There are a number of blogs that have discussed how to build a setting or what steps to follow to build a good setting.

This isn't one of them.

No, this series is going to be muddling though different processes, namely those used by Christopher Rice for his Chronicls of Ceteri campaign and those used by Daniel Dover for his Psi-Wars setting. It's going to be either amusing or cringeworthy depending on how you tend to view things and how seriously you take things.

But enough of me engaging in wallowing self-pity, on to the meat of this post.

 Things as they stand now

Before I get into building a setting, lets look at what I currently have.

Link to current work in progress setting document.

Link to current work in progress alien racial template document.

Feel free to comment and make suggests on these documents. I read and respond to feedback, though I do try to keep things orderly with the comments. There are things that I am trying to accomplish and this is a very rough first pass which I'm about to rip apart and start rebuilding.

Currently, there are three major political powers in the galaxy. They are the Alliance, the Federation, and the Glorious Empire of the Ascended and Eternal.

The Alliance is pretty much what it says, it's an alliance of many smaller political powers that have banded together. The central government is strong in certain, clearly outlined areas and weak in everything else. It tends to be the most liberal in defining what is and isn't a sophont capable of self-determination and the freedoms allowed. It's the "don't be an idiot" state. It does little to protect people from their actions, while protect their right to take those actions. However, power tends to congregate in the hands of the wealthy and the Alliance Council is, more often than not, made of the sons and daughters of wealth and privelge in a setting that they can't do much harm to the family fortunes.

The Federation is what might be called a utopic state, at least on the surface. Everyone is guaranteed a basic standard of living, a good education, and the safety of life and property. Of course this is a guarantee to the people of the Federation, and the Federation has some specific guidelines on who is or isn't a person. People with cybernetic implants are treated as second-class citizens while AIs and cyborgs aren't even considered people. People with germline biomodifications are the property of the company that first developed the modification. Censorship is rampant and the Federation does its best to convince its citizens that they is nothing to be concerned about. Nope, nothing to worry about at all. Power belongs to those who know the right people and are in good standing with the rest of the ruling class.

The Glorious Empire of the Ascended and Eternal is ruled by the Ascended, aliens that have turned to cloning and genetic fixing to perpetuate their race. The Ascended believe themselves perfect and seek to guide the rest fo the galaxy into their ideal society where everyone has their place and their job. Of course, this leads to some issues with the more freeminded races and even within their own culture. "If I'm perfect, then why should I not be at the top?" The bickering and infighting manages to keep the empire's expansion slow and distracted by the various brush fires that spring up from uppity nobles wanting a bigger slice of the pie and the people they've oppressed.

There are also ten different races, if you count humans. You have the Syrens, who look like elves and have a knack for music and storytelling; the Morsk, who are clannish, armor-plated, raptors; the Orm, who look like otters with eight-legs with a knack for engineering and mechanics; the Maki--Liki, green-skinned space babes/humks with an uncanny situational awareness; the Crish, large, brutish looking humanoids with long arms and a passion for food and cooking; the Yddluc, megalomaniac furballs that want to take over the galaxy and perform experiments on you;  the Hmmn, who are tall, gray-skinned humanoids with coldly logical minds and no sense of humor; the Hnnm, who are short, gray-skinned aliens with a trickster's bent; and the Ascended, genetically modified humanoids that seek to create a perfect order.

That's our first, put-paint-to-canvas, iteration. This is where everything else will spring from or rather, this is what we'll be salvaging for parts.I'm going to be using Mr. Rice's Assembly Required series to help me get things started and then I'll be iterating on that to build up the setting, keeping in mind the different kinds fo roleplayers, like in Mailanka's Psi-Wars.

Where to start?

The first part of building a campaign and a setting is to figure out what it's going to be about. Unfornately, I don't have a group I can bounce ideas off of at the moment, but I can at least get the ball rolling. As you may have guessed, this is going to be a Sci-Fi campaign and setting, but that's about as clear as saying that I'm making a campaign and setting for pen and paper RPGs. What I need is a foundation, the thesis of the campaign and the setting.

"Smugglers/Free traders/Tramps trying to make a living while dodging the Cartels/Oppressive Government™ and trying not to get fried by progenitor tech/eldritch powers."

It's a little wordy, but I think it gets the point across. It also suggests what the players will be doing. Smugglers and traders make money by trading. There's some nasty powers that be out there that want to keep them doing that or at least take a big slice of the pie, so we have our intrepid crew engaging in clandestine activities, such as spying, gathering intel, and hacking. You also have potential for some fire fights when things go south. And you don't just find progenitor tech and eldritch powers lying around, so this suggest some exploration and salvaging as well. After all, sell it to the right person and you could make a fortune, though others will be aware of that too.

There's also potential for other types of groups. You could be mercenaries hired to protect a dig. You could be the officials trying to stop the smuggling and illegal trade. You could be freedom fighters trying to throw off the shackles of oppression. You could be special forces sent after high value targets. You could even be the scientists and engineers that are sent to unravel the mysteries of ancient derelicts that come drifting though systems from time to time. There's a lot there if you want to dig into that.

Fleshing things out

The next part is a lot like the first, and I know some of the answers to these questions already. This defines the parameters of the campaign, what you do and how you go about it, as well as some of the assumptions that are baked into the choices.


The genre is going to be sci-fi, but with some other elements thrown in. Action will most definitely be a part, along with a sprinkling of horror and adventure. Depending on what you do, you can adjust the levels to better suit the campaign. For example, our team of scientists and engineers wouldn't have as much of an action feel, and depending on what you want, you can either up the horror aspect, the adventure aspect, or both aspects.

To put things more clearly, our genre is Sci-fi Action-Adventure with some Horror elements.


This setting's default should be either base-line GURPS or Slightly Cinematic. Adjusting the mode changes the feel, so if you wanted to up the horror aspect, you might adjust the mode to be more gritty. Personally, I'd rather run something slightly cinematic.


Another way to say this is how severe are the consequences of the PCs' actions? For example, if they kill someone, in a high austerity game, there would be investigations and arrest and incarceration are very real possibilites. In a low austerrity game, it wouldn't matter unless there's a reason because of the plot.

For this setting, I think a medium to medium-low austerity would work best. If it wouldn't make for an interesting plot or sub-plot, then it just gets swept under the rug, so to sepak.

 Scale and Scope

Both of these are related and both can have interesting effects on the game. I don't agree with how Scale was described when broken down. To me it's more, how much do the characters' actions affect the world around them and less how they make their living. To me, characters who make their living adventuring, such as smugglers, don't qualify as an epic scale if their actions mainly affect things on a local scale.

Scope is similar to scale in that it's about how big things are, but instead of what the characters affect, it's where they go. It's possible to have a campaign that is global in scope, but local in scale. This would be the unlucky saps that are just tryign to do their jobs as delivery men or whatever and every time they step on foreign soil, some crime group gets in their way. It's also possible to have a campaign that's local in scope and global in scale. This would be the case of alien invaders hitting a city and a group of supers need to stop them and send them back. You may not see much beyond the city, but boy howdy does the world rest in your hands.

So, what is the scale and scope of this campaign. I would like to start it off as local for both and then grow it in scope. While there could be world shattering plots afoot eventually that our crew of misfits can thwart, I'd rather keep the effects localized to whatever port they happen to be in when things go down.


This is an optional step, but for this campaign, it's necessary. There needs to be a place that our crew of traders, smugglers, or mercenaries can find work and get to where they need to go. It would also be nice if it is someplace that they can either use as a home base or move on from if they please. Even a starship that doubles as a home needs maintenance and fuel, so a home port is a good thing to have. A trade hub fits all of these requirements, but there's something to be said for starting off in the boonies.

Putting it together

Heres what we have so far.

Campaign Thesis: Smugglers/Free traders/Tramps trying to make a living while dodging the Cartels/Oppressive Government™ and trying not to get fried by progenitor tech/eldritch powers.

Genre: Sci-fi with heavy Action elements and shades of Adventure and Horror

Mode: Slightly Cinematic

Austerity: Medium-Low to Medium

Scale: Local

Scope: Starts Local, eventually gets to Interstellar or Galactic

Location: Major Trade Hub or Middle of Nowhere