We have tons of material written on JR's four major NPCs. But what about the other two guys?
The Jade Regent Player's Guide wrote:
Sandru's caravan starts with six travelers—Sandru, Koya, Ameiko, Shalelu, and two Varisian brothers named Bevelek and Vankor (additional drivers for the caravan, with Sandru himself serving as the third driver).
I want to spotlight these two characters next session--I think I'll have them get upset and protest that they're being ignored by the rest of the caravan. "You act like we don't even have faces!" Does anyone have any ideas for how to roleplay them from that point on? And especially, does anyone have any good artwork to depict the two?
There's some grumbling over in the conundrum thread that you can't actually make any money with traders. Quite rightly, too. The trader entry is worded so that you can sell 5 units of trade goods on arriving in a settlement, and then have to move on to the next one. You need a lot of modifiers just to break even, and that means diverting resources from other options, like combat prowess--but why give up combat prowess, knowing that you can get money by killing bandits, so that you can make less money and increase the odds of being killed by bandits in turn?
Trading is a trap as written, but there's an obvious fix. Trading is a perfectly viable option if you allow traders to sell cargo from another settlement every day the caravan remains in a settlement, with a limit of five traders working each day. So if you have 10 cargo units of trade goods, you could stay for two days, giving your five traders time to sell all of them.
I've been playing with the numbers for a while, and this actually works so well that I strongly suspect this is how it was intended to work in the first place. Take a look at some of these example caravans:
Frugal Starting Caravan:The towns on the way to Brinewall are Galduria, Wolf's Ear, Roderic's Cove, and (potentially) Riddleport. If a caravan can only sell on arriving in a new settlement, they'll earn 71.5 gp per town. After spending 20 gp for the drivers and 60 gp in eaten/wasted stores on the road, they've earned 206 gp--less than a single battle with bandits. If it's not an bad investment, it's only because the party didn't invest anything.
Let's say we have five PCs. They're greedy ones, convincing Ameiko to let them pocket her start-up cash, and refusing to hire anyone beyond the default caravan. They choose to max out morale at 4 and take Merchant Mastery.
Sandru and the brothers drive as usual, while Ameiko cooks, Shalelu and two more PCs scout for food, and Koya fortune-tells. The other two PCs can do whatever, as it's not important for our purposes. (Ridiculously cheap PCs with Handle Animal could even fire the brothers).
Their consumption is effectively 4, since the scouts bring in two free provisions a day without consuming any. It's debatable how long it takes to go from town to town in Varisia, but I figure it averages four days; they'll play it safe in case they run into trouble, and take 3 stores, good for 7.5 days. Let's say they eat it all by the time they get to town (maybe to keep unrest down?), because it's a lot of trouble to estimate actual usage.
Instead of hiring traders, three of the PCs will switch to trading in town, along with Ameiko and Sandru, while two more PCs entertain for another +2 resolve. Shalelu keeps hunting and Koya keeps fortune-telling. Their consumption shoots up to an effective 12 on trading day, costing 6 gp in provisions every day they're trading.
They average 15.5 gp for each unit of goods, or 71.5 gp for a day's work. ([10.5 rolled, +4 ability, +4 hero, +2 circumstance, +5 feat, -10 COGS] x5 traders, -6 food).
But if they can sell 15 units of trade goods to sell over the course of three days, they'll earn 214.5 gp per town, and it won't affect their expenses very much. That's 798 gp in trade. They'll probably end up spending more in repairs due to the sacrifice in combat ability, but still, they're making coin for their effort.
With some actual investment, the PCs could try to sell in volume instead.
Huge Starting Caravan:Obviously you it's dumb to try to make money selling cheap goods when there's a cap on how much you can sell. If this caravan can only sell on arriving in a new settlement, they'll earn 46 gp per town. Just the cost of eating on the road is 260 gp, so they're losing money. They'd be better off without the supply wagons; cargo capacity is irrelevant beyond what you need for food and treasure.
If they take Mobility 3 and Morale 2 instead of Morale 4, they can take Extra Wagons, and spend 1200 gp of Ameiko's starting cash on four supply wagons, adding 40 capacity. They'll all need drivers, and they'll take on three traders as well, so that all of the extra PCs can entertain in town (unlikely unless they're all spellcasters, but possible).
Effective consumption is thus 15 on the road and 23 while trading, so they'll take 13 stores (good for 8.7 days) and pay 11.5 gp a day to eat while in town. That leaves a whopping 45 capacity for trade goods. They're selling for 11.5 gp each, or 46 gp a day ([10.5 rolled, +2 ability, +4 hero, +5 circumstance, -10 COGS] x5 traders, -11.5 food).
But dumping 45 units of trade goods into a town over nine days will earn 414 gp a town. It'd take two months to reach and sell in all four towns, so paying the six drivers and five traders will cost 220 gp, and eating on the road is still 260 gp, since eating in town is included above.
That means the volume approach will produce 1176 gp. That sounds like a lot, but split five ways, it's really not. The PCs have invested a fair bit into a caravan that's still relatively vulnerable. They'll have to flee from everything (they can't even pick up treasure anyways), which is especially bad because this caravan has very little tolerance for unrest. A run of bad luck could forcing them to give away a lot of trade goods and eat into their margins significantly. In all, the reward matches the risk.
Besides, this caravan is driving down a road of diminishing returns.
High Level Caravan:
We don't know what the future APs hold, so it's hard to say for sure how things scale. Free NPCs are great for keeping costs down, for one thing. Extradimensional storage becomes available. And we don't know the number of settlements or the distances between them, except that they surely become scarce around the Crown of the World. But we can at least guess how much we earn per town.
Level the volume caravan to 10 (the presumed start of book four), giving it Merchant Mastery three times, Enhanced Caravan four times for a Morale of 6 and other scores of whatever, and Extra Caravan three times. We've added a Royal Carriage (+4 resolve), another three Supply Wagons, and four drivers.
Effective consumption is 24 on the road and 32 while trading. We'll take 35 stores (over two weeks of food) and pay 16 gp a day to eat while in town. That leaves 55 capacity for trade goods. They're selling for 34.5 gp each, or 156.5 gp a day ([10.5 rolled, +6 ability, +4 hero, +5 circumstance, +4 Carriage, +15 Mastery, -10 COGS] x5 traders, -16 food).
You get 156.5 gp for arrival. Monthly wages are 150 gp, and daily consumption costs 12 gp, so they need to hit about three towns a month to break even. At level 10, this is a TOTAL waste of effort. They'll probably never even pay off the extra wagons!
But if they can sell every last unit? After 11 days in town, they'll earn 1721.5 gp, minus some very nebulous expenses. If the towns are reasonably close to each other in Tian Xia you could make okayish amounts of money for their level, especially if we add allied NPCs and bags of holding. However, while your caravan could have guards and points in defense and such, it's still going to be underpowered against random encounters, which are no doubt both far scarier, and far more profitable. Also, you're wasting lots of time in or near the Jade Regent's territory, which might be bad in itself. And there's still no spare room for treasure. I doubt that the high level merchant caravan is still worth it, overall. We've nearly tapped all options to increase profits and there's still a few adventures left to go!
Does this interpretation of caravan trading feel right? Some will sputter "butbutbut market saturation!", but I'm convinced the system is better this way. It rewards the PCs for careful caravan design. It allows the PCs to run a very long supply caravan viably. It lets the PCs make money in a way other than killing monsters and taking their stuff. It prevents the PCs from resenting the caravan as as a drain on resources. It encourages the PCs to stick around in the towns they visit, creating roleplaying opportunities.
And even if you think the strategy starts off a bit too strong, it still gets weaker over time, encouraging the party to eventually even out their stats and balance short-term gains with long-term effectiveness. Really, the biggest problem I see with running it this way is that it's potentially a ton of rolls--in practice I'd just let the party take the average for every trader, as I've assumed in all my math.
Hopefully my math is correct. Or at least not monstrously wrong. I did a ridiculous amount after all. Let me know if you find any mistakes--or ways to significantly improve profits.
Here are three alternate stanzas to extend the length of your goblin antics.
"Goblins shout and goblins cheat!
Goblins burn and goblins eat!
Torch the house and slay the beast,
Goblins kill and then they feast!"
"Goblins push and goblins grab!
"Hack the women, gut the men!