Starships for Sale
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2016 issue.
Zoe: “You paid money for this, sir? On purpose?” Mal: “What? Come on, seriously, Zoe. Whaddya think?” Zoe: “Honestly, sir? I think you got robbed.” Mal: “Robbed? What? No. What do you mean?” Zoe: “It’s a piece of fèiwù.” [fèiwù = junk, garbage] Mal: “Fèiwù? Okay, she won’t be winning any beauty contests anytime soon. But she’s solid. Ship like this, be with ya ’til the day you die.” Zoe: “Cause it’s a deathtrap.”
—Firefly, S1E8 “Out of Gas”
When I first started playing RPG’s, the group I was with had an interesting twist during character generation. We had what we called a “Boogey Table” where we would randomly determine a unique characteristic to our characters. This could range from something positive like a special ability to a negative aspect such as “Battle Bladder.” As my RPG experience continued we extended this concept to other aspects of our sessions to include unique Horse personalities to expanded and detailed NPC behaviors. We did this to enhance our gaming experience as much as prevent drifting into generic gameplay.
In my gameplay, I extend this concept to the starships the players use. Unless they are extraordinarily lucky, most beginning Traveller characters are not exactly rolling in the credits after they muster out of their careers during character generation. So to help the players out, I allow them to cash in their ship shares, maybe trade in some gear and allow them just enough for the 20% down payment to a used surplus starship. Also, the monthly payments (1/240th the cost of the ship) will be more palatable to the characters as they keep an eye on their profit margin. These used surplus starships do present an opportunity for the referee to spice things up to prevent boring generic-style gameplay. So where do these starships come from?
Surplus military equipment is made available in some form or fashion to the general public or to other government agencies at the state and local level even today. Some of these starships may have had battle damage, may have been outclassed by new hardware and/or software, or may have just labeled as too expensive to maintain. Since these ships have been placed in mothballs, you can fairly well guarantee their scheduled maintenance cycle has not been maintained. So if the players are visiting a Scout base, there is a possibility there would be some surplus Scout ships available for purchase. If they are located in a Class “A” or “B” starport, a wider variety of merchant ships ranging from repossessed traders to abandoned cargo haulers will be available for purchase. Type J Seekers are likely to be found near developed systems with asteroid mining. As for Naval vessels, I generally do not make them available to the players unless they have a buyer that is of exceptionally high social standing.
As always, this is a system I use. I recommend the referee tailor the results to something fairly easy to understand. Add or take away any undesired result, after all the idea is to have fun. I am sure many of you out there can come up with some excellent creative hurdles to place in the way of the PC’s.
So what would be the particular quirks to these ships? I use the formulas below:
Base Cost: (2D6 × 5%) +10% off the “book” cost. (example: I roll a “3” and a “4” which yields 7 × 5 = 35 +10 = 45%. The Type “S” which lists for MCr 30.0 is for sale at this place for MCr 16.5. The players need to come up with a down payment of MCr 3.3 for this ship, and monthly payments will be KCr 65.)
Number of Problems With the Ship: One problem for each 10% reduction in price, rounding down (i.e., a 45% discount yields four problems; a 50% discount yields five). For each problem, roll D66 against the following tables or similar ones of your own devising to identify the system affected. Then, roll 2D6-2 (reroll results of 0) to determine the severity of the issue (1—least severe, a minor annoyance or cosmetic only; 10—most severe, system damaged/destroyed, replacement required). If the ship is originally a Navy ship, DM –2 for severity; Scout ships DM –1.
|D66 Rolls 1-1 to 1-6: Control Systems|
|1-2||Ship’s Computer Issues|
|1-3||Ship’s Sensors Issues|
|1-4||Targeting Issues or Faulty Transponder|
|1-5||Ship’s Communications Issues|
|1-6||Bridge Control Issues (Other Than Helm)|
This result will throw some difficulty in the handling of the ship. A minor glitch may be a loose connection in the helm’s controls, to a near-complete failure of being able to steer the ship through this control station.
|1-2||Ship’s Computer Issues.
The ship’s computer may simply have a few glitches in some of the software programs up to cracked and loose hardware components.
|1-3||Ship’s Sensor Issues.
The ship’s “eyes” are either seeing false images or are not detecting real images they should be tracking.
|1-4||Targeting Issues or Faulty Transponder.
Targeting issues will simply cause a DM –1 to DM –3 to hit for the gunner.
Transponder issues will likely bring on all kinds of unwanted attention by military and planetary defenses. Transponders are supposed to be tamperproof so serious scrutiny will be given to the ship’s crew for possibly violating this law.
|1-5||Ship’s Communication Issues.
Communications systems, either internal or ship-to-ship, have problems with routine functions such as transmitting, receiving, or recording messages. These could range from frequency or volume maladjustment to intermittent failures to transmit, receive, or record, to complete failure in one or more of those functions.
|1-6||Bridge Control issues (non-helm).
Other than the helm, another of the bridge’s command or operating consoles is malfunctioning. It can range from a blown indicator light on a warning panel to a short in the keyboard-like interface.
Detecting These Issues
To detect a Control Systems Issue:
ROUTINE, INT, Electronics, or
AVERAGE, EDU, field-related skill
Field-related skills refer to skills related to the function of the specific subsystem, e.g., Pilot for the helm subsystem, Commo for the communications or transponder subsystems, Gunnery for the targeting subsystem, et cetera.
|D66 Rolls 2-1 to 2-6: Engineering Systems|
|2-3||Power Plant Issues|
|2-4||Life Support Issues|
|2-5||Power Transfer Issues|
Something in the interstellar drive system is amiss. It can range from a faulty field grid, a software problem, a drive motivator switch (just ask the Millennium Falcon) or an improper fuel flow valve in the drive engine itself.
A wide array of problems here can include engines cutting out, engines overheating, engines misaligned, engines sputtering causing half-acceleration and unpredictable vectoring possibly resulting in a loss of forward direction, resulting in a spin.
Another wide array of issues can range from intermittent loss of power, a radiation leak, a problem with the fuel intakes resulting in using much more fuel than normal, or the engines will overheat causing a cascade of issues in the engine room with other systems.
This refers to the ship’s main life support. This does not cover the components in each compartment which provide limited emergency backup. The difference between this entry and the collection of entries in 4-1 to 4-6: Life Support/Environmental is that this entry represents general shipwide issues in all of the subsystems, whereas the entries in 4-1 to 4-6 affect specific subsystems, perhaps only in specific areas of the ship.
All ships in space must maintain a steady flow of oxygen and heat. Also, there must be a way to circulate the air to scrub the air of carbon dioxide coming off the crew’s breathing.
|2-5||Power Transfer Issues
Power must go from the power plant to the other systems of the ship. This can range from the ship’s weapons, to the ship’s engines, to the ship’s life support, to the low berth’s support systems and to the ship’s computer.
All ships have some type of batteries. They provide power to the ship during its startup sequence or they can provide power when the power plant is not working.
The ship’s batteries are dedicated to emergency systems. This would include medical systems, low berths, life support and emergency lighting (red lights). A loose connection could result in a short in these systems and a complete loss of that system.
Detecting These Issues
To detect an Engineering Systems Issue:
ROUTINE, INT, Engineering, or
AVERAGE, EDU, Electronics or Mechanical
|D66 Rolls 3-1 to 3-6: Structural Systems|
|3-1||Air lock Issues|
|3-2||Ship’s Stabilizer Issues|
|3-3||Ship’s Thruster Issues|
|3-4||Interior door Issues|
|3-5||Ship’s Fuel Issues|
|3-6||Ship’s Weapon Issues|
One of the ship’s airlocks or hatches has an issue with sealing properly, or, the atmospheric controls that flood or evacuate the airlock is not working. A character with mechanical skill will be useful in repairs.
|3-2||Ship’s Stabilizer Issues. (VTOL Capable ships only. Reroll
All VTOL ships (or ship’s fitted with lifters) have an internal gyroscope that helps regulate thrust when taking off or landing on a planet. (Most pilots will detect issues with this on an easy skill roll). A character with mechanical skill will be useful in repairs.
|3-3||Ship’s Thruster issues.
In space, ships need to have the ability to pitch and rotate to match another ship’s vector in order to properly dock.
If a ship’s thruster fails to fire when necessary or if it fires off when not wanted, this can result in a collision when docking or it can alter slightly the pitch and/or roll of the vessel. A character with mechanical skill will be useful in repairs.
|3-4||Interior door issues.
Bulkheads sometimes put pressure on a non-hatch doorway, causing it to not fully open, not close or open. This is not an easy fix. A character with mechanical skill will be useful in repairs.
|3-5||Ship’s Fuel issues.
Problems in this category can range from a leaky pipe, valve or tank to a stuck valve to a fuel purification issue. A character with engineering skill will be useful in repairs.
|3-6||Ship’s Weapon issues (if the ship is unarmed, ignore and
The ship’s weapon can jam, the turret can be stuck, the powered weapon can lose power or the weapon can be out of calibration. A character with that specific weapon skill will be useful in repairs.
Detecting These Issues
To detect a Structural Issue:
ROUTINE, INT, Directly-related skill, or
AVERAGE, EDU, Electronics or Mechanical or Indirectly-related skill
Directly-related skills are those skills that directly involve the use of the system, e.g., Pilot for Stabilizer or Thruster issues. Indirectly-related skills are those skills that have general theory or techniques that are potentially applicable to the subsystem, e.g., Engineering for most subsystems.
|D66 Rolls 4-1 to 4-6: Life-Support and Environmental Systems|
|4-1||Ship’s Water Recycling|
|4-2||Ship’s Air Recycling|
|4-3||Ship’s Waste Processing|
|4-4||Ship’s Food Processing/Galley|
|4-5||Ship’s Gravity Systems|
|4-6||Ship’s Temperature Controls|
|4-1||Ship’s Water Recycling.
All water on a ship is kept in a liquid state by the ship’s life support and is reused continuously by running waste water through bio filters. While on a planet with any degree of moisture, the ship’s water condensers will also create air from the moisture in the atmosphere. Also, if the ship takes on board any water for its fuel, then it can use some of that liquid to fill up the ship’s potable water tanks.
If there are issues with this system, it can range from the ship’s condensers/reclamation system (the ability to “make” water), to a rupture in the ship’s potable water reservoir.
|4-2||Ship’s Air Recycling.
All ships with a closed environment have air recycling to remove carbon dioxide and/or other toxic gases that would tend to build up. Also, these system “scrub” any atmospheric taints and some are capable of eliminating biohazards and microorganisms in the ship’s air.
The problems here can range from clogged air filtration systems to a complete shutdown of the ship’s biofilters.
|4-3||Ship’s Waste Processing.
The system that processes solid and liquid waste fails and is likely oozing out somewhere on the ship. What a mess.
|4-4||Ship’s Food Processing/Galley
The system that prepares and stores food is not working properly. This gets repaired or the crew and passengers are eating MRE’s.
|4-5||Ship’s Gravity Systems
The artificial gravity is either in flux (where it ranges from 0.5G to 2.0G) or is completely out, leaving the crew and passengers in a zero-G state.
|4-6||Ship’s Temperature Controls.
These refer to the secondary/emergency life support indigenous to each of the ship’s compartments.
Independent of the ship’s main life support, each stateroom has a control panel that can alter the conditions of the room. If it is a passenger’s stateroom they will want to move or get a partial refund. If it a crew member, that person will not get a full night’s sleep in that space until it is repaired.
Detecting These Issues
To detect a Life-Support/Environmental Issue:
ROUTINE, INT, Mechanical or Engineering, or
AVERAGE, EDU, Electronics
|D66 Rolls 5-1 to 5-6: Mechanical Systems|
|5-1||Airlocks (Cargo or Personnel) are faulty|
|5-2||Hatch(es) Issues (Cargo or Personnel)|
|5-3||Deck plate damage (too heavy a load)|
|5-4||Fire Suppression Issues|
|5-5||Landing Leg Issues|
|5-6||Running Lights Issues|
|5-1||Airlocks are faulty.
There is either a problem with the ship’s seal around the airlock or there are leaks, perhaps from pinholes, perhaps from faulty seams between plates. This can also cover such issues as indicators failing to properly show the airlock status, even if the lock is properly sealed. Applies to both cargo and personnel airlocks.
One or more hatches has a problem opening or closing fully. As with airlocks, this can also cover such issues as indicators failing to properly show the status of the hatch.
|5-3||Deck plate damage.
Because the ship has handled cargo improperly stowed or in excess of its capacity rating, deck plates are damaged (cracked, broken, etc.).
|5-4||Fire Suppression issues.
|Most of the compartments on space-going craft have independent fire suppression equipment. This system is a combination of atmosphere evacuation and sealing off the affected area. When a fire is detected, a loud klaxon sound will sound off and the ship’s lights will rapidly strobe on and off. Within ten seconds, if the fire suppression override button is not struck, the compartment will be sealed off and the air will be evacuated.
Issues will include either a failure of the system to detect and handle an alarm, or false activation, causing a potentially dangerous situation.
|5-5||Landing Leg issues. (If the ship does not have landing legs,
ignore this result and reroll).
The ship’s landing legs will either stick open, not deploy or will collapse under the weight of the ship.
|5-6||Running lights issues.
All ships and vehicles have running lights. Unless this ship is a military-owned craft on a mission, it is required that a ship have red blinking lights on the port side and green running lights on the starboard side. It is well known that most ships on attack runs (such as corsairs) have found a way to switch these lights off. Running light malfunctions usually result in greater scrutiny by patrol and customs vessels.
The ship’s lights are stuck on or stuck off. This needs to be repaired unless the crew wants to attract a lot of unwanted attention. This is an easy skill roll to spot for any crewmember.
Detecting These Issues
To detect a Mechanical Systems Issue:
ROUTINE, INT, Mechanical or Engineering, or
AVERAGE, EDU, Electronics or Steward
|D66 Rolls 6-1 to 6-6: Irritants|
|6-1||Ship has unpleasant biological odor|
|6-2||Ship has small insects/rodents infesting it|
|6-3||Ship has obvious corrosion problems|
|6-4||Ship has old scorch marks from previous battles|
|6-5||Ship’s windows are damaged|
|6-6||Ship’s interior lighting is dim and blinks|
|6-1||Ship has unpleasant biological odor.
Easily detected. May be characterized as rotting crops, sewage, or “something died”.
|6-2||Ship has small insects/rodents infesting it.
Ranging from the smallest pests (flea-sized) to rodents the size of Terran beavers, the crew needs to clean up the ship in a major way. Also easily detectable; may not be easy to correct if the vermin have gotten into such concealed and enclosed spaces as between-decks conduits.
|6-3||The ship has obvious corrosion problems.
Easy to spot, this ship will need to be scrubbed and possibly will need to have some sections of wall or bulkhead replaced. Easy to spot as well.
|6-4||The ship has external damage from previous encounters with
hostile armed ships.
Also easy to spot, may range from scorch marks that merely need new paint to partly-melted or nearly-holed plates that requiring replacement.
|6-5||The ship’s windows are damaged.
A cracked or pitted window or porthole in space is an accident (blowout) waiting to happen. Large windows (such as a bridge window) are easy to spot. Smaller portholes will have their issues detected on a routine skill check.
|6-6||The ship’s interior lighting is faulty.
Another easily detected issue. Ranges from the equivalent of fluorescent tubes that persistently flicker to emergency lighting being randomly triggered to complete failure of lighting systems in some areas of the ship.
Detecting These Issues
To detect an Irritant:
EASY, INT, Mechanical or Engineering, or
ROUTINE, EDU, Electronics or Steward
In our example the Type “S” scout we want to buy (lists for MCr 30, discounted 45% to MCr 16.5) has four issues. We roll and achieve the following results:
1 and 4, Faulty Transponder. Severity: 5. The ship’s transponder cuts out half of the time. This will need to be replaced. (New part, Cr 15,000)
3 and 2, Ship’s Stabilizer Issues. Severity: 7. The ship will pitch and buck when landing and taking off. This will also need to be replaced. (New parts, Cr 35,000)
4 and 5, Ship’s Gravity Systems. Severity: 2. The ship’s gravity tends to unexpectedly increase and decrease by a factor of 0.2G, causing the crew to get disoriented while in space. (New parts, Cr 25,000)
6 and 3, Corrosion problems. Severity: 3. There is rust on the landing legs and along the belly of the ship. This will take some minor supplies (Cr 100, not including paint) and about three full man-days of work to remove these spots.
So the PC’s inspect this ship with a mechanic and they easily find the corrosion problems right away. During the hours-long inspection they discover the problems with the transponder and the stabilizers. A week later, they have made the necessary repairs (Cr 50,100 in parts, not including labor if hired) and take off. While in space, they encounter the issues with the gravity plates while preparing for hyperspace, panicking the crew and causing a -1 to skill rolls for crew dizziness until it is fixed.
By the time the characters fix this undiscovered problem, they are now at least another Cr 25,000 lighter in the pocket and now they should be desperate for work.
So how can a buyer help themselves out during the point of sale? As
shown I would carry along a ship’s engineer/mechanic and conduct a
thorough inspection of the ship in question. Often, these maladies will
be uncovered with a simple walk-through of the ship. Many of the surplus
sales will be considered as an “As-Is” transaction.
Another way for these places to sell off their surplus ships would be through an auction. Again, the surplus ship will available to be examined ahead of time, usually hours before the auction is set to begin. As you would expect, all sales are final.
I hope those GM’s out there find this chart useful. Just in the making of this list I can foresee all kinds of interesting plot twists to ensure no campaign becomes stale. Again, this list is not all inclusive and by all means feel free to alter it to your tastes. Enjoy!