Thursday, September 28, 2017

Space Governments Musing

In its most simplistic explanation, a government and its effectiveness in maintaining security and loyalty over its citizens is dependent upon transportation and communication. As all have improved, it's been possible for nations to grow larger, keep their holdings, and maintain their borders. Once you get into space, however, geopolitical borders and control go out the window. This is especially true the slower you make transportation and communication between two star systems. If everything is done with wormholes (or any relatively short hyperdrives) and instant ansibles, then it's a lot easier to have sector-spanning star empires. It's easier to get military ships to defend your planets from pirates or enemy alien attacks. You can send supply aid quickly in case of a natural disaster. Or, you can stop those damn space Yankees from revolting and throwing your supplies of space tea into the space Boston Harbor.

But, the slower things are, the harder it is to maintain security, loyalty, and control. So, if you have something like Traveller's jump drive, it's going to be more difficult to set up the big grand empire. In a setting where travelling to a star can take a week or more
per parsec, you would need a less centralized government to keep your outworlders happy about their independence, but planetary governors to keep them loyal to your government. A standard unitary sphere couldn't work like that. So what kind of governments could you see in such a setting? Luckily, a lot of this can be seen in settings like the Third Imperium of Traveller, as well as several of the 50's to 70's sci fi that inspired it and many modern takes on the space opera genre.

A note here. I'm no political scientist. I'm just a cook that has an interest in sci fi cultures and politics. So these are just rudimentary explanations done with the intent to provide interesting ideas for sci fi games within the constraints of a slower FTL drive. They aren't meant as a treatise on why one is better than the other.

Anarchist Communes

This is one I see a lot in transhumanist RPGs and literature, such as Eclipse Phase and The Culture series. Essentially, due to the vast distances and time that transportation and communication must cross, enforcing control over a planet is difficult. So these planets have to make due on their own in a lot of cases. Now, this really can only work if either there are a lot of resources available on the planet, or they have advanced mining and nanofabrication machines that can literally print what they need. If you are lacking either of those, then the colony is entirely dependent on either their patron, trade, or neighbors. Still, it's an interesting culture to see in space, and one that can be pretty alien to many of your players.

Feudal Empire

Whether it's Dune or Traveller's Third Imperium, a feudal space empire dominated by houses is another possible government that one could see across the vast gulfs of space. One could see it as a fairly decentralized monarchy, with each planet owned by a house of nobility. There would be a great deal of tradition and honor laws to keep people loyal to the capital world, and the capital world would have to have a large space fleet to keep a good military presence. Basically replace tithes and levies with taxes and militia prospects and you've essentially got a cool and interesting space empire.

Republic Confederation/Federation

With this, much like Star Wars's Galactic Senate, you have a union of worlds that want to retain some independent government over their planet and holdings, but still have an overarching government that runs things between the members. Stuff like trade and economics, social and civil rights, law and order, military, and foreign policy. The overarching government is the federal government, while the individual worlds would be the world government. People in America are fairly familiar with the federation, while a confederation is more decentralized. This puts more power into the world government and they are more likely to be different governments from each other than in a federation. Unlike the feudal system, where the members are all subordinate to the capital, the federation/confederacy members are generally equal (at least on paper). People in these federations would be united against a major threat. Think something like the Klingons and Romulans, or the Zerg in Starcraft. Because of the remote distances and transportation times, sticking together against enemy empires is a good reason to form a federation.

Free World Alliance

Similar to the federations and confederations, an alliance is a cooperative union of planets that remain very independent and under control over their own populace, but have banded together for mutual defense or economic trade. Unlike the federation, this one is much looser and laws (usually called treaties or accords) are decided on by the members. This can be mutually beneficial, or it can lie more in the realms of realpolitik, with each trying to get the most from their relationship with the least give. An alliance is great because the worlds can be completely different governments and cultures from each other but still be together. So players can go to a monarchy one adventure and deal with social intrigue and nobles, and the next, they can deal with someone tampering with the bureaucracy of a republic's elections. Worlds would unite either for resource trading or to go against a common, but less powerful enemy. Like pirates and raiders, or other free worlds looking to exploit them. Maybe even a budding galactic empire looking to grow quickly.

Trade Empire/Cartel Plutocracy/Kleptocracy

This is a set I like. You can have a group of worlds united under several different companies, corporations, and conglomerates. Each planet is a client state under a specific corp rather than a government agency. Perhaps the government of the capital world prefers the private sector to fund colonial and trade efforts. Or, perhaps you can go full cyberpunk and the government is bought out by the different corporations at the expense of the citizens. Or maybe they simply are the government, with CEOs also holding government positions and social mobility being very limited or non-existent. Or perhaps the government retains control, but focuses less on claiming holdings for themselves and more on setting up trade agreements for either mutual or personal benefit. These could be balanced for the benefit of both parties, focused on the benefit of one, or the detriment of the other. Think Venice or Portugal during the Age of Discovery, or England and America during the 1800s with their aggressive trades with China. You can actually go a lot of ways with this beyond the usually evil megacorps you see in cyberpunk. The groups of corps in similar industries could form a cartel that controls the price of their exports. It'd have to be something not readily available or some sort of service or luxury (or even drugs). If you really want to make them the bad guys, you can have them form a kleptocracy, where they steal from their own people to supplement their own expenses. These worlds can be great for games of traders, political intrigue or, for the kleptocracy, rebels trying to overthrow their government.

That's all I have. I'm actually using a lot of these ideas for my current sci fi game that I'm running on Wednesdays. I like being able to add different types of planets and governments to make them feel like the players are entire a different world. I've actually had a lot of fun making the Trade Empires and Cartels in my game. What are some other empires and governments one could see in a sci fi setting of slower FTL ?