The World of Ark

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Glittering Isles of Greyhawk: of Coin and Trade

LOOT! It is the candy-coating goodness covering every adventure right?! So of course we have to have something about money in The Glittering Isles.

Despite the fact that The Glittering Isles were never conquered (or even truly colonized) by the Great Kingdom or other Oeridian peoples, it still uses a system of coinage almost identical to the Aerdy system established hundreds of years ago. What is that you say? You don't know what the Aerdy Pound is?! Well...lets get that out of the way first!

A long while back an awesome fella named Joe Maccarrone, after talking to Gary Gygax and some others, came up with an amazing conversion of the AD&D monetary system (detailed in Footprints issue #15) to something a bit more similar to what our own Medieval ancestors used in their daily lives. It is based upon a coinage system called the Aerdy Pound; which is silver based instead of gold based...and beyond that, increases the value of coins as well. After all, what if your character isn't in an area where there is a glut of coinage from adventurers?! What if you are in the backwater village of Noobsville and need a new battle-axe? You don't want to be paying gold when you can pay silver right?

In essence, the coinage system is converted this way (Old System to New Pound):

10 g.p = 1 g.p.
1 p.p. = .5 g.p.
1 g.p. = 5 s.p. = .1 g.p.
1 e.p. = 2.5 s.p. = .05 g.p.
1 s.p. = .25 s.p.
1 c.p. = .25 c.p.

After that, you can simply convert the old prices to the new prices. The new system, cleaned up, looks like this:

10 c.p. = 1 s.p.
50 s.p. = 1 g.p.
5 g.p. =  £ 1

Now, Joe didn't just convert the monetary system via coinage, he also re-vamped the equipment lists as well; but that isn't the purpose of this article...though I DO recommend you pick up the Footprints Number 15 issue where the article is called: "Historically Resonant" Coinage for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons by Joe Maccarrone. Awesome article!

Back to the purpose of this article, the "Aerdy £" is very important to trade in Greyhawk; and by extension to The Glittering Isles because it is rich in silver. The fear of attracting continental attention is very real among the Ship Captains (and even Corsairs) who travel to Lo Reltarma or Duxchan to do trade. Because there is an over-shadowing fear held by all involved, the merchants NEVER use coinage from The Glittering Isles, instead opting to use only silver trade bars valued at £1 with those they deal with in trade.

No stamp is ever placed upon these silver bars, and with a real weight of 7 pounds (or 104 ounces) they are equal to (in the new money system) £8; which represents a significant amount of money (enough to buy a suit of Plate Mail Armor!). These bars are highly prized by the merchants of Lendore Isle who often take credit for them; though the Duxchaners have their doubts to this claim even though the Suel Merchants they deal with from the Glittering Isles also speak Lendorian as well. In truth, most of these silver bars are manufactured by the Grey Elves who trade them to merchants from The Kingdom of the Dales or the City of Widdershin for gold to work, which is obtained primarily from human merchants; which brings us back to trade in The Glittering Isles.

Within The Glittering Isles, the various merchants usually do bulk trade in gold coins, rarely using the silver trade bars except in port cities alone. The reason being that £8 in gold is far lighter than the same in silver which, outside of cities, costs quite a bit to move around in merchant caravans. Most merchants will carry the caravan's "Pay Chest" right on their own person. Simply carrying 100 gold coins gives the merchant £20 or 5,000 s.p. (called Pennies, or Penny for one s.p.)! Those that do carry a chest of silver are usually paying daily rates for his caravan guards or needs it to pay bribes; neither a situation a merchant really likes to be in. Merchants travelling aboard ships have no trouble with carrying silver though, as has already been hinted at previously.

Widdershin is the "capital of trade" upon Kroanar Isle (the largest island) and so many merchants make it to the city at least once each year; including sea-going merchants (who may make port numerous times depending on their destinations). The city is constantly bustling, even in winter, with trade of all sorts. Though only a small sized city, it is nonetheless famed for its gigantic Great Guildhall. The structure spans 300 feet by 150 feet, and its highest point is over 100 feet in height as well. Constructed when Old Pellham fell to internal strife, the merchants of the city have never relinquished their control over the building and indeed the city and beyond into their control of the Free Seaholds. Day and night both, a prospective buyer will find trade to be had inside the two huge ground floor "Trade Halls". The two halls are the size of some towns' merchant squares, and in them can be found anything that doesn't rot or breathe that is for sale. Finished goods (such as armor, swords, clothes, jewelry and etc.) are the primary items sold inside the Great Guildhall; while daily items such as bread, fish, freshly cut meat and so forth will be found in the Market Square of Widdershin. The building is a must see for anyone visiting the city; and in fact it is the tallest structure in the city, with those coming from land or sea being able to catch a glimpse of its shining silver Hightower roof long before they can see the rest of the city.

In all the "goodly realms" of The Isles can be found merchants however; not just in and around Widdershin. Upon the waves and all along rutted roads merchants, buccaneers, pirates and warships guarding trade are to be found in plenty. The "typical" merchant's caravan is exactly as detailed on page 69 of the Monster Manual: 5d6x10 individuals with 10% of the group being merchants, 10% being drovers and the remaining 80% being mercenary and/or "house" guards protecting the caravan. While at sea merchants are represented by "Buccaneers" who travel about carrying merchants (represented by any "prisoners" indicated by dice roll under the description of buccaneers on page 67 of the Monster Manual) guarded by Marines represented by chain armored individuals (while sailors are the leather clad individuals); any treasure found is a mix of cargo and coins (with most being cargo).

House Guards are common in established merchant groups (called Houses because most are composed of individuals of the same bloodline) because of several reasons. A guard who knows he has a retirement home (farm, town/city home, business, etc.) to look forward to after a set number of years is far more loyal than a mercenary sell-sword who might turn on the merchant. These Guards are also usually better armed and armored because the House invests in their equipment so that the Guard is better able to protect the merchant. Lastly, Guards typically treat their comrades and merchants as a sort of extended family; so any new recruit is usually actually from the blood family of the Guard, many sons and daughters filling the spot of a retiring parent which ensures new recruits as well as continual loyalty.

The Merchant Houses (whose names are far too numerous to list here) are as firmly entrenched in the various realms as are the Noble Houses. In fact, most Merchant Houses got their start when second and third etc. sons and daughters of a noble family decided to invest in trade as a means to maintain their wealth when they could not inherit. This started long ago, but continues to this day. Some Noble Houses are also Merchant Houses actually; though most nobles would scoff at the idea of being a seller of goods rather than a warrior or cleric.

As has been mentioned, the Free Seaholds and its capital of Widdershin is the center of trade in The Glittering Isles. The accompanying map shows the usual routes of trade to be found; and as you can see, it seems to spiral out of and fall into Widdershin as if it were the axle of a great wheel.

The Slave Trade from Hepmonoland is dominated by the Corsairs, but it is only a one way "trade" to estate owners within the various holdings of the Corsairs who buy the slaves for silver to work their fields. On the northern end of Kroanar Isle the Schnai take some few thralls back to Rhizia and the holdings of their kin there; and this has increased in frequency now that King Jom has bent his will and warriors to conquering.

Many ships set sail from Widdershin and its powerful group of merchants for Hepmonoland, Duxchan and Lo Reltarma in earnest trade. To these places go the Grey Elven Silver Trade Bars that these merchants trade alongside the many gems and copious amounts of fruits and nuts that fill their cargo holds. They return with gold, cloth goods (such as linen bedding), finished goods (such as fine artwork, books, etc.), ivory from Hepmonoland and so forth. This trade makes Widdershin exceedingly wealthy, and they guard it just as a dragon guards its lair; they refuse trade in their markets with anyone else who trades with the mainland that isn't first sold to them at bargain prices. Those known to break their trade monopoly are usually dealt with rather harshly at sea if caught and on land if they can be found by hired assassins. It is known that the Faerie Elves have contact by sea with the Elves of the Spindrifts; but this is minimal, and the merchants of Widdershin wouldn't dare accost any Elfin ship or individual Elfin merchant at any rate.

Most areas of the Isles are self sufficient in foodstuffs, so trade done is primarily for less bulky items; though Halfling Mead is well regarded in all corners and is their major export to all which they trade for worked metal goods (weapons, armor, pots, pans and etc.). The Dwarfs, Gnomes and Elves deal primarily in finer goods sold to humanity, while humans sell much food, lumber and sundries to the Dwarfs, trade gold with the Elves, and the Gnomes are happy to trade their fine jewelry for non-minted gold that they can use in their jewelry making and timber so that they don't need to cut their own beautiful forests. Humanity is often also in the habit of "selling" their services as mercenaries to the various demi-human realms in the often frequent clashes with the orcs of Krimba-hai and other humanoid menaces.

The threats to all forms of trade are many: humanoid raiders, human banditry, monstrous beasts (both natural and magical), sea monsters, pirates, buccaneers and enemy merchant groups are but a few to be mentioned. Work as a Caravan Guard or as a Marine on a merchant ship is a solid way to make money within the trade routes of The Glittering Isles. However, attacking and looting a merchant caravan or ship is also a time honored tradition among various peoples such as High Freeholders (when "tax" isn't paid), Corsairs, Suel Barbarians and even mercenary adventurers. Most nobles wouldn't dare attack the neutral status of merchants on land or sea; though the term Robber Baron is not unknown among various Lairds who have few resources and poor lands. The most famous "Robber" Baron is Lord Krell of Krell's Gate who taxes caravans moving between human lands and the Grey Elf realm exhorbitant "fees" for using his road. As he claims the only viable pass through the Caspan Mountains, he gets his coin. Many other such Tax Barons are legitimate, and anyone travelling the roads should expect to give coin to be able to pass various castles/keeps which require payment.

Typical Baron's "Tax Keep" in the Kingdom of Hahntar

The finer nuances of trade isn't all that much fun to go into; I really only wanted to give everyone an idea of how trade works in the Realms of the Glittering Isles so that you can use it if you decide to play there as I lay out how to fit various modules that are "setting neutral" into a place I've created for the World of Greyhawk. I hope you've enjoyed this article whether you use the material or not...have a great day!

The Glittering Isles of Greyhawk: Prologue

The Glittering Isles of Greyhawk (Sneak Peek!)

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