Friday, September 14, 2012

Trade Goods

This is a first rough pass.  I thought it might be good to boil trade goods down to a list of 20.  This could facilitate randomly determining ship cargoes, warehouse contents, bandit hoards, and player trade mini-games.  I started with this list:

1   beer
2   dye
3   glassware
4   fish
5   furs
6   grain
7   hides
8   livestock
9   meat
10 metals
11 oil
12 pottery
13 salt
14 spices - honey/sugar/
15 tea/coffee
16 textiles - wool / cotton / tapestries / lace / silk
17 vegetables / fruit
18 weapons/tools
19 wine
20 wood

As you can see, I'm already having a hard time limiting some of the categories, like 14 and 16.  One idea was to have each category have a rarity scale.  The idea being you roll to determine what the trade good is, say, a textile, then roll rarity and you might get silk, cotton, or wool depending on the result of that roll.

But after making this chart I realized bandit hoards and caravans will probably have very different cargoes than ships.  Maybe even different enough to warrant a separate chart.  Ugh, a whole new chart of twenty more goods is getting too complicated for my liking.  What if I split this into two 10-entry sections, half could be land cargoes, half bulkier sea cargoes (like lumber)?  I could make the chart where I could roll a d20 to get a result from all the categories for say a coastal warehouse or something.

Keep in mind this is meant to be a baseline of trade goods that almost any world would have-- a place for the busy DM to start.  You could always edit this or make whole new charts for world specific items.


  1. However many tables you go for, you could avoid subtables for rarity by organising all the entries in rarity order then using modifiers or dice with more or less faces for the roll.

    The entries from the subtables would push overall number of entries up, but this approach would allow you to get more on the single scale by going below zero for one extreme and above for the other.

    That would also mean not every vessel or caravan might be carrying one or both extremes, but that's natural too.

  2. You could make a single table of 30 results, bottom 10 land only, top 10 sea only, middle 10 overlap. Then roll a d20, or d20+10 for sea cargoes. For spices, textiles etc make a flat d4 or d8 roll on a subtable, which you could probably fit on the same row in a second column.

    That's something like how I'd handle it, anyway. I don't tend to worry about simulationally weighting things. How many cargoes are the PCs going to deal with, and are they really likely to complain that the contents are unrealistic? Would they rather find nothing but millet?

  3. This is indeed super tough. I've been trying to wrap my head around coming up with a system akin to this (trying to make a random shipwreck contents table myself).

    My thought has been to use more deeply stacked tables with categories like:

    Items of Value (gold/gems/jewelry)
    Tools (construction/crafting/farming)
    Domestic Goods (finished every day goods)
    Trade Goods (bulk raw or semi raw materials)
    Provisions/Adventure (torches/lockpicks/backpacks)
    Exotics (a flavor catch all)

    This may be outside and beyond what you're going for, but those are my thoughts. This is a tough tough table type to execute in my opinion 'cause you don't want things to be too repetitive, but you want to be sure it's not obscenely complex to roll something up either.

    I'm really looking forward to how you tackle this one!

  4. You can have a system of niches that vary geographically. So one area deals in beer, another mead, a third palm-wine, but all of these fill the Alcohol niche - or even more eclectically, Intoxicants. Areas on cultural boundaries would develop a taste for variety, but you could start out with a single culture that had its own cloth, grain staple, building materials etc. and then build out.

  5. Thanks, for the great comments.

    @Porky: That kind of stepped chart is cool. Did TSR ever use one? Has WotC? Anyway, I think type of good is more important as basic info for me right now, with rarity and value being an add on distinguishing factor.

    @John: That's exactly how I was thinking of doing it, just limiting myself to 20 since that's my pattern so far, and I know I can fit it on a single page. That millet thing cracked me up. I could just see the party "millet again!?" Hah!

    @Pandesmos: Ah, I think you are thinking of something I consider my holy grail-- a treasure item generator. Mine was intended for looting tombs in solo play and wanting interesting and surprising things. But for this I am after something more basic. I just want the bare minimum for there to seem like there is trade going on in the world. I don't think of it as treasure so much as commercial cargo. I did mention the bandit hoards because well, bandits are supposed to rob this kind of stuff, right? Anyway, we'll have to both keep trying for a more genreal item generator.

    @Roger: Yes, my hope is I can provide a kind of template for DM's that they could adjust for different regions or cultures. We'll see if I can et it into shape.

  6. @ Telecanter - I can't think of any TSR example, and I'll admit I don't know much about what WotC does. That said, I'd imagine both of them must have used a similar approach for something at some point just because it's so useful.

    On the subject of rarity, you might find something useful in this post:

    ... of what not to do at the very least. It's for Rogue Space, but fairly generic.

    If you do go with regional differences, they could be represented by having overlapping circles for centres, like a Venn diagram, but overlaying or reflecting a map, with the difference in current location and nearest centre moving rarity up or down by one degree per space.

  7. Thanks, I'll take a look. The Venn diagram idea is cool. Maybe complicated to do (well, without a computer. I tend to default to analog solutions). Maybe transparent overlays could work. I'll focus on getting the goods for one region at a time for now.