interstellar communication?


just got my copy of BE and done some reading, but there are still many pages left :wink: and I’m still missing one piece in the big picture: interstellar communication.

On the one hand, you need fast and reliable IC to be able to controll and expand an interstellar empire. On the other hand, having such means of communication would make the vaylen threat obvious to every world and unite all forces. (??)

Communication is a key figure in BE, and Im not sure how to handle it.

Just imagine two scenarios with comparable threat to humanity (one with our communication means and one without), happening on our planet.

Preferably, in BE you would like to have highly advanced communication means, i.e. messages travelling faster than ships. One can’t reign empires by issuing orders and waiting weeks for their delivery. Such empire would collapse within a few decades into autonomous planets.
Well, just imagine the diffculties of military actions without real-time communication.

Unfortunately, you don’t want fast communication in your game. I’t would just take one “hulling” tv live feed to throw all humanity into total war.

I’m still reading the rulebook, but just in case there are no references, I have made up my own and will stick to the good old postman system:

  • planetary communication is streamed via wire or rf and real-time,
  • system communication is message oriented, via rf or laser technology and very fast but not real-time ( upper bound is the speed of light )
  • interstellar messages are passed by ships and downloaded to relay centers

Is there any reference in the books or comics how to handle it? Or do you have your own ideas?

Intergalactic communication is all about the ansible, or hyper-wave relay if you want to go old school. Unfortunately, it’s a High Index technology, so very few worlds still have one.

Make it part of your world during the tech portion of the World Burning process if you like. After that it doesn’t really have to be more than color.

I thought the rarity of good interstellar comm was a big reason behind the feudal structure.

Shiva’s War makes mention of ‘Message torpedoes’. Presumably an FTL drone with a radio and a recorded message.

Merritt is correct: the lack of instant FTL communications reinforces the psuedo feudal-state structure. This means that you can’t count on orders, reinforcements or someone else to take charge when the Vaylen come knocking on your door. Time to step up and be a hero, because who else will be?

Yeah. Even though it’s in the Karsan League, which has worked harder to preserve its technological base in this dark age, Taramai is pretty backward. Hell, Baron Sheva isn’t even a Forged Lord. He has to use a yacht to go after Phillipe.

Intergalactic communication is all about the ansible, or hyper-wave relay if you want to go old school. Unfortunately, it’s a High Index technology, so very few worlds still have one.

Make it part of your world during the tech portion of the World Burning process if you like. After that it doesn’t really have to be more than color.

That makes sense, in favor of the setting it should be just color.

My players would love to use it and spread the news :confused: so I’ll have to restrict it even more.

Thanks for your quick replys and the notion of torpedos.

sigh I guess I have to buy those comics from amazon :wink:

Well, they need to find someone who also has a working ansible. That would be a base Ob 3 (1 + 2 for specific knowledge - how to use an ansible). To have it be anyone of consequence would shoot it up even higher.

The enmity clause options are absolutely delicious.

Plus I think you have to be on a High Index world even to look for someone with an ansible. If I were GM’ing, I’d let you look if you were on a Low Index world, but at doubled obstacle penalty or something ungodly like that.

No, I’m with you. The Ansible is only available on High Index worlds, or Low Index worlds in which the group specifically made the Ansible the one High Index technology available.

Also, each setting will vary, of course, but in almost every case, I expect access to the Ansible would be highly restricted and reserved for the governing/military elite. It’s too much of a strategic asset.

I was referring more to the receiver of the message. I was presuming the players had one available for their own use. Being able to send messages isn’t very useful if no one is receiving them.

I was going to say the same thing. Ansible’s aren’t universal communicators. You’ve got to have an ansible to receive ansible communications.

So imagine you’re the communications officer on a high index paradise. Suddenly, the phone rings and there are people screaming and wailing about the end of the world on the end. What do you do?

Probably hang up quietly and pray the lunatics don’t call back.

That’s just one scenario, there are dozens more, each more grim than the last!

“Thank you for holding. This is a High Index, Military Capital, Public Attitude:Personal Experience World. How may I direct your call?”

“…worms…[STATIC] taking over the Merchant League…and the Forged Lord’s son is [STATIC]… We need your help to…”

“Thank you for reporting your Vaylen incursion. I’m just going to add your world to our list…”

“Thank you! [STATIC] …bless…”

“… of tainted systems never to visit or to accept incoming transit from under any circumstances. We’ll be tracking down all merchants and other visitors from your planet and interning them as well.”

“…[STATIC] Wait! No! We need your… [STATIC]…”

“Have a nice day, and thank you for using Ansible ™.”


Of course, after they hang up is when they dispatch a Hammer ship to your system’s Oort Cloud to put one-use distortion drives on a few comets and send them towards your planet at near-light speed.

I appreciate what you all have said about the ansible. I thought that all commo would be through the message torpedoes also mentioned.

This would mean that most worlds would have planet-wide, or perhaps system-wide, “Internets.” Once the message torp arrives, all these great new files would appear on the 'Net. I’m sure it would be a red letter days on people’s calendars, assuming they get regular torps in their “neck of the woods.” I think it would also mean that people are pretty good at writing letters, or maybe I should say “composing,” as they might well use video, holography, or other such multimedia technology.

I would also guess even at low index that storage would not be a real problem, at least not for books (other than the most technical), letters, and the like. I would think you could send an entire planet’s, or an entire “prefectures” 'Net’s worth of content for several months if not longer in one torpedo. Or, the content of the torpedo might get edited somehow, either for storage considerations or just out of propaganda and information control.

William Gibson said that the future is here but that it is poorly distributed. With information coming at you as I describe, Gibson’s dictum would be doubly true of the Burning Empires.


I like the idea of “the day the mail torpedo comes in” being a big deal. Remember that this is a fragmented and stratified society, so different people will likely have very different degrees of access to information – and of course the chokepoint of the message torpedo puts tremendous power in the hands of those who upload and download the contents.

Terrific topic as usual. My conception doesn’t include the idea of an Ansible in its conventional “sub-space communications” ftl radio incarnation, though such a thing could exist. The Federation at its height was connected by a web of precipitators, of which very few remain in existence, and their locations are closely guarded secrets. (

So ultimately, communication between stars is all about torpedoes. Some are virtually instantaneous (Precipitated), but only connect a handful of national capitals and secret outposts to the communications “web”. The vast majority of communications travels at Distortion 9, with some jumbo-sized commo torpedoes traveling at Distortion 18 (Distortion 9 with BCD’s* doubling the speed, and fuel consumption).

*-Burnhardt Compression Device


I think you’d also have information brokers/fixers who claim to have stuff from the torpedoes that got censored by the “powers that be.” I could even see this being a semi-legit business, with a Forged Lord editing out the seditious stuff but allowing certain information (perhaps stuff deemed immoral or contrary to church doctrine) to get out via these fixers for a fee. Not a bad racket.

And, if you are rich enough or well connected enough, you could have your own torpedo service. Maybe again, you do this to some extent with the Forged Lord or Hammer Lord’s blessing.

The more freewheeling communes and anarcho-syndicalist groups might just from time to time send torpedoes to worlds they deem repressive. Think about samizdat and agitprop and libels (as that word was used in the 15th and 16th centuries).

Fun things to do for almost any lifepath!