Designer’s Notes: Purveyors of the Priceless


Purveyors of the Priceless originally started out as “What the heck do I write for Low-Tech III?” I didn’t get involved in the previous Low-Tech issue because I felt it was extremely far out of my comfort zone (which led to issues with Purveyors itself – I felt I needed to come up with some complex mechanism to live up to the Low-Tech series). I was actually told once or twice that I should just skip – but the problem with that is if you tell me I shouldn’t do something it means I’m probably going to do it. I’m contrary that way.

One thing I’d seen on the forums so often was ‘How do I play a merchant who sells stuff, but is also an adventurer?” (Seriously. It comes up every couple of months) So I decided to tackle the topic. I even started a thread on Low-Tech Trading to make sure my outline covered all the big stuff. A lot of folk want me to delver into the world-building side of selling/buying/trading, but my article’s topic wasn’t going to cover that and given the time frame I was working with there was no way I could make it work. There was simply too much to read and even more to write. My original outlined topics was a player-facing system for how to be a merchant and then rules on how low-tech transportation shaped low-tech economies. Because of word count limits I had to cut the latter off (and it needed more information anyways) and only the sections on merchants were submitted.

Overall, I’m rather proud of the rules I put together. It’s not perfect and utterly faithful to historical accuracy (I’d say around 80% or so), but it is gameable and in my experience that’s what’s important. More than that, I think the simplified rules for trading are easy enough to use that they can provide some great chances at roleplaying without dice rolls getting in the way, while still being detailed enough that they retain some of that granularity that Low-Tech is so famous for.

This article well over a 100 hours of research (a dozen books and something 10,000+ pages later) – though most of that was for the transportation section of the article that I cut. The writing part wasn’t bad overall – about 30 hours, but I had to stop and start writing because I ended up needing to read about this or that. Revisions were equally nightmarish to research with over 40 hours and something like 100 email exchanges. Editorial was fairly typical at around 20 hours for both post and pre-production changes.

High-Tech Trading as a Job
One thing I had to kill was a box with a few guidelines for using Purveyors in higher-TL campaigns. Many high-tech purchasers buy product in bulk to get a discount on price and then sell it just above that price. For GURPS this is best represented with taking a -1 to -4 to your skill roll to gain an automatic 2.5% profit even if you fail your skill roll. Thus if someone bought a lot of Bouncing Betty baby dolls and taking a -4 to their Job roll they’d gain an a +10% increase in their salary – even if they failed.

Another concept I toyed with was moving the penalty around for Trading as a Job depending on the method used to transport goods. Should extra detail be desired, the following chart can be used to vary the penalty for trading:

Penalty         Travel type*
1/5                 By foot
1/10               By horse or wagon
1/20               By sea, train, or “slow” air vehicles (e.g., dirigibles)
1/50               By air
1/100             By suborbital drops or similiar technology
* Without a good road system or infrastructure reduce this by one step; treat foot travel as 1/2 if so reduced.

Wining and Dining
One idea I toyed with, but ultimately never included was using the rules for Cost of Living (p. B265-266) to simulate “wooing” a potential buyer or client. Ever watch Mad Men or Spice and Wolf? Ever notice how seemingly every episode seems to have something like that? In real life it’s even more prevalent. Yeah, it’s that important. Ultimately I left it our because I needed the space and it was kind of obvious. Essentially, it worked like this: decide upon the Status of meal/booze/accommodations you are treating your client to. Then add a modifier to all rolls made for interacting with that client equal to (meal status) – (their Status). You can get negative penalties this way! If you give a Status 3 client a Status 1 meal he’s likely to be miffed at you! In either case, penalties for wining and dining can never go above +4 or below -4.

Those with Merchant Rank, imputed Status, etc. can use their ties to reduce this amount by a similiar amount. Thus subtract your levels of imputed Status from the Status level you are using to wine and dine to get total cost. Thus it’s almost always worth purchasing Wealth and Rank to get more imputed Status.

For example, if Status 0 Bob is trying to sell those Bouncing Betty baby dolls to the toy distributor Frank who has Status 2, then Bob could spend $60,000 (Status 6) in fancy meals, 100 year old scotch, and five star hotels to persuade Frank to take the dolls off his hands. Do note, that sometimes, this isn’t worth it if the price to sell plus wining/dining isn’t at least what they stand to gain. But if Bob had Status 2 as well, he’d only pay for such luxuries as if they were Status 4 or $600!

Side Jobs
Another concept that I felt had merit was the character who moonlighted as a merchant. Probably the best way to simulate this is to cut the profits in half for those spending 20 hours or less or by a quarter for those who are spending 10 hours or less. This is similar to how self-teaching and learning on the job work for the Time Use/Study rules. (And really, gives me an idea on jobs in general for GURPS.)

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  1. Did you use the coffee merchants from your D&D campaign as examples? If I remember correctly:

    1. Coffee beans were 1 silver/lb.
    2. Cantrips were used to roast, flavor, grind, and preserve.
    3. We gave coffee makers for free to the dwarven miners with a free sample of coffee flavors .
    4. The dwarves doubled productivity and bartered for a steady supply of coffee.
    5. We were making about 7-8 silver/lb. After labor and transportation costs were factored in.
    6. We commissioned a custom galleon with the coffee money that later became a spell jammer when we obtained a spell jammer helm.

    Good Times.

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