Patricians, Equites, and Proles

While each of the home systems have their own local social structures based on thousands of years of history and the unique physiological and psychological trait of the native species, the interstellar mining industry has produced its own system of social organization and hierarchy that is common throughout most colonies, outposts, and mining worlds.

Patricians

The patricians are the elite of interstellar space. While they make up only a small percentage of the population, they control the vast majority of all wealth and capital. They are almost all descended from early founders of space industry companies from the homeworlds who happened to be in the right place and time to amass huge fortunes that later provided the capital to establish the infrastructure needed to establish mining colonies in other star systems once hyperspace travel became a possibility. By owning the infrastructure that made travel, trade, life, and work outside the home systems possible, these families gained near total control over the entire interstellar economy and in many cases direct owners of all property and facilities in the systems they developed. Since the early days of the establishment of the current interstellar economy, the patricians have become increasingly aristocratic and generally consider themselves completely separate from the rest of the population, being rarely seen in public by the common people.

Nearly all major companies doing business in interstellar space are being privately owned by only one or two patrician companies. It is much more common to give loans to other companies that are short on capital for investements than to purchase shares in the companies of other families. Personally owning their own companies with tens or hundreds of thousands of employees is a great source of pride for patrician patriarchs and matriarchs, and their source of legitimacy as a distinctive elite. The mining, manufacturing, and shipping industries are what made them rich and powerful and what enables the prosperity and comforts enjoyed by the people in the home systems. Getting rich through financial trading is beeing looked down upon and not considered a proper activity for distinguished gentlemen and ladies. Though in practice most of the big conglomerates also include massive banking divisions that produce a significant share of their profits.

Equites

The term equites originally refered to people who have invested some of their own money into companies they don’t have full ownership and personal control over. However, it has long since taken on a meaning that refers to all non-patrician people who have sufficient personal funds to engage in any economic activity of their own or own property. This social class consists of small business owners employing tens or hundreds of workers, as well as the vast armies of accountants and analysts handling the day to day transactions and administration of major companies and are considerably better paid than the more menial industrial jobs.

Equites typically make up between a fifth and a quarter of the population on most planets and stations outside the home systems. Equites can rise quite high in society and gain access to the inner management circles of the largest companies, and in some rare cases even mary into patrician families. But they will always be remembered as being from a lower class and can never become true equals of the patricians.

Proles

The proles are the working class and make up the vast majority of the population of interstellar space. Most proles work for the same company their entire lives, which is the same company their parents and grandparents worked for. In the early days of the industrial development of the New Frontier, large portions of proles were hired directly from the homeworlds, but this immigration has virtually stopped for almost a century now. Originally, skilled workers from the homeworld were lured with the promise of high wages, but with the high reliance on imports for all but the most basic goods, the cost of living in the colonies and mining worlds is extremely high, and life for most proles ranges from modest prosperity at best to abject poverty. When mining companies ceased operations in the New Frontier, sometimes they would have no further need for the workers or it would be cheaper to higher new staff close to newly opened sites than to provide for the transit of existing employees, and proles would be simply abandoned on exhausted planets to fend for themselves. This practice has led to the creation of numerous small independent mines by unemployed miners who are barely scraping enough ores from the ground to make something of a living.

For Coriolis

Patricians, equites, and proles replace the privileged, stationary, and plebian upbringings of Coriolis and have identical mechanical effects in character creation.

The New Frontier

The New Frontier Survey was one of the largest astrometric survey projects ever undertaken in the history of Known Space and has not been surpassed in the following more than 300 years. A consortium of many of the largest mining companies at the time comissioned the surveying and calculation of hyperspace routs for 16 new sectors, increasing the mapped area of the galaxy by over 5%. Great hopes had been placed on the discovery of significant easy to access resource deposits, and while initial exploration missions to the most promising systems turned out quite promising, the overall commercial success of the project has become widely regarded as somewhat disappointing by the space mining industry.

The initial gold rush for the most valuable mineral deposits lasted barely a century, after which the productivity of newly opened mines only slightly exceeded those being operated much closer to the home systems, barely justifying the additional deep space transportation costs. Since then, the New Frontier has seen a slow but steady decline as, and most mined and refined elements end up in the few major colonies that have been established in the region instead of going to the main markets in the home systems where they sell for significantly higher prices. Some of the New Frontier sectors have already been completely abandoned by the major mining and industrial companies, but those closer to the core sectors of Known Space, which have seen the establishment of several major colonies, are believed to have a sufficiently large and stable population and economy to survive long term as part of the interstellar periphery.

The discovery of a native population on Talassan resulted in the immediate establishment of a 100 lightyear exclusive economic zone around the system according to standing interstellar conventions. After initial contact was established by a delegation of the Galactic Community, there was a strong support among most major local Akiiru governments to put a ban on interstellar companies operating within their space until an international body could be established to make trade deals and grant commercial licenses and exploitation rights on behalf of the whole planet. Since then the Akiiru have been extremely cautious, greatly limiting trade with other worlds to prevent the local Talassanian economy from falling under the control of foreign powers. The integration of Talassan into the interstellar economy has been very slow, and while the planet’s Akiiru population vastly outnumbers that of all the colonies in the New Frontier combined, its significance as a market for foreign companies still lags well behind several of the colony worlds.

In addition to the 3 billion Akiiru on Talassan, there are about 200 million colonists and mining employees living in the New Frontier. This number is assumed to remain relativly stable over the next 100 years, but likely to see continued migration from the failing mining worlds to the larger colonies with fully developed local economies. Many of the major mining fleets getting relocated to other regions of Known Space is having a huge impact on the numerous trade companies that largely relied on the miners as customers for consumer goods. With this market continuing to fall away, competition between them has become increasingly fierce, frequently involving bribery, dealings with pirates, sabotage, and even assassination. The recent establishment of an Akiiru colony on Palan, close to several other planets with considerable populations, has rekindled some hopes of Talassan opening up as a major available market, but competition among the struggling merchant houses is expected to become quite explosive and could potentially risk the Akiiru closing off their internal economy completely.

While Known Space is a much larger region of the galaxy and home to the homeworlds of the various species that each have populations in the bilions, I think that the New Frontier is probably going to remain the entirety of the Iridium Moons setting. The cultures of the home systems and the interactions of the main interstellar powers don’t really interest me and I like the idea of the small worlds of the New Frontier being basically forgotten by the rest of the galaxy, left to the patricians of the big mining and trade companies to treat as their private fiefdoms.

Major Peoples of Known Space

At this stage of the development, the humanoid species that inhabit the Iridium Moons setting are still not completely locked in and I am still occasionally making some changes to the full lineup. But that has been limited to the smaller players on the interstellar stage, and the main species that make up the core of big influential power groups and the majority of the populations on most planets have been very well set for many months now. The peoples covered in this post will almost certainly remain largely as they are now in the final version of the setting, and by having these five introduced for now there should be enough established context to let me meaningfully write about all kinds of other aspects of the setting I already have to share.

While the theory and technological requirements behind the construction of hyperspace drives is comparatively straightforward and has been developed many times independently, the science of being able to actually navigate a ship moving through hyperspace is widely considered to be the greatest challenge is physics and known to have been discovered only twice in the history of the galaxy. Even on planets that had developed spaceflight several thousands of years earlier, the ability to travel to other star systems only became available to their people once they had been visited by ships from other worlds that shared the secrets of hyperspace navigation with them. In the centuries since the Damalin discovered hyperspace travel, the homeworlds of some two dozen advanced civilizations have been connected to the hyperspace route network established by them. About half of which have since then developed interstellar industries and established outposts and colonies in other systems and are regularly encountered in spaceports across Known Space. Of these peoples, five make up a significant majority of travelers, workers, and settlers outside of the home systems and control most of the interstellar mining industry and starship manufacturing.

Enkai

Of all the peoples working and living in interstellar space, the Enkai are the most numerous. They were one of the first civilizations discovered by the Damalin after their rediscovery of hyperspace travel and since then have established dozens of colonies, many of which have by now grown to populations in the tens of millions.

Enkai are of medium stature compared to other peoples and typically stand out even from a distance by their striking orange-red skin. Their homeworld is dominated by a comparatively drier climate than the planets on which most other species evolved, and while they are most comfortable in moderately warm savanna environments, this makes them one of the most tolerant peoples for the harsh desert environments that are most common on planets with breathable air. While Enkai are somewhat of a rare sight in colonies with wet and humid climates, this environmental adaptation has made them become the most widely spread out and numerous people of interstellar space.

Even compared to the other civilizations of Known Space, the Enkai culture is highly fragmented and the large population of their homeworld divided into over a hundred fully sovereign nations and no single representative organization in interstellar affairs. While now relatively rare, minor wars on the Enkai homeworld still happen every other decade, typically unnoticed by the rest of the galaxy. Enkai living in interstellar space typically identify strongly with their own home planet but generally lack much of a shared identity as a species as is common with most of the other peoples. In complex conflicts, the species of other groups generally have no meaningful impact on which sides they pick.

Damalin

Unlike most of the species of Known Space, the Damalin already traveled between the stars over 2000 years ago. Their homeworld used to be a minor client state of a vastly larger interstellar civilization, on which their ancient spacefarers relied entirely for ships and navigational charts. When this older civilization fractured and showed signs of collapse, the Damalin homeworld was one of the first that became separated from the hyperspace route network and without regularly updated navigational data, their few hyperspace jump capable ships became stranded in the system. It took many centuries for the Damalin to economically recover from the loss of interstellar trade and over a thousand years before they managed to independently develop the technologies to create new hyperspace chart. By that time the nearby colony worlds that the Damalin used to have direct contact with had long been abandoned and they have never been able to discover what eventually happened to the older civilization. The Damalin system for creating navigational charts and hyperspace routes became the basis for the entire currently existing network of routes that make up Known Space.

The Damalin are an amphibious species of slender humanoids who tend to be on the taller side for the peoples of Known Space but rarely grow over 2 meters tall. They can breath both air and water indefinitely but quickly develop skin irritation when out of water for more than a day or two. Long showers will do in an emergency, but all Damalin ships and homes have often several bathtubs used for naps when larger fully submerged areas are not possible. Even though they are not a particularly numerous people, Damalin have been establishing colonies in other systems for such a long time that they are common sights nearly everywhere in space, and Damalin patricians own many of the oldest and largest interstellar companies.

Netik

The Netik civilization is incredibly old, being believed to first developed agriculture and build the first cities on their homeworld nearly 60,000 years ago. However, the Netik who today inhabit the worlds of Known Space are all descendants of ancient colony worlds established long ago in the age of the previous interstellar civilization that first brought hyperspace travel to the Damalin as well. When the ancient civilization collapsed, the Netik had already spread across many worlds, which eventually became separated from the hyperspace route network and remained isolated for well over a thousand years. When the Damalin rediscovered interstellar space travel, nearby Netik colonies were the first planets they visited in their explorations. Many of which had gone extinct over the centuries, but a number of them that had been established on planets with particularly favorable environments had grown to populations in the hundreds of millions in the meantime. Once they regained the ability to travel between the stars, these Netik colonies quickly began looking for other surviving colonies, but even in nearly 500 years of searching, they have never been able to rediscover their original homeworld. As a people without a homeworld, the Netik are far less numerous than any other. But with the populations of the other peoples living almost entirely on their respective homeworlds, the Netik are actually make up a large fraction of the population of interstellar space, being nearly as common as Enkai and Damalin.

Even though the physical appearance of Netik is regarded as highly alien to most other peoples of Known Space, they actually have a well deserved reputation of being very easy to get along and having a highly developed ability to judge emotions and finding the right way to talk with people that they react well to. Netik companies are heavily involved in the space mining industry and the construction of the largest superfreighters used for ore hauling.

Chosa

The Chosa are tall humanoids with tough green-gray hides and sharp teeth that give them a reptilian appearance, but otherwise very similar to Enkai in their overall body structure and stature. They are among the physically strongest of the species traveling interstellar 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 regarded as looking blunt with little thought for decorations, but compare well 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 them being very well suited for the demands of that line of work. There are typically not a lot of opportunities for Chosa engineers or pilots outside of Chosa systems, but they are on average not far behind in their skills than the Damalin, Netik, and Enkai who dominate the profession.

Tubaki

The Tubaki are one of several peoples whose presence in space is greatly dependent on technologies and infrastructures of other species. 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 traveling 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, 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.

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.