Planning Custom Spaceships Episode.050

The holographic display panel lowered into view before the lady.  Mr. Thorton, in his brand new three-piece, smiled cheekily at her while gestured dramatically to the graphic of a starship in front of them.  “This is but a baseline model, Ms Gwendolyn, but each feature is at your fingertips to move onto or away from the initial package, customizing the ship to your specifications.”  She knew she was on a tight budget and time schedule on getting off the rock, but she was investing too much to pass up a well-built ship.  With somewhat constraint, she dragged the essential upgrades she knew she couldn’t live without like an extended fission-powered life support system.  Her fingers danced over the quad barrel ionic cannon remembering for a moment what was hunting her down but restrained herself from the big expense to have more creds for the reinforced outer hull.  She had her starship, she had a name for it already, but she now had nothing else as her eyes crossed over the final cred total.  This was going to be a very tight trip.

Not everyone likes to construct and build things from scratch.  Some people who were heavy into 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons were extremely specific and dedicated on constructing their stronghold or wizard’s tower perfectly, micromanaging the entire operation down to the architectural drawings on graph paper.  It can offer a nice side diversion from the regular routine of playing a game.  There aren’t many rpg’s out there that offer any kind of construction in that method, but those that are, give way to a whole new level of gameplay.  One of my favorites is the ship construction phase during a game of Traveller.


I’ve talked about Traveller in another blog – feel free to revert to that for a better explanation of the system.  However, constructing a spaceship was by far the highlight of the game for me besides perhaps character creation.  The design could be so involved that it could handle actual science and physics for calculations both on movement and capacity.  There were graphs and charts involving mathematics for various trajectories, orbiting, and propulsion that much of that was often disregarded by most players.

My forte was the actual design layout of the ship, and this goes for any rpg that offers science fiction and space travel.  Even if you opt not to include space combat, it is a great piece to add to the campaign like a well visited tavern.  But how do you go about building one?  What goes in it?  What can fit inside your chosen ship?

With any starship, there is going to be a budget of some kind.  Even if your characters have millions laying around and having to shoot credits out of a cannon as you travel just to save on weight, you still have a capacity.  The best and easiest way is to pick out 3 starships that have a range of cost and the square footage varies considerably.  Next we’ll narrow down the components and compartments we absolutely must have.  Then it’s a matter of seeing if all the jigsaw puzzles fit in one of the three ships.  And if a few parts can’t go in to the ship you absolutely need, then decide the least needed component that you can live without until it all fits.  Here is an extensive list of pieces to consider when building your custom starship.



Life Support & Environmental Systems – This may be self-explanatory, but there are quite a number of different kinds of both.  Temperature, humidty, air flow (with correct mixture for breathing), and pressure are all sources for life support.  Does it have a regeneration device that recycles carbon dioxide or does it use cheaper tanks instead?  Is the temperature regulated with coils or burning fuel?

Hull – The outer shell of the ship that protects the equipment and inhabitants safe from small meteors, light ship firefight, minor collision, or just keeping the environments intact inside the ship.  Some prefer the comfort of having an inner hull for extra protection while others wish to install a heat shield similar to the American space shuttle to avoid burning the rest of the ship up during reentry of a planet.  And just because most sci fi movies have ships that are painted a single or two-tone color doesn’t mean yours can’t have a wild design.


Bridge – This is where the ship is controlled.  Whether it is in the form of a cockpit for smaller vessels or a large room for capital-size ships, it needs to have the main controls for the entire ship.  From engineering to comms to opening bay doors, in an emergency situation, this is where the basic functions of a spaceship need to be controlled.  Some ships won’t have an exterior view for added protection since the outer hull can serve as a shield around the bridge.  Viewing them is usually diverted to a display panel or screen.  The smaller the vessel, the more important it is for vision to be immediate and in real-time, so direct exterior views are to be considered.

Engines – Depending on your campaign, you may have hyper drives, thrusters, jets, repulsive engines, or even propellers.  Many might feel engines need to be as far away from the living quarters of the ship as possible for safety reasons, but this is not the case.  If you are opting for a ship that runs on something that can potentially kill the crew if something goes wrong, and something does go wrong, the ship is doomed regardless of whether it is 50 meters or 1500 meters away.  Engines with enough power to move a ship through space at a rapid enough speed to not make living years a factor will have explosions and blast radii far exceeding the length of just about any ship.  However, for those minor occurrences where separation or isolation is all that is called for, bulkheads are mandatory, which are heavy metal doors that seal shut when closed to protect the rest of the ship.



With the four basic necessities picked out, the fun really begins.  There are dozens of things that can be added to add luxury, protection, and illumination potential on your long voyage.  It can get expensive quickly when picking out what you really can’t live without.

Entering/Exit Hatchways – This is mostly determined by the size of the ship.  If the ship can land on a planet’s surface, then usually a hatch or ramp way is sufficient.  For vessels that are orbital-only, it needs to have a form of transportation to and from a planet’s surface.  Shuttles are available, but they range in occupancy capacity so keep that in mind.  Most do not have much defense or offensive capabilities but can be installed if need be.  Teleporters are also an option depending on the technology level of your campaign.  You’ll also want to have escape pods installed for emergency evacuations.  These can be in plain sight or hidden in case the ship is confiscated.


Gravity – Does the ship come with a generator, does it spin to create gravity, does it have some kind of device or artifact that creates it naturally, or does the ship come without gravity and everyone wears magnetic boots?

  • Airlocks
  • Head – bathroom, lavatory
  • Galley – kitchen
    • Pantry – small kitchen for officers only
  • Mess Hall or Deck – a place for the crew to eat
  • Sick Bay – for the medical offers and staff personnel to work
  • Berthing – sleeping quarters for the crew
  • Officers’ cabin – the captain will have a special room with better amenities and private head
  • Brig – a holding center for hostiles
  • Cargo holds – depending on what you’re transporting, usually measured by the ton
  • Engineering – where the engines are located but also any monitoring or manual controls
  • Observatory – can either be a recreational center, star gazing room, or for scientific viewing
  • Science lab – this laboratory can be either generalized or have specialized compartments within
    • Chemistry
    • Biology/Botany
    • Physics
    • Xenology
    • Geology
    • Astronomy
  • Flight bay – If the ship is large enough for a shuttle or fighter ships, this will hold them safely
  • Smugglers Den – a secret compartment that is used to hold contraband or sensitive material
  • Holodeck – used from Star Trek, it can be used for recreational or educational purposes
  • Rec Center – can be used for the crew’s health, providing a gym, swimming (with gravity), etc.


This is just a tip of the iceberg on what can be included into a spaceship.  Your ship can be more modular, having the capability of swapping pods in and out relatively quickly.  Pods can hold just about anything and be fully customizable and held in storage from liquid-induced healing tanks similar to bacta-tanks in Star Wars to turrets to small holding chambers.

Find the budget and narrow down all of the desirables to the “must haves” then start piecing them together in the ship you want.  With any luck, things will fall right into place like a glove.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.


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