Wednesday, July 20, 2022

GURPS Traveller: Far Trader

I've been told several times over the last decade that I need to read GURPS Traveller: Far Trader, because its trade model nicely solves the Golden Pair problem, where your PCs find two planets with complementary trade codes near each other and make a killing.  Which is silly, because why has nobody else picked up this hundred-thousand-dollar bill yet?

I'm only on page seven and this is already glorious.

Unlike the first two Imperiums and most planetary economies, the Third Imperium has no central bank. No one in the Imperial bureaucracy sets interest rates, acts as lender of last resort to failing banks, supervises check clearing or tries to reduce the impact of recessions. The Third Imperium feels that it has traded the promise of a smoother ride in the short term for a lower risk of financial catastrophe in the long term.

The Third Imperium has replaced the central bank structure with a monetary board. The members of the board are all retired bankers and economists, many of noble birth, but all chosen primarily for their hatred of anything that smacks of using monetary policy to meddle with the economy. Their task is to carefully control the long-term growth of the money supply so as to mirror the long-term growth of the economy...

Part of the task of the survey branch of the Scout Service is to provide up-to-date economic data for the monetary board to use in its long-range growth forecasts.

That's gonna make a great thumbnail image in the ol' RSS feed.

And this was written in 2004, well before the bailouts of '08 for example.

High-level summary of the simple trade system (correct me in the comments): for each world in your area of interest, figure out the size of its planetary economy and roughly how much total trade it does.  For each pair of worlds, compute a statistic for how much trade happens between the two of them.  There's a big table here for turning that statistic into a dollar-value per year and volumes of cargo, but we don't actually need that yet.  We do need to turn these links between worlds into trade routes and classify the routes by their total volume, and then there's a die roll multiplied by the total trade volume statistic of the pair of worlds to determine how much cargo people will pay you to move, and the price per ton is based on the route type and distance.

...  yeah we're not in Mongoose country anymore, Toto

One thing I don't like about this book is the forward references.  For example, a footnote on the big table of trade volumes on page 16 points forward to a heading on page 22. 

I am curious what these trade statistics and route types end up looking like under unusual subsector generation parameters, like Mongoose's "hard science" subsector generation option where bad atmos reduce population and low population reduces starport.  Also, what I'd have to change to apply them to HOSTILE's alternate FTL drive system.

The advanced trade system also takes those planetary economy sizes, openness to trade, route classifications, and trade-volume-by-planet-pairs as inputs, but the volume of available cargo for free traders is determined by the big table back in the previous chapter (with terms for random fluctuation and damping back towards average volume on the route), the market rate for shipping on each planet varies over time (random fluctuations plus a damping term), and there's a skill roll to see what fraction of the going bulk freight rate you get.  Also, cargo gets split into lots and it has traits like "biohazard" and "fragile" and some three-letter codes for...  conditions of delivery or something?  Also also, you can try to predict what the going rate for freight haulage will be in the future using skill rolls or asking brokers, and can try to learn what it was in the past in other markets by asking questions of crews coming from those places (and then making your own predictions from those estimates).

And this isn't for speculative cargo, where you buy high and sell low (wait no, the other thing).  This is speculating on how much you can get paid for hauling boxes of other peoples' stuff.

This definitely requires some book-keeping, because you need to know the 4d6 price volatility roll last week for the damping term in the computation of the new price and volume this week.  For each planet of interest.

No penalty is listed for failing to appear / deliver on a futures contract.

I do wonder how they figured the baseline costs per dton per parsec of haulage.  This would probably be relevant in a HOSTILE-like situation where jump works differently.

I am now on page 35 of 146 and my erec enthusiasm has subsided somewhat.

Skimming passenger stuff.  Passenger prices are less volatile than freight prices, and it's not too hard for free traders to eat the whole pie of available passengers on smaller routes.  It's not a very big pie though.

Page 36, on to speculative trading in cargoes.  Properties of speculative cargo are randomly generated independently (eg you roll for price on origin world and which planet codes have modifiers to buying price on separate tables) rather than from a single big table of types of goods.  You probably want to know a guy to find available speculative cargos.  You can try to predict one die of...  3d6? per destination market that you're considering hauling it to.

Huh.  So time series stuff is sort of discouraged in speculative goods trading.  Curious.

And it seems like the solution to the Golden Pair problem is a combination of "you can't consistently get any particular speculative cargo with the trade code modifiers that you want" and "the volume of contract cargo available for free traders on high-trade routes is limited".

We're now a third of the way through the book and we've covered pretty much everything that I expected to have covered.  What's left?

Incorporation, business plans, loans, stock market?, freight handling, traffic control, hiring crew, shipboard law, keeping a logbook, cargo manifests, filing flight plans, freight handling equipment, character options for GURPS, campaign models (tramp freighter, corporate, pirate, and smuggler), a subsector map and notes about its economy, lists of the trade stats for worlds in various published subsectors, some new starships (no deckplans though).

This feels like a reasonable cutting point, where there might or might not be a follow-on post about the rest of the book.