The status of traders varies from region to region; in middle to low development areas, between 7 and 11, traders tend to be seen as pariahs or parasites of of the social system - there is a distaste among some for those who do not create, but merely sell. In higher tech regions, where investment becomes more common and the raising of capital in order to create infrastructure becomes more important and respected, traders form an integral part of the region's power structure.
There are two common forms of trader: wholesalers, who deal mostly in raw materials, forming the chain between producers and storefronts; and retailers, who sell from a storefront directly to regular customers. A third type, the peddler, acts as a travelling vendor, occasionally dealing in wholesale goods while hawking goods along roads or in small towns and villages. In all three cases, the balance of goods that are bought and sold will not be manufactured items, but raw and natural goods: produce, staple crops, ores, fish, livestock, animal products and such. These are things that are not 'made' and therefore offer the highest rate of return between the producer and the market where they are sold.
Peddler EncountersThe role of a peddler is a solitary one, a dangerous one also, as to remain commercially viable a peddler must cover a wide territory in order to sell comparatively few wares. The wares themselves cannot be of much value, nor can the cart that peddler uses cannot tempt thieves. A too successful peddler is bound to attract too much of the wrong attention, only to thereafter begin again from scratch or fail to have the wherewithal to continue at all.
During the days, peddlers will be encountered on open roads, and near the village greens of small settlements; they will be very hard to find at night, as they will usually have some safe house along their routes where they can lock up their wares at night. In the open, peddlers will be very distrustful of strangers, especially those who express a willingness to look over their wares, as this is a common ploy to expose what valuables the peddler has. In a public space, the peddler is likely to be more forthcoming.
Peddlers will speak easily of the places where they frequent and will be a font of knowledge about the region, for those who are wise enough to recognize peddlers for this quality. Look for the following motivations in their behavior:
- Pressure to make at least some token purchase, preferably something of absolutely no use to anyone, that the peddler acquired while making a barter with a starving someone who possessed nothing else (most manufactured knick knacks a peddler has will be acquired this way).
- A strong resistance to letting a sale get away - food peddlers were often known as 'badgers.'
- Wares of lower quality than would be found in a town or city; armor that will work at one armor class lower than normally associated with a type; weapons that will break easily; all at the same prices one would find in a proper market.
- An acute willingness to participate in petty crime, so long as the peddler's association with the area isn't threatened; this would include things like a potential for fencing small goods, hiding goods or making introductions to less savory individuals the peddler is bound to know.
- A moderate taste or tolerance for gambling, vices and a willingness to dispense "street justice," meaning that a peddler might prove to be more vicious in defense than expected (use of poison, for example).
Retailer EncountersOn the surface, these can resemble artisan encounters - however, a trader is likely to have a much wider view of the world, meaning that they are bound to recognize members of the player party for who and what they are. As such, while selling out of a storefront, a retailer will be more focused towards matching their wares to the particular needs of the customer. If a conversation does arise between the trader and a party member (see artisan for rules regarding this), expect the dialogue to differ. Expect the trader to:
- downplay any aspects of creativity or ingenuity that the players have adopted, stressing that a particular item or object for sale would serve the purpose much better (for a reasonable price).
- promote any stereotypes about race, region of orientation, religious orientation and so on when defining the character's intentions to buy anything, showing great surprise if the player does not conform to the convention.
- sell the idea that there is a simpler solution than taking the time to know or understand anything. For example, a trader will argue that a music box is the equivalent of any musical instrument, because it takes less effort to play.
- take a stance that anything that happens in the region fails entirely to take into account the special needs of the buying and selling community.
- treat any large purchase as a virtual bribe regarding any information about the community where the trader dwells (including the potential for giving away state secrets). Make the chance for a given trader to reveal such information a 1% chance per 10 g.p. spent; however, the money spent must be on wares - a trader will straight up refuse an obvious bribe. DM's prerogative what information is revealed, but it must be of substantial interest to the party!
On the whole, traders are less friendly and more profit-driven than artisans, as they exist in a highly competitive business (there are no guilds for traders and no commercial protection generally). They are prepared to abandon their residences if it proves profitable, as they regard money as more valuable than community. They are ready to 'buy' another community if need be. On the whole, then, encounters with traders will be founded on money. Traders will resent player characters who insist upon par when trying to selling items; player characters willing to take a few coins less than par will make a friend of a trader (who will then give them preference in future exchanges, particularly if what the party brought in earlier proved a good sales item).
At best, a retailer is likely to be no higher in level than 4th. Most will be thieves or fighters, though very few may be members of a subversive clergy. A very rare number of store fronts (about 4%) will be fronts for some illegal operation.
Wholesaler EncountersThese are traders who act as enablers to trade. They buy from independent growers, herders, miners and other concerns, then sell to storefront traders - or directly to authorities to support the needs of the military and the building of infrastructure. The most important wholesaler in many parts of the world is the religious monastical system, which pays for items such as wool, salt, grain, produce, hemp or stone, then gets rich transferring this product from rural parts of the world to city and town markets.
Wholesalers act locally, often transferring goods a distance of no more than a few miles from farms or crews working in the hinterland onto the nearest trade routes, where the product is then picked up by other wholesalers who specialize in long distance travel. Some wholesalers exist continuously on the move, moving caravans across the desert, ships across the water, barges up and down rivers or merely along roads from market to market. Other wholesalers never move, setting themselves up in large markets and paying for goods as they arrive, only to then warehouse the goods until they are sold - incrementally, to keep market prices high - to retailers in store fronts. Some wholesalers retain a troop of retailers who sell products at the local bazaar (town market) or stockyards.
Local traders deal in products that have short lives: dairy products, fresh meat, fruits and vegetables. Distance traders tend to deal in hard products that can last weeks in a ship's hold or upon a mule train.
It is probable that any wholesaler encountered will be moving raw materials that, as a body, are worth considerable coin but which are impractical for thieves to steal: ores, cereals grains, hulls full of fresh fish, bricks, barrels of oil or wine, cut timber or some other similar cargo. Even if an individual barrel of ale is worth more than 100 g.p., there would be no practical means of moving it due to its weight and no market to sell it to, since barrels are carefully branded and marked and traders keep careful records for who is entitled to sell wholesale from one place to another (not to mention keeping records for who is on what road in what week). Therefore, most wholesale traders don't keep large retinues of guards to protect their wares - they would be sad for the loss, but it is already understood by all that a group of bandits that attempted to rob a caravan would find themselves in possession of too much of something that carried no value for them. In fact, the less guards a caravan has to protect it, the less likely it will draw attention to itself - and thus a ton of expensive fabric, pottery or dried meat can be moved from city to city safely under hundreds of grain sacks.
When meeting a wholesaler, there will be some mistrust; but if a party is prepared to move along slowly, they will likely be welcome as companions to the caravan or as paying passengers aboard ship or barge.
Wholesalers know a great deal about the trade routes they travel; they know little else about the regions they've been. They are reserved about giving trade information to strangers, as it is a competitive business; however, if the party were to do something of value to a wholesaler, such information may be available.
Because wholesalers aren't interested in selling to customers, they have traders waiting at the end of their journeys for prearranged loads that they are bringing. As such, wholesalers won't sell to just anyone, as this would threaten their trade agreements that will keep them in successful business for years. Players have to arrange with wholesalers in market cities to have goods brought specifically for them (which can be done, saving a lot of money, if the players are prepared to wait). Once a wholesaler feels safe around the players' party and that the party is generous with their own sincerely told story, arrangements can be made if the party wants to do business or even buy into the wholesaler's business.
Depending on the size of a moving caravan or train, travelling wholesalers may be anywhere from 5th to 15th level (as some are monarchs of a sort, leading hundreds of animals and humanoids), as it requires great skill to survive along roads that often pass through wild parts of the world. A local wholesaler, dealing around a town or city, may only be 2nd to 6th level. The master of a wholesaling business permanently at residence in a market will control a thriving business and will have had extensive experience fighting off enemies upon the road in his or her younger days - count these as 8th to 12th level (as they settled for a more comfortable life before becoming the sort of masters who have controlled a caravan all their existence).