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Old 08-09-2020, 05:10 PM   #1
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Default ATU -- Darkest Before the Dawn

In a previous thread, I deliberately crafted what might be termed an "early" Long Night campaign setting. That is, I wanted the characters to be able to count on some institutional memory of the Old Empire (the Ziru Sirka, in this case) to provide access to most of the worlds they visit via a common trade pidgin (Karak Bilanidin or equivalent), common standards (specifications, units of measure), and common systems (currency, banking, etc.), however garbled by the passage of time. For this reason, I set the final collapse at ~400 years before campaign present, which seems to be about the minimum time for two dialects to drift into mutual unintelligibility. I'd like to now consider a "mature" Long Night campaign setting: one where the these assumptions no longer hold true.

As I've mentioned before, so-called "dark ages" are usually identified only in hind-sight, by contrast with more widespread or organized societies that bracket them. The key feature that distinguishes the Long Night of Traveller canon from the imperial periods on either side seems to be a profound lack of interest in (or even, mistrust of) interstellar trade.

The end of the Old Empire signaled the collapse of distributed commercial networks based on comparative advantage and a uniform legal regime. No longer able to count on exchanging local products for goods and services imported from elsewhere, individual worlds (or closely-knit clusters) either became self-sufficient or died trying. Similarly, system-based forces for local security became the norm, replacing collective defense by Imperial forces. The result is a more-or-less stable mosaic of pocket empires centered on the few remaining shipbuilding (high-tech, high-population) worlds, separated by open, unclaimed stretches of single-world states and abandoned systems.

Now, many centuries later, populations have stabilized but languages and cultures have drifted considerably in isolation. Merchants venture out from the pocket empires, seeking unique products and luxury goods with high value-density. In order to overcome the cultural differences that have developed, the merchant community splits into two segments in a pattern called trade diaspora.

On individual worlds, local Factors (i.e., the Book 2 brokers at each port) settle down, learn local language and customs, and make connections (including intermarriage) with on-world society. Planetary elites want to keep this community happy without losing control, and so allow them to settle in designated "trade zones" adjacent to the main starport and to police their own affairs. All off-worlders are lumped together; often these trade zones host multiple enclaves from competing pocket empires in (mostly) friendly rivalry. The zone informally selects a Consul, usually the wealthiest or most prominent trader, to represent their interests to the planetary government.

An ambitious pocket empire or large commercial enterprise may instead establish trading posts on worlds valuable to their interests but too poor or thinly inhabited to support a full-fledged trade zone community. Most trading posts will be open ports, to maximize the benefit, but some few may be restricted or monopolistic. Trading posts typically start out narrowly focused on profit, without concern for conquering or governing territory. Consolidation occurs gradually, as each subsequent crisis or incident makes the stability of control more attractive.

The other, mobile segment is made up of the free traders and subsidized merchants that come and go, carrying goods from one world to the next. Without centralized interstellar banking, transactions on each world have to be settled in isolation -- not quite barter, since the trade zone Factors have access to local currency, but still selling one cargo to make enough to cover present costs, port fees, and the next cargo. Most worlds have identified specialties, which makes planning easier.

Local naval patrols discourage attempts to avoid the trade zone and its tariffs, as well as collecting "protection fees" from the ships they encounter (even in neighboring systems). The pirates that are their rivals offer similar "services" in uninhabited systems, at rates that are carefully calculated to be just cheaper than the likely losses from fighting them over it. (Weirdly, this works because the pirates (and patrols) have a vested interest in a reputation for fair dealing and in keeping interlopers out of their territory. A large band may issue passes so that a ship isn't charged twice by the same outfit.) With the emphasis on luxury and high value-density goods, there is likely something in the hold to satisfy the predators without breaking the bank or risking the ship.

Some merchants forego the cost of a vessel, shipping their goods as freight and themselves as passengers to a destination where they stand to make a profit. Other types of adventurers -- mercenaries, in particular -- book passage to wherever the next action is (or rumored to be).

This is not the OTU, with the Imperium always hovering in the background. The "remote centralized government" that the characters served before going freelance is back that-a-away, too far off to matter. Every world is its own problem, to be solved on its own terms. For Travellers who exist outside the local social structures, bribery is just the cost of doing business and "justice" is whatever the Consul needs it to be to keep the peace -- at least, until the bounty hunter shows up.
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Old 08-09-2020, 06:35 PM   #2
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Default Re: ATU -- Darkest Before the Dawn

The standard world-building sequence doesn't support this setting as well as it might. Here is a suggested alternate approach, using Classic Traveller tools:

1. Create UWP for each world, setting Starport initially to "E". This is intended to represent the worlds' independent capability, without interstellar trade but also without unnecessary xenophobia or harsh treatment (the -4 to TL for Starport X). This step reduces the average TL by ~2.5 from the usual UWP.

2. Check to see if the TL is sufficient for the atmosphere, according to the following table (AM4, p. 35):
If the world has the indicated atmosphere and its tech level does not meet the minimum, change its population, government, law level, and tech level to 000-0 instead.
Atmosphere 2-...........TL7
Atmosphere 3............TL6
Atmosphere 4, 7, or 9...TL5
Atmosphere A or B.......TL8
Atmosphere C............TL9
This table (and classic Traveller in general) does not address Atmosphere D-F (even though these are possible results), but this will get caught in the next step. This step results in ~35% failed worlds, but only ~10% population loss due to the TL bonuses for high population worlds.

3. For the surviving worlds, apply a DM -2 to Population if not Atmosphere 0, 5, 6, or 8 (Book 6, p. 36). This accounts for the difficulty of living on an inhospitable world without support from interstellar trade. Breathable atmospheres (5, 6, and 8) make up 30% of the total; vacuum worlds (0) are another 11%. The combined effect is to further reduce population by about half, to ~45% of the original average.

4. Determine which worlds were able to maintain access to space (Supp 3, p. 40):
In addition to the coded symbols, any world with a tech level of 7 or 8 and a population of 6+ will probably have a base for the local (planetary) naval forces (such forces will be capable of interplanetary, though not interstellar, flight). Any world with a tech level of 9+ and a population of 6+ will probably have a base for local naval forces (which are capable of interstellar flight, where necessary).
5. For these worlds (TL7+, Population 6+), roll on the System Contents Table (Book 3, p. 10) normally for Starport, and apply the Starport DM from the Tech Level Table (ibid., p. 12) to the previously calculated TL to get the final TL.

This increases the average TL of surviving worlds by +1. It results in one shipbuilding world per ~70 worlds (210 hexes at Scattered density). For pocket empires of 20-30 worlds (AM6, p. 8; 60-90 hexes at Scattered density, 4-5 pc radius) this leaves a gap of about 6-8 pc clear between them.
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Old 08-16-2020, 05:25 PM   #3
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Default Re: ATU -- Darkest Before the Dawn

Originally Posted by thrash View Post
Merchants venture out from the pocket empires, seeking unique products and luxury goods with high value-density.
The typical merchant campaign in this setting is less a sandbox and more a quest: a ship and its crew journey to a specific destination to obtain a specific, valuable target trade good and return home to sell it. Homeport is a market world -- starport A or B, population 9 or A, tech level 9+ -- that can both maintain starships and afford to send them out for luxury goods. Using the system outlined above, there will be three or four such worlds per sector (at Scattered density); on average, they will be ~21 parsecs apart.

Bank financing is unlikely to be available in this setting (at least for ships that intend to venture much beyond the borders of a given pocket empire). Instead, vessels in this campaign (even smaller ones, like free traders) are likely financed by partnerships, a variation on government subsidies (Book 2, p. 7). The travelling partner(s) put up 20% of the purchase price of the ship and (frequently) goods intended for sale, operate the ship on the voyage, make the ultimate trade, and undertake all the risky parts of the venture. The homeport partners put up the remaining 80%, in return for 50% of gross revenue. All partners agree on a voyage plan: destination, trade strategy, proposed route and timeline. The annual maintenance requirement limits voyages to ~25 jumps. or a maximum of 12-13 jumps in each direction. This implies a one-year round trip.

It is not really possible to provide a random table for the high-value trade item that forms the focus of the campaign. It is essentially a MacGuffin, rather than a commodity. The referee may wish to select the potential destination worlds first, and then assign a plausible product to each. Note that these are, by definition, unique to the worlds where they are found: not "textiles," but "Tashmetum Fable Silk: each bolt tells a story, no two alike." For this reason, there will likely not be any long-distance trade in elemental ores, even precious metals -- they are not unique, and can doubtless be obtained more easily closer to home. The wide range of possibilities -- spices, incense, fabrics, furs, ceramics, drugs, gems, dyes, wood, and horn, just in the historic record -- means that the referee can select worlds based on how interesting (i.e., difficult) they would be to visit.

How valuable is "valuable"? For the voyage to break even, a full load must typically generate gross revenues of approximately Cr1,000 per ton per parsec (CT rules). Let's assume that the travelling partners use their 50% of the revenues to meet expenses, and the homeport partners receive their 50% from the profit at the final sale back on the home world. The net expected profit from a general cargo (no trade classification effects) with a +3 Broker (starport B; Book 7, pp. 41-42) and one level of character skill is ~60% (Book 2, p 46). To break even and pay the homeport partners their share, then, a Jump-1 ship would have to clear 25 jumps * 1 pc/jump * Cr1,000/ton/pc = Cr25,000/ton on the target trade good, which implies a base price of Cr25,000/0.60 = Cr41,500/ton. Faster ships would multiply this figure by their jump number (Cr83,000/ton at Jump-2, etc.), even if not jumping at full capacity on every leg. Cargo that takes up less than a full load (e.g., because only a limited amount is available, or to allow for marginal trade -- see below) would have to be proportionally more valuable, e.g.: if a Jump-1 ship can only fill 4.2% of its load (e.g., ~5 tons on a Type A), the target trade good would have to be worth a base MCr1/ton to break even.

Obviously, breaking even is necessary but not the goal, so higher base values are better. In particular, the hazardous and uncertain nature of the voyage should double (or more) the desired value, just to cover unexpected conditions along the route (planetary navies or pirates collecting "fees" for safe passage, high tariffs, bidding against rival traders from other merchant worlds, etc.). All in all, a trade good should probably have a base price of at least ~Cr125,000/ton, multiplied by the jump number of the ship, to be the reasonable target of a voyage.

Deciding on what goods to bring for sale is the next critical task. This is not a matter of rolling on the Trade and Speculation table (Book 2, p. 47) and loading up on whatever is available. The voyage partnership must carefully consider all the known facts about the destination world, particularly trade classification, tech level, government type, and law level. Since market worlds are likely to have a higher tech level than the destination world, manufactured goods are promising -- but they must be self-contained. It does no good to ship (e.g.) primitive biplanes that run on petrochemicals to a low tech or low population world without an existing extraction and refinery sector. Likewise, simple, robust weapons are a popular choice -- but if the ruling elite already has what they need from a previous venture, they would likely not look favorably on more of the same but might be receptive to compatible ammunition. The local Factor at the destination world should be able to assist with recommendations (albeit several months out of date).

In general, the trade goods package should be selected for maximum returns but also diversified to reduce risk. Items that make up the package should be purchased as equipment rather than freight, using the wholesale discounts for purchasing in bulk (Book 4, p. 43) whenever possible. Quantities should be higher than what is expected to be needed at the destination, allowing some items to be traded away en route as bribes or "fees," or in return for starport services. The actual value of these items should be checked at the time they are traded away, using the speculative trade rules in Book 2. In most cases (including the destination world), there should be "tariffs" of 10-60% (set by the referee) of the base value subtracted from the sale price before determining net profit. This may not be a tax per se, but "tribute," customary "gifts," or straight-up graft.

On the intermediate worlds along the route, sales of these "extra" trade goods are what pays for on-planet expenses: port fees, life support, fuel, even food and lodging in town for the crew. Since one planet's currency is unlikely to be accepted elsewhere, any remaining funds should then be invested in tangible goods to carry along, taking the place of those already sold off. This is where the Trade and Speculation table becomes useful in the campaign.

Note that the homeport partners receive their share based on the ship's gross revenues -- the monetary value (in homeworld currency) of all the sales made on the ship's account along the way, including the final one when they reach home. It is common (and expected) that the travelling partners may want to put up some of their personal funds to purchase goods for resale along the way, carrying them in the unused portions of the ship's hold (at standard freight rates of ~ Cr1,000/ton/pc, if they are being strict about it). These marginal trades do not count towards the homeport partners' share, but ultimately serve as insurance for the success of the voyage: the travelling partners will presumably dip into their own trade goods, should it come to that, rather than remain stuck on some backwater planet.

To implement this campaign framework, the referee has the option of providing a focused strip map of the route from homeport to destination, rather than a full sector sandbox. One method is to tack two or three subsector maps together end to end, with homeport and destination on either end and the proposed route running down the approximate center. Details can be filled in for the projected route and worlds one or two jumps to either side (for detours, if needed). Off-map, it is worth noting the locations and proximity of pocket empires (with or without rival merchant worlds) and pirate bases.

Once the route is set, passengers may present themselves for the entire run or for stops along the way. These may be merchants with trade goods they wish to ship as marginal cargo, or on an inspection tour, or travelling to join a trade mission on one of the visited worlds. Non-merchant characters might be training cadre to accompany new tech items that will be offered for sale, hired security for the mission, or scholars along for the ride.

Last edited by thrash; 08-16-2020 at 05:40 PM.
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