Passengers

If your ship has room and you’re going the right way, you can take on passengers are spaceports or space stations. This is often done by ship captains who don’t want the hassle of trading, but need some income to keep their ship running. Starship captains rarely charter their ships out to people, and will usually just take on passengers that are going in the same general direction as them.

For this kind of local travel, you can expect to pay $100 per day. If you want a ship to go out of their way, or you want passage aboard an interstellar ship, expect to pay 10 times as much.

System Trade

Finding a local deal generally takes about a week. First, roll randomly to determine the base value of an appropriate trade good; this is the average value of that commodity in the system. A player can figure out the base value of a commodity with a Common Knowledge or Research roll. They can also make a Research roll to figure out where they should go to sell their goods.

Bulk goods: 2d6 x $10 per ton
Manufactured goods: 2d6 x $100 per ton
High tech goods: 2d6 x $1000 per ton

Next you need to set the demand. As a general rule, demand is -30% to -10% when buying goods, and +20% to +80% when selling them. With a successful Networking roll, you can improve demand by 5%, or 10% on a raise. It can’t be reduced below -30% or increased above +80%, though.

Demand represents the value of their goods on the local market. If the party isn’t happy with the price and isn’t willing to go elsewhere, they can try to drive demand up or down with their actions and adventures in-game. They may seek out a buyer in a dangerous region who is willing to pay a premium, or force other sellers out. This is basically an excuse to do some adventuring in the service of their profit margins.

Interstellar Trade

Generally, interstellar trading of bulk goods isn’t profitable, and most star systems are self-sufficient. You’ll never find a system which is reliant on interstellar trade for all of its food or medicine unless it’s a very young colony. It’s just not feasible to support a colony with spike drives.

If you just carry the kind of common goods you’d sell on an intra-system run, you’ll get the same kind of margins - which generally means you’ll make a loss. It’s worth carrying some trade goods if you’re travelling to another system anyway, but it won’t make any trader rich.

Interstellar trade tends to be in highly specific goods: experts, medical compounds, culture, data, exclusive tech, spike drive materials. Basically, things which can’t be made locally by a system, or which are so rare in the Firmament that they’re worth the expense of transporting them.

Obviously, low tech worlds have incredibly high demand for things which are trivial on a high tech world - Eschaton would kill for terraforming equipment. But can they afford the expense of a 20-parsec journey to pay for them? Unlikely. Depending on how many parsecs lie between you and the destination, margins in the hundreds of thousands per ton are required to make these journeys attractive.

Don’t bother trying to come up with one-size-fits-all rules for this kind of trade. You should treat it on a case-by-case basis, as a quest. However, you can use the following guidelines to work out the margins involved:

When you get to large expanses - like the 20 parsecs to Eschaton - the margins required become so high that almost nothing is worth trading unless you have some fabulously wealthy, eccentric buyer who is willing to dump hundreds of thousands into cargo.

Trade Goods

Technically, all a free trader cares about is the weight-to-value ratio of their cargo. It doesn’t actually matter what they’re selling, just how much profit they can extract. However, it can be useful to know the answers to these questions, for worldbuilding and immersion reasons but also practical ones. If a teammate gets injured, whether you’re carrying medicine or datapads suddenly becomes very important.

Trade goods can be divided into three categories:

Bulk goods are generally raw materials, and have a low weight-to-value ratio. They’re things like food, raw minerals and common gases, and fuel for fusion reactors.

Manufactured goods are processed and useful items. Most consumer-grade electronics fall into this category. This category also includes medicine (and drugs), complex alloys, and machinery or weapons.

Luxury goods are expensive and hard to get. Advanced electronics fall into this category, as do rare medicines, drugs and chemicals. This also includes advanced tech, like lasers or smart weapons - things that are hard to get outside of the Firmament.

Rare Resources

Everything described above is generally only traded at a star system level. They might be valuable, but even the most expensive luxury goods are rarely worth transporting at an interstellar scale unless an importer is paying extra for them.

Planets and stations may trade with each other, but the star system as a whole generally needs to be self-sufficient if it’s going to survive. Large freighters loaded with food, medicine or weapons are generally only a hallmark of very young colonies that can’t support themselves yet.

However, there are some goods that are an exception - they have such a high weight-to-value ratio that they’re actually worth hauling to another star system. These are often things that are rare enough in the Firmament that a given star system won’t necessarily have them.

So what is valuable enough to haul across metaspace?