Deck Plans


I wonder if anyone else has been thinking the same as me over recent publications for Traveller?

I have long been a fan of Traveller and (Traveller)2300AD, from the days of the LBB’s through MegaTraveller to The New Era (but stopped there and didn’t get into T4, D20 or GURPS at all). I owned at one time or another almost every publication put out by GDW and others for the early versions as well as a few for the later ones. Recently I have returned to the fold and started to collect the new Mongoose version and run and play in campaigns with both new and old players. I think many of the new resources are in principle excellent, expanding on the originals (which we still mine for useful ideas of course), taking us beyond the old limits of the Spinward Marches and the rather limited borders of the old supplements, giving us new settings and challenges. They are also well presented; the hard cover books look good, seem to be of good card stock and the general appearance of quality is comparable to the hobby’s best. However, a couple of things continue to frustrate us with all of the new publications.

Firstly, the deck plans. These are our biggest bugbear. I and my group find that simple 2D ‘top down’ plans are so much more superior to the current isometric ones. When did the fad for this style of plan appear, and why? I’m sure we aren’t alone in this view either; indeed I don’t know anyone that likes them for actual gameplay. Isometric views suit a video game but not a tabletop game resource. Yes they are more attractive than a flat 2D plan if you just want the books as coffee table browsing material, but they are actually far less useful to gamers, which is who the publications are aimed at surely? Do we really want or need lots of isometric images of bunk beds, or chairs, or dozens of cut and paste images of cylinders that are apparently all identical parts of a drive system that exactly fill a given space? Filling some areas with bunks and others with only a representative handful, or placing only 2 or 3 chairs in the entire bridge, computer and sensor areas doesn’t really make the plans look any better either, just inconsistent; a pair of chairs but no consoles, workstations or screens in a bridge just looks unfinished. Placing bunches of icons for bunks, but not the partition walls for the staterooms themselves seems a bit silly. Deepnight Endeavour is a good example, the areas marked as 16 on the plan each have a just few bunks but area 30 is filled, yet both are described simply as ‘staterooms’; are they really just huge open plan barracks or are they small staterooms? From the plans provided they look like the former. Other areas are simple marked as Common Areas, which presumably means all of the non-stateroom crew spaces. Command Bridge area 6 has no features at all whilst the large area 25 Bridge has 3 measly chairs almost as an afterthought. Where does everyone else sit and work? Where are the consoles and displays? Where is the door onto the bridge? Leave it blank of superfluous detail and we can put our own in, and even claim different marks of a ship have different seating configurations if we wish. If the plans are 2D, with just the major structural features (walls, doors, lifts and hatches etc) marked, it is much easier for the referee to mark these plans as required and draw in where items and obstacles may be. This allows more options for the referee to furnish rooms as he or she wants. This then allows for personalisation of a starship, so that not every Far Trader has the exact same layout of items in the exact same rooms. Placing obstacles, barricades, places to search etc is far easier on a 2D plan with only the structural features already marked than it is on an isometric one with a number of little images already scattered on it. If it is necessary we can draw in outlines of where we want the bunks to be, or quickly sketch in a drive system in the same way as the old plans, ie something that in block form actually looks like an engine or drive and not just rows of identical cylinders. Which looks more likely on the deck plan, rows of identical pseudo-3D images all exactly the same, or a block that has odd contours and doesn’t exactly fill every square in the drive room? Places to search, to hide, to have to crawl into to make repairs harder. Marking out areas that are damaged is easier on a 2D plan. We can’t do that, or move internal walls (to make 2 staterooms into 1, or create a smugglers hidden cache, or sub divide a cargo bay, or insert a few emergency equipment lockers for example) on an isometric plan with lots of icons already printed all over it. It’s especially tricky when few internal walls are shown anyway. Where are the corridors? Can you move around a block of rooms or are there only dead ends? If we want to move markers or figures around to indicate players’ locations, it is easier in 2D than isometric, and the 2D version copies and enlarges better for gaming on. Given that during most campaigns there seems to occur a boarding/defending action, or a search aboard ship, better plans become essential. Isometric plans are also harder to visually ‘scale’ at a glance; yes we know what 1 square on a plan is in displacement tonnage, but if you printed the plan in 2D how much easier is it to visualise the size of an area when you could have printed a simple ruler along the bottom of each page, showing how many meters in length everything is? You did it in Supplement 10, Merchants and Cruisers, so why have you dropped it now? Also, given the scale of the drawings and the way it is presented, on an isometric plan the location numbers often overhang the room itself, appearing across other rooms or corridors (as an example, Deepnight Endeavour, Page 10, the indicator for the cargo lifts (location 4) is printed on the Low Berths areas and their numeric indicator is outside of the plan.

Supplement 10, Merchants and Cruisers, is for me an example of both the right way and the wrong way to show plans. It is better because the plans are useable 2D ones, not arty-farty isometric ones. Most are very good; we have proper useable deck plans and a sketch of the outside of the vessels (the Behnin Dak & Behnin Ru, the Aihaiyo, the old RX and so forth). These match the way the plans were presented under GDW’s ownership of the license. They’re simple and they work exceptionally well. I can trace, scan or copy them (for my own use only of course) and alter them to make each unique, as detailed or as plain as I want. I can even easily make a hybrid of them, such as matching the Type S and the Gazelle hulls together as was done in The New Era/Reformation Coalition. You can’t do that with an isometric plan. A few plans in Supplement 10 however go the opposite way and are much too simplistic (the Long Trader, the Tender, the Queen Elizabeth). For these we get very basic shapes of internal spaces but no idea what the actual vessels look like, not even an outline of the hull around the detailed areas. All 3 are described as streamlined, but it would be hard to really say that from a series of boxes without a hull outline as well. Certainly the Long Trader doesn’t look particularly streamlined as shown. Despite this, these plans are still far more useful than the isometric ones of later products.
I'm sure I have seen discussions on the deck plan issue before, and the only official answer was that 2D plans were available for download, but as far as I can see that is only for the core rules and High Guard. Can we have 2D plans either in the publications or at the least available for download as soon as each new publication comes to print?

Secondly I’d really like to see a bit more care on editing and proof reading the new publications. A prime example again is Deepnight Endeavour, which I have just received. It looks really promising as a setting for an adventure (stand alone or part of an ongoing campaign) but an early glance shows the sort of errors that are just careless. Page 36 refers to “dietaty” supplements and using Vacc suits to move “otside”. Yes, I know they should be dietary and outside, but they should have been picked up before publication. Looking at the deck plans, there are several simple errors and omissions. Page 7 misses area 4 from the key, Page 12 has an “Axtended Array” instead of an Extended Array, Page 13 has “Storage Unites”, Page 14 has both staterooms and the Jump Drive areas labelled as “41”, Page 15 has “LaboratoriesW”. Now even a basic word processor or spell checker highlights these as spelling mistakes, so how did they get through the whole writing, re-writing, proof reading and editing processes? On Pages 7 and 15, deck 3 appears as 4 separate, undetailed blocks, the lines to indicate access to other decks is so feint to be almost invisible. The key to all of the symbols used is then tucked away on the last page instead of with the plans themselves, which is just bad lay out. Quickly looking at the text there are some other annoying aspects. Page 4 tells me three times that the vessel is 100,000 tons, twice that it can do two consecutive jump-3’s, three times that it can make a jump on internal fuel alone and twice that the 1-parsec jump range can be increased to jump-3 by dropping the fuel shuttles. This repetition all just seems a little lazy and looks more as if it is intended to fill space and pad the text out, stretching the supplement and therefore justifying the price.

Manuals, modules, supplements and adventures are bought first and foremost to be used, not as decorative pieces. We buy books by artists such as Foss if we just want pretty pictures of starships. If I compare current modules and supplements to the old GDW ones, I can see that the production appearances now (the use of colours, general printing, layout etc) are generally far superior, but the usefulness and completeness of the older ones is still so much better. Look at the old Adventure 4, Leviathan as an example. The original book was small, black and white and rather simply printed. The look was quite basic and yet the deck plans are complete, accurate to the text and useable, crew rosters are full, background data is impressively large for such a small A5 book. I don’t recall many typos or much repetition in the text. There was substance over style. Now we get books that look great, but on closer inspection really need some fine tuning before being published. Style over substance. If I look online, I much prefer the style shown on websites such as the Woolshed Wargamer. His plans are nice overhead views, with all the internal structures shown. If you want to change the layout of a room or area, it’s easy to overlay a new design to an area. There is structure outside of the crew spaces, the hull is shown in plan form. Drives look like drives not rows of storage tanks. They are useful ‘straight from the box’.

These issues are not unique to one particular publication, it is just the one I have most readily to hand, but they are unfortunately common to many that I have bought recently. I’ve kept trying to convince myself that each time I see this sort of thing it’s a one-off and that future publications will have improved. I’ve kept hoping that the fancy drawings will be replaced by simpler ones that can be used. The result is that I buy far fewer of the new publications, only the ones I really want, rather than the majority, because I feel that the final products often let me down. Now of course none of these are actually critical flaws, and they don’t stop the publications being useful, with work. I could redraw the deck plans so that they are useable, and I can read over the spelling and grammar issues, but I really shouldn’t have to. There is enough to do setting up and running a campaign without having to do what would be better provided at the start. They spoil the appeal and on a product that (in the example above) cost £14.99 plus postage they are frustrating, sloppy and annoying.
Yup I would love to have had 2d plans for Treasure Ship for ease of use and for combat while playing on roll20.
To add my 2 credits worth of opinion - I much prefer the traditional old style 2d black and white deckplans.
I'm going to speculate that ten years down the line, you'll be able to explore a spaceship in three dimensions on your tablet, and fall back on a two dee map.
They went iso because so many demanded cool iso plans. 2D plans are easier and probably cheaper to create so it wasn't done just to annoy some people.

Beware what you wish for.
I noticed that the deck plans for the ANNIC NOVA are different from those in the original module.
--- Link deleted because it allowed unauthorised downloading of copyrighted material ---
Could further the main books B/W version by having that version having the 2d plans while having the regular version using the iso.
Most of the 2D plans are available at Mongoose's website:

As for the editorial quality of the books Mongoose has developed, they don't seem to invest in a really accurate final edit. Heck, a spellcheck would ferret most of those out. It's a fault, but for the most part the materials are pretty high quality. They would be more professional if they made a greater effort to eliminate typos and inconsistencies, but they don't and I still enjoy most of their materials. C'est la vie, I suppose.
Well, for anyone using miniatures or roll d20 or other tools, I agree that’s easier with 2D plans, and they are easy to read, and see which hull access connects to where, exactly how many squares an area occupies and such, but I gotta say I’ve grown quite fond of the iso plans!

They’re pretty to look at, and the combination of icons and numbered descriptions help create a clear image of ships.

The early plans had very few numbers on the plans compared to the 2D versions, and thus required some guesswork or cross-comparing the versions, which could be annoying. Later designs have improved though, and for me personally I miss the 2D plans less and less.

One has to remember that the icons on the iso plans don’t (as I interpret them) represent actual furniture and stuff, they’re just there to quickly tell the viewer that “this is a stateroom, these are common areas” and so on.

This is especially important for larger ships. A square is normally the smallest unit of detail on a ship plan, and in large ships a single square can be 5 dt or even more. Not much room for details, but the alternatives would be either huge plans or extremely small details that just blur together and become unreadable, so simple icons work for me!

Finally, mongoose did publish digital 2D plans for the core book, high Guard and the Aslan ships, and I wouldn’t mind if they kept doing that for more ships :)
Agreed, Annatar Giftbringer. I really like the isometric plans. They give depth and texture to the ships they're depicting. I like to have the 2D around, too, for the purpose of drawing up portions of them on a game mat for combat or other actions, but I would miss the iso plans if they did away with them.
Good isometrics are fine, and aid visualisation. With good isometrics from a couple of views, you can dispense with a grid unless you plan to put miniatures on it.

I don't know why Traveller deckplans aren't like this. I guess it's something to do with the page count in the books.

Also don't like this design. Reduce the size of the ship's office, and put a coffee table in front of the owner's sofa in the left hand side of the wheelhouse (bridge).
Just give it a few years and I’m sure the ‘enhanced digital editions’ of the books are gonna feature interactive deck plans that can be freely rotated and zoomed :)
Annatar Giftbringer said:
Just give it a few years and I’m sure the ‘enhanced digital editions’ of the books are gonna feature interactive deck plans that can be freely rotated and zoomed :)
That has been quite possible for decades, but has yet to become common. At a guess it takes longer to make than standard deck plans, hence is more expensive.

E.g. interactive deck plans for Star Trek from 1994:
Interactive would need an app to display it. Current options are limited. Professional tools for interactive architectural visualisation are expensive and require high end hardware because they require photo realism. 3d game engines and gaming hardware is optimised for speed, not resolution and accuracy. They could do it well enough to advertise a building to a home buyer but do you need to spend money doing that?

The growth of VR and AR and the new RTX graphics chips should drive the development of affordable, easy to use realtime "not quite accurate" architctural visualisers. (edit: Otherwise right now you're basically having to write a game, or use an app with a kindergarten level CAD, or pay a ton of money).
VR was quite popular in the '90s. The fad fizzled out...

I believe there is still some software support left, e.g. Blender can do VRML (now X3D). I have no idea if some browser still/yet supports it, there were plug-ins a decade ago.

Most web-browsers can do WebGL, e.g.:
Free authoring tools seems to be available, e.g. CopperCube Free.

None of this is new, requires high-end hardware, or expensive...
AnotherDilbert said:
VR was quite popular in the '90s. The fad fizzled out...

I believe there is still some software support left, e.g. Blender can do VRML (now X3D). I have no idea if some browser still/yet supports it, there were plug-ins a decade ago.

Most web-browsers can do WebGL, e.g.:
Free authoring tools seems to be available, e.g. CopperCube Free.

None of this is new, requires high-end hardware, or expensive...

Good luck with your app. Let me know how it goes.

edit: Sorry that was a bit flippant. Yes all these things exist but the level of technical skill required to build it yourself is high, phones and low end machines don't do webGL very well, and if you want the fancy professional plugins that make it easy, you pay $. This is why high quality interactive 3d visualisation is expensive right now.