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101 Cargos

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2023 issue.

101 Cargos. Andy and Sarah Lilly
BITS https://www.bitsuk.net
42pp., PDF

Most of the time when playing Traveller, trade seems to be a matter of rolling up a bunch of miscellaneous cargos to take from A to B, with adventure being what happens between cargos or when you can’t find enough cargos to make ends meet. Given that, why do you actually care whether you’re carrying crystals or organics or computers rather than ‘generic cargo, source world industrial TL12, paid Cr3500/t’?

Enter the Lillys and 101 Cargos. While the bulk of this volume is capsule descriptions of cargos, each including information that can act as a ‘hook’ for a referee to hang adventures on, the ‘meat’ of the volume is actually some rules for generating ideas for those adventures, for generating specific cargos, and for generating important and possibly adventure-worthy information about cargos generated, whether by these or other rules. While written ‘for’ Marc Miller’s Traveller (T4), which has a trade system that I called ‘origin-based’ in my 2014 article “Building a Commercial Atlas”, the results will be much more like the ‘goods-based’ system of Classic Traveller Book 3.

The Lillys credit Marcus Rowland with the rules for developing cargo hazard profiles, and the tables used in the trade generation rules are credited to ‘Ace and the Dog Unpublications’, but no further source citations are provided, although both are ‘adapted’ and ‘used with permission’.

The introduction suggests that the core rulebook from Marc Miller’s Traveller (T4) and two D6 are all that’s required, but the descriptions and rules are generic enough that they can easily be used with the basic rules of any version of Traveller, including Traveller20 or GURPS Traveller, and they can probably be easily adapted to any interstellar setting such as Twilight Sector or Clement Sector.

The first ‘cut of meat’ is the Instant Adventure Links. This is essentially a set of tables that the referee can use for inspiration to develop the general outline of an adventure – the end result will be a very generic description along the lines of ‘the patron intends to commit insurance fraud, and covertly has one of his people buy passage on the ship with his cargo aboard and try to convince the crew to go along with the plot’. Each element can have some subplot elements, such as task rolls to avoid – or implement – the particular element. With a bit of imagination from the referee, the result can be applied to any appropriate cargo, or modified to make it appropriate for a particular already-generated cargo.

The next section (also of ‘meat’) allows the generation of ‘shipping codes’. This provides information that the crew of a ship would need to properly handle a cargo, or to know whether they can handle it at all. Those crystals had better be kept in low-g and handled carefully even then unless you want to deliver valueless sand…

A notable omission from the section on hazard generation is any discussion on ‘what sort of hazardous cargos shouldn’t be shipped together’. It would not be a good idea, for example, to co-ship a hazard code 79 (explosive/unstable) with a hazard code 16 or 17 (toxic if inhaled) or 9698 (Biohazard/infectious if inhaled/biowar agent/highly infectious). Poor decisions by the captain or purser here could themselves be a source of adventure…

This is followed by the lists of cargos. Each cargo is described generically as to type and lot size (e.g., Raw Crystals, Major Lot), followed by a more specific description which may contain information about the origin, destination, intended use, and so on.

The list of cargos sometimes mentions specific worlds, companies, etc.; following the lists is a section of library data (called a ‘glossary’ here, but that’s OK) that provides enough basic facts to get an idea of what each specific mention is referring to.

Finally, a set of rules, basically cascading tables, for generating cargos is presented. The cargos generated will be appropriate to the world’s trade classification codes, and will be specific trade goods, rather than the generic ‘origin-based’ cargo descriptor of the T4 (or Merchant Prince) rules. In addition to generating lot size (which, by these rules, can often be subdivided, but the referee should consider carefully whether to allow it for any particular cargo), the base cost – expressed as a multiplier to the standard cost under the T4 rules – is also generated, and if you are choosing to use hazards, rolling to see whether certain hazards apply is an option.

Obviously, if the referee wants to hang an adventure on a cargo ‘hook’, it’s possible to pre-generate a cargo, write some detail about it, and then just insert it into the adventure setup at the appropriate time.

This is the Second Edition. Many of the cargos from the First Edition were generated by Jo and Lesley Grant, and were later reprinted in issue 25 of the Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society. Andy and Sarah generated new cargos for this second edition to avoid any copyright conflicts.

Overall, this is a well-done supplement. While not strictly necessary due to good initial presentation, the inclusion of some examples walking through the various rules would have been helpful. This is a good resource for a referee, and worth the coin.