The Standard of Living

“Agents can buy, handwave, or get parts to make pretty much anything a normal, middle-class European can buy.” – Night’s Black Agents

In a previous post, I examined the cost of living in a mediaeval society, but I’m running a science fiction campaign at the moment so I look to modern prices and wages.

As is my habit, I checked against the real world, and because Savage Worlds is published by an American company I used information from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics; it turns out to be easier to find out what someone earns than what the cost of living is, so I’m inferring lifestyles from that. As you’ll see, if your character is Rich or Noble he has about the same standard of living as a contemporary American lawyer; if you watch any TV at all, you know roughly what that means.

STANDARDS OF LIVING

  • Poverty Hindrance: Starting wealth is $250, so by extrapolation from the Rich Edge, annual salary is probably around $25,000 – that’s about what a baker, janitor or taxi driver earns, according to the BLS. In the US military this would be an airman, seaman, private first class or lance-corporal, depending on arm of service.
  • Normal: Starting wealth $500, so by extrapolation annual salary around $50,000. A mechanic, police officer, nurse, teacher or military lieutenant is in this sort of area, as well as the average PC.
  • Rich or Noble: Starting wealth $1,500 and annual salary $150,000. Dentists, lawyers, generals, admirals, people like that.
  • Filthy Rich: Starting wealth $2,500, annual salary $500,000. That’s a surgeon, twice, with extra fries.

THE PARTY’S STARSHIP

One of the reasons for this line of thought was the idea that a player character might take the Rich Edge and say it paid for, or represented the income from, a small starship.

Let’s look at the stock Light Freighter in the SFC; it’s Size 8 and has a crew of 5, which means it costs $850 per day for food and fuel, $800 per jump, and up to $50,000 per month for wages; if we assume one jump every two weeks, that’s a total of $331,050 per annum just to keep the ship running, and another $600,000 for crew wages, which means chartering a Light Freighter has to cost somewhere in the region of $7,000 to $20,000 per week. (Incidentally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average airline pilot or flight engineer does indeed make somewhere around $10,000 per month.)

This means a Filthy Rich character could credibly pay to operate one if the crew forego their wages, and a group of two or three could keep it flying even if the crew are being paid normal salaries.

Alternatively, I can interpret the Edges, Hindrances and lifestyles for aspiring freighter captains thus:

  • Poverty: Hardscrabble free trader. Trading isn’t making ends meet; the money from adventures subsidises ship operations.
  • Normal: Getting by. You make just enough trading to keep the ship spaceworthy and pay the crew’s wages.
  • Rich or Noble: Better days. You make a comfortable living trading.
  • Filthy Rich: Merchanter royalty. Your trading acumen, and your ship, are widely known and respected.

That’s a lot faster and easier than the trading Rules As Written or anything I’ve come up with previously. Your character wants to be a successful trader? Take the Rich Edge next time you advance, and we won’t worry about exactly what he trades in, or how.

Now, while you’re at the Exchange brokering your next charter, this nervous guy in a sharp suit takes you to one side. He’s heard from a friend of a friend that you and your crew can be trusted with delicate situations…

World Capabilities by Population

In Stars Without Number (and other games), one thing that intrigues me is the minimum population level needed for particular capabilities to be present on a world. Does a world with a quarter of a million people have its own intelligence apparat? Can it build its own gravsleds?

I decided to look at real-world nations of the contemporary world as a guide to the possible, and spent several weeks’ worth of lunch hours surfing and winnowing data to collate something a GM could use. I’ve split the SWN bracket of Millions along Classic Traveller lines, to make the output more broadly usable.

What else would you like to see? Let me know please, and if I can find it, I’ll add it.

FAILED COLONY

These haven’t got anything as such. There are a surprising number of these on contemporary Earth, but for game purposes I think you’re best served by rolling for what its population was, and using that as a guide to what’s in the ruins.

OUTPOSTS

  • Almost always a dependency of a larger state (Vatican City excepted).
  • Some states as small as a single family or person, but these are rarely recognised officially.

TENS OF THOUSANDS

  • Independent states appear at this level. My inference from the Rules As Written is that in the Stars Without Number universe, this is the smallest sustainable population.
  • Armies appear (Seychelles, Tonga).

HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS

  • Espionage agencies appear (Barbados Financial Intelligence Unit).
  • Navies appear (Bahamas, Brunei). At this level they are brown-water navies, focussed on local defence.
  • Military special forces appear (Brunei Special Forces Regiment and Special Combat Squadron).

MILLIONS

Millions

  • Vehicle manufacturing appears – AFVs, aircraft, cars (e.g. Bulgaria, Latvia, Lebanon respectively) – although typically designs are bought in from outside.
  • Merchant marine shipping appears (Slovenia)
  • Mechanised and armoured units appear in the army (Estonia, Laos)
  • Air forces appear (Lebanon)

Tens of Millions

  • Top tier economic or military powers are at this level and up (G20 members, top ten military nations).
  • Blue-water navies appear, able to project power sustainably at a distance and maintain bases outside their state’s territory  – Regional Hegemon tag becomes credible.
  • Significant shipbuilding capabilities emerge – Major Spaceyard tag becomes credible.

Hundreds of Millions

  • Manned space programmes appear on TL 3 worlds.

BILLIONS

Billions

This is present-day Earth as a whole, so if you can find it in the real world, a planet with this population could have it.

Tens of Billions

We have no data for this yet, I’m afraid. I expect it would be like billions, only more so.

ALIEN CIVILISATION

As for Failed Colonies, I think you’re best served by determining a population and working from there; at the time humanity discovered agriculture, the total human population seems to have been about 15 million, so a viable alien civilisation is probably in the millions and up.

REFLECTIONS

The more I look into this, the more surprised I am by two things: First, how small a population is when a given capability first appears, and second, how large nations can get without having specific capabilities – I haven’t recorded the second, because the first seems more useful.

The take-away is that any system with a population in the hundreds of thousands and up could conceivably have any capability you might be interested in, given the political will; but that major powers need populations that are at least in the tens of millions.

Concerning Factions

As a boy, my imagination was fired by Wily Odysseus, king of Ithaca; I imagined him as a leader of a mighty army. Now that I have seen Ithaca and realise that it is less than 50 square miles in area with a population of about 3,000, and looked at Homer’s Catalogue of Ships rather than the watered-down version found in children’s books, I picture him as leading a dozen ships, each with about 50 rowers aboard; roughly a battalion, which in modern terms would make Odysseus a Lieutenant Colonel.

How is this relevant to Stars Without Number? In preparation for the retcon of the Dark Nebula campaign’s initial faction turns, I’ve been reading the densely-packed Factions chapter with the intention of getting things right this time (I’ve already tried several times before, both on- and off-stage). As a result I’ve discovered some fairly hefty limitations on what factions can and can’t do under the rules.

LIMITATIONS

First, there is quite a severe limit on how many units a faction can have; no more of any type than its rating in that area. As an example, a Regional Hegemon is the most powerful faction in the basic rules, with an income of 6 FacCreds per turn, and ratings of Force 8, Cunning 5 and Wealth 7; it could have no more than 20 assets at a time, possibly bumping that up to 26 for short periods by spending its entire income on maintaining such extra units. Fortunately, Bases of Influence don’t count against that limit.

Second, moving units around is difficult and expensive. The only way to project naval power outside a cluster of worlds linked by spike-1 drills is to build a capital fleet; none of the logistical assets in the rules can carry Starship assets. The only way to transport Military units more than one hex is by using an Extended Theatre or Blockade Runner asset and paying FacCreds to do it; and since you only have a handful of units you have to think very carefully about how many non-combat Force assets you want. There are, however, a number of ways of moving Special Forces assets up to six hexes in a turn.

Third, while a FacCred for players is about Cr 100,000, a FacCred for a faction – which is more about logistical capability and political will than it is about hard cash – is more like several million. The smallest thing one could reasonably call a capital fleet would have half a dozen vessels including at least one battleship or carrier, and would weigh in at well over a hundred million credits; so its 40 FacCreds are roughly Cr 3,000,000 apiece. Using an exchange rate of one FacCred equals Cr 100,000 means a capital fleet would consist of a fighter squadron with nothing to carry it.

CONCLUSIONS

Pocket empires like Regional Hegemons will tend to form in clusters of worlds connected by spike-1 routes. One which does so will be able to control them more cheaply, and have more firepower available, than one which does not. One which builds a Capital Fleet or an Extended Theatre asset is signalling an intention to expand outside its home cluster.

Regional Hegemons which wish to expand can do so most effectively by sending Special Forces units to nearby worlds, creating a Base of Influence there, and then building new units at that Base of Influence; the cheapest way to do this is by building Surveyors, as they can move two hexes free of charge. Buying a BoI on a planet is therefore a potentially hostile act, as even the smallest one could spew out something nasty next turn and ruin your whole day; fortunately you don’t need permission from the local government to build one.

Conflict between Regional Hegemons is unlikely to be a mighty clash between giant battle fleets; it’s more probable that Special Forces troops and spies are inserted covertly to arm and train local malcontents, who then fight a proxy war on the Hegemon’s behalf.

If an interstellar hot war does break out, it moves slowly across gaps between clusters of worlds, because of the need to preposition Extended Theatre assets which then move other Military Units across those gaps.

This is all rather clever, actually, as it means the PCs matter at the faction level, however powerful the faction is. Even the biggest faction has only a handful of relatively small units, meaning that although the PCs can’t wipe out a planet of billions, they do stand a chance of thwarting its aims and possibly crippling its ability to project power. If they have a ship, as mine do, even a Regional Hegemon has need of such as they to transport its assets.

Now We All Have Turkish Names

Given that over 98% of the NPCs in the Dark Nebula campaign are going to be culturally Turkish, I’m going to need GM Resources of the kind that Stars Without Number lavishes on the GM using Arabic, Chinese, English, Indian, Japanese, Nigerian, Russian or Spanish cultures. So I spent a lazy Sunday morning pulling those together from the internet; the Turkish government have obligingly provided lists of their most popular given names and surnames online, and I’ve pulled a list of the 11th through 60th most populated cities for use as placenames, reasoning that the top ten would be too obvious and well-known.

TURKISH NAMES

Turkish names consist of a given name followed by a surname, either or both of which are also often meaningful words in Turkish. Given names are usually gender-specific, but may be unisex. Married women may use both their maiden surname and that of their husband.

Turkish_Names

TURKISH CUISINE

Traditional Turkish cuisine is rich, savoury and colourful, relying on vegetables with small portions of lamb or mutton, usually roasted or grilled.  Fruit, fruit juices and yoghurt are common, as is honey, which appears in many desserts. Drinks are usually tea or water, with coffee less common than one might expect; although alcohol is theoretically forbidden on religious grounds, a minority drink beer, wine, or rakı, a diluted grape brandy flavoured with aniseed, with meals.

TURKISH CLOTHING

In cities, European or English styles prevail. A few women wear Arabic clothing, but more common are essentially European garments covered by a light topcoat and headscarf. In rural areas, men continue to wear European-style shirts and trousers, but women favour long-sleeved tops over bloomers or trousers.

Culture, Government and Law

As the PCs charge about my little sandbox, I need to tell them about the local official language, government, and laws (oh all right then, weapons restrictions). As usual in such situations, I use the contemporary real world as a template. Is that accurate? Who knows. Does it give answers which are intuitively familiar to the players? Probably. Is it fast and easy? Oh yes.

For the most part, it’s clear which present-day nation I should use as an example for each of the cultures in the Stars Without Number rulebook; for English I selected the UK based on the cuisine described, and for Arabic I chose Egypt as it has the biggest population among Arabic-speaking countries and influences many of the others.

Then I added Turkish to the mix because many of the worlds in my Dark Nebula campaign turned out to be Turkish. You’ll see a Turkish cultural writeup along SWN lines shortly.

THE CULTURES

Government: The notes in parenthesis after the government description are the SWN Core Edition government type (the word) and the Classic Traveller government type (the number or letter).

Weapons Restrictions: Legal weapons usually require a licence which depends on passing background checks and possibly other tests, and takes weeks or longer to get. Unlawful possession of weapons is generally punished by years to decades in prison, possibly with a fine as well; Egypt might let you off with a month in jail, China might execute you. (“Rifles” in this context means hunting or sporting weapons, not semi-auto battle rifles. Nice try.) The number in parenthesis after the weapons restrictions is the Classic Traveller law level.

Arabic

Template: Arab Republic of Egypt. Official Language: Arabic. Government: Republic (Republic, 4). Weapons Restrictions: Handguns permitted (7, sort of).

Chinese

Template: People’s Republic of China. Official Language: Mandarin. Government: Communist state (Oligarchy or Theocracy? C or D?). Weapons Restrictions: No firearms permitted (7).

English

Template: United Kingdom. Official Language: English. Government: Constitutional monarchy (Republic, 4). Weapons Restrictions: Rifles and shotguns permitted (5).

Indian

Template: Republic of India. Official Languages: English, Hindi. Government: Federal republic (Republic, 4). Weapons Restrictions: Rifles, shotguns, handguns and semi-auto assault weapons permitted (3).

Japanese

Template: State of Japan. Official Language: Japanese. Government: Parliamentary with constitutional monarchy (Republic, 4). Weapons Restrictions: All firearms and swords prohibited (8).

Nigerian

Template: Federal Republic of Nigeria. Official Language: English. Government: Federal republic (Republic, 4). Weapons Restrictions: Rifles and shotguns permitted (5).

Russian

Template: Russian Federation. Official Language: Russian. Government: Federation(Oligarchy? 7?). Weapons Restrictions: Rifles and shotguns permitted (5).

Spanish

Template: Kingdom of Spain. Official Language: Spanish. Government: Parliamentary monarchy (Republic, 4). Weapons Restrictions: Rifles and shotguns permitted (5).

Turkish

Template: Republic of Turkey. Official Language: Turkish. Government: Republican parliamentary democracy (Republic, 4). Weapons Restrictions: Rifles, shotguns and handguns permitted (4).

REFLECTIONS

All PCs speak English for a reason. It’s an official language for three of the eight basic cultures in SWN, in the case of Nigeria and India because they have literally hundreds of languages and dialects each, and you need some sort of official language.

Not only is the representative democracy the default and most intuitive option for a planetary government, it’s also the commonest type among SWN cultures; except for the PRC and the Russian Federation, all of them have some form of it.

If you have no special plans for a world’s weapons restrictions, you won’t go far wrong by assuming that all firearms are prohibited except for shotguns and hunting rifles, which require a licence, and attract unwelcome attention from local law enforcement in urban areas.

Not for Trafficking

We travel not for trafficking alone:
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known
We make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.
– James Elroy Fletcher, The Golden Journey to Samarkand

What I’m finding is that interstellar trading, simple though it is in the Science Fiction Companion, is very boring for me. You may enjoy it, and if you do, more power to you; it’s just not what my games are about these days.

I spent some time crafting a faster, easier system, and some time researching how contemporary tramp freighters actually operate – mostly on charters arranged by brokers, it turns out; speculative trading of the kind SF RPGs emulate has practically disappeared since (and possibly because of) the invention of radio.

None of that made it any more fun, sadly. So I’ve circled back around to the Daring Tales of the Space Lanes approach; the characters spend a lot of time trading, but that all happens off-camera and generates just enough money to offset the ship’s operating expenses; the players don’t get involved in it.

Since this has been the outcome whatever setting and rules I’ve used since the late 1980s, I’m going to knock trading on the head now; you won’t see it here again.

That does leave me with the question of how much money PCs should reasonably have available, so for the time being I shall adapt the Savings rules from Beasts & Barbarians, summarised and modified as follows:

  • At the end of each adventure, PCs get paid or fence their loot, replenish supplies, and replace lost items.
  • They retain $500 per Rank (more than in B&B because the SF PC tends to have more, and more expensive, gear) for emergencies. This is adjusted by the Rich and Filthy Rich Edges, and the Poverty Hindrance, as usual.
  • They then spend everything else they made on the adventure before the next one starts – on the traditional “ale and whores”, starship repairs, training, collection of pet fish, or whatever.

I’m also bored by the hyperspace astrogation rolls and variable trip time. Henceforth jumps succeed and take a week each, and we’re not interested in how much of that week is in hyperspace and how much in realspace. So there.

So much for trafficking. On with the lust for knowing what should not be known!

Not Your Daddy’s Zombies

“If they take the ship, they’ll rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skin into their clothes … and if we’re very, very lucky, they’ll do it in that order.” – Firefly

I use zombies a lot, mostly because their simple and predictable tactics make them good opponents for solo games; it’s both easy and credible for them to be moved in accordance with rules, rather than trying to imagine the best tactics for both sides, turn by turn.

But let me draw your attention to a few things about the standard Savage Worlds zombie from the core rulebook…

  • Smarts d4. Notice, not d4(A); this ugly biter as smart as some beginning PCs or the standard Soldier ally. He remembers how ladders and doorknobs work. He’s going to go around the open manhole, and he is not going to stagger off one rooftop because he can see you on the next.
  • Intimidation d6. Not only is the SW zed scary, he is scary with malice aforethought, trying to Shake you so his buddies can drag you down.
  • Shooting d6. In most games you take down zombies with a ranged weapon before they get close enough to bite. This little devil shoots back.
  • Pace. There is nothing anywhere in the rules that says zombies can’t run. This alone makes them much more dangerous; not so much Dawn of the Dead, more 28 Days Later.

So, combat with Savage Worlds zombies is more hazardous than in other zombie games. It likely begins with you coming under fire from armed zeds lying in ambush. While you’re pinned, the fearless assault team of zombies closes up; one intimidates you to Shake you while the rest pile in with wild attacks and maximum gang-up bonuses.

You’re being shot at, you’re Shaken, and four zombies are engaging you in hand-to-claw combat, each rolling at +6 to hit. They are fearless, +2 Toughness, and you basically have to use a called shot to the head to take them out.

Good luck. I’ll be in my bunk.