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I had an idea for a new class of ship. A 'colony rider' the idea was a cheap modular ship families/small groups could buy to use to get to new worlds to homestead on..the bulk of the ship could then be stripped to build the habitat to live in...the ships themselves could be carried by a tender to the system.

ofcourse, the colony rider would be the 'schooner-class' and the tender would be 'wagon train'.

silly idea?
Not a silly idea at all, IMHO ;)

The tender and its valuable computer and jump drive can be used again and again by the homeworld (and can be used for more than carrying colony riders ;) ), while the cheap rider provides shelter, workshops, and a power plant that could run a small town.

How big were you thinking for the colony rider?
Sorry I fail to see the silliness of this idea as well. You can build the modules about the size of a double wide trailer (~20 dtons). That should be enough to support a family of 4. The tender takes them through jump space, delivers them, and afterwards, pick up another set of colonists.

Possibly need to take a module or two full of module "kits" Once you get to the new planet, you assemble the modules, load them up with raw materials (wood, minerals, etc.) and take these prefab mods back to the home world. Start a trading system where on one leg, the ship delivers colonists (and prefab mod kits) and on the return leg, raw materials for the home world industries.
The nice thing about your concept is that while the craft would originally be intended for colonization purposes - it is enough multi-purpose that it could serve as follows:

General cargo carrier - just design "hulls" that carry nothing but cargo - no life support, no bridge - just cargo capacity.

Civilian ship carrier as originally envisioned.

Battle tender - carries a standardized hull not unlike those of the colonial section - but are instead, system defense boats. To make matters more interesting - treat this ship the same as a subsidized 400 Dton merchant ship.

Troop carrier - carries troops in time of war - and can be configurable as such. What's the difference between carrying a ship outright with colony supplies and that of a Company or regiment or what have you and their supplies?

In all, a general all around useful ship.
At first I wasn't sure if I should post the idea and bat it around a bit....
As for size, I hadn't gotten out of the concept stage yet...

how could I work a group of pc's into this? tender crew? guides to a new world? guards?
Depends on what kind of action you desire to portray.

Lets try this on for size...

Lets assume that you have a player character in your group for whom you can count on to role play instead of roll play. Let him know that he has a brother in the Space navy (System Defense Boats). Furthermore? Have the brother show up on leave happy to show his brother/sister/sibling off to other NPC's and have them help the player characters out in some fashion. Hell, make it as simple as the fact that the NPC SDB crew takes everyone out on the town in celebration of being released for a time from the pigboats.
In the meantime, have the other players part of a crew for a *small* tender. It carries say - 8 400 dton ships that are designed to be canibalized for colonization. The player's job is to do the ho hum transportation of various equipment etc. But make it so that the SDB crews are HUMAN and ALIVE for the PC's.
Then comes that awful moment. The PC's are the nearest ship that can help a stricken SDB. Some raiders (pirates or perhaps corporate sponsored mercenaries - or what have you - it is your story after all!) attacked the system and lost 3 ships against the defending SDB's. The raiders are out to nail the last surviving SDB in the area (there are other SDB's elsewhere in the system mind you, but the squadron of SDB's is the only one in the area). Your "tender" has a contract to deliver these modules to the planet safe and sound. Problem is? The tender is the only craft capable of getting to the battle site where two derelict SDB's are floating/tumbling. The only other ship that had a better chance of rescuing any survivors has mysteriously developed radio trouble. It isn't responding to your hails and it isn't altering course to help the SDB's.
Will your players go to help the survivors? Will they turn tail like the other merchant craft? What if it is the brother of the PC who is assigned to the SDB squadron that got hit? What if it isn't - how would the player respond when his/her brother confronts them asking "Why didn't you go to help the SDB?!!!"
If you want to make things more tense? Maybe the players do go to rescue the stricken craft. With their ability to transport such craft - they could jettison two cargo/pods and stop the tumbling craft - bringing them home for repairs before the raider returns (you somehow just KNEW the raider would return didn't you?). Now, do you want to add one more agonizing choice for the players to have to deal with? One of the survivors of the SDB is a crack sensor operator. He offers to help the PC crew by acting as a sensor operator. Or perhaps he stands behind the sensor operator at the bridge as the PC sensor operator scans surrounding space. One of the crewmembers of the SDB was thrown from the damaged SDB and the PC's can't find him (or can if you feel like it) but the crewmember is drifting in space helpless.
If you're nasty enough - make it a choice between rescuing that helpless navy bloke but placing the ship in EXTREME danger - or run for safety. And if you want to heighten the tension? Have the sensor operator who has navigation as a skill, bang his fist in frustration on the console panel as the PC captain struggles with the decision. Have the NPC tell the captain "If we rescue <insert name here> the raiders will get into engagement range inside of 10 minutes maybe 20. We can't rescue him unless you want to trade shots with a raider who just killed two SDB's"

You have all sorts of potential plot lines to follow from there. Maybe one of the modules they jettisoned was carrying a cargo for the Local Crime syndicate. Maybe the cargo they jettison is expensive war materials the Imperium was trying to hide from enemies so that they could build a forward base at this planet. Maybe the ship gets drafted into a war of sorts where the players have to deal with the Imperial Navy or subsector navy. Maybe they just panick and run for the safety of the deeper territory. It is all up to you
This type of ship is described in GURPS Traveller as a LASH tender. (Lighter Aboard SHip)
And is also a star in the Adventure " 100 Parcecs" in the GURPS Traveller : Sword Worlds book.
The ship is a basic core (Unstreamlined , dispersed Structure, or possibly a close structure) and carries various Modules on its exterior.This modules can be anything from Fuel tanks, passenger pods , to SDBs. ( Limited only by the SMs and players imagination.)
Saw a Tne-list version of this ship. Peter Gray wrote it up for the BARD pages, IIRC.
The Gilgamesh-class LASH freighter. An USL-open hulled J-3/ 1G leviathan with 200 x 100dtn cargo shuttles. Used primarily in frontier/ backwater regions not yet developed with higher grade C-class orbital ports or less (D & E-class), to move freight. So with 20Ktns of lighters, the rest of the ship displaced 5-10ktns of Jump drives, fuel, crews qtrs [large FLT crew here fer MT users!].
Mr. Gray's analysis for TNE was this old design could have been utilized in the Landgrab-land rush colonization of 1202+ out of the Regency space till they ran into the NZS crossing Deneb into Corridor sector..
--Of course with 200 sets of external grapples and airlocks for stuff, modules, SDB's, extra Fuel pods.. hey this ship coulda done it all.. And used some shuttles as fuellers at gas giants where no orbital facilities existed.
I'm going to have to take a closer look at that LASH set up then. When I did the Ianic Refueling Corporation, I presumed that it would have required an SDB tender to deliver it. A single LASH ship carrying it might have worked better
sounds like a LSH can double as an ad-hoc high port also...hmmm, colonists come in, drop their pods, build their homes and use the tender as a high port keeping the cockpit and m-drives of the pods for use as shuttles?...