December 1, 2010

Dark Sun: Dune Traders

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The accessory we’re looking at today is Dune Trader (DSR2), published in 1992. It is softcover and runs 96 pages. It has no chapters, but is instead divided up into 10 sections.


The Major Merchant Houses of the Tyr Region
The book starts off by going into the various Houses to be found within the setting. A number of Houses are listed and each gives a brief introduction to the house, its History, Assets, Opportunities, Relations with Others, and NPCs. The Houses included are Inika, M’ke, Shom, Stel, Tsalaxa, Vordon, and Wavir.

The introduction gives a general overview, which lists the common knowledge an ordinary person would know about the house.
The History is just that; where the house had its origin, how it became a house and some highlights form its past. Here a GM can find past rivalries that may be the catalyst for some adventures.
Assets can be broad as it describes their caravans, facilities and troops.
Opportunities relates to what it is like to work for the house.
Relations with Others is just that, how they get along with the other trading houses. It lists their overall strategy and any bitter rivalries they may have with any major or minor houses. It also lists how they get along with the sorcerer-kings.
Personalities is a list of the movers and shakers of the house. It provides their 2E stats (not of much use other than a general idea of what class and level they are) but they are also provided with some background notes. These backgrounds can help to role-play them and can give some adventure ideas.

Small Trading Houses
The two settings of 2E and 4E focus and mention the Major Houses within the campaign at various points in their publications. This sourcebook, however, spends some time describing some of the lesser known trading houses and as such adds another layer to a Dark Sun campaign. These smaller houses are given a brief overview and end with a note on what Assets they control. The houses covered are House Ardian, the Dedys Consortium, House Fyra, House Ianto, House Klehira, House Lamnos, the Renythi League and House Sysra. There is a lot of good information here that can easily be turned into adventures.

Eleven Merchant Houses
Elven tribes are notorious as raiders and ne’er-do-wells, but they are also traders. In fact some tribes are actively working toward becoming legitimate trading houses on par with the Great merchant houses in the Tyr region. 3 elven tribes are described in this section; the Clearwater Tribe, Swiftwing Tribe and the Shadows. Each description starts with a general overview stating the area they cover. Then comes the tribes History, followed by the Tribal Society. Next is their Trade Practices; this shows their general attitude to trading including the more illegal versions of it. Each description ends with a list of Personalities, which again, while providing stats that are of minimal use in a 4E campaign, still provides very nice backgrounds notes that can be used.

Other Nonhuman Traders
As the title of this section says, this provides a brief (one or two paragraphs) description of traders based on race. It lists how the race approaches the concept of trade and what the races are known for providing in trade. Not a lot here for adventure ideas, but it does provide more details; for example if the players come across Gith traders, the DM will some idea of what this will entail.

The Trader Campaign
This section is the meat of the sourcebook, or was back in the day. It is all about how to set up and run a campaign that makes trade the focal point of a campaign. It starts off by presenting the Trader class. This is a thief variant which focuses on using their verbal skills to get their way, sometimes by conning their opposition and sometimes just to get a better price. As presented it is not of much use with the 4E rule set. However, the 4E setting already has the Dune Trader theme and paragon paths for it. As such, the Dune Trader class is nicely represented in 4E.

After the Trader class, the sourcebook goes into detail on how to start setting up a trading enterprise, from gathering cash and goods to expenses. The book then, in my opinion, elevates itself from a really good book to a superb book. It provides a list of commodities (with 2E prices) that can be bought in bulk and lists what the Supply and Demand for each of these commodities are in each city-state in the Tyr region. There is even a map showing the major trade routes and who the major suppliers of goods are. This is the backbone of a trading campaign as it allows a player to set up trade routes. In a way this reminds me a lot of the sci-fi game of Traveller, but instead of travelling through a sea of stars, the party travels through a sea of sand.

Next up is a section on Hazards, the problems that can and will arise while acting as traders. This information can be used even if the players are not actively working as traders as they can come across one of these hazards during their travels or they could have been hired to protect traders from these same hazards. Hazards include Raiders (a list of the various types of raiders and their tactics is given), Weather, Business Rivals (sample tactics of rival houses is given-Agreements, Threats, Extortion, Infiltration, Kidnapping, Murder, Assault) and Sorcerer-Kings.

The book rounds out the last few sections describing some different types of caravans and market locations. The information is useful for when the party comes across a merchant location.
House Inika Caravan. This is written as a fast travelling caravan. A picture is provided and a description of the picture is given. The description gives stats (which is useless for 4E) for the guards, creatures and other personnel. Included are notes on how they will react to an attack.
Heavy Caravan. This is a large, slow moving caravan. Again a picture is provided and described.
Elven Market. A map is given and a large list of sellers, shops and goods is provided. Herein are a bunch of good ideas that can be expanded into full adventures.
Fort Prosper. A map of this trading post is given as well as a short list of what the players can find within.

New Monster. The book ends with a new monster, the Crodlu. This is more of a tameable beast used as a fast pack animal than a straight up monster. The Dark Sun Creature Catalog has the Crodlu within its pages and the Setting book has them as well under equipment, with prices if a player character wants to buy one.

There are 19 pictures within the book. My personal opinion is that they are pretty bad. Almost none of them can be used as set pieces to set the mood or be used to show the players a scene for them to interact with.

Overall: The book has a bunch of fluff, especially with the descriptions about the various trading houses, and as such integrates well and can supplement a 4E setting campaign. It does not contradict the “canon” of the 4E setting.
It shows how to set up and run a trading campaign. Trader campaigns are an excellent base concept for a campaign, as it explains how and why the party is a group of travelers. It provides purpose and a reason to travel throughout the Try region and thus allows the party to experience the full gamut of adventure that the Dark Sun setting can provide. An adventuring party isn’t simply “wandering because we are adventurers’ but instead “we travel to make money”; they travel with a purpose. In addition, it allows the players to build something (their trading company) and that is often something players really like to do. This sourcebook allows for this and with a little work (mostly on converting 2E costs to 4E costs) can be easily run in the 4E setting.
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