Global Trade made Easy

The Rug Merchant: Arnedeo Simonetti
There is a class in D&D that your players aren't necessarily interested in playing, but they are a big piece of what makes our worlds work. The Merchant class! This stuff doesn't sound like it effects the players, but it does. It effects them a great deal. It is they who the roads were built for, and it is they that allow civilizations to become empires. Only by working together as a whole is civilization possible.



I have already written an article about basic trade and gave a brief outline of how it functions on a local and national level. What it does is it helps you develop color, and purpose to your NPCs which in turn makes them easier to run. It is a little game that you get to play all by yourself during prep. 

It will tell you what kinds of things will be in the stores, give you a quick NPC template so you can keep things both fast and consistent when inventing on the fly, and make the world seem viable.



Naturally, in D&D, we aren't playing a real Medieval world, but a glamorized and modern take on what we wish that the world was like. We needn't be overly focused on Social Studies, but if we add just a few basics to our games it adds a psychological element which helps everyone at the table suspend their disbelief, not to mention that it does give us some solid adventure hooks to work with.


In brief, locals trade with locals so that everyone can live better. Small populations supply large populations with raw materials needed for finished goods, these finished goods move out and other finished goods from other communities move in, which improves the quality of life for everyone.



There are limitations. A region can grow the best peaches in the realm, but fruit is a difficult product to move because it rots, this restricts how far away the peaches can be moved. The farmer loads up the peaches and sells them in town, that is now the problem of somebody else. Technology dictates how far away the product can get, rivers can move product faster than roads, but these peaches are good sellers!

The town takes a good load of peaches into a city, and sells them to a merchant who has developed a new technology; he can turn those peaches into brandy which is no longer a perishable item, in fact, this brandy is highly prized and everybody wants some, which draws attention to the regions peaches. The royals who live far away will pay a lot of gold to have special orders of peaches quickly carried to them, and will do whatever it takes to keep this supply line open. The merchants will be making a killing on this product and take care of the people all the way down the line. This translates into power, and from a DM stand point, this stuff writes itself.



Naturally, most rural places won't have these peaches, but they will have other things. If we look at the area, we can generally decide how this network makes its living. A town high up in the mountains mining metal will have to have a lot of stuff shipped in just to survive up there.

FOOD, WATER, SHELTER these are the basics of survival. Grain and ancient mans ability to master it is what gave birth to culture. It isn't glamorous, but without grain the nation starves. Society is also dependent on water and man's ability to move it where it needs to go. Irrigation, supplying enough water for everyone in a city and moving dirty water out is required. There can be a rich supply of gold somewhere, but unless there is water for the miners it is going to stay there.



Then you have trees, this is a finite resource that had to be planned wisely. A large castle out in the boonies, though it looks like it is a stone structure, requires entire forests of timber to build. We don't need to go all realistic on our game, but timber is definitely a valuable resource, everybody wants it! All of our fancy cities and towns need wood to expand, it is used for everything from barrels, to carts, to ships, not to mention providing fuel. There is never enough wood, but what if a northern nation who can't grow grain has a huge surplus of lumber? This is when our worlds can expand!


Via: Pinterest
Global trade helps us on an even larger scale. Just as trade can help us figure out local politics, find adventure hooks, and provide color on a local level, this helps us color places that may not even be on our maps! We never have to draw them, either, they are just out there.



Lets say that the barbarians of the north exist. They have large cuts of meat, a surplus of fir, and wood. Now lets say that one of the tribes has become almost civilized, well, civilized enough to want to trade for some of our Iron. Politics will tell us that chances are that this brute is making steel, but we out number him and eating nothing but goat and fish is boring.



We also know that the other barbarian tribes aren't going to just stop attacking our northern border, but this union might give us a foothold and allow us to make some threats. We'll tell the barbarian “King” that we'll trade. We know he is planning an attack, but so are we. We covet those trees and eventually we'll push the barbarians back, and give more power to this so called King as long as he is behaving.



None of this will matter to the folks who have to live on the norther border, but we DMs will know it, and use this information to help us figure out what is going on.



Politics! Politics is a hard concept to grasp, but if we use global trade this abstract idea is easier to manage.



Lets get to the lists, shall we? 

I don't care if you use Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, or whatever; this stuff will be present. I'm going to use real world terms and let you figure out where this stuff goes. These products are a sampling of global trade during the medieval ages, now keep in mind that these resources are large enough that a nation or region can afford to trade them off for stuff that they don't have, so at least one of these items will appear on a detailed play map. You don't want the country that the players are actively in trading something like tin without ever seeing a single community dedicated to extracting this resource. It is meant to be a tool to help you world build faster.


BRITISH ISLES
  • Coal
  • Textiles
  • Tin

SCANDINAVIA
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Tallow
  • Timber

NORTHERN EUROPE
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Lead
  • Silver
  • Wine
  • Textiles
  • Coal

EASTERN RUSSIA
  • Amber
  • Flax
  • Fur
  • Hemp
  • Honey
  • Slaves
  • Tallow
  • Timber
  • Wax
  • Whalebone

THE BALKANS
  • Carpets
  • Copper
  • Gold
  • Horses
  • Iron
  • Mercury
  • Paper
  • Precious Stones
  • Silver
  • Slaves
  • Textiles

NORTH AFRICA
  • Cotton
  • Gold
  • Ivory
  • Salt
  • Slaves

WEST AFRICA
  • Gold
  • Ivory
  • Precious Woods
  • Slaves

MIDDLE EAST
  • Animals
  • Carpets
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Naphtha
  • Paper
  • Textiles

WESTERN CHINA
  • Carpets
  • Copper
  • Drugs
  • Gold
  • Indigo
  • Iron
  • Precious Stones
  • Precious Woods
  • Textiles

EASTERN CHINA
  • Brocade
  • Fine Textiles
  • Jade
  • Rhubarb
  • Silk
  • Slaves

SOUTH EAST ASIA/PHILIPPINES
  • Brocade
  • Camphor
  • Porcelain
  • Satin
  • Silk
  • Sugar
  • Taffeta
  • Tea

INDONESIA
  • Aromatics
  • Drugs
  • Gold
  • Precious Wood
  • Spices
  • Tin

INDIA
  • Ambergris
  • Aromatics
  • Cowries
  • Drugs
  • Indigo
  • Ivory
  • Precious Stones
  • Spices
  • Textiles
  • Tortoise Shell



This list is fascinating, and tells us a ton of information in very little space. Naturally, not all of these countries trade, either because of vast distances, or because they were politically opposed to each other.



You can google for endless examples of major and minor trade routes and how they worked. Here is an example of one I like, though it is a bit earlier than the specific age we are focusing on, it gives a great guideline.

Source:  http://www.freeman-pedia.com/classical-600-bce-600-ce/


Those long trade routes over land are interesting. Naturally the people who use them trade their way along, but they are crossing boarders, and it is in each country's best interests to maintain and protect these roads. You can see politics at work!



Now, naturally, with a fantasy map of just part of the world, we won't know all of this information, but it still shows how things were shipped, and just how vast that even an early network could be in a time where pop history likes to point out how terrible these peoples lives were.



I want to say that much of this was built during the Roman empire, but I would lay money that these ancient routes are still used even today.

What we get from figuring this stuff out is a chance to show off. We can give news from far away lands, figure out how political conflict would interfere with trade, follow culture and customs back to their source, introduce exotic elements, religions, and customs, and keep entire populations busy with very little fuss.

FURTHER READING:



4 comments:

Martin Aaby said...

A lot the theory here is how I build my latest campaign-world. Trading(money) is usually what makes the world go around, and so each location had a function to the rest of the world via trading, and is also why my biggest cities contains ports and are the biggest hubs, while further into the land, the settlements are smaller and more dependent on raw resources.
Thinking in this manner really helps connect the world and answers a lot of "how" and "why" the players might have. By connecting the world like this, I've become a lot better of quickly improvising smart answers for my players.
It also works on small between NPCs and their relation to each other.

Ripper X said...

Thanks Martin. Well stated! I am horrible about writing huge walls of pompous text to express an idea. It is difficult to pluck this stuff out of my mind.

Demographics, Economy, & Politics

These three ideas are connected and it is always these three staples which cause movement and allow us to write less and get more out of what we have.

I have noticed a psychological trend among the more vocal users of the game to remove politics from the game, when D&D has always been a political game. It is a tool that can explore different ways of thinking, but you've got to be impartial.

Theseus said...

Great article as usual, and shout out to naphtha!

Also, did you ever play the Super Nintendo game, "Uncharted Waters: New Horizons?" It was an open world, age of sail game in which you could do pretty much anything including trade. I still have common trade routes and regional specialties stuck in my head from that game, all these years later.

Ripper X said...

Not that one Theseus, but I did play a lot of "Port Royal 2" for the PC, it sounds very similar. You start out as a merchant and build capital till you can become a privateer, or risk everything and take up a life of straight up piracy. The trade part worked great, but the fighting mechanics really sucked.

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