World Capabilities by Population

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.


  • 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).


  • 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.

Concerning Factions

As a boy, my imagination was fired by Wily Odysseus, king of Ithaca; I imagined him as a leader of a mighty army. Now that I have seen Ithaca and realise that it is less than 50 square miles in area with a population of about 3,000, and looked at Homer’s Catalogue of Ships rather than the watered-down version found in children’s books, I picture him as leading a dozen ships, each with about 50 rowers aboard; roughly a battalion, which in modern terms would make Odysseus a Lieutenant Colonel.

How is this relevant to Stars Without Number? In preparation for the retcon of the Dark Nebula campaign’s initial faction turns, I’ve been reading the densely-packed Factions chapter with the intention of getting things right this time (I’ve already tried several times before, both on- and off-stage). As a result I’ve discovered some fairly hefty limitations on what factions can and can’t do under the rules.


First, there is quite a severe limit on how many units a faction can have; no more of any type than its rating in that area. As an example, a Regional Hegemon is the most powerful faction in the basic rules, with an income of 6 FacCreds per turn, and ratings of Force 8, Cunning 5 and Wealth 7; it could have no more than 20 assets at a time, possibly bumping that up to 26 for short periods by spending its entire income on maintaining such extra units. Fortunately, Bases of Influence don’t count against that limit.

Second, moving units around is difficult and expensive. The only way to project naval power outside a cluster of worlds linked by spike-1 drills is to build a capital fleet; none of the logistical assets in the rules can carry Starship assets. The only way to transport Military units more than one hex is by using an Extended Theatre or Blockade Runner asset and paying FacCreds to do it; and since you only have a handful of units you have to think very carefully about how many non-combat Force assets you want. There are, however, a number of ways of moving Special Forces assets up to six hexes in a turn.

Third, while a FacCred for players is about Cr 100,000, a FacCred for a faction – which is more about logistical capability and political will than it is about hard cash – is more like several million. The smallest thing one could reasonably call a capital fleet would have half a dozen vessels including at least one battleship or carrier, and would weigh in at well over a hundred million credits; so its 40 FacCreds are roughly Cr 3,000,000 apiece. Using an exchange rate of one FacCred equals Cr 100,000 means a capital fleet would consist of a fighter squadron with nothing to carry it.


Pocket empires like Regional Hegemons will tend to form in clusters of worlds connected by spike-1 routes. One which does so will be able to control them more cheaply, and have more firepower available, than one which does not. One which builds a Capital Fleet or an Extended Theatre asset is signalling an intention to expand outside its home cluster.

Regional Hegemons which wish to expand can do so most effectively by sending Special Forces units to nearby worlds, creating a Base of Influence there, and then building new units at that Base of Influence; the cheapest way to do this is by building Surveyors, as they can move two hexes free of charge. Buying a BoI on a planet is therefore a potentially hostile act, as even the smallest one could spew out something nasty next turn and ruin your whole day; fortunately you don’t need permission from the local government to build one.

Conflict between Regional Hegemons is unlikely to be a mighty clash between giant battle fleets; it’s more probable that Special Forces troops and spies are inserted covertly to arm and train local malcontents, who then fight a proxy war on the Hegemon’s behalf.

If an interstellar hot war does break out, it moves slowly across gaps between clusters of worlds, because of the need to preposition Extended Theatre assets which then move other Military Units across those gaps.

This is all rather clever, actually, as it means the PCs matter at the faction level, however powerful the faction is. Even the biggest faction has only a handful of relatively small units, meaning that although the PCs can’t wipe out a planet of billions, they do stand a chance of thwarting its aims and possibly crippling its ability to project power. If they have a ship, as mine do, even a Regional Hegemon has need of such as they to transport its assets.

Now We All Have Turkish Names

Given that over 98% of the NPCs in the Dark Nebula campaign are going to be culturally Turkish, I’m going to need GM Resources of the kind that Stars Without Number lavishes on the GM using Arabic, Chinese, English, Indian, Japanese, Nigerian, Russian or Spanish cultures. So I spent a lazy Sunday morning pulling those together from the internet; the Turkish government have obligingly provided lists of their most popular given names and surnames online, and I’ve pulled a list of the 11th through 60th most populated cities for use as placenames, reasoning that the top ten would be too obvious and well-known.


Turkish names consist of a given name followed by a surname, either or both of which are also often meaningful words in Turkish. Given names are usually gender-specific, but may be unisex. Married women may use both their maiden surname and that of their husband.



Traditional Turkish cuisine is rich, savoury and colourful, relying on vegetables with small portions of lamb or mutton, usually roasted or grilled.  Fruit, fruit juices and yoghurt are common, as is honey, which appears in many desserts. Drinks are usually tea or water, with coffee less common than one might expect; although alcohol is theoretically forbidden on religious grounds, a minority drink beer, wine, or rakı, a diluted grape brandy flavoured with aniseed, with meals.


In cities, European or English styles prevail. A few women wear Arabic clothing, but more common are essentially European garments covered by a light topcoat and headscarf. In rural areas, men continue to wear European-style shirts and trousers, but women favour long-sleeved tops over bloomers or trousers.

Culture, Government and Law

As the PCs charge about my little sandbox, I need to tell them about the local official language, government, and laws (oh all right then, weapons restrictions). As usual in such situations, I use the contemporary real world as a template. Is that accurate? Who knows. Does it give answers which are intuitively familiar to the players? Probably. Is it fast and easy? Oh yes.

For the most part, it’s clear which present-day nation I should use as an example for each of the cultures in the Stars Without Number rulebook; for English I selected the UK based on the cuisine described, and for Arabic I chose Egypt as it has the biggest population among Arabic-speaking countries and influences many of the others.

Then I added Turkish to the mix because many of the worlds in my Dark Nebula campaign turned out to be Turkish. You’ll see a Turkish cultural writeup along SWN lines shortly.


Government: The notes in parenthesis after the government description are the SWN Core Edition government type (the word) and the Classic Traveller government type (the number or letter).

Weapons Restrictions: Legal weapons usually require a licence which depends on passing background checks and possibly other tests, and takes weeks or longer to get. Unlawful possession of weapons is generally punished by years to decades in prison, possibly with a fine as well; Egypt might let you off with a month in jail, China might execute you. (“Rifles” in this context means hunting or sporting weapons, not semi-auto battle rifles. Nice try.) The number in parenthesis after the weapons restrictions is the Classic Traveller law level.


Template: Arab Republic of Egypt. Official Language: Arabic. Government: Republic (Republic, 4). Weapons Restrictions: Handguns permitted (7, sort of).


Template: People’s Republic of China. Official Language: Mandarin. Government: Communist state (Oligarchy or Theocracy? C or D?). Weapons Restrictions: No firearms permitted (7).


Template: United Kingdom. Official Language: English. Government: Constitutional monarchy (Republic, 4). Weapons Restrictions: Rifles and shotguns permitted (5).


Template: Republic of India. Official Languages: English, Hindi. Government: Federal republic (Republic, 4). Weapons Restrictions: Rifles, shotguns, handguns and semi-auto assault weapons permitted (3).


Template: State of Japan. Official Language: Japanese. Government: Parliamentary with constitutional monarchy (Republic, 4). Weapons Restrictions: All firearms and swords prohibited (8).


Template: Federal Republic of Nigeria. Official Language: English. Government: Federal republic (Republic, 4). Weapons Restrictions: Rifles and shotguns permitted (5).


Template: Russian Federation. Official Language: Russian. Government: Federation(Oligarchy? 7?). Weapons Restrictions: Rifles and shotguns permitted (5).


Template: Kingdom of Spain. Official Language: Spanish. Government: Parliamentary monarchy (Republic, 4). Weapons Restrictions: Rifles and shotguns permitted (5).


Template: Republic of Turkey. Official Language: Turkish. Government: Republican parliamentary democracy (Republic, 4). Weapons Restrictions: Rifles, shotguns and handguns permitted (4).


All PCs speak English for a reason. It’s an official language for three of the eight basic cultures in SWN, in the case of Nigeria and India because they have literally hundreds of languages and dialects each, and you need some sort of official language.

Not only is the representative democracy the default and most intuitive option for a planetary government, it’s also the commonest type among SWN cultures; except for the PRC and the Russian Federation, all of them have some form of it.

If you have no special plans for a world’s weapons restrictions, you won’t go far wrong by assuming that all firearms are prohibited except for shotguns and hunting rifles, which require a licence, and attract unwelcome attention from local law enforcement in urban areas.

Special Forces Without Number

Something I’ve been wondering about for a while is this: What level of population does a world need in Stars Without Number before it can have special forces units, of the kind that the Skyward Steel supplement refers to as Deep Black units? When one considers the continuous training they undergo and the support tail they must need, they are likely to be scarce.

Let’s look at real-world nations with population levels a planet might have in SWN, and see what they can field, especially in the naval arena, since Deep Black units are part of planetary navies.


The total population of the Earth at the moment is in this region, so basically as many as you want. Most countries with famous naval special forces units – US Navy SEALs, British SBS, Russian Naval Spetznatz – have populations in the tens or hundreds of millions. Picture the combined might of the UN Security Council vs. Luxembourg, Malta or the US Virgin Islands and you have some idea of a Regional Hegemon taking on the average planet.


As an example at the high end of this range, Israel has a population of 8 million or so, and has a number of special forces units, including Shayetet 13, part of the Israeli Navy. If you added them all up, there would probably be some hundreds, possibly thousands, of troops, but exact numbers for any unit of this type are hard to come by.

At the low end, Estonia has a population of about 1.3 million, and has the Estonian Special Operations Force, which was said to have an initial recruitment target of 36 men.

Tens or Hundreds of Thousands

I couldn’t find any contemporary state this small with a special forces unit. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any, of course, but I doubt the average post-Scream planet at this population level has the money for its own permanent special forces. Enter the PCs, stage left, as mercenaries…


Much to my surprise, a cursory search through my bookshelves and on the web shows any planet with a population in the millions and sufficient political will could have special forces units. So there you have it.

Scoutships Without Number

I thought I should stat out the Dolphin under Stars Without Number, and here she is. I’ve used the SWN stats to work out some SW ones as well, because I’m not sure which rules I’d use for space combat, should it occur.


Power: 10/5 free. Mass: 15/4 free.

Cost: 2,820,000. Hit Points: 20. Crew: 1/10. Speed: 5. Armour: 0. AC: 5.

Weaponry: None.

Defences: None.

Fittings: Spike Drive-3; Atmospheric Configuration, Fuel Scoops (both integral to courier hull); Cargo Lighter, Cargo Space (3 tons), Cold Sleep Pods, Fuel Bunker, Ship’s Locker.

The scoutship is a modified Naval Courier (Skyward Steel p. 46), intended for long-range exploration and courier duties. It is unarmed, relying on its speed and high spike drive rating to evade combat.

Savage Worlds: Acc/TS 70/800, Toughness 16 (4), Crew 1+9, Cost $28M. Notes: Climb-3. (I’m assuming that SW performance is basically like a space shuttle.)


The Dolphin is controlled by a braked AI, working off its debt as a Scout Service ship. This is built using the AI rules in chapter 12 of SWN Core Edition.

I start with the standard Tolerance score of 20, and decide to reserve 5 for armatures, which is enough for any of them. I spend 13 points to buy Int 14, Wis 14 and Cha 12. A further point buys the Basic skills package, and one extra package – Pilot. This leaves me with 6 points; I’ve noticed in using the SWN point buy character system that it is often difficult to use up the last point, and use the last free point to buy an increased saving throw progression of +1 per 3 levels.

As the Dolphin normally wears a starship, I pick a Squawkbox armature to begin with, which costs no Tolerance. I’d like to merge the two Vehicle skills to give it Vehicle/Space-1, but since you can’t do that with skills from the same package, I use the Vehicle/Any skill for Vehicle/Grav, the Culture/World skill for Culture/Homeworld, and allocate the Combat/Any skill as Combat/Unarmed (still usable whatever weapons have been taken away from you).

Str 3, Dex 7, Con 3, Int 14, Wis 14, Cha 12. Level 1 AI. HP 4, AC 6, AB +0, Saves 15.

Skills: Combat/Gunnery, Combat/Unarmed, Computer, Culture/Homeworld, Culture/Spacer, Navigation, Tech/Astronautics, Tech/Postech, Tech/Pretech, Vehicle/Grav, Vehicle/Space.

Weapons/Armour: None. Armature costs Cr 500.

Savage Worlds: Ag d4, Sm d8, Sp d8, St d4, Vi d4. Pace 6, Parry 4, Toughness 4, Charisma 0. Fighting d6, Knowledge/Astrogation d6, Piloting d6, Repair d6, Shooting d6.


The Dolphin‘s repair swarm is composed of bots based on Squawkbox armatures, each with an expert system granting them +0 on anything relating to repairing the ship. They’re good enough to do routine maintenance, but if anything is seriously damaged, Arion or the Dolphin need to get involved.

AC: 6. HD: 1 (4 HP). AB: +0. Cost: Cr 1,000. No. Appearing: 1d6. Saving Throw: 15. Move: 30′. Morale: 12. Skill Bonus: +0.

Savage Worlds: In SW, I’ll just use the standard statistics for a swarm.

Hydra Sector GM’s Map



Here is the GM’s map of the Hydra Sector from Stars Without Number. I took the map on p. 165 of the rulebook and redid it in Hexographer, showing as captions some data which SWN extracts into separate tables. Thick grey lines are known trade routes; thin ones are secret routes, known only to a few organisations. Captions in italics show the presence of alien races.