Arioniad Episode 0: Setup

For the next five-day blitz, I’m re-imagining the Arioniad.

The Arioniad was a solo testbed campaign I ran from 2009 to the cliffhanger ending in 2013; the characters stayed the same, but the rules and setting changed around them (the in-game reason for that was explained in the cliffhanger).

The campaign was one of those deleted in the Great Blog Purge of 2015, but I miss the characters and would like to play with them again. I considered reconstructing the previous game from such offline notes as remain, but on rereading those, I discovered that the game was much better in my memory than it was in reality; so re-imagining it is.

As before, the campaign has two objectives beyond simply being fun; first, it’s a testbed for new rules, and second, it’s a way to flesh out the setting.

I was never happy with the various settings Arion and Company adventured through in their last outing, so I’m moving them into the Dark Nebula, which I am happy with, at least for the moment. On the rules front, we’ll start with the current editions of Savage Worlds (characters, combat, starships) and Larger Than Life (game master emulator); over time, I intend to try 5150, Mythic, and Scarlet Heroes as the emulators, and 5150 and maybe other games for the characters and combat piece.

The Star of the Show

Arion is a stock Pilot archetype from Savage Worlds Deluxe, with his extra skill point used to buy Knowledge: Astrogation d4. This gives him all the skills you need to operate a Small or Medium starship under the SW Science Fiction Companion; Knowledge: Astrogation, Notice, Piloting, Repair and Shooting. For dramatic reasons he is a native of Maadin, but we will meet him on Mizah. His gear is a kevlar jacket, a 9mm Glock equivalent, and a knife, which leaves him with $50.

One mistake I made last time was to assume that the Crew listed for SFC ships was the actual crew complement, but in fact that is the space available for crew and passengers (SFC p. 40). So, rather than build a custom ship for Arion and his friends, I’ll use a stock Light Freighter (SFC p. 49). This is called the Dolphin, and has an AI, which statistically is a better astrogator than Arion, although he has a better chance of success at anything else. As it was fun last time, the ship also has a Repair Swarm – a group of fist-sized metal spiders that handle maintenance and other chores. This uses the Swarm statblock with Repair d6 added.

Looking through Larger Than Life, I can see that he is best represented by a Rep 5 Star (all PCs begin as Rep 5) with the Steely Eyes attribute – I shall exercise the option of not dicing for a second attribute as it may conflict with his SW character sheet. His profession is obviously Pilot, which means he moves in the Exotic circle, and he uses the Adventurer reaction tables. I decide he lives in the Docks area of a Metropolis, specifically Erdemir Spaceport on Mizah, with the other five areas of the locale being in Zonguldak. For travel purposes he will always use a Tramp Steamer (the Dolphin) if possible.

I preload the PEFs (Possible Enemy Forces) he will encounter with NPCs from last time; Dmitri, Schrodinger, Timon, assorted thugs, Coriander and Berenice.

As normal for my solo SW adventures, bennies refresh every 4 posts and advances occur every 10; since I number the posts, I don’t need to track anything else.

Oh, and all my solo characters have a theme song; in Arion’s case, it’s The Traveller by Joe Satriani.

“Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.” – Listen With Mother

The Standard of Living

“Agents can buy, handwave, or get parts to make pretty much anything a normal, middle-class European can buy.” – Night’s Black Agents

In a previous post, I examined the cost of living in a mediaeval society, but I’m running a science fiction campaign at the moment so I look to modern prices and wages.

As is my habit, I checked against the real world, and because Savage Worlds is published by an American company I used information from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics; it turns out to be easier to find out what someone earns than what the cost of living is, so I’m inferring lifestyles from that. As you’ll see, if your character is Rich or Noble he has about the same standard of living as a contemporary American lawyer; if you watch any TV at all, you know roughly what that means.


  • Poverty Hindrance: Starting wealth is $250, so by extrapolation from the Rich Edge, annual salary is probably around $25,000 – that’s about what a baker, janitor or taxi driver earns, according to the BLS. In the US military this would be an airman, seaman, private first class or lance-corporal, depending on arm of service.
  • Normal: Starting wealth $500, so by extrapolation annual salary around $50,000. A mechanic, police officer, nurse, teacher or military lieutenant is in this sort of area, as well as the average PC.
  • Rich or Noble: Starting wealth $1,500 and annual salary $150,000. Dentists, lawyers, generals, admirals, people like that.
  • Filthy Rich: Starting wealth $2,500, annual salary $500,000. That’s a surgeon, twice, with extra fries.


One of the reasons for this line of thought was the idea that a player character might take the Rich Edge and say it paid for, or represented the income from, a small starship.

Let’s look at the stock Light Freighter in the SFC; it’s Size 8 and has a crew of 5, which means it costs $850 per day for food and fuel, $800 per jump, and up to $50,000 per month for wages; if we assume one jump every two weeks, that’s a total of $331,050 per annum just to keep the ship running, and another $600,000 for crew wages, which means chartering a Light Freighter has to cost somewhere in the region of $7,000 to $20,000 per week. (Incidentally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average airline pilot or flight engineer does indeed make somewhere around $10,000 per month.)

This means a Filthy Rich character could credibly pay to operate one if the crew forego their wages, and a group of two or three could keep it flying even if the crew are being paid normal salaries.

Alternatively, I can interpret the Edges, Hindrances and lifestyles for aspiring freighter captains thus:

  • Poverty: Hardscrabble free trader. Trading isn’t making ends meet; the money from adventures subsidises ship operations.
  • Normal: Getting by. You make just enough trading to keep the ship spaceworthy and pay the crew’s wages.
  • Rich or Noble: Better days. You make a comfortable living trading.
  • Filthy Rich: Merchanter royalty. Your trading acumen, and your ship, are widely known and respected.

That’s a lot faster and easier than the trading Rules As Written or anything I’ve come up with previously. Your character wants to be a successful trader? Take the Rich Edge next time you advance, and we won’t worry about exactly what he trades in, or how.

Now, while you’re at the Exchange brokering your next charter, this nervous guy in a sharp suit takes you to one side. He’s heard from a friend of a friend that you and your crew can be trusted with delicate situations…

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.

And Now, the News

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.

Dark Nebula–April 3201

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!

Dark Nebula–March 3201



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.

Dark Nebula–February 3201



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.