This article originally appeared in the November/December 2015 issue.
A warning is given to nearly every game master in every type of role playing game, which is especially true of Traveller with its galaxy-wide scope: Don’t try to create everything; only create enough to satisfy the needs of the next game or two. However, I like creating stuff, so I have always ignored that advice. When it comes to Traveller, though, I have really gone overboard.
Encyclopaedia Galactica is the written background and source material to my science fiction wargaming and role playing campaigns. I have been compiling the Encyclopaedia for ten years on and off, and the project has now become an interesting hobby in its own right. The background is culled from a variety of sources and stitched together to make a coherent whole.
Initially, I wanted to play role playing games and wargames within a science fiction setting, preferably using the Traveller1 and Ground Zero Games2 rule sets. Because I wanted to use both role playing and wargaming within my imaginary universe, I decided at the outset not to include game stats, characteristics and skills for Traveller or wargaming qualities within the Encyclopaedia. This has given me an unexpected bonus, in that my universe is now generic and can be used with any roleplaying or wargaming rule sets.
However, I didn’t particularly like the given settings for either game. I wanted my own universe. As a solo gamer, I wanted to generate as little as possible of the background from my own imagination. So I set about looking for background material from whatever sources I could find. I included the A. Bertram Chandler books3 which had such a realistic feel to them, based as they are on the author’s actual experiences as a merchant sailor, and including an Australian flavour, which was “alien” to my own British viewpoint. Thus the major story arc for my games would be the upcoming war between the Rim Worlds and The Empire. I had also read the E. E. “Doc” Smith books about The Service of the Empire and the D’Alembert family4, which included a nobility similar to that present in Traveller. So these became included in the background. For early human history the background given in the Ground Zero Games books looked like a link between the present and the D’Alembert time period. So I decided to set the universe after the end of the Smith books and before the Rim Worlds rebellion.
Then along came Firefly and Serenity5 and these just “had” to be included. Luckily an unexplored (up to that point) area existed where the independent colonies could be set up and the Alliance became an alliance of Power Blocs in the area.
As a guide to the future of the Empire that I had created, elements of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy6 were also incorporated into the fabric of the universe.
Another consequence of this being a solo project was that I wanted extra detail and so I decided to incorporate as many images as possible. As someone once said, a picture is worth a thousand words. These images include planetary maps from Heaven & Earth7, logos for corporations and organisations, portraits for people, plans and images for star ships and whatever pictures I could find for commodities, sports, religions etc. All this was with the aim of making the gaming easier to play. It did, however, make my universe non commercial as many of the images I used were copyrighted. The majority of these images were found using Google Image Search. Some, however, needed to be altered and there a graphics program like GIMP or Photoshop came in very handy.
Over the years my gaming has also altered the history of the area and has been incorporated into the Encyclopaedia. Thus the Encyclopaedia becomes a living thing, a record of my gaming and SF interests.
How It Was Done
Initially the Encyclopaedia was a hand-written affair using coloured paper in a series of ring binders (one for most items and one for star systems). Different subjects had different colours, so people were on blue paper, companies on yellow paper and worlds on green paper. This made finding information a little easier, but the ring binders were cumbersome to carry around, and linking from one item to another was difficult.
After some research I decided that the best way to create this source material for my universe was with a wiki, like Wikipedia. I adopted the Tiddly Wiki8 format because it suited my style. It is a standalone program, not requiring access the internet, it could be carried on a USB stick enabling me to take it to work and do a bit on the encyclopaedia in my lunch break, and I found it easy to use. The basic facts for the Encyclopaedia Galactica were gleaned from the various source materials with a careful reading of each reference book. Notes were taken of every person, animal, organisation, world, city, star port, restaurant, vehicle etc. mentioned in any of the books with any details shown in the book, together with any dates that were given by the author. These notes were then included in the Encyclopaedia, before the next source material were read.
A universe of Traveller star systems was created from a long forgotten DOS based program that generated the North and South Hemispheres complete with hemisphere (sector) maps, and planetary statistics. The program assigned random names to the worlds. These random names were replaced where necessary with names from the source materials. The star maps were then annotated using GIMP (A Photoshop-like program) with the names of the systems, plus the outlines of various areas such as the Bermuda Hundred, the Vargr Extents and the Rim Worlds. This map is kept updated as new systems are detailed and named, and copied to the jpg format for viewing within the TiddlyWiki. Planetary and system maps and details were then generated from the Heaven & Earth7 program. If I was to start this project again from scratch I would probably use Heaven and Earth to generate the whole universe for me.
A list of potential planetary names was obtained from a list of the names of planets, planetoids, asteroids and comets found on the internet. These names were allocated to sectors based upon the power blocs assigned to each sector. So if I needed to name an otherwise un-named planet all I had to do was look up the “spare” names in the sector concerned.
Templates were set up for planet and sophont entries, and later added to with starship, starship class, corporation, organisation and commodity entries. Thus essential details wouldn’t be omitted from these entries.
The Tiddlywiki format allows the linking in of other documents, images, videos etc. I created a set of folders/directories within the Encyclopaedia Galactica folder to contain and manage these various items. The folder “Files” for example contains some text documents referenced within the Tiddlywiki, such as a description of the Directions Within the Galaxy or Stellar Evolution. In addition this folder contains reference information such as the computer generated listings of all the systems in each hemisphere. Another folder contains all the images, subdivided into Maps, People, Vehicles, Commodities etc. A third folder contains the videos referenced from the Encyclopaedia Galactica.
Items found on internet websites and the downloaded Freelance Traveller magazine, were generally copied and pasted into the Encyclopaedia, not only to save time and ensure accuracy, but also so that the phrasing was not mine and this added verisimilitude to the Encyclopaedia in that it appears to be created by a team of contributors.
Problems and Solutions
Inevitably there were problems with this approach. One problem I encountered early on was to keep the chronology straight. I therefore added a timeline, but I did this too far down the process of creating the encyclopaedia. I recommend anyone starting a project like this to make the timeline one of the first items created and to keep this as complete and up-to-date as possible.
Early on I adopted three guidelines with the Encyclopaedia that I have tried to stick to ever since.
Firstly, everything can be adapted to fit – it is my own universe to play in after all. Thus if any information or detail didn’t exactly fit my “vision” of the universe, I would change it to fit. For example, the various faster than light drives in A. Bertram Chandler’s books were very attractive to me and so the Ehrenhaft and Mannshen drives were adopted and made to fit with the Traveller jump travel schema. I had early on devised a timeline for the Stanley Dynasty, but this timeline didn’t fit with the timescale of the Rim Worlds books and the Firefly/Serenity videos, and so the Stanleys were made to have shorter lives to fit in with the other timeline. This didn’t fit with the inclusion of anagathics in Traveller, and so the Stanley Doctrine was changed to ban the Stanleys from using anagathics, and a reason invented for this – i.e., the desire to prevent the rise of a long-lived dictator-style emperor.
Secondly, anything already written is now fact and should not be changed, unless required by the first guideline. For instance, one article I wanted to incorporate into my background was Jeremide Alexis Sincavage from Freelance Traveller9. His background included a reference to “The Massacre of Corridor”. Rather than replace this with a disaster of my own invention, I left the reference in the article and assigned it to a pre-existing war in my background, namely the Third Solar War from Ground Zero Games’ background.
Thirdly, wherever possible, every fact should link to at least two other facts, so that the encyclopaedia becomes a large interconnected network of information. This is where the wiki format became a positive asset. After a certain critical point the number of items in the Encyclopaedia had grown to where I couldn’t possibly remember them all. This was what I was working towards—I now had a universe that I could explore, and “discover”. This needed a means of information exploration and that is where the links between items came into its own. As long as every item linked to another item and was in turn linked to by a different item, then the information could later be found, serendipitously. To ensure that this happened is the reason for the linking to at least two other facts.
Finally if you wish to explore my sandpit, either to play in it yourself, or to use it as a basis to create your own world, then a copy is available at my dropbox10.
From this copy you will see that it is still a work in progress, and probably will remain so for the rest of my lifetime. I have a folder in the images folder labelled unused images, containing images I have found that I believe may be useful in future. There are entries still to be made (called “Missing Tiddlers”) and entries needing linking into the network (called “Orphan Tiddlers”). Every so often I have a go at creating the missing entries and linking the orphans into the scheme, so the errors don’t accumulate too much.
- Part of the Classic Traveller Universe. See http://rpggeek.com/rpgfamily/423/traveller for the imperial services, and other empire wide organisations.
- Ground Zero Games Future History background to their Full Thrust, Star Grunt and Dirtside wargames rules. This gave me the early “Power Bloc” history and a reason for different sectors to have a different feel. See http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/3893/full-thrust
- The Rim Worlds/John Grimes novels by A. Bertram Chandler—see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._Bertram_Chandler and http://www.rimworlds.com/concordancecategoryindex.htm for the action in Sectors 29 to 31.
- E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Family D’Alembert/Circus of the Galaxy series. This gave me the reason for the nobility in the game, and the “orange slices” mapping of the empire. See http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_D'Alembert
- The TV series Firefly and follow-on movie, Serenity. See http://www.fireflywiki.org/Firefly/HomePage for the action in sectors 1, 2 and 18.
- The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foundation_series
- The Heaven and Earth system generation program is available from http://www.downport.com/wbd/HEAVEN_&_EARTH.htm
- The Encyclopaedia Galactica was built using classic TiddlyWiki, http://classic.tiddlywiki.com/ A newer version of TiddlyWiki called TiddlyWiki 5 is available: http://tiddlywiki.com/#HelloThere:HelloThere%20GettingStarted%20Upgrading%20Features%20Community%20RoadMap%20Docs
- Freelance Traveller, a free internet-only magazine for the Traveller system, http://www.freelancetraveller.com/