Thursday 12 July 2012

What's in the Box? Cargoes for Starships.


The Free Trader "Peregrine"
A few months ago, I described someone else's idea for adding colour to Full Thrust or similar games that involve miniature starships: Damage Control to the Disco Lounge.  The table presented there adds "non-critical" damage to spacecraft and this gives the players something of a feel for the lifestyles of the crews under their command, if somewhat tongue-in-cheek!
This is all very well for military ships, but it doesn't work for civilian vessels; too many of the non-critical hits aren't really appropriate.  In most of the games of Full Thrust I have played, freighters have been simple targets without any real sense of personality.  This article attempts to redress the balance.


Every freighter or passenger ship will have space - probably a lot of space - allocated to its cargo.  By the way, I'm not intending to suggest anything pejorative by describing passengers as "cargo"; it's just a convenient term to cover all things that are transported from one place to another.  In Full Thrust, this cargo space is typically divided into 4 or fewer holds ("H" in the Ship Status Display above) or passenger areas ("P").
If the game scenario dictates what the freighter or starliner is carrying then that's simple and the rest of this article will be irrelevant.  However in most games this will not be the case, especially if your playing style is anything like mine.  So what is the merchantman carrying?  Just roll on the appropriate table below to find out!
Firstly, a few notes:
  • It would be tedious to dice for cargoes before a game if there are many vessels involved (convoy, anyone?).  Instead, I roll for the cargo type when/if each hold is destroyed.
  • How do I roll on a table with 17 choices?  Just use a d20 and re-roll any result of 18 or more.  Or pick numbered chits from a cup.  Or invent some more cargoes of your own until the number matches a dice that you do have!
  • I generally assume that a freighter is fully loaded and therefore every hold or passenger deck is occupied.  After all, the owners won't like the idea of the ship traveling empty or partially laden; it's not cost-effective!  If you believe differently then it's easy enough to assign a probability to each hold that it does indeed contain stuff, rather than being empty.
  • A large starship (especially a bulk freighter!) may be carrying the same cargo in all of its holds.  Smaller ships are perhaps more likely to have mixed cargoes, with a different load in each hold.  Again, you'll have to decide for yourself how to model this.

 General Freight

The medium freighter "Lady Godiva"
  1. Agricultural machinery
  2. Soft toys for orphans
  3. Counterfeit Romulan ale
  4. Recreational robots
  5. Wallpaper
  6. Lawnmowers
  7. Desk lamps
  8. Prefab buildings
  9. Tennis balls
  10. Luxury foods
  11. Live square-pigs
  12. Antique books
  13. Tropical survival kits
  14. Rope
  15. Domestic cleaning products
  16. Personal grooming equipment
  17. Medicines
  18. Self-sealing stem bolts

Bulk Freight

The Bulk Freighter: "Empress of Orion"
  1. Ore
  2. Petrochemicals
  3. Refined metal
  4. Grain
  5. Water
  6. Chemicals
  7. Fruit juice
  8. Flour
  9. Coal
  10. Dilithium ore
  11. Wood chips
  12. Cement
  13. Scrap metal
  14. Soy beans
  15. Fertiliser
  16. Gravel


The Starliner "Pride of the Orient"
  1. Tourists
  2. Troops
  3. Convicts
  4. Refugees
  5. Migrants
  6. Political delegation
  7. Businessmen
  8. Theatre troupe
  9. Pilgrims
  10. Slaves/Indentured Workers


Knowing what cargo was destroyed doesn't alter the balance of a game in any way.  However, it certainly helps to flesh out the story.  So, a convoy is attacked - but why are the merchantmen carrying luxury foods?  Is this part of a regular trade run to a well-off world?  Or is it a perk for the despotic warders on a grim prison moon?
If you wish to take this further then you could assign values to each type of cargo, to see how significant the loss is to the owner (beyond the cost of the ships themselves, of course).  Of course, you'll have to decide whether that Political Delegation is a group of corrupt senators on a jaunt (low value?) or whether it's a commission of inquiry sent to investigate wrongdoing in a remote colony (high value?).  Good luck!


  1. You forgot the Arturan pornography! :)

    Great list, Colgar6. These tables actually add value to your games without being as silly as the non-critical hit tables.

    1. Thanks, Desert Scribe.

      Actually, I didn't forget the Arcturan pornograph. It's just that the though of an entire cargo hold full of the stuff was just too... mind-blowing!

      As for silliness, some of the entries in my lists are a bit frivolous. I suppose it's just about possible that a ship might be carrying 20 tons of tennis balls. However, the more realistic one (at least with respect to modern cargoes) that blows my mind is the thought of a bulk freighter loaded with orange juice. Can you imagine what happens when that ship loses its environmental controls and 100,000 tons of orange juice concentrate freezes in the cold of deep space? That's one heck of a popsicle!


  2. Good fun! Also handy for role-playing...

    If one's going to be really traditional about it, there should probably be entries for both Agricultural Machinery and "Agricultural Machinery", aka "Tractor Parts" and "Water Tanks".

    1. Ah, well - I deliberately left this ambiguous so that you could make up your own mind :-) .

      I've just realised that I forgot to include "self-sealing stem bolts", though. That was careless; I'll update the list right now.!