[ Freelance Traveller Home Page | Search Freelance Traveller | Site Index ]

*Freelance Traveller

The Electronic Fan-Supported Traveller® Resource


This article was the featured article in the August 2013 issue.

The IISS is organizing volunteers from across the sector to participate in a benchmarking survey of a navigationally-important pulsar. The PCs will be volunteers assigned to this mission.

Benchmarking is the process of obtaining data that is used as the basis (“benchmarks”) for the positioning and navigation throughout the Imperium. Usually, this process involves taking a number of detailed and precise astronomical observations, particularly of unique or navigationally-useful phenomena. Pulsars are one such phenomenon—they emit radio or X-ray pulses at an extremely regular rate, and can effectively be used as a “GPS-like” system throughout Charted Space. However, pulsars’ pulses slow down over time, and they occasionally have “glitches” where the pulse rate changes suddenly. So, to ensure that Imperial ships have accurate navigational databases, the IISS observes the signals of these pulsars, and distributes updates to the standard Imperial navigation databases. Since the pulsar signals travel at the speed of light, the observations have to be taken well outside the Imperium to ensure that the IISS has enough time to distribute the updates (a process which can take years). Typically, the IISS gathers decades or even centuries worth of data in a single expedition—this maximizes the return on their investment in the expedition, and reduces the number of updates to be disseminated to every starship in the Imperium.

This particular expedition will survey a pulsar known to the IISS crews as “target L713” after the last few digits of its database identifier (the target number does not have anything to do with the astronomical identifier of the pulsar or its location). This target was previously surveyed in 983; data from this survey were supplemented by an IISS observatory on the edge of charted space. That observatory will be the starting point for the expedition. The objective is to travel at least 30 parsecs, and ideally much further, in the direction of the pulsar.

The IISS has refitted ISC-6336, Luray Explorer (a former Lightning-class cruiser), for the mission. The refit introduced a number of changes, specifically:

Typical benchmarking operations call for a starship to spend time receiving and processing pulsar signal data; roll 1d6 for the number of days required to collect the required quality of information. Apply the following DMs based on circumstance:

The ship may take an initial measurement anywhere within 5 parsecs of the IISS observatory. Analysis of the observation will indicate how far the ship may jump before taking the next observation. Roll 1D6 for the number of parsecs that the ship may jump toward the pulsar before taking the next observation. Note that the ship is not required to jump the full distance—the die roll indicates the maximum distance the survey team is comfortable with; they will always accept the opportunity to take more-frequent observations. If the ship jumps short of the maximum distance, apply the unused distance as a DM to the next distance roll. Regardless of the applied DM, the maximum distance the survey team will be comfortable with is 6 parsecs. [for example, at hex 2238, the distance roll results in a 6. The ship jumps 4 parsecs and takes an observation. The next distance roll will be at DM +2, and the possible results will be 3, 4, 5, 6, 6, or 6 parsecs].

As the orders are written, the objective of the benchmarking survey mission is to take all required observations for at least 30 parsecs from the observatory. Ideally, IISS high command would like the survey to progress considerably farther: treat 30 parsecs as completing the letter of the orders but a disappointment to high command; treat 45 parsecs as routine “mission accomplished”, and 60 parsecs or more as a major victory. Secondary to the benchmarking survey, and provided that such activities do not endanger the successful completion of the survey mission, the expedition is to gather data on worlds, cultures, and phenomena that they encounter, and make contact with potentially-friendly cultures, and act as representatives of the Imperium.


This is intended as a framework for an exploration and contact mission within the established Traveller universe; this is relatively hard to do given the well-explored nature of most of the map.

I deliberately haven’t specified the location of the observatory where the expedition starts—in a sense, it isn’t terribly relevant. Similarly, the exact location and identity of the pulsar isn’t important, either. The pulsar itself is hundreds or possibly even thousands of parsecs away—the goal is only to get 30 to 60 parsecs closer to it. This will provide detailed observations that will keep Imperial ships navigating accurately for the next century or two.

Regardless of the starting point or “actual” direction of travel, I recommend orienting the subsectors long-ways, so that one of the short ends is towards the pulsar, and the other is towards the observatory. Fully-map one subsector, and place the observatory at the bottom hex row. Data about this subsector is presumed known to the observatory staff and in the Luray Explorer’s library computer.

The referee should generate additional subsectors as needed, but some of their contents should be kept secret from the crew of the Luray Explorer. As a slight extension to CT rules:

The referee should impose specific events at likely points during the survey. These events can include:

The players should probably have two sets of characters: one set representing the expedition’s command team, including the captain and key senior officers. In this role, the players should act as key decision-makers for the expedition. They should have an alternate set of characters that are the crew of one of the Type S scouts (the one that gets sent on all of the “interesting” missions).