Review - Supplement 14 Space Stations


Cosmic Mongoose
I picked up Supplement 14 – Space Stations today at my local gaming store. Here’s my review. I tried to look stuff up and verify my calculations, but if I got something wrong please let me know what and where and I'll be happy to go back and review and change what is necessary.

Overall – It’s the standard simple black cover with yellow lettering. There’s a Star Wars reference on the cover and spine, “That’s no moon…”. Cover to cover its 98 pages, with 54 pages taken up by 10 stations with accompanying deck plans (more on that later), 8 pages taken up by a detailed description of a star system, and the remaining 32 pages on space stations.

The book (aside from the areas already mentioned) is sub-divided into 6 sections – station design, equipment, combat and operations, station generation, trade and docks/yards. Space stations can be built at TL-7 (the same as some tech is available for a premium in High Guard), but no mention of the penalties (cost and displacement) for using technology that is cutting edge. A person who is knowledgeable about High Guard – or has a copy – knows the rule.

Some of the listed charts go up easily enough, but if you are less than that I assume the authors expect the reader to read between the lines and figure out where your smaller station belongs. For example, at TL9 (and this is where you need to read between the lines) you can build a station up to 100,000 tons. So I’m assuming that at TL7 it is technically possible to construct a 100,000 ton orbital station. But with the escalating tonnage allocation listed in the table, I’m going to poke the bear here and say that doesn’t fit with the escalation system already present. I would think any society at TL7 (equivalent to the US in the 1960’s) would struggle with creating a 1,000 ton station, let alone something 10 times that.

The naming conventions for a few of the components and sections are kind of amusing. A torus or rotating wheel-style station is called a hamster cage or double hull. It’s interesting to note that there is a requirement for spin machinery to generate the spin (which also generates gravity). But you could actually use thrusters to give the station a spin once and not have to worry about spinning it again to have artificial gravity. As a side discussion, lower tech levels (7-8) would normally be restricted to distributed style stations unless they had access to a much greater lift capacity than their tech level would grant them. And in that case one would have to ask are they really building a TL7 station using TL9 anti-grav transport? That presents an interesting design conundrum for mixing components, and one I think that the book would have benefitted greatly by talking about. I also grinned at the aptly named “throw and catch system”, essentially a mass driver at one end and a method of catching the payload. According to the book it would essentially be a reverse of the launcher, which on the surface seems ok. Unfortunately safety and physics are against them. Safety first because a failure of the system means the station potentially is going to be hit with a multi-ton payload. Physics because the mass and velocity of the payload will be transferred to the station (remember that guy Newton?) and it will alter the orbit of the station. While not a big deal, for a busy station it will mean constant use of its maneuvering thrusters over and above what is needed for station keeping. It would be better off having a separate platform to recover the payloads and then transfer them to the station.

Included in the equipment section is a new point defense system, something I always look forward to. Except that when I read the description, I had to scratch my head. It’s called an anti-missile net (nothing wrong yet), but the description doesn’t match the capabilities. The “net” is comprised of a score of “football sized” drones, each mounting a laser and a gravitic drive. Now, call me silly, but that’s not technically possible in the Traveller universe – or at least as far as I can tell it’s not. Mounting both a ship-grade laser, gravitic drive AND a powerful energy source (it’s effectively unlimited in shots) seems a tad excessive if you ask me. Plus there are some other issues. First the tonnage is 1.5% of the total station displacement, but the number of drones is fixed at 20. Secondly, it can ONLY defend against attacks on a 45 degree angle, except combat in Traveller doesn’t use weapon arcs. For station combat it’s nice to see an acknowledgement that stations are basically large targets floating in the vastness of space. All weapon systems get bonuses. The Section hit tables located in the first section should have been moved to the section on combat.

There are pages of tables and descriptions for determining things like how long you might have to wait to dock, the type of stations that may or may not be present, trading and even what it might take to get a ship built at a local dock/yard. I’ve mentioned some of the new concepts already, but there are others, like docking arms. Docking arms allow stations to essentially dock externally and received fuel and atmosphere, but they don’t provide a physical connection to the station itself. This means that the average station can have docking bays plus self-serve fuel pumps for only a relatively slight increase in displacement. Allocating space for quarters is finally given a nod to true differentiation – insofar as we are talking about residential space and not crew (which has the same requirements as starships, the poor cramped bastards!). We now see 2, 4, 6 and 10 ton accommodation sizes. They are more dependent upon social class, though they all cost the same (the rich people must be slumming!).

The station example section is a mixed bag. On a positive note, there are some nice external illustrations of what the station looks like. On a negative note, the accompanying deck plans don’t always match the external view (nor the scales). You also need to have your High Guard book handy because, as mentioned previously, what is included in Space Stations sometimes draws specifically from High Guard (and this is pointed out and which page you need to go and read in some places). The Defense station is 1,000 tons displacement, and mounts 3 100 ton Particle Beam bays. The book says it should only be allowed 1 bay, but if you follow the reference in the design sequence it points you to High Guard, which tells you if you have a rating 3 power plant you can have 3 bays. On the design it’s labeled “capital grade”, but I did not find a reference to what that is supposed to mean exactly. More between the lines reading I guess.

While it’s nice to see illustrations and deck plans, sometimes MGT kinda misses the point. The “antique” station is a single page, befitting its 200 tons displacement. But the graphic quality is a bit fuzzy for the items on the map, and like many designs, it’s not quite logical. For example, the cargo hold occupies about half of the total usable tonnage (120 tons being set aside for fuel), and there is an airlock that allows access to the cargo hold, plus I am (assuming here) there is a larger external hatch accessible from outside, but it’s not on an airlock (plus the hatch itself isn’t listed in the fuzzy legend). I would have assumed more compartmentalization rather than a single large cargo hold. The station has solar panels but the tonnage is wrong. Solar panels are listed as TL8 gear, so the TL7 should be paying prototype costs (50% more in cost, 100% more in displacement). Solar panels require 1/10th of the tonnage of the power plant (which is listed at 2.8 tons). 1/10th is .28, which is smaller than the minimum of .5 tons, so the baseline is .5 tons. We double that to 1 ton since it’s a prototype. Cost is .1MCr/ton, and with the 50% mark-up, that would make the cost .15MCr. The book lists solar panels at two tons and costing .3MCr – both figures are twice what they should be.

I like the fact that they attempted to come up with some sample designs, but again, ya gotta scratch your head at the layouts. The Research station deck plan doesn’t match the illustration (you have to look at it and compare it for yourself to understand what I mean here). For the designs that have docking arms, the physical footprint on the deck plan shows large amounts of space set aside – except that violates the concept that docking arms don’t allow for anything other than a fuel/atmosphere connection. It’s almost like the displacement capabilities of the docking arm are translated onto the deck plan to accommodate something – what I’m not particularly sure.

Conclusion – If you’ve gotten this far I’m sure you must be thinking “holy frak!” (grin). I think Space Stations is not unusual for a Traveller product from Mongoose. It’s got some true meat and useful things included – but it also has some of their trademark misses. I had hoped for higher production values here, especially since this is a supplement that isn’t coming from a previous release – though in hindsight maybe I have that backwards. I’m not unhappy with the product overall, but I would have liked to have seen a higher quality editing, and more double-checking on the designs. The Interdiction station looks like a q-tip with one end cut off. Plus the launch tube (which takes up 1/4 of the 1,000 tons) doesn't even show up on the design. And why build a launch tube for 12 fighters?? You would be better off having separate hangars that would allow you to launch 1 fighter/turn. For the extra mass you could probably add an entire second squadron (maybe less, just mentally adding up tonnage for fighters, crew, etc).

The Agave system, detailed in the book, is a nice change. It’s fairly well explained, detailed, with a great overview of the history of the system and lots of information in there for adventure hooks (both in space and on the ground). With the disappointing deck plans I think I would have preferred the authors to have given very generic internal layouts and used the space to provide more background, details and color commentary for the stations themselves. I’ve got a trading station with five pages of deck plans that are useless to me as a referee. ALL of the quarters are laid out in one zone, cargo is set in giant singular areas, and the rest of the station is about as interesting as sludge. Why bother wasting the paper for that when they could have written me up a sample trading station that I could run my characters into/out of, looking for profit, adventure and a safe place to patch up some holes in their ship? I’ll tell you why… because that’s the way Mongoose does things. It’s not bad, it’s not good (though it certainly could be better), it just…. Is.

So there you have it folks. Space Stations – That’s No Moon (MGP3883). A solid 3 stars (out of five).
ShawnDriscoll said:
Yellow titled books are not specific to the Traveller universe.

Well, the book may have a yellow title, but the game references are for Traveller, it specifically references High Guard (a green titled Traveller book if I'm not mistaken). So along with the other books that have been published under the yellow banner, I'm pretty comfortable thinking of them as Traveller books first, and any other gaming system second (though who doesn't love a gun jeep with powerguns?)
Thanks for the concise overview phavoc. I think I'll wait to purchase until they edit to fit the MGT Traveller rule set. As written it doesn't fit a published rule set really. Unless T5 has technology that appears in the Supp.
sideranautae said:
Thanks for the concise overview phavoc. I think I'll wait to purchase until they edit to fit the MGT Traveller rule set. As written it doesn't fit a published rule set really. Unless T5 has technology that appears in the Supp.

No, there's no T5 tech in the book. It's hard to say when they might be doing an update.

I'm not sure if I gave the impression that it doesn't quite meet the published rule set. It does refer back to rules in High Guard for some specific instances, and most of the work would fit into the existing framework just fine (though a few things like the defense net are clearly out of place).

Like I mentioned, it's an overall three product. You might want to watch for a sale at either Mongoose or Drivethru. I ended up picking up a number of other sector supplements during the last sale (all PDF's).
phavoc said:
sideranautae said:
Thanks for the concise overview phavoc. I think I'll wait to purchase until they edit to fit the MGT Traveller rule set. As written it doesn't fit a published rule set really. Unless T5 has technology that appears in the Supp.

No, there's no T5 tech in the book. It's hard to say when they might be doing an update.

I'm not sure if I gave the impression that it doesn't quite meet the published rule set. It does refer back to rules in High Guard for some specific instances, and most of the work would fit into the existing framework just fine (though a few things like the defense net are clearly out of place).

Like I mentioned, it's an overall three product. You might want to watch for a sale at either Mongoose or Drivethru. I ended up picking up a number of other sector supplements during the last sale (all PDF's).

Yeah, 1st I'll wait for any fix (I wish they'd hire writers who know the rules :roll: ) and then get it on PDF. The Supp's I don't buy in dead tree as I only use them for set up. Not during game time.
Okay, so I had bitched, err, complained, in my review about what I thought was lacking in the book. My thoughts are that players and referee's would find information like this useful. The description provides color and depth (even if it is shallow), while the rumors provide potential adventure hooks, especially if the is the desire to run one or more gaming sessions using a space station as the center stage.

I took the trade station as an example and came up with the following. I'm still working on all of it, but here's some samples:

A local dive bar on the trade station - Synthahol Al's
Considered the “dregs” of the station. Primarily frequented by crew from ships, the working class of the station, and too frequently by station security, Al’s offers a fair amount of beer and ale for a fair price. Many have complained that the liquor-based drinks are poured weak and food is sub-standard. Al’s is the (allegedly) preferred place for much of the under-the-table deals that occur on the station. The bar itself has traded hands more than a few times, tradition calls for whoever the current owner is to be called “Al” while in the bar (and sometimes out of it). Usually this hasn’t been an issue, though the current owner is a woman.

Al’s claims to run a clean establishment, though that word seems to have variable meanings. While station regulations don’t allow for trash and vermin, and health regulations require the sterilization of the glasses, not much else is considered “clean”. The booths fake leather have seen more than their fair share of patches. The rest of the furniture and fixtures are equally scuffed and worn, but still serviceable. The owner likes to tell anyone who asks (and many who don’t) that it gives the bar “character”.

About the only “clean” aspect of the bar is that it’s clean of recording equipment. The bar is swept three times a day for listening and recording equipment. Each of the booth’s is equipped with white-noise generators and two of the booths have semi-translucent curtains that can be drawn that will defeat any visual, laser or auditory-based listening gear. While station security is not happy about this, there isn’t anything they can do since it’s perfectly legal.

Rumors (roll d6)
(1) Al’s is a front for the Imperial spy services. They actually record all of the conversations and deals that go on and pass along any information to the appropriate legal organizations.
(2) The bar is a front for the local system’s criminal syndicate. They use the bar so that their agents can listen in on what the crews are talking about so they can pass along the information for ship hijackings and other criminal activities.
(3) The liquor really IS watered down, and food is terrible.
(4) The owner’s claims about the anti-listening gear really is true. What isn’t known, however, is that the owner has bugged all of the tables and booths and sells the information to the highest bidder.
(5) The bar is a secret front for the Anti-Slavery League. They use the traffic of people coming in and out to cover their agents. Once every six months there is a meeting of the sub-sector leadership in the back room.
(6) An illegal high-stakes card game takes place once a month in the back room, cash only. It is said that it takes at least Cr50,000 to buy in, with some pots going for more than Cr250,000.

And here's an incomplete one for a manufacturing company located on a trade station.
Tengen Pharmaceuticals
A small-sized (170 Dtons) second-tier pharmaceutical manufacturer. Tengen does no original research, instead it relies on producing drugs that no longer have patent protection, or in some reported cases, drugs that will soon be off patent protection.

The company has been caught on a dozen occasions manufacturing drugs without providing the necessary compensation to the patent owners, but since the company is quite small compared to their larger brethren, and the drugs weren’t necessarily the most profitable, it has escaped with minor fines and cross-licensing deals. On three separate occasions in its’ history (42yrs) Tengen has dabbled in purchasing the rights to drugs that had the potential for profit. Only one of those times did it more than break even, which has led the management to stick with what they know.

Tengen is privately held by the Tengen family, all of whom live in-system on a planet. The Tengens are 3rd generation money, none of whom really know much about business (though if you ask any of them they will regale you with long stories of their “successes” in the field – all of which were actually accomplished by employee’s). The plant is managed remotely and the managerial staff located on the station have very little authority. On occasion a Tengen will pay a visit to the station (an on-station suite is owned and reserved for Tengen family visitors).

The plant is a relatively large employer (140 employees) for the station. The factory is heavily automated. Because of the need to maintain extremely clean areas, 100 Dtons is taken up by the production lines, associated clean rooms and monitoring control stations. There are a total of 9 individual production zones (one clean room has access to three individual production zone). Each clean room entrance has an area where employees must change into clean suits before entering the production area. 15 Dtons of space is taken up by raw material storage, 20 Dtons is set aside for the shipping and storage department, a small quality control lab (10 Dtons) and an administrative area (25 Dtons) comprise the rest of the space. Due to the potential problems associated with an interruption of power during a production run, the Tengen manufacturing area is equipped with a stand-by fuel cell that can power the entire factory for seven days without refueling.

Rumors (roll d6)
(1) The local plant manager and a few of the employees have been creating high grade “ghost” on a production line that is supposedly shut down for maintenance issues. Ghost is a highly-addictive psychotropic drug whose appearance has taken a number of close systems authorities by surprise. Because it is being manufactured using pharmaceutical-grade equipment they have been stumped in determining the source of production.
(2) One of the Tengen’s has arrived on-station for an unannounced visit. They are looking to “have a good time” and have been known to hit the local dive establishments while dressed up as the “little people”, though no one yet has been fooled by their disguises, especially since they haven’t yet disguised their disdain for the “little people”. Station security has been keeping a close watch on them and anyone around them, which has made a number of people more than annoyed at the extra attention security is paying to certain establishments. Rumor has it that anyone who could say, start a small brawl – and an associated few days stay in the local clinic for the Tengen – would be much appreciated.
(3) The local staff have had it with the poor treatment they receive by the Tengen’s and they have gone on strike. While a few of the management personnel are at the manufacturing facility, none of the security personnel are there. Shipments of finished products normally go out every few weeks, but none of the freighter crews or the local dock workers will cross the picket lines. There is nearly MCr 5 worth of pharmaceuticals sitting in the warehouse waiting for delivery.