Nuclear apocalypse came to Earth in the 21st century. From the ashes of the old order rose a world government - the Gaean Empire. Though autocratic and draconian its might and technological prowess knew no peer. After mere decades the Empire rebuilt human civilization and spread throughout the Solar system and beyond, becoming an interstellar power.
Then the Necrol invaded.
Beset by a seemingly unstoppable force of nanite-infused biomechanical horrors, the Gaean authorities resorted to the unthinkable - they detonated Sol, the sun, along with the rest of the core system stars. While this did wipe out most of the invading Necrol fleet it also devastated the empire. Only a handful of outer colonies were spared this celestial conflagration.
Hundreds of years have passed since the destruction of Earth and the survivors are just starting to pick up the pieces. Humanity has encountered other spacefaring species - some helpful, some terrifying. No central authority has risen to replace the Gaean Empire, which now only exists in the form of piratical bands of former Gaean military. While there are some pockets of prosperity and peace, many worlds still struggle for survival in a harsh, unforgiving universe. And out in the deepest, darkest corners of space, the Necrol menace still lurks.
There is no such thing as warp drive in Dead Stars; hyperspace exists only in old period films and artificial wormholes remain theoretical. Instead, faster-than-light travel is achieved through the power of the mind.
Psionicists capable of 'fetching' can bend space to instantaneously teleport themselves from one place to another. When a fetcher is cybernetically linked to a spaceship they, in effect, become the spaceship. If presented with a perfect image of a location - however distant - they can teleport towards it, bringing the entire ship (and its crew) along. However, even the most powerful fetcher can only traverse a light-year or so per day. Given the sheer distances inherent in interstellar travel voyages from system to system can still take weeks or even months.
A species of refugees. The Drake would have been yet another victim of the Necrol were it not for the intervention of the Gaean Empire. Although it couldn't save the Drake homeworld the Gaean Military was able to transport many survivors off-planet before the Necrol consumed it. Now the Drake roam the stars in small bands, selling their services for food, resources and transportation.
Having just emerged from their equivalent of the Middle Ages, the Drake are not technologically adept. Neither do they make particularly intimidating warriors, standing a mere meter or so tall. They do, however, possess impressive psionic potential and are the only known sapients capable of winged flight.
A species of nomads. The Necrol decimated Flakam society long ago. Only small pods and lone wanderers remain scattered across space. Though fragmented, the Flakam are united in a singular, overriding purpose: vengeance against the Necrol, and look to humanity - the species that came closest to halting the encroachment of the Necrol scourge - for their salvation.
Having evolved in the void of space the crystalline Flakam are resistant or outright immune to many hazards - vacuum, radiation, cold, toxins - and have no need to eat or drink, subsisting off electromagnetic radiation alone. They are essentially living computers with the natural ability to transmit and receive radio signals. Their alien physiology does have its drawbacks, however. They cannot benefit from cybernetic or genetic enhancement and their silicon bodies are particularly vulnerable to high frequency vibrations.
A species of shapeshifters. Gorbrasch society is organized into genetically distinct clans, which war against each other for resources and territory. Gorbrasch clans once colonized distant worlds through ionic drive ships that took decades or even centuries to arrive at their destinations. Now Gorbrasch clans rely upon ships manned by humans and other psionic species capable of FTL travel to spread across the stars.
Gorbrasch have no fixed limbs, form or even organs; they are exceedingly adaptable, growing whatever appendages or tissues they need in mere seconds. Because nothing about their physiology is 'vital' they are difficult to seriously harm. They do not, however, have any psionic potential and are incapable of being fitted with cybernetics. Their fluid bodies are not particularly strong, either.
A species of traders. The Helizara once shared a planet with four other sapient species but manipulated the others into wiping each other out. Fortunately, the Helizara have since renounced their xenophobic ways, extolling cooperation between all sapient beings. That, and duty free trade.
In addition to their keen senses and silver tongues, Helizara can influence the emotions of organic creatures by emitting an array of pheromones. Furthermore, they are adept at 'acquiring' and employing rare technology. They are not the brightest species in the galaxy, however, having grown dependent on allies to solve their problems for them.
A species of geneticists. The common ancestor of all Orliss was a plant-like organism that evolved the ability to directly modify its own genetic code in response to its environment. Modern Orliss sub-species come in a bewildering variety of phenotypes, but the one most familiar to other sapients is that of a humanoid with leafy-green hair and tan to light green skin. These Orliss were specifically grown to interact with other intelligent life for the benefit of the species as a whole.
Orliss can 'grow' organic equivalents to just about any tool or piece of equipment. They can also excrete a gooey, sap like substance that has great healing properties. Because of this Orliss make fantastic technicians and doctors, though their bedside manner leaves something to be desired.
A species of survivalists. The Universal Guide to First Aid is a comprehensive treatise on how to treat every conceivable injury of all known space-faring beings. The entry on the Serkalth is a single line with a brief footnote: Serkalth are tough bastards. The footnote explains that anything capable of harming a Serkalth to the point it requires medical attention will have in all likelihood killed off anyone and anything capable of rendering such.
The Serkalth possess a hard exoskeleton, extreme resilience to both heat and cold, claws capable of tearing through steel and rapid healing. They are fairly clumsy by the standards of most other species, though.