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DM’s MBA: Commerce and Trade in Roleplaying Games

Written by Darkwarren - Published on March 2, 2015
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Meme from DDO.com

This column proposes some new ideas regarding trade and commerce in fantasy roleplaying games. Admittedly, I play Pathfinder almost exclusively so I’m using that ruleset but you’ll be able to extrapolate for whichever particular game suits your fancy. There are a number of ways you and your players can participate in commerce during fantasy roleplaying. From simply selling each piece of loot for half the listed cost to more nuanced ways of exchanging services and valuables, the economics of your roleplaying games can get as reality-based as you wish.  Here’s one method.

The Haggle Roll – Commerce as Combat

Roleplaying games focus on combat with simple trade and commerce guidelines – so as to not distract from monster slaying at the table. But what if commerce was as exciting as combat?

Commerce as Combat is a variant that allows for opposed rolls in place of the traditional static commerce rules. So each exchange of goods and services can be broken up into rolls. The buyer and the seller act like opponents in combat but instead of melee weapons and fireballs they’re using wit and words. (That’s not to say that a character can’t threaten or use violence as part of negotiating, it’s just that in the spirit of dickering, we’ll remain on fairly friendly terms for most transactions.)

Simply put, hagglers roll opposed d20’s. But which skills should affect this roll?

Diplomacy: In typical commerce you have two sides negotiating a price, therefore it should be easy enough to understand that the core skill for haggling should be Diplomacy. Therefore anything that would modify a character’s diplomacy score would increase his ability to haggle a price in his favor.

Craft/Profession: Not every craftswoman has a silver tongue but that her knowledge and experience can shore up her position. Therefore a character can use the appropriate craft or profession skill in place of her diplomacy skill. But, in a modification to the core rules it stands to reason that any affect that would modify a character’s negotiating skill should also affect this roll as well. (I realize this might mean that shopkeepers and craftfolk would typically have an advantage here. I believe they should – this is their expertise, not fighting monsters.) In fact, a shopkeeper who is in her own place of business (store, tent, caravan, etc.) receives a +2 circumstance bonus for having the advantage of being in her own familiar environment.

So a basic Haggle would be opposed d20 + Diplomacy or Craft/Profession skills + appropriate modifiers.

How many rolls? –Players may get bored with a 30 minute haggling session so it’s the DM’s responsibility to determine how many attempts could be made in any given exchange. Too much dickering might offend the shopkeeper, while too few might make one side seem weak. Start with five opposed rolls and determine the final price at the end of that.

If the rolls are tied, there is no movement in the price, but if one of the hagglers rolls higher than his opponent, the winner’s price moves 5% (of the standard selling price of the object according to the core rules) in his favor. In other words, if one is purchasing a Cloak of Resistance +1 off the shelf for 1,000 gp, then the 5% is 50 gp one way or the other. But if one is trying to sell a similar cloak to a shopkeeper for 500 gp, then the 5% is 25 gp for this exchange. For every 5 OVER the opposed roll a haggler makes, it further modifies the price 5% in his favor.

[Example: Lem is trying to sell an ancient necklace to a possible buyer. He faces off against a curio dealer. Lem’s Diplomacy modifier is +10 and the curio dealer is using his Profession (shopkeeper) modifier of +10. But the shopkeeper is a shrewd businessman and has a trait that enhances his negotiating plus it is his tent in the bazaar so he gets the +2. This gives him an extra +3 for a total Haggle modifier of +13. They roll their opposed Haggle checks: Lem rolls a 13 + 10 = 23. The Shopkeeper rolls a 5+ 13 = 18. Lem wins this round and the price moves 10% of the market base in his favor (5% for his initial success and another 5% for rolling more than 5 over the initial Haggle of his opponent.]

Critical success! – If a haggler rolls a natural 20, that haggler can roll to confirm a critical success. If the confirmation roll beats the initial opposed roll, that haggler has obtained a critical success. That means that the price being negotiated moves an extra 5% in the critically successful haggler’s favor.

Critical failure – If a haggler rolls a natural 1, that haggler has to roll to confirm critical failure. If the confirmation roll is still lower than the initial opposed roll, that haggler has committed a grave error in negotiating and moves the price 5% towards his opponents favor.

[Example: Lem continues to dicker with the curio dealer. Lem rolls a 15 + 10 = 25. The curio dealer rolls 20 + 11 = 31. This is a possible critical success and so the curio dealer rolls to confirm. The confirmation roll is an 18 + 11 = 29. This is a critical success and the price swings in favor of the curio dealer an extra 5%. So what was 10% in favor of Lem has changed to 5% in favor of the curio dealer (+10% Lem – (5% initial success + 5% for rolling more than 5 over + 5% critical success) curio dealer = +5% curio dealer.]

If this particular haggle ended after two attempts, the price would be 5% in favor of the curio dealer and so Lem would not get as much gold as he was hoping for.

There should be other factors that modify a typical Haggle roll and we can go over those in the next column. Until then, thanks for reading and good luck shopping!

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Written by Darkwarren

Matt W., aka Darkwarren, has been roleplaying ever since his older brother introduced him to the red box set when he was 7 years old. Since then he has game-mastered SSDC’s Battleords of the Twenty-third Century, WEG’s Shadowrun and Star Wars, and of course Dungeons & Dragons in a variety of forms. At thirty-four years old he takes turns on both sides of the screen with the group that he helped found in 2000 when 3.0 hit the stands and has met every week fairly regularly ever since. Currently they have been running a variety of the Paizo Adventure Path scenarios, so that’s his wheelhouse. He was almost famous when two of his adventures were green-lighted for possible publication right before Paizo relinquished the rights to publish Dungeon magazine.

Matt also has years if experience in improvisational comedy, fiction, and non-fiction writing. He is currently working and studying to attain a master’s degree in theology, to enhance his career as a religious studies teacher. Lastly, his greatest passion is his family, especially the three sons and dog that he shares with his wife in upstate New York.

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