Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/07/2-
Markets and Merchandise is a fairly straightforward book; stuff what for to buy in your imaginary friends games (Pathfinder, 4e, and d6 compatible versions are available), where for to buy such trinkets and why for how you has the moneys of what they is. Honestly, the overall idea is one I tend to skip past. First off, my group gets picky (read: bitchy) about their loot, so I let them pick it themselves. More importantly, I like my D&D a bit more down and dirty dungeon crawly, so stopping to talk about the illustrations on each side of the local kingdom’s coinage and the finer points of their anti-shaving technology never really crossed my mind. Nevertheless, I thought it would be worth a look to see if there were any ideas or times that I could add to my current campaign.
At around sixty pages of text, Markets and Merchandise is a slim yet comprehensive volume and is surprisingly well written with quite a lot of thought put into it. It seems (to my admittedly amateur eyes) that the writers did some actual research into the history of coinage. Or maybe they skimmed a Wikipedia article. (Or maybe they just made it all up and I’m too lazy to do my own research to check). However it was done, the final product reads quite professionally, without going overboard into a Ben Stein drone on the formal history of economics from the Paleozoic to Medieval Agrarian. The book is sparsely illustrated, with a decent layout, but chapters aren’t given their own page and start wherever the last chapter happens to end. This gets on my nerves a bit, but isn’t a deal-breaker.
The book is divided into three chapters: Currency & Wealth, Places to Buy Things, and an Item Listing. There’s also an appendix of Treasure Parcels, but it’s only two pages of some examples and is hardly worth mentioning. The first chapter has some good ideas for fleshing out your world through the use of currency. What they use, why they use it, how it looks, and just about everything else in between. As I’ve said, while it’s not my cup of tea, the potential here is unique and inviting. I found myself actually enjoying reading about the history of coins and how different societies would influence the style of currency.
The chapter on Places to Buy Things is a bit self explanatory, but again, I found lots of ideas I’d never even considered, like purchasing items from nomadic traders or military camps. They flesh out these markets with details on the setting, attitudes, and even bargaining rates. I found myself once again astonished at how they could take this flyover country and turn it into something not only worth reading, but worth incorporating into your game.
The final chapter, Item Listing, is almost beyond complete. Animals, crops, vehicles, coffee, scented bath oil, food, clothes, alcohol, breakfast options, entertainment, midwives, pesticide, land, and probably a few other things I’ve forgotten, are all detailed and priced. They even have a few “futuristic” weapons; though I’m not certain I agree with their assessment that a crossbow is part of the mace group of weapons, nor that a handgun is a spear or an energy blaster is a heavy blade. All of this can be forgiven, however, by the inclusion of elephants, as well as elephant armor and weapons. Any book that contains a “trunk sword” is automatically getting a bump up in my estimation.
But here’s where we come to the interesting and possibly controversial part. Slaves are included in the Item Listing chapter (and sporadically throughout the book), but are spoken of as just another commodity. In fact, in the main article on slaves, it dispassionately explains various uses for slaves, their rights, and describes different markets where they can be purchased. You could read just about any entry on slaves in this book, substitute “oxen” or “chairs” and have a coherent sentence. It just strikes me as odd that such a potentially touchy subject be treated in such a blasé fashion.
It seems as though someone at Avalon Games anticipated this, though, because right in the middle of an introductory paragraph are two sentences decrying slavery as “[a] horrific practice [that] robs people of their dignity and their self-respect.” Its odd placement and surprisingly harsh nature (given the detached style of the rest of the narrative) makes it feel like a last minute editorial decision. As if someone suddenly went, “Wait! What if some people may get upset about including slaves in our book of merchandise? We should point out slavery is bad. Done? Good, now write this down, ‘Females are more valuable than males because they can serve as breeding stock to produce baby slaves.’” (Actual book quote inside my blatantly made-up hypothetical quote) Oddly, there was no information for baby slaves.
All that aside, Markets and Merchandise excels at what it sets out to do; enrich your game with monetary particulars. If you’re looking to flesh out your ideas for your realm with realistic economic details, or describe the character’s mercantile encounters more vividly, or if you just want your character to charge into combat on the back of a painted war elephant, mowing down your enemies with its mighty trunk sword, then this is the book for you.
[4 of 5 Stars!]