Commerce… in Spaaaace!

Here’s a quick take on doing commerce in Zap!

Space Trucking

For simple “Take this cargo and deliver it” runs, roll the Cargo Bay power of the ship vs. Difficulty 13 for how far (how many scenes) you have to travel before you deliver the cargo and get 1 Wealth Point payoff.  You can use the usual rules for combining powers to boost your roll by narrating how your shticks such as Merchant or Smuggler improve your chances.  The presumption is that this is the best deal you can currently find, and that you’ve cleverly arranged it so that you’re not going out of your way to do the delivery; that is, wherever you find yourself after that many scenes of travel is the destination for your current cargo.  This kind of commerce is incidental to whatever goals you’re pursuing, and should be relatively risk-free; it’s just background texture that give you extra wealth for bothering to make up some details of your merchant activity.

Special Delivery

If you’re hired specifically to take cargo X to place Y, that should be the basis of an adventure, and the GM should make up the details and the payoff in WP.  This would be the meat of a campaign like Firefly, where the PCs are trying to scratch a living.

Space Trading

If you want to be more of a wheeler and dealer, and actually accumulate wealth, then you would buy and sell commodities. You decide how valuable a cargo you want to take on (expressed in terms of Power Level), and the between you and the GM you make up the details of exactly what might be available at your location.  You then pick the power you want to use to acquire it, such as Cargo Bay, Smuggler’s Hidey-hole, Wealth, and apply any narrative “juice” from combination with other powers and shticks to roll against the cargo’s PL roll; if you meet or beat the roll, you get the opportunity to purchase it at the value the cargo rolled.  If that’s acceptable to you, you take it on and make a note of the purchase price; the power you used is now committed until you sell the cargo somewhere.  Subsequently, wherever you go you can try to negotiate a deal to sell it.  Roll the cargo’s PL combined with any narrative juice vs. the Wealth power of the location (depending on the scope of the campaign, this could be a whole planet, a settlement, or even an individual); if the cargo wins, they want to buy it and their offer is whatever they rolled.  If that’s acceptable, they get the cargo and you get a profit (or loss, if you’re desperate) in WP of the selling price vs. the purchase price.

The upshot of all this is that you have considerable leeway in how you trade, and pretty large scope for using your powers and shticks creatively to make trading more interesting and improve your profits, while keeping the amount of book-keeping low (no tracking how much space cargo takes up, what your exact current wealth is and if you can afford to purchase the cargo, what prices various planets have offered in the past, etc.).

  • Valuable cargoes are harder to acquire, but have a bigger margin for profit; cheap cargoes are easier to get, but have smaller profit margins.
  • Poorer buyers are more likely to want what you have, but usually will offer less for it; richer buyers are pickier, but more likely to pay more.
  • There’s an “opportunity cost” to keeping goods until you get the best possible trade.
  • Gains from trade can be much more than just getting paid for delivery, but it’s possible to lose wealth if you’re unlucky or trade poorly.

Zap! or Kapow in Spaaaace!

Since Dan’s interested in changing his Warhammer 40K setting using SavageWorlds over to Kapow! I need to get cracking on writing up a minimal set of the genre-specific rules for changing it from supers to space opera.

Broadly I think these are the areas that need tweaking:


For superheroes, equipment other than vehicles is just an explanation of some heroes’ powers.  For most SF settings, gear matters and players care about it (and upgrading it).  Tentative rule: an item of gear is a power, with its own dice rating, but most gear requires that you have an appropriate Shtick to use it to full effectiveness; roll only 1 die if you don’t have a Shtick that covers it.  E.g. a Blaster might be d8, d8 but you only roll d8 if you lack a Shtick like Soldier or Gunslinger to justify it.  Some characters might still  take a full-fledged Power where the explanation is gear, such as a cyborg with a built-in laser, bought with the usual power rules.


Vehicles will have their own Scope appropriate to the vehicle, so a groundcar would be Scope: Planetary Region, while a in-system shuttle might be Scope: Interplanetary, and a star-cruiser Scope: Interstellar.  There will probably be more Scopes, so you can make distinctions between FTL where travel between nearby stars takes a couple weeks, a couple days, a couple hours, etc.  Movement will be rated in terms of Scenes. One of the things I’ve noticed about travel in RPGS, and in SF RPGS in particular, is beyond a certain point unless travel is insanely dangerous (as in wandering monster rolls every 6 hours) players tend to stop caring about how long trips take; a journey of 10 days is not really any different from a journey of 100 days… both will be blipped over with the exact same hand-waving.  Zap! will address this by requiring that you play out, or at least describe, a scene aboard the ship for each unit of distance traveled (size of unit determined by scope).  Hopefully the scenes will be interesting, since the point isn’t to punish players for wanting to travel longer distances, but to give the act of travel texture so that the trips become more memorable and make longer trips seem longer because you can expect to have and later remember more incidents happening during them.


Similarly, and along the lines of my musings in Clarke’s Law and SF Roleplaying, to make tech seem a bit less magical, we’ll give equipment maintenance ratings (and maybe Advantages/Disadvantages like Low Maintenance/No Maintenance and High Maintenance/Constant Maintenance)  that will also be expressed in terms of Scenes that need to be spent playing out or describing maintenance being done, or else it starts having chances of degrading or malfunctioning.  Scenes will probably require that a character with an appropriate Shtick make a roll, with failure or mishap resulting in having to spend extra money or get replacement parts.  I think this kind of thing is pretty important in SF…even in squeaky clean futures ships like the Enterprise require a ton of work to keep in repair, if the number of episodes where something goes wrong or needs replacement prompting them to make a landing and get in trouble is any indication.  Again the idea is to make sure that there’s some “spotlight time” devoted to players, particularly those who’ve focussed on Shticks like Engineering, doing the things that define this as SF.


We’ll just be using the Template rules from Argh! to handle alien races that have unusual abilities.   We’ll probably also use the Argh! Templates for characters, but with new names if needed (e.g. Magician -> Technician).


I’d like to come up with a simple way of handling commerce and trade, since that’s often important to star-faring SF.  Again this is probably going to be expressed in terms of Scenes rather than tables of trade goods and prices, perhaps with some notion of trading off travel distances and risk vs. profit.

I think that’s the gist of it… but I’m open to suggestion on things I might have overlooked that would be important to an SF campaign that aren’t already covered.