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Classification Societies in Traveller

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2020 issue.

Author’s Note: This article began as a posting to the Citizens of the Imperium website earlier this year. I would like to thank all those who commented on the article at the time. It has been re-worked as a series of two to three longer articles at the generous invitation of the editor.


My last pre-coronavirus-lockdown employment was working for Lloyd’s Register (LR), formerly Lloyd’s Register of Shipping. Lloyd’s Register is not part of Lloyd’s Insurance anymore. The opinions stated in this article are my own, and have no connection with or approval by Lloyd’s Register.

Wikipedia describes LR as “a technical and business services organisation and a maritime classification society.” Wikipedia goes on to describe a maritime classification society as “a non-governmental organization that establishes and maintains technical standards for the construction and operation of ships and offshore structures.” The American one is called the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS).

‘What has this to do with Traveller?’ you ask. Well, if a tech level 7 to 8 planet like Earth in the early 21st century has marine classification societies, then a high-tech space-going empire like the Third Imperium will certainly have the equivalent to a marine classification society to establish and maintain technical standards for space craft of all types.

Here are a few thoughts on how I think such an organisation could work in Traveller, based on many years of playing and refereeing. This article will cover (1) what spacecraft classification societies (SCS) do and where they can be found, (2) the circumstances in which a group of Traveller player-characters would come across them, and (3) a few notes on Space craft classification society employees as both player-characters and non-player characters.

The Role of the SCS

The first part of the SCS’s job is to establish and maintain the technical standards for the construction and operation of spacecraft and possibly permanent orbital space stations and starport high ports.

SCSes, inside or outside the Third Imperium, would not set the standards by themselves. They would be working with the major shipyards such as General Products LIC and Ling Standard Products, major interstellar shipping companies such as Tukera Lines LIC and Delgado Trading LIC, the various polities’ Spaceports Authority (SPA) and the Travellers’ Naval Architecture Society (TNAS).

Other players have suggested to me that the TNAS in conjunction with the SPA would set and enforce the standards for space craft. This certainly is what the MegaTraveller Imperial Encyclopaedia implies. “The Travellers’ Naval Architecture Society (TNAS) is a multi-species, multi-empire, supranational organization that helps to set standards for the construction of space going (NAFAL) and star hopping (FTL) vessels. “

In my Traveller universe this seems unlikely for the following reasons: (1) Without at least consultation on the subject, shipyards and shipping companies would object to the construction and operating standards being forced on them. (2) Although Naval Architects design spacecraft, they might not always realise how shipping companies actually operate the ships. There is thus always the risk of standards either being “gold-plated” and increasing ship operating costs too much, or failing to take into account how much wear and tear a space craft can undergo in a year and endangering crews, passengers and cargo by being too lax. (3) In border sectors where ships from mutually-hostile polities may operate (like the Spinward Marches and the Trojan Reaches), standards set even in part by the Imperial Spaceport Authority, but without input from those other polities, are probably not going to be acceptable to non-Imperial polities. However, Imperial allied entities such as the Darrians may accept Imperial set standards and certifications. It will depend on how you run your Traveller campaign.

In my Traveller universe the TNAS is just one of the groups helping to set standards for space craft design, building and operation. However, TNAS is influential because as a professional body it decides the qualifications and experience required before someone can call themselves a naval architect.

The second part of a SCS’s job is the regular inspection of spacecraft to ensure they meet the necessary construction and operation standards agreed for that type of spacecraft. This work is carried out by qualified naval architects or spacecraft engineers, usually called spacecraft surveyors or inspectors.

Such inspections would be the final part of the ship’s annual or on occasion monthly maintenance costs. The ship yard would do the actual maintenance, then a surveyor employed by the classification society would check the maintenance and confirm to the owner or operator that it has been correctly done. Owners or operators would receive a report detailing all the checks done by the surveyor. The surveyor’s report is part of the standard annual maintenance costs for the craft, and required after repairs done to the craft.

Other times the surveyor might be employed would be after the PCs’ space craft has undergone repairs in a shipyard. The surveyor would have to check the craft is now “spaceworthy”. If not he/she may have the power to ban the characters from flying the ship away until it is safe to do so. This will depend on local conditions. If there is no effective enforcement from the Port Authority, the surveyor may “pull the spaceworthiness certificate”, but that doesn’t mean that the port will prevent the ship from lifting, and they may even be allowed to dock at their next destination.

Alternatively, smaller ships (say under 1000 dtons) might only need to be checked by a SCS after annual maintenance checks. However, the same rules apply as with monthly maintenance and surveys after repairs are made.

Based on the work done by marine classification societies on Earth, another occasion on which SCSes would inspect a spacecraft is during construction, or prior to delivery to the new owner. The shipping company who ordered the space craft will want to know that construction work has followed the right standards, and that the new craft is space worthy.

Such “pre-launch” surveys can include the spacecraft equivalent of “sea trials”, or “shakedown cruises”. This is where the surveyor(s) accompanies the ship on its first few jumps, if the ship is jump capable, or its first few weeks of operation in-system. The cost of such surveys can either be part of the spacecraft’s construction cost, or paid for separately by the buyer of the spacecraft. Normally in the Imperium it will be included in the spacecraft’s construction cost. This is especially true when the craft is a standard design.

To ensure this any SCS will need a large network of sites over at least a sector of space. These sites will usually be in or next to the starport or shipyard. Based on the Mongoose Traveller first edition rule book, assume class A starports will have 1d6 classification societies present, class B starports will have 1d3 classification societies present, and class C starports will have one spacecraft classification society present. Class E and X starports will never have a spacecraft classification society present. For class D starports, roll 2d6 for 10+ for a single spacecraft classification society to have surveyors present. DMs: +1 if world UWP population digit (POP) is 8 or higher, +2 if POP is 10 (A) or higher, -2 if POP is 6 or lower, +1 each for presence of a navy or scout base or Scout Way Station.

For each society present assume at a class A starport there will be 4d6 minimum surveyors and 2d6 minimum support staff, for a class B starport 2d6 surveyors and 1d6 support staff, for a class C or D starport 1d6 surveyors and 1d3 support staff. Support staff include administrators, buyers, finance staff and security staff.

For surveys/inspections of larger spacecraft and those that cannot land at a downport, spacecraft classification societies use small craft of up to cutter (50 dtons) size. These craft are equipped with specialist sensors, similar to those used by customs to examine the integrity of ships hulls.

Encountering a SCS

The characters would come across a SCS if they gain access to a spacecraft, including Far or Free Traders, S-class Scout Ships, Laboratory Ships, Ships Boats, Seekers, or Yachts, or any ship the players buy using their ship shares. If the characters acquire a Corsair or other ship used for illicit purposes, however, they will usually have to trust the shipbuilder has built a space worthy ship.

In some circumstances, if the public “persona” of a corsair is e.g., a Type T Patrol Cruiser, it could be certified spaceworthy – and it would actually be to the advantage of the corsair operators to have such a public persona, depending on how good the cover public persona is. The shipyard may also be a factor in certificate availability for Corsairs or other “shady” ships; if it was built in a pirate system like Theev in the Trojan Reach sector, then a spaceworthiness certificate will be available. Piracy is a dangerous enough career as it is, without having to worry about your ship.

As part of the purchase process, the ship will have been surveyed by a qualified employee of one of the SCSes operating at the spaceport where the purchase is made. The player character(s) who contribute ship shares or already have possession of a ship will each have a copy of the report confirming the space craft is “space worthy”.

The only exception to this is if the players’ have decided to purchase an old ship to reduce costs. In such cases, a SCS might not grant a spaceworthiness certificate for the craft, based on the Mongoose Traveller first edition core rulebook, page 136, old ship wear and tear effects. My own basic decisions as follows:

The following wear and tear rules for traders will result in the space craft automatically failing its spaceworthiness survey with any space craft classification agency: Damaged sensors, damaged thrusters, and loss of over 50 percent of the craft’s original structure points.

That the Trader craft has concealed smuggling compartments, would not by itself lead to a space craft failing its spaceworthiness survey. It would depend on the law level of the spaceport or world where the survey took place.

Restoring Spaceworthiness

These rules are used, so that the players know how to bring a ship back up to standards if it has (or would) fail certification.

Increase all maintenance costs by 50% and -1 DM to all repair attempts. By themselves one of these old ships rules would not prevent a spacecraft being certified spaceworthy. As long as maintenance and repairs can be done, cost and a small increase in technical difficulty of repairs are not an issue to surveyors or the space craft classification societies they work for. However such issues will be noted on the certification report, and may stop some shipping companies or ship hirers hiring the craft.

Where the trader has a cargo bay tainted by chemical spills and leaks, vulnerable cargos may be damaged in transit. By itself this would not lead to a trader being denied a spaceworthiness certificate. Instead, the surveyors report would: (a) Detail the cost of cleaning the cargo bay (b) Give a list of known-vulnerable cargoes, that if carried could suffer damage, and (c) describe the contaminants in sufficient detail to allow a knowledgeable shipper to evaluate whether a cargo not listed is nevertheless vulnerable. In practice this would mean no reputable shipping company would hire the trader to transport vulnerable cargoes, but there would be no other adverse effects.

The following wear and tear rules for military craft will result in the space craft automatically failing its “spaceworthiness” survey with any space craft classification agency: Damaged sensors, damaged thrusters, structure points less than 50 percent of craft when new , severely damaged -1 Hull.

However the above will apply only if the Space Navy owning the military craft accepts external surveyors inspecting their craft. Most navies will employ their own surveyors for such work.

For other spacecraft the following wear and tear rules will automatically lead to the space craft failing its space craft worthiness survey: Damaged sensors, damaged thrusters, structure points less than 50 percent of when new, or a leaky reactor core.

If the vessel’s library computer contains erroneous information, the spaceworthiness certificate for the vessel will still be issued. However, the survey will list any erroneous information found and request the erroneous information be removed or corrected before the next survey of the ship. This applies only if this erroneous information relates to ship operations; erroneous information not relating to ship operations will be ignored. If the incorrect information is not removed or corrected, the ship will fail the next survey.

If your campaign admits the use of Psionics, it may be relevant whether the vessel contains disturbing psionic echoes (DPE). Here it will depend on where the survey is done and the locally-prevailing attitude toward Psionics. In the canonical Third Imperium or any other political entity where Psionics are suppressed, the space craft classification society will not even check the issue; a certificate of spaceworthiness will be issued if all other criteria are met. However, word may spread through the surveyors’ “grapevine”: “There’s nothing wrong with the ship that anyone can find, but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be aboard. It just doesn’t feel right.”

However, in the canonical Zhodani Consulate or other society where Psionics are an accepted part of life, by itself a vessel containing disturbing psionic echoes may be grounds to refuse a certificate of spaceworthiness. If the psionic echoes are very disturbing, e.g., indicate violent death or torture, then the local equivalent of the Zhodani Tavrchedl’ (thought police), will investigate and the players will lose access to the vessel for 2d6 weeks while the vessel is investigated and the DPE removed or neutralized. If the DPE cannot be removed or neutralized, and the crew are willing to tolerate the DPE, the ship may not be certified for passengers but only for non-living cargos (provided there are no mechanical issues that would prevent issuance of a certificate)

Other occasions on which the players will encounter a spacecraft classification society are when their craft has repairs done, or an annual survey, every twelve months after they take possession of the spacecraft. The annual survey is normally done with annual maintenance; assume the cost of the survey is included in the maintenance costs.

If the survey of the players’ ship is not being done as part of monthly or annual maintenance, the cost will be Cr500 per 100 dtons for ships up to 500 dtons; Cr750 per 100 dtons for ships over 500 dtons (as larger ships may need more than one surveyor to do the job). For large capital ships, a team of 1d6 surveyors will be employed, and survey work on such ships may require an A or B class starport.

Not Certified Spaceworthy? So What?

Bearing in mind the costs and time taken for surveys, some players will ask if it’s worth it and what penalties if any they will suffer for not having a certificate of spaceworthiness for their craft.

An uncertified ship will not be used by reputable shipping companies or passengers. Most shipping companies will not use an uncertified ship to transport their freight; those few that do will only pay 40 to 50 percent of the normal freight rates. An uncertified ship is automatically disqualified from carrying mail. Another possible ramification might be that shipment or travel insurance policies may automatically be voided if the ship does not have a valid spaceworthiness certificate. However these are very much “in my Traveller universe” (IMTU) rules; you may want different penalties.

Uncertified ships cannot expect to attract the passengers or cargos that a certified ship would attract. I would suggest that available high and middle passage passengers be reduced by 50 percent, low passengers by 10 percent, and available cargoes by 30 percent, compared to the normal cargo and passenger rules for your version of Traveller. However, this is also very much an “in my Traveller universe” (IMTU) issue. Other referees may prefer different reductions in potential passenger numbers and cargos available to transport.

Some spaceports may refuse to let an uncertified ship dock, or (if the ship fails its survey while docked) they may not be allowed to leave by the spaceport authority. This tends to occur at high-traffic ports, and may also occur at low-traffic ports serving high-law-level worlds.

While opportunities for “routine” above-board commerce may be reduced for player-characters with uncertified ships, some potential patrons may of necessity be less selective, often due to activities or cargos of questionable legal status. Alternatively, the patron may offer to pay the costs of making the player-characters’ ship spaceworthy, as partial or full payment for performing a very difficult or dangerous mission.

SCS Player-Characters

These skill and career requirements’ are based on the Mongoose Traveller, first edition rules, published in 2008. Please adjust for your version of Traveller.

The classification society employee most likely to be met by the players, is the surveyor or inspector responsible for surveying their ship after routine maintenance or repairs have been done.

For 21st century Sol marine classification societies, even trainee surveyors need degrees in marine engineering or naval architecture. This would indicate the Traveller careers Citizen – Worker and Navy – Engineering/gunnery are the closest matches, for SCS surveyors as a prior career.

However, in previous decades marine classification societies employed “retired sea captains” as surveyors. So possibly a player who has gained rank six in either the Merchants – Merchant Marine or Merchants – Free Trader careers could have a second career as a SCS surveyor.

Whatever previous careers they have had, characters who want to be qualified spacecraft surveyors employed by licensed spacecraft classification societies will need a total of at least six skill levels in the following skills, with a minimum of level one for each: Engineer (M-drive), Engineer (J-drive), Engineer (life support), and Mechanic. A character lacking any of the skills, or having fewer than six points across all of them, may only operate as part of a team where all the skills are covered.

Other useful skills could include Vacc Suit and Zero-G for examining ships hulls in orbit, Computer skill, Sensors skill, Pilot (small craft), any other Engineering skill, and Astrogation.

Spacecraft classification support staff would probably fit the Citizen – Corporate career, unless the classification society is part of the Imperial bureaucracy, in which case a civil service career would be more appropriate. Support staff employees typically have skills such as: Admin, Advocate, Broker, Computer, Diplomat, Persuade and Language (any).

Because of the high level of skills required, a qualified surveyor in the Third Imperium would probably get a monthly salary of Cr4,000, similar to a ship’s engineer, see “Spacecraft Operations” in the Mongoose Traveller Core Rulebook (page 137). Whether working as surveyors or support staff, spacecraft society employees and ex-employees would be eligible for pensions under the usual Traveller rules.

If there is any interest from readers the author is planning an article detailing careers paths for spacecraft society surveyors and support staff, as per the Mongoose Traveller first edition rule book.