Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Thousand Suns Readalong Chapter 11: Worlds and Trade

I really like what the designer is trying to do in this chapter. There are several choices that avoid a metric ton of pain and potential flame war topics. My only gripes are that a couple of key rules are unclear, and (as us usually the case with the crunchiest rules in Thousand Suns) the text offers no clarifying examples to help out with the finer points. Here is a quick tour of the main points of interest:

Making a sector map: This is a neat & simple process for making a jump-line map. I’ve tried to make such maps in the past for GURPS Space homebrew campaigns, but never came up with anything as good as this. The implied setting of these rules are that no slower-than-light travel is going to be happening at all– there are no coordinates or hard distances generated in this approach like those that plagued Traveller. This might imply that the worlds on the jump lines are so far apart that this is a reasonable assumption. The only problem here is that the algorithm for generating sector maps does not have crystal clear starting and ending conditions, which I would have preferred.

The world design rules are explicitly descriptive and omit all kinds of hard scientific data. It unapologetically abstains from the gaming arms race to produce the most realistic (and useless) star system generation tables. I completely agree with this design decision. The first big improvement over Classic Traveller is that weird worlds get a population penalty and terrestrial worlds get a population bonus. I suppose it is still possible to get an asteroid megalopolis right next to a deserted garden world, but it is not as bad as Traveller where population was completely independent from world type. Unlike Traveller’s long and inadvertent use of imperial units for its size code, planetary diameters are in kilometers here.

The designer defines world tech level as being what is available through local manufacturers, but admits that high-tech stuff will be available anyway and states that tech level really doesn’t have much a game effect. I’m not sure if anyone has yet determined the significance tech level for Classic Traveller, so this seems like a pretty safe design decision in comparison. (Working out the implications of its significance is a rite of passage on par with reworking OD&D’s Thief class.) Traveller had various obscure trade codes that could be derived from the world statistics. Thousand Suns has a much more free-wheeling world hooks table. This is a cool way to do it, as a couple of hooks would seem to give you some immediately playable information instead of more data to try to figure out. The designer’s push to make the referees make up new stuff reappears here in the form of the “other” hook that requires you to make up something new even though you’re rolling on a table for inspiration.

The trade system is intentionally simple. The available trade goods and their quantity are randomly determined– I can’t tell how many times you get to roll on the chart just from the rules. (Just one good type per stop is available for purchase??) Purchase and sale multipliers are determined by Bargain (Trade) tests and modified by the tech level and good category. An example would have cleared up any questions I have about the trade system, but the rules by themselves are just not clear to me. And what if you have Bargain, but not Bargain (Trade)? Probably the most significant omission here is there’s no rules here for taking on passengers. I guess this was to avoid the complexity of having to figure out how many people are going everywhere and whether or not you can take on people to go to later stops or not. To this day I’m still not sure what the exact procedure and rates for that are in Traveller. And given the flame wars I’ve seen on Traveller economics, I’m not sure I’d touch it either….

Bottom line: these rules are a very reasonable response to thirty years of science fiction world generation sequences. Everybody else wants to fix what they perceive to be the rough edges of the game, but Maliszewski has reworked the axioms to help save you some grief down stream. The way he has omitted rules in some cases and intentionally left areas for game masters to develop themselves makes a lot of sense. My only complaint is where these appear to be unintentional or where the rules he gives are unclear or under-illustrated. The latter can easily be fixed with a few magazine articles or blog posts, but fixing them myself would actually be quicker in some cases than learning and applying other games’ much more elaborate rules.


4 responses to “Thousand Suns Readalong Chapter 11: Worlds and Trade

  1. RogerBW January 26, 2012 at 9:48 am

    For me this is the first part of the Setting Design chapter… and the only modifiers to population make it higher in Core worlds, lower in Wildspace. Glad it’s been fixed in second edition, but for me the whole approach just a bit too disconnected. High gravity and thin atmosphere? Sure, why not? (Because my players will say “hang on a minute, astrophysics doesn’t work that way”, that’s why not.)

    My approach in SF games is usually to get a computer to do the number-crunching and spin up systems for me, then to lay my interpretation and tweaks on top of that base. Astrosynthesis is a decent program for this, though the user interface is horrid.

    • jeffro January 26, 2012 at 12:38 pm

      If I have the data, I invariably get hung up on synthesizing it and staying consistent with it and trying to use it. The sector map of a space game is very much like a Mega-Dungeon. That which is defined is limiting… and you need to be careful what you set down at the beginning. The principle of blank areas and light sketches that are fully developed in response to actual play is a key thing for me. Your mileage may vary of course, and probably will….

      • RogerBW January 26, 2012 at 2:24 pm

        For my most recent space game, the PCs were grunts. They didn’t know, and so I didn’t define, exactly how many settled planets there were, or where they were, or anything like that. (It crystallised a few sessions in.) Each mission, I’d make up a new planet with the characteristics I wanted. For the space game before that, the PCs were free trader crew. I generated about ten stellar systems with some general information about each (“library data”), enough to get the GT Far Trader trade mechanics up and running – then filled in details as necessary when they went there.

        So I think either approach can work, in the right context. I’m not arguing the “plan everything vs improvise everything” axis, more “have solid underpinnings vs have purely random underpinnings, either of which will be bent to the game the GM wants to run”. I like solid underpinnings (in this case GURPS Space or Astrosynthesis) because they will be consistent with each other and with stuff the players know from the real world.

  2. John E. Boyle November 2, 2016 at 10:07 pm

    What a pleasant surprise this chapter was. I was expecting something dedicated to the Thousands Suns canon, something race specific to the aliens mentioned earlier and perhaps a sample cluster of worlds in a sector backwater. What I found was an open-ended system for world generation and trade that was quick, clean and simple.

    I doubt that my campaign will need any of this until the players get past the first three worlds, but if they do have their own ship and want to dabble in trade/exploration, this system will do fine.

    The Bargain/Bargain(Trade) issue is annoying, but overall, nicely done.

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