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The Fleet Ship designs, strategies, and tactics.

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Old March 25th, 2006, 11:26 AM
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I'm a big fan of Adventure 4. A merchant exploration mission searching for new markets in a poorly known subsector - this is cool! Sure, the fact that there are "unknown" worlds just a stone's throw from the Imperial border didn't make much sense - and then there are those goofy jump torpedoes - but the idea of contacting forgotten worlds in the shadows beyond the edge of Imperial illumination was pretty exciting stuff.

And then there's Leviathan herself. Re-reading the adventure yesterday (thanks, Titan Games!), I luxuriated in the precise details of the ship - this hatch opens this way, here's the small galley that serves the bridge crew, in this compartment are the environmental controls for the cargo bay...brilliant, just brilliant. No other deckplan gave me that same feeling of, "Wow, this is what a big ship would really be like!"

Except for the cargo hold.

Seventy tons. For an 1800-dton merchant ship.

My character was fortunate enough, way back in the day, to captain the mighty Leviathan on its journey across the Outrim Void, and I remember being frustrated by the tiny hold - I was pretty good at turning a profit, you see (to the point where we almost never encountered the Droyne in Twilight's Peak since we were making so many credits trading along the Main), and that darn seventy tons just didn't cut it for a truly mercantile adventurer. I filled the various ship's boats with trade goods on the way out and again on the return voyage, and even then our profits were modest (at least by my standards - once you've made that first 100 MCr, anything less feels like pocket change!).

I see this same thing in many ship designs, like the Lorimar or various and sundry "fast traders" (the progeny of naval architects suffering from "Millenium Falcon syndrome") that pop up from time to time. These designs give my suspension of disbelief a swift kick in the slats. I have a hard enough time figuring out how any sane financial institution would finance a far trader, let alone any of these monstrosities - in fact, IMTU a character must have a successful trading history, decent starting capital, and a business plan that's a bit more detailed than "look for odd jobs" in order to finance a type A2.

T20 gives me a little bit of relief with priority cargos for fast traders - at least that slim cargo tonnage can be stretched a bit, but the event horizon of the debt gravity well looms large should the ship leave a populous route. And merchant cruisers are partially subsidized by their parent companies in anticipation of future profits - spending money to make money, as it were - but this is cold-comfort to a crew that is expecting a percentage of the profits on a type MC trading expedition.

Still, the idea that anyone is interested in designing and building merchant ships that have little or no chance of breaking even, let alone turning a profit strains my credulity more than a ten-ton computer ever will. Merchants exist to make money, and IMHO their ships should reflect this.

Why build a Leviathan when you can build a 3000-ton Tukera Lines-style freighter and a 400-ton patrol cruiser to escort it for about the same investment? Twelve-hundred tons of trade goods compared to seventy seems like a heck of a good incentive, and if operating beyond the border is the justification, the ten turrets on the freighter along with the four turrets of the speedy type T kick the snot out of either a Leviathan or a Lorimar.

The reason that these ships get built is a metagame one, of course - it's because they make fun platforms for players and their characters. I find no fault in this logic - it's a game, it should be exciting, and the Leviathan is an exciting ship, especially when your referee springs both a Chamax Horde-like alien infestation and a mutiny on you! (Our referee homebrewed all the planets in the Void and the associated rumors, since two or three of us already owned and read the adventure before we played.)

Nonetheless, it's my one sticking point in the TU - strangely enough, I can accept many of the oddities that hang up other Traveller gamers, but merchant ships that are unlikely to turn a profit set my eyes to rolling faster than you can say, "feudal technocracy." [img]smile.gif[/img]
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