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Old 04-01-2016, 02:27 PM   #1
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: Cambridge, UK
Default [Basic] Skill of the week: Merchant

Merchant is the IQ/Average skill of basic commerce: trading, selling and buying goods (or, presumably, services) at retail or wholesale. It's the core skill for salesman, hagglers and everyone who deals with trade practices. Its defaults are IQ-5, Finance-6 and Market Analysis-4, and Accounting, Administration, Economics, Finance, Market Analysis, and Propaganda have various defaults to Merchant. Merchant skill can be used to detect the works of Counterfeiting, and can be boosted by Connoisseur. Law skill can be very valuable for merchants, as can all the skills that default to Merchant.

Merchant is modified by a lack of Cultural Familiarity, Business Acumen talent, Colour Blindness, Compulsive Spending, Gullibility, Low Empathy and Shyness. Illegal goods give -3 (edit: not -2) unless you have Streetwise 12+, and trading in an unfamiliar area gives -2 until you get used to it. Merchants sometimes have a Rank structure of their own. Merchant can be used as an Influence skill, on other merchants, and on people already interested in buying your goods. The skill covers all kinds of goods by default, but optional specialisation is fairly common (and can remove the need for Streetwise for illegal goods).

On a successful roll, you can judge the value of something, find out where such goods are bought and sold, or estimate local market value. For simple haggling, roll a Quick Contest with the winner reducing or increasing the price by 10%, or see the more detailed rules on B562. If you know this skill you get +1 to reactions when trading, or +2 if you have skill 20+. That last clause, and the requirement for a specific Streetwise level, have both survived from 1e, and could be cleaned up.

Merchant is ubiquitous on templates for traders, and is common for face men and anyone who has to buy and sell. Caravan to Ein Arris has some examples, and Action implies it's the skill for bribing people. Banestorm has merchant's guilds and merchant [ad]venturers. DF makes the skill important in getting value for loot, some of which gives bonuses to skill when selling it, and in making Influence rolls boosted by expensive clothing. Low-Tech expands on that, and explains low-tech forgery and counterfeiting. Magic uses Merchant as an example for Steal Skill, and Power-Ups volumes 3, 6 and 7 have example Talents, Quirks and Wildcard skills. Social Engineering has a lot for Merchant: Styling of goods and clothing, its use for search rolls, expanded haggling, competition for customers between merchants, modifiers for advertising, word-of-mouth and price-cutting, and union negotiations. Space has more rules for trading in unfamiliar societies, and Spaceships 2 has rules on finding cargoes as a free trader. Thaumatology suggests a form of magic based on trading, and Urban Magics has divination of market prices.

I realise that I've never played a character who was primarily a trader. I've been in plenty of games where we had one in the party, but it's something I've missed out on personally. One more thing to try.

What have you awesomely bought or sold?

Last edited by johndallman; 01-21-2017 at 06:10 PM. Reason: Correct illegal goods penalty
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Old 04-01-2016, 07:24 PM   #2
Join Date: Jun 2005
Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Merchant

My current fantasy campaign, Tapestry, has multiple characters with Merchant skill on a long-range trading and exploration voyage. This has added interest because their world hasn't invented coinage; a lot of what they do is barter, often Phoenician silent barter. In their second voyage (now going on), they've acquired a tiger skin from a troll, tobacco from nixies, chocolate and tame animals from elves, and now semiprecious stones carved into tiny figures from dwarves.

On the first voyage I did detailed accounting of the weight and value of their cargo and of how much they made. But they lost interest in that after a number of sessions. So now I just do quick contests of Merchant skill and see who made out how well on each deal. They had a critical success on trading for the semiprecious stones!
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Old 04-01-2016, 07:25 PM   #3
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Merchant

No roleplaying scenes but a number of fan fic scenes. There was one time when a captain was trapped by rebelling natives on Collace and his wife arrogantly bought a whole regiment that was underpaid, grumbling, and generally willing to fight for anyone but their own commander. That was more charisma though.

There was another time when they were transporting a race horse for an Imperial Noble, who turned out to be sunk in debt. What they ended up doing was trade it back for five quite fat cattle and getting a very welcome supply of fresh meat.

I had several other scenes of dickering about this and that. A bargaining session has a lot of potential for a short story because there is room for pithy humor, and amusing human interest.
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Old 04-02-2016, 11:51 AM   #4
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Merchant

I took the skill for a few characters, but I don't recall it being a focus of a session. Maybe a QC roll in the background that I forgot, at most. I think the somewhat confusing trading rules (that weren't quite clear even after SE until getting some explanations) are not exactly helping make this skill as popular to use as, say, Guns, or Acting, or Body Language, or Stealth.
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Old 04-02-2016, 12:08 PM   #5
Join Date: Oct 2010
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Merchant

Originally Posted by vicky_molokh View Post
I took the skill for a few characters, but I don't recall it being a focus of a session.
Me neither. The not-quite-face character I'm playing at present in TORG uses it occasionally, usually to buy used trucks. It might work better if he understood them, but he's TL4, so it's largely about watching the vendor's behaviour.
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Old 04-02-2016, 12:46 PM   #6
simply Nathan
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Merchant

Only skills I've seen used more than this one are Polearm, Bow, and Minor Healing.
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Old 04-02-2016, 12:47 PM   #7
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Merchant

None of my players took Merchant at character creation in my last DF game, but once they got back to town and realized they were only getting 40% of their loot's value, the wizard sunk a CP in it. I can't say I've ever seen it as the focus of a session or adventure, though.
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Old 04-03-2016, 09:37 AM   #8
Join Date: Jan 2009
Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Merchant

I built a trader/translator character for a fantasy game once back in 3e, with a high Merchant skill and some related traits; essentially a professional caravan organizer, with some basic combat & stealth skills for backup. This ended up not meshing well with the rest of the party, though, so I mostly ended up using those backup skills (& the language skills for spying on people), and rarely bought, sold, or negotiated anything. I think it would have been an effective character otherwise, was just the wrong one for that game.
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Old 04-03-2016, 10:34 AM   #9
Phil Masters
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Merchant

My 18th century Cabalist character comes from a mercantile family, so of course he has Merchant, though both he and I tend to forget this sometimes. He's not exactly snobbish on the subject, he just regards getting the right price for things as a trivial exercise that anyone with half a brain ought to be able to manage.
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Old 04-03-2016, 01:39 PM   #10
Join Date: Apr 2015
Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Merchant

In my low fantasy game the party usually has one person with merchant who sells all the loot when they get to town. I don't think anyone has ever played a mainly merchant character, but it's a very common support skill (much like stealth, climbing, or fast-talk)

We also use merchant as the skill for trading barter goods at fair value across the land, which is useful for moving large amounts of cash around without the weight. Gemstones are the most common, they're almost as good as raw cash if you have merchant at a reasonable (~12) level and weigh far less.
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