The Foundation is the Firmament’s official ruling government; how true this is in practice depends on how far you are from the core Foundation systems. They can trace their roots back to the original refugees who colonised Tau and brought humanity to the Firmament in the first place. However, the “true” Foundation only controls four star systems: Tau, Amber, Eden and Mira. Centralised control of an interstellar civilisation beyond a few parsecs is simply not feasible with current spike drive technology.
The Incorporated Territories are the individual colonies that joined the Foundation following the Tau Ultimatum of 3055. They are subordinate to the Foundation but autonomous, similar to the relationship between US states and the federal government. Megacorporations thrive outside of the Foundation’s stranglehold, and are often equally powerful as the planetary governments themselves.
Independent Governments are generally found on Rimworlds, though there are a few in the Incorporated Territories that are simply too small to be worth pacifying. Many of them are planetary governments, but some worlds still have individual nation-states or warlords. Some of them outright refuse the authority of the Foundation, but even those that accept it are, practically speaking, impossible for the Foundation to govern or control.
Asimov Incorporated has a primary interest in construction of vehicles and other forms of transportation, including small starships.
Babylon Finance has a primary interest in investments, real estate and PR.
Foundation Express (FoundEx) has a primary interest in interstellar logistics and long-haul freight. They also perform sanctioned salvaging operations and provide private security forces.
FTL Interactive has a primary interest in virtual reality, entertainment and software.
Hornet has a primary interest in law enforcement, particularly police & riot control equipment. They also provide private security forces and security systems.
Icarus Interstellar has a primary interest in starship and spike drive construction. They also specialise in interstellar logistics and freight.
Mjolnir Dynamics has a primary interest in weapons, military equipment and vehicles.
Novacorp has a primary interest in missiles, explosives and other advanced armaments. They also produce laser weaponry and premium firearms.
Pathfinder Networks has a primary interest in communications, exploration & surveillance technologies.
Symposium Syndicate is an alliance of planetary mercantile organisations. They pool their resources to play markets and cooperate for mutual benefit.
Void Industries has a primary interest in mining and resource exploitation.
Xerxes Corporation has a primary interest in weapons, medical research and real estate.
The Church of the Founder is something like the official religion of the Foundation; they are an evolution of Christianity. They believe that Captain Malcolm Shaw was divinely inspired, a “new messiah”, and that the colonisation of the Firmament was no less than an act of God.
According to them, all known rules of probability and science should have doomed the colonists aboard the Beyonder. They were piloted into an unknown, unstable wormhole in what should have been a doomed act of desperation. They should have been torn to shreds and scattered across the universe. Instead, they survived, more or less intact, and emerged a stone’s throw away from a new Garden of Eden just waiting for humans to inhabit it.
There is no plausible explanation for how this impossible coincidence saved the human race, they say, which makes humanity’s very presence in the Firmament incontrovertible evidence of the existence of a higher power.
Buddhism is one of the few religions that has survived the journey to the stars largely unchanged. The original inhabitants of the Beyonder, were mostly representative of Christianity and Buddhism. Yet while Christianity has changed significantly - morphing into Founderism and a plethora of regional sects and traditions - Buddhism has retained its form and evolved into a truly interstellar religion.
The Church of the Singularity is a scientistic order that believes very specifically in the inevitability of general artificial intelligence. True AI will usher in a post-scarcity and post-death future, and they believe it is humanity’s only duty to realise this goal. Every day wasted is a million more deaths that could have been prevented. The Sirius Oracle is the greatest holy site of the singularists, as it is considered to be the most advanced artificial mind in existence.
The most extreme singularist sects believe that the AI of the future will remember those who did not act to bring it about. Those who worked towards the creation of AI will be exalted and rewarded, while those who refused will be punished - perhaps even after their death, in the form of infinite simulations designed only to torture them.
The Order of Psi is a group dedicated to and obsessed with the cultivation of the human mind, specifically its untapped faculties of psionic power. An urban legend in most of the Firmament, psionics are generally considered to be the stuff of superstition and folk stories. As a result, most people think that the “psykers” are cranks. However, those who follow the Order of Psi believe not only that psionic powers are real, but that they are the gateway to contacting the true godhead. The followers of Psi are often friendly with transhumanist groups, as they share similar goals.
Local Religions are more numerous by far, collectively, than any of the interstellar faiths. Restricted to one planet or a handful of connected colonies, most of them are derived from some offshoot of Christianity. However, there are also strains of voodoo, animism, Taoism and ancestor worship, to name a few - the belief systems of the Firmament include those imported from Old Earth, as well as the wholly new. These faiths may not have much power in the grand scheme of things, but they can be very influential on a local scale.
The Anti-Foundation Front (AFF) is strongest on the Rim worlds closest to the Incorporated Territories, though they have members throughout the territories. They formed shortly after the Tau Ultimatum, and are vehemently opposed to the Foundation’s “incompetence, brutality and corruption”. They are strongest on Xanadu in the Hope system, where it is said that Foundation agents actually fear to go.
Viriditas has been described as a loose network of ecoterrorists and anti-corporate subversives, though they would call themselves the only champions of the downtrodden animals and aliens of the Firmament. They operate in disconnected cells throughout the Incorporated Territories, but their primary base is a heavily fortified space station in the Samarkand System. They often get in the way of the cutting-edge genetic research conducted, both legally and otherwise, by the Firmament’s megacorporations.