Silver and Jade
The Mercantile Action
The mercantile action is a dramatic action intended to find, buy or sell an item. Generally speaking, this action uses two Skills at different points in the process: Bureaucracy to find the items in question (or buyers if one possesses the items) and Presence to handle the haggling thereof.
The system assumes that the basic price of any given item is a Resources purchase. Of course, with a culture that lacks the concept of standardized pricing, there is no such thing as a fixed price. As a buyer, there are three steps in this process: Finding Goods, Evaluating Goods and Haggling. As a seller, there are two: Finding Buyers and Haggling
Finding Goods or Buyers
The first step in any mercantile action is finding someone with whom to trade, whether that means finding a buyer for one's goods, or finding someone with the thing you want. This requires a Perception + Bureaucracy roll, with a difficulty of the Resources price of the item(s) to be sold.
This can be affected by a number of modifiers, all of them manifesting as external modifiers (i.e. adding or subtracting successes from the roll). Many very basic purchases receive so many positive modifiers that a roll is utterly unnecessary - finding food (Res. 1) in a good harvest season (Scarcity: +4) in an agricultural trading center (Market: +3) is an automatic success, with successes to spare. Others are a bit more difficult, however: finding an orichalcum daiklave (Res. 5) outside of the Scavenger Lands (Scarcity: -3) in a small province that hasn't actually seen an Exalt in a few generations (Market: -3) is quite a bit more difficult.
The roll to find a buyer or product takes up a certain amount of time, based on its price:
- Resources •: One hour per roll
- Resources ••: One day per roll
- Resources •••: One week per roll
- Resources ••••: One month per roll
- Resources ••••••: One season per roll
This amount of time can be sped up by taking a -2 external penalty per step above the appropriate category to the Finding Buyers or Goods roll. Likewise, those who are having trouble finding buyers or product may take a bit of extra time to search, gaining a +1 external bonus per step down the chart taken.
This roll receives the normal -1 external penalty associated with retrying an action. This penalty goes away once an increment of time equal to the next step down from its price above has passed. Thus, failing to sell a Resources • item means waiting a full day before trying again in order to do so without penalty, and a Resources •••• item won't be rid of that penalty until a season has passed. It requires the passage of a full year before trying with a Resources ••••• item.
The Scarcity of a given product indicates how easy it is to find in the current location. This can fluctuate fairly radically, ranging from impossible to find (-5) to being in a major production center for that good (+3-+5, depending on the level of production). Some example modifiers apply below:
- -5: Impossible to get anywhere in Creation.
- -4: Impossible to get anywhere in that Direction.
- -3: Nearly impossible to get in that Direction, and are the province of rulers.
- -2: Very difficult to get, possessed on by the very wealthy.
- -1: Difficult to find, with a specialized market for them.
- +0: Not too difficult to acquire, with the right money.
- +1: Easily acquired, within the same Direction as some place that produces that product.
- +2: Common, found within roughly the same area of a Direction as some place that produces that product.
- +3: Fairly common, located in a shared area with some production center for the product.
- +4: Very common, in a production center of large town size for that product.
- +5: Extremely common, such as in a major production center for that product (blades and metalworks in Nexus, glassworks in Chiaroscuro, etc.)
The Market of a given product determines how large of a demand there is for that product in the area - it is easier to find a product in places where it will sell, after all. Some example modifiers apply below:
- -3: No one in this location would purchase such a product. (Artifacts in an area with few Exalts and Gods)
- -2: Only very specialized purchasers seek this product. (Artifacts in an area with plenty of Exalts and Gods)
- -1: Professional or wealthy buyers are the only ones who seek this product, but it is in fair demand among such customers. (Thaumaturgical Items of Rating 3)
- +0: The sale of the product is fairly common, though hardly considered vital or greatly desired. (Thaumaturgical Items of Rating 1-2)
- +1: A popular item with half the populace or so.
- +2: An item considered a staple or favorite purchase by nearly everyone.
- +3: In demand by nearly everyone.
A number of other modifiers come into play for the process of discovering a product or buyer. These are as follows:
- Trade Barriers: Varies. Trying to purchase or sell something that a major trade consortium or other organization is trying to either block from being sold or putting their weight behind the sale of can tremendously modify the ease by which such things are done. Generally speaking, these modifiers are based on whether the organization wants it to sell (positive modifier) or is trying to block it (negative modifier) and the size of the organization in question:
- small local government or influential local trader (+/-1)
- provincial government or trade consortium (+/-3)
- a massive empire/confederation or the Guild (+/-5)
- Legality: The legality of an item is applied as a penalty; items that are not illegal simply are unmodified by this entry. The level of legality varies, based on how stringently it is persecuted:
- minor misdemeanor for possession (-1)
- crime worthy of imprisonment (-3)
- execution for possession (-5).
- Magical Nature: Magical items, or products used solely for magical functions inherently have a more limited nature. This is normally reflected by the Market of an item - thaumaturgical items are easier to get, while actual Artifacts are always difficult to find (doubly so in areas with few Exalts or gods). This Artifacts modifier is altered by what the item in question is made of:
- non-Magical Material (+1)
- Jade (+0)
- Orichalcum or Soulsteel (-1)
- Moonsilver or Starmetal (-2)
- Guild Proliferation: This modifier is based on how well the Guild has gotten into the area in question. With the Guild comes enhanced lending networks, increased transport of goods and a general strengthening of a non-local market. These modifiers range from:
- No Guild Presence (-2)
- Basic Guild Presence (+0)
- Major Guild Center (+2)
Before haggling begins, the prospective buyer generally makes an Intelligence + Bureaucracy roll, with a difficulty of the item's Resources rating. The prospective buyer may also use other Abilities appropriate to the purchase being made instead of Bureaucracy: a combat Ability for a weapon that uses that Ability, Survival for an animal, Socialize for clothing and jewelry, Medicine for slaves, appropriate Crafts used to make the item in question and the like.
Faking It Up
A dishonest seller may take steps to make the item seem worth more than it is, through sweet-talking the buyer and/or underhanded little tricks such as adding a discreet layer of wax to make something that isn't in the best condition shine, or otherwise concealing flaws in the item.
- Physical Tricks: Each success on the seller's Dexterity + Larceny inflicts a -1 external penalty on the roll to determine the true value of the item. This generally requires some time, based on the item's size and complexity.
- Sweet Talking: Each success the seller scores over the buyer's MDV in a Manipulation-based social attack increases the difficulty by one as well, unless the target spends a point of Willpower.
If the buyer succeeds at this roll, he gains an automatic success on the following Haggling roll, or three successes if the seller resorted to physical tricks or sweet talking.
On a failed roll, the individual can't truly ascertain the true value of the item. Generally speaking, as a buyer, he believes it is worth one dot of Resources more than it is truly worth, mistaking its level of craftsmanship. As a seller, he generally undercuts himself, selling it for one dot too little.
In general, most haggling is atmospheric at best - the amounts being discusses are variations within a single Resources rating, and so irrelevant to the game's mechanics. The only time this differs is if someone seeks to sell something for more than it is worth, or to buy something for less than it is worth by a variance of one or more dots of Resources.
Haggling is handled just as any other sort of social combat. Generally speaking, these are performed as Investigation or Presence attacks, though a salesman who uses the "snake oil wagon" method (gathering an audience and then selling them the merits through public speaking and even a little showmanship) is considered to be using Performance (though that sort of battle is often one-sided, against Dodge MDV, as most viewers are either sold or they aren't).
Most dedicated merchants have a Motivation or Intimacy to build their businesses or maintain their wealths, and so can be tough customers. Such characters are almost always justified in spending Willpower to resist attacks. Most individuals will not spend more Willpower than the value of the sale in question, however.