Building Starships as a Traveller Career
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2023 issue.
The various rules of Traveller have a wealth of detail on various different types of starship, plus details on how to design and build starships, how much it will cost and how long the starships will take to build.
However, one area I have found little or no information on, is building starships as a Traveller career. The Traveller wiki (self-titled as the Traveller Imperial Encyclopaedia) defines Naval Architecture as “… the skill and art of designing starships, spaceships and space structures such as space stations, space habitats, and sophont-made artificial satellites.” It also states “The sophont who performs naval architecture is known as a Naval Architect.”
It goes on to say “Naval architecture provides a diverse background and exposure to specific skills such as engineering, mechanics, electronics, and material engineering. They also can provide an understanding of designs that are both functional, beautiful and/or practical. Naval Architects possess the ability to analyse and interpret technical drawings and designs and evaluate craft for performance and efficiency.”
Mention is also made of a professional society, the Travellers’ Naval Architecture Society (TNAS). This is defined as “a multi-species, multi-empire, supranational organization that helps to set standards for the construction of spacegoing (NAFAL) and starhopping (FTL) vessels. It is a professional organization common throughout Charted Space. Most shipwrights maintain a membership. It is similar in many ways to the Starport Authority or SPA and the two organizations are known to cooperate.”
However, no mention is made of the entry requirements, skills and skill levels required to be a member of the TNAS. This article is aimed at filling this gap for any Traveller player or referee who wants to play characters or run non-player characters who are involved in the design and building of the star ships that play such an important role in Traveller.
Naval Architects and Naval Engineers
Same Industry, Different Responsibilities.
As mentioned above, Naval Architecture is defined as “… the skill and art of designing star ships, spaceships and space structures such as space stations, space habitats, and sophont-made artificial satellites.”
However, designing something is not the same as building it. The actual building of any vehicle is usually defined as a branch of engineering. An analogy can be made with the construction industry, where an architect will design the building, and perhaps even supervise the building process. However, the actual building process is led by one or more civil engineers.
In the same way, building a starship requires both Naval Architects and Naval Engineers, the former to design and the latter to actually build the starship (and later to repair them when required). The rules presented here treat the Naval Architect and Naval Engineer as different assignments within the Starship building career.
Which One Do I Need When?
If you are designing a starship from scratch then a Naval Architect is required. Once the design is complete the Naval Architect will need to work alongside the shipyard’s Naval Engineers to explain the new design and to see it is being built to his/her design.
However, if the starship being built is one of the standard designs, as defined in the various Traveller rule books, the services of a Naval Architect are not required. Instead, a Naval Engineer employed by the relevant shipyard can just buy the required starship plans “off the shelf”.
The Starship Building Career
This career is compatible with the Mongoose Traveller First Edition rules. Referees should not find it difficult to convert to other editions of Traveller.
The career has three assignments. Two have already been mentioned the Naval Architect and Naval Engineer. The third assignment is Support. This represents all those sophonts working in the Starship Building industry as support staff. These include buyers, IT specialists, lawyers, finance and other office or shipyard staff.
|Career Entry||INT 6+|
|DM –1||Age 34+|
|DM –1||Each Prior Career|
|(Naval Engineer) DM +1||Any Previous Career Any Of
|(Naval Engineer) DM +2||Any Previous Career
Spaceraft Classification Society (Survey)*
|(Naval Architect) DM +1||Any Previous Career
Spacecraft Classification Society (Survey)*
|(Support) DM +1||Any Previous Career
All DMs cumulative
Because the skills needed for the various assignments within the Starship Building career differ so much, player characters in this career gain level 0 skills from the appropriate specialist skills table instead of the service skills table in basic training.
|Naval Architect||INT 5+||INT 6+|
|Naval Engineer||INT 6+||EDU 6+|
|Support||SOC 6+||INT 6+|
|Skills and Training|
|Service Skills||Advanced Education
(EDU 8+ Only)
|1||+1 INT||Engineer (Any)||Naval Architecture|
|2||+1 EDU||Pilot (Small Craft)||Astrogation|
|3||+1 SOC||Physical Science (Any)||Engineer (Any)|
|4||+1 DEX||Sensors||Pilot (Any)|
|5||Carouse||Vacc Suit||(Any) Science (Any)|
|1||Naval Architecture||Engineer (Any)||Admin|
|2||(Any) Science (Any)||Mechanic||Advocate|
|3||Computers||Physical Science (Any)||Broker|
|4||Engineer (Any)||Remote Operations||Computer|
|5||Persuade||Pilot (Any)||Language (Any)|
|6||Naval Architecture||Engineer (Any)||Social Science (Any)|
|Ranks and Benefits|
|Rank||Title||Skill or Benefit|
|1||Trainee||Vacc Suit 1|
|2||Technician||Naval Architecture 1|
|4||Architect||Engineer (Any) 1|
|5||Team Leader||Leadership 1|
|6||Chief Architect||+1 SOC|
|1||Senior Apprentice||Engineer (Any) 1|
|2||Junior Engineer||Vacc Suit 1|
|4||Senior Engineer||Leadership 1|
|5||Supervising Engineer||Diplomat 1|
|6||Chief Engineer||+1 SOC|
|4||Team Leader||Leadership 1|
|5||Department Head||Diplomat 1 or Language (Any) 1|
|1||1,000||Two ship shares|
|6||50,000||Three ship shares|
|7||100,000||Four ship shares|
|DM +1 on Cash column if Gambler 1+
DM +1 on Other Benefits column if rank 5 or 6
|2||A starship you helped design or build suffers a major deadly accident, blamed on you or your team. Loss 1D3 benefit rolls due to legal costs and gain 1D6 Enemies from among the survivors of the accident and the families and friends of those who did not survive.|
|3||Building and designing starships frequently requires time spent on orbital or ground based shipyards. These are dangerous places. Roll on the injury table.|
|4||You are accused of accepting bribes from a rival shipyard or naval architect’s practice. If you were accepting bribes gain 1D6+1 thousand credits but you have to leave this career. If you were not accepting bribes roll 8+ on Advocate or Persuade skill to stay in this career.|
|5||You have an affair with the partner of a co-worker and are found in bed together by the co-worker. Roll 8+ on either Athletics (Acrobatics) or Melee (Unarmed Combat) to avoid a roll on the injury table. Either way gain an Enemy (your former co-worker) and an Ally (their now ex-partner).|
|6||A friendly takeover by a larger company costs you your job. However you gain an extra benefit role, and a Contact within your old company.|
|7||A downturn in the starship building industry leads to you being made redundant. Loss one social standing.|
|8||Your boss thinks you are after his/her job, and wrecks your career. Gain a Rival.|
|9||Your company suffers from a very unfriendly takeover. Roll 8+ on Stealth, Melee Combat (Any), or Gun Combat (Any) to avoid a roll on the injury table.|
|10||The armed merchant ship you helped design or build for use in frontier space turns out to be a pirate ship. Lose the benefit roll for this term in legal costs to prove your innocence. Gain an Enemy in the local Navy who does not believe you were ignorant of the ship’s real purpose.|
|11||While working on an orbital shipyard, or on a ship’s shakedown cruise, it is attacked by pirates or raiders and you are kidnapped. By the time you are released your job has gone. Alternatively you can join the Rogue (Pirate) career without making a qualification roll.|
|12||You find out your company is involved in illegal activities. Co-operate with the official inquiry and you keep the benefit roll from this term but gain your old boss as an Enemy. Refuse to co-operate and you loss the benefit roll for this term but gain your old boss as an Ally.|
|11||Disaster! Roll on the Mishaps table but you are not ejected from this career.|
|12||A dispute with a client or supplier goes to court. Gain one of Advocate 1, Admin 1, Investigate 1, or Streetwise 1.|
|13||You are assigned a trainee to mentor. If you cover for her/his mistakes roll Naval Architecture or engineer (Any) 8+. Succeed and the trainee becomes competent, gain him/her as an Ally. If you do not cover for them or fail the roll, they are fired. Gain her/him as an Enemy.|
|14||You spend time on the orbital section of a shipyard. Roll INT 8+ to gain a level in: Vacc Suit, Zero-G Manoeuvre, Sensors, Remote Operations or Pilot (Small Craft).|
|15||You spend time travelling the planet to visit customers and potential customers. Gain one of Drive (Any) 1, Flyer (Any) 1, or Seafarer (Any) 1.|
|16||Life event. Roll on the life events table.|
|21||You help design, build or test a ship for the local planetary or subsector Navy. While working with them you could learn a few things. Roll INT 8+ to gain a level in any one of Pilot (Any), Engineer (Any), Mechanic, Gunnery (Any), or Gun Combat (Any). Alternatively gain a Navy Contact.|
|22||You are involved in a labour dispute, either as a Manager (if rank 4 or more), or as a union representative (if rank 3 or less). Gain a level in any one of Broker, Diplomat, or Persuade. Then roll 9+ on the newly gained skill. If successful, +2DM on your next advancement roll for resolving the dispute. If unsuccessful -2DM on your next advancement roll for failing to resolve the labour dispute.|
|23||While working on an orbital shipyard an accident occurs nearby and you must decide if you come to the rescue. If you attempt a rescue roll 8+ on any of Medic, Vacc Suit, or Zero-G Manoeuvre. If successful you gain an Ally among those rescued. If you fail the roll, then roll on the injury table. If you fail to make a rescue attempt, gain an Enemy from those hurt in the accident or one of their friends.|
|24||You help police investigate a suspected case of sabotage at your shipyard or one you frequently work with. Roll INT 8+ to gain a level in one of Investigate, Stealth, Streetwise, Recon, or Computers. Alternatively gain a Contact on the force.|
|25||You spend a lot of time in space travelling to visit clients in other star systems. Roll EDU 8+ to gain a level in any one of Astrogation, Comms, Language (Any), Mechanic, or Sensors.|
|26||Life event. Roll on the life events table.|
|31||You help design, build or test a large ship for a major shipping line. While working with them you could learn a few things. Roll INT 8+to gain a level in one of Broker, Comms, Mechanic, Steward, Sensors, or Pilot (Spacecraft or Capital Ship). Or gain a Contact in the Shipping line.|
|32||Your boss makes stupid mistakes that cost the company money. If you follow her/his wrong decisions suffer -2 on your next advancement roll, but gain her/him as an Ally. Turn her/him into senior management gains you +2 on your next advancement roll. But you also get your unemployed ex-boss as an Enemy.|
|33||You are asked to organise the launch celebrations of a newly-completed ship. Gain a level in any one of Carouse, Diplomat, Persuade, or Steward.|
|34||You impress your boss and are given advanced training. Gain a level in the advanced education skill of your choice, even if you do not have the EDU 8+ required.|
|35||You are romantically involved with one of your co-workers. Gain an Ally. Then roll 8+ on Deception or Stealth skill to cover things up at work. If you fail suffer a -2DM on your next advancement roll.|
|36||Life event. Roll on the life events table.|
|41||You help design, build or test a yacht for a wealthy noble. While working with her/him, you could learn a few things. Roll SOC 8+ to gain a level in one of Admin, Advocate, Comms, Diplomat, or Steward. Alternatively gain a wealthy noble as a Contact.|
|42||You work on the shakedown trials of a ship you helped design or build. Gain a level in one of Astrogation, Pilot (Any), Comms, Mechanic, Sensors, or Vacc Suit.|
|43||There are lots of vacancies where you are working. You can if you wish transfer to another assignment within this career without having to make a qualification roll.|
|44||You are working on a new ship in orbit when it is attacked by pirates or raiders. Roll 8+ on one of Vacc Suit, Stealth, or Zero-G Manoeuvre skill, or DEX 10+. If you fail roll on the injury table. If you succeed increase the skill or characteristic you used by one.|
|45||One of your major customers likes to gamble. Gain a level in one of Gamble, Deception or Streetwise. Then roll 8+ on the newly acquired skill. If you succeed get +1 on one cash benefit roll, but -2 on your next survival roll, as you win money off the customer. If you fail, get -1 on one cash benefit roll, but +2 on your next advancement roll, as the major customer wins money off you.|
|46||Life event. Roll on the life events table.|
|51||You help design, build or test a ship for the Scout Service. While working with them you could learn a few things. Roll EDU 8+ to gain a level in one of (Any) Science (Any), Comms, Sensors, Navigation, or Ssurvival. Alternatively gain a Scout as a Contact.|
|52||You are employed on the sales side of the business, meeting and entertaining customers and potential customers. Gain a level in any one of Broker, Carouse, Persuade, or Steward.|
|53||You are given advanced training. Increase any one skill you already have by one level.|
|54||A corporate merger threatens your job. Roll 8+ on either Naval Architect or Engineer (Any). If you succeed you keep your job but gain a Rival. If you fail you cannot advance this term and suffer -2DM on your next survival roll.|
|55||You work for an alien client. Gain a level in the alien language in question. Then roll 8+ on the new language skill. If you succeed gain the alien as a Contact and +2DM on your next advancement roll. If you fail gain the alien as a Rival and -2 DM on your next advancement roll.|
|56||Life event. Roll on the life events table.|
|61||You help build design or test a ship for a mercenary company, the Imperial Army, or the Imperial Marines. While working with them you could learn a few things. Roll DEX 8+ to gain a level in any one of Battledress, Gun Combat (Any), Gunnery (Any), Heavy Weapons (Any), or Drive (Any). Or gain an officer level Contact in the Army/Marines/mercenary company.|
|62||The Free Trader you are designing or building a new merchant ship for turns out to be a smuggler. He/she asks you to add a few smuggling compartments to their new ship. If you accept roll 10+ on either Naval Architecture or a ship related Engineering skill. If you succeed gain 1d3 extra benefit rolls, from the grateful smuggler, who also becomes a Contact. If you fail the roll, your crime is discovered; lose the benefit role for this term and roll 8+ on Advocate or Persuade to avoid being fired. If you refuse the smugglers’ request, gain him/her as an Enemy, and +2 DM on your next advancement roll.|
|63||While taking part on the shakedown cruise of a ship you helped design or build. You work closely with one or more Spacecraft Classification Society Surveyors hired by the buyer of the ship. While working with them you could learn a few things. Roll EDU 8+ to gain a level in one of Astrogation, Comms, Engineer (Any), Mechanic, or Sensors. Alternatively gain a Spacecraft Classification Society Surveyor as a Contact.|
|64||You help design or build a hospital/research ship for a University, large corporation, or a planetary government or Imperial research organisation. While working with them you could learn a few things. Roll EDU 8+ to gain a level in any one of (Any) Science (Any), Computers, Investigate, or Medic. Or gain a scholar as a Contact.|
|65||You are rewarded for you hard work or ability to get on with customers and colleagues. Gain a +2DM on your next advancement roll.|
|66||Customers, co-workers and senior management are all impressed with your work. You are automatically promoted.|
This career qualifies for retirement pay. A portion of medical bills are also paid as for the citizen/merchant class. See page 37 of Mongoose Traveller first edition rule book.
A Note On Ship Shares
Because the sophonts in this career are working for companies that either build or design spacecraft, ship shares from this career can be used towards any of Far Traders, Free Traders, Fat Traders, Lab Ships, seeker mining ships, or yachts.
Is My Character a Naval Architect/Engineer?
Just working for a few terms in this career does not automatically make a character a qualified Naval Architect or Naval Engineer. The Travellers’ Naval Architecture Society (TNAS) has three levels of qualification for each title, depending on whether you are designing or building spacecraft, sub-capital starships, or capital starships.
Naval Architect/Engineer (Spacecraft): These titles cover small craft and sub-capital hulls that are not equipped with an interstellar-capability drive (Jump or otherwise, depending on the universe).
Naval Architect (Spacecraft): The character must have Naval Architecture 1, plus at least two of Engineer (life support) 1, Engineer (m-drives) 1, or Engineer (power plant) 1.
Naval Engineer (Spacecraft): The character must have all of Engineer (life support) 1, Engineer (m-drives) 1, and Engineer (power plant) 1.
Naval Architect/Engineer (Sub-Capital Starship): These titles cover sub-capital hulls (defined as 5,000dtons or below) that are equipped with an interstellar-capability drive
Naval Architect (Sub-Capital Starship): The character must have Naval Architecture 2, plus at least three of Engineer (life support) 1, Engineer (jump drives) 1, Engineer (m-drives) 1, or Engineer (power plant) 1.
Naval Engineer (Sub-Capital Starship): The character must have all of Engineer (life support) 1, Engineer (jump drives) 1, Engineer (m-drives) 1, and Engineer (power plant) 1, plus a total of not less than six skill points in Engineering (any).
If a character lacks any of the skills, or has fewer than six points in them, the character can only operate as part of a team where all the skills and levels required are covered.
Naval Architect/Engineer (Starship): This title covers all hulls, including capital starships (defined as over 5,000 dtons) that are equipped with an interstellar-capability drive.
Naval Architect (Starship): The character must have Naval Architecture 3, plus at least four of Computer 1, Engineer (life support) 1, Engineer (jump drives) 1, Engineer (m-drives) 1, or Engineer (power plant) 1.
Naval Engineer (Starship): The character must have all of Engineer (life support) 2, Engineer (jump drives) 2, Engineer (m-drives) 2, and Engineer (power plant) 1.
For the construction of capital ships, both Naval Architects and Engineers, even if qualified for capital-sized hulls, will normally be leading teams of Architects and/or Engineers, to design or build or repair such large craft.
The Naval Architect’s/Engineer’s Income
Because of the high levels of education and skill required to become Naval Architects and Naval Engineers, both assignments are relatively well paid. Assume that a three-term character in this career in the Naval Engineering assignment would normally be paid a salary of Cr4,000per month and one in the Naval Architect assignment would receive a salary of Cr5,000 per month.
To reflect their professional qualifications, Naval Architects and Naval Engineers (Spacecraft) will be paid an additional Cr500 per month. At the next level of qualification, Naval Architects and Naval Engineers (Sub-Capital Starships) will be paid Cr1,500 more per month, and the top qualification, for all starships including capital, they will be paid Cr2,500 per month more, or Cr7,500 per month for a Naval Architect (Starships), and Cr6,500 per month for a Naval Engineer (Starships).
These figures are averages designed to help referees calculate the labour costs for the design, building and repair of different types of ships.
Naval Architect/Engineer Encounters
Unless the player-characters are very rich and can afford to pay for the design and building of a new spacecraft (per the Core Rulebook, the cost of designing a new starship is 1% of the total cost of construction) they are unlikely to encounter a Naval Architect. Naval Architects are mostly to be found in or near starports that engage in ship construction, usually in star systems that have a large enough population and a high enough technology level to be able to draw clients wanting new star ship designs, rather than relying entirely on tried and tested standard ship designs.
The Naval Architect is a possible patron, however. The players may be employed on shakedown cruises of new spacecraft designs. These will last longer than the shakedown cruises of ships built to a standard design, possibly as long as three to six months. Of course, to be considered for such employment the players will need appropriate skills, such as Astrogation, Engineering (any), Pilot (any) or Mechanic. These skills will need to be at least level one.
The players will have the difficult task of convincing the Naval Architect to employ them, rather than skilled local staff, or crews supplied by the buyer of the spacecraft. Good skill levels in Diplomacy or Persuade will be useful here.
Because Naval Engineers are employed to both build and repair spacecraft the players are much likely to encounter them than Naval Architects, in particular when (a) repairs are needed to ships gained in character creation, or (b) repairs are needed to ships damaged during adventures. The same skill set relevant to a Naval Architect as a patron would be relevant to a Naval Engineer as a patron, though the Naval Engineer will likely want a greater emphasis on Engineering (any) skills.
The Player-Character Naval Architect/Engineer
The player-character who is a qualified Naval Architect or Naval Engineer may be lucky enough to be approached by someone to design or build a spacecraft. This can be lucrative—remember, the Architect’s fee is 1% of the final cost of the constructed spacecraft—but that 1% isn’t the entire story. The Naval Architect of record will actually have to split that 1% with the rest of the Naval Architecture team, and probably with the Naval Engineering team as well, with the construction costs going to materials and labor. It is the responsibility of the qualified Architect or Engineer to solve problems and source parts and materials. The costs incurred by the Architect or Engineer are paid out of the 1% fee, and may leave the Architect/Engineer with only about Cr10,000-15,000 per month over the life of the construction.
Older Ships, and Repairs
As part of the Mongoose Traveller first edition rules, players can gain extra ship shares by buying an older ship (See page 136 of the first edition Traveller Core Rulebook. The second edition rules directly reduce the purchase price instead). However, these older ships will have quirks that the characters may want to (or need to!) repair before actually being able to use the ship. If you want to ‘game out’ the purchase and negotiation, it may be appropriate to hire a Naval Engineer (or team) to inspect the ship and prepare a report that the shipyard can use to quote them a price for repairing the wear and tear (or more severe damage). (The purchasing player(s) still roll on the standard tables to actually define the damage.) The quirks especially likely to need repair include damage to structure, damaged sensors, damaged thrusters, and leaky reactor core. Once the Naval Engineer has prepared the report, a Shipbuilding Career support staff sophont with good broker skills will use the report to calculate the actual costs.
Because of the time involved and skills required, even an estimate of repair costs will not be prepared free of charge. Assume a cost of Cr1,100-1,600 per 100 dtons of any sub-capital starship, spacecraft, or small craft inspected. (i.e., Cr1,000 + 1D6×Cr100). If one of the problems is a leaky reactor core, the cost is tripled due to the need for protective clothing (rad suits, hostile-environment vacc suits, etc.), special equipment, possible need to destroy/abandon unusably contaminated equipment, and possible need to send personnel for antiradiation medical treatment.
Most general repairs can be handled at class C or better starport shipyards, but leaky reactors can only be handled at class A or B yards, and servicing the interstellar drive can only be handled at class A yards.
For capital ships, a team of 1d6 engineers will be needed and costs will be 50% higher than for sub-capital craft. For larger capital ships, although smaller class C starports’ shipyards will be able to prepare an estimate for repair costs, actual repairs will likely require the services of the shipyard attached to a class A or class B starport.
The actual costs of such repairs due to the age of a ship created in character creation are up to the referee. If they are beyond the resources of the party of player characters, there is always the useful option of a Patron who will bankroll the repairs in return for the player characters agreeing to perform a mission or series of missions for the patron.
Similarly the costs of repairing damage inflicted on a ship while being operated by the player characters is up to the referee. If the damage was incurred while working for a patron, and the mission was successfully completed, the patron may pay for some or all of the repairs. However in many situations it will be the player characters left to pay the repair costs.
Getting the repairs done should not cause the player characters any problems other than finding the funds, as long as they have good explanations for how the damage was incurred. Otherwise the Shipyard staff may ask awkward questions such as. “So you say the damage was caused by a pirate attack. You want to explain why the unexploded missile we found lodged in the cargo bay is marked property of the Imperial Navy 213th Fleet?”.