Fate Space Toolkit
The Space Map
The Space Map
One of the pleasures of a space adventure game is getting to decide where to go, to pull up stakes and head off to the far reaches of the galaxy if you want. Until someone takes the time and effort to figure out what’s at a given location, though, it literally doesn’t exist! That said, limiting the characters takes away from the feeling that “you can go anywhere,” which is one strong appeal of roleplaying.
So it’s useful to draw up a space map to allow players to visualize the destinations available to them and the relationships among those places in distance and position. It’s hard to overstate the richness of a map in displaying these relationships. We’ll discuss three ways of doing this: a node map, a zone map, or an open map.
A node map shows the pieces of the setting as points connected by paths. Given an appropriate mode of transportation, characters can travel from their current node to any other node linked to it by a path. You can presume that all paths require the same time or effort to travel, or you can give each path a length that determines its travel time or effort. This space map is perfect for star systems connected by wormholes or hyperspace jump lines, but it can also be used for maps of normal space, with lines connecting those systems that are in range of each other for the typical starships of the setting. Systems that are not connected are presumed to be sufficiently distant in normal space that the typical starship can’t reach from one to the other due to lack of fuel capacity, power reserves, or other measure of endurance.
A node map can also represent interplanetary space, such as in Mass Drivers, a gritty near-future setting focused on the Asteroid Belt. In Mass Drivers, each node of its space map represents the current orbital location of one or more constantly moving asteroids. When a spaceship’s crew plots a course to another asteroid or other destination, the GM indicates the destination’s current location by pointing to the node it occupies. Each path represents a distance of about 100,000 kilometers.
A zone map breaks the setting into zones, regions, or areas, and assumes that movement within a zone is more-or-less trivial but that movement between zones requires some effort. For example, the map from Pax Galactica divides a galaxy-wide space empire into zones. A zone map is topologically equivalent to a node map, but while a node map gives the feeling of leaving one location and traveling to another across an intervening distance, the zone map gives the feeling of occupying a particular volume of space and crossing a border into a different one—for example, “We’ve entered the Neutral Zone!”
You can flesh out the zones—or the nodes on the node map, for that matter—by adding aspects. For example, in the galaxy zone map for Pax Galactica, the Galactic Core is densely packed with Mostly Planetless stars surrounding a Massive Black Hole and thus Bathed in Deadly Radiation, while the Outer Margins and the two Rifts are Thinly Populated with Stars, although only the Outer Margins are a Lawless Frontier. The other zones are all Civilized Space.
Ultimately, the difference between the zone and node maps is cosmetic. They work in essentially the same way, by indicating which locations are functionally adjacent. For locations that are not adjacent, any path between them requires transit across intermediate locations. Of course, with a zone map the route between any given pair of zones may not be limited to their common boundaries; in other words, a hyperspace path may in fact connect a world in the Sagittarius Arm with one in the Outer Margins, for example, allowing passage to and fro without passing through the intervening zones.
An open map, unlike the other space maps, places no hard restrictions on movement. This map is simply a graphic representation of a volume of space without any superimposed movement grid. Given an appropriate mode of transportation, characters can travel to anywhere on the map, calculating their travel time based on real-world considerations and the fictional capabilities of their vehicles. Both Millennials and The Gods Know Future Things use open maps.
If you want to play a game with very high plausibility, you can easily find astronomical data online that can be useful in creating bespoke three-dimensional star maps. The map of near space in The Gods Know Future Things uses real-world astronomical data, but compresses them into two dimensions, so the distances among stars are more distorted the further one gets from Sol.