By Gregg Giles
There’s no doubt about it. Traveller starships have changed dramatically. The simple (and at times inefficient) High Guard design system has been restructured under the new MegaTraveller rules, and it can at first sight seem terrifying. I choked upon seeing all the charts, the new rules I’d never seen before, and the old ones which I recognized that were no longer the same was as they once were.
Whether these new rules are as good or better than the High Guard rules is a decision for you to make. Hopefully, with this article, I will clear up the changes made by the seemingly endless MegaTraveller construction rules. To understand this article more fully, you will need both the new Imperial Encyclopedia and the Referee’s Manual. Having a copy of Book 5, High Guard, may also come in handy when I begin to make comparisons between the two systems.
Throughout this article there will be references given to certain page numbers in the MegaTraveller rule books, such as (R56), which denotes the very first page of the craft design rules, ony page 56 of the Referee’s Manual. All page numbers are for the first edition rules.
We begin from ground zero, the hull.
The Starship Hull
The most important change to realize is the difference between the terms “displacement” and “weight”. Although the High Guard rules led one to believe that a 100-ton ship actually weighed 100 tons, that is no longer so. Displacement is a measure of the amount of space that the ship takes up were it put into a large tank of water. Weight is not the actual heaviness of the ship, measured in metric tons (1 metric ton = 1,000 kilograms). Displacement, on the other hand, is now measured in kiloliters to determine volume (1 displacement ton = 13.5 kiloliters). It is important that you do not confuse kiloliters and kilograms.
Prices for hulls have also decreased dramatically. The standardized Cr100,000 per ton rule of Book 5 has been abolished, making way for new prices. Ships between 100 and 19,999 displacement tons average Cr1,330 per ton – a huge price reduction. After 19,999 tons, however, prices get lower with an average price of Cr593 per ton for ships between 20,000 and 1 million tons.
Starship configurations have also changed a little, but only in name. Configuration type zero is introduced as the “open frame”. The closed structure (type 4) is now named “box”, flattened sphere (type 6) is now “dome/disc”, and dispersed structure (type 7) is now simply called “irregular”. Price modifiers have been changed to fit the new system, and weight modifiers have been added (mass weight, not displacement). Multipliers are to be multiplied together for a subtotal.
Armor has become harder and is now available in a broader selection. Ships are no longer bound to use the same bulky armor as all other vessels (in High Guard, a Scout was forced to use the same armor as a dreadnaught). Choices now range between soft or hard steel, heavy or light composite laminate, crystaliron, and standard, bonded, or coherent superdense armor. Since the average technological level of the Imperium was 15 before the Rebellion, it is assumed that bonded superdense armor (TL14) is the standard armor in Imperial space.
In addition, all starships are now required to have a minimum level of 40 in order to guard against solar radiation and other hazardous particles hurtling through space.
This section made me the happiest. High Guard rules restricted ship designs to the standard refined liquid fuel held in tanks to run both the power plant and the drives. However, the new rules (R64) allow for new sources such as nuclear fission, fusion and even antimatter plants. This saves literally tons of displacement of other important things, such as living space and cargo room. It is important to remember, though, that jump-drive fuel and power plant fuel are kept separately from each other (that is if the power plant uses liquid fuel).
At TL15, fusion power plants are the norm, and use hydrogen fuel. Antimatter is introduced at TL17, producing 72 times the amount of energy that a TL15 fusion power plant will. It is clear that power plants have benefited from the MegaTraveller revision. At TL21, antimatter produces 100 times the energy of the TL17 antimatter reactor, and 7,143 times the energy of the TL15 fusion reactor. Too bad the Imperium didn’t have a higher tech level!
Batteries, fuel cells, and (thankfully) solar cells are introduced. However, the better the ship’s power plant is, the less likely these three developments will be needed. Solar cells will likely be stored away most of the time, since a ship is usually too far from a star for them to do any good. However, when in the system center, solar cells can prove to be a very useful source of free energy, especially in the event of an emergency. Solar cells are also useful when a starship is placed into an “orbital storage” path; the solar cells would maintain essential computer functions as well as keep homing beacons operating.
The jump drive’s efficiency has improved an incredible 35% over the High Guard rules. This is in fuel efficiency however, and not in time. It still takes a week to travel one or even six parsecs.
A new feature is the introduction of the anti-gravity and thruster units for maneuvering. Anti-grav units were for a long time mentioned but never appeared (R65). Avionics are introduced as well (R66).
Those familiar with Grand Survey and Grand Census from Digest Group will recognize the new sensors and electronic equipment (R67). Additions include meson, radio, laser and maser (or microwave) gear. Also, an entirely new field has been incorporated into starship construction with new sensors and electronics. Architects can now chose from a long list of add-ons, including radio jammers, radars, ladars, neutrino sensors, and several forms of EMS gear. Other devices include robot arms and holorecorders.
The best advantage of the new rules is the ability to mix bay weapons and turrets. High Guard forbade that (although many architects managed to do it). But now, that has changed. Two new spinal mounts have appeared: the disintegrator weapon and the jump projector (disintegrators can also be in turret form). The jump projector does seem like a silly weapon to devote an entire ship to, though.
The cluttered “Turret Weapons” chart from High Guard has been broken down into six smaller charts, and another has been added for disintegrator turrets. These charts are simple to understand and are much better for your eyes (R73-74). Rate of Fire (ROF) has been added and helps with combat sequences.
Screens and Bridge
The troublesome trio is no longer alone. This “trio” refers to the defense screens of High Guard: nuclear dampers, meson screens, and force fields (black globes). Added to this already spectacular list are proton screens and white globes. Proton screens utilize anti-matter weapons, which makes their first appearance at TL19 (making them rare if not non-existent). White globes allow protection from hostile fire while allowing scanners and sensors to work effectively.
Bridge computers are now available up to TL21 (the model 15/fib). Control points have been added for realism, and were added on the bassis that as technology gets better, more controls are needed to operate a ship (using voice- controlled computers and “psionic-switches” can reduce these points). Other extras include “heads-up” displays and the legendary holographic display.
Accommodations charts are vastly improved, making determination of crew compliments much simpler. Rapid-launch tube rules are also introduced.
The stress here is on the plural tense of “fuel”. MegaTraveller has made “fuel” a generic word to describe a now-huge category. Fuels now encompass hydrocarbons (benzine, gasoline, etc.), radioactives (uranium and plutonium for fission), hyrdrogen (deuterium and others for fusion), and anti-matter. Contrary to popular belief, hydrogen fuel is not drinkable.
Purification plants are as before, as are fuel scoops. Clarifications are made for the collapsible fuel tanks, dismountable tanks, and drop tanks. Cargo space is as before.
For better or for worse?
Are these rules better? Yes! Overall, the new MegaTraveller starship design rules are an impressive and comprehensive revision of the High Guard rules. Many may find it difficult to adjust to the new system after using High Guard for so long. But then when you think about it, wasn’t it hard to figure out High Guard the very first time?
The first edition rules set of MegaTraveller had its fair share of errors (as do most first edition games and revisions). Some of these errors were in the starship construction rules. Many changes and corrections have been made, as well as clarifications. For a free copy of these corrections, send a self addressed stamped envelop to Game Designers’ Workshop, P.O. Box 1646, Bloomington, IL 61702-1646 and request the latest MegaTraveller errata sheets.
[Editor's note: GDW is no longer in business – please do not mail to the address above.]