More Species of Known Space

Tubaki

The Tubaki are one of several species whose presence in space is greatly dependent on technologies and inrastructures of other powers. There is only a small number of Tubaki shipyards and most of them are primarily specialized on converting old purchased ships from other manufacturers to provide greater comfort to Tubaki crews. Those shipyards that do build their own ships still rely on imported hyperspace drives and gravity generators from other more established companies. Despite Tubaki worlds being generally seen as more low tech planets, Tubaki have been travelling through space for centuries and founded several dozen of colonies in other sectors. Even though most of them are of no interest or relevance for major interstellar companies.

Tubaki are humanoids quite similar in size and proportions to Enkai and Mahir, which is generally attributed to the very similar gravity and climatic conditions on the Tubaki and Enkai homeworlds producing a similar optimal body shape for upright walking humanoids. On average, Tubaki tend to be slightly taller and more muscular, but mostly stand apart due to their sand to brown colored fur and thick manes. Tubaki found outside their own system are usually employed as manual labor, primarily in mining and agriculture and also various low-level mechanic jobs. Tubaki colonies are usually too small to have advanced engineering and science schools and those individuals with advanced degrees typically find their calling in contributing to the development of their planets rather than seeking their luck among the stars.

Chosa

Chosa are tall humanoids with tough green-gray hides and sharp teeth that give them a reptilian appearance. They are among the physically strongest of the species travelling space and fight fiercely and with little hesitation. Prejudices are widely spread among the other species of Chosa being violent brutes, but their homeworld actually ranks among the most technologically advanced planets in Known Space. Their ships tends towards blocky and practical designs typically ragarded as looking blunt with little thought for decorations, but compare in their capabilities to all but the most sophisticated Damalin and Netik ships.

Chosa encountered in space are often mercenaries, an occupation that their physical toughness and familiarity with advanced space technologies makes them well suited for. Chosa culture as a whole is not overly militaristic though, and their prominent presence in the mercenary business comes more from the high demand for Chosa in that line of work. There are typically not a lot of opportunities for Chosa engineers or pilots outside of Chosa systems.

Amai

The Amai are one of the newest species that have gained the ability to travel between the stars. Even just 200 years ago, the Amai had no contact of any kind with any other species and only performed a few crewed exploration missions within their home system. Being native to a mostly aquatic world with relatively few islands above the surface, Amai civilization has always been greatly limited by the available amount of land for agriculture, and even after becoming industrialized the total population has only barely surpassed one billion, which is much smaller than for any other species in Known Space. Given their relatively small number and only recent arrival among the stars, Amai are only rarely encountered by any other species and usually releatively close to their home system. Being only in contact with small frontier colonies and minor outposts and knowing about the home systems of other species only through tales, Amai tend to be quite cautious when encountering aliens or visiting unknown planets in a region of space that appear rather lawless and chaotic.

Major Species of Known Space

Known Space is home to several intelligent species that possess the capabilities for interstellar flight and have colonized worlds outside their home systems. With the vast distances of interstellar space, and communication between systems being limited to the speed with which messages can be carried by ships, there are few true interstellar governments and colony worlds are usually highly autonomous or fully independent. Though compared to the homeworlds, even the largest colony worlds have populations in the size of small countries, and most are little more than a single major city. The Esekar Sector is far away from any homeworlds or major colonies, but has become home to numerous settlements and outposts of various species from all over Known Space.

Enkai

The Enkai home system is one of the great powers of Known Space, even though it is more a confederation of several nations on the homeworld and various other planets throughout the system than a truly unified state. The Enkai homeworld is one of the most technologically advanced in Known Space, which has enabled its people to establish hundreds of colonies of various sizes over the course of many centuries. Today, the Enkai are one of the three most dominant species in the Esekar Sector.

Enkai are a primate species with skin in various shades of dull red and with black hair. Among the planets on which intelligent life has evolved, their homeworld is comperatively warm and dry, though dominated more by steppes and savann than actual deserts. This makes Enkai quite well adapted to deal with high air temperatures but they generally cope poorly with high humidity. With the exception of small outposts that have economically collapsed and never managed to recover, Enkai  worlds have generally quite advanced technological equipment.

Among other species, Enkai are known to be both ambitious and exiteable, often to the point of being reckless. Both the Damalin and Netik consider this unbecomming of such a highly technologically advanced civilization, but their ability to seize on opportunities quickly without relying on the hierarchies of established institutions has served their species well in their journey to the stars.

Damalin

The Damalin are one of the oldest species travelling and coloizing space that is still in existence. They gained access to hyperspace drive technology from the presumably extinct Udur over 4,000 years ago and since then have colonized dozens of systems in the space surrounding their home system, many of which have constantly been inhabited for thousands of years by now. Damalin sates are usually in control of or at least laying claim to entire star systems.

Damalin are a amphibian species with pale blue-white skin, large dark eyes, and thin mouths. While they can survive underwater indefinitely, the practical necessities of industrial production and food preservation have forced their civilization to become almost completely land based. But still most Damalin settlements of any significant size include many large underwater “parks” in rivers and lakes, and the houses any moderately well off individuals include a pool instead of a veranda, large enough for entire families.

Damalin have a reputation among other races for chosing their words carefully and being very deliberate in their actions, which sometimes comes off as indecisive, but they often have a much greater awareness of what’s going on around them and being prepared for most eventualities than they are letting on. While their thin bodies don’t provide them with much strength, they are known to shot well and quick and rarely allow themselves to be surprised unprepared.

Netik

Long before the Damalin first left their homeworld to travel to the stars, the Netik had already settled dozens of planets throughout all the space then known to them. Like the Damalin, they did not develop hyperspace drive technology themselves but had gained it from Udur explorers and traders arriving on their homeworld almost 6,000 years ago. During the first centuries of their expansion into interstellar space, Netik colonies were established as vassal states to the Udur, making use of their existing transportation infrastucture. Correspondingly, the decline and eventual collapse of the Udur civilization had incredible impacts on the widely dispersed Netik colonies, many of which lost all contact with each other as they did not have the industrial capacity to maintain regular transportation of messages across the great distances. At the lowest point, the largest remaning cluster of Netik worlds consisted of only three major colonies and a few outposts, with a combined population of only a few hundred million. Eventually the three colonies developed industrially to a point where they could reestablish contact with a number of other colonies, though many of them had completely collapsed in the centuries of complete isolation. Most strikingly, the Netik have never been able to determine the location of their homeworld and to this day it is unknown if any kind of Netik civilization still survives on that planet. Though they are lacking a homeworld, many Netik colony worlds have exceptionally large populations in the high millions, and they numerous smaller outposts everywhere throughout Known Space.

The Netik are an insectoid race and one of the most alien in appearance to most other species. But many people who encounter them in person for the first time are quite surprised at how effortlessly they interact with members of other species. While their body language is close to impossible to read for other species, Netik are usually very skilled at picking up on social clues and picking their words well to create a common sense of understanding with other people. Among space travellers, Netik have a reputation to be generally welcoming and quite fun to be around, which often is quite mystifying to people who have never encountered them themselves.

Mahir

Among all the species travelling throughout Known Space, the Mahir stand out uniquely for not actually being native to what is considered their homeworld. Genetically, the Mahir are nearly identical to the Enkai, having split off from their original species only some 20,000 years ago. For reasons that will likely remain unknown forever, an alien species visited the Enkai homeworld during the stone age and collected an estimated 80 to 100,000 people which they settled on a planet several hundreds of lightyears away. Archeological discoveries and genetic studies by Mahir scientists had determined long ago that they are evolutionarily unrelated to any other life on their home world and had left no evidence of their existance on prior to the established date anywhere on the planet. It was only when the Mahir gained access to hyperspace drives and encountered the Enkai 400 years ago that the true origin of their species was revealed.

Mahir are physically nearly identical to Enkai, with the most evident difference being in their coloration. Unlike the Enkai, the skin and hair of Mahir is nearly white. There are however various minor adaptations to the much colder environment on their new home planet, primarily in regards to temperature tollerance. These differences appear to be the result of genetic changes introduced by the aliens that originally settled the Mahir on their new planet, but the purpose of that projects remains a complete mystery.

Even though the Mahir gained access to hyperspace travel only fairly recently, their homeworld is otherwise technologically very advanced and they have become a considerable economic and industrial power in known space since they gained access to cheap raw material from other systems.

Miners, Magnates & Mercenaries: Hyperspace Opera 2022

All the way back in September, I wrote about how once or twice a year, I keep taking a break from the Sorcerers & Dinosaurs fantasy stuff I spend most of my time with and go tinkering with ideas for space adventure campaigns. I outlined an idea I had which I had given the production title Hyperspace Opera, but didn’t develop it very much further. Well, it’s been eight month since then, and here we are again.

Space. The Final Frontier.

While I didn’t create anything presentable to share, I did keep thinking about my initial ideas and concepts over the months. Discovering new source material to use as references. Discarding elements that didn’t really quite fit with the new sharper image that was emerging. Considering options for rules systems and how the setting could build on and support their game mechanics diagetically. And just overall refining the general idea into something more concrete that you can actually start creating content for. The main underlying inspirations are still the same, but in many ways I think the concept has evolved quite a bit. The term space opera doesn’t even really make any sense anymore, but since it’s a working title anyway I’m sticking with it until this thing gets an actual name. So forget about whatever I might have mentioned about an idea for a setting once over half a year ago and consider all of this with new eyes.

Inspiration and Concept

Everything started with the idea that I am a huge fan of classic Star Wars, but I think the original setting has been expanded in ways that are stylistically and thematically mismatched since 1999. It’s okay for me to just ignore all the Clone Wars stuff and everything made for Star Wars after 2003 as if it’s an alternative timeline, but you can’t really expect that from players you invite to play a Star Wars campaign. And there were plenty of terrible ideas being introduced even in the classic EU period. So my idea was to create a new setting that takes all my own favorite elements from Star Wars and expands them into something new, unconstrained by all the baggage of material I’m not particularly fond of. Of course, for me the ultimate gold standard for Star Wars is The Empire Strikes Back. Cloud City, Lando, Boba Fett, and the Millenium Falcon are the main touchstone for the overall style, tone, and atmosphere I am trying to pursue, followed by Jabba’s Palace and the forests of Endor from Return of the Jedi. As such, the overall campaign structure that the setting is going to be build around is “daring Scoundrels with a cool Ship”. No superiors ordering the characters what to do, and the law really is more like guidelines than actual rules.

I had also been thinking about both Cyberpunk 2077 and Dune at the time and somehow ended up with the image of 1920s industrialists as the new aristocracy of space. What’s really the difference between Leto Atreides and Saburo Arasaka? The terms magnate, mogul, and tycoon all originally meant nobles of outstanding influence and power, with baron being of more modest means but still referring to the same idea. The aesthetics of cyberpunk and many interpretations of Dune are rich with influences from Art Deco, which happens to be the mainstream design style going into the 1920s. And also influenced Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back.

The time of the industrial barons was also the prime of the Labor Movement, and the cyberpunk of the 80s was all about economic inequality and the tyranny of the rich. So with these influences, it comes very easy to expand the concept for the setting in that direction as well. Season 1 of The Expanse and the movie Outland make for great sources for ideas in that regard, though their aesthetic is very different. It’s very easy to make stories about the people uniting to revolt against the evil industrialist that exploit and oppress them, but that’s banal because right and wrong are obvious and there’s no interesting conflicts. What I have long been very interested in is the repeated corruption of the labor movement, with communist leaders becoming the very tyrants they were meant to topple while still feeding the starving masses slogans about equality, unions being turned into pawns in political games, and left wing militias degenerating into drug cartels primarily fighting each other. Which isn’t a unique issue of the labor movement. The same thing happens all the time with vile hate preachers calling for violence and vengeance in the name of Jesus and his message of compassion, love, and forgiveness. (Seriously, have any of these people read the Sermon on the Mount?! He’s talking about you, my dearies. But I digress…) But touch your own nose, clean up your house first, and all of that. Infighting among the exploited and the rise of wannabe tyrants who relish their power over those even weaker than themselves is where I am looking for the main sources of conflicts that players can find themselves entangled with.

Scum and Villainy

And when your campaign concept can be summarized as “moral corruption and infighting among the 1920s labor movement, but in space”, you know that PtbA is really the only acceptable choice for a rules system. I’ve been fascinated with Apocalypse World ever since I first encountered it and the underlying system and approach to running and playing an RPG is really something remarkable. Blades in the Dark is widely regarded as the most sophisticated iteration of the system and Scum and Villainy is basically a repainted version of that, which takes the game from a Dark Fantasy Steampunk Crime Syndicate setting to Space Smugglers and Scoundrels. I’ve been notoriously fickle throughout the years about sticking to specific rules systems as I am developing new campaign ideas, but I don’t think there are really any other serious contenders in this case. Stars Without Number would certainly be a viable option, which I did originally tinker with when I started last year, but when there’s already a PtbA game tailored to this campaign style, I don’t see any real benefit in using a D&D retroclone based system instead.

Known Space

The setting of Hyperspace Opera is a region of a galaxy that is home to a dozen intelligent species that are engaged in interstellar travel and trade. As interstellar space settings go, the technological level in Known Space ranges from moderate to low. The greater civilizations all have extensive space industries and infrastructure that maintain large fleets of commercial space ships in the tens or hundreds of thousands, but a good number of planets do not have the technological capabilities to build hyperspace drives or artifical gravity systems of their own and rely on components or even entire ships purchased from other species.

The full population of Known Space is estimated to be around 100 billion people, the vast majority of which live on the homeworlds of their species or within the home systems. While there are large numbers of planets throughout Known Space where people can survive, they never quite match all the environmental factors that each species has evolved to for millions of years. While there are always people drawn to travel to the stars and live on alien planets, they are never more than a small majority, and since all civilizations that are capable of leaving their homeworlds and colonize other planets have fully industrialized many generations ago, there simply isn’t much population growth on newly settled worlds. Even though there are dozens of colonized planets with populations in the millions, they barely register in comparison to the eleven home systems with populations of billions.

The driving force behind space commerce and colonialization is the endless need for vast amounts of cheap metal in the home systems. While hyperspace jump drives are very complicated pieces of technology, the cost of manufacture and making hyperspace jumps is relatively modest. The costs for transporting huge amounts of material between star systems is so low that it is cheaper to mine easily accessible resources of high purity in distant star systems than trying to fully exploit hard to access resources of lower purity within the home systems. Huge industrial mining fleets are swarming throughout Known Space, harvesting the most easily accessible resources for a few years, and then moving on to greener pastures where profits are higher.

In their wakes they leave behind planets they considered depleted and of no further value to their high profit margin operations. They leave behind piles of broken and worn out equipment not considered worth repairing, but often also whole communities of miners and independent support workers running local businesses. Those who can afford to often pack up their things and follow soon after, leaving only those without the means to leave or nowhere else to go. Even though these planets are no lnger considered commercially viable by the great mining companies, they usually still contain large amounts of resources that simply require a greater amount of work to extract, reducing the amounts of profits that can be made by selling them. These resources are what is keeping the many small frontier outposts alive once the great fleets have moved on. They are also what attracts the vultures, companies much smaller than the mining giants, which have specialized in trading pretty much any kinds of goods and equipment imaginable in exchange for resources of any purity grade. They are usually organized in cartels that divide the frontier systems between them to avoid competition that would drive down the extortion level prices they offer to the independent mines. Far away from the home systems, there are no commercial regulations to stop them.

The settlers of small frontier worlds frequently attempt to pool their resources to form commercial cooperatives to increas their bargaining power with the trade companies or enable the manufacture of goods theh would no longer have to trade for exorbitant prices. Obviously the companies have no interest in seeing this happening and don’t shy away from bribery, sabotage, intimidation, and outright assassination to undermine any such efforts. This is where the Player Characters enter the picture. In this environment, people with fast small ships who aren’t afraid of company goons and mercenaries are exactly the kind of people the settlers need. Or which the companies could have use for when they don’t want their machinations to be too obvious.

Technologies

The most important technology for interstellar space travel are hyperspace drives. These engines allow ships to jump in and out of another dimension with very different laws of physics, including a much higher speed of light and vastly reduced energy requirements to rapidly accelerate. Jumping between systems usually takes only a few hours and all of known space can be crossed in a few days. Though unfortunately, ships in hyperspace are completely blind, and the gravity of stars and planets can severely send ships off course in unpredictable ways, which makes it necessary to travel to the outer reaches of a star system at sublight speed first, which for most ships takes several days. Predicting the exact arrivial point in the vicinity of the destination star is also impossible, leading to additional hours to possibly weeks of reaching the intended planet at sublight speed.

Communication through hyperspace is impossible. The only way to send messages between systems is to carry prerecorded messages one space ships. Highly populated systems have hundreds of mail barges traveling between them every hour, but in the frontier system, days or even weeks can pass between their arrivials.

Since communication within systems happens at lightspeed, all planets have their own independent and separate communications network. In the home systems, these networks are accessible from anywhere on the planet, but on colony worlds access is usually limited to only the vicinities of major settlements. Smaller frontier settlements often have only local radio communication and nothing else.

Two two main weapon systems are railguns and missiles. Railguns come in all kinds of sizes, from small pistols up to huge cruiser cannons. Most planets do not allow the carrying of guns in public and the energy cells of railguns are quite easily detected by security scanners. Railguns are also generally a bad thing to use inside space ships as they can cause catastrophic damage to survival critical equipment. For these reasons, large knives and short swords are very common weapons for people working and living in space.

And that’s the general baselines for the setting. Not drastically changed since the last time, but this is hopefully a more cleaned up version of how things are currently looking and what I intend to build upon in the comming months.

Hyperspace Opera: Interstellar Trade Language

ITL was developed as a simple and elegant solution to enable easier communication between space ships and inside space ports. It is a fairly straightforward language with simple grammar and single letter based writing system. What makes ITL special, and uniquely suited for interstellar communication, is that the written script can be pronounced in three greatly different ways. The three ways to pronounce ITL are designed in a way to allow all the species of known space to speak in at least one of them. In theory, mastery of ITL requires the ability to understand all three form of pronounciation, which is one of the first things taught in language classes once learners have mastered the script, but even when people can only understand one of them they are still able to communicate through writing, as all three forms use the same letters.

Fluency in ITL is a requirement for almost all jobs in space and it’s the most common second language in most education systems, even before other local languages. In many frontier colonies with colonists from different countries of a planet, it has even replaced the traditional lingua franca of their homeworld, and for many spacers its the only language they know.

While all species are able to pronounce one of the forms of ILT, there is an uncountable range of various accents even within people of the same species. Some species have a harder time than others with understanding heavy accents, but in most cases it’s simply a matter of hearing the accent spoken for a few hours to fully understand it.

Not all species have a hearing range that can detect the full voice range of some other species. People traveling to systems where this is an issue for them when talking with the local population often wear hearing aids that shift their voices into a range they can hear. All personal communicators have the same feature and capture voice as it s spoken to play it back at a different frequency simultaneously. Better models are even able to amplify voices to the hearing range of other species and not just the species for which it was made. For visitors to other planets and stations, whose voice needs amplification to be fully audible to the locals, it is considered common curtesy to do so when possible, rather than to depend on them to fish out their own comms to understand what is beimg said to them.

The three forms of pronounciation are designed so that all species can pronounce one of them, though many are anatomically able to pronounce more than one. Talking to other species in the form they commonly can be an endearing party trick, but is almost never expected. Only one species has ever shown the ability to speak ITL in all three forms of pronounciation, but ironically they are the most isolationist species, that also uses very little verbal communication in general.

Hyperspace Opera: Communication

In addition to rules for faster than light travel, another thing that needs to be covered with specific rules is how communication is supposed to actually work. There’s plenty of people who lament how mobile phones make lots of investigation and mystery plots unworkable, and how such a simple and important technology absolutely has to be included in any new science fiction works. But after thinking about the practicalities in this area, I think it’s actually very plausible to have pretty limited communication in the way typically seen in older and more pulpy space adventures, even when you consider that the societies should have no barriers to create cell phones.

While my setting has Hyperspace travel to travel faster than light between star systems, I have decided that it doesn’t have faster than light communication. Ships in hyperspace are already treated as effectively blind, so why not also treat them as deaf?

Interstellar Communication

The highly developed home systems all have very advanced and sophisticated local internets. On the homeworlds themselves, people have internet as we are used to. Outposts on other planets, moons, and asteroids in the system also have access to this net, but with severely limited bandwith and a time delay that can be on the scale of hours. People on these outposts can download text, audio, and even video at slow speed and reduced quality, but instant communication is limited to other people within the same outpost. For communicating with anyone else, they have to write emails, or record audio or video messages. Because these system-wide networks are separated from each other, they all are effectively their own environments with their own content.

To transfer information between system networks, the data has to be transmitted to a mail barge, which stores it on hard drives, then makes Hyperspace jumps to its intended destination, where it feeds the information into the local network. This takes several days, and storage space on these barges is limited and therefor comes with non-trivial costs. Mail barges are used to deliver written or recorded messages like mail, and files that have a long lasting relevance like books and movies. They also carry interstellar news between the big galactic news networks, but the local news of one system usually have little relevance for the people of other systems. The home sytsems have hundreds of mail barges going back and fort between them every day, but colonies might only see a single barge from their home system per day, and in many frontier worlds barges only arrive once per week or per month.

For characters to access one of these homeworld or colony networks, they have to fly there in their ships themselves, or send out a document request with a mail barge and wait for delivery with the next barge coming back, which can take weeks.

Local Communication

The homeworlds all have planet-wide mobile communication systems. These are good enough to gain signal access pretty much everywhere of the planet except for the poles on some less advanced worlds. Colonies are usually only the size of a single city or small country, and these have their local communication networks based on signal towers throughout the colony. The range of these usually only covers a couple of kilometers. Beyond that range, people won’t be getting any signals. Most worlds have compatible networks that allow visitors from other systems to connect to it by getting a short-term account for usually a week or a month on arrival when they go through customs or register their ships for docking. (It’s not that expensive and included in the docking fee when PCs arrive on a new planet.)

Smaller colonies and outposts don’t have even that and instead rely entirely on local wireless networks. Visitors usually only get access to these if they are staying with locals or rent a place to sleep. For communication outside the colony grounds, people have to use primitive but fully serviceable radio comunictors that are powerful enough to transmit signals over several kilometers. Most people traveling on space ships carry one of these with them all the time as they allow them to communicate with each other and their ship completely independent of local infrastructure within a limited range.

Most ships have communication systems to both log into local networks and communicate through radio with controllers on planets and other ships over distances in the millions of kilometers. But unless ships are really close to each other or in orbit around a planet there will be a considerable time delay.

Communication for Players

PCs can always communicate with each other through their radio comms within ranges of several kilometers and even their ship in orbit if it is right overhead.

On homeworlds and major colonies, PCs also have access to the local network within urban and developed areas.

There is no practical commuications between systems for PCs, with the exception of using the mail which will take days or weeks to get a reply.

Hyperspace Opera: Hyperspace Travel

When creating a new setting that departs from the normal conventions of reality, it’s always a good idea to define the new rules that are different. Of course, countless writers have always just made stuff up as they went, going with whatever seemed convenient at that point, but that’s just asking to run into contradictions and thing that just don’t make any sense later on. And these are pretty easily avoidable if you just take a bit of time to define the parameters by which the setting works at an early point of the process. In fantasy worlds, the major subjects are the magic system, the categories of supernatural beings, and the nature of other worlds where those beings come from. For settings set in space, I think the number one thing by a wide margin is the rules by which space travel works. This really was pretty much the first thing I was thinking about when I decided to work on this setting. It’s the one biggest change from normal life that really affects everything about economy, politics, and societies throughout the setting.

Something that always bothers me a lot in science fiction is that writers constantly use the latest new terms that have come out of physics to give their works an appearance of scientific backing and legitimacy, but then straight up doing things that have nothing to do with the concepts they are referencing. Personally, I feel highly certain that faster than light travel is physically impossible. Alcubierre drives are the one tiny sliver of hope that the true believers have, but that seems like a really long shot, and even if it might be theoretically possible, there are several complications that make possible applications much less convenient and practical than what you see in sci-fi. In order to not mangle any actual physics, I knew immediately that I want to go with the most purely make believe solution that doesn’t connect to reality at all: Hyperspace.

With Hyperspace, all the existing laws of physics remain completely untouched. It doesn’t violate reality by simply supposing that ships can, somehow, enter another dimension complete separate from our own, in which faster than light speeds are not just possible but easy. There is absolutely no evidence that such a dimension exists, but if there were, then all the problems with faster than light travel just magically disappear. So that’s what I am going for. In this setting, Hyperspace is a thing.

I think this is a pretty good example of Iceberg worldbuilding. Pretty much everything in this post is meant to be stuff that remains under the water. Players don’t need to understand or know any of this to play a campaign. The purpose of this whole system is to be able to answer questions if players ask about how these things work, and to avoid situations where players realize that two things that have been established through the course of the campaign make no sense and contradict each other. Players don’t need any of this to play adventures, but I need to understand this to set up adventures that will hold up to scrutiny.

The Nature of Hyperspace

Hyperspace is a separate dimension from normal space that has very different laws and properties. It takes very little energy to cover incredible distances many times faster than the speed of light, and the engines required to enter and exit hyperspace are simple enough to be very widespread and accessible. In this setting, Hyperspace jump capable space ships are as common as planes and similarly expensive to operate.

Every point in normal space has a corresponding point in Hyperspace. To move between any two places in normal space faster than the speed of light, a ship simply jumps into Hyperspace, flies to the point that corresponds to its destination, and then jumps back out of Hyperspace again. However, things get greatly complicated by the fact that Hyperspace is extremely warped and twisted. In real physics term, the geometry of normal spacetime is flat, but the geometry of Hyperspace is very much not, and there are no indication of any repeating patterns in the curvature of Hyperspace. This means that even when you know the exact position of two or more stars in normal space, you have no way to tell the positions of their corresponding points in Hyperspace.  And even if you have the Hyperspace coordinates of two stars, you can’t just draw a straight line between them to know how to get from one star to the other. Even knowing how to get from star A to star B, and from star B to star C, does not really tell you anything useful about getting from star C to star A.

Hyperspace Charts

Determining the corresponding points of stars in Hyperspace and the paths to move between them is part of the field of astrometry. And while moving a ship through Hyperspace is really quite uncomplicated in practice, finding the Hyperspace routes that connect stars is extremely difficult and requires the expense of huge resources. Since the warping of Hyperspace is effectively random, every route between any two stars has to be measured and calculated separately. Accordingly, most star system in the core of known space have only two or three known routes leading to and from them, and many frontier systems are dead ends as Hyperspace travel is concerned. The only place to go from them is back to the system from which you came. In practice it is much cheaper to simply make multiple Hyperspace jumps between systems to get to the one that is your destination than trying to calculate direct routes between all the possible stars people might want to get to. Accordingly, Hyperspace charts look like subway train system maps with many stations that the routes are just passing through, and several stations where two lines cross and you can switch from one line to another.

Since calculating Hyperspace routes takes a long time and is expensive, astrometric services pick new systems to connect to the network not at random. Instead they rely on data from astronomic observations of newly discovered planets around unexplored stars. (Something scientists have learned how to do in the last 20 year, and as such you don’t see in older science-fiction.) There are many exploration companies that commission routes to be calculated to systems which they think have great potential for exploration. But often astrometric services just take a gamble calculating new routes to previously unexplored systems and hoping to make their investment back with sales of licenses for the new routes. But more often than not, these new routes turn out to lead to systems that don’t have anything anyone is interested in, and as such these routes simply expire after 10 years without getting any new updates.

A further complication is that all objects in space are always in motion. Stars move around their galaxies at very considerable speeds and even the galaxies themselves are constantly moving around in space themselves. This means that the Hyperspace coordinates for any stars are constantly changing. In theory, you could calculate a route for a Hyperspace jump between two stars at a single moment in time, but even just seconds after that calculated moment the route would leave you somewhere in empty interstellar space with no way to find your way back to a known system. Since this isn’t any useful for almost all space travel, a single Hyperspace route is actually a big catalog of data that lists the correct path for travel between two stars for any moment throughout a longer time span. For smaller routes, this time span is usually 10 years, while for the routes in the home systems it is 100 years. Nobody would go and explore a new system or set up a mine or colony if that system might become unreachable in a few weeks or month, after the route expires and nobody bothered to have an update commissioned. The government owned astrometric services of the home systems are constantly releasing new updated catalogs for the main trade routes, each time extending the expiration date back to 100 years. But in small frontier systems, things can get quite tense if the last updates are reaching their expiration and there is no news of new updates being announced. Often small colonies have to commission a new route update to connect their system to the rest of known space with their own money, which can be a huge financial burden. Colonies that can’t afford the huge costs often have to be abandoned, but there are countless stories of stubborn colonists who supposedly held out and accepted being cut of from the rest of the galaxy forever.

Starship owners have to buy expensive licenses from the astrometric services to get access to their catalogs of Hyperspace charts, which is a substantial part of the cost of space travel. Of course, there are countless unlicensed charts making their rounds on the black markets of the frontier. But since a ship that gets lost in interstellar space for all eternity can’t come back to complain, the accuracy of these black market charts is always extremely dubious. Few captains are desperate enough to gamble their lives on these.

Hyperspace Jumps

While ships in Hyperspace are effectively blind and have no way to tell where they are going, the gravity of massive objects in normal space still has effects on Hyperspace and cause it to warp even more than usual. Accordingly, the routes of Hyperspace charts really only show how to get to the general vicinity of a star. Making a ship arrive at a specific point inside a star system is for all intents and purposes impossible. While stars themselves are actually really small compared to the scale of a system, the warping of Hyperspace near them becomes stronger the closer you get, which makes it actually pretty easy to accidentally get much closer than expected or even come out inside the star itself. Usually navigators keep things safe and jump out of Hyperspace somewhere in the outer part of the star system where the risk of randomly appearing inside a planet are negligible. Similarly, jumping into hyperspace too close to a star could lead to navigational errors that lead to a ship getting lost in interstellar space.

In practice, this means that between arriving at or leaving from a planet, and jumping in or out of hyperspace, ships have to travel considerable distances at sublight speed. While the Hyperspace jumps themselves often take only a few hours, flying between planets and jump points can take from many hours to several days. Small stars with low masses have much weaker gravity and all their planets close to them, so transit times in such systems are on the low end, while large stars with great masses have very strong gravity and their habitable planets much further out, resulting in the very long transit times.

Another quirk of the warping of Hyperspace is that even with the best navigation computers, both the exact point at which a ship jumps out of Hyperspace in another system and also the precise time at which it arrives are somewhat random. Fleets leaving a system together always arrive at their destination scattered over great areas and arriving over the span of several minutes and sometimes even hours. Fleets always require several hours to regroup after a jump, followed by several hours of transit time to reach the planet they are headed for. This leaves people on the planets many hours to notice them and prepare for their arrival, which makes surprise attacks with space ships impossible.

Hyperspace jumps require fuel. Licenses for Hyperspace charts are included in the regular upkeep and maintenance costs for spaceships, but fuel for the Hyperspace engines is a resource that has to be tracked at all time. Players making journeys to other systems have to check if their fuel will last them to make the journey and return trip, or plan to make stop at fuel depots along the way. I think fuel stops can be a great way to introduce randomized encounters into the campaign. Aside from the PCs running into interesting people during these fuel stops and getting into trouble while waiting for their ship to be ready to continue their journey, you could also have various complications like the fuel station turning out to be inoperable, causing long delays, or being destroyed, causing potentially serious problems with keeping the engines running. Fuel costs also seem like a great way to put financial pressure on the players. Without fuel they get stuck and so are forced to make money, or can’t afford to be charitable to people who would really benefit from their cargo. Or they might be driven to try to steal fuel somewhere. I think there’s great potential in this that could lead to wonderful organically developing side adventures.

Hyperspace Travel for Players

Even with all the theoretical background stuff, the things that players need to understand is really simple:

Ships can only go to star systems that are on the map. And every journey has to be taken along the marked lines. Every jump requires a unit of fuel. (Or two or three units, depending on the size of their ship.) After leaving a planet, they need to survive for a couple of hours before they can make the jump. Even if pursuers decide to follow them through Hyperspace, they will arrive far enough apart on the other side to reach a planet before the pursuers catch up to them, and if they manage to make another jump before the pursuers arrive they will have lost them for good.

That’s really all the players need to know. Anything else is just for curious players that enjoy these things, but I find it important as the foundation that explains why these few player facing rules are the way they are and to make them consistent even at closer observation.