Passengers for a GURPS Space campaign
by Stephen Dedman
This article is intended as a companion to an earlier piece, "Cargo Space." While it may sometimes be important for the PCs to know what's in the hold of the starship they're traveling in, it can be vital to know who's in the cabins next to theirs. What skills do they have? What are their intentions? Do they play chess, or poker, and how well? Are they doing field research for the revised edition of the NASA Sutra? Or are they potential hijackers, assassins hired by their enemies, repo men, or undercover tax investigators?
If a campaign or adventure involves large numbers of passengers, most GMs won't want to create detailed NPCs for every available berth. Players, however, may become suspicious if everyone on board is a soccer fan named Jones, or they're constantly ferrying a movie star, a professor, and a couple of multi-millionaires from planet to planet.
The following list can be used to generate random passengers (or hotel guests) for any space-faring campaign. With a little tweaking, it may also be used for travelers in any earlier setting from a Roman road to a Wells Fargo stagecoach. If physical descriptions and other details are needed, use the tables on p. B15 and pp. B84-85.
Random Passenger Creation Tables
Roll on Table 1 (1d) and Table 2 (1d)
Human or mostly-human
Robot or obvious cyborg
One from Table 3
One from Table 4
Table 3 (1d)
Table 4 (2d)
Kid (traveling alone)
Entertainer or Journalist
Using the table: The Olivia is leaving Galt bound for New Seattle, with eight cabins and 10 freeze tubes to fill. The GM decides that there are 16 people seeking passage offworld, and begins rolling. The first roll produces the result Robot Executive; he decides the robot is status-conscious, and wants to fly First Class, accompanied by a human lawyer, who also insists on her own stateroom. When the next two rolls turn out to be a human scientist and a human student, he decides that a research team is returning to NSU: four professors and six students (five humans and a Sparrial), all paying for Standard passage. Having filled the cabins, he rolls again, getting a human jobseeker. He decides the jobseeker has been made redundant and will take cheap Freeze passage for himself and his family, filling five of the six remaining places. The last roll gives him a human athlete -- why not an overconfident kickboxer, with just enough money left for Freeze passage to his next bout?
Academics and Scientists (see p. S46)
Academics and scientists may be traveling to/from conferences, field research, a new job (see Jobseeker), a court case (as an expert witness), or a vacation (see Tourist). There will usually be a university or research station at at least one end of their journey (see p. S173): depending on their specialization, field research may take them anywhere from an apparently lifeless desert world to the most riotous pleasure planets in the sector.
Academics and scientists will usually travel as standard passengers. As well as at least one science skill at 14+ and Research 13+, most will have some useful shipboard skills (using sensors, computers, etc.). Many will also have Outdoor and Athletic skills, and may be equipped for field work on inhospitable planets. Most will spend most of their time in their cabins with their books, but some like to party or gamble. IQ is typically 13+; ages range from mid-twenties to the maximum lifespan possible at that tech level.
For a collection of suitable scientists, see "Men In White."
Aliens (see p. S55)
Aliens will probably be traveling for the same sort of reasons as human passengers, and may hold similar jobs (e.g. a Gormelite bounty hunter, a Treefolk scientist, etc.). They may pose different problems for the crew -- e.g. unusual life support requirements, or personality quirks that make them sharing a cabin with them unpleasant or hazardous. They will usually want private quarters, or even a controlled environment container in the cargo hold.
Professional and amateur athletes will often travel great distances to compete in events, either singly or in teams (2d-1, or choose a sport). The more successful they are, the more likely they are to be accompanied by an entourage of Personal Assistants (trainers, managers, medics, bodyguards, lawyers, journalists, etc.) Athletes will usually have ST and/or DX at 14+ and HT at 12+ and the High Pain Threshold and Very Fit advantages (professional chess players are more likely to have IQ 14+ and Eidetic Memory). The Obsession and Overconfidence disadvantages are also common.
In a setting where cloning, braintapes, and Torpine mean that death and serious injury may only be temporary inconveniences, some very dangerous spectator sports may be popular -- gladiatorial contests, full contact martial arts, autoduelling, etc. Athletes may have Combat skills as well as Athletic skills at 15+; most will have high levels of Social skills as well, and smart ones will also have professional skills in case their careers don't last. Depending on the rules of the sport, some may have bionics or bio-mods, or depend on wonder drugs.
Successful athletes will usually travel First Class to events, and stay in deluxe hotels. Losers on their way back home may travel sleeper or steerage.
Where athletes go, fans and groupies will often follow. Treat these as Tourists.
Wealthier travelers will often have bodyguards as well as other servants (and bodyguards may also serve other functions -- chauffeur, trainer, valet, secretary, cook, masseur, tracker, etc.).
A typical bodyguard will be taller than his client, large enough to hide behind, and tough enough to use as a shield (traditional yakuza favored sumo wrestlers as bodyguards). Alertness and Combat Reflexes are essential; Danger Sense and/or Peripheral Vision are also desirable. In a TL10+ setting, at least some of these advantages can be bought as cyberwear or bio-mods, and many bodyguards will be robots, cyborgs, or parahumans: the "Cerberus" Security and Patrol robot (p. RO117) or Orion-Series Upgrade (p. BIO45) would be ideal.
Useful skills include Body Language, Fast-Draw, First Aid, Holdout, and a variety of weapons and unarmed combat skills. Many bodyguards are former cops; some have Special Forces backgrounds. They may share their employer's First Class or Luxury cabin, or be housed nearby.
For a template for human Bodyguard characters, see GURPS Covert Ops.
Bounty hunters (see p. S44)
Bounty hunters will usually travel by Steerage or Standard passage, and stay in low-cost hotels, while tracking down their targets. Their prisoners, if alive, will usually travel back to the world where they're wanted in Freeze tubes.
For a template for Bounty Hunter characters, see GURPS Rogues.
Conmen, Forgers, and Hackers
Competent conmen will be indistinguishable from other sort of passenger, and will travel in whatever degree of comfort suits their particular scam. They may be hastily fleeing a world where they are no longer welcome, en route to another world in search of fresh suckers, or trying to run a scam on board: they may even be trying to steal the ship. Conmen often work in pairs or small groups; forgers and hackers are usually loners.
For templates for Conman, Forger and Hacker characters, see GURPS Rogues.
Cops traveling outside their own jurisdictions may be escorting prisoners who are being extradited or deported, visiting the sector capital for a trial or other official business, or for the reasons listed under "Tourist." High-ranking police will travel first class, but most will take standard passage (corrupt cops may pay for an upgrade). Prisoners usually travel as Sleepers.
For templates for different types of Cop, see GURPS Cops.
Prostitutes may ply their trade on board the ship -- if the crew permits, and if suitable premises are available (most draw the line at freeze tubes). Alternatively, they may simply be in transit for the same reasons as anyone else. For a template for Prostitute characters, see GURPS Rogues.
Dilettante (see p. S45)
The Idle Rich will usually take the most comfortable quarters available (First Class at worst), though some may prefer to travel in freeze tubes if they're not satisfied with the quality of entertainment available on board. They mostly restrict their travels to rich worlds, though some have business interests on Agricultural, Industrial or Mining planets. Treat as Tourists with more money and (usually) better gear. Dilettantes often have Personal Assistants and/or Bodyguards, and may attract Conmen and Courtesans.
For a template for the Dilettante, see GURPS Cliffhangers.
Actors plying the spaceways will probably be on their way to work (usually in standard passage, though stars travel first class or better), or in search of it (usually in freeze tubes or steerage). Musicians may be able to work their passage (a la Heinlein's Rhysling), in a degree of luxury commensurate with their skill.
Entertainers usually have good Social skills (particularly Bard, Carousing, Fast-Talk and Sex-Appeal), and may also have a few Athletic, Combat or Thief/Spy skills. Some will also have useful technical skills; others may have the Overconfidence disadvantage and the Delusion that they have these skills.
Executives, Bureaucrats, and Lawyers
Administrators and businessmen will often need to travel to/from places where their business interests lie -- conducting audits, troubleshooting projects that run overtime or over budget, looking for property to buy and/or sell, etc. Lawyers, similarly, may need to travel offworld to interview witnesses, serve papers, or make court appearances. Those with Administrative Rank/1 may take Standard or even Sleeper passage, but most will travel First Class. High-ranked administrators and lawyers (Administrative Rank, Reputation or Status bonuses of 3+) may travel with one or more personal assistants.
Some administrators will be making return trips to/from Government worlds (p. S173) or Corporate Headquarters (p. S172); others may have been assigned to new posts (colonial offices, prisons, factories, mines, etc.) on a long-term basis, and may be taking their families and a few cargo containers full of personal effects.
Necessary skills for an administrator or lawyer include Administration, Accounting, Computer Operation, Detect Lies, Diplomacy, Law, Psychology, Research, and Savoir-Faire. Businessmen will usually have Merchant skill. Some administrators may also have technical backgrounds -- Architect, Computer Programming, Engineer, Planetology and Xenology skills would be useful for anyone seeking to build or maintain an outpost on an alien planet. Administrators from Theocracies will also have Theology skill and Clerical Investment; those from Military Oligarchies will usually be ex-soldiers; those from Cybercracies may be robots.
While few people may have the time or money for interstellar tourism, many more may be willing to pack up their belongings and go offworld in search of a better life. Those traveling from Poor worlds with little more than hope will probably opt for Freeze or Steerage passage; those more confident and more skilled may opt for Standard or First Class (or may have had it pre-paid by their future employer). Jobseekers may have any of the skills listed on the Job table on p. S53, or none: they will usually be bound for Rich worlds, or at least populous ones where work is said to be plentiful.
Journalists (see p. S45)
Journalists will want to go to wherever the news is -- even if that's where most people are trying to get away from (which reduces the risk of the PCs having to deadhead back: see Refugees). Freelancers will usually take Steerage passage; high-status journalists wishing to avoid delays may charter an entire ship for themselves and their Personal Assistants, and insist on luxury treatment.
Kids (see p. B14)
Kids will usually share quarters with a parent or guardian -- typically a Jobseeker, Refugee, or Tourist. Kids over a certain age (2d+3 years) may also have to travel alone to rejoin their families, or to attend a boarding school: some carriers refuse to transport children traveling alone, except as Sleepers.
Wealthy and high-status individuals will often have their staff travel with them. While a TL10 wristcomp may be able to perform secretarial duties better than any human, human (or humanoid) servants may still be status symbols. As a rough guideline, give each individual with Wealthy or higher wealth one Personal Assistant (secretary, valet, trainer, adviser, etc.) per level of Status and/or Reputation. These may share quarters with their employer, or be housed nearby at a lower level of comfort according to their income bracket.
If religions survive into TL10, so will the concept of the pilgrimage to a religious center (see p. S173). Many pilgrimage sites will be on Earth or on alien homeworlds, though others may well exist.
Treat pilgrims as Tourists in most respects, though Clerical Investment, Disciplines of Faith, Fanaticism and Vows may be more common than among most tourist groups. Not all will be honest: conmen and forgers (including counterfeiters of religious relics) often prey on pilgrims.
Similar to executives, bureaucrats and lawyers, but with more Wealth, Reputation and Status than most -- and therefore, even more likely to have an entourage, including a Bodyguard (possibly a serving military officer), at least one Personal Assistant, and others (including lawyers, bureaucrats, personal physicians, intelligence agents, etc.). Politicians are also likely to be followed by Journalists.
Politicians usually demand Luxury passage, unless they're trying to appear frugal, when they may settle for First Class. They have the same skills as administrators, plus Politics -- if they come from democratic societies, at least. Those from Military Governments, Theocracies, etc., should have other appropriate skills.
Societies unable to afford their own consular ships may also transport diplomats and diplomatic couriers by commercial starship. See p. S45.
Refugees and Runaways
Refugees may be fleeing a war, a plague, or a similar planet-wide disaster, or political or religious persecution (the higher the CR, the higher the probability that people will want to escape, and the more difficult they will find it). Refugees may be traveling alone, in family groups, or in entire communities. Runaways are more often loners, trying to escape a more personal version of the same type of nightmare: slavery, abuse, or prosecution (justified or not).
Few refugees or runaways have the money even for Steerage or Freeze passage; fewer still will have the travel documents or contacts they need to be accepted on the worlds where they are seeking refuge. Most have never been offworld, but some may have useful skills: Einstein and Freud were refugees, and many despotic regimes have conducted purges of academics, medical doctors, and other professionals and intellectuals. Deposed politicians, military officers, intelligence agents, police interrogators, etc., may also seek to escape from their homeworlds after a change of government has occurred.
Many passengers aboard a TL10 starship may be robots, cyborgs, or androids. Robots who don't require life support can even travel as cargo, if necessary, though others enjoy human company enough to pay for steerage or standard accommodation.
A variety of robots, cyborgs, bioroids and parahumans from GURPS Robots and GURPS Bio-Tech would make excellent Bodyguards, Bounty Hunters, Cops, or Soldiers. "Lemon Angel" Android Companions (p. RO119), Eros-Series Bioroids (p. BIO37), or Ishtar-Series Upgrades (p. BIO42) may work as courtesans, entertainers, or personal assistants. Sentient humanoid robots might work in any occupation, particularly those that would benefit from an Eidetic Memory (lawyer, bureaucrat, scientist, hacker, etc.)
While robots are unlikely to visit their grandchildren or grandparents, the question of whether they take vacations, go on pilgrimages, or travel to attend weddings, is left as an exercise for the GM.
While most Sleepers will be unable or unwilling to pay the higher cost of conscious passage, some may have other reasons for traveling in freeze tubes -- Phobias, Motion Sickness, Addictions, or simply to avoid the boredom of a long space voyage. Prisoners are also usually transported in freeze tubes, as are patients needing medical care unavailable on their homeworld or on board the ship.
Soldiers (see p. S7 and pp. S45-46)
Merchant ships will rarely be expected to transport regular troops to war zones, but may carry them between military bases in demilitarized zones, or between a base and a world with better opportunities for R&R. Those with Military Rank 0-1 will usually travel Steerage; Ranks 2-4, Standard; 5 and above, First Class.
Mercenaries are much more likely to charter a ship to take them to a war zone, or even travel somewhere by commercial flight with the intention of rescuing hostages or starting a coup. They may try to disguise themselves as tourists, pilgrims or jobseekers (with their heavier weapons carefully concealed), or take the starship crew into their confidence.
Star soldiers on R&R may include Marines, Fighter Jocks, navy spacers, and medics: all of these should have some useful shipboard skills (including the all-important Vacc Suit). For templates for different types of soldier, see GURPS Special Ops and GURPS Warriors.
Treat as scientists or academics, but with slightly lower skill levels in their chosen specialization, and even less money. Some wealthy students may opt for Luxury or First Class passage, but most will take Standard or Steerage passage and save their money for books or entertainment. Students may accompany scientists on field trips, but are more likely to be traveling between a university and their homeworld.
Time bombs are passengers who seem like normal tourists or jobseekers when they board, but later prove to be troublesome. Possibilities include hijackers or terrorists; spies or thieves who rob passengers; assassins hired to eliminate another passenger or a crew member; suicides who want their bodies to disappear into hyperspace; intolerant fanatics who find themselves sharing space with members of a hated race/class/religion; mad (or at least unethical) scientists conducting bizarre experiments; individuals incubating an unknown disease; serial killers; etc. Lesser time-bombs might include alien eggs that hatch unexpectedly, manic-depressives, kleptomaniacs, bullies, addicts who run short of their drug, or passengers whose Odious Personal Habits set off those with the Bad Temper disadvantage.
Tourists (p. S46)
In any campaign where travel times between worlds are measured in weeks, rather than hours or days, interstellar tourists may be as rare as they were on Earth in the days before the airplane. That said, retirees and the idle rich, with time as well as money to waste, may still travel widely. Students and academics with money to spare may take advantage of long vacation breaks. Others may save up for a year-long Grand Tour, or for special occasions: the Olympics on Earth (see Athletes), hunting season on Roosevelt, their children's weddings or graduation or the birth of the first great-great-grandchild.
Tourists will usually pay for Standard or First Class passage. Many display Odious Personal Habits and/or other disadvantages (Clueless, Compulsive Spending, Gluttony, Greed, Intolerance, Miserliness and Lecherousness are all fairly common among tourists) while away from home.
Tourists may have any skills appropriate to Average or better jobs (see p. S53).
- Eyestrain: The PCs' ship is hit by a mutant virus that attacks the vitreous humor of the eye, and slowly migrates into the CSF surrounding the brain. The first symptom is blindness in one or both eyes (roll HT for each), followed 2d days later by a coma. Panimmunity and known drugs don't provide any resistance; suspended animation stops the progress, but doesn't cure the disease. The only humans safe are those with bionic eyes.
While the medical officer and any scientists on board search for a cure and try to prevent the disease spreading, crew members with failing eyesight may have to train passengers to do their jobs. The chaos becomes even worse after some passengers blame the robots or aliens on board for the plague, and break into the ship's armory.
- Geist Room: When the ship is plagued by a series of minor technical problems (see "Appendix Z: Starship Troubles") en route to Samedi, parasychologist Dr Nile accuses a 13-year-old passenger, Josh Ojha, of being a poltergeist, and insists Josh finish the journey in freeze. Josh's father is a successful lawyer traveling first class, and he threatens to sue the crew if this happens. Meanwhile, the technical problems worsen, becoming life-threatening, and the coffins in the cargo hold have started moving.
Is Nile right, or are he and Ojha running a scam? Is someone else on board sabotaging the ship? If so, who -- and why?
- Getaway: War criminal Mali Ras is captured by a bounty hunter, who books passage for both of them on the PCs ship… but another passenger releases Ras from her freeze tube, and when the ship pops back into normal space for a mid-course astrogation check, Ras steals the lifeboat and escapes to a nearby planet. The bounty hunter wants to recapture her, but the other passengers want to continue to their destination without delay.
None of the other passengers are missing, which means that Ras's accomplice -- a skilled hacker -- may still be on board. Or maybe the lifeboat was on autopilot, and Ras is also hiding somewhere on the ship.
- In the Frame: The PCs are transporting several forensic scientists and senior police to a conference. Two weeks from their destination, an attractive young detective is murdered, and the evidence implicates a PC who had spent the night in her cabin. The PC has been framed by an expert, and if he can't prove his innocence, he may face brainwiping when they reach their destination.
- School for Scandal: Tia Shields, an Eros-Series Bioroid (p. BIO37) is returning to Marlowe University, where she claims to be finishing her MA in Theatre Arts. During the long voyage, she plans to seduce as many crew-members and fellow passengers as possible, then goad them into fighting over her. Though she's studied theatre, Shields's major is in psychology, and she's secretly performing an experiment for her doctoral thesis. If she also gets enough material for a dreamgame, so much the better.
ST 9; DX 11; IQ 13; HT 12. Move 5.75.
On top of her Racial Advantages and Disadvantages, Tia Shields has the Wealth (Comfortable) advantage, the Greed and Sadism disadvantages, an Eros Plus bio-mod (p. BIO64), Recorder Implant (p. HT107) and Silver Tongue (p. HT108).
Skills: Acting-14; Beam Weapons/TL10 (Sonic)-13; Body Language-13; Brawling-11; Courtesan-12; Diplomacy-13; Disguise-13; Electronics Operation/TL10 (Communications)-12; Judo-12; Psychology-14; Research-13; Savoir-Faire-14; Sex-Appeal-15; Video Production/TL10-13; Writing-12.
Gear: Sonic Stinger (p. HT55), with Nauseator setting (pHTT59); Neuronic Handcuffs (p. HT91); Clothing Belt (p. HT27); Personal Computer (p. S65); Emergency Medkit (p. S96) stuffed with doses of Crediline (p. HT97), Dryad (p. HTT90), Sin (p. HTT91), and Wideawake (p. HTT91). Her First Class cabin is fitted with hidden holomotion cameras.
Article publication date: September 17, 2004
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