how do you chart space in your sci-fi games?


Optimistic Anti-Hero
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My games simply use square or hex graph paper to mark basic distances. As far as where something is in a hex, I've never found a reason to care that much. My players certainly don't; they just wanna know how long 'til they're there, and if it's important, I can randomize that with a dice toss. I guess if you really needed to know where stuff is in relation to other stuff within a system, you could hex paper your hex paper. But then, to paraphrase Gaglug, is this really worth it? I might do something like that in well-traveled systems where the PCs would be adventuring a lot, but otherwise, I just go with some basic generic star chart 2-D mappin'.


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In my current game, the sector the campaign tales place in is mapped 2 dimensionally on a hex map. Top of the map is coreward, bottom rimward. Self explanatory. Left is spinward, the direction of galactic spin. Right is driftward. Each is 5 light years across. It takes 1d6 time units to travel from one hex to another. Or 1d3 units to travel to something in the same hex. Although I don't put more than one star system in a hex. Days for most ships, hours for the PCs in their super advanced alien hyperdrive.

Space may be 3 dimensions, but neither the players nor myself feel the need to go in to that level of realism.

The Wyzard

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If your hexes are representing the multiple light-years of travel necessary to get from one star system to another, any individual solar system would be a pinprick anyway.


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Have you considered Hulks and Horrors? It has a detailed system generation rule set. It takes sometimes 15 minutes to do a single system, but you can make it part of soloplay.


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Stars Without Number works on a hex grid and justifies it by saying that metadimensional space has no particular relation to realspace. Also, because the game is designed to imitate the feel of a traditional oldschool hexcrawl.


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I've only ever done any charting like this for jumpships in the Battletech Universe. For that verse there's a few published books with maps that have the coreward, rimward, spinward and anti-spinward sections of the galaxy nicely depicted. There's also fan-made atlases for the different eras, that show all the established jumpship paths between systems. Those maps also have a lightyear scale so it's possible to track distances. I've only ever used them from the flat 2D view that the atlases present, so no doubt it's an abstracted simplification. But tracking by connect the dot systems works for my players and for me that's what counts.


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The Elite Dangerous computer game has a full 3D recreation of the galaxy. Let me tell you, there’s NO WAY you are recreating that with pencil and paper. No way. In any case, after a while the map basically gets reduced to ‘what is the route between A and B’.

It’s far simpler to collapse all that down to a 2D hex map. There’s really not much benefit to trying to model 3D in play - you get just as much out of a 2D map in practice, with far lower overhead.

If you really wanted a pseudo 3D then you could always stack multiple 2D maps into ‘planes’, and allow travel ‘up’ or ‘down’ between layers. So each sector is bordered by 6 other sectors - one to the top, bottom, left and right, plus one 'above' and one 'below'. I'm not sure how you'd work out how to travel vertically - perhaps with transparencies (or layers in a graphics program), you could overlay maps on top of each other and see if any worlds align. The distance between planes would have to me more than a single hex though.
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Cloud Divider

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For my Rogue Stars campaign, I went with the Traveller-styled hexmap. The main convenience of that is that I could relatively easily measure out distances between any given systems (my FTL worked more like Star Trek FTL, so you weren't as limited by distance), and knowing it was 36 parsecs to Space Vegas was more important.

In the end though, it probably would have been just as easy to go with a network diagram - we did far less hexcrawling, and much more going to a specific system and staying there for months of real time play.

The hexmap did help me figure out relationships between systems - these guys are probably aligned, those guys are isolated.

That said, looking at a single sheet "(sub)sector" could sometimes be misleading - the one lone system at the edge of the map might be really close to the cluster the next sector over.

I made a couple of attempts to build a master map in Google Sheets that would show me every system so I could better map political alliances, but it ended up being way more work than I wanted (also found I was...less than consistent about my reference origin on individual map sheets; sometimes 0,0 was the mathematically-logical bottom left corner (rimward/spinward), others used an Earth-centric reference (bottom right), and trying to reverse that out was a major pain).


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MGT2 has the hex maps and uses the rimward, coreward, spinward and trailing which confuses me. If you think of planets spinning around a star/sun you can think of grooves on a vinyl record yes? If so the confusing part then spinward and trailing gets reversed depending on your viewpoint. If I'm looking down on the record it spins clockwise but if I were to look "up" at from "below" it would then be counter-clockwise.
The point of using the words rimward, coreward, spinward, and trailing is so that you don't have to say clockwise or counterclockwise. You don't need to agree on which direction you're looking at the galactic disc from. Rimward is toward the rim, coreward is toward the core, spinward is in the direction of galactic spin, and trailing is against the direction of spin. No matter what angle your viewpoint comes from, these directions each have only one interpretation.
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