Many years ago there was a now-out-of-print game called Smugglers of the Galaxy. In SotG, you play as a spacefarer who travels the galaxy trying to make some space bucks. When you visited a planet you would buy one of five different types of "goods". Next, you'd fly to another planet where the demand for such goods was very high which meant you could sell them for even more money then you bought them. The mechanic was simple, yet genius: buy low, sell high.
Too often we get institutionalized with the idea that every character must be a warrior-type that spends their days crawling through dungeons, or infested space stations or what have you. But what of the honest (or not so honest) merchant?
In Open Adventure (http://geekguild.com/openadventure/
) I set out to introduce a simple, yet extensive, trade system to the world of OSR RPGs. Open Adventure supports both B/X style medieval fantasy as well as Star Wars/Trek style sci-fi, so the system had to work in both realms.
To start, when a character or party of characters decides to start a trade, they must first decide what it is they want to buy. In a fantasy setting you can trade in these types of "resources":
– Raising, hunting and farming animals for dairy, fat, oil, fish, fowl, furs, herds, beads, horses, ivory, etc.
– Gathering and harvesting the natural plants for food, oil, fodder, wood, paper, wine, etc.
– Extracting ore from the rock and soil for copper, silver, gold, platinum, iron, lead, tin, gem stones, tar, oil, clay, stone, quarry, etc.
– Finding and recovering lost magical artifacts, stones, crystals, potions, scrolls, rings, staves, weapons, etc.
While in a sci-fi game your trade options are:
– Extracting ore and precious metals and minerals for industrial purposes.
– Harnessing natural energy to produce electricity and power machinery (such as starships).
– Locating and extracting rare chemicals used for medical and drug purposes.
– Finding and recovering natural anomalies, paranormal activities and useful raw data used for scientific and military purposes.
We'll return to these in a bit, but for now just know that there are four types of resources one can buy and sell in. The GM must of course decide which category any particular object or product would fit into. It is also the GM's job to decide how many of that product is considered one "unit". For example, the GM may decide that each chicken the adventurers buy and sell is a single unit. Or the GM may decide a cage of chickens is considered one unit. This will of course effect encumbrance and weight when traveling from city to city.
Secondly, the PCs must talk with various patrons, merchants, citizens etc. to determine the number of units of a product they can buy. Cities are divided into five main sizes: hamlet, village, town, city and kingdom (if playing a fantasy game) or outpost, colony, spaceport, metropolis and city planet (if playing a scifi game). The actual population for each region is left up to the GM, as it may fluctuate wildly depending on the campaign.
If you're trying to make a trade in a small back-water hamlet or on a sole lunar outpost, you probably won't find much to buy or sell. The GM rolls 2d6 and consults the "Trade Availability" table found at http://imgur.com/1LFOxvf
. The 2d6 roll has been created to model a normal distribution. The number you end up with is the number of units of a resource (i.e. chickens) you can buy. For example, let's say we were trying to buy a batch of polysilicate dendrites (a medical product) on a small asteroid colony. The GM rolls a 12, which means the NPCs of the colony are willing to sell up to 6 batches of dendrites to the players.
Next, we need to know the demand for that particular product. Depending on whether you're buying or selling, the higher the demand, the more you have to pay or receive, respectively. Each city will have one of six possible demands for each of the four resource types:
* Very Low
* Very High
* Illegal/Black Market
The last one, "Illegal/black market" is a special demand when a society outlaws or severely restricts a product. As explained below, it's dangerous to deal with such goods lest you be discovered by the local authorities, however the potential for profits is very high.
The GM rolls 2d6 and consults the "Trade Demand" table found at http://imgur.com/ijUGc9J
. Once again the 2d6 roll has been created to model a normal distribution. The number you end up with is the sell or buy price of the product. In Open Adventure the main currency is "silver coins" or "system credits", abbreviated to "sc" on the table.
Now, remember how I mentioned there are four different types of resources? Well, not all resources are the same. Animal/Industry based products buy and sell for the price listed on the "trade demand" table. However vegetable/energy resources sell for twice the price listed. Mineral/Medicine products sell for 3x the listed price and Magic/Science products sell for a whopping 4x the listed price. Continuing our example above, the GM rolls 2d6 and rolls a 7 then consults the table. We'll say the colony has a moderate demand for the polysilicate dendrites giving it a listed price of 35 system credits. However, because the dendrites are a medical product, the GM multiplies the price by x3 for a grand total of 105 system credits per dendrite batch.
Whether the characters decide to buy the dendrites for that price or not is up to them. They can always test the market again in a month when the availability and demand may have changed. If they do make the purchase, they must then figure out how to transport the product, where to take it, and repeat the process all over again for whichever city they try to sell the dendrites.
If they took their product to a place where polysilicate dendrites were outlawed, they would have to sell in the black market. But before they can do that, they would have to smuggle the goods past any customs/border/town guards. Which leads us to our last table, the "Hide and Smuggle" table found at http://imgur.com/20yL0L5
. Every time a character with a bounty on their head or illegal goods in their possessions tries to enter a town/space station/planetside etc. the GM will roll to see if the guards happen to discover the character's secrets. This table only determines the intentions of the NPC guards, and not necessarily what actually goes down. The PCs may, for example, decide to escape or fight back.
As you can see from the table, the larger the city, the more sophisticated their search & seizure techniques have become. The more likely you're in for big trouble, as well. When a GM rolls 2d6, they may roll:
* No Trouble
if they rolled a dash ("-") the character gets through without the guards suspecting a thing. *Bounty
means the characters got through, but were later identified and have a bounty placed on their heads (they'll now need to make a hide & smuggle roll anytime they enter a city...it takes 2d6 days after the bounty has been placed for the news to spread).
means they're charged a small citation. If they can't pay, they're imprisoned.
their illegal goods are discovered, and almost all of their personal belongings are seized.
they have a 200 coin/credit bounty placed on their head then thrown into jail/prison. Every day they're in prison their bounty is reduced by 10 coins/credit.
In closing, the implications of adding a trade system are grand: by adding a value to almost anything the characters can pick up, they may choose to try their hand as a merchant to make some modest money. However, because everything suddenly has worth they may find themselves targets of pirates, thieves and highway men who wish to steal their goods and sell them for pure profit. The players could choose to combat these thieves by taking on bounty hunting jobs and collect on the bounty of the more infamous scofflaws. Suddenly, an entire circle of life is born from the world of trade.
Thanks for reading!