The Party’s Ship (The Sun Dog Unique “Freighter”)

I’ve read that the ship itself can be a character in a sci-fi campaign. And I don’t mean that the ship has an intelligent AI or that we’re using FATE “fractal” rules and everything is a character. I mean that the ship is so full of personality that it is as important to the story as a key character. In this design, I take a crack at what might be the centerpiece of the Deeps of Lyrae campaign.

About the name: a “sun dog” is the colloquial phrase for an astronomical/meteorological phenomenon called a parhelion. It’s also a winking reference to a very old computer game.

The Player’s Ship: GM’s Goals/Discussion

I know from earlier conversations with my players that one character is interested in becoming a space pirate because they inherited a spaceship. Based on that, I thought: What if it were a mysterious spaceship? Very valuable and full of secrets (so the PCs won’t just scrap it) but also filled with challenging problems? A totally unique ship that no one can figure out. The kind of thing that turns heads in spaceports and doesn’t even show up in registries.

As you’ve seen from the earlier designs I posted in the last week, I’m not going for a spaceship-combat-heavy setting. In fact, the premise of the campaign is that the adventurers start in a totally safe, boring backwater. So civilian ships generally do not have ANY weapons. (See the Eos freighter or the Contessa liner, designed earlier.) This is important to my premise because I want to give the players a ship with a very weak, crappy weapon. Then they can lord it over the unarmed ships but they won’t be able to do anything against the authorities.

I came up with the idea of a one-of-a-kind ex-military ship that is far more heavily armored than normal. It’s nominally a freighter but the cargo bay is too small for the size and therefore uneconomical. It still has massive military engines and power plants so it is faster and far more survivable than other ships. But all of the weapons were removed to create the cargo bay. (A minor problem is that armor doesn’t really do much under GURPS spaceships rules, but I want the armor to be important so I’ll work on that issue later.)

The ship’s central concept, which is not known to the players, is that it was a custom-built blockade-runner/diplomatic courier designed to solve a particular military problem and that is why it needed to be designed this way. I think it will also be old and trashed. Since the Traveller universe allows for variable tech levels, it is reasonable that a ship could be both advanced and old and trashed.

I’ve reduced the crew requirements (as I have for all of the merchant ships like this one) in order to better represent a small group of adventurers who operate this ship on their own.

This ship is streamlined and can easily make planetary landings. It is so fast compared to typical merchant vessels in this campaign that it might not carry a shuttlecraft, as it is likely to be faster than its own shuttlecraft unless the players can afford a very expensive shuttle.

I like to give my players challenging situations, so if your players prefer to roleplay masters-of-the-universe superheroes, YMMV. You might not want to give them a ship with no weapons. Note also that this is the first draft, I might tweak it later.

Secrets of the Sun Dog

The Sun Dog has a number of features that won’t be apparent to the players at first. For instance, note that it has 1,500 tons of cargo bay, plus probably an additional 200 tons leftover from the hangar bay (as it would probably carry a 100-ton shuttle), plus 420 tons leftover from the weapons battery (as it has only two guns but it has room for 28 guns), plus 65 tons of steerage cargo in the habitat. So that gives it 2,185 tons of cargo capacity.

BUT IT ALSO has a 500 ton hidden, shielded “smuggler’s” cargo hold in the center section. I’ll say this is extremely well hidden.

Also note the turrets are hidden. Perhaps when the ship is inherited it isn’t even clear that the ship has weapons, as the turrets could be retracted when the ship is delivered.

I’ve also given the ship a Minifac in the habitat section, but I think this might also be interpreted as an advanced military technology of some sort. Perhaps a TL+1 device onboard ship with an enigmatic purpose that the players have to discover. In sci-fi campaigns I really love the “Enigmatic Device Table” on GURPS p. B478 and I always like to fit it in when I can.

Independent Appraiser’s Report (as required by law)

(For player’s eyes:)

Appraiser’s Remarks: In short, this is a fast, fuel-hungry armored brick with a tiny hold. Who would build such a thing? All title and maintenance records are missing. Not a known class of freighter. A possible military prototype, sold at surplus and rebuilt? Recommendation: There is no market for a used ship with no records containing mysterious equipment in poor condition. Scrap this ship for parts.

  • Speed: Excellent.
    Military-grade engines. Over 2x the thrust and FTL speed of a normal freighter.
  • Armament: Poor.
    Any original military weapons removed. One obsolete surplus laser turret was added, it is suitable for point defense.
  • Defenses: Excellent.
    Carries military armor that is unknown to appraiser’s guild. 12x thicker than typical. Military force screens 3x stronger.
  • Capacity: Poor.
    Cargo holds are inadequate. There are just a few grim extra rooms for passengers. This ship has the capacity of a Light Freighter, but she’s 3x larger and heavier.
  • Support Craft:  Average.
    Carries a utility shuttle/lifeboat.
  • Condition: Unknown.
    Ship has seen heavy use. Blast scarring indicates combat. Ship age unknown.
  • Safety: Unsafe.
    Without documentation of regular maintenance, I must rate this ship as unsafe.

–Mr. D. Tyrell, Certified Starship Appraiser, Tyrell and Associates, Freedom’s Reach

Crew Requirements

Although the ship can support up to 32 people as the stats sheet says, it is actually intended for a crew of 8 on a long voyage (each crew member with a private cabin, and the captain in a luxury cabin), and 8 standard-class passengers (each with a private cabin). However, if the passenger cabins are used for crew or double-occupied a variety of configurations are possible–e.g., you could even fill the hangar bay with fighters and the passenger cabins with pilots.

Crew Requirements

The minimum crew is specified on the stats sheet. I’ll assume the weapons are linked so as to require only one gunner even though this is against the GURPS Spaceships gunnery rules. (Or I’ll otherwise wave away the requirement of multiple gunners.) Note that as the Sickbay does not have an automed, a medic is required on a long voyage in order to get any benefit from the sickbay facilities.

Tramp Freighter Configuration (Minimum Crew):

  • Captain/Owner
  • Pilot/Navigator
  • Gunner
  • Comms/Sensor Operator
  • Medic
  • Chief Engineer
  • Engineering Technician
  • Engineering Technician

This minimum 8-person crew allows for 8 empty standard-class passenger staterooms to produce additional revenue, but the arrangement is going to require some versatility and multitasking. There is no dedicated purser to care for the passengers and there is no cargo master. Perhaps the captain/medic can take on these additional duties?

Subsidized (“Sub”) Freighter Configuration (Optimal Crew):

  • Captain
  • Executive Officer
  • Cargo Master/Purser (passenger care)
  • Pilot/Navigator
  • Co-Pilot/Navigator
  • Gunner
  • Communications Officer
  • Sensor Operator
  • Medic
  • Ship’s Shuttle Pilot/Navigator
  • Chief Engineer
  • Engineering Technician
  • Engineering Technician

This much more robust complement of 13 crew members allows for 3 empty standard-class passenger staterooms to produce revenue. It also has enough crew that it would be no problem to stand a 24-hour watch on the bridge without taking people away from other required duties (e.g., the engineering crew usually need to perform engineering duties to prevent maintenance problems).

Ship Stats

Here is the stat sheet from Eric B. Smith’s excellent GURPS Spaceships spreadsheet.

(Image coda: Following up on the idea of this spaceship’s unusual appearance and ex-military provenance, I like the slab-sided radar deflecting profile of newer Navy ships — just imagine these in space, especially if normal ships don’t look like this! For the top image on this post I hacked together public domain images of the USS Independence with NASA imagery. Sorry the compositing is so bad — it’s just a hack. I realize it is weird to just put a trimaran in space, but I think it conveys the sense of what I think this ship might look like. The Zumwalt-class destroyer [model above] is another idea.)

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