How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?

Discuss the Traveller RPG and its many settings
wordboydave
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How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?

Postby wordboydave » Mon Jun 25, 2018 3:57 pm

(cross posted from Reddit/Traveller:)

I've been thinking a lot recently about the structure of space opera's universes, and how one of the big decisions any creator makes is, "How close, practically speaking, are big civilizations to each other?" Other questions--like, how does FTL work and how many alien races are there, etc--are secondary. What you're really asking is, "Is traveling from one inhabited planet to another like taking an old wooden vessel to another country, or is it more like driving an RV across town?"

In Star Wars, for example, everything is--practically speaking--very close together. You want to go to the Cloud City, then BAM! There you are. You can travel from Dagobah to Kashyyk in a blink; it's as easy as saying (in game terms), "Okay...and in the next scene, now you've arrived." It is very rare in the Star Wars universe that you get a sense that anything is far from anything else. "All that way? We don't have enough fuel!" is something no one ever says...and the downtime between large inhabited systems is measured in chess games, not actual days and nights of sleep. When players land on a lightly- or barely-inhabited planet, it is usually by choice: if they'd wanted to go to one, a big city-type planet was always an option instead.

Contrast this with Star Trek, where it's quite common to hear characters say, "It's going to take two weeks to get there." And where the heroes stay at a distant starbase with only 100 people on it simply because there's nothing else nearby.

I mention this because Traveller clearly lives in the second of these worlds--there's plenty of downtime between worlds, and it's very easy to generate an uninhabited or hostile series of destination planets--and because the more I think about it, the less sense it makes for someone in such a world to make starships available for lease. Heck, having monthly costs for a ship AT ALL is a little punitive when going anywhere and coming back is a month of time already!

If you need x-boats to carry messages, then you'd presumably need something similar to carry money back and forth as well--you can't read a card-swipe at faster than light--so payments would take a long time in transit, and might require several separate jumps to reach their final destination. Why make a payment at all if the interest will be added before it even arrives? Why couldn't you simply slip off the grid into practically anywhere in the universe?

I could be very wrong, but it seems to me that for ship rental to make any sense, you either need a Star Wars universe where everything is really (effectively speaking) close together, or some form of travel constraints (jump gates, e.g.) that would limit where ships might show up. Otherwise, even launching something like a repo/salvage operation for a rogue ship would be a hugely expensive undertaking with very little chance of success.

I realize Traveller isn't especially realistic in all its particulars (thank goodness!), but I'm curious about how other players and GMs have conceived of this over the past decades. And for that matter, how did merchants handle this problem in the Age of Sail?
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Re: How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?

Postby paltrysum » Mon Jun 25, 2018 4:33 pm

I've never had my players try to skip, but if they did, it's possible they could get away with it. It depends on a few things:
  • Are they in a dense, heavily populated, highly civilized region of space? If your campaign happens near the Imperial Core, the Solomani Rim, the Spinward Main, or many other dense, settled regions, your chances of getting away with skipping are slim. Some form of official or contractual enforcement will track you down and repossess your ship. Chances are you're only jumping 1-2 parsecs at a time and that's not going to be good enough to keep a jump-3 or 4 mercenary or Imperial navy ship from catching you. It's in the vested interests of the Imperium that its laws be observed.
  • Are they in a sparsely or completely unsettled region of space? If you're on a frontier and you head out into the wilds, you have a greater likelihood of getting away with it. If you take your free or far trader into Foreven Sector and beyond, or into the Aslan Hierate, the Vargr Extents, or another polity that doesn't observe Imperial law, you have a better chance. You invite a whole new set of problems (alien laws and customs, the dangers of piracy, few or no maintenance facilities), but you could at least evade the authorities that might want to enforce your mortgage contract.
  • Jump capability: The faster you can go and the further you can get on each jump, the better chance you have of escaping your debts.
  • How skilled and/or equipped are they to evade the bill collectors? Are the players dangerous? Evasive or deceptive? Did they alter their transponder illegally and get plastic surgery to transform themselves into someone entirely new? A creative group of players might be able to extend their joyride indefinitely.
"Spacers lead a sedentary life. They live at home, and their home is always with them—their starship, and so is their country—the depths of space."
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Re: How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?

Postby Tom Kalbfus » Mon Jun 25, 2018 7:20 pm

The ship is going to eventually need maintenance, and whoever fixes it is going to have to order parts from somewhere. when they do, the creditor can trace it and place a lean on the starship to cover what's owed that is in arrears. I wonder how the bank is going to collect from a space pirate, or who would give loans for the purchase of a pirate's corsair, somewhere down the line the original starship has to be legally bought and paid for by someone, and then it can be stolen by someone else, but in order to have a ship to steal, someone originally is going to have to pay for its construction.
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Re: How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?

Postby MonkeyX » Mon Jun 25, 2018 7:22 pm

Intergalactic bailiffs. Eventually it will be worth just reclaiming the ship. The scouts must have to do this every so often as well.
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Re: How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?

Postby Tom Kalbfus » Mon Jun 25, 2018 7:27 pm

MonkeyX wrote:
Mon Jun 25, 2018 7:22 pm
Intergalactic bailiffs. Eventually it will be worth just reclaiming the ship. The scouts must have to do this every so often as well.
What do you do with space pirates that use their corsairs to commit a crime? Can their corsairs be repossessed by the bank for their failure to make payments? What if the space pirates don't want to make payments? What is the bank going to do? On the other hand, if the long arm of the law can reach out and repossess the pirates starships, what's to prevent that same law from reaching out and arresting those pirates for committing acts of piracy? How do pirates get financing if they are such bad loan risk, being criminals and all?
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Re: How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?

Postby steve98052 » Mon Jun 25, 2018 8:26 pm

Unless you make a one-way trip away from the branch of your lender that declared your loan in arrears, knowledge that you have defaulted will catch up with you. If you don't keep going, faster than the speed of communication, you will eventually reach a starport that has your ship on a list of defaulted mortgages.

What happens if you arrive at a starport an entire subsector into Gvurrdon, and they know your ship is on the skip list? Lots of possibilities, and none of them are good:

- A few system defense boats illuminate your sensors, and announce, "Welcome, visitors. According to the Sharurshid Lenders' Newsletter, you are in default on your starship mortgage. When you reach the starport, please contact the office of Judge Kus Ghokhnael. Her office will schedule a hearing to determine how you might avoid the inconvenience of having your ship impounded."

- You land at the starport and head for the pub. As you're starting your second round of drinks, an innocent-looking Vargr youth asks in surprisingly good Anglic, "Are any of you the captain of the Daddy Longlegs freighter in berth 13?" When your captain says, "I am," a dozen Vargr taser him from the balcony. Young and innocent says, "My family has urgent business with the Department of Repossession and Bounties at the Bank of Regina. We would like to arrange passage at your earliest convenience, without any use of messy rifles."

- While you're waiting for the fuel pumps to start refueling your ship, the refueling foreman radios in to describe a complication. "Since your ship is on a list of defaulted, lost, stolen, or destroyed ships, we need to clarify the situation before we remove the explosives affixed to your hull. Detonating enough of them to prevent your departure would greatly reduce the salvage value of the ship, so we would like to purchase salvage rights to the intact ship. We will honor delivery of your cargo and passengers to their contracted destinations, provide you with middle passage as far as 20 parsecs, respect your personal possessions, and pay you two million Loekh. We believe that this is a win-win outcome"
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Re: How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?

Postby Saladman » Mon Jun 25, 2018 8:42 pm

I imagine one use of the X-boat network is to get ahead of payment-jumpers. If a free trader misses a payment the bank doesn't just send out a collection notice by standard mail, they send out a bounty notice by X-boat and mail, trying to get ahead of them.

Ship-spotters are probably a thing in setting. Guys with binoculars and notebooks who sit at starports and log arrivals, hoping to sell info to interested parties. (Plane spotters are already a thing in our world.)

Those two things together impose some constraints. You need to pick a line and keep heading out, or you're going to run into Steve's bounty hunters above. Just getting a few systems away and turning or doubling back to find a good trade code isn't going to cut it.

Tangent: while mortgages don't bother me the way they do some, I have considered switching to an ownership/shareholder model based on historical practice. Say 64 shares as is traditional and char-gen rolled ship shares in 1e plug right into this, with the balance being held by NPC investors who financed the building of the ship. The upside is it personalizes the relationship somewhat, and we know that this model has historically worked for bringing the ship back and getting the investors paid (yes, some crews turned pirate, but it worked well enough they kept using it). Downsides are increased paperwork to track who's owed what, and some of the same temptation to keep all the money passing through the player's hands. Sadly no play experience with this yet.
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Re: How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?

Postby MonkeyX » Mon Jun 25, 2018 9:50 pm

Would pirates even make payments, unless it was to give a sense of normalcy to their operations. Banks may obvious have to pay more to a reclaimation team that takes on a pirate rather than a scout who just tried to skip out on paying. Yup the pirates may get away with it but st least the bank gets something back.
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Re: How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?

Postby Condottiere » Mon Jun 25, 2018 10:25 pm

I thin you have to take a step back and look at character generation.

How and why do player characters gain ship shares?
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Re: How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?

Postby phavoc » Mon Jun 25, 2018 11:34 pm

Missing a payment is just a penalty. Skipping out on your payments means your ship is now on a list to repo. So you can have an adventure or three where they start getting chased by repo men looking to take their ship. They can clash with starport authorities who want to seize their ship due to lack of payment. They will find repair prices inflated because people are selling parts to a ship that's on the repo list. Etc, etc, etc.

You can't outrun a repo and expect to stay in populated space. It's like a warrant - once you get in the system you are in there forever. Even if they somehow manage to pay it off there may be a repo crew who never got the message... or conveniently deleted that update from their database. Hey, it's not piracy, they just had outdated paperwork. Sorry for shooting up your crew, it happens all the time!

Assuming they wish to live on the frontier and avoid the regular shipping lines and populated worlds and only do business at places and with people who ask no questions, it's possible to live on the edge of civilization. But they will never not stop looking over their shoulders.
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Re: How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?

Postby Reynard » Tue Jun 26, 2018 12:05 am

Skipping out on payments is either players thinking they can play the system with ease or desperate people who feel they have nothing to lose. Before many turn to skipping out, they turn to piracy. Book 6: Scoundrel explains civilian piracy well. It says something about skipping out that people will go the piracy route and keep their ship legit first and foremost.

At the cost of ships, it seems probable and cost effective to put out an All Points Bulletin sector wide. It will be slow to spread at first but soon every civilized system with a starport will be on alert. Bounty hunters would have their rogue's gallery as they travel world to world looking for clues and hoping someone on the list got careless. Unless the players have big bucks to alter their transponder (if they have that kind of money, why aren't they paying their mortgage?), they're leaving a trail everywhere.
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Re: How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?

Postby baithammer » Tue Jun 26, 2018 5:56 am

Pirates typically get funding from loan sharks or patrons with a lot of pull in the criminal side of the coin, where the money aspect may matter less than the reputation lose. The skips are more than likely will be kill on sight.
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Re: How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?

Postby Condottiere » Tue Jun 26, 2018 12:20 pm

Think about it.

Who's cosigning the loans?
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Re: How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?

Postby steve98052 » Tue Jun 26, 2018 6:42 pm

Another way to think about it is this :
  • In places where the rule of law is respected, bounty hunters will watch for skipped ships and seize them, knowing the law is on their side.
  • In places where the rule of law is not widely respected, pirates will watch for skipped ships and seize them, knowing that the crew doesn't have the law on their side.
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Re: How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?

Postby Reynard » Tue Jun 26, 2018 6:56 pm

And that's where the bounds of 'bounty hunter' and 'pirate' blurs.
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Re: How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?

Postby steve98052 » Tue Jun 26, 2018 7:07 pm

Indeed. But given the choice between the clean money one would receive from a starship repossession bounty and the dirty money from the proceeds of sale of a pirated starship, clean money may look good even if it's less money.
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Re: How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?

Postby Epicenter » Wed Jun 27, 2018 12:09 pm

wordboydave wrote:
Mon Jun 25, 2018 3:57 pm
How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?
Logically: Players shouldn't have these loan payments. It's ridiculous. No bank would authorize a loan to the likes of most players.

It would be like walking into a modern bank and saying you want a loan of money to buy a modern container ship (something that costs tens of millions of dollars). The same circumstances in which a real-life bank would grant a loan to you for that container ship would be the same circumstances that a Traveller bank would grant you a loan for a ship:

You'd need to convince the bank you're "good" for it. There's all kinds of ways you can do this, none of which players are likely to have:

* A verifiable financial record of past success doing whatever you're doing. For instance, if you want a loan for a trading ship, it helps enormously if you can show you already own one, it's been making excellent profits for the last fifteen years.

* Some percentage of the total cost as collateral in the bank. Say, like you have enough money to pay for 40% of the ship out of pocket. The bank might require 20% of that as the down payment, then it might hold onto another 15% of that money as collateral. Or you might secure it against land you own, business assets, or something else.

* Co-signers. Other merchants, noble friends, rich friends, and similar types who could pay for the ship if you default and go running off would need to agree to work things out with the bank should the ship be lost.

In addition, banks are likely to require you to submit some sort of plan of economic activity you plan to do with the ship to ensure you can make the payments. The ball's in their court, they can demand all kinds of simulated reality models showing that your trading scheme will be successful, secure, and lucrative. What they're not going to accept is some scheme like, "Oh I want to drift along the frontiers just taking in speculative cargoes and selling them hopefully at a profit!" It's within their realm to require references, your criminal record, and so on.

Illogically: Players have these loans and payments because it is intended for the players to be unable to pay and skip ... or be tempted not to pay since it's a "big universe" and they figure they can get away. When they do so and get hunted down like dogs is another source of "adventure." Clearly it's the only reason why such a ludicrous system exists.
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Re: How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?

Postby PsiTraveller » Wed Jun 27, 2018 1:13 pm

I can't find the page at the moment, but information spreads outwards at about Jump 2 rate. So the APB on a ship for repo will catch up to a ship unless they keep running.

I wonder if a ship could have an auto-lock system like cars do these days when they are supplied by lenders

https://www.autoblog.com/2009/06/27/eng ... f-systems/

Make a payment, get the code to allow the Jump drive to function.
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Re: How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?

Postby steve98052 » Wed Jun 27, 2018 7:30 pm

PsiTraveller wrote:
Wed Jun 27, 2018 1:13 pm
. . . I wonder if a ship could have an auto-lock system like cars do these days when they are supplied by lenders

https://www.autoblog.com/2009/06/27/eng ... f-systems/

Make a payment, get the code to allow the Jump drive to function.
If there's a lock-out, it shouldn't be absolute. Instead, it should allow travel only in the direction of the best route to the nearest approved place to make a payment.

Additionally, authorized officials should be allowed to override the lock. If the Navy needs to press your ship into service on an emergency merchant marine job, the status of a ship's mortgage payments shouldn't get in the way of the Navy. (And the high fees for being pressed into emergency merchant marine service might even be enough to put the ship owner back in good standing with the lender.)
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Re: How Do You (Logically) Prevent Players from Skipping Payments?

Postby Condottiere » Wed Jun 27, 2018 9:24 pm

This becomes less about NINJA mortgages, and more about skipping bail.

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