Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Psi-Wars Atlas I: Introduction and Overview

 For this month, my patreons voted for a setting overview.  The intent of this vote was no more than 2,000 words, but as you can tell from the fact that I've talked about nothing but maps for the past couple of weeks, it has turned out to be a much larger undertaking than I expected, and it'll take awhile to release, as there's quite some material.

I'm often asked what my method for setting creation is, and I wanted to take a moment to highlight my approach to this one.  If you look over my last two posts, you'll get some perspective on how I sorted the galaxy, and there's more that could be done.  I could sit down and make sure that I don't repeat myself with systems that are too similar ("Dantooine. Tatooine."), or ensure that every star system has something interesting in it, something players can deal with.

I didn't do that.  Instead, I did something else, and I'll offer it to you as a tip, especially for your first run: Write what you know.  People too often stare at a blank sheet and freeze up; when I ask them what they want to write, they say they "don't know."  That's a lie, you do know, you're just worried.  Write what you've got in your head!  It won't be good, but you can always go back and revise it later.

That's what I'm doing here.  I'm writing what's been accumulating in my head, based on the core themes I see of each region of the galaxy, the various aliens I've written up, the snippets of history I've stitched together, and mentioned worlds that have made it into character backgrounds or faction write-ups.  In many cases, I had to make up names on the spot to vague concepts I'd been using for quite a long time.

This is, perhaps, a long-winded way of saying that this is a first draft.  We'll almost certainly revisit, renaming worlds, expanding them, adding new ones, removing redundant ones.  Thus, I welcome feedback, and even encourage you to suggest your own worlds.  You can leave a comment, or hit me up on our discord!

This will also be long, so I've broken it up into pieces, and not everything is even done at the moment of this writing (I have the galactic core and half of one of the four arms written). I also want to emphasize that the detail here is sparse, because this is a setting overview, and not a deep dive into specific worlds.

Galactic Structure

The Galaxy of Psi-Wars is a four-armed spiral galaxy. The galactic center, the Galactic Core, contains more stars than any other part of the galaxy and its bulge rises above and below the galactic plane. Its central position and interconnectedness with the rest of the galaxy makes it the galactic region of choice to rule the Galaxy from, and today, it serves as the seat of the tyrannical Valorian Empire.

Spiraling out from the galactic center are four galactic Arms, sometimes called the Rim of the Galaxy. While the stars of the arms tend to be younger and fewer than in the core, they tend to house regional powers that, if left unchecked, could rise to threaten the Empire of the galactic core. The regions in the rim closest to the core are the most civilized; as one gets farther and farther from the bright center of the galaxy, the more alien, barbaric and dangerous the galaxy gets.

The four galactic arms are:

  • The Glorian Rim: the ancestral home of humanity and the seat of the remnants of the aristocratic Galactic Federation, now called the Alliance.

  • The Arkhaian Spiral: the seat of the genocidal Cybernetic Union, and the site of the Scourge invasion.

  • The Umbral Rim: Sometimes called the Dark Arm. Ancient alien races, weird cults and criminal slaver cartels dominate this part of the galaxy, and its numerous nebulae make it difficult to navigate.

  • The Sylvan Spiral: A strange “thickness” of hyperspace called “the Morass” makes this part of the galaxy difficult to navigate; those who penetrate its depths report space monsters, primitive alien races and planets overrun with abundant life and giant beasts.

Between the arms of the galaxy, or behind its edge, lies the Galactic Fringe. Between the arms of the Galaxy, stars become sparser and more spread apart, meaning hyperspatial trips between them take longer and the hyperspatial medium becomes harder to navigate; the galaxy generally ignores this galactic backwater. Beyond the edge of the galaxy, dwarf galaxies and globular clusters orbit the rest of the galaxy, acting as islands of stars and civilizations in the enormous void beyond. These tend to be very difficult, but still possible, to reach via hyperspace; once a ship has arrived, traveling within the dwarf galaxy tends to be a simple affair. These pockets tend to have very strange aliens and exotic civilizations that have only passing contact with the rest of the Galaxy.

The physical astrography of the Galaxy matters less to most denizens of the Galaxy than does its hyperspatial astrography. The hyperspatial medium varies in navigational difficulty; it can be very easy to travel between a particular collection of stars regardless of their physical proximity. Such a cluster of stars is called a Constellation. Numerous such constellations exist within a larger region of the Galaxy. The easiest and most well-mapped of these hyperspatial routes are termed Hyper Routes, most galactic travel takes place along them. There are also stars that tend to be very easy to reach, they also make it easy to reach other stars within their constellation; this makes them a popular “first destination” for travel. These are called Nexus Stars, or sometimes, a “crossroad star.”

The Galaxy contains literally billions of stars, but hyperspatial astrography makes it difficult to reach the vast majority of stars, and on top of that, given the abundance of stars available to travelers, most colonists don’t bother with planets that don’t naturally have “shirt-sleeve” weather and familiar gravity. Thus, out of the billions of stars and planets of the galaxy, the denizens of the Psi-Wars galaxy concern themselves typically with only thousands of them. This means that the civilizations of the galaxy are but lonely oases of life in vast, desolate wastelands of uninhabited star systems, connected by the tenuous lines of hyperspace travel. These unconnected worlds are sometimes call Lost Worlds.

The Galaxy is three dimensional, but at the speeds and distances traveled via hyperspace, most star maps depict the galaxy as flat. This is not true of the galactic core, which has a bulge of stars above and below the “plane” of the Galaxy. When discussing the core stars that are “above” or “below” the galactic plane, this refers to stellar maps that depict the galaxy’s arms turning in a clockwise motion.

Hyperspatial Navigation

A hyperspace drive moves at a speed of 10 parsecs per hour (30 light years per hour) per rating (faster hyperdrives can move 2× to 3× as fast!). The Psi-Wars galaxy is 50,000 parsecs (150,000 light years) across from end to end, though hyperspace travel is rarely “as the crow flies,” but going from end to end takes about 6 months with a rating 1 hyperdrive.

Hyperspatial navigation in Psi-Wars is always from system to system, and each system has its own “default” hyperspatial navigational modifier. Certain systems are easier or harder to reach from other systems, and the GM may apply modifiers based on route or circumstances (such as hyperspatial storms) as he sees fit; descriptions of worlds may also include alternate routes with their own navigational modifiers; while secret smuggler routes or ancient routes noted on lost starmaps also have their own navigational modifiers, typically positive. For example, if the world of Exile has a navigational modifier of -4, reaching Exile from any given world has a modifier of -4. Reaching it from Sirocco might be much easier, at -2. A secret route, found on an ancient map, might raise that to +1!

Constellations also have a navigational modifier. This is a default modifier for unspecified worlds in the constellation; this value is always superseded by a listed system modifier. Just as with systems, attempting to reach a constellation from another constellation might have a unique modifier. Attempting to reach a world in a constellation from another world within that same constellation generally applies a +1 to navigation rolls.

Galactic regions, such as the core or arms, also have navigational modifiers. This is a default modifier, just as with constellations, for any unspecified worlds or constellations within it; these are always superseded by constellation or system modifiers. A Nexus World typically applies a +2 to any attempt to reach it from any star system. A Hyper Route applies a +4 to all navigation rolls. These may supersede the values of a star system. For example, if a given world applies a default -2 to reach it, then attempting to reach it from any world applies a -2, but if a hyper route exists between it and another specific star, then travel between those two stars only applies a +4, rather than a -2, to navigation rolls.

Simplified Travel Times

Rather than get out a map and work out travel times, consider the following travel times as loose guidelines. The times below might be longer or shorter, depending on proximity (GM’s discretion). The following times are for hyperspace rating 2: double them for slower ships, and halve them for faster.

  • Traveling between two systems in the same constellation: between an hour to a day.

  • Traveling between two constellations: between three days and two weeks.

  • Traveling between from region to region, or from the far side of one region to the far side of the same region: between 1 and 3 months.

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