Let's Read “Traveller: Core Rulebook - Trade”

Worldbuilding Through Random Commerce Tables

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In the previous chapter, we read about Traveller's Psionics system. In this chapter of seven pages, we learn about the Trade system of Traveller.

The Trade chapter comes into the play when the Travellers have access to a ship capable of jumping systems. The ship promises freedom, but early on will most likely come with finanical debt or other obligations.

I find the following sub-section quite interesting.

Referee’s Note: On Trade

At first glance, the trading rules in this chapter may look as though they will take time away from adventuring and involve a lot of dice rolling. However, a canny referee can use them to his advantage without increasing his work overload.

We recommend that for most campaigns, referees hand over this entire chapter to the players and simply let them get on with it. You will find they should be able to generate a fairly regular amount of cash which will cover their ship expenses and perhaps allow them some new equipment. Occasionally they will get a ‘big score’ and occasionally they will make a loss. However, overall there should be a steady progression upwards in their bank balance.

Letting the players handle all their own trading allows the referee to concentrate on his own adventure, perhaps quickly revising the next section or prepping a new encounter while the players work out what they want to trade next and where. It also encourages the players to consult star maps and read planetary descriptions which helps immerse themselves in the setting.

In short, referees have little to fear in letting their players loose in this chapter and everyone stands to gain.

During character creation, it’s likely that the characters will start with a few ship shares, perhaps some medical debt, and even money owed for anagathics. In other words, the Referee starts with financial leverage on the characters.

The Trade system looks to be a mechanism to help the Travellers remove that leverage. It also helps put the onus the Travellers to take action. This isn’t a “save the universe” kind of game; Instead its grounded more in the characters.

To the Referees, think of this chapter as an engine to generate all kinds of hooks. Some that the characters may or may not take, but all of them adding to the versimilitude of the campaign.

There are kinds of ship cargo:

  • Passengers
  • Freight
  • Speculative Trade

Let’s look at each one.

Passengers

There four passenger types:

High Passage
For the wealthy and the dignataries
Middle Passage
Analogous to today's first class airfare
Basic Passage
Very much like flying coach; Things are cramped
Low Passage
Cryogenically frozen and death is not unheard of

Passengers pay by the number of parsecs travelled in one jump. If you have a Jump-6 ship you can make an absurd amount of money by ferrying people around the galaxy.

The rulebook lays out some quick procedures for determining passengers available at a port.

You roll once for each passenger type (e.g. High, Middle, Basic, and Low passage). You modify each roll by:

  • Effect of a Broker, Carouse, or Streetwise check (e.g. drumming up interest)
  • Highest Steward skill on ship
  • Current world’s population
  • Current world’s starport
  • Travel advesories for the current starport
  • Type of passenger; You’re likely to have less High passengers and more Low passengers.

Again, Traveller encodes some world building in their tables. More Low passengers? Yes. There are people in this fictional world who are ready to risk not surviving cryogenic transit so they can save 50% or so on transit costs. There’s a bit of economic/social desperation rolled into these tables.

With people potentially looking to book passage, Traveller includes a table for generating a random passengers.

Freight

Compared to speculative trade, freight is the safer shipping option.

There are three freight types, and you’re also paid by the number of parsecs travelled in one jump. There’s a mention about reduced payment based on not getting it there in time. However, I’m not seeing any mention of expected times. Given a jump lasts about a week, I’d say quick math would be 2 weeks.

Major Cargo
a large lot of freight
Minor Cargo
a mid-sized lot of freight
Incidental Cargo
a small-sized lot of freight

Similar to passengers, you roll for each freight’s and modify each roll by:

  • Effect of a Broker or Streetwise check (e.g. tracking down cargo)
  • Current world’s population
  • Current world’s starport
  • Current world’s tech level
  • Travel advesories for the current starport
  • Type of freight

Again, the Freight table does some world building. Higher tech level worlds have a higher probability of more lots of freight. Likewise, a world under a travel advisory will likely have less freight available for shipping. Perhaps they have more goods available for speculative trade and sumuggling? We’ll find out.

Once you’ve rolled up Freight, it’s time to check if there’s any mail for shipping. The mail is not vital enough for the X-Boat system (e.g. financial records, government documents, etc) nor private courier.

The probability of there being mail to transport is based on:

  • Freight Traffic distribution
  • If the Travellers' ship is armed
  • Highest Naval or Scout rank
  • Social rank
  • Tech Level

Again, the Mail table does a lot of world building. Those with proven experience in the Scouts or Navy will have a higher chance of others entrusting them with mail. Likewise, those with more connections will also be more likely to have opportunities to ship mail.

Shipping mail pays around 12 times as much as freight.

Speculative Trade & Smuggling

This is where the greatest financial swings occur. Where passengers, freight, and mail have fixed prices, speculative trades are about using skill to secure lower purchase prices and higher sale prices. This section introduces different types of goods, that have different purchase and sales price modifiers.

The procedure for tracking down speculative trade is as follows:

  1. Find a supplier
  2. Determine good available
  3. Determine purchase price
  4. Purchase goods
  5. Travel to another market
  6. Find a buyer
  7. Determine sale price

For the supplier and buyer step, the starport size, broker skill, and nature of the goods (e.g. legit or illicit) affect the chances of finding someone. You can search for others, but its at penalty.

When checking for goods available, you roll on a table to see what types (e.g. weapons, pharmaceuticals, luxury goods, common goods, spices, etc). Each type of good modifies the base purchase and sale price.

This section also includes some details about Illegal Goods; As you’d expect, it’s profitable but dangerous.

Conclusion

I can see how this brief chapter brings to life a dynamic portion of the game. It doesn’t take much for a Referee to imagine an adventure surrounding a passenger, a massive load of freight, a seemingly mundane mail delivery, or a speculative trade.

These kinds of systems bring a lot to any Referee’s world building toolkit.

In the next chapter, we’ll read about Traveller's World and Universe Creation and learn about how you determine Tech Levels, Law Levels, and Populations.

Updates

update

I wrote up an example of the Trade system. That post also connects characters I rolled up with the system I rolled up.