We're starting to develop a fairly rich world. There are mingled cultures of people, distinct tensions in the form of gender politics and potential cultural politics, maps, ominous threats, hints toward what things actually look like in the setting. But there are certainly a few more things that need to be explored before I'd consider this to be a "functional" world.
We need to identify what there is for the characters to do in the setting, ways they might interact with each other (trade, economics, political systems), and ways they might interact with the environment (what they eat, how they survive, what other threats exist). These all tie into the direct experience for the players who'll be interacting with this world through their character avatars (though some more directly than others).
I'll examine these various points quickly here, then the next few posts will specifically detail those aspects and how they can either be formulated before a story begins, or resolved through the course of play.
What do characters do in this setting?
Different characters do different things, they don't all just wander around "murder-hoboing" (killing things they encounter and taking their stuff), that may be a valid way to survive, but it's not very conducive to social interaction. New cross-cultural civilizations have developed in the Darkhive and that implies a level of social law over the law of the jungle. So, there will be people who make things, people who trade things, people who defend others from the menaces beyond, people who uphold the law within society, people who resolve differences between opposing parties in a civilized manner, people who exist apart from society for one reason or another. I think the three most interesting groups of people to focus on in this setting would be the individuals who roam the dark corridors between civilized sectors of the hive (to trade much needed goods and resources between different settlements/towns), the individuals who protect the civilized sectors (from the unspeakable menaces below and the unsocial arrivals who crash into the surface), and the individuals who try to unravel the secrets of the Darkhive. There's no real reason we couldn't tell stories about a period in the Darkhive's history when two neighbouring towns went to war (then the war became more horrific and complicated by the arrival of the Shellbrood)...but this would probably work better as the premise for a miniatures skirmish game rather than an RPG. I'm certainly thinking of that as a future option (due to having dozens/hundreds of warrior women figurines) , but I'm focused on personal stories in the world at the moment.
People on their own in the Darkhive don't live, they barely survive, and often the mere ability to survive is a risky endeavour. It takes a community to move beyond scavenging and barely subsisting, to truly living. Various points around the Darkhive are repositories for specific resources. Some open areas are suitable for growing fungi, lichen or ferns, some hidden alcoves contain eternally running springs of fresh water, there are areas where Hiveguard consolidate scrap metal, trinkets or other items, then there are the crashed astral ships filled with enough goods and scavengable items that a small community could live comfortably for generations by trading such items away.
A location with a specific resource might maintain a sustained population of twenty or so people, the same might hold for a small community existing beside a regular trade passage, living by banditry or taxing the passing travelers. Locations with multiple resources, or at the junction points of trade routes, might sustain higher populations. The largest and most well known towns might have spread to such a size that they encompass areas capable of food production, water gathering, Hiveguard junk piles, and generally everything necessary for survival, but such locations are hotbeds of political intrigue as various factions strive to keep control of these resources for themselves (thus requiring other factions to trade outside if they wish to gain an edge against their adversaries). Trade is important in the Darkhive, but trade requires journeys through the dark passages, and that always means risks.
There is no standard currency in the Darkhive, no single culture has maintained enough power to develop a stable coinage. Instead bartering and haggling are the order of the day.
Due to certain parts of the hive having a surplus of specific resources and other parts of the hive having a distinct deficit, there is always a flow of goods through the passageways. Water wagons bring life-sustaining liquids to dry parts of the hive, often completing their round trips with fungi, scrap, trinkets, or valuable ancient technologies. Every time a trader comes to town, they won't necessarily know if another trader has been there just before them, so they won't know if their trade commodity is worth a little or a lot. For this reason, I'm specifically implementing a random roll every time a trade commodity is exchanged. Modifiers to these rolls will be determined by the relationship a trader has with their contact in a settlement, the quality of the goods they've produced in the past, and the settlements current supplies of that trade commodity.
In the various cultural tables developed so far there are numerous systems of authority that different people will tend to follow. In most cases there will be a dominant form of authority structure in a settlement, and most people will tend to pay lip service to the dominant authority structure (regardless of their deeper opinions) unless they are an outspoken rebel or revolutionary.
In the currently developed cultural tables, there tend to be two different systems of authority structure.
One type reveres a person or group of people for their leadership abilities over society, these authority systems tend to be derived from the ancient cultures that blended together to make the now-blended demographic. The main way they differ is in the way they accept how those ruling elite are put into their role (inheritance, popular vote, proof of skill/knowledge, or simply taking power by force). For convenience, these are simply reduced to the equivalent political structures in our world.
The second type tends to be linked to occupational/caste affiliations, and is a simple scale of offering higher respect to those who have been around longer and proven their worthiness. Some people will respect worthy embers of their caste more than they respect local authorities, some will respect local authorities more...some might even respect high ranking members of other caste groups above the local authorities. It's the nuance in these choices that makes things interesting for me in stories, and it is in this that we see character develop.
The majority of food in the Darkhive is fungal, derived from the stalks and leaves of edible ferns, or from the feral animals that were released into the hive by downed ships. Places of decent food supply are fairly rare and tend to be the location for settlements to appear. Only in the open expanse above the middle three shells is there a reasonable abundance of possible farming land, but even these lands don't have much stability due to regular wild raiders and locust-like swarms of flying Shellbrood.
I honestly don't see players in this world portraying farmers with their characters, but that doesn't mean characters couldn't have a background as a farmer, and there would definitely be regular interactions with farmers when food is in surplus in one part of the hive, while being needed in another.
The Darkhive's origins are shrouded in mystery. It doesn't seem to have been a place designed for regular habitation at all. Perhaps it was some kind of technomystical laboratory, or a prison far from the known reaches of the universe. No one leaves here, and it is only through the concerted effort of many people that any towns could be considered to thrive. Far from the "tamed" parts of the Darkhive, there are numerous dangers to the health including dehydration, starvation, mental degradation, possible mutation, psychic rupture....things that haven't even been named yet... simply vanishing never to be seen again.
Beyond the subtle threats that sap an individual's ability to live, there are also the more active threats. Shellbrood have been mentioned, so have Hiveguard and mutants (but not so much). Those are the most commonly acknowledged threats in the setting, there is just as much danger from local law enforcement, bandits, religious fanatics, addicts hyped-up on fungal hallucinogens, and other more insidious directions. There are numerous things trying to utterly destroy the protagonists in this setting, but that doesn't mean the risks are futile.
There are a few ways that characters are able to gain more control over their destiny, perhaps even leaving a permanent legacy in the hive. Certain races have specific paths that are easier to transcend through (such as the Panaho with their Fungal symbiotes and concoctions, the Riven and Xelani with their enhanced psychic potential, the Khar-Tui with their enhanced knowledge and ability to activate the relics of the Darkhive's past). Specific cultures have accepted paths that their heroes tend to follow, and secretive groups who will recruit willing younglings into their ranks. There are dozens of ways that a character could gain power in the hive, and just as many ways for them to exploit the world around them once they have that power. I imagine many stories in this setting to unfold through several stages...
First, the grind of survival (a stage that might simply be referenced in character's backstory).
Second, the identification of a power source (whether that is physical, social, mental, psychic, other).
Third, the acquistion and gradual mastery of that power source.
Fourth, the application of that power in the hive, and the fight to resist those who seek to suppress the power.
Fifth, the establishment of a permanent legacy.
An entire story could be told for each level. With characters at one level acting as mentors to characters at lower levels, I'd also imagine that for heroic characters, we'd see a 1 in 3 chance of succeeding (and transcending to the next level) at the end of a story, a 1 in 3 chance of failing (but retaining the opportunity to try again in the next story), and a 1 in 3 chance of failing outright (either dying or returning to a regular life as well as they can). Among the regular population we might be more likely to see a 1 in 10 ratio for improvement and a 1 in 5 chance to keep trying.
In a population of 150,000 people, that gives us...
70% of the population as general survivors who are happy with their existence (105,000 people, the majority of people in the setting just want to get on wit their lives, but if someone offers them something to make their life a bit easier they'll be willing to accept it)
20% who are on the struggle to gain a power source of some type (30,000 people, a decent number of people are looking for something but they often don't know what)
7% who've found a power source but haven't considered it worthwhile to pursue for one reason of another (10,500 people, these people typically avoid the characters even if they might have something worthwhile to offer them, there are plenty of them around and most are useful members of their respective communities)
2% who've found the power source and are working to master it (3,000 people, every settlement has a few of these and there are higher numbers in larger villages and towns, these are the typical people who hold interesting jobs and roles that the characters will interact with)
0.7% who've mastered a power source but have encountered troubles applying it to the world around them (or have met massive resistance) (1050 people, there might be half a dozen of these in any village or town, often working as henchmen or apprentices to those more powerful)
0.2% who've applied the power source successfully to maintain a temporary power base. (300 people, most settlements have one of these, a few may exist in a larger town or village in conflict with one another)
0.07% who've previously had a power base, but are no longer in control (there's usually a good story to explain why that haven't been killed in their fall from grace). (105 people, many of the larger towns and villages would have one or two of these possibly as the leader, or a hidden "queen-maker")
0.02% who've established a secure power base and are now working to create a permanent legacy. (30 people, many of the towns would have one of these, especially if there isn't someone who has fully transcended here)
0.01% who have fully transcended, with a legacy that will outlast them,or perhaps who have attained immortality in some way through psychic, technological or symbiotic means. These are the true sources of power in the shadows of the Darkhive (15 people, there might be one in any major village, possibly one or two in a specific named town, the empress of the largest town would be one)
I like these numbers. They are generally vague, but give a decent progression of power where the key figures get less-numerous/more-focused. They also give something for player characters to work towards.