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Cash in Traveller


One thing I have a hard time understanding in Traveller is interstellar finance and banking. The rules (T20 anyway) talk about supposedly tamperproof computers that carry the credit balance of people traveling between planets. Now it seems to me that putting a computer geek in a ship and then give him a few weeks in jump space with nothing else to do but fiddle with that computer is a sure way of finding out that the computer is not, in fact, tamperproof. Remember, no system is fool proof for a talented fool!

Secondly, I think that this sort of thing goes against the spirit of Traveller. There is no FTL communication beyond jump travel, so people are pretty much isolated by the star system they are in. Managing an interstellar government is hard and I think finance would be the same way.

Often Traveller compares itself to the days of sail where it could take months for messages or goods to get from one place to another and I feel the solution to the finance problem is the same as it was then – cash. Now it might seem a little frightening for players to think of their characters carrying all of their worldly wealth (several thousands of credits usually) in cash but I feel that this adds something to the game. The GM can build paranoia by asking characters, “are you carrying a briefcase full of credits with you or are you going to leave some on the ship?” Further, if people traveling between planets often have to carry large amounts of cash then it gives pirates further incentive.

Anyway, what other opinions are there out there.

Well I am in the cash banknotes camp. Yeah those cred stick things are like checks and good for buying aboveboard stuff. But when you need to bribe or trade beyond the frontier, cash talks. Gold coins don’t hurt either.

My guess is that the cred card uses “black box technology” that makes them VERY hard to mess with. But hey really it is to make play easier. No piles of loose banknotes to keep track of.
By all means, let's have as much hard, un-tracable, non-sequencial cash money floating around as possible.
Maybe things are different in the Core, but what red-blooded Traveller spends anytime there?
If you use banknotes, your forgery expert in jumpspace with time on his hands is just as likely to be able to forge "official" banknotes as the computer guy is to hack the e-Credit card.

IMTU, the imperial Credit card (not a credit card, small c, which is a bank card with which you can get into debt, but the Credit card, capital C, which is the Imperial technology that carries money for you) is fairly hard to crack, and the Imperium takes a markedly dim view of those who attempt to do so.

Dim as in dead.

Does this stop everyone? No, certainly it does not, but it's a deterrent. They don't give up, those Imperial Treasury guys, not ever.
Credits as a physicall currency here. A Challenge articel (How I miss that magazine) once described the Credit as printed on plastic / minted from plastic that served as a temper-protection and being relatively thick and stiff.

As for the banking system: A lot closer to the 19th century US or British banking system. Hard to fake letters of credit exchanged between near by banks with yearly money transports to even out differences in withdrawl/deposit.
I mix all three:

> Cash, including unforgeable* Imperial Credits (or other) and precious specie (gems, metals, etc.). As noted it's untraceable, more or less, and handy for under-table financing (i.e. bribes and contraband).

> Credit, typically a tamper-proof* Debit Smart Card. Good for medium balances and equally accepted as untraceable and in shady transactions, as long as both parties have an appropriate DSC. Balances are simply transferred from one card to another by linking them and coding the transaction. Cards can be coded for Open Access (no security, good as cash), PIN Access (user coded alpha numeric, medium security), or Bio-Metric Access (only one user can access, high security). Choice of security is made when getting the card, costs are something like:

1% of balance for Open Access (minimum Cr100 balance, maximum Cr1000 balance) debit only, no crediting.

Cr100 for PIN Access card (no minimum balance, maximum Cr10,000 balance) debit or crediting.

Cr500 for Bio-Metric Access (no minimum or maximum) debit or crediting. Includes 1 free PIN Access card or 10 Open Access cards from the authorizing agent.

> Savings, the usual bank on a planet. Your money is safe and will even grow but to get to it you need to go to it or pay (typically 1% of balance transferred) and wait for an XBoat Transfer.

Starships in MTU will often have a large version of the DSC, a Debit Smart Terminal, to handle large ship transactions for passengers and shippers. Stuff like buying passage or booking freight, and paying port fees and salary. These machines are equally tamper-proof* and usually installed as a courtesy by the mortgage holding instituion, who of course make a small commission (1% on all transactions ;) ). The machines can even be loaded with Imperial Credits for those wishing to convert their DSC balance to Cash for small port transactions. No cash deposits though. Cash is facilitated by the ship owner and they may set a commission (user selects %) for themselves on each transaction.

* Tamper-proof and unforgeable are absolutes in MTU, the Imperium has had patience and millenia and the best tech to perfect it. Basically any attempts will fail, with catastrophic results.

DSC and DST will record the attempt and void the card/terminal. It will lock down and be impossible to restore. You lose all your money and any attempt to use the card or terminal fails. Imperial Credit notes are impossible to forge, in the sense that they will be detected by the correct scan, or course you might fool somebody who's careless or trusting ;)
I have always found it rather odd that the issue of forging the pay-as-you-go style debit card that has been with Traveller for about 30 years is debated so much. I have always guessed it is the powergamer in us that hypothesises that people in the 3I have the expertise in forgery that their character has (due to fudged Intelligence School roles during naval character generation) and spend their time trying to break the credit/debit system.

As Michael says in the 19th century documentary credits, bills of lading and negotiable instruments ruled the world of credit and finance. Now it was perfectly possible to put a printing press on a ocean going vessel and make your own. Did this cause international capitalism to collapse? No. Forgery of bank notes did exist (look at some 19th century criminal law reports on false instruments) but it was not a common event. In fact since the Fuggers developed negotiable instruments in the 16th century international trade has not been carried out by handing over gold/bank notes.

My own view is that some tech geek on a Class A2 freetrader (which afterall is the size of a big jumbo jet) is not going to have the equipment to take on the Imperial credit system - and if he does he is going to be found out pretty quickly (and put into a gulag somewhere).
Originally posted by Frank Mikes:
One thing I have a hard time understanding in Traveller is interstellar finance and banking.
You and me both!

Originally posted by Frank Mikes:
Now it seems to me that putting a computer geek in a ship and then give him a few weeks in jump space with nothing else to do but fiddle with that computer is a sure way of finding out that the computer is not, in fact, tamperproof.
That depends on whether or not you believe that 1 geek operating by himself for a few weeks can out-think what 1,000,000 geeks hired by Megacorporations and the Imperial Government over the last 1100 years to produce X millions of man-years of research into the subject of tamper resistant currency.

IMTU: The Ministry of the Treasury's Bureau of the Mint runs a continually operating "aggressor" group composed of co-opted criminals (counterfeiters and computer hackers) and some actual good-guy scientists whose sole job is to figure out how to hack the Imperium's mostly-electronic currency so that any holes in the system's defenses can be closed.

In my conception, one guy operating by himself is going to run into a series of endless puzzles about the way the system works (part of the layered defenses of the "tamper" resistance).

This is not to say that it can't be done, just that it would take considerably more effort than the "1 geek and a few weeks" scenario (IMO).

Originally posted by Frank Mikes:
Remember, no system is fool proof for a talented fool!
No system invented today has more than a couple of hundred years of science behind it, and likely less than 20-50 years of unsuperseded science.

The currency of the Imperium, TL-15, has at least 100 years of current science and research backing its security.

Originally posted by Frank Mikes:
There is no FTL communication beyond jump travel, so people are pretty much isolated by the star system they are in. Managing an interstellar government is hard and I think finance would be the same way.
The English managed to rule quite a bit of the world for many years under just such conditions, and they became fabulously wealthy doing it.

Originally posted by Frank Mikes:
Anyway, what other opinions are there out there.
Cash is one option. Given the footloose nature of PCs with a ship, it is a significant one. There is a reason that ship's need an anti-hijacking program.


Another option is the Letter of Credit. One world's bank branch of a sector corporation (usually a subsidiary of Hortalez et Cie or Zirunkar) issues a LoC to a party. That party jumps to the next world and presents the LoC to the same bank's branch for that world (or a partner bank's branch office on that world).

The bank will then send a message back to the issuing bank for confirmation (taking however long on the round-trip).

IMTU, an individual's record of presenting and collecting on LoCs is on file with these banks.

A bank may chose to issue 1-10% of a LoC's value to its bearer in advance, depending on the size of the LoC and the bearer's record.

If the presenter of the LoC has sufficient long-term credibility, and the bearer's business is important to the bank, they may well credit its entire value immediately.


IMTU, another option is stock in the Megacorporations. If you buy some of this, then no matter where you go (even outside the Imperium for some distance), it is practically like cash to banks and brokers (street vendors and stores and even starport operations will, of course, not accept this). Stock certificates are, IMO, printed in the same manner as cash (LoCs are not, however).


You can posit whatever ballonium method you want to make sure that hard cash isn't counterfeitable. Perhaps that is just common knowledge and the truth is that the Imperium's agents track down and kill anyone engaged in counterfeiting (in canon, there is no law against this, arrest and trial aren't even necessary).
IRL the LoC worked due to a number of reasons:

Limited ports of call

Most merchants only visited a small number of ports and(or cities. A long range trader might bring knives from Solingen to Moskow, take Zobel pelts back to Paris and finish the trade by bringing French cloth back to Solingen. He would not go to each little market. At each large market he was known by name and face.

A short range trader OtoH ran a circuit through the local markets maybe once every 3-6 month. Again, he was a known quantity for the locals

This is similar to how the Far Trader->Feeder Line->Major Line system in Traveller works

Trustworthy third party

There is a reason for the Hanse, Eastindia Companie and similar trade groups. Aside from sharing in ship financing they also served as clearing houses for their members. A trader in Moskow knew he could trust the new trader Arthur Braus because he was introduced to him by the local Hanse factor who in turn got a letter of recommondation from master trader Jan Fedder of Hamburg.

Question: Shouldn't there be a similar organisation (or rather multiple onces, 1/sector) in the Traveller Universe?

Trust a local

The closer to home you are, the more likely it is that a LoC is accepted without a lengthy wait for confirmation. This is based on reputation and contact networks. So it's in the best interest of a trader to keep up a good rep and interact with the locals.

This is how i.e the Jewish Far Traders in the Middle Ages worked, they had a network of trust (and a resonably fake-proof identity symbol - circumcission + bathing culture) that allowed LoC's to hop from local to local. So that trader from Paris might not be known to a trader in Jerusalem, but the Jerusalem trader knows the guy in Konstantinople who said the LoC is good since he knew the guy in Venice who...

Even today such systems exist in the Near East. Money transfer is costly so the guest worker gives money to a trusted third party that then tells his contact at home that the workers family can draft money/buy goods up to sum x. The money gets transfered either as large blocks (money from n persons n >> 1) or physically in regular intervalls, sometimes even in trade goods.

Short network hops

Money orders have certain limits. One is, that most banks will only trust a close partner. The Bank of Mora will likely trust a LoC from the Bank of Sylea but will be less likely to trust one from the Bank of WeMadeIt. OtoH the Bank of Terra will trust the nearby Bank of WeMadeIt since they knew them and have interacted with them.

So transfering LoC over longer distances will mean exchanging them (for a fee) ever so often
LoC details may well be something the x-boat system carries as a priority.

Enterprising ethically challenged merchants may be able to have a bit of luck off the x-boat network, or across the border, but when they get found out I doubt if a trial will be necessary

Could make for some interesting adventure hooks as well.
Well I have to say that I didn’t expect my post to inspire such debate. Although I have to say that I’m pleased and impressed with all answers, especially the thought and knowledge behind them. Trust gamers to know and understand obscure facts from history.

I still have to say that I’m swaying more to the side of cash. While I agree with Princelain that a lot of hackers would be caught, I’m thinking that in Traveller it’s very hard to catch a mobile criminal. Hell, I just saw something here on the Crime and Investigation channel (yes, we do get cable even way out here in Australia), where a pair of serial killers evaded police for over a year while killing someone about once a month by simply moving towns. This is in a country where electronic communications zip across the nation in seconds, how well are the treasury guys going to go when it will take at least a week to find where the perps have gone and at least another week to get on their trail? Granted, it does mean that the perps will probably have to stay on the run and keep going in one direction.

Elliot points out that, while forgery was a possible option in the past it wasn’t widely used so there is little reason to think that it should necessarily be so in the future. While I agree with this point I feel that in the 19th century, money was not as important as it is today and perhaps, in the Traveller Universe. In the 19th century most societies were class based so that even if one had money it didn’t necessarily give you what you can get today. Sir Walter Reilly was executed (even after being knighted). Royalty was seen as ‘ordained by god’ and thus could demand (and expect to get) anything that it wanted including the large sum of money a vassal might have suddenly acquired. People were also not as money conscious or wise in those days. They certainly knew what money was but your average peasant wouldn’t have understood any of the financial language that is commonplace today. Maybe this is the same in the 3rd Imp but it seems with the focus on trade I think that it probably isn’t.

RainofSteel suggests that the Imperium and banks have been working aggressively to stop this sort of computer hacking. Recruiting people and working hard on the problem. Unfortunately I think the criminal element would be working just as hard. Looking through history, every time law enforcement finds a new tool for its arsenal it works for a time until the criminals find a way around it. When fingerprinting became commonplace criminals began to wear gloves; when police checked ballistics from shootings criminals started ditching the weapons; etc. Counterfeiting and fraud are more rife today despite greater safeguards!

Finally though with credit cards and computers there is the standard flaw that faces programmers everywhere. The two competing goals are access and security. Allow too much access to the money and it is no longer secure – Secure it too much and the user cannot access their funds. This is discussed somewhat in the Letter of Credit comments where merchants might have to wait a couple of weeks or longer for the entire amount of their funds to be released – although I wonder how many of them would be willing to wait so long when they could just carry cash (again access or security – you can’t seem to have it both ways).

Anyway, I’m glad I brought about such a fine debate. Please feel free to continue and I’d like to thank you all for contributing.

There was a very interesting White Dwarf article on money in Traveller many moons ago. From what I remember, complex-composition plastic cards were also used. It even had some notes on money slang.

I shall have to look it up once my boxes arrive.
Forgery is not going to be a problem. Forgers will technically be able to reproduce any instrument. The treick is to make the technology required to forge instruments some complex and expensive that forgery is not economical. Why counterfeit 100 credit notes if the equipment costs megacredits? If you can afford the equipment, you probably don't need to counterfeit.

This principle has been used by national governments for some time with relatively good success.

As for other forgery (cards, etc) it <i>will</i> happen. No system is ever going to be 100% secure. But as long as there are systems in place to compensate, it won't effect commerce. Credit cards are cloned, stolen, etc all the time, and yet the companies that issue them continue to prosper.
One can always use commodities such as gold, silver, or platinum, those are very difficult to forge. In my campaign a credit is one thirtieth of a kilogram of pure silver. If you have one thirtieth of a kilogram of pure silver, that is a credit, they are often minted into 1 credit coins by various commerical banks, banks also issue banknotes that are worth multiple amounts of these silver credit coins and the banks will always redeem their notes for the listed amount of silver credits if requested. The government requires that the banks keep a required minimum amount of silver available to meet customers demands for redemption. The banks then go to the trouble of making banknotes that are difficult to counterfeit using the latest technology available, typically each banknote is only good locally. If people want to move their money from system to system, they typically must by precious commodities such as silver, gold or platinum and then sell the commodities if gold or platinum or simply deposit the silver in a bank or spend it upon arrival. The problem of counterfeitcy is one the bank has to deal with rather than the government.
I am reminded of the Eastern European forged £1 coins that hit the streets of London about 5 years ago. At first they looked dull but shops accepted them but over time they deteriorated in such a way that they were obviously not Bank of England £1 coins. Shops refused to accept them and you had to put them into machines to get rid of them. Eventually the coke machine people probably handed them over to banks who destroyed them. In all it was inconvenient but not threatening to the financial system.

As to people not being money conscious in the past - when I researched my PhD in 17th Century legal history I read a diary of a ill educated 17 Century London tradesman who would note every clipped coin he received and how he got rid of them (the man feared for his soul everytime he pawned one off to an unsuspecting customer) - Furthermore the Case of Ship Money (1638) was a case exactly challenging the power of the Crown to raise taxes by arbitrary feudal right, so i'm I think money consciousness is pretty much universal throughout the ages (I dont mean this as criticism, just observation).

In short forgery is an endless parasite on any financial system but it doesn't normally cause that financial system to collapse, unlike inflation (a thing strangely absent from the Traveller universe).
The currency is, IIRC, an Imperial Credit which suggests that it is 'minted' by the Imperium. This makes sense because if the Imperium's primary purpose is to encourage trade (presumably because it derives an income from taxation) administering tax would be more effective if there was a common currency.

What is interesting to me is that because of Traveller limitations it would be impossible for banks to have up to date records for all of their customers if some of those customers were in different system.

So it seems that the only way in which a system of credit could exist is if the customer had some sort of record he carried himself which he can present to a financial institution to withdraw credits as cash. The value of the credits would be in the card itself. So this would be more like a telephone card (where the card itself has a particular value ascribed to it) then a debit card where the card is an instrument which allows withdrawls from a seperate account. This leads to some fun ideas:

You could have 'bearer' cards. the equivalent of cash, you only have to possess them to be able to use them. No passowords or codes.

You could have coded cards for individuals(e.g. requiring a retinal match with the card and the bearer) so that only a particular person could use the debit card.

You could have coded cards for organisations (e.g. requiring the keying of a password known only to the people in the organisation). - A bit like a company credit card.

The failsafe in all cases is if the card gets stolen it is only good for the amount of credits it 'contains'. It does not allow the user to access a larger account.

Me, I like to imagine credits as dark plastic-like triangular chips - it just feels really science fictiony. For travellers I like the idea of them carrying a combination of chips and barter materials, like rare metals. It just seems somehow right.

IMTU, most people use the Imperial Credit, but there are numerous local currencies with different exchange rates, different strengths against the Cr, etc.

Some planets force visitors to use local scrip and have pretty lousy exchange rates against the Cr to pump up their economy. This only applies outside of the starport, because any starport (locally-funded-and-built or not) is considered to be Imperial land. And in Imperial lands and space, the Credit is universally recognized.

(Governments and corporations who play games with the Cr usually lose their license to operate on a given world. In the case of the local government, this might mean purges. No one inside the frontier region plays this sort of game at all.)

However, the corporation might have its offices 1 meter outside the boundaries of the starport (especially problematic in Type D and lower starports where it's less likely they have a competitor) and force you to convert your Cr to Plotnuk notes, which are worth far less. Oh, and when it comes time to convert your unspent Plotnuks, well, it turns out the currency rates have fluctuated by another 10%. We're very sorry.

So local currencies can become an issue, but usually only in situations where the "store" is trying to take unfair advantage of people. MOST planets just use the Credit.

And MOST Credits are electronic, because they're the most secure and difficult to fake. Any planet that has sufficient technology to use the Imperial Credit is tied into the X-boat-carried Imperial Net, and all transactions are tracked; discrepancies may take years to be reconciled, but they will be eventually, and when the Imperium finds out, you'd better already be dead...

e-Credits are extremely difficult to fake, however, requiring the very best tools, skills, and know-how. It's possible for someone to fake them with the resources aboard a ship in Jump, just very, very hard. Combine difficulty with penalty if you are caught, and it deters the majority of potential offenders.

Paper Credits are used on worlds where technology doesn't support a planetary Net, and while they're (a) not really paper but a sandwiched set of processors and (b) extremely difficult to forge, they are easier to forge (and get away with forging) than e-Credits. The penalties are as severe, but the probability of being detected is much lower unless you're creating millions upon millions of fake Credits.

After that is specie, either precious metals or gemstones. Again, it's possible to create gemstones at high enough tech level, as it's also possible to get gold and other metals from seawater, but that's all taken into account in the value of the minerals. It's possible for a high-TL con artist to fool a low-TL buyer into buying "Arkelian Firestones" which are actually worthless "junk" crystals; more power to the con man.

Of course, enough high tech is portable enough that that low-TL buyer might have a TL 14 scanner...and his TL 5 handgun works just fine, thank you very much...

Bottom line, people cheating at currency exists within my TU, but it's not very common, and the consequences can be dire.
Originally posted by ravs:
Me, I like to imagine credits as dark plastic-like triangular chips - it just feels really science fictiony. For travellers I like the idea of them carrying a combination of chips and barter materials, like rare metals. It just seems somehow right.

Not meant as a criticism, and it is "science fictiony" but there are good reasons why most coins are round.

You don't reach into a pocket or purse and stab your hand on round coins like you would with triangle ones.

And the same thing will mean that pocket or purse will get holed as well with triangles poking at it all the time, and then they fall out.

Round coins are easy to roll for collecting and moving large sums.

Round coins are easy to sort and count mechanically, such as when dealing in large sums in business and banking, not to mention vending machines.

Sure all these could be got around for triangle chips, and again I'm not so much knocking the idea as pointing out a few problems for you to think about, but I for one will stick to round, or roundish, coins for those reasons

Still there are the historic cut coins method of making small(er) change. So you might have a Cr5 round coin that is scored to break into 5 Cr1 wedges. And maybe a Cr100 coin that breaks into 5 Cr20 wedges. Or maybe they could even be made of some material that allowed them to be "broken" and "unbroken" by simple snapping them apart and together if you want something a little "science fictiony" in it. Just a thought
Still there are the historic cut coins method of making small(er) change. So you might have a Cr5 round coin that is scored to break into 5 Cr1 wedges. And maybe a Cr100 coin that breaks into 5 Cr20 wedges. Or maybe they could even be made of some material that allowed them to be "broken" and "unbroken" by simple snapping them apart and together if you want something a little "science fictiony" in it. Just a thought
Now THAT is a really cool idea!

The other nice thing about non-electronic cash is that it gives locals the opportunity to throw them back in your face and say, 'Ve do not take your steeenking Imperial Credits here!'