Tag Archives: Star Map

The Making of Colonial Space: Drawing the Map

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

First step: The Region

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

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


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


Second Step: Star Placement

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

Third Step: System data

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

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

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

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

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

Step Four: Name That Star

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

This is a snapshot of the work in progress.

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

Step Five: Consistency and Detailing

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

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

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

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

Lessons Learned So Far

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

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

Current map WIP

sector12-maponlyMore on this setting will surely follow…

Building a Better Star Map III: Placing Stuff

Now that we roughly know what territory humans occupy, it’s time to start working on some actual, practical details. First I used our theoretical groundwork to set a border for the Federated Nations – my setting’s “precursor empire”, if you will. It’s a white, thick, dashed line on this map:

Interstellar Borders, Part 1
Interstellar Borders, Part 1

I then placed Empire (red), Terran Federation (dark blue), and neutral nations (lighter blue – the smaller nations). Having a number of smaller independent nations that can and will get caught up in our interstellar war makes for more interesting politics and plots.

It’s getting a bit crowded so from now on I’ll turn off the whole mess of circles. It’s time to return to detail work anyway – after all, my first version of the star map wasn’t bad – it was just too large and too off center!

Starting to transfer some planets on the spinward edge of human space, I decided to work along the former FN border – moving out just a little bit since the Free Colonies, the worlds named after Arthurian knights and of course the Sword-Worlds were always intended to be “the frontier”:

Details on the Frontier
Details on the Frontier

Looking at the map, though, I am beginning to realize I will probably have to improve the background eventually as well – it was probably not the best idea to make it so “noisy” (pixel-y). I like it, but it’s causing problems with compression. Here’s a version with a 5×5 pixel Gaussian blur applied to the blueish background:


Which version do you guys prefer?

Incidentally, I am working off of a bitmap export of the old star map, marking off worlds as I transfer them to avoid duplication and omission.

I do not follow any sort of “scientific” method for placing these worlds. While there are some things I could work out – for example, star forming regions would have young stars that haven’t had a chance to develop worlds, if they ever will – the amount of work that would be required is in no way justified by the benefits. So instead I simply place and will keep in mind that they are “important worlds” for when I work out detail maps.


Building a Better Star Map II: The Leapfrog Effect

In my last post I began to improve the consistency of my star map. I will continue with that effort – and today I will attempt to figure out just how much “project leapfrog” might affect the expansion of human space.

Project Leapfrog was a project the Federated Nations ran in the late 23rd Century – building vast colony ships that were then sent off to “leap ahead” of the regular exploration and colonization.

Just as a basis, this is what I worked out so far.

Guesstimating a future frontline
Guesstimating a future frontline

Leapfrog 2, “Francis Drake”, founded Eureka in 2308 and was “discovered” in 2390.

We do not have fixed locations for the other two Leapfrogs, nor dates they were contacted by the explorers and colonists that followed them. I did place them on the original map, of course, but for the purpose of improving the map I can easily shift them around.

Continue reading “Building a Better Star Map II: The Leapfrog Effect” »

Building a Better Star Map

I like my star map – but I recognize it’s not “perfect”. For one thing, since Earth is off-center and then the entire development of human space is kind of biased towards Trailing (where the Empire expanded), human space occupies the center and right part of the map, leaving the left part empty. The reason is simple – it wasn’t planned out when I started to build it.

So I thought I’d do a draft of what human space “should” look like. I’ll take the written history as a basis – but I will fix what needs fixing.

Some data points:

  1. The first FTL mission was in 2174, to Alpha Centauri
  2. Hyperdrive speeds continually improved over the course of the history of the Federated Nations
  3. “Leapfrog 2”, launched in 2278, founded Eureka in 2308, circa 1100 light-years towards Center and Spinward.
  4. Regular explorers from the FN arrived at Eureka in 2390 – meaning that human space had expanded less than 1100 light years by 2390; let’s say 1000 light years maximum.

Do note that the galactic disc is “only” about 1000 light-years thick. At this point, it’s safe to assume that human space covers the disc’s entire width in at least the center 500ly radius.

Human Space in 2380AD
Human Space in 2380AD

Ignore the second set of circles “south east” of Earth – I added them just to have a second set, roughly in the direction of Empire.

In 2547, the System States Alliance secedes from the Federated Nations. They are located on the “outer Rimward fringe” of human space. But how big is human space 160 years later?

Continue reading “Building a Better Star Map” »

Star Map: Terra Sector, WIP#1

Hope you like this sneak preview…

Yes. This is a zoomed area of my Star Map. Basically, on the original map I had these little 2x2cm squares. Well, this is a 20x20cm version of the one square that has Earth in it. One millimeter = one light-year. It’s designed to fit on an A4 page. For comparison, this is roughly equivalent to 2×2 Traveller sectors.

The blotches are placeholders for Nebulae, I intend to hand-paint them.

I’ll never map out my entire setting in this level of detail; I doubt I’ll live long enough. 🙂

Star Map – Final Version – And a Look Back

So, I’m finally done. I created my own star map, covering Human Space as I will describe it in my science fiction series.

Final Star Map: Overview
Final Star Map: Overview

This image was scaled down considerably; the original is at 200dpi – 6622×4677 pixel. It’s 72MB in size as a PNG file. Here are some 800x800px crops from the main map:

Star Map: Region around Terra
Star Map: Region around Terra
Star Map: The Sword Worlds
Star Map: The Sword Worlds
Star Map: Empire
Star Map: Empire
Star Map: Federation-Imperial Border
Star Map: Federation-Imperial Border
Star Map: Seals
Star Map: Seals

I’ve worked on this map on and off for three years, taking some detours in between. In the end I learned a whole lot, and I think i can honestly say, improved as a mapmaker and graphics person. I will never compete with the true professionals, but just consider these early versions of the map:

First Version: The Milky Way Galaxy. This was actually a trace of a NASA image, and I was really just experimenting.

How it all began: At first, I attempted to draw a basic Galaxy…

Second Version: Zooming In. An entire Galaxy is an awful lot of real estate. So I began to zoom in on the Region around Earth. It was still a very crude map.

Spiral Arms: Closing in on the Target
Spiral Arms: Closing in on the Target

Third Version: The Orion Spur. At this stage I began to nail down the setting. You see an early draft of the political situation in this image.

Orion Spur
Orion Spur: Early design of the interstellar nations

Fourth Version: Human Space, Revisited. As the old map wasn’t really working out, and was ugly to boot. I started a new version from scratch. It was based on a solid timeline and a detailed setting design. At this stage, the map was very basic.

Human Space: The Next Generation
Human Space: The Next Generation

Fifth Version: Let there be Color. The next two images are just later versions of the above; as you can see I added a great deal of detail over time. The second map probably has 200 named star systems – that’s a guesstimate, I did not recount them.

Human Space 2c
Human Space: With Colors
Huamn Space 2j
Human Space: Colorful and detailed

Sixth Version: Near Space Distraction. At one point, I began to doubt my design – and decided to go more small scale. I began to map out individual star systems near Earth based on Hipparcos data. In the end, I abandoned this approach – the setting wasn’t bad, but I felt it did not really match what I had in mind.

Near Stars
Near Stars: A New Attempt
Near Stars: Overwhelmed by Data
Near Stars: Overwhelmed by Data

The Near Star Map’s styletests, of which this was the last, showed me that I wanted a map that was not just functional. Working on the style tests taught me a lot.

Near Stars: Style Test v7
Near Stars: Style Test v7

Seventh Version: Back to Square One, Just Prettier. After I discarded the Near Space idea, I reset certain things, changed some assumptions, and experimented with a galactic map. This was the result.

A New Galaxy
A New Milky Way Galaxy
A New galaxy Closeup
A New Milky Way Galaxy Zoomed In

Eight Version: Full Circle. I liked the techniques I was starting to develop, but as in the very beginning, decided that an entire galaxy was just too much space. I zoomed in and concentrated on the Orion Spur. The rest, as they say, is Galactic history. Here is an early version of the map that I completed this week:

Orion Spur, Again
The Orion Spur, Again

And the future?

This map is done – but that doesn’t mean I won’t work on it. The settings needs to be built, detailed maps for at least some regions need to be produced, and of course the entire thing will continue to evolve. In another three years this map will probably not look the same.

Update: Welcome, Reddit users – thanks for the compliments, you have no idea how happy it makes me that someone enjoys my work!