Trade in the Tablelands



Apr 23, 2004 16:20:44
Nagypapi was kind enough to offer me a great original idea for a short-lived campaign, involving the plight of the small-time trader, that I could run during the summer to give everyone in my gaming group a break from our regular setting. As such, I have a couple of trade-related questions I'd like to hear other people's opinions on.

--Firstly, its well established that Athas, especially the Tablelands, has a series of trusted trade routes that run from city-state to city-state with villages and forts in between. What I don't follow is who builds/maintains these trade roads and if anyone claims ownership of them. Are traders charged a toll to make use of the trade routes? If so, to whom do they pay the toll?

--Secondly, on the matter of forts. From The Wanderer's Chonicle, my only source for Athasian geography/culture, it appears that each fort is owned by one of the large merchant houses (Shom, Stel, Vordon, etc.). Do these forts serve their respective merchant houses exclusively or do they permit caravans from other houses (small or large) to seek shelter behind their walls? If this is the case then I'd assume there's a price to be paid? Any thoughts one what a merchant house might charge its competition to seek shelter from a freak sandstorm?

--Thirdly, I know that the caravans of large houses are comprised of one or more mekillot-drawn covered wagons, any number of smaller open wagons, outriders on kanks and crodlus, and numerous armed guards, but what would a small trade house’s caravan consist of? I'd assume it'd be a stripped down version of the above, but I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts on what “bare essentials” a smaller merchant concern would want to travel the wastes with in order to a) save money and b) survive the trip.

--Finally, in line with my first question I had some additional thoughts. Would smaller merchant houses invest in a trailblazing project (i.e. paying a group of "scouts" to find a new route across the wastes in order to avoid the larger merchant houses that might not take kindly to upstart competition)? Anyone have any thoughts on this?

I'd like to thank Nagypapi for his awesome campaign idea. Its made the Dark Sun setting all the more tangible and approachable for me.




Apr 24, 2004 9:20:53
Are you familiar with the Dune Trader accessory? It's an entire accessory based on exactly what you're trying to do. The PDF can be purchased for $5, if you're interested.


Apr 24, 2004 13:39:47
I'm familiar with Dune Trader and I remember having a copy of it at one point, although I don't think I'll be getting a PDF of it any time soon (I'm having a little spat with SV Games, but that's another story for another time). Anyway, I recall it going into detail regarding the dynastic merchant houses and a few of the smaller trade concerns too. I also recall it shows what a large caravan looks like, but does it cover what a group of characters might do to start their own merchant house or how one might go about scouting a new trade route? My memory's a little hazy, so any information you could provide would be most appreciated.




Apr 24, 2004 16:01:29
It actually has a nice section on "Getting Started", ideas on how players get the funds to start up their caravan; either from earning it themselves, forming a partnership with a rich individual, or leasing out their services to larger, established Houses.

It also has a very nice chart and map to show the trade routes, what city exports and imports what, etc.

It's far too much information for my to type out, since it's pretty detailed.


Apr 25, 2004 0:42:04
I have ran small dune traders before. I liked it. It is really good to see your players advance in wealth in Dark Sun.

Be sure to randomly determine challenges they face. ie, monsters, raiders etc. Be sure they face and overcome challenges. If they don't, they will either have to start over....or die.

Just remember, raiders are as greedy as merchants, if the players offer to give them a portion of this goods every time they pass through that route, the raiders just might let them live. And raiders can also discourage competition.

Life is a bargan.


Apr 25, 2004 15:15:46
I had a player play as 2ed. Trader and have lots of fun.
Things to remember:
1. Supply and Demand- the fun thing is to create rumors/news of whats going on in different cities which inversely affect the economy. Drought in Urik: Water prices high. War between tribes: demand of weaponry and mercenaries. This forces the merchants to think where to go next.
2. There is no honor among Merchants, and depending on the personalities and the House there is little in the House.
3. Bribery, Espionage, Subterfuge. The Houses always need to know about their competition and the conflict can be as huge as U want it, open warfare v. behind the shadows.
And don't forget the importance of bribery, hired hands are not always loyal and will always keep an eye open for more wealth.
4. City-States and "The MAN". Houses could be considered competitors to many City-State businesses and could be restricted on what they do in the City. Templar spies are not uncommon. And never forget the taxes and tariffs, this can affect the merchant's decision alot.
5. Making friends. Allies are very important to Traders, if it be a bodyguard, slave tribe, or templar contacts. Actually it might be interesting to use the Reputation and Contact rules found in d20 Modern and UA.

Thats all I can think of right now.
Kind of a 101 Trader ideas. hehe
Hope that helps.


Apr 26, 2004 11:30:27
Smaller trade caravans using mainly kanks to tow a wagon. Inix has too long tail for that. We just have a DS session on this weekend, and we had a caravan of a private trader (not in league with any trade house). It consisted 6 closed wagons towed by two kanks, every wagon had a driver/animal handler, and they had a small mercenary group (8 warrior plus a leader guy) as protection, also on kanks.

For bigger caravans howdahs on inix is also used. Mekillot-towed caravan wagons are only used by the rich traders (traders working for a merchant house), as the cost of purchase and operation is enourmous. (Mekillots need psionic handler, etc.)


Apr 26, 2004 12:17:34
To address some of the original questions:

Who maintains the trade routes?
Several options here: the city-states maintain them for a portion of the way (in their best interest to promote trade); the main trading houses maintain them (leads to more political intrigue as they battle over who pays for them, rival houses disrupt them, etc); slave tribes maintain them (for a fee and to make resupply easier); even raiders could maintain them (what better way to make sure you get a piece of the pie and that no caravan is missed? More caravans means more opportunities.)

Do the forts serve only their own houses? I don't think that would be wise. There simply aren't enough resources out in the wilds to provide for each house having its own forts for every trade route. it would not be cost effective. If I run from Balic to Nibenay only once a season, I'll pay the fee to stay in a rival House's fort. This means that if I want to stay there, I cannot bar that house from my forts along the Tyr-Urik route. A little interdepence would necessarily develope. And staying at a rival house's fort offers the chance for a little espionage.

Trailblazing- It makes more sense for the smaller houses to invest in trailblazing and other risky endeavors than the bigger houses. The smaller houses have much more to gain by a little speculative investing. Rather than get swallowed up by the major houses by using established routes, setting your own route- especially if it is more efficient- can be very lucrative. The best payoff always goes to the innovators. But it really depends on the personality of the trader. How much of a gambler is he?