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Food Availability and Traveller

This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of the downloadable magazine, and was translated for Vuelo Raso N. 4. Lea este artículo en español. Este articulo apareció originalmente en el número de septiembre de 2011, y fue reimpreso en Vuelo Raso N. 4.

One aspect of Traveller in all of its forms is that you are given only the barest information for many activities. With planets the UWP gives the referee a pretty vague description of a world. I see this as a problem in running or playing a game.

Without additional information what often happens is the game devolves into a poorly done paint-by-numbers picture rather than a satisfying portrait of an alternate reality that engages the imagination. The UWP is a starting point for making that portrait when dealing with a world or system. Government type, climate, atmosphere, law level are all central to the player’s experience. Law level, for example, is more than just what weapon you might carry. A repressive government needs to act and be repressive towards the players.

Food is one aspect of this palette the referee has to work with. As food is a central part of human life, it should be in the game, too—but there is currently no real indication of what a world’s food supply is like in Traveller.

I began to look at methods to add more details, like food, into the game. That way there was one more thing the players could both use and envision in making a world come alive. I also tried to make the system that I would use available as part of the larger trade between planets.

It has been suggested that Traveller is often a game about economics. Whether the players are merchants running a starship or just playing a limited scenario, all-to-often a critical item is coming up with enough credits to make ends meet. Everybody has to eat so everybody has to pay for food.

The System

The system I evolved for determining food availability was based on existing Traveller information: The planetary UWP and associated information about the main world. The result is a simple label that describes the relative abundance of food on a planet. It is sufficiently simple that it takes little additional time to add to the game. But, the increase in detail gives the referee a guide to how much food the party might find and, how much it will cost. Table 1 gives the short summary description of a world’s food situation:

Table 1: World Food Availability Scores
Score Description Cost Adjustment Factor Variety Available
-16 or below Starvation Extreme (×8) Minimal
-10 to -15 Scarce Expensive (×4) Minimal
-1 to -9 Below Average Increased (×2) Poor
0 to 9 Average Moderate (×1) Average
10 to 15 Above Average Reduced (×0.75) Good
16 to 20 Plentiful Inexpensive (×0.5) Very Good
above 20 Abundant Inexpensive (×0.5) Excellent

The definitions of the “Description” column can be interpreted thus:

Starvation: There simply is not enough food to feed everyone. Even with imports, food is going to be hard to come by and people will be starving. The typical person is not going to get many choices on what they eat even if the planet’s rulers do. Nutritional deficiency and its diseases (e.g., rickets, scurvy, etc.) will be endemic.

The planet is a net importer of food unless interdicted (amber / red zone). A very high law level or oppressive government may mean import and/or distribution restrictions over and above what is necessary for basic survival.

Scarce: The available food is insufficient to meet typical daily calorie requirements. Malnutrition and poor health are common, but starvation is not. Selection will still be limited for most people. The planet is a net importer of food. Nutritional deficiency and its diseases will be common.

Below average: The available food is sufficient to meet people’s needs but the selection is often limited. Malnutrition and starvation are rare but nutritional deficiency and its diseases will not be unknown. The planet requires imports of food to sustain itself.

Average: There is sufficient food and a reasonable selection is available. The planet can manage to grow most or all of its food needs locally and imports some items. Nutritional deficiencies and obesity and its related health problems are unusual.

Above average: There is a good selection of food available at low cost. Most persons get a wide variety of foodstuffs to eat. The planet may export some food items. Nutritional deficiency and its diseases are vanishingly rare, and mostly due to poor judgment in dietary selection. Obesity and its related health problems are not unknown.

Plentiful: Food is as cheap as it can be. The planet exports a variety of food items. Nutritional deficiency diseases are practically unknown, and almost universally due to poor judgment. Obesity and its related health problems are common.

Abundant: There is a cornucopia of food available. It is as cheap as can be and the variety is astounding. A feast can be had for little cost. The planet exports mass quantities of food. Nutritional deficiency is unheard-of. Obesity and its related health problems may be a common issue on such a world.

Naturally, the referee has discretion to fine-tune the meaning for a particular planet.

The Cost Adjustment Factor represents the premium or discount to the price of food on the world. Use all other applicable rules to determine the basic price of food on that world, and then apply the Cost Adjustment Factor to find the final price. Although abundance lowers prices, there is a point below which the prices cannot fall, due to fixed costs of production. Also, at the referee’s discretion, prices may not rise as high as indicated on some worlds, as the government may subsidize its purchase (at the cost of other goods being higher-priced than normal).

How Is the Food Score Calculated?

Each of the components of the UWP can have an influence on food availability, represented by a numerical score. The final score for a world, for use with Table 1, is calculated by simply adding all of the scores for each component of the UWP.

Starport: A good starport means more ships and regular imports. It also means less waste and more efficiency.

Table 2: Starport Effects on Food Score
Class Score Class Score Class Score
A 5 C 1 E -1
B 3 D 0 X -4

Travel Zone: The rating of a world as hazardous or interdicted reduces the availability of off-world food, due to reduced commerce. Apply –1 to the score for an Amber Zone rating, or –4 for a Red Zone rating.

Physical Profile: The Size, Atmosphere, and Hydrosphere can all have effects on local food production.

Table 3: Physical Profile Effects on Food Score
UWP Code Size Effect Atmosphere Effect Hydrosphere Effect
0, R, S -8 -6 -8
1 -6 -5 -4
2 -2 -4 -2
3 0 -3 -1
4 1 0 0
5 2 1 2
6 4 2 4
7 4 4 6
8 4 4 6
9 4 4 -4
A or greater 4 -6 -4

Planetary size: Small planets lack the land area to easily farm on a large scale.

Atmosphere: Lack of an adequate atmosphere makes outdoor farming impossible. This raises the cost considerably having to build greenhouses and other enclosed structures. An exotic or inhospitable atmosphere universally requires cultivation in an artificial environment (e.g., hydroponics) and might also often result in excessive cloud cover reducing sunlight.

Water: Lack of water makes farming very expensive. Too much water means extremely limited or no land to farm, or only agricultural activities associated with sea life. It may also mean little fresh water is available as all the water is in salt oceans.

Social Profile: Population, Government, and Tech Level also affect the food availability score. Law level is unlikely to affect the food availability score; it is rather more likely to affect the variety of foods available, due to prohibitions against growing or importing various items.

Table 4: Social Profile Effects on Food Score
UWP Code Population Effect Government Effect Tech Level Effect
0, 1 -5 -4 -8
2 -3 4 -6
3 -1 0 -2
4 0 2 -1
5 2 1 0
6 4 -4 0
7 6 0 1
8 2 -4 3
9 -4 -8 5
A   -2 7
B -6 9
C -2 11
D -6 13
E -6 15
F -6 18
G   21
H 24

Editor's Note: The data in the Government and Tech Level columns of this table in the downloadable PDF were inadvertently swapped. This table reflects the correct and intended data.

Population: Too small and you have no workers. Too large and you have too many mouths to feed—and possibly too little land to feed them from.

Government: Oppressive and intolerant ones will limit personal freedom and land ownership making farming less efficient. They may also use food (control of its distribution) as a political weapon to stay in power.

Tech Level: The higher the better. Technology can make up for a lot of other issues particularly at higher levels.

Why Add This to a Campaign?

One other reason I like increasing the detail of a world is to try and make it sufficiently interesting that players will spend more time on one well-developed world rather than hopping from one to another in search of something interesting to do.

The addition of food abundance in the game also opens up potential angles for the referee in many scenarios:

In trade campaigns, traders now have to be aware of their location and destination, and perhaps plan their routes better, with resupply (food supply) being an important factor. Food may be a good or bad trade item.

For survival scenarios it gives the referee a starting point to determine if the party can find food in the wild. A planet with a starvation level of food is unlikely to have much in the way of edible plants or animals while one with abundant food makes finding something to eat much easier.

That is my intent in putting a more detailed system of food availability in Traveller. I want the portrait. I would prefer that players get too much detail that they can filter out or pick and choose from rather than leaving them starving with just the basics.

Some possible scenarios involving food include:

Survival: The party has to find food on a planet with a scarcity of it, or be rescued (or find their way to civilization) before their stored/carried food runs out.

Mercy Mission: Bringing food and medical relief to a planet that is starving. Lack of food long term can cause serious health related issues. On a world with an over abundance of food gluttony and over eating might be issues the players have to deal with.

“Eww, what’s that?” or “That comes from what/where?”: On high tech worlds issues with “process” or “synthetic” foods that may cause health issues versus “natural” foods could arise. Or, the locals might have an aversion to “real” food instead of the stuff from a factory vat or some sort of food processing equipment.

Likewise, players with high tech backgrounds might be totally unfamiliar with natural foods, never having eaten them. Many people on Earth today, particularly in well developed urban areas, have little concept of farming or how to butcher an animal for food—or, in some cases, that such activities are even part of the process of getting food.

Then there is the “What the locals eat” scenario. This is particularly true when dealing with alien races. Not everybody eats the same thing, even humans. What might be a delicacy to the locals could be nauseating to the party, or vice-versa. The way the party—or the locals—handle such a meal can have effects on future interactions, whether the meal in question was a joke (“Their steward is a rookie. Get him alone and see if you can convince him to eat crottled greeps.”) or truly considered a delicacy (“Their ‘ambassador’ got sick when he was told how the cheg mar kel was made. Are we sure we want to deal with such uncouth people?”).

Food also can be a brake on the action. A good scenario is one that takes a while to complete. Making the party break for a meal is one way to give yourself time to adjust up coming events rather than be rushed.

Secondary planets and satellites

If the extended system generation system is used and secondary planets and satellites are generated these can be scored like the main world. Use the main world starport value for these worlds rather than the secondary port values. Secondary planets and satellites may change the overall food situation in a system.