Reflecting again on the Interplanetary game, I thought about the core foundation of the Imperium: the need to expand the trade zone for the Zhunastu megacorporation, from just the Sylean Federation to the Vilani and the Solomani Rim worlds. Sensible enough… but supposing that Sylea rose to power after a really nasty in-system fight with two or three other worlds… a fight that was won decisively by the surprise development and use of a (low-powered, in-system) Sylean jump navy?
Assume that the rest of Charted Space didn’t have jump drive: only sub-light transports and colonial fleets. The Syleans would have a head-start in getting more territory, refining and improving the jump and maneouver drives as they go, pushing hard to get interstellar jumps after a century or two.
Here, the jump ships were originally a revolutionary weapon of war: allowing the Sylean Federation to expand rapidly like the explosive growth of the Mongols, with their superior
starships horsemanship, and their crystaliron armour silk undershirts (that worked nicely in reducing missile damage arrow wounds).
Remember: most interplanetary warfare in this universe – based as it was on asteroid impacts, comet impacts, mass drivers, and comet strikes – was frankly genocidal. The Sylean Federation would initially have the same widespread attitude… until some bright young man figured out that lots and lots of money could be made by re-purposing an obsolete troop & materials transport ship, creating the first interstellar trader.
(This isn’t exactly the same as the parable regarding Kublai Khan who – when he ordered the slaughter of 80% of the Chinese population to get more pastureland for his beloved horses and eliminate the threat of rebellion – was advised that if he did so, he would get X tons of silk at one time… but if he let them live and tax-farmed them instead, he would get X*0.3 tons of silk every year. Nor did the Syleans exactly imitate the Mongol habit of using the technology and skilled labour of captured cities to make the next conquest that much easier.
But – while history doesn’t repeat, it does rhyme…)
The most interesting event – you could even consider it a major miracle – would be when the increasingly trade-oriented Syleans contacted two similarly violent jump-capable empires, the culturally genocidal Vilani and the racially genocidal Solomani… and instead of a war that devastates this branch of the Perseus Arm, the Syleans engineer a variant of the Imperium, with the Syleans acting as the (profit-reaping) trusted middleman between these powers.
(So the Syleans are not just better at war, but better at forging a durable alliance as well and in finding quick-hit money-making deals. Not bad, not bad…)
A thousand years later, this Imperium may look superficially like the classical Third Imperium, but you wouldn’t have to dig much to find some very significant differences, in history…
like, lots and lots and lots of cratered worlds (most of them actually the result of ancient in-system wars, rather than a Sylean/Imperial operation)… with the occasional skull pyramid, a gentle Sylean reminder on the cost of rebellion. And yes, this is a gentle reminder, far kinder than an orbital glassing or a mass driver strike.
…in culture, and in politics.
And in a certain Sylean Noble fondness of fast horses, horseback archery, and endless, endless grasslands…