Monday, August 30, 2010

Pieds-a-Terres: "Factories"

So, your Merchant Hero has access to a ship, and either is plying a route, or is bouncing around a cluster of worlds buying and selling.

Following the LBB2 rules speculative goods become available on a weekly basis: Your merchant captain drops in-system, offloads his cargo, sells what he can and scouts out the markets for what's available. If the price is right, he picks it up. Then he fills up with passengers and freight, and off he goes.

Now, supposing he's not operating on a schedule: he stays in orbit for a week, and checks for another cargo. Maybe he sticks around until his hold is filled, and THEN leaves. There's potential for major profits, there: but not only is there more risk, there's a sacrifice in revenue: that's two, three, four weeks of no passengers and no paid cargo. The average Free Trader can't afford that: the Subsidized Merchant or Liner has a route to maintain. Most merchants can't wait around.

Enter the factor: a merchant designated to settle onworld, and buy cargo to set aside for his company's ships when they make port. In the 16th and 17th centuries, European nations built forts in Africa and the East Indies to defend the stockpiles of silks, spice, gold, ivory, and slaves they accumulated; these were called "Factories."

A factor generally needs capital; after all, his primary role is as a buyer (unless he's going by a different business model, whereby resources are being obtained by industry or theft.) Generally, though, he'll be carrying cash (or will establish a local account) or he'll be assigned the sale of some of the Ship's trade goods that have arrived with him.

A factor operating in a world with an A or B starport might have things pretty sweet: living arrangements only cost money, and the starports will likely have convenient and secure warehousing available to be paid by the ton (how much is fair? cr10 per ton per week? More?)

On more remote worlds, housing and warehousing might be harder to come by: an ATV fitted for cargo might serve a frontier factor well to start out with, both for living arrangements and the storage of a few tons of cargo. As he accumulates goods for his ship, however, he may have to rent land or construct warehouses. And he'll need more security: Especially as the goods stockpile grows, he'll need to protect both the goods and his person. A brace of hard men, ideally with military experience, can't be amiss. On truly remote worlds where pirate raiders might be a problem, a factor may require the services of fully armed mercenaries, supported with enough firepower to take down a raider's pinnace.

The factor and his team will be salaried - perhaps steward's and gunners' rates - and should earn a bonus - perhaps a share of the company's profits. IN fact, it may be best for factors to be fully invested members of the ship's company, to help insure that their interests are in line with the company's.

A more established factor at a frontier port might begin to administer offer other services: a small fuel depot, providing refined fuel to company ships, or even a repair facility. An established factory can serve as storage for ship's overflow stock as well.


All sorts of bad things can happen to a factor, though.

A) Factors in established starport cities might have it cushy: but remoter factories might face difficulty from the elements, or with maintaining food supplies. Especially if the locals decide not to sell you food. After all...

B) He can run afoul of the locals: they might well not take kindly to profiteer spacers! It would not be out of the ordinary for an offworld factor to be harassed,robbed, jailed, driven out, or killed. Hence the security team!

C) He can run afoul of competing merchants: trade wars can get hot! More harassment, robbery, driving out, killing. Hence the security team!

D) Your company factor, entrusted with anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of credits in cash, cargo and supplies, might not be all that trustworthy, and the profit-sharing plan might not look so attractive. He might embezzle a little, skimming the accounts... or he might just abscond with the whole lot, with or without the help of the B) competing merchants. Maybe your factor ought to be a PC; maybe he ought to be a partner in the ship's company, investing his own money.


Blogger Craig A. Glesner said...

Nice write, and since I am running a Dutch East Indies/Uncharted Waters style game this is a nice reminder of all the interesting parts of long distance, slow communications trading.

Thanks again.

6:33 PM  
Blogger Festeria said...

Thanks! I generally think that the more things IMTU look like 17th and 18th century with spaceships, the better.

7:01 AM  

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