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What race best fills this role? I'm mostly looking for someone who does this in a Planescape-style setting. Neogi kinda do this, but they're a little too specialized for what I'm looking for. Ditto night hags.

What I really want is generic merchants who ply the Etherial and Astral Planes, exchanging goods between the Primes, the Elemental Planes, and possibly (though not necessarily) the Outer Planes. I can't think of any race that does this off the top of my head, so if someone could point me in the right direction, I'd much appreciate it.

EDIT: Oops! I know about the Mercane, and I really want a race more focused on commodities and such, rather than magic. I'll also admit, I'm not crazy about a race of people who are just humans painted blue. ;p Any other traditional options out there?

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8 Answers 8

In Spelljammer and Planescape there's the "Mercane" (aka "Arcane" in pre-3e writeups) that are interstellar and interplanar magic merchants. They have writeups in the Manual of the Planes and the Epic Level Handbook and are in the d20 SRD.

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Thanks, but I think I want something a bit more mundane. I'm thinking folks who trade commodities rather than magical items specifically. Still, might be able to adjust them somewhat. –  Trollsmyth Mar 1 '11 at 18:36
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A mundane interplanar merchant? I guess I don't know what that would look like. Interplanar means freakydeak. It seems like with the difficulty of planar travel, the only things it really makes sense to trade are ultra valuable like magic or souls - importing lumber seems impractical. –  mxyzplk Mar 2 '11 at 0:26
    
Yeah, I know, I'm being unreasonable here. It's what happens when you get this deep in a campaign. Some things work, some won't, and to explain why would take, um... more pages than I care to type. ;p But thanks for pointing me to them again. I may be able to make them work with some tweaking. :) –  Trollsmyth Mar 2 '11 at 5:39
    
@Trollsmyth Well, can you give us more context then of what exactly you are looking for? Whatever parameters you have in mind? –  mxyzplk Mar 3 '11 at 0:01
    
Without getting into too much detail... lumber is actually much more likely to be the kind of thing that these guys are trading than magic. The campaign is currently based in Fire, where there are lots of sorcerers, but no trees. Ditto for a lot of the planar-connected locations in the larger campaign -- they're dominated by critters like genies and dragons, but usually have a few mundane resources you can't get anywhere else, and a few important things that aren't found there at all. –  Oddysey Mar 9 '11 at 21:30

Perhaps the Bariaur might work for what you are looking for. I found this site useful for Planescape Races.

The Bariaur are traders and explorers seen on many planes and have an intense wanderlust. They are easy to get along with and accepting of others, which are useful traits in merchants.

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This looks promising. Is there any more info on their culture, and how they travel between the planes? –  Trollsmyth Mar 1 '11 at 18:36
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@Trollsmyth The Bariaur are a player race in Planescape, so there's plenty of information to find scattered across the setting books. I'll leave it to someone more familiar with the setting to dredge up books and page numbers. :) However, I don't think they were ever developed as an organised race of traders so much as intensely-individual (CN/G typically) people who could be found everywhere and had a wandering constitution. They'd be individual traders with motley operations and crews. –  SevenSidedDie Mar 1 '11 at 18:51
    
Ah, ok. Still, I think there's something there to work with maybe... –  Trollsmyth Mar 2 '11 at 5:37
    
Thanks for reminding me of these guys. I'd forgotten about them. –  migo Mar 16 '11 at 0:40

The Mercanes have been mentioned already.

Any mage or thief doubles as a natural trader, so races know for either will work.

Demons have been mentioned already - a specialized form of demon would do ("I don't work on the cold planes, but I'll go anywhere else, and I trade in everything").

Halfling/tinkerers are interesting traders, but probably won't work as a society. Dwarvish and Elven societies tend to stick together more and have arcane means of communicating, so they might have trading sub-genres.

Clerics following trading gods are also traders, in my books. And presumably, they're ones that you don't want to mess with.

The Xixchil might do the trick. Thri Kreen like creatures, which have a natural talent that is probably already in high demand (http://www.spelljammer.org/monsters/articles/XixchilBodyManipulation.html). They could easily transition into other forms of trade.

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Huh, neat. I hadn't run across them before. Muchas gracias. –  Trollsmyth Mar 2 '11 at 5:38
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I like the suggestion of clerics of trading gods. –  SevenSidedDie Mar 2 '11 at 6:08

The first interplanar traders in a published RPG product may be in AD&D (1e) module I-11 "Needle" (1987), where the party encounters an intelligent branch of phase spiders during the final round of this 3-part adventure. With already better INT than normal BEMs (Low, i.e. 5-7), it isn't too extreme to double that into the 10-14 range, perfectly adequate for interplanar commerce... and praps having a few leaders with even more smarts.

(In I-11 they have an underground home on earth's moon for safety & security, and place obelisks on the planet below, each of which becomes a transport device connected to their lunar HQ.)

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Ooo! Thanks, I think I may even have a pdf version of that module on a hard drive somewhere, back from when WotC was selling such things. However, I think Oddysey will throttle me if I introduce another gang of monstrously large arachnids into the game. ;) –  Trollsmyth Mar 2 '11 at 0:36
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Pfft, they're only about 5' across. Teeny. ;> –  ExTSR Mar 2 '11 at 1:15

Have you considered humans?

No, wait, don't vote me down just yet. Let me explain my reasoning:

In the Planescape setting it is possible to travel between planes without needing awesome magical powers, at least if there's a portal nearby, so any race not somehow bound to a particular plane could engage in planeswalking trade if it wanted to - and, since humans are a race not by their nature bound to any single plane or philosophy, they seem like a good pick for not seeming out of place anywhere.

Also, humans are everywhere. If you head to the plane of negativity, where all life and light is continually leeched away by the concept of destruction itself, you can find magically-protected human fastnesses. If you travel to the holy seas at the foot of mount celestia, there you will find humans fishing, and even if you plumb the harrowing reaches of the abyss, you will find human settlements that survive only through hardship and the dubious grace of demon lords.

Of course, if your planescape-style setting makes humans more bound to the Prime Material than Planescape did, then this answer won't work for you. (Planescape managed to eat its cake and have it too by having the humans of the Prime Material largely unaware of portals and the possibilities of interplanar travel, but allowing the planar humans a little more freedom.)

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With mercanes out of the question, there are few options left for a race of dedicated inter-planar merchants.

The Realmspace entry in the FR Wiki mentions both illithids and beholders engaging in trading, likely also across planar boundaries:

Glyth
[...] As well as the planet's rings, Glyth is orbitted by three satellites. One, known as Haven is a hollowed out asteroid and treated as neutral ground for the different mind flayer factions. Another, Mingabwe is a trading port for non-illithids. While orbitting Mingabwe is Polluter, an unmapped asteroid. A group of over 300 mercenaries from the Code Helm reside here conducting raids against illithids in the system.

H'Catha
[...] Near the base of the mountain, six ports, each owned by a different type of Beholder accept Spelljamming traffic from other beholders (not ones who live on H'Catha as that would provoke a war) and a mysterious humanoid race. Other species are only allowed to land if they have goods to trade and leave as soon as they are done. [...]

But I don't think that means there are caravans or trading companies lead by illithids or beholders (although that certainly would be a curious change of pace for once).

However, both races do have the power and interest to engage in inter-planar trading, and the economy of the Realmspace may even allow for the necessity of mundane commodities being traded (considering how widely the different planets vary from a "normal" world like Toril).

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The Kenku have characteristics that make them a good fit. I used them in a similar role in an AD&D 2e campaign. Their nature and abilities can vary quite a bit depending on the edition of the game you're referencing.

They're inclined to travel and trade, can alter their form to appear human, have been known to exhibit other powers such as invisibility, and are cunning and inscrutable. They don't speak but communicate using symbols, sign language, pantomime, and may have the ability to communicate with each other telepathically.

Being elusive and mysterious, the Kenku really lend themselves to being adapted for the type of role you want. They're also not push-overs. They can handle themselves well and are inclined to pay back those that give them grief.

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Why not jump out of left field on this one? Merchants who ply these planar-waters are going to have to be able to adapt physically to a plane as they trade there and have a lenient view point on legality or hazardous nature of any items being marketed. These merchants are not likely to be trafficking in the mundane. So...

What if you had demons who are not completely evil, but instead are mostly unaligned and interested in profit instead of destruction? They can easily handle any physical limitations imposed by a plane. Many of the 'weaker' ones might actually gravitate to this just to get away from the more powerful demons. They would have no trouble trafficking in whatever item might be wanted somewhere.

There could be a number of different demon merchants or even merchant rulers who have minions, demon or other races, who ply the planes for them. Kind of like a city-states concept but instead of land they rule over a type or types of commerce. They might even have clandestine conflicts with rival demon merchants. You would have a lot of variety in the type of demon to use as a merchant and the party is not likely to try and jump the merchant if they know it is a very powerful demon.

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telflings would also gravitate more to the inter-planer merchant. trade –  Rent_ZHB Mar 1 '11 at 19:15
    
Yugoloths would have fit this role. They were NE but more interested in deals than a particular goal. –  migo Mar 16 '11 at 0:41
    
It's true that making deals is a major part of the yugoloth modus operandi, but don't forget that the race is a serious contender for the 'Best Liars' and 'Best Multiverse-spanning Consiracy' awards, and that makes them a bit more of a trading risk than their compeditors... –  GMJoe Jan 26 '12 at 13:11
    
Actually, come to think of it, this answer raises a valid point: Planes are incredibly diverse in the ways they can kill you, and nothing is immue to everything. Instead of having a single race of planar traders, maybe it would make more sense to have a variety of such races, each specialising in the particular planar trade routes that they can survive? I guess that'd mean that the trading races would usually trade with planes similar to their home plane. –  GMJoe Jan 26 '12 at 13:18

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