Trading Costers of Waterdeep
Trading costers are powerful mercantile organizations who have risen to challenge the old merchant houses and the individual caravaneers of generations past.
Typically, merchant caravans are one-off endeavors: operated by someone who was likely the owner, who purchased wagons, animals, and provisions, and hired guards. The caravan's owner purchased trade goods and then depended on the caravan to sell them at stopping points along its route, hopefully unloading them all and simultaneously finding more inexpensive local goods to sell on the route back. Such independent caravans tend to operate within a small range, meaning that goods from far-away often went through successive stages of different caravaneers, each of whom paid a bit more than the one before them did, leading to a significant mark-up by the time the goods reached their final destination.
In contrast, the costers operate on a larger scale. The largest of the costers is, of course, the Zhentarim: for all their sinister reputation, they also know how to run a business, and have all but developed the model to which others aspire. A coster maintains multiple caravans, all usually traveling under their banner. They frequently hire on caravan-hands and guards on an ongoing rather than by-the-trip basis, which means that the best of both sorts of workers strive for the more dependable coster work. Caravan-masters are effectively middle management within the coster, so that those who do well can find themselves advanced to positions where they are in charge of (and thus receiving a cut of) multiple caravans. These usually form long chains of goods-transition without the need to buy and sell at each stage; thus, the coster buys low in one area, and by the time the goods reach a much further away area, they can afford to sell lower than the independent trader while still making a healthier profit than anyone along the independent chain.
Many costers even set up caravan-grounds within or just outside major trading hubs along their networks, coster-affiliated caravanserai with warehousing and accommodations that ensure the coster doesn't lose any profit to expensive inns or goods to the sort of thievery that usually happens at such places. Of course, these locations are very bare-bones but that is how you make a copper go further in a coster.
The following are a number of trading costers who make Waterdeep a point in their trade route. As such, they can't help exert influence of some kind on the Gem of the North: the fact that they deal in coin ensures it.
- Headquarters: Waterdeep, the North
During the Wailing Years, it looked like Aurora's Emporium – which relied so heavily on magical transport of goods – might go wholly out of business. Aurora's leadership and creativity helped them to survive those dark days, and by the time she died in the mid 1400s, her business was back on its feet and booming once more. The central warehouse of the business has moved to Waterdeep, and the Emporium has developed an impressive set of cabinets used to transport things around their networks, as well as a variety of other useful, unique magics, such as the Grand Inventory, a set of magically-connected books whose contents copy themselves into one another, allowing each shop to know what is in possession by other nodes in the Emporium network, and in what quantities.
With the modern profusion of broadsheet printing, Aurora's releases seasonal catalogues that highlight what is current, in demand, and discontinued. These catalogues are given away to anyone who comes to the door of the shop and asks for one, and slipped into the parcels purchased by customers as well. In Waterdeep and a few other places, the local shops have even arranged to compile a list of households who want one delivered to them when they are released, with Aurora's Emporium-tabarded messengers coming 'round promptly with them to homes.
Today, Aurora's model of business – a shop where one can stop in, peruse catalogues and a few choice display items, and order things from across Faerûn – is still charming and unique enough to guarantee the business model is viable. Of course, Aurora's is still very much considered to be a specialty shop: no one gets regular supplies or provisions from Aurora's. Instead, they are a place to go when looking for something rare and exotic, or for a special gift.
- Aurora's Whole Realms Coster Offices: Castle Ward. A large building featuring a street-facing showroom with offices above it, and ample storage in the back part of the building on both floors as well as a practically cavernous cellars, these offices are the heart of the empire that is Aurora's Emporium. The back ground floor also features a printing facility for the broadsheets the Emporium prints. Many folk in the Castle Ward enjoy spending an hour or so browing through the most fascinating wonders on display in the showroom. The offices are located in the Manyspells neighborhood of the Castle Ward, near the Tower of the Watchful Order, which is no accident: Aurora's Emporium frequently has need of mages to do certain work for them, and they pay well for it.
- Waterdeep Shops: All Wards. The Emporium maintains a branch office in each of the main Wards of Waterdeep, excepting only the City of the Dead, Mountainside and the Fields Ward. These are all small single-room offices, each with a small display of goods and access to the goods broadsheets and ordering catalogues. These shops are the South High Road Shop in the South Ward, the Slut Street Shop in the Docks Ward, the Tusk Street Shop in the Trades Ward, the Waterdeep Way Shop in the Castle Ward, the Singing Dolphin Shop in the Sea Ward, and the High Road Shop in the North Ward.
Dragoneye Dealing Coster
- Headquarters: Iriaebor, Western Heartlands & Elturel, Western Heartlands
Originally founded by a pair of brothers from the Vilhon Reach, the Dragoneye has slowly expanded over time, and become the primary shippers and traders in and around Iraebor and Elturel. This base has allowed them to reach outward in every direction, including as far away as Waterdeep.
- Dragoneye Hall: South Ward. The Dragoneye maintains a large caravanserai in the South Ward, the Dragoneye Hall. Operated like an inn, the Hall is exclusively for the use of Dragoneye caravans and the merchants who operate them. Though the Dragoneye coster maintains a permanent force of guards, they are always looking for more: those who are interested are invited to hire on as an extra guard during a caravan run, and to present themselves to the Dragoneye's guard-house in Iraebor after they have done at least one trip. No one gets in the door without a written recommendation from a caravan-master, but the pay is more than worth it, ultimately. As a result, the forecourt of the Dragoneye Hall in Waterdeep is a place where lots of sellswords congregate, looking to impress the caravan-masters who may be looking for one or two extra blades for a trip into harrowing territory.
Highmoon Trading Coster
- Headquarters: Waterdeep, the North & Scornubel, Western Heartlands
The Highmoon Trading Coster is a dominant trading coster along the Sword Coast, nearly dominating trade from Waterdeep to Scornubel along the Trade Way (passing through Daggerford, Boareskyr Bridge, and Triel). They are headquarters jointly in Waterdeep and Scornubel. Though they once had exclusive trading rights for a number of southern spices (arispeg, marka, and delph, specifically), the Wailing Years disrupted much of this production and trade agreements. Despite this, the Highmoon still trade the majority of those spices into the North, as well as a vintage of azure-hued wine called kaorph, the source of which no one is exactly certain. Given the recent popular trend of drinking kaorph among the nobility as a summer tipple, Highmoon is well-situated to continue to prosper in Waterdeep and beyond.
Highmoon has long had a tradition of defending their caravans not just with sword but with spells as well, and that continues unabated today. Any Highmoon caravan is guarded by at least one guard-wizard, who tend to dress as one of the guards or caravan-hands (given the tendency for bandits and robbers to aim volleys of arrows at anyone who even looks like a spell-hurler). Additionally, Highmoon has employed magicians to create defensive magic items, which are often assigned to caravans based on the rank of the caravan-master, and put into the hands of the caravan's defenders. Again, Highmoon seems to like handing magical capability to non-spellcasters, providing wands of magic missile and similar magics to unassuming caravan-hands or merchants on the route.
- Highmoon Waterdeep Citadel: Trades Ward. A massive set of offices with an attached caravanserai, the Highmoon Citadel in the Trades Ward sees a constant flow of wagons, cargo, and above all, coin. The coster's second in command, Sherra Olerghlund, operates out of these offices along with her support staff and subordinates. Sherra is a master in the Watchful Order of Magists and Protectors, and is constantly innovating new uses of magic by the coster.
Banner: White crescent on a black, star-studded oval on a white banner with black borders/trim. Trailglyph: Crescent moon (always horns to the right, curve to the left) with a very thick black border/edge. A typical caravan consists of 2d4 wagons and wagoners, 1d6 merchants, and 2d6 caravan guards. Commonly encountered merchants in the Shining Vale include Jaelnarkyn Denglenef, Lorimara Thornheart, and Raurinard “the Bold” Haelintar.
The Iron Throne
- Headquarters: Unknown
The Lords, the Watch, and anyone involved in large scale mercantilism knows that the Iron Throne is in Waterdeep. The problem is that no one actually knows where or who they are. A smuggling operation scaled up to the size of a full trading coster, the Iron Throne deals in weapons smuggling, drug running, and the dealing of both poisons and smokepowder. If it is illegal or heavily taxed, the Iron Throne will attempt to turn a profit by making it accessible to those who want it, consequences be damned. Lest one assume they are merely traders, the Iron Throne's agents have also engaged in assassination, thuggery, and extortion as well.
The Iron Throne turns over agents frequently and ruthlessly, giving its representatives more than enough rope to hang themselves with. Of course, the rewards for their consortium's work is significant, so there is always someone bloodthirsty and cunning ready to step in and replace the one whose reach exceeded their grasp. The Iron Throne frequently finds and absorbs bandit and street gangs, smuggling groups, heist crews, and assassin groups. As such, any criminal element has the potential to be coopted into the Iron Throne at any time...or may already be working on their behalf in the way the Iron Throne prefers: quietly and subtly.
The Red Shields
- Headquarters: Scornubel, Western Heartlands
The Red Shields were originally a mercenary company who saw the money to be made by the caravans they were being paid a pittance to guard. So, the Shields invested in a caravan operation themselves, recruiting a few of the independent caravan-masters local to Scornubel, and became a trading coster. Their normal trade routes extend as far north as Neverwinter, and as far south as Athkatla in Amn. They have also come to act as the city watch in Scornubel, and the city is largely considered their territory without exception. Scornuban merchants seek to become successful enough to be recruited into the Red Shields.
Red Shields Barracks: Undercliffs. Because of legal restrictions on the number of guards any given individual is permitted to maintain within the walls of Waterdeep proper, the Red Shields have set up a caravanserai in the Undercliffs that mostly serves as a barracks for its excess guards. Red Shield caravans arrive at the Barracks, apportion up their goods and see them either stored for other caravans or prepared to be brought into Waterdeep, to be delivered to buyers or to the coster auction blocks where major costers buy and sell goods every day.
Seven Suns Trading Coster
The name of this group refers to the widely-separated partners who formed this group, converting their own small merchant companies into regional bases, providing horses, draft oxen, wagons, and hiring local guards. The seven partners are Jhasso of Baldur’s Gate (formerly of Jhasso’s Wagons, a famous fast- haul freight outfit that operated up and down the Sword Coast when wars, pirates, or weather hampered offshore shipping); Shield of Everlund; Pomphur of Almraiven; Chond of Calaunt; Alvund of Ormpetarr; Dzunn of Sheirtalar; and Nammna of Milvarune. This Coster usually provides the leanest guards and the worst wagons, and is inclined to be slow and often bandit- struck as a result; but it also undercuts its competitors on most routes. Banner: Seven suns (coins): gold, with black borders/edges (“sunburst rays”), on a white banner that itself has gold borders/trim. Trailglyph: Seven gold suns arranged to form a crude arrow pointing to the right with thick black edges (round/plain, not sunburst). A typical caravan consists of 2d3 wagons and wagoners, 1d4 merchants, and 2d4 caravan guards. Commonly encountered merchants in the Shining Vale include Aelna Faintinghart, Bracknog “the Slippery” of Westgate, and Velvarn Tottingham.
- Headquarters: Baldur's Gate, Sword Coast & Suzail, Cormyr
Originally the Seven Suns Coster, this coster was taken over lock, stock, and barrel by the Zhentarim and absorbed into its operations. Shortly thereafter, however, one of the Zhents – one Rand Sharpsword, known for his skill in undermining and capturing caravans – made off with the top personnel and several caravans full of goods, wagons, and lifestock. They set up shop in Baldur's Gate, re-appearing as the Sharpsword Coster. Though the Zhentarim and the Sharpswords maintained a rollicking rivalry for several decades during the Wailing Years, Sharpsword eventually brokered a working agreement.
Over the past century or so, Sharpsword has grown into one of the Gate's premier costers. Though they've never broken off ties with the Zhentarim, their alliance has become a thing of tradition more than policy. Today the Sharpswords have headquarters in both Baldur's Gate and Suzail, with their many caravans ranging between and out from both of them in all directions.
Sharpswords Cost, Waterdeep Offices: Dock Ward. Though not a headquarters for the coster, the Sharpswords maintain a set of offices in Waterdeep that act as their logistics hub for all Sharpswords trade venturing into the North. One of the major undertakings this office does is arrange for cargos coming by ship from Baldur's Gate to be put into Sharpsword caravans bound by road into the rest of the North.
Six Coffers Market Priakos
- Headquarters: Berdusk, xxx & Waterdeep, the North
Not an easy target. Well organized, home bases throughout Faerûn. Approach with caution This merchant company had bases of operation in Berdusk, Waterdeep, Silverymoon, Priapurl, and Selgaunt.
Named for the six wealthy merchants who sponsored it, this Priakos is run by Thelve Baruinheld of Berdusk, and has “bases” in that city, in Waterdeep, in Silverymoon, in Priapurl, and in Selgaunt. It is large, efficient, and prosperous, but only four of the six original partners still live (the survivors are Ultramm of Selgaunt, Syntel of Iriaebor, Maftan of Waterdeep, and Szwentil of Marsember). Banner: Coffers of gold in a circle, on a lush grass-green field (the circle), on a white banner, with gold trim along the edges of the banner. Trailglyph: A gold coffer with green “bolds” (the two trios of horizontal lines) above and below it. A typical caravan consists of 2d4 wagons and wagoners, 2d3 merchants, and 2d6 caravan guards. Commonly encountered merchants in the Shining Vale include Coraelyn Hammerstar, Ssintarrn “the Wise” of Scornubel, and Terringtar Orcsblood of Everlund.
Thousandheads Trading Coster
- Headquarters: Riatavin, Amn
Waterdeep to Hillsfar, through Scornubel, Berdusk, Arabel, and Essembra A hard case named Bharavan Bhaerkantos runs his wagons in groups of one to a dozen on the route from Waterdeep to Hillsfar, through Scornubel, Berdusk, Arabel, and Essembra. The Thousandheads want to fight. Bunch of old adventurers as caravan guards, often as not, some of them working for low rates just for the pleasure of killing bandits. This lot may require heavy magic to take out. They don't take any prisoners, but they don't go in for torture and ritual sacrifice, so they're not quite in our league.
Bharavan Bhaerkantos, a former adventurer, founded this merchant company. The Thousandheads Trading Coster only operated on trade routes from Waterdeep to Hillsfar via Scornubel, Berdusk, Iriaebor, Priapurl, Arabel, and Essembra. Bharavan's personal stronghold, located just east of Riatavin, served as the base of operations for this company.
Run by the former adventurer Bharavan Bhaerkantos from his stronghold east of Riatavin, this Coster operates only on a single route: from Waterdeep to Hillsfar, via Scornubel, Berdusk, Iriaebor, Priapurl, Arabel, and Essembra. Its name refers to the “thousands” of small one-to twelve-wagon outfits that benefit from this Coster; Bharavan recruits “retired” adventurers to guard his caravans, and offers cut rates to small merchants. His guards are tough, hard-nosed, and tireless; they have instructions to go after and kill any caravan raider, so few casual raiders tangle with Thousandheads caravans twice. Banner: The snake (“the snake with a thousand heads,” symbolizing a mythical snake that can’t be slain AND the many members of the coster, who can’t be beaten in trade contests) is of silver, on a scarlet field (the whole banner), with gold trim along the edges of the banner. Trailglyph: A silver snake with red edges/border trim. A typical caravan consists of 3d4 wagons and wagoners, 2d3 merchants, and 2d8 caravan guards. Commonly encountered merchants in the Shining Vale include Gorn “the Stout” Arlspar (a shield dwarf), Skylaen Daggersfall, and Zindaern “Wagonswoe” Telnaer.
Windriders Trading Coster
- Headquarters: Scornubel, Western Heartlands
A pack of wannabe heroes carrying shields blazoned with a white pegasus. More errand boys than traders. Worthwhile targets only because you can assume that the messages they're carrying are messages we would rather possess than see delivered. Fewer than 70 members, though we've whittled their numbers down some. Probably a front for the Harpers, or at least friendly with them.
The Windriders were around sixty anonymous members represented through their leader Torshilm Firetel of Westgate. They were known for their fierce competition, hard traveling, and hi-jinks