ELIJAH'S PLANET DESIGN
Part 5: Location, Location, Location - Or, Finding the Right Locations for your Space
Last article we explored planetary location layout, specifically the mindless grids, and the silly patterns. Now, let's address space location layout. I'll admit, I'm not sold on any particular style as being right. I know that patterns are still tacky, but grids do seem to work. However, having a 10 x 10 grid with just one planet and a interstellar link does seem unnecessary. So, what do we have to consider when laying out space locations?
Well, first, can we write descriptions for more than one location? Often times people write their entire planet's history in one location and stick the link and orbit there. (This is bad for several reasons - read through my other articles for details, but specifically it lacks creativity and you're telling rather than showing us information.) Really, if we were to jump through a link, we'd find ourselves in space, and from my understanding space seems to be relatively endless. In Sol space the limits are explained by telling you that you can't go into uncharted sectors. I've always liked this approach; a large section of locations you can visit, most of which you have no reason to want to visit, unless you like reading Anne McCaffrey. However, we should be honest, most people aren't willing to search for your planet more than a couple of locations. And as few traders read descriptions, hoping to just find the planet through luck, it's probably good economics to make finding the planet easy. Which leads us the question of how?
Having a direct pathway through space doesn't do it for me. If moving three west leads to your planet, why? Why can't I go northwest, then southwest, then west to get there? Why do I have to go in a direct line? In the Asteroid Belt, obviously we're navigating around Asteroids. What am I navigating through in your design? If I have to take a turn, why?
Really, space locations are the hardest to write, layout, and for me, the hardest to want to write. However, space locations also offer the most freedom. Anything is possible in space. You could have a giant tunnel that directs ships down into a lower, specific, orbit of the planet. Perhaps the planet is surrounded by a large space junkyard, making a certain pathway to the planet necessary. Perhaps like Sol, the length of safe exploration only goes so far, and players are prohibited from going off the beaten path.
When laying out space locations, don't do it mindlessly, consider it, be creative, and use them to enhance your story. Story is the keystone to good planet design. Without it, you might as well just have a mini.