Advice for traders in the Sea of Dread
By Michele “LoZompatore” C.
A conversation (actually a monologue) between senior Captain Maddom Eneterias and junior Captain Polin Jalenta at the "Linton Navigators' Restplace", Port Tenobar, AC 1000.
My dear Polin, I see the House has sent you to take over the command of the Armstead, my beloved ship. It is a special ship, you know: the fastest blue-water large sailing ship of the whole fleet.
I had been a successful merchant in my early career so I managed to persuade Linton House1 to build her following the instructions of a sage from our odd village of Armstead. How this ever-smiling guy from the northern side of the Cruth Mountains knew how to build ships is out of my knowledge, but he really knew what he was doing.
I crossed most of the Sea of Dread with this ship for almost twenty monsoons, and would have done it for twenty monsoons more, if only all the heads of that hydra would have been of the same opinion.
But now, back to business. Polin, I read here you never went farther than Thyatis and Jahore, your travelling being mostly confined to the Sunlit Sea. Typical. Remember that any real seamen, really wishing to see if the world ends at the horizon cannot miss to face the maelstroms lingering in the misty center of the Abyss.
Anyway, they told me you are one of the most experienced captains of the House so - before you decide to end up your career enlisting in that Minrothad Navy which apparently is all the rage among you rookies - the House wants you to run a profitable trade across the Sea of Dread, just like I did until a mere season ago.
You are going to assume command of my ship and my crew, so I'd better to give you a crash course on what you'll face on - and in - the high seas.
What I'm going to tell you is a mix of what I saw with my eyes and what I read in the rare books I seldom happened to trade - by the way, insure you are always provided with some of those convoluted scrolls for reading languages: they are an invaluable tool for your new job.
Oh, and be careful: everything you are going to hear from me by no means will exhaust the list of perils and opportunities you may find in the terrible, charming waters just south of here.
Of course, if you feel the need to get more nerdy details on the best way to distinguish between an hungry kraken and a clamped school of goby fishes just have a stop at Newkirk High2 and try to talk with some of the senior professors – provided they can spare some time for you, of course. On my part, I prefer direct experience.
Let's start with a few words about your job: the Sea of Dread is roughly round, just like a huge pool, with a single metropolis on its northeastern side - Thyatis City - which will buy everything you are going to sell her, and about a dozen of cities scattered around the pool's perimeter acting as trade hubs to the inland territories or to the nearby seas. Such “Gate Cities” will both buy and sell everything they can get their hands on.
The Sea itself is not an easy place: it is filled with dangers and obstacles of all sorts - from bad weather to pirates and monsters - and it is crossed by three fierce competitors, namely traders from Minrothad, Cathos and Kastelios.
From your perspective the best way to make a profit is to buy high-valuable, lightweight, non-bulky goods in faraway places and then sell them in Thyatis City or in any of the gate cities, always taking the safest and fastest route and selling at lower prices than your competitors.
If the goods you sell are rare you may expect to charge a 5% markup for every 50 miles of travelling, a fare that you could easily double if the goods are unique to a particular area.
It is really that simple, at least in principle.
The best marketable goods you should look for are end-products such as jewels, art objects, rare books, fine dresses - especially if made of precious material such as silk or furs - superior weapons and armors and - of course - magic objects. Most of these goods require a pretty large economy in order to be produced, so they are usually found in large cities and extensive ruin structures.
About ruins: you might try to hire some adventurers to complement you and your best crewmen and explore the ancient ruins yourself but it is far safer, and ultimately more rewarding, to attend to your business and to buy the same findings by the same adventurers once they get back to civilization: prices are higher and you may have to hire some more experts in magic and lore to study the findings but, in general, this approach is much cheaper than having to repair a damaged ship and hiring new crewmen.
On a second choice you should look for precious raw materials such as gems and semi-precious stones like amber, corals and pearls. Ivory, tea, coffee, dried spices and dyes are good choices as well, while you should trade furs only if you are sure they do not spoil during the trip. The same is true about magical ingredients, especially if they come from recently killed monsters: always hire a competent alchemist if you go after monster parts, trust me.
Precious metals like platinum, gold and silver are, in general, received as payment for your goods, so you'll likely carry them on your return trip: I’m sure you already know very well this part so I’ll just give you just a couple of advices. It' my firm opinion it's better not to muscle in the whole raw precious metal trade: loading just-mined raw gold in your ship is the best way to burden your merchantman, lose maneuverability and to attract pirates like seagulls on my yesterday's dinner.
Moreover, many countries strangely believe they have exclusive mining rights on certain territories, even if you actually mined the minerals and they did not care to exploit the veins themselves until a mere minute before: their ships may easily seize your cargo or impose an ultra-high taxation should they discover you in their waters.
Finally, on a last-resort choice, you should look for fragile and potentially perishable luxury goods such as fine wines, spirits, glassware, exotic foods and perishable spices. I'd put live monsters and live exotic animals in this category as well: remember they pose the additional danger of escaping.
If possible, move such goods across short distances and take the safest route. Avoid low latitudes, if possible, as warm temperatures and likely thunderstorms may spoil your cargo –or let it evade - in a very short time.
Avoid loading any other good I did not mention so far. Moving common goods - even weapons - and foodstuff from a place to another will give low profits to Linton House, and it's better suited for short-range trade with less expensive ships.
Of course you may think it's a good idea to sell food in a famine-stricken country, to offer weapons and armors to some war-torn border province and to provide tools to a newly-founded colony. The problem is - my dear Polin – that, under the same such exceptional circumstances, you're not assured to be paid off once you unload your cargo.
Such an occurrence should arise, I believe it's way better to move people instead of goods: move clerics to the famine, warriors to the war - they'll also help you in defending your ship, by the way - and colonists to the wilderness. And get paid in advance for their transportation, it's a much more rewarding business.
Just remember to buy plenty of food and water for the extra passengers and to hire a few additional clerics to deal with the inevitable diseases and wounds. Try also not to overload the ship: shipwrecked people tend to blame the captain, if he is still alive.
A final note: slave trade. Trust me, avoid it. The Alphatian Empire is too far away to be profitable and the Sindhis’ institutionalized "slaves" (they call them Kulyias3) are mostly an internal matter of their caste system.
Actually there is a single, huge market where slaves can be sold - the Thyatian Empire, which basically means Thyatis City.
Captives from the Thyatian Hinterlands and from the Alphatian borderlands on the Isle of Dawn are the main sources of the increasing slave population of the Empire4. A further complement is provided by Ostlanders and Caerdanian raiders, while independent pirates add their little contribution looking for slaves in both Thanegioth Archipelagos and in the northern Davanian coast.
I strongly suspect that several unscrupulous Minrothaddans are involved in slave trade despite the official declaration of their leaders that Minrothad is out of the slave business5. I believe the Cathosians don’t mingle in slave trade as they were themselves enslaved centuries ago and didn't enjoy the experience, while I'm not sure about Kastelios' policy on this matter: most of the area around them is a hunting ground for slaves so, likely, some Kastelians may be involved in the business.
Why slave trade is not a business, you ask? Well, if you start trading slaves then a lot of people will begin to think that you may look at them as a potential "trade goods", and will act accordingly. Most people west of Thyatis - including Darokin - oppose slavery as they are descendant of populations who were enslaved in the past. If you trade slaves your not slave-related business reputation will be disrupted in a very short time and you'll end up despised and attacked on sight by the halfings, the elves, and the Ierendians.
Moreover, the bulk of slave trade to Thyatis is carried out by the Thyatian themselves and by their allies - most notably Ostlanders. I bet they would not like a new competitor in this field.
Now, let's now talk about destinations.
First of all, you have to understand that the whole area is experiencing a real golden age in trade and exploration, which is opening untold opportunities to any enterprising merchant wishing to move goods to the gate towns.
Large parts of northern Davania coastline were recently opened to the northern markets thanks to Thyatian colonists6, Heldannic holy warriors7 and Kastelian traders8. The end of the Isolation Act of Minrothad is leading to the reopening of old trade routes9 in the Sea of Dread, which are soon followed by expeditions from Karameikos10, Cathos and Ierendi11.
Minor seafaring actors like the Black Eagle's Barony12 and Hule13 are right now sending their exploration parties across the sea: even the dwarves of Rockhome14 have recently attempted to explore the Isle of Dread looking for a place to establish a new colony!
The Thanegioth Archipelago is the big prize: anyone who will manage to establish a few safe ports of call on it will have the keys to the whole pool. Unluckily, the area is infested with dangerous monsters and hostile people - including cannibals: Thyatians would be the most advantaged thanks to their new colony in their “Hinterlands” if not for the hate of the people of Nueva Ispanola15 – escaped Thyatians persecuted a century ago who are just seizing the moment for revenge.
I attended myself a meeting with the indigenous people of Tanaroa confederacy in which they expressed their desire to be more opened to foreign influx16 but, also, when I was a naïve rookie seaman, I had to help evacuate a few beleaguered survivors of the Aquapopulus War between the Twaelars and the human colonists17.
Thyatis City is not a gate to anywhere except for herself: her population is larger than that of many nearby kingdoms, and she consumes any kind of goods at an alarming rate, goods which are paid with gold and precious metals taken from the rest of the huge Thyatian empire. Everybody wants to sell goods in Thyatis City, at least until they are paid off. Sometimes I'm scared about what will happen to this city should the sea routes be broken or the provinces rebel against the central power.
Gate cities, located in the Sea of Dread or in its vicinity, are - clockwise from Thyatis City - Vestland, Freiburg, West Portage, Beitung, Kastelios, Tanakumba, Putnabad, our nice town of Port Tenobar and Specularum. Specularum is the newest gate city, thanks to the recent opening of the Duke's Road leading to Selenica18, so its full potential is yet to be explored - maybe a good first task for you, my young Captain.
I believe Raven Scarp and Helskir might one day become good gate cities as well, but Raven Scarp is still too intermingled with Thyatian colonial policies to attract foreign traders, while Helskir is periodically razed to the ground by contending Thyatians and Alphatians19, so it is not safe to stop there for too long.
The city of Kastelios is a good place to sell goods, as it is the gate to the scattered city-states of the northwestern Davanian plains, but it is also a competitor on its own as she fields her own strategy of buying luxuries everywhere she can and selling them to other gate cities. A very dangerous combination for our businesses, I must say.
The strategic position of Kastelios - just in front of Thanegia Island - also provides to Kastelian traders a fast access to the exotic goods of the Savage Coast and the Addakian Sound. It is a common sight in Yavdlom to meet a Yavi intent on predicting a bright future to a newly disembarked Kastelian captain. While I believe most farseers actually do it for the generous tip they receive from the captain, I must say the farseers are rarely wrong - one of them once predicted for me "a hand of decades in sail and a hand of decades at anchor", and now I'm afraid he will be right.
Even if I’m not blessed with the prescience of a farseer I strongly believe the Kastelians will become the most important middlemen in the Sea of Dread within a few decades, and that's why I think we Darokinian captains should lobby Linton House to build more blue-water sailing ships, as soon as possible.
Kastelian ships puzzle me, by the way: they have a mix of rowing and sailing features which I'd deem impractical, if not inefficient, but they seem to do their job very well.
As I talked about Kastelios, let's have a quick look at our other two competitors.
Minrothaddans - you know them very well - owe their fortunes to their superior shipbuilding abilities.
Their ships are really the fastest and safest in the high seas: their building is a closely guarded secret in which I suspect the elves are involved20.
Their ridiculous Isolation Act has been a true blessing to foreign traders – including us - for more than a century but, since they dropped it in the last years, things are becoming progressively worse for our businesses.
Thanks to their better navy, Minrothaddans make contact with any potential trading partner faster than us and then say to them:
"Do you want to sell your coconuts to Thyatis City with such a clunky boat? Aren’t you aware of the many dangers of the Sea of Dread? You'll barely escape with your life, trust us. Just let us do this trade for you! Sell us the coconuts and we will bring them safely to Thyatis’ docks. Oh, by the way, we’ll charge you with a 18% tax, just to keep our fleet in working order, nothing special. And, before we forget, you’ll maybe be interested in buying some fine jewelry we keep in our warehouses in Trader's Island. Just let one of our pilots guide you there - waters in our country are very treacherous - and we'll be glad to show you all our merchandise! The pilot's rent will cost you a purely nominal tithe - just about 18% of the final price for any traded good".
Very clever guys. I hate them.
I heard tales of a Minrothaddan clipper who recently made contact with barbarian horsemen in a northeastern subarctic land called New Thonia, a quarter world away from here21. I also put my trust into what rumors say: the Thyatian town of West Portage is secretly controlled by guildsmen from MInrothad22, which also pay the many bandits infesting the famous "ship land route" to East Portage23. This is unfair practice at its best, my young Polin, but it gives you a hint of the true power of these people.
In short, as you already know, avoid selling anything to Minrothad - avoid even going around their archipelago - at least until you can afford the cost and the risk to sell there your goods yourself.
Finally, we have the Cathosians. Strange bunch of people, indeed, mostly interested in trading along the Davanian coast.
They have an odd motto: "Our ships will always find the route" and I have to admit that it seem to be true. Cathosians make use of sailing ships only, usually of small or medium size and with a stripped-down crew. They seem not to care very much about following well-established routes, and they place their trading offices extremely separated from each other - I heard rumors about faraway colonies of Cathos located at unreasonable distances from home, such as in front of the coast of Minaea25, or down along the savannah of tropical Davania – the southern tropic, I mean.
I suspect water or air magic – most likely some kind of elemental stuff - is strongly involved in their careless approach to the sea but, if you ask them, it is always just a matter of "skill and luck".
Cathosian trade network is so scattered that their merchantmen actually pose a limited threat to businesses focused in the Sea of Dread but, sometimes, they tend to unexpectedly outrun you in the race to the gate cities, so always beware of them.
I heard the sailors of Cathos have a strong dislike for galleys, longships and others vessels moved by rows. They say such ships remind them of the huge galleys of slavers moved by minotaurs which were used during the final years of their former ruler, the long-lost sea empire of Vacros26, about four centuries ago.
Now that I’m on it I’d like to add some notes about two more potential competitors: Thyatians and Ierendians.
Thyatians are able to field a huge fleet - almost six hundred units, to my knowledge27 - but their ships are mostly concerned with the administration of their colonies, where most of the trade is carried out. They pose a little threat to foreign traders, until such traders behave correctly in Thyatian waters and help supplying the never ending needs of their hungry capital.
Ierendians are likely to possess the best crews in the world - loyal, brave and trained sailors who will not stop at anything - just make sure to have as much of them on the Armstead, by the way. Unfortunately their waters are infested with nasty pirates who pin down most of their businesses and deter most foreign ships from approaching the Ierendian archipelago.
Should the Ierendians manage to get rid of the pirates I think they would become a naval power to be dealt with.
We started talking about pirates and raiders, what to say about them?
In my maps I took note of every pirate den I incurred personally or I have heard of. For sure many more exist hidden here and there. Also remember that, once in open waters, trade competitors and pirates often tend to mingle.
Now, the menace posed by pirates in the blue waters calls for a relatively large ship, with at least an user of arcane magic and a cleric - by the way, our Elimon and Rodarsky are good and experienced fellows, trust them and you'll see how they always manage to earn their pay. Fire and long-range weapons - while imprecise - often discourage pirates from approaching, that's why the Armstead fields a light catapult and two ballistas.
Some pirates are supported by the leadership of nearby countries, such as in Jaibul and in the Five Shires, so do not expect any compensation by their governments after your complaints. The lands of the hins are a very peculiar case: they say they must attack foreign ships because their waters are closed off from the most profitable trades28. I say their waters are closed off because they attack foreign ships. Anyway, thanks to our Diplomatic Corps, Darokinian ships do not suffer from hin attacks: I bet you already made many profitable businesses with the Shires on your previous assignments.
By the way, a skillful diplomat is always a valuable resource In businesses; unluckily, diplomats tend to get too much involved in local politics after some time. Just see if you manage to get the help of one of them, sooner or later, but don’t get too attached to it.
Raiders pose a slightly different kind of issue: they seldom attack ships in open sea unless they “provide a fair fight”, but they become a real danger if decide to raid that precise spot you are docked into.
Two loosely related groups of raiders exist in the Sea of Dread: the Ostlanders - who control the northeastern routes to the Strait of Helskir - and the Caerdanians29, who control most of the southeastern route to the Sea of Ochalea.
Ostlanders have a strange sense of honor and will not explicitly steal from you, but they believe it's fair to pick up your goods once you are defeated in battle.
The Caerdanians are slightly less scrupulous: they assume any ship entering the Strait of Furmenglaive to be a trespasser and will send their “navy” to "escort" the offender out of the Strait. This escort service usually costs a tenth of a ship's cargo. If the captain refuses to pay, the ship is assumed to be an enemy and a boarding attempt ensues.
It’s worth noticing that Ostlanders and Caerdanians usually enslave the people they defeat.
Both groups of raiders are approved, and somewhat sponsored, by the Thyatians as they help in providing slaves to their capital. Ships of the Empire usually have little to fear when crossing the straits to Helskir, Freiburg, Furmenglaive and Ochalea.
Now that I introduced you about the most important hindrances posed by human activities, I'd better start talking about natural dangers and monsters. The Sea of Dread offers plenty of them.
It is usual among blue water seamen to divide the Sea of Dread into four regions: the Sunlit Sea to the north, the Davanian Shallows to the south, the Eastern Sea of Dawn to the east and the proper Sea of Dread in the western and central regions of the pool.
The Sunlit Sea is the region you know best, so I'll not pull out too much on it. The main hazards here are pirates. Avoid the Minrothad archipelago if you still wish to make a profit. Just remember that if you really wish to reach Trader's Isle then you are forced to stop at Kobos, Gaamo, Specularum, Kerendas, Thyatis City, Gray Bay and Fort Southpoint to embark a Minrothaddan pilot. These guys are the only ones who know how to properly master the "Lanes" - as they call their sea routes – and manage reach safely Minrothad City while dealing with mists, reefs, sandbars and dead calms.
I'll just give you some more information about the easternmost and westernmost parts of the Sunlit Sea: the kara-kara archipelago and the Azcan Terrace, respectively.
The Kara-Kara archipelago is infested by the Kal-murus, sort of evil air elementals. They bring warm winds to the islands, which enjoy an almost tropical climate, but the offset is a bloody one. Kal-murus are a very aggressive species: they prey on the most defenseless ships, push the sails on a crash course to the nearest reef and then they gladly proceed to kill the entire crew.
The Kara-karas, humanoids inhabiting the archipelago, do not help at all in keeping their waters safe for navigation, as they rush en-masse to assault any ship taken by the kal-murus and stranded close enough to one of their islands.
I must say it is way better to be a prisoner of the kara-karas than to be outright killed by the kal-murus, even if kara-karas are famed cannibals. At least they give you some time to plot an escape. I once escaped from captivity by stealing one of their canoes - which the kal-murus somewhat recognize and do not attack - and, ultimately, I must agree with the Thyatian Admiralty: the whole archipelago does not possess anything worth enough to compensate for the loss of a single ship and her crew - even if the islands are dotted with very ancient and unexplored temples obviously not built by the kara-karas.
I strongly advise you to stay away from this area.
The Azcan Terrace is nothing more than the westernmost extension of the Sunlit Sea undersea terraces. Merfolks from the westernmost Undersea Baronies say the seafloor is inhabited by hostile - while somewhat dull - crabmen31.
I do not like to poke in the petty quarrels of the undersea races so I'm not able to confirm their statement. For sure these waters are rich in whales, especially just south the Atruaghin Clans' coast. I once read in a rare book from Jahore that the Azcan Terrace was once a thriving continental forest which has been brought under water by an untold cataclysm32. It seems that a warlike people who called themselves "the Azcans" built cities and temples on this land: I suppose too many of them were wiped out by the cataclysm and their people died out; maybe their only remnants are the aggressive members of the Jackal Tribe along the coast of Atruaghin. While there is some potential in ivory and handcraft trade here I’d suggest you to stay away from these barbaric guys as well.
Now, let's talk about the Western Sea of Dawn. Polin, please, try to stay awake as this is not a boring part at all.
This sea is seldom called Oceania33 - a name I read dates back to the ancient times of Blackmoor and somehow shifted to indicate nowadays a large island far to the east.
For sure the greatest danger you may find in the Western Sea of Dawn - much greater than pirates and Ostland raiders - are the Dendans.
Dendans are a race of intelligent whales, much more intelligent than the average lot.
Their breeding waters are in the northern part of the Western Sea of Dawn, where the cold current from the north mixes with the warm current coming from the south35. Sailing in these waters is not easy, as you may guess,