Interstellar Overdrive: Starship Design In Classic Traveller

by Steve Rosenstein


“Traveller’s travel,” That’s what the book (Traveller Book 2: Starships) says. Part of the fun of the game is you get to design your own spaceship!!!! Sure, there are standard models, in fact, there is a book of them (Supplement 7 Traders and Gunboats), but c’mon! You picked up the freaking classic Traveller game, do the math. And there is some math involved. The basic concept here is to select a hull, make it go, install essential systems and hope you have enough room left to squeeze out a profit though hauling cargo (YEE HAW!!!!) and schlepping passengers. Last time, I rolled up a character, Brian McGuinness, retired Merchant’s 2nd Officer (Second Officer (Ret) 3778B7 Age 34 4terms Cr40,000 Medical-3, Laser Carbine-2, Navigation-1 Low Passage-2). Well, he needs to earn a living, so he is going to commission a ship.

The First order of business is to get an engineer to draw up plans for the thing, but we are going to use a standard hull, so we can save some cash…0.1% of the total cost of the vessel, we’ll get back to that. There is a convenient checklist for ship construction, so away we go. Step One: Select a hull. There are 6 standard hulls, reminiscent of the General Products Hulls of Larry Niven’s Known Space. The standard 400 ton hull is divided into two sections, 50 tons displacement for engineering and 350 tons for the remainder. A standard 400 ton hull costs 16MCr (Mega Credits).

Step Two: Drives. There are three components to the engineering section: the Jump Drive, the Maneuver Drive, and the Power Plant. The Jump lets you “jump” through hyperspace, the Maneuver allows interplanetary travel within a system, and the Power Plant provides juice to the ship. Each drive is assigned a letter which represents the size of the drive, and each ship size can only use a limited range of these drives. The 400 ton model can utilize drives with letters C through N, anything less would be underpowered to actually work; anything more will pull the ship apart. Now for the other caveat, the three drives need to fit the weight displacement of the engineering section and the Power Plant needs to be the same or greater drive letter than the Maneuver Drive. I wanted to be able to operate at Jump 2 (the ability to make a two system Jump) so that the ship would have more opportunities for trade and passenger transport, so I went with the E for the Jump, cost 50MCr, 30t displacement; leaving 20t displacement for the Power Plant and Maneuver Drive. Both of these turned out to be the D models with the Maneuver Drive costing 32MCr and displacing 13t and the Power Plant costing 16MCr and displacing 7t. So far this thing has 350t left and is running me 114MCr.

Step Three: Fuel Capacity. This is simple enough, as we are provided a couple of formulae to figure out the tonnage required for fuel for one trip. The Power Plant and Maneuver drive require 10Pn tons per trip, where Pn is the Power Plant Size Rating. As there is a convenient table to determine this number, we come to find out that our Pn is 2, so 20t needs to be set aside for this. The Jump Drive ‘s requirements are calculated with the formula 0.1MJn, where M is the Mass of the hull and Jn is the Jump Number (ours is 2), making the 80t to fuel the Jump Drive. A whopping total of 150t needs to be set aside just to make the fucking thing go.

Step Four: the Bridge. The Bridge must be 2% of the total tonnage with a minimum displacement of 20t, it costs 0.5MCr/100t of hull. As 2% of 400 is 8, our bridge will be the 20t model and will cost 2MCr. So far we are accruing a price tag of 152MCr and have used up 170t of our maximum 400.

Step Five: Computer. The rules for the ship’s computer date the game, unfortunately. Each model (1-7) has a Storage capacity (the number of programs that can be stored on the computer) ranging from 4 to 50, and a CPU rating (the number of active programs that the computer can process at any given time). The Computer’s programs control everything on the ship from your ability to fire your weapons and the amount of interaction your gunner has on those weapons, to the ship’s ability to avoid enemy fire, to navigation and jump. With the way that the starship combat system works, a small computer will get you killed. So we are going to install a moderately sized Type 4 with a storage capacity of 15 and a CPU of 8, it only displaces 4t and costs a low, low 30MCr. Imagine ENIAC on the bridge of the ship and you get the idea. A four TON computer that only has the capacity to run 8 concurrent programs? No wonder the Empire is crumbling. “Number One, where is my Earl Grey?” “Sorry Captain, the computer is busy running the holodeck, transporting tribbles and doing WARP 4. If you can wait until we pass Orion-4, there should be enough CPU room to run the tea synthesizer.”

Step Six: Accommodations. Here is where the economics of running a ship collide with the building of the ship. Starships make money transporting passengers (Travellers) from system to system, and a high passage (first class) stateroom brings in 10,000Cr per jump, middle passage…8,000Cr, and low (stasis) 1,000Cr. Cargo is shipped at 1,000Cr/ton. Each berth (including the crew) costs 2,000 Cr to maintain and each stasis pod costs 100Cr to maintain. So if I have a Crew of 6 (Pilot, Navigator, 2 Engineers, Steward, Medic, allowing the Steward and the Medic to double as Gunners) and allow for 10 passenger berths with 10 low passage. That costs 8.5 MCr for the mess (.5MCr/berth; 0.05MCr/stasis) and weighs in at 69t. We may have to revisit these due to economic viability…joy!

Step Seven: Armaments. Each hardpoint mount for a turret costs 0.1MCr but displaces no weight. You can have 1 hardpoint/100t. Tempting as 4 is, we will only be installing 2 for a cost of 0.2MCr. Now, the actual weapons can be installed at a later date to save cost on construction (yay…can you feel the savings?), but each active turret needs to have a fire control system installed which eats up a ton for another 2 (Boo).

Step Eight: Vehicles. What does this look like a goddamned playground? Vehicles take up precious room. Seriously, there are a few non-interstellar ships that can be carried by a starship, from small life boats to shuttlecraft. If you’ve got the credits and the tonnage lying around…feel free.

Step Nine: Cargo. The remaining tonnage can be dedicated to cargo space. Our ship has, if my math is correct, 155t left over for just that, making the total weight displacement 400t on the nose. How about that?

Now how much does this sucker cost? Well we save 10% due to standardization, so we’ve got that going for us. Adding it all up: 139.23MCr. That’s 139,230,000 Cr. Let’s see 20% down…27.85Mcr down. Loans are paid back at 1/240 for 480 months on the total cost, not the remainder, so even in a galaxy far, far away the bankers are still goddamned thieves. So we are in it for 580,125Cr/month for 480 months. This brings the total of buying this thing to…306,310,000Cr WTF?!?!? Who would do such a thing? I assume that these banks are too big to fail. Let’s just say that McGuiness got investors or was able to amass a small fortune adventuring and decided to build this thing. There are some costs above the bank note.

Crew Salary comes to mind. The crew mentioned above gets paid a total of 24,400Cr/month and their accommodations cost 12,000Cr/trip at two trips per month, totaling 48,400Cr/month. The remaining berths cost 20,000Cr/trip and 1,000Cr/trip for low passage, bringing the total life support bill to 89,400Cr/month. This, of course, assumes full occupancy, as you’d be daft to keep the lights on in unoccupied staterooms.

Fuel costs 500Cr/ton for the refined stuff and 100Cr for unrefined, but as we skipped streamlining the hull (an extra 4Mcr) we cannot engage in fuel skimming. At 100t fuel displacement, 50,000Cr/trip or 100,000Cr/month to use the drives. Dry dock will also set you back for the berthing costs usually 100Cr for a week, so 200Cr to dock at the spaceport. And every year you have to haul the ship in for maintenance, the fee for this is 0.1% of the cost of the ship…in this case tack on an additional 35.27MCr/year. Using unrefined fuel and skipping maintenance will cause penalties to your drives working properly.

The monthly operating cost is…189,600Cr + 580,125Cr for a grand total of 769,725Cr. Now you may be wondering if that is a feasible amount, what the income of such a majestic ship is. Let’s take a look. Straight cargo is 1,000Cr/ton at 155t is 155,000Cr/trip… 310,000Cr. Assuming each cabin is occupied, and by a high ticket: 10,000Cr for 10 berths is 100,000Cr/trip for 200,000Cr/month. The ten Low passages pay out 1,000Cr each so 20,000Cr/month. Total is 530,000Cr/month, not quite making back the operating cost. There are some things that can be done to add to the income of the ship; 5 tons of cargo can be dedicated to mail delivery, adding another 20,000 total credits to income. Instead of hauling straight cargo at 1000Cr/ton, players can speculate cargo by purchasing items low and selling them high. And there’s always smuggling, but don’t get caught. I suppose that’s why they have the standardized ships, so that the economics work out and you can eke out a living plying the spaceways; still, it’s fun to dream.


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