Tip-offs: Draft small consignment trade system for Traveller…

I love the idea of trading between the stars, but mostly because of the drama it produces. Thus, for the kind of gaming I like, all the official versions of the Traveller trade system are too fiddly. True, it could be replaced by “The referee just makes stuff up.” However, I also like the way hard randomness generates narrative.

What if  the economics of small free traders were different from those applying to the big players?

Perhaps the commercials lines have got all the routine sources of income tied up in regular shipments, buying low selling high. What the free traders have is agility.

A typical Free Trader has a fixed monthly costs

  • Cr3,778 maintenance
  • Cr188,925 mortgage.

Meaning they need to bring in at least Cr200K monthly, not counting all the other expenditures.

So here’s what I have in mind:


1. Identify possible destination worlds

  • Ignore designated “Lo” and “Po”.

So, you look at the chart and decide how far you are prepared to go to make a sale!

2. Make the usual Streetwise and Broker rolls separately

  • DM = number of possible destination worlds. 
  • Effect = Number of Tip-Offs.
  • Streetwise roll generates Tip-offs involving roleplayable Missions of varied safety and legality.
  • Finding or earning a tip-off can involve also involve a roleplayed mission.

So the more worlds you consider, the more possibilities of finding a Tip-Off. It follows that hub worlds with many connections are the best places to look for opportunities. 

3. Generate Tip-Offs

Each Tip-off comprises…

  • Destination: Randomly pick from possible destination worlds.
  • Available consignments: 2D6 
  • Tonnage (per consignment): 2D6 tons.
  • Purchase Price (per consignment): D6 x Cr10,000. DMs, Broker.
  • Expected Markup: 2D6 x 10% (record this for now)
  • Expires: 2D6 weeks. (Yes, some won’t do you any good)
  • Details (including any mission): Referee makes these up.

DMs: Tip-offs involving a mission get +2 on one or more of the rolls.

4. Arrive

  • Broker check. Effect nudges the Mark-up up or down by 10% per point.
  • DM-2 if late.

4a. Fail to arrive and sell on a different world 

Broker check as per normal arrival, but with the following DMs:

  • -2 for selling on the wrong world!
  • -1 for each difference in Trade Code

So on average, a Tip-Off would be 7 consignments of 7 tonnes at Cr 30,000 per consignment, with a markup of 70%, if you can get it there in 7 weeks.

A Free Trader could take all 49 tons, with an outlay of Cr210,000 and an expected markup of Cr147,000.

If they can make three jumps every two months, plus take passengers, then that’s almost sustainable…

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2 comments on “Tip-offs: Draft small consignment trade system for Traveller…
  1. Geoff Hart says:

    It’s a reasonable first draft, and I can tell you from personal anecdata that a small trader can be sufficiently agile to outcompete the big guys at a major commercial node. The specific example is my uncle, who runs a successful and lucrative small courier service (only 2 trucks), running goods from customs brokers at the Canada/U.S. border up to Montreal, despite competing with the big boys (UPS, Fedex, some Quebec-specific players like Lauzon). He’s just in the process of selling his business for a tidy sum and retiring.

    The only objection I have to this approach is the “randomness”. As GM, I think you should be developing story arcs that you create with malice aforethought and force the players to respond to rather than relying on random dice rolls. (I made this choice years ago, in my old D&D campaign, when I rolled a random wilderness encounter, and 5 straight die rolls on the encounter table produced not a single encounter that was defensible from a plot perspective.) Of course, as a full-time author, you may prefer to take a break from rigorous plotting and let the dice dictate your story. (Not being sarcastic or patronizing… true thoughts.)

    So for free traders, a key aspect of good game design is to force the players to develop a powerful network of contacts on every world if they want to survive. (This is how Firefly worked, and it was both entertaining and plausible. Speaking as a freelancer, it’s also how I earned most of my jobs when I was getting started.) Obviously, as in Firefly, not all contacts are equally reliable, and if you’ve earned any enemies over the year (including ones you don’t yet know you have because, for example, you outcompeted them for a particular contract), some contacts may be willing to sell you out to those enemies.

    You should also drop both broad and subtle hints (on every planet the players visit) about conditions that might lead to specific great trade deals — and challenging plot complications. For example, a subtle hint would be noting that all the patrons of a bar are coughing up a storm. This suggests a tidy profit could be turned by picking up some black market antibiotics and smuggling them past Customs and Immigration. A more obvious hint would be an old buddy complaining, over a beer at the local tavern, that machine tools are too damned expensive, and he’d pay an arm, a leg, and a kidney for a modern 3D printer. In the first case, the plot becomes a smuggling operation. In the second, the people who sell machine tools at obscene prices won’t be happy with the competition.

  2. mharoldpage says:

    > The only objection I have to this approach is the “randomness”.

    Ah but randomness is half the point of Traveller. The players can’t rely on narrative convention or balance.

    For example, they have no way of knowing whether the client who they are protecting is (a) delusional or (b) up against a far superior enemy.

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