Arcane Game Lore

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Why My Ship Decks Have Three Meter Ceilings

I’ve been reviewing ship designs and deck plans for articles in the Frontier Explorer and this has had me thinking again about a topic I’ve pondered on before.  Namely the relative sizes of the various races/species in a game and how that affects things like construction and design of buildings and more specifically spacecraft.  If you want an excellent set of articles on how to develop and design species specific tools, furniture and whatnot, I strongly recommend this pair of articles over at Campaign Mastery: Ergonomics and the Non-human and its follow-on article By Popular Demand: The Ergonomics Of Dwarves.  They cover in detail how to think through the process.  In this article, I’m going to look specifically at why the deck heights in my ships are set to three meters (and a few comments on when they’re not).

Who are the ships for?

Generally, when I’m designing a ship, it is for the “core four” races in the Star Frontiers game, namely Humans, Dralasites, Vrusk, and Yazirians.  The problem is that all the species are of varying sizes.  According to the rules, they have average heights ranging from 1.2 meters up to 2.1 meters.  And one thing I’ve noticed about many of the images in the game (both official and fan created) is that they don’t represent this properly.  I’ve taken some images by Shell, plus a modified one from the original rules, to show the actual relative sizes of the races.  (The original images by Shell were collected from the various sub-pages found at this link and some have also been published in the Star Frontiersman.)

Image showing the relative average sizes of Dralisites(1.2m), Vrusk(1.5m), Humans(1.9m), and Yazirians(2.1m)

Relative average sizes of the “Core Four” Star Frontiers species.

The Dralisites have an average height of 1.2 meters.  The Vrusk average 1.5 meters in height.  Humans come in at 1.9 meters and the Yazirians top the chart at an average height of 2.1 meters. Thus we see that there is a range of species heights that need to be accommodated for in a ship designed for use by all of them.

So why three meters?

In many ways, when I think of ships in the Star Frontiers universe, I think very much about submarines.  However, one major difference is available space.  While ships will tend to be a bit cramped, there is a lot of volume available in the game’s ships and there is no real reason that those on board are banging their head against the ceiling or overhead equipment.  For some spacers, the ship is effectively their home so it should have at least a few concessions to comfort.  Not banging your head and having to walk hunched over should definitely be one of those. So I’ve designed my ships accordingly.

In the modern world, the average ceiling height is around 8-8.5 feet (or 2.44-2.59m).  And that’s for humans who have an average height of 1.9 meters (at least for men).  Yazirians, the tallest of the core four species, have an average height of 2.1 meters. So they will need at least a ceiling that is proportionally taller which works out to 2.7-2.85 meters.  But they also have arms that are longer, proportionally, compared to their bodies than humans which means if they stretch tall, they can reach higher.  And so I rounded up a bit more to account for this to 3 meters.

This gave the decks a bit of a feeling of openness to relieve the possible tension of being in a sealed, enclosed space and gave everyone room to move without hindrance.

On a side note it also gave the more serious Yazirians a chance to get back at the pesky, practical joke playing Dralasites by providing the opportunity for them to place things up high, out of the Drarasites’ reach if needed.

When is it not three meters?

There are times when I don’t do a three meter deck plan ship.  This is typically when I’m designing a ship for a specific race.  For example, in the Sathar Destroyer Technical Manual, the ship detailed is designed for use solely by the Sathar, a race that typically only moves with about one meter of its body raised.  They don’t need deck heights nearly as high and so the standard deck height on that ship is only 1.7 meters and in some areas only 1 meters.  There are places and passages on that ship where some of the PC races simply cannot go without being severely discomforted.

If I was designing a purely Dralasite or Vrusk ship, I’d probably lower the deck heights there as well as those smaller species don’t need the extra overhead room and it would be more efficient to have decks of the proper size.

Plus, the new species introduced in Zebulon’s Guide to Frontier Space were even taller with the Humma coming in at 2.5 meters and the Osakar at 3 meters.  (There was also a smaller race, the Ifshnit, that were only 1 meter tall on average.)  If I was designing a ship for these species, I’d make the deck heights even higher.  Although maybe not so much because the physiology of these species allow them work comfortably in the lower ceiling height decks (i.e. while they are that tall at full height, they typically don’t reach that height in their normal posture or are flexible enough that being lower isn’t inconvenient or a hindrance).

Final Thoughts

So in the end, it comes down to thinking about who the design is for, what there needs are, and what is optimal.  In the mixed species ships, I’ve opted to go with the 3 meter height as a good compromise.  Things on the top shelves might be hard for Dralasites or Vrusk to reach but the Vrusk torso is as long as it is tall and it can use its forelegs to lift itself up a bit higher and the Drasasites can always stretch out a longer set of limbs if really needed.  So it made sense to err on the large side instead of cramping the Humans and Yazirians.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Feel free to post in the comment section below.


Of course the reasons above are all well and good but every good adventure knows you should never leave home without your trusty ten foot pole.  And since a 10 ft. pole is 3.048m long, having a ceiling just over 3 meters gives you just enough room to stand it upright in the corner without it taking too much space or being canted at a funny angle or otherwise getting in the way while still being readily available.  That’s the real reason for 3 meter ceilings.

Categorised as: World Building


  1. I’m glad you found my articles useful and appreciate the link. Your ships sound like you definitely have the right idea and the fact that the (standard) art doesn’t illustrate the facts of the different races is also very interesting. I also note the relative widths/lengths of the illustrated species and thought I should point out that this should affect everything from “cabin” size to corridor width, which in turn might affect the basic layout and proportions of vessels for the different races. The Yazirians, for example, might have long, thin (and hence very fast) ships with an outrigger (another long, thin element) for stability, while the Vrusk have the largest “footprint” and might need wider, more barge-like vessels – slow and clumsy but BOY can they stock them up with cargo!

    • dagorym says:

      I love your blog and have been an avid reader since I discovered it a couple of years ago. I just wish I had more time to put the ideas into practice.

      I really liked those particular posts (and even commented on them back when they were posted). They articulated thoughts I’ve been having and gave great examples on application.

      I have thought about ship design and cabin size and corridor width also and I tend to make the corridors much wider to accommodate the Vrusk physiology than I would if it was just for the other races.

      I’ve also thought a lot about chairs and accelerations couches and how the different races would deal with that. They are all so different that a generic one-size fits all really doesn’t work and having those nuances can definitely add to the game’s feel.

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