If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve seen my other posts and know that I think money makes the world go round, both in the modern day and in a fantasy world. But many of you may not share my belief system. You might think that trade, whether it is loot, raw materials or manufactured goods just aren’t that important and aren’t that fun for FRPGs. Let me try to prove I’m right.
I’m going to use a little studied part of North American history: The Beavers Wars, also known as the French and Iroquois Wars. Things kicked off in 1601 when the French allied with several Indian tribes (yes, I’m using the word “Indian” - try not to be so easily offended) against the Iroquois. The Dutch sort of did the same thing about 10-15 years later. These are called the Beaver Wars, because the Europeans were so interested in the beaver pelts that the Indians had to trade, that they were willing to trade firearms to the natives. Traders were getting rich back in Europe by selling the beaver pelts, and the Indians who were able to trade with the French or Dutch were able to get weaponry. Weaponry is power, and those tribes with guns began to dominate their traditional enemies in the region. This was partially because might made right, but also because they were depleting the beaver in their own territories and needed to take over new territories in order to get access to more beavers. More beavers meant more guns. More guns meant more power. More power meant more land. The Beaver Wars went on through to 1701 when they agreed to a peace in Montreal. The only reason they agreed to peace was that they needed to go to war against the English. So was this really the 100 Years War? (Just kidding)
What’s my point? The French, Dutch and many tribes fought their way through the entire Great Lakes region. This is an area I’m estimating at over 460,000 square miles. That’s about 15% of the USA or an area about the size of Sweden (and not that far off of Spain). Huge area, 100 years of war, over what? Beaver pelts. Thousands dead - over fur.
So do I think trade is important? Yes I do. Do I think it has an important place in FRPGs? Yes I do. But how? Stuck for ideas for missions? Here’s something easy. Pick a spot in your fantasy world that is uncivilized, probably dangerous - like the place where the trolls or the dragons all seem to live. Have someone discover gold, diamonds, or any other precious resource in that area, and set up a Gold Rush. Adventurers and other killers will come from every corner of the world to either set up mines, get rich protecting the miners, or to rob the miners. Meanwhile, every dragon in the region is going to be thinking, “Hey cool, lunch is coming to me now”. Yeah - They’ll think that right up until a couple of them get killed. Then they are going to have to start wondering what they can do to stop these crazy humans on their turf. They will start thinking about allying themselves with the other dragons in the region even to the point of forming a dragon army or at least raiding groups. If you cannot set up a dozen quests having your PCs work for the mining operations against the dragons (or trolls or whomever) as they begin to organize and counterattack, then you probably should be playing and not game mastering.
That’s just one example. Let’s face it - there are a lot of standard “bad guys” out there who are already based on trade. Pirates prey on sea trade. Bandits prey on land trade. What party hasn’t guarded a caravan once or twice? One of the top campaigns I’ve ever run starts as a rescue mission - Go find and rescue two prospectors now missing in goblin territory. That led directly to: guard the prospectors and miners as they take over the mine from the orcs who are there. Later on it was, go back to that mine and save the miners from the orc warlord who has enslaved them. Your players are not going to see this is “a trade based adventure”, but it is. And if you can follow the money, you can come up with more adventure settings than your players will be able to accomplish!