Draft section on Astrography for the new players' brief


#1

I’ve drafted a section on the astrography to take up one page of a new Flat Black players’ brief. Please let me know whether you think this is adequate and clear, and whether the material deserves so much as a page.

Astrography

The setting of Flat Black is a sphere approximately 175 light-years in radius, centred on Sol. This is a tiny fraction of the Galaxy, wholly embedded in the thickness of the Galactic disk. It contains over forty thousand stars: about one seven-millionth of the Galaxy. Scattered through that volume are one thousand worlds inhabited by humans.

Earth has no oceans or atmosphere any more; it was wrecked in AD 2353 (606 years ago) by a catalytic thermonuclear explosion originating at Buenos Aires. Earth is uninhabitable, but for political and symbolic reasons the Empire built several important space habitats in orbit around the ruins of Earth—including the Imperial capital.

640 colonies were established from Earth before its destruction, of which 625 survived. These “primary colonies” are all within 146 light-years of Sol. The colonies nearest Earth were established first, and received immigrants and supplies from Earth for up to 250 years before Earth was destroyed. Further out the colonies are younger and had less wherewithal to establish a population and industrial base before being cut off. Beyond the primary colonies there are 375 secondary colonies that have been established within the last fifty years, settled by pioneers and migrants from the primary colonies. These are mostly 140–175 light-years from Sol.

People speak of the “Core” (consisting roughly of worlds within 65 or 75 light-years of Sol), of the “Periphery” (consisting of primary colonies outside the Core), and the “Fringe” (consisting of recent, secondary colonies). The Core is supposed to be rich and politically advantaged, though in fact it has some miserably undeveloped worlds in it. The Periphery is supposed to be backward, politically neglected, and under-served by interstellar transportation—which is an over-simplification at best. The Fringe is new enough to have no place in the common concept of the universe, and is often treated as a bit of a joke.

The average distance of a colony from its nearest neighbour is 14.8 light-years, a journey of 5.4 days at typical interstellar liner speeds. Even though interstellar fares and freight rates are modest, the large cost in time means that few people travel and very few travel often. Interstellar visitors are rare, cultural influences are slight, and the worlds are socially isolated.

The median distance of a colony from the Imperial capital is 133 light-years (51 days). It takes over four months to cross the sphere of habitation or send a message from the frontier to the Capital and receive a reply. Because of slow response times, the Empire established nineteen “Sector HQs” in a shell about 100–120 light-years from Sol, to serve as reinforcement depots for its scattered contingents. Each inhabited world is assigned to a sector corresponding to the nearest SHQ, or to Central Sector if Sol is nearest. Despite this, the average distance of a primary colony from its SHQ is 41.8 light-years (fifteen days), and the furthest (Stockbrook at Zeta Cygni) is 73.5 light-years (26.8 days) from its SHQ (Andromeda SHQ in Gliese 9830). Imperial operations are five to 27 days each way from reinforcement and senior officers.

The sectors are named for the astronomical constellation that their HQs are in: Andromeda, Aquarius, Cassiopeia, Centaurus, Cetus, Corona Australis, Draco, Eridanus, Gemini, Hercules, Hydra, Leo, Libra, Pisces, Puppis, Reticulum, Sextans, Ursa Major, Virgo. Note that in the case of a sprawling constellation such as Eridanus, not every star in the constellation is necessarily in the corresponding sector.

Central Sector is somewhat smaller than the Core, containing no colonies further from Sol than 57 light-years.

Previous discussion of this topic may be found in the following linked topic:


#2

I think I might do some aggressive cutting, something like:

(FTAOD I contribute this to Brett without putting any conditions on it.)

The setting of Flat Black is a sphere approximately 350 light-years across, centred on Sol. It contains over forty thousand stars; scattered through that volume are one thousand worlds inhabited by humans.

Earth has no oceans or atmosphere any more; it was wrecked over 600 years ago by a catalytic thermonuclear explosion originating at Buenos Aires. For political and symbolic reasons the Empire built several important space habitats in orbit around the ruins of Earth—including the Imperial capital.

Hundreds of “primary colonies” were established from Earth before its destruction; most of them survived. The oldest and closest had been receiving immigrants and supplies for up to 250 years before Earth was destroyed; further out the colonies are younger and had less time and resources to establish a population and industrial base before being cut off. There are now a few hundred secondary colonies that have been established within the last fifty years, settled by pioneers and migrants from the primary colonies, further out from Sol.

People speak of the “Core” (the oldest primary colonies), of the “Periphery” (the rest of the primary colonies), and the “Fringe” (consisting of the recent, secondary colonies). The Core is supposed to be rich and politically advantaged, though in fact it has some miserably undeveloped worlds in it. The Periphery is supposed to be backward, politically neglected, and under-served by interstellar transportation—which is an over-simplification at best. The Fringe is new enough to have no place in the common concept of the universe, and is often treated as a bit of a joke.

The average distance of a colony from its nearest neighbour is a journey of 5.4 days at typical interstellar liner speeds. Even though interstellar fares and freight rates are modest, the large cost in time means that few people travel and very few travel often. Interstellar visitors are rare, cultural influences are slight, and the worlds are socially isolated.

worth mentioning somewhere that there’s no FTL communication other than ships?

The median distance of a colony from the Imperial capital is 51 days; it takes over four months to cross the sphere of habitation, or send a message from the frontier to the Capital and receive a reply. Because of this, the Empire established nineteen “Sector HQs” in the Periphery, to serve as reinforcement depots for its scattered contingents. Each inhabited world is assigned to a sector corresponding to the nearest SHQ, or to Central Sector if Sol is nearest. Despite this, the average distance of a primary colony from its SHQ is fifteen days, and the furthest (Stockbrook at Zeta Cygni) is 26.8 days from Andromeda SHQ in Gliese 9830. Imperial operations are five to 27 days each way from reinforcement and senior officers.

The sectors are named for the Sol-centred astronomical constellation that their HQs are in: Andromeda, Aquarius, Cassiopeia, Centaurus, Cetus, Corona Australis, Draco, Eridanus, Gemini, Hercules, Hydra, Leo, Libra, Pisces, Puppis, Reticulum, Sextans, Ursa Major, Virgo. Note that in the case of a sprawling constellation such as Eridanus, not every star in the constellation is necessarily in the corresponding sector.
Central Sector is somewhat smaller than the Core, containing no colonies further from Sol than 15 days.


#3

Thanks. Brevity is good in a brief, and I will follow some of your suggestions. I have two questions, though.

  1. In several places you suggest replacing specific numbers such as “640” with vaguer expressions such as “hundreds”, even though they are no briefer. Why do you suggest that? I am inclined to think that the specific numbers are no longer or less clear, and that using them supplies readers with precise information if they want that.

  2. You suggest omitting the comparison of the scale of the human sphere with the scale of Galaxy. That is admittedly not practically important, but I did include it at the suggestion of a player (“Phred” Smith). Phred felt that it would be clarifying for readers like himself not entirely au fait with the scale of the Galaxy. In specific he asked whether the extent of human settlement in the direction of Coma Berenices had reached far enough from the galactic plane that the stars were starting to thing out. (The answer is “no”.) So: how strongly do you feel that that stuff has to go?


#4

Point 1: this is the initial briefing, not the detailed reference document. My feeling is that players given precise numbers think in terms of that precision being important, and when they see quite a lot of precise numbers they want to start taking notes. Using approximations makes it clear that the exact number is not of immediate relevance.

Point 2: as I understand it, the usual role of spaceships in games in this setting is something like “You get on the ship. When you arrive at the planet…” With that in mind, it doesn’t matter to player characters (as opposed to NPC astrogators) what the stellar density is, so again it can be saved for the main reference document rather than being loaded onto the players up front.

The usual disclaimer applies: catering to my whims is a good way not to reach a large-scale audience.


#5

My experience is rather that when I write “hundreds” one of my players eventually asks “how many hundreds?”, when I write “centuries ago” they eventually ask “what date?”, and they pencil my answers into the margins of their briefs. Different players.

I am taking some of your advice, but sticking to my own counsels on some points. Thanks for your help.


#6

Conversely, if I read a text that says, “606 years ago,” I think, “oh, okay,” but if it says, “over 600 years ago,” it suggests to me that the exact date is uncertain, that the event is in a legendary past, and thus that exact chronological record keeping has fallen into disuse for some reason. That may be the wrong message to convey for this particular type of campaign.