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Give them a ship

June 8, 2010

Back in the early 80’s, when I first started to run Traveller games with the LBBs, I quickly discovered that I didn’t like the merchant campaign as presented. Not that I didn’t like the tramp freighter idea, I just didn’t care for the way the entire game revolved around bartering your way from one mortgage payment to the next.

Alex, who inspired my Five Traveller Rules, recently smacked up against the same problem. I thought he put it rather succinctly:

Unlike D&D 3+ where players can spend a lot of time away from the table thinking about their character and tweaking it, Traveller seems to be the game where players can spend a lot of time away from the table thinking about their ship’s finances.

This is the same problem I struggled with for years in my early games. In fact, it eventually caused me to walk away from Traveller. When I did return, I wound up having a player who rolled a retired scout and acquired a ship through the service. It would be the perfect “fix” to the problem I’d struggled with. The ship didn’t require the mortgage payment that created the financial monotony before:

It is the policy of the scout service to make available such surplus scout ships to selected individuals on a reserve basis. The vessels are (hopefully) put to good use while they’re not required in service, and both the ship and its pilot are available for recall to duty when needed…Fuel is free at scout bases. Maintenance is free at the scout bases at class B starports. The character is responsible for both upkeep and crew costs. (p.25 LBB 1)

The original Traveller made allowances for gaining a Free Trader without a mortgage as well but it required that the player roll the same ship benefit five times. Mongoose’s version of Traveller keeps a similar pattern by awarding shares; if you roll enough shares you would have a free ship.

For me, the trick to disengaging the mortgage-heavy trader campaign is to simply award a ship in place of shares. If you stick with the convention of giving the party an older ship – a 40 year old Trader for instance – you can avoid the hassle of so much paperwork and put the players into a quirky “rust bucket.”

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 8, 2010 11:12 am

    I kinda like the way WEG’s Star Wars handled that. You own the ship, but still owe some on it. It provides a good hook for the first series of adventures as they work to pay it off, but it doesn’t have to be the entire game!

    • June 8, 2010 6:55 pm

      David, Mongoose’s relaunch of Traveller actually makes this fairly easy. Even if the player(s) rolled only one share in a ship, you could easily modify the results to leave them with only share payment left instead (or how ever much you want to leave them owing).

  2. June 11, 2010 6:03 pm

    It’s kind of a double edged sword giving them a ship free and clear. You lose that ability to prode the PCs in a direction you want them to go but you do away with a lot of tedius book keeping. If you could find some sort of happy balance (Scout ships appear to be a very good one)you’d have the best of both worlds. You want the players to lead the way in a campaign sometimes. They’ll often end up writing it for you. “Are there any ancient sites in this sub-sector I want to look for artifacts?” That simple statement when you ask them; “So what do you want to do” could lead to a whole campaign.

  3. OjnoTheRed permalink
    June 14, 2010 9:01 am

    A very good short article. I agree – years ago I ended up spending entire sessions with players sorting out the details of book-keeping. Hardly a good use of fertile imaginations! It’s not an easy one. I can only think that there’s a shared spreadsheet for between sessions so that the numbers are pretty clear with each and every decision. A bit more work for the GM (but that can be kind-of fun too) but it leaves the players with a stark reminder of the situation. So when that extra Cr5,000 job comes there way, it might just be the kick they need to pay this month’s mortgage. Or that’s the theory.

    I agree the Scout/Courier is a good balance for the reasons you’ve outlined. But there’s some other things it allows you to pull. You can always subject the player to a recall mission – or have them attempt to dodge one. Or the ship could be called away, and found and made available again by the IISS – somewhere two subsectors away. When it crashes and burns, the IISS could replace it: in exchange for a mission. And so on. Scouts were always my favourite career as a player because although survival was tough, it bred characters with the skills needed for travelling and went with my instincts to want to ‘explore-the-universe’.

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