In the medieval period of real world Earth, merchants were often held in low status and faced discrimination coming from religious leaders in monotheistic lands. Attitudes against merchants softened over the renaissance, and Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, got the ball rolling on a wider understanding of commerce among the general populace with his treatise The Wealth of Nations in 1776. Scarterra doesn't have a version of Adam Smith and it has a very different religious paradigm, but the same societal and economic forces are present. The First Rule of Economics is “Scarcity”. We have unlimited wants and limited means. That said, most regions, at least most inhabited regions, have an abundance of at least one kind resource and they trade these things to other places.
A merchant needs access to valuable goods and he or she needs knowledge or where they are most in demand and he or she needs to have the means to transport said goods. That's it. Anyone can act like a merchant, at least temporarily if they have something to sell.
Merchants don't put in their dues and get promoted as recognition for their hard work. Every purchase or sale is a separate transaction and a merchants stands or falls on how their current balance of assets and liabilities sits. Some starve to death (or give up being merchants and move on to a less risky profession) and others managed to set themselves as veritable princes in all but name. This competition is good for society as a whole and is more civilized the savage "competition" the Testers indulge in. -Danuta, leader of the Fumayan Masks
The second difficulty faced by all merchants, apart from the looming threat of starvation, is that merchants are perpetually strangers wherever they go. Whether you are buying goods from 30 miles down the river or from a distant shore 3000 miles away, in order to buy foreign goods you have to deal with foreign people. The Rovers and Tenders try to encourage people to be welcoming to foreign people in their midst, but this seldom works. Most Scarterrans are innately distrustful of outsiders on some level regardless of what the nice priestesses tell them. The Masks of Phidas try to push forth the idea that merchants are noble, valuable people but they are facing an uphill battle. One, most people don’t like or trust the Masks, so their endorsement doesn’t help us much. Also we have to deal with the counter messages from the rest of the Nonagon. Most lowborn Scarterrans are farmers or craftsmen. Both farmers and craftsmen produce useful things with their skill, sweat, and toil and they trade these products for other products or for coin. The Stewards, Lanterns, Guardians, and more besides like to crow how much nobility there is in men and women working with their hands. Most highborn Scarterran make their wealth from land they own, and they back up their credentials this up with weapons and magic. They risk their lives in defense of their lands (or at the very least, their ancestors risked their lives in the acquisition of their lands. Adventurers often end up with a lot of wealth, or they die. Those that acquire wealth gain their wealth from undertaking dangerous quests. Most adventurers, or at least most successful adventurers, are enmeshed in noble politics. Most nobles are at least descended from successful adventurers. Adventurers and nobles are not always viewed as honorable but at least people understand them. In a way, every long-distance trek moving trade goods from Point A to Point B is a dangerous adventure but the bards and troubadours don’t’ ever sing tales of the hardships of heroic merchants bravely moving goods through dangerous territories. The commoners just take for granted that merchants sometimes appear. Dirty filthy stinking foreign merchants! The nobility isn’t much better. Nobles and commoners don’t agree on much but they tend to agree on their poor attitude towards merchants. Merchants supposedly don’t make anything. Merchants supposedly don’t face any dangers or travels. Despite this, some merchants are quite wealthy. In the eyes of commoners and nobles, the means in which merchants gain their wealth is little better than theft. and every merchant is out to cheat their customers. Also, merchants are lazy cowards who are shirk from work or risk. Most merchants are not particularly wealthy. Most merchants are lucky to own more than a camel or pair of donkeys and are constantly one or two bad deals away from going hungry. No one trusts a poor disheveled merchant, so any impoverished merchant has to dress and act like he is better off than he really is. This attitude carries over for life, so most merchants that succeed tend to flaunt their wealth. So therefore, nobles and commoners alike see merchants flaunting their wealth or putting on airs and they assume all merchants are rich…somehow. So there are a lot of attitudes leading to Scarterrans treating merchants badly, but we are usually selling things people want so rich and poor alike are prone to be polite to our faces and then badmouth us behind our backs. -Eknok, tengku merchant
No, not all tengku are merchants. If every merchant in Scarterra was a tengku, less than half of the adult tengku population would have a livelihood. (It would be good for the common man if every merchant was a tengku. Goods would be transported more effeciently and competition between tengku merchants would keep prices down) -Eknok, tengku merchantAlmost anyone can be a merchant if they have something to sell. Despite being less than 5% of most civilized populations, tengku and gnomes are disproportionately represented among the merchant class. About one-in-four full time Scarterran merchants are tengku. About one-in-five Scarterran merchants are gnomes. The stats above reflect all merchants everywhere. When you look specifically at merchants dealing in very high end items, you tend to see even more tengku and gnomes.
"We don't know much about the day-to-day life of the First Age, I can only guess what merchants were like back then. It seems likely that given how fiercely independent and generally covetous dragons are today, their ancient ancestors were similar. It is likely that dragons had few if any professional merchants because every dragon was a part-time merchant in his or her own right. I'm sure the thurekal races and other non-dragons subsisting on the scraps had some sort of primitive economy with their own equivalent to modern day impoverished merchants barely eking out enough successful trades to stay alive. But history books tend to focus on rich and powerful mortals and not the lowly and downtrodden. And most history books dating back to First Age are dust now, so why worry about people this long dead. We know a little bit more about the Second Age. The ancient elves of this era had very modern notions that merchant endeavors were not real work. Also, elves are often stuck in "slow time". The ancient elves had their heads in the clouds even more than the elves of today. Most of them couldn't have been good merchants if they wanted to. From what we can tell, at least half of the merchants of the era were tengku. I would have loved to see that! While I'm sure the elves were conscending to the tengku among them (and every other non-elf among them), at least they seemed to not interfere with our ancestors aquisition of wealth and security. Unfortunately, merchants in general and tengku in general were hit very hard by the Second Unmaking. Common wisdom is that nine of ten mortals died overall at this. It seems nineteen out of twenty tengku died and almost no merchants of any race survived the calamity once the civilized institutions they depended on collapsed. At the dawn of the Third Age, the survivors of the Unmaking, and the new upstart humans had to rebuild mercantile traditions from the ground up. The Masks will talk about the guidance of Phidas spirits and Phidas priests in helping build up new trade network, but it was really the tengku survivors that made modern commerce what it is today. Progress was slow, Early merchants were quote primitive. It wasn't until near the end of the Red Era that coins finally began to supplant barter as the main vessel of trade. It wasn't until after feudalism became widespread that merchant guilds and fellowships really began to come into their own. -Eknok, tengku merchant
Dangers & Hazards
The first difficulty faced by all merchants is that while traveling from Market A to Market B, he has to eat. If he has employees, they have to eat. If he has pack animals, they have to eat too. There are other supplies merchants need besides food, but food is usually the resource that makes or breaks a trade deal. No matter how valuable the trade goods you are carrying, at a certain point, if you move it too far, the cost of transport will exceed the value of your trade goods. A merchant can mitigate this risk if he is trading in high value, portable high end items such as reagents, spices, jewelry, magic weapons, or art, but these goods come up with their own risk. They attract more thieves than mundane goods. Also, you might not be able to find a customer willing and able to pay a fair price for your goods. The more you ask around looking for high end customers, the more rumors spread about what you are carrying that will attract thieves right to you. You can use boats, ships, barges, pack animals, and even magic to help transport goods, but these things also cost money. Whether you have a magic Bag of Holding or a simple pack mule, you will probably have to make more than one trade trip just to pay for the investment cost of your trading vessel. While traveling, merchants have to deal with accidents, theft, and inclement weather but above all of this is threat of starving to death because you had to move your goods too far, too slowly. -Eknok, tengku merchant
thieves, cheaters, mongers
Financial / Trade
Ecknok the Tengku merchant takes on the Entire Nonagon.Maylar's Testers
“Maylar teaches us to take what we want! Merchants are weaklings and cowards who use coins and barter to acquire what they are too cowardly to seize or too weak to make.” -Zomath, half-orc brigand and Blood Warrior of MaylarOh no, the Testers are calling me weak and cowardly? Guess I better go in the woods to lift rocks and cut myself. The Testers see weakness and cowardice in everyone…except themselves. If they are so strong and brave, why do they skulk in the shadows. Merchants face hardship and death and we stand in the open. Mera's Tenders
"It is fine for merchants to barter and haggle over luxury items, but it is beyond miserly and outright repugnant for merchants take products people need to live and then squeeze their customers for maximum profit. That is utterly reprehensible." -Beslyfle the gnome, matron of Fumaya's Tenders“(falsetto) “’Well someone please think of the children!’” Whenever there is a famine, or a war, natural disaster, or some kind of monster attack that really crushes the normal supply of a basic commodity in a village or any other settlement, the first people to bring basic goods back to the area are merchants. Yes, they charge a high markup, but that’s because it takes a lot of effort to get goods into dangerous areas quickly. Once other merchants hear about how the profit margins are in a ravaged, they will follow the footsteps of the first merchants. The second wave of merchants will provide goods at a slightly lower markup, though still high. The third wave of merchants will charge a little less still, and so on and so forth until the market becomes normal again. I’ve seen situations where the king issues a well-meaning decree that merchants cannot charge above normal prices in disaster areas. Merchants don’t take on the high risk of going to a high-risk disaster area without the incentive of higher profits. If merchants cannot earn profits, they aren’t going to take goods into a disaster area, in which case no one gets anything at any price, no merchants come in to meet the untapped need, and everyone starves. Korus' Stewards
"There is great honor in a farmer working with the flow of nature to feed his friends and family with the fruits of the earth. Rather than produce his own harvest, merchants by skimming the harvests of others. I know Korus created all the animals, including jackals and leeches, but I do not always understand why." -Garima, Penarchian Priestess of Korus(angry feather rustling). This attitude that merchants don’t actually produce anything themselves is near universal, but the Stewards are among the loudest with this notion, and it’s very difficult to argue against it because the Stewards can trigger a famine or natural disaster if they get a bee in the butt, so no one dares cross them. That is the Stewards of the Gift. The Stewards of the Dominion like us even less, but they hate all townies, they don’t single out merchants from the rest of the ‘decadent civilized people.’ Greymoria's Children
"Unless that merchant is selling reagents, I don’t want to talk to him." Kataki, independent priestess of GreymoriaThe Children kind of hate everyone, but they seem to hate merchants less than others. Merchants and Children generally keep each other at arms-length with purely business transactions. This is exactly how we like it. We merchants have kinship with most Children, because the Children, like merchants are often barely tolerated or even persecuted outright. Unless you are in Swynfaredia, Kahdisteria, or anywhere else the Children have managed to climb into bed with the ruling powers. Then the Children demean and repress us just like the more respectable Nonagon players do. Nami's Rovers
“Our mistress, Nami, the Lady of Winds asks that people be welcoming to travelers in their midst if they show no aggression and Nami asks that travelers, likewise, be courteous to their hosts. We Rovers and merchants both often live life on the road, or else we put down roots at major crossroads and regularly deal with other people who are on the road. We have no reason to bear merchants any ill will, but I’m still going to haggle fiercely for the best price I can on every transaction, it’d be rude not to.” -Wenkler, gnome innkeeper and Sedentary RoverThe Rovers on the Wind tend to speak well of merchants and treat us nicely. This doesn’t do us much good because the Rovers have no real influence over society at large. Also, while most Rovers are nice people, some Rovers are blackhearted thieves and all the blackhearted thieves are well practiced pretending to be nice people. Thieves always target merchants first, whether they have a windy holy symbol in their pocket or not. Khemra's Keepers
“Society functions best when all the different professions work together, merchants included. We just need to make sure that individual selfishness doesn’t hinder society, merchants included.” Aralur Greystone, Arum of the The SóleiðThe Keepers don’t morally disparage merchants as being bad people, but Sunblinded tend to inconvenience us without actively trying to inconvenience us. In areas where the Keepers wield influence, they tend to create a lot of well-meaning laws and regulations that end up smothering daily commerce. Zarthus' Lanterns
“Greymoria afflicts mortalkind with monsters and curses. Maylar afflicts mortalkind with monsters and disease. Phidas afflicts mortalkind with merchants.” -Zajac, Fumayan LanternIt’s bad enough when Korus’ followers denigrate merchants, but at the end of the day, I cannot deny that farmers provide a vital service. Everyone needs food, right? Hallisan’s Guardians bad mouth us too. Hallisan’s ilk are slightly less required for living than farmers, but at least they patronize craftsmen who make practical things. The Lanterns are the worst. All they do is sing songs, paint, tell stories and complain. And they think merchants are useless parasites. Hallisan's Guardians “
Someone has to move goods and materials around, and I do not begrudge them a livelihood, but do merchants have to overcharge everyone all the time! They get to make a living without doing any real work, the least they could is not cheat people.” -Belisario, Kantoca warrior priest of HallisanMeh, Meh, Meh. Merchants don’t produce anything, we’re leaches, we’re thieves, meeeeh. The Guardians, along with the Stewards and Lanterns are part of the trifecta of clergy that seem to hate merchants on general principle. That said, the Guardians are the least irksome. Hallisan is the patron of skilled craftsmen. That means at some point, every Guardians is going to want to sell valuable items and every Guardian is going to want to buy raw materials to craft with. Guardians will bad mouth merchants in public to save face, but they can be surprisingly obsequious to merchants in private. Phidas' Masks
“Wise Phidas understands that an orderly society relies on the smooth flow of commerce. Phidas’ priesthood and the merchant community are the twin pillars that provide the foundation to allow the Invisible Hand to guide society through good times and bad.” -Danuta, Fumayan MaskPhidas is the god of merchants. There are a lot of Masks who moonlight as merchants and merchants who moonlight as Masks. We get along civilly. Merchants and Masks are a natural marriage of convenience... but all married couples fight. As a merchant, the best Masks you will meet are Masks in areas where Phidas worship is restricted or at least frowned upon. The Masks are happy to talk to anyone who doesn’t spit on them. They will help you find food and lodging at reasonable prices and you can use your network to find customers and suppliers and the Masks will only ask for a pittance donation for this privilege If you are in one of the land where the king and queen get in bed with the Masks, it’s a different story. In this case, the Masks and local nobility will always treat you politely, but they are prone to give you a death a thousand cuts since they have a tax, fee, or toll for everything. I’d rather deal with people who are rude to my face while letting me make profit than deal with people who are nice to me while picking my pocket.