Mongoose Traveller Book 7: Merchant Prince
This review originally appeared on http://rpg-resource.org.uk in 2010 and is reprinted here and in the December 2014 issue with permission.
7: Merchant Prince. Bryan Steel
Mongoose Publishing http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
Traveller has always been a fascinating game for the sheer diversity of things you can do in it, more diverse ways of finding adventure than just beating up adversaries and taking their stuff. A major element has always been interstellar trade. Even if you routinely flip past the business pages in the newspaper and confine your speculation to the odd game of poker or bet on a football game, there are bits in here that might still pique your interest.
Firstly, whatever your character does now, he might well have served on a merchant ship before he became an ‘adventurer’ and so will have a background and skills from his time in the merchant service. It’s a great way to see the universe and be paid while doing so, without the obligations of military service. It can also provide an income and means of transportation during a game, even if the main focus is on other exploits. Or interstellar commerce may be the focus of your adventures.
So, this book comes in two parts. The first part is a massive extension of the mere two pages or so in the core book for those who want to have ‘merchant’ in their background. Instead of just creating a ‘merchant’ with a basic skill set of ship-handling and trading, you can now choose between no less than seven distinct mercantile careers. Now you can be a free trader, a broker, a junk dealer, or a marketeer, serve in the merchant marine, or be a Royal Trader or a slaver. Of course, you can be ‘ethically challenged’ in any of these—indeed. if you are a slaver, some people will condemn you thus out of hand. (Note for newcomers to Traveller: ‘Ethically Challenged Merchant’ is a polite way of describing a far future pirate!)
Character creation is much the same as standard, with the starting point—after rolling for or purchasing your UPP and determining homeworld characteristics—being the selection of which sub-career you’d like to go into. This can be picked, provided you meet the prerequisites, or you can pay the, ahem, Licence Fee (i.e., bribe) to be admitted even if you fall short of the standards normally required. Exceptions can, of course, be made for a special case. Merchants also get a couple of new options: a specialist Ally called a Buyer/Seller who is a contact who is helpful specifically when it comes to trade, and the ability to exert influence. This is governed by a system of levels and by die rolls each time you wish to have an influence… and can backfire if you roll poorly!
Each merchant career has specialisations, so there is a lot of choice, a lot of variety available. You don’t have to stick to them throughout your career, so a broker, for example, may spend some time working in an established corporate brokerage house, dabble in illicit trade, and/or strike out on his own. A merchant marine deckhand may be promoted to become an officer, or a free trader may serve aboard a large fleet or operate on his own or with just a few partners. No wonder that there are people who spend their time just generating Traveller characters without even intending to play them in a game, you can generate fascinating histories as you work through a career, and if you do end up playing that character, just think of the rich background he’ll have!
The second part of the book deals with the running of all manner of commercial ventures in the far future, and are of particular use if you want to engage in commerce or trade during actual gameplay (or as a background to it). It begins with a remarkable essay on general commercial success, which takes the interesting approach of providing a means to generate a business in an analogous manner to generating a character. Naturally, it’s only worth going through the whole process for a company that will be of pivotal importance in your game, but it’s another fun thing to go through on a quiet night in even if you don’t need a fully fleshed out company right now. Indeed you could run a whole game around competing companies using these rules—or run a dynamic background to a mercantile campaign where the characters are minions of one or more such organisation. If this kind of detailed company appeals, but the creation process does not, several examples are provided. (One minor flaw, a comment relating scale in those mega-corps that span several sectors refers to Ling Standard Products in each instance, instead of to the company in question!)
The next section, Trade in the Galactic Market, develops the basic trade system as given in the core rules. It can get quite complex and does call for a fair amount of die rolling and consulting of tables (I showed it to my current referee, and he threatened me with the slavers!) but it does allow you to model just about anything you like, particularly if you want to run that standby of Traveller games, party of characters with ship funding their explorations and adventures by trading planet to planet. You can simply convey freight, mail or passengers from one place to another; or engage with trade more actively, buying and selling as a true merchant. Or you can deal in slaves, but I won’t talk to you if you do!
Then there’s a section on Privateers. These are defined as a kind of freelance law enforcement of the space lanes, preying on illegal (by the lights of their sponsoring government) trade. The line between privateer and pirate is a narrow one, however, especially when it’s your ship that is boarded and your cargo that is seized! If privateering appeals—and despite being dangerous, hard and thankless work, the profits for success can be high!—this section looks at everything from gaining that all-important contract to the duties and obligations that a privateer takes on, depending on just who has hired them on, and the sort of events a privateer can expect during their service. As well as governments, privateers also serve megacorporations and religious faiths.
Next, there’s a section on Trade Goods. Excellent for those who want to bring some life to their cargo hold, and take their manifest beyond a bland statement of tonnage of freight carried, there is a lot of detail here about what you might actually be hauling around the galaxy. It also enables you to relate trade items to the world you’re on when looking for something to purchase, and be able to think about what would actually needed on the world you intend to visit next. So if you are the sort who’d rather know that your hold is full of black pepper, or bauxite ore, depleted uranium or illicit BTL chips, rather than just a tonnage with a freight or resale value, this chapter will bring your manifest to life.
Finally, what book on traders wouldn’t allow them to go shopping for themselves? Plenty of equipment, weapons, and clothing for merchant characters to purchase. Ship modifications and equipment are included too, and even some purpose-build merchant vessels—including a specialised passenger transport. As my engineer character doubles as a chef, he’s wondering where the galley is on the plan; but otherwise they provide interesting variety from the standard ships already published.
Overall, this is a splendid expansion of the ruleset to allow you to delve into as much detail as you’d care to about interstellar trade and commerce in general. Vital if you wish to centre your game on such matters, capable of generating a wealth of background even if trade is only incidental to the plotline.