Scum and Villainy is a fiction-first role-playing game in the space western genre. While its game system is based on Blades in the Dark, its setting is inspired by every notable work of science fiction from Star Wars and Firefly to Cowboy Bebop and Dune. Having already expressed my thoughts on the game system a year ago, I now want to discuss its setting. While doing the prep for my first SaV mini-campaign, it struck me how poorly structured its setting descriptions are, compared to the rules or even to the corresponding section in the original Blades. Many details that should go together are instead spread out across different chapters, and I had to start my own wiki just to bring them all into a structure I could easily reference. The excerpt below represents the "public" (spoiler-free) knowledge about the setting that every player (character) should have when starting the game and is primarily for the benefit of new players and those interested in the game.
I am aware that Scum and Villainy, just like Blades before it, describes its setting in deliberately vague terms, so that players and game masters can easily zoom in and expand it to suit their respective campaigns. Nevertheless, I am convinced that players need a common starting knowledge of the setting before they can get creative with it. I also happen to find this particular setting very cool and would like more groups to try it out for themselves.
Scum and Villainy takes place in the Procyon Sector of a galactic empire known as the "Galactic Hegemonic Alliance", commonly shortened to just the Hegemony. The Hegemony consists of countless star systems, having defeated and unified the warring factions of the Dark Age 1261 standard years before present. Since then, the galaxy remained relatively at peace, with wars only sparked when a new Hegemon Ascends; the last Hegemonic Ascension occurred about two decades ago.
The Hegemon reigns from the galactic Core with advice from the Grand Council, representing the seven Noble Houses, the High Guilds, and the Hegemonic Cults. The Noble Houses tax and administer individual galactic sectors on behalf of the Hegemon, who divvies the galaxy up among the nobles. The Guilds hold patents on and govern the use of essential technologies, while the Hegemonic Cults are responsible for everything to do with the Way (see below). The rule of the Hegemon is enforced by a massive space navy whose Legions are stationed in every sector.
The Guild of Engineers is by far the most influential and holds patents on mining technologies; since mining is often carried out by artificially intelligent drones, however, they also hold parents on the AI, on cybernetic enhancements, and on various gadgets. The Starsmiths Guild holds the patent on jump drives that make faster-than-light travel possible and builds spaceships, including the battleships of the Legion. The Counters Guild holds the patent on terraforming, but nowadays, is best-known for managing the Hegemonic credit network. The mysterious Makers Guild (also known as the Yaru) holds patents on cloning and on genetic engineering.
Among the Hegemonic Cults, the Church of the Stellar Flame is by far the most prominent. Its adherents believe that every sentient being carries within it a holy Light, which is polluted by contact with the Precursor ruins and artifacts (see below). The Church therefore strives to contain and to dispose of as many artifacts of the Ur as they can get their hands on and to control the mystics. The Cult of the Seekers sees its sacred duty in exploring the galaxy and in spreading the Hegemonic influence into yet-undiscovered sectors. Nevertheless, they have only received the official Hegemonic sanction thanks to the reigning Hegemon's mother being a member.
No one in the galaxy knows exactly what the Way is, but nobody can deny that it exists, that it interacts with energy and gravity, and that it flows more strongly in some places than in others. Everyone has also heard of the Way creatures that exist partly within the Way or cross over into the physical world, particularly drawn to Ur ruins and powerful artifacts.
It is also said that everyone has been able to Attune to the Way (a gameplay mechanic) ever since the very first hyperspace jump. Countless generations of mystics have explored and exploited this connection, come up with philosophies and theories about the Way, and formed cults to advance their beliefs. The Hegemonic Cults are just such groups of mystics, albeit officially sanctioned by the Hegemony.
The Hegemony is held together by the hyperspace travel technology it had inherited from the extinct Precursor species known as the Ur. The Ur have left behind colossal jumpgates floating in space, and when a spaceship with an active jump drive passes through one, it is propelled to the linked gate in another star system at superluminal speeds. Even within the same system, any spaceship with a jump drive can enter hyperspace lanes to travel faster than light to its destination. By Hegemonic law, all jump drives must be registered with and undergo maintenance by the Starsmiths Guild.
Jumpgates and jump drives are just one kind of Ur artifacts; another are the Precursor AI cores found in many Ur ruins. When attached to an autonomous drone, such AI core slowly extends thin fiber-optic filaments throughout its frame, integrating itself into and taking control of every system. Once it is done, the drone gains limited sentience, becoming an Urbot. The Guild of Engineers insists on wiping all Urbot cores at least once a year, so that said sentience stays limited.
Faster-than-light communication within the same star system is possible via the ansible network, invented and operated by a xeno species named Sah'iir. While the Sah'iir are not a Guild, they effectively hold the patent on the ansible technology and have made themselves irreplaceable to the Hegemony with it. Communication between systems is possible in the same way, but only as long as the corresponding jumpgates are open; otherwise, courier ships are used to deliver messages.
Overall, the technology level across the Hegemony is very uneven: while the Guilds and their allies commonly sport bleeding-edge technology, most of the population must rely on decades-old devices. On richer planets, a hovercar can park next to both a personal spaceship and a wheeled vehicle, while on less developed ones, one may have to use indigenous pack animals to transport goods.
The Procyon Sector
The Procyon Sector contains four star systems connected via jumpgates. Colonized over a century ago by the Noble House Nim-Amar, it was transferred to House Malklaith after the last Hegemonic Ascension. Governor Ritam al'Malklaith enforces Hegemonic law using the local System Police and the 51st Legion stationed in the sector. Located many jumps away from the Core, the Procyon Sector has little political or commercial influence on the rest of the Hegemony and is primarily exploited for its natural resources.
The Rin system is the gateway to Procyon and its administrative hub. It contains three jump gates, leading to the Core (the Ecliptis gate), to Holt, and to Iota. Its first planet Aleph is being mined for minerals, despite its tectonic instability and toxic atmosphere, while its moon Warren is a futuristic ecumenopolis where many important institutions are based, such as House Malklaith, the Counters Guild, and the Sah'iir. The HQ of the Guild of Engineers in Procyon is the space station SB-176, which orbits and mines the gas giant Vet. Planet Baftoma has been mined so extensively by the Hegemony that only bare rock scaffolding remains of it today. On the edges of the Rin system is the Ashtari Cloud, composed of gas and dust, which many space pirates use to hide from the law.
The Holt system was the second to be colonized, but remains underdeveloped. The planet Sonhandra is tidally locked, so life on it is only possible in the permanent twilight along its terminator. The ocean planet Mem is home to the native Memish species, who hadn't made their presence and planetary claims known to the Hegemony until a century after its colonization. Vos, commonly referred as Glimmer, is a planet entirely covered by carbon compounds like graphite and diamond, so access to it is tightly regulated by the Guild of Engineers. In addition to a gate leading to Rin, the Holt system contains the sealed Hantu gate, which nobody has managed to open since its discovery.
The Iota system has a binary star (a yellow sun Iota-1 and a brown dwarf Iota-2) and is the sector's center of industry. The garden planet Amerath is the main hub of pharmaceutical research and production, while the surface of Indri is covered entirely by industrial areas and industrial wastelands; 25% of all goods produced in Procyon are manufactured on this planet. The two asteroid belts of Iota contain the Shipyards, the Starsmiths' HQ where they and their subcontractors build spaceships for the sector. The ice planet Lithios is being mined for water and liquefied gases, but is also famous for the ice palaces of its extinct native civilization. In addition to a gate connecting to Rin, the Iota system has one leading to Brekk.
The Brekk system is the cultural center of Procyon, famous for its education and arts. The desert planet Shimaya is the site of the preeminent educational institution of the sector, the Khalud Academy. The planet Nightfall is the most Earth-like, except for having 13 moons that cause frequent eclipses; it is known for its haute cuisine and theater. It is orbited by the Obelisk station, a military base of the 51st Legion. The extremely aggressive fauna of the jungle planet Aketi has so far thwarted all settlement attempts, so the planet has been designated a "nature preserve". The only jump gate in the Brekk system leads back to Iota. Brekk is also orbited by the sector's most notorious supermax prison, Isotropa Max Secure.
The majority of the Hegemonic subjects are human, but countless xeno species have either joined the Hegemony or have been forcibly subjugated by it over the centuries. Most humans and xenos in the Hegemony belong to the working class and have never left their home planets, while the Noble Houses and criminal Syndicates vie for power over them.
A Syndicate refers to any form of organized crime. The two preeminent Syndicates of the Procyon underworld are the Scarlet Wolves, composed of assassins and bounty hunters, and the Ashen Knives, who also started out as assassins but moved on to more lucrative drug, gambling, and prostitution businesses. Space piracy is common: in the Rin system, Hegemonic shipping lanes are plundered by the Maelstrom pirates, while the Iota and Brekk systems are the hunting grounds of Draxler's Raiders. An enigmatic individual known as Vorex, the most successful information broker of all time, operates in Procyon, as well.
The many local currencies in circulation across the Hegemony are all exchangeable for standard Hegemonic credits, which are managed and monitored by the Counters Guild. CRED are transported on secure "sticks" provided by the Counters, who tend to investigate any transaction involving more than 4 CRED. A worker earns 1 CRED in a month, while 4 are the monthly take of a small business. For 2 CRED, one can buy a fine weapon; for 4, a rare artifact or a hoverbike; for 6, a ship module or a hovercar; and for 10, a small personal spacecraft.
Spaceships are classified into five categories based on size: personal (carrying a single person, often without a jump drive), freighter, corvette, frigate, and dreadnought. Ships larger than a freighter generally cannot land on planets and carry small shuttles for this purpose. Frigates and dreadnoughts are generally reserved for the military. Two dreadnoughts are officially stationed in Procyon: The Scorpio, flagship of the 51st Legion, and The Way of Light, the mobile HQ of the Church of the Stellar Flame in the sector. Altogether, there are no more than half a dozen capital ships in the sector.