Tuesday, April 28, 2015

How to Start a Trading Town II

Town Business

Having reached the nearest large city to your proposed future trading town [see post one], you have business to do.  You should still be taking every effort to keep your DM in the dark, so mind that you be careful how you phrase your questions.

This first venture into town is largely a fact-finding mission.  Here is what you need to know:  what is the cost of raw, broken stone (tell your DM that you're looking to build some rock walls), the cost of mortar, the cost of wood . . . and most of all, the price you'll be paid if you sell any of this material back to the town.

That is how you want to present it.  First, let me explain that you're not actually going to buy these things - right now, you're just in town to price them.  Tell the DM you haven't actually made any plans on what to build, so you don't know how much you'll need.  This is really just a smoke screen. The piece of information you really, truly need to obtain is that crucial, "How much will the carpenter or the mason pay me if I bring back wood that I've bought, that I'm not going to use."

Do not ask, "How much are ordinary people paid for hauling this stuff into town."  That's actually what you want to know, but you absolutely do not want to put this suggestion into the DM's mind.  What you really, truly want is for the DM to give you a ridiculously low price for returned goods.  In fact, the lower the better!  This may sound undesirable, but trust me.  If there is any way you can get the DM to commit to a raw materials price that is as low as possible, you win.  Why will become clear in a moment.

Remember, you are always looking to get the DM to commit to prices.  I don't have this problem as a DM, as my prices are determined by a system and not by my 'feelings.'  Chances are, however, that it is you against the DM's reaching into his or her own ass for the numbers, so play for numbers as low as possible.

The other thing you want to do is buy some futures.  This isn't a world of stock markets, but you may trust that there were 'futures' in medieval times.  Our goal is to buy a huge amount of beer, wine, honey and dried meat three or four months from now.  When I say huge, I mean HUGE.  If at all possible, spend 10-20,000 g.p. on it.  You will need it and it will make all the difference.  Make it clear that you're willing to give the merchants half the money in advance, right now, even though you don't want the product for as many months as you say.  The deal is, they get half the money, then they ship the product to you, whereupon you'll pay them the balance.  The key here is for the DM to understand that if they DON'T ship the product, not only will you not pay these merchants, you'll be back in town demanding your down payment back.

This puts the onus of hauling all this beer and wine on THEM, the merchants.  If you try to haul these goods back yourself, the DM will undoubtedly hit you with bandits.  So don't carry it.  Just get back to your little plot of land and wait for the stuff to arrive.

Why are you buying all this?  Oh, they'll be workmen to feed and make happy, and you're thinking about building a tavern.  Maybe.  Make sure the deal is struck and don't explain what the deal is meant to accomplish.

This is it.  Don't buy any bulk materials.  You should probably buy half a dozen axes, an equal number of shovels, pick axes and sledgehammers, plus one wagon.  But drive back with the wagon empty, because you do not need to be buying things in this town that you will haul back yourself.

Home Business

Once you've come back home and killed whatever creature the DM has decided to have co-opt your land, you're ready to play your hand a bit.  Here's what you should have had the DM confirm:

  • the existence of people that will be nearer to you than they are to the large city you visited.
  • a confirmation (through exploring) that there are no other large towns nearby.
  • the ownership of your land (get a bill of sale!).
  • the price the city will pay for goods.

Chances are, your DM will try to reneg on any of these things, simply because DMs are dicks and they don't like being forced to live up to their statements.  See, usually a DM feels that the players are so out of control that the rules or information can be shifted whenever and however the DM personally feels it.  You have to know that if you start this plan, and your DM starts dicking with you, that to have any self-esteem at all you're going to have to rise from the table, call the DM several deserved names and storm out.

As an aside, I have occasionally thrown a player out of my campaign.  This is nothing to the number of times I have been dicked, screwed over and fucked with by DMs who could not understand that their word was their bond.  Conscientious incorruptibility is rare among DMs.

That said, let's continue.

You now need to put the word out to all the people, all around, that you are prepared to pay 50% more money than the city will for raw timber, stone, sand, gravel or clay . . . so long as these things are brought to you.  You'll pay cash on the barrel head, up front, no questions asked - you don't care where it's from or what it is.

See, you need raw materials and you need the locals to understand you will pay for these things.  If it were a real setting and you were offering good money for a bucket of rocks, no matter what the size, people all around would drop what they were doing and go out to dig up rocks for you.  This is human nature.

Now, if your DM tells you that the locals have a 'deal' with the city, or that they are 'used to' bargaining with the city, recognize that your DM is grasping at straws to keep you from doing what you're doing - without even knowing what that is.  Right now, if it were not for the title of the post, YOU, the reader, wouldn't be sure where this was going.  Imagine how the DM is going to feel!  Something is up, the DM doesn't know what it is, but this feels like a really bad thing that is going to work out for the player and not the DM . . . so get ready for ridiculous arguments and attempts to block you.

Remind the DM that nobody, ever, would be willing to travel twice the distance for one third less the profit, even if the laws said they had to!  Does your DM not acknowledge a black market?  Are there soldiers wandering the countryside arresting people for hauling logs in the wrong direction?  Is it illegal to fill wagons with gravel?

The more your DM argues this, the more your DM will look like an idiot.

Assuming your DM has a brain and not just an ego, people from the hinterland will start flooding towards your little piece of land.  The best way to get the word out is to ride around, give out some silver pieces as gifts to anyone you meet, explain what you're willing to buy and how much you're willing to pay . . . then sit back and watch the stuff roll in.

You should get all the timber you want and all the stone you want for less that its price in the city, plus it will be delivered to you.  Of course, you will need to have enough money to pay for this, no matter how much shows up.  This is the real problem you face, the real crisis the DM will create for you.  The danger that more material will arrive than you can pay for, and that the people who don't get your money for hauling wood and stone as far as your land get nothing for it.

Thus, you need a lot of capital to start this.  At least 50-60 thousand gold pieces, probably more, and possibly you should look into a loan in the city if this money starts depleting fast.  Remember, you just dropped 20,000 gold on beer, so the city usurers will see you as a terrific opportunity.

As the people start drifting towards your riverbank, your little bit of coast, your spot on the prairie or your place below the mountain pass, they will start to make pathways.  The stone and wood will tear up the soil and the travellers will naturally pick the shortest and best routes from the largest villages around you, so remind your DM that this will serve to mark out where the population in the hinterland is settled.  You won't have to search around for them - a dozen eight-ton wagons will make a nice trail that you can follow back to their source.

In our next post, we will be talking about how to deal with people - both the locals and the inevitable administrators.  Your DM is almost certainly going to think, "I will shut these people down by making the local lord pissed at them."  We will talk about what to do when this happens.


  1. I am diligently bookmarking these in hopeful preparation of the returning online game. :-)

  2. Ah, but as it is based on the real world can we find a proper spot?

    Probably, I'm guessing the raids impede town development (and trade).

    We would probably need to find a way to establish an unusual relationship to hold a trading port.

  3. Oddbit,

    Don't take this as railroading, but I have already dropped you into the perfect spot.

    You're on a stretch of coastline on the Azov Sea, in the Kingdom of Cumana, which has no ports whatsoever in existence on that sea. There are only two ports altogether on the Azov - the town of Azov, in the mouth of the Don, which is not a trading port but a military transshipment point controlled by the Ottoman Empire. The small enclave surrounding Azov is in turn an island in enemy territory. Neither the Don Cossacks, the Cumanese nor the Russians want the Turks there.

    Thus, the stretch of coastline you're on could be a neutral trading port for all three of those Turkish enemies.

    Finally, the actual, precise stretch of coast that the online party is standing on is today the Giant Port of Taganrog, founded in 1698 in Earth's history - 47 years from the party's arrival.

    Remember, I had Andrej's church pick the site. This was not coincidence.

    But my world is not a railroad, so please feel free to walk away from it.

  4. I neglected to mention the other port - that's Cherzeti, the only market on the Azov Sea, that controls the narrow inlet between the Azov Sea and the Black Sea.

  5. Oh yeah, I mean, I wasn't going to say we DIDNT have a good spot, just implying it exists due to some interesting political situations most likely that will have their own challenges.

    Which of course is the situation. Why would anything particularly rewarding be EASY.

  6. I want more, more !

    Definitely inspiring, if any of my players were to have that kind of idea, it'd be glorious and I'd be happy to help.

  7. Hello again Alexis,

    I am quite sorry for this second post, but I have a burning question.

    Do you have a list of recommended readings concerning Economics, Politics, Social Structures, Geography and all those subjects needed for a good "World-Building" ?

    If you say "everything is in the book", that's well enough for me ;) . I'm not yet there, but I'm close to be able to get it and read it. And be addicted ...

  8. I'm afraid a reading list isn't that simple.

    My book will help strengthen your thinking, help you organize your efforts so that you waste less time - but if you want to dig into the subjects you've mentioned, you'll have to look for introductions for each.

    There is no shortcut to education.

  9. Well, it was worth asking if there were valuable authors ^^, but I'll continue to dig.

    No shortcut to education, yes, but one can always ask for good directions ;)

  10. Forgive me, Vlad. I've never been comfortable with 'reading lists.' There are so many useful, excellent books in the world, on virtually every subject. I'm hesitant to hammer anyone into the experience with reading I've happened to have. We're both MUCH better off if you're reading things I haven't, in fact, read, as that increases the chance that you will bring perspective to this blog that I haven't got. If you just read the same books I've read, then you're just treading the same ground. Where's the sense in that?

    I presume you have the tenacity to find a bookshelf full of, say, introductory books about economics or politics. The real talent is not in finding the right books, but in not wasting your time reading the wrong ones.

    Take it from me; if you start a book that demands you force yourself to reach the end of the first three pages, you're either not ready for the book or the book is crap. Drop it and start another. This will enable you to cut through much of the dreck that exists, shortening the time between reading books that will be helpful. If a book is legitimately good (but you had trouble reading it), you will hear it mentioned again and again in other books. Eventually, you will come back to that book again.

  11. That suggestion Alexis leads me to believe the library is the best place to start. Hit up economics and just start grabbing likely books of the shelf for the first three pages.

    Save a librarian, put it back where you found it!

  12. Nothing to forgive, you’ve done nothing except giving good advice, as you’ve done once again there ^^. And yeah, no sense treading the same ground, especially as I can come here and read your blog and your thoughts.

    “The talent is not in finding the right books, but in not wasting time reading the wrong ones”. Ah, that is true. And noting references for useful books too.

    Well, I was already going to subscribe to my local library thanks to your posts before, and you give even more incentive there ! Will probably get a strange look from my girlfriend, though ^^.

    Thanks !


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