Continuing with my effort to expand your campaign options in Star Trek Adventures, I’m here today with a new mechanic for Ferengi characters! Sure they’re one of the goofiest species in Star Trek, sure they were a failed attempt at a nefarious enemy in The Next Generation, but if you watched Deep Space Nine and don’t have a soft spot for these big-eared weirdos then you’re dead inside.
It should become quickly evident to people that this system is heavily inspired by the Obligation system in Edge of the Empire. It just fits so well, so why reinvent the wheel? Of course with Ferengi we don’t have to beat around the bush: we’re talking cash obligations here. Ferengi deal in gold-pressed latinum so when they have owe something it is always and entirely a matter of money.
What Is a Debt?
In simple terms, Debt is a financial obligation hanging over the head of your character. It can come in many forms but it represents the business connections that Ferengi develop without actually detailing every transaction. In the game, your Debts will come into play to complicate your life, put you in touch with NPCs, and generally drive the plot along with your business interests leading the way. Which is as it should be.
Each Debt consists of two parts:
- A title and description to say how the debt fits into the game world. You can establish who the debt is owed to or leave that as something to come up in the game. Even if you establish who is owed, debts are bought and sold all the time so a new debtor might enter the story later.
- A numeric value which gives both a sense of how massive the debt is (without tracking individual bars of latinum) but also for game mechanics.
|Type of Debt|
|1-2||Loan. Your Debt is a simple transaction: you borrowed some money and you are going to pay it back with interest. The trouble is that you haven’t been able to pay it back yet and that interest is piling up. The value in this case might represent the size of the loan or the size of the interest rate. Possible Complications include Accounts Overdrawn, Loan Trading Hands, or Depreciating Colateral.|
|3-4||Contract. You’ve agreed to provide some service or complete some objective for a business contract. This might be procuring exotic goods, supplying a utility, or evicting some squatters. Whatever the contract details, it should something that can be called a little at a time to prolong the story opportunities. Not completing the contract, of course, would mean serious financial repercussions that would wipe you out. Possible Complications include Terms Renegotiated, Clock Is Ticking, or Surprise in the Fine Print.|
|5-6||Partnership. Your Debt is technically a partnership with another businessman, but it’s an unequal partnership. You might co-own a company or you might be part of the production line that they also occupy. Being the weaker side in the partnership means that your “partner” is always looking for a way to force you out and take over for themselves. If you don’t keep up with the demands of the arrangement you could lose all your stake. Possible Complications include Short-Notice Order, Whisper Campaign, or Weak Reputation.|
|7-8||Betrayal. Ferengi don’t bother with personal grudges, only business ones. However, you don’t always do business with Ferengi and other species get a bit touchy when they let their emotions get involved. At some point in the past you hurt some non-Ferengi financially and they hold it against you. The Trade Alliance regular trades with the Nausicaans, the Orions, the Pakled, and many others who aren’t the forgiving type. Possible Complications include Enforcer Sent to Intimidate, Price On Your Head, or Now They’ve Found You.|
|9-10||Blackmail. This is exactly the sort of business dealing that every Ferengi tries to avoid. You have to pay money to someone and get nothing of value in return. Instead you avoid negative value. Determining what your blackmail is and the repercussions for you if it becomes public should be something you work out with your GM, possibly in secret from the rest of the players. Possible Complications include Pay Now or We Tell, They’ve Upped the Price, or Secrets Beget Secrets.|
|11-12||Long Term Investment. A while ago you bought something that is sure to appreciate over time. It might be rare wine, valuable metals, or even cultural artifacts. Whatever it is, it’s a surefire money-maker… some day. Until that day, you have to keep your nest egg safe and your lobes to the ground waiting for just the right moment to cash in. Possible Complications include Unexpected Storage Fees, A Rival Manipulating the Market, or Someone Claims They Own Your Investment.|
|13-14||Collections. You had a loan, business, or supply contract and things went downhill. Now you owe a lot of money and you’re barely keeping ahead of foreclosure. Until you figure out how to get back in the black, as the Huumons call it, you will have to keep worrying about collections agents showing up and repossessing your assets. Possible Complications include Empty Storerooms, They’re Coming Back in a Week, or Your Best Stuff Out the Door.|
|15-16||Criminal Enterprise. The 165th Rule of Acquisition states “Never allow one’s culture’s law to get in the way of a universal goal: profit.” You took that to heart and engaged on a highly illegal enterprise. Maybe it worked or maybe it didn’t but you hardly got away without a trace. Now you’re questioning the profitability as you keep having to spend profits on staying ahead of the law. Possible Complications include Fresh Bribes Needed, An Old Confederate is Visiting, or Your Cover Identity is Slipping.|
|17-18||Employment. Your Debt is the opposite of most. Rather than owing money to someone, you get money! The trick is that you’re in their employ and in Ferengi culture that means you have very little recourse when they say to do something. Your contract is somewhat loose and whatever you do it comes up infrequently, but getting out of this employment contract would mean financial ruin so for now you’re stuck. Possible Complications include The Boss Has a Job, No You Don’t Get Vacation Days!, or Work/Life Imbalance.|
|19-20||Lease. You are leasing a vessel, shop, factory, or some other means of making a profit. The terms of the lease are calculated into your business model but having someone else ultimately in control of your means of profit can be difficult. When the leaser changes the terms or something unexpected comes up, it means an existential problem for your livelihood. Possible Complications include The Rent Just Doubled, Say Goodbye to Your Security Deposit, or I’ve Got a Better Tennant’s Offer on the Table.|
Ideally, the group would start with a Debt total of around 40 to 60 points. For a six-player group, for example, this means 5-10 Debt per player while for a two-player group it’s more like 20-30 Debt. It’s not that larger groups are less prone to accruing big debts, think of it from a story perspective: if there’s a large cast the story has lots of little threads to pull, while a pair of desperate Ferengi make an interesting story if there’s one massive problem they’re trying to solve.
Additionally, each player has the option of adding additional Debts for some starting bonuses. It’s recommended that players not gain more Debt in this way than their original starting value. Players also have the option of repaying Debts during the game to reduce their value as described later. For every 5-point starting Debt that a player chooses (or for every 5 points they add to an existing Debt) they gain one of the following benefits.
- Good Branding: You start with 14 Reputation instead of the usual 10. Your gains and losses of Reputation after the start of the campaign are handled as normal, though. Choosing this option additional times adds +3 to your starting Reputation to a maximum of 20.
- Hired Help: You start every mission with one point of Crew Support. This is identical to (and stacks with) the Supervisor Talent. Like that Talent, you may only choose this benefit once.
- Liquid Funds: You start every mission with two points of Momentum usable only for paying Opportunity Costs for equipment.
- Personal Insurance: The first time you use Determination in a mission, if you fail at the Task you attempted you can pay 2 Momentum to retain the point of Determination. You may only choose this benefit once.
- Prudent Investment: The Player Character possesses an item with an Opportunity Cost of 1 (and an Escalation Cost no greater than 1) which is always with you at the start of a mission.
Debts in Play
Every session, the GM rolls a percentile die (1d100) to see if the financial obligations of the Player Characters are pressuring them. If the result of the percentile roll is higher than the total Debt of the Player Characters then nothing happens: they are staying ahead of their Debts and not feeling the squeeze just now.
However, if the result is equal to or less than the group’s total Debt then some bill has come due or debtors are leaning on one of the Player Characters. The roll also determines which Debt is exerting the pressure (see Debt Chart below) and that Player Character begins the mission with a Complication related to their Debt. Unlike other Complications, this one can’t be removed with a Task or Momentum: it stays around for the entire mission.
If the roll is equal to or less than the Debt total for the group and it is doubles (i.e. a result of “22” or “44”) then the effect of this pressure is greater as the debtors lean on the character’s business associates as well, meaning the other Player Characters. In this case, there is a Complication related to the Debt that affects the whole group (and can’t be removed, as described above) and the character whose Debt was triggered does not start with the normal point of Determination (though they can earn Determination as normal during the course of the mission).
The group’s Debts are totaled to determine how often their business obligations come up in play. When a Debt is triggered you look at the group’s Debt Chart to see which specific Debt is being triggered. Debt Charts are unique to each group and should be constructed by the GM at the start of the campaign (and modified afterwards as needed). Write each Debt on a separate line, noting the character (or characters) it belongs to and use the value of the Debt to create ranges of results. When you roll and trigger a Debt, the exact Debt is then decided by the particular result of the percentile die.
For example, let’s say that four Ferengi Player Characters (Brok, Gol, Krit, and Deg) are the Main Characters of a new campaign. The GM assigns them all 10 Debt to start with and both Gol and Deg decide to take on five additional points of Debt for starting benefits: Gol just adds to his original Debt while Deg takes a second minor Debt. The GM constructs the following Debt Chart for this group.
|d100 Result||Character||Debt Type|
At the start of a session, the GM rolls to see if one the group’s Debts are triggered. A result of 50 or lower means that it is and this session the GM rolls a 41. Deg’s Loan is weighing on his finances and he has a Complication called “Interest Rate Hike.”
It’s generally assumed that the financial concerns of Supporting Characters are minor enough that they don’t drive the story (the gains and losses experienced by Rom, for example, never really come up but he’s often roped into his brother’s problems). If a Supporting Character becomes important to the story, however, or if a Main Character leaves and the player takes up a Supporting Character as their new main then adding that character’s Debt and adjusting the Debt Chart is certainly applicable.
The Complications that result from a Debt being triggered can really be anything, but here are a few categories to help Gamemasters in establishing Complications during their campaigns.
- Social Conflict Complications are probably the easiest route to go, and they will have more impact in a Ferengi-centered campaign. Whenever a character affected by this Complication tries to strike a deal with someone, negotiate passage on a ship, or reassure someone that they can be trusted, the other party can easily respond with “Oh yeah? I heard you can’t even pay your power bills.”
- Limited Resource Complications are issues of frozen assets or drained accounts. These Complications come up whenever an affected character tries to obtain some goods or bribe someone: they might instead find that their account reads Insufficient Funds. If these Complications persist for a few scenarios it might mean some additional Traits for the characters’ ships or businesses to reflect being in poor repair or having skipped maintenance.
- Hostile Parties Complications are exciting, frightening, kick-in-the-door situations. Whatever is going on with the character’s Debts there are angry enforcers or nosy collections agents poking around. As an alternative, GMs can refrain from defining a Complication when they want to use a situation like this and instead put two Threat towards Reinforcements at some point in the scenario.
- Legal Consequence Complications are trouble with the law, either the Ferengi Trade Alliance or a local government. When trying to talk their way out of trouble, clear customs, or in any other way talking with the government they have the Complication with, affected characters are at a disadvantage since their record could come up in the system at any time.
Settling Debts is as simple (and as difficult) as settling them in real life: you just need to pay your way out. The circumstances might vary since some Debts (such as a loan or collections) might be fixable by cash while others (such as blackmail or a long term investment) might take special circumstances to pay out. There might be specific conditions in the Debt details about settlement (written at character creation) or you might come up with a solution as part of the game. If a scenario ends with a particular windfall, characters might leverage that into settlement for their Debt.
Debts are modified just like any other value through the use of Milestones (see core rulebook, p. 139-). After an adventure, if the Debt was triggered as part of the scenario, the character can choose to lower that Debt by 5 instead of another of the Normal Milestone choices. If the adventure featured the character prominently, they can use a Spotlight Milestone to lower the Debt by 5 (whether or not it was triggered) in addition to their choice from the Normal Milestone list. This means that a character receiving a Spotlight Milestone in a scenario where their Debt was triggered could use both of their choices to lower their Debt by 10 points. At the end of a story arc, players can choose to lower their Debt by 10 points instead of one of the options on the Arc Milestone list.
Because they get a Spotlight choice and a Normal choice as well, players could use all three to reduce their Debt by 20 points. This could conceivably pay off their obligations at the end of a arc, though they will never truly be free of their Debt as explained below.
Minimum and Maximum Debt
Obligation can’t drop below 5 except under extraordinary circumstances, such as intervention by the Grand Nagus or the death of the debtor and loss of all records. Once the Obligation is paid off (see above) there is still a 5% chance of it somehow affecting the character afterwards: old bills, parties still angry about what happened, a debtor looking to get the character under their thumb again, etc.
Debts can go above 100, however. In this case, the Debt will come up every session until it is lowered below 100 as described above. Additionally, the mental and financial strain of that level of Debt weighs heavily on the characters and prevents them from focusing on much else. All of the PCs in the group gain the Trait In Dire Straits until the Debt drops below 100 and they can only use Determination for Tasks related to fixing the Debt. Effectively, the characters all gain a new Value which is Need to Deal With the Debt that is the only Value they can use for mechanical purposes (other Values remain for story purposes).
Debts will hardly ever start at 100 (and certainly not at the beginning of a campaign) but it can be raised over the course of the campaign to that level.
A great option to tie a group of Ferengi together is to give them a shared Debt. Each character has the same Debt at the same level leading to one collective Debt at an extreme value. Characters might have other Debts (through gameplay or by taking on more at the beginning) but most of the time the Debt that is triggered is the group’s collective Debt and, likely, the impetus for the story. Settling this Debt works as described above but certainly happens in stages with characters using various Milestones to bring the Debt down.
Taking On More Debt
With the rules as written, characters start with a certain amount of Debt
A Small Deal would be something that is everyday, such as the benefits mentioned under Starting Debts (Good Branding, Hired Help, Liquid Funds, Personal Finance, and Prudent Investment). A Medium Deal is something that involves some risk or items of more value, things that require more investment up front. A Large Deal is something that gives a huge advantage or resource to the character like a ship or a profitable business, or something bigger but for a limited period of time. An Astronomic Deal is something that gives you the deed to something big, whether a space station, a business empire, or your own private moon.