Some things I figured out about running Space Opera campaigns

One thing I discovered since I started working on the idea of creating a Star Wars inspired campaign in an original setting is that Scoundrels with a Spaceship has actually become a genre in itself. Traveller, Stars Without Number, Scum and Villainy, Coriolis, and  Rogue Trader are all RPGs based on that idea, and it has of course always been one of the three campaign styles for half a dozen Star Wars games. Firefly is widely considered a prime example of the genre outside of RPGs, as is Cowboy Bebop, and you can count TheExpanse as well. I think in RPGs, the Space Scoundrel might very well be the second most common archetype for PCs, after the heroic fantasy adventurer.

And it makes sense. It’s a great concept for player characters in a space setting. Characters who are their own boss, who don’t have to take orders from anyone, are not expected to risk or sacrifice themselves for others, are permitted to solve problems by shooting but also to do business with awful people, and who can go wherever they please in their own fast ship. It’s as much freedom as players can have in a game. Which is great.

But being expected to be largely self-interested is also a problem. The players are free to do anything they want, but the archetype also tells them to always ask “What’s in it for me?”

It’s a fun scene when selfish Han Solo decides he’s had enough with all this nonsense and is just going to sit the rest of it out and wait for Obi-Wan so they can leave, and Luke has to really put all the work to get him to help save Princess Leia. But it’s fun about once. And only because we can watch it unfold without having to do the work. In the end, Luke only gets him to cooperate and have more adventure by promising him that there will be a huge reward. And once he gets his cart load of money, he’s immediately annoncing that he’s done and is out of whatever else Luke and Leia are uo to next. As GM or a player, you really don’t want to have to go through this whole song and dance with other players who think it’s spot on for their characters every two weeks. This stuff is getting really tired after 2 minutes.

As I have come to see it, having adventures that have the events of the campaign largely scripted out pretty much defeats the purpose of RPGs. Nobody gets into RPGs for the first time because other players tell about cool stories they are getting told. It’s all about the promise to be able to create stories and play characters who can go everywhere and do anything they want, and the GM can immediately describe how the world and other characters in it respond to that. What’s the point of customizing your character’s abilities and doing all the dice rolling when the overall sequence of events and ultimate outcome are already determined?

But how do you have grand adventures full of excitement and thrilling danger when the default assumption for the PCs is that they are only looking out for themselves and have no desire for justice? As cool as the concept of the space scoundrel is for characters, it’s not actually a greating starting position for grand adventures. This has been on my mind for quite a while, but thinking about it more deeply over the last few weeks has led me to a couple of conclusions on what might be done to mitigate these issues.

The campaign needs a clear premise: When you want to run or play a campaign about a bunch of space truckers, you probably don’t want to actually do a campaign about space trucking. Some people might actually looking for that, but generally when you get into this type of games, it’s the promise of action packed adventures that draws everyone in. It’s the times when the space truckers get interupted in their space trucking when all the cool and exciting stuff happens. Flying around in your ship and being free to take on any job you want sounds very interesting, but I think you need to be more specific and narrow down more clearly on what will actually happen in this campaign. It can be the GM who creates a more specific outline, or the players who decide on a specific theme they want their adventures to revolve around.

The characters and activities should match the premise of the campaign: This sounds super obvious when you phrase it like this, but it really isn’t. When the premise of the campaign is space truckers and the players make characters to be good at space trucking, but the adventures turn out to be primarily exploring an alien jungle planet, or fighting off an alien invasion, there will be a misalignment of expectations. Instead, the premise of the campaign should have been about space truckers who find themselves on a  alien jungle planet which they are going to explore. The characters the players make may be almost identical, but it will likely make a real difference in how the players will go around looking for adventure. Instead of looking for ways to get their ship back into space and deliver their cargo, they’ll be more likely to embrace diving into the jungles and their mysteries.

To get players to be proactive, they need to be invested in the world: If the primary motivation for players and characters is to get rich by cashing in job payments, or to pay off angry dangerous people who are after them, then there is little to motivate them to go towards the danger. Which is where all the really cool and fun stuff is going to happen. To get players to not just grab their money and leave as soon as possible after dealing with the issue of the current adventure, they need to care about what’s going to happen to NPCs, groups, and places that are still being in danger. To protect themselves is typically very easy for PCs, especially when they have a space ship. Just leave. But when the players also care about the fate of people who can’t just leave, they have a reason to stay and continue confronting the threat. Early adventures in a new campaign should attempt to get the players invested in the conflicts of the setting.

Don’t start the campaign with nobodies who have no connections: For some reason, the generally assumed common start for characters in a new campaign is that they are completely new nobodies who have not done anything significant yet, since they start out with the minimal character stats and have no experience points. They also have no connections to anyone, since the players have not yet meet any other characters in the game world. This works well enough in an oldschool dungeon crawling campaign where every aspiring adventurer from the street can just stroll over to one of the old ruins at the edge of town and start scavenging for ancient treasures while fighting off roaming monsters. But this really provides nothing useful for campaigns with a more narrative focus and when there is no destiny for the characters waiting to be fulfilled. Instead of waiting for the players to find some justification for their roaming, self-interested characters to get themselves involved in other people’s business, have the players make characters who are already involved. Han Solo was already an established smuggler with considerable reputation, who had dangerous people coming for his head when the story starts. Even Luke is not a nobody who randomly decides to rescue a leader of the Rebellion he know to be in trouble. Before he goes to try saving her, he learns that Obi-Wan is an old pal of his father and has his home and family destroyed by the Empire’s terror. When the adventure actually starts, he is already very involved.

Money is still really attractive: In many fantasy games, all the beat equipment is magical and can generally not be bought with money. And all the best weapon and armor that money can buy can typically be afforded after the first adventure. From that point on, promising the players that they will be paid great rewards generally does very little to make them any more motivated to do something than they already are. They probably would do it anyway even if there was no reward. But that’s typically not at all the case in Space Opera. Really heavy power armor or big ass guns might be very rare and highly restricted, but there’s probably still thousands of them that have been produced in a giant factory, rather than being the unique life’s work of some wizard. And when it comes to spaceship upgrades, there is pretty much no limit. There is always going to be more better and cooler stuff to buy and the players will never sit on money for which they can’t find a good way to spend it.

The Three Fantasies and the Great Filter

My own approach to Space Opera is that it’s a genre that is really mostly fantasy set in space and rarely has anything more to do with science except using real physics terms that the writers don’t seem to actually understand. Scientific realism is just not something that is ever a concern in Space Opera. Though that being said, I fancy myself as understanding quite a bit about physics and astronomy, as well as having a basic grasp of demographics and economy. And while I generally try to not be bothered by it, I do regularly notice when writers have characters say things that clearly make no sense. And it always hurts a bit.

Even when we consider Space Opera to be just fantasy, and that in fantasy you can just make up whatever rules of nature and the supernatural that you want, I still have the expectation that those altered rules are being followed through. There is nothing wrong with making up any new rules for a world you can imagine, but all the things that you did not explicity alter should still continue as they do in reality. It’s a fantasy not adhering to its own rules that bothers me in poorly written space adventures, not that the rules are breaking real physics.

The Three Fantasies

When I notice things in Space Operas that break the established rules of the setting, I often get thinking about how these things could be fixed without having to significantly alter what happens in the story or completely throw out the conventions of the genre. And I’ve come to regard some of these fixes as being actually really interesting things to explore and having great potential to give a new setting a unique style and personality. A short list of items that I had noted down over several years is what ultimately made me decide to start creating Iridium Moons. But even with all these elements that could still be fun if they followed the actual rules of reality, there were still three things left where I feel made up fantasy rules are necessary to evoke the overall style of Space Opera that deeply speaks to me.

  • Hyperspace: Objects and signals traveling through space faster than light is simply not possible. It doesn’t actually have anything to do with light specifically but is the speed of causality. It’s not even that we have not found anything faster than light, but when you look into the physics of it, the very concept of anything faster makes no sense. The limit also plays all kinds of crucial funademental roles in the way sub-atomic particles interact with each other. If you mess with the speed of light, you annihilate all of physics. Hyperspace is the quick and dirty solution to this problem. Assume ships can travel through another dimension where the laws of physics are different (in a way never explained) and all of physics as we know it remains untouched.
  • Artificial Gravity: Unlike faster than light travel, this one isn’t even necessary. When you film actors on a spaceship, having things fall to the ground and stay there is just very convenient and cost saving, but any other medium has no such constraints. And there’s actually physically very simple ways to simulate gravity through constant thrust or rotation. But this has significant consequences for ship design, and my overall stylistic vision for Iridium Moon just really meshes well with early 20th century cruisers in space. Artificial gravity is not neccessary to make the setting work, but I feel not having it would be too much of an aesthetic departure from the works whose style I am trying to evoke. How does it work? I have no idea. There’s no explanation for it. It just does.
  • Human-like Species: I recently noticed that I’m not actually very interested in magic in fantasy, and similarly I don’t particularly care about the alieness of alien species. While there are strong evolutionary reasons why things like bones, teeth, and eyes would probably be very common and similar among complex animal-like organisms evolved on any planet, such people being bipedal, upright walking, similar in size to humans, and with vertebrate-like faces would be extremely unlikely. And that’s not even talking about the kinds of buildings and tools they would produce. While speculation in this field can be hugely fascinating and really fun,  it’s not something I am interested in getting into for Iridium Moons. And as I said in regards to artificial gravity, I feel aliens that are really just a different skin over a human skeleton are part of the oldschool Spacd Opera aesthetic.

The Great Filter

One of the big questions that lots of space nerds and sci-fi fans often get really deeply into is that with billions of stars and perhaps trillions of planets in just our galaxies that formed from the same materials and through the same processes as the Sun and the Earth, why aren’t there hundreds of alien species that have already developed the technology to talk to or visit us? It seems the universe is capable of producing countless highly intelligent and technologically capable species, and we humans made so many advances in just 10,000 years. Then how come our galaxy isn’t swarming with alien civilizations that are millions of years ahead of us?

There must be something that greatly inhibits either the evolution of highly intelligent species, or the development of interstellar travel. This idea is the Great Filter.

I personally think the Great Filter is something really mundane with nothing mysterious about it. It’s simply that faster than light travel or communication is actually impossible, and that species that have the technology to send out thousands of robots on journeys that will take many centuries to explore planets around other stars consider this a waste of time and resources. And then there’s also to consider that they would have to arrive at Earth at a moment where we had been capable to notice a small metal object in space, which in the lifetime of this planet happened just an instant ago. While I believe that the size of the galaxy makes it innevitable that there are perhaps dozens of other species similar to us, the same size is also why I believe it’s extremely unlikely that any two will ever meet.

But Iridium Moons is Space Opera, and so this doesn’t really have to concern us. However, like most Space Operas, the species of this galaxy all have pretty similar technologies, which in most cases isn’t even meaningfully more advanced than the things we already have today. If these species all evolved independently from each other over hundreds of millions of years, how come none of them is millions of years ahead technologically from the others? How have they not already explored the entire galaxy and still only have knowledge of the few hundred systems that make up known space? If this setting wants to make sense under its own rules, there must be something that has kept this from happening. Another Great Filter.

To make a group of scoundrels with their own small ship that can travel between star systems plausible, hyperspacd drive technology can’t be overly complicated and has to be reasonably affordable. Which means that it’s something that technologocally advanced societies should be able to figure out by themselves. So this doesn’t work as the bottleneck. But I created a system for making hyperspace jumps inspired by Stars Without Number, which requires ships to make relatively short jumps from star to star instead of being able to make longer journeys on a single leg. But instead of using limited fuel tanks (which other Space Opera RPGs don’t have), I came up with a limit on navigation. Traveling through hyperspace is fairly simple technologically, but coming out in a spot from which you can reach a planet with sublight engines within a lifetime is extremely difficult. It requires extremely precise knowledge of the starting location and position of the destination star, and the gravitional effects of any massive objects in proximity to the path. Which requires huge amounts of work with extremely expensive equipment. (And is why players can always only fly to the small number of stars that are marked on the map they are given.)

This is what I picked as the great filter for Iridium Moons. This technology to create hyperspace charts is a gigantic achievement that has been accomplished within known space only once. And also only a thousand years ago. Once one species had the technology to actually make use of hyperspace to reach other stars, they made contact with other species and shared the secret behind it with them. Regardless of how old their civilizations were and what technological level they had reached, they only could start exploring outside their star systems and have contact with other species once they were visited by people who already had the technology.

That technology as a whole is still pretty 21st century, even though some planets would probably already in the year 100,000 of their worlds, is still not being explained by this. But I feel like having all the species of known space having gained access to interatellar travel within only the last couple of centuries makes everything a lot more plausible than trying to imagine a glactic civilization that is many thousands of years old.

Cartel Quasi-States and Smuggling in Free-Market Space

The entire genre of Scoundrels with a Fast Ship revolves quite heavily around smuggling. Traveller, Star Wars, Stars Without Number, Coriolis, and Scum and Villany are all based on the idea of a party of PCs who have shared controll of a small spaceship meant for cargo transport but with fast engines and a lot of additional firepower. And the party concept of Free Traders carries various degrees of being a euphemism for smugglers. It’s a great concept for a campaign that feeds the players regular new adventures, lets them their own masters who don’t have to follow anyone’s orders and piss off and give a slip to the authorities, without having them be violent criminals who cause excessive damage and harm to bystanders. What more could players want in a campaign about swashbuckling adventures in space? It’s probably the second most common archetype for PC parties in RPGs, and for good reasons.

Iridium Moons is conceptualized as a setting in which unimaginably rich industrial barons can do as they please in regions ofnspace where no covernment has any authority to hold them back. As free a market as it can possibly get. But then, how can you have the PCs as smugglers when there are no regulations and taxes?

One thing I’ve always been enjoying a lot about creating this setting in a space I’ve never really seen explored before is how starting with a number of arbitrary premises and then trying to find an explanation how they can all be true at the same time keeps leading to interesting new concepts that I would never have thought of, but which seem really cool to explore once they are on the table. Silving the problem of how you can still have smugglers in a completely free market turned out to produce really interesting new elements for how the industialists and their power work in the setting.

The Interstellar Free Market

There are ten homeworlds of species capable of traveling through space in the known region of the galaxy, which each consist of dozens or even hundreds of countries that are organized into various federations, confederations, unions, and alliances. There are also some 20 colonies that have grown to populations in the tens of millions and become fully sovereign states in their own right. In addition to these, there are dozens of smaller colonies that function as remote autonomous regions of various nations. But the majority of small settlements, mining colonies, and fuel stations are found in systems that are not part of any states. Instead, they are the property of private companies located in neutral space where they are free to do whatever they want.

Most states have laws that put sanctions of companies that engage in practices that violate what are widely considered universal personal rights. Nearly any state has embargos on metals mined and refined with slave labor and makes it illegal for their citizens to do business with companies that fund piracy or use military force to cripple their competitors’ opperation and murder their workers. Since the home systems are the customers for the vast majority of all resources and products sold by the interstellar companies, none of them can afford to be banned from these markets, which forces them to keep at least the outward appearance of honest and legitimate busineses. Which doesn’t mean all those things don’t happen, but the companies have to keep it low-key and quiet. It’s not even really a secret, but most states rely heavily on interstellar imports and are willing to not look too closely if the incidents keep remaining in the background.

Cartel Quasi-States

While forming cartels to fix prices at high levels and gain monopoly control over certain markets tends to be illegal in most states, these laws exist primarily to maintain the health of the domestic economy and for the good of their own citizens. It’s not a crime against universal personal rights that would make countries break up business dealings with interstellar companies, and so there is nothing to stop them from forming cartels and controling monopolies in neutral systems. States in the home systems can get their resource imports from anywhere in the known regions of the galaxy, and as long as there are multiple cartels competing with each others over who gets to sell to these main customers, the governments can still negotiate for the best prices.

Out in the neutral systems, the cartels typically claim their own territories in which they have an often complete monopoly on all trade. All the potential buyers of metals from small independent mines are dealing at the same fixrd low prices, and there is typically only a single manufacturer for various types of mining equipment operating in the entire region. New companies trying to do business in a region that has been claimed as the turf of a cartel are immediately driven out of the market, frequently by sabotage and bombing of factories and warehouses or regular pirate attacks by hired thugs. Typically such attempts are put to an end long before they reach a scale where the governments in the home systems take notice, and the turf claims of the cartels are such an open secret that few people take the risk to work in the factory of an intruding company or to take any cargo from them on their ships.

While the interstellar companies maintain the public facades that they are merely private businesses operating in the free market of neutral space, the territories claimed by the cartels funtion very similar to states in many ways. There are no regulations, taxes, or tarifs for doing business in cartel territory, but they have found their own ways to use their monopoly control over key industries to keep a strong hold over their systems.

Smuggling in Cartel Space

In theory, anyone can trade for anything in neutral space and for any price. Everyone can make whatever deals they want, with no governments getting in the way or taking a cut of the profits. But in practice, the cartels have tight control over anyone who is doing business in their territory and have their ways to keep out people trying to undermine their monopolies before they will have to resolve to open violence.

The most critical component in the cartels’ control is their ownership of all the spaceports in their territory. If you want to unload or pick up a cargo in proper facilities to land your ship, you will have to do business with the cartel’s port authorities and on their terms. When landing a ship in a port, any cargo that is being unloaded has to be checked by security and needs to be certified for health and safety standards according to the terms and services of the port. Getting the security checks and safety certifications comes with steep fees and it often can take many days waiting for a slot in the inspectors’ schedule. During which the ship still has to pay docking fees. The process is much faster and comes with much lower fees if the cargo is a delivery from a “trusted partner” who has is certified to do all the required checks and inspections before the cargo is loaded on a ship for transport. And of course, any such trusted partners are exclusively members of the same cartel as the port operator. Goods from companies of the cartell go through security with no delay and minimal fees, while any other cargo is effectively under outragously high tarifs in cartel space that completely eat up any possible profits from the delivery. Which is where smuggling become a highly lucrative business.

The simplest form of smuggling is to put contraband goods into cargo containers holding legitimate deliveres. “Pre-inspected” containers are sealed before loading, but there are various ways by which professional smugglers can reapply the seal after making the switch. But since containers are regularly scanned at ports, this usually allows only storing small amounts of contraband among other shipments. A more efficient way is to correctly label a container with the actual content it contains, but forging its origin as being from a cartel company’s warehouse.

Obviously, the cartels don’t take lightly to being cheated like that. Sneaking cargo through security without inspection is a breach of the terms and services of the port operator, and the breach of contract fees typically exceed the value of both the cargo and the ship. The ship is then impounded until the fee is being paid, which usually isn’t worth it even if the owner has the money. If an impounded ship is taken from the dock or the smuggling is discovered only after the ship already left, the cartel will put out an open debt collection contract that awards half of the debt money to whoever delivers it to the cartel. Or alternatively the value of the ship and it’s cargo. This is effectively a license for privateers to capture the ship and not be considered pirates interfering with business in the cartel’s territory. Typically, cartels don’t even care if the ship gets destroyed or simply disappears without ever being delivered to them. The 50% of the debt payment to the debt collector is simply to give it the appearance of not being a dead or alive bounty contract. (Which democratic governments might frown upon.)

A third common approach to smuggling is to avoid using spaceports entirely and simply unloading a cargo in an open field. Since this option is only viable for small transport ships that can carry only limited amounts of cargo, the cartels usually don’t bother going after the captains the first or second time. Sending some people to send a mesaage is likely not worth the amount in missed profits. But if it becomes a regular thing, they will try to put a stop to it. And with ships that small, it’s unlikely that anyone will take notice if it has a fatal accident or simply appears without a trace.

Introduction to Iridium Moons

Iridium Moons is a retro-futuristic Space Opera setting that first started as an idea somewhere in 2021 after the release of Cyberpunk 2077 and around the time the Dune movie come out. I liked the idea of doing some kind of futuristic neo-noir campaign instead of the fantasy stuff I typically work on but quickly decided that I wanted to create a new setting of my own for that. I’ve been a massive fan of Star Wars since I first saw the movies as a kid, but long felt that the series went off into a rather different stylistic and thematic direction in the 2000s that just doesn’t capture what I still love about the 80s and 90s material. I had long been thinking about how I think Star Wars should have been developed further, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get working on a Space Opera setting of my own that takes the best pieces from all my favorite grimy 80s space adventures and stylistically similar work. I’ve been looking into all kinds of different space fantasy and sci-fi series to collect cool ideas that could work well together to create distinctive and evocative style, and ultimately settled on these works as my main style references.

    • A Princess of Mars (John Carter), 1912
    • Dune, 1965
    • Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980
    • Outland, 1981
    • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, 1982
    • Blade Runner, 1982
    • Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, 1983
    • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, 1984
    • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, 1991
    • Albion, 1995
    • Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, 1996
    • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, 2003
    • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, 2006
    • Coriolis,2016
    • Prey, 2017

I’m a big fan of 1920s Art Deco design, which comes through really strongly in Blade Runner and parts of Mass Effect 2, and with cyberpunk still on my mind, my thoughts drifted to fabulously wealthy and powerful industrial barons who build whole towns for their workers where they also had a monopoly on all services, banana republics whose entire governments were in the pockets of foreign companies, the oil boom, industrial shipyards, labor riots, organized crime, and so on. Which all seems like a really cool setup for a very retro-futuristic Space Opera.

During the early concept phase, I’ve been reading the RPG systems Stars Without Number, Scum and Villainy, and Coriolis. Ultimately my choice landed on Coriolis as the game I want to use for the campaign I am planning, but all three games use different systems to basically represent the same archetypes of a now generic Space Opera setting. The way they approach space travels, star ships, wepons, and mental powers had a big influence on establishing the basic assumptions and parameters of Iridium Moons.

While I see Space Opera as a genre that is inherently fantastical and is really much more fantasy in space than anything that could be called science-fiction, my life-long interest in astronomy and space exploration still makes me think all the time how space fiction gets even simple things completely wrong with no need to do so. My own approach is that I will default to things working and behaving similar to how they do in the real world and did historically, except when the conventions of the genre require completely made up technologies such as hyperspace drives and artificial gravity.

Galactic Society and Demographics

Societies capable of developing and maintining ships for interstellar travel are always highly industrialized and technology advanced, and as such see a stop to population growth or even a decline in population numbers long before they are able to establish colonies in other star systems. With gravity, atmospheric composition and pressure, and solar radiation never being perfect matches to a species’ homeworld, permanently living on a new planet is typically somewhat uncomfortable and causing various health issues for people not adapted to them from childhood. There are always a few people who move to other worlds out of excitement and curiosity, but 99% of all people still live on the original homeworlds of their species.

But with a combined population of some 70 billion across ten species, even just 1% adds up to over 700 million people living on colony worlds and outposts. There are dozens of planets with populations in the tens of millions with several major cities that have become fully independent states in their own right and hundreds of smaller settlements, outposts, and mining sites established by the larger interstellar powers and companies and inhabited by thousands of people. Travel between homeworlds and major colony worlds often takes week or even a few months, and communication between them is only limited and just as slow. While books, movies, and games typically reach even remote systems eventually and create a shared galactic culture, news and messages take such a long time to reach other worlds that most people take little notice of the day to day events in other systems. This also leads to wars between the homeworlds being nearly unthinkable and violent conflicts being very localized affairs.

Space Mining and Industry

All the stars and planets in the universe are made up from the same elements and formed by the same physical processes that create all the different minerals and other molecules found in nature. There is nothing on the billions of planets in the galaxy that can’t already  e found in tbe systems of the homeworlds. Whatever food, energy sources, or common technologies a world needs can be found just inside their own system just as well as anywhere else in the universe. However, the way that new planets first form around young stars leads to most of the rarer heavy elements sinking down into the cores, while the upper surfaces of rocky planets are made up of the vastly more common light elements. The only way that many of the heavier elements can be found on the surfae of a planet to be mined is when asteroids that are left over from the formation of the planets crashes into one after the surface has already cooled and become fully solid. This happens often enough that nearly every element can be found in some quantities on almost every planet, but for many critical industrially metals, these amounts are still only a small fraction of the total demand of the homeworlds. The rarity of these metals makes them extremwly valuable, and this in turn makes it worthwhile to journey far across space to planets where pure luck and coincidence led to large amounts ending up in places where they easy to access.

Nearly the entire interstellar economy outside of the homeworld systems exists only for the mining and transportation of rare industrial metals like iridium, palladium, and others. All the people working and living in space are either miners or cargo crews, or providing the supplies and services needed to keep the mining industry running. And even though the interstellar mining industry employs half a billion people on several hundred planets, nearly everything is owned and controlled by a few dozen families of powerful and imeasurably wealthy companies. Less than a hundred people own half of all the wealth that exists outide the home systems.

Nearly all the major interstellar companies are privately owned by the families that founded them, often many centuries ago. With no real government authority existing outside of a few of the largest colony worlds, these industrialist families form an aristocratic elite that controls most mining colonies like feudal lords. In many cases, all the services and businesses on a planet are all owned and controlled by the same family, who rent out housing for their workers and sell all the food and other supplies that can be bought anywhere on the planet. Workers are often lured to leave the homeworlds and take on work in space that pays incredible wages, but all the prices in all of the mining worlds are so high that they live poorer than before and can’t afford to price for a journey back home. Officially almost all the home systems have banned the trade with metals that come from mines that employ outright slave labor, but with cargo containers full of metal that have traveled hundreds of lightyears it is impossible to tell on which planet they were actually dug up and refined.

Hyperspace Travel and Interstellar Communication

The laws of physics dictate that no object or signal can travel through space faster than light. Which means that it will take years or decades to just send a message to even nearby star systems. Fortunately, a hyperspace drive allows a ship to jump through hyperspace where the speed of light is many times fasted than in normal space. A hyperspace jump can cross several lighyears in a day, but it is only possible to enter hyperspace a considerable distance away from the gravitational effects of large masses like planets and especially stars. Typically a ship will have to travel with its regular engines at less than the speed of light for several days to get enough diatance from a star to start its jump, and then several more days to fly from the edge of the new system to the destination planet. Quite often, these journeys at sublight speed take considerably longer than the actual jump through hyperspace between two systems.

With hyperspace being a separate dimension, a ship is completely blind to anything in normal space during a jump. To reach its destination and not end a jump in empty interstellar space, a ship needs to know its exact position and the position of the star that is its destination. Since all stars are constantly moving around their galaxy, their positions are always changing. Even tiny errors in the direction or distance of a jump can lead to a ship appearing months or years away from the star it meant to reach. Only a few deep space exploration ships are equipped to measure the positions, trajectoties, and velocities of nearby stars precise enought to calculate a hyperspace jump. Any other ship must rely on hyperspace charts released by planetary observatories that need to be constantly updated. Since these charts are very expensive to make, they usually cover only stars that would actually see some ship traffic. As a result, ships are restricted to travel along a network of routes between charted planets and can not simply jump to any star that it can see. The precise arrival point after coming out of hyperspace is highly umpredictable and it often takes days for fleets to regroup after a jump and reach the planet they are headed for. This makes surprise attacks from hyperspace against planets and ships impossible.

With ships in hyperspace being completely blind, they can not send or receive any signals. To send a message from one system to another, it needs to be recorded and stored on a ship that makes the jump to the destination system where it can then send the message to a planet or ship with regular communication at lightspeed. Which can still take another several hours to reach the target.

Space Battles and Combat

Missiles are the most efficient weapons to destroy starships, but they are also very easy to spot and track and all warships and even many cargo ships are armed with extremely fast firing railguns that can destroy missles at short range very effectively before they have time to evade the fire. As a result, encounters between warships are primarily fought with very large railguns whose solid projectiles are impossible to shoot down, but which can be quite easily evaded over long distances. A typical battle consists of ships shooting holes into each other from tens of kilometers away until they are damaged enough to destroy them with explosive missiles. Small fighter crafts are useless in such a style of warfare as they can’t carry railguns large enough to do serious damage from far away and are just as easy to shoot down as missiles at close range. While pirates sometimes use small ships with light weapons to force unarmed freighters to surrender their cargo, actual war ships are hundreds of meters in length with thousands of people crewing them.

Railguns are also used widely as weapons by soldiers and security guards, but firearms are also quite common in many poorer places as they are much cheaper to produce and can kill an unarmored person at short range just as well. Handling guns in tight spaces on ships has a lot of problems and it’s pretty much impossible to aim them when being weightless and not having a firm stance on the floor to hold them steady. As a result, people who are expected to fight on starships and space station almost always carry large knives or small swords with them. These also have the advantage of being much easier to conceal in places where weapons are not allowed and security scans for guns. Combat with blades is much more common in space than people on the homeworlds usually think.

Mental Powers

Intuitation is a skill that can be developed over many years through complex mental exercises and the use of various psychoactive drugs. It trains the brain to make greatly increased use of the subconciousness to process information and find the connections between clues and pieces of evidence, as well as perceiving subtle details and reading other people’s emotions to predict their future behavior. The problem with intuitation is that much of the process happens unconsciously and as such even the intuitators don’t usually know or can explain the reasons that led them to their conclusions. While many expert intuitators are highly reliable and have few things get past them without their notice, their inability to share the logic of their conclusions makes acting on their advice always somewhat of a gamble. They make for excelent investigators and interrogators that can spot potential threats earlier than anyone else, but without the ability to proove what they have discovered or to check their reasoning for any flaws, they are rarely employed in positions where they are allowed to make important decisions.

To many people, intuitation is a simple and straighforward technique to process and analyze information at a higher level than ordinary rational thinking. But to many people not familiar with the exact proccesses of how intuitators are trained, their exceptional sense of perception and preduction appears supernatural and disturbing. Many intuitators themselve believe that they are able to catch glimpses of aspects of reality too vast and complex in scope for ordinary minds to even conceive of. Numerous religions have been founded by intuitators claiming to have recieced great revelations about the true nature of reality and large numbers of them are engaged in various traditions of mysticism. But there are of course many people who believe that these are simply delusions caused by the heavy use of psychoactive drugs during their training.