era salvage, or possibly intending to survey the Bright Star region, largely unexplored since the collapse of the Mandate 600 years ago.

Faction turn 2. Event occurs at Kov on 7 February; news reaches Mizah on 14 February, and Valka on 21 March.

Mizah, 11 February 3201

Crowds turned out today to witness the launching of the Great Archive’s new surveyor ships, which are being despatched on their shakedown cruises along the Hasara Chain and the Triangular Route. The Grandmaster Adept of the Great Archive hailed this as another great step forward on the long path to rediscovering and reuniting the worlds of the former Terran Mandate.

Meanwhile, the Balkan Group, one of the corporations which make up the so-called Mizah Combine, has purchased a number of second-hand light freighters. These are understood to be intended for the Triskelion Route, with the intention of establishing permanent trading factors and scheduled services. Members of the Spacers’ Guild have criticised the Group for its flag-of-convenience policy, claiming that the CEO, Torun Balkan, is leasing them to a Confederation company on Gazzain which leases them back to the Group itself, allowing Balkan to sidestep Mizah’s health and safety regulations for space workers. Torun Balkan was not available for comment.

And now, it’s time for everyone’s favourite comedy show, “Karagöz and Hacivat”. In today’s episode, Barba-Giorgios tells Karagöz he can make some quick money by investing in offworld trade…

Faction turn 2. Occurs on Mizah on 11 February; news reaches Mizah immediately, and Valka on 25 March. Collateral Damage episode 3: Hot Hydrogen. The ship leaves Mizah on 11 February, arriving at Kov on 18 February. Completing their mission on 22 February, they return to Mizah, arriving on 01 March.

Enjiwa, 14 February 3201

Reporters on Enjiwa could not fail to notice the arrival today of the 1st Hierate Marines on a goodwill mission. A spokesman for the Enjiwan stressed the traditionally peaceful relations between Enjiwa and the Hierate and said he was unconcerned by the Marines’ visit to his planet, while admitting that there had been no advance warning of the visit.

Faction turn 2. Occurs on Enjiwa on 14 February; news reaches Valka on 21 February, and Mizah on 4 April.

Mizah, 26 February 3201

The Great Archive’s surveyor Suleiman returned early from its shakedown cruise to Kov. While docked at Mining Platform 29 negotiating with the local government, the Suleiman and the platform came under attack by raiders from the neighbouring Karabulut Station. The majority of the Adepts escaped unharmed, but Adept Hurriyet Gundogan became separated from the rest of the crew during their escape and is officially listed as missing in action.

Backstory for Collateral Damage episode 3: Hot Hydrogen. Events occur on Kov on 16-18 February; news reaches Mizah on 26 February, and Valka on 1 April. One thing I haven’t explained yet is that Kov is so balkanised and downtrodden it doesn’t have a news service, which omission the Great Archive will now correct.


I see I’ve missed a trick, in that if I count the Space Marines move as a move rather than a special ability, I could have moved the Blockade Runners as well – a faction can only take one action per turn, but it can take that action with multiple units. This doesn’t bother me enough to redo the turn.

As expected, turn 2 went a lot faster than turn 1, which itself went faster than the initial setup. I can easily see myself doing this in 15 minutes after each session.

Here’s how things look by the end of January:



I roll a d4 (that being the smallest die with at least as many sides as I have factions) and get a 2; the Archive is up first.

Great Archive: New goal – Expand Influence on Kov. Action – build Surveyors at Mizah. Ends the turn with 2 FacCreds and 0 experience.

Mizah Combine: New goal – Expand Influence on Kov. Action – build Surveyors at Mizah. Ends the turn with 1 FacCred and 0 experience.

Solomani Confederation: New goal – Peaceable Kingdom (it’s starting by placing a Base of Influence on Hasara then working its way back towards Gazzain, but it can’t do that until turn 5, so it may as well be making progress towards another goal). Action – build Surveyors at Gazzain. Ends the turn with 1 FacCred and 0 experience.

Aslan Hierate: New goal – Expand Influence on Enjiwa. Action – refit Blockade Fleet at Panas as Blockade Runners. Ends the turn with 3 FacCreds and 0 experience.


There will eventually be more than one party, but for now it’s just the crew of the Collateral Damage.

  • 3 January: Collateral Damage – Back in Black.
  • 25 January: Collateral Damage – Stasis Pod.


And now, here is the news… items in italics are for the GM only, items in normal text can be read out to the party. One of the challenges that would be avoided by FTL radio is the time lag between events occurring and becoming apparent to the PCs, which may partly explain why The Last Parsec has FTL communications; but in this setting, news can only travel by ship, so I need to record when the news occurs, and when it reaches the base worlds for each party; at the moment that means Mizah for my PCs, and Valka for Nick’s.

Mizah, 03 January 3201

Yesterday evening, the Erdemir clifftop mansion of Barca Tekin, CEO of Kıçmetal Mining, was assaulted by a team of hitmen in a stolen gravsled. Barca Tekin was killed in the attack along with Olus Togan, the corporation’s Chief Financial Officer. Cagatay Ilhan, a representative of the Balkan Group, was later discovered lost in the nearby Erdemir Nature Reserve, claiming to have been rescued by anti-terrorist Special Forces operators acting on a tipoff.

A spokesman for the President categorically denied that any such Special Forces unit had been involved in the incident.

The Zonguldak Police Department continues its search for those responsible. The wreckage of two gravsleds has been recovered from the Nature Reserve, along with several as-yet unidentified bodies. Investigating detectives have appealed for any information relating to the group which appeared unexpectedly just before the attack and ransacked the gravsled hangar before shooting the Kıçmetal Mining mascots, genetically-engineered dinosaur retroclones, with a nailgun. They are wanted on suspicion of aiding and abetting the attackers, Grand Theft Gravsled, and animal cruelty charges.

Collateral Damage episode 0: Back in Black. Occurs on Mizah on 3 January; news reaches Mizah immediately, and Valka on 14 February.

Mizah, 07 January 3201

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 spokesman 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.

Faction turn 1. Occurs on Mizah on 7 January; news reaches Mizah immediately, and Valka on 18 February. There should also be news from Panas and Gazzain.

Gazzain, 21 January 3201

A spokesman for the government of Gazzain announced today that following a recent budgetary review, the Confederation Council has authorised construction of survey vessels to explore the regions beyond the Solomani Quadrant. These will be built at Gazzain’s orbital spaceyard, bringing a welcome boost to the economy.

Faction turn 1. This occurs on Gazzain on 21 January; the news reaches Mizah on 4 February, and Valka on 11 March.

Mizah, 25 January 3201

Collateral Damage episode 1: Stasis Pod. Newsfeed item pending scenario completion. Occurs on Mizah on 25 January; news reaches Mizah immediately, and Valka on 8 March.

Panas, 28 January 3201

Hierate authorities have announced an amnesty for smugglers and pirates whose vessels are currently impounded on Panas. This will apply to any ships and crews willing to enter Hierate service as fleet auxiliaries; their sentences will be commuted to time served, and they will be required to decommission their ship’s weapons and become subject to Hierate Navy orders.

Faction turn 1. This occurs on Panas on 28 January; the news reaches Valka on 11th February, and Mizah on 18th March.


The initial setup for the factions took me quite a while, but the first faction turn took only minutes – it took a little longer to write out the newsfeed items, but no more than an hour, and that will probably improve dramatically with practice.

I’m deliberately throwing out a ton of newsfeed items to start with, in the hope of stimulating the players’ own plans and shifting them from scripted adventures to sandbox exploration at the stellar level, rather than within the scope of a single mission as they have become used to in recent years. Let’s see if they rise to the bait.

For my first five-day blitz, I’m retconning the Dark Nebula faction turns up to April 3201. Let’s begin with the status at December 3200, just before the campaign begins.


I spent a long time trying to work out what would be the optimum thing for each faction to do strategically, then decided I was overthinking it; it’s only supposed to take 15 minutes at the end of each session, not the days I’ve been spending on it. What actually matters is that what the factions do makes sense in the context of what the PCs already know.

Established continuity for the Dark Nebula as known to the crew of the Collateral Damage is:

  • The Great Archive and Mizah Combine build Surveyors in January, send them to Kov in February, and establish Bases of Influence there in March.
  • The Solomani Confederation is at war with the “space bugs”, whoever or whatever they are. So that this action stays on the map, I have relocated the bugs from their former position beyond Simba to Karpos, which may be their homeworld or just an outpost. (The bugs, incidentally, are inspired by  Peter Watts’ novel Blindsight and a little-known short story by James Blish called This Earth of Hours.)
  • The Aslan Hierate is a feudal, expansionist and militaristic state. The Solomani Confederation is in an essentially defensive stance against the Hierate, as it wishes to avoid a war on two fronts (and the bureaucracy can’t make its mind up what to do).
  • There are two major trade routes, as shown in previous posts, and two minor routes.


  • Aslan Hierate: Seize control of every system on the map from the spineless weaklings who currently hold them.
  • Great Archive: Peaceful uplift of every inhabited system on the map, culminating in a sector full of harmony, with crystal spires and togas for all.
  • Mizah Combine: Make tons of money. No, seriously, that’s all they want.
  • Solomani Confederation: Re-establish the Terran Mandate, this time under Maadin’s control of course. However, they will need to stop bickering over how to do that before they start in earnest.


December 3200

This map shows the situation just before the game begins. Assets are colour-coded to show ownership; red for the Aslan Hierate, blue for the Solomani Confederation, green for the Great Archive of Mizah and yellow for the Mizah Combine. Squares show who has the Planetary Government tag; Bases of Influence are triangles labelled with their current hit points; other assets are circles labelled with an abbreviation to show what they are, you should be able to work that out.


What I’ve done here is to import version 9 of the sector map into Hexographer, and then blow it up so that there are seven smaller hexes inside each of the ones on the grid. (I should see if I can resurrect the map of the Dread Sea Dominions with all the adventures marked on it using a similar technique. Maybe later.)

Aslan Hierate

The Hierate has the Planetary Government tag for, and full-strength (24 hit points) Bases of Influence on, every primary and secondary system in the Aslanic Hierate. It has an income of 6 FacCreds per turn. It will begin by gaining control of Moralon.

  • Kuzu: Planetary Defences, Tripwire Cells, Pretech Manufactory. These are the reason why Kuzu is a Hegemon and the units tasked with defending it.
  • Panas: Space Marines, Extended Theatre, Blockade Fleet, Shipping Combine, Cyberninjas. These are at a jumping-off point for controlling the sector, except for the Shipping Combine, which ought to be as close to the centre of the U-Route as it can get and still be inside the Hierate.

The Blockade Fleet is a bit of a liability, given the lack of spike-1 routes on the map, and is likely to be sold off or refitted in short order.


Great Archive

The Great Archive has the Planetary Government tag for Mizah, and a full-strength Base of Influence (14 hit points, as it is a lesser faction). All its assets are on Mizah. It wants to establish Bases of Influence (subordinate, missionary Archives) on every inhabited world in the Fastnesses, and pass on all the Mandate knowledge it considers suitable; that will employ it gainfully for roughly a year. Its monthly income is 5 FacCreds.

Mizah Combine

The Combine is unique in not having a Planetary Government tag, but it does have a Base of Influence on Mizah (14 hit points). All its assets begin on Mizah, and its monthly income is 5 FacCreds. It will begin by establishing Bases of Influence on all the worlds of the Triskelion Route, that being the main trade route in the region. That’ll keep it busy for about a year and a half.

Solomani Confederation

The Confederation has the Planetary Government tag for, and full-strength (24 hit points) Bases of Influence on, every primary and secondary system in the Solomani Confederation. It has an income of 6 FacCreds per turn. Confed needs to establish defensive phase lines along the invasion routes from the Hierate and the space bugs; that initially means Bases of Influence on Hasara, Tangga and Kov in the Fastnesses, and Salan, Changa and Irbev in Vecinos.

  • Maadin: Planetary Defences, Tripwire Cells, Pretech Manufactory; same reasoning as the Hierate.
  • Gazzain: Shipping Combine (it’s the central node of the Triskelion Route, which is the main trade route on the right side of the map); Blockade Fleet (established in series continuity).
  • Icat: Cyberninjas (probably where they are made).
  • Kamat: Extended Theatre, Space Marines (defending against potential bug invasion – established in series continuity).

Again, the Blockade Fleet is a bit of a white elephant unless it can move into the Fastnesses, which it can’t.



It was only when I drew this on a map that I realised how busy Mizah is, and how many Shipping Combines there are knocking around.

Almost all space opera RPGs have free traders, tramp freighters, trampers, call them what you will. They are a perfect excuse for PCs to roam the galaxy getting into trouble. What basis do they and their unusual names have in reality?


Commercial shipping is divided into liners (either passenger or freight), which have fixed schedules and published ports of call, and trampers, which don’t. Liners trade in futures, promising to deliver a cargo at a specific time for a price agreed in advance. Trampers work the spot market; they’ll take anything, anywhere, any time – but they charge a premium for that flexibility.

Some shipping lines have trampers in their fleet; these allow them to service a contract at a moment’s notice, and even in a down market, something is always needed urgently somewhere. The alternatives are to ignore those opportunities, or buy out existing contracts and reroute a liner.

Rather than work out the details of commodity trading in the Dark Nebula, I’ve ruled that liners ply the shortest routes between primary systems, but will not traverse a tertiary system. That means the main trade routes are the Triskelion Route, connecting Maadin, Mizah, Gazzain and Bulan, and the U-Route, connecting Vaxt, Kuzu, Valka and Godoro.

The Great Archive’s surveyors, arguably also liners of a sort, ply the Triangular Route (Mizah – Simba – Omaro) and the Hasara Chain (Mizah – Kov – Salia – Tangga – Hasara).

Notice that less than half of the sector’s planets are on regular trade routes, which emphasises the into-the-unknown freebooting style of trading that sits well with many players.


There are three roles to consider; the shipowner, the charterer, and the broker. The first owns the ship, the second charters it for a voyage, and the third provides cargoes for the other two; they meet physically or virtually in an exchange, where they have easy access to information on markets and ship availability. The broker then matches a cargo to available ships if he is working for a charterer, or a ship to available cargoes if he is working for a shipowner. Easily the biggest such facility in the Dark Nebula sector is the Erdemir Exchange on Mizah, though any world on the Triskelion Route or U-Route has some such facility.

Normally, a tramper is hired on a voyage contract, in which the shipowner provides a ship and crew, and the charterer(s) provide the cargo and the destinations; this is perfect for my PCs as they don’t need to worry about the actual trading, the broker does that for them – they just need to get to a specific port as soon as possible. There are also time charters, in which the charterer rents the ship, and it does what he says so long as he keeps paying the bills; and bareboat or demise charters, in which the shipowner provides an empty ship and the charterer does everything else – ownership may transfer to the charterer after some years, in which case it’s effectively a hire-purchase agreement. Arguably, the Type A Free Traders that Merchants can gain as a mustering-out benefit in Classic Traveller are demise charters.

Not strictly charters, but there are some people who take holidays on tramp freighters; people who like travelling on ships, but don’t mind where they’re going. They have their own cabins, eat with the crew and so on – Shepherd Book in Firefly is a good example of this kind of passenger.

Finally, the crew can indulge in speculative trade, which is what SF RPGs tend to focus on; in this case the crew act as their own brokers and effectively charter their own ship as well.


In the typical space opera setting, communication is limited to the speed of a ship, and access to information from another world is expensive and time-consuming, so ship names need to stand out – brokers and charterers who remember your ship’s name are more likely to contact you with more business. This was important historically, and even in the 21st century you can still find ships called things like Never on Sunday for the same reason.

Ship names may not, however, contain (or sound like) distress calls, racial or ethnic insults, obscenities or profanities. They must be no more than 33 characters long in the Latin alphabet, though they may include Roman or Arabic numerals. The name must be clearly printed on both sides of the bow, on the superstructure if any, and on the stern (where the home port must also be shown).

Military vessels tend to be named for martial virtues, places or famous people; sometimes there is a pattern to this, and sometimes not. Commercial ships are often given female names, possibly those of the shipowner’s wife, daughter, mistress or sovereign; trampers have been known to be named after "working girls" in their ports of call. Taking a leaf out of Iain M Banks’ books, in my campaign Mandate vessels have names chosen by their AIs, ranging from the humourous to the downright disturbing.

Ships may be renamed when sold, in which case their papers record them as (for example) "MT Mediterranean, ex-Exxon Valdez". Ship names are italicised in print.

A ship may have two names, one printed on the hull and another in the charter documentation, to meet particular legal or financial needs – this can happen if the ship has a "flag of convenience" or is owned by a shell corporation. Having two names is an indicator that the ship’s owner, or charterer, is trying to conceal their ownership or avoid troublesome regulations; some owners go so far as to have "bearer shares", which like bearer bonds, convey ownership on whoever physically has the document.

Imagine the fun you could have with that!


I’m quite pleased with this, even if it is getting a bit busy now. My group, the crew of the Collateral Damage, are currently en route to Mizah from Kov; Nick’s group are currently off map beyond Valka.

Achievement unlocked: Summer resolution 1 complete.

The Fastnesses are a group of six worlds which survived the Scream and the Silence in relatively good shape, thanks largely to the Great Archive Tekke of Mizah, originally a training facility established by the Terran Mandate to ensure frontier colonists had access to Earth’s art, history and technical training. Now, it is a semi-monastic order dedicated to preserving and sharing knowledge – neighbouring worlds can expect a visit by an Archive surveyor crew every couple of months, and have been uplifted to a uniform standard of technology over the past century by Preceptor Adepts.

Some fifty years ago, a breakaway group decided it was better to sell knowledge than give it away, and formed the Mizah Combine. The tension between the Combine and the Archive drives local politics, which is further complicated by envoys from both the Confederation and the Hierate, either of which would welcome Mizah as an ally.



Kov: Gas giant. Population descended from Terran Mandate gas miners, living in repurposed mining platforms at the 1,000 mB level; breather mask and cold weather gear needed to go outside. Native life-forms can all fly, and can grow to enormous size. Fierce rivalry between cities for resources; anarchic nihilist warlords. Proceed with caution.

Mizah: Garden world; trade hub; famous for high-quality starships. Political tension between ruling Phoenix Party (centre left, links to Preceptor Archive) and Free Trade Party (far right, links to Mizah Combine). Capital city Zonguldak’s Charsi District is an English-speaking ghetto for port workers, ship crews, and mercenaries, 25 km from Erdemir Spaceport.

Omaro: Settled by a Japanese cult which died out during the Silence; now a research outpost run by Mizah’s Great Archive and the University of Zonguldak. Lobster-like alien animals.

Salia: Former Terran Mandate research facility investigating vast, echoing alien ruins, thought to be at least 40,000 years old. Arid wastes beyond the capital La Franja largely unexplored, said to be inhabited by outcasts and the legendary El Duplicar, an alien doppelganger alleged to kill those who wander off alone and assume their shape.

Simba: High-gravity snowball world, completely glaciated. Capital city and spaceport, Peponi, is built in mountaintop caverns. Breather mask and cold weather gear needed to go outside. Katabatic winds gust well over 100 kph; landing is dangerous. Native life highly aggressive and capable of bursts of great speed. Proceed with caution.

Tangga: Airless, frozen surface covered in bizarre rock formations resembling step pyramids. Harsh environment used by local government to justify intrusive surveillance and heavy-handed policing. Proceed with caution.