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In my current game, two of my players are always on the lookout for "get rich quick" schemes and they are looking into establishing trade routes between cities to make money.

That led to great roleplay moments where they search for raw materials and finished products producers and bargain for prices, but I wonder if there are rules for this kind of thing. Maybe some other game system than D&D 3.5 includes commerce and can be used as inspiration?

More specifically:

  • What can be the expected profit margin?
  • How can randomness be included in the process? (Caravans ambushed, ships sinking, market crash, etc.)

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Is this a narrative tools or a system tools question? If system tools, do you want pure 3.5 rules or a bolt on system? If bolt on do you desire something roleplaying heavy or something more number driven? – anon186 Oct 27 '10 at 15:32
Why do they want the money? Do they have a plan for it? Hopefully that's the more interesting part of their roleplay. – okeefe Oct 27 '10 at 16:12
@okeefe: They want the money to build a temple dedicated to their gods in their home village and .... carve their face on a moutainside visible from a major city they were banned from, mount Rushmore-style. – Danny T. Oct 27 '10 at 17:28
Carving your faces on a mountainside to taunt an entire city? These guys are awesome! – cr0m Oct 27 '10 at 19:30
It's now 3 years later and I must know. Did they ever succeed in carving their faces into the mountain? – E L Dec 31 '13 at 3:39
up vote 10 down vote accepted

The best merchant system for 3.X I've seen is A Magical Society: Silk Road by Expeditious Retreat Press. It is exhaustive in its treatment of trade goods. The best seafaring system I've seen is the Pilots' Almanac by Columbia Games. While for Hârnmaster, it is really a sub-system of its own that can be adapted for d20 use by remembering 5% = +1 on a d20. Both are available on RPGNow.

I just bought Silk Road and it's even better than I expected. Thank you! – Danny T. Oct 31 '10 at 13:52
The Silk Road link is no longer working. :-( – RobertF Feb 8 at 15:22

They want the money to build a temple dedicated to their gods in their home village and .... carve their faces on a mountainside visible from a major city they were banned from, Mount Rushmore-style.

In light of this answer, I wouldn't worry about the money directly. (Their faces or their gods' faces? Maybe have their gods' faces shining down on statues of themselves?)

Figure out how long you want them to spend in-game working on this. One year? Five years? Break those down into workable adventures, where each adventure would end with the next piece of the project.

  • That land is owned by someone. What can they do to convince them to give it up?
  • There's going to be some opposing gods' followers or city administrators that are going to want to sabotage things.
  • They're going to need to set up a village nearby just to house and feed the workers.
  • Those villagers aren't going to work for free.
  • Supply lines to your workers' village could be attacked.
  • They'll have to convince the best dwarven stonesmiths on the continent to work on the details of this project. What do they want in return?
  • Maybe they learn about some bright, everglowing gems or something that would make perfect pupils for the statues. Wouldn't that look awesome? Have some other race be the guardians of that particular MacGuffin.
  • You're going to need the favor of some powerful wizard/priest to ward the whole thing (and keep it lit at night!).

Each adventure, when successful, should get them closer to their goal!


While 3.X D&D doesn't have a robust economic model (essentially only determining how much one can make with craft and profession skills), one can readily do trade by applying modifiers to bargain rolls based upon scarcity. The thing is, such trade was profitable, but not THAT profitable.

If you want a more robust economic model, one can adapt the Traveller system readily enough. The OOP T20 Traveller's Handbook is already in d20 system terms. A few items need to be redacted from the tables for a low tech setting. One can hybridize this with Mercator or Wanderer, which are adaptations of Traveller to fantasy; use the Mercator goods table with the T20 process.

If one wants a more "D&D Native" approach, then there is a Gazeteer series products (for BXCMI D&D) to consider: TSR9236 GAZ9 Minrothad Guilds. The system will require some conversions to 3.X, but is reasonably usable.

The drawbacks to Mercator, Wanderer, and Minrothad Guilds is that all of them are ship-based. Overland trade will require some minor fudging on the GM's part.


Check out the quite affordable Playing the Market, by Quentin Hudspeth. It's a generic supplement (16 pages) suitable for any RPG. It uses a pool of d10's to indicate supply (results of 1-5) and cost (results of 6-10), with some other fiddly mechanics.


D&D 3.5's economy is not known for its realism. You're probably best off making it up as you go and throwing in the randomness you mentioned whenever the PCs are doing too well.

I think GURPS has some better guidelines about this type of play, but I've never read through them and can't vouch for their quality.

Another option you may want to throw at your players is letting them take out loans or get patrons to sponsor an adventure, but expect a share or two of whatever treasure is found. Petitioning these people and then dealing with their interests should appeal to PCs who are into get rich quick schemes.

GURPS Economics book is GT Far Trader... it's modern economics applied to space trade. It's a really good simulation of modern on-world trade; it's got some questionable assumptions for pre-telegraph and/or no-FTL-comm Sci-Fi. – aramis Oct 27 '10 at 23:06

The simplest, no-supplement way to abstract the money-making part, you should have them roll Profession. According to the PHB3.5, you earn roughly half your Profession check in gold pieces, per week of solid work.

So I'd have some numbers representing a few modifiers:

  • if they're rolling Profession(Trade Route) - crummy name aside - then give them a +2 for everyone who traveled the road this week.
  • if they're managing the project to build those God-faces, then imitate the Craft check rules; if the Profession(Construction Site Manager) check result x Craft DC of the item is less than the cost of the item, that reflects their progress. This allows for work to be on schedule; behind schedule; over budget...

If they're founding villages/cities, you could also roll an NPC Profession check for the population, using the number of new arrivals as a bonus; if the check works out to more than some cost of living you've decided on, people start emigrating, which has a serious impact on the availability of certain items, and potentially the cost of living... make sure the results on item unavailability and increased cost of living are visible. Nothing demonstrates that a city is failing when - from inside its walls - you can buy swords for pennies but bread costs a fortune ;)


I recommend referencing the Economicon by K. It has extremely well thought out (derived from base principles) rules for running a sane business in 3.5, including adventure hooks.

If you're interested in running that style of game, I recommend reading most of K's work as his thoughts on the economies, the environments, and the roles of peasants in D&D are quite worthwhile, though out of place for a normal hackenslash.


Birthright has system for dealing with running organisations of a few different varieties: Law, Tempel, Guild and Source. This is a very high level system, and does not go into to much details. It is a good system if running the organisation is not the main focus of the campaign, but just one of many things the players will do.

I have used this system both while running birthright campaigns and other campaigns. You can get the system from the download section of


Establishing a business is described in DMG2 (p180-189).

Affiliations are described in chapter 7 of the Player's Handbook II.

Guilds and guild-associated feats are described in the Dungeon Master's Guide II, pp210-228.

Organizations are described in chapter 6 of Complete Adventurer.

As you can see, there is a lot of information out there about creating a business. On the downside there is a massive capital cost, which takes years of game time to make back.

Unfortunately, the DMG2 business model doesn't work – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jan 9 '11 at 10:42
Agreed, after reading the rules, you do wonder how any businesses are successful in a DnD world. – jaye1234 Jan 9 '11 at 11:33
Oh, that's easy. They just cheese the rules and make an infinity of high-risk shops in the middle of nowhere with magic items to give them the necessary skill bonus to repay the cost of magic item creation... – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jan 10 '11 at 0:34
DMG2? I looked at my DMG for 3.5 and those page numbers weren't even close to dealing with a business. Is this for 4e? – Pulsehead Jan 10 '11 at 14:55
It is 3.5e, the book is "Dungeon Master's Guide II". The section is marked "Running a Business". – jaye1234 Jan 12 '11 at 8:09

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