The Price of Everything…

I was rereading an old crypto-Traveller PRG book, Audace ad Gloriam by Phillip McGregor, and I rediscovered one of the more remarkable essays on the Traveller tech system I have ever read, “The Price of Everything… and the Value of Nothing.”

One of the (many) issues related to modelling a wide range of “Tech Levels” in any SF roleplaying game is that of getting relative (cross-TL) pricing right – and, of course, getting the relativity between wages and prices within and across TLs right, too.

The basis of this problem is the simple fact that you simply cannot do it. There is no meaningful way of comparing prices across any significant “tech level.”

So, we fudge the numbers, and do plenty of handwaving to get a functional game. The challenge still remains though, as soon as you start thinking carefully about it.

When Henry Ford’s company started building the Model T Ford in 1909, it cost $850 … and the average wage in the US was $1000.

Cars were a rich man’s toy, and the workers who made them obviously couldn’t afford to buy them.

By the time the Model T Ford ceased production in 1927, they were selling for as little as $250, and the average wage had increased to around $1250.


Can we get a modern vehicle that is closer to the Model T in actuality?

Yes! The Tata Nano, produced in India and sold for $2500! Even though it’s still far better than a Model T, it represents only 5.6% of average US salary to purchase.

What makes this most interesting to me is just how sharply the cost of jump-capable starships should fall, across six tech levels (TL 9 – TL 16) and 1,100 years.

Assuming the price falls by 1/4 every tech level – while capabilities, endurance, etc improves – then you will get something like this:

TL 9 Jump1 200-ton trader, 37.08 MCr (The Traveller Book, Classic Traveller)
TL 10 – price fall to 9.27 MCr
TL 11 – price fall to 2.3175 MCr
TL 12 – price fall to 579,375 Cr   (or 0.579 MCr)
TL 13 – price fall to 144, 844 Cr
TL 14 – price fall to 36,211 Cr
TL 15 – price fall to 9,053 Cr
TL 16 – price fall to 2,236 Cr

So, the price of a megacredit starship at TL 9 should fall to about a car by TL 14, about 800 years later.

GURPS Traveller crunched all the tech levels, with Traveller TL 15 = GURPS TL 12. If you do things the GURPS way, then the price of a starship is at 0.579 MCr, a good deal more reasonable and a better fit for the universe.

As we all know, technology has changed everything – steadily since the middle ages (where some basic inventions got started, like the heavy plow, the hourglass & clocks, and the blast furnace), with things really taking off with the industrial revolution, steam engines, and the telegraph. A working man of 1820 lived in a different universe than a working man of 1845… and the changes keep on coming.



About Alvin Plummer

I'm working to build a better world, a world that blesses Christ and is blessed by Him. I hope that you're doing the same!
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2 Responses to The Price of Everything…

  1. vegas says:

    For what it is worth, I think the GT rule is that cost falls by 50% for the first 2 TLs after introduction and then flat lines after that. The CT rule is that cost falls by 5-15% per TL. I think the GT rule is probably the better one. I have thought that rigorously applying these rules to starships would help explain the economic viability of small tramp traders: they are cheap.


    • “I have thought that rigorously applying these rules to starships would help explain the economic viability of small tramp traders: they are cheap.”


      Just make sure that they still can’t compete with the big shippers for the big lots – but can (if they can beat back all the other poor-but-hungry competition) still squeeze out a profit in small lots, and high-pay/high-risk work…


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