This is something of a fluff-based question rather than entirely mechanics-based, but it's been tagged on the basis of the sourcebooks referenced whilst asking the question.

The Scoundrel book as a fairly detailed set of rules and tables for handling smuggling illegal goods, with different levels of customs checks, odds of finding contraband, and various types of search.

This is fine if you're carrying universally illegal goods, but the Scoundrel book seems to forget that starports are extraterritorial holdings belonging to the Imperium itself rather than local government and thus Imperial laws apply on the starport, which means that locally-illegal goods are perfectly fine to sit in the starport. This seems to imply that simply landing on the planet with illegal goods doesn't make you a criminal (which is a good thing, since starship weapons tend to be locally illegal).

There are customs inspections "in orbit" and "at the starport" according to the book; there doesn't seem to be a more specific procedure so it's a bit vague when the inspections occur on the ground and it's unclear what laws apply in orbit.

So if you're carrying e.g. forbidden off-world newspapers to a despotic dictatorship, when do you get arrested? Can you carry them openly on your manifest and not have the orbit guard arrest you for it? Do starport authorities search you on behalf of local government and arrest you? Are you fine on landing but searched when shipping containers are moved off starport property (and then they go back and search your ship if you roll badly enough)?


3 Answers 3


You're right that, in the Third Imperium setting, starports are legally territory of Third Imperium of Stars rather than the world they're physically on or above, and that they're therefore subject to Imperial High Law with regards to contraband, rather than the generally-more-restrictive local laws. That being said, there are still many situations where customs law can be a pain for Travellers.

  • Trivially, the idea of starports being extraterritorial is a part of the Third Imperium campaign setting. Traveller has always supported the idea of using different settings in which some things are different; You could play in a setting which doesn't feature starport extraterritoriality, and the rules you're reading provide support for that.

  • Travellers don't always land in starports. Many planets (typically those with low law levels) allow you to land anywhere; Other worlds don't have the resources to detect starships landing in authorised areas. In some cases, players may have reasons to avoid the starport, even if it means making themselves subject to local laws.

  • While each world in the Imperium (excepting any world that has a 7 in the government digit of its UWP) has exactly one starport, a world can have any number of 'spaceports' - and unlike starports, spaceports aren't extraterritorial; They're subject to local law. As such, they may have different (and potentially stricter) contraband restrictions than the spaceport.

  • When a world first becomes a member of the third Imperium, its legal relationship with the Third Imperium, including that of its starport, is negotiated. The Third Imperium is typically in a very strong bargaining position in such negotiations, and usually insists on a particular legal relationship with regards to starport extraterritoriality - but occasionally a world may manage to negotiate slightly different conditions. As such, even starports that are extraterritorial might have stricter-than-usual contraband restrictions as a concession to the locals, especially if the world only joined the Imperium recently.

  • Some cargo is contraband even under Imperial High Law. Throughout the rules certain goods (nuclear weapons, restricted military-grade augmentations, slaves, combat robots with intellect software, psionics-enhancing drugs, etc.) are mentioned as being illegal not just under local law, but under Imperial High Law. Such goods are contraband even inside imperial starports, because there are some things even the permissive Imperium doesn't countenance.

  • The Imperium is big, but only contains ~12,000 worlds; There are a lot more worlds outside it. Worlds that aren't part of the Imperium can have customs regulations and starport territoriality rules very different to those of the Imperium. For example, many Traveller campaigns have been run in the Spinward Marches and Foreven sectors, both of which are right on the borders of Imperial space and contain numerous worlds that are independent or belong to different polities.

I learned all the above information from the excellent 'Spinward Marches' campaign setting book and Mongoose Traveller core rules.... But there's probably even more exceptions covered in other books that I've not read.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a really good answer, thanks; it's given me some good ideas for how to get people in trouble over cargo. Just to clarify; the opening paragraph is basically saying "only Imperial High Law applies to customs inspections"? \$\endgroup\$
    – Quil
    Jul 12, 2016 at 0:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Quil Yeah, Imperial High Law is usually the only customs law that players need to care about. (It's about Law Level 1.) Technically it applies pretty much everywhere in the Third Imperium, but in practice starports are the only place players need to care about it on a regular basis. On inhabited worlds, it ends up being subsumed within the planet's own legal code; In the void between stars and on uninhabited planets, it's unenforceable for most practical purposes. I think the only times I've ever seen it come up outside of starports were to do with asteroid mining and salvage rights. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jul 12, 2016 at 1:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Having read over various sci-fi sites and Traveller books, this rather makes sense; the Imperium is very much interested in making sure that stellar trade (and thus taxes) are as unfettered as possible, so their only laws are going to be "maximise trade" and "minimise obstructions to trade". \$\endgroup\$
    – Quil
    Jul 13, 2016 at 1:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for making me want to play Traveller, which I haven't played in... thirty-odd years. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    May 6, 2019 at 2:33

I believe that you only get in trouble if you attempt to remove goods from your ship that are illegal on the world you are visiting.

I also remember reading that customs inspectors will put a "purity seal" (my term) on any goods that aren't allowed on-world, and if you are caught removing those seals before you depart, you are subject to legal actions.

(Of course with the right bribes, customs officials may be willing to overlook some crates. In that case, you'll only have to worry about local law enforcement when you take those goods off your ship.)

I wish that I could cite rulebook pages for those items....


Traveller has long had some thoughts on Inward Clearances (the inspections your cargo undergoes).

In higher tech systems, when you arrive, if they have a middling or higher law level, you probably have to file an in-system flight plan. If this seems to take you to an inhabited planet that has enough control of its own affairs to be able to have customs laws, either you'd be met in orbit (if their was a highport) or at the downport to be inspected. The locals would care because you were planning to land and thus enter their jurisdiction. The Imperium may well inspect your vehicle as well when you land at any port it administers (high or down). Worlds often have other ports, as pointed out by another poster, that likely are not administered by the Imperium (or your setting may not have an Imperium or any outside authority with extraterritorial areas).

When the locals inspect your cargo, they could seal some of it up, force you to put it in bond houses until you leave, charge you fines, charge you duties if it is legal, charge you tarrifs if those apply, charge you service fees, detain you, beat you, and/or have you lined up for execution. A lot depends on the cargo and the authority and their local religion, culture, ethos, level of xenophobia, etc.

Now, the thing that keeps such a messy situation from totally being a disaster is usually the fact that word gets around if any polity is executing traders and then they get less trade (perhaps none). That could be their goal or that could be a bad side effect. Once a polity becomes a pariah and cut-off from cheaper, better goods from elsewhere, it won't fare as well in most cases. So locals might not want to court such an outcome.

So spacer crews are likely mostly fined and sometimes have cargo confiscated. Maybe a short stay in jail to remind them who is the authority. Much of the time, it would be duties and maybe service costs of the inspection, for most cargo. Plus paperwork.

Of course, bribery, forgery, persuasion and other skills could help you navigate the local bureaucracy (even to the point of ignoring the laws because you bribed the right officials).

So, what customs inspections you have, when, and by whom, and what they result in, has everything to do with: Setting (3rd Imperium or other) Presence of outside authority or not Corruptability of local officials (higher law >> higher corruption almost inevitably) Crew legal, admin, etc. skills (or diplomacy, or persuasion or all sorts of other options) Whether you have a balkanized planet Whether the local polities can control their own airspace Whether you can sneak in Whether you are going to a spaceport, a starport (main downport or high port), or just landing Local culture, ethos, beliefs, religion And a horde of other factors.

One of the fun parts of the balkanized tech/culture situation in the 3rd imperium especially around the borders is it makes for great variance system-to-system which makes trading expeditions so much fun. Sci fi has used this sort of setting to keep Merchant protagonists (esp Free Traders) on their feet and you can do so too as a GM. Every new world is a new bundle of risk, opportunity, and new rules and local people to interact with.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! I think you could improve this answer by citing and/or quoting source material for your statements. Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Good Luck and Happy Gaming! \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    May 5, 2019 at 8:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Some of the content is speculation based on an absence of Rules As Written information. Some is derivative of the overall collected readings from many years in the various iterations of Traveller (Classic, MegaTraveller, GURPS Traveller, T4, Mongoose Traveller, T20) and ancillary sources (Challenge, some fanzines or small press publications for Classic Traveller that were at one point approved). I do agree citations are useful, but my collection is mostly in boxes and bins in storage now unfortunately. The answer is more of a gestalt of many sources read over many years. \$\endgroup\$ May 6, 2019 at 16:04

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