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Old 08-29-2017, 06:54 AM   #1
ericthered
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Default How to run a Traders Game?

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Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
I've run multiple campaigns with trading as an activity, from my first GURPS campaign (set in the Uplift universe) to my current fantasy campaign (set in a bronze age world). Characteristically, the players stop being enthusiastic about the buying and selling and expenses after the first voyage. They still like the contact with different cultures, and they take a mild interest in the goods available, but they really prefer to just handwave the profit and loss statement.
Moving this from the space opera thread.

I don't know how to run a traders game. I haven't figured out what the core mission is, and so often I hear people doing things with the game that are anything but "trading". If I was to play in one I wouldn't know what to do other than fight off the occasional pirate.

So what is the core activity of a trader's game? How do you make it interesting? Help me understand this play mode.
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Old 08-29-2017, 07:49 AM   #2
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Default Re: How to run a Trader Game

When I ran GURPS Traveller: Interstellar Wars, the players were traders. It was their first trading run into Vilani space.

So they'd arrive on a planet. They'd need to find a way to get access to the black market on that planet. Sometimes that would be an adventure in an of itself. They had usually 2-3 days on that planet before leaving. There usually some adventure going on. Sometimes related to trade (we want you to go to the interior and capture some rare wild animal and then deliver it to this other planet), sometimes not. Sometimes they are tempted with smuggling something illegal. Of course their trading business also involves carrying passengers...and passengers also can have adventures connected to them (they are refugees on the run, they are criminals, they are someone other people want to assassinate). There are rival traders who try to steal the highest paying passengers. Then out in space there are space customs...which is usually fine...unless you have some illegal cargo/passengers.

I just looked into Traveller adventures to get inspiration. I suppose you could also look into Firefly for inspiration as well.
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Old 08-29-2017, 08:05 AM   #3
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Default Re: How to run a Trader Game

A trading game is one in which the characters deal with obstacles that impede their ability to trade. It is not about the actual transaction. There may be some financial concern—e.g., this cargo is too risky for the amount we'd be paid—but it is secondary.

That's not to say the players don't want to profit. You shouldn't run a trading game without letting players actually keep and invest the profits. It's that profits are the reward, not the central conflict.
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Old 08-29-2017, 08:10 AM   #4
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Default Re: How to run a Trader Game

Yeah, in my TIW game (currently on hiatus), the actual play was mostly about making contacts, winning over authorities or (lesser) nobles, and getting into trouble when things don't go well.

The party had to do some "favors" for underworld types, found a pirate base when looking for a lost ship (and it's cargo), took on a job that turned out to be a bunch of terrorists and guns, help out another group of traders in distress only to have some unknown life-form released on their ship.

...good times all around. :-D

As far as the trading aspect of things, well, my players aren't that interested in that sort of thing (but I totally am!!!). So they had an NPC that managed the numbers and told the crew what was going on. I had a spreadsheet that factored in ship costs and what they needed to be making to turn a profit. The first run was great, but then they had a harder and harder time to find a good run (and they had a secondary motivation to find some clues about a missing planet... so they didn't take long runs that would have been more profitable)... and as things got worse, the jobs did too }:-)
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Old 08-29-2017, 09:43 AM   #5
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Default Re: How to run a Trader Game

It could be as simple as "one character is a farmer with a new crop of barley, another is a blacksmith, a third is an expert traveller/scout, and the fourth owns a large wagon and has heard 'Greendale to the South is paying extra for goods because of the Violet King' or as complex as a scheme to recycle a truckload of aluminum cans in Michigan. Brigands, serendipity, and car thieves throwing golfs clubs could be complications, along with organized crime asking for protection money, monsters, a superhero fight nearby your store, forcing you to take cover or help injured customers.
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Old 08-29-2017, 09:54 AM   #6
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Default Re: How to run a Trader Game

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Originally Posted by Stormcrow View Post
A trading game is one in which the characters deal with obstacles that impede their ability to trade. It is not about the actual transaction. There may be some financial concern—e.g., this cargo is too risky for the amount we'd be paid—but it is secondary.

That's not to say the players don't want to profit. You shouldn't run a trading game without letting players actually keep and invest the profits. It's that profits are the reward, not the central conflict.
My point is, I think, that in a kill and loot campaign, the gold pieces and magic items are the reward, not the central conflict, which is fighting monsters and disarming traps; but the players still want to keep track of both the activity ("how many hit points do I still have?") and the reward ("how many gold pieces is it worth?"). But when I run trading games, the players aren't usually very interested in either the details of how much they paid for things and how much they sold them for, or figuring the profit that is their theoretical reward. So the "game" aspect of trading is less exciting than the "game" aspect of killing and looting; the players are in it almost entirely for the roleplaying. And it's kind of tedious for the GM to keep track of gross profits and cargo stowage and operating expenses when the players have no interest.

I don't think that the answer is to provide a more detailed and exact model for figuring profit and loss. I think if there is an answer, it's to provide a much simpler set of rolls, one that doesn't require elaborate record-keeping at all.
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Old 08-29-2017, 10:21 AM   #7
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Default Re: How to run a Trader Game

The 'classic' trading game is one of the implied campaign frames from the original Traveller: You have a ship, and it has 10-40 years of loan payments left before it's paid for. You need to make enough money to pay the loan each month, as well as all the operating costs (maintenance, overhaul, fuel, berthing fees...). Going from planet to planet with trade goods should take care of the bulk of costs, and adventures are when you need extra cash in a hurry (like ferrying that old man and kid who are too-eager to get off planet).

So the real base idea is that ship becomes the stick of continual expenses, with any adventures beyond regular trading offering the 'carrot' of money for the main hook.
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Old 08-29-2017, 10:57 AM   #8
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Default Re: How to run a Traders Game?

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Originally Posted by ericthered View Post
So what is the core activity of a trader's game? How do you make it interesting? Help me understand this play mode.
There are two.

The first is trading. You land on a world, or go to a station, try to find someone to sell your cargo to, and try to do it at a profit. At the same time, you look for new deals to make. Ideally, the GM has put together a list of typical things people can buy, and these prices vary from world to world, and these can vary over time. You essentially use the rules in SS2 to create the sort of gameplay you see in every space sim ever. In addition to the basic, core trading game, you have legal entanglements (a great deal might require smuggling), piracy and shady deals.

The second is action under the thin veneer of trading. This is the sort of game people who like the idea of playing Han Solo or Malcolm Reynolds play. They might be traders, but the economics of trade are irrelevant. Instead, the GM might say something like "Your latest cargo requires you to to go Tel Miru, that ancient world full of sinister political machinations and beautiful princesses" and then you end up caught in some conspiracy that requires running and gunning and rescuing princesses. The fact that you're technically trading is largely incidental. You could as easily play space cops, space soldiers, space spies in this sort of game. I think a lot of people would, rightly, say that this isn't a trading game, but in my experience the average Traveller "trading" game works more like this than like the above.
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Old 08-29-2017, 11:10 AM   #9
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Default Re: How to run a Trader Game

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Originally Posted by trooper6 View Post
So they'd arrive on a planet ... black market ... smuggling something illegal...are refugees ... are criminals ... want to assassinate... illegal cargo/passengers.
This is one of the things that causes a huge disconnect for me. When someone says a "traders" campaign, it seems to often mean a "criminal" campaign. Is this a fair assumption? Are most traders games about folks more or less on the outs with the law? is "smugglers" or "illicit dealers" a better name for this type of game?

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Originally Posted by Stormcrow View Post
A trading game is one in which the characters deal with obstacles that impede their ability to trade. It is not about the actual transaction. There may be some financial concern—e.g., this cargo is too risky for the amount we'd be paid—but it is secondary.
Ok, that's somewhat helpful. Thus they need to be in a business or an area where there are lots of obstacles to making transactions. hmm

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Originally Posted by Culture20 View Post
It could be as simple as "one character is a farmer with a new crop of barley, another is a blacksmith, a third is an expert traveller/scout, and the fourth owns a large wagon and has heard 'Greendale to the South is paying extra for goods because of the Violet King' or as complex as a scheme to recycle a truckload of aluminum cans in Michigan. Brigands, serendipity, and car thieves throwing golfs clubs could be complications, along with organized crime asking for protection money, monsters, a superhero fight nearby your store, forcing you to take cover or help injured customers.
Now, all that happening really breaks my sense of disbelief. One or two instances might happen, but it feels wrong to have more than a few. I'd really struggle to run either of the above campaigns.

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Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
...So the "game" aspect of trading is less exciting than the "game" aspect of killing and looting; the players are in it almost entirely for the roleplaying.
So then what do players need to do to make the game work? Is it all just about exploring and getting into trouble?

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Originally Posted by Rindis View Post
So the real base idea is that ship becomes the stick of continual expenses, with any adventures beyond regular trading offering the 'carrot' of money for the main hook.
So you have a bunch of folks who don't really own the ship trying to find ways to make a buck on the side. With the implication that this will get them into all sorts of trouble. Hmm.
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Old 08-29-2017, 11:32 AM   #10
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Default Re: How to run a Trader Game

In my experience the trade and merchant activity is the background not the main activity.
So the profit and loss rules need to be simple, yet not totally predictable and they need to involve the PCs skills and abilities as well as character choice.
So Influence rolls, Area Knowledge, and merchant skills as well as decisions like legal or illegal and what risk levels to take are important.
However, just like a cyberpunk game there likely going to result in only part of the party doing anything while the rest stand around bored during transactions.

So what happens in port or conflicts along the way are important for everyone else to be involved.
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