Saturday, April 29, 2023

Traveller and Cruising

It's possible I've been thinking about Traveller all wrong.  Maybe this is obvious to everyone else but here goes.

I've been reading some books about maritime cruising.  "Living for extended time on a vessel (yacht) while traveling from place to place for pleasure. Cruising generally refers to trips of a few days or more, and can extend to round-the-world voyages." There's a lot of discussion about how to do your own maintenance (one, because stuff breaks at sea, and two because hiring professionals to do it in port is really expensive) and how to do odd jobs to make some money on the side since you probably aren't regularly employed.  Some of those odd jobs and cruising stories sounded like the sort of things Traveller patrons would ask for, and here we are.

This lens makes a lot more sense for Traveller than "space trucking".  You don't have to explain the economics of small-scale shipping, because that's not really what is happening here.  Sure you might make a windfall on cargo every now and then (and cruisers attempt this too, with mixed success - "We were told that people in the Marquesas desperately needed reading glasses.  I bought 50 pairs in Mexico and still have all of them [because we were misinformed].") but that's not why you're traveling.  You're traveling for its own sake, and money is a means to the end of continuing to travel.  You're not out to get rich - just to keep funding the midlife crisis and not have to go back to a day job with a boss and a commute. This is why your "career" ends at the end of chargen.

It's interesting to compare with the similarly non-accumulative style of Appendix N, where the heroes adventure to get rich, only to spend it all and then need to adventure again.  Here too it's adventuring for money in order to maintain an unconventional, expensive but unencumbered lifestyle.

I think this view is consistent with the belief that money is supposed to be important in Traveller, but it also admits the Classic Traveller style where PCs having a ship is somewhat rare.  A Traveller without a ship can still work odd jobs in / for the "cruising" community and get working passage to wherever. Losing the money game doesn't end the campaign; it just changes it temporarily.  So the money pressure maybe shouldn't be as overwhelming as it might traditionally be with the starship loan (or you do what many budget cruisers do and get a really old vessel).  It's there to keep things interesting, to add a creeping danger that you can't just run from, not to be the focus of play.

This cruising lens also answers the question of "why do we have a baronet or an ex-admiral on this grungy little vessel?"  They're not loading cargo - they're just drifting.  Plenty of nobles are into sailing ("It seems that of any activity in the world, singlehanded sailors have the best odds of being knighted.") and the admiral retired and decided he just wanted to kick back in the tropics in a low-stress environment but can't help but get himself into trouble.

Some possible implications for DMing Traveller - NPCs from the cruising community.  Lots of cruising vessels have "buddy boats" or form regattas headed to the same place at the same time.  This is good for when something goes wrong.  The vessel at the next berth over in port isn't a rival small trader; they're drifting hippies with a hydroponic weed operation onboard, or a very trad religious husband who used to sell insurance with wife and four kids and a dog aboard, or a reclusive ex-programmer with a bunch of ship systems automated, or a husband/wife pair where the husband is a professional hunter and the wife is a xenobiologist (who is actually the better shot of the two), or...  There's just a ton of room for recurring, charmingly-eccentric NPCs here, who might fill the patron role when things are going well for them, or who might need rescued when something goes wrong.

Another implication for DMing Traveller regards building sandboxes.  When the players are out to do the "space trucking" thing, you have to be really careful to not set up Golden Pairs of planets with complementary economic tags where you can just go back and forth indefinitely and make tons of money.  But if the players are on board with the game being about drifting, you might be able to be less careful with this; it becomes a "sometimes food", because anything that resembles routine work is anathema.  It seems like a way of thinking about the game that would really encourage building a sandbox with lots of wild, interesting bits for your tourists to go see and mess with.  It could be much mellower than the highly-incentivized OD&D sandbox of "where do we go to make a ton of money, hence XP, as quickly and safely as possible?" which so often causes analysis paralysis for optimizers (as does the Space Trucker optimizing his routes).  But cruising Traveller admits satisficing; "sure that sounds like an interesting place to go, uhhh I wonder if they need any eyeglasses, maybe we can make a buck.  Any passengers headed that way to defray our costs?"


  1. I think this model doesn't work (and I had looked at a cruising life when I was doing yachting training - cruising, coastal navigation, comms, first aid - etc) in several areas. A friend's dad actually captained ships up to 500 tons and up to 125 tons under sail (tall ship) and regularly ferried yachts to the Carribean and back. He also worked for the CG for a long time and was working on their rules for hovercraft and Wing-in-Ground vehicles. I've also spent time in the Carribean and talked to yacht skippers down there as to the pros and cons. Also one of my bosses had done a circumnavigation that took them 9 years and he took the kids.

    Economics: Cr1 roughly equal to 2.5-3.0 USD.

    1) A 34-36' keelboat (often what it is that people try open ocean with) with a few years on it could cost you $60K-$110K here (USD). You could kit it up to be $175K if you put a lot of ocean safety, comms, radars, etc. A 40' keel boat could run closer to $200K-250K and a catamaran (smaller) could run from $100K-$200K and it could be.

    Compare that to any modestly decent ship in Traveller - 30-50 MCr = 75 Mil to 150 Mil USD and upwards. That's a vast difference in who can participate.

    Going transatlantic is risky (unwise as a solo venture). You can end up with a broken mast (friend of my dad's lost his going around the Cape of Horn and had to lash himself to the stump of the mast and hope the boat didn't capsize). You can damage a keel, steering or props (my boss that did the round the world trip hit something off the coast of Africa and it took 6 months to repair). That can lead to vast bills and long repair times where you are beached.

    With the sorts of maritime vessels I mentioned, the cost could run in the 10s of thousands (to make the same sort of analogy, that's 4-10% of the ship's value and for a ship that is worth equivalent to 30-50 MCr, that'd look like 1.2MCr to 5MCr. And that's not counting the costs of being beached.

    Crews living a cruising life can fix many things. But a lot of the systems on boats are designed to be the most simple they can be so that this is possible. If you tried this with a racing catamaran, good luck. It won't end well. But what you almost always have without anything else working is: you can breathe, you can usually find some drinkable water, and you most of the time can call for coast guard help or some other sailor to drop by and help you out and give you a tow. How well does that work in space? You run out of reaction mass, of air, or the ability to vent heat because you don't have anything to heat and eject... or you can run out of power and end up cold and dark. And a call for help could take so long you might be years in getting heard depending on the particulars. And misjumps with damage can leave you in a place nobody goes and you can't easily get back from.

    To run a nuclear plant, an M-drive, and a J-drive, you need more engineering ability than jackleg mechanic or plumber skills.

    Also, in the modern world, I know a lot of cruisers that worry about going anywhere near the coasts of South America (and the Panama Canal) or along Africa and some parts of the Asian Rim. Small yachts often get stolen and the crew dump in a small boat or just killed. There's money to be made. And that's on a ship that would cost maybe 75-80K Cr (translating the costs of a decent keelboat or catamaran)... imagine 30-50 MCr! Piracy is real. You could end up hostages while your ship is sold off and until someone pays to get you back. It's actually an economy in some places.

    The banks will back ship loans for ships that are working and ideally have a company owner and that company has a reputation and the owner has some positive indicators they are going to work and not flee with the ship. With cruisers who may or may not get back to where they started... why would the banks be bankrolling that? And if they did, wouldn't they want a much higher interest rate? I'd think so.

  2. Part 2 (too long for one post):
    Now, can you justify that for the ludicrously wealthy? Yes. But not the individual spacer. And what's the difference in ships? Well, most of the insanely rich folks have massive yachts worth in 100s of millions of USDs (so lets say a 300 million dollar yacht = 100 MCr). Slightly less insane yachts may come in at $50-100 million dollars (which might look like 17-33 MCr which seems to be closer to the smaller ship). But all of those have pools, small craft, some have helipads, every sensor and comms system, and can sleep 20+ so they have parties (some likely sleep 50+). Bars, etc. That is not the spartan layout of Traveller designs. Some of the expensive yachts have multi room suites that would be as large as a medium condo. Not in Traveller designs! To match that, you'd be looking at for at least three times as much space and that'll really jack up your yacht costs (for those who don't care, that's not an obstacle). Those yachts could have crews from 10 to 30. And they work. The really wealthy expect that from their employees.

    So you can do a rich Baroness or better yet an Marqessa with a big yacht. But even then, there is a lot of business goes afloat and the ship's crew works and doesn't set the travel plans nor do they get a lot of time off in ports of call.

    On the one hand, I'd let that kind of action go on in my game world. On the other hand, I'm kind of against glorifying the excess wealth of the ludicrously wealthy by showing yet another area where the very rich get to flaunt their wealth and live lives none of us normal folk can imagine.

    Now, how could you do something closer to 'maritime cruising'?
    1) You have lots of planets where you can set down in a calm lagoon or on a hard rock 'pad'.
    2) You posit instead of nuclear reactors, a high energy power cell that is repaired every so many years. That cuts down maintenance.
    3) You consider doing in-system cruising versus jump. You can get a lot of space back for the J-drive and you need a less powerful computer and you get back fuel space by using a power cell. That might start to make your 100-300 ton ships have more space like a yacht.
    4) You could consider a solar sail for parts of in-system travel.
    5) A planet with some habitable worlds could be like an archipelago. If you had several planets like that in your system, you'd have a lot of room for in-system cruising. (My theory is you need beautiful places with unique visuals and cultures to visit and you need to have atmo that doesn't require a suit or mask).

    That's my 0.02. Happy Travelling!