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Buying Used Starships

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2021 issue.

Author’s Note: The topic of buying used starships came up during a Traveller Facebook group discussion, and it got me thinking about what sort of trade-offs one might make if one picked up a slightly used ship. The result was this article.

Most merchant or “Adventurer” class ships are financed over a 40 year period. It might be possible to pick up a second-hand ship part way through this payment cycle and continue on with the payments, or the ship may have been seized for debts or other mischief and been condemned by an Admiralty or Prize Court. In that case, the price of the ship may be lower, but the risk of malfunction may be higher, particularly if money had been tight and annual maintenance had been skimped or skipped.

Given a reasonably regular maintenance programme, there is no reason why a ship might not continue in service for well over a century. Like Grandad’s axe, we might replace the head a couple of times, and replace the handle a couple of times, but it would still be a good axe. The most likely case for scrapping a ship is if its hull was no longer capable of withstanding the stresses of atmospheric re-entry. And even then, in backwater systems, it might be possible to find semi-gutted merchant starships relegated to insystem haulage duties – dragging supplies and raw materials from gravity well to gravity well, only semi-pressurized and partially flare shielded.

Ships for sale at A and B Class Starports are more likely to have current registrations and be up to date with their maintenance. Though, if one is looking for bargains, and considers maintenance regulations more of a guide line, then it is still possible to pick up an inexpensive junker. In all cases, the ancient concept of caveat emptor – buyer beware – still holds sway.

Determining the Ship’s Age

Determining the Ship’s Age helps determine the Ship’s Base Price. Base Price = Ship’s New Price – 1% per year of Age to Age 50 and then 0.5% per year thereafter (so a 50-year-old ship’s Base Price will be 50% of the same model’s New Price, while a 70-year-old ship’s Base Price will be 50% – (20 years×0.5 = 10) or 40% of New Price).

(Editor’s note: The article as printed in the PDF magazine had a table for determining the age by rolling dice. The web version of the article could not be formatted well with the table included. The procedure below provides the same results with the same probabilities as rolling on the table.)

To determine the ship’s age, roll 2D6–2 (zero is a permitted modified roll). Multiply by 10, then roll 2D6 again and add to the result. Example: Roll of 2D6 for a result of 4, 4–2=2, 2×10=20, roll 2d6 again for a result of 8, 20+8=28 - the ship is 28 years old.

Determining the Ship’s Condition

Condition of the Ship
2d6 Condition of the Ship
2 - 3 The ship is 3d6 years behind in its annual maintenance. Reduce Base Price by 1% per year behind and add three extra rolls on the Quirks and Foibles Table.
4 – 5 The ship is 2d6 years behind in its annual maintenance. Reduce Base Price by 1% per year behind and add two extra rolls on the Quirks and Foibles Table.
6 – 7 The ship 1d6 years behind in its annual maintenance. Reduce Base Price by 1% per year behind and add one extra roll on the Quirks and Foibles Table.
8 –12 The maintenance logs are up to date. No modifier to Base Price.
DMs (all optional)
+1 Each level of Streetwise, to find a ship in better condition
-1 Each level of Streetwise, to find a less-expensive ship
-1 Per year of missed maintenance per level of Engineering if a successful Engineering roll is made. This represents choosing to do some of the basic (doable with a standard toolkit) missed maintenance.
+1 If the ship is being sold at a Class B starport
+2 If the ship is being sold at a Class A starport

Any ship behind in its maintenance will have to undergo immediate servicing before it will be permitted to carry freight, cargo or passengers. The annual maintenance cost is increased by 1% per year the ship is behind in maintenance.

Quirks and Foibles

Ships are complex machines and tend to develop little eccentricities during the course of their working lives. These quirks are often hard to diagnose and locate, but rarely compromise safety. Roll d66 once on the Quirks and Foibles table for every ten years, or part thereof, of age of the Ship.

D66 Quirk or Foible
11 Power Plant always displays a voltage drop just before Jump and dims all the lights throughout the ship. A service engineer will mutter something about “darn Vilani distribution busses”.
12 Manoeuvre Drive becomes sluggish in non-standard gravity fields. Manoeuvring within 10 Diameters of a planet of Size 7 or less or Size 9 or larger becomes one level of Difficulty greater.
13 Jump Initiator lags. When the Jump Drive is engaged, there is a 2d6 second delay before the Initiator engages and the ship Jumps.
14 The Engineering deck is always five to ten degrees warmer than the rest of the ship and the hottest part of the Engineering deck is around the Power Plant.
15 Under low power, the port (or starboard) Manoeuvre Drive Impulse module vibrates. These vibrations reverberate through the deckplates along the affected side of the ship.
16 No matter how the Jump Drive is tuned, it always seems to use 2% more fuel than expected per Jump. At some stage, a cross tank pump was installed that makes up the deficit by siphoning fuel from the Power Plant supply. This reduces standard Power Plant endurance from 28 to 20 days.
21 The Library Computer is buggy. On 8+ it will have partially scrambled the particular entry a user wishes to consult. Sometimes, this data is recoverable on a subsequent search, or if the character has Computer Skill.
22 The Navigation Computer is buggy. If the Navigator fails a Navigation roll, on 1d6 the computer:
1 – 2 suddenly reboots
3 – 4 throws an error requiring a successful Computer Skill roll to clear
5 – 6 destroys any Jump ‘tape’ that is connected, or starts seeking madly for a ‘tape’ if none connected.
23 The Gunnery Computer is prone to lock up. All Gunner Interact and Targeting programmes will crash if they have been used together for more than 1d6 combat turns. Turrets will still function under local control.
24 The Life Support Computer frequently flags errors. On 7+ on 2d6, these are false errors, otherwise they are actual errors. On 1d6:
1 – 2 Carbon dioxide levels in crew quarters are dangerously high
3 – 4 humidity controls default to Bwap-comfort levels
5 – 6 Oxygen levels begin to drop to planetary Thin Atmosphere classification.
25 The Ship’s Artificial Gravity will start to fluctuate. It will cycle either up or down from Standard Gravity, one Planetary Size Band per 1d6 minutes over the course of 1d6 hours before resetting to Standard Gravity. The effect can be ship-wide or localised.
26 The Galley Entertainment module will spazz for 1d6 minutes every 1d6 hours. During this time, the tri-D viewer will play random files from all directories, the lighting module will fluctuate, and the audio module will cycle through random audio files while the volume fluctuates wildly.
31 One stateroom is always five to ten degrees colder than the rest of the ship.
32 When anyone uses the fresher, the smell of wet locker room permeates the crew area.
33 Atmospheric Humidity fluctuates. As more systems come on line, the humidity increases until it reaches Bwap-comfort level. As systems go off line, humidity levels decrease until they reach Deep Desert levels. All plant life brought aboard the ship will die within 1d6 weeks.
35 The lights in the common areas fluctuate from pitch black to complete white out over a period of 1d6 minutes. This light fluctuation will be triggered by 1d6:
1 – 2 preparations for jump
3 – 4 enforced system idle time during Jump
5 – 6 system idle time when the ship is in port.
36 The ship’s water supply will become brackish after 1d6 weeks. While not harmful, it will taste unpleasant and be hard on skin and hair. Replacing filters and flushing the system will alleviate the problem for 1d6 weeks, when it will occur again.
41 A cabin door will jam half open, or half closed, every 1d6 days.
42 Cooking odours from the Galley will permeate the ship for 1d6 hours after any cooking has finished.
43 One iris valve sticks. It takes 1d6 seconds longer to fully close or fully open.
44 All clothing washed in one of the Galley’s washer units will come out stained slightly pink.
45 One cabin always smells slightly of wet fur.
46 There is a stain on the deck carpet in the Galley. There does not seem to be a carpet cleaner in Known Space that can remove it.
51 One landing jack always leaks fluid from a pinhole in a line up in the gear well.
52 The rear cargo ramp is prone to jamming. During extension or retraction, on an 8+ the power drive will jam. It will take 1d6 hours to clear the jam.
53 One of the main Ship’s Riding Lights will fail every 1d6 Jumps. If the ship is operating within the Traffic Control Zone of a Class C+ Starport, it will be fined Cr5,000 for the violation and written up. All future visits to that port will attract additional official interest.
54 During Jump, an unpleasant odor permeates the cargo hold, contaminating anything stored within. For certain cargoes, this will make them unsaleable.
55 The Ship’s sensor array will jam in the deployed position during landing or docking approach every 1d6 port calls. This will delay landing or docking 1d6 hours until the array can be retracted. A successful Engineering roll will reduce the time required by half.
56 The main airlock control is sticky. Every time the lock is cycled, on a 2d6 roll of 8+ it will jam. It will take a successful Engineering, Computer or Electronics roll to clear the jam and allow the lock to cycle.
61 One turret is always 1 -2 degrees off target when under Computer assisted fire control.
62 The truck in the missile/sand hoist for one turret squeaks when in use. This intensely irritating squeak can be heard through all surrounding compartments.
63 One turret will always lock-up on traverse if under Computer assisted fire control. It will respond perfectly under manual fire control.
64 The Gunnery Station for one turret always smells slightly of vomit.
65 Power supply for one turret fluctuates. After 1d6 combat rounds, roll 1d6:
1 – 2 Power drop, lasers cease to function and missile racks fail to reload
3 – 4 Power surge, lasers fire at double effect and then burn out, requiring an Engineering and Gunnery roll to repair, missile racks cook off, firing their missiles in random directions
5 – 6 Turret goes offline. A successful Computer or Engineering roll will bring the turret back on line.
66 The Manual Fire Controls for one turret are prone to short out. After 1d6 Combat Rounds on Manual Fire Control roll 1d6:
1 – 2 Manual Controls short out, turret off-line for 1d6 hours, reduced to 1d6 minutes on a successful Electronics roll;
3 – 4 Manual Controls short out, turret off-line for 1d6 days, reduced to 1d6 hours with successful Electronics and Engineering rolls, turret operator takes 1d6 damage from flashover
5 – 6 Manual controls short out, fire at Gunner’s station, operator takes 2d6 damage and turret off-line until serviced at a Class C+ starport.

An older, second-hand starship may be an economical way for a party of Adventurers to get into space, but older ships should also have character.