Intrepid Merchant
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Basic Information

The Intrepid Merchant is a character who will travel the world in search for profit. He doesn't go looking for hidden treasures, but all sorts of trade goods which he can buy, sell, and barter for.

This guy can be played one of three ways - firstly as a tramp trader, paying his way around the world by buying and selling on spec as he goes. It's not a terribly historical model but it is just about feasible.

The second involves fairly mundane trade in arduous conditions - from trekking through the mountains buying up furs and similar things from the natives to some equivalent of the annual trading fleets that sailed from the Hanse to trade into the Mediterranean.

The last is the true merchant venturer, probing the edge of the unknown for new markets and/or new exotic goods - or trying to open up a new route for a known exotic good.

Historically, a great deal of exploration was undertaken by merchants looking for new trade routes (and/or on their behalf) - Marco Polo being probably the most famous example.


Game and Story Use

  • A full-fledged merchant campaign can be an interesting variation - it gives the PCs a good excuse to visit one Adventure Town after another while still providing for an overarching plot. Throw in a wilderness adventure for variation, and such a campaign need never get boring.
    • This works especially well in science fiction campaigns where the player characters can take their own dwelling - their spaceship - with them.
      • This is the default assumption of the Traveller RPG.
      • This was also what the crew of Serenity were meant to be. Sort of…
    • Works equally well with a non-space ship.
    • Don't forget the opportunities and dangers of smuggling, if the PCs are desperate enough.
  • If only one member of the party is a merchant, he will come up with some sort of justification why the other PCs are willing to wait for him making his deals and transporting his trade goods.
    • Perhaps he owns the vehicle the party is traveling in.
    • Perhaps he only trades in small, expensive, and easily transportable trade goods, such as gems or spices.
    • Perhaps he has some sort of magic item (or technological equivalent) which shrinks the trade goods, puts them into an extradimensional space, or something similar.
    • The logical way around this is to get the players to explain why their character is there. Fighter types are probably guards, clerics missionaries and the wizard may be a Stephen Maturin type, travelling in search of new and interesting things to see.
    • Consider that the other PCs may by shareholders (or representatives thereof) - possibly younger sons of noble houses that have invested in the venture sent along to keep an eye on the family's money (and possibly make enough on the side to cover their own "inheritance").
  • A merchant makes a good alternative to a bard as the party face-man, handling most negotiations and probably providing cover for their activities. Rygel in Farscape essentially fitted this characterisation - despite being nominally a royal, his main role aboard the Moya seemed to be ship's purser.
  • A character can also be an agent of a merchant house or company without actually trading - serving as an intelligence agent, a courier or carrying out advance negotiations. An organisation like the East India Company or the Hanse likely employs all sorts of agents.
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