Tag Archive Traveller License

Designing the Small Craft of the Third Imperium

While we have spent the last three years bringing the Type S Scout/Courier, Type J Seeker, and the mighty Type A(L) Free Trader Beowulf into 28mm and a plethora of vessels as Starship Miniatures, we have thus far neglected the true backbone of the Third Imperium – Small Craft.

While the larger hero ships of the Traveller RPG universe most often steal the show, it is the craft under 100 tons that are the most ubiquitous vessels and keep the Empire running locally. Whether transporting passengers, crew, cargo or fuel, or acting as custom vessels or life boats, small craft service much larger vessels that cannot enter an atmosphere and for the smallest commercial endeavours.

For our 2023 Traveller campaign, we are tackling 3D printable small craft. The Kickstarter will go live in late September or early October (sign up here to be notified), and for the first time will feature a limited print run of our Launch.

Classic Problems

Whenever we make a new Traveller product, there are a multitude of things to consider. In fact, being somewhat faithful to the original designs is something we try to aspire towards and is incredibly time-consuming, often adding months to the design process.

However, with the Small Craft, we had to make some creative choices that long time Traveller fans will appreciate. We had to take into consideration the following factors:

  • Our Traveller license from Far Future Enterprises covers Classic Traveller and Traveller5 materials; most other editions are either defunct (and un-licensable), or owned by Mongoose
  • Traveller designs vary greatly from edition to edition in appearance and layout creating a wide variety of expectations with fans
  • Most Traveller deck plans have many errors in them compared to the game rules
  • Almost all Traveller deck plans do not work in a three-dimensional space
  • We need to keep our production costs within budget
  • The modular cutter is meant to dock in a 6-metre-wide berth
  • Make small craft designs aesthetically pleasing

Issue #1: Incongruency

Every edition of Traveller has its own look and feel, and chief of all, its own deck plans and layouts. We learned early on, designing the Type S, that there are incredible challenges converting 2D deck plans into a 3D model that looks the part. Compromises always need to be made, so we started with those from the beginning.

Initially, we only conceived of creating the modular cutter. It has dozens of variants, is small enough to avoid the months-long print times for the 100 ton plus ships, and seemed useful enough for fans to print and use on the tabletop. However, after consulting with our Traveller gurus, it was pointed out that the small craft all had a similar shape.

None of the ships above have the correct tonnage – since volume of a cylinder does not seem to be taken into account, but even counting squares, the Cutter here is 40 tons, the Launch 14 tons, the Pinnace 34 tons, and the Ship’s Boat 25 tons.
Early art of the cutter looks longer than the deck plans. Incongruencies in the design are clear from an early stage; designed to fit into the Broadsword, and in the image to the right, you can see it is not quite the same diameter as the one from the deck plan at the top left.
Images from the A7 Broadsword booklet from 1982, featuring the Mercenary Cruiser and Modular Cutter; note the mistake in the deck plans only just begins with putting in Pinnaces rather than Cutters as mentioned in the text…

Early Traveller has most small craft with a 4.5 metre interior diameter, with the exception of the Cutter with a 6 metre interior diameter, plus or minus a little, as of all craft in all editions of Traveller, this one is shown with the most inconsistency from edition to edition.

There are arguments of the exact volume of a dTon is equivalent to anywhere between 12.5 and 14.5 cubic metres, but the rules state that two squares are equivalent to one dTon. Looking at the deck plans above, it is immediately obvious that the deck plans are often off by a lot as far as tonnage was concerned. Which is a very frustrating issue for a designer like me who likes to be as accurate as possible. But what do you do when nothing matches up?

Picking the Diameter

The Modular Cutter was always designed to fit into the Mercenary Cruiser, and this creates problems – namely that because of the thin walls of Traveller Deck Plans, there is no reasonable way a cutter could actually be 6 metres in diameter on the inside and fit inside a housing with the same width.

This is even more problematic in 3D where parts need to be designed to a certain minimum thickness – we already had to invent a brand new clip to make the walls thinner. Add the deck plans vs. tonnage inconsistencies in and you have a serious headache, even with the relatively simple cylindrical form.

From left to right: outer hull 6 metres, inner hull 6 metres, inner hull 6 metres (alt floor level), inner hull 4.5 metres

We tested a variety of options regarding hull diameter; what size did it have to be to fit standard cargo (ignoring the wasted space), exactly how much volume would a section have, and where should the floors be? Floors are a massive incongruency in all editions of Traveller, but especially GURPS Traveller, where there is simply not enough room for the interiors designed in the deck plans. Fortunately, we are only dealing with a single level with small craft, and older editions, so after some initial exploration of larger widths, we settled on 4.5 metre interior radius for both our modular cutter and our small craft:

  • Small Craft were more numerous in design
  • The Modular Cutter deck plans we had access to were wrong anyway, and the original art looked longer than presented, so we could simply stretch the Cutter to make it longer
  • We need to reuse components to cut down on production time
  • The 4.5 metre diameter can fit standard cargo with a recessed floor level
  • A 4.5 metre diameter by 1.5 metre (three squares by 1 square) section just so happens to be almost exactly 29 cubic metres in volume – or 2 displacement tons! Each inch of ship at scale would be equivalent to 2 dTons, nice and easy, and above all, more accurate to the rules!

Design Process

On the left side, test widths for the hull sections, on the right, the Modular Cutter, Launch and Pinnace
The original deck plan had the cab up front followed by the cargo modules, but the art looks reversed.
The Launch in the foreground with the Cutter nose, before it was updated; the Cutter now has the cargo section closer the front.
The Cutter cab is a bit more cramped. My original idea was to have a two-seater, with access to a sleeping unit under the dash. I imagine the Cutter as a Big Rig.
Cutter engine explorations
A cutaway of the revised airlock. The door that slides up is something I think we executed well, and allows the small craft to dock with another ship without the door becoming an issue.
Beyond the airlock, I put some thought into the landing gear and gangway/ramp. The ramp extends. The landing gear are removable, the covers can close.
The first prototype of the control module, testing the airlock door, folding ramp, and landing gear as proof of concept. Ignore the highly dangerous missile rack the print is resting on for balance! Lessons learned: wider ramp, slightly thicker airlock door.
Almost done here! Almost no failures or issues to fix, it all came together nicely! The final parts are wating on the print bed at work!
The Pinnace with its wings retracted. The original design had horizontal stabilisers, but they looked… ahem… trash. So I added angled vertical stabilisers instead.
The Pinnace from the front, wings extended
The Pinnace cockpit was designed to fit a crew of 4. In the final version, partially because the original design needed lengthening, and partially to make it feel more like a commercial airliner.
One of the hallmarks of Traveller is the Iris door. Only problem is, Iris valves require double the space to open inside the wall. I solved this by removing the airlock partition and making both squares the airlock. This also makes it work better with the tonnage in certain versions of Traveller.
A slicer image of the parts for the airlock, landing gear and ramp
A cutaway of the cargo area – standard floor height for cargo, garage door, and lower cargo area like on a commercial flight.
The engine room
A cutaway of the power plant
The final prototype version of the Launch. 20 tons and faithful to Classic Traveller design with a more accurate deck plans, a closer compatibility with MGT2 and something that will feel comfortable to all Traveller fans

Towards the Future

By keeping each design to a standard diameter, we can make ship parts relatively interchangeable. We imagine Cutters to be the equivalent of space big rigs, and other ships to be more like commercial airliners. You could swap out cab/cockpit designs, going for the semi-spherical Cutter cab, or the more stretched look of the Launch and Pinnace. We can even introduce more original designs, providing variety with engine sections and other content.

We are in full production at the moment, but the Launch is fully prototyped. Stay tuned for more updates as we progress and implement our new designs.

Final 48 Hours for Traveller Ship Miniatures Kickstarter!

Our official Traveller RPG Starship Miniatures have been on Kickstarter for the last three weeks, but the campaign is coming to an end on midnight of Monday, the 22nd of November, 2021.

Get your pledge in today!

Type S Nearing Production

We are happy to announce that the production version of the iconic Type S Scout Ship from the Traveller RPG universe is almost complete! At 1:60 scale, it fits with our other ships scaled for 28mm miniatures, but can easily be rescalled larger or smaller thanks to the possibilities of 3D printing.

The Type S made its first appearance in the original Traveller RPG back in 1978, and has seen many iterations over the years. This Type S is based on the deck plans of the T5 version of the ship, with some adjustments to better fit the 3D space.

The Type S will be launched with a line of 3D printable Traveller miniatures in the first week of July on MyMiniFactory.com. The ship is 25 inches in length (634 mm) and weighs around 2 kilograms (4.5 lb.) and has been test printed on a Prusa Mk3 FDM printer at 150 microns.