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The Imperial Starport Authority

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2021 issue.

This article deals with a group that Travellers player characters will meet every time they use a star port anywhere in the imperium. I refer of course to the employees of the Imperial Starport Authority (SPA), the organization responsible for running starports all over the Imperium. Whether they are large busy state-of-the-art A class starports, or rugged E class frontier outposts, all are run by the SPA.

The Traveller supplement Starports covers the SPA in detail. However for those who do not have this supplement, I have detailed below the SPA as a Traveller career. This has be done using the Mongoose Traveller first edition rules. However I think it can easily be adapted for other version of Traveller.

For the purposes of career assignments SPA employees may be divided into five different groups:

  1. Spacecraft Traffic Controllers (“STC” or “Controllers”): Just as airports on worlds of TL6+ need Air Traffic Controllers to control flights into and out of airports, and up to and sometimes across international airspace boundaries, so too will starports need groups controlling the movements of incoming and outgoing spacecraft. For smaller D class starports with only a Downport, only one group of controllers will be needed (if that). However for larger starports with both a Downport and a Highport there may be two or more groups of controllers, one dealing with spacecraft using the high port and the other dealing with spacecraft using the Downport.
  2. Cargo and Passengers Inspectorate (“CPI” or “Inspectorate”): The Inspectorate checks cargos and spacecraft to ensure no illegal goods are being smuggled onto or off the planet. (This applies only to those items deemed illegal by the Imperium; planetary customs agents are responsible for checks for items that may be against planetary law.) CPI also investigates passengers to check none are wanted criminals, victims of people trafficking or slavers, or under age runaways. They working closely with any Imperial Ministry of Justice agents based at the Starport, and (where possible) planetary law enforcement.
  3. Building, Maintenance, and Repair (“BMR” or “Infrastructure”): These are the engineers and technicians who built the starport, upgrade the starport where required, and repair and maintain all the starports facilities. For class A and B starports used by a large number of spacecraft every day, such repair and maintenance work is a constant task. Their work covers both the Downport and Highport parts of the starport.
  4. Support Services: These are the SPA employees who support the other SPA staff in performing their duties. They include Administrators, Buyers, IT support, Finance, and Employee Management professionals.
  5. Imperial Spacecraft Safety Bureau (“ISSB”): The smallest part of the SPA by number of employees. The ISSB investigate all civilian spacecraft accidents and losses within those areas of a solar system under Imperial not local planetary jurisdiction. By training they are mainly spacecraft engineers and technicians. As on twenty first century Earth most aircraft accidents happen on take-off and landing from an airport. So in the Imperium most spacecraft accidents happen on approaching or leaving the starport. This is why the SPA is responsible for investigating such accidents rather than the local planetary government, Imperial Ministry of Justice or the Imperial Navy. Note the Bureau is only mandated to investigate civilian spacecraft accidents and losses. The Imperial Navy investigate accidents and losses of their own spacecraft, as do the Scout Service, though the latter may request ISSB assistance.
Mustering Out
1D Cash Material Benefit
1 Cr 2,000 1 Ship Share
2 Cr 5,000 Contact
3 Cr 5,000 +1 INT
4 Cr 10,000 +1 EDU
5 Cr 10,000 Ally
6 Cr 20,000 2 Ship Shares
7 Cr 50,000 TAS Membership

DM +1 on Cash if Gambler 1+
DM +1 on Material Benefits if Rank 5 or 6
This career does qualify for retirement pay.

Career Progress
Assignment Survival Advancement
Spacecraft Traffic Controllers INT 5+ EDU 7+
Cargo and Passenger Inspectorate EDU 5+ INT 6+
Building, Maintenance, and Repair INT 5+ EDU 7+
Support Services SOC 5+ INT 7+
Imperial Spacecraft Safety Bureau INT 5+ EDU 7+

Qualification: INT 6+

DM –1 if (previous) terms 6+

DM –1 each previous career except:

Basic Training: Because the skills needed for the various assignments within the Imperial Starport Authority differ so much. An SPA employee gains level 0 skills from the appropriate specialist skills table instead of the Service Skills table in basic training.

Skills and Training
1D Personal
Service Skills Adv. Education
(EDU 10+)
Controllers Inspectorate Infrastructure Support Services ISSB
1 +1 DEX Admin Astrogation Sensors Investigate Engineer (Any) Admin Engineer (Any)
2 +1 INT Comms Space Sci (Any) Comms Recon Mechanic Broker Investigate
3 +1 EDU Sensors Pilot (Any) Computers Stealth Drive (Any) Computer Astrogation
4 Flyer (Any) Vacc Suit Computers Astrogation Advocate Trade (Any) Persuade Science (Any)
5 Gambler Zero-G Language (Any) Language (Any) Remote Ops Vacc Suit Advocate Remote Ops
6 Jack-o-T Pilot (Sm Craft) Medic Sensors Gun Cbt (Any) Engineer (Any) Admin Engineer (Any)
Ranks and Benefits
Rank Controllers Skill/Benefit Inspectorate Skill/Benefit Infrastruct Skill/Benefit Support Skill/Benefit ISSB Skill/Benefit
0 Trainee   Probationer   Apprentice   Intern   Trainee Vacc Suit 1
1 Junior Controller Sensors 1 Officer Investigate 1 Operative Mechanic 1 Worker Admin 1 Junior Investigator Investigate 1
2 Controller   Inspector   Technician   Team Leader   Investigator  
3 Senior Controller Comms 1 Senior Inspector Recon 1 Senior Technician Engineer (Any) 1 Manager Persuade 1 Senior Investigator Engineer (Any) 1
4 Team Leader   Captain Advocate 1 Team Leader   Senior Manager   Supervising Investigator Astrogation 1
5 Station Supervisor Leadership 1 Chief Admin 1 Project Manager Leadership 1 Department Head Leadership 1 Lead Investigator  
6 Director +1 SOC Super-intendent +1 SOC Chief Engineer +1 SOC Director +1 SOC Chief Investigator Leadership 1, +1 SOC
1D Mishap
1 Working at a starport can be dangerous. Roll on the injury table.
2 The High Port you are working at is attacked by Raiders or Pirates. Roll Vacc Suit 8+, Zero-G 8+, or DEX 8+ to avoid a roll on the injury table.
3 Your boss thinks you are after his/her job, and wrecks your career. Gain a Rival.
4 You are accused of accepting bribes from smugglers. If you were taking bribes gain an extra cash only benefit role. If you were not taking bribes roll Advocate 9+ to stay in this career. Either way gain an Enemy.
5 A decline in the number of spacecraft using the Starport leads to you losing your job. However you gain an extra benefit role as redundancy pay.
6 You are accused of causing an accident that leaves several sophonts dead. Lose half your benefit rolls due to legal costs and gain 1d3 Enemies from among the families and friends of those killed.
2D Event
2 Disaster! Roll on the mishap table, but you are not ejected from this career.
3 Pirates try to bribe you for details of valuable cargos leaving/arriving at the starport. If you agree to help them gain a benefit roll. If you refuse gain +2 on your next Advancement roll, but make an Enemy of this pirate crew.
4 There is an accident on the High Port you are working on, and the survivors need rescuing. Roll Vacc Suit 8+, Zero-G 8+, or DEX 8+. If you succeed gain an Ally or +1 to any benefit roll. If you fail gain an Enemy and -1 to your next Advancement roll.
5 You spend a lot of time working at the High Port. Gain +1 in any one of the following: Vacc suit, Zero-G, Pilot (Small Craft), Comms, or Mechanic.
6 There are several job vacancies at the starport. If you wish, you automatically qualify for any other SPA assignment.
7 Life event. Roll on the life event table.
8 Working at a starport, you meet sophonts from all over the sector. Gain 1d3 Contacts or Language (Any) +1.
9 You get involved in a legal dispute between the Starport and a large shipping company. Gain +1 in any one of the following: Admin, Advocate, Investigate, Diplomat, or Persuade.
10 You spend a lot of time working with the crews of merchant ships large and small. Gain +1 in any one of the following: Broker, Pilot (Any), Steward, or Engineer (Any).
11 You are noticed by a superior. Gain +4 on your next Advancement roll and a Contact.
12 Your hard work pays off, or you impress your boss. You are automatically promoted.

Imperial Starport Authority Staff as Player-Characters

Although for most player characters the SPA will be a previous career, the Traveller game being about travelling from starport to starport, rather than manning a starport, the SPA does offer two types of scenarios or campaigns for interested players.

First, there is a group of players of say half a dozen whose careers cover all or most of the SPA assignments. These must include at least one each of Spacecraft Traffic Controllers and Cargo and Passengers Inspectorate. Even such a small team could form all or most of the staff of a small D or E class starport. Or the day or night shift of such as minor starport. “Missing” SPA career assignments to be filled by non-player characters.

Alternatively they could form a reserve staff sent out by the Subsector/Sector headquarters of the SPA. Such a reserve could be employed to: set up new starports, repair starports damaged by war or raiders, or replace an existing starport staff decimated by illness/war/a major corruption scandal or strike action.

These teams would have to deal with all the problems regularly face by spaceports: smugglers, stroppy or criminal passengers whether human or not, drunken or riotous off-duty spacecraft crews, spacecraft crashes, organised crime groups either local or off-world trying to use the port or its small star town, or as a battleground in a corporate war.

There are also unfriendly local planetary governments. These might be especially an issue on a balkanised world. On such worlds the Imperium-controlled starport could be seen as a useful “neutral” meeting ground for spies, spy catchers, diplomats, revolutionaries, governments-in-exile, or local and off-world arms dealers. The locals (or off-worlders seeking to meet with them) could end up causing more problems for the player-character SPA staff than all the spacecraft using a D or E starport.

For players who prefer to be off-world in a small craft, or in a system with a busy class A to C starport, they might form the crew of an SPA Cargo and Passengers Inspectorate ship. These small craft will range in size from ship’s boats to Serpent-class Police Cutters (see page 131 of Mongoose Traveller 1st edition Core Rulebook). They are packed with sensor equipment and drone craft for inspecting ships at a distance in orbit.

Most spacecraft inspected by the characters will of course be honest traders and not smugglers. To detect smuggling compartments aboard a ship, the player-characters should first decide whether to attempt to detect the compartments using sensors or an inspection drone. A drone check requires the cooperation of the target ship’s crew to open airlocks and grant the drone access to the cargo spaces, but has a slightly better chance of detecting smuggling compartments.

To detect smuggling compartments aboard a ship, roll a Sensors (EDU) 8+ check, or a Remote Ops (EDU) 7+ check if using a drone. Apply the following DMs to either check:

A sensors skill check normally takes 2d6 minutes per 200 dtons of inspected spacecraft size. Drone inspections take 5d6 minutes per 200 dtons of spacecraft.

Assuming the Inspectorate craft’s sensors or drones spot something suspicious, the next stage is an on-board inspection. This requires the crew of the suspicious spacecraft to agree to dock with the Inspectorate’s craft. At this point the smugglers might decide to make a run for it, if the star systems has one or more gas giants’ they can refuel at. Alternatively if armed they could try fighting their way out. At this point, unless the Inspectorate’s small craft is armed too, they will retreat and alert the local Planetary/Subsector Navy with full details of the smuggler’s craft.

Assuming the docking request is accepted, or the suspect spacecraft is being inspected at the High port or in orbit following a tip-off, a team of the Inspectorate will go over the smugglers’ craft with a fine-tooth comb. This will require at least two inspectors, to reduce the risk of bribery. For larger spacecraft (over 1,000 dtons), a team of four or more trained inspectors will be required.

The on-board inspection will repeat the remote inspection, may use the same task checks, or may substitute Investigate (INT) 8+ or Recon (INT) 8+, with the same DMs as above, and if the smuggling compartments are known to be in or adjacent to the engine room(s), Engineering (EDU) 8+ or Mechanic (EDU) 8+, with the same DMs, may be used. However, if smuggling compartments were found in the remote check, apply an additional DM +2 to the tasks for the on-board inspection, to reflect the player-characters’ knowledge of where on the spacecraft to start looking. In such a case, the skill checks take 1d6 hours irrespective of the size of the spacecraft. If the player-characters have no such advance knowledge, the sensors or remote operations checks will take 1d3 hours per 200 dtons of spacecraft, divided by the number of Inspectors involved. Note the maximum length of a shift for Inspectors is 12 standard hours. If the hidden compartments are in or next to the engine room(s), due to the small area of the engine room compared to the rest of the ship, duration is only 1d6 hours, irrespective of the size of the ship.

The player-characters will be looking for: repair and alterations marks especially near cargo bays, fuel tanks that seem smaller than their external size would indicate, parts of the spacecraft where the crew seem nervous or unwilling to go, unusual modifications to standard-design spacecraft, and spacecraft records showing irregular travel patterns, visits to known smuggling havens, and unusually long times spent in class A or B spaceports for repairs or maintenance.

For referees or players wanting more detailed rules on smuggling, please see Mongoose Traveller 1st edition Book Six: Scoundrel, and its section on smuggling as a career.

In the event illegal smuggled goods are found, the Inspectorate do have powers or arrest and imprisonment. Normally, however, if there are Imperial Ministry of Justice (IMoJ) agents based at the starport, they will take over the investigation and any prosecution at this point. Only in the absence of IMoJ agents will the Inspectorate be responsible for holding the smugglers prisoner, until the IMoJ can send agents from their nearest office. Of course, in the meantime, the smugglers may try to escape, or have local contacts who will try to break them out of the jail at the Starport. But that is another adventure.

For players who do not want all their party to be SPA/Inspectorate, other character careers that could realistically be involved might include Agents, representing the IMoJ or local planetary government law enforcement; Imperial Marines as extra muscle in case boarding actions are required; or serving career Navy to provide gunnery or pilot skills.

SPA as Non-Player-Characters

The Inspectorate

Player-characters may encounter the Inspectorate on arrival in a system. Under normal circumstances, this should not be a problem, but they might be subject to arrest if

  1. they have committed a crime on another planetary systems within the Imperium,
  2. the planetary government of that system has reported them to the Imperial Ministry of Justice, and requested they be extradited to the scene of the crime, and
  3. the crime in question is recognised by the Third Imperium as a crime, under Imperial High Law. This includes (but isn’t limited to) activities like possessing or using weapons of mass destruction, assassination of an Imperial noble, possessing or distributing anti-Imperial propaganda (such as from the Ine Givar), or ‘skipping’ on your ship’s mortgage.

In such cases, as with smuggling, the Inspectorate do have powers of arrest and detention, and as with smuggling, actual investigation, imprisonment and interrogation will be normally carried out by IMoJ agents. Only in the absence of IMoJ agents will the Inspectorate decide if the player-characters will be extradited to the planetary system requesting it. Pending a decision, they will be imprisoned within the starport, while their case is heard, and may find accessing legal representation difficult. Where the starport is too small to have its own jail, (D, E and X class ports) the offenders will be detained in facilities provided by the planetary government. Inspectorate officers will hand over the offenders to local law enforcement or prison guards at the extraterritoriality line.

If the offender is a passenger on the player-characters’ ship, the Inspectorate will question the player-characters on their ship and ask to inspect the stateroom the accused used. However, unless evidence comes to light of the player characters’ complicity in the crime, they will be let off with a warning to choose their passengers with more care in the future. If the player-characters have previously carried passengers who have been removed by the Inspectorate or IMoJ, they may find themselves subjected to a more intense investigation, and their departure from the starport greatly delayed…

When it comes to inspecting cargoes, due to the sheer number of cargo-carrying spacecraft, only a selection of spacecraft can be inspected, by the Inspectorate. To determine if the player-characters’ ship is one of them, roll 10+ on 2d6, applying the following modifiers:

All of the above modifiers are cumulative; that is, if a star system is on the Imperial border (and therefore in a border subsector), apply DM +3; if the system is additionally an Amber-zoned system, apply DM +5; if it is also a B port, apply DM +4. Note that the SPA typically does not have enough staff to do routine inspections at E ports, so the player-characters’ ship will only be inspected if there is specific reason to be suspicious.

Not all such inspections will take place at or near the spaceport. The Inspectorate at most starports will have a number of small craft to do sensors check on spacecraft approaching or leaving the starport out to the area of the 100 diameter limit. These small craft will range in size from ship’s boats to Serpent-class Police Cutters.

“Inspections” by small craft will be done using sensors or drones. If the players have anything to hide use an opposed skill roll (Player-characters roll Engineer (INT) or Mechanic (INT) vs. Inspectorate Sensors (EDU) or Remote Ops (EDU). If the skill level of the Inspectorate is not known, roll 1d6, 1 = skill level 1, 2 to 5 = skill level 2 and 6 = skill level 3; the Inspectorate is assumed to have EDU 7). Only if this check reveals something amiss will the Inspectorate small craft contact the player-characters’ ship and demand it stop to be physically inspected.

In the event that the player-characters’ ship must undergo a physical inspection, either at the starport or after a remote sensors check, there will be 1d3+1 Inspectorate officers doing the checks. If the player-characters do have something to hide, this will be detected on the basis of an Investigate, Remote Ops, or Sensors skill check. If smuggled goods are found, what happens next should be determined by the referee based on the type of goods being smuggled.

Note that these Inspectorate checks on shipping are totally separate from any such checks done by the planetary government(s). How often these happen should depend on local law levels and the technology level of the planet.

Spacecraft Traffic Controllers

At any class A to D starport player characters with their own spacecraft will typically need to contact Spacecraft Traffic Controllers, on approach to and departure from the starport. In order on approach to be granted a runway and landing pad or docking airlock at a high port, or on departure a flight path. This process normally only requires a comms call, and a wait of typically 10d6 minutes, while a route for the spacecraft is determined by the Controllers. Unless there is a severe emergency, landing without permission of controllers is a crime under Third Imperium law, punishable by a minimum of a fine in the hundreds of thousands of Imperial credits, or even jail time if another spacecraft or the starport infrastructure is damaged.

The only time player characters will need more assistance from the Controllers is if for whatever reason the players’ ship lack someone with the necessary pilot skill. If warned of this in advance, controllers at class A and B starports can either send out a qualified pilot in a small craft, or get the spacecraft’s crew to “slave” their spacecraft’s navigation systems to the starport’s flight control systems (and some ports may require this regardless of pilot skill). At C or D starports, Controllers may “talk down” an unskilled crew member, or send out a small craft with a suitable pilot.

Except at ports where the port requires one of their own pilots or mandatory “slaving” of controls, any of these situations will lead to an SPA investigation into why the spacecraft did not have a trained pilot. If negligence or lack of discipline (indiscipline) is found, criminal charges may be filed. Where the deficiency is found to be beyond the control of the ship’s crew, no charges will be filed, but the ship will not be permitted to lift until the deficiency is corrected.

Negligence or Indiscipline will be found if:

The following reasons do not constitute Negligence or Indiscipline:

The preceding reasons should not be considered exhaustive lists; these are merely the most likely to occur. Note that the pilot being killed or incapacitated during a mutiny in which he/she did not participate does not automatically excuse the ship from a finding of Negligence or Indiscipline.

Imperial Spacecraft Safety Bureau (ISSB)

The only circumstances under which the player-characters will be involved with ISSB personnel is if their spacecraft exhibits any damage that may have resulted from involvement in any sort of accident or pirate attack, or if the crew reports such. If the damage or report points to an attack, the ISSB will just check that the damage to the ship was consistent with a pirate attack and not an accident the player characters are trying to cover up; they will also want to find out where and when the pirate attack took place so the nearest planetary or subsector Navy base can be informed. Such investigations should only take 2d6 standard days on average. If there are suspicious aspects to the attack, or if the damage or report makes it clear that it was an accident, a full investigation will be initiated. This will take much longer, depending on factors such as whether other craft were involved, whether there were any fatalities, the spaceworthiness of the spacecraft before the accident, and assessment of the repairs required to the spacecraft before it can be declared spaceworthy. Such investigations will be carried out by a team of 1d6+3 ISSB staff and take 5d6 standard weeks, during which time the players’ spacecraft will be confined to the starport, and its crew forbidden to leave the star system before the investigation is complete. Findings of Negligence or Indiscipline, or of any attempt to “cover up” the actual facts of the incident (including findings of Barratry), may result in criminal charges being bought against the Captain and/or crew of the spacecraft. If there were any fatalities a Coroners Court will also sit to determine reasons for the fatalities.