Trade and piracy
The first thing to keep in mind when thinking about trade and piracy within the Astromundi Cluster is the sheer size of the place. From the Fringe to the inner track of the navigational map is 8 billion miles. But the Fringe is still a major player in the trade action, bringing in great chunks of ice that can be melted down for potable water. How can this be possible?
First, the Thoric of the Fringe have the Thoric tradesman, which is an extremely fast and powerful ship. Such ships are vital in moving across the vastness of the Shattered Sphere, and are the main reason the Thoric have survived as traders as long as they have.
The second reason that trade can successfully exist across such vast areas is that people know how to plan for it. Everyone knows that a certain group of traders may not find their way back to them anytime soon, so they buy up all they think will be needed.
Finally, the people of the Astromundi Cluster have some very unique methods of commerce. These methods do not allow for very quick trade, but they do provide for a constant flow of goods and currency along the established trade routes.
Trade routes are the usual method of transporting goods from seller to buyer and market to market. Established trade routes are carefully patrolled by hired swords who protect asteroid trading posts scattered along the routes.
Ships rarely travel an entire trade route from one end to the other. Instead, a ship loads up at one end, transports the goods to a ship at the next trading post and loads up with new goods for the return trip. This process is repeated along the trade route, allowing goods to travel quite a distance while limiting the actual time they spend aboard any one ship. This is not only much easier on the crews of trading vessels, but allows a steady flow of goods along the trading routes.
A list of trade routes follows. The routes are listed from their outermost point to their innermost, with ports of call listed in the order that they are visited.
The Prime Routes
- Donalblan, Trinona, Mitiar, lliman, The Inner Ring
- Highport, Boyarny, Thandilan, Lumura, Deyomad, The Inner Ring
- Hatha, Boyarny, The Varan Group, Ushathrandra, The Inner Ring
- Dalmania, Drachengard, Tronsogard, Khalzan, Calimar, Khel, The Inner Ring
- Doromakhad, Torin, Dashandra, Ushathrandra, Lliman, Atalan, Mordan, Malishan
There are also a number of private trade routes which are not listed above. The Antilans, for instance, maintain a number of routes from the Inner Ring to the Antilan Empire and they allow no one else to use these routes. Most private routes are maintained by a particular government or trading house, and competitors are rather rudely (and violently) prohibited from using them.
While the idea of pirates in the vastness of wildspace does seem somewhat ludicrous, along trade routes it is much more feasible. As merchants have made their lives much easier by establishing set schedules and ship movements, they have also made themselves targets for spelljamming pirates.
The pirates know just where to find the ships that are liable to be most loaded with resalable booty, as well as those that are the farthest from immediate aid. Merchant guards have done a lot to keep pirates in check, but there are still quite a few pirate groups active along the various routes.
More commonly, pirates hide within inhabited asteroid belts, preying on the unwary. Such belts have few established trade routes because the next port is only a few million miles away, less than a day’s trip for many spelljamming craft. This means that there are no “protected” places where traders can travel. They must instead rely on hired swords for protection, which cuts down on their cargo space.
Greedy merchants have tried to “speed run” through pirate infested areas, relying on sheer swiftness to get them through. Because pirates have developed traps and tactics specifically to deal with these “fat purses,” such runs rarely succeed.
The most effective pirates are those of the goblinoid races, who seem to strike at random. The goblinoids have taken up residence in the more remote areas of many asteroid belts, using their stealth and skill at maneuvering to avoid law enforcement and bounty hunters alike.
Human pirates aren’t rare, either. They prefer to work from within the system, hiring on as mercenaries aboard a merchant ship then “liberating” it after the craft is well out into wildspace. Such tactics are even sanctioned by various governments and these “privateers” are granted charters to prey upon the vessels of enemy nations. The illithids are particularly fond of chartering mercenaries to liberate Calidian vessels operating in their territory.
The only types of ship that are proof from the predations of one sort of pirate or another are Antilan vessels. The Sun Mages have a zero-tolerance position on piracy, and have been known to expend massive resources sweeping asteroid fields clear of pirates.
For this reason, pirates steer clear of crystal ships or trading vessels carrying the Antilan banner. All other vessels can count on encountering pirates at one time or another, and should prepare accordingly.
Money is vital to the functioning of any society, and Clusterspace is no exception.
The predominance of Antilan culture has led to a standardized unit of trade exchange known as the bar. A bar is a 1/4 ounce ingot of precious metal, cast and stamped in the Islands of the Sun at the Imperial Foundry and Mint. There are gold, silver, and copper bars, all of which are treated the same as the coins found in other TSR worlds for the purposes of buying and selling equipment. Bars are also available in 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 bar sizes. Because bars are heavier than most coins from outside the Cluster, outlander coins must be converted to bars before they can be used. The normal conversion is 3 coins to the bar.
Among merchants it is common to use scrip in trade agreements. The Trade Houses of the Calidians were the first to introduce the use of paper agreements of payment at a later date, and other merchants quickly caught on. Scrip can be stolen, but is of little value to the thief, because only the authorized party can cash it and passing yourself off as someone you’re not is very difficult in the tightly knit merchant community.
The neogi have standardized the use of scrip to a certain extent, and use it almost exclusively. Individuals occasionally use scrip, but most people prefer the solid weight of bars in their pouch at the conclusion of a deal to a flimsy sheet of paper.
So how does this money get from the foundries of the Antilans to the pockets of the man on the street?
First off, it must be understood that there are two types of economy within the Cluster. The macro-economy refers to the exchange of money and goods across the sphere as a whole. Micro-economy refers to the economic health of individual settlements.
The macro-economy of the Cluster is extremely healthy, as goods are continually traded among the settlements scattered through wildspace. As the goods move, so too does the money, bringing wealth to the merchants of these settlements and, through taxes, to the governments of these settlements.
Micro-economies are spurred on by this trade as well. Following the money chain it is obvious how it works. First, merchants sell their goods to a trader from another settlement. The money merchants get is theirs, but a portion of this must go to pay government taxes. Some more of the hard-earned bars go to those the merchant bought the goods from in the first place. Even more of the money passes on to the landlord, who owns the building from which business is conducted. The merchant’s employees also must be paid. The employees, in turn, have things that they need to buy. They might purchase new clothes, or food, or pay their rent. As you can see, it doesn’t take long for the money from one trade deal to get spread around. Now think of how many trade deals occur in a given day, all across a settlement!
So, with all the trade that goes on, there is little danger of poverty. Those that are considered poor by the wealthy are not at all bad off, as they do have housing, clothes, and generally enough food to eat. Severe poverty does exist, but only in the dim regions of wildspace where regular trade does not exist. These sad little settlements are dangerous to visit because the residents are liable to attack landing ships to get food or other necessities.
These colonies are regularly raided for slaves by the Antilans, who give the wretches that remain just enough food to live through until the next slave raid. This tactic is also used by the illithids and neogi, though the illithids are as liable to eat their slaves as preserve them. At least, that is, when they are out of sight of those that could damage their reputation.
Different celestial bodies have varying amounts of natural resources or other trade goods. Some of them have an abundance of foodstuffs grown under ideal conditions which they trade for finished products they cannot make themselves. Other settlements may have fine artisans who produce high-quality artworks which are sold to traveling traders, either for gold with which necessities can be bought, or traded directly for needed supplies.
Trade goods are broken into three groups: Raw Materials, Finished Goods, and Necessities. Raw materials is the stuff out of which Finished Goods are made. Necessities are those things that are not used to make anything, but without which settlements could not survive.
The items listed below are also priced per unit, showing the average selling price for a given amount of each item. These prices may vary wildly from one place to the next. Note that the prices are listed in standard AD&D® conventions, which translate directly into bars on a one to one basis. That is, 1 gp = 1 gold bar.
|Animal, Herd||20 gp|
|Cotton||5 sp/sq. yd.|
|Animal, Riding||200 gp/animal|
|Dyes/Pigments||2 – 5 sp/8 oz|
|Feathers, Rare||25 sp/100|
|Feathers, Common||5 sp/100|
|Furs||1 – 5 gp/fur|
|Hides||1 – 5 gp/hide|
|Hardwood||5 sp/sq yd|
|Jade||10 sp/sq yd|
|Leather||5 cp/sq yd|
|Marble||20 sp/sq yd|
|Obsidian||10 sp/sq yd|
|Oil, Flammable||3 sp/gal|
|Oil, Lamp||3 sp/gal|
|Oil, Cooking||5 sp/gal|
|Paper||150 gp/100 8’ x 11’ sheets|
|Resins||5 sp/8 oz|
|Silk||4 gp/sq yd|
|Spice, Exotic||7 gp/lb|
|Spice, Rare||1 gp/lb|
|Spice, Uncommon||5 sp/lb|
|Shadowstone||5 to 10 gp/nugget|
Some of the items listed in the above table are listed as having a “special” price. Such trade goods are generally quite rare and the merchant can get pretty much whatever he asks for them. See the “Export” and “Import” entries in Chapter Three for details of some specific markets.
Note that the prices shown above are what a manufacturer would pay to his supplier. These raw materials are then turned into products, which are sold to wholesalers at a considerable mark up in price. These wholesalers then sell the goods to merchants (after another price increase), and the merchants raise the prices yet again before selling the goods to the general public. The final price of finished items are those found in the Player’s Handbook.
In some instances, raw materials are not made into goods, but are instead sold directly to merchants who sell to the public. In these cases, characters will be able to buy the goods for 15% above the prices listed on the table.
As mentioned in the paragraph above, Finished Goods cost about as much as they are listed in the Player’s Handbook or other equipment guides. There are places where bargains can be had, though you only get what you pay for.
Characters who wish to make a habit of carting about large quantities of Finished Goods can become wholesalers. Wholesalers make their living selling finished goods to merchants who mark them up and sell them to the man on the street. Wholesalers buy direct from the manufacturer of items and are able to get a sizeable discount, commonly purchasing items for 25%-40% below market value. Those who buy in particularly large quantities may get an even larger discount.
Merchants who then sell the Finished Goods to the general public manage to purchase the goods for somewhere between 20% and 30% off the final price. Those who make exclusive deals with wholesalers or make extremely large purchases can expect a larger discount. Merchants who get the biggest discounts can either undercut their smaller competitors, or sell to the elite, lowering volume and increasing price per unit. Either option is viable in the cutthroat business world of the Astromundi Cluster.
Necessities are things that a settlement must have in order to maintain its day-to-day functions. This includes vegetables, meats, water, and other staples. The price for necessities runs about 1gp/100 pounds or 25 gallons, regardless of the exact nature of the item purchased. This, of course is the price from manufacturer to wholesaler, and the mark up from wholesaler to merchant is roughly 35%. Merchants then sell these items to the man on the street for the prices listed in the Player’s Handbook or the various equipment guides.
Characters as Merchants
Some characters may decide to go into business for themselves, plying the trading lanes of Astromundi in search of the ultimate bargain. Those DMs that get caught up in the PCs’ schemes to begin the next great trading barons will have to do a little research. The prices listed above are going to work for most cases, but there are going to be characters who want to trade in something that is not on the price guide.
Two resource books will prove invaluable to DMs running such campaigns: Dune Trader by Anthony Pryor, and Aurora’s Whole Realms Catalogue by the design staff at TSR, Inc.
Both books will do much to enhance your understanding of both the trading life and the sorts of items available for sale in the Cluster. A few judgment calls will have to be made (price changes from the Dune Trader, which uses DARK SUN® monetary conventions, for example), but the books will reduce the DM’s work considerably.
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