Don’t panic! In addition to being emblazoned on the cover of the Hitchhikers Guide, it’s also a useful statement for dealing with Starships in Traveller. There is a lot of information so I’m going to split it into multiple posts. This first post will deal with Travel, Starships, Starship Construction. Tomorrow I’ll follow up with Starship Computers and Economics, and we’ll start out next week with Starship Combat.
In the Traveller RPG “Travellers travel.” This statement is both obvious, yet it seems vitally important. This very clear and concise statement tells you what this game is about (in case you didn’t get it from the title). While I’m sure that it would be possible to run Traveller as an entirely planet bound game, that doesn’t seem to be what it’s about.
So how do Travellers travel? By interstellar craft (aka starships) of course! If they aren’t crewing their own ship they may be going High Passage (first class), Middle Passage (business class, similar to High Passage, but with fewer entertainment options) or Low Passage (frozen and shoved in the hold). Of course, your players are much more likely to be running the ship than taking a trip.
The rulebook goes on to talk about starship economics from here, but it was rather out of context without having dealt with the starships section first. So, Starships!
Starships are very specifically described as vehicles that are over 100 tons and are jump (FTL) capable. Everything fewer than 100 tons is a “vessel” and is incapable of jumping. Anything 100+ tons that is not jump capable is called a “ship.” However, Starships are the focus. There are a variety of components described that are necessary for any vehicle, and some that are required depending on the ship’s size, and others that are optional. Crew positions are also described here.
There are a variety of standard designs of vessels and starships given primarily for reference, however they are so standard that they cost significantly less to have one built for you than to design your own. Now this is another bit that seems strongly suggestive of the setting. While it is possible to get a vessel of a different design, these standard ships are EVERYWHERE. The basic 200 ton Free Trader is about as common as a YT-1300 is in d6 Star Wars. Every group has one, at least for a while. If you have a different ship, a custom ship, it’ll be noticed.
Being an RPG, your characters will quickly tire of having the same ship as everyone else, which conveniently brings us to Starship design! This also brings us back to the phrase “Don’t Panic!” While the process may seem complex, there is a handy checklist for starship design on page 11 of Book 2. To try the system out, we’re going to build a 300 ton long range cargo ship, and we’ll call it the Grendel. Because it is a non-standard hull design, the cost will be 0.1*300=30 Million Credits (MCr30), which is almost twice as expensive as a standard 400 ton hull. Our theoretical patron is rich, so we’re not going to worry about that. Into this hull we’re going to install a Type C Jump Drive (20 tons), Type C Maneuver Drive (5 tons), and a Type E Power Plant (16 tons). This costs MCr82 and a total of 41 tons, which brings our total cost to MCr102 and reduces our available space to 259 tons.
Next we need to calculate our fuel requirements. The formula is 0.1MJn+10Pn where M=Ships tonnage, Jn=Jump Rating, and Pn is the ships power rating. For the Grendel that works out to 0.1*300*3+10*5=90+50=140. That’s a lot of fuel, and it reduces our available space to 119 tons.
Now we look at the other components. A bridge takes up 2% of the tonnage, or 20 tons minimum. We have to go with the 20 tons, and a cost of MCr1.5. That brings us to 99 tons of available space, and a cost of MCr103.5. Following the checklist we come to the Computer component. We’ll take a Model 2 computer, which is the minimum for our 3 jump drive. It costs MCr9, takes up 2 tons, and has a capacity of 3/6 programs.
To crew our ship we’ll need a Pilot, a Navigator, 2 Engineers, and a Medic at minimum. As we’re not planning on carrying passengers we’ll only need staterooms for the crew, but we’ll presume that we may need as many as 7 staterooms. At 4 tons and MCr0.5 we’re looking at a total of 28 tons, and MCr3.5 which leaves us with 69 tons, and a cost of MCr116. At 300 tons we can add 3 hardpoints with no loss of tonnage and a cost of only MCr0.3. We’ll add three single turrets (MCr0.6) with a Sandcaster (MCr0.25), and 2 Beam Lasers (MCr2) for a cost of MCr2.85 and 3 tons for fire control which brings us to 66 tons of cargo space, and a cost of MCr119.15. We’ll also make it streamlined so that Grendel can skim fuel off of gas giants at a cost of MCr3, for a total of MCr122.15. Finally the Architect’s fee of 1% or MCr1.2215 brings our grand total to MCr123.3715 and a cargo space of 66 tons.
When you compare that to a standard Free Trader which gives you 82 tons of cargo, 6 High or Medium Passage staterooms, and 20 Low Passage cryotubes for a mere MCr37.08, the Grendel doesn’t have a lot going for it. It’ll get wherever it’s going a lot faster than a stock Free Trader, but the lack of cargo space and passengers may make it economically unfeasible.
But we’ll tackle that topic tomorrow.