This article was originally posted to the pre-magazine website in 2007, and was reprinted in the November/December 2020 issue.
An Entrepreneur with a vision gets some venture capitalists to invest in a new type of sub-1000-ton ship. Minimum cargo space with maximum passenger conveniences—luxurious cabins with incredible common lounge facilities.
The fledgling new company builds 5 prototypes—#2 including changes that testing of #1 made evident, #3 including changes from #2, etc. The design began the rigorous safety and product testing, with 96 of 104 tests completed successfully.
Then disaster strikes: The CEO resigns and investors start pulling out. Advance orders are cancelled; the company begins spiraling down the financial black hole. The new Corporate Board convinces some marginal banks and less-than-solid financial institutions for new funding, but Test Series #102 showed a problem with compatibility of the new design with existing starport facilities. It becomes a ‘White Elephant’—technically elegant but a financial disaster. No one will touch it.
The assets (including the five prototypes) are sold off for a fraction of what they would have sold for on the open market. Due to the volatile history of the design, none of the major lines want anything to do with the prototypes.
- The PCs somehow acquire one of these prototypes. The ship itself is a technological marvel: huge cabins, five-star entertaining facilities, a Noble’s ultimate dream yacht. Before they can put it into passenger-carrying service, they need to pass the last few Safety Certifications. They need to secure cash—no even somewhat reputable lender will risk anything on these five ships. Then they need a good crew—a top Chief Engineer who is willing to take an unproven design using unproven technology that was above state-of-the-art three years ago, and a ship that has no defined service program, and keep it flying; a top Pilot that can keep her riding the star lanes; and some excellent Stewards who know how to get top name entertainers, the best food (at an affordable cost), and know how to serve and wine and dine everyone, commoners to Nobility.
- The PCs acquire the contents of a storage facility—either as payment in lieu of cash or as a gambling debt settlement. They figure out the address is for an orbital warehouse and discover that it contains a ship in mothballs. They may or may not have heard of the problems of this particular prototype (it may be a news story local to this particular solar system or sub-sector). The ship has no registration marking, ID transponders—nothing. How deeply entwined do they get before someone comments on “how well they’ve pulled off The White Elephant”?
- Each prototype is slightly different, with changes and improvements made as trial tests were carried out. Some prototypes may have damage from these trials, which hasn’t been properly documented or repaired. How many Jumps before the structural stress of the hull begins showing microscopic fractures? Or maybe ship’s systems have been programmed to automatically shut down after x amount of hours and automatically run a diagnostic which lasts for 72 hours?
- Spare parts could be a problem. A good Engineer could adapt some off-the-shelf parts, but some components are truly unique. They may need to be manufactured specifically for the ship. Maybe an adventure could be the players hunting down who bought the component manufacturing facility and then either buy a supply of parts, or try to buy the plant facility itself.