Classic Traveller: Scout Ship Economics

Thursday , 29, June 2017 4 Comments
The Traveller role playing game is named Traveller because characters tend to be people at loose ends bumming around the galaxy. Large chunks of the game mechanics revolve around the mechanisms of, well, travelling — including how to pay for all that travel. Unless a character is lucky enough to get drafted into a service that may provide a starship, lucky enough to survive service, and lucky enough to successful roll a ship on the mustering out tables, a character will have to pay for travel, find employ, or have friends. The last option is possibly the most popular choice because while one character may not have great chances of getting a ship, a party of characters stand a decent chance of one of them luckily acquiring a ship. So, which character roles have a chance of getting a ship? Only two: the merchant and the scout. I’m not sure which of the two roles has a better chance of getting a ship. On the mustering out table the Scout has a better chance as any scout has a one in six chance of rolling a ship on the benefits table. For the merchants on the other hand only rank 5 or 6 characters can get the plus one on the benefits table necessary to get a freetrader. However, scouts have a much greater chance of death in a career and so, more dead scout characters get rolled than ever get played. As it happens my party has managed to roll and receive both a freetrader and a scoutship. In my last column I looked a bit at the economics of running a freetrader. If you read that one, you will know that a merchant’s life, while affording the opportunity to earn riches, more often is a hand to mouth existence of riding the edge of economic ruin. How is it for a scout?

A scout ship offers some upsides and downsides. Lets first look at the downsides. A scout is a small ship. At half the tonnage of a freetrader, it has dramatically less  cargo space with just three tons stowage versus 82 tons for the freetrader. A scout has four staterooms compared to the freetraders ten and it has no low berths. So, making a living hauling cargo and passengers might be rough. On the upside, due to its small size, using the same engines as a freetrader gives the ship 2g thrust and a jump two making it a faster and much more flexible ship. And, in particular, looking at the Narzenia Subsector I rolled up, starting a Ladfaus, it has a distinct advantage over the freetrader. A scout ship can jump out of Ladfaus without having to carry extra fuel and reduced cargo.

But, from there determining a scout ship’s exact advantage depends on Referee decisions.  Bear with me here on a small digression. There are some interesting the design differences even between the 1977 and 1981 versions. One of which is that the 1977 version has the Space Lanes. Space Lanes are charted courses. To travel the Space Lanes a ship captain buys route cassettes at 10,000 Cr per jump number. And, cassettes are only available for systems on the Space Lanes. Systems with no Space Lane connection can only be traveled to by ships that have obtained the Generate computer program which allows computation of jump routes directly and no jump cassette is required. Having a Generate program can save a captain money on jump cassettes and greatly add to the capability of a ship. A ship with no Generate program simply must stop at a system and obtain the next jump cassette; should a system prove hostile, it has no means of bypassing the danger because it cannot jump out without that next cassette. But, a Generate program is not cheap; it costs 800,000Cr. And here is where a problem creeps into the 1977 rules. The 1977 rules state that all computers start with 2MCr of software. The result of this is that all ships will be able to obtain the Generate program and given the advantages of having a Generate program why wouldn’t they. This destroys the restrictions imposed by the jump cassette and Space Lanes system. Because nearly all ships will have Generate there might as will not be Space Lanes. The 1981 rules revised this by reducing the value of the basic software package to 1MCr per computer number. This change means that ships could buy Generate but, will then not be able to buy other necessary programs for proper ship function. So, the value of jump cassettes are maintained. But, this results in another problem. For a scout or freetrader with a number 1 computer there is not enough money to get the Generate program with the basic package. This makes sense with the idea of the jump cassettes being the more usual mode. But, why would a scout ship be stuck to the Space Lanes? That is, the change in basic software value essentially removes the ability of a scout ship to,well, scout. I’ve heard from some people that they have rationalized this to mean that the scout ship assigned to a mustering out character is a stripped down version of an in-service scout ship with no bells or whistles. But, I just don’t cotton to that argument because it wrecks the primary utility of a scout ship. I just don’t see why the Scout Service would do that. Any in-service scout ship would be equipped with Generate and even if the ships mustering out of service are junkers, what is gained for the Scout Service by taking away the Generate program since any new ship they buy will be able to have a new copy of Generate? I’ve split the difference and allowed the 1 MCr for freetraders which gives them an immediate goal of earning enough credits to buy a generate program to free themselves from the spacelanes. But, I gave the scout the 2 MCr package which allows a scout ship to have the ability to scout. It makes sense to me. Your mileage may vary.

Given all this how does a scout ship fare? Following an approach similar to that I used with the freetrader, Given a two jumps per month schedule and full load a scout ship’s economics look dramatically different than that of the freetrader. You can see from the table below the advantages of the scout. Firstly and mostly, because the ship is essentially on loan from the Scout Service there is no monthly payment to make. This is a huge difference between the freetrader and scout ship. The fact there is no crew to pay (assuming the character is the pilot) and no jump cassette to buy is merely gravy on top of that missing payment. A full scout ship can make 70,000Cr per trip which means it doesn’t even need to find the full complement of high passengers in order to survive. But, these high passengers are critical. Cargo just isn’t going to pay for fuel and life support. A scout needs to find a least five high passengers per month in order to break even. But, will it? Well, it probably will for most months but, hanging out on low population frontier worlds it may be hit or miss finding those high passengers. Hopefully some of those high passengers will need to be taken to unexplored systems that merit additional hazard pay. Though, frontier worlds will often have scout bases which offer free fuel to scouts so, that also can take up a lot of slack. Heck, assuming a scout skims gas giants for fuel, more often than not the only expense is life support. A scout has to be doing pretty badly if he can’t come up with the monthly life support cash.

Costs:
Fuel: 40,000
Life Support: 16,000
Jump Cassette: 0
Salaries: 0
Bank Payment: 0
Revenues:
Passengers: 120,000
Cargo: 6,000
Total: 70,000

While a scout generally looks to be in much better circumstances than the freetrader, the other thing to note is that buying a scout is almost certainly a money losing proposition. At 32.9MCr the scout is cheaper than the freetrader’s 37.08MCr which makes its monthly payment cheaper too — a mere 135,375 Cr per month. But, there is just no way to make that payment living solely on passengers and cargo. A full scoutship with this payment will be 65,375 in the hole each month. Carrying speculative cargo may help a bit with successful trades but, even so, speculation carries the risk of losing even more money and is unlikely to fill that gap. It’s pretty clear that, outside of the scout service, a scoutship is only a pleasure craft for the extremely rich while, with a freetrader, a person willing to take risks has a real chance of earning that monthly payment.

And, for a player character group, a scout ship can hold 8 characters if they are willing to double up. Then they can seek those high risk, high reward missions to pay that life support bill. It may be a short life but, a merry one without a lot of monetary pressure.

4 Comments
  • Frank Filz says:

    Great write up. I certainly see your logic of allowing the loaner scouts to have the Generate program, I have chosen for my own campaign to restrict it, of course if you luck out, you could also write the program.

  • John E. Boyle says:

    Interesting.

    The Traveller campaign I was in (1978-79, I think) had our group running around in what had to be a scout, because we were doubled up in those staterooms with the exception of the captain.

    My notes for that campaign are long gone, but some of the memories are coming back after reading your write-ups.

    Thanks, Mr. Renninger.

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