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Off the Wall: Starship Interior Decoration

This article originally appeared in the January/Feburary 2017 issue.

Arlen led the four travellers through the airlock into the Passengers’ Common Room, the last stop on his short tour of The Frabjous Day before they lifted in a couple of hours. “You can use this lounge all through the week in Jump and fix snacks over here. If you need a crew member just press this and we’ll get to you as soon as we can.”

The Free Trader was battered but the upper deck had just newly been recarpeted, so there was an air of freshness. “Over here you can see the Captain’s collection of paintings of the Day by various passengers we’ve carried.” Arlen gestured at a bulkhead with a dozen or more pictures of varying degrees of quality. The less said about a couple of them, the better. “And here,” he said proudly, “is a genuine iris-valve leaf from Emperor Cleon’s time.”

Starship interior decoration can be as varied as the designs of the ships themselves and no two ships will be identical, save, perhaps, those of the more obsessive and unimaginative of the great liner companies. However, certain themes recur and may add to the flavour of an adventure, extend role playing interactions, or even become part of the events of an adventure. Whether it’s a particularly attractive—perhaps valuable—holographic artwork on a bulkhead, or a vintage weapon—is it functional?—that could be grabbed in combat, there are any number of possibilities.

Warships are likely to have fairly functional décor. Indeed, ‘décor’ might be stretching the meaning of the word. Plain and easy to maintain will be the order of the day. Not quite bare steel or crystaliron, but only one step away from that. Decks—particularly in hard-wearing fighting areas, busy common rooms, or gangways—will be extremely durable and carpeting, etc., if used at all, is likely to be reserved for staterooms or officer country; even then perhaps only for the higher ranks. For the lower ranks the environment may be more utilitarian and again it will depend on both the design of ship or the levels of morale the military wish to maintain. Stories of the lower decks of Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, where the wounded were brought for treatment or to die, being painted red to hide the blood slopping around are generally discounted by historians. However, some starship navies may colour their medical area decks red to remember this tradition. Imperial Navy ships may be extremely uniform throughout the Imperium; planetary starships and spaceships may show wider variation.

Bulkhead decoration will depend on the style of the ship and the atmosphere the Referee wishes to establish. They may be purely functional and carry cables, pipes, ducts and such like so that the actual surfaces are obscured, or panelling may be used to give a very ‘clean’ look which can then be left plain, or lit, or decorated as desired. Think of the difference between vessels such as Serenity or Red Dwarf and various incarnations of the Enterprise on Star Trek. Perhaps like the latter, there are models of previous bearers of the same name on the Bridge, or a series of paintings, photographs, or holographs in a main reception atrium. A Traveller starship might even have ‘display cases’ of older technology from the past of the Third Imperium, from handheld computers, through models of ‘famous’ (widely used) Jump Drive configurations, to actual components. And, of course, the archaic-weapon-on-the-wall has long been a decoration choice. Whether the weapons or components are actually of any use should it come to a fight or an emergency will depend on the Referee or the ingeniousness of the Players.

Commercial vessels are naturally likely to show even greater variation than various military ships. Sibling ships of the great liner companies may have familiar themes and similar styles across all the vessels of a fleet. This provides passengers with a sense of familiarity if they regularly use the same line, as the company brand—perhaps unconsciously—seeps into the customer’s psyche. On the downside, it can also create a sense of unreality as you could be anywhere and there's little to differentiate one voyage from another. More upmarket lines will be aware of this and have design teams decorating cabins and lounges in fashionable but distinct—and in some cases distinctive—ways. They may opt for the ancient traditionalism of chrome and steel minimalism, or try out new style fauxwood and leather furnishings that give a more natural feel. Artwork may decorate bulkheads in public spaces: paintings, photographs, holographs—all of which may be moving or still. Screenwalls may provide the illusion of cool forests, tropical beaches, deep ocean creatures or simply feed live images from space around the ship. Sculptures in a huge variety of media from bronze to howood, from laser light to scented smoke, might stand alone or be placed on plinths or in alcoves. Such artwork may be cheap reproductions or be valuable and unique items that are selling points for the company drawing the higher class of passenger. Some commercial lines are so well known for this that there is considerable kudos to be gained in certain art communities in having your work selected for such display. Naturally, such valuable pieces will be well protected by the latest technology against any attempt at theft or damage.

Smaller shipping lines or individual traders won’t go to such extremes, of course. The margins they’re working on, the passengers they’re more likely to carry, won’t allow or demand such extravagance. But that’s not to say that the interiors of such ships won’t be attractive and kept as neat and up-to-date as funds and taste allow. Captains and owners will be well aware that passengers, and crew as well, cooped up in confined spaces for at least a week, will need to make what provision they can in order to make the best impression on passengers and potential passengers and maintain morale amongst their customers and crew alike. Those who really do let their ships fall into some state of déshabillé will find that any passengers they do find will be that much more disreputable or desperate and crew turnover may be much higher. Of course, that’s not to say that crew areas will always be as well looked after as the more public spaces—many’s the captain who has shaved a few credits off maintenance bills by concentrating on the paying passengers rather his crew. On the other hand, purely cargo vessels or, say, scout ships, won’t have quite the same considerations and could have little regard for their living environment. Referees may wish to emphasise the decrease in morale should this be the case. While costs to keep the decoration up to scratch can be assumed to be included in the usual maintenance costs, PCs who skip on this payment will find it’s not only the Jump drive causing problems. Alternatively, they may wish to spend additional credits to improve morale, or attract a better class of passenger.

Alien vessels may or may not conform to some of the norms above. Other races may decorate the interiors of their vessels in wildly different ways - from the traditional garishness or the graffiti of the Vargr to the open grass of the K’kree. Vargr may add paintings of charismatic leaders, past deeds of corsair bands, rank or pack insignia, or display armour—perhaps that of defeated enemies. The Aslan have their love of organic, rounded, natural forms shaping their architecture and may use etchings and embroidery for decoration. There is also their spontaneous art and vessel bulkheads may be adorned with takuhakil glyphs or even more likely the almost compulsory epic Yoyeaokhtef. Zhodani are known for their fine arts and might use pleasing murals. The Darrians have a wide variety of gravitic art that could be on display: flame sculptures, flowing water, even falling petals, falling snow or incense smoke. Even here, however, there are likely to be wide variations from the cultural norm and there are opportunities for the Referee to subtly indicate something ‘not quite right’ for PCs who are on the ball. There may also be human vessels who prefer grass for flooring for example. There may be aliens out there whose ‘animal’ trophies include humans!

The interior decoration of starships is a great way to add atmosphere to Traveller and can certainly spice up the otherwise routine tour of a ship that PCs might take on boarding a new vessel or be expected to provide to their embarking passengers. And for those adventures which centre around exploring an abandoned vessel, it can make all the difference between ‘yet another starship’ and somewhere really memorable. The Annic Nova adventure in the very first issue of The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society and revisited in Compendium 2 is a fine example. Materials, décor, furnishings all play their part in providing the referee with descriptions of sights and sounds and even smells. In all this, safety shouldn’t be forgotten and however additional furnishings and fittings are arranged, items will almost certainly be securely fixed. Should grav plates fail, the last thing anyone needs is a bust of Emperor Strephon or a rug from that bazaar three worlds back floating around as an obstruction.

The following tables may be used individually for spaces on board a vessel (from staterooms to lounges, from the bridge to the cargo deck) to provide variety and interest. Or they might be used at a ship level to give themes across certain classes of vessel. Alternatively, they could be used to unify an entire campaign. The referee should, as ever, consider the needs of the adventure and the preferences of players or the atmosphere he or she wishes to create.

Table 1 provides various styles of decoration that a Referee might wish to implement. Naturally, the imaginative referee can add additional styles or change existing ones. Roll 1D6, or choose based on your image of the ship.

Table 1: Style
  1. Natural: organic shapes and natural decoration predominate.
  2. Clean: a minimalist style with smooth surfaces and very little on display as it were. This may blend into #3 where items are hidden behind or stowed behind access panels.
  3. Access panels: whatever material the panels are made of, this style looks similar to the #2 although there may be some differentiation between panels—whether in markings or function (light fixtures, stowage areas, hiding trunking).
  4. Utilitarian: pipes, plumbing, wiring, ducting—all run unhidden through the ship. It’s easy to access but harder to clean and may snag on clothing, etc., more easily.
  5. Display objects: throughout the ship there are items visible all over the place—whether it’s personal possessions in cabins, open shelves stowing items in plain view, or any number of items from Table 3.
  6. Cluttered: this is #5 taken to extreme where virtually nothing has a stowage place or it might represent early TLs where physical controls make up almost all available surfaces.

Table 2 offers deck styles. Note that, in general, cost increases further down the table. Choose based on your image of the ship, or roll 1D6 and apply all relevant DMs as shown.

Table 2: Deck décor
0 Grating: gratings or grill made from the substructure of the vessel—steel, crystaliron, bonded superdense, etc. Often in walkways rather than ‘full’ floors and often in sections for easy removal to access space beneath, although some areas may be suspended within a larger space. Can include ladders (stairs).
1 Bare substructure: undecorated material of whatever the ship is constructed from: steel, crystaliron, bonded superdense, etc.
2 Painted substructure: as above but decorated, possibly very plainly, with a paint covering. Various grades of paint may be used for durability and different kinds of paint maybe appropriate: anti-slip, smart paint, etc. May include markings for safety, direction, etc.
3 Hard synthetic flooring: laminates, heavy duty carpeting, plastics.
4 Hard natural flooring: wood, stone, shell or animal carapace.
5 Soft synthetic flooring: carpeting, rugs.
6 Soft natural flooring: grass, sand, soil.
7 Exotic: other types of specialised flooring such as ice, or flooring specific to individual crew or passenger requirements.
DMs -2 Early ships of a TL
-2 Engineering spaces
-1 Military ships
+1 Passenger liners
+2 Luxury passenger liners
+2 Highest passenger class areas of liners

Table 3 offers a variety of decorative features. Choose based on your image of the ship, or roll D66.

Table 3: Bulkhead décor
11 Paint: usually applied directly to surfaces for color, protection or texture; may be applied in multiple layers and may range from plain single colours to complex decorative motifs. Depending on TL may vary from very basic through thermochromic, photochromic, electrochromic, or psichromic which can change colour under various conditions, to 'smart paint' which can detect underlying faults, or programmable paint which can have colour and pattern adjusted. Formal pictures in paint may be more properly considered murals.
12 Graffiti: informal paint which can be applied to a variety of surfaces in this table often carrying some semantic content from slogans to identity ‘tags’ but may be simple - or indeed crude - illustrations.
13 Murals: pictures painted directly onto a bulkhead (or deck, or deckhead where appropriate) and usually of a larger size. They may take advantage of the space they are applied to by incorporating architectural features or give illusions of extending the environment.
14 Wallpaper: not necessarily paper, but any form of wall covering that is applied to bulkheads with adhesive (or on some very high TL ships using gravitics). May be plain or patterned, cheap or ‘designer’.
15 Natural/Synthetic fabrics: Natural fabrics are made of naturally occurring fibres from plant material, leather, animal skins and fur, silk and analogues from a variety of creatures. Synthetics are any fabric made using sophont-made fibres used as a bulkhead covering or partial covering and may blend with furnishings.
16 Brick: lower TL bricks may only be a cladding or ‘effect’ decorating a bulkhead, but at higher TLs plasteel and other brick material may become the actual bulkheads.
21 Upholstery, padding: soft, padded textiles fixed to the bulkheads either for fashion or comfort. Particularly useful in areas which regularly experience zero or low g such as recreational areas.
22 Tapestry: woven fabrics which may contain intricate pictures or geometric patterns
23 Glass, mirrors: glass (or transparent substitutes) may range from decorative material mounted on bulkheads to see-through walls. It may also include portholes or windows which may or may not need—if they are part of the hull—protective coverings which may be automatic (depending on battle state, light conditions, etc.), locally controlled, or controlled from the Bridge. Mirrors may be smaller or larger and affixed to the wall, or may make up an entire wall covering. Higher TLs allow glass analogues to be as armoured as desired.
24 Water, ice, smoke: from water—or other liquid—features to ice sculptures or even smoke effects these may be relatively low tech or use gravitic technology to enhance the ‘decoration’ or limit its effect. The gravitic tech may have its own backup systems and power in case of main grav failure. Aliens may require ice walls and/or flooring along with considerably lower temperatures. The Darrians, for example, are known for their smoke sculptures.
25 Decorative plants, floral arrangements: from isolated flowers or plants, in alcoves, on shelves or in wall troughs, to full bulkhead coverings.
26 Vines, hydroponic plants: rather than simple decoration, these may act as wall ‘decoration’ but may also practically contribute to a ship’s atmosphere and food stocks. It might also be combined with a strip of soil flooring around the edges of a room.
31 Panelling, tiling: this may be wood, moss, synthetic wood, or other material (from terracotta through ceramics to metal) panels or tiles for fashion, decoration or function; functional panels of varying tech levels to either cover basic bulkheads or to cover underlying infrastructure such as pipes, wiring, ducting; or it may include lighting panels. Wood in particular may be carved—roughly or ornately. Panels may or may not be removable. Tiling is not normally removable although on occasions it may that one tile can be removed to access an awkward emergency stopcock for example, or to create a well hidden space. Mosaics of small tiles in geometric patterns or intricate pictures may be fashionable.
32 Shelving, racks: from book shelving to the latest media storage, from objets d’art to knick-knacks. Shelves may be made from a variety of materials and fixed to the walls or complete units covering the bulkheads. Racks may be less ‘formal’ shelving of metal and probably of greater width/height. At higher tech levels, shelves or racks can track their contents and alert users to missing items or items that are out of some pre-set order.
33 Cabinets, lockers: cabinets may be considered shelves with doors which may be opaque or transparent to show off the contents. They may or may not be lockable and of varying degrees of security. Lockers are more robust units which may be attached to or actually comprise the walls.
34 Computer displays: these may be terminals or monitors used for anything from the limited operation of a nearby piece of equipment or machinery, to fully functional control consoles or entertainment units. TL will determine how they look and function—from cathode ray tubes and physical keyboards to hi tech touch panels or holo displays with synaptic input.
35 Viewscreens/screenwalls: usually much larger than the previous entry, these may be used as large screen computer terminals or as a high tech equivalent of murals taking up an entire wall and able to display a wide range of ‘scenes’ (from relaxing sea views to high octane atmospheric re-entry) or art works. They may also simply be used as a ‘viewports’ to the external environment of the ship, feeding in whatever camera or instrument views the vessel offers. They may be fixed to the bulkhead or form part of it.
36 Collections: this is really a catchall for all the possibilities that aren’t specifically mentioned in the next twelve items. They may range from useful (galleyware—pots and pans, crockery—or gadgets), through valuable scientific collections (fossils or insects or ancient artifacts—or, indeed, Ancient artifacts), to collections of little value save to the owner (e.g. clothing or hats, or the Navigator’s own watercolour collection).
41 Swords/melee weapons: these may be archaic or vintage and range from a pair of crossed cutlasses to the hilts of out-of-fashion laser foils; an ancient axe to a set of beautifully ornate daggers. Whether these ‘decorations’ are still strong and sharp, or too fragile or valuable to be used is left to the referee and/or the PC who would need to maintain them.
42 Bows or thrown weapons: bows long and short, crossbows, slings, spears, bolas etc.
43 Pistols, longarms: from flintlocks to full-bore rifles. (FGMPs will almost certainly be replicas or permanently ‘decommissioned’ to meet standard customs regulations!)
44 Helmets, shields, armour: these may be of ancient enemies or relatively recent gear with insignia still proudly displayed.
45 Ceremonial weapons, artifacts: perhaps more ornate and decorated than utilitarian, but the full panoply of war has often included items which hold much significance outside of their supposed design use. These may still be being used in the relevant ceremony.
46 Alien weaponry or armour: much as the above but from further afield and more exotic looking. As usual, it may or may not be functional; it may be exotic or awkward enough that it can’t actually be used by humans.
51 Paintings, drawings, photos, etchings: any of a wide variety of ‘flat art’ or 2D artistic productions. May be professionally created by artists of note, reproductions of mass produced ‘classics’, or might be the Chief Engineer’s daughter’s latest crayoning.
52 Maps, posters, noticeboards: again, largely two dimensional depictions usually with information to convey rather than having intrinsic artistic merit although that’s not to say the two are mutually exclusive. May be fixtures on the wall or take up a large part of the bulkhead. Maps may be slightly ‘raised’ relief maps; 3D holoprojections of maps might be more usually considered under #34 or possibly #56.
53 Sculptures, carvings, statuary: 3D art in all its manifestations. These may be mounted on the wall (or displayed on shelves or in cabinets), or set into alcoves built into bulkheads. A wide variety of material may be in use from wood or stone, to bronze or plasteel.
54 Animal trophies, sports trophies: safari ships particularly may be decorated with trophies from the hunt: animals or parts of animals preserved to show prowess. Sports trophies may be serious recognition of an athlete’s skill, or may be simply be the local dockside soccer ‘cup’ played between crews in loading bays. Trophies may also be for other games—board, computer, virtual world.
55 Jewellery, gems, crystal: from the small and valuable, to the large and common, from the simple to the ornate. Most will be displayed in lockable cabinets.
56 Sound/light scapes: possibly very low tech, possibly employing high tech means of producing the effect, these may be aural or visual art works or mixtures of both. Some may even include scent. The Zhodani might add thoughtscapes using subtle colours, odours, noises and patterns to trigger calming or exciting or curious thought patterns.
61 First aid gear: from small packs/boxes/bags of emergency items through to more fully developed trauma gear. If there’s no time to get to a sickbay, it might just save a life. This may be tucked away in lockers or behind marked panels or clearly on display for all to see and grab quickly.
62 Bulkhead patches: and other gear useful for at least temporary fixes to hull breaches.
63 Respirators, vacc suits: and any of a range of emergency clothing in between. Again, depending on vessel, use and need these may be stowed in lockers or immediately accessible.
64 Rescue balls: stowed, these 5x10cm cylinders may be a familiar sight on many Traveller ships where they assist in survival where vacc suits are not (quickly) available or accessible. May be on display or in lockers or behind panels.
65 Escape pods: access to an escape pod, usually clearly marked. See Technical Manual 1: Reprieve-class Escape Pod by Donavan Lambertus for excellent descriptions, detail and visualizations of this.
66 Exercise gear: from straps through weights to massage units, this allows a certain amount of exercise to be taken without taking up too much floor space. It may, of course, be combined with a gym area to provide a more fully featured work-out.

Note that some spaces may be decorated in more than one way, or using combinations of materials or items.

Advertising may be present within the decorations—or even floor coverings—and be either subtle, blatant or the sole purpose of the decoration.

Objects on Table 3 (from #36 onwards) may be loose and thus be easily accessible but perhaps a danger in the event of grav failure; or fixed and harder or impossible to remove depending on the item in question and the nature of the fixture. Some may be found in alcoves (sculptures, floral arrangements, holodisplays) or on plinths rather than fixed to the wall.

Appendix - Notes on representations of décor in Traveller art

For all the depictions of starships from the outside, there is very little to guide the referee on internal descriptions. One notable exception to this is ‘Annic Nova’ in Compendium 2, reprinting—with Mongoose rules—the old adventure by Marc Miller who evidently had a very clear visual sense of the strange vessel. The present author has also made a tiny contribution to the subject in the same volume - see the section “A Lick of Paint” in ‘A Helping Hand’ on p.125 of Compendium 2.

There are, however, a few pieces of art which may be helpful in the various Supplements, Books and other volumes Mongoose has produced.

Book 6: Scoundrel, p.37, shows some wall markings and either windows or a viewscreen. The first edition of Supplement 1: 760 Patrons includes organic looking walls and decoration on p.63 although there is no evidence that this is necessarily a vessel; there is also some airlock decoration on p.65. An ornate frame around a viewport and possibly some machinery decoration is shown on p.6 of Supplement 11: Animal Encounters. Supplement 12: Dynasty includes some decking on p.86, and Adventure 1: Beltstrike shows lockers, flooring and deckheads on p.58.

Book 2: High Guard, as might be expected, has a number of illustrations in this vein. On p.9 there is a section of wall and some ceiling lights; p.49 includes what are possibly some panels or lights and some decoration; p.61 has panels or lights again and a couple of other bits of furniture. Shown on p.70 are some flooring and overhead panels—the latter being removed or replaced and showing girders behind. Some control panels are shown on p.77, possibly in engineering or on a bridge, and p.151 shows a Star Trek style bridge. Various other illustrations show different bridge-like spaces: Aramis: The Traveller Adventure, p.131 and The Spinward Marches, p.19 are two. Supplement 9: Campaign Guide on p.75 shows wall screens and a holotank—although not necessarily shipboard. Corridors—also not necessarily onboard ships—can be seen on p.10 of Tripwire and p.43 of Alien Module 3: Darrians.

Book 1: Mercenary p.100 shows a wall full of weapons in what is most likely a weapon shop but could conceivably be an armoury or trophy wall on a ship. The dull walls of what could well be a military vessel appear on p.75.

Going beyond the Mongoose books, the Reprieve-class Escape Pod volume mentioned in the main article shows a corridor with decoration in colour on p.15 and the interior of an escape pod on p.9.