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What do space empires fight over?

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
This is a world building question. What’s the conflict?

So if you have a galaxy full of space empires. Say a dozen at least, each covering a big swathe of the galaxy. And you assume that:

1) space/habitable places isn’t an issue. Space is big and they’re not short of land.
2) a single resource like Dune’s spice or Discovery’s dilithium is a well-mined trope you want to avoid.
3) you want to steer clear of “species” othering: assume they’re all human and have similar motives.

How do you create constant conflict between these space empires? If indeed you can after ruling out the above?
 

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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Well, religion is a tried-but-true reason for people to kill each other.

There's also political reasons, such as a terrorist group killing the emperor's nephew, and the emperor blames the other empire because he thinks they gave sanctuary (or even aid) to that group.
 

aco175

Legend
The biggest conflict I have seen in things like privates in the Army, 2nd grade students, and even grown-ass men I oversee at the college is fairness. There is always a perceived feeling of someone getting something that they are not. Someone gets 2 cookies- that is not fair, a 3-day weekend- that is not fair.

To expand this to a galaxy. Maybe a ruling body of one group is better fed or makes more money because of the way things are paid out. The way people are ruled make a big difference. America just had an election where half the people think things were fair and half did not. There is a perception of something that makes people do things. There could also be racial things that we likely should steer away from in a game.
 

Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
One empire's dominant race can - or did in the past - eat members of another empire. Or (a la Alien) uses host bodies to reproduce. They promise to be nice now but they weren't then.

Space is big but resources can still be scarce. If a system with easily-mined deposits of the valuable but normally hard-to-access mineral Unobtanium happens to lie on / near the border as of First Contact, possession of that system will become a point of contention. And may remain so even after the easy-to-access deposits are exhausted and it becomes just as hard as anywhere else to mine the remaining deposits.

The "Rare Earth" hypothesis is true for one race in question: getting the physical requirements for their 'habitable planet' ideal is statistically unlikely or requires just the right combination of independent factors. So every habitable (as they see it) planet claimed / occupied by somebody else is a significant crimp in their galaxy-spanning destiny.
(The old game Starfire: Empires had an Atmosphere Chart where one possibility occurred exactly once out of 36 options. Guess what I rolled for my 'homeworld'?)

IRL political philosophy: is the Individual or the Group the fundamental unit upon which Government is built? This argument underlay the Cold War which lasted 40 years. Two space empires that cannot Mutually Assured Destruction each other could keep the arguments / actions going for generations.

Diplomatic misunderstanding: Nation C makes available its good offices to mediate a quarrel between Nation A and Nation B. This is interpreted as interference or taking sides in the quarrel, and results in suspicion / resentment between A/C or B/C (or both!) that did not previously exist.

Dysfunctional culture: Any government that OKs slavery and the slave trade - especially slave-taking raids - will be surrounded by hostile peoples with ongoing grudges against the offender.
From a metagame perspective, "free the slaves" is a great way to attract player interest in the adventure; conversely "slaveowner" = "enemy".
 

monsmord

Explorer
I love this question. It's one I struggle with myself. 'Cause the most realistic answers probably make boring fiction.

The priorities and values of such empires may be hard for us to comprehend, to the point where, even if they're all ancestrally human, they seem alien to Us now. Technology might be the greatest determiner - the more advanced, the further removed they may be from our notion of human. It's a hard nut to crack - how does one sympathetically portray a character/empire/species when their entire existence is in a matryoshka matrix around a red dwarf, or they're genetically engineered to live in space and communicate via organs we don't have and reproduce through spores or not at all?

Assuming these empires are initially content with the space they occupy (which may not be the case; their goals might be to control an entire supercluster, all the better to manage resources to survive a few trillion years), the borders of these territories may be in flux simply because not all stars roam at the same rates. An occupied system might find itself closing in on another territory - in which case, whose will it be? And stars nova; empires that can accurately predict supernova events may need to bug out of valued territory, and the closest safe space may not belong to them. And not all parts of the galaxy are equal; densities differ regionally, meaning some areas have more raw resources, some fewer, and some systems may be more or less desirable based on proximity, star types/ages, etc. In our specific case, Andromeda is coming at us - do certain models suggest parts of the Milky Way are safer than others? If these factors aren't considered problematic because these civilizations have technology to counter or control cosmological events of these scales, who knows what they'd value? Or maybe there really is only room for one with that sort of muscle?

As for trade, information would be a prime currency. As you point out, resources are plentiful. Sure, planet- or culture-specific products might seem valuable at first glance (wine, sculpture, etc.), but these can be "printed" locally from plans sent at light speed (or via "subspace" or such, if you wanna go that route.) The Trekkian "this replicated banana doesn't compare to the real thing" is nonsense; if you're replicating at a subatomic level (and you'd better be, for food), it's perfect to our taste buds every time (and the printer won't release it unless it is). Owning a DaVinci might still mean something, but when it can be duplicated to its finest structure, will it really matter if it's the original? Could one tell? Technology, literature, poetry, music, philosophy, etc. might be the only things worth trading - and at light speed, they're the cheapest and fastest.

So, say a smallish empire (a few dozen systems around its origin point) is about to lose one of it core stars to a nova. This nova will not only eradicate biospheres on its two inhabited planets, it will also destroy or scatter most of the resources of that system, and its radiation will endanger the nearest systems. They have a couple trillion citizens to move, but the empires on either side won't accept them - is war the solution?

Or one empire has developed a new technology (or discovered an ancient one!) it hasn't shared - black hole farming, energy-free FTL, an entropy reverser, something far-reaching or magical. But the effects of that technology have been detected, and they worry the neighbors. In this future information economy, is withholding tech considered an act of war?

Or one empire has simply up and disappeared (into a universe of their own creation, one with modified laws of entropy that will allow them to prosper for quintillions of years before needing to create yet another?), and for the first time in a thousand years there is "free space" to occupy - now it's a free-for-all to get it, along with whatever amazing infrastructure that other group left behind.

Or, as was pointed out above, one of the empires is collapsing from internal strife. Will sides be taken, spurring inter-Empire conflict?

If nothing else, historical memory can get things moving. The first time empires A and B meet, things go badly. Though peace is achieved, the enmity remains, straining later relationships with others they meet who may seem too cozy with their disliked neighbors. (A tells C not to trust B, B tells D not to trust A, etc.) Bake some of these biases into the various treaties. Once all the players are in place and they realize their various arrangements aren't equitable, they may be looking for excuses to "expand their interests."
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
This is a world building question. What’s the conflict?

So if you have a galaxy full of space empires. Say a dozen at least, each covering a big swathe of the galaxy. And you assume that:

1) space/habitable places isn’t an issue. Space is big and they’re not short of land.
2) a single resource like Dune’s spice or Discovery’s dilithium is a well-mined trope you want to avoid.
3) you want to steer clear of “species” othering: assume they’re all human and have similar motives.

How do you create constant conflict between these space empires? If indeed you can after ruling out the above?

What does anyone ever go to war over?

In the real world, there are two basic reasons to go to war - resources or dogma.

If your sci-fi empires a really and truly post-scarsity, then there's never a fight over resources. But otherwise, your empires still need stuff to work with - raw materials. It could be something as simple as steel and aluminum. Or maybe the limiting factor is rare earth metals needed to make electronics work. Maybe there's plenty of land, but not so many breathable atmospheres.

The other thing to fight over is dogma - be it religious, philosophical, or political. "You do X, and that's just not right!"

There is an admixture of these two. If, within a culture, there is socio-economic difficulty, one way to cover that up and get people to ignore it is to go to war with someone else. "Stop worrying about your problems, we all have an enemy out there!"
 

pming

Hero
Hiya!
This is a world building question. What’s the conflict?

So if you have a galaxy full of space empires. Say a dozen at least, each covering a big swathe of the galaxy. And you assume that:

1) space/habitable places isn’t an issue. Space is big and they’re not short of land.
2) a single resource like Dune’s spice or Discovery’s dilithium is a well-mined trope you want to avoid.
3) you want to steer clear of “species” othering: assume they’re all human and have similar motives.

How do you create constant conflict between these space empires? If indeed you can after ruling out the above?

In short... all the things we're not allowed to talk about on these forums. ;)

In all seriousness though, I'm not kidding. Religion, Politics, Cultural Beliefs and Traditions, etc. All the stuff that can't be quantified as "physical stuff", so to say. There will ALWAYS be people who don't listen to others, or who assume that just because they are being told XYZ is "correct/right", that means that anyone who thinks ABC is "correct/right" are [insert any negative label].

That's where I'd start anyway; in fact, my very first Alternity game (that we only got to play one session of, not even a full session) my Players all chose non-Humans. So I decided that Humans were the "great scourge of the galaxy"; just think something along the lines of Warhammer 40k, but in stead of an actual, physical God-Emperor who was/is known to be a real person with real 'powers'...it was an amalgamation of various religions and political/social ideologies. Humans had a higher Tech level than everyone else...but only in regards to Weapons and Ships; the other areas were equal or lower to the other 'alien' races.

Needless to say, there was no need for a "big payoff" or some new "land grab" or "resource claim"; it was all about trying to resist or fight against the fanatical Humans and their belief in their "right to rule the galaxy and because THEY were the good guys...so anything they say/do is acceptable" (the ends justify the means sort of thing). Humans were ever-expanding and the other races were, effectively, always on the run or always subjugated on any planet.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

MGibster

Legend
How do you create constant conflict between these space empires? If indeed you can after ruling out the above?
That's a tough one. If space is so plentiful it sounds like they've got to go out of their way to even encounter one another. So a conflict would have to be one based on ideological differences either political or religious. Maybe there's a planet that is important to both of them, perhaps it's the birthplace of humanity, it's where Saint Skrillex first brought the good word, or maybe two different empires consider it to be the only proper and legitimate seat of their governments. It could be that both of them think they should control the destiny of intelligent beings throughout the galaxy and are fighting over that.
 

Treaties.

Spaceduke Franz Ferdinand (of Space) was killed.

Due to various eons-old treaties, this sets various factions to war.

Those factions call in other treaties, setting other factions to war.

Generations have passed. No one really remembers Spaceduke Ferdinand (of Space). But the treaties hold!
 


DeviousQuail

Explorer
Expansion into currently unclaimed territory.
The rise of a separatist force along the borders of two or more empires.
Solar system destroying technology being tested on another empire's territory.
Anything in the Foundation series by Aasimov.
An alien species that brought many empires to their knees before it was eradicated is found alive and being nurtured by one empire (Rachni or Krogan from Mass Effect).
Space locusts.
A long disappeared mega empire returns and wants its space back.
One empire's financial/religious/etc control over another becomes too much.
 


ccs

41st lv DM
Nobody actually remembers.
Oh sure, talk to 100 people & you'll get at least 100 reasons, reasons will vary depending upon where you are, and some will be more plausible than others, but.... No one truly knows anymore.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Yeah, it comes down to religion, politics, traditions - the fun stuff.

Traveller did this with some of their races, partly dependent on native psychology, but could be translated into cultural values. The examples I’m thinking of are the Aslan and Vargr. Both do involve territory, but neither simply because they need space. The Aslan are landed clans but second (and later) sons don’t inherit the clan lands so they are driven to take and settle their own. Resources aren’t an issue, inheritance and ownership are. The Vargr are at least partly judged by their rep, their prestige, their charisma. Ambitious warlords will grow their charisma by raiding or even taking worlds. So again, not actually about the space, but about the person taking the space.

For politics, there’s the idea of balance, denying another empire systems to keep them from growing or encroaching your space. Maybe the wars are to set up or protect client states as buffers (like the xth Frontier Wars in Traveller between the Third Imperium and the Zhodani Consulate.
 

This is a world building question. What’s the conflict?

So if you have a galaxy full of space empires. Say a dozen at least, each covering a big swathe of the galaxy. And you assume that:

1) space/habitable places isn’t an issue. Space is big and they’re not short of land.
2) a single resource like Dune’s spice or Discovery’s dilithium is a well-mined trope you want to avoid.
3) you want to steer clear of “species” othering: assume they’re all human and have similar motives.

How do you create constant conflict between these space empires? If indeed you can after ruling out the above?

Assuming that everyone has enough land and resources to not need more, as well as a group of people who all have similar views and motives, I think most conflicts would come down to petty and personal reasons between rulers.

Space Greece sends a thousand starships to right the wrong of Space Troy's prince stealing somebody's wife. The soldiers are convinced that an affront to their ruler (who is the embodiment of their culture and the face of their society) is an insult to them (or perhaps the opportunity to get educational benefits for galactic college was attractive).

You may be able to get some motivation from Twitter, YouTube, rap beefs, and how the fans/followers of various celebrities fight with each other based upon their emotional investment in the conflicts between the celebrities themselves. In some cases, it doesn't even matter that two sides have virtually identical beliefs; it's enough that they self-identify as being in conflict with the other groups based upon superficial reasons (i.e. red vs blue; XBox vs Playstation; Coke vs Pepsi).
 

Khelon Testudo

Cleric of Stronmaus
Even for a post-scarcity society, some projects are so big that they may require more resources than they have to hand. Building a dyson sphere around the black hole in the centre of the galaxy - maybe to generate energy?
 


tomBitonti

Adventurer
A group might, despite the availability of space, just like taking other folks stuff, rather than making the stuff for themselves. Or, other similar creatures might be raw resources, as in Jupiter Ascending. Or, a civilization or race may be inherently warlike, for example, 40K orcs, or Saberhagen’s Berserkers. Or, war might be used to stabilize a political order. Or as a way to realize warrior or spiritual ideals. Or might be instigated for entertainment, or cruelty, or to destabilize one or more civilizations, perhaps to prevent further advancement. Or one civilization might find another‘s practices morally appalling.

Be safe and well,
‘Tom Bitonti
 
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Bawylie

A very OK person
1.) Entangled alliances and obligations
2.) Sport / Glory
3.) Conquest as evidence of might
4.) Perceived heresy between two or more very similar empires over a very slight difference of orthodoxy (doesn’t have to be religious)
5.) Honor impugned / honor redressed
6.) An old grudge simmers over
7.) The stars align such that one group interprets a providence or omen and decides to act on it
8.) Lies and deceit
9.) Incompetence (no one knows why Empire A attacked, could be as simple as someone breaking ranks and firing when they shouldn’t have, but once it started there was no turning back)
10.) Corruption and coverup
11.) Coercion and blackmail
12.) Love unrequited / forbidden / requited but otherwise obligated or unavailable
13.) For the Greater Good
14.) For Unity / Order
15.) To forestall doom
16.) To keep the people at home United against a common foe
17.) To win an upcoming election or keep a position
18.) To accelerate decline
 

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