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Marc Miller’s Traveller: Starships

This article originally appeared in Issue #002 of the downloadable PDF magazine.

T4 Starships. Don Perrin
Imperium Games: (defunct; no website at present)
Out of Print. Check used book stores and websites for price and availability.

Don Perrin is the game designer who originally designed chapter 8, "Spacecraft" in the core rule book. Before I finish this review, I hope to show the viability of both the Quick Ship Design System (QSDS) and the Standard Ship Design System (SSDS) as they are used in this supplement. In my opinion, This product well-deserves a place among other Traveller products simply because it introduces new options and design methods for referees of all experience levels. I appreciates that myself, because I am not very good at using formulas and charts to compute every item that is included on a typical ship or trader. I will discuss, in turn, the usefulness of the starship designs, the SSDS and the design tables as they exist in the T4 rules and in Starships.

As I write this, several supplements for T4 have been released, and it is clear that in Traveller 4, supplements rely heavily on the rules given in Book 1, the core rule book. This holds true for Starships, the first supplement to be published. Some errors have crept in, but only where the core rules also have an error; the other significant portions of the book, like the imperial calendar, the 30 deckplans and starship data and the extensive artwork appear free of obvious errors. I found several problems with the design system which were more or less solved by referring to the quick system in the core book. One glaring omission is the lack of a size rating table in the ship creation data in the final pages of the book. Stylistically bad is the placement of the control modifier table next to the gutter at the top of the last page of the book. It is harder to find that way and doesn’t seem to fit well with the data that is presented close to it. This haphazard placement of data tables was common in the core book, and this is an example of it in Starships. Another thing I didn’t like was the presence of the Imperial calendar and its usage in the front of the text. I think it should have found a better use in the core book where most referees and players look for common and basic elements of the game (like information about the Sylean Empire).

T4 Starships has many redeeming qualities,and these alone are good reasons for buying the book or borrowing it from your local library. Starship plans come with an artist’s rendering, a detailed floorplan and the usual short paragraph concerning special rules or design concepts . The players can see their starship in action in 12 full-color paintings in the back of the book.

The SSDS is perhaps the most amazing feature of the book. Unlike some supplements to other games, Starships is not merely a 107-page catalog of common hardware, it puts the the referee in charge of what ships can be specifically made and what rules are involved In the light of the core book and the aid of the full published version of the rules at http://traveller.mu.org/archive/T4/ssds.pdf, it is possible to design efficient, inexpensive ships for any mission or purpose in a campaign setting.

The presence of multilevel yachts presents interesting problems for this book, since it is not possible to show deck plans for a vast pleasure craft such as the 15-level Luxury liner (26) or the 7 level large armed freighter (52). Most small craft and medium non-military sized ships are given plan views of every floor, but this was not done with these ships, nor, apparently, could it be done without expanding the size of the supplement unreasonably.

Since the SSDS is so pivotal to the success or failure of this book, it must be reviewed in turn by itself.

In comparing the SSDS to other ship design systems (Like CT, MT FF&Sv2), it can be seen that it is quite unique in some aspect. The most unique feature of the system is calculating the hull volume and surface area, and internal structure values. These are basic steps, but they are integral to the final stages of the design. Unlike GURPS, CT and its relatives and Fire Fusion and Steel v2, determining volume and surface area is determined by two basic values: volume and maneuver speed in G’s. Internal structure is also a concept that was confusing to me.

Internal structure is handled in many cases like that of a planetoid hull where a certain portion of the volume must be left empty for the sake of structural integrity and streamlining modifications. After internal structure is determined, the design process becomes markedly less difficult and counterintuitive. Fans of other ship creation methods will be familiar with such things as maneuver drives, weapons, defenses, artificial gravity, fuel scoops and so on. Not all of the design sequence is easy, however, because in the published version, there is no way to find Fuel factor or the method of denoting weapon capabilitities on the Universal Ship Profile. The inability to denote weapon capability on the T4 USP is frustrating because at first, battery notations seem to be the same as in MegaTraveller, but are in fact a combination of the number of batteries of a weapon, a weapon identifier and a USP combat statistics (106 in the core book). This seems simple enough, but we have to go back to the Quick Ship Design System in the core book to find this information and, even then, battery information is given for Laser batteries only. Missile stats are listed on page 108 with sandcasters just preceding it. This is frustrating because effective description is just as vital to the gaming session as was the design of the actual ship. When in doubt, select one of the premade examples throughout the book.

To sum up, T4 Starhips is a fitting supplement to the Traveller 4 core book. Its collection of 44 predesigned starships, slowboats and fighters can be enough to satisfy the needs of any SF role-playing game and even more for campaigns set in the Milieu of Traveller 4. The information about the Imperial calendar is misplaced and its space could have been saved by the missing elements of the design sequence (i.e. A better section creating the USP, fuel control rating or a more well-written explanation of why the volume of a hull is not always the same as the internal structure of that same hull. Apart from those stark errors, the book is well-worth its original cover price of $20, simply because of the creativity of the designs themselves. The supplement concludes with advertisements and coupons for "JTAS" and "Citizens of the Imperium Magazine" - but these are really unusable, as to cut out and use the coupons, one must cut out vital data, including some or all of the Control Rating, Fire control, and USP Conversion tables.

The best advice I can give is for referees and possibly players is to know the Quick Ship Design System front wards and backwards and cross reference its information with the Standard System found in this book and online at http://traveller.mu.org/archive/T4/ssds.pdf. Chapters 8-10 of this book, however, are nevertheless quite helpful in understanding the SSDS method and how to list USP information.