Simplified Market Ventures

Most house rules should address a setting issue … or a problem.

My problem with the market ventures rules has nothing to do with their balance, scope, or usage, but to be blunt, I flat-out don’t have the time to use them. They take longer than any other rule in ACKS, and the reward appears low for the time expenditure.

So I’ve been working on a simpler version. Here is my first draft. Comments welcome as always.

CARGO is a complex of generic commodity items at a variety of values. Each load weighs 50 stone and is worth 100 gold. If the merchant is traveling along an established route, the base value is –1 at the starting city and +1 at the target city.

If the route is not an established one, the base value is –1 at the starting city and 2d3–4 at the target city . . . and you roll the target city when you arrive.

VALUABLES consist of higher-ticket items, and are chancier, even along established routes. A load weighs 10 stone and is worth 1,000 gold. Along an established route, the base value is –1 in the starting city. For the target city, add 2d3–3 to the starting city’s base value to find the new value.

A non-established route is 2d3–4 for both cities, and they bear no relation to one another.

SPECIAL products are rarer. In addition to the above, a city has a chance of being known for the quality of a particular product. The base chance is 35% minus (market class x 5). Thus, a Class I city has a 30% chance; a Class VI city has a 5% chance. On a natural 01, there is a chance of a second product as well.

To determine the product, roll on the Common Merchandise table (p. 145). This product has a value of –2 in the city known for it. In other cities, demand fluctuates but is always at least a bit higher: 2d3–3.

Merchants have no predetermined interests. Roll the number of merchants and the number of loads of CARGO they might buy or sell. Make a reaction roll - even though the game system views CARGO loads as generic, the merchants don’t!

VALUABLES are handled the same, but the number of loads they are interested in buying or selling is one market class worse (Class VI merchants are interested in 1d2–1 loads).

. . . remains the same. It’s a good system :-).

I like this a lot. Going to send this to the player of the one PC who was interested in mercantile ventures; I hated to veto him under the default system, but building all the supply and demand modifiers for all the towns was just going to take too long.

Let me know how it goes. I haven’t play-tested beyond generating towns.

From a balance perspective, it results in the same raw numbers as my understanding of the core system; and gets almost identical results to the averaged merchant caravans.

My worry is that from a fun/player/narrative perspective, however, it substantially changes a descriptive and detailed system to be somewhat bland—i.e., it might be equivalent to replacing the names of weapons with “LIGHT”, “MEDIUM”, and “HEAVY” weapons.

Still . . . I would rather have a bland system that lets the PCs try to earn some cash on ventures occasionally than a beautiful and elegant system that I never use at all.

Eh, I could always roll for a random cargo descriptor appropriate to a given town. Maybe build a 6 or 10 entry table with a few things you’d expect them to export. Adding flavor text back in is easy enough, and handy when you’re trying to problem solve (“Hmmm… we’re being attacked by gryphons… fortunately, that CARGO we’re carrying is fish! Let’s crack open a couple casks and let them feast on it, and then maybe they’ll leave us alone.”). Just as the important difference between sword, axe, mace, and hammer is their uses outside of direct combat - ability to cut ropes, smash walnuts, and chop down trees.

An excellent point, thank you! just posted claiming that this ends up over-valuing trading common goods along safe routes. :frowning:

TL;DR: Safe routes pay better on average, just like the full system. Taking an unsafe route is a gamble—the real profit happens when you find a good route and mine it for all it’s worth before everyone else.

The full system averages out to about 0% profit across all trade goods. But PC merchants don’t buy all of the goods available and transport them—they buy the ones they think will make a profit.

Rolling 1d3–1d3 a total of 62 times, randomly pairing them, and then adjusting them a net of 2 points toward each other, will result in 46% of all market pairs having a 2-point difference in at least one good, and almost all remaining markets having a 1-point difference.

And that does not include the ±1 to a random assortment that the Judge is supposed to apply based on Land Value, which causes a non-trivial (but more difficult to calculate precisely because it varies by Land Value and Judge discretion) number of those pairs to jump to a 3-point difference, and a teeny, tiny percentage to jump to a whopping 4-point difference (roughly matching the teeny, tiny percentage of market pairs with a 0-point difference as their best good).

With the Land Value adjustments, the final result for an optimized merchant works out to about a 20% profit margin between two cities along a safe, known route.

With unsafe and unknown routes, there’s no chance to optimize your choice, and the end result flattens toward zero, with a higher degree of variability/risk. In other words, the smart merchant plays it safe!

Traipsing the wilderness does have one advantage, of course, but it requires Judge discretion and doesn’t make a good rule—if the PCs make a lucky (high profit) find, record the degree of difference, and let the PCs profit at that rate for that route for some reasonable amount of time. Once an established route is in place, or pent-up demand exhausted, or whatever, either switch to the established route rules or roll again.

I guess my argument is that the final case, of finding a high demand differential between disconnected settlements and exploiting it, should be the norm for PCs (at least once they have the strength of arms for it). If 46% of linked markets have a 2-point differential on at least one good, this means that 46% of unlinked markets should have a 4-point differential on at least one good. These differentials, though not uncommon, are impossible for ‘civilian’ merchants to exploit, but very possible for the PCs or NPC parties to exploit with some work, for large profits (and bonus XP / treasure for fighting wilderness beasts). Trading in this way links the trade system to the mid-level wilderness adventuring paradigm, and provides a gateway to the domain game when you start clearing hexes along your ‘route’ because you’re sick of dealing with those pesky bandits. Arguably the route is only safe enough for civilians once the hexes are mostly cleared and a track worn into the earth, by which time hopefully the PCs will be pushing towards domain level and may aim to build a proper road and tax the route instead of trading it themselves. Satisfaction of pent-up demand is a more interesting problem, and might depend on the durability of the goods in question and quantities transported, but I’m not sure if it’s something I’d worry about all that much.

As for information availability on demand modifiers, I think it might take a visit to the towns in question, but I don’t think it need be as difficult as choosing to move the right good to the right place and then suddenly ‘discovering’ the modifier. Visit the towns in question, watch the people, buy drinks in the bar, and ask about shortages and surpluses. Are their clothes uniformly worn and tattered? Are they using makeshift or damaged tools for their work? Are there continual complaints about lack of good liquor? Are they worried that they won’t have enough goats to sacrifice to their deities come Festivus? And sure, maybe it costs time and money; perhaps the 50% most extreme demand modifiers become known in one week of reconnoitering (being the most obvious, hence easiest to discover), the next 25% in the next week, and the last 25% in one more week, in the traditional ACKS availability paradigm. But I don’t think keeping it secret until you try to buy or sell X there is the best way to handle it.

But yeah - having used the simplified version in play, what I saw was that it eliminates the possibility of reliably high-profit (but dangerous) off-road trading, which I feel ties into other elements of the game in a beneficial fashion (as motivation for wilderness adventures and as a segue into domain establishment). I agree that the simplified system is a perfect model for safe, on-route trading, as non-adventurer merchants do in ACKS, but PCs are adventurers and behave differently. A simple hack fix that I would stand behind would be to roll randomly off-route until the markets have been assessed / scouted, and then to fix it at -2 for the starting city and +2 in the ending one after time has been taken to assess both markets.

Mmm… I appear to have not taken the land value modifiers into account. My mistake, will correct post. The important point, though, is that under the simplified rules, on-route trading of common goods tends to yield 20% profit, while off-route trading tends to yield 0%. In contrast, off-route trading under the complex rules tends to yield closer to 40%, which incentivizes PCs to go out into the wilderness.

Some comments:

I’ve been working on a spreadsheet for a starting region (for a game that’s not yet starting). While it’s true that the largest markets retain a few 2-point swings with each other, the cascading effects of the default system cause any smaller markets in the region to gravitate much more closely to one another (because they are first pulled 2 points toward each larger market, and then pulled 2 points closer to each other).

As such, I would use the simplified system in the OP only when traveling between the major markets of a region. Presumably, the distances involved would ease the concerns about this being too easy.

Also, I would allow players who find themselves in a distant market to recall what they know about their home markets and deliberately buy the items of greatest price discrepancy for their return trip, allowing them a +2 bonus on the roll - there should nearly always be some goods with massive variation between unconnected markets.

I’d still make the roll when they actually reach their home city (prices may have changed by the time they get back!)

I think I finally understand what you are saying. The simplified rules cover two scenarios:

  1. Trade between known, established markets.
  2. Trade between unknown markets.

There is a third scenario that the rules don’t cover:

  1. Trade between two known, but unestablished, markets.

I hadn’t actually considered the third option, so your comments seemed to me to indicate that you thought option #2 should be more profitable, which was absurd ;-).

The Fix: add a +2 bonus to the demand in scenario 3 to represent the lack of the 2-point friction in established markets.

Or, you know, use the complex rules. But if you do use the complex rules, and come across another scenario not covered by the simplified rules, please let me know. I’d like the simple rules to be complete, just easier on the overhead.

This looks like a very good way of handling trade. Has anyone tried it in their campaign for some effect?