Thieves & Kings
Naturally, almost anything can be bought and traded – and is – across the Dominions. Most wealth, however, is not in coins. It is measured in livestock, grain, land, rights to collect taxes, or rights to resources, such as mines or timber.
Guilds regulate trade, nobles and royalty control the resources. Chartered trade companies are granted rights to trade along certain routes and to send merchant ships to select ports, or to purchase and sell specific goods. Guilds set the prices and quality controls for goods and services they control under a monopoly, and determine who may or may not offer those goods and services. Merchants commonly exchange trade goods without using currency. Ranging from the esoteric to the commonplace, these goods are among the following.
The most desirable toys by far are small, whittled warriors, wizards, dragons, and other monsters. Also well-loved, are large whittled wooden dolls, often princes and princesses, dressed in scraps of cloth. Next come marbles made of polished and rounded stones, whittled-down nuts, and blown glass. Finally, carved wooden toy swords and, in rural areas, toy bows as fairly popular.
More pricey, are the cuddle-in-bed toys known as “hearth faeries” – intricately sewn, stuffed with scented herbs and ward-away charms. These keepsakes are often retained into adulthood and used as pillows. Also popular are “little warriors” of metal, dragons and other monsters, that are well-painted and often poseable with articulated joints. Then there are larger wooden figurines that are even more realistically painted and often with fur hair.
Exotic Trade Woods
Certain rare woods in the Dominions have value as trade goods because of their unique or otherwise rare properties that make them ideal as furnishings and household objects. Darkwood, for example, is a rare wood that is as hard as normal wood, but very light, reducing their encumbrance, and is popular for making into shields. Rosecork is very durable, and absorbs water easily, making it extremely resistant to fire, and capable of being split into long, thin strips while still green-cut and wet. This makes rosecork popular for inlays, building panels and perfect for corks in bottles.
The traditional term for nails, fasteners, hinges, hooks, straps, bolts, framing irons, pots, pans, cauldrons, spits, horseshoes and rivets all count as ironmongery. In other words, ironmongery is anything made of metal but neither a tool nor a weapon or armor. There are thousands of metalsmiths in Argoth, and next to millers and woodcrafters, are among its most common craft. The pace of their work barely keeps abreast of the need for these goods, their loss due to rust and wear, and extreme weather. There’s always a need for ironmongery.
Metal straps hinges with simple, single pivot pins are known and widely used, as are rigid angle-braces of similar design. Both are used to protect and strengthen the corners and sides of carry-chests and strong chests. Hook and eye catches are known but are used only for small-sized, interior projects. Nails, spikes and wedges (wood, metal and stone) are known everywhere, though only dwarves and gnomes work with stone ones, and wooden versions are not as popular due to weathering problems. Delicate work, such as needles and wire is rare and expensive.
Most ironmongery production is performed by hands-on smiths making only what is needed, plus a few extra for general sale. Apprentices are often kept busy making nails and spikes, so successful smiths tend to build up a respectable collection of nails and spikes in various sizes, as well as hooks and “eye-spikes” (spikes made for driving into walls and trees with a long hooked shaft and a ring on the end to fasten rope).
Glass is common in some parts of the Dominions and rare as gold and gems in others. in most places, windows are leaded affairs of many small panes, rather than huge, rectangular panes of glass. Moreover, most glass is “shifty” – full of bubbles and uneven thicknesses and whorls that distort reflections and obscure anything seen through them. Shutter are the norm; in winter, full over-lapping boards sealed with pitch, and in summer, slats over which layers of parchment are tacked. The abodes of the poor have shutters, but lack glass, and some have frames into which bards can be slid on a daily basis.
In most parts of Argoth, drinking vessels are made of wood, soak-sealed leather, or ceramic, and a “glass glass” is regarded as an incredible luxury. The wealthy tend to favor glass drinking vessels as a means to flaunt their wealth. They often capitalize on this by creating elaborate rituals during feasts that can involve the deliberate hurling and breaking of such vessels.
Mica is used in place of window glass in remote areas where it can be located and mined, and both dwarves and gnomes are known to cut certain types of stone very thin, producing slabs that admit the glow of light when set as windows.
Handmade ceramic and copper vessels in daily use have crafter’s marks on their base and a single badge-like device on the bowl or body to identify the owner. Commercial pieces are either decorated with badges, runes or devices for specific buyers ordering such finishes, or they keep a few simple designs for general sale of the items at market.
A typical ceramic drinking vessel has a flat, rough, unfinished base that flares outwards slightly. The outside walls of the cup are either vertical, or slightly convex, with the inside inside resembling a smooth bowl. The base and handles are often dark brown, with the lips a natural clay hue. The middle of the glaze is often painted a deep blue, and decorated with the symbol of repeating waves, stippling drawn with a finger, or even fingertip impressions outlining the sun or a flower.
Ceramic containers share many common traits with copper vessels. Some have a bearded smiling face sculpted in relief along the body across from the handle; others have a handle shaped like a head and scaled neck of a serpent, wyvern or dragon, sometimes with the outline of the wings passing around the outside of the vessel; some have an oval clear area embossed with a historic scene. Scenes of heroism, such as a lone knight defending a bridge against insurmountable odds are typical, while the heads of birds, deer, elk and bears are common. Local legends popular to the region in which the pottery was made are common.
Many folk use the drinking-jack, a beast’s horn or its ceramic equivalent fitted with a copper or wooden frame and feet to hold it upright when placed on a table. Glass is common only in the largest settlements.
Scents and Perfumes
Many people use scents and perfumes on themselves and their surroundings. The term “perfume”, in contrast to “scent”, is increasingly used to mean stronger smells that can be used on objects or misted into the air to provide a lasting smell that masks less pleasant odors.
Most scents are made from natural substances such as plant saps and distillates, beast ichors and organs, and combined with each other and herbs and spices. The base is usually alcohol distilled from vegetable sources. In "mornhaven, the source for most vegetable alcohol is the nearby Goldenfields enclave.
While the combinations and processes are secret, because it’s not easy to create scents that don’t stain garments or skin and remain stable over long periods of time. Unstable scents quickly “go off”, rotting into disgusting, sticky residue, or separating into its component parts and evaporating.
The price range for most scents ranges from 1gp to 20 gp per flask, with less savory origins (such as those brewed on the docks) costing from 4 sp to 3 gp per flask. While the Perfumer’s Guild tries to control scent-making in Mornhaven, there are so many purveyors – independent alchemists, charlatans pretending to be alchemists, and importers from Hepekeria and beyond, that almost every chandler and merchant has a few bottles to sell, and most festhalls have access to their own brands and sources.
While some common perfumes are well-known, and the recipes to make them have become general knowledge, the more rare and difficult to acquire goods are still quite valuable. Darkdew (a purple, musky and arousing scent, associated with the drow and dangerous women for over a century : 200 gp per flask), Bluestars (a blue translucent medical alcohol that smells like the winds before a storm : 250 gp per flask), and Sunrise (a yellow-orange translucent liquid that smells of freshly-grated lemons : 20 gp per flask) have become the most sought after scents available.
Rope, Chain and Wire
From leather thongs, to thigh-thick mooring cables, to man-sized links of chain, to fine wire sharp enough to cut flesh, “coiled goods” are among the most useful and expensive everyday items in the Dominions.
Everyone needs long, flexible lines of some sort. Sailors need rigging for sails to voyage. Cooks need chains to hold pots over hearths. Caravan merchants need something to bind their cargoes in place. And miners and adventurers need something to aid them in their exploration.
Hemp ropes and fire-hardened vines have seen use for untold centuries, and chain has been known since the first dwarves, but the making of truly fine wire is still being perfected, and is likely to take centuries more. Cables (a rope woven around a continuous wire core) is still unknown, and while the word is used to describe massive ropes used in sailing, it doesn’t have common use among its smiths. Much existing wire is soft, brittle and quite thick, proving easily snapped where bent more than once.
Gnomes, and right behind them dwarves, are the most skilled smiths of fine wire and chain – and humans can’t get enough of their work. The use of fine precious metal wire and chains in jewelry, and fine, strong, flexible waxed ropes of the type popular among thieves dominates this trade.
Most human smiths, lacking the knowledge and skills to make fine wires and chains, know the value in keeping sturdy hooks, open iron links, wall-rings, strap-rings (collars meant for posts and columns, affixed to rings and thence chains or ropes) and other fasteners in stock. Such under-stress fasteners are always breaking, and it pays to have a few readily on hand for caravans and masons.
Like food and fuel, coiled goods bring steady, high-coin sales. Every Chandler keeps a fair quantity of coiled goods on hand, often in a strong-chest or two near the front of his shop. Along with their coiled goods, many keep a few forge-chisels and pliers for “doing-off” lengths for customers. Coiled goods are always purchased by the length, with long, unbroken pieces commanding the highest prices, because no one wants to climb down a mine shaft on a long line made of hunks of other ropes knotted together.
The salt trade is very important in the Dominions, but not quite as vital as it has been in the real world for two reasons. One, there are other methods available for the preservation of goods, which is salt’s real purpose in our world; and two, salt has never been as scarce in the Dominions as it is in our world.
Salt can be found harvested in “salt pans” along beaches, or on the edges of salt marshes. While not as tasty as mineral slats, local salt pans can allow local fish stocks to be readily preserved for trade inland, or elsewhere. Salt mines operate in many places, and is thus fairly plentiful. Gnome families are best known as the miners and purveyors of salt, with clans making a good living mining salt deposits and trundling the results to the nearest markets. While you won’t find large salt caravans or a dedicated trade route bringing salt over thousands of miles, most northern trade caravans include a single wagon dedicated to hauling salt to market.
Everyone knows about the nations of southern and eastern Lythia, with their “… teeming slaves, live ones and more and more undead ones…”. Yet a greater concern to rulers and law keepers – and if they know the true danger in their midst, general citizens, too – are the more covert dealers in slaves to operate in the lands and city-states outside Hepekeria. Seareach Castle and the City-State of Crebain allow open slavery and support its use among the town’s nobility. In The Principality of Shem slavery is illegal, and when discovered can result in ruinous fines and permanent exile.
Slaves are a difficult cargo to trade, and requires great care to transport safely, but the profits can be immense. Markets are usually into the underdark, where drow and duergar traders willingly pay a 200 gp bounty for a healthy and beautiful young slave. Most organizations, such as The Iron Ring capture them from isolated farms and use backwoods trails to bring them close to the cities, then smuggle them in by the usual means of a barge or boat by night. Some smuggler’s tunnels are also said to exist, running from the hidden pirate stronghold of Skullport and into the sewers under Mornhaven, though these routes are also choked with ghouls and other fearsome monsters.