Spacecraft Design Guide Review

The ‘Spacecraft Design Guide’ is available from Drivethru RPG for $13.07 and is published by Moon Toad Publishing, written by Michael Johnson with artwork by Ian Stead. It is a Cepheus Engine-compatible product which can also be purchased in a print version for $20.26.

The book is pitched as an extension to the original Cepheus Engine spacecraft design rules; its quite a meaty book containing 154 pages. My initial thought was that this could be compared to the original Classic Traveller rules book 2: Starships and book 5: High Guard in the way as a supplement, it extends the spacecraft design rules which includes massive (1 million ton) capital ships.

After the extensive contents section (pages 2 to 14) and introduction (page 15), the book starts with the design process. These two pages belies the extensive contents of the book, which is broken down into six distinct steps.

1. The hull – the foundation of the vehicle (spacecraft or small craft)

2. The engineering section – power plant, jump drive, manoeuvre drive, fuel requirements

3. The main compartment – bridge, staterooms, functional equipment such as a computer, docking clamps

4. Armament – hard points for offensive weaponry and defensive capabilities

5. Small craft, vehicles, drones and cargo holds – any small ships that can be carried.

6. Crew – minimum required to operate the ship and passenger capacity.

The first major section is ‘Spacecraft Design’ starting on page 18. You get a description of what a spacecraft actually is (verses a small craft), standard designs, construction times – basically what is involved in actually building a starship at a shipyard. You then start with actually building your own, beginning with the hull. Spacecraft start with a minimum of 100 dTons – there are two tables listing various sizes from 100 dTons all the way up to 1,000,000 dTons (!) The following pages take you through what makes up the hull – structure and armour.

The second section – ‘engineering’ dives into what powers a spacecraft; jump drives, manoeuvre drives and power plants. There is one table in particular that I liked ‘Military Grade Drives’. If you can buy them, you can obtain these military-specification drives which are more resistant to damage and are able to rapid cycle.

I found the addition of ‘lower technology drives’, namely reaction drives and solar sails really interesting and nice to see alternative methods of propulsion included. Many books will cover drives around TL9 and upwards, but hardly a passing mention is made to lower technology drives. In an interstellar society, surely you would see makes and ages of all types of spacecraft which would include pre-jump drive technology? This is quite an extensive section and there are plenty of variations and types of drive and power plant available to consider.

Next is the main compartment; the bridge, controls and computers. In addition to small spacecraft, you also have information for capital computers. Accommodation is a vital part of any spacecraft; what I found interesting was the inclusion of ‘third class’; basically steerage class where passengers travel in a converted cargo hold. The cheapest way to travel, many worlds consider this to be illegal, but it doesn’t stop it happening. I’ve found many build processes for spacecraft seem to repeat many of the same things and don’t go into that much detail in including some of the more interesting and useful internal components that can be found on a ship. For example an office; seems like an obvious idea, but on a number of spacecraft unless you go to the bridge, don’t have somewhere for you to sit down and work at a computer terminal. Swimming pool and spa? Certainly sir, that will cost you 0.5MCr per ton per user; a luxury item, but something that you could build into your luxury liner, besides the usual accommodation for high passage. Another (seems like it now) obvious item but inherently useful is a UNREP (Underway Replenishment) system; basically it provides the same method to replenish a ship as a sea-going naval ship does today by using a transfer tube and running parallel to the ship which requires replenishment, the supply ship can transfer cargo and materials.

Part 4 introduces armament; types of mounting, weaponry (nice to see Mining Lasers included, my favourite weapon to use in the original computer game ‘Elite’ on the ZX Spectrum. You can kill a Thargoid in six shots with one of those!) There is quite a bit if kit listed; Smart missiles, nukes, sonic electronic ball breakers… sorry, got a bit carried away there, the last one isn’t listed! Its not just offensive weapons listed, but defensive measures are included as well, such as variations of defensive shields, for example as seen in many science-fiction settings such as ‘Star Trek’ or the ‘Terran Trade Authority Handbooks’. In the latter the Terrans traded the technology with the Alphans in exchange for anti-gravity, changing the design of spacecraft overnight.

Part 5 (Small Craft, Vehicles, Drones and Cargo Holds) describes a number of drones, probes, pods and capsules that you can build into your craft. Again, the level of detail describing the fittings and delivery systems really helps this book stand out for me.

The sixth part in the design sequence is the ships crew. There are some very useful recommendations listed which guide you on the number of crew required (or usually found) depending on what type of ship you are designing (eg. civilian or naval craft).

That rounds off the design sequence steps for a spacecraft, from page 88 onwards you are presented with a number of important ship functions and essentials, starting with ship software. Not just programs to load in the same way as in Classic traveller, but you can have ‘Avatar Interfaces’ which require a fairly sophisticated computer setup, including holographic controls and AI software. Running a ship involves cost obviously, so you are given some useful tables and descriptions on the types on monthly costs, crew salaries, repayment methods (no use taking out those short-term loans!) Fancy a new paint job? 0.1MCr per ton of hull on the exterior. Its something that is usually glossed over, so nice to see this level of thought going into the book. The spacecraft section rounds off with information about refits, refurbishment of a ship, technology adjustments, naval capital ship crews, capital ship section hit tables and a round-off page for the free trader design example.

Page 102 goes into the small craft design sequence; I found this particularly helpful as I’d run through the original CE rulebook but found there were some elements of doubt with a few of the engine and hull sizes, when I tried to build a small craft. A similar design process as the spacecraft section is presented, with component and element adjustments to suit the small craft (10-99 dTons).

Pages 121 to 137 provide additional rules to help address the greater firepower and bigger sizes of the vessels involved. Barrage damage tables – a 50 dice barrage from a capital ship? You really don’t want to take on one of these ships with a small shuttle and pea shooter of a beam laser…

Another interesting set of additional rules is ‘Orders’ where a captain of a spacecraft can issue one or more orders to their crew for each turn. Each order issued reduces the number of reactions by the amount determined by each order which in turn reduces the number of reactions the ship will be able to take.

The book rounds off with a few sample spacecraft of varying sizes and tech level.

As you work your way through the book, there is a running example of a build of a spacecraft that as each chapter is described, more is added onto the vehicle. In addition, there are plenty of examples which help to explain the many calculations (which aren’t that complicated) but I always find these useful in understanding a rule. The author has gone to a lot of trouble and consider a huge amount of components that could go into a spacecraft and extend the base Cepheus Engine rules. Its not just a list of tables and steps to follow, there are plenty of descriptions and examples of the calculations needed which help you to build your ship.

The book is presented with the same font and layout as the Cepheus Engine rules; if I had a criticism of the book it would be nice to have seen some spacecraft artwork to help break up the text. As such, you have a really tasty colour cover by Ian Stead of a delta-shaped capital ship, but unfortunately no other pieces in the book. I guess this may have been a layout decision to keep with the style of the original CE rulebook, bit of a shame that some additional designs by Ian couldn’t have been included.

That said, I really like and enjoyed reading this book; its clear, concise and extends the original CE rules by a substantial margin and comprehensively bolsters the number of choices you have to build you spacecraft, right from 10 dTon shuttles to 1 million dTon behemoth capital ships that can smash battle fleets. Having a good range of technology to choose from, from different tech levels increases the usefulness of the book by not just limiting it to a specific timeline. I can highly recommend this book; it is a very useful tool to have for your 2D6 SFRPG games, no matter what your setting. I’m sure you’ll find some inspiration to help enhance your games. I would like to thank Ian Stead of Moon Toad Publishing for very kindly offering a copy for me to review.

About AlegisDownport

Musings on the Traveller RPG world, technology, astronomy and digital art.
This entry was posted in Cepheus Engine, Classic Traveller, Clement Sector, Mongoose Traveller, OGL and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Spacecraft Design Guide Review

  1. Michael Johnson says:

    Thanks Steve!
    The ship featured on the cover and back is the Perseus Cass Heavy Cruiser which is provided as a sample design in the book.

  2. Michael Tee says:

    “I found the addition of ‘lower technology drives’, namely reaction drives and solar sails. ”
    Was it hidden? 😉

    • Michael Tee says:

      Steve, I feel I owe an apology. The above comment was meant jokingly, but after thinking about it, I realize it might be too snarky. You may delete it if you wish.

      • Hi Michael, I was a bit puzzled by what you meant until I found the line in question and realised I hadn’t completed what I wanted to say! That’ll teach me to edit late at night! I’ve corrected the line in question, no offense taken and thanks for pointing the edit out. Cheers, Steve

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