Friday, 4 May 2012

Accountants in Space: Fun with Spread sheets

Jamison is a Traveller character from
the very first edition of the game
Within Traveller the roleplaying game, there are a series of metagames and minigames. These can be lots of fun and help scratch the Traveller itch if, like me, you find it difficult to get a regular crew together for a game. It’s not like I’m Nigel No-friends, it’s just that organizing games can be a bit like herding cats these days, with kids and families and work all competing for time.

The character generation process is actually a little game all of its own. Unlike a number of other roleplaying games from the mid-to-late 70’s period, characters in Traveller begin their adventuring later in life. In basic Book 1 Character Generation, the character’s pre-adventuring career is resolved in a series of four-year terms. In the later career books, starting with Book 4: Mercenary and Book 5: High Guard, and in various third party career books, such as SORAG from Paranoia Press, the four year term is broken down further into one year assignments. What this all means is that at the end of the character generating process, it is possible to marry up a character’s career against the larger history of the campaign and see whether he or she was present at significant historical events.

Cool starship discovered on the Internet

And while this is fantastic from a character’s backstory point of view, it’s also actually quite a lot of fun just rolling the dice and seeing where your characters end up. I have a notebook of characters from various career paths that I have generated in gaming downtime to use as NPCs as required.

Traveller wouldn’t be Traveller without starships and one of the things Traveller has always been known for is its material design systems – a toolbox of components and rules that allows you to create and define “stuff” like planets, planetary systems, and starships.

High Guard Shipyard

I used to use the starship design sequence and design ships on notepaper  – listing the components I wanted and their volumes and costs, adding it all up and then pulling things out or downgrading them until the volume of the components matched the volume of the starship hull – but this was all a bit fiddly and time consuming.

A few years ago, I discovered that a very clever countryman of mine had created a lovely little computer programme that did all the heavy figuring for you. As freeware, the programme, High Guard Shipyard, is available for download from Andrew Vallence’s website . Essentially, he put all the volume and cost parameters into a spreadsheet and then linked this data to a little interface screen containing all the required formulas.

Text report showing volume and cost of
components for a ship design.
So now, I can enter in the performance details I want my ship to possess, and the programme will make all the required calculations. And this means that if I change a parameter, all the other calculations are updated as I go. It will also provide me with a printable data card of the final ship, as well as a text file that elaborates on the actual components chosen. It actually took me longer to make up these screen shots than it did for me to make the ship!

The design sequence for generating planetary systems uses a lot of variables – everything from planetary diameter to atmosphere type to population to government. These are hard to figure into a spread sheet without some form of random number generator. Fortunately, there’s another bit of freeware called Heaven and Earth, specifically designed for Traveller, available on the Internet.

Heaven and Earth
This piece of software will generate subsectors and sectors, using several different design systems, as well as fleshing out entire star systems and mapping them. It also has a fairly useful edit function that allows you to enter existing worlds into your master sector map. So, all in all, a pretty powerful piece of software with a few annoying quirks – such as not allowing you to name a system’s primary star separately from the main world.

Sometimes, you just need an estimate of how much money your polities have to spend – especially if you’re looking at Sector and Subsector Fleet budgets, and trying to work out the size of available ground forces. To calculate how much money the armed forces have, you really need to know what the Gross Planetary Product of each system is and work out how keen the system government is at slicing off a chunk for the military. As economics bores most people rigid, the Traveller designers came up with a quick little calculation that produces a number. What’s neat about this is that by plugging the Universal Planetary Profile (UPP) values (generated when each planetary system is created) into a simple Excel spreadsheet, you can generate system, subsector, and Sector military budgets, as well as shipyard capacity values for all A and B Class Starports.

Supplements such as Sector Fleet (for MongooseTraveller) and Ground Forces (for GURPs: Traveller) offer suggestions for how these armed forces might be structured which allows the Games Master to slice and dice his or her budgets as is deemed appropriate.

By automating a lot of the design calculations, a Games Master can extract information more quickly from the raw data, and can have more faith in the numbers being generated. By taking out the drudgery, the fun factor is increased which, after all, is why we do this.


  1. The 4-year term broken into 1-year assignments was also in Book 6: scouts and Book 7: Merchant Prince.

    I don't remember the Gross Planetary Product and shipyard capacity calculations - which book were they in?

    1. D'oh! You are correct. Book 6: Scouts and Book 7: Merchant Prince did indeed use the 1-year assignments, as did various third party character career generators - Criminals from White Dwarf magazine; Scouts and Assassins, SORAG and Merchants and Merchandise from Paranoia Press; and an article on Scouts from Dragon magazine - to name a few! I have amended my post above.

      Comments on GPP and shipyard capacity below.

  2. Very, very handy references. Thanks Kobold.

  3. Striker (vehicle designs - another game within a game) included formulae for calculating planetary defense budgets for Army and Navy, and Adventure 5: Trillion Credit Squadron also had (slightly conflicting) rules for determining Naval budgets. I don't recall ever seeing a Gross Planetary Product formula, either. Is that a Mongoose or GURPS Traveller formula? I really only play CT.

    1. Adventure 5: Trillion Credit Squadron has a basic navy budget generator where Budget = Cr500 x Government Modifier x Population and there is a little table of Government Types and a War and a Peace Modifier (for example a Type 1 Government has a Peace Modifier of 0.8, but a War Modifier of 1.4, so your taxes almost double when War threatens. Taxes are paid in local Credits and there is an exchange rate table that allows taxes to be remitted to your polity's capital at the value of your polity's credit, or to your Sector capital at the Imperium's exchange rate.

      A couple of pages later, there's a formula for working out shipyard capacity. Capacity = Population x Government Modifier (same as for tax)/1000 in tons (or dtons if you prefer). So, governments under a war footing can boost their yard capacity (by mobilising extra yard hands, I guess). Only A and B Class Starports can build non-Jump ships and only A Class ports can build Jump capable starships.

      In Striker - the Traveller Ground Wargame, the tax rules are expanded. A GNP (or GPP) is generated by the formula GNP/GPP = Base Rate by Tech Level x Trade Characteristic Factor x Population. So a Poor, Tech Level 9 world with 1 million people would have a GPP of 10,000 (TL 9) x 0.8 (Poor) x 1,000,000 (population) or BCr 8 per annum.

      Annual military spending ranges between 1% and 15% of GPP (no guides here so I guess we just draw out a number based on the Government type and the likelihood of war), and of this about 40% goes to the army and 60% to the navy. On Imperial worlds, 30% of the military budget gets passed to the Imperium to maintain Imperial armed forces, prior to the balance being split between the local army and navy.

      GURPs: Far Trader uses a slightly different method of calculating Gross World Product: Base Per-Capita Income by Tech Level x Trade Class Modifier x Population where the numbers are just slightly different enough that you end up with a different GWP/GPP.

      At the end of the day, pick the level of detail you like and go with that - we're only modelling a economic model is the widest terms to give us a sense of scale.

      Copies of Trillion Credit Squadron come up on eBay all the time. Otherwise, all the Classic Traveller books are available on CD-Rom from Far Future Enterprises - Marc Miller's current publishing venture.