So, for me as a GM, when I start a game I do it in a local, clearly delineated, area according to the principle of starting small. But, that usually means the player characters are going to be local and small. Nothing wrong with that, especially if it's a rich world with a lot of detail. But, If you do that, those earth shattering events in the time line will go unnoticed, and more importantly, the players wont ever get involved.
Apparently, in order to make those events useful for your game, you need to get the players involved in those earth shattering events that shape your campaign. If we take the example of the Rebellion in the Traveller universe, most of the details we get in the official source books talk about the figure heads of the factions, and things like strategic evens like which worlds to defend when that other throne pretender comes knocking on the door.
How often do your players get to take those kinds of decisions?
As often as that, eh?
It seems like what you need to do is not to start small, as in that small farming community in the wilderlands, but big. Since it still makes sense not to overwhelm your players with information, I gather we here have a potential for trouble. How to do big in a small way?
The thing here, I think, is to thrust the players into the upper echelons of society. They need to be where it happens. If they are not the ones with a hand on the wheel when the flagship engages the enemy they at least needs to be able to look over the shoulder of the guy who has. Naturally, it could mean NPC doing cool stuff while the players look on, so care needs to be taken. Also, I'm not sure how to combine this with the free wheeling sandbox play held so high in some circles. Actually, I'd love to hear how people running those kinds of games handle these kind of problems.
What's my suggestion then?
For a campaign like the Rebellion in Traveller this is what I'd do.
- Make all characters nobles. Set SOC at 10+1d4
- Have a family and sibling generation system, to make sure inheritance and dynastic issues will crop up
- Everyone should have a personal patron, so there are multiple and conflicting loyalties
- Generate contacts during character generation. This I actually did when I last tried running Traveller
- Don't mess around with starship economics, just give the characters a starship, ok?
If you start it like that, then you have the pieces put in place to have the actions of the characters matter on a grand scale, and also social entanglement are bound to happen.
Next time I'll try to do it like that. Maybe it even works...