Shipping in the OTU is cheap!

Discuss the Traveller RPG and its many settings
Nog
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Shipping in the OTU is cheap!

Postby Nog » Mon Sep 17, 2018 6:53 pm

Assuming a rough equivalence of 1Cr ~ 1USD ~ 1 EUR, I just realized that it costs slightly more to ship 100 tons of cargo in the real world from Paris to Sydney (excluding taxes, port operations etc.) than it costs to ship the same amount of cargo from Sol to Alpha Centauri in the Traveller universe.

Shipping in the OTU appears really cheap!

Particularly considering that the cost of spaceships, per ton of cargo, is significantly dearer than the cost of equivalent cargo ships today: a new cargo ship holding a few thousand tons of cargo might cost 1 million EUR/USD per THOUSAND TONS (so, say, 2million for 2000 tons). Compare with the "cheap" Free Trader, that costs over 40 million for a paltry 200 tons, less than half of it cargo. That's more than a factor 100X per ton.

It's like delivering pizzas using a Ferrari.

Which makes space piracy bizarre. Imagine driving a Ferrari to deliver a pizza. Suddenly, two Lamborghinis appear behind you. "The Fast and The Furious"! Including guns, missile launchers and a lot of collateral damage to all three cars. Eventually, the two Lamborghinis manage to corner you. At a gunpoint, the rogues force you to hand over the pizza. And VROOM! off they go, to fence the pizza before it gets cold.
Sigtrygg
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Re: Shipping in the OTU is cheap!

Postby Sigtrygg » Mon Sep 17, 2018 7:06 pm

Ships in Traveller are cheap, fusion power is cheap, so of course shipping is cheap. If it was expensive you wouldn't do it, it would be more economical to exploit all the resources in your own system using fusion powered grav drive ships than jump to another world to trade with them, which would make for a very different setting.

A small starship should really be equivalent in cost to a nuclear powered sub - how does somewhere between one and six billion credits change the dynamics of interstellar trade...
HalC
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Re: Shipping in the OTU is cheap!

Postby HalC » Mon Sep 17, 2018 7:20 pm

that made me laugh - nicely done.

what amazes me about the economics involved with shipping, is that when people talk about higher prices for goods that are shipped from offworld is this...

Cost of a product is based upon the material cost to make, the labor costs to make, the capital costs for the equipment to make the product as well as other costs involved in manufacturing. Then the cost of shipping the product to the market has to be included, as will be the cost of tarrifs and the like. If you presume that the local world of manufacture - the price for the item covers everything to where all expenses are recovered, and a marginal profit margin was made - then that same item shipped off world will be effectively paid for and profitable where the manufacturer can stay in business.

But picture this if you will...

If you can ship 100 rifles per dton of cargo capacity (just for giggles pulling numbers out of thin air) and you have to ship it 10 parsecs, and the guns are worth say, 400 credits per rifle when sold in ordinary circumstances...

Each rifle sold after 10 parsecs travel (assuming 1,000 credits per parsec after 10 jumps) - the expense of shipping is 1,000 per 100 rifles, or 10 credits per parsec traveled. Expense wise, 400 credits plus 100 credits becomes 500 credits per rifle sold. This is not a doubling of price, this is a mere 25% increase from 400 to 500.

Now I used 100 rifles as an example, not that there should be 100 rifles available in a cargo lot of 1 dton. Had there been only 50, the result would have been to add a price of not 100 credits for the 10 parsecs, but 200 credits instead. Net result? The cost per unit becomes 600 credits. Still not double the value.

So yes, Shipping is relatively cheap. Imagine just how cheap it is when you consider the value of the items being shipped?
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Re: Shipping in the OTU is cheap!

Postby Yatima » Mon Sep 17, 2018 7:32 pm

There are a lot of ways in which Traveller doesn't make sense, and some of these are rooted in the core conceit that this is the 17th or 18th century Atlantic world, set in space.
  • The ships have relatively low cargo capacities.
  • There doesn't seem to be any containerisation to speak of, interstellar cargo is bulk or break bulk cargo (picture holds full of boxes, barrels, grains etc)
  • Information travels at the speed of the fastest sailing ship/far trader.
  • Authority is often distant, and crews have to deal personally with all kinds of dangerous situations as they trade among the islands of the Caribbean/Spinward Marches, avoiding the dread pirates.
  • Because the person of the monarch can't be in far flung parts to give orders and dispense patronage, we have titled aristocrats to do it for him who get land grants for daring deeds.
This is Traveller – it's a coat of 1960s space-opera paint over an essentially historical scenario.

If you want a look at the costs of Interstellar trade, you could do worse than to read the 11 Billion Dollar Bottle of Wine, by Greg Costikyan (http://www.costik.com/inttrade.html).

But you'll break Traveller if you think too hard about these details in this setting.

J
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Nog
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Re: Shipping in the OTU is cheap!

Postby Nog » Mon Sep 17, 2018 7:34 pm

Sigtrygg wrote:
Mon Sep 17, 2018 7:06 pm
Ships in Traveller are cheap
No, they are not!
They may be if compared to what they would cost today (is that even meaningful?).
But they are fiendishly expensive for the use they are put to in the OTU.

1 ton of "Free Trader" cargo space costs more than half a million credits, i.e. more than 500 times what you get paid for moving what it holds over 7-14 days. That's far, far more than any commercially viable means of transportation has ever cost in human history, from clippers to camels to cargo planes.

As I said, it's like delivering pizzas using a Ferrari.
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Re: Shipping in the OTU is cheap!

Postby Sigtrygg » Mon Sep 17, 2018 7:56 pm

How much does it cost to put 100t of cargo into orbit at today's prices? How much are the rockets needed to do it?

The Falcon heavy may get the price down to $2200 per kg, that is $220,000,000 to shift that 100 tons - and only into LEO.
Assuming 1Cr to 1$ you could buy four MgT2e free traders outright.

Traveller ships are really cheap for what they do, lift 100t of cargo into orbit and then move it to another system in a week.
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Re: Shipping in the OTU is cheap!

Postby AnotherDilbert » Mon Sep 17, 2018 8:20 pm

Yes!

But shipping over longer distances gets expensive. Shipping between subsectors (~10 Pc) is expensive, shipping between sectors (~50 Pc) is really expensive.

Nog wrote: Assuming a rough equivalence of 1Cr ~ 1USD ~ 1 EUR, ...
Cr 1 ≈ 1975 $1, so Cr 1 ≈ $4 - $5 today. Doesn't change your calculations materially.

Nog wrote: Which makes space piracy bizarre. Imagine driving a Ferrari to deliver a pizza. Suddenly, two Lamborghinis appear behind you. "The Fast and The Furious"! Including guns, missile launchers and a lot of collateral damage to all three cars. Eventually, the two Lamborghinis manage to corner you. At a gunpoint, the rogues force you to hand over the pizza. And VROOM! off they go, to fence the pizza before it gets cold.
Why-ever would the pirates leave the only worthwhile loot? Of course they take the ship!
AnotherDilbert
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Re: Shipping in the OTU is cheap!

Postby AnotherDilbert » Mon Sep 17, 2018 8:28 pm

Yatima wrote: There are a lot of ways in which Traveller doesn't make sense, and some of these are rooted in the core conceit that this is the 17th or 18th century Atlantic world, set in space.
  • The ships have relatively low cargo capacities. ...
This is the normal scenario in Traveller: Small tramp freighters on the outskirts of civilisation.

90% of the population in the Imperium lives on hich-tech, high-pop worlds serviced by massive cargo-haulers, not tiny Free Traders. Travellers generally deal with the other 10%...

But, OK, much of it does not make all that much sense.
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Re: Shipping in the OTU is cheap!

Postby Yatima » Mon Sep 17, 2018 8:51 pm

AnotherDilbert wrote:
Mon Sep 17, 2018 8:28 pm
But, OK, much of it does not make all that much sense.
That's my essential point!

All else is moot when you accept this. It doesn't make the game less fun to play or the setting less engrossing. But when a thread like this starts, and people step in to try to rationalise it all, the amount of handwaving we get could power a small colony if we attached a wind power generator to the thread :D

And none of it's necessary - Traveller is what it is, a thing of its time, a beautiful pastiche that doesn't bear close examination. My favourite RPG and setting, ever.

J
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Old School
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Re: Shipping in the OTU is cheap!

Postby Old School » Mon Sep 17, 2018 11:33 pm

Thats the thing about science fiction. The hand wavium bothers people. But if you call it magic instead of science, then its all good! :D
Nog
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Re: Shipping in the OTU is cheap!

Postby Nog » Tue Sep 18, 2018 12:33 am

Sigtrygg wrote:
Mon Sep 17, 2018 7:56 pm
How much does it cost to put 100t of cargo into orbit at today's prices? How much are the rockets needed to do it?

The Falcon heavy may get the price down to $2200 per kg, that is $220,000,000 to shift that 100 tons - and only into LEO.
Assuming 1Cr to 1$ you could buy four MgT2e free traders outright.

Traveller ships are really cheap for what they do, lift 100t of cargo into orbit and then move it to another system in a week.
I'll try to explain myself once more, and then give up.

Suppose the technology of tomorrow made available for 40 000 USD a machine capable of converting 1Kg of lead to 1Kg of gold per day (with a lifecycle of 10-20 years and negligible operating expenses). "INCREDIBLY CHEAP!" you say. "Today, gold comes at about 40 USD/gram. This machine churns out 40 000 USD every single day!!!" Well, but what if in tomorrow's world the price of gold was 1 USD/Kg? Then, I would call the machine incredibly expensive - because it would not repay its own cost over 100 years.

I am not saying that a Free Trader should cost less than 45 million USD in today's market. It would certainly find buyers at 45 billions. But a Free Trader is expensive in the OTU compared to how much revenue it can produce if used as a cargo freight. If you manage to completely fill its cargo hold every jump with 1000Cr/ton cargo, jump-and-deliver every 2 weeks come fire or high water, and disregard stipends, repairs, fuel and all other expenses ... it takes over 21 years worth of income pay its upfront costs. In other words, it cannot produce enough money to meet the monthly payments on its 40-year mortgage. You will not find any machine with such a high price/earnings ratio in human history (among machines whose primary purpose is making money: military stuff, and art, are obvious exceptions).

This is relevant in a Traveller game, if players are invested in shipping cargo. Transporting goods for money is, as far as I can tell, a big issue in Traveller games; there's a lot of room devoted to it in the rules. Which means one can't easily handwaive the issue (while one can handwaive the fact that, under relativity, jump drives would allow reasonably practical travel back in time). The unprofitability of shipping freight has serious game implications. If your PCs are operating a Free Trader (or even worse a Far Trader), they should know that shipping cargo is better than travelling with empty holds, but they won't be able to make a living with it. It's not that they won't get rich: they won't be able to even repay the monthly instalments on the mortgage.

I am new to playing Traveller, and for me this was a realization that completely changed my perspective!
If you play a merchant character, there's no room to "play it safe". You have to take risks.
I am not saying this is necessarily bad. But it does have an impact.

I would add that all this does not seem to change significantly with economies of scale, unlike someone suggested. I took a quick look at the Galoof-class 30000 ton megafreighter, and its cost/cargo tons ratio is roughly the same as that of a Free Trader: 1Mcr/2tons of cargo space.
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Re: Shipping in the OTU is cheap!

Postby Linwood » Tue Sep 18, 2018 12:54 am

Not taking a side on the “shipping is too cheap” debate. But it occurs to me there are three ways a group with a small Traveller starship can make money carrying freight:
  • Get someone (a corporation or planetary government) to subsidize them;
    Engage in speculative trade; or
    Engage in smuggling or similar illicit activities
Carrying passengers might be a fourth, but I’m not up on the economics of that trade.

All of these ways have their drawbacks. But they all offer opportunities for adventuring. Which is kind of the point, isn’t it?
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Re: Shipping in the OTU is cheap!

Postby Condottiere » Tue Sep 18, 2018 1:05 am

It's the game mechanics.

Speaking of which, I know I've massaged the design process to get relatively dirt cheap jerry rigged merchantmen.

As regards to arms trafficking, if you the original formulas in Classic for bulk purchases, they're almost as cheap as chips.
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Re: Shipping in the OTU is cheap!

Postby Nog » Tue Sep 18, 2018 1:30 am

AnotherDilbert wrote:
Mon Sep 17, 2018 8:20 pm
Nog wrote: Assuming a rough equivalence of 1Cr ~ 1USD ~ 1 EUR, ...
Cr 1 ≈ 1975 $1, so Cr 1 ≈ $4 - $5 today. Doesn't change your calculations materially.
Uhm. I looked at the basic prices you'd expect for food. I read:
"A standard meal typically costs Cr5-50 credits or more per person, depending on quality and service. A burger of unidentiiable meat-like substances eaten standing up in a fast-food joint may cost just Cr2-3; a fine meal at the Traveller’s Aid Hostel could cost Cr20, while a sybaritic feast of a dozen courses and entertainments costs Cr500 or more."

That seems to match 1Cr to 1USD far more than to 4-5USD. In fact, probably at a little less, some 0.8 USD/0.7EUR.

A quick search lists a MacDonald's double cheeseburger at 1.69USD.
I know a lot of non-pretentious places in the US where you can have a fine-if-not-fancy meal for less than 20USD.
And you can have a sybaritic dinner at the restaurant that "The World's 50 best restaurants" named best in the world in 2016, second best in 2017, and best again in 2018 for 300-350 EUR, which is about 400USD (you must book half a year in advance but...).

Accomodation?
"Accommodation for a night in a cheap hotel costs Cr10; a good hotel can be found for Cr50-100. Luxury hotels cost Cr100 or more per night. The Traveller’s Aid Hostel is available to members and their guests for Cr20 per night."

Ok, here the prices might be a tad on the low side, and finding accomodation for a single night for 10USD/person is really hard in the US (but outside expensive cities, you can definitely find a decent room for a few months at that price/night). A Pilgrim's Hostel will cost in the ballpark of 20-30 USD per night per person; several nice hotel rooms can be easily found for 140USD/double or 100USD single occupancy (putting the price in the 70-100USD range). And double rooms in five-star hotels can be found for as little as 200-250USD.
So, here it comes to 1Cr ~ 1-1.5USD.

Averaging? I think that 1Cr ~ 1USD ~ 1EUR seems about right.
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Re: Shipping in the OTU is cheap!

Postby AnotherDilbert » Tue Sep 18, 2018 8:40 am

Nog wrote: Averaging? I think that 1Cr ~ 1USD ~ 1EUR seems about right.
OK, I haven't checked consumer prices recently. Cr 1 ≈ USD(~1975) 1 was the original definition. It seems inflation works just as well in the future.
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Re: Shipping in the OTU is cheap!

Postby AnotherDilbert » Tue Sep 18, 2018 9:10 am

Nog wrote: If you play a merchant character, there's no room to "play it safe". You have to take risks.
This is deliberate. You are supposed to need to scrounge, and thereby get into trouble...

Nog wrote: I would add that all this does not seem to change significantly with economies of scale, unlike someone suggested. I took a quick look at the Galoof-class 30000 ton megafreighter, and its cost/cargo tons ratio is roughly the same as that of a Free Trader: 1Mcr/2tons of cargo space.
The Megacorps have another trick up their sleeve: Scheduled traffic can jump more often. A Free Trader might have to take a week to hustle for trade (and get into trouble), scheduled freighters with local factors don't. They might jump every 10 days, instead of every 14 days, and so earn more per month.


Note that the Free Trader is built to be exactly like a Free Trader in the original Traveller, not to be as effective as possible. You can easily build more effective ships.

I can build a 10 kDt J-1 freighter with more than 8000 Dt cargo for about MCr 1000, so about 8 Dt / MCr, making it spectacularly profitable if we could fill it. Making it bigger will not noticeably change that. Bigger ships are (at least slightly) more economical. (With external cargo we can make it cheaper).

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Re: Shipping in the OTU is cheap!

Postby Old School » Tue Sep 18, 2018 3:06 pm

AnotherDilbert wrote:
Tue Sep 18, 2018 8:40 am
Nog wrote: Averaging? I think that 1Cr ~ 1USD ~ 1EUR seems about right.
OK, I haven't checked consumer prices recently. Cr 1 ≈ USD(~1975) 1 was the original definition. It seems inflation works just as well in the future.
It's best not to look too deep into these things. The Cr1 = 1 USD looks fine from the consumer prices that Nog posted, but make no sense when looking at wage rates for various professions. I'm sure someone can come up with some convoluted explanation for why this is, but it's a heck of a lot easier to realize this is a game with a fictional economy that doesn't always hold up to inspection. Recognizing that only interferes with your enjoyment of the game if you choose to let it.
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Re: Shipping in the OTU is cheap!

Postby AnotherDilbert » Tue Sep 18, 2018 3:39 pm

Old School wrote: I'm sure someone can come up with some convoluted explanation for why this is, but it's a heck of a lot easier to realize this is a game with a fictional economy that doesn't always hold up to inspection.
Agreed.
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Re: Shipping in the OTU is cheap!

Postby Sigtrygg » Tue Sep 18, 2018 5:25 pm

I will try again and then give up.

The free trader is paid 1000Cr per ton of cargo. That cargo could be 100tons of uranium that nets the seller several billion credits (I exaggerate) - the ship is cheap compared with the profit made by trade.

You do not ship 100t of rubber ducks from Boskone3 to Deyus5 and expect to make a profit - but ship 25 air/rafts and make 15 million one way and a hold full of uranium the other way and you are making enough credits to buy a free trader every couple of months.
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Re: Shipping in the OTU is cheap!

Postby steve98052 » Tue Sep 18, 2018 6:26 pm

Old School wrote:
Tue Sep 18, 2018 3:06 pm
It's best not to look too deep into these things. The Cr1 = 1 USD looks fine from the consumer prices that Nog posted, but make no sense when looking at wage rates for various professions. I'm sure someone can come up with some convoluted explanation for why this is, but it's a heck of a lot easier to realize this is a game with a fictional economy that doesn't always hold up to inspection. . . .
The "11 Billion Dollar Bottle of Wine" article addressed this, just barely, with the observation that with 500 years of productivity growth comparable to the past 150 years, an average person would be able to afford a Space Shuttle, but not a household servant, because the latter would require too high a salary.

The formal economic explanation for that is called Baumol's cost disease:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baumol%27s_cost_disease

Also, I think the Traveller Credit is about one 1977 or 1978 US dollar, based on the first published books' dates. And since they were in downstate Illinois, it would be small city prices, not big city or rural prices.

The prices of specific items are just not going to make sense in a setting with a different technology level, because of Baumol's. But the overall cost of living should make sense.

A 1977 to 1978 US dollar is about four current dollars.

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