Thoughts on Stars and Planets in Imperial Space

Any science-fiction (or, in my case, science-fantasy) RPG setting needs to give some thought to the subject of space, interplanetary travel and stellar bodies, primarily planets.  One of the things that makes sci-fi so hard to standardize, in the same sense that D&D has pretty much ‘standardized’ fantasy, is that there are so many different ways to approach the subject of space, especially space travel.  Star Trek and Star Wars take a fairly laissez faire attitude towards space travel, whereas other settings, such as the Traveller RPG (and the literature that heavily influenced it), take a more hard-science approach.


One constant, however, is the focus on planets as the center of action.  As we all know, in our universe solar systems form with many planets orbiting one more suns.  But works of science-fiction rarely, if ever, spend much time dwelling on star systems as a whole.  They tend to focus, almost exclusively, on the ‘planet of action’ (for lack of a better term).  Even Traveller’s star system generation rules places heavy emphasis on the most important planet within a star system, leaving any other stellar bodies in the system to be fleshed out by the GM as needed.

As I’m thinking of a science-fantasy setting, the rules of our physical universe don’t have to apply.  So why not use a more geocentric approach?  Instead of multiple planets orbiting a star, most of which are ignored anyways, why not a small star orbiting each planet?  Instead of a hex on the space map containing an entire solar system, it simply contains a single world, the ‘planet of action,’ if you will.

The suns are much smaller, of course, probably smaller than the planet itself.  However, they’re also much closer, orbiting from, say, a few hundred-thousand miles out (maybe further).  Planets would still have other attendant satellites, such as moons or an asteroid ring, orbiting closer than suns.  Also, a few planets lack an orbiting sun; aside from being perpetually dark, these ‘shadow’ worlds would be more difficult to locate and thus make great bases for pirates, criminal syndicates and invading aliens.

And while planets are still separated by vast distances of space, those distances are not nearly as great as the distances between star systems in our universe.  A fast space vessel, using some kind of reaction engine, could make a journey between planets in a few weeks or months, without the need of FTL technology (though, certain spells allow a near instantaneous jump between worlds, at some additional risk).


I’m also thinking of modeling planets off of the various D&D planes of existence.  The elemental planes would be easiest to model (fire = volcanic planet, water = water world, air = gas giant, etc.), though not all planes translate well as planets.  Using planes as a template for standard planet types makes them much easier to populate (just use an appropriate random encounter chart from your MM of choice).  Along with this, different colored suns could have different properties as well.  Perhaps blue stars emit cold rather than heat (yeah, totally stole that from Dr. Who) and so tend to orbit ice worlds; or maybe green stars emit weird mutagenic radiation, causing mutations in anyone exposed to the radiation too long.  There’s a lot of fun, neat stuff you can do with this.  And you can still have all the usual space anomalies as well: black holes, worm holes, temporal displacement fields, nebulas, radiation storms, etc.


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