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Old February 6th, 2008, 05:56 PM
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Default Starship Economics Broken As Well...

I decided to tackle something besides the T/E and initiative mechanics, so I reviewed starship economics in MGT. I'm sure that y'all will be as shocked as I was when you hear that they are badly broken as well.

<sigh>

1. No assumed interest rate and loan term is given for starship loans. If we assume 40 years (per CT), then the "minimum payment" rule seems broken. MGT states that the minimum monthly payment is 0.02% of original loan amount per month. This works out to an interest rate of <1% for a 40 year loan. This seems staggeringly low; given the amount of risk inherent in starship operations, I'd imagine that the minimum interest rate should be 5%. That would work out to a minimum monthly payment (40 year loan) of 0.48% per month.

2. Also, the ship shares system seems overly fussy. With millions of loan payment calculators available online, is it really such an ordeal to define reasonable starship financing guidelines? Do we really need this system? Wouldn't it be better to simply lay out the costs and financing terms? Shouldn't that data be included even if the starship shares system is kept?

I bring this up is because the value placed on old ships would have a profound effect on the interest rate charged by banks. The higher the depreciation rate, the higher the interest rate charged. In other words, the more resale value, the lower the interest rate.

And unfortunately, the starship shares rules make it hard to determine resale value. The Old Starships rule is especially illogical. Essentially, a ship declines by about Mcr2.0 per decade of wear (average of 2 shares per decade). This system results in larger ships having a far longer useful life than smaller ships. An absurd notion, since the systems comprising such ships are the same. A more rational system would reduce the value of starships proportionately.

Taken at face value, the Old Starships rule means that a MCr39.0 free trader would lose half its value in 100 years (10 decades x MCr 2.0), while a MCr108 fat trader would lose half its value in about 250 years. Both numbers seem absurdly high to me, and I don't think that the designer intended for fat traders to have 2.5 times the useful life of Free Traders. A MCr1000 bulk trader would lose half its value in 2500 years!

3. The system for generating passengers and cargo is badly broken (unless of course, we want all ships to be running multi-million credit losses annually). In the MGT universe, I want to be in the starship repo business. With the current economic system, there will be plenty of defaults.

On an unmodified passenger roll, a ship will average 7 low passengers, 3.5 middle passengers and 0.5 high passage passengers. On an unmodified cargo roll, a ship will average 56 tons of cargo.

I ran a spreadsheet on the humble Fat Trader and discovered that these numbers will result in it losing about Cr246,612 per month. Assuming a +3 modifier to the roll (pretty much an "extremely good case" scenario), the Fat Trader loses Cr128,612 per month.

The system for rolling for cargos and passenger--an unfortunate legacy from Classic Traveller--is fundamentally flawed. The problem with it is that it generates a fixed amount of cargo/passengers. This makes ships with small cargo capacities able to easily fill their holds with cargo/passengers and makes it impossible for ships with large cargo capacities to do so.

A more logical system would generate cargo and passengers on a percentage basis.

So once again, I find myself asking the question "what is the designer smoking and can I get some?" Note that he completely changed the CT starship economics. But the result is a system every bit as defective as CT's system, if not moreso. You know, someone should tell him that you should only change something if you can improve it. At least the CT system is broken in a familiar way.

Cripes!

And despite the fact that I think that these issues should have been resolved by the designer, here are some suggestions:

1. Ditch the starship shares. They are a needless gloss on a pretty straightforward calculation.

2. Ditch the illogical cargo and passenger generation system since it is unresponsive to ship size and will make it too easy for small ships to carry a full hold and impossible for larger ones to do so.

3. Base travel/cargo shipment prices on the costs of shipping, rather than some arbitrary amount like "cr5,000 per parsec."

Of course, it would have been better if this had been resolved earlier. A week before publication doesn't give a whole lotta time.
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Old February 6th, 2008, 10:27 PM
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Thanks for posting a summary. Now I can chatter mindlessly without having to read the playtest

Sounds like the interest calculation is flat "wrong".

I still like the ship shares system. But, I'll have to think about it more.

Now, the Old Starships rule definitely needs to be tweaked. Ok, replaced. Ships just don't last more than a century...

Sounds like the passenger & freight rules need relaxing, too, eh? 2D low passengers on the average, 1D middle, 1/2 high, eh? Well, perhaps a fix would be to bump that up a bit closer to CT numbers on the average.

(And I'd not use a Fat Trader as an example; those things are subsidized for a reason. But even so, the numbers seem low.)

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Originally Posted by tbeard1999 View Post

The system for rolling for cargos and passenger--an unfortunate legacy from Classic Traveller--is fundamentally flawed. The problem with it is that it generates a fixed amount of cargo/passengers. This makes ships with small cargo capacities able to easily fill their holds with cargo/passengers and makes it impossible for ships with large cargo capacities to do so.

A more logical system would generate cargo and passengers on a percentage basis.
Ah. Well, I think there are implicit assumptions built into CT, one of which is that independently operated ships are at least one of:

(1) small
(2) niche
(3) subsidized

Percentage basis is, IMO, more flawed than the current model, at least given the underlying assumption about interstellar travel being rather uncommon, and interstellar travel by people of independent means who choose tramp traders rather than corporate liners being even more quirky (read: plot hook) and even more uncommon.

Under CT, small ships could fill their cargo hold, and staterooms, too. The Fat Trader had to find a more specialized route to make money. Above that merchant ships had to be "subsidized", which is a code word for "they're getting their money some other way", and by then you've got one foot in a corporate/government entanglement. By the time you've hit 1,000 - 2,000 - 3,000+ ton liners and freighters, you're in corporate territory, and they make money in Byzantine ways: corporate accounts, travel slots paid for by megacorps, government-reserved seating, it's taxpayer dollars, baby!

Actually, I wish we had rules for that!

Quote:
3. Base travel/cargo shipment prices on the costs of shipping, rather than some arbitrary amount like "cr5,000 per parsec."
I don't mind a flat rate for freight, and even for passengers (I still prefer per-jump pricing). What I do mind is a flat base price for speculative trade -- I want what Aramis wants, a base price dependent on distinct cargo types.

Hmmm, that gives me an idea.


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Of course, it would have been better if this had been resolved earlier. A week before publication doesn't give a whole lotta time.
Yeah, I'd like to have more time to think about it.
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Old February 6th, 2008, 11:55 PM
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Sorry, Ty, but a more logical system would not be based at all upon the ship, but solely upon the tradeflows of the two systems and all their trade partners. But such a system also requires knowing how much competition is present, and a host of other details. Details that are beyond the pale for an RPG.

So instead we tie available passengers to a first order major variable for the above: population of the world.

That is a viable simplification. It was used in CT Bk2 & 5, MT, TNE, T4, T20, and GT (but not GTFT).

Freight as well was handled the same way (with minor variations) in CT, MT, TNE, T4, and GT; T20 uses a significant variation, and GTFT uses a different basis.

Speculative goods under CT Bk2 & T20 are not limited by population; that's an error on their part; both are limited by the ship. Note that T20 allows for several lots, and purchase of one or all of them, while CT can be construed to mean either one lot per ship or one per crewman blowing the week on finding spec goods...
Under MT, TNE, and T4, they are limited by population, again, a first order approximation.
GTFT uses (again) a basis of their trade model.

A far better solution, also a first order approximation, but a better one, is to use a formula like Sqrt(Pop*TL) as a production index, and using that as a basis for generating lost size values.
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Old February 7th, 2008, 12:16 AM
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Gotta agree with aramis on this pretty much. All I'd add is that TL does factor a bit into the trade models in (most of?) the rules mentioned, in a fashion similar to his suggested for a production index.

Still I don't see it as a good thing (the TL tie in favoring). Sure high TL may produce more goods, but low TL will provide more raw material. Seems like the two would balance by lots (though not by volume - raw material is always going to be larger and not by value except perhaps by lot size - goods will have more value than materials for the same volume)...

...but I'm getting off topic I guess

Anyway, what's needed is a trade system that's simple but means you find raw materials of large volume and low cost on source worlds, and manufactured goods of small volume and high cost on production worlds.
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Old February 7th, 2008, 12:43 AM
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TL in the extant systems does NOT work the way my suggestion does.

TL is a power multiplier. A low TL resource world can only produce a few hundred KG/week/worker. A high TL resource world can produce lierally tons per week per worker, simply due to the tools available. It matters little whether that work is raw resources, fruit, or HP7000's... aside from the exact scale of the lots.

Now the other issue is that, realisitcally, the bigger the population the lower the percentage who will want/need to get off world... since the larger the population, the more services the population can support internally. At TL 7+, nowhere on world is more than a week's travel away...and that travel will probably cost far less than a starship passage.
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Old February 7th, 2008, 10:33 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aramis View Post
Sorry, Ty, but a more logical system would not be based at all upon the ship, but solely upon the tradeflows of the two systems and all their trade partners. But such a system also requires knowing how much competition is present, and a host of other details. Details that are beyond the pale for an RPG.
At the end of the day, minimum shipping prices will be largely determined by the costs of actually moving the product. No matter what these other variables are, no ship operator can operate at a loss for very long. And in an RPG context, the most important consideration is that the economic system yields reasonable results -- i.e., it's possible to operate a ship at a reasonably profitable level, but not too easy to get rich.

EDIT to clarify:

Now, three main factors will tend to increase prices temporarily: increased demand, decreased transport supply, and/or increased risk. If demand increases, prices will go up, then come back down as more operators step in to get a piece of the action and fulfill the demand. If the supply of available transport is decreased, prices will go up, which will encourage more operators to step in, thereby lowering prices. Increased risk will generally keep prices up until the risk is decreased.

Now, three main factors will tend to decrease prices temporarily: decreased demand, increased transport supply, and/or decreased risk. If demand decreases, prices will go down, then go back up as operators leave an unprofitable business (or are bankrupted). If the supply of available transport is increases, prices will go down, then go back up as operators leave an unprofitable business. Decreased risk will generally keep prices down, but can never drive the costs lower than the cost of providing the transport.

So at the end of the day, in a market economy, average shipping prices should wind up somewhere around the point at which typical operators can make a reasonable return on investment. This would certainly be the case in a well established entity like the Third Imperium. Given the low interest assumption in Traveller (5.55% to finance a starship), I'd submit that a return of 8-10% would be "reasonable" for a serious operator. A small potatoes operator might well be satisfied to cover all expenses and earn what his salary would be if he worked for someone else. (Of course, there will always be short term fluctuations and seasonal fluctuations as well; I'm talking average prices).

And if there is no market economy, a black market will invariably spring up where market prices (plus a risk premium) will be charged. If the government artificially limits shipping prices, then availability will fluctuate. If the government mandated rate is less than the market price, shipping will be scarce (and probably regularly available only on the black market at market prices+risk premium). If the government mandated rate is higher than the market price, there will be a glut of shipping (and the black market will provide it at lower market prices).

In any case, it is clear that the designers of MGT have no idea what they're doing. They've taken a broken economic system and made a bunch of ill-conceived and pointless changes to it. The result is a fussier system that is just as broken as the original. The tragedy is that a workable economic model could be created with only a few hours work.

Where did Mongoose find these guys?

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Old February 7th, 2008, 11:09 AM
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Thanks for posting a summary. Now I can chatter mindlessly without having to read the playtest

Sounds like the interest calculation is flat "wrong".

I still like the ship shares system. But, I'll have to think about it more.
In reality there is no need for a shares "system", at least in the starship financing rules.

Shares are an ownership concept, not a financing concept. And the designer's amateurish attempt to shoehorn them into the financing system adds nothing but murkiness.

It's the same problem, really. The designer is so concerned with being "clever" and "innovative" that he's produced a lousy game.

I have no objection to proposing shares as a way for parties to divide ownership of a starship. But it's silly to force that concept into starship financing -- something that's no more complex than financing a car in the Real World. Of course, if the designer hasn't bothered to learn anything about how financing works, I guess this incompetent and hamfisted system is the best he could come up with.

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Now, the Old Starships rule definitely needs to be tweaked. Ok, replaced. Ships just don't last more than a century...
There's not enough substance there to tweak or replace. It's an ill-concieved hodgepodge of house rules that make little or no sense.

Quote:
Sounds like the passenger & freight rules need relaxing, too, eh? 2D low passengers on the average, 1D middle, 1/2 high, eh? Well, perhaps a fix would be to bump that up a bit closer to CT numbers on the average.
The problem with this rule will always be that it is insensitive to starship capacity. So small ships will easily fill their holds and larger ships will never be able to fill their holds. The result is that larger ships will never be profitable (especially as carrying capacity is roughly proportional to cost, {assuming the same drive ratings} at least in ranges I've reviewed so far).

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Percentage basis is, IMO, more flawed than the current model, at least given the underlying assumption about interstellar travel being rather uncommon, and interstellar travel by people of independent means who choose tramp traders rather than corporate liners being even more quirky (read: plot hook) and even more uncommon.
Travel in Traveller is no more expensive than transatlantic travel in the 19th century. By that time, shipping prices were commoditized and the main variables were speed and luxury. So percentages should work fine as a mechanism to simply determine how well an RPG ship captain does. It will yield far better results than an absolute method in my opinion.

My suggestion would be a roll for each class (cargo and passengers). Say, (2d6+3) x 10%. So on an average day, ships will be at full capacity. If the roll is higher than 100%, adjust the prices that can be charged accordingly. No fuss.

A better system in my opinion is what I do in my campaigns. I assume 100% carriage rates, but roll for the current market price per ticket or cargo ton. That system might work thusly:

Cargo: (2d6+3)*10%*cr1000 per ton
Middle Passengers (75% of staterooms, round up): (2d6+3)*10%*Middle Passage Price
High Passengers (25% of staterooms, round up): (2d6+3)*10%*High Passage Price

The alternative would be to generate (a) the total amount of cargo and passengers at a starport; (b) the total amount of shipping available including the PC's ship; and (c) determine how much of the available action the PC ship gets. This seems like a lot of trouble, and won't really generate a more useful number than the method above.

I'd add that distinguishing between high and middle passages is hardly worth the effort. There's only a cr1000 difference in ticket price (high passage gets an extra ton, worth cr1000 on its own, which reduces the real difference in prices).

Edited to change rolls from 3d6 to (2d6+3).

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Old February 7th, 2008, 11:21 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tbeard1999 View Post
In reality there is no need for a shares "system", at least in the starship financing rules.

Shares are an ownership concept, not a financing concept. And the designer's amateurish attempt to shoehorn them into the financing system adds nothing but murkiness.

It's the same problem, really. The designer is so concerned with being "clever" and "innovative" that he's produced a lousy game.
I'd be a little more generous and say it's an attempt to simultaneously simplify and remove randomness from the TNE Ship DM concept, which is, IMO, an excellent foundation for determining a starting ship if you wish to offer an alternative to GM Fiat or simple group consensus (both of which remain valid options, whether you have a ship share system or not).

Unforunately, at this stage, the actual implementation seems awry, and the rest of your assessment appears fair enough.
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Old February 7th, 2008, 12:13 PM
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I'd be a little more generous and say it's an attempt to simultaneously simplify and remove randomness from the TNE Ship DM concept, which is, IMO, an excellent foundation for determining a starting ship if you wish to offer an alternative to GM Fiat or simple group consensus (both of which remain valid options, whether you have a ship share system or not).

Unforunately, at this stage, the actual implementation seems awry, and the rest of your assessment appears fair enough.
Given the numerous flaws in other aspects of the game, my generousity is exhausted. At this point--one week of playtesting left--there is no excuse for such sloppy and ill-considered mechanics. The designers are either (a) incompetent; or (b) completely lacking in professional pride and therefore willing to offer an obvious kludge for sale. Neither alternative impresses me much.

In any case, all of this wasted motion regarding shares, is, uh, wasted.

A far clearer solution is this:

1. Replace "shares" with Mcr1.0 of "equity" in a ship. This is a more accurate term in any case.

2. Equity can be "spent" for the starship downpayment, to reduce the loan balance, or (maybe) pay for starship improvements, but can't otherwise be converted to cash.

3. Unless otherwise agreed by the players, owners share profits and loss prorata by equity.

4. Use any of the one million online loan calculators to determine starship loan rates. Or, use the CT formula, which assumes a 40 year loan and 5.55% interest. Or tell me what your loan term and interest assumption is and I'll give you a rule of thumb.
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Old February 7th, 2008, 12:40 PM
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Travel in Traveller is no more expensive than transatlantic travel in the 19th century. By that time, shipping prices were commoditized and the main variables were speed and luxury. So percentages should work fine as a mechanism to simply determine how well an RPG ship captain does. It will yield far better results than an absolute method in my opinion.
My basis for this claim is some research I did a long time ago. Middle passage from Liverpool to New York in 1887 averaged about $80 one way. At that time, the average skilled worker made about $500 per year. So, the middle ticket cost about 16% of the annual pay of a skilled worker. Steerage would have cost about $30 one way, or about 6% of the annual pay of a skilled worker.

In CT, the average skilled starship crewman makes about Cr3k-4k per month or about Cr42K per year. So, a Cr8K middle ticket costs about 19% of his annual wages and a Cr1K low passage costs 2.3% of his annual pay.
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