First, go to The Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy and read the entry "FUTURE HISTORY". The read the TV Trope's Standard Sci-Fi History (you might also want to read the TV Trope's Standard Sci-Fi Setting. Hackneyed, formulaic, derivative, and space opera; but very common).
Also check out this website's historical timeline of (mostly) real world events.
The 1950's flavored future history below is sort of an amalgam of Donald A. Wollheim's "Consensus Cosmogony", TV Trope's Standard Sci-Fi History, and my own memories of reading 1960's era science fiction.
Novels that cover several of the following stages include THE REDISCOVERY OF MAN by Cordwainer Smith, BIRTHRIGHT: THE BOOK OF MAN by Mike Resnick, and the anthologies GALACTIC EMPIRES vol. 1 and vol. 2 edited by Brian Aldiss.
Initial voyages to Luna and the planets of the solar system. Stories of the first efforts to set up terrestrial bases on the planets. Stories of the first colonies on such worlds, their problems internal and external, their conflicts with the parent world (maybe even a war of independence), interplanetary commerce, spaceship trade lanes, space pirates, asteroid mining, the weird wonders of the Outer Planets.
Examples: TALES OF KNOWN SPACE by Larry Niven, SPACE CADET, FARMER IN THE SKY, THE ROLLING STONES, THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, PODKAYNE OF MARS, BETWEEN PLANETS, "Logic of Empire" by Robert Heinlein, SPACE DOCTOR by Lee Corey, HIGH JUSTICE, EXILES TO GLORY, "Tinker" by Jerry Pournelle, LIFEBOAT aka DARK INFERNO by James White, SCAVENGERS IN SPACE by Alan E. Nourse, THE MARTIAN WAY by Isaac Asimov, HIGHER EDUCATION by Pournelle and Sheffield, ISLANDS IN THE SKY, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SKY by Arthur C. Clarke.
First interstellar flights. Starships that must travel centuries and contain generations descended from the original crews. Other planets of other stars. Contact with Terra is difficult at best. Lost colonies are typically founded during this era. Ben Bova calls this the "Marco Polo" stage of interstellar contact: adventure, strange tales, and artifacts. But no lasting political relations (for better or worse) with the neighbors.
Examples: TAU ZERO by Poul Anderson, ORPHANS OF THE SKY, TIME FOR THE STARS by Robert Heinlein, THE STARS ARE OURS by Andre Norton, THE OUTCASTS OF HEAVEN'S BELT by Joan Vinge, THE SONGS OF DISTANT EARTH and RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA by Arthur C. Clarke.
Forrest J. Ackerman calls it "atomigeddon". Widespread nuclear death on Terra. Fall of civilization. Mutants. Political map is wiped clean, most or all modern day nations are gone. Sometimes remote and marginal cultures will expand and take over the world, because they happen to be located far away from where the nukes fell. Eventual recovery.
Examples: A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ by Walter Miller, LOT and LOT'S DAUGHTER by Ward Moore, DAVY and STILL I PERSIST IN WONDERING by Edgar Pangborn, the Hiero Desteen series by Sterling Lanier, VAULT OF AGES by Poul Anderson, DAYBREAK - 2250 A.D. aka STAR MAN'S SON by Andre Norton.
First Contact, followed by second, third, fourth, and nth contact. Intelligences on extra-solar planets and our problems with them or against them. What happens depends upon whether the aliens technology level is lower, the same, or greater than humanity. And whether the aliens are friendly or hostile. Things can range from alien invasions to humans playing star-god with primitive aliens. There might be a Prime Directive imposed on human explorers.
Examples: THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE by Niven and Pournelle, "First Contact" by Murray Leinster.
Human colonies on other solar systems. Contact with Mother Terra, independence or dependence. Commerce: exploitation or otherwise. Go to The Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy and read the entry "COLONIZATION".
Examples: THE STARS LIKE DUST by Isaac Asimov, THE STAR FOX and THE ENEMY STARS by Poul Anderson, THE SEEDLING STARS by James Blish, REVOLT ON ALPHA-C by Robert Silverberg, the Med Service series by Murray Leinster, THE GREAT EXPLOSION by Eric Frank Russell, the Humanx Commonwealth series by Alan Dean Foster.
The history can go through the Cycle of Empires one or more times.
The rise of contact and commerce between many human-colonized worlds or many worlds of alien intelligences that have come to trust and do business with one another. For whatever reason the indepenent human and/or alien worlds unite. This can be for common defense, cultural reasons, economic reasons, or by conquest. The problem of mutual relations and the solution, usually in the form of treaties or defensive alliances. Implacable aliens in the cosmos who must be fought. The need for defense. The rise of industrial or financial or political powers, the eventual triumph of one and the establishment of a federation, a union, an alliance, or an autocratic empire of worlds, dominated usually from Old Terra.
The TV Trope is "Rising Empire".
Examples: the Trantorian Empire novels of Isaac Asimov, the Nicholas Van Rijn novels of Poul Anderson, THE HELMSMAN by Bill Baldwin, CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY by Robert Heinlein, THE WITCHES OF KARRES by James Schmitz, THE REDISCOVERY OF MAN by Cordwainer Smith, BIRTHRIGHT: THE BOOK OF MAN by Mike Resnick.
Commerce between worlds an established fact, and adventures while dealing with worlds in and out of the Empire. The Pax Galactica reigns — a long period of peace and prosperity (at least on the surface). Technology is highly advanced. Civilization at it apex. During the Dark Ages, people will look back to this time as the Golden Age. The farthest planets, those of the Galactic Rim, considered as mavericks. The problem of aliens again outside the Empire, and outside our own galaxy. Politics within the government setup, intrigues, and dynasties, robotic mentalities versus human mentalities. Terraforming worlds for colonization. The exploration of the rest of the galaxy by official exploration ships (from the Survey Service), or adventurers, or commercial pioneers. Authors tend to avoid writing stories set in this period because it is very boring.
This period varies depending upon the iteration, whether this is the First, Second, or latter Galactic Empire. The first is the most optimistic period. The Second Empire is generally wiser and more benevolent, but is also aware that empires can fall. In the Golden Age, the Second Empire was often also the Final Empire. Third and later empires are essentially the same setting as the Second Empire, but the higher number serves to imply an old galaxy, not locked in stasis.
Examples: The Lensman series by E.E. "Doc" Smith, FEDERATION by H. Beam Piper, the Commodore Grimes series by A. Bertram Chandler, the Sector General novels by James White, THE REDISCOVERY OF MAN by Cordwainer Smith, BIRTHRIGHT: THE BOOK OF MAN by Mike Resnick, the "First Empire" mentioned as background in THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE by Niven and Pournelle.
If this period doesn't turn out to be the Final Empire, eventually the edifice begins to crack, leading to:
Empire begins to decay. Intrigue and palace revolt. Breakaway planets. The alliance of worlds strained beyond its limits by rebellion, alien wars, decadence, corruption, scientific inability to keep up with internal or external problems. The rise of restless subject worlds. Outer provinces begin to revolt. Rim barbarians begin to invade. Decline, then loss of contact with farthest worlds, crumbling of commerce, failure of space lanes, distrust, finally worlds withdrawing into themselves as the empire/alliance/federation/union becomes an empty shell or is destroyed at its heart. Since Isaac Asimov showed the way, this period will resemble Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Go to The Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy and read the entry "FALL OF EMPIRE".
Examples: the Foundation novels of Isaac Asimov, THE LAST PLANET aka STAR RANGERS by Andre Norton, the Dominic Flandry novels of Poul Anderson, THE COSMIC COMPUTER aka JUNKYARD PLANET by H. Beam Piper, GALACTIC DERELICT by Andre Norton, THE REDISCOVERY OF MAN by Cordwainer Smith, BIRTHRIGHT: THE BOOK OF MAN by Mike Resnick.
"The Long Night." Worlds reverting to pre spaceflight conditions, savagery, barbarism, primitive forms of life, superstition. Worlds taking to barbarian raids on defenseless isolated planets, hastening the downfall of knowledge. Interstellar trade and communication fails. Knowledge and technology is lost. Fragments of spaceflight, fragments of empire, some starships, some efforts to revive. Rise of petty wars and kingdoms. Thousands of years of loss of contact. Humanity in this period becomes indigenous to most of the habitable planets of the galaxy, forgetting origins. Evolutionary changes may take place. Alteration of form to fit differing world conditions — giant men, tiny men, water-dwelling men, flying men, mutations. Rairly this can end with the extinction of humanity. Go to The Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy and read the entry "INTERREGNUM".
Examples: EARTHBLOOD by Keith Laumer, SPACE VIKING by H. Beam Piper, THE REDISCOVERY OF MAN by Cordwainer Smith, THE ARMAGEDDON INHERITANCE by David Weber, the Interstellar Empire novels of John Brunner.
Rebirth of civilization. Interstellar trade and communications resume, and the seeds of a new Empire are planted. This step might be an overwhelming problem, because resource-wise you've got just one shot.
Examples: "Starfog" and "The Star Plunderer" by Poul Anderson.
From here, the history can circle round back to 7A: Formation of Empire. Otherwise, it leads up to:
Restoration of commerce between worlds. The reexploration of lost and uncontacted worlds and the bringing them back to high-technology, democratic levels. The efforts to establish trade between human worlds that no longer seem kin. Beating down new efforts to form empires, efforts which sometimes succeed and revert to approximations of the previous period, with similar results. Eventual rise of galactic harmony among intelligences. The exploration of other galaxies and of the entire universe.
Examples: THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE by Niven and Pournelle, "Herbig-Haro" by Harry Turtledove, EMPIRE by H. Beam Piper, WARLORD by S.M. Stirling and David Drake.
Everybody wears togas. Galactic harmony and an undreamed of high level of knowledge leads to experiments in creation, to harmony between galactic clusters, and possible exploration of the other dimensions of existence. The effort to match Creation and to solve the last secrets of the universe. Sometimes seeking out and confronting the Creative Force or First Cause itself, sometimes merging with it. The end of the universe, the end of time, the beginning of a new universe or a new space-time continuum. Humanity ascends to a higher plane of existence or mysteriously vanishes/goes extinct.
Examples: LAST AND FIRST MEN and STAR MAKER by Olaf Stapledon, THE CITY AND THE STARS by Arthur C. Clarke.
The following is some suggested reading on the topic of predicting enough broad historical trends that can be used to manufacture your future history. In the following, the term "Psychohistory" refers to the fictional science created by Isaac Asimov in his Foundation trilogy, not the modern Psychohistory. "Cliology" is a variant on Asimovian Psychohistory.
If you are trying to write your own future history, legendary SF author Isaac Asimov shows the way. He took the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, filed off the serial numbers, replaced "Roman Empire" with "Galactic Empire", and thus wrote the Foundation Trilogy. (I jest. Asimov did much more than that. Asimov is one of the giants of science fiction and his Foundation trilogy is rightly considered to be one of the best SF series ever written, period.)
Noted SF author Ken MacLeod said "History is the trade secret of science fiction." Keep in mind that you do not have to copy the historical record slavishly, even real history doesn't do that. It has been said it is not quite true that "history repeats itself", more like "historical situations reoccur." More flippantly John Colombo said "History never repeats itself but it rhymes."
This is yet another example of RocketCat's observation on science-fiction worldbuilding: "Everything Old Is New Again."
Also remember the old bromide: "Truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to make sense."
Asimov had another useful innovation in his Foundation trilogy. Part of the background of the first couple of stories was that the Foundation was going to create an "Encyclopedia Galactica" containing the knowledge of the day. So as an author, when Asimov was going to write a new story set in the series, he could get the reader up to speed by giving them a fictious Encyclopedia article from the even further in the future. This gave the reader "Cliff Notes" on the situation, and what had happened in prior volumes of the saga. This was much easier than that tired old method of one character starting an idiot lecture with "So Tell Me, Professor…" and burying the reader under an indigestible infodump disgused as dialog.
If you want to use Rome as a model for your galactic empire but find Gibbon's Decline and Fall a little overwhelming, there is always the Complete Idiot's Guide to the Roman Empire. If you want something in between, try The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire by Edward Luttwak. For a "crossover" science fictional history, read here. And go to The Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy and read the entry "COSMIC BACKGROUND HISTORY".
You can use other sources than history. Glen Cook's marvelous novel SHADOWLINE is a re-telling of Norse mythology. Only instead of Norse gods, it is about futuristic mercenary companies. The mercenary leader Storm is an Odin figure, sending two telepathic flying lizards around to spy in the same way Odin sent Huginn and Muninn. He has robot drone aircraft flying around various battlefields. If they spot some soldier who is valiant, when the soldier is killed the drones swoop down and carry off the body. The soldier is brought back to life by advanced medical techology and given the opportunity to enlist with Storm's mercenary legion, to fight and be reborn forever. This parallels the Norse tales of Valkyries and the undying warriors of Valhalla.
If you want a slightly more scientific method, you could take a stab at simulating future history.
For a good overview of the history of the world in 48 pages, try David Maurer's Explanation of history. If you read the section on Aristocrat Tribal Societies, you will find a plausible explanation of the psychology of the Klingon Empire.
Maurer covers the economic stages a nation goes through, with each stage boiling down to a new answer to the problem of "where is the food going to come from?"
When getting down to basics, remember that the word Lord comes from the Old English word hlaford, which was derived from the Old English hlafweard. The word hlaf means "bread" or "loaf" and weard means "keeper" or "guardian", so Lord means "Keeper of the food". You give your allegiance to your lord because he's the one who gives you food. Meanwhile Lady come from the Old English word hlæfdige. -Dige means "maid", and is derived from dæge or "maker of dough."
In other words, the Lord brings home the bacon, and the Lady cooks it. And the Lord's men are loyal because he feeds them.
Science fiction authors who just don't know when to quit may create elaborate future histories of alien races. As a general rule authors do not take on such extra work unless the history is the focus of the entire novel.
The Thalassians evolved from amphibians. They rely upon gods and magic to guide their thinking, and develop an authoritarian totalitarian state.
The Hetairians evolved from felines. They rely upon logic and reasoning to guide their thinking, and develop an anarchic group of decentralized clans.
Of course, when first contact happens, they both conclude that the other race is utterly evil. A reader of suspicious mind would suspect the authors were writing an allegory about the Cold War.
This section is about the theory that civilizations and cultures undergo well defined steps in their lifetime. This theory is somewhat controversial as you can imagine. However, it comes in real handy for a science fiction author trying to craft a future history. Just fill in the outline with the names of your galactic empires.
Be sure to see the Cyclical Governments section of the Interstellar Empire page. That is concerned with multiple cycles of difference government types a given culture may go through during its lifetime.
Novel that have a background of cyclical history include The Last Planet AKA Star Rangers by Andre Norton, the Cities in Flight novels of James Blish, Birthright: The Book of Man by Mike Resnick, Macroscope by Piers Anthony, the Childe Cycle novels of Gordon Dickson, the Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, the LaNague Federation novels of F. Paul Wilson, the Polesotechnic novels by Poul Anderson, and of course the Foundation trilogy (with the prequels The Stars Like Dust, The Currents of Space, and Pebble in the Sky) by Isaac Asimov.
The old bromide is that history never repeats itself, but sometimes it rhymes.
“Well. I’ve got a job for you if you want it. I’ve been studying it ever since it was first mentioned to me, and all I can say is, it serves you right.”
Chris swallowed again. The Mayor studied the cigar judiciously.
“It calls for a very odd combination of skills and character traits. Taking the latter first, it needs initiative, boldness, imagination, a willingness to improvise and take short-cuts, and an ability to see the whole of a complex situation at a glance. But at the same time, it needs conservative instincts, so that even the boldest ideas and acts tend to be those that save men, materials, time, money. What class of jobs does that make you think of so far?”
“MILITARY GENERAL OFFICERS,” the City Fathers promptly announced.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” Amalfi growled. He was plainly irritated, but it seemed to Chris an old irritation, almost a routine one. “Chris?”
“Well, sir, they’re right, of course. I might even have thought of it myself, though I can’t swear to it. At least all the great generals follow that pattern.”
“Okay. As for the skills, a lot of them are required, but only one is cardinal. The man has got to be a first-class cultural morphologist.”
Chris recognized the term, from his force feeding in Spengler. It denoted a scholar who could look at any culture at any stage in its development, relate to it all other cultures at similar stages, and come up with specific predictions of how these people would react to a given proposal or event. It surely wouldn’t be a skill a general would ever be likely to have a use for, even if he had the time to develop it.
“You’ve got the character traits, that’s plain to see—including the predisposition toward the skill. Most Okies have that, but in nowhere near the degree you seem to. The skill itself, of course, can only emerge with time and practice…but you’ll have lots of time. The City Fathers say five years’ probation.
“As for the city, we never had such a job on the roster before, but a study of Scranton and some more successful towns convinces us that we need it. Will you take it?”
Chris’s head was whirling with a wild, humming mixture of pride and bafflement. “Excuse me, Mr. Mayor—but just what is it?”
(ed note: In his epic series Cities In Flight, James Blish based his future history on the theories of Oswald Spengler's book The Decline of the West and its civilization model. Spengler's thesis is that civilizations and cultures go through well defined stages in their life-cycle. This is obviously a big help to the SF author trying to create the history of the future.
In the appendix to the omnibus volume of Cities in Flight, Leland Sapiro has a short essay outlining Spenglerian theory, and includes a chart of the stages of the life-cycle of a civilization (it also mentions how incredibly difficult it is to make a chart like this). It illustrates the stages with example from the cultures of ancient Greece, Arabia, Western, and Blish's "Earthmanist". (the latter stages of Western culture are also fictional ones from Blish, since Western culture hasn't collapsed yet. Or at least not that I've noticed.) Fictional entries are in brown text.)
Epochs Divided into Periods
P=political; A=art; R=religio-philosophic; M=mathematical
Period The Classical Culture The Arabian Culture The Western Culture The Earthmanist Culture Pre-Cultural Period
Tribes and their chiefs; no politics, no State. Chaos of primitive expression forms.
Mycenean Age, "Agamemnon"
Frankish Period, Charlemagne
Vegan-War Period Admiral Hrunta
Culture. Early Period. 1100-650 0-500 900-1500 2464-3111 P1. Formation of Feudal Order 1100-750 0-400 900-1254 2464-3089 R1. Spiritual Spring: the Priestly Myth Demeter cult Primitive Christianity German Catholicism Hruntanism R1. Spiritual Spring: the Military Myth Trojan War Gospels, Apocalypses Siegfried, Arthur Vegan-War Myth A1. Early forms, rural, unconsciously shaped Doric The cupola Gothic - R2. Mystical-metaphysical shaping of Myth Cosmogonies Patristic literature Scholasticism - P2. Breakdown of Feudal Order: The Interregnum 750-650 400-500 1254-1500 3089-3111 R3. Spiritual Summer: the Reformation Orphism, et al. Monophysitism, et al. Huss- Luther- Loyola Arpad Hrunta A2. Exhaustion of possibilities in Early forms Late Doric Proto-Arabesque Early Renaissance - Culture. Late Period. 630-300 500-800 1500-1815 3111-3925 P3. Formation of a World of Aristocratic States 650-487 500-661 1500-1660 3111-3602 R4. First purely philosophical world views Pre-Socratics In Jewish literature Galileo, Bacon - M1. Formation of a new Mathematic Geometry Algebra Analysis Matrix mathematics A3. Mature art forms, urban and conscious Ionic Zenith of mosaic art Baroque - R5. Puritanism; opposition to rising absolutism Pythagoras Mohammed Cromwell; the Fronde The Duchy of Gort P4. Climax of the State-Form ("Absolutism"):
Aristocracy held in check by alliance of King (or Tyrant) with Bourgeoisie
Age of Themistocles and Pericles
The Omayyad Caliphate
The Ancient Regime
Earth and Okies vs. Colonials
R6. Spiritual Autumn: the Enlightenment Socrates The Mutazilites Locke, Rousseau - A4. Intellectualization of Mature art forms Myron, Phidias Arabesque Rococo - M2. Zenith of mathematical thought Conic sections Spherical trigonometry The infinitesimal - R7. The Great Conclusive System: Mystic Plato Alfarabi Goethe, Hegel - R7. The Great Conclusive System: Scholastic Aristotle Avicenna Kant - P5. Revolution and Napoleonism
Bourgeoisie against alliance of King (or Tyrant) and Aristocracy; victory of Money over Blood.
Partisans of Philip; Alexander
The Kufans; the first Abbassids.
Okies vs. Earth and Colonials.
A5. Exhaustion and dissolution of Mature forms Corinthian "Moorish" art Romanticism - Civilization and Spiritual Winter 300-0-300 800-1400 1815-2522 3976-4104 P6. Transition from Napoleonism to Caesarism
The Period of Contending States; dominance of Money ("Democracy").
From Alexanderism to Caesarism.
From Caliphate to Sultanate.
From Napoleonism toMacHineryism.
In Cloud 3998-4104
New York vs. IMT; Jorn vs. New York
R8. Materialism (science, utility, prosperity) The Cynics Brethren of Sincerity Comte, Darwin, Marx The Stochastics R9. Ethical-social ideals replacing religion Epicurus, Zeno Movements in Islam Schopenhauer, et al. - M3. Mathematics: the concluding thought Archimedes Al-Biruni Riemann - R10. Spread of final world sentiment Roman Stoicism Practical Fatalism Ethical Socialism - A6. Art problems; craft art Hellenistic art Spanish-Sicilian art Modern art - P7. Caesarism
Victory of force-politics over Money; decay of the nations into a formless population, soon made into an imperium of gradually increasing crudity of despotism.
Sulla, Caesar Tiberius, up to Domitian.
The Seljuk Sultanate.
MacHinery and Erdsenov; rise to full power of Bureaucratic State.
The Triumph of Time Over Space
A7. Artificial, archaic, exotic art forms. Roman art "Oriental" art - Rll. Second Religiousness (in the masses only) Syncretism Syncretic Islam Adventism; Witnesses P8. THE FINAL POLITICAL FORM
The world as spoil. Gradual enfeeblement of imperial machinery against raiders and conquerors. Primitive human conditions thrusting up into the highly civilized mode of living.
Full power of the Empire, then disintegration in the West.
Rise-fall of the Ilkhanate; rise of Ottoman Turks under whom the moribund culture endures to 1920.
Full power; then decline and fall of Bureaucratic State.
A8. Fixed forms, giganticism, imperial display Triumphal arch Gigantic buildings The Jupiter Bridge The Aftermath After 284
Arabinization in the East.
Westernization of the Arabian lands and entire world.
Galaxy proper conquered by Web of Hercules.
(ed note: Leland Sapiro's chart was used in the classic computer game Omnitrend's Universe. ( here, here, here, here, here, here ). It was used to classify the cultural level of each planet. It determined the types of products that were illegal to import. The stages are based on James Blish's chart, which was the only example of such stages back then.)
Omnitrend's Universe. Appendix G: Cultural List
A Guide To Cultural Epochs
Since the latter part of the Nineteenth Century [Common Era], historians have been dividing cultures into "epochs." Epochs are the turning points in the history of a culture. For example, the rise of George Louis I was a new epoch in New Europe culture.
All the cultures in the Local Group have undergone a careful examination and classification by the Janet Leader Foundation on Arbest. These classification codes help the traveler to determine what the import and immigration restrictions are.
Code Epoch Description Accept Immigrants Illegal Product Types 1 Pre-Cultural Clans, tribes, no politics. A chaos of primitive expression. Yes [none] 2 Fuedalism Rural art, naturally shaped. Warriors and Priests in power. No ARTI, EDUC, INFO 3 Breakdown of Fuedalism Exhaustion of early art forms, the Reformation. Yes ARTI, NARC, ENTR, PERS, JEWL 4 Formation of Aristocratic States Mature art, new forms of math, philosophical world views and puritanical religions opposed to growing absolutism. No ARTI, EDUC, NARC, PERS, JEWL, FURN, CLTH, FOOD 5 Absolutism Aristocracy held in check by King/Tyrant with Bourgeoise. The zenith of mathematical thought, intellectualization of art, the great conclusive systems of thought. Yes WEAP 6 Revolution and Napoleonism Bourgoise against alliance of King/Tyrant and Aristocracy. The Victory of Money over Blood. Exhaustion of art forms. No EDUC, TRANS, INFO, WEAP 7 Transition from Napoleonism to Caesarism The epoch of Contending States. Dominance of Money ("Democracy"). Rational social ethics replace Religion. Final world sentiment. Conceptual art. Final Thought in Mathematics. Yes NARC, SLAV, BOGU 8 Caesarism Victory of Force-Politics over Money. The decay of nations into a formless mass, soon to be made into an imperium of gradually increasing despotism. Archaic, exotic art. No EDUC, WEAP, BOGU 9 Final Political Form The world as a spoil. Primitive human conditions thrusting up into the highly civilized mode of living. No [none]
ARTI - artifact; BOGU - bogus items; CLTH - clothing; EDUC - educational materials; ENTR - entertainment; FOOD - food; FURN - furniture; INFO - information; JEWL - jewelry; NARC - narcotics; PERS - personal items; SLAV - slaves; TRANS - transportation; WEAP - weapon
In science fiction the fall into the long night can be a dull slow decline into decadence and decay. However, more commonly it comes about due to exciting savage wars to seize the galactic crown or exciting savage wars as galactic sector governors try to split their fiefdom off into a separate pocket empire. Or both. As the empire weakens the space barbarians in their longboat starships at the rim of the galaxy invade the outer provinces. Barbarians raid defenseless isolated planets. Interstellar trade and communication fails, knowledge is lost, high-tech equipment becomes useless because nobody knows how to repair it anymore. Countless petty wars and tiny kingdoms. The few remaining bits of high-tech that still work become more and more precious. Low-tech items become more common, such as swords. Science is lost, superstition increases, priceless paintings are used as toilet paper. There is a markéd increase in Machiavellianism, barbarian savagery, and general bad manners.
(ed note: HARD TIMES is what they call a "sourcebook" for the role playing game Megatraveller. What this means is not only does it have game-specific "scenarios" that we don't care about, but also includes details about the background and worldbuilding which are definitely relevant to our interests. In particular it shows the step-by-step process of the galactic empire decay, due to how many organizations depend upon each other for survival. For the want of a nail and all that. If your business is built on just-in-time manufacturing, this is a death warrant.
Hard Times author Dr. Gannon has been a subject matter expert for the Pentagon, Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy (CNO/SSG and ONR), NATO, DARPA, NRO, DHS, NASA, and several other organizations with which he signed many a NDAs.
In Hard Times, the cause of the Traveller Third Imperium's decline and fall is a civil war, instigated with the assasination of Emperor Strephon and his immediate heir. The current self-crowned emperor, Strephon's mentally unstable nephew Lucan, made things much worse by being a psychotic bastard. As the war drags on Lucan becomes more and more hysterical, and resorts to even more horrific war crimes.)I don't remember when it all started to change, when each starport looked a little more rundown than the last, when starships became fewer and farther between. It was sometime after 1120. What I do remember is we finally turned our backs on the Core and charted a course for the Frontier by late 1124.
But there was no Frontier remote enough to remain unaffected by the tides of war or its destructive eddies. Instead of the increasing paranoia, insularity and authoritarian mindset of the Core, we found the Outlands full of dying backwater planets.
From The Memoirs of Trevor Scotius (a pseudonym), starmerc/merchant captain
BACKGROUNDThe Rebellion has wrecked the Imperium as a unified political entity. However, as is often the case with wreckage, some of the remaining pieces are larger than others. Hard Times portrays this 'new" incarnation of the Imperium-a collection of separate interstellar states surrounded by blasted, abandoned battlefields.
The interstellar states are centered on the areas still controlled by each of the respective factions of the Rebellion. For the most part, these power centers were untouched by the depredations of war. With their industrial and population centers intact, these safe areas carry on in an essentially pre-Rebellion fashion.
The regions beyond these cores of safety have a different story to tell. The Frontier around the Safes were aided and supplied by their allied factions. Thus they managed to retain much of their technology and industry despite being repeatedly visited by combat.
Beyond the Frontiers are the starkest tragedies of the Rebellion. These no man's lands, trapped between gigantic warring factions, bore the brunt of the savage war that raged across the former heart of Imperial civilization and culture. The ruin visited on them was not relieved by outside aid. Industries, technologies and societies staggered, stumbled and fell.
Tragically, these regions can be further divided into areas of real suffering, the Outlands, and areas of abject misery, the Wilds. While the Outlands were simply abandoned by retreating factions, the Wilds were additionally brutalized by repeated, agonizing combat.
These four environments—Safe, Frontier, Outland and Wild—now constitute the terrain of the new Imperium. The first type does not differ radically from pre-Rebellion Imperial society and is not dealt with here. However, the last three are new environments within the MegaTraveller universe. They offer fresh possibilities for adventure and for a flavor unique to the period presented in Hard Times.
Part I, year 1122 to 1125 (Background)I guess it was around 1125 when it really started sinking in that the Imperium was gone. You notice things like that because people start using new labels for things, like "Third Imperium." Yeah, I know it was supposedly already called the Third Imperium, but not by regular people. While we were living in it, it was always the Imperium, you know? Who cared about any others.The carnage wrought by several years of warfare has only set in motion forces that will continue to tear down worlds that never heard a shot fired in anger.
So when people started talking about the Third Imperium, you knew all of a sudden it was over. It had been consigned to history, along with all of those other things and people with numbers stuck to them. And then you think, well what do we call ourselves now? Everybody'd been talking about how hard times were, how it takes hard times to find out what you're made of, and how you should be thankful for what you've got in such hard times. Eventually someone just started using a capital "H"and a capital "T." Who knows what they'll call it 100 years from now, but right now, "Hard Times"seems pretty accurate.
From the unfinished manuscript Oral History of the Interregnum, edited by Dr. Terkel Hadushiggar, ca. 1129.
The unified Imperial economy has been dealt a mortal wound. And while it is true that a rising tide raises all boats, it is time to learn the reverse is also true: An ebbing tide lowers all boats and leaves a great many of them stranded on the rocks.
Worlds are dying, but different worlds die at different rates. Some die quickly and painfully, while others die slowly in absolute agony. Either way, the human cost is staggering. But extraordinary people—otherwise referred to as player characters (the people who are playing the Traveller RPG game)— can sometimes mitigate these effects. Sometimes they can slow them down enough to allow some of the innocents to escape. And sometimes by weighing in with their talents and determination, they can tip the scales from death to life, if that is their intent.
Make no mistake, in the post-Rebellion environment there are forces of darkness and of light, and the PCs can be agents of either. Which they will be, and how much impact their acts will have, are the questions treated in Hard Times
Road to Hard TimesThe Third Imperium is predominantly noted for being the first empire in which two branches of humanity held the reigns of power conjointly (it is a long story but the Vilani are descendants of Terran human primitives transplanted to other worlds 300,000 years ago by an ancient alien race). It is also noteworthy for the unique blend of conservatism and vitality which this sharing of power produced.
The Solomani ("Sol men", i.e., people from Terra) tendency toward innovation and conquest was tempered by the traditional Vilani values of restraint and caution.
As a result, the Third Imperium achieved an impressive balance between expansion and consolidation, international vigor and domestic security. However, despite the longevity of the Third Imperium and its many noteworthy achievements, it is perhaps best remembered for its fragile governmental structure and its final, tragic disintegration.
From Imperial Stars: A History of Three Imperiums by hu-Tugul Ackerson
PASSING OF AN AGEAftermaths are inevitably longer than the wars that cause them. And the aftermath of the War of the Rebellion is no exception.
Hard Times begins in 1125 (about 5,643 CE). The fighting is effectively over: The combatants are too drained to mount the massive campaigns that characterized the first five years of the Rebellion. The factions are now facing the reality of long-term independence and a new political order—but the actual condition of most of the former Imperium continues to worsen.
Even after the last great fleet actions of 1121, the factions continued to hammer away at each other with what force they had left. However, limited resources dictated warfare to devolve into banditry, surgical strikes and terrorism. Resources, which could not be secured for future use were destroyed in order to deny them to the enemy. The space lanes became too dangerous to travel. Trade continued to shrivel up. Contact and communication died away to an intermittent trickle. Most planetary economies retracted; others imploded. Populations decreased; governments grew oppressive; and pirates thrived.
This outcome was not what most military or economic experts forecast. Each faction’s chief analysts had predicted that the Rebellion would be resolved in five years, six at the most. They predicted minimal civilian casualties, with acceptable levels of damage to industry and commerce. Encouraged by the comparatively positive tone of these predictions, many faction leaders imagined that a sharp military victory would crush the will and organization of the adversary, and the Rebellion would be over.
But as 001-1125 (day one of year 1125) dawned on Capitol—eight and a half years after the hostilities began—it was quite clear the experts were wrong. Only a very few intelligence agencies and megacorporations had accurately foreseen the outcome of the conflict, an outcome they referred to hopefully as the Short Dusk (insted of the dreaded "Long Night"). But to the sophont in the street, it was simply the beginning of Hard Times.
ANALYTICAL ERRORS OF 1116By the end of 1116, the majority of experts had already made the crucial mistake that ruined their projections regarding the outcome of the Rebellion. This tragic flaw was inherent in their very first theoretical assumption—that the Civil War of 604-622 was an appropriate historical model for the upcoming events of the Rebellion. Although such a mistake is understandable—the Civil War of 604-622 being the Third Imperium’s only prior experience with internal strife—the experts couldn’t have been more in error when they selected it as an example. The Civil War of 604-622 was not a civil war at all. It was a series of military coups, with minimal civilian involvement. During that conflict, the political infrastructure of the Imperium attempted to detach itself from the fierce struggles between the military kingpins who collected around Core in pursuit of the Iridium Throne. The admirals held no public loyalty, held no right to specific territories and held no claim to the Iridium Throne other than their willingness to kill to obtain it. In contrast, the legitimate organs of state continued to operate without interruption: The Imperial bureaucracy continued with business as usual, administering the affairs of the Third Imperium while the admirals fought over who would ultimately rule.
Since no admiral had a clear political or ancestral claim to any given region, all were outsiders to every planet and system they visited. Those few admirals who attempted to impose themselves as local rulers quickly became quagmired in the difficulties posed by regional resistance. They found that battlewagons were easier to smash than labor strikes and planetary assaults were simpler to defeat than protest marches. Inevitably, the admirals always gave up empire-building in favor of empire-stealing. After all, if they won, they wouldn’t need to build an empire—they could simply claim the extant one as the spoils of war.
The worlds of the Imperium encouraged the admirals to keep their war between themselves. When visited by the fleets of the Imperial contenders, the planets paid tithes, provided the logistical support required of them and did not complain too much. They knew that eventually the admirals would leave, and life would return to normal. Unfortunately, the tendency in this’civil war“ to restrict violence to certain select political strata was not a hallmark of the Rebellion.
The Rebellion was—and is—a true civil war. From the very outset, political rivals with competing claims rallied civilian populations to their cause. Fleets went forth not as the embodiment of one admiral’s desire to rule, but as an extension of publicly supported policy. This was not just a conflict between soldiers—this was a war between common people, between competing regions, cultures and political ideas.
Consequently, just as the enabling foundation of the war was civil, so were its casualties. Industry, commerce, transportation, even agriculture and population centers became targets. Damage suffered by a faction’s populace vindicated counterstrikes. The upward spiral of violence took an increasingly heavy toll on the structure of the Imperium itself.
A NEW KIND OF WARIt took the experts several years to accept that the Rebellion was different from any previous type of conflict within the Imperium. The military was not used to managing a conflict whose battleground was also its logistical base. Wars with the Zhodani and Solomani, plus various pacification campaigns, gave the Imperial military establishment an institutional predisposition toward conquest at any cost: Damage done today could be rebuilt tomorrow or left for the enemy to handle.
But the Rebellion was a more complex conflict. Every faction’s logistical base overlapped onto its area of military operations. Therefore, it was crucial for objectives to be taken and defended intact—there was no time for rebuilding if war production was to retain the momentum required for victory. Strategic success required a deft military hand and an understanding of the subtle interactions of warfare, commerce and politics. An inappropriately timed tactical victory could in fact be a strategic defeat.
Few leaders of the Imperium appreciated this. Those few who did had little opportunity to benefit from it: Lucan’s headlong offensives demanded stiff, absolute responses. His irresponsibility as a ruler and unsuitability as a military planner not only squandered his own sizeable resources, but ultimately invalidated any measured responses undertaken by his rivals. Consequently, no single individual contributed more to the downfall of the Imperium than the man who—rightly or wrongly—sat upon its throne.
HIGH-POPULATION WORLDS ARE BROUGHT LOW: 1118-1120The Rebellion’s most combat-intensive period extended from late 1118 to mid-1120. It was then that the factions strove to attain the key objective in the conflict—control of the high-population worlds. Predictably, but tragically, the battle to control these worlds led unerringly to their ultimate ruination. The intense conflict that surrounded them shattered markets and port facilities, and drove off all commercial shipping. Thus, the huge, import-driven economies of these multibillion-person leviathans retracted—or collapsed.
Few of these worlds were ever self-sufficient. As foodstuff imports dwindled, rationing was introduced, followed immediately by panic. The law levels of these worlds—typically high to begin with—grew more oppressive as governments were forced to adopt draconian measures to maintain control. All too often, the result was revolt, anarchy and ruin.
This result was inevitable, though no less tragic, on high-population worlds with inhospitable environments. With their needs for food, water and air always close to the edge, their slide into chaos was swifter and more absolute—and involved millions of civilian casualties.
Consequently, most high-population worlds quickly lost their value as strategic objectives. Instead, they devolved into chaotic cesspools of misery and desperation. Although few were targets of major attacks, these prizes of the Rebellion became the war’s most tragic casualties.
WINDING DOWN: 1120-1121The Imperium started the war with 320 numbered fleets and an equal number of reserve fleets. By 1121, fewer than 95 numbered and 130 reserve fleets remained. Most had been reduced to 60% strength or less, with the heaviest losses in the BatRons (battleship squadrons) and CruRons (cruiser squadrons). Losses were also severe in the ground forces. As the front moved back and forth, countless divisions were stranded due to insufficient resources for evacuation. Without orbital support, few units survived more than 48 hours past the arrival of an enemy fleet.
Lucan, having held a disproportionately large share of the military resources to begin with, was the only faction leader who could still mount one last major offensive in 1121. So he did. Lucan’s final offensive against Gushemege Sector was a Pyrrhic victory: His forces were too weakened to hold the territory they had purchased at so high a price in trained personnel and high-tech equipment.
The other faction leaders had already realized what Lucan refused to accept: The war might not be over, but it was collapsing under its own weight. Neither the personnel nor the equipment was left for further offensives. What front-line quality units remained were now barely able to defend each faction’s core. And control over peripheral areas continued to recede.
But even more telling than the lack of personnel and equipment was the lack of logistical support. Commerce and industry were devastated. Manufacturing centers watched their shipments of raw materials being reduced to a trickle. The remaining bulk carriers were needed to ensure the immediate defensive and minimal industrial needs of the faction core areas. Even had the combat forces existed, there was no way to reprise the massive offensives of 1118-1120. The supply resources to empower them were gone. Like exhausted prize-fighters, the contenders for the Iridium Throne staggered away from each other and collapsed in their respective corners.
SHADOWS LENGTHEN: 1122-1124
As the faction leaders learned, the costs of war continued to accrue long after the bullets and BatRons stopped flying. Economies did not spring back in response to the deescalation. War-related industries dominated the commercial sectors of the factions. As contracts for new war materiel began to shrink, ripples of unemployment coursed through the economy. Commerce retracted even further: The last viable market—war—evaporated. Now there was nothing left to sell—which was appropriate since no one had any money to spend anyway.
Each faction began attempting to rebuild its economy and commercial sectors.Among the more successful were the Ziru Sirkaa, Margaret's Domain (whose strong suits were in trade, not war) and—oddly enough—Lucan. The reason for Lucan's success was indeed ironic: The would-be emperor was simply not interested in economics. Consequently, his experts had a relatively free hand. Only his military leaders had to endure his "expert guidance." That guidance mandated a relentless campaign of lightning strikes into the core areas of the rival factions. Convinced that the other factions were on the verge of uniting against him, Lucan decided it was necessary to disrupt their largely illusory offensive capabilities.
As a result, the battles of the Rebellion ceased to resemble arena contests fought with battle-axes and began to be reminiscent of knife fights in darkened alleys. Commerce raiding took the place of squadron actions. Deep-penetration raids by destroyers and escorts replaced fleet-sized thrusts. Hit-and-run strikes by companies or battalions were used instead of full-scale planetary assaults. As the forces shrank in size, so did the objectives: Instead of whole planets, single cities or starports were targeted.
However, despite its seemingly "limited" nature, this new phase heralded a terrible change in military objectives: The desire to conquer had been replaced by the decision to destroy. The targets were not attacked in order to be added to the assets of the attacker; they were being eliminated so the defender no longer gained any benefit from them. The purposeful destruction of resources had begun years earlier, when retreating naval commanders were forced to destroy key starship construction and repair facilities to hinder pursuit by the enemy. But now this tactic was no longer the exception to the rule—it became Lucan's standard operating procedure.
The other factions had no choice but to respond in kind.This at least forced Lucan to devote more of his assets to defense, which limited the number of offensive strikes he could make. But Lucan still maintained a high level of activity against Dulinor, Vland and the Solomani Confederation.
Just as this period of conflict (referred to by many as the Black War years) evolved new kinds of tactics and objectives, it also produced a new breed of soldier. It placed emphasis on the trained, resourceful professional who could conduct and complete complex missions with minimal support and guidance.
On the other hand, it encouraged the emergence of raiders and "black" units—so named because of suspicions that they were moonlighting as pirates when not on a mission.
By now, the factions were passing out letters of marque as freely as party favors. And the lines separating war, terrorism and piracy—always thin to begin with—began to vanish amid the new brutality of "legitimate" warfare.
As a result of these years of Black War, the factions' efforts to jumpstart their respective economies died. Civilian losses in the peripheral areas caused many heretofore loyal outlying worlds to rethink their allegiances and move toward neutrality. Thus, in a remarkably evolutionary fashion, the areas controlled by each faction continued to shrink to a size which could be defended by what few military assets remained, a task simplified by the deeper no man's land—a byproduct of the receding Frontiers.
By the end of 1124, some measure of stability had finally arrived for the central regions of each faction. However, each of these regions—known as Safe areas—were not much bigger than one or two subsectors (the Third Imperium was 281 subsectors in size). Beyond each of them was a Frontier area, a region where the faction still held a fair amount of sway, but which was more unpredictable and risky for travellers. Beyond the Frontiers were the Outlands, areas that had originally been under marginal control by the faction. After suffering the depredations of full-sized fleets and armies, the Outlands were too battered to endure the insult added to their injury by the Black War. Most of the Outland worlds fell by the wayside, seldom visited.
And further outward still were the Wilds—the areas forsaken by the factions since the war began. Innumerable fleets had raged back and forth across these systems, and then the Black War had ravaged them. Maintaining contact with these worlds was not only pointless—it was folly.
Only the adventurous and foolhardy, or those with intense personal ties, would attempt to cross the gulf to visit those abandoned worlds. And no others were interested in helping them try. For as 1124 drew to an end, it was obvious that the attempts at economic reinvigoration were failing. Merchants were getting nervous about being able to make payments on their increasingly rare jump-capable ships. Every day, another broker closed up shop for good—or opened a window 30 stories up and took a short walk into forever. People stopped spending; stores began closing. You could feel it everywhere: Hard Times were a'coming.
Eve of Hard Times
Area DistinctionsBy the beginning of 1125, the factional core areas have achieved basic stability. Military forces have withdrawn to lines that can be reliably defended, allowing the worlds within these boundaries to retain pre-Rebellion economic levels. However, their outlying regions—and the interstellar reaches beyond—are still adjusting to the tremendous changes caused by the Rebellion.
There are four categories of areas in Hard Times: Safe, Frontier, Outlands and Wilds.
Safe Areas: Safe areas are the most secure areas in the Rebellion imperium. They represent the cores of the respective factions and are carefully guarded by the remaining military forces. These function as isolated pockets of pre-Rebellion times, where commerce, industry and civil government continue as before.The only thing that breaks the illusion of travelling back in time to 1115 is the attitude of the inhabitants. They are wary and vigilant, for only vigilance can keep these areas secure. In addition, they know what is going on outside the Safes, and this has made them cautious spenders. They have something of a lifeboat mentality, hardening their hearts to the tragedy outside the Safes, knowing there are only enough resources to retain selected parts of their civilization.
Frontier Areas: These lie just outside the boundaries of the Safes. They encompass areas whose security cannot be guaranteed by the reduced militaries of 1125. Consequently, their factional loyalty is lower. The level of factional control and defense runs about 50%, although most of the Frontier worlds must trade with the Safes, the only real economy around. Although lower than in the Safes, the level of naval patrolling is sufficient to encourage moderate interstellar trade and transport. But the danger to shipping is sufficient to reduce its volume to well below pre-Rebellion levels. The increased risk shows in the attitudes of the people. They have become careful and shrewd, sometimes gruff. However, unlike the more desperate people farther from the Safes, Frontier-folk are still usually generous to travellers in need of help. After all, a favor done is a favor owed, and everyone needs favors and friends when there is no shortage of enemies. These enemies—pirates and raider—are drawn to the Frontier because shipping is still sufficiently plentiful, and defenses sufficiently light, to make such raids a reasonable proposition. Also, technology needed to keep ships and weapons functional is becoming increasingly rare farther out, where the bones of civilization are rapidly picked clean.
Outland Areas: These are the areas that have been forsaken by all the factions, so there is no law or protection beyond what each world can muster for itself. Therefore, space travel is very hazardous. Pirates operate virtually at will, and rescue is unlikely. The Outlands are difficult to characterize—as worlds become isolated, they can evolve drastically different responses to the same circumstances. Some still hunger for their lost trade and the benefits of Imperial society. Others shun trade because it attracts piracy: If you have nothing, no one can take anything from you. Outlanders live by their wits—there are only the quick and the dead.
Wild Areas: Anything awful that can be said about the Outlands is even worse in the Wilds. The Wilds were not just abandoned because they were strategically untenable—they were blasted to smithereens first. Many of these worlds have not had outside contact since 1121—and for good reason. While pirates may run rampant in the Outlands, it is the Wilds they call ”home, sweet home.“ This is not to say that some Wild worlds haven’t retained some tatters of civilization. But those which have are typically xenophobic—again, with good reason. Many feel that the Imperium has forsaken them, and they are not friendly to any visitors, even if the strangers aren’t pirates. While some Wild worlds may desire access to rare and desperately needed technology, their people will be very slow to give their trust.
War Zone SubsectorsSubsectors are also labelled according to the degree of conflict they saw over the first five years of the Rebellion.
War Zones: These subsectors endured at least one major campaign. They contain a high percentage of worlds that have had their starports destroyed, populations attacked and industry wrecked. War Zones are susceptible to the UWP changes brought about by Hard Times.
Intense War Zones: These subsectors endured two or more years of high-intensity combat. They are even more vulnerable to the forces of decline than are War Zones.
Black War Zones: These are Intense War Zones where Lucan was a combatant and pursued his objectives at all costs, resorting to his Black War tactics when necessary. Such regions likely hold several annihilated worlds. Almost all these zones are also Wild regions since traders have little reason to expect any benefits from visiting them. They are thus doubly benighted and tend to hold a large number of doomed or failing worlds.
Part II, year 1125 to 1128 (Hard Times Era)
STAGE 1: DESTRUCTION OF INSTERSTELLAR TRANSPORT (date 300-1124)The inevitability of the Third Imperium’ economic collapse is fully evident by the end of 1124. The single greatest sign of this impending disaster is the decrease of interstellar trade and transport. And the single greatest cause of this decrease is the loss of high quality starports in all but the Safe areas of the Imperium.
Standing head-and-shoulders above the other reasons for the decline of starports is Lucan’s scorched earth policy regarding his rivals’ interstellar resources. His military logic was cold and uncompromising: If he could not retain an important resource, then it must be destroyed to deny it to the enemy. This erosion of interstellar capabilities further deprived opponents of the ability to seize the initiative and carry out reprisals. In addition to being effective, this strategy also appealed to Lucan’s vengeful nature.
But Lucan overestimated his chances of a quick victory, and enemy factions discovered the most effective countermeasure was a response in kind to the scorched earth tactics. This contagious whirlwind of destruction—the Black War—escalated from 1120 to 1124, by which point the factions were too exhausted to mount many attacks of any type.
However, by this time, uncounted shipyards lay in ruins, and billions of Imperial citizens turned their backs on the interstellar community, rejecting the Rebellion and all the madness associated with it.
Without port facilities, worlds could not attract merchants. Commerce and transport dried up. And since the selective focus of raids was on class-A and class-B starports, new ships could not be built to replace the tens of thousands destroyed by years of warfare.
As of 300-1124, the Imperium’s shipping industry is in full retreat. And with decreased shipping, only a fraction of the once vast Imperial markets are still available to the producers and traders of goods—too small a fraction to stave off the economic recession that begins the tumble into Hard Times.
Safe Areas and StarportsWithin the safe areas, the drop in interstellar traffic is not perceptible. In fact, many safe areas actually experience a minor increase in interstellar transport. This seemingly paradoxical situation is due to the influx of merchants who have decided that the Frontier and Outlands are too risky for further operations. Consequently, the functional starships tend to congregate in the areas known to be Safes. Also, no starports within the Safes have been damaged or degraded, making trade and maintenance much easier to conduct.
Due to this, Hard Times do not really hit the Safes too hard. Markets may be smaller, but they are still vigorous and self sustaining. Thus, worlds in the Safes are not subject to the effects presented in Chapter 3 unless the safe area is also a War Zone.
The Frontier areas still enjoy a fair amount of transport, but the need for protection dictates that about half of all interstellar runs are now conducted in convoys. Starports in the Frontier are more likely to be damaged or gone to seed, although most have not slipped too far.
However, in the Outlands, starport quality has slipped dramatically. After the fleet actions of the Rebellion and the vicious strikes of the Black War, there is little reason for planets in the Outlands to rebuild their facilities—it only invites another attack. Furthermore, the need for starports has diminished since traders are now fearful of venturing into the Outlands.As a result, many facilities that survived the war have been allowed to decay as traffic dropped off and the benefits derived from operating them diminished.
The Wilds face the same problems as the Outlands, but to a greater degree. since fewer worlds escaped military strikes, more starports were damaged or annihilated. While traders avoid the Outlands, only the most brave or foolhardy would even consider venturing into the wilds. Pirates am common in this interstellar wasteland,and many planetary populalions are no longer friendly; to them, an outsider is simply a harbinger of more trouble.
Annihilated WorldsAnother aspect of the scorched earth policy has contributed to the emergence of Hard Times by the end of 1124—the corruption or destruction of entire planetary biospheres by nudear,biological and chemical attacks. Such terrible attacks were fairly rare,but in some subsectors—notably those where Lucian's Black War tactics were practiced—such events did occur once or twice.
The main targets for weapons of mass destruction were high population and class-A starport worlds. Since these were perceived to be the strategic keys of the Rebellion, worlds with such attributes were more likely to invite escalation—defensive commanders felt it was more imperative to hang on to hem. Paradoxically, this forced them to desperate measures when fighting grew heavy and, in turn, invited escalation by the attacker-ith predictable results.
Lucan's demands for results at any cost made his forces the worst offenders in this regard. As the war progressed, the tactics of his surviving commanders reflected the attitudes of their ruthless leader more and more.
The physical results of scorched earth attacks varied. But the psychological response was invariable-any survivors acquired a deep and lasting hatred for Lucan and his forces. They also grew more suspicious of offworlders in general and recanted whatever love they had for the Imperium.
THE IMPERIUM AS OF 300-1124: DETERMINING THE EFFECTS OF STAGE 1
Starport Facilities in Hard TimesAll interstellar travellers need access to certain facilities that can only be found at starports. And since those facilities are becoming increasingly rare, they are increasingly important.
By 1124, class-A starports are becoming new meccas and growing into centers of civilization, education, exchange and—of course—larceny. Since they can repair and build starships, these installations represent priceless assets.Those few that are not found in Safe or Frontier areas are shining beacons in the darkness of the Outlands or Wilds, and they attract all manners of clientele. Although there are sure to be a half dozen plots afoot to seize each one, only insane raiders or Lucan's strike teams would consider actually damaging a class-A starport.
Class-A ports are sure to be running at peak capacity on a steady basis. The waiting list for repair and maintenance work is long and prices are higher than usual. New ships are rarely available for purchase since almost all are specially commissioned well in advance. It is not unlikely for contractors to be murdered in order to free up their nearly completed ships for purchase. In the Outlands and the Wilds, ships are only available for 100% cash up front.
Class-B facilities are also busy,but waiting times and costs are comparable to those of the pre-rebellion era Such ports handle a fair amount of customization and ordnance sales.
Class-C facilities, once considered substandard, have emerged as the workhorses of the interstellar transport industry (such as it is in 1125). Capable of repairing heavy damage, these facilities are used by many ship owners to keep their rustbuckets jump-capable until they can afford enough for an annual maintenance. These ports are also capable of building slower-than-light (STL) spaceships of Tech Level 8 or less that have a total cost of no more than MCr10. Such construction requires twice the usual time and may not incorporate any elements of more than Tech Level as part of the standard equipment (although such craft can be retrofitted later).
Class-D (and class-F) facilities are still substandard, but the lack of alternatives has increased their importance. However, due to the general dropoff in interstellar travel, they receive barely half the traffic they did in the years before the Rebellion.
All other classes (E, X, G, H and Y) are considered to be lesser facilities and are as unimpressive as ever. They attract almost no interstellar traffic now, unless they are located on a world that is an unusual source of trade or resources.
The lack of adequate facilities and decreased potential for trade makes starship maintenance harder to find and afford.
Starport ProceduresPeople wandering through the starports of Hard Times will notice a few changes.
Security: Security is tighter and more businesslike in better ports (A and B) but has decreased in lesser facilities (E, X, G, H, Y). In better facilities, patrols have expanded far beyond their traditional role of customs and immgration/emgration. In fact, the major duty of most armed security personnel is to protect the facility itself, particularly repair and construction yards. These guards have the right-and are encouraged to shoot first and ask questions later. They are armed and armored to the maximum standards permitted by local (or imported) technology. Many starports have also emplaced missile batteries to repel unwanted visitors.
Flight Control: Flight control is a lot pickier about approach and departure vectors and is likely to deny landing rights to an uncooperative craft. The word at high quality installations is 'safety first"—and those who don't agree are tersely invited to take their ship someplace else.
Extrality Zone: With the death of the Imperium as a centrally organized, law enforcing entity, the concept of the extrality zone being an area beyond local jurisdiction has disappeared in all starports except for those within the Safes. From the moment a craft enters the planet's declared airspace (many planets now define that as being 'anywhere in-system"), the craft and crew are under the jurisdiction of the main world. Extrality zones are still maintained as areas where individuals without visa may walk about freely and conduct business.
Personnel: The personnel in class-A and class-B facilities are the best available—as befits the staff of the few remaining top-of-the-line facilities. In low quality facilities, however, the ports are often run by local crackpots who are sure that The old days are gonna be back soon" or who refuse to leave the job. Out of touch and out of the trafficked lanes, many are going a bit daft.
Cargo: Cargo is now watched over very carefully by merchants. Although the trading process remains the same, the remittance of the goods and its landing are now given considerable security.This is not paranoia: Desperate ship's masters have Men to stealing cargos from each other during on- and off-loading.
STAGE 2: COLLAPSE OF THE FINANCIAL MARKETS (date 001-1125)Even in the fragmenting Imperium, ‘money makes the world go round.” Unfortunately, there’s a great deal less money to go around as of001-1125,which is why that date is considered the starting point of the Hard Times era.
Hard Times are not hard due to the damage done to the Imperium’s ability to manufacture goods or acquire raw material—although severe, this kind of damage is physically repairable. Rather, the crucial damage done by the war was the shattering of the economy.
In 1115, the Imperium represented a single, highly integrated market of exceptional fluidity. The economic environment allowed megacorporate planners to project production requirements and anticipated revenues decades into the future.
Commercial vessels of every size wandered the star lanes freely, carrying all types of cargos to all types of worlds. Corporate planning authorities were able to work within an economy that was broad and diverse enough to offer virtually infinite markets, yet the economy was also large enough, unified enough and standardized enough to allow security, predictability and huge economies of scale (this was the miracle of the Imperium).
Dulinor’s first shot killed this market as surely as it killed Strephon. Suddenly, the Imperial economy was plunged into confusion and chaos.There were no more centralized authorities to detect problems and massage them away with 10-year economic plans and strategically designed subsidies. Markets became divided and trade routes interdicted by factional battle lines.
The spacelanes became battlegrounds, and merchants lived under the eternal threat of mobilization. Century-old trade relationships were severed; shortages became endemic: and industry shifted to war material or logistically necessary products. The once safe and reliable Imperial economy became a maelstrom of uncertainty and extreme risk.
By 1125, the Imperium ceased to exist as a single economy. Now, only the Safes function as they did before—all other markets are unknown quantities. Merchants have no way of determining the odds of success—or the likelihood of suffering a commercial loss—so fewer of them bother to venture into those areas which most need economic stimulation.
As Traders Pull Back, So Do Insurers and BanksAt the very basis of any speculation-based economy is the consideration of losses. Insurance rates are proportional to perceived risk. Consequently, as trade retracted and the areas outside Safes grew more hazardous, insurance companies and other financial speculators began withdrawing their services from these areas—particularly where piracy, theft or political instability were likely. Even in the Frontier, lending and insurance rates are now astronomical or simply unattainable.
Three major factors influence a financial company's willingness to serve a potential client. These are perceived protective measures taken by the insuree, size of the contract and reliability of risk ascertainment
For instance, it is now almost unheard of for someone from a small planet in the Diaspora Sector to be able to get life insurance—at any price. The size of the contract is too small to make any potential insurer willing to overlook the fact that the risk probabilities are virtually unassessable.
Most commonly now, insurance beyond the Safes is only of interest to Frontier worlds. And in these cases, policies are taken out only for those facilities essential to commerce (starports, spaceports, industrial or resource extraction facilities) or for convoyed cargos of highly valuable items. The more protection the facility/convoy has, the lower rate it is able to get (and the easier it is to find an insurer). Single ships are generally unable to get insurance. Even in a convoy situation, the policy does not cover anything that occurs from the time the jump drives are engaged through the ship's reemergence into space normal. This last provision prevents attempts to make false claims of misjump, which can be faked by a last second jump coordinate alteration.
As a result, most smaller planets in the Frontier (and all the planets in the Outlands and Wilds) spend money on local defense rather than insurance. Even if they could find a company which would agree to cover them, collection would be a lengthy process, and lives cannot be replaced. Such worlds hope that as they grow, their heightened defenses will prove a better protection against catastrophic losses than insurance would be.
No Way to Finance Rebuilding or New ProjectsThe death of underwriting signals the end of loans, mortgages and liens. Small planets which are prime targets for raiders can no longer recoup their losses by borrowing credits to rebuild. As loan and mortgage collectors become more worried and less patient, barratry (starship crews "skipping out" on their starship loan payments) become epidemic. Merchant captains— already suffering from higher risks and outrageous maintenance, repair and protection fees—default on their ship payments and disappear along with them.
Those merchants who can still function at a profit are forced to adopt a new form of commerce insurance—starmercs (mercenaries). But as centralized databases break down and resumes become increasingly uncheckable, convoy masters increasingly wonder whether the starmercs they are hiring are guard dogs or ravening wolves waiting to pounce upon their flock of ready-to-shear mercantile sheep.
In short, the majority of the banking, credit and development industries are beginning to topple. In the final analysis, markets will retract into local, barter-oriented economies.
As people see this handwriting on the wall, they leave the more benighted areas (creating a rush of immigrants bound for the Safes), start stockpiling technology they will not be able to produce in the future (driving up prices of key goods), or turn inward and shun the rest of the interstellar community.
The first two courses of action are becoming common in 1125 and have caused the creation of a new shuttle economy between the various regions of Hard Times. Merchants now leave the edge of the Safes bearing high technology, high-need goods. The farther outward they go, the more they can charge for these rare wonders. On their return trip, they load up with passengers fleeing these areas, as well as with raw materials and mail. This is a new method of trading—one fraught with danger. But hundreds of merchants are trying their hand at it as the year 1125 begins.
Return of a Barter EconomyOne of the most unusual results of Hard Times is the return of a barter economy. With regular trade routes and production schedules a thing of the past, the buying or selling of large, standardized lots of material is just a memory in the outer regions.
The growing barter economy is also being fueled by the tremendous amount of salvaged goods that are in the marketplace— vehicles rescued from buried garages, weaponry taken from slain pirates, clothes found in a ruined department store. War's dubious bounty comprises almost 50%of all trading, and the proportion is growing. Anything not bolted down is likely to be sold as a trade item, and anything that is bolted down is likely to be sold as real estate.
Instead of being bought and sold by generalized lots, items are being marketed individually or in small numbers, based on their retail price. And an increasing number of trades involve exchanges of equipment or trade goods rather than credits.
STAGE 3: RECESSION OF THE PLANETARY ECONOMIES (date 180-1125)I don‘t think I realized how bad things were until that time we were laying over at Beso. The locals decided to take the fusion reactor off line to work on it. Seeing friendly types, me and my crew went down to take a look at the job and see if we could lend a hand. Maybe earn some good will and a few free meals in the bargain.
As the locals ushered us into the toroidal containment core, I saw a flickering blue light up ahead. I froze—what the heck was that? The machine was cold, so how could there be a short?
I turned to the local with us, who must have read my mind by the look on my face. He just smile—bit sadly—and shook his head. He waved us on.
That’s when I turned the bend and almost lost my vision. I suddenly found myself staring into an intensely bright point of blue-white light. I threw up a hand, closed my eyelids and watched the green-blue affer-image chase around against the darkness.
I could hear the smile in the local’s voice as he said, 'Never seen one before, huh?’
"Nope. Used X-ray lasers where I’m from.”
He sighed. “So did we—before the war. But tools wear out—or are appropriated by the military. Now, this is all we have to work with."
I nodded and opened my eyes again, cautious of the intermittent, violent glare outlining the welding team before me.
I had never seen an electric arc-welder before.
One of the foremost changes in Hard Times is the decline of technology. Technology is a reliable indicator of per capita wealth and commercial health. It might seem that large, industrial worlds (particularly those which are self-sufficient in terms of food and water) should be able to retain their tech level in times of difficulty. Unfortunately, any given high population, high technology world in the Imperium did not develop its technology alone. Rather, it did so in the context of a vast interconnected economy, the various parts of which supported each other by providing markets for manufactured goods or by providing key goods for sale.
The nature of the pre-Rebellion Imperial economy was a highly integrated and interdependent marketplace. Policies stressing self-sufficiency were generally unpopular because they were seen (often rightly) as representing isolationist attitudes. Such policies were also costly in terms of damaged commerce (due to offworld merchants avoiding what they considered to be a xenophobic market), and in terms of decreased production efficiency.
Technological self-sufficiency means building everything yourself. While it may be a good survival tactic, it is a disastrous economic plan if a world is part of an integrated market. Instead, specialization in a few key products allows the world and its population to generate a great volume of carefully refined goods and thereby sell premium items at lower costs (which attracts a tremendous volume of business). The higher the tech level a world has, the more extreme the trend toward specialization becomes and the more vulnerable to the economic disruption that lies at the foundation of Hard Times.
Worlds are now scrambling to become self-sufficient in every way they can. Unfortunately, self-sufficiency requires a world to create supplies of systems covering the entire spectrum of civilized needs, which means they have to accept a lower common denominator. A world that once grew rich supplying a subsector with TL15 hair-driers and holorecorders must now develop innumerable other industries. Since it can no longer devote the effort to the high-tech specialty items, it can no longer purchase TL15 fusion plants and foot-warmers from its neighbors. Therefore, such a planet will cease to be TL15 in a few years. If economic collapse requires self sufficiency, then self-sufficiency clearly demands a considerable reduction in technology.
Worlds with inhospitable environments have to devote more time and resources to ensure long-term self-sufficiency in life support. Such worlds are forced to build their own food production facilities, environmental system modifications, replacement parts—all at the expense of maintaining their tech level.
Safe Money and Frontier FinancesAs the economic recession sets in and tech levels roll backward; individuals, govemments and businesses begin to look at the credits they hold in their hands. They not only count them, but they also consider the stability of whatever is backing their value. And many of the hands holding those credits begin to tremble.
With the Imperium cut into many small pieces and with huge tracts of it effectively out of contact (or out of control), there is good cause to wonder exactly what a credit is worth during Hard Times. Almost every faction and major power center has dallied with the notion of issuing its own scrip (money), but each has thus far rejected the notion because the value of any legal tender is based on the net worth of the issuer. The Imperial credit was—and is—still based on the net value of the Imperium. No one faction can hope to equal that value.
As the Imperium slides further toward permanent fragmentation, faction leaders begin to wonder whether the “greater value” offered by a unified scrip—the pre-Rebellion Imperial credit, also known as Lucan’s credit or the Core credit—is worth the unpredictability resulting from “sharing” a currency with other power centers. For instance, Lucan’s mercurial nature makes him likely to strike out on some rash new campaign of destruction—which will devalue the money and erode confidence in it. Some client states and large corporations have decided the higher value of the unified credit is not worth the instability, and they have begun to print their own scrip. However, they still use the Imperial credit as the basis of their currency—from subsector to subsector, there is no variance in its exchange rate or acceptability. Major scrip issuers are generally recognized without difficulty within their own Safe. They are rarely recognized beyond this area, except in some regions of the adjoining Frontier.
Cash and Carry In the Outlands and WildsOn planets where contact with stable markets is dwindling, the relevance of the Imperial credit is diminishing. Cut off from larger markets and reliable scrip issuers, such worlds are forced to start printing their own money.
Individual worlds are comparatively risky as issuers (and subsequent backers) of currency. More generally accountable are banking institutions that serve as investment/transaction centers for multiworid trade routes in the Outlands. These institutions issue scrip which is locally recognized and accepted. They usually maintain a close watch on the markets in the Safe areas and adjust the amount of currency in circulation so as to keep the independent scrip on an equal value with the Imperial credit.
Smaller worlds and those in the Wilds are likely to base their currency on bullion reserves, having an insufficient trade flow to generate confidence in capital-backed currency. Worlds too small to even have bullion reserves of any appreciable size do not have a separate currency but operate via recognized scrip or specie (coins made from precious metals).
Players paid 10,000 local credits on Jedell, for instance, may find their money is no good on Aight. The merchants and government of Aight might not want to risk accepting credits from a world that may be overrun by wild-eyed anarchists within the week. In actuality, money brokers might buy the cash at a depreciated value.
An easy and interesting option is the introduction of specie currency, which does have fixed values since the value of the coin is in the metal it’s made of. Most areas turning to specie currency have adopted the following standard, which was common during the Long Night:
Mass Copper Cr 0.20 50 grams Silver Cr 10.00 30 grams Gold Cr 300.00 30 grams
All these coins are available from Outlands customs currency counters and are supplied at a 2% exchange surcharge. They are recognized on all Frontier worlds and are available via exchange on half of them. These coins can be cashed in on Safe worlds, but am not usually recognized by merchants there.
Old and New Tech LevelsThe Imperium produced a lot of high-tech equipment in its centuries of industrial vigor. Not all of this equipment could possibly have disappeared by 1125, but what used to be common high technology is now very special and increasingly rare. For instance, military units can no longer acquire fusion or plasma weaponry except at exorbitant prices—and even then, most of it is used. More mundane items have ceased to function because the parts wore out—and no replacements were available. Each failed system becomes a source of spare parts for those devices which remain operable. Junkyards grow, and working items dwindle.
In addition to interrupting industrial output and the flow of replacement parts, the violence of the Rebellion also accounted for a tremendous level of technology being destroyed. Vehicles, weapons, power generation systems, starships, spaceships, environmental, medical and food production equipment—all of these were prime targets for attacks or seizures. And once a world's defenses were crippled, they fell prey to salvagers and scavengers.
As a result, much of the old technology is gone, and most of the remaining items are jealously hoarded by governments or other major power centers. Those last few PGMP-13s are not for sale—they've been assigned to a planet's crack security unit. Grav vehicles are retained for serving needs only they can fulfill, and they are pampered with endless hours of preventative maintenance and careful storage.
The new Hard Times tech level rating of a world reflects its most recently produced (and generally available) technology. The most important technologies (military, vehicle, spaceflight, medical, environmental, power generation and a planet's primary industry, such as agriculture on an agricultural world) tend to be produced at this new tech level. Consumer goods—including but not limited to food, clothing, toiletries and simple gear—are usually produced at one tech level less than the new local maximum.
An exception to this would be an industrial world, whose trade status as a competitive net exporter of manufactured goods would require these goods to be at the current maximum tech level.
STAGE 4: CORPORATE RECONFIGURATION (date 001-1126)Megacorporations thrived in the fluid, interconnected economy of the pre-Rebellion Imperium. However, the extreme regionalism of Hard Times and the lack of a strong central government are anathema to the continued health of these financial giants.
Consequently, they begin to consolidate their positions by centralizing. This strategy stresses a compromise between establishing defensible positions, focusing on astrographic regions they’re already heavily invested in, and switching their emphasis to industrial production.
The effects of this strategy push along the decline of the Wilds and the Outlands while stabilizing the Frontiers and the Safes. Megacorporations move or abandon those assets which are not in secure areas, shifting whatever resources can be relocated to the heart of a nearby Safe or—if this is not possible—to Frontier planets with strong ties to the faction controlling that Safe.
This kind of corporate restructuring is neither an easy nor a rapid undertaking. In many cases, whole facilities are swapped between megacorporations. One of the first—and most famous—swaps occurred between Hortalez et cie and the four Vilani bureaux in 1121. A staggering amount of capital assets changed hands—starports, continent-sized industrial sectors, natural resource rights, thousands of smaller factories and businesses.
When it was all done, Hortalez had traded away almost 80% of its capital holdings in and around Vilani space. In return, the Bukaux—led by Zirunkariish—remitted an equal amount of assets to Hortalez, all located within Delphi Sector, the Coreward edge of the Old Expanses, Daibei and the Spinward Marches.
The purpose of this strategy was to centralize assets under the protective umbrellas of faction Safes. By 1126, other megacorporations (as well as smaller companies) are following what is now known as the Hortalez Strategy, relocating or abandoning those assets that cannot be protected. These moves cause widespread unemployment and economic disaster for the already damaged and shunned Outlands. For the Wilds, this is the final death knell; in losing contact with megacorporations, they lose their last solid tie to the rest of Imperial space.
THE IMPERIUM AS OF 001-1126: DETERMINING THE EFFECTS OF STAGE 4An important change caused by the megacorporate reshuffling of Hard Times has already been felt by the people—the increased importance and price of certain goods. Military hardware, spacecraft, transport systems, food and energy production, environmental technologies, and medical equipment are all at a premium.
The severely reduced industrial capacity of the Imperium is naturally focusing on these products to the exclusion of less essential pursuits. Naturally, many leisure industries are suffering, not because people don’t need or want an escape from the frequently bleak reality of 1126, but because the distribution system is straining simply to provide essentials, it has little room to spare for luxuries. Not only are entertainment businesses like 2-D and 3-D video renters and vidcasting/ holocasting companies feeling the pinch, but art itself is a casualty of the Rebellion. These losses are obscured behind the sight of banking, insurance and brokerage firms collapsing, signalling more surely the ominous proximity of total economic failure. The trappings of the wealth and ease of an entire society are gone, and in their place is a harder, more practical lifestyle
STAGE 5: RAIDING AND RAIDERS (date 180-1126)
As economies nose-dive deeper into Hard Times, the comparative profitability of plundering increases. This evolution is exacerbated by the dissolution of naval units. During the war, fleet commandeering of necessary supplies was common, and this eventually devolved into outright raiding. By 180-1126, those units which have not devolved into corsairs have either disbanded (rare), become starmercs (common) or attached themselves to the naval forces of some stable government (a faction leader or one of the worlds in the faction's Safe or Frontier).
The raiders of Hard Times are not all devolved ex-military units; many raiders can trace their origins to traditional pirate bands, organized crime, backgrounds of inhuman poverty and violence, or even mental illness. Raiders are a diverse bunch.
Raiders of Hard Times: Vikings, Corsairs and RippersIt was starmercs who first divided raiders into three general types. The starmercs named these types Vikings," 'corsairs" and "rippers."
Vikings: Vikings are the rarest type of raider, but they form the largest groups. Nearly all Viking bands, called 'lagers," trace their origins to ex-military vessels of on sort or another: decimated or privateers who eventually extended their letters of marque to include everybody.
As a result of their ex-military origins, Vikings are the most organized and sophisticated raider type. They have well hidden bases of operations where they keep their sizable population of dependents.
Their operations are marked by military-style&tyle planning, including advance intelligence and reconnaissance, made possible by the groups' large size. Vikings e able to insert spies or observers into ordinary society help&p set up their They are deserters from factions, remnants J units cut off and operations. They are wary and canny, and hard to ambush.
Although militaristic, their society has democratic elements, "one gun, one vote" being the Viking policy. Periodic votes of confidence in leaders are taken, and many bands are evolving a formalized system of challenges and duels to resolve challenges to leadership.
Honor is the highest Viking value; they often speak of living and dying by their word.
Even so, Vikings pose the greatest raider threat to civilization by virtue of the effectiveness that their discipline and size give them. Fortunately, they have no desire to cause wanton carnage and destruction, although under certain circumstances they might feel compelled to set an example to make their job easier in the future.
Most Viking lagers contain several vessels, typically former military types. In fact, many Vikings are able to masquerade as starmercs. Of all the raiders, Vikings will sometimes operate fighters—their military background giving them the ability to conduct advanced integrated operations.
Corsairs: Corsair groups strongly resemble pre-Rebellion pirates in both composition and activities. In fact, many bands of corsairs can trace their history back to pre-Rebellion pirate groups.
As always, the bulk of corsair recruits are military deserters, criminals and desperate individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. Corsairs do not like fighting against well-organized and comparably-equipped defense units—they prefer preying on the weak and attacking by surprise.
Many corsair societies have adopted an appropriately macabre, ritualized method of "announced assassination," which discourages casual attempts at assassination and thereby stabilizes the band's leadership. An individual who intends to assassinate the current leader must send the announcement to the intended victim via the band's "Black Suit"—an individual who is outside the pecking order of the band and who serves as herald and witness. The Black Suit (a reference to the official undertaker's garb worn by these individuals) may not be assassinated or challenged, nor may he aspire to any position of leadership.
After announcing the intended assassination to the victim (without disclosing the assassin's identity), the Black Suit then makes a public announcement before the whole band.Twenty-four hours after this, the unnamed assassin may begin to make attempts. No other rules apply.
Corsair bands in 1126 are retaining increased numbers of dependents, who may either be stashed in a safe place immediately before a 'hit" or brought along for the ride. The crowding and filth aboard corsair hulls are legendary.
Note that all raiders who work within a single system are of the corsair variety. Vikings are too smart to stay in one place, and rippers either self-destruct or are hunted down and exterminated.
Rippers: Rippers are in many ways the most dreaded of all raiders since they are completely without scruples—or mercy. The ranks of rippers are filled with escaped convicts, the worst of the pre-Rebellion pirates, war criminals guilty of ghastly acts and former inmates of mental institutions. These bands are highly fractious and divisive unless they have a particularly powerful leader. Many of the individuals who fill the leadership role for ripper bands are genius-level sociopaths. Whatever their background and skills, these individuals give a ripper band cohesion via their powerful (if dark) charisma and self confidence. Ripper bands without such leadership are likely to fight more amongst themselves than with potential prey which accounts for the low numbers that typically comprise these groups.
The only law in ripper bands is the rule of the mob. Otherwise, all disputes are settled by violence-often to the death. Rippers may have a small number of dependents, but these individuals may not be anything more than temporary playthings; on a whim, they might be cycled out a nearby airlock.
Rippers take particular joy in inflicting damage and death. Most of their number are sadists, and many are also megalomaniacs. Few are particularly brave, however, which means rippers usually prey upon very weak settlements or targets. They may attempt to attack stronger targets if they can hit them from ambush with a debilitating first strike. In general, though, most ripper bands are not particularly astute in military matters—they are murderers, not soldiers.
Raider Ecosystem: This is like any other ecosystem: Carnivores (raiders) have defined territories which they defend against competing carnivores. Each territory also includes a source of prey, such as a grazing area or water hole (trafficked world). The need to regularize boundaries is the primary motivation behind the raider alliances. In general, the larger the band, the larger the territory. Some degree of overlap is tolerated, mainly because most groups would rather be 'hunting" than defending their boundaries. Smaller bands are careful not to offend their larger neighbors by encroaching too often—no small corsair or viking band will last long if it preys too often upon a large Viking lager's prime "feeding ground." While it is true that there is no honor among thieves, there is enlightened self-preservation.
STAGE 6: SEPARATION AND ISOLATIONISM (date 001-1127)
The death of the Imperium's communications network has impacts beyond the decline of markets and the upsurge of piracy. It also brings a change in personal perspective.
By 1127, many individuals no longer see themselves as Imperial citizens. In the Outlands and Wilds, there is an increasingly regional focus.Abandoned by what is left of the Imperium, these isolated and often forsaken worlds are beginning to turn their collective b&s upon the old notions of unity and Imperial destiny. Mixed in with resentment for the Imperium is their pressing need to tend to those matters with an immediate impact on their probabilities of survival. They now see themselves as the citizens of subsectors, worlds or even continents. As Hard Times wear on, them is every mason to suspect that these governments will continue to divide themselves into smaller—and more xenophobic—polities.
No world feels responsible for the results of the Rebellion and Hard Times. Rather, people feel themselves victims of Imperial madness and indifference. In their eyes, the problems came from beyond their system, from "out there." Of course, interstellar travellers hail from "out there" and are often painted with the same broad brush used on the Imperial monsters who brought about the miseries the locals have suffered for the past decade. As a result, travellers in the Outlands and Wilds may find that interworld travel no longer has the charm it once held. There are fewer bright faces waiting to hear stories of other worlds and starflight. In their place, furtive, narrow looks inform travellers that offworlders are not welcome—and are possibly at risk. This is not true on all worlds; not even a majority of them have attained this level of xenophobia and regionalism. But there are many—and the number is growing.
On many worlds, groups actively espouse a return to simpler times. They want to do away with the technologies and/or facilities which invite offworld visitors and their often excessive meddling. Only military forces are excluded from this general "back to the good earth" push. However, this exclusion contains its own seeds of disaster. High-tech military equipment is still a lure for raiders. Furthermore, equipment does not remain operable for very long without adequate support and maintenance—which a "good earth" regressed society would be unable to provide.
One final concern is that this arrangement increases the possibility of a military coup. By allowing the military to expand its technological edge, groups are voting to give the military a comparative growth in power. And an ambitious general who feels this "good earth" stuff is sheer nonsense might have to declare martial law in order to nip it in the bud.
STAGE 7: RETOOLING AND RETHINKING HARDWARE (date 180-1127)Times are tough, with plenty of hardship to go around for everyone. But we still see some humorous moments. One of the funniest was during a little corporate disagreement we found ourselves involved in on Wake.
The opposing side was a large firm—Aspardan, Inc.—still headquartered back in the Core. Their good buddy, Lucan, made sure they stayed up to date with the best available technology—grav carriers, air/rafts, ACRs, the works. I guess Aspardan figured if they got into a shoving match with the local authorities, they'd either win hands down or intimidate the natives into acquiescence.
Instead, when H-hour came, the local military came brewing over the hill in the oddest collections of vehicles you've ever seen. Internal combustion, high-speed, wheeled A PCs, variable-attitude propeller (VAP) troop carriers, track-laying tanks with autocannons, VTOL attack jets—and a few gravsleds of their own. I don't think any two vehicles were the same kind—it looked like an attack by the Junkyard Legion.
The offworld security specialists had to admit they were wrong about cowing the natives with their technological superiority They never got the chance to admit they were also wrong about beating the locals hands down—I don't think there were any Aspardan troops among the survivors
As production centers are lost, resupply vanishes and trade diminishes, people will have to use whatever equipment is on hand and will eventually get used to lower-tech, locally supportable gear.
Remember, a planet's tech level indicates its construction capabilities. This is not synonymous with the tech level its inhabitants and experts can understand. Ancient Terra had to discover everything for itself—and usually the hard way. That is not the case for most worlds within the Imperium, regardless of their tech level.
On a world discovering everything for itself, the laser carbines it develops at tech level 8 may only be perfected once the world has entered tech level 9. However, if patented designs for a laser were available to that same world, then the limiting factor is no longer knowledge. The limiting factor becomes the ability of the world's factories to duplicate hardware which is already understood. This is why much standard Imperial equipment shows sophistication or elegance of design that seems beyond the tech level it was actually manufactured at. Once a principle has been discovered, its implementation can be "back-dated" into the designs of equipment built at lower tech levels, as long as those lower-tech factories possess sufficient abilities in metallurgy, chemistry, etc.
When knowledge, rather than ability, is the limiting factor, any concept knowable at tech level 15 is available for learning at any lower level. Each world does not have to struggle along the road of discovery on its own-the road signs are all there. Some technologies exist (in rudimentary form) at much lower tech levels than their first Terran equivalents+the Imperium and its thousands of worlds have perfected these systems at each level of capability. Given these vast research resource—and several millennia of study—even primitive tech levels are capable of produang some important technologies.
Economies of Construction and Purpose: In the height of the Imperium, personal vehicles were not perceived to be luxuries in most places—they were necessities. But in Hard Times, the industrial and distribution systems can no longer support such bounty. Thus, the fewer systems that are obtained have to be able to meet more needs. Vehicles owned by individuals and groups have to fill many different roles and not be specialized in purpose. Similarly, vehicles with only one purpose are now required to provide services to many more recipients. As a result, the principle of jump carriers has experienced a tremendous resurgence in shipyards throughout the post-Rebellion Imperium.
Essentially this an extension of the military’s jump-rider concept—one large, jump-capable starship with a large set of jump drives to do the work previously achieved by 10 or 20 separate, smaller units. Instead of a dozen 200-ton traders plying the starlanes, convoys of a dozen 200-ton STL barges hook up to a modular frame and travel together.
Many advantages to this design strategy are quantifiable, yet one disadvantage is hard to measure—the asset of personal freedom. The growth of this technology portends an era in which many captains will no longer be their own masters. They will operate less-expensive STL ships and be forced to contract with frame operators for interstellar transits.
Economy of Operation: Another major concern for designers is a vehicle’s fuel requirements. Pre-Rebellion commerce made almost all fuel types available in every market. The rigors of Hard Times makes it clear that designers must create vehicles which can be fueled from indigenous sources. In general, solar-electric energy sources experience a huge increase in use—a system without a sun has bigger problems than vehicle design.
Economy of Maintenance: Pre-Rebellion vehicle design was characterized by luxurious amounts of space for crew and all sorts of impressive optional equipment. These indulgences are no longer possible in Hard Times. Vehicles are now practical, bare-bones creations. Their design reflects an attempt to minimize maintenance requirements, costs and dependence upon computers.
It Doesn’t Have to Go Fast—It Just Has to GoWith the onset of the Rebellion, functional space-going ships have skyrocketed in value. Because of their comparative economy (in terms of both maintenance and fuelingm) any older vessels are being restored and pressed into avariety of service roles. The reduced flow of high technology has even propelled some tech level 9 and higher systems into new production runs of these older vehicles.The logic is each system may have to fend for it self in the years to come, and the easier a space fleet is to maintain, supply and build, the more likely it is to endure. This signals an era of renewed importance for spacecraft employing pregravitic technologies.
STAGE 8: DOOMED WORLDS (date 001-1128)Of the many Doomed worlds we came across, I remember Duster the most clearly Almost no water, air too thin to breathe, a tech level of 5 and poverty matched only by the lack of industry. We were the first ship to pass through in two years, they told us. They offered us money to take their children away to a world—any world—with air you could breathe without machines. We tried to fix their colony-sized compressors, and we managed to get the capital's plant working at full efficiency again. But the unit at the other major city was a wreck—beyond saving.
We were heading out of the system when we heard via radio that the one crippled compressor had broken down for good and the city's inhabitants were starting overland to seize the capital—and its compressor. Some of my crew wanted to go back, but I vetoed the idea. They asked for an explanation, so I gave it to them bluntly: There's nothing we can do.
Seems like I've been repeating myself ever since.
Many planetary environments are inhabitable only because of advanced technology—technology which many populations can no longer maintain or create on their own. In Hard Times, the populations of many desert worlds, ice worlds, and—particularly— worlds with hostile or otherwise unsuitable atmospheres must find indigenous answers to their life support needs.
For low-tech worlds, this may be impossible.
Those worlds which cannot meet their basic life support needs are labelled Doomed worlds. By 1128, it is clear which worlds are Doomed and which are not. It has been almost three years since most local technologies took a stumble into lower values. During this time, each world depending upon mechanical systems for life support has nursed those systems along, lavishing an almost fanatical degree of care and maintenance upon them.
However, by 1128, failures have occurred—was inevitable. Worlds could either meet the challenge of repair or they could not. If they couldn't, then they had to meet the challenge of constructing a new system of their own, in accordance with their new, reduced technological capabilities. Those worlds that could not succeed in this regard and have harsh environments are clearly Doomed.
Doomed worlds will eventually become completely uninhabitable, although this grisly end may still be years away. Almost all have already suffered population losses as a result of the life support problems.
However, not all—or even most—of these losses are outright casualties.Those individuals, who could have pulled up stakes and moved on, did and went someplace—anyplace—where air, water and food are still available. Many more people want to follow them, but that will only be possible if enough starships arrive to carry them away to other systems.
Desperate Biofreight: The Doom TradeOne of the most lucrative businesses for traders operating in the Outlands and the Wilds is the transport of individuals back into the Frontier and the Safe. Refugees attempting to escape from Doomed worlds are generally their best—and most desperate—customers.The severity of their plight makes them willing to pay anything in order to get away. If denied a spot on the ship, some of these individuals are likely to consider violence, hijacking or becoming stowaways. This is an excellent source of adventures, since these people have nothing to lose and everything to gain if they can pull off their plans.
Consequently, PCs who decide to engage in what is known as the 'doom trade" have to be careful—the profit potentials may be high, but so are the risks.
Adding Injury to Insult: War DamageIn addition to whatever natural environmental difficulties are presented by a world, those which were located in War Zones have the additional problem of possible war damage.
Passing fleets and invading armies were often given orders to cripple life support systems and/or power generation systems of those worlds deemed sympathetic to the enemy or likely to fall out of friendly hands. This was not intended as a genocidal tactic but it was rather intended to slow down the enemy, who had to rebuild these damaged facilities.
Or so ran the assumption. Unfortunately, as the war progressed, many worlds were never visited again—either by friend or foe. The war passed them by. Their life support capacities remained crippled.
The Black War years only intensified this problem—Lucan's forces were known for striking at the life support equipment of vulnerable enemy worlds, particularly those at the fringes of his enemies' protective spheres.
Doomed Worlds vs. Falling Worlds: Predictions of SeveritySome worlds may show signs of population decrease and marginal life support maintenance, yet not be Doomed. These borderline cases are known as Failing worlds. This name reflects the ambiguity of their future—it is still unclear whether they have managed to stabilize at a viable life support level or whether they will ultimately decline into total uninhabitability.
Whether a world is Doomed or Failing can be predicted with considerable accuracy simply by considering the nature of the world's environment and its practical tech level.
Below TL3: Tech levels prior to TL3 are extremely vulnerable to any kind of life support shortage. An absolute lack of a needed resource (e.g., no water) is almost certain to doom the world.
TL3: At TL3, two important changes take place. Electricity becomes possible, as does limited construction with metals. The importance of these factors in helping a world maintain life support cannot be overstated.
With electricity, it becomes possible to liberate oxygen and hydrogen from common water. Consequently, it becomes possible to replenish tired air supplies and to secure an (admittedly dangerous) source of power—gaseous hydrogen. However, worlds with fluid hydrospheres still have a strong negative effect on life support capacity, even with primitive electricity available. The ability to acquire any water (and, thereby, free oxygen and hydrogen) from most non-water hydrospheres is very limited indeed. In effect, making water in a fluid hydrosphere usually requires the maker be able to isolate and contain the molecular components of whatever compound(s) the fluid is comprised of. Societies barely generating electricity are going to find this nearly impossible in most cases. In certain instances, it may be completely impossible.
Another major advantage conferred by TL3 is the ability to manufacture metal hulls and containers with reliable seals. This allows for the construction of tanks to retain the molecular by-products of water. It also makes various distillation processes much easier and less wasteful. Even a world without any water at all has some available to it when this technology is produced—the moisture contained in every living cell on the world. This has led to some admittedly gruesome 'cremation" practices on desperate worlds, but it makes survival—at some level—possible.
Also important—crude filter masks can be produced at this tech level, which serves to reduce the effects of tainted atmospheres.
TL4: TL4 introduces a number of important additions. Internal combustion engines are perfected, as are more sophisticated metal-working techniques. The ability to compress very thin atmospheres increases, as does the ability to seal out those which are contaminated. Filtration improves, and chemical manipulation advances to the point where extensive hydroponics are quite possible. Electricity is now an easy-to-produce and easy-to-operate power source energizing lights and heating units.
TL5: By TLS, almost all adverse environmental conditions can be handled with only minor long-term reduction of life support capacities.
TL7: By TL7, only insidious atmospheres have any effect on a population's ability to provide for its own long-term life support.
STAGE 9: FAILING WORLDS AND A FAILING IMPERIUM (date 180-1128)
Although better off than Doomed worlds, many backwater planets just manage to struggle by. They have enough resources to ensure survival, but lack sufficient materials or development to prevent a headlong slide down the scale of civilization and technology—sometimes crashing to a halt below the level of industrialization. Such planets usually have some environmental handicaps—and it is usually the relationship between those handicaps And the local tech level which cause the world to fail.
Some of these worlds may possess hazards making them seem more like candidates for Doomed status, but for some reason, the hazard is not as severe in this particular case. For example, certain Failing worlds have tainted atmospheres that are not immediately fatal but cause early death or chronic resperatory ailments instead.
How the Falling Worlds Contribute to the Doom TradeThe doom trade (the transport of refugees away from crippled worlds to safer ones in the Frontier and Safe) actually owes more of its existence to the Failing worlds than to the Doomed worlds. This is largely due to many more of the worlds in Imperial space are Failing than Doomed. Also, the populations of Failing worlds tend to be larger.
However, individuals on Failing worlds are nowhere near as desperate to escape as the people on Doomed planets. Most individuals on Failing worlds still believe long-term survival in the environment is possible, and they are not so quick to cut their losses and their roots. Most of the doom trade passengers from Failing worlds are emigres who do not have strong personal ties, or people who have been economically ruined and will have to start anew anyhow. A few are those wise individuals who realize it is better to be safe than sorry and things may slide further—which could mean further decreases in technology and a change in status from Failing world to Doomed world.
Life on a Falling WorldBy 1128, Failing worlds are beginning to go through a number of significant changes. Communities shrink back into tighter proximity as long-range, high-speed travel becomes more expensive. Alternate energy sources are re-explored, if only to provide backup systems in the event of main power plant failures. On those worlds where space travel already exists and is still technically sustainable (TL6+), many of the new insystem industries will be underway. For example, those worlds without petroleum reserves of any type will be wildcatting propane from gas giant atmospheres for fuel, lubricants and—via torturous polymerization methods—plastics.
Life support strategies employed by many Failing worlds include:
Recycling: Recycling—everything from paper to metals to plastics to petroleum—becomes a major concern. Many high-tech factories that are no longer being used for production are converted to this purpose. In many of the more desperate and water-poor environments, bodies are dehydrated to add to the total water supply.
Bioproducts: In order to create more air, flora and fauna, many Failing world governments subsidize industries which meet needs by developing biological resources, rather than nonbiological resources. For instance, rubber, wood and animal hides are all preferred over plastic. Methanol and ethanol distillation is encouraged.
Nonexhaustible Resources: Solar, wind, hydroelectric and tidal energy sources are all encouraged and exploited to the degree permitted by local funding. Stone and cement construction is emphasized over metals or composites.
Useful Bioforms: The Imperium’s tremendous diversity was not just social, but biological. As a result, many creatures offer Failing worlds major advantages. One example hails from the Ley Sector—silicate-based organisms which excrete complex polymers as gastric waste products. Such creatures can be fed their standard meal with a little excess carbon and water—and out comes strands of plastic. Organisms with this kind of unusual property are highly desirable in 1128. Unfortunately, the widespread largess of the Imperial standard of living prior to the Rebellion made these creatures more notable as oddities rather than assets. Consequently, they are rare beyond their homeworlds and hard to locate for purchase.
Law and More Order on Most WorldsThe changes all worlds experience during the first three years of Hard Times often create changes in government as well. The population of any world which has experienced significant economic disruption or loss of life is likely to experience a decrease in personal freedoms and a corresponding increase in centralized, autocratic government. This is usually caused by the need to control the dangers to the civilian population in the most efficient manner, and to assure that crucial services and tasks are carried out when needed.
In many cases, however, the heightened efficiency is overshadowed by the increased intrusion and oppression these governments entail. This can create a mood of civil unrest, which leads to a more autocratic governmental form, which leads to more unrest. This cycle can often end in violent revolts—leaving things worse than before.
By 1128, those worlds that are going to experience government changes have done so. This represents a majority of the worlds due to the widespread decreases in tech level. When governments change due to Hard Times, the net effect is usually a loss in pluralism, not simply an increase in the world’s governmental UWP. For instance, a Representative Democracy (UWP value 4) is more pluralistic than a Charismatic Oligarchy (UWP value 3), yet the Representative Democracy has the higher UWP. The basic MegaTraveller governmental progression tends to reflect a compromise between increasing levels of centrism and the governmental evolution accompanying the growth in population. Hard Times establishes an alternate progression based on decreasing levels of pluralism and increasing levels of oppression to resolve changes in government. This alternate progression is presented in the following section.
Passing of an AgeThe year 1128 sees an Imperium populated by increasing numbers of Frontier folk. Strangely, however, they are Frontier folk in reverse chronological order. Rather than opening up a new frontier, they are the rear guard of a collapsing civilization. These hardy, self-reliant people are the survivors of a terrible, pervasive war. They were born into the largest, most advanced and (supposedly) most secure interstellar state in existence.
And now it is gone and will not be back in their lifetimes.
In particular, the small worlds of the Outlands and the Wilds are beginning to realize the greatest hardships are ahead. Unable to maintain the infrastructure that produces doctors, educators and other essential specialists, they must now try to attract offworlders from the Frontier or the Safes to fill those posts. But offworlders are fewer and further between in 1128, and the numbers continue to decrease.
A typical planet in the Outlands—say, population 4, tech level 7—is at the mercy of many possible aggressors, the most prominent of which are bands of organized pirates. It is not a safe, and therefore probably not a stable, environment. Yet, somehow, this planet must maintain an adequate number of competent, professional medical personnel. At population level 4, it is almost certain this world will not have a college, much less a medical school. And since there are no longer formal avenues of educational exchange, attending a suitable college on another planet maybe all but impossible. Even if the inhabitants of this world know of a suitable institution somewhere, the distance may be too great; the institution might not take offworlders; or the planet might be unable to afford it. Indeed, its own secondary and post-secondary educational system may be so limited as to be unable to produce candidates with sufficient qualifications. In order for such small planets to ensure themselves adequate medical care, they must either place a tremendous investment in one or two of their best and brightest, or they must hire offworld help. That offworld help is getting more scarce and less willing to take long-term employment in the Outlands and the Wilds.
Similar areas of personnel shortages would be in education, technical maintenance, security/military and science. Lawyers will be rare as well, but smaller societies have less need for elaborate legal structures, so this lack will hardly be felt.
This situation creates communities with a quaint "Old West" feel, where each citizen is solicitous toward, and proud and protective of, "our school marm" or "our doc."
STAGE 10: EMERGENT AUTONOMOUS POLITIES (date 1125-1128 and beyond)Few of the fledgling polities that attempted to band together against the onset of the Short Dusk (Hard Times) lasted more than a few years. Only a dozen or so survived long enough to be absorbed when the Safes of the post-Rebellion factions began to re-expand. However, the fact that so many interstellar polities did strive fa link themselves in common cause against the threat of social and technological recidivism offers insight into why the Short Dusk will not become another Long Night.
The breakup of the Third Imperium was not caused by decay and decrepitude, what is what killed the First Imperium. Nor was it the result of the overextension and loss of control, creating the fragmentation of the Second Imperium. Instead, the Third Imperium was like a collection of spokes suddenly losing their hub. When the core (the emperor) was removed, large chunks of the society spun off on their own stilted trajectories, revealing what many had said for centuries—the dynamic equilibrium of the Third Imperium was too fragile to survive the stress of a true crisis.
The pieces that flew away from the Imperium's hub were not the agents of chaos, despite the powerful and often conflicting?g centrifugal forces predetermining their fates. Instead, the factions, Frontiers, even the worlds of the Outlands longed for the benefits they had known when the Third Imperium cloaked them all. That longing pushed them to resurrect some semblance of the Imperium, whether with a few neighboring worlds or as part of a multifaction effort to restore the peace and prosperity through compromise and cooperation.
What many see as the death throes of the Imperium will soon be known as the growth pains heralding the approach of a newer more mature scheme of interstellar governance. The Imperium is not dying of old age—it is experiencing childhood's end.
From the unfinished manuscript discovered, along with the pistol used to take his own life, beside the body of Tredek Jurisor
In addition to the Safe regions, stable interstellar governments can arise in Frontier and Outland areas, particularly after 1128. These groupings, conceptually akin to ancient city-states, are referred to as independent, autonomous or stellar polities. Areas conducive to such regional consolidation have generally not been heavily mauled by the clashes of the Rebellion: If an area's tech level and industrial base are largely undamaged, so are its potentials to emerge as a new political nexus. It is also important the area contains a suitable mix of resources—usually at least one high-population planet for industry and economy, one or more agricultural planets, and perhaps a maintenance of intersystem trade within the polity.
Local governments must have the vision to rapidly and efficiently reorganize along humbler lines. Bureaucracies and pure democracies are unlikely to do so in time; their processes are too full of inertia. Dictatorships and oligarchies are too unwilling to concede their power. Technocracies, corporate-owned systems, republics and military administrations have the best chances of enacting the changes in time.
Finally, the formation of an interstellar government is more likely if the area has some form of speciate, ethnic, linguistic or cultural homogeneity—something creating an easily perceived line that divides a regional "us' from the hordes of 'them' beyond the local borders.
Polities and SurvivalUnfortunately, the majority of the interstellar polities formed will not endure for more than a few years. Some Frontier polities are actually absorbed by the local Safe, but Outland polities too often find out the member planets still have not wealthy planet. Class-A and class-B starports crucial to the stabilized their economies or achieved acceptable levels of security. Arguments over inequities of expenses and resource allocation often lead to feelings of suspicion and resentment, leading to dissolution of the group.
Even if these potential obstacles are overcome, the very success of the polity increases its attractiveness as a target for raiders. Prosperity means higher technology, fresh ships, worthwhile opportunities for a daring band of corsairs, Vikings or rippers, However, if an Outland polity can survive these combined threats to its unity, it can provide a safe haven in the midst of increasingly dangerous regions of space.
After 1128Many of the changes, which become evident from 1125-1128, require another decade before they are fully resolved, although many of these resolutions are already obvious by the end of 1128. For instance, Doomed worlds are still slowly dying. The long-term results are ordained—compliance with the harsh reality is all that remains.
Not all worlds face immediately bleak futures, however, Some may have the resources to take up with an independent polity, while some Frontier worlds may benefit from gradual firming up of defensive lines. Some stellar polities survive in the Outlands by stabilizing their technology and their ports, and they become, for a time, beacons in the growing darkness around them.
However,the astrographic lines dividing entrophy from order will become sharper in the years ahead. Areas with the benefit of in dustry and commerce may stabilize, recover, flourish and formulate plans for reexpansion. Areas that have fallen by the wayside will sink deeper into the mire of depression and decay.
To a large degree, it is up to the players to determine how deep this depression—and how dark that decay—will be.
In the real world, the most crowd-pleasing example of Cyclical History is how the Roman Empire declined and fell. Well, in western popular culture at any rate.
But from a science fiction writer's standpoint, one of the most dramatic parts comes in between. The Interregnum aka "The Dark Ages". The part that Isaac Asimov used to create an entire genre of science fiction, when he was inspired by Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to write the immortal Foundation trilogy. The part which happens historically between the fall of the first Galactic Empire and the rise of the Second. That period which Poul Anderson gave the picturesque name "The Long Night."
Which is also the part that makes historians throw up their hands in despair, since the popular culture conception of the dark ages is almost total fantasy. The majority of modern scholars avoid the term altogether due to its negative connotations, finding it misleading and inaccurate. Historians prefer the term "Early Middle Ages"
Be that as it may, the historians will just have to keep wringing their hands, because "Early Middle Ages" won't put your science fiction novel on the best-seller's list. The readers want something familiar, dramatic, and full of dark majesty; they wouldn't give a rat's heinie for dull historical accuracy. Writers can milk the popular culture misconception for all it is worth, because it never gets old.
In the Foundation trilogy some planets lost the ability to maintain their atomic power infrastructure and reverted to coal and oil. Although some still had starships, presumably steam-powered. In Niven and Pournelle's The Mote In God's Eye the planet New Scotland was recently terraformed. It required high-tech injection of tailored algae into volcanic plumes to keep the atmosphere breathable. When the Long Night hit, things got real tense on the planet. It was a desperate race between bootstrapping up to terraforming technology and everybody dying of suffocation. This is always a problem if you are living in a place where high technology is vital for survival.
Eventually things decay to the point that the starships stop working, and all the worlds revert to pre-spaceflight conditions. From there individual isolated planets can decivilize all the way down to cave-man level if they are unlucky. Or even to extinction if their luck has really run out. Lucky ones can arrest the fall at various technology levels, or even start to rise again.
Life become nasty, brutish, and short for a thousand years or so. Until a few planets regain starship technology and the second galactic empire starts to rise.
The Long Night is an awful time to live, so if it is inevitable, steps can be taken to help before it actually happens. Empires or organizations with some foresight can make some preparations. Having said that, the preparations will probably have to be made early in the Empire's life, it will probably be very difficult to do them during the Decline and Fall phase (due to indifference, self-centeredness, and decadence). Although Hari Seldon managed it.
There are two goals here:
The idea is to try and minimize the number of deaths in the empire, even though much of the infrastructure needed for survival is going to be swept away.
Survival in the galactic empire depends upon infrastructure. Think about modern day life, your automobile for instance. It is a wonderful piece of technology, but it needs infrastructure. Bluntly: if the Zombie Apocalypse happens, there ain't gonna be any more gasoline to fill up your auto's gasoline tank. Infrastructure like petroleum wells, oil refineries, gasoline tankers, and gasoline stations will all stop working as they are overrun by hungry zombies. The same will be true for the internet, smartphones, household electricity, natural gas, food and water.
Things are even worse if you are in living in a space station or something. Because you need infrastructure to supply your air.
The situation is that during the long night the level of technology is dropping. But survival depends upon using the existing ultra-high tech infrastructure left over from the defunct galactic empire.
To repair broken technology when no spare parts are available will require the services of a tinker. For instance, if a machine breaks a ball bearing but there are no spares, a tinker can try to re-cast the broken bearing in place.
As things get worse the tinkers will have to learn how to be cobblers, who have the power of bricolage. For instance, if there are no gasoline stations to supply fuel to your auto, a cobbler can alter the engine to run on methane distilled from chicken manure. Make an input into the auto's induction manifold using scrap tubing and duct-tape. Boil the manure to release the methane, capture it and compress it.
This isn't going to stop the infrastructure decline, but it can slow it down a bit. This will save lives. It will also give the civilization some breathing room to downsize into a sustainable infrastructure before everybody dies. Otherwise the infrastructure will probably crash all the way down to a subsistence economy. If they cannot hang on to plow technology they will rock-bottom into cave man hunter-gatherer level.
This is trying to minimize the centuries that will pass before the empire recovers to its original functionality, or before a new empire arises.
This was the motive behind Hari Seldon establishing the First and Second Foundation when the galactic empire was found to be falling, in Isaac Asimov's FOUNDATION trilogy. The Foundation's goal was to reduce the long night from thirty thousand years down to a mere thousand. Turning the Long Night into a Short Dusk so to speak. Seldon's official line was that the Encyclopedia Galactica produced by the First Foundation would do the job, by preserving knowledge. That turned out to be a ruse, the actual plan had the First Foundation playing a more active role.
There are three strategies that can help with the birth of the Second Galactic Empire:
- Preserving Knowledge
- Caching equipment
- Establish reserves
Caches of knowledge will have to be accessible to the lowest common denominator. Which probably means a universal common language (a lingua franca analogous to Latin, used by scholars) and indestructible printed books. Physical "dead-tree" books can be read by a culture that has not yet advanced to the discovery of electricity. A lingua franca ensures that people in the long night can understand what is written in the blasted books.
eBooks are not as accessible. As a general rule eBook readers require electrical power, which can be a challenge for a culture who doesn't know what electricity is. As stupid as putting the key to a lockbox inside the lockbox, explaining how to generate electricity inside an eBook that requires electricity to read. If you do go the eBook route, you'll have to freeze the eBook data format, to avoid the digital preservation problem, e.g., why you cannot read the data on your old floppy disks. Otherwise the poor long-night culture is liable to be stuck with eBooks in a format that the surviving eBook readers cannot handle. The US Library of Congress is having a real problem with digital data becoming unaccessible for this very reason, and is finding that migrating the data from obsolete formats to new formats is almost impossible to perform successfully. This will have to be a constant effort since data formats change so rapidly, which is why the data format needs to be frozen.
An unreliable alternative is using bards and minstrels to preserve the encyclopedias. Sort of like the "book people" from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. This has several problems.
Passing the memory of the books from generation to generation can distort them like a children's game of "Telephone". The problem could be managed with the rhyme system, a la Ballad of Brandobar, sort of a bard checksum. Custard Smingleigh said: That's why each book needs three people. Two to individually memorise the book, one more to memorise parity information. Hah-hah.
Volumes of the encyclopedia can be lost if the current bard dies before passing on the memory. Memorizing complicated diagrams is difficult. Getting the system set up in the first place will be a challenge in a decadent civilization. And so on. Relicteurs make more sense.
Like pretty much all of this section, the frozen-scientist project will happen when the empire is at its youth, since there will be little or no popular support for such a project during the empire's decline and fall.
The scientists may be ignorant of Imperial history after they are frozen, which may lead to miscalculations. Unless the empire sends periodical historical digests to the cryo-chamber, so the scientists are faced with the daunting task of reading two thousand years worth of history.
The scientists will have to be carefully profiled and vetted. It would be most unfortunate if some megalomaniac with visions of conquering the primitive planet managed to get included with the scientists.
There is a question of what criteria triggers the awakening of the scientists. It may be safer for the scientists to be automatically wakened every hundred years or so and let them decide whether to go back into cryo-freeze or not. A fail-safe signal from the Empire (whose interruption triggers awakening) may fail during the Decline and Fall phase, when the officials don't care about keeping it up. This would a premature awakening since the Long Night had not actually happened yet.
It might be a good idea to wake up a scientist if a local manages to open an equipment cache.
The scientists might need some soldiers, since when they emerge, any native fallen war-lords will quickly realize that whoever captures the scientists will rule the world. The scientists will need to be protected. For the same reason all the information inside the cryo-chamber should be encrypted. Weapon data, military tactics, location of other cryo-chambers, that sort of thing. And all the equipment in locked chambers.
How to keep the wrong people out is left as an exercise for the reader. I would suggest locks that require scientific knowledge to open, for example the lock on the Motie Museum. Hints may be left in re-boot encyclopedias.
Naturally this will only help after the original cause of The Long Night is fixed. For instance, if the fall was because all the aristocracy and political rulers were corrupt and decadent, recovery is unlikely until they are replaced with people who are non-corrupt and non-decadent. The culture has to be ripe for re-birth in other words.
If a planet uses up all the easily accessible petroleum sources, a civilization in the long night trying to recreate a technology base will have to make the jump from medieval wood-and-coal tech to off-shore oil drilling in one step. No can do, if there are no places where the oil is just bubbling up from the ground waiting to be scooped up. The same goes for many rare-earth elements which are vital to the electronics industry. These are called "rare" not because they are uncommon, but because of their chemical nature they rarely occur in economically exploitable ore deposits.
The empire will have to pass draconian laws to punish people and corporations who steal from the reserves. It's the future empire you are threatening!
On the other hand, if a multi-planet empire collapses into the long night, the planets who were prudent about their resource reserves will be the ones who have a shot at being the new throne world of the new empire. The stupid planets who could not resist the megacorporations will still be at medieval peasant level when they are invaded by starships from prudent worlds.
Even without preparation, any organization that can retain a bit of infrastructure can become a nucleus for rebirth. Even unlikely ones, like the post office. We saw that in fiction with David Brin's The Postman, and in real life in Puerto Rico during 2017.
After the mindless drudgery of the Long Night, eventually a new galactic empire will rise from the ashes, phoenix-like. Although, as previously mentioned, if a given planet has already gobbled up the low-hanging natural resources they may be in trouble because you just got one shot.
In science fiction the level of technology has to be more advanced than present-day state-of-the-art, otherwise where is the fun in that? Indeed, in some science fiction a single advance in technology starts off the entire plot, with the balance of the novel spent exploring the ramifications and changes caused to society (i.e., the theme of the novel is unintended consequences).
Such science fiction novels can make the readers impatient with the real world. They often complain that we have reached the 21st century yet there are still no ubiquitous flying cars, jet packs, cities on the ocean floor, nor lunar colonies.
Having said that, such science fiction readers are often oblivious to the titanic tech advances they have personally lived through. Such as the advent of the internet. Which made this entire website possible.
So the most common error science fiction writers make is drastically underestimating the rate of technological advance.
Around 1910, the hot multiple-use buzzword was "Electric," as in Tom Swift and His Electric Runabout or Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle. In the 1920's it was "Radio." Radio was just coming into regular use, so it was new and exciting. In the 1940's it was "Atomic," for obvious reasons. In the 1950's it was "Transistorized". In the 1960's it was "Laser". In the 1970's it was "Computerized". Currently it is "Nanotechnolgy."
If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Even if it actually a screw. So if you invent some fabulous scientific breakthrough for your SF story, try to resist the temptation to use it as the solution for everything. You can see how silly it becomes.
Job one is getting enough food to eat, because otherwise you die.
Without the plow, all one person could manage to feed was themselves and maybe their family. Such cultures had to have 100% employment in the food raising industry. The culture could not afford the luxury of supporting citizens whose job was inventing innovations instead of raising food.
But with the development of the plow, suddenly a surplus of food appears. Inventors can be supported, and the headlong rush of technological progress is off and running.
And in Jerry Pournelle's Janissaries, the Earth mercenaries are marooned on a primitive planet. The first thing they ask for from their alien owners is a copy of James Burke's Connections book, with an eye towards converting the primitive planet into an industrial one. The book is practically a blueprint. If you haven't seen Burke's documentary series Connections or The Day The Universe Changed, you might consider renting a copy.
Dr. Hoyle has a point. As civilization on Terra advanced, it used up all the low hanging fruit. All the easily accessible petroleum and rare minerals have been extracted. Now you have to use incredibly difficult techniques like fracking and deep offshore oil drilling.
Which means if some civilization destroying apocalypse strikes (Class 2 Civilization Extinction, Scope: Planetary, Severity: Societal Collapse), any new civilization attempting to increase its technology level will crash into an overwhelming road block. Basically they will have to make the jump from medieval technology to offshore oil drilling in one step.
In other words: you practically get only one shot at a high-tech civilization on a given planet. If you screw up and destroy your civilization, you'll have to wait a few hundreds of millions of years for your next chance.
Richard Duncan is even more pessimistic. His Olduvai theory predicts that the lifetime of an industrial civilization is under 100 years, apocalypse or no. As near as I can figure his theory hinges on the "peak oil" phenomenon. He predicts our technological civlization will start contracting about the year 2030.
This sad fate can be avoided by purchasing some insurance: extraterrestrial colonies and space mining. This can be an argument to invest in the colonization of space, the species of MacGuffinite called Don't Keep All Your Eggs In One Basket.
The second and subsequent civilizations on a given planet will probably be forced into landfill mining of landfills created by the prior civilization.
As previously mentioned, the most common error science fiction writers make is drastically underestimating the rate of technological advance. Consider that one hundred years ago the paper clip had just been invented, Marconi had invented the wireless radio, the Wright brothers had invented the airplane, and the latest cutting edge material was Bakelite. Assuming that technology continues to advance at the same rate, all of our flashy technological marvels of today will look just as quaint and obsolete in the year 2100. And in 2500, they will look like something made by Galileo.
What I am saying is that Star Wars technology is more like 150 years from now, not ten thousand years from now. In ten thousand years we will all be cosmic StarGods who sculpt entire galaxies as art projects. Which makes the DUNE universe target date of 21,267 CE somewhat ludicrous.
Authors who do not want to write about StarGods have a problem.
A related problem is that science fiction authors desiring a Star-Trek/Star-Wars like universe with lots of alien species who just happen to be at the same tech level, well, disappointment looms. An analysis reveals that interstellar explorers looking for alien civilizations will only encounter either apes or angels, but never humans. Unless all alien species run into the same technological-stasis brick wall shortly after developing starships.
Authors who worry about such details try to come up with a way to put the brakes on progress.
- In his DUNE novels, Frank Herbert has the "Butlerian Jihad". This eliminates "thinking machines" (computers and artificial intelligence), so bye-bye internet. Creating thinking machines is punishable by death.
- John Barnes postulated a "Inward Turn" in his A MILLION OPEN DOORS. Due to reaction from the aftermath of a horrific world war, world culture decided to take a rest from technological progress for a few centuries.
- In Jerry Pournelle's CoDominion novels, the government suppresses all research that might upset the military balance, which is basically all research.
- In Andre Norton's THE STARS ARE OURS, Terra is controlled by a fundamentalist Luddite regime which swept into power after a close brush with nuclear Armageddon. Scientific research was made illegal. Heck, study and book-larnin' was made illegal (excep for the privileged "Peacemen" of the new regime). And the former scientists were made into menial slaves.
- In James Blish's THEY SHALL HAVE STARS government security has grown so strict that one researcher complains the scientific method doesn't work any more. Progress has ground to a halt.
- In Joel Shepherd's RENEGADE the author postulates a technological plateau that all technological civilizations hit, human or alien. Technological development plotted on a graph is a "S"-shaped curve or sigmoid curve. Once they reach the top of the plateau, they stay in technological statis for tens of thousands of years.
- And the Long Night (dark ages following the decline and fall of the Galactic empire) is always a good way to reset the clock by a thousand years or so. This can be found in Asimov's FOUNDATION trilogy, Niven and Pournelles THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE, H. Beam Piper's SPACE VIKING, and Poul Anderson's Flandry of Terra series.
These are a few of the many ways that "thinking-man's" authors use to justify writing stories about, say, recognizable reader-friendly galactic kings and queens. Otherwise logic dictates they'd be being forced to write science fiction about some unrecognizable reader-unfriendly bizarre cyberpunk dystopia. Hard for the author to write, and it drastically limits their reader-base.
Non-scientific authors do not have that problem. They just write unabashedly write science-fantasy about recognizable galactic kings and queens with no justification. Because they figure their reader base is too unsophisticated to know any better. But such authors probably avoid this website in the first place, frightened away at the sight of the first equation. And by the hostile glare from RocketCat.
Occasionally an author can make their desired background plausible by altering just one technological advancement instead of suppressing all technological advance (this is considered to be very elegant and will gain you accolades from your readers and other authors. But it is not strictly necessary). A "Minimum Necessary Change", to use the terminology of Isaac Asimov's time-travel novel The End of Eternity.
Remember von Braun's giant space wheel type space station? It would have paid for itself, with improved weather forecasts, relaying TV and radio messages over the globe, and observing hostile military maneuvers. 76 meters in diameter with a crew of fifty! Makes the ISS look like a used beer can.
Why didn't it get built? It was rendered obsolete by the invention of integrated circuits. Without ICs you need a huge crew with life support and artificial gravity. With ICs you can get away with using a small inexpensive satellite with no crew at all.
So an author who wants a background where huge space stations made their appearance in the 1950s, you just need an alternate history where the IC was never invented. Of course this implies a world with vacuum tube computers filling entire buildings and no such things as personal computers and smart phones, but this just adds more flavor to the science fiction background.
Joan Vinge pointed out an unexpected consequence of the collapse of technology in her THE OUTCASTS OF HEAVEN'S BELT. If a planetary colony falls into barbarism, everybody reverts to a non-technological agrarian society. If an asteroid civilization falls into barbarism, everybody dies. It takes lots of technology to run the oxygen system, airlocks, spaceships, hydroponics, nuclear reactors, and other items vital for life in space. No technology, no life. In other words, they are a Hydraulic state.
A milder version of this happens with the Three Generation Rule.
Disaster may be staved off by tinkerers and cobblers, but only temporarily.
After all, interstellar colonists hungry for the "light of home" will be out of luck if the colony is farther than 55.7 light years away from Sol. Beyond that distance, Sol will be dimmer than apparent magnitude 6.0, too dim to see with the naked eye. Colonists who want to see Sol will need a telescope.
- In Harry Harrison's The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World, Professor Coypu vaguely knows that humanity originated on a planet called "Dirt" or "Earth" or something like that.
- In James Schmitz's The Witches of Karres they vaguely know that humanity originated on a planet called "Yarthe".
- In Isaac Asimov's Foundation, Lord Dorwin dabbles with the "Origin Question", trying to figure out which planet man started from.
- In Andre Norton's Star Rangers, everybody knows that Terra of Sol is the legendary home of mankind, but nobody has the faintest idea of where it is located.
- In Andre Norton's Moon Of Three Rings all the Free Traders starships have ship's cats. But nobody can remember which planet the cat species came from.
- In Thorarinn Gunnarsson's The Starwolves planet Terra had to be evacuated for some mysterious reason. The location of Terra was kept in the memory cells of their sentient starships. Unfortunately all the original ships were gradually destroyed in the ten-thousand year war with the evil Union. Said Union had captured one of the ship memory cells eons ago but could not extract any information from it. The memory cell becomes a MacGuffin in the novel.