Sunday, January 20, 2019

Getting a Starship

Art by Vincent Di Fate

The Knight Hawks Campaign Book devotes eight pages to an 'Economic Activity in the Frontier' section.  It “details some of the ways characters can use ships to earn money, the dangers in their path and how they can get started.”

First, characters must obtain a ship.  Nearly half of the section is devoted to describing how a starship may be acquired.  In some games (e.g., Traveller) characters can gain a ship (or receive partial ownership of a ship) via character generation.  In some games (e.g., Hero System) characters can spend points to get a ship.  In other games (e.g., Fantasy Flight's Star Wars) the party just gets a ship.  The assumption in Knight Hawks is that player characters buy a ship with funds loaned from a bank.  All banks operate in the same way:
...all charge 4% interest compounded every 40 days.  This is about 23% per year.  This high interest rate is justified by the volatile economy in the Frontier and offset by the possibility of making a quick fortune.
Banks will grant loans equal to the value of collateral placed with the bank.  Absent collateral, characters will have to submit to an interview with a loan officer.  The referee and player role-play this interview.  “Loan interviews are good situations role playing,” we are told.  Not surprisingly, interacting with financial institutions is not listed as a role-playing enticement on the back of the box.  In the interview, the player presents a plan:  “how the loan will be invested, and how it will be repaid.”  Success of the loan application is determined by “a simple die roll.”  If the referee rolls one-half of the applicant's Personality score or less on 1d100, the bank extends the loan.  The roll may be modified up to ten-percent (favorably or unfavorably) “based on whether the character's plan has a good chance to succeed, the current economic conditions in the Frontier and the character's attitude and treatment of the loan officer during the interview.”

Don't bother trying to use Hypnosis (a Psycho-Social subskill) on the loan officer.  “Bank  loan officers are routinely monitored by computer,” the rules state, “so any attempt to hypnotize the loan officer will be noticed and the loan officer will be notified.”

A character's reputation determines the maximum amount of money a bank will loan.  Reputation is measured in “good deeds.”  Examples of such deeds include “capturing pirates, killing Sathar, [and] saving a child's life.”  These deeds must be publicized:  “a character who who performed heroic deeds in a remote corner of Frontier cannot expect the loan officer to know about them.”  With two good deeds, a character can obtain a loan of ten thousand Credits; with five good deeds, 100,000 Cr.  If, in addition to the five good deed minimum, a character “has performed a truly spectacular task, such as saving a city or colony at great risk to himself, [he] can apply for a loan of 500,000 Cr.”  A low-end starship can easily cost 500,000 Cr, so gaining a reputation sufficient for borrowing enough money to buy a ship is not easily accomplished.

For loan amounts in excess of ten thousand Credits (without collateral), banks require that the borrower undergo a surgical process to embed a tiny transmitter in the character's skeletal system.  This device is called a tracer implant.  Does the bank pay for the the tracer and the surgery?  Anyway, “The tracer emits a signal that identifies the character and the bank which loaned him the money.”  The signal “can be picked up by tracer scanners from a range of several meters.”  The scanners...
...are common in any populated area of the Frontier.  All banks and spaceports, and most stores, restaurants and other businesses have tracer scanners at their entrances.  They are standard equipment for police officers.
If a “character skips payments and does not respond to warnings,” scanners will active an alarm when they detect the character's tracer.  “Because banks offer large rewards for the capture of loan defaulters,” we learn, “police and independent loan agents will close in on the character immediately.”  We also learn that the implant is not easily removed:  “No reputable hospital or medical clinic will remove an implant unless the operation is authorized by the bank.”  This would seem to be a money-making opportunity for amoral characters with Medical Skill.

The section provides almost a page worth of alternative means of obtaining a ship should the players be “unable or reluctant to get a bank loan for a starship...”  The book explains, “These are ideas only, not rules.”

Government Subsidies:
“Basically,” according to page 42, “the government loans money to the characters (at a low rate of interest) so that they can purchase a starship that fits the government's specifications.”  Reasons a government may subsidize such a purchase might include “long passenger or freight lines to remote worlds, transport of dangerous materials or desperately needed high-overhead cargos, privateering, or a government courier service.”

Crime Organizations:
If characters have contacts with a large criminal organization, they might secure a loan at “very high interest (60 to 100 percent per year is not unusual).”  If the characters put themselves up as collateral and they default, “the criminals will track them down and either sell them selves or kill them and sell their body parts on the black market, using their brains to build cybernetic robots.”  In addition to the high interest, the organization might require co-operation in such things as “smuggling illegal cargos, helping fugitives escape the police, or using the characters' business as a legitimate front for criminal activity.”

Corporate Lease:
In this alternative, the ship is owned by a large corporation and the characters lease it.  “The characters usually have the option to buy the ship,” we are told, “applying their lease payments to the purchase.”

Joint Venture:
Essentially, characters “sell stock in their business.”  Characters “must deliver dividends to its shareholders” at regular intervals (“200 or 400 days are common”).

Used Ships:
Used ships can be purchased “for 40 to 80 percent of their new value.”  Of course, they “are prone to breakdowns and malfunctions” or even be partially inoperable.  Referees are encouraged “to let the life support or some other system break down right after the characters take possession of the ship, just to let them know what they can expect in the future.”

A corporation or research group may be willing to sign over a ship's title to characters who use the ship on an extremely dangerous and important mission.
Patron's Ships:
Characters can work as the crew of a ship belonging to someone else.  “Characters may even work for free,” we learn, “letting the ship owner keep their wages as a down payment against eventual purchase of the ship.”

Ships “found abandoned and adrift in open space is the property of whoever salvages it.”  Of course, you must already have a ship so as to reach a ship to be salvaged.

Any characters trying this should meet a lot of resistance, both from the ship's crew during the hijacking and from port authorities and the Star Law Rangers after the hijacking.
Deus ex Machina:
As a last resort, the referee can intervene in the players' behalf with some miraculous event ('Your rich great-aunt just died and left her mining ship to you.  After all, it is a family heirloom.').

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