The Water Margin
The dunes of Athas are hostile and difficult to cross, and even life in the city-states is a precarious adventure. Those who brave the wilds for profit are the lifeblood of those city-states, as they crisscross the Tablelands to bring water, food, and valuable goods over trackless waste. While traders are often despised for their greed and duplicity, they are also a necessity for survival.
Everyone encounters traders sooner or later — whether a con artist hawking dubious goods near the elven market, or a reputable agent of a powerful mercantile house who oversees whole caravans. Though the hard-working laborers of the city-states part with their coin only grudgingly, a trader is a welcome sight when a year of famine strikes a city’s crops.
Making a Trader
Traders rely on their social skills to earn coin, but this doesn’t mean that they will shirk from danger. A trader often has a variety of useful skills for travel, survival, or political maneuvering. The trader’s ability to gather rumors and access to specialty markets means that traders often have a range of equipment that other adventurers can only imagine. Traders also tend to have networks of friends, informants, and agents to help carry out their business; having a solid background established in a particular civic area can help to build a reliable business.
Abilities: Charisma is the most important ability for a trader, as this affects bargaining and subterfuge. Intelligence helps traders to learn more languages and have a broader base of skills. Traders who travel frequently benefit from a good Constitution score, to resist the extremes of the desert.
Races: Though traders come from all walks of life, most skilled traders are humans or elves. Humans mingle among the city-states and guide the great dynastic houses that control the major trade routes of the Tablelands, while elves slip amongst the black markets and travel swiftly from place to place far faster than any pondering merchant caravan. Dwarf traders are stubborn and usually also practice a particular craft, with a focus on creating the greatest works possible. Half-giants are usually too slow-witted to make skilled traders. Thri-kreen traders are extremely uncommon, as the kreen clutch mentality does not readily lend itself to the idea of barter with members of the clutch, and tends to see non-clutchmates as enemies.
Alignment: Traders come in a wide range of alignments, though few of them are good-aligned. Some traders work on building networks of allegiance and merchant houses with an orderly approach, while others travel wherever whims take them. Most traders, though, are happy to make their living at the expense of others.
Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Traders are proficient in all simple and martial weapons, as well as all armor and shields (but not tower shields).
Fast-Talking: A trader receives a +1 insight bonus to Bluff and Diplomacy checks for every two trader levels. A trader can make rushed Bluff or Diplomacy checks without taking a penalty (see the Player’s Handbook).
Wealth: A trader starts with an extra 150 cp worth of gear and money. At 7th level, the trader gains an additional 500 cp worth of gear and money from investments and dividends. At 11th level, the trader gains an additional 1,000 cp worth of gear and money. At 15th level, the trader gains an additional 3,000 cp worth of gear and money. At 19th level, the trader gains an additional 10,000 cp worth of gear and money.
Poison Use: Starting at 2nd level, a trader never risks poisoning himself when applying poison to a weapon or trap.
Bonus Language: At 3rd level, and again for every three trader levels gained, a trader picks up an extra language thanks to his many dealings. The trader may choose any normal spoken language, although this comprehension does not necessarily grant the ability to speak it flawlessly. A human trader, for instance, could understand the kreen language, but would have difficulty replicating some of its clicks and buzzes.
Contacts: At 4th level, a trader gains access to a web of contacts. A contact is an individual who can assist the trader with information, barter, special access to parts of the city or specialty markets, and so on. A trader is assumed to have a prior introduction or previous business with the contact, which makes the contact favorably disposed to the trader.
A trader may invoke a contact at any time, and may specify one facet of the contact at that time. The player may choose to specify the contact’s race, class, reliability, or wealth. The other aspects of the contact are specified by the DM. The contact’s race and class may be of any sort normally available to PCs. Reliability is either unreliable, reliable, loyal, or devoted; the more reliable the contact, the less likely the contact is to give up the trader in the face of threats or promises of wealth. Wealth level is either destitute (the contact lives on the streets and has no money), poor (the contact is a laborer or petty criminal with only a small amount of money), prosperous (the contact has a regular job or patronage and some personal possessions), or wealthy (the contact is well to do and owns property or many valuables).
A trader may only specify a contact once per month, and must be in an inhabited area. Contacts who die or betray the trader are not automatically replaced.
Example: In need of a buyer for several expensive and illicit goods, a trader seeks out a contact. The player specifies that the contact is wealthy, to insure that the contact can buy all of the trader’s wares. The DM decides that the contact is a dwarf commoner who trades in unusual weapons and trinkets for jaded nobles to use as decor, and also determines (but does not tell the player) that the contact is unreliable. The trader can sell all of his wares, but the contact might pass information about the trader to the templars if threatened with dealing in black markets.
Market Access: At 5th level, a trader gains keen insight into where to find just the right place to buy or sell something unusual. When checking the limit of the most expensive items that can be bought or sold in a particular location, treat the habitation as if it’s one size higher. See Table 5-2: Random Town Generation on page 137 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
Insider Secrets: At 8th level, a trader gains regular information about various markets through inside sources. The trader may make Gather Information checks in a given location to gain information about another location — for instance, using connections in Tyr to gather information about secret goings-on in Balic. The DC for the Gather Information check increases by +1 for every hundred miles of distance to the other location. It is still not possible to Gather Information about places that nobody knows about (for instance, nobody in Tyr knows about Ur Draxa, so it is not possible to Gather Information about events in that city from Tyr).
Traders commonly use this ability to learn of market conditions in distant locations before setting out to trade.
Agent: At 10th level, the trader may convert one contact into an agent. The contact’s reliability rating automatically improves by one category. The agent will generally perform business on behalf of the trader and provide useful information or favors, though he may expect occasional compensation in return. An agent always has class levels in a career useful to the character, so an agent who handles bureaucracy could be a templar while an agent who sells stolen goods is likely a bard or rogue. Agents have a maximum level of one-third of the trader’s class level.
An agent does not count against a trader’s followers from the Leadership feat (if taken), although having agents does reduce the trader’s effective Leadership score.
For each level gained after 10th, a trader may convert another contact into an agent. A trader may convert a contact to an agent no more than once per month, but it is possible for a trader to make a new contact and immediately specify that this contact is an agent.
Use Exotic Devices: At 13th level, a trader may make Use Magic Device and Use Psionic Device skill checks untrained, and may take 10 on such checks.
Playing a Trader
You are an inveterate haggler, businessman, and fence. While you may or may not deal with the shady business of black markets and smuggling, you certainly understand the power of demand and you know the value of coin like no one else.
Given the opportunity, you’ll make a profit off anything you can move — even if it’s just as a middleman. Your skills come from hard years of work learning all the markets of the Tablelands, the best suppliers, the most reliable connections, and all the right bribes for the templars.
To expand your markets (or escape persecution for your criminal acts), you’ll travel beyond the city-states to other places, to slave tribes, villages, hidden oases and even more exotic locales. In these travels you’ll hone your survival skills and your senses, and with luck discover precious foods, metals, and trade goods with which to make your fortune.
In general, traders are not given to mysticism or to devotion of particular powers. A trader’s first love is money. Most traders are smart enough to pay lip-service to sorcerer-kings while in a particular city-state, but few actually revere any sorcerer-king or elemental patron.
Table: The Trader Hit Die: d6
|Level||Base Attack Bonus||Fort Save||Ref Save||Will Save||Special|
|13||+9/+4||+4||+8||+8||Use Exotic Devices|
|15||+11/+6/+1||+5||+9||+9||Bonus language, wealth|
Class Skills (6 + Int modifier per level, x4 at 1st level): Appraise, Bluff, Craft, Decipher Script, Diplomacy, Disable Device, Disguise, Forgery, Gather Information, Handle Animal, Heal, Hide, Intimidate, Knowledge (geography), Knowledge (local), Knowledge (nobility and royalty), Listen, Move Silently, Open Lock, Perform, Profession, Ride, Search, Sense Motive, Sleight of Hand, Speak Language, Spot, Survival, Use Magic Device, Use Psionic Device, Use Rope.
Traders, more than anyone else, make their living by dealing with other kinds of people. For this reason, if a trader has a particular distaste for certain professions, this is generally kept quiet. Traders hire fighters, gladiators, and rangers to work as bodyguards or mercenaries for their caravans, and successful traders often supplement their ranks with clerics and psions as well. Unscrupulous traders will sell magical components and devices to wizards, but most traders know better than to appear to deal with such people in public.
Traders do not relish combat — there’s little personal profit in it — but they often arm themselves with the best weapons and armor available for their means. Most traveling traders also bring escort groups of mercenaries to protect against monsters. Thanks to their travels, traders often have a broad range of weapon skills, and can easily pick up all sorts of weapons if the situation demands.
As you improve in your trade skills, you will gain access to more distant markets and more exotic wares. Use your access to manipulate markets both for profit and for political leverage. Your unrivaled ability to acquire strange items gives you the means to pick up a wide range of magical or psionic devices to supplement your style — be sure to take items beyond just weapons and armor.
Appraise, Bluff, Diplomacy, and Gather Information will be your key skills as you improve in levels, but you should also consider investing at least a few skill points into various Knowledge (Local) types and Knowledge (Geography) to aid you in your traveling mercantilism. Ranks in Use Magic Device or Use Psionic Device will greatly expand your ability to use the items that you purchase from black markets. Your feat choices should emphasize your social abilities, such as Negotiator, Secular Authority (if you work for a large merchant house with legal status in a city-state), Skill Focus, or Metalworker.
When multiclassing or taking a level in a prestige class, look for classes that will synergize with your traveling and your salesmanship. Rogue, ranger, and bard are all good choices. As a multiclassed psion or wizard, you can use your minor supernatural powers to enhance your social options — and escape routes, in a pinch.