I have finally put my trade route rules into words. These rules have been
payested and work very well, creating an entirely new set of conflicts and
complications. It can be argued that the trade envisioned here is too
modern, but I don`t think so - it is merely that the conflicts inherent in
the system will not become apperent until trade has been developed past a
certain point.

Anyway, here it is, both as a link and as a copy-paste text dump.


Starfox`s Trading Route Rules

These rules are intended to replace the trade route rules of Birthright. The
trading conducted here is regional rather than local, and brings great
wealth to naval powers. All land trade is ignored - only waterborne trade is
capable of transporting the volumes of goods required for late medieval

Trade Regions

Cerillia is divided into trading districts. These are mostly identical to
the regions of the various Birthright sourcebooks. A few differences might
exists. In my own campaign, Mieres and the other islands south of Anuire
form their own trading zone, for example.

Trade Routes

Trade is conducted between provinces in two different regions. Each province
can have one trade route to one other province in each region. So, the
Imperial City could have trade routes to one province in every other region
on the map - and likely has so. There can be several trade routes between
two regions, but each such route must start and end in a different province.

To starts a trade route, you must have a guild holding in both the provinces
involved - though this can be a level 0 holding.

Establishing a trade route is done just as in the basic game. Each trade
route requires ships, and those ships must have a total capacity equal to
the total income of that trade route. Regents no longer have the power to
tax or abolish smuggle routes under these rules - only normal "legitimate"
trade routes can be shut down by decree.

Boxed text: Note that each ship is assumed to make several trips each budget
period, this explains why profits can be equal to the ships hold capacity.
On longer trade routes, the margin of profit can often exceed 100%, so round
trips might take longer than the three months of a Birthright budget turn.
This all works out the same, meaning that distance is not a factor when
computing the costs and profits of a trade route.

Smuggling is the term used for all non-sanctioned trade, but need not imply
that the trade is illegal - just that it is not state sanctioned. Smuggling
involves trade is a small quantity of high-profit goods and is very
profitable for the merchant and requires a only a small amount of hold
capacity. The downside with smuggling is that it will always be
out-competited by legitimate trade. Whenever there exists a smuggle trade
route and a legitimate trade rout between a particular province and another
region, the smuggle route is competited away - more on competition later.

Normal trade routes generate exactly the same amount of profit for the
merchant - but requires much more cargo capacity. It involves trade in bulk
goods, and makes imported goods available to a multitude in the nation, not
just the very rich. This brings prosperity to the nations conducting the
trade, not just to the merchants involved. Regents always favor normal trade
over smuggling, because they get a cut of the cake.

Boxed Text: Trade Confederations
Merchants prefer smuggling, states prefer regular trade. But states need
traders to start regular trade routes, as smuggler cannot be shut down by
edict. This might lead to merchants forming confederations, agreeing not to
use regular trade but only smuggle. Each merchant makes the same profit at
less expense - as long as they all abide by the treaty. States, on the other
hand, will offer incitements for those wanting to start regular trade. And
another budding conflict is born.

Value of Trade Routes

A trade route generates income each turn. This is a number of GB equal to
the sum of the two provinces involved in the trade. Thus a trade route
between the Imperial City (province level 10) and Ariya (province level 7)
would generate 17 GB each turn. This is an incredible amount of wealth. It
also takes a small fleet with a total cargo capacity of 17 to conduct this

This money does not all go into the hands of the merchant, however. 25% of
this income goes to the owner of each port involved in the trade. Normally,
two ports are involved in each trade route, meaning that 50% of trade income
is lost in taxes.

Boxed text: Trade might seem overly profitable, but there are several risks
involved. The merchant has to provide the ships and pay any incidental
expenditures, as well as take the loss caused by piracy and other hostile
action, so in fact the margin of profit is even less. On the other hand, a
mercantilist, colonial nation that controls the ports in both ends of the
trade route and the ships plying the routes collect 100% of all trade income
- a very profitable situation.

Smuggle routes don`t have this problem - they pay no taxes whatsoever, but
have only 50% of the capacity of a normal trade route. Thus, the merchant`s
cut of the income is the same, and less cargo capacity is required. This
makes smuggling preferable from the merchant`s point of view, but detestable
in the eyes of the state.

Trade Limits and Competition

Trade can bring great profits, but it is no cornucopia of unlimited wealth.
Each region has a trade limit, which is equal to the sum of all province
level in that region. This is the total value of the trade routes it can
support. Trade routes in excess of this will suffer competition and fall
into disuse.

There can also be only one trade route from one province to each particular
region. So if there are trade routes from the Imperial City to both Ruorven
and Gulfport (both in the western marches), there is a competition
situation, and one of the trade routes will fail.

When trade routes compete, they fail in a certain order. First, smuggle
routes always fail in competition with normal routes. Smuggle routes implies
trade with high markup - there is simply no way such trade can compete with
regular bulk trade. Second, smaller routes are defeated by bigger routes. A
trade route generating 12 GB will be competited away by one generating 14,
every time. This is because trade follows the road of least resistance, and
money attracts money.

Competition is resolved in each income phase, before income is collected.
Remove extraneous trade routes in order from smallest to largest, always
beginning with smuggle routes and working your way to the normal routes. If
several trade routes are of equal strength, both will collapse. This might
lead to situations where a new trade route causes the collapse of several
well-established routes, leading to a deficiency in trade. Such is the
situation with this kind of primitive economy. But since the ships are still
around, such trade routes will soon be re-established.

Boxed text: Trade Centers
These rules on competition give advantages to high-level provinces when it
comes to trade. Not only will a high-level province generate more trade than
a smaller one, it will also out-compete the smaller province`s trade. This
will lead to the creation of trade centres, where a single province is
responsible for all the trade in a given region, a highly profitable
situation for all involved, but bound to create jealousy. This is exactly
the way pre-modern trade developed, and the basis for the merchantilist
economic theory. It is also a built-in reason for warfare and plundering
your enemie`s trade centers.

Piracy and escorts

With such big revenues generated at sea, piracy and it`s
government-sanctioned variant of privateering becomes highly lucrative. All
vessels of this time period are about as effective as pirates and escorts.
The larger vessels are slower, but more powerful. Smaller vessels do not
fight so well, but are faster and can range wider in search of prey. Thus,
the value of all ships is considered to be the same when they work as
pirates or escorts. However, if it comes to actual fighting between pirates
and escorts, the true value of each ship will be revealed.

Pirates patrol in a certain sea-zone, and collect 25% of all income
generated by merchants passing through that sea-zone. This works just like
taxation - and might force a merchant with long trade routes to pay more
than 100% of his income in taxes.

It is possible to send escorts to negate pirate attacks. Each escort vessel
will negate the depredations of one pirate vessel, so a number of escorts
equal to the number of pirates in the sea-zone will make the area safe.
Having a number of escorts equal to the number of merchants plying the
waters will also work - protecting a small convoy is easier than protecting
a large one. Since the pirates still have to pay maintenance on their ships,
this quickly makes piracy unprofitable.

Escorts can either patrol a specific sea-zone in the hopes of suppressing
any pirates present there, or they can follow a trade route, in which case
they only protect that route, but do so all along it`s course.

These rules do not have any rules on actually engaging pirates and escorts
in battles, because such rules would have to be very complex.

Boxed Text: Convoys
Pirates and pirate-hunters are large. Merchant ship are big. This is because
the number of escorts are important, while the capacity of merchants are
important. Thus, to be cost-effective, a convoy consists of a small number
of big merchant ships escorted by an equal number of small and cheap convoy
ships. But seawothiness is also a factor; larger ships are more seaworthy,
and this has to be taken into account when deciding what ships to use. I
leave the exact effects of seaworthiness to individual DMs, since specific
rules would have to be very complex. For the same reason, I avoid rules on
naval engagements. In general, it can be said that pirates have the
initiative; trade routes are predictable, and pirates can pick their
targets. Pirate hunters work mostly as a scare tactic, chasing pirates away.
Incidental losses to such actions are included in the maintenance cost of
ships. Truly defeating pirates involves finding their bases and burning them

River Trade

So far, we have only discussed sea trade. River trade is certainly feasible,
as well. However, the loading and unloading required at river ports
complicates matters. In effect, a river port is a third port involved in the
trade route, and you might remember that each port along a route can claim a
25% toll. Thus, the margin of profit on transit trade becomes only 25% -
hardly enough to bother with.

Copyright © Carl Cramér, 2002

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