TRAVELLER: Out of the Box – Subsector Basic Assumptions

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From Traveller Book 5:

Traveller assumes a remote centralized government…”

The following assumptions are from, or extrapolated from, Traveller Books 1, 2 and 3:

A Focused Setting
Traveller assumes there is a centralized government—and that it is far away. So do I. This means the focus of play is at the edges of the centralized government or beyond it.

When I write in posts below about the setting, I am only discussing the logic (for economics, culture, politics, and so on) in the discrete setting of the subsector where play takes place. I am not trying to model an interstellar civilization.

There are many, many things that one could say about the interstellar government that the Player Characters served in. However, the things I will care about are the things that matter to the subsector where the adventures occur.

An example: If we were to play an RPG set in the British Raj, there would be many details that would applicable to the setting in the Raj that would not have any sense being in 19th Century London. More importantly, there would be many details of 19th Century London that would have no home or pertinence in the British Raj.

In the same way, working out every detail of what is happening countless subsectors away from the action of play makes little sense. What matters is how they decisions bring conflict and tension to bear on the subsector and the Player Characters. Since the stuff that matters is the stuff that matter to the PCs, there is a filter of importance.

Here, in no particular order, are the macro assumptions about how I’ll be setting up the subsector:

1. The setting is at the edges of a political power

2. The purpose of the setting is to provide adventure for the Player Characters.

3. Trade, commerce and political influence do not work in the same way in the subsector as they do back in the hub of the government’s star systems. The trading rules in Book 2 are designed to reflect this, as well as focus on Player Character level economics. The rules of trade that work here might not work in other parts of the interstellar government — and that’s fine.

4. High end starports will be rarer than they are in the Book 3, and C-class starports will be more prevalent.

5. Per the rules, starships can only be built at A-class starports. A-class starports are much rarer here than they are back within the centralized government. Thus, fewer ships are built locally. And since trade is both easier and less risky back home, most ships don’t travel out to this part of space.

6. It is assumed that building an A-class starport is a Big F##king Deal and hard to pull off. If not, why not build more? (Note that this isn’t just a matter of a bigger or nicer starport. It is a matter of being able to build the technology that makes interstellar travel and civilization possible. There must be reason every starport doesn’t have this tech.)

It is my assumption that building a facially that can build and install Jump Drive technology requires:

  • lots of capital investment up front
  • the knowledge of how to do it
  • the knowledge of how to do it well or horrible things happen
  • an incredibly skilled labor force (physicist and engineers, some of whom have worked on several A-class starports and are in great demand)

7. A-class starports are not always built around main worlds with high populations or lots of resources in-system. Why this is so is a matter for another time. The point for now is that building such a facility often takes a lot effort in terms of gathering resources and personal and keeping it staffed.

8. Points 4-7 not only mean that ship building facilities in the subsector are rare, but that an A-class starport will always be a magnet for trouble from those who would wish harm toward those who own it and profit from it. Attacks, both covert and overt, are always a possibility. Lots of resources will be devoted to protecting such ports. (I expect I will declare that one of the B-class starports I roll up was actually an A-class starport attacked and destroyed by an enemy. It will currently be under construction to regain its A-class capabilities.)

9. Those who control A-class starports will not want others to posses A-class starports. The corollary of point 8 is true: That A-class starports under construction will be magnets of attack from the powerful who do not wish others to have access to making starships.

10. Starship Travel is Dangerous. Trade may be quite easy back in the remote centralized government. Not so here. There is a 1% chance of hijacking every time a merchant ship sets sail! (Book 2: “Nevertheless, there is a chance of an attempted hijacking, for ransom, or to steal the multi-million credit vessel. Roll three dice for 18+ to indicate a hijacking attempt.”)

11. Starship Travel is Dangerous. Pirates may be encountered in systems with C, D, E, and X-class starports.
C Throw 10
D Throw 9
E Throw 11 or 12
X Throw 10
This means whenever a ship enters a system that it not A or B-class, the ship has about an 8.5% chance of being attacked by pirates. Since more than half the systems will have C, D, E, or X-class starports, that’s a lot of risk from piracy!

12. Starship Travel is Dangerous. Refined fuel is only available from A and B starports. Any other starport (or gas giant) can only provide unrefined fuel. (From Book 2: Military and quasi-military starships often use unrefined fuel because it is more available, and because their drives are specially built to use it. Commercial ships sometimes use unrefined fuel because it is cheaper.”)

Because A and B starports are rare in the subsector, most commercial ships make many jumps with unrefined fuel. This means a 3% chance for a misjump on each of of a ship’s travels. (from Book 2: Each time the ship engages in a jump, throw 13+ for a misjump: Apply the following DMs: +1 if using unrefined fuel (and not equipped to do so).

The empty space of the subsector is littered with ships and corpses of those who never made it safely to a destination. (Imagine how many ships are the at the bottom of earth’s oceans. We’re really going for something like that.)

13. Starship travel is dangerous.

From Traveller Book 2:

Drive Failure: Each week, throw 13+ for drive failure; apply the following DMs: +Iif using unrefined fuel (and not equipped to do so), +Ip er engineer missing from the crew list, +I per week past annual maintenance overhaul date. If a malfunction occurs, then throw 7+ for each drive in use (jump, maneuver, power plant) to determine which actually fail, (if any). Failed drives cease operations completely;
maneuver drives will no longer thrust, jump drives will fail and indicate that they cannot support jump; power plants stop delivering power. Batteries will provide life support and basic lighting for ID days. Throw 10+ per day of repair attempt with DM +engineering skill of the attending engineers to fix them temporarily. More complete repairs must be made at a starport by qualified personnel.

There is a 3% chance of misjumsp and 3% there might be a failure in the Power Plant, Maneuver Drive, or Jump Drive while using unrefined fuel. Given the circumstance, each of these events will range in consequence from at least a costly problem to life-threatening situation.

14. Given points 10-13 above, we know not only that Starship travel is dangerous, but that billions of credits worth of starship are lost every year. Investing in and building starships for frontier use is a financially risky proposition. It takes a certain kind of temperament or love of risking assets to get into the business.

15. The society structure of the interstellar culture is harshly stratified and that stratification matters. We not only have Social Standings that are a vital component of how a Character is both viewed and classified. We know that there is a noble class–literally a noble class.

(I get the feeling people writing about The Third Imperium saw nobility as meritocracy-worthy bureaucrats with cool titles. I don’t have much patience for that. The Traveller rules assume a feudal social structure. I want all the mess and social and political crisis and tension that offers. Blood lines matter, power is passed down through children and family members, and Royal Families work hard to keep their pride and power through both hard and harsh methods. And when things fall apart they fall apart badly. All the Official Traveller Universe always downplays this. And I assume it is in an effort to keep the politics and social structure stable and static at all costs. As a strategy for building a constant setting to sell to consumers this makes perfect sense. As a strategy for building a setting ripe for adventure it makes no sense at all.)

We also know that Low Passage has a 15% chance of killing anyone attempting to travel on the cheap–so we know life is hard for the poor. (Yes, I know the 15% death rate is taken from the Dumarest books and in the books was based on technology built for animals and not people. And I understand that in 3I–a much more civilized place than the society presented in the original rules–such tech would be improved to reduce the chances of death for Low Passengers. But my point would be this: I don’t think the death rate is a mistake. I think Miller wanted there to be a class of people who risked death every time they got on a starship. The question isn’t “How do we fix these high odds of death?” but “What sort of economic and social conditions exist where this is happening?” So, I’ll keep the bad odds for Low Passengers and keep the Low Passage berths for animals that are sometimes used for humans. Because the social tension is the thing I want.)

16. The implied setting of Traveller Books 1, 2, and 3 speak to the society of the “remote centralized government” from the quote above. It is the society that the PCs come from.
Other cultures and worlds that are not part of this society will have different social structures and assumptions.

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