Galactic Travel

Getting around the galaxy presents a major challenge in space campaigns. Unless characters stick it out dirtside on one planet the entire story arc, they’ll eventually need some transport off world. Some campaigns revolve around space travel, while others simply use it to convey heroes from one adventure setting to another. Spaceships provide a means of journeying from one system to another. They can enable or limit mobility depending on their availability and the heroes’ funds. The following sections cover various means by which characters might engage in galactic travel.

Your Own Ship

Characters prefer having their own ship. This increases their mobility in pursuing profit, exploring new worlds, and fleeing adversaries. It encourages freedom of activity and offers more options throughout the campaign.

Unfortunately spacecraft ownership comes with its own bur- dens: vessels cost vast amounts of money, repairs are expensive, and the investment is constantly at risk. Often the action revolves more around keeping the ship operational than achieving other story objectives. Before handing heroes a starship, Game Masters should choose the circumstances surrounding their acquisition of a vessel. How characters obtain their own craft affects the rest of the campaign, establishes their motivations, and determines their adversaries and allies.

Purchase: The heroes somehow have enough credits to outright purchase a small, lightly armed vessel, with no debt to anyone other than galactic lending institutions. They must still earn enough money to pay for its operation, and they must determine how to use it to further their own goals.

Repair Project: Someone managed to save up to buy a junk ship, then spent every credit and spare hour working to repair it as a labor of love. Although it’s barely operational, the systems constantly break down and require an unceasing flow of credits, maintenance, and replacement parts. Every adventure a different system goes offline, and the characters must earn more credits for repairs.

Inheritance: A relative bequeaths a vessel to a character, possibly with strings attached (avenge an old wrong, destroy an enemy, win a race, find a lost possession, discover and name a new planet). An additional monetary inheritance might cover operational expenses, or the heroes might have to put the ship to work earning credits to pay for fuel and maintenance.

Wealthy Patron: A rich eccentric gives the heroes a craft. Game Masters should determine whether the patron requires the characters to undertake some task or fulfill some nonmonetary obligation to retain possession of the vessel (see the suggestions under “Inheritance”). He may occasionally require them to transport him to obscure and dangerous regions of the galaxy to pursue his own mysterious agenda.

Corporate Craft: The characters work for a small shipping company, transport line, or other business that allows them to operate a spacecraft for corporate purposes. Although the company pays most justifiable expenses, the heroes must dodge aggressive corporate competitors and pirates. Can these heroes achieve their own goals (even if simply staying out of trouble) with a ship that really isn’t theirs?

Loan Shark: To purchase their ship, the characters borrowed money from a less-than-legitimate lending institution — a wealthy but corrupt executive, seedy entrepreneur in dubious industries, or politician with funds to bankroll his secret agenda — with no qualms about roughing up debtors. Although the heroes have some freedom in using their ship (and earning enough money to pay off the loans used to buy it), they often find themselves pressured to undertake devious assignments for their lending patrons.

Crime Syndicate: The characters gain their ship through association with a criminal organization. This variation combines the worst parts of flying a corporate craft and using funds from a loan shark. Perhaps the characters borrowed money from a crime boss and must earn each payment under pressure of unpleasant reprisals. They might actually work for the syndicate (much as if they had a corporate craft), undertaking smuggling runs, dealing in illegal goods, and dodging authorities.

Shipjacking: Truly desperate characters might steal their own vessel, usually during an adventure centering on the theft. Besides struggling to pay for fuel and maintenance, the outlaws must also constantly flee law enforcement officials and the ship’s original owners while pursuing their own objectives.

Assembling the Crew

If characters are flying their own ship, they need a crew. These personnel often include the heroes, sometimes augmented with a few Game Master’s characters.

Character Generation: If the players know the campaign centers around space travel aboard someone’s ship, they might generate characters ideally suited for such duty. This works especially well if they all have the same interests in mind: they’re all stationed aboard the same gunship, they work for the same shipping company, they all owe allegiance to the same crime boss. Players should discuss and decide who should serve as captain and co-pilot, engineers, gunners, electronics experts, and any other specialists required to operate the craft’s systems. Then they can customize their characters according to their duties.

Game Master Improvisation: Sometimes players have their own ideas for characters, don’t realize how much space travel the campaign involves, or don’t coordinate their characters during creation. The Game Master must often improvise to explain why they possess a ship, who owns it, what they all do on it, and why they’re sticking with this motley crew anyway. Obviously anyone with piloting experience has reason to own a vessel, but why would a mercenary, scientist, or street thief bother signing on?

Game Masters can make up such motivations: the mercenary agrees to work as a gunner in return for passage back to his unit, the scientist offered to upgrade some electronic systems to study some interstellar anomaly, and the street thief stowed away while fleeing authorities. Such explanations are best conveyed during character introductions before the opening scenario begins. Along the way the obstacles they face cement their relationships and reinforces their dependence on quick transport aboard their shared vessel.

Scenario: Build hiring a crew into the campaign — a good option if acquiring the ship takes an entire adventure. This could serve as a means to explain how disparate characters came together, or how a crew was carefully selected from qualified applicants. Sometimes everyone’s just thrown together in the heat of a crisis in which the ship is their only avenue of escape. Perhaps the captain assembles a crew not only to fly a ship, but to actually steal one in the subsequent adventure.

It’s My Ship!

Sometimes a starship owner starts insisting on doing things her way just because she owns the vessel. She makes decisions based on the safety of the ship and its profitable operation rather than the desires or motivations of her crew and the course of the campaign.

Give other characters some kind of leverage, something the entire group needs so everyone becomes involved in the craft’s well-being: ready cash to effect repairs the captain can’t afford on her own; engineering expertise to jury-rig repairs on the spot; contacts required to fulfill the next part of the journey.

Game Masters worried about this power struggle before a campaign begins can give the heroes a ship that requires one component from each character — a key card, authorization chit, circuit breaker — to engage the craft’s ignition. Operation stations (pilot’s controls, sensors, fire control, shields) could require a security handprint scan, each one keyed to a different character.

As a last resort, Game Masters can remind an owner of her ship’s value by seriously damaging the vessel or taking it away (temporarily, of course). To repair or reclaim it, the captain needs the help of the entire crew.

Emphasize that every crewmember, whether or not they own shares in a vessel, contributes to the group’s survival.

Passenger Liners

Most people throughout the galaxy travel by starliner. These massive capital ships serve as space-borne hotels, transporting thousands of people between major destinations within and between sectors. Luxury liners even bring tourists from main- stream systems to exotic and remote worlds.

Most liners impose severe restrictions on travel. Passengers may only board and disembark at predetermined ports according to a set schedule. Customs and security officials subject everyone (including the crew) to tariffs and inspections, taxing materials brought aboard for export and confiscating most personal weapons (beyond those limited to inflicting stun damage). Passengers cannot bring more than a limited amount of personal baggage (though this might be substantial) — space in the cargo bay often requires additional and exorbitant fees.

Even the most austere liners offer basic comforts: private cabins (some with up to four berths; others with entire staterooms and suites), dining room, and passenger lounge. More luxurious amenities include domed observation decks, recreation halls, shopping complexes, live entertainment, opulent restaurants, and casinos.

Starliner Prices

Credits listed are examples; Game Masters should adjust them to better reflect availability in their own settings.

VesselPrice Difficulty (Credits)
No-frills linerModerate (400)
Standard linerDifficult (4,000)
Luxury linerVery Difficult (8,000)
ConditionDifficulty Modifier (Credits Adjustment)
Major destination-5 (-50%)
Remote destination+5 or more (+50% or more)
Require extra cargo space+10 or more (+100% or more)

Chartered Ships

Sometimes characters can afford to charter passage aboard a craft going in their direction. These vessels aren’t dedicated passenger liners, so they can’t offer all the amenities, but they can accommodate several noncrewmembers in spare personnel quarters, berths, or cabins. Sometimes they must jump to several different systems before reaching their final destination, based on the ship’s original itinerary. Less legitimate forms of transportation may tarnish the reputation of characters who associate with smugglers, criminals, and free traders. Characters cannot “charter” an official military vessel; these ships provide transport only to active duty military personnel or high-ranking government officials.

Several kinds of spacers tend to accept charters on their craft. Star merchants are obviously more likely to take on passengers than a band of pirates, which would rather strip them of valuables and send them on their way. Use these samples and the “Charter Passage” table as guidelines for determining specific transport situations in campaigns.

Smuggler Freighter: Smugglers often pose as semi-legitimate freighter or transport captains. They take on passengers for charter flights for exorbitant sums, often because they need quick cash for repairs, debts, or unexpected expenses incurred during their more dubious activities. Conditions often include no questions asked, and an assumption that everyone prefers to avoid the authorities. Accommodates are sparse, often consisting of the captain’s own cabin, or berths usually reserved for holding spare cargo. Such trips often lead to confrontations with the law, bounty hunters, and powerful crime syndicate minions. If spotted with a smuggler captain or a wanted ship, the passengers may be associated with criminal activities and gain unwanted attention.

Free Trader: Many small-time, legitimate traders need extra money and take on passengers heading in the same direction as their cargo. Characters going to nearby destinations often pay an extra fee for the pilot to divert from his primary course. Travelers share the captain and crew’s living quarters, though some small freighters have one or two basic passenger cabins. Such vessels have few troubles with the law, though they often fall prey to pirates, competing merchants, and more aggressive corporate freighters. The nature of the cargo might also attract trouble.

Crime Syndicate Transport: Although agents of criminal organizations prefer more discreet means of travel between planets, they sometimes require dedicated vessels: medium- sized freighters for hauling large, illegal cargoes; light gunships for defending their interests; and transports for moving bounty hunters, mercenaries, and other personnel. Passenger accom- modation varies according to the vessel’s profile, though it most certainly involves exposure to the surly crew and often gruff personalities working for such an outfit. Characters involved with a crime syndicate (or brave enough to approach one) might gain passage on such a transport, though payment often includes fulfilling unspecified “favors” to the organization at some later time. Although crime bosses operate much more discreetly than smugglers and other small-time, space-faring criminals, the characters still run some risk of becoming embroiled with the syndicate’s enemies, such as law enforcement officials and rival gangs.

Corporate Freighter: Some captains commanding freighters in corporate fleets make some spare credits on the side by accepting passenger fares, assuming that the characters don’t have reputations as notorious trouble-makers, pay up front, and are going to one of the vessel’s ports of call. Spare crew quarters provide basic comforts and private cabins. Captains have little leeway in changing schedules, destinations, or time in port. Passengers do not have the run of the ship: they must confine themselves to the wardroom, galley, and personnel decks. Corporate freighters are among the least risky forms of chartered vessels, their primary obstacles being customs formalities and greedy pirates.

Private Charter Vessel: Dedicated charter services are rare but exist. Such captains often fly for pleasure and excitement, having the means to own their ship (or fly one for a wealthy patron) and not worrying about making lucrative cargo runs to pay for expenses. Charter vessels vary in size, cargo space, speed, and armament, offering passengers a variety of ships based on their needs. Unless they have other planned trips, pilots have the luxury of flying the most direct routes to nearly any system on their own schedule. Although perhaps the safest form of charter flight, it’s among the most expensive.

Charter Prices

Credits listed are examples; Game Masters should adjust them to better reflect availability in their own settings.

VesselPrice Difficulty (Credits)
Smuggler freighterDifficult (4,000)
Free traderDifficult (4,000)
Crime syndicate transportModerate (plus favor) (400 plus favor)
Corporate freighterVery Difficult (8,000)
Private charter vesselVery Difficult (8,000)
ConditionDifficulty Modifier (Credits Adjustment)
Friendship with captain-7 (-70%)
Affiliated with group-5 (-50%)
Several layovers acceptable-5 (-50%)
Require direct route+5 (+50%)
Characters look suspicious+5 (+50%)
Characters wanted by law+10 (+100%)


Civilian travelers cannot gain passage aboard warships of official governments, unless, of course, they maintain some special bureaucratic or diplomatic status, or they’re prisoners in the brig.

Members of the military have the option of transferring to different posts aboard warships heading to the desired location. Such travel comes at the military’s pleasure: if no force deploys to the destination planet, one cannot reach it aboard a warship. Travelers using this option often find themselves under military authority, and they must observe common martial courtesies, obey authority, and follow orders if the vessel requires their skills. Should emergencies require the craft to divert to a hot spot, the characters have little choice but to tag along (and possibly become embroiled in the action). For those participating in purely military campaigns, most action occurs on capital ships patrolling, deploying to combat zones, or hunting enemies, though “shore leave” on different planets provides a dirtside respite from shipboard action.

Restrictive Travel

Some settings severely restrict interstellar mobility by the very nature of interstellar travel technology or limitations imposed by the dominant civilization. Few Game Masters want to constrain characters and settings with highly controlled transport systems, but they may wish to create explanations for campaigns focusing less on star-faring and more on planetary adventures. Several scenarios exist under which limited galactic travel might operate.

Jumpgates and Wormholes: Interstellar technology could evolve around the concept of limited jump points between systems, such as massive gate constructs or exist- ing stable wormholes. The governments maintaining these routes exercise a great deal of control determining who may jump and when. The bottlenecks these points make allow easier customs inspection, tariff collection, and security scans. They also minimize unauthorized travel, pirates, and smugglers. Spacecraft rely on these jump points to open dimensional gates to other destinations — they do not possess interstellar drives to jump on their own (either by lack of proper technology or the ruling civilization’s desire to limit civilian mobility). Characters can still possess their own ships, but they are at the mercy of those controlling jumpgates and wormholes for passage to other worlds. A typical journey requires a bureaucratic application for the proper travel permits, payment of relevant fees and cargo taxes, and cooperation with authorities on approach to the jump point at the scheduled departure time.

Secret of Astrogation: Powerful institutions may guard the secret of astro-navigation to destinations, doling it out only to those with proper authorization and payment. Such limitations are built into starship technology. The government may hold the only truly accurate star charts and therefore the coordinates for the safest routes between worlds; as part of their official flight authorization, pilots receive a one-use coded data cylinder that burns out after imparting coordinates to a ship’s flight computer. A enigmatic cabal of sages might control a race of telepathic aliens with intuitive astro-navigation powers or the ability to open and close hyperspatial rifts; after obtaining an alien through official channels, captains seal them in secluded pod where the creature melds with the craft’s navigational system for the interstellar flight or communes with reality to open a rift in space-time (though the alien must be returned intact on arriving at their destination). Such systems that guard the keys of galactic navigation provide opportunities to steal the secret, circumvent official channels, and otherwise find ways to expand the heroes’ freedom of movement.

Government Transport: Society and industry flourish with a legal prohibition on small, personally owned craft and a dependence on officially sanctioned government starships. Anyone wishing to travel to a distant world must book passage on a passenger liner, subjecting themselves to inspections, fares, tariffs, and the limitations of the ship’s schedule and itinerary. This severely restricts character mobility, and it best serves campaigns centered on planetary locales.

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