The Empire of the Thirteen Campaign Setting

Design Notes


"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise."

- F.Scott Fitzgerald.

There are a few simple themes motivating the Empire of the Thirteen campaign universe:

  1. There is no ultimate truth.

    Things aren't simply good and evil; the Empire of the Thirteen is a campaign about ideologies in opposition. On the one side, we have Earth where people believe in doctrines of right and wrong, and morality. On the other side, we have the Empire, where anything goes, and everyone is free to choose their own way. And both sides have corruption, murderers, and great social tragedy.

  2. Things are always more complicated than they seem.

    There are a lot of mysteries in the Empire of the Thirteen campaign. And the answers are never simple.

  3. Life is not a spectator sport.

    Even in a universe where morality is ambiguous, and we don't understand everything that's going on, we can't not get involved. We must choose some actions, and live with the consequences.

  4. Things change.

    The universe abhors steady-state.

Campaign Tone

  • Morality: The Empire of the Thirteen is a campaign without "Heroes" and "Villains". More like Babylon 5, the people in the Empire of the Thirteen are trying to do the best they can in a universe of ambiguous morality.

  • Dramatic Realism: The campaign is a Neutral to Realistic.

  • Outlook: The campaign is Mixed to Pessimistic. Earth has been in a a major economic recession for 10 years, and now, civil war has erupted in the Empire.

  • Attitude: Serious. But don't forget what Brecht once said: "Bad comedians are always laughing. Bad tragedians are always crying."

Scientific Realism

The campaign uses the "whatever seems appropriate" rule for scientific realism. Although hard science is generally preferred to fantasy, some elements are just simply fantastical. For example, psionic powers exist.

In general, aliens are truly alien. Humans exist on multiple planets, but alien who've evolved on different worlds have significantly different evolutionary lines than humans do.

Additional Notes

  • I dislike "rubber suit" aliens. I prefer aliens that are truly alien, rather than vaguely humanoid animals who act largely human.

    Yes, I know I've violated that preference with the Syleen, but "cat people" are so much fun, I couldn't help myself. Nonetheless, I want aliens with unfamiliar appendages, and completely foreign motivations.

    In Traveller, the K'kree and the Hivers were always much more alien than the Vargr and the Aslan, even though the latter were easier to fit into campaigns. I also like the 2300 AD approach to aliens -- in that game, characters were required to play humans because they couldn't really understand aliens, and besides, a lot of the background of the aliens was a secret.

  • Hard science. Especially in the Terran Realm. Almost everything within the Terran Realm should be conceivable (except, perhaps, faster-than-light travel).

Revealing My Sources

Although I've put a lot of original thought into this campaign, I have been inspired by a number of sources:


I like the setting of MegaTraveller:

  • Technology: FTL ships, but STL communications
  • Merchants and Nobles
  • An empire on the brink of civil war

Star Hero, First Edition, Alien Enemies and Cyber Hero

I liked a lot of the aliens in Star Hero, First Edition... I just didn't like the Alliance campaign setting. I'm also a bit worried that the Kindred will become the Klingons of the Empire of the Thirteen. I don't want them to be anything like the Klingons. But the original concept is just so Klingon-like, that it's probably going to take some work to be sure that they're different.

I also chose to blend in some of the aliens described in Alien Enemies because some of them fit in with ideas that I was developing independently.

Some of the Earth history and Earth corporations come from Cyber Hero, although large parts of that setting don't fit with my campaign history.

Fading Suns

I like the aesthetic of the Fading Suns books: odd people with facial tattoos and body modifications, and people carrying swords. I also like the idea of very visible noble families and a powerful religious system.

I also found something appealing about the Vorox -- I wanted a violent, almost-barbarian race, and I kind of like the six-limbed beasts. So, although I slipped the T'yak (from Alien Enemies) into my campaign, I think my treatment of them has definitely been inspired by Fading Suns, with perhaps a bit of Werewolf: The Apocalypse thrown in for good measure.

The Dreadstar Comic Book

The early war between the monarchy and the instrumentality was, for me, the most interesting facet of the original Dreadstar run. The big problem that I had with Dreadstar was the very uninteresting morality: The Church of the Instrumentality was morally bankrupt, and Dreadstar and Company were good guys. Simple. Straight-forward. Boring.

The American Flagg Comic Book

I like the "everything has gone to pot" feel of American Flagg. People have given up on Earth, and its social problems. Although Reuben M. Flagg was a bit of an oddity in terms of his political views, I like the sense of social decay that American Flagg portrays.

So, in the Empire of the Thirteen campaign universe, Earth looks a lot like a shopping mall in the poor part of town.

Temporary Agency

I just recently read this book by Rachel Pollack, and although I'd worked out many of the details of the Empire long ago, I think this book really captures the feel I'm trying to go for. In the Empire (as in Temporary Agency), people perform spiritual rituals as part of their daily lives: kids go through enactments to mark their transition into adulthood; people perform enactments for good luck on a new job; and people seek out diviners for advise when things are going badly in their lives.

Notes on the Aliens


Part Minbari religious caste (a la Babylon 5). They wear a lot of flowing robes, and are deeply spiritual. Society is much like India -- extremely segregated by caste. There's a serf class; a Shadu who cannot earn enough to live can become a serf for a local noble (this, instead of welfare). Shadu have the Japanese attitude toward simple things. Too much decoration is garish. Imagine them all with tall foreheads -- as though a receeding hairline has become the norm among these humans. Something like the Obun in Fading Suns.


The original Star Hero book describes them as being similar to Americans; take that to extremes. Pro-marketing. Pro-guns. Huge class division. Few social services. A huge leisure industry. Tabloids, instead of news. Phychi politics is riddled with backroom deals, and secret handshakes. There are powerful nobles who are identified with any number of extremist positions. I imaginge Phychi fashion similar to the Centauri on Babylon 5; lots of ornate costumes.

Remember that Theris (the Phychi homeworld) was devastated. The Phychi live in underground cities or orbital complexes.


Rome. Imagine Russell Crowe saying "Strength and Honour". But also imagine the conspiring characters from I, Claudius. "What you do in life will echo in eternity." The Kindred have made a science out of war. Extreme sexism toward women, but it is also a culture in which allows soldiers to profess brotherly love. Science is important for furthering the power of the Kindred state, but whole fields of science are legally restricted.

Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000 by B.C. Holmes. Last updated May 20th, 2000.
Champions, Star Hero, Cyber Hero, Hero System and Hero Games are registered trademarks of Hero Games. All rights reserved.

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