Thieves & Kings
The marketplace in most large cities teem with buyers and sellers of many sorts; dwarf smiths and elf bowyers, halfling farmers and gnome jewelers, and humans of every shape, size and color drawn from the spectrum of nations and cultures. In the largest cities, almost anything imaginable is offered up for sale, from exotic spices and luxurious cloth, to wicker baskets and practical swords.
For an adventurer, the availability of armor, weapons, backpacks, rope, and similar goods is of paramount importance, since proper equipment are the tools of their trade. For the vast majority of people, however, things are a lot different. Wealth is determined by more than coins and jewels; they trade in goods bartering for what they cannot produce and paying taxes in grains and cheese. Members of the nobility trade in legal rights, such as ownership of mines, or port cities and farmland. Gold is measured by the pound rather than the coin among these folk. Only merchants, adventurers, mercenaries and craftsmen commonly deal in coins.
The Agricultural Economy :
The economic system which dominates Argoth, is agrarian based, and primarily feudal in nature. The power of the Argothic nobility is vested in its continued control of the agricultural production – which accounts for nearly 80% of the economic activity and employs 90% of the population. While most agricultural techniques remain primitive, virtually all rural districts are self-sufficient.
The principal crops are grains (namely wheat, oats, barley, and rye), and a wide collection of vegetables (peas, beans, cabbages, onions, gourds, and melons); root crops (principally potatoes) are virtually unknown. Orchards and vineyards are also quite common in hilly regions. Livestock consists of cattle (shaggy auroch), chickens, goats, pigs, and sheep. Most farmers keep a few of each, since they each have benefits and can forage for food in different wastelands, providing milk, cheese, bone, leather, and even manure for fertilizing fields. Most civilized areas employ iron plows, often single-bladed, though all other work is done with hand tools. While minor magic can keep food fresh for a while longer, few traders can travel more than two or three days with produce, to avoid spoilage and ensure a profit margin.
The Urban Economy :
Argothic towns are located in either the heart of prime farming districts, or along major trade routes, living from the surplus of the surrounding rural areas. In addition to walled towns, many fortifications include settlements where markets are held once a month. About 10% of a region’s population live in major centers, where the “products of civilization” are produced. Townsmen are freemen, who live (or starve) at the pleasure of the wealthy. Most are common laborers, some become soldiers, and a scattering become artisans, scribes or craftsmen. The leaders of communities tend to be litigants and merchants. The guilds control much of the cash economy of the nations – mining, smithing, and mercantile efforts being prominent. Mining for ores (commonly iron, copper, lead, tin, and zinc) is an important task, and the driving force behind the economy. Rarer metals (namely gold, silver, and platinum) are few and far between, but easily dominated by the Khuzan. Smithing, while again mastered by the Dwarves of Azadmere, is a skill carefully protected by the arms-smiths of Westwind and Hepekeria. The Mangai is a collective of the guilds, providing discourse between the nobility, who control the military and most of the arable land, and the crafts guilds, who power the economy through goods production and trade.
Another primary force behind the urban economy, is the production of parchment and book-binding. The use of printing presses is unknown, and with every copy of a book hand-made, there is a drastic shortage of manuscripts, and rarely more than a dozen copies of any one text in existence. The need for parchment is in the recording of transactions that dominate mercantile trade in cities and between the nations of Argoth. Parchment itself is made from the skins of sheep, goats, and cattle, and can be reused through laborious scraping. These sheets are often bound together by leather-covered wooden boards into books, organizing them and protecting them from the elements. Vellum, a high-grade parchment made from the skin of young calves, is not as sturdy, but provides a smoother writing surface.
Trade is the lifeblood of the urban economy, whether it be by road, trail, sea or even air. Most regions produce their own staple items, such as foodstuffs and clothing, but some regions produce goods in such quantity or quality, as to be widely exported. Furthermore, not every region of Argoth has access to the complete gamut of resources that other regions have. Precious metals, arms & armour, fine cloth and furs are the most widely traded goods. Salt, essential to maintaining foodstocks through the cold seasons, is primarily the only good people cannot do without, regardless of local produce. Its value is equal to silver in weight, and provides an essential product seeing wide trade. Merchants purchase goods at the lowest price they can, transport them to where there is demand, and try to sell them in markets demanding the highest price possible. They often maintain warehouses in both markets to stockpile goods, cutting their margin of loss as much as possible. “Costers” are merchant companies that rent space in their caravans, providing guards and warehousing services to independent merchants, and are quite common in the larger cities of Argoth.
The Money Economy :
In medieval society, the use of coinage was not widespread, barter and payment-in-kind being more common. Argoth, however, has been blessed with a great availability of precious metals, which has allowed the development of a relatively stable system of coinage. The use of coinage has provided the exchange of goods over fairly long distances and between different nations. The primary medium of exchange is the silver piece (SP).
1/10 sp = 1 copper piece (CP)
1 sp = 1 silver piece (SP)
5 sp = 1 electrum piece (EP)
10 sp = 1 gold piece (GP)
100 sp = 1 platinum piece (PP)
All coins weigh roughly 1 COIN (50 COINS = 1 lb). The coin economy is based on the silver piece, the daily wage of a common laborer. This proves to be sufficient for an average family to survive, assuming this income is supplemented with access to a kitchen garden, homemade clothing, and a reliance on self-sufficiency for most tasks (personal health, tool maintenance, etc.). Adventurers, however, will deal primarily with gold pieces, a larger and more substantial unit of currency. Weaponsmiths, armorers, litigants and such craftsmen deal in larger sums, and commonly deal with adventurers. The nobility also deals in larger sums, and commonly use gold as their standard of trade. Other coins are rarely encountered; copper because of it’s low value and use as a bulk metal, and platinum or electrum due to its limited quantities, and disfavor among the common man.
For smelting and trade purposes, the Miner’s Guild has established two forms of bullion ore commonly used; the STONE (weighing 600 COINS), and the HIDE (weighing 3000 COINS). The HIDE is an “ox-hide” of metal ( >o< ) 3’-long x 1’-wide x 1"-thick, and is used in smelting forges, as well as in trade ventures with common metals (such as iron or bronze), and is almost never used in trade with precious metals.
The Copper Coin : The most common and least valuable of the various coins, copper coins are known as “coppers”, “copper bits”, or “copper commons”, the last of which hails from the Mage Isles, and is prevalent throughout the Principality of Shem. The former lands of the Coranik Imperium called them “kopecs”. the Free-State of Westwind introduced a “steelpence”, which is similar in value to the copper, but made of forged steel. Several “coins” are used among the nomadic tribes of the the Hordelands, usually chips of bone or ivory and are valued similar to coppers among them.
The Silver Coin : Silver coins are the basis upon which all other coins are measured. Known as “silvers” or “silver pieces”, they are also called “knights” in Phaedra and Shem, and “krona” or “cousins” in the former Coranik Imperium. Silvers are very different in shape and size among the Iberian City-States, though prominent among them is the ochre-tinted “red worms” of the City-State of Crebain. Older “worms” with the dye worn thin, are commonly referred to as “skinned”.
The Electrum Coin : Electrum is not as popular as gold and silver, but does exist in sizable enough quantities. With a lack of trade appeal, they are often used in the payment of mercenary fees, and as such are almost universally known as “swords”, regardless of origin. An exception to this, are the rarely seen “moons” of the Kingdom of Imladris, accepted as standard electrum in human hands, but equal to a gold in their original realm. Recently, large numbers of electrum have been seen in the hands of the Shemite agents, all “moons” of mint quality.
The Gold Coin : The most common coin seen by successful adventurers and the nobility, “gold pieces” are often known as “crowns”, and usually bear a crown of state appropriate to their nation of origin. The Coranik Imperial version is a five-sided pentagram, with the mint city crest on one side, and the Imperial state crown on the obverse, a design that had not changed in centuries. The Khuzan crown is probably the most widely traded and accepted coin in the world, primarily because the Kingdom of Azadmere is the only nation to export gold – which is done in coin form – but also because the Khuzan are able to maintain a uniform size, shape, weight and quality regardless of the coin’s age. Some private gold mints do exist in Iberia, but these coins are not widely traded outside of the main trade routes in the city-states.
The Platinum Coin : Relatively scarce, but employed by successful (and boastful) merchants, the platinum coin is rarely seen. They are known as “royals” in Phaedra, “plats” in Iberia, and “Imperials” in the regions around the fallen lands of the Coranik Empire. In the Imperium, they were regulated, and only the Senate, direct agents of the Emperor, or ownership of a very expensive “Writ of Possession” allowed its trade. Being caught in those lands without such a writ was once cause for immediate execution. Today, these items are only found in ancient treasure hoards, or among wealthier merchants with ties to the Shatter.
The use of large numbers of coins in trade has a number of difficulties associated with it, and to facilitate trade, many other forms of trade currencies have arisen, chief among them being TRADE BARS, ingots of precious metals and alloys likely to be accepted by virtually anyone. Trade bars are traditionally silver, stamped or graven with the symbol of the government or merchant that commissioned them on their ends, and are made in 5-lbs, 10-lbs, 15-lbs and 20-lbs weights, though the 5-lbs weight are considered the standard. Gold trade bars are very rare, as only the wealthiest can afford to smelt the coins needed to form them.
Trade bars are as widely accepted as they are, because they follow rigid controls, conforming closely to size and weight standards to be accepted by all. They are an easy and popular means of melting down suspect coins, easily pressed into clay as a new bar from a given city or coster. The typical trade bar is a 25 gp, 5-lbs brick of silver with rounded corners of just over an inch thick, three inches across and six inches in length. The corners were once commonly squared, but bent too easily, and the unscrupulous learned to break the corners to cheat merchants. Hepekerian trade bars, commonly seen in the southern port cities of Argoth, are seven inches long, but both sides bow inwards half an inch on either side, making the bars easier to grasp.
A larger 50 gp trade bar has the same dimensions as a 25 gp bar, except it is three inches thick rather than one inch. It also tapers inwardly across that thickness, so that the top side of such a bar is a half-inch smaller than the base. A 75 gp trade bar is an inch thicker and with no taper to its sides at all. The 100 gp trade bar is two inches thick, three inches across, and nine inches long, with a central hole for carrying on a cord to stack several of them in a bundle. The hole isn’t much more than an inch across. Proof and ownership marks are small and have no effect on the bars value.
Unique forms of trade bars include those made by the City-State of Serelind – an ingot of pure silver, inlaid with copper and the ancient war-rune of the Katarran Kings. They are universally traded across the continent, and often considered to set the standard for this form of currency. Diramoan trade bars are a slender, oriental bar of pure silver, engraved about its spindle with floral designs, and a work of art in itself. Weighing 5-lbs, they are traded at 25gp each among merchants, though they are worth far more in their native Diramoa. The Hepekerian Rainbow Cities produce a flat, envelope-shaped bar of worked electrum, marked with the snarling panther of their guiding trade guild, weighing 2-lbs and worth 10gp. The final form of unique trade bar is produced by the realm of Westwind, black iron rectangular spindles, worth 10gp in their native city, but only 5gp each in the outside world.
LETTERS OF TRADE are another form of trade currency, made quite popular with the rise of the Mangai. These are scrolls, letters, and writs which represent promissary notes. Some are written by individual merchants and a few trade costers, but the bulk are written by cities or guild craftsmen, and represent either a sum of cash, or a quantity of goods to be delivered to the bearer of the note. Often called “Blood Notes”, they usually have specific individuals or organizations mentioned in them, tend to be date qualified, and often require a seal or other supporting documentation to be valid. They have allowed trade to flourish, as long as a Mangai Hall is nearby to ratify the transaction.
Other odd forms of currency, include the Bronze Thralls of the ancient Coranik Imperium, though no longer considered currency, are still employed by agents who claim to serve Lothrim the Foulspawner, and sometimes valued at one copper common each. Also, Diramoan coins of copper and silver are occasionally traded, though they are often not of such an origin, and have (at best) face value to merchants.
Molkurian Curios, small art objects of jade, ivory and serpentine, are often used by its native people as trade goods, and will sometimes make their way to Argoth by far-travelling merchants. They tend have fluctuating values and are often sold as nothing more than curios, though most port merchants trade them in bulk (25 sp per belt pouch or handful).
Brass Rings are fine brass hoops produced by the Hepekerian tribal chiefs as currency, valued at 3 gp each among their native peoples, but only 1/10th that by Argothian traders.
Chaal, the paper money used by the Beshakan people of inner Lythia, has practically no value in Argoth, and is often offered as an insult to traders.
The Banking Economy
While most of the Dominions have nothing like a modern bank, there are providers of banking services, primarily select members of the Mercantyler’s Guild of the Mangai, who hold the monopoly on usury. Services include money-lending, money-changing, and safe storage of small valuables and coinage.
Temples are also known to offer similar services to select members of their congregation, notably the sects of Shiloh, Lady Luck and Hydania, Queen of the Oceans. These sects offer coin exchange to followers and safe storage services, but rarely lend money. They are known to sometimes back popular (and proven) members in trade ventures, sponsoring a cargo if the merchant can be trusted with the temple’s money.
Most wealthy noble and trade families have their own merchant factors, or sponsor trade costers under their own trade mark, giving them the freedom to earn profit from their own caravans without outside interference.
Individual merchants and small partnerships among the merchants of the Mangai, rarely have much time to think and act beyond the day-to-day drudgery of running their own businesses. Although they compete with one another, such conflicts are largely confined to the arenas of efficiency and quality. On the other hand, rival trade consortiums often devote as much time and energy to undermining their rivals as they do to competing against them.
Most trade consortiums benefit to some extent from the rule of law; thus, they tend to battle within the general confines of the law and eschew open warfare. Moreover, most trade consortiums view rivals more as targets to be acquired than targets to be destroyed, limiting the amount of direct damage they tend to inflict on one another. Common tactics include hiring bandits or monsters to attack a rival’s caravans or to interfere with the shipment of critical resources or finished goods, striking deals with suppliers to “freeze out” a rival, bribing corrupt officials to harass a rival with petty applications of the law, causing incidental damage to stored goods to increase a rival’s costs, hiring away key personnel, and spreading rumors about inferior goods and services.
Most trade travels in caravans for safety, and the great majority of caravans are run by independent caravan masters who often display no badge or colors at all. Some caravans are sponsored or directly manned by a city or alliance, and they usually bear the sigil of that place. The caravans of Iberia are so marked with their own organization’s “River Dragon” banner, while caravans and ships backed by the Hepekerian trade princes are not.
In addition to the major trade costers detailed elsewhere, a number of other trade organizations are active in the Dominions, ranging from one-shot operators, to seasonal family operations, to independent merchants, to specialists in small package trade (smuggling). All are regularly looking for strong sword arms and wise wand-wielders to enhance their chances of making it to market.