Universe in a Box
Trade, Society and stuff
Trade, why trade? In theory most planetary colonies should be self
sufficient, if earth-like level of richness. Or able to obtain raw materials
within solar system. Some communities, extreme ideological or religious may
well opt to do this, cutting off and shunning contact with others.
Elite and Frontier - active trading network, the lifeblood of the settled
galaxy. Trading very important here. Most trade between star systems, not so
much made of inter-solar system trading, which I think would be more common,
at least for routine commodities.
Tendency to specialise, some planets primarily agrarian with low-tech level,
others highly industrial but unable to grow enough food. This is the basic
trade mechanism of Elite and its kind. Other communities could be too small
to offer a full tech level and create a demand that way.
Over-specialising, such as central planet of empire given almost entirely to
'Admin' tasks, examples include Star Wars Coruscant home planet, and planet
Helior from 'Bill the Galactic Hero' (book). Their "trade relations", such
as they are, would be almost parasitic, sucking in 'tribute' from the rest
of the empire, and 'exporting' waste products in huge quantities.
In any semi-realistic trade model, very few places would lack the means to
feed themselves entirely. Basic foodstuffs would not be moved around so
much. But tech levels would vary, with higher tech being very much prized.
There are several interesting and potentially profitable niches.
Tech-goods, higher tech level sells down to lower tech level, commands a
good price for this. Could be anything from computers, robots, critical
space-ship parts, warp drives etc.
Luxury goods, a clever idea from the makers of Elite, there will always be
high demand for these. If you wanted to be very clever, you could create
local conditions in the trade model where the market is hyped or collapses
due to excessive demand or over-supply. Luxury goods will cover a very wide
spectrum. See also 'wines and spirits' under Elite. It could also include
things like Lotek Style DVD-ROM collections ;-) This will constitute a major
part of legal interstellar trading. Most planets without high tech levels
may well produce some kind of high-value luxury or craft-produced items to
use as an export cash crop earner.
Waste disposal, hazardous. Most planets will have some enlightened recycling
policy in force. Some smaller space-based concerns will recycle almost
everything. Some things people won't want to keep to themselves though, such
as long-term hazardous, ie radioactive waste. People will pay good money to
have this hauled away!
Fast-response courier services, the Parcelforce or DFS of space! Fast ships
for those time-critical packages.. Also people could come under this sort of
service (Barnard Star Taxi's Limited!.
Salvage of damaged and broken space-ships, tends to be a specialist trade
with properly equipped ships, space tugs etc.
Asteroid mining and gas-giant harvesting for super-rare elements and
minerals. Will need specialist equipment and ships. Then there is some
associated trade and carriage of these super-rare elements to the
manufacturing planets that need them.
Bulk carriage, asteroid and iceberg/comet shifting - Very very big ships
only need apply!
Terraforming, transforming inhospitable ice-balls into earthlike paradise,
see immediately above!
Repair and shipwright work. Higher tech level planets can make good money
fixing up or customising passing trade vessels. Are second-hand space-ship
salesmen as dodgy as their car-selling counterparts on Earth?!
Bounty-hunting, this was always a second-line occupation to the primary
trader role in Elite. I'd go further, and make the bounty rate viable enough
to take up bounty hunting as a full-time occupation. Perhaps some really big
rewards for some really big and well armed crims!
Illegal trade niches. The risks and rewards are higher.
Slaves, an Elite classic, could be a by-product of piracy, or specific slave
raids and people trafficking. More likely to be a feature of frontier
Narcotics, universally popular! Can take many forms, easy to carry. Could
even be something as normally innocuous as wines and spirits if landing on a
prohibition world by mistake!
pR0n DVD's, why not! Quick and easy way to cash in on religious and
repressed planets! Or 'WareZ in general? "We knew the game was up when the
sleek hunter killer ships of the RIAA hove into view, and their laser's
sliced into our forward hull..."
Weapons, I'd guess that these would be very tightly controlled normally.
Will come under illegal and modified or stolen military tech.
Alien Tech, weird stuff with unknown capabilities, also could be alien
artefacts and antiques in situation analogous to illegally exporting ancient
Egyptian antiques today.
Fugitive smuggling, an imperial stormtrooper on his Harley Davidson TIE
Fighter flags you down. "Excuse me sir, is that Obi Wan Kenobi sitting in
the back of your space craft?" Could almost fit in as a form of special
Frontier had the nice feature of playing the stock market for local
fluctuations in price for varied goods. If you were very patient, you could
make decent money without even leaving port, buying and selling cargo's as
the demand and supply varied.
Then there was the Bulletin board system, which offered a number of legal
and illegal opportunities. Most of the dodgy deals, and things like fast
courier work are picked up there.
To trade successfully, you have to take into account the different types of
society that develop. Classic Elite assumed no central control, and a
variety of socio-economic models evolving in relative isolation from one
another. These tended to be graded in stability and ability to maintain
local law and order. Going from one extreme with the ultra-clean corporate
state, all the way down to the wildly exciting anarchy systems. There was
even room for existing Earth-style concepts such as democracy and communism.
The Frontier revamp added a couple of overwhelming empires with two
conflicting value systems. An individual planet's own experiments in
politics would be forced in a given direction by the decrees handed down
from the ruling systems. So a naturally communist planet might be having to
reconcile itself with a feudal empire with pro-slavery laws, for example.
There is still scope for a variety of independent and lawless systems.
Frontier included a number of the old Elite systems, and it is not hard to
visualise a looser federation of independant planets, reluctantly banding
together to protect themselves from the ravages of an expansionist empire.
Even without this, some places would be too useful to be taken over, without
adverse consequences. Such niches might be filled by a very high-tech
corporate world, selling their goods impartially, or an anarchy world on the
borders where the smuggling trade is too large, and the cut taken by
corrupted government officials too much to allow that to pass under the
deadening hand of central control! To add to that, you can have isolationist
colonies of religious nutters, people who have turned their back on the
universe at large. These will be difficult trading partners, and the
wealthier ones may well have the means to defend their interests
The progress of human settlement is onion-ring layered, with denser and
longer established planets at the centre. The outermost layer, on the very
edges of unexplored regions are the frontier worlds.
A typical frontier world:- "Fred's planet", started up to ten years ago in a
previously unexplored region, when a mineral prospector, Fred Xavier, staked
a claim to this marginal mudball. Fred's busines plan, such as it was,
failed completely within three years, but the tiny colony attracted other
sorts of attention, and now it is a staging post for fast smuggling craft,
and a useful hiding place for several outlaws. It is entirely possible that
neither Imperial faction is even aware of its existence yet, but it is only
a matter of time before a lot of the criminality in the sector is tracked
back to here, and a punitive expedition is mounted.
Population, a few hundred (no reliable census figures)
Tech level - Low(ish)
Self-supporting - Not really.
Stability level - Classic definition of Anarchy system, approach at own
Legal Trade Opportunities are very poor, and you are likely to get your
cargo taken off you - Illegal trade is rife, with many opportunities to
Typical off-planet activity - Piracy, the settling of blood-feuds, hiding
stuff, bounty-hunting (if skilful.)
Further in, is a later stage frontier world, usually independent:- "Haywood
IV" has been settled for thirty years, and has attracted enough of a
population to be able to enforce a degree of system-wide law and order. It
helps that the original frontier zone is constantly pushing out, taking most
of its rogue elements with it. Governance is not central, and is fairly
tolerant. Especially of the colony of dissident Latter Day Elvis fans, who
turned up, fleeing an Empire pogrom ten years ago. They keep themselves to
themselves. Trade is small-scale, and Haywood IV has been lucky enough to
avoid becoming of interest to either of the big powers.
Population, less than 100,000
Tech-level - Low to Medium
Self-supporting - Yes, on a fairly basic level.
Stability level - Local law enforcement, fairly good, some residual outlaw
activity remains in outer system.
Legal trade is small scale, it would favour Cobra III sized craft, all
categories traded, with more interest in higher tech and luxury items -
Illegal trade is generally tolerated, although you could be unlucky when the
local law enforcement has a spasmodic crisis of conscience.
Typical off-planet activity - Mineral and element prospecting, asteroid
mining, some small scale lawbreaking, bounty-hunting (if still learning on
Getting closer to the ancient centres of civilisation, Morleanii has been a
loyal outer planet of the empire for the past fifty years now, having been
first settled over a hundred years ago.Their standard of living is not too
far removed from that of the average independent world even if they have to
pay onerous taxes to support their colonial master's obligations. A major
naval base has been built on one of the moons nearby, and Morleanii supports
a sizeable troop garrison and other military infrastructure, as it lies
inside a disputed zone with the arch-rival Federation. The Morleanii Martyrs
monument commemorates the dead from the last 'hot' war fought about thirty
years ago. The gleaming black thirty-storey marble cenotaph is perfectly
sited in the blast crater which is the site of the former Morleanii capitol.
As with many other outer empire planets, visitors are advised to be careful
about strict adherence to empire laws and customs when onplanet, and beware
of high paranoia levels and general suspicion of outsiders.
Population, up to 50 million (additional 50,000 Empire troops garrisoned at
low alert state.)
Tech-Level - High, with military presence.
Self-supporting - Yes, policy compels self-sufficiency as far as possible as
if in a war economy. Luxury goods would be strictly rationed.
Stability level - Very high generally, much less safe when there is an alert
on. Check up to date travel advice for this region.
Legal trade tends to be strictly within Empire guidelines. More categories
of non-approved goods and unfavourable tariffs in places like this - Illegal
trade, they have ferocious customs and police, and will stop and search,
black market high-tech possible to obtain, but be careful. Black market
active for other categories too.
Typical off-planet activity - Being careful to avoid restricted areas,
submitting to onerous stop and search procedures, routinely accused of being
a spy, generally tiptoeing on eggshells!
Sitting smugly in a system not too far from the original home of mankind,
Earth, Ingersoll has little to fear as a rich and established inner world.
As a member of the Federation, it is democratic, although in practice,
planetary politics are in the hands of the powerful Ingersoll-Rand family,
and have been ever since the first colony was established four hundred years
ago. As a garden world, Ingersoll escews a high tech-level, but attracts a
number of wealthy settlers who are lured by the lush earthlike and
terraformed environment. It operates a lucrative tourist trade, but is
careful to keep these hoi polloi away from the playgrounds of the rich and
Population, up to 250 million
Tech Level - Low
Self-supporting - Yes, apart from hi-tech items. Net exporter of some
categories of food-related luxury goods.
Stability level - Very safe, active but more permissive law enforcement, IE
may ask questions first before shooting for a change! No military presence
to worry about either as protected by outer world defences.
Legal trade, as a rich planet, high demand for luxury goods and some high
tech items - Illegal trade, tends to be fairly relaxed with narcotics, but
much less so with arms and slaves.
Typical off-planet activity - Solar flare surfing (the 'in-thing' this
Coming next episode, Special mission scenarios!
CiH, for Alive Mag,Various '04