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Prelude:

Starting an Eberron campaign. I've got a player who is new to D&D. He has asked me if he could play a Broker/Trader in my campaign.

I've outlined to him that while D&D focuses on both combat and social, my game most likely won't accommodate nitty gritty stock trading. However, I really like the idea. It gives another resource I can hand out as a reward while also being something I can use to engage my new player.

Stock markets are hardly a new concept either. If they existed in 12th century France then I'd argue they'd be prevalent in the world of Eberron. He's asked if some of his starting gold to be converted to shares in the current dragon marked house he's apart of also.

Question:

How do I implement a system that is engaging for my new player and not too confusing my more established ones?

A basic system I've thought up is where the price is static and only changes to a pre determined event, Say a railway heist causing a dip in stock price. However I'm concerned at how this would effect my players decisions if I hand out too many shares. It also doesn't reflect the randomness that comes with trading either.

All other ideas involve too much rolling or an understanding of the markets that I don't have. I also don't want to implement a "Free money" System either (Fixed interest rate), because I can see that getting out of hand quite easily.

Any suggestions on price of stocks and how much they should change also would be appreciated.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is this meant to be a character class? A background? Or just something that this character does (presumably being a rogue or bard of a noble or mercantile background)? How many players in your group, and do you think the rest of them will be on board if one person is doing something that is presumably radically different? Which is to say, have you had a session 0 yet? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 9 at 4:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Xavon_Wrentaile, Just a backstory thing they wanted to try. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 10 at 23:03

6 Answers 6

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I would not attempt to design a stock market trading system unless you and a majority of the players are personally interested in historical trading enough to put a lot of work in.

It's a complex topic that people have different ideas about how it works, on top of people having wildly different levels of knowledge about both modern financial instruments and trading them, and historical financial systems.

However you don't have to.

You can simply narrativize it. 'The markets are crashing due to rumours of war in XYZ - everything is down, and you're worried about your investments'. That's not a financial system, that's just setting information and a roleplaying cue. 'One of your fellows at <club/cafe/other informal setting> has come to you with a plan to ship brass instruments to [name of city] to oversaturate the market and ruin a competitor of his' - this isn't a financial market spreadsheet, it's an adventure hook. Fighting mercenaries, dealing with attempts to block things with legal red tape, dealing with unrelated problems like the instruments being bad quality and breaking in some manner that needs repair, dealing with unrelated events like a gold rush on a distant isle leading to the market suddenly wanting the brass instruments at any price and do you stick with the original plan or try to make a killing etc.

This can be a way for you to dump money on the party, take money from the trader character, drop setting information (that he can potentially try to take financial advantage of, harnessing greed in your goal of getting people to care about the setting and what is happening in it), give the players hooks, and give the players tools to deal with other situations (social, political connections, and financial clout). It can also throw complications at the players in a number of ways, from jealous rivals to plots to frame this guy to plots to steal his money to situations where he could make a killing.. if he threw the party under the bus to do so, such as by revealing information (to change the prices of things) that the party needs kept secret for some reason, like that a certain noble is a vampire or that there's a locust plague in a distant province and wheat is going to shoot up in price.

So, focus on the narrative side of it. Have some terms on hand - Grain into Gold is a great sourcebook to have terms for the kind of things commonly traded on hand, and Ars Magica has a few sourcebooks with great information on historical trading and financial systems - but don't try to design a numerical game that the person can play in addition to the numerical game of D&D 5e, unless you and the person both enjoy that sort of thing (and the rest of the party is at least willing to let it affect the game if he breaks the system and ends up inhumanly wealthy).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Exactly the advice I was going to give when I saw the question. I’ve actually run games with players like this (albeit in Pathfinder 1e and D&D 3.5e, which actually have slightly more fleshed out general economies than 5e does), and I’ve always tied it in with the primary story pretty directly. This is, in my experience, what most players who want to play this type of character really want, so it tends to be pretty well received. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 7 at 0:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user2754 do you have a link for Grain and Gold? I can't find the book! \$\endgroup\$
    – Segfault
    Jul 7 at 14:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I found it. "Grain Into Gold" is the name: drivethrurpg.com/product/13113/Grain-Into-Gold \$\endgroup\$
    – Segfault
    Jul 7 at 14:18
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If you just want a ready-made system, the DMG's downtime activity guidelines for Running a Business should be able to approximate this reasonably well. Those rules reference maintenance costs that are mostly associated with actual physical businesses like a guildhall or an inn, but these could be easily reflavored to represent the risk of losing money on the market instead.

If your goal is to give the player a quick and easy way to face a chance of profit and a risk of loss between adventure, these rules are probably sufficient. However, it's worth noting that a lot of people find them kind of lackluster. They don't allow much room for player choice, and the math is a little wonky and greatly disfavors larger businesses. This Q&A goes into more detail on that and recommends some homebrew tweaks the the system.

Finally, I agree with user2745's answer that you should try to tie fluctuations in the market into the narrative and worldbuilding of your campaign. However, doing that doesn't rule out using a simple random system for profits and losses. Before having the player roll, you can ask them what investments and trades they plan to make, and give a bonus or penalty to the roll if you believe in-game events would move the price one way or another. Perhaps the players have recently disrupted an operation smuggling magical weapons, and so have reason to believe that the Mage's Guild's enchantment services are about to experience a jump in demand. Conversely, you might use the result of the roll to guide your decisions of how events in the world unfolding. If they player rolls poorly on their Mage's Guild investment, perhaps you decide that it didn't pay off because another criminal enterprise has rushed in to fill the gap in the black market for magical weapons, leading to another adventure hook for the party.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a great answer, and I particularly like the suggestion of allowing the trading roll to suggest world events. But I’d probably just use the tweaked running a business rules, as per your first suggestion. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 7 at 14:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'll have to go with the more popular answer here but this is honestly a great translation into game terms I can get behind! The only pitfall I see this not covering is shares not being included into this explanation. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 12 at 3:26
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Use the one we've got

You can agree on which aspects to implement, such as shorting, using options, etc., but the least breakable system is probably the one people have been trying to break for years. Figure out a conversion of Au<->$, and let him transact by informing you of which real, actual stocks he's trading in game. Nobody can be accused of gaming the system either way, and the real world performance of the stocks drives his results. Easily verifiable, and gives some free semi-real world practice to the player(s).

More realistic than fantasy football.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don’t love the idea of trying to really implement the market in D&D, but if one were really determined to do so, this is a very clever approach. +1, and fantastic first answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 6 at 14:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ But how do you connect real-world stock prices to the narrative world? This seems like you're just using the real-world stock market as a random number generator - it seems to ensure that the fantasy stock market is just numbers on a page which are entirely unrelated to the fantasy world the characters are living in. Players can't make savvy trades using inside knowledge or subterfuge, and real-world events that result in a shift in real-world markets will demand a fantasy counterpart. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 6 at 14:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NuclearHoagie If you're trying to tie results to game events, it's likely to get far too predictable. Further, unless you're an insider, you'll find that real-world stock prices are not as correlated to real-world events (that you have knowledge of) in a predictive way. That's kind of the point--it's easy to speculate on the outcome of half a dozen player games run by a single individual based on a set of books, but much harder with 8 billion players, no central authority, and no absolute rules. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 6 at 15:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ But without some kind of insider or expert knowledge, it's not really feasible to beat the market - this is the very thing I'd expect a broker character should have. Prediction aside, my point is you'll need in-universe explanations for major stock movements - stock movements can be impossible to predict, but that doesn't make them inexplicable in hindsight. If the character holds stock in something related to the story (like a guild they're part of) and that stock tanks or skyrockets for real-world reasons, there ought to be an in-universe explanation. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 6 at 15:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NuclearHoagie Yes, but they can be integrated ex post facto. Like the real world, most people won't know the reason until after the stock moves. You can decide for each such event how much of an effect the stock backstory has on the daily lives of the party. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 6 at 19:24
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Why don't you just use the Downtime Activity: Gambling presented in Xanathar's Guide to Everything page 130?

You can take the gamble mechanic, who use Insight, Deception, and Intimidation checks to determine if you win or lose money, even contemplating the possibility of complications.

You can even reskining it if you think it's necessary, which is just rewrite gabling for invest/trade. BTW: I think this Extra History series on the Tulip Mania could be inspirational.

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Have a look for GAZ11: Republic of Darokin.

It's an old D&D source book for the World of Mystara - a forerunner of Eberron. It has a merchant class with specialized skills/spells and progression which you may be able to retrofit to 5th Ed.

Just to expand on this a little - I dug out my copy of this sourcebook, and I think a lot of the rules regarding trading - putting together caravans and such like can probably be lifted straight out as they aren't really tied in to any specific rules systems - indeed they could probably be adapted to any fantasy game.

The merchant class itself is kind interesting as it was written as an additional class that any character could have alongside their main character class and it would only gain experience from gold obtained from trading (Merchant Experience Points - MXP).

Rising in Merchant level grants access to spells which are related to trading. Some are quite specifically for trading - such as Count Coins and Evaluate - but others could certainly be useful in a more adventurous context. Hold Animal, Charm Person, Resist Magic etc.

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If they existed in 12th century France then I'd argue they'd be prevalent in the world of Eberron

Your link does not say that stock markets existed in 12th Century France, though. It says that financial (debt) brokers existed in C12th France, that open commodity markets developed in C13th Bruges, and that joint-stock companies (the ones issuing shares that could be traded by a stock trader) came into existence in the C16th.

The economic benefit of joint-stock companies is specifically that profits can be retained and reinvested (and losses written off), while accruing capital investment. The investors are insulated from (some) volatility and from management involvement. This insulation has the effect of removing almost all story-telling potential from a joint-stock company (which is obviously desirable in real life but potentially boring in a game).

Similarly, I don't see the roleplaying appeal of pretending to be a broker in agricultural debt tied to one place.

So what kinds of trading activity could be interesting, apart from simply buying (or otherwise acquiring) stuff in one place and selling it in another?

Before joint-stock companies, there were various forms of funding for individual merchant expeditions, such as the commenda. These are sometimes described as joint-stock companies (because they have multiple investors, some silent), but this is inaccurate: they lacked a standardized "share" and secondary market, and were dissolved & returned any profits at the conclusion of a single trip.

If a limited number of expeditions are setting out, and a substantial contribution is required to buy in to one, then you can't spread your risk or build a portfolio, but you can choose one expedition to fund. If it fails, your investment is wiped out completely. Perhaps you can accompany it to improve the chance of success, but either way you have a small number of expeditions to specific places that you can tie into story beats, and there's no need to run an economic simulation that's completely detached from playable events.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "The economic benefit of joint-stock companies is specifically that profits can be retained and reinvested (and losses written off), while accruing capital investment." . I would say ths ignores the realrason stock companies came up with: To allow for investment of large capital in shares, i.e. the collection of capital from people for large projects and / or the distribution of risks (i.e. not all your capital in one investment). Trading ships are the latter (a trader may want to buy shares in multiple ships in case one sinks). The first are large operations like... RAILWAYS. \$\endgroup\$
    – TomTom
    Jul 6 at 22:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Something like the commenda may be an especially good fit for a fictional world that depends upon a small group of humans to simulate it. It provides obvious adventure hooks and even a progression: the player start out as protection for someone else's voyage, later they come across valuable goods (i.e. treasure) but need to find a trading partner to fund their travel, and eventually become wealthy enough to be the investors in their own trips and even the trips of others. Their battles against big evils will impact the likelihood of others' trips, and might create a race condition. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tom
    Jul 7 at 3:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ But shipping was adequately funded for a long time by partnership and/or subscription, and risk was managed with insurance before modern joint-stock portfolios. IMO the reason this worked is that there was no real benefit from carrying capital from one expedition to the next. Railways & other industrial applications are the first time capital investment (in machines, tooling etc.) is a significant part of the cost, and there's a benefit to retain those assets for the next project, and the one after. \$\endgroup\$
    – Useless
    Jul 7 at 10:59

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