Debt and Economic Horror (Debt Rules)

3 January 2020 ☼ MothershipArgos

What frontier subsectors like the Argos Economic Zone lack in safety and quality of life, they typically make up for in freedom of movement: if things get too dicey in one backwater spaceport, you can always move on to the next one, and your troubles are unlikely to follow. Of course, that isn’t much help unless you happen to have access to a prohibitively expensive starship. So what is your average down-and-out spacer to do?

Borrow an eye-wateringly large number of credits from a predatory lender, of course.


Getting Into Debt

Debt is a new rating that works a lot like Stress. It represents your crew’s collective obligation to various creditors. It starts at 0 and has no hard maximum. A high Debt rating is bad.

If you’re lucky” and used the RIG to generate your Mothership character, you might already have a starship and a Debt rating with an organization appropriate to your background. Failing that, a GM can choose to start a new group of players with a starship and a Debt rating, or allow an existing group to mortgage a ship during play.1

A point of Debt is very roughly worth 1mcr (one million credits). A used starship of an appropriate size should typically start a crew at a Debt of 70, but GMs should feel empowered to reduce that somewhat if the crew’s starting ship is significantly below 70mcr in value. A group shouldn’t start with Debt much higher than 70, even if their starship is pricey for its size (jump drives will do that).

The Upside of Debt

Your creditors have a significant incentive to help you keep your ship working to earn the money to pay them back, so a lot of the costs of running the ship are absorbed by your Debt without penalty or bookkeeping. Those include…

When you dock somewhere to refuel and restock the ship, you swipe one of the magnetic cards associated with your Debt and it’s taken care of. No muss, no fuss. For now.

Debt can also be tapped into for certain non-essential purchases. Ship upgrades can be financed at a cost of 1 Debt per 1mcr spent, for example. Work-appropriate cybermods can be similarly purchased, albeit at a worse exchange rate. Debt can also be used to purchase cargo for trade using a method outlined further down in these rules.

Debt generally cannot be converted straight into credits, however. Unscrupulous crews may try things like selling fuel their creditors have purchased for them to a third party, but doing so almost certainly runs the risk of a Debt check.


Debt Checks

When a crew goes a while without paying work, or does something to try to defraud their creditors, or otherwise deserves it, the GM can call for a Debt check. A member of the crew (likely the ship’s captain) rolls d% and attempts to get a result higher than the crew’s Debt rating. If the number is higher, nothing bad happens. If it’s lower, however, find the difference between the result and the crew’s Debt and resolve the appropriate row on the Debt Effect chart.2

Debt Effect

Result Effect
1-4 Consolidation: Reduce Debt by 1 as an outstanding liability is finally paid off completely.
5-8 Dividend: The crew may make an immediate pocket money roll as an asset matures.
9-12 Contentment: Each crew member relieves 1 Stress.
13-16 Credit Limit: The crew cannot spend Debt on non-essential purchases until the next time Debt is reduced.
17-20 Out of Warranty: Each crew member determines the piece of equipment they use most often. It breaks and must be replaced.
21-24 Payroll Issue: Paychecks for the crew’s mercenaries bounce. They must immediately pay each merc one month’s salary out of pocket or they will quit.
25-28 Anxiety: Each crew member gains 1d5 stress.
29-32 Behest: The crew’s creditors demand they do a job for them, at regular pay.
33-36 Fuel Limit: The crew must pay for Fuel out of pocket until the next time Debt is reduced.
37-40 Chaperone: A representative of the crew’s creditors escorts them on their next job. It would be extremely bad for the crew if the rep is harmed.
41-43 Maintenance Limit: The crew must pay for ship repairs out of pocket until the next time Debt is reduced.
44-46 Final Notice: The crew loses all of its outstanding credits to a critically overdue bill.
47-49 Strain: Each crew member permanently reduces their Sanity Save by 1.
50-52 Depression: The crew cannot gain XP until the next time Debt is reduced.3
53-55 Extortion: The crew’s creditors demand they do a job for them, without pay.
56-57 Jump Limit: The crew must pay for Warp Cores out of pocket until the next time Debt is reduced.
58-59 Interest: Increase Debt by 1 as a liability continues to spiral out of control.
60+ Foreclosure: A squad of repos arrives to reclaim your ship, by deadly force if necessary.

Getting Paid

Debt tracks big” income and expenditures. Most contracts that a crew will take pay in the form of reducing their Debt: 1 point for a standard job, 2 or 3 for something more involved, and up to 5 for particularly lucrative heists or acts of heroism (or anti-heroism).

Characters still track little” income and expenditures, however, and a few credits always trickle over into their account after their creditors take their share of any reward. When a crew gets paid for a job, reduce their Debt accordingly and then make a Debt check. On a success, each crew member also gets 1d10 * 1kcr in pocket money. On a failure, in addition to the standard (likely bad) effect, most of the reward goes to paying down their creditors: they only get 1d10 * 100cr in pocket money.

Characters are responsible for purchasing their own equipment, finding lodging/provisions while in port, getting medical attention, and paying for any shore leave or carousing. This comes out of their personal funds: their creditors don’t care about their downtime or physical wellbeing.


Working Off Debt

Besides taking contracts, there are a few other ways crews can earn the big” money needed to pay down their Debt.

Trade

If their ship has a cargo bay, characters may be interested in doing some light trading. Creditors generally like this, as it’s (mostly) reliable and (optionally) honest work. Cargo comes in five types…

Scrap is a wide category that includes junk pulled from derelict ships, but also low-quality ores and literal garbage that could be reclaimed for recycled material.

Consumables are mainly foodstuffs and similar animal products, but may include other miscellany required for survival, such as water and air.

Metal is any material source that could become usable in fabrication with little processing, such as common asteroid yields, relatively intact salvage, or ingots of widely-used alloys.

Goods include both consumer and industrial products, like appliances, ship and machine parts, and even clothing.

Luxuries can be fine versions of items that fall into the Goods category, or other nice-to-have items, such as drugs or rare metals/gems.

A full shipload of Scrap or Consumables is worth 1 Debt, a load of Metal or Goods is worth 2 Debt, whereas a hold full of Luxuries is worth 3 Debt. Most ports produce a surplus of one of those types of cargo, and have a significant demand for a second type. Ports are happy to sell their surplus cargo at cost, and purchase their demanded cargo for 1 additional Debt. At a GMs discretion, cargo types other than these two can be traded in at a port, but that will typically require legwork and/or calling in a favor.

When selling a load of cargo, make a Debt check, adding the number of Cargo Units sold to the d% rolled. In addition to the regular result, the crew can also take pocket money as if they’d gotten paid for a regular contract.

Asteroid Mining

These rules can be used alongside the alpha rules for Asteroid Mining by replacing the following yields with the appropriate cargo types…

Passengers

Characters with a jump-capable ship might try selling access to any cryochambers they’re not using to people looking to travel between systems. Unless their ship is built specifically for transporting large numbers of passengers, however, this income is likely under the table and wouldn’t be large enough to put a dent in their Debt: captains usually charge a rate just high enough to defray some of the cost of Fuel and Warp Cores. Of course, passengers also come with baggage, both literal and figurative, so crews looking for some extra pocket money should consider the risks before taking tourists aboard.


Debt on Prospero’s Dream

These rules can be used with any published material by simply converting job/mission payouts into Debt reduction, or in the case of particularly low value gigs, simply allowing them to pay pocket money directly. Using A Pound of Flesh as an example, most missions on the Dream should be worth 1 Debt. Juicier missions (hacking the Babushka, apprehending Imogene Kane) can be worth 2 or 3 Debt. Anything that solidly resolves a storyline should probably be worth 5 (or more).

Some notable exceptions that should probably pay credits under the table” include harvesting fruit for Sycorax, acting as a Public Defender, most of the Babushka’s errands (except for bodyguard duty), and Cutter’s secret contract”.

Jobs can always give out faction credit” or favors, too, which might be worth more to the characters than credits or Debt relief.


These rules owe a significant debt (lol) to D. G. Chapman’s Bell Peppers and Beef Financial Abstraction Mechanic. Go take a look, and if you like what you see, consider backing their Patreon!


  1. In any case, certainly personify the organization that holds the crew’s Debt: it helps to flavor some of the interactions on the Debt Effect table if you know whether the crew’s creditors are Doctors, or Merchants, or the Police.

  2. This same method can also be used for Stress and Panic checks by tracking Stress on a d% scale. To do this, stretch the default Panic Effect chart out by a factor of 2, and multiply the Stress doled out in play or removed/added by Effect charts by ~3x.

  3. This entry assumes that you are playing with some form of carousing for XP rules, but you can certainly inflict the same penalty while playing with the standard XP rules. It’s just more cruel.