The Making of Colonial Space: Drawing the Map

I am currently building a Traveller sector. I am using the Mongoose Traveller rules as a basis, though I have modified them somewhat. First of, a word of warning: If you want to create a Traveller setting, do not be deceived by the simplicity of the statistics for each world. A sector can easily contain 400 or more worlds, and this results in a lot of work if you want to have some sort of consistent result.

First step: The Region

As you know, Traveller subsectors are arranged in a 4×4 grid within a sector.

As my first step, I decided how common stars should be in each subsector. I decided that my “core” subsectors should have a higher number of stars and that the periphery of Colonial Space should include some rift-like regions. I settled on this:

6 6 5-6 5-6
6 5-6 4-6 5-6
6 5-6 4-6 5-6
5-6 5-6 5-6 5-6

To give myself a better idea what the region of space looked like, I then drew the following small map of a 3×3 sector grid:


Second Step: Star Placement

Next, I rolled whether each hex had a star system in it or not. And, yes, at this point I was still rolling dice. To make things faster, I rolled a bunch of d6 at one time and checked hexes off top to bottom. Needless to say this was a ridiculous approach; I should have just written a small script to roll up the sector. More on this later. At this point I had a hexmap with a lot of circles.

Third Step: System data

I quickly discovered that rolling actual system data took way too long to even contemplate doing it manually – there were too many dice modifiers involved, especially since I wanted to use the “realistic” optional rules in the hope that it would reduce the silly results I would get.

This is the point where I whipped together a simple awk script. It had no awareness of the actual layout of the sector, and it could not draw maps, so I spent another insane amount of time to center all those star system circles, colored them according to water/no water, and added spaceport classes.

I also added “trade routes” – basically just solid lines connecting A class ports that were in proximity of each other, and dashed lines connecting B ports to A ports and other B ports in their proximity. (Disregarding the Traveller 3rd Imperium jump limitations, as my FTL will work differently.)

Finally I used the result to sketch a rough border for my primary polity, an Empire (again, more on that later). At this point my map looked like this:

sector-maponlyI did have to refine my script multiple times during this process, to eliminate bugs as well as some glaring problems in the Traveller world creation system.

Step Four: Name That Star

After I had gathered data, the next step was to assign a name to every system. I had a bit of an easy start, because I had already gathered a list of 600+ potential names for colony worlds. Many of them were based on Earth locations, people etc which are not suitable for this setting. I did decide to leave in many of the mythology based names – out of necessity as much as anything else. So there’s no “New California”, for example, but a “Morrigan” and an “Uller”. Picking names, coming up with more names, and placing everything on the map took several days. I also began to draw additional borders for minor polities.

This is a snapshot of the work in progress.

sector03-maponlyAs an aside, I keep the world profiles and other related data in a LibreOffice spreadsheet for easier maintenance.

Step Five: Consistency and Detailing

After I had named all star systems, I began an interative process – this is where I am currently at. Basically, I am transcribing every system from the spreadsheet to a text document. At the same time I add Amber/red zones on the map, check for problems, and try to make sense of the results.

  • Why are the values as they are? – For example, if a world is a colony or captive government, who captured or colonized it, and why?
  • Are there values that make no sense? – Such as a vacuum world with a TL of 2 and 33 inhabitants. These results get fixed as I spot them.
  • Are there obvious implications, such as an Agricultural world next to a world with massive population?

One side effect of this process is that a number of smaller states have appeared on the map, for example the Atsinanana Star Empire – one clearly powerful world was sitting right next to two captive worlds.

As I type this, I have 8 out of 16 subsectors to go, but I picked the subsectors with fewer systems to start with – call it 40% done.

Lessons Learned So Far

Creating Traveller star maps is surprisingly much work. If I were to do it again, I’d do a few things differently:

  • Let the random generator handle more of the work; look into drawing maps automatically. If the script could produce a basic SVG, that would save days of work.
  • Change the world generation order. Traveller does some things right and some wrong. In my opinion, I should generate all the physical stats first, then decide a sort of habitability index, and then generate population and stats depending on population based on that. It could even easily be an iterative process, where all the nice worlds get colonized first, and then people spread out to less desireable worlds or to nice worlds that are further away. This could even result in a basic timeline.
  • Include stellar data and a few more odds and ends in the design sequence.

Current map WIP

sector12-maponlyMore on this setting will surely follow…

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3 thoughts on “The Making of Colonial Space: Drawing the Map

  1. It was more or less aimed at people who know the Traveller world building process. I won’t create details for most star systems just yet. In the future for sure, but then individual systems and one at a time. I’ll probably write my own generator script in that case.

    If you look at it right, Traveller is really a Sci Fi hexcrawl. Hexcrawls are basically emergent behavior scenarios, that is, you just throw in some rules and a sandbox (sic), and see what happens, as opposed to the usual more story-based gameplay.

    I am basically trying to avoid the pitfall that I stumbled into with my last Sci Fi setting attempt – too much detail and no chance in hell to ever fill it out to adequate levels.

    Plus, this is also the intro post that kicks off that Untitled Setting you and I have been discussing.

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