Traveller RPG Week Day Three: Starships

One of the most awesome things about Classic Traveller (and derivatives) is that the in-game values and role-playing data is present in the game itself. Your character’s stats – his Universal Personality Profile or UPP – can be looked up by your character in the game on any convenient info-terminal. If your crew is looking for a new Engineer (the last one having been accidentally flushed out of the airlock) they can stipulate they want one with a UPP of at least 779878 and have Vacc Suit-1. Picture your character looking at his own character sheet, then watch out for flying brain-matter as your head explodes.

Traveller is one of the few games where the in-game stats break through the Fourth Wall and enter the game itself. Paranoia is the only other one that comes to mind, and that doesn’t come close to the depth of Traveller’s commitment to the concept. Traveller takes that metaphysical breakthrough and runs with it – pretty much everything that needs stats in the game has them in ways that your character can use in-game. Worlds, animals, subsectors and spaceships are all expressed in terms that feel sufficiently science-fiction and in keeping with the tone of the game and traditional “role-playing” language is kept to a minimum.

I can’t stress it enough – this makes a huge difference to how Traveller plays compared to any other game. In D&D, for example, there’s the constant shuffle between being In Character and saying what your Armour Class, Hit Points and to-hit modifier is. In Traveller, you can do all the role-playing stuff and still be in character, all the time.

On to starships.

A Traveller without access to a starship isn’t a Traveller but a Passenger, and that’s not the name of the game. A range of standard starships are provided in the game with the Type S Scout/Courier and  Type A Free Trader potentially available to the characters as a benefit during character generation. Starships are horrendously expensive and the monthly expenses alone are reason enough for the party to take high-risk jobs just to keep up with the payments. The alternative is for them to be assigned a vessel owned by a third party – a mega-corporation, shadowy benefactor or other interested party – or gain one as a reward for completing a mission.

This is where the GM can have a lot of fun. The heroes could have all signed up to work as crew on a deep space exploratory vessel that just happens to have served as a Zombie Plague Ship, or their recently acquired Subsidized Merchant once belonged to a smuggler who wants to retrieve some illicit cargo from its secret storage hold. Maybe the ship is an experimental prototype that just requires the correctly spoken keyphrase to unlock its advanced systems. In short: Starships make for great plot hooks.

If you’re used to playing D&D, think of it like this. Starships in Traveller are like Dungeons that the PCs own and take with them, but you can restock whenever you want. Every trip into Jumpspace takes a week to complete, and that’s seven days’ worth of Adventure Potential In Total Isolation you could fill.

Here’s 1d6 ideas:

  1. Jumpspace Ghost Pirates!
  2. Psion Storm. Everyone gains a random psionic ability for the duration of the storm. Watch out for the pyrokinetic teenage girl passenger. She has issues.
  3. Classic murder mystery. A dead body, a small group of passengers. Who is the killer, and why?
  4. The cargo comes to life. That’s what you get for transporting Alien eggs/Dracula’s coffin/Jason’s body/Frozen Supersoldiers/Killer Klowns. Rinse and repeat. Adventurers never learn.
  5. The Misjump. Jump-3 becomes Jump-30000 due to a faulty Pentium chip. Sorry about that. Time to explore the unexplored and (perhaps) find a way home, only without Captain Janeway’s annoyingly squeaky voice
  6. Ship Malfunction. Being stranded is no fun, especially as it increases the chance of Very Bad things happening. Roll 1d6 twice and apply both results.

Ouch.

But first, your heroes are going to need a ship. While it’s easy enough to give them a standard vessel, the Classic Traveller Starter Kit comes complete with Ship Creation Rules so let’s use them and create the Minneapolis, a 200 ton Jump-2 Transport Ship used by the residents of Hell Station (which we will be creating later this week!) as a shuttle to nearby systems. This isn’t a standard design so the 200 ton hull costs 20 million Credits before we even start. Ouch! A Standard design (200 tons of which 15 tons is allocated for Drives) would be just MCr8, in comparison. This ship was expensive – when it was new.

Checking the Drive Potential table we need Jump Drive B to give it Jump-2, and let’s give it the same for Maneuver Drive and Power Plant as well. That’s 25 tons of capacity accounted for out of our 200 tons.

Maneuver & Power Fuel tanks take up another 20 tons for four weeks operation between refills. That is enough for general use with some to spare in event of emergencies, but this isn’t designed for long-time use in-system. Add another 40 tons for enough fuel for a single Jump-2 (or 2xJump-1s) and we have 105 tons left for the fun stuff.

We allocate 20 tons for the Bridge plus another 1 for the clunky (and doubtless unreliable) Model/1bis Computer. That’s good enough to keep it pointing in the right direction and navigate Jumpspace, but that’s about it.

As a 200 ton ship the Minneapolis requires a crew of 4 – Pilot, Navigator, Engineer and Medic. As this is designed to act as a shuttle between Hell Station and other planets let’s give it 12 Staterooms – 4 for crew (though they could double-up) and 8 for passengers to travel in comfort. While we’re at it, we make the ship Streamlined so it is able to land planet-side should the need arise. Streamlining also includes Fuel Scoops as a part of the package – handy as it’s parked at a gas giant most of the time.

Finally, we give it armaments. The space around Hell Station isn’t exactly well policed, so the Minneapolis needs some form of defence. Two Single Turrets (one either side) mounted with Pulse Lasers should send the right message.

This leaves us with 44 tons of space for cargo, optional air/raft, etc. Perfect.

A bargain at 57.61 million Credits, don’t you think?

Minneapolis, 200 tons, MCr57.61
Jump-2, 2G, 80 tons fuel, Model/1bis, 12 Staterooms, 2 hardpoints (single turret pulse lasers), 44 tons cargo. Streamlined. 4 crew (pilot, navigator,engineer,medic)

See what I mean about everything being described in terms you can use in game. Awesome, yes?

Next: Worlds!

The Classic Traveller Starter Kit is currently available for free from RPGNow. It contains all you need to play Traveller including rules for character, world, sector, starship and encounter generation as well as two  complete classic adventures to kick start your own exploration among the stars. Go get it!

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16 Responses

  1. bonemaster says:

    Not a big thing but don’t you need at least a model 1/bis for jump-2?

    • greywulf says:

      No, but you need to unload all other programs for the Jump-2 program to fit. It’s a tight squeeze – they’ll need to Generate the jump route then unload the app to fire up the Jump sequence.

      Doubtless the Nagivator will be cursing that darned antiquated computer all the time :)

      EDIT: Hmmmm. They do need the Nagivation program online at the same time as Jump-2 though, and that won’t fit in. My bad, good catch. I’ll fix that in a later post.

  2. bonemaster says:

    Now worries, although I think according to the LBB under The Bridge section there is a comment that the Model number indicates the highest jump that computer can support. Then further down there is a comment about the bis computers being able to support one jump higher than their model number. Of course, I like the idea of just basing it off of programs that can actually run at once.

    Of course all of that is based of the mainframes that were available 1977 when it was first written. Which in 2010 seems completely silly.

    • greywulf says:

      Yeah. I usually just go by capacity too. It’s easier that way :)

      I like the quirky retroness of the Computer rules in Traveller. As you say, they’re borne out of a much earlier vision of how powerful computers worked. I’ve yet to see a system (house rules or otherwise) that brings them up to date in a way that works though.

  3. Shinobicow says:

    This discussion is awesome. I am still having trouble getting passed character creation. i will be posting a ton of new character stories soon, but now this post makes me want to get the rest of the way through the rules. I really want to play some Traveler now.

  4. Elton says:

    Where is an engineer with a Scott accent when you need one?
    :D

  5. Chicagowiz says:

    Following these very cool posts. Traveller was my first catalog/mail order purchase and I had to get the 3 LBBs recently – I also have the Starter Kit PDF. Lots of fond memories!

    Did you create the pic or find it?

    I always pictured Traveller ships looking like Soyuz or Apollos or Space Shuttles… then Alien, BSG and Space 1999 ruined that for me. LOL

    • greywulf says:

      Thanks, Chgo’!

      I created the render of the Minneapolis myself using DAZ Studio. Not entirely happy with how it turned out, but I’ll file this one under “good enough”.

  6. pdunwin says:

    Interesting. Nothing in the Mongoose rules I’ve read indicated that the UPP was meant as in-game knowledge, though I did wonder why they bothered giving it a name and putting it in hexadecimal.

    The same way I can’t tell how much a character needs in order to get by, I don’t know how to tell how much a ship needs (or how much ship a party needs) to get by. How did you decide that it needed Jump-2?

    I’d heard that the computers in Traveller were quaint. I don’t know if the Mongoose rules are different, but I think that is a bit downplayed in those rules. What “Model/1″ implies in real-world terms is not discussed, and I’m happy to believe that a program that runs the calculations for a Jump is more than any computer today could handle.

    I’ll admit that after the nifty character generation (and the random planet, animal, and tradegood rules) the self-assembly of spaceships left me a bit disappointed. Still, there are always stock ships you can use, and a table (at least in Mongoose) that lets you roll for quirks a ship might have that lower its price but offer potential complications.

    • greywulf says:

      I wanted a craft that would act a transport ship for Hell Station that could ferry staff members who are beginning or ending their months-long shift. It would also be used to collect other personnel, visiting mega-corporation officials, Naval inspectors, etc in relative comfort.

      As this is set in a remote part of space, there aren’t likely to be many systems withing Jump-1 distance so building it with Jump2 capable engines gives it more potential destinations.

      I didn’t want a huge ship – this is only a Transport Shuttle after all, so building it as a 200 ton ship felt about right.

      What I like about the Classic Traveller ship generation rules are that they scale surprisingly well. It’s possible to put together anything from a 10 ton Fighter (if you ignore the 20 ton Bridge requirement!) to a 100,000 ton behemoth destroyer. That’s not bad going for a set of charts spread across 2 pages of a booklet :)

  7. David says:

    I find it interesting how the system seems to strongly encourage you to use the standard designs by making unique designs significantly more expensive.

  8. Dr. Stu says:

    Why Minneapolis?

    Have you been watching footage of our stadium’s roof collapsing?

    • greywulf says:

      I think the stadium roof collapse must have been at the back of my mind when thinking of a name, yep.

      We have named Starships after US States before in our Traveller games. I like the idea of them being named after “mythical” places from Earth’s past. It’s like us calling ships Troy, Eden, Atlantis, etc.

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