Wednesday, February 12, 2014

on Ashen Stars (pt2)

One of the things that really excites me about Ashen Stars is the economic system.  Isn't that a hoot.  But it is true and not at all sad.  We ran a game of Diaspora which is a Fate based Sci-fi setting and it was alright, but I didn't enjoy the abstraction of wealth in Fate.  I like my money crunchy and countable, not a roll on a status track. In Beacon I made sure that it cost a lot to buy things because money was so worthless in D&D proper, and one of the best things about Dungeon Crawl Classics for me was the fact that a bow and some arrows cost more than your life was worth at level 1.  I was really chuffed when we took the bows from the bandits that attacked us.  Good times.

I like tracking resources in games because it is a huge lever you can use in telling stories and providing motivations that feel real.  Everyone likes to get ahead and I think it's good to leverage that.  Also most people know what it's like to be in debt or to need more of something and that is also good material to draw upon. I do however understand when the economic mechanics of the game become too burdensome.  Lots of players don't want to track arrows or their meals and as a GM it's not practical to force them to do it or do it for them.  People play games to have fun so keeping a spreadsheet is not always going to be the fun option.

But I really like how Ashen Stars handles this.  Having Big Creds allows me to have all those economic story levers that come with the detective and the space opera genres.  There are lots of stories of space captains with bounties on their heads or detectives tempted to do the wrong thing for an easy payoff.  Having to pay the bills makes players consider interesting choices they might not otherwise entertain and having them sweat over their reputation in order to keep their bank balance in the black is one of the best ways to naturally curb those darker murder hobo or anti social character tendencies.  I love how this macro economics works and that players don't need to keep track of their bar tabs and hotel bills but can still panic to scrounge up a cargo run to some mudball planet to pay their upkeep.  It's great.

When I decided to run a campaign in Ashen Stars I knew I would have to lean on the economics so that the player choices would have meaning.  I didn't want to simply have the characters worrying about their upkeep, I wanted them to be invested in building their Lazer business.  I also wanted to make the economics drive some inter-player interaction. The one thing about economics in Ashen Stars is that is is a little but of a group hug.  Since Robin Laws is Canadian and therefore a communist it's not so surprising that the book references the mechanics of upkeep and payouts from a crew perspective.  I thought there should be all those economic business pressures from the book, but the players should also have individual relationships with money, some would want or need it and others would not care so much.  I wanted both friction and a cohesion to come from this.  

In order to facilitate this I did was do away with the economic budget in crew creation. I did let players have a little money to start out, but I decided that I wanted to see the game be orientated around personal finances instead of a group equipment template.  I wanted there to be some tension between paying out salary to the crew while also doing ship upkeep.  To add to this I also wanted to have them paying off the mortgage on their business and their ship - a very Traveller kind of thing I realize.  The first stumbling block to this was there were no prices for ships in the book.  I asked around a few places online to see if anyone else had done this but didn't get back any useful replies.  I even had some people on G+ tell me that if I wanted to do this I should go play Traveller!  Silly person.  I knew Ashen Stars could do this so much easier.  

After a very short deliberation I decided that a secondhand ship/laser business should cost around 1000 bC*.  I imagined this would, emotionally at least, be roughly between 1-4 million bucks just for some perspective.  I created a CFO role and told the players that they would have to decide which character was managing the finances and also that they as business partners would have to determine how to pay out salaries and service their business.   I added in a 2.5bC minimum payment to the monthly upkeep to service their debt just to twist the screws a bit tighter.  I told them that the characters would have to pay personal upkeep out of their own money and work with the CFO to manage common inventory and such. The players would provide the drive to pay down the debt faster or not according to their character.  What this was intended to do was give them all a stake but also some different perspectives on it.  The upkeep heavy players would naturally want higher salaries while other players with fewer obligations might want to invest in or service the business.

And so far it seems to be working out well.  With very little work the macro economics in the game serve to drive story but not bog it down in detail.  There is enough there to make payment for rare and interesting things work while the preparedness system manages to handle the smaller issues quite nicely.  The only additional thought I have had is to maybe make a upkeep price for standard of living since there is a big space in the game where characters with little interest in cyber or viro ware or high end gear have little economic outlets.  Maybe a little table like this:
Standard of Living      Upkeep Modifier
                 Normal                   N/A
                 Well to do              +1
                 Extravagant            +3
                 High Society           +5
                 Rock Star               +10

This would let some players burn off bC in amusing RP ways.

So all in all the game provides some good tools to manage money in a campaign and I really like how the upkeep and reputation mechanics work through this macroeconomic system to help create some natural narrative.

* I use bC as the currency symbol for Big Creds in the game and in the spreadsheet I use make the CFO track the finances.

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