Route Determination: The worlds of a subsector are connected by the charted space lanes, which mark the regular routes traveled by commercial starships. While it is possible for starships to travel without regard to the lanes charted, individuals who do not own or control starships are generally restricted to commercial travel on ships which ply to routes which are mapped. For each world, note the starport type for it and for its neighbors. Consult the jump routes table, throwing one die.
Four columns are provided, corresponding to jump distances one through four. Determine the distance between the two worlds, and the relationship between the starports. At the intersection of the distance column and the world pair row, a number is stated. If the one die throw is equal to, or greater than the number, a space lane exists. Draw a line connecting the two worlds on the map. Each specific pair of worlds should be examined for jump routes only once.
This procedure is followed for most worlds within four hexes of each other; some worlds will obviously not have connecting space-lanes, and others will obviously have many. The nature of interstellar jumps is such that a jump-2 may be made over two connecting jump-1 links; by remembering this facet of star travel, it is possible to ignore some potential connections because they are already present through the use of shorted connecting lanes. This may well help in the creation of legible subsector maps.
The chart and rules above are from the 1977 edition of Traveller Book 3. These Space Lanes rules would not appear again in any further editions. Instead, starting in the 1981 edition of Traveller Book 3 (and every edition of the game afterward), the rules for Communication Routes would be added.
The text states, “The worlds of a subsector are connected by the charted space lanes, which mark the regular routes traveled by commercial starships.” I will expand this definition a bit, reading the Space Lane rules in much the same manner as the UWPs were designed to be. That is, “prods to the imagination.” Thus, they are regular trade routes traveled by commercial ships. But they also suggest political and cultural connections, as whim and imagination strike me.
THE ADVANTAGES OF SPACE LANES (Or At What I See As Advantages)
I’m reaching back to the 1977 edition of the game and adding the Space Lane rules back in for reasons already covered in the posts linked to above. In brief:
- they provide limitations for travel
- make traveling between the stars a bigger deal (since it’s clear that there isn’t easy access between all stars, even neighboring stars)
- make owning your own ship a bigger deal (since those who have their own ship are not limited to the well traveled routes of the Space Lanes
- they make ships like the Free Trader matter, since the Free Trader (and private ships like it) will be the ships that travel off the Space Lanes to worlds that would otherwise not get attention from larger shipping lines
Moreover, the Space Lanes rules integrate with other rules in interesting ways:
- a Generate program allows ships to plot courses between any two systems
- ships without a Generate program can only plot by buying single-use Jump Cassettes with pre-plotted courses between two specific systems (which self-erase after use)
- Jump Cassettes only exist for worlds already plotted along Space Lanes, which means that one has to stay on Space Lane routes (even if one owns one’s own ship) if one doesn’t have the Generate program
- And so, another campaign goal for the crew of a ship is established: getting a Generate program, which costs 0.8MCr. (I will be using the 1981 edition of Book 2, which offers any ship a computer program budget of 1MCr per model number of the ship’s computer. Since the ship’s available to PCs though character generation are Model 1 or Model 1bis, the crew will only have 1MCr to spend on programs, it will be impossible for them to start with Generate
- If the PCs do not own a ship, traveling between stars will depend on buying tickets for a trip, chartering a ship, gaining working passage on a ship, or getting hired by a patron to journey from one star system to another. Each of these routes opens up possibilities for adventure–either through the actions required to get the cash for the trip, or during the journey. Each of these methods is covered by rules in the game. (It is also important to remember how relatively expensive travel between the stars is compared to standard living expenses.)
What all of this does, then, is limit the available worlds beginning PCs can travel to. They certainly will be able to travel between some worlds. But several, if not many, worlds in a subsector will be off limit. Not because the Imperium has decided to blockade a world with its power through Amber and Red Zones (which I’m not fond of since this puts the PCs in the position of having to battle an empire of so much might they would be doomed to fail) but simply because of technology and limits of resources. But in Traveller, the PCs can acquire more resources and improve the technology available to them. This, in fact, is one of the goals that drive Players and their characters in the design of the original game.
The fact that there are worlds that PCs can’t get to at first means, by definition, they will want to get to those words. That’s the way RPGs seem to work. That which is not accessible becomes something the Players want their PCs to have access to. They can see them on the map and wonder, “What’s there?” (Add in some rumors sprinkled over time about those worlds, and the Players will really want to get to them.)
All of this does two things for any campaign:
- The worlds the PCs can travel to are limited at first, so the Referee is not going nuts building out 40 to 80 worlds all at one time
- The setting automatically has mystery and goals simply by looking at the subsector map. The worlds off the beaten path (off of the Space Lanes, that is) are like lower level dungeons or rumored ruins from early D&D games, which the Players know about, and want to find. The unknown and at-first inaccessible planets become a point of curiosity the Players want to have their PCs get to.
- In turn, this sharpens and focuses goals for the PCs. They want more money, more resources, and better technology to expand the reach of where they can travel, whether it be their own ship, getting the Generate program, or getting better weapons, defenses, and combat software to handle off-the-beaten-path routes where nefarious characters with battle-ready ships might be encountered.
SPACE LANES–FIRST PASS
I begin with the Five Sisters Subsector map from the Supplement 3: The Spinward Marches:
Then, I clear all the Communication Routes and end up with this version of the map:
And then, using the table and rules posted at the top of this post.
Here’s the method I use to keep all the Space Lanes in order:
I go down the left column, rolling for any A-class starport Space Lanes, connecting any and all worlds that might connect to that starport.
Then going down the next column, again, only rolling for any A-class starports.
And then continuing across the subsector, column by column.
Then I go back to the first column, and go down the list rolling for worlds with B-class starports. There’s no need to roll for A-class connected starports (since I already rolled for possible A-class starports) and work my way to each B, C, D, E, and X starport. I do this on the first column, then the second, and so on, finding each B-class starport, testing each possible combination, until I get to the right side of the subsector.
Then I go back to the first column, testing the C-class starports against C, D, E, and X-class starports for possible Space Lanes.
And so on.
I end up with this:
REVIEWING THE SPACE LANES
So, out of the gate, I like the above map. The clusters are dramatically isolated. Even though it is “only” one subsector, once the Communication Routes are removed and the gulfs of space between the clusters revealed to matter, it feels like a region of space exploring on its own.
But as I reviewed the map, a few things stand out and make me mull…
The Mirriam/Iderati Space Lane
First, the Jump-4 Space Lane from Mirriam to Iderati seems excessive. There will be few Jump-4 ships in this setting, and having a regular shipping lane between these two systems seemed excessive. It wipes out the sense of distance and isolation that otherwise was a firm part of the map. So I removed it. (Because I can do that.)
Consider this, I see that the cluster is split, with Karin (A-class starport) trading with a group of worlds, and Idarati (A-class starport) trading with two worlds, and no connection between them.
I decide that there is political tension between the nobility on Karin and Idarati, with efforts being made by each side to ruin the other.
I don’t know the details yet, or where this line of thinking is going to lead me. But I like it. It will provide opportunities for Patrons and adventure, either directly from the Noble Houses, those caught in the cross-hairs of the tension, and so on.
The cluster will have a mix of adventures based on local adventures (specific to each world). But now we also have the overlay of tension across the worlds because of the Noble House conflict. These 10 worlds, connected by Jump-1 journeys, will provide weeks upon weeks of adventure out of the gate.
The Andor/Candory Space Lane
I liked that Andor and Candory had remained disconnected from regular trade routes from the rest of the clusters. It made their presence very valuable (as it connected the top and bottom of the map via J-3 Drives). But the thought of two worlds with C-class starports having regular trade and no other trade between them rubbed me the wrong way. Basically, as the subsector is shaping up, the only regular trade would between these two worlds would be with J-1 starships. But if neither system is capable of building starships, how did those J-1 starships get there?
Please note: this isn’t to say there isn’t trade between them. For all I know space ships pass back and forth between them. For example, a couple of ships with J-3 might have made runs to the system years ago, have fallen on hard times, suffered drive damage from unrefined fuel, and have remained in business between the two worlds. I’ll even say that the original crew of the ship (I’ll make it one) passed away years ago, and the ship has passed through several hands in the intervening years. In fact, I like that idea a lot.
But I don’t see it as part of the network of regular trade that is, in my setting, influenced and supported by the Imperial culture. So, I’m leaving it off the map for now. It’s too small and too irregular to matter on the scale of Space Lanes. However, anyone who wanted to could get a Jump Cassette from one world to the other.
So, here’s something I realize about my subsector map: The Space Lanes on the map are for regular trade routes brought about through Imperial culture. These are Space Lanes the Players will know via their Player Characters… and the PCs know about them because they are listed on “space charts” they have seen. But in my notes, I’m making a notation of the space lane between these two worlds and the ships that arrived in decades past but have remained stuck due drive failures, lack of repair facilities, and lack of wherewithal and funds to get out. A warning to the Players to be careful with their ship!
And, importantly, I’m making a version of the subsector map for my Players. I want something that suggests there are the “civilized” and well-traveled areas, and the areas that are not visited regularly–a “Here There Be Dragons” feel for a chunk of the subsector.
The 876-574/769-422/Wonderay Space Lanes
Like Mirriam/Iderati this string of space lanes confounds me. Again, there are no A-class starports to provide starships for this isolated cluster. And why are there Space Lanes between this string of E-class starports.
As I mulled this, I considered the following possibility:
Perhaps Raweh, currently a B-class starport, had once been an A-class starport. Perhaps the world has fallen on hard times–whether from biological or ecological disaster (manmade or natural), warfare, or some sort of Science-Fiction themed problem. So, while starships were once built in the cluster, they no longer are.
I look at the UWP for Raweh as listed in Supplement 3:
Look at that! A desert world of high tech, no government, and no law. Perfect! (Note that I can certainly change the UWP to anything I want. But I like letting the random results lead me when they can. They are there, as the rules state, to be a “prod to the imagination.” And my imagination is being prodded!)
But what about the string of E-class starports?
I sit there staring at the map. It occurs to me that the citizens of Raweh might have had to flee the disaster (whatever it is) on Raweh, and fled to these other worlds.
The Space Lanes between these worlds then are really attempts to keep the citizens connected. I then imagine a small fleet of ships, wearing down much like the ships traveling between Andor and Candory due to age, lack of parts and repair facilities, and the lack of refined fuel in the Wonderay system.
I then begin to imagine that a large portion of the population in exile lives on this fleet. A separate culture is growing, splitting the people of Raweh into one culture on each world, with an additional culture living and traveling between worlds. Tensions are beginning to grow as some people think all the exiles must remain as one people, and others are beginning to find their own identity. But “People of the Flotilla” (as I’m now thinking of them) have power and sway over the other worlds because they control trade and communication.
So, I go with that.
Just like what I did with the Space Lane between Andor and Candory, I decide to remove the Space Lanes from the map. They’ve done their job, inspiring me to build some details and ideas. But I don’t want the Players knowing about this stuff or thinking about it when I first hand them the map. The Raweh Thread worlds are 7-8 parsecs away from The Sister’s Reach, and weeks away (if not longer). I want the Players focused on The Sister’s Reach at first… with curiosity pulling them toward The Raweh Thread, gaining information as they start asking questions and digging up rumors over time.
THE SISTER’S REACH SUBSECTOR
And so I end up with this for the subsector map:
And I create a zoomed in map of The Sister’s Reach cluster that I’ll also by handing the Players. I think this kind of focused map is important. It tells the players, “This is where the action is.” It focuses their concerns and interests even as it offers plenty of latitude in terms of choices and direction.
With the addition of a Rumors handed out to each PC from a Rumor Table focused on The Sister’s Reach cluster, the Players will be able to look at the above map and start making decisions about where to go and what to do.