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Travelling In Compact Space

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2024 issue.


C.J. Cherryh’s Compact Space, wherein takes place the Chanur saga, is a setting unlike either the official Third Imperium setting or the Clement Sector setting, but is nevertheless quite suitable for setting a Traveller campaign in.

A Small-Ship Setting

Although the technical specifications of ships aren‎’t given in any of the stories, we do know that the Pride of Chanur, the central ship in the stories, isn’t atypical. We do know that it has a small crew (less than a dozen Hani), regardless of the actual physical dimensions of the ship. Living quarters and duty stations for the crew are close but not cramped, and descriptions aren’t incompatible with standard Traveller ship spaces.

An Interstellar Map with “Geography”

Interstellar travel isn’t from any star to any star; from any given location, you only have a limited set of destinations. What’s more, the capabilities or mass of your ship may limit you further; the map provided with the stories shows three sets of routes: Those that can be travelled only by ships with low mass, those that can be travelled by ships with higher mass, and those that can be travelled only by the alien Knnn.

Speed of Interstellar Communications Limited by Speed of Interstellar Travel

There’s no “ansible” or other FTL comms technology; messages are carried aboard ships. Different ships may have different ‘speeds’ through hyperspace; while ships in hyperspace can’t interact with each other, you might be running away from someone only to find that they’ve beaten you to the next star over.

Multiple Sophont Species

The oxygen-breather species of Compact Space are (mostly) usable as PCs; of the methane-breathers, only the T’ca are usable even as NPCs—the Chi seem to have no existence except as symbionts/parasites on the T’ca, and the Knnn are really usable only as a disruption, much like any natural phenomenon.

The novels give us a viewpoint of the Hani, who turn out to be a fairly good match for the Aslan. An important difference is that prior to the events of the Chanur saga, Hani males in space was culturally impossible, and afterward, vanishingly rare. However, the Aslan Tlakhu is a reasonable analog for the Hani Han, and Aslan clan alliances aren’t bad analogs for the various amphictyonies of Hani society; there are many other cultural parallels between the Hani and the Aslan, to the point that Cherryh was asked if (and denied) the Hani were influenced by the Aslan (and vice-versa, also denied).

Second in visibility to the Hani are the Mahendo’sat and the Kif. Kif society seems to run on sfik, which in some ways seems like Vargr charisma-based social status cranked up to eleven—or maybe twelve. There seems to be an undercurrent in Kif society that says, in effect, that anyone who can credibly threaten one’s sfik is an enemy that should be destroyed; anyone who can be used to add to one’s sfik should be so used, and anyone whose sfik is above one’s own may be someone who one should respect and ‘ride the coattails of’. Sfik competition is by no means ‘friendly’.

Mahen society places a lot of store on Personage, which has some similarities to both sfik and Vargr charisma, but definitely toned down, and there is also an element of Hiver Manipulation in there. It is not nearly as cutthroat as sfik, but Mahen governments have fallen when leaders have their Personage reduced.

The stsho are somewhat enigmatic; they are portrayed as (almost pathologically) non-violent and very manipulative, but it’s not the same kind of manipulation that the Hivers or Mahendo’sat practice; it’s more the kind of underhanded manipulation that includes writing contracts that are so long and complex that important information and constraints are lost in the verbiage. And in translation; only the Stsho-language text is binding. Stsho are probably not suitable as player-characters; we only ever see them in roles that are traditionally handled as NPCs.

Limited Technology

The effective technology level seems to be about the equivalent of TL10 at most – personal weapons are lasers, there’s no combat armor or ‘grav vehicles’ (vehicles are either wheeled or hovercars), but ships do have internal artificial gravity.

Campaign Types

This is the only area of Traveller where there may be a deficiency – Chanur business is trade, and all of the high intrigue that the characters get involved with is very definitely unwanted, but a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and insisting on holding to a certain standard of honor. Even then, much of the intrigue is cast in terms of “what’s in it for me if I go along with you—and what’s in it for you?”, with an intended meaning often, but not always, being focused around ‘cash’ profit, either in the present or in the future. One can turn a mercantile campaign into a political-intrigue campaign as was seen in the stories, but that’s about it for campaigns – there’s no opening in the stories for mercenary action, nor for fleet warfare, nor exploration or first-contact or survey. We know that there are ‘hunters’, but it’s not clear what they hunt under what conditions for what reasons.


There’s definitely room for playing Traveller in this universe, though somewhat circumscribed. The environment is very different from the Third Imperium setting, but feels in some ways like the earliest Classic Traveller setting, before the Third Imperium ‘solidified’.