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Deep Space Rescue Corps (“the Sappers”): A Career for Classic Traveller and MegaTraveller

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 issue.

Part One – The History of the Sappers

Shortly after the end of the first millennium of the Third Imperium, during the reign of the Emperor Gavin and following the Imperial victory of the Solomani Rim War (990-1002), the Journal of the Traveller’s Aid Society (JTAS) published a small classified advertisement that asked a deceptively simple question:

“What one change might make the Third Imperium a more perfect union?”

The ad’s author was not identified, and only an Xmail address accompanied the query.

Upon learning of the ad, the Moot was outraged – clearly this was some subversive scheme concocted by the recently defeated Solomani, using an arcane phrase from an ancient Terran political treatise to ignite widespread moral panic. A Ministry of Justice (MOJ) investigation could not determine who was responsible for the ad, and the Imperial Secret Service (ISS) determined the xmail address was fake.

After several months the virality of the hoax burned out and was on the verge of being forgotten until a disgruntled journalist from JTAS asked the Emperor of his answer to the question. Gavin was less bothered by the incident than the Moot, but no more amused than they were by the controversy:

“I couldn’t care less. Isn’t yours the same fringe publication that once published an ad from someone seeking a companion for time travel, warning them that their safety was not guaranteed? Only those damnable Travellers read the damn thing.”

And with that Imperial dismissal, the question reentered public discourse; now, rather than trying to answer who asked the question, sophonts across the 11,000 worlds tried to answer it. What would make the Imperium “more perfect?”

Very quickly the traditional bromides of universal healthcare and basic income were proffered and then withdrawn after withering criticism. Then slowly, and the usually conservative pace of the Megacorporations, the answer began to form, partially inspired by Emperor Gavin’s response – the Imperium would be better off without Travellers. Specifically, the “murder hobos” who under the guise of compliance with the Imperial Navigation Act respond to Signal GKs and Mayday requests yet somehow, almost invariably and without fail, make the situation worse for spacers in distress, their crews, their ships and the owners and masters of said ships. What was needed, a growing wave of “grass root” industrials advocated, was the establishment of a professional rescue service that would obviate the need for help from less than helpful and less than good Samaritans like the Travellers.

Drifting aboard 6G Response Boats in Cold Sleep until needed, DSRC personnel would wait patiently near 100 diameter limits along major axis leading to main worlds. Automated systems would revive them and plot intercept courses to ships needing assistance. Highly trained, skilled and conditioned to perform insanely dangerous rescue and recovery operations, they were envisioned to simultaneously improve the safety of space operations and deter troublesome Travellers from intervening.

Within the year the Emperor Gavin chartered the Deep Space Rescue Corps (DSRC). Initially envisioned as a charity, the overwhelming financial support from worlds and systems hoping to benefit from an expansion of the DSCR prompted the Moot to organize and fund it as a major service within the Imperial Government, akin to the Imperial Interstellar Scout Service (IISS). With a hat tip to the Solomani, who may or may not have set the affair motion, the DSRC appropriated an ancient term associated with lifesavers who once used explosives to contain conflagrations – sapeur-pompier – to identify individual DSRC servicemembers: The Sappers

By 1100, every Imperial system with a Class A, B or C starport hosted a DSCR detachment. Along the way, the DSRC became one of the most respected Imperial Institutions, in some polls second only to the Imperial Family itself. In large part the DSCR’s success is due to the bravery, fidelity, honor and heroism of the Sappers themselves.

Physically fit, preternaturally attractive and supported by a galaxy-class Public Affairs operation feeding an insatiable demand for pro-DSCR content by an adoring citizenry, juvenile sophonts want to be them, and mature sophonts want to mate with them. In more than 100 years of service, the Sappers have consistently been seen as heroic servants of the Imperium. Even when they fail, their clear devotion to duty and the tragic circumstances of their loss only enhances the aura bravura of the DSRC.

Every Sapper knows two things about their service are unfailingly true:

You must respond; you may not always return.


These things we do, so others may live.

And so it was for more than a century: unashamed heroes doing heroic deeds to widespread praise. That continued until the Flying Dutchman incident of 1105.

Some worlds of the Bowman Arm had been seeking to improve their status as Imperial clients. One system, Bowman (Spinward Marches 1132), had petitioned for and received a Sapper detachment. On 141-1105 an R-class, 600-ton subsidized liner Duchess Selene jumped into the Bowman system. The ship was dark, running without navigation lights, was not broadcasting and failed to respond to hails – a hazard to navigation condition called “Flying Dutchman.” She was also headed sunward on a path that would take her dangerously into the plane of the Bowman Belt where she would surely be pulverized and destroyed. The Sappers were revived and launched into action.

What transpired next has been the subject of controversy, conjecture and conspiracy theory during the past several years. What little facts can be determined are these: Duchess Selene crash landed on a planetoid within the Bowman Belt; that planetoid and a spherical exclusion zone several thousand kilometers in volume have been declared off limits, enforced by the Imperial Navy. The fate crew and passengers of the Duchess Selene is not accurately known; many – perhaps all – died, but it is unclear whether they were dead due to, or perhaps prior to, the ship’s crash landing. The fate of the Sappers involved is also unclear – many, perhaps all, survived, but have never again been seen in public. Unfortunately, the most widely accepted theory is that at least some of the Sappers survived because they abandoned the crippled liner prior to crashdown. If true, this is the first reported instance of the Sappers “jumping like rats” rather than “going down with the ship.”

A Moot investigation attempting to clear the Sappers was inconclusive, in large part due to MoJ and ISS decisions to classify all information about the incident at the Ultimate and Penultimate levels. In the wake of the tragedy and ensuing public relations disaster, the DSRC is soul-searching and seeking Imperial forgiveness as the demoralized Sappers attempt to regain the trust of the citizenry. Meanwhile, annual fundraising sales of the pheromone impregnated Imperial Calendar, “Sophonts of the Sappers,” have declined precipitously. Only time will tell if the Sappers will ever again achieve the vertiginous heights of trust and popularity they once enjoyed.

Part Two – Sapper Character Generation

  1. Roll 2D6 seven times, note the results, remove the lowest number, and assign results to UPP at player’s discretion.
  2. Roll 1D6 to determine number of terms served by the PC with the DSRC:
    1. If the result is 3+, then the PC has at least three terms of service; skip to Section 3 below.
    2. If the result is 2-, then the PC has two or fewer terms of DSRC service. Player should then roll 1D6-3 to determine the number of Prior Service terms the PC has experienced (any roll modified to less than one equals one), and then proceed to the following Section 2c.
    3. Roll 1D6 to determine the PC’s Prior Service career:

      1 = Scouts (Auto skill: Pilot-1)

      2-4 = Navy (Auto skill: Zero G-1)

      5-6 = Marines (Auto skill: Cutlass-1)

    4. Determine Prior Service Skills, do not bother with Survival, Commission/Promotion or Re-Enlistment rolls.

      It is assumed that the PC survived and re-enlisted for the pre-determined number of terms. It is also assumed the PC did not achieve Commission or Promotion; had they, they likely would have not left their Prior Service for the Sappers.

      The circumstances of their PCs’ departures from Prior Service is left to the players’ imaginations.

      SCOUTS receive 2 skill rolls per term:

      1D6 Personal Development Service Skills Advanced Training Advanced Education (EDU 8+)
      1 +1 STR Air/Raft Vehicle Medical
      2 +1 DEX Vacc Suit Mechanical Navigation
      3 +1 END Mechanical Electronic Engineering
      4 +1 INT Navigation Jack-o-Trades Computer
      5 +1 EDU Electronics Gunnery Pilot
      6 Gambling Jack-o-Trades Medical Pistol

      NAVY receive 2 skill rolls during their 1st term, then 1 skill roll per term thereafter:

      1D6 Personal Development Service Skills Advanced Training Advanced Education (EDU 8+)
      1 +1 STR Ship’s Boat Vacc Suit Medical
      2 +1 DEX Vacc Suit Mechanical Navigation
      3 +1 END Zero G Electronic Engineering
      4 +1 INT Gunnery Engineering Computer
      5 +1 EDU Blade Combat Gunnery Pilot
      6 +1 SOC Gun Combat Jack-o-Trades Admin

      MARINES receive 2 skill rolls during their 1st term, then 1 skill roll per term thereafter:

      1D6 Personal Development Service Skills Advanced Training Advanced Education (EDU 8+)
      1 +1 STR ATV Vehicle Medical
      2 +1 DEX Vacc Suit Mechanical Gunnery
      3 +1 END Blade Combat Electronic Demolitions
      4 Gambling Gun Combat Gunnery Computer
      5 Brawling Gunnery Blade Combat Leader
      6 Blade Combat Zero G Gun Combat Admin
    5. Prior Service Mustering-out benefits – PC earns 1D6 roll per term served in Prior Service:
      1D6 Navy Marines Scouts
        Benefits Cash Benefits Cash Benefits Cash
      1 Low Psg 1000 Low Psg 2500 Low Psg 10000
      2 +1 INT 2500 +2 INT 5000 +2 INT 20000
      3 +2 EDU 5000 +1 EDU 7500 +2 EDU 30000
      4 Blade 10000 Blade 10000 Blade 40000
      5 Mid Psg 25000 Mid Psg 20000 Gun 50000
      6 Hi Psg 50000 Hi Psg 30000 Mid Psg 60000
      7 +1 SOC 70000 +1 SOC 40000 Hi Psg 70000

      DM +1 on Cash Columns if PC has Gambling skill.

  3. Determine DSRC rank:
    1. Characters are automatically awarded Rank 0 (Sapper Apprentice) and accompanying Auto Skills during their first term of service in the DSRC.
    2. Roll 2D6 for each term of DSRC service (including 1st term) to determine if promoted during that term of service.
    3. Promotion achieved on 2D6 roll of 8+, modified by +1 if INT is 8+.
    4. Skill levels are cumulative so a PC with rank Lead Sapper who elects Medic-1 and who then rolls Medic on the Service Skills table below results in Medic-2.
      Level Rank Auto Skill(s)
      0 Sapper Apprentice Vacc Suit-1 & Zero G-1
      1 Sapper Blade1 & Damage Control2-1
      2 Lead Sapper Medic-1 or Demolitions-1
      3 Sapper First Class Leader-1 & Liaison-1
      4 Chief Sapper Demolitions-1 or Ship’s Boat-1
      5 Senior Chief Sapper Instruction-1
      6 Master Chief Sapper Admin-1
  4. Determine DSRC skills
    1. Roll 1D6 against the table below twice per term starting with the 2nd term of DSRC service (note: total # of skill levels cannot exceed INT+END).
    2. Player may choose which column they are rolling against but can only choose Advanced Education if their PC has an EDU of 8+
    3. At least one roll per term must be on either Personal Development or Service Skills. The other roll may be on any qualified column.
      1D6 Personal Development Service Skills Advanced Training Advanced Education (EDU 8+)
      1 +1 STR Blade Ship’s Boat Naval Architecture
      2 +1 DEX Vacc Suit Medic Legal
      3 +1 END Zero G Demolitions Gravitics
      4 +1 EDU Damage Control Computer Engineering
      5 Blade Combat Liaison Survival Navigation
      6 Gambling Air/Raft Revolver Pilot
  5. Sappers do not roll for Reenlistment. After their 10th term (age 58), Sappers must retire.
  6. At the end of each term, Sappers roll to determine their Survival. On a 2D6 roll of 12 the Sapper has been injured and must retire; on a roll of 2 the Sapper has been grounded and must retire; Flight Surgeons have determined that further low-berthing has become too risky, leaving the Sapper vulnerable to traditional low-berth survival rates. All other rolls (3 to 11) have no effect and the Sapper is assumed to have survived.
  7. Determine Aging Effects
    1. Roll 2D6 to determine effects of aging during 6th through 10th term of service. Note that due to extended periods in Frozen Watch, Sappers suffer the effects of aging at slower than other PCs.
    2. Adjust UPP accordingly. The effect on the indicated characteristic is applied if the indicated roll is failed.
      Term 6 7 8 9 10
      Age 42 46 50 54 58
      STR -1 (11+) -1 (11+) -1 (10+) -1 (10+) -1 (9+)
      DEX -1 (11+) -1 (10+) -1 (9+) -1 (8+) -2 (8+)
      END -1 (12+) -1 (11+) -1 (10+) -1 (9+) -1 (8+)
  8. Mustering-out benefits – PC earns 1D6 roll per term served in the Sappers:
    1D6 Material Benefits Cash
    1 Gold multifunctional personal timepiece 10000
    2 +1 INT 20000
    3 +1 EDU 30000
    4 Sapper’s Axe 40000
    5 Middle Passage 50000
    6 High Passage 60000
    7 +1 SOC 70000

    Optional DM +1 on Material Benefits Column if Rank 5 or 6
    DM +1 on Cash Columns if PC has Gambling skill.

  9. Determine Pension

    Sappers who successfully complete five or more terms with DSRC (not including Prior Service terms) receive an annual pension per the table:

    DSRC Terms Annual Pension
    5 Cr2000
    6 Cr4000
    7 Cr6000
    8 Cr8000
  10. Conclude character generation by confirming character’s current age, number of terms of current and prior service, and total number of skills and skill levels.

Final Thoughts

Sappers are hardened, hearty, almost foolhardy spacers sworn (and devoted) to save sophonts from near certain death amidst the hard vacuum of deep space. They approach this duty serenely, without gallows humor, secure in the knowledge that they will either survive, or die a hero’s death. They rush into starship spaces intelligence sophonts are trying to escape. They do not give up their lives cheaply or easily, only when doing so means other will live. They are the perfect people to have beside you in a crisis, and they should be played accordingly.

Editors Note: The author has provided indications that the Sappers were used in games played at TravellerCON/USA in 2018 and 2019; the 2018 game was the Duchess Selene Flying Dutchman incident of 1105 related above, and the 2019 game was “So Others May Live – Redux”, described as a semi-sequel to the 2018 game.