Never force yourself to create more than you must. Write this rule on the inside cover of your Dungeon Master Guide. Failure to obey the First Rule has been the downfall of too many campaigns. You shouldn't feel compelled to create more information or detail than you'll need to conduct the next couple of game sessions. When some DMs sit down to create a new campaign, they are strongly tempted to draw dozens of maps, create hundreds of NPCs, and write histories of the campaign world stretching back thousands of years. While having this sort of information at your disposal can't hurt, it probably won't help—not for a long time yet. Spending lots of time on extraneous details now only slows you down, perhaps to the point where you lose interest in the game before it starts. For now, the goal is to figure out exactly what information you'll need to conduct your first few game sessions. You can fill in the holes later, as it becomes necessary. This approach not only gets you up and playing as quickly as possible but also keeps your options open and allows you to tailor the campaign around the input of the players and the outcome of their adventures. In this spirit, you should aim to start your campaign as soon as you can, while doing as little preliminary design as possible.It was sensible advice for running an AD&D campaign, when he wrote it. It's sensible advice for running a space opera game. Heck, it's sensible advice for writing fiction. Some setting detail is important (and he spends many columns talking about which ones he thinks are important and why) and settings can be fun to tinker with for their own sake. But if you're spending an inordinate amount of time creating details that you're not even interested in, you're just going to struggle with the whole project. So, with that in mind, I'm probably going to focus on creating interesting worlds (using a fair bit of randomization) but then placing them a bit more strategically rather than completely randomly, or systematically. Like I said earlier; although the Bern Monarchy and the Revanchist Republic are mostly off-screen except for a tiny edge of their official borders, even the very edge of their official borders are not really where the action is. Mapping systematically means that I spend a lot of time initially mapping star systems that I'm deliberately saying are not going to be the interesting ones. How about... let's save those for last.
In fact, it's entirely possible that I can deliberately leave some of these hexes that I've color coded undefined so that they can be filled later as needed rather that predefined up front. The central area of the map is really the important one. If the sector has four domains (and it does) it's curiously a domain's worth of subsectors (roughly) that make up the four corners area that's going to be the most interesting. Maybe even shifted a little bit further south than that—as I got out of the more established polities into the real colonies and independent groups that weren't openly allied with one of the Great Powers, I think the sector got more and more interesting. The top third of the map feels kind of boring and pacified in my head compared to the bottom two thirds or so.
So I'm really thinking that the "protagonist" polities are going to be the Bern colonies, for the most part: the Carrick Grand Marches, the Bechtel Marches, the Machesk Frontier, the Emerus Marches and the Viomius Marches. The main antagonist polities are going to be the Empire itself, Outremer, and the Principality of Tan Kajak. Rivals and usually enemies due to poor and tyrannical leadership (but otherwise full of common people who aren't all that bad, necessarily) polities will be the Republic allied ones: the Rhyne Colony, the Carthen Colony, the Calder Settlements, etc. The same is true to another extent with other groups like the Altairan Ascendancy, the Takach Kingdom, and the Cilindareans. The Reaver Worlds and the Dhangetan Cartel make everyone wary because they're dangerous and unpredictable, but they're not as overtly and unremittingly hostile, in some respects, as the Empire, if only because in spite of their potential violence they're not Empire builders, and raiding or other criminal enterprises are more important to them than colonizing or conquering.
Now, I mentioned briefly that I see the "tone" of the Revanchist Republic as overtly socialist in most respects. Like the modern SJWs combined with the Soviets, but that's the elite—the common people are more like the regular, good old people of Europe and European diaspora nations (Australia, Canada, the US, New Zealand, etc.) So, they can't be the protagonist polity, because they're exasperating and dangerous and their leadership is corrupt and compromised. The Empire is more based on fictional evil Dark Lord empires than a true historical or real-life prototype. The Bern Monarchy is therefore the Golden Age of European Confidence; kind of like the British Empire at its peak. I should probably say that I'm no Moldbugger, and I'm glad that my ancestors fought the British Empire at its peak for their independence. The Bern Monarchs aren't great people, and it's not a great system. That's part of the reason that the colonies are what they are—and the fact that they're kind of cut-off in many ways from the parent empire means that they operate in a de facto autonomous state anyway. But don't make too much of the fact that I call it the "protagonist" nation. It probably doesn't mean as much in my head as you think it does.
Anyway, all that said; let's do a quick and dirty summary of all of the nations, if you will, that I've so far called out, so I can have a summary at hand when I need it.
- The Bern Monarchy—Located mostly to the north-northwest of this sector, this is one of the three big Great Powers, and its full extent is easily a sector and a half or so in breadth, if not more. Only the southern edge of it can be seen in this sector. Like I said earlier, I see this as a space-faring analog, in some ways, to the British Empire at its peak—although in terms of names and imagery, it probably hearkens back more to the Roman Empire. In space. It's fairly stable, and offers a relatively high standard of living, both in terms of sociality, freedom, and wealth to its citizens. As with any hereditary government system, there are good rulers and bad ones, and the bad ones can make life miserable for everyone (current monarch is Maddav Bern III, Rex. He's OK. Neither great nor terrible, and generally caught up in personal rather than political or social pursuits, which tends to be preferable. Nobody likes a monarch who meddles too much in their daily lives.) It's also known from time to time for atrocities perpetuated against natives, wars and rivalries that benefit its elite to the detriment of its citizens, and more. By and large, the colonists who've settled the colonies located elsewhere in this sector have left the Monarchy proper to escape its overbearing class system and systemic bureaucracy, pursue greater economic opportunities, or to have the freedom to practice ideologies, religions, or philosophies that the Monarchy stifles. The citizens are mostly of Earth-descent, and will have names that are kind of what either ethnic Americans would look like in a thousand years or so, or I've given them Roman-sounding names just because.
- The Cepheid Union—A client state that has been associated with the Monarchy for some time, but which has its own king and nobility. Although they've absorbed an awful lot of culture from the Monarchy over centuries of influence and contact, and have in the past been part of the Monarchy, they are today an independent kingdom, and strong allies of the Berns. Think of them as somewhat similar to Britannia in relation to Rome after Rome officially left, or maybe the Irish in relation to the English. Prolonged exposure to the Monarchy (and others) has left many of these worlds more cosmopolitan than they otherwise would be, but the original Cepheid peoples who settled these worlds (many in the years during or even before the Marian Empire) are not human; they are anthropomorphic reptiles with flat, nearly noseless faces, sharp teeth in wide mouths, slit pupils, prominent scutes and scales over much of their skin, no hair of any kind, and nictitating membranes. (Think of the physical appearance of the Mortal Kombat Saurians like Reptile and you're on the right track.) Their long association with the Berns means that you often see Cepheids wherever Bern humans are.
- The Kusa Kymni Group—This small little nation is the home of the Kusans, half-sized humanoids with four spider-like eyes, mandibles that feature lots of spiny moving parts and chitinous plates and pathy, stiff hair over much of their skin. They are often considered something like rats or cockroaches throughout the sector (and beyond); more infamous for being underfoot than anything else, and the correlation of the amount of Kusans with the degree of squalor and seediness is nearly equally notorious. Like rats, they seem to thrive where nearly any other sentient being would disdain to even try to live, if they can help it. It's probably tongue in cheek, but the saying is that urban blight is the Kusans native habitat. In spite of their ubiquitousness in the slums, ghettos, and even landfills and graveyards of known space, they had to have originally come from somewhere, and this seems to be the best candidate; it's the only small set of worlds populated almost entirely by Kusans and the only one where they have a government of their own. Sandwiched between the easternmost extension of the Cilindarean Arm, the southern border of the Bern Monarchy, and the Cepheid Union, not to mention a few independent worlds here and there, it's probably mostly been left alone because nobody else is interested in it. It's not crucial as a travel route, and the worlds themselves are largely worthless by most species' standards. In fact, some of them seem to have been little more than system-sized landfills during the old Marian Empire's days. These planets are poor, their services and resources are not in demand, but to the Kusans all throughout their known space-wide diaspora, it's kind of the iconic, almost mythic home that they can always return to someday.
- The Syra Vorte—These feisty worlds were one of the first to split off the Marian Empire as
- The Acton Emirate—The Actons were a "family" of Dhangetans—a powerful and conniving Dhangetan and his most promising budded offspring (presumably he ate the rest, as is their wont) wandered off on his own and established his own sovereign emirate after conquering several small independent worlds and parts of the Syra Vorte. His descendants still rule here today. In the past, it wasn't quite so isolated from the rest of the Cartel, however—these descendants are now somewhat feeling the squeeze of Revanchism, the nearby Monarchy border, and resentful Syrans who'd love to reclaim worlds that were once theres. The Actons, therefore, are highly militarized for a Dhangetan set of worlds, with large number of poorly armed slaves and other peasants, an ever-growing legion of combat droids and elite Cilindarean and Janissary and psionic knight mercenaries. Unusually, for a Dhangetan polity, there is a secret police here who keep a wary eye out for enemy agents and subversives, who tend most commonly to come from nearly Republic worlds, and they crack down on them very harshly. An unexpected and unanticipated consequence of this attempt to crack down on potential threats is the increase in security from the Dhangetan norm, where only the strong dare venture for fear of being set upon by bands of thugs who have no official deterrence to commit whatever violence they think they can get away with. This has had the side effect of making the Acton Emirate more stable, more secure, and more wealthy—but in some ways, it threatens the unique culture of the Dhangetans and threatens to make them more mainstream. For the most part, the Dhangetans don't really care one way or another, but some of the others who live here tend to come for the "Dhangetan charm" and don't want to lose it.
- The Tearaxian Federation—This small group of worlds colonized by the central one, which is a large world, and the natives are therefore "hulks"—large, robust build and strength beyond that of most normal folks in known space. Tearaxian hulks are red-skinned and have adopted or adapted a techno-organic system that grows with them that is implanted naturally at some point in the womb from electronic developments in the mother, making them just about the only known natural born cyborgs. This techno-organic lattice is a small electrical system that runs throughout their body, and can "overclock" them in extreme circumstances, like a nitrous oxide version of adrenaline, in a way. When this happens, their lattice of circuit-board-like tracings glow through their skin, giving them a dramatic appearance. The Republic was always intimidated by the Tearaxian hulks, but they tried a rather cowardly orbital bombardment to subdue their systems once. A boarding action from the surface was swift and decisive, and peace was procured. The Tearaxians don't really trust the Republic, but they maintain sufficient military strength now as a standing army to provide sufficient deterrence of a repeated conquest attempt. When troops muster out of their mandatory military service, many of them later hit the space-lanes of known space as adventurers, mercenaries, bounty hunters, or otherwise using their strength and military training to earn some extra credits before coming home and settling down.
- The Revanchist Republic—After the fall of the Marian Empire to revolutionary forces combined with criminals and outsider barbarian mercenaries and opportunists, the New Republic set itself up as the successor state. Plagued by problems (mostly caused by the fact that so many of their supporters were criminals, crazy anarchists, and outsider barbarian opportunists) it gradually shrank and gave up much of its claimed territory to its main ideological rival, the Bern Monarchy, which also set itself up as a successor state to the Marian Empire. The Monarchy has a better claim in many ways of being something more like the Marian Empire during its time of greatest success, and the Republic looked like it was out for the count. At one point, they even lost access to their own capital system, Capital Publius, to the Berns. Finally getting their act together, they organized, militarized, propagandized and mobilized, and now are a growing and intimidating Great Power. If you want to apply real world analogs to the Revanchist Republic, which has been "liberating" worlds from whatever "tyranny" they suffered under for some time now and grown tremendously from a shrunken rump state to the third largest state in known space, I see it as a bit of the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution and current age decadent US foreign and domestic cuckservative neocon and SJW fascism all rolled into one. In spite of that, the common people of the Republic are more or less decent folk, oppressed under their crowd-sourced do-gooder-or-else Soviet elite police state. In many ways, free and independent worlds are almost as wary of the approach of Republican representatives as they are of Imperial ones—at least the Empire shows a sane and stable application of strength (at least, so say its apologists) whereas what the Republic wants from you is a constantly moving target that you have no hope of ever satisfying.
- The Cilindarean Arm—I've talked plenty about Cilindarean culture in other posts, especially about the planet Cilindare itself. The part shown in this sector is about half of their total space, and even they've gotten in the game of expanding far flung colonies out there here and there, as well as making overt alliances across the sector. Curiously, even within their polity, they've got nearly as many clients as actual official systems. The Cilindareans can best be viewed as what you'd get if a Nordic version of classic Greek Spartans went into space in high tech battle armor and created a decent sized empire. Within the Cilindarean sphere, often somewhat integrated, but often with separate "allied" worlds of their own, are the descendants of the Janissaries who fought long ago in the vicious Slave Wars. Because of a shared ethnic origin, the Janissaries returned to Cilindarean space after their attachment to the Marian Empire was severed, but they found that this "homecoming" was viewed with some suspicion by the Cilindareans, and that they had grown sundered from each other in culture, language, attitude and even physical appearance. Nevertheless, they still maintain an intertwined existence today. The biggest and most important import of both ethnic Cilindareans and the spin-off Janissary group is mercenary companies, military advisers, and more. A few have even taken up privateer careers, operate as bounty hunters, or enforcers for criminal enterprises. The Dhangetans in particular have had a long-standing relatively friendly relationship with them, only threatened when they Cilindareans expanded eastward at the same time that the Republic was expanding southwestward and the Dhangetans lost space-lane contact with the more far-flung Acton Emirate.
- The Mattix Independency—This small little independent island smack dab in the middle of the Cilindarean Arm (and very close to Cilindare itself) seems like it should be swallowed up, but the Cilindareans are extraordinarily respectful of the Mattixes, and not only don't threaten them with territorial swallowing, but have reaffirmed through multiple evergreen treaties that they will, in fact, protect them from any other group that threatens them. The Mattixes are human-like, but thin, almost ethereal-looking, with glowing eyes, hair and even skin. They are somewhat isolationist, and travel infrequently (although "as beautiful as the Mattix elfs" is famous as an expression throughout known space. Sometimes they're called angels instead of elfs). There is a lot of debate around exactly why the Cilindareans give such deference to the Mattixes and what the Mattixes offer the Cilindareans in return, but there's no answer that has any kind of consensus, really. It's well known, however, that if anyone among the Cilindareans suggests or attempts to break or renegotiate this deal, that the Anaxaster himself gets involved and puts a decisive stop to it.
Next episode: the next nine polities!