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Dark Nebula Redux

Dark Nebula 30-12-2018 by golan2072, on Flickr

I have more or less completed the Dark Nebula astrography and map after re-reading the Aslan and Droyne alien modules. In addition to completing the starports and bases for all worlds, Aslan and Dryone included, I have also added trade routes.

Note that Mizah is the only Rich world in the Dark Nebula - I have downgraded its population to 8 so that there will be one Rich world on the map. It also fits my view of Mizah as an aristocratic "Casablanca" and neutral player better than an industrial world.

Also note that the trade routes are mostly within the two main polities. These are from Industrial worlds to Asteroid, Desert, Ice-Capped, and Non-Industrial worlds within 4 parsecs from them; and from the Rich world (Mizah) to the nearby agricultural world (Gazzain). I have also connected Mizah and Gazzain to the main Solomani trade network.

You can find the world data HERE.
Dark Nebula, 2900 CE. The Rule of Man is dead for 157 years. Human - mostly Solomani - civilization persists on Maadin, far from the horrors at the Core. Now, a new force arises to challenge the nine-world Maadin Confederation. Proud aliens, hungry for land and glory. The Aslan. A mere 377 years since their invention of the Jump Drive, the young Aslan grow their empire rapidly. For centuries, their meager Jump-1 drives confined them to the Kuzu Main to the Spinward. However, in the last century, Jump-2 technology acquired from Solomani traders allowed them to expand to the Trailing as well. Thus, their thirst for land leads them into inevitable conflict with the Solomani of Maadin.

But how do these two powers organize their navies towards the coming war? One should remember that neither side has a copy of High Guard. While Classic Traveller rules lead to certain conclusions in ship design, both sides build their navies based on historical experience and societal factors. Such historical experience has much to do, in turn, with various factors outside raw Traveller ship optimization. Being untested against one another, these forces have naval doctrines which would evolve with the conflict.

The Solomani draw their naval tradition from the Interstellar wars between the nascent Terran Confederation and the Ziru Sirka. In these wars, while missile boats - a Terran innovation - played a certain role, major victories were won by massive capital ships. The concentration of battle-cruisers and battleships, alongside Terran technological advantage in Jump-3 drives, led to a decisive Solomani victory over the crumbling First Imperium. The subsequent Rule of Man faced little external conflict, while internal conflict during its collapse rarely involves large naval engagements.

Thus, the 30th century Solomani naval doctrine calls for significant investment of resources in Heavy Cruisers (Type-CR), with an eye towards the construction of Dreadnoughts. The Confederation currently possesses two Heavy Cruisers, CNV Gilgamesh and CNV Enkidu (CNV is Confederation Naval Vessel), and its first Dreadnought, CNV Inanna, is under construction at the Maadin shipyards. Other combatants are much smaller than these multi-kton monstrosities, and many are below 1000 tons - mostly frigates, small missile boats, and destroyers (the latter being in the 1000-3000 ton range). Two massive troop ships, CNV Enki and CNV Enlil, prepare for ground invasions [actual fleet composition may vary once I run through Trillion Credits Squadron data for these fleets].

The Solomani plan is to use these two main combatants in a concerted attack against Aslan naval concentrations, using an aggressive strategy aimed at destroying Aslan naval infrastructures before the aliens will have a chance to organize their forces. Maadin gambles on an all-or-nothing strategy - leaving their rear mostly unguarded while burning their way into Aslan space by superior firepower to destroy Kuzu's shipyards and thus neutralize the Aslan threat for the time being. Solomani are uninterested in conquering and occupying Aslan space itself, but plan to use this war as a pretext to annex the various independent human worlds to the Confederation, or at least render them its client-states.

Thus, the Solomani main objective is to neutralize and contain the Aslan threat, with the secondary objective being expansion into neutral human space.

The Aslan naval doctrine revolves around two factors - the fragmented nature of the Heirate and the Aslan male. Lacking a unified naval force, each major Aslan clan fields its own navy. This greatly limits Aslan ability to field Solomani-style Heavy Cruisers, at least early in the coming war. Aslan clans also have to prepare for limited, but serious, aggression by other clans, alongside preparation for war with the Solomani. This biases their naval doctrine towards a larger number of smaller ships. The Aslan male is another factor influencing alien strategy. Each Aslan male, especially high-born ones, dreams of glory among the stars - and a lion's share of prime interstellar real-estate. Aslan males love to be pilots, where their superior spatial awareness and predatory instincts shine and lead them to glory. If they cannot be pilots, they dream of being Marines, facing the enemy in honorable face-to-face personnel combat. Gunnery, another traditional male naval profession, is only a distant third in its desirability.

This leads to small ships and swarms of fighters to maximize pilot positions, alongside preparation for ground combat and boarding actions. The few major clans prepared for combat with the Solomani field a Light Carrier each (I'll import the Mothership from Imperium, which is Dark Nebula's sister-game, potentially toned down to be listed as a Light Carrier rather than a full-scale one), alongside a Troop Transport; other ships tend to be much smaller attack craft, often below 1000 tons. There are five such clans interested in war with the Solomani, leading to 5x Light Carriers and 5x Transports, alongside much smaller support and patrol craft.

The Aslan plan, if one can describe it as such, is to invade human space piecemeal: first Enjiwa, Pasar and Godoro, then Simsek and the Mizah Cluster. This would be a race between the five clans; and will potentially lead to (ritually limited) conflict between them. Invading the confederation itself is a distant objective, as there are hordes of ihatei thirsting for land who must be satisfied - this is the primary Aslan objective.

Thus, the primary Aslan objective is an interstellar land-grab, with the secondary objective being a grab for the greatest prize in the Dark Nebula - Maadin itself.
I've started designing my Desertborn (yes, I like geckos very much! :-D )


(art by H.P. Saunders)

They are a reptiloid minor race native to Rim/Dark Nebula in my quasi-OTU setting
Their native name is a series of "clicks" and chirps; in human tongues, they are named Desertborn, after their dry habitat.
Aslan have an equivalent name for them - Asoue Akaahui, meaning "Ones of the Desert" or "Desolate Ones".

Physically, they are lithe reptiloid humanoids, with fine scales and a long tail; their eyes are large and have slit pupils. Desertborn have adhesive pads on their fingers and toes, ideal for climbing desert rocks (and starship interior walls in zero-g). They bear live young.
Desertborn speak in chirps and "clicks". They can learn human or Aslan languages and speak them with a chirpy, squeaky accent. Humans and Aslan have difficulty learning the Desertborn standard tongue.

A major psychological trait Desertborn exhibit is patience. They have evolved from pouncer stock, and even as modern Desertborn they hunt from ambush. Waiting for prey and concocting elaborate plans to achieve their goals are their way of life.

When playing a Desertborn, observe first; then think; then act, and only when you see fit. Weigh your words before uttering them. Plan ahead. You are never too eager to do things. The world can wait, just like the giant insects of the homeworld. A well-laid ambush is always preferable to a foolhardy chase.
Below is the history of my Dark Nebula variant-OTU setting for Classic Traveller.

Disclaimer: The Traveller game in all forms, including the OTU (Third Imperium) setting, is owned by Far Future Enterprises. Copyright 1977 - 2014 Far Future Enterprises.
Note that this setting is strictly non-canonical, and should not be interpreted as official Canon of a violation thereof.

Ancient History
Approximately 300,000 years ago, the Dark Nebula was at the Rimward edge of Ancients space. Colonized by one of their many factions towards the end of their reign, the Nebula never saw intensive Ancients development. The Ancients colonized Karpos (Maadin 0610), with secondary sites at Changha (Maadin 0708), Salia (Maadin 0205), and Drax (Kuzu 0610). For an unclear reason, they steered clear of the Dark Nebula itself. This frontier faction of the Ancients did not posses human or canine subjects, nor did it intervene much with the evolution of the two local proto-sentient species, the Aslan and the Desertborn. The Final War of the Ancients soon followed, and their sites fell. A small population of Droyne did survive, however, on the main colony Karpos itself - despite widespread orbital bombardment.

Eons passed; the Aslan and Desertborn began using more advanced stone tools and engaging in primitive herding. A new starfaring species, however, appeared - around 12,000 BCE. Dubbed the Pyramid Builders by Solomani scholars, these star-travellers spread through space using slower-than-light sleeper-ships and generation-ships. They were, however, biochemically alien, adapted to live in what humaniti considers to be insidious atmospheres. On such hellish worlds, they built their edifices - pyramidal structures covering deep underground tunnels. These travelling carnivores brought their prey with them, seeding life in inhospitable environments. They even "terraformed" some of their worlds, namely Enjwa (Kuzu 0510), Omoro (Maadin 0402), and Irbev (Maadin 0606) - to suit their atmospheric preferences and ecosystem.

Solomani and Aslan Colonization
Narrowly escaping total nuclear war, the new Aslan Hierate - established in 2481 CE - began expanding into space in earnest. With their homeworld of Kuzu (Kuzu 0209) fully divided between Aslan clans, young Aslan ihatei - non-inheriting second sons - found an outlet for their territorial urges in space. Jump travel soon developed, as early as 2520 CE. The Aslan, however, lacked a centralized government. The Hierate was the closest they could get to having one - but each clan founded its own interplanetary and interstellar colonies. The main expansion was along the Aslan Main - with a long "tail" to the Rimward beyond the Kuzu Subsector. Limited by Jump-1 drives, for the time being, the Aslan were confined to their main, which they colonized in the usual haphazard ihatei ways. Then, the Solomani came.

The Ziru Sirka - the Vilani Grand Empire of Stars - never reached the distant Dark Nebula. Its successor-state, however - the Rule of Man - did. Aggressively expanding to the Spinward-Rimward in search of resources to feed this ailing empire, the Rule of Man set its first scout base on Maadin (Maadin 0702) in 2600 AD. Exploring this base's stellar environs yielded further colonization of the Maadin Cluster, especially the mineral-rich Mechane Belt (Maadin 0703).

Unlike the Aslan, however, the Solomani - as the Rule of Man's people were called here - had far advanced technology. Exploration and colony ships usually had Jump-2 drives, and sometimes Jump-3 ones. Able to cross significant interstellar gulfs, the Solomani soon expanded across the Maadin Subsector and into the Kuzu Subsector. Expansion, however, was slow given the limited number of ships and colonists coming from their Empire's core. Eventually, in 2641, Solomani scouts encountered the Desertborn - who by then already had an industrial civilization on their homeworld of Rim (Kuzu 0602) - and traders soon followed. By the late 27th century, the Desertborn already built their own spacecraft and began exploring and colonizing their own star-system, though their small and fragmented population base precluded rapid technological advancement and interstellar colonization.

In 2659, a misjumped Solomani scout dropped out of jump space in Kuzu orbit. While the ship was boarded and inspected by the Aslan, the scout captain, Minerva Amlaris, is forever lauded for her diplomatic skill - and besting an Aslan male in one-on-one blade against dewclaw combat, gaining the boarders' respect and allowing fruitful first contact. Soon after the scout crept back to Solomani space - carrying a female Aslan ambassador - Human traders learned of the potential of Aslan markets. Superior Solomani technology fetched a high price in Aslan space, enriching a few Human merchants, most notably the Stempfer family of Mizah. With the Rule of Man's government's notorious inefficiency, the Solomani did not prevent advanced technology with military applications from reaching Aslan hands. Soon enough, these aliens had Jump-2 capabilities and weaponry rated at TL11.

Twilight and the Accelerando
The Rule of Man was aptly named the "Ramshackle Empire". Unstable and inefficient, its collapse was inevitable. By the dawn of the 28th century, its gradual collapse led to a curious socio-technological phenomenon - the Accelerando. With little or no governmental oversight, and with rampant corruption, scientists with good connections could appropriate massive budgets to projects never even contemplated in less distressed times. Such projects grew like parasites on the Empire's dying body, creating a false spring of strange flowers - accelerated technological development along unorthodox lines.

One such project was Unit #72, initially from Maadin. Appropriating billions of desperately-needed funds, they chose five stars within the previously unexplored Dark Nebula itself as their abode, far from the prying eyes of whatever remaining Imperial authorities. There, they tried to develop technologies which will - so they claimed - save the ailing Rule of Man from its inevitable collapse - artificial intelligence, cybernetics, genetic engineering, and, especially, new technologies for interstellar travel and, theoretically speaking, communications.

The latter technology reached a place that even the great scientists of the much later civilizations were unable to replicate, but at a price. On November 3rd, 2747 CE, The Event occurred. Experimental stationary jump-transmission coils on the world known today as N3 (Maadin 0208) fired as part of a planned experiment. However, they caused an unexpected effect. In an instant, all five star-systems of the Dark Nebula were torn from their place in the Space-Time Continuum, and hurled, through space and time. For a whole year of local time - 145 years in real-space time - these systems were in limbo - disconnected from our universe. For that time, the Nebula was a dead zone - an area of space where no solid bodies could be seen, and where anomalies in the Space-Time Continuum endangered any ship entering that space.

--- Continued Below ---
The Maadin Imperium and First ihatei War
Later historians will mark 2744 CE as the beginning of the Long Night proper. 30th century Maadin, however, lists its beginning on 2780 CE, when the Last Ship from Terra arrived. It was clear, at this point, that the Solomani colonies in the Dark Nebula Sector were on their own. No communications, let alone help, would come from Terra or any other Rule of Man center. Technology slowly regressed to locally-sustainable production - rated at TL11 rather than the Rule of Man's TL12; and even that - on a few worlds. Many colonies deteriorated much farther.

In 2785 CE, citing "Continuity of Government" laws, Maadin's governor, Armando Abbas, declared himself Emperor. Using his remaining naval assets, he moved to consolidate his rule over the Maadin subsector. His success, however, in such imperial endeavor was limited. Lacking the resources of a proper empire, he met stiff resistance from various colonies. Particularly, the governor of Mizah (Maadin 0304), a prominent colony, declared himself King of Mizah and used his own naval assets to push back against Abbas' invasion.

As the dust settled, the Maadin Imperium ruled nine worlds and began rebuilding its economy and military using local resources, as did its smaller rival - Mizah. When Emperor Armando I passed away in 2812 CE, his son, Emperor Alfonso I, took the throne. In 2820 CE, Alfonso attempted to invade Mizah, starting a three-year interstellar war and ending in failure, further souring the relations between the two states. After he passed away in 2843 CE, Armando II inherited the throne. By that time, the Maadin Imperium was in decline. Corruption ran rampant; favoritism within the armed forces filled the top rank with incompetent nobles, weakening them and enraging the lower-ranking professional officers.

In 2862 CE, however, the Maadin Imperium received what would later be known as its death stroke. The Aslan ihatei, or "second sons", turned their attention to the Trailing and invaded independent colonies en masse. Within two months they controlled Pasar (Kuzu 0507), Godoro (Kuzu 0606), and Simsek (Kuzu 0505), with harsh fighting continuing on Enjiwa (Kuzu 0510). Within a year, they went as far as Salia (Maadin 0205), threatening Mizah and the Maadin Imperium directly. Faced with a common threat, Maadin and Mizah quickly signed an unease mutual defense pact and launched a counter-attack.

Fighting was bloody. While the Mizahn units showed great bravery and skill, the Maadin Navy suffered several humiliating defeats at the hands of the ihatei, losing two battle-cruisers and facing disastrous defeat in their ground invasion of Godoro. When both sides reached a cease-fire agreement, in 2866 CE, the Maadini military was in shambles and the Maadin Imperium lost its credibility in the eyes of its own citizens. The Aslan retained their conquests of Pasar, Godoro, Simsek, Astek, and Daanari and the Solomani forces retreated to lick their wounds and rebuild their navy.

Coup, Confederation, and the Second ihatei War
Failure in war bred popular discontent and unrest on Maadin and its subordinate Imperial worlds. When mass demonstration erupted in 2870 CE, Emperor Armando II ordered troops to fire on them. This was a fatal move for the Emperor. With the situation deteriorating into street fighting and wholesale slaughter of civilians, middle-ranked Naval and Marines officers declared their support for the dissidents and mutinied, killing their noble admirals and launching a coup against the Imperial state. Within three weeks, the Emperor was dead; the Military Presidium was in power.

The Presidium - a seven-member "head of state" - then moved to re-consolidate the former Maadin Imperium into the Maadin Confederation. The limited rate of communication, even over such small distances, prevented full centralization and allowed local governments to replace the old Planetary Archdukes of Imperial times. Maadin and the Military Presidium, however, held much power compared to the other colonies.

The highly popular Presidium abolished noble titles and established a republicanist, if militarized and authoritarian, regime. In the 2870's, its priority, however, was military reconstruction to compensate for the losses in the First ihatei War. Taxation was heavy, as it still is thirty years later, to support naval construction. The Confederation christened its first Heavy Cruiser, CNV Gilgamesh, in 2874, alongside a fleet of lighter patrol craft. The first Heavy (Division) Troop Transport, CNV Baal, left the shipyard in 2875. Despite heavy taxation, the "clean" and competent image of the new administration and its dedication to restoring Maadin's military might maintained its popularity among the civilian population and military ranks.

In 2882, however, the Aslan tested the Confederation's mettle in battle, and tasted its renewed military vigor. Launching a massed attack on Hasara (Kuzu 0804), Taanga (Maadin 0105), and Salia (Maadin 0205), the ihatei swarmed into Human space, threatening Mizah and declaring the aim of conquering the Confederation as well. A very reluctant alliance with Mizah saw the Confederate fleet, bolstered by Mizahn squadrons, launch a counter-attack, pushing the Aslan back to Daanari. By 2884, Aslan lines collapsed under the combined Human attack, liberating Pasar, Godoro, Simsek, Astek, and Daanari and forcing back the Aslan to old Hierate space - at a stiff cost to Solomani military assets. Signing a ceasefire in 2885, the Aslan agreed to relinquish their former conquests in return for the Solomani forces' retreat to Mizah and the Confederation - far from the Aslan border.

Present Day and the Return of the Nebula
Following the Second ihatei War, the Confederation engages in massive military construction. Militaristic and authoritarian, it wishes to exert its will across the two subsectors, and openly declares so. Meanwhile, a new generation of non-inheriting Aslan males are itching to grab new lands - and the Confederation and its rival/ally of Mizah stands in their way. While the Military Presidium enjoys great popularity thanks to its success in the War, taxation is high to finance military development, and the population begins to chafe under this burden. Rivalry with Mizah is also brewing, with the more radical members of the Presidium dreaming annexing it to the Confederation, though another Aslan war will force yet another alliance with such rivals.

In August 2892 CE, suddenly the N4 star of the Dark Nebula appeared on the horizons of Taida Na, re-lighting the old cloud. By the present days of 2900 CE, these stars appeared in the skies of Osa, Salia, and Kov as well. Soon enough, rumors have reached both Solomani and Aslan ears that the worlds of the Nebula, hinted upon in legend, are back. And now, their technological treasures are ripe to the plucking. Or so the Solomani and Aslan think...

The year is 2900 CE. At the dawn of the 30th century, the Hierate and Confederation rattle their sabres. This time, both powers aim to establish dominance over the two subsectors once and for all. War is inevitable. Soon enough, the secrets to be revealed in the returned Dark Nebula will threaten to tip the balance towards whoever exploits them back. The Nebula, however, will not yield its secrets so easily...
I've been thinking about Dark Nebula recently.

Each game is played on a random map - space itself it rearranged between games - so which one is canon?

Here's a thought - within the Dark Nebula, the secret alien repository of knowledge contains one final 'gift'...

T5 reality manipulation technology.

The artifact continuously remakes the galaxy within this sector...