Now, if you've been following me for a while, you know I take working out the geography pretty seriously. I've built out a 150 light-year radius from Earth, and while in the building process I let a certain degree of randomness occur*, once I had certain things set up (namely, initial homeworlds and tech level of all the intelligent species in 150-ly radius), then I had to build with deliberateness.
That deliberate comes from decisions that I need to control-- and not just because I can't figure out an effective way to randomize it on Excel-- because the way a culture expands into space says a lot about their character. Do they reach out and claim every star system they can get their dextrous appendages*** on as quickly as possible? Or do they move slowly, maximizing the usage of resources in each system. Do they aggressively strike out, clashing with any neighbors they might meet? Or do they engage diplomatically, building bridges amongst cultures?
Whatever they do, once I allow an interstellar culture to claim a star system, I need to decide what kind of claim it is. This depends a lot, but not entirely, upon what options that star system gives them: a star system with planets gives more options that one without, and one with planets with life gives even more options. My designations are as follows:
Homeworld: This is self-explanatory-- the Homeworld is the world of origin for any given species.
Colony: The next highest-level of designation, a Colony is fully-autonomous and self-sufficient world that has a civilian population.
Station: If there are no planets, then the highest level of designation is Station. Of course, there may be multiple stations within a system-- military, corporate or civilian, or a combination.
Outpost: An outpost is a planetbound facility that is neither self-sufficient nor civilian. It can range from a military listening post to a mining-and-refinery base to a terraforming crew to a high-security prison. These are typically on systems where no planet can support life, and are dependent on an infrastructure of supply ships.
Holding: This is the lowest-level of claim-- basically, little more than the claim itself. Perhaps there is a squadron of ships or automated satellites to maintain that claim.
Preserve: This is a special designation, in which a species lays claim to a system and does nothing with it, other than protect it. Of course, only a certain kind of culture is ever going to make a star system a Preserve.
*- Within 150 light-year radius radius, we're talking about over 10,000 stars in that space. We're talking 14.1 million cubic light years.** So you better believe I created a randomizing script in Excel that went through each star and decided how many planets it had, and the orbital radius of each of those planets, and then IF one of those planets was in the "Goldilocks" zone, IF there was life on that planet, and IF so, how advanced that life was, and IF that life was intelligent, how advanced the technology of its culture was, and IF that advancement has reached the point of Interstellar Travel, WHEN they broke the light barrier, and how advanced their interstellar tech is. Randomizing those factors was necessary just to get the work down to a manageable level.
**- Douglas Adams wasn't lying. Space is big. Really big. Because that figure is nothing compared to the rest of the galaxy.
***- They all have dextrous appendages. Else you can't build ships.