Strange Cargo

Discussion on game mastering Fading Suns. May contain spoilers; caution is recommended!
Leviathan of Maddoc
Posts: 163
Joined: Mon Sep 01, 2014 8:33 pm

Strange Cargo

Postby Leviathan of Maddoc » Wed Apr 27, 2016 5:58 pm

So in many previous games transporting cargo has been a lesser element of our games, either as method to support the world-hopping adventure or as a hook to draw players into Guild drama. How interplanetary trade works is a dead-spot in the cannon of Fading suns so I'm curious how others handle this aspect of the game world.


My take is that there would be three kinds of interplanetary Trade arrangements:
The first would be the merchant ship, a freighter or cargo lander, usually owned by a Charioteer, that haggles goods at low prices one one planet and flies them to a planet where the demand is greater. These operations would be small crews for low overhead and likely specialize in a category of goods like Clothing or Alcohol where their connections on the planets they serve give them an advantage in trade. These ventures are all-in and likely don't take many chances as a bad cargo run or two is all that it takes to ruin their business.
The second would be enterprises that have production on one world and distribution on another, such as a Noble family that owns vineyards on one planet and wine shops on another. They utilize interplanetary trade to expand the sales-base of their enterprise to more customers, so these are less likely to be common commodities and more likely to be firearms or fine-crafted furniture or goods that already have a limited market. They may have their own ship or more likely they contract to have their freight shipped with a trusted ship owner.
The third isn't really trade but just transportation. A lot of people would need services to transport their goods not for sale to other planets. People moving to another world would likely be taking there furniture and home decor with them. In a primitive economy with poor banking, payment is is often handled in trade goods. Ravenna's Duke might be sending tons of premium cut lumber to the Delphi as part of his planetary tithes. The Nobles and the Church also have the need to consolidate resources as often it is cheaper to ship 200 head of cattle from one planet to another than it is to purchase cattle on that planet. These shipments ignore much of the taxes of trade but still have to pass through customs inspections.

The Charioteers and Muster serve a unique position in interplanetary commerce as one of the only interplanetary logisticians. The Muster can assign a tracking number to a cargo container or collection of crates and the Charioteers can track that shipment across the known worlds by checking it in and out as it travels through spaceports and land transportation. If you arranged freight through the Charioteers it may cost a bit more but you can go to the Boatswain's offices on Criticorrum and confirm that freight that was sent out of a farm on Kish was delivered to a rural camp on Severus, although it may take several months for that confirmation to be broadcast to Critcorrum. Additionally the little problems shipments face tend to disappear when the Roustabout Tracking number is on your crates, you're less likely to steal a few items out of a crate in an inspection warehouse when the folks who will have to pay for them are friends with Chainers.

There is very little regulation of what ships off planet because it quickly becomes someone else's problem. Most space ports will open and inspect cargo containers to ensure there's no smuggling going on but this is a low priority for port security and likely isn't done on every container. People are watched a little more carefully. Likely there are law enforcement personnel checking Boatswain passenger lists in any spaceport against wanted lists for anything suspicious.

Goods shipped off planet need to be transported to the spaceport or to a location where a lander can access them or in some cases shuttled up to a ship in orbit, but in most cases anything that would justify the expense of being shipped by shuttle would be a very expensive cargo to cover the cost. In most cases cargo that doesn't need temperature regulation or life support would be transported in void-locked cargo containers that are likely attached to the outside of cargo freighters. Goods that have to be kept at room temperature or livestock (slaves) have to be transported in ship compartments and cannot be packed in a container larger than can be carried through a ship's cargo airlock unless it is shipped via a lander with a cargo ramp. So shipping static goods like cloth or high tech components can be very inexpensive but transporting fresh fruit or exotic animals is much much more expensive.

Cargo landing on a planet is a source of great regulation. Anything arriving from another world has to be checked for elements that could be dangerous or illegal like smuggled drugs or dangerous technology or just plain weapons. Both the Church and Nobles have an interest in this regulation so they are both given time to inspect incoming cargo in independent warehouses. The church doesn't need to look at much and can often inspect cargo as it comes off the ship but the Nobles will want to confirm who is receiving cargo, verify the proper market value so they are taxed correctly, and many planetary rulers keep a survey of what's being imported for their own economic planning. It is not unusual for cargo to take days to get through customs. Having a friend in the custom's office of a Spaceport or being good with bribes can shorten that wait time exponentially.

Goods that don't have a fairly high price tag or goods that aren't very stable just don't travel between planets because the price of transport exceeds to profit to be had. In general lightweight goods that require less packing tend to be the sweetspot for interplanetary trade, high tech, medicines, r spices. Slightly less efficient but still viable are heavy or perishable goods that are unique to a planet, exotic preserves like canned fruits or Wine, books, or machined parts made on a patent, lower still on the trade priorities would be inexpensive goods that are in short supply on a neighboring planet that are stable enough to transport cheaply like wood or fuel or grains. These shipments usually have much tighter margins and only transport in gigantic bulk shipments, and typically only when demand on on the destination planet seems likely to outstrip supply or other factors would make the destination's market for that good very attractive.

So what do you think?

Lets say you on planet A have a ridiculous surplus of widgets and you believe there is a market for them on planet B. How do you imagine the process works?

Given the medieval setting and postwar economy of the Fadung Suns world, what types of goods are the products that are transported from world to world?

Danos
Posts: 135
Joined: Sun Dec 18, 2011 6:53 pm

Re: Strange Cargo

Postby Danos » Wed Apr 27, 2016 9:16 pm

The Imperial economy is warped. There is just such a bewildering array of taxation, church law, noble law, imperial law, and guild privilege. This is why the Scravers do so well. Smuggling to evade taxation is a high risk, low profit endeavor (see USA prosecutions for the people who buy untaxed cigarettes on Indian Reservations to sell in New York, for instance). Smuggling to provide a high value, high demand and totally illegal item (banned drugs for instance) is amazingly lucrative. Fading Suns has both, side by side.

I see the Charioteers buying low and selling high everywhere. Anything exotic. Pets, guns, tech, art, liquor, you name it. Liquor is probably one of the biggest trade items for the wealthy; it is a consumable, and having exotic types is a social status bump. Art really depends on collectors, but there will be fads and so forth.

So, the widget question. A factory on Cadiz produced a surplus of five hundred thousand winter coats, expecting a severe winter, and there was a mild winter. They want to free up warehouse space to make room for next years big ticket item. So they start sounding out the market. Charioteers with the jumpkeys to get to Malignatius and Delphi would be very, very interested. They buy coats, to be loaded into the standard cargo pods and then boosted to orbit. I imagine that the cost to boost to orbit is low, you are just paying for a pilot's time and fuel. Said charioteer hauls the coats to Malignatius, for instance. The local authorities demand taxes, based on a percentage of the value of the coats in that system. So your best contact, more valuable than any other, is the customs official who determines the value of the goods. That is the person who gets rich on bribes. Bribing the inspector to undervalue your goods is far cheaper than bribing people to not collect taxes. Also, it is much harder to prove malfeasance; the charioteer got more money than expected, he is a great salesman! Those coats were only worth a crest each, like the customs guy said, but the seller convinced the rubes to pay a whole firebird! What a great merchant. No shady dealing to see here.

So the actual process. Cargo pod reaches orbit, customs forms get filled out and submitted. Permission is granted to land the cargo pod at the customs dock. Customs decides whether they agree with the value given, and levies the tax bill. Taxes must be paid before the cargo is released. Once the cargo is released, a freight hauler is paid to take it to the market. This might be a warehouse in the agora, or an empty spot in the caravansary where the charioteer hangs an awning off the cargo pod door and deals right out of the freight container. However, the goods are sold. There will be a charge for opening up shop, for pilots who are better at flying than selling, the best bet is to sell in bulk to a local merchant, take some profit and leave. Charioteers better at trade will want to maximize profit by selling the stuff at retail process themselves. Local merchants will come try to make deals for some of the goods, then haul them by slow freight to distant local agoras. Your best prices will be close to the spaceport for off world things, and at the local markets farthest from the spaceport for local made goods. Every time your goods cross a border, they get taxed. So they get taxed coming down from orbit. They get taxed when they leave the spaceport and enter the demense of Duke Scheming Decados. They get taxed yet again when they cross the border between the Duchy of Scheming and the Barony of Misrule. Baron Misrule Decados might even just seize the goods and keep what he wants before allowing you to pay a big tax bill or bribe to escape his Barony. Of course, this is why people don't use Misrule's roads, and he is so poor, but he doesn't understand why he gets so little merchant traffic compared to his neighbors.

Trade is complicated and difficult. That's my view, anyway.

Leviathan of Maddoc
Posts: 163
Joined: Mon Sep 01, 2014 8:33 pm

Re: Strange Cargo

Postby Leviathan of Maddoc » Thu Apr 28, 2016 5:34 pm

I hadn't even thought about border taxing for goods it would make freight hoppers suddenly more practical to move cargo from the port to neighboring cities.

I would think that there's an exemption in taxing goods between the Spaceport and the Agora, Otherwise merchants would just sell off-world goods in the spaceport.

I completely agree about shuttles hauling cargo being common but I think the cost of the pilot and fuel would cut deeply into margin for freight, just not nearly as deeply as landing a freighter to take on a single cargo pod.

Danos
Posts: 135
Joined: Sun Dec 18, 2011 6:53 pm

Re: Strange Cargo

Postby Danos » Thu Apr 28, 2016 7:42 pm

Immunity to local taxation for crossing borders is one of the big perks for Questing Knights. Local nobles tax the roads, weapons, vehicles, you name it. For a questing noble, this becomes a financial drain, as those little tax charges pile up. So the Emperor makes his questing knights exempt. I've ruled that the Mantis League is immune to local taxes in Decados space. This gives a charioteer another motivation to join up with such a knight: they can move high value goods without paying taxes, as long as they are discreet when they sell the stuff.


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